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How to Get XKCD Author Randall Munroe To Visit Your City

Sat, 06/15/2019 - 14:34
Since 2005 Randall Munroe has been the author/illustrator of the popular nerdy comic strip XKCD -- and he's now planning to publish "the world's least useful self-help book." How To: Absurd Scientific Advice for Common Real-World Problems offers readers a third choice beyond simply doing things either the right way or the wrong way: "a way so monumentally bad that no one would ever try it," according to a new page at XKCD.com: It describes how to cross a river by removing all the water, outlines some of the many uses for lava around the home, and teaches you how to use experimental military research to ensure that your friends will never again ask you to help them move. To promote the book Munroe has already scheduled visits in 14 nerd-friendly cities (including New York, San Francisco, Seattle, Portland, Los Angeles, and Raleigh). But a final 15th city will be chosen "based on the results of a challenge..." The challenge: Write the best story using nothing but book covers. Arrange the titles of your favorite books into sentences that tell a story, assemble a single continuous line of people holding up the covers, and take a photo or video documenting your feat. You can make the story as long as you want, but each book needs to be held by a different human. Creative grammar is fine, and you'll get extra credit for including as many books and people as possible. Photos should be either shared on social media with the hashtag #howtoxkcd, or emailed to that address on Gmail. "Submit your entry between June 10 and July 31," explains the site, adding that a winner will be announced in August. "Make sure to include your location (city/state, US only) so we know where to find you!"

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New Hampshire Unveils a Historical Highway Marker For The BASIC Programming Language

Sat, 06/15/2019 - 13:34
"It took 10 months to get it done, but the Granite State is now officially a Geeky State," writes Concord Monitor science reporter David Brooks. "The latest New Hampshire Historical Highway Marker, celebrating the creation of the BASIC computer language at Dartmouth in 1964, has officially been installed. Everybody who has ever typed a GOTO command can feel proud..." Last August, I wrote in this column that the 255 official historical markers placed alongside state roads told us enough about covered bridges and birthplaces of famous people but not enough about geekiness. Since anybody can submit a suggestion for a new sign, I thought I'd give it a shot. The creation of BASIC, the first programing language designed to let newbies dip their intellectual toes into the cutting-edge world of software, seemed the obvious candidate. Beginner's All-purpose Symbolic Instruction Code has probably has done more to introduce more people to computer programming than anything ever created. That includes me: The only functioning programs I've ever created were in vanilla BASIC, and I still recall the great satisfaction of typing 100 END... But BASIC wasn't just a toy for classrooms. It proved robust enough to survive for decades, helping launch Microsoft along the way, and there are descendants still in use today. In short, it's way more important than any covered bridge. The campaign for the marker was supported by Thomas Kurtz, the retired Dartmouth math professor who'd created BASIC along with the late John Kemeny. "Our original idea was to mention both BASIC and the Dartmouth Time-Sharing System, an early system by which far-flung computers could share resources. They were created hand-in-hand as part of Kemeny's idea of putting computing in the hands of the unwashed masses. "However, the N.H. Division of Historical Resources, which has decades of experience creating these markers, said it would be too hard to cram both concepts into the limited verbiage of a sign." The highway marker calls BASIC "the first user-friendly computer programming languages... BASIC made computer programming accessible to college students and, with the later popularity of personal computers, to users everywhere. It became the standard way that people all over the world learned to program computers, and variants of BASIC are still in use today." In the original submission, an anonymous Slashdot reader notes that last month, Manchester New Hampshire also unveiled a statue of Ralph Baer, whose team built the first home video game sold as Magnavox Odyssey, sitting on a park bench. "The Granite State isn't shy about its geek side."

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KDE Plasma 5.16 Released

Sat, 06/15/2019 - 13:04
Long-time Slashdot reader jrepin writes: The KDE community has released Plasma 5.16, the newest iteration of the popular desktop environment. It features an improved notification system, Not only can you mute notifications altogether with the Do Not Disturb mode, but the system also groups notifications by app. Developers also focused on user's privacy. When any application accesses the microphone, an icon will pop up in your system tray, showing that something is listening. Vaults, a built-in utility to encrypt folders, are easier and more convenient to use. Dolphin file and folder manager now opens folders you click on in new tabs instead of new windows. Discover software manager is cleaner and clearer as it now has two distinct areas for downloading and installing software. The Wallpaper Slideshow settings window displays the images in the folders you selected, and lets you select only the graphics you want to display in the slideshow. For a more comprehensive overview of what to expect in Plasma 5.16, check out the official announcement or the changelog for the complete list of changes.

