Geek Stuff

Steve Wozniak Now Afraid of AI Too, Just Like Elon Musk

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quax writes Steve Wozniak maintained for a long time that true AI is relegated to the realm of science fiction. But recent advances in quantum computing have him reconsidering his stance. Just like Elon Musk, he is now worried about what this development will mean for humanity. Will this kind of fear actually engender the dangers that these titans of industry fear? Will Steve Wozniak draw the same conclusion and invest in quantum comuting to keep an eye on the development? One of the bloggers in the field thinks that would be a logical step to take. If you can't beat'em, and the quantum AI is coming, you should at least try to steer the outcome. Woz actually seems more ambivalent than afraid, though: in the interview linked, he says "I hope [AI-enabling quantum computing] does come, and we should pursue it because it is about scientific exploring." "But in the end we just may have created the species that is above us."

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Vessel wants you to pay $3 monthly for early access to YouTube videos

Liliputing -

A new online video startup called Vessel is hoping you’ll pay $2.99 per month to watch videos from popular YouTube stars a few days before they hit YouTube. That might sound crazy, but the company is headed by Jason Kilar, the former Hulu exec who figured out ways to convince folks to pay a Netflix-like $7.99 […]

Vessel wants you to pay $3 monthly for early access to YouTube videos is a post from: Liliputing

Hacking Weight Loss: What I Learned Losing 30 Pounds

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reifman writes The CDC reports that 69% of adult Americans are overweight or obese. Techies like us are at increased risk because of our sedentary lifestyles. Perhaps you even scoffed at Neilsen's recent finding that some Americans spend only 11 hours daily of screen time. Over the last nine months, I've lost 30 pounds and learned a lot about hacking weight loss and I did it without fad diets, step trackers, running or going paleo. No such discussion is complete without a link to the Hacker Diet.

Read more of this story at Slashdot.

Microsoft’s “Spartan” web browser to include code contributed by Adobe, other software makers

Liliputing -

Microsoft plans to ship a brand new web browser with Windows 10. Code-named “Spartan,” the new browser won’t replace Internet Explorer right away — both web browsers will be included in the next version of Windows. But it’s pretty clear that Spartan is the future and IE is the past. Spartan has a new rendering […]

Microsoft’s “Spartan” web browser to include code contributed by Adobe, other software makers is a post from: Liliputing

Elon Musk's SolarCity Offering To Build Cities, Businesses Their Own Grids

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Lucas123 writes Rooftop solar distributor SolarCity announced a new service where it will build a centrally-controllable power grid for cities, business campuses and even islands. Marketing its GridLogic service by calling attention to the recent uptick in natural disasters and the extended power outages that resulted from them, SolarCity said its "microgrids" are fully independent power infrastructures fed by solar panels with lithium-ion backup batteries (courtesy of Tesla). SolarCity claims its GridLogic program can provide electricity to communities and businesses for less than they pay for utility power and the facilities can still be connected to their area's utility power grid as an added backup.

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A Pi’s eye view of the solar eclipse

Raspberry Pi -

Last Friday morning I got up at an unfamiliar hour to board a train to Leicester, where BBC Stargazing were broadcasting a special live show to coincide with the partial solar eclipse over the UK. Regular readers will have seen Dave Akerman write here last week of his plans to launch two Model A+ Pis with Pi in the Sky telemetry boards on a weather balloon as part of the BBC’s event, with the aim of capturing stills and video of the eclipse from high above the clouds. As we’ll see, Dave was far from the only person using Raspberry Pis to observe the eclipse; to begin with, though, here’s a downward-facing view from one of his Pis of the launch, done with the help of a group of school students:

I caught up with Dave a bit later in the morning, by which point the payload had been recovered after a shortish flight.

Dave explains to my three-year-old son that the balloon payload has come down in fields by Leighton Buzzard

BBC Radio Leicester interviewed Dave, making for a really interesting five-minute introduction to what a balloon mission involves. BBC Television filmed several interviews, too, including this one, broadcast on BBC Stargazing live the same evening, featuring images of the eclipse captured by the Pis:

My favourite moment is when the balloon bursts, having reached a diameter of about eight metres. Despite the lack of air, as Dave points out, the pop is clearly audible:

If you watched right to the end of the BBC Stargazing interview, you’ll have heard Lucie Green mention another project, this one with the involvement of BBC Weather’s Peter Gibbs. The Department of Meteorology at the University of Reading is running a citizen science programme, the National Eclipse Weather Experiment (NEWEx), to collect data to study small weather changes expected to accompany an eclipse, such as a drop in temperature and changes to clouds and wind. They particularly encouraged schools to join in, and we sent one of our weather station prototypes to the National STEM Centre in York so that they could help a local primary school take part. They installed it on their roof:

Matt Holmes from the STEM Centre displayed data from the weather station alongside a webcam image of the eclipse:

A shot of our #eclipse cam and @raspberry_pi weather station data side by side.

