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Programming

A Middle-Aged Writer's Quest To Start Learning To Code For the First Time (1843magazine.com) 183

OpenSourceAllTheWay writes: The Economist's 1843 magazine details one middle-aged writer's (Andrew Smith) quest to learn to code for the first time, after becoming interested in the "alien" logic mechanisms that power completely new phenomena like crypto-currency and effectively make the modern world function in the 21st Century. The writer discovers that there are over 1,700 actively used computer programming languages to choose from, and that every programmer that he asks "Where should someone like me start with coding?" contradicts the next in his or her recommendation. One seasoned programmer tells him that programmers discussing what language is best is the equivalent of watching "religious wars." The writer is stunned by how many of these languages were created by unpaid individuals who often built them for "glory and the hell of it." He is also amazed by how many people help each other with coding problems on the internet every day, and the computer programmer culture that non-technical people are oblivious of.

Eventually the writer finds a chart of the most popular programming languages online, and discovers that these are Python, Javascript, and C++. The syntax of each of these languages looks indecipherable to him. The writer, with some help from online tutorials, then learns how to write a basic Python program that looks for keywords in a Twitter feed. The article is interesting in that it shows what the "alien world of coding" looks like to people who are not already computer nerds and in fact know very little about how computer software works. There are many interesting observations on coding/computing culture in the article, seen through the lens of someone who is not a computer nerd and who has not spent the last two decades hanging out on Slashdot or Stackoverflow.

Communications

YouTube Is Messing With the Order of Videos In Some User Feeds (gizmodo.com) 92

YouTube is testing non-chronological subscription feeds to try and serve you content that it thinks you'll want to see at the top. The problem with this is that the subscription feed exists because users subscribed to content that they want to see. If they don't, they will unsubscribe, thereby removing unwanted content from the feed. Gizmodo reports: YouTube confirmed the test on Twitter after some users noticed the change and inquired as to why the heck their subscription feed was no longer in chronological order. YouTube must have missed the memo about how users react when platforms mess with the order of the sacred feed.

Here's YouTube's how-to and troubleshooting Twitter account explained the test: "Just to clarify. We are currently experimenting with how to show content in the subs feed. We find that some viewers are able to more easily find the videos they want to watch when we order the subs feed in a personalized order vs always showing most recent video first." Weird, considering YouTube already offers recommended videos based on your viewing habits and subscribed channels in its sidebar.

Businesses

Elon Musk To Fight Fake News, Rate Journalists' Credibility Via a Site Called 'Pravda' 314

Elon Musk took to Twitter today to announce his next project: a site called "Pravda" that ranks journalists' credibility and fights fake news. "Going to create a site where the public can rate the core truth of any article & track the credibility score over time of each journalist, editor & publication," tweeted Musk. "Thinking of calling it Pravda..." Musk continued: "Even if some of the public doesn't care about the credibility score, the journalists, editors & publications will. It is how they define themselves." A subsequent Twitter poll (exposed to mostly Musk followers) reveals that most people believe "this would be good."

Accredited journalist Mark Harris replied to the Tesla and SpaceX CEO with a copy of a Statement and Designation by Foreign Corporation form that names the Pravda Corp. "Er, he's not kidding folks," Harris tweeted. "I noticed that one of Musk's agents had incorporated Pravda Corp in California back in October last year. I was wondering what it was all about..."

GeekWire has catalogued a string of replies between Musk and Twitter users who are supportive/unsupportive of his plans.
Social Networks

President Trump Can't Block People On Twitter, Court Rules (knightcolumbia.org) 396

Reader drunken_boxer777 writes: US District Judge Buchwald issued a 75-page ruling today clearly articulating why Donald Trump cannot block Twitter users, as it violates their First Amendment rights.

