Geek Stuff

Microsoft Lays Off 2,100, Axes Silicon Valley Research

Slashdot -

walterbyrd writes with news of Microsoft layoffs. Microsoft Corp will close its Silicon Valley research-and-development operation as part of 2,100 layoffs announced on Thursday, as it moves toward its new CEO's goal of cutting 18,000 staff, or about 14 percent of its workforce. News of the closure of the Microsoft Research lab at the company's campus in Mountain View, California, was first made public on Twitter by employees. The company later confirmed the move and said it would involve the loss of 50 jobs.

Read more of this story at Slashdot.

Apple's "Warrant Canary" Has Died

Slashdot - writes When Apple published its first Transparency Report on government activity in late 2013, the document contained an important footnote that stated: "Apple has never received an order under Section 215 of the USA Patriot Act. We would expect to challenge such an order if served on us." Now Jeff John Roberts writes at Gigaom that Apple's warrant canary has disappeared. A review of the company's last two Transparency Reports, covering the second half of 2013 and the first six months of 2014, shows that the "canary" language is no longer there suggesting that Apple is now part of FISA or PRISM proceedings. Warrant canaries are a tool used by companies and publishers to signify to their users that, so far, they have not been subject to a given type of law enforcement request such as a secret subpoena. If the canary disappears, then it is likely the situation has changed — and the company has been subject to such request. This may also give some insight into Apple's recent decision to rework its latest encryption in a way that makes it almost impossible for the company to turn over data from most iPhones or iPads to police.

Read more of this story at Slashdot.

13 Principles Week of Action: The World Needs More Whistleblowers

EFF's Deeplinks -

This is a guest post from Sana Saleem, Advisory Board Member, Courage Foundation. If you have comments on this post, you can contact Sana on Twitter.

In the week leading up the first year aniversary of the 13 Necessary and Proportionate Principles, EFF and the coalition behind the 13 Principles will be conducting a Week of Action explaining some of the key guiding principles for surveillance law reform. Every day, we'll take on a different part of the principles, exploring what’s at stake and what we need to do to bring intelligence agencies and the police back under the rule of law. You can read the complete set of posts at: Let's send a message to Member States at the United Nations and wherever else folks are tackling surveillance law reform: surveillance law can no longer ignore our human rights. Follow our discussion on twitter with the hashtag: #privacyisaright

The World Needs More Whistleblowers

During the Stockholm Internet Forum this year, a State Department representative was quick to flaunt reforms put in place by the US Government to ‘counter US mass surveillance programmes.’ However, he was unwilling to respond when faced with the simple question “If you are willing to reform laws and mend things, why not honor the man who triggered it, why not bring Edward Snowden home?”

Too often, whistleblowers aren’t valued for the reforms they instigate. Even as government worldwide are considering new ways to limit mass surveillance, there is scant discussion about the need to honor and protect whisteblowers.

The world needs more whistleblowers because those in positions of power are often expert as hiding corruption from the public. People with integrity and a desire for truth and justice within the political system are often our best hope for bringing light to this corruption.

But as much of the world’s press extensively reports on Wikileaks and the Snowden revelations, we must not dismiss the trepidation that comes with reporting the truth and exposing misuse of power. This trepidation will not dissipate unless there is a collective effort to protect and defend whistleblowers, and reform laws that allow for prosecuting them.

There’s also the pressing need to keep using the information provided by whistleblowers to push for necessary reforms and protections. Today is Day 4 of the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) ‘Necessary and Proportionate’ week of action. The EFF is calling on governments to ensure surveillance law reform is guided by key principles. Today we focus on principle 4: the ‘Integrity of Communications and Systems, Safeguards Against Illegitimate Access, Protection on Whistleblowers, and Right to An Effective Remedy’.

What is meant by the ‘Integrity of Communications and Systems’ in practice? The NSA, or any other government for that matter, should not be able to compel service providers or hardware or software vendors to build surveillance or backdoors into their systems. These companies also should not collect or retain particular information purely for state surveillance purposes.

