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Federal regulators says car makers “cannot wait for perfect” on automation

48 min 22 sec ago

(credit: Ford Motor Company)

On Friday, head of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) Mark Rosekind told an audience in Detroit, Michigan that car makers “cannot wait for perfect” when it comes to developing and deploying self-driving car technology. The Wall Street Journal reported that Rosekind said automation would “save people’s lives” in a time when auto fatalities have been up 8 percent since 2014.

Rosekind’s comments come after a man using Tesla’s autopilot system fatally crashed into a left-turning truck in Florida. The incident is believed to be one of the first involving a car in autonomous mode. Tesla has said that the car’s sensors didn’t register the image of the left-turning truck in the glare of the bright Florida sun. Although Rosekind didn't address the Tesla crash explicitly, he noted that the NHTSA's mandate is to reduce fatalities. Taking human error out of the process of driving could theoretically reduce fatal crashes.

Despite Tesla's most recent crash, regulators seem enthusiastic about getting more autonomous vehicles on the road in the near future. Earlier this week, Department of Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx told an audience in San Francisco that “autonomous doesn't mean perfect,” but that “we need industry to take the safety aspects of this very seriously.”

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The quest to get a unique SNES CD-ROM prototype working again

4 hours 12 min ago

Part 1 of Ben Heck's SNES-CD restoration project (part 2 at the bottom of this post).

Since a prototype of the fabled, unreleased SNES-CD (aka the "Nintendo PlayStation") was first found and disassembled last year, we've learned enough about this one-of-a-kind piece of hardware to actually emulate homebrew games as if they were running on its CD-ROM drive. The prototype console itself, though, has never been fully functional—it couldn't generate sound, the CD-ROM drive wouldn't spin up, and, after a recent trip to Hong Kong, it actually stopped generating a picture.

That's when the prototype's owners, Terry and Dan Diebold, went to famed gaming hardware hacker Ben Heck. They want this piece of gaming history up and running again. Heck documented his efforts in a fascinating two-part YouTube series that reveals a lot about the system and what makes it tick.

Terry Diebold starts off talking about how he first discovered the prototype SNES while boxing up an estate sale, where it was sold in a lot alongside CDs, cups, saucers, and other knickknacks. After paying $75 for the entire lot, Diebold recalls, "if you break it down to everything I did buy, I probably paid a nickel for it."

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Eyes of the Animal lets you become a bat—in VR

4 hours 28 min ago

Virtual reality may have launched with gamers in mind, but so far the most interesting applications for the technology have come from outside the games industry. Case in point: Marshmallow Laser Feast's In the Eyes of the Animal, a VR experience showcased at this year's Sundance film festival, which showed what it would be like to see and hear a forest through the eyes of its fluffy (and not so fluffy) inhabitants.

The experience is, as you might imagine, a strange one. When it launched, In the Eyes of the Animal was set in the dream-like Grizedale Forest in the Lake District. Amongst the ferns and ancient oaks, viewers strapped on an Oculus Rift headset (weirdly encased in a grass-covered pod), and were transported through a pink and purple landscape, transforming from a midge into a dragonfly, and then from a frog into an owl.

In the Eyes of the Animal was made using a combination of 360-degree cameras, drones, and laser and CT scans. London's Natural History Museum pitched in too, offering up animal footage captured with photogrammetry, while surround sound and audio vibrations were added to help complete the experience.

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A Magic: The Gathering addict moves to China

4 hours 50 min ago

This piece is an edited excerpt from James Hsu's recent book, Magic: The Addiction: My 20-Year Gaming Journey. James is a life-long gaming enthusiast and technophile. He currently lives in Beijing.

Addiction is perhaps most often associated with things like drugs, alcohol, or gambling... but what happens when it takes the form of a seemingly innocuous card game? Can you rehabilitate? (credit: Ullstein Bild / Getty Images)

Magic: The Gathering has opened many cultural doors for me. A game with the international reach of Magic allows its players to compete in locations around the world. In places like New York, Amsterdam, and Munich, I have played Magic with strangers, armed only with our mutual love of the game as a shared language.

This became an unexpected benefit in my early thirties as I relocated halfway around the world, from Canada to China, in search of a new beginning.

