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Businesses

Scraping By On Six Figures? Tech Workers Feel Poor in Silicon Valley's Wealth Bubble (theguardian.com) 562

Big tech companies pay some of the country's best salaries. But workers claim the high cost of living in the Bay Area has them feeling financially strained, reports The Guardian. One Twitter employee cited in the story, who earns a base salary of $160,000 a year, said his earnings are "pretty bad", adding that he pays $3000 rent for a two-bedroom house in San Francisco. From the article: Silicon Valley's latest tech boom has caused rents to soar over the last five years. The city's rents, by one measure, are now the highest in the world. The prohibitive costs have displaced teachers, city workers, firefighters and other members of the middle class, not to mention low-income residents. Now techies, many of whom are among the highest 1 percent of earners, are complaining that they, too, are being priced out. The Twitter employee said he hit a low point in early 2014 when the company changed its payroll schedule, leaving him with a hole in his budget. "I had to borrow money to make it through the month." He was one of several tech workers, earning between $100,000 and $700,000 a year, who vented to the Guardian about their financial situation.
AT&T

FCC Chairman Says His Agency Won't Review AT&T's Time Warner Purchase (engadget.com) 65

Today, FCC commissioner Ajit Pai confirmed that his agency would not review AT&T's Time Warner purchase, clearing the way for the Justice Department to likely approve the deal. Engadget reports: Last month, AT&T revealed how it might structure its deal to acquire Time Warner without having to go through FCC review. The communications giant noted that it "anticipated that Time Warner will not need to transfer any of its FCC licenses ... after the closing of the transaction." That means that the FCC wouldn't need to review the transaction. "That is the regulatory hook for FCC review," Pai said in an interview with The Wall Street Journal. "My understanding is that the deal won't be presented to the commission." The WSJ notes that this would leave the Justice Department as the only governmental agency reviewing the potential deal. Time Warner has said that it has "dozens" of FCC licenses, but the company believes those won't need to be transferred to AT&T as part of the merger, thus keeping the FCC out of the deal. The report notes that the deal still might not go through even if the FCC won't review the transaction. There's a lot of opposition to it from consumer advocacy groups, and President Donald Trump has said he opposes the deal.
Communications

Battle of the Carriers: T-Mobile's New Promotion Offers Three Unlimited Data Lines For $100 (theverge.com) 43

A battle is raging between telecommunications giants and the public is benefiting from it. In response to T-Mobile's "One" unlimited data plan announced in August, Verizon introduced unlimited data plans of their own a couple of weeks ago. This caused a ripple effect as Sprint and AT&T unveiled new unlimited data plans that same week, both of which have their own restrictions and pricing. The battle appears to show no signs of slowing as the carriers are continuing their efforts to win consumers over. Today, AT&T undercut Verizon and T-Mobile with newer unlimited data plans. The "Unlimited Choice" plan is the cheaper of the two new plans, featuring unlimited data at a maximum speed of 3 megabits per second, standard definition, and no mobile hotspot for $60 per month. While it's lower than T-Mobile's $70 plan and Verizon's $80 option, it may not be as generous as T-Mobile's latest promotion. The company just announced a new promotion after AT&T's announcement that offers three unlimited data lines for $100. The Verge reports: In its continuing efforts to attract more sign-ups, T-Mobile's latest promotion offers an additional line for free for accounts with two or more lines. The offer works whether you want to add an extra phone line or a line for wearables or tablets. The deal is available for current and new customers -- the amount of data available to the free line will match up with whatever your current plan is for the other lines. If your plan does not have the same amount of data between devices, the free line will get whatever's the lowest of the bunch. Just two weeks ago, the company updated its T-Mobile One plan to include unlimited data for $100 a month between two lines. CEO John Legere said the free line promotion also applies this new plan. If you are confused about the four carriers' recent announcements, you are not alone. We have included related links below to help you make sense of each carrier's plans.
Businesses

Mozilla Acquires Pocket and Its More Than 10 Million Users (recode.net) 71

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Recode: Mozilla, the company behind the Firefox web browser, is buying Pocket, the read-it-later service, for an undisclosed amount. Pocket, which is described by Mozilla as its first strategic acquisition, will continue to operate as a Mozilla subsidiary. Founder Nate Weiner will continue to run Pocket, along with his team of about 25 people. Pocket, previously known as Read It Later, lets users bookmark articles, videos and other content to read or view later on the web or a mobile device. It's great for things like saving offline copies of web articles to read on plane rides or subway commutes, especially where internet access is sparse. Pocket, which was founded in 2007, has more than 10 million monthly active users, according to a rep. That's not bad, but suggests it's still a fairly niche service, especially as big firms like Facebook and Apple build simple "reading list" features into their platforms.
Businesses

