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IQ Test Scores Increased For a Century. But Did it Help?

Slashdot - Sun, 14/07/2019 - 16:34
IQ test scores have been increasing for 100 years, reports a senior journalist at BBC Future. He also writes that there's evidence "that we may have already reached the end of this era -- with the rise in IQs stalling and even reversing." But this raises an even larger question: did a century of increasing scores on IQ tests bring benefits to society? You might assume that the more intelligent you are, the more rational you are, but it's not quite this simple... Consider the abundant literature on our cognitive biases. Something that is presented as "95% fat-free" sounds healthier than "5% fat", for instance -- a phenomenon known as the framing bias. It is now clear that a high IQ does little to help you avoid this kind of flaw, meaning that even the smartest people can be swayed by misleading messages. People with high IQs are also just as susceptible to the confirmation bias -- our tendency to only consider the information that supports our pre-existing opinions, while ignoring facts that might contradict our views. That's a serious issue when we start talking about things like politics. Nor can a high IQ protect you from the sunk cost bias -- the tendency to throw more resources into a failing project, even if it would be better to cut your losses -- a serious issue in any business. (This was, famously, the bias that led the British and French governments to continue funding Concorde planes, despite increasing evidence that it would be a commercial disaster.) Highly intelligent people are also not much better at tests of "temporal discounting", which require you to forgo short-term gains for greater long-term benefits. That's essential, if you want to ensure your comfort for the future. Besides a resistance to these kinds of biases, there are also more general critical thinking skills -- such as the capacity to challenge your assumptions, identify missing information, and look for alternative explanations for events before drawing conclusions. These are crucial to good thinking, but they do not correlate very strongly with IQ, and do not necessarily come with higher education. One study in the USA found almost no improvement in critical thinking throughout many people's degrees. Given these looser correlations, it would make sense that the rise in IQs has not been accompanied by a similarly miraculous improvement in all kinds of decision making. The article concludes that "this kind of thinking can be taught -- but it needs deliberate and careful instruction," and suggests "we might also make a more concerted and deliberate effort to improve those other essential skills too that do not necessarily come with a higher IQ..." "Ideally, we might then start to see a steep rise in rationality -- and even wisdom... If so, the temporary blip in our IQ scores need not represent the end of an intellectual golden age -- but its beginning."

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Categories: Geeky Stuff

Here's how PUBG catches cheats

Eurogamer - Sun, 14/07/2019 - 16:25

PUBG Corp. has opened up and given a sneak peek at how the company finds and investigates instances of cheating in its hugely popular battle royale, PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds.

With a video description that reads simply as "an update from the PUBG team working behind the scenes to respond to cheaters and unauthorised apps", the four-minute video details some of the automated checks and balances PUBG Corp. has put in place, as well as stresses the importance of user-reporting.

"We're always looking for ways to provide the most positive gameplay experience we can for our community," said Dohyung Lee, head of PUBG's anti-cheat unit.

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Categories: Video Games

DF Retro - how N64's Turok: Dinosaur Hunter was years ahead of its time

Eurogamer - Sun, 14/07/2019 - 15:59

Bungie's Halo or Rare's GoldenEye are often thought of as the first games that truly delivered a technologically advanced, first-class FPS shooter to console platforms - but from my perspective, Iguana Entertainment's Turok: Dinosaur Hunter for N64 may well have got there first. It's a release that was well received at the time but as the years have slipped by, its reputation has slowly lost its lustre, with many suggesting that perhaps Turok was never that impressive or important in the first place.

It's difficult to overstate the hype surrounding Nintendo 64 when it launched in 1996. Boasting 64-bit power and hardware capabilities unlike anything else on the market, it was an instant success. This success was due in no small part to the unrivaled quality of Super Mario 64 which - a release which redefined expectations for what a video game could be. The problem was, very few titles lanched on the system in its first year, resulting in a recurring hype cycle even around the most mediocre of releases.

