News

Al-Qaeda's Job Application Form Revealed 4

Posted by samzenpus
from the get-a-job dept.
HughPickens.com writes: ABC News reports that the Office of the Director of National Intelligence has released a list of English-language material recovered during the raid the killed Osama bin Laden in Abbottabad, Pakistan in 2011 including one document dubbed "Instructions to Applicants," that would not be entirely out of place for an entry-level position at any American company – except for questions like the one about the applicant's willingness to blow themselves up. The questionnaire includes basic personal details, family history, marital status, and education level. It asks that applicants "answer the required information accurately and truthfully" and, "Please write clearly and legibly." Questions include: Is the applicant expert in chemistry, communications or any other field? Do they have a family member in the government who would cooperate with al Qaeda? Have they received any military training? Finally, it asks what the would-be jihadist would like to accomplish and, "Do you wish to execute a suicide operation?" For the final question, the application asks would-be killers that if they were to become martyrs, who should al Qaeda contact?

The corporate tone of the application is jarringly amusing, writes Amanda Taub, but it also hints at a larger truth: a terrorist organization like al-Qaeda is a large bureaucratic organization, albeit one in the "business" of mass-murdering innocent people. Jon Sopel, the North American editor from BBC News, joked that the application "looks like it has been written by someone who has spent too long working for Deloitte or Accenture, but bureaucracy exists in every walk of life – so why not on the path to violent jihad?"
Education

Google and Gates-Backed Khan Academy Introduces "Grit"-Based Classroom Funding 27

Posted by samzenpus
from the effort-counts dept.
theodp writes: Their intentions are no doubt good, but some will be troubled by Google and Khan Academy's recently-concluded LearnStorm initiative, which pitted kids-against-kids, schools-against-schools, and cities-against-cities in a 3-month learning challenge for prizes based not only on students' mastery of math skills on Khan Academy, but also their perceived 'hustle' (aka 'grit'). "Points are earned by mastering math skills and also for taking on challenging new concepts and persevering," explained a Khan Academy FAQ. A blog entry further explained, "They've earned points and prizes not only for mastering math skills but also for showing 'hustle,' a metric we created to measure grit, perseverance, and growth. They competed over 200,000 hours of learning and 13.6 million standards-aligned math problems. In addition, thanks to the generosity of Google.org, DonorsChoose.org, and Comcast's Internet Essentials, 34 underserved schools unlocked new devices for their classrooms and free home internet service for eligible families, increasing student access to online learning tools like Khan Academy." Apparently funded by a $2 million Google grant, the Google, Khan Academy, and DonorsChoose grit-based classroom funding comes on the heels of the same organizations' gender-based classroom funding initiative. Supported by some of the world's wealthiest individuals and corporations, Khan Academy's Board members include a Google Board member (Diane Green), spouse of a Google Board member (Ann Doerr), and the Managing Partner of Bill Gates' bgC3 (Larry Cohen); former Board members include Google Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt.
Math

A Beautiful Mind Mathematician John F. Nash Jr. Dies 55

Posted by samzenpus
from the rest-in-peace dept.
Rick Zeman writes: John F. Nash Jr. revolutionized the mathematical field of game theory and was given a mind that was unique and deeply troubled. He became known to most people by the movie about his life, A Beautiful Mind. Dr. Nash died, along with his wife, May 24 in a two-car accident on the New Jersey Turnpike. The Washington Post reports: "In 1994, when Dr. Nash received the Nobel Prize in economics, the award marked not only an intellectual triumph but also a personal one. More than four decades earlier, as a Princeton University graduate student, he had produced a 27-page thesis on game theory — in essence, the applied mathematical study of decision-making in situations of conflict — that would become one of the most celebrated works in the field. Before the academic world could fully recognize his achievement, Dr. Nash descended into a condition eventually diagnosed as schizophrenia. For the better part of 20 years, his once supremely rational mind was beset by delusions and hallucinations. By the time Dr. Nash emerged from his disturbed state, his ideas had influenced economics, foreign affairs, politics, biology — virtually every sphere of life fueled by competition. But he been absent from professional life for so long that some scholars assumed he was dead."
Science

Soft Sensors Map Skin Mechanics 7

Posted by samzenpus
from the put-on-your-sensors dept.
MTorrice writes: An international research team has built electronic, flexible patches that can measure the mechanical properties of skin and other biological tissue. The sensors consist of nanoribbons of a piezoelectric material, lead zirconate titanate, which deforms when jolted with electrical energy and, conversely, produces electricity when it's deformed. The researchers mapped the skin elasticity of dozens of patients in the clinic, building up quantitative data on healthy and damaged tissue. The information could help doctors better assess conditions such as dermatitis and skin cancer. The team believes that similar sensors could be implanted inside the body to monitor blood vessels and other soft tissue for damage or dysfunction.
Space

