The Courts

Man Fined For Implanting NFC Train Ticket In Hand ( 106

Unhappy Windows User writes: An Australian man, when checked by a ticket inspector, claimed his smart travel card was implanted in his hand. He took the case to court and lost; the fine and legal fees add up to AU$1220 (USD $950). The man, who self-identifies as a biohacker and is a member of the Science Party, accepts the ruling but states that it won't discourage him from further biohacking. He claimed he was ahead of the law. The prosecution argued that, by cutting the chip out of the card, the ticket was invalidated. It is not clear from the article whether the NFC chip was working correctly and could be read by the inspector, or not. Further reading: BuzzFeed News

Scientists Unsure Where Chinese Space Station Will Crash To Earth 78

In 2016, the Chinese space agency lost control of its Tiangong-1, or Heavenly Palace, spacecraft, five years after it blasted into orbit. Scientists have determined that it will come crashing down to Earth in the coming weeks, be they do not know exactly where on Earth it will hit. The Guardian reports: The defunct module is now at an altitude of 150 miles and being tracked by space agencies around the world, with the European Space Agency's center in Darmstadt predicting a fiery descent for it between March 27 and April 8. Hurtling around the Earth at about 18,000mph, the module ranks as one of the larger objects to re-enter the atmosphere without being steered towards the ocean, as is standard for big and broken spacecraft, and cargo vessels that are jettisoned from the International Space Station (ISS), to reduce the risk to life below. The spacecraft's orbit ranges from 43 degrees north to 43 degrees south, which rules out a descent over the UK but includes vast stretches of North and South America, China, the Middle East, Africa, Australia, parts of Europe -- and great swaths of the Pacific and Atlantic oceans. Western analysts cannot be sure how much of the spacecraft will survive re-entry, because China has not released details of the design and materials used to make Tiangong-1. But the spacecraft may have well-protected titanium fuel tanks containing toxic hydrazine that could pose a danger if they land in populated areas.

132-Year-Old Science Experiment Washes Ashore In Australia ( 55

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The New York Times (Warning: source may be paywalled; alternative source): A message in a bottle was tossed off the side of a German ship on June 12, 1886, as it sailed through the Indian Ocean, the date and location penned carefully in script on the scroll inside. In January, more than 131 years after the bottle was set adrift, an Australian woman walking on the beach noticed the thick, discolored glass of an old bottle poking through the sand. The bottle -- and the message -- had been found. It is believed to be the oldest known message in a bottle ever recovered. The woman, Tonya Illman, discovered the tokens from another era while walking on a beach near Wedge Island, in Western Australia.

The Illmans took their discovery to the Western Australian Museum, which verified that the bottle and the note date back to the 19th century. The museum contacted experts in the Netherlands and Germany for more information, and confirmed that the bottle had been dropped from a German vessel called the Paula. A search of German archives uncovered the Paula's original Meteorological Journal, and in a captain's entry from June 12, 1886, researchers discovered a reference to the bottle, thrown overboard as the ship was sailing from Cardiff, Wales, to Makassar, Indonesia. The date and the coordinates matched. The bottle had been tossed into the Indian Ocean from the ship as part of a decades-long experiment by the German Naval Observatory to understand ocean currents. Thousands of bottles were thrown into the ocean around the world from German ships between the 1860s and the 1930s, each with a form bearing the date and location where it had been tossed into the sea, the name of the ship, its home port and the travel route, the Western Australian Museum said.


Australia Considers Making It Illegal For ISPs To Advertise Inflated Speeds ( 70

The Australian government is currently considering a bill that would make it illegal for internet service providers to exaggerate speeds, or else face a fine of up to $1 million. "One constituent says he's being charged for a 25 megabit per second download speed and a five megabit per second upload and he's actually getting less than one tenth of that," said Andrew Wilkie, the Member of Parliament who introduced the bill. "In other words, people are getting worse than dial-up speed when they've been promised a whizz-bang, super-fast connection." Motherboard reports: Internet speeds can vary based on how many people are on the network and even the hardware you use, but while we can't expect ISPs to deliver maximum speed 100 percent of the time, previous probes into their performance have shown many ISPs in the U.S. aren't delivering even the minimum advertised speeds a majority of the time for the average user. Under the proposed Australian law, ISPs are simply required to be more transparent about what consumers can expect with a specific plan. Rather than advertising only the maximum speeds, they would have to include typical speeds for the average user, indicate busy periods, and clearly list any other factors that might impact service. The bill was only introduced this week, so it's yet to be seen if it will gain traction.