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Vim and Neo Editors Vulnerable To High-Severity Bug

Sat, 06/15/2019 - 12:34
JustAnotherOldGuy quotes Threatpost: A high-severity bug impacting two popular command-line text editing applications, Vim and Neovim, allow remote attackers to execute arbitrary OS commands. Security researcher Armin Razmjou warned that exploiting the bug is as easy as tricking a target into clicking on a specially crafted text file in either editor. Razmjou outlined his research and created a proof-of-concept (PoC) attack demonstrating how an adversary can compromise a Linux system via Vim or Neowim. He said Vim versions before 8.1.1365 and Neovim before 0.3.6 are vulnerable to arbitrary code execution... Vim and Neovim have both released patches for the bug (CVE-2019-12735) that the National Institute of Standards and Technology warns, "allows remote attackers to execute arbitrary OS commands via the :source! command in a modeline." "Beyond patching, it's recommended to disable modelines in the vimrc (set nomodeline), to use the securemodelinesplugin, or to disable modelineexpr (since patch 8.1.1366, Vim-only) to disallow expressions in modelines," the researcher said.

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FBI Issues Search Warrant To 8chan For IP Address of Shooter, Commenters

Sat, 06/15/2019 - 11:34
An anonymous reader quotes the Daily Beast: The online forum where alleged Chabad of Poway shooter John Earnest shared a livestream of the shooting was served a search warrant in April for the IP and metadata information on Earnest's posts, as well as those who commented on them. The warrant served to 8chan said the people who responded to Earnest's comments could be "potential witnesses, co-conspirators and/or individuals who are inspired" by his posting about the shooting. Similarly, according to the FBI agent who penned the warrant, there was evidence that Earnest himself was "inspired and/or educated" by other individuals posting on the forum.

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Caterpillar Takes Tiny 'Cat & Cloud' Coffee Shop To Court Over Trademark

Sat, 06/15/2019 - 10:34
"Caterpillar Inc. is trying to stop a tiny cafe from using the word cat," reports Fast Company. Long-time Slashdot reader UnknowingFool writes: Caterpillar wishes to cancels the coffee shop's trademark claiming that the trademark on shop's apparel and footwear is too similar to theirs and would cause confusion for consumers. For reference, the coffee shop's t-shirts and merchandise feature a cat and a cloud. This is not the first time Caterpillar has made dubious trademark claims on "Cat" or "Caterpillar". "Another small business faces a crazy legal challenge from a big company that should know better..." writes Inc. "There are literally hundreds of trademarks listed that include the word cat and that are intended for clothing. Without having a trademark or license, technically Cat & Cloud wouldn't be able to sell that merchandise without permission (whether from Caterpillar or one of the many other companies with cat-related trademarks for clothing)." The coffee shop responded by setting up a GoFundMe campaign (which is now "trending" and has so far raised $12,482) for their legal defense. They're arguing that Caterpillar's efforts "would effectively set the precedent for them to OWN the word 'cat', making it un-useable by any business in the US."

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Python Passes C++ on TIOBE Index, Predicted To Pass C and Java

