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Updated: 36 min 11 sec ago

Voice Calls May Be Coming To the Amazon Echo and Google Home

2/15/2017 2:20pm
Amazon and Google are interested in adding the ability to make and receive phone calls to their popular home speaker devices -- Echo and Home, reports WSJ, adding that telecom regulations and privacy are some of the things both the companies are tackling. If the companies are able to sort out the issues, the feature could make way to the home speaker devices as soon as this year, the paper reported. From The Verge: There's also the fact that you would only make calls over speakerphone, which could limit the usefulness of the feature for some users. Theoretically, it would be easier for Google to get a phone service up and running on the Home, given that it's been operating Google Voice for seven years and launched Project Fi back in 2015, while Amazon has to start from scratch to get its phone service up and running. According to the Journal, Amazon is considering a number of different options, including syncing to the user's existing phone number, call forwarding, or the Echo getting its own phone number.

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Now Get Weather Alerts Even When Your Mobile Networks Are Down, Thanks To IBM's Mesh Networking

2/15/2017 1:40pm
Communicating news of severe weather events or natural disasters is something mobile phones are well suited to, but if there's limited or disrupted network coverage the message may fail to get through. But not anymore. From a CNET report: A new Weather Channel app, though, can get the message through even during earthquakes, tornadoes, and terrorist attacks when mobile networks can be overwhelmed and may not work. The Android app, geared specifically for developing countries, uses IBM-developed technology called mesh networking that sends messages directly from one phone to another. The result is that information can propagate even when centralized networks fail. Using Bluetooth and Wi-Fi networks, the app can send data from phone to phone across distances between 200 to 500 feet, IBM Research staff member Nirmit Desai said. It doesn't add any more battery burden than an ordinary app, and the mesh network can be used without having to reconfigure the phone's network settings.

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Apple Explains Why Its R&D Spending Is On the Rise

2/15/2017 1:00pm
Apple has steadily increased its spending on research and development over the past few quarters. An executive with the company explained why that's the case. From a report on CNBC: Company's financial guru attributes the spending to something of a much smaller scale: chips. It may not sound like it, but that research is "very strategic and important" for Apple to differentiate itself from the rest of the industry, chief financial officer Luca Maestri said on Tuesday at the Goldman Sachs Technology and Internet Conference in San Francisco. "Today, we do much more in-house development of some fundamental technologies than we used to do a few years ago, when we did more of that in the supplier base -- the work we do around processors or sensors," Maestri said. "It's very important for us because we can push the envelope on innovation, we can better control timing, cost, quality. We look at that as a great strategic investment." On Tuesday, Maestri also noted that Apple's "product portfolio is much larger than it used to be," and that keeping all these products moving along in parallel adds up, especially with smaller markets, like the Apple Watch. While Maestri said Apple drops a "meaningful" amount of cash on products that do not generate revenue today, these products are not very large "in the total scheme of things," Maestri said. "They add up over time, and hopefully, those are good bets that we are making for the future of the company," Maestri said.

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IT Decisions Makers and Executives Don't Agree On Cyber Security Responsibility

2/15/2017 12:20pm
Sead Fadilpasic, writing for BetaNews: There's a severe disconnect between IT decision makers and C-suite executives when it comes to handling cyber attacks. Namely, both believe the other one is responsible for keeping a company safe. This is according to a new and extensive research by BAE Systems. A total of 221 C-suite executives and 984 IT decision-makers were polled or the report. According to the research, a third (35 percent) of C-suite executives believe IT teams are responsible for data breaches. On the other hand, 50 percent of IT decision makers would place that responsibility in the hands of their senior management. Cost estimates of a successful breach also differ. IT decision makers think it would set them back $19.2 million, while C-suite thinks of a lesser figure, $11.6m. C-level thinks a tenth (10 percent) of their company's IT budget is spent on cyber security, while IT decision makers think that's 15 percent. Also, 84 percent of C-suite, and 81 percent of IT teams believe they have the right protection set up.

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'Electric Buses Now Cheaper Than Their Diesel or CNG Counterpart, Could Dominate the Market Within 10 Years'

2/15/2017 11:40am
An anonymous reader shares a report: Transit vehicles today are mostly powered by gasoline, diesel, and CNG, while batteries only represent about 1 percent of the market. It is currently a small part of the industry, but it's also the fastest growing fuel source in the sector and it's starting to become highly competitive. Electric bus maker Proterra is ramping up production and currently claims to be cheaper than diesel and CNG. It leads CEO Ryan Popple to make a bold prediction that battery-powered buses will dominate the transit bus market within 10 years. More specifically, he says that the majority of new bus sales will be electric by 2025 and all new bus sales to transit agencies will be electric by 2030. Proterra has so far only delivered a few hundred all-electric buses, but they have been announcing several major deals lately, like 73 buses from King County's Metro Transit, that seem to indicate there's a shift in the transit industry.

