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Google Exec Alan Eustace Breaks Record for the Highest Free Fall to Earth

Soylent New - 3 hours 46 min ago

A senior vice president of Google, Alan Eustace, 57, has broken Felix Baumgartner's 127,852-feet altitude record, set in 2012, with the new highest free fall to Earth (short video) at 135,890 feet. While Baumgartner's feat was funded by Red Bull, Eustace's attempt was largely self-funded.

On Friday morning, Pacific time, Google's SVP of Knowledge Alan Eustace rode a helium-filled balloon to more than 135,000 feet above the deserts of Roswell, New Mexico, in a specially designed space suit before firing a small explosive charge and cutting himself lose for free fall.

Eustace didn't bother with the capsule: he simply strapped himself under the balloon with a GoPro camera attached to his suit, and only had a small team of advisers to help him make the jump. Google offered to fund the attempt, but Eustace paid for it himself so that it could be done without publicity until after the event.

The New York Times reports:

Mr. Eustace was carried aloft without the aid of the sophisticated capsule used by Mr. Baumgartner or millions of dollars in sponsorship money. Instead, Mr. Eustace planned his jump in secrecy, working for almost three years with a small group of technologists skilled in spacesuit design, life-support systems, and parachute and balloon technology.

After he decided to pursue the project in 2011, Mr. Eustace was introduced to Taber MacCallum, one of the founding members of the Biosphere 2 project, an artificial closed ecosystem built to explore concepts such as space colonization. Mr. Eustace had decided to pursue a simpler approach than Mr. Baumgartner's.

He asked Mr. MacCallum's company, Paragon Space Development Corporation, to create a life-support system to make it possible for him to breathe pure oxygen in a pressure suit during his ascent and fall.

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Google Search Finally Adds Information About Video Games

/. - 4 hours 58 min ago
An anonymous reader writes Google has expanded its search engine with the capability to recognize video games. If your query references a game, a new Knowledge Graph panel on the right-hand side of Google's search results page will offer more information, including the series it belongs to, initial release date, supported platforms, developers, publishers, designers, and even review scores. Google spokesperson: "With today's update, you can ask questions about video games, and (while there will be ones we don't cover) you'll get answers for console and PC games as well as the most popular mobile apps."

Read more of this story at Slashdot.

Currys/PC World (UK) Voids Warranty on Hardware if Buyer Installs Linux

Soylent New - 6 hours 28 min ago

Roy Schestowitz notes:

Today I learned something somewhat shocking. A policy which I believed was some kind of controversial fringe policy from way back in the days of Vista is still in place, and it's in place right here in the UK. Currys/PC World is totally overzealous with its GNU/Linux-hostile policy, which is almost definitely dictated by non-technical management, maybe in collusion with Microsoft.

[...] an old desktop of mine died on me and I sought a replacement immediately (within the hour). [...] Currys pretty much devoured the competition [...and] has an outrageous policy regarding warranty.

As it turns out--and this was confirmed to us by multiple people (in multiple PC World stores) after arguing for more than half an hour--once you install GNU/Linux (even if it's dual boot with Windows) no damage to hardware would be covered by the warranty (keyboard, screen, and so on). One of the sellers, who follows the Linux Action Show, regretted this but also defended this policy because it's imposed from above.

No matter how ridiculous a policy it is, changes to [zeros] and ones on the hard-drive (to remove spyware), according to Currys, would void the warranty on what clearly is not connected to [the pre-installed] software. [...] we decided we just couldn't do business at PC World. The company is inherently GNU/Linux-hostile. Avoid Currys.

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Peter Kuran:Visual Effects Artist and Atomic Bomb Archivist

/. - 8 hours 2 min ago
Lasrick links to this interview with Peter Kuran, an animator of the original Star Wars and legendary visual effects artist, writing If you saw the recent remake of Godzilla, you saw stock footage from Atom Central, known on YouTube as 'the atomic bomb channel.' Atom Central is the brainchild of Kuran, who among his many talents is an expert on archival films of the atmospheric testing era of 1945 to 1963. Combining his film restoration and photography expertise with his interest in nuclear history, he has also produced and directed five documentaries. He is currently working with Lawrence Livermore and Los Alamos National Laboratories to preserve and catalog images from the bomb-testing era, and to produce a technical handbook that will help people understand these images and the techniques used to create them.

Read more of this story at Slashdot.

