Education

Learning To Program Is Getting Harder (slashdot.org) 207

theodp writes: While Google suggests that parents and educators are to blame for why kids can't code, Allen Downey, Professor at Olin College argues that learning to program is getting harder . Downey writes: The fundamental problem is that the barrier between using a computer and programming a computer is getting higher. When I got a Commodore 64 (in 1982, I think) this barrier was non-existent. When you turned on the computer, it loaded and ran a software development environment (SDE). In order to do anything, you had to type at least one line of code, even if all it did was another program (like Archon). Since then, three changes have made it incrementally harder for users to become programmers:
1. Computer retailers stopped installing development environments by default. As a result, anyone learning to program has to start by installing an SDE -- and that's a bigger barrier than you might expect. Many users have never installed anything, don't know how to, or might not be allowed to. Installing software is easier now than it used to be, but it is still error prone and can be frustrating. If someone just wants to learn to program, they shouldn't have to learn system administration first.
2. User interfaces shifted from command-line interfaces (CLIs) to graphical user interfaces (GUIs). GUIs are generally easier to use, but they hide information from users about what's really happening. When users really don't need to know, hiding information can be a good thing. The problem is that GUIs hide a lot of information programmers need to know. So when a user decides to become a programmer, they are suddenly confronted with all the information that's been hidden from them. If someone just wants to learn to program, they shouldn't have to learn operating system concepts first.
3. Cloud computing has taken information hiding to a whole new level. People using web applications often have only a vague idea of where their data is stored and what applications they can use to access it. Many users, especially on mobile devices, don't distinguish between operating systems, applications, web browsers, and web applications. When they upload and download data, they are often confused about where is it coming from and where it is going. When they install something, they are often confused about what is being installed where. For someone who grew up with a Commodore 64, learning to program was hard enough. For someone growing up with a cloud-connected mobile device, it is much harder.
theodp continues: So, with the Feds budgeting $200 million a year for K-12 CS at the behest of U.S. tech leaders, can't the tech giants at least put a BASIC on every phone/tablet/laptop for kids?
DRM

Pirates Crack Microsoft's UWP Protection, Five Layers of DRM Defeated (torrentfreak.com) 78

A piracy scene group has managed to get past the five layers of DRM in Microsoft's Unified Windows Platform UWP -- which enables software developers to create applications that can run across many devices. From a report: This week it became clear that the UWP system, previously believed to be uncrackable, had fallen to pirates. After being released on October 31, 2017, the somewhat underwhelming Zoo Tycoon Ultimate Animal Collection became the first victim at the hands of popular scene group, CODEX. "This is the first scene release of a UWP (Universal Windows Platform) game. Therefore we would like to point out that it will of course only work on Windows 10. This particular game requires Windows 10 version 1607 or newer," the group said in its release notes. CODEX says it's important that the game isn't allowed to communicate with the Internet so the group advises users to block the game's executable in their firewall.
Desktops (Apple)

Twitter Kills Its Mac App (betanews.com) 43

BrianFagioli writes: Twitter has announced that it is killing its Mac app. Without warning, the company pulled the app from the Mac App Store and issued the following tweet. "We're focusing our efforts on a great Twitter experience that's consistent across platforms. So, starting today the Twitter for Mac app will no longer be available for download, and in 30 days will no longer be supported.
Twitter

NBC Publishes 200,000 Tweets Tied To Russian Trolls 212

An anonymous reader quotes a report from NBC News: NBC News is publishing its database of more than 200,000 tweets that Twitter has tied to "malicious activity" from Russia-linked accounts during the 2016 U.S. presidential election. These accounts, working in concert as part of large networks, pushed hundreds of thousands of inflammatory tweets, from fictitious tales of Democrats practicing witchcraft to hardline posts from users masquerading as Black Lives Matter activists. Investigators have traced the accounts to a Kremlin-linked propaganda outfit founded in 2013 known as the Internet Research Association (IRA). The organization has been assessed by the U.S. Intelligence Community to be part of a Russian state-run effort to influence the outcome of the 2016 U.S. presidential race. And they're not done. At the request of NBC News, three sources familiar with Twitter's data systems cross-referenced the partial list of names released by Congress to create a partial database of tweets that could be recovered. You can download the streamlined spreadsheet (29 mb) with just usernames, tweet and timestamps, view the full data for ten influential accounts via Google Sheets, download tweets.csv (50 mb) and users.csv with full underlying data, and/or explore a graph database in Neo4j, whose software powered the Panama Papers and Paradise Papers investigations.

