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A Hundred UK Companies Sign Up For Four-day Week With No Loss of Pay

Slashdot - 1 hour 31 sec ago
AmiMoJo writes: A hundred UK companies have signed up for a permanent four-day working week for all their employees with no loss of pay, a milestone in the campaign to fundamentally change Britain's approach to work. The 100 companies employ 2,600 staff -- a tiny fraction of the UK's working population -- but the 4 Day Week Campaign group is hoping they will be the vanguard of a major shift. Proponents of the four-day week say that the five-day pattern is a hangover from an earlier economic age. They argue that a four-day week would drive companies to improve their productivity, meaning they can create the same output using fewer hours. For some early adopters the policy has also proven a useful way of attracting and retaining employees. The two biggest companies that have signed up are Atom Bank and global marketing company Awin, who each have about 450 staff in the UK. They have been accredited by the four-day week campaign, meaning they have demonstrated that they have genuinely reduced hours for workers rather than forcing them into longer days.

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Frontier Airlines Gets Rid of Telephone Customer Service

Slashdot - 1 hour 38 min ago
Say goodbye to the airline call center -- at least at Frontier Airlines. From a report: The budget carrier has completed its transition to online, mobile and text support, which enables it to ensure that customers get "the information they need as expeditiously and efficiently as possible," spokeswoman Jennifer de la Cruz told CNBC in an e-mailed statement. Passengers who call the customer service number Frontier lists on its website now get the message: "At Frontier, we offer the lowest fares in the industry by operating our airline as efficiently as possible. We want our customers to be able to operate efficiently as well, which is why we make it easy to find what you need at Flyfrontier.com or on our mobile app." Those who want to text with the carrier can get a link to do so sent to their phone. Most major carriers still offer customer service lines. But Frontier, which charges fees for everything from advanced seat assignments to carry-on luggage and snacks, is often looking for ways to cut expenses. During its investor day earlier this month, Frontier hinted that it would stop offering customer service by phone, a change that travel site Travel Noire reported earlier this week. Further reading: US Fines Airlines More Than $7 Million for Not Providing Refunds.

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It's Not Your Imagination. Shopping on Amazon Has Gotten Worse

Slashdot - 3 hours 9 min ago
"When you search for a product on Amazon, you may not realize that most of what you see at first is advertising," reports the Washington Post's technology columnist, introducing some eye-opening interactive graphics. (Alternate URL here.) The Post's graphics show that Amazon's first six search results — basically everything on their first screen — were all ads. Scrolling to the second screen, we finally start to see non-ads. These are the first products that were actually chosen because they've got the best combination of price and quality. But the real results don't last long. Scroll to the next screen, and it's all ads again. Here's a set of listings labeled "Highly rated," but don't be fooled.... These are also just ads. [Later the article points out that while customers can't specifically buy their way into the highly-rated section, it's still just "often stacked with sponsored listings that don't have terrible customer reviews." And then on the next screen three of the six displayed results are "top rated for our brands" — that is, Amazon's own products. And then...] Keep on scrolling, and the ads keep coming — even if they're repeats. On these first five screens, more than 50 percent of the space was dedicated to ads and Amazon touting its own products.... The first page of Amazon results includes an average of about nine sponsored listings, according to a study of 70 search terms conducted in 2020 and 2021 by data firm Profitero. That was twice as many ads as Walmart displayed, and four times as many as Target... The Amazon we experience today is pretty much the opposite of how Amazon used to work. Even as recently as 2015, Amazon's results pages were filled with actual results, ranked by relevancy to your search.... Here's a modest proposal: No more than half of any screen we see at any given time — be it on desktop web or a smartphone — should contain ads.... Another idea: Shill results should be much more clearly marked. A label disclosing that a shill listing is "Sponsored" should have the same font, size and contrast as the most prominent text in the ad. Even better: It should have to go on the top-left part of the ad, where our eyes go first. No more burying it in the far-right corner. The article notes that even typing the name of a specific brand may first bring up off-brand rivals who've paid for higher placement. (An Amazon spokesman tells the Post, "This practice is good for customers — it drives discovery and presents them with more choices.") But Post argues Amazon's various sponsored results "fill up spaces people have every reason to expect to contain trustworthy, independent information," ultimately warning that Amazon "is betraying your trust in its results to make an extra buck.... Sure, Google and Facebook are chock full of ads, too. But on Amazon, we're supposed to be the customers, not the eyeballs for sale." Ironically, since 2013 the Washington Post has been owned by... Jeff Bezos.

