Businesses

How the Math Men Overthrew the Mad Men (newyorker.com) 16

An anonymous reader shares an excerpt of a New Yorker piece: Once, Mad Men ruled advertising. They've now been eclipsed by Math Men -- the engineers and data scientists whose province is machines, algorithms, pureed data, and artificial intelligence. Yet Math Men are beleaguered, as Mark Zuckerberg demonstrated when he humbled himself before Congress, in April. Math Men's adoration of data -- coupled with their truculence and an arrogant conviction that their 'science' is nearly flawless -- has aroused government anger, much as Microsoft did two decades ago.

The power of Math Men is awesome. Google and Facebook each has a market value exceeding the combined value of the six largest advertising and marketing holding companies. Together, they claim six out of every ten dollars spent on digital advertising, and nine out of ten new digital ad dollars. They have become more dominant in what is estimated to be an up to two-trillion-dollar annual global advertising and marketing business. Facebook alone generates more ad dollars than all of America's newspapers, and Google has twice the ad revenues of Facebook.

Bitcoin

Bitcoin Backlash as 'Miners' Suck Up Electricity, Stress Power Grids in Central Washington (seattletimes.com) 47

An anonymous reader shares a report: Public hearings for rural electric utilities are rarely sellout events. But the crowd that showed up in Wenatchee two weeks ago for a hearing about Bitcoin mining in Chelan County was so large that utility staff had to open a second room with a video feed for the overflow. The turnout wasn't surprising. Chelan County, along with neighboring Douglas and Grant counties, has been at the center of the U.S. Bitcoin boom since 2012, when the region's ultracheap hydropower began attracting cryptocurrency "miners."

[...] As a result, an area famous for apples, wheat and conservative politics has been transformed into a kind of cyber-boomtown, with Bitcoin mining operations that range from large-scale, state-of-the-art warehouses to repurposed cargo containers to backyard sheds. By the end of this year, according to some estimates, the Mid-Columbia Basin could account for as much as 30 percent of the global output of new Bitcoin and large shares of other digital currencies, such as Litecoin and Ethereum. But as in any boomtown, success has come at a cost. As the cryptocurrency industry morphs into larger, more energy-intensive operations, the Basin's three public utilities districts (PUDs) are reassessing how they deal with it, and whether they can -- or should even try to -- keep up.

Businesses

Oracle's Aggressive Sales Tactics Are Backfiring With Customers (lightreading.com) 70

An anonymous reader shares a report: Oracle's aggressive sales tactics are turning off customers, setting a roadblock in the company's race to catch up with Amazon Web Services in the cloud, according to a report on The Information. [Editor's note: the link may be paywalled; alternative source]. Oracle is threatening customers of its on-premises software with potentially expensive usage audits and strongly suggesting those customers could solve their problems by moving to the cloud, The Information says. But the tactic is backfiring. "Several big Oracle customers, including oil and gas exploration company Halliburton, toy maker Mattel and electricity provider Edison Southern California, have recently rejected big cloud services deals proposed by Oracle, according to an Oracle employee with knowledge of the situation," the publication reported. "Oracle representatives had suggested the customers strike the deals to avoid expensive audits of how they were using Oracle software, according to the employee. Instead, that approach to selling cloud is irritating customers," it added.
Earth

People Living in the Hottest Places on the Planet Are the Least Likely To Have Air Conditioners (qz.com) 98

Zoe Schlanger, writing for Quartz: In 2016, roughly 10% of the planet's energy use went towards air conditioning. Figures vary wildly from country to country, though, and some of the hottest regions on Earth use the least A/C -- for now. A new report from the International Energy Agency says that's about to change. By 2050, the intergovernmental agency predicts, global energy use from A/Cs will triple, reaching a level equivalent to China's total electricity demand today. The African continent is home to some of the hottest places on Earth, but fewer than 5% of people in most African nations own an air conditioner, and energy used for cooling comes to just 35 kWh per person living in the continent, according to the IEA. In India, where large parts of the country are hot all year round, people use an average of 70 kWh for cooling. Compared to nations where having an A/C is the norm, that's almost nothing at all.
Businesses

