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United States

McDonald's To Test Plastic-Straw Alternatives in US Later This Year (usatoday.com) 158

Under pressure by environmentalists, McDonald's has announced that it will start testing alternatives to plastic straws at select locations in the U.S. later this year. From a report: The burger giant also announced that it will adopt more eco-friendly paper straws across all its 1,361 restaurants in the United Kingdom and Ireland, a region where the company started testing the alternative to plastic straws earlier this year. The regional rollout begins in September. Single-use straws are the scourge of the packaging-waste world because they don't easily biodegrade and aren't really necessary for most people when it comes to gulping a soft drink. The activist group SumOfUs estimates that every day, McDonald's alone dispenses millions of plastic straws that customers soon discard, leaving them to litter beaches or clog waterways and fill trash dumps.
Government

Senate Votes To Reinstate ZTE Ban That's Nearly Shut Down the Company (theverge.com) 119

The U.S. Senate has voted to reinstate a ban on ZTE that prevents the Chinese telecom company from buying U.S. components and using U.S. software. As The Verge notes, "it's still not clear if the reversal will make it into law: it has to clear a conference with the House, and then avoid a veto from President Trump, who advocated for cutting a deal that would lift the ban." From the report: ZTE was hit with the trade ban by the U.S. Commerce Department in April after failing to following through with a punishment for violating sanctions on Iran and North Korea. That ban essentially shut down ZTE, which relies on U.S. parts like Qualcomm processors. Shortly thereafter, Trump said he would cut a deal to revive the company, and a deal was reached -- with additional penalties that the department said were uniquely stringent -- earlier this month.

But senators on both sides of the aisle immediately threatened to stop the deal and reinstate the ban, citing ZTE as a national security risk. And ultimately, a bipartisan group worked to get legislation introduced. The Senate voted 85 to 10 in support of reinstating the ban. It was included as an amendment on the National Defense Authorization Act, a must-pass piece of legislation that has already moved through the House.

The Almighty Buck

Google To Invest $550 Million In Chinese E-Commerce Giant JD.com (yahoo.com) 28

hackingbear shares a report from Yahoo News: Google will invest $550 million in Chinese e-commerce powerhouse JD.com, part of the U.S. internet giant's efforts to expand its presence in fast-growing Asian markets and battle rivals including Amazon.com. The two companies described the investment announced on Monday as one piece of a broader partnership that will include the promotion of JD.com products on Google's shopping service. This could help JD.com expand beyond its base in China and Southeast Asia and establish a meaningful presence in U.S. and European markets. For JD.com, the Google deal shows its determination to build a set of global alliances as it seeks to counter Alibaba, which has been more focused on forging domestic retail tie-ups.
The Almighty Buck

Venmo Is Going All In On Mobile Payments (appleinsider.com) 52

Venmo, the PayPal-owned, peer-to-peer payments app, is ending web support for its service. When the changes are all rolled out, users will only be able to make payments and charge users via the iOS or Android app. TechCrunch reports: The message to users was quietly shared in the body of Venmo's monthly transaction history email. It reads as follows: "NOTICE: Venmo has decided to phase out some of the functionality on the Venmo.com website over the coming months. We are beginning to discontinue the ability to pay and charge someone on the Venmo.com website, and over time, you may see less functionality on the website -- this is just the start. We therefore have updated our user agreement to reflect that the use of Venmo on the Venmo.com website may be limited."

The decision represents a notable shift in product direction for Venmo. Though best known as a mobile payments app, the service has also been available online, similar to PayPal, for many years.

Transportation

Personal Flying Machine Contest Gets 600 Entries (fastcompany.com) 61

"A giant egg equipped with rotors and 'Transformers'-style robots are among some of the creative designs submitted in a $2 million dollar contest to dream up new ways of flying," reports CNN.

"GoFly, a $2 million competition to design personal flying machines backed by Boeing, has announced its first round of most promising designs out of 600 entries from around the world," writes harrymcc . "Proposed vehicles need to fly for at least 20 miles, at 35 miles an hour; many of the ideas look a bit like airborne motorcycles." Fast Company reports: "There's been a convergence of all of these breakthrough technologies that makes this the first moment in time where we have the ability to make people fly," says Gwen Lighter, who dreamed up the GoFly prize, recruited Boeing to bankroll it, and now serves as CEO. Many of the advances come from the world of drones -- "high-efficiency motors, high-capacity batteries, and cheap navigation and stabilizing technologies that keep even newbies on course and out of danger....