"Turning to the merits of plaintiffs' First Amendment claim, we hold that the speech in which they seek to engage is protected by the First Amendment and that the President and Scavino exert governmental control over certain aspects of the @realDonaldTrump account, including the interactive space of the tweets sent from the account. That interactive space is susceptible to analysis under the Supreme Court's forum doctrines, and is properly characterized as a designated public forum. The viewpoint-based exclusion of the individual plaintiffs from that designated public forum is proscribed by the First Amendment and cannot be justified by the President's personal First Amendment interests."
Further reading: Bloomberg.
Transportation

Tesla's Promised $35,000 Model 3 Is Still a Long Way Off (engadget.com) 276

When the Model 3 was first unveiled, it was pitched as an EV for the masses that would have a reasonable $35,000 price. Two years later and we still don't have a clear timeline as to when the $35,000 Model 3 will ship. In fact, Elon Musk last weekend unveiled the pricing and specs of a newer, more expensive Model 3 with AWD. It will cost $78,000. Engadget reports: CEO Elon Musk recently tweeted that the $35,000 Model 3 now won't ship until three to six months after Tesla achieves its 5,000 vehicle-per-week production goal. The reason for the new delay in the base model is simple: If the company was to ship it now, it would lose money on every vehicle and "die," as Musk put it. If Tesla had hit its initial forecasts and was producing 5,000 vehicles a week by January, the base, $35,000 Model 3 probably wouldn't have been delayed by so much. One potential problem for Tesla, as the WSJ points out, is that many of the 500,000 buyers who laid down a $1,000 deposit did so expecting to buy a $35,000 car, not a $49,000 one. When they get a letter saying the time has come to configure their EVs, quite a few might decide to back out, which could impact Tesla's already precarious cash flow situation.
Businesses

Twitter Is Killing Several of Its TV Apps, Too (techcrunch.com) 29

Twitter is shutting down its TV apps on Roku, Android TV and Xbox starting on May 24, the company announced this morning. From a report: The news of the apps' closure comes at a time when Twitter is now trying to steer its users to its first-party mobile apps and its desktop website by killing off apps used by a minority of its user base -- like the Twitter for Mac app it shut down earlier this year. And more recently, it has attempted to kill off popular third-party Mac apps with a series of unfriendly API changes.

It's unclear why this has become Twitter's agenda. While it can be a burden for a company to support a broader ecosystem of apps where some only have a niche audience, in some cases those "niche" users are also the most influential and heavy users. And arguably, anyone launching Twitter's app on their TV must be a die-hard user -- because who is really watching that much Twitter on their TV?

United States

Trump Ignores 'Inconvenient' Security Rules To Keep Tweeting On His iPhone, Says Report (politico.com) 542

According to Politico, "President Donald Trump uses a White House cellphone that isn't equipped with sophisticated security features designed to shield his communications." The decision is "a departure from the practice of his predecessors that potentially exposes him to hacking or surveillance." From the report: The president uses at least two iPhones, according to one of the officials. The phones -- one capable only of making calls, the other equipped only with the Twitter app and preloaded with a handful of news sites -- are issued by White House Information Technology and the White House Communications Agency, an office staffed by military personnel that oversees White House telecommunications. While aides have urged the president to swap out the Twitter phone on a monthly basis, Trump has resisted their entreaties, telling them it was "too inconvenient," the same administration official said. The president has gone as long as five months without having the phone checked by security experts. It is unclear how often Trump's call-capable phones, which are essentially used as burner phones, are swapped out.
Microsoft

Bill Gates Shares His Memories of Donald Trump (cnn.com) 490

MSNBC recently published a video of Bill Gates telling his staff at the Gates Foundation that he had two meetings with Donald Trump since the president was elected. In the video, Gates says Trump doesn't know the difference between two sexually transmitted diseases -- human papillomavirus (HPV) and human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) -- and that it was "scary" how much Trump knew about Gates' daughter's appearance. Gates also said he urged Trump to support innovation and technology during those meetings. CNN reports: Taking audience questions about his interactions with Trump at a Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation meeting, the former Microsoft honcho said he first met Trump in December 2016. He told the audience that Trump had previously come across his daughter, Jennifer, at a horse show in Florida. "And then about 20 minutes later he flew in on a helicopter to the same place," Gates said, according to video of the event broadcast by MSNBC late Thursday. "So clearly he had been driven away but he wanted to make a grand entrance in a helicopter. "Anyway, so when I first talked to him, it was actually kind of scary how much he knew about my daughter's appearance. Melinda (Gates' wife) didn't like that too well."

