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United States

Secret Service Plans New Fence, Full Scale White House Replica, But No Moat 42

Posted by samzenpus
from the forget-the-drawbridge dept.
HughPickens.com writes The NYT reports that the Secret Service is recruiting some of its best athletes to serve as pretend fence jumpers at a rural training ground outside Washington in a program to develop a new fence around the White House that will keep intruders out without looking like a prison. Secret Service officials acknowledge that they cannot make the fence foolproof; that would require an aesthetically unacceptable and politically incorrect barrier. Prison or Soviet-style design is out, and so is anything that could hurt visitors, like sharp edges or protuberances. Instead, the goal is to deter climbers or at least delay them so that officers and attack dogs have a few more seconds to apprehend them. In addition, there might be alterations to the White House grounds but no moat, as recently suggested by Representative Steve Cohen of Tennessee. "When I hear moat, I think medieval times," says William Callahan, assistant director for the office of protective operation at the Secret Service.

The Times also reports that the Secret Service wants to spend $8 million to build a detailed replica of the White House in Beltsville, Maryland to aid in training officers and agents to protect the real thing. "Right now, we train on a parking lot, basically," says Joseph P. Clancy, the director of the Secret Service. "We put up a makeshift fence and walk off the distance between the fence at the White House and the actual house itself. We don't have the bushes, we don't have the fountains, we don't get a realistic look at the White House." The proposed replica would provide what Clancy describes as a "more realistic environment, conducive to scenario-based training exercises," for instructing those who must protect the president's home. It would mimic the facade of the White House residence, the East and West Wings, guard booths, and the surrounding grounds and roads. The request comes six months after an intruder scaled a wrought-iron fence around the White House and ran through an unlocked front door of the residence and into the East Room before officers tackled him.
Government

FCC Chairman: Net Rules Will Withstand Court Challenge 45

Posted by samzenpus
from the here-to-stay dept.
An anonymous reader writes with this story about FCC chairman Tom Wheeler's confidence that the net neutrality rules the agency passed last month will stand up to upcoming challenges in court."Now that the FCC is the subject of several lawsuits, and its leader, Chairman Tom Wheeler, was dragged in front of Congress repeatedly to answer the same battery of inanity, it's worth checking in to see how the agency is feeling. Is it confident that its recent vote to reclassify broadband under Title II of the Telecommunications Act will hold? Yes, unsurprisingly. Recently, Wheeler gave a speech at Ohio State University, laying out his larger philosophy regarding the open Internet. His second to last paragraph is worth reading: "One final prediction: the FCC's new rules will be upheld by the courts. The DC Circuit sent the previous Open Internet Order back to us and basically said, 'You're trying to impose common carrier-like regulation without stepping up and saying, "these are common carriers.'" We have addressed that issue, which is the underlying issue in all of the debates we've had so far. That gives me great confidence going forward that we will prevail.""
ISS

NASA Denies New Space Station Partnership With Russia 62

Posted by samzenpus
from the wasn't-me dept.
schwit1 writes NASA officials today denied they were negotiating a partnership with Russia to build a space station replacement for ISS, as suggested yesterday by the head of Russia's space program. Maybe the misunderstanding comes from NASA head Charles Bolden, who is currently in Russia. Bolden probably said some nice feel-good things to the Russians, things like "We want to keep working together," and "We will support your plans for your future space station." None of this was meant as a commitment, but the Russians might have taken them more seriously than Bolden realized.
Government

Taxpayer Subsidies To ULA To End 39

Posted by timothy
from the but-don't-they-know-about-the-multiplier? dept.
schwit1 writes Because it has concluded that they make it impossible to have a fair competition for contracts, the Air Force has decided to phase out taxpayer subsidies to the United Launch Alliance (ULA). The specific amounts of these subsidies have been effectively buried by the Air Force in many different contracts, so we the taxpayers really don't know how much the are. Nonetheless, this decision, combined with the military report released yesterday that criticized the Air Force's over-bearing and restrictive certification process with SpaceX indicates that the political pressure is now pushing them hard to open up bidding to multiple companies, which in turn will help lower cost and save the taxpayer money.
Blackberry

