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Wired Remembers the Glory Days of Flash

Wired recently remembered Flash as "the annoying plugin" that transformed the web "into a cacophony of noise, colour, and controversy, presaging the modern web." They write that its early popularity in the mid-1990s came in part because "Microsoft needed software capable of showing video on their website,, then the default homepage of every Internet Explorer user." But Flash allowed anyone to become an animator. (One Disney artist tells them that Flash could do in three days what would take a professional animator 7 months -- and cost $10,000.) Their article opens in 2008, a golden age when Flash was installed on 98% of desktops -- then looks back on its impact: The online world Flash entered was largely static. Blinking GIFs delivered the majority of online movement. Constructed in early HTML and CSS, websites lifted clumsily from the metaphors of magazine design: boxy and grid-like, they sported borders and sidebars and little clickable numbers to flick through their pages (the horror). Flash changed all that. It transformed the look of the web... Some of these websites were, to put it succinctly, absolute trash. Flash was applied enthusiastically and inappropriately. The gratuitous animation of restaurant websites was particularly grievous -- kitsch abominations, these could feature thumping bass music and teleporting ingredients. Ishkur's 'guide to electronic music' is a notable example from the era you can still view -- a chaos of pop arty lines and bubbles and audio samples, it looks like the mind map of a naughty child... In contrast to the web's modern, business-like aesthetic, there is something bizarre, almost sentimental, about billion-dollar multinationals producing websites in line with Flash's worst excess: long loading times, gaudy cartoonish graphics, intrusive sound and incomprehensible purpose... "Back in 2007, you could be making Flash games and actually be making a living," remembers Newgrounds founder Tom Fulp, when asked about Flash's golden age. "That was a really fun time, because that's kind of what everyone's dream is: to make the games you want and be able to make a living off it." Wired summarizes Steve Jobs' "brutally candid" diatribe against Flash in 2010. "Flash drained batteries. It ran slow. It was a security nightmare. He asserted that an era had come to an end... '[T]he mobile era is about low power devices, touch interfaces and open web standards -- all areas where Flash falls short.'" Wired also argues that "It was economically viable for him to rubbish Flash -- he wanted to encourage people to create native games for iOS." But they also write that today, "The post-Flash internet looks different. The software's downfall precipitated the rise of a new moulded by the specifications of the smartphone and the growth of social media," favoring hits of information rather than striving for more immersive, movie-emulating thrills. And they add that though Newgrounds long-ago moved away from Flash, the site's founder is now working on a Flash emulator to keep all that early classic content playable in a browser.

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Can A New TED-ED Video Series Teach Students To 'Think Like A Coder'?

An anonymous reader writes: TED Conferences has its own educational YouTube channel (now with 10 million subscribers and over 1.5 billion views). Two weeks ago it launched a 10-episode animated series about computer programming, and its first episode -- The Prison Break -- has already been viewed nearly a quarter of a milllion times. In the 7-minute video, a programmer wakes up in a prison cell -- with total amnesia -- and discovers a "mysterious stranger" squeezing through the jail cell's bars. It's a floating anthropomorphic drone, saying it needs the programmer's help to rescue a dystopian future world "in turmoil. Robots have taken over." The video introduces the computer programming concept of a loop -- since escaping the jail cell involves testing a key in every possible position. And the video's page on the TED-Ed web site offers links to related resources from and Free Code Camp, as well as from Advent of Code, "which is run by Eric Wastl, who consulted extensively on Think Like a Coder and inspired quite a few of the puzzles." The episode ends with the programmer dangling from the flying drone, off on an attempt to recover three artifacts -- nodes of memory, power, and creation -- that are currently being used for "nefarious purposes."

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Researchers Prove Humans Are Still Better Than AI at 'Angry Birds'

An anonymous reader quotes the I-Programmer site: Humans! Rest easy, we still beat the evil AI at the all-important Angry Birds game. Recent research by Ekaterina Nikonova and Jakub Gemrot of Charles University (Czech Republic) indicates why this is so.... "Firstly, this game has a large number of possibilities of actions and nearly infinite amount of possible levels, which makes it difficult to use simple state space search algorithms for this task. Secondly, the game requires a planning of sequences of actions, which are related to each other... For example, a poorly chosen first action can make a level unsolvable by blocking a pig with a pile of objects. Therefore, to successfully solve the task, a game agent should be able to predict or simulate the outcome of it is own actions a few steps ahead." The researchers also report that the game requires AI to distinguish "between multiple birds, their abilities and optimum tapping times..." "Despite the fact we have come close to a human-level performance on selected 21 levels, we still lost to 3 out of 4 humans in obtaining a maximum possible total score."