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Cheeky New Book Identifies 26 Lines of Code That Changed the World

Slashdot - 7 hours 9 min ago
Long-time Slashdot reader destinyland writes: A new book identifies "26 Lines of Code That Changed the World." But its cheeky title also incorporates a comment from Unix's source code — "You are Not Expected to Understand This". From a new interview with the book's editor: With chapter titles like "Wear this code, go to jail" and "the code that launched a million cat videos," each chapter offers appreciations for programmers, gathering up stories about not just their famous lives but their sometimes infamous works. (In Chapter 10 — "The Accidental Felon" — journalist Katie Hafner reveals whatever happened to that Harvard undergraduate who went on to inadvertently create one of the first malware programs in 1988...) The book quickly jumps from milestones like the Jacquard Loom and the invention of COBOL to bitcoin and our thought-provoking present, acknowledging both the code that guided the Apollo 11 moon landing and the code behind the 1962 videogame Spacewar. The Smithsonian Institution's director for their Center for the Study of Invention and Innovation writes in Chapter 4 that the game "symbolized a shift from computing being in the hands of priest-like technicians operating massive computers to enthusiasts programming and hacking, sometimes for the sheer joy of it." I contributed chapter 9, about a 1975 comment in some Unix code that became "an accidental icon" commemorating a "momentary glow of humanity in a world of unforgiving logic." This chapter provided the book with its title. (And I'm also responsible for the book's index entry for "Linux, expletives in source code of".) In a preface, the book's editor describes the book's 29 different authors as "technologists, historians, journalists, academics, and sometimes the coders themselves," explaining "how code works — or how, sometimes, it doesn't work — owing in no small way to the people behind it." "I've been really interested over the past several years to watch the power of the tech activists and tech labor movements," the editor says in this interview. "I think they've shown really immense power to effect change, and power to say, 'I'm not going to work on something that doesn't align with what I want for the future.' That's really something to admire. "But of course, people are up against really big forces...."

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Apple Hobbled Protesters' Tool in China Weeks Before Widespread Protests

Slashdot - 11 hours 6 min ago
"China's control of the internet has become so strong that dissidents must cling to any crack in the so-called Great Firewall," writes Qz. But as anti-government protests sprung up on campuses and cities in China over the weekend, Qz reminds us that "the country's most widespread show of public dissent in decades will have to manage without a crucial communication tool, because Apple restricted its use in China earlier this month." AirDrop, the file-sharing feature on iPhones and other Apple devices, has helped protestors in many authoritarian countries evade censorship. That's because AirDrop relies on direct connections between phones, forming a local network of devices that don't need the internet to communicate. People can opt into receiving AirDrops from anyone else with an iPhone nearby. That changed on Nov. 9, when Apple released a new version of its mobile operating system, iOS 16.1.1, to customers worldwide. Rather than listing new features, as it often does, the company simply said, "This update includes bug fixes and security updates and is recommended for all users." Hidden in the update was a change that only applies to iPhones sold in mainland China: AirDrop can only be set to receive messages from everyone for 10 minutes, before switching off. There's no longer a way to keep the "everyone" setting on permanently on Chinese iPhones. The change, first noticed by Chinese readers of 9to5Mac, doesn't apply anywhere else. Apple didn't respond to questions about the AirDrop change. It plans to make the "Everyone for 10 Minutes" feature a global standard next year, according to Bloomberg.

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US Goverment Investigating Real-Estate Tech Company Accused of Helping Landlords Collude

Slashdot - 15 hours 12 min ago
The anti-trust division of America's Department of Justice "has reportedly opened up an investigation into RealPage, the real estate technology company accused of contributing to higher-than-normal rent prices," reports the Verge. ProPublica writes that the investigation explores "whether rent-setting software made by a Texas-based real estate tech company is facilitating collusion among landlords, according to a source with knowledge of the matter." *The inquiry is being launched as questions have arisen about a 2017 merger between RealPage and its largest pricing competitor.... Congressional leaders have pushed for an investigation into RealPage in three letters to the DOJ and the Federal Trade Commission, which were sent after a ProPublica report on the software's use in mid-October. The letters raised concerns that RealPage's pricing software could be pushing rents above competitive levels and allowing big landlords to coordinate their pricing in violation of federal antitrust laws. "We are concerned that the use of this rate setting software essentially amounts to a cartel to artificially inflate rental rates in multifamily residential buildings," three senators said in a letter in early November. They included Sen. Amy Klobuchar, the Minnesota Democrat who chairs the Senate Subcommittee on Competition Policy, Antitrust and Consumer Rights.... In addition to the letters from congressional lawmakers, renters have filed three lawsuits in federal court in Seattle and San Diego since mid-October, alleging RealPage and a slew of large landlords are engaging in anticompetitive behavior through the company's software. They note Capital Forum's report with additional details — but the Verge nicely summarizes the issue: ProPublica's report states that the algorithm's design has "raised questions among real estate and legal experts about whether RealPage has birthed a new kind of cartel that allows the nation's largest landlords to indirectly coordinate pricing, potentially in violation of federal law." These experts have also raised concerns with the RealPage user group, an online forum that lets apartment managers who use the service communicate — and potentially coordinate — with one another.

