×
Linux

Slackware Approaches 28th Birthday With New Beta Release (theregister.com) 10

Slashdot reader LeeLynx shares news from The Register about a Slackware 15 beta release (following the debut of February's alpha), "nearly five years after the distribution last saw a major update." (And nearly 28 years after its initial release back in 1993...) Created by Patrick Volkerding (who still lays claim to the title Benevolent Dictator For Life), the current release version arrived in the form of 2016's 14.2... The Linux kernel has been updated to 5.10.30 (at time of writing) with 5.11.14 available for testing. Desktop fans may be pleased to see, among the many updates, KDE Plasma hitting 5.21.4 as well as updates for old faithfuls, such as Mozilla Firefox and Thunderbird.

The beta itself dropped on 12 April (with the 5.10.29 kernel) and Volkerding noted: "I'm going to go ahead and call this a beta even though there's still no fix for the illegal instruction issue with 32-bit mariadb. But there should be soon."

Tinkering has continued since, judging by the change log, although the beta tag brings hope there will be a release before long.

United States

A Wave of Tech Workers Tranformed Tahoe Into a High-Priced 'Zoom-Town' (outsideonline.com) 61

In 2018 Oracle's Larry Ellison bought the historic Cal Neva Lodge on the scenic north shore of California's Lake Tahoe for $36 million. Then in 2019 Mark Zuckerberg bought a $59 million compound on Lake Tahoe's west shore.

But now a wave of techies are moving in, reports Outside magazine, "freed by COVID from cubicles and work commutes. They migrated, laptops in tow, to mountain towns all over the West, transforming them into modern-day boomtowns: 'Zoom-towns.'" "It's the wildest time," says realtor Katey Brandenburg, who works on Tahoe's Nevada side. For her and other realtors around the lake, the autumn of 2020 felt like winning the lottery. "I paid off a lifetime of debt — 28 years of loans, college, credit cards, and cars — in three months."

All told, 2020 saw more than 2,350 homes sold across the Tahoe Basin, for a boggling $3.28 billion, up from $1.76 billion in 2019, according to data analyzed by Sierra Sotheby's. That $3 billion stat is on a par with 2020 home-sales revenues in Aspen, Colorado (albeit there, the latest average home-sale price came in at $11 million). The trend is in line with real estate records being shattered from Sun Valley, Idaho, to Stowe, Vermont. And according to a just-released market update, it hasn't stopped: in the first quarter of 2021, median prices for single-family homes increased by an astronomical 70 percent year over year in Truckee, 72 percent in South Lake, and 81 percent in Incline Village...

"A disproportionate number of people who purchased homes in Tahoe in 2020 are employees of some of the largest tech companies in the Bay Area," says Deniz Kahramaner, founder of Atlasa, a real estate brokerage firm that specializes in data analytics. Of the 2,280 new-home buyers Atlasa identified throughout the Tahoe region in 2020, roughly 30 percent worked at software companies. The top three employers were Google (54 buyers), Apple (46), and Facebook (34)...

There is, however, one glaring issue with all this rapid, high-priced growth: the people who actually make a mountain town run — the ski instructors and patrollers, lift operators and shuttle drivers, housekeepers and snowcat mechanics, cooks and servers — can no longer afford to live there.

The article does note higher property taxes going toward public services (along with "more money eventually pumping into bars and restaurants.") And it also acknowledges affordable housing has for decades been an issue in tourist towns.

"It's just suddenly on steroids..."
The Internet

Happy 50th Birthday FTP (filestash.app) 37

FTP (file transfer protocol) celebrated its 50th anniversary this week. Long-time Slashdot reader sandbagger shares an article commemorating a half-century of FTP: Over the years, the FTP protocol got refined with 16 different revisions(*1) adding support with TCP/IP, a secure extension also known as FTPS which is leveraging the same tech as HTTPS and more recent addition like IPv6 support.

Fifty years after its inception, FTP is still going very strong with millions of FTP server still being exposed on the internet which is fairly amazing considering the bad press it gets...

Facebook

Report: Facebook Loophole 'Lets World Leaders Deceive and Harass Their Citizens' (theguardian.com) 32

"Facebook has repeatedly allowed world leaders and politicians to use its platform to deceive the public or harass opponents despite being alerted to evidence of the wrongdoing," reports the Guardian: The Guardian has seen extensive internal documentation showing how Facebook handled more than 30 cases across 25 countries of politically manipulative behavior that was proactively detected by company staff.

