Thursday, 16 August

13:00 EDT

Intel’s 10nm Cannon Lake chip gets another outing in new NUC mini PC [Ars Technica]


Intel has updated its range of small form-factor PCs that it calls NUCs. We've generally liked the systems in the past; with a footprint of about 4 inches by 4 inches, they're pretty compact, and their feature set makes them versatile for home theaters, digital signs or other embedded industrial uses, workplace productivity, and in some cases, even gaming.

First up is a quintet of NUC kits named Bean Canyon, built around Coffee Lake-U processors. These range from a $299 i3-8109U at the low end (two-core, four-thread, 3.0-3.6GHz) to a $499 i7-8559U at the high end (four-core, eight-thread, 2.7-4.5GHz). All the chips are 28W processors, and all have Iris Plus graphics—128MB of eDRAM memory on the processor itself. The eDRAM is primarily there to boost graphics performance, but it can also help a lot in non-graphical workloads, too, as it acts as an enormous cache.

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Nintendo’s Switch has been hiding a buried “VrMode” for over a year [Ars Technica]

A previous, browser-based proof-of-concept test from YouTuber Nintendrew shows how Switch-based VR could work. (credit: YoutTube / Nintendrew)

Hackers have uncovered and tested a screen-splitting "VR Mode" that has been buried in the Switch's system-level firmware for over a year. The discovery suggests that Nintendo at least toyed with the idea that the tablet system could serve as a stereoscopic display for a virtual reality headset.

Switch hackers first discovered and documented references to a "VrMode" in the Switch OS' Applet Manager services back in December, when analyzing the June 2017 release of version 3.0.0 of the system's firmware. But the community doesn't seem to have done much testing of the internal functions "IsVrModeEnabled" and "SetVrModeEnabled" at the time.

That changed shortly after Switch modder OatmealDome publicly noted one of the VR functions earlier this month, rhetorically asking "has anyone actually tried calling it?" Fellow hacker random0666 responded with a short Twitter video (and an even shorter follow-up) showing the results of an extremely simple homebrew testing app that activates the system's VrMode functions.

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NYU Offers Full-Tuition Scholarships for All Medical Students [Slashdot]

New York University said Thursday that it will cover tuition for all its medical students regardless of their financial situation, a first among the nation's major medical schools and an attempt to expand career options for graduates who won't be saddled with six-figure debt [Editor's note: the link may be paywalled]. From a report: School officials worry that rising tuition and soaring loan balances are pushing new doctors into high-paying fields and contributing to a shortage of researchers and primary care physicians. Medical schools nationwide have been conducting aggressive fundraising campaigns to compete for top prospects, alleviate the debt burden and give graduates more career choices. NYU raised more than $450 million of the roughly $600 million it estimates it will need to fund the tuition package in perpetuity, including $100 million from Home Depot founder Kenneth Langone and his wife, Elaine. The school will provide full-tuition scholarships for 92 first-year students -- another 10 are already covered through M.D./PhD programs -- as well as 350 students already partway through the M.D.-only degree program.

Read more of this story at Slashdot.

Melbourne Teen Hacked Into Apple's Secure Computer Network, Court Told [Slashdot]

A Melbourne private schoolboy who repeatedly broke into Apple's secure computer systems is facing criminal charges after the technology giant called in the FBI. From a report: The teen, who cannot be named for legal reasons, broke into Apple's mainframe from his suburban home on multiple occasions over a year because he was such a fan of the company, according to his lawyer. The Children's Court heard on Thursday that he had downloaded 90GB of secure files and accessed customer accounts. His offending from the age of 16 saw him develop computerized tunnels and online bypassing systems to hide his identity until a raid on his family home uncovered a litany of hacking files and instructions all saved in a folder titled "hacky hack hack."

Read more of this story at Slashdot.

