An anonymous reader writes "The company making the VR headset that has John Carmack and many others in the gaming industry excited has just received another $75 million in funding to make it happen. Netscape founder Marc Andreessen is joining the company's board, along with fellow investor Chris Dixon. Dixon had seen a prototype earlier this year, but it wasn't good enough to spark his interest. After recently seeing how the device has progressed since then, he was blown away, comparing it to early demos of the iPhone. 'The dimensions where you need to improve this kind of VR are latency, resolution and head tracking, and they have really nailed those things.' Now that the device is in good shape, Oculus is going to work on turning it into a product they can produce and ship for gamers."
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New submitter ghack writes "NuScale power, a small nuclear power company in Corvallis Oregon, has won a Department of Energy grant of up to $226 million dollars to enable deployment of their small modular reactor. The units would be factory built in the United States, and their small size enables a number of potential niche applications. NuScale argues that their design includes a number of unique passive safety features: 'NuScale's 45-megawatt reactor, which can be grouped with others to form a utility-scale plant, would sit in a 5 million-gallon pool of water underground. That means it needs no pumps to inject water to cool it in an emergency - an issue ... highlighted by Japan's crippled Fukushima plant.' This was the second of two DOE small modular reactor grants; the first was awarded to Babcock and Wilcox, a stalwart in the nuclear industry."
itwbennett writes "Two reports out this week, one a new 'codex' released by 451 Research and the other an updated survey into cloud IaaS pricing from Redmonk, show just how insane cloud pricing has become. If your job requires you to read these reports, good luck. For the rest of us, Redmonk's Stephen O'Grady distilled the pricing trends down to this: 'HP offers the best compute value and instance sizes for the dollar. Google offers the best value for memory, but to get there it appears to have sacrificed compute. AWS is king in value for disk and it appears no one else is even trying to come close. Microsoft is taking the 'middle of the road,' never offering the best or worst pricing.'"
wiredmikey writes "A Ukrainian national, Roman Vega, who pleaded guilty in 2009 to creating a popular online marketplace for selling stolen financial account data has been sentenced to 18 years in prison. Called one of the world's 'most prolific cybercriminals' by the Department of Justice, Vega, 49, will serve significant time in prison for his role in co-founding the notorious website CarderPlanet. In the early 2000s, Vega co-founded and became a high-ranking administrator of the notorious website, which became one of the first and busiest online marketplaces for the sale of stolen financial information, computer hacking services and money laundering. At its height, CarderPlanet had more than 6,000 members and had a hierarchical leadership structure that borrowed its leadership titles from La Cosa Nostra, US authorities said."
First time accepted submitter Austrian Anarchy writes with this story via Reason (and based on a report at Wired) about a maker of physical Bitcoin tokens. Quoting from Reason's take: "Mike Caldwell ran a business called Casascius that printed physical tokens with a bitcoin digital key on it, key hidden behind a tamper proof strip. He'd charge $50 worth of bitcoin to print a bitcoin key you sent him via computer on this token. Cool stuff--a good friend of mine found one sitting unnoticed in her tip jar from an event at which she sold her artisan lamps from 2011 and was naturally delighted given the nearly 1000x increase in value of a bitcoin since then. So, you're making something fun, useful, interesting, harmless--naturally the federal government is very concerned and wants to hobble you. 'Just before Thanksgiving, [Caldwell] received a letter from the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network, or FINCEN, the arm of the Treasury Department that dictates how the nation’s anti-money-laundering and financial crime regulations are interpreted. According to FINCEN, Caldwell needs to rethink his business. "They considered my activity to be money transmitting," Caldwell says. And if you want to transmit money, you must first jump through a lot of state and federal regulatory hoops Caldwell hasn't jumped through.'"
