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Updated: 23 min 17 sec ago

Paper Microscope Magnifies Objects 2100 Times and Costs Less Than $1

Tue, 04/15/2014 - 1:01pm
ananyo writes: "If ever a technology were ripe for disruption, it is the microscope. Microscopes are expensive and need to be serviced and maintained. Unfortunately, one important use of them is in poor-world laboratories and clinics, for identifying pathogens, and such places often have small budgets and lack suitably trained technicians. Now Manu Prakash, a bioengineer at Stanford University, has designed a microscope made almost entirely of paper, which is so cheap that the question of servicing it goes out of the window. Individual Foldscopes are printed on A4 sheets of paper (ideally polymer-coated for durability). A pattern of perforations on the sheet marks out the 'scope's components, which are colour-coded in a way intended to assist the user in the task of assembly. The Foldscope's non-paper components, a poppy-seed-sized spherical lens made of borosilicate or corundum, a light-emitting diode (LED), a watch battery, a switch and some copper tape to complete the electrical circuit, are pressed into or bonded onto the paper. (The lenses are actually bits of abrasive grit intended to roll around in tumblers that smooth-off metal parts.) A high-resolution version of this costs less than a dollar, and offers a magnification of up to 2,100 times and a resolving power of less than a micron. A lower-spec version (up to 400x magnification) costs less than 60 cents."

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Categories: Geek News

Intuit, Maker of Turbotax, Lobbies Against Simplified Tax Filings

Tue, 04/15/2014 - 12:07pm
McGruber (1417641) writes "Return-free filing might allow tens of millions of Americans to file their taxes for free and in minutes. Under proposals authored by several federal lawmakers, it would be voluntary, using information the government already receives from banks and employers and that taxpayers could adjust. The concept has been endorsed by Presidents Obama and Reagan and is already a reality in some parts of Europe. Sounds great, except to Intuit, maker of Turbotax: last year, Intuit spent more than $2.6 million on lobbying, some of it to lobby on four bills related to the issue, federal lobbying records show."

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Categories: Geek News

OpenBSD Team Cleaning Up OpenSSL

Tue, 04/15/2014 - 11:20am
First time accepted submitter Iarwain Ben-adar (2393286) writes "The OpenBSD has started a cleanup of their in-tree OpenSSL library. Improvements include removing "exploit mitigation countermeasures", fixing bugs, removal of questionable entropy additions, and many more. If you support the effort of these guys who are responsible for the venerable OpenSSH library, consider a donation to the OpenBSD Foundation. Maybe someday we'll see a 'portable' version of this new OpenSSL fork. Or not."

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Categories: Geek News

Netflix Gets What It Pays For: Comcast Streaming Speeds Skyrocket

Tue, 04/15/2014 - 10:34am
jfruh (300774) writes "Back in February, after a lengthy dispute, Netflix agreed to pay Comcast for network access after being dogged by complaints of slow speeds from Comcast subscribers. Two months later, it appears that Comcast has delivered on its promises, jumping up six places in Netflix's ISP speed rankings. The question of whether this is good news for anyone but Comcast is still open."

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Categories: Geek News

Slashdot Asks: How Do You Pay Your Taxes?

Tue, 04/15/2014 - 9:52am
April 15, 2014 isn't just a full moon: it's Tax Day in the U.S. That means most American adults have already submitted a tax return, or an extension request, to the IRS and -- except for a few lucky states -- to their state governments as well. I filed my (very simple) tax return online. After scanning the free options, since I live in a state -- Texas -- that does not collect personal income tax, I chose Tax Act's free services. That meant enduring a series of annoying upgrade plugs throughout the process, but I could live with that; I have no reason to think it was better or worse than TurboTax or any of the other e-Filing companies, but I liked Tax Act’s interface, and it seemed less skeevy in all those upgrade plugs than the others I glanced at. The actual process took an hour and 19 minutes once I sat down with the papers I needed. My financial life is pretty simple, though: I didn't buy or sell a house, didn't buy or sell stocks outside of a retirement account mutual fund, and didn't move from one state to another. How do you do your taxes? Do you have an argument for one or another of the online services, or any cautionary tales? Do you prefer to send in forms on paper? Do you hire an accountant? (And for readers outside the U.S., it's always interesting to hear how taxes work in other countries, too. Are there elements of the U.S. system you'd prefer, or that you're glad you don't need to deal with?)

