Businesses

Say Goodbye To Spain's Glorious Three-Hour Lunch Break (citylab.com) 6

An anonymous reader shares a report: Is the typical Spanish daily schedule about to change forever? For decades, campaigners in the country have complained that the average Spaniard's habit of keeping extremely late hours and taking delightfully long lunch breaks was making everyday life harder for citizens. This week, change could finally be on the way, as 110 professional bodies in Catalonia have signed up to a plan to change the region's daily timetable by 2025, shortening the classic three-hour lunch break so that employees can finish work earlier in the evening. Such a change would radically reshape ordinary people's lives -- and controversially, it could drive a wedge between Catalonia and the rest of Spain, where the national government supports similar changes (and has adopted a shorter break for public offices) but hasn't yet fixed a timetable for action. You could call the plan an end to national harmony, a blessed release for hard-pressed workers, or an attack on the Spanish way of life. Whatever you do, however, don't call it the end of the siesta. That's because the beloved and much-misunderstood Spanish tradition of the afternoon nap more or less died out decades ago. What remained is a highly distinctive national timetable not found in any other European country, where it has often been read as a peculiarly exotic form of madness. The average Spanish working day is certainly unusual in shape. After starting work between 8 and 9 a.m., hungry workers hold out for a lunch break scheduled as late as 1:30 or 2:30. As if in compensation for this long wait, many then stay off-duty for a break of up to three hours, filling it with a protracted multi-course lunch and maybe a stop at a "nap bar." Most stores and many businesses close down until the late afternoon, before a final burst of office hours between 5:30 and 8 (or sometimes 4 to 7). Spaniards then head home at an hour when most people in other countries are cleaning up their dinner dishes, rarely getting food on the table any earlier than 10 p.m. This pushes bedtime past midnight for many.
Transportation

Elon Musk Says He Has a Green Light To Build a NY-Philly-Baltimore-DC Hyperloop (theverge.com) 119

An anonymous reader shares a report:Elon Musk just tweeted that his Boring Company tunnel project has just received "verbal [government] approval" to build a hyperloop connecting New York City, Philadelphia, Baltimore, and Washington, DC. While we work to verify his claim, Musk is continuing to tweet more details about the project. The hyperloop, an ultrafast method of travel first developed by Musk in 2013, would only take 29 minutes to travel between New York City and DC, he claims. And it would feature "up to a dozen or more" access points via elevator in each city.
United States

US Ends Controversial Laptop Ban On Flights From Middle East (theguardian.com) 58

The United States has ended a four-month ban on passengers carrying laptops onboard US-bound flights from certain airports in the Middle East and North Africa, bringing to an end one of the controversial travel restrictions imposed by President Donald Trump's administration. From a report: Riyadh's King Khalid international airport was the last of 10 airports to be exempted from the ban, the US department of homeland security (DHS) confirmed in a tweet late on Wednesday local time. Middle East carriers have blamed Trump's travel restrictions, which include banning citizens of some Muslim-majority countries from visiting the United States, for a downturn in demand on US routes. In March, the United States banned large electronics in cabins on flights from 10 airports in the Middle East and North Africa over concerns that explosives could be concealed in the devices taken onboard aircraft. The ban has been lifted on the nine airlines affected -- Emirates, Etihad Airways, Qatar Airways, Turkish Airlines, Saudi Arabian Airlines, Royal Jordanian , Kuwait Airways, EgyptAir and Royal Air Maroc -- which are the only carriers to fly direct to the US from the region. A ban on citizens of six Muslim-majority countries -- Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen, -- remains in place, though has been limited after several US court hearings challenged the restrictions.
Government

