Gmail Is Broken Right Now, One Day After a Massive Outage (techcrunch.com) 73

An anonymous reader quotes a report from TechCrunch: While it doesn't appear to be completely down like it was yesterday morning, we're hearing many reports from Gmail users that the email service is having major issues right now. Some users are reporting that Gmail is particularly slow, while others are reporting constant error messages. One TechCrunch writer, meanwhile, noticed that emails he was sending to Gmail accounts appeared to immediately bounce, with Gmail's server responding with an error reading "550-5.1.1 The email account that you tried to reach does not exist."

Google confirms the issues on its services dashboard, writing at 1:30 PM Pacific that they're impacting a "significant" number of users: "We're aware of a problem with Gmail affecting a significant subset of users. The affected users are able to access Gmail, but are seeing error messages, high latency, and/or other unexpected behavior." In a second update at 2:30 PM, Google says its teams are "continuing to investigate this issue"; as of 3:30 PM, the company says it expects the issues to be fixed by 4:00 PM while noting that time may change.
Google says the problems have been resolved, although encrypted email service ProtonMail tweets that the email bouncing issue is widespread, with many emails sent to Gmail users bouncing permanently.

Intel Report Shows Tech Companies Still Struggle With Diversity (axios.com) 354

Intel became the latest tech company to report diversity statistics Tuesday, sharing a mixed bag of annual numbers that included small gains in some areas, relatively flat numbers of Black employees and a decline in female representation in the U.S. Axios reports: Women made up a bit more than a quarter of Intel's employee headcount, seeing a tiny drop in the U.S. compared to last year and a similarly minuscule increase over the same period for Intel's total global workforce. The percentage of underrepresented minorities in the U.S. workforce ticked up by a fraction of a percentage point, coming in at just over 16%. African American representation was flat at 4.9%.

"It may be slower than we would like but at least the conversation is on the table," Intel's interim chief diversity and inclusion officer Dawn Jones told Axios. Intel's inability to significantly boost the diversity of its workforce is far from unique in the industry. Intel wants to set up an industry-wide effort that would work to help standardize ways of measuring different diversity statistics from one company to another.

Social Networks

Twitter Is Shutting Down Its Periscope Apps (theverge.com) 6

Twitter has announced that it'll be shutting down Periscope as a service, with the company set to discontinue the Periscope applications by March 2021. The Verge reports: Twitter will, however, continue to offer live video streaming through its integrated Twitter Live feature within the main Twitter app. "The Periscope app is in an unsustainable maintenance-mode state, and has been for a while," the company explained in a blog post. "Over the past couple of years, we've seen declining usage and know that the cost to support the app will only continue to go up over time."

While Periscope won't be fully shut down until March, the company is already blocking any new account signups starting in the latest update to the apps, which is rolling out today. Users will have the chance to download an archive of both their Periscope videos and their data before the app is shuttered next year. Additionally, the Periscope website will remain active to serve as a "read-only archive of public broadcasts." Periscope will also be "relaxing our requirements" for users to apply to become "Super Broadcasters," the company's term for select users who are given the opportunity to cash out tips given to them by followers. Broadcasters will have until April 30th, 2021, to finish cashing out their tips.


Plastic Pipes Are Polluting Drinking Water Systems After Wildfires (theconversation.com) 72

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Conversation: When wildfires swept through the hills near Santa Cruz, California, in 2020, they released toxic chemicals into the water supplies of at least two communities. One sample found benzene, a carcinogen, at 40 times the state's drinking water standard. Our testing has now confirmed a source of these chemicals, and it's clear that wildfires aren't the only blazes that put drinking water systems at risk. In a new study, we heated plastic water pipes commonly used in buildings and water systems to test how they would respond to nearby fires. The results, released Dec. 14, show how easily wildfires could trigger widespread drinking water contamination. They also show the risks when only part of a building catches fire and the rest remains in use. In some of our tests, heat exposure caused more than 100 chemicals to leach from the damaged plastics.

