United States

DIY Explosives Experimenter Blows Self Up, Contaminates Building (fdlreporter.com) 30

Long-time Slashdot reader hey! writes: Benjamin D. Morrison of Beaver Dam Wisconsin was killed on March 5 while synthesizing explosives in his apartment... The accident has left the apartment building so contaminated that it will be demolished in a controlled burn, and residents are not being allowed in to retrieve any of their belongings.
It was just five years ago that Morrison graduated from Pensacola Christian College in Florida with a degree in pre-pharmacy and minors in chemistry and math. Though a local reverend believes 28-year-old Morrison was "not a bomb maker," USA Today's site FDL Reporter notes that "Officials assume he was making bombs that accidentally exploded and killed him... They have not publicly disclosed what chemicals were in apartment 11 where Morrow lived, only describing them as 'extremely volatile and unstable explosives.'"
Open Source

Vim Beats Emacs in 'Linux Journal' Reader Survey (linuxjournal.com) 42

The newly-relaunched Linux Journal is conducting its annual "Reader's Choice Awards," and this month announced the winners for Best Text Editor, Best Laptop, and Best Domain Registrar. Vim was chosen as the best editor by 35% of respondents, handily beating GNU Emacs (19%) Sublime Text (10%) and Atom (8%). Readers' Choice winner Vim is an extremely powerful editor with a user interface based on Bill Joy's 40-plus-year-old vi, but with many improved-upon features including extensive customization with key mappings and plugins. Linux Journal reader David Harrison points out another great thing about Vim "is that it's basically everywhere. It's available on every major platform."
For best laptop their readers picked Lenovo (32%), followed by Dell (25%) and System76 (11%). The ThinkPad began life at IBM, but in 2005, it was purchased by Lenovo along with the rest of IBM's PC business. Lenovo evolved the line, and today the company is well known as a geek favorite. Lenovo's ThinkPads are quiet, fast and arguably have one of the best keyboards (fighting words!). Linux Journal readers say Lenovo's Linux support is excellent, leaving many to ponder why the company doesn't ship laptops with Linux installed.
In February readers also voted on the best web browser, choosing Firefox (57%) over Chrome (17%) and Chromium (7%). And they also voted on the best Linux distribution, ultimately selecting Debian (33%), open SUSE (12%), and Fedora (11%).

'Why YouTube's New Plan to Debunk Conspiracy Videos Won't Work' (vortex.com) 95

Slashdot reader Lauren Weinstein believes YouTube's plan to combat conspiracy videos with "information cues" is "likely doomed to be almost entirely ineffective." The kind of viewers who are going to believe these kinds of false conspiracy videos are almost certainly going to say that the associated Wikipedia articles are wrong, that they're planted lies... Not helping matters at all is that Wikipedia's reputation for accuracy -- never all that good -- has been plunging in recent years, sometimes resulting in embarrassing Knowledge Panel errors for Google in search results...

The key to avoiding the contamination...is to minimize their visibility in the YouTube/Google ecosystem in the first place... Not only should they be prevented from ever getting into the trending lists, they should be deranked, demonetized, and excised from the YouTube recommended video system. They should be immediately removed from YouTube entirely if they contain specific attacks against individuals or other violations of the YouTube Terms of Service and/or Community Guidelines. These actions must be taken as rapidly as possible with appropriate due diligence, before these videos are able to do even more damage to innocent parties.


Ubuntu Community Considers a Crowd-Sourced Promo Video (ubuntu.com) 26

Slashdot reader Beacon11 writes that "Alan Pope, a community advocate for Ubuntu, has requested comments and ideas regarding the creation of a crowd-sourced promo video that, in 30 seconds, conveys that Ubuntu is for everyone." Alan Pope writes: So for example you might see a woman on a train typing an article, a guy in an office creating a presentation, a kid on the sofa playing a game with a controller on their TV, someone watching a film, someone developing code, kids playing with robots, a farmer planning animal feeding. You get the idea...

So I'd really like to do this as a shared community project, with video clips submitted by Ubuntu users from around the world, perhaps even taking in a landmark or two here and there. I'd expect the video to represent the diversity of users, and variety of activities people are able to do with Ubuntu.

Though they're currently just discussing its feasibility, Alan writes that "I think if we work together we could make something amazing."

