Earth

Flat Earther Now Wants To Launch His Homemade Rocket From a Balloon (themaineedge.com) 221

A Maine alternative newsweekly just interviewed self-taught rocket scientist "Mad" Mike Hughes, who still believes that the earth is a flat, Frisbee-shaped disc. ("Think about this. Australia -- which is supposedly on the other side of the planet -- is upside down yet they're holding the waters in the ocean. Now how is that happening?") And Mike's got a new way to prove it after his aborted launch attempt in November. An anonymous reader writes: "One thing I want to clarify is that this rocket was never supposed to prove that the Earth is flat," Hughes tells an interviewer. "I was never going to go high enough to do that." But he will prove it's flat -- with an even riskier stunt. "I have a plan to go 62 miles up to the edge of space. It's going to cost $1.8 million and that could happen within 10 months."

"I'm going to have a balloon built at about $250,000 with $100,000 worth of hydrogen in it. It will lift me up about 20 miles... If I'm unconscious, they can use the controls to bring the balloon back." But if he's still conscious? "Then I'll fire a rocket through the balloon that will pull me up by my shoulders through a truss for 42 miles at 1.5 g's."

It's an awesome plan "if I don't burn up coming back through the atmosphere."

The interviewer asks Hughes a reasonable question. "Wouldn't it be cheaper and less deadly to just try to drill through the Earth to the other side to prove your point?"

"You can't," Hughes answers. "That's another fallacy. The deepest hole ever drilled is seven-and-a-half miles and it was done in Russia. It took 12 years. You cannot drill through this planet. It dulls every drill bit. All the stuff that you learned in school -- that the core is molten nickel -- it's all lies. No one knows what's in the center of the Earth or how deep it is. I'm no expert at anything, but I know that's a fact."
Canada

Canadian Cellphone Bills Are Some of the Highest In the World, Says Report (straight.com) 176

Freshly Exhumed shares a report from Straight: A report released this week by the Ministry of Innovation, Science, and Economic Development (ISED) confirms that Canada ranks among the top three most costly countries for mobile wireless plans. Comparing the U.K, Italy, France, Australia, Japan, and the U.S. on six tiers of pricing -- which looked at talk-time, texts, and data -- the document shows that Canada has the most expensive mid-range and higher-tier plans in the world. "It is unacceptable that Canadians continue to pay ever-rising prices year after year for something as critical as mobile communications services," said Katy Anderson, Digital Rights Advocate at OpenMedia.
Businesses

One of Australia's Richest Men Lost $1 Million To Email Scam (bloomberg.com) 84

Kaye Wiggins, reporting for Bloomberg: The multi-millionaire founder of Twynam Agricultural Group lost $1 million in an email fraud, a London court heard Thursday. The British man who facilitated the theft says he's a victim too. John Kahlbetzer, who is on the Forbes list of the 50 richest Australians, lost the money when fraudsters tricked the administrator of his personal finances into transferring it to them, his court papers say. Fraudsters emailed Christine Campbell, pretending to be the 87-year-old and asking her to pay $1 million to an account held by a British man, David Aldridge, which she did. Kahlbetzer is suing Aldridge to recover the funds, but Aldridge says he was being "unwittingly used" and was himself the victim of a fraud involving a woman he met online and believed he was in a loving relationship with. Email frauds where companies' staff are tricked into transferring money are a growing problem. U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation statistics show "business email compromise" cases, where criminals ask company officials to transfer funds, have cost more than $3 billion since 2015.
IT

Internet Traffic To Major Tech Firms Mysteriously Rerouted To Russia (securityweek.com) 105

wiredmikey writes: Internet traffic to some of the world's largest tech firms was briefly rerouted to Russia earlier this week in what appeared to be a Border Gateway Protocol (BGP) attack. Internet monitoring service BGPmon noticed that 80 IP prefixes for organizations such as Google, Microsoft, Apple, Facebook, NTT Communications, Twitch and Riot Games had been announced by a Russian Autonomous System (AS).

It happened twice on Tuesday and each time it only lasted for roughly three minutes. The first event took place between 04:43 and 04:46 UTC, and the second between 07:07 and 07:10 UTC. Despite being short-lived, BGPmon said the incidents were significant, including due to the fact that the announcements were picked up by several peers and some large ISPs, such as Hurricane Electric and Zayo in the U.S., Telstra in Australia, and NORDUnet, which is a joint project of several Nordic countries. The incident is rather suspicious, as the prefixes that were affected are all high profile destinations, as well as several more specific prefixes that aren't normally seen on the Internet.

