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  • Saturn's Rings Are Disappearing At a 'Worst-Case Scenario' Rate, NASA Says
    A new study published in the journal Icarus found that Saturn is losing its signature rings at a "worst-case scenario" rate, and the bands could disappear completely within 100 million years. USA Today reports: The rings are being pulled into the planet "by gravity as a dusty rain of ice particles under the influence of Saturn's magnetic field," NASA said. The phenomenon is called "ring rain," and it drains enough water from rings to fill an Olympic-sized swimming pool every 30 minutes, said James O'Donoghue of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. "From this alone, the entire ring system will be gone in 300 million years," O'Donoghue said in a statement. "But add to this the Cassini-spacecraft measured ring-material detected falling into Saturn's equator, and the rings have less than 100 million years to live. We are lucky to be around to see Saturn's ring system, which appears to be in the middle of its lifetime."

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  • Facebook Gave More Than 150 Companies, Including Microsoft, Netflix, Spotify, Amazon and Yahoo, Unprecedented Access To Users' Personal Data: NYT
    The New York Times obtained hundreds of pages of Facebook documents which were generated in 2017 that show that the social network considered these companies business partners and effectively exempted them from its privacy rules. From a report: Facebook allowed Microsoft's search engine Bing to see the names of nearly all users' friends without their consent, let Spotify, Netflix, and the Royal Bank of Canada read, write, and delete users' private messages, and see participants on a thread, allowed Amazon to get users' names and contact information through their friends, and let Yahoo view streams of friends' posts "as recently as this summer" despite publicly claiming it had stopped sharing such information a year ago, the report said. Collectively, applications made by these technology companies sought the data of hundreds of millions of people a month. The records also show that Russian search giant Yandex, which was accused last year by Ukraine's security service for giving user data to Kremlin, also had access to Facebook's unique user IDs in 2017. A Yandex spokeswoman told the Times that the company was unaware of the access to user data provided by Facebook. Yandex did not immediately respond to BuzzFeed News' request for comment. In response to the report, Steve Satterfield, Facebook's Director of Privacy and Public Policy defended the actions of the social network.

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  • Researchers Demonstrate Teleportation Using On-Demand Photons From Quantum Dots
    An anonymous reader quotes a report from Phys.Org: A team of researchers from Austria, Italy and Sweden has successfully demonstrated teleportation using on-demand photons from quantum dots. In their paper published in the journal Science Advances, the group explains how they accomplished this feat and how it applies to future quantum communications networks. Scientists and many others are very interested in developing truly quantum communications networks -- it is believed that such networks will be safe from hacking or eavesdropping due to their very nature. But, as the researchers with this new effort point out, there are still some problems standing in the way. One of these is the difficulty in amplifying quantum signals. One way to get around this problem, they note, is to generate photons on-demand as part of a quantum repeater -- this helps to effectively handle the high clock rates. In this new effort, they have done just that, using semiconductor quantum dots. Prior work surrounding the possibility of using semiconductor quantum dots has shown that it is a feasible way to demonstrate teleportation, but only under certain conditions, none of which allowed for on-demand applications. Because of that, they have not been considered a push-button technology. In this new effort, the researchers overcame this problem by creating quantum dots that were highly symmetrical using an etching method to create the hole pairs in which the quantum dots develop. The process they used was called a XX (biexciton)--X (exciton) cascade. They then employed a dual-pulsed excitation scheme to populate the desired XX state (after two pairs shed photons, they retained their entanglement). Doing so allowed for the production of on-demand single photons suitable for use in teleportation. The dual pulsed excitation scheme was critical to the process, the team notes, because it minimized re-excitation.

