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United States

Congress Will Consider Proposal To Raise H-1B Minimum Wage To $100,000 (arstechnica.com) 538

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Ars Technica: President-elect Donald Trump is just a week away from taking office. From the start of his campaign, he has promised big changes to the US immigration system. For both Trump's advisers and members of Congress, the H-1B visa program, which allows many foreign workers to fill technology jobs, is a particular focus. One major change to that system is already under discussion: making it harder for companies to use H-1B workers to replace Americans by simply giving the foreign workers a raise. The "Protect and Grow American Jobs Act," introduced last week by Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif. and Scott Peters, D-Calif., would significantly raise the wages of workers who get H-1B visas. If the bill becomes law, the minimum wage paid to H-1B workers would rise to at least $100,000 annually, and be adjusted it for inflation. Right now, the minimum is $60,000. The sponsors say that would go a long way toward fixing some of the abuses of the H-1B program, which critics say is currently used to simply replace American workers with cheaper, foreign workers. In 2013, the top nine companies acquiring H-1B visas were technology outsourcing firms, according to an analysis by a critic of the H-1B program. (The 10th is Microsoft.) The thinking goes that if minimum H-1B salaries are brought closer to what high-skilled tech employment really pays, the economic incentive to use it as a worker-replacement program will drop off. "We need to ensure we can retain the world's best and brightest talent," said Issa in a statement about the bill. "At the same time, we also need to make sure programs are not abused to allow companies to outsource and hire cheap foreign labor from abroad to replace American workers." The H-1B program offers 65,000 visas each fiscal year, with an additional 20,000 reserved for foreign workers who have advanced degrees from US colleges and universities. The visas are awarded by lottery each year. Last year, the government received more than 236,000 applications for those visas.
The Internet

Virginia 'Broadband Deployment Act' Would Kill Municipal Broadband Deployment (arstechnica.com) 200

Virginia lawmakers are considering a bill called the "Virginia Broadband Deployment Act," but instead of resulting in more broadband deployment, the legislation would make it more difficult for municipalities to offer Internet service. From a report: The Virginia House of Delegates legislation proposed this week by Republican lawmaker Kathy Byron would prohibit municipal broadband deployments except in very limited circumstances. Among other things, a locality wouldn't be allowed to offer Internet service if an existing network already provides 10Mbps download and 1Mbps upload speeds to 90 percent of potential customers. That speed threshold is low enough that it can be met by old DSL lines in areas that haven't received more modern cable and fiber networks. Even if that condition is met, a city or town would have to jump through a few hoops before offering service. The municipality would have to pay for a "comprehensive broadband assessment," and then issue a request for proposals giving for-profit ISPs six months to submit a plan for broadband deployment. After receiving proposals from private ISPs, the local government would have to determine whether providing grants or subsidies to a private ISP would be more cost-effective than building a municipal broadband network.
Google

Google's New Compression Tool Uses 75% Less Bandwidth Without Sacrificing Image Quality (thenextweb.com) 103

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Next Web: Google just released an image compression technology called RAISR (Rapid and Accurate Super Image Resolution) designed to save your precious data without sacrificing photo quality. Claiming to use up to 75 percent less bandwidth, RAISR analyzes both low and high-quality versions of the same image. Once analyzed, it learns what makes the larger version superior and simulates the differences on the smaller version. In essence, it's using machine learning to create an Instagram-like filter to trick your eye into believing the lower-quality image is on par with its full-sized variant. Unfortunately for the majority of smartphone users, the tech only works on Google+ where Google claims to be upscaling over a billion images a week. If you don't want to use Google+, you'll just have to wait a little longer. Google plans to expand RAISR to more apps over the coming months. Hopefully that means Google Photos.
Google

Google is Killing Its Solar-Powered Internet Drone Program (businessinsider.com) 62