119,000 Passports, Photo IDs of FedEx Customers Found On Unsecured Amazon Server ( 34

FedEx left scanned passports, drivers licenses, and other documentation belonging to thousands of its customers exposed on a publicly accessible Amazon S3 server, reports Gizmodo. "The scanned IDs originated from countries all over the world, including the United States, Mexico, Canada, Australia, Saudi Arabia, Japan, China, and several European countries. The IDs were attached to forms that included several pieces of personal information, including names, home addresses, phone numbers, and zip codes." From the report: The server, discovered by researchers at the Kromtech Security Center, was secured as of Tuesday. According to Kromtech, the server belonged to Bongo International LLC, a company that aided customers in performing shipping calculations and currency conversations, among other services. Bongo was purchased by FedEx in 2014 and renamed FedEx Cross-Border International a little over a year later. The service was discontinued in April 2017. According to Kromtech, more than 119,000 scanned documents were discovered on the server. As the documents were dated within the 2009-2012 range, its unclear if FedEx was aware of the server's existence when it purchased Bongo in 2014, the company said.

Where Old, Unreadable Documents Go to Be Understood ( 44

From a report: On any given day, from her home on the Isle of Man, Linda Watson might be reading a handwritten letter from one Confederate soldier to another, or a list of convicts transported to Australia. Or perhaps she is reading a will, a brief from a long-forgotten legal case, an original Jane Austen manuscript. Whatever is in them, these documents made their way to her because they have one thing in common: They're close to impossible to read. Watson's company, Transcription Services, has a rare specialty -- transcribing historical documents that stump average readers. Once, while talking to a client, she found the perfect way to sum up her skills.

[...] Since she first started specializing in old documents, Watson has expanded beyond things written in English. She now has a stable of collaborators who can tackle manuscripts in Latin, German, Spanish, and more. She can only remember two instances that left her and her colleagues stumped. One was a Tibetan manuscript, and she couldn't find anyone who knew the alphabet. The other was in such bad shape that she had to admit defeat. In the business of reading old documents, Watson has few competitors. There is one transcription company on the other side of the world, in Australia, that offers a similar service. Libraries and archives, when they have a giant batch of handwritten documents to deal with, might recruit volunteers.


Researchers Discover Efficient Way To Filter Salt, Metal Ions From Water ( 67

schwit1 shares a report on a new study, published in Sciences Advances, that offers a new solution to providing clean drinking water for billions of people worldwide: It all comes down to metal-organic frameworks (MOFs), an amazing next generation material that have the largest internal surface area of any known substance. The sponge like crystals can be used to capture, store and release chemical compounds. In this case, the salt and ions in sea water. Dr Huacheng Zhang, Professor Huanting Wang and Associate Professor Zhe Liu and their team in the Faculty of Engineering at Monash University in Melbourne, Australia, in collaboration with Dr Anita Hill of CSIRO and Professor Benny Freeman of the McKetta Department of Chemical Engineering at The University of Texas at Austin, have recently discovered that MOF membranes can mimic the filtering function, or "ion selectivity," of organic cell membranes. With further development, these membranes have significant potential to perform the dual functions of removing salts from seawater and separating metal ions in a highly efficient and cost effective manner, offering a revolutionary new technological approach for the water and mining industries. Currently, reverse osmosis membranes are responsible for more than half of the world's desalination capacity, and the last stage of most water treatment processes, yet these membranes have room for improvement by a factor of 2 to 3 in energy consumption. They do not operate on the principles of dehydration of ions, or selective ion transport in biological channels.

Meet the Tiny Startup That Sells IPhone and Android Zero Days To Governments ( 51

An anonymous reader writes: The story of Azimuth Security, a tiny startup in Australia, provides a rare peek inside the secretive industry that helps government hackers get around encryption. Azimuth is part of an opaque, little known corner of the intelligence world made of hackers who develop and sell expensive exploits to break into popular technologies like iOS, Chrome, Android and Tor.