To determine if plastic pipes could be responsible for drinking water contamination after wildfires, we exposed commonly available plastic pipes to heat. The temperatures were similar to the heat from a wildfire that radiates toward buildings but isn't enough to cause the pipes to catch fire. We tested several popular plastic drinking water pipes, including high-density polyethylene (HDPE), crosslinked polyethylene (PEX), polyvinyl chloride (PVC) and chlorinated polyvinylchloride (CPVC). Benzene and other chemicals were generated inside the plastic pipes just by heating. After the plastics cooled, these chemicals then leached into the water. It happened at temperatures as low as 392 degrees Fahrenheit. Fires can exceed 1,400 degrees. While researchers previously discovered that plastics could release benzene and other chemicals into the air during heating, this new study shows heat-damaged plastics can directly leach dozens of toxic chemicals into water.
What can be done about the contamination? The report says a community can stop water contamination if they can quickly isolate the damaged pipes. Rinsing heat-damaged pipes can also work, but some plastic pipes require more than 100 days of nonstop water rinsing to be safe to use. If that's the case, the pipes may need to be replaced instead.

"Water companies can install network isolation valves and backflow prevention devices, to prevent contaminated water moving from a damaged building into the utility pipe network," the report adds. "Insurance companies can use pricing to encourage property owners and cities to install fire-resistant metal pipes instead of plastic. Rules for keeping vegetation away from meter boxes and buildings can also lessen the chance heat reaches plastic water system components."

French and Russian Trolls Wrestle For Influence In Africa, Facebook Says (reuters.com) 34

Rival French and Russian disinformation campaigns have sought to deceive and influence Internet users in the Central African Republic ahead of an election later this month, Facebook said on Tuesday. Reuters reports: Facebook said it was the first time it had seen foreign influence operations directly engage on its platforms, with fake accounts denouncing each other as "fake news." The company said it had suspended three networks totaling almost 500 accounts and pages for so-called "coordinated inauthentic behavior." One network was linked to "individuals associated with French military," it said, while the other two had connections to "individuals associated with past activity by the Russian Internet Research Agency" as well as Russian businessman Evgeny Prigozhin.

France and Russia are both keen to assert influence in Africa. Paris has ties with many French-speaking African countries, which it sees as vital to preventing the spread of violent Islamisation, and Moscow is jockeying for position in a lucrative market. Facebook said the two campaigns largely focused on the Central African Republic (CAR), which votes on Dec. 27, but also targeted users in 13 other African countries including Algeria, Cameroon, Libya and Sudan. Ben Nimmo, head of investigations at social media analytics firm Graphika, said both campaigns used fake accounts to pose as local people, sometimes sharing doctored photos. [...] But neither side built a significant audience in CAR, he added. "They looked like two troll teams arm wrestling, with nobody else really paying attention."


Walmart Will Use Fully Driverless Trucks To Make Deliveries In 2021 (theverge.com) 59

Starting in 2021, Walmart will use fully autonomous box trucks to make deliveries in Arkansas without any safety drivers in the vehicles. The Verge reports: The big-box retailer has been working with a startup called Gatik on a delivery pilot for 18 months. Gatik, which is based in Palo Alto and Toronto, outfitted several multitemperature box trucks with sensors and software to enable autonomous driving. Since last year, those trucks have been operating on a two-mile route between a "dark store" (a store that stocks items for fulfillment but isn't open to the public) and a nearby Neighborhood Market in Bentonville, Arkansas. Since then, the vehicles have racked up 70,000 miles in autonomous mode with a safety driver.

Next year, the companies intend to start incorporating fully autonomous trucks into those deliveries. And they plan on expanding to a second location in Louisiana, where trucks with safety drivers will begin delivering items from a "live" Walmart Supercenter to a designated pickup location where customers can retrieve their orders. Those routes, which will begin next year, will be longer than the Arkansas operation -- 20-miles between New Orleans and Metairie, Louisiana.

