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You Can Run Doom on a Chip From a $15 Ikea Smart Lamp

Slashdot - Mon, 20/06/2022 - 17:23
A $14.95 smart lamp from Ikea apparently has enough computing power to run the classic PC game Doom. From a report: A software engineer named Nicola Wrachien removed the smart lamp's computer chip and used it to build a miniaturized Doom gaming system. Over the weekend, he uploaded a video to YouTube, showing his creation in action. The system runs a downsized version of Doom that requires less RAM. The chip from the Ikea lamp has enough processing power to play the game at 35 frames per second over a cheap 160-by-128-pixel display. Wrachien, who is from Hungary, embarked on the project after reading headlines about Doom purportedly running on a pregnancy test. In reality, the pregnancy test was only able to run the game due to an added OLED display and streaming it from a PC.

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Is Firefox OK?

Slashdot - Mon, 20/06/2022 - 16:48
At the end of 2008, Firefox was flying high. Twenty percent of the 1.5 billion people online were using Mozilla's browser to navigate the web. In Indonesia, Macedonia, and Slovenia, more than half of everyone going online was using Firefox. "Our market share in the regions above has been growing like crazy," Ken Kovash, Mozilla's data analytics team manager at the time, wrote in a blog post. Almost 15 years later, things aren't so rosy. From a report: Across all devices, the browser has slid to less than 4 percent of the market -- on mobile it's a measly half a percent. "Looking back five years and looking at our market share and our own numbers that we publish, there's no denying the decline," says Selena Deckelmann, senior vice president of Firefox. Mozilla's own statistics show a drop of around 30 million monthly active users from the start of 2019 to the start of 2022. "In the last couple years, what we've seen is actually a pretty substantial flattening," Deckelmann adds. In the two decades since Firefox launched from the shadows of Netscape, it has been key to shaping the web's privacy and security, with staff pushing for more openness online and better standards. But its market share decline was accompanied by two rounds of layoffs at Mozilla during 2020. Next year, its lucrative search deal with Google -- responsible for the vast majority of its revenue -- is set to expire. A spate of privacy-focused browsers now compete on its turf, while new-feature misfires have threatened to alienate its base. All that has left industry analysts and former employees concerned about Firefox's future. Its fate also has larger implications for the web as a whole. For years, it was the best contender for keeping Google Chrome in check, offering a privacy-forward alternative to the world's most dominant browser.

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Iran To Cut Power Supply To Licensed Crypto Miners: State TV

Slashdot - Mon, 20/06/2022 - 16:00
An anonymous reader shares a report: Electricity to all 118 legal crypto mining centers in Iran to cease from June 22 ahead of seasonal spike in power demand, Mostafa Rajabi Mashhadi, spokesman for country's power industry says in interview with state TV.

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Did Telegram's Founder Lose a Million Dollar Bet Over a Prediction for Signal?

Slashdot - Mon, 20/06/2022 - 13:34
While he couldn't even ethically accept the million dollars, PC Magazine's senior security analyst Max Eddy writes that "how this happened in the first place is indicative of some of the information security industry's worst impulses. It doesn't have to be this way." Back in 2017, Telegram founder Pavel Durov and I had a disagreement... Durov tweeted about how the Signal secure messaging app had received money from the U.S. government. This is true; Signal received funds from the Open Technology Fund (OTF) — a nonprofit that previously was part of the US-backed Radio Free Asia. According to the OTF's website, it gave nearly $3 million to between 2013 and 2016. It's entirely legitimate to be suspicious of government funding (even if TOR, OpenVPN, and WireGuard also received OTF money), and even take a moral stand against recipients of money from governments you disagree with. But Durov went far beyond that. He seemed to think this meant Signal was bought off by the feds and predicted that a backdoor would be found within five years. That's quite an accusation to make, especially without real proof, and it made me mad. Not because people were mouthing off on Twitter — that seems to be that platform's primary function. It made me mad that companies ostensibly working to better people's lives by protecting their security and privacy were trying to drag each other down publicly. This is not new; the VPN industry is full of whisper campaigns and counter-accusations. I can't tell you how many conversations I've had with VPN vendors that start with "first off, everything you heard is a lie...." But generally the message from companies in this industry is one of cooperation and protecting everyone. It's a common theme to keynotes at the RSA Conference and Black Hat that the people who work in infosec have a higher calling to protect other people first and do business second. And then this happened (on Twitter): Max Eddy: It's one thing to point out funding and another to say that a "backdoor will be found within five years." Pavel Durov: I am certain of what I'm saying and am willing to bet $1M (1:1) on it. While Eddy didn't have a million dollars, "I knew there was no way I would lose. This would be the easiest million-dollar bet I ever make." I was confident Durov was wrong because Signal, like many companies, has made an effort toward transparency that I can have some confidence in. Signal has made its code available, has registered as a nonprofit, has a fairly comprehensive privacy policy, and has made abundantly clear that it has no information to provide in response to law enforcement requests. Signal's protocol is also used by competitors, such as WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger, which have surely done their homework when selecting a method for encrypting messages. Most recently, a document revealed that even the FBI has been frustrated in its attempts to get data from Signal (and Telegram, too). It's been five years, and Eddy now writes that Signal "continues to be recommended by advocacy groups of all kinds as a safe and secure way to communicate..." "Neither Durov nor Telegram responded to my attempts to contact them for this story."

