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Scientists Create Record-Breaking Laser With Mind Blowing Power

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Motherboard: For the Korean research team led by senior author Chang-hee Nam, a plasma physicist and professor at Gwangju Institute of Science & Technology, their breakthrough in laser science may be a physically small feat (striking an area the size of a micron) but will have a huge impact on how we study not only cosmic phenomena from the beginning of time but how we treat cancer as well. After ten years of toiling, the team has demonstrated in a paper published on Thursday in the journal Optica the development of a laser with record-breaking intensity over 10^23 watts per square centimeter. Nam told Motherboard in an email that you can compare the intensity of this laser beam to the combined power of all of the sunlight across the entire planet, but pressed together into roughly the size of a speck of dust or a single red blood cell. This whole burst of power happens in just fractions of a second. "The laser intensity of 10 W/cm is comparable to the light intensity obtainable by focusing all the sunlight reaching Earth to a spot of 10 microns," explained Nam. To achieve this effect, Nam and colleagues at the Center for Relativistic Laser Science (CoReLS) lab constructed a kind of obstacle course for the laser beam to pass through to amplify, reflect, and control the motion of the photons comprising it. Because light behaves as both a particle (e.g. individual photons) as well as a wave, controlling the wavefront of this laser (similar to the front of an ocean wave) was crucial to make sure the team could actually focus its power. Nam explains that the technology to make this kind of precise control possible has been years in the making. Nam said that the ultrahigh power laser design played a role in this discovery by helping remove beam distortions while the deformable mirrors made it possible to have "extremely tight focusing without any aberrations." Beyond being a scientific breakthrough, Nam said that this high-intensity laser will open doors to explore some of the universe's most fundamental questions that had previously only been explored by theoreticians. Nam also said that these lasers have a more terrestrial purpose as well in the form of cancer treatment technology.

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Months-long Twitter Backlash Had Zero Impact on WhatsApp's User Base

An anonymous reader shares a report: It's safe to say WhatsApp didn't have the ideal start to 2021. Less than a week into the new year, the Facebook-owned instant messaging app had already annoyed hundreds of thousands of users with its scary worded notification about a planned policy update. The backlash grew fast and millions of people, including several high-profile figures, started to explore rival apps Signal and Telegram. Even governments, including India's -- WhatsApp's biggest market by users -- expressed concerns. (In the case of India, also an antitrust probe.) The backlash prompted WhatsApp to offer a series of clarifications and assurances to users, and it also postponed the deadline for enforcing the planned update by three months. Now with the May 15 deadline just a week away, we are able to quantify the real-world impact the aforementioned backlash had on WhatsApp's user base: Nada. The vast majority of users that WhatsApp has notified about the planned update in recent months have accepted the update, a WhatsApp spokesperson told TechCrunch. And the app continues to grow, added the spokesperson without sharing the exact figures.

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A New Printer Uses Sawdust To Print Wooden Objects

A new printer called Forust is using scrap wood to 3D print wooden objects that are as structurally sound as regular carved wood. Created by Andrew Jeffery and a team of researchers at Desktop Metal, the printer prints using fine sawdust that is formed into solid objects. Gizmodo reports: The printer works similarly to an inkjet printer and squirts a binding agent onto a layer of sawdust. Like most 3D printers, the object rises out of the bed of sawdust and then, when complete, can be sanded and finished like regular wood. Jeffrey sees the system as a way to save trees. "Two years ago we started looking into how we might be able to 3D print in new material," he said. "Wood waste was one of the materials we started with early on and realized it could be repurposed and upcycled with 3D printing technology. From there, we focused on building out the process using wood byproducts in order to create real wood-crafted results. We formed the company really to save forests."

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Latest Search For Alien Civilizations Looked At 60 Million Stars, Detects No Signals

schwit1 writes: Are there aliens out there? Breakthrough Listen, a privately-funded project searching for evidence of alien life, has released the first results from its survey of 60 million stars in an area looking towards the galactic center, noting that it found no evidence of any technological transmissions signaling an alien civilization from any of those stars. The kind of signals they were looking for were not beacons sent out intentionally by alien civilizations, such as television or radio broadcasts, but unintentional transmissions, such as radar transmissions meant for other purposes but still beamed into space. They found none. The paper can be downloaded here (PDF).

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China's Emissions Now Exceed All the Developed World's Combined

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Bloomberg: China's emissions of six heat-trapping gases, including carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide, rose to 14.09 billion tons of CO2 equivalent in 2019, edging out the total of Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development members by about 30 million tons, according to the New York-based climate research group. The massive scale of China's emissions highlights the importance of President Xi Jinping's drive to peak carbon emissions before 2030 and reach net-zero by 2060. China accounted for 27 percent of global emissions. The U.S., the second biggest emitter, contributed 11 percent while India for the first time surpassed the European Union with about 6.6 percent of the global total. Still, China also has the world's largest population, so its per capita emissions remain far less than those of the U.S. And on a historical basis, OECD members are still the world's biggest warming culprits, having pumped four times more greenhouse gases into the atmosphere than China since 1750.

