Education

Could VR Field Trips Replace the Real Thing? (theindychannel.com) 25

turkeydance shares a report from RTV6, which cites a new editorial in the journal Science that explores the question, "Could VR field trips replace the real thing?" Virtual field trips have been around for a while, but they used to be pretty boring: some photos, some text -- basically a Wikipedia entry. But they've come a long way. Nearpod and Google Expeditions let students immerse themselves in places they couldn't normally visit, like Antarctica or even Mars. These virtual field trips are safer and easier to organize than real outings, and they might soon be cheaper, too. Douglas McCauley, assistant professor of ecology at the University of California, Santa Barbara, says traditional field trips have already declined under budget constraints, so schools might be tempted to simply make a switch. McCauley says he's excited about the possibilities of VR. Taking students back to prehistoric times or forward to witness the results of climate change could be a powerful teaching tool.
Advertising

Senators Announce New Bill That Would Regulate Online Political Ads (theverge.com) 55

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Verge: As tech companies face continued scrutiny over Russian activity on their ad platforms, Senators today announced legislation meant to regulate political ads on the internet. The new bill, called the Honest Ads Act, would require companies like Facebook and Google to keep copies of political ads and make them publicly available. Under the act, the companies would also be required to release information on who those ads were targeted to, as well as information on the buyer and the rates charged for the ads. The new rules would bring disclosure rules more in line with how political ads are regulated in mediums like print and TV, and apply to any platform with more than 50 million monthly viewers. The companies would be required to keep and release data on anyone spending more than $500 on political ads in a year. It's unclear how well the bill will fare. Companies like Facebook have been successfully fighting regulations for years. But this latest attempt has some bipartisan support: the act, sponsored by Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) and Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA) is also co-sponsored by Sen. John McCain (R-AZ). "Americans deserve to know who's paying for the online ads," Klobuchar said at a press conference announcing the legislation.
Google

How Google's Pixel 2 'Now Playing' Song Identification Works (venturebeat.com) 76

An anonymous reader shares a report from VentureBeat, written by Emil Protalinski: The most interesting Google Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL feature, to me, is Now Playing. If you've ever used Shazam or SoundHound, you probably understand the basics: The app uses your device's microphone to capture an audio sample and creates an acoustic fingerprint to compare against a central song database. If a match is found, information such as the song title and artist are sent back to the user. Now Playing achieves this with two important differentiators. First, Now Playing detects songs automatically without you explicitly asking -- the feature works when your phone is locked and the information is displayed on the Pixel 2's lock screen (you'll eventually be able to ask Google Assistant what's currently playing, but not yet). Secondly, it's an on-device and local feature: Now Playing functions completely offline (we tested this, and indeed it works with mobile data and Wi-Fi turned off). No audio is ever sent to Google.
Businesses

Alphabet Invests $1 Billion In Lyft (cnet.com) 12

Lyft announced Thursday that Google-parent Alphabet is leading a $1 billion financing round into the ride-hailing company. This ups Lyft's valuation from $7.5 billion to $11 billion. The funding is coming from CapitalG, one of Alphabet's investment firms. CNET reports: "CapitalG is honored to work with Lyft's compelling founders and strong leadership team," David Lawee, CapitalG partner, said in a statement. "Ridesharing is still in its early days and we look forward to seeing Lyft continue its impressive growth." Compared with Uber, Lyft has long been the small dog in the ride-hailing world. Before now, it's received $2.6 billion in venture funding, whereas Uber has received $12.9 billion and is valued at $68 billion. Alphabet's investment in Lyft could be a sore spot for rival Uber. Uber is currently locked in a legal battle with Waymo.
Programming

Profile of William H. Alsup, a Judge Who Codes and Decides Tech's Biggest Cases (theverge.com) 41