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Ukraine is Using AI to Catch People Sabotaging Its Resistance

Slashdot - Mon, 20/06/2022 - 09:34
Newsweek reports: Artificial intelligence has become one of Ukraine's most "effective tools" in identifying potential saboteurs amid the ongoing war with Russia, according to the Ukrainian Ministry of Internal Affairs. The ministry issued a report Wednesday on law enforcement's anti-sabotage activities aimed at stopping people in Ukraine who may compromise the counteroffensive or aid Russia in its assault. Officers have been using software on tablets to check if a person they view as "suspicious" is already listed in databases, including a police database of about 2 million people suspected of holding positions in paramilitary units from the far-right faction known as the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia (LDPR)... The ministry said that Ukrainian police have been fighting against such saboteurs ever since Russia invaded Ukraine. "More than 123 counter-sabotage groups were set up, and at least 1,500 people were involved," First Deputy Minister of Internal Affairs Yevgeny Yenin said in a statement, according to an English translation. "And the result was not long in coming: More than 800 people suspected of sabotage and intelligence activities were detained and handed over to the SBU (Security Service of Ukraine) for investigation." The report, citing Yenin, said that the police database on people with suspected ties to the LDPR alone contains a "huge amount" of operational information that law enforcement and partners have compiled. This includes more than 10 billion photos, it said... Russia has also reportedly contended with sabotage from supporters of Ukraine within its borders.

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Reaching 700M Active Users, Telegram Announces 'Premium' Tier

Slashdot - Mon, 20/06/2022 - 06:34
"Telegram became one of the top-5 downloaded apps worldwide in 2022 and now has over 700 million monthly active users," they announced this weekend. "This growth is solely from personal recommendations — Telegram has never paid to advertise its apps." But they add significantly that "As Telegram keeps growing at rocket speed, many users have expressed their will to support our team." And so Telegram is now adding a premium tier, TechCrunch reports. "The firm did not disclose how much it is charging for the premium tier, but the monthly subscription appears to be priced in the range of $5 to $6." The premium tier adds a range of additional and improved features to the messaging app, which topped 500 million monthly active users in January 2021. Telegram Premium enables users to send files as large as 4GB (up from 2GB) and supports faster downloads, for instance, Telegram said. Paying customers will also be able to follow up to 1,000 channels, up from 500 offered to free users, and create up to 20 chat folders with as many as 200 chats each. Telegram Premium users will also be able to add up to four accounts in the app and pin up to 10 chats. The move is Dubai-headquartered firm's attempt to keep its development "driven primarily by its users, not advertisers," it said. It's also the first time an instant messaging app with hundreds of millions of users has rolled out a premium tier. Signal, WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, Apple's Messages and Google's Messages, some of Telegram's top rivals, don't offer a premium tier. Some analysts had earlier hoped that Telegram would be able to monetize the platform through its blockchain token project. But after several delays and regulatory troubles, Telegram said in 2020 that it had abandoned the project and offered to return $1.2 billion it had raised from investors.... "Today is an important day in the history of Telegram — marking not only a new milestone, but also the beginning of Telegram's sustainable monetization," the firm said in a blog post Sunday. Premium users will also get animated profile videos and new home screen icons, along with a special chat-list badge, animated stickers, and additional reaction emojis, according to Telegram's blog post. (And of course, no ads.) Telegram's premium tier "will allow us to offer all the resource-heavy features users have asked for over the years," according to the blog post, "while preserving free access to the most powerful messenger on the planet..." "The contributions of premium subscribers will help improve and expand the app for decades to come, while Telegram will remain free, independent and uphold its users-first values, redefining how a tech company should operate."