Tesla To Construct 'Virtual Solar Power Plant' Using 50,000 Homes ( 199

Long-time Slashdot readers denbesten, haruchai, and Kant all submitted this story. CleanTechnica reports: Tesla and the government of South Australia have announced a stunning new project that could change how electricity is generated not only in Australia but in every country in the world. They plan to install rooftop solar system on 50,000 homes in the next four years and link them them together with grid storage facilities to create the largest virtual solar power plant in history. And here's the kicker: The rooftop solar systems will be free. The cost of the project will be recouped over time by selling the electricity generated to those who consume it.

"We will use people's homes as a way to generate energy for the South Australian grid, with participating households benefiting with significant savings in their energy bills," says South Australia's premier Jay Weatherill. "More renewable energy means cheaper power for all South Australians..." Price predicts utility bills for participating households will be slashed by 30%.

Electrek reports that the project will result in at least 650 MWh of additional energy storage capacity, and Tesla points out that "At key moments, the virtual power plant could provide as much capacity as a large gas turbine or coal power plant."

Giant Tesla Battery In Australia Earns A Million Bucks In a Few Days ( 222

Long-time Slashdot reader drinkypoo writes: Last week, Neoen's and Tesla's massive battery was paid up to $1000/MWh to charge itself and now it could have earned up to 1 million AUD in the last few days by selling the power back to the grid to cover a coal plant outage. Unlike other forms of power storage, battery systems can be switched between states (charging, discharging, or idle) effectively instantly, which permits a stabilizing effect on the grid.
"What we are seeing here," writes Fred Lambert at, "is the Powerpack system enabling Neoen to sell electricity at up to $14,000 AUD per MWh and charging itself at almost no cost during overproduction."

Plastic Pollution Is Killing Coral Reefs, 4-Year Study Finds ( 90

An anonymous reader quotes a report from NPR: A new study based on four years of diving on 159 reefs in the Pacific shows that reefs in four countries -- Australia, Thailand, Indonesia and Myanmar -- are heavily contaminated with plastic. It clings to the coral, especially branching coral. And where it clings, it sickens or kills. "The likelihood of disease increases from 4 percent to 89 percent when corals are in contact with plastic," researchers report in the journal Science. Study leader Drew Harvell at Cornell University says the plastic could be harming coral in at least two ways. First, bacteria and other harmful microorganisms are abundant in the water and on corals; when the coral is abraded, that might invite pathogens into the coral. In addition, Harvell says, plastic can block sunlight from reaching coral. Based on how much plastic the researchers found while diving, they estimate that over 11 billion plastic items could be entangled in coral reefs in the Asia-Pacific region, home to over half the world's coral reefs. And their survey did not include China, one of the biggest sources of plastic pollution.

1.7-Billion-Year-Old Chunk of North America Found Sticking To Australia ( 122

walterbyrd shares a report from Live Science: Geologists matching rocks from opposite sides of the globe have found that part of Australia was once attached to North America 1.7 billion years ago. Researchers from Curtin University in Australia examined rocks from the Georgetown region of northern Queensland. The rocks -- sandstone sedimentary rocks that formed in a shallow sea -- had signatures that were unknown in Australia but strongly resembled rocks that can be seen in present-day Canada. The researchers, who described their findings online Jan. 17 in the journal Geology, concluded that the Georgetown area broke away from North America 1.7 billion years ago. Then, 100 million years later, this landmass collided with what is now northern Australia, at the Mount Isa region.

"This was a critical part of global continental reorganization when almost all continents on Earth assembled to form the supercontinent called Nuna," Adam Nordsvan, Curtin University doctoral student and lead author of the study, said in a statement. Nordsvan added that Nuna then broke apart some 300 million years later, with the Georgetown area stuck to Australia as the North American landmass drifted away.