Universe's Dark Ages May Not Be Invisible After All 29

Posted by Soulskill
from the if-you-have-a-big-enough-flashlight dept.
StartsWithABang writes: The Universe had two periods where light was abundant, separated by the cosmic dark ages. The first came at the moment of the hot Big Bang, as the Universe was flooded with (among the matter, antimatter and everything else imaginable) a sea of high-energy photons, including a large amount of visible light. As the Universe expanded and cooled, eventually the cosmic microwave background was emitted, leaving behind the barely visible, cooling photons. It took between 50 and 100 million years for the first stars to turn on, so in between these two epochs of the Universe being flooded with light, we had the dark ages. Yet the dark ages may not be totally invisible, as the forbidden spin-flip-transition of hydrogen may illuminate this time period after all.
Medicine

Nerve Cells Made From Blood Cells 26

Posted by Soulskill
from the beats-turning-water-into-wine dept.
BarbaraHudson writes: CBC reports that Canadian scientists are turning blood into nerve cells. They do so by manipulating stem cells that have been taken from a patient's blood, eventually switching them into neural stem cells (abstract). These can then give rise to multiple different nerve cells suitable for use in the rest of the body. Team leader Mick Bhatia said, "We can actually take a patient's blood sample, as routinely performed in a doctor's office, and with it we can produce one million sensory neurons. We can also make central nervous system cells." They're working on turning the neural stem cells into motor neurons for treatment of diseases like Parkinson's and Alzheimer's.
Mars

Software Patch Fixes Mars Curiosity Rover's Auto-focus Glitch 39

Posted by Soulskill
from the careful-with-those-semi-colons dept.
An anonymous reader writes: Scientists from Los Alamos National Laboratory have successfully uploaded and applied a software patch to NASA's Curiosity Rover on Mars. The patch fixes a focusing problem that cropped up in November when the laser that helps to focus one of its cameras failed. "Without this laser rangefinder, the ChemCam instrument was somewhat blind," said Roger Wiens, ChemCam principal investigator at Los Alamos. "The main laser that creates flashes of plasma when it analyzes rocks and soils up to 25 feet [7.6 meters] from the rover was not affected, but the laser analyses only work when the telescope projecting the laser light to the target is in focus." Before the fix, scientists had to shoot images at nine different focus settings to distill a decent set of data. Now, they say the new software results in better images in a single shot than even before the laser broke down. The program that runs the instrument is only 40 kilobytes in size.
Businesses

Amazon Decides To Start Paying Tax In the UK 168

Posted by Soulskill
from the how-kind-of-them dept.
Mark Wilson sends word that Amazon will begin paying corporate taxes on profits made in the UK. The company had previously been recording most of its UK sales as being in Luxembourg, which let them avoid the higher taxes in the UK. But at the end of last year, UK regulators decided they were losing too much tax revenue because of this practice, so they began implementing legislation that would impose a 25% tax on corporations routing their profits elsewhere. Amazon is the first large corporation to make the change, and it's expected to put pressure on Google, Microsoft, Apple, and others to do the same.
Science

Study: Science Still Seen As a Male Profession 247

Posted by Soulskill
from the need-an-opposite-for-bill-nye-the-science-guy dept.
sciencehabit sends news of a study published in the Journal of Educational Psychology which found that science is still perceived as a predominantly male profession across the world. The results were broken out by country, and while the overall trend stayed consistent throughout (PDF), there were variations in perception. For explicit bias: "Countries where this association was strongest included South Africa and Japan. The United States ranked in the middle, with a score similar to Austria, Mexico, and Brazil. Portugal, Spain, and Canada were among the countries where the explicit bias was weakest." For implicit bias: "Denmark, Switzerland, Belgium, and Sweden were among the countries with the highest implicit bias scores. The United States again came in at the middle of the pack, scoring similarly to Singapore. Portugal, Spain, and Mexico had among the lowest implicit bias scores, though the respondents still associated science more with men than with women."
Sci-Fi

The Hoverboard Flies Closer To Reality 68

Posted by Soulskill
from the for-when-you-want-to-travel-in-a-highly-inefficient-manner dept.
Dave Knott writes: Fans of 1980s cinema were disappointed when the year 2015 arrived without a practical version Marty McFly's hoverboard. Now, a Montréal-based man has brought it closer to reality by setting a new record for longest "flight" by hoverboard. In a filmed test recognized by the Guiness Book of World Records, Catalin Alexandru Duru pilots his somewhat cumbersome looking rig for 250 meters — five times the previous record — at a height of five meters above Quebec's Lake Ouareau. Duru and his business partner "hope to have a new prototype finished by the end of the year and then have hoverboards available for purchase across the country. He wouldn't say how much the prototype cost to build, but said that the first generation of the machine will likely be 'quite expensive.'" "This thing is still quite dangerous," he added, explaining that the pilot uses only his or her feet to fly the contraption. The commercial version's software will limit it to flying below a height of about one-and-a-half meters above the ground.
Operating Systems

