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NASA

NASA Awards $127 Million Contract For Refueling Mission Spacecraft (gizmodo.com) 9

Satellites cost millions of dollars to be launched into space and there's no guarantee that they will work without electrical or mechanical problems once in orbit. NASA has recently announced that it will award a $127 million contract to a company that aims to use a robotic spacecraft to fix satellites in space, thus potentially saving millions of dollars in the long-run by fixing satellites that would otherwise be "expensive e-waste." Gizmodo reports: NASA has just announced that it will award a $127 million contract to the California-based satellite company Space Systems/Loral for Restore-L, a robotic spacecraft capable of grasping, refueling and relocating a satellite in low Earth orbit, in addition to testing technologies for future missions. SSL has three years to build the bot, which is projected to launch in 2020. Without the ability to refuel, a satellite's lifespan is restricted by the amount of propellant engineers can pack in its tank at launch. That lifespan can be cut even shorter should the spacecraft encounter any electrical or mechanical problems on orbit. As more and more satellites reach the end of their operational lifespans, government agencies and private companies have been working to remedy this problem by developing robots that can give satellites a tune-up in zero-gravity. DARPA, for instance, recently launched a program aimed at designing robots capable of servicing satellites at the hard-to-reach but highly-desirable perch of geosynchronous orbit, 22,000 miles above Earth. NASA's Satellite Servicing Division, meanwhile, has a handful of on-orbit repair and refueling technology demonstrators in the works, including a robotic arm with the same range of motion as a human arm, a navigation system designed to help robots rendezvous with moving objects in space, and Restore-L, which combines these and other capabilities into a multi-purpose space mechanic. For now, Restore-L's primary goal is to refuel Landsat 7, a critical Earth-monitoring satellite operated by NASA and the U.S. Geological Survey. If successful, the spacecraft may be modified for all sorts of other useful tasks, from mopping up the ever-growing halo of space junk encircling our planet, to servicing exciting new science missions like the Asteroid Redirect Mission, which will grab a multi-ton boulder from the surface of an asteroid and tow it back to orbit around the Moon.
Google

'The Circle' Trailer Looks An Awful Lot Like Google (cnet.com) 16

theodp writes: If you never got around to reading Dave Eggers' novel The Circle, the tale of a powerful tech company that bears a more-than-passing resemblance to Google (and has an Apple spaceship-like HQ) is coming to the big screen and the first trailer is out. The film has a release date of spring 2017, and stars Tom Hanks, Emma Watson and John Boyega. Remember, sharing is caring!
AI

Microsoft Researchers Offer Predictions For AI, Deep Learning (theverge.com) 35

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Verge: Microsoft polled 17 women working in its research organization about the technology advances they expect to see in 2017, as well as a decade later in 2027. The researchers' predictions touch on natural language processing, machine learning, agricultural software, and virtual reality, among other topics. For virtual reality, Mar Gonzalez Franco, a researcher in Microsoft's Redmond lab, believes body tracking will improve next year, and then over the next decade we'll have "rich multi-sensorial experiences that will be capable of producing hallucinations which blend or alter perceives reality." Haptic devices will simulate touch to further enhance the sensory experience. Meanwhile, Susan Dumais, a scientist and deputy managing director at the Redmond lab, believes deep learning will help improve web search results next year. In 2027, however, the search box will disappear, she says. It'll be replaced by search that's more "ubiquitous, embedded, and contextually sensitive." She says we're already seeing some of this in voice-controlled searches through mobile and smart home devices. We might eventually be able to look things up with either sound, images, or video. Plus, our searches will respond to "current location, content, entities, and activities" without us explicitly mentioning them, she says. Of course, it's worth noting that Microsoft has been losing the search box war to Google, so it isn't surprising that the company thinks search will die. With global warming as a looming threat, Asta Roseway, principal research designer, says by 2027 famers will use AI to maintain healthy crop yields, even with "climate change, drought, and disaster." Low-energy farming solutions, like vertical farming and aquaponics, will also be essential to keeping the food supply high, she says. You can view all 17 predictions here.
Communications

