Investigation Reveals Widespread Cellphone Surveillance of the Innocent

Cellphones “can be transformed into surveillance devices,” writes the Guardian, reporting startling new details about which innocent people are still being surveilled (as part of a collaborative reporting project with 16 other media outlets led by the French nonprofit Forbidden Stories).

Long-time Slashdot reader shanen shared the newspaper’s critique of a “privatised government surveillance industry” that’s made NSO a billion-dollar company, thanks to its phone-penetrating spy software Pegaus:

[NSO] insists only carefully vetted government intelligence and law enforcement agencies can use Pegasus, and only to penetrate the phones of “legitimate criminal or terror group targets”. Yet in the coming days the Guardian will be revealing the identities of many innocent people who have been identified as candidates for possible surveillance by NSO clients in a massive leak of data… The presence of their names on this list indicates the lengths to which governments may go to spy on critics, rivals and opponents.

First we reveal how journalists across the world were selected as potential targets by these clients prior to a possible hack using NSO surveillance tools. Over the coming week we will be revealing the identities of more people whose phone numbers appear in the leak. They include lawyers, human rights defenders, religious figures, academics, businesspeople, diplomats, senior government officials and heads of state. Our reporting is rooted in the public interest. We believe the public should know that NSO’s technology is being abused by the governments who license and operate its spyware.

But we also believe it is in the public interest to reveal how governments look to spy on their citizens and how seemingly benign processes such as HLR lookups [which track the general locations of cellphone users] can be exploited in this environment.
It is not possible to know without forensic analysis whether the phone of someone whose number appears in the data was actually targeted by a government or whether it was successfully hacked with NSO’s spyware. But when our technical partner, Amnesty International’s Security Lab, conducted forensic analysis on dozens of iPhones that belonged to potential targets at the time they were selected, they found evidence of Pegasus activity in more than half.

The investigators say that potential targets included nearly 200 journalists around the world, including numerous reporters from CNN, the Associated Press, Voice of America, the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg News, Le Monde in France, and even the editor of the Financial Times.

In addition, the investigators say they found evidence the Pegasus software had been installed on the phone of the fiancée of murdered Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi. NSO denies this to the Washington Post. But they also insist that they’re simply licensing their software to clients, and their company “has no insight” into those clients’ specific intelligence activities.
The Washington Post reports that Amnesty’s Security Lab found evidence of Pegasus attacks on 37 of 67 smartphones from the list which they tested. But beyond that “for the remaining 30, the tests were inconclusive, in several cases because the phones had been replaced. Fifteen of the phones were Android devices, none of which showed evidence of successful infection. However, unlike iPhones, Androids do not log the kinds of information required for Amnesty’s detective work.”

Familiar privacy measures like strong passwords and encryption offer little help against Pegasus, which can attack phones without any warning to users. It can read anything on a device that a user can, while also stealing photos, recordings, location records, communications, passwords, call logs and social media posts. Spyware also can activate cameras and microphones for real-time surveillance.

Read more of this story at Slashdot.

Source: Slashdot – Investigation Reveals Widespread Cellphone Surveillance of the Innocent

Blue Origin Auction Winner Backs Out, 18-Year-Old Flies Instead

18-year-old Oliver Daemon will become the youngest person ever to travel to space as the fourth passenger on Blue Origin’s first crewed mission this week to the edge of outer space (flying with Jeff Bezos, his brother Mark, and 82-year-old aviator Wally Funk).

The Atlantic calls it “a rather unusual bunch”:

When they take off on Tuesday, they will each fulfill a personal dream, but as a crew, they’re making history: No group like this one has ever gone to space together before. Even the participants of the most diverse missions to the International Space Station have had far more in common with one another than this quartet. They were all professional astronauts, with comparable ages, educational backgrounds, and even temperaments, given that potential astronauts must undergo psychological screenings before getting the job. The motley crew of Blue Origin’s first passenger flight seems closer to a cast of offbeat characters gathered together for a zany adventure: If The Breakfast Club had the brain, the jock, the basket case, the princess, and the criminal, this Blue Origin flight has the boss, the tag-along, the real deal, and the kid…

Blue Origin has conducted 15 test flights of the New Shepard rocket, but has never before flown the vehicle with people on board.

Of the passengers on Bezos’s debut flight, Daemen might be the most unexpected pick. In fact, Daemen wasn’t supposed to be on this flight. Blue Origin had held an auction for one of the seats on the flight, culminating in a top bid of a whopping $28 million. But the company said today that the winner, whose name has not been disclosed, decided to skip this particular flight and go later, citing “scheduling conflicts,” so the company slotted in Daemen, a soon-to-be physics student at Utrecht University, in the Netherlands. (Blue Origin said the teen was “a participant in the auction,” but did not disclose how much the seat cost.)

