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New AI Algorithm Beats Even the World's Worst Traffic

Mon, 03/27/2017 - 5:30pm
"Computer scientists at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore have developed a new intelligent routing algorithm that attempts to minimize the occurrence of spontaneous traffic jams -- those sudden snarls caused by greedy merges and other isolated disruptions -- throughout a roadway network," reports Motherboard. "It's both computationally distributed and fast, requirements for any real-world traffic management system. Their work is described in the April issue of IEEE Transactions on Emerging Topics in Computational Intelligence." From the report: The Nanyang researchers' algorithm starts off by just assuming that, given enough traffic density, shit is going to happen. Someone is going to make a greedy merge -- something is going to cause enough of a traffic perturbation to result in a network breakdown. Breakdown in this context is a technical-ish term indicating that for some period of time the traffic outflow from a segment of roadway is going to be less than the traffic inflow. "We assume that the traffic breakdown model has already been given, and the probability of traffic breakdown occurrence is larger than zero (meaning that traffic breakdowns would occur), and our goal is to direct the traffic flow so that the overall traffic breakdown probability is minimized," Hongliang Guo and colleagues write. Put differently, "our objective is to maximize the probability that none of the network links encounters a traffic breakdown." So, the goal of the algorithm is this maximization, which reduces to a fairly tidy equation. It then becomes a machine learning problem. Things get pretty messy at this point, but just understand that we're taking the current traffic load, adding an unknown additional load that might enter the network at any time, and then coming up with probabilities of network breakdown at each of the network's nodes or intersections. Crunch some linear algebra and we wind up with optimal routes through the network. Crucially, Guo and co. were able to come up with some mathematical optimizations that make this kind of calculation feasible in real-time. They were able to demonstrate their algorithm in simulations and are currently working on a further analysis with BMW, which is providing a vast trove of data from its Munich car-sharing fleet. This may not be as distant a technology as it might seem. As it turns out, only 10 percent of cars in a network need to be driving according to the optimizations for those optimizations to have a positive effect on the entire network.

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Facebook Launches 'Town Hall' For Contacting Government Reps, Adds Local Election Reminders

Mon, 03/27/2017 - 4:50pm
Facebook has officially launched their "Town Hall" feature that allows users to locate, follow and contact their local, state and federal government representatives. The social media company also announced that they will be launching local election reminders in an effort to get more users to vote in state, county, and municipal elections. TechCrunch reports: The feature was recently made available in the "More" menu on mobile and on desktop to a subset of users. When you launch it, you would be presented with a list of reps at the local, state and federal level, and you could click to visit their Facebook page or send them a message, call them, or email. Not all reps offer their contact information via Facebook, however. And Facebook doesn't yet pull in the missing phone numbers or emails from off-site sources, like official government websites, for example. The company tell us that's something it wants to address in time, though. Today, Town Hall is available to all U.S. Facebook users and some of its features will now be integrated in the News Feed. If you like or comment on a post made by one of your elected officials, a new feature below the comments will invite you to call, message or email the rep. After doing so, users will then be prompted to share a post saying that they contacted the rep, as a means of encouraging their friends to do the same. Facebook says that this Contact Your Rep post is not shown to everyone, but only to those who are also already engaging with an elected official's post, through a like or comment. Additionally, Facebook says it will now offer Election Reminders for local elections. The new, local election reminders will appear for all state, county, and municipal elections in the U.S. in areas with a population of over 10,000 people, and will include both primaries and general elections.

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Ask Slashdot: What's the Best Working Environment For a Developer?