Businesses

Amazon Bringing Echo and Alexa To 80 Additional Countries in Major Global Expansion (geekwire.com) 38

Amazon is launching three of its Echo devices with Alexa in 80 additional countries starting today -- a major international expansion for the company's smart speakers and voice-based assistant. From a report: New markets for the Echo, Echo Dot, and Echo Plus include Mexico, China, Russia and other countries in regions and continents including Europe, Africa, South America, the Middle East and Asia. Other Echo devices, such as the touch-screen Echo Show, are not included as part of the international expansion. Echo devices were previously only available in the US, UK, Germany, India, Japan, and Canada. Amazon earlier announced plans to bring Echo and Alexa to Australia and New Zealand next year. In addition, Amazon says its Music Unlimited subscription streaming service is available in 28 additional countries, including many of those where the Echo is now expanding, as well. Recommended reading: Don't buy anyone an Amazon Echo speaker.
Australia

Amazon Finally Launches In Australia (mashable.com) 57

After a very soft launch on Nov. 23, Amazon has officially launched in Australia. Mashable reports: One of the biggest things to happen to Australia's retail sector, Amazon's website has switched over from a Kindle Store presence to its fully fledged Amazon.com.au, with millions of products now ready for eager Christmas shoppers across more than 20 categories. It's a huge moment for Australian retail, and one of the most anticipated launches of the year, after Amazon confirmed in April 2017 it would expand its operations in Australia. Local retailers like David Jones and Myer have been scrambling to launch their own "premium" in-store services and price matching strategies or revamped online stores ahead of Amazon's arrival.

Thousands of Australian brands have already signed up with Amazon to sell their wares locally and internationally. Small and medium-sized Australian businesses are selling on Amazon Marketplace. Amazon's allowing free delivery on eligible orders above $49 that are sold by Amazon, and the company is rolling out one-day delivery service to select areas. Plus, for the first time, Australian customers will be able to access Prime Video and Twitch Prime, launching Prime shipping benefits in Australia in mid-2018 (registration for Prime is open now for Aussies).

Iphone

Every iPhone X Is Not Created Equal (pcmag.com) 74

According to a PC Magazine report that uses data from Cellular Insights, the Qualcomm-powered iPhone X has better LTE performance than the Intel-powered model. From the report: There are three iPhone X models sold globally. Using lab equipment, Cellular Insights tested two of them: the Qualcomm-powered A1865, sold by Sprint, Verizon, and U.S. Cellular and in Australia, China, and India; and the Intel-powered A1901, sold by most other global carriers including AT&T and T-Mobile. (The third model, A1902, is only sold in Japan.) Here in the U.S., we anticipate that the SIM-free model sold directly by Apple will be the A1865, as that's the model that supports all four U.S. carriers. For this test, Cellular Insights looked at performance on LTE Band 4, which is used by every major U.S. carrier except Sprint, as well as in Canada and parts of Latin America. Cellular Insights attenuated an LTE signal from a strong -85dBm until the modems showed no performance. While both modems started out with 195Mbps of download throughput on a 20MHz carrier, the Qualcomm difference appeared quickly, as the Intel modem dropped to 169Mbps at -87dBm. The Qualcomm modem took an additional -6dBm of attenuation to get to that speed. Most consumers will feel the difference in very weak signal conditions, where every dBm of signal matters, so we zoomed in on that in the chart below. At very weak signal strength, below -120dBm, the Qualcomm modem got speeds on average 67 percent faster than the Intel modem. The Intel modem finally died at -129dBm and the Qualcomm modem died at -130dBm, so we didn't find a lot of difference in when the modems finally gave out.
Australia

Tesla Switches on Giant Battery To Shore Up Australia's Grid (reuters.com) 173

Tesla switched on the world's biggest lithium ion battery on Friday in time to feed Australia's shaky power grid for the first day of summer, meeting a promise by Elon Musk to build it in 100 days or give it free. From a report: "South Australia is now leading the world in dispatchable renewable energy," state Premier Jay Weatherill said at the official launch at the Hornsdale wind farm, owned by private French firm Neoen. Tesla won a bid in July to build the 129-megawatt hour battery for South Australia, which expanded in wind power far quicker than the rest of the country, but has suffered a string of blackouts over the past 18 months. In a politically charged debate, opponents of the state's renewables push have argued that the battery is a "Hollywood solution" in a country that still relies on fossil fuels, mainly coal, for two-thirds of its electricity.
Communications

Australian Man Uses Snack Bags As Faraday Cage To Block Tracking By Employer (arstechnica.com) 193

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Ars Technica: A 60-year-old electrician in Perth, Western Australia had his termination upheld by a labor grievance commission when it was determined he had been abusing his position and technical knowledge to squeeze in some recreation during working hours. Tom Colella used mylar snack bags to block GPS tracking via his employer-assigned personal digital assistant to go out to play a round of golf -- more than 140 times -- while he reported he was offsite performing repairs.

