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NASA

NASA Spends 72 Cents of Every SLS Dollar On Overhead Costs, Says Report (arstechnica.com) 53

A new report published by the nonpartisan think tank Center for a New American Security shows us where a lot of NASA's money is being spent. The space agency has reportedly spent $19 billion on rockets -- first on Ares I and V, and now on the Space Launch System rocket -- and $13.9 billion on the Orion spacecraft. If all goes according to plan and NASA is able to fly its first crewed mission with the new vehicles in 2021, "the report estimates the agency will have spent $43 billion before that first flight, essentially a reprise of the Apollo 8 mission around the Moon," reports Ars Technica. "Just the development effort for SLS and Orion, which includes none of the expenses related to in-space activities or landing anywhere, are already nearly half that of the Apollo program." From the report: The new report argues that, given these high costs, NASA should turn over the construction of rockets and spacecraft to the private sector. It buttresses this argument with a remarkable claim about the "overhead" costs associated with the NASA-led programs. These costs entail the administration, management, and development costs paid directly to the space agency -- rather than funds spend on contractors actually building the space hardware. For Orion, according to the report, approximately 56 percent of the program's cost, has gone to NASA instead of the main contractor, Lockheed Martin, and others. For the SLS rocket and its predecessors, the estimated fraction of NASA-related costs is higher -- 72 percent. This means that only about $7 billion of the rocket's $19 billion has gone to the private sector companies, Boeing, Orbital ATK, Aeroject Rocketdyne, and others cutting metal. By comparison the report also estimates NASA's overhead costs for the commercial cargo and crew programs, in which SpaceX, Boeing, and Orbital ATK are developing and providing cargo and astronaut delivery systems for the International Space Station. With these programs, NASA has ceded some control to the private companies, allowing them to retain ownership of the vehicles and design them with other customers in mind as well. With such fixed-price contracts, the NASA overhead costs for these programs is just 14 percent, the report finds.
Facebook

Facebook Launches 'Town Hall' For Contacting Government Reps, Adds Local Election Reminders (techcrunch.com) 39

Facebook has officially launched their "Town Hall" feature that allows users to locate, follow and contact their local, state and federal government representatives. The social media company also announced that they will be launching local election reminders in an effort to get more users to vote in state, county, and municipal elections. TechCrunch reports: The feature was recently made available in the "More" menu on mobile and on desktop to a subset of users. When you launch it, you would be presented with a list of reps at the local, state and federal level, and you could click to visit their Facebook page or send them a message, call them, or email. Not all reps offer their contact information via Facebook, however. And Facebook doesn't yet pull in the missing phone numbers or emails from off-site sources, like official government websites, for example. The company tell us that's something it wants to address in time, though. Today, Town Hall is available to all U.S. Facebook users and some of its features will now be integrated in the News Feed. If you like or comment on a post made by one of your elected officials, a new feature below the comments will invite you to call, message or email the rep. After doing so, users will then be prompted to share a post saying that they contacted the rep, as a means of encouraging their friends to do the same. Facebook says that this Contact Your Rep post is not shown to everyone, but only to those who are also already engaging with an elected official's post, through a like or comment. Additionally, Facebook says it will now offer Election Reminders for local elections. The new, local election reminders will appear for all state, county, and municipal elections in the U.S. in areas with a population of over 10,000 people, and will include both primaries and general elections.
Databases

Facial Recognition Database Used By FBI Is Out of Control, House Committee Hears (theguardian.com) 54

