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Uber Requires Nondisclosure Agreement Before Helping CarjackedDriver

An anonymous reader shares a report: Five months after he was carjacked while driving for Uber, resulting in thousands of dollars in damage to his car, David Morrow finally received an offer of assistance from the company: $1,000, the amount of his insurance deductible. But there was a catch -- Morrow would need to sign a nondisclosure agreement promising to not sue Uber, disparage the company, or talk any further about his carjacking or the details of his settlement. The offer came a day after The Markup approached Uber and Lyft about an investigation into more than 100 carjackings of ride-hail drivers, including the February attack on Morrow in Atlanta. But Morrow didn't take the offer. "I would be signing all my rights away," said Morrow, who's 71 and has completed almost 5,000 Uber rides. "I would have no recourse." In 2018, Uber's chief legal officer, Tony West, announced the company was dropping the mandatory arbitration agreements and confidentiality provisions it had with drivers, riders, and employees for individual claims of sexual assault or harassment. Lyft quickly followed suit. But in the case of driver carjackings, both Uber and Lyft still appear to be using the tactic. The Markup is aware of a Lyft driver who signed a nondisclosure agreement after being carjacked.

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Blizzard's President is Stepping Down Amid Culture Scandal

Activision Blizzard President J. Allen Brack is stepping down from the company after Blizzard was sued by the state of California last week for discriminating against women and fostering a "frat boy" culture that entailed sexual harassment and discrimination. He will be replaced by two executive vice presidents, who will serve as co-leaders. From a report: Jen Oneal and Mike Ybarra, the former executive vice president of development and the former EVP and general manager of platform technology, respectively, will take the helm at Blizzard and share responsibility for development and operational accountability. The company is continuing to face an outpouring of stories of misconduct, and workers who organized a walkout have demanded a set of new rules for handling reports of sexism, harassment and discrimination.

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A Magnetic Helmet Shrunk a Deadly Tumor In World-First Test

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Engadget: As part of the latest neurological breakthrough, researchers used a helmet that generates a magnetic field to shrink a deadly tumor by a third. The 53-year-old patient who underwent the treatment ultimately passed away due to an unrelated injury. But, an autopsy of his brain showed that the procedure had removed 31 percent of the tumor mass in a short time. The test marked the first noninvasive therapy for a deadly form of brain cancer known as glioblastoma. The helmet features three rotating magnets connected to a microprocessor-based electronic controller operated by a rechargeable battery. As part of the therapy, the patient wore the device for five weeks at a clinic and then at home with the help of his wife. The resulting magnetic field therapy created by the helmet was administered for two hours initially and then ramped up to a maximum of six hours per day. During the period, the patient's tumor mass and volume shrunk by nearly a third, with shrinkage appearing to correlate with the treatment dose. The inventors of the device -- which received FDA approval for compassionate use treatment -- claim it could one day help treat brain cancer without radiation or chemotherapy. "Our results... open a new world of non-invasive and nontoxic therapy...with many exciting possibilities for the future," said David S. Baskin, corresponding author and director of the Kenneth R. Peak Center for Brain and Pituitary Tumor Treatment in the Department of Neurosurgery at Houston Methodist Neurological Institute. Details of the procedure have been published in the peer-reviewed journal Frontiers in Oncology.

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Facebook Users Are Buying Oculus VR Headsets To Get Customer Service Prioritization

Some Facebook users are so desperate to retrieve their hacked accounts that they're buying Oculus VR headsets to get prioritized by customer service. NPR reports: When Marsala got hacked, she tried dialing Facebook's headquarters in Silicon Valley. But that number yields a recording that says, "Unfortunately we do not offer phone support at this time." Instead, Facebook tells users to report hacked accounts through its website. The site instructs them to upload a copy of a driver's license or passport to prove their identities. But the people NPR spoke with said they had trouble with every step of this automated process and wish Facebook would offer a way to reach a real person. "I sent these forms in morning, noon and night multiple times a day," Marsala said. "Nobody got back to me, not once." [...] Brandon Sherman of Nevada City, Calif., followed a tip he found on Reddit to get his hacked account back. "I ultimately broke down and bought a $300 Oculus Quest 2," he said. Oculus is a virtual reality company owned by Facebook but with its own customer support system. Sherman contacted Oculus with his headset's serial number and heard back right away. He plans to return the unopened device, and while he's glad the strategy worked, he doesn't think it's fair. "The only way you can get any customer service is if you prove that you've actually purchased something from them," he said. When McNamara, the Facebook user in Canada, first heard about the Oculus trick, she thought it was a joke. But she said, "Once I started thinking about it, all my memories, I really realized that I wanted to do whatever possible to get it back." So she, too, ordered an expensive gadget she never planned to use and returned it as soon as she got back into her Facebook account. (A warning to anyone thinking about trying this -- other Reddit users have said they tried contacting Oculus support but were unable to get their Facebook accounts restored. Also, last week Facebook said it was temporarily halting sales of the Oculus Quest 2, which retails starting at $299, because its foam lining caused skin irritation for some customers.)

