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The Almighty Buck

The Mind-Reading Gadget For Dogs That Got Funded, But Didn't Get Built (ieee.org) 10

the_newsbeagle writes: Crowdfunding campaigns that fail to deliver may be all too common, but some flameouts merit examination. Like this brain-scanning gadget for dogs, which promised to translate their barks into human language. It's not quite as goofy as it sounds: The campaigners planned to use standard EEG tech to record the dogs' brainwaves, and said they could correlate those electrical patterns with general states of mind like excitement, hunger, and curiosity. The campaign got a ton of attention in the press and raised twice the money it aimed for. But then the No More Woof team seemed to vanish, leaving backers furious. This article explains what went wrong with the campaign, and what it says about the state of neurotech gadgets for consumers.
Movies

CBS, Paramount Settle Lawsuit Over 'Star Trek' Fan Film (hollywoodreporter.com) 61

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Hollywood Reporter: Stand down from battle stations. Star Trek rights holders CBS and Paramount have seen the logic of settling a copyright suit against Alec Peters, who solicited money on crowdfunding sites and hired professionals to make a YouTube short and a script of a planned feature film focused on a fictional event -- a Starfleet captain's victory in a war with the Klingon Empire -- referenced in the original 1960s Gene Roddenberry television series. Thanks to the settlement, CBS and Paramount won't be going to trial on Stardate 47634.44, known to most as Jan. 31, 2017. According to a joint statement, "Paramount Pictures Corporation, CBS Studios Inc., Axanar Productions, Inc. and Alec Peters are pleased to announce that the litigation regarding Axanar's film Prelude to Axanar and its proposed film Axanar has been resolved. Axanar and Mr. Peters acknowledge that both films were not approved by Paramount or CBS, and that both works crossed boundaries acceptable to CBS and Paramount relating to copyright law." Peters' Axanar video and script, which feature such arguably copyrighted elements as Vulcan ears, the Klingon language and an obscure character from a 1969 episode, sparked a lawsuit in December 2015. The litigation then proceeded at warp speed with the case almost making it to trial in just 13 months, an amazingly brisk pace by typical standards. When Axanar comes out, it will look different. "Axanar and Mr. Peters have agreed to make substantial changes to Axanar to resolve this litigation, and have also assured the copyright holders that any future Star Trek fan films produced by Axanar or Mr. Peters will be in accordance with the 'Guidelines for Fan Films' distributed by CBS and Paramount in June 2016," states the parties' joint announcement of a settlement.
AT&T

Second Time In 9 Months: AT&T Raises Phone Activation Fee $5, Now Charges $25 (arstechnica.com) 30

For the second time in 9 months, ATT is raising its activation and upgrade fee. In April 2016, the fee for non-contract customers was raised from $15 to $20. Today, it has been raised another $5, from $20 to $25, according to PhoneScoop. Ars Technica reports: As the mobile carrier switched from contracts to device payment plans, ATT initially did not charge an activation and upgrade fee for customers who brought their own phone or bought one from ATT on an installment plan. But in July 2015, ATT started charging a $15 activation fee to customers who don't sign two-year contracts. (ATT also raised the activation/upgrade fee for contract customers from $40 to $45 in July 2015.) The $25 fee is charged for new activations or upgrades when customers purchase devices on installment agreements, ATT says. Customers who bring their own phone to the network are charged the $25 fee when they activate a new line of service, but not when they upgrade phones on an existing line. "We are making a minor adjustment to our activation and upgrade fees. The change is effective today," ATT told Ars. ATT also still charges the $45 activation and upgrade fee on two-year contracts, but those contracts are "available only on select devices."
Businesses

Apple Sues Qualcomm For Roughly $1 Billion Over Royalties (cnbc.com) 36

An anonymous reader quotes a report from CNBC: Apple is suing Qualcomm for roughly $1 billion, saying Qualcomm has been "charging royalties for technologies they have nothing to do with." The suit follows the U.S. Federal Trade Commission's lawsuit against Qualcomm earlier this week over unfair patent licensing practices. Apple says that Qualcomm has taken "radical steps," including "withholding nearly $1 billion in payments from Apple as retaliation for responding truthfully to law enforcement agencies investigating them." Apple added, "Despite being just one of over a dozen companies who contributed to basic cellular standards, Qualcomm insists on charging Apple at least five times more in payments than all the other cellular patent licensors we have agreements with combined." Apple also alleges that once it began cooperating with Korean authorities' antitrust investigation of Qualcomm, the company withheld $1 billion in retaliation. Korean regulators fined Qualcomm $854 million for unfair trade practices in December.
Windows