Weather Channel To Breitbart: Stop Citing Us To Spread Climate Skepticism (weather.com) 158

Breitbart.com published an article last week that erroneously claims global warming is coming to an end, claiming "global land temperatures have plummeted by 1 degree Celsius since the middle of the year -- the biggest and steepest fall on record." The Weather Channel finds this report especially upsetting as it's not only inaccurate but it features a video from weather.com at the top of the article. The Weather Channel reports: Breitbart had the legal right to use this clip as part of a content-sharing agreement with another company, but there should be no assumption that The Weather Company endorses the article associated with it. The Breitbart article -- a prime example of cherry picking, or pulling a single item out of context to build a misleading case -- includes this statement: "The last three years may eventually come to be seen as the final death rattle of the global warming scare." In fact, thousands of researchers and scientific societies are in agreement that greenhouse gases produced by human activity are warming the planet's climate and will keep doing so. Along with its presence on the high-profile Breitbart site, the article drew even more attention after a link to it was retweeted by the U.S. House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology. The Breitbart article heavily references a piece that first appeared on U.K. Daily Mail's site. The Weather Channel went on to refute the Breitbart article's hypothesis: This number comes from one satellite-based estimate of temperatures above land areas in the lower atmosphere. Data from the other two groups that regularly publish satellite-based temperature estimates show smaller drops, more typical of the decline one would expect after a strong El Nino event. Temperatures over land give an incomplete picture of global-scale temperature. Most of the planet -- about 70 percent -- is covered by water, and the land surface warms and cools more quickly than the ocean. Land-plus-ocean data from the other two satellite groups, released after the Breitbart article, show that Earth's lower atmosphere actually set a record high in November 2016.
Software

Apple Launches Single Sign-On Service To Make Logging Into TV Apps Less Time-Consuming (macrumors.com) 16

Apple has launched Single Sign-on, a service designed to make logging into TV apps much less annoying. It "allows cable subscribers to sign in once with their cable credentials to gain access to all cable-restricted content in iOS and tvOS apps," writes Juli Clover via MacRumors: Single Sign-on is limited to the United States, and according to a support document, is available for the following providers: CenturyLink Prism, DirecTV, Dish, GVTC, GTA, Hawaiian Telecom, Hotwire, MetroCast, and Sling. While Single Sign-on was introduced and tested in the tvOS 10.1 and iOS 10.2 betas, the feature was remotely released today to all iOS 10 and tvOS 10 devices. Using Single Sign-on does not require one of the betas, and is instead immediately available to all iPhone and Apple TV users running iOS 10 or tvOS 10. With Single Sign-on, customers with a supported provider will use the Settings options in iOS or tvOS to sign in with their cable credentials. From then on, when accessing a supported app that requires a cable subscription, the app will ask to use the saved sign-on credentials. Most cable channels and content providers offer individual apps on the Apple TV and iOS devices, but still require cable authentication before users can access content. Prior to Single Sign-on, customers were required to enter their credentials in each individual app, a frustrating and time-consuming process.
Advertising

New Stegano Exploit Kit Hides Malvertising Code In Banner Pixels (bleepingcomputer.com) 79

An anonymous reader quotes a report from BleepingComputer: For the past two months, a new exploit kit has been serving malicious code hidden in the pixels of banner ads via a malvertising campaign that has been active on several high profile websites. Discovered by security researchers from ESET, this new exploit kit is named Stegano, from the word steganography, which is a technique of hiding content inside other files. In this particular scenario, malvertising campaign operators hid malicious code inside PNG images used for banner ads. The crooks took a PNG image and altered the transparency value of several pixels. They then packed the modified image as an ad, for which they bought ad displays on several high-profile websites. Since a large number of advertising networks allow advertisers to deliver JavaScript code with their ads, the crooks also included JS code that would parse the image, extract the pixel transparency values, and using a mathematical formula, convert those values into a character. Since images have millions of pixels, crooks had all the space they needed to pack malicious code inside a PNG photo. When extracted, this malicious code would redirect the user to an intermediary ULR, called gate, where the host server would filter users. This server would only accept connections from Internet Explorer users. The reason is that the gate would exploit the CVE-2016-0162 vulnerability that allowed the crooks to determine if the connection came from a real user or a reverse analysis system employed by security researchers. Additionally, this IE exploit also allowed the gate server to detect the presence of antivirus software. In this case, the server would drop the connection just to avoid exposing its infrastructure and trigger a warning that would alert both the user and the security firm. If the gate server deemed the target valuable, then it would redirect the user to the final stage, which was the exploit kit itself, hosted on another URL. The Stegano exploit kit would use three Adobe Flash vulnerabilities (CVE-2015-8651, CVE-2016-1019 or CVE-2016-4117) to attack the user's PC, and forcibly download and launch into execution various strains of malware.
Cellphones

