Geek Stuff

More Supermassive Black Holes Than We Thought!

Slashdot -

LeadSongDog writes: The Royal Astronomical Society reports five supermassive black holes (SMBHs) that were previously hidden by dust and gas have been uncovered. The discovery suggests there may be millions more supermassive black holes in the universe than were previously thought. George Lansbury, a postgraduate student in the Centre for Extragalactic Astronomy, at Durham University, said: “For a long time we have known about supermassive black holes that are not obscured by dust and gas, but we suspected that many more were hidden from our view. Thanks to NuSTAR for the first time we have been able to clearly see these hidden monsters that are predicted to be there, but have previously been elusive because of their ‘buried’ state. Although we have only detected five of these hidden supermassive black holes, when we extrapolate our results across the whole Universe then the predicted numbers are huge and in agreement with what we would expect to see.”

Read more of this story at Slashdot.

Grandstream GVC3200 is an Android-based video conferencing system

Liliputing -

Google may be positioning Chrome OS as a platform that’s suitable for video conferencing systems (if you pay $1000 or more for the right hardware). But that hasn’t stopped Grandstream from launching its own video conferencing system that runs Google’s other operating system. The Grandstream GVC3200 video conferencing system is a high-end conferencing solution that runs Android […]

Grandstream GVC3200 is an Android-based video conferencing system is a post from: Liliputing

"We Screwed Up," Says Reddit CEO In Formal Apology

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An anonymous reader writes: After moderators locked up some of Reddit's most popular pages in protest against the dismissal of Victoria Taylor, and an online petition asking the company to fire CEO Ellen Pao reached more than 175,000 signatures over the weekend, Pao has issued an apology. The statement reads in part: "We screwed up. Not just on July 2, but also over the past several years. We haven't communicated well, and we have surprised moderators and the community with big changes. We have apologized and made promises to you, the moderators and the community, over many years, but time and again, we haven't delivered on them. When you've had feedback or requests, we haven't always been responsive. The mods and the community have lost trust in me and in us, the administrators of reddit. Today, we acknowledge this long history of mistakes. We are grateful for all you do for reddit, and the buck stops with me."

Read more of this story at Slashdot.

Open Data Bills Move Forward in California

EFF's Deeplinks -

While California may be home to some of the most aggressively forward-thinking tech companies in the world, that enthusiasm for innovation hasn’t carried over to the public sector. State and local governments have been frustratingly slow to make public data available online. There hasn’t been anything close to a statewide standard, leaving individual agencies to voluntarily develop open data policies, often in an inconsistent and piecemeal fashion, or not at all.  

That would change if the California legislature passes two bills, S.B. 573 and S.B. 272, which would put state and local government bodies respectively on the path to open data.

The general philosophy behind open data is that datasets maintained by the government agencies are public records and should be, by default, machine-readable and downloadable from public websites. Open data allows for greater analysis and oversight by citizen watchdogs, researchers, and journalists, and creates many opportunities for civic-minded coders to create new tools for interacting with the government. 

While these bills aren’t quite as robust as transparency zealots like us would prefer, they do put California on the right track to greater transparency, accountability, civic engagement, and innovation by expanding public access to government data.

S.B. 573 – State-level Open Data

Sen. Richard Pan’s S.B. 573 would establish the position of Chief Data Officer for the state of California. This executive officer would be tasked with creating an open-data roadmap, open-data guidelines, an open-data working group, and a statewide open-data portal. 

Currently, the California Attorney General’s office has provided guidelines used statewide for compliance with the California Public Records Act.  However, the California Department of Justice isn’t particularly well suited for advocating open data, as evidenced by our recent battle over the office’s short-lived policy of only providing wiretap data in a “locked PDF” format.  Creating a new officer whose primary job is to research and promote open data will go a long way to address this issue.

Of course, the bill could be much better.  For example, the timeline described in the bill would require the state government to publish 150 datasets by June 1, 2017. That’s a pretty mediocre commitment, considering that already links to more than 120 datasets. The state could move much faster.