The investigation shows how Facebook has allowed major abuses of its platform in poor, small and non-western countries in order to prioritize addressing abuses that attract media attention or affect the US and other wealthy countries. The company acted quickly to address political manipulation affecting countries such as the US, Taiwan, South Korea and Poland, while moving slowly or not at all on cases in Afghanistan, Iraq, Mongolia, Mexico and much of Latin America.

"There is a lot of harm being done on Facebook that is not being responded to because it is not considered enough of a PR risk to Facebook," said Sophie Zhang, a former data scientist at Facebook who worked within the company's "integrity" organization to combat inauthentic behavior. "The cost isn't borne by Facebook. It's borne by the broader world as a whole."

Space

How OneWeb, SpaceX Satellites Dodged a Potential Collision in Orbit (theverge.com) 27

"Two satellites from the fast-growing constellations of OneWeb and SpaceX's Starlink dodged a dangerously close approach with one another in orbit," reports The Verge, citing representatives from both OneWeb and the U.S. Space Force. On March 30th, five days after OneWeb launched its latest batch of 36 satellites from Russia, the company received several "red alerts" from the US Space Force's 18th Space Control Squadron warning of a possible collision with a Starlink satellite. Because OneWeb's constellation operates in higher orbits around Earth, the company's satellites must pass through SpaceX's mesh of Starlink satellites, which orbit at an altitude of roughly 550 km.

One Space Force alert indicated a collision probability of 1.3 percent, with the two satellites coming as close as 190 feet — a dangerously close proximity for satellites in orbit. If satellites collide in orbit, it could cause a cascading disaster that could generate hundreds of pieces of debris and send them on crash courses with other satellites nearby...

Space Force's urgent alerts sent OneWeb engineers scrambling to email SpaceX's Starlink team to coordinate maneuvers that would put the two satellites at safer distances from one another. While coordinating with OneWeb, SpaceX disabled its automated AI-powered collision avoidance system to allow OneWeb to steer its satellite out of the way, according to OneWeb's government affairs chief Chris McLaughlin... SpaceX's automated system for avoiding satellite collisions has sparked controversy, raising concerns from other satellite operators who say they have no way of knowing which way the system will move a Starlink satellite in the event of a close approach.

Programming

Student's First Academic Paper Solves Decades-Old Quantum Computing Problem (abc.net.au) 70

"Sydney university student Pablo Bonilla, 21, had his first academic paper published overnight and it might just change the shape of computing forever," writes Australia's national public broadcaster ABC: As a second-year physics student at the University of Sydney, Mr Bonilla was given some coding exercises as extra homework and what he returned with has helped to solve one of the most common problems in quantum computing. His code spiked the interest of researchers at Yale and Duke in the United States and the multi-billion-dollar tech giant Amazon plans to use it in the quantum computer it is trying to build for its cloud platform Amazon Web Services....

Assistant professor Shruti Puri of Yale's quantum research program said the new code solved a problem that had persisted for 20 years. "What amazes me about this new code is its sheer elegance," she said. "Its remarkable error-correcting properties are coming from a simple modification to a code that has been studied extensively for almost two decades...."

Co-author of the paper, the University of Sydney's Ben Brown, said the brilliance of Pablo Bonilla's code was in its simplicity... "We just made the smallest of changes to a chip that everybody is building, and all of a sudden it started doing a lot better. It's quite amazing to me that nobody spotted it in the 20-or-so years that people have been working on that model."

Programming

Linus Torvalds Says Rust Closer for Linux Kernel Development, Calls C++ 'A Crap Language' (itwire.com) 118

Google's Android team supports Rust for developing the Android operating system. Now they're also helping evaluate Rust for Linux kernel development. Their hopes, among other things, are that "New code written in Rust has a reduced risk of memory safety bugs, data races and logic bugs overall," that "abstractions that are easier to reason about," and "More people get involved overall in developing the kernel, thanks to the usage of a modern language."

Linus Torvalds responded in a new interview with IT Wire (shared by Slashdot reader juul_advocate): The first patches for Rust support in the Linux kernel have been posted and the man behind the kernel says the fact that these are being discussed is much more important than a long post by Google about the language. Linus Torvalds told iTWire in response to queries that Rust support was "not there yet", adding that things were "getting to the point where maybe it might be mergeable for 5.14 or something like that..." Torvalds said that it was still early days for Rust support, "but at least it's in a 'this kind of works, there's an example, we can build on it'."