Iowa's Governor Terry Branstad Thinks He Doesn't Use E-mail 280

Posted by timothy
from the bizarro-er-and-bizarro-er dept.
Earthquake Retrofit writes The Washington Post reports the governor of Iowa denying he uses e-mail, but court documents expose his confusion. From the article: "Branstad's apparent confusion over smartphones, apps and e-mail is ironic because he has tried to portray himself as technologically savvy. His Instagram account has pictures of him taking selfies and using Skype... 2010 campaign ads show him tapping away on an iPad. 'Want a brighter future? We've got an app for that.' Earlier this month, the governor's office announced that it had even opened an account on Meerkat, the live video streaming app." Perhaps he's distancing himself from e-mail because it's a Hillary thing.
The Courts

Ellen Pao Loses Silicon Valley Gender Bias Case Against Kleiner Perkins 316

Posted by timothy
from the she'll-resign-her-commission dept.
vivaoporto writes As reported by the New York Times, USA Today and other publications, a jury of six men and six women rejected current Reddit Inc CEO Ellen Pao's claims against her former employer, the venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers. Ms. Pao's suit, that alleged employment discrimination based on gender, workplace retaliation and failure to take reasonable steps to prevent gender discrimination, asked $16 million in compensatory damages plus punitive damages. The jury decided, after more than two days of deliberation and more than four weeks of testimony, that her formed employer neither discriminated against the former junior partner for her gender, nor fired the complainant because of a high-profile gender discrimination lawsuit against the firm in 2012. She alleged that Kleiner Perkins had promoted male partners over equally qualified women at the firm, including herself, and then retaliated against her for raising concerns about the firm's gender dynamics by failing to promote her and finally firing her after seven years at the firm after she filed her 2012 lawsuit.
The Military

US Air Force Overstepped In SpaceX Certification 68

Posted by Soulskill
from the don't-ruin-this-for-us,-government dept.
Rambo Tribble writes: An internal review commissioned by Air Force Secretary Deborah James has concluded that Air Force personnel tasked with evaluating SpaceX's certification treated it as a design review, going so far as to dictate organizational changes in the company. This was judged contrary to the intention of promoting a competitive environment. The report, prepared by former Air Force Chief of Staff General Larry Welch, concluded, "The result to date has been ... the worst of all worlds, pressing the Falcon 9 commercially oriented approach into a comfortable government mold that eliminates or significantly reduces the expected benefits to the government of the commercial approach. Both teams need to adjust."
Government

GAO Denied Access To Webb Telescope Workers By Northrop Grumman 129

Posted by samzenpus
from the sorry-you-can't-come-in dept.
schwit1 writes In a report as well as at House hearings today the GAO reported that Northrop Grumman has denied them one-on-one access to workers building the James Webb Space Telescope. "The interviews, part of a running series of GAO audits of the NASA flagship observatory, which is billions of dollars overbudget and years behind schedule, were intended to identify potential future trouble spots, according to a GAO official. But Northrop Grumman Aerospace, which along with NASA says the $9 billion project is back on track, cited concerns that the employees, 30 in all, would be intimidated by the process." To give Northrop Grumman the benefit of the doubt, these interviews were a somewhat unusual request. Then again, if all was well why would they resist? Note too that the quote above says the cost of the telescope project is now $9 billion. If the project was "back on track" as the agency and Northrop Grumman claim, then why has the budget suddenly increased by another billion?
The Media

