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Government

Congress Passes BOTS Act To Ban Ticket-Buying Software (arstechnica.com)

Congress passed a bill yesterday that will make it illegal for people to use software bots to buy concert tickets. Ars Technica reports: The Better Online Ticket Sales (BOTS) Act makes it illegal to bypass any computer security system designed to limit ticket sales to concerts, Broadway musicals, and other public events with a capacity of more than 200 persons. Violations will be treated as "unfair or deceptive acts" and can be prosecuted by the Federal Trade Commission or the states. The bill passed the Senate by unanimous consent last week, and the House of Representatives voted yesterday to pass it as well. It now proceeds to President Barack Obama for his signature. Computer programs that automatically buy tickets have been a frustration for the concert industry and fans for a few years now. The issue had wide exposure after a 2013 New York Times story on the issue. Earlier this year, the office of New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman completed an investigation into bots. The New York AG's ticket sales report (PDF) found that the tens of thousands of tickets snatched up by bots were marked up by an average of 49 percent.
Space

John Glenn, First American To Orbit The Earth, Dies At 95 (npr.org) 28

BenBoy writes: John Herschel Glenn Jr. (July 18, 1921 -- December 8, 2016) was an American aviator, engineer, astronaut, and United States Senator from Ohio. He was one of the "Mercury Seven" group of military test pilots selected in 1959 by NASA to become America's first astronauts and fly the Project Mercury spacecraft. He passed away today at age 95.
The Almighty Buck

Every US Taxpayer Has Effectively Paid Apple At Least $6 in Recent Years (arstechnica.com) 95

An anonymous reader shares an ArsTechnica report: Apple has received at least $6 per American taxpayer over the last five years in the form of interest payments on billions' worth of United States Treasury bonds, according to a report by Bloomberg. Citing Apple's regulatory filings and unnamed sources, the business publication found "the Treasury Department paid Apple at least $600 million and possibly much more over the past five years in the form of interest." By taking advantage of a provision in the American tax code, Bloomberg says that Apple has "stashed much of its foreign earnings -- tax-free -- right here in the US, in part by purchasing government bonds." As The Wall Street Journal reported in September, American companies are believed to be holding approximately $2 trillion in cash overseas that is shielded from US taxes. Under American law, companies must pay a 35-percent corporate tax rate on global profits when that money is brought home -- so there is an incentive to keep as much of that money overseas as possible.
Earth

First Dinosaur Tail Found Preserved in Amber (nationalgeographic.com) 31

The tail of a beautiful, feathered dinosaur has been found perfectly preserved in amber from Myanmar. It is a huge breakthrough that could help open a new window on the biology of a group that dominated Earth for more than 160 million years. From a report on the National Geographic: The semitranslucent mid-Cretaceous amber sample, roughly the size and shape of a dried apricot, captures one of the earliest moments of differentiation between the feathers of birds of flight and the feathers of dinosaurs. Inside the lump of resin is a 1.4-inch appendage covered in delicate feathers, described as chestnut brown with a pale or white underside. CT scans and microscopic analysis of the sample revealed eight vertebrae from the middle or end of a long, thin tail that may have been originally made up of more than 25 vertebrae. NPR has a story on how this amber was found. An excerpt from it reads: In 2015, Lida Xing was visiting a market in northern Myanmar when a salesman brought out a piece of amber about the size of a pink rubber eraser. Inside, he could see a couple of ancient ants and a fuzzy brown tuft that the salesman said was a plant. As soon as Xing saw it, he knew it wasn't a plant. It was the delicate, feathered tail of a tiny dinosaur.
Earth

Cesarean Births Could Be Affecting Human Evolution, Study Says (bbc.com) 238

CanadianRealist writes: Larger babies delivered by cesarean section may be affecting human evolution. Researchers estimate cases where the baby cannot fit down the birth canal have increased from 30 in 1,000 in the 1960s to 36 in 1,000 births today, [according to estimates from researchers at the University of Vienna in Austria.] Science Alert reports: "In the past, larger babies and mothers with narrow pelvis sizes might both have died in labour. Thanks to C-sections, that's now a lot less likely, but it also means that those 'at risk' genes from mothers with narrow pelvises are being carried into future generations. More detailed studies would be required to actually confirm the link between C-sections and evolution, as all we have now is a hypothesis based on the birth data." Agreed, more studies required part. Cesareans may simply be becoming more common with "too large" defined as cesarean seems like a better idea. It's reasonable to pose the question based simply on an understanding of evolution. Like it's reasonable to conjecture that length of human pregnancy is a compromise between further development in utero, and chance of mother and baby surviving the delivery.
Earth