Daemen and Funk, as Blue Origin pointed out in its announcement, “represent the youngest and oldest astronauts to travel to space.” But describing them by age alone elides the very different journeys they have taken to reach this point. Funk is an aviation legend who underwent more difficult tests than John Glenn, the first American to orbit the Earth, had to, and has waited 60 years for this moment. Daemen is a teenager who took a gap year to get his pilot’s license, and the son of a private-equity executive… Daemen represents a new class of spacefarers; in the coming years, as private companies such as Blue Origin, Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic, and Elon Musk’s SpaceX make people into astronauts more readily than government agencies like NASA can, the distance between a childhood dream and reality is bound to shrink. Expect more smorgasbord space crews like the Blue Origin one, filled with an assortment of very wealthy individuals and the people they choose to go with them…

The rules about who can become an astronaut have changed, and the new “right stuff” is money and luck.

Read more of this story at Slashdot.

Source: Slashdot – Blue Origin Auction Winner Backs Out, 18-Year-Old Flies Instead

Vinyl Album Sales Jump 108% In First 6 Months of 2021

Long-time Slashdot reader phalse phace writes:

2021 is turning out to be an even stronger year for vinyl album sales than in 2020. In the first six months of 2021, 19.2 million vinyl albums were sold, outpacing CD volume of 18.9 million, according to MRC Data, an analytics firm that specializes in collecting data from the entertainment and music industries. That is a 108% increase from the 9.2 million that were sold during the same period in 2020. And according to MRC Data, Record Store Day 2021 helped to sell 1.279 million vinyl albums in the U.S. in the week ending June 17, a record for a Record Store Day week and the third-largest week for vinyl album sales since MRC Data began electronically tracking sales in 1991. Further, with 942,000 vinyl albums sold at independent record stores in the week ending June 17, that marks the largest week ever for the format at the indie sector in MRC Data history.

Read more of this story at Slashdot.

Source: Slashdot – Vinyl Album Sales Jump 108% In First 6 Months of 2021

Music Streaming Inquiry Finds 'Pitiful Returns' For Performers

A committee in the U.K. Parliament says the music industry is weighted against artists, with even successful pop stars seeing “pitiful returns,” reports the BBC:

They are calling for a “complete reset” of the market, with musicians given a “fair share” of the £736.5 million that UK record labels earn from streaming. In a report, they said royalties should be split 50/50, instead of the current rate, where artists receive about 16%.

The findings came after a six-month inquiry into music streaming. “While streaming has brought significant profits to the recorded music industry, the talent behind it — performers, songwriters and composers — are losing out,” said Julian Knight, MP, who chairs parliament’s Digital, Culture, Media and Sport committee. “Only a complete reset of streaming that enshrines in law their rights to a fair share of the earnings will do….”

A survey by the Ivors Academy and Musicians’ Union found that in 2019, 82% of professional musicians made less than £200 from streaming, whilst only 7% made more than £1,000…

The committee’s report said streaming had “undoubtedly helped save the music industry” after decades of piracy, “but it is clear that what has been saved does not work for everyone”.
A chart accompanying the article shows that meanwhile streaming services keep 30% of the revenue, while labels end up with 55%.

“Artists who release their own music, or who work with independent labels and distribution companies, tend to get a higher share.”

Read more of this story at Slashdot.

Source: Slashdot – Music Streaming Inquiry Finds ‘Pitiful Returns’ For Performers

Will a New Law Help the Chinese Government Stockpile Zero-Days?

“Starting September 1, 2021, the Chinese government will require that any Chinese citizen who finds a zero-day vulnerability must pass the details to the Chinese government,” reports SecurityWeek, “and must not sell or give the knowledge to any third-party outside of China (apart from the vulnerable product’s manufacturer).”

Brief details are provided in a report by the Associated Press (AP) published Tuesday, July 13, 2021. No source is provided beyond the statement, “No one may ‘collect, sell or publish information on network product security vulnerabilities,’ say the rules issued by the Cyberspace Administration of China and the police and industry ministries….”

AP describes this action as “further tightening the Communist Party’s control over information”. This is unlikely to be the primary motivation for the new rule since the government already has a vice-like grip on data. Companies may not store data on Chinese customers outside of China. Foreign companies selling routers and some other network devices in China must disclose to regulators how any encryption features work.

“I would expect the Chinese Government to weaponize any discovered security vulnerabilities to enhance China’s cybersecurity capabilities,” Joseph Carson, chief security scientist and advisory CISO at ThycoticCentrify, tells SecurityWeek. And Jake Williams, co-founder and CTO at BreachQuest adds that “the defensive advantages of Chinese government organizations being able to mitigate vulnerabilities discovered may well outweigh any offensive gains….”
But he also believes this could rebound against China. “One of the biggest likely issues is brain drain. If Chinese researchers can profit handsomely from their work anywhere else, but can’t do so in China, why would they stay? This probably helps China in the short term but harms them in the long term.”
The new law does encourage network operators and product vendors to set up a reward mechanism for reported vulnerabilities, according to the Record. But Katie Moussouris, founder and CEO of Luta Security, also raises the issue of western-based bug bounty platforms that have been working with Chinese security researchers for the past years. “If Western-based bug bounty platforms comply with this requirement in order to continue to legally receive bug reports from Chinese researchers, we must assume they will be required to hand over vulnerability data to the Ministry within two days of receiving the reports,” Moussouris said. “That requirement will effectively introduce a backdoor straight to the Chinese government in any VDP [vulnerability disclosure program] or bug bounty program where Chinese researchers submit bugs via platforms, even to non-Chinese companies.”