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Amazon's Lord of the Rings Series Will Premiere In September 2022

One of Amazon's most anticipated originals to date, a yet-unnamed Lord of the Rings original series, will officially debut on Prime Video on Friday, September 2nd, 2022. The Verge reports: Along with a premiere date, Amazon Studios released an official first image from the forthcoming series, which will be set in Middle-earth's Second Age. The series will take place thousands of years before the events chronicled in J. R. R. Tolkien's The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings books, and it will follow characters "both familiar and new, as they confront the long-feared re-emergence of evil to Middle-earth." The image release is tied to the series's production wrap after filming in New Zealand. Fans quickly speculated that the series will be set in Valinor, as the image depicts what appear to be the Two Trees. The untitled project is a huge investment by Amazon in its Prime Video streaming service. The series's first season alone reportedly cost around $465 million to produce. For context about what a massive creative undertaking this series has been for Amazon Studios, the final season of Game of Thrones was reported to have cost as much as $15 million per episode (though its budget was originally around $5 million per episode).

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In the US, Life Cycle Emissions For EVs Are Already 60-68% Lower Than Gasoline, Study Finds

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Ars Technica: Today in the US market, a medium-sized battery EV already has 60-68 percent lower lifetime carbon emissions than a comparable car with an internal combustion engine. And the gap is only going to increase as we use more renewable electricity. That finding comes from a white paper (PDF) published by Georg Bieker at the International Council on Clean Transportation. The comprehensive study compares the lifetime carbon emissions, both today and in 2030, of midsized vehicles in Europe, the US, China, and India, across a wide range of powertrain types, including gasoline, diesel, hybrid EVs (HEVs), plug-in hybrid EVs (PHEVs), battery EVs (BEVs), and fuel cell EVs (FCEVs). The study takes into account the carbon emissions that result from the various fuels (fossil fuels, biofuels, electricity, hydrogen, and e-fuels), as well as the emissions that result from manufacturing and then recycling or disposing of vehicles and their various components. Bieker has also factored in real-world fuel or energy consumption -- something that is especially important when it comes to PHEVs, according to the report. Finally, the study accounts for the fact that energy production should become less carbon-intensive over time, based on stated government objectives. The life cycle emissions of battery EVs in Europe today at 66-69 percent lower than a comparable gasoline-powered car. China is at 37-45 percent fewer emissions for BEVs, and India shows 19-34 percent. As for fuel cell EVs (FCEVs), they "are only abut 26-40 percent less carbon-intensive than a comparable gasoline vehicle," notes Ars. "But if hydrogen was produced using renewable energy rather than steam reformation of natural gas, that number would jump to 76-80 percent -- even better than a BEV's numbers."

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Pegasus Spyware Found On Journalists' Phones, French Intelligence Confirms

French intelligence investigators have confirmed that Pegasus spyware has been found on the phones of three journalists, including a senior member of staff at the country's international television station France 24. Pegasus is the hacking software -- or spyware -- that is developed, marketed and licensed to governments around the world by NSO Group. The malware has the capability to infect billions of phones running either iOS or Android operating systems. It enables operators of the spyware to extract messages, photos and emails, record calls and secretly activate microphones. The Guardian reports: It is the first time an independent and official authority has corroborated the findings of an international investigation by the Pegasus project -- a consortium of 17 media outlets, including the Guardian. Forbidden Stories, a Paris-based nonprofit media organization, and Amnesty International initially had access to a leaked list of 50,000 numbers that, it is believed, have been identified as those of people of interest by clients of Israeli firm NSO Group since 2016, and shared access with their media partners. France's national agency for information systems security (Anssi) identified digital traces of NSO Group's hacking spyware on the television journalist's phone and relayed its findings to the Paris public prosecutor's office, which is overseeing the investigation into possible hacking. Anssi also found Pegasus on telephones belonging to Lenaig Bredoux, an investigative journalist at the French investigative website Mediapart, and the site's director, Edwy Plenel. Forbidden Stories believes at least 180 journalists worldwide may have been selected as people of interest in advance of possible surveillance by government clients of NSO. Le Monde reported that the France 24 journalist, based in Paris, had been selected for "eventually putting under surveillance." Police experts discovered the spyware had been used to target the journalist's phone three times: in May 2019, September 2020 and January 2021, the paper said. Bredoux told the Guardian that investigators had found traces of Pegasus spyware on both her and Plenel's mobile phones. She said the confirmation of long-held suspicions that they had been targeted contradicted the repeated denials of those who were believed to be behind the attempt to spy on them.