The House oversight committee claims the FBI's facial recognition database is out of control, noting that "no federal law controls this technology" and "no court decision limits it." At last week's House oversight committee hearing, politicians and privacy campaigners presented several "damning facts" about the databases. "About 80% of photos in the FBI's network are non-criminal entries, including pictures from driver's licenses and passports," reports The Guardian. "The algorithms used to identify matches are inaccurate about 15% of the time, and are most likely to misidentify black people than white people." From the report: "Facial recognition technology is a powerful tool law enforcement can use to protect people, their property, our borders, and our nation," said the committee chair, Jason Chaffetz, adding that in the private sector it can be used to protect financial transactions and prevent fraud or identity theft. "But it can also be used by bad actors to harass or stalk individuals. It can be used in a way that chills free speech and free association by targeting people attending certain political meetings, protests, churches, or other types of places in the public." Furthermore, the rise of real-time face recognition technology that allows surveillance and body cameras to scan the faces of people walking down the street was, according to Chaffetz, "most concerning." "For those reasons and others, we must conduct proper oversight of this emerging technology," he said.
ISS

No One Knows What To Do With the International Space Station (popsci.com) 190

An anonymous reader shares a report: In 2024 the clock will run out on the International Space Station. Maybe. That's the arbitrary deadline that Congress imposed back in 2014, at which point they'll have to decide whether or not to keep funding the ISS. And yeah, that's a whole seven years away. But then again...it's only seven years away. The ISS takes up half of NASA's human exploration budget -- half of the pile of money allotted for things like sending humans to Mars or to an asteroid. And if they want to push further into space exploration, NASA can't keep sinking three to four billion dollars a year into the ISS. Not that it's really their decision. Congress -- specifically the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology -- decides how much money NASA will get. And because politicians aren't experts in space travel, they keep holding hearings to discuss what they could possibly do with the ISS in seven years' time. Let private industry take it over? Let it crash and burn into the South Pacific? Let the program keep running? The latest hearing took place last week. These are hard questions, in part because people have very different opinions on what's valuable about NASA, and therefore about whether the ISS is still useful. Maybe you think that NASA should really be about exploration, about pushing the boundaries of what we know and where we can travel. In that case, the ISS might not be your first priority. That's a huge chunk of the budget that goes toward bringing things back and forth to low Earth orbit instead of venturing to other planets.
The Courts

US Top Court Considers Changing Where Patent Cases May Be Filed (reuters.com) 54

The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday grappled over whether to upend a quarter-century of practice and limit where patent-infringement lawsuits can be filed. From a report on Reuters: The U.S. Supreme Court struggled over whether to upend nearly 30 years of law governing patent lawsuits that critics say allows often-baseless litigants to sue in friendly courts, giving them the upper hand over high-technology companies such as Apple and Alphabet Google. The justices heard an hour of arguments in an appeal by beverage flavoring company TC Heartland LLC to have a patent infringement suit brought against it by food and beverage company Kraft Heinz moved from federal court in Delaware, where it was filed, to Heartland's home base in Indiana. TC Heartland is challenging a lower court ruling denying a transfer to Indiana. Even though the case did not involve a lawsuit filed in Texas, the arguments involved the peculiar fact that the bulk of patent litigation in the United States is occurring in a single, rural region of East Texas, far from the centers of technology and innovation in the United States. Critics have said the federal court there has rulings and procedures favoring entities that generate revenue by suing over patents instead of making products, sometimes called "patent trolls." The outcome of the TC Heartland case could be profoundly felt in the East Texas courts. The justices could curtail where patent lawsuits may be launched, limiting them to where a defendant company is incorporated and potentially making it harder to get to trial or score lucrative jury verdicts.
Piracy

'Pirate' Movie Streaming Sites Declared Legal By Italian Court (torrentfreak.com) 44

A Court of Appeal in Rome has overturned a 600,000 euro ruling against four unlicensed sites that offered streaming movies to the public. From a report: When it comes to passing judgment on so-called 'pirate' sites, Italy has more experience than most around Europe. Courts have passed down many decisions against unlicensed sites which have seen hundreds blocked by ISPs. Today, however, news coming out of the country suggests that the parameters of what defines a pirate site may not be so loosely interpreted in future. It began in 2015 when the operator of four sites that linked to pirated movies was found guilty of copyright infringement by a local court and ordered to pay more almost 600,000 in fines and costs. As a result, filmakers.biz, filmaker.me, filmakerz.org, and cineteka.org all shutdown but in the background, an appeal was filed. The appeal was heard by the Rome Court of Appeal in February and now, through lawyer Fulvio Sarzana who defended the sites' operator, we hear of a particularly interesting ruling. "The Court ruled that the indication of links does not qualify as making direct disposal of files protected by copyright law," Sarzana told TF in an email.
Microsoft

