Bitcoin

Bitcoin Backlash as 'Miners' Suck Up Electricity, Stress Power Grids in Central Washington (seattletimes.com) 81

An anonymous reader shares a report: Public hearings for rural electric utilities are rarely sellout events. But the crowd that showed up in Wenatchee two weeks ago for a hearing about Bitcoin mining in Chelan County was so large that utility staff had to open a second room with a video feed for the overflow. The turnout wasn't surprising. Chelan County, along with neighboring Douglas and Grant counties, has been at the center of the U.S. Bitcoin boom since 2012, when the region's ultracheap hydropower began attracting cryptocurrency "miners."

[...] As a result, an area famous for apples, wheat and conservative politics has been transformed into a kind of cyber-boomtown, with Bitcoin mining operations that range from large-scale, state-of-the-art warehouses to repurposed cargo containers to backyard sheds. By the end of this year, according to some estimates, the Mid-Columbia Basin could account for as much as 30 percent of the global output of new Bitcoin and large shares of other digital currencies, such as Litecoin and Ethereum. But as in any boomtown, success has come at a cost. As the cryptocurrency industry morphs into larger, more energy-intensive operations, the Basin's three public utilities districts (PUDs) are reassessing how they deal with it, and whether they can -- or should even try to -- keep up.

Earth

People Living in the Hottest Places on the Planet Are the Least Likely To Have Air Conditioners (qz.com) 110

Zoe Schlanger, writing for Quartz: In 2016, roughly 10% of the planet's energy use went towards air conditioning. Figures vary wildly from country to country, though, and some of the hottest regions on Earth use the least A/C -- for now. A new report from the International Energy Agency says that's about to change. By 2050, the intergovernmental agency predicts, global energy use from A/Cs will triple, reaching a level equivalent to China's total electricity demand today. The African continent is home to some of the hottest places on Earth, but fewer than 5% of people in most African nations own an air conditioner, and energy used for cooling comes to just 35 kWh per person living in the continent, according to the IEA. In India, where large parts of the country are hot all year round, people use an average of 70 kWh for cooling. Compared to nations where having an A/C is the norm, that's almost nothing at all.
GNOME

Mystery Donor Pledges $1 Million To The GNOME Foundation (betanews.com) 80

Brian Fagioli, writing for BetaNews: This week, The GNOME Foundation made a shocking revelation: a mystery donor has pledged $1 million dollars. We don't know who is promising the money -- it could be a rich man or woman, but more likely -- and this is pure speculation -- it is probably a company that benefits from GNOME, such as Red Hat or Canonical.

"An anonymous donor has pledged to donate up to $1,000,000 over the next two years, some of which will be matching funds. The GNOME Foundation is grateful for this donation and plans on using these funds to increase staff to streamline operations and to grow its support of the GNOME Project and the surrounding ecosystem. While the GNOME Foundation has maintained its position as a proponent of the GNOME Project, growth has been limited. With these funds, the GNOME Foundation will be able to expand and lead in the free software space," says The GNOME Foundation.

Google

Are Google's Cat-Loving Employees Killing Burrowing Owls? (seattletimes.com) 144

An anonymous reader writes: Google's employees started a group called GCat Rescue that traps feral cats and puts them up for adoption. (Though "less-friendly adult cats are neutered and released... The cats that are released are implanted with tracking chips, and an ear is notched so they can be identified.") A public records request discovered that city employees kept catching the Google-chipped cats in a nearby wildlife and recreation area that was home to the very last 50 burrowing owls in Silicon Valley — which California has officially designated a species of "special concern". Someone had apparently even installed a cat-feeding station next to a designated owl-nesting area.

The local Audubon Society has been asking Google to review their cat-feeding stations since 2012, but environmental groups told the Times Google was "consistenty unhelpful" on the cat issue. "They told us it was something their employees were doing and they couldn't interfere," said a board member with a group trying to protect the San Francisco Bay National Wildlife Refuge. "One of the cats was trapped, turned over to the Silicon Valley Animal Control Authority, released to Google, trapped again in the park and released again to Google," the Times reports, adding that "In August, it was found dead in the park."

"Like so many stories these days about Big Tech, this is a tale about how attempts to do good often produce unexpected consequences, and how even smart people (especially, perhaps, smart people) can be reluctant to rethink their convictions."