NBC News' partners at Neo4j have put together a "get started" guide to help you explore the database of Russian tweets. "To recreate a link to an individual tweet found in the spreadsheet, replace 'user_key' in https://twitter.com/user_key/status/tweet_id with the screenname from the 'user_key' field and 'tweet_id' with the number in the 'tweet_id' field," reports NBC News. "Following the links will lead to a suspended page on Twitter. But some copies of the tweets as they originally appeared, including images, can be found by entering the links on webcaches like the Internet Archive's Wayback Machine and archive.is."
Open Source

The Future of Free and Open-Source Maps (emacsen.net) 36

Grady Martin writes: Former OpenStreetMap contributor and Google Summer of Code mentor Serge Wroclawski has outlined why OpenStreetMap is in serious trouble, citing unclear usage policies, poor geocoding (address-to-coordinate conversion), and a lack of a review model as reasons for the project's decline in quality. Perhaps more interesting, however, are the problems purported to stem from OpenStreetMap's power structure. Wroclawski writes: "In the case of OpenStreetMap, there is a formal entity which owns the data, called the OpenStreetMap Foundation. But at the same time, the ultimate choices for the website, the geographic database and the infrastructure are not under the direct control of the Foundation, but instead rest largely on one individual, who (while personally friendly) ranges from skeptical to openly hostile to change."
Software

Ask Slashdot: Could Linux Ever Become Fully Compatible With Windows and Mac Software? 329

dryriver writes: Linux has been around for a long time now. A lot of work has gone into it; it has evolved nicely and it dominates in the server space. Computer literate people with some tech skills also like to use it as their desktop OS. It's free and open source. It's not vendor-locked, full of crapware or tied to any walled garden. It's fast and efficient. But most "everyday computer users" or "casual computer buyers" still feel they have to choose either a Windows PC or an Apple device as the platform they will do their computing on. This binary choice exists largely because of very specific commercial list of programs and games available for these OSs that is not available for Linux.

Here is the question: Could Linux ever be made to become fully compatible with all Windows and Mac software? What I mean is a Linux distro that lets you successfully install/run/play just about anything significant that says "for Windows 10" or "for OSX" under Linux, without any sort of configuring or crazy emulation orgies being needed? Macs and PCs run on the exact same Intel/AMD/Nvidia hardware as Linux. Same mobos, same CPUs and GPUs, same RAM and storage devices. Could Linux ever be made to behave sufficiently like those two OSs so that a computer buyer could "go Linux" without any negative consequences like not being able to run essential Windows/Mac software at all? Or is Linux being able to behave like Windows and OSX simply not technically doable because Windows and OSX are just too damn complex to mimic successfully?
Security

A Hacker Has Wiped a Spyware Company's Servers -- Again (vice.com) 62

Last year, a vigilante hacker broke into the servers of a company that sells spyware to everyday consumers and wiped their servers, deleting photos captured from monitored devices. A year later, the hacker has done it again. Motherboard: Thursday, the hacker said he started wiping some cloud servers that belong to Retina-X Studios, a Florida-based company that sells spyware products targeted at parents and employers, but that are also used by people to spy on their partners without their consent. Retina-X was one of two companies that were breached last year in a series of hacks that exposed the fact that many otherwise ordinary people surreptitiously install spyware on their partners' and children's phones in order to spy on them. This software has been called "stalkerware" by some.
Businesses

Atari Is Jumping on the Crypto Bandwagon (bloomberg.com) 64

Atari has announced plans to create a company token and potentially develop cryptocurrency-based casino platforms. The company, commonly associated with arcade classics such as Asteroids, Pac-Man, Space Invaders, and Pong, seems to believe new life can be breathed into the casino industry through cryptocurrency. From a report: "Blockchain technology is poised to take a very important place in our environment and to transform, if not revolutionize, the current economic ecosystem, especially in the areas of the video game industry and online transactions," Atari Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Frederic Chesnais said in the statement. "Our aim is to take strategic positions with a limited cash risk, in order to best create value with the assets and the Atari brand."
AI

