Businesses

Trump Administration Cracks Down On H-1B Visa Abuse (cnn.com) 40

An anonymous reader quotes a report from CNN Money: The Trump administration is cracking down on companies that get visas for foreign workers and farm them out to employers. Some staffing agencies seek hard-to-get H-1B visas for high-skilled workers, only to contract them out to other companies. There's nothing inherently illegal about contracting out visa recipients, but the workers are supposed to maintain a relationship with their employers, among other requirements. In some cases, outsourcing firms flood the system with applicants. The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services agency said in a new policy memo released Thursday it will require more information about H-1B workers' employment to ensure the workers are doing what they were hired for. Companies will have to provide specific work assignments, including dates and locations, to verify the "employer-employee" relationship between the company applying for an H-1B and its visa recipient.

H-1B visas are valid for three years and can be renewed for another three years. The USCIS says it may limit the length of the visa to shorter than three years based the information an employer provides. For example, if an employer can't prove the H-1B holder is "more likely than not" needed for the full three years, the government might issue the visa for fewer than three years. The memo also says the administration wants to prevent employee "benching." That's when firms bring on H-1B visa holders but don't give them work and don't pay them the required wages while they wait for jobs.

Data Storage

Putting Civilization in a Box For Space Means Choosing Our Legacy (space.com) 47

When SpaceX's record-breaking Falcon Heavy rocket made its first test launch in early February , the craft didn't just hurl Elon Musk's shiny red roadster and spacesuit-clad mannequin to space. It had another, smaller payload, which at first glance seems much less impressive: a 1-inch-wide (2.5 centimeters) quartz disc with Isaac Asimov's "Foundation" trilogy encoded in laser-etched gratings . From a report: The famous science fiction series is only the beginning of the discs' planned contents. At a time when traditional hard drives are just breaking into the terabyte range, the quartz medium can hold up to 360 terabytes per disc. It also boasts a life span of 14 billion years. That's longer than the current age of the universe. This disc was symbolic; future devices will contain much more, and more useful, information. But the technology speaks to grander issues that humanity is now pondering: becoming a multiplanetary civilization, storing information for thousands or millions of years, and contacting and communicating with other intelligences (alien and Earthling).

So how should we record our knowledge and experiences for posterity? How should we ensure that this information is understandable to civilizations that may be quite different from our own? And, most importantly, what should we say? Humans have faced challenges like these before. Ancient civilizations built monuments like the pyramids and left artifacts and writing, sometimes deliberately. Later researchers have used this material to try to piece together ancient worldviews. However, in the modern era, we've set our sights much further: from centuries to millennia, from one planet to interstellar space, and from one species to many.

Earth

As Cape Town Runs Out of Water, Here's a Look at Parts of Mexico City That Have Been Without Water For a Year (buzzfeed.com) 41

In some places, taps have been dry for over a year. People bathe their children with bottled water. A group of women has taken over water distribution from the city authorities. The future feared by millions of people across the world has already arrived in Mexico City , BuzzFeed News reports. From the report: In certain areas, people say taps go dry for months. Angry civilians have blocked off highways and squared off with riot police, wresting control of water distribution from the government. "Crime affects us deeply but if you don't have water, you can't do anything," said Marisol Fierro, part of a group of women in charge of delivering water to neighbors. Across the ocean, authorities in South Africa talk about Day Zero, when Cape Town is set to run out of water and the city is forced to shut off its taps. It has made headlines around the world, as people watch on with bated breath. But here in Iztapalapa, a sprawling, drab Mexico City borough where nearly 2 million people live, that day has already arrived, offering a window into what the future may hold for millions of people when the taps run dry. Police officers are sometimes forced to guard water trucks, popular targets for kidnappers who sell their contents for hefty prices. In other cities, politicians might promise expanded broadband, better health care, or higher wages to win votes, but in Mexico City, mayoral hopefuls have made simple access to water central to their campaigns. Reserved and quiet, Emma Pantaleon seems an unlikely protagonist at the front lines of this daily battle. Pantaleon joins Fierro and other women -- housewives who juggle child-rearing, house chores, and part-time jobs -- gathering water requests from their neighbors, coordinating trucks' routes with local authorities, and riding along to ensure the operation runs smoothly.

On a recent morning, she sat in the passenger seat of a water tanker as it revved its motor up a hill, dwarfing the dilapidated single-room houses along its path. When the driver swerved left and stepped on the brake, Pantaleon leaped out. It was a scene straight out of Mad Max: Fury Road. Pantaleon, 41, walked over to the nearest cinder block house and called out to its owner. As soon as Catalina Cortez opened the door, the driver and a helper marched in, pulling the truck's hose straight up to a plastic water storage tank taking up a third of the patio.