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That time a bunch of journalists confused an opinion piece for a study

5 hours 38 min ago

(credit: Marlon E)

Drinking alcohol ups your risk of cancer—several kinds of cancer, in fact. The links have been firmly established and reaffirmed over the years with stacks of studies, reviews, and meta-analyses. The National Cancer Institute has had an explainer on the subject since at least 2013.

Yet, the connection remains relatively unknown to consumers.

“We know that nine in 10 people aren’t aware of the link between alcohol and cancer,” Jana Witt, Cancer Research UK’s health information officer, told The Guardian. And the few that are aware of the link may be skeptical of it based on misleading health stories and competing reports on the potential benefits of drinking.

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Batten down the hatches—Navy accused of pirating 585k copies of VR software

6 hours 23 min ago

(credit: Nicolas Raymond)

A German maker of 3D virtual reality software is accusing the US Navy of engaging in wanton piracy, and we're not talking about piracy on the high seas. This is about digital piracy of software, according to a federal lawsuit brought by Bitmanagement Software. The company is seeking copyright infringement damages of more than $596 million from the Navy for allegedly stealing more than 558,000 copies of its BS Contact Geo software.

The amount of damages, if the Navy loses, could go up substantially. Bitmanagement also noted that, in addition to licensing fees, it is seeking pre- and post-judgement interest, punitive damages, legal costs, attorney fees, and statutory damages that could amount to $150,000 per infringement.

According to the lawsuit (PDF) filed in the US Court of Federal Claims:

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Making bright X-ray pulses with shapely electron bunches

8 hours 38 min ago

An undulator, or wiggler, used in a free electron laser. (credit: UCLA Particle Beam Physics Lab)

Lots of interesting stuff happens really fast. Think about a chemical reaction, for instance. The rate of reactions might be slow, but each individual reaction proceeds quickly. This is because a chemical reaction is, essentially, the shuffling of electrons between different atoms, and electrons are fleet of foot.

Generally, if you want to watch something this fast happen, you use what is called pump-probe spectroscopy, in which one short pulse of light initiates an action while another measures the result. A critical requirement for pump-probe spectroscopy is control over the pulses, something that is difficult to achieve in the X-ray regime. This is why a new paper from Physical Review Letters is a promising development.

Pump-Probe

In pump-probe spectroscopy, the pump is a strong laser pulse that sets a reaction (or action of some kind) in motion. After some delay, a gentler probe pulse measures the state of the thing you just kicked. Repeat this for varying delays between pump and probe and you build up a picture of the trajectory a reaction might take.

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Cyanogen Inc. reportedly fires OS development arm, switches to apps

7/22/2016 6:50pm

Cyanogen Inc. seems to be in trouble. A report from Android Police cites "several sources" that say the three-year-old Android software house will be laying off 20 percent of its workforce. One source said the company would "pivot" to "apps" and away from OS development.

"Cyanogen" branding can be confusing, so here's a quick glossary before we get started:

  • Cyanogen—A person. Steve Kondik. The guy that originally started CyanogenMod.
  • CyanogenMod—A free, open source, OS heavily based on Android and compatible with hundreds of devices. Anyone can download and flash the OS to a compatible device.
  • Cyanogen OS—A for-profit OS that OEMs can purchase and ship on devices. It's the CyanogenMod codebase with some proprietary features on top and update support from Cyanogen Inc.
  • Cyanogen Inc.—A for-profit company that aims to sell Cyanogen OS to OEMs. Formed with key members from the open-source project.
  • Cyanogen Mods—Cyanogen Inc.'s proprietary app platform for Cyanogen OS.

The Android Police report says "roughly 30 out of the 136 people Cyanogen Inc. employs" are being cut, and that the layoffs "most heavily impact the open source arm" of the company.  Android Police goes on to say that CyanogenMod development by Cyanogen Inc "may be eliminated entirely." The community could continue to develop CyanogenMod, but it seems many of the core CyanogenMod developers at the company will no longer be paid to work on CyanogenMod.

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Malicious computers caught snooping on Tor-anonymized Dark Web sites

7/22/2016 4:55pm

Enlarge / A map of hidden services directories detected as malicious.