— Matt Holmes (@Matt_J_Holmes) March 20, 2015

If you’re in the UK and you’d like to watch the (very) brief interview with Peter Gibbs that followed the one with Dave Akerman, you can catch it on BBC iPlayer, starting at 29m40s.

Other people were using Raspberry Pis to take weather measurements during the eclipse too. Cookstown High School in Northern Ireland have set up another of our weather station prototypes; you can see live data from it at, which you can drag to see older data and zoom for more detail. School staff are also tweeting more photos and information about the weather station as @STEAM4schools. Here are its temperature recordings during the eclipse:

As you can see, it’s difficult to separate out effects of the eclipse from other temperature variation, which is where NEWEx’s big-data approach will hopefully prove valuable.

One computing teacher planned his Friday morning class’s eclipse observations in our forums, with help from forum regular Dougie, whose own measurements are here, and others. They held an eclipse party before school, and they and others have shared their measurements in the forum.


We’ve seen a number of timelapse films of the eclipse captured using Pis, too. Berlin Raspberry Jam organiser James Mitchell used a Raspberry Pi to make a timelapse of the 74% eclipse seen there:

It’s really great to see Raspberry Pis used in such a variety of ways to enhance people’s experiences of a rare and remarkable astronomical event, and particularly to see the involvement of so many schools. Did you use a Raspberry Pi for observations during Friday’s solar eclipse? Tell us in the comments!

Amazon Fire TV and TV Stick get Bluetooth headphone support, Fire TV Stick launches in Europe

Liliputing -

Amazon has announced that it’s bringing new features to its $99 Fire TV and $39 Fire TV Stick devices. The next over-the-air software update will bring support for Bluetooth headphones and USB storage, among other things. The Fire TV Stick is also now available for purchase in the UK and Germany, where the the TV […]

Amazon Fire TV and TV Stick get Bluetooth headphone support, Fire TV Stick launches in Europe is a post from: Liliputing

Hack Air-Gapped Computers Using Heat

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An anonymous reader writes Ben-Gurion University of the Negev (BGU) researchers have discovered a new method to breach air-gapped computer systems called "BitWhisper," which enables two-way communications between adjacent, unconnected PC computers using heat. BitWhisper bridges the air-gap between the two computers, approximately 15 inches apart that are infected with malware by using their heat emissions and built-in thermal sensors to communicate. It establishes a covert, bi-directional channel by emitting heat from one PC to the other in a controlled manner. Also at Wired.

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$1B TSA Behavioral Screening Program Slammed As "Junk Science"

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schwit1 writes The Transportation Security Administration has been accused of spending a billion dollars on a passenger-screening program that's based on junk science. The claim arose in a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union, which has tried unsuccessfully to get the TSA to release documents on its SPOT (Screening Passengers by Observation Techniques) program through the Freedom of Information Act. SPOT, whose techniques were first used in 2003 and formalized in 2007, uses "highly questionable" screening techniques, according to the ACLU complaint, while being "discriminatory, ineffective, pseudo-scientific, and wasteful of taxpayer money." TSA has spent at least $1 billion on SPOT. The Government Accountability Office (GAO) reported in 2010 that "TSA deployed SPOT nationwide before first determining whether there was a scientifically valid basis for using behavior detection and appearance indicators as a means for reliably identifying passengers as potential threats in airports," according to the ACLU. And in 2013, GAO recommended that the agency spend less money on the program, which uses 3,000 "behavior detection officers" whose jobs is to identify terrorists before they board jetliners.

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Facebook Engineering Tool Mimics Dodgy Network Connectivity

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itwbennett writes: Facebook has released an open source application called Augmented Traffic Control that can simulate the connectivity of a cell phone accessing an app over a 2G, Edge, 3G, or LTE network. It can also simulate weak and erratic WiFi connections. The simulations can give engineers an estimate of how long it would take a user to download a file, for instance, given varying network connections. It can help engineers re-create problems that crop up only on very slow networks.

