Government

The US Government Keeps Spectacularly Underestimating Solar Energy Installation (qz.com) 150

Michael J. Coren reports via Quartz: Every two years, the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), America's official source for energy statistics, issues 10-year projections about how much solar, wind and conventional energy the future holds for the U.S. Every two years, since the mid-1990s, the EIA's projections turn out to be wrong. Last year, they proved spectacularly wrong. The Natural Resources Defense Council, an environmental advocacy group, and Statista recently teamed up to analyze the EIA's predictions for energy usage and production. They found that the EIA's 10-year estimates between 2006 to 2016 systematically understated the share of wind, solar and gas. Solar capacity, in particular, was a whopping 4,813% more in 2016 than the EIA had predicted in 2006 it would be. To be fair, there is a caveat here: The prediction in 2006 was that 10 years hence the U.S. would be generating just 0.8 gigawatts (GW) of solar energy. With such a low baseline figure, any increase will look huge in percentage terms. Nonetheless, there is an unmistakable trend in the data: The EIA regularly underestimates the growth in renewables but overestimates U.S. fossil-fuel consumption, which some critics see as an attempt to boost the oil and gas industry.
Bitcoin

Software Developer Creates Personal Cryptocurrency (wired.com) 101

mirandakatz writes: If you want to pick Evan Prodromou's brain -- as many people often do -- you'll have to pay him. And not just a consulting fee: You'll have to pay him in his own personal cryptocurrency, dubbed Evancoin. Currently, 20 days after his Initial Coin Offering, a single Evancoin is worth $45. As Prodromou tells Scott Rosenberg at Backchannel, "I'm not above a stunt! But in this case I'm really serious about exploring how cryptocurrency is changing what we can do with money and how we think about it. Money is this sort of consensual hallucination, and I wanted to experiment around that." The story goes on to explain what, exactly, goes into creating a personal cryptocurrency, and whether Evancoin could becoming a phenomenon that spreads.
Education

Arkansas Will Pay Up To $1,000 Cash To Kids Who Pass AP Computer Science A Exam 105

theodp writes: The State of Arkansas will be handing out cash to high school students who pass an Advanced Placement test in computer science. "The purpose of the incentive program is to increase the number of qualifying scores (3, 4, or 5) on Advanced Placement Computer Science A exams," explained a press release for the Arkansas Advanced Placement Computer Science A Incentive Program (only 87 Arkansas public school students passed the AP CS A exam in 2016, according to College Board data). Gov. Asa Hutchinson added, "The Arkansas Department of Education's incentive for high scores on the AP Computer Science A exam is a terrific way to reward our students for their hard work in school. The real payoff for their hard work, of course, is when they show their excellent transcripts to potential employers who offer good salaries for their skills." The tiered monetary awards call for public school students receiving a top score of 5 on the AP CS A exam to receive $1,000, with another $250 going to their schools. Scores of 4 will earn students $750 and schools $150, while a score of 3 will result in a $250 payday for students and $50 for their schools. The program evokes memories of the College Board's Google-funded AP STEM Access program, which rewarded AP STEM teachers with a $100 DonorsChoose.org gift card for each student who received a 3, 4, or 5 on an AP exam. DonorsChoose.org credits were also offered later by tech-bankrolled Code.org and Google to teachers who got their students coding.
Media

Body Camera Giant Wants Police To Collect Your Videos Too (fastcompany.com) 60

tedlistens shares a report from Fast Company: Axon, the police supplier formerly known as Taser and now a leading maker of police body cameras, has also charged into police software with a service that allows police to manage and eventually analyze increasingly large caches of video, like a Dropbox for cops. Now it wants to add the public's video to the mix. An online tool called Citizen, set to launch later this year, will allow police to solicit the public for photos or video in the aftermath of suspected crimes and ingest them into Axon's online data platform. Todd Basche, Axon's executive vice president for worldwide products, said the tool was designed after the company conducted surveys of police customers and the public and found that potentially valuable evidence was not being collected. "They all pointed us to the need to collect evidence that's out there in the community."

[But] systems like Citizen still raise new privacy and policy questions, and could test the limits of already brittle police-community relations. Would Citizen, for instance, also be useful for gathering civilian evidence of incidents of police misconduct or brutality? [And how would ingesting citizen video into online police databases, like Axon's Evidence.com, allow police to mine it later for suspicious activity, in a sort of dragnet fashion?] "It all depends," says one observer, "on how agencies use the tool."