AI is Being Used To Raise Better Pigs in China (qz.com) 46

Alibaba's Cloud Unit has signed an agreement on with the Tequ Group, a Chinese food-and-agriculture conglomerate that raises about 10 million pigs each year, to deploy facial and voice recognition on Tequ's pig farms. From a report: According to an Alibaba representative, the company will offer software to Tequ that it will deploy on its farms with its own hardware. Using image recognition, the software will identify each pig based on a mark placed on its body. This corresponds with a file for each pig kept in a database, which records and tracks characteristics such as the pig's breed type, age, and weight. The software can monitor changes in the level of a pig's physical activity to assess its level of fitness. In addition, it can monitor the sounds on the farm -- picking up a pig's cough, for example, to assess whether or not the pig is sick and at risk of spreading a disease. The software will also draw from its data to assess which pigs are most capable of giving birth to healthy offspring. Tequ's CIO stressed that taking care of pigs is no easy task for large pig farms. "If you have 10 million pigs, relying on manpower is already not enough," he said, according to a report by local publication Tianxia Wangshang, adding that it's impossible to manually count each pig given how many are born every day.
AI

Microsoft Launches LinkedIn-Powered Resume Assistant For Office 365 Subscribers 23

Microsoft and LinkedIn have launched their Resume Assistant, a Word-integrated tool that aims to help you write your resume by suggesting work experience descriptions pulled from similar LinkedIn profiles and requirements from real job postings. "The feature is available to Microsoft Office 365 subscribers, but one does not need a LinkedIn account to use it," reports Quartz. From the report: What's more, when you're done, Resume Assistant promises to "surface relevant job opportunities for you directly within Microsoft Word." The tool is the newest product to come out of Microsoft's takeover of LinkedIn, the high price of which raised more questions than it answered. Industry analysts speculated that Microsoft might have more up its sleeve than just trying to snag more users -- offering companies an entire hiring, learning, and training package, perhaps.
Crime

Electronics-Recycling Innovator Faces Prison For Extending Computers' Lives 272

schwit1 shares a report from Los Angeles Times: Prosecutors said 33-year-old [Eric Lundgren, an electronic-waste recycling innovator] ripped off Microsoft by manufacturing 28,000 counterfeit discs with the company's Windows operating system on them. He was convicted of conspiracy and copyright infringement, which brought a 15-month prison sentence and a $50,000 fine. In a rare move though, a federal appeals court has granted an emergency stay of the sentence, giving Lundgren another chance to make his argument that the whole thing was a misunderstanding. Lundgren does not deny that he made the discs or that he hoped to sell them. But he says this was no profit-making scheme. By his account, he just wanted to make it easier to extend the usefulness of secondhand computers -- keeping more of them out of the trash.

The case centers on "restore discs," which can be used only on computers that already have the licensed Windows software and can be downloaded free from the computer's manufacturer, in this case Dell. The discs are routinely provided to buyers of new computers to enable them to reinstall their operating systems if the computers' hardware fails or must be wiped clean. But they often are lost by the time used computers find their way to a refurbisher. Lundgren said he thought electronics companies wanted the reuse of computers to be difficult so that people would buy new ones. He thought that producing and selling restore discs to computer refurbishers -- saving them the hassle of downloading the software and burning new discs -- would encourage more secondhand sales. In his view, the new owners were entitled to the software, and this just made it easier. The government, and Microsoft, did not see it that way. Federal prosecutors in Florida obtained a 21-count indictment against Lundgren and his business partner, and Microsoft filed a letter seeking $420,000 in restitution for lost sales. Lundgren claims that the assistant U.S. attorney on the case told him, "Microsoft wants your head on a platter and I'm going to give it to them."
Communications

119,000 Passports, Photo IDs of FedEx Customers Found On Unsecured Amazon Server (gizmodo.com) 34

FedEx left scanned passports, drivers licenses, and other documentation belonging to thousands of its customers exposed on a publicly accessible Amazon S3 server, reports Gizmodo. "The scanned IDs originated from countries all over the world, including the United States, Mexico, Canada, Australia, Saudi Arabia, Japan, China, and several European countries. The IDs were attached to forms that included several pieces of personal information, including names, home addresses, phone numbers, and zip codes." From the report: The server, discovered by researchers at the Kromtech Security Center, was secured as of Tuesday. According to Kromtech, the server belonged to Bongo International LLC, a company that aided customers in performing shipping calculations and currency conversations, among other services. Bongo was purchased by FedEx in 2014 and renamed FedEx Cross-Border International a little over a year later. The service was discontinued in April 2017. According to Kromtech, more than 119,000 scanned documents were discovered on the server. As the documents were dated within the 2009-2012 range, its unclear if FedEx was aware of the server's existence when it purchased Bongo in 2014, the company said.
Google