US House Panel Approves Broad Proposal On Self-Driving Cars (reuters.com) 142

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Reuters: A U.S. House panel on Wednesday approved a sweeping proposal by voice vote to allow automakers to deploy up to 100,000 self-driving vehicles without meeting existing auto safety standards and bar states from imposing driverless car rules. Representative Robert Latta, a Republican who heads the Energy and Commerce Committee subcommittee overseeing consumer protection, said he would continue to consider changes before the full committee votes on the measure, expected next week. The full U.S. House of Representatives will not take up the bill until it reconvenes in September after the summer recess. The measure, which would be the first significant federal legislation aimed at speeding self-driving cars to market, would require automakers to submit safety assessment reports to U.S. regulators, but would not require pre-market approval of advanced vehicle technologies. Automakers would have to show self-driving cars "function as intended and contain fail safe features" to get exemptions from safety standards but the Transportation Department could not "condition deployment or testing of highly automated vehicles on review of safety assessment certifications," the draft measure unveiled late Monday said.
Government

Russia Is Investigating Fidget Spinners After Reports Claim They 'Zombify' Youth (theverge.com) 143

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Verge: In a recent report, Russia-24, a state-owned news channel, suggests that fidget spinners are being used by Russian opposition parties in order to recruit young people. As reported by The New York Times, the reporters in Russia-24's initial story say, "It is a mystery why it has become so popular in Russia right now. Who is promoting this to the masses so actively?" The video segment says the toys were being distributed at a rally for opposition leader Alexei Navalny and in online ads that direct viewers to YouTube channels that promote opposition politicians. The reporters said that while the toy's popularity was declining in the West, fidget spinners are more popular than ever in Russia. "As you can see here there is only writing in English, on the other side there is not a word in Russian," says one of the show's anchors during the report, presenting a new spinner in its packaging to the camera. According to Newsweek, a second report on Russia-24 also aired on July 12th, directly saying fidget spinners were an "object for zombifying" and a form of "hypnosis." The program featured a report from psychologist Svetlana Filatova, claiming that the spinners could help dexterity in children but otherwise "dulls" people's minds. The reports spurred Russia's consumer protection agency, Rospotrebnadzor, into action, saying on Tuesday they would launch an investigation into the toy.
Communications

Telecom Lobbyists Downplayed 'Theoretical' Security Flaws in Mobile Data Backbone (vice.com) 33

An anonymous reader shares a report: According to a confidential document obtained by Motherboard, wireless communications lobby group CTIA took issue with an in-depth report by the Department of Homeland Security on mobile device security, including flaws with the SS7 network. In a white paper sent to members of Congress and the Department of Homeland Security, CTIA, a telecom lobbying group that represents Verizon, AT&T, and other wireless carriers, argued that "Congress and the Administration should reject the [DHS] Report's call for greater regulation" while downplaying "theoretical" security vulnerabilities in a mobile data network that hackers may be able to use to monitor phones across the globe, according to the confidential document obtained by Motherboard. However, experts strongly disagree about the threat these vulnerabilities pose, saying the flaws should be taken seriously before criminals exploit them. SS7, a network and protocol often used to route messages when a user is roaming outside their provider's coverage, is exploited by criminals and surveillance companies to track targets, intercept phone calls or sweep up text messages. In some cases, criminals have used SS7 attacks to obtain bank account two-factor authentication tokens, and last year, California Rep. Ted Lieu said that, for hackers, "the applications for this vulnerability are seemingly limitless."
AI

Michigan Will Build 25 Self-Driving Trolleys In 2017 (observer.com) 100

French trolley-maker Navya announced its first manufacturing facility in North America. The company will build a 20,000 square foot facility for the construction of its self-driving trolley, the Arma. "It aims to construct 25 vehicles there this year," reports Observer. "It has 45 vehicles deployed around the world already. These robots have a max speed of about 27 miles per hour, but typically travel more like 12 miles per hour (the speed of a typical bike ride). Each one can transport about 15 people." From the report: The plant will be built in Saline, Michigan, a suburban town just south of Ann Arbor with a population of less than 9,000. The Michigan Economic Development Corporation estimates that the plant will support 50 new jobs. "As the greater Ann Arbor area continues to establish itself as a hub for autonomous vehicle development, we feel it's the perfect location for us. Strong government and community support for mobility initiatives combined with an excellent talent pool provide the ideal environment for our expansion in North America," Navya CEO Christophe Sapet said in a press release. "I have no doubt that they will become an important and valued member of our already stellar business community," Brian Marl, Saline's mayor, said in a release.
Medicine