Apple Will Release Its $349 HomePod Speaker On February 9th ( 98

After it was delayed in mid-December, Apple finally announced the availability of its new smart speaker. The company announced it will release the HomePod on February 9th and that preorders for the device will start this Friday, January 26th. The smart speaker will initially go on sale in the U.S., UK, and Australia. It'll then arrive in France and Germany sometime this spring. The Verge reports: The company's first smart speaker was originally supposed to go on sale before the end of the 2017, but it was delayed in mid-December. That meant Apple missed a holiday season where millions of smart speakers were sold -- but the market for voice-activated speakers is clearly just getting started. And at $349, Apple's speaker is playing in a very different market than Amazon's and Google's primarily cheap and tiny speakers. The HomePod is being positioned more as a competitor to Sonos' high-end wireless speakers than as a competitor to the plethora of inexpensive smart speakers flooding the market. Despite the delay, Apple doesn't appear to have made any changes to the HomePod -- the smart speaker appears to be exactly what was announced back in June, at WWDC. The focus here continues to be on music and sound quality, rather than the speaker's intelligence, which is the core focus of many competitors' products. The speaker will still have an always-on voice assistant, but Apple's implementation of Siri here will be more limited than what's present on other devices.

Australian Birds of Prey Are Deliberately Setting Forests On Fire ( 96

An anonymous reader writes: If you've been counting the ways the Australian environment is trying to kill you, you can now add "arson" to the list. According to a six-year study published in The Journal of Ethnobiology, observers have confirmed what Aboriginal rangers have been observing for years: birds of prey routinely carry burning or smouldering sticks into dry grassy areas to scare small mammals into fleeing so they can be pack-hunted more effectively. This has implications for environmental management, since the best firebreak will not protect your controlled burn from a "firehawk" determined to breach it.

Lifesaving Drone Makes First Rescue In Australia ( 45

Zorro shares a report from Yahoo News: A pair of Australian swimmers on Thursday became the first people to be rescued in the ocean by a drone when the aerial lifesaver dropped a safety device to distressed teens caught in rough seas. In what is believed to be a world-first drone surf rescue, two boys on Thursday got caught in three-meter (10-foot) swells while swimming off Lennox Head in New South Wales, near the border with Queensland. Beachgoers onshore raised the alarm to the lifeguards who then alerted the drone pilot, and the aerial lifesaver was deployed in moments.

Along with their ability to spot swimmers in trouble and deliver life saving devices faster than traditional lifesaving techniques, like launching surfboards or rubber dinghies, drones are being used in Australia to spot underwater predators like sharks and jellyfish. Artificial intelligence is being developed using thousands of images captured by a drone camera to build an algorithm that can identify different ocean objects. The software can differentiate between sea creatures, like sharks which it can recognize with more than 90 percent accuracy, compared to about 16 percent with the naked eye.


Following Other Credit Cards, Visa Will Also Stop Requiring Signatures ( 171

An anonymous reader quotes SiliconBeat: Visa, the largest U.S. credit card issuer, became the last of the major credit card companies to announce its plan to make signatures optional... Visa joined American Express, Discover, and Mastercard in the phase-out. Mastercard was the first one to announce the move in October, and American Express and Discover followed suit in December... However, this change does not apply to every credit card in circulation; older credit cards without EMV chips will still require signatures for authentication... Since 2011, Visa has deployed more than 460 million EMV chip cards and EMV chip-enabled readers at more than 2.5 million locations.
"Businesses that accepted EMV cards reported a 66 percent decline in fraud in the first two years of EMV deployment," the article notes -- suggesting a future where fewer shoppers are signing their receipts.

"In Canada, Australia and most of Europe, credit cards have long abandoned the signature for the EMV chip and a PIN to authenticate the transaction, like one does with a debit card."
Social Networks

Snapchat's Big Redesign Bashed In 83 Percent of User Reviews ( 113

The new Snapchat redesign that jams Stories in between private messages is not receiving a whole lot of praise. "In the few countries including the U.K., Australia, and Canada where the redesign is widely available, 83 percent of App Store reviews (1,941) for the update are negative with one or two stars, according to data by mobile analytics firm Sensor Tower," reports TechCrunch. "Just 17 percent, or 391 of the reviews, give it three to five stars." From the report: The most referenced keywords in the negative reviews include "new update," "Stories," and "please fix." Meanwhile, Snapchat's Support Twitter account has been busy replying to people who hate the update and are asking to uninstall it, noting "It's not possible to revert to a previous version of Snapchat," and trying to explain where Stories are to confused users. Hopes were that the redesign could boost Snapchat's soggy revenue, which fell short of Wall Street earnings expectations in Q3 and led to a loss of $443 million. The redesign mixes Stories, where Snapchat shows ads but which have seen stagnation in sharing rates amidst competition from Instagram Stories, into the more popular messaging inbox, where Snapchat's ephemeral messaging is more differentiated and entrenched.

