Music

Apple Will Release Its $349 HomePod Speaker On February 9th (theverge.com) 70

After it was delayed in mid-December, Apple finally announced the availability of its new smart speaker. The company announced it will release the HomePod on February 9th and that preorders for the device will start this Friday, January 26th. The smart speaker will initially go on sale in the U.S., UK, and Australia. It'll then arrive in France and Germany sometime this spring. The Verge reports: The company's first smart speaker was originally supposed to go on sale before the end of the 2017, but it was delayed in mid-December. That meant Apple missed a holiday season where millions of smart speakers were sold -- but the market for voice-activated speakers is clearly just getting started. And at $349, Apple's speaker is playing in a very different market than Amazon's and Google's primarily cheap and tiny speakers. The HomePod is being positioned more as a competitor to Sonos' high-end wireless speakers than as a competitor to the plethora of inexpensive smart speakers flooding the market. Despite the delay, Apple doesn't appear to have made any changes to the HomePod -- the smart speaker appears to be exactly what was announced back in June, at WWDC. The focus here continues to be on music and sound quality, rather than the speaker's intelligence, which is the core focus of many competitors' products. The speaker will still have an always-on voice assistant, but Apple's implementation of Siri here will be more limited than what's present on other devices.
Earth

Australian Birds of Prey Are Deliberately Setting Forests On Fire (cosmosmagazine.com) 95

An anonymous reader writes: If you've been counting the ways the Australian environment is trying to kill you, you can now add "arson" to the list. According to a six-year study published in The Journal of Ethnobiology, observers have confirmed what Aboriginal rangers have been observing for years: birds of prey routinely carry burning or smouldering sticks into dry grassy areas to scare small mammals into fleeing so they can be pack-hunted more effectively. This has implications for environmental management, since the best firebreak will not protect your controlled burn from a "firehawk" determined to breach it.
Australia

Lifesaving Drone Makes First Rescue In Australia (yahoo.com) 45

Zorro shares a report from Yahoo News: A pair of Australian swimmers on Thursday became the first people to be rescued in the ocean by a drone when the aerial lifesaver dropped a safety device to distressed teens caught in rough seas. In what is believed to be a world-first drone surf rescue, two boys on Thursday got caught in three-meter (10-foot) swells while swimming off Lennox Head in New South Wales, near the border with Queensland. Beachgoers onshore raised the alarm to the lifeguards who then alerted the drone pilot, and the aerial lifesaver was deployed in moments.

Along with their ability to spot swimmers in trouble and deliver life saving devices faster than traditional lifesaving techniques, like launching surfboards or rubber dinghies, drones are being used in Australia to spot underwater predators like sharks and jellyfish. Artificial intelligence is being developed using thousands of images captured by a drone camera to build an algorithm that can identify different ocean objects. The software can differentiate between sea creatures, like sharks which it can recognize with more than 90 percent accuracy, compared to about 16 percent with the naked eye.

Businesses

Following Other Credit Cards, Visa Will Also Stop Requiring Signatures (siliconbeat.com) 171

An anonymous reader quotes SiliconBeat: Visa, the largest U.S. credit card issuer, became the last of the major credit card companies to announce its plan to make signatures optional... Visa joined American Express, Discover, and Mastercard in the phase-out. Mastercard was the first one to announce the move in October, and American Express and Discover followed suit in December... However, this change does not apply to every credit card in circulation; older credit cards without EMV chips will still require signatures for authentication... Since 2011, Visa has deployed more than 460 million EMV chip cards and EMV chip-enabled readers at more than 2.5 million locations.
"Businesses that accepted EMV cards reported a 66 percent decline in fraud in the first two years of EMV deployment," the article notes -- suggesting a future where fewer shoppers are signing their receipts.

"In Canada, Australia and most of Europe, credit cards have long abandoned the signature for the EMV chip and a PIN to authenticate the transaction, like one does with a debit card."
Social Networks

Snapchat's Big Redesign Bashed In 83 Percent of User Reviews (techcrunch.com) 113

The new Snapchat redesign that jams Stories in between private messages is not receiving a whole lot of praise. "In the few countries including the U.K., Australia, and Canada where the redesign is widely available, 83 percent of App Store reviews (1,941) for the update are negative with one or two stars, according to data by mobile analytics firm Sensor Tower," reports TechCrunch. "Just 17 percent, or 391 of the reviews, give it three to five stars." From the report: The most referenced keywords in the negative reviews include "new update," "Stories," and "please fix." Meanwhile, Snapchat's Support Twitter account has been busy replying to people who hate the update and are asking to uninstall it, noting "It's not possible to revert to a previous version of Snapchat," and trying to explain where Stories are to confused users. Hopes were that the redesign could boost Snapchat's soggy revenue, which fell short of Wall Street earnings expectations in Q3 and led to a loss of $443 million. The redesign mixes Stories, where Snapchat shows ads but which have seen stagnation in sharing rates amidst competition from Instagram Stories, into the more popular messaging inbox, where Snapchat's ephemeral messaging is more differentiated and entrenched.
Earth