The Myth of Drug Expiration Dates (propublica.org) 313

schwit1 shares a report from ProPublica: Hospitals and pharmacies are required to toss expired drugs, no matter how expensive or vital. Meanwhile the FDA has long known that many remain safe and potent for years longer. The box of prescription drugs had been forgotten in a back closet of a retail pharmacy for so long that some of the pills predated the 1969 moon landing. Most were 30 to 40 years past their expiration dates -- possibly toxic, probably worthless. But to Lee Cantrell, who helps run the California Poison Control System, the cache was an opportunity to answer an enduring question about the actual shelf life of drugs: Could these drugs from the bell-bottom era still be potent?

Gerona and Cantrell, a pharmacist and toxicologist, knew that the term "expiration date" was a misnomer. The dates on drug labels are simply the point up to which the Food and Drug Administration and pharmaceutical companies guarantee their effectiveness, typically at two or three years. But the dates don't necessarily mean they're ineffective immediately after they "expire" -- just that there's no incentive for drugmakers to study whether they could still be usable.

Tests on the decades-old drugs including antihistamines, pain relievers and stimulants. All the drugs tested were in their original sealed containers. The findings surprised both researchers: A dozen of the 14 compounds were still as potent as they were when they were manufactured, some at almost 100 percent of their labeled concentrations. Experts say the United States might be squandering a quarter of the money spent on health care. That's an estimated $765 billion a year.

Transportation

Oregon Passes First Statewide Bicycle Tax In Nation (washingtontimes.com) 661

turkeydance writes: In Oregon, a state known for its avid bicycling culture, the state legislature's approval of the first bike tax in the nation has fallen flat with riders. Democratic Gov. Kate Brown is expected to sign the sweeping $5.3 billion transportation package, which includes a $15 excise tax on the sale of bicycles costing more than $200 with a wheel diameter of at least 26 inches. Even though the funding has been earmarked for improvements that will benefit cyclists, the tax has managed to irk both anti-tax Republicans and environmentally conscious bikers. The bike tax is aimed at raising $1.2 million per year in order to improve and expand paths and trails for bicyclists and pedestrians. Supporters point out that Oregon has no sales tax, which means buyers won't be dinged twice for their new wheels.
Communications

FCC Refuses To Release Text of More Than 40,000 Net Neutrality Complaints (arstechnica.com) 60

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Ars Technica: The Federal Communications Commission has denied a request to extend the deadline for filing public comments on its plan to overturn net neutrality rules, and the FCC is refusing to release the text of more than 40,000 net neutrality complaints that it has received since June 2015. The National Hispanic Media Coalition (NHMC) filed a Freedom of Information Act (FoIA) request in May of this year for tens of thousands of net neutrality complaints that Internet users filed against their ISPs. The NHMC argues that the details of these complaints are crucial for analyzing FCC Chairman Ajit Pai's proposal to overturn net neutrality rules. The coalition also asked the FCC to extend the initial comment deadline until 60 days after the commission fully complies with the FoIA request. A deadline extension would have given people more time to file public comments on the plan to eliminate net neutrality rules. Instead, the FCC yesterday denied the motion for an extension and said that it will only provide the text for a fraction of the complaints, because providing them all would be too burdensome.
Government

US Increases Number of H-2B Visas By 15,000 (arstechnica.com) 141

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Ars Technica: President Donald Trump has said he's going to set more limits on the H-1B visa program, which allows tens of thousands of technology workers into the U.S. each year. But yesterday, the Department of Homeland Security moved to expand another type of visa, the H-2B, which allows lower-skilled workers in on a seasonal basis. The Department of Homeland Security said yesterday it is going to allow an additional 15,000 workers to come in under the H-2B visa category, which is typically used by U.S. businesses in industries like tourism, construction, and seafood processing. The program normally allows for 66,000 visas, split between the two halves of the year. That means the DHS increase, announced yesterday, represents an increase of more than 40 percent for the second half of 2017. Businesses can begin applying for the additional visas right away, as long as they attest under penalty of perjury that their business will "suffer irreparable harm" if it can't employ additional H-2B workers in 2017. The expansion is a temporary one, and it only applies to the current year.
Privacy