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Pentagon Believes Its Precognitive AI Can Predict Events 'Days In Advance'

The Drive reports that US Northern Command recently completed a string of tests for Global Information Dominance Experiments (GIDE), a combination of AI, cloud computing and sensors that could give the Pentagon the ability to predict events "days in advance," according to Command leader General Glen VanHerck. Engadget reports: The machine learning-based system observes changes in raw, real-time data that hint at possible trouble. If satellite imagery shows signs that a rival nation's submarine is preparing to leave port, for instance, the AI could flag that mobilization knowing the vessel will likely leave soon. Military analysts can take hours or even days to comb through this information -- GIDE technology could send an alert within "seconds," VanHerck said. The most recent dry run, GIDE 3, was the most expansive yet. It saw all 11 US commands and the broader Defense Department use a mix of military and civilian sensors to address scenarios where "contested logistics" (such as communications in the Panama Canal) might pose a problem. The technology involved wasn't strictly new, the General said, but the military "stitched everything together." The platform could be put into real-world use relatively soon. VanHerck believed the military was "ready to field" the software, and could validate it at the next Globally Integrated Exercise in spring 2022.

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Steam Survey Shows Linux Marketshare Hitting 1.0%

According to Steam Survey numbers for July 2021, Steam on Linux hit a 1.0% marketshare, or a +0.14% increase over the month prior. Phoronix reports: This is the highest we have seen the Steam on Linux marketshare in a number of years and well off the lows prior to introducing Steam Play (Proton) since which point there has been the gradual increase in marketshare. Back when Steam on Linux first debuted there was around a 2% marketshare for Linux before gradually declining. Back when Steam first debuted for Linux, the overall Steam customer base was also much smaller than it is today. While many believe the Steam Survey is inaccurate or biased (or just buggy towards prompting Linux users to participate in the survey), these initial numbers for July are positive in hitting the 1.0% mark after largely floating around the 0.8~0.9% mark for most of the past three years. The Steam Deck isn't shipping until the end of the year so we'll see how the number fluctuates to that point.

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The Rise of Never-Ending Job Interviews

An anonymous reader quotes a report from the BBC: Every jobseeker welcomes an invitation to a second interview, because it signals a company's interest. A third interview might feel even more positive, or even be the precursor to an offer. But what happens when the process drags on to a fourth, fifth or sixth round -- and it's not even clear how close you are to the 'final' interview? That's a question Mike Conley, 49, grappled with earlier this year. The software engineering manager, based in Indiana, US, had been seeking a new role after losing his job during the pandemic. Five companies told him they had to delay hiring because of Covid-19 -- but only after he'd done the final round of interviews. Another three invited him for several rounds of interviews until it was time to make an offer, at which point they decided to promote internally. Then, he made it through three rounds of interviews for a director-level position at a company he really liked, only to receive an email to co-ordinate six more rounds. "When I responded to the internal HR, I even asked, 'Are these the final rounds?,'" he says. "The answer I got back was: 'We don't know yet.'" That's when Conley made the tough decision to pull out. He shared his experience in a LinkedIn post that's touched a nerve with fellow job-seekers, who've viewed it 2.6 million times as of this writing. Conley says he's received about 4,000 public comments of support, and "four times that in private comments" from those who feared being tracked by current or prospective employers. [...] In fact, the internet is awash with similar stories jobseekers who've become frustrated with companies -- particularly in the tech, finance and energy sectors -- turning the interview process into a marathon. That poses the question: how many rounds of interviews should it take for an employer to reasonably assess a candidate before the process veers into excess? And how long should candidates stick it out if there's no clear information on exactly how many hoops they'll have to jump through to stay in the running for a role? Google recently determined that four interviews was enough to make a hiring decision with 86% confidence, noting that there was a diminishing return on interviewer feedback thereafter. "John Sullivan, a Silicon Valley-based HR thought leader, says companies should nail down a hire-by date from the start of the recruitment process, because the best candidates only transition the job market briefly," reports the BBC. "According to a survey from global staffing firm Robert Half, 62% of US professionals say they lose interest in a job if they don't hear back from the employer within two weeks -- or 10 business days -- after the initial interview. That number jumps to 77% if there is no status update within three weeks. "