Sea Turtles Under Threat As Climate Change Turns Most Babies Female (futurism.com) 177

A new study published in the journal Current Biology found that as much as 99 percent of baby green sea turtles in warm equatorial regions are being born female. "The study took a look at turtle populations at nesting sites at Raine Island and Moulter Cay in the northern Great Barrier Reef, an area plagued with unprecedented levels of coral bleaching from high temperatures," reports Futurism. "The researchers compared these populations with sea turtles living at sites in the cooler south." From the report: Using a new, non-invasive hormone test, the researchers from the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Fisheries Department and the Queensland Department of Environment and Heritage Protection found that while 65 -69 percent of the turtles from the southern region were female, between 86.8 and 99.8 of turtles tested in the northern region were female, depending on age. The sex of green sea turtles, along with some other species of turtles, crocodiles, and alligators, is not regulated by the introduction of sex chromosomes at key points during early development, as seen in humans and other mammals. Their sex is actually influenced by the temperature at which the eggs are incubated, with warmer temperatures more likely to lead to females. The difference between predominately male and predominately female hatchlings is only a few degrees, such as that formerly found between the cool, damp bottom of a sandy sea turtle nest and the sun-warmed top. The ages of the female turtles in the north suggest that this population has experienced temperatures that cause this imbalance since at least the 1990s. Given that the warmer temperatures seen in northern Australia have been distributed around the globe, experts predict that other sea turtle populations in warm regions are also following the same trend.
Medicine

Scientists Change Our Understanding of How Anaesthesia Messes With the Brain (sciencealert.com) 92

schwit1 shares a report from ScienceAlert: It's crazy to think that we still don't quite understand the mechanism behind one of the most common medical interventions -- general anaesthetic. But researchers in Australia just got a step closer by discovering that one of the most commonly used anesthetic drugs doesn't just put us to sleep; it also disrupts communication between brain cells. The team investigated the drug propofol, a super-popular option for surgeries worldwide. A potent sedative, the drug is thought to put us to sleep through its effect on the GABA neurotransmitter system, the main regulator of our sleep-and-wake cycles in the brain. But anyone who's been "put under" will know that waking up from a general anesthetic feels rather different from your usual morning grogginess. On top of that, some people can experience serious side-effects, so scientists have been trying to figure out what else the drugs might be doing in the brain.

Using live neuron cell samples from rats and fruit flies, the researchers were able to track neurotransmitter activity thanks to a super-resolution microscope, and discovered that propofol messes with a key protein that nerve cells use to communicate with each other. This protein, called syntaxin1A, isn't just found in animal models - people have it, too. And it looks like the anesthetic drug puts the brakes on this protein, making otherwise normal brain cell connections sluggish, at least for a while. The researchers think this disruption could be key to how propofol allows for pain-free surgery to take place - first it knocks us out as a normal sleeping pill would, and then takes things up a notch by disrupting brain connectivity.
The research has been published in Cell Reports.
Space

Astronomers May Be Closing in on Source of Mysterious Fast Radio Bursts (theguardian.com) 57

Astronomers appear to be closing in on the source of enigmatic radio pulses emanating from space that have become the subject of intense scientific speculation. From a new report: Previous candidates for the origin of the fleeting blasts of radiation -- known as fast radio bursts, or FRBs -- have included exploding stars, the reverberations of weird objects called cosmic strings or even distant beacons from interstellar alien spaceships. Now, new observations provide backing for a scenario involving a rapidly rotating neutron star cocooned by an ultra-powerful magnetic field. The explanation is more orthodox than some of the alternatives offered, but could point astronomers towards some of the most extreme magnetic environments in the known universe.

