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Google

Google Says It Is About To Reach 100 Percent Renewable Energy (blog.google) 56

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) 37

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) 172

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) 166

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 182

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) 103

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) 67

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) 85

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) 614

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) 58

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.
Google

Google Preparing 'Invisible ReCAPTCHA' System For No User Interaction (bleepingcomputer.com) 49

An anonymous reader quotes a report from BleepingComputer: Google engineers are working on an improved version of the reCAPTCHA system that uses a computer algorithm to distinguish between automated bots and real humans, and requires no user interaction at all. Called "Invisible reCAPTCHA," and spotted by Windows IT Pro, the service is still under development, but the service is open for sign-ups, and any webmaster can help Google test its upcoming technology. Invisible reCAPTCHA comes two years after Google has revolutionized CAPTCHA technologies by releasing the No CAPTCHA reCAPTCHA service that requires users to click on one checkbox instead of solving complex visual puzzles made up of words and numbers. The service helped reduce the time needed to fill in forms, and maintained the same high-level of spam detection we've become accustomed from the reCAPTCHA service. The introduction of the new Invisible reCAPTCHA technology is unlikely to make the situation better for Tor users since CloudFlare will likely force them to solve the same puzzle if they come from IPs seen in the past performing suspicious actions. Nevertheless, CloudFlare started working on an alternative.
Displays

Panasonic Announces 1,000,000:1 Contrast Ratio LCD Panel To Rival OLED (androidauthority.com) 90

OLED panels have always been known to have higher contrast ratios than LCD panels, but that may be about to change with Panasonic's recently announced LCD IPS display. The display boasts a 1,000,000:1 contrast ratio, which is up to 600 times more contrast than some of the company's conventional LCD panels that tend to offer around 1800:1 ratios, and rivals OLED specifications. Android Authority reports: Panasonic has accomplished this through the use of its new light modulating cell technology, which allows the company to switch off individual pixels in the display using a secondary control layer. Typically, LCD backlights mean that either the entire or only large parts of the display can be dimmed at any one time. OLED panels switch off lights entirely for a black pixel to offer very high contrast ratios, and this new LCD technology works on a very similar principle. This is particularly important for reproducing HDR video content, which is becoming increasingly popular. Furthermore, this new light modulating cell technology allows Panasonic to increase the peak brightness and stability of the display, which can reach 1,000 cd/m2 while also providing HDR colors. Many other HDR TV panels top out in the range of 700 to 800 cd/m2, so colors, highlights, and shadows should appear vivid and realistic. Panasonic plans to ship the new display starting in January 2017 with sizes ranging from 55 to 12 inches.
Power

Engineers Explain Why the Galaxy Note 7 Caught Fire (digitaltrends.com) 251

Engineers with manufacturing technology company Instrumental tore apart a Galaxy Note 7 to try and figure out what may have caused some devices to overheat and explode, causing Samsung to recall and eventually cancel all Galaxy Note 7 devices. In their damning new report, the engineers discovered the root of the problem appears to be that the battery is too tightly packed inside the body of the Note 7. Digital Trends reports: They discovered the battery was so tightly packed inside the Galaxy Note 7's body that any pressure from battery expansion, or stress on the body itself, may squeeze together layers inside the battery that are never supposed to touch -- with explosive results. Batteries swell up under normal use, and we place stress on a phone's body by putting it our pocket and sitting down, or if it's dropped. Tolerances for battery expansion are built into a smartphone during design, and Instrumental notes Samsung used "a super-aggressive manufacturing process to maximize capacity." In other words, the Galaxy Note 7 was designed to be as thin and sleek as possible, while containing the maximum battery capacity for long use, thereby better competing against rival devices such as the iPhone 7 Plus and improving on previous Note models. The report speculates that any pressure placed on the battery in its confined space may have squeezed together positive and negative layers inside the cell itself, which were thinner than usual in the Note 7's battery already, causing them to touch, heat up, and eventually in some cases, catch fire. Delving deeper into the design, the engineers say the space above a battery inside a device needs a "ceiling" that equates to approximately 10 percent of the overall thickness. The Galaxy Note 7 should have had a 0.5mm ceiling; it had none.
Network

Millions In US Still Living Life In Internet Slow Lane (arstechnica.com) 191

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Ars Technica: Millions of Americans still have extremely slow Internet speeds, a new Federal Communications Commission report shows. While the FCC defines broadband as download speeds of 25Mbps, about 47.5 million home or business Internet connections provided speeds below that threshold. Out of 102.2 million residential and business Internet connections, 22.4 million offered download speeds less than 10Mbps, with 5.8 million of those offering less than 3Mbps. About 25.1 million connections offered at least 10Mbps but less than 25Mbps. 54.7 million households had speeds of at least 25Mbps, with 15.4 million of those at 100Mbps or higher. These are the advertised speeds, not the actual speeds consumers receive. Some customers will end up with slower speeds than what they pay for. Upload speeds are poor for many Americans as well. While the FCC uses 3Mbps as the upload broadband standard, 16 million households had packages with upload speeds less than 1Mbps. Another 27.2 million connections were between 1Mbps and 3Mbps, 30.1 million connections were between 3Mbps and 6Mbps, while 29 million were at least 6Mbps. The Internet Access Services report released last week contains data as of December 31, 2015. The 11-month gap is typical for these reports, which are based on information collected from Internet service providers. The latest data is nearly a year old, so things might look a bit better now, just as the December 2015 numbers are a little better than previous ones.
The Almighty Buck