Sarah Jeong at The Verge has an interesting profile of William H. Alsup, the judge in Oracle v. Google case, who to many's surprise was able to comment on the technical issues that Oracle and Google were fighting about. Alsup admits that he learned the Java programming language only so that he could better understand the substance of the case. Here's an excerpt from the interview: On May 18th, 2012, attorneys for Oracle and Google were battling over nine lines of code in a hearing before Judge William H. Alsup of the northern district of California. The first jury trial in Oracle v. Google, the fight over whether Google had hijacked code from Oracle for its Android system, was wrapping up. The argument centered on a function called rangeCheck. Of all the lines of code that Oracle had tested -- 15 million in total -- these were the only ones that were "literally" copied. Every keystroke, a perfect duplicate. It was in Oracle's interest to play up the significance of rangeCheck as much as possible, and David Boies, Oracle's lawyer, began to argue that Google had copied rangeCheck so that it could take Android to market more quickly. Judge Alsup was not buying it. "I couldn't have told you the first thing about Java before this trial," said the judge. "But, I have done and still do a lot of programming myself in other languages. I have written blocks of code like rangeCheck a hundred times or more. I could do it. You could do it. It is so simple." It was an offhand comment that would snowball out of control, much to Alsup's chagrin. It was first repeated among lawyers and legal wonks, then by tech publications. With every repetition, Alsup's skill grew, until eventually he became "the judge who learned Java" -- Alsup the programmer, the black-robed nerd hero, the 10x judge, the "master of the court and of Java."
Businesses

Amazon Battles Google for Renewable Energy Crown (bloomberg.com) 42

Readers share a report: Even in the age of coal enthusiast President Donald Trump, clean-energy developers are finding plenty of interest in wind and solar power from businesses with sustainability targets, especially technology companies. That was on display in a video tweeted Thursday by Amazon.com Chief Executive Officer Jeff Bezos, as he christened the 253-megawatt Amazon Wind Farm Texas in Scurry County. Amazon has bought more than 1.22 gigawatts of output to date from U.S. clean-energy projects, second only to Alphabet's Google, with 1.85 gigawatts. Corporations have agreed to buy 1.9 gigawatts of clean power in the U.S. this year, according to Bloomberg New Energy Finance, and are on pace to match the 2.6 gigawatts signed last year.
Chrome

Google Engineers Explore Ways To Stop In-Browser Cryptocurrency Miners in Chrome (bleepingcomputer.com) 176

An anonymous reader writes: Google Chrome engineers are considering adding a special browser permission that will thwart the rising trend of in-browser cryptocurrency miners. Discussions on the topic of in-browser miners have been going on the Chromium project's bug tracker since mid-September when Coinhive, the first such service, launched. "Here's my current thinking," Ojan Vafai, a Chrome engineering working on the Chromium project, wrote in one of the recent bug reports. "If a site is using more than XX% CPU for more than YY seconds, then we put the page into 'battery saver mode' where we aggressively throttle tasks and show a toast [notification popup] allowing the user to opt-out of battery saver mode. When a battery saver mode tab is backgrounded, we stop running tasks entirely. I think we'll want measurement to figure out what values to use for XX and YY, but we can start with really egregious things like 100% and 60 seconds. I'm effectively suggesting we add a permission here, but it would have unusual triggering conditions [...]. It only triggers when the page is doing a likely bad thing."

An earlier suggestion had Google create a blacklist and block the mining code at the browser level. That suggestion was shut down as being too impractical and something better left to extensions.

AI

DeepMind's Go-Playing AI Doesn't Need Human Help To Beat Us Anymore (theverge.com) 130

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Verge: Google's AI subsidiary DeepMind has unveiled the latest version of its Go-playing software, AlphaGo Zero. The new program is a significantly better player than the version that beat the game's world champion earlier this year, but, more importantly, it's also entirely self-taught. DeepMind says this means the company is one step closer to creating general purpose algorithms that can intelligently tackle some of the hardest problems in science, from designing new drugs to more accurately modeling the effects of climate change. The original AlphaGo demonstrated superhuman Go-playing ability, but needed the expertise of human players to get there. Namely, it used a dataset of more than 100,000 Go games as a starting point for its own knowledge. AlphaGo Zero, by comparison, has only been programmed with the basic rules of Go. Everything else it learned from scratch. As described in a paper published in Nature today, Zero developed its Go skills by competing against itself. It started with random moves on the board, but every time it won, Zero updated its own system, and played itself again. And again. Millions of times over. After three days of self-play, Zero was strong enough to defeat the version of itself that beat 18-time world champion Lee Se-dol, winning handily -- 100 games to nil. After 40 days, it had a 90 percent win rate against the most advanced version of the original AlphaGo software. DeepMind says this makes it arguably the strongest Go player in history.
The Internet