"Our preferred model is that they are coming from a neutron star ... that could be just 10 or 20 years old in an extreme magnetic environment," said Jason Hessels, a co-author of the new paper and astronomer at the Netherlands Institute for Radio Astronomy in the Dutch town of Dwingeloo. Fast radio bursts have perplexed astronomers ever since the signals were discovered in 2007 in earlier observation data from the Parkes radio telescope in Australia.
About 30 of these objects have been discovered deep in space since the first was detected, all but one burping out a cataclysmic radio pulse exactly once and then disappearing into the night. Only one burster, known as FRB121102, after the date it was discovered (Nov. 2, 2012), has repeated itself, hundreds of times now.
Google

White Noise Video on YouTube Hit By Five Copyright Claims (bbc.com) 219

Chris Baraniuk, reporting for BBC: A musician who made a 10-hour long video of continuous white noise -- indistinct electronic hissing -- has said five copyright infringement claims have been made against him. Sebastian Tomczak, who is based in Australia, said he made the video in 2015 and uploaded it to YouTube. The claimants accusing him of infringement include publishers of white noise intended for sleep therapy. "I will be disputing these claims," he told the BBC. In this case, those accusing Mr Tomczak are not demanding the video's removal, but instead the reward of any revenue made from advertising associated with it. Without the claims, Mr Tomczak would receive such revenue himself. "I am intrigued and perplexed that YouTube's automated content ID system will pattern-match white noise with multiple claims," he said.
Transportation

Analysts Expect Tesla To Miss Its First 2018 Model 3 Production Target (usnews.com) 120

schwit1 shares a report from U.S. News & World Report: In October, Tesla reported that it produced 220 Model 3 vehicles in the third quarter. CEO Elon Musk had previously said the company would produce more than 1,600 Model 3s by September. Loup Ventures analyst Gene Munster isn't the only analyst to doubt Tesla's fourth-quarter Model 3 production. KeyBanc analyst Brad Erickson reduced his fourth-quarter Model 3 production target by two-thirds, cutting it from 15,000 to only 5,000. According to Munster, Tesla investors may need to wait several more quarters for the Model 3 story to play out. "We predict a breakout year for the Model 3 in 2019 which means, until then, other elements like solid Model S and X production numbers, increasing energy deployments like the South Australia installation, and future vehicles (Roadster, Semi, Model Y, and pickup truck) will stoke investor optimism," he says. schwit1 adds: "Elon Musk promised Tesla would produce 500,000 Model 3 sedans in 2018 and has accepted refundable $1,000 deposits on nearly that many. At current production rates, it will be years before pre-orders are filled. The Model 3's good will and good reviews won't matter much if Tesla can't ramp up production, which even bulls like Munster believes is running at least a year late."
Space

First Blue Moon Total Lunar Eclipse in 150 Years Coming This Month (space.com) 59

An anonymous reader writes, citing a report: The first eclipse of 2018 will be a lunar one that comes at the very end of the month, on Jan. 31. It will be a total eclipse that involves the second full moon of the month, popularly referred to as a Blue Moon. Such a skywatching event hasn't happened for more than 150 years. The eclipse will take place during the middle of the night, and the Pacific Ocean will be turned toward the moon at the time. Central and eastern Asia, Indonesia, New Zealand and most of Australia will get a fine view of this moon show in the evening sky. Heading farther west into western Asia, the Indian subcontinent, the Middle East and Eastern Europe, the eclipse will already be underway as the moon rises.
Australia

Tesla Big Battery Outsmarts Lumbering Coal Units After Loy Yang Trips (reneweconomy.com.au) 347

The Tesla big battery is having a crucial impact on Australia's electricity market, far beyond the South Australia grid where it was expected to time shift a small amount of wind energy and provide network services and emergency back-up in case of a major problem. From a report: Last Thursday, one of the biggest coal units in Australia, Loy Yang A 3, tripped without warning at 1.59am, with the sudden loss of 560MW and causing a slump in frequency on the network. What happened next has stunned electricity industry insiders and given food for thought over the near to medium term future of the grid, such was the rapid response of the Tesla big battery to an event that happened nearly 1,000km away. Even before the Loy Yang A unit had finished tripping, the 100MW/129MWh had responded, injecting 7.3MW into the network to help arrest a slump in frequency that had fallen below 49.80Hertz.
Earth

Scientists Confirm There Was Life On Earth 3.5 Billion Years Ago (qz.com) 176

Paleobiologists have confirmed today that life forms existed some 3.5 billion years ago. The new study, published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, uses the latest techniques to date the most aged remains available. Quartz reports: The research, led by paleobiologist William Schopf of the University of California-Los Angeles and geoscientist John Valley of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, has been in the works for what seems a long time to most, but which the academics know is merely a blink of the eye in terms of life on Earth. The specimens in question, mostly now-extinct bacteria and microbes, were found in 1982 at the Apex Chert, a rock formation in Western Australia, in a piece of rock. In 1993, based on radiometric analyses of the rock, and the shape of fossils, Schopf dated them as biological beings that existed 3.45 billion years ago. The rock held the earliest direct evidence of life, Schopf thought, and inferred from it that creatures existed over a billion years earlier than anyone previously believed. But some scientists argued that this claim was too speculative and that the microfossils, invisible to the naked eye, were really just weirdly-shaped bits of rock, strange minerals that only seem to contain biological specimens but do not.

