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[#] Sun Apr 26 2009 19:43:00 EDT from kdawson

Subject: What We Can Do About Massive Solar Flares

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Reader resistant sends in an update to our discussion a month back on the possibility of violent space weather destroying power grids worldwide during the upcoming solar cycle. Wired is running an interview with Lawrence Joseph, author of "Apocalypse 2012: A Scientific Investigation into Civilization's End," and John Kappenman, CEO of electromagnetic damage consulting company MetaTech. The piece brings two new threads to the discussion: the recently discovered presence of an unusually large hole in Earth's geomagnetic shield, magnifying our vulnerability, and possible steps we can take over the next few years to make the power grid more robust against solar flares and coronal mass ejections. There's also that whole Mayan 2012 thing. Quoting John Kapperman: "What we're proposing is to add some fairly small and inexpensive resistors in the transformers' ground connections. The addition of that little bit of resistance would significantly reduce the amount of the geomagnetically induced currents that flow into the grid. In its simplest form, it's something that might be made out of cast iron or stainless steel, about the size of a washing machine. ...we think it's do-able for $40,000 or less per resistor. That's less than what you pay for insurance for a transformer. [In the US] there are about 5,000 transformers to consider this for. ... We're talking about $150 million or so. It's pretty small in the grand scheme of things."

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http://rss.slashdot.org/~r/Slashdot/slashdot/~3/TC1XSmX_iO4/article.pl

[#] Sun Apr 26 2009 20:58:00 EDT from kdawson

Subject: US Declares Public Health Emergency Over Swine Flu

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mallumax sends word from the NYTimes that US government officials today declared a public health emergency over increasing cases of the swine flu first seen in Mexico. Here is additional coverage from CNN. From the Times: "American health officials [say]... that they had confirmed 20 cases of the disease in the United States and expected to see more as investigators fan out to track down the path of the outbreak. Other governments around the world stepped up their response to the incipient outbreak, racing to contain the infection amid reports of potential new cases from New Zealand to Hong Kong to Spain, raising concerns about the potential for a global pandemic. The cases in US looked to be similar to the deadly strain of swine flu that has killed more than 80 people in Mexico and infected 1,300 more." Reader "The man who walks in the woods" sends a link to accounts emailed to the BBC from readers in Mexico. While these are anecdotal, they do paint a picture of a more serious situation than government announcements have indicated so far.

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http://rss.slashdot.org/~r/Slashdot/slashdot/~3/ECZIXDydSqw/article.pl

[#] Sun Apr 26 2009 22:13:00 EDT from kdawson

Subject: Cosmetic Neurology

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The New Yorker has a long piece examining the growing trend of healthy people, not diagnosed with any mental condition, taking drugs that enhance mental functioning, including Adderall and Provigil. The profiles include a Harvard student, a professional poker player, a number of brain researchers, and a self-described transhumanist. "Zack [Lynch]... has a book being published this summer, called 'The Neuro Revolution'... In coming years, he said, scientists will understand the brain better, and we'll have improved neuroenhancers that some people will use therapeutically, others because they are 'on the borderline of needing them therapeutically,' and others purely 'for competitive advantage.' ... Even if today's smart drugs aren't as powerful as such drugs may someday be, there are plenty of questions that need to be asked about them. How much do they actually help? Are they potentially harmful or addictive? Then, there's the question of what we mean by 'smarter.' Could enhancing one kind of thinking exact a toll on others? All these questions need proper scientific answers, but for now much of the discussion is taking place furtively, among the increasing number of Americans who are performing daily experiments on their own brains. ... [A cognitive researcher said,] 'Cognitive psychologists have found that there is a trade-off between attentional focus and creativity. And there is some evidence that suggests that individuals who are better able to focus on one thing and filter out distractions tend to be less creative. ... I'm a little concerned that we could be raising a generation of very focused accountants.'"

