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Businesses

Verizon Looking To Buy Comcast or Charter, Says Report (nypost.com) 5

"Two well-placed sources" told The New York Post that Verizon is considering purchasing a big cable company to help it grow demand for its wireless data products. The source said the most likely targets would be "Charter or Comcast." New York Post reports: Verizon Chief Executive Lowell McAdam may be getting ready to answer rival ATT's moves to buy DirecTV and Time Warner. To be sure, Verizon is not in talks with any cable company and may not ever make such a move. Still, McAdam has been under pressure recently with Verizon's deal to acquire Yahoo still a question mark months after two major hacks of the internet portal were revealed. The wireless giants operate on 4G wireless networks but are preparing to become a real alternative to the cable company with phone, TV and data services. To do that more effectively, the phone companies are pouring money into 5G connections that can work with cable systems to provide more stable coverage for consumers. McAdam has already given Wall Street analysts and investors big hints that he's looking at a combination with, say, a Charter Communications. In a mid-December meeting with Wall Street analysts, McAdam said a get-together between the two "makes industrial sense." Three weeks later, at CES, his comments to friends make it clear that cable distribution is a path he is exploring, perhaps more seriously than first thought. "For regulatory reasons, Verizon can't dominate in FiOS and cable, so it appears to have to set its sights on cable," an industry source said. Charter could be a seller under the right conditions, the source added, emphasizing that Malone and Charter CEO Tom Rutledge are just getting going on their vision for Charter.
Communications

Ambulances In Sweden Will Be Able To Hijack Car Radios During Emergencies (digitaltrends.com) 36

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Digital Trends: The Swedish government wants to make it impossible to be caught off guard by a speeding ambulance. Sure, their sirens are loud -- but soon they'll be able to take over your car's radio. Swedish students at the KTH Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm have developed a way for emergency vehicles to transit radio signals to warn other vehicles of an approaching truck. It's called the EVAM System, according to Phys.org, and it's designed to send a signal over a specific FM radio band that'll interrupt music or radio and display a test message over the system's tuner display -- so long as the car is equipped with a Radio Data System (RDS). The number of crashes caused by muted sirens is on the rise, Florian Curinga, one of the students working on the project, said. That's because of improved sound insulation in cars. Emergency vehicles in Stockholm will begin testing the system this year. The EVAM System can also predict how far in advance the message needs to be broadcast, depending on traffic speed, according to Phys.org. It may also be helpful in warning drivers about upcoming accidents, the students added. EVAM will work on two-thirds of all vehicles on the road, Curinga said. All drivers need to do is have their radio systems turned on. If a message is broadcast then, they'll see it -- and hear it -- from the tuner.
Government

President Obama Commutes Chelsea Manning's Sentence (theverge.com) 157

The New York Times is reporting that President Obama has commuted Chelsea Manning's sentence. What this translates to is a reduced sentence for Manning, from 35 years to just over seven years. Since Manning has already served a majority of those years, she is due to be released from federal custody on May 17th. The Verge reports: While serving as an intelligence analyst in Iraq, Manning leaked more than 700,000 documents to Wikileaks, including video of a 2007 airstrike in Baghdad that killed two Reuters employees. In 2013, Manning was sentenced to 35 years in prison for her role in the leak and has been held at the U.S. Disciplinary Barracks at Fort Leavenworth for the past three years. Julian Assange, who has long been sought by U.S. and EU authorities for extradition on Swedish rape charges, had previously pledged to surrender himself to U.S. authorities if Manning was pardoned. Born Bradley Manning, Chelsea announced her gender transition the day after the verdict was handed down. "I am Chelsea Manning. I am a female," she said in a statement. "Given the way that I feel, and have felt since childhood, I want to begin hormone therapy as soon as possible." Obtaining the resulting medical treatments was extremely difficult for Manning, and was the subject of significant and sustained activism. After a lawsuit, Manning was approved for hormone therapy in 2015. In September 2016, she launched a hunger strike, demanding access to gender reassignment surgery; the military complied five days later.
Google

Porn Pirates Exploit Well-Known Loophole To Upload Raunchy Videos On YouTube (thenextweb.com) 41