We now have confirmation that governments are going above and beyond compelling companies to build backdoors into their services. In an article posted on The Intercept this week journalist, documentary maker and Intercept co-founder Laura Poitras documents how the NSA is tapping into Germany’s largest telecommunications providers by accessing the passwords of the system administrators. This revelation was greeted with both shock and deep anger by the telco engineers. Governments need to go beyond merely not forcing companies to comply with backdoor requests, they must put an immediate stop to the accessing whole systems covertly. This point addresses the second element of principle 4, when state authorities illegitimately access personal data.

There is no possibility of protecting against this when it’s happening behind the backs of service providers and hardware and software vendors. This leaves the onus on governments, who, in democratic societies, are accountable to their citizens. The third part of this is an onus on government to protect their whistleblowers. The Obama administration, in what the Nieman Reports has labeled the “Big Chill”, is operating amid unprecedented secrecy—while attacking journalists trying to tell the public what they need to know

Former New York Times executive editor Jill Abramson:

Several reporters who have covered national security in Washington for decades tell me that the environment has never been tougher or information harder to dislodge,"

Abramson said

"One Times reporter told me the environment in Washington has never been more hostile to reporting."

Protection of whistleblowers is critically important for the protection of a just society. But it’s not just whistleblowers under attack: it is also increasingly difficult to advocate for whistleblowers given the government and the media’s treatment of those who seek to protect whistleblowers.

The Courage Foundation was set up to provide legal and policy support for those who have made a decision to stand up to the abuse of power, risk their career and, in some cases, family life, so that our liberties are protected. It is for this reason that the need to provide stronger protections for whistleblowers, in such a difficult climate, is incredibly important.

Finally, what happens when the state conducts illegal and warrantless surveillance against its citizens? Snowden’s revelations have revealed state intrusion into the lives of hundreds of millions of Americans and citizens around the world, without proof for suspicion. Does the legal system allow us to challenge such surveillance in court? If it does, what would happen to the US government if they were found guilty of illegally surveilling you or me? The Necessary and Proportionate principles argue for civil and criminal penalties imposed on any party responsible for illegal electronic surveillance and those affected by surveillance must have access to legal mechanisms necessary for effective redress.

Tomorrow is Friday, day 5, in which the EFF and its supporters around the world will call on governments to improve safeguards for International Cooperation and Extraterritorial Application of Human Rights Law. The Courage Foundation stands beside the EFF’s campaign and calls on all rights groups and activists seeking to preserve an Internet free from surveillance to support this campaign.

It was little over a year ago when Edward Snowden performed an act of remarkable conscience. Snowden’s actions have empowered a generation of us to stand up to abuses and to do the right thing, even when it’s not convenient. With the increasing power and resources of state surveillance programs, the world is in dire need of more whistleblowers to continue this fight.

Related Issues: InternationalSurveillance and Human Rights
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Mystery Signal Could Be Dark Matter Hint In ISS Detector

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astroengine writes Analysis of 41 billion cosmic rays striking the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer particle detector aboard the International Space Station shows an unknown phenomena that is "consistent with a dark matter particle" known as a neutralino, researchers announced Thursday. Key to the hunt is the ratio of positrons to electrons and so far the evidence from AMS points in the direction of dark matter. The smoking gun scientists look for is a rise in the ratio of positrons to electrons, followed by a dramatic fall — the telltale sign of dark matter annihilating the Milky Way's halo, which lies beyond its central disk of stars and dust. However, "we have not found the definitive proof of dark matter," AMS lead researcher Samuel Ting, with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and CERN in Switzerland, wrote in an email to Discovery News. "Whereas all the AMS results point in the right direction, we still need to measure how quickly the positron fraction falls off at the highest energies in order to rule out astrophysical sources such as pulsars." But still, this new finding is a tantalizing step in the dark matter direction.

Read more of this story at Slashdot.