Twitch Will Begin Selling Games You're Watching Later This Year (kotaku.com) 24

Twitch, home to millions of people who go to the site to watch games being player, is adding an e-commerce element to its game streaming platform. The Amazon-owned company announced today that it will sell video games directly on its site, which is already used by nearly 10 million daily active users. From a report: The new game sales program will allow stream viewers to click a "Buy Now" button at the bottom of the stream page to purchase the game they are viewing. Sales go through Twitch parent company Amazon, and while games will be available worldwide, only U.S. dollars will be supported as payment currency at launch
AT&T

AT&T Undercuts Verizon, T-Mobile With New Unlimited Plan (cnet.com) 69

Roger Cheng, writing for CNET: AT&T just fired the latest salvo in the unlimited data wars. The Dallas telecommunications giant unveiled two new unlimited data plans. The first is Unlimited Choice, a stripped-down plan that comes with unlimited data at a maximum speed of 3 megabits per second, standard definition, and no mobile hotspot. At $60, it's lower than T-Mobile's $70 plan and Verizon's $80 option. Both plans, however, offer you full high-definition video and 10 gigabytes of mobile hotspot access. Sprint still offers the cheapest option at $50 a month, although prices rise by $10 after a year. AT&T continues to push its video aspirations with higher end option called Unlimited Plus that includes HD video and 10GB of mobile hotspot access. The plan costs $90 a month, but gives you the option to add DirecTV Now streaming video service for $10 and DirecTV home satellite TV service for $25 a month.
AI

Supersmart Robots Will Outnumber Humans Within 30 Years, Says SoftBank CEO (fortune.com) 208

Computers running artificial intelligence programs will exceed human intelligence within three decades, Masayoshi Son, founder of the Japanese technology and telecommunications conglomerate SoftBank Group, said on Monday. From a report on Fortune: "I really believe this," Son told a large audience at the Mobile World Congress, the telecom industry's annual conference in Barcelona. A computer will have the IQ equal to 1,000 times the average human by that point, he said. Even clothing like a pair of sneakers will have more computing power that a person, Son joked. "We will be less than our shoes," he said, to laughter. Asked if the rise of the computer could be dangerous for humankind, Son said that would be up to how people react. "I believe this artificial intelligence is going to be our partner," he said. "If we misuse it, it will be a risk. If we use it right, it can be our partner."
Sony

Sony Launches Phone With World's First 4K HDR Screen; Nokia Brings Back the 3310 Handset (wired.com) 76

Rumors were true. Nokia did launch its 3310 handset at MWC. It's been almost 17 years since the 3310 first came out. In that time the Nokia brand has been bought, sold, and stripped for parts. From a report on Wired: The 3310 is still very much a feature phone. It has a web browser, but only barely -- it's a dumbed-down version of Opera, basically there for emergency tweeting. It exists for you to make phone calls, send texts the way you did a decade ago (T9 FTW!), and play Snake. The 3310 weighs less than three ounces, and its battery lasts an absurd 31 days in standby time, or up to 22 hours of talk time. The new 3310 has a camera, for one thing, a 2-megapixel shooter. It also has a 2.4-inch, 240x320 screen, which is hilariously small and low-res but still a huge improvement over the original. It is priced at 49 Euros ($51). Also at the event, Sony announced that it is not done with putting a 4K screen on smartphones. From a report on The Verge: The XZ Premium has the world's first 4K HDR (2,160 x 3,840, High Dynamic Range) display in a smartphone. Sony has the latest and best Qualcomm chip while others are still offering the Snapdragon 820 and 821, but the Xperia XZ Premium won't be out until late spring or just ahead of the summer. Hell, the demo units shown off ahead of MWC weren't running anywhere close to final software -- so Sony is pre-announcing its new flagship device by a long margin. Other notable features include water resistance, rated to IP65 and IP68, a thinner profile at 7.9mm, and MicroSD storage expandability. The phone's battery is a reasonable 3,230mAh, and there's a fingerprint sensor integrated into the side-mounted power button as usual.
Intel

Intel Reacts To AMD Ryzen Apparently Cutting Prices On Core i7 And i5 Processors (hothardware.com) 210