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An AI-Created Craft Beer Debuts at New Orleans

Slashdot - Mon, 20/06/2022 - 03:34
For one brief limited period of time, New Orleans locals "will have a chance to try the first craft beer created by an AI platform," according to a report from local station WGNO: The AI Blonde Ale will be released at a Launch Party at NOLA Brewery on June 20 to coincide with CVPR, the world's premier computer vision event. Derek Lintern, a brewer at NOLA Brewing said he is excited to have a helping hand when it comes to crafting beer. "It's state-of-the-art technology with the traditional brewing methods, it's pretty unique and it's a recipe I would have never done normally but I really like how it tastes. Its very refreshing and very easy drinking I'm really happy with it," said Lintern.... The technology helps create the recipe, but the beer is still brewed manually. The name of the company that brought the AI to the brewery? "Deep Liquid.

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Discord Adds a Twitch-like Auto-Moderating Feature

Slashdot - Mon, 20/06/2022 - 01:04
On Thursday, Discord introduced AutoMod, "a feature that can automatically detect and block harmful messages before they're posted," reports Engadget: Accessible through Discord's "Server Settings" menu, the tool allows admins and moderators to create a list of words and phrases they want Discord to look for, along with a set of repercussions for those who use them... Discord has put together three starting lists that cover "certain categories of not-nice words or phrases." Moderators can add up to three additional custom filter lists to suit the needs of their users. At launch, AutoMod is only available to Community servers. "Moderating your growing community should feel rewarding and fulfilling, not add constant stress from dealing with bad actors or unruly members," Discord said in a blog post Thursday. To introduce the feature, Discord created a cartoon where chicken superheroes thank AutoMod for patrolling their egg server. Edgadget notes that Discord also has created "a dedicated admin community server run by Discord staff. Here, the company says moderators can gather to chat and learn from one another. Discord also plans to run educational events and share news through the space." Gizmodo adds that Discord also announced this summer's expansion of premium memberships, "a feature that allows a community's creators and owners to put their server behind a paid subscription."

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Hubble Space Telescope Photographs Mysterious Star Cluster with Same-Generation Stars

Slashdot - Mon, 20/06/2022 - 00:03
Hubble Space Telescope Photographs Mysterious Star Cluster with Same-Generation Stars "A celestial workhorse and its dedicated team of astronomers are at it again," reports Space.com, "by delivering a hypnotic new image of a globular cluster and its infinite depth of stars." But while a new image from the Hubble Space Telescope is stunning, there's much more to this section of the heavens than the eye can see. The cluster, called Ruprecht 106, is also home to a great mystery of Sherlockian proportions — and the game's afoot to unlock clues to the cluster's enigmatic makeup, according to a statement from the European Space Agency, a partner on the observatory. Scientists agree that even though the core stars in a globular cluster were all born at roughly the same time and location, there are stars within these cosmic nurseries that exhibit unique chemical compositions that can differ widely. Astronomers believe that this variation represents later stars formed from gas polluted by processed material of the larger first-generation stars. However, rare globular clusters like Ruprecht 106 are devoid of these varieties of stars and instead are cataloged as single-population clusters, where no second- or third-generation stars ever formed. Astronomers hope that studying this captivating globular cluster in more detail can explain why it sports only one generation of stars.

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US Probes How American Electronics Wound Up in Russian Military Equipment in Ukraine

Slashdot - Sun, 19/06/2022 - 23:03
America's federal agents "have begun questioning U.S. technology companies on how their computer chips ended up in Russian military equipment recovered in Ukraine," reports the Washington Post: Commerce Department agents who enforce export controls are conducting the inquiries together with the FBI, paying joint visits to companies to ask about Western chips and components found in Russian radar systems, drones, tanks, ground-control equipment and littoral ships, according to people familiar with the matter, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive investigations. "Our goal is to actually try to track that back, all the way back to the U.S. supplier" to determine "how did it find its way into that weapons system," one Commerce Department official said of the probes.... It isn't clear which specific components are being probed. But investigators from a variety of countries have identified Western electronics in Russian weaponry found in Ukraine. Many of those components appear to have been manufactured years ago, before the United States tightened export restrictions after Russia seized Crimea in 2014. But others were manufactured as recently as 2020, according to Conflict Armament Research (CAR), a research group in London that has examined some of the parts.... CAR last month sent investigators to Ukraine to examine Russian weaponry and communications equipment, and reported finding components from 70 companies based in the United States and Europe. They found the parts in military radios, airborne defense systems and in remnants of cruise missiles that the Ukrainians recovered in various towns and villages, Damien Spleeters, one of the CAR investigators, said in an interview. An associate professor of electrical/computer engineering at Purdue tells the Post "Most of the items they are listing are available through any commercial computer parts supplier or digital parts supplier." But the Post spoke to a lawyer representing one of the contacted technology companies. "Among the questions federal agents are asking: whether tech companies sold their products to a specific list of companies, including middlemen, that may have been involved in the supply chain."