Former Samsung Engineers Build Smart Umbrella That Tells If It's Going To Rain (mashable.com) 56

A team of former Samsung engineers have developed a smart umbrella, dubbed Opus One, that tells its owner if it's going to rain with the shake of the handle. International Business Times reports: Developed by a team of former Samsung engineers, Opus One smart umbrella works when it is connected to the smartphone via Bluetooth 4.1 through its companion app Jonas. The device gets weather reports every morning from credible sources and sends alert to its owner when its handle is shaken. Red light on the device indicates rain on that particular day, while a green one indicates clear skies. Jonas collects weather data of select cities and sends the information to Opus One smart umbrella, thus helping the owner to know if it's going to rain on a particular day. The device notifies its owner by vibrating if the smartphone connected to the app receives calls, emails or text messages. The smart umbrella also vibrates if its owner leaves behind the smartphone that is connected to it before the user gets too far away. The smartphone too will vibrate and alert its owner if the smart umbrella is left behind. This will help prevent loss of both the products. The umbrella runs on AAA batteries and costs about $105.
Robotics

Scientists Develop Robotic Hand For People With Quadriplegia (phys.org) 19

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Phys.Org: Scientists have developed a mind-controlled robotic hand that allows people with certain types of spinal injuries to perform everyday tasks such as using a fork or drinking from a cup. The low-cost device was tested in Spain on six people with quadriplegia affecting their ability to grasp or manipulate objects. By wearing a cap that measures electric brain activity and eye movement the users were able to send signals to a tablet computer that controlled the glove-like device attached to their hand. Participants in the small-scale study were able to perform daily activities better with the robotic hand than without, according to results published Tuesday in the journal Science Robotics. It took participants just 10 minutes to learn how to use the system before they were able to carry out tasks such as picking up potato chips or signing a document. According to Surjo R. Soekadar, a neuroscientist at the University Hospital Tuebingen in Germany and lead author of the study, participants represented typical people with high spinal cord injuries, meaning they were able to move their shoulders but not their fingers. There were some limitations to the system, though. Users had to have sufficient function in their shoulder and arm to reach out with the robotic hand. And mounting the system required another person's help.
Iphone

Apple Says Air Exposure Is Causing iPhone 6s Battery Problems (arstechnica.com) 57

Last month, Apple announced a repair program for a "small number" of iPhone 6s phones that suffer from faulty batteries. The phones that were affected by this fault were manufactured between September and October 2015. Two weeks later, Apple now says the fault was caused by overexposure to "controlled ambient air." Ars Technica reports: The same press release -- issued only in China so far, but available in English if you scroll down -- says that some owners of later iPhone 6S models are also reporting problems with unexpected shutdowns. Apple isn't replacing those batteries just yet, but the company says that an iOS update "available next week" will add "additional diagnostic capability" that will allow Apple to better track down and diagnose the causes of these shutdowns. It "may potentially help [Apple] improve the algorithms used to manage battery performance and shutdown," as well. Those improvements will be included in future iOS updates. Apple says that the battery problem "is not a safety issue," an important thing to note given the way the Galaxy Note 7 blew up in Samsung's face. The software update that Apple mentions in the release is almost certainly iOS 10.2, which is currently in its sixth beta build. The update will be the first major bug-fix release since October's iOS 10.1, and it also includes a handful of other changes like new and redesigned emoji, the TV app that Apple demoed at its last product event, and other features.
Businesses

