Technology News

Driveway Encounter With Microsoft's President Led To $25 Million For Code.org

Slashdot - Mon, 12/10/2018 - 08:20
Long time reader theodp writes: At Monday's kickoff event with Melinda Gates for Computer Science Education Week 2018, Microsoft President Brad Smith revealed how a 2013 driveway encounter led to Microsoft's decision to commit $25 million to Code.org, whose CEO Hadi Partovi happens to live next door to Smith. "At the top of the hill, we share a common driveway," Smith said. "I can't even drive into the garage at night if he is standing in the way. Well, actually I can, but running him over is not the right path." Five years ago, Smith recalled, Partovi was in his driveway (King of the Hill-inspired artist's impression), "and he said, 'I have an idea [for then-nascent Code.org]. There is an important problem that we can help solve, because for too many people they look at these opportunities in computer science, and they don't appreciate that in truth anybody can aspire to be the next Melinda Gates or the next Bill Gates or the next Jeff Bezos or the next Sheryl Sandberg or Mark Zuckerberg. What they need, what they deserve, is the opportunity to learn this fundamental field.'" Earlier this year, Code.org celebrated its 5th anniversary and thanked Microsoft and other tech donors for making it possible for the nonprofit to change U.S. K-12 public education. Smith also announced Monday that Microsoft would invest an additional $10 million in Code.org to help expand the tech-bankrolled nonprofit's work. "The renewed partnership," Microsoft explained, "will focus on ensuring that by 2020 every state will have passed policies to expand access to computer science and every school in the U.S. will have access to Code.org professional development."

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Netflix's Biggest Competition Isn't Sleep -- It's YouTube

Slashdot - Mon, 12/10/2018 - 07:40
Netflix CEO Reed Hastings loves to identify sleep as the biggest competition of its service. "Sometimes employees at Netflix think, 'Oh my god, we're competing with FX, HBO, or Amazon, but think about it. If you didn't watch Netflix last night: What did you do? There's such a broad range of things that you did to relax and unwind, hang out, and connect -- and we compete with all of that," he once said. "You get a show or a movie you're really dying to watch, and you end up staying up late at night, so we actually compete with sleep," he added. Turns out, Hastings does not need to look that far for competition. From a report: Despite Netflix and Amazon investing billions of dollars in producing original content, they are struggling to make inroads in emerging markets. YouTube, on the other hand, is growing rapidly, becoming a daily habit for even new internet users. In India, for instance, YouTube reaches 245 million unique users each month, or 85 percent of all internet users in the country, the company told VentureBeat. About 60 percent of all YouTube traffic in India comes from outside of its six major cities. [Globally, YouTube has 1.9 billion monthly active users.] As consumption on YouTube grows, creators are also finding loyal audiences. In India alone, YouTube now has more than 600 channels with more than 1 million subscribers, up from 20 channels in 2016. Record label T-Series, which is fighting with PewDiePie for the title of most-subscribed YouTube channel, took 10 years to get to its first 10 million subscribers. In the last two years, it has grown to 60 million subscribers. Globally, YouTube says the number of channels with more than 1 million subscribers has grown by 75 percent this year. Globally, YouTube told VentureBeat that 75 percent of the platform's watch time occurs on a mobile device. The average watch time for a mobile user is 60 minutes per day. Or in other words, this is the time a user could have spent watching Netflix. According to eMarketer's estimates, an average user would spend about 86 minutes per day watching digital videos on streaming services this year.

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Your Apps Know Where You Were Last Night, and They're Not Keeping It Secret

Slashdot - Mon, 12/10/2018 - 07:00
Dozens of companies use smartphone locations to help advertisers and even hedge funds. They say it's anonymous, but the data shows how personal it is. From a report: The millions of dots on the map trace highways, side streets and bike trails -- each one following the path of an anonymous cellphone user. One path tracks someone from a home outside Newark to a nearby Planned Parenthood, remaining there for more than an hour. Another represents a person who travels with the mayor of New York during the day and returns to Long Island at night. [...] An app on the device gathered her location information, which was then sold without her knowledge. It recorded her whereabouts as often as every two seconds, according to a database of more than a million phones in the New York area that was reviewed by The New York Times. At least 75 companies receive anonymous, precise location data from apps whose users enable location services to get local news and weather or other information, The Times found. Several of those businesses claim to track up to 200 million mobile devices in the United States -- about half those in use last year. The database reviewed by The Times -- a sample of information gathered in 2017 and held by one company -- reveals people's travels in startling detail, accurate to within a few yards and in some cases updated more than 14,000 times a day.