EFF to Defend Student Bitcoin Developers in Court

EFF's Deeplinks -

New Jersey Prosecutors Issue Flawed Subpoena for Tidbit Source Code

Newark, NJ - Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) Staff Attorney Hanni Fakhoury will appear before a New Jersey Superior Court judge on Monday, Sept. 22 to oppose a subpoena issued to MIT students over their prize-winning Bitcoin mining program, Tidbit.

Tidbit was designed to serve as an alternative to viewing online advertising by allowing website users to help mine Bitcoins for the site they're visiting instead. It was developed in late 2013 by Jeremy Rubin and fellow classmates at MIT for the Node Knockout Hackathon, where the program ultimately won an award for innovation. The creators never made the program fully functional, serving only as a "proof of concept."

In December 2013, the New Jersey Division of Consumer Affairs issued a subpoena to Rubin, requesting he turn over Tidbit's past and current source code, as well as other documents and agreements with any third parties. It also issued 27 formal written questions requesting additional documents and ordering Rubin to turn over information such as the names and identities of all Bitcoin wallet addresses associated with Tidbit, a list of all websites running Tidbit's code, and the name of anybody whose computer mined for Bitcoins through the use of Tidbit.

EFF represents Rubin and Tidbit in opposing the unjustifiably broad subpoena. In court, Fakhoury will argue three points:

- The State of New Jersey's attempts to target out-of-state activity is unconstitutional.

- New Jersey has no jurisdiction over Rubin or Tidbit.

- If the subpoena is upheld, Rubin and Tidbit must receive immunity. Otherwise, the court would be forcing Rubin and Tidbit to testify against themselves in violation of the Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and New Jersey state law.

"While the state certainly has a right to investigate consumer fraud, threatening out of state college students with subpoenas isn't the way to do it," Fakhoury said. "The students have disbanded their award-winning project. As MIT students and faculty have warned, the fear that any state can issue broad subpoenas to any student anywhere in the country will have a chilling effect on campus technological innovation beyond Tidbit."

What: Motion Hearing in Rubin v. New Jersey

Who: Hanni Fakhoury, EFF Staff Attorney

Date: Monday, Sept. 22

Time: 1:30 p.m. ET

Location: Courtroom of the Honorable Gary Furnari

Essex County Historic Court House, Courtroom 211

470 Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd., Newark, NJ 07102

For the motion:


Hanni Fakhoury
   Staff Attorney
   Electronic Frontier Foundation

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Dremel Releases 3D Printer

Slashdot -

Lucas123 writes Power tool maker Dremel today announced its now selling a desktop 3D printer that it said is targeted at "the masses" with a $1,000 price tag and intuitive software. Dremel's 3D Idea Builder is a fused deposition modeling (FDM) machine that can use only one type of polymer filament, polylactide (PLA) and that comes in 10 colors. The new 3D printer has a 9-in. x 5.9-in. x 5.5-in. build area housed in a self-contained box with a detachable lid and side panels. Dremel's currently selling its machine on Amazon and The Home Depot's website, but it plans brick and mortar store sales this November.

Read more of this story at Slashdot.

Amazon’s 9.7 inch Kindle DX eReader is still available for $199… kinda

Liliputing -

Now that Amazon has launched two new Kindle eReaders, you might be wondering what happens to one of the oldest models the company still sells. Amazon hasn’t updated its 9.7 inch Kindle DX since earlier 2010, and while it doesn’t show up when you search for Kindle devices at Amazon, earlier this year we noticed […]

Amazon’s 9.7 inch Kindle DX eReader is still available for $199… kinda is a post from: Liliputing

A Beginner's Guide To Programming With Swift

Slashdot -

Nerval's Lobster (2598977) writes Earlier this year, Apple executives unveiled Swift, which is meant to eventually replace Objective-C as the programming language of choice for Macs and iOS devices. Now that iOS 8's out, a lot of developers who build apps for Apple's platforms will likely give Swift a more intensive look. While Apple boasts that Swift makes programming easy, it'll take some time to learn how the language works. A new walkthrough by developer David Bolton shows how to build a very simple app in Swift, complete with project files (hosted on SourceForge) so you can follow along. A key takeaway: while some Swift features do make programming easier, there's definitely a learning curve here.