Gmail Go, a Lightweight Version of Google's Email App, Launched on Android (techcrunch.com) 55

Google has added a notable addition to its line of "Go" edition apps -- the lightweight apps designed primarily for emerging markets -- with the launch of Gmail Go. From a report: The app, like others in the Go line, takes up less storage space on users' smartphones and makes better use of mobile data compared with the regular version of Gmail. The app also offers standard Gmail features like multiple account support, conversation view, attachments, and push notifications for new messages. It also prioritizes messages from friends and family first, while categorizing promotional and social emails in separate tabs, as Gmail does. But like other Go apps, Gmail Go doesn't consume as much storage space on the device. In fact, according to numerous reports, Gmail Go clocked in at a 9.51 MB download, and takes up roughly 25 MB of space on a device, compared with Gmail's 20.66 MB download, and 47 MB storage space.
AI

AI is Helping Seismologists Detect Earthquakes They'd Otherwise Miss (theverge.com) 32

Using the same tools we use for voice detection, scientists are uncovering tiny earthquakes hidden in the data. From The Verge: Oklahoma never used to be known for its earthquakes. Before 2009, the state had roughly two quakes of magnitude three and above each year. In 2015, this tally rocketed to more than 900, though it's calmed since, falling to 304 last year. This sudden increase is thought to be caused by the disposal of wastewater by the state's booming fracking industry, and it's caught seismologists off-guard. As a historically quake-free area, Oklahoma doesn't have enough equipment to detect and locate all of these quakes, making it hard to investigate their root cause. The solution proposed by Perol and his colleagues from Harvard University's engineering and earth sciences departments is to use artificial intelligence to amplify the sensitivity of the state's earthquake detectors, otherwise known as seismographs. In a paper published today in the journal Science Advances, they show how effective this technique is -- capable of detecting 17 times more earthquakes than older methods in a fraction of the time. The method is similar to the voice detection software used by digital assistants like Alexa and Siri.
Businesses

Snapchat Petition Attracts One Million Signatures (bbc.com) 51

One million people have signed a petition calling on Snapchat to roll back its latest redesign. From a report: The changes were intended to separate interactions with friends from branded content -- including that of celebrities and influencers. Snapchat founder Evan Spiegel wrote in a blog post that he believed blurring the two had contributed to the rise of fake news. However, thousands of Snapchat users say that the new layout is hard to use. Nic Rumsey, who set up the petition, wrote that some are using Virtual Private Network (VPN) apps -- which use servers abroad to mask the location of a device -- in order to access the older version of the platform: "That's how annoying this update has become," he said. "Many 'new features' are useless or defeat the original purposes Snapchat has had for the past years." The petition, posted on the change.org website, is one of several appealing to Snapchat to revert to its previous state.
Ubuntu

Ubuntu Wants To Collect Data About Your System -- Starting With 18.04 LTS (fossbytes.com) 207

In an announcement on Ubuntu mailing list, Will Cooke, on behalf of the Ubuntu Desktop team, announced Canonical's plans to collect some data related to the users' system configuration and the packages installed on their machines. From a report: Before you read anything further, it's important to note that users will have the option to opt-out of this data collection. The company plans to add a checkbox to the installer, which would be checked by default. The option could be like: "Send diagnostics information to help improve Ubuntu." As per your convenience, you can opt-out during the installation. An option to do the same will also be made available in the Privacy panel of GNOME Settings. With this data collection, the team wishes to improve the daily experiences of the Ubuntu users. It's worth noting that the collected data will be sent over encrypted connections and no IP addresses will be tracked. To be precise, the collected data will include: flavour and version of Ubuntu, network connectivity or not, CPU family, RAM, disk(s) size, screen(s) resolution, GPU vendor and model, OEM manufacturer, location (based on the location selection made during install), no IP information, time taken for Installation, auto-login enabled or not, disk layout selected, third party software selected or not, download updates during install or not, livePatch enabled or not.
Windows

