tlhIngan writes Municipal broadband is in the news again — this time Chief of Staff Matthew Berry, speaking at the National Conference of State Legislatures, has endorsed states' right to ban municipal broadband networks and warned the (Democrat-led) FCC to not do anything that a future Republican led FCC would dislike. The argument is that municipal broadband discourages private investment in broadband communications, that taxpayer-funded projects are barriers to future infrastructure investment.
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schwit1 writes: Managers of NASA's Space Launch System (SLS) are searching for a mission that they can propose and convince Congress to fund. "Once SLS is into the 2020s, the launch rate should see the rocket launching at least once per year, ramping up to a projected three times per year for the eventual Mars missions. However, the latter won’t be until the 2030s. With no missions manifested past the EM-2 flight, the undesirable question of just how 'slow' a launch rate would be viable for SLS and her workforce has now been asked." Meanwhile, two more Russian rocket engines were delivered yesterday, the first time that's happened since a Russian official threatened to cut off the supply. Another shipment of three engines is expected later this year. In Europe, Arianespace and the European Space Agency signed a contract today for the Ariane 5 rocket to launch 12 more of Europe’s Galileo GPS satellites on three launches. This situation really reminds me of the U.S. launch market in the 1990s, when Boeing and Lockheed Martin decided that, rather than compete with Russia and ESA for the launch market, they instead decided to rely entirely on U.S. government contracts, since those contracts didn’t really demand that they reduce their costs significantly to compete.
hackingbear writes: According to a new Cost-Competitiveness Index, the nations often perceived as having low manufacturing costs — such as China, Brazil, Russia, and the Czech Republic — are no longer much cheaper than the U.S. In some cases, they are estimated to be even more expensive. Chinese manufacturing wages have nearly quintupled since 2004, while Mexican wages have risen by less than 50 percent in U.S. dollar terms, contrary to our long-standing misconception that their labors were being slaved. In the same period, the U.S. wage is essentially flat, whereas Mexican wages have risen only 67%. Not all countries are taking full advantage of their low-cost advantages, however. The report found that global competiveness in manufacturing is undermined in nations such as India and Indonesia by several factors, including logistics, the overall ease of doing business, and inflexible labor markets.
An anonymous reader writes The debate over Internet governance for much of the past decade has often come down to a battle between ICANN and the United Nations. The reality has always been far more complicated. The U.S. still maintains contractual control over ICANN, while all governments exert considerable power within the ICANN model through the Governmental Advisory Committee (GAC). Now governments are looking for even more power, seeking a near-complete veto power of ICANN decisions.
IBM sold its personal computer line (including the iconic ThinkPad line) to Lenovo back in 2005. Now, Lenovo is poised to acquire IBM's line of X86-based servers, and has garnered the approval of a regulatory body which could have scotched the deal. (The article describes the server line at issue as "low end," but that's in the eye of the beholder.) From the article: The conclusion of the review by the Committee on Foreign Investment in the U.S., or Cfius, is “good news for both IBM and Lenovo, and for our customers and employees,” Armonk, New York-based IBM said yesterday in a statement. While Cfius placed some conditions on the deal, they don’t significantly affect the business, and terms of the transaction didn’t change as result, a person with knowledge of the matter said, without specifying the conditions. The sale drew scrutiny because of disputes between China and the U.S., the world’s two largest economies, over cyberintrusions. By completing the deal, IBM can jettison a less profitable business to focus on growing areas, such as cloud computing and data analytics, while giving Lenovo a bigger piece of the global computing-hardware market. ... Spokesmen for IBM and Lenovo declined to comment on whether the Cfius clearance included any requirements or concessions. Holly Shulman, a spokeswoman for the Treasury Department, which leads Cfius, declined to comment.
stoborrobots writes: The Government Accountability Office has investigated the cost blowouts associated with how the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) handled the Healthcare.gov project. It has released a 60-page report entitled Healthcare.gov: Ineffective Planning and Oversight Practices Underscore the Need for Improved Contract Management, with a 5 page summary. The key takeaway messages are:
- CMS undertook the development of Healthcare.gov and its related systems without effective planning or oversight practices...
- [The task] was a complex effort with compressed time frames. To be expedient, CMS issued task orders ... when key technical requirements were unknown...
- CMS identified major performance issues ... but took only limited steps to hold the contractor accountable.
- CMS awarded a new contract to another firm [and the new contract's cost has doubled] due to changes such as new requirements and other enhancements...
coondoggie writes Probably one of the last and perhaps unforgiving areas of the world not truly "wired" is above and below the ocean. Researchers at the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) want to explore the possibility of seriously changing that notion and develop what it calls "a system-of-systems architecture and critical components to support networked maritime operations, to include undersea, surface, and above surface domains."