T-Mobile CFO: Less Regulation, Repeal of Net Neutrality By Trump Would Be 'Positive For My Industry' (tmonews.com) 124

An anonymous reader quotes a report from TmoNews: T-Mobile CFO Braxton Carter spoke at the UBS Global Media and Communications Conference in New York City, and he touched a bit on President-elect Donald Trump and what his election could mean for the mobile industry. Carter expects that a Trump presidency will foster an environment that'll be more positive for wireless. "It's hard to imagine, with the way the election turned out, that we're not going to have an environment, from several aspects, that is not going to be more positive for my industry," the CFO said. He went on to explain that there will likely be less regulation, something that he feels "destroys innovation and value creation." Speaking of innovation, Carter also feels that a reversal of net neutrality and the FCC's Open Internet rules would be good for innovation in the industry, saying that it "would provide opportunity for significant innovation and differentiation" and that it'd enable you to "do some very interesting things."
Google

Google Says It Is About To Reach 100 Percent Renewable Energy (blog.google) 154

Google said today it will power 100 percent of its sprawling data centers and offices with renewable energy starting next year. The company said today it has bought enough wind and solar power to account for all the electricity it uses globally each year. In comparison, 44 percent of Google's power supplies came from renewables last year. From a blogpost: To reach this goal we'll be directly buying enough wind and solar electricity annually to account for every unit of electricity our operations consume, globally. And we're focusing on creating new energy from renewable sources, so we only buy from projects that are funded by our purchases. Over the last six years, the cost of wind and solar came down 60 percent and 80 percent, respectively, proving that renewables are increasingly becoming the lowest cost option. Electricity costs are one of the largest components of our operating expenses at our data centers, and having a long-term stable cost of renewable power provides protection against price swings in energy.
HP

HP Shutting Down Default FTP, Telnet Access To Network Printers (pcworld.com) 78

Security experts consider the aging FTP and Telnet protocols unsafe, and HP has decided to clamp down on access to networked printers through the remote-access tools. From a report on PCWorld: Some of HP's new business printers will, by default, be closed to remote access via protocols like FTP and Telnet. However, customers can activate remote printing access through those protocols if needed. "HP has started the process of closing older, less-maintained interfaces including ports, protocols and cipher suites" identified by the U.S. National Institute of Standards and Technology as less than secure, the company said in a statement. In addition, HP also announced firmware updates to existing business printers with improved password and encryption settings, so hackers can't easily break into the devices.
United States

China Chases Silicon Valley Talent Who Are Worried About Trump Presidency (cnbc.com) 364

China is trying to capitalize on President-elect Donald Trump's hardline immigration stance and vow to clamp down on a foreign worker visa program that has been used to recruit thousands from overseas to Silicon Valley. From a report on CNBC: Leading tech entrepreneurs, including Robin Li, the billionaire CEO of Baidu, China's largest search engine, see Trump's plans as a huge potential opportunity to lure tech talent away from the United States. The country already offers incentives of up to $1 million as signing bonuses for those deemed "outstanding" and generous subsidies for start-ups. Meanwhile, the Washington Post last month reported on comments made by Steve Bannon, who is now the president-elect's chief strategist, during a radio conversation with Trump in Nov. 2015. Bannon, the former Breitbart.com publisher, indicated that he didn't necessarily agree with the idea that foreign talent that goes to school in America should stay in America. "When two-thirds or three-quarters of the CEOs in Silicon Valley are from South Asia or from Asia, I think ...," Bannon said, trailing off. "A country is more than an economy. We're a civic society."
Databases