Their prototypes have to achieve vertical takeoff and landing (called VTOL), eliminating the need for an airport runway... The craft have to be small enough to fit within an 8.5-foot circle, and they have to be safe and manageable for anyone to operate -- "not just engineers or daredevils... GoFly's Lighter emphasizes that safety is a key requirement in judging. She says that whatever wins will be well on the way to meeting requirements of the FAA -- and regulatory bodies in other countries -- for mainstream operation. FAA staffers (in a non-official capacity) are even among GoFly's expert advisors.

Best of all, every participant -- even those who win the prize money -- "are free to take their innovations anywhere. They retain all intellectual property rights."
Power

America's Nuclear Reactors Can't Survive Without Government Handouts (fivethirtyeight.com) 445

Slashdot reader Socguy shares an article from FiveThirtyEight: There are 99 nuclear reactors producing electricity in the United States today. Collectively, they're responsible for producing about 20% of the electricity we use each year. But those reactors are, to put it delicately, of a certain age. The average age of a nuclear power plant in this country is 38 years old (compared with 24 years old for a natural gas power plant). Some are shutting down. New ones aren't being built. And the ones still operational can't compete with other sources of power on price... without some type of public assistance, the nuclear industry is likely headed toward oblivion....

[I]t's the cost of upkeep that's prohibitive. Things do fall apart -- especially things exposed to radiation on a daily basis. Maintenance and repair, upgrades and rejuvenation all take a lot of capital investment. And right now, that means spending lots of money on power plants that aren't especially profitable... Combine age and economic misfortune, and you get shuttered power plants. Twelve nuclear reactors have closed in the past 22 years. Another dozen have formally announced plans to close by 2025.

A professor of engineering and public policy at Carnegie Mellon University points out that nuclear power is America's single largest source of carbon emissions-free electricity -- though since 1996, only one new plant has opened in America, and at least 10 other new reactor projects have been canceled in the past decade.

The article also describes two more Illinois reactors that avoided closure only after the state legislature offered new subsidies. "But as long as natural gas is cheap, the industry can't do without the handouts."
Crime

After a Decade, 77-Year-Old Gets Back $110,000 Lost In 'Nigerian Prince' Scam (kansascity.com) 128

Slashdot reader grep -v '.*' * shares a surprising story. The Kansas City Star profiles the victim of a three-year con that started with an email to a Yahoo inbox back in 2005. A decade ago, Fred Haines was wandering the Wichita airport looking for a Nigerian man hauling two chests full of cash. After an hour of waiting and asking around, he finally came to the realization that the $65 million Nigerian fortune he thought he was inheriting was not coming after all. What is now coming, though, is the $110,000 he had been scammed out of, thanks to the work of the Kansas Attorney General's Office.

From 2005 to 2008, swindlers hoodwinked Haines, a self-employed handyman in Wichita, into spending thousands in pursuit of an imaginary inheritance from a Nigerian government official -- a con known as the Nigerian Prince Scam. Haines re-mortgaged his house three times in the process. Last year, in a settlement with the Department of Justice, Western Union admitted it knew some of its employees had conspired with scam artists to bilk people out of money and had failed to fix the problem. The company set aside $586 million to create a fund to refund victims across the U.S. and Canada... All victims who'd sent money to hucksters using the service were able to request refunds, but only those who had complained to law enforcement or Western Union were notified directly of the settlement.

"It got to the point where they were showing me that the president of Nigeria had sent me a letter. It had his picture on it and everything," Haines said. "I looked it up on the computer to see what the Nigerian president looked like, and it was him." Once, he received an email claiming to be from Robert Mueller, who was then the FBI director. The email was addressed to Haines, code-name "B-DOG," and it was signed with the FBI's address and official seal. "I wish you can remove doubt and suspicious and go ahead I assured you that you will never regret this fund release," the email said in part.