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China's Huawei Catching Up With Apple, Samsung Smartphone Sales

2/15/2017 11:00am
From a report: Chinese smartphone maker Huawei managed to gain ground on Samsung and Apple in terms of global market share last year, following the problems encountered by the two giants, the Gartner consultancy group said on Wednesday. Over the year as a whole, the Chinese maker saw its sales leap by 26.7 percent, while the South Korean and US rivals both saw their sales decline by 4.3 percent, Gartner said in a study. As result, Huawei was able to increase its share of the smartphone sector to 8.9 percent in 2016 from 7.3 percent a year earlier, while Samsung saw its market share shrink by two full percentage points to 20.5 percent and Apple's contracted to 14.4 percent from 15.9 percent. "Chinese makers succeeded in winning market share over last year and Huawei now seems to be the main rival to the two giants, even if the gap remains large," Gartner analyst Annette Zimmermann told AFP.

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Google's Not-so-secret New OS

2/15/2017 10:20am
According to reports late last year, Google is working on a new operating system called Andromeda. Much about it is still unknown, but according to the documentations Google has provided on its website, it's clear that the Fuchsia is the actual name of the operating system, and the kernel is called Magenta. A tech enthusiast dug around the documentations to share the followings: To my naive eyes, rather than saying Chrome OS is being merged into Android, it looks more like Android and Chrome OS are both being merged into Fuchsia. It's worth noting that these operating systems had previously already begun to merge together to an extent, such as when the Android team worked with the Chrome OS team in order to bring Update Engine to Nougat, which introduced A/B updates to the platform. Google is unsurprisingly bringing up Andromeda on a number of platforms, including the humble Intel NUC. ARM, x86, and MIPS bring-up is exactly what you would expect for an Android successor, and it also seems clear that this platform will run on Intel laptops. My best guess is that Android as an API and runtime will live on as a legacy environment within Andromeda. That's not to say that all development of Android would immediately stop, which seems extremely unlikely. But Google can't push two UI APIs as equal app frameworks over the long term: Mojo is clearly the future. Ah, but what is Mojo? Well it's the new API for writing Andromeda apps, and it comes from Chromium. Mojo was originally created to "extract a common platform out of Chrome's renderer and plugin processes that can support multiple types of sandboxed content."

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BlackBerry Files Patent-Infringement Suit Against Nokia

2/15/2017 9:40am
An anonymous reader writes: BlackBerry has filed a patent-infringement lawsuit against Nokia, demanding royalties on the Finnish company's mobile network products that use an industrywide technology standard. Nokia's products including its Flexi Multiradio base stations, radio network controllers and Liquid Radio software are using technology covered by as many as 11 patents, BlackBerry said in a complaint filed in federal court in Wilmington, Delaware. The mobile network products and services are provided to companies including T-Mobile and AT&T for their LTE networks, BlackBerry said in the complaint. "Nokia has persisted in encouraging the use" of the standard- compliant products without a license from BlackBerry, it said.

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Russian Cyberspies Blamed For US Election Hacks Are Now Targeting Macs

2/15/2017 9:00am
You may recall "APT28", the Russian hacking group which was tied to last year's interference in the presidential election. It has long been known for its advanced range of tools for penetrating Windows, iOS, Android, and Linux devices. Now, researchers have uncovered an equally sophisticated malware package the group used to compromise Macs. From a report on ComputerWorld: The group -- known in the security industry under different names including Fancy Bear, Pawn Storm, and APT28 -- has been operating for almost a decade. It is believed to be the sole user and likely developer of a Trojan program called Sofacy or X-Agent. X-Agent variants for Windows, Linux, Android, and iOS have been found in the wild in the past, but researchers from Bitdefender have now come across what appears to be the first macOS version of the Trojan. It's not entirely clear how the malware is being distributed because the Bitdefender researchers obtained only the malware sample, not the full attack chain. However, it's possible a macOS malware downloader dubbed Komplex, found in September, might be involved. Komplex infected Macs by exploiting a known vulnerability in the MacKeeper antivirus software, according to researchers from Palo Alto Networks who investigated the malware at the time. The vulnerability allowed attackers to execute remote commands on a Mac when users visited specially crafted web pages.Further reading on ArsTechnica.