We’ve also urged the legislature to strengthen the bill by including non-profit transparency groups in the open data working group. We would also like to see the Chief Data Officer tasked with ensuring that data is accurate and complete, in addition to being available to the public.

We’re also glad that the bill specifically mentions privacy, because open data can make it easier to identify individuals even after attempts to strip identifying information like name, gender, address, birth data, phone number, and Social Security number.  In our letter supporting the bill, we asked that the Chief Data Officer and the open-data working group evaluate potential “reidentification” effects, which have been of particular concern for public health data

S.B. 573 passed out of the Senate with a strong majority and will be heard on July 7 in the Assembly’s Privacy and Consumer Protection Committee

S.B. 272 – Local Government Data Inventories

Sen. Robert Hertzberg’s S.B. 272 would require local government agencies to publish a list of all the information systems they maintain. These catalogs of data would include basic details for each database, including a description of the purpose for the system, how the data is collected and updated, and the vendor providing the software or hosting for system. This last point is important for ensuring accountability in this age of outsourcing.

However, this bill does not require local agencies to actually publish the dataset themselves online, although the legislation does serve as a stepping stone to potential future expansion similar to S.B. 573 (in fact, local agencies would have access to the same tools developed by the Chief Data Officer). In the meantime, these inventories would serve as a menu of sorts from which the public can request data through a California Public Records Act request. 

We’re not thrilled that the legislature has exempted school districts from the bill’s requirements. We see no reason that the public should not be able to learn basic information about how schools and their vendors collect and store information about students and teachers, especially as private “cloud” companies become more involved in schools.

S.B. 272 passed unopposed in the Senate and is set for a hearing on July 15 in the Assembly’s Committee on Local Government

Related Issues: Transparency
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The DARPA Robotics Challenge Was a Bust; Let's Try Again

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malachiorion writes: The DARPA Robotics Challenge, the biggest and most well-funded international robotics competition in years, was a failure. After years of grueling work on the part of brilliant roboticists around the world, and millions in funding from the Pentagon, the finals came and went with little to no coverage from the mainstream media. The only takeaway, for those who aren't extremely dialed into robotics, is that a ton of robots fell down in funny ways. There were winners, but considering how downgraded the tasks were, compared to the ones initially announced in 2012, it was closer to the first DARPA Grand Challenge, where none of the robot cars finished, than the Urban Challenge, which kicked off the race to build deployable driverless cars. So just as DARPA regrouped after that first fizzle of a race, here's my argument for Popular Science: It's time to do it again, and make falling, and getting up, mandatory.

Read more of this story at Slashdot.

Ubuntu on the 32GB Intel Compute Stick: You have to install it yourself

Liliputing -

Intel launched a tiny computer called the Intel Compute Stick earlier this year. It looks like a chunky USB flash drive, but instead of plugging it into your computer to add storage, you plug it into the HDMI port of your TV or monitor to add a full-fledged computer. The first model to ship featured […]

Ubuntu on the 32GB Intel Compute Stick: You have to install it yourself is a post from: Liliputing

Software Devs Leaving Greece For Good, Finance Minister Resigns

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New submitter TheHawke writes with this story from ZDNet about the exodus of software developers from Greece. "In the last three years, almost 80 percent of my friends, mostly developers, left Greece," software developer Panagiotis Kefalidis told ZDNet. "When I left for North America, my mother was not happy, but... it is what it is." It's not just the software developers quitting either. The Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis also resigned. A portion of his resignation announcement reads: "Soon after the announcement of the referendum results, I was made aware of a certain preference by some Eurogroup participants, and assorted ‘partners’, for my ‘absence’ from its meetings; an idea that the Prime Minister judged to be potentially helpful to him in reaching an agreement. For this reason I am leaving the Ministry of Finance today."

Read more of this story at Slashdot.