Frequent contributor Bennett Haselton writes: "Google has fixed a vulnerability, first discovered by researcher Gergely Kalman, which let users search for credit card numbers by using hex number ranges. However, Google should have acknowledged or at least responded to the original bug finder (and possibly even paid him a bounty for it), and should have been more transparent about the process in general." Read on for the rest of the story.
rjmarvin writes "The Delhi High Court approved an appeal by Nokia today to unfreeze the company's Indian assets, including the Chennai mobile phone factory set to be transferred to Microsoft as part of its devices and services acquisition. The decision was contingent on Nokia putting $367 million in escrow to go towards its imposed taxes. Nokia lobbied to lift the freeze to avoid holding up the deal or being forced to stay on as a subcontractor, though they're still on the hook for taxes and penalties to the tune of up to $3.4 billion for a financial period dating back to 2006. Microsoft, though, is in the clear."
KentuckyFC writes "During the Cold War, the US and the Soviet Union battled on many fronts to demonstrate their superior technical and scientific achievements. While the race to put a human in space and then on the Moon is famous, a much less well-known battlefront was the unconventional science of parapsychology, or psychotronics as the Soviets called it. Now a new review of unconventional research in the Soviet Union reveals the scale of this work for the first time and the cost: as much as $1 billion. The Soviets had programs studying how "human energy" could influence other objects and how this energy could be generated independently of humans using a device called 'cerpan'. The Soviets also had a mind control program similar to the CIA's infamous MKULTRA project. Interestingly, the Soviets included non-local physics in this work, such as the Aharonov-Bohm effect in which an electromagnetic field can influence a particle confined to region where the field strength is zero. And they built a number of devices that exploited the effect, although research in this area appears to have ended in 2003."
An anonymous reader writes "The decades-old Rambus litigation against Micron for RDRAM tech finally reached a settlement. RDRAM tech has already been licensed by NVidia and Broadcom and has been used in game consoles such as the Nintendo 64. The preliminary deal is to last 7 years and net $280M for Rambus and Micro to gain access to patent licenses defining the technology."
Lev13than writes "Canada Post is phasing out urban home delivery, raising the price of a letter to $1 and cutting 8,000 jobs to cope with dwindling volume and a projected loss of $1B/year by 2020. About 1/3 of Canadian homes currently get mail delivered to their door. Deliveries will remain weekdays-only and business will be unaffected (at least for now). Much like the USPS, Canada Post is mandated to be self-funded, but 5% annual volume declines and rising costs are taking their toll."
Nerval's Lobster writes "According to unnamed sources, Nokia is working on an Android-based smartphone. The test versions of the device, which is codenamed 'Normandy,' run a heavily modified version of Android. In late November, @evleaks posted an alleged image of the phone, which (if accurate) includes many of the Nokia design hallmarks, such as a brightly colored shell and prominent rear camera. Exactly how the software differs from the 'standard' version of Android is an open question, although other companies that have forked the operating system (most notably Amazon, with its Kindle tablets) haven't been shy about modifying the user interface in radical ways. According to AllThingsD, Nokia's 'low-end mobile phone unit' is overseeing the project. 'Normandy aims to repurpose the open-source version of Android into a better entry-level smartphone than Nokia has had with its current Asha line,' the publication explained, 'which is based on the aging Series 40 operating system.' But here's the rub: Nokia's phone unit is well on its way to becoming a Microsoft subsidiary. Microsoft competes against Google in many arenas, including mobile and search. The idea of a Microsoft ancillary producing an Android-based phone to compete in lower-end markets — where cheap Android phones dominate — is liable to provoke a burst of surprised laughter from anyone in tech: surely such a project would never hit store-shelves, given Microsoft's very public backing of Windows Phone as its sole mobile OS. And yet, there's also reason to think Microsoft might actually take a chance on an alternative OS. Over the past few years, the company's legal team has cornered the majority of Android manufacturers worldwide into a stark deal: agree to pay a set fee for every Android device produced, or face a costly patent-infringement lawsuit. As a result of that arm-twisting, Microsoft already makes quite a bit of money off Android (more, perhaps, than it earns selling Windows Phone), which could acclimate it to the idea of taking the leap and actually selling Android devices."
