Google

Ask Slashdot: Female Engineers, Could You Please Share Your Thoughts On the Google Memo 570

Reader joshtops writes: The widely circulated memo written by software engineer James Damore has become the talking point across companies in Silicon Valley, and elsewhere. In an interesting take, The Economist on Tuesday argued with the scientific or otherwise assumptions made by Damore. I was wondering what female engineers -- or females in other STEM beats -- think of the memo.
Microsoft

We're Not Walking Away From Continuum, Says HP (theregister.co.uk) 44

An anonymous reader shares a report: While Windows roadmaps purportedly leaked to a blog last week appear to have a big hole in them where mobile should be, HP Inc tells us it has been assured by Redmond there are no plans to drop Continuum. HP is the sole major mobile vendor committed to the Windows Mobile Edition of Windows 10 and bet big on Continuum, the multimode "use-your-phone-as-a-PC" feature on which some of HP's ambitions rest. El Reg was impressed by HP's plans to build an ecosystem around the multi-mode capabilities of the HP Elite x3 phone, which doubles up as a PC replacement. (Or tries to.) Launching in over 50 markets, the ecosystem includes a streaming apps service HP Workplace to fill in the app gap, and even a "lap dock." HP pitched it at field workers and verticals. The only thing letting Inc-ers down was the quality of the software from Microsoft. Spring came and went without the expected improvements to Continuum. Unauthorised briefings last week suggest the Windows Mobile branch of Windows 10 is now an orphan.
Businesses

Gates Makes Largest Donation Since 2000 With $4.6 Billion Pledge (bloomberg.com) 159

From a report: Bill Gates made his largest gift since the turn of the century, giving away Microsoft shares that accounted for 5 percent of his fortune, the world's biggest. The billionaire donated 64 million of the software maker's shares valued at $4.6 billion on June 6, according to a Securities & Exchange Commission filing released Monday. While the recipient of the gift wasn't specified, Gates has made the majority of his donations to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the charity he and his wife use to direct their philanthropic efforts. It's the largest gift of Microsoft shares that Gates has made since 2000. The 61-year-old gave away $16 billion worth of Microsoft shares in 1999 and $5.1 billion a year later, according to calculations by Bloomberg.
Google

Google Hires Former Star Apple Engineer Chris Lattner For Its AI Team (bloomberg.com) 49

An anonymous reader shares a report: Chris Lattner, a legend in the world of Apple software, has joined another rival of the iPhone maker: Alphabet's Google, where he will work on artificial intelligence. Lattner announced the news on Twitter on Monday, saying he will start next week. His arrival at Mountain View, California-based Google comes after a brief stint as head of the automated driving program at Tesla, which he left in June. Lattner made a name for himself during a decade-plus career at Apple, where he created the popular programming language Swift. Lattner said he is joining Google Brain, the search giant's research unit. There he will work on a different software language: TensorFlow, Google's system designed to simplify the programming steps for AI, according to a person with knowledge of the matter.
The Courts

Researcher Who Stopped WannaCry Pleads Not Guilty to Creating Banking Malware (vice.com) 71

Lorenzo Franceschi-Bicchierai, reporting for Motherboard: Monday, the well-known security researcher who became famous after helping to stop the destructive WannaCry ransomware outbreak pleaded "not guilty" to creating software that would later become banking malware. Marcus Hutchins -- better known by his online nickname MalwareTech -- was arrested in early August in Las Vegas after the hacking conference Def Con. The US government accuses Hutchins of writing software in 2014 that would later become the banking malware Kronos. After getting out on bail and traveling to Milwaukee, he stood in front a judge on Monday for his arraignment. Prosecutors also allege he helped a still unknown co-defendant market and sell Kronos. Hutchins's lawyer Brian Klein declared in a packed courtroom in Milwaukee that Hutchins was "not guilty" of six charges related to the alleged creation and distribution of malware. Hutchins will be allowed to travel to Los Angeles, where he will live while he awaits trial. He will also be represented by Marcia Hoffman, formerly of the Electronic Frontier Foundation. Under the terms of his release, Hutchins will be tracked by GPS but will be allowed full internet access so he can continue to work as a security researcher; the only restriction is he will no longer be allowed to access the WannaCry "sinkhole" he used to stop the outbreak of ransomware.
Firefox