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http://rss.slashdot.org/~r/Slashdot/slashdot/~3/DFMXoZdPlVU/article.pl

[#] Sun Apr 26 2009 23:29:00 EDT from kdawson

Subject: Rapidshare Divulges Uploader Information

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Gorgonzolanoid notes a post on TorrentFreak reporting that the German Rapidshare is divulging uploader information to rights holders. Record labels are apparently making creative use of "paragraph 101" of German copyright law, which gives them a streamlined process to ask a court to order disclosure of information such as an IP address. "In Germany, the file-hosting service Rapidshare has handed over the personal details of alleged copyright infringers to several major record labels. The information is used to pursue legal action against the Rapidshare users and at least one alleged uploader saw his house raided."

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http://rss.slashdot.org/~r/Slashdot/slashdot/~3/7GYScYlW5RQ/article.pl

[#] Mon Apr 27 2009 01:42:00 EDT from kdawson

Subject: The Woman Who Established Fair Use

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The Narrative Fallacy writes "The Washington Post has an interesting profile on Barbara A. Ringer, who joined the Copyright Office at the Library of Congress in 1949 and spent 21 years drafting the legislation and lobbying Congress before the Copyright Act of 1976 was finally passed. Ringer wrote most of the bill herself. 'Barbara had personal and political skills that could meld together the contentious factions that threatened to tear apart every compromise in the 20 year road to passage of the 1976 Act,' wrote copyright lawyer William Patry. The act codified the fair use defense to copyright infringement. For the first time, scholars and reviewers could quote briefly from copyrighted works without having to pay fees. With the 1976 act that Ringer conceived, an author owned the copyright for his or her lifetime plus 50 years. Previously under the old 1909 law, an author owned the copyright for 28 years from the date of publication and unless the copyright was renewed, the work entered the public domain, and the author lost any right to royalties. Ringer received the President's Award for Distinguished Federal Civilian Service, the highest honor for a federal worker. Ringer remained active in copyright law for years, attending international conferences and filing briefs with the Supreme Court before her death earlier this year at age 83. 'Her contributions were monumental,' said Marybeth Peters, the Library of Congress's current register of copyrights. 'She blazed trails. She was a heroine.'"

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http://rss.slashdot.org/~r/Slashdot/slashdot/~3/emYVjIQ1pEU/article.pl

[#] Mon Apr 27 2009 03:50:00 EDT from kdawson

Subject: World Privacy Forum's Top Ten Opt-Outs

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Ant writes in to mention the World Privacy Forum's top ten information collector/user list, which shows opt-out instructions (or at least a starting point): "As privacy experts, we are frequently asked about 'opting out,' and which opt outs we think are the most important. This list is a distillation of ideas for opting out that the World Privacy Forum has developed over the years from responding to those questions. ... Many people have told us that they think opting out is confusing. We agree. Opting out can range from the not-too-difficult (the FTC's Do Not Call list is a fairly simple opt out) to the challenging (the National Advertising Initiative (NAI) opt out can be tricky). Our hope is that this list will clarify which opt out does what, and how to go about opting out. In this list, some opt outs can be done by phone, some have to be sent in a letter via postal mail, and some can be accomplished online. Some opt outs last forever, some have time limits, and others can be changed at will. If an opt out is on this list, it is because we thought it might be important enough to be worth whatever annoyance it may pose. "

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http://rss.slashdot.org/~r/Slashdot/slashdot/~3/DXShfiZd3aE/article.pl

[#] Mon Apr 27 2009 06:59:00 EDT from kdawson

Subject: A Look At the Wolfram Alpha "Search Engine"

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An anonymous reader points out a ReadWriteWeb piece on an hour-long demo of Wolfram Alpha (which we discussed at its announcement). Stephen Wolfram does not like to call it a "search engine," preferring instead the term "computational knowledge engine." It will open to the public in May. "The hype around Wolfram|Alpha, the next 'Google killer' from the makers of Mathematica, has been building over the last few weeks. Today, we were lucky enough to attend a one-hour web demo with Stephen Wolfram, and from what we've seen, it definitely looks like it can live up to the hype — though, because it is so different from traditional search engines, it will definitely not be a 'Google killer.' According to Stephen Wolfram, the goal of Alpha is to give everyone access to expert knowledge and the data that a specialist would be able to compute from this information."

