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Cute Or Creepy? Google’s Plan For a Sci-Fi Teddy Bear

May 24

HughPickens.com writes: Time Magazine reports that Google has designed and patented an “anthropomorphic device” that could take the form of a “doll or toy” and interact both with people as well as tech gadgets echoing the “super toy” teddy bear featured in Stephen Spielberg’s 2001 movie AI. This could be one of Google’s creepiest patents yet — especially if movies like “Chuckie” still give you nightmares. The patent filing diagrams a stuffed teddy bear and a bunny rabbit outfitted with microphones, speakers, cameras and motors as well as a wireless connection to the internet. If it senses you’re looking at it, the fuzzy toy will rotate its head and look back at you. Once it receives and recognizes a voice command prompt, you can then tell it to control media devices in your home (e.g. turn on your music or TV). According to the patent filing: “To express interest, an anthropomorphic device may open its eyes, lift its head, and/or focus its gaze on the user or object of its interest. To express curiosity, an anthropomorphic device may tilt its head, furrow its brow, and/or scratch its head with an arm. To express boredom, an anthropomorphic device may defocus its gaze, direct its gaze in a downward fashion, tap its foot, and/or close its eyes. To express surprise, an anthropomorphic device may make a sudden movement, sit or stand up straight, and/or dilate its pupils.”

The patent adds that making the device look “cute” should encourage even the youngest members of a family to interact with it. But Mikhail Avady, from SmartUp, said he thought it belonged in “a horror film”, and the campaign group Big Brother Watch has also expressed dismay. “When those devices are aimed specifically at children, then for many this will step over the creepy line,” says Avady. “Children should be able to play in private and shouldn’t have to fear this sort of passive invasion of their privacy.”


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Bank of England Accidentally E-mails Top-Secret "Brexit" Plan To the Guardian

May 24

schwit1 writes: The first rule of “Project Bookend” is that you don’t talk about “Project Bookend.” In retrospect, maybe the first rule should have been “you don’t accidentally e-mail ‘Project Bookend’ to a news agency,” because as the Guardian reports, one of its editors opened his inbox and was surprised to find a message from the BOE’s Head of Press Jeremy Harrison outlining the UK financial market equivalent of the Manhattan project. Project Bookend is a secret (or ‘was’ a secret) initiative undertaken by the BOE to study what the fallout might be from a potential ‘Brexit’, but if anyone asked what Sir Jon Cunliffe and a few senior staffers were up to, they were instructed to say that they were busy investigating “a broad range of European economic issues.” And if you haven’t heard the term before, “Brexit” refers to the possibility of Britain leaving the EU — one of the possible outcomes of an upcoming referendum.


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NSA-Reform Bill Fails In US Senate

May 24

New submitter Steven King writes with a link to The Daily Dot’s report that the U.S. Senate has rejected the controversial USA Freedom Act, thus “all but guaranteeing that key provisions of the USA Patriot Act will expire”; had it passed, the bill would have allowed continued use of some mass data-collection practices, but with the addition of stronger oversight. From the article:

The Senate failed to reach agreement on passage of the USA Freedom Act, a bill to reauthorize and reform Section 215 of the USA Patriot Act, which the government has used to conduct bulk surveillance of Americans’ phone records. The House of Representatives passed the bill last week by an overwhelming bipartisan majority, but Senate Democrats, who unified behind the bill, did not get enough Republican votes to assure passage. The linked piece also mentions that the EFF shifted its position on this bill, after a panel of Federal judges ruled that the Feds at the NSA had overstepped their bounds in collecting a seemingly unlimited trove of metadata relating to American citizen’s phone calls.


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California Votes To Ban Microbeads

May 23

New submitter Kristine Lofgren writes: The California Assembly just passed a vote to ban toxic microbeads, the tiny flecks found in toothpastes and exfoliants. Microbeads cause a range of problems, from clogging waterways to getting stuck in gums. The ban would be the strictest of its kind in the nation. As the article notes, the California Senate would need to pass a bill as well, for this ban to take effect, and if that happens, the resulting prohibition will come into place in 2020. From the article: Last year, Illinois became the first state in the U.S. to pass a ban on the usage of microbeads in cosmetics, approving a law that will go into effect in 2018, and earlier this year two congressmen introduced a bipartisan bill to outlaw the use of microbeads nationwide. And for exceptionally good reason; the beads, which serve as exfoliants and colorants are a massive source of water pollution, with scientists estimating that 471 million plastic microbeads are released into San Francisco Bay alone every single day.