United States

Russian Spies Hacked the Olympics and Tried To Make it Look Like North Korea Did it, US Officials Say (washingtonpost.com) 39

Ellen Nakashima, reporting for the Washington Post: Russian military spies hacked several hundred computers used by authorities at the 2018 Winter Olympic Games in South Korea [Editor's note: the link may be paywalled; alternative source], according to U.S. intelligence. They did so while trying to make it appear as though the intrusion was conducted by North Korea, what is known as a "false-flag" operation, said two U.S. officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss a sensitive matter. Officials in PyeongChang acknowledged that the Games were hit by a cyberattack during the Feb. 9 Opening Ceremonies but had refused to confirm whether Russia was responsible. That evening there were disruptions to the Internet, broadcast systems and the Olympics website. Many attendees were unable to print their tickets for the ceremony, resulting in empty seats.
Education

Ask Slashdot: How Would You Teach 'Best Practices' For Programmers? 139

An anonymous reader writes: I've been asked to put together a half-day workshop whose title is "Thinking Like a Programmer." The idea behind this is that within my institution (a university), we have a vast number of self-taught programmers who have never been taught "best practices" or anything about software engineering. This workshop's intention is to address this lack of formal training.

The question is, what should be covered in this workshop? If you have an idea -- that also has an example of best practice -- please share!

It's really two questions -- what "thinking like a programmer" topics should be covered, but also what examples should be used to illustrate best practices for the material. So leave your best thoughts in the comments.

How would you teach best practices for programmers?
United States

House Democrats' Counter-Memo Released, Alleging Major Factual Inaccuracies (vox.com) 163

Long-time Slashdot reader Rei writes: Three weeks ago, on a party-line vote, the U.S. House Intelligence Committee voted to release a memo from committee chair and Trump transition team member Devin Nunes. The "Nunes Memo" alleged missteps by the FBI in seeking a FISA warrant against Trump aide Carter Page; a corresponding Democratic rebuttal memo was first blocked from simultaneous release by the committee, and subsequently the White House. Tonight, it has finally been released.

Among its many counterclaims: the Steele Dossier, only received in September, did not initiate surveilance of Page which began in July; the Steele dossier was only one, minor component of the FISA application, and only concerning Page's Moscow meetings; Steele's funding source and termination was disclosed in the application; and a number of other "distortions and misrepresentations that are contradicted by the underlying classified documents". Perhaps most seriously, it accuses Nunes of having never read the FISA application which his memo criticized.

Vox argues the memo proves that no one was misled when the surveillance was authorized. "The FBI clearly states right there in the FISA application that they believe Steele was hired to find dirt on Trump... After the Schiff memo was released on Saturday, House Republicans released a document rebutting its core claims. Their response to this damning citation is -- and I am not making this up -- that the vital line in which the FBI discloses the information about Steele was 'buried in a footnote.'"
The Almighty Buck

Is Cryptocurrency Threatening Earnings at Bank of America? (thenextweb.com) 46

An anonymous reader quotes The Next Web: One of the world's largest financial institutions admitted in its annual report that cryptocurrency is a looming threat to its business model. According to a report filed with the SEC by Bank of America, "Clients may choose to conduct business with other market participants who engage in business or offer products in areas we deem speculative or risky, such as cryptocurrencies. Increased competition may negatively affect our earnings by creating pressure to lower prices or credit standards on our products and services requiring additional investment to improve the quality and delivery of our technology and/or reducing our market share, or affecting the willingness of clients to do business with us."
Bitcoin

Bitcoin Exchange Accidentally Allowed Customers To Buy Coins For $0 (cnbc.com) 45

AmiMoJo writes: "A system glitch at cryptocurrency exchange site Zaif enabled users to obtain digital money for free, with one apparently "purchasing" Bitcoin valued at $20,000,000,000,000 and then attempting to cash in on it..." according to the Japanese newspaper Asahi Shimbun. "The glitch, which lasted for 18 minutes from 5:40 p.m. to 5:58 p.m. on Feb. 16, affected Zaif's price calculation system, enabling customers to buy cryptocurrencies for nothing."

CoinDesk adds that "At least one customer attempted to resell their bitcoin, but the large amount of the cryptocurrency offered soon drew attention even outside the exchange. The firm later cancelled the transactions and corrected the users' balances. However, a source suggests that the correction is still being agreed with one of the seven users who attempted to transfer the free bitcoin away from the Zaif platform."

