About a Quarter of US Adults Say They Are 'Almost Constantly' Online ( 30

As smartphones and other mobile devices have become more widespread, 26 percent of American adults now report that they go online "almost constantly," up from 21 percent in 2015, according to a Pew Research Center survey conducted in January 2018. From the study: Overall, 77 percent of Americans go online on a daily basis. That figure includes the 26 percent who go online almost constantly, as well as 43 percent who say they go online several times a day and 8 percent who go online about once a day. Some 11 percent go online several times a week or less often, while 11 percent of adults say they do not use the internet at all.

Once Written Off for Dead, the Aral Sea Is Now Full of Life ( 36

Years ago, the Aral Sea was the world's fourth-largest freshwater lake with an area of some 26,000 square miles. But in the 1950s, it became the victim of the Soviet Union's agricultural policies. Water from its two river sources -- the Amu Darya and Syr Darya -- was intentionally diverted for cotton cultivation. The Aral Sea began to disappear and nearly completely vanished. But things have changed for good. From a report: This rapid collapse over less than three decades -- which environmental scientists say is one of the planet's worst ecological disasters -- is marked today by the sea's reduced size. Its total area of water, straddling Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, is now a tenth of its original size. What's left has broken into two distinct bodies: the North and South Aral Seas. In Uzbekistan, the entire eastern basin of the South Aral Sea is completely desiccated, leaving merely a single strip of water in the west.

But Kazakhstan's North Aral Sea has seen a happier outcome, thanks to a nearly $86 million project financed in large part by the World Bank. Along with repairs to existing dikes around the basin to prevent spillage, an eight-mile dam was constructed just south of the Syr Darya River. Completed in the summer of 2005, this dam, named Kokaral, surpassed all expectations. It led to an 11-foot increase in water levels after just seven months -- a goal that scientists initially expected would take three years. This turnaround in the North Aral Sea's fate has meant that the fish stocks have returned to its waters, injecting new life into the local communities. Just as government policies had doomed the Aral Sea, careful planning and research helped revive at least part of it.


Firefox Master Password System Has Been Poorly Secured for the Past 9 Years, Researcher Says ( 55

Catalin Cimpanu, writing for BleepingComputer: For at past nine years, Mozilla has been using an insufficiently strong encryption mechanism for the "master password" feature. Both Firefox and Thunderbird allow users to set up a "master password" through their settings panel. This master password plays the role of an encryption key that is used to encrypt each password string the user saves in his browser or email client. Experts have lauded the feature because up until that point browsers would store passwords locally in cleartext, leaving them vulnerable to malware or attackers with physical access to a victim's computer. But Wladimir Palant, the author of the AdBlock Plus extension, says the encryption scheme used by the master password feature is weak and can be easily brute-forced. "I looked into the source code," Palant says, "I eventually found the sftkdb_passwordToKey() function that converts a [website] password into an encryption key by means of applying SHA-1 hashing to a string consisting of a random salt and your actual master password."

YouTube Kids Has Videos on How Reptilians Rule the World, Moon Landing Was Fake ( 162

An anonymous reader shares a report: YouTube Kids, the supposedly child-friendly version of YouTube that's been shown to often play host to troves of slop content and disturbing videos, apparently was showing videos from British conspiracy theorist David Icke, a guy who believes reptilian aliens secretly control the world and are responsible for the Holocaust. According to a Saturday report in Business Insider, searching for the term "UFO" on YouTube kids turned up a video purporting "to show a UFO shooting at a chemtrail." The suggested followups for that video featured a number of Icke's clips, including a nearly five-hour lecture on how aliens built the pyramids and secretly run the planet through a ruling class extraterrestrial-human hybrids. The video also delves into a number of other conspiracy theories, including claims Freemasons indulge in human sacrifice and President John F. Kennedy was assassinated by his own government.

According to Business Insider, "Two other conspiracy theory videos by Icke appeared in the related videos, meaning it was easy for children to quickly go from watching relatively innocent videos about toys to conspiracy content." Searching for the term "moon landing" also resulted in a number of conspiratorial videos emerging, including one making the claim that CERN's Large Hadron Collider had opened a portal to another world that an unfortunate employee then vanished in.