Turok was far from mediocre though and the hype bordered on the insane, and it's easy to see why. First-person shooters were exploding in popularity on the PC but remained relatively scarce on console platforms. Then there's the violence - Turok delivers a level of carnage and violence at odds with the family-friendly reputation Nintendo had accrued over the years. The large selection of weapons and flying blood particles certainly helped elevate the game's profile. And then there's the technology: Turok was a genuine showpiece with a focus on pyrotechnics and fluid animation quite unlike anything else on the market - even on PC.

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Categories: Video Games

Chess Grandmaster Caught Cheating in Tournament With Hidden Cellphone in Bathroom

Slashdot - Sun, 14/07/2019 - 15:34
"The World Chess Federation (FIDE) announced Saturday that it caught chess grandmaster Igors Rausis cheating during a tournament in France," writes Bleacher Report. According to ESPN.com, the FIDE noted that Rausis was "caught red-handed using his phone during a game." A cellphone was found in a toilet that Rausis had used during the competition, and Rausis later admitted to using it to cheat. Per Chess.com, Rausis said the following regarding the scandal: "I simply lost my mind yesterday. I confirmed the fact of using my phone during the game by written [statement]. What could I say more? ... At least what I committed yesterday is a good lesson, not for me -- I played my last game of chess already...." The 58-year-old Rausis was born in the Soviet Union and currently represents the Czech Republic after previously representing Latvia and Bangladesh. Rausis became a grandmaster in 1992, and he is the No. 53 ranked chess player in the world, according to the FIDE. It's not the first time this has happened. A Georgian national chess champion was also found to be cheating with an iPhone hidden in a toilet stall more than four years ago. But in this case, "The 58-year-old Latvian-Czech grandmaster had raised suspicions after he increased his rating in recent years to almost 2700," reports Chess.com. The director-general of the FIDE said they've now reported Rausis to the French police, and that they'd been suspicious of him for a long time. "It is impossible to completely eliminate the cheating, but the risk of being caught has increased significantly, and the penalties will become much more significant."

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Categories: Geeky Stuff

Ubisoft wants to include your music in Watch Dogs Legion

Eurogamer - Sun, 14/07/2019 - 14:44

Ubisoft has once again partnered up with HitRecord to give fans the opportunity to have their songs featured in its upcoming hacktivist sequel, Watch Dogs Legion.

"From the very beginning, we have always wanted to include our fans and the community in the making of our game," Ubisoft said (thanks, RPS). "Thanks to our partnership with HitRecord, our talented Watch Dogs fans and the HitRecord community have the opportunity to participate together in the creation of the musical landscape for our open world version of London.

"Whether you're a musical composer, writer, singer, player, or someone with big ideas and a lot of passion... we are super excited to hear your music composition. You can get started right away!"

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Categories: Video Games

Valkyrie Anatomia developer teases new "large-scale" RPG for PlayStation 4

Eurogamer - Sun, 14/07/2019 - 12:45

Dokidoki Groove Works, the studio behind Valkyrie Anatomia, has revealed it is working on a new "large-scale" RPG for PlayStation 4.

In a Japanese-language job listing - entitled "New PS4 Game Development Project Begins! Make a Hit that Captivates the World" - the studio said development on the project was due to kick off in August or September, and confirmed the new RPG was being developed in Unreal Engine 4. The team is looking to fill a number of vacancies across a range of disciplines, including planners, programmers, graphic artists, sound designers, and management planners.

"This time, it is our pleasure to be participating in the development of a new RPG for PlayStation 4," the job listing said (as translated by Gematsu). "It is a major project that uses Unreal Engine 4. We will welcome you as members of its development. You should be able to demonstrate your skills and senses to the fullest extent. The project is scheduled to start-up around August or September."

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Categories: Video Games

Is It Time To Get Rid Of The Caps Lock Key?

