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Updated: 41 weeks 3 days ago

Leaked Video Shows New 'Nightmare-Inducing' Wheeled Robot From Boston Dynamics

Wed, 02/01/2017 - 13:00
Boston Dynamics has a reputation for building robots which push the boundaries of robotics technology, although with a slightly creepy persona. Its latest robot is no different. From a report on The Verge: The company's new wheeled, upright robot is named Handle ("because it's supposed to handle objects") and looks like a cross between a Segway and the two-legged Atlas bot. Handle hasn't been officially unveiled, but was shown off by company founder Marc Raibert in a presentation to investors. Footage of the presentation was uploaded to YouTube by venture capitalist Steve Jurvetson. Raibert describes Handle as an "experiment in combining wheels with legs, with a very dynamic system that is balancing itself all the time and has a lot of knowledge of how to throw its weight around." He adds that using wheels is more efficient than legs, although there's obviously a trade-off in terms of maneuvering over uneven ground. "This is the debut presentation of what I think will be a nightmare-inducing robot," says Raibert.

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Reached Via a Mind-Reading Device, Deeply Paralyzed Patients Say They Want to Live

Wed, 02/01/2017 - 12:20
Neuroscientists have designed a brain-reading device to hold simple conversations with "locked-in" patients that promises to transform the lives of people who are too disabled to communicate. Details of four patients who were able to communicate using what is being touted as a groundbreaking system were made public this week. From a report on MIT Technology Review: Now researchers in Europe say they've found out the answer after using a brain-computer interface to communicate with four people completely locked in after losing all voluntary movement due to Lou Gehrig's disease, or amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. In response to the statement "I love to live" three of the four replied yes. They also said yes when asked "Are you happy?" Designed by neuroscientist Niels Birbaumer, now at the Wyss Center for Bio and Neuroengineering in Geneva, the brain-computer interface fits on a person's head like a swimming cap and measures changes in electrical waves emanating from the brain and also blood flow using a technique known as near-infrared spectroscopy. To verify the four could communicate, Birbaumer's team asked patients, over the course of about 10 days of testing, to respond yes or no to statements such as "You were born in Berlin" or "Paris is the capital of Germany" by modulating their thoughts and altering the blood-flow pattern. The answers relayed through the system were consistent about 70 percent of the time, substantially better than chance.

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Tesla Drops 'Motors' From Name As CEO Musk Looks Beyond Cars

Wed, 02/01/2017 - 11:40
Tesla Motors changed its name to "Tesla Inc" as Chief Executive Elon Musk looks to transform the Silicon Valley firm from an electric car maker to a diversified energy products company. From a report on Reuters: In October, Musk unveiled solar-powered roof tiles that eliminate the need for traditional panels and a longer-lasting home battery illustrating the benefits of combining his electric car and battery maker with solar installer SolarCity Corp.

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LibreOffice 5.3 Released, Touted As 'One of the Most Feature-Rich Releases' Ever

Wed, 02/01/2017 - 11:00
An anonymous reader shares a report: A new month, and a brand new version of open-source office suite LibreOffice is now available to download. And what a release it is. LibreOffice 5.3 introduces a number of key new features and continues work on improving the look and feel of the app across all major platforms. The Document Foundation describes LibreOffice 5.3 as "one of the most feature-rich releases in the history of the application." One of the headline features is called MUFFIN interface, a new toolbar design similar to the Microsoft Office Ribbon UI.

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Annual Hard Drive Reliability Report: 8TB, HGST Disks Top Chart Racking Up 45 Years Without Failure

Wed, 02/01/2017 - 10:20
Online backup solution provider Backblaze has released its much-renowned, annual hard drives reliability and failure report. From a report on ArsTechnica: The company uses self-built pods of 45 or 60 disks for its storage. Each pod is initially assembled with identical disks, but different pods use different sizes and models of disk, depending on age and availability. The standout finding: three 45-disk pods using 4TB Toshiba disks, and one 45-disk pod using 8TB HGST disks, went a full year without a single spindle failing. These are, respectively, more than 145 and 45 years of aggregate usage without a fault. The Toshiba result makes for a nice comparison against the drive's spec sheet. Toshiba rates that model as having a 1-million-hour mean time to failure (MTTF). Mean time to failure (or mean time between failures, MTBF -- the two measures are functionally identical for disks, with vendors using both) is an aggregate property: given a large number of disks, Toshiba says that you can expect to see one disk failure for every million hours of aggregated usage. Over 2016, those disks accumulated 1.2 million hours of usage without failing, healthily surpassing their specification. [...] For 2016 as a whole, Backblaze saw its lowest ever failure rate of 1.95 percent. Though a few models remain concerning -- 13.6 percent of one older model of Seagate 4TB disk failed in 2016 -- most are performing well. Seagate's 6TB and 8TB models, in contrast, outperform the average. Improvements to the storage pod design that reduce vibration are also likely to be at play.

