tramp writes "The National Security Agency is gathering nearly 5 billion records a day on the whereabouts of cellphones around the world, according to top-secret documents and interviews with U.S. intelligence officials, enabling the agency to track the movements of individuals — and map their relationships — in ways that would have been previously unimaginable. Of course it is 'only metadata' and absolutely not invading privacy if you ask our 'beloved' NSA." Pretty soon, the argument about whether you have in any given facet of your life a "reasonable expectation of privacy" may take on a whole new meaning. Also at Slash BI.
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quantr writes with this excerpt from Bloomberg: "China's central bank barred financial institutions from handling Bitcoin transactions, moving to regulate the virtual currency after an 89-fold jump in its value sparked a surge of investor interest in the country. Bitcoin plunged more than 20 percent to below $1,000 on the BitStamp Internet exchange after the People's Bank of China said it isn't a currency with 'real meaning' and doesn't have the same legal status. The public is free to participate in Internet transactions provided they take on the risk themselves, it said. The ban reflects concern about the risk the digital currency may pose to China's capital controls and financial stability after a surge in trading this year made the country the world's biggest trader of Bitcoin, according to exchange operator BTC China. Bitcoin's price jumped more than ninefold in the past two months alone, prompting former Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan to call it a 'bubble.' 'The concern is that it interferes with normal monetary policy operation,' said Hao Hong, head of China research at Bocom International Holdings Co. in Hong Kong. 'It represents an unofficial leakage to the current monetary system and trades globally. It is difficult to regulate and could be used for money laundering.'"
doom writes "Ian Sample at the Guardian UK does a really thorough write-up of what's going on with the Fukushima Clean-up. From the article: 'Though delicate and painstaking, retrieving the fuel rod assemblies from the pools is not the toughest job the workers face. More challenging by far will be digging out the molten cores in the reactors themselves. Some of the fuel burned through its primary containment and is now mixed with cladding, steel and concrete. The mixture will have to be broken up, sealed in steel containers and moved to a nuclear waste storage site. That work will not start until some time after 2020.'"
cathyreisenwitz sends word of a San Francisco trial in which the U.S. government appears to be manipulating the no-fly list to its advantage. The court case involves a Stanford Ph.D. student who was barred from returning to the U.S. after visiting her native Malaysia. She's one of roughly 700,000 people on the no-fly list. Here's the sketchy part: the woman's eldest daughter, who was born in the U.S. and is a U.S. citizen, was called as a witness for the trial. Unfortunately, she mysteriously found herself on the no-fly list as well, and wasn't able to board a plane to come to the trial. Lawyers for the Department of Justice told the court that she simply missed her plane, but she was able to provide documents from the airline explaining that the Department of Homeland Security was not allowing her to fly.
binarstu writes "Suzanne Nossel, writing for CNN, reports that 'a survey of American writers done in October revealed that nearly one in four has self-censored for fear of government surveillance. They fessed up to curbing their research, not accepting certain assignments, even not discussing certain topics on the phone or via e-mail for fear of being targeted. The subjects they are avoiding are no surprise — mostly matters to do with the Middle East, the military and terrorism.' Yet ordinary Americans, for the most part, seem not to care: 'Surveillance so intrusive it is putting certain subjects out of bounds would seem like cause for alarm in a country that prides itself as the world's most free. Americans have long protested the persecution and constraints on journalists and writers living under repressive regimes abroad, yet many seem ready to accept these new encroachments on their freedom at home.'"
grex writes "In 2002, the first FLOSS survey was launched. With over 2,500 participants, it was the first large survey of open source developers around the world and had a major impact in the community, academia and politics. Over 10 years later, a group of researchers is replicating this survey in order to see how the community has changed. This time not only developers, but all kind of contributors to open source projects are asked to participate. How has the community changed in this last 10 years? Are the views the same? Is its composition and focus similar? These types of questions, among others, are the ones this survey is looking to answer (so far with over 1,000 respondents)."
Rambo Tribble writes "An article in Current Biology (abstract) details the finding that minute particles of plastic waste are affecting marine worms, potentially having grave impacts on marine biodiversity (PDF) and leading to the accumulation of toxins in marine animals. 'The team found that the tiny bits of plastic, which measure 1mm or smaller, transferred pollutants and additive chemicals — such as flame-retardants — into the guts of lugworms (Arenicola marina). This process results in the chemical reaching the creatures' tissue, causing a range of biological effects such as thermal stress and the inability to consume as much sediment.' Unfortunately, policymakers have routinely treated such wastes as benign. The BBC provides more approachable coverage of the findings."