Update: FTDI Yanks Chip-Bricking Driver from Windows Update, Vows to Fight on

Soylent New - 8 hours 11 min ago

The Register Follows with, FTDI yanks chip-bricking driver from Windows Update, vows to fight on:

Chipmaker FTDI has pulled a driver from Windows Update that could brick devices containing knockoff versions of its USB-to-serial bridge chips, but says it won't back down on its aggressive anti-counterfeiting stance.

Earlier this week, hackers from various hardware forums began noticing that FTDI's latest driver would set a USB device's USB product ID to 0 if it contained a fake version of one of FTDI's chips. Once zeroed, neither Windows, OS X, nor Linux would recognize the device anymore, rendering it useless.

Naturally, owners of devices containing the counterfeit chips were less than pleased.

Responding to the growing furor, FTDI now says it has yanked the offending driver from Windows Update so that Windows users will no longer receive it automatically. But it says it has no intention of giving up the fight against (presumably) Chinese chip knockoff artists.

Related article: FTDI Driver is Disabling Fake Chips

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Now Everyone Wants to Sell You a Magical Anonymity Router. Choose Wisely

Soylent New - 10 hours 9 min ago

After Anonabox requested US$7,500 and raised US$585,549 before being suspended, I hoped that one-stop solutions would be discouraged but according to Wired News, I couldn't be wronger because there are at least five parties aiming to fill Anonabox's niche:

Maintaining your privacy online, like investing in stocks or looking good naked, has become one of those nagging desires that leaves Americans with a surplus of stress and a deficit of facts. So it’s no surprise that a cottage industry of privacy marketers now wants to sell them the solution in a $50 piece of hardware promising internet "anonymity" or "invisibility." And as with any panacea in a box, the quicker the fix, the more doubt it deserves.

Last week saw the fast forward rise and fall of Anonabox, a tiny $45 router that promised to anonymize all of a user's traffic by routing it over the anonymity network Tor. That promise of plug-and-play privacy spurred Anonabox to raise $615,000 on the fundraising platform Kickstarter in four days, 82 times its modest $7,500 goal. Then on Thursday, Kickstarter froze those pledges, citing the project's misleading claims about its hardware sources. Other critics pointed to flaws in Anonabox's software's security, too.

But the Anonabox fiasco hasn't deterred other projects hoping to sell an anonymity router of their own. In fact, many of them see Anonabox's 9,000 disappointed backers as proof of the demand for their own privacy-in-a-box product. At least five new or soon-to-launch crowdfunding projects now claim to offer a consumer-focused anonymity router with names like Invizbox, Cloak, TorFi, and PORTAL, each with its own promises - and caveats.

Full disclosure: I may or may not be connected to one of the parties mentioned in the article but I think they're all misguided.

Read more of this story at SoylentNews.

OwnCloud Dev Requests Removal From Ubuntu Repos Over Security Holes

/. - 24 October 2014 - 11:14pm
operator_error notes a report that ownCloud developer Lukas Reschke has emailed the Ubuntu Devel mailing list to request that ownCloud (server) be removed from the Ubuntu repositories because it contains "multiple critical security bugs for which no fixes have been backported," through which an attacker could "gain complete control [of] the web server process." From the article: However, packages can't be removed from the Ubuntu repositories for an Ubuntu version that was already released, that's why the package was removed from Ubuntu 14.10 (2 days before its release) but it's still available in the Ubuntu 14.04 and 12.04 repositories (ownCloud 6.0.1 for Ubuntu 14.04 and ownCloud 5.0.4 for Ubuntu 12.04, while the latest ownCloud version is 7.0.2). Furthermore, the ownCloud package is in the universe repository and software in this repository "WILL NOT receive any review or updates from the Ubuntu security team" (you should see this if you take a look at your /etc/apt/sources.list file) so it's up to someone from the Ubuntu community to step up and fix it. "If nobody does that, then it unfortunately stays the way it is", says Marc Deslauriers, Security Tech Lead at Canonical. You can follow the discussion @ Ubuntu Devel mailing list. So, until (if) someone fixes this, if you're using ownCloud from the Ubuntu repositories, you should either remove it or upgrade to the latest ownCloud from its official repository, hosted by the openSUSE Build Service."

Read more of this story at Slashdot.

Federal Judge: Should Weed be on Most-Dangerous List?