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http://rss.slashdot.org/~r/Slashdot/slashdot/~3/BFmwNNwPBCw/article.pl

[#] Mon Apr 27 2009 10:05:00 EDT from kdawson

Subject: Cross-Distro Remote Package Administration?

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tobiasly writes "I administer several Ubuntu desktops and numerous CentOS servers. One of the biggest headaches is keeping them up-to-date with each distro's latest bugfix and security patches. I currently have to log in to each system, run the appropriate apt-get or yum command to list available updates, determine which ones I need, then run the appropriate install commands. I'd love to have a distro-independent equivalent of the Red Hat Network where I could do all of this remotely using a web-based interface. PackageKit seems to have solved some of the issues regarding cross-distro package maintenance, but their FAQ explicitly states that remote administration is not a goal of their project. Has anyone put together such a system?"

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http://rss.slashdot.org/~r/Slashdot/slashdot/~3/wp1d3WJfvMg/article.pl

[#] Mon Apr 27 2009 13:13:00 EDT from kdawson

Subject: Unpaid Contributors Provide Corporate Tech Support

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Hugh Pickens writes "The NY Times writes about Justin McMurry of Keller, TX, who spends up to 20 unpaid hours per week helping Verizon customers with high-speed fiber optic Internet, television and telephone service. McMurry is part of an emerging corps of Web-savvy helpers that large corporations, start-up companies, and venture capitalists are betting will transform the field of customer service. Such enthusiasts are known as lead users, or super-users, and their role in contributing innovations to product development and improvement — often selflessly — has been closely researched in recent years. These unpaid contributors, it seems, are motivated mainly by a payoff in enjoyment and respect among their peers. 'You have to make an environment that attracts the Justin McMurrys of the world, because that's where the magic happens,' says Mark Studness, director of e-commerce at Verizon. The mentality of super-users in online customer-service communities is similar to that of devout gamers, according to Lyle Fong, co-founder of Lithium Technologies whose web site advertises that a vibrant community can easily save a company millions of dollars per year in deflected support calls' and whose current roster of 125 clients includes AT&T, BT, iRobot, Linksys, Best Buy, and Nintendo. Lithium's customer service sites for companies offer elaborate rating systems for contributors, with ranks, badges and kudos counts. 'That alone is addictive,' says Fong. 'They are revered by their peers.' Meanwhile McMurry, who is 68 and a retired software engineer, continues supplying answers by the bushel, all at no pay. 'People seem to like most of what I say online, and I like doing it.'"

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http://rss.slashdot.org/~r/Slashdot/slashdot/~3/40uZcWmh1DI/article.pl

[#] Mon Apr 27 2009 13:47:00 EDT from CmdrTaco

Subject: Linux Boxee Users Get Hulu Relief

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DeviceGuru writes "The Linux version of Boxee's eponymously-named multimedia platform has finally been updated to include several new features introduced into the OS X and Windows versions over the past few months. Key additions include an App Box and restored support for Hulu, which disappeared several months ago. Still lacking in the latest Linux release, however, is the long-awaited addition of Netflix movie and TV show streaming for subscribers to Netflix's monthly service."