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  • SpaceX Raising $500 Million To Help Build Its 'Starlink' Satellite Broadband Network
    According to the Wall Street Journal, SpaceX is raising a $500 million round of fundraising to help build its massive satellite internet project, called Starlink. "The new funding puts SpaceX's valuation at $30.5 billion," reports CNBC. "The report says the capital comes from existing shareholders as well as new investor Baillie Gifford, a Scottish investment firm." From the report: Starlink -- a name SpaceX filed to trademark last year -- is an ambition unmatched by any current satellite network. The company is attempting to build its own constellation of 4,425 broadband satellites, with another 7,518 satellites to come after. SpaceX will begin launching the constellation in 2019. The system will be operational once at least 800 satellites are deployed. Starlink would offer broadband speeds comparable to fiber optic networks.The satellites would provide direct-to-consumer wireless connections, rather the present system's redistribution of signals, transforming a traditionally high-cost, low reliability service.

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  • Microsoft's Next-Gen Xbox Consoles Are Codenamed 'Anaconda' and 'Lockhart'
    According to Windows Central, there are two upcoming next-generation Xbox consoles in the works -- a cheaper "S"-style console to succeed the Xbox One S, and a more beastly "X"-style console to succeed the Xbox One X. "The codename for the 'S 2' seems to be 'Lockhart,' and the codename for the 'X 2' seems to be 'Anaconda,' which may also be serving as a dev kit," reports Windows Central. From the report: The next-gen Lockhart console will be the affordable SKU, providing the next-gen Xbox experience in a package potentially around as powerful as the current Xbox One X hardware wise, with refinements under the hood. The Anaconda console will be more powerful and more expensive, providing a cutting-edge console gaming experience. We've also heard Microsoft is exploring technology to dramatically reduce loading times, potentially including SSD storage in the package. We've heard from multiple places that the next-gen Xbox consoles will be fully compatible with everything on your current Xbox One consoles, including your OG Xbox and Xbox 360 library via backward compatibility. We've also heard that Microsoft is working on a new platform for games dubbed "GameCore," as part of Windows Core OS, which the Scarlett family will support when it's ready. It extends the work Redmond has been doing on UWP. GameCore should make it easier for developers to build games that function not only on Xbox "Scarlett" consoles but also Windows 10 PCs, further reducing the amount of work studios need to do to get games running across both platforms. The report doesn't mention if the cheaper next-generation Xbox console will be streaming-only, or if it will still support traditional discs and downloads. With a disc-free version of the Xbox One reportedly coming next spring, this seems like a possibility.

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  • Twitter Is Relaunching the Reverse-Chronological Feed
    Twitter is introducing a new toggle in the app to allow users to switch from the ranked timeline to the original, reverse-chronological feed. "The company says the move comes in recognition of the fact that Twitter is often most useful in real time, particularly during live events such as sports games or the Oscars," reports The Verge. From the report: The latest incarnation of the original Twitter feed can be accessed by tapping the cluster of small stars -- the company calls it the "sparkle" and now so shall we all, forever -- and switching to see the latest tweets. Over time, the company will learn your behavior. If you routinely switch to the latest tweets, Twitter will default you to them. This marks a change from the past, when the app would switch you back to the ranked timeline at unpredictable intervals.

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  • T-Mobile Denies Lying To FCC About Size of Its 4G Network
    An anonymous reader quotes a report from Ars Technica: T-Mobile has denied an allegation that it lied to the Federal Communications Commission about the extent of its 4G LTE coverage. A group that represents small rural carriers says that T-Mobile claimed to have 4G LTE coverage in places where it hadn't yet installed 4G equipment. That would violate FCC rules and potentially prevent small carriers from getting network construction money in unserved areas. T-Mobile said the allegations made by the Rural Wireless Association (RWA) in an FCC filing on Friday "are patently false." "RWA's misrepresentations are part of an ongoing pattern of baseless allegations by the organization against T-Mobile designed to delay or thwart competition in rural America and deprive rural Americans of meaningful choice for broadband services," T-Mobile wrote. "The organization's repeated disregard for fact-based advocacy is a disrespectful waste of Commission time and resources." RWA members have conducted millions of speed tests at their own expense to determine whether the major carriers' coverage claims are correct. The RWA says both Verizon and T-Mobile have exaggerated coverage, and the FCC is taking the allegations seriously. FCC Chairman Ajit Pai announced last week that the FCC has begun an investigation and that a preliminary review of speed-test data "suggested significant violations of the Commission's rules." The FCC has not said which carrier or carriers violated the rules.