Crime

Two More 'SWAT' Calls in California -- One Involving a 12-Year-Old Gamer (ktla.com) 152

In January an online gamer in California was arrested after at leat 20 fake emergency calls to police, one leading to a fatal shooting in Kansas. But this week in California there's been at least two more fake calls:
  • A 12-year-old gamer heard a knock at his door Sunday -- which turned out to be "teams of Los Angeles police officers and other rescue personnel who believed two people had just hung themselves." The Los Angeles Police Department "said there's no way to initially discern swatting calls from actually emergencies, so they handle every scenario as if someone's life is in danger," according to the Los Angeles Times. The seventh-grader described it as "the most terrifying thing in my life."
  • 36-year-old David Pearce has been arrested for falsely reporting an emergency at a Beverly Hills hotel involving "men with guns" holding him hostage. A local police captain later said that the people in the room had not made the call and in fact might have been asleep through much of the emergency. The Los Angeles Times reports that there's roughly 400 'SWATting' cases each year, according to FBI estimates, adding that "Some experts have said police agencies need to take the phenomenon more seriously and provide formal training to dispatchers and others to better recognize hoax callers."

Meanwhile, in the wake of a fatal shooting in Wichita, Kansas lawmakers have passed a new bipartisan bill increasing the penalties for SWAT calls. If a fake call results in a fatality -- and the caller intentionally masks their identity -- it's the equivalent of second-degree murder. "The caller must be held accountable," one lawmaker told the Topeka Capital-Journal.


The Courts

BuzzFeed Unmasks Mastermind Who Urged Peter Thiel To Destroy Gawker (buzzfeed.com) 150

One day in 2011 a 26-year-old approached Peter Thiel and said "Look, I think if we datamined Gawker's history, we could find weak points that we could exploit in the court of law," according to the author of a new book. An anonymous reader quotes BuzzFeed News: Peter Thiel's campaign to ruin Gawker Media was conceived and orchestrated by a previously unknown associate who served as a middleman, allowing the billionaire to conceal his involvement in the bankrolling of lawsuits that eventually drove the New York media outlet into bankruptcy. BuzzFeed News has confirmed the identity of that mystery conspirator, known in Thiel's inner circle as "Mr. A," with multiple sources who said that he provided the venture capitalist and Facebook board member with a blueprint to covertly attack Gawker in court. That man, an Oxford-educated Australian citizen named Aron D'Souza, has few known connections to Thiel, but approached him in 2011 with an elaborate proposal to use a legal strategy to wipe out the media organization. That plot ultimately succeeded... D'Souza was aware of Thiel's public comments likening Valleywag to al-Qaeda, and presented a brazen idea: Pay someone or create a company to hire lawyers to go after Gawker.
TechCrunch reported earlier this month that Gawker's old posts "will be captured and saved by the non-profit Freedom of the Press Foundation," which was co-founded in 2012 by the late John Perry Barlow. But in addition, the Gawker estate "continues to threaten possible legal action against Thiel, and hopes to begin discovery to examine the billionaire's motivations for secretly funding his legal war," the article concludes. If a New York bankruptcy court approves, and if the process "unearths anything of meaning, the estate may have grounds to sue Thiel on the grounds of tortious interference, the use of legal means to purposely disrupt a business.

"To head that off, Thiel bid for the remaining Gawker assets -- including the flapship domain Gawker.com, its archive, and outstanding legal claims, like those against himself -- though Holden has made it known that he may block any sale to Thiel, no matter how much the venture capitalist is willing to bid."
Communications

NRA Gives Ajit Pai 'Courage Award' and Gun For 'Saving the Internet' (arstechnica.com) 502

The National Rifle Association (NRA) today gave its Charlton Heston Courage Under Fire Award to Ajit Pai, chairman of the Federal Communications Commission. "Pai was about to speak at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in Maryland when the award presentation seemed to catch him by surprise," reports Ars Technica. "The award is a handmade long gun that could not be brought on stage, so it will be housed in the NRA museum until Pai can receive it." From the report: "Ajit Pai, as you probably already know, saved the Internet," American Conservative Union (ACU) Executive Director Dan Schneider told the audience. The ACU is the host of CPAC; Schneider made a few more remarks praising Pai before handing the award presentation over to NRA board member Carolyn Meadows. Pai "fought to preserve your free speech rights" as a member of the FCC's Republican minority during the Obama administration, Schneider said. Pai "fought and won against all odds, but the Obama administration had some curveballs and they implemented these regulations to take over the Internet." "As soon as President Trump came into office, President Trump asked Ajit Pai to liberate the Internet and give it back to you," Schneider added. "Ajit Pai is the most courageous, heroic person that I know."

