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Earth

US Life Expectancy Declines For the First Time Since 1993 (washingtonpost.com) 71

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Washington Post: For the first time in more than two decades, life expectancy for Americans declined last year (Warning: may be paywalled; alternate source) -- a troubling development linked to a panoply of worsening health problems in the United States. Rising fatalities from heart disease and stroke, diabetes, drug overdoses, accidents and other conditions caused the lower life expectancy revealed in a report released Thursday by the National Center for Health Statistics. In all, death rates rose for eight of the top 10 leading causes of death. The new report raises the possibility that major illnesses may be eroding prospects for an even wider group of Americans. Its findings show increases in "virtually every cause of death. It's all ages," said David Weir, director of the health and retirement study at the Institute for Social Research at the University of Michigan. Over the past five years, he noted, improvements in death rates were among the smallest of the past four decades. "There's this just across-the-board [phenomenon] of not doing very well in the United States." Overall, life expectancy fell by one-tenth of a year, from 78.9 in 2014 to 78.8 in 2015, according to the latest data. The last time U.S. life expectancy at birth declined was in 1993, when it dropped from 75.6 to 75.4, according to World Bank data. The overall death rate rose 1.2 percent in 2015, its first uptick since 1999. More than 2.7 million people died, about 45 percent of them from heart disease or cancer.
Communications

US Presidential Election Was Most 'Talked About' Topic In 2016, Says Facebook (phys.org) 50

What may come as no surprise to Facebook users, the social media company announced in a blog post that the U.S. presidential election was the most "talked about" topic on Facebook in 2016. Phys.Org highlights the other most-discussed topics in its report: The bitterly contested election in which Donald Trump defeated Hillary Clinton was ranked as the leading issue, followed by Brazil's political developments which included the impeachment of president Dilma Rousseff, Facebook said in a blog post. On the lighter side at number three was the runaway success of Pokemon Go, the location-based augmented reality game for smartphone users. Other subject matters shared among Facebook's 1.79 billion users were more sober, with the fourth leading topic the "Black Lives Matter" movement, followed by the election in the Philippines of Rodrigo Duterte. Number six on the list was the Olympic games, followed by Brexit, the Super Bowl and the deaths of rock star David Bowie and boxing icon Muhammad Ali. Facebook said it measured leading topics by how frequently an issue was mentioned in posts made between January 1 and November 27.
Businesses

Yik Yak Lays Off 60 Percent of Employees As Growth Collapses (theverge.com) 38

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Verge: Yik Yak has laid off 60 percent of employees amid a downturn in the app's growth prospects, The Verge has learned. The three-year-old anonymous social network has raised $73.5 million from top-tier investors on the promise that its young, college-age network of users could one day build a company to rival Facebook. But the challenge of growing its community while moving gradually away from anonymity has so far proven to be more than the company could muster. Employees who were affected were informed of the layoffs Thursday morning, sources told The Verge. Yik Yak employed about 50 people, and now only about 20 remain, the company said. The community, marketing, design, and product teams were all deeply affected, one source said. Atlanta-based Yik Yak was founded in 2014 by Furman University students Tyler Droll and Brooks Buffington. The app updated the concept of dorm newsletters for the mobile era, letting anyone post comments about school, their campus, or life in general. The fact that comments were anonymous initially helped the app grow, as it encouraged more candid forms of sharing than students might otherwise post on Facebook or Instagram.
AT&T

AT&T To Cough Up $88 Million For 'Cramming' Mobile Customer Bills (networkworld.com) 26

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Network World: Some 2.7 million ATT customers will share $88 million in compensation for having had unauthorized third-party charges added to their mobile bills, the Federal Trade Commission announced this morning. The latest shot in the federal government's years-long battle against such abuses, these refunds will represent the most money ever recouped by victims of what is known as "mobile cramming," according to the FTC. From an FTC press release: "Through the FTC's refund program, nearly 2.5 million current ATT customers will receive a credit on their bill within the next 75 days, and more than 300,000 former customers will receive a check. The average refund amount is $31. [...] According to the FTC's complaint, ATT placed unauthorized third-party charges on its customers' phone bills, usually in amounts of $9.99 per month, for ringtones and text message subscriptions containing love tips, horoscopes, and 'fun facts.' The FTC alleged that ATT kept at least 35 percent of the charges it imposed on its customers." The matter with ATT was originally made public in 2014 and also involved two companies that actually applied the unauthorized charges, Tatto and Acquinity.
Government

Congress Passes BOTS Act To Ban Ticket-Buying Software (arstechnica.com) 151

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) 93

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) 181

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) 53

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) 255

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) 118

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) 217

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) 51

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) 95

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) 68

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."

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