Catch up on stories from the past week (and beyond) at the Slashdot story archive
redletterdave writes with an amusing tale of missent email. From the article: "On Friday, more than 1,300 employees of London-based Aviva Investors walked into their offices, strolled over to their desks, booted up their computers and checked their emails, only to learn the shocking news: They would be leaving the company. The email ordered them to hand over company property and security passes before leaving the building, and left the staff with one final line: 'I would like to take this opportunity to thank you and wish you all the best for the future. 'This email was sent to Aviva's worldwide staff of 1,300 people, with bases in the U.S., UK, France, Spain, Sweden, Canada, Italy, Ireland, Germany, Norway, Poland, Switzerland, Belgium, Austria, Finland and the Netherlands. And it was all one giant mistake: The email was intended for only one individual."
benfrog writes "Popocatépetl, a volcano that sits 34 miles east of Mexico City, has begun a series of small eruptions. It's feared that larger eruptions would not only endanger people within range of its explosions, but disrupt life in Mexico City with ash clouds. 'People in the village of Xalitzintla said they were awakened by a window-rattling series of eruptions. Mexico’s National Disaster Prevention Center said one string of eruptions ended in the early morning, then the volcano started up again at 5:05 a.m., with at least 12 eruptions in two hours.' More than 30 million people live within sight of the volcano."
ananyo writes "NASA and a group of universities known as the READI network have begun testing an earthquake-warning system based on satellite data from the Global Positioning System. The method could have allowed Japanese officials to issue accurate warnings of the deadly March 2011 earthquake and tsunami ten times faster than they did, say scientists. The system is currently being tested using the U.S. Pacific Northwest Geodetic Array: hundreds of GPS receivers placed along the North American coast between Northern California and British Columbia in Canada. While conventional seismometers provide similar information, they run into trouble with earthquakes of magnitude 7 or higher. This is partly because in big quakes, the ground may shake for longer, but not significantly harder. GPS has no such problem, because it directly measures the movement of the ground."
suraj.sun writes with news that a new patent suit has been filed against Apple over all of the company's touch-based products. From the article: "According to the complaint (PDF), Professor Slavoljub Milekic conceived a system that used a touchscreen that allowed children to move virtual objects around the screen, which he used to build interactive displays for the Speed Art Museum in Louisville, KY, in 1997, and filed for a patent on his design that same year. The patent in the suit, U.S. Patent #6,920,619 named 'User interface for removing an object from a display,' was issued by the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office in 2005. According to the lawsuit, Milekic formed FlatWorld Interactives in 2007 to 'promote and commercialize' his invention. Curiously, FlatWorld was incorporated on January 2007, just weeks after Apple announced the original iPhone at Macworld Expo. In July 2007, just after Apple shipped the original iPhone, FlatWorld filed a reissue request for the patent, which appears to have been done in order to modify some of the patent's dependent claims."
eldavojohn writes "Not two weeks after Microsoft purchased 925 patents and patent applications plus licenses to AOL's portfolio for $1 billion, Facebook has now acquired 650 of said patents and patent applications for $550 million to which Microsoft retains a license. So, was Microsoft's $450 million worth it? According to their press release: 'Upon closing of this transaction with Facebook, Microsoft will retain ownership of approximately 275 AOL patents and applications; a license to the approximately 650 AOL patents and applications that will now be owned by Facebook; and a license to approximately 300 patents that AOL did not sell in its auction.' Will the patent-go-round continue, or has Facebook loaded up for a good old-fashion Mexican standoff?"
vivIsel writes "This morning, President Obama is set to unveil a new executive order that will allow the U.S. to specifically target sanctions against individuals, companies or countries who use technology to enable human rights abuse. Especially as repressive regimes more effectively monitor their dissidents online (rather than simply blocking access), the sanctions focus on companies that help them do that."
Hugh Pickens writes "Ron Fournier and Sophie Quinton write in the National Journal that seven in 10 Americans believe that the country is on the wrong track; eight in 10 are dissatisfied with the way the nation is being governed, only 23 percent have confidence in banks, and just 19 percent have confidence in big business. Less than half the population expresses "a great deal" of confidence in the public-school system or organized religion. 'We have lost our gods,' says Laura Hansen. 'We've lost it—that basic sense of trust and confidence—in everything.' Humans are coded to create communities, and communities beget institutions. What if, in the future, they don't? People could disconnect, refocus inward, and turn away from their social contract. Already, many are losing trust. If society can't promise benefits for joining it, its members may no longer feel bound to follow its rules. But history reminds us that America's leaders can draw the nation together to solve problems. At a moment of gaping income inequality, when the country was turbulently transitioning from a farm economy to a factory one, President Theodore Roosevelt reminded Americans, 'To us, as a people, it has been granted to lay the foundations of our national life.' At the height of the Great Depression, President Franklin Roosevelt chastised the business and political leaders who had led the country into ruin. 'These dark days will be worth all they cost us if they teach us that our true destiny is not to be ministered unto but to minister to ourselves and to our fellow men,' said FDR. 'Restoration calls, however, not for changes in ethics alone. This Nation asks for action, and action now.'"