Sat, 06/15/2019 - 09:34
Python reached another new all-time high on the TIOBE index, now representing 8.5% of the results for the search query +"<language> programming" on the top 25 search engines. Python overtook C++ this month for the #3 spot, now placing behind only Java (#1) and C (#2). That's prompted TIOBE to make a bold prediction: If Python can keep this pace, it will probably replace C and Java in 3 to 4 years time, thus becoming the most popular programming language of the world. The main reason for this is that software engineering is booming. It attracts lots of newcomers to the field. Java's way of programming is too verbose for beginners. In order to fully understand and run a simple program such as "hello world" in Java you need to have knowledge of classes, static methods and packages. In C this is a bit easier, but then you will be hit in the face with explicit memory management. In Python this is just a one-liner. Enough said. InfoWorld reports: Also on the rise in the June Tiobe index, Apple's Swift language is ranked 11th, with a rating of 1.419 percent. Swift was ranked 15th at this time last year and 18th last month, while its predecessor Objective-C language ranked 12th this month with a rating of 1.391. Tiobe expects Objective-C to drop out of the top 20 within two years. InfoWorld also notes that Python is already #1 in the Pypl index, which analyes how often language tutorials are searched for on Google. On that list, Python is followed by Java, JavaScript, C#, PHP, and then C/C++. Python was also TIOBE's fastest-rising language in 2018 -- though in 2017 that honor went to C, and in 2015 to Java...

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One Dead After Fecal Transplant Gone Wrong, FDA Warns

Sat, 06/15/2019 - 08:00
fahrbot-bot shares a report from Ars Technica: One patient has died and another became seriously ill after fecal transplants inadvertently seeded their innards with a multi-drug resistant bacterial infection, the Food and Drug Administration warned Thursday. The cases highlight the grave risks of what some consider a relatively safe procedure. They also call attention to the mucky issues of federal oversight for the experimental transplants, which the FDA has struggled to regulate. In its warning Thursday, the agency announced new protections for trials and experimental uses of the procedure. The FDA shared minimal details from the deadly transplants. Its warning only noted that the cases involved two patients who were immunocompromised prior to the experimental transplants and received stool from the same donor. Subsequent to the transplant, the patients developed invasive infections from an E. coli strain that was resistant to a wide variety of antibiotics in the penicillin and cephalosporin groups. The E. coli strain carried a drug-defeating enzyme called an extended-spectrum beta-lactamase (ESBL), which generally cleaves a ring common to all the chemical structures of those antibiotics. When unnamed researchers who administered the transplant looked back at the donor stool, they found that the stool contained an identical ESBL-producing E. coli. One of the patients died and the fate of the other was not discussed. The agency also did not say how or why the patients were immunocompromised prior to the transplants, what the transplants were attempting to accomplish, how they were carried out, who conducted the transplants, or when they occurred.

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Cellebrite Says It Can Unlock Any iPhone For Cops

Sat, 06/15/2019 - 05:00
An anonymous reader quotes a report from Wired: On Friday afternoon, the Israeli forensics firm and law enforcement contractor Cellebrite publicly announced a new version of its product known as a Universal Forensic Extraction Device or UFED, one that it's calling UFED Premium. In marketing that update, it says that the tool can now unlock any iOS device cops can lay their hands on, including those running iOS 12.3, released just a month ago. Cellebrite claims UFED Premium can extract files from many recent Android phones as well, including the Samsung Galaxy S9. No other law enforcement contractor has made such broad claims about a single product, at least not publicly. The move signals not only another step in the cat and mouse game between smartphone makers and the government-sponsored firms that seek to defeat their security, but also a more unabashedly public phase of that security face-off. "Cellebrite is proud to introduce #UFED Premium! An exclusive solution for law enforcement to unlock and extract data from all iOS and high-end Android devices," the company wrote on its Twitter feed for the UFED product. On a linked web page, the company says the new tool can pull forensic data off any iOS device dating back to iOS 7, and Android devices not just from Samsung but Huawei, LG, and Xiaomi.

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Astronomers Detected Signs of Our Milky Way Colliding With Another Galaxy

Sat, 06/15/2019 - 02:00
fahrbot-bot shares a report from ScienceAlert: Antlia 2, the "ghost of a galaxy" orbiting the Milky Way, is a dark horse in more ways than one. Not only is it so faint it was only just discovered last year, it may now be responsible for curious ripples in the hydrogen gas that makes up the Milky Way's outer disc. According to new research, Antlia 2's current position is consistent with a collision with the Milky Way hundreds of millions of years ago that could have produced the perturbations we see today. The paper has been submitted for publication and is undergoing peer review. Antlia 2 was a bit of a surprise when it showed up in the second Gaia mission data release last year. It's really close to the Milky Way -- one of our satellite galaxies -- and absolutely enormous, about the size of the Large Magellanic Cloud. Further reading: CNET

