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Earth

Radiation From Fukushima Disaster Reaches Oregon Coast (nypost.com) 2

An anonymous reader quotes a report from New York Post: Radiation from Japan's 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster has apparently traveled across the Pacific. Researchers reported that radioactive matter -- in the form of an isotope known as cesium-134 -- was collected in seawater samples from Tillamook Bay and Gold Beach in Oregon. The levels were extremely low, however, and don't pose a threat to humans or the environment. In 2011, a 9.0-magnitude earthquake triggered a wave of tsunamis that caused colossal damage to Japan's Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant. The disaster released several radioactive isotopes -- including the dangerous fission products of cesium-137 and iodine-131 -- that contaminated the air and water. The ocean was later contaminated by the radiation. But cesium-134 is the fingerprint of Fukushima due to its short half-life of two years, meaning the level is cut in half every two years. Cesium-137 has a 30-year half-life. Particles from Chernobyl, nuclear weapons tests, and discharge from other nuclear power plants are still detectable -- in small, harmless amounts. While this is the first time cesium-134 has been detected on US shores, Higley said "really tiny quantities" have previously been found in albacore tuna. The Oregon samples were collected by the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in January and February. Each sample measured 0.3 becquerels, a unit of radioactivity, per cubic meter of cesium-134 -- significantly lower than the 50 million becquerels per cubic meter measured in Japan after the disaster.
Chrome

Google Starts Using HTML5 By Default Instead of Flash For Some Chrome Users (venturebeat.com) 7

Google announced in a blog post today that it will be rolling out a feature over the next few months that starts disabling Flash and displaying HTML5 content instead on certain websites. Google notes, "This change disables Adobe Flash Player unless there's a user indication that they want Flash content on specific sites, and eventually all websites will require the user's permission to run Flash." VentureBeat reports: Google has deployed the change for half of the people who are using Chrome 56 beta, which rolled out yesterday, Google technical program manager Eric Deily wrote in a blog post. Then, "in the next few days," Deily wrote, the feature will be active for 1 percent of users of Chrome 55 stable. And by February 2016 it will be live for all users in Chrome 56 stable, Deily wrote. The idea is to lessen the dependence on a web component that can cause a drag on CPU and memory usage and shorten battery life as a result. Flash also has a track record of security issues.
AMD

Researchers Point Out 'Theoretical' Security Flaws In AMD's Upcoming Zen CPU (bleepingcomputer.com) 14

An anonymous reader writes from a report via BleepingComputer: The security protocol that governs how virtual machines share data on a host system powered by AMD Zen processors has been found to be insecure, at least in theory, according to two German researchers. The technology, called Secure Encrypted Virtualization (SEV), is designed to encrypt parts of the memory shared by different virtual machines on cloud servers. AMD, who plans to ship SEV with its upcoming line of Zen processors, has published the technical documentation for the SEV technology this past April. The German researchers have analyzed the design of SEV, using this public documentation, and said they managed to identify three attack channels, which work, at least in theory.

[In a technical paper released over the past weekend, the researchers described their attacks:] "We show how a malicious hypervisor can force the guest to perform arbitrary read and write operations on protected memory. We describe how to completely disable any SEV memory protection configured by the tenant. We implement a replay attack that uses captured login data to gain access to the target system by solely exploiting resource management features of a hypervisor." AMD is scheduled to ship SEV with the Zen processor line in the first quarter of 2017.

Music

Bose Launches 'Hearphones' That Act Like Hearing Aids (theverge.com) 19

Bose has launched a new pair of earbuds called Hearphones that augment the sounds of the world around you, letting you select what kinds of outside noises you'd like to listen to. "Hearphones users can also pick which direction those outside noises come from, with what appears to be specific emphasis on helping people hear voices better in crowded places," reports The Verge: A "Bose Hear" app was recently added to the App Store, and offers a little more detail about what Hearphones are capable of. You can turn the "world volume" up or down, and change the direction you're hearing those sounds from. There are preset modes like "television," "focused conversation," "airplane," "doctor's office," or "gym," all of which presumably block out different sounds from different directions while letting in things like speech. A user manual was also recently submitted to the FCC. No pricing or availability can be found anywhere on Bose's website or in the app. Here's some more from that app's description: "Innovative technologies amplify softer sounds, let you turn down the distractions in noisy environments and focus on what you want to hear -- like a conversation across the table. You can also use them as controllable noise cancelling [sic] wireless headphones for your music or calls or just for quiet. Take control of the noise, and hear the world better."
Wireless Networking