Less than a week after AMD announced the first line up of Ryzen processors, Intel is apparently fighting back by dropping the price of several of its processors. Rob Williams, writing for HotHardware: So, what we're seeing now are a bunch of Intel processors dropping in price, perhaps as a bit of a preemptive strike against AMD's chips shipping later this week -- though admittedly it's still a bit too early to tell. Over at Amazon, the prices have been slower to fall, but we'd highly recommend that you keep an eye on the following pages, if you are looking for a good deal this week. So far, at Micro Center we've seen the beefy six-core Intel Core i7-6850K (3.60GHz) drop from $700 to $550, and the i7-6800K (3.40GHz) drop down to $360, from $500. Also, some mid-range chips are receiving price cuts as well. Those include the i7-6700K, a 4.0GHz chip dropping from $400 to $260, and the i7-6600K, a 3.50GHz quad-core part dropping from $270 to $180. Even Intel's latest and greatest Kaby Lake-based i7-7700K has experienced a drop, from $380 to $299, with places like Amazon and NewEgg retailing for $349.
Software

Indian State Saves $45 Million As Schools Switch To Open Source Software (factordaily.com) 84

From a report: The Kerala government has made a saving of Rs 300 crore ($45 million) through introduction and adoption of Free & Open Source Software (FOSS) in the school education sector, said a state government official on Sunday. IT became a compulsory subject in Kerala schools from 2003, but it was only in 2005 that FOSS was introduced in a phased manner and started to replace proprietary software. The decision made by the curriculum committee to implement it in the higher secondary sector has also been completed now. "It's not the cost saving that matters more, but the fact that the Free Software license enables not only teachers and students but also the general public an opportunity to copy, distribute and share the contents and use it as they wish," K. Anwar Sadath, executive director IT@School said.
Movies

Can Streaming Companies Replace Hollywood Studios? (vanityfair.com) 123

"Movie-theater attendance is down to a 19-year low, with revenues hovering slightly above $10 billion," reports Vanity Fair, arguing that traditional studios should feel threatened by nimble streaming companies like Netflix and Amazon, which produced the film Manchester By The Sea -- nominated for six Oscars. An anonymous reader writes: Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos attended the Oscars, prompting host Jimmy Kimmel to joke that if the film won, "you can expect your Oscar to arrive in 2 to 5 business days, possibly stolen by a GrubHub delivery man." But it's a symbol of an inevitable disruption in Hollywood. "Studios now account for less than 10% of their parent companies' profits," writes Vanity Fair, adding "By 2020, according to some forecasts, that share will fall to around 5%... Some 70% of box office comes from abroad, which means that studios must traffic in the sort of blow-'em-up action films and comic-book thrillers that translate easily enough to Mandarin. Or in reboots and sequels that rely on existing intellectual property." Former Paramount CEO Barry Diller famously said "I don't know why anyone would want a movie company today. They don't make movies; they make hats and whistles."

The article makes the case that Hollywood, "in its over-reliance on franchises, has ceded the vast majority of the more stimulating content to premium networks and over-the-top services such as HBO and Showtime, and, increasingly, digital-native platforms such as Netflix and Amazon. These companies also have access to analytics tools that Hollywood could never fathom, and an allergy to its inefficiency."

The article argues that with A.I., CGI, big data and innovation, "Silicon Valley has already won," and that "it's only a matter of time -- perhaps a couple of years -- before movies will be streamed on social-media sites."
Transportation

'Uber Is Doomed', Argues Transportation Reporter (jalopnik.com) 317

When an Uber self-driving car ran a red light last year, they blamed and suspended the car's driver, even though it was the car's software that malfunctioned, according to two former employees, ultimately causing Uber cars to run six different red lights. But technical issues may be only the beginning. An anonymous reader writes: Jalopnik points out that in 2016 Uber "burned through more than $2 billion, amid findings that rider fares only cover roughly 40% of a ride, with the remainder subsidized by venture capitalists" (covering even less than the fares of government-subsidized mass transit systems). So despite Google's lawsuit and other recent bad publicity, "even when those factors are removed, it's becoming more evident that Uber will collapse on its own."

Their long analysis argues that the problems are already becoming apparent. "Uber, which didn't respond to questions from Jalopnik about its viability, recently paid $20 million to settle claims that it grossly misled how much drivers could earn on Craigslist ads. The company's explosive growth also fundamentally required it to begin offering subprime auto loans to prospective drivers without a vehicle."

Last month transportation industry analyst Hubert Horan calculated that Uber Global's losses have been "substantially greater than any venture capital-funded startup in history."
Businesses

How Cable Monopolies Hurt ISP Customers (backchannel.com) 88

"New York subscribers have had to overpay month after month for services that Spectrum deliberately didn't provide," reports Backchannel -- noting these practices are significant because together Comcast and Charter (formerly Time Warner Cable) account for half of America's 92 million high-speed internet connections. An anonymous reader quotes Backchannel: Based on the company's own documents and statements, it appears that just about everything it has been saying since 2012 to New York State residents about their internet access and data services is untrue...because of business decisions the company deliberately made in order to keep its capital expenditures as low as possible... Its marketing department kept sending out advertising claims to the public that didn't match the reality of what consumers were experiencing or square with what company engineers were telling Spectrum executives. That gives the AG's office its legal hook: Spectrum's actions in knowingly saying one thing but doing another amount to fraudulent, unfair, and deceptive behavior under New York law...