Facial Recognition Could Be Coming To Police Body Cameras (defenseone.com) 177

schwit1 quotes a report from Defense One: Even if the cop who pulls you over doesn't recognize you, the body camera on his chest eventually just might. Device-maker Motorola will work with artificial intelligence software startup Neurala to build "real-time learning for a person of interest search" on products such as the Si500 body camera for police, the firm announced Monday. Italian-born neuroscientist and Neurala founder Massimiliano Versace has created patent-pending image recognition and machine learning technology. It's similar to other machine learning methods but far more scalable, so a device carried by that cop on his shoulder can learn to recognize shapes and -- potentially faces -- as quickly and reliably as a much larger and more powerful computer. It works by mimicking the mammalian brain, rather than the way computers have worked traditionally.

Versace's research was funded, in part, by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency or DARPA under a program called SyNAPSE. In a 2010 paper for IEEE Spectrum, he describes the breakthrough. Basically, a tiny constellation of processors do the work of different parts of the brain -- which is sometimes called neuromorphic computation -- or "computation that can be divided up between hardware that processes like the body of a neuron and hardware that processes the way dendrites and axons do." Versace's research shows that AIs can learn in that environment using a lot less code.

Microsoft

US Appeals Court Upholds Nondisclosure Rules For Surveillance Orders (reuters.com) 53

An anonymous reader shares a report: A U.S. federal appeals court on Monday upheld nondisclosure rules that allow the FBI to secretly issue surveillance orders for customer data to communications firms, a ruling that dealt a blow to privacy advocates. A unanimous three-judge panel on the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco sided with a lower court ruling in finding that rules permitting the FBI to send national security letters under gag orders are appropriate and do not violate the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution's free speech protections. Content distribution firm CloudFlare and phone network operator CREDO Mobile had sued the government in order to notify customers of five national security letters received between 2011 and 2013.
AMD

Chipmakers Nvidia, AMD Ride Cryptocurrency Wave -- For Now (bloomberg.com) 57

During California's Gold Rush, it was often the sellers of pickaxes and shovels who made the most money. In the frenzy to get rich quick from cryptocurrencies, some investors are calling computer chipmakers the modern-day equivalent. From a report: Shares of Nvidia and Advanced Micro Devices have gained at least 14 percent since the beginning of June, spurred in part by about a 10-fold boom from April to June in a market, known as ethereum, for a currency that can be used to buy computing power over the internet. What's the link between ethereum and these Silicon Valley chipmakers? It lies in the really powerful graphics processors, designed to make computer games more realistic, that are also needed to gain access to encrypted digital currencies. Nvidia and AMD have rallied in the last month and a half even as investors have ignored chip stocks leaving the benchmark Philadelphia Stock Exchange Semiconductor Index up about 1 percent. Nvidia has gained 14 percent and AMD rallied 27 percent. While some of that has come from optimism around new products for other markets, analysts are projecting that sales related to cryptocurrencies will result in a spike in revenue for both companies. Even so, investors shouldn't bank on a lasting impact from the cryptocurrency boom, said Stacy Rasgon, an analyst at Sanford C. Bernstein & Co. "This has happened before," Rasgon said. "It lasted about a quarter." [...] Like bitcoin, ethereum is an attempt by an online community to create an economy that doesn't rely on government-backed currencies. Unlike bitcoin, it's focused solely on offering decentralized computing and storage services. Those seeking to use these services -- and speculators looking for a quick profit by creating and then selling ether -- have seized on graphics cards, which excel at performing multiple simple calculations in parallel, as a faster way to claim the blocks of code that act as the currency of the ethereum market. Demand from ethereum miners has created temporary shortages of some of the graphics cards, according to analysts, who cite sold-out products at online retailers. Estimates of additional sales from this demand run as high as $875 million, according to RBC Capital Markets analyst Mitch Steves. That would roughly equal AMD's total sales from graphics chips last year, or half of Nvidia's quarterly sales of those components. But Steves and other analysts are also quick to warn that the market opportunity could fizzle out.
Electronic Frontier Foundation