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Is Everyone Still Getting Remote Work Wrong?

Slashdot - 16 hours 30 min ago
ZDNet asks: why is everyone getting remote working wrong? Researchers at tech analyst Gartner believe a rigid requirement to return to offices is a mistake. But the researchers also believe so-called "hybrid" schedules often are also flawed: "Most of those work models delivered below-average outcomes," the research found, and the common factor was some kind of rigid on-site requirement. Much more successful was a "hybrid-flexible" set-up offering leaders and employees the opportunity to choose where they work from. But most successful by far were workplaces that offered this flexibility and also included elements of "intentional collaboration and empathy-based management", where bosses don't force staff to come to the office just to keep an eye on them. How the working week is organized matters: get it right, and staff are more likely to want to stay, and more likely to perform well. Autonomy also reduces fatigue, which in turn means workers are likely to sustain good performance over time. ZDNet also tested virtual reality meetings — concluding they're "still undeniably somewhat clunky and can make you feel a bit awkward." But at the same time, "I was also surprised by how much benefit they could potentially deliver." Sure, a meeting with avatars that only look a bit like your colleagues, in a fantasy meeting room that wouldn't look out of place in a Bond villain's lair does feel a bit ridiculous. But it also — and this was the revelation to me — adds a level of engagement that you just don't get from a video meeting of colleagues occupying flat tiles on a screen. It provides a sense of being there (wherever 'there' was) that adds meaning beyond what you get from staring into a monitor. I'm not saying I want to have every meeting in VR from now on: far from it. But we have to see the present state of hybrid and remote working as just the current state of the art, and to keep experimenting, and thinking, about the way we work.

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Workers at Amazon's Largest Air Hub in the World Push for a Union

Slashdot - Mon, 28/11/2022 - 00:13
"Amazon workers at the air hub outside the Cincinnati Northern Kentucky international airport, Amazon's largest air hub in the world, are pushing to organize a union," reports the Guardian, "in the latest effort to mobilize workers at the tech company." Workers say they are dissatisfied with annual wage increases this year. About 400 of them have signed a petition to reinstate a premium hourly pay for Amazon's peak season that hasn't been enacted at the site yet. Their main demands also include a $30 an hour starting wage, 180 hours of paid time off and union representation at disciplinary hearings.... About 4,500 workers are employed at the expanding air hub in Kentucky. Those organizing have already filed two unfair labor practice charges over Amazon's response to the unionization effort, which has included anti-union talking points on televisions and its communications system for employees that characterize the effort as a third-party scheme.... Organizing efforts at Amazon have spread beyond the JFK8 Staten Island, New York, warehouse, where workers won the first union election at an Amazon site in the US in April 2022. But they have yet to repeat the success.... Employees at an Amazon warehouse outside Raleigh, North Carolina, are now collecting union authorization signatures in hopes of filing for an election by this summer.... At other Amazon warehouses in Georgia, Minnesota, Illinois and California, workers have organized strikes and petitions to push the company to increase wages and improve working conditions. Steven Kelley, a learning ambassador at the Kentucky air hub, explained that most workers were paid less than $20 an hour. He said the pay wasn't commensurate with the dangerous work the workers perform, in a location where employee turnover was about 150%, with a constant training of workers who wind up quitting. He also said the disciplinary procedures at Amazon weren't transparent or communicated well enough.... He explained that workers weren't paid enough to live without roommates and made less than other workers in transportation and logistics because they were classified as retail employees. One worker at the Kentucy air hub complained to the Guardian, "We're the lifeblood of the company, not corporate, not upper management. We're actually the ones who are sorting the freight, and loading the freight."

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Small Study Finds Computer Repair Shops Accessed Personal Data - And Sometimes Even Copied It

Slashdot - Sun, 27/11/2022 - 23:13
Ars Technica reports on what happened when researchers at the University of Guelph in Ontario, Canada, left laptops overnight at 12 computer repair shops — and then recovered logs after receiving their repairs: The logs showed that technicians from six of the locations had accessed personal data and that two of those shops also copied data onto a personal device.... The amount of snooping may actually have been higher than recorded in the study, which was conducted from October to December 2021. In all, the researchers took the laptops to 16 shops in the greater Ontario region. Logs on devices from two of those visits weren't recoverable. Two of the repairs were performed on the spot and in the customer's presence, so the technician had no opportunity to surreptitiously view personal data. In three cases, Windows Quick Access or Recently Accessed Files had been deleted in what the researchers suspect was an attempt by the snooping technician to cover their tracks.... The vast majority of repair shops provide no privacy policy and those that do have no means of enforcing them. Even worse, repair technicians required a customer to surrender their login password even when it wasn't necessary for the repair needed. These findings came from a separate part of the study, in which the researchers brought an Asus UX330U laptop into 11 shops for a battery replacement. This repair doesn't require a technician to log in to the machine, since the removal of the back of the device and access to the device BIOS (for checking battery health) is all that's needed. Despite this, all but one of the repair service providers asked for the credentials to the device OS anyway. When the customer asked if they could get the repair without providing the password, three refused to take the device without it, four agreed to take it but warned they wouldn't be able to verify their work or be responsible for it, one asked the customer to remove the password, and one said they would reset the device if it was required.

