Space

Amateur Astronomer Spots Supernova Right As It Begins (gizmodo.com) 27

New submitter Rotten shares a report from Gizmodo: Amateur astronomer Victor Buso was testing his camera-telescope setup in Argentina back in September 2016, pointing his Newtonian telescope at a spiral galaxy called NGC613. He collected light from the galaxy for the next hour and a half, taking short exposures to keep out the Santa Fe city lights. When he looked at his images, he realized he'd captured a potential supernova -- an enormous flash of light an energy bursting off of a distant star. Buso took more data and informed Argentine observatories, who announced the outcome of their follow-up observations today: "the serendipitous discovery of a newly born, normal type IIb supernova," according to the paper published in Nature. Not only did this demonstrate the importance of amateur astronomy, but Buso's images also provided evidence of the brief initial shockwave from the supernova, a phenomenon that telescopes rarely capture, since they'd have to be looking at the exact right place in the sky at the right time. Buso didn't just discover a supernova, though. He also presented evidence for the "long-sought shock-breakout phase," as the scientists write, an explosion of energy theorized to emanate from a shock wave at the supernova's source. The researchers point out that it's hard to generalize from a single supernova.
Security

US Border Officials Haven't Properly Verified Visitor Passports For More Than a Decade Due To Improper Software (zdnet.com) 77

An anonymous reader quotes a report from ZDNet: U.S. border officials have failed to cryptographically verify the passports of visitors to the U.S. for more than a decade -- because the government didn't have the proper software. The revelation comes from a letter by Sens. Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Claire McCaskill (D-MO), who wrote to U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CPB) acting commissioner Kevin K. McAleenan to demand answers. E-passports have an electronic chip containing cryptographic information and machine-readable text, making it easy to verify a passport's authenticity and integrity. That cryptographic information makes it almost impossible to forge a passport, and it helps to protect against identity theft. Introduced in 2007, all newly issued passports are now e-passports. Citizens of the 38 countries on the visa waiver list must have an e-passport in order to be admitted to the U.S. But according to the senators' letter, sent Thursday, border staff "lacks the technical capabilities to verify e-passport chips." Although border staff have deployed e-passport readers at most ports of entry, "CBP does not have the software necessary to authenticate the information stored on the e-passport chips." "Specifically, CBP cannot verify the digital signatures stored on the e-passport, which means that CBP is unable to determine if the data stored on the smart chips has been tampered with or forged," the letter stated. Wyden and McCaskill said in the letter that Customs and Border Protection has "been aware of this security lapse since at least 2010."
Earth

Antarctica Is Losing Ice Faster Every Year (qz.com) 159

A survey of satellite data published in the journal Cryosphere confirms what scientists have suspected for a while now: ice loss from the critical region of Antarctica is happening at an increasingly fast pace. Quartz reports: In total, researchers found that Antarctica lost roughly 1,929 gigatons of ice in 2015, which amounts to an increase of roughly 36 gigatons per year every year since 2008. (A gigaton is one billion tons.) Nearly 90% of that increase in loss occurred in West Antarctica, "probably in response to ocean warming," according to NASA. The new data analysis mostly confirms other recent research, but does so with a higher degree of precision by using a new technique that can process a larger amount of satellite data than was possible before.

West Antarctica has been losing a lot of ice in recent years, and at an ever-growing pace, while East Antarctica is losing ice more steadily. The West Antarctic ice sheet is of particular concern because, like a building that stands on an uneven foundation, it is inherently unstable, making it especially vulnerable to the warming climate. If the entire ice sheet were destabilized and melted into the sea, researchers estimate it would lead to 3 meters (9 feet) of sea level rise globally. Models suggest that under a low-emissions scenario, where the world commits to "peaking" and then steadily reducing emissions in the near future, complete destabilization of the West Antarctic ice sheet is possible to avoid. But under medium- or high-emissions scenarios, the loss of the ice sheet becomes inevitable.