The Internet

Say Goodbye To the Information Age: It's All About Reputation Now ( 135

An anonymous reader shares an essay on Aeon magazine by Gloria Origgi, an Italian philosopher and a tenured senior researcher at CNRS : We are experiencing a fundamental paradigm shift in our relationship to knowledge. From the 'information age', we are moving towards the 'reputation age', in which information will have value only if it is already filtered, evaluated and commented upon by others. Seen in this light, reputation has become a central pillar of collective intelligence today. It is the gatekeeper to knowledge, and the keys to the gate are held by others. The way in which the authority of knowledge is now constructed makes us reliant on what are the inevitably biased judgments of other people, most of whom we do not know.

[...] The paradigm shift from the age of information to the age of reputation must be taken into account when we try to defend ourselves from 'fake news' and other misinformation and disinformation techniques that are proliferating through contemporary societies. What a mature citizen of the digital age should be competent at is not spotting and confirming the veracity of the news. Rather, she should be competent at reconstructing the reputational path of the piece of information in question, evaluating the intentions of those who circulated it, and figuring out the agendas of those authorities that leant it credibility.


Ghana's Windows Blackboard Teacher And His Students Have a Rewarding Outcome ( 70

Quartz: A lot has changed in the life of Richard Appiah Akoto in the fortnight since he posted photos of himself on Facebook drawing a Microsoft Word processing window on a blackboard with multi-colored chalk, to teach his students about computers -- which the school did not have. The photos went viral on social media and media stories like Quartz's went all around the world. Akoto, 33, is the information and communication technology (ICT) teacher at Betenase M/A Junior High School in the town of Sekyedomase, about two and half hours drive north of Ghana's second city, Kumasi. The school had no computers even though since 2011, 14 and 15-year-olds in Ghana are expected to write and pass a national exam (without which students cannot progress to high school) with ICT being one of the subjects.

The story of the school and Twitter pressure from prominent players in the African tech space drew a promise from Microsoft to "equip [Akoto] with a device from one of our partners, and access to our MCE program & free professional development resources on." To fulfill this promise, the technology giant flew Akoto to Singapore this week where he is participating in the annual Microsoft Education Exchange.


Why Do People Go To Wikipedia? A Survey Suggests It's Their Desire To Go Down that Random Rabbit Hole ( 40

What's motivated people to visit the Wikipedia pages they're reading? Wikipedia recently tried to answer that question at scale by asking a sample of Wikipedia readers last June, "Why are you reading this article today?" It seems a lot of people go to Wikipedia for earnest, serious, information-seeking reasons. From a report: The study collected 215,000 responses from visitors to Wikipedia pages across 14 languages (Arabic, Bengali, Chinese, Dutch, English, German, Hebrew, Hindi, Hungarian, Japanese, Romanian, Russian, Spanish, and Ukrainian). The survey offered readers choices from seven types of motivations for why they were reading the Wikipedia page they were reading (e.g., "I have a work or school-related assignment, I need to make a personal decision based on this topic, I want to know more about a current event"). Thirty-five percent of Wikipedia users sampled across the 14 languages in this study said they were on the site to find a specific fact. Thirty-three percent said they were looking for an overview of a topic, while 32 percent said they wanted to get information on a topic in-depth.

Can Problems From Climate Change Be Addressed With Science? ( 228

Slashdot reader bricko shares an article from Scientific American about two "ecomodernists" who argue that the problems of climate change can be addressed through science and technology. In his Breakthrough essay, Steven Pinker spells out a key assumption of ecomodernism. Industrialization "has been good for humanity. It has fed billions, doubled lifespans, slashed extreme poverty, and, by replacing muscle with machinery, made it easier to end slavery, emancipate women, and educate children. It has allowed people to read at night, live where they want, stay warm in winter, see the world, and multiply human contact. Any costs in pollution and habitat loss have to be weighed against these gifts...."

We can solve problems related to climate change, Pinker argues, "if we sustain the benevolent forces of modernity that have allowed us to solve problems so far, including societal prosperity, wisely regulated markets, international governance, and investments in science and technology... Since 1970, when the Environmental Protection Agency was established, the United States has slashed its emissions of five air pollutants by almost two-thirds. Over the same period, the population grew by more than 40 percent, and those people drove twice as many miles and became two and a half times richer. Energy use has leveled off, and even carbon dioxide emissions have turned a corner."

