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Government

Cuba Connecting Universities With Fiber 21 21

lpress writes: Two Cuban universities have fiber links and fiber connections will be available to all Cuban universities in January 2016. One of the currently connected universities is in the west, near Havana (satellite ground station) and one in the east, near the undersea cable landing. Cuba will use Chinese equipment for DSL to the home and Wifi access points.
United States

Federal Wiretaps Down Slightly, Encryption Impact Decreases 15 15

coondoggie writes: According to the 2014 Wiretap Report, released today by the Administrative Office of the United States Courts a total of a total of 3,554 wiretaps were reported as authorized, with 1,279 authorized by federal judges and 2,275 authorized by state judges. Compared to the applications approved during 2013, the number approved by federal judges decreased 13% in 2014 and the number approved by state judges increased 8%. One state wiretap application was denied in 2014, the report stated.
NASA

NASA To Waste $150 Million On SLS Engine That Will Be Used Once 124 124

schwit1 writes: NASA's safety panel has noticed that NASA's SLS program either plans to spend $150 million human-rating a rocket engine it will only use once, or will fly a manned mission without human-rating that engine.

"The Block 1 SLS is the 'basic model,' sporting a Delta Cryogenic Second Stage (DCSS), renamed the Interim Cryogenic Propulsion System (ICPS) for SLS. The current plan calls for this [interim] stage to be used on [the unmanned] Exploration Mission -1 (EM-1) and [manned] Exploration Mission -2 (EM-2), prior to moving to the [Exploration Upper Stage] — also to be built by Boeing — that will become the workhorse for SLS. However, using the [interim upper stage] on a crewed mission will require it to be human rated. It is likely NASA will also need to fly the [Exploration Upper Stage] on an unmanned mission to validate the new stage ahead of human missions. This has been presenting NASA with a headache for some time, although it took the recent ASAP meeting to finally confirm those concerns to the public."

NASA doesn't have the funds to human-rate it, and even if they get those funds, human-rating it will likely cause SLS's schedule to slip even more, something NASA fears because they expect the commercial manned ships to be flying sooner and with increasing capability. The contrast — a delayed and unflown and very expensive SLS vs a flying and inexpensive commercial effort — will not do SLS good politically. However, if they are going to insist (properly I think) that SpaceX and Boeing human-rate their capsules and rockets, then NASA is going to have to hold the SLS to the same standard.
The Almighty Buck

Scientist Union's Talks Stall Over Pay 78 78

HughPickens.com writes: The Sacramento Bee reports that the labor contract between California's state government and the 2,800 employees represented by the California Association of Professional Scientists expired this week, spotlighting yet again the long-running feud over whether the tiny union's members should earn as much as their peers in federal and local governments and private industry. "It's a challenge to keep people motivated," says Rita Hypnarowski. "We talk about retaining the best and the brightest, but I can see that's not going to happen." A recent survey by the Brown administration found that the total compensation for half of state-employed chemists is less than $8,985 per month ($5,715 in salary, plus $3,270 in benefit costs). That's 33 percent less than the median total compensation for federal chemists, nearly 13 percent less than the midpoint for local-government chemists and almost 6 percent below the private sector.

Members of the union perform a wide variety of tasks, everything from fighting food-borne illnesses to mopping up the Refugio State Beach oil spill. For example, Cassandra McQuaid left a job last year at the Department of Public Health's state-of-the-art Richmond laboratories where she tracked foodborne illnesses. It's the kind of vital, behind-the-scenes work that goes unnoticed until an E. coli outbreak makes headlines and local health officials need a crack team of scientists to unravel how it happened. "It really came down to money," says McQuaid. "I just couldn't live in the Bay Area on a state salary."
Canada

Quebec Government May Force ISPs To Block Gambling Websites 59 59

New submitter ottawan- writes: In order to drive more customers to their own online gambling website, the Quebec government and Loto-Quebec (the provincial organization in charge of gaming and lotteries) are thinking about forcing the province's ISPs to block all other online gambling websites. The list of websites to be blocked will be maintained by Loto-Quebec, and the government believes that the blocking will increase government revenue by up to $27 million (CAD) per year.
Government

White House Lures Mudge From Google To Launch Cyber UL 23 23

chicksdaddy writes: The Obama Whitehouse has tapped famed hacker Peiter Zatko (aka "Mudge") to head up a new project aimed at developing an "underwriters' lab" for cyber security. The new organization would function as an independent, non-profit entity designed to assess the security strengths and weaknesses of products and publishing the results of its tests.