An anonymous reader writes: Google's "moonshot" X division is ending its Titan drone program, which planned to use solar-powered drones to beam internet down to earth. Google bought Titan Aerospace in 2014. The company was developing solar-powered drones that could fly for several days at a time and take images of earth or beam down internet. When Google reorganized into Alphabet in 2015, Titan was folded into X, the Alphabet division that focuses on wild tech projects in hopes of stumbling on the next big thing.
The Internet

Monopoly May Replace Iconic Pieces With Emoji Faces and Hashtags (cnet.com) 123

Hasbro, the toymaker behind Monopoly, is letting the public decide whether or not they should replace the game's iconic game pieces with new pieces inspired by pop culture and social media. CNNMoney reports: Gamers can visit the Vote Monopoly site and choose from more than 50 new options. The old tokens, including the thimble, top hat and Scottie dog, are also on the table. The voting takes place inside a digital house with shelves and furniture stocked with both classic and newfangled token options. Jazzy music plays in the background as you explore and take a closer look at the figurines. Some aren't too surprising. There's a horse, a sailboat, an airplane, a bike and a helicopter. Two of the stranger options are sliced bread and a fuzzy bunny slipper. Hasbro is offering up a number of tokens that may appeal to tech consumers. There's a cell phone that looks like it came out of the '80s, a television that looks very '50s, and a computer with keyboard that vaguely resembles the first flat-screen iMac. Internet denizens can also vote for a hashtag and emoji options, including a winking smiley-face, thumbs-up symbol, crying-laughing face and a Rich Uncle Pennybags version of an emoji face. Voting is open to internet users worldwide until January 31. The chosen tokens will be part of a fresh Monopoly game due to hit stores this summer, so think long and hard about whether you want to stare at a kissy-face emoji for the next decade or so. A special edition called Token Madness will offer the original tokens as well as the new winners.
Apple

Apple Said To Be Working on AR Glasses With Carl Zeiss (cnet.com) 66

Apple seems behind Microsoft, Google, and Facebook on the nascent augmented reality space, but that could change soon. From a report on CNET: The tech titan is working with the German optics manufacturer Carl Zeiss on a pair of lightweight AR/mixed reality glasses, according to tech evangelist Robert Scoble. The project, which could be announced as early as this year, was confirmed by a Zeiss employee, Scoble wrote in a Facebook post.
Businesses

The End of Yahoo: Marissa Mayer To Resign; Yahoo To Change Its Name To Altaba (arstechnica.com) 399

maxcelcat writes: Spotted on The Register's twitter feed: Yahoo! Submission to The SEC. Most of the board is leaving, including CEO Marissa Mayer. The company has been bought by Verizon and is changing its name to Altaba Inc. I'm old enough to remember when Yahoo was a series of directories on a University's computers, where you could browse a hierarchical list of websites by category. And here I am watching the company's demise. According to the regulatory filing, the changes will take place after the sale of its core business is completed with Verizon for roughly $4.8 billion. The Wall Street Journal notes: "Verizon officials have indicated all options remain possible, including renegotiating the terms of the deal or walking away."
Power

Next-Gen Samsung EV Battery Gets 300+ Miles of Range From 20-Minute Charge (techcrunch.com) 198

An anonymous reader quotes a report from TechCrunch: Samsung's SDI battery subsidiary announced a new battery cell designed for use in electric vehicles that offers improved density to manage a max range of up to 372 miles on a full charge, with a quick charge capacity that will help it regain 310 miles or so of charge on just 20 minutes of charging. Unveiled at the North American International Auto Show for the first time, the new battery tech come with a 10 percent decrease in the number of units and weight required vs. current production battery units made by Samsung SDI. Mass production isn't set to begin until 2021, but the tech should arrive in time to supply the first crop of autonomous cars, which are also targeting street dates sometime within that year from a range of manufacturers. A 20-minute charge delivering that kind of range would help considerably with making EVs more practical for more drivers; it's around the time you'd spend at a rest stop using the restroom and grabbing coffee or a snack, after all. By comparison, Tesla's superchargers currently manage to provide around 170 miles of range on a half-hour charge, so Samsung's planned tech could approximately double that.
Businesses