Earth's Day Lengthens By Two Milliseconds a Century, Astronomers Find (theguardian.com) 109

Researchers at Durham University and the UK's Nautical Almanac Office compiled nearly 3,000 years of celestial records and found that with every passing century, the day on Earth lengthens by two milliseconds as the planet's rotation gradually winds down. The Guardian reports: The split second gained since the first world war may not seem much, but the time it takes for a sunbeam to travel 600km towards Earth can cost an Olympic gold medal, as the American Tim McKee found out when he lost to Sweden's Gunnar Larsson in 1972. For those holding out for a whole extra hour a day, be prepared for a long wait. Barring any change in the rate of slowing down, an Earth day will not last 25 hours for about two million centuries more. Researchers at Durham University and the UK's Nautical Almanac Office gathered historical accounts of eclipses and other celestial events from 720BC to 2015. The oldest records came from Babylonian clay tablets written in cuneiform, with more added from ancient Greek texts, such as Ptolemy's 2nd century Almagest, and scripts from China, medieval Europe and the Arab dominions. The ancient records captured the times and places that people witnessed various stages of solar and lunar eclipses, while documents from 1600AD onwards described lunar occultations, when the moon passed in front of particular stars and blocked them from view. To find out how the Earth's rotation has varied over the 2,735-year-long period, the researchers compared the historical records with a computer model that calculated where and when people would have seen past events if Earth's spin had remained constant. The astronomers found that Earth's spin would have slowed down even more had it not been for a counteracting process. Since the end of the most recent ice age, land masses that were once buried under slabs of frozen water have been unloaded and sprung back into place. The shift caused the Earth to be less oblate -- or squished -- on its axis. And just as a spinning ice skater speeds up when she pulls in her arms, so the Earth spins faster when its poles are less compressed. Changes in the world's sea levels and electromagnetic forces between Earth's core and its rocky mantle had effects on Earth's spin too, according to the scientists' report in Proceedings of the Royal Society.
Transportation

Paris Makes All Public Transportation Free In Battle Against 'Worst Air Pollution For 10 Years' (independent.co.uk) 207

Paris has barred some cars from its streets and has made public transportation free as it suffers from the worst and most prolonged winter pollution for at least 10 years, the Airparif agency said on Wednesday. The Independent reports: Authorities have said only drivers with odd-numbered registration plates can drive in the capital region on Wednesday. Drivers of even-numbered cars were given the same opportunity on Tuesday, but could now be fined up to 35 EUR if they are caught behind the wheel. More than 1,700 motorists were fined for violations on Tuesday. Paris mayor Anne Hidalgo said images of smog blanketing the capital were proof of the need to reduce vehicle use in the city center. The air pollution peak is due to the combination of emissions from vehicles and from domestic wood fires as well as near windless conditions which means pollutants have not been dispersed, the Airparif agency said. "This is a record period (of pollution) for the last 10 years," Karine Leger of AirParif told AFP by telephone. For more than a week, Airparif has published readings of PM10 at more than 80 micrograms per cubic meter of air particles, triggering the pollution alert. Along with odd-numbered cars, hybrid or electric vehicles as well as those carrying three or more people will be allowed to roam the roads. Foreign and emergency vehicles will be unaffected.
Movies

Apple Is In Talks With Hollywood For Early Access To Movies On iTunes: Bloomberg (bloomberg.com) 48

Apple is talking with Hollywood studios to try and get iTunes rentals of movies that are still playing on the big screen. According to a report from Bloomberg, "some studio executives have been pushing to allow home rentals as early as two weeks after theatrical debuts and are considering a deal with iTunes as one option." Bloomberg reports: The most recent talks are part of longer-running efforts by Cupertino, California-based Apple to get new movies sooner, two of the people said. Such an arrangement could help iTunes stand out in a crowded online market for movies, TV shows and music. While the iTunes store helped Apple build a dominant role in music retailing, the company hasn't carved out a similar role in music and video streaming. Hollywood studios typically give theaters exclusive rights to new movies for 90 days or more before issuing them on DVD or making them available for online purchase. One of the concerns about iTunes is whether it will be a secure platform for delivering movies that are still in theaters, the people said. While Apple encrypts iTunes video files so they can't easily be duplicated, it's possible to use a camera to record a movie playing on a TV screen. A leak of picture that's still in theaters would jeopardize returns for the studios and cinema owners.
Cellphones