Researchers Claim They Can Predict Where Lightning Is Likely To Strike (www.cbc.ca) 25

Long-time Slashdot reader conner_bw shared an article from the CBC: A study by researchers at the University of Calgary's Schulich School of Engineering suggests it's possible to predict where lightning will strike and how often.They say satellite data and artificial intelligence can help foresee where lightning poses a greater risk to spark wildfires... "Those events don't just randomly happen," said Dr. Xin Wang, one of three researchers involved in the study. "They also have spatial and temporal patterns."
One of the paper's authors says their analysis can predict areas with a high chance of wildfires with an accuracy greater than 90%.
Electronic Frontier Foundation

North Carolina Police Obtained Warrants Demanding All Google Users Near Four Crime Scenes (wral.com) 131

An anonymous reader quotes the public records reporter from North Carolina TV station WRAL: In at least four investigations last year -- cases of murder, sexual battery and even possible arson at the massive downtown fire in March 2017 -- Raleigh police used search warrants to demand Google accounts not of specific suspects, but from any mobile devices that veered too close to the scene of a crime, according to a WRAL News review of court records... The demands Raleigh police issued for Google data [in two homicide cases] described a 17-acre area that included both homes and businesses... The account IDs aren't limited to electronics running Android. The warrant includes any device running location-enabled Google apps, according to Raleigh Police Department spokeswoman Laura Hourigan...

On March 16, 2017, a five-alarm fire ripped through the unfinished Metropolitan apartment building on West Jones Street... About two months later, Raleigh police obtained a search warrant for Google account IDs that showed up near the block of the Metropolitan between 7:30 and 10 p.m. the night of the fire... In addition to anonymized numerical identifiers, the warrant calls on Google to release time stamped location coordinates for every device that passed through the area. Detectives wrote that they'd narrow down that list and send it back to the company, demanding "contextual data points with points of travel outside of the geographical area" during an expanded timeframe. Another review would further cull the list, which police would use to request user names, birth dates and other identifying information of the phones' owners.

"Do people understand that in sharing that information with Google, they're also potentially sharing it with law enforcement?" asks a former Durham prosecutor who directs the North Carolina Open Government Coalition at Elon University. And Stephanie Lacambra, criminal defense staff attorney at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, also criticized the procedure. "To just say, 'Criminals commit crimes, and we know that most people have cell phones,' that should not be enough to get the geo-location on anyone that happened to be in the vicinity of a particular incident during a particular time." She believes that without probable cause the police department is "trying to use technology as a hack for their job... It does not have to be that we have to give up our privacy rights in order to participate in the digital revolution."

Nathan Freed Wessler, staff attorney with the ACLU's Speech, Privacy and Technology Project, put it succinctly. "At the end of the day, this tactic unavoidably risks getting information about totally innocent people."
United States

The Ordinary Engineering Behind the Horrifying Florida Bridge Collapse (wired.com) 175

An anonymous reader quotes a report from WIRED: The people of Sweetwater, Florida were supposed to wait until early 2019 for the Florida International University-Sweetwater University City Bridge to open. Instead, they will wait about that long for an official assessment from the National Transportation Safety Board of why it collapsed just five days after its installation, killing at least six people. In the immediate aftermath of the disaster, many queries have centered on the unconventional technique used to build the bridge, something called Accelerated Bridge Construction, or ABC. But ABC is more complicated than its acronym suggests -- and it's hardly brand new. ABC refers to dozens of construction methods, but at its core, it's about drastically reducing on-site construction time. Mostly, that relies on pre-fabricating things like concrete decks, abutments, walls, barriers, and concrete topped steel girders, and hauling them to the work site. There, cranes or specialized vehicles known as Self-Propelled Modular Transporter install them. A video posted online by Florida International University, which helped fund the bridge connects to its campus, showed an SPMT lifting and then lowering the span into place.

In a now-deleted press release, the university called the "largest pedestrian bridge moved via SPMT in U.S. history," but that doesn't seem to mean much, engineering-wise. SPMTs have been around since the 1970s, and have moved much heavier loads. In 2017, workers used a 600-axle SPMT to salvage the 17,000 ton ferry that sank off the coast of South Korea in 2014. The ABC technique is much more expensive than building things in place, but cities and places like FIU like it for a specific reason: Because most of the work happens far away, traffic goes mostly unperturbed. When years- or months-long construction projects can have serious effects on businesses and homes, governments might make up the money in the long run. Workers installed this collapsed span in just a few hours. These accelerated techniques are also much safer for workers, who do most their work well away from active roads.
The report goes on to note that the bridge collapse is still under investigation and the search for a culprit is ongoing. "The answers could run the gamut, from design flaws to fabrication flubs to installation issues," reports WIRED. As of publication, The Washington Post is reporting that an engineer called the state to report cracking two days before its collapse.

