Tag Archives: Gadget Features

Turdly? Stoner Blue? Stanky Bean? Never let an AI name colors

Artificial intelligence can do amazing things, but never let it mix and name new paint colors.

Not that you were going to do that. Research scientist Janelle Shane, on the other hand, decided to go for it. She gave a neural network a list of about 7,700 Sherwin-Williams paint colors, along with their red, green and blue color values.

“Could the neural network learn to invent new paint colors and give them attractive names?” Shane asked on her site.

The answer is a big fat “don’t bet your not-so-artificial-life on it.” The AI could make colors, all right, but at least at first, they were weird melds of the grayish-green you’d use to paint your walls only if there was literally no other color on Earth available, or you really, really wanted to live feeling like you were surrounded by mold.

The names, though, were where the AI really fell off the cliff. It began with randomness such as “Saae Ble,” and then progressed to Klingon-looking nonsense like “Rererete Green” and “Gorlpateehecd.” But when it finally advanced to what Shane admitted was “about as well-trained as it’s going to be,” it was still inventing names that sounded more like losing Scrabble hands, or The Onion’s parody of a box of Crayolas.

“Ghasty Pink”? “Rose Hork”? “Snowbonk”? These sound like characters from a “Game of Thrones” parody novel.

“Dorkwood?” “Sindis Poop”? “Stanky Bean?” Did we just wander into a game of Mad Libs?

“Stoner Blue?” “Turdly?” Oh, now someone’s just letting the 11-year-old start making things up.

Shane summed it up nicely in the end, noting:

“In fact, looking at the neural network’s output as a whole, it is evident that:

  1. The neural network really likes brown, beige and grey.
  2. The neural network has really really bad ideas for paint names.”

(Via Ars Technica)

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Article source: https://www.cnet.com/news/ai-name-paint-colors-turdly-stoner-blue-funny-paint-names/#ftag=CAD590a51e

The weirdest star in space is acting weird again. Is it aliens?

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Artist’s representation of a crumbling Dyson sphere orbiting KIC 8462852


Danielle Futselaar/METI International

In 2015, astronomers discovered what’s become known as one of the strangest stars seen so far in the universe.

Weird things are happening around KIC 8462852 (aka Tabby’s Star or Boyajian’s Star) once again, sending scientists into a panic to get as many big telescopes trained on it as possible.

What’s weird about the star is that it goes through dramatic and somewhat random periods of getting dimmer from our viewing perspective here on Earth. Stars tend to get dim when things like planets or even huge clouds of dust pass in front of them, but that kind of thing usually happens on a regular schedule, and only accounts for slight amounts of dimming.

But the dimming observed at KIC 8462852 doesn’t fit the usual patterns of planets or a companion star (which it does have, but it’s very distant and can’t explain what astronomers are seeing). To make things weirder, the star has also shown a 15 percent decrease in brightness over the past century.

This week, observations of the star located some 1,400 light-years away showed a potentially major dimming event was beginning to happen again. This sent astronomers like Tabetha Boyajian, who is credited with discovering the star and its odd nature, scrambling on social media and elsewhere to get “eyes” on the system, both human and technological.

Astronomer Jason Wright put out a similar call and took questions via a livestream Friday afternoon about the event. When the star first made headlines, Wright threw out the admittedly far-fetched hypothesis that giant alien megastructures like a partially constructed Dyson sphere could explain the odd patterns of dimming, including the slow dimming over the last century. (It’s slow to humans, but actually quite significant and fast on cosmic time scales.)

Wright said that as of early Friday, the star had dimmed very suddenly by 3 percent in just a few days.

“And so we are officially on alert and we are asking astronomers on telescopes … to please take spectra (light measurements) of the star,” Wright said.

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Most scientists, including Wright and Boyajian, don’t think it’s very likely that there is an alien civilization building planet-size structures around one of their stars. They think that something like a swarm of colliding comets around the star could make the most sense. But the star’s behavior continues to be very unusual to the point that most potential explanations can’t really be ruled out, including some very industrious aliens.

There have already been some efforts to check KIC 8462852 for alien signals that could come from an intelligent civilization, and that search has returned nothing so far.

Perhaps that will change this weekend though. Wright and colleague Andrew Siemion from the Berkeley SETI Research Center said Friday that they’re hoping to using telescopes at UC Berkeley and the huge National Radio Astronomy Observatory radio telescope in Green Bank, West Virginia, to check out the weirdest star in the galaxy while it’s doing its very weird thing.