Sea Turtles Under Threat As Climate Change Turns Most Babies Female ( 177

A new study published in the journal Current Biology found that as much as 99 percent of baby green sea turtles in warm equatorial regions are being born female. "The study took a look at turtle populations at nesting sites at Raine Island and Moulter Cay in the northern Great Barrier Reef, an area plagued with unprecedented levels of coral bleaching from high temperatures," reports Futurism. "The researchers compared these populations with sea turtles living at sites in the cooler south." From the report: Using a new, non-invasive hormone test, the researchers from the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Fisheries Department and the Queensland Department of Environment and Heritage Protection found that while 65 -69 percent of the turtles from the southern region were female, between 86.8 and 99.8 of turtles tested in the northern region were female, depending on age. The sex of green sea turtles, along with some other species of turtles, crocodiles, and alligators, is not regulated by the introduction of sex chromosomes at key points during early development, as seen in humans and other mammals. Their sex is actually influenced by the temperature at which the eggs are incubated, with warmer temperatures more likely to lead to females. The difference between predominately male and predominately female hatchlings is only a few degrees, such as that formerly found between the cool, damp bottom of a sandy sea turtle nest and the sun-warmed top. The ages of the female turtles in the north suggest that this population has experienced temperatures that cause this imbalance since at least the 1990s. Given that the warmer temperatures seen in northern Australia have been distributed around the globe, experts predict that other sea turtle populations in warm regions are also following the same trend.

Scientists Change Our Understanding of How Anaesthesia Messes With the Brain ( 92

schwit1 shares a report from ScienceAlert: It's crazy to think that we still don't quite understand the mechanism behind one of the most common medical interventions -- general anaesthetic. But researchers in Australia just got a step closer by discovering that one of the most commonly used anesthetic drugs doesn't just put us to sleep; it also disrupts communication between brain cells. The team investigated the drug propofol, a super-popular option for surgeries worldwide. A potent sedative, the drug is thought to put us to sleep through its effect on the GABA neurotransmitter system, the main regulator of our sleep-and-wake cycles in the brain. But anyone who's been "put under" will know that waking up from a general anesthetic feels rather different from your usual morning grogginess. On top of that, some people can experience serious side-effects, so scientists have been trying to figure out what else the drugs might be doing in the brain.

Using live neuron cell samples from rats and fruit flies, the researchers were able to track neurotransmitter activity thanks to a super-resolution microscope, and discovered that propofol messes with a key protein that nerve cells use to communicate with each other. This protein, called syntaxin1A, isn't just found in animal models - people have it, too. And it looks like the anesthetic drug puts the brakes on this protein, making otherwise normal brain cell connections sluggish, at least for a while. The researchers think this disruption could be key to how propofol allows for pain-free surgery to take place - first it knocks us out as a normal sleeping pill would, and then takes things up a notch by disrupting brain connectivity.
The research has been published in Cell Reports.

Astronomers May Be Closing in on Source of Mysterious Fast Radio Bursts ( 57

Astronomers appear to be closing in on the source of enigmatic radio pulses emanating from space that have become the subject of intense scientific speculation. From a new report: Previous candidates for the origin of the fleeting blasts of radiation -- known as fast radio bursts, or FRBs -- have included exploding stars, the reverberations of weird objects called cosmic strings or even distant beacons from interstellar alien spaceships. Now, new observations provide backing for a scenario involving a rapidly rotating neutron star cocooned by an ultra-powerful magnetic field. The explanation is more orthodox than some of the alternatives offered, but could point astronomers towards some of the most extreme magnetic environments in the known universe.

"Our preferred model is that they are coming from a neutron star ... that could be just 10 or 20 years old in an extreme magnetic environment," said Jason Hessels, a co-author of the new paper and astronomer at the Netherlands Institute for Radio Astronomy in the Dutch town of Dwingeloo. Fast radio bursts have perplexed astronomers ever since the signals were discovered in 2007 in earlier observation data from the Parkes radio telescope in Australia.
About 30 of these objects have been discovered deep in space since the first was detected, all but one burping out a cataclysmic radio pulse exactly once and then disappearing into the night. Only one burster, known as FRB121102, after the date it was discovered (Nov. 2, 2012), has repeated itself, hundreds of times now.

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