Microsoft Yanks Docs.com Search After Complaints of Exposed Sensitive Files (zdnet.com) 53

Microsoft has quietly removed a feature on its document sharing site Docs.com that allowed anyone to search through millions of files for sensitive and personal information. From a report on ZDNet: Users had complained over the weekend on Twitter that anyone could use the site's search box to trawl through publicly-accessible documents and files stored on the site, which were clearly meant to remain private. Among the files reviewed by ZDNet, and seen by others who tweeted about them, included password lists, job acceptance letters, investment portfolios, divorce settlement agreements, and credit card statements -- some of which contained Social Security and driving license numbers, dates of birth, phone numbers, and email and postal addresses. The company removed the site's search feature late on Saturday, but others observed that the files were still cached in Google's search results, as well as Microsoft's own search engine, Bing.
Government

Laptop Ban on Planes Came After Plot To Put Explosives in iPad (theguardian.com) 269

Last week, United States and United Kingdom officials announced new restrictions for airline passengers from eight Middle Eastern countries, forbidding passengers to carry electronics larger than a smartphone into an airplane cabin. Now The Guardian reports, citing a security source, the ban was prompted in part by a plot involving explosives hidden in a fake iPad. From the report: The security source said both bans were not the result of a single specific incident but a combination of factors. One of those, according to the source, was the discovery of a plot to bring down a plane with explosives hidden in a fake iPad that appeared as good as the real thing. Other details of the plot, such as the date, the country involved and the group behind it, remain secret. Discovery of the plot confirmed the fears of the intelligence agencies that Islamist groups had found a novel way to smuggle explosives into the cabin area in carry-on luggage after failed attempts with shoe bombs and explosives hidden in underwear. An explosion in a cabin (where a terrorist can position the explosive against a door or window) can have much more impact than one in the hold (where the terrorist has no control over the position of the explosive, which could be in the middle of luggage, away from the skin of the aircraft), given passengers and crew could be sucked out of any subsequent hole.
Microsoft

Class Action Lawsuit Launched Over Forced Windows 10 Upgrades (courthousenews.com) 335

Slashdot reader AmiMoJo quotes The Register: Three people in Illinois have filed a lawsuit against Microsoft, claiming that its Windows 10 update destroyed their data and damaged their computers. The complaint, filed in Chicago's U.S. District Court on Thursday, charges that Microsoft Windows 10 [installer] is a defective product, and that its maker failed to provide adequate warning about the potential risks posed by Windows 10 installation -- specifically system stability and data loss... The attorneys representing the trio are seeking to have the case certified as a class action that includes every person in the U.S. who upgraded to Windows 10 from Windows 7 and suffered data loss or damage to software or hardware within 30 days of installation. They claim there are hundreds or thousands of affected individuals.
Microsoft responded that they'd offered free customer service and other support options for "the upgrade experience," adding "We believe the plaintiffs' claims are without merit." But the complaint argues Windows 10's installer "does not check the condition of the PC and whether or not the hard drive can withstand the stress of the Windows 10 installation," according to Courthouse News, which adds that the lead plaintiff "says her hard drive failed after Windows 10 installed without her express approval, and she had to buy a new computer."
United Kingdom

London Terrorist Used WhatsApp, UK Calls For Backdoors (yahoo.com) 356

Wednesday 52-year-old Khalid Masood "drove a rented SUV into pedestrians on Westminster Bridge before smashing it into Parliament's gates and rushing onto the grounds, where he fatally stabbed a policeman and was shot by other officers," writes the Associated Press. An anonymous reader quotes their new report: Westminster Bridge attacker Khalid Masood sent a WhatsApp message that cannot be accessed because it was encrypted by the popular messaging service, a top British security official said Sunday. British press reports suggest Masood used the messaging service owned by Facebook just minutes before the Wednesday rampage that left three pedestrians and one police officer dead and dozens more wounded.... Home Secretary Amber Rudd used appearances on BBC and Sky News to urge WhatsApp and other encrypted services to make their platforms accessible to intelligence services and police trying to carrying out lawful eavesdropping. "We need to make sure that organizations like WhatsApp -- and there are plenty of others like that -- don't provide a secret place for terrorists to communicate with each other," she said...