The Almighty Buck

Senator Tries To Block frontier's FCC Funding, Citing ISP's Various Failures (arstechnica.com) 34

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Ars Technica: A Republican US senator from West Virginia has asked the government to block broadband funding earmarked for frontier Communications, saying that the ISP is not capable of delivering gigabit-speed Internet service to all required locations. Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.) outlined her concerns in a letter to Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai last week. Capito told Pai that frontier has mismanaged previous government funding and seems to lack both the technological capabilities and financial ability to deliver on its new obligations.

frontier, which filed for bankruptcy in April, is one of 180 ISPs that won funding in the FCC's Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF) reverse-auction results announced last week. frontier is due to receive $370.9 million over 10 years to bring broadband to 127,188 homes and businesses in eight states. frontier's biggest payout is in West Virginia, where it is due to receive $247.6 million over 10 years to expand its broadband network to 79,391 locations. frontier won over two-thirds of the funding that the FCC allocated to West Virginia despite failing to hit FCC deadlines for a previous round of subsidized broadband deployment in West Virginia and other states. Under the previous funding allocated in 2015 via the FCC's Connect America Fund, frontier was originally required to meet the build deadlines by the end of 2020. frontier told Ars today that it will now meet that deadline "by the end of 2021."

Capito urged Pai to block frontier's new funding by rejecting the ISP's long-form application, which must be completed by winning bidders in order to receive the allocated money. "The stakes are simply too high to provide nearly $250 million to a company that does not have the capability to deliver on the commitments made to the FCC," she wrote. Under FCC rules, winning bidders must deploy broadband to 40 percent of required locations in each state within three calendar years, to 60 percent within four years, 80 percent within five years, and 100 percent within six years. Because frontier won funding in the gigabit tier, it is required to offer download speeds of 1Gbps and upload speeds of 500Mbps along with monthly usage allowances of at least 2TB.


Microsoft and Industry Partners Seize Key Domain Used In SolarWinds Hack (zdnet.com) 18

An anonymous reader quotes a report from ZDNet: Microsoft and a coalition of tech companies have intervened today to seize and sinkhole a domain that played a central role in the SolarWinds hack, ZDNet has learned from sources familiar with the matter. The domain in question is avsvmcloud[.]com, which served as command and control (C&C) server for malware delivered to around 18,000 SolarWinds customers via a trojanized update for the company's Orion app. SolarWinds Orion updates versions 2019.4 through 2020.2.1, released between March 2020 and June 2020, contained a strain of malware named SUNBURST (also known as Solorigate). Once installed on a computer, the malware would sit dormant for 12 to 14 days and then ping a subdomain of avsvmcloud[.]com.

According to analysis from security firm FireEye, the C&C domain would reply with a DNS response that contained a CNAME field with information on another domain from where the SUNBURST malware would obtain further instructions and additional payloads to execute on an infected company's network. Earlier today, a coalition of tech companies seized and sinkholed avsvmcloud[.]com, transferring the domain into Microsoft's possession. Sources familiar with today's actions described the takedown as "protective work" done to prevent the threat actor behind the SolarWinds hack from delivering new orders to infected computers.


Microsoft Office Is Now Updated For M1 Macs (theverge.com) 60

Microsoft is rolling out an update today that brings native support for Apple's M1 chip to the Windows productivity suite. "The apps getting the updates are Word, Excel, Outlook, PowerPoint, and OneNote," reports The Verge. "Notably absent, however, is Teams." From the report: The updates are making the apps universal ones -- meaning these versions will run on both Intel and Apple Silicon Macs, so any upcoming updates or features will be coming at the same time for both platforms. [...] Office users who have automatic updates turned on should have the new versions sometime today, and anyone else can update it through the Mac App Store or Microsoft's AutoUpdate software (depending on if you downloaded Office through the App Store or directly from Microsoft). Outlook users will get not only native Apple Silicon support, but support for iCloud accounts as well, allowing them to sync their email, contacts, and calendars to the app if they use Apple's service to store them. Teams isn't included in today's rollout of updates, but Microsoft says they're working on it. No timeline is available, though.