The signature achievement that helped Pai win the NRA courage award came in December when the FCC voted to eliminate net neutrality rules. The rules, which are technically still on the books for a while longer, prohibited Internet service providers from blocking and throttling lawful Internet traffic and from charging online services for prioritization. Schneider did not explain how eliminating net neutrality rules preserved anyone's "free speech rights."
Right Wing Watch posted a video of the ceremony.
Businesses

Dropbox Files To Go Public 40

Ten years after its launch, Dropbox has filed to go public. The cloud storage company has been around since 2007 and has raised more than $600 million in funding. TechCrunch reports: We knew that it had already filed confidentially, but the company has now unveiled its filing, meaning the actual IPO is likely very soon, probably late March. The company says it will be targeting a $500 million fundraise, but this number is usually just a placeholder. The filing shows that Dropbox had $1.1 billion in revenue last year. This compares to $845 million in revenue the year before and $604 million for 2015. The company is not yet profitable, having lost nearly $112 million last year. This shows significantly improved margins when compared to losses of $210 million for 2016 and $326 million for 2015. Dropbox has been cash flow positive since 2016.
Power

Tesla Will Supply Free Charging Stations To Office Parking Lots 36

Tesla has unveiled a new "workplace charging" program today, which offers businesses free Tesla wall connectors and will also cover installation, provided they meet certain qualifications set forth by the California carmaker. "Tesla won't cover the cost of operating the charging stations, and the company says there could be other permitting, construction, zoning, or labor costs," reports The Verge. From the report: The workplace charging stations will be compatible with all Tesla cars, but not with other EVs, and they won't show up on publicly available Tesla charging maps. The wall chargers are 240 volts, or "Level 2," which is capable of topping off a battery pack in a handful of hours, though the company says the charge rate will vary by location depending on the infrastructure available.
Education

The College Board Pushes To Make Computer Science a High School Graduation Requirement 129

theodp writes: Education Week reports that the College Board wants high schools to make it mandatory for students to take computer science before they graduate. The call came as the College Board touted the astonishing growth in its Advanced Placement (AP) computer science courses, which was attributed to the success of its new AP Computer Science Principles (AP CSP) class, a "lite" alternative to the Java-based AP CS A course. "The College Board is willing to invest serious resources in making this viable -- much more so than is in our economic interest to do so," said College Board President David Coleman. "To governors, legislators, to others -- if you will help us make this part of the life of schools, we will help fund it."

Just two days before Coleman's funds-for-compulsory-CS offer, Education Week cast a skeptical eye at the tech sector's role in creating a tremendous surge of enthusiasm for K-12 CS education. Last spring, The College Board struck a partnership with the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative with a goal of making AP CSP available in every U.S. school district. Also contributing to the success of the College Board's high school AP CS programs over the years has been tech-bankrolled Code.org, as well as tech giants Microsoft and Google. The idea of a national computer programming language requirement for high school students was prominently floated in a Google-curated Q&A session with President Obama (video) following the 2013 State of the Union address.
United States

From 1999 To 2016, America Lost 11.4 Million People From the Workforce (washingtonpost.com) 148

Andrew Van Dam, writing for the Washington Post: Where did all the jobs go? Well, we're finally starting to find some satisfactory answers to the granddaddy of all economic questions. The share of Americans with jobs dropped 4.5 percentage points from 1999 to 2016 -- amounting to about 11.4 million fewer workers in 2016. At least half of that decline probably was due to an aging population. Explaining the remainder has been the inspiration for much of the economic research published after the Great Recession.
Transportation

Airlines Won't Dare Use the Fastest Way to Board Planes (wired.com) 295

An anonymous reader writes: You've arrived at the airport early. You have already selected the perfect seat. You've employed all possible tricks for making the check-in and security processes zoom by. But there's still some blood-pressure-raising chaos you can't avoid: boarding. From impatient fellow travelers who are determined to beat you onto the plane to passengers who insist on jamming their too-big carry-ons into overhead bins, making your way to your seat can be straight-up hellish -- and Wired's Alex Davies offers up a cheery explanation of why the situation is unlikely to improve any time soon. It's not that airlines aren't trying. In fact, United is in the middle of a months-long test at LAX that involves splitting its five groups of passengers into two lines, instead of five, to see whether that will make boarding less painful. But there are some basic measures that airlines could be taking to speed things up -- offering free baggage check, for instance, or cutting down on early boarding perks -- if they weren't so worried about their bottom lines. "The question for the airlines, then, is not how to get everyone onto a plane as quickly as possible," Davies writes. "It's how to get everyone onto a plane as quickly as possible while still charging them extra for bags, doting on the regular customers, and maintaining the system that, like all class structures, serves whoever built it."
Government