Google's Toronto City Built 'From the Internet Up' (bbc.com) 34

On Toronto's Eastern waterfront, a new digital city is being built by Sidewalk Labs -- a firm owned by Google's parent Alphabet. It hopes the project will become a model for 21st-Century urbanism. From a report: But the deal has been controversial, representing one of biggest ever tie-ups between a city and a large corporation. And that, coupled with the fact that the corporation in question is one of the largest tech firms in the world, is causing some unease. Sidewalk Labs promises to transform the disused waterfront area into a bustling mini metropolis, one built "from the internet up," although there is no timetable for when the city will actually be built. Dan Doctoroff, the company's head and former deputy mayor of New York, told the BBC the project was "about creating healthier, safer, more convenient and more fun lives. We want this to be a model for what urban life can be in the 21st Century," he said. The area will have plenty of sensors collecting data -- from traffic, noise and air quality -- and monitoring the performance of the electric grid and waste collection.
GNOME

Mystery Donor Pledges $1 Million To The GNOME Foundation (betanews.com) 68

Brian Fagioli, writing for BetaNews: This week, The GNOME Foundation made a shocking revelation: a mystery donor has pledged $1 million dollars. We don't know who is promising the money -- it could be a rich man or woman, but more likely -- and this is pure speculation -- it is probably a company that benefits from GNOME, such as Red Hat or Canonical.

"An anonymous donor has pledged to donate up to $1,000,000 over the next two years, some of which will be matching funds. The GNOME Foundation is grateful for this donation and plans on using these funds to increase staff to streamline operations and to grow its support of the GNOME Project and the surrounding ecosystem. While the GNOME Foundation has maintained its position as a proponent of the GNOME Project, growth has been limited. With these funds, the GNOME Foundation will be able to expand and lead in the free software space," says The GNOME Foundation.

The Courts

Ask Slashdot: Can a City Really Sue an Oil Company For Climate Change? (wired.com) 193

An anonymous reader writes: The city of Richmond, California, is suing Chevron, its largest employer and its largest public-safety scourge. But while industrial accidents like refinery fires are commonplace in the low-lying industrial town, that's not what this lawsuit is about. Richmond and six other California cities are suing oil companies for contributing to the changing climate, which threatens to inundate their shorelines. "In an era of federal deregulation and rising seas, these lawsuits feel increasingly urgent," writes deputy editor Adam Rogers. "The question is whether the courts will even see them as plausible."

The lawsuits face two big legal hurdles: getting scientific proof that climate change (and specific companies causing climate change) are to blame for the cities' woes, along with overcoming oil companies' contention that cities can't sue them at all, since at the federal level, they're beholden to the Clean Air Act. But the urban plaintiffs have a plan for that. They are not asking for new regulations or bans; they're asking for reparations for a problem they say oil companies willfully hid from them. "Oil and gas, like cigarettes, are products. The companies that sell them are liable for the damages they cause," says Sharon Eubanks, an attorney at Bordas & Bordas who was lead counsel in the Justice Department's RICO case against the Philip Morris tobacco company. "They have misled the public about the product's dangers."

Network

There Are Real Reasons For Linux To Replace ifconfig, netstat and Other Classic Tools (utoronto.ca) 302

Several readers have shared a blog post: One of the ongoing system administration controversies in Linux is that there is an ongoing effort to obsolete the old, cross-Unix standard network administration and diagnosis commands of ifconfig, netstat and the like and replace them with fresh new Linux specific things like ss and the ip suite. Old sysadmins are generally grumpy about this; they consider it yet another sign of Linux's 'not invented here' attitude that sees Linux breaking from well-established Unix norms to go its own way. Although I'm an old sysadmin myself, I don't have this reaction. Instead, I think that it might be both sensible and honest for Linux to go off in this direction. There are two reasons for this, one ostensible and one subtle.