Academics Turn RAM Into Wi-Fi Cards To Steal Data From Air-Gapped Systems (zdnet.com) 104

Academics from an Israeli university have published new research today detailing a technique to convert a RAM card into an impromptu wireless emitter and transmit sensitive data from inside a non-networked air-gapped computer that has no Wi-Fi card. From a report: Named AIR-FI, the technique is the work of Mordechai Guri, the head of R&D at the Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, in Israel. Over the last half-decade, Guri has led tens of research projects that investigated stealing data through unconventional methods from air-gapped systems. [...] At the core of the AIR-FI technique is the fact that any electronic component generates electromagnetic waves as electric current passes through. Since Wi-Fi signals are radio waves and radio is basically electromagnetic waves, Guri argues that malicious code planted on an air-gapped system by attackers could manipulate the electrical current inside the RAM card in order to generate electromagnetic waves with the frequency consistent with the normal Wi-Fi signal spectrum (2,400 GHz). In his research paper, titled "AIR-FI: Generating Covert WiFi Signals from Air-Gapped Computers," Guri shows that perfectly timed read-write operations to a computer's RAM card can make the card's memory bus emit electromagnetic waves consistent with a weak Wi-Fi signal. This signal can then be picked up by anything with a Wi-Fi antenna in the proximity of an air-gapped system, such as smartphones, laptops, IoT devices, smartwatches, and more. Guri says he tested the technique with different air-gapped computer rigs where the Wi-Fi card was removed and was able to leak data at speeds of up to 100 b/s to devices up to several meters away.

AWS Introduces New Chaos Engineering as a Service Offering (techcrunch.com) 20

When large companies like Netflix or Amazon want to test the resilience of their systems, they use chaos engineering tools designed to help them simulate worst-case scenarios and find potential issues before they even happen. Today at AWS re:Invent, Amazon CTO Werner Vogels introduced the company's Chaos Engineering as a Service offering called AWS Fault Injection Simulator. From a report: The name may lack a certain marketing panache, but Vogels said that the service is designed to help bring this capability to all companies. "We believe that chaos engineering is for everyone, not just shops running at Amazon or Netflix scale. And that's why today I'm excited to pre-announce a new service built to simplify the process of running chaos experiments in the cloud," Vogels said. As he explained, the goal of chaos engineering is to understand how your application responds to issues by injecting failures into your application, usually running these experiments against production systems. AWS Fault Injection Simulator offers a fully managed service to run these experiments on applications running on AWS hardware.

Hackers at Center of Sprawling Spy Campaign Turned SolarWinds' Dominance Against It (reuters.com) 49

An anonymous reader shares a report: On an earnings call two months ago, SolarWinds Chief Executive Kevin Thompson touted how far the company had gone during his 11 years at the helm. There was not a database or an IT deployment model out there to which his Austin, Texas-based company did not provide some level of monitoring or management, he told analysts on the Oct. 27 call. "We don't think anyone else in the market is really even close in terms of the breadth of coverage we have," he said. "We manage everyone's network gear." Now that dominance has become a liability -- an example of how the workhorse software that helps glue organizations together can turn toxic when it is subverted by sophisticated hackers. On Monday, SolarWinds confirmed that Orion -- its flagship network management software -- had served as the unwitting conduit for a sprawling international cyberespionage operation. The hackers inserted malicious code into Orion software updates pushed out to nearly 18,000 customers.

[...] Cybersecurity experts across government and private industry are still struggling to understand the scope of the damage, which some are already calling one of the most consequential breaches in recent memory. [...] Experts are reviewing their notes to find old examples of substandard security at the company. Security researcher Vinoth Kumar told Reuters that, last year, he alerted the company that anyone could access SolarWinds' update server by using the password "solarwinds123" "This could have been done by any attacker, easily," Kumar said. Others -- including Kyle Hanslovan, the cofounder of Maryland-based cybersecurity company Huntress -- noticed that, even days after SolarWinds realized their software had been compromised, the malicious updates were still available for download.