An anonymous reader writes US Department of Defense contractors will have to wait until September 24 to see what specific rules they will be required to follow when it comes to the reporting of computer breaches to the DoD. This particular requirement has been mandated by the US Congress last year, in an attempt to get clear view of the type and frequency of attacks contractors face. The US Congress will require "cleared defense contractors" — i.e. those who have been granted clearance by the DoD to access, receive, or store classified information — to effect a rapid report in the wake of a successful breach, and to include in it a description of the technique or method used in the penetration, a sample of the malicious software used (if discovered), and a summary of information created for the Department in connection with any Department program that has been potentially compromised due to such penetration.
Daniel_Stuckey writes with a story about an interesting (or, you might think, creepy) institution at the University of Washington's Seattle campus. It's the Center for Game Science, a research lab that makes educational video games for children, and that received the bulk of its funding from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, the wing of the U.S. Department of Defense that supports research into experimental military technology. Why is DARPA the original primary funder of the CGS? According to written and recorded statements from current and former DARPA program managers, as well as other government documents, the DARPA-funded educational video games developed at the CGS have a purpose beyond the pretense of teaching elementary school children STEM skills.
dcblogs writes: Mikey Dickerson, a site reliability engineer at Google, who was appointed Monday by the White House as the deputy federal CIO, will lead efforts to improve U.S. Websites. Dickerson, who worked on the Healthcare.gov rescue last year, said that one issue the government needs to fix is its culture. In describing his experience on the Healthcare.gov effort, he said the workplace was "not one that is optimized to get good work out of engineers." It was a shirt-and-tie environment, and while Dickerson said cultural issues may sound superficial, they are still real. "You don't have to think that the engineers are the creative snowflakes and rock stars that they think they are, you don't have to agree with any of that," Dickerson said in a recent conference presentation posted online. "I'm just telling you that's how they think of themselves, and if you want access to more of them, finding a way to deal with that helps a lot." Engineers want to make a difference, Dickerson said, and he has collected the names of more than 140 engineers who would be willing to take unpaid leave from their jobs to work on a meaningful project.
An anonymous reader writes: Phil Plait reports that a trio of U.S. Congressmen are asking NASA to investigate what they call "an epidemic of anomalies" at SpaceX. They sent a memo (PDF) demanding that SpaceX be held accountable to taxpayers for mission delays stemming from the development of new rockets. Plait notes, "[A]s a contractor, the rules are different for them than they would be if NASA themselves built the rockets, just as the rules are for Boeing or any other contractor. In fact, as reported by Space News, NASA didn't actually pay for the development of the Falcon 9; Elon Musk did." He adds, "Another reason this is silly is that every rocket ever made has undergone problems; they are fiendishly complex machines and no design has ever gotten from the drafting board to the launch pad without issues. Sure, SpaceX has experienced launch delays and other problems, but the critical thing to remember is that those problems are noted, assessed, and fixed sometimes within hours or minutes." Plait accuses the congressmen of trying to bury private spaceflight under red tape in order to protect established industries in their own states.
An anonymous reader writes "Criminals smuggle an estimated $30 billion in U.S. currency into Mexico each year from the United States, most of it laundered drug money. But researchers say help is on the way for border guards in the form of a portable device that identifies specific vapors given off by U.S. paper money. "We're developing a device that mimics the function of trained dogs 'sniffing' out concealed money, but without the drawbacks, such as expensive training, sophisticated operators, down time and communication limitations," says Suiqiong Li, Ph.D., a member of the research team behind the technology. When developing the device, the researchers first had to figure out which gases money emits and how fast that happens. It turned out that the gases are a set of trace chemicals, including aldehydes, furans and organic acids." What do bitcoins smell like?
Via Ars Technica comes news that an Amtrak employee was paid nearly $900,000 over the last ten years to give the DEA passenger lists outside of normal channels. Strangely enough, the DEA already had access to such information through official channels. From the article: The employee, described as a "secretary to a train and engine crew" in a summary obtained by the AP, was selling the customer data without Amtrak's approval. Amtrak and other transportation companies collect information from their customers including credit card numbers, travel itineraries, emergency contact info, passport numbers, and dates of birth. When booking tickets online in recent years, Amtrak has also collected phone numbers and e-mail addresses. ... Amtrak has long worked closely with the DEA to track drug trafficking activity on its train lines. The Albuquerque Journal reported in 2001 that "a computer with access to Amtrak's ticketing information sits on a desk in the [DEA]'s local office," wrote the ACLU.