NSA, GCHQ Have Been Intercepting In-Flight Mobile Calls For Years (reuters.com) 93

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Reuters: American and British spies have since 2005 been working on intercepting phone calls and data transfers made from aircraft, France's Le Monde newspaper reported on Wednesday, citing documents from former U.S. spy agency contractor Edward Snowden. According to the report, also carried by the investigative website The Intercept, Air France was targeted early on in the projects undertaken by the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA) and its British counterpart, GCHQ, after the airline conducted a test of phone communication based on the second-generation GSM standard in 2007. That test was done before the ability to use phones aboard aircraft became widespread. "What do the President of Pakistan, a cigar smuggler, an arms dealer, a counterterrorism target, and a combatting proliferation target have in common? They all used their everyday GSM phone during a flight," the reports cited one NSA document from 2010 as saying. In a separate internal document from a year earlier, the NSA reported that 100,000 people had already used their mobile phones in flight as of February 2009, a doubling in the space of two months. According to Le Monde, the NSA attributed the increase to "more planes equipped with in-flight GSM capability, less fear that a plane will crash due to making/receiving a call, not as expensive as people thought." Le Monde and The Intercept also said that, in an internal presentation in 2012, GCHQ had disclosed a program called "Southwinds," which was used to gather all the cellular activity, voice communication, data, metadata and content of calls made on board commercial aircraft.
Bug

Nintendo Offers Up To $20,000 To Hack the 3DS (silicon.co.uk) 41

Mickeycaskill writes: Nintendo will pay up to $20,000 for system and software vulnerabilities in the Nintendo 3DS family of handheld gaming consoles. The company is looking to prevent activities such as piracy, cheating and the circulation of inappropriate content to children. The stated goal is to "provide a secure environment for our customers so that they can enjoy our games and services. In order to achieve this goal, Nintendo is interested in receiving vulnerability information that researchers may discover regarding Nintendo's platforms." Silicon.co.uk reports: "Rewards will range from $100 to $20,000, with one given per 'qualifying piece of vulnerability information.' Hackers looking to claim a reward will have to provide Nintendo with either a proof-of-concept or a piece of functional exploit code in order to qualify."
Google

Google Is Removing 'In the News' Section From Desktop Search After Criticism (businessinsider.com) 66

Google today confirmed that it is removing "In the news" section from the top of desktop search, and replacing it with a carousel of "Top stories," similar to what exists on mobile. From a new report on BusinessInsider: This move had been planned for quite some time, and is being rolled out globally, according to Google. The removal of the word "news" will, hopefully, help draw a sharper line between Google's human-vetted Google News product, and its main search product. Last month, Google faced scrutiny when one of its top results for "final election count" was fake news. The top result in Google Search's "In the news" section was a Wordpress blog named "70 News," which falsely claimed Trump won the popular vote by a margin of almost 700,000. (He didnâ(TM)t). Google's search results, in contrast to Google News, are not assessed for "truth."
Education

Information Overload No Problem For Most Americans: Survey (reuters.com) 74

About 20 percent of American adults feel the burden of information overload, with that figure at least doubling among those from poorer or less educated backgrounds, Pew Research Center said in a new report. Reuters adds: "Generally, Americans appreciate lots of information and access to it," said the report into how U.S. adults cope with information demands. Roughly four in five Americans agree that they are confident about using the internet to keep up with information demands, that a lot of information gives them a feeling of more control over their lives, and that they can easily determine what information is trustworthy. Americans who are 65 or older, have a high school diploma or less and earn less than $30,000 a year are more likely to say they face a glut of information. Eighty-four percent of Americans with online access through three sources -- home broadband, smartphone and tablet computer -- say they like having so much information available. By contrast, 55 percent of those with no online source felt overwhelmed by the amount of possible information.
Youtube