LG promises thinner touchscreen laptop displays

Liliputing -

LG Display has begun producing new displays that could be used to build thinner touchscreen laptops. Laptops with touchscreen displays tend to be a bit thicker and heavier than their non-touch counterparts. But LG says its Advanced In-Cell Touch panels are about 25 percent thinner and 35 percent lighter than conventional touchscreen laptop displays, which could […]

LG promises thinner touchscreen laptop displays is a post from: Liliputing

Japanese and US Piloted Robots To Brawl For National Pride

Slashdot -

jfruh writes: Japan may have just lost the Women's World Cup to the U.S., but the country is hoping for a comeback in another competition: a battle between giant robots. Suidobashi Heavy Industry has agreed to a challenge from Boston-based MegaBots that would involve titanic armored robots developed by each startup, the first of its kind involving piloted machines that are roughly 4 meters tall. "We can't let another country win this," Kogoro Kurata, who is CEO of Suidobashi, said in a video posted to YouTube. "Giant robots are Japanese culture."

Read more of this story at Slashdot.

Google's Waze Jumps Into the Ride-Sharing Business

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An anonymous reader writes: Waze, the online mapping company owned by Google, is testing a ride-sharing service in Israel called RideWith. The service will allow commuters to pay drivers for rides to and from work. This is a hard limit — drivers can give no more than two rides per day. If the restriction remains after the initial test, it could be a simple way to avoid pseudo-professional drivers, and all the taxi-related legal problems that go with them (see: Uber). "RideWith calculates a cost based on the anticipated fuel consumption and 'depreciation' based on mileage, and the driver is free to accept or decline the ride accordingly." One can't help but speculate about future involvement with Google's autonomous car project.

Read more of this story at Slashdot.

Caving to Government Pressure, Visa and MasterCard Shut Down Payments to

EFF's Deeplinks -

Visa and MasterCard confirmed that they have cut off payment services for, an online platform for people to advertise goods and services. This was in response to public pressure from Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart, who wrote to executives at both of the payment processors urging them to cut off transactions to Backpage’s adult services. The two companies responded by quickly shutting down payments for the entire site. 

Backpage hasn’t violated the law, and so Sheriff Dart can’t use the law to take down the website. Instead he’s using a tactic we’ve seen before, getting major financial services companies to put a chokehold on controversial online content producers like WikiLeaks and independent book publisher Smashwords.

We don’t need Visa and MasterCard to play nanny for online speech. Payment processors and banks shouldn’t be in the position of deciding what type of online content is criminal or enforcing morality for the rest of society. For one thing, their businesses haven’t been designed to analyze the legal and societal issues at play in various forms of online expression. Second, these businesses will almost always err on the side of shutting down controversial speech—thereby eliminating a nuisance or public affairs problem—rather than taking a principled stance in support of unpopular speech.

That’s why courts, not companies, should determine what type of speech is legal on the Internet. can be used to sell an old refrigerator, find a new apartment, post about new community workshops, find a job, and offer many other services and goods. It also hosts an “adult” section of the site, where some people advertise escort services or try to connect with people who have similar sexual interests. This “adult” section requires visitors to confirm they are at least 18 years of age and allows users to get resources for reporting cases of suspected sexual exploitation with one click. 

Dart asserts that he’s concerned about people abusing for nefarious purposes such as human trafficking, even though the site isn’t designed with that in mind. And he’s not the only one: politicians and law enforcement agents have been pressuring for years to shut down the adult section of the site

Let’s stop for a moment and acknowledge one area where we agree wholeheartedly with Dart: human trafficking is atrocious. We strongly condemn the violation of human rights that occurs whenever a human being is sexually exploited or forced into physical labor against his or her will. Human trafficking is a massive human rights issue that deserves focused, dedicated attention from lawmakers, law enforcement, and the public. It’s also a heinous crime that merits severe punishment for those who perpetrate it. 

Backpage, however, is not engaged in human trafficking. It shouldn’t be treated as if it were. 