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http://rss.slashdot.org/~r/Slashdot/slashdot/~3/ZC0IcBGhvc4/article.pl

[#] Mon Apr 27 2009 14:35:00 EDT from CmdrTaco

Subject: Handmade Vs. Commercially Produced Ethernet Cables

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An anonymous reader writes "We have a T1 line coming into our satellite office and we rely fairly heavily on it to transfer large amounts of data over a VPN to the head office across the country. Recently, we decided to upgrade to a 20 Mbit line. Being the lone IT guy here, it fell on me to run cable from the ISP's box to our server room so I went out and bought a spool of Cat6. I mentioned the purchase and the plan to run the cable myself to my boss in head office and in an emailed response he stated that it's next to impossible to create quality cable (ie: cable that will pass a Time Domain Reflectometer test) by hand without expensive dies, special Ethernet jacks and special cable. He even went so far as to say that handmade cable couldn't compare to even the cheapest Belkin cables. I've never once ran into a problem with handmade patch cables. Do you create your own cable or do you bite the bullet and buy it from some place?"

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http://rss.slashdot.org/~r/Slashdot/slashdot/~3/qq-x8qq-t7E/article.pl

[#] Mon Apr 27 2009 15:22:00 EDT from CmdrTaco

Subject: IBM Computer Program To Take On 'Jeopardy!'

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longacre writes "I.B.M. plans to announce Monday that it is in the final stages of completing a computer program to compete against human 'Jeopardy!' contestants. If the program beats the humans, the field of artificial intelligence will have made a leap forward. ... The team is aiming not at a true thinking machine but at a new class of software that can 'understand' human questions and respond to them correctly. Such a program would have enormous economic implications. ... The proposed contest is an effort by I.B.M. to prove that its researchers can make significant technical progress by picking "grand challenges" like its early chess foray. The new bid is based on three years of work by a team that has grown to 20 experts in fields like natural language processing, machine learning and information retrieval. ... Under the rules of the match that the company has negotiated with the 'Jeopardy!' producers, the computer will not have to emulate all human qualities. It will receive questions as electronic text. The human contestants will both see the text of each question and hear it spoken by the show's host, Alex Trebek. ... Mr. Friedman added that they were also thinking about whom the human contestants should be and were considering inviting Ken Jennings, the 'Jeopardy!' contestant who won 74 consecutive times and collected $2.52 million in 2004."

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http://rss.slashdot.org/~r/Slashdot/slashdot/~3/0PlPBoY3dJw/article.pl

[#] Mon Apr 27 2009 16:00:00 EDT from CmdrTaco

Subject: RMS Says "Software As a Service" Is Non-free

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BillyG noted an RMS interview where he says "'Software as a service' means that you think of a particular server as doing your computing for you. If that's what the server does, you must not use it! If you do your computing on someone else's server, you hand over control of your computing to whoever controls the server. It is like running binary-only software, only worse: it's even harder for you to patch the program that's running on someone else's server than it is to patch a binary copy of a program running on your own computer. Just like non-free software, 'software as a service' is incompatible with your freedom."

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http://rss.slashdot.org/~r/Slashdot/slashdot/~3/ynUlPuzsVAY/article.pl

[#] Mon Apr 27 2009 16:38:00 EDT from CmdrTaco

Subject: UK Government To Monitor All Internet Use

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nk497 writes "The UK government has further detailed plans to track all communications — mobile phone calls, text messages, email and browser sessions — in the fight against terrorism, pedophiles and organized crime. The government said it's not looking to see what you're saying, just to whom and when and how. Contrary to previous plans to keep it all in a massive database, it will now let ISPs and telecoms firms store the data themselves, and access it when it feels it needs it." And to clarify this Barence writes "The UK Government has dropped plans to create a massive database of all internet communications, following stern criticism from privacy advocates. Instead the Government wants ISPs and mobile phone companies to retain details of mobile phone calls, emails and internet sites visited. As with the original scheme, the actual content of the phone calls and messages won't be recorded, just the dates, duration and location/IP address of messages sent. The security services would then have to apply to the ISP or telecoms company to have the data released. The new proposals would also require ISPs to retain details of communications that originated in other countries but passed over the UK's network, such as instant messages."