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New Study In Mice Shows That Increasing Serotonin Affects Motivation, But Only In Certain Circumstances

2/15/2017 8:00am
New submitter baalcat quotes a report from Neuroscience News: A new study in mice shows that increasing serotonin, one of the major mediators of brain communication, affects motivation -- but only in certain circumstances. Furthermore, the study revealed that the short and long term effects of increased serotonin levels are opposed -- a completely unforeseen property of this neurotransmitter's functional system. A surprising behavioral effect, discovered in mice by neuroscientists at the Champalimaud Centre for the Unknown (CCU), in Lisbon, Portugal, strongly suggests that serotonin is involved in a biological mechanism which affects the animals' motivation. The study has now been published in the online open access journal eLife. Serotonin, one of the chemical "messengers," or neurotransmitters, in the brain, is used by neurons to communicate with each other. It plays an important role in the regulation of sleep, movement and other behaviors which are essential for animal survival. But for motivation in particular, it was unclear whether serotonin was involved. Using optogenetics, the team stimulated the release of serotonin from neurons in the raphe nuclei. They first induced "peaks" of serotonin by stimulating these neurons with pulses of light, lasting three seconds every ten seconds, over three five-minute time periods. The mice, placed in a box, were left free to explore their environment. In these conditions, their most frequent spontaneous behaviors are walking around, rearing, grooming, digging holes or keeping relatively still, but nevertheless alert. The only difference the scientists saw was that stimulation caused the mice to reduce their locomotive speed by about 50%. In general, this stimulation of serotonin-producing neurons did not affect other behaviors. The effect of these serotonin "peaks" on locomotion was almost instantaneous (speed reduction manifested one second after stimulation) and transient, with things going back to normal after five seconds. But during this short period of time, "the animals acted as if they weren't motivated," says Zach Mainen, who led the study.

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Iron Age Potters Accidentally Recorded the Strength of Earth's Magnetic Field

2/15/2017 5:00am
Solandri writes: We've only been able to measure the Earth's magnetic field strength for about two centuries. During this time, there has been a gradual decline in the field strength. In recent years, the rate of decline seems to be accelerating, leading to some speculation that the Earth may be losing its magnetic field -- a catastrophic possibility since the magnetic field is what protects life on Earth from dangerous solar radiation. Ferromagnetic particles in rocks provide a long-term history which tells us the poles have flipped numerous times. But uncertainties in dating the rocks prevents their use in understanding decade-scale magnetic field fluctuations. Now a group of archeologists and geophysicists have come up with a novel way to produce decade-scale temporal measurements of the Earth's magnetic field strength from before the invention of the magnetometer. When iron-age potters fired their pottery in a kiln to harden it, it loosened tiny ferromagnetic particles in the clay. As the pottery cooled and these particles hardened, it captured a snapshot of the Earth's magnetic field. Crucially, the governments of that time required pottery used to collect taxed goods (e.g. a portion of olive oil sold) to be stamped with a royal seal. These seals changed over time as new kings ascended, or governments were completely replaced after invasion. Thus by cross-referencing the magnetic particles in the pottery with the seals, researchers were able to piece together a history of the Earth's magnetic field strength spanning from the 8th century BCE to the 2nd century BCE. Their findings show that large fluctuations in the strength of the magnetic field over a span of decades are normal. The study has been published in the journal PNAS.

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ISRO Makes History, Launches 104 Satellites With Single Rocket

2/15/2017 2:00am
neo12 writes: Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) made history by launching 104 satellites in a single launch. The lift-off of PSLVC 37 at 9.28 am from Sriharikota was a perfect one. In 28 minutes, all 104 satellites were successfully placed into the Earth's orbit. 101 of the 104 satellites belong to six foreign countries, including 96 from the U.S. and one each from Israel, the UAE, the Netherlands, Switzerland and Kazakhstan. According to Times of India, "Russian Space Agency held a record of launching 37 satellites in one go during its mission in June 2014. India previously launched 23 satellites in a single mission in June 2015."