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Article source: https://www.cnet.com/news/tabbys-boyajians-star-alien-megastructures-dimming/#ftag=CAD590a51e

WannaCry ransomware: Everything you need to know

Why the WannaCry cyberattack is so bad, and so avoidable

A new wave of the ransomware spreads chaos around the world. Paying the ransom may not cure computers, which could have avoided infection by simply keeping Windows updated.

by Bridget Carey

You’ve heard the phrase “the road to Hell is paved with good intentions,” right?

Well, a vulnerability first uncovered by the National Security Agency and then released by hackers on the internet is now being used in one of the most prolific cyberattacks ever around the globe.

It’s called WannaCry, and it’s brought computer systems from Russia to China to the UK and the US to their knees, locking people out of their data and demanding they pay a ransom or lose everything. So far, more than 200,000 computers in 150 countries have been affected, with victims including hospitals, banks, telecommunications companies and warehouses.

Here’s everything you could want to know about WannaCry.

What is WannaCry?

It’s the name for a prolific hacking attack known as “ransomware,” that holds your computer hostage until you pay a ransom.

The way it works is that once it infects a computer, it encrypts — or basically scrambles — all the data. Then the program puts up a screen demanding you pay money to get access back. Typically the price increases over time until the end of a countdown, when the files are destroyed.

We first heard about WannaCry last week from the UK’s health service, which appeared to be one of the first major computer systems affected by the hack. It’s also called WannaCrypt.

You can follow who’s affected by watching this live tracking map created by MalwareTech.

Why do hackers do this?

The same reason you get telemarketing calls and junk email: It’s effective.

Security company Symantec says that ransomware attacks alone jumped by more than one-third to over 483,800 incidents in 2016. And that’s just the ones they tracked.

How do I protect my machine?

If you’re running a Windows-powered PC, make sure all your software is up to date. In addition, as always, do not open suspicious emails, click on links you don’t know or open any files you weren’t expecting.

What do I do if my computer is infected?

So far, there doesn’t appear to be a proven way to fix WannaCry. Cybersecurity researchers claim to have a method to stop it, but we at CNET have not been able to verify it.

Shortly after WannaCry began to spread, a security researcher accidentally found a kill switch that appeared to stop WannaCry in its tracks. But hackers have since made a fix, and this time there doesn’t appear to be any way to stop it. It also has a new name Uiwix, according to researchers at Heimdal Security.

Another diabolical twist is if the ransom isn’t paid in 72 hours, the price could double. And after a few days, the files are permanently locked.

Great, so I have to pay these monsters to get my computer back?

While there is no clear fix for WannaCry, experts highly recommend you not pay to get your data back.

While it may be tempting to fork over the $300 ransom to make the problem go away the FBI, Department of Justice and many tech firms suggest you don’t. One reason is that you’re basically giving money to criminals, who may demand even more money or potentially re-target you in the future since you’ve indicated you’re willing to pay them in the first place.

What is this bitcoin stuff the hackers want us to pay with?

Hackers typically demand payment via bitcoin, an untraceable digital currency often used on shadowy parts of the internet. While it’s hard to trace, the amount of money that’s been sent to the criminals is public information.

Ok, so if I don’t pay, what can I do if I’m infected?

Many experts say wiping your machine and restoring from backups is a better way to go. If you don’t have regular backups of your data, I’m sorry to say you’re in a real bind.

Who created WannaCry?

The hack appears to have originally been discovered by the NSA, which allegedly kept it on file as a potential tool to use for surveillance or other issues.

We found out about it because a group of hackers, known as Shadow Brokers, in April released a cache of stolen NSA documents on the internet, including details about the WannaCry vulnerability.

Does WannaCry affect my Mac, iPhone or Android?

No. It appears to only affect computers powered by Microsoft Windows. Microsoft released a software update in March that protects against this vulnerability, but we’ve since learned that many people didn’t update their computers.

Microsoft took the unusual step on Friday to release another update for older computers running Windows XP (first released in 2001), Vista (2006) and Windows 7 (2009) and Windows 8 (2012), protecting them as well.

Microsoft, by the way, isn’t happy about this attack, and has slammed spy agencies for stockpiling vulnerabilities instead of reporting them to computer companies to be fixed.

Who’s most vulnerable?

Windows-powered PCs that aren’t running updated software that protect from this vulnerability are the most at risk. WannaCry appears to travel across corporate networks, spreading quickly through file-sharing systems.

The diabolical part of that is corporate computers are typically controlled by IT departments that choose when to send updates to computers. So if one computer is vulnerable, it’s likely all the computers on a corporate network are too, making it easy for WannaCry to have a large impact.