In his finding against Colella, Australia Fair Work Commissioner Bernie Riordan wrote: "I have taken into account that Mr Colella openly stored his PDA device in an empty foil 'Twisties' bag. As an experienced electrician, Mr Colella knew that this bag would work as a faraday cage, thereby preventing the PDA from working properly -- especially the provision of regular GPS co-ordinate updates Mr. Colella went out of his way to hide his whereabouts. He was concerned about Aroona tracking him when the Company introduced the PDA into the workplace. He protested about Aroona having this information at that time. Mr Colella then went out of his way to inhibit the functionality of the PDA by placing it in a foil bag to create a faraday cage."

Australia

Tesla Completes World's Largest Battery Project In Half the Time Promised (engadget.com) 150

Rei writes: Tesla announced the completion of the world's largest battery -- a 100 MW/129 MWh wind-power backup system for 30,000 homes in South Australia. Three times more powerful than any other battery on Earth, the $50 million project had garnered press due to Elon Musk's Twitter boast that it would be completed within 100 days of the contract signing or it would be free. In the end, Tesla took it up a notch: the battery was finished 55 days from the date of contract signing and 99 days from the date of Musk's boast itself.
Security

Data Breach Hits Australia's Department of Social Services Credit Card System (theguardian.com) 32

Paul Karp, reporting for The Guardian: The Department of Social Services has written to 8,500 current and former employees warning them their personal data held by a contractor has been breached. In letters sent in early November the department alerted the employees to "a data compromise relating to staff profiles within the department's credit card management system prior to 2016." Compromised data includes credit card information, employees' names, user names, work phone numbers, work emails, system passwords, Australian government services number, public service classification and organisation unit. The department failed to warn staff how long the data was exposed for but a DSS spokesman told Guardian Australia that the contractor, Business Information Services, had advised that the data was open from June 2016 until October 2017. The data related to the period 2004 to 2015.
Patents

EFF Beats 'Stupid' Patent Troll In Court (courthousenews.com) 70

An Australian court can't make a California advocacy group take down a web page, a U.S. federal judge just ruled on Friday. Even if that web page calls a company's patents "stupid." Courthouse News reports: San Francisco-based Electronic Frontier Foundation sued Global Equity Management, or GEMSA, in April, claiming the Australian firm exploited its home country's weaker free speech protections to secure an unconstitutional injunction against EFF. Kurt Opsahl, EFF's deputy executive director and general counsel, hailed the ruling as a victory for free speech. "We knew all along the speech was protected by the First Amendment," Opsahl said in a phone interview Friday. "We were pleased to see the court agree." Opsahl said the ruling sends a strong message EFF and other speakers can weigh in on important topics, like patent reform, without fear of being muzzled by foreign court orders.

The dispute stems from an article EFF published in June 2016, featuring GEMSA in its "Stupid Patent of the Month" series. The GEMSA patent is for a "virtual cabinet" to store data. In the article, EFF staff attorney Daniel Nazer called GEMSA a "classic patent troll" that uses its patent on graphic representations of data storage to sue "just about anyone who runs a website." The article also says GEMSA "appears to have no business other than patent litigation."

The judge granted EFF a default judgment, saying the Australian court's injunction was not only unenforceable in the United States but also "repugnant" to the U. S. Constitution.
Music

Apple's HomePod Gets Delayed Until 2018 (theverge.com) 49

Apple has reportedly delayed the release of its HomePod smart speaker until 2018. In a statement to The Verge, Apple says that it needs more time to work on the device. "We can't wait for people to experience HomePod, Apple's breakthrough wireless speaker for the home, but we need a little more time before it's ready for our customers," an Apple spokesperson said. "We'll start shipping in the U.S., UK and Australia in early 2018." From the report: The speaker was originally set to be released in December. Priced at $349, the HomePod is slated to take on higher-end sound systems like Sonos, as well as smart assistants like the Amazon Echo and Google Home. The cylindrical speaker features a seven-speaker array of tweeters, a four-inch subwoofer, and a six-microphone array, which puts it right on par spec-wise with the best speakers in its price range, but where it may fall short is Siri, which isn't really in the same class as Alexa or Google Assistant. That challenge is likely why Apple's focus at the launch of the HomePod back at WWDC in June was music first and smart features second.
AI