Apple Plans 'High-Tech Manufacturing' of Data-Center Gear in Arizona (businessinsider.com) 102

An anonymous reader shares a Business Insider report: Apple is seeking permission to conduct "high-tech manufacturing" and to build data-center server gear in a Mesa, Arizona, facility, according to a notice published Monday by the US federal government. A notification published in the Federal Register on Monday said Apple was looking for approval from the Foreign-Trade Zones Board to produce "finished products" in a special zone that exempts it from customs duty payments. "Apple Inc has repurposed the site as a global data command center that will conduct high-tech manufacturing of finished data center cabinets for other data centers," according to a document filed by Mesa on behalf of Apple in June and made public Monday. [...] The Arizona effort would mark a rare instance of a US tech company manufacturing and assembling a finished product domestically, where labor costs are higher. Apple's effort appears limited to equipment for its internal operations, however, rather than for a mass-market consumer product.
Businesses

Supreme Court Will Not Examine Tech Industry Legal Shield (reuters.com) 49

An anonymous reader shares a Reuters report: The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday let stand a lower court's decision that an online advertising site accused by three young women of facilitating child sex trafficking was protected by a federal law that has shielded website operators from liability for content posted by others. The refusal by the justices to take up the women's appeal in the case involving the advertising website Backpage.com marked a victory for the tech industry, which could have faced far-reaching consequences had the Supreme Court decided to limit the scope of the Communications Decency Act, passed by Congress in 1996 to protect free speech on the internet.
Businesses

Uber Gives Cities Free Travel-Time Data (usatoday.com) 26

Uber is now "leveraging anonymous GPS information from hundreds of thousands of online Uber vehicles" using a new tool called Uber Movement. An anonymous reader quotes USA Today: Uber is going to make urban traffic and mobility data gleaned from its millions of drivers and riders using the Uber app freely available to all. The data, which shows anonymized travel times between points in cities, will be available on a public website called Uber Movement. Uber says it will first invite planning agencies and researchers to access the information and then make the website free to the public... The San Francisco-based company decided to release the data when it realized it had "this very valuable but untapped resource for understanding a city's transportation infrastructure," said Andrew Salzberg, Uber's head of transportation policy...

Pegged to a transportation conference in DC on Sunday, the release is also likely is a bid to gain some goodwill with cities, with which Uber has often had bare-knuckled fights over regulation... Uber Movement doesn't map individuals rides, but rather segments of rides, focusing on travel time between specific points... The Uber data will give cities a low-cost way to do high-resolution travel time analysis

Boston's chief information officer says the new tool "gives people tools to ask us questions. That's really powerful."
Crime

How A Massive India Call Center Swindled 15,000 Americans (nytimes.com) 104

An FBI agent based in India says the country has now become a major hub for call-center fraud, blaming "a demographic bulge of computer-savvy, young, English-speaking job seekers; a vast call-center culture; super-efficient technology; and what can only be described as ingenuity." The Justice Depatment recently indicted one company for scamming "hundreds of millions of dollars" from over 15,000 victims, placing more than 1.8 million phone calls to Americans, and Slashdot reader retroworks brings an update: The New York Times has an interesting blow-by-blow story on two India tech center employees who informed on their call center fraud operation, which targeted Americans (especially recent immigrants) with fraudulent IRS calls and other scams. [May be paywalled; free version here.] The building was surrounded by police, phone lines cut. Eventually 630 of the employees were released, and charges were brought against 70 managers and executives of the call center.
The operation filled a seven-story high-rise, and the Times reports that after the raid, "fraudulent IRS calls to Americans dropped 95% percent, according to the Better Business Bureau." But they add that one former employee believes the scams will continue. Within weeks of the raid, he'd been offered a nearly identical job: calling Americans and claiming that their computer was infected with a virus.
Businesses