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Global Carbon Emissions Jump To All-Time High in 2018

Slashdot - Mon, 12/10/2018 - 04:30
Global carbon emissions will jump to a record high in 2018, according to a report, dashing hopes a plateau of recent years would be maintained. It means emissions are heading in the opposite direction to the deep cuts urgently needed, say scientists, to fight climate change. From a report: The rise is due to the growing number of cars on the roads and a renaissance of coal use and means the world remains on the track to catastrophic global warming. However, the report's authors said the emissions trend can still be turned around by 2020, if cuts are made in transport, industry and farming emissions. The research by the Global Carbon Project was launched at the UN climate summit in Katowice, Poland, where almost 200 nations are working to turn the vision of tackling climate change agreed in Paris in 2015 into action. The report estimates CO2 emissions will rise by 2.7% in 2018, sharply up on the plateau from 2014-16 and 1.6% rise in 2017. Almost all countries are contributing to the rise, with emissions in China up 4.7%, in the US by 2.5% and in India by 6.3% in 2018. The EU's emissions are near flat, but this follows a decade of strong falls. "The global rise in carbon emissions is worrying, because to deal with climate change they have to turn around and go to zero eventually," said Prof Corinne Le Quere, at the University of East Anglia,who led the research published in the journal Nature. "We are not seeing action in the way we really need to. This needs to change quickly."

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Alexa is Implementing Self-Learning Techniques To Better Understand Users

Slashdot - Mon, 12/10/2018 - 02:30
In a developer blog post published this week, Alexa AI director of applied science Ruhi Sarikaya detailed the advances in machine learning technologies that have allowed Alexa to better understand users through contextual clues. From a report: According to Sarikaya, these improvements have played a role in reducing user friction and making Alexa more conversational. Since this fall, Amazon has been working on self-learning techniques that teach Alexa to automatically recover from its own errors. The system has been in beta until now, and it launched in the US this week. It doesn't require any human annotation, and, according to Sarikaya, it uses customers' "implicit or explicit contextual signals to detect unsatisfactory interactions or failures of understanding." The contextual signals range from customers' historical activity, preferences, and what Alexa skills they use to where the Alexa device is located in the home and what kind of Alexa device it is. For example, during the beta phase, Alexa learned to understand a customer's mistaken command of "Play 'Good for What'" and correct them by playing Drake's song "Nice for What."

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The Electric Airplane Revolution May Come Sooner Than You Think

Slashdot - Mon, 12/10/2018 - 00:00
An anonymous reader shares a report: An all-electric mini-airliner that can go 621 miles on one charge and replace many of the turboprops and light jets in use now -- flying almost as far and almost as fast but for a fraction of the running costs -- could be in service within three years. But this isn't another claim by another overoptimistic purveyor of electric dreams. It's using current technology, and the first planes are being built right now. In fact, the process of gaining certification from aviation regulators for what would be the world's first electric commuter plane has already started. The pressurised Alice from Israeli company Eviation is a graceful-looking composite aircraft with one propeller at the rear and another at the end of each wing, placed to cut drag from wingtip vortices. Each is driven by a 260 kW electric motor, and they receive power from a 900 kWh lithium ion battery pack. Alongside its 650 mile range, the pressurised $3 million-plus Alice can carry nine passengers and two crew, and cruise at 276 mph -- up there with the speed of the turboprops that are widely used in the commuter role, if not anywhere near that of jets. But crucially, says Eviation chief executive Omer Bar-Yohay, "operating costs will be just 7 to 9 cents per seat per mile," or about $200 an hour for the whole aircraft, against about $1,000 for turboprop rivals.