YouTube's $1 Billion Royalties Are Not Enough, Says Music Industry (bbc.com) 216

YouTube said Tuesday that it has paid the music industry over one billion dollars in advertising revenue in the past 12 months. The music industry thinks that sum is not enough. From a report on BBC: "Google has issued more unexplained numbers on what it claims YouTube pays the music industry," said a spokesperson for the global music body, the IFPI. "The announcement gives little reason to celebrate, however. With 800 million music users worldwide, YouTube is generating revenues of just over $1 per user for the entire year. "This pales in comparison to the revenue generated by other services, ranging from Apple to Deezer to Spotify. For example, in 2015 Spotify alone paid record labels some $2bn, equivalent to an estimated $18 per user." In his blog post, Mr Kyncl conceded that the current model was not perfect, arguing: "There is a lot of work that must be done by YouTube and the industry as a whole. "But we are excited to see the momentum," he added.
Bitcoin

Bitcoin Could Rise By 165% To $2,000 in 2017 Driven by Trump's 'Spending Binge' and Dollar Rally (cnbc.com) 244

The price of Bitcoin could hit more than $2,000 in 2017 driven by expectations that U.S. President-elect Donald Trump may introduce economic stimulus policies, which could send inflation soaring and propel the dollar to record highs, a report from Saxo Bank claims. An anonymous reader shares a CNBC report: Bitcoin is currently trading around $754.51, according to CoinDesk data. A handle of over $2,000 would represent 165 percent appreciation. During his election campaign Trump has talked about an increase in fiscal spending. Saxo Bank's note said that this could increase the roughly $20 trillion of U.S. national debt and triple the current budget deficit from approximately $600 billion to $1.2-1.8 trillion, or some 6-10 percent of the country's current $18.6 trillion economy. As a result, the economy will grow and inflation will "sky rocket," forcing the U.S. Federal Reserve to hike interest rates at a faster pace and causing the U.S. dollar "to hit the moon." When inflation rises the Federal Reserve may raise interest rates to bring it under control. This causes the dollar to appreciate because it would be seen as an attractive currency for foreign investors.
Businesses

Apple's Top Assembler Foxconn Confirms Plans for US Investment, To Create 50,000 Jobs (bloomberg.com) 316

Foxconn, the biggest assembler of Apple devices, is in preliminary discussions to make an investment that would expand the company's U.S. operations. From a report on Bloomberg: The disclosure came hours after an announcement by U.S. President-elect Donald Trump and SoftBank Group's Masayoshi Son to invest $50 billion in the U.S. and create 50,000 jobs. The money will come from SoftBank's $100 billion technology fund, which was announced in October, a person familiar with the matter said. A document that Son held up after the meeting in Trump Tower also included the words "Foxconn," "$7 billion" and "50,000 new jobs" in addition to SoftBank's numbers. "While the scope of the potential investment has not been determined, we will announce the details of any plans following the completion of direct discussions between our leadership and the relevant U.S. officials," Foxconn said in a statement. "Those plans would be made based on mutually-agreed terms."
NES (Games)

Doyodo RetroEngine Sigma Is a Linux-Powered Classic Video Game Emulation Console (betanews.com) 91

BrianFagioli quotes a report from BetaNews: The Nintendo NES Classic is quite an amazing console. True, it is not as powerful as modern game systems like Xbox One and PlayStation 4, but it comes pre-loaded with many classic NES titles. Unfortunately, its strength is also its weakness -- those pre-loaded titles are the only games you can play. You cannot load other games, so you are stuck with what you got. As an alternative, some folks use software emulation and ROMs on their computers to play countless video game titles. Of course, there are moral concerns here, as you are often downloading the games illegally -- unless you own the physical copy, that is. Even then, it is a gray area. Today, a company called Doyodo launched a new Linux-powered emulation console on Indiegogo. The device not only plays NES games, but Atari, Game Boy, PlayStation 1, Genesis, and more. You play using USB controllers. In addition, it can serve as a media player (with Kodi) or a full-fledged Linux desktop. Some other features include 4K video playback, Wi-Fi networking built in, and a compact and portable design. There's even a deluxe version that ships with Bluetooth, an extra controller and 32GB of storage; the basic configuration includes just one controller and 16GB of storage. You can view the Indiegogo page here.
Canada

Canada's Prime Minister Justin Trudeau Makes Game For Third Annual Hour of Code (gamasutra.com) 131

Eloking writes: Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's Twitter account lit up today with a message all too familiar to many indie devs: Mr. Trudeau has made a video game, and he'd like everyone to play it. It was a cute bit of promotion for Hour of Code, the computer science education event masterminded every year by the Code.org nonprofit. While the Hour of Code websites hosts one-hour tutorials (in 45 languages) for coding all sorts of simple applications, game developers may appreciate that the lion's share appears to be game projects, like the one Trudeau modified into a sort of hockey-themed Breakout variant.
NASA