Laser cutters and 3D printers revive century-old a magic lantern show of Erewhon at the Edinburgh Fringe [Boing Boing]

James Coutts writes, "Indiana University Victorian Studies PhD candidate Mary Borgo Ton assembled an international group of artists/makers, a media archaeologist, laser cutters and 3D printers to create magic lantern slides that have not been made in 100 years for a show running in the Edinburgh Festival Fringe called Erewhon: "An antique magic lantern projector, an iPhone and a live musical score shine a new light on Samuel Butler’s classic sci-fi novel. A Victorian explorer discovers a colony of refugees; time travellers from the 21st century escaping their dependence on its technology. This delightful neo-historical head-scratcher playfully welds future, past and present into a glittering bracelet of time." (more…)

Steve Bannon tries to sleaze his way into European far-right, they tell him to go home [Boing Boing]

Poor Sloppy Steve. After losing his Rasputian status with Trump and the Mercers, he tried to peddle his off-brand fascism with nationalist Europeans. But it turns out even these unsavory characters think the only thing Bannon is good at is making things worse.

The London Free Press reports that Alexander Gauland, co-chairman of Germany’s far-right Alternative for Germany party bluntly rejected Bannon's cock-eyed proposal to form a pan-European coalition of ultraconservative groups:

“We’re not in America,” Gauland told Der Westen, a news website in the German state of North Rhine-Westphalia. “The interests of the anti-establishment parties in Europe are quite divergent.” The German politician also reportedly declared that Bannon “will not succeed in forging an alliance of the like-minded for the European elections.”

The French nationalists don't want want anything to do with the Ugly American, either:

“Bannon is American and has no place in a European political party,” Jérôme Rivière, the international spokesman for the French far-right party National Rally, told Politico. “We reject any supranational entity and are not participating in the creation of anything with Bannon.”

Cornell European government expert Christopher Way explains:

“Part of why Bannon’s project won’t succeed is a failure to recognize the diversity of European right-wing populist parties. Getting them on the same page is like herding cats,” he said. “I don’t see any reason he should succeed when they haven’t managed to coalesce themselves.”

What can he do now? With limited options, Bannon is trying to ingratiate himself with his former boss by making a pro-Trump documentary. Good luck with that.

Image: Michael Vadon/Wikimedia. (Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International)

Lynda Barry's 'Writing the Unthinkable' lesson [Boing Boing]

TIL: the fabulous Lynda Barry teaches at the University of Wisconsin! In this lesson, called "Writing the Unthinkable," she shares a neat method to get started on a new piece. It begins by drawing a tight spiral as a meditation.

"Once I start to draw this spiral, I'm starting to get in the mood to write some kind of story."


Oil paintings show how people who wear glasses see the world without them [Boing Boing]

People who have good vision: Ever wonder what it's like to see the world as someone who is nearsighted? Well, Cape Town-based artist Philip Barlow has imagined this blurry world for you in a series of hyperrealistic oil paintings. See more of his work on his Instagram.

(Bored Panda)

Award-winning security research reveals a host of never-seen, currently unblockable web-tracking techniques [Boing Boing]

Who Left Open the Cookie Jar? A Comprehensive Evaluation of Third-Party Cookie Policies won the Distinguished Paper prize at this year's Usenix Security Conference; its authors, researchers at Belgium's Catholic University in Leuven, revealed a host of devastating, never-seen tracking techniques for identifying web-users who were using privacy tools supplied by browser-vendors and third-party tracking-blocking tools. (more…)

Now we’ve lost Aretha! [Pharyngula]

You only need her first name to know who I’m talking about. She has died at her home in Detroit.

It’s a war over education [Pharyngula]

Keep this in mind when you see so-called intellectuals like the gang at PragerU, or Jordan Peterson, or just about any Republican, demonizing universities as the domain of cultural Marxists with entire disciplines in the humanities and social sciences that need to be razed to the ground. They’re not stupid. They know exactly what they’re doing. Wrecking the electorate’s ability to think and process information is what keeps them rich and in power.

Do we support bombing school buses full of children? [Pharyngula]

Apparently, we do. The US is part of this Saudi-led coalition killing civilians in Yemen, and an American-made 500lb bomb was dropped on a bus with 40 kids on their way to a field trip, killing most of them.