Zatko is a famed hacker and security luminary, who cut his teeth with the Boston-based hacker collective The L0pht in the 1990s before moving on to work in private industry and, then, to become a program manager at the DARPA in 2010. Though known for keeping a low profile, his scruffy visage (circa 1998) graced the pages of the Washington Post in a recent piece that remembered testimony that Mudge and other L0pht members gave to Congress about the dangers posed by insecure software.
The Military

Test Pilot: the F-35 Can't Dogfight 757 757

schwit1 sends this report from the War Is Boring column: A test pilot has some very, very bad news about the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. The pricey new stealth jet can't turn or climb fast enough to hit an enemy plane during a dogfight or to dodge the enemy's own gunfire, the pilot reported following a day of mock air battles back in January. And to add insult to injury, the JSF flier discovered he couldn't even comfortably move his head inside the radar-evading jet's cramped cockpit. "The helmet was too large for the space inside the canopy to adequately see behind the aircraft." That allowed the F-16 to sneak up on him. The test pilot's report is the latest evidence of fundamental problems with the design of the F-35 — which, at a total program cost of more than a trillion dollars, is history's most expensive weapon. Your tax dollars at work.
Communications

European Government Agrees On Net Neutrality Rules, With Exemptions 37 37

An anonymous reader writes: The European Union's three main legislative bodies, the European Council, the European Parliment, and the European Commision, have reached an agreement on "Open Internet" rules that establish principles similar to Net Neutrality in the EU. The rules require that all internet traffic and users be treated equally, forbidding paid-for prioritisation of traffic. However, exemptions are permitted for particular "specialised services" where the service is not possible under the open network's normal conditions, provided that the customer using the service pays for the privilege. (The examples given are IPTV, teleconferencing, and telepresence surgery.) Zero-rating — exempting particular data from traffic caps — is also permitted, but will be subject to oversight. Notably, this means (if all goes as promised) the elimination of cellphone roaming fees within the EU; however, that's been promised and delayed before.
Classic Games (Games)

Interviews: Ask Steve Jackson About Designing Games 111 111

Since starting his own company in 1980, Steve Jackson, founder and editor-in-chief of Steve Jackson Games, has created a number of hits, starting with Car Wars . . . followed shortly by Illuminati, and later by GURPS, the "Generic Universal Roleplaying System." In 1983, he was elected to the Adventure Gaming Hall of Fame - the youngest person ever so honored. He has personally won 11 Origins Awards. In the early 90's, Steve got international press due to the Secret Service's invasion of his office. The EFF helped make it possible for SJ Games to bring suit against the Secret Service and the U.S. government and win more than $50,000 in damages. His Ogre kickstarter a couple of years ago brought in close to a million dollars. His current hits are Munchkin, a very silly card game about killing monsters and taking their stuff, and Zombie Dice, in which you eat brains and try not to get shotgunned. His current projects include a variety of Munchkin follow-ups, and the continuing quest to get his games translated into digital form. Steve has agreed to put down the dice and answer any questions you may have. As usual, ask as many as you'd like, but please, one per post.
Space

The Underfunded, Disorganized Plan To Save Earth From the Next Giant Asteroid 88 88

New submitter citadrianne sends a story about the beginnings of our asteroid defense efforts, and how initial concern over an asteroid strike wasn't sustained long enough to establish consistent funding: Until a few decades ago, the powers that be didn't take the threat of asteroids very seriously. This changed on March 23, 1989, when an asteroid 300 meters in diameter called 1989FC passed within half a million miles of Earth. As the New York Times put it, "In cosmic terms, it was a close call." After this arguably close brush with total annihilation, Congress asked NASA to prepare a report on the threat posed by asteroids. The 1992 document, "The Spaceguard Survey: Report of the NASA International Near-Earth-Object Detection Workshop," was, suffice it to say, rather bleak.

