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The Military

KGB Software Almost Triggered War In 1983 ( 149

An anonymous reader writes: Who here remembers WarGames? As it turns out, the film was a lot closer to reality than we knew. Newly-released documents show that the Soviet Union's KGB developed software to predict sneak attacks from the U.S. and other nations in the early 1980s. During a NATO wargame in November, 1983, that software met all conditions necessary to forecast the beginning of a nuclear war. "Many of these procedures and tactics were things the Soviets had never seen, and the whole exercise came after a series of feints by U.S. and NATO forces to size up Soviet defenses and the downing of Korean Air Lines Flight 007 on September 1, 1983. So as Soviet leaders monitored the exercise and considered the current climate, they put one and one together. Able Archer, according to Soviet leadership at least, must have been a cover for a genuine surprise attack planned by the U.S., then led by a president possibly insane enough to do it." Fortunately, when the military exercise ended, so did Soviet fears that an attack was imminent.

The Tamagochi Singularity Made Real: Infinite Tamagochi Living On the Internet ( 80

szczys writes: Everyone loves Tamagochi, the little electronic keychains spawned in the '90s that let you raise digital pets. Some time ago, XKCD made a quip about an internet-based matrix of thousands of these digital entities. That quip is now a reality thanks to elite hardware hacker Jeroen Domburg (aka Sprite_TM). In his recent talk called "The Tamagochi Singularity" at the Hackaday SuperConference he revealed that he had built an infinite network of virtual Tamagochi by implementing the original hardware as a virtual machine. This included developing AI to keep them happy, and developing a protocol to emulate their IR interactions. But he went even further, hacking an original keychain to use wirelessly as a console which can look in on any of the virtual Tamagochi living on his underground network. This full-stack process is unparalleled in just about every facet: complexity, speed of implementation, awesome factor, and will surely spark legions of other Tamagochi Matrices.

How Black Friday and Cyber Monday Are Losing Their Meaning ( 135 writes: Brad Tuttle reports at Money Magazine that while the terms "Black Friday" and "Cyber Monday" are more ubiquitous than ever, the importance of the can't-miss shopping days is undeniably fading. Retailers seem to want it both ways: They want shoppers to spend money long before these key shopping events, and yet they also want shoppers to turn out in full force to make purchases over the epic Black Friday weekend. When they use the "Cheap Stuff!" card day after day and week after week, the deals on any single day stop seeming special. Add to that the trend of manufacturers creating stripped-down versions of their electronics to sell on Black Friday, and consumers have less reason than ever to flood retail stores.

The true story behind Black Friday is not as sunny as retailers might have you believe. Back in the 1950s, police in the city of Philadelphia used the term to describe the chaos that ensued on the day after Thanksgiving, when hordes of suburban shoppers and tourists flooded into the city in advance of the big Army-Navy football game held on that Saturday every year. Shoplifters would also take advantage of the bedlam in stores to make off with merchandise, adding to the law enforcement headache. Sometime in the late 1980s, however, retailers found a way to reinvent Black Friday and turn it into something that reflected positively, rather than negatively, on them and their customers. The result was the "red to black" concept of the holiday mentioned earlier, and the notion that the day after Thanksgiving marked the occasion when America's stores finally turned a profit.


Blue Origin "New Shepherd" Makes It To Space... and Back Again ( 121

Geoffrey.landis writes: Blue Origin's "New Shepherd" suborbital vehicle made its first flight into space (defined as 100 km altitude)... and successfully landed both the capsule (by parachute) and the booster rocket (vertical landing under rocket power). This is the first time that a vehicle has made it into space and had all components fully recovered for reuse since the NASA flights of the X-15 in the 1960s. Check out the videos at various places on the web.

Understanding the Antikythera Mechanism ( 74

szczys writes: We attribute great thinking to ancient Greece. This is exemplified by the Antikythera Mechanism. Fragments of the mechanism were found in a shipwreck first discovered in 1900 and visited by researchers several times over the next century. It is believed to be a method of tracking the calendar and is the first known example of what are now common-yet-complicated engineering mechanisms like the differential gear. A few working reproductions have been produced and make it clear that whomever designed this had an advanced understanding of complex gear ratios and their ability to track the passage of time and celestial bodies. Last year research by two scientists suggested that the device might be much older than previously thought.
The Military

Fake Bomb Detector, Blamed For Hundreds of Deaths, Is Still In Use 150 writes: Murtaza Hussain writes at The Intercept that although it remains in use at sensitive security areas throughout the world, the ADE 651 is a complete fraud and the ADE-651's manufacturer sold it with the full knowledge that it was useless at detecting explosives. There are no batteries in the unit and it consists of a swivelling aerial mounted to a hinge on a hand-grip. The device contains nothing but the type of anti-theft tag used to prevent stealing in high street stores and critics have likened it to a glorified dowsing rod.