This is just the latest string, unfortunately, of really brutal attacks on civilians in Yemen. It is not the worst of its kind in terms of the numbers of people killed, but certainly because all of the—40 out of the 51 people who were killed were children, it really is just an extreme form of this Saudi-led coalition bombing in Yemen. Here were these kids on a school trip. They were excited. There’s footage—we see them laughing and really being excited. Some of the parents said that they couldn’t really sleep the night before because they were so looking forward to—and here’s the sad part—they’re going to a cemetery just to be able to enjoy some time outside. And as the bus entered a busy market, it was targeted by the Saudi-led coalition and most of these children were killed. Of course, we know that the U.S. is part of the Saudi-led coalition, so we are in fact responsible, just as much as the Saudis and Emiratis are, in the bombing of those children.

You might be wondering how we can justify our participation in these crimes. Have no fear! The excuses are flowing faster than the blood of shattered children. Here’s an AP reporter explaining the logic of the attack.

What is very hard to determine in Yemen is what the children were doing. We worked on covering Yemen since 2015. We know that the Saudi-led coalition has bombed civilian targets all the time—markets, hospitals, schools. This is not a surprise. But we also know that the Houthis are actively recruiting the children and then they send them to the front lines. And the question marks here that are not answered yet—what were the children doing at the time?

There are no schools right now at Yemen. There are no buses carrying children from one school to the house. This is a luxury. The children were visiting a cemetery, and that is where they promote the whole notion of jihad and martyrism. So I mean, on one hand, the Saudi-led coalition is blamed for killing the civilians and this has been ongoing without any—no question about it. But at the same time, we have a look at the other side of the picture and see what the Houthis were doing with the children.

Dude. I’m having flashbacks, man. I grew up during the Vietnam War (I was too young to go, fortunately, but this stuff was in the news all the time), and I remember all the rationalizations for dropping napalm on villages. This is the same old story: we don’t know exactly what these kids were doing, but we can imagine all kinds of nefarious schemes, so let’s pretend after the fact that they were all evil terrorists in training. It is all too familiar.

Let’s ask a Yemeni scholar to reply to that.

To just quickly respond to what your guest just said, it doesn’t really matter what the children were doing. They were children, they were in summer school and for the Saudi-led coalition to bomb a bus full of children is a war crime, regardless of what the children were doing.

Exactly. We’re done. It’s inexcusable.

But he does go on, about all the other children killed in this war.

And to talk about really what the U.S. intervention in Yemen looks like, we know what it looks like. We know the devastation that it has caused. Yemen is falling and all of the services have been failing. 113,000 children died in 2016 and 2017 alone of starvation and preventable diseases such as cholera. What we need from the Senate, what we need from Congress right now is to continue to push toward ending the U.S. involvement in Yemen, given how much the Saudis and the Emiratis rely on U.S. support, on U.S. weapons, on U.S. maintaining and repairing of their aircraft, on U.S. midair refueling and on U.S. targeting assistance.

We know that they cannot continue to wage war on Yemen without extensive U.S. assistance, and Congress needs to act quickly to continue to introduce resolutions in the Senate and in the House to push the U.S. out of Yemen.

The United States has been awfully good at minimizing blood shed on our side, and awfully good at maximizing blood shed and terror in other places. Can we stop, please?

This is what Nazis get [Pharyngula]

I guess we don’t need to punch ’em now — there’s a worse fate in store for them. Below is a snippet of a video chat between Jason Kessler, organizer of that fizzle of a White Nationalist march that occurred last weekend, and Patrick Little, who I know nothing about other than the nasty bigotry of his anti-semitism in this clip. Listen in and be revolted at first, and then amused.

So they’re complaining about the Jews when Jason’s dad starts yelling at him to get out of his room. He’s been reduced to living in his parents’ house (in the basement, I hope). Little responds by showing off his boat that he had bought when he used to make good money, and thinks he’ll have to sell off to cover his legal bills.

Poverty isn’t funny, except maybe when racists use their hatred as a shovel to dig themselves deep into a hole.

Former Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee Dies [News : NPR]

Former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee is seen at his residence in New Delhi in July 2007.

Vajpayee served as premier three times. He was a poet and nature lover who tested nuclear bombs. He sparked an arms race with Pakistan, but later launched peace talks and a cross-border bus service.

(Image credit: Gurinder Osan/AP)

Iraqi Refugee In U.S. Accused Of Committing Murder For ISIS [News : NPR]

This undated photo provided by the U.S. Attorney

Federal prosecutors say Omar Ameen lied about his terrorism ties to enter the U.S. as a refugee. He is wanted in Iraq over the killing of a police officer in 2014.

