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Three-Way Comparison Shows PCs Slaying Consoles In Dragon Age Inquisition

MojoKid writes: "BioWare's long-awaited Dragon Age Inquisition has dropped for the PS4, Xbox One, and PCs. A comparison of the visuals in key scenes between all three platforms shows that while the PC variant clearly looks the best in multiple areas (as it should), there's evidence of good, intelligent optimization for consoles and PCs alike. After the debacle of Assassin's Creed Unity, Inquisition could provide an important taste of how to do things right. As expected though, when detail levels are increased, the PC still pulls away with the best overall visuals. The Xbox One and PS4 are largely matched, while PC renders of characters have better facial coloring and slightly more detailed textures. The lighting models are also far more detailed on the PC version with the PS4 following behind. The Xbox One, in contrast, is rather muddy. Overall, the PC and PS4 are closest in general detail, with the Xbox One occasionally lagging behind.

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Halting Problem Proves That Lethal Robots Cannot Correctly Decide To Kill Humans

KentuckyFC writes: The halting problem is to determine whether an arbitrary computer program, once started, will ever finish running or whether it will continue forever. In 1936, Alan Turing famously showed that there is no general algorithm that can solve this problem. Now a group of computer scientists and ethicists have used the halting problem to tackle the question of how a weaponized robot could decide to kill a human. Their trick is to reformulate the problem in algorithmic terms by considering an evil computer programmer who writes a piece of software on which human lives depend. The question is whether the software is entirely benign or whether it can ever operate in a way that ends up killing people. In general, a robot could never decide the answer to this question. As a result, autonomous robots should never be designed to kill or harm humans, say the authors, even though various lethal autonomous robots are already available. One curious corollary is that if the human brain is a Turing machine, then humans can never decide this issue either, a point that the authors deliberately steer well clear of.

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Head of FCC Proposes Increasing Internet School Fund

Rambo Tribble writes: The commissioners at the FCC are expected to vote, on December 11, on a proposal by Chairman Tom Wheeler to increase the funding for the nation's largest educational technology subsidy program, E-Rate, by 62 percent. The proposal is intended to be paid for by higher fees on phone service. The increased cost is pegged at $1.92 a year, per telephone line. Support for the proposal, or lack thereof, appears to be falling along partisan lines. To quote Wheeler, however, "Almost two-thirds of American schools cannot appropriately connect their students to the 21st century."

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Microsoft Azure Outage Across the Globe

hawkinspeter writes: The BBC reports that overnight an outage of Microsoft's Azure cloud computing platform took down many third-party sites that rely on it, in addition to disrupting Microsoft's own products. Office 365 and Xbox Live services were affected. This happened at a particularly inopportune time, as Microsoft has recently been pushing its Azure services in an effort to catch up with other providers such as Amazon, IBM, and Google. Just a couple of hours previously, Microsoft had screened an Azure advert in the UK during the Scotland v. England soccer match." (Most services are back online. As of this writing, Application Insights is still struggling, and Europe is having problems with hosted VMs.)

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Jolla Crowdfunds Its First Tablet

SmartAboutThings writes: Jolla is another rising star in the tech world, having recently expanded its smartphone sales into more countries across the globe. Jolla's Sailfish OS is based on the Linux kernel, and considered by many to be a direct successor to Nokia and Intel's MeeGo and the N9 mobile phone. Its software is based on the open-sourced components of MeeGo. Now, the company is ready to start production of its first tablet. They're crowdfunding it, and they blew past their $380,000 goal in about two hours. The tablet has a 7.9-inch screen with a resolution of 2048 x 1536. It's powered by a 1.8GHz 64-bit quad-core Intel processor, comes with a 32GB of storage, an SD card slot, 2GB of RAM and a 5MP rear camera. Judging by its size, we can see this will rival the iPad Mini the new Nokia N1. While there aren't too many Sailfish-specific apps available, as with the phone, Jolla's tablet will be compatible with Android apps.