Rudd also urged technology companies to do a better job at preventing the publication of material that promotes extremism. She plans to meet with firms Thursday about setting up an industry board that would take steps to make the web less useful to extremists.

Biotech

Theranos To Investors: Please Don't Sue! Here, Have Some More Shares (siliconbeat.com) 85

Theranos "plans to give additional shares to investors who pledge not to sue," reports the Wall Street Journal. An anonymous reader quotes Silicon Beat: The deal, which hasn't been disclosed publicly, was approved by the Palo Alto-based company's board last month, The Wall Street Journal reported, citing anonymous "people familiar with the matter." They said most investors have tentatively agreed to the deal. Those extra shares are coming from none other than founder and CEO Elizabeth Holmes' personal cache, the Journal reported. That means the beleaguered founder, who has remained stubbornly at the helm of her struggling startup even though federal regulators have barred her from running a medical lab for two years, would give up her majority ownership in the company.
Government

Terrifying Anti-Riot Vehicle Created To Quash Any Urban Disturbance (boingboing.net) 195

"Are you an urban police force thinking about how to control your fellow humans?" jokes Cory Doctorow. "Look no farther! Your pals at Bozena have an all-new RIOT system, a crowd-control killdozer for all your protest-suppressing needs!" He's one of several web commentators marveling at the marketing copy for a Slovakian company's new anti-riot machinery, also spotted by Slashdot reader drunkdrone. Some quotes from the BOZENA RIOT SYSTEM site about the device's features:
  • Easy attachable bulldozer blade.
  • The [6,600 pound] shield comes equipped with launching ports designed for use of guns or other rubber projectiles launchers.
  • The trailer is capable of displacing the water/foam or its mixtures (available additives: pepper or painting substances) under the high pressure into the distance of several dozen meters.
  • Communication with rioters through the loudspeakers.
  • Designed to control riots in streets and urbanized areas...intended predominantly for the special military and police units responsible for the CROWD CONTROL during the violent political/social demonstrations, against football hooligans, etc.

Businesses

Comcast Launches New 24/7 Workplace Surveillance Service (philly.com) 150

America's largest ISP just rolled out a new service that allows small and medium-sized business owners "to oversee their organization" with continuous video surveillance footage that's stored in the cloud -- allowing them to "improve efficiency." An anonymous reader quotes the Philadelphia Inquirer: Inventory is disappearing. Workplace productivity is off. He said/she said office politics are driving people crazy. Who you gonna call...? Comcast Business hopes it will be the one, with the "SmartOffice" surveillance offering formally launched this week in Philadelphia and across "70 percent of our national [internet] service footprint," said Christian Nascimento, executive director of premise services for the Comcast division. Putting a "Smart Cities" (rather than "Big Brother is watching you") spin on "the growing trend for...connected devices across the private and public sectors," the SmartOffice solution "can provide video surveillance to organizations that want to monitor their locations more closely," Nascimento said...
The surveillance cameras are equipped with zoom lenses, night-vision, motion detection, and wide-angle lenses, while an app allows remote access to the footage from smartphones and tablets (though the footage can also be downloaded, or stored online for up to a month). Last year Comcast was heavily involved in an effort to provide Detroit's police department with real-time video feeds from over 120 local businesses, which the mayor said wouldn't have been successful "Without the complete video technology system Comcast provides."
Privacy

'Why The US Senate's Vote To Throw Out ISP Privacy Laws Isn't All Bad' (technologyreview.com) 104