(Image credit: AP)

Pokemon Go launches parental login portal for more oversight of young players [The Verge - All Posts]

Pokémon Go is getting some better parental control options in the near future, with developer Niantic adding a new Niantic Kids log-in platform that will let parents better manage their children’s privacy in the augmented-reality app.

Niantic Kids adds a new portal that gives parents the option to review and approve their kid’s in-app permissions before they start playing, and offers better control over what personal information gets shared in the game. The Niantic Kids platform was built in conjunction with SuperAwesome’s Kids Web Services, a company that develops tools for making kid-friendly apps and websites (and is also certified by the ESRB).

Given how popular Pokémon Go is, it’s...

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Dark mode comes to the latest version of Android Messages [The Verge - All Posts]

The next version of Android Messages brings an updated look, and more importantly, the ability to change to dark mode. The interface is a little bit cleaner and strips out some of the color and dull gray backgrounds in favor of a whole lot of white. There’s also now a toggle to ‘enable dark mode,’ which changes the background to black and darkens your text. The update is gradually rolling out now.

Besides the feature to enable dark mode, the biggest changes seem to be a new font, and a giant blue ‘Start chat’ button on the bottom right corner that’s replaced the old ‘+’ sign. Additionally, messages default your chat bubble to blue no matter what mode you’re in, which may be Google’s response to iMessage and the dreaded ‘green bubble’...

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Despite backlash, Disney confirms it won’t rehire James Gunn [The Verge - All Posts]

It’s been about a month since Disney fired former Guardians of the Galaxy director James Gunn after several alt-right figures resurfaced some of his old, offensive shock-humor tweets about pedophilia. During that time, fans, colleagues, and the Guardians cast have vocally tried to get Gunn reinstated. In spite of the campaign to paint Gunn as an actual pedophile, many people believed the implicating jokes, some a full decade old, no longer reflect Gunn as a person — and the director had already apologized for them years ago to boot. Supporters on social media clearly hoped Disney might change its mind under pressure and petitioning. Today, it seems that dream is dead.

According to Variety, Walt Disney studio chairman Alan Horn recently...

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Valley of Genius author Adam Fisher on what it’s like to create an oral history of Silicon Valley [The Verge - All Posts]

Adam Fisher grew up in Silicon Valley, but left to pursue journalism in New York. Though he continued writing about technology and the internet, he found that the stories reported from afar were different from the stories that he had heard growing up.

“Silicon Valley has made a huge amount of money and it’s usually presented as a business story of our times,” says Fisher, “but that business story is embedded in a larger story, which is a cultural story and it’s really becoming, in my view, the popular culture.” Nerdiness is becoming cool, he claims, especially among the kind of people who make the pop culture. You see it in rappers becoming venture capitalists, xkcd being huge, The Martian becoming a phenomena.

Fisher is the author of V...

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Modern horror films are finding their scares in dead phone batteries [The Verge - All Posts]

Killing off the characters’ cellphones is now a standard trope, so horror filmmakers are learning to tackle it in creative ways

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Android Pie is coming to eight Motorola phones [The Verge - All Posts]

Android Pie, the latest OS from Google which was previously limited to Pixel phones and the Essential phone, is arriving on Moto phones. Motorola announced yesterday that the updates will hit eight phones sometime this fall.

Notably missing from the line-up is the Moto E5 which launched earlier this year, and the Moto G5, a pretty great phone from last year. That means E5 and G5 owners are missing out on the latest Android Pie features like system-level gesture controls (though Motorola has its own), expanded AI smarts, improved notifications, and more. Android Pie is Google’s most conscious effort to reduce notification overload and help users develop better relationships with their phones, so hopefully it’ll start rolling out to more...

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GLAS, the $319 Cortana-powered thermostat, is getting Alexa and Google Assistant support [The Verge - All Posts]

When Johnson Controls announced GLAS back at CES, the flagship feature of the $319 translucent smart thermostat was its integration with Microsoft’s Cortana smart assistant. Now Cortana has company: ahead of its upcoming August 24th release date, the company has announced that GLAS will support Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant, too — but there’s a catch.