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Can a Seattle Startup Launch a Fusion Reactor Into Space?

Slashdot - Sun, 19/06/2022 - 21:44
"Practical nuclear fusion is, famously, always 10 years in the future," reports IEEE Spectrum. "Except that the Pentagon recently gave an award to a tiny startup to launch a fusion power system into space in just five..." Avalanche Energy Designs, based near a Boeing facility in Seattle...is working on modular "micro fusion packs," small enough to hold in your hand yet capable of powering everything from electric cars to spaceships. Last month, the Pentagon's Defense Innovation Unit (DIU) announced it had awarded Avalanche an unspecified sum to develop its Orbitron fusion device to generate either heat or electricity, with the aim of powering a high-efficiency propulsion system aboard a prototype satellite in 2027.... Avalanche's Orbitron... could theoretically fit on a tabletop. It relies on the Ph.D. thesis of Tom McGuire, a student working on inertial electrostatic confinement (IEC) fusion at MIT in 2007... McGuire's IEC work languished until it caught the attention of two engineers working at Blue Origin: Robin Langtry and Brian Riordan. In 2018, they formed Avalanche Energy as a side hustle, eventually leaving Blue Origin in the summer of 2021. In March of this year Avalanche emerged from stealth with $5 million in venture-capital funding and a staff of 10, although Avalanche's official address is still a single-family home in Seattle. Avalanche's website proudly proclaims: "We see our fusion power packs as the foundation for creating a world with abundant clean water, healthy oceans, vast rain forests, and immense glaciers in healthy equilibrium." A patent application filed by Langtry and Riordan contains some details of how their Orbitron may function. It describes an orbital containment system on the order of tens of centimeters in size, where a beam of fuel ions interacts with an electrostatic field to enter an elliptical orbit about an inner electrode. The application describes a system where ions last for a second or more — 10 times as long as in McGuire's simulations, and long enough for each ion to complete millions of orbits in the reactor. An article in GeekWire published as Avalanche exited stealth mode included a claim that the company had already produced neutrons via fusion. Avalanche envisages small fusion packs with 5- to 15-kilowatt capacity, operating either on their own or grouped by the hundreds for megawatt-scale clean-energy solutions. The Pentagon is interested in the packs to potentially enable small spacecraft to maneuver freely in deep space, with higher power payloads. The challenge now is for Avalanche to move from a 15-year old Ph.D. thesis in simulation to a working prototype in space, in just 60 months.

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A New Student Movement Wants You to Log Off

Slashdot - Sun, 19/06/2022 - 20:45
Two years ago a college sophomore started "the Log Off movement." This week the New York Times explored its progress — starting with how their mission's been affected by negative news stories about social media: "The first article I read that really launched me into it was Have Smartphones Destroyed a Generation. I found study after study showing the possible correlation between increased rates of anxiety, suicide rates and eating disorders tracking alongside increased rates of usage... The most powerful thing to me was not the studies. It was the fact that personal stories were not being told and there was not an epicenter where people could come together and say: "Here's my personal experience." "Here's how I was harmed." "These were the accounts that made me feel worse about myself." I knew that was necessary. The genie's out of the bottle. As members of Gen Z, we understand that there are positive attributes and there are negative attributes to social media, but right now, in its current usage, it can be really harmful. Q: How does the Log Off Movement address these issues? Through our podcast, a leadership council, an educational curriculum on how to use online spaces safely and blogs, we are discussing ways we can move forward with technology and allow it to become a tool again rather than a controller. What we are asking for teens to do is to be comfortable talking about their experiences so that we can educate legislators to understand a Gen Z perspective, what we need from technology, what privacy concerns we're having, what mental health concerns we're having. We have an advocacy initiative through Tech[nically] Politics, which pushes for laws that help ensure teens have a safe online experience, specifically the California Age Appropriate Design Code Bill.... Q: How have you adjusted your own relationship to social media? What methods have worked? Whenever I go through a stressful period with exams, I delete Instagram. I know that in periods of stress, I'm going to lean towards mindlessly using it as a form of coping. Another thing that's worked for me is Grayscale, which makes the phone appear only in black and white. I always suggest Screentime Genie, which provides solutions on how to limit screen time. I use Habit Lab for Chrome, which helps you reduce your time online. It creates a level of friction between you and addictive technology. One app they still enjoy is BeReal (which notifies you and your friends to take an unstaged picture of what you're genuinely doing at one randomly-chosen moment each day). But the group's founder still remembers the "horrific loop" of using social media apps six hours a day (starting with Instagram at the age of 12) — and "feeling as though I could not stop scrolling because it has this weird power over me..." One teenager who'd spent six hours a day on social media later shared their observation that logging off improved their vision — but also made the world more clear mentally. The group's founder says the ultimate hope is their project "results in a kind of pivot prioritizing the well-being of users in these online environments."