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Categories: Geek News

How Amazon Keeps Cutting AWS Prices: Cheapskate Culture

Tue, 04/15/2014 - 9:10am
An anonymous reader writes "Amazon Web Services has cut its prices on 40-plus consecutive occasions, at times leading the charge, at other times countering similar moves by Microsoft and Google. This article at CRN includes some interesting behind-the-scenes trivia about how Amazon keeps costs down, including some interesting speculation — for example, that perhaps the reason Amazon's Glacier storage is so cheap is that maybe it might be based at least partly on tape, not disk (Amazon would not comment). The article also explains that the company will only pay for its employees to fly Economy, and that includes its senior executives. If they feel the need to upgrade to Business or First Class, they must do so from their own pocket. And instead of buying hardware from an OEM vendor, AWS sources its own components – everything from processors to disk drives to memory and network cards — and uses contract manufacturing to put together its machines."

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Categories: Geek News

Is Crimea In Russia? Internet Companies Have Different Answers

Tue, 04/15/2014 - 8:29am
judgecorp (778838) writes "Three weeks after Russia asserted that Crimea is part of its territory, the social networks have a problem: how to categories their users from the region? Facebook and the largest Russian social network, Vkontakte, still say Crimeans are located in Ukraine, while other Russian social networks say they are Russians. Meanwhile, on Wikipedia, an edit war has resulted in Crimea being part of Russia, but shaded a different colour to signify the territory is disputed. Search engine Yandex is trying to cover both angles: its maps service gives a different answer, depending on which location you send your query from."

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Categories: Geek News

Humans Are Taking Jobs From Robots In Japan

Tue, 04/15/2014 - 7:51am
Hugh Pickens DOT Com (2995471) writes "Bloomberg reports that humans are taking the place of machines in plants across Japan so workers can develop new skills and figure out ways to improve production lines and the car-building process. "We need to become more solid and get back to basics, to sharpen our manual skills and further develop them," says Mitsuru Kawai, a half century-long company veteran tapped by President Akio Toyoda to promote craftsmanship at Toyota's plants. "When I was a novice, experienced masters used to be called gods (Kami-sama in Japanese), and they could make anything." According to Kawai, learning how to make car parts from scratch gives younger workers insights they otherwise wouldn't get from picking parts from bins and conveyor belts, or pressing buttons on machines. At about 100 manual-intensive workspaces introduced over the last three years across Toyota's factories in Japan, these lessons can then be applied to reprogram machines to cut down on waste and improve processes. In an area Kawai directly supervises at the forging division of Toyota's Honsha plant, workers twist, turn and hammer metal into crankshafts instead of using the typically automated process. Experiences there have led to innovations in reducing levels of scrap and shortening the production line and Kawai also credits manual labor for helping workers improve production of axle beams and cut the costs of making chassis parts. "We cannot simply depend on the machines that only repeat the same task over and over again," says Kawai. "To be the master of the machine, you have to have the knowledge and the skills to teach the machine.""

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Categories: Geek News

Guardian</em> and WaPo</em> Receive Pulitzers For Snowden Coverage

Tue, 04/15/2014 - 7:05am
Late Yesterday, the Pulitzer Prize board announced (PDF) the 2014 Pulitzer Prize winners. The public service prize was awarded to the Guardian and the Washington Post. The Washington Post was given the award for its role in revealing widespread surveillance by the NSA, "...marked by authoritative and insightful reports that helped the public understand how the disclosures fit into the larger framework of national security," and the Guardian for sparking "...a debate about the relationship between the government and the public over issues of security and privacy." Snowden released a statement praising the Pulitzer board: "Today's decision is a vindication for everyone who believes that the public has a role in government. We owe it to the efforts of the brave reporters and their colleagues who kept working in the face of extraordinary intimidation, including the forced destruction of journalistic materials, the inappropriate use of terrorism laws, and so many other means of pressure to get them to stop what the world now recognizes was work of vital public importance. This decision reminds us that what no individual conscience can change, a free press can. "

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Categories: Geek News

This 1981 BYTE Magazine Cover Explains Why We're So Bad At Tech Predictions

Tue, 04/15/2014 - 4:03am
harrymcc (1641347) writes "If you remember the golden age of BYTE magazine, you remember Robert Tinney's wonderful cover paintings. BYTE's April 1981 cover featured an amazing Tinney image of a smartwatch with a tiny text-oriented interface, QWERTY keyboard, and floppy drive. It's hilarious — but 33 years later, it's also a smart visual explanation of why the future of technology so often bears so little resemblance to anyone's predictions. I wrote about this over at TIME.com. 'Back then, a pundit who started talking about gigabytes of storage or high-resolution color screens or instant access to computers around the world or built-in cameras and music players would have been accused of indulging in science fiction.'"