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US Physics Lab Fermilab Exposes Proprietary Data For All To See

Multiple unsecured entry points allowed researchers to access data belonging to Fermilab, a national particle physics and accelerator lab supported by the Department of Energy. Ars Technica reports: This week, security researchers Robert Willis, John Jackson, and Jackson Henry of the Sakura Samurai ethical hacking group have shared details on how they were able to get their hands on sensitive systems and data hosted at Fermilab. After enumerating and peeking inside the subdomains using commonly available tools like amass, dirsearch, and nmap, the researchers discovered open directories, open ports, and unsecured services that attackers could have used to extract proprietary data. The server exposed configuration data for one of Fermilab's experiments called "NoVa," which concerns studying the purpose of neutrinos in the evolution of the cosmos. The researchers discovered that one of the tar.gz archives hosted on the FTP server contained Apache Tomcat server credentials in plaintext. The researchers verified that the credentials were valid at the time of their discovery but ceased experimenting further so as to keep their research efforts ethical. Likewise, in another set of unrestricted subdomains, the researchers found over 4,500 tickets used for tracking Fermilab's internal projects. Many of these contained sensitive attachments and private communications. And yet another server ran a web application that listed the full names of users registered under different workgroups, along with their email addresses, user IDs, and other department-specific information. A fourth server identified by the researchers exposed 5,795 documents and 53,685 file entries without requiring any authentication. [...] Fermilab was quick to respond to the researchers' initial report and squashed the bugs swiftly.

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When Autonomous Cars Teach Themselves To Drive Better Than Humans

schwit1 shares a report from IEEE Spectrum, written by Evan Ackerman: A few weeks ago, the CTO of Cruise tweeted an example of one of their AVs demonstrating a safety behavior where it moves over to make room for a cyclist. What's interesting about this behavior, though, is that the AV does this for cyclists approaching rapidly from behind the vehicle, something a human is far less likely to notice, much less react to. A neat trick -- but what does it mean, and what's next? In the video [here], as the cyclist approaches from the rear right side at a pretty good clip, you can see the autonomous vehicle pull to the left a little bit, increasing the amount of space that the cyclist can use to pass on the right. One important question that we're not really going to tackle here is whether this is even a good idea in the first place, since (as a cyclist) I'd personally prefer that cars be predictable rather than sometimes doing weirdly nice things that I might not be prepared for. But that's one of the things that makes cyclists tricky: we're unpredictable. And for AVs, dealing with unpredictable things is notoriously problematic. Cruise's approach to this, explains Rashed Haq, VP of Robotics at Cruise, is to try to give their autonomous system some idea of how unpredictable cyclists can be, and then plan its actions accordingly. Cruise has collected millions of miles of real-world data from its sensorized vehicles that include cyclists doing all sorts of things. And their system has built up a model of how certain it can be that when it sees a cyclist, it can accurately predict what that cyclist is going to do next. Essentially, based on its understanding of the unpredictability of cyclists, the Cruise AV determined that the probability of a safe interaction is improved when it gives cyclists more space, so that's what it tries to do whenever possible. This behavior illustrates some of the critical differences between autonomous and human-driven vehicles. Humans drive around with relatively limited situational awareness and deal with things like uncertainty primarily on a subconscious level. AVs, on the other hand, are constantly predicting the future in very explicit ways. Humans tend to have the edge when something unusual happens, because we're able to instantly apply a lifetime's worth of common-sense knowledge about the world to our decision-making process. Meanwhile, AVs are always considering the safest next course of action across the entire space that they're able to predict.

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WallStreetBets Forum Members Targeted in Telegram Cryptocurrency Scam

Members of Reddit's WallStreetBets forum were targeted in a probable cryptocurrency scam that could have left its victims with at least $2 million in losses. Bloomberg reports: Using the Telegram messaging service, an account called "WallStreetBets - Crypto Pumps" offered users the chance to buy a new token known as WSB Finance before it was listed on crypto exchanges, in what is referred to as a pre-mine sale. The account isn't affiliated with the infamous stock message board. The account running the sale told users to send Binance Coin, known as BNB, or Ether to a cryptocurrency wallet and then to contact its "token bot" on Telegram to receive WSB Finance coins. Those coins were never delivered. A second message then went out on Telegram telling those that had already sent payment that because of a problem with the bot, they'd have to send an equal amount again or they would lose their initial investment. Now thousands of people are taking to Telegram to voice their regrets and try and track down the person or persons behind the account. More than 3,451 Binance Coin tokens were removed Tuesday from the wallet listed in the Crypto Pumps messages, according to data from BscScan, a validator on the Binance Smart Chain, a blockchain network that runs so-called smart-contract applications. At Binance Coin's current price of $625, that comes to more than $2.1 million and doesn't account for any Ether the account may have been sent. The "WallStreetBets - Crypto Pumps" account has since been deleted from Telegram, but whoever controlled it left those waiting on their payouts with a clue as to where there funds were going: "Buying lambo now."