The branding people went nuts, using adjectives like Turbo, Extreme, and Ultimate for the company's highest-speed 200 or 300 Mbps download offerings. But no one, or very few people, could actually experience those speeds...because, according to the complaint, the company deliberately required that internet data connections be shared among a gazillion people in each neighborhood... [T]he lawsuit won't by itself make much of a difference. But maybe the public nature of the attorney-general's assault -- charging Spectrum for illegal misconduct -- will lead to a call for alternatives. Maybe it will generate momentum for better, faster, wholesale fiber networks controlled by cities and localities themselves. If that happened, retail competition would bloom. We'd get honest, straightforward, inexpensive service, rather than the horrendously expensive cable bundles we're stuck with today.

The article says Spectrum charged 800,000 New Yorkers $10 a month for outdated cable boxes that "weren't even capable of transmitting and receiving wifi at the speeds the company advertised customers would be getting," then promised the FCC in 2013 that they'd replace them, and then didn't. "With no competition, it had no reason to upgrade its services. Indeed, the company's incentives went exactly in the other direction."
United States

The Videogame Industry Is Fighting 'Right To Repair' Laws (vice.com) 257

An anonymous reader quotes Motherboard: The video game industry is lobbying against legislation that would make it easier for gamers to repair their consoles and for consumers to repair all electronics more generally. The Entertainment Software Association, a trade organization that includes Sony, Microsoft, Nintendo, as well as dozens of video game developers and publishers, is opposing a "right to repair" bill in Nebraska, which would give hardware manufacturers fewer rights to control the end-of-life of electronics that they have sold to their customers...

Bills making their way through the Nebraska, New York, Minnesota, Wyoming, Tennessee, Kansas, Massachusetts, and Illinois statehouses will require manufacturers to sell replacement parts and repair tools to independent repair companies and consumers at the same price they are sold to authorized repair centers. The bill also requires that manufacturers make diagnostic manuals public and requires them to offer software tools or firmware to revert an electronic device to its original functioning state in the case that software locks that prevent independent repair are built into a device. The bills are a huge threat to the repair monopolies these companies have enjoyed, and so just about every major manufacturer has brought lobbyists to Nebraska, where the legislation is currently furthest along... This setup has allowed companies like Apple to monopolize iPhone repair, John Deere to monopolize tractor repair, and Sony, Microsoft, and Nintendo to monopolize console repair...

Motherboard's reporter was unable to get a comment from Microsoft, Apple, and Sony, and adds that "In two years of covering this issue, no manufacturer has ever spoken to me about it either on or off the record."
GameCube (Games)

Machine-Learning AI Now Beats Humans At Super Smash Bros. Melee (qz.com) 75

"The AI is definitely godlike," one professional player told Quartz. "I am not sure if anyone could beat it." An anonymous reader quotes their report about an AI's showdown with the best players of Super Smash Bros. Melee: Of 10 professionals that faced the bot, each one was killed more than they could kill the bot... But the bot was once only as good as a mere mortal. At first, Vlad Firoiu, creator and a competitive Smash player himself, couldn't train 'Phillip' to be as strong as the in-game bot, which he says even the worst players can beat fairly easily. Firoiu's solution? He started making the bot play itself over and over again, slowly learning which techniques fail and which succeed, called reinforcement learning. Then, he left it alone.

"I just sort of forgot about it for a week," said Firoiu, who coauthored an unreviewed paper with William F. Whitney, the NYU student [who helped him] on the work. "A week later I looked at it and I was just like, 'Oh my gosh.' I tried playing it and I couldn't beat it."