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Japan is Giving Away Free Houses

Slashdot - Sun, 12/09/2018 - 21:00
There are some 8 million abandoned homes -- or akiya -- in Japanese suburbia, according to The Japan Times . And if you've got a visa allowing you to live in Japan, some of them can be yours for free or very low prices, and the government may give you a subsidy to renovate one. From a report: There are even databases devoted to helping people find these homes, known as "akiya banks." What's driving the government to give away homes? In part, it has to do with Japan's aging population: According to the World Bank, the country's population decreased by -0.2% in 2017 alone, while China and the U.S. slowly grew 0.6% and 0.7% respectively. There are simply fewer people in Japan than there once were -- roughly 1.3 million fewer people than in 2010 by one count [paywall].

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China Forms New Body To Review Ethics Risks of Video Games

Slashdot - Sun, 12/09/2018 - 19:00
China has established a new body that reviews ethical issues in video gaming, marking the country's latest attempt to tighten control over the world's biggest games market. From a report: The recently formed Online Games Ethics Committee has so far evaluated an initial batch of 20 video game titles, according to a report on Friday from state broadcaster China Central Television (CCTV). This was the first time the committee's existence was made public. Without elaborating, the CCTV report said the ethics committee rejected nine games for publication in the domestic market, while ruling that certain content be modified in the 11 other games that were reviewed. The report neither revealed which government department the ethics committee was directly under nor identified the 20 games that the body processed. The creation of the Online Games Ethics Committee has come amid concerns over internet addiction, childhood myopia and unsuitable content in China's US$38 billion video games market, which has led Beijing to tighten its control over the industry and freeze the approval of new titles this year.

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Scientists Say Most Diverse Coral Site Ever Seen on Great Barrier Reef Discovered

Slashdot - Sun, 12/09/2018 - 17:40
In a space no longer than 500 metres, researchers say they recorded at least 195 different species of corals. From a report: A team of researchers says it has discovered the most diverse coral site ever recorded on the Great Barrier Reef. Great Barrier Reef Legacy, a non-profit organisation that conducts research trips on the reef, and scientist Charlie Veron, known as the godfather of coral, have identified the site on the outer reef. In a space no longer than 500 metres, the researchers say they recorded at least 195 different species of corals on a research expedition last month. The group first stumbled upon the site on a voyage last year, and returned in November to conduct studies. "I've spent eight years working on the Great Barrier Reef in just about every nook and cranny," Veron said. "I thought there would be nothing new for me on the Great Barrier Reef." Veron returned with the group to record the corals and will write a paper on the site. He said it was located in a general area that had been affected by widespread coral bleaching and coral mortality and it would take further work to assess why this particular spot had survived so far. It also appeared to have been unaffected by cyclones and other factors such as crown of thorns that threaten coral health.

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'What Straight-A Students Get Wrong'

Slashdot - Sun, 12/09/2018 - 15:45
From a story: Year after year, I watch in dismay as students obsess over getting straight A's. Some sacrifice their health; a few have even tried to sue their school after falling short. All have joined the cult of perfectionism out of a conviction that top marks are a ticket to elite graduate schools and lucrative job offers. I was one of them. I started college with the goal of graduating with a 4.0. It would be a reflection of my brainpower and willpower, revealing that I had the right stuff to succeed. But I was wrong. The evidence is clear: Academic excellence is not a strong predictor of career excellence. Across industries, research shows that the correlation between grades and job performance is modest in the first year after college and trivial within a handful of years. For example, at Google, once employees are two or three years out of college, their grades have no bearing on their performance. Academic grades rarely assess qualities like creativity, leadership and teamwork skills, or social, emotional and political intelligence. Yes, straight-A students master cramming information and regurgitating it on exams. But career success is rarely about finding the right solution to a problem -- it's more about finding the right problem to solve.

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Alibaba Already Has a Voice Assistant Way Better Than Google's

