Space

Rocket Lab Successfully Reaches Orbit and Deploys Its First Satellites (geekwire.com) 23

Long-time Slashdot reader ClarkMills writes: Rocket Lab has successfully launched its second Electron rocket from New Zealand's Mahia Peninsula, with the rocket reaching orbit for the first time... This follows the company's first launch last May, in which the rocket got to space but did not make it to orbit after range safety officials had to kill the flight.
Just 60 seconds before lift-off yesterday, a "rogue ship" entered their launch-range area, prompting them to postpone the launch until today. GeekWire reports: This mission was nicknamed "Still Testing," but unlike the first mission, the objective was not merely to test Rocket Lab's hardware. The rocket had the additional task of putting three nanosatellites in orbit: an Earth-imaging Dove satellite for Planet, and two Lemur-2 satellites that the Spire space venture would use for tracking ships and monitoring weather... The price tag for a mission is as low as $5 million, thanks to streamlined hardware production techniques. The Electron makes use of carbon composite materials for its rocket core, and 3-D printing techniques for its Rutherford rocket engines.
90 minutes ago Spire tweeted that they'd experienced a "good clean deployment" of their satellites, adding that they were already receiving images and calling it "a huge win" for commercial space, small satellites, the Electron rocket, and New Zealand.
Open Source

'Is It Time For Open Processors?' (lwn.net) 56

Linux kernel developer (and LWN.net co-founder) Jonathan Corbet recently posted an essay with a tantalizing title: "Is it time for open processors?" He cited several "serious initiatives", including the OpenPOWER effort, OpenSPARC, and OpenRISC, adding that "much of the momentum" appears to be with the RISC-V architecture. An anonymous reader quotes LWN.net: The [RISC-V] project is primarily focused on the instruction-set architecture, rather than on specific implementations, but free hardware designs do exist. Western Digital recently announced that it will be using RISC-V processors in its storage products, a decision that could lead to the shipment of RISC-V by the billion. There is a development kit available for those who would like to play with this processor and a number of designs for cores are available... RISC-V seems to have quite a bit of commercial support behind it -- the RISC-V Foundation has a long list of members. It seems likely that this architecture will continue to progress for some time.
Here's some of the reasons that Corbet argues open souce hardware "would certainly offer some benefits, but it would be no panacea."
Space

Flat Earther Plans New Rocket Launch, Predicts Super Bowl-Sized Ratings (phillyvoice.com) 121

Self-taught rocket scientist/daredevil "Mad" Mike Hughes will finally launch his homemade rocket in two weeks -- despite "anonymous online haters questioning his every move." An anonymous reader quotes PhillyVoice: He's found some private land in the "ghost town" of Amboy, California -- complete with a brand-spanking-new road that'll enable him to get his motor home and rocket gear to the site... "It'll be a vertical launch, me strapped into the rocket with 6,000 pounds of thrust, going up about three-eighths of a mile," he said, noting it's a prologue to a major launch this Fourth of July weekend. "It's the ultimate Wile E. Coyote move."

As with the scrubbed mission, this is in part an event which he hopes will get people to investigate the ideology which holds the earth is flat -- despite quite a bit of evidence to the contrary. He said it would've happened back in November if international publicity hadn't prompted government bureaucrats to "cover their asses" by pointing out that his launch site crept 150 feet into federal land. "I could've been arrested so at that point, I just went home and got back to work," he said... "But guess what? It's about to happen again... I should get more viewers than the Super Bowl," said Hughes, adding the launch will be aired on Noize TV [a video-on-demand service].

Noize TV has already posted video of a new interview with Hughes, touting his upcoming launch at 3 p.m. on Saturday, February 3, the day before the Super Bowl (which Hughes calls "nothing but bullshit.")

Hughes says he's also filing to run for Governor of California.
Science

We All Nearly Missed the Largest Underwater Volcano Eruption Ever Recorded (sciencealert.com) 32

schwit1 quotes ScienceAlert: She was flying home from a holiday in Samoa when she saw it through the airplane window: a "peculiar large mass" floating on the ocean, hundreds of kilometres off the north coast of New Zealand. The Kiwi passenger emailed photos of the strange ocean slick to scientists, who realised what it was -- a raft of floating rock spewed from an underwater volcano, produced in the largest eruption of its kind ever recorded.