Since then, technology has improved and Schopf and Valley teamed up to devise a new way to analyze the rock specimen, which now lives in the London Museum of Natural History. Valley spent 10 years developing a method to analyze the individual species that are shaped like tiny cylinders and filaments. Any type of organic substance (including both rock and microbe) contains a characteristic mix of carbon isotopes. Using a secondary ion mass spectrometer (a very rare tool, one of which is housed at the University of Wisconsin), the scientists were able to separate the carbon in each fossil into isotopes. That way, they could measure the carbon-isotope makeup of each fossil, and compare those to fossil-less rocks from the same era. [...] After analyzing the microfossils individually, they identified five species, concluding that two were photosynthesizers, two were methane-consuming organisms, and one produced methane.

Earth

Flat Earther Now Wants To Launch His Homemade Rocket From a Balloon (themaineedge.com) 314

A Maine alternative newsweekly just interviewed self-taught rocket scientist "Mad" Mike Hughes, who still believes that the earth is a flat, Frisbee-shaped disc. ("Think about this. Australia -- which is supposedly on the other side of the planet -- is upside down yet they're holding the waters in the ocean. Now how is that happening?") And Mike's got a new way to prove it after his aborted launch attempt in November. An anonymous reader writes: "One thing I want to clarify is that this rocket was never supposed to prove that the Earth is flat," Hughes tells an interviewer. "I was never going to go high enough to do that." But he will prove it's flat -- with an even riskier stunt. "I have a plan to go 62 miles up to the edge of space. It's going to cost $1.8 million and that could happen within 10 months."

"I'm going to have a balloon built at about $250,000 with $100,000 worth of hydrogen in it. It will lift me up about 20 miles... If I'm unconscious, they can use the controls to bring the balloon back." But if he's still conscious? "Then I'll fire a rocket through the balloon that will pull me up by my shoulders through a truss for 42 miles at 1.5 g's."

It's an awesome plan "if I don't burn up coming back through the atmosphere."

The interviewer asks Hughes a reasonable question. "Wouldn't it be cheaper and less deadly to just try to drill through the Earth to the other side to prove your point?"

"You can't," Hughes answers. "That's another fallacy. The deepest hole ever drilled is seven-and-a-half miles and it was done in Russia. It took 12 years. You cannot drill through this planet. It dulls every drill bit. All the stuff that you learned in school -- that the core is molten nickel -- it's all lies. No one knows what's in the center of the Earth or how deep it is. I'm no expert at anything, but I know that's a fact."
Canada

Canadian Cellphone Bills Are Some of the Highest In the World, Says Report (straight.com) 184

Freshly Exhumed shares a report from Straight: A report released this week by the Ministry of Innovation, Science, and Economic Development (ISED) confirms that Canada ranks among the top three most costly countries for mobile wireless plans. Comparing the U.K, Italy, France, Australia, Japan, and the U.S. on six tiers of pricing -- which looked at talk-time, texts, and data -- the document shows that Canada has the most expensive mid-range and higher-tier plans in the world. "It is unacceptable that Canadians continue to pay ever-rising prices year after year for something as critical as mobile communications services," said Katy Anderson, Digital Rights Advocate at OpenMedia.
Businesses

One of Australia's Richest Men Lost $1 Million To Email Scam (bloomberg.com) 84

Kaye Wiggins, reporting for Bloomberg: The multi-millionaire founder of Twynam Agricultural Group lost $1 million in an email fraud, a London court heard Thursday. The British man who facilitated the theft says he's a victim too. John Kahlbetzer, who is on the Forbes list of the 50 richest Australians, lost the money when fraudsters tricked the administrator of his personal finances into transferring it to them, his court papers say. Fraudsters emailed Christine Campbell, pretending to be the 87-year-old and asking her to pay $1 million to an account held by a British man, David Aldridge, which she did. Kahlbetzer is suing Aldridge to recover the funds, but Aldridge says he was being "unwittingly used" and was himself the victim of a fraud involving a woman he met online and believed he was in a loving relationship with. Email frauds where companies' staff are tricked into transferring money are a growing problem. U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation statistics show "business email compromise" cases, where criminals ask company officials to transfer funds, have cost more than $3 billion since 2015.
IT

Internet Traffic To Major Tech Firms Mysteriously Rerouted To Russia (securityweek.com) 106

wiredmikey writes: Internet traffic to some of the world's largest tech firms was briefly rerouted to Russia earlier this week in what appeared to be a Border Gateway Protocol (BGP) attack. Internet monitoring service BGPmon noticed that 80 IP prefixes for organizations such as Google, Microsoft, Apple, Facebook, NTT Communications, Twitch and Riot Games had been announced by a Russian Autonomous System (AS).