GLAS itself does feature a built-in microphone and speaker, which will let users talk to and interact with Cortana straight from the device. But only Cortana is getting those privileges — users will still be able to use Alexa and Assistant through skills to control the temperature in their homes through GLAS, but you’ll need to use another device like...

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12:00 EDT

Dumb political question of the week: What did Paul Manafort do wrong? [Philip Greenspun's Weblog]

I’m hoping that readers can help me out here…

The trial of Paul Manafort is basically over. When it started there were headlines saying that he had evaded taxes on $60 million of income by keeping the money in offshore accounts.

Yet the government itself presented evidence at the trial that Manafort was broke. See “Bookkeeper says Manafort was broke in 2016 and lied to banks” (CNN).

If he’d ever had $60 million in taxable income (i.e., actual profit from running his lobbying business), how could he be broke? Did he spend $60 million on personal non-deductible consumption?

To Catch A Robber, The FBI Attempted An Unprecedented Grab For Google Location Data [Slashdot]

Back in March, as it investigated a spate of armed robberies across Portland, Maine, the FBI made an astonishing, unprecedented request of Google, Forbes reports. The feds wanted the tech giant to find all users of its services who'd been within the vicinity of at least two of nine of those robberies. They limited the search to within 30-minute timeframes around when the crimes were committed. But the request covered a total space of 45 hectares and could've included anyone with an Android or iPhone using Google's tools, not just the suspect. From a report: The FBI then demanded a lot of personal information on affected users, including their full names and addresses, as well as their Google account activity. The feds also wanted all affected users' historical locations. According to court records, while Google didn't provide the information, the cops still found their suspect in the end. Outside of concerns around government overreach, the FBI's remarkable attempt to force Google to assist in its investigation will likely worry all who were disturbed by an Associated Press investigation published on Monday that claimed Google continued to track people even when they turned location features off. The court warrants unearthed by Forbes indicate some at the FBI believe they have a right to that location data too, even if it belongs to innocents who might be unwittingly caught up in invasive government surveillance. And the government feels such fishing expeditions are permissable; it issued the warrant on Google without knowing whether or not the suspect used an Android device or any of the company services at all.

Read more of this story at Slashdot.

That time Phyllis Diller roasted the Haunted Mansion [Boing Boing]

Back in 1972-3, Disney ran a short-lived variety show called The Mouse Factory that intercut classic animation with live action, framed by celebrity hosts that kind of threaded it all together into a mashed-up, loose storyline. (more…)

Sterling silver full finger ring [Boing Boing]

Brooklyn-based jewelry designer Matthew White, the creator of the sterling silver spork, has now fashioned this ladies' Full Finger Ring ($175). It's a sterling silver ring that is for, and looks like, an index finger (just don't call it a FingeRing).
The band of this ring is made to fit on the middle section of the finger to allow for full finger mobility. The band is also adjustable to fit most size fingers.


Roman candles are best when held by terrified children [Boing Boing]

Give your kids Roman candles to use in a confined space. What could go wrong? Sure, they might drop them in terror. Yeah, the sparkling, white-hot explosion of entertaining color that pours out of the firework could cause them life-altering injuries, but it’s totally cool. Just enjoy the colors. Enjoy. Those. Colors.

11:00 EDT

Kroger launches autonomous grocery delivery service in Arizona [Ars Technica]

Enlarge / Nuro's fully autonomous R1, slated to begin service in the fall. (credit: Kroger)

Starting today, residents of Scottsdale, Arizona have the opportunity to receive autonomous grocery deliveries from Fry's Food Stores—a brand owned by grocery giant Kroger. The technology is supplied by Nuro, a self-driving vehicle startup founded by two veterans of Google's self-driving car project. We profiled the company in May.

Kroger says that deliveries will have a flat $5.95 delivery fee, and customers can schedule same-day or next-day deliveries. Initially, the deliveries will be made by Nuro's fleet of modified Toyota Priuses with a safety driver behind the wheel. But Kroger expects to start using Nuro's production model—which doesn't even have space for a driver—this fall.