Slashdot - Sun, 14/07/2019 - 12:34
"At its worst, it's a waste of precious space, an annoyance, a solution to a problem that doesn't exist any more," complains Daniel Colin James, a writer, developer, and product manager. In a recent Medium essay, he called the Caps Lock key "an unnecessary holdover from a time when typewriters were the bleeding edge of consumer technology" -- and even contacted the man who invented the Caps Lock key (Doug Kerr, who had been a Bell Labs telephone engineer in the 1960s): I reached out to Doug about his invention, and he responded that while he still uses Caps Lock regularly, "we don't often today have a reason to type addresses in all caps, which was the context in which the need for the key first manifested itself to me." I would go a step further, and say that most of us don't often have a reason to type anything in all caps today... [A] toggle with the same functionality could easily be activated in a number of different ways for those who really want to write things in all capital letters. (Say, for example, double tapping the Shift key, like how it already works on your phone.) Caps Lock is one of the largest keys on a modern keyboard, and it's in one of the best spots -- right next to the home row. It's taking up prime real estate, and it's not paying its rent any more. Have you ever been in the middle of typing something, and then you get the uneasy feeling thaT YOU FLEW TOO CLOSE TO THE SUN AND NOW YOU HAVE TO REWRITE YOUR WORDS? You're not alone. Accidentally activating Caps Lock is such a relatable mistake that it's the introductory example for a research paper about accessibility issues with modern computer interfaces. Caps Lock is so frequently engaged unintentionally that password fields in software have to include a "Caps Lock is on" warning. I've heard of people re-mapping their keyboards so the Caps Lock key becomes "Esc" or "Ctrl." But maybe it comes down to consumers. If you were shopping for a computer and were told that it shipped without a Caps Lock key -- would you be more or less likely to buy it? Share your own thoughts in the comments. Is it time to get rid of the Caps Lock key?

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Categories: Geeky Stuff

Would you be interested in a "single-player narrative-driven" The Division 2 spin-off?

Eurogamer - Sun, 14/07/2019 - 12:02

The Division 2's creative director, Julian Gerighty, has asked fans of Ubisoft's third-person shooter what they think about an idea to base a single-player game within The Division's expansive universe.

The idea was floated by TT Games' level director, Tim Spencer, who tweeted (thanks, PC Gamer): "I love the idea of a single player narrative driven spin-off of The Division Game. Focusing on an agent trying to get home to their family after being sent to NYC, during the SHD blackout from the fall of DC. TLOU x Division."

"None of the stories have explored what a Division agent sacrifices, and what they go through mentally," Spencer added in a follow-up tweet. "When you think about it: it's a pretty dark/epic thing - there's huge opportunity to tell some incredible stories there.

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Categories: Video Games

Developer Requests Google Remove Their Logo From Re-Designed Golang Page

Slashdot - Sun, 14/07/2019 - 09:34
Slashdot reader DevNull127 writes: Another very minor kerfuffle has broken out in the community for the Go programming language. When its official Twitter account asked for feedback on the new look of its web site, one developer suggested that it had been a mistake to add the Google logo to the lower-right of the home page. "A lot of people associate it with a commercial Google product." Following the suggested procedure, he then created an issue on GitHub. ("Go is perceived by some as a pure Google project without community involvement. Adding a Google logo does not help in this discussion.") The issue received 61 upvotes (and 30 downvotes), eventually receiving a response from Google software engineer Andrew Bonventre, the engineering lead on the Go Team. "Thanks for the issue. We spent a long time talking about it and are sensitive to this concern. It's equally important to make it clear that Google supports Go, which was missing before (Much like typescriptlang.org). Google pays for and hosts the infrastructure that golang.org runs on and we hope the current very small logo is a decent compromise." He then closed the issue. The developer who created the issue then responded, "I get that you've discussed this internally. This is a great opportunity to discuss it with the community. I'm thankful to Google for financing the initial and ongoing development of Go but Google is not the only company investing [in] Go. I would like to move the Google logo into an separate section, together will the major stakeholders of the project." In a later comment he added "I value Google's participation in Go and I'm not arguing to change that. Having the Google logo in the corner of each golang.org page suggests that this is a pure Google project when it is not..." For some perspective, another Go developer had also suggested "animate the gopher's eyes on the website." "Thanks, but we're not going to do this," responded the engineering lead on the Go Team. "We've discussed it before and it would be way too distracting."