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Crypto Fraud is Growing Exponentially

Slashdot - Sun, 19/06/2022 - 19:34
The Los Angeles Times reports on "a massive surge of criminal fraud that has been pummeling crypto users with unknown billions of dollars in losses with little relief in sight." The growth in crypto fraud has turned exponential in recent years. The reported losses from crypto scams in 2021 were 60 times larger than in 2018, the Federal Trade Commission reported earlier this month, with crypto now accounting for 1 out of every 4 dollars lost to fraud in the reports monitored by the agency. Over 46,000 people lost more than $1 billion in crypto to scams since 2021, but the real sum of losses is likely vastly larger because most frauds are not reported, the agency said.... "Since 2021, $575 million of all crypto fraud losses reported to the FTC were about bogus investment opportunities, far more than any other fraud type," the agency reported. Financial losses specifically from NFT crimes just through May this year were already more than 600% higher than for all of 2021, with the space seeing twice as many hacks and bigger and bigger heists, according to analysis from digital privacy firm Top10VPN. For many victims, there's little hope of getting their lost art back. The marketplaces where NFTs get sold — crypto exchanges — can't cancel or reverse fraudulent transactions the way a traditional bank or credit card company might; the whole point of crypto was to cut out these sorts of financial middlemen, which many crypto fans greatly distrust. Crypto technology was built out of a "libertarian ethos" in which "there's no nanny state that's going to take care of you," said Jeremy Goldman, an intellectual property attorney who specializes in legal issues involving crypto assets. "These are the consequences when there's a mistake ... there's no one to unwind it, you can't call customer service, you can't go back to the mothership, you can't go back to the bank." But at the same time, law enforcement agencies in the U.S. have also shown a growing willingness and ability to mount sophisticated investigations into crypto fraud.... [I]n March, federal agents sought a court order to seize roughly $165,000 worth of Ethereum in a digital Binance.US wallet. Officials said the cryptocurrency had been stolen from an Orange County investor, nicknamed "P.M.," who got tricked into giving up his coins by an fraudster pretending to be a Coinbase technical support representative. On the bright side, BuzzFeed notes that actor Seth Green has recovered his prized Bored Ape NFT from "Mr Cheese" for $297,000 worth of Ether. But the Los Angeles Times points out that another victim of a Bored Ape heist has sued the creators of Bored Apes. Their lawyer argues the company "refuses to police their own community. They're the gatekeepers, they can lock out the thieves if they wanted to, and they won't do it."

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SpaceX Makes History: Launches and Lands Three Rockets in 36 Hours

Slashdot - Sun, 19/06/2022 - 18:34
Early this morning SpaceX tweeted video showing its deployment of a communications satellite. But the deployment was part of a historic first, reports CBS News: SpaceX completed a record triple-header early Sunday, launching a Globalstar communications satellite from Cape Canaveral after putting a German radar satellite in orbit from California Saturday and launching 53 Starlink internet satellites Friday from the Kennedy Space Center. The Globalstar launch capped the fastest three-flight cadence for an orbit-class rocket in modern space history as the company chalked up its 158th, 159th and 160th Falcon 9 flights in just 36 hours and 18 minutes. More than 50 launches are expected by the end of the year. Space.com also notes another milestone: The Friday mission set a new rocket-reuse record for SpaceX; the Falcon 9 that flew it featured a first stage that already had 12 launches under its belt. (Sunday's launch was the ninth for this particular Falcon 9 first stage, according to a SpaceX mission description.) SpaceX also tweeted footage of that rocket's liftoff and night-time landing.