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Republicans Block Latest Attempt At Curbing NSA Power

Robotron23 writes: The latest attempt at NSA reform has been prevented from passage in the Senate by a margin of 58 to 42. Introduced as a means to stop the NSA collecting bulk phone and e-mail records on a daily basis, the USA Freedom Act has been considered a practical route to curtailment of perceived overreach by security services, 18 months since Edward Snowden went public. Opponents to the bill said it was needless, as Wall Street Journal raised the possibility of terrorists such as ISIS running amok on U.S. soil. Supporting the bill meanwhile were the technology giants Google and Microsoft. Prior to this vote, the bill had already been stripped of privacy protections in aid of gaining White House support. A provision to extend the controversial USA Patriot Act to 2017 was also appended by the House of Representatives.

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Debian Votes Against Mandating Non-systemd Compatibility

paskie writes: Voting on a Debian General Resolution that would require packagers to maintain support even for systems not running systemd ended tonight with the resolution failing to gather enough support. This means that some Debian packages could require users to run systemd on their systems in theory — however, in practice Debian still works fine without systemd (even with e.g. GNOME) and this will certainly stay the case at least for the next stable release Jessie. However, the controversial general resolution proposed late in the development cycle opened many wounds in the community, prompting some prominent developers to resign or leave altogether, stirring strong emotions — not due to adoption of systemd per se, but because of the emotional burn-out and shortcomings in the decision processes apparent in the wake of the systemd controversy. Nevertheless, work on the next stable release is well underway and some developers are already trying to mend the community and soothe the wounds.

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How Facebook Is Influencing Who Will Win the Next Election

An anonymous reader sends this excerpt from Forbes: [Facebook] announced yesterday that it was shutting down a feature that the Obama campaign used in 2012 to register over a million voters. During the election supporters shared access to their list of Facebook friends list with the campaign through an app. Researchers have found that while people view often political messages with skepticism, they are more receptive and trusting when the information is coming from somebody they know. The feature was credited with boosting Obama’s get-out-the-vote efforts which were crucial to his victory, but Facebook has decided to disable this ability in order to (rightfully) protect users from third-party apps collecting too much of their information. The company insists that it favors no particular ideology and that its efforts are “neutral.” The first part is likely true, but the second is not possible. The company’s algorithms take into account a proprietary mix of our own biases, connections, and interests combined with Facebook’s business priorities; that is the farthest thing from neutral. Facebook says it just want to encourage “civic participation,” but politically mobilizing the subsection of people that are on their network is not without its own impacts.

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Fish Tagged For Research Become Lunch For Gray Seals

sciencehabit writes: When scientists slap an acoustic tag on a fish, they may be inadvertently helping seals find their next meal. The tags — rods a few centimeters long that give off a ping that can be detected from up to a kilometer away — are often used to follow fish for studies on their migration, hunting, or survival rates. Researchers working with 10 gray seals (Halichoerus grypus) who were captive for a year have now reported that the animals can learn to associate the pings with food. If the findings hold true in the wild, the authors warn, they could skew the results of studies trying to analyze fish survival rates or predation.

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UK Hotel Adds Hefty Charge For Bad Reviews Online

Bizzeh writes: A British couple has been "fined" £100 by a Blackpool hotel for leaving critical comments on Trip Advisor. The UK's Trading Standards organization is investigating the incident, saying it may breach regulations. The Broadway Hotel's booking policy reads (in small print), "Despite the fact that repeat customers and couples love our hotel, your friends and family may not. "For every bad review left on any website, the group organizer will be charged a maximum £100 per review."

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Nokia's N1 Android Tablet Is Actually a Foxconn Tablet

sfcrazy writes: "Nokia surprised everyone when it announced the N1 Android tablet during the Slush conference in Finland, today. This story has a twist, though: the N1 is not a Nokia device. Nokia doesn't have a device unit anymore: it sold its Devices and Services business to Microsoft in 2013. The N1 is made by Chinese contract manufacturing company Foxconn, which also manufactures the iPhone and the iPad. But Nokia's relationship with Foxconn is different from Apple's. You buy iDevices from Apple, not Foxconn; you call Apple for support, not Foxconn. You never deal with Foxconn. In the case of N1, Foxconn will be handling the sales, distribution, and customer care for the device. Nokia is licensing the brand, the industrial design, the Z Launcher software layer, and the IP on a running royalty basis to Foxconn.