NY Times: "All the News That Mark Zuckerberg Sees Fit To Print"? 79

Posted by timothy
from the who-do-you-trust-and-why dept.
theodp writes Two years ago, Politico caught Mark Zuckerberg's soon-to-be launched FWD.us PAC boasting how its wealthy tech exec backers would use their companies to 'control the avenues of distribution' for a political message in support of their efforts. Now, the NY Times is reporting that Facebook has been quietly holding talks with at least half a dozen media companies about hosting their content inside Facebook, citing a source who said the Times and Facebook are moving closer to a firm deal. Facebook declined to comment on specific discussions with publishers, but noted it had provided features to help publishers get better traction on Facebook, including tools unveiled in December that let them target their articles to specific groups of Facebook users. The new plan, notes the Times, is championed by Chris Cox, the top lieutenant to Facebook CEO Zuckerberg and a "major supporter" of FWD.us. Exploring Facebook's wooing of the media giants, the Christian Science Monitor asks if social media will control the future of news, citing concerns expressed by Fusion's Felix Salmon, who warns that as news sites sacrifice their brands to reach a wider audience, their incentives for accuracy and editorial judgment will disappear.
The Almighty Buck

Russian Official Proposes Road That Could Connect London To NYC 226

Posted by samzenpus
from the use-the-bathroom-before-you-go dept.
An anonymous reader writes There's great news coming out of Russia for epic road trip lovers. Russian Railways president Vladimir Yakunin has proposed building a highway that would reach from London to Alaska via Russia, a 13,000-mile stretch of road. "This is an inter-state, inter-civilization, project," the Siberian Times quoted Yakunin. "The project should be turned into a world 'future zone,' and it must be based on leading, not catching, technologies."
Government

Amazon Blasts FAA On Drone Approvals, Regulations 60

Posted by samzenpus
from the no-sir-I-don't-like-it dept.
itwbennett writes Late last week, Amazon was issued permission by the FAA to fly an experimental drone as part of its tests for a planned automatic delivery service but it came too late, Paul Misener, vice president of global public policy at Amazon, told lawmakers on Tuesday. 'The UAS [unmanned aircraft system] approved last week by the FAA has already become obsolete,' he said. As a result, Amazon has filed for permission to fly a more advanced drone—one that is already being flown in several countries including the U.K., said Misener, who was speaking at a hearing of the Senate Committee on commerce, science and transportation.
Government

New Bill Would Repeal Patriot Act 185

Posted by Soulskill
from the would-also-bake-cookies-for-every-citizen dept.
schwit1 points out a new piece of bipartisan legislation that aims to repeal the Patriot Act and the FISA Amendments Act, which the NSA has used to justify broad domestic surveillance. House Representatives Thomas Massie (R-KY) and Mark Pocan (D-WI) introduced the bill yesterday, calling it the Surveillance State Repeal Act (PDF). Pocan said, "This isn't just tinkering around the edges. This is a meaningful overhaul of the system, getting rid of essentially all parameters of the Patriot Act." The bill also attempts to dramatically strengthen whistleblower protections, so situations like Edward Snowden's and Thomas Drake's don't happen in the future. This legislation is not expected to get the support of Congressional leaders, but supporters hope it will at least inspire some debate about several provisions of the Patriot Act coming up for renewal in June.
Censorship

Feds Attempt To Censor Parts of a New Book About the Hydrogen Bomb 339

Posted by Soulskill
from the you-can't-do-that-on-bookovision dept.
HughPickens.com writes: The atom bomb — leveler of Hiroshima and instant killer of some 80,000 people — is just a pale cousin compared to the hydrogen bomb, which easily packs the punch of a thousand Hiroshimas. That is why Washington has for decades done everything in its power to keep the details of its design out of the public domain. Now William J. Broad reports in the NY Times that Kenneth W. Ford has defied a federal order to cut material from his new book that the government says teems with thermonuclear secrets. Ford says he included the disputed material because it had already been disclosed elsewhere and helped him paint a fuller picture of an important chapter of American history. But after he volunteered the manuscript for a security review, federal officials told him to remove about 10 percent of the text, or roughly 5,000 words. "They wanted to eviscerate the book," says Ford. "My first thought was, 'This is so ridiculous I won't even respond.'" For instance, the federal agency wanted him to strike a reference to the size of the first hydrogen test device — its base was seven feet wide and 20 feet high. Dr. Ford responded that public photographs of the device, with men, jeeps and a forklift nearby, gave a scale of comparison that clearly revealed its overall dimensions.