Soylent New - 24 October 2014 - 9:42pm

Paul Armentano of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) blogs:

Testimony regarding the constitutionality of the federal statute designating marijuana as a Schedule I Controlled Substance will be taken on Monday, October 27 in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of California in the case of United States v. Pickard, et. al., No. 2:11-CR-0449-KJM.

Members of Congress initially categorized cannabis as a Schedule I substance, the most restrictive classification available, in 1970. Under this categorization, the plant is defined as possessing "a high potential for abuse, ... no currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States, ... [and lacking] accepted safety for ... use ... under medical supervision."

Expert witnesses for the defense--including Drs. Carl Hart, Associate Professor of Psychology in the Department of Psychiatry and Psychology at Columbia University in New York City, retired physician Phillip Denny, and Greg Carter, Medical Director of St. Luke's Rehabilitation Institute in Spokane, Washington--will testify that the accepted science is inconsistent with the notion that cannabis meets these Schedule I criteria.

"It is my considered opinion that including marijuana in Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act is counter to all the scientific evidence in a society that uses and values empirical evidence," Dr. Hart declared. "After two decades of intense scientific inquiry in this area, it has become apparent the current scheduling of cannabis has no footing in the realities of science and neurobiology."

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Microsoft Now Makes Money From Surface Line, Q1 Sales Reach Almost $1 Billion

/. - 24 October 2014 - 8:07pm
SmartAboutThings writes Microsoft has recently published its Q1 fiscal 2015 earnings report, disclosing that it has made $4.5 billion in net income on $23.20 billion in revenue. According to the report, revenue has increased by $4.67 billion, compared to $18.53 billion from the same period last year. However, net income has decreased 14 percent compared to last year's $5.24 billion mainly because of the $1.14 billion cost associated with the integration and restructuring expenses related to the Nokia acquisition. But what's finally good news for the company is that the Surface gross margin was positive this quarter, which means the company finally starts making money on Surface sales. Microsoft didn't yet reveal Surface sales, but we know that Surface revenue was $908 million this quarter, up a massive 127 percent from the $400 million this time last year. However, if we assume that the average spent amount on the purchase of this year's Surface Pro 3 was around $1000, then we have less than 1 million units sold, which isn't that impressive, but it's a good start.

Read more of this story at Slashdot.

Only Dedicated Comet-Spotting Program in Southern Hemisphere Shuts Down

Soylent New - 24 October 2014 - 7:30pm

The Gaurdian reports that Australia's comet-spotting program lost funding and shut down last year,

The Earth has been left with a huge blind spot for potentially devastating comet strikes after the only dedicated comet-spotting program in the southern hemisphere lost its funding, leading astronomers have warned.

The program, which discovered the Siding Spring comet that was shut down last year after losing funding.

“It’s a real worry,” Bradley Tucker, an astronomer at the Australian National University (ANU) and University of California Berkeley, told Guardian Australia.

“There could be something hurtling towards us right now and we wouldn’t know about it.”

The Siding Spring survey – named after the observatory near Coonabarabran in central New South Wales, where the Mars comet was first spotted – was the only program in the southern hemisphere actively searching for potentially hazardous comets, asteroids and meteors.

It seems that the Gaurdian is running this story now because the program had previously spotted a comet that came close to Mars on Sunday, but this is the first I remember hearing about it.

Read more of this story at SoylentNews.

Days After Shooting, Canada Proposes New Restrictions On and Offline

/. - 24 October 2014 - 7:22pm
New submitter o_ferguson writes As Slashdot reported earlier this week, a lone shooter attacked the war memorial and parliament buildings in Ottawa, Canada on Wednesday. As many comments predicted, the national government has seized this as an opportunity to roll out considerable new regressive legislation, including measures designed to* increase data access for domestic intelligence services, institute a new form of extra-judicial detention, and, perhaps most troubling, criminalize some forms of religious and political speech online. As an example of the type of speech that could, in future, be grounds for prosecution, the article mentions that the killer's website featured "a black ISIS flag and rejoiced that 'disbelievers' will be consigned to the fires of Hell for eternity." A government MP offers the scant assurance that this legislation is not "trauma tainted," as it was drafted well prior to this week's instigating incidents. Needless to say, some internet observes remain, as always, highly skeptical of the manner in which events are being portrayed. (Please note that some articles may be partially paywalled unless opened in a private/incognito browser window.)

Read more of this story at Slashdot.