The Times reports that a "final victory is at hand" for the cats, since last year was the first time in 20 years that no owl fledglings were observed in the park -- though "as recently as 2011, there were 10." But the number of cat sightings was 318.
The Courts

Judge Backs Parents, Saying Their 30-Year-Old Son Must Move Out (npr.org) 286

"Attention geeks living in their parents' basements!" writes PolygamousRanchKid , sharing this story from NPR: The promise of adventure didn't do it. Neither did the lure of independence, or the weight of his 30 years. Instead, it took a judge to pry Michael Rotondo from his parents' home. The couple won an eviction order against their son, after a judge argued with Rotondo for 30 minutes. "I don't see why they can't just, you know, wait a little bit for me to leave the house," Rotondo told Donald Greenwood, a justice on the Onondaga County Supreme Court...

Christina and Mark Rotondo resorted to legal action after a series of notes to their son (starting on Feb. 2) failed to get him to move out of their home in Camillus, New York, a town west of Syracuse. Those notes followed discussions that began last October. The notes to Michael Rotondo ranged from orders to leave and encouragement to get a job, to offers of more than $1,000 and help in finding a place... The notes escalated into a formally worded notice for Rotondo to leave that set a 30-day deadline -- which lapsed on March 15...

In a legal filing cited by CNYCentral, Rotondo said that in the eight years he has lived at his parents' house, he "has never been expected to contribute to household expenses, or assisted with chores and the maintenance of the premises," and that those conditions are simply part of an informal agreement. When he was in his early 20s, Rotondo briefly lived on his own, but he moved back in with his parents after losing a job...

The case is being seen as an extreme example of a growing trend. As NPR reported in 2016, a Pew study found that, "For the first time in more than 130 years, Americans ages 18-34 are more likely to live with their parents than in any other living situation."

The Almighty Buck

Australian Bank's System Outage Leaves 9 Million Customers Without Cash (reuters.com) 112

An anonymous reader quotes Reuters: National Australia Bank on Saturday suffered what it described as a "nationwide outage" to some of its technology systems, leaving customers unable to access banking services or withdraw money. Customers took to social media to vent their frustrations, with some saying they were left unable to pay for groceries or refuel their cars...

National Australia Bank is one of Australia's four largest retail banks with a customer base of 9 million, according to its website... The Bank of New Zealand, a NAB subsidiary, also experienced outages on Saturday across New Zealand, but the spokesman was unable to confirm a connection between the two incidents.

United States

Ask Slashdot: Did Baby Boomers Break America? (time.com) 510

"Automation taking jobs is only one symptom of a larger problem," argues an anonymous Slashdot reader, sharing a link to this excerpt from Steven Brill's new book Tailspin, which seeks to identify "the people and forces behind America's fifty-year fall -- and those fighting to reverse it." The excerpt has this intriguing title: "How Baby Boomers Broke America." As my generation of achievers graduated from elite universities and moved into the professional world, their personal successes often had serious societal consequences. They upended corporate America and Wall Street with inventions in law and finance that created an economy built on deals that moved assets around instead of building new ones. They created exotic, and risky, financial instruments, including derivatives and credit default swaps, that produced sugar highs of immediate profits but separated those taking the risk from those who would bear the consequences. They organized hedge funds that turned owning stock into a minute-by-minute bet rather than a long-term investment... Regulatory agencies were overwhelmed by battalions of lawyers who brilliantly weaponized the bedrock American value of due process so that, for example, an Occupational Safety and Health Administration rule protecting workers from a deadly chemical could be challenged and delayed for more than a decade and end up being hundreds of pages long. Lawyers then contested the meaning of every clause while racking up fees of hundreds of dollars per hour from clients who were saving millions of dollars on every clause they could water down...

As government was disabled from delivering on vital issues, the protected were able to protect themselves still more. For them, it was all about building their own moats. Their money, their power, their lobbyists, their lawyers, their drive overwhelmed the institutions that were supposed to hold them accountable -- government agencies, Congress, the courts... That, rather than a split between Democrats and Republicans, is the real polarization that has broken America since the 1960s. It's the protected vs. the unprotected, the common good vs. maximizing and protecting the elite winners' winnings... [I]n a way unprecedented in history, they were able to consolidate their winnings, outsmart and co-opt the forces that might have reined them in, and pull up the ladder so more could not share in their success or challenge their primacy.

Brill argues that the unprotected need things like "a realistic shot at justice in the courts," writing that instead "the First Amendment became a tool for the wealthy to put a thumb on the scales of democracy." And he shares these statistics about the rest of America today:
  • For adults in their 30s, the chance of earning more than their parents dropped to 50% from 90% just two generations earlier.
  • In 2017, household debt had grown higher than the peak reached in 2008 before the crash, with student and automobile loans staking growing claims on family paychecks.
  • Although the U.S. remains the world's richest country, it has the third-highest poverty rate among the 35 nations in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development...