YouTube, Facebook, Twitter and Microsoft Will Create 'Hash' Database To Remove Extremist Content (reuters.com) 220

bongey writes: Youtube, Facebook, Twitter and Microsoft are teaming up to create a common database to flag extremist videos and pictures. The database is set to go live in 2017. The system will not automatically remove content. Reuters reports: "The companies will share 'hashes' -- unique digital fingerprints they automatically assign to videos or photos -- of extremist content they have removed from their websites to enable their peers to identify the same content on their platforms. 'We hope this collaboration will lead to greater efficiency as we continue to enforce our policies to help curb the pressing global issue of terrorist content online,' the companies said in a statement on Tuesday. Each company will decide what image and video hashes to add to the database and matching content will not be automatically removed, they said. The database will be up and running in early 2017 and more companies could be brought into the partnership."
Education

White House Silence Seems To Confirm $4 Billion 'Computer Science For All' K-12 Initiative Is No More 260

theodp writes: "2016 as a year of action builds on a decade of national, state, and grassroots activity to revitalize K-12 computer science education," reads the upbeat White House blog post kicking off Computer Science Education Week. But conspicuous by its absence in the accompanying fact sheet for A Year of Action Supporting Computer Science for All is any mention of the status of President Obama's proposed $4 billion Computer Science For All initiative, which enjoyed support from the likes of Microsoft, Facebook, and Google. On Friday, tech-backed Code.org posted An Update on Computer Science Education and Federal Funding, which explained that Congress's passage of a 'continuing resolution' extending the current budget into 2017 spelled curtains for federal funding for the program in 2016 and beyond. "We don't have any direct feedback yet about the next administration's support for K-12 CS," wrote CEO Hadi Partovi and Govt. Affairs VP Cameron Wilson, "other than a promise to expand 'vocational and technical education' as part of Trump's 100-day plan which was published in late October. I am hopeful that this language may translate into support for funding K-12 computer science at a federal level. However, we should assume that it will not."
Communications

Facebook Begins Asking Users To Rate Articles' Use of 'Misleading Language' (techcrunch.com) 111

Facebook is finally cracking down on the fake news stories that run rampant on its site and many other social media sites across the web. The company is rolling out a new feature in the form of a survey that asks users to rate articles' use of "misleading language." The feedback received will likely help Facebook train its algorithms to better detect misleading headlines. TechCrunch reports: The "Facebook Survey," noticed by Chris Krewson of Philadelphia's Billy Penn, accompanied (for him) a Philadelphia Inquirer article about the firing of a well-known nut vendor for publicly espousing white nationalist views. "To what extent do you think that this link's title uses misleading language?" asks the "survey," which appears directly below the article. Response choices range from "Not at all" to "Completely," though users can also choose to dismiss it or just scroll past. Facebook confirmed to TechCrunch that this is an official effort, though it did not answer several probing questions about how it works, how the data is used and retained, and so on. The company uses surveys somewhat like this to test the general quality of the news feed, and it has used other metrics to attempt to define rules for finding clickbait and fake stories. This appears to be the first direct coupling of those two practices: old parts doing a new job.
Government

California State Senator Introduces Bill That Would Mandate Reporting of 'Superbug' Infections, Deaths (reuters.com) 72

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Reuters: A California state senator introduced a bill on Monday that would mandate reporting of antibiotic-resistant infections and deaths and require doctors to record the infections on death certificates when they are a cause of death. The legislation also aims to establish the nation's most comprehensive statewide surveillance system to track infections and deaths from drug-resistant pathogens. Data from death certificates would be used to help compile an annual state report on superbug infections and related deaths. In September, a Reuters investigation revealed that tens of thousands of superbug deaths nationwide go uncounted every year. The infections are often omitted from death certificates, and even when they are recorded, they aren't counted because of the lack of a unified national surveillance system. Because there is no federal surveillance system, monitoring of superbug infections and deaths falls to the states. A Reuters survey of all 50 state health departments and the District of Columbia found that reporting requirements vary widely. Hill's bill would require hospitals and clinical labs to submit an annual summary of antibiotic-resistant infections to the California Department of Health beginning July 1, 2018; amend a law governing death certificates by requiring that doctors specify on death certificates when a superbug was the leading or a contributing cause of death; and require the state Health Department to publish an annual report on resistant infections and deaths, including data culled from death certificates.
Software