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Categories: Geek News

U.S. Biomedical Research 'Unsustainable' Prominent Researchers Warn

Tue, 04/15/2014 - 2:07am
sciencehabit (1205606) writes "The U.S. biomedical science system 'is on an unsustainable path' and needs major reform, four prominent researchers say. Researchers should 'confront the dangers at hand,' the authors write, and 'rethink' how academic research is funded, staffed, and organized. Among other issues, the team suggests that the system may be producing too many new researchers and forcing them to compete for a stagnating pool of funding."

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Categories: Geek News

Microsoft Confirms It Is Dropping Windows 8.1 Support

Mon, 04/14/2014 - 11:04pm
snydeq (1272828) writes "Microsoft TechNet blog makes clear that Windows 8.1 will not be patched, and that users must get Windows 8.1 Update if they want security patches, InfoWorld's Woody Leonhard reports. 'In what is surely the most customer-antagonistic move of the new Windows regime, Steve Thomas at Microsoft posted a TechNet article on Saturday stating categorically that Microsoft will no longer issue security patches for Windows 8.1, starting in May,' Leonhard writes. 'Never mind that Windows 8.1 customers are still having multiple problems with errors when trying to install the Update. At this point, there are 300 posts on the Microsoft Answers forum thread 'Windows 8.1 Update 1 Failing to Install with errors 0x80070020, 80073712 and 800F081F.' The Answers forum is peppered with similar complaints and a wide range of errors, from 800F0092 to 80070003, for which there are no solutions from Microsoft. Never mind that Microsoft itself yanked Windows 8.1 Update from the corporate WSUS update server chute almost a week ago and still hasn't offered a replacement.'"

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Categories: Geek News

IRS Can Now Seize Your Tax Refund To Pay a Relative's Debt

Mon, 04/14/2014 - 8:59pm
Hugh Pickens DOT Com (2995471) writes "Just in time for the April 15 IRS filing deadline comes news from the Washington Post that hundreds of thousands of taxpayers expecting refunds are instead getting letters informing them of tax debts they never knew about: often a debt incurred by their parents. The government is confiscating their checks, sometimes over debts 20—30 years old. For example, when Mary Grice was 4 (in 1960), her father died ... 'Until the kids turned 18, her mother received survivor benefits from Social Security ... Now, Social Security claims it overpaid someone in the Grice family in 1977. ... Four years after Sadie Grice died, the government is coming after her daughter. ... "It was a shock," says Grice, 58. "What incenses me is the way they went about this. They gave me no notice, they can't prove that I received any overpayment, and they use intimidation tactics, threatening to report this to the credit bureaus."' The Treasury Department has intercepted ... $75 million from debts delinquent for more than 10 years according to the department's debt management service. 'The aggressive effort to collect old debts started three years ago — the result of a single sentence tucked into the farm bill lifting the 10-year statute of limitations on old debts to Uncle Sam.'"

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Categories: Geek News

Saturn May Have Given Birth To a Baby Moon

Mon, 04/14/2014 - 7:05pm
astroengine (1577233) writes "NASA's Saturn-orbiting Cassini spacecraft has imaged something peculiar on the outermost edge of the gas giant's A-ring. A bright knot, or arc, has been spotted 20 percent brighter than the surrounding ring material and astronomers are interpreting it as a gravitational disturbance caused by a tiny moon. "We have not seen anything like this before," said Carl Murray of Queen Mary University of London. 'We may be looking at the act of birth, where this object is just leaving the rings and heading off to be a moon in its own right.'"

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Categories: Geek News

Mozilla Appoints Former Marketing Head Interim CEO

Mon, 04/14/2014 - 6:29pm
itwbennett (1594911) writes "Following the contentious and ultimately failed appointment of Brendan Eich as CEO last month, the Mozilla Corporation has appointed Chris Beard to the board of directors and made him interim CEO. Beard starting working as chief marketing officer for Mozilla in 2004, and oversaw the launch of its current browser, Firefox, in 2005. Beard also managed the launches of Firefox on Android and the Firefox OS for mobile phones." See the official announcement. Quoting: "We began exploring the idea of Chris joining the Board of Directors some months ago. Chris has been a Mozillian longer than most. He’s been actively involved with Mozilla since before we shipped Firefox 1.0, he’s guided and directed many of our innovative projects, and his vision and sense of Mozilla is equal to anyone’s. I have relied on his judgement and advice for nearly a decade. This is an excellent time for Chris to bring his understanding of Mozilla to the Board."