AirPods Delay Attributed To Apple Ensuring Both Earpieces Receive Audio At Same Time (macrumors.com) 78

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Mac Rumors: AirPods were originally slated to launch in October, but the wireless earphones were later delayed. Apple said it needed "a little more time" before they are ready for customers, and it has yet to provide an official update since. While the exact reason for the delay remains unclear, a person familiar with the development of AirPods told The Wall Street Journal that Apple's troubles appear to be related to its "efforts to chart a new path for wireless headphones," in addition to resolving what happens when users lose one of the earpieces or the battery dies. The Wall Street Journal reports: "A person familiar with the development of the AirPod said the trouble appears to stem from Apple's effort to chart a new path for wireless headphones. In most other wireless headphones, only one earpiece receives a signal from the phone via wireless Bluetooth technology; it then transmits the signal to the other earpiece. Apple has said AirPod earpieces each receive independent signals from an iPhone, Mac or other Apple device. But Apple must ensure that both earpieces receive audio at the same time to avoid distortion, the person familiar with their development said. That person said Apple also must resolve what happens when a user loses one of the earpieces or the battery dies."
Google

Google Is Testing User Ratings For Movies, TV Within Search Results (techcrunch.com) 7

Google has confirmed to Search Engine Land that it is testing a feature allowing users to rate movies or TV shows directly in the search results interface. "We're currently experimenting with the feature but have nothing to announce at this time," a Google spokesperson said. TechCrunch reports: Unlike other movie and TV rating platforms, Google's feature is not on a scale from one to five but instead offers a binary choice: like or dislike. Information about weather, ticket purchasing options and more used to be available on unique, individual websites. Today, however, Google has incorporated this information and functionality into the search results layer of its own service. Within the movie ratings feature, users will also be able to see the Rotten Tomatoes and IMDb ratings for the title, as they always have. You can view a screenshot of the rating system here.
Transportation

Uber Is Treating Its Drivers As Sweated Labor, Says Report (theguardian.com) 203

Uber treats its drivers as Victorian-style "sweated labor", with some taking home less than the minimum wage, according to a report into its working conditions based on the testimony of dozens of drivers. From a report on The Guardian: Drivers at the taxi-hailing app company reported feeling forced to work extremely long hours, sometimes more than 70 a week, just to make a basic living, said Frank Field, the Labor MP and chair of the work and pensions committee. Field received testimony from 83 drivers who said they often took home significantly less than the "national living wage" after paying their running costs. The report says they described conditions that matched the Victorian definition of sweated labor: "when earnings were barely sufficient to sustain existence, hours of labor were such as to make lives of workers periods of ceaseless toil; and conditions were injurious to the health of workers and dangerous to the public."
Government

DHS Tried To Breach Our Firewall, Says Georgia's Secretary of State (cyberscoop.com) 100

An anonymous reader quotes a report from CyberScoop: Georgia's secretary of state has claimed the Department of Homeland Security tried to breach his office's firewall and has issued a letter to Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson asking for an explanation. Brian Kemp issued a letter to Johnson on Thursday after the state's third-party cybersecurity provider detected an IP address from the agency's Southwest D.C. office trying to penetrate the state's firewall. According to the letter, the attempt was unsuccessful. The attempt took place on Nov. 15, a few days after the presidential election. The office of the Georgia Secretary of State is responsible for overseeing the state's elections. "At no time has my office agreed to or permitted DHS to conduct penetration testing or security scans of our network," Kemp wrote in the letter, which was also sent to the state's federal representatives and senators. "Moreover, your department has not contacted my office since this unsuccessful incident to alert us of any security event that would require testing or scanning of our network. This is especially odd and concerning since I serve on the Election Cyber Security Working Group that your office created." "The Department of Homeland Security has received Secretary Kemp's letter," a DHS spokesperson told CyberScoop. "We are looking into the matter. DHS takes the trust of our public and private sector partners seriously, and we will respond to Secretary Kemp directly." Georgia was one of two states that refused cyber-hygiene support and penetration testing from DHS in the leadup to the presidential election. The department had made a significant push for it after hackers spent months exposing the Democratic National Committee's internal communications and data.
Privacy