New submitter LordWabbit2 sends this quote from an AP report: "The Vatican Library and Oxford University's Bodleian Library have put the first of 1.5 million pages of ancient manuscripts online. The two libraries in 2012 announced a four-year project to digitize some of the most important works of their collections of Hebrew manuscripts, Greek manuscripts and early printed books. Among the first up on the site Tuesday, are the two-volume Gutenberg bibles from each of the libraries and a beautiful 15th-century German bible, hand-colored and illustrated by woodcuts. ... The Vatican Library was founded in 1451 and is one of the most important research libraries in the world. The Bodleian is the largest university library in Britain."
Nerval's Lobster writes "Spotify wants to change the perception that it's killing artists' ability to make a living off music. In a new posting on its Website, the streaming-music hub suggests that songs' rights-holders earn between $0.006 and $0.0084 per stream, on average, and that a niche indie album on the service could earn an artist roughly $3,300 per month (a global hit album, on the other hand, would rack up $425,000 per month). 'We have succeeded in growing revenues for artists and labels in every country where we operate, and have now paid out over $1 billion USD in royalties to-date ($500 million of which we paid in 2013 alone),' the company wrote. 'We have proudly achieved these payouts despite having relatively few users compared to radio, iTunes or Pandora, and as we continue to grow we expect that we will generate many billions more in royalties.' But does that really counter all those artists (including Grizzly Bear and Damon Krukowski of Galaxie 500) who are on the record as saying that Spotify streaming only earns them a handful of dollars for tens of thousands of streaming plays? Let's say an artist earns $0.0084 per stream; it would still take 400,000 'plays' per month in order to reach that indie-album threshold of approximately $3,300. (At $0.006 per stream, it would take 550,000 streams to reach that baseline.) If Spotify's 'specific payment figures' with regard to albums are correct, that means its subscribers are listening to a lot of music on repeat. And granted, those calculations are rough, but even if they're relatively ballpark, they end up supporting artists' grousing that streaming music doesn't pay them nearly enough. But squeezed between labels and publishers that demand lots of money for licensing rights, and in-house expenses such as salaries and infrastructure, companies such as Spotify may have little choice but to keep the current payment model for the time being."
An anonymous reader writes with news of a device built by a company in the U.K. which uses pulses of electromagnetic energy to disrupt the electronic systems of modern cars, causing them to shut down and cut the engine. Here's a description of how it works: "At one end of a disused runway, E2V assembled a varied collection of second-hand cars and motorbikes in order to test the prototype against a range of vehicles. In demonstrations seen by the BBC a car drove towards the device at about 15mph (24km/h). As the vehicle entered the range of the RF Safe-stop, its dashboard warning lights and dials behaved erratically, the engine stopped and the car rolled gently to a halt. Digital audio and video recording devices in the vehicle were also affected.''It's a small radar transmitter,' said Andy Wood, product manager for the machine. 'The RF [radio frequency] is pulsed from the unit just as it would be in radar, it couples into the wiring in the car and that disrupts and confuses the electronics in the car causing the engine to stall.'"
jones_supa writes "The latest PISA (Programme for International Assessment) results are out today. Since 2000, the OECD has attempted to evaluate the knowledge and skills of 15-year olds across the world through its PISA test. More than 510,000 students in 65 economies took part in the latest test, which covered math, reading and science, with the main focus on math — which the OECD state is a 'strong predictor of participation in post-secondary education and future success.' Asian countries outperform the rest of the world, according to the OECD, with Shanghai, Singapore, Hong Kong, Taiwan, South Korea, Macau and Japan amongst the top performing countries and economies. Students in Shanghai performed so well in math that the OECD report compares their scoring to the equivalent of nearly three years of schooling above most OECD countries. The study shows also a slight gender cap: in all countries, boys generally perform a bit better than girls, but this applies only to math." Here's a spreadsheet listing each country's results. The U.S. ranked 26th in math (below average), 17th in reading (slightly above average), and 21st in science (slightly below average).