New submitter Snotboble_ writes "The government of India apparently thinks Nokia owes a lot of taxes. They originally told Nokia that the company owed around $340 million, but now reports suggest it could be an order of magnitude higher. Such a large liability would have consequences for Nokia's sale of its handset division to Microsoft. From the article: 'Nokia Corp.'s tax troubles in India worsened Tuesday as local authorities ratcheted up the amount of tax they say the Finnish company may owe to more than $3 billion. Nokia's battle to defend itself from the claims—one of the latest surprise tax bills slapped on big foreign companies in India—could affect its plans to sell its handset division to Microsoft Corp. as the phone company's factory in India is part of the $7 billion deal.'"
Bennettt Haselton has a gift idea for this year that needn't necessarily cost you any money (if you have a color printer available), though as he points out there are ways to invest in a higher-quality result. The gift? A unique picture created with a few pieces of free software and a bit of your time. Bennett writes: "You can use these little-known free programs to create a photomosaic of a friend's wedding photo or other favorite photograph, for a uniquely personal gift that doesn't cost much but can still delight. Follow these steps to use the programs most effectively and get the best results." Read on for the rest.
Hugh Pickens DOT Com writes "Jim Puzzanghera writes in the LA Times that the federal government has sold its remaining shares of General Motors stock, ending the controversial $49.5-billion bailout of the automaker begun in late 2008 under former President George W. Bush. Although the GM bailout ended with a $10.5-billion loss for taxpayers, Treasury officials say the goal never was to turn a profit. The rescue prevented further damage to the economy and the potential loss of 1 million jobs says Treasury Secretary Jacob J. Lew. 'This marks one of the final chapters in the administration's efforts to protect the broader economy by providing support to the automobile industry.' At its height, taxpayers had a 60.8% ownership stake in GM. The auto bailout will rank as 'one of the most important interventions, maybe the most important, in U.S. economic history,' says Sean McAlinden, chief economist for the Center for Automotive Research. Without it, 'the upper Midwest would still be a gaping, double-digit unemployment hole in the economy, 600,000 retirees would've lost their pensions.' ... The Cadillac CTS was picked as Motor Trend's car of the year and the Chevrolet Impala was the first U.S. car chosen as the best sedan on the market by Consumer Reports in 20 years. 'We will always be grateful for the second chance extended to us and we are doing our best to make the most of it,' says GM CEO Dan Akerson. 'Today is not dramatically different from the hundreds of preceding days during which we have worked to make GM a company our country can be proud of again.'"
An anonymous reader writes in with this link about the advances in China's lunar program. "A $30 million Google-backed competition to land a spacecraft on the moon may be about to be scooped. China's Chang'e 3 probe successfully put itself into lunar orbit on Friday in preparation for an attempted touchdown around Dec. 14. China won't be winning the prize money, which is reserved for privately funded, previously enrolled teams, not government agencies."
theodp writes "The weeklong Hour of Code kicks off tomorrow, with Mark Zuckerberg and Bill Gates doing their part to address a declared nationwide CS crisis by ostensibly teaching the nation's schoolchildren how to code. But a recent NY Times Op-Ed by economist Paul Collier criticizing Zuckerberg's FWD.us PAC as self-serving advocacy (echoing earlier criticism) serves as a reminder that Zuckerberg and Gates' Code.org and Hour of Code involvement is the Yin to their H-1B visa lobbying Yang. The two efforts have been inextricably linked together for Congress, if not for the public. And while Zuckerberg argues it's 'the right thing to do', Collier argues that there are also downsides to the tech giants' plans to shift more bright, young, enterprising people from the poorest countries to the richest. 'An open door for the talented would help Facebook's bottom line,' Collier concludes, 'but not the bottom billion.'"