Mon, 03/27/2017 - 4:10pm
New submitter Dorgendubal writes: I work for a company with more than a thousand developers and I'm participating in activities aimed at improving the work experience of developers. Our developers receive an ultrabook that is rather powerful but not really adapted for development (no admin rights, small storage capacity, restrictive security rules, etc.). They also have access to VDIs (more flexibility) but often complain of performance issues during certain hours of the day. Overall, developers want to have maximum autonomy, free choice of their tools (OS, IDE, etc.) and access to internal development environments (PaaS, GIT repositories, continuous delivery tools, etc.) . We recently had a presentation of VMWare on desktop and application virtualization (Workstation & Horizon), which is supposedly the future of the desktops. It sounds interesting on paper but I remain skeptical. What is the best working environment for a developer, offering flexibility, performance and some level of free choice, without compromising security, compliance, licensing (etc.) requirements? I would like you to share your experiences on BYOD, desktop virtualization, etc. and the level of satisfaction of the developers.

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Facial Recognition Database Used By FBI Is Out of Control, House Committee Hears

Mon, 03/27/2017 - 3:30pm
The House oversight committee claims the FBI's facial recognition database is out of control, noting that "no federal law controls this technology" and "no court decision limits it." At last week's House oversight committee hearing, politicians and privacy campaigners presented several "damning facts" about the databases. "About 80% of photos in the FBI's network are non-criminal entries, including pictures from driver's licenses and passports," reports The Guardian. "The algorithms used to identify matches are inaccurate about 15% of the time, and are most likely to misidentify black people than white people." From the report: "Facial recognition technology is a powerful tool law enforcement can use to protect people, their property, our borders, and our nation," said the committee chair, Jason Chaffetz, adding that in the private sector it can be used to protect financial transactions and prevent fraud or identity theft. "But it can also be used by bad actors to harass or stalk individuals. It can be used in a way that chills free speech and free association by targeting people attending certain political meetings, protests, churches, or other types of places in the public." Furthermore, the rise of real-time face recognition technology that allows surveillance and body cameras to scan the faces of people walking down the street was, according to Chaffetz, "most concerning." "For those reasons and others, we must conduct proper oversight of this emerging technology," he said.

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Prominent Drupal, PHP Developer Kicked From the Drupal Project Over Unconventional Sex Life

Mon, 03/27/2017 - 2:50pm
An anonymous Slashdot reader writes: Last week the Drupal community erupted in anger after its leader, Dries Buytaert, asked Larry Garfield, a prominent Drupal contributor and long-time member of the Drupal and PHP communities, "to leave the Drupal project." Buytaert claims he did this "because it came to my attention that he holds views that are in opposition with the values of the Drupal project." A huge furor has erupted in response -- not least because the reason clearly has much to do with Garfield's unconventional sex life. [Garfield is into BDSM, and is a member of the Gorean community, "a community who are interested in, and/or participate in, elaborate sexual subjugation fantasies, in which men are inherently superior to women."] Buytaert made his post (which is now offline) in response after Larry went public, outing himself to public opinion. Buytaert retorted (excerpt available via TechCrunch): "when a highly-visible community member's private views become public, controversial, and disruptive for the project, I must consider the impact [...] all people are created equally. [sic] I cannot in good faith support someone who actively promotes a philosophy that is contrary to this [...] any association with Larry's belief system is inconsistent with our project's goals [...] I recused myself from the Drupal Association's decision [to dismiss Garfield from his conference role] [...] Many have rightfully stated that I haven't made a clear case for the decision [...] I did not make the decision based on the information or beliefs conveyed in Larry's blog post." TechCrunch columnist Jon Evans goes on to "unpack" the questions that naturally arise from these "Code of Conduct conflicts."

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Stylebooks Finally Embrace the Single 'They'

Mon, 03/27/2017 - 2:10pm
Two major style manuals are now allowing the singular use of "they" in certain circumstances. While this is a victory for common sense, the paths taken are unusual in the evolution of usage. From a report on Columbia Journal Review: Both manuals, the Associated Press Stylebook and the Chicago Manual of Style, emphasize that "they" cannot be used with abandon. Even so, it's the middle of the end for the insistence that "they" can be only a plural pronoun. To recap: In English, there is no gender-neutral pronoun for a single person. In French, for example, the pronoun on can stand in for "he" or "she." English has no such equivalent; "it" is our singular pronoun, so devoid of gender that calling a person "it" is often considered insulting. We could use "one," but that is a very impersonal pronoun. Consider this sentence, for instance. "Everyone needs to be sure to tighten ____ safety belt before approaching the cliff." The article adds: For hundreds of years, anyone writing formally would default to "he." Advances in women's rights led to the clumsy "he or she." Many writers alternate "he" or "she." This twisting and turning is because what's known as "the epicene they" has been considered incorrect. [...] But that's not the "they" the style guides have let loose. Simply, the singular "they" will be allowed if someone prefers that pronoun.