The story of how the ADE 651 came into use involves the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq. At the height of the conflict, as the new Iraqi government battled a wave of deadly car bombings, it purchased more than 7,000 ADE 651 units worth tens of millions of dollars in a desperate effort to stop the attacks. Not only did the units not help, the device actually heightened the bloodshed by creating "a false sense of security" that contributed to the deaths of hundreds of Iraqi civilians. A BBC investigation led to a subsequent export ban on the devices.

The device is once again back in the news as it was reportedly used for security screening at hotels in the Egyptian resort city of Sharm el-Sheikh where a Russian airliner that took off from that city's airport was recently destroyed in a likely bombing attack by the militant Islamic State group. Speaking to The Independent about the hotel screening, the U.K. Foreign Office stated it would "continue to raise concerns" over the use of the ADE 651. James McCormick, the man responsible for the manufacture and sale of the ADE 651, received a 10-year prison sentence for his part in manufacture of the devices, sold to Iraq for $40,000 each. An employee of McCormick who later became a whistleblower said that after becoming concerned and questioning McCormick about the device, McCormick told him the ADE 651 "does exactly what it's designed to. It makes money."

Netflix Remaking Lost In Space ( 166

An anonymous reader writes: Classic sci-fi show Lost in Space is making a comeback. Netflix is developing a new version of the series, according to Kevin Burns, the executive producer in charge of the project. "The original series, which lasted three seasons and 83 episodes, is set in a futuristic 1997 and follows the Robinson family's space exploration. After the villainous Dr. Smith (Jonathan Harris) sabotages the navigation system, they become helpless and, yes, lost. (The robot tasked with protecting the youngest child, the precocious Will, utters "Danger, Will Robinson!" — a phrase that still tortures this reporter.)" Burns has been trying to bring the series back for more than 15 years, and it looks likely he'll finally get his chance.
Lord of the Rings

Now We Know Why the Hobbit Movies Were So Awful ( 174 writes: Everyone seems to agree that the key to the success of Peter Jackson's Lord Of The Rings trilogy was years of careful planning before production ever began. Now Bryan Bishop writes at The Verge that in what can only be described as the most honest promotional video of all time, we find out why the Hobbit trilogy turned out to be such a boring mess. In the clip, Peter Jackson, Andy Serkis, and other production personnel confess that due to the director changeover — del Toro left the project after nearly two years of pre-production — Jackson hit the ground running, but was never able to hit the reset button to get time to establish his own vision. Once the new director was hired, the harried crew members had to scramble to redesign everything to suit Jackson's vision, but they could barely even keep up with the production schedule, let alone prepare anything in advance.

At some junctures in the process, Jackson found himself essentially having to improvise on set because there was nothing really prepared for his actors to do. "You're going on to a set and you're winging it, you've got these massively complicated scenes, no storyboards and you're making it up there and then on the spot," said Jackson. "I spent most of The Hobbit feeling like I was not on top of it."

But wait: "Peter has never made a secret of the fact that he took over the Hobbit directing job with very little preparation time remaining before shooting had to begin. It was a challenge he willingly took on. His comments are an honest reflection of his own personal feelings at times during the movie's production," says a spokesman for Jackson. "Somebody has decided to create this cut-down, using only the sections of The Gathering Clouds that discuss the difficulties faced, not the positive ways they were addressed and overcome – which are also covered in this and other featurettes."


Video Meet Mårten Mickos, Serial Open Source CEO (Video) 23

Marten was the MySQL CEO who built the company from a small-time free software database developer into a worldwide software juggernaut he sold to Sun Microsystems. Next, he became CEO of Eucalyptus Systems, another open source operation, which Hewlett Packard bought in 2014. Now Mårten is CEO of hackerone, a company that hooks security-worried companies up with any one of thousands of ethical hackers worldwide.

Some of those hackers might be companies that grew out of university CS departments, and some of them may be individual high school students working from their kitchen tables. Would a large company Board of Directors trust a kid hacker who came to them with a bug he found in their software? Probably not. But if Mårten or one of his hackerone people contacts that company, it's likely to listen -- and set up a bug bounty program if they don't have one already.

Essentially, once again Mårten is working as an intermediary between technically proficient people -- who may or may not conform to sociey's idea of a successful person -- and corporate executives who need hackers' skills and services but may not know how to find non-mainstream individuals or even know the difference between "hackers" and "crackers." Editor's note: I have known and respected Mårten for many years. If this interview seems like a conversation between two old friends, it is.