The essay also cites ecomodernist Will Boisvert, who believes climate change will be cataclysmic but not apocalyptic, bringing large upheaval but a small impact on human well-being. "Global warming won't wipe us out or even stall our progress, it will just marginally slow ordinary economic development that will still outpace the negative effects of warming and make life steadily better in the future, under every climate scenario.... Our logistic and technical capacities are burgeoning, and they give us ample means of addressing these problems."

Google Open Sources Its Exoplanet-Hunting AI ( 16

dmoberhaus writes: Last December, NASA announced that two new exoplanets had been hiding in plain sight among data from the Kepler space telescope. These two new planets weren't discovered by a human, however. Instead, an exoplanet hunting neural network -- a type of machine learning algorithm loosely modeled after the human brain -- had discovered the planets by finding subtle patterns in the Kepler data that would've been nearly impossible for a human to see. Last Thursday, Christopher Shallue, the lead Google engineer behind the exoplanet AI, announced in a blog post that the company was making the algorithm open source. In other words, anyone can download the code and help hunt for exoplanets in Kepler data.
Google's research blog called the December discovery "a successful proof-of-concept for using machine learning to discover exoplanets, and more generally another example of using machine learning to make meaningful gains in a variety of scientific disciplines (e.g. healthcare, quantum chemistry, and fusion research)."

Did Cambridge Analytica Harvest 50 Million Facebook Profiles? ( 119

Slashdot reader umafuckit shared this article from The Guardian: The data analytics firm that worked with Donald Trump's election team and the winning Brexit campaign harvested millions of Facebook profiles of U.S. voters, in one of the tech giant's biggest ever data breaches, and used them to build a powerful software program to predict and influence choices at the ballot box... Christopher Wylie, who worked with a Cambridge University academic to obtain the data, told the Observer: "We exploited Facebook to harvest millions of people's profiles. And built models to exploit what we knew about them and target their inner demons. That was the basis the entire company was built on."

Documents seen by the Observer, and confirmed by a Facebook statement, show that by late 2015 the company had found out that information had been harvested on an unprecedented scale. However, at the time it failed to alert users and took only limited steps to recover and secure the private information of more than 50 million individuals... On Friday, four days after the Observer sought comment for this story, but more than two years after the data breach was first reported, Facebook announced that it was suspending Cambridge Analytica and Kogan from the platform, pending further information over misuse of data. Separately, Facebook's external lawyers warned the Observer on Friday it was making "false and defamatory" allegations, and reserved Facebook's legal position...

The evidence Wylie supplied to U.K. and U.S. authorities includes a letter from Facebook's own lawyers sent to him in August 2016, asking him to destroy any data he held that had been collected by GSR, the company set up by Kogan to harvest the profiles... Facebook did not pursue a response when the letter initially went unanswered for weeks because Wylie was travelling, nor did it follow up with forensic checks on his computers or storage, he said. "That to me was the most astonishing thing. They waited two years and did absolutely nothing to check that the data was deleted. All they asked me to do was tick a box on a form and post it back."

Wylie worked with Aleksandr Kogan, the creator of the "thisisyourdigitallife" app, "who has previously unreported links to a Russian university and took Russian grants for research," according to the article. Kogan "had a licence from Facebook to collect profile data, but it was for research purposes only. So when he hoovered up information for the commercial venture, he was violating the company's terms...

"At the time, more than 50 million profiles represented around a third of active North American Facebook users, and nearly a quarter of potential U.S. voters."
Open Source

How An Open Source Plugin Tamed a Chaotic Comments Section With A Simple Quiz ( 146