High-Frequency Traders Push Closer To Light Speed With Cutting-Edge Cables (wsj.com) 186

High-frequency traders are using an experimental type of cable to speed up their systems by billionths of a second, the latest move in a technological arms race to execute stock trades as quickly as possible. From a report: The cable, called hollow-core fiber, is a next-generation version of the fiber-optic cable used to deliver broadband internet to homes and businesses. Made of glass, such cables carry data encoded as beams of light. But instead of being solid, hollow-core fiber is empty inside, with dozens of parallel, air-filled channels narrower than a human hair. Because light travels nearly 50% faster through air than glass, it takes about one-third less time to send data through hollow-core fiber than through the same length of standard fiber. The difference is often just a minuscule fraction of a second. But in high-frequency trading, that can make the difference between profits and losses. HFT firms use sophisticated algorithms and ultrafast data networks to execute rapid-fire trades in stocks, options and futures. Many are secretive about their trading strategies and technology.

Hollow-core fiber is the latest in a series of advances that fast traders have used to try to outrace their competition. A decade ago, a company called Spread Networks spent about $300 million to lay fiber-optic cable in a straight line from Chicago to New York, so traders could send data back and forth along the route in just 13 milliseconds, or thousandths of a second. Within a few years the link was superseded by microwave networks that reduced transmission times along the route to less than nine milliseconds. HFT firms have also used lasers to zip data between the data centers of the New York Stock Exchange and Nasdaq, and they have embedded their algorithms in superfast computer chips. Now, faced with the limits of physics and technology, traders are left fighting over nanoseconds. "The time increments of these improvements have gotten markedly smaller," said Michael Persico, chief executive of Anova Financial Networks, a technology provider that runs communications networks used by HFT firms. High-frequency trading is controversial, with critics saying that some ultrafast strategies amount to an invisible tax on investors. Industry representatives say such criticism is unfounded.


FDA Authorizes 1st Home Coronavirus Test That Doesn't Require A Prescription (npr.org) 61

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration on Tuesday authorized the first coronavirus test that people will be able to buy at a local store without a prescription and use for immediate results at home to find out if they're positive or negative. From a report: The test will cost about $30 and be available by January, according to the Australian company that makes it, Ellume. The FDA had previously authorized other tests that let people avoid long lines by collecting a sample themselves at home. But those tests require people to send the sample to a lab and wait for the results. Another recently authorized test doesn't have to be sent off to a lab, but it requires a prescription to get it.
The new test is the first that people will be able to buy without a prescription at a local store and do entirely at home on their own. It takes about five minutes to collect the sample and produces results within 15 minutes. "Today's authorization is a major milestone in diagnostic testing for COVID-19," FDA Commissioner Stephen Hahn said in a statement announcing the authorization.


Facebook To Move UK Users To California Terms, Avoiding EU Privacy Rules (reuters.com) 67

Facebook will shift all its users in the United Kingdom into user agreements with the corporate headquarters in California, moving them out of their current relationship with Facebook's Irish unit and out of reach of Europe's privacy laws. From a report: The change takes effect next year and follows a similar move announced in February by Google here. Those companies and others have European head offices in Dublin, and the UK's exit from the EU will change its legal relationship with Ireland, which remains in the Union. Initially, sources briefed on the matter told Reuters about the move. Facebook later confirmed it. "Like other companies, Facebook has had to make changes to respond to Brexit and will be transferring legal responsibilities and obligations for UK users from Facebook Ireland to Facebook. There will be no change to the privacy controls or the services Facebook offers to people in the UK," the company's UK arm said.

SolarWinds Says 18,000 Customers Were Impacted by Recent Hack (zdnet.com) 23

IT software provider SolarWinds downplayed a recent security breach in documents filed with the US Securities and Exchange Commission on Monday. From a report: SolarWinds disclosed on Sunday that a nation-state hacker group breached its network and inserted malware in updates for Orion, a software application for IT inventory management and monitoring. Orion app versions 2019.4 through 2020.2.1, released between March 2020 and June 2020, were tainted with malware, SolarWinds said in a security advisory. The trojanized Orion update allowed attackers to deploy additional and highly stealthy malware on the networks of SolarWinds customers.