'See the Future Firefox Right Now' (cnet.com) 290

"Mozilla is prepping a new version of Firefox in an effort to rally in the race for browser supremacy," writes CNET's Matt Elliott, who decided to test drive a new nightly build of Firefox 57 which "promises fast speeds and a new look." An anonymous reader quotes their report: Firefox 57 has added a screenshot button in the top-right corner... It highlights different elements on a page as you mouse over them, or you can just click-and-drag the old-school way to take a screenshot of a portion of a page. Screenshots are saved within Firefox. Click the scissors button and then click the little My Shots window to open a new tab of all of your saved screenshots. From here you can download them or share them... The bookmark and Pocket buttons have been moved from the right of the URL bar to inside it, but the Page Actions button is new. Click it and you'll get a small menu to Copy URL, Email Link and Send to Device. The Page Actions menu also has bookmark and Pocket buttons, which seems redundant at first but then I realized you can remove those items from the URL bar by right-clicking them. You can't remove the new, triple-dot Page Actions button...

As with any prerelease software, Firefox Nightly 57 is meant for developers and will likely exhibit strange and unstable behavior from time to time. Also, there is no guarantee that the final release will look like what you see in the current version of Nightly. For example, I have read reports that the search box next to Firefox's URL bar may be on the chopping block. It's part of the design of the current Nightly build but I wouldn't be surprised if it gets dropped between now and November since most web users have grown accustomed to entering their search queries right in the URL bar. Just as you can with the current version of Firefox, however, you can customize which elements are displayed at the top of Firefox Nightly 57, including the search box.

ISS

SpaceX Will Deliver The First Supercomputer To The ISS (hpe.com) 98

Slashdot reader #16,185, Esther Schindler writes: "By NASA's rules, not just any computer can go into space. Their components must be radiation hardened, especially the CPUs," reports HPE Insights. "Otherwise, they tend to fail due to the effects of ionizing radiation. The customized processors undergo years of design work and then more years of testing before they are certified for spaceflight." As a result, the ISS runs the station using two sets of three Command and Control Multiplexer DeMultiplexer computers whose processors are 20MHz Intel 80386SX CPUs, right out of 1988. "The traditional way to radiation-harden a spacecraft computer is to add redundancy to its circuits or by using insulating substrates instead of the usual semiconductor wafers on chips. That's expensive and time consuming. HPE scientists believe that simply slowing down a system in adverse conditions can avoid glitches and keep the computer running."

So, assuming the August 15 SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket launch goes well, there will be a supercomputer headed into space -- using off-the-shelf hardware. Let's see if the idea pans out. "We may discover a set of parameters with which a supercomputer can successfully run for at least a year without errors," says Dr. Mark R. Fernandez, the mission's co-principal investigator for software and SGI's HPC technology officer. "Alternately, one or more components of the system will fail, in which case we will then do the typical failure analysis on Earth. That will let us learn what to change to make the systems more reliable in the future."

The article points out that the New Horizons spacecraft that just flew past Pluto has a 12MHz Mongoose-V CPU, based on the MIPS R3000 CPU. "You may remember its much faster ancestor: the chip that took you on adventures in the original Sony PlayStation, circa 1994."
Debian

OpenSource.com Test-Drives Linux Distros From 1993 To 2003 (opensource.com) 79

An anonymous reader quotes OpenSource.com: A unique trait of open source is that it's never truly EOL (End of Life). The disc images mostly remain online, and their licenses don't expire, so going back and installing an old version of Linux in a virtual machine and getting a precise picture of what progress Linux has made over the years is relatively simple... Whether you're new to Linux, or whether you're such an old hand that most of these screenshots have been more biographical than historical, it's good to be able to look back at how one of the largest open source projects in the world has developed. More importantly, it's exciting to think of where Linux is headed and how we can all be a part of that, starting now, and for years to come.
The article looks at seven distros -- Slackware 1.01 (1993), Debian 0.91 (1994), Jurix/S.u.S.E. (1996), SUSE 5.1 (1998), Red Hat 6.0 (1999), Mandrake 8.0 (2001), and Fedora 1 (2003). Click through for some of the highlights.
The Internet

'I'm a Teapot' Error Code Saved From Extinction By Public Outcry (gizmodo.com.au) 111

An anonymous reader quotes Gizmodo: An anonymous reader quotes Gizmodo: It started back in 1998 as an April Fool's Day gag. Written up by Larry Masinter of the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF), error code 418 -- "I'm a teapot" -- was nothing more than a poke at the "many bad HTTP extensions that had been proposed". Despite its existence as a joke, a number of major software projects, including Node.js, ASP.NET and Google's Go language, implemented it as an Easter egg. A recent attempt to excise the fictitious code from these projects ended up doing the opposite, cementing it as a "reserved" error by the IETF...

