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Updated: 15 hours 8 min ago

Nobel Laureate and Laser Inventor Charles Townes Passes

Wed, 01/28/2015 - 11:52
An anonymous reader writes Charles Hard Townes, a professor emeritus of physics at the University of California, Berkeley, who shared the 1964 Nobel Prize in Physics for invention of the laser and subsequently pioneered the use of lasers in astronomy, died early Tuesday in Oakland. He was 99. "Charlie was a cornerstone of the Space Sciences Laboratory for almost 50 years,” said Stuart Bale, director of the lab and a UC Berkeley professor of physics. “He trained a great number of excellent students in experimental astrophysics and pioneered a program to develop interferometry at short wavelengths. He was a truly inspiring man and a nice guy. We’ll miss him.”

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Graphene: Reversible Method of Magnetic Doping Paves Way For Semiconductor Use

Wed, 01/28/2015 - 11:10
concertina226 writes: A team of physicists at University of California, Riverside have discovered how to induce magnetism in graphene in a way that still preserves the material's electronic properties, which paves the way for graphene to be used as a semiconductor. The researchers grew a sheet of yttrium iron garnet using laser molecular beam epitaxy in a laboratory (abstract). Magnetic substances like iron are known to disrupt graphene's electrical conduction properties, but yttrium iron garnet works well as it is an electric insulator. When a graphene sheet was placed on top of an atomically smooth sheet of yttrium iron garnet, the graphene borrowed the magnetic properties from the yttrium iron garnet and became magnetized without the need for doping.

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New Micro-Ring Resonator Creates Quantum Entanglement On a Silicon Chip

Wed, 01/28/2015 - 10:27
Zothecula writes: The quantum entanglement of particles, such as photons, is a prerequisite for the new and future technologies of quantum computing, telecommunications, and cyber security. Real-world applications that take advantage of this technology, however, will not be fully realized until devices that produce such quantum states leave the realms of the laboratory and are made both small and energy efficient enough to be embedded in electronic equipment. In this vein, European scientists (abstract) have created and installed a tiny "ring-resonator" on a microchip that is claimed to produce copious numbers of entangled photons while using very little power to do so.

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Why Screen Lockers On X11 Cannot Be Secure

Wed, 01/28/2015 - 09:46
jones_supa writes: One thing we all remember from Windows NT is the security feature requiring the user to press CTRL-ALT-DEL to unlock the workstation (this can still be enabled with a policy setting). The motivation was to make it impossible for other programs to mimic a lock screen, as they couldn't react to the special key combination. Martin Gräßlin from the KDE team takes a look at the lock screen security on X11. On a protocol level, X11 doesn't know anything of screen lockers. Also the X server doesn't know that the screen is locked as it doesn't understand the concept. This means the screen locker can only use the core functionality available to emulate screen locking. That in turn also means that any other client can do the same and prevent the screen locker from working (for example opening a context menu on any window prevents the screen locker from activating). That's quite a bummer: any process connected to the X server can block the screen locker, and even more it could fake your screen locker.

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Justice Department: Default Encryption Has Created a 'Zone of Lawlessness'

Wed, 01/28/2015 - 09:04
Jason Koebler writes: Leslie Caldwell, an assistant attorney general at the Justice Department, said Tuesday that the department is "very concerned" by the Google's and Apple's decision to automatically encrypt all data on Android and iOS devices. "We understand the value of encryption and the importance of security," she said. "But we're very concerned they not lead to the creation of what I would call a 'zone of lawlessness,' where there's evidence that we could have lawful access through a court order that we're prohibited from getting because of a company's technological choices.

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We May Have Jupiter To Thank For the Nitrogen In Earth's Atmosphere

Wed, 01/28/2015 - 08:45
An anonymous reader writes: Nitrogen makes up about 78% of the Earth's atmosphere. It's also the 4th most abundant element in the human body. But where did all the nitrogen on Earth come from? Scientists aren't sure, but they have a new theory. Back when the solar system was just a protoplanetary disk, the ice orbiting the early Sun included ammonia, which has a nitrogen atom and three hydrogen atoms. But there needed to be a way for the nitrogen to get to the developing Earth. That's where Jupiter comes in. During its theorized Grand Tack, where it plunged into the inner solar system and then retreated outward again, it created shock waves in the dust and ice cloud surrounding the sun. These shock waves caused gentle heating of the ammonia ice, which allowed it to melt and react with chromium-bearing metal to form a mineral called carlsbergite. New research (abstract) suggests this mineral was then present when the Earth's accretion happened, supplying much of the nitrogen we would eventually need for life.