Humans Are Still Better Than AI at StarCraft (technologyreview.com) 142

29-year-old professional StarCraft player Song Byung-gu won 4-0 in the world's first contest between AI systems and professional human players, writes MIT Technology Review. An anonymous reader quotes their report: One of the bots, dubbed "CherryPi," was developed by Facebook's AI research lab. The other bots came from Australia, Norway, and Korea. The contest took place at Sejong University in Seoul, Korea, which has hosted annual StarCraft AI competitions since 2010. Those previous events matched AI systems against each other (rather than against humans) and were organized, in part, by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE), a U.S.-based engineering association.

Though it has not attracted as much global scrutiny as the March 2016 tournament between Alphabet's AlphaGo bot and a human Go champion, the recent Sejong competition is significant because the AI research community considers StarCraft a particularly difficult game for bots to master. Following AlphaGo's lopsided victory over Lee Sedol last year, and other AI achievements in chess and Atari video games, attention shifted to whether bots could also defeat humans in real-time games such as StarCraft... Executives at Alphabet's AI-focused division, DeepMind, have hinted that they are interested in organizing such a competition in the future.

The event wouldn't be much of a contest if it were held now. During the Sejong competition, Song, who ranks among the best StarCraft players globally, trounced all four bots involved in less than 27 minutes total. (The longest match lasted about 10 and a half minutes; the shortest, just four and a half.) That was true even though the bots were able to move much faster and control multiple tasks at the same time. At one point, the StarCraft bot developed in Norway was completing 19,000 actions per minute. Most professional StarCraft players can't make more than a few hundred moves a minute.

Australia

Australia Cockatoos Chew Billion-Dollar Broadband (bbc.com) 82

Australia's multimillion dollar broadband network is under attack -- from cockatoos. From a report: The National Broadband Network (NBN) company said it has spent tens of thousands of dollars so far fixing cables chewed by the birds. Australian broadband is already criticised for being slow. According to a recent report it ranks 50th in the world for internet speed. NBN estimates the bill will rise sharply as more damage is uncovered. In an attempt to improve Australia's internet speed -- currently lagging behind many developed countries at 11.1 megabits per second -- a national telecommunications infrastructure project has been instigated and is due for completion in 2021. But engineers returning to sites have found spare cables chewed and frayed. The culprits are cockatoos, a type of parrot which normally eats fruit, nuts, wood and bark.
Cellphones

Razer Unveils Gaming Smartphone With 120Hz UltraMotion Display, 8GB RAM and No Headphone Jack (cnet.com) 168

Computer hardware company Razer has unveiled its first smartphone. While the design doesn't appear to be up to par with the competition, it does pack some impressive specifications under the hood. The Razer Phone features a 5.7-inch, 2,560x1,440-resolution display, Snapdragon 835 chipset with 8GB of RAM, 12-megapixel dual camera with a wide-angle lens and 2x optical zoom, 4,000mAh battery, dual front-facing stereo speakers, and Android 7.1.1 Nougat running out of the box. While there is a microSD card slot for expandable storage, there is no headphone jack, no waterproofing, and no wireless charging. The device also won't support CDMA carriers like Verizon or Sprint. CNET reports: [W]here most new flagship phones are shiny rounded rectangles with curved screens, the Razer Phone is unabashedly a big black brick. It flaunts sharp 90-degree corners instead of curved edges. You can even stand the phone on end. The 5.7-inch, 2,560x1,440-resolution screen is flat as a pancake, and you'll find giant bezels above and below that screen, too -- just when we thought bezels were going out of style. When the Razer Phone ships Nov. 17 for $699 or £699 -- no plans for Australia at launch -- the company says it'll be the first phone with a display that refreshes 120 times per second, like a high-end PC gaming monitor or Apple's iPad Pro. And combined with a dynamic refresh technique Razer's calling Ultramotion (think Nvidia G-Sync), it can mean beautiful, butter-smooth scrolling down websites and apps, and glossy mobile gameplay.
Education