The trust of the Tor anonymity network is in many cases only as strong as the individual volunteers whose computers form its building blocks. On Friday, researchers said they found at least 110 such machines actively snooping on Dark Web sites that use Tor to mask their operators' identities.

All of the 110 malicious relays were designated as hidden services directories, which store information that end users need to reach the ".onion" addresses that rely on Tor for anonymity. Over a 72-day period that started on February 12, computer scientists at Northeastern University tracked the rogue machines using honeypot .onion addresses they dubbed "honions." The honions operated like normal hidden services, but their addresses were kept confidential. By tracking the traffic sent to the honions, the researchers were able to identify directories that were behaving in a manner that's well outside of Tor rules.

"Such snooping allows [the malicious directories] to index the hidden services, also visit them, and attack them," Guevara Noubir, a professor in Northeastern University's College of Computer and Information Science, wrote in an e-mail. "Some of them tried to attack the hidden services (websites using hidden services) through a variety of means including SQL Injection, Cross-Site Scripting (XSS), user enumeration, server load/performance, etc."

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Cable lobby set-top offer: No DVR requirement, no more compromises

7/22/2016 3:55pm

Comcast's X1 TV system and apps. (credit: Comcast)

The cable industry's primary lobby group has provided more details on its counter-proposal to the Federal Communications Commission's set-top box plan, and there's at least one thing cable TV customers won't like.

A 33-page filing from the National Cable & Telecommunications Association (NCTA) responds to questions sent by the FCC. Among other things, the FCC asked whether the cable industry will pledge to make DVR (digital video recording), fast forwarding, and rewinding available on third-party devices, but the NCTA did not propose that cable companies meet this standard.

The NCTA said customers won't have to pay extra for using third-party apps and boxes but left the door open for other methods of jacking up customers' prices.

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Samsung countersues Huawei, as tit-for-tat patent disputes expand to China

7/22/2016 2:55pm

(credit: Isriya Paireepairit)

Once upon a time, big tech companies assiduously avoided patent lawsuits. The possibility of "mutually assured destruction" that would come from an endless cycle of suit and countersuit scared them too much.

But several years ago, that fear faded away. In the wake of cases like Apple v. Samsung, massive legal bills have sometimes become worth paying in order to gain an edge over a competitor.

A fast-growing fight between Samsung and Huawei suggests that the next generation of patent disputes won't be limited to the US and Europe. China-based Huawei, the third-largest seller of smartphones, sued Samsung this year in both US and Chinese courts.

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Never mind tagging people in photos: OneDrive now tags your Pokémon

7/22/2016 2:35pm

Unfortunately, OneDrive did not recognize the Rattata sitting on my Coke can. (credit: Peter Bright)

In a surprisingly swift attempt to ride the Pokémon Go bandwagon, Microsoft has released, of all things, Pokémon detection for photos stored on OneDrive. If you have an iPhone or an Android handset and enable camera uploading to OneDrive, any screenshots or photos you take with the Pokémon Go camera tool will be stored on Microsoft's cloud system. Once there, your Pokémon will be recognized, and the images will be tagged accordingly, letting you easily find your best Pikachu snaps.

Microsoft is also rolling out some other features: automatic generation of galleries from pictures taken at around the same time in around the same place, better presentation of folders with lots of photos in them, and better display of OneDrive photos in the Windows Photos app.

Pokémon Go for HoloLens concept.

It's just too bad there's no version of Pokémon Go for Microsoft's own platform. Mock-ups of Pokémon Go for HoloLens have been created, and they look awesome. But, alas, creating a game for a $3,000 developer kit probably isn't high on Niantic's priority list.

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Wild birds learn to recognize when humans ask for help finding honey

7/22/2016 2:18pm

A local honey hunter holds one of his trusty guides. (credit: Claire Spottiswoode)

Humans and wild animals often help each other out, but the relationship is usually accidental. For example, birds of prey sometimes follow farm equipment through fields because the hardware flushes small animals out. Humans don't help the birds intentionally, and we don't gain anything from them. For truly cooperative relationships, you generally have to look to animals we've domesticated.