Microsoft Targets Chrome Users With Windows 10 Pop-up Ad (pcmag.com) 128

Google Chrome users on Windows 10 are apparently being treated to a new experience: a pop-up ad. From a PCMag report: If you have Chrome installed and the icon present on the Windows Taskbar, chances are you're going to start seeing a pop-up advert appear suggesting you install Microsoft's Personal Shopping Assistant Chrome extension. Microsoft touts it as "Your smart shopping cart across the web." Opting to install the extension results in Microsoft monitoring which products you've searched for and viewed while using Chrome, and then offering to compare those products to find the best price. There's also alerts when prices change, and the ability to track products across all your devices. Of course, Microsoft will make money if you opt to purchase any products using the Assistant.
Businesses

Uber Will Pay $20 Million For Exaggerating Drivers' Earnings (engadget.com) 63

Uber is paying $20 million to settle allegations that it duped people into driving for its ride-hailing service with false promises about how much they would earn and how much they would have to pay to finance a car. From a report: The FTC claimed that Uber was advertising an annual median income of over $90,000 per year for uberX drivers in New York and more than $74,000 for uberX drivers in San Francisco. But, as the commission found out, less than 10 percent of all drivers in those cities actually make that much. The complaint also alleges that Uber was inflating the hourly earnings on job boards like Craigslist. New drivers who financed a new car through Uber's Vehicle Solutions Program found out the company's claims were too good to be true as well. Although Uber told new drivers they would be able to lease a new car for around $119 per week, the actual lease rates never dipped below $200 from late 2013 to April 2015. And, despite its promise of delivering "the best financing options available," it turns out that Uber's rates were actually worse than consumers with similar credit scores could have gotten elsewhere. Adding insult to overpriced injury, Uber tacked on mileage limits to lease agreements that were advertised with unlimited mileage.
Crime

South Korean Court Dismisses Arrest Warrant For Samsung Chief (reuters.com) 17

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Reuters: A South Korean court on Thursday dismissed an arrest warrant against the head of Samsung Group, the country's largest conglomerate, amid a graft scandal that has led to the impeachment of President Park Geun-hye. But the reprieve for Jay Y. Lee, 48, may only be temporary, as the special prosecutor's office said it would pursue the case. Lee, who has led Samsung since his father, Lee Kun-hee, suffered a heart attack in 2014, was still likely to face the same charges of bribery, embezzlement and perjury, legal analysts said, even if he is not detained. The special prosecutor's office said it would be continuing its probe but had not decided whether to make another arrest warrant request, and the setback would not change its plans to investigate other conglomerates. Spokesman Lee Kyu-chul said the prosecution was unconvinced by the Samsung chief's argument that he was a victim of coercion due to pressure from Park. The office has accused Lee of paying multi-million dollar bribes to Park's confidant, Choi Soon-sil, the woman at the heart of the scandal, to win support from the National Pension Service for a controversial 2015 merger of two Samsung Group affiliates. The merger helped cement Lee's control over the smartphones-to-biopharmaceuticals business empire.
Facebook

Zuckerberg Sues Hundreds of Hawaiians To Force Property Sales To Him (msn.com) 281

mmell writes: Apparently, owning 700 acres of land in Hawaii isn't enough -- Mark Zuckerberg, founder of Facebook, has filed suit to force owners of several small parcels of land to sell to the highest bidder. The reason? These property owners are completely surrounded by Zuckerberg's land holdings and therefore have lawful easement to cross his property in order to get to theirs. Many of these land owners have held their land for generations, but seemingly Mr. Zuckerberg can not tolerate their presence so close to his private little slice of paradise. Landowners such as these came to own their land when their ancestors were "given" the land as Hawaiian natives. If successful in his "quiet title" court action, Mr. Zuckerberg will finally have his slice of Hawaii's beaches and tropical lands without having to deal with the pesky presence of neighbors who were on his land before he owned it. Who knew that Hawaiians were just another kind of Native Americans? CNBC reports: "The cases target a dozen small plots of so-called 'kuleana' lands that are inside the much larger property that Zuckerberg bought on Kauai. Kuleana lands are properties that were granted to native Hawaiians in the mid-1800. One suit, according to the Star-Advertiser, was filed against about 300 people who are descendants of an immigrant Portuguese sugar cane plantation worker who bought four parcels totaling two acres of land in 1894. One of that worker's great-grandchildren, Carlos Andrade, 72, lived on the property until recently, the paper said. But the retired university professor told the Star-Advertiser that he is helping Zuckerberg's case as a co-plaintiff in an effort to make sure the land is not surrendered to the county if no one in his extended clan steps up to take responsibility for paying property taxes on the plots."
EU