The ostensible surface issue is that the current code for netstat, ifconfig, and so on operates in an inefficient way. Per various people, netstat et al operate by reading various files in /proc, and doing this is not the most efficient thing in the world (either on the kernel side or on netstat's side). You won't notice this on a small system, but apparently there are real impacts on large ones. Modern commands like ss and ip use Linux's netlink sockets, which are much more efficient. In theory netstat, ifconfig, and company could be rewritten to use netlink too; in practice this doesn't seem to have happened and there may be political issues involving different groups of developers with different opinions on which way to go.

(Netstat and ifconfig are part of net-tools, while ss and ip are part of iproute2.)

However, the deeper issue is the interface that netstat, ifconfig, and company present to users. In practice, these commands are caught between two masters. On the one hand, the information the tools present and the questions they let us ask are deeply intertwined with how the kernel itself does networking, and in general the tools are very much supposed to report the kernel's reality. On the other hand, the users expect netstat, ifconfig and so on to have their traditional interface (in terms of output, command line arguments, and so on); any number of scripts and tools fish things out of ifconfig output, for example. As the Linux kernel has changed how it does networking, this has presented things like ifconfig with a deep conflict; their traditional output is no longer necessarily an accurate representation of reality.

Government

Paytm, India's Largest Digital Wallet App, Accused Of Handing Over User Data To The Government (buzzfeed.com) 18

Paytm, the largest mobile wallet app in India, has been accused of sharing with the Indian government the personal data of users in a geopolitically sensitive region. From a report: On Friday, the news agency released a video where a reporter went undercover and recorded Paytm's vice president, Ajay Shekhar Sharma, saying how the company had handed over personal data of users in the state of Jammu and Kashmir after Sharma personally received a call from the prime minister's office following incidents of stone-pelting by Kashmiri Muslims against India's armed forces, something that happens frequently in the region. "They told us to give them data, saying maybe some of the stone-pelters are Paytm users," Sharma says in the video. He also talks about his close ties to the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, a right-wing Hindu nationalist organization known for being the ideological front of India's ruling Bharatiya Janata Party.
Google

Are Google's Cat-Loving Employees Killing Burrowing Owls? (seattletimes.com) 141

An anonymous reader writes: Google's employees started a group called GCat Rescue that traps feral cats and puts them up for adoption. (Though "less-friendly adult cats are neutered and released... The cats that are released are implanted with tracking chips, and an ear is notched so they can be identified.") A public records request discovered that city employees kept catching the Google-chipped cats in a nearby wildlife and recreation area that was home to the very last 50 burrowing owls in Silicon Valley — which California has officially designated a species of "special concern". Someone had apparently even installed a cat-feeding station next to a designated owl-nesting area.

The local Audubon Society has been asking Google to review their cat-feeding stations since 2012, but environmental groups told the Times Google was "consistenty unhelpful" on the cat issue. "They told us it was something their employees were doing and they couldn't interfere," said a board member with a group trying to protect the San Francisco Bay National Wildlife Refuge. "One of the cats was trapped, turned over to the Silicon Valley Animal Control Authority, released to Google, trapped again in the park and released again to Google," the Times reports, adding that "In August, it was found dead in the park."

"Like so many stories these days about Big Tech, this is a tale about how attempts to do good often produce unexpected consequences, and how even smart people (especially, perhaps, smart people) can be reluctant to rethink their convictions."

The Times reports that a "final victory is at hand" for the cats, since last year was the first time in 20 years that no owl fledglings were observed in the park -- though "as recently as 2011, there were 10." But the number of cat sightings was 318.
The Courts

Judge Backs Parents, Saying Their 30-Year-Old Son Must Move Out (npr.org) 274

"Attention geeks living in their parents' basements!" writes PolygamousRanchKid , sharing this story from NPR: The promise of adventure didn't do it. Neither did the lure of independence, or the weight of his 30 years. Instead, it took a judge to pry Michael Rotondo from his parents' home. The couple won an eviction order against their son, after a judge argued with Rotondo for 30 minutes. "I don't see why they can't just, you know, wait a little bit for me to leave the house," Rotondo told Donald Greenwood, a justice on the Onondaga County Supreme Court...