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The iPad Is 5 Years Old This Week, But You Still Don't Need One

Wed, 01/28/2015 - 08:22
HughPickens.com writes: Five years ago, Steve Jobs introduced the iPad and insisted that it would do many things better than either a laptop or a smartphone. Will Oremus writes at Future Tense that by most standards, the iPad has been a success, and the tablet has indeed emerged as a third category of computing device. But there's another way of looking at the iPad. According to Oremus, Jobs was right to leave out the productivity features and go big on the simple tactile pleasure of holding the Internet in your hands. But for all its popularity and appeal, the iPad never has quite cleared the bar Jobs set for it, which was to be "far better" at some key tasks than a laptop or a smartphone. The iPad may have been "far better" when it was first released, but smartphones have come a long way. The iPhone 6 and 6 Plus and their Android equivalents are now convenient enough for most mobile computing tasks that there's no need to carry around a tablet as well. That helps explain why iPad sales have plateaued, rather than continuing to ascend to the stratospheric levels of the iPhone. "The iPad remains an impressive machine. But it also remains a luxury item rather than a necessity," concludes Oremus. "Again, by most standards, it is a major success. Just not by the high standards that Jobs himself set for it five years ago."

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Facebook Censoring Images of the Prophet Muhammad In Turkey

Wed, 01/28/2015 - 07:40
An anonymous reader writes: Immediately following the Charlie Hebdo attack, Mark Zuckerberg said, "... this is what we all need to reject — a group of extremists trying to silence the voices and opinions of everyone else around the world. I won't let that happen on Facebook. I'm committed to building a service where you can speak freely without fear of violence." Now, Facebook has begun censoring images of the prophet Muhammad in Turkey. According to the Washington post, "It's an illustration, perhaps, of how extremely complicated and nuanced issues of online speech really are. It's also conclusive proof of what many tech critics said of Zuckerberg's free-speech declaration at the time: Sweeping promises are all well and good, but Facebook's record doesn't entirely back it up." To be fair to Zuckerberg and Facebook, the company must obey the law of any country in which it operates. But it stands in stark contrast to the principles espoused by its founder.

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Security-Focused BlackPhone Was Vulnerable To Simple Text Message Bug

Wed, 01/28/2015 - 06:58
mask.of.sanity sends this report from El Reg: The maker of BlackPhone – a mobile marketed as offering unusually high levels of security – has patched a critical vulnerability that allows hackers to run malicious code on the handsets. Attackers need little more than a phone number to send a message that can compromise the devices via the Silent Text application. The impact of the flaw is troubling because BlackPhone attracts what hackers see as high-value victims: those willing to invest AU$765 (£415, $630) in a phone that claims to put security above form and features may well have valuable calls and texts to hide from eavesdroppers.

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Comcast Pays Overdue Fees, Offers Freebies For TWC Merger Approval

Wed, 01/28/2015 - 06:15
WheezyJoe writes: In seeking more support for its mega-merger with Time-Warner Cable, Comcast has been going across the country giving local governments a chance to ask for favors in exchange for approving a franchise transfer. In Minneapolis, this turned up an unpaid bill of $40,000 in overdue franchise fees, so Comcast will have to pay the city money it already owed in order to get the franchise transfer. Comcast will also throw in $50,000 worth of free service and equipment. "Thirty Minneapolis city buildings will get free basic cable for the next seven years as part of a package of concessions (PDF) the city wrung out of Comcast in exchange for blessing its proposed merger with fellow cable giant Time Warner," Minnesota Public Radio reported. The article notes that getting any kind of refund out of a cable company is not easy. Part of the deal with Minneapolis involves the spinoff of a new cable company called GreatLand Connections that will serve 2.5 million customers in the Midwest and Southeast, including Minnesota. After the deal, Comcast's franchises in those areas would be transferred to GreatLand. Such goodwill concessions may seem impressive as Comcast seeks to foster goodwill, but one wonders how Comcast/Time Warner will behave after the merger.

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How One Small Company Blocked 15.1 Million Robocalls Last Year

Wed, 01/28/2015 - 03:09
TechCurmudgeon sends this excerpt from an article at Wired: Aaron Foss won a $25,000 cash prize from the Federal Trade Commission for figuring out how eliminate all those annoying robocalls that dial into your phone from a world of sleazy marketers. ... Using a little telephone hackery, Foss found a way of blocking spammers while still allowing the emergency alert service and other legitimate entities to call in bulk. Basically, he re-routed all calls through a service that would check them against a whitelist of legitimate operations and a blacklist of spammers, and this little trick was so effective, he soon parlayed it into a modest business. Last year, his service, called Nomorobo, blocked 15.1 million robocalls.

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Apple Posts $18B Quarterly Profit, the Highest By Any Company, Ever

Wed, 01/28/2015 - 01:37
jmcbain writes: Yesterday, Apple reported its financial results for the quarter ending December 27, 2014. The company posted $18 billion in profit (on $74 billion in revenue), the largest quarterly profit by any company, ever. The previous record was $16 billion by Russia's Gazprom (the largest natural gas extractor in the world) in 2011. Apple sold 74.5 million iPhones last quarter, along with 5.5 million Macs and 21.4 million iPads.

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Embedded Linux Conference Headlined By Drones

Wed, 01/28/2015 - 00:13
DeviceGuru writes: The Linux Foundation has released the full agenda for its annual North American Embedded Linux Conference + Android Builders Summit, which takes place Mar. 23-25 in San Jose, Calif. The ELC, which this year is titled Drones, Things, and Automobiles, increasingly reflects new opportunities for Linux in areas such as drones, robots, automotive computers, IoT gizmos, 3D sensing, modular phones, and much more. For those worried that ELC is skimping on the basics as it explores the more colorful sides of Linux, worry not, as there are still plenty of sessions on booting, trace analysis, NAND support, PHY frameworks, power management, defragmenting, systemd, device tree, and toolchain.