American ISPS Are Now Fighting State Broadband Privacy Proposals (eff.org) 74

The EFF complains that "the very companies who spent millions of dollars lobbying in D.C. to repeal our federal broadband privacy rights are now fighting state attempts to protect consumers because they supposedly prefer a federal rule." The EFF urges Californians to phone their state senator ahead of a crucial back-to-back committee hearings on Tuesday. An anonymous reader writes: "Congress stole your online privacy. Let's seize it back," begins an email that the EFF is sending to California supporters. It warns that "Big Telecom has massive amounts of money to spend on an army of lobbyists. But if Internet users from across California unite with one voice, we can defeat their misinformation campaign... Don't let the big ISPs coopt our privacy."

The EFF's site points out that more than 83% of Americans support the privacy regulations which were repealed in March by the U.S. Congress, according to a new poll released last week. That's even more than the 77% of Americans who support keeping current net neutrality protections in place, according to the same poll. The EFF now hopes that California's newly-proposed legislation could become a model for privacy-protecting laws in other states. And back in Silicon Valley, the San Jose Mercury News writes that California "has an obligation to take a lead in establishing the basic privacy rights of consumers using the Internet. Beyond being the right thing to do for the whole country, building trust in tech products is an essential long-term business strategy for the industry that was born in this region."

The EFF has also compiled an interesting list of past instances where ISPs have already tried to exploit the personal information of their customers for profit.
Australia

Crypto-Bashing Prime Minister Argues The Laws Of Mathematics Don't Apply In Australia (independent.co.uk) 323

An anonymous reader quotes the Independent:Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has said the laws of mathematics come second to the law of the land in a row over privacy and encryption... When challenged by a technology journalist over whether it was possible to tackle the problem of criminals using encryption -- given that platform providers claim they are currently unable to break into the messages even if required to do so by law -- the Prime Minister raised eyebrows as he made his reply. "Well the laws of Australia prevail in Australia, I can assure you of that. The laws of mathematics are very commendable, but the only law that applies in Australia is the law of Australia," he said... "The important thing is to recognise the challenge and call on the companies for assistance. I am sure they know morally they should... They have to face up to their responsibility."
Facebook has already issued a statement saying that they "appreciate the important work law enforcement does, and we understand the need to carry out investigations. That's why we already have a protocol in place to respond to any requests we can.

"At the same time, weakening encrypted systems for them would mean weakening it for everyone."
Government

Y Combinator Announces Funding For UBI-Supporting Political Candidates (latimes.com) 194

Most people "feel like they have great potential that is being wasted," argues Y Combinator president Sam Altman -- a Stanford dropout whose company's investments are now worth $65 billion, including Airbnb, Reddit, and Dropbox. Now an anonymous reader quote the Los Angeles Times: A wealthy young Silicon Valley venture capitalist hopes to recruit statewide and congressional candidates and launch an affordable-housing ballot measure in 2018 because he says California's leaders are failing to address flaws in the state's governance that are killing opportunities for future generations. Sam Altman, 32, will roll out an effort to enlist candidates around a shared set of policy priorities -- including tackling how automation is going to affect the economy and the cost of housing in California -- and is willing to put his own money behind the effort. "I think we have a fundamental breakdown of the American social contract and it's desperately important that we fix it," he said. "Even if we had a very well-functioning government, it would be a challenge, and our current government functions so badly it is an extra challenge..."

Altman lays out 10 principles including lowering the cost of housing, creating single-payer healthcare, increasing clean energy use, improving education, reforming taxes and rebuilding infrastructure. He has few specific policy edicts, and floats proposals that will generate controversy, such as creating a universal basic income for all Americans in an effort to equalize opportunity, public funding for the media and increasing taxes on property that is owned by foreigners, is unoccupied or has been "flipped" by investors seeking a quick return on an investment.