It happened twice on Tuesday and each time it only lasted for roughly three minutes. The first event took place between 04:43 and 04:46 UTC, and the second between 07:07 and 07:10 UTC. Despite being short-lived, BGPmon said the incidents were significant, including due to the fact that the announcements were picked up by several peers and some large ISPs, such as Hurricane Electric and Zayo in the U.S., Telstra in Australia, and NORDUnet, which is a joint project of several Nordic countries. The incident is rather suspicious, as the prefixes that were affected are all high profile destinations, as well as several more specific prefixes that aren't normally seen on the Internet.

Businesses

Amazon Bringing Echo and Alexa To 80 Additional Countries in Major Global Expansion (geekwire.com) 38

Amazon is launching three of its Echo devices with Alexa in 80 additional countries starting today -- a major international expansion for the company's smart speakers and voice-based assistant. From a report: New markets for the Echo, Echo Dot, and Echo Plus include Mexico, China, Russia and other countries in regions and continents including Europe, Africa, South America, the Middle East and Asia. Other Echo devices, such as the touch-screen Echo Show, are not included as part of the international expansion. Echo devices were previously only available in the US, UK, Germany, India, Japan, and Canada. Amazon earlier announced plans to bring Echo and Alexa to Australia and New Zealand next year. In addition, Amazon says its Music Unlimited subscription streaming service is available in 28 additional countries, including many of those where the Echo is now expanding, as well. Recommended reading: Don't buy anyone an Amazon Echo speaker.
Australia

Amazon Finally Launches In Australia (mashable.com) 57

After a very soft launch on Nov. 23, Amazon has officially launched in Australia. Mashable reports: One of the biggest things to happen to Australia's retail sector, Amazon's website has switched over from a Kindle Store presence to its fully fledged Amazon.com.au, with millions of products now ready for eager Christmas shoppers across more than 20 categories. It's a huge moment for Australian retail, and one of the most anticipated launches of the year, after Amazon confirmed in April 2017 it would expand its operations in Australia. Local retailers like David Jones and Myer have been scrambling to launch their own "premium" in-store services and price matching strategies or revamped online stores ahead of Amazon's arrival.

Thousands of Australian brands have already signed up with Amazon to sell their wares locally and internationally. Small and medium-sized Australian businesses are selling on Amazon Marketplace. Amazon's allowing free delivery on eligible orders above $49 that are sold by Amazon, and the company is rolling out one-day delivery service to select areas. Plus, for the first time, Australian customers will be able to access Prime Video and Twitch Prime, launching Prime shipping benefits in Australia in mid-2018 (registration for Prime is open now for Aussies).

Iphone

Every iPhone X Is Not Created Equal (pcmag.com) 74

According to a PC Magazine report that uses data from Cellular Insights, the Qualcomm-powered iPhone X has better LTE performance than the Intel-powered model. From the report: There are three iPhone X models sold globally. Using lab equipment, Cellular Insights tested two of them: the Qualcomm-powered A1865, sold by Sprint, Verizon, and U.S. Cellular and in Australia, China, and India; and the Intel-powered A1901, sold by most other global carriers including AT&T and T-Mobile. (The third model, A1902, is only sold in Japan.) Here in the U.S., we anticipate that the SIM-free model sold directly by Apple will be the A1865, as that's the model that supports all four U.S. carriers. For this test, Cellular Insights looked at performance on LTE Band 4, which is used by every major U.S. carrier except Sprint, as well as in Canada and parts of Latin America. Cellular Insights attenuated an LTE signal from a strong -85dBm until the modems showed no performance. While both modems started out with 195Mbps of download throughput on a 20MHz carrier, the Qualcomm difference appeared quickly, as the Intel modem dropped to 169Mbps at -87dBm. The Qualcomm modem took an additional -6dBm of attenuation to get to that speed. Most consumers will feel the difference in very weak signal conditions, where every dBm of signal matters, so we zoomed in on that in the chart below. At very weak signal strength, below -120dBm, the Qualcomm modem got speeds on average 67 percent faster than the Intel modem. The Intel modem finally died at -129dBm and the Qualcomm modem died at -130dBm, so we didn't find a lot of difference in when the modems finally gave out.

Slashdot Top Deals