Apple Increases App Store Prices By 25% Following Brexit Vote (theguardian.com) 164

Following the UK's vote to leave the European Union last year, Apple is raising prices on its UK App Store by almost 25 percent to counter the depreciation of the pound. For example, an app that costs $0.99 in the U.S., and used to cost 0.79 British pounds, will now cost 0.99 British pounds. The Guardian reports: Apple announced the price rises in an email to app developers on Tuesday, and told them "when foreign exchange rates or taxation changes, we sometimes need to update prices on the App Store." It says the new prices will roll out over the next seven days, giving customers a short opportunity to beat the price increase. Similar price increases are expected to hit other Apple stores, including the iTunes Store for music and video and the iBooks Store. Britain isn't the only country experiencing price changes. India is seeing price increases due to changes in service taxes, while Turkish prices are also rising due to depreciation of the Turkish Lira. Since the vote to leave the European Union, the value of the pound has fallen by 18.5% against the U.S. dollar. In a statement, Apple said: "Price tiers on the App Store are set internationally on the basis of several factors, including currency exchange rates, business practices, taxes and the cost of doing business. These factors vary from region to region and over time."
Education

College Fires IT Admin, Loses Access To Google Email, Successfully Sues IT Admin For $250K (theregister.co.uk) 270

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Register: Shortly after the American College of Education (ACE) in Indiana fired IT administrator Triano Williams in April, 2016, it found that it no longer had any employees with admin access to the Google email service used by the school. In a lawsuit [PDF] filed against Williams in July, 2016, the school alleges that it asked Williams to return his work laptop, which was supposed to have the password saved. But when Williams did so in May that year, the complaint says, the computer was returned wiped, with a new operating system, and damaged to the point it could no longer be used. ACE claimed that its students could not access their Google-hosted ACE email accounts or their online coursework. The school appealed to Google, but Google at the time refused to help because the ACE administrator account had been linked to William's personal email address. "By setting up the administrator account under a non-ACE work email address, Mr Williams violated ACE's standard protocol with respect to administrator accounts," the school's complaint states. "ACE was unaware that Mr Williams' administrator account was not linked to his work address until after his employment ended." According to the school's court filing, Williams, through his attorney, said he would help the school reinstate its Google administrator account, provided the school paid $200,000 to settle his dispute over the termination of his employment. That amount is less than half the estimated $500,000 in harm the school says it has suffered due to its inability to access its Google account, according to a letter from William's attorney in Illinois, Calvita J Frederick. Frederick's letter claims that another employee set up the Google account and made Williams an administrator, but not the controlling administrator. It says the school locked itself out of the admin account through too many failed password attempts. Williams, in a counter-suit [PDF] filed last month, claims his termination followed from a pattern of unlawful discrimination by the school in the wake of a change in management. Pointing to the complaint she filed with the court in Illinois, Frederick said Williams wrote a letter [PDF] to a supervisor complaining about the poor race relations at the school and, as a result of that letter, he was told he had to relocate to Indianapolis.
PlayStation (Games)

Report: PS4 Is Selling Twice As Well As Xbox One (arstechnica.com) 132

The latest numbers released by analysts suggest that the Sony PlayStation 4 is selling twice as many units worldwide as the Xbox One since both systems launched in late 2013. The data comes from a new SuperData report on the Nintendo Switch, which is backed up by Niko Partners analyst Daniel Ahmad. SuperData mentions an installed base of 26 million Xbox One units and 55 million PS4 units. Ars Technica reports: Ahmad's chart suggests that Microsoft may have sold slightly more than half of the 53.4 million PS4 units that Sony recently announced it had sold through January 1. Specific numbers aside, though, it's clear Microsoft has done little to close its console sales gap with Sony over the past year -- and may have actually lost ground in that time. The last time we did our own estimate of worldwide console sales, through the end of 2015, we showed the Xbox One with about 57 percent as many systems sold as the PS4 (21.49 million vs. 37.7 million). That lines up broadly with numbers leaked by EA at the time, which suggest the Xbox One had sold about 52.9 percent as well as the PS4 (19 million vs. 35.9 million). One year later, that ratio has dipped to just above or even a bit below 50 percent, according to these reports. The relative sales performance of the Xbox One and PS4 doesn't say anything direct about the health or quality of those platforms, of course. Microsoft doesn't seem to be in any danger of abandoning the Xbox One platform any time soon and has, in fact, recently committed to upgrading it via Project Scorpio later this year. The gap between PS4 and Xbox One sales becomes important only if it becomes so big that publishers start to consider the Xbox One market as a minor afterthought that can be safely ignored for everything but niche games.
Oracle