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Australian Court Rules An AI Can Be Considered An Inventor On Patent Filings

An Australian Court has decided that an artificial intelligence can be recognized as an inventor in a patent submission. The Register reports: In a case brought by Stephen Thaler, who has filed and lost similar cases in other jurisdictions, Australia's Federal Court last month heard and decided that the nation's Commissioner of Patents erred when deciding that an AI can't be considered an inventor. Justice Beach reached that conclusion because nothing in Australia law says the applicant for a patent must be human. As Beach's judgement puts it: "... in my view an artificial intelligence system can be an inventor for the purposes of the Act. First, an inventor is an agent noun; an agent can be a person or thing that invents. Second, so to hold reflects the reality in terms of many otherwise patentable inventions where it cannot sensibly be said that a human is the inventor. Third, nothing in the Act dictates the contrary conclusion." The Justice also worried that the Commissioner of Patents' logic in rejecting Thaler's patent submissions was faulty. "On the Commissioner's logic, if you had a patentable invention but no human inventor, you could not apply for a patent," the judgement states. "Nothing in the Act justifies such a result." Justice Beach therefore sent Thaler's applications back to the Commissioner of Patents, with instructions to re-consider the reasons for their rejection. Thaler has filed patent applications around the world in the name of DABUS -- a Device for the Autonomous Boot-strapping of Unified Sentience. Among the items DABUS has invented are a food container and a light-emitting beacon.

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AMD and Valve Working On New Linux CPU Performance Scaling Design

Along with other optimizations to benefit the Steam Deck, AMD and Valve have been jointly working on CPU frequency/power scaling improvements to enhance the Steam Play gaming experience on modern AMD platforms running Linux. Phoronix reports: It's no secret that the ACPI CPUFreq driver code has at times been less than ideal on recent AMD processors with delivering less than expected performance/behavior with being slow to ramp up to a higher performance state or otherwise coming up short of disabling the power management functionality outright. AMD hasn't traditionally worked on the Linux CPU frequency scaling code as much as Intel does to their P-State scaling driver and other areas of power management at large. AMD is ramping up efforts in these areas including around the Linux scheduler given their recent hiring spree while it now looks like thanks to the Steam Deck there is renewed interest in better optimizing the CPU frequency scaling under Linux. AMD and Valve have been working to improve the performance/power efficiency for modern AMD platforms running on Steam Play (Proton / Wine) and have spearheaded "[The ACPI CPUFreq driver] was not very performance/power efficiency for modern AMD platforms...a new CPU performance scaling design for AMD platform which has better performance per watt scaling on such as 3D game like Horizon Zero Dawn with VKD3D-Proton on Steam." AMD will be presenting more about this effort next month at XDC. It's quite possible this new effort is focused on ACPI CPPC support with the previously proposed AMD_CPUFreq. Back when Zen 2 launched in 2019, AMD did post patches for their new CPUFreq driver that leveraged ACPI Collaborative Processor Performance Controls but the driver was never mainlined nor any further iterations of the patches posted. When inquiring about that work a few times since then, AMD has always said it's been basically due to resource constraints that it wasn't a focus at that time. Upstream kernel developers also voiced their preference to seeing AMD work to improve the generic ACPI CPPC CPUFreq driver code rather than having another vendor-specific solution. It's also possible AMD has been working on better improvements around the now-default Schedutil governor for scheduler utilization data in making CPU frequency scaling decisions.

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The Push For a 'PBS For the Internet'

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Axios: The concept of a new media ecosystem that's non-profit, publicly funded and tech-infused is drawing interest in policy circles as a way to shift the power dynamics in today's information wars. Revamping the structure and role of public media could be part of the solution to shoring up local media, decentralizing the distribution of quality news, and constraining Big Tech platforms' amplification of harmful or false information. Congress in 1967 authorized federal operating money to broadcast stations through a new agency, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, and what is now PBS launched down-the-middle national news programming and successful kids shows like "Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood" and "Sesame Street." NPR was born in 1971. Despite dust-ups over political interference of national programming and funding, hundreds of local community broadcast stations primarily received grants directly to choose which national programs to support. A new policy paper from the German Marshall Fund proposes a full revamp of the CPB to fund not just broadcast stations, but a wide range of digital platforms and potential content producers including independent journalists, local governments, nonprofits and educational institutions. The idea is to increase the diversity of local civic information, leaning on anchor institutions like libraries and colleges that communities trust. Beyond content, the plan calls for open protocol standards and APIs to let consumers mix and match the content they want from a wide variety of sources, rather than being at the mercy of Facebook, Twitter or YouTube algorithms. Data would be another crucial component. In order to operate, entities in the ecosystem would have to commit to basic data ethics and rules about how personal information is used.

