Science

Astronomers Strike Gravitational Gold In Colliding Neutron Stars (npr.org) 92

For the first time, scientists have caught two neutron stars in the act of colliding, revealing that these strange smash-ups are the source of heavy elements such as gold and platinum. From a report: The discovery, announced today at a news conference and in scientific reports written by some 3,500 researchers, solves a long-standing mystery about the origin of these heavy elements -- which are found in everything from wedding rings to cellphones to nuclear weapons. It's also a dramatic demonstration of how astrophysics is being transformed by humanity's newfound ability to detect gravitational waves, ripples in the fabric of space-time that are created when massive objects spin around each other and finally collide. "It's so beautiful. It's so beautiful it makes me want to cry. It's the fulfillment of dozens, hundreds, thousands of people's efforts, but it's also the fulfillment of an idea suddenly becoming real," says Peter Saulson of Syracuse University, who has spent more than three decades working on the detection of gravitational waves. Albert Einstein predicted the existence of these ripples more than a century ago, but scientists didn't manage to detect them until 2015. Until now, they'd made only four such detections, and each time the distortions in space-time were caused by the collision of two black holes. That bizarre phenomenon, however, can't normally be seen by telescopes that look for light. Neutron stars, by contrast, spew out visible cosmic fireworks when they come together. These incredibly dense stars are as small as cities like New York and yet have more mass than our sun. Further reading: 'A New Rosetta Stone for Astronomy' (The Atlantic), and Gravitational Wave Astronomers Hit Mother Lode (Scientific American).
Crime

Dutch Police Build a Pokemon Go-Style App For Hunting Wanted Criminals (csoonline.com) 62

"How can the police induce citizens to help investigate crime? By trying to make it 'cool' and turning it into a game that awards points for hits," reports CSO. mrwireless writes: Through their 'police of the future' innovation initiative, and inspired by Pokemon Go, the Dutch police are building an app where you can score points by photographing the license plates of stolen cars. When a car is reported stolen the app will notify people in the neighbourhood, and then the game is on! Privacy activists are worried this creates a whole new relationship with the police, as a deputization of citizens blurs boundaries, and institutionalizes 'coveillance' -- citizens spying on citizens. It could be a slippery slope to situations that more resemble the Stasi regime's, which famously used this form of neighborly surveillance as its preferred method of control.
CSO cites Spiegel Online's description of the unofficial 189,000 Stasi informants as "totally normal citizens of East Germany who betrayed others: neighbors reporting on neighbors, schoolchildren informing on classmates, university students passing along information on other students, managers spying on employees and Communist bosses denouncing party members."

The Dutch police are also building another app that allows citizens to search for missing persons.
Microsoft

PSA: Microsoft Is Using Cortana To Read Your Private Skype Conversations (betanews.com) 180

BrianFagioli shares a report from BetaNews: With Cortana's in-context assistance, it's easier to keep your conversations going by having Cortana suggest useful information based on your chat, like restaurant options or movie reviews. And if you're in a time crunch? Cortana also suggests smart replies, allowing you to respond to any message quickly and easily -- without typing a thing," says The Skype Team. The team further says, "Cortana can also help you organize your day -- no need to leave your conversations. Cortana can detect when you're talking about scheduling events or things you have to do and will recommend setting up a reminder, which you will receive on all your devices that have Cortana enabled. So, whether you're talking about weekend plans or an important work appointment, nothing will slip through the cracks."

So, here's the deal, folks. In order for this magical "in-context" technology to work, Cortana is constantly reading your private conversations. If you use Skype on mobile to discuss private matters with your friends or family, Cortana is constantly analyzing what you type. Talking about secret business plans with a colleague? Yup, Microsoft's assistant is reading those too. Don't misunderstand -- I am not saying Microsoft has malicious intent by adding Cortana to Skype; the company could have good intentions. With that said, there is the potential for abuse. Microsoft could use Cortana's analysis to spy on you for things like advertising or worse, and that stinks. Is it really worth the risk to have smart replies and suggested calendar entries? I don't know about you, but I'd rather not have my Skype conversations read by Microsoft.