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It's Time To Admit Apple Watch Is a Success

Wed, 02/01/2017 - 09:40
At company's quarterly earnings call, Apple CEO Tim Cook said the holiday period was the company's "best quarter ever" for Apple Watch -- both units and revenues -- "with holiday demand so strong that we couldn't make enough." He added: Apple Watch is the best-selling smartwatch in the world, and also the most-loved, with the highest customer satisfaction in its category by a wide margin. Apple Watch is the ultimate device for a healthy life, and it's the gold standard for smartwatches. We couldn't be more excited about Apple Watch. Long time Apple commentator Rene Ritchie writes: There's a strange narrative in the tech community concerning Apple Watch being a flop, a failure, or in some way, shape, or form, a disappointment. It's particularly bizarre given Apple Watch, as part of the wearable market, is doing record numbers. It could be that there is no real "Smartwatch market", just an Apple Watch market. Much like there's no real "tablet market", just an iPad market. Since it's such a new product category and most of the existing products are still bound to phones, it could also simply be too soon to tell.John Gruber adds: I think we should stop talking about "smartwatches" and just consider Apple Watch a "watch", period. In September, Apple claimed watch revenues second only to Rolex. How can it not be considered a hit at this point?

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HTTPS Adoption Has Reached the Tipping Point

Wed, 02/01/2017 - 09:00
Security expert Troy Hunt, who is perhaps best known for creating Have I Been Pwned data breach service, argues that adoption of HTTPS has reached the tipping point, citing "some really significant things" that have happened in the past few months. From a blog post: We've already passed the halfway mark for requests served over HTTPS -- This was one of the first signs that we'd finally hit that tipping point and it came a few months ago. This is really significant -- Mozilla is now seeing more secure traffic than it is non-secure traffic. Now that doesn't mean that most sites are now HTTPS because that figure above has a huge portion of traffic served from a small number of big sites. Twitter, Facebook, Gmail etc. all do all their things over HTTPS and that keeps that number quite high. Hunt also cited security aficionado Scott Helme's recent analysis which found that the number of websites listed in Alexa's top one million websites that have adopted to HTTPS has more than doubled year from August 2015 to August 2016. Troy adds: Browsers are holding non-secure sites more accountable. Chrome 56 is now holding sites using bad security practices to account (by flagging a "not secure" label in the address bar when you visit such websites). Many sites you wouldn't expect are now going HTTPS by default. (He cites websites such as ArsTechnica, NYTimes as examples). Making more cases for his argument, Hunt adds that HTTPS sites are not slow as they used to be, and that services such as Let's Encrypt and Cloudflare have made it free and east to bring this security feature.

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'Australia Is Stubbing Out Smoking'

Wed, 02/01/2017 - 08:20
Australia was the first country in the world to introduce mandatory plain packaging for tobacco products. Now it is taking another strong stand, but will other countries follow suit? From an article on BBC, shared by an anonymous reader: It's not easy being a smoker in Australia. The smoking bans started inside -- in workplaces, bars and restaurants -- and moved out. "Now, smoking is prohibited within 10m (33ft) of a playground, within 4m (13ft) of the entrance to a public building, at rail platforms, taxi ranks and bus stops," said Mark Driver, Sydney's Park and Recreation Planner. Those are the rules in New South Wales, but they are mirrored in many other states. Smoking is banned on many beaches, and most Australian states have now banned cigarettes in jail. All states ban smoking in vehicles if children are present. Fines vary, but in some places you may be fined AUD$2,000 (USD$1,515) if you smoke in the wrong place. And even if you don't, you'll be paying more than that each year by 2020, if you smoke just one AUD$40 pack a week. [...] These days, smoking is often taken up by people who are on the lowest rungs of the socio-economic ladder, Simone Dennis, an associate professor at Australian National University, points out, "and that adds a burden of shame to people who might already be marginalised." If it's the poor who are now the most likely to smoke, it's hard to see how they will ever afford the AUD$40 (USD$30) pack of cigarettes.