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Categories: Geeky Stuff

The afterlife of an 8-bit soundtrack

Eurogamer - Sun, 14/07/2019 - 09:00

Context is king. Which is what makes this afternoon's performance in a busy Kyoto hall all the more interesting, really. Behind a small table on which a pair of laptops and some mixing desks are neatly laid out, two well-presented middle-aged Japanese people study their screens for a few moments, exchange a couple of nervous glances and then let rip with a high-pitched arpeggio that's soon joined by a kicking four-to-the-floor beat. It sounds intense, with all the drive and swagger of a clubhouse classic. And of course it's the soundtrack to a video game that's coming up to 30 years old.

It's hardly the first time that an 8-bit soundtrack has been used to fill a dancefloor, though I do detect a slight sense of bemusement from the two performers when I speak them elsewhere that day. Keiji Yamagishi and Kaori Nakabai are two veterans of the Famicom era, reunited at this year's BitSummit for a live performance of the Ninja Gaiden 3 soundtrack, and brought together by the resurgence of interest in 8-bit soundtracks in recent years.

Maybe that's because they're an endearingly humble pair, giggling their way through our brief interview and clearly enjoying the opportunity to reminisce. Both worked at Tecmo in the 80s, Yamagishi getting his break on the US version of Star Force while Nakabai worked on the likes of Captain Tsubasa and Ninja Gaiden - though they both had different entry points into the industry.

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Categories: Video Games

They're Making a Movie Based On the 1978 Game 'Space Invaders'

Slashdot - Sun, 14/07/2019 - 06:34
The 1978 arcade game Space Invader will become a major motion picture, reports Engadget. "The writer behind the 'Mortal Kombat' reboot is involved." Deadline reports: It will take work fleshing this into a full-fledged alien-invasion movie, but the title is certainly a brand. In the game, a series of blocky aliens descended from the top of the screen to the bottom, and players basically blasted them until their thumbs cramped, or the invaders succeeded in overwhelming the slow-triggered defender of earth. "Nothing surprises me any more," adds the headline at Io9. Once, I would be surprised and bemused by the things Hollywood tries to turn into major franchises in 2019. I might observe how the truth now matches what we used to make up as parody. But, look, Battleship is a real movie and Rihanna was in it and that was seven years ago... Since the arcade game is entirely devoid of plot, except for the riveting narrative of shooting up until your thumbs cramp, it'll probably be some entirely original plot about alien invaders, maybe something Independence Day-esque, with some inevitable cute nods to the original thrown in... [W]e'll keep you posted as long as you keep putting quarters into the machine. Yahoo Movies UK calls the news "apparent proof that Hollywood will literally make a movie out of anything... Also in the pipeline is a live-action outing for Sonic the Hedgehog, which was delayed earlier this year so that Paramount could redesign the character following a fan backlash." I'm still waiting for a big-budget Hollywood blockbuster based on Pong.

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Categories: Geeky Stuff

Galileo Satellite Positioning Service Outage

Slashdot - Sun, 14/07/2019 - 04:44
Long-time Slashdot reader hyperfine transition writes: The Galileo satellite positioning service is currently unavailable, with all satellites marked as in outage . Galileo is the European-built and operated alternative to GPS. The outage is being attributed to problems at the Precise Timing Facility in Italy. The availability of multiple Global Navigation Satellite Systems (GNSS) and the relative newness of Galileo (the system is still under construction and only the newest GNSS receivers will track it) means that it is likely that few users will see an impact but the problem highlights our potential vulnerability to the loss of positioning and timing services available through GNSS.