That vehicle, known as the R1, is significantly smaller and lighter than a conventional passenger car. When we talked to Nuro cofounder Dave Ferguson back in May, he argued that the R1's design had significant safety benefits. A smaller, lighter vehicle would do less damage if it ever ran into something. The vehicle's maximum speed of 25 miles per hour also makes serious injuries less likely.

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Ancient Egyptians had been making mummies longer than anyone thought [Ars Technica]

Enlarge (credit: Dr. Stephen Buckley, University of York)

Ancient Egyptians started embalming their dead about 1,500 years earlier than archaeologists previously realized, according to chemical analysis of the funerary wrappings of a young man who died in Upper Egypt around 3600 BCE. University of York archaeologist Stephen Buckley and his colleagues identified embalming compounds in organic residues from the mummy’s linen wrappings. They also examined the microscopic structure of the wrappings’ fibers, and radiocarbon-dated the mummy to between 3700 and 3500 BCE.

That’s about 500 years before Egypt was even a unified country. It took until 3100 BCE for an Upper (southern) Egyptian ruler named Narmer to conquer Lower (northern) Egypt, merging the two into a single kingdom.

Egyptian embalming is thought to have gotten its start in that Predynastic Period or even earlier, when people noticed that the arid heat of the sand tended to dry and preserve bodies buried in the desert. Eventually, the idea of preserving the body after death worked its way into Egyptian religious beliefs. When people began to bury the dead in rock tombs, away from the desiccating sand, they used chemicals like natron salt and plant-based resins for embalming.

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High-energy protons emitted after hooking up with neutrons [Ars Technica]

Enlarge / Abstract image of electrons and protons. (credit: Kevin Dooley)

If you hit an atom's nucleus hard enough, it will fall apart. But exactly how it falls apart tells us something about the internal structure of the nucleus and perhaps about the interior of neutron stars. One of the unexpected things we seem to be learning is that the way particles in the nucleus pair up allows them to reach higher energies than expected, and having excess neutrons only encourages this behavior.

To someone like me—I never took any courses on nuclear physics—the nucleus is a bit like visiting a familiar beach and discovering a colony of dragons. The nucleus consists of protons, which are positively charged. These should repel each other, but the nucleus doesn’t explode because of neutrons. Neutrons are, as the name suggests, neutral. However, they are the glue that binds the protons together.

This description makes the nucleus sound like a disorganized mess of protons and neutrons, but it isn’t. The nucleus has a structure remarkably similar to the electrons orbiting the nucleus.

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Please join us in welcoming Ars’ newest contributor, Jennifer Ouellette [Ars Technica]

Readers who pay careful attention may have noticed a new byline attached to an article yesterday. And if you follow physics, you'll have been excited to learn about our newest writer that way. For the rest of you, we're pleased to announce that Jennifer Ouellette is joining the Ars staff.

Jennifer will be familiar to many of you because of her deep background in science coverage. She has contributed as a freelancer to more places than is convenient to list. She has blogged on the field at Cocktail Party Physics and shares a huge range of science stories on social media. Her most recent staff position was as a senior science editor at Gizmodo. In short, she's been immersed in science for years and brings a wealth of experience to a field we don't cover as thoroughly as we'd like to.

But if I could channel my best informercial voice, that's not all. One of her interests in covering science has been to bring forward the science behind the everyday world around us—the sort of cocktail party physics that gave her blog its name. This is not something we've always done well (when we've done it at all), and it's the sort of coverage that bleeds over into technology and our wider culture, which makes her a fantastic fit for Ars.

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ISPs say they can’t expand broadband unless gov’t gives them more money [Ars Technica]

Enlarge (credit: Getty Images | Aurich Lawson)

Broadband providers have spent years lobbying against utility-style regulations that protect consumers from high prices and bad service.

But now, broadband lobby groups are arguing that Internet service is similar to utilities such as electricity, gas distribution, roads, and water and sewer networks. In the providers' view, the essential nature of broadband doesn't require more regulation to protect consumers. Instead, they argue that broadband's utility-like status is reason for the government to give ISPs more money.

That's the argument made by trade groups USTelecom and NTCA—The Rural Broadband Association. USTelecom represents telcos including AT&T, Verizon, and CenturyLink, while NTCA represents nearly 850 small ISPs.

