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The Downside to Low Gas Prices

SlashDot - Sat, 11/15/2014 - 8:27am
HughPickens.com writes Pat Garofalo writes in an op-ed in US News & World Report that with the recent drop in oil prices, there's something policymakers can do that will offset at least some of the negative effects of the currently low prices, while also removing a constant thorn in the side of American transportation and infrastructure policy: Raise the gas tax. The current 18.4 cent per gallon gas tax has not been raised since 1993, making it about 11 cents per gallon today, in constant dollars. Plus, as fuel efficiency has gotten better and Americans have started driving less, the tax has naturally raised less revenue anyway. And that's a problem because the tax fills the Highway Trust Fund, which is, not to put too fine a point on it, broke so that in recent years Congress has had to patch it time and time again to fill the gap. According to the Tax Policy Center's Howard Gleckman, if Congress doesn't make a move, "it will fumble one of those rare opportunities when the economic and policy stars align almost perfectly." The increase can be phased in slowly, a few cents per month, perhaps, so that the price of gas doesn't jump overnight. When prices eventually do creep back up thanks to economic factors, hopefully the tax will hardly be noticed. Consumers are already starting to buy the sort of gas-guzzling vehicles, including Hummers, that had been going out of style as gas prices rose; that's bad for both the environment and consumers, because gas prices are inevitably going to increase again. According to data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration, taxes last year, even before the current drop in prices, made up 12 percent of the cost of a gallon of gasoline, down from 28 percent in 2000. And compared to other developed countries, US gas taxes are pretty much a joke. While we're at it, an even better idea, as a recent report from the Urban Institute makes clear, would be indexing the gas tax to inflation, so this problem doesn't consistently arise. "The status quo simply isn't sustainable, from an infrastructure or environmental perspective," concludes Garofalo. "So raise the gas tax now; someday down the line, it will look like a brilliant move."

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Microsoft Aims To Offer Windows 10 Upgrades For All Windows Phone 8 Lumias

SlashDot - Sat, 11/15/2014 - 5:28am
An anonymous reader writes News suggesting that Microsoft plans to offer Windows 10 upgrades for all its Windows Phone 8 devices broke today. "It's our intention to enable a Windows 10 upgrade for Lumia Windows Phone 8 smartphones," a Microsoft spokesperson told VentureBeat. "At this early stage in the development process, and given the vast portfolio of Windows devices worldwide, we can't predict that all devices will be upgradeable, but it is our intention that the Lumia smartphone line be upgradeable to Windows 10."

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Entrepreneur Injects Bitcoin Wallets Into Hands

SlashDot - Sat, 11/15/2014 - 2:29am
wiredmikey writes A Dutch entrepreneur has had two microchips containing Bitcoin injected into his hands to help him make contactless payments. The chips, enclosed in a 2mm by 12mm capsule of "biocompatible" glass, were injected using a special syringe and can communicate with devices such as Android smartphones or tablets via NFC. "What's stored on the microchips should be seen as a savings account rather than a current account," Martijn Wismeijer, co-founder of MrBitcoin said. "The payment device remains the smartphone, but you transfer funds from the chips." The chips are available on the Internet, sold with a syringe for $99, but Wismeijer suggested individuals should find a specialist to handle the injection to avoid infections.

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Philae's Batteries Have Drained; Comet Lander Sleeps

SlashDot - Fri, 11/14/2014 - 11:23pm
astroengine (1577233) writes "In the final hours, Philae's science team hurried to squeeze as much science out of the small lander as possible. But the deep sleep was inevitable, Rosetta's lander has slipped into hibernation after running its batteries dry. This may be the end of Philae's short and trailblazing mission on the surface of Comet 67P, but a huge amount of data — including data from a drilling operation that, apparently, was carried out despite concerns that Philae wasn't positioned correctly — was streamed to Rosetta mission control. "Prior to falling silent, the lander was able to transmit all science data gathered during the First Science Sequence," said Stephan Ulamec, Philae Lander Manager. "This machine performed magnificently under tough conditions, and we can be fully proud of the incredible scientific success Philae has delivered.""

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Ask Slashdot: Programming Education Resources For a Year Offline?

SlashDot - Fri, 11/14/2014 - 8:42pm
An anonymous reader writes "I will be traveling to a remote Himalayan village for year and won't have access to the internet. What offline resources would you all recommend to help me continue to develop my coding skills? I think this would be a good time to get better at fundamentals, since I won't be able to learn any new frameworks or APIs. What about other, non-programming skills to practice and learn? Any ideas?" What would you bring?