"We knew it was a large-scale eruption, approximately equivalent to the biggest eruption we've seen on land in the 20th Century," says volcanologist Rebecca Carey from the University of Tasmania, who's co-led the first close-up investigation of the historic 2012 eruption. The incident, produced by a submarine volcano called the Havre Seamount, initially went unnoticed by scientists, but the floating rock platform it generated was harder to miss. Back in 2012, the raft -- composed of pumice rock -- covered some 400 square kilometres (154 square miles) of the south-west Pacific Ocean, but months later satellites recorded it dispersing over an area twice the size of New Zealand itself... for a sense of scale, think roughly 1.5 times larger than the 1980 eruption of Mount St. Helens -- or 10 times the size of the 2010 Eyjafjallajokull eruption in Iceland.

When an underwater robot first sent back detailed maps, one volcanologist remembers that "I thought the vehicle's sonar was acting up... We saw all these bumps on the seafloor... It turned out that each bump was a giant block of pumice, some of them the size of a van."
Earth

Australian Birds of Prey Are Deliberately Setting Forests On Fire (cosmosmagazine.com) 72

An anonymous reader writes: If you've been counting the ways the Australian environment is trying to kill you, you can now add "arson" to the list. According to a six-year study published in The Journal of Ethnobiology, observers have confirmed what Aboriginal rangers have been observing for years: birds of prey routinely carry burning or smouldering sticks into dry grassy areas to scare small mammals into fleeing so they can be pack-hunted more effectively. This has implications for environmental management, since the best firebreak will not protect your controlled burn from a "firehawk" determined to breach it.
Programming

Apple Shuts Swift Mailing List, Migrates to Online Forum (swift.org) 20

An anonymous reader writes: Apple's Swift project "has completed the process of migrating to the Swift Forums as the primary method for discussion and communication!" announced a blog post on Friday. "The former mailing lists have been shut down and archived, and all mailing list content has been imported into the new forum system."

While they're still maintaining a few Swift-related mailing lists, they're moving discussions into online forums divided into four main categories: Evolution, Development, Using Swift, and Site Feedback. Forum accounts can be set up using either email registration or GitHub accounts.

It was one year ago that Swift creator Chris Lattner answered questions from Slashdot readers.
Electronic Frontier Foundation

EFF: Thousands of People Have Secure Messaging Clients Infected By Spyware (eff.org) 26

An anonymous reader quotes the EFF: The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) and mobile security company Lookout have uncovered a new malware espionage campaign infecting thousands of people in more than 20 countries. Hundreds of gigabytes of data has been stolen, primarily through mobile devices compromised by fake secure messaging clients. The trojanized apps, including Signal and WhatsApp, function like the legitimate apps and send and receive messages normally. However, the fake apps also allow the attackers to take photos, retrieve location information, capture audio, and more.

The threat, called Dark Caracal by EFF and Lookout researchers, may be a nation-state actor and appears to employ shared infrastructure which has been linked to other nation-state actors. In a new report, EFF and Lookout trace Dark Caracal to a building belonging to the Lebanese General Security Directorate in Beirut. "People in the U.S., Canada, Germany, Lebanon, and France have been hit by Dark Caracal. Targets include military personnel, activists, journalists, and lawyers, and the types of stolen data range from call records and audio recordings to documents and photos," said EFF Director of Cybersecurity Eva Galperin. "This is a very large, global campaign, focused on mobile devices. Mobile is the future of spying, because phones are full of so much data about a person's day-to-day life."

Dark Caracal apparently gets installed through carefully-targeted spearphishing attacks, accoridng to the EFF. "Several types of phishing emails directed people -- including military personnel, activists, journalists, and lawyers -- to go to a fake app store-like page, where fake Android apps waited. There is even evidence that, in some cases, Dark Caracal used physical access to peopleâ(TM)s phones to install the fake apps."
Government

'New California' Movement Wants To Create a 51st State (wqad.com) 376

PolygamousRanchKid, Ayano, and an anonymous reader all shared the same story. Tribune Media reports: A group has launched a campaign to divide California into two states. It isn't the first attempt to split California, but unlike a failed campaign in 2016 to divide California into six states, the campaign to create New California would split the state into one made up of rural counties and another made up of coastal counties.
USA Today provides some context: Breaking up California remains no easy task: A formal secession means getting approval from both Congress and California's legislature itself. But that hasn't stopped folks from trying. Hundreds of times... Monday's declaration of "the State of New California" marked the latest in more than 200 long-shot efforts to split the Golden State. All so far have failed.
Medicine

New Antifungal Provides Hope in the Fight Against Superbugs (sciencedaily.com) 30

dryriver shares news about the ongoing war against drug-resistant fungus. ScienceDaily reports: Microscopic yeast have been wreaking havoc in hospitals around the world -- creeping into catheters, ventilator tubes, and IV lines -- and causing deadly invasive infection. C. auris is particularly problematic because it loves hospitals, has developed resistance to a wide range of antifungals, and once it infects a patient doctors have limited treatment options.