Windows 10 Is Adding an Ultimate Performance Mode For Pros (engadget.com) 150

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Engadget: When you're creating 3D models or otherwise running intensive tasks, you want to wring every ounce of performance out of your PC as possible. It's a good thing, then, that Microsoft has released a Windows 10 preview build in the Fast ring that includes a new Ultimate Performance mode if you're running Pro for Workstations. As the name implies, this is a step up for people for whom even the High Performance mode isn't enough -- it throws power management out the window to eliminate "micro-latencies" and boost raw speed. You can set it yourself, but PC makers will have the option of shipping systems with the feature turned on. Ultimate Performance isn't currently available for laptops or tablets, but Microsoft suggests that could change.
Piracy

Tickbox Must Remove Pirate Streaming Add-ons From Sold Devices (torrentfreak.com) 70

TickBox TV, the company behind a Kodi-powered streaming device, must release a new software updater that will remove copyright-infringing addons from previously shipped devices. A California federal court issued an updated injunction in the lawsuit that was filed by several major Hollywood studios, Amazon, and Netflix, which will stay in place while both parties fight out their legal battle. TorrentFreak reports: Last year, the Alliance for Creativity and Entertainment (ACE), an anti-piracy partnership between Hollywood studios, Netflix, Amazon, and more than two dozen other companies, filed a lawsuit against the Georgia-based company Tickbox TV, which sells Kodi-powered set-top boxes that stream a variety of popular media. ACE sees these devices as nothing more than pirate tools so the coalition asked the court for an injunction to prevent Tickbox from facilitating copyright infringement, demanding that it removes all pirate add-ons from previously sold devices. Last month, a California federal court issued an initial injunction, ordering Tickbox to keep pirate addons out of its box and halt all piracy-inducing advertisements going forward. In addition, the court directed both parties to come up with a proper solution for devices that were already sold.

The new injunction prevents Tickbox from linking to any "build," "theme," "app," or "addon" that can be indirectly used to transmit copyright-infringing material. Web browsers such as Internet Explorer, Google Chrome, Safari, and Firefox are specifically excluded. In addition, Tickbox must also release a new software updater that will remove any infringing software from previously sold devices. All tiles that link to copyright-infringing software from the box's home screen also have to be stripped. Going forward, only tiles to the Google Play Store or to Kodi within the Google Play Store are allowed. In addition, the agreement also allows ACE to report newly discovered infringing apps or addons to Tickbox, which the company will then have to remove within 24-hours, weekends excluded.

Earth

Tesla Roadster Elon Musk Launched Into Space Has 6 Percent Chance of Hitting Earth In the Next Million Years (sciencemag.org) 148

sciencehabit shares a report from Science Magazine: SpaceX CEO Elon Musk grabbed the world's attention last week after launching his Tesla Roadster into space. But his publicity stunt has a half-life way beyond even what he could imagine -- the Roadster should continue to orbit through the solar system, perhaps slightly battered by micrometeorites, for a few tens of millions of years. Now, a group of researchers specializing in orbital dynamics has analyzed the car's orbit for the next few million years. And although it's impossible to map it out precisely, there is a small chance that one day it could return and crash into Earth. But don't panic: That chance is just 6% over a million years, and it would likely burn up as it entered the atmosphere.

Hanno Rein of the University of Toronto in Canada and his colleagues regularly model the motions of planets and exoplanets. "We have all the software ready, and when we saw the launch last week we thought, 'Let's see what happens.' So we ran the [Tesla's] orbit forward for several million years," he says. The Falcon Heavy rocket from SpaceX propelled the car out toward Mars, but the sun's gravity will bring it swinging in again some months from now in an elliptical orbit, so it will repeatedly cross the orbits of Mars, Earth, and Venus until it sustains a fatal accident. The Roadster's first close encounter with Earth will be in 2091 -- the first of many in the millennia to come.

Facebook

Even Apple and Google Engineers Can't Really Afford To Live Near Their Offices (fastcompany.com) 367

That's according to the Y Combinator-backed real-estate startup Open Listings, which looked at median home sales prices near the headquarters (meaning within a 20-minute commute) of some of the Bay Area's biggest and best-known tech companies. Fast Company: Using public salary data from Paysa, Open Listings then looked at how many software engineers from those companies could actually afford to buy a house close to their office. Here's what it found: Engineers at five major SF-based tech companies would need to spend over the 28% threshold of their income to afford a monthly mortgage near their offices. Apple engineers would have to pay an average of 33% of their monthly income for a mortgage near work. That's the highest percentage of the companies analyzed, and home prices in Cupertino continue to skyrocket. Google wasn't much better at 32%, and living near the Facebook office would cost an engineer 29% of their monthly paycheck.

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