Mozilla To Document Cross-Browser Web Dev Standards with Google, Microsoft, Samsung, and W3C (venturebeat.com) 42

Mozilla has announced deeper partnerships with Microsoft, Google, Samsung, and web standards body W3C to create cross-browser documentation on MDN Web Docs, a web development documentation portal created by Mozilla. From a report: MDN Web Docs first came to fruition in 2005, and it has since been known under various names, including the Mozilla Developer Network and Mozilla Developer Center. Today, MDN Web Docs serves as a community and library of sorts covering all things related to web technologies and standards, including JavaScript, HTML, CSS, open web app development, Firefox add-on development, and more. The web constitutes multiple players from across the technology spectrum and, of course, multiple browsers, including Microsoft's Edge, Google's Chrome, Mozilla's Firefox, and the Samsung Internet Browser. To avoid fragmentation and ensure end-users have a (fairly) consistent browsing experience, it helps if all the players involved adhere to a similar set of standards.
Businesses

Amazon's Next Big Bet is Letting You Communicate Without a Smartphone, Says Alexa's Chief Scientist (cnbc.com) 143

An anonymous reader shares a report: The next big function to take off on Amazon's Echo devices will be voice or video calling -- which is a way Alexa can reduce the need to have your smartphone on your at all times, said Rohit Prasad, VP and Head Scientist at Alexa Machine Learning. "If you have not played with calling and the video calls on Echo Show, you should try it because that is revolutionizing how you can communicate," Prasad said in an exclusive interview with CNBC at an Alexa Accelerator event in Seattle Tuesday night. (The event is dedicating to developing new voice-powered technologies.) "When you can drop in on people who have given you access -- so I can drop in and call my mom in her kitchen without her picking any device -- it's just awesome." (Amazon added the ability to call mobile numbers and landlines for free onto Echo devices a few weeks ago.) Amazon doesn't have a smartphone that lets customers bring a digital assistant everywhere -- like Apple's Siri and Google's Assistant -- and communicating through Alexa devices is one way of reducing the need for a personal handset, Prasad said "I can easily drop in and talk to my kids," Prasad says. "They don't have a smartphone so that's my easiest way to talk to them. It's yet another area where Alexa is taking the friction away."
Chrome

Chrome 62 Released With OpenType Variable Fonts, HTTP Warnings In Incognito Mode (bleepingcomputer.com) 78

An anonymous reader writes: Earlier today, Google released version 62 of its Chrome browser that comes with quite a few new features but also fixes for 35 security issues. The most interesting new features are support for OpenType variable fonts, the Network Quality Estimator API, the ability to capture and stream DOM elements, and HTTP warnings for the browser's Normal and Incognito mode. The most interesting of the new features is variable fonts. Until now, web developers had to load multiple font families whenever they wanted variations on a font family. For example, if a developer was using the Open Sans font family on a site, if he wanted a font variation such as Regular, Bold, Black, Normal, Condensed, Expanded, Highlight, Slab, Heavy, Dashed, or another, he'd have to load a different font file for each. OpenType variable fonts allow font makers to merge all these font family variations in one file that developers can use on their site and control via CSS. This results in fewer files loaded on a website, saving bandwidth and improving page load times. Two other features that will interest mostly developers are the Network Quality Estimator and the Media Capture from DOM Elements APIs. As the name hints, the first grants developers access to network speed and performance metrics, information that some websites may use to adapt video streams, audio quality, or deliver low-fi versions of their sites. Developers can use the second API -- the Media Capture from DOM Elements -- to record videos of how page sections behave during interaction and stream the content over WebRTC. This latter API could be useful for developers debugging a page, but also support teams that want to see what's happening on the user's side.
Android

Android Oreo Helps Google's Pixel 2 Smartphones Outperform Other Android Flagships (hothardware.com) 78