"Nobody wants their data spread far and wide," write two associate editors at MIT Technology Review, "but the FCC's rules were an inconsistent solution to a much larger problem." An anonymous reader writes: They point out the rules passed in October "weren't even yet in effect," but more importantly -- they only would've applied to ISPs. "[T]he reality is that the U.S. doesn't have a baseline law that governs online privacy," and the truth is, it never did. "The FCC's new privacy rules would have been dramatic, to be sure -- but they would only have addressed one piece of the problem, leaving companies like Facebook and Google free to continue doing much the same thing.
While the repeal still needs approval in the U.S. House of Representatives and the president's signature, their article argues that what's really needed is "a more consistent approach to privacy."
Transportation

Uber Halts Self-Driving Car Tests in Arizona After Friday Night Collision (businessinsider.com) 226

"Given that the Uber vehicle has flipped onto its side it looks to be a high speed crash," writes TechCrunch, though Business Insider reports that no one was seriously injured. An anonymous reader quotes their report: A self-driving Uber car was involved in an accident on Friday night in Tempe, Arizona, in one of the most serious incidents to date involving the growing fleet of autonomous vehicles being tested on U.S. roads... Uber has halted its self-driving-car pilot in Arizona and is investigating what caused the incident... A Tempe police spokesperson told Bloomberg that the Uber was not at fault in the accident and was hit by another car which failed to yield. Still, the collision will likely to turn up the temperature on the heated debate about the safety of self-driving cars.
Government

After Healthcare Defeat, Can The Trump Administration Fix America's H-1B Visa Program? (bloomberg.com) 526

Friday the Trump administration suffered a political setback when divisions in the president's party halted a move to repeal healthcare policies passed in 2010. But if Trump hopes to turn his attention to how America's H-1B visa program is affecting technology workers, "time is running out," writes Slashdot reader pteddy. Bloomberg reports: [T]he application deadline for the most controversial visa program is the first week of April, which means new rules have to be in place for that batch of applicants or another year's worth of visas will be handed out under the existing guidelines... There probably isn't enough time to pass legislation on such a contentious issue. But Trump could sign an executive order with some changes. The article points out that under the current system, one outsourcing firm was granted 6.5 times as many U.S. visas as Amazon. There's also an interesting map showing which countries' workers received the most H-1B visas in 2015 -- 69.4% went to workers in India, with another 10.5% going to China -- and a chart showing which positions are most in demand, indicating that two-thirds of the visa applications are for tech workers.
Crime

Indiana's Inmates Could Soon Have Access To Tablets (abc57.com) 131

An anonymous reader quotes a report from ABC57 News in South Bend, Indiana: Indiana is looking to help offenders who are behind bars. Soon, each inmate in the Hoosier state could have their own tablet. The Indiana Department of Correction says the tablet will help inmates stay connected with their families and improve their education. Offenders will be able to use the tablets to access any classwork, self-help materials or entertainment. Officials expect to use entertainment, like music or movies, to reward good behavior. The proposal was first filed in January. Apple iPad's or kindles won't be used. Instead, a company that makes tablets specifically for prisons or jails will be hired. One San Francisco based-company they may consider, Telmate, has a device that is used in more than 20 states, including some jails in Marshall County. INDOC is hoping a vendor will front the costs of the entertainment apps so taxpayers won't have to. INDOC also says it wants to avoid charging inmate fees because charging fees that they can't afford would defeat the purpose of the system. If the company selected pays, the vendor would be reimbursed and still earn a profit.
Printer