Australian programmer Mark Nottingham flagged the code's removal as an "issue" for Google's Go language, the Node.js Javascript runtime and Microsoft's ASP.NET... Nottingham's argument was that 418 was "polluting [the] core protocol" of these projects... It didn't take long for a "Save 418" website to go live and through the efforts of interested internet historians (and jokers), all three of the aforementioned projects have decided to keep the code as it is, though Google will "revisit" the situation with the next major version of Go.

The Save 418 site argued that "the application of such an status code is boundless. Its utility, quite simply, is astonishingly unparalleled. It's a reminder that the underlying processes of computers are still made by humans. It'd be a real shame to see 418 go."
Oracle

Oracle Fiddles With Major Database Release Cycle Numbers (theregister.co.uk) 69

An anonymous reader shares a report: Big Red has changed its database release cycle, scrapping names that see decimal points and numbers added on for an indeterminate amount of time, instead plumping for annual releases numbered by the year. So what would have been Oracle Database 12.2.0.2 will now be Oracle Database 18; 12.2.0.3 will come out a year later, and be Oracle Database 19. The approach puts Oracle only about 20 years behind Microsoft in adopting a year-based naming convention (Microsoft still uses years to number Windows Server, even though it stopped for desktop versions when it released XP). [...] Well, Big Red will surely be using the revamp as a way to boost sales of database licences -- a crucial part of its business -- which have been in decline for two years running. In fiscal 2016, Oracle reported a 12 per cent drop in annual sales of new software licences, and its most recent results for fiscal 2017 revealed a further 5 per cent drop. And, for all that Oracle has shouted about its cloudy success of late, it isn't yet a major money-maker for the biz. New software license sales make up a quarter of overall revenue, while support for that software makes up a further 45 per cent. In part, the new numbering will be a handy marketing ploy. Rather than playing with the decimal points, a release with a new whole number could be an attempt to give the impression of agility in the face of younger, fresher competitors. Meanwhile, fewer patches and releases on each system also allows Oracle to know more quickly, and more accurately, what security features each customer has. The annual numbering system is also a very simple way of telling you your system is old.
China

China Working On 'Repression Network' Which Lets Cameras Identify Cars With Unprecedented Accuracy (thesun.co.uk) 80

schwit1 shares a report from The Sun: Researchers at a Chinese university have revealed the results of an investigation aimed at creating a "repression network" which can identify cars from "customized paintings, decorations or even scratches" rather than by scanning its number plate. A team from Peking University said the technology they have developed to perform this task could also be used to recognize the faces of human beings. Essentially, it works by learning from what it sees, allowing it to differentiate between cars (or humans) by spotting small differences between them. "The growing explosion in the use of surveillance cameras in public security highlights the importance of vehicle search from large-scale image databases," the researcher wrote. "Precise vehicle search, aiming at finding out all instances for a given query vehicle image, is a challenging task as different vehicles will look very similar to each other if they share same visual attributes." They added: "We can extend our framework [software] into wider applications like face and person retrieval [identification] as well."
Security

Scientists Create DNA-Based Exploit of a Computer System (technologyreview.com) 43

Archeron writes: It seems that scientists at University of Washington in Seattle have managed to encode malware into genomic data, allowing them to gain full access to a computer being used to analyze the data. While this may be a highly contrived attack scenario, it does ask the question whether we pay sufficient attention to data-driven exploits, especially where the data is instrument-derived. What other systems could be vulnerable to a tampered raw data source? Perhaps audio and RF analysis systems? MIT Technology Review reports: "To carry out the hack, researchers led by Tadayoshi Kohno and Luis Ceze encoded malicious software in a short stretch of DNA they purchased online. They then used it to gain 'full control' over a computer that tried to process the genetic data after it was read by a DNA sequencing machine. The researchers warn that hackers could one day use faked blood or spit samples to gain access to university computers, steal information from police forensics labs, or infect genome files shared by scientists. To make the malware, the team translated a simple computer command into a short stretch of 176 DNA letters, denoted as A, G, C, and T. After ordering copies of the DNA from a vendor for $89, they fed the strands to a sequencing machine, which read off the gene letters, storing them as binary digits, 0s and 1s. Yaniv Erlich, a geneticist and programmer who is chief scientific officer of MyHertige.com, a genealogy website, says the attack took advantage of a spill-over effect, when data that exceeds a storage buffer can be interpreted as a computer command. In this case, the command contacted a server controlled by Kohno's team, from which they took control of a computer in their lab they were using to analyze the DNA file." You can read their paper here.
China