Haines is one of 344 victims who recovered a total of $1,758,988 through the Kansas Attorney General's office -- though when the office sent out 25,000 letters to possible scam victims, many of them were now skeptical of the promise of unclaimed money, and "Some were even angry when employees called to follow up on those who hadn't responded."
Programming

Eric Raymond Shares 'Code Archaeology' Tips, Urges Bug-Hunts in Ancient Code (itprotoday.com) 108

Open source guru Eric Raymond warned about the possibility of security bugs in critical code which can now date back more than two decades -- in a talk titled "Rescuing Ancient Code" at last week's SouthEast Linux Fest in North Carolina. In a new interview with ITPro Today, Raymond offered this advice on the increasingly important art of "code archaeology". "Apply code validators as much as you can," he said. "Static analysis, dynamic analysis, if you're working in Python use Pylons, because every bug you find with those tools is a bug that you're not going to have to bleed through your own eyeballs to find... It's a good thing when you have a legacy code base to occasionally unleash somebody on it with a decent sense of architecture and say, 'Here's some money and some time; refactor it until it's clean.' Looks like a waste of money until you run into major systemic problems later because the code base got too crufty. You want to head that off...."

"Documentation is important," he added, "applying all the validators you can is important, paying attention to architecture, paying attention to what's clean is important, because dirty code attracts defects. Code that's difficult to read, difficult to understand, that's where the bugs are going to come out of apparent nowhere and mug you."

For a final word of advice, Raymond suggested that it might be time to consider moving away from some legacy programming languages as well. "I've been a C programmer for 35 years and have written C++, though I don't like it very much," he said. "One of the things I think is happening right now is the dominance of that pair of languages is coming to an end. It's time to start looking beyond those languages for systems programming. The reason is we've reached a project scale, we've reached a typical volume of code, at which the defect rates from the kind of manual memory management that you have to do in those languages are simply unacceptable anymore... think it's time for working programmers and project managers to start thinking about, how about if we not do this in C and not incur those crazy downstream error rates."

Raymond says he prefers Go for his alternative to C, complaining that Rust has a high entry barrier, partly because "the Rust people have not gotten their act together about a standard library."
The Almighty Buck

$950 Million Large Hadron Collider Upgrade 'Could Upend Particle Physics' (theguardian.com) 196

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Guardian: A massive project to supercharge the world's largest particle collider launched on Friday in the hope that the beefed-up machine will reveal fresh insights into the nature of the universe. The approximately $950 million Swiss franc mission will see heavy equipment, new buildings, access shafts and service tunnels installed, constructed and excavated at the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) at Cern, the particle physics laboratory on the edge of Geneva.

The upgrade will make the collider far more sensitive to subtle quirks in the laws of physics, and physicists hope these anomalies will pry open the door to entirely new theories of the universe. If the upgrade goes to plan, the proton beams in the souped-up accelerator, known as the high-luminosity LHC, or HL-LHC, will be so intense that the number of collisions in the machine will be five to 10 times greater than today. The upgrade is expected to take eight years. While new magnets and beam instruments will be installed when the LHC is switched off for two years in 2019, most of the required equipment will be fitted in a longer shutdown from 2024 to 2026, when the revamped machine will switch back on again.

The Courts

The Silk Road's Alleged Right-Hand Man Will Finally Face a US Court (arstechnica.com) 74

It's been nearly five years since the FBI surrounded Ross Ulbricht in the science fiction section of a San Francisco library, arrested him, and grabbed the laptop from which he had run the dark web drug bazaar known as the Silk Road. Ulbricht went on trial in a New York courtroom, and is currently serving a life sentence without parole. But even now, the Silk Road saga still hasn't ended: Half a decade after Ulbricht's arrest, his alleged advisor, mentor and right-hand man Roger Clark will finally face a US court, too. From a report: On Friday, the FBI, IRS, DHS, and prosecutors in the Southern District of New York announced the extradition of 56-year-old Canadian man Roger Clark from a Thai jail cell to New York to face newly unsealed charges for his role in Silk Road's operation. The indictment accuses Clark, who allegedly went by the pseudonyms Variety Jones, Cimon, and Plural of Mongoose in his role as Silk Road's consigliere, of crimes ranging from narcotics trafficking to money laundering. But even those charges don't capture the outsize role Clark is believed to have played in building and managing the Silk Road, from security audits to marketing, and even reportedly encouraging Ulbricht to use violence to maintain his empire.