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An Apple Store's Workers Just Successfully Voted to Unionize

Slashdot - Sun, 19/06/2022 - 17:34
CNN reports that Apple workers in Towson, Maryland have voted to form the first-ever labor union at one of Apple's U.S. stores: The landmark union election concluded on Saturday evening with 65 workers voting for the unionization and 33 against it, a nearly two-to-one margin in favor of the union, according to a preliminary tally from the National Labor Relations Board. The victory for union organizers at the Apple store in the Towson Town Center, a mall near Baltimore, comes amid a broader wave of workplace activism that has emerged in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic. The US labor market has tipped much more strongly in favor of workers over the past two years. There are now roughly twice as many job openings as there are unemployed people looking for work, leaving employers scrambling to fill jobs... That has made employees who are dissatisfied with their jobs more willing to demand better working conditions, including through unionization. The major issue driving the organizing vote was workers wanting to have a say in the way the store is run, said Christie Pridgen, a technical expert at the store and one of the organizers. Pridgen, 34, said she's worked at the store for more than 8 years. "Compensation is important, considering the cost of living in general and inflation, but the bigger thing is having a say," she told CNN Business Saturday night after the vote. "That was the most important thing to me." Pridgen said workers having a say in hours and scheduling and being involved in establishing safety protocols during the pandemic were the big issues. "We wanted a say in the policies that affect our lives," she said, adding that she wasn't surprised by the outcome of the vote, but was relieved. "I knew I wasn't alone in being frustrated," she said. "An Apple spokesperson declined to comment on the vote."

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Revolutionary New Cancer Treatment Harnesses Light Therapy

Slashdot - Sun, 19/06/2022 - 16:34
The Guardian reports: Scientists have successfully developed a revolutionary cancer treatment that lights up and wipes out microscopic cancer cells, in a breakthrough that could enable surgeons to more effectively target and destroy the disease in patients. A European team of engineers, physicists, neurosurgeons, biologists and immunologists from the UK, Poland and Sweden joined forces to design the new form of photoimmunotherapy. Experts believe it is destined to become the world's fifth major cancer treatment after surgery, chemotherapy, radiotherapy and immunotherapy. The light-activated therapy forces cancer cells to glow in the dark, helping surgeons remove more of the tumours compared with existing techniques — and then kills off remaining cells within minutes once the surgery is complete. In a world-first trial in mice with glioblastoma, one of the most common and aggressive types of brain cancer, scans revealed the novel treatment lit up even the tiniest cancer cells to help surgeons remove them — and then wiped out those left over. Trials of the new form of photoimmunotherapy, led by the Institute of Cancer Research, London, also showed the treatment triggered an immune response that could prime the immune system to target cancer cells in future, suggesting it could prevent glioblastoma coming back after surgery.... The therapy combines a special fluorescent dye with a cancer-targeting compound. In the trial in mice, the combination was shown to dramatically improve the visibility of cancer cells during surgery and, when later activated by near-infrared light, to trigger an anti-tumour effect.

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Is Social Media Really Harmful?