Ford's Badly Needed Plan To Catch Up On Hybrid, Electric Cars (arstechnica.com) 133

Ford supposedly has a plan to adapt to the changing world of transportation. The company recently announced that it's "going all-in on hybrids," readying six new battery electric vehicles by 2022, with the first due in 2020, and adding more performance versions of its SUV line up. "Additionally, by the end of 2019, every new Ford will have 4G LTE connectivity, and the company is developing a new cloud platform that will deliver over-the-air updates," reports Ars Technica. From the report: New hybrids: "Hybrids for years have been mostly niche products but are now on the cusp of a mainstream breakout," said Jim Farley, Ford president of global markets. "The valuable capability they offer -- plus fuel efficiency -- is why we're going to offer hybrid variants of our most popular and high-volume vehicles, allowing our loyal, passionate customers to become advocates for the technology." So America's best-selling truck (the F-150) will get the ability to act as a mobile generator, something that should come in handy on job sites. Meanwhile, the Mustang will have performance to match the 5.0L V8 version but with more low-down torque, according to Ford. The company says that these new hybrids will be cheaper and more efficient than its current hybrids, via "common cell and component design and by manufacturing motors, transmissions, and battery packs."

New BEVs: We have to wait for those new BEVs, too. The first of these -- an electric performance SUV -- also shows up in 2020, but with five more planned between then and 2022. Ford says that it's "rethinking the ownership experience" as part of this and that over-the-air software updates to add new features will be part of the $11 billion investment plan.

More SUVs, more commercial vehicles, a super Mustang: Other new vehicles on the way include a reborn Ford Bronco SUV and an as-yet unnamed small SUV, but before then we'll get redesigned Explorers and Escapes, due in 2019. Next year, Ford will also bring a new Transit van to the US, and it says advanced driver-assistance systems, like automatic emergency braking and others, will be added to future commercial vehicles like the future E-Series, F-650, F-750, and F59-based vehicles.


Apple's Newest iPhone X Ad Captures an Embarrassing iOS 11 Bug (theverge.com) 60

Tom Warren, writing for The Verge: If you blink during Apple's latest iPhone ad, you might miss a weird little animation bug. It's right at the end of a slickly produced commercial, where the text from an iMessage escapes the animated bubble it's supposed to stay inside. It's a minor issue and easy to brush off, but the fact it's captured in such a high profile ad just further highlights Apple's many bugs in iOS 11. 9to5Mac writer Benjamin Mayo spotted the bug in Apple's latest ad, and he's clearly surprised "that this was signed off for the commercial," especially as he highlighted it months ago and has filed a bug report with Apple.

Amazon Alexa's 'Brief Mode' Makes the Digital Assistant Way Less Chatty (cnet.com) 22

A new update is rolling out to Amazon Echo devices that gives users the option to make Alexa respond with a short, beeping sound rather than her customary "OK." Reddit users reported seeing the new feature this week. CNET reports: You access the Brief Mode in the Amazon Alexa app's Settings Menu under "Alexa Voice Responses." You can also ask your Alexa-enabled device to turn on the Brief Mode. Once the setting is enabled, you can ask Alexa to control devices to which she is connected and she will respond with beeps rather than "OK" to let you know that she received and completed the task. Don't want to completely quiet Alexa down? Amazon also rolled out a "Follow-Up Mode" last week that's designed to let you will let you talk to Alexa more naturally. That mode will let you make successive requests without needing to use Alexa's wake word between each command.

Facebook Suspends Donald Trump's Data Operations Team For Misusing People's Personal Information (theverge.com) 156

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Verge: Facebook said late Friday that it had suspended Strategic Communication Laboratories (SCL), along with its political data analytics firm, Cambridge Analytica, for violating its policies around data collection and retention. The companies, which ran data operations for Donald Trump's 2016 presidential election campaign, are widely credited with helping Trump more effectively target voters on Facebook than his rival, Hillary Clinton. While the exact nature of their role remains somewhat mysterious, Facebook's disclosure suggests that the company improperly obtained user data that could have given it an unfair advantage in reaching voters. Facebook said it cannot determine whether or how the data in question could have been used in conjunction with election ad campaigns.

In a blog post, Facebook deputy general counsel Paul Grewal laid out how SCL came into possession of the user data. In 2015, Aleksandr Kogan, a psychology professor at the University of Cambridge, created an app named "thisisyourdigitallife" that promised to predict aspects of users' personalities. About 270,000 people downloaded it and logged in through Facebook, giving Kogan access to information about their city of residence, Facebook content they had liked, and information about their friends. Kogan passed the data to SCL and a man named Christopher Wylie from a data harvesting firm known as Eunoia Technologies, in violation of Facebook rules that prevent app developers from giving away or selling users' personal information. Facebook learned of the violation that year and removed his app from Facebook. It also asked Kogan and his associates to certify that they had destroyed the improperly collected data. Everyone said that they did. The suspension is not permanent, a Facebook spokesman said. But the suspended users would need to take unspecified steps to certify that they would comply with Facebook's terms of service.