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Ubuntu on the Acer Aspire Switch 11 2-in-1 tablet (video)

Liliputing -

The Acer Aspire Switch 11 is a 2-in-1 tablet which ships with Windows 8.1 software. But that doesn’t mean you’re stuck with Windows. After finishing up a review of an Aspire Switch 11 with a 1920 x 1080 pixel display and an Intel Core i3-4012Y Haswell processor recently, I decided to see what happens when […]

Ubuntu on the Acer Aspire Switch 11 2-in-1 tablet (video) is a post from: Liliputing

IBM Will Share Tech With China To Help Build IT Industry There

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An anonymous reader sends this report from Reuters: IBM Corp will share technology with Chinese firms and will actively help build China's industry, CEO Virginia Rometty said in Beijing as she set out a strategy for one of the foreign firms hardest hit by China's shifting technology policies. IBM must help China build its IT industry rather than viewing the country solely as a sales destination or manufacturing base, Rometty said. ... [Her] remarks were among the clearest acknowledgements to date by a high-ranking foreign technology executive that companies must adopt a different tack if they are to continue in China amid growing political pressure. A number of U.S. technology companies operating in China are forming alliances with domestic operators, hoping a local partner will make it easier to operate in the increasingly tough environment for foreign businesses.

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Pixar Releases Free Version of RenderMan

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jones_supa writes: A year ago, animation studio Pixar promised its RenderMan animation and rendering suite would eventually become free for non-commercial use. This was originally scheduled to happen in the SIGGRAPH 2014 computer graphics conference, but things got delayed. Nevertheless, today Pixar is releasing the free version into the wild. Free, non-commercial RenderMan can be used for research, education, evaluation, plug-in development, and any personal projects that do not generate commercial profits. This version is fully featured, without a watermark or any kind of artificial limits. Featuring Pixar's new RIS technology, RenderMan delivers extremely fast global illumination and interactive shading and lighting for artists. The software is available for Mac, Linux, and Windows. In conjunction with the release, Pixar has also launched a new RenderMan Community site where users can exchange knowledge and resources, showcase their own work, share assets such as shaders and scripts, and learn about RenderMan from tutorials.

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Possible Security Breach

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New submitter FalleStar writes: Today, the world's largest video game livestreaming website,, posted the following blog entry: "We are writing to let you know that there may have been unauthorized access to some Twitch user account information. For your protection, we have expired passwords and stream keys and have disconnected accounts from Twitter and YouTube. As a result, you will be prompted to create a new password the next time you attempt to log into your Twitch account. We also recommend that you change your password at any website where you use the same or a similar password." The full details of the breach have yet to be released. Back in a 2013 blog post, Twitch reported that one of their CDNs had mistakenly exposed user account information, and they mentioned that their user passwords are hashed, but did not indicate whether or not they are salted. In addition to the blog post, Twitch users are being notified of the intrusion by email. According to one such email, compromised data may include the last IP address a user logged in from, as well as some credit card information — but not full card numbers, since Twitch doesn't store those.

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Bring On the Boring Robots

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malachiorion writes: After a successful 6-month pilot, Savioke's 'butler bots' are heading to hotels around the country. These are not sexy, scary, or even technically impressive machines. But they were useful enough, over the course of their 2,000 or so deliveries, to warrant a redesign, and a larger deployment starting in April. Savioke's CEO had some interesting things to say about the pilot, including the fact that some 95 percent of guests gave the robot a 5-star review, and only the drunks seemed to take issue with it. Plus, as you might expect, everyone seemed to want to take a damn selfie with it. But as small as the stakes might appear, highly specialized bots like this one, which can only do one thing (in this case, bring up to 10 pounds of stuff from the lobby to someone's door) are a better glimpse of our future than any talk of hyper-competent humanoids or similarly versatile machines.

Read more of this story at Slashdot.

First Lawsuits Challenging FCC's New Net Neutrality Rules Arrive

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An anonymous reader writes: A small ISP based in Texas and an industry trade group have become the first to file lawsuits challenging the FCC's recent net neutrality rules. The trade group, USTelecom, argues that the regulations are not "legally sustainable." Alamo Broadband claims it is facing "onerous requirements" by operating under Title II of the Communications Act. Such legal challenges were expected, and are doubtless the first of many — but few expected them to arrive so soon. While some of the new rules were considered "final" once the FCC released them on March 12, others don't go into effect until they're officially published in the Federal Register, which hasn't happened yet.

Read more of this story at Slashdot.