Slashdot - Sun, 19/06/2022 - 13:34
Social media has made us "uniquely stupid," believes Jonathan Haidt, a social psychologist at the New York University's School of Business. Writing in the Atlantic in April, Haidt argued that large social media platforms "unwittingly dissolved the mortar of trust, belief in institutions, and shared stories that had held a large and diverse secular democracy together." But is that true? "We're years into this, and we're still having an uninformed conversation about social media," notes Dartmouth political scientist Brendan Nyhan (quoted this month in a new article in the New Yorker). The article describes how Haidt tried to confirm his theories in November with Chris Bail, a sociologist at Duke and author of the book "Breaking the Social Media Prism." The two compiled a Google Doc collecting every scholarly study of social media — but many of the studies seemed to contradict each other: When I told Bail that the upshot seemed to me to be that exactly nothing was unambiguously clear, he suggested that there was at least some firm ground. He sounded a bit less apocalyptic than Haidt. "A lot of the stories out there are just wrong," he told me. "The political echo chamber has been massively overstated. Maybe it's three to five per cent of people who are properly in an echo chamber." Echo chambers, as hotboxes of confirmation bias, are counterproductive for democracy. But research indicates that most of us are actually exposed to a wider range of views on social media than we are in real life, where our social networks — in the original use of the term — are rarely heterogeneous. (Haidt told me that this was an issue on which the Google Doc changed his mind; he became convinced that echo chambers probably aren't as widespread a problem as he'd once imagined....) [A]t least so far, very few Americans seem to suffer from consistent exposure to fake news — "probably less than two per cent of Twitter users, maybe fewer now, and for those who were it didn't change their opinions," Bail said. This was probably because the people likeliest to consume such spectacles were the sort of people primed to believe them in the first place. "In fact," he said, "echo chambers might have done something to quarantine that misinformation." The final story that Bail wanted to discuss was the "proverbial rabbit hole, the path to algorithmic radicalization," by which YouTube might serve a viewer increasingly extreme videos. There is some anecdotal evidence to suggest that this does happen, at least on occasion, and such anecdotes are alarming to hear. But a new working paper led by Brendan Nyhan, a political scientist at Dartmouth, found that almost all extremist content is either consumed by subscribers to the relevant channels — a sign of actual demand rather than manipulation or preference falsification — or encountered via links from external sites. It's easy to see why we might prefer if this were not the case: algorithmic radicalization is presumably a simpler problem to solve than the fact that there are people who deliberately seek out vile content. "These are the three stories — echo chambers, foreign influence campaigns, and radicalizing recommendation algorithms — but, when you look at the literature, they've all been overstated." He thought that these findings were crucial for us to assimilate, if only to help us understand that our problems may lie beyond technocratic tinkering. He explained, "Part of my interest in getting this research out there is to demonstrate that everybody is waiting for an Elon Musk to ride in and save us with an algorithm" — or, presumably, the reverse — "and it's just not going to happen." Nyhan also tells the New Yorker that "The most credible research is way out of line with the takes," adding, for example, that while studies may find polarization on social media, "That might just be the society we live in reflected on social media!" He hastened to add, "Not that this is untroubling, and none of this is to let these companies, which are exercising a lot of power with very little scrutiny, off the hook. But a lot of the criticisms of them are very poorly founded. . . . The lack of good data is a huge problem insofar as it lets people project their own fears into this area." He told me, "It's hard to weigh in on the side of 'We don't know, the evidence is weak,' because those points are always going to be drowned out in our discourse. But these arguments are systematically underprovided in the public domain...." Nyhan argued that, at least in wealthy Western countries, we might be too heavily discounting the degree to which platforms have responded to criticism... He added, "There's some evidence that, with reverse-chronological feeds" — streams of unwashed content, which some critics argue are less manipulative than algorithmic curation — "people get exposed to more low-quality content, so it's another case where a very simple notion of 'algorithms are bad' doesn't stand up to scrutiny. It doesn't mean they're good, it's just that we don't know."

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A Chinese Telescope Did Not Find an Alien Signal. The Search Continues.

Slashdot - Sun, 19/06/2022 - 09:34
Earlier this week China's giant Sky Eye telescope detected signals it thought could be from an alien civilizations. But now there's an update from LiveScience: Dan Werthimer, a Search For Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI) researcher at the University of Berkeley, California and a coauthor on the research project which first spotted the signals, told Live Science that the narrow-band radio signals he and his fellow researchers found "are from [human] radio interference, and not from extraterrestrials.... "The big problem, and the problem in this particular case, is that we're looking for signals from extraterrestrials, but what we find is a zillion signals from terrestrials," Werthimer told Live Science. "They're very weak signals, but the cryogenic receivers on the telescopes are super sensitive and can pick up signals from cell phones, television, radar and satellites — and there are more and more satellites in the sky every day. If you're kind of new in the game, and you don't know all these different ways that interference can get into your data and corrupt it, it's pretty easy to get excited...." The recent false alarm is one of several instances in which alien-hunting scientists have been misled by noise from human activity. In 2019, astronomers spotted a signal beamed to Earth from Proxima Centauri — the nearest star system to our sun (sitting roughly 4.2 light-years away) and home to at least one potentially habitable planet. The signal was a narrow-band radio wave typically associated with human-made objects, which led scientists to entertain the thrilling possibility that it came from alien technology. Studies released two years later, however, suggested that the signal was most likely produced by malfunctioning human equipment, Live Science previously reported. Similarly, another famous set of signals once supposed to have come from aliens, detected between 2011 and 2014, turned out to have actually been made by scientists microwaving their lunches. Werthimer tells the New York Times unequivocally that "These signals are from radio interference; they are due to radio pollution from earthlings, not from E.T." But the Times also got a comment from Paul Horowitz, an emeritus professor of physics at Harvard who created his own alien-listening campaign called Project Meta, funded by the Planetary Society. Those who endure profess not to be discouraged by the Great Silence, as it is called, from out there. They've always been in the search for the long run, they say. "The Great Silence is hardly unexpected," said Dr. Horowitz, including because only a fraction of a percent of the 200 million stars in the Milky Way have been surveyed. Nobody ever said that detecting that rain of alien radio signals would be easy. Even Dan Werthimer concedes to LiveScience, "I think it'd be very strange if we're the only ones. If you look at the numbers, there's a trillion planets in the galaxy — five times more planets than there are stars. A lot of them are little dinky planets like Earth. Many of them have liquid water, so intelligent life, while not as common as bacterial life, could still be fairly common."