Google Developing 'Brillo' OS For Internet of Things 179

Posted by Soulskill
from the won't-run-on-your-brilloPad dept.
An anonymous reader writes: A new report from The Information (paywalled) says Google is working on an operating system called "Brillo" that would be a platform for Internet-of-things devices. It's supposedly a lightweight version of Android, capable of running on devices with extremely limited hardware — as little as 32 MB of RAM, for example. The company is expected to launch the code for Brillo at its I/O event next week. This is particularly relevant now that Google has acquired Nest, Dropcam, and Revolv — a trio of "smart home" companies whose devices could potentially by unified by Brillo.
The Courts

Oculus Founder Hit With Lawsuit 100

Posted by Soulskill
from the not-so-luckey dept.
An anonymous reader writes: Palmer Luckey, founder of VR headset-maker Oculus, has been sued by a company accusing him of taking their confidential information and passing it off as his own. Total Recall Technologies, based in Hawaii, claims it hired Luckey in 2011 to build a head-mounted display. Part of that employment involved Luckey signing a confidentiality agreement. In August, 2012, Luckey launched a Kickstarter campaign for the Oculus Rift headset, and Facebook bought his company last year for $2 billion. TRT is seeking compensatory and punitive damages (PDF).
News

Ireland Votes Yes To Same-Sex Marriage 471

Posted by Soulskill
from the have-it-your-way dept.
BarbaraHudson writes: Reuters is reporting that the citizens of Ireland voted overwhelmingly to legalize same-sex marriages. While it's also legal in 19 other countries, Ireland was the first to decide this by putting the question to the citizens. "This has really touched a nerve in Ireland," Equality Minister Aodhan O'Riordain said at the main count center in Dublin. "It's a very strong message to every LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender) young person in Ireland and every LGBT young person in the world." Observers say the loss of moral authority of the Catholic church after a series of sex scandals was a strong contributing factor, with priests limiting their appeals to the people sitting in their pews. In contrast, the "Yes" side dominated social media.
Open Source

Ask Slashdot: Can SaaS Be Both Open Source and Economically Viable? 46

Posted by timothy
from the no-that-is-impossible dept.
An anonymous reader writes: The CTO behind Lucidchart, an online diagramming app, recently cited the open source rbush project as an invaluable tool for helping implement an "in-memory spatial index" that "increased spatial search performance by a factor of over 1,000 for large documents." My question is this: what risks does a SaaS company like Lucidchart face in making most of their own code public, like Google's recent move with Chrome for Android, and what benefits might be gained by doing so? Wouldn't sharing the code just generate more users and interest? Even if competitors did copy it, they'd always be a step behind the latest developments.
The Media

Death In the Browser Tab 82

Posted by Soulskill
from the not-about-chrome's-memory-management dept.
theodp writes: "There you are watching another death on video," writes the NY Times' Teju Cole. "In the course of ordinary life — at lunch or in bed, in a car or in the park — you are suddenly plunged into someone else's crisis, someone else's horror. It arrives, absurdly, in the midst of banal things. That is how, late one afternoon in April, I watched Walter Scott die. The footage of his death, taken by a passer-by, had just been published online on the front page of The New York Times. I watched it, sitting at my desk in Brooklyn, and was stunned by it." Cole continues, "For most of human history, to see someone die, you had to be there. Depictions of death, if there were any, came later, at a certain remove of time and space." Disturbing as they may be (Cole notes he couldn't bear to watch the ISIS beheading videos), such images may ultimately change things for the better. Is it better to publish them than sweep them under the carpet?
Security

Researchers Devise Voting System That Seems Secure, But Is Hard To Use 94

Posted by Soulskill
from the find-the-candidate-and-hand-them-your-vote dept.
An anonymous reader writes: According to an article in ReadWrite, a team of British and American researchers have developed a hacker resistant process for online voting called Du-Vote. It uses a credit card-sized device that helps to divide the security-sensitive tasks between your computer and the device in a way that neither your computer nor the device learns how you voted (PDF). If a hacker managed to control the computer and the Du-Vote token, he still can't change the votes without being detected.
AI