But in a recent Antimicrobial Agents and Chemotherapy study, researchers confirmed a new drug compound kills drug-resistant C. auris, both in the laboratory and in a mouse model that mimics human infection. The drug works through a novel mechanism. Unlike other antifungals that poke holes in yeast cell membranes or inhibit sterol synthesis, the new drug blocks how necessary proteins attach to the yeast cell wall. This means C. auris yeast can't grow properly and have a harder time forming drug-resistant communities that are a stubborn source of hospital outbreaks... The drug is first in a new class of antifungals, which could help stave off drug resistance.

Red Hat Software

Red Hat Reverts Spectre Patches to Address Boot Issues (bleepingcomputer.com) 66

An anonymous reader quotes BleepingComputer: Red Hat is releasing updates for reverting previous patches for the Spectre vulnerability (Variant 2, aka CVE-2017-5715) after customers complained that some systems were failing to boot. "Red Hat is no longer providing microcode to address Spectre, variant 2, due to instabilities introduced that are causing customer systems to not boot," the company said yesterday. "The latest microcode_ctl and linux-firmware packages are reverting these unstable microprocessor firmware changes to versions that were known to be stable and well tested, released prior to the Spectre/Meltdown embargo lift date on Jan 3rd," Red Had added.

Instead, Red Hat is recommending that each customer contact their OEM hardware provider and inquire about mitigations for CVE-2017-5715 on a per-system basis. Besides Red Hat Enterprise Linux, other RHEL-based distros like CentOS and Scientific Linux are also expected to be affected by Red Hat's decision to revert previous Spectre Variant 2 updates, so these users will also have to contact CPU/OEM vendors.

At least one site "characterized the move as Red Hat washing its hands of the responsibility to provide customers with firmware patches," writes Data Center Knowledge, arguing instead that Red Hat "isn't actually involved in writing the firmware updates. It passes the microcode created by chipmakers to its users 'as a customer convenience.'" "What I would have said if they'd asked us ahead of time is that microcode is something that CPU vendors develop," Jon Masters, chief ARM architect at Red Hat, told Data Center Knowledge in a phone interview Thursday. "It's actually an encrypted, signed binary image, so we don't have the capability, even if we wanted to produce microcode. It's a binary blob that we cannot generate. The only people who can actually generate that are the CPU vendors."
Iphone

Apple Might Discontinue the iPhone X This Summer (bgr.com) 151

BGR shares a startling prediction from Ming-Chi Kuo, the Apple analyst at KGI securities: Kuo -- who we should note has an exemplary track record with respect to iPhone rumors -- adds that Apple may opt to discontinue the current iPhone X entirely if sales are underwhelming. "KGI also expects a trio of iPhone models in the fall of 2018," AppleInsider notes. "He predicts the iPhone X will be 'end of life' in the summer of 2018, instead of being retained as a lower-cost option in the following year." If Kuo's projection pans out, this would represent a marked shift in Apple's iPhone sales strategy. Going back nearly a decade, Apple has always positioned older iPhone models around as a wallet-friendly alternative for users who weren't keen on paying a premium for Apple's latest and greatest.
Transportation

Car Manufacturers Sued Over Rodents Eating Soy-Insulated Wires (hackaday.com) 150

An anonymous reader writes about "a little-known problem plaguing many newer vehicles from the likes of Honda, Toyota, and Kia." The car makers used soy-insulated wiring to cut costs and "Go Green", but owners in rural areas are finding the local wildlife finds the wiring irresistible; thousands of dollars in damage has been done by rats and other critters eating wiring harnesses. Hackaday is asking their community to brainstorm solutions to this unique problem, as owners of affected vehicles have had to resort to sprinkling their driveway with coyote urine and putting rat traps on the wheels.
Hackaday reports that "It isn't just one or two cases either, it's enough of a problem that some car manufacturers are getting hit with class-action lawsuits." Back in 2010 Slashdot reported that rabbits had already discovered the joys of eating soy-insulated wires, and were turning the parking lot at the Denver International Airport into their own personal buffet.