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Categories: Geeky Stuff

Major Power Outage Hits Manhattan

Slashdot - Sun, 14/07/2019 - 03:45
"More than 40,000 in Manhattan don't have power," reports CNN: Of the 42,000 customers without power in New York, most are in Midtown Manhattan and the Upper West Side, the utility company said. The city's fire department is responding to numerous transformer fires, the first of which occurred in Manhattan on West 64th Street and West End Avenue, officials said. The outage is having a widespread effect, with the New York subway system also experiencing power outages in its stations, the agency managing the trains said. "We're working to identify causes and keep trains moving," the Metropolitan Transportation Authority tweeted... Photos from Times Square are showing some of the famous electronic billboards dark as dozens of people stand confused on the sidewalks. Updates from CNN report that subway trains "have been stopped for more than 45 minutes and they can't move back to stations. Some people have been forced to walk through train cars to evacuate."

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Categories: Geeky Stuff

'Never Commit a Crime When Your Phone Is Connected to a Wi-Fi Network'

Slashdot - Sun, 14/07/2019 - 02:34
"Like many bad ideas, this one started with Bud Light," reports Slate. As four high school seniors sat around shooting the breeze before graduation, they decided to vandalize their school as a senior prank. Disguised with T-shirts over their faces to evade security cameras, the young men originally set out to spray-paint "Class of 2018," but in a moment one of the men describes to the Washington Post as "a blur," their graffiti fest took a turn toward swastikas, racial slurs attacking the school's principal, and other hateful symbols. Despite their covered faces, school officials had no problem finding who was responsible: The students' phones had automatically connected with the school's Wi-Fi using their unique logins. Their digital fingerprints tipped off administrators to who was on campus just before midnight, and, as the Post describes, they were held accountable for their crime. But the incident also showcases how little we know about what we're giving away with our digital footprints. These men had clearly given thought about how to stay anonymous -- they knew they needed masks to foil the cameras -- but they didn't think the devices in their pockets could give them away. The AP adds that the prison sentences for the four teenagers "ranged from eight to 18 weekends behind bars."

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Categories: Geeky Stuff

What Happens When Landlords Can Get Cheap Surveillance Software?

Slashdot - Sun, 14/07/2019 - 01:34
"Cheap surveillance software is changing how landlords manage their tenants and what laws police can enforce," reports Slate. For example, there's a private company contracting with property managers that says they now have 475 security cameras in place and can sometimes scan more than 1.5 million license plates in a week. (According to Clayton Burnett, Watchstore Security's director of "innovation and new technology".) Burnett's company regularly hands over location data to police, he says, as evidence for cases large and small. But that investigative firepower also comes in handy for more routine landlord-tenant affairs. They've investigated tree trimmers charging for a day of work they didn't do and caught people dumping trash on private property. Sometimes, he says, a tenant will claim her car was hit in the building's parking lot and ask for free rent. His company can search for her plate and see that one day, she left the lot with her bumper intact and then came back later with a dent in it. Probably once a week, Burnett says, Watchtower uses it to prove that a tenant has "a buddy crashing on their couch," violating their lease. "Normally, there's some limit to how long they can stay, like five days," he says, "and we can prove they're going over that." One search, and they have proof that that buddy has been coming over every night for a month. I was wondering how tenants felt about this, and I asked Burnett whether anyone had ever complained about the license plate readers. "No," he said with a laugh. "I'd say they probably don't know about it...." [A]s the technology has matured, it's gotten in the hands of organizations that, five years ago, would never have been able to consider it. Small-town police departments can suddenly afford to conduct surveillance at a massive scale. Neighborhood homeowners associations and property managers are buying up cameras by the dozen. And in many jurisdictions, cheap automatic license plate reader (ALPR) cameras are creeping into neighborhoods -- with almost nothing restricting how they're used besides the surveiller's own discretion.... If you know that a bald guy in a gray Toyota illegally dumped trash in your lawn, the police won't try to track him down. But if they have the plate, enforcing lower-level crime becomes much easier. Several of the property managers and homeowners associations I spoke to emphasized that this is one of the main benefits of their ALPR systems. Along with burglaries, they're mostly concerned about people breaking into cars to steal personal belongings; police wouldn't investigate that before, but now homeowners associations can do the investigation for them and hand over the evidence. As Burnett put it, "[Police] are not going to be able to investigate [a small crime] unless we hand it to them on a silver platter. Which we've done plenty of times." The article points out that today's software can detect dents on cars and watch for specific bumper stickers (or Lyft tags) -- and often the software can be retrofitted to existing traffic cameras. A contractor working with police in one Pennsylvania county says they've now "virtually gated" an entire 20,000-person town south of Pittsburgh. "Any way you can come in and out, you're on camera." A senior investigative researcher at the EFF points out that "Now a cop can look up your license plate and see where you've been for the past two years."

