Music

Apple Will Release Its $349 HomePod Speaker On February 9th (theverge.com) 31

After it was delayed in mid-December, Apple finally announced the availability of its new smart speaker. The company announced it will release the HomePod on February 9th and that preorders for the device will start this Friday, January 26th. The smart speaker will initially go on sale in the U.S., UK, and Australia. It'll then arrive in France and Germany sometime this spring. The Verge reports: The company's first smart speaker was originally supposed to go on sale before the end of the 2017, but it was delayed in mid-December. That meant Apple missed a holiday season where millions of smart speakers were sold -- but the market for voice-activated speakers is clearly just getting started. And at $349, Apple's speaker is playing in a very different market than Amazon's and Google's primarily cheap and tiny speakers. The HomePod is being positioned more as a competitor to Sonos' high-end wireless speakers than as a competitor to the plethora of inexpensive smart speakers flooding the market. Despite the delay, Apple doesn't appear to have made any changes to the HomePod -- the smart speaker appears to be exactly what was announced back in June, at WWDC. The focus here continues to be on music and sound quality, rather than the speaker's intelligence, which is the core focus of many competitors' products. The speaker will still have an always-on voice assistant, but Apple's implementation of Siri here will be more limited than what's present on other devices.
Robotics

The Mystery of the Cars Abandoned in a Robot Car Park (bbc.com) 129

The mystery of why a handful of cars were abandoned in a derelict car park in Edinburgh, Capital of Scotland, may have been solved. From a report on BBC: The $7m Autosafe SkyPark used robots to stack cars and was dubbed the "car park of the future" -- but went into receivership in 2003. After lying empty for more than a decade, the building in Morrison Street is now being demolished. And the work has uncovered eight cars which were left behind when the doors were closed. Images of the abandoned vehicles has sparked a number of theories about why they were never removed. But a former employee has said they could be old vehicles which were bought by the car park's former operators to test out the robot equipment. A spokesperson said: "We can confirm that there are eight cars present at the car park on the Capital Square site, which have been there since the car park closed in 2003. The owners of the cars are unknown and they are now the property of the demolition company who will remove the cars once work begins on the levels on which they are located."
Cloud

UK Hospitals Can Now Store Confidential Patient Records In the Public Cloud (zdnet.com) 73

The National Health Service (NHS) has given hospitals the go-ahead to store sensitive patient records in the cloud. "NHS Digital said the advantages of using cloud services include cost savings associated with not having to buy and maintain hardware and software, and availability of backup and fast system recovery," reports ZDNet. "'Together these features cut the risk of health information not being available due to local hardware failure,' said the report." From ZDNet: Rob Shaw, deputy chief executive at NHS Digital, said: "It is for individual organizations to decide if they wish to use cloud and data offshoring but there are a huge range of benefits in doing so, such as greater data security protection and reduced running costs when implemented effectively." The UK government introduced a 'cloud first' policy for public sector IT in 2013, and NHS Choices and NHS England's Code4Health initiative are already successfully using the cloud. NHS Digital's guidance said that the NHS and social care providers may use cloud computing services for NHS data, although data must only be hosted within the European Economic Area, a country deemed adequate by the European Commission, or in the U.S. where covered by Privacy Shield.
Operating Systems

Linux 4.15 Becomes Slowest Release Since 2011 (theregister.co.uk) 66

An anonymous reader shares a report: Linus Torvalds has decided that Linux 4.15 needs a ninth release candidate, making it the first kernel release to need that much work since 2011. Torvalds flagged up the possibility of an extra release candidate last week, with the caveat that "it obviously requires this upcoming week to not come with any huge surprises" after "all the Meltdown and Spectre hoopla" made his job rather more complicated in recent weeks. Fast-forward another week and Torvalds has announced "I really really wanted to just release 4.15 today, but things haven't calmed down enough for me to feel comfy about it."
United Kingdom

Facebook Reopens Probe Into Russian Involvement in Brexit (techcrunch.com) 310

An anonymous reader quotes TechCrunch: Facebook has said it will conduct a wider investigation into whether there was Russian meddling on its platform relating to the 2016 Brexit referendum vote in the UK. Wednesday its UK policy director Simon Milner wrote to a parliamentary committee that's been conducting a wide-ranging enquiry into fake news -- and whose chair has been witheringly critical of Facebook and Twitter for failing to co-operate with requests for information and assistance on the topic of Brexit and Russia -- saying it will widen its investigation, per the committee's request. Though he gave no firm deadline for delivering a fresh report -- beyond estimating "a number of weeks".