Gates also said he discussed science with Trump on two separate occasions, where he says the President questioned him on the difference between HIV and HPV. "In both of those two meetings, he asked me if vaccines weren't a bad thing because he was considering a commission to look into ill-effects of vaccines and somebody -- I think it was Robert Kennedy Jr. -- was advising him that vaccines were causing bad things. And I said no, that's a dead end, that would be a bad thing, don't do that. "Both times he wanted to know if there was a difference between HIV and HPV so I was able to explain that those are rarely confused with each other," Gates said.

AI

Did Google's Duplex Testing Break the Law? (daringfireball.net) 73

An anonymous reader writes: Tech blogger John Gruber appears to have successfully identified one of the restaurants mentioned in a post on Google's AI blog that bragged about "a meal booked through a call from Duplex." Mashable then asked a restaurant employee there if Google had let him know in advance that they'd be receiving a call from their non-human personal assistant AI. "No, of course no," he replied. And "When I asked him to confirm one more time that Duplex had called...he appeared to get nervous and immediately said he needed to go. He then hung up the phone."

John Gruber now asks: "How many real-world businesses has Google Duplex been calling and not identifying itself as an AI, leaving people to think they're actually speaking to another human...? And if 'Victor' is correct that Hong's Gourmet had no advance knowledge of the call, Google may have violated California law by recording the call." Friday he added that "This wouldn't send anyone to prison, but it would be a bit of an embarrassment, and would reinforce the notion that Google has a cavalier stance on privacy (and adhering to privacy laws)."

The Mercury News also reports that legal experts "raised questions about how Google's possible need to record Duplex's phone conversations to improve its artificial intelligence may come in conflict with California's strict two-party consent law, where all parties involved in a private phone conversation need to agree to being recorded."

For another perspective, Gizmodo's senior reviews editor reminds readers that "pretty much all tech demos are fake as hell." Speaking of Google's controversial Duplex demo, she writes that "If it didn't happen, if it is all a lie, well then I'll be totally disappointed. But I can't say I'll be surprised."
Transportation

Should The Media Cover Tesla Accidents? (chicagotribune.com) 268

Long-time Slashdot reader rufey writes: Last weekend a Tesla vehicle was involved in a crash near Salt Lake City Utah while its Autopilot feature was enabled. The Tesla, a Model S, crashed into the rear end of a fire department utility truck, which was stopped at a red light, at an estimated speed of 60 MPH. "The car appeared not to brake before impact, police said. The driver, whom police have not named, was taken to a hospital with a broken foot," according to the Associated Press. "The driver of the fire truck suffered whiplash and was not taken to a hospital."
Elon Musk tweeted about the accident:

It's super messed up that a Tesla crash resulting in a broken ankle is front page news and the ~40,000 people who died in US auto accidents alone in past year get almost no coverage. What's actually amazing about this accident is that a Model S hit a fire truck at 60mph and the driver only broke an ankle. An impact at that speed usually results in severe injury or death.

The Associated Press defended their news coverage Friday, arguing that the facts show that "not all Tesla crashes end the same way." They also fact-check Elon Musk's claim that "probability of fatality is much lower in a Tesla," reporting that it's impossible to verify since Tesla won't release the number of miles driven by their cars or the number of fatalities. "There have been at least three already this year and a check of 2016 NHTSA fatal crash data -- the most recent year available -- shows five deaths in Tesla vehicles."

Slashdot reader Reygle argues the real issue is with the drivers in the Autopilot cars. "Someone unwilling to pay attention to the road shouldn't be allowed anywhere near that road ever again."


Privacy

'I Asked Apple for All My Data. Here's What Was Sent Back' (zdnet.com) 172

"I asked Apple to give me all the data it's collected on me since I first became a customer in 2010," writes the security editor for ZDNet, "with the purchase of my first iPhone." That was nearly a decade ago. As most tech companies have grown in size, they began collecting more and more data on users and customers -- even on non-users and non-customers... Apple took a little over a week to send me all the data it's collected on me, amounting to almost two dozen Excel spreadsheets at just 5MB in total -- roughly the equivalent of a high-quality photo snapped on my iPhone. Facebook, Google, and Twitter all took a few minutes to an hour to send me all the data they store on me -- ranging from a few hundred megabytes to a couple of gigabytes in size...