Slashdot - Sun, 12/09/2018 - 14:00
Like Google's Duplex, Chinese internet giant Alibaba has its own humanlike voice assistant capable of making restaurant reservations and salon appointments. But unlike Google, which has rolled out the feature to select audience, Alibaba's offering already has a wider reach. And it's smart, too. From a report: On December 2 at the 2018 Neural Information Processing Systems conference, one of the largest annual gatherings for AI research, Alibaba demoed the AI customer service agent for its logistics company Cainiao. Jin Rong, the dean of Alibaba's Machine Intelligence and Technology Lab, said the agent is already servicing millions of customer requests a day. The pre-recorded demo call involved the agent asking a customer where he wanted his package delivered. In the back-and-forth exchange, the agent successfully navigated several conversational elements that demonstrated the breadth of its natural-language capabilities. Take this exchange at the beginning of the call, translated from Mandarin: Agent: Hello, I am Cainiao's voice assistant. I am -- Customer: Hello. A: Yes, hi, you have package scheduled for morning delivery to 588 Culture West Road. Is it convenient for you to receive? C: Who are you? A: I am Cainiao's voice assistant. I'd like to confirm your morning delivery to 588 Culture West Road. Does that work for you? C: I'm not home in the morning. A: Then do you have another address that you'd like to use? Within 30 seconds, the agent has smoothly handled three common, and tricky, conversational ingredients: interruption, nonlinear conversation, and implicit intent. Interruption is self-explanatory: the agent can respond to the customer's interruption and continue relaying relevant information without starting over or skipping a beat.

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Can the US Stop China From Controlling the Next Internet Age?

Slashdot - Sun, 12/09/2018 - 13:00
Tech executives worry China will turn to tit-for-tat arrests of Americans in response to the detention of Meng Wanzhou. And the worries don't stop there. Kara Swisher, writing at The New York Times: Imagine, if you will (and you should), a big American tech executive being detained over unspecified charges while on a trip to Beijing. That is exactly what a number of Silicon Valley executives told me they are concerned about after the arrest this week of Meng Wanzhou, the chief financial officer of the Chinese telecom company Huawei, in Canada at the behest of United States officials. "It's worrisome, because it's an escalation we did not need," one executive said, referring to the already tense trade talks between the two countries. "What China will do, given all the existing tensions, is anyone's guess." No one I spoke to would talk on the record, out of fear of antagonizing either side and also because no one knows exactly what is happening. But many expressed worry about the possibility of tit-for-tat arrests. While everyone focuses on the drama of the arrest -- Ms. Meng was grabbed while changing planes at the airport -- and its effect on the trade talks and stock prices, to my mind there is a much more important fight brewing, and it is about tech hegemony. Specifically, who will control the next internet age, and by whose rules will it be run? Until recently, that answer was clearly the United States, from which the Internet sprang, wiring the world together and, in the process, resulting in the greatest creation of power and wealth in history. While China has always had a strong technology sector, in recent years it has significantly escalated its investment, expertise and innovation, with major support from the government. That hand-in-glove relationship creates obvious issues, and the Trump administration is right to stop pretending that China does not present a threat both from security and innovation perspectives. Further reading: China summons U.S. ambassador, warns Canada of 'grave consequences' if Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou is not released.

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Google Just Can't Get the Message

Slashdot - Sun, 12/09/2018 - 12:00
It's been a rough week or so to be invested in a Google messaging service, hell it's been a rough decade to be invested in a Google messaging service. Phandroid: The latest victims are Allo, which will be going away in March of 2019, and "Hangouts Classic" which has a more nebulous end of life forecast. These products join the host of other Google messaging casualties over the years, Google Wave, Google+ Huddles, Google+ Hangouts, Google Spaces, to name a few. Now if this left us with an entirely clear picture of Google's messaging strategy going forward that would be something, but the reality is that the company still has 5 such apps with at least some overlapping functionality. The 5 survivors are Duo (Video), Messages (Text), Hangouts Chat (Enterprise Text), Hangouts Meet (Enterprise Video), and Google Voice (Voice and Text). Why am I including two enterprise-focused products in a discussion about consumer messaging? Because the head of those products, Scott Johnston, indicated that "Hangouts (Classic) users will be migrated to Chat and Meet." This was corroborated by an official blog post from Google's VP of Consumer Communications Products, Matt Klainer, who similarly put no definite timeline on this migration. This is a problem that Google themselves seemed ready to settle once and for all almost exactly 2 and a half years ago when they announced Allo and Duo at Google I/O 2016, this was going to be the two-pronged answer to messaging on Android. But it became clear reasonably quickly that Allo wasn't going to hold up its end of the bargain, it saw limited adoption and within two years of launch, Google has now admitted that it shifted resources away from Allo and instead was focused on bringing the relevant features into Messages.