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  • Ex-Uber Engineer Claims a Self-Driving Car Drove Him Coast-To-Coast
    "Anthony Levandowski, the controversial engineer at the heart of a lawsuit between Uber and Waymo, claims to have built an automated car that drove from San Francisco to New York without any human intervention," reports the Guardian. Levandowski told the Guardian that he completed the 3,099-mile journey on October 30th using a modified Toyota Prius, which "used only video cameras, computers and basic digital maps." From the report: Levandowski told the Guardian that, although he was sitting in the driver's seat the entire time, he did not touch the steering wheels or pedals, aside from planned stops to rest and refuel. "If there was nobody in the car, it would have worked," he said. If true, this would be the longest recorded road journey of an autonomous vehicle without a human having to take control. Elon Musk has repeatedly promised, and repeatedly delayed, one of his Tesla cars making a similar journey. A time-lapse video of the drive, released to coincide with the launch of Levandowski's latest startup, Pronto.AI, did not immediately reveal anything to contradict his claim. But Levandowski has little store of trust on which to draw.

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  • Kroger Begins Autonomous Grocery Deliveries
    Kroger is launching its unmanned grocery delivery service in Scottsdale, Arizona. The company first announced the pilot with robotics company Nuro in June, and since August, "they have tested an autonomous fleet of 'a handful of' Priuses with safety drivers just in case someone needed to intervene," reports Adweek. "Together, they have completed nearly 1,000 deliveries in Scottsdale." From the report: Now, Kroger is adding two R1 unmanned vehicles to its fleet, which Nuro designed to transport goods on public roads without passengers and marks the first deployment of its technology for the general public. (The Priuses will continue to have safety drivers.) To start, deliveries are available from a single store in the "Kroger Family," the Fry's Food Store at 7770 East McDowell Road. A Kroger rep said customers who live within the store's zip code -- 85257 -- will have access to the service. Customers place orders online or via the Fry's app. An announcement said same- and next-day delivery is available. All orders have a $5.95 fee, but there is no minimum for order total.

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  • Researchers Make RAM From a Phase Change We Don't Entirely Understand
    An anonymous reader quotes a report from Ars Technica: We seem to be on the cusp of a revolution in storage. Various technologies have been demonstrated that have speed approaching that of current RAM chips but can hold on to the memory when the power shuts off -- all without the long-term degradation that flash experiences. Some of these, like phase-change memory and Intel's Optane, have even made it to market. But, so far at least, issues with price and capacity have kept them from widespread adoption. But that hasn't discouraged researchers from continuing to look for the next greatest thing. In this week's edition, a joint NIST-Purdue University team has used a material that can form atomically thin sheets to make a new form of resistance-based memory. This material can be written in nanoseconds and hold on to that memory without power. The memory appears to work via a fundamentally different mechanism from previous resistance-RAM technologies, but there's a small hitch: we're not actually sure how it works. The two mechanisms used to change the resistance have been reported in the journal Nature Materials.

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  • Remove.bg is a Website That Removes Backgrounds from Portraits in Seconds
    An anonymous reader shares a report: If you often find yourself needing to remove the backgrounds from photos but don't have the time to manually do it, you might want to bookmark Remove.bg. It's a simple free website that automatically removes the backgrounds from photos in just 5 seconds with a single click. Simply use the button on the homepage to select a photo from your computer (or you can also enter a photo's URL on the Web). The website then processes the photo and shows the result in moments. Under the result is a button that lets you download it as a PNG image with a transparent background.