Windows 10 'Home Hub' Is Microsoft's Response To Amazon Echo and Google Home (mashable.com) 93

Microsoft's response to the Amazon Echo and Google Home is Home Hub, a software update for Windows 10's Cortana personal assistant that turns any Windows PC into a smart speaker of sorts. Mashable reports: Microsoft's smart digital assistant Cortana can already answer your queries, even if the PC's screen is locked. The Home Hub is tied to Cortana and takes this a few steps further. It would add a special app with features such as calendar appointments, sticky notes and shopping lists. A Home Hub-enabled PC might have a Welcome Screen, a full-screen app that displays all these, like a virtual fridge door. Multiple users (i.e. family members) could use the Home Hub, either by authenticating through Windows Hello or by working in a family-shared account. Cortana would get more powerful on Home Hub; it could, for example, control smart home devices, such as lights and locks. And even though all of this will work on any Windows 10 device -- potentially making the PC the center of your smart home experience -- third-party manufacturers will be able to build devices that work with Home Hub. You can read Windows Central's massive report here. Do note that Home Hub is not official and individual features could change over time. The update is slated for 2017.
Communications

Fake News Prompts Gunman To 'Self-Investigate' Pizza Parlor (arstechnica.com) 732

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Ars Technica: A rifle-wielding North Carolina man was arrested Sunday in Washington, DC for carrying his weapon into a pizzeria that sits at the center of the fake news conspiracy theory known as "Pizzagate," authorities said Monday. DC's Metropolitan Police Department said it had arrested 28-year-old Edgar Maddison Welch on allegations of assault with a dangerous weapon. "During a post arrest interview this evening, the suspect revealed that he came to the establishment to self-investigate 'Pizza Gate' (a fictitious online conspiracy theory," the agency said in a statement. "Pizzagate" concerns a baseless conspiracy theory about a secret pedophile group, the Comet Ping Pong restaurant, and Hillary Clinton's campaign chief, John Podesta. The Pizzagate conspiracy names Comet Ping Pong as the secret headquarters of a non-existent child sex-trafficking ring run by Clinton and members of her inner circle. James Alefantis, the restaurant's owner, said he has received hundreds of death threats. According to Buzzfeed, the Pizzagate theory is believed to have been fostered by a white supremacist's tweets, the 4chan message board, Reddit, Donald Trump supporters, and right-wing blogs. The day before Thanksgiving, Reddit banned a "Pizzagate" conspiracy board from the site because of a policy about posting personal information of others. Alefantis, the pizzeria's owner, told CNN, "What happened today demonstrates that promoting false and reckless conspiracy theories comes with consequences. I hope that those involved in fanning these flames will take a moment to contemplate what happened here today, and stop promoting these falsehoods right away."
Android

Google Is Rolling Out Android 7.1.1 (engadget.com) 72

Google is rolling out Android 7.1.1 for Pixel and Nexus smartphones, including the Nexus 6, Nexus 5X, Nexus 6P, Nexus 9, Pixel, Pixel XL, Nexus Player, Pixel C and General Mobile 4G (Android One). You can download it over-the-air when it becomes available "over the next several weeks" or flash it yourself. Engadget details some of the new features found in Android 7.1.1: As for what you can find from a feature perspective, Google has added support for its "image keyboard" that lets you easily find and send pictures and GIFs without leaving your messaging app of choice. Google says it'll work inside of Hangouts, Allo, and the default Messaging app. Ironically enough, the feature has been available in the Gboard iOS keyboard that Google launched in the spring, but it's good to see it coming to more Android phones now. Android 7.1.1 also includes Google's latest set of more diverse emoji, specifically focused on showing a "wider range of professions" for women. And it also contains the excellent app shortcut feature that originally launched on the Pixel -- if you press and hold on an app's icon, a sub-menu of shortcuts will show up. You'll be able to quickly send a message to a specific contact or navigate to a saved location using these shortcuts, for example. They're very much like the "force touch" shortcuts found on the iPhone, but that doesn't make them any less useful.

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