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Arctic Permafrost Melting 70 Years Sooner Than Expected, Study Finds

Fri, 06/14/2019 - 22:30
An anonymous reader quotes a report The Weather Channel: Scientists studying climate change expected layers of permafrost in the Canadian Arctic to melt by the year 2090. Instead, it's happening now. A new study published this week in the journal Geophysical Research Letters revealed that unusually warm summers in the Canadian High Arctic between 2003 and 2016 resulted in permafrost melt up to 240% higher than previous years. Louise Farquharson, a researcher at the Permafrost Laboratory at the University of Alaska Fairbanks and the study's lead author, told weather.com the three areas of melting permafrost studied in remote northern Canada are believed to have been frozen for thousands of years. She noted that while scientists had predicted the permafrost wouldn't melt for another 70 years, those forecasts didn't take into account the unusually warm summers that have happened in recent years. While researchers believe all indicators point to warmer temperatures continuing, there's no way to know for sure just how quickly the permafrost will continue to melt. Not only is rapidly melting permafrost a symptom of global warming, but it accelerates climate change by exposing thawing biological material to the atmosphere where it decomposes and releases CO2, a key element in global warming.

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Prenda Copyright Troll Sentenced To 14 Years

Fri, 06/14/2019 - 21:10
JustAnotherOldGuy shares a report from Boing Boing: For years, Paul Hansmeier terrorized internet users through his copyright trolling racket Prenda Law, evading the law through shell companies and fraud, until, finally, he was brought to justice and pleaded guilty last August. Now, Hansmeier has been sentenced to 14 years in prison and must pay $1.5 million in restitution to his victims -- the same people he accused of being copyright infringers and then bullied into paying "settlement" fees to avoid being dragged through expensive litigation. Any Prenda Law victim can contact the Minnesota DA to apply for compensation. Prenda's tactics included identity theft, entrapment (uploading their own files to The Pirate Bay in order to generate downloads that they could threaten people over), and several kinds of fraud. Hansmeier and his co-defendant, John Steele, were indicted for money laundering, perjury, mail and wire fraud. Both men entered into plea agreements.

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Texas Appeals Court Says Government Can't Be Sued For Copyright Piracy

Fri, 06/14/2019 - 20:30
sandbagger writes: Photographer Jim Olive's helicopter shot of Houston was used by the University of Houston on their website after they removed his watermark, a definite no-no particularly since the image was used for their school of business. The photographer then sent the university a bill for $41,000 -- $16,000 for the usage and $25,000 for removing his copyright credit. After the matter ended up in court, the university pushed for the case to be dismissed because the public institution has sovereign immunity, which protects state government entities from a variety of lawsuits and the appeals court agreed. The matter will likely go before the Supreme Court (in Allen v. Cooper) sometime in 2020. "Even if the government sets itself up as a competitor by producing a copyrighted work, there probably is not good reason to conclude automatically that the copyright has been 'taken,'" the three-judge panel cites in its ruling. "The copyright holder can still exclude all private competitors even as the government pirates the entirety of his work." "[W]e hold that the Olive's takings claim, which is based on a single act of copyright infringement by the University, is not viable," the ruling continues. "This opinion should not be construed as an endorsement of the University's alleged copyright infringement, and as discussed, copyright owners can seek injunctive relief against a state actor for ongoing and prospective infringement. Instead, in the absence of authority that copyright infringement by a state actor presents a viable takings claim [...] we decline to so hold." The National Press Photographers Association (NPPA) notes that the U.S. Congress passed the Copyright Remedy Clarification Act (CRCA) decades ago to prevent states from having governmental immunity from copyright claims, but some appeals courts have held that CRCA goes beyond Congress' powers and have therefore struck it down as unconstitutional.

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Ask Slashdot: Should All OSs Ship With a Programming Language Built In?