How does WannaCry spread?

It appears networks of computers, like schools, companies, hospitals and businesses, are particularly vulnerable. That’s because security researchers say the ransomware is spread through standard file sharing technology used by PCs called Microsoft Windows Server Message Block, or “SMB” for short.

It also appears able to spread to other computers outside corporate networks. Researchers have already found variants of the attack, so there isn’t just one way it works.

What do I do if I’m not hit but worried I might be?

If you have backups, now would be a good time to update them. If you don’t, I suggest you start.

Also make sure to check your software updates and talk to your IT managers.

This story was originally published at 10:07 a.m. PT on May 15.
Updated at 9:31 a.m. PT on May 16: To include additional information on the amount of ransom paid.
Updated at 3:20 p.m. PT on May 18: To include additional information about how to respond to attacks.
Updated at 12:30 p.m. PT on May 19: To include additional information about efforts to fight WannaCry.

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Article source: https://www.cnet.com/news/wannacry-wannacrypt-uiwix-ransomware-everything-you-need-to-know/#ftag=CAD590a51e

China’s version of Twitter has more users than actual Twitter

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LIONEL BONAVENTURE/AFP/Getty Images

Twitter is banned in China, so instead the country uses a platform called Weibo. Now, Weibo has more users than Twitter.

Backed by Tencent, Weibo says it’s garnered 340 million monthly active users as of March. This number is higher than Twitter’s reported 328 million total users.

Twitter is one of several foreign platforms, like Google, Facebook and Wikipedia, barred from China by the country’s internet censorship, dubbed the “Great Firewall.” But local versions are available in the country, including Weibo and Baidu, China’s equivalent of Google.

China has seen masses flocking to the internet in recent years, with the China Internet Network Information Centre reporting 731 million people — more than twice the US population — connected to the internet as of December last year. As the penetration number is only a little more than half of China’s population at 53.2 percent, it is expected to grow.

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Article source: https://www.cnet.com/news/everyone-uses-twitter-but-its-chinese-rival-is-doing-better/#ftag=CAD590a51e

Apple’s new campus has just about everything, except daycare

Apple’s flashy new $5 billion campus, one of the last projects worked on by company co-founder Steve Jobs before his death, has custom-built door handles, thousands of trees and a 100,000-square-foot fitness and wellness facility that boasts a two-story yoga room covered in custom distressed stone.

What the campus doesn’t have, though, is a day care center.

The question people in Silicon Valley are asking is: Should it?

“Huge gym but no day care. Apple campus gets it wrong,” tweeted longtime tech executive Mitch Kapor, who invests in social impact tech startups through Kapor Capital and the Kapor Center for Social Impact. He declined to comment beyond his tweet but later posted an article about how his old company, Lotus Development Corp., opened a day care center at its offices in 1990.

Fellow Lotus pioneer and later Microsoft Chief Software Architect Ray Ozzie also tweeted the story about the Lotus day care and said, “As engineers w/young kids, this is why we loved tech culture c.1990. This is leadership.”

Quartz called the move a “missed opportunity,” while Slate asked, “Shouldn’t Apple and companies like it want to set an example that the workplace of the future cares about its employees’ families?”

Apple didn’t respond to several requests for information about why it decided not to include a day care facility at the new Apple Park campus, which opened last month and will hold 12,000 employees, or about what child care benefits it currently offers employees. The company has said it provides backup care to help its workers if their child care (or elder care) providers are unexpectedly not available. But it’s unclear if one of the world’s best-known and most profitable brands, thanks to its iPhone and iPad, subsidizes regular child care costs.

Why is this even a topic of discussion? Because Apple and other tech companies have been working to diversify their workforce, which includes boosting the number of female employees. Under CEO Tim Cook’s leadership, Apple has put itself at the front of social issues like LGBT rights, racial equality and the tech industry’s need to improve workforce diversity.

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Still, Apple’s latest diversity report showed the percentage of women rose only one percentage point from the previous year, to 32 percent.

One way to attract women, say experts, is by being more accommodating to families. Apple has added benefits like extended maternity leave, an adoption reimbursement program and egg freezing — just as other tech companies like Facebook and Intel do. But the lack of onsite day care puzzles some, who say it could restrain the advancement of women at Apple, or limit the number who stick with the company.

“At every stage in their careers, women do more housework and child care than men — and there appears to be a link between the amount of work people do at home and their leadership ambition,” according to a joint study conducted by LeanIn.org and McKinsey Co.