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Protests Erupting Across China

Slashdot - Sun, 27/11/2022 - 22:13
"Protesters clash with police as unrest rocks cities across China," reads CNN's headline. The Guardian calls it "the biggest wave of civil disobedience on the mainland since Xi Jinping assumed power a decade ago," noting one crowd numbered over 1,000 protesters. "Crowdsourced lists on social media claim protests have been documented at as many as 50 Chinese universities over the weekend." Looking back over the last 10 years, CNN's correspondent in China calls it "an unprecedented level of public dissent". During lockdowns people struggled to get emergency care, food, and necessities, but CNN's correspondent warns now "what we're seeing is this tipping point across the country, after years of suffering and deaths." "What we're seeing is people past their breaking point — it's years of pent-up anger. This is three years of draconian lockdowns that have cost people's lives, their livelihoods — but the trigger for this wave of protests was a deadly fire at Xinjiang that killed at least 10 people. Videos of the scene indicated that Covid restrictions prevented victims from getting help. "But these protesters — not just angry about Covid lockdowns. They're also targetting their anger towards the supreme leader himself." [CNN shows what they call "extraordinary" footage of people in Shanghai calling on Jinping to step down.] "Over and over again. Those chants go on for quite some time. They're also calling for the Communist party to step down. I can't overstate just how shocking it is to hear this, this crowd in Shanghai — China's wealthiest and most cosmopolitan city. And that chanting happening in a central, upscale part of the city, to be directly calling out for Xi Jinping to resign — I mean, this is virtually unheard of. In China it is extremely dangerous to publicly criticize the party, especially Xi himself. You risk prison time, or even worse. "Some protesters also chanted they don't want dictatorship, they want freedom and democracy. Witnesses told CNN as well that rows of police officers were making arrests, forcefully pushing protesters into police cars — but the next day on Sunday, hundreds of Shanghai residents returned, to continue protesting, despite heavy police presence and roadblocks. Videos also showed some protesters violently dragged away, and now that area has been mostly cordoned off. New videos now "showed hundreds of people at an intersection shouting 'Release the people!' in a demand for the police to free detained demonstrators," reports CNN, in an article shared by Slashdot reader LionKimbro: By Sunday evening, mass demonstrations had spread to Beijing, Chengdu, Guangzhou and Wuhan, where thousands of residents called for not only an end to Covid restrictions, but more remarkably, political freedoms. In Beijing, hundreds of mostly young people demonstrated in the commercial heart of the city well into the small hours of Monday.... People chanted slogans against zero-Covid, voiced support for the detained protesters in Shanghai, and called for greater civil liberties. "We want freedom! We want freedom!" the crowd chanted under an overpass. Speaking to CNN's Selina Wang at the protest, a demonstrator said he was shocked by the turnout.... In the southwestern metropolis of Chengdu, large crowds demonstrated along the bustling river banks in a popular food and shopping district, according to a protester interviewed by CNN and videos circulating online.... "Opposition to dictatorship!" the crowd chanted. "We don't want lifelong rulers. We don't want emperors!" they shouted in a thinly veiled reference to Xi, who last month began a norm-shattering third term in office. In the southern city of Guangzhou, hundreds gathered on a public square in Haizhu district — the epicenter of the city's ongoing Covid outbreak that has been locked down for weeks. "We don't want lockdowns, we want freedom! Freedom of expression, freedom of the press, freedom of arts, freedom of movement, personal freedoms. Give me back my freedom!" The crowd shouted. Across China, protests have also broken out on university campuses — which are particularly politically sensitive to the Communist Party, given the history of the student-led Tiananmen Square protests in 1989.... In one video, a university official could be heard warning the students: "You will pay for what you did today." "You too, and so will the country," a student shouted in reply. The campus protests continued on Sunday, CNN reports, with a crowd of hundreds of students at Tsinghua University, another top university in Beijing. "Videos and images circulating on social media show students holding up sheets of white paper and shouting: 'Democracy and rule of law! Freedom of expression!'"