But while initial news reports on Sunday suggested that all of SolarWinds' customers were impacted, in SEC documents filed today, SolarWinds said that of its 300,000 total customers, only 33,000 were using Orion, a software platform for IT inventory management and monitoring, and that fewer than 18,000 are believed to have installed the malware-laced update. The company said it notified all its 33,000 Orion customers on Sunday, even if they didn't install the trojanized Orion update, with information about the hack and mitigation steps they could take.


FDA Approves Genetically Engineered Pigs (theverge.com) 76

The Food and Drug Administration has approved genetically engineered pigs for use in food and medical products. The pigs, developed by medical company Revivicor, could be used in the production of drugs, to provide organs and tissues for transplants, and to produce meat that's safe to eat for people with meat allergies. From a report: "Today's first-ever approval of an animal biotechnology product for both food and as a potential source for biomedical use represents a tremendous milestone for scientific innovation," said FDA Commissioner Stephen M. Hahn in a press release. The pigs are called GalSafe pigs because they lack a molecule called alpha-gal sugar, which can trigger allergic reactions. Alpha-gal sugar is found in many mammals, but not usually in humans. Alpha-gal syndrome (AGS), which causes a serious meat allergy, can happen after a bite from a lone star or deer tick. Though it hasn't been tested specifically for people with AGS yet, the FDA has determined GalSafe pork products are safe for the general population to eat. In addition to their potential for safer consumption, there are several potential medical uses for GalSafe pigs. They could be used to make drugs like heparin, a common blood-thinner derived from animal tissue, safer for people with AGS.

'Google is Getting Left Behind Due To Horrible UI/UX' (danielmiessler.com) 269

Daniel Miessler, a widely respected infosec professional in San Francisco, writes about design and user experience choices Google has made across its services in recent years: I've been writing for probably a decade about how bad Google's GUI is for Google Analytics, Google Apps, and countless of their other properties -- not to mention their multiple social media network attempts, like Google+ and Wave. Back then it was super annoying, but kind of ok. They're a hardcore engineering group, and their backend services are without equal. But lately it's just becoming too much.

1. Even Gmail is a cesspool at this point. Nobody would ever design a webmail interface like that, starting from scratch.
2. What happened to Google Docs? Why does it not look and behave more like Notion, or Quip, or any of the other alternatives that made progress in the last 5-10 years?
3. What college course do I take to manage a Google Analytics property?
4. Google just rolled out Google Analytics 4 -- I think -- and the internet is full of people asking the same question I am. "Is this a real rollout?"

[...] My questions are simple:
1. How the hell is this possible? I get it 10 years ago. But then they came out with the new design language. Materialize, or whatever it was. Cool story, and cool visuals. But it's not about the graphics, it's about the experience.
2. How can you be sitting on billions of dollars and be unable to hire product managers that can create usable interfaces?
3. How can you run Gmail on an interface that's tangibly worse than anything else out there?
4. How can you let Google Docs get completely obsoleted by startups?

I've heard people say that Google has become the new Microsoft, or the new Oracle, but damn -- at least Microsoft is innovating. At least Oracle has a sailing team, or whatever else they do. I'm being emotional at this point.

Google, you are made out of money. Fix your fucking interfaces. Focus on the experience. Focus on simplicity. And use navigation language that's similar across your various properties, so that I'll know what to do whether I'm managing my Apps account, or my domains, or my Analytics. You guys are awesome at so many things. Make the commitment to fix how we interact with them.


Europe Triples Down on Tough Rules for Tech (axios.com) 53

The European Union Tuesday unveiled sweeping new proposals to control tech industry giants as "gatekeepers" who could be fined up to 10% of their revenue for breaking EU rules on competition. From a report: In the EU, "proposals," once introduced, are likely to become law in some form, even if details change dramatically through a slow feedback process. The EU's Digital Markets Act (DMA) would set standards for treating large online platforms as "gatekeepers," based chiefly on how many users they have. Gatekeepers would be barred from favoring their own products over those of rivals -- think Google steering users to its own restaurant reviews over Yelp's, for instance -- or from using data in an exclusionary way that they've collected to develop their own products. They'd either have to avoid using such data or make it available to competitors to tap as well.