Security

Student Expelled After Using Hardware Keylogger to Hack School, Change Grades (bleepingcomputer.com) 136

Catalin Cimpanu, writing for BleepingComputer: Kansas University (KU) officials have expelled a student for installing a hardware keylogger and using the data acquired from the device to hack into the school's grading system and chang his grades. KU did not release the student's name to the public, but they said the keystroke logging device had been installed on one of the computers in its lecture halls. The student used data collected from the device to change F grades into A grades. Professors said the incident would not have been noticed if the student didn't get greedy about modifications. The hardware device the student used was a run-of-the-mill hardware keylogger that anyone can buy on Amazon or eBay for prices as low as $20. Speaking to local media, various KU professors said they hope not to see any copycats in the near future.
Businesses

Japan's SoftBank Says It Could Invest as Much As $880 Billion in Tech (recode.net) 42

SoftBank could commit as much as $880 billion to tech investments in the coming years, a gargantuan, unprecedented amount of cash that would amount to a seismic shift in tech-sector finance. From a report: "The Vision Fund was just the first step, 10 trillion yen ($88 billion) is simply not enough," CEO Masayoshi Son said in an interview with The Nikkei Asian Review that was published late Thursday. "We will briskly expand the scale. Vision Funds 2, 3 and 4 will be established every two to three years." Son's comment confirms a Recode report that his Vision Fund -- which is sinking $100 billion into the technology sector worldwide -- was only the first in a series of investments that he plans to make in young companies. "We are creating a mechanism to increase our funding ability from 10 trillion yen to 20 trillion yen to 100 trillion yen," Son told the outlet. That comes out to about $880 billion. Companies that SoftBank either completely owns or has major or minor stakes in include Vodafone Japan, Yahoo! Japan, India's Snapdeal, India's Ola, Sprint Corporation, and India's Flipkart. The company is expected to become a major stake holder in Uber as soon as next week.
Security

MasterCard Has Finally Realized That Signatures Are Obsolete and Stupid (fastcompany.com) 341

An anonymous reader shares a report: For years, credit card companies have relied on an illegible squiggly line as the frontline of defense against credit card fraud. Customers are forced to use a pen (how retro!) to scrawl their signature on bills at restaurants and sign digitally at cash registers -- as if somehow in the age of chips, PINs, biometrics, and online fraud alerts, a line on a page is still a great tool against fraud prevention. Personally, I have been known to sign on the dotted line with a doodle of a piece of tofu and no one has ever stopped me, because signatures mean very little in this digital age. Companies are finally seeing the light. Starting in April 2018, MasterCard cardholders will no longer be required to sign their name when they purchase something using their debit or credit cards. The company has been moving away from requiring signatures for a few years now, with only about 80% of purchases (typically over a certain dollar amount) requiring a signature these days. MasterCard did some digging, though, and per its press release, realized that most of their customers "believe it would be easier to pay and that checkout lines would move faster if they didn't need to sign when making a purchase."
Bitcoin

Bitcoin Nears $6,000 For the First Time (bloomberg.com) 120

Bitcoin closed in on another milestone Friday, as the digital currency approached $6,000 for the first time to put its gain in 2017 to above 500 percent. From a report: The push higher comes just three days after bitcoin suffered its biggest one-day drop in a month on rising concern that regulators are increasingly targeting digital currencies. It's added almost $500 in value in the past two days alone.
Microsoft

Microsoft's Market Value Hits a Dot-Com Era Milestone: $600 Billion (wsj.com) 97

An anonymous reader shares a report: Microsoft's value is returning to tech-bubble peaks. The software giant closed with a market value of $600 billion Thursday for the first time since January 2000, according to the Journal's Market Data Group. Shares rose 0.4 percent to $77.91, setting a fresh all-time high. For the year, Microsoft shares are up 25% and on track for their best year since 2013, as the firm continues its rebirth as a force in cloud-computing. The firm is the third-largest S&P 500 company in market value, trailing Apple (about $800 billion) and Google's parent company, Alphabet, (about $690 billion). In July, fellow technology and internet stalwarts Facebook and Amazon.com joined the trio as the only U.S.-listed companies valued at more than in the $500 billion. The last time Microsoft was over $600 billion back in 2000, it didn't stay there for long. The tech bubble would peak in March of that year, and the Nasdaq Composite Index wouldn't climb back to the level it reach that year until 2015.
Google

On the Google Book Scanning Project and the Library We Will Never See (theatlantic.com) 153

For a decade, Google's enormous project to create a massive digital library of books was embroiled in litigation with a group of writers who say it was costing them a lot of money in lost revenue. Even as Google notched a victory when a federal appeals court ruled that the company's project was fair use, the company quietly shut down the project. From an article published in April this year: Despite eventually winning Authors Guild v. Google, and having the courts declare that displaying snippets of copyrighted books was fair use, the company all but shut down its scanning operation. It was strange to me, the idea that somewhere at Google there is a database containing 25-million books and nobody is allowed to read them. It's like that scene at the end of the first Indiana Jones movie where they put the Ark of the Covenant back on a shelf somewhere, lost in the chaos of a vast warehouse. It's there. The books are there. People have been trying to build a library like this for ages -- to do so, they've said, would be to erect one of the great humanitarian artifacts of all time -- and here we've done the work to make it real and we were about to give it to the world and now, instead, it's 50 or 60 petabytes on disk, and the only people who can see it are half a dozen engineers on the project who happen to have access because they're the ones responsible for locking it up. But Google seems to be thinking ways to make use of it, it appears. Last month, it added a new feature to its search function that instantly connects you with eBook data from libraries near you. From a report: Now, every time you search for a book through Google, information about your local library rental options will be easily available. Yeah, that's right. Your local library not only still exists, but it has eBooks, which are things you can totally borrow (for free) online! Before, this perk was hidden somewhere deep within your local library's website -- assuming it had one -- but now these free literary wonders are all yours for the taking.
Education