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NVIDIA's Job Listings Reveal 'Game Remastering' Studio, New Interest In RISC-V

An anonymous reader quotes Forbes: Nvidia has a lot riding on the success of its GeForce RTX cards. The Santa Clara, California company is beating the real-time ray tracing drum loudly, adamant on being known as a champion of the technology before AMD steals some of its thunder next year with the PlayStation 5 and its own inevitable release of ray-tracing enabled PC graphics cards. Nvidia has shown that, with ray tracing, it can breathe new life into a decades-old PC shooter like id Software's Quake 2, so why not dedicate an entire game studio to remastering timeless PC classics? A new job listing spotted by DSOGaming confirms that's exactly what Nvidia is cooking up. The ad says NVIDIA's new game remastering program is "cherry-picking some of the greatest titles from the past decades and bringing them into the ray tracing age, giving them state-of-the-art visuals while keeping the gameplay that made them great." (And it adds that the initiative is "starting with a title that you know and love but we can't talk about here!") Meanwhile, a China-based industry watcher on Medium reports that "six RISC-V positions have been advertised by NVIDIA, based in Shanghai and pertaining to architecture, design, and verification."

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Millions Watch As Entire Fortnite Ecosystem Becomes a Black Hole

"Fortnite just blew up its entire map and all that's left is a black hole," reports TechCrunch. Some are speculating that this is simply a teaser for a new Fortnite map, but it's unclear when that new map will arrive... Fortnite's website is currently just a Twitch stream featuring a black hole. The Washington Post reports: Anyone looking for clues on Fortnite's multiple social media accounts were left staring at the same image. The same black hole greets all visitors to Fortnite's Instagram. And intrepid players discovered that inputting the infamous "Konami code" launches a Galaga-style shooting game starring the mascot of Greasy Grove restaurant Durrr Burger.... As the event happened, many Twitch users reported having trouble using the popular streaming service, with more than 4 million people watching the event. Millions more tuned in on YouTube and Twitter, as well.... Rumors have swirled that the famous Fortnite map was going to be completely replaced, and given that everything's now gone, it sounds plausible... Fortnite's Season 10 has been expected to end soon, and since last year, spectacular one-time live events within the game have been used to build hype, signal changes to the one map the game has used for two years, and usher in a new season and battle pass. This time, players who logged in at 2 p.m. Eastern time witnessed a rocket launch from the Dusty Divot area of the island, which turned into multiple rockets, all zipping around in a manner similar to the rocket that players saw in the first season-ending live event in Season 4. The rockets then converged onto an area where a meteor was landing, and the collision caused players to fly up into the air to witness a black hole suck the entirety of the game inside. And since then, players have been left with nothing but the black hole.

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Study: Many Popular Medical Apps Send User Info To 3rd Or 4th Parties

dryriver writes: A study in the British Medical Journal that looked at 24 of the 100s of Medical apps available on Google Play found that 79% pass all sorts of user info -- including sensitive medical info like what your reported symptoms are and what medications you are taking in some cases -- on to third and fourth parties. A German-made and apparently very popular medical app named Ada was found to share user data with trackers like Facebook, Adjust and Amplitude for example. [Click here for the article in German.] The New York Times also warned recently about apps that want to retrieve/store your medical records. From the conclusion of the study: "19/24 (79%) of sampled apps shared user data. 55 unique entities, owned by 46 parent companies, received or processed app user data, including developers and parent companies (first parties) and service providers (third parties). 18 (33%) provided infrastructure related services such as cloud services. 37 (67%) provided services related to the collection and analysis of user data, including analytics or advertising, suggesting heightened privacy risks. Network analysis revealed that first and third parties received a median of 3 (interquartile range 1-6, range 1-24) unique transmissions of user data. Third parties advertised the ability to share user data with 216 "fourth parties"; within this network (n=237), entities had access to a median of 3 (interquartile range 1-11, range 1-140) unique transmissions of user data. Several companies occupied central positions within the network with the ability to aggregate and re-identify user data."