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A Plant That 'Cannot Die' Reveals Its Genetic Secrets

Events in the genome of Welwitschia have given it the ability to survive in an unforgiving desert for thousands of years. From a report: The longest-lived leaves in the plant kingdom can be found only in the harsh, hyperarid desert that crosses the boundary between southern Angola and northern Namibia. A desert is not, of course, the most hospitable place for living things to grow anything, let alone leafy greens, but the Namib Desert -- the world's oldest with parts receiving less than two inches of precipitation a year -- is where Welwitschia calls home. In Afrikaans, the plant is named "tweeblaarkanniedood," which means "two leaves that cannot die." The naming is apt: Welwitschia grows only two leaves -- and continuously -- in a lifetime that can last millenniums. "Most plants develop a leaf, and that's it," said Andrew Leitch, a plant geneticist at Queen Mary University of London. "This plant can live thousands of years, and it never stops growing. When it does stop growing, it's dead." Some of the largest plants are believed to be over 3,000 years old, with two leaves steadily growing since the beginning of the Iron Age, when the Phoenician alphabet was invented and David was crowned King of Israel. By some accounts, Welwitschia is not much to look at. Its two fibrous leaves, buffeted by dry desert winds and fed on by thirsty animals, become shredded and curled over time, giving Welwitschia a distinctly octopus-like look. One 19th-century director of Kew Gardens in London remarked, "it is out of the question the most wonderful plant ever brought to this country and one of the ugliest." But since it was first discovered, Welwitschia has captivated biologists including Charles Darwin and the botanist Friedrich Welwitsch after whom the plant is named: It is said that when Welwitsch first came across the plant in 1859, "he could do nothing but kneel down on the burning soil and gaze at it, half in fear lest a touch should prove it a figment of the imagination." In a study published last month in Nature Communications, researchers report some of the genetic secrets behind Welwitschia's unique shape, extreme longevity and profound resilience.

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With Undersea Robots, an Air Force Navigator Lost Since 1967 Is Found

A recovery mission off Vietnam's coast showed how advances in technology have given new reach to the Pentagon's search for American war dead. From a report: On a July morning in 1967, two American B-52 bombers collided over the South China Sea as they approached a target in what was then South Vietnam. Seven crew members escaped, but rescue units from the Air Force, Navy and Coast Guard were unable to find six other men, including a navigator from New York, Maj. Paul A. Avolese. It wasn't until last year that scientists scanning the seafloor found one of the B-52s and recovered Major Avolese's remains. "It was very humbling to be diving a site that turned out as hallowed ground, and realizing that maybe we were in a position to help bring closure back to families that had been missing this lost aviator," said Eric J. Terrill, one of two divers who descended to the wreck. Scientists say the recovery highlights a shift in the Pentagon's ability to search for personnel still missing from the Vietnam War. For decades, such efforts have mainly focused on land in former conflict zones. But in this case, American investigators looked at an underwater site near Vietnam's long coastline, using high-tech robots. Their use of that technology is part of a larger trend. Robotic underwater and surface vehicles are "rapidly becoming indispensable tools for ocean science and exploration," said Rear Adm. Nancy Hann, who manages a fleet of nine aircraft and 16 research and survey vessels for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. "They have proven to be a force multiplier when it comes to mapping the seafloor, locating and surveying wrecks and other sunken objects, and collecting data in places not easily accessed by ships and other vehicles," Admiral Hann said. One reason for the new focus on Vietnam's undersea crash sites is that many land-based leads have been exhausted, said Andrew Pietruszka, the lead archaeologist for Project Recover, a nonprofit organization. The group worked on the recent recovery mission with the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency, or D.P.A.A., the arm of the Pentagon tasked with finding and returning fallen military personnel. "Over time, a lot of the really good land cases and sites they've already done, they've already processed them," said Mr. Pietruszka, a former forensic archaeologist for D.P.A.A. who now works for the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California, San Diego. "Now the majority of sites that haven't been looked at are falling in that underwater realm," he added.

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