Asked about a suggestion by a commenter on the Linux Weekly News website, who said, during a discussion on the Google post, "The solution here is simple: just use C++ instead of Rust", Torvalds could not restrain himself from chortling. "LOL," was his response. "C++ solves _none_ of the C issues, and only makes things worse. It really is a crap language.

"For people who don't like C, go to a language that actually offers you something worthwhile. Like languages with memory safety and [which] can avoid some of the dangers of C, or languages that have internal GC [garbage collection] support and make memory management easier. C++ solves all the wrong problems, and anybody who says 'rewrite the kernel in C++' is too ignorant to even know that."

He said that when one spoke of the dangers of C, one was also speaking about part of what made C so powerful, "and allows you to implement all those low-level things efficiently".

Torvalds added that, while garbage collection is "a very good thing in most other situations," it's "generally not necessarily something you can do in a low-level system programming."
United States

US Advocacy Group Launches Online Petition Demanding Protections for 'Right to Repair' (repair.org) 18

A U.S. advocacy group called The Repair Association is urging Americans to demand protections for their right to repair from the country's consumer protection agency.

"Tell the FTC: People just want to fix their stuff!" argues a page urging concerned U.S. citizens to sign an online petition (shared by long-time Slashdot reader Z00L00K).

The petition asks the FTC to...
  • Enforce the law against companies who use illegal tying arrangements to force consumers to purchase connected repair services.
  • Enforce the law against companies who violate the Magnuson Moss Warranty Act by voiding warranties when a consumer fixes something themselves or uses third-party parts or repair services.
  • Enforce the law against companies who refuse to sell replacement parts, diagnostic and repair tools, or service information to independent repair providers.
  • Publish new guidance on unfair, deceptive, and abusive terms in end user license agreements (EULAs) that: restrict independent or self repair; restrict access to parts and software; prohibit the transfer of user licenses; that and that purport to void warranties for independent or self repair.
  • Issue new rules prohibiting exclusivity arrangements with suppliers, customers, and repair providers that exclude independent repair providers and suppress competition in the market for repair services.
  • Issue new rules prohibiting companies from deceiving customers by selling products which cannot be repaired without destroying the device or cannot be repaired outside of the company's own service network, without disclosing that fact at the point of sale.

Television

'Addams Family,' 'Buck Rogers' Actor Felix Silla Dies at 84 (ew.com) 25

EW reports: Felix Silla's friend and former Buck Rogers in the 25th Century costar Gil Gerard reported on Twitter that Silla died Friday after a battle with pancreatic cancer.

Coming in at just under 4 feet tall and only 70 pounds, Silla was the perfect choice for the mumbling Cousin Itt on The Addams Family. For years, audiences didn't see his face, the character covered in a full-length hairpiece, sporting sunglasses and a bowler hat... Silla did not provide the distinct mumbling voice of Cousin Itt. That was added by sound engineer Tony Magro in production...

He first came to the United States in 1955 and began his career touring with the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus for seven years. He worked as a trapeze artist, tumbler, and bareback horse rider. Eventually, he settled in Hollywood in 1962, where he became a stuntman. He went on to work in movies like A Ticklish Fair, TV shows like Bonanza, and appeared in the first pilot for Star Trek, "The Cage." His small stature often helped him find work, including as Cousin Itt, robot sidekick Twiki on the NBC series Buck Rogers in the 25th Century, and even as a hang-gliding Ewok in Star Wars: Return of the Jedi...

He also excelled as a stand in, double, and stuntman working on projects such as Planet of the Apes, Demon Seed, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, The Towering Inferno, The Hindenburg, E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, Poltergeist, The Golden Child, Howard the Duck, and Batman Returns.

In 2018 one Las Vegas blog spotted Silla with Gil Gerard, posting a picture of the two side by side -- just as they'd posed decades earlier on Buck Rogers in the 25th Century.

While for that show Mel Blanc had provided the voice for Twiki the robot, the blog notes that Silla himself supplied the voice of Mortimer Goth in the Sims 2 videogame.
United States

The FBI Accessed and Repaired 'Hundreds' of Hacked Microsoft Exchange Servers (csoonline.com) 70

America's top law enforcement agency "obtained a court order that allowed it to remove a backdoor program from hundreds of private Microsoft Exchange servers that were hacked through zero-day vulnerabilities earlier this year," reports CSO. (Thanks to detritus. (Slashdot reader #46,421) for sharing the news...) Earlier this week, the Department of Justice announced that the FBI was granted a search and seizure warrant by a Texas court that allows the agency to copy and remove web shells from hundreds of on-premise Microsoft Exchange servers owned by private organizations. A web shell is a type of program that hackers install on hacked web servers to grant them backdoor access and remote command execution capabilities on those servers through a web-based interface.