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Categories: Geeky Stuff

Amazon's Alexa Will Deliver NHS Medical Advice in the UK

Slashdot - Sun, 14/07/2019 - 00:34
"The UK's National Health Service (NHS) has announced what it claims is a world first: a partnership with Amazon's Alexa to offer health advice from the NHS website." An anonymous reader quotes the Verge: Britons who ask Alexa basic health questions like "Alexa, how do I treat a migraine?" and "Alexa, what are the symptoms of flu?" will be given answers vetted by NHS health professionals and currently available on its website. At the moment, Alexa sources answers to such questions from a variety of places, including the Mayo Clinic and WebMD. The partnership does not add significantly to Alexa's skill-set, but it is an interesting step for the NHS. The UK's Department of Health (DoH) says it hopes the move will reduce the pressure on health professionals in the country, giving people a new way to access reliable medical advice. It will also benefit individuals with disabilities, like sight impairments, who may find it difficult to use computers or smartphones to find the same information.

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Categories: Geeky Stuff

Florida's DMV Made $77 Million -- By Selling Off Personal Information

Slashdot - Sat, 13/07/2019 - 23:34
Florida's Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles "made $77 million in 2017 by selling drivers' personal information to more than 30 private companies, including marketing firms, bill collectors, insurance companies and data brokers..." according to local news site. schwit1 shared this report from WPTV: A Florida woman is blaming the state government for an onslaught of robocalls and direct mail offers â"- accusations that come as the Scripps station WFTS in Tampa uncovered that the DMV makes millions by selling Florida drivers' personal information to outside companies, including marketing firms. WFTS I-Team Investigator Adam Walser obtained records showing the state sold information on Florida drivers and ID cardholders to more than 30 private companies, including marketing firms, bill collectors, insurance companies and data brokers in the business of reselling information. They also report that the woman was illiterate, and "had no digital footprint â" until she got an ID." But within days, her legal guardian reports she was "receiving direct mail offers for lawn service, credit cards, cell phones and insurance. She also now receives constant robocalls and salespeople have even started showing up at her door." And their investigation revealed more damning details. One data broker said their firm "has an agreement with the state to buy driver and ID cardholder data for a penny a record." A promotional video on their web site brags they have "access to 2.5 billion customers and two-thirds of the world's population." Though it may be possible to opt-out of data collection from individual marketing companies, a spokesperson for the state of Florida "said there's no way for drivers to opt out if they don't want their personal information sold."