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How China Turned a Prize-Winning iPhone Hack Against the Uyghurs

An attack that targeted Apple devices was used to spy on China's Muslim minority -- and US officials claim it was developed at the country's top hacking competition. An anonymous reader shares an excerpt from an MIT Technology Review article: The Tianfu Cup offered prizes that added up to over a million dollars. [It was held in November 2018, shortly after the Chinese banned cybersecurity researchers from attending overseas hacking competitions.] The $200,000 top prize went to Qihoo 360 researcher Qixun Zhao, who showed off a remarkable chain of exploits that allowed him to easily and reliably take control of even the newest and most up-to-date iPhones. From a starting point within the Safari web browser, he found a weakness in the core of the iPhones operating system, its kernel. The result? A remote attacker could take over any iPhone that visited a web page containing Qixun's malicious code. It's the kind of hack that can potentially be sold for millions of dollars on the open market to give criminals or governments the ability to spy on large numbers of people. Qixun named it "Chaos." Two months later, in January 2019, Apple issued an update that fixed the flaw. There was little fanfare—just a quick note of thanks to those who discovered it. But in August of that year, Google published an extraordinary analysis into a hacking campaign it said was "exploiting iPhones en masse." Researchers dissected five distinct exploit chains they'd spotted "in the wild." These included the exploit that won Qixun the top prize at Tianfu, which they said had also been discovered by an unnamed "attacker." The Google researchers pointed out similarities between the attacks they caught being used in the real world and Chaos. What their deep dive omitted, however, were the identities of the victims and the attackers: Uyghur Muslims and the Chinese government. Shortly after Google's researchers noted the attacks, media reports connected the dots: the targets of the campaign that used the Chaos exploit were the Uyghur people, and the hackers were linked to the Chinese government. Apple published a rare blog post that confirmed the attack had taken place over two months: that is, the period beginning immediately after Qixun won the Tianfu Cup and stretching until Apple issued the fix. MIT Technology Review has learned that United States government surveillance independently spotted the Chaos exploit being used against Uyghurs, and informed Apple. (Both Apple and Google declined to comment on this story.) The Americans concluded that the Chinese essentially followed the "strategic value" plan laid out by Qihoo's Zhou Hongyi; that the Tianfu Cup had generated an important hack; and that the exploit had been quickly handed over to Chinese intelligence, which then used it to spy on Uyghurs. The US collected the full details of the exploit used to hack the Uyghurs, and it matched Tianfu's Chaos hack, MIT Technology Review has learned. (Google's in-depth examination later noted how structurally similar the exploits are.) The US quietly informed Apple, which had already been tracking the attack on its own and reached the same conclusion: the Tianfu hack and the Uyghur hack were one and the same. The company prioritized a difficult fix.

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Coinbase To Close San Francisco Offices For Good, Will Have No Headquarters

The biggest U.S. cryptocurrency exchange, Coinbase, has announced it will close its San Francisco offices for good. SFGate reports: The company -- founded in June 2012 by former Airbnb engineer Brian Armstrong -- has had a speedy rise to the top in the nascent crypto industry, though its practices have also sometimes stoked controversy. [...] Coinbase's 1,200 employees are now decentralizing, and the company will no longer have a physical headquarters at all. The announcement on Twitter on Wednesday that the company's Market Street offices would shutter next year wasn't a total shock. A year ago, Armstrong announced the company would be "remote first" and not have a specific headquarters. Coinbase say they will instead offer some smaller offices elsewhere, but didn't give details. "Closing our SF office is an important step in ensuring no office becomes an unofficial HQ and will mean career outcomes are based on capability and output rather than location," the company said in a statement. "Instead, we will offer a network of smaller offices for our employees to work from if they choose to."

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Microsoft Is Finally Ditching Its Windows 95-Era Icons

Microsoft is now planning to refresh the Windows 95-era icons you still sometimes come across in Windows 10. The Verge reports: Windows Latest has spotted new icons for the hibernation mode, networking, memory, floppy drives, and much more as part of the shell32.dll file in preview versions of Windows 10. This DLL is a key part of the Windows Shell, which surfaces icons in a variety of dialog boxes throughout the operating system. It's also a big reason why Windows icons have been so inconsistent throughout the years. Microsoft has often modernized other parts of the OS only for an older app to throw you into a dialog box with Windows 95-era icons from shell32.dll. Hopefully this also means Windows will never ask you for a floppy disk drive when you dig into Device Manager to update a driver. That era of Windows, along with these old icons, has been well and truly over for more than a decade now. These new changes are part of Microsoft's design overhaul to Windows 10, codenamed Sun Valley. "We're expecting to hear more about Sun Valley at Microsoft's Build conference later this month, or as part of a dedicated Windows news event," notes The Verge.