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FCC Says Net Neutrality Decision Delay Is About Courts, Not Politics

SlashDot - Fri, 11/14/2014 - 6:42pm
blottsie writes with this news from The Daily Dot: "The Federal Communications Commission's seemingly suspicious timing in delaying its net neutrality decision has absolutely nothing to do with recent politics, according to an FCC official. Instead, it's a matter of some people in the agency insisting they be more prepared before going to court to defend their eventual plan. In January, the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington, D.C., ruled in favor of Verizon, which challenged the FCC's 2010 Open Internet rules, striking down the agency's net neutrality protections. The court found that the FCC did not use the proper legal structure to establish its regulatory authority over broadband service—something that many legal experts say would not be the case if the FCC invokes Title II. The FCC's move to delay the net neutrality decision, which followed President Obama's support of Title II reclassification, was just a coincidence, according to the FCC official:" Before the president weighed in, several of our staff felt like the record was a little thin in areas, and the last thing you want when you go to court for the third time is for a court to say the record was too thin, or you didn't give adequate notice. We are going to be so careful this time that we have crossed every T and dotted every I. Some of the staff felt we're not quite there yet."

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FreeBSD 10.1 Released

SlashDot - Fri, 11/14/2014 - 6:00pm
An anonymous reader writes Version 10.1 of the venerable FreeBSD operating system has been released. The new version of FreeBSD offers support for booting from UEFI, automated generation of OpenSSH keys, ZFS performance improvements, updated (and more secure) versions of OpenSSH and OpenSSL and hypervisor enhancements. FreeBSD 10.1 is an extended support release and will be supported through until January 1, 2017. Adds reader aojensen: As this is the second release of the stable/10 branch, it focuses on improving the stability and security of the 10.0-RELEASE, but also introduces a set of new features including: vt(4) a new console driver, support for FreeBSD/i386 guests on the bhyve hypervisor, support for SMP on armv6 kernels, UEFI boot support for amd64 architectures, support for the UDP-Lite protocol (RFC 3828) support on both IPv4 and IPv6, and much more. For a complete list of changes and new features, the release notes are also available.

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How To Mathematically Predict Lightning Strikes

SlashDot - Fri, 11/14/2014 - 5:17pm
rossgneumann writes Soon, it's very possible that when you say something like "you have better odds of being struck by lightning," that won't necessarily mean it's all that rare. And there's a good chance that you'll be able to tell that person (roughly) what the odds of that happening are. Research published this week in Nature provides an equation that is reasonably accurate at mathematically predicting lightning strikes. From the article: "There's not a whole lot of noise in Romps's estimates: CAPE [Convective Available Potential Energy] is something that can be predicted out fairly easily: "All [models] in our ensemble predict that [the United State's] mean CAPE will increase over the 21st century, with a mean increase of 11.2 percent per degree Celsius of global warming," he wrote. "Overall, the [models] predict a ~50 percent increase in the rate of lightning strikes in the United States over the 21st century."

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Ask Slashdot: Is Non-USB Flash Direct From China Safe?

SlashDot - Fri, 11/14/2014 - 5:00pm
Dishwasha (125561) writes I recently purchased a couple 128GB MicroSDXC card from a Chinese supplier via Alibaba at 1/5th the price of what is available in the US. I will be putting one in my phone and another in my laptop. A few days after purchased, it occurred to me there may be a potential risk with non-USB flash devices similar to USB firmware issues. Does anybody know if there are any known firmware issues with SD or other non-USB flash cards that could effectively allow a foreign seller/distributor to place malicious software on my Android phone or laptop simply on insertion of the device with autoplay turned off?

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Maker Joe is a 'Maker' Sculptor (Video)

SlashDot - Fri, 11/14/2014 - 4:36pm
Joe Gilmore was showing some of his work at Maker Faire Atlanta when Timothy Lord pointed his camera at him. Joe may never create a Mars colony or build the tallest skyscraper in North America, but what he does is fun to the point of whimsy, and seems to bring smiles to a lot of faces. (Alternate Video Link)

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An Applied Investigation Into Graphics Card Coil Whine

SlashDot - Fri, 11/14/2014 - 3:58pm
jones_supa writes We all are aware of various chirping and whining sounds that electronics can produce. Modern graphics cards often suffer from these kind of problems in form of coil whine. But how widespread is it really? Hardware Canucks put 50 new graphics cards side-by-side to compare them solely from the perspective of subjective acoustic disturbance. NVIDIA's reference platforms tended to be quite well behaved, just like their board partners' custom designs. The same can't be said about AMD since their reference R9 290X and R9 290 should be avoided if you're at all concerned about squealing or any other odd noise a GPU can make. However the custom Radeon-branded SKUs should usually be a safe choice. While the amount and intensity of coil whine largely seems to boil down to luck of the draw, at least most board partners are quite friendly regarding their return policies concerning it.