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Computer Chess Created In 487 Bytes, Breaks 32-Year-Old Record

Tue, 01/27/2015 - 23:10
An anonymous reader writes: The record for smallest computer implementation of chess on any platform was held by 1K ZX Chess, which saw a release back in 1983 for the Sinclair ZX81. It uses just 672 bytes of memory, and includes most chess rules as well as a computer component to play against. The 32-year-old record has been beaten this week by the demoscene group Red Sector Inc. They have implemented a fully-playable version of chess called BootChess in just 487 bytes (readme file including source code).

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FCC Prohibits Blocking of Personal Wi-Fi Hotspots

Tue, 01/27/2015 - 22:06
alphadogg writes: The FCC on Tuesday warned that it will no longer tolerate hotels, convention centers or others intentionally interfering with personal Wi-Fi hotspots. This issue grabbed headlines last fall when Marriott International was fined $600,000 for blocking customer Wi-Fi hotspots, presumably to encourage the guests to pay for pricey Internet access from the hotel.

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Latest Windows 10 Preview Build Brings Slew of Enhancements

Tue, 01/27/2015 - 21:05
Deathspawner writes: Following its huge Windows 10 event last Wednesday, Microsoft released a brand-new preview build to the public, versioned 9926. We were told that it'd give us Cortana, Microsoft's AI assistant, as well as a revamped Start menu and updated notifications pane. But as it turns out, that's not even close to summing up all that's new with this build. In fact, 9926 is easily the most substantial update rolled out so far in the beta program, with some UI elements and integral Windows features seeing their first overhaul in multiple generations.

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Engineers Develop 'Ultrarope' For World's Highest Elevator

Tue, 01/27/2015 - 20:02
HughPickens.com writes: Halfway up the Shard, London's tallest skyscraper, you are asked to step out of the elevator at the transfer floor, or "sky lobby," a necessary inconvenience in order to reach the upper half of the building, and a symptom of the limits of elevators today. To ascend a mile-high (1.6km) tower using the same technology could necessitate changing elevators as many as 10 times. Elevators traveling distances of more than 500m [1,640 ft] have not been feasible because the weight of the steel cables themselves becomes so great. Now, after nine years of rigorous testing, Kone has released Ultrarope — a material composed of carbon-fiber covered in a friction-proof coating that weighs a seventh of the steel cables, making elevators of up to 1km (0.6 miles) in height feasible to build. Kone's creation was chosen to be installed in what's destined to become the world's tallest building, the Kingdom Tower in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. When completed in 2020, the tower will stand a full kilometer in height, and will boast the world's tallest elevator at 660m (2,165ft). A 1km-tall tower may seem staggering, but is this the build-able limit? Most probably not, according to Dr. Sang Dae Kim. "With Kingdom Tower we now have a design that reaches around 1 km in height. Later on, someone will push for 1 mile, and then 2 km," says Kim. He adds that, technically speaking, 2 km might be possible at the current time. Anything higher would require new materials and building techniques.

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Ask Slashdot: What Makes a Great Software Developer?

Tue, 01/27/2015 - 18:00
Nerval's Lobster writes: What does it take to become a great — or even just a good — software developer? According to developer Michael O. Church's posting on Quora (later posted on LifeHacker), it's a long list: great developers are unafraid to learn on the job, manage their careers aggressively, know the politics of software development (which he refers to as 'CS666'), avoid long days when feasible, and can tell fads from technologies that actually endure... and those are just a few of his points. Over at Salsita Software's corporate blog, meanwhile, CEO and founder Matthew Gertner boils it all down to a single point: experienced programmers and developers know when to slow down. What do you think separates the great developers from the not-so-fantastic ones?

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Gamma-ray Bursts May Explain Fermi's Paradox

Tue, 01/27/2015 - 17:16
An anonymous reader writes: A new study confirms the potential hazard of nearby gamma-ray bursts. It quantifies the probability of an event near Earth, and more generally in the Milky Way and other galaxies over time: "[Evolved] life as it exists on Earth could not take place in almost any galaxy that formed earlier than about five billion years after the Big Bang." This could explain the Fermi's paradox, or why we don't see billion-year-old civilizations all around us.

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Inside the Largest Virtual Psychology Lab In the World

Tue, 01/27/2015 - 16:35
bearhuntz writes: Riot Games has been using League of Legends as a psychology lab to run scientific experiments and reduce toxic player behavior for a while now. This article explains some of the experiments they're doing, and what the results have been. "For example, one product is a restricted chat mode that limits the number of messages abusive players can type per match. It’s a temporary punishment that has led to a noticeable improvement in player behavior afterward —on average, individuals who went through a period of restricted chat saw 20 percent fewer abuse reports filed by other players. The restricted chat approach also proved 4 percent more effective at improving player behavior than the usual punishment method of temporarily banning toxic players. Even the smallest improvements in player behavior can make a huge difference in an online game that attracts 67 million players every month."

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