Adult video websites appear to be exploiting a YouTube loophole to host explicit material on the platform. An anonymous reader shares a report on The Next Web: A number of adult streaming websites have begun using a known backdoor that ultimately makes it possible to store infringing material on Google's servers -- entirely free of charge. To pull this off, the pirates essentially take advantage of YouTube's option to upload content without sharing it publicly, which effectively allows them to embed the videos on their websites and bypass Google's Content-ID takedown system. This means the content remains unlisted on YouTube and is served directly from the GoogleVideo.com domain instead. While the move hasn't gone unnoticed by the porn industry, California-based adult content-maker Dreamroom Productions claims it has made it much harder for producers to hunt down and flag infringing material, since the videos are not shared publicly.
Transportation

Uber Sues City of Seattle To Block Landmark Driver Union Ordinance (geekwire.com) 61

Seattle's landmark law that lets drivers for ride-hailing companies decide if they want to bargain collectively was set to go into effect today, but an Uber subsidiary has sued to block key rules of the ordinance governing which drivers get to vote on unionization and other key rules. From a report: Uber subsidiary Rasier filed a petition in King County Superior Court Tuesday to block recently-published rules from Seattle's department of Finance and Administrative Services that cover issues like which drivers get a say in whether they want to unionize, working conditions subject to bargaining and how an organization gets certified to represent drivers exclusively. In court documents, Uber called the city's process flawed and asked the court to suspend the new rules. Uber wants the city to go back and tweak the rules so that they better reflect driver conditions in the ride-hailing industry. "The City failed to provide comprehensive rules and disregarded the facts and circumstances of drivers and the industry," according to Uber's petition. "Moreover, the Cityâ(TM)s rules are inconsistent with fundamental labor law principles ensuring every worker has a voice in whether to be represented by a labor organization."
Windows

Windows 10 Privacy Changes Appease Watchdogs, But Still No Data 'Off-Switch' (zdnet.com) 121

Earlier this month, Microsoft announced several privacy changes in Windows 10, but it didn't give users an option to completely opt-out of data-collection feature. The announcement came at a time to coincide with a statement by the Swiss data protection and privacy regulator, the FDPIC, which last week said it would drop its threats of a lawsuit after the company "agreed to implement" a string of recommendations it made last year. The news closed the books on an investigation that began in 2015, shortly after Windows 10 was released. Though the Swiss appear satisfied, other critics are waiting for more. The French data protection watchdog, the CNIL, was equally unimpressed by Microsoft's actions, and it served the company with a notice in July to demand that it clean up its privacy settings. In an email, the CNIL said that the changes "seem to comply" with its complaint, but it's "now analyzing more in [sic] details Microsoft answers in order to know whether all the failures underlined in the formal notice do now comply with the law." ZDNet adds: Microsoft still hasn't said exactly what gets collected as part of the basic level of collection, except that the data is used to improve its software and services down the line; a reasonable ask -- but one that nonetheless lacks specifics. Microsoft said it wants users to "trust" it. And while the likelihood that the company is doing anything nefarious with users' information is frankly unlikely, the running risk is that the data could somehow be turned over to a government agency or even stolen by hackers is inescapable. That risk alone is enough for many to want to keep what's on their computer in their homes. While changing the privacy controls is a move in the right direction, it's still short of what many have called for. By ignoring the biggest privacy complaint from its consumer users -- the ability to switch off data collection altogether -- Microsoft has favored the "just enough" approach to appease the regulators. Without a way to truly opt-out, Microsoft's repeated pledge (eight times in the blog post, no less) to give its users "control" of their data comes off as a hollow soundbite.
Youtube

Safari Users Unable to Play Newer 4K Video On YouTube in Native Resolution (macrumors.com) 77

It appears Google recently turned on VP9 codec on YouTube for delivering 4K video. However, because of this, Safari users are unable to watch videos uploaded to the service since early December in full 4K resolution. From a report: Specifically, YouTube appears to be storing video on its servers using either the more efficient VP9 codec or the older H.264 codec. Safari only supports the latter, which explains why recently uploaded 4K videos are only able to be viewed in up to 1440p. Funnily enough, the same videos can be streamed by Safari in native 4K as long as they're embedded in another website, suggesting that the VP9 codec support requirement only applies to videos viewed directly on YouTube's website. Until Apple updates Safari to support the VP9 codec, Mac users who want to access newer 4K video on YouTube in native 2160p resolution are advised to use a different browser.John Gruber of DaringFireball writes, "I'm curious what Google's thinking is here. My guess: a subtle nudge to get more Mac users to switch from Safari to Chrome. 4K playback is going to require H.264 support if they want it to work on iOS, though."
Businesses