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Linux Kernel Gets More Infrastructure for Rust, Increasing Interest in the Language

Slashdot - Sun, 27/11/2022 - 20:55
Linux 6.1 (released last month) included what Linus Torvalds described as "initial Rust scaffolding," remembers this update from SD Times But now, "work has already been done since the 6.1 release to add more infrastructure for Rust in the kernel, though still none of the code interacts with any C code." And there's still no actual Rust code in Linux: "You need to get all those things that can make sure that Rust can compile, and you can do the debugging and all these things," explained Joel Marcey, director of advocacy and operations for the Rust Foundation, "and make sure that the memory safety is there and all that sort of stuff. And that has to happen first before you can actually write any real code in Rust for the Linux kernel itself." Marcey explained that Linux is going to be doing this inclusion very piecemeal, with lots of little integrations here and there over time so they can see how it is working. "I would imagine that over the next year, you're going to see more small incremental changes to the kernel with Rust, but as people are seeing that it's actually kind of working out, you'll be able to maybe, for example, write Linux drivers or whatever with Rust," said Marcey.... According to Bec Rumbul, executive director of the Rust Foundation, Rust being added to the kernel is an "enormous vote of confidence in the Rust programming language." She explained that in the past other languages have been planned to make it into the kernel and ended up not getting put in. "I think having someone with the kind of intellectual gravity of Linus Torvalds saying 'No, it's going in there,' that kind of says an awful lot about how reliable Rust already is and how much potential there is for the future as well," she said. Rumbul believes that there will be an increased interest in the language, which is still relatively new (It first made its debut in 2010) compared to some of the other languages out there to choose from. "I suspect that because Rust is now in the kernel, and it's just being talked about much ... more widely, that it will seem like an attractive prospect to a lot of people that are looking to develop their skills and their knowledge," she said. Rumbul hopes people will also be inspired to participate in the language as contributors and maintainers, because those are some of the less popular roles within open source, but are extremely critical to the health of a language, she explained. The Rust Foundation also launched a new security team in September to ensure best practices (including a dedicated security engineer). Their first initiative will be a security audit and threat modeling exercises. "We want to basically shore up," Rust operations director Marcey tells SD Times, "to ensure that Rust itself is actually as secure as we always say it is." In this year's Stack Overflow Developer Survey, 86.73% of developers said they love Rust.

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'How Washington Chased Huawei Out of Europe'

Slashdot - Sun, 27/11/2022 - 19:34
Huawei "is giving up on Europe," writes Politico, saying the Chinese telecommunications company is "retrenching its European operations and putting its ambitions for global leadership on ice." "The reasons for doing this have little to do with the company's commercial potential — Huawei is still able to offer cutting-edge technology at lower costs than its competitors — and everything to do with politics, according to interviews with more than 20 current and former staff and strategic advisers to the company." Pressed by the United States and increasingly shunned on a Continent it once considered its most strategic overseas market, Huawei is pivoting back toward the Chinese market, focusing its remaining European attention on the few countries — Germany and Spain, but also Hungary — still willing to play host to a company widely viewed in the West as a security risk. "It's no longer a company floating on globalization," said one Huawei official. "It's a company saving its ass on the domestic market...." Huawei's predicament was summed up by the company's founder Ren Zhengfei in a speech to executives at the company's Shenzhen headquarters in July. He laid out the trifecta of challenges the company has faced over the last three years: hostility from Washington; disruptions from the coronavirus pandemic; and Russia's invasion of Ukraine, which upended global supply chains and heightened European concerns about over-dependence on countries like China. "The environment we faced in 2019 was different from the one we face today," Ren said in his speech, which wasn't made public but was seen by POLITICO. "Don't assume that we will have a brighter future." "We previously had an ideal for globalization striving to serve all humanity," he added. "What is our ideal today? Survival....!" The company is also retrenching elsewhere, according to Ren. "We will give up markets in some countries," the firm's founder said in his speech this summer. "For example, we will give up markets in the Five Eyes countries and India." The "Five Eyes" refers to an intelligence-sharing arrangement between the U.S., U.K., Canada, Australia and New Zealand. All five countries have banned or are in the process of banning Huawei and other Chinese companies from their critical infrastructure because of security concerns. Thanks to Slashdot reader fbobraga for submitting the article.

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Scientists Say Webb Telescope's New Exoplanet Data is 'a Game Changer'