Interns At Tech Companies Are Better Paid Than Most American Workers (qz.com) 148

According to a survey conducted by Jesse Collins, a senior at Purdue University and former Yelp intern, interns at tech companies make much more money on an annualized basis than workers in the vast majority of other occupations. From a report on Quartz: About 300 of the nearly 600 people who responded to the survey said they had received internship offers from big companies like Facebook, Twitter, Yelp, and Goldman Sachs for 2017. On average, the internship recipients said they would be paid $6,500 per month, the equivalent of $78,000 per year (the survey is still open, so results may change). Many also said they would receive more than $1,000 worth of stipends per month for housing and travel or signing bonuses. Internships typically run for a summer, but we've annualized the numbers. If the average intern who responded to Collins' survey were to work for a year, he would make $30,000 more than the average annual income for all occupations in the U.S., which is $48,000. Of the 1,088 occupation categories within which the Bureau of Labor Statistics tracks average income, workers in only about 200 of them on average make more money in a year than the intern would.
AI

Many CEOs Believe Technology Will Make People Largely Irrelevant (betanews.com) 432

An anonymous reader shares a report on BetaNews:Although artificial intelligence (AI), robotics and other emerging technologies may reshape the world as we know it, a new global study has revealed that the many CEOs now value technology over people when it comes to the future of their businesses. The study was conducted by the Los Angeles-based management consultant firm Korn Ferry that interviewed 800 business leaders across a variety of multi-million and multi-billion dollar global organizations. The firm says that 44 percent of the CEOs surveyed agreed that robotics, automation and AI would reshape the future of many work places by making people "largely irrelevant." The global managing director of solutions at Korn Ferry Jean-Marc Laouchez explains why many CEOs have adopted this controversial mindset, saying: "Leaders may be facing what experts call a tangibility bias. Facing uncertainty, they are putting priority in their thinking, planning and execution on the tangible -- what they can see, touch and measure, such as technology instruments."
Transportation

Apple Says It Is Working On Self-Driving Cars (theguardian.com) 121

For the first time, Apple has said that it is indeed working on technology to develop self-driving cars. The company confirmed late last week its previously secret initiative in a statement to the U.S. highway regulator. From a report on The Guardian: "The company is investing heavily in the study of machine learning and automation, and is excited about the potential of automated systems in many areas, including transportation," said the letter from Steve Kenner, Apple's director of product integrity, to the head of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). The letter offered no details of the project, instead highlighting the "significant societal benefits of automated vehicles," which it described as a life-saving technology, potentially preventing millions of car crashes and thousands of fatalities each year.In a statement to Financial Times (might be paywalled), a spokesperson for Apple said, "We've provided comments to NHTSA because Apple is investing heavily in machine learning and autonomous systems. There are many potential applications for these technologies, including the future of transportation, so we want to work with NHTSA to help define the best practices for the industry."
Google

Google's DeepMind is Opening Up Its Flagship Platform To AI Researchers Outside the Company (businessinsider.com) 21

Artificial intelligence (AI) researchers around the world will soon be able to use DeepMind's "flagship" platform to develop innovative computer systems that can learn and think for themselves. From a report on BusinessInsider: DeepMind, which was acquired by Google for $400 million in 2014, announced on Monday that it is open-sourcing its "Lab" from this week onwards so that others can try and make advances in the notoriously complex field of AI. The company says that the DeepMind Lab, which it has been using internally for some time, is a 3D game-like platform tailored for agent-based AI research. [...] The DeepMind Lab aims to combine several different AI research areas into one environment. Researchers will be able to test their AI agent's abilities on navigation, memory, and 3D vision, while determining how good they are at planning and strategy.
Media

Netflix Keeping Bandwidth Usage Low By Encoding Its Video With VP9 and H.264/AVC Codecs (slashgear.com) 71

Netflix announced last week that it is getting offline video downloads support. The company has since shared that it is using VP9 video compression codec to ensure that the file sizes don't weigh a lot. An anonymous reader shares an article on Slashgear (edited): For streaming content, Netflix largely relies on H.264/AVC to reduce the bandwidth, but for downloading content, it uses VP9 encoding. VP9 can allow better quality videos for the same amount of data needed to download. The challenge is that VP9 isn't supported by all streaming providers -- it is supported on Android devices and via the Chrome browser. So to get around that lack of support on iOS, Netflix is offering downloads in H.264/AVC High whereas streams are encoded in H.264/AVC Main on such devices. Netflix chooses the optimal encoding format for each title on its service after finding, for instance, that animated films are easier to encode than live-action. Netflix says that H.264 High encoding saves 19% bandwidth compared to other encoding standards while VP9 saves 36%.
Google

New Google Trusted Contacts Service Shares User Location In Real Time (onthewire.io) 88

Reader Trailrunner7 writes: Google has spent a lot of time and money on security over the last few years, developing new technologies and systems to protect users' devices. One of the newer technologies the company has come up with is designed to provide security for users themselves rather than their laptops or phones.

On Monday Google launched a new app for Android called Trusted Contacts that allows users to share their locations and some limited other information with a set of close friends and family members. The system is a two-way road, so a user can actively share her location with her Trusted Contacts, and stop sharing it at her discretion. But, when a problem or potential emergency comes up, one of those contacts can request to get that user's location to see where she is at any moment. The app is designed to give users a way to reassure contacts that they're safe, or request help if there's something wrong.

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