Cellphones

Alphabet's Balloons Will Bring Cellphone Service To Puerto Rico (wired.com) 65

An anonymous reader writes:Hurricanes Irma and Maria wiped out more than 90 percent of the cellphone coverage on Puerto Rico. Now the FCC has given "Project Loon" permission to fly 30 balloons more than 12 miles above the island for the next six months, Wired reports, to temporarily replace the thousands of cellphone towers knocked down by the two hurricanes.

Each balloon can service an area of 1,930 miles, so the hope is to restore service to the entire island of Puerto Rico and parts of the U.S. Virgin Islands. In May Project Loon, part of Google's parent company Alphabet, deployed its technology in Peru and later provided emergency internet access there during serious flooding. (Those balloons were acually launched from Puerto Rico.) These new Project Loon balloons will be "relaying communications between Alphabet's own ground stations connected to the surviving wireless networks, and users' handsets," according to the article, which reports that eight wireless carriers in Puerto Rico have already consented to the arrangement.

Government

White House Chief of Staff's Phone Was Reportedly Hacked Months Ago (reuters.com) 138

93 Escort Wagon writes: The personal cellphone belonging to Trump's Chief of Staff, John Kelly, may have been compromised, Reuters reports in a story originating from Politico. This may have happened as early as last December. The issue was discovered when Kelly submitted the phone to the White House's tech support crew during the summer, complaining that the phone would not update correctly.
Cellphones

US Prisons Have a Cellphone Smuggling Problem (nbcnews.com) 275

An anonymous reader quotes NBC: Cellphones smuggled into prisons -- enabling inmates to order murders, plan escapes, deal drugs and extort money -- have become a scourge in a bloc of states where corrections officers annually confiscate as many as one for every three inmates... In South Carolina, prison officers have found and taken one phone for every three inmates, the highest rate in the country. In Oklahoma, it's one phone for every six prisoners, the nation's second-highest rate... Cellphones are prized because they allow inmates to avoid privatized jailhouse phone and visitation services that charge up to $15 for a two-minute call home to friends and family. "Inmates call their mothers like most of us do on holidays," said Dr. John Shaffer, former executive deputy secretary for the Pennsylvania Corrections Department.

But for some, the phones serve a darker purpose. "Most of these guys are just chitchatting with their girlfriends, but some of these guys are stone-hardened criminals running criminal enterprises," said Kevin Tamez of the MPM group, a litigation consulting firm that specializes in prison security... Meth rings operated by prisoners with cellphones, some with ties to prison gangs like the Aryan Brotherhood, the Irish Mob Gang and the United Blood Nation, have been discovered in at least five Southern facilities. Phones have also played a role in breakouts, with one South Carolina inmate dialing up drone delivery of wire cutters and cash for his escape in July. Cellphones are so prevalent in the prison system, Tamez said, that "if you don't have them, you would look like a loser."

The article reports convicts have actually uploaded in-prison videos to Facebook Live and to Snapchat. "Georgia inmates used phones to take photos of themselves tying up or beating other prisoners, then texted the horrifying images to the victim's family and demanded cash."
Android

Bill Gates Has An Android Phone. Has Microsoft Changed? (neowin.net) 156

Bill Gates uses an Android phone now. "It may not be the most surprising revelation, given profits are sinking faster than a boat without a hull and big-name partners are jumping ship left and right, but the founder of Microsoft has presumably left Windows Mobile," reports Neonwin. Long-time Slashdot reader Billly Gates (no relation) writes: I would assume this is the final nail in the coffin for Windows Phone and the rumored Surface Phone which may never see the light of day. Over the past few months we have seen a change in Microsoft with them being friendly to Linux with stories of porting .NET core over to Linux, helping write a custom Linux kernel, as well as introducing the not-so-popular-on-slashdot WSL Ubuntu for WIndows 10.
Noting the Android emulators in Visual Studio, he's wondering if the company's ambitions go beyond developers, and if they're planning a Microsoft version of Android, "as the tools are in place with Ubuntu, Node.js, Python, Microsoft Code editor, and the Visual Studio 2017 Community Edition."