MojoKid highlights Hot Hardware's review of Google's new Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL smartphones: Google officially launched it's Pixel 2 phones today, taking the wraps off third-party reviews. Designed by Google but manufactured by HTC (Pixel 2) and LG (Pixel 2 XL), the two new handsets also boast Google's latest Android 8.0 operating system, aka Oreo, an exclusive to Google Pixel and certain Nexus devices currently. And in some ways, this is also a big advantage. Though they are based on the same Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 processor as many other Android devices, Google's new Pixel 2s manage to outpace similarly configured smartphones in certain benchmarks by significant margins (Basemark, PCMark and 3DMark). They also boot dramatically faster than any other Android handset on the market, in as little as 10 seconds. Camera performance is also excellent, with both the 5-inch Pixel 2 and 6-inch Pixel 2 XL sporting identical electronics, save for their displays and chassis sizes. Another notable feature built into Android Oreo is Google Now Playing, an always-listening, Shazam-like service (if you enable it) that displays song titles on the lock screen if it picks up on music playing in the room you're in. Processing is done right on the Pixel 2 and it doesn't need network connectivity. Another Pixel 2 Oreo-based trick is Google Lens, a machine vision system that Google notes "can recognize places like landmarks and buildings, artwork that you'd find in a museum, media covers such as books, movies, music albums, and video games..." The Google Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL are available now on Verizon or unlocked via the Google Store starting at $649 and $849 respectively for 64GB storage versions, with a $100 up-charge for 128GB variants.
Google

Google Maps Ditches Walking Calorie Counter After Backlash (engadget.com) 355

Following online backlash, Google is removing a planned feature in Maps that shows you how many calories you'd burn when in walking mode. Google's attempt to promote a healthy lifestyle caused a number of people to lambast the feature on Twitter, claiming it would "shame" and even "trigger" those with eating disorders. Engadget reports: Taking note of the negative reaction, Google is now dumping the experiment. It confirmed to Engadget that the update was briefly tested on iOS, and has been abandoned based on user feedback. As The Hill's Taylor Lorenz noted in her tweets, there was no way to turn off the feature. Lorenz also claimed that using pink cupcakes as the unit of measurement was "lowkey aimed at women." Others pointed out that Maps wasn't the appropriate place for the update. After all, there are plenty of fitness and calorie counting apps that keep track of your activity and consumption -- again emphasizing how misplaced the feature was.
Google

Toronto To Be Home To Google Parent's Biggest Smart City Project Yet (techcrunch.com) 54

Sidewalk Labs, the smart city subsidiary of Alphabet (the parent company of Google) with the stated goal of "reimagining cities from the Internet up," now has a very big sandbox in which to conduct its high-tech experiments. From a report: That's obviously an ambitious project, but some of the groundwork is already being laid: Alphabet's Google will be the flagship tenant for the new neighbourhood, anchoring the easter waterfront, to be called "Quayside," and Sidewalk Labs has committed $50 million to kick off pilot testing and planning in partnership with the City of Toronto. Sidewalk Labs won the contract through its response to a Request for Proposals issues by Waterfront Toronto, and organization created by the Canadian federal government, the Ontario provincial government and the City of Toronto together to foster development of Toronto's lakefront areas in ways that address urban sprawl while respecting the realities of climate change and taking into account the ability of the city's residents to get around efficiently. The area involved in the RFP that Sidewalk Labs will work with the government coalition to develop spans around 800 acres (though 12 acres are specified for the initial project), and is one of the largest underdeveloped urban areas in any North American city, making it a good target for Sidewalk's ambitious vision, which involves building smart cities holistically from the very start. Ultimately, the partners hope to turn the area into a "place for tens of thousands of people to live, work, learn and play -- and to create and advance new ideas that improve city life," according to a release from Sidewalk.
Google

'Google Just Made Gmail the Most Secure Email Provider on the Planet' (vice.com) 197