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As We Forge the Web of Tomorrow, We Need a Set of Guiding Principles That Can Define the Kind of Web We Want, Says Tim Berners-Lee

Slashdot - Sun, 12/09/2018 - 11:00
Tim Berners-Lee, writing for The New York Times: All technologies come with risks. We drive cars despite the possibility of serious accidents. We take prescription drugs despite the danger of abuse and addiction. We build safeguards into new innovations so we can manage the risks while benefiting from the opportunities. The web is a global platform -- its challenges stretch across borders and cultures. Just as the web was built by millions of people collaborating around the world, its future relies on our collective ability to make it a better tool for everyone. As we forge the web of tomorrow, we need a set of guiding principles that can define the kind of web we want. Identifying these will not be easy -- any agreement that covers a diverse group of countries, cultures and interests will never be. But I believe it's possible to develop a set of basic ideals that we can all agree on, and that will make the web work better for everyone, including the 50 percent of the world's population that has yet to come online. Governments, companies and individuals all have unique roles to play. The World Wide Web Foundation, an organization I founded in 2009 to protect the web as a public good, has drawn up a set of core principles outlining the responsibilities that each party has to protect a web that serves all of humanity. We're asking everyone to sign on to these principles and join us as we create a formal Contract for the Web in 2019. The principles specify that governments are responsible for connecting their citizens to an open web that respects their rights.

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The Friendship That Made Google Huge

Slashdot - Sun, 12/09/2018 - 10:00
Coding together at the same computer, Jeff Dean and Sanjay Ghemawat changed the course of the company -- and the Internet. An anonymous reader writes: The New Yorker has profiled Jeff Dean and Sanjay Ghemawat, two of Google's most storied developers and to date, the company's only Senior Fellows, the highest level Google awards to engineers. The article dives into some of Dean and Ghemawat's successes at Google but focuses on their deep and collaborative friendship -- particularly exploring the power of programming with a partner. "I don't know why more people don't do it," Ghemawat explains. As Dean points out, all you need to do is "find someone that you're gonna pair-program with who's compatible with your way of thinking, so that the two of you together are a complementary force."

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Freshwater is Getting Saltier, Threatening People and Wildlife

Slashdot - Sun, 12/09/2018 - 09:00
Salts that de-ice roads, parking lots and sidewalks keep people safe in winter. But new research shows they are contributing to a sharp and widely rising problem across the U.S. From a report: At least a third of the rivers and streams in the country have gotten saltier in the past 25 years. And by 2100, more than half of them may contain at least 50 percent more salt than they used to. Increasing salinity will not just affect freshwater plants and animals but human lives as well -- notably, by affecting drinking water. Sujay Kaushal, a biogeochemist at the University of Maryland, College Park, recounts an experience he had when visiting relatives in New Jersey. When getting a drink from the tap, "I saw a white film on the glass." After trying to scrub it off, he found, "it turned out to be a thin layer of salt crusting the glass." When Kaushal, who studies how salt invades freshwater sources, sampled the local water supply he found not just an elevated level of the sodium chloride, widely used in winter to de-ice outdoor surfaces, but plenty of other salts such as sodium bicarbonate and magnesium chloride. He also found similar concentrations of these chemicals in most rivers along the east coast, including the Potomac, which provides drinking water for Washington, D.C. Where did all of it come from? De-icing salts, Kaushal determined, are part of the problem, slowly corroding our infrastructure.

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The Future of Television? Binge-Watching is Only the Beginning

Slashdot - Sun, 12/09/2018 - 08:00
With providers like Netflix, Hulu and Amazon, and more creative risks, network leaders are placing bets on how audience experience will evolve [Editor's note: the link may be paywalled]. From a report: "What might we see coming down the road?" says Beau Willimon, creator of The First, Hulu's sci-fi drama starring Sean Penn and Natascha McElhone. "Perhaps like [the characters] in my new show, we're all wearing augmented reality glasses, and we're experiencing television shows in a more intimate way -- a way that feels much more experiential than simply watching it on a rectangle." [...] Television, as most people have known it for most of their lives, is no more. "At some point you'll get to a place where thinking about television from a linear standpoint will be like dial-up internet," says Hulu CEO Randy Freer. "It's a great time for content; not a great time for cable networks. I think what will happen is: Cable networks that have been able to create brands for themselves will have an opportunity to expand and figure out how they present to consumers." Cable networks with a clear identity have a critical advantage in a subscription-based world, while networks with less-defined name recognition -- those that have been just another channel in the cable lineup -- will likely find it hard to entice the growing ranks of broadband-only consumers to buy an a la carte monthly subscription service. HBO is moving into the new era. "In the domestic market of the United States, where there is a surfeit of content more than ever, I personally think that brands matter more than ever," says HBO chairman and CEO Richard Plepler.