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Facebook Testing Lithium-Ion Batteries For Backup Power

SlashDot - Fri, 11/14/2014 - 3:17pm
itwbennett writes Facebook has just started testing lithium-ion batteries as the backup power source for its server racks and plans to roll them out widely next year. Lithium-ion has been too expensive until now, says Matt Corddry, Facebook's director of hardware engineering, but its use in electric cars has changed the economics. It's now more cost effective than the bulky, lead-acid batteries widely used in data centers today.

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Cameron Says People Radicalized By Free Speech; UK ISPs Agree To Censor Button

SlashDot - Fri, 11/14/2014 - 2:37pm
An anonymous reader writes with this excerpt from Techdirt: A few years ago, we mocked then Senator Joe Lieberman's request that internet companies put "report this content as terrorist content" buttons on various types of online content. The plan went nowhere, because it's a really bad idea, prone to massive abuse. Yet, over in the UK, some apparently think it's such a grand idea that they're actually moving forward with it. This isn't a huge surprise — the current UK government has been going on for quite some time about banning "extremist" content, and just recently ramped up such efforts. And now it appears that a bunch of big UK broadband access providers have agreed to play along: The UK's major Internet service providers – BT, Virgin, Sky and Talk Talk – have this week committed to host a public reporting button for terrorist material online, similar to the reporting button which allows the public to report child sexual exploitation. They have also agreed to ensure that terrorist and extremist material is captured by their filters to prevent children and young people coming across radicalising material.

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81% of Tor Users Can Be De-anonymized By Analysing Router Information

SlashDot - Fri, 11/14/2014 - 1:51pm
An anonymous reader writes A former researcher at Columbia University's Network Security Lab has conducted research since 2008 indicating that traffic flow software included in network routers, notably Cisco's 'Netflow' package, can be exploited to deanonymize 81.4% of Tor clients. Professor Sambuddho Chakravarty, currently researching Network Anonymity and Privacy at the Indraprastha Institute of Information Technology, uses a technique which injects a repeating traffic pattern into the TCP connection associated with an exit node, and then compares subsequent aberrations in network timing with the traffic flow records generated by Netflow (or equivalent packages from other router manufacturers) to individuate the 'victim' client. In laboratory conditions the success rate of this traffic analysis attack is 100%, with network noise and variations reducing efficiency to 81% in a live Tor environment. Chakravarty says: 'it is not even essential to be a global adversary to launch such traffic analysis attacks. A powerful, yet non- global adversary could use traffic analysis methods [] to determine the various relays participating in a Tor circuit and directly monitor the traffic entering the entry node of the victim connection.'

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Researchers Develop $60 Sonar Watch To Aid the Visually Impaired

SlashDot - Fri, 11/14/2014 - 1:08pm
Taffykay writes Biology and computer science students and professors at Wake Forest University have teamed up to develop a device to assist the visually impaired. Following the principles of echolocation used by bats and moths, the interdisciplinary team has developed a watch-like unit that allows the wearer to navigate their environment using sonar. To make the project even more remarkable, all the parts and materials for the prototype cost less than $60.

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Boeing Readies For First Ever Conjoined Satellite Launch

SlashDot - Fri, 11/14/2014 - 12:25pm
Zothecula writes Boeing has successfully joined two of its 702SP satellites in a stacked configuration in preparation for a launch scheduled for early 2015. Aside from being the first involving conjoined satellites, the launch will also put the first satellites to enter service boasting an all-electric propulsion system into orbit. "Designed by Boeing Network & Space Systems and its defense and security advanced prototyping arm, Phantom Works, the 702SP (small platform) satellites are an evolution of the company's 702 satellite. Operating in the low- to mid-power ranges of 3 to 9 kW, instead of chemical propulsion, the satellites boast an all-electric propulsion system that Boeing says minimizes the mass of the spacecraft and maximizes payload capacity."