The zip file contained mostly Excel spreadsheets, packed with information that Apple stores about me. None of the files contained content information -- like text messages and photos -- but they do contain metadata, like when and who I messaged or called on FaceTime. Apple says that any data information it collects on you is yours to have if you want it, but as of yet, it doesn't turn over your content which is largely stored on your slew of Apple devices. That's set to change later this year... And, of the data it collects to power Siri, Maps, and News, it does so anonymously -- Apple can't attribute that data to the device owner... One spreadsheet -- handily -- contained explanations for all the data fields, which we've uploaded here...

[T]here's really not much to it. As insightful as it was, Apple's treasure trove of my personal data is a drop in the ocean to what social networks or search giants have on me, because Apple is primarily a hardware maker and not ad-driven, like Facebook and Google, which use your data to pitch you ads.

CNET explains how to request your own data from Apple.
Music

'Yanny vs. Laurel' Reveals Flaws In How We Listen To Audio (theproaudiofiles.com) 236

Unless you've been living under a rock for the past few days, you've probably heard about the controversy over "Yanny" and "Laurel." The internet has been abuzz over an audio clip in which the name being said depends on the listener. Some hear "Laurel" while others hear "Yanny." Ian Vargo, an audio enthusiast who spends most of his working hours of the day listening to and editing audio, helps explain why we hear the name that we do: Human speech is actually composed of many frequencies, in part because we have a resonant chest cavity which creates lower frequencies, and the throat and mouth which creates higher frequencies. The word "laurel" contains a combination of both which are therefore present in the original recording at vocabulary.com, but the clip that you most likely heard has accentuated higher frequencies due to imperfections in the audio that were created by data compression. To make it worse, the playback device that many people first heard the audio clip playing out of was probably a speaker system built into a cellular phone, which is too small to accurately recreate low frequencies.

This helpful interactive tool from The New York Times allows you to use a slider to more clearly hear one or the other. Pitch shifting the audio clip up seems to accentuate "laurel" whereas shifting it down accentuates "yanny." In summary, this perfect storm of the human voice creating both low and high frequencies, the audio clip having been subject to data compression used to create smaller, more convenient files, and our tendency to listen out of devices with subpar playback components lead to an apparent near-even split of the population hearing "laurel" or "yanny."

Twitter

Twitter Will Start Hiding Tweets That 'Detract From the Conversation' (slate.com) 186

Yesterday, Twitter announced several new changes to quiet trolls and remove spam. According to Slate, the company "will begin hiding tweets from certain accounts in conversations and search results." In order to see them, you'll now have to scroll to the bottom of the conversation and click "Show more replies," or go into your search settings and choose "See everything." From the report: When Twitter's software decides that a certain user is "detract[ing] from the conversation," all of that user's tweets will be hidden from search results and public conversations until their reputation improves. And they won't know that they're being muted in this way; Twitter says it's still working on ways to notify people and help them get back into its good graces. In the meantime, their tweets will still be visible to their followers as usual and will still be able to be retweeted by others. They just won't show up in conversational threads or search results by default. The change will affect a very small fraction of users, explained Twitter's vice president of trust and safety, Del Harvey -- much less than 1 percent. Still, the company believes it could make a significant difference in the average user's experience. In early testing of the new feature, Twitter said it has seen a 4 percent drop in abuse reports in its search tool and an 8 percent drop in abuse reports in conversation threads.
Twitter

Twitter Delays Shutdown of Legacy APIs By 3 Months as it Launches a Replacement (techcrunch.com) 12

Twitter said on Wednesday that it will be giving developers more time to adjust to its API platform overhaul, which has affected some apps' ability to continue operating in the same fashion. From a report: The company clarified this morning, along with news of the general availability of its Account Activity API, that it will be delaying the shutdown of some of its legacy APIs by three months' time. That is, APIs originally slated for a June 19, 2018 shutdown -- including Site Streams, User Streams, and legacy Direct Message Endpoints -- will now be deprecated on Wednesday, August 16, 2018.
Power