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Invisible Hardware Hacks Allowing Full Remote Access Cost Pennies

Long-time Slashdot reader Artem S. Tashkinov quotes Wired: More than a year has passed since Bloomberg Businessweek grabbed the lapels of the cybersecurity world with a bombshell claim: that Supermicro motherboards in servers used by major tech firms, including Apple and Amazon, had been stealthily implanted with a chip the size of a rice grain that allowed Chinese hackers to spy deep into those networks. Apple, Amazon, and Supermicro all vehemently denied the report. The NSA dismissed it as a false alarm. The Defcon hacker conference awarded it two Pwnie Awards, for "most overhyped bug" and "most epic fail." And no follow-up reporting has yet affirmed its central premise. But even as the facts of that story remain unconfirmed, the security community has warned that the possibility of the supply chain attacks it describes is all too real. The NSA, after all, has been doing something like it for years, according to the leaks of whistle-blower Edward Snowden. Now researchers have gone further, showing just how easily and cheaply a tiny, tough-to-detect spy chip could be planted in a company's hardware supply chain. And one of them has demonstrated that it doesn't even require a state-sponsored spy agency to pull it off -- just a motivated hardware hacker with the right access and as little as $200 worth of equipment.

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The UK's National Health System Just Opened A Treatment Center for Videogame Addiction

An anonymous reader quotes Fortune: The battle against gaming addiction entered a new era this week when the U.K. public health system, the National Health Service (NHS), announced the opening of its first center specializing in 'Internet and Gaming Disorders....' Starting in November, the London-based center's psychiatrists and clinical psychologists will work with patients between ages 13 and 25 whose lives have been affected by "severe or complex behavioral issues associated with gaming, gambling and social media," the NHS said in a release... [T]he U.K. center is meant to fill a gap in mental health treatment that was previously occupied by private programs and more generalized NHS mental health services. "We are inundated. We have got sixty referrals already," says Dr. Henrietta Bowden-Jones of the addictions faculty at the Royal College of Psychiatrists, who serves as director of the National Centre for Internet and Gaming Addictions where the new clinic will be located.... Other European clinics have seen similarly desperate growth. The Yes We Can clinic on the outskirts of Eindhoven, Netherlands, for instance, treated 250 children for gaming addiction in 2018 and has so far treated 450 in 2019 -- including 50 from the U.K... Dr. Bowden-Jones says that she expects that a relatively small percentage of gamers will suffer the medically recognized disorder -- no more than 2% -- but that the issue is important to address because about 75% of young people in the U.K. engage in gaming.

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Google Takes AMP to the OpenJS Foundation

An anonymous reader quotes TechCrunch: AMP, Google's somewhat controversial project for speeding up the mobile web, has always been open-source, but it also always felt like a Google project first. Thursday, however, Google announced that the AMP framework will join the OpenJS Foundation, the Linux Foundation-based group that launched last year after the merger of the Node.js and JS foundations. The OpenJS Foundation is currently the home of projects like jQuery, Node.js and webpack, and AMP will join the Foundation's incubation program... Google also notes that the OpenJS Foundation's goal of promoting JavaScript and related technologies is a good fit for AMP's mission of providing "a user-first format for web content." The company also notes that the Foundation allows projects to maintain their identities and technical focus and stresses that AMP's governance model was already influenced by the JS Foundation and Node.js Foundation. Google is currently a top-level platinum member of the OpenJS Foundation and will continue to support the project and employ a number of engineers that will work on AMP full-time.