China's VPN Developers Face Crackdown (bbc.com) 55

China recently launched a crackdown on the use of software which allows users to get around its heavy internet censorship. Now as the BBC reports, developers are facing growing pressure. From the report: The three plain-clothes policemen tracked him down using a web address. They came to his house and demanded to see his computer. They told him to take down the app he was selling on Apple's App Store, and filmed it as it was happening. His crime was to develop and sell a piece of software that allows people to get round the tough restrictions that limit access to the internet in China. A virtual private network (VPN) uses servers abroad to provide a secure link to the internet. It's essential in China if you want to access parts of the outside world like Facebook, Gmail or YouTube, all of which are blocked on the mainland. "They insisted they needed to see my computer," the software developer, who didn't want us to use his name, told us during a phone interview. "I said this is my private stuff. How can you search as you please?" No warrant was produced and when he asked them what law he had violated they didn't say. Initially he refused to co-operate but, fearing detention, he relented. Then they told him what they wanted: "If you take the app off the shelf from Apple's App Store then this will be all over." 'Sorry, I can't help you with that'. Up until a few months ago his was a legal business. Then the government changed the regulations. VPN sellers need a licence now.
Google

Fired Google Engineer Says Company Execs Shamed and Smeared Him (bloomberg.com) 710

An anonymous reader shares a Bloomberg report, in which the recently fired employee has been interviewed: James Damore, who until Monday worked as an engineer on video and image search at Alphabet's Mountain View, California, headquarters, said he initially shared the 3,300-word memo internally a month ago. But it was only after the memo went viral that company leaders banded together to make him an outcast, he said on Bloomberg TV. When he initially circulated the memo, "no one high up ever came to me and said, 'No, don't do this,' even though there were many people who looked at it," Damore said. "It was only after it got viral that upper management started shaming me and eventually firing me." The memo, which was leaked to the public over the weekend, argues that conservative viewpoints are suppressed at Google and that biological differences between men and women explain in part why so few women work in software engineering. Even if someone in Google management had agreed with some of the arguments put forth in his piece, they wouldn't have felt safe speaking up, he said. "There was a concerted effort among upper management to have a very clear signal that what I did was harmful and wrong and didn't stand for Google," Damore said. "It would be career suicide for any executives or directors to support me."
Communications

A New Way to Tell Your Airline You Hate It (bloomberg.com) 50

An anonymous reader shares a report: Airlines -- an industry not known for stellar customer interactions -- are joining the party, and not just to break the bad news about your flight. They're inviting you to ask questions, and maybe even complain. Two airlines have dipped their wings into the waters of two-way texting. Hawaiian Holdings's Hawaiian Airlines is adding the feature while JetBlue Airways took a stake in a software startup that will allow its call center staff to start texting customers in the coming months. Texting, technically called SMS (which stands for short message service), is arguably the world's most favored form of communication, but much of corporate America has been slow to adapt. The few that have -- including Verizon Wireless retailers, British telecom company Sky UK, and Nestle SA's frozen foods division -- are dwarfed by an array of local commerce, from insurance agents, veterinarians, air conditioning techs, and auto dealers who have already jumped in to conduct their business.
Microsoft

Kaspersky Drops Antitrust Complaint After Microsoft Promises To Make Changes To Windows 10 (theverge.com) 31

Security firm Kaspersky said Thursday it was withdrawing its European antitrust complaint against Microsoft after the software giant promised to make changes to the upcoming Windows 10 Fall Creators Update that have appeased Kaspersky and help its anti-virus software provide notifications and alerts to renew virus definitions. From a report: Kaspersky originally filed its complaint back in June, claiming that Microsoft disabled its anti-virus software during Windows upgrades and that the software maker was using its dominance to "fiercely promote" its own Windows Defender software. Microsoft admitted in late June that Windows 10 prompts to install a new version of anti-virus from third parties like Kaspersky after an update, but it disables the old version if it's not compatible. Microsoft now says it "will work more closely with AV vendors to help them with compatibility reviews in advance of each feature update becoming available to customers." The software maker will also provide better visibility of release schedules for Windows 10 updates, giving anti-virus vendors more time to test changes.
Facebook