It's not clear whether Twitter will also bow to pressure to conduct a more thorough investigation of Brexit-related disinformation. At the time of writing the company had not responded to our questions either. At the end of last year committee chair Damian Collins warned both companies they could face sanctions for failing to co-operate with the committee's enquiry -- slamming Twitter's investigations to date as "completely inadequate", and expressing disbelief that both companies had essentially ignored the committee's requests... Independent academic studies have suggested there was in fact significant tweet-based activity generated around Brexit by Russian bots."

Theresa May has said Russia's attempts to "sow discord" in the West could not go unchallenged, and warned Vladimir Putin, "We know what you are up to."

Facebook's response complained that a new investigation "requires detailed analysis of historic data by our security experts, who are also engaged in preventing live threats to our service."
Transportation

Norway Will Make All Short-Haul Flights Electric By 2040 (independent.co.uk) 203

Norway's public operator of air transport plans to make all short-haul flights in the country entirely electric by 2040. "State-owned Avinor, which operates most of Norway's civil airports, is aiming to be the 'first in the world' to switch to electric air transport," reports The Independent. From the report: "We think that all flights lasting up to 1.5 hours can be flown by aircraft that are entirely electric," chief executive Dag Falk-Petersen told AFP. The announcement confirms Norway's reputation as a leader in electric power. In a 2017 report, Avinor announced that in cooperation with the Norwegian Sports Aviation Association and major airlines, it had set up a development project for electric aircraft. Avinor said it had "called for Norway to be established as a test arena and innovation center for the development of electric aircraft." Avinor intends to reduce aircraft greenhouse gas emissions in the short term by phasing in biofuels in the coming years, and then build on these reductions by phasing in electric planes.
Google

Less Than 1 in 10 Gmail Users Enable Two-Factor Authentication (theregister.co.uk) 254

It has been nearly seven years since Google introduced two-factor authentication for Gmail accounts, but virtually no one is using it. From a report: In a presentation at Usenix's Enigma 2018 security conference in California, Google software engineer Grzegorz Milka this week revealed that, right now, less than 10 per cent of active Google accounts use two-step authentication to lock down their services. He also said only about 12 per cent of Americans have a password manager to protect their accounts, according to a 2016 Pew study.
Medicine

New Study Claims That the 'Black Death' Was Spread By Humans, Not Rats (bbc.com) 97

dryriver shares a report from BBC: Rats were not to blame for the spread of plague during the Black Death, according to a study. The rodents and their fleas were thought to have spread a series of outbreaks in 14th-19th Century Europe. But a team from the universities of Oslo and Ferrara now says the first, the Black Death, can be "largely ascribed to human fleas and body lice." The study, in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, uses records of its pattern and scale. The Black Death claimed an estimated 25 million lives, more than a third of Europe's population, between 1347 and 1351. "We have good mortality data from outbreaks in nine cities in Europe," Prof Nils Stenseth, from the University of Oslo, told BBC News. "So we could construct models of the disease dynamics [there]." He and his colleagues then simulated disease outbreaks in each of these cities, creating three models where the disease was spread by: rats, airborne transmission, and fleas and lice that live on humans and their clothes. In seven out of the nine cities studied, the "human parasite model" was a much better match for the pattern of the outbreak. It mirrored how quickly it spread and how many people it affected. "The conclusion was very clear," said Prof Stenseth. "The lice model fits best. It would be unlikely to spread as fast as it did if it was transmitted by rats. It would have to go through this extra loop of the rats, rather than being spread from person to person." Plague is still endemic in some countries of Asia, Africa and the Americas, where it persists in "reservoirs" of infected rodents. According to the World Health Organization, from 2010 to 2015 there were 3,248 cases reported worldwide, including 584 deaths. And, in 2001, a study that decoded the plague genome used a bacterium that had come from a vet in the U.S. who had died in 1992 after a plague-infested cat sneezed on him as he had been trying to rescue it from underneath a house.
Security

Many Enterprise Mobile Devices Will Never Be Patched Against Meltdown, Spectre (betanews.com) 104