The law is on Backpage’s side. To date, attempts to pass laws that would hold a website accountable for the content posted by users have been defeated, such as a Washington state law EFF successfully fought in 2012.  Backpage is also protected by Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act (CDA 230), which ensures that websites that host content—like WordPress, Facebook, and others—aren’t liable for the content of the messages that their users post. And that’s a good thing. This law has been a cornerstone for free speech online, ensuring that Web hosts don’t have to police their users and can focus on providing a great experience–even if their users’ views are controversial or unpopular.  As we’ve argued before, CDA 230 protects Backpage from liability for user-generated advertisements.

One could imagine a world where we had many payment providers, each operating independently, to ensure that even if one major payment service caved to governmental pressure there would be many others to offer services to less popular sites. But that’s not the case. Instead, the overwhelming majority of online payment services are connected to MasterCard and Visa. So when they both shut down a website’s services, the business must either acquiesce to their demands or risk going out of business.

We appreciate that Visa and MasterCard may be facing serious pressure from law enforcement, both in this case and in others. But we’d urge the two financial giants to strive for neutrality in offering payment services and resist government requests.  And that starts by reinstating Backpage’s services.

As for Sherriff Dart, we wish he’d turn to the real problems of human trafficking and exploitation. Rather than attack neutral websites and payment providers, law enforcement should focus its investigations and enforcement efforts on actual criminal suspects.

Related Issues: Free SpeechSection 230 of the Communications Decency ActRelated Cases: Internet Archive v. McKenna
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Deals of the Day (7-06-2015)

Liliputing -

There’s no shortage of cheap, portable Windows laptops that sell for $200 or less these days. Acer, Asus, and HP each offer models that fall into that category. But those companies outfits its low-cost laptops with low-power Intel Bay Trail processors and a limited amount of storage: if you want more than 32GB of storage […]

Deals of the Day (7-06-2015) is a post from: Liliputing

Ask Slashdot: Have You Tried a Standing Desk?

Slashdot -

An anonymous reader writes: Evidence is piling up that sitting down all day is really bad for you. I work primarily from home, and as I grow older, I'm starting to worry about long term consequences to riding a desk full-time. We talked about this a few years ago, but the science has come a long way since then, and so have the options for standing desks. My questions: do you use a standing desk? What kind of setup do you have? There are a lot of options, and a lot of manufacturers. Further studies have questioned the wisdom of standing all day, so I've been thinking about a standing/sitting combo, and just switching every so often. If you do this, do you have time limits or a particular frequency with which you change from sitting to standing? I'm also curious about under-desk treadmills — I could manage slowly walking during parts of my work, and the health benefits are easy to measure. Also, any ergonomic tips? A lot of places seem to recommend: forearms parallel to the ground, top of monitor at eye level, and a pad for under your feet. Has your experience been the same? Those of you who have gone all-out on a motorized setup, was it worth the cost? The desks are dropping in price, but I can still see myself dropping upward of $1k on this, easily.

Read more of this story at Slashdot.

Chilling Effect of the Wassenaar Arrangement On Exploit Research

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Bismillah writes: Security researchers are confused as to how the export control and licensing controls covering exploits affect their work. The upcoming Wassenaar restrictions were expected to discourage publication of such research, and now it's already started to happen. Grant Wilcox, writing his dissertation for the University of Northumbria at Newcastle, was forced to take a better-safe-than-sorry approach when it came time to release the vulnerabilities he found in Microsoft's EMET 5.1. "No legal consultation on the matter took place, but Wilcox noted that exploit vendors such as Vupen had started to restrict sales of their products and services because of new export control and licensing provisions under the Wassenaar Arrangement. ... Wilcox investigated the export control regulations but was unable to clarify whether it applied to his academic work. The university did not take part. He said the provisions defining which type of exploits and software are and aren't controlled were written in ambiguous language and appeared to contradict each other."

Read more of this story at Slashdot.