Has he identified the source of a societal malaise? Leave your own thoughts in the comments.

And is Brill's thesis correct? Did baby boomers break America?


Youtube

Two 18-Year-Olds Charged With Hacking YouTube's Most Popular Videos (variety.com) 37

An anonymous reader quotes Variety: Two 18-year-old French citizens have been arrested in Paris and charged with crimes related to the hack of Vevo's YouTube accounts last month that resulted in pro-Palestine messages being posted on several popular videos, according to prosecutors... Authorities allege the duo gained access to the YouTube account maintained by Vevo, to alter the content of multiple music videos, including Luis Fonsi's "Despacito" -- the most-viewed music video on YouTube in 2017, which recently surpassed 5 billion views.

The hackers also targeted videos by Selena Gomez, Taylor Swift, Katy Perry, Chris Brown and Shakira, replacing their thumbnail images, video titles and descriptions. Vevo has since removed all changes the hackers made on its YouTube videos... Paris prosecutors charged Gabriel K.A.B. and with five criminal counts and Nassim B. with six counts, including "fraudulently modifying data contained in an automated data processing system."

Last month Fortune published quotes from a Twitter user who claimed responsibility for the attacks.

"Its just for fun i just use script 'youtube-change-title-video' and i write 'hacked' don t judge me i love youtube."
United States

Gamers Behind Fatal 'SWAT' Call Now Face Life In Prison (wlwt.com) 248

An anonymous reader writes: 18-year-old Casey Viner, who instigated the 911 call which led to a fatal shooting in Wichita (hiring Tyler Barriss to perform the actual call), is in big trouble. "If convicted on the 10 counts he faces, Viner could spend almost the rest of his life in prison and pay a $1,000,000 fine," reports a local Cincinnati news site. Ironically, Viner's father is a corporal with the county sheriff's department.

The 19-year-old intended target for the SWAT attack had supplied a real address in Wichita for a house where he used to live. But in an eerie coincidence, ten days before the fatal shooting in Wichita, Cincinnati police had responded to a similar SWAT call which had sent them to a house where Viner used to live. The local police said "the facts and circumstances and the verbiage were very, very similar."

25-year-old Tyler Barriss also faces a life sentence for false information which resulted in a death -- as well as several local charges. And Thursday a federal grand jury also indicted Barriss "for a threat that caused an evacuation of a high-profile FCC hearing" into net neutrality regulations just two weeks before the fatal Wichita shooting, "and another threat eight days later that targeted FBI headquarters."

Barriss's lawyer insists that his client wasn't responsible for the Wichita death, blaming instead a "gung-ho, crazy cop."
Robotics

AI-Enhanced Weed-Killing Robots Frighten Pesticide Industry (reuters.com) 164

Rick Schumann writes: A Swiss company called ecoRobotix is betting the agricultural industry will be willing to welcome their solar-powered weed-killing autonomous robot, in an effort to reduce the use of herbicides by up to a factor of 20 and perhaps even eliminate the need for herbicide-resistant GMO crops entirely.

The 'see-and-spray' robot goes from plant to plant, visually differentiating the actual crops and weeds, and squirting the weeds selectively and precisely with weed killer, as opposed to the current technique of using large quantities of weed killer like Monsantos' Roundup to spray entire crops.

Weeds are already becoming resistant to such glyphosate-based herbicides after "more than 20 years of near-ubiquitous use," reports Reuters. (The head of one pesticide company's science division concedes that "That was probably a once-in-a-lifetime product.") But AI-based precision spraying "could mean established herbicides whose effect has worn off on some weeds could be used successfully in more potent, targeted doses."

Meanwhile, another Silicon Valley startup has built a machine using on-board cameras to distinguish weeds from crops -- and was recently acquired by the John Deere tractor company. Reuters calls these companies the "new breed of AI weeders that investors say could disrupt the $100 billion pesticides and seeds industry."

The original submission asks: Should we welcome our weed-killing robotic overlords?
Medicine

U.S. Passes 'Right to Try' Law Allowing Experimental Medical Treatments (chicagotribune.com) 136

schwit1 shared this article from the Washington Post: The House on Tuesday passed "right to try" legislation that would allow people with life-threatening illnesses to bypass the Food and Drug Administration to obtain experimental medications, ending a drawn-out battle over access to unapproved therapies. President Trump is expected to quickly sign the measure, which was praised by supporters as a lifeline for desperate patients but denounced by scores of medical and consumer groups as unnecessary and dangerous...