Read 26 remaining paragraphs | Comments

China's 'First Fully Homegrown' Web Browser, Used By Key Government Bodies, Under Fire For 'Heavily' Copying Google Chrome Files [Slashdot]

Redcore, a Chinese start-up that claims to have produced a homegrown browser used by key government bodies and state-run companies, has come under fire after users discovered its software was heavily based on Google's Chrome browser [Editor's note: the link may be paywalled; alternative source]. From a report: The company, which says it has created "innovative and world-leading" browser technology, came under scrutiny on Thursday when users looked through the browser's installation directory and discovered an original "chrome.exe" file along with image files of the Chrome logo. "We have launched the world's only purely China-owned browser Redcore, to break the US monopoly," the company said in a statement on Wednesday. The Financial Times verified Chinese users' findings and found with its own examination that Redcore was using components from the v. 49 version of Google Chrome. "Redcore has Chrome [elements] in it," said company founder Gao Jing in response to fierce public criticism. "But this is not plagiarism; rather, we are standing on the shoulders of a giant for our own innovation," she added, according to local media reports. Ms Gao was also quoted as saying that the company had so far been doing very well in terms of customer satisfaction.

Read more of this story at Slashdot.

Trump, Seeking To Relax Rules on US Cyberattacks, Reverses Obama Directive [Slashdot]

President Trump has reversed an Obama-era memorandum dictating how and when the U.S. government can deploy cyberweapons against its adversaries, in an effort to loosen restrictions on such operations [Editor's note: the link may be paywalled; alternative source], WSJ reports. From the report: Mr. Trump signed an order on Wednesday reversing the classified rules, known as Presidential Policy Directive 20, that had mapped out an elaborate interagency process that must be followed before U.S. use of cyberattacks, particularly those geared at foreign adversaries. The change was described as an "offensive step forward" by an administration official briefed on the decision, one intended to help support military operations, deter foreign election influence and thwart intellectual property theft by meeting such threats with more forceful responses. The Trump administration has faced pressure to show that it is taking seriously national-security cyberthreats -- particularly those that intelligence officials say are posed by Moscow.

Read more of this story at Slashdot.

Drug-Induced Near Death Experience [NeuroLogica Blog]

There is no question that people occasionally have strange experiences, sometimes very strange. There is a tendency to interpret such experiences as external, reflecting something happening in the world, rather than internal, reflecting something happening in our brains.

Neuroscience, however, has provided us a powerful tool for understanding some of these experiences. They are a window into how our brains construct our experience of reality, and what we experience when that process breaks down or is altered by drugs, trauma, electrical stimulation, oxygen deprivation, or other stressors.

A recent study looking at the hallucinogen DMT (N,N-Dimethyltryptamine) adds an interesting insight into our collective knowledge of these altered states of consciousness. The researchers studied 13 healthy volunteers, who were given placebo, and then in a separate session a week later DMT, and extensively questioned about their experiences. The researchers specifically wanted to test the possibility that a DMT-induced hallucination would be similar to reported near-death experiences.

In short they found that the DMT experiences were extremely similar to near-death experiences (NDE), but let’s look at the details.

They gave the subjects an established NDE scale, which assesses for 16 features reported by those who experience an NDE. A score of 7 or higher is considered to be a genuine NDE. All 13 subjects scored 7 or higher on this scale when given DMT. Ten of the 16 features were statistically more likely during DMT than placebo. And the total scores were similar to a historical control group of reported NDEs. So again – DMT produced an experience that was very similar to reported NDEs.

The researchers also evaluated subjects on scales of mystical and paranormal experiences, and on personality type. Unsurprisingly, many subjected reported mystical or paranormal features to their experience. Perhaps more interesting is that there was a strong correlation between being prone to delusional thinking and reporting mystical or paranormal experiences during DMT.

So what does all this mean?

The most fundamental implication of this research, and other similar research, is that fantastical, religious, mystical, and paranormal experiences may be manifestations solely of altered brain activity. Some of the core experiences we are talking about include ego dissolution, which is the fading away of the self, or any distinction between the self and the rest of the universe. People experience this as a profound oneness with other things, other people, or just the universe itself.