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City of Toronto Files Court Injunction Against Uber

Sebolains writes: The city of Toronto in Ontario, Canada has filed a court injunction on Uber Canada Inc. today that requests for all operations in the city to cease. Uber has been operating there since 2012 without a license from the city, and so officials are concerned that Uber's operations pose a risk to both drivers and riders. How quickly this will happen, we don't know, but the city has asked the courts to be expedient in hearing this application.

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Rooftop Solar Could Reach Price Parity In the US By 2016

Lucas123 writes: The cost of rooftop solar-powered electricity will be on par with prices of coal-powered energy and other conventional sources in all 50 U.S. states in just two years, a leap from today where PV energy has price parity in only 10 states, according to Deutsche Bank's leading solar industry analyst. The sharp decline in solar energy costs is the result of increased economies of scale leading to cheaper photovoltaic panels, new leasing models and declining installation costs, Deutsche Bank's Vishal Shah stated in a recent report. The cost of solar-generated electricity in the top 10 states for capacity ranges from 11-15 cents per kilowatt hour (c/kWh), compared to the retail electricity price of 11-37 c/kWh. Amit Ronen, a former Congressional staffer behind legislation that created an investment tax credit for solar installations, said one of the only impediments to decreasing solar electricity prices are fees proposed by utilities on customers who install solar and take advantage of net metering, or the ability to sell excess power back to utilities.

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Elusive Dark Matter May Be Detected With GPS Satellites

An anonymous reader writes: Two researchers say time disparities identified through the network of satellites that make up our modern GPS infrastructure can help detect dark matter. In a paper in the online version of the scientific journal Nature Physics, they write that dark matter may be organized as a large gas-like collection of topological defects, or energy cracks. "We propose to detect the defects, the dark matter, as they sweep through us with a network of sensitive atomic clocks. The idea is, where the clocks go out of synchronization, we would know that dark matter, the topological defect, has passed by." Another reader adds this article about research into dark energy: The particles of the standard model, some type of dark matter and dark energy, and the four fundamental forces. That's all there is, right? But that might not be the case at all. Dark energy may not simply be the energy inherent to space itself, but rather a dynamical property that emerges from the Universe: a sort of fifth force. This is speculation that's been around for over a decade, but there hasn't been a way to test it until now. If this is the case, it may be accessible and testable by simply using presently existing vacuum chamber technology

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NYT: Privacy Concerns For ClassDojo, Other Tracking Apps For Schoolchildren

theodp writes: The NY Times' Natasha Singer files a report on popular and controversial behavior tracking app ClassDojo, which teachers use to keep a running tally of each student's score, award virtual badges for obedience, and to communicate with parents about their child's progress. "I like it because you get rewarded for your good behavior — like a dog does when it gets a treat," was one third grader's testimonial. Some parents, teachers and privacy law scholars say ClassDojo (investors) — along with other unproven technologies that record sensitive information about students — is being adopted without sufficiently considering the ramifications for data privacy and fairness. "ClassDojo," writes Singer, "does not seek explicit parental consent for teachers to log detailed information about a child's conduct. Although the app's terms of service state that teachers who sign up guarantee that their schools have authorized them to do so, many teachers can download ClassDojo, and other free apps, without vetting by school supervisors. Neither the New York City nor Los Angeles school districts, for example, keep track of teachers independently using apps." A high school teacher interviewed for the article confessed to having not read ClassDojo's policies on handling student data, saying: "I'm one of those people who, when the terms of service are 18 pages, I just click agree." And, if all this doesn't make you parents just a tad nervous, check out this response to the "Has anyone ran a data analysis on their CD data?" question posed to the Class Dojo Community: "I needed to analyze data in regards to a student being placed on ADHD medicine to see whether or not he made any improvements. I have also used it to determine any behavioral changes depending on if a student was with mom/dad for a custody review. I use dojo consistently, so I LOVE getting to use the data to evaluate and share with parents, or even administrators."