Apple's Share of PC Users Drops To A Five-Year Low (infoworld.com) 228

Windows 10 is installed on 24.5% of devices -- but that's only half the story. "Apple's Mac share of personal computers worldwide fell to a five-year low in December," reports Computerworld, adding that Linux and Windows "both benefited, with increases of around a half percentage point during 2016." An anonymous reader quotes their report: According to web analytics vendor Net Applications, Apple's desktop and notebook operating system -- formerly OS X, now macOS -- powered just 6.1% of all personal computers last month, down from 7% a year ago and a peak of 9.6% as recently as April 2016... The Mac's 6.1% user share in December was the lowest mark recorded by Net Applications since August 2011, more than five years ago... In October, the company reported sales of 4.9 million Macs for the September quarter, a 14% year-over-year decline and the fourth straight quarterly downturn. Apple's sales slide during the past 12 months has been steeper than for the personal computer industry as a whole, according to industry researchers from IDC and Gartner, a 180-degree shift from the prior 30 or so quarters, when the Mac's growth rate repeatedly beat the business average.
Apple's success through 2016 was "fueled by Microsoft's stumbles with Windows 8 and a race-to-the-bottom mentality among rival OEMs," according to the article, which also notes that the user share for Linux exceeded 2% in June, and reached 2.3% by November.
Privacy

WikiLeaks Threatens To Publish Twitter Users' Personal Info (usatoday.com) 211

WikiLeaks said on Twitter earlier today that it wants to publish the private information of hundreds of thousands of verified Twitter users. The group said an online database would include such sensitive details as family relationships and finances. USA Today reports: "We are thinking of making an online database with all 'verified' twitter accounts [and] their family/job/financial/housing relationships," the WikiLeaks Task Force account tweeted Friday. The account then tweeted: "We are looking for clear discrete (father/shareholding/party membership) variables that can be put into our AI software. Other suggestions?" Wikileaks told journalist Kevin Collier on Twitter that the organization wants to "develop a metric to understand influence networks based on proximity graphs." Twitter bans the use of Twitter data for "surveillance purposes." In a statement, Twitter said: "Posting another person's private and confidential information is a violation of the Twitter rules." Twitter declined to say how many of its users have verified accounts but the Verified Twitter account which follows verified accounts currently follows 237,000. Verified accounts confirm the identity of the person tweeting by displaying a blue check mark. Twitter says it verifies an account when "it is determined to be an account of public interest." Twitter launched the feature in 2009 after celebrities complained about people impersonating them on the social media service.
AT&T

AT&T and Time Warner Still Trying To Sidestep FCC Scrutiny of Merger (arstechnica.com) 19

AT&T and Time Warner say they have a plan to avoid a Federal Communications Commission review of their pending merger. From a report on Ars Technica: An FCC review would be necessary if Time Warner transfers any FCC licenses to AT&T, but Time Warner might get rid of any such licenses before the deal is finished. "Time Warner has conducted a review of all licenses that it holds that are granted by the FCC," AT&T said in a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission yesterday. "While subject to change, it is currently anticipated that Time Warner will not need to transfer any of its FCC licenses to AT&T in order to continue to conduct its business operations after the closing of the transaction." "Time Warner has been looking to transfer or sell its licenses to another broadcaster for some time, according to a person familiar with the matter. "Time Warner can contract with third parties instead of owning the licenses, the person said."
Transportation

Faraday Future Unveils Super Fast Electric Car (bbc.com) 121

Start-up Faraday Future has unveiled a self-driving electric car that it says can accelerate from zero to 60mph (97km/h) in 2.39 seconds. Faraday says the FF91 accelerates faster than Tesla's Model S or any other electric car in production. From a report on BBC: It was shown off at the CES tech show in Las Vegas. But Faraday Future has faced financial difficulties and one analyst said it had to challenge "scepticism" following last year's CES presentation. The FF91 was introduced via a live demo, in which it drove itself around a car park and backed into an empty space. Pre-recorded footage also showed the car accelerating from standstill to 60mph in 2.39 seconds. Tesla's fastest model did it in 2.5 seconds on the same track. Late in the presentation, however, there was an awkward moment when Chinese billionaire Jia Yueting tried to demonstrate the car's self-parking function on stage in front of the audience. This time, the vehicle remained stationary.
Businesses