The Courts

Entire Broadband Industry Will Help FCC Defend Net Neutrality Repeal (arstechnica.com) 79

The biggest lobby groups representing broadband providers will help the FCC defend the repeal of net neutrality rules in court. Ars Technica reports: Yesterday, three trade groups that collectively represent every major home Internet and mobile broadband provider in the U.S. filed motions to intervene in the case on behalf of the FCC. The motions for leave to intervene were filed by NCTA--The Internet & Television Association, CTIA--The Wireless Association, and USTelecom--The Broadband Association. NCTA represents cable companies such as Comcast, Charter, Cox, and Altice. CTIA represents the biggest mobile carriers, such as AT&T, Verizon Wireless, T-Mobile, and Sprint. USTelecom represents wireline telcos with copper and fiber networks, such as AT&T and Verizon. All three groups also represent a range of smaller ISPs.

As intervenors in the case, the groups will file briefs in support of the net neutrality repeal order and may play a role in oral arguments. NCTA's motion noted that its members would once again be subject to "common-carriage regulation under Title II of the Communications Act" if the FCC were to lose the case. CTIA said that its members "would be adversely affected if the [net neutrality] Order were set aside and the prior Title II Order classification and rules were reinstated."


Facial Scanning Now Arriving At US Airports (npr.org) 71

According to a report via NPR, a Geneva-based company called SITA that develops information technology for the world's airlines has installed facial scanning cameras at Orlando International Airport. "Britain-bound passengers -- some wearing Mickey Mouse T-shirts and other Disney paraphernalia -- lined up at Gate 80 recently for the evening British Airways flight to London's Gatwick Airport," reports NPR. "It looks like any other airport departure area, except for the two small gates with what look like small boxes on posts next to them. Those boxes are actually cameras." From the report: Sherry Stein, a senior manager at SITA, says the cameras are triggered when passengers step onto designated footprints. "We collect a photo, send it to CBP, who checks to make sure that person is booked on the manifest and matches the photo that they already have on file." If everything matches, Stein says, "we open the doors and give them the OK to board." All that happens, she says, "in three to five seconds." If things don't match, the traveler's passport is scanned manually by a gate agent. CBP is testing biometric scanning at a dozen or so U.S. international airports to ensure that people leaving the country are who they say they are, and to prevent visa overstays. The Transportation Security Administration, another agency within the Department of Homeland Security, is testing similar devices at security check-in lines.

Sierra Leone Records World's First Blockchain-Powered Election (techcrunch.com) 59

The citizens of Sierra Leone went to the polls on March 7 but this time something was different: the country recorded votes at 70% of the polling to the blockchain using a technology that is the first of its kind in actual practice. The tech, created by Leonardo Gammar of Agora, anonymously stored votes in an immutable ledger, thereby offering instant access to the election results. TechCrunch reports: "Anonymized votes/ballots are being recorded on Agora's blockchain, which will be publicly available for any interested party to review, count and validate," said Gammar. "This is the first time a government election is using blockchain technology." "Sierra Leone wishes to create an environment of trust with the voters in a contentious election, especially looking at how the election will be publicly viewed post-election. By using blockchain as a means to immutably record ballots and results, the country hopes to create legitimacy around the election and reduce fall-out from opposition parties," he said.

Why is this interesting? While this is little more than a proof of concept -- it is not a complete voting record but instead captured a seemingly acceptable plurality of votes -- it's fascinating to see the technology be implemented in Sierra Leone, a country of about 7.4 million people. The goal ultimately is to reduce voting costs by cutting out paper ballots as well as reducing corruption in the voting process.


Amazon Is Hiring More Developers For Alexa Than Google Is Hiring For Everything (gadgetsnow.com) 77

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Gadgets Now: Amazon is hiring 1,147 people just for its Alexa business. To put this number in perspective, it has to be mentioned that this number is higher than what Google is hiring for technical and product roles across its Alphabet group of companies including YouTube and Waymo. According to a report published in Forbes, Amazon is hiring engineers, data scientists, developers, analysts, payment services professionals among others. The Forbes report cites information released by Citi Research in association with Jobs.com. It's clear that Amazon is betting big on the smartphone speaker market if the hiring numbers are to go by. It was the first major company to come with a smart speaker and has almost 70% market share in the U.S. Google has been making in-roads with Google Home devices but still has a lot of catching up to do. The Citi report further mentions that other notable areas where Amazon is hiring are devices, advertising and seller services. Amazon is looking at hiring a total of about 1,700 employees for other divisions.

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