Generally, but not exclusively. There's an African bird called the honeyguide that helps humans find bees' nests. The humans get the honey, while the birds feast on the wax left behind (the honeyguides were first formally described after they were witnessed eating some candles). Now, new research shows that the birds can specifically respond when a human makes a call that indicates they're interested in finding honey.

Honeyguides inhabit an area of Africa that includes Tanzania and Mozambique. When they're in the mood for beeswax, they approach a human and start making a chattering call. This call is distinct from the call they use to communicate with each other, and it's accompanied by very specific behavior: the bird flits from tree to tree in the general direction of a bee's nest. Once the nest is located and opened, the human comes away with honey and leaves the wax behind for the honeyguide to eat.

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Hacker who published LA Times login credentials ordered to prison

7/22/2016 1:00pm

(credit: Cyrus Farivar)

A journalist convicted of hacking was ordered Thursday to begin serving his two-year prison sentence. Matthew Keys was scheduled to begin serving his term last month, but a federal appeals court stayed his custody to determine whether he should remain free from the federal prison camp in Atwater, California pending an appeal of his federal conviction under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA).

After reviewing the conviction for a month, the 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals announced that there is nothing novel about his conviction and that he is likely to lose on appeal. Therefore, the court ruled (PDF), he should begin serving his time even while his appeal is pending. The court wrote:

Appellant has not shown that the appeal raises a "substantial question" of law or fact that is "fairly debatable," and that "if that substantial question is determined favorably to defendant on appeal, that decision is likely to result in reversal or an order for a new trial of all counts on which imprisonment has been imposed," or a sentence that does not include a term of imprisonment, or a reduced sentence to a term of imprisonment less than the total of the time already served plus the expected duration of the appeal process.

Keys maintains that he did not expose login information that led to the 40-minute alteration of a Los Angeles Times headline in 2010 when he worked for a local California television station, KTXL Fox 40 in Sacramento, which was owned by the newspaper's parent company, Tronc. Authorities said he published Tronc login credentials in a hacker forum and told forum readers to go "fuck some shit up." On appeal, Keys maintained that there was no damage done because the defaced article was restored from a backup, and therefore the CFAA was misapplied.

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Sony is the only remaining hurdle to cross-platform play, developers say

7/22/2016 12:49pm

(credit: Aurich x Getty)

Back in March, Microsoft announced that it would allow generic cross-platform play on its Xbox Live network. The move was essentially a public challenge for Sony to similarly open up the PlayStation Network, allowing for multiplayer matches involving more than one type of console for what would essentially be the first time.

Now, some major game developers are stressing that any technical hurdles to this cross-platform play have been overcome. Sony's walled-garden policy is the final obstacle to allowing play between Xbox and PlayStation systems, they say. "Right now, we're literally at the point where all we need is the go-ahead on the Sony side and we can, in less than a business day, turn [cross-platform play] on and have it up and working, no problem," Jeremy Dunham, vice president of Rocket League developer Psyonix told IGN in a recent interview. "It'd literally take a few hours to propagate throughout the whole world, so really we're just waiting on the permission to do so... It could be tomorrow, it could be longer than that. We just don't know—we're anxiously awaiting that, just like the rest of our fans."

Rocket League was one of the first games that announced cross-platform play between the Xbox One and Windows 10 (well before Microsoft's recent Play Anywhere initiative), so it's not that surprising that the title is ready to link in with the PS4 as well. But The Witcher maker CD Projekt says it's also simply awaiting Sony's go-ahead for a cross-platform version of the upcoming Gwent card game.

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Reaction captures carbon, generates electricity, makes a cleaning product

7/22/2016 12:28pm

(credit: Randy)

The capture of CO2 from smokestacks could make an important contribution to limiting climate change, but there are two obstacles. One is that you have to store that CO2 somewhere (like underground reservoirs). The other is that the capture process requires energy, so your power plant ends up producing less electricity per unit of fuel. That comes with a financial cost.

There are efforts afoot to overcome both of those hurdles, but there are also other possible approaches. One that sounds obvious and attractive is to turn that CO2 into something useful and valuable, rather than just reservoir filler. The sticky wicket here is chemistry. Carbon dioxide is pretty stable, and turning it into something else can require a large energy input.