Labor Department Sues Oracle For Paying White Men More (usatoday.com) 307

An anonymous reader quotes a report from USA Today: Oracle is being sued by the Labor Department for paying white men more than their counterparts and for favoring Asian workers when recruiting and hiring for technical roles. The administrative lawsuit is the latest from the Labor Department to take aim at the human resources practices of major technology companies. The Labor Department warned the lawsuit could cost Oracle hundreds of millions in federal contracts. Oracle makes software and hardware used by the federal government. "The complaint is politically motivated, based on false allegations, and wholly without merit," Oracle spokesman Deborah Hellinger said in a statement. "Oracle values diversity and inclusion, and is a responsible equal opportunity and affirmative action employer. Our hiring and pay decisions are non-discriminatory and made based on legitimate business factors including experience and merit." The lawsuit is the result of an Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs review of Oracle's equal employment opportunity practices, the Labor Department said. According to the lawsuit, Oracle America paid white male workers more, leading to pay discrimination against women, African American and Asian employees. The Labor Department also accused Oracle of favoring Asians for product development and other technical roles, resulting in discrimination against non-Asian applicants. Oracle refused to comply with the Labor Department's investigation, which began in 2014, such as refusing to provide compensation data for all employees, complete hiring data for certain business lines and employee complaints of discrimination, according to the federal agency.
Android

Low-Cost Android One Phones Coming To The US, Says Report (theverge.com) 91

The Android One platform is a program designed by Google to provide budget-friendly Android smartphones to developing markets. The phones are attractive because they contain no bloatware, competing services, and a lack of software and security updates -- the stuff that most low-end smartphones contain. According to a report from The Information, the program is about to make its way to the U.S. market. The Verge reports: Android One phones have historically been produced by companies you probably haven't heard of, like Micromax, Cherry, and QMobile. Originally Google had a direct hand in detailing what components would go into the phone, but apparently became more flexible over time and eventually expanded the program beyond India to parts of Africa, Spain, and Portugal. Android One may not have been the rousing worldwide success Google was hoping for, but it's still an important initiative for the company. Especially at the low end, there's a lot of incentive for manufacturers to pile on extra software in a bid to make those devices more profitable -- but that could cut against Google's efforts to make its own services more pervasive and popular. If Google really does put some real effort behind Android One, it could make its plans for Android a little clearer. Google itself has taken a stand that it wants to make its own hardware at the high-end of the smartphone market with the Pixel, and if The Information's report is accurate, it wants to ensure that its services are not cut out from the low end.
The Almighty Buck

Blockchain Technology Could Save Banks $12 Billion a Year (silicon.co.uk) 109

Mickeycaskill quotes a report from Silicon.co.uk: Accenture research has found Blockchain technology has the potential to reduce infrastructure costs by an average of 30 percent for eight of the world's ten biggest banks. That equates to annual cost savings of $8-12 billion. The findings of the "Banking on Blockchain: A Value Analysis for Investment Banks" report are based on an analysis of granular cost data from the eight banks to identify exactly where value could be achieved. A vast amount of cost for today's investment banks comes from complex data reconciliation and confirmation processes with their clients and counterparts, as banks maintain independent databases of transactions and customer information. However, Blockchain would enable banks to move to a shared, distributed database that spans multiple organizations. It has become increasingly obvious in recent months that blockchain will be key to the future of the banking industry, with the majority of banks expected to adopt the technology within the next three years.
Businesses

Verizon Looking To Buy Comcast or Charter, Says Report (nypost.com) 82

"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.
Businesses

Apple App Store Prices Rise in UK, India and Turkey (bbc.com) 84

Apple is to put up the price it charges for apps in the UK, India and Turkey. From a report on BBC: UK costs will numerically match those of the US, meaning that a program that costs $0.99 will now be 99p. That represents a 25% rise over the previous currency conversion, which was 79p. "Price tiers on the App Store are set internationally on the basis of several factors, including currency exchange rates, business practices, taxes, and the cost of doing business," it said. "These factors vary from region to region and over time." The rise will also affect in-app purchases but not subscription charges. The cost of a $0.99 app will become 80 rupees in India, representing a 33% rise from the previous price of 60 rupees.
AT&T