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The Future of iOS is 64-Bit Only -- Apple To Stop Support For 32-Bit Apps

Wed, 02/01/2017 - 07:40
Your ability to run 32-bit apps on an iOS device is coming to an end. As several other Apple news sites have reported, Apple has updated the pop-up warning in the iOS 10.3 beta to say that the 32-bit app you're running "will not work with future versions of iOS." The warning goes on to say that the "developer of this app needs to update it to improve its compatibility." From a ComputerWorld article (edited for clarity): In October 2014, Apple told developers that all new apps created after February 1, 2015 must have 64-bit support. Shortly after, Apple announced that all updates to apps must also be 64-bit compatible. Any 32-bit apps submitted to Apple after June 2015 would be rejected. Last September, Apple announced that it was going to remove apps from the App Store that did not "function as intended, don't follow current review guidelines, or are outdated." Presumably, this would include apps that did not meet the 64-bit requirement. Apple does not state which version of iOS will be 64-bit only, but since this is a major development, you can probably assume that this will happen in iOS 11. An announcement will likely be made during Apple's Worldwide Developer Conference this summer. The switch to 64-bit only support means that older iOS devices built on 32-bit architecture will not be able to upgrade to the new iOS. This includes the iPhone 5, 5c, and older, the standard version of the iPad (so not the Air or the Pro), and the first iPad mini.

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Apple Sets a New Record For iPhone Sales

Tue, 01/31/2017 - 16:20
Apple has reported strong financial results for the first quarter of 2017. According to CEO Tim Cook, the "holiday quarter results generated Apple's highest quarterly revenue ever, and broke multiple records along the way." The company took in $78.4 billion in revenue and sold 78 million iPhones. The Verge reports: Apple reported a profit of $17.8 billion, and said its earnings per share were boosted by the high demand for the larger models of its iPhones, which have higher margins. On the earnings call, Chief financial officer Luca Maestri said that customer satisfaction with iPads, and the new iPad pro, was very high. He predicted strong growth in that category. But the sales figures don't reflect that optimism, with unit sales and revenue from iPad both down around 20 percent year over year. With over a billion iOS devices active around the world, Apple has been able to shore up its flagging hardware sales growth with an increase in revenue from services to those devices. This includes money from Apple Pay, iCloud storage, Apple Music, and App Store sales. It was by far the fastest-growing segment of Apple's revenue this quarter, climbing 18 percent to $7.17 billion since the same period last year. Cook said Apple is aiming to double service revenue over the next four years. Maestri said Apple's App Store had double the revenue of Google's Play Store in 2016. Apple has more than $200 billion in cash parked overseas. Cook said on today's call that he was optimistic about tax reform in the U.S. happening this year, and that this might allow Apple to bring a lot of that money back home. "With our toe in the water, we're learning a lot about the original content business," Cook said, hinting at one way Apple might deploy all that capital.

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Secret Rules Make It Pretty Easy For the FBI To Spy On Journalists

Tue, 01/31/2017 - 15:40
schwit1 shares with us a report on a 11-part series led by The Intercept reporter Cora Currier: Secret FBI rules allow agents to obtain journalists' phone records with approval from two internal officials -- far less oversight than under normal judicial procedures. The classified rules dating from 2013, govern the FBI's use of national security letters, which allow the bureau to obtain information about journalists' calls without going to a judge or informing the news organization being targeted. They have previously been released only in heavily redacted form. Media advocates said the documents show that the FBI imposes few constraints on itself when it bypasses the requirement to go to court and obtain subpoenas or search warrants before accessing journalists' information. The rules stipulate that obtaining a journalist's records with a national security letter requires the signoff of the FBI's general counsel and the executive assistant director of the bureau's National Security Branch, in addition to the regular chain of approval. Generally speaking, there are a variety of FBI officials, including the agents in charge of field offices, who can sign off that an NSL is "relevant" to a national security investigation. There is an extra step under the rules if the NSL targets a journalist in order "to identify confidential news media sources." In that case, the general counsel and the executive assistant director must first consult with the assistant attorney general for the Justice Department's National Security Division. But if the NSL is trying to identify a leaker by targeting the records of the potential source, and not the journalist, the Justice Department doesn't need to be involved. The guidelines also specify that the extra oversight layers do not apply if the journalist is believed to be a spy or is part of a news organization "associated with a foreign intelligence service" or "otherwise acting on behalf of a foreign power." Unless, again, the purpose is to identify a leak, in which case the general counsel and executive assistant director must approve the request.