Microsoft Releases Windows 10 SDK

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An anonymous reader writes: Microsoft today launched developer tools for the Windows 10 Technical Preview, including a software development kit (SDK). Developers can use the new tools, currently in preview, to start building universal Windows apps for Microsoft's upcoming operating system. A universal Windows app is Microsoft's verbiage for an app that can run across different form factors, including PCs, tablets, and phones. Developers can publish these apps in the Windows Store, which will be available across all types of Windows 10 devices.

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Nobody Is Sure What Should Count As a Cyber Incident

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chicksdaddy writes: Despite a lot of attention to the problem of cyber attacks against the nation's critical infrastructure, The Christian Science Monitor notes that there is still a lot of confusion about what, exactly, constitutes a "cyber incident" in critical infrastructure circles. The result: many incidents in which software failures affect critical infrastructure may go unreported. Passcode speaks to security experts like Joe Weiss, who claims to have a list of around 400 incidents in which failures in software and electronic communications lead to a failure of confidentiality, integrity or availability (CIA) — the official definition of a cyber incident. Few of them are considered cyber incidents within critical infrastructure circles, however. His list includes some of the most deadly and destructive public sector accidents of the last two decades. Among them: a 2006 emergency shutdown of Unit 3 at the Browns Ferry nuclear plant in Alabama, the 1999 Olympic Gas pipeline rupture and explosion in Bellingham Washington that killed three people and the 2010 Pacific Gas & Electric gas pipe explosion in San Bruno, Calif., that killed eight people and destroyed a suburban neighborhood. While official reports like this one about the San Bruno pipeline explosion (PDF) duly note the role software failure played in each incident, they fail to characterize them as 'cyber incidents' or note the cyber-physical aspects of the adverse event. Weiss says he has found many other, similar omissions that continue even today. He argues that applying an IT mindset to critical infrastructure results in operators overlooking weaknesses in their systems. "San Bruno wasn't malicious, but it easily could have been," Weiss notes. "It's a nonmalicious event that killed 8 people and destroyed a neighborhood."

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International Coalition Launches 'Manila Principles' to Protect Freedom of Expression Worldwide

EFF's Deeplinks -

New 'Best Practice' Roadmap to Protect Rights and Promote Innovation

Manila - An international coalition launched the “Manila Principles on Internet Liability” today—a roadmap for the global community to protect online freedom of expression and innovation around the world.

“All communication across the Internet is facilitated by intermediaries: service providers, social networks, search engines, and more.  These services are all routinely asked to take down content, and their policies for responding are often muddled, heavy-handed, or inconsistent.  That results in censorship and the limiting of people’s rights,” said Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) Senior Global Policy Analyst Jeremy Malcolm, who helped spearhead the principles.  “Our goal is to protect everyone’s freedom of expression with a framework of safeguards and best practices for responding to requests for content removal.”

EFF, Centre for Internet Society India, Article 19, and other global partners unveiled the principles today at RightsCon, a major international conference on the Internet and human rights held this week in Manila.  The framework outlines clear, fair requirements for content removal requests and details how to minimize the damage a takedown can do.  For example, if content is restricted because it’s unlawful in one country or region, then the scope of the restriction should be geographically limited as well.  The principles also urge adoption of laws shielding intermediaries from liability for third-party content, which encourages the creation of platforms that allow for online discussion and debate about controversial issues.

“People ask for expression to be removed from the Internet for various reasons, good and bad, claiming the authority of myriad local and national laws.  It’s easy for important, lawful content to get caught in the crossfire,” said Jyoti Panday from the Centre for Internet and Society India.  “We hope these principles empower everyone—from governments, to intermediaries, to the public—to fight back when online expression is censored.”

The principles and supporting documents can be found online at, where other organizations and members of the public can also express their own endorsement of the principles.

Contact:  Jeremy MalcolmSenior Global Policy Rebecca JeschkeMedia Relations Director and Digital Rights
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Facebook Has Clarified its Policies. How About Fixing Them?

EFF's Deeplinks -

Facebook recently updated its community standards. As the company noted in the announcement accompanying the change, their “policies and standards themselves are not changing,” but that they wanted to provide more clarity to a set of existing rules that have often been misunderstood by users.

While some of the changes provide significantly more detail as to the reasoning behind certain content restrictions, others fall short. And unfortunately, the updated standards do very little to solve the continuing problem of account suspensions for “real names” violations. 