Fri, 06/14/2019 - 19:50
dryriver writes: If anybody remembers the good old Commodore 64, one thing stood out about this once popular 8-bit computer -- as soon as you turned it on, you could type in BASIC (Beginner's All-purpose Symbolic Instruction Code) and run it. You didn't have to install a programming language, an IDE and all that jazz. You could simply start punching code in, and the C64 would execute it. Now that we live in a time where coding is even more important and bankable than it was back in the 1980s, shouldn't operating systems like Windows 10 or Android also come with precisely this kind of feature? An easy-to-learn programming language like the old BASIC that greets you right after you boot up the computer, and gives you unfettered access to all of the computer's hardware and capabilities, just like was possible on the C64 decades ago? Everybody talks about "getting more people to learn coding" these days. Well, why not go the old C64 route and have modern OSs boot you straight into a usable, yet powerful, coding environment? Why shouldn't my Android phone or tablet come out of its box with a CLI BASIC prompt I can type code into right after I buy it from a store?

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Graphene As an Open-Source Material

Fri, 06/14/2019 - 19:10
An anonymous reader quotes a report from TechCrunch: The 2D wonder-material graphene could greatly benefit from the widespread experimentation of open-source use. In its current state, graphene is primarily researched by scientists in universities and labs, but by making graphene a material that is open to be improved upon by anyone, we might see the fulfillment of the potential that graphene has been hailed for since its discovery. Graphene's capabilities are staggering -- it is essentially 2D, flexible, 200 times stronger than steel, conducts heat 10 times better than copper and conducts electricity 250 times better than silicon. Its abilities are far-reaching and extremely potent, making graphene applications nearly endless. As it stands, graphene research is limited to a select few technology companies -- Samsung, for instance, has the most graphene patents to date. Otherwise, most graphene research is done in university labs. In the same way that open-sourcing has built up software and related technologies, open-sourcing could also viably allow a wider range of individuals and communities to help unlock graphene's unrealized potential. Graphene is fundamentally different from software in that it is a physical resource. Since the material's discovery, quantity has been a serious issue, preventing the material from seeing widespread use. Natural reserves of graphene are few and far between, and while scientists have discovered ways of producing graphene, the methods have proved unscalable. In addition, graphene would need a way to be experimented with by the average user. For those who don't have the same equipment researchers do, how can they go about tinkering with graphene? In order for graphene to become an open-source material, a solution for these two problems must be found.

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UK Porn Block Is a 'Privacy Timebomb,' New Report Warns

Fri, 06/14/2019 - 18:30
New age restrictions on pornography that are set to come into effect in the UK next month are a "privacy timebomb," a new report by privacy watchdog Open Rights Group has warned. They say that the data protection in place to protect consumers is "vague, imprecise and largely a 'tick box' exercise." The Independent reports: The identity checks needed to stop under-18s from visiting pornographic websites will force any commercial provider of online pornography to carry out "robust" checks on their users to ensure they are adults. The age verification measures will be introduced on 15 July but a recent YouGov poll showed that 76 per cent of the British public is unaware of the ID checks being introduced. "With one month until rollout, the UK porn block is a privacy timebomb," the report stated. Estimates suggest around 20 million adults in the UK watch porn, meaning the scale of any privacy breaches could be vast. "Due to the sensitive nature of age verification data, there needs to be a higher standard of protection than the baseline which is offered by data protection legislation," said Open Rights Group executive director Jim Killock. "The BBFC's standard is supposed to deliver this. However, it is a voluntary standard, which offers little information about the level of data protection being offered and provides no means of redress if companies fail to live up to it." Mr Killock said the standard was therefore "pointless and misleading."

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Study Finds That a GPS Outage Would Cost $1 Billion Per Day

Fri, 06/14/2019 - 17:50
A new comprehensive study on Global Positioning System technology has examined what effect a 30-day outage would have on the U.S. economy -- whether it's due to a severe space weather event or "nefarious activity by a bad actor." If a widespread outage were to occur, the study estimates it would have a $1 billion per-day impact. "It would likely be higher during the planting season of April and May, when farmers are highly reliant on GPS technology for information about their fields," adds Ars Technica. From the report: To assess the effect of an outage, the study looked at several different variables. Among them was "precision timing" that enables a number of wireless services, including the synchronization of traffic between carrier networks, wireless handoff between base stations, and billing management. Moreover, higher levels of precision timing enable higher bandwidth and provide access to more devices. (For example, the implementation of 4G LTE technology would have been impossible without GPS technology). In the case of an outage, there would be relatively minimal impacts over the first two days, but after that time, the wireless network would begin to degrade significantly. After 30 days, the study estimates that functionality would lie somewhere between 0 percent and 60 percent of normal operating levels. Landline phones would be largely unaffected.