Twitter Cuts API Access For Media Sonar, Spy Tool Used To Target Black Lives Matter (dailydot.com) 76

Police have now one less tool to monitor users on Twitter. The Daily Dot is reporting that Twitter has cut ties with a third-party social network surveillance firm, citing company policies intended to safeguard users against the surreptitious collection of data by law enforcement agencies. From the report: The severed contract follows Twitter nullifying the commercial data agreements of two other leading social-network-surveillance firms, Geofeedia and Snaptrends. Previously unreported, Twitter severed the access of Media Sonar, an Ontario-based company founded in 2012, which has sold surveillance software to police departments across the United States. Nineteen local government services are known to have each spent at least $10,000 on the software between 2014 and 2016, according to documents acquired under state open-records laws. Twitter informed the Daily Dot this week that it had terminated Media Sonar's access to its public API in October. If the company attempts to create other API keys, Twitter said, "we will terminate those as well and take further action as appropriate."
Google

Alphabet Donated Its Employees' Holiday Gifts To Charity (fortune.com) 315

The employee perks at Google are legendary, and they've always included an over-the-top holiday gift for every employee. In the past, the company has surprised its 70,000 employees with Nexus phones, Android smartwatches, and Chromebooks. Fortune adds:This year employees speculated they might get Google's new Pixel phones or a Google Home unit, the company's competitor to Amazon's Echo. But they forgot: They don't work for Google anymore. They work for Alphabet. Instead of a shiny new gadget, Alphabet employees got an email. On Thursday Bloomberg published a bruising story about the new, cost-conscious regime of Alphabet, driven by its corporate re-organization and its ex-Wall Street CFO, Ruth Porat. Shortly after the story hit, employees were informed that their holiday gift this year was a donation to charity, Fortune has learned. Alphabet donated $30 million worth of Chromebooks, phones, and associated tech support to schools on its employees' behalf.
Android

Verizon Says It Will Not Push Samsung's Update That Disables Galaxy Note7 Because Of User Inconvenience (verizon.com) 166

Samsung confirmed on Friday that it will indeed release an update to Galaxy Note7 smartphones in the United States to "prevent US Galaxy Note7 devices from charging and will eliminate their ability to work as mobile devices." In a new wrinkle to this whole situation, Verizon said today it will not be releasing Samsung's software update to Galaxy Note7 users on Verizon network. In a blog post, Verizon said: "Verizon will not be taking part in this update because of the added risk this could pose to Galaxy Note 7 users that do not have another device to switch to. We will not push a software upgrade that will eliminate the ability for the Note 7 to work as a mobile device in the heart of the holiday travel season. We do not want to make it impossible to contact family, first responders or medical professionals in an emergency situation." To recall, the Galaxy Note7 remains banned on airlines by the FAA and has also been prohibited from being used on many other public transit services in the United States. Elsewhere in the world, similar bans have been imposed on the phone.
Transportation

Michigan Lets Autonomous Cars On Roads Without Human Driver (go.com) 141

Companies can now test self-driving cars on Michigan public roads without a driver or steering wheel under new laws that could push the state to the forefront of autonomous vehicle development. From a report on ABC: The package of bills signed into law Friday comes with few specific state regulations and leaves many decisions up to automakers and companies like Google and Uber. It also allows automakers and tech companies to run autonomous taxi services and permits test parades of self-driving tractor-trailers as long as humans are in each truck. And they allow the sale of self-driving vehicles to the public once they are tested and certified, according to the state. The bills allow testing without burdensome regulations so the industry can move forward with potential life-saving technology, said Gov. Rick Snyder, who was to sign the bills. "It makes Michigan a place where particularly for the auto industry it's a good place to do work," he said.
Facebook

Facebook Discloses New Measurement Errors, Continues To Hone Its Math (marketingland.com) 34