Slashdot - Sun, 27/11/2022 - 18:34
"The powerful Webb telescope doesn't need to take pretty pictures to revolutionize our grasp of the cosmos," notes Mashable. It's "a game changer," says one of the researchers. They're part of what the Webb telescope's web site calls "an international team numbering in the hundreds" that "independently analysed data from four of the Webb telescope's finely calibrated instrument modes." And their ground-breaking first results? The James Webb Space Telescope "just scored another first: a molecular and chemical portrait of a distant world's skies." The European Space Agency's page for the telescope explains why revealing a "broad swath of the infrared spectrum and a panoply of chemical fingerprints" is so groundbreaking: While Webb and other space telescopes, including the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope, have previously revealed isolated ingredients of this heated planet's atmosphere, the new readings provide a full menu of atoms, molecules, and even signs of active chemistry and clouds.... The telescope's array of highly sensitive instruments was trained on the atmosphere of WASP-39 b, a "hot Saturn" (a planet about as massive as Saturn but in an orbit tighter than Mercury) orbiting a star some 700 light-years away.... Webb's exquisitely sensitive instruments have provided a profile of WASP-39 b's atmospheric constituents and identified a plethora of contents, including water, sulphur dioxide, carbon monoxide, sodium and potassium. Earlier Mashable explained that the researchers "wait for planets to travel in front of their bright stars. This starlight passes through the exoplanet's atmosphere, then through space, and ultimately into instruments called spectrographs aboard Webb... essentially hi-tech prisms, which separate the light into a rainbow of colors. Here's the big trick: Certain molecules, like water, in the atmosphere absorb specific types, or colors, of light." From the Webb Telescope's site: The findings bode well for the capability of Webb's instruments to conduct the broad range of investigations of exoplanets — planets around other stars — hoped for by the science community. That includes probing the atmospheres of smaller, rocky planets like those in the TRAPPIST-1 system.... Among the unprecedented revelations is the first detection in an exoplanet atmosphere of sulphur dioxide, a molecule produced from chemical reactions triggered by high-energy light from the planet's parent star.... "This is the first time we have seen concrete evidence of photochemistry — chemical reactions initiated by energetic stellar light — on exoplanets," said Shang-Min Tsai, a researcher at the University of Oxford in the United Kingdom and lead author of the paper explaining the origin of sulphur dioxide in WASP-39 b's atmosphere. "I see this as a really promising outlook for advancing our understanding of exoplanet atmospheres...." This led to another first: scientists applying computer models of photochemistry to data that require such physics to be fully explained. The resulting improvements in modelling will help build the technological know-how needed to interpret potential signs of habitability in the future.... The planet's proximity to its host star — eight times closer than Mercury is to our Sun — also makes it a laboratory for studying the effects of radiation from host stars on exoplanets. Better knowledge of the star-planet connection should bring a deeper understanding of how these processes affect the diversity of planets observed in the galaxy. Other atmospheric constituents detected by the Webb telescope include sodium (Na), potassium (K), and water vapour (H2O), confirming previous space- and ground-based telescope observations as well as finding additional fingerprints of water, at these longer wavelengths, that haven't been seen before. Webb also saw carbon dioxide (CO2) at higher resolution, providing twice as much data as reported from its previous observations.... By precisely revealing the details of an exoplanet atmosphere, the Webb telescope's instruments performed well beyond scientists' expectations — and promise a new phase of exploration of the broad variety of exoplanets in the galaxy. "We are going to be able to see the big picture of exoplanet atmospheres," said Laura Flagg, a researcher at Cornell University and a member of the international team. "It is incredibly exciting to know that everything is going to be rewritten. That is one of the best parts of being a scientist." Webb is an international partnership between NASA, ESA and the Canadian Space Agency.

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Meta Claims US Military Linked to Online Propaganda Campaign

Slashdot - Sun, 27/11/2022 - 17:34
From the BBC: "Individuals associated with the U.S. military" are linked to an online propaganda campaign, Meta's latest adversarial-threat report says.... On Facebook, 39 accounts, 16 pages, and two groups were removed, as well as 26 accounts on Instagram, for violating the platforms' policy against "coordinated inauthentic behaviour". "This network originated in the United States," Meta wrote. It focused on countries including Afghanistan, Algeria, Iran, Iraq, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Somalia, Syria, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Yemen — and mirrored tactics commonly used in propaganda campaigns against the West... Some of those supporting the U.S. had posed as independent media outlets and some had tried to pass off content from legitimate outlets, such as BBC News Russian, as their own. The operation ran across many internet services, including Twitter, YouTube, Telegram, VKontakte and Odnoklassniki, according to Meta. "Although the people behind this operation attempted to conceal their identities and coordination, our investigation found links to individuals associated with the US military," its report says. The article adds that experts believe the campaign "was largely ineffective."

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James Cameron Almost Visited the Space Station - and Helped Design a Camera Now Used On Mars