Mark Wilson shares a report from BetaNews: The Meltdown and Spectre bugs have been in the headlines for a couple of weeks now, but it seems the patches are not being installed on handsets. Analysis of more than 100,000 enterprise mobile devices shows that just a tiny percentage of them have been protected against the vulnerabilities -- and some simply may never be protected. Security firm Bridgeway found that just 4 percent of corporate phones and tablets in the UK have been patched against Spectre and Meltdown. Perhaps more worryingly, however, its research also found that nearly a quarter of enterprise mobile devices will never receive a patch because of their age. Organizations are advised to check for the availability of patches for their devices, and to install them as soon as possible. Older devices that will never be patched -- older than Marshmallow, for example -- should be replaced to ensure security, says Bridgeway.
Transportation

Uber Says UK Drivers Will Take Mandatory Breaks (cnet.com) 37

Uber is introducing a new policy on drivers' hours across the UK next week, which it says will help to increase safety for drivers and passengers. From a report: Drivers for the ride-hailing service will have to take a continuous six-hour break after the time spent on trips with passengers and on their way to pickups reaches 10 hours. The company announced the decision Tuesday, saying it believes this move is an industry first in the UK. The company has been criticized in the past over its handling of workers' rights and has faced resistance in the UK. Uber lost its license to operate in London in September. In October, a London court ruled that its drivers should be classified as employees instead of as contractors
Bug

Now Meltdown Patches Are Making Industrial Control Systems Lurch (theregister.co.uk) 98

Patches for the Meltdown vulnerability are causing stability issues in industrial control systems. From a report: SCADA vendor Wonderware admitted that Redmond's Meltdown patch made its Historian product wobble. "Microsoft update KB4056896 (or parallel patches for other Operating System) causes instability for Wonderware Historian and the inability to access DA/OI Servers through the SMC," an advisory on Wonderware's support site explains. Rockwell Automation revealed that the same patch had caused issues with Studio 5000, FactoryTalk View SE, and RSLinx Classic (a widely used product in the manufacturing sector). "In fairness [this] may be RPC [Remote Procedure Call] change related," said cybersecurity vulnerability manager Kevin Beaumont.
Businesses

Contraceptive App Natural Cycles Blamed For String of Unwanted Pregnancies (standard.co.uk) 418

An anonymous reader shares a report: A contraceptive mobile phone app used by tens of thousands of British women has come under fire after reportedly sparking a string of unwanted pregnancies. Swedish birth control app Natural Cycles, which costs $55, tracks body temperature to accurately predict when in the month a woman is more likely to fall pregnant. The period monitor was hailed as a non-mood altering alternative to the pill and, if used perfectly, was found to be 99 per cent effective by researchers. But the app has come under fire after the Sodersjukhuset hospital in Stockholm lodged a complaint with the Swedish Medical Products Agency, the country's government body responsible for regulation of medical devices. It claimed staff at the hospital had recorded 37 women who had fallen pregnant in the last quarter of 2017 after using the app. One midwife said the hospital had a duty to report all side effects.
Music

Is Pop Music Becoming Louder, Simpler and More Repetitive? (bbc.co.uk) 477

dryriver writes: The BBC has posted a very interesting article that investigates whether people claiming all over the internet that "pop music just isn't what it used to be" are simply growing old, or if there actually is objective science capable of backing up this claim of a "steady decline in music quality." The findings from five different studies are quoted; the findings from the fourth study is especially striking:


1. Pop music has become slower -- in tempo -- in recent years and also "sadder" and less "fun" to listen to.
2. Pop music has become melodically less complex, using fewer chord changes, and pop recordings are mastered to sound consistently louder (and therefore less dynamic) at a rate of around one decibel every eight years.
3. There has been a significant increase in the use of the first-person word "I" in pop song lyrics, and a decline in words that emphasize society or community. Lyrics also contain more words that can be associated with anger or anti-social sentiments.
4. 42% of people polled on which decade has produced the worst pop music since the 1970s voted for the 2010s. These people were not from a particular aging demographic at all -- all age groups polled, including 18-29 year olds, appear to feel unanimously that the 2010s are when pop music became worst. This may explain a rising trend of young millennials, for example, digging around for now 15-30 year-old music on YouTube frequently. It's not just the older people who listen to the 1980s and 1990s on YouTube and other streaming services it seems -- much younger people do it too.
5. A researcher put 15,000 Billboard Hot 100 song lyrics through the well-known Lev-Zimpel-Vogt (LZV1) data compression algorithm, which is good at finding repetitions in data. He found that songs have steadily become more repetitive over the years, and that song lyrics from today compress 22% better on average than less repetitive song lyrics from the 1960s. The most repetitive year in song lyrics was 2014 in this study.