In this case, the warrant targeted web shells installed by a cyberespionage group dubbed Hafnium that is believed to have ties to the Chinese government. In early March, Microsoft reported that Hafnium has been exploiting previously unpatched vulnerabilities in Microsoft Exchange to compromise servers. At the same time, the company released patches for those vulnerabilities, as well as indicators of compromise and other detection tools, but this didn't prevent other groups of attackers from exploiting the vulnerabilities after they became public. In its warrant application, dated April 13, the FBI argues that despite the public awareness campaigns by Microsoft, CISA and the FBI itself, many servers remained infected with the web shell deployed by Hafnium. While the exact number has been redacted from the unsealed warrant, the DOJ said in a press release that it was "hundreds."

The FBI asked for, and received court approval, to access the malicious web shells through the passwords set by the original attackers and then use that access against the malware itself by executing a command that will delete the web shell, which is essentially an .aspx script deployed on the server. The FBI was also allowed to make a copy of the web shells first because they could constitute evidence.

The warrant states that it "does not authorize the seizure of any tangible property" or the copying or alteration of any content from the servers aside from the web shell themselves, which are identified in the warrant by their unique file paths. This means the FBI was not granted permission to patch the vulnerabilities to protect the servers from future exploitation or to remove any additional malware or tools that hackers might have already deployed...

The FBI sent an email message from an official email account, including a copy of the warrant, to the email addresses associated with the domain names of the infected servers.

An official statement from the Department of Justice is already using the past tense, announcing that U.S. authorities "have executed a court-authorized operation to copy and remove malicious web shells from hundreds of vulnerable computers in the United States. They were running on-premises versions of Microsoft Exchange Server software used to provide enterprise-level email service."
PlayStation (Games)

PS5 Breaks Another Huge US Sales Record (ign.com) 18

An anonymous reader quotes a report from IGN: In its first five months on the market, The PlayStation 5 has become the fastest-selling console in U.S. history in both unit and dollar sales. As revealed by The NPD Group's Mat Piscatella, this news arrives one month after the PS5 became the fastest-selling console in U.S. history in dollar sales. Despite that new record, the Nintendo Switch has continued its reign as the best selling hardware platform in both units and dollars during March 2021. However, the PS5 did rank first in hardware dollar sales in Q1 2021.
IBM

Ex IBM Sales Manager, Fired After Battling Discrimination Against Subordinates, Wins $11 Million Lawsuit (theregister.com) 124

On Thursday, a federal jury in Seattle, Washington, found that former IBM sales manager Scott Kingston had been unlawfully fired by the company and denied sales commission after challenging the treatment of subordinates as racially biased. And it awarded him $11.1 million. The Register reports: The case dates back to 2017 when two IBM sales people within months of each other closed similarly large software sales deals that led to vastly different commission payments. Nick Donato, who is White, received more than $1m for a SAS Institute deal, while Jerome Beard, who is Black, was paid about $230,000 for closing a sale to HCL Technologies. Beard was paid about 15 per cent of what he should have received under his agreement with IBM, despite a company policy not to cap sales commissions.

Kingston, who managed the two salespeople through two lower-level managers, raised his concerns about racial discrimination with his superiors toward the end of 2017. Recalling his jury testimony, he said of his conversation with his managers, "They were telling me it wasn't about money; it was some other reason. I flat out said, 'You are leaving no possibility for anybody to conclude another reason than racial discrimination. You are foreclosing any other possible conclusion. You are going to get us sued.'" And that's what happened. Beard sued IBM in 2018. After a failed motion by IBM to dismiss the case in April, 2020, the company settled for an undisclosed sum several months later.