Slashdot - Sun, 27/11/2022 - 14:34
James Cameron once got himself onto the list for a potential visit to the International Space Station. It's just one of several surprising scientific achievements buried deep inside GQ's massive 7,000-word profile: After James Cameron's Avatar came out in 2009 and made $2.7 billion, the director found the deepest point that exists in all of earth's oceans and, in time, he dove to it. When Cameron reached the bottom of the Mariana Trench, a couple of hundred miles off the southwest coast of Guam, in March 2012, he became the first person in history to descend the 6.8-mile distance solo, and one of only a few people to ever go that deep.... It would be fair to call him the father of the modern action movie, which he helped invent with his debut, The Terminator, and then reinvent with his second, Aliens; it would be accurate to add that he has directed two of the three top-grossing films in history, in Avatar (number one) and Titanic (number three). But he is also a scientist — a camera he helped design served as the model for one that is currently on Mars, attached to the Mars rover — and an adventurer, and not in the dilettante billionaire sense; when Cameron sets out to do something, it gets done. "The man was born with an explorer's instincts and capacity," Daniel Goldin, the former head of NASA, told me.... The original Avatar... required the invention of dozens of new technologies, from the cameras Cameron shot with to the digital effects he used to transform human actors into animated creatures to the language those creatures spoke in the film. For [his upcoming Avatar sequel] The Way of Water, Cameron told me, he and his team started all over again. They needed new cameras that could shoot underwater and a motion-capture system that could collect separate shots from above and below water and integrate them into a unified virtual image; they needed new algorithms, new AI, to translate what Cameron shot into what you see.... Among other things, Cameron said, The Way of Water would be a friendly but pointed rebuke to the comic book blockbusters that now war with Cameron's films at the top of the box office lists: "I was consciously thinking to myself, Okay, all these superheroes, they never have kids. They never really have to deal with the real things that hold you down and give you feet of clay in the real world." Sigourney Weaver, who starred in the first Avatar as a human scientist and returns for The Way of Water as a Na'vi teenager, told me that the parallels between the life of the director and the life of his characters were far from accidental: "Jim loves his family so much, and I feel that love in our film. It's as personal a film as he's ever made." Another interesting detail from the article: Cameron and his wife became vegetarians over a decade ago, built their own pea-protein facility in Saskatchewan, and though they later sold it Cameron says he "pretty much" loves farming and pea protein as much as movies. And he once suggested re-branding the word vegan as "futurevore," since "We're eating the way people will eat in the future. We're just doing it early." But in a 29-minute video interview, Cameron also fondly discusses his earlier ground-breaking films, even as GQ's writer notes their new trajectory. "It is a curious fact that Cameron has directed only two feature films in the last 25 years — and perhaps more curious that both are Avatar installments, and perhaps even more curious that the next three films he hopes to direct are also Avatar sequels.... "Cameron told me he'd already shot all of a third Avatar, and the first act of a fourth. There is a script for a fifth and an intention to make it, as long as the business of Avatar holds up between now and then. It seems entirely possible — maybe even probable — that Cameron will never make another non-Avatar film again."

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Automakers Are Locking the Aftermarket Out of Engine Control Units

Slashdot - Sun, 27/11/2022 - 10:44
This month Road & Track looked at "increased cybersecurity measures" automakers are adding to car systems — and how it's affecting the vendors of "aftermarket" enhancements: As our vehicles start to integrate more complex systems such as Advanced Driver Assist Systems and over-the-air updates, automakers are growing wary of what potential bad actors could gain access to by way of hacking. Whether those hacks come in an attempt to retrieve personal customer data, or to take control of certain aspects of these integrated vehicles, automakers want to leave no part of that equation unchecked. "I think there are very specific reasons why the OEMs are taking encryption more seriously," HP Tuners director of marketing Eddie Xu told R&T. "There's personal identifiable data on vehicles, there's more considerations now than just engine control modules controlling the engine. It's everything involved." In order to prevent this from becoming a potential safety or legal issue, companies like Ford have moved to heavily encrypt their vehicle's software. S650 Mustang chief engineer Ed Krenz specifically noted that the new FNV architecture can detect when someone attempts to modify any of the vehicle's coding, and that it can respond by shutting down an individual vehicle system or the vehicle entirely if that's what is required. That sort of total lockout presents an interesting challenge for [car performance] tuners who rely on access to things like engine and transmission control modules to create their products. Last month Ford acknowledged tuners would find the S650 Mustang "much more difficult," the article points out. And they add that Dodge also "intends to lock down the Engine Control Units of its upcoming electric muscle car offerings, though it will offer performance upgrades via its own over-the-air network." "We don't want to lock the cars and say you can't modify them," Dodge CEO Kuniskis told Carscoops. "We just want to lock them and say modify them through us so that we know it's done right." Thanks to long-time Slashdot reader schwit1 for submitting the article.

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CNN: NASA Discovery Reveals There May Have Been Life on Mars

Slashdot - Sun, 27/11/2022 - 07:35
"News from Mars," CNN reported Friday. "Not just that water was there, perhaps millions of years ago, but also these organic compounds." In an interview with the head of Earth Sciences collections at the UK's Natural History Musem, CNN asked the million-dollar question. "How much more likely, if you believe so, that that makes it that there was life on Mars at some time." A: So what we've found with data that's come back from the Rover and has been studied over the last few months is that we see igneous rocks -- so these are rocks that have been formed through volcanic processes -- which have also been affected by the action of liquid water. And that's really really interesting and exciting, because liquid water is one of the key ingredients you need for life to start. So if you've got the chances of life ever being on Mars, you'd need to have somewhere that had liquid water for at least a period of time. And we've got good evidence for that. Now that's combined with the fact that we're seeing, using instruments like SHERLOCK, which is an instrument that I'm involved with, also the presence of organic molecules. And organic molecules are chemical molecules made of the elements carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, nitrogen, sometimes bits of sulfur, sometimes bits of phosphorous, and maybe some added-up things. And those are really really important, because you need organic molecules for life to start. And the other thing that's really interesting about organic molecules is they can actually be sort of fossil chemical evidence of potential past life.