McGruber writes An internal investigation by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office found that some of its 8,300 patent examiners repeatedly lied about the hours they were putting in and many were receiving bonuses for work they did not do. While half of the USPTO's Patent Examiners work from home full time, oversight of the telework program — and of examiners based at the Alexandria headquarters — was "completely ineffective," investigators concluded. The internal investigation also unearthed another widespread problem. More than 70 percent of the 80 managers interviewed told investigators that a "significant" number of examiners did not work for long periods, then rushed to get their reviews done at the end of each quarter. Supervisors told the review team that the practice "negatively affects" the quality of the work. "Our quality standards are low," one supervisor told the investigators. "We are looking for work that meets minimal requirements." Patent examiners review applications and grant patents on inventions that are new and unique. They are experts in their fields, often with master's and doctoral degrees. They earn at the top of federal pay scale, with the highest taking home $148,000 a year.
jfruh writes Many security experts agree that our current authentication system, in which end users are forced to remember (or, more often, write down) a dizzying array of passwords is broken. DARPA, the U.S. Defense Department research arm that developed the Internet, is trying to work past the problem by eliminating passwords altogether, replacing them with biometric and other cues, using off-the-shelf technology available today.
An anonymous reader writes with a link to a story in the LA Times: "Few places in the country are so warm and bright as Mary Wilkerson's property on the beach near St. Petersburg, Fla., a city once noted in the Guinness Book of World Records for a 768-day stretch of sunny days. But while Florida advertises itself as the Sunshine State, power company executives and regulators have worked successfully to keep most Floridians from using that sunshine to generate their own power. Wilkerson discovered the paradox when she set out to harness sunlight into electricity for the vintage cottages she rents out at Indian Rocks Beach. She would have had an easier time installing solar panels, she found, if she had put the homes on a flatbed and transported them to chilly Massachusetts. While the precise rules vary from state to state, one explanation is the same: opposition from utilities grown nervous by the rapid encroachment of solar firms on their business."
Around the world, American schools' long summer break is viewed as an anomaly, and the long summer seems to be getting shorter. While most American primary and secondary schools used to start after Labor Day, more and more of them now open sometime in August (and that's not counting the ones that have gone to a year-round schedule). Some of my younger relatives started a new school year last week (in Indiana), while Baltimore schools start later this month. Both Seattle and Portland's kids have until after Labor Day (with start dates of the 3rd and 4th of September, respectively). The 4th is also the start date for students in New York City's public schools, the country's largest district. Colleges more often start in September, but some get a jump start in August, especially with required seminars or orientation programs for new students. Whether you're in school, out of school, or back in school by proxy (packing lunches or paying tuition), what time does (or did) your school-year start? Would you prefer that your local public schools run all year round, if they're of the long-summer variety? (And conversely, if your local schools give short shrift to summer, whether that's in the U.S. or anywhere else, do you think that's a good idea?)
According to data gathered by Akamai, an analysis from Broadview Networks comes to the conclusion that the top five U.S. states for broadband speed are Virginia (at the top of the list, with an average transfer speed of 13.78 Mbps), Delaware, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Washington, with Washington, D.C. slightly edging out the similarly-named state; Alaska comes in dead last. These are average speeds, though, and big states have more variation to account for, including connections in the hinterlands. You could still have a fast connection in Chattanooga, or be stuck on dial-up in the Texas panhandle.
A cave in Wyoming that's easy to fall into, and hard to escape, has become a treasure trove for scientists. Scientists excavating an ancient Wyoming sinkhole containing a rare trove of fossils of Ice Age mammals have unearthed hundreds of bones of such prehistoric animals as American cheetahs, a paleontologist said on Friday. The two-week dig by an international team of researchers led by Des Moines University paleontologist Julie Meachen marked the first exploration of Natural Trap Cave at the base of the Bighorn Mountains in north-central Wyoming since its initial discovery in the 1970s. ... Meachen said the extensive excavation that began late last month uncovered roughly 200 large bones of animals like horses that roamed North America from 12,000 to 23,000 years ago and an uncounted number of microfossils of creatures such as birds, lizards and snakes. ... A number of animals that fell 85 feet to their deaths after stumbling into the 15-foot-wide mouth of the cavern were unusually well preserved by cold and damp conditions, Meachen said.
An anonymous reader writes with word of new movement on an old front: namely, the rule that makes it hard for sports fans to see coverage of local teams. The 39-year-old blackout rule basically "prevents games from being televised locally when tickets remain unsold." The Federal Communications Commission (FCC), in response to a 2011 petition by consumers, has decided to consider abolishing this rule. The National Football League (NFL) has of course objected, claiming that the rule allows it to keep airing their games on free TV. If that were to change and they would have to move to cable, they argue, the "result would represent a substantial loss of consumer welfare." In their petition to the FCC, consumers point out that the NFL charges "exorbitant prices for tickets" which results in lower attendance. The blackout rule, they claim, therefore punishes fans by preventing them from watching the game if the NFL can't sell enough stadium tickets. NFL yearly profits reportedly number in the billions. Even if the FCC supports the petition, however, sports leagues can and probably will privately negotiate blackouts to boost their revenue.