Though difficult to make, hydrogen bombs are attractive to nations and militaries because their fuel is relatively cheap. Inside a thick metal casing, the weapon relies on a small atom bomb that works like a match to ignite the hydrogen fuel. Today, Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States are the only declared members of the thermonuclear club, each possessing hundreds or thousands of hydrogen bombs. Military experts suspect that Israel has dozens of hydrogen bombs. India, Pakistan and North Korea are seen as interested in acquiring the potent weapon. The big secret the book discusses is thermal equilibrium, the discovery that the temperature of the hydrogen fuel and the radiation could match each other during the explosion (PDF). World Scientific, a publisher in Singapore, recently made Dr. Ford's book public in electronic form, with print versions to follow. Ford remains convinced the book "contains nothing whatsoever whose dissemination could, by any stretch of the imagination, damage the United States or help a country that is trying to build a hydrogen bomb." "Were I to follow all — or even most — of your suggestions," says Ford, "it would destroy the book."
Government

$1B TSA Behavioral Screening Program Slammed As "Junk Science" 224

Posted by timothy
from the little-here-a-little-there dept.
schwit1 writes The Transportation Security Administration has been accused of spending a billion dollars on a passenger-screening program that's based on junk science. The claim arose in a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union, which has tried unsuccessfully to get the TSA to release documents on its SPOT (Screening Passengers by Observation Techniques) program through the Freedom of Information Act. SPOT, whose techniques were first used in 2003 and formalized in 2007, uses "highly questionable" screening techniques, according to the ACLU complaint, while being "discriminatory, ineffective, pseudo-scientific, and wasteful of taxpayer money." TSA has spent at least $1 billion on SPOT. The Government Accountability Office (GAO) reported in 2010 that "TSA deployed SPOT nationwide before first determining whether there was a scientifically valid basis for using behavior detection and appearance indicators as a means for reliably identifying passengers as potential threats in airports," according to the ACLU. And in 2013, GAO recommended that the agency spend less money on the program, which uses 3,000 "behavior detection officers" whose jobs is to identify terrorists before they board jetliners.
NASA

NASA's Abandoned Launch Facilities 56

Posted by samzenpus
from the lost-in-time dept.
trazom28 writes I ran across an interesting slideshow of NASA's abandoned launch facilities. It's an interesting piece of scientific history. The images are from "photographer Roland Miller's upcoming book, Abandoned in Place. The book is a visual study of the deactivated launch and research facilities that played an essential role in early American space exploration.
United States

Obama To Announce $240M In New Pledges For STEM Education 149

Posted by samzenpus
from the throw-some-money-at-it dept.
An anonymous reader sends word that President Obama is expected to announce more that $240 million in pledges to boost STEM educations at the White House Science Fair today. "President Barack Obama is highlighting private-sector efforts to encourage more students from underrepresented groups to pursue education in science, technology, engineering and math. At the White House Science Fair on Monday, Obama will announce more than $240 million in pledges to boost the study of those fields, known as STEM. This year's fair is focused on diversity. Obama will say the new commitments have brought total financial and material support for these programs to $1 billion. The pledges the president is announcing include a $150 million philanthropic effort to encourage promising early-career scientists to stay on track and a $90 million campaign to expand STEM opportunities to underrepresented youth, such as minorities and girls."
Earth

How 'Virtual Water' Can Help Ease California's Drought 417

Posted by timothy
from the it's-as-if-prices-conveyed-information dept.
HughPickens.com writes Bill Davidow And Michael S. Malone write in the WSJ that recent rains have barely made a dent in California's enduring drought, now in its fourth year. Thus, it's time to solve the state's water problem with radical solutions, and they can begin with "virtual water." This concept describes water that is used to produce food or other commodities, such as cotton. According to Davidow and Malone, when those commodities are shipped out of state, virtual water is exported. Today California exports about six trillion gallons of virtual water, or about 500 gallons per resident a day. How can this happen amid drought? The problem is mispricing. If water were priced properly, it is a safe bet that farmers would waste far less of it, and the effects of California's drought—its worst in recorded history—would not be so severe. "A free market would raise the price of water, reflecting its scarcity, and lead to a reduction in the export of virtual water," say Davidow and Malone. "A long history of local politics, complicated regulation and seemingly arbitrary controls on distribution have led to gross inefficiency."