His original submission points out that 10 years ago these stories would have been unimaginable, but he also asks a second question: has Microsoft really changed? "Could we be seeing a new Microsoft now that the world is moving to mobile and they have no operating system in it?"
Power

Solar Powered Smartwatch Successfully Crowdfunded on Kickstarter (theverge.com) 69

An anonymous reader quotes the Verge: Battery life on smartwatches is, in a word, bad. And while most of today's watches can more or less make it through a day without dying, they're still a far cry from the months or even years that traditional watches can run for. What if you never had to charge your smartwatch? That's the promise of Lunar, a new Kickstarter project that claims to be the world's first solar-powered smartwatch... The company says that the watch can charge off both indoor and outdoor light, and can run off as little as one hour of exposure a day. (The company also includes a traditional inductive charger as a backup.)

As for the watch itself, it's a pretty standard hybrid smartwatch, solar power aside. It'll be able to do basic activity and sleep tracking, offer some limited notification support through a colored LED, and automatically set time zones through a connected smartphone app. Also, given the need for low power consumption for the solar charging to feasibly work, there's no screen on the Lunar. Instead, there's just a ring of LED lights located where hour markers would be.

The campaign reached its funding goal wIthin two days of launching -- and one week later had double that amount, raising a total of $101,987 from 564 backers.

It's not clear if Slashdot readers love or hate smartwatches. Does it make a difference if the watch is solar powered?
Communications

FCC Chief Tells Apple To Turn on iPhone's FM Radio Chip (cnet.com) 235

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai pushed Apple on Friday to activate the FM radio chips in the iPhone. From a report: In the wake of three major hurricanes that have wiped out communications for millions of people over the past month, Pai issued a statement urging Apple, one of the largest makers of cellphones in the US, to "reconsider its position, given the devastation wrought by Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria." FM radios that are already included in every phone could be used to access "life-saving information" during disasters, he said. For years the majority of smartphones sold in the US have included FM radios, but most of them have been turned off so that you couldn't use the function. Why? Mobile customers would be a lot less likely to subscribe to streaming music services if they could just listen to traditional, free broadcast radio. This incentive is especially true for Apple, which has a streaming music service. Apple said in a statement: "iPhone 7 and iPhone 8 models do not have FM radio chips in them nor do they have antennas designed to support FM signals, so it is not possible to enable FM reception in these products."
Cellphones

Can An Individual Still Resist The Spread of Technology? (chicagotribune.com) 383

schwit1 shares a column from the Chicago Tribune: When cellphones first appeared, they gave people one more means of communication, which they could accept or reject. But before long, most of us began to feel naked and panicky anytime we left home without one. To do without a cellphone -- and soon, if not already, a smartphone -- means estranging oneself from normal society. We went from "you can have a portable communication device" to "you must have a portable communication device" practically overnight... Today most people are expected to be instantly reachable at all times. These devices have gone from servants to masters...

Few of us would be willing to give up modern shelter, food, clothing, medicine, entertainment or transportation. Most of us would say the trade-offs are more than worth it. But they happen whether they are worth it or not, and the individual has little power to resist. Technological innovation is a one-way street. Once you enter it, you are obligated to proceed, even if it leads someplace you would not have chosen to go.

The column argues "the iPhone X proves the Unabomber was right," citing this passage from the 1996 manifesto of the anti-technology terrorist. "Once a technical innovation has been introduced, people usually become dependent on it, so that they can never again do without it, unless it is replaced by some still more advanced innovation. Not only do people become dependent as individuals on a new item of technology, but, even more, the system as a whole becomes dependent on it."
Math

Ancient Tablet Reveals Babylonians Discovered Trigonometry (sciencemag.org) 83

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Science Magazine: Trigonometry, the study of the lengths and angles of triangles, sends most modern high schoolers scurrying to their cellphones to look up angles, sines, and cosines. Now, a fresh look at a 3700-year-old clay tablet suggests that Babylonian mathematicians not only developed the first trig table, beating the Greeks to the punch by more than 1000 years, but that they also figured out an entirely new way to look at the subject. However, other experts on the clay tablet, known as Plimpton 322 (P322), say the new work is speculative at best. Consisting of four columns and 15 rows of numbers inscribed in cuneiform, the famous P322 tablet was discovered in the early 1900s in what is now southern Iraq by archaeologist, antiquities dealer, and diplomat Edgar Banks, the inspiration for the fictional character Indiana Jones.