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Electron and the Decline of Native Apps

Slashdot - Sun, 12/09/2018 - 07:00
SwiftOnSecurity, regarding Microsoft's switch to Chromium as Windows's built-in rendering engine: This isn't about Chrome. This is about ElectronJS. Microsoft thinks EdgeHTML cannot get to drop-in feature-parity with Chromium to replace it in Electron apps, whose duplication is becoming a significant performance drain. They want to single-instance Electron with their own fork. Electron is a cancer murdering both macOS and Windows as it proliferates. Microsoft must offer a drop-in version with native optimizations to improve performance and resource utilization. This is the end of desktop applications. There's nowhere but JavaScript. John Gruber of DaringFireball: I don't share the depth of their pessimism regarding native apps, but Electron is without question a scourge. I think the Mac will prove more resilient than Windows, because the Mac is the platform that attracts people who care. But I worry. In some ways, the worst thing that ever happened to the Mac is that it got so much more popular a decade ago. In theory, that should have been nothing but good news for the platform -- more users means more attention from developers. The more Mac users there are, the more Mac apps we should see. The problem is, the users who really care about good native apps -- users who know HIG violations when they see them, who care about performance, who care about Mac apps being right -- were mostly already on the Mac. A lot of newer Mac users either don't know or don't care about what makes for a good Mac app.

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Linux.org's DNS Got Hijacked

Slashdot - Sun, 12/09/2018 - 05:34
Linux.org reports: Wednesday afternoon around 5pm EST someone was able to get into the registrar account for our domain and point DNS to another server -- as well as lock us out from changing it. They pointed the domain name to a pretty rude page for most of the evening until Cloudflare stepped in and blocked the domain for us. After a lot of back and forth with our registrar, we were able to get things back under our control. I'd like to point out that our server environment was not touched so there are no worries about your data. We've gone over security protocols and are tightening things up that may have slipped through in the past. Thanks for your support! Linux.org apparently pointed to a page exclaiming "G3T 0WNED L1NUX N3RDZ", which also included a NSFW picture, some abusive language, a shout-out to recently-deceased programmer Terry Davis, and a link to an article about Linus Torvalds' controversial apology for "his hostile behavior towards others in the community." Long-time Slashdot reader Grady Martin says he also saw the page pointing to "presumably doxed info" about the creator of Linux's code of conduct, a fact confirmed by a report in the Register. "As for how it was hacked, [Linux.org owner Mike] McLagan blames the public Whois displaying his partner's email address -- presumably the hacker worked their way into the Yahoo email account listed as the admin of the site and from there requested a password change in her Network Solutions account to gain access to the domain."

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Half of All Tech Workers Surveyed Think Their Workplace Is 'Unhealthy'

Slashdot - Sun, 12/09/2018 - 01:34
"Half of tech employees think their work culture is toxic," reports one Texas news site, citing a new survey by Blind: Blind, an anonymous work talk app, asked more than 12,000 tech staffers to respond to the statement: "I consider my current workplace a healthy working environment." Slightly more than half, 52 percent, said the survey statement was "false," versus nearly 48 percent who responded with "true." Intel was named the tech company with the least healthy work environment, by 48.5 percent of its employees, followed by Amazon at 46.5 percent, and eBay at 44.5 percent. Employees who consider their workplaces healthier work at LinkedIn, where 17.3 percent responded true, followed by Google, at 23.7 percent, and Uber, at 29.7 percent. It depends on how you define "unhealthy," of course -- but it'd be interesting to hear how Slashdot's readers respond to the same question. So leave your own thoughts and reactions in the comments. Is your work environment unhealthy?

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