Read more of this story at Slashdot.

Next Android To Enable Local Encryption By Default Too, Says Google

Slashdot -

An anonymous reader writes The same day that Apple announced that iOS 8 will encrypt device data with a local code that is not shared with Apple, Google has pointed out that Android already offers the same feature as a user option and that the next version will enable it by default. The announcements by both major cell phone [operating system makers] underscores a new emphasis on privacy in the wake of recent government surveillance revelations in the U.S. At the same time, it leaves unresolved the tension between security and convenience when both companies' devices are configured to upload user content to iCloud and Google+ servers for backup and synchronization across devices, servers and content to which Apple and Google do have access.

Read more of this story at Slashdot.

Ubuntu for smartphones hits RTM (release to manufacturing) stage

Liliputing -

The first smartphones to run Ubuntu software could ship later this year, and they’re expected to sell for between $200 and $400. Development of the open source operating system for smartphones and tablets has been taking place in public view, and there are tools that let anyone try a pre-release build of Ubuntu on existing phones, tablets, […]

Ubuntu for smartphones hits RTM (release to manufacturing) stage is a post from: Liliputing

Oracle CEO Larry Ellison Steps Down

Slashdot -

mrspoonsi writes Oracle founder Larry Ellison is stepping down as CEO. He will be replaced by two executives. Former Oracle presidents Safra Catz and Mark Hurd will be co-CEOs. Ellison will be the Executive Chairman of Oracle's Board, and the company's CTO. Oracle's shares are off by 3% on the news. "Larry has made it very clear that he wants to keep working full time and focus his energy on product engineering, technology development and strategy," said the Oracle Board's Presiding Director, Dr. Michael Boskin.

Read more of this story at Slashdot.

Once Vehicles Are Connected To the Internet of Things, Who Guards Your Privacy?

Slashdot -

Lucas123 (935744) writes Carmakers already remotely collect data from their vehicles, unbeknownst to most drivers, but once connected via in-car routers or mobile devices to the Internet, and to roadway infrastructure and other vehicles around them, that information would be accessible by the government or other undesired entities. Location data, which is routinely collected by GPS providers and makers of telematics systems, is among the most sensitive pieces of information that can be collected, according to Nate Cardozo, an attorney with the Electronic Frontier Foundation. "Not having knowledge that a third party is collecting that data on us and with whom they are sharing that data with is extremely troubling," Cardozo said. in-vehicle diagnostics data could also be used by government agencies to track driver behavior. Nightmare scenarios could include traffic violations being issued without law enforcement officers on the scene or federal agencies having the ability to track your every move in a car. That there could be useful data in all that personally identifiable bits made me think of Peter Wayner's "Translucent Databases."

Read more of this story at Slashdot.

Acer C720 Chromebook with Core i3 review

Liliputing -

Acer was one of the first companies to launch a laptop running Google’s Chrome operating system, and the company has updated its Chrome OS laptops a number of times over the past few years. This year’s lineup includes models with bigger screens, ARM and Intel Celeron and Bay Trail processors, and Acer’s most powerful Chromebook […]

Acer C720 Chromebook with Core i3 review is a post from: Liliputing

New Study Projects World Population of 11B by 2100

Slashdot -

vinces99 (2792707) writes Using modern statistical tools, a new study led by the University of Washington and the United Nations finds that world population is likely to keep growing throughout the 21st century. The number of people on Earth is likely to reach 11 billion by 2100, the study concludes, about 2 billion higher than widely cited previous estimates. The paper published online Sept. 18 in the journal Science includes the most up-to-date numbers for future world population, and describes a new method for creating such estimates. "The consensus over the past 20 years or so was that world population, which is currently around 7 billion, would go up to 9 billion and level off or probably decline," said corresponding author Adrian Raftery, a UW professor of statistics and of sociology. ... The paper explains the most recent United Nations population data released in July. This is the first U.N. population report to use modern statistics, known as Bayesian statistics, that combines all available information to generate better predictions. Most of the anticipated growth is in Africa, where population is projected to quadruple from around 1 billion today to 4 billion by the end of the century. The main reason is that birth rates in sub-Saharan Africa have not been going down as fast as had been expected. There is an 80 percent chance that the population in Africa at the end of the century will be between 3.5 billion and 5.1 billion people.