Facebook's Price Tag For Oculus Actually $3 Billion, Zuckerberg Reveals in Court (cnbc.com) 37

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg revealed in court testimony Tuesday that the company actually paid $3 billion to buy Oculus. From a report on CNBC: His testimony came in a Dallas courtroom, when game maker ZeniMax alleges that Oculus, bought by Facebook in 2014, stole the company's intellectual property. ZeniMax's attorney pressed Zuckerberg on the total Facebook paid for the company. Zuckerberg revealed that beyond the $2 billion price tag, that was widely reported, Facebook paid an additional $700 million to retain employees and another $300 million earnout for hitting key milestones. Nearly three years after Oculus' acquisition Zuckerberg defended against allegations that Oculus stole ZeniMax's intellectual property, also explaining his interest in VR and how it fits into his vision for Oculus.
AI

People Don't Realize How Deep AI Already Is In So Many Things, Salesforce CEO Benioff Says (cnbc.com) 126

Evolving technologies should develop at a steady enough pace to adequately replace the jobs they eliminate, Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff told CNBC on Tuesday. From the report: "Technology's always taken jobs out of the system, and what you hope is that technology's going to put those jobs back in, too. That's what we call productivity," Benioff said on "Squawk Box" at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. "I think a lot of people don't understand how deep AI already is in so many things," he said, one being Salesforce's newly updated Einstein product, which Benioff said is not yet available to clients but can tell the company whether it will make or miss earnings estimates using artificial intelligence What business leaders at the WEF have been calling the "Fourth Industrial Revolution" is at the center of a global transformation in the technology space, as artificial intelligence, robotics and cloud computing gain traction, he said.
Facebook

Facebook To Stop Paying Publishers To Make Live Videos (recode.net) 30

Last year, publishers worldwide began making live videos on Facebook. The social juggernaut had cut deals with them, offering lofty amounts and promising big future moving forward. Turns out, Facebook's experimental project is over. Recode reports: Facebook spent more than $50 million last year paying publishers and celebrities to create live video on the social network. Now numerous publishers tell Recode that Facebook is de-emphasizing live video when it talks to them. And none of the publishers we've spoken with expect Facebook to renew the paid livestreaming deals it signed last spring to get live video off the ground. Instead, Facebook is pushing publishers to create longer, premium video content as part of a larger effort led by Facebook exec Ricky Van Veen. The hope is to get more high-quality video onto the platform and into your News Feed -- the kind of stuff, presumably, you might find on Netflix.
Businesses

Worldwide App Downloads Grew 15% and Revenue Soared 40% in 2016 (venturebeat.com) 19

Downloads, revenue, and time spent in apps all grew by double digits during 2016, according to a report by market researcher App Annie. From a report on VentureBeat: Time spent in apps grew more than 20 percent to nearly 900 billion hours in 2016, according to the year-end report. That's just one sign that the global app economy saw healthy growth during the past year. In its year-end retrospective, App Annie said U.S. time spent in apps grew more than 25 percent. Worldwide, downloads increased 15 percent by more than 13 billion across both iOS and Google Play. The platform owners paid out nearly $89 billion in revenues to publishers from in-app ads and app store revenue, up 40 percent from the year before. That means apps generated $127 billion in revenues overall, as platform owners take about 30 percent of the revenue.
Medicine