“Real Names”

Even in the last week and a half Facebook has continued to suspend users for violations of its “real names” policy, a policy which we’ve argued causes real world harm. In the latest story to get publicity, a teen with the legal name Isis King had her account suspended by Facebook for a names policy violation—until a media inquiry. The latest update to the community standards won’t change the experience of users like Isis King, but it does clarify where Facebook stands.

Prior to the change, the standards read: “On Facebook people connect using their real names and identities.” Because Facebook asks for ID when handling appeals and blocks certain words from being entered in the “name” fields at account creation, most users have assumed that when Facebook says “real name,” the company really means “legal name.”

Following a spate of account takedowns last fall, however, Facebook’s Chief Product Officer, Chris Cox, posted a statement in which he said: “our policy has never been to require everyone on Facebook to use their legal name.” Shortly thereafter, we noted a shift in the company’s language in notifications to users. A section on account security in the Community Standards now reads, in part:

Using Your Authentic Identity: How Facebook's real name requirement creates a safer environment.

People connect on Facebook using their authentic identities. When people stand behind their opinions and actions with their authentic name and reputation, our community is more accountable...

Nevertheless, the company’s Statement of Responsibilities—the legal text underpinning the Community Standards—still contains language referring to real names:

Facebook users provide their real names and information, and we need your help to keep it that way.

While we’re glad to see that Facebook is changing how it communicates this guideline to users, it’s a very small change in the face of the continuing reports that Facebook is suspending users’ accounts for name policy violations.

Content policy

Facebook’s content policies—and how they are implemented—have often left users confused. For example, the company told us that images of mothers breastfeeding were never meant to be restricted, yet numerous instances of such photos being removed have led to a persistent belief that the company bans such images.

The latest iteration of the community standards is intended to provide additional clarity to users. As the New York Times’ Vindu Goel put it, “[Despite] its published guidelines, the reasoning behind Facebook’s decisions to block or allow content are often opaque and inconsistent.”

In respect to some topics, Facebook has certainly met their goal. The section on sexual violence and exploitation, for example, lays out numerous examples of what the company deems unacceptable. A section on “attacks on public figures” clarifies that Facebook does not remove criticism of public figures...unless it constitutes hate speech, in which they treat the content as they would if the target were not famous.

Other sections leave more to be desired. While Facebook’s rules about “dangerous organizations” make clear that groups engaged in “terrorist” or “organized criminal” activity have no place on the platform, there is no additional clarity on how terrorist groups are defined, despite some evidence that the definitions are underpinned by US law.


Content-hosting intermediaries like Facebook should provide robust appeals processes for users. Facebook’s head of global policy management, Monika Bickert, recently told the New York Times:

If a person’s account is suspended, those appeals are read by real people who can look into the specifics.

Although Facebook instituted an appeals process in 2011, the process is only available for users whose Page or Profile has been removed; that is, there is no process for appealing when other content—such as photos, posts, or videos—are removed. Furthermore, the process is ambiguous and doesn’t seem to make much of a difference to users, many of whom have contacted us following account suspensions.

The appeals form itself is hard to find. It's accessible through the help center. But Facebook doesn’t seem to actually highlight it as an option in the endless screens users find themselves in when trying to verify their “authenticity.” Once users find themselves in that process, they are directed to update their name, instead of being sent to the appeal. When they click on the link Facebook provides to its help center during the name verification process, that link goes to lists of ID, not to the appeal.

In fact, the appeal isn’t available unless an account has been entirely disabled. Some users have had the experience of providing ID to Facebook with a legal name that didn’t match their real name, only to have Facebook put that legal name on the account. We’ve been contacted by users with abusive stalkers, users who have public-facing jobs that use their drag name, and others who’ve had this experience. Those users can’t access the appeals form once their account is erroneously restored.

Finally, in an impressive display of irony, the appeals form requires users to upload an ID. In other words, it requires users who are having issues with Facebook’s process of verifying identity (using an ID) to restore accounts to do exactly that— upload an ID, before even getting the chance to talk to someone. Considering that accounts have been restored with incorrect names in dangerous situations, users’ hesitancy to upload an ID just to file an appeal is understandable.

If Facebook cares about its users, it should make its appeals process easier to access and easier to use. It should allow appeals for all types of removed content, not just Profiles and Pages. And it certainly shouldn’t require ID as the first step.

While we think it’s good that Facebook decided to provide more clarity about its policies, it might be better served by improving those policies and ensuring that Facebook is an accessible, open platform for its millions of users worldwide.

Related Issues: Free SpeechAnonymityInternational
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