AT&T Denies Refunds For DirecTV Now Customers, Despite the Service's Performance Issues (techcrunch.com) 88

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 Courts

How A Professional Poker Player Conned a Casino Out of $9.6 Million (washingtonpost.com) 401

Phil Ivey is a professional poker player who's won ten World Series of Poker bracelets -- but he's also got a new game. An anonymous reader write: In 2012, Ivey requested that the Borgata casino let him play baccarat with an assistant named Cheng Yin Sun while using a specific brand of playing cards -- purple Gemaco Borgata playing cards -- and an automatic shuffler. He then proceeded to win $9.6 million over four visits. The pair would rotate certain cards 180 degrees, which allowed them to recognize those cards the next time they passed through the deck. (They were exploiting a minute lack of a symmetry in the pattern on the backs of the cards...)

But last month a U.S. district judge ruled that Ivey and his partner had a "mutual obligation" to the casino, in which their "primary obligation" was to not use cards whose values would be known to them -- and ordered them to return the $9.6 million [PDF]. "What this ruling says is a player is prohibited from combining his skill and intellect and visual acuity to beat the casino at its own game," Ivey's attorney told the AP, adding that the judge's ruling will be appealed.

The judge also ruled Ivey had to return the money he later won playing craps with his winnings from the baccarat game -- though the judge denied the casino's request for restitution over the additional $250,000 worth of goods and services they'd "comped" Ivey during his stay.
Government

Amateur Scientists Find New Clue In D.B. Cooper Case, Crowdsource Their Investigation (kare11.com) 139

Six months after the FBI closed the only unsolved air piracy in American aviation history -- after a 45-year investigation -- there's a new clue. An anonymous reader quotes Seattle news station KING: A band of amateur scientists selected by the Seattle FBI to look for clues in the world's most infamous skyjacking may have found new evidence in the 45-year-old case. They're asking for the public's help because of new, potential leads that could link DB Cooper to the Puget Sound aerospace industry in the early 1970s. The scientific team has been analyzing particles removed from the clip-on tie left behind by Cooper after he hijacked a Northwest Orient passenger jet in November 1971. A powerful electron microscope located more than 100,000 particles on old the JCPenny tie. The team has identified particles like Cerium, Strontium Sulfide, and pure titanium.

Tom Kaye, lead researcher for the group calling itself Citizen Sleuths, says the group is intrigued by the finding, because the elements identified were rarely used in 1971, during the time of Cooper's daring leap with a parachute from a passenger jet. One place they were being used was for Boeing's high-tech Super Sonic Transport plane...

Interestingly, it was even a Boeing aircraft that Cooper hijacked, and witnesses say he wasn't nervous on the flight, and seemed familiar with the terrain below.
Earth

Moon Express Raises $20 Million In Series B-1, Fully Funds Trip To The Moon (techcrunch.com) 63

The company competing in the Google Lunar X-Prize, Moon Express, has raised $20 million in funding and announced that they have now fully financed their mission to the moon. The company made history last year as it became the first private company to receive permission to travel to the moon. Moon Express plans to launch their MX-1E spacecraft to the moon at the end of 2017 with the goal of winning the $20 million grand prize in the X-Prize competition. TechCrunch reports: If successful, Moon Express would become the first private company and the fourth entity in history to soft-land on the moon. The first three entities were all government-funded superpowers from the U.S., USSR and China. Of course to win that title, Moon Express will need to beat the other X-Prize competitors including SpaceIL from Israel, Team Indus from India (carrying the Japanese team HAKUTO as a payload), and the international team Synergy Moon. Each company has had launch contracts confirmed by X-Prize, a requirement to remain in the competition. The first company to soft-land on the Moon, travel 500 meters across its surface, and transmit high-definition video and images back to Earth will win the grand prize of $20 million. There's also $5 million up for grabs for the company that comes in second. Perhaps the most challenging of the X-Prize requirements is the deadline. To win the prizes, competitors must complete all tasks by the end of 2017. Although the X-Prize Foundation has pushed the deadline back before. What makes the Google Lunar X-Prize competition especially unique is that it required participants to obtain 90% of their funding from private sources. In theory, this would encourage profit-driven business plans, kick-starting a wave of lunar-based commercialization.

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