Why You Should Care About the Supreme Court Case On Toner Cartridges (consumerist.com) 227

rmdingler quotes a report from Consumerist: A corporate squabble over printer toner cartridges doesn't sound particularly glamorous, and the phrase "patent exhaustion" is probably already causing your eyes to glaze over. However, these otherwise boring topics are the crux of a Supreme Court case that will answer a question with far-reaching impact for all consumers: Can a company that sold you something use its patent on that product to control how you choose to use after you buy it? The case in question is Impression Products, Inc v Lexmark International, Inc, came before the nation's highest court on Tuesday. Here's the background: Lexmark makes printers. Printers need toner in order to print, and Lexmark also happens to sell toner. Then there's Impression Products, a third-party company makes and refills toner cartridges for use in printers, including Lexmark's. Lexmark, however, doesn't want that; if you use third-party toner cartridges, that's money that Lexmark doesn't make. So it sued, which brings us to the legal chain that ended up at the Supreme Court. In an effort to keep others from getting a piece of that sweet toner revenue, Lexmark turned to its patents: The company began selling printer cartridges with a notice on the package forbidding reuse or transfer to third parties. Then, when a third-party -- like Impression -- came around reselling or recycling the cartridges, Lexmark could accuse them of patent infringement. So far the courts have sided with Lexmark, ruling that Impression was using Lexmark's patented technology in an unauthorized way. The Supreme Court is Impression's last avenue of appeal. The question before the Supreme Court isn't one of "can Lexmark patent this?" Because Lexmark can, and has. The question is, rather: Can patent exhaustion still be a thing, or does the original manufacturer get to keep having the final say in what you and others can do with the product? Kate Cox notes via Consumerist that the Supreme Court ruling is still likely months away. However, she has provided a link to the transcript of this week's oral arguments (PDF) in her report and has dissected it to see which way the justices are leaning on the issue.
China

Microsoft Delivers Secure China-Only Cut of Windows 10 (theregister.co.uk) 98

Earlier this week, CEO of Microsoft Greater China, Alain Crozier, told China Daily that the company is ready to roll out a version of Windows 10 with extra security features demanded by China's government. "We have already developed the first version of the Windows 10 government secure system. It has been tested by three large enterprise customers," Crozier said. The Register reports: China used Edward Snowden's revelations to question whether western technology products could compromise its security. Policy responses included source code reviews for foreign vendors and requiring Chinese buyers to shop from an approved list of products. Microsoft, IBM and Intel all refused to submit source code for inspection, but Redmond and Big Blue have found other ways to get their code into China. IBM's route is a partnership with Dalian Wanda to bring its cloud behind the Great Firewall. Microsoft last year revealed its intention to build a version of Windows 10 for Chinese government users in partnership with state-owned company China Electronics Technology Group Corp. There's no reason to believe Crozier's remarks are incorrect, because Microsoft has a massive incentive to deliver a version of Windows 10 that China's government will accept. To understand why, consider that China's military has over two million active service personnel, the nation's railways employ similar numbers and Microsoft's partner China Electronics Technology Group Corp has more than 140,000 people on its books. Not all of those are going to need Windows, but plenty will.
Businesses

South Korea Finds Qualcomm Prevented Samsung From Selling Its Exynos Processors (digitaltrends.com) 13

According to the South Korea Trade Commission (SKTC), Qualcomm prevented Samsung from selling its Exynos processors to various third-party phone manufacturers. "The Commission's report claims that Qualcomm abused its standard-essential patents -- which define technical standards like Wi-Fi and 4G -- to prevent Samsung from selling its modems, integrated processors, and other chips to smartphone makers like LG, Huawei, Xiaomi, and others," reports Digital Trends. "The Commission reportedly threatened to file suit against Samsung, which had agreed to license the patents for an undisclosed sum, if the South Korean electronics maker began competing against it in the mobile market." From the report: That bullying ran afoul of the South Korea Trade Commission's rules, which require that standard-essential patents be licensed on fair, reasonable, and non-discriminatory (FRAND) terms. "Samsung Electronics has been blocked from selling its modem chips to other smartphone manufacturers due to a license deal it signed with Qualcomm," the commissioners wrote. The report provides legal justification for the $853 million fine the SKTC placed on Qualcomm in December for "anti-competitive practices." Qualcomm intends to appeal. "[We] strongly disagree with the KFTC's announced decision, which Qualcomm believes is inconsistent with the facts and the law, reflects a flawed process, and represents a violation of due process rights owed American companies" under an applicable agreement between the U.S. and South Korea.

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