An anonymous reader writes "Michael Nielsen has written a detailed article describing the nuts and bolts of a Bitcoin transaction. He builds the concepts from the ground up, starting with a basic, no-frills digital currency. He then examines it for flaws and tweaks the currency to patch up areas where we run into technical or security problems. Eventually, he ends up with Bitcoin, and explains how a transaction works. It's an interesting, technical read; much more in-depth than any explanation I've heard. Here's a brief snippet from a walkthrough of the transaction data: 'One thing to note about the input is that there's nothing explicitly specifying how many bitcoins from the previous transaction should be spent in this transaction. In fact, all the bitcoins from the n=0th output of the previous transaction are spent. So, for example, if the n=0th output of the earlier transaction was 2 bitcoins, then 2 bitcoins will be spent in this transaction. This seems like an inconvenient restriction – like trying to buy bread with a 20 dollar note, and not being able to break the note down. The solution, of course, is to have a mechanism for providing change. This can be done using transactions with multiple inputs and outputs...'" Bitcoin is going through another period of heavy fluctuation: it fell from a high of around $1,200 per bitcoin to roughly half that, and as of this writing trades around $760 per bitcoin.
theodp writes "Among the patents granted to Facebook this week by the USPTO is one for Inferring Household Income for Users of a Social Networking System. 'For example,' Facebook explains, 'an assumption might be made about a user that reads CNN.com and nytimes.com every day that the user is in a higher income bracket than another user that only reads TMZ.com and PerezHilton.com on the theory that a user who reads newspapers might be assumed to make more money than a user who only reads celebrity gossip blogs.' Advertisements such as those for travel packages, cars, and home mortgages, Facebook adds, 'are targeted to users based on income bracket,' which might also be inferred by 'gathering and analyzing different types of information about a user's geographic location.' Hey, what could go wrong?"
walterbyrd writes "Streaming services are ailing. Pandora, the giant of its class and the survivor at 13 years old, is waging an ugly war to pay artists and labels less in order to stay afloat. Spotify, in spite of 6 million paid users and 18 million subscribers who humor some ads in their stream, has yet to turn a profit. Rhapsody axed 15% of its workforce right as Apple's iTunes Radio hit the scene. On-demand competitor Rdio just opted for layoffs too, in order to move into a 'scalable business model.' Did no one wonder about that business-model bit in the beginning? Meanwhile, Turntable.fm, a comparatively tiny competitor with what should have been viral DNA, just pulled the plug on its virtual jam sessions this week—and it just might be the canary in the coal mine."
Nerval's Lobster writes "Bank of America has issued a research report suggesting that the crypto-currency Bitcoin could become 'a major means of payment for e-commerce' on its way to emerging as 'a serious competitor to traditional money transfer providers.' The bank attaches a 'maximum market capitalization' of Bitcoin at roughly $1,300, based on its position as a 'major player in both e-commerce and money transfer' as well as 'a significant store of value with a reputation close to silver.' Bitcoin has come close to exceeding that theoretical ceiling in recent weeks, although its valuation dove today after the People's Bank of China decided to declare it a volatile 'currency' without real legal status; that financial institution is also concerned about its use in money laundering and black markets. Bank of America sees Bitcoins' advantages as low transaction costs, its finite supply (which will protect its value), and its increasing attractiveness as an alternative to 'traditional' cash. As with the People's Bank of China, however, the bank sees the currency's extreme volatility and lack of legal backing as a bad thing, and frowns at the possibility that regulators could step in and increase transaction costs. 'A 50 minute wait before payment receipt confirmation is received will prohibit wider use,' the report adds. 'This is less of an issue for two parties that know each other because they trust the other will not double spend, but when dealing with an anonymous counterparty this creates a high level of unhedgeable risk.' Without a 'central counterparty' to verify transactions and thus mitigate that risk, Bitcoin could fail to break into wider use."