Now stored at Columbia University, the tablet first garnered attention in the 1940s, when historians recognized that its cuneiform inscriptions contain a series of numbers echoing the Pythagorean theorem, which explains the relationship of the lengths of the sides of a right triangle. (The theorem: The square of the hypotenuse equals the sum of the square of the other two sides.) But why ancient scribes generated and sorted these numbers in the first place has been debated for decades. Mathematician Daniel Mansfield of the University of New South Wales (UNSW) realized that the information he needed was in missing pieces of P322 that had been reconstructed by other researchers. He and UNSW mathematician Norman Wildberger concluded that the Babylonians expressed trigonometry in terms of exact ratios of the lengths of the sides of right triangles, rather than by angles, using their base 60 form of mathematics, they report today in Historia Mathematica.

Science

Device That Revolutionized Timekeeping Receives an IEEE Milestone (ieee.org) 46

An anonymous reader writes: The invention of the atomic clock fundamentally altered the way that time is measured and kept. The clock helped redefine the duration of a single second, and its groundbreaking accuracy contributed to technologies we rely on today, including cellphones and GPS receivers. Building on the accomplishments of previous researchers, Harold Lyons and his colleagues at the U.S. National Bureau of Standards (now the National Institute of Standards and Technology), in Washington, D.C., began working in 1947 on developing an atomic clock and demonstrated it to the public two years later. Its design was based on atomic physics. The clock kept time by tracking the microwave signals that electrons in atoms emit when they change energy levels. This month the atomic clock received an IEEE Milestone. Administered by the IEEE History Center and supported by donors, the milestone program recognizes outstanding technical developments around the world.
Iphone

Apple Refuses To Enable iPhone Emergency Settings that Could Save Countless Lives (thenextweb.com) 279

An anonymous reader shares a report: Despite being relatively easy, Apple keeps ignoring requests to enable a feature called Advanced Mobile Location (AML) in iOS. Enabling AML would give emergency services extremely accurate locations of emergency calls made from iPhones, dramatically decreasing response time. As we have covered before, Google's successful implementation of AML for Android is already saving lives. But where Android users have become safer, iPhone owners have been left behind. The European Emergency Number Association (EENA), the organization behind implementing AML for emergency services, released a statement today that pleads Apple to consider the safety of its customers and participate in the program: "As AML is being deployed in more and more countries, iPhone users are put at a disadvantage compared to Android users in the scenario that matters most: An emergency. EENA calls on Apple to integrate Advanced Mobile Location in their smartphones for the safety of their customers." Why is AML so important? Majority of emergency calls today are made from cellphones, which has made location pinging increasingly more important for emergency services. There are many emergency apps and features in development, but AML's strength is that it doesn't require anything from the user -- no downloads and no forethought: The process is completely automated. With AML, smartphones running supporting operating systems will recognize when emergency calls are being made and turn on GNSS (global navigation satellite system) and Wi-Fi. The phone then automatically sends an SMS to emergency services, detailing the location of the caller. AML is up to 4,000 times more accurate than the current systems -- pinpointing phones down from an entire city to a room in an apartment. "In the past months, EENA has been travelling around Europe to raise awareness of AML in as many countries as possible. All these meetings brought up a recurring question that EENA had to reply to: 'So, what about Apple?'" reads EENA's statement.
Android

Motorola Unveils the Moto Z2 Force, a Smartphone With Double the Cameras and a Shatterproof Screen (theverge.com) 47