Read more of this story at Slashdot.

Source: Slashdot – Will a New Law Help the Chinese Government Stockpile Zero-Days?

The Case Against SQL

Long-time Slashdot reader RoccamOccam shares “an interesting take on SQL and its issues from Jamie Brandon (who describes himself as an independent researcher who’s built database engines, query planners, compilers, developer tools and interfaces).
It’s title? “Against SQL.”

The relational model is great… But SQL is the only widely-used implementation of the relational model, and it is: Inexpressive, Incompressible, Non-porous. This isn’t just a matter of some constant programmer overhead, like SQL queries taking 20% longer to write. The fact that these issues exist in our dominant model for accessing data has dramatic downstream effects for the entire industry:
– Complexity is a massive drag on quality and innovation in runtime and tooling
– The need for an application layer with hand-written coordination between database and client renders useless most of the best features of relational databases
The core message that I want people to take away is that there is potentially a huge amount of value to be unlocked by replacing SQL, and more generally in rethinking where and how we draw the lines between databases, query languages and programming languages…

I’d like to finish with this quote from Michael Stonebraker, one of the most prominent figures in the history of relational databases:

“My biggest complaint about System R is that the team never stopped to clean up SQL… All the annoying features of the language have endured to this day. SQL will be the COBOL of 2020…”

It’s been interesting to follow the discussion on Twitter, where the post’s author tweeted screenshots of actual SQL code to illustrate various shortcomings. But he also notes that “The SQL spec (part 2 = 1732) pages is more than twice the length of the Javascript 2021 spec (879 pages), almost matches the C++ 2020 spec (1853) pages and contains 411 occurrences of ‘implementation-defined’, occurrences which include type inference and error propagation.”

His Twitter feed also includes a supportive retweet from Rust creator Graydon Hoare, and from a Tetrane developer who says “The Rust of SQL remains to be invented. I would like to see it come.”

Read more of this story at Slashdot.

Source: Slashdot – The Case Against SQL

Boeing Slows 'Dreamliner' Production After New Manufacturing Issue

“A new production problem has surfaced with Boeing’s 787 Dreamliner, further delaying deliveries of the popular wide-body jets…” writes the Wall Street Journal.

Long-time Slashdot reader phalse phace shares their report:

Boeing halted handing over Dreamliners to airlines in late May, after federal air-safety regulators declined to approve the plane maker’s proposed method of inspecting the jets for previously disclosed production defects. It was the second such pause in the past year…

The Federal Aviation Administration said the newly discovered quality issue posed no immediate safety threat. While the agency will determine whether to require modifications to 787s already in service, the FAA said: “Boeing has committed to fix these airplanes before resuming deliveries…”

The new problem surfaced on part of the aircraft known as the forward pressure bulkhead at the front of the plane, people familiar with the matter said. It involves the skin of the aircraft and is similar to a previously disclosed Dreamliner issue found elsewhere on the planes, one of these people said. It surfaced as part of the FAA’s review of Boeing’s quality checks on newly produced undelivered planes, this person said. The delivery pause has been another setback for the aerospace giant, which has been grappling with various problems in its commercial, defense and space programs in recent years. It is also choking off a key source of cash as Boeing tries to overcome twin crises that resulted from two fatal crashes of its 737 MAX aircraft in late 2018 and early 2019, and the Covid-19 pandemic’s hit to aircraft demand.
The new problem hasn’t raised any immediate safety concerns, but engineers at Boeing and the FAA are trying to understand the defect’s potential to cause premature fatigue on a key part of the aircraft’s structure, people familiar with the matter said.

Read more of this story at Slashdot.

Source: Slashdot – Boeing Slows ‘Dreamliner’ Production After New Manufacturing Issue

Amazon's Elasticsearch Fork 'OpenSearch' Reaches General Availability 1.0 Milestone

Mike Melanson’s “This Week in Programming” column shares an update on Amazon’s ongoing battle with scalable data search solution ElasticSearch:
Earlier this year, AWS completed its fork of ElasticSearch with the first release of OpenSearch. If you haven’t followed along, the whole affair was a bit of a tug of war between AWS and Elastic, with AWS eventually coming out seemingly on top. After Elastic changed the licensing on ElasticSearch in an attempt to prevent AWS from selling a service based on the then-open-source project, AWS forked the project to release OpenSearch under Apache 2.0, effectively preserving its open source status.

Now, OpenSearch has reached 1.0, which AWS says not only “marks the first production-ready version of OpenSearch,” but also introduces “multiple new enhancements,” such as data streams, trace analytics span filtering, report scheduling and more. The 1.0 release also involved quite a bit of code cleanup, removing proprietary code and marks, and adds the ability to upgrade from ElasticSearch to OpenSearch as if you were performing a normal upgrade of ElasticSearch.

If you’re interested in learning where the project is going, head on over to the public roadmap to learn more.

Read more of this story at Slashdot.