AT&T Locks Apple SIM Cards On New iPads

/. - 24 October 2014 - 6:47pm
As reported by MacRumors, the unlocked, carrier-switchable SIM cards built into the newest iPads aren't necessarily so -- at least if you buy them from an AT&T store. Though the card comes from Apple with the ability to support (and be switched among with software, if a change is necessary) all major carriers, "AT&T is not supporting this interchangeability and is locking the SIM included with cellular models of the iPad Air 2 and Retina iPad mini 3 after it is used with an AT&T plan. ... AT&T appears to be the only participating carrier that is locking the Apple SIM to its network. T-Mobile's John Legere has indicated that T-Mobile's process does not lock a customer in to T-Mobile, which appears to be confirmed by Apple's support document, and Sprint's process also seems to leave the Apple SIM unlocked and able to be used with other carrier plans. Verizon, the fourth major carrier in the United States, did not opt to allow the Apple SIM to work with its network." The iPad itself can still be activated and used on other networks, but only after the installation of a new SIM.

Read more of this story at Slashdot.

Passwords: Too Much and Not Enough

/. - 24 October 2014 - 6:08pm
An anonymous reader writes: Sophos has a blog post up saying, "attempts to get users to choose passwords that will resist offline guessing, e.g., by composition policies, advice and strength meters, must largely be judged failures." They say a password must withstand 1,000,000 guesses to survive an online attack but 100,000,000,000,000 to have any hope against an offline one. "Not only is the difference between those two numbers mind-bogglingly large, there is no middle ground." "Passwords falling between the two thresholds offer no improvement in real-world security, they're just harder to remember." System administrators "should stop worrying about getting users to create strong passwords and should focus instead on properly securing password databases and detecting leaks when they happen."

Read more of this story at Slashdot.

Blood-Brain Barrier Opened (On Demand) For The First Time In Human Patients:

Soylent New - 24 October 2014 - 5:44pm

Two of the most aggressive forms of neurological illness, Alzheimer’s disease and brain cancer, may see tougher fights now that scientists have opened up the blood-brain barrier in humans for the first time.

The surgery is already being hailed as a breakthrough. Considered the “front frontier” in neuroscience, the blood-brain barrier is the sheath of cells that separates the organ from the rest of the body. While it stops harmful toxins in the blood from hijacking vital tissues, it also prevents helpful drugs from rooting out tumors and disease. But now scientists say all that could change.


[Additional Coverage]: http://www.newscientist.com/article/dn26432-brain-barrier-opened-for-first-time-to-treat-cancer.html
[Abstract]: http://www.xcdsystem.com/fus2014/abstract/abstractforms/screen_view_abstract_public.cfm?ID=32349

Read more of this story at SoylentNews.

Verizon Injects Unique IDs Into HTTP Traffic

/. - 24 October 2014 - 5:26pm
An anonymous reader writes: Verizon Wireless, the nation's largest wireless carrier, is now also a real-time data broker. According to a security researcher at Stanford, Big Red has been adding a unique identifier to web traffic. The purpose of the identifier is advertisement targeting, which is bad enough. But the design of the system also functions as a 'supercookie' for any website that a subscriber visits. "Any website can easily track a user, regardless of cookie blocking and other privacy protections. No relationship with Verizon is required. ...while Verizon offers privacy settings, they don’t prevent sending the X-UIDH header. All they do, seemingly, is prevent Verizon from selling information about a user." Just like they said they would.

Read more of this story at Slashdot.

Manned Mars Mission Radiation Danger Increasing

Soylent New - 24 October 2014 - 4:43pm

The Register reports

  A drop in the solar wind of a kind not seen since 1715 has made travel beyond Earth orbit a lot more dangerous, according to Professor Nathan Schwadron, studying data from the Cosmic Ray Telescope for the Effects of Radiation – so much so that a manned Mission to Mars may not be feasible for many decades.

The Sun may be entering a so-called "Maunder Minimum", a lengthy spell of low activity. Such a minimum last occurred from 1645-1715. Solar Minimums are characterized by significant reduction in the solar wind.

The solar wind normally has the effect of reducing the amount of dangerous cosmic radiation that can reach the inner solar system. While particles and radiation from the Sun are dangerous to astronauts, cosmic rays are even worse, so the effect of a solar calm is to make space even more radioactive than it already is.