The FDA would be largely left out of the equation under the new legislation and would not oversee the right-to-try process. Drug manufacturers would have to report "adverse events" -- safety problems, including premature deaths -- only once a year. The agency also would be restricted in how it used such information when considering the experimental treatments for approval. Patients would be eligible for right-to-try if they had a "life-threatening illness" and had exhausted all available treatment options. The medication itself must have completed early-stage safety testing, called Phase 1 trials, and be in active development with the goal of FDA approval.

One Congressman opposing the bill argued that eliminating FDA oversight would "provide fly-by-night physicians and clinics the opportunity to peddle false hope and ineffective drugs to desperate patients," noting that the bill is opposed by over 100 patient advocacy and consumer groups.
Cloud

Microsoft Wins A Big Cloud Deal With America's Intelligence Community (spokesman.com) 45

wyattstorch516 shared this story from the AP: Microsoft Corp. said it's secured a lucrative cloud deal with the intelligence community that marks a rapid expansion by the software giant into a market led by Amazon.com Inc. The deal, which the company said Wednesday is worth hundreds of millions of dollars, allows 17 intelligence agencies and offices to use Microsoft's Azure Government, a cloud service tailored for federal and local governments, in addition to other products Microsoft already offers, such as its Windows 10 operating system and word processing programs.

The cloud agreement gives Microsoft more power to make its case to the Pentagon as it goes up against competitors like International Business Machines Corp., Oracle Corp. and Amazon for the agency's winner-take-all cloud computing contract for up to 10 years.

That contract is expected to be worth billions of dollars, according to the article, adding that "the Defense Department has said it intends to move the department's technology needs -- 3.4 million users and 4 million devices -- to the cloud to give it a tactical edge on the battlefield and strengthen its use of emerging technologies."

One Microsoft executive said this week's deal reinforces "the fact that we are a solid cloud platform that the federal government can put their trust in."
Canada

How Canada Ended Up As An AI Superpower 61

pacopico writes: Neural nets and deep learning are all the rage these days, but their rise was anything but sudden. A handful of determined researchers scattered around the globe spent decades developing neural nets while most of their peers thought they were mad. An unusually large number of these academics -- including Geoff Hinton, Yoshua Bengio, Yann LeCun and Richard Sutton -- were working at universities in Canada. Bloomberg Businessweek has put together an oral history of how Canada brought them all together, why they kept chasing neural nets in the face of so much failure, and why their ideas suddenly started to take off. There's also a documentary featuring the researchers and Prime Minster Justin Trudeau that tells more of the story and looks at where AI technology is heading -- both the good and the bad. Overall, it's a solid primer for people wanting to know about AI and the weird story of where the technology came from, but might be kinda basic for hardcore AI folks.
Movies

Most MoviePass Subscribers Have Gone To a Movie They Normally Would've Ignored (exstreamist.com) 45

Extremist surveyed 1,311 current self-reporting MoviePass subscribers and found that 82% of subscribers have gone to a movie they normally would have ignored. 13% of respondents said "No," while 5% were "Not Sure." From the report: While theaters are only reporting a slight uptick in foot traffic since MoviePass got popular, there is no denying that there are now more butts in seats of movies that otherwise might not get as much foot traffic. Perhaps the real winner in a world with MoviePass is the box office rake for "bad" movies. If you are a MoviePass subscriber, have you noticed yourself attending movies you otherwise wouldn't pay directly to see?
The Almighty Buck

Companies Are Using California Homes As Batteries To Power the Grid (qz.com) 163

"Companies like Tesla and SunRun are starting to bid on utility contracts that would allow them to string together dozens or hundreds of systems that act as an enormous reserve to balance the flow of electricity on the grid," reports Quartz. "Doing so would accelerate the grid's transformation from 20th century hub-and-spoke architecture to a transmission network moving electricity among thousands or millions of customers who generate and store their own power." From the report: In theory, networked home-solar-and-battery systems, acting in coordination over a single geographical area, could replace things like natural gas "peaker" plants need to help support the grid on a moment's notice. But it's an open question whether it makes financial sense. Kamath says renewable mandates could keep home solar-storage solutions for the grid going for a while, but the idea will have to prove itself on the market, perhaps by aggregating large areas, if it wants to seriously compete with existing energy assets.

SunRun told investors in 2017 that its pilot programs suggest it could competitively generate $2,000 worth of services by managing electricity flow back to the grid. The company has recently dropped its combative stance with utilities dragging their feet on accepting home solar. Instead, it's pursuing cooperation with the utilities now, in hopes of selling them home-based power. That would allow it grab a chunk of the billions being spent on modernizing the grid. "We don't want to be in a position of building two competing infrastructures," SunRun's Jurich said.

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