An anonymous reader shares an article on MarketingLand: For the third time since September, Facebook is disclosing new measurement errors. The two new errors affected the reaction counts Facebook reports on Pages' Live videos, as well as the engagement figures Facebook reports for off-Facebook links; the latter link engagement metrics were recently used in investigations by BuzzFeed and The New York Times into fake news articles' performance on Facebook. In addition to acknowledging the two new errors -- of which one has been corrected and one is still being inspected -- Facebook has refined a measurement marketers may reference when buying ads through the social network. None of the aforementioned metrics had any impact on how much money Facebook charges advertisers for their campaigns. But they may have informed brands' Facebook ad-buying strategies as well as brands', publishers' and others' Facebook-related content-publishing strategies.
AI

Magic Leap Used Fake Tech Demos and Is 'Years' Behind Schedule (ibtimes.co.uk) 105

New submitter drunkdrone writes: Magic Leap's coveted mixed reality technology has been the subject of intense speculation since it broke ground in 2014. Having secured billions of dollars in funding from some of the world's biggest tech giants, the secretive start-up has managed to stay at the centre of the VR/AR conversation despite showing little of the so-called revolutionary technology it has in the works. Now, the Magic Leap hype bubble may be about to burst in spectacularly disappointing fashion. According to reports, the Florida-based start-up is years behind on its plans and may have used deceptive product demos in order to keep interest in its tech alive. The Verge, which quotes an exclusive article from The Information, reports that Magic Leap's mixed reality technology has long since been overtaken by other products already on the market such as Microsoft's HoloLens, which Magic Leap's technology is said to most closely resemble. Allegedly, Magic Leap has struggled to scale-down a bulky piece of laser projection equipment used within the headset's display. "The crux of the problem appears to be Magic Leap's gamble on a so-called fibre scanning display, which shines a laser through a fibre optic cable that moves rapidly back and forth to draw images out of light," reports the Verge.
Mars

Mars One Delayed Its Mars Mission -- Again (time.com) 87

Mars One says its project to start a human colony on the Red Planet will be delayed by five years. The Dutch company says it will send its first crews to Mars in 2031 instead of its previous target date of 2026. From a report on Time: The venture is delaying its missions so it can raise more money, according to CEO Bas Lansdorp. "Of course the whole Mars One team would have preferred to be able to stick to the original schedule, but this new timeline significantly improves our odds of successfully achieving this mission roadmap," he said in a statement. This is far from the first time Mars One has delayed its project. Despite Lansdorp's confidence, other scientists have expressed significant doubts about the mission's feasibility.
Nintendo

Nintendo Legend Miyamoto: Mario Needs To Evolve To Survive (cnet.com) 79

Shigeru Miyamoto, Nintendo's legendary game designer, and his fellow developers were tinkering with a "one-button control scheme" for Mario, where all a player can do is make Mario jump. This dead simple idea became the crux of the company's new Super Mario Run, one of the most anticipated mobile-app games of the year. CNET adds: "We found a great way to make an accessible Mario game and bring it to iPhone and reach a lot of people," Miyamoto said Thursday through his translator. "That's when we decided to make Super Mario Run." Super Mario Run may become a critical next step for Nintendo, which has struggled for years to maintain its relevance in gaming against Sony's PlayStation and Microsoft's Xbox, as well as a surge of mobile gaming apps. This year, it garnered some attention from Pokemon Go, though it's only partly involved in that game. Now, two more Nintendo mobile gaming apps -- Animal Crossing and Fire Emblem -- are on the way, which could provide the Japanese company with a big boost.
Cellphones

Samsung May Permanently Disable Galaxy Note 7 Phones In The US As Soon As Next Week (theverge.com) 178