New 'Deep Learning' Technique Lets Robots Learn Through Trial-and-Error 60

Posted by Soulskill
from the not-killing-all-humans-didn't-work,-so-kill-all-humans-next-time dept.
jan_jes writes: UC Berkeley researchers turned to a branch of artificial intelligence known as deep learning for developing algorithms that enable robots to learn motor tasks through trial and error. It's a process that more closely approximates the way humans learn, marking a major milestone in the field of artificial intelligence. Their demonstration robot completes tasks such as "putting a clothes hanger on a rack, assembling a toy plane, screwing a cap on a water bottle, and more" without pre-programmed details about its surroundings. The challenge of putting robots into real-life settings (e.g. homes or offices) is that those environments are constantly changing. The robot must be able to perceive and adapt to its surroundings, so this type of learning is an important step.
Security

Hacker Warns Starbucks of Security Flaw, Gets Accused of Fraud 96

Posted by Soulskill
from the biting-the-hand-that-doesn't-steal-from-you dept.
Andy Smith writes: Here's another company that just doesn't get security research. White hat hacker Egor Homakov found a security flaw in Starbucks gift cards which allowed people to steal money from the company. He reported the flaw to Starbucks, but rather than thank him, the company accused him of fraud and said he had been acting maliciously.
United States

TPP Fast Track Passes Key Vote In the Senate, Moves On To the House 95

Posted by Soulskill
from the you-can-trust-us dept.
onproton writes: The Senate voted yesterday to reauthorize the controversial Trade Promotion Authority (TPA), which expedites, or 'Fast Tracks,' the passage of trade agreements through Congress. If also approved by the House, it will grant the authority to decide and negotiate the terms of agreements like the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) to the executive branch, significantly limiting congressional involvement and leaving little room for debate. Proponents of the bill, namely the USTR, claim that Fast Tracking the TPP is critical to successfully negotiating its terms internationally, and will "ensure that Congress, stakeholders and the public are closely involved before, during and after the conclusion of trade agreement negotiations." Though in reality, it does not introduce significant changes in the transparency or reporting requirements that are currently in place, which have allowed the negotiations of this deal to be held in secret since 2009. With concerns being raised about the deal's impacts on everything from intellectual property rights to government sovereignty, it is surprising to many that Congress would abdicate their role in determining the specifics of agreements that may have far reaching implications for their constituents.
Google

Cute Or Creepy? Google's Plan For a Sci-Fi Teddy Bear 89

Posted by timothy
from the teddy-ruxpin-pinned-it-on-the-one-armed-man dept.
HughPickens.com writes: Time Magazine reports that Google has designed and patented an "anthropomorphic device" that could take the form of a "doll or toy" and interact both with people as well as tech gadgets echoing the "super toy" teddy bear featured in Stephen Spielberg's 2001 movie AI. This could be one of Google's creepiest patents yet — especially if movies like "Chuckie" still give you nightmares. The patent filing diagrams a stuffed teddy bear and a bunny rabbit outfitted with microphones, speakers, cameras and motors as well as a wireless connection to the internet. If it senses you're looking at it, the fuzzy toy will rotate its head and look back at you. Once it receives and recognizes a voice command prompt, you can then tell it to control media devices in your home (e.g. turn on your music or TV). According to the patent filing: "To express interest, an anthropomorphic device may open its eyes, lift its head, and/or focus its gaze on the user or object of its interest. To express curiosity, an anthropomorphic device may tilt its head, furrow its brow, and/or scratch its head with an arm. To express boredom, an anthropomorphic device may defocus its gaze, direct its gaze in a downward fashion, tap its foot, and/or close its eyes. To express surprise, an anthropomorphic device may make a sudden movement, sit or stand up straight, and/or dilate its pupils."

The patent adds that making the device look "cute" should encourage even the youngest members of a family to interact with it. But Mikhail Avady, from SmartUp, said he thought it belonged in "a horror film", and the campaign group Big Brother Watch has also expressed dismay. "When those devices are aimed specifically at children, then for many this will step over the creepy line," says Avady. "Children should be able to play in private and shouldn't have to fear this sort of passive invasion of their privacy."
United Kingdom

Bank of England Accidentally E-mails Top-Secret "Brexit" Plan To the Guardian 340

Posted by timothy
from the brexit-is-good-with-toast-and-jam dept.
schwit1 writes: The first rule of "Project Bookend" is that you don't talk about "Project Bookend." In retrospect, maybe the first rule should have been "you don't accidentally e-mail 'Project Bookend' to a news agency," because as the Guardian reports, one of its editors opened his inbox and was surprised to find a message from the BOE's Head of Press Jeremy Harrison outlining the UK financial market equivalent of the Manhattan project. Project Bookend is a secret (or 'was' a secret) initiative undertaken by the BOE to study what the fallout might be from a potential 'Brexit', but if anyone asked what Sir Jon Cunliffe and a few senior staffers were up to, they were instructed to say that they were busy investigating "a broad range of European economic issues." And if you haven't heard the term before, "Brexit" refers to the possibility of Britain leaving the EU -- one of the possible outcomes of an upcoming referendum.