"As Ulbricht's right-hand man, Roger Clark allegedly advised him of methods to thwart law enforcement during the operation of this illegal ploy, pocketing hundreds of thousands of dollars in the process," writes FBI assistant director William Sweeney in a press statement. "Today's extradition of Roger Clark shows that despite alleged attempts to operate under the radar, he was never out of our reach."

Businesses

Verizon's New Phone Plan Proves It Has No Idea What 'Unlimited' Actually Means (gizmodo.com) 170

Verizon has unveiled its third "unlimited" smartphone plan that goes to show just how meaningless the term has become in the U.S. wireless industry. "In addition to its Go Unlimited and Beyond Unlimited plans, Verizon is now adding a premium Above Unlimited plan to the mix, which offers 75GB of 'unlimited' data per month (as opposed to the 22GB of 'unlimited' data you get on less expensive plans), along with 20GB of 'unlimited' data when using your phone as a hotspot, 500GB of Verizon cloud storage, and five monthly international Travel Passes, which are daily vouchers that let you use your phone's wireless service abroad the same as if you were in the U.S.," reports Gizmodo. Are you confused yet? From the report: And as if that wasn't bad enough, Verizon has also updated its convoluted sliding pricing scheme that adjusts based on how many phones are on a single bill. For families with four lines of service, the Above Unlimited cost $60 per person, but if you're a single user the same service costs $95, which really seems like bullshit because if everything is supposed to be unlimited, it shouldn't really make a difference how many people are on the same bill. As a small concession to flexibility, Verizon says families with multiple lines can now mix and match plans instead of having to choose a single plan for every line, which should allow families to choose the right service for an individual person's needs and help keep costs down. The new Above Unlimited plan and the company's mix-and-match feature arrives next week on June 18th.
Privacy

Some Prominent Tech Companies Are Paying Big Money To Kill a California Privacy Initiative (theverge.com) 82

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Verge: As data-sharing scandals continue to mount, a new proposal in California offers a potential solution: the California Consumer Privacy Act would require companies to disclose the types of information they collect, like data used to target ads, and allow the public to opt out of having their information sold. Now, some of tech's most prominent companies are pouring millions of dollars into an effort to to kill the proposal.

In recent weeks, Amazon, Microsoft, and Uber have all made substantial contributions to a group campaigning against the initiative, according to state disclosure records. The $195,000 contributions from Amazon and Microsoft, as well as $50,000 from Uber, are only the latest: Facebook, Google, AT&T, and Verizon have each contributed $200,000 to block the measure, while other telecom and advertising groups have also poured money into the opposition group. After Mark Zuckerberg was grilled on privacy during congressional hearings, Facebook said it would no longer support the group. Google did not back down, and the more recent contributions suggest other companies will continue fighting the measure.

The Internet

South Africans in Cape Town and Johannesburg Pay Much More For Internet Usage Than New Yorkers (qz.com) 63

South Africa may have some of the world's cheapest cities to live in, but using the internet in Cape Town and Johannesburg is surprisingly expensive by global standards. From a report: South Africans living in the country's two major cities spend more on their monthly internet costs than people living in New York, Tokyo, and even the perennially expensive Zurich, according to a report by Deutsche Bank. When comparing life in the global financial capitals, most other things, from rent to the cost of a cappuccino, were far cheaper in Johannesburg and Cape Town, making the cost of getting online even more of a shock to the pocket. Out of 50 cities surveyed, Joburgers spent the second most on monthly internet, beaten only by oil-rich Dubai. The amount shelled out by Capetonians ranked seventh behind Dublin, San Francisco, and Auckland and Wellington in New Zealand, according to the report, which compared daily prices and living standards of cities around the world.
Security