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KDE Plasma 5.9 Released

Tue, 01/31/2017 - 15:00
KDE has announced the release and general availability of the KDE Plasma 5.9 desktop environment for GNU/Linux operating systems. While it only took a few months to develop and isn't a long-term supported (LTS) version like KDE Plasma 5.8, the update does have several new features and improving Wayland support. Softpedia reports: Probably the most important one, which will make many KDE users upgrade from KDE Plasma 5.8 LTS or previous versions, is the return of Global Menus, a feature that was available in the KDE 4 series of the desktop environment. Only now, after numerous requests from users, did the KDE developers manage to implement Global Menus again in KDE Plasma 5.9. Quite a multitude of improvements have landed in the KDE Plasma 5.9 desktop environment for those who use the next-generation Wayland display server. These include the ability to take screenshots, support for using the color picker, implementation of borderless maximized windows for full-screen support, and support for dragging apps by clicking on an empty area of the user interface using the Breeze style. KDE Plasma Wayland support allows users to set color schemes for windows, which may come in handy for accessibility, implements auto-hide support for panels, and properly displays the window icon on the panel when using X11 apps. Moreover, there's now a new settings tool for configuring touchpads, which you can see in action in the second video attached below. Wayland users can also set up gestures and relative motions. KDE Plasma 5.9 also adds several cool new tools that promise to enhance your productivity. For example, you'll be able to drag a screenshot taken with the Spectacle utility from the notification pop-up straight into a web browser form, chat window, or email composer. There's also a brand-new drag and drop functionality that lets you add widgets directly to the system tray area, and it's now possible to add widgets directly from the full-screen Application Dashboard launcher. KRunner actions like "Open containing folder" and "Run in Terminal" are now displayed in the application launchers for search results powered by KRunner, of course, and there's now a new applet that lets users group multiple widgets together in a single one. You can read the announcement and download KDE Plasma 5.9 via their website.

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Roku Owners: Comcast Is About To Sell You Cable TV Without the Cable Box

Tue, 01/31/2017 - 14:20
An anonymous reader quotes a report from Bloomberg: Comcast is making its Xfinity TV service available to subscribers with Roku set-top players via a new app, paving the way for customers of the nation's largest cable provider to watch live programming without the cost or hassle of a cable box. Roku is the first set-stop box to offer the Xfinity TV service, Comcast said in a statement Tuesday. During a test period, subscribers will have to hang on to their cable devices. When the app formally rolls out later this year, they'll be able sign up without renting a cable box. While Comcast expects the majority of its customers to opt for the typical setup, traditional pay-TV providers are trying to be more flexible about where and how people can watch TV given the popularity of streaming services like Netflix and Amazon and the boxes that offer them. Customers with Roku players will be able to watch live TV, browse on-demand libraries and record shows, just as they can with Comcast's boxes. Those who use the Roku as their primary device instead of Comcast's X1 device will receive a $2.50 monthly credit, the company said.

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Elon Musk Thinks We Will Have To Use AI This Way To Avoid a Catastrophic Future

Tue, 01/31/2017 - 13:55
Elon Musk has long said that artificial intelligence will have to augment human abilities, rather than compete with them, in order to avoid a portentous future. He has been active in trying to find ways to evaluate and reduce potential risks posed by AI. From a report: On Monday, Musk tweeted out a set of principles for AI research and development created by a group of scientists at a recent conference for the Future of Life Institute (of which Musk is a board member). Musk said in response to a comment that ensuring AI augments human abilities is "critical to the future of humanity." Musk recently told a Twitter user that there may be an announcement "next month" regarding such as device, which Musk has called, in the past, a neural lace.

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US Judge Rejects Suit Over Face Scanning for Video Game

Tue, 01/31/2017 - 13:00
Two athletes whose images were scanned for a video game have been bounced from court on their claim that the game maker violated a law protecting biometric information. From a report: Brother-and-sister video basketball players Ricardo and Vanessa Vigil were leading a class action that claimed Take-Two Interactive, which manufactured the NBA 2K15 game, ran afoul of an Illinois law that governs biometric identifiers such as retina or iris scans, fingerprints, voiceprints, or scans of hand and face geometry. The Vigils agreed to have their faces scanned to create digital avatars for NBA 2K15, but said they didn't know their images would be available in unencrypted form online. They tried to hold Take-Two liable under the Illinois Biometric Information Privacy Act (BIPA) in Vigil v. Take-Two Interactive Software, 15-cv-8211. Judge John Koetl of the Southern District of New York dismissed the proposed class action suit filed by brother and sister Ricardo and Vanessa Vigil, saying the plaintiffs didn't show "concrete" harm from the way the gaming company stores and uses their biometric data.