Long-time Slashdot reader jebrick quotes an article from Ars Technica about how Norway's government-owned public broadcasting company "employs open source tactics to fight trolling": The five-person team behind a simple WordPress plugin, which took three hours to code, never expected to receive worldwide attention as a result. But NRKbeta, the tech-testing group at Norway's largest national media organization, tapped into a meaty vein with the unveiling of last February's Know2Comment, an open source plugin that can attach to any WordPress site's comment section. "It was a basic idea," NRKbeta developer Stale Grut told a South By Southwest crowd on Tuesday. "Readers had to prove they read a story before they were able to comment on it"... He and fellow staffers spent three hours building the plugin, which Grut reminded the crowd is wholly open source... "[W]e realized not every article is in need of this. We are a tech site; we don't have a lot of controversy, so there's not a big need for it. We use it now on stories where we anticipate there'll be uninformed debate to add this speed bump."
What do you think? And would a quiz-for-commenting-privileges be a good addition to Slashdot?
United States

DIY Explosives Experimenter Blows Self Up, Contaminates Building ( 329

Long-time Slashdot reader hey! writes: Benjamin D. Morrison of Beaver Dam Wisconsin was killed on March 5 while synthesizing explosives in his apartment... The accident has left the apartment building so contaminated that it will be demolished in a controlled burn, and residents are not being allowed in to retrieve any of their belongings.
It was just five years ago that Morrison graduated from Pensacola Christian College in Florida with a degree in pre-pharmacy and minors in chemistry and math. Though a local reverend believes 28-year-old Morrison was "not a bomb maker," USA Today's site FDL Reporter notes that "Officials assume he was making bombs that accidentally exploded and killed him... They have not publicly disclosed what chemicals were in apartment 11 where Morrow lived, only describing them as 'extremely volatile and unstable explosives.'"
Open Source

Vim Beats Emacs in 'Linux Journal' Reader Survey ( 176

The newly-relaunched Linux Journal is conducting its annual "Reader's Choice Awards," and this month announced the winners for Best Text Editor, Best Laptop, and Best Domain Registrar. Vim was chosen as the best editor by 35% of respondents, handily beating GNU Emacs (19%) Sublime Text (10%) and Atom (8%). Readers' Choice winner Vim is an extremely powerful editor with a user interface based on Bill Joy's 40-plus-year-old vi, but with many improved-upon features including extensive customization with key mappings and plugins. Linux Journal reader David Harrison points out another great thing about Vim "is that it's basically everywhere. It's available on every major platform."
For best laptop their readers picked Lenovo (32%), followed by Dell (25%) and System76 (11%). The ThinkPad began life at IBM, but in 2005, it was purchased by Lenovo along with the rest of IBM's PC business. Lenovo evolved the line, and today the company is well known as a geek favorite. Lenovo's ThinkPads are quiet, fast and arguably have one of the best keyboards (fighting words!). Linux Journal readers say Lenovo's Linux support is excellent, leaving many to ponder why the company doesn't ship laptops with Linux installed.
In February readers also voted on the best web browser, choosing Firefox (57%) over Chrome (17%) and Chromium (7%). And they also voted on the best Linux distribution, ultimately selecting Debian (33%), open SUSE (12%), and Fedora (11%).

'Why YouTube's New Plan to Debunk Conspiracy Videos Won't Work' ( 280

Slashdot reader Lauren Weinstein believes YouTube's plan to combat conspiracy videos with "information cues" is "likely doomed to be almost entirely ineffective." The kind of viewers who are going to believe these kinds of false conspiracy videos are almost certainly going to say that the associated Wikipedia articles are wrong, that they're planted lies... Not helping matters at all is that Wikipedia's reputation for accuracy -- never all that good -- has been plunging in recent years, sometimes resulting in embarrassing Knowledge Panel errors for Google in search results...

The key to avoiding the to minimize their visibility in the YouTube/Google ecosystem in the first place... Not only should they be prevented from ever getting into the trending lists, they should be deranked, demonetized, and excised from the YouTube recommended video system. They should be immediately removed from YouTube entirely if they contain specific attacks against individuals or other violations of the YouTube Terms of Service and/or Community Guidelines. These actions must be taken as rapidly as possible with appropriate due diligence, before these videos are able to do even more damage to innocent parties.


Ubuntu Community Considers a Crowd-Sourced Promo Video ( 40

Slashdot reader Beacon11 writes that "Alan Pope, a community advocate for Ubuntu, has requested comments and ideas regarding the creation of a crowd-sourced promo video that, in 30 seconds, conveys that Ubuntu is for everyone." Alan Pope writes: So for example you might see a woman on a train typing an article, a guy in an office creating a presentation, a kid on the sofa playing a game with a controller on their TV, someone watching a film, someone developing code, kids playing with robots, a farmer planning animal feeding. You get the idea...