Business Insider points out that their AI read the players positions, velocities, and states directly from the game's memory, so the AI responds six times faster than a human player. To compensate it played as Captain Falcon, the game's slowest character, but there was one crucial glitch. "One particularly clever player found that the simple strategy of crouching at the edge of the stage caused the network to behave very oddly, refusing to attack and eventually KOing itself by falling off the other side of the stage."
Businesses

Al Gore Sells $29.5 Million In Apple Stock (appleinsider.com) 193

An anonymous reader quotes a report from AppleInsider: A U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission filing on Friday reveals Apple board member Al Gore this week sold 215,437 shares of Apple stock (APPL) worth about $29.5 million. Gore's stock sale, which was accomplished in multiple trades ranging from $136.4 to $137.12 on Wednesday, nearly matches a $29.6 million purchase of Apple shares made in 2013. When Gore bought the stock batch more than four years ago, he exercised Apple's director stock option to acquire 59,000 shares at a price of about $7.48 per share, costing him approximately $441,000. This was pre-split AAPL, so shares were valued at $502.68 each. Following today's sale, Gore owns 230,137 shares of Apple stock worth $31.5 million at the end of trading on Friday.
The Courts

ZeniMax Files Injunction To Stop Oculus From Selling VR Headsets (gamespot.com) 77

ZeniMax, the parent company of Fallout and Skyrim developer Bethesda, has filed for an injunction against virtual-reality company Oculus over the recent stolen technology case. The company had accused Oculus of stealing VR-related code, and was subsequently awarded $500 million by a Dallas court earlier this month. ZeniMax has now filed additional papers against Oculus, requesting that Oculus' products using the stolen code be removed from sale. GameSpot reports: Specifically, ZeniMax is seeking to block sales of its mobile and PC developer kits, as well as technology allowing the integration of Oculus Rift with development engines Unreal and Unity, reports Law360. If the injunction isn't granted, ZeniMax wants a share of "revenues derived from products incorporating its intellectual properties," suggesting a 20 percent cut for at least 10 years. ZeniMax argues the previous settlement of $500 million is "insufficient incentive for [Oculus] to cease infringing." Oculus, meanwhile, says that "ZeniMax's motion does not change the fact that the [original] verdict was legally flawed and factually unwarranted. We look forward to filing our own motion to set aside the jury's verdict and, if necessary, filing an appeal that will allow us to put this litigation behind us," the virtual reality company stated.
Government

FCC To Halt Rule That Protects Your Private Data From Security Breaches (arstechnica.com) 119

According to Ars Technica, "The Federal Communications Commission plans to halt implementation of a privacy rule that requires ISPs to protect the security of its customers' personal information." From the report: The data security rule is part of a broader privacy rulemaking implemented under former Chairman Tom Wheeler but opposed by the FCC's new Republican majority. The privacy order's data security obligations are scheduled to take effect on March 2, but Chairman Ajit Pai wants to prevent that from happening. The data security rule requires ISPs and phone companies to take "reasonable" steps to protect customers' information -- such as Social Security numbers, financial and health information, and Web browsing data -- from theft and data breaches. The rule would be blocked even if a majority of commissioners supported keeping them in place, because the FCC's Wireline Competition Bureau can make the decision on its own. That "full commission vote on the pending petitions" could wipe out the entire privacy rulemaking, not just the data security section, in response to petitions filed by trade groups representing ISPs. That vote has not yet been scheduled. The most well-known portion of the privacy order requires ISPs to get opt-in consent from consumers before sharing Web browsing data and other private information with advertisers and other third parties. The opt-in rule is supposed to take effect December 4, 2017, unless the FCC or Congress eliminates it before then. Pai has said that ISPs shouldn't face stricter rules than online providers like Google and Facebook, which are regulated separately by the Federal Trade Commission. Pai wants a "technology-neutral privacy framework for the online world" based on the FTC's standards. According to today's FCC statement, the data security rule "is not consistent with the FTC's privacy standards."
Data Storage

Toshiba Plans To Ship a 1TB Flash Chip To Manufacturers This Spring (computerworld.com) 25

Lucas123 writes: Toshiba has begun shipping samples of its third-generation 3D NAND memory product, a chip with 64 stacked flash cells that it said will enable a 1TB chip shipping later this spring. The new flash memory product has 65% greater capacity than the previous generation technology, which used 48 layers of NAND flash cells. The chip will be used in data centers and consumer SSD products. The technology announcement comes even as suitors are eyeing buying a majority share of the company's memory business. Along with a previous report about Western Digital, Foxxcon, SK Hynix and Micron Technology have now also thrown their hats in the ring to purchase a majority share in Toshiba's memory spin-off, according to a new report in the Nikkei's Asian Review.
Businesses

Boeing and Airbus Can't Make Enough Airplanes To Keep Up With Demand (axios.com) 161

From a report on Axios: Aerospace manufacturers like Boeing and Airbus cannot produce airplanes fast enough to meet demand despite what the Wall Street Journal calls "one of the industry's steepest production increases since World War II." The run up in demand is partially the result of fast-growing airline industries in the Middle East and China. Manufacturers will need to increase production by 30% to meet current orders, and such booming demand is one sign of a healthier global economy.

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