Gatekeepers that break the rules could be subject to fines as high as 10% of annual global revenue. The Digital Services Act (DSA) is aimed at making big platforms more accountable for user posts that break EU member nations' laws around illicit materials, such as Germany's prohibition on speech that glorifies Nazism. Large platforms that don't remove illegal posts following a government order could face fines of up to 6% of annual revenue.


Germany Orders Electric Air Taxis To Carry Emergency Doctors (bloomberg.com) 50

Germany's biggest air-ambulance operator has ordered two electric air taxis to evaluate their potential in a pioneering role speeding doctors to patients. From a report: ADAC Luftrettung, part of the country's leading motoring association, will begin testing the 18-rotor Volocopter GmbH aircraft from 2023 after the simulation of 26,000 emergency responses in two cities indicated that it could fulfill a rapid-transport role currently performed by a costlier helicopter fleet. The joint announcement Tuesday provides further evidence of the commercial potential of vertical takeoff air taxis, coming less than a week after Singapore said it plans to launch the world's first such service. Germany may need more than 250 bases for the craft, according to ADAC, which plans to operate them alongside its choppers. Though the VoloCity model has no room for a third person in its cabin with the pilot and medic, only 25% of helicopter missions today require a casualty to be evacuated by air, it said.
United States

California Fines Uber $59 Million for Stonewalling Questions About Sexual Assaults (marketwatch.com) 54

A California judge fined Uber $59 million on Monday, and threatened to suspend its permit to operate in the state if the ride-hailing giant doesn't pay the penalty and answer regulators' questions within 30 days. From a report: Last December, an administrative law judge ordered Uber to answer the California Public Utility Commission's questions related to a long-awaited safety report, which listed, among other things, thousands of sexual assaults during rides from 2017-'19. The CPUC, which regulates ride-hailing in California, wanted more information about how the report was compiled, and specific details about the assaults so they could be investigated by the state. Uber refused to comply, claiming it would infringe on victims' privacy, even after a judge earlier this year said the company could turn over information under seal to protect confidentiality. The judge Monday agreed that Uber can use signifiers other than names to protect victims' anonymity.

Poor Countries Face Long Wait for Vaccines Despite Promises 235

With Americans, Britons and Canadians rolling up their sleeves to receive coronavirus vaccines, the route out of the pandemic now seems clear to many in the West, even if the rollout will take many months. But for poorer countries, the road will be far longer and rougher. From a report: The ambitious initiative known as COVAX created to ensure the entire world has access to COVID-19 vaccines has secured only a fraction of the 2 billion doses it hopes to buy over the next year, has yet to confirm any actual deals to ship out vaccines and is short on cash. The virus that has killed more than 1.6 million people has exposed vast inequities between countries, as fragile health systems and smaller economies were often hit harder. COVAX was set up by the World Health Organization, vaccines alliance GAVI and CEPI, a global coalition to fight epidemics, to avoid the international stampede for vaccines that has accompanied past outbreaks and would reinforce those imbalances.

But now some experts say the chances that coronavirus shots will be shared fairly between rich nations and the rest are fading fast. With vaccine supplies currently limited, developed countries, some of which helped fund the research with taxpayer money, are under tremendous pressure to protect their own populations and are buying up shots. Meanwhile, some poorer countries that signed up to the initiative are looking for alternatives because of fears it won't deliver. "It's simple math," said Arnaud Bernaert, head of global health at the World Economic Forum. Of the approximately 12 billion doses the pharmaceutical industry is expected to produce next year, about 9 billion shots have already been reserved by rich countries. "COVAX has not secured enough doses, and the way the situation may unfold is they will probably only get these doses fairly late." To date, COVAX's only confirmed, legally binding agreement is for up to 200 million doses, though that includes an option to order several times that number of additional doses, GAVI spokesman James Fulker said. It has agreements for another 500 million vaccines, but those are not legally binding.

