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Should Airlines Weigh Passengers To Help Cut Carbon Emissions?

Sat, 04/27/2019 - 9:34pm
"The equation is simple: The heavier the plane, the more environmentally unfriendly the trip is," notes one report -- yet airplanes are still relying on estimates for their total weight. "A British tech start-up thinks it has a solution: weighing customers to more accurately calculate fuel costs..." "The capture of passenger weights is not complicated," says Roy Fuscone, Chairman & CEO of Fuel Matrix Limited. "A simple weighing device added to the current equipment will capture the weight and the software will register and transmit it in relation to a flight but not necessarily identified to a particular passenger...." The company's website states that benefits from this system include statistically robust information feedback based on airlines' data, significant reduction of CO2 emissions, significant fuel savings, and reduced mechanical stress on aircraft. If you're worried about this data being made public, Fuscone says that the company plans to enable the passenger to retain direct control of their own data so that they can delete it once it has been "employed in the interests of fuel efficiency." It seems like it'd be easier to just weigh the plane after everyone's onboard -- or find some way to calculate weights using the boarding ramp. But the current plans aren't that simple, CNN reports: One proposal is for passengers to supply the information ahead of arriving at the airport, in the same way that they supply passport details. Otherwise, it could be made part of the security process before boarding. "You stand in a scanner that goes round you -- now, clearly while you're standing there being scanned, you could also be being weighed -- very discreetly -- if you haven't wanted to supply your information ahead of time," says Fuel Matrix CEO Roy Fuscone. "It would be very discreet, very private and very confidential." Fuscone stresses that Fuel Matrix has been working with GDPR consultants to ensure the data would remain classified. He points out that airports already collect a lot of information on passengers. This would be just one more element to the equation. "Airports already use biometric data on passengers because they associate an image of your face with your boarding card, so that means that when you buy a ticket it's already in the contract that they can do that," says Fuscone. "So there's no problem with us introducing this, it can be done at various places during the journey through the airport and so we're starting to discuss with people involved in those various phases of the airport. If this is all done properly [...] it will alleviate carbon in the atmosphere and climate change and air pollution."

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When Digital Textbooks Make College Students Pay to Turn In Their Homework

Sat, 04/27/2019 - 7:34pm
Slashdot reader jyosim writes: A professor at Arizona State U says he was let go from his teaching job in the economics department because he wouldn't embrace assigning homework software that he says "requires students to pay just to turn in homework." His students rushed to his defense on social media, saying that many of their courses now require them to pay for online systems if they want to submit homework. The university says the professor is spreading misinformation and is the villain. Details of the ASU situation are messy, but the broader issue of homework software is one that students around the country have been complaining about, while textbook companies see them as the future because they eliminate the used textbook market and lead to more sales as more students are forced to buy directly from publishers. Publishers argue their software is sophisticated, expensive to build, and improves student grades because it is integrated with helpful bells and whistles. They want colleges to buy in bulk so all students have access. Is the move to digital homework systems creating a new kind of digital divide at colleges? From the article: For professors, one benefit of using digital homework systems is that it can save them time in grading, and it also gives professors analytics on how much each student has accessed and for how long. But the article also notes that that doesn't always happen. One student just submitted every homework assignment for the semester during the software's free two-week trial period -- skipping all of its related digital reading materials and just doing free research on the internet. "It's right there on Google for free, or you can find videos on how to do it. I'm so tired of spending just pointless money." (Their ultimate grade in the course was an A.) And a few years ago a student told Buzzfeed that instead they just didn't turn in their first homework assignments -- hoping to bring up their grades later when they could afford to pay their system's $100 fee. The article also points out that student government leaders unearthed a revenue-sharing business relationship between the university and its digital textbook publisher.

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Is Cyberwarfare War? Insurers Balk At Paying For Some Cyberattacks

Sat, 04/27/2019 - 6:34pm
From the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists: In an era of unceasing cyberattacks, including cases of state-sponsored hacking, insurance companies are beginning to re-interpret an old line in their contracts known as the "war exclusion." Stripping away the metaphorical connotation of the term "cyberwarfare," big insurers like Zurich Insurance have decided that state-sponsored attacks are basically just plain warfare. This shift comes as the U.S. government is increasingly attributing state-sponsored cyberattacks to their alleged perpetrators, a development that some argue is a means of holding bad actors accountable. But the policy certainly doesn't seem to be doing any favors to the private sector. The maker of Oreo cookies was hit by 2017's "NotPetya" attack, but its insurer refused to cover its $100 million in losses, citing an exclusion for "hostile or warlike action in time of peace or war...by any government or sovereign power." Oreo called their response "unprecedented," saying the war exclusion has always been applied only to "conventional armed conflict" -- and not to cyber-attacks. Slashdot reader Lasrick argues that an insurance company win in court "could make cyberwar much more real -- and costly."