Source: Slashdot – Amazon’s Elasticsearch Fork ‘OpenSearch’ Reaches General Availability 1.0 Milestone

Tahoe's Workforce is Disappearing, As Many Can No Longer Afford to Live There

200 miles east of Silicon Valley, “A disproportionate number of people who purchased homes in Tahoe in 2020 are employees of some of the largest tech companies in the Bay Area,” a real estate brokerage firm specializing in data analytics recently told Outside magazine.
Of the 2,280 new-home buyers Atlasa identified throughout the Tahoe region in 2020, roughly 30 percent worked at software companies. The top three employers were Google (54 buyers), Apple (46), and Facebook (34)… There is, however, one glaring issue with all this rapid, high-priced growth: the people who actually make a mountain town run — the ski instructors and patrollers, lift operators and shuttle drivers, housekeepers and snowcat mechanics, cooks and servers — can no longer afford to live there.
Just last year Sierra Sotheby’s found more than 2,350 homes were sold across the Tahoe Basin, for a boggling $3.28 billion (up 86% from the $1.76 billion in 2019), according to the article, which calls the popular tele-working destination a “Zoom town.”
Now the region’s heading into its summer tourist season — but “with a shorthanded workforce, businesses are unraveling,” like the restaurant that simply closed for a week because “We literally do not have enough cooks to operate…”
The evidence is showing up in the ways businesses are cutting back during the peak of the busiest time of year, a time when small business owners in Tahoe typically are trying to make as much money as possible so they can survive the slower times of year…

While the hiring crisis spans far and wide across the nation, in Tahoe, the linchpin is housing. At Tahoe Dave’s, Dave Wilderotter, the owner of Tahoe Dave’s Skis and Boards, starts his employees at $20 an hour. Most of his employees make too much money to qualify for affordable housing. But they don’t make enough money to pay Tahoe’s rent prices, which have risen by 25% to 50% in the past year. Tahoe’s workforce is disappearing because many of them cannot afford to live here any more… Making matters worse, Tahoe’s already minimal long-term rental housing stock is getting eaten up by the very hot real estate market. Many landlords are selling homes they’ve been renting to local workers, leaving those tenants without many options…

“This isn’t just tourism that’s being hit,” says Alex Mourelatos, a business owner on Tahoe’s North Shore who also serves on multiple boards for the North Tahoe Public Utility District and nonprofit groups. “It’s every service industry. Every industry across people, dentistry, legal, everything, Planned Urban Developments, all the special districts, firemen, teachers, all of them.” The hiring crisis has even affected critical services like public transportation. Bus drivers are so hard to come by that the Tahoe Transportation District made the unprecedented decision to shut down an entire bus route down the East Shore.

The district had shuttles but no one to steer the wheel.

Read more of this story at Slashdot.

Source: Slashdot – Tahoe’s Workforce is Disappearing, As Many Can No Longer Afford to Live There

Scientists Find Evidence of Mile-high Tsunami Generated By Dino-killing Asteroid

Slashdot reader sciencehabit shares news from Science magazine:
When a giant space rock struck the waters near Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula 66 million years ago, it sent up a blanket of dust that blotted out the Sun for years, sending temperatures plummeting and killing off the dinosaurs. The impact also generated a tsunami in the Gulf of Mexico that some modelers believe sent an initial tidal wave up to 1500 meters (or nearly 1 mile) high crashing into North America, one that was followed by smaller pulses.

Now, for the first time, scientists have discovered fossilized megaripples from this tsunami buried in sediments in what is now central Louisiana.

“It’s great to actually have evidence of something that has been theorized for a really long time,” says Sean Gulick, a geophysicist at the University of Texas, Austin. Gulick was not involved in the work, but he co-led a campaign in 2016 to drill down to the remains of the impact crater, called Chicxulub… Cores from the 2016 drilling expedition helped explain how the impact crater was formed and charted the disappearance and recovery of Earth’s life. In 2019, researchers reported the discovery of a fossil site in North Dakota, 3000 kilometers north of Chicxulub, that they say records the hours after the impact and includes debris swept inland from the tsunami.

“We have small pieces of the puzzle that keep getting added in,” says Alfio Alessandro Chiarenza, a paleontologist at the University of Vigo who was not involved with the new study. “Now this research is another one, giving more evidence of a cataclysmic tsunami that probably inundated [everything] for thousands of miles.”

Read more of this story at Slashdot.

Source: Slashdot – Scientists Find Evidence of Mile-high Tsunami Generated By Dino-killing Asteroid

More Bitcoin Miners Head to America, Partly for Cheaper Energy

“Well before China decided to kick out all of its bitcoin miners, they were already leaving in droves, and new data from Cambridge University shows they were likely headed to the United States,” reports CNBC:

The U.S. has fast become the new darling of the bitcoin mining world. It is the second-biggest mining destination on the planet, accounting for nearly 17% of all the world’s bitcoin miners as of April 2021. That’s a 151% increase from September 2020. “For the last 18 months, we’ve had a serious growth of mining infrastructure in the U.S.,” said Darin Feinstein, founder of Blockcap and Core Scientific. “We’ve noticed a massive uptick in mining operations looking to relocate to North America, mostly in the U.S.”