Read more of this story at Slashdot.

The 2014 Ig Nobel Prizes Will Be Awarded Tonight

Slashdot -

alphadogg (971356) writes At Harvard University's Sanders Theater this evening, a collection of the most off-the-wall, bizarre and lurid scientific efforts of the past year will be dubiously honored with an Ig Nobel Prize. The Ig Nobels are awarded annually by Improbable Research, an organization devoted to scientific education that publishes the Annals of Improbable Research magazine six times a year. Past honorees have included:*A study about homosexual necrophilia in ducks; Competitive analysis of breakfast cereal sogginess; The discovery that dung beetles can navigate using the Milky Way galaxy. The ceremony begins at 6 p.m. EST, and can be viewed online for free here.

Read more of this story at Slashdot.

Toshiba shifts its PC business to focus on… business customers

Liliputing -

We might not really be living in a post-PC world, but traditional notebook and desktop computers now compete with smartphones, tablets, and a range of other devices. Meanwhile, PC makers seem to be racing to the bottom to see who can offer the cheapest laptops and tablets… which can make it hard to turn a […]

Toshiba shifts its PC business to focus on… business customers is a post from: Liliputing

Ask Slashdot: How To Pick Up Astronomy and Physics As an Adult?

Slashdot -

First time accepted submitter samalex01 (1290786) writes "I'm 38, married, two young kids, and I have a nice job in the IT industry, but since I was a kid I've had this deep love and passion for astronomy and astrophysics. This love and passion though never evolved into any formal education or anything beyond just a distant fascination as I got out of high school, into college, and started going through life on more of an IT career path. So my question, now that I'm 38 is there any hope that I could start learning more about astronomy or physics to make it more than just a hobby? I don't expect to be a Carl Sagan or Neil deGrasse Tyson, but I'd love to have enough knowledge in these subjects to research and experiment to the point where I could possibly start contributing back to the field. MIT Open Courseware has some online courses for free that cover these topics, but given I can only spend maybe 10 hours a week on this would it be a pointless venture? Not to mention my mind isn't as sharp now as it was 20 years ago when I graduated high school. Thanks for any advice or suggestions."

Read more of this story at Slashdot.

Tell Governor Brown: No Warrantless Drones For California Cops

EFF's Deeplinks -

An important California bill that would require warrants for law enforcement use of drones is currently sitting on Governor Jerry Brown’s desk. Unfortunately, there’s no guarantee that Gov. Brown will sign AB 1327, which passed the California legislature this August. EFF has long held that a warrant requirement is an essential component of any drone legislation, so while some of the bill’s language is imperfect, we encourage the Governor to sign the bill and ask concerned Californians to do the same.

One way the Brown administration gauges public support for a bill is through Twitter, so we've made it easy for you to send him the following message:

No warrantless drones for California cops! @JerryBrownGov, please sign AB 1327 to protect privacy in CA:

What would our ideal drone legislation look like? At the least, it should meet these three criteria:

  1. require that law enforcement obtain warrants before using drones in investigations to protect the Fourth Amendment rights of citizens from overbroad or undue data collection;
  2. hold commercial drone operators to established privacy standards and require disclosure of the details of their operations; and
  3. strike an appropriate balance between privacy and First Amendment protected activities such as newsgathering (if regulating private and media use of drones).

AB 1327 meets the first of these requirements. It also meets the third prong by default, because it doesn’t address private drone use and so doesn’t hinder the use of drones for First Amendment protected activities.