Apple App Store Developers Earned $20 Billion in 2016, Up 40 Percent Year Over Year (cnbc.com) 26

Apple said Thursday its App Store generated $20 billion for developers in 2016, a 40 percent increase from 2015, helped by the popularity of games such as Pokemon Go and Super Mario Run and increased revenue from subscriptions. From a report on CNBC: "2016 was an amazingly great year for the App Store," Philip Schiller, Apple's senior vice president of worldwide marketing, told CNBC. "We continue to advance what is available for developers to create. And our catalog of apps grew 20 percent to 2.2 million." Schiller said the biggest drivers for the App Store included games such as "Pokemon Go," which was the most downloaded app in 2016; "Super Mario," which was the most downloaded app on Christmas and New Year's days; and subscription-based apps, such as Netflix, Hulu and Time Warner's HBO Go. The tech giant said its biggest day of sales on the App Store was on Jan. 1, 2017, when customers spent a record $240 million. The top grossing markets included the U.S, U.K., Japan and China, which saw 90 percent year-over-year growth.
Businesses

Apple is Investing $1 Billion In SoftBank (yahoo.com) 20

Apple said Wednesday it plans to invest $1 billion in SoftBank's new technology fund to help finance technologies it could use in the future. From a report: SoftBank has said it is investing at least $25 billion in the fund and has been in talks with Saudi Arabia's Public Investment Fund for an investment that could go up to $45 billion. "We believe their new fund will speed the development of technologies which may be strategically important to Apple," company spokesman Josh Rosenstock told Reuters. SoftBank has also said that it plans to make future large-scale investments via the tech fund, rather than on its own.
Data Storage

Kingston DataTraveler Ultimate GT 2TB Is World's Largest Capacity Flash Drive (betanews.com) 79

BrianFagioli writes: Today, Kingston announced a product that may get people excited about flash drives again. The company has created a 2TB pocket flash drive (also available in 1TB), called DataTraveler Ultimate GT (Generation Terabyte). This is now the world's largest capacity USB flash drive. "Power users will have the ability to store massive amounts of data in a small form factor, including up to 70 hours of 4K video on a single 2TB drive. DataTraveler Ultimate GT offers superior quality in a high-end design as it is made of a zinc-alloy metal casing for shock resistance. Its compact size gives the tech enthusiast or professional user an easily portable solution to store and transfer their high capacity files," says Kingston.
IT

CloudFlare Was Hit By Leap Second, Causing Its RRDNS Software To 'Panic' (silicon.co.uk) 119

Reader Mickeycaskill writes: The extra leap second added on to the end of 2016 may not have had an effect on most people, but it did catch out a few web companies who failed to factor it in. Web services and security firm CloudFlare was one such example. A small number of its servers went down at midnight UTC on New Year's Day due to an error in its RRDNS software, a domain name service (DNS) proxy that was written to help scale CloudFlare's DNS infrastructure, which limited web access for some of its customers. As CloudFlare explained, a number went negative in the software when it should have been zero, causing RRDNS to "panic" and affect the DNS resolutions to some websites. The issue was confirmed by the company's engineers at 00:34 UTC on New Year's Day and the fix -- which involved patching the clock source to ensure it normalises if time ever skips backwards -- was rolled out to the majority of the affected data centres by 02:50 UTC. Cloudflare said the outage only hit customers who use CNAME DNS records with its service. Google works around leap seconds with a so-called "smearing" technique -- running clocks slightly slower than usual on its Network Time Protocol servers.

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