This dataset doesn’t include the mass mining exodus out of China, which led to half the world’s miners dropping offline, and experts tell CNBC that the U.S. share of the mining market is likely even bigger than the numbers indicate… “500,000 formerly Chinese miner rigs are looking for homes in the U.S,” said Marathon Digital’s Fred Thiel. “If they are deployed, it would mean North America would have closer to 40% of global hashrate by the end of 2022.”

America’s rising dominance is a simple case of luck meeting preparation. The U.S. has quietly been building up its hosting capacity for years… It also helps that the U.S. is also home to some of the cheapest sources of energy on the planet, many of which tend to be renewable. Because miners at scale compete in a low-margin industry, where their only variable cost is typically energy, they are incentivized to migrate to the world’s cheapest sources of power.

Thiel expects most new miners relocating to North America to be powered by renewables, or gas that is offset by renewable energy credits. While Castle Island Ventures founding partner, Nic Carter, points out that U.S. mining isn’t wholly renewable, he does say that miners here are much better about selecting renewables and buying offsets. “The migration is definitely a net positive overall,” he said. “Hashrate moving to the U.S., Canada, and Russia will mean much lower carbon intensity.”

Read more of this story at Slashdot.

Source: Slashdot – More Bitcoin Miners Head to America, Partly for Cheaper Energy

China Secretively Launches Reusable Suborbital Vehicle for Space Transportation System

“China conducted a clandestine first test flight of a reusable suborbital vehicle Friday as a part of development of a reusable space transportation system,” reports Space News:

The vehicle launched from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center Friday and later landed at an airport just over 800 kilometers away at Alxa League in Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region, the China Aerospace Science and Technology Corp. (CASC) announced. No images nor footage nor further information, such as altitude, flight duration or propulsion systems, were provided. The CASC release stated however that the vehicle uses integrated aviation and space technologies and indicates a vertical takeoff and horizontal landing profile.

The test follows a September 2020 test flight of a “reusable experimental spacecraft”. The spacecraft orbited for days, releasing a small transmitting payload and later deorbited and landed horizontally. The spacecraft is widely believed to be a reusable spaceplane concept, though no images have emerged. Giant space and defense contractor CASC also developed that vehicle and stated that the new vehicle tested Friday can be used as a first stage of a reusable space transportation system. The implication is that the two vehicles will be combined for a fully reusable space transportation system. The developments have not come out of the blue. China stated in 2017 that it aimed to test a reusable spaceplane in 2020…

Chen Hongbo, from CASC’s China Academy of Launch Vehicle Technology (CALT), told Science and Technology Daily (Chinese) in 2017 that the reusable spacecraft would be capable of carrying both crew and payloads… Chen stated the aim was full reusability, moving beyond partial reusability of Falcon 9-like launchers. The spaceplane, the development and testing of which is to be completed by 2030, should be capable of being reused more than 20 times.

Read more of this story at Slashdot.

Source: Slashdot – China Secretively Launches Reusable Suborbital Vehicle for Space Transportation System

Fired Covid-19 Data Manager is Now Running for Congress

Florida’s fired Department of Health data manager Rebekah Jones lost access to her 400,000 followers on Twitter last month — which she’d been using to criticize Florida governor Ron DeSantis for downplaying the severity of the state’s Covid-19 crisis. Then Jones announced she’d be running for Congress. “This also means, under Desantis’ recently signed social media law, I get to fine Twitter $250K per day until my account is restored starting July 1.”

Orlando Weekly reports:
After a media frenzy, Jones deleted the post. She said she was attempting to point out Gov. Ron DeSantis’s “hypocrisy” in writing a law that allowed political candidates to sue media companies that ban them, while still celebrating her Twitter suspension…

The bit became real when she filed to run as an Independent in Florida’s 1st congressional district on June 25…

On her campaign website, she lists eight issues on her platform: protecting Florida’s environmental systems, promoting government transparency, fighting for media accountability in disinformation, giving access to representatives, ensuring the district’s veterans are taken care of, scrutinizing restrictive voting laws, funding science and research, and boosting support for all levels of education. Jones says there’s still room for other issues on her platform, after she talks to more residents.

Jones’ GoFundMe account (“DefendScience”) now directs visitors to her official campaign site if they want to make campaign contributions. (And the GoFundMe page also notes that her campaign has been endorsed by 90-year-old Daniel Ellsberg, the famous whistleblower who in 1971 leaked the Pentagon Papers, a top-secret government study on the Vietnam War.)

But the last six weeks have been a wild ride for the data scientist:

Last month Florida’s Inspector General granted official whistleblower status to Jones.Six days later Twitter told Slashdot they’d “permanently suspended” Jones’ account “for violations of the Twitter Rules on spam and platform manipulation.”When Jones then created a new Twitter account for her campaign, “it was suspended within a day of its creation,” Orlando Weekly reports.Jones created a new account on Instagram named “insubordinatescientist”. Yet since June 16th Instagram has also marked it as “unavailable,” saying the link “may be broken, or the page may have been removed.” (Since June 16th Instagram has not responded to Slashdot’s request for an explanation.)Jones’ GoFundMe page now refers visitors to an entirely different Instagram page.
Yesterday the official coronavirus coordinator for the U.S. White House reported that one in five of America’s Covid-19 cases this week have come from Florida.