Communications

23 Attorneys General Refile Challenge To FCC Net Neutrality Repeal (engadget.com) 33

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Reuters: A coalition of 22 state attorneys general and the District of Columbia on Thursday refiled legal challenges intended to block the Trump administration's repeal of landmark rules designed to ensure a free and open internet from taking effect. The Federal Communications Commission officially published its order overturning the net neutrality rules in the Federal Register on Thursday, a procedural step that allows for the filing of legal challenges. The states, along with web browser developer Mozilla and video-sharing website Vimeo, had filed petitions preserving their right to sue in January, but agreed to withdraw them last Friday and wait for the FCC's publication. The attorneys general argue that the FCC cannot make "arbitrary and capricious" changes to existing policies and that it misinterpreted and disregarded "critical record evidence on industry practices and harm to consumers and businesses." The White House Office of Management and Budget still must sign off on some aspects of the FCC reversal before it takes legal effect. That could take months.
Government

President Trump: 'We Have To Do Something' About Violent Video Games, Movies (arstechnica.com) 606

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Ars Technica: In a White House meeting held with lawmakers on the theme of school safety, President Donald Trump offered both a direct and vague call to action against violence in media by calling out video games and movies. "We have to do something about what [kids are] seeing and how they're seeing it," Trump said during the meeting. "And also video games. I'm hearing more and more people say the level of violence on video games is shaping more and more people's thoughts." Trump followed this statement by referencing "movies [that] come out that are so violent with the killing and everything else." He made a suggestion for keeping children from watching violent films: "Maybe they have to put a rating system for that." The MPAA's ratings board began adding specific disclaimers about sexual, drug, and violent content in all rated films in the year 2000, which can be found in small text in every MPAA rating box.
Earth

Taiwan To Ban Plastic Straws, Cups and Shopping Bags By 2030 (channelnewsasia.com) 98

An anonymous reader shares a report: Taiwan is planning a blanket ban on single-use plastic items including straws, cups and shopping bags by 2030, officials said Thursday, with restaurants facing new restrictions from next year. It is the latest push by Taiwan to cut waste and pollution after introducing a recycling programme and charges for plastic bags. The island's eco-drive has also extended to limiting the use of incense at temples and festivals to protect public health. Its new plan will force major chain restaurants to stop providing plastic straws for in-store use from 2019, a requirement that will expand to all dining outlets in 2020. Consumers will have to pay extra for all straws, plastic shopping bags, disposable utensils and beverage cups from 2025, ahead of a full ban on the single-use items five years later, according to the road map from the government's Environmental Protection Administration (EPA).
Businesses

Venezuela Says Its Cryptocurrency Raised $735 Million -- But It's a Farce (arstechnica.com) 78

Earlier this week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro claimed that a new state-sponsored cryptocurrency called the petro raised $735 million on the first day of its sale. ArsTechnica dives deep on the matter to suggest that it's all a farce. From the report: The government hasn't provided any way to independently verify that $735 million figure. And there's reason to doubt almost everything the Venezuelan government has said about the project. Moreover, there's little reason to believe that the petro will maintain its value over time. The Venezuelan government has portrayed petro tokens as backed by Venezuela's vast oil reserves, but they're not. The government is merely promising to accept tax payments in petros at a government-determined exchange rate linked to oil prices. Given the Venezuelan government's history of manipulating exchange rates, experts say investors should be wary of this arrangement. Moreover, the petro scheme has been opposed by opposition legislators in Venezuela's opposition-controlled legislature. They say that the Maduro government is essentially issuing oil-backed debt, and legally that can't be done without approval from the legislature. If Maduro falls from power in the future, his successor might refuse to honor petro redemptions.
Communications