Facebook Is Cracking Down On Deceptive Ads For Porn, Diet Pills (adweek.com) 90

According to Adweek, the next target in Facebook's efforts to keep its News Feed clean is cloaking -- a technique used by "bad actors" to circumvent Facebook's review processes and show content to people that violates Facebook's Community Standards and Advertising Policies. For example, they will set up web pages so that when a Facebook reviewer clicks a link to check whether it's consistent with Facebook's policies, they are taken to a different web page than when someone using the Facebook app clicks that same link. "Facebook product management director Rob Leathern and software engineer Bobbie Chang described in a Newsroom post how 'bad actors' -- such as those promoting diet pills, pornography or muscle-building scams -- attempt to game the social network's review processes," reports Adweek. From the report: Leathern and Chang said Facebook has removed "thousands" of offenders from its platform over the past few months, and any advertisers or pages that are caught cloaking will be banned, as well. Facebook is using artificial intelligence in its anti-cloaking efforts, expanding efforts by human reviewers to identify, capture and verify incidents of cloaking and revising its policies. Pages that are not engaging in these practices should see no impact in their referral traffic.
Privacy

Disney Sued For Allegedly Spying On Children Through 42 Gaming Apps (washingtonpost.com) 40

schwit1 shares a report from The Washington Post (Warning: may be paywalled; alternative source): The Walt Disney Co. secretly collects personal information on some of their youngest customers and shares that data illegally with advertisers without parental consent, according to a federal lawsuit filed late last week in California. The class-action suit targets Disney and three other software companies -- Upsight, Unity and Kochava -- alleging that the mobile apps they built together violate the law by gathering insights about app users across the Internet, including those under the age of 13, in ways that facilitate "commercial exploitation."

The plaintiffs argue that Disney and its partners violated COPPA, the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act, a federal law designed to protect the privacy of children on the Web. The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court for the District of Northern California, seeks an injunction barring the companies from collecting and disclosing the data without parental consent, as well as punitive damages and legal fees. The lawsuit alleges that Disney allowed the software companies to embed trackers in apps such as "Disney Princess Palace Pets" and "Where's My Water? 2." Once installed, tracking software can then "exfiltrate that information off the smart device for advertising and other commercial purposes," according to the suit. Disney should not be using those software development companies, said Jeffrey Chester, the executive director of the Center for Digital Democracy. "These are heavy-duty technologies, industrial-strength data and analytic companies whose role is to track and monetize individuals," Chester said. "These should not be in little children's apps."
Disney responded to the lawsuit, saying: "Disney has a robust COPPA compliance program, and we maintain strict data collection and use policies for Disney apps created for children and families. The complaint is based on a fundamental misunderstanding of COPPA principles, and we look forward to defending this action in court."
AI

IBM Claims Big Breakthrough in Deep Learning (fortune.com) 81

The race to make computers smarter and more human-like continued this week with IBM claiming it has developed technology that dramatically cuts the time it takes to crunch massive amounts of data and then come up with useful insights. From a report: Deep learning, the technique used by IBM, is a subset of artificial intelligence (AI) that mimics how the human brain works. IBM's stated goal is to reduce the time it takes for deep learning systems to digest data from days to hours. The improvements could help radiologists get faster, more accurate reads of anomalies and masses on medical images, according to Hillery Hunter, an IBM Fellow and director of systems acceleration and memory at IBM Research. Until now, deep learning has largely run on single server because of the complexity of moving huge amounts of data between different computers. The problem is in keeping data synchronized between lots of different servers and processors In it announcement early Tuesday, IBM says it has come up with software that can divvy those tasks among 64 servers running up to 256 processors total, and still reap huge benefits in speed. The company is making that technology available to customers using IBM Power System servers and to other techies who want to test it.
Australia

Buggy Software Made Us Miss Money Laundering Scam, Says Australian Bank (theregister.co.uk) 57

An anonymous reader shares a report: Australia's Commonwealth Bank has blamed a software update for a money laundering scam that saw criminals send over AU$70m (US$55m) offshore after depositing cash into automatic teller machines. News of the Bank's involvement in the laundering scam broke last week, when Australia's financial intelligence agency AUSTRAC announced that it had found over 53,500 occasions on which the Bank failed to submit reports on transactions over $10,000. All transactions of that value are reportable in Australia, as part of efforts to crimp the black economy, crime and funding of terrorism. The news was not a good look for the Bank (CBA), because most of the cash was deposited into accounts established with fake drivers licences. Worse still is that each failure of this type can attract a fine of AU$18m, leaving CBA open to a sanction that would kill it off. Today the bank has explained the reason for its failure: "a coding error" that saw the ATMs fail to create reports of $10,000+ transactions. The error was introduced in a May 2012 update designed to address other matters, but not repaired until September 2015.

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