How the World Cup Plays Out Among Hackers (axios.com) 28

The World Cup began today in Russia, and hackers were watching the games. From a report: In prior years, Cybersecurity firm Akamai has seen declines in cyberattacks while the World Cup games are in play -- "at least until games are out of reach," said Patrick Sullivan, Akamai director of security technology. Once games are well in hand, attacks from the losing team's nation spike well above normal. Often, said Sullivan, that takes the form of attacks designed to take down news stories in the victor's country that tout a home-team win. Sullivan notes activists frequently use various forms of cyber attacks during major sporting events to protest the host nation -- often targeting sponsors to get their point across. He points to protestors upset with the amount of money spent in the recent Brazillian World Cup as an example.
Transportation

Self-Driving Cars Likely Won't Steal Your Job (Until 2040) (wired.com) 129

The self-driving robots are coming to transform your job. Kind of. Also, very slowly. From a report: That's the not-quite-exclamatory upshot of a new report from the Washington, DC-based Securing America's Future Energy. The group advocates for a countrywide pivot away from oil dependency, one it hopes will be aided by the speedy adoption of electric, self-driving vehicles. So it commissioned a wide-ranging study by a phalanx of labor economists to discover how that could happen, and whether America might transform into a Mad Max-like desert hell along the way. The news, mostly, is good. For one, self-driving vehicles probably won't wreck the labor market to the point where gig economy workers are hired out as mobile blood bags.

In fact, they'll eventually feed the economy, accruing an estimated $800 billion in annual benefits by 2050, a number mostly in line with previous researchers' projections. Two, robo-cars won't disappear the jobs all at once. "We have a labor market characterized by churning -- continual job creation and destruction," says Erica Groshen, a visiting labor economist at Cornell University and former Commissioner of Labor Statistics, who worked on the report. "The challenge is to make the transition as smooth as possible."

Businesses

On The Sad State of Macintosh Hardware (rogueamoeba.com) 522

Quentin Carnicelli, the chief technology officer at Rogue Amoeba, a widely-reputed firm that produces several audio software for Apple's desktop operating system: With Apple recently releasing their first developer beta of MacOS 10.14 (Mojave), we've been installing it on various test machines to test our apps. The inevitable march of technology means Mojave won't install on all of our older hardware. There's no shock there, but the situation is rather distressing when it comes to spending money to purchase new equipment. Here is the situation, as reported by the wonderful MacRumor's Buyers Guide: At the time of the writing, with the exception of the $5,000 iMac Pro, no Macintosh has been updated at all in the past year. Here are the last updates to the entire line of Macs: iMac Pro: 182 days ago, iMac: 374 days ago, MacBook: 374 days ago, MacBook Air: 374 days ago, MacBook Pro: 374 days ago, Mac Pro: 436 days ago, and Mac Mini: 1337 days ago.

Worse, most of these counts are misleading, with the machines not seeing a true update in quite a bit longer. The Mac Mini hasn't seen an update of any kind in almost 4 years (nor, for that matter, a price drop). The once-solid Mac Pro was replaced by the dead-end cylindrical version all the way back in 2012, which was then left to stagnate. I don't even want to get started on the MacBook Pro's questionable keyboard, or the MacBook's sole port (USB-C which must also be used to provide power). It's very difficult to recommend much from the current crop of Macs to customers, and that's deeply worrisome to us, as a Mac-based software company.

Communications

Comcast Says It Isn't Throttling Heavy Internet Users Anymore (cnet.com) 177

Comcast, which has been throttling speeds to slow down heavy internet users since 2008, has had a change of heart. From a report: Comcast has deactivated this "congestion management" system, according to an announcement this week. "As reflected in a June 11, 2018 update to our XFINITY Internet Broadband Disclosures, the congestion management system that was initially deployed in 2008 has been deactivated. As our network technologies and usage of the network continue to evolve, we reserve the right to implement a new congestion management system if necessary in the performance of reasonable network management and in order to maintain a good broadband Internet access service experience for our customers, and will provide updates here as well as other locations if a new system is implemented."
Businesses

Cybercrime is Costing Africa's Businesses Billions (qz.com) 47

An anonymous reader shares a report: Sophisticated malware, software security breaches, mobile scams -- the list of cybercrime threats is growing. Yet African nations continue to fall short of protecting themselves and must constantly grapple with the impact. A new study from IT services firm Serianu shows the pervasive nature of cybercrime across the continent, affecting businesses, individuals, families, financial institutions, and government agencies. The study shows how weak security architectures, the scarcity of skilled personnel and a lack of awareness and strict regulations have increased vulnerability.