Read more of this story at Slashdot.

Source: Slashdot – Fired Covid-19 Data Manager is Now Running for Congress

What Ever Happened to IBM's Watson?

After Watson triumphed on the gameshow Jeopardy in 2011, its star scientist had to convince IBM that it wasn’t a magic answer box, and “explained that Watson was engineered to identify word patterns and predict correct answers for the trivia game.”

The New York Times looks at what’s happened in the decade since:
Watson has not remade any industries. And it hasn’t lifted IBM’s fortunes. The company trails rivals that emerged as the leaders in cloud computing and A.I. — Amazon, Microsoft and Google. While the shares of those three have multiplied in value many times, IBM’s stock price is down more than 10 percent since Watson’s “Jeopardy!” triumph in 2011…. The company’s missteps with Watson began with its early emphasis on big and difficult initiatives intended to generate both acclaim and sizable revenue for the company, according to many of the more than a dozen current and former IBM managers and scientists interviewed for this article… The company’s top management, current and former IBM insiders noted, was dominated until recently by executives with backgrounds in services and sales rather than technology product experts. Product people, they say, might have better understood that Watson had been custom-built for a quiz show, a powerful but limited technology…

IBM insists that its revised A.I. strategy — a pared-down, less world-changing ambition — is working… But the grand visions of the past are gone. Today, instead of being a shorthand for technological prowess, Watson stands out as a sobering example of the pitfalls of technological hype and hubris around A.I. The march of artificial intelligence through the mainstream economy, it turns out, will be more step-by-step evolution than cataclysmic revolution.
One example: IBM technologists approached cancer medical centers, but “were frustrated by the complexity, messiness and gaps in the genetic data at the cancer center… At the end of last year, IBM discontinued Watson for Genomics, which grew out of the joint research with the University of North Carolina. It also shelved another cancer offering, Watson for Oncology, developed with another early collaborator, the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center…”

IBM continued to invest in the health industry, including billions on Watson Health, which was created as a separate business in 2015. That includes more than $4 billion to acquire companies with medical data, billing records and diagnostic images on hundreds of millions of patients. Much of that money, it seems clear, they are never going to get back. Now IBM is paring back Watson Health and reviewing the future of the business. One option being explored, according to a report in The Wall Street Journal, is to sell off Watson Health…

Many outside researchers long dismissed Watson as mainly a branding campaign. But recently, some of them say, the technology has made major strides… The business side of Watson also shows signs of life. Now, Watson is a collection of software tools that companies use to build A.I.-based applications — ones that mainly streamline and automate basic tasks in areas like accounting, payments, technology operations, marketing and customer service. It is workhorse artificial intelligence, and that is true of most A.I. in business today. A core Watson capability is natural language processing — the same ability that helped power the “Jeopardy!” win. That technology powers IBM’s popular Watson Assistant, used by businesses to automate customer service inquiries…

IBM says it has 40,000 Watson customers across 20 industries worldwide, more than double the number four years ago. Watson products and services are being used 140 million times a month, compared with a monthly rate of about 10 million two years ago, IBM says. Some of the big customers are in health, like Anthem, a large insurer, which uses Watson Assistant to automate customer inquiries.

“Adoption is accelerating,” Mr. Thomas said.

Read more of this story at Slashdot.

Source: Slashdot – What Ever Happened to IBM’s Watson?

California Approves a Targeted State-Funded Guaranteed Income Program

Thursday’s California’s lawmakers approved America’s first state-funded guaranteed income program for both qualifying young adults who have recently left foster care and for pregnant women, reports CNBC.
The votes — 36-0 in the Senate and 64-0 in the Assembly — showed bipartisan support for an idea that is gaining momentum across the country. Dozens of local programs have sprung up in recent years, including some that have been privately funded, making it easier for elected officials to sell the public on the idea. California’s plan is taxpayer-funded, and could spur other states to follow its lead.

“If you look at the stats for our foster youth, they are devastating,” Senate Republican Leader Scott Wilk said. “We should be doing all we can to lift these young people up.”

Local governments and organizations will apply for the money and run their programs. The state Department of Social Services will decide who gets funding. California lawmakers left it up to local officials to determine the size of the monthly payments, which generally range from $500 to $1,000 in existing programs around the country. The vote came on the same day millions of parents began receiving their first monthly payments under a temporary expansion of the federal child tax credit many view as a form of guaranteed income. “Now there is momentum, things are moving quickly,” said Michael Tubbs, an advisor to California governor Gavin Newsom, who was a trailblazer when he instituted a guaranteed income program as mayor of Stockton. “The next stop is the federal government.”

Read more of this story at Slashdot.

Source: Slashdot – California Approves a Targeted State-Funded Guaranteed Income Program

1.4 Million Cubans Bypass Censorship Using US Government-Funded Software Psiphon

“Cuban officials rallied tens of thousands of supporters in the streets on Saturday — nearly a week after they were stunned by the most widespread protests in decades,” the Associated Press reports.

President Miguel Díaz-Canel — accompanied by 90-year-old former President Raul Castro — “made an impassioned speech blaming unrest on the U.S. and its economic embargo, ‘the blockade, aggression and terror… The enemy has returned to throw all it has at destroying the sacred unity and tranquility of the citizens.'”