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Interviews: Ask Lithium-Ion Battery Inventor John Goodenough a Question

Mon, 03/27/2017 - 1:30pm
John B. Goodenough is a solid-state physicist and professor of mechanical engineering and materials science at The University of Texas at Austin. While he is most famous for identifying and developing the lithium-ion battery, which can be found in just about every portable electronic device on the market, he has recently created a new fast charging solid-state battery that looks to revolutionize the industry. We sent him an email about doing an interview and he has responded. Now is your chance to ask Goodenough a question! We'll pick the very best questions and forward them to John Goodenough himself. (Feel free to leave your suggestions for who Slashdot should interview next.) Go on, don't be shy!

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Four Years Later, Xbox Exec Admits How Microsoft Screwed Up Disc Resale Plan

Mon, 03/27/2017 - 12:50pm
An anonymous reader quotes a report from Ars Technica: We're now approaching the four-year anniversary of Microsoft's rollout (and subsequent reversal) of a controversial plan to let game publishers limit resale of used, disc-based games. Looking back on that time recently, Microsoft Corporate Vice President for Windows and Devices Yusuf Mehdi acknowledged how that rollout fell flat and discussed how hard it was for the firm to change course even in light of fan complaints at the time. In a blog post on LinkedIn posted last weekend, Mehdi writes: "With our initial announcement of Xbox One and our desire to deliver breakthroughs in gaming and entertainment, the team made a few key decisions regarding connectivity requirements and how games would be purchased that didn't land well with fans. While the intent was good -- we imagined a new set of benefits such as easier roaming, family sharing and new ways to try and buy games, we didn't deliver what our fans wanted. We heard their feedback, and while it required great technical work, we changed Xbox One to work the same way as Xbox 360 for how our customers could play, share, lend, and resell games. This experience was such a powerful reminder that we must always do the right thing for our customers, and since we've made that commitment to our Xbox fans, we've never looked back." It's an interesting reflection in light of an interview Mehdi gave to Ars Technica at E3 2013, when the executive defended Microsoft's announced plans for Xbox One game licensing. Mehdi, then serving as Xbox chief marketing and strategy officer, stressed at the time that "this is a big change, consumers don't always love change, and there's a lot of education we have to provide to make sure that people understand... We're trying to do something pretty big in terms of moving the industry forward for console gaming into the digital world. We believe the digital world is the future, and we believe digital is better."

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Elon Musk Launches Neuralink To Connect Brains With Computers

Mon, 03/27/2017 - 12:05pm
At Recode's conference last year, Elon Musk said he would love to see someone do something about linking human brains with computers. With no other human being volunteering, Mr. Musk -- who founded PayPal and OpenAI, thought of Hyperloop, is working on a boring company, and runs SpaceX, TeslaX, SolarCity -- is now working on it. From a report on WSJ: Internal sources tell the WSJ that the company, called Neuralink, is developing "neural lace" technology that would allow people to communicate directly with machines without going through a physical interface. Neural lace involves implanting electrodes in the brain so people could upload or download their thoughts to or from a computer, according to the WSJ report. The product could allow humans to achieve higher levels of cognitive function. From WSJ's report (paywalled): The founder and chief executive of Tesla and Space Exploration Technologies Corp.has launched another company called Neuralink Corp., according to people familiar with the matter. Neuralink is pursuing what Mr. Musk calls "neural lace" technology, implanting tiny brain electrodes that may one day upload and download thoughts. Mr. Musk didn't respond to a request for comment. Max Hodak, who said he is a "member of the founding team," confirmed the company's existence and Mr. Musk's involvement.