Cybercrime cost the continent an estimated $3.5 billion in 2017. The report found more than 90% of African businesses were operating below the cybersecurity "poverty line" -- meaning they couldn't adequately protect themselves against losses. At least 96% of online-related security incidents went unreported and 60% of organizations didn't keep up to date with cybersecurity trends and program updates. (In addition, at least 90% of parents didn't understand what measures to take to protect their children from cyber-bullying.)

Power

China's Ambitions To Power the World's Electric Cars Took a Huge Leap Forward This Week (reuters.com) 93

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Reuters: Future Mobility Corporation (FMC), the Chinese parent company behind electric car start-up Byton, has placed an order for a paint shop capable of handling 150,000 cars per year, German supplier Duerr said on Wednesday. China's Byton, a newcomer headed by the former head of BMW's i8 program, has already released plans for a premium electric SUV vehicle, the latest in a series of China-backed electric autonomous prototypes. Byton has financial backing from Chinese state-owned carmaker FAW Group and the country's dominant battery producer Contemporary Amperex Technology Co. (CATL) This is just one of the stories this week relating to China and the electric car industry. MIT Technology Review adds: In a public offering on June 11 in Shenzhen, battery giant Contemporary Amperex Technology Ltd. (CATL) raised nearly $1 billion to fund ambitious expansion plans, and its stock has been shooting up every day since. Thanks largely to the company's new plants, China will be making 70 percent of the world's electric-vehicle batteries by 2021, according to Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF).

Just seven years later, CATL has built up the biggest lithium-ion manufacturing facilities in the world, according to BNEF. The company can crank out around 17 gigawatt-hours of lithium-ion cells annually, placing it just ahead of Korea's LG Chem, the Tesla and Panasonic partnership, and China's electric-vehicle giant BYD. Flush with capital from its offering, CATL plans to build two new plants and expand existing facilities, pushing its capacity to nearly 90 gigawatt-hours by 2020. [...] Notably, it's the only Chinese battery company so far to line up deals to supply foreign automakers, including BMW, Honda, Nissan, Toyota, and Volkswagen.

The Internet

'Netflix and Alphabet Will Need To Become ISPs, Fast' (techcrunch.com) 328

Following the recent official repeal of net neutrality and approval of AT&T's acquisition of Time Warner, an anonymous reader shares an excerpt from a report via TechCrunch, written by Danny Crichton. Crichton discusses the options Alphabet, Netflix and other video streaming services have on how to respond: For Alphabet, that will likely mean a redoubling of its commitment to Google Fiber. That service has been trumpeted since its debut, but has faced cutbacks in recent years in order to scale back its original ambitions. That has meant that cities like Atlanta, which have held out for the promise of cheap and reliable gigabit bandwidth, have been left in something of a lurch. Ultimately, Alphabet's strategic advantage against Comcast, AT&T and other massive ISPs is going to rest on a sort of mutually assured destruction. If Comcast throttles YouTube, then Alphabet can propose launching in a critical (read: lucrative) Comcast market. Further investment in Fiber, Project Fi or perhaps a 5G-centered wireless strategy will be required to give it to the leverage to bring those negotiations to a better outcome.

For Netflix, it is going to have to get into the connectivity game one way or the other. Contracts with carriers like Comcast and AT&T are going to be more challenging to negotiate in light of today's ruling and the additional power they have over throttling. Netflix does have some must-see shows, which gives it a bit of leverage, but so do the ISPs. They are going to have to do an end-run around the distributors to give them similar leverage to what Alphabet has up its sleeve. One interesting dynamic I could see forthcoming would be Alphabet creating strategic partnerships with companies like Netflix, Twitch and others to negotiate as a collective against ISPs. While all these services are at some level competitors, they also face an existential threat from these new, vertically merged ISPs. That might be the best of all worlds given the shit sandwich we have all been handed this week.

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