Christina and Mark Rotondo resorted to legal action after a series of notes to their son (starting on Feb. 2) failed to get him to move out of their home in Camillus, New York, a town west of Syracuse. Those notes followed discussions that began last October. The notes to Michael Rotondo ranged from orders to leave and encouragement to get a job, to offers of more than $1,000 and help in finding a place... The notes escalated into a formally worded notice for Rotondo to leave that set a 30-day deadline -- which lapsed on March 15...

In a legal filing cited by CNYCentral, Rotondo said that in the eight years he has lived at his parents' house, he "has never been expected to contribute to household expenses, or assisted with chores and the maintenance of the premises," and that those conditions are simply part of an informal agreement. When he was in his early 20s, Rotondo briefly lived on his own, but he moved back in with his parents after losing a job...

The case is being seen as an extreme example of a growing trend. As NPR reported in 2016, a Pew study found that, "For the first time in more than 130 years, Americans ages 18-34 are more likely to live with their parents than in any other living situation."

Classic Games (Games)

Atari Co-Founder Ted Dabney Dies at Age 81 (eurogamer.net) 41

An anonymous reader quotes Eurogamer: Atari co-founder Ted Dabney has died, according to a close friend. Historian Leonard Herman, who told Dabney's story in an article for Edge magazine published in 2009, announced Dabney's death in a post on Facebook... Dabney, who was born in San Francisco in 1937, was diagnosed with esophageal cancer in late 2017, and, according to friends, decided against treatment after being told he had eight months to live.

In 1971 Dabney co-founded Atari predecessor Syzygy with Nolan Bushnell and developed Computer Space, the world's first commercially available arcade video game. In 1972 the pair co-founded Atari, and Computer Space was used for the basis of Pong, the video game that made the company its early-days millions. Dabney later left the company after a falling out with Bushnell.

"Nolan was not being the kind of person that I enjoyed being around any more..." Dabney remembered in a 2012 interview with the Computer History Museum. He added with a laugh that "Nolan had told me that if I didn't sell out he would transfer all the assets to another corporation and leave me with nothing anyway. So, you know, might as well sell out."

After the falling out Dabney still helped Bushnell launch Pizza Time Theater (the predecessor of Chuck E. Cheese's), later working at major tech companies like Raytheon, Fujitsu, and Teledyne, before finally buying a grocery store in California's Sierra mountains (where "my wife did all the work"). He eventually retired to northern Washington at the age of 69.

"Ted Dabney was an integral part of the early video game industry, and he literally assembled some of the hardware from which this industry was built with his own two hands," remembers Kotaku, adding "Not many people can lay claim to that kind of legacy."

Share your own favorite memories of Atari and Ted Dabney in the comments.
The Almighty Buck

Australian Bank's System Outage Leaves 9 Million Customers Without Cash (reuters.com) 112

An anonymous reader quotes Reuters: National Australia Bank on Saturday suffered what it described as a "nationwide outage" to some of its technology systems, leaving customers unable to access banking services or withdraw money. Customers took to social media to vent their frustrations, with some saying they were left unable to pay for groceries or refuel their cars...

National Australia Bank is one of Australia's four largest retail banks with a customer base of 9 million, according to its website... The Bank of New Zealand, a NAB subsidiary, also experienced outages on Saturday across New Zealand, but the spokesman was unable to confirm a connection between the two incidents.