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http://rss.slashdot.org/~r/Slashdot/slashdot/~3/rFH2wZozsK4/article.pl

[#] Mon Apr 27 2009 17:15:00 EDT from CmdrTaco

Subject: Will Oracle Keep Funding Sun's Pet Java Projects?

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gkunene writes "Oracle expects Sun to contribute to its operating profit right away. To make that happen, Oracle may pull funding and staff from projects such as JavaFX, Project Looking Glass, and Project GlassFish."

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http://rss.slashdot.org/~r/Slashdot/slashdot/~3/U6JOXdb1oCY/article.pl

[#] Mon Apr 27 2009 18:02:00 EDT from samzenpus

Subject: Universal Design for Web Applications

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Michael J. Ross writes "Two decades ago, Web usage was limited to a single individual (Sir Tim Berners-Lee) using the only browser in existence (WorldWideWeb) running on a single platform (a NeXT Computer). Nowadays, billions of people access the Web daily, with the ability to choose from over a dozen browsers running on desktop computers, laptops, and a variety of mobile devices, such as cell phones. The number of possible combinations is growing rapidly, and makes it increasingly difficult for Web designers and developers to craft their sites so as to be universally accessible. This is particularly true when accounting for Web users with physical and cognitive disabilities — especially if they do not have access to assistive technologies. The challenges and solutions for anyone creating an accessible website are addressed in Universal Design for Web Applications, authored by Wendy Chisholm and Matt May." Keep reading for the rest of Michael and Laura's review.

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http://rss.slashdot.org/~r/Slashdot/slashdot/~3/B8cA14q6XOA/article.pl

[#] Mon Apr 27 2009 18:47:00 EDT from samzenpus

Subject: GE Introduces 500GB Holographic Disks

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bheer writes "According to the NYTimes, at a conference next month, GE will debut their new holographic storage breakthrough — 500GB disks that will cost 10 cents a GB to produce at launch. GE will first focus on selling the technology to commercial markets like movie studios and hospitals, but selling to the broader corporate and consumer market is the larger goal."

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http://rss.slashdot.org/~r/Slashdot/slashdot/~3/quRJ0pDT8HA/article.pl

[#] Mon Apr 27 2009 19:33:00 EDT from samzenpus

Subject: How To Have an Online Social Life When You're Dead

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A wave of new companies are springing up to offer such things as virtual cemeteries, alerts to remind loved ones about the anniversary of your death, and even email services that send an alert to your sinful relatives in danger of being left behind when the Rapture carries you away. "People have a desire to perpetuate not only for themselves, but for their loved ones, the story of their lives, and technology has all these new great ways of doing that," said John McQueen, owner of the Anderson McQueen funeral home.

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[#] Mon Apr 27 2009 20:14:00 EDT from samzenpus

Subject: Obama Says 3% of GDP Should Fund Science Research And Development

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tritonman writes "Obama wants to set a goal that the US spend 3% of it's GDP on scientific research and development. 'I believe it is not in our character, American character, to follow — but to lead. And it is time for us to lead once again. I am here today to set this goal: we will devote more than 3 percent of our GDP to research and development,' Obama said in a speech at the annual meeting of the National Academy of Sciences."

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http://rss.slashdot.org/~r/Slashdot/slashdot/~3/0AgjOT5IxPM/article.pl

[#] Mon Apr 27 2009 21:02:00 EDT from samzenpus

Subject: Air Force One Flyby Causes Brief Panic In NYC

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pdclarry writes "A Boeing 747 that serves as an Air Force One backup and two F-16 fighters escorting it caused a brief panic among office workers at the World Financial Center in lower Manhattan this morning, as large numbers evacuated the buildings. The incident was also spurred evacuations in Jersey City across the Hudson River from Manhattan."

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http://rss.slashdot.org/~r/Slashdot/slashdot/~3/7YF6yzcREJk/article.pl

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