Net Neutrality Rules Die on April 23 (theverge.com) 224

The Federal Communications Commission's net neutrality rules will be no more in two months, as the agency takes the final step in removing the regulation from its rule book. From a report: The date -- April 23 -- was revealed today after the Federal Communication Commission's order revoking net neutrality was published in the Federal Register. You can read the full order here. The publication means that a new fight around net neutrality is about to begin. States and other parties will be able to sue over the rules -- some have already gotten started -- and a battle in Congress will kick off over a vote to reverse the order entirely. While that fight likely won't get far in Congress since Republicans by and large oppose net neutrality and control both chambers, there will likely be a long and heated legal battle around the corner for the FCC's new policy. The FCC's new rules are really a lack of rules. Its "Restoring Internet Freedom" order entirely revokes the strong net neutrality regulations put in place back in 2015 and replaces them with basically nothing. Internet providers can now block, throttle, and prioritize content if they want to. The only real rule here is that they have to disclose if they're doing any of this.
ISS

Bigelow Launching New Company To Sell Private Space Stations (popularmechanics.com) 54

hyperclocker shares a report from Popular Mechanics: The future of spacecraft in lower Earth orbit (LEO) looks to be an increasingly commercial affair. Bigelow Aerospace, a Las Vegas-based company that builds livable space habitats, has now created a spinoff company known as Bigelow Space Operations (BSO). BSO will market and operate any space habitats that Bigelow sells. The creation of BSO signals that Bigelow is preparing for a future of commercial space living. Recently leaked NASA documents show that the Trump Administration wants to convert the International Space Station into a commercial venture, and BSO is betting that businesses including private scientific ventures and hotels will be interested in creating a profit above the Earth. A prototype Bigelow habitat, the Bigelow Expandable Activity Module (BEAM), has been connected to the ISS since 2016. It's proven such a successful addition that last year NASA extended its contract for an additional three years. But Bigelow is thinking past the BEAM. In its press release announcing BSO, it highlights its planned launches of the B330-1 and B330-2, spacecraft with 6-person capacity, in 2021.
Sci-Fi

Amazon Is Developing a TV Series Based On Iain M. Banks' Sci-Fi Novel 'Consider Phlebas' (hollywoodreporter.com) 97

leathered writes: Jeff Bezos today announced that Amazon Studios has picked up the rights to adapt the late Iain M. Bank's acclaimed Culture novels to the small screen, beginning with the first in the series, Consider Phlebas. This comes after nearly three decades of attempts to bring Banks' utopian, post-scarcity society to film or television. A huge fan of the Culture series is Elon Musk, whose SpaceX drone ships are named after Culture space vessels. Here's how Amazon describes Consider Phlebas: "a kinetic, action-packed adventure on a huge canvas. The book draws upon the extraordinary world and mythology Banks created in the Culture, in which a highly advanced and progressive society ends up at war with the Idirans, a deeply religious, warlike race intent on dominating the entire galaxy. The story centers on Horza, a rogue agent tasked by the Idirans with the impossible mission of recovering a missing Culture 'Mind,' an artificial intelligence many thousands of times smarter than any human -- something that could hold the key to wiping out the Culture altogether. What unfolds, with Banks' trademark irreverent humor, ultimately asks the poignant question of how we can use technology to preserve our humanity, not surrender it."
Network

Game Industry Pushes Back Against Efforts To Restore Gameplay Servers (arstechnica.com) 212

Kyle Orland reports via Ars Technica: A group of video game preservationists wants the legal right to replicate "abandoned" servers in order to re-enable defunct online multiplayer gameplay for study. The game industry says those efforts would hurt their business, allow the theft of their copyrighted content, and essentially let researchers "blur the line between preservation and play." Both sides are arguing their case to the U.S. Copyright Office right now, submitting lengthy comments on the subject as part of the Copyright Register's triennial review of exemptions to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA). Analyzing the arguments on both sides shows how passionate both industry and academia are about the issue, and how mistrust and misunderstanding seem to have infected the debate.
Bitcoin

Poland's Central Bank Accused of Paying YouTubers To Make Videos That Attack the Legitimacy of Cryptocurrencies (businessinsider.com) 74