United States

Ask Slashdot: Did Baby Boomers Break America? (time.com) 499

"Automation taking jobs is only one symptom of a larger problem," argues an anonymous Slashdot reader, sharing a link to this excerpt from Steven Brill's new book Tailspin, which seeks to identify "the people and forces behind America's fifty-year fall -- and those fighting to reverse it." The excerpt has this intriguing title: "How Baby Boomers Broke America." As my generation of achievers graduated from elite universities and moved into the professional world, their personal successes often had serious societal consequences. They upended corporate America and Wall Street with inventions in law and finance that created an economy built on deals that moved assets around instead of building new ones. They created exotic, and risky, financial instruments, including derivatives and credit default swaps, that produced sugar highs of immediate profits but separated those taking the risk from those who would bear the consequences. They organized hedge funds that turned owning stock into a minute-by-minute bet rather than a long-term investment... Regulatory agencies were overwhelmed by battalions of lawyers who brilliantly weaponized the bedrock American value of due process so that, for example, an Occupational Safety and Health Administration rule protecting workers from a deadly chemical could be challenged and delayed for more than a decade and end up being hundreds of pages long. Lawyers then contested the meaning of every clause while racking up fees of hundreds of dollars per hour from clients who were saving millions of dollars on every clause they could water down...

As government was disabled from delivering on vital issues, the protected were able to protect themselves still more. For them, it was all about building their own moats. Their money, their power, their lobbyists, their lawyers, their drive overwhelmed the institutions that were supposed to hold them accountable -- government agencies, Congress, the courts... That, rather than a split between Democrats and Republicans, is the real polarization that has broken America since the 1960s. It's the protected vs. the unprotected, the common good vs. maximizing and protecting the elite winners' winnings... [I]n a way unprecedented in history, they were able to consolidate their winnings, outsmart and co-opt the forces that might have reined them in, and pull up the ladder so more could not share in their success or challenge their primacy.

Brill argues that the unprotected need things like "a realistic shot at justice in the courts," writing that instead "the First Amendment became a tool for the wealthy to put a thumb on the scales of democracy." And he shares these statistics about the rest of America today:
  • For adults in their 30s, the chance of earning more than their parents dropped to 50% from 90% just two generations earlier.
  • In 2017, household debt had grown higher than the peak reached in 2008 before the crash, with student and automobile loans staking growing claims on family paychecks.
  • Although the U.S. remains the world's richest country, it has the third-highest poverty rate among the 35 nations in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development...

Has he identified the source of a societal malaise? Leave your own thoughts in the comments.

And is Brill's thesis correct? Did baby boomers break America?


Transportation

5.3M Cars Recalled Because 'Drivers May Not Be Able to Turn Off Cruise Control' (freep.com) 122

An anonymous reader quotes the Associated Press: Fiat Chrysler is recalling more than 5.3 million vehicles in the U.S., Canada and elsewhere because in rare but terrifying circumstances, drivers may not be able to turn off the cruise control. The company is warning owners not to use cruise control until the cars, SUVs and trucks can be fixed with a software update. Fiat Chrysler says the condition can occur if the cruise control accelerates at the same time an electrical short-circuit happens. But the brakes are designed to overpower the engine and the vehicles could still be stopped...

In the complaint filed with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, an owner from Olathe, Kansas, said a 2017 Dodge Journey SUV rental vehicle was being driven about 70 miles per hour with the cruise control on when the windshield wipers came on by themselves and the throttle locked up. The owner, who was not identified in the agency's complaint database, wrote that the cruise control would not disengage by tapping the brakes or turning off the button. The driver was able to slam on the brakes and get the SUV to the side of the road. "It was still running at an engine speed to support 70 mph and fighting the brakes," the driver wrote. The engine stop button also wouldn't work, but the driver was able to halt the SUV and shift into park while the brakes "smoked significantly."

The recall "includes 15 Jeep, Dodge, Chrysler and Ram models from six model years" which have automatic transmissions and gas engines, according to the Associated Press -- 4.8 million in America, plus another 490,000 in Canada and "an undetermined number" in other countries.

You can check if your vehicle is affected by this (or any other) recall by entering its VIN number at NHTSA.gov. U.S. safety officials suggest checking whether your vehicle has been recalled "at least twice per year."

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