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How Algorithms May Affect You

2/14/2017 10:30pm
New submitter Muckluck shares an excerpt from a report via Phys.Org that provides "an interesting look at how algorithms may be shaping your life": When you browse online for a new pair of shoes, pick a movie to stream on Netflix or apply for a car loan, an algorithm likely has its word to say on the outcome. The complex mathematical formulas are playing a growing role in all walks of life: from detecting skin cancers to suggesting new Facebook friends, deciding who gets a job, how police resources are deployed, who gets insurance at what cost, or who is on a "no fly" list. Algorithms are being used -- experimentally -- to write news articles from raw data, while Donald Trump's presidential campaign was helped by behavioral marketers who used an algorithm to locate the highest concentrations of "persuadable voters." But while such automated tools can inject a measure of objectivity into erstwhile subjective decisions, fears are rising over the lack of transparency algorithms can entail, with pressure growing to apply standards of ethics or "accountability." Data scientist Cathy O'Neil cautions about "blindly trusting" formulas to determine a fair outcome. "Algorithms are not inherently fair, because the person who builds the model defines success," she said. Phys.Org cites O'Neil's 2016 book, "Weapons of Math Destruction," which provides some "troubling examples in the United States" of "nefarious" algorithms. "Her findings were echoed in a White House report last year warning that algorithmic systems 'are not infallible -- they rely on the imperfect inputs, logic, probability, and people who design them,'" reports Phys.Org. "The report noted that data systems can ideally help weed out human bias but warned against algorithms 'systematically disadvantaging certain groups.'"

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Scientists Propose Plan To Re-Freeze the Arctic

2/14/2017 9:20pm
Kristine Lofgren writes: In case you've been under a rock for the past 20 years, the Arctic is melting super fast. Certain *ahem* governments are dragging their feet doing anything about it, which means the planet could be in for a spectacular meltdown within the next 20 years. But a clever bunch of scientists have hatched a plan to re-freeze the Arctic using wind-powered pumps that will bring water to the surface, allowing it to freeze. This new layer of ice could last well into the summer, which is vital, because scientists think summer Arctic ice could be gone by 2030 -- and that causes a whole chain of terrible events that will only make our climate change problem much, much worse. The plan has a $500 billion price tag, but that's pocket change compared to the cost of dealing with an ice-free Arctic. The study has been published in The American Geophysical Union's journal Earth's Future. You can read more about the study via The Guardian.

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Apple Will Fight 'Right To Repair' Legislation

2/14/2017 8:40pm
An anonymous reader quotes a report from Motherboard: Apple is planning to fight proposed electronics "Right to Repair" legislation being considered by the Nebraska state legislature, according to a source within the legislature who is familiar with the bill's path through the statehouse. The legislation would require Apple and other electronics manufacturers to sell repair parts to consumers and independent repair shops, and would require manufacturers to make diagnostic and service manuals available to the public. Nebraska is one of eight states that are considering right to repair bills; last month, Nebraska, Minnesota, New York, Massachusetts, Kansas, and Wyoming introduced legislation. Last week, lawmakers in Illinois and Tennessee officially introduced similar bills. According to the source, an Apple representative, staffer, or lobbyist will testify against the bill at a hearing in Lincoln on March 9. ATT will also argue against the bill, the source said. The source told me that at least one of the companies plans to say that consumers who repair their own phones could cause lithium batteries to catch fire. So far, Nebraska is the only state to schedule a hearing for its legislation.

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Is IoT a Reason To Learn C?

2/14/2017 8:00pm
itwbennett writes: Whether or not beginning programmers should learn C is a question that has been roundly debated on Slashdot and elsewhere. The general consensus seems to be that learning it will make you a better programmer -- and it looks good on your resume. But now there might be another reason to learn C: the rapid growth of the internet of things (IoT) could cause a spike in demand for C skills, according to Gartner analyst Mark Driver. "For traditional workloads there is no need to be counting the bytes like there used to be. But when it comes to IoT applications there is that need once again..."

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Disney, YouTube Cut Ties With PewDiePie, Top YouTube Submitter, Over Anti-Semitic Videos