stoolpigeon writes "With a large study showing software grades essays as well as humans, but much faster, it might seem that soon humans will be completely out of the loop when it comes to evaluating standardized tests. But Les Perelman, a writing teacher at MIT, has shown the limits of algorithms used for grading with an essay that got a top score from an automated system but contained no relevant information and many inaccuracies. Mr. Perelman outlined his approach for the NY Times after he was given a month to analyze E-Rater, one of the software packages that grades essays."
eldavojohn writes "The New York Review of Books has an article penned by Steven Weinberg lamenting the future of physics, cosmology and this era of 'big science' in which we find ourselves. A quote from Goldhaber sums up the problem nicely, 'The first to disintegrate a nucleus was Rutherford, and there is a picture of him holding the apparatus in his lap. I then always remember the later picture when one of the famous cyclotrons was built at Berkeley, and all of the people were sitting in the lap of the cyclotron.' The article is lengthy with a history of big physics projects (most painfully perhaps the SSC) but Weinberg's message ultimately comes across as pessimism laced with fatalism — easily understandable given his experiences with government funding. Unfortunately he notes, 'Big science has the special problem that it can't easily be scaled down. It does no good to build an accelerator tunnel that only goes halfway around the circle.' Apparently this article mirrors his talk given in January at the American Astronomical Society. If not our government, will anyone fund these immense projects or will physics slowly grind to a halt due to fiscal constraints?"
DustyShadow writes "The University of Florida announced this past week that it was dropping its computer science department, which will allow it to save about $1.7 million. The school is eliminating all funding for teaching assistants in computer science, cutting the graduate and research programs entirely, and moving the tattered remnants into other departments. Students at UF have already organized protests, and have created a website dedicated to saving the CS department. Several distinguished computer scientists have written to the president of UF to express their concerns, in very blunt terms. Prof. Zvi Galil, Dean of Computing at Georgia Tech, is 'amazed, shocked, and angered.' Prof. S.N. Maheshwari, former Dean of Engineering at IIT Delhi, calls this move 'outrageously wrong.' Computer scientist Carl de Boor, a member of the National Academy of Sciences and winner of the 2003 National Medal of Science, asked the UF president 'What were you thinking?'"
fishmike writes with this news snipped from a Reuters story: "Britain may have enough offshore shale gas to catapult it into the top ranks of global producers, energy experts now believe, and while production costs are still very high, new U.S. technology should eventually make reserves commercially viable. UK offshore reserves of shale gas could exceed one thousand trillion cubic feet (tcf), compared to current rates of UK gas consumption of 3.5 tcf a year, or five times the latest estimate of onshore shale gas of 200 trillion cubic feet."
It's not just the TRS-80; new submitter sebt writes "ZX Spectrum, the microcomputer launched in 1982 by Sinclair Research (Cambridge, UK) turns 30 today. The launch of the machine is seen by many today as the inspiration for a generation of eager young programmers, software and game designers in the UK. The events surrounding its launch, notably Sinclair's well-known rivalry with Acorn, later helped to inspire the design of the ARM architecture and most recently the Raspberry PI (based on ARM), in an effort to reboot the idea of enthusiastic kid programmers first captured by the Spectrum and Acorn's BBC micro. Happy birthday Spec!"
CowboyRobot writes "Last year, a Nigerian man boarded a plane from N.Y. to L.A. using an invalid ID and a boarding pass issued to another person. A week later he was caught again with 10 expired boarding passes. In response to this and similar events, the Transportation Security Administration has begun testing a new system at Washington's Dulles International Airport that verifies an air traveler's identity by matching photo IDs to boarding passes and ensures that boarding passes are authentic. The test will soon be expanded to Houston and Puerto Rico."
mikejuk writes "How does the Apple App Store actually work? What is the best strategy to employ if you want to get some users and make some money? There are some pointers on how it all works from an unusual source — artificial life. A pair of researchers Soo Ling Lim and Peter Bentley from University College London, set up an artificial life simulation of the app store's ecosystem. They created app developers with strategies such as — innovate, copy other apps, create useless variations on a basic app or try and optimize the app you have. What they found, among other things, was that the CopyCat strategy was on average the best. When they allow the strategies to compete and developer agents to swap then the use of the CopyCat fell to only 10%. The reason — more than 10% CopyCats resulted in nothing new to copy!"