Google announced on Tuesday that it would offer stronger online security for "high risk" users who may be frequent targets of online attacks. The company said anyone with a personal Google account can enroll in the new "advanced protection," while noting that it will require users to "trade off a bit of convenience" for extra security. Motherboard reports: The main advantage in terms of security is the need for a key or token to log in as the second factor, instead of a code sent via SMS or via app. This is much better because there's no way for hackers to steal or phish this key from afar (there have been isolated incidents of hackers using social engineering to gain access to someone's cell phone number by getting the provider to issue a new SIM card, for instance). Thanks to these new features, Gmail is now the most secure email provider available on the internet if you are worried about hackers breaking into your private correspondence. "This is a major step in the right direction in offering the same kind of protection available to high-profile figures to everyday people," Kenneth White, a Washington D.C. based security consultant to federal agencies, told Motherboard. "They have really thought this through, and while it may not make sense for everyone, for those that need it, it's a much needed option."
Google

Google Maps Now Lets You Explore Your Local Planets and Moons (cnet.com) 53

Google has added three planets and nine moons to Google Maps. "The heavenly bodies include Saturn moons Dione, Enceladus, Iapetus, Mimas, Rhea and Titan, and Jupiter moons Europa, Ganymede and Io," reports CNET. "Google also added dwarf-planets Pluto and Ceres and full-planet Venus." From the report: Once inside Google Maps for planets, you can spin the space objects around, get more information on their place names and zoom in for a closer look. The new worlds are possible thanks to imagery from NASA and the European Space Agency. NASA's dearly departed Cassini spacecraft sent back a treasure trove of views of Saturn's moons. If you have a few moments to spare, fire up a browser, go to your current location on Google Maps, enter satellite mode and hit the zoom-out button until you've left the planet and are "floating" in space. A list of available planets and moons pops up on the side and you're off on your space adventure.
Google

Google Photos Now Recognizes Your Pets (techcrunch.com) 60

Today, Google is introducing an easier way to aggregate your pet photos in its Photos app -- by allowing you to group all your pet's photos in one place, right beside the people Google Photos organized using facial recognition. TechCrunch reports: This is an improvement over typing in "dog," or another generalized term, because the app will now only group together photos of an individual pet together, instead of returning all photos you've captured with a "dog" in them. And like the face grouping feature, you can label the pet by name to more easily pull up their photos in the app, or create albums, movies or photo books using their pictures. In addition, Google Photos lets you type in an animal's breed to search for photos of pets, and it lets you search for photos using the dog and cat emojis. The company also earlier this year introduced a feature that would create a mini-movie starring your pet, but you can opt to make one yourself by manually selecting photos then choosing from a half-dozen tracks to accompany the movie, says Google.
Wireless Networking

Every Patch For 'KRACK' Wi-Fi Vulnerability Available Right Now (zdnet.com) 134

An anonymous reader quotes a report from ZDNet: As reported previously by ZDNet, the bug, dubbed "KRACK" -- which stands for Key Reinstallation Attack -- is at heart a fundamental flaw in the way Wi-Fi Protected Access II (WPA2) operates. According to security researcher and academic Mathy Vanhoef, who discovered the flaw, threat actors can leverage the vulnerability to decrypt traffic, hijack connections, perform man-in-the-middle attacks, and eavesdrop on communication sent from a WPA2-enabled device. In total, ten CVE numbers have been preserved to describe the vulnerability and its impact, and according to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS), the main affected vendors are Aruba, Cisco, Espressif Systems, Fortinet, the FreeBSD Project, HostAP, Intel, Juniper Networks, Microchip Technology, Red Hat, Samsung, various units of Toshiba and Ubiquiti Networks. A list of the patches available is below. For the most up-to-date list with links to each patch/statement (if available), visit ZDNet's article.
Google

Google Chrome for Windows Gets Basic Antivirus Features (betanews.com) 54

Google is rolling out a trio of important changes to Chrome for Windows users. From a report: At the heart of these changes is Chrome Cleanup. This feature detects unwanted software that might be bundled with downloads, and provides help with removing it. Google's Philippe Rivard explains that Chrome now has built-in hijack detection which should be able to detect when user settings are changes without consent. This is a setting that has already rolled out to users, and Google says that millions of users have already been protected against unwanted setting changes such as having their search engine altered. But it's the Chrome Cleanup tool that Google is particularly keen to highlight. A redesigned interface makes it easier to use and to see what unwanted software has been detected and singled out for removal.

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