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No One Knows What To Do With the International Space Station

Mon, 03/27/2017 - 11:40am
An anonymous reader shares a report: In 2024 the clock will run out on the International Space Station. Maybe. That's the arbitrary deadline that Congress imposed back in 2014, at which point they'll have to decide whether or not to keep funding the ISS. And yeah, that's a whole seven years away. But then again...it's only seven years away. The ISS takes up half of NASA's human exploration budget -- half of the pile of money allotted for things like sending humans to Mars or to an asteroid. And if they want to push further into space exploration, NASA can't keep sinking three to four billion dollars a year into the ISS. Not that it's really their decision. Congress -- specifically the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology -- decides how much money NASA will get. And because politicians aren't experts in space travel, they keep holding hearings to discuss what they could possibly do with the ISS in seven years' time. Let private industry take it over? Let it crash and burn into the South Pacific? Let the program keep running? The latest hearing took place last week. These are hard questions, in part because people have very different opinions on what's valuable about NASA, and therefore about whether the ISS is still useful. Maybe you think that NASA should really be about exploration, about pushing the boundaries of what we know and where we can travel. In that case, the ISS might not be your first priority. That's a huge chunk of the budget that goes toward bringing things back and forth to low Earth orbit instead of venturing to other planets.

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US Top Court Considers Changing Where Patent Cases May Be Filed

Mon, 03/27/2017 - 11:20am
The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday grappled over whether to upend a quarter-century of practice and limit where patent-infringement lawsuits can be filed. From a report on Reuters: The U.S. Supreme Court struggled over whether to upend nearly 30 years of law governing patent lawsuits that critics say allows often-baseless litigants to sue in friendly courts, giving them the upper hand over high-technology companies such as Apple and Alphabet Google. The justices heard an hour of arguments in an appeal by beverage flavoring company TC Heartland LLC to have a patent infringement suit brought against it by food and beverage company Kraft Heinz moved from federal court in Delaware, where it was filed, to Heartland's home base in Indiana. TC Heartland is challenging a lower court ruling denying a transfer to Indiana. Even though the case did not involve a lawsuit filed in Texas, the arguments involved the peculiar fact that the bulk of patent litigation in the United States is occurring in a single, rural region of East Texas, far from the centers of technology and innovation in the United States. Critics have said the federal court there has rulings and procedures favoring entities that generate revenue by suing over patents instead of making products, sometimes called "patent trolls." The outcome of the TC Heartland case could be profoundly felt in the East Texas courts. The justices could curtail where patent lawsuits may be launched, limiting them to where a defendant company is incorporated and potentially making it harder to get to trial or score lucrative jury verdicts.

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Apple is Upgrading Millions of iOS Devices To a New Modern File System Today

Mon, 03/27/2017 - 10:40am
Apple today began rolling out iOS 10.3, the latest point update to its mobile operating system. iOS 10.3 brings with it several new features, chief among which is a new file system -- called the Apple File System (APFS). From a report: It's a file system that was originally announced at WWDC last year, and it's designed with the iPhone, iPad, Apple Watch, Mac, and Apple TV in mind. Apple has been using its 31-year-old Hierarchical File System (HFS) for iOS devices so far. It was originally designed for Macs with floppy or hard disks, and not for modern mobile devices with solid state storage. Even its successor, HFS+, still doesn't address the needs of these mobile devices enough. Apple's new APFS is designed to scale across these new types of devices and take advantage of flash or SSD storage. It's also engineered with encryption as a primary feature, and even supports features like snapshots so restoring files on a Mac or even an iOS device might get a lot easier in the future.