For example, producing almonds is highly profitable when water is cheap but almond trees are thirsty, and almond production uses about 10% of California's total water supply. The thing is, nuts use a whole lot of water: it takes about a gallon of water to grow one almond, and nearly five gallons to produce a walnut. "Suppose an almond farmer could sell real water to any buyer, regardless of county boundaries, at market prices—many hundreds of dollars per acre-foot—if he agreed to cut his usage in half, say, by drawing only two acre-feet, instead of four, from his wells," say the authors. "He might have to curtail all or part of his almond orchard and grow more water-efficient crops. But he also might make enough money selling his water to make that decision worthwhile." Using a similar strategy across its agricultural industry, California might be able to reverse the economic logic that has driven farmers to plant more water-intensive crops. "This would take creative thinking, something California is known for, and trust in the power of free markets," conclude the authors adding that "almost anything would be better, and fairer, than the current contradictory and self-defeating regulations."
Education

Arkansas Is Now the First State To Require That High Schools Teach Coding 211

Posted by timothy
from the unexpected-locale dept.
SternisheFan writes Arkansas will be implementing a new law that requires public high schools to offer classes in computer science starting in the 2015-16 school year. Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson, who signed the bill, believes it will provide "a workforce that's sure to attract businesses and jobs" to the state. $5 million of the governor's proposed budget will go towards this new program. For the districts incapable of of administering these classes due to lack of space or qualified teachers, the law has provisions for online courses to be offered through Virtual Arkansas. Although students will not be required to take computer science classes, the governor's goal is to give students the opportunity if they "want to take it." Presently, only one in 10 schools nationwide offer computer science classes. Not only will Arkansas teach these classes in every public high school and charter school serving upper grades, the courses will count towards the state's math graduation requirement as a further incentive for students. Training programs for teacher preparation will be available, but with the majority of the infrastructure already primed, the execution of this new law should hopefully be painless and seamless.
Government

Government Spies Admit That Cyber Armageddon Is Unlikely 70

Posted by timothy
from the only-as-far-as-you-can-throw-them dept.
Nicola Hahn writes NSA director Mike Rogers spoke to a Senate Committee [Thursday], admonishing them that the United States should bolster its offensive cyber capabilities to deter attacks. Never mind that deterrence is problematic if you can't identify the people who attacked you. In the past a speech by a spymaster like Rogers would have been laced with hyperbolic intimations of the End Times. Indeed, for almost a decade mainstream news outlets have conveyed a litany of cyber doomsday scenarios on behalf of ostensibly credible public officials. So it's interesting to note a recent statement by the U.S. intelligence community that pours a bucket of cold water over all of this. According to government spies the likelihood of a cyber Armageddon is "remote." And this raises some unsettling questions about our ability to trust government officials and why they might be tempted to fall back on such blatant hyperbole.
Government

ISPs Worry About FCC's 'Future Conduct' Policing 130

Posted by timothy
from the now-lookie-hyeah-boah dept.
jfruh (300774) writes "In the wake of the FCC passing net neutrality rules, the federal agency now has the authority to keep an eye on ISPs 'future conduct,' to prevent them from even starting to implement traffic-shaping plans that would violate net neutrality. Naturally, this has a lot of ISPs feeling nervous." From the article: The net neutrality rules, beginning on page 106, outline a process for staff to give advisory opinions to broadband providers who want to run a proposed business model past the agency before rolling it out. But those advisory opinions won’t have the weight of an official commission decision. The FCC’s Enforcement Bureau will be able to reconsider, rescind or revoke those advisory opinions, and the commission itself will be able to overrule them, according to the order. “It’s unclear what you’re supposed to do when you have a new innovation or a new service,” the telecom lobbyist said. “There’s just a lot of ambiguity.” Even the Electronic Frontier Foundation, one of the most vocal proponents of strong net neutrality rules, urged the commission to jettison its future conduct standard.