“I think the government is just trying to signal to people that it understands their desperation and that it’s going to try to alleviate some of the misery that they’re experiencing. The problem is that the government just doesn’t have much in the way of resources that it can devote to doing that,” said William LeoGrande, an expert on Cuba at the American University in the United States.
Meanwhile, Reuters reports:
Psiphon Inc’s freely available internet censorship circumvention tool has helped nearly 1.4 million Cubans this week gain access to websites, the company said on Friday, after Cuba’s government curbed access to popular social media and messaging platforms… Thousands of Cubans joined nationwide protests over shortages of basic goods, limits on civil liberties and the government’s handling of a surge in COVID-19 infections on Sunday, the most significant unrest in decades in the communist-run country.

Psiphon said 1.389 million users accessed the open web from Cuba through its network on Thursday, as well as 1.238 million as noon EDT (1600 GMT) on Friday.

“Internet is ON; circumvention tools ARE working,” Psiphon said in a statement.
Psiphon said the roughly 1.4 million represents about 20% of Cuban internet users. Its open source circumvention tool can be downloaded from app stores like Google Play or Apple to “maximize your chances of bypassing censorship,” according to the company. Canadian university researchers developed the software in 2007 to let users evade governmental internet firewalls.

The censorship-circumvention tool — which combines VPN, SSH, and HTTP Proxy tools — has also been used in Iran, China, Belarus, Myanmar, according to recent news reports. Bloomberg notes that the Toronto-based nonprofit Psiphon “has received funding from the Open Technology Fund, a U.S. government nonprofit that aims to support global internet freedom technologies…

“On Thursday, President Biden said the U.S. is examining whether it’s able to restore internet access shut down by the Cuban government.”

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Source: Slashdot – 1.4 Million Cubans Bypass Censorship Using US Government-Funded Software Psiphon

Influential Ivermectin Study Accused of 'Totally Faked' Data

“The efficacy of a drug being promoted by rightwing figures worldwide for treating Covid-19 is in serious doubt,” reports the Guardian, “after a major study suggesting the treatment is effective against the virus was withdrawn due to ‘ethical concerns’.”

The preprint study on the efficacy and safety of ivermectin — a drug used against parasites such as worms and headlice — in treating Covid-19, led by Dr Ahmed Elgazzar from Benha University in Egypt, was published on the Research Square website in November. It claimed to be a randomised control trial, a type of study crucial in medicine because it is considered to provide the most reliable evidence on the effectiveness of interventions due to the minimal risk of confounding factors influencing the results…

A medical student in London, Jack Lawrence, was among the first to identify serious concerns about the paper, leading to the retraction… He found the introduction section of the paper appeared to have been almost entirely plagiarised. It appeared that the authors had run entire paragraphs from press releases and websites about ivermectin and Covid-19 through a thesaurus to change key words. “Humorously, this led to them changing ‘severe acute respiratory syndrome’ to ‘extreme intense respiratory syndrome’ on one occasion,” Lawrence said.

The data also looked suspicious to Lawrence… “In their paper, the authors claim that four out of 100 patients died in their standard treatment group for mild and moderate Covid-19,” Lawrence said. “According to the original data, the number was 0, the same as the ivermectin treatment group. In their ivermectin treatment group for severe Covid-19, the authors claim two patients died, but the number in their raw data is four…” Lawrence contacted an Australian chronic disease epidemiologist from the University of Wollongong, Gideon Meyerowitz-Katz, and a data analyst affiliated with Linnaeus University in Sweden who reviews scientific papers for errors, Nick Brown, for help analysing the data and study results more thoroughly… “The main error is that at least 79 of the patient records are obvious clones of other records,” Brown told the Guardian. “It’s certainly the hardest to explain away as innocent error, especially since the clones aren’t even pure copies. There are signs that they have tried to change one or two fields to make them look more natural…”

Meyerowitz-Katz told the Guardian that “this is one of the biggest ivermectin studies out there”, and it appeared to him the data was “just totally faked”.

Meta-analyses relying on the “just totally faked” data were then published in Oxford Academic’s Open Forum Infectious Diseases and in the American Journal of Therapeutics.

Meanwhile, the Guardian also notes a new (and peer-reviewed) paper that was just published last month in the journal Clinical Infectious Diseases. Its finding? Iermectin is “not a viable option to treat COVID-19 patients”.

Read more of this story at Slashdot.