Motorola has announced a new flagship smartphone that will be available on every major U.S. carrier. Some of the noteworthy specifications include a nearly indestructible screen and dual rear-facing camera sensors. The Verge reports: The Moto Z2 Force is the closest thing to a flagship phone that Motorola has released this year, and it's got all the hardware specs to show for it: inside is Qualcomm's Snapdragon 835 processor, 4GB of RAM, and 64GB of storage. It runs Android 7.1 with a promised upgrade to Android O to come. That's all standard fare for an expensive 2017 smartphone, and the Z2 Force is certainly expensive at around $720. It's priced even higher on some carriers like AT&T ($810). This version is much thinner than last year's phone, but that sleek design comes with a significant sacrifice in battery capacity; the Z2 Force has a 2,730mAh battery compared to the 3,500mAh battery in the old Moto Z Force. Between this and the Moto Z2 Play, Motorola sure does seem obsessed with slimming things down lately, and what are we gaining? Oh, there's no headphone jack on this thing either. Be prepared to go wireless or live the dongle life.
Businesses

Disastrous 'Pokemon Go' Event Leads To Mass Refunds (techcrunch.com) 196

thegarbz writes: A Pokemon Go Fest hosted in Chicago and attended by between 15-20,000 people has ended in disaster. The event was plagued by logistical issues resulting in 3+ hour long delays getting into Chicago's Grant Park... Those people who were lucky enough to get into the paid event were greeted with a completely overloaded cell network unable to cope with the number of people trying to get online at the same time. The occasional person who was able to connect experienced a never ending string of game-breaking bugs when attempting to catch the rare Pokemon created specifically for this event.
Gaming company Niantic finally just gave a rare Pokemon Go character to everyone who attended -- though one attendee still called it a "horrible, terrible day." The Kansas City Star reported some people had paid as much as $400 for their tickets -- which had sold out within minutes -- and that some attendees had even started lining up for the event at 6 a.m.
Android

Samsung's 'Bixby' Voice Assistant Finally Launches In US (theverge.com) 40

After 3 months, Samsung announced that the voice capabilities of its digital assistant are now rolling out to U.S. Galaxy S8 and S8+ owners. Now, if you happen to own a Galaxy S8 or S8+, the physical Bixby button on the lefthand side of your phone will be able to actually do something somewhat useful. The Verge reports: Bixby's voice capabilities have been available in the US as part of an opt-in beta test, and Samsung says that feedback has led to faster response times, improved comprehension of varied phrasing around the same question, better hands-free operation, and more. Over 100,000 users of the flagship devices have enrolled in the early access program and issued over 4 million voice commands. Also, Samsung says Bixby can now read aloud your latest SMS messages and emails -- if you use its stock apps on the Galaxy S8. Bixby can be activated with a push of the dedicated Bixby button located on the side of the Galaxy S8 and S8+, or by saying "hi Bixby." Like Siri and Google Assistant, Bixby can handle alarms, send texts, and so on, but its real power lies in the ability to access granular phone settings or -- in supported apps -- automatically move through several menu screens to perform commands that Google Assistant simply can't do. Samsung says that deep learning should allow Bixby to improve over time as it begins to recognize users' preferences and ways of speaking. Here's a video showing some of the voice commands Bixby can respond to.
Electronic Frontier Foundation

American ISPS Are Now Fighting State Broadband Privacy Proposals (eff.org) 74

The EFF complains that "the very companies who spent millions of dollars lobbying in D.C. to repeal our federal broadband privacy rights are now fighting state attempts to protect consumers because they supposedly prefer a federal rule." The EFF urges Californians to phone their state senator ahead of a crucial back-to-back committee hearings on Tuesday. An anonymous reader writes: "Congress stole your online privacy. Let's seize it back," begins an email that the EFF is sending to California supporters. It warns that "Big Telecom has massive amounts of money to spend on an army of lobbyists. But if Internet users from across California unite with one voice, we can defeat their misinformation campaign... Don't let the big ISPs coopt our privacy."

The EFF's site points out that more than 83% of Americans support the privacy regulations which were repealed in March by the U.S. Congress, according to a new poll released last week. That's even more than the 77% of Americans who support keeping current net neutrality protections in place, according to the same poll. The EFF now hopes that California's newly-proposed legislation could become a model for privacy-protecting laws in other states. And back in Silicon Valley, the San Jose Mercury News writes that California "has an obligation to take a lead in establishing the basic privacy rights of consumers using the Internet. Beyond being the right thing to do for the whole country, building trust in tech products is an essential long-term business strategy for the industry that was born in this region."