Altman argues that he wants to "ensure that everyone benefits from the coming changes," and specifically highlights the idea of a Universal Basic Income. Altman writes that "If it turns out to be a good policy, I could imagine passing a law that puts it into effect when the GDP per capita doubles. This could help cushion the transition to a post-automation world."
Transportation

Is Homeland Security's Face-Scanning At Airports An Unreasonable Search? (technologyreview.com) 146

schwit1 shares an article from MIT's Technology Review: Facial-recognition systems may indeed speed up the boarding process, as the airlines rolling them out promise. But the real reason they are cropping up in U.S. airports is that the government wants to keep better track of who is leaving the country, by scanning travelers' faces and verifying those scans against photos it already has on file... The U.S. Department of Homeland Security has partnered with airlines including JetBlue and Delta to introduce such recognition systems at New York's JFK International Airport, Washington's Dulles International, and airports in Atlanta, Boston, and Houston, among others. It plans to add more this summer...

As facial-recognition technology has improved significantly in recent years, it has attracted the interest of governments and law enforcement agencies. That's led to debates over whether certain uses of the technology violate constitutional protections against unreasonable searches... Harrison Rudolph, a law fellow at Georgetown Law's Center on Privacy and Technology, and others are raising alarms because as part of the process, U.S. Customs and Border Protection is also scanning the faces of U.S. citizens... They say Congress has never expressly authorized the collection of facial scans from U.S. citizens at the border routinely and without suspicion.

"We aren't entirely sure what the government is doing with the images," the article adds, though it notes that the Department of Homeland Security is saying that it deletes all data pertaining to the images after two weeks. But Slashdot reader schwit1 is still worried about the possibility of an irretrievable loss of privacy, writing that "If the DHS database gets hacked, it's hard to get a new face."
Businesses

Are America's Non-Compete Laws Too Strict? (nrtoday.com) 167

Slashdot reader cdreimer shared an article from the New York Times: Idaho achieved a notable distinction last year: It became one of the hardest places in America for someone to quit a job for a better one. The state did this by making it easier for companies to enforce noncompete agreements, which prevent employees from leaving their company for a competitor... The result was a bill that shifted the burden from companies to employees, who must now prove they have "no ability to adversely affect the employer's legitimate business interests." The bar for that is so high that Brian Kane, an assistant chief deputy in the Idaho attorney general's office, wrote that this would be "difficult if not impossible" for an employee to do...

For the most part, states have been moving toward making it easier for people to switch teams... The most extreme end of the spectrum is California, which prohibits noncompete agreements entirely. Economists say this was a crucial factor behind Silicon Valley's rise, because it made it easier for people to start and staff new businesses. But as states like Utah and Massachusetts have tried to move closer to this approach, legislators have run into mature companies trying to hold onto their best employees... A recent survey showed that one in five American workers is bound by a noncompete clause. They cover workers up and down the economic spectrum, from executives to hairdressers.

Two economists tell the newspaper that since 2000, U.S. workers have changed their jobs less and less, which is sometimes blamed on strict employment contracts as well as the occupational licensing laws which affect a third of America's workforce. The Times reports that noncompete clauses ultimately end up keeping workers' salaries lower, "because most people get raises when they switch jobs."
AI

Elon Musk Warns Governors: Regulate AI Before It's 'Too Late' (recode.net) 201

turkeydance shared a new article from Recode about Elon Musk: He's been warning people about AI for years, and today called it the "biggest risk we face as a civilization" when he spoke at the National Governors Association Summer Meeting in Rhode Island. Musk then called on the government to proactively regulate artificial intelligence before things advance too far... "Normally the way regulations are set up is a while bunch of bad things happen, there's a public outcry, and after many years a regulatory agency is set up to regulate that industry," he continued. "It takes forever. That, in the past, has been bad but not something which represented a fundamental risk to the existence of civilization. AI is a fundamental risk to the existence of human civilization"... Musk has even said that his desire to colonize Mars is, in part, a backup plan for if AI takes over on Earth.
Several governors asked Musk how to regulate the emerging AI industry, to which he suggested learning as much as possible about artificial intelligence. Musk also warned that society won't know how to react "until people see robots going down the street killing people... I think by the time we are reactive in AI regulation, it's too late."

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