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Mathematics Great Alexander Grothendieck Dies At 86

SlashDot - Fri, 11/14/2014 - 12:04pm
An anonymous reader writes Alexander Grothendieck, one of the great eccentric geniuses of 20th century mathematics, has died in France at the age of 86. Grothendieck was leading mind behind algebraic geometry. He was awarded the Fields Medal in 1966. He reached the very pinnacle of his profession before abandoning the discipline, taking up anti-war activism, retreating into the life of a recluse and refusing to share his research. He died on Thursday in a hospital in Saint-Girons in southwestern France.

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Google Wallet API For Digital Goods Will Be Retired On March 2, 2015

SlashDot - Fri, 11/14/2014 - 11:43am
An anonymous reader points out that Google plans to shut down Google Wallet API for third-party digital purchases. "Google has quietly revealed it plans to retire the Google Wallet API for digital goods on March 2, 2015. The company plans to continue supporting the sale of apps on Google Play as well as in-app payments, but users will not be able to purchase any virtual items offered on the Web through Google Wallet. We say "quietly" because there is no official announcement from Google. Furthermore, Google says it has no plans to proactively communicate the change to Google Wallet users; buyers will simply get 404 errors when trying to check out after support is pulled."

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Window Washing a Skyscraper Is Beyond a Robot's Reach

SlashDot - Fri, 11/14/2014 - 11:00am
HughPickens.com writes "Patrick McGeehan writes in the NYT that the image of a pair of window washers clinging to a scaffold dangling outside the 68th floor of 1 World Trade Center have left many wondering why robots can't rub soapy water on glass and wipe it off with a squeegee relieving humans of the risk of injury, or death, from a plunge to the sidewalk? The simple answer, several experts say, is that washing windows is something that machines still cannot do as well as people can. "Building are starting to look like huge sculptures in the sky," says Craig Caulkins. "A robot can't maneuver to get around those curves to get into the facets of the building." According to Caulkins robotic cleaning systems tend to leave dirt in the corners of the glass walls that are designed to provide panoramic views from high floors. "If you are a fastidious owner wanting clean, clean windows so you can take advantage of that very expensive view that you bought, the last thing you want to see is that gray area around the rim of the window." Another reason for the sparse use of robots is that buildings require a lot more maintenance than just window cleaning. Equipment is needed to lower people to repair facades and broken windows, like the one that rescue workers had to cut through with diamond cutters to rescue the window washers. For many years, being a window cleaner in Manhattan was regarded as one of the most dangerous occupations in the world: by 1932, an average of one in every two hundred window cleaners in New York was killed each year. Now all new union window cleaners now take two hundred and sixteen hours of classroom instruction, three thousand hours of accredited time with an employer and their union makes sure workers follow rigorous safety protocols. In all, there are about 700 scaffolds for window washing on buildings in New York City, says union representative Gerard McEneaney. His members are willing to do the work because it pays well: as much $26.89 an hour plus benefits. Many of the window cleaners are immigrants from South America. "They're fearless guys, fearless workers."

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Education Chief Should Know About PLATO and the History of Online CS Education

SlashDot - Fri, 11/14/2014 - 10:17am
theodp writes Writing in Vanity Fair, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan marvels that his kids can learn to code online at their own pace thanks to "free" lessons from Khan Academy, which Duncan credits for "changing the way my kids learn" (Duncan calls out his kids' grade school for not offering coding). The 50-year-old Duncan, who complained last December that he "didn't have the opportunity to learn computer skills" while growing up attending the Univ. of Chicago Lab Schools and Yale, may be surprised to learn that the University of Illinois was teaching kids how to program online in the '70s with its PLATO system, and it didn't look all that different from what Khan Academy came up with for his kids 40 years later (Roger Ebert remarked in his 2011 TED Talk that seeing Khan Academy gave him a flashback to the PLATO system he reported on in the '60s). So, does it matter if the nation's education chief — who presides over a budget that includes $69 billion in discretionary spending — is clueless about The Hidden History of Ed-Tech? Some think so. "We can't move forward," Hack Education's Audrey Watters writes, "til we reconcile where we've been before." So, if Duncan doesn't want to shell out $200 to read a 40-year-old academic paper on the subject (that's a different problem!) to bring himself up to speed, he presumably can check out the free offerings at Ed.gov. A 1975 paper on Interactive Systems for Education, for instance, notes that 650 students were learning programming on PLATO during the Spring '75 semester, not bad considering that Khan Academy is boasting that it "helped over 2000 girls learn to code" in 2014 (after luring their teachers with funding from a $1,000,000 Google Award). Even young techies might be impressed by the extent of PLATO's circa-1975 online CS offerings, from lessons on data structures and numerical analysis to compilers, including BASIC, PL/I, SNOBOL, APL, and even good-old COBOL.

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