Cornell University’s Wajdi AlSadat and Lynden Archer, however, are playing with one possible process that could convert CO2 into a commodity—and generate electricity while you’re at it.

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Everyday chemicals may be messing up our microbiomes—but we don’t know

7/22/2016 11:27am

Women washing hands in white sink good suds (credit: Arlington County)

Poke around any bathroom or cleaning cabinet in the US and you’re likely to find a product spiked with an antimicrobial chemical. One of the most common of these, triclosan, has shown up in about 75 percent of antibacterial hand soaps and is easily spotted in a range of other goods, from toys to toothpaste. It has also been found in about 75 percent of Americans’ urine. Yet, despite their omnipresence, these antimicrobials go largely unregulated and scientists don’t know their health effects.

In an opinion piece published Thursday in Science, Alyson Yee and Jack Gilbert, microbiologists from the University of Chicago, call for that to change. They lay out just how little data we have on the chemicals—and some of it even conflicts. Yet, it’s clear that our exposure may begin in the womb and that the chemicals do have the potential to mess up our microbiomes—the communities of microbes in and on us that strongly influence our health. Such microbial disturbances have been linked to wide ranging conditions, from neurological disorders to arthritis, allergies, obesity, and irritable bowel disorder.

As such, scientists should prioritize figuring out if the chemicals that are already all around us, are causing harm, Yee and Gilbert argue.

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Pair that brought guns to Pokémon tournament gets two years in jail

7/22/2016 10:52am

Two men who were arrested last year for making online threats and bringing guns and ammunition to a Boston Pokémon card game tournament have been sentenced to two years each in prison and two years of probation afterward. The Boston Globe reports that James Stumbo and Kevin Norton pled guilty to unlawful possession of the guns and nearly 300 rounds of ammunition found in their car outside the Hynes Convention Center event last August.

Stumbo and Norton, both well-known members of the high-level Pokémon card playing community, were arrested after driving from Iowa to Boston for the event as well as posting messages on Facebook showing off the guns and threatening to "kill the competition." Another message stated that "my AR-15 says that you lose." Event security was warned about the postings and notified the police before informing attendees of the issue.

Miller's attorney, Robert LeRoy, tried to downplay the pair's online postings as "adolescent stuff" that "wasn’t threatening in any capacity." He also defended their actions by contrasting Iowa's relatively lax gun laws with the stricter regulations in Massachusetts. “They basically always drive around with loaded guns in the trunk in Iowa,” he said, according to the Globe report.

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Pokémon Go is “new level of invasion,” says stony-faced Oliver Stone

7/22/2016 10:25am

Pokémon Go heralds a new dystopian age that we should all be fretting about, film director Oliver Stone has warned.

Speaking at Comic Con on Thursday to promote his new movie about US National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden, Stone described the data-slurping tactics of the freakishly successful game as “a new level of invasion.”

The panel—also featuring Snowden stars Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Shailene Woodley, and Zachary Quinto—was asked about the surveillance potential of the game.

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Nvidia unveils new GTX Titan X: 11 teraflops, 12GB GDDR5X, just $1,200

7/22/2016 10:15am

Forget the GTX 1080: there's a new slab of graphics card hotness on the way from Nvidia, and its name is, er, the GTX Titan X. Yes, Nvidia has taken its most expensive graphics card and given it a Pascal-architecture makeover. $1200—UK price TBC, but probably £1,100—buys you 11 teraflops of FP32 performance, which is a significant 24 percent jump over the 8.9 teraflops of the GTX 1080, and just over 60 percent higher than the 6.6 teraflops of the original Titan X.

The new Titan X launches on August 2 in the US and Europe. At first it'll only be available from the Nvidia website, but it will percolate down to other retailers soon after.

The Titan X is powered by a new chip, GP102, which packs in 3584 CUDA cores. While Nvidia hasn't revealed the amount of Streaming Multiprocessors (SMs), texture units, and the like, if the company uses a similar architecture to the GP104 chip (as used in the GTX 1080 and GTX 1070), expect a 40 percent boost in SMs over the GTX 1080 to 28. The chip runs at a 1417MHz base clock and 1531MHz boost clock.

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