Could VR Field Trips Replace the Real Thing? (theindychannel.com) 96

turkeydance shares a report from RTV6, which cites a new editorial in the journal Science that explores the question, "Could VR field trips replace the real thing?" Virtual field trips have been around for a while, but they used to be pretty boring: some photos, some text -- basically a Wikipedia entry. But they've come a long way. Nearpod and Google Expeditions let students immerse themselves in places they couldn't normally visit, like Antarctica or even Mars. These virtual field trips are safer and easier to organize than real outings, and they might soon be cheaper, too. Douglas McCauley, assistant professor of ecology at the University of California, Santa Barbara, says traditional field trips have already declined under budget constraints, so schools might be tempted to simply make a switch. McCauley says he's excited about the possibilities of VR. Taking students back to prehistoric times or forward to witness the results of climate change could be a powerful teaching tool.
Advertising

Senators Announce New Bill That Would Regulate Online Political Ads (theverge.com) 227

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Verge: As tech companies face continued scrutiny over Russian activity on their ad platforms, Senators today announced legislation meant to regulate political ads on the internet. The new bill, called the Honest Ads Act, would require companies like Facebook and Google to keep copies of political ads and make them publicly available. Under the act, the companies would also be required to release information on who those ads were targeted to, as well as information on the buyer and the rates charged for the ads. The new rules would bring disclosure rules more in line with how political ads are regulated in mediums like print and TV, and apply to any platform with more than 50 million monthly viewers. The companies would be required to keep and release data on anyone spending more than $500 on political ads in a year. It's unclear how well the bill will fare. Companies like Facebook have been successfully fighting regulations for years. But this latest attempt has some bipartisan support: the act, sponsored by Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) and Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA) is also co-sponsored by Sen. John McCain (R-AZ). "Americans deserve to know who's paying for the online ads," Klobuchar said at a press conference announcing the legislation.
The Almighty Buck

Amazon Spends $350K On Seattle Mayor's Race (jeffreifman.com) 62

reifman writes: Until this summer, Amazon had never contributed more than $15,000 to a city political campaign in Seattle, but this year's different. The company is a lead funder in the Seattle Chamber of Commerce's PAC which dropped $525,000 Monday on Jenny Durkan's PAC, the centrist business candidate. Her opponent Cary Moon is an advocate for affordable housing, which complicates Amazon's growth, and city-owned community broadband. Comcast and Century Link joined Amazon contributing $25,000 and $82,500 respectively to the Chamber's PAC. Amazon's $350,000 contribution represents .00014 of its CY 2016 net profit.
Businesses

Alphabet Invests $1 Billion In Lyft (cnet.com) 15

Lyft announced Thursday that Google-parent Alphabet is leading a $1 billion financing round into the ride-hailing company. This ups Lyft's valuation from $7.5 billion to $11 billion. The funding is coming from CapitalG, one of Alphabet's investment firms. CNET reports: "CapitalG is honored to work with Lyft's compelling founders and strong leadership team," David Lawee, CapitalG partner, said in a statement. "Ridesharing is still in its early days and we look forward to seeing Lyft continue its impressive growth." Compared with Uber, Lyft has long been the small dog in the ride-hailing world. Before now, it's received $2.6 billion in venture funding, whereas Uber has received $12.9 billion and is valued at $68 billion. Alphabet's investment in Lyft could be a sore spot for rival Uber. Uber is currently locked in a legal battle with Waymo.
Canada

Canada's 'Super Secret Spy Agency' Is Releasing a Malware-Fighting Tool To the Public (www.cbc.ca) 66

Matthew Braga, reporting for CBC News: Canada's electronic spy agency says it is taking the "unprecedented step" of releasing one of its own cyber defence tools to the public, in a bid to help companies and organizations better defend their computers and networks against malicious threats. The Communications Security Establishment (CSE) rarely goes into detail about its activities -- both offensive and defensive -- and much of what is known about the agency's activities have come from leaked documents obtained by U.S. National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden and published in recent years. But as of late, CSE has acknowledged it needs to do a better job of explaining to Canadians exactly what it does. Today, it is pulling back the curtain on an open-source malware analysis tool called Assemblyline that CSE says is used to protect the Canadian government's sprawling infrastructure each day. "It's a tool that helps our analysts know what to look at, because it's overwhelming for the number of people we have to be able to protect things," Scott Jones, who heads the agency's IT security efforts, said in an interview with CBC News. On the one hand, open sourcing Assemblyline's code is a savvy act of public relations, and Jones readily admits the agency is trying to shed its "super secret spy agency" reputation in the interest of greater transparency.

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