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With Optane Memory, Intel Claims To Make Hard Drives Faster Than SSDs

Mon, 03/27/2017 - 10:00am
SSDs are generally faster than hard drives. However, they are also usually more expensive. Intel wants to change that with its new Optane Memory lineup, which it claims is faster and better performing than SSDs while not requiring customers to break their banks. From a report on PCWorld: Announced Monday morning, these first consumer Optane-based devices will be available April 24 in two M.2 trims: A 16GB model for $44 and a 32GB Optane Memory device for $77. Both are rated for crazy-fast read speeds of 1.2GBps and writes of 280MBps. [...] When the price of a 128GB SATA SSD is roughly $50 to $60 today, you may rightly wonder why Optane Memory would be worth the bother. Intel says most consumers just don't want to give up the capacity for their photos and videos. PC configurations with a hard drive and an SSD, while standard for higher-end PC users, isn't popular for the newbies. Think of the times you've had friends or family fill up the boot drive with cat pictures, but the secondary drive is nearly empty. Intel Optane Memory would give that mainstream user the same or better performance as an SSD, with the capacity advantage of the 1TB or 2TB drive they're used to. Intel claims Optane Memory performance is as good or better than an SSD's, offering better latency by magnitudes and the ability to peak at much lower queue depths.

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'Pirate' Movie Streaming Sites Declared Legal By Italian Court

Mon, 03/27/2017 - 9:20am
A Court of Appeal in Rome has overturned a 600,000 euro ruling against four unlicensed sites that offered streaming movies to the public. From a report: When it comes to passing judgment on so-called 'pirate' sites, Italy has more experience than most around Europe. Courts have passed down many decisions against unlicensed sites which have seen hundreds blocked by ISPs. Today, however, news coming out of the country suggests that the parameters of what defines a pirate site may not be so loosely interpreted in future. It began in 2015 when the operator of four sites that linked to pirated movies was found guilty of copyright infringement by a local court and ordered to pay more almost 600,000 in fines and costs. As a result, filmakers.biz, filmaker.me, filmakerz.org, and cineteka.org all shutdown but in the background, an appeal was filed. The appeal was heard by the Rome Court of Appeal in February and now, through lawyer Fulvio Sarzana who defended the sites' operator, we hear of a particularly interesting ruling. "The Court ruled that the indication of links does not qualify as making direct disposal of files protected by copyright law," Sarzana told TF in an email.

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Enemy Number One is Netflix: The Monster That's Eating Hollywood

Mon, 03/27/2017 - 8:40am
From a WSJ report: Tara Flynn, a rising star at a TV production unit of 21st Century Fox, walked into her boss's office last August and told him she was quitting and joining streaming-video giant Netflix Inc. The news was not well-received. "Netflix is public enemy No. 1," said Bert Salke, the head of Fox 21 Television Studios, where Ms. Flynn was a vice president, according to a Netflix legal filing. When Netflix finalized Ms. Flynn's hire a few weeks later, Fox sued, accusing it of a "brazen campaign" to poach Fox executives. In response, Netflix argued Fox's contracts are "unlawful and unenforceable." The ongoing legal battle is just one sign of the escalating tensions between Netflix and Hollywood as the streaming-video company moves from being an upstart dabbling in original programming to a big-spending entertainment powerhouse that will produce more than 70 shows this year. It is expanding into new genres such as children's fare, reality TV and stand-up comedy specials -- including a $40 million deal for two shows by Chris Rock. The shift has unnerved some TV networks that had become used to Netflix's original content being focused on scripted dramas and sitcoms. Netflix's spending on original and acquired programming this year is expected to be more than $6 billion, up from $5 billion last year, more than double what Time Warner Inc.'s HBO spends and five times as much as 21st Century Fox's FX or CBS Corp.'s Showtime.

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Microsoft Yanks Docs.com Search After Complaints of Exposed Sensitive Files

Mon, 03/27/2017 - 7:20am
Microsoft has quietly removed a feature on its document sharing site Docs.com that allowed anyone to search through millions of files for sensitive and personal information. From a report on ZDNet: Users had complained over the weekend on Twitter that anyone could use the site's search box to trawl through publicly-accessible documents and files stored on the site, which were clearly meant to remain private. Among the files reviewed by ZDNet, and seen by others who tweeted about them, included password lists, job acceptance letters, investment portfolios, divorce settlement agreements, and credit card statements -- some of which contained Social Security and driving license numbers, dates of birth, phone numbers, and email and postal addresses. The company removed the site's search feature late on Saturday, but others observed that the files were still cached in Google's search results, as well as Microsoft's own search engine, Bing.