Tesla Unveils New Large Powerpack Project For Grid Balancing In Europe (electrek.co) 99

Tesla has unveiled a new large Powerpack energy storage project to be used as a virtual power plant for grid balancing in Europe. It consists of 140 Powerpacks and several Tesla inverters for a total power output of 18.2 MW. Electrek reports: Tesla partnered with Restore, a demand response aggregator, to build the system and offer balancing services to European transmission system operators. Instead of using gas generators and steam turbines kicking to compensate for losses of power on the grid, Tesla's batteries are charged when there's excess power and then discharge when there's a need for more power.

Restore UK Vice President Louis Burford told The Energyst that they are bundling their assets like batteries as a "synthetic pool": "By creating synthetic pools or portfolios, you reduce the technical requirements on individual assets that otherwise would not be able to participate [in certain balancing services]. By doing so you create value where it does not ordinarily exist. That is only achievable through synthetic portfolios."
For those interested, Tesla has released promo video on YouTube about the project.
Cellphones

Lenovo Teases a True All-Screen Smartphone With No Notch (cnet.com) 177

An anonymous reader quotes a report from CNET: Notches, it seems, are the new black. Originally seen -- and often criticized -- on the Essential PH-1 and iPhone X in 2017, the trend of adding notches to Android phones has only accelerated this year as phone makers look to maximize the screen size. But the Lenovo Z5 is going the other way: It's truly all-screen, and notch-free. At least, that's according to a sketch shared last Friday by Lenovo VP Chang Cheng on Weibo, a Twitter-like platform in China. Cheng's teaser post says (according to Google Translate) that the Lenovo Z5 is the company's new flagship phone. Besides that, the post leaves it pretty vague.

All-screen phones look cool, but they challenge the manufacturer to find a place to put front cameras, sensors and other hardware. That's why we see bezels on some phones and notches on others. It's not clear what Lenovo plans to do with the front camera on the Lenovo Z5. Cheng's post claims that "four technological breakthroughs" and "18 patented technologies" were made for the phone, but doesn't go into details.
One of the first smartphones to launch with an edge-to-edge display was the Xiaomi Mi Mix. It launched with next to no bezel or notch, leaving many to wonder where the earpiece would be. What Xiaomi managed to do was use what it calls "cantilever piezoelectric ceramic acoustic technology." Basically, it's a component that converts electrical energy into mechanical energy to transfer to the phone's internal metal frame, which then vibrates to create sound. It's possible the Z5 relies on a similar technology, or bone conduction technology found in many headphones and some smartphones.

Aside from the front-facing camera and ambient light sensors, the other components that are typically found on the front of smartphones are relatively easy to drag-and-drop to different locations. For example, the speakers in the Z5 are likely bottom facing and the navigation controls are almost certainly software based. The question is whether or not it's worth having a true all-screen smartphone if it means there's no front-facing camera, ambient light sensors, or stereo speakers.
Transportation

Tesla Rejected More Advanced Driver Monitoring Features On Its Cars, Says Report (theverge.com) 143

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Verge: Engineers inside Tesla wanted to add robust driver monitoring systems to the company's cars to help make sure drivers safely use Autopilot, and Tesla even worked with suppliers on possible solutions, according to The Wall Street Journal. But those executives -- Elon Musk included -- reportedly rejected the idea out of worry that the options might not work well enough, could be expensive, and because drivers might become annoyed by an overly nagging system.

Tesla considered a few different types of monitoring: one that would track a driver's eyes using a camera and infrared sensors, and another that involved adding more sensors to the steering wheel to make sure that the driver is holding on. Both ideas would help let the car's system know if the driver has stopped paying attention, which could reduce the chance of an accident in situations where Autopilot disengages or is incapable of keeping the car from crashing. Musk later confirmed on Twitter that the eye tracking option was "rejected for being ineffective, not for cost."