Caffeine May Counter Age-Related Inflammation, Says Study (stanford.edu) 86

According to a new Stanford study published in the journal Nature Medicine, caffeine may help to counter the inflammatory process that occurs in some older people. The researchers have found a connection between advancing age, systemic inflammation, cardiovascular disease and coffee consumption by analyzing blood samples, survey data and medical and family histories obtained from more than 100 human participants in a multiyear study. Stanford Medical Center Report adds: The study implicates this inflammatory process as a driver of cardiovascular disease and increased rates of mortality overall. Metabolites, or breakdown products, of nucleic acids -- the molecules that serve as building blocks for our genes -- circulating in the blood can trigger this inflammatory process, the study found. The study also provides evidence that caffeine and its own metabolites may counter the action of these circulating nucleic-acid metabolites, possibly explaining why coffee drinkers tend to live longer than abstainers. Notably, this inflammatory mechanism was found to be activated only in some, but not all, of the older study participants. Those in whom it was relatively quiescent tended to drink more caffeinated beverages. Laboratory experiments revealed that the mechanism was directly countered by caffeine and associated compounds. For the new study, the researchers compared blood drawn from older versus younger study participants to see which genes tended to be more highly activated in older people. They zeroed in on two clusters of genes whose activity was associated with the production of a potent circulating inflammatory protein called IL-1-beta. The genes within each cluster appeared to work in coordination with one another. The researchers found that incubating a type of immune cell with two of those nucleic-acid metabolites boosted activity in one of the gene clusters, resulting in increased IL-1-beta production. When injected into mice, the substances triggered massive systemic inflammation, along with high blood pressure. In addition, immune cells infiltrated and clogged the animals' kidneys, increasing renal pressure substantially. Intrigued by the correlation between older participants' health, gene-cluster activation and self-reported rates of caffeine consumption, the researchers followed up and verified that blood from the group with low cluster activity was enriched for caffeine and a number of its metabolites, compared with blood from the group with high cluster activity. (Examples of these metabolites are theophylline, also found in tea, and theobromine, which abounds in chocolate.) Incubating immune cells with caffeine and its breakdown products along with the inflammation-triggering nucleic acid metabolites substantially prevented the latter from exerting their powerful inflammatory effect on the cells.
Science

Scientists Turn Docile Mice Into Ruthless Hunters (the-scientist.com) 76

BenBoy writes: A couple of years ago, a story surfaced about smarter mice: Scientists Create Super-intelligent Mice, Discover They're Also Very Laid Back. Well, implicit challenge accepted! 2017 brings us a report from Cell, via The Scientist: "Neural circuits in the amygdala are responsible for predatory behavior in mice, according to a study published January 12 in Cell. Using optogenetics, a technique that uses light to turn neural circuits on and off, a group of researchers led by neuroscientist Ivan de Araujo of Yale University was able to turn docile mice into ruthless hunters. Earlier research revealed that the amygdala, an almond-shaped brain structure most commonly linked to fear, was active when rats were hunting and feeding. To see whether this brain region was actually controlling predatory behavior, Araujo and colleagues decided to use optogenetics to selectively activate specific neurons in mice, with light. When the researchers activated the amygdala, docile mice attacked everything from bottle caps to live insects. Even when there was no prey in sight, the mice displayed feeding behavior -- moving their jaws and lifted their paws as if holding a piece of food. Once the light was switched off, the animals went back to peacefully strolling around their cages." Nuclear death-mice are, we assume, right around the corner.
Communications

Study Finds Link Between Profanity and Honesty (neurosciencenews.com) 248

A team of researchers from the Netherlands, the UK, the U.S. and Hong Kong report in the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science that people who use profanity are less likely to be associated with lying and deception. Neuroscience News reports: Profanity is obscene language which, in some social settings is considered inappropriate and unacceptable. It often refers to language that contains sexual references, blasphemy or other vulgar terms. It's usually related to the expression of emotions such as anger, frustration or surprise. But profanity can also be used to entertain and win over audiences. As dishonesty and profanity are both considered deviant they are often viewed as evidence of low moral standards. On the other hand, profanity can be positively associated with honesty. It is often used to express unfiltered feelings and sincerity. The researchers cite the example of President-elect Donald Trump who used swear words in some of his speeches while campaigning in last year's U.S. election and was considered, by some, to be more genuine than his rivals. The international team of researchers set out to gauge people's views about this sort of language in a series of questionnaires which included interactions with social media users. In the first questionnaire 276 participants were asked to list their most commonly used and favorite swear words. They were also asked to rate their reasons for using these words and then took part in a lie test to determine whether they were being truthful or simply responding in the way they thought was socially acceptable. Those who wrote down a higher number of curse words were less likely to be lying. A second survey involved collecting data from 75,000 Facebook users to measure their use of swear words in their online social interactions. The research found that those who used more profanity were also more likely to use language patterns that have been shown in previous research to be related to honesty, such as using pronouns like "I" and "me."
Portables (Apple)