NASA Awards $127 Million Contract For Refueling Mission Spacecraft (gizmodo.com) 37

Satellites cost millions of dollars to be launched into space and there's no guarantee that they will work without electrical or mechanical problems once in orbit. NASA has recently announced that it will award a $127 million contract to a company that aims to use a robotic spacecraft to fix satellites in space, thus potentially saving millions of dollars in the long-run by fixing satellites that would otherwise be "expensive e-waste." Gizmodo reports: NASA has just announced that it will award a $127 million contract to the California-based satellite company Space Systems/Loral for Restore-L, a robotic spacecraft capable of grasping, refueling and relocating a satellite in low Earth orbit, in addition to testing technologies for future missions. SSL has three years to build the bot, which is projected to launch in 2020. Without the ability to refuel, a satellite's lifespan is restricted by the amount of propellant engineers can pack in its tank at launch. That lifespan can be cut even shorter should the spacecraft encounter any electrical or mechanical problems on orbit. As more and more satellites reach the end of their operational lifespans, government agencies and private companies have been working to remedy this problem by developing robots that can give satellites a tune-up in zero-gravity. DARPA, for instance, recently launched a program aimed at designing robots capable of servicing satellites at the hard-to-reach but highly-desirable perch of geosynchronous orbit, 22,000 miles above Earth. NASA's Satellite Servicing Division, meanwhile, has a handful of on-orbit repair and refueling technology demonstrators in the works, including a robotic arm with the same range of motion as a human arm, a navigation system designed to help robots rendezvous with moving objects in space, and Restore-L, which combines these and other capabilities into a multi-purpose space mechanic. For now, Restore-L's primary goal is to refuel Landsat 7, a critical Earth-monitoring satellite operated by NASA and the U.S. Geological Survey. If successful, the spacecraft may be modified for all sorts of other useful tasks, from mopping up the ever-growing halo of space junk encircling our planet, to servicing exciting new science missions like the Asteroid Redirect Mission, which will grab a multi-ton boulder from the surface of an asteroid and tow it back to orbit around the Moon.
Google

'The Circle' Trailer Looks An Awful Lot Like Google (cnet.com) 76

theodp writes: If you never got around to reading Dave Eggers' novel The Circle, the tale of a powerful tech company that bears a more-than-passing resemblance to Google (and has an Apple spaceship-like HQ) is coming to the big screen and the first trailer is out. The film has a release date of spring 2017, and stars Tom Hanks, Emma Watson and John Boyega. Remember, sharing is caring!
Communications

Weather Channel To Breitbart: Stop Citing Us To Spread Climate Skepticism (weather.com) 547

Breitbart.com published an article last week that erroneously claims global warming is coming to an end, claiming "global land temperatures have plummeted by 1 degree Celsius since the middle of the year -- the biggest and steepest fall on record." The Weather Channel finds this report especially upsetting as it's not only inaccurate but it features a video from weather.com at the top of the article. The Weather Channel reports: Breitbart had the legal right to use this clip as part of a content-sharing agreement with another company, but there should be no assumption that The Weather Company endorses the article associated with it. The Breitbart article -- a prime example of cherry picking, or pulling a single item out of context to build a misleading case -- includes this statement: "The last three years may eventually come to be seen as the final death rattle of the global warming scare." In fact, thousands of researchers and scientific societies are in agreement that greenhouse gases produced by human activity are warming the planet's climate and will keep doing so. Along with its presence on the high-profile Breitbart site, the article drew even more attention after a link to it was retweeted by the U.S. House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology. The Breitbart article heavily references a piece that first appeared on U.K. Daily Mail's site. The Weather Channel went on to refute the Breitbart article's hypothesis: This number comes from one satellite-based estimate of temperatures above land areas in the lower atmosphere. Data from the other two groups that regularly publish satellite-based temperature estimates show smaller drops, more typical of the decline one would expect after a strong El Nino event. Temperatures over land give an incomplete picture of global-scale temperature. Most of the planet -- about 70 percent -- is covered by water, and the land surface warms and cools more quickly than the ocean. Land-plus-ocean data from the other two satellite groups, released after the Breitbart article, show that Earth's lower atmosphere actually set a record high in November 2016.

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