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Categories: Geek News

First Phase of TrueCrypt Audit Turns Up No Backdoors

Mon, 04/14/2014 - 5:51pm
msm1267 (2804139) writes "A initial audit of the popular open source encryption software TrueCrypt turned up fewer than a dozen vulnerabilities, none of which so far point toward a backdoor surreptitiously inserted into the codebase. A report on the first phase of the audit was released today (PDF) by iSEC Partners, which was contracted by the Open Crypto Audit Project (OCAP), a grassroots effort that not only conducted a successful fundraising effort to initiate the audit, but raised important questions about the integrity of the software. The first phase of the audit focused on the TrueCrypt bootloader and Windows kernel driver; architecture and code reviews were performed, as well as penetration tests including fuzzing interfaces, said Kenneth White, senior security engineer at Social & Scientific Systems. The second phase of the audit will look at whether the various encryption cipher suites, random number generators and critical key algorithms have been implemented correctly."

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Categories: Geek News

Heartbleed Disclosure Timeline Revealed

Mon, 04/14/2014 - 5:10pm
bennyboy64 (1437419) writes "Ever since the Heartbleed flaw in OpenSSL was made public there have been various questions about who knew what and when. The Sydney Morning Herald has done some analysis of public mailing lists and talked to those involved with disclosing the bug to get the bottom of it. The newspaper finds that Google discovered Heartbleed on or before March 21 and notified OpenSSL on April 1. Other key dates include Finnish security testing firm Codenomicon discovering the flaw independently of Google at 23:30 PDT, April 3. SuSE, Debian, FreeBSD and AltLinux all got a heads up from Red Hat about the flaw in the early hours of April 7 — a few hours before it was made public. Ubuntu, Gentoo and Chromium attempted to get a heads up by responding to an email with few details about it but didn't, as the guy at Red Hat sending the disclosure messages out in India went to bed. By the time he woke up, Codenomicon had reported the bug to OpenSSL."

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Categories: Geek News

Climate Scientist: Climate Engineering Might Be the Answer To Warming

Mon, 04/14/2014 - 4:27pm
Lasrick (2629253) writes "Tom Wigley is one of the world's top climate scientists, and in this interview he explains his outspoken support for both nuclear energy and research into climate engineering. Wigley was one of the first scientists to break the taboo on public discussion of climate engineering as a possible response to global warming; in a 2006 paper in the journal Science, he proposed a combined geoengineering-mitigation strategy that would address the problem of increasing ocean acidity, as well as the problem of climate change. In this interview, he argues that renewable energy alone will not be sufficient to address the climate challenge, because it cannot be scaled up quickly and cheaply enough, and that opposition to nuclear power 'threatens humanity's ability to avoid dangerous climate change.'"

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Categories: Geek News

Carpenter Who Cut Off His Fingers Makes "Robohand" With 3-D Printer

Mon, 04/14/2014 - 3:43pm
mpicpp (3454017) writes with the ultimate DIY story about a carpenter in South Africa who lost his fingers in an accident, and now runs a company that makes mechanical prosthetics with 3D printing technology. "'I was in a position to see exactly what happens in the human hand. I got the basics of what it's all about and thought yeah, I'll make my own.' Richard van As is recalling the moment in May 2011 when he sat in a Johannesburg hospital waiting to hear if his fingers could be stitched back on. Just an hour earlier, he had been in his carpentry workshop sawing wood when the saw slipped and ripped diagonally through the four fingers on his right hand....After days of scouring the Internet he couldn't find anywhere to buy a functional prosthetic finger and he was astonished at the cost of prosthetic hands and limbs which began in the tens of thousands of dollars. But his online surfing paid off as it brought him to an amateur video posted by a mechanical effects artist in Washington State, by the name of Ivan Owen. Together, the pair developed a mechanical finger for van As, but their partnership has also gone on to benefit countless hand and arm amputees around the globe, through the birth of the company "Robohand." Officially launched in January 2012, Robohand creates affordable mechanical prosthetics through the use of 3D printers. Not only that, but it has made its designs open source, so that anyone with access to such printers can print out fingers, hands and now arms as well.'"

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Categories: Geek News

Google Buys Drone Maker Titan Aerospace

Mon, 04/14/2014 - 3:00pm
garymortimer (1882326) writes "Google has acquired drone maker Titan Aerospace. Titan is a New Mexico-based company that makes high-flying solar powered drones. There's no word on the price Google paid, but Facebook had been in talks to acquire the company earlier this year for a reported $60 million. Presumably, Google paid more than that to keep it away from Facebook. 'Google had just recently demonstrated how its Loon prototype balloons could traverse the globe in a remarkably short period of time, but the use of drones could conceivably make a network of Internet-providing automotons even better at globe-trotting, with a higher degree of control and ability to react to changing conditions. Some kind of hybrid system might also be in the pipeline that marries both technologies.'"

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Categories: Geek News