Those who are still clinging on to their Galaxy Note 7, even after Samsung recalled the devices due to faulty batteries in mid-September, may want to seriously reconsider returning them to the Korean company. The Verge has obtained an image of an alert that went out to at least one Note 7 owner on U.S. Cellular today stating that, "As of December 15th, Samsung will modify the software to prevent the Galaxy Note 7 from charging. The phone will no longer work." The Verge reports: It's not clear whether Note 7s will be disabled across the major U.S. carriers as well, but it seems likely that'll be the case. In the past, updates disabling Note 7 features have rolled out across Verizon, ATT, and other carriers within a matter of days. That's probably what'll happen here, as well. By preventing the phone from charging, Samsung takes the final step to making the phone entirely unusable. It's still offering Note 7 owners the ability to fully return the phone or exchange it for another Samsung device. As of November 4th, when Samsung last provided an update, 85 percent of Note 7s sold in the U.S. had been recovered. That still left around 285,000 phones unaccounted for. Completely disabling the phone seems to be Samsung's last-ditch effort to either recover the remaining devices or remove what risk they still pose to consumers.
Communications

Google Now Lets Developers Write Apps For the Assistant On Google Home (techcrunch.com) 38

Google today announced it will open up Home to third-party developers, allowing all developers to start bringing their applications and services to the Google Assistant. Developers can start building "conversation actions" for the Google Assistant, which "allows developers to create back-and-forth conversations with users through the Assistant," writes Frederic Lardinois via TechCrunch. "Users can simply start these conversations by using a phrase like 'OK Google, talk to Eliza.'" TechCrunch reports: While the Assistant also runs on the Pixel phones and inside the Allo chat app, Google says it plans to bring actions to these other "Assistant surfaces" in the future, but it's unclear when exactly this will happen. To help developers who want to build these new Conversation Actions get started, Google has teamed up with a number of partners, including API.AI, GupShup, DashBot and VoiceLabs, Assist, Notify.IO, Witlingo and Spoken Layer. Google has also allowed a small number of partners to enable their apps on Google Home already. These integrations will roll out as early as next week. Given that users will be able to invoke these new actions with a simple command (and without having to first enable a skill, like on Alexa), Google's platform looks to be a rather accessible and low-friction way for developers to get their voice-enabled services to users. Google will have the final say over which actions will be enabled on Google Home.
Earth

US Life Expectancy Declines For the First Time Since 1993 (washingtonpost.com) 438

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Washington Post: For the first time in more than two decades, life expectancy for Americans declined last year (Warning: may be paywalled; alternate source) -- a troubling development linked to a panoply of worsening health problems in the United States. Rising fatalities from heart disease and stroke, diabetes, drug overdoses, accidents and other conditions caused the lower life expectancy revealed in a report released Thursday by the National Center for Health Statistics. In all, death rates rose for eight of the top 10 leading causes of death. The new report raises the possibility that major illnesses may be eroding prospects for an even wider group of Americans. Its findings show increases in "virtually every cause of death. It's all ages," said David Weir, director of the health and retirement study at the Institute for Social Research at the University of Michigan. Over the past five years, he noted, improvements in death rates were among the smallest of the past four decades. "There's this just across-the-board [phenomenon] of not doing very well in the United States." Overall, life expectancy fell by one-tenth of a year, from 78.9 in 2014 to 78.8 in 2015, according to the latest data. The last time U.S. life expectancy at birth declined was in 1993, when it dropped from 75.6 to 75.4, according to World Bank data. The overall death rate rose 1.2 percent in 2015, its first uptick since 1999. More than 2.7 million people died, about 45 percent of them from heart disease or cancer.
Communications

US Presidential Election Was Most 'Talked About' Topic In 2016, Says Facebook (phys.org) 87

What may come as no surprise to Facebook users, the social media company announced in a blog post that the U.S. presidential election was the most "talked about" topic on Facebook in 2016. Phys.Org highlights the other most-discussed topics in its report: The bitterly contested election in which Donald Trump defeated Hillary Clinton was ranked as the leading issue, followed by Brazil's political developments which included the impeachment of president Dilma Rousseff, Facebook said in a blog post. On the lighter side at number three was the runaway success of Pokemon Go, the location-based augmented reality game for smartphone users. Other subject matters shared among Facebook's 1.79 billion users were more sober, with the fourth leading topic the "Black Lives Matter" movement, followed by the election in the Philippines of Rodrigo Duterte. Number six on the list was the Olympic games, followed by Brexit, the Super Bowl and the deaths of rock star David Bowie and boxing icon Muhammad Ali. Facebook said it measured leading topics by how frequently an issue was mentioned in posts made between January 1 and November 27.

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