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New Photovoltaic Tech Could Rival Silicon-Based Solar Cells

Slashdot - Sun, 19/06/2022 - 06:34
"While silicon-based solar cells dominate the photovoltaics market, silicon is far from the only material that can effectively harvest electricity from sunlight," notes Ars Technica: Thin-film solar cells using cadmium and telluride are common in utility-scale solar deployments, and in space, we use high-efficiency cells that rely on three distinct materials to harvest different parts of the spectrum. Another class of materials, which we're currently not using, has been the subject of extensive research: perovskites. These materials are cheap and incredibly easy to process into a functional solar cell. The reason they're not used is that they tend to degrade when placed in sunlight, limiting their utility to a few years. That has drawn the attention of the research community, which has been experimenting with ways to keep them stable for longer. In Thursday's edition of Science, a research team from Princeton described how they've structured a perovskite material to limit the main mechanism by which it decays, resulting in a solar cell with a lifetime similar to that of silicon. While the perovskite cell isn't as efficient as what is currently on the market, a similar structure might work to preserve related materials that have higher efficiencies. Their research involved a capping layer that's just a few atoms thick, according to an announcement from Princeton University, calling the resulting solar cell "a major milestone for an emerging class of renewable energy technology... the first of its kind to rival the performance of silicon-based cells, which have dominated the market since their introduction in 1954..." "The team projects their device can perform above industry standards for around 30 years, far more than the 20 years used as a threshold for viability for solar cells." Perovskites can be manufactured at room temperature, using much less energy than silicon, making them cheaper and more sustainable to produce. And whereas silicon is stiff and opaque, perovskites can be made flexible and transparent, extending solar power well beyond the iconic panels that populate hillsides and rooftops across America.... [Engineering professor/team lead] Loo said it's not that perovskite solar cells will replace silicon devices so much that the new technology will complement the old, making solar panels even cheaper, more efficient and more durable than they are now, and expanding solar energy into untold new areas of modern life. For example, Loo's group recently demonstrated a completely transparent perovskite film (having different chemistry) that can turn windows into energy producing devices without changing their appearance. Other groups have found ways to print photovoltaic inks using perovskites, allowing formfactors scientists are only now dreaming up.

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German Regulators Open Investigation Into Apple's App Tracking Transparency

Slashdot - Sun, 19/06/2022 - 03:34
From the MacRumors blog earlier this week: Germany's Federal Cartel Office, the Bundeskartellamt, has initiated proceedings against Apple to investigate whether its tracking rules and anti-tracking technology are anti-competitive and self-serving, according to a press release. The proceeding announced will review under competition law Apple's tracking rules and specifically its App Tracking Transparency Framework (ATT) in order to ascertain whether they are self-preferencing Apple or being an impediment to third-party apps... Introduced in April 2021 with the release of iOS 14.5 and iPadOS 14.5, Apple's App Tracking Transparency Framework requires that all apps on âOEiPhoneâOE and âOEiPadâOE ask for the user's consent before tracking their activity across other apps. Apps that wish to track a user based on their device's unique advertising identifier can only do so if the user allows it when prompted. Apple said the feature was designed to protect users and not to advantage the company... Earlier this year it commissioned a study into the impact of ATT that was conducted by Columbia Business School's Marketing Division. The study concluded that Apple was unlikely to have seen a significant financial benefit since the privacy feature launched, and that claims to the contrary were speculative and lacked supporting evidence. The technology/Apple blog Daring Fireball offers its own hot take: In Germany, big publishing companies like Axel Springer are pushing back against Google's stated plans to remove third-party cookie support from Chrome. The notion that if a company has built a business model on top of privacy-invasive surveillance advertising, they have a right to continue doing so, seems to have taken particular root in Germany. I'll go back to my analogy: it's like pawn shops suing to keep the police from cracking down on a wave of burglaries.... The Bundeskartellamt perspective here completely disregards the idea that surveillance advertising is inherently unethical and Apple has studiously avoided it for that reason, despite the fact that it has proven to be wildly profitable for large platforms. Apple could have made an enormous amount of money selling privacy-invasive ads on iOS, but opted not to.

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