TGV Accident Caused By Excessive Speed ( 96

Cochonou writes: Analysis of the black boxes of the TGV (Train à Grande Vitesse) which derailed on Saturday revealed that the accident resulted from excessive speed and late braking. The test train entered a 945m-radius curve at a speed of 265 km/h, far over the maximum speed of 176 km/h. The French national railway company ruled out any other cause, such as mechanical failure or track mishap.

During test runs, a number of security features are disabled, in particular parts of the TVM system, which would have prevented any overspeed during normal service. This leaves the train speed under the sole responsibility of the driver.

The accident, which killed 11 people, occurred on the last run of the scheduled trials on the new high-speed line between Paris and Strasbourg. As more details on the accident surface, it becomes evident that this last run was performed in a festive spirit, with relatives (including children) of the employees on board, and seven people present in the train cab instead of train. This casts a shadow on the security procedures of the French national railway company: it appears that the high-speed train technology is considered so safe that the risks inherent to trials runs were somehow neglected. The two drivers and the traction inspector have been suspended pending possible criminal charges. Other changes in the management structure will probably follow.


Slashdot Asks: Is Scrum Still Relevant? ( 371

An anonymous reader writes: In an article titled "Scrum is dead: breaking down the new open development method," Ahmad Nassri writes: "Among the most 'oversold as a cure' methodologies introduced to business development teams today is Scrum, which is one of several agile approaches to software development and introduced as a way to streamline the process. Scrum has become something of an intractable method, complete with its own holy text, the Manifesto for Agile Software Development , and daily devotions (a.k.a., Scrum meetings). Although Scrum may have made more sense when it was being developed in the early '90s, much has changed over the years. Startups and businesses have work forces spread over many countries and time zones, making sharing offices more difficult for employees. As our workforce world evolves, our software development methods should evolve, too." What do you think? Is Scrum still a viable approach to software development, or is it time to make way for a different process?

Grow Your Daily Protein At Home With an Edible Insect Desktop Hive 381 writes: Fast Coexist reports on the Edible Insect Desktop Hive, a kitchen gadget designed to raise mealworms (beetle larva), a food that has the protein content of beef without the environmental footprint. The hive can grow between 200 and 500 grams of mealworms a week, enough to replace traditional meat in four or five dishes. The hive comes with a starter kit of "microlivestock," and controls the climate inside so the bugs have the right amount of fresh air and the right temperature to thrive. If you push a button, the mealworms pop out in a harvest drawer that chills them. You're supposed to pop them in the freezer, then fry them up or mix them into soup, smoothies, or bug-filled burgers. "Insects give us the opportunity to grow on small spaces, with few resources," says designer Katharina Unger, founder of Livin Farms, the company making the new home farming gadget. "A pig cannot easily be raised on your balcony, insects can. With their benefits, insects are one part of the solution to make currently inefficient industrial-scale production of meat obsolete."

Of course, that assumes people will be willing to eat them. Unger thinks bugs just need a little rebranding to succeed, and points out that other foods have overcome bad reputations in the past. "Even the potato, that is now a staple food, was once considered ugly and was given to pigs," says Unger adding that sushi, raw fish, and tofu were once considered obscure products. "Food is about perception and cultural associations. Within only a short time and the right measures, it can be rebranded. . . . Growing insects in our hive at home is our first measure to make insects a healthy and sustainable food for everyone."

'Shrinking Bull's-eye' Algorithm Speeds Up Complex Modeling From Days To Hours ( 48

rtoz sends word of the discovery of a new algorithm that dramatically reduces the computation time for complex processes. Scientists from MIT say it conceptually resembles a shrinking bull's eye, incrementally narrowing down on its target. "With this method, the researchers were able to arrive at the same answer as a classic computational approaches, but 200 times faster." Their full academic paper is available at the arXiv. "The algorithm can be applied to any complex model to quickly determine the probability distribution, or the most likely values, for an unknown parameter. Like the MCMC analysis, the algorithm runs a given model with various inputs — though sparingly, as this process can be quite time-consuming. To speed the process up, the algorithm also uses relevant data to help narrow in on approximate values for unknown parameters."

The Intel 4004 Microprocessor Turns 44 60

mcpublic writes: Today is the 44th anniversary of the Intel 4004, the pioneering 4-bit microprocessor that powered the first electronic taxi meters. According to the unaffiliated (and newly renamed) Intel 4004 45th Anniversary Project web site, they have just re-created the complete set of VLSI mask artwork for the 4004 using scalable vector graphics, and updated their Busicom 141-PF calculator replica aimed at collectors and hobbyists. Included is some interesting historical perspective: Back in the early 1970s, there was no electrical CAD software, design-rule checkers were people, and VLSI lithographic masks were hand-crafted on giant light tables by unsung "rubylith cutters."
Christmas Cheer