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Google Open-Sources Chrome For iOS

Tue, 01/31/2017 - 12:21
Google has uploaded its Chrome for iOS code into the open-source Chromium repository. In other words, Chrome for iOS has now been open-sourced like Chrome for other platforms, letting anyone examine, modify, and compile the project. From a report: Chromium is the open-source Web browser project that shares much of the same code as Google Chrome, and new features are often added there first. Google intended for Chromium to be the name of the open-source project, while the final product name would be Chrome, but developers have taken the code and released versions under the Chromium name. Eventually, many browser makers started using it as a starting point; Opera, for example, switched its browser base to Chromium in 2013. Since its inception, Chromium was a desktop-only affair. That changed in May 2015 with the open-sourcing of Chrome for Android.

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Microsoft Sells $17 Billion in Second Bond Deal in Six Months

Tue, 01/31/2017 - 11:40
An anonymous reader shares a Bloomberg report: Microsoft found ample demand for its $17 billion bond offering, allowing it to cut borrowing rates on its second multibillion note offering in six months. The tech giant received at least twice as many orders as it had bonds to sell, according to people familiar with the matter. The longest portion of the offering, which generally refinanced debt maturing soon, was a $2 billion, 40-year bond with a 4.5 percent coupon that yields 1.4 percentage points above Treasuries, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. That's down from initial discussions of about 1.55 percentage points. Moody's Investors Service said Microsoft will use proceeds to refinance commercial paper it sold to help support its takeover of LinkedIn. A regulatory filing shows that at the end of 2016, the Redmond, Washington-based company had $25.1 billion of the debt.

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Google Hands Over $3M in Bug Bounties as Payouts Soar For New Android Flaws

Tue, 01/31/2017 - 11:00
Google paid researchers over $3m last year for their contributions to its vulnerability rewards programs. From a ZDNet report: Payouts in 2016 take Google's total payments under its bug bounty schemes to $9m since it started rewarding researchers in 2010. In 2015 it paid researchers $2m, which brought its total then to $6m. It's not uncommon for tech companies to run bug bounties these days, but while many rely on third-party platforms, Google has been responsible for verifying bugs for over six years now. Occasionally, Google expands its program to cover new products, such as Android, and new devices such as OnHub and Nest. Facebook, Microsoft, and most recently Apple are also running their own bug bounties.

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Even Sprint Beat AT&T and Verizon in Customer Growth

Tue, 01/31/2017 - 10:20
Customers are turning to Sprint again. From a report on CNET: In fact, they're starting to look to the nation's fourth-largest wireless carrier over stalwarts like AT&T and Verizon Wireless. The company said it added 405,000 net new post-paid subscribers -- people who pay at the end of the month and tend to be more loyal. Of that total, 368,000 were phone customers, Sprint's highest rate of growth in four years. The numbers suggest Sprint is starting to pull itself out of a death spiral, reversing years of losses, customers faced with poor service and a network that lagged behind the competition. Sprint's customer growth came at a time when all the carriers were aggressive with holiday promotions. It's a trend that will likely continue, resulting in more potential deals for consumers. "Sprint is turning the corner," CEO Marcelo Claure said in the company's fiscal third-quarter report on Tuesday.

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Tesla's Battery Revolution Just Reached Critical Mass

Tue, 01/31/2017 - 09:40
Tesla is all set to cut the ribbon on a massive battery storage facility in the California desert -- the biggest of its kind on earth. It joins similarly huge facilities built by AES and Altagas, which are both set to launch around the same time. Combined, the plants constitute 15% of the battery storage installed globally last year. From a report: Tesla Motors is making a huge bet that millions of small batteries can be strung together to help kick fossil fuels off the grid. The idea is a powerful one -- one that's been used to help justify the company's $5 billion factory near Reno, Nev. -- but batteries have so far only appeared in a handful of true, grid-scale pilot projects. That changes this week. Ribbons will be cut and executives will take their bows. But this is a revolution that's just getting started, Tesla Chief Technology Officer J.B. Straubel said in an interview on Friday. "It's sort of hard to comprehend sometimes the speed all this is going at," he said. "Our storage is growing as fast as we can humanly scale it."

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