2/14/2017 7:20pm
jo7hs2 writes: Disney's Maker Studios has cut ties PewDiePie, the YouTube submitter with 53 million subscribers, over anti-Semitic clips the submitter released earlier in the year. The clips, three videos published in January, have since been removed from the channel. According to TechCrunch, "They included one skit in which [Felix Kjellberg, PewDiePie's real name] paid a Sri Lanka-based group of men to hold up a sign that read 'Death to All Jews,' while another featured a clip of a man dressed as Jesus saying that 'Hitler did absolutely nothing wrong.' Kjellberg used freelance job finding site Fiverr for both clips. He argued that he wasn't serious with either and instead wanted to show the things people will do for money." A spokesperson for Maker Studios, which was acquired by Disney in 2014, told the Wall Street Journal, "Although Felix has created a following by being provocative and irreverent, he clearly went too far in this case and the resulting videos are inappropriate." Writing on his Tumblr blog, Kjellberg said the purpose of the examples was "to show how crazy the modern world is, specifically some of the services available online." He continued, "I picked something that seemed absurd to me -- That people on Fiverr would say anything for 5 dollars. I think it's important to say something and I want to make one thing clear: I am in no way supporting any kind of hateful attitudes." UPDATE 2/14/17: YouTube has also cut ties with Kjellberg. A YouTube representative confirmed to Business Insider that the company has canceled its YouTube Red original show starring Kjellberg. Business Insider reports: "Kjellberg's show, 'Scare PewDiePie,' was a YouTube original accessible through the company's subscription service, YouTube Red. The show was about to premiere its second season. YouTube is also removing Kjellberg from Google's preferred advertising program, which helps the platform's most popular personalities attract bigger advertisers."

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Disney Cuts Ties With PewDiePie, Top YouTube Submitter, After Anti-Semitic Videos

2/14/2017 7:20pm
jo7hs2 writes: Disney's Maker Studios has cut ties PewDiePie, the YouTube submitter with 53 million subscribers, over anti-Semitic clips the submitter released earlier in the year. The clips, three videos published in January, have since been removed from the channel. According to TechCrunch, "They included one skit in which [Felix Kjellberg, PewDiePie's real name] paid a Sri Lanka-based group of men to hold up a sign that read 'Death to All Jews,' while another featured a clip of a man dressed as Jesus saying that 'Hitler did absolutely nothing wrong.' Kjellberg used freelance job finding site Fiverr for both clips. He argued that he wasn't serious with either and instead wanted to show the things people will do for money." A spokesperson for Maker Studios, which was acquired by Disney in 2014, told the Wall Street Journal, "Although Felix has created a following by being provocative and irreverent, he clearly went too far in this case and the resulting videos are inappropriate." Writing on his Tumblr blog, Kjellberg said the purpose of the examples was "to show how crazy the modern world is, specifically some of the services available online." He continued, "I picked something that seemed absurd to me -- That people on Fiverr would say anything for 5 dollars. I think it's important to say something and I want to make one thing clear: I am in no way supporting any kind of hateful attitudes."

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Facebook To Autoplay Videos With Sound On By Default

2/14/2017 6:40pm
Currently, Facebook videos autoplay on your News Feed as you scroll up and down. While they eat data and various resources, the saving grace is that they are silent -- that is, until now. Facebook has announced several new changes to its video platform today, including a setting that will autoplay videos with sound turned on by default. Android and Me reports: The audio of videos will fade in and out as you're scrolling through your feed. Fortunately, Facebook will at least make it so that audio won't autoplay if your phone is set to silent. If you're not a fan of this change, there will be a setting to turn audio autoplay off. The change is that it will now be on by default for everyone. Other feature introductions are larger previews for vertical videos, a picture-in-picture mode for videos so you can watch and continue scrolling (and even exit the app without interrupting the video on Android), and a Facebook Video app coming to smart TVs.

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AI Software Juggles Probabilities To Learn From Less Data

2/14/2017 5:40pm
moon_unit2 quotes a report from MIT Technology Review: You can, for instance, train a deep-learning algorithm to recognize a cat with a cat-fancier's level of expertise, but you'll need to feed it tens or even hundreds of thousands of images of felines, capturing a huge amount of variation in size, shape, texture, lighting, and orientation. It would be lot more efficient if, a bit like a person, an algorithm could develop an idea about what makes a cat a cat from fewer examples. A Boston-based startup called Gamalon has developed technology that lets computers do this in some situations, and it is releasing two products Tuesday based on the approach. Gamalon uses a technique that it calls Bayesian program synthesis to build algorithms capable of learning from fewer examples. Bayesian probability, named after the 18th century mathematician Thomas Bayes, provides a mathematical framework for refining predictions about the world based on experience. Gamalon's system uses probabilistic programming -- or code that deals in probabilities rather than specific variables -- to build a predictive model that explains a particular data set. From just a few examples, a probabilistic program can determine, for instance, that it's highly probable that cats have ears, whiskers, and tails. As further examples are provided, the code behind the model is rewritten, and the probabilities tweaked. This provides an efficient way to learn the salient knowledge from the data.

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