Antivirus company Avira is developing a web browser

Liliputing -

Avira offers a suite of free and paid security tools including antivirus software, mobile security apps that help protect your device or find a lost or stolen phone, and browser add-ons. Now the company is developing its own web browser with security tools built in. Avira Browser is an open source web browser based on Google’s […]

Antivirus company Avira is developing a web browser is a post from: Liliputing

First Windows 10 RTM Candidate Appears

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Mark Wilson reports that the first RTM candidate for Windows 10 has been spotted: build 10176. Leaks and sources have suggested the company intends to finalize the operating system later this week, perhaps as early as July 9th. This would give Microsoft almost three weeks to distribute it to retailers and devicemakers before the July 29th launch date. "While the RTM process has been a significant milestone for previous releases of Windows, it’s more of a minor one for Windows 10. Microsoft is moving Windows 10 to a 'Windows as a service' model that means the operating system is regularly updated."

Read more of this story at Slashdot.

Proposed Regulation Could Keep 3D-printed Gun Blueprints Offline For Good

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SonicSpike sends a report on a proposed update to the International Traffic in Arms (ITAR) regulations which could shut down the sharing of files for 3D printed gun parts over the internet. "Hidden within the proposal, which restricts what gear, technology, and info can and cannot be exported out of the U.S., is a ban on posting schematics for 3D printed gun parts online." This follows a lawsuit from Cody Wilson and Defense Distributed back in May fighting the federal government's command to remove blueprints for the "Liberator" 3D-printed gun from their website. A senior official at the U.S. State Department said, "By putting up a digital file, that constitutes an export of the data. If it's an executable digital file, any foreign interests can get a hold of it."

Read more of this story at Slashdot.

Tuesday Court Hearing Over Absurd Copyright Claim in Family Home Movie

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‘Dancing Baby’ Case Fights DMCA Takedown Abuse

San Francisco - On Tuesday, July 7, at 9 am, the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) will urge an appeals court in San Francisco to confirm that Internet users—from Ms. Lenz to remix artists to scholars to documentary filmmakers—have real protection against baseless content takedowns.

Lenz v. Universal is often called the “dancing baby” case. It started in 2007, when Stephanie Lenz posted a 29-second video to YouTube of her children dancing in her kitchen, with the Prince song “Let’s Go Crazy” playing on a stereo in the background. Universal Music Group sent YouTube a notice under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), claiming that the family video infringed the copyright in Prince’s song. EFF sued Universal on Lenz’s behalf, arguing that Universal abused the DMCA by improperly targeting a lawful fair use. In the hearing at the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in San Francisco on Tuesday, EFF Legal Director Corynne McSherry will tell the court that copyright owners must consider fair use before sending a takedown notice, or face legal liability.

Lenz’s video is back on YouTube as this long-running court battle continues, but the issues at stake are very timely. Earlier this month, a British newspaper tried to use a DMCA notice to take down criticism of a story it had published. Additionally, heated political campaigns—like the upcoming presidential primaries—have historically led to a rash of DMCA takedown abuse, as criticism of politicians often include short clips of campaign appearances in order to make their argument to viewers.

Keker & Van Nest LLP serves as co-counsel on the case.

Lenz v. Universal

Tuesday, July 7
9 am

United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit
James R. Browning U.S. Courthouse
Courtroom 3, 3rd Floor Room 307
95 7th Street,
San Francisco, CA 94103

For the “dancing baby” video:

For more on this case:

Contact:  Rebecca JeschkeMedia Relations Director and Digital Rights
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Pluto Probe Back To Normal, Cause of Snafu Found

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Tablizer writes: NASA has provided an update to the problem with the New Horizons probe that will fly by Pluto next week. "The investigation into the anomaly that caused New Horizons to enter "safe mode" on July 4 has concluded that no hardware or software fault occurred on the spacecraft. The underlying cause of the incident was a hard-to-detect timing flaw in the spacecraft command sequence that occurred during an operation to prepare for the close flyby. No similar operations are planned for the remainder of the Pluto encounter.

Read more of this story at Slashdot.


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