Apple To Offer 32GB of Desktop RAM, Kaby Lake In Top-End 2017 MacBook Pro, Says Analyst (appleinsider.com) 266

AppleInsider has obtained a note to investors from KGI analyst Ming-Chi Kuo that says Apple's 2017 laptop line will focus on internal component updates, including the platform-wide adoption of Intel's Kaby Lake architecture. What's more is that Apple is expected to manufacture a 15-inch MacBook Pro with up to 32GB of RAM in the fourth quarter of 2017. AppleInsider reports: Apple took flak in releasing its latest MacBook Pro with Touch Bar models with a hard memory cap of 16GB, an minimal allotment viewed as a negative for imaging and video professionals. Responding to customer criticism, Apple said the move was made in a bid to maximize battery life. Essentially, the Intel Skylake CPUs used in Apple's MacBook Pro only support up to 16GB of LPDDR3 RAM at 2133MHz. Though Intel does make processors capable of addressing more than 16GB of memory, those particular chipsets rely on less efficient DDR4 RAM and are usually deployed in desktops with access to dedicated mains power. In order to achieve high memory allotments and keep unplugged battery life performance on par with existing MacBook Pro models, Apple will need to move to an emerging memory technology like LPDDR4 or DDR4L. Such hardware is on track for release later this year. As for the 12-inch MacBook, Kuo believes next-generation versions of the thin-and-light will enter mass production in the second quarter with the same basic design aesthetic introduced in 2015. New for 2017 is a 16GB memory option that will make an appearance thanks to Intel's new processor class.
Businesses

Oculus Accused of Destroying Evidence, Zuckerberg To Testify In $2 Billion Lawsuit (arstechnica.com) 128

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Ars Technica: ZeniMax Media, the parent company of both Bethesda Softworks and Id Software, says it will prove at trial that John Carmack and others at Oculus stole trade secrets to "misappropriate" virtual reality technology that was first developed while Carmack was working at Id Software. What's more, ZeniMax is now accusing Oculus of "intentional destruction of evidence to cover up their wrongdoing." Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of Oculus parent company Facebook, is scheduled to respond to those accusations in testimony starting tomorrow, according to a report by Business insider. ZeniMax's statement comes after Carmack testified at trial last week, saying the case was "ridiculous and absurd." His testimony echoed Oculus' initial reaction when ZeniMax's accusations first surfaced in 2014. In court filings leading up to the trial, ZeniMax detailed its case that Carmack, while still an employee at Id Software, "designed the specifications and functionality embodied in the Rift SDK and directed its development." Carmack's technology and guidance allegedly "literally transformed" Oculus founder Palmer Luckey's early Rift prototype from a "primitive virtual reality headset" that was "little more than a display panel." Carmack allegedly used "copyrighted computer code, trade secret information, and technical know-how" from his time at ZeniMax after he moved to Oculus as CTO in 2013. As the trial began last week (as reported by a Law360 summary, registration required), Carmack told the court of his development of a virtual reality demo for Doom 3 in 2012 and his search for a VR headset that would be suitable to run it. That's when he says he got in touch with Luckey, leading to the now legendary E3 2012 demo that introduced Oculus to the public. ZeniMax is seeking $2 billion in damage, which matches the value that Facebook paid for Oculus in 2014. The trial is expected to last three weeks.
Communications

Amazon Seeks FCC Permission To Run Wireless Tests In Washington State (csmonitor.com) 22