Conclusion: There is some scientific evidence backing the widely voiced complaint -- on the internet in particular -- that pop music is getting worse and worse in the 2000s and the 2010s. The music is slower, melodically simpler, louder, more repetitive, more "I" (first-person) focused, and more angry with anti-social sentiments. The 2010s got by far the most music quality down votes with 42% from people polled on which decade has produced the worst music since the 1970s.

Earth

Renewable Energy Set To Be Cheaper Than Fossil Fuels By 2020, Says Report (independent.co.uk) 260

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Independent: Continuous technological improvements have led to a rapid fall in the cost of renewable energy in recent years, meaning some forms can already comfortably compete with fossil fuels. The report suggests this trend will continue, and that by 2020 "all the renewable power generation technologies that are now in commercial use are expected to fall within the fossil fuel-fired cost range." Of those technologies, most will either be at the lower end of the cost range or actually undercutting fossil fuels. "This new dynamic signals a significant shift in the energy paradigm," said Adnan Amin, director-general of the International Renewable Energy Agency (IREA), which published the report. "Turning to renewables for new power generation is not simply an environmentally conscious decision, it is now -- overwhelmingly -- a smart economic one." The report looked specifically at the relative cost of new energy projects being commissioned. As renewable energy becomes cheaper, consumers will benefit from investment in green infrastructure. The current cost for fossil fuel power generation ranges from around 4p to 12p per kilowatt hour across G20 countries. By 2020, IREA predicted renewables will cost between 2p and 7p, with the best onshore wind and solar photovoltaic projects expected to deliver electricity by 2p or less next year.
Television

Is There a Warning in 'Philip K. Dick's Electric Dreams'? (gizmodo.com) 51

An anonymous reader quotes io9: That signature feeling feeling of queasy, slow-burning tumult comes through in Philip K. Dick's Electric Dreams, which originally aired in the UK last September, but is making its American premiere on Amazon Prime this Friday, January 12. The breadth of interpretations across the show's 10 episodes is the real draw for Electric Dreams. One episode will be set in something meant to recognizably stand in for the real world while others are trippy explorations into realities that could never exist. Unfortunately, Electric Dreams' episodes don't just vary in aesthetics; they vary wildly in quality, too...

When Electric Dreams fires on all cylinders, it energizes these short story adaptations by drilling down into the minutiae of how science fiction concepts would alter our everyday existences in real life. The series' common theme is how scientific and technological advancement shears the soul away from our bodies...Electric Dreams' most important task is to show both new viewers and conversant fans why Dick's oeuvre matters, which is hard in a world where we're eerily close to some of his fictional realities...

We're so busy trying to ground ourselves amid constant change that it can be hard to pull out and see society's sweeping shifts. In the '50s and beyond, Dick's science fiction writing mapped out the darker corners of where hi-speed techno-fetishes could take us. For all its unevenness, Electric Dreams adapts his work to show us where we are, relative to his prognostications. If you feel weirded out while watching, that just means the show is doing its job.

Government

Many US States Propose Their Own Laws Protecting Net Neutrality (seattletimes.com) 144

An anonymous reader quotes the New York Times: Lawmakers in at least six states, including California and New York, have introduced bills in recent weeks that would forbid internet providers to block or slow down sites or online services. Legislators in several other states, including North Carolina and Illinois, are weighing similar action... By passing their own law, the state lawmakers say, they would ensure that consumers would find the content of the choice, maintain a diversity of voices online and protect businesses from having to pay fees to reach users.

And they might even have an effect beyond their states. California's strict auto-emissions standards, for example, have been followed by a dozen other states, giving California major sway over the auto industry. "There tends to be a follow-on effect, particularly when something happens in a big state like California," said Harold Feld, a senior vice president at a nonprofit consumer group, Public Knowledge, that supports net-neutrality efforts by the states. Bills have also been introduced in Massachusetts, Nebraska, Rhode Island and Washington.