If a large NEO were to hit Earth, the report said, its denizens could look forward to acid rain, firestorms, and an impact winter induced by dust being thrown miles into the stratosphere. ... After reports from the National Research Council made it clear that meeting the discovery requirement outlined in the Congressional mandate was impossible given the lack of program funding, NEOO got a tenfold budget increase from 2009 to 2014. Yet it still faces a number of difficulties. A program audit released last September described the NEOO program as a one-man operation that is poorly integrated and lacking in objectives and oversight.
Government

How Uber Takes Over a City 226 226

schwit1 suggests Bloomberg's story on one aspect of Uber's corporate behavior that may leave a sour taste in the mouth of anyone who'd like to believe the Uber-vs.-the-Cartels narrative. The company hired David Plouffe, known for managing Barack Obama's rise to fame, and many others as well, to help them navigate inevitable and ongoing moves for regulation. The scale is impressive; according to the article: Over the past year, Uber built one of the largest and most successful lobbying forces in the country, with a presence in almost every statehouse. It has 250 lobbyists and 29 lobbying firms registered in capitols around the nation, at least a third more than Wal-Mart Stores. That doesn't count municipal lobbyists. In Portland, the 28th-largest city in the U.S., 10 people would ultimately register to lobby on Uber's behalf. And while the article focuses mostly on the example of Portland, the effort is ongoing and nationwide.
Government

Despite Regulatory Nod, Cheap Ebola Test Still Undeployed 24 24

According to an article in Nature, the researchers who developed an inexpensive, reliable field test for the Ebola virus are frustrated by the delay they've seen in actually having that test deployed. Known as the Corgenix test after the company which developed it, this diagnostic tool "could not replace lab confirmation, but it would allow workers to identify infected people and isolate them faster, greatly reducing the spread of disease," according to infectious-diseases physician Nahid Bhadelia. However, though it's been approved both by the US FDA (for emergency use) and the World Health Organization, its practical use has been hampered by country-level regulations. Just why is unclear; the test seems to be at least as effective as other typical tests, and in some ways better. One concern was that the test might fail to detect the virus in some cases of Ebola. But the independent field-validation1 (in Sierra Leone) shows that the kit was as sensitive at catching cases as the gold-standard comparison — a real-time polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) test that amplifies and detects genetic sequences that are specific to Ebola in blood and other bodily fluids.
Government

79% of Airbnb Listings In Barcelona Are Illegal 103 103

dkatana writes: Barcelona has more than 16,000 Airbnb listings and, according to reports on Cities of the Future, 79% could be illegal. "In April, Airbnb's European General Manager Jeroen Merchiers confirmed, during the Student Tourism Congress in Barcelona, that the platform has more than 85,000 listings in Spain alone." But most Airbnb hosts do not apply for a permit, fail to pay insurance and tourist tax, and ignore Catalonian law that forbids short-term rentals of rooms in private homes. "Residents," says the article, "had been complaining about the rising number of tourist apartments and the conduct of the mostly student-age renters. The majority from Italy, Germany and the UK were partying all night, some running around naked, and generally trashing their neighborhoods."
Encryption

NIST Updates Random Number Generation Guidelines 64 64

An anonymous reader writes: Encryption weighs heavily on the public consciousness these days, as we've learned that government agencies are keeping an eye on us and a lot of our security tools aren't as foolproof as we've thought. In response to this, the National Institute of Standards and Technology has issued a formal update to its document on how to properly generate a random number — crucial in many types of encryption. The update (as expected) removes a recommendation for the Dual_EC_DRBG algorithm. It also adds extra options for CTR_DRBG and points out examples for implementing SP 800-90A generators. The full document (PDF) is available online.
Government