Nerval's Lobster writes "The state of Oregon blames Oracle for the failures of its online health exchange. The health-insurance site still doesn't fully work as intended, with many customers forced to download and fill out paper applications rather than sign up online; Oracle has reportedly informed the state that it will sort out the bulk of technical issues by December 16, a day after those paper applications are due. 'It is the most maddening and frustrating position to be in, absolutely,' Liz Baxter, chairwoman of the board for the online exchange, told NPR. 'We have spent a lot of money to get something done—to get it done well—to serve the people in our state, and it is maddening that we can't seem to get over this last hump.' Oregon state officials insist that, despite payments of $43 million, Oracle missed multiple deadlines in the months leading up to the health exchange's bungled launch." (Read more, below.)
Pseudonymous Bitcoin creator Satoshi Nakamoto (whether that name represents one person or several) is believed to hold many millions of dollars in Bitcoin. Various attempts have been made to pin down Nakamoto's identity; the IB Times reports today that a (sadly anonymous) analysis points to George Washington University economics professor Nick Szabo, based on textual analysis and some other clues, such as Szabo's expertise in digital currency and his role as founder of GoldCoin. Szabo's blog Unenumerated is fascinating reading, whether or not this analysis is right.
snydeq writes "With eight qualified candidates for every 10 openings, today's talented developers have their pick of perks, career paths, and more, InfoWorld reports in its inside look at some of the startups and development firms fueling the hottest market for coding talent the tech industry has ever seen. 'Every candidate we look at these days has an offer from at least one of the following companies: Google, Facebook, Twitter, Square, Pinterest, or Palantir,' says Box's Sam Schillace. 'If you want to play at a high level and recruit the best engineers, every single piece matters. You need to have a good story, compensate fairly, engage directly, and have a good culture they want to come work with. You need to make some kind of human connection. You have to do all of it, and you have to do all of it pretty well. Because everyone else is doing it pretty well.'"
jones_supa writes "The switch to digital TV broadcasts in Australia has entered its final few days, with Sydney's analog signals being fully switched off today, 3 December. That just leaves Melbourne plus remote central and eastern Australia — and those areas will be switched over on 10 December, completing the country's transition to digital TV. The government runs an information site to assist the remaining crusty luddites with the switch-over."
smf28 writes "In a recent research paper published in Science, a team of researchers at MIT describe a new imaging technique that produces three-dimensional photos with only a single photon per pixel, using essentially one-hundredth the light of the best existing imaging technologies. The researchers say the technology could have a wide variety of low-light imaging applications from military to biological use."
thomst writes "Robert Barnes of the Washington Post reports that the US Supreme Court has declined to hear petitions from Amazon.com and Overstock.com requesting that a decision by the New York State Supreme Court permitting that state's 2008 law requiring sales taxes be collected on Internet sales, even if the seller has no 'business presence' in New York. The New York Court of Appeals ruled that Amazon's relationship with third-party affiliates in the state that receive commissions for sending Web traffic its way satisfied the 'substantial nexus' necessary to force the company to collect taxes, and New York's Supreme Court had affirmed the ruling. The Federal high court's refusal to hear the petitions leaves the state law in effect, even though it appears to conflict with the Court's 1993 decision in Quill v. North Dakota."
cagraham writes "According to IBM's latest Data Benchmark report, 21.8% of all online Black Friday sales were made from mobile devices. Mobile traffic, meanwhile, accounted for 39.7% of all Black Friday traffic. Interestingly, iOS users accounted for 18.1% of online sales, while Android users accounted for just 3.5%. The data come from IBM's real-time monitoring over 800 U.S. online retailers. The report also notes that tablets generated less traffic than smartphones, but accounted for almost twice the number of sales. Overall, online sales for Black Friday grew 18.9% year-over-year."
An anonymous reader writes "The organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) has proposed destroying at least 1000 tons of the confiscated Syrian chemical weapon stockpile out at sea, which some fear will destroy delicate ecosystems vital to sea and human life alike. The OPCW claims the plan is 'technically feasible' and is apparently willing to risk ecological disaster to destroy the toxic contents of the weaponry in or above the sea. Members of the press were told, 'the group is considering whether to destroy the chemical weapons in the ocean, either on a ship or by loading them onto an offshore rig.'"