Kingston sued in 2019 [PDF], after IBM fired him in April, 2018, claiming he had erred in approving Donato's seven-figure commission. The company also fired two other IBM managers, Andre Temidis and Michael Lee, who raised similar objections to the allegedly discriminatory capping of commission due to an Arab-American salesperson. The Seattle jury found [PDF] IBM violated Washington State law against discrimination and policies against race discrimination and withholding wages.
"We are disappointed by the jury's verdict," IBM said in a statement emailed to The Register. "IBM does not condone retaliation, race discrimination, or any other form of discrimination. The company will consider all of its options on appeal."
AI

AI-Driven Audio Cloning Startup Gives Voice To Einstein Chatbot (techcrunch.com) 20

Aflorithmic, an AI-driven audio cloning startup, has created a digital version of Albert Einstein using AI voice cloning technology drawing on audio records of the famous scientist's actual voice. TechCrunch reports: Alforithmic says the "digital Einstein" is intended as a showcase for what will soon be possible with conversational social commerce. Which is a fancy way of saying deepfakes that make like historical figures will probably be trying to sell you pizza soon enough, as industry watchers have presciently warned. The startup also says it sees educational potential in bringing famous, long-deceased figures to interactive "life." Or, well, an artificial approximation of it -- the "life" being purely virtual and Digital Einstein's voice not being a pure tech-powered clone either; Alforithmic says it also worked with an actor to do voice modelling for the chatbot (because how else was it going to get Digital Einstein to be able to say words the real-deal would never even have dreamt of saying -- like, er, "blockchain"?). So there's a bit more than AI artifice going on here too.

In a blog post discussing how it recreated Einstein's voice the startup writes about progress it made on one challenging element associated with the chatbot version -- saying it was able to shrink the response time between turning around input text from the computational knowledge engine to its API being able to render a voiced response, down from an initial 12 seconds to less than three (which it dubs "near-real-time"). But it's still enough of a lag to ensure the bot can't escape from being a bit tedious.
The report notes that the video engine powering the 3D character rendering components of this "digital human" version of Einstein is the work of another synthesized media company, UneeQ, which is hosting the interactive chatbot version on its website.
Bitcoin

Dogecoin Has Risen 400 Percent In the Last Week Because Why Not (arstechnica.com) 83

Dogecoin has seen its price rise by a factor of five over the last week. Yesterday, it was trading at $0.13. Today, it's one of the world's 10 most valuable cryptocurrencies, with a market capitalization of $45 billion. Ars Technica's Timothy B. Lee writes: Dogecoin's price tripled over the next 36 hours. My editor suggested that I write about whether Dogecoin's rise is a sign of an overheated crypto market, but for a coin like Dogecoin, I'm not sure that's even a meaningful concept. Dogecoin isn't a company that has revenues or profits. And unlike bitcoin and ether, no one seriously thinks it's going to be the foundation of a new financial system. People are trading Dogecoin because it's fun to trade and because they think they might make money from it. The rising price is a sign that a lot of people have decided it would be fun to speculate in Dogecoin.

Of course, the fact that lots of people have money to spend on joke investments might itself be a result of larger macroeconomic forces. The combination of stimulus spending, low interest rates, and pandemic-related saving means that a lot of people have more money than usual sitting in their bank accounts. And restrictions on travel and nightlife mean that many of those same people have a lot of time on their hands.

Earth

Whitest-Ever Paint Could Help Cool Heating Earth, Study Shows (theguardian.com) 101

AmiMoJo shares a report from The Guardian: The whitest-ever paint has been produced by academic researchers, with the aim of boosting the cooling of buildings and tackling the climate crisis. The new paint reflects 98% of sunlight as well as radiating infrared heat through the atmosphere into space. In tests, it cooled surfaces by 4.5C below the ambient temperature, even in strong sunlight. The researchers said the paint could be on the market in one or two years. Currently available reflective white paints are far better than dark roofing materials, but only reflect 80-90% of sunlight and absorb UV light. This means they cannot cool surfaces below ambient temperatures. The new paint does this, leading to less need for air conditioning and the carbon emissions they produce, which are rising rapidly.

The new paint was revealed in a report in the journal ACS Applied Materials & Interfaces. Three factors are responsible for the paint's cooling performance. First, barium sulphate was used as the pigment which, unlike conventional titanium dioxide pigment, does not absorb UV light. Second, a high concentration of pigment was used -- 60%. Third, the pigment particles were of varied size. The amount of light scattered by a particle depends on its size, so using a range scatters more of the light spectrum from the sun. The researchers said the ultra-white paint uses a standard acrylic solvent and could be manufactured like conventional paint. They claim the paint would be similar in price to current paints, with barium sulphate actually cheaper than titanium dioxide. They have also tested the paint's resistance to abrasion, but said longer-term weathering tests were needed to assess its long-term durability.

Slashdot Top Deals