Amazon has filed an application with the U.S. federal government that details plans to experiment with wireless communications technology. The application asks the FCC for permission "to test undisclosed prototypes and their related software for five months in and around its Seattle headquarters," reports Christian Science Monitor. "The experiments will involve mobile devices and anchored stations alike, according to an FCC application made public last week and first reported by Business Insider's Eugene Kim, who noted the project could be part of Amazon's drone-delivery initiatives or something even more novel." From the report: In recent years, Google and Facebook have begun conducting wireless experiments of their own with FCC approval, pursuing a number of innovative projects, such as self-driving cars, as Mr. Kim reported. Amazon, meanwhile, has focused on its aspirations of drone delivery service for its online retail business -- a service the firm has pursued in Britain and several other countries as well. Given the company's wide-ranging interests, it is difficult to anticipate precisely what the tests entail. Last year alone, Amazon unveiled projects to change the way people grocery shop, offer drivers a voice-activated driving assistant, and ship cargo with its own branded planes, as the Monitor reported. Amazon's application to the FCC notes that the tests would begin indoors at the Seattle headquarters then later move outdoors to a customer service site more than 220 miles away, in Kennewick, Wash. The tests would last five months, beginning as early as Feb. 11, 2017, the documents state.
AT&T

AT&T Denies Refunds For DirecTV Now Customers, Despite the Service's Performance Issues (techcrunch.com) 86

A number of consumers report they're unable to get a refund for their subscription to AT&T's recently launched streaming service, DirecTV Now -- something they've requested after being unhappy with the new service's performance. From a report on TechCrunch: According to several postings on AT&T's official forums, customers found the only way to get help was through a hard-to-find chat feature, and when they asked the AT&T reps about refunds, the customers were told they were not offered. Writes one user with the handle EIUdrummerboy, after attempting to get a refund via chat, the rep told them specifically: "We do not currently have a policy in place to offer any refunds."
The Military

ISIS Is Dropping Bombs With Drones In Iraq (popsci.com) 188

In addition to rifles, mortars, artillery and suicidal car bombs, ISIS has recently added commercial drones, converted into tiny bombs, into the mix of weapons it uses to fight in Iraq. In October, The New York Times reported that the Islamic State was using small consumer drones rigged with explosives to fight Kurdish forces in Iraq. Two Kurdish soldiers died dismantling a booby-trapped ISIS drone. Several months later and it appears the use of drones on the battlefield is becoming more prevalent. Popular Science reports: Previously, we've seen ISIS scratch-build drones, and as Iraqi Security Forces retook parts of Mosul, they discovered a vast infrastructure of workshops (complete with quality control) for building standardized munitions, weapons, and explosives. These drone bombers recently captured by Iraqi forces and shared with American advisors appear to be commercial, off-the-shelf models, adapted to carry grenade-sized payloads. "It's not as if it is a large, armed UAV [unmanned aerial vehicle] that is dropping munitions from the wings -- but literally, a very small quadcopter that drops a small munition in a somewhat imprecise manner," [Col. Brett] Sylvia, commander of an American military advising mission in Iraq, told Military Times. "They are very short-range, targeting those front-line troops from the Iraqis." Because the drones used are commercial models, it likely means that anti-drone weapons already on hand with the American advisors are sufficient to stop them. It's worth noting that the bomb-dropping drones are just a small part of how ISIS uses the cheap, unmanned flying machines. Other applications include scouts and explosive decoys, as well as one-use weapons. ISIS is also likely not the first group to figure out how to drop grenades from small drones; it's a growing field of research and development among many violent, nonstate actors and insurgent groups. Despite the relative novelty, it's also likely not the deadliest thing insurgents can do with drones.
Microsoft

Microsoft Patent Hints At Foldable Tablet Design For Surface Phone (trustedreviews.com) 26

A new patent has surfaced from Microsoft that may shed some light on the company's upcoming Surface Phone. The patent, which was first filed in October 2014 and recently made public, details a 2-in-1 foldable device with a flexible hinge that can act both as a smartphone and a tablet. TrustedReviews reports: The device in the filings can be configured into various shapes, either folded out like tablets, or folded back inwards to create a smaller phone-like handset. There's also the opportunity to place it in a tent-mode much like Lenovo's range of Yoga hybrids which can be propped up to make it easier to watch media. Microsoft has taken a universal approach to Windows 10, in that the OS is designed to work across multiple devices, so a Surface Phone that could transform into another mobile product would make a lot of sense in terms of demonstrating Windows 10s capabilities. The inventor of the product in the patent is listed as Kabir Siddiqui, the man behind Microsoft's successful patent for the Surface kickstand and Surface camera angle -- which bodes well for this latest design in the long run. Unfortunately, there's every chance we'll never see this technology in a retail-ready product from Microsoft, though some version of the foldable device could well arrive.

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