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Categories: Geeky Stuff

Intel Patches Two New Security Flaws

Slashdot - Sat, 13/07/2019 - 22:34
This week Intel announced two new patches, according to Tom's Hardware: The flaw in the processor diagnostic tool (CVE-2019-11133) is rated 8.2 out 10 on the CVSS 3.0 scale, making it a high-severity vulnerability. The flaw [found by security researcher Jesse Michael from Eclypsium] "may allow an authenticated user to potentially enable escalation of privilege, information disclosure or denial of service via local access," according to Intel's latest security advisory. Versions of the tool that are older than 4.1.2.24 are affected. The second vulnerability, found by Intel's internal team, is a medium-severity vulnerability in Intel's SSD DC S4500/S4600 series sold to data center customers. The flaw found in the SSD firmware versions older than SCV10150 obtained a 5.3 score on the CVSS 3.0 scale, so it was labeled medium-severity. The bug may allow an unprivileged user to enable privilege escalation via physical access. As one of the flaws was uncovered by Intel itself and for the other the Eclypsium research coordinated with Intel for its disclosure, Intel was able to have ready the patches in time for the public announcement.

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The 'Vast Majority' of America's Voting Machines Use Windows 7 or Older Systems

Slashdot - Sat, 13/07/2019 - 21:34
Many of America's voting machines are depending on an outdated Microsoft operating system, reports the Associated Press. "The vast majority of 10,000 election jurisdictions nationwide use Windows 7 or an older operating system to create ballots, program voting machines, tally votes and report counts." That's significant because Windows 7 reaches its "end of life" on Jan. 14, meaning Microsoft stops providing technical support and producing "patches" to fix software vulnerabilities, which hackers can exploit. In a statement to the AP, Microsoft said Friday it would offer continued Windows 7 security updates for a fee through 2023. Critics say the situation is an example of what happens when private companies ultimately determine the security level of election systems with a lack of federal requirements or oversight.... It's unclear whether the often hefty expense of security updates would be paid by vendors operating on razor-thin profit margins or cash-strapped jurisdictions. It's also uncertain if a version running on Windows 10, which has more security features, can be certified and rolled out in time for primaries. The Associated Press contacted the Coalition for Good Governance, an election integrity advocacy organization, and received this comment from the group's the executive director. "Is this a bad joke?"

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Categories: Geeky Stuff

Inside 'Starshot', the Audacious Plan To Shoot Tiny Ships To Alpha Centauri

Slashdot - Sat, 13/07/2019 - 20:34
"Starshot wants to build the world's most powerful laser and aim it at the closest star. What could go wrong?" An anonymous reader quotes MIT's Technology Review: In 2015, Philip Lubin, a cosmologist from the University of California, Santa Barbara, took the stage at the 100-Year Starship Symposium in Santa Clara. He outlined his plan to build a laser so powerful that it could accelerate tiny spacecraft to 20% of the speed of light, getting them to Alpha Centauri in just 20 years. We could become interstellar explorers within a single generation. It was quite the hook. Because Lubin is an excellent public speaker, and because the underlying technologies already existed, and because the science was sound, he was mobbed after the talk. He also met Pete Worden, a former research director of NASA's Ames Research Center, for the first time. Worden had recently taken over as head of the Breakthrough Initiatives, a nonprofit program funded by Russian technology billionaire Yuri Milner. Six months later, Lubin's project had $100 million in funding from Breakthrough and the endorsement of Stephen Hawking, who called it the "next great leap into the cosmos." Starshot is straightforward, at least in theory. First, build an enormous array of moderately powerful lasers. Yoke them together—what's called "phase lock"—to create a single beam with up to 100 gigawatts of power. Direct the beam onto highly reflective light sails attached to spacecraft weighing less than a gram and already in orbit. Turn the beam on for a few minutes, and the photon pressure blasts the spacecraft to relativistic speeds. Not only could such a technology be used to send sensors to another star system; it could dispatch larger craft to Earth's neighboring planets and moons. Imagine a package to Mars in a few days, or a crewed mission to Mars in a month. Starshot effectively shrinks the solar system, and ultimately the galaxy. It's fantastic. And also a dream. Or a sales pitch. Or a long-term, far-out project that can't be sustained long enough for the nonexistent technologies it requires to be built.

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