Apple has only one woman, retail chief Angela Ahrendts, among its top 11 executives, who meet with Cook each week to set the company’s strategy and its product roadmap.

In the majority

Apple is far from alone in not providing on-site day care at its circular campus commonly known as the “Spaceship.” Most US business don’t. Only 2 percent of US employers offered subsidized child care centers — either on the company’s campus or nearby — in 2016, down from 9 percent in 1996, according to an employee benefits survey by the Society for Human Resource Management.

Reasons often cited for not having on-campus child care include cost (not a factor for Apple, which has more than $250 billion in cash) and the complications of running a highly regulated facility. States have different rules about the number of caregivers required for a given number of children, and some employers worry about liability (note: operating on-campus gyms also come with its own risks and liabilities, so this is a concern that can be overcome).

Some also worry that parents will be easily distracted if their kids are so nearby.

Samsung didn’t have a child care center when it opened its 1.1-million-square-foot office in San Jose in late 2015. And while Facebook’s Frank Gehry-designed headquarters in Menlo Park, which opened earlier that same year, doesn’t have day care facilities either, the social network does subsidize employees’ child care costs.

Intel has a contract with an early childhood education provider that gives employees a tuition discount, waives enrollment and registration fees and provides space for emergency backup child care. The world’s largest chipmaker also partners with two family child care networks to cover extended hours not generally served by traditional day care centers.

Google, Cisco and Genentech are among the few companies that do offer on-campus child care services. Genentech says its center “allows working parents the flexibility they need while caring for a child and the peace-of-mind they require to know their child is nearby and properly cared for.” Cisco says “providing child care options allows our employees to be their best.”

Good business sense

Providing child care benefits to employees isn’t just the right thing to do, it also makes business sense, experts say. Working parents experience fewer missed days and schedule changes when they get child care assistance. They also work more hours and stay with the same employer longer, according to a January report from Child Care Aware of America.

US businesses lose about $4.4 billion each year due to employee absenteeism that results from child care breakdowns, said the group, which promotes national policies and partnerships to advance the development of children. Over a six-month period, 45 percent of parents are absent from work at least once — and miss an average of 4.3 days — due to child care problems, the report said. And 65 percent of parents’ work schedules are affected by child care challenges an average of 7.5 times over a six-month period.

“Access to high-quality child care increases morale and employer loyalty, but businesses suffer when child care is unavailable for working parents — to the tune of over $4 billion annually,” Lynette M. Fraga, executive director of Child Care Aware of America, said in her organization’s 2016 report.

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Apple overall isn’t as generous with perks as some of its Silicon Valley rivals. Lunch isn’t free in its cafeterias, for instance, while companies like Google, Facebook and Dropbox serve gratis gourmet meals to their employees. Staffers also pay to use Apple’s gym at its 1 Infinite Loop headquarters in Cupertino.

It’s unclear whether the new, megafitness center will be free.

Apple had a chance to set an example on child care. While we don’t know why it decided not to, experts say other companies shouldn’t dismiss the idea.

“We need to be able to take care of ourselves and our bodies by having great gyms, but we also have to make sure to have healthy learning environments that are safe for our children,” said Julie Kashen, policy director for Make It Work, a national campaign that advocates for women and working families’ economic justice.

When it comes to child care, “I think they should do it because it’s the right thing to do, and I think they should do it because it’s better for their employees and their productivity,” she said.

CNET’s Dara Kerr contributed to this report.

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Article source: https://www.cnet.com/news/apples-campus-apple-park-spaceship-has-just-about-everything-except-daycare/#ftag=CAD590a51e

The Witcher will soon slay beasts on Netflix

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CD Projekt RED

If you’ve played all three Witcher games but still want more Geralt of Rivia in your life, you’re in luck: The Witcher Saga is coming to Netflix.

The streaming giant is developing a series based on the Andrzej Sapkowski’s series of Witcher novels, the same books that were turned into a beloved gaming franchise by CD Projekt RED.

Witchers are mysterious “warrior monks” who are trained to slay beasts and baddies — for a cost. The saga was first turned into a video game with 2008’s The Witcher, ending with 2015’s widely acclaimed Witcher 3: The Wild Hunt.

Over 25 million Witcher games have been sold, so you could say this is a big deal.

No release date or castings have been announced, but Sean Daniel (1999’s “The Mummy“) and Jason Brown (2017’s “The Mummy“) will serve as executive producers.

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Article source: https://www.cnet.com/news/the-witcher-to-slay-beasts-on-netflix/#ftag=CAD590a51e