'Daylight Savings' Is Grammatically Incorrect (qz.com) 312

A reader shares a report: We talk about time like it's money, and that may explain why we say "Daylight Savings Time," capitalizing the concept to emphasize its awesomeness. After all, who wouldn't want to be able to save hours like cash? The phrase "Daylight Savings Time," though commonly used in Australia, Canada, and the US, is technically incorrect. Time and Date, a website devoted to all things chronological, posits that the plural "savings" became popular because it's used in everyday contexts, like "savings account." The grammatically correct usage is "daylight saving time." The expression is singular and not capitalized, according to the US Government Publishing Office style guide. The GPO provides the guidance, "d.s.t., daylight saving (no 's') time."
Iphone

PSA: Apple's iPhone X Screen Repair Will Cost You $279 (macrumors.com) 144

We already know the iPhone X is expensive: it starts at $999 for the 64GB variant. But what about the cost of a screen replacement? If you don't have the extended warranty, a screen replacement will cost you $279, which is more than twice the price of an iPhone 6 screen replacement ($129) and about 65 percent higher than a new iPhone 8 screen ($169). MacRumors reports: In the United States, Apple will charge flat rates of $279 for iPhone X screen repairs and $549 for any other damage to the device, unless it is a manufacturing defect covered by Apple's standard one-year limited warranty. The fees vary in other countries, such as Australia, Canada, Germany, and the United Kingdom.

-Australia: $419 for screen repairs, $819 for other damage
-Canada: $359 for screen repairs, $709 for other damage
-Germany: 321 Euros for screen repairs, and 611 Euros for other damage
-United Kingdom: 286 British Pounds for screen repairs, 556 British Pounds for other damage
-United States: $279 for screen repairs, $549 for other damage

These prices do not apply to customers who purchase AppleCare+ for the iPhone X, which costs $199 upfront in the United States. AppleCare+ is an optional warranty plan that extends an iPhone's coverage to two years from the original purchase date of the device. The plan adds up to two incidents of accidental damage coverage, each subject to a lower service fee of $29 for screen repairs, or $99 for any other damage.

Science

New Science Suggests the Ocean Could Rise More -- and Faster -- Than We Thought (washingtonpost.com) 204

Chris Mooney, writing for the Washington Post: Climate change could lead to sea level rises that are larger, and happen more rapidly, than previously thought, according to a trio of new studies that reflect mounting concerns about the stability of polar ice. In one case, the research suggests that previous high end projections (PDF) for sea level rise by the year 2100 -- a little over three feet -- could be too low, substituting numbers as high as six feet at the extreme if the world continues to burn large volumes of fossil fuels throughout the century (Editor's note: the link could be paywalled). "We have the potential to have much more sea level rise under high emissions scenarios," said Alexander Nauels, a researcher at the University of Melbourne in Australia who led one of the three studies. His work, co-authored with researchers at institutions in Austria, Switzerland, and Germany, was published Thursday in Environmental Research Letters. The results comprise both novel scientific observations -- based on high resolution seafloor imaging techniques that give a new window on past sea level events -- and new modeling techniques based on a better understanding of Antarctic ice. Further reading: Sea levels to rise 1.3m unless coal power ends by 2050, report says (The Guardian).
Space

The Oceanic Pole of Inaccessibility: Where Spacecraft Go To Die (bbc.com) 100

dryriver writes: Whether you launch a satellite into space or an entire space station like the Russian Mir, the Chinese Tiangong-1 or the International Space Station, what goes up must eventually come down -- re-enter earth's atmosphere. The greater the mass of what is in space -- Mir weighed 120 tons, the ISS weighs 450 tons and will be decommissioned in a decade -- the greater the likelihood that larger parts will not burn up completely during re-entry and crash to earth at high velocity. So there is a need for a place on earth where things falling back from space are least likely to cause damage or human casualties. The Oceanic Pole Of Inaccessibility is one of two such places.

The place furthest away from land -- it lies in the South Pacific some 2,700km (1,680 miles) south of the Pitcairn Islands -- somewhere in the no-man's land, or rather no-man's-sea, between Australia, New Zealand and South America, has become a favorite crash site for returning space equipment. "Scattered over an area of approximately 1,500 sq km (580 sq miles) on the ocean floor of this region is a graveyard of satellites. At last count there were more than 260 of them, mostly Russian," reports the BBC. "The wreckage of the Space Station Mir also lies there... Many times a year the supply module that goes to the International Space Station burns up in this region incinerating the station's waste." The International Space Station will also be carefully brought down in this region when its mission ends. No one is in any danger because of this controlled re-entry into our atmosphere. The region is not fished because oceanic currents avoid the area and do not bring nutrients to it, making marine life scarce.

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