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Player-Run MMORPG By Former Ultima Online Devs Finding Kickstarter Success

An anonymous reader writes: Shards Online has returned to Kickstarter with a refocused plan and a promise to match pledges dollar-for-dollar up to their goal. With just a week gone by, they have already reached 75% of their goal. Project Lead Derek Brinkmann says, "If Ultima Online and Neverwinter Nights had a love child, Shards Online would be the result. By combining the persistent virtual world of Ultima Online with the freedom of community run servers and the ability to act as a dungeonmaster in Neverwinter Nights, we are creating a paradise for roleplayers where you are no longer constrained by the rules handed to you by the development team." The team now has their sights set on their stretch goals like more animations for roleplayers and an extra game world to be released at Alpha.

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Collin Graver and his Wooden Bicycle (Video)

This is not a practical bike. "Even on smooth pavement, your vision goes blurry because you're vibrating so hard," Collin said to an Atlanta Journal-Constitution reporter back in 2012 when he was only 15 -- and already building wooden bicycles. Collin's wooden bikes are far from the first ones. Wikipedia says, "The first bicycles recorded, known variously as velocipedes, dandy horses, or hobby horses, were constructed from wood, starting in 1817." And not all wooden bicycles made today are as crude as Collin's. A Portland (OR) company called Renovo makes competition-quality hardwood bicycle frames -- for as little as $2200, and a bunch more for a complete bike with all its hardware fitted and ready to roll. Of course, while it might be sensible to buy a Renovo product if you want a wood-framed bike to Race Across America, you won't improve your woodworking skills the way Collin's projects have improved his to the point where he's made a nice-looking pair of wood-framed sunglasses described in his WOOD YOU? SHOULD YOU? blog. (Alternate Video Link)

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Chrome 39 Launches With 64-bit Version For Mac OS X and New Developer Features

An anonymous reader writes "Google today released Chrome 39 for Windows, Mac, and Linux. The biggest addition in this release is 64-bit support for OS X, which first arrived in Chrome 38 beta. Unlike on Windows, where 32-bit and 64-bit versions will both continue to be available (users currently have to opt-in to use the 64-bit release), Chrome for Mac is now only available in 64-bit. There are also a number of security fixes and developer features. Here's the full changelog.

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Ask Slashdot: Professionally Packaged Tools For Teaching Kids To Program?

Binestar writes: I've been doing IT consulting for years, but I'm not a programmer beyond bash scripting, perl scripts to make administration easier, and batch files to make Windows easier. I recently found an online course for modding Minecraft that my 9-year-old daughter is really enjoying (she built a custom sword that shoots lightning). Does anyone have any recommendations on online courses that would be age appropriate and worth the investment? It's been easy to get her interested in the Minecraft modding course because, as any parent with young children knows, Minecraft is kinda popular... The course she's taking now is teaching her Eclipse and Gimp, and I'm sure there are other tools installed that they haven't had her open yet. What other vendors have stuff worth introducing her to? I've also started looking at things like the Kano and Learn to Mod, but as a non-programmer, I'm not really sure which are most useful for introduction and which are accomplishing what they claim vs. being a waste of money/time. Anyone have experience or suggestions to help sort this out?

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Laser Creates Quantum Whirlpool

Quantus347 writes: Physicists at The Australian National Univ. (ANU) have engineered a spiral laser beam and used it to create a whirlpool of hybrid light-matter particles called polaritons. Polaritons are hybrid particles that have properties of both matter and light. The ability to control polariton flows in this way could aid the development of completely novel technology to link conventional electronics with new laser- and fiber-based technologies. Polaritons form in semiconductors when laser light interacts with electrons and holes (positively charged vacancies) so strongly that it is no longer possible to distinguish light from matter.

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