The EFF has also compiled an interesting list of past instances where ISPs have already tried to exploit the personal information of their customers for profit.
Cloud

Border Patrol Says It's Barred From Searching Cloud Data On Phones (nbcnews.com) 74

According to a letter obtained by NBC News, U.S. border officers aren't allowed to look at any data stored only in the "cloud" -- including social media data -- when they search U.S. travelers' phones. "The letter (PDF), sent in response to inquiries by Sen. Ron Wyden, (D-Ore.), and verified by Wyden's office, not only states that CBP doesn't search data stored only with remote cloud services, but also -- apparently for the first time -- declares that it doesn't have that authority in the first place." From the report: In April, Wyden and Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., introduced legislation to make it illegal for border officers to search or seize cellphones without probable cause. Privacy advocates and former Homeland Security lawyers have said they are alarmed by how many phones are being searched. The CBP letter, which is attributed to Kevin McAleenan, the agency's acting commissioner, is dated June 20, four months after Wyden asked the Department of Homeland Security (PDF), CBP's parent agency, to clarify what he called the "deeply troubling" practice of border agents' pressuring Americans into providing passwords and access to their social media accounts. McAleenan's letter says officers can search a phone without consent and, except in very limited cases, without a warrant or even suspicion -- but only for content that is saved directly to the device, like call histories, text messages, contacts, photos and videos.
Iphone

Would You Buy the iPhone 8 If It Cost $1,200? (9to5mac.com) 561

As we near the launch of the next iPhone, rumors are swirling about what it may feature. One of the most recent reports comes from developer and blogger John Gruber, who claims the iPhone 8 will have a starting price of around $1200. 9to5Mac reports: He last week said that he believed that what we've been referring to as the iPhone 8 would be called the iPhone Pro and that he actually hoped it would be really expensive: "I hope the iPhone Pro starts at $1500 or higher. I'd like to see what Apple can do in a phone with a higher price." As you might imagine, that generated quite a bit of discussion. Gruber has backed down somewhat from this position, and is now suggesting a starting point of around $1200: "$1,500 as a starting price is probably way too high. But I think $1,200 is quite likely as the starting price, with the high-end model at $1,300 or $1,400." His argument is effectively that Apple is constrained in what it can do in a phone because any technology included in the phone has to be available in huge volumes. If it were willing to sell fewer at a higher price, then it would have more options. There has been speculation that Gruber may have been tipped by Apple, and using his posts to prepare the ground for what would otherwise be a severe case of sticker shock. But Gruber denied this. If Apple does launch the iPhone 8 with a 4-figure price tag, would you buy it?
Crime

State Prison Officials Blame An Escape On Drones And Cellphones (usatoday.com) 223

An anonymous reader quotes USA Today: A fugitive South Carolina inmate recaptured in Texas this week had chopped his way through a prison fence using wire cutters apparently dropped by a drone, prison officials said Friday. Jimmy Causey, 46, fled the Lieber Correctional Institution in Ridgeville, S.C., on the evening of July 4th after leaving a paper mache doll in his bed to fool guards into thinking he was asleep. He was not discovered missing until Wednesday afternoon. Causey was captured early Friday 1,200 miles away in a motel in Austin by Texas Rangers acting on a tip, WLTX-TV reported... "We believe a drone was used to fly in the tools that allow(ed) him to escape," South Carolina Corrections Director Bryan Stirling said...

Stirling said prison officials are investigating the performance by prison guards that night but pointed to cellphones and drones as the main problem. The director said he and other officials have sought federal help for years to combat the use of drones to drop contraband into prison. "It's a simple fix," Stirling said. "Allow us to block the signal... They are physically incarcerated, but they are not virtually incarcerated."

It's the second time the same convict escaped from South Carolina's maximum security prison -- albeit the first time he's (allegedly) used a drone. The state's Law Enforcement Division Chief also complains that the federal government still prohibits state corrections officials from blocking cellphones, and "as long as cellphones continue to be utilized by inmates in prisons we're going to have things like this -- we're going to have very well-planned escapes..."

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