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IRS Programmer Stole Identities, Funded A Two-Year Shopping Spree

A computer programmer at America's tax-collecting agency "stole multiple people's identities, and used them to open illicit credit cards to fund vacations and shop for shoes and other goods," write Quartz, citing a complaint unsealed last week in federal court. An anonymous reader quotes their report: The complaint accuses the 35-year-old federal worker of racking up almost $70,000 in charges over the course of two years, illegally using "the true names, addresses, dates of birth, and Social Security numbers" of at least three people. The US Treasury Department's Inspector General for Tax Administration, which oversees internal wrongdoing at the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), is investigating the crime, although the complaint doesn't specify how the employee obtained the information. The arrest, however, comes just months after the Government Accountability Office -- the federal government's auditor, essentially -- issued a report raising concerns about the security of taxpayer information held at the IRS. The report said that unaddressed shortcomings left taxpayer data "unnecessarily vulnerable to inappropriate and undetected use, modification, or disclosure," which could allow employees or outsiders to illegally access millions of people's personal information. An IRS call center employee in Atlanta pleaded guilty last year to illegally using taxpayer data to file fraudulent tax returns, ultimately collecting almost $6,000. In 2016, another IRS worker in Atlanta admitted to improperly accessing the personal information of two taxpayers, amassing close to half a million dollars from illicit tax refunds.... The IRS employee's alleged scheme took place between January 2016 and February 2018, according to court filings. Investigators say he used a fraudulently obtained American Express card to fly to Sacramento and Miami Beach. He also used the card for some 37 Uber rides, nine payments on his father's Amazon account totaling $1,200, various purchases at Lowe's, the Designer Shoe Warehouse, BJ's Wholesale Club, and a flooring outlet, as well as a $7,400 payment to a business he owned. The complaint says the employee, who works for the tax agency as a software developer, obtained a second fraudulent credit card, which he used to fly to Montego Bay, Jamaica. A third fraudulent card was used to travel to Iceland. In a particularly brazen move, investigators say the suspect linked this card to a phony PayPal account he opened using his official IRS email address. Two of the credit cards were delivered to his home address, while a third was sent to his parents' address, according to the article. "The phone numbers listed on the accounts also belonged to the suspect, and he accessed emails associated with the accounts from his home IP address."

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New Chrome Feature Will Use AI To Describe Unlabelled Images To The Vision-Impaired

An anonytmous reader quotes TechSpot: Google is looking to improve the web-browsing experience for those with vision conditions by introducing a feature into its Chrome browser that uses machine learning to recognize and describe images. The image description will be generated automatically using the same technology that drives Google Lens... The text descriptions use the phrase "appears to be" to let users know that it is a description of an image. So, for example, Chrome might say, "Appears to be a motorized scooter." This will be a cue to let the person know that it is a description generated by the AI and may not be completely accurate. The feature is only available for those with screen readers or Braille displays. "The unfortunate state right now is that there are still millions and millions of unlabeled images across the web," explains Google's senior accessbility program manager. "When you're navigating with a screen reader or a Braille display, when you get to one of those images, you'll actually just basically hear 'image' or 'unlabeled graphic,' or my favorite, a super long string of numbers which is the file name, which is just totally irrelevant."

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Microsoft's New Keyboards Have Dedicated Keys For 'Office' and Emojis

"Microsoft's latest keyboards now include dedicated Office and emoji keys," reports the Verge: The software giant was previously experimenting with an Office key on keyboards earlier this year, and now the company is launching a new Ergonomic and slim Bluetooth Keyboard that include the dedicated button. The Office key replaces the right-hand Windows key, and it's used to launch the Office for Windows 10 app that acts as a hub for Microsoft's productivity suite. You can also use the Office key as a shortcut to launch Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and more. Office key + W opens Word for example, while Office key + X opens Excel. Alongside the Office key, there's also a new emoji key on these new keyboards. It will launch the emoji picker inside Windows 10, but you won't be able to assign it to a specific emoji or even create shortcuts, unfortunately... Microsoft quietly launched these new keyboards at the company's Surface hardware event last week, but they'll be available in stores on October 15th.

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New OpenLibra Cryptocurrency: Like Libra, But Not Run By Facebook

"While Facebook's upcoming cryptocurrency Libra struggles to keep partners on board and regulators happy, an alternative called OpenLibra is here to address some of Libra's potential shortcomings," reports Mashable: Announced at Ethereum Foundation's Devcon 5 conference in Osaka, Japan, OpenLibra is described as an "open platform for financial inclusion," with a telling tagline: "Not run by Facebook." OpenLibra aims to be compatible with Libra in a technical sense, meaning someone building an app on the Libra platform should be able to easily deploy it to OpenLibra as well. OpenLibra's token's value will be pegged to the value of the Libra token. But while Libra will be a permissioned blockchain (meaning, roughly, that only permitted parties will be able to run a Libra node), OpenLibra will be permissionless from the start. There's an important difference in governance, too. Libra will initially be run by a foundation comprised of up to a 100 corporations and non-profits. It's not entirely clear how OpenLibra will be governed, but the 26-strong "core team" of the project includes people related to cryptocurrency projects such as Ethereum and Cosmos.