'Twas the Week Before the Week of Black Friday 145

theodp writes: It's almost time for America's answer to the Running of the Bulls (YouTube), kids. So, if you're dreaming of a cheap tech Christmas, it's time to peruse the 2015 Black Friday ads and make your game plan. Get lucky at Best Buy this year, and you could score a $299.99 Dell 15.6" touchscreen laptop (i3, 8GB memory, 1 TB HD), a $399.99 Microsoft 10.8" Surface 3 (Atom x7, 2GB memory, 64GB storage), $899.99 MacBook Pro 13.3" laptop (i5, 4GB memory, 500MB HD), $99 Acer 11.6" Chromebook (Celeron, 2GB memory, 16GB storage), or, for those on a tight budget, a $34.99 7" Amazon Fire tablet. Fight the crowds at Walmart, and you could snag a $199 HP 15.6" laptop (Celeron, 4GB memory, 500GB drive) or $199 iPad mini 2. And for stay-at-home shoppers, Dell's Windows 10 price-breakers include a $149.99 14" laptop (Celeron, 2GB memory, 32GB storage) and a $229 15.6" laptop (i3, 4GB memory, 500MB HD). So, in your experience, has Black Friday been like a claw machine — suckering you with big prizes, but never delivering — or have you actually walked away with a great deal?

Gene Amdahl, Pioneer of Mainframe Computing, Dies At 92 ( 78

An anonymous reader writes: The NY Times reports that Dr. Gene Amdahl, who played a crucial role in developing the IBM System/360 series mainframes and formulated Amdahl's law, has died at the age of 92. "The 360 series was not one computer but a family of compatible machines. Computers in the series used processors of different speeds and power, yet all understood a common language. This allowed customers to purchase a smaller system knowing they could migrate to a larger, more powerful machine if their needs grew, without reprogramming the application software. IBM's current mainframes can still run some System/360 applications. ... Dr. Amdahl is remembered at IBM as an intellectual leader who could get different strong-minded groups to reach agreement on technical issues."

New Android Phones Hijackable With Chrome Exploit ( 45

mask.of.sanity writes: Google's Chrome for Android has been popped with a single exploit that could lead to the compromise of any handset. The exploit, showcased at MobilePwn2Own at the PacSec conference, targets the JavaScript v8 engine and compromises phones when users visit a malicious website. It is also notable in that it is a single clean exploit that does not require chained vulnerabilities to work.

2016 Presidential Candidate Security Investigation ( 97

New submitter Fryan writes: InfoSec Institute has assessed the security posture of 16 of the presidential candidates' websites. This is an indicator of the level of security awareness the candidate and the campaign staff has. The recent breaches and security lapses of high profile individuals highlight the absolute need for everyone to take security awareness seriously. The hacking of the Director of the CIA's (John Brennan) personal email account, and the storage of classified emails on a personal email server with Hillary Clinton, show how damaging a lack of basic good security hygiene can be. In this survey (of only the best known presidential candidates, not the scads of others), the authors give both their highest grade (an A) and lowest (a D) for candidates still in the race to two Republicans, Ben Carson and Jim Gilmore, respectively; surprising for a tech-focused campaign, Lawrence Lessig (who has ended his candidacy since the survey began) ranked even lower, with a D-.

Speaking of presidential candidates, the fourth Republican debate, hosted by Fox Business, will kick off about an hour after this post goes live (9:00 PM Eastern, 0200 GMT). Feel free to discuss it alongside the security report.

Symbolic vs. Mnemonic Relational Operators: Is "GT" Greater Than ">"? 304

theodp writes: "Mnemonic operators," writes SAS's Rick Wicklin as he weighs the pros-and-cons of Symbolic Versus Mnemonic Logical Operators, "tend to appear in older languages like FORTRAN, whereas symbolic operators are common in more recent languages like C/C++, although some relatively recent scripting languages like Perl, PHP, and Windows PowerShell also support mnemonic operators. SAS software has supported both operators in the DATA step since the very earliest days, but the SAS/IML language, which is more mathematically oriented, supports only the symbolic operators. Functionally, the operators are equivalent, so which ones you use is largely a matter of personal preference. Since consistency and standards are essential when writing computer programming, which operators should you choose?"

Gambling Could Reveal Which Scientific Studies Are Worth Their Salt ( 63

sciencehabit writes with this interesting story about using prediction markets to weed out false positives in scientific experiments. From the article: "Gambling is frowned upon in many circles. But what if the gamblers are researchers betting on how each other's experiments will turn out, and the results are used to improve science itself? A group of psychologists has found that their collective gambling—with real money—predicted the outcome of attempts at replicating experimental results better than their own expert guesses. They propose that this type of gambling setup, known as a prediction market, could become part of how science gets done."