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WSJ Crowdsources Investigation of Hillary Clinton Emails

May 23

PvtVoid writes: The Wall Street Journal now has a page up that encourages readers to sift through and tag Hillary Clinton’s emails on Benghazi. Users can click on suggested tags such as “Heated”, “Personal”, “Boring”, or “Interesting”, or supply their own tags. What could possibly go wrong? I’m tagging this story “election2016.”


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Protons Collide At 13 TeV For the First Time At the LHC

May 23

An anonymous reader writes to let everyone know the LHC has now smashed protons together at 13 TeV, the highest energy level yet achieved. They’ve posted the first images captured from the collisions, and explained the testing process as well. Jorg Wenninger of the LHC Operations team says, “When we start to bring the beams into collision at a new energy, they often miss each other. The beams are tiny – only about 20 microns in diameter at 6.5 TeV; more than 10 times smaller than at 450 GeV. So we have to scan around – adjusting the orbit of each beam until collision rates provided by the experiments tell us that they are colliding properly.” Spokesperson Tiziano Camporesi adds, “The collisions at 13 TeV will allow us to further test all improvements that have been made to the trigger and reconstruction systems, and check the synchronisation of all the components of our detector.”


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How Cities: Skylines Beat SimCity At Its Own Game

May 23

An anonymous reader writes: Maxis, the studio behind SimCity, was shuttered earlier this year. Fortunately, another studio has taken up its mantle. The small team at Colossal Order has already won acclaim for city-builder game Cities: Skylines (and sold millions), earning a great reputation with the modding community by avoiding all the mistakes the last SimCity release made, such as enforced online/multiplayer. A new behind the scenes feature looks at how the game came about — it was not a response to SimCity, surprisingly — as well as what’s next from the studio.
“We are planning to start another game project sometime soon,” says Colossal CEO Mariina Hallikainen. “We definitely want to focus on old-school simulator games and definitely PC. PC, Mac and Linux, those are our ‘thing.’ But I think we’re maybe going to do something a little bit different.”


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‘Prisonized’ Neighborhoods Make Recidivism More Likely

May 23

sciencehabit writes: One of the most important questions relating to incarceration and rehabilitation is how to discourage recidivism. After a prison stint, about half of convicts wind up back in the slammer within three years. But sociologist David Kirk noticed a pattern: convicts who moved away from their old neighborhood when released from prison had a much smaller recidivism rate. Kirk found that the concentration of former prisoners in a neighborhood had a dramatic effect on the likelihood of committing another offense (abstract). “So if an ex-con’s average chance of returning to prison after just 1 year was 22%—as it was in 2006—an additional new parolee in the neighborhood boosted that chance to nearly 25%. The numbers climb for each new parolee added. In some of the most affected neighborhoods—where five of every thousand residents were recent parolees—nearly 35% were back behind bars within a year of getting out.” The rates stayed consistent even when controlling for chronic poverty and other neighborhood characteristics.


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A Conversation with Druva Co-Founder Jaspreet Singh (Video)

May 23

This was originally going to be an interview about the state of enterprise-level backup software in an increasingly edge computing-focused world, but we rapidly drifted into talking about how Druva started in Pune (near Bangalore) and ended up moving to Silicon Valley. We hear plenty about American software companies moving to India, but not a lot about Indian software companies moving here. Druva had good reasons for the move, the chief one being a financing deal with Sequoia Capital. Aside from that, though, Jaspreet says the talent pool — not just developers but software marketing people and other important staffers — is more concentrated in Silicon Valley than almost anywhere else in the world. ‘It’s like Hollywood for geeks,’ Jaspreet says. This doesn’t mean business is necessarily easy in the USA: Jaspreet ended up laying off his entire staff. Twice. And he made other mistakes as a young, new CEO bringing a company to life in a crowded field.

Those mistakes, which Jaspreet shares freely with us, are like a business school ‘Start-Up Pitfalls’ class. You may never want to do your own startup, but if you’re a developer or otherwise involved with the software industry, there’s a good chance that you’ll have a chance to work for one at some point. And if you have that chance, you’ll be glad you watched this video (or read the transcript) before you take the startup plunge.


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Ask Slashdot: What’s the Best Dumb Phone?

May 23

An anonymous reader writes: For those of us who don’t need or want a smartphone, what would be the best dumb phone around? Do you have a preference over flip or candy bar ones? What about ones that have FM radio? Do any of you still use dumb phones in this smart phone era? Related question: What smart phones out now are (or can be reasonably outfitted to be) closest to a dumb phone, considering reliability, simplicity, and battery life? I don’t especially want to give up a swiping keyboard, a decent camera, or podcast playback, but I do miss being able to go 5 or more days on a single charge.


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