So I'd really like to do this as a shared community project, with video clips submitted by Ubuntu users from around the world, perhaps even taking in a landmark or two here and there. I'd expect the video to represent the diversity of users, and variety of activities people are able to do with Ubuntu.

Though they're currently just discussing its feasibility, Alan writes that "I think if we work together we could make something amazing."

Researchers Claim They Can Predict Where Lightning Is Likely To Strike ( 35

Long-time Slashdot reader conner_bw shared an article from the CBC: A study by researchers at the University of Calgary's Schulich School of Engineering suggests it's possible to predict where lightning will strike and how often.They say satellite data and artificial intelligence can help foresee where lightning poses a greater risk to spark wildfires... "Those events don't just randomly happen," said Dr. Xin Wang, one of three researchers involved in the study. "They also have spatial and temporal patterns."
One of the paper's authors says their analysis can predict areas with a high chance of wildfires with an accuracy greater than 90%.
Electronic Frontier Foundation

North Carolina Police Obtained Warrants Demanding All Google Users Near Four Crime Scenes ( 197

An anonymous reader quotes the public records reporter from North Carolina TV station WRAL: In at least four investigations last year -- cases of murder, sexual battery and even possible arson at the massive downtown fire in March 2017 -- Raleigh police used search warrants to demand Google accounts not of specific suspects, but from any mobile devices that veered too close to the scene of a crime, according to a WRAL News review of court records... The demands Raleigh police issued for Google data [in two homicide cases] described a 17-acre area that included both homes and businesses... The account IDs aren't limited to electronics running Android. The warrant includes any device running location-enabled Google apps, according to Raleigh Police Department spokeswoman Laura Hourigan...

On March 16, 2017, a five-alarm fire ripped through the unfinished Metropolitan apartment building on West Jones Street... About two months later, Raleigh police obtained a search warrant for Google account IDs that showed up near the block of the Metropolitan between 7:30 and 10 p.m. the night of the fire... In addition to anonymized numerical identifiers, the warrant calls on Google to release time stamped location coordinates for every device that passed through the area. Detectives wrote that they'd narrow down that list and send it back to the company, demanding "contextual data points with points of travel outside of the geographical area" during an expanded timeframe. Another review would further cull the list, which police would use to request user names, birth dates and other identifying information of the phones' owners.

"Do people understand that in sharing that information with Google, they're also potentially sharing it with law enforcement?" asks a former Durham prosecutor who directs the North Carolina Open Government Coalition at Elon University. And Stephanie Lacambra, criminal defense staff attorney at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, also criticized the procedure. "To just say, 'Criminals commit crimes, and we know that most people have cell phones,' that should not be enough to get the geo-location on anyone that happened to be in the vicinity of a particular incident during a particular time." She believes that without probable cause the police department is "trying to use technology as a hack for their job... It does not have to be that we have to give up our privacy rights in order to participate in the digital revolution."

Nathan Freed Wessler, staff attorney with the ACLU's Speech, Privacy and Technology Project, put it succinctly. "At the end of the day, this tactic unavoidably risks getting information about totally innocent people."
United States

The Ordinary Engineering Behind the Horrifying Florida Bridge Collapse ( 260

An anonymous reader quotes a report from WIRED: The people of Sweetwater, Florida were supposed to wait until early 2019 for the Florida International University-Sweetwater University City Bridge to open. Instead, they will wait about that long for an official assessment from the National Transportation Safety Board of why it collapsed just five days after its installation, killing at least six people. In the immediate aftermath of the disaster, many queries have centered on the unconventional technique used to build the bridge, something called Accelerated Bridge Construction, or ABC. But ABC is more complicated than its acronym suggests -- and it's hardly brand new. ABC refers to dozens of construction methods, but at its core, it's about drastically reducing on-site construction time. Mostly, that relies on pre-fabricating things like concrete decks, abutments, walls, barriers, and concrete topped steel girders, and hauling them to the work site. There, cranes or specialized vehicles known as Self-Propelled Modular Transporter install them. A video posted online by Florida International University, which helped fund the bridge connects to its campus, showed an SPMT lifting and then lowering the span into place.