Supreme Court Ruling Supports Same-Sex Marriage 1074 1074

The U.S. Supreme Court issued Friday a landmark decision, ruling that marriage is a Constitutionally protected right to homosexual as well as heterosexual couples. The New York Times notes that last year, by refusing to hear appeals to decisions favoring same-sex marriage in five states, the court "delivered a tacit victory for gay rights, immediately expanding the number of states with same-sex marriage to 24, along with the District of Columbia, up from 19." (In the time since, several more states have expanded marriage to include gay couples.) Reuters expains a bit of the legal and political history of the movement which led to today's decision, and points out some of the countries around the world which have made similar moves already.
Government

Editor of 'Reason' Discusses Federal Subpoena To Unmask Commenters 144 144

mi points out an article from Nick Gillespie, editor of libertarian website Reason, who was recently asked by the federal government to provide identifying information on anonymous commenters from one of the site's blog posts. Not only was Reason issued a subpoena for the commenters's identities, but they were also placed under a gag order, preventing them from even mentioning it to somebody who wasn't their lawyer. Gillespie says the comments in question were "hyperbolic, in questionable taste–and fully within the norms of Internet commentary." He continues: To the extent that the feds actually thought these were serious plans to do real harm, why the hell would they respond with a slow-moving subpoena whose deadline was days away? By spending five minutes doing the laziest, George Jetson-style online "research" (read: Google and site searches), they would have found publicly available info on some of the commenters. I'm talking things like websites and Google+ pages. One of the commenters had literally posted thousands of comments at Reason.com, from which it is clear that he (assuming it is a he) is not exactly a threat to anyone other than common decency."
The Courts

Supreme Court Upholds Key Obamacare Subsidies 591 591

HughPickens.com writes: Retuers reports that the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled 6 — 3 in favor of the nationwide availability of tax subsidies that are crucial to the implementation of President Barack Obama's signature healthcare law, handing a major victory to the president. It marked the second time in three years that the high court ruled against a major challenge to the law brought by conservatives seeking to gut it.

"Congress passed the Affordable Care Act to improve health insurance markets, not to destroy them," wrote Chief Justice Roberts in the majority opinion (PDF). He added that nationwide availability of the credits is required to "avoid the type of calamitous result that Congress plainly meant to avoid." The ruling will come as a major relief to Obama as he seeks to ensure that his legacy legislative achievement is implemented effectively and survives political and legal attacks before he leaves office in early 2017. Justice Antonin Scalia took the relatively rare step of reading a summary of his dissenting opinion from the bench. "We really should start calling the law SCOTUScare," said Scalia referencing the court's earlier decision upholding the constitutionality of the law.
United States

Google, Apple, and Others Remove Content Related To the Confederate Flag 815 815

davek writes with news that Google is removing results related to the Confederate Flag from Google Shopping, the company's online marketplace. They're also blocking advertisements involving the flag. They say, "We have determined that the Confederate flag violates our Ads policies, which don't allow content that's generally perceived as expressing hate toward a particular group." At the same time, Apple is removing from the App Store any games or other software featuring the Confederate Flag. This, of course, follows the recent shooting in South Carolina, which triggered a nationwide debate over whether the flag should be flown at government buildings (or anywhere). Major online merchant websites like eBay and Amazon have already taken the step of banning merchandise relating to the flag.
Government

France, Up In Arms Over NSA Spying, Passes New Surveillance Law 80 80

An anonymous reader writes: French President Francois Hollande held an emergency meeting with top security officials to respond to WikiLeaks documents that say the NSA eavesdropped on French presidents. The documents published in Liberation and investigative website Mediapart include material that appeared to capture current president, François Hollande; the prime minister in 2012, Jean-Marc Ayrault; and former presidents Nicolas Sarkozy and Jacques Chirac, talking candidly about Greece's economy and relations with Germany. The Intercept reports: "Yet also today, the lower house of France's legislature, the National Assembly, passed a sweeping surveillance law. The law provides a new framework for the country's intelligence agencies to expand their surveillance activities. Opponents of the law were quick to mock the government for vigorously protesting being surveilled by one of the country's closest allies while passing a law that gives its own intelligence services vast powers with what its opponents regard as little oversight. But for those who support the new law, the new revelations of NSA spying showed the urgent need to update the tools available to France's spies."