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Bell Labs Plans Big 50th Anniversary Event For Unix

Photographer Peter Adams launched a "Faces of Open Source" portrait project in 2014. This week he posted a special announcement on the web site of Bell Labs: Later this month, Bell Labs will celebrate the 50th anniversary of Unix with a special two day "Unix 50" event at their historic Murray Hill headquarters. This event should be one for the history books with many notable Unix and computer pioneers in attendance...! As I was making those photographs (which will be on display at the event), I gained much insight into Bell Labs and the development of Unix. However, it was some of the more personal stories and anecdotes that brought Bell Labs to life and gave me a feel for the people behind the code. One such time was when Ken Thompson (who is an accomplished pilot) told me how he traveled to Russia after the fall of the Soviet Union in order to fly in a MiG-29 fighter jet... Brian Kernighan told me about how a certain portrait of Peter Weinberger found its way into some very interesting places. These included the concrete foundation of a building on Bell Labs campus, the cover images printed onto Unix CD-ROMs, and most notably, painted on the top of a nearby water tower. Which brings us to another important piece of Unix mythology that I learned about: the fictitious Bell Labs employee G.R. Emlin (a.k.a. "the gremlin").... A lot of this folklore (including the gremlin) is going to be on display at the Unix 50 event. The archivists at Bell Labs have outdone themselves by pulling together a massive collection of artifacts taken from the labs where Unix was developed for over 30 years. I was able to photograph a few of these artifacts last year, but so much more will be exhibited at this event -- including several items from the personal archives of some attendees. As if that wasn't enough, the event will also showcase a number of vintage computers and a look into Bell Labs future with a tour of their Future X Labs. The article includes some more quick stories about the Unix pioneers at Bell Labs (including "the gremlin") and argues that "the decision to freely distribute Unix's source code (to anyone who asked for it) inadvertently set the stage for the free and open source software movements that dominate the technology industry today... "In hindsight, maybe 1969 should be called the 'summer of code.'"

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'There's an Automation Crisis Underway Right Now, It's Just Mostly Invisible'

"There is no 'robot apocalypse', even after a major corporate automation event," writes Gizmodo, citing something equally ominous in new research by a team of economists. merbs shared their report: Instead, automation increases the likelihood that workers will be driven away from their previous jobs at the companies -- whether they're fired, or moved to less rewarding tasks, or quit -- and causes a long-term loss of wages for the employee. The report finds that "firm-level automation increases the probability of workers separating from their employers and decreases days worked, leading to a 5-year cumulative wage income loss of 11 percent of one year's earnings." That's a pretty significant loss. Worse still, the study found that even in the Netherlands, which has a comparatively generous social safety net to, say, the United States, workers were only able to offset a fraction of those losses with benefits provided by the state. Older workers, meanwhile, were more likely to retire early -- deprived of years of income they may have been counting on. Interestingly, the effects of automation were felt similarly through all manner of company -- small, large, industrial, services-oriented, and so on. The study covered all non-finance sector firms, and found that worker separation and income loss were "quite pervasive across worker types, firm sizes and sectors." Automation, in other words, forces a more pervasive, slower-acting and much less visible phenomenon than the robots-are-eating-our-jobs talk is preparing us for. "People are focused on the damage of automation being mass unemployment," study author James Bessen, an economist at Boston University, tells me in an interview. "And that's probably wrong...." According to Bessen, compared to firms that have not automated, the rate of workers leaving their jobs is simply higher, though from the outside, it can resemble more straightforward turnover. "But it's more than attrition," he says. "A much greater percentage -- 8 percent more -- are leaving." And some never come back to work. "There's a certain percentage that drop out of the labor force. That five years later still haven't gotten a job." The result, Bessen says, is an added strain on the social safety net that it is currently woefully unprepared to handle.

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