The heart of the bill is in section 14350(b):

(b) A law enforcement agency may use an unmanned aircraft system if it has obtained a warrant based on probable cause pursuant to this code.

There is a danger of loopholes, unsurprisingly. Law enforcement could try to avoid getting a warrant by “outsourcing” its surveillance to other agencies, which could then pass the collected information back. The bill attempts to address that problem by prohibiting other agencies from sharing footage, data, or images with law enforcement agencies that would have needed a warrant to collect that data and have not gotten one.

The bill also lists some explicit exceptions to the warrant requirement for law enforcement. Some of these are reasonable, mirroring existing warrant exceptions, like “emergency situations if there is an imminent threat to life or great bodily harm.” Similarly, there’s an exception to allow the use of a drone to determine the appropriate response to hazards like chemical spills.

Other provisions are more problematic. The bill lists uses that do not require warrants, and some are more obviously reasonable than others. For example, it allows the use of drones in state parks and wilderness areas to search for fires, but also to search for “illegal vegetation.” There’s another exception to allow warrantless use of drones “to assess the necessity of first responders in situations relating to traffic.”

Further, some missing definitions could lead to ambiguity in the future. For example, the bill allows non-law-enforcement agencies to use drones “to achieve the core mission of the agency.” Unfortunately “core mission” isn’t defined; while many activities fall clearly inside or outside that scope for a given agency, others might be in a grey area.

Despite those misgivings, it's definitely good that the bill requires public agencies to give notice that they plan to use drones. What’s more, it sets a statewide floor, while allowing local jurisdictions to pass more tailored regulations. Both of these provisions are essential in places like Los Angeles, San Jose, Berkeley, and Alameda County, where public outcries around drone acquisition and use have led to spirited discussions about drone use. And in Alameda County, at least, that discussion has halted the purchase of a drone.

While this bill could be stronger in some areas, it’s certainly preferable to unregulated, warrantless police drone use. Law enforcement agencies should be discussing their plans for drones with transparency and accountability, and in a way that allows community involvement, and a warrant requirement here is a no-brainer. Tell Governor Brown to stop warrantless drone surveillance by signing AB 1327.

No warrantless drones for California cops! @JerryBrownGov, please sign AB 1327 to protect privacy in CA:

Related Issues: Surveillance Drones
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Deals of the Day (9-18-2014)

Liliputing -

In the market for a big discount on an ultrabook or tablet? If you don’t mind buying refurbished models, today might be your day. Woot is running a sale on Asus Zenbook thin and light laptops with models starting at just $500 (although I’d recommend checking out some of the higher-priced Zenbooks like this $650 […]

Deals of the Day (9-18-2014) is a post from: Liliputing

Apple Will No Longer Unlock Most iPhones, iPads For Police

Slashdot -

SternisheFan writes with this selection from a story at the Washington Post: Apple said Wednesday night that it is making it impossible for the company to turn over data from most iPhones or iPads to police — even when they have a search warrant — taking a hard new line as tech companies attempt to blunt allegations that they have too readily participated in government efforts to collect user data. The move, announced with the publication of a new privacy policy tied to the release of Apple's latest mobile operating system, iOS 8, amounts to an engineering solution to a legal dilemma: Rather than comply with binding court orders, Apple has reworked its latest encryption in a way that makes it almost impossible for the company – or anyone else but the device's owner – to gain access to the vast troves of user data typically stored on smartphones or tablet computers. The key is the encryption that Apple mobile devices automatically put in place when a user selects a passcode, making it difficult for anyone who lacks that passcode to access the information within, including photos, e-mails, recordings or other documents. Apple once kept possession of encryption keys that unlocked devices for legally binding police requests, but will no longer do so for iOS8, it said in a new guide for law enforcement. "Unlike our competitors, Apple cannot bypass your passcode and therefore cannot access this data," Apple said on its Web site. "So it's not technically feasible for us to respond to government warrants for the extraction of this data from devices in their possession running iOS 8."

Read more of this story at Slashdot.


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