In a now-deleted press release, the university called the "largest pedestrian bridge moved via SPMT in U.S. history," but that doesn't seem to mean much, engineering-wise. SPMTs have been around since the 1970s, and have moved much heavier loads. In 2017, workers used a 600-axle SPMT to salvage the 17,000 ton ferry that sank off the coast of South Korea in 2014. The ABC technique is much more expensive than building things in place, but cities and places like FIU like it for a specific reason: Because most of the work happens far away, traffic goes mostly unperturbed. When years- or months-long construction projects can have serious effects on businesses and homes, governments might make up the money in the long run. Workers installed this collapsed span in just a few hours. These accelerated techniques are also much safer for workers, who do most their work well away from active roads.
The report goes on to note that the bridge collapse is still under investigation and the search for a culprit is ongoing. "The answers could run the gamut, from design flaws to fabrication flubs to installation issues," reports WIRED. As of publication, The Washington Post is reporting that an engineer called the state to report cracking two days before its collapse.

Ford's Badly Needed Plan To Catch Up On Hybrid, Electric Cars ( 174

Ford supposedly has a plan to adapt to the changing world of transportation. The company recently announced that it's "going all-in on hybrids," readying six new battery electric vehicles by 2022, with the first due in 2020, and adding more performance versions of its SUV line up. "Additionally, by the end of 2019, every new Ford will have 4G LTE connectivity, and the company is developing a new cloud platform that will deliver over-the-air updates," reports Ars Technica. From the report: New hybrids: "Hybrids for years have been mostly niche products but are now on the cusp of a mainstream breakout," said Jim Farley, Ford president of global markets. "The valuable capability they offer -- plus fuel efficiency -- is why we're going to offer hybrid variants of our most popular and high-volume vehicles, allowing our loyal, passionate customers to become advocates for the technology." So America's best-selling truck (the F-150) will get the ability to act as a mobile generator, something that should come in handy on job sites. Meanwhile, the Mustang will have performance to match the 5.0L V8 version but with more low-down torque, according to Ford. The company says that these new hybrids will be cheaper and more efficient than its current hybrids, via "common cell and component design and by manufacturing motors, transmissions, and battery packs."

New BEVs: We have to wait for those new BEVs, too. The first of these -- an electric performance SUV -- also shows up in 2020, but with five more planned between then and 2022. Ford says that it's "rethinking the ownership experience" as part of this and that over-the-air software updates to add new features will be part of the $11 billion investment plan.

More SUVs, more commercial vehicles, a super Mustang: Other new vehicles on the way include a reborn Ford Bronco SUV and an as-yet unnamed small SUV, but before then we'll get redesigned Explorers and Escapes, due in 2019. Next year, Ford will also bring a new Transit van to the US, and it says advanced driver-assistance systems, like automatic emergency braking and others, will be added to future commercial vehicles like the future E-Series, F-650, F-750, and F59-based vehicles.

The Courts

Entire Broadband Industry Will Help FCC Defend Net Neutrality Repeal ( 86

The biggest lobby groups representing broadband providers will help the FCC defend the repeal of net neutrality rules in court. Ars Technica reports: Yesterday, three trade groups that collectively represent every major home Internet and mobile broadband provider in the U.S. filed motions to intervene in the case on behalf of the FCC. The motions for leave to intervene were filed by NCTA--The Internet & Television Association, CTIA--The Wireless Association, and USTelecom--The Broadband Association. NCTA represents cable companies such as Comcast, Charter, Cox, and Altice. CTIA represents the biggest mobile carriers, such as AT&T, Verizon Wireless, T-Mobile, and Sprint. USTelecom represents wireline telcos with copper and fiber networks, such as AT&T and Verizon. All three groups also represent a range of smaller ISPs.

As intervenors in the case, the groups will file briefs in support of the net neutrality repeal order and may play a role in oral arguments. NCTA's motion noted that its members would once again be subject to "common-carriage regulation under Title II of the Communications Act" if the FCC were to lose the case. CTIA said that its members "would be adversely affected if the [net neutrality] Order were set aside and the prior Title II Order classification and rules were reinstated."

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