Businesses

President Trump Pledges To Help China's ZTE, After Ban (usatoday.com) 230

President Trump said Sunday that he and Chinese President Xi Jinping are working to put the troubled Chinese telecom manufacturer ZTE back in business. From a report: "President Xi of China, and I, are working together to give massive Chinese phone company, ZTE, a way to get back into business, fast," Trump said in a message on Twitter. "Too many jobs in China lost. Commerce Department has been instructed to get it done!" ZTE, maker of Android phones popular with budget-minded consumers, said Wednesday that it would cease "major operating activities," raising questions not only about its survival, but the impact on U.S. consumers who have previously bought or were thinking of buying ZTE phones. The announcement followed a decision last month by the U.S. Commerce Department, which banned American companies from exporting products to the Shenzhen, China-based telecom firm for seven years.
Portables (Apple)

Class Action Suit Filed Against Apple Over the Keyboards in MacBook Pro and MacBook Laptops (theoutline.com) 219

On Friday, Apple was hit with a class action lawsuit over the butterfly-switch keyboards, found on the current generation MacBook Pro and MacBook lineups, that have plagued its customers since they were released in 2015. The suit, filed in the Northern District Court of California, alleges that Apple "promoted and sold laptops it knew were defective in that they contain a keyboard that is substantially certain to fail prematurely," The Outline reports, and that selling these computers not only directly to its customers but also to third party retailers constitutes a violation of good faith. From the report: The Outline was the first outlet to substantially cover the magnitude of the issue, writing that Apple Geniuses responsible for diagnosing and repairing these Apple computers would benevolently attribute dead keys and double-spacing spacebars to a "piece of dust" stuck under the keyboard. Under Apple's warranty, Geniuses might offer to replace the entire top case of the computer, a process that takes about a week. Out of warranty, it costs about $700 to replace this part on a MacBook Pro. Apple has declined repeatedly to comment on the issue, but directs sufferers to a support page that instructs users how to tilt the computer at an angle, blow canned air under the malfunctioning keys, light candles arranged in the shape of a pentagram, and recite an incantation to Gaia in hopes of fixing their machines. Earlier this month, users kickstarted a petition on Change.org that calls on Apple to recall MacBook Pro units released since late 2016 over the defective keyboard. The petition has garnered about 20,000 signatures. Widely respected iOS developer and Apple commentator Marco Arment tweeted on the news, "We can't know for sure that Apple knew the 2016 keyboards were defective and sold them anyway. But it's hard to see how they couldn't have known. They were released 18 months earlier in the 12" MacBook, and those had the same problems with high failure rates from the start."
The Internet

Russian Fake News Ecosystem Targets Syrian Human Rights Workers (securityledger.com) 259

chicksdaddy shares a report from The Security Ledger: Kremlin linked news sites like RT and Sputnik figure prominently in an online disinformation campaign portraying Syrian humanitarian workers ("White Helmets") as terrorists and crisis actors, according to an analysis (PDF) by researchers at University of Washington and Harvard. An online "echosystem" of propaganda websites including Russia backed news outlets Sputnik and RT is attacking the credibility of humanitarian workers on the ground in rebel occupied Syria, according to a new analysis by researchers at The University of Washington and Harvard University. Online rumors circulated through so called "alternative" media sites have attacked the Syrian Civil Defense (aka "White Helmets") as "crisis actors" and Western agents working on behalf of the U.S. and NATO. Statistical analysis of the online rumors reveal a tight network of websites sharing nearly identical content via Twitter and other social media platforms, wrote Kate Starbird. Starbird is an Assistant Professor of Human Centered Design & Engineering at University of Washington and a leading expert on so-called "crisis informatics."

In activity reminiscent of the disinformation campaigns that roiled the U.S. Presidential election in 2016, articles by what Starbird describes as "a few prominent journalists and bloggers" writing for self described "alternative" news sites like 21stCenturyWire, GlobalResearch, MintPressNews, and ActivistPost are picked up by other, smaller and more niche websites including both left- and right-leaning partisan news sites, "clickbait sites," and conspiracy theory websites. Government funded media outlets from Syria, Iran, Hezbollah and Russia figure prominently in the Syrian disinformation campaign, Starbird's team found. In particular, "Russian government-funded media outlets (i.e. SputnikNews and RT) play a prominent and multi-faceted role within this ecosystem," she wrote.

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