Source: Slashdot – Influential Ivermectin Study Accused of ‘Totally Faked’ Data

About 24 US Govt Officials in Vienna, Austria Report 'Havana Syndrome' Symptoms

“Since Joe Biden took office [in January], about two dozen U.S. intelligence officers, diplomats, and other government officials in Vienna have reported experiencing mysterious afflictions similar to the Havana Syndrome,” reports the New Yorker:

U.S. officials say the number of possible new cases in the Austrian capital — long a nexus of U.S. and Russian espionage — is now greater than the number reported by officials in any city except for Havana itself, where the first cases were reported…

The exact cause of the ailments in Vienna, which U.S. government agencies formally refer to as “anomalous health incidents” or “unexplained health incidents,” remains unknown, but in response to the surge the C.I.A., the State Department, and other agencies are redoubling their efforts to determine the cause, and to identify the culprit or culprits…

The Havana Syndrome derives its name from the Cuban capital, where C.I.A. officers and State Department employees first reported experiencing strange sensations of sound and pressure in their heads in 2016 and 2017. Some of the patients said the sensations seemed to follow them around their homes, apartments, and hotel rooms in the Cuban capital. Some of the patients described feeling as though they were standing in an invisible beam of energy. Many of them suffered debilitating symptoms, from headaches and vertigo to vision problems. Specialists at the University of Pennsylvania’s Center for Brain Injury and Repair used advanced MRIs to study the brains of forty of the original patients from Havana. They found no signs of physical impact to the patients’ skulls — it was as if they had “a concussion without a concussion,” one specialist told me — and the team detected signs of damage to their brains.

Senior officials in the Trump and Biden Administrations suspect that the Russians are responsible for the syndrome. Their working hypothesis is that operatives working for the G.R.U., the Russian military-intelligence service, have been aiming microwave-radiation devices at U.S. officials, possibly to steal data from their computers or smartphones, which inflicted serious harm on the people they targeted. But American intelligence analysts and operatives have so far been unable to find concrete evidence that would allow them to declare that either microwave radiation or the Russians were to blame.

The article also points out that the CIA’s director has privately called the incidents “attacks” rather than incidents or illnesses.

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Source: Slashdot – About 24 US Govt Officials in Vienna, Austria Report ‘Havana Syndrome’ Symptoms

7 Years Later, Google Engineers Revise Their Pessimistic Predictions on Climate Change

Seven years ago two Google engineers concluded, after four years of study that “Renewable energy technologies simply won’t work; we need a fundamentally different approach.” (The authors proposed a R&D portfolio pursuing “disruptive” solutions in hydro, wind, solar photovoltaics, and nuclear power, with one Slashdot reader asking “is nuclear going to be acknowledged as the future of energy production?”)

But the two engineers — still at Google — recently announced “we’re happy to say that we got a few things wrong. In particular, renewable energy systems have come down in price faster than we expected, and adoption has surged beyond the predictions we cited in 2014.”

One of them told IEEE Spectrum “It’s stunning how rapidly things have been moving since the first article was published,”

Experts now have a better understanding of how a variety of technologies could be combined to prevent catastrophic climate change, the coauthors say. Many renewable-energy systems, for example, are already mature and just need to be scaled up. Some innovations need significant development, including new processes to produce steel and concrete, and geoengineering techniques to sequester carbon and temporarily reduce solar radiation. The one commonality among all these promising technologies, they conclude, is that engineers can make a difference on a planetary scale…

Concerned about the pessimistic tone of most climate coverage, the authors argue that wise policies, market pressure, and human creativity can get the job done. “When you put the right incentives in place, you capture the ingenuity of the masses,” says Fork. “All of us are smarter than any of us.”

The Google engineers acknowledge we’ve already seen a plunge in battery prices to lows not predicted until 2050. (Along with cheap natural gas prices, this cut America’s coal consumption in half, lowering emissions.) And fossil fuel consumption has been reduced thanks to cheaper electric heat pumps and electric cars. Other suggestions from their article include:
Cleaner air travel (including clean hydrogen-powered planes) New forms of nuclear power Climate policy (including carbon pricing strategies like carbon taxes)
“So, engineers, let’s get to work.”

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Source: Slashdot – 7 Years Later, Google Engineers Revise Their Pessimistic Predictions on Climate Change

Elusive Glass Octopus Spotted In the Remote Pacific Ocean

Slashdot reader fahrbot-bot shared some fascinating photos and a report from Live Science.

“This rarely seen glass octopus bared all recently — even a view of its innards — when an underwater robot filmed it gracefully soaring through the deep waters of the Central Pacific Ocean.”

Like other “glass” creatures, such as glass frogs and certain comb jellies, glass octopuses are almost completely transparent, with only their cylindrical eyes, optic nerve and digestive tract appearing opaque. The expedition crew reported two encounters with the glass octopus — an impressive count given that previously there was such limited footage of these clear cephalopods, scientists had to learn about them by studying chunks of them in the gut contents of their predators…

During the expedition, which ended July 8, a crew of marine scientists discovered a handful of what are likely newfound marine animals on nine previously unexplored submarine mountains known as seamounts. The team also completed high-resolution seafloor mapping of more than 11,500 square miles (30,000 square km) around the archipelago and video recordings of five additional seamounts filmed by the underwater robot SuBastian, according to a statement. SuBastian also snagged footage of a whale shark (the largest living fish in the world) and a long-legged crab stealing a fish from another crab.

The expedition sent SuBastian on 21 dives, enabling the robot to record more than 182 hours on the seafloor.

The expedition was run by the Schmidt Ocean Institute, a nonprofit operating foundation co-founded by Wendy and Eric Schmidt, the former CEO of Google.

Read more of this story at Slashdot.

Source: Slashdot – Elusive Glass Octopus Spotted In the Remote Pacific Ocean