Supreme Court Declines To Broaden Whistleblower Protections (reuters.com) 61

The U.S. Supreme Court this week refused to broaden protections for corporate insiders who call out misconduct, ruling they must take claims of wrongdoing to the Securities and Exchange Commission in order to be shielded against retaliation. From a report: The justices ruled 9-0 in favor of Digital Realty Trust, throwing out a lawsuit brought against the California-based real estate trust by a fired former employee who had reported alleged wrongdoing only internally and not to the SEC. The 2010 Wall Street reform law known as the Dodd-Frank Act is unambiguous in offering no protection from retaliation such as firing or demotion to employees who report claims of securities law violations only in-house, the court ruled.
Intel

Intel Did Not Tell US Cyber Officials About Chip Flaws Until Made Public (reuters.com) 78

Intel Corp did not inform U.S. cyber security officials of Meltdown and Spectre chip security flaws until they leaked to the public, six months after Alphabet notified the chipmaker of the problems, according to letters sent by tech companies to lawmakers on Thursday. From a report: Current and former U.S. government officials have raised concerns that the government was not informed of the flaws before they became public because the flaws potentially held national security implications. Intel said it did not think the flaws needed to be shared with U.S. authorities as hackers had not exploited the vulnerabilities. Intel did not tell the United States Computer Emergency Readiness Team, better known as US-CERT, about Meltdown and Spectre until Jan. 3, after reports on them in online technology site The Register had begun to circulate.
Robotics

'Automating Jobs Is How Society Makes Progress' (qz.com) 231

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Quartz, written by Per Bylund, assistant professor at Oklahoma State University: Analysts discuss the automation of jobs as if robots are rising from the sea like Godzilla, rampaging through the Tokyo of stable employment, and leaving only chaos in their wake. According to data from PWC, 38% of jobs in the U.S. could become automated by the early 2030s. Meanwhile, a report from Ball State University's Center for Business and Economic Research warned that half of all American jobs could be replaced by automation. These prophecies of doom fail to recognize that automation and increased productivity are nothing new. From the cotton gin to the computer, automation has been happening for centuries. Consider the way automation has improved the mining industry over the past 100 years. Without machines, humans were forced to crawl into unstable passageways and chip away at rocks with primitive tools while avoiding the ever-present dangers of gas poisoning and cave-ins. Not only was this approach terrible for health, but it was also a highly inefficient use of skilled human laborers. With machines doing the heavy lifting, society was able to dedicate resources to building, servicing, and running the machinery.

Fewer people now do the traditional physical labor, but this advancement is celebrated rather than mourned. By letting machines handle the more tedious -- and, in some cases, dangerous -- tasks, people were liberated to use their labor in more efficient, effective, and fulfilling ways. Critics of automation miss the point. Nobody works for the sake of work -- people strive to create value, which helps pay our salaries and feed our families. Automation effectively opens the door for more new endeavors that will elevate our species to greater heights. Just as past generations turned away the mines for better careers, modern workers whose jobs are altered by automation will see their roles in society evolve rather than disappear.

Space

Amateur Astronomer Spots Supernova Right As It Begins (gizmodo.com) 51

New submitter Rotten shares a report from Gizmodo: Amateur astronomer Victor Buso was testing his camera-telescope setup in Argentina back in September 2016, pointing his Newtonian telescope at a spiral galaxy called NGC613. He collected light from the galaxy for the next hour and a half, taking short exposures to keep out the Santa Fe city lights. When he looked at his images, he realized he'd captured a potential supernova -- an enormous flash of light an energy bursting off of a distant star. Buso took more data and informed Argentine observatories, who announced the outcome of their follow-up observations today: "the serendipitous discovery of a newly born, normal type IIb supernova," according to the paper published in Nature. Not only did this demonstrate the importance of amateur astronomy, but Buso's images also provided evidence of the brief initial shockwave from the supernova, a phenomenon that telescopes rarely capture, since they'd have to be looking at the exact right place in the sky at the right time. Buso didn't just discover a supernova, though. He also presented evidence for the "long-sought shock-breakout phase," as the scientists write, an explosion of energy theorized to emanate from a shock wave at the supernova's source. The researchers point out that it's hard to generalize from a single supernova.

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