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Galaxy Note 7 Is Not Dead, Samsung Says It Will Sell Refurbished Units

Mon, 03/27/2017 - 6:30am
Samsung announced on Monday it plans to sell refurbished units of the Galaxy Note 7 smartphone, months after the handset was pulled from the markets due to fire-prone batteries. The company says it is yet to determine the markets it will sell the refurbished Note 7 units, and it is in talks with relevant regulatory authorities and carriers. The company also has a plan in place for the units it doesn't want to bring back to the market. In a statement, the company said, "For remaining Galaxy Note 7 devices, components such as semiconductors and camera modules shall be detached by companies specializing in such services and used for test sample production purposes. Finally, for left over component recycling, Samsung shall first extract precious metals, such as copper, nickel, gold and silver by utilizing eco-friendly companies specializing in such processes."

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Laptop Ban on Planes Came After Plot To Put Explosives in iPad

Mon, 03/27/2017 - 6:01am
Last week, United States and United Kingdom officials announced new restrictions for airline passengers from eight Middle Eastern countries, forbidding passengers to carry electronics larger than a smartphone into an airplane cabin. Now The Guardian reports, citing a security source, the ban was prompted in part by a plot involving explosives hidden in a fake iPad. From the report: The security source said both bans were not the result of a single specific incident but a combination of factors. One of those, according to the source, was the discovery of a plot to bring down a plane with explosives hidden in a fake iPad that appeared as good as the real thing. Other details of the plot, such as the date, the country involved and the group behind it, remain secret. Discovery of the plot confirmed the fears of the intelligence agencies that Islamist groups had found a novel way to smuggle explosives into the cabin area in carry-on luggage after failed attempts with shoe bombs and explosives hidden in underwear. An explosion in a cabin (where a terrorist can position the explosive against a door or window) can have much more impact than one in the hold (where the terrorist has no control over the position of the explosive, which could be in the middle of luggage, away from the skin of the aircraft), given passengers and crew could be sucked out of any subsequent hole.

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Singapore Wants To Test Flying Taxi Drones

Mon, 03/27/2017 - 3:30am
An anonymous reader writes: Commuters in Singapore might soon be able to ride a flying taxi home at the end of the day," writes the New York Post. "The country's Minister of Transport is in negotiations with tech companies to start trials on taxi drones that can pick up passengers, says a story by Singapore's Business Times. The driverless pods, which resemble the speeding hover bikes in Return of the Jedi, would stop for passengers based on an 'e-hail' similar to what Uber uses, the report says." Flying taxis have already been prototyped, including the Hoversurf Scorpion and the Volocopter VC200, while Dubai plans to begin testing Ehang 184 self-driving flying taxi drones in July. Though Singapore is a small country with a relatively small workforce, the head of their ministry of transportation "noted the availability and affordability of data and the rise of artificial intelligence are already upending the transport sector globally," reports the Singapore Business Times. To that end, Singapore is also considering on-demand buses that optimize their routes, but also driverless buses. "It has signed a partnership agreement with a party to build and put such buses through a trial, and will be signing another agreement quite soon."

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Ask Slashdot: What's The Easiest Linux Distro For A Newbie?

Sun, 03/26/2017 - 11:30pm
joseph Kramer -- a long-time user of both Windows and MacOS -- comes to Slashdot with the ultimate question: I've been lurking here for years and seen many recommendations for a Linux flavor that works. What I'm really looking for is Linux that works without constant under-the-hood tweaking (ala early Windows flavors, 3.1, 95/98). Does such an OS exist? For the record, I am not an IT tech. I just need something to work with the mechanical equipment it controls. Any recommendations? When it comes to Windows and MacOs, he describes himself as "fed up with their shenanigans." So leave your best answers in the comments. What's the best way for a newbie to get started with Linux?

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