Poland's central bank has been accused of hiring YouTubers to "start a smear campaign" against cryptocurrencies in the country, Business Insider reports. From the story: According to Business Insider Poland, the Narodowy Bank Polski spent around 91,000 zloty ($27,300) on a marketing campaign designed to attack the legitimacy of cryptocurrencies. The money was spent on platforms including Google and Facebook, but was also used to pay a Polish Youtube partner network called Gamellon. The Gamellon network reportedly represents many of Poland's top YouTubers, including popular prankster Marcin Dubiel. In December, Dubiel published a video titled "STRACILEM WSZYSTKIE PIENIADZE?!" -- which loosely translates as "I LOST ALL MY MONEY?!" In the satirical video, Dubiel invests all his money in a fake cryptocurrency called Dubielcoin, gets rich, but then sees its value plunge and loses everything. It has racked up over 500,000 views.
Businesses

Slashdot Asks: What Do People Misunderstand or Underappreciate About Apple? (fastcompany.com) 449

In an interview with Fast Company, Apple CEO Tim Cook says people who have not used his company's products miss "how different Apple is versus other technology companies." A person who is just looking at the company's revenues and profits, says Cook, might think that Apple "is good at making money." But he says "that's not who we are. In Cook's view, Apple is: We're a group of people who are trying to change the world for the better, that's who we are. For us, technology is a background thing.

We don't want people to have to focus on bits and bytes and feeds and speeds. We don't want people to have to go to multiple [systems] or live with a device that's not integrated. We do the hardware and the software, and some of the key services as well, to provide a whole system. We do that in such a way that we infuse humanity into it. We take our values very seriously, and we want to make sure all of our products reflect those values. There are things like making sure that we're running our [U.S.] operations on 100% renewable energy, because we don't want to leave the earth worse than we found it. We make sure that we treat well all the people who are in our supply chain. We have incredible diversity, not as good as we want, but great diversity, and it's that diversity that yields products like this.
What do you think?
AI

'Tech Companies Should Stop Pretending AI Won't Destroy Jobs' (technologyreview.com) 335

Kai-Fu Lee, the founder and CEO of Sinovation Ventures and president of the Sinovation Ventures Artificial Intelligence Institute, believes that we're not ready for the massive societal upheavals on the way. He writes for MIT Technology Review: The rise of China as an AI superpower isn't a big deal just for China. The competition between the US and China has sparked intense advances in AI that will be impossible to stop anywhere. The change will be massive, and not all of it good. Inequality will widen. As my Uber driver in Cambridge has already intuited, AI will displace a large number of jobs, which will cause social discontent. Consider the progress of Google DeepMind's AlphaGo software, which beat the best human players of the board game Go in early 2016. It was subsequently bested by AlphaGo Zero, introduced in 2017, which learned by playing games against itself and within 40 days was superior to all the earlier versions. Now imagine those improvements transferring to areas like customer service, telemarketing, assembly lines, reception desks, truck driving, and other routine blue-collar and white-collar work.

It will soon be obvious that half of our job tasks can be done better at almost no cost by AI and robots. This will be the fastest transition humankind has experienced, and we're not ready for it. Not everyone agrees with my view. Some people argue that it will take longer than we think before jobs disappear, since many jobs will be only partially replaced, and companies will try to redeploy those displaced internally. But even if true, that won't stop the inevitable. Others remind us that every technology revolution has created new jobs as it displaced old ones. But it's dangerous to assume this will be the case again.

Security

Lawsuits Threaten Infosec Research -- Just When We Need it Most (zdnet.com) 51

This year, two security reporters and one researcher will fight for their professional lives in court. Steve Ragan, senior staff writer at tech news site CSO, and Dan Goodin, security editor at Ars Technica, were last year named defendants in two separate lawsuits. The cases are different, but they have a common theme: they are being sued by the companies covered in articles they wrote. From a report: Although lawsuits targeting reporters, particularly on the security beat, are rare, legal threats are an occupational hazard that reporters are all too aware of -- from companies threatening to call an editor to demand a correction -- or else -- to a full-blown lawsuit. But the inevitable aftermath is a "chilling effect." White-hat hackers and security researchers hesitate to report vulnerabilities and weaknesses to technology firms for fear of facing legal retribution. With nation state attackers targeting elections and critical national security infrastructure on a near-daily basis, security research is needed more than ever.

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