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  • Turning Off Facebook Location Tracking Doesn't Stop It From Tracking Your Location
    Even if you explicitly tell Facebook to not track your location, it says it will still use your IP address to track your location. Kashmir Hill, reporting for Gizmodo: Aleksandra Korolova has turned off Facebook's access to her location in every way that she can. She has turned off location history in the Facebook app and told her iPhone that she "Never" wants the app to get her location. She doesn't "check-in" to places and doesn't list her current city on her profile. Despite all this, she constantly sees location-based ads on Facebook. She sees ads targeted at "people who live near Santa Monica" (where she lives) and at "people who live or were recently near Los Angeles" (where she works as an assistant professor at the University of Southern California). When she traveled to Glacier National Park, she saw an ad for activities in Montana, and when she went on a work trip to Cambridge, Massachusetts, she saw an ad for a ceramics school there. Facebook was continuing to track Korolova's location for ads despite her signaling in all the ways that she could that she didn't want Facebook doing that. [...] "There is no way for people to opt out of using location for ads entirely," said a Facebook spokesperson by email. "We use city and zip level location which we collect from IP addresses and other information such as check-ins and current city from your profile to ensure we are providing people with a good service -- from ensuring they see Facebook in the right language, to making sure that they are shown nearby events and ads for businesses that are local to them."

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  • Google Opens Document Editing To Users Without a Google Account
    Google has listened to user feedback and is currently testing a feature that will let G Suite users invite non-Google account holders to view, comment, suggest edits, and even directly edit Google Docs, Sheets, and Slides files. From a report: This wasn't possible until now, and G Suite users could only share documents and request feedback from users that owned a Google account. The way this new feature will work is via PINs (Personal Identification Numbers). Google said that G Suite users would be able to invite a non-Google user to view or edit a document via email. The said email would contain a link to the shared document. Non-Google users will be able to access the link and request an PIN that it would be delivered via a second email. Once they enter the PIN code, users can then view or edit the shared file -based on the assigned permissions.

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  • UK Police Are Testing Facial Recognition on Christmas Shoppers in London this Week
    London's Metropolitan Police is testing its facial recognition technology in the capital this week. From a report: It's the seventh time the Metropolitan Police, the UK capital's police force, has trialled facial recognition in public. The technology has previously been used at large events, including Notting Hill Carnival in 2016 and 2017, and Remembrance Day services last year. This year, the technology is being used Monday and Tuesday of this week in Soho, Piccadilly Circus, and Leicester Square -- all major shopping areas in the heart of the city. Cameras are fixed to lampposts or deployed on vans, and use software developed by Japanese firm NEC to measure the structure of passing faces. This scan is then compared to a database of police mugshots. The Met says a match via the software will prompt officers to examine the individual and decide whether or not to stop them. Posters will inform the public they're liable to be scanned while walking in certain areas, and the Met says anyone declining to be scanned "will not be viewed as suspicious."

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  • Oracle's CTO: No Way a 'Normal' Person Would Move To AWS
    Amazon may have turned off its Oracle data warehouse in favor of Amazon Web Services database technology, but no one else in their right mind would, Oracle's outspoken co-founder and CTO Larry Ellison says. From a report: "We have a huge technology leadership in database over Amazon," Ellison said on a conference call following the release of Oracle's second quarter financial results. "In terms of technology, there is no way that... any normal person would move from an Oracle database to an Amazon database." During last month's AWS re:Invent conference, AWS CTO Werner Vogels gave an in-the-weeds talk explaining why Amazon turned off its Oracle data warehouse. In a clear jab at Oracle, Vogels wrote off the "90's technology" behind most relational databases. Cloud native databases, he said, are the basis of innovation. The remarks may have gotten under Ellison's skin. Moving from Oracle databases to AWS "is just incredibly expensive and complicated," he said Monday. "And you've got to be willing to give up tons of reliability, tons of security, tons of performance... Nobody, save maybe Jeff Bezos, gave the command, 'I want to get off the Oracle database." Ellison said that Oracle will not only hold onto its 50 percent relational database market share but will expand it, thanks to the combination of Oracle's new Generation 2 Cloud infrastructure and its autonomoius database technology. "You will see rapid migration of Oracle from on-premise to the Oracle public cloud," he said. "Nobody else is going to go through that forced march to go on to the Amazon database."

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