In addition, a representative in Alaska's legislature has also pre-filed legislation requiring the state's ISPs to practice net neutrality, which will be introduced when the state legislature resumes on January 16th.

"The recent FCC decision eliminating net neutrality was a mistake that favors the big internet providers and those who want to restrict the kinds of information a free-thinking Alaskan can access," representative Scott Kawasaki told a local news station. "That is not the Alaskan way, and I am hopeful my colleagues in the House and Senate will agree..."

The Independent also notes that Europe "is still strongly committed" to net neutrality.
Security

Adult Themed VR Game Leaks Data On Thousands (securityledger.com) 41

chicksdaddy writes from The Security Ledger: Somebody deserves a spanking after personal information on thousands of users of an adult virtual reality game were exposed to security researchers in the UK by a balky application. Researchers at the firm Digital Interruption on Tuesday warned that an adult-themed virtual reality application, SinVR, exposes the names, email and other personal information via an insecure desktop application -- a potentially embarrassing security lapse. The company decided to go public with the information after being frustrated in multiple efforts to responsibly disclose the vulnerability to parent company inVR, Inc., Digital Interruption researcher and founder Jahmel Harris told The Security Ledger. Jahmel estimated that more than 19,000 records were leaked by the application, but did not have an exact count.

SinVR is a sex-themed virtual reality game that allows players to navigate in various adult-themed environments and interact with virtual characters in common pornographic themes including BDSM, cosplay, naughty teacher, and so on. The company discovered the data after reverse-engineering the SinVR desktop application and noticing a function named "downloadallcustomers." That function called a web service that returned thousands of SinVR customer records including email addresses, user names, computer PC names and so on. Passwords and credit card details were not part of the data dump, Harris said.

Security

Cisco Can Now Sniff Out Malware Inside Encrypted Traffic (theregister.co.uk) 97

Simon Sharwood, writing for The Register: Cisco has switched on latent features in its recent routers and switches, plus a cloud service, that together make it possible to detect the fingerprints of malware in encrypted traffic. Switchzilla has not made a dent in transport layer security (TLS) to make this possible. Instead, as we reported in July 2016, Cisco researchers found that malware leaves recognisable traces even in encrypted traffic. The company announced its intention to productise that research last year and this week exited trials to make the service -- now known as Encrypted Traffic Analytics (ETA) -- available to purchasers of its 4000 Series Integrated Service Routers, the 1000-series Aggregation Services Router and the model 1000V Cloud Services Router 1000V. Those devices can't do the job alone: users need to sign up for Cisco's StealthWatch service and let traffic from their kit flow to a cloud-based analytics service that inspects traffic and uses self-improving machine learning algorithms to spot dodgy traffic.
United Kingdom

Ecuador Grants Citizenship To WikiLeaks Founder Julian Assange (cbsnews.com) 252

hcs_$reboot writes: Ecuador has granted citizenship to Julian Assange, who has been holed up inside the Ecuadorian embassy in London for over five years. Quito, Ecuador, has said naturalization should provide Assange with another layer of protection. However, naturalization appeared to do little to help the Australian-born WikiLeaks founder's case, with the British foreign ministry stressing that the only way to resolve the issue was for "Assange to leave the embassy to face justice." Earlier on Thursday, Britain said that it had refused a request by Ecuador to grant Assange diplomatic status, which would have granted him special legal immunity and the right to safe passage under the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations.
Bitcoin

South Korea Plans To Ban Cryptocurrency Trading 78

South Korea's government said on Thursday it plans to ban cryptocurrency trading, sending bitcoin prices plummeting and throwing the virtual coin market into turmoil as the nation's police and tax authorities raided local exchanges on alleged tax evasion. Reuters reports: The clampdown in South Korea, a crucial source of global demand for cryptocurrency, came as policymakers around the world struggled to regulate an asset whose value has skyrocketed over the last year. Justice minister Park Sang-ki said the government was preparing a bill to ban trading of the virtual currency on domestic exchanges. Once a bill is drafted, legislation for an outright ban of virtual coin trading will require a majority vote of the total 297 members of the National Assembly, a process that could take months or even years. The local price of bitcoin plunged as much as 21 percent in midday trade to 18.3 million won (12,730.35 pounds) after the minister's comments. It still trades at around a 30 percent premium compared to other countries.

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