Another core component is the out-of-body experience – a feeling of separation from the body. People may feel as if they are floating, and also often report seeing their own body as if they are separated from it.

Yet another core experience is being in the presence of another entity or intelligence. Often it is perceived that this intelligence is profound – hyperintelligent – and yet inhuman or distant in some way. Early researchers of DMT reported encountering “mechanical elves” in the “hyperspace” of DMT. Sometimes the entities are perceived as physically small.

Visual illusions and hallucinations are also common. With DMT there is usually dramatic hallucinations of light, color, and shapes which may be abstract or solid.

Another common element is time-dilation. The subjective experience of time is altered profoundly, and a short period of time can seem much longer. This could have implications in interpreted the memories of those who experienced NDEs.

Each of these experiences reflect something basic about brain function. We can be made to feel we are separated from the self or joined with the universe because the feeling that we are a distinct self is an active constructive process of the brain that can be disrupted. Likewise we can be made to feel as if we are separated from our body because the sensation we are in our body is actively constructed. There are circuits in the brain that produce this subjective experience, and their functioning can be altered or interrupted.

Experiences with DMT and other hallucinogens also implies that there is circuitry in the brain related to experiences other minds – that there are other intelligences and agents out there in the world. Psychologists refer to this as a “theory of mind” – the understanding that other people have thoughts, feeling, and motivations just like we do. Perhaps the experience of an intelligent entity results from this circuitry, while reality-testing circuitry is inhibited, or simply in the context of ego-dissolution.

There is a lot to unpack here, but this is telling us something about how the brain functions and creates the most fundamental aspect of our experience of reality.

Further, that DMT can induce such experiences means that there are receptors in the brain that produce these experiences when activated (or blocked). This further implies there are endogenous neurotransmitters in the brain that can produce them. Why?

That is an interesting question that will require further research. It’s possible that DMT is powerfully activating receptors that are involved with dreaming (or at least were at some point in our recent evolutionary history). Also, mild feelings of euphoria, well-being, or connectedness to other people or the community are ordinary experiences produced in part by these circuits. When powerfully activated by a drug they may push these normal experiences to extremes.

Another way to understand the experiences under the influence of DMT is not so much that it is hyperactivating a more mundane neurological phenomenon, but disinhibiting it by inhibiting other circuits. The brain is like bloatware – there are lots of circuits in the brain functioning all the time and slowing down the whole process, but providing functionality. If you inhibit some circuits you remove their functions, but other circuits are now free to function more robustly. Take away all that processing-intensive reality testing, and other circuits may function out of control.

We are dealing with some of the most complex functions of the brain, and it will take much more study to tease it all apart. The researchers did also study the subjects with EEG and say that they will reports those findings separately. Perhaps that will give us more insight into what’s happening in the brain under the influence of DMT.

The meta-lesson of all this is that we are our brains. When you alter brain function, you alter our minds, even at their most fundamental level of functioning. Mind function is not just changed in random and unpredictable ways, or made fuzzy. Drugs like DMT will change brain function is specific and fairly predictable ways that track with specific circuits and functions in the brain. The brain really is just a very complex machine, and we can turn dials and knobs to change how it functions (even though we still have a lot to learn about what all the knobs are and how they function).

I understand why people who have such experiences would interpret them as saying something about the world, rather than something about their brain. Consciousness seems to function specifically in such a way as to produce that illusion. We can now pierce that illusion, however, with neuroscience, and understand the functioning of our own brains.

Aretha Franklin, 1942-2018 [Boing Boing] Aretha Franklin, the queen of soul, died in Detroit today at the age of 76. She scored at least 112 singles on the Billboard charts, with 20 number ones. Sir Elton John: "she was one of my favourite pianists."

Photo: Wikimedia (CC0 1.0)

Woke Giant, retro political art for third century America [Boing Boing]

Over at Woke Giant you'll find some seriously cool, retro-styled "political art for third century America." Don't miss the downloadable protest signs!

Here's a taste: Stress is the enemy! Keep resisting! Flint still needs water!

Thanks, Tricia!

On Our Radar—Feminist News Roundup [Latest Articles]

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Lana Condor as Lara Jean Covey (Photo credit: Netflix)

Lana Condor as Lara Jean Covey (Photo credit: Netflix)


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