For the sake of planning, a 3 per cent risk of an astronaut dying due to radiation exposure during a mission is seen as the acceptable limit: it's a dangerous job, after all (one should note that the death would probably be after the mission from cancer, perhaps many years later, rather than from severe radiation sickness while still in space). From Schwadron and his crew's analysis, if a lengthy solar quiet spell is indeed in the cards, the maximum time an astronaut can reasonably spend in space will be well under a year.

The time to 3 per cent Risk of Exposure Induced Death (REID) in interplanetary space was less than 400 days for a 30 year old male and less than 300 days for a 30 year old female in the last solar Maximum cycle.

The time to 3 per cent REID is estimated to be ~20 per cent lower in the coming solar Minimum cycle. If the heliospheric magnetic field continues to weaken over time, as is likely, then allowable mission duration will decrease correspondingly to about 320 days for men, 240 days for women.

Using our current technology, Space.com says the fasted time to Mars orbit is 168 days, making even a manned fly-by mission perilously close to the 300 day limit.

One way missions would still seem possible. But the Martian atmosphere provides precious little shielding and a solar minimum would double the amount of cosmic radiation on the surface.

Former NASA astronaut Dr Franklin Chang Díaz has suggested that nuclear plants of the type used in submarines could power plasma rockets to take a crewed ship to Mars in a month.

Read more of this story at SoylentNews.

Secretive Funding Fuels Ongoing Net Neutrality Astroturfing Controversy

/. - 24 October 2014 - 4:43pm
alphadogg writes: The contentious debate about net neutrality in the U.S. has sparked controversy over a lack of funding transparency for advocacy groups and think tanks, which critics say subverts the political process. News stories from a handful of publications in recent months have accused some think tanks and advocacy groups of "astroturfing" — quietly shilling for large broadband carriers. In a handful of cases, those criticisms appear to have some merit, although the term is so overused by people looking to discredit political opponents that it has nearly lost its original meaning. An IDG News Service investigation found that major groups opposing U.S. Federal Communications Commission reclassification and regulation of broadband as a public utility tend to be less transparent about their funding than the other side. Still, some big-name advocates of strong net neutrality rules also have limited transparency mechanisms in place.

Read more of this story at Slashdot.

A Low Cost, Open Source Geiger Counter (Video)

/. - 24 October 2014 - 4:01pm
Sawaiz Syed's LinkedIn page says he's a "Hardware Developer at GSU [Georgia State University], Department of Physics." That's a great workplace for someone who designs low cost radiation detectors that can be air-dropped into an area where there has been a nuclear accident (or a nuclear attack; or a nuclear terrorist act) and read remotely by a flying drone or a robot ground vehicle. This isn't Sawaiz's only project; it's just the one Timothy asked him about most at the recent Maker Faire Atlanta. (Alternate Video Link)

Read more of this story at Slashdot.

Retrospective: Core Wars

Soylent New - 24 October 2014 - 3:31pm

Today I discovered an absolute gem from the past.

If you were around in 1984 you might have been super awesome and played core wars.

Core Wars is a programming game in which two or more programs run in a simulated computer with the goal of terminating every other program and surviving as long as possible. Known as Warriors, these programs are are written in an assembly language called Redcode.

Basically it's Counter-Strike/COD for programmers where you can fight in a team team, as a free-for-all, or one-vs-one.

What other cool things from the past might us youngun programmers have missed or not have an appreciation of?

Read more of this story at SoylentNews.

Computer Scientist Parachutes From 135,908 Feet, Breaking Record

/. - 24 October 2014 - 3:14pm
An anonymous reader writes: The NY Times reports that Alan Eustace, a computer scientist and senior VP at Google, has successfully broken the record for highest freefall jump, set by Felix Baumgartner in 2012. "For a little over two hours, the balloon ascended at speeds up to 1,600 feet per minute to an altitude of 135,908 feet, more than 25 miles. Mr. Eustace dangled underneath in a specially designed spacesuit with an elaborate life-support system. He returned to earth just 15 minutes after starting his fall. ... Mr. Eustace cut himself loose from the balloon with the aid of a small explosive device and plummeted toward the earth at a speeds that peaked at more than 800 miles per hour, setting off a small sonic boom heard by observers on the ground. ... His technical team had designed a carbon-fiber attachment that kept him from becoming entangled in the main parachute before it opened. About four-and-a-half minutes into his flight, he opened the main parachute and glided to a landing 70 miles from the launch site."

Read more of this story at Slashdot.