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Opposing PRO Act, Uber and Other Gig Companies Spend Over $1 Million Lobbying

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Intercept: Even as President Joe Biden called for Congress during his joint address last week to pass labor reform legislation, a slate of gig companies has spent over $1 million lobbying Congress to influence the PRO Act and other related issues in 2021 alone, according to newly released lobbying disclosures. Ride-hailing companies Uber and Lyft and delivery apps DoorDash and Instacart spent at least $1,190,000 on 32 lobbyists to persuade members of Congress on the PRO Act, first quarter disclosure reports show. The bill, which the House of Representatives passed in early March, would allow many gig workers to unionize and make it harder for companies to union-bust, among other changes. Uber alone spent $540,000 in the first quarter of 2021 lobbying on "issues related to the future of work and the on-demand economy, possible anti-competitive activities that could limit consumers access to app-based technologies," the PRO Act, and other related labor issues. Lyft spent $430,000, DoorDash $120,000, and Instacart $100,000 on lobbying on the PRO Act and other issues, according to disclosures. The PRO Act would make the most pivotal changes to labor law since the 1970s. In addition to giving many gig workers the right to unionize, it would grant employees whistleblower protections and prohibit companies from retaliating against participants in strikes and other union-related activities. A 2019 report from Gallup commissioned by Intuit estimated that 17 percent of U.S. adults engaged in self-employment. These reforms threaten the profits of gig companies, which rely on a large and fluid group of independent contractors.

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Apple Offered Special App Store API Access To Hulu and Other Developers

App Store Vice President Matt Fischer is on the stand answering questions from Apple and Epic lawyers, and one of the emails shared as evidence confirms that Apple has established special deals with major app developers like Hulu. From a report: In 2018, a tweet from developer David Barnard commented about App Store subscriptions being automatically cancelled through the StoreKit API, questioning why there hadn't been more offers to swap billing away from the App Store. Matt Fischer asked Cindy Lin about it, and she explained that Hulu is a developer with special access to a subscription cancel/refund API. Hulu is part of the set of whitelisted developers with access to subscription cancel/refund API. Back in 2015 they were using this to support instant upgrade using a 2 family setup, before we had subscription upgrade/downgrade capabilities built in. Apple does not further detail who other developers with special access might have been in the correspondence, but these are not features that all developers have access to. Apple has long said that the App Store provides a "level playing field" that treats all apps in the App Store the same with one set of rules for everybody and no special deals or special terms, but it's clear that some apps are indeed provided with special privileges.

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Google Play's App Listings Will Require Privacy Info Next Year, Just Like the App Store

Starting next year, apps on Google Play will show details about what data they collect, as well as other information about their privacy and security practices, in a new safety section in their listing. From a report: The announcement comes just a few months after Apple started displaying similar privacy information in the App Store. In the same way Apple's policy covers both its own apps and those developed by third parties, Google says its first-party apps will also be required to provide this information. According to Google, the initiative is meant to "help people understand the data an app collects or shares, if that data is secured, and additional details that impact privacy and security." The section will detail what user data an app has access to (like location, contacts, or personal info like an email address), but Google says it also wants to let developers give context to explain how it's used and what it means for their apps' functionality. In particular, Google says apps will give information about whether data is encrypted, whether they comply with Google's policies around apps aimed at children, and whether users can opt out of data sharing. Google says the information will also highlight whether a third party has verified the app's safety section, and whether users can request that their data be deleted. The new policy won't come into effect for several months, and Google says this should give developers enough time to implement the changes.

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Biden Backs Waiving International Patent Protections For COVID-19 Vaccines

President Biden threw his support behind a World Trade Organization proposal earlier this week to waive intellectual property protections for COVID-19 vaccines, clearing a hurdle for vaccine-strapped countries to manufacture their own vaccines even though the patents are privately held. From a report: "This is a global health crisis, and the extraordinary circumstances of the COVID-19 pandemic call for extraordinary measures," U.S. trade representative Katherine Tai said in a statement. "The Administration believes strongly in intellectual property protections, but in service of ending this pandemic, supports the waiver of those protections for COVID-19 vaccines." The pace of vaccinating against COVID-19 in the U.S. is slowing down. In some places, there are more vaccine doses than people who want them. Meanwhile, India is now the epicenter of the pandemic, and just 2% of its population is fully vaccinated. The WTO is considering a proposal to address that inequity, as India, South Africa and over 100 other nations advocate to waive IP rights for COVID-19 vaccines and medications, which could let manufacturers in other countries make their own.

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