CloudLinux To Invest More Than a Million Dollars a Year Into CentOS Clone (zdnet.com) 84

An anonymous reader quotes a report from ZDNet: When Red Hat, CentOS's Linux parent company, announced it was "shifting focus from CentOS Linux, the rebuild of Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL), to CentOS Stream, which tracks just ahead of a current RHEL release," it lost a lot of friends. CentOS co-founder, Gregory Kurtzer, immediately announced he'd create his own RHEL clone and CentOS replacement: Rocky Linux. He wasn't the only one. CloudLinux also proclaimed it would create a new CentOS clone Lenix. And, CloudLinux will be putting over a million dollars a year behind it.

Why? Igor Seletskiy, CloudLinux CEO and founder, explained, "Red Hat's announcement has left users looking for an alternative with all that CentOS provides and without the disruption of having to move to alternative distributions. We promise to dedicate the resources required to Project Lenix that will ensure impartiality and a not-for-profit community initiative. CloudLinux already has the assets, infrastructure, and experience to carry out the mission, and we promise to be open about the process of developing Project Lenix." [...] Project Lenix will be a free, open-source, community-driven, 1:1 binary compatible fork of RHEL 8 (and future releases). For CentOS users, the company promises Lenix will provide an uninterrupted way to convert existing CentOS servers with absolutely zero downtime or need to reinstall anything. The company even claims you'll be able to port entire CentOS server fleets with a single command with no reinstallation or reboots required. That's a bold claim. But CloudLinux already does that trick with its commercial Linux distribution. If the company says it can do it, I think it can.
Lenix is only a placeholder name, notes ZDNet. "[A] yet to be formed governing board will decide on a permanent name for the distribution. If all goes well, the first software release will appear in the first quarter of 2021."

Reddit Is Buying TikTok Rival Dubsmash (cnn.com) 20

Reddit said in a statement on Sunday that it has acquired TikTok rival Dubsmash. It did not disclose the financial terms of the deal. CNN reports: Dubsmash allows users to create and share video content, and it's especially popular with young, diverse audiences. About 25% of Black teens in the United States use the app. Women make up 70% of Dubsmash users, and roughly 30% of users log in every day, according to Reddit. The New York-based platform enables more than 1 billion video views per month, Reddit added.

Dubsmash's three co-founders, Suchit Dash, Jonas Druppel, and Tim Specht, will be joining Reddit with immediate effect. While Dubsmash will maintain its own platform and brand, its video creation tools will be integrated into Reddit, which is best known for its freewheeling message boards. Reddit has allowed users to upload and share their own videos since 2017, and the segment has grown quickly. The number of videos posted to the platform has doubled in 2020, according to the company.


Astronomers Discover Cosmic 'Superhighways' For Fast Travel Through the Solar System (sciencealert.com) 74

Invisible structures generated by gravitational interactions in the Solar System have created a "space superhighway" network, astronomers have discovered. ScienceAlert reports: By applying analyses to both observational and simulation data, a team of researchers led by Natasa Todorovic of Belgrade Astronomical Observatory in Serbia observed that these superhighways consist of a series of connected arches inside these invisible structures, called space manifolds -- and each planet generates its own manifolds, together creating what the researchers have called "a true celestial autobahn." This network can transport objects from Jupiter to Neptune in a matter of decades, rather than the much longer timescales, on the order of hundreds of thousands to millions of years, normally found in the Solar System.

Finding hidden structures in space isn't always easy, but looking at the way things move around can provide helpful clues. In particular, comets and asteroids. [...] "More detailed quantitative studies of the discovered phase-space structures ... could provide deeper insight into the transport between the two belts of minor bodies and the terrestrial planet region," the researchers wrote in their paper. "Combining observations, theory, and simulation will improve our current understanding of this short-term mechanism acting on the TNO, Centaur, comet, and asteroid populations and merge this knowledge with the traditional picture of the long-term chaotic diffusion through orbital resonances; a formidable task for the large range of energies considered."
The research has been published in Science Advances.

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