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Neighbors Build Their Own Lightning-fast Fiber-optic Network

Slashdot - Sun, 27/11/2022 - 05:15
Somewhere in Silicon Valley is a man "standing up to internet giants Comcast and AT&T," reports the Mercury News. (Alternate URL here.) "Comcast told him it would cost $17,000 to speed up his internet. He rallied 41 South Bay neighbors to build their own lightning-fast fiber-optic network instead " Tech-rich but internet-poor, residents of the Silicon Valley neighborhood were fed up with sluggish broadband speeds of less than 25 Megabits-per-second (Mbps) download and 3 Mbps upload — the federal definition of a home unserved by adequate internet. Frustrated by the take-it-or-leave-it attitude of internet providers, they created their own solution — and now this tony enclave has one of the fastest residential speeds in the nation. Scott Vanderlip, a software engineer, said Comcast gave him a $17,000 estimate to connect his home to the faster internet service at a neighbor's home. "You got to be kidding me — I can see it on the pole from my driveway," Vanderlip said, remembering his reaction to Comcast's quote. So the self-described "town rebel" jumped at the chance to partner with a startup internet service provider called Next Level Networks. If Vanderlip could rally a few neighbors willing to invest a couple thousand dollars, Next Level would get them very fast internet. That was in 2017. Now, Vanderlip is president of the Los Altos Hills Community Fiber Association, which provides super-fast speeds — up to 10 Gigabits-per-second upload and download — to its over 40 association members, letting them transfer huge files and load webpages in the click of a computer mouse, Vanderlip said. That's 125 times faster than the median download speed in Santa Clara County. It helped that his home "also happened to sit near a local school with a spare fiber optic internet connection," the article points out. But a startup internet service provider called Next Level Networks also handled "the infrastructure procurement, contracts, logistics and retail — essentially providing the residents a turnkey fiber optic internet service — while Vanderlip and two of his neighbors, who joined with an investment of $5,000 each, bought the fiber optic infrastructure, crowdsourced new members and mapped out an initial fiber route to their houses." Thanks to Slashdot reader k6mfw for sharing the story!

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Will Made-in-China EV's Bring New Competition for Automakers?

Slashdot - Sun, 27/11/2022 - 02:02
The Washington Post reports: China is already a huge manufacturer of electric vehicles for its own market, and it is increasingly making EVs for overseas buyers, too. Made-in-China EVs are hitting U.S. dealerships and European auto shows, providing new competition to Western and Japanese automakers that have long dominated the global vehicle market. Examples from the article: Polestar 2, from "an automaker headquartered in Sweden and controlled by Chinese billionaire Li Shufu... The company says it will start manufacturing its next model, the Polestar 3, in the United States in 2024."Nio ET7, "an EV company founded in Shanghai by entrepreneur William Li. The company is selling its ET7 sedan in the Netherlands, Germany, Denmark, Sweden, and Norway, and has said it aims to enter the U.S. market in 2025."China's largest automaker, the state-owned SAIC, "bought the British MG brand in the early 2000s and is now selling several electric MG models in Europe."

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A Light-powered Catalyst Could Be Key For Hydrogen Economy

Slashdot - Sun, 27/11/2022 - 01:02
"Rice University researchers have engineered a key light-activated nanomaterial for the hydrogen economy," the University announced this week. "Using only inexpensive raw materials, a team from Rice's Laboratory for Nanophotonics, Syzygy Plasmonics Inc. and Princeton University's Andlinger Center for Energy and the Environment created a scalable catalyst that needs only the power of light to convert ammonia into clean-burning hydrogen fuel...." The research follows government and industry investment to create infrastructure and markets for carbon-free liquid ammonia fuel that will not contribute to greenhouse warming. Liquid ammonia is easy to transport and packs a lot of energy, with one nitrogen and three hydrogen atoms per molecule. The new catalyst breaks those molecules into hydrogen gas, a clean-burning fuel, and nitrogen gas, the largest component of Earth's atmosphere. And unlike traditional catalysts, it doesn't require heat. Instead, it harvests energy from light, either sunlight or energy-stingy LEDs.... "This discovery paves the way for sustainable, low-cost hydrogen that could be produced locally rather than in massive centralized plants," said Peter Nordlander, also a Rice co-author. Thanks to long-time Slashdot reader fahrbot-bot for submitting the story (via Phys.org.

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