There's even a web site called HowToPreventRatsFromEatingCarWires.com, which reports that Honda has already manufactured a special wire-wrapping tape that's infused with the active ingredient from chili peppers.
Twitter

Twitter Says It Exposed Nearly 700,000 People To Russian Propaganda During Election (theverge.com) 265

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Verge: Twitter this evening released a new set of statistics related to its investigation on Russia propaganda efforts to influence the 2016 U.S. presidential election, including that 677,775 people were exposed to social media posts from more than 50,000 automated accounts with links to the Russian government. Many of the new accounts uncovered have been traced back to an organization called the the Internet Research Agency, or IRA, with known ties to the Kremlin. The data was first presented in an incomplete form to the Senate Select Intelligence Committee last November, which held hearings to question Facebook, Google, and Twitter on the role the respective platforms and products played in the Russian effort to help elect President Donald Trump. Twitter says it's now uncovered more accounts and new information on the wide-reaching Russian cyberintelligence campaign.

"Consistent with our commitment to transparency, we are emailing notifications to 677,775 people in the United States who followed one of these accounts or retweeted or liked a Tweet from these accounts during the election period," writes Twitter's public policy division in a blog post published today. "Because we have already suspended these accounts, the relevant content on Twitter is no longer publicly available."

Government

What a Government Shutdown Will Mean For NASA and SpaceX (theverge.com) 171

Ars Technica reports of how the government shutdown affects federal agencies like NASA, as well as commercial companies like SpaceX: So far, NASA has been keeping quiet about this particular shutdown and has been directing all questions to the White House Office of Management and Budget, which did not respond to a request for comment. But NASA's acting administrator, Robert Lightfoot, told employees in an email obtained by The Verge to be on alert for directions over the next couple of days. "If there is a lapse in funding for the federal government Friday night, report to work the same way you normally would until further notice, and you will receive guidance on how best to closeout your activities on Monday," he wrote in the email. The most recent guidance from NASA, released in 2017, indicates that all nonessential employees should stay home during a shutdown, while a small contingent of staff continue to work on "excepted" projects. The heads of each NASA center decide which employees need to stay, but they're typically the people who operate important or hazardous programs, including employees working on upcoming launches or those who operate satellites and the International Space Station.

NASA's next big mission is the launch of its exoplanet-hunting satellite, TESS, which is going up on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from Florida in March. So it shouldn't be affected by a shutdown (unless it takes a while to find a resolution). However, it's possible that preparations on another big spacecraft, the James Webb Space Telescope, may come to a halt, according to Nature. The space telescope is currently at NASA's Johnson Space Center for testing, but NASA's guidelines say that only spacecraft preparations that are "necessary to prevent harm to life or property" should continue during a shutdown. More immediately, an Atlas V rocket from the United Launch Alliance is launching a missile-detecting satellite tonight out of the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida, while SpaceX is slated to launch a communications satellite on January 30th. The timing of both launches may mean they avoid the shutdown. But if they did occur during the shutdown, it's unclear if they would suffer delays.

Businesses

How To Tame the Tech Titans (economist.com) 155

dryriver shares an opinion piece from The Economist: Not long ago, being the boss of a big Western tech firm was a dream job. As the billions rolled in, so did the plaudits: Google, Facebook, Amazon and others were making the world a better place. Today these companies are accused of being BAADD -- big, anti-competitive, addictive and destructive to democracy. Regulators fine them, politicians grill them and one-time backers warn of their power to cause harm. Much of this techlash is misguided. The presumption that big businesses must necessarily be wicked is plain wrong. Apple is to be admired as the world's most valuable listed company for the simple reason that it makes things people want to buy, even while facing fierce competition. Many online services would be worse if their providers were smaller. Evidence for the link between smartphones and unhappiness is weak. Fake news is not only an online phenomenon.

But big tech platforms, particularly Facebook, Google and Amazon, do indeed raise a worry about fair competition. That is partly because they often benefit from legal exemptions. Unlike publishers, Facebook and Google are rarely held responsible for what users do on them; and for years most American buyers on Amazon did not pay sales tax. Nor do the titans simply compete in a market. Increasingly, they are the market itself, providing the infrastructure (or "platforms") for much of the digital economy. Many of their services appear to be free, but users "pay" for them by giving away their data. Powerful though they already are, their huge stockmarket valuations suggest that investors are counting on them to double or even triple in size in the next decade. There is thus a justified fear that the tech titans will use their power to protect and extend their dominance, to the detriment of consumers (see article). The tricky task for policymakers is to restrain them without unduly stifling innovation.

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