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Retail Stores Use Bluetooth Beacons To Track Customers

Fri, 06/14/2019 - 17:10
In an opinion piece for The New York Times, writer Michael Kwet sheds some lights on the secret bluetooth surveillance devices retailers use to track your every move and better serve ads to you. Anonymous reader shares an excerpt from the report: Imagine you are shopping in your favorite grocery store. As you approach the dairy aisle, you are sent a push notification in your phone: "10 percent off your favorite yogurt! Click here to redeem your coupon." You considered buying yogurt on your last trip to the store, but you decided against it. How did your phone know? Your smartphone was tracking you. The grocery store got your location data and paid a shadowy group of marketers to use that information to target you with ads. Recent reports have noted how companies use data gathered from cell towers, ambient Wi-Fi, and GPS. But the location data industry has a much more precise, and unobtrusive, tool: Bluetooth beacons. These beacons are small, inobtrusive electronic devices that are hidden throughout the grocery store; an app on your phone that communicates with them informed the company not only that you had entered the building, but that you had lingered for two minutes in front of the low-fat Chobanis. Most location services use cell towers and GPS, but these technologies have limitations. Cell towers have wide coverage, but low location accuracy: An advertiser can think you are in Walgreens, but you're actually in McDonald's next door. GPS, by contrast, can be accurate to a radius of around five meters (16 feet), but it does not work well indoors. Bluetooth beacons, however, can track your location accurately from a range of inches to about 50 meters. They use little energy, and they work well indoors. That has made them popular among companies that want precise tracking inside a store. In order to track you or trigger an action like a coupon or message to your phone, companies need you to install an app on your phone that will recognize the beacon in the store. Retailers (like Target and Walmart) that use Bluetooth beacons typically build tracking into their own apps. But retailers want to make sure most of their customers can be tracked -- not just the ones that download their own particular app.

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Citing Requests From People, FujiFilm Decides To Bring Back Its Black and White Film

Fri, 06/14/2019 - 16:50
AmiMoJo shares a report: Fujifilm has announced it will re-start black and white film manufacturing this year and will bring out a new version of its former Acros film. The new NEOPAN Acros 100 II will feature finer grain and the company claims it will be the sharpest black and white film on the market. The film will initially go on sale in Japan, with expansion to other markets depending on demand. In a press release on the Fujifilm Japan website, President Kenji Sono explains that after the company stopped production of monochrome film last year many of its users asked for production to be started again. Part of the issue for the company, he says, was that some raw materials in the film were hard to source. For the new film alternatives have been found and the production process radically changed to account for them.

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Digital Marketer Mailchimp Bans Anti-Vaccination Content

Fri, 06/14/2019 - 16:30
Digital marketer Mailchimp has removed several anti-vaccination "activists" from its platform and will no longer provide services to newsletters that push anti-vaccination content. From a report: The move to block the anti-vaccination rhetoric follows similar actions by other tech companies and comes on the heels of increased pressure from public health advocates and lawmakers on digital platforms to curtail the spread of health misinformation. "Mailchimp has shut down a number of accounts for anti-vaccination content that violates our Terms of Use, and we're adding this category to our routine searches for prohibited content," a Mailchimp spokesperson said in a statement provided to NBC News. "Spreading misinformation about the safety and efficacy of vaccines poses a serious threat to public health and causes real-world harm. We cannot allow these individuals and groups to use our Marketing Platform to spread harmful messages and expand their audiences." The company began quietly enforcing this decision last week. "We trust the world's leading health authorities, like the CDC, WHO, and the AAP, and follow their guidance when assessing this type of misuse of our platform," the spokesperson said, referring to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the World Health Organization and the American Academy of Pediatrics.

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