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Uber Admits It Wants To Take Riders Away From Public Transit

Sat, 04/27/2019 - 5:34pm
"Uber took down the taxi industry and now it wants a piece of public transit," reports CNN, in an article shared by dryriver: For years, as it aggressively entered new markets, Uber has maintained that it is a complement and ally of public transit. But that messaging changed earlier this month, when Uber released its S-1 ahead of its upcoming initial public offering. In the regulatory filing, Uber said its growth depends on better competing with public transportation, which it identifies as a $1 trillion market it can grab a share of over the long-term. Uber, which lost $1.8 billion in 2018, said it offers incentives to drivers to scale up its network to attract riders away from personal vehicles and public transportation. Transportation experts say that if Uber grabs a big chunk of its target market -- 4.4 trillion passenger miles on public transportation in the 63 countries in which it operates -- cities would grind to a halt, as there would literally be no space to move on streets.... Uber's rival Lyft didn't describe public transportation as a competitor in its S-1. But while the corporate mission may be different, in practice there's little difference, experts say. "Try to imagine the island of Manhattan, and everyone taking the subway being in a rideshare. It just doesn't function...." said Christof Spieler, who teaches transportation at Rice University and wrote the book Trains, Buses, People. "It's a world in which large cities essentially break down." And transportation consultant Jarrett Walker tells CNN that while it may make business sense for Uber and Lyft to pursue this strategy, "it may also be a strategy that's destroying the world."

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Designers Release 'Aweigh', An Open Source Alternative to GPS

Sat, 04/27/2019 - 4:34pm
"A team of student designers and engineers from the RCA and Imperial College have designed an open-source alternative to GPS, called Aweigh, that does not rely on satellites," reports the design magazine Dezeen. It's similar to the sextant, calculating positions by measuring the angular distances between the horizon and the sun. ExRex (Slashdot reader #47,177) shares their report: They said that Aweigh can even work on a cloudy day when the sun is not in view, and unlike devices that use satellites, such as smartphones, Aweigh functions offline so a user's positional data cannot be leaked through the internet. "Satellites send information which can be intercepted and interfered with, but to interfere with Aweigh, one would need to artificially move the sun," explained the team of four, made up of States Lee, Samuel Iliffe, Flora Weil and Keren Zhang. "If one of the devices is faulty or broken, it is only that user who suffers. If one satellite is faulty, then the consequences can affect millions of users. "Most people don't think about the way they navigate," the group continued, "but as concerns over centralised technology and data privacy increase, individuals should have a choice over how their data is taken and used. Aweigh is about giving back choice...." Describing the system as "a set of tools and blueprints", the team wanted users to be able to hack or fix the tools they use, so making the project open-source was important. There's a video about the device here. It locates the sun by reading light values with a customized Raspberry Pi board. Although Slashdot reader RockDoctor asks an interesting question: does it work at night?

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'They're Basically Lying' - Mental Health Apps Caught Secretly Sharing Data

Sat, 04/27/2019 - 3:34pm
"Free apps marketed to people with depression or who want to quit smoking are hemorrhaging user data to third parties like Facebook and Google -- but often don't admit it in their privacy policies, a new study reports..." writes The Verge. "You don't have to be a user of Facebook's or Google's services for them to have enough breadcrumbs to ID you," warns Slashdot schwit1. From the article: By intercepting the data transmissions, they discovered that 92 percent of the 36 apps shared the data with at least one third party -- mostly Facebook- and Google-run services that help with marketing, advertising, or data analytics. (Facebook and Google did not immediately respond to requests for comment.) But about half of those apps didn't disclose that third-party data sharing, for a few different reasons: nine apps didn't have a privacy policy at all; five apps did but didn't say the data would be shared this way; and three apps actively said that this kind of data sharing wouldn't happen. Those last three are the ones that stood out to Steven Chan, a physician at Veterans Affairs Palo Alto Health Care System, who has collaborated with Torous in the past but wasn't involved in the new study. "They're basically lying," he says of the apps. Part of the problem is the business model for free apps, the study authors write: since insurance might not pay for an app that helps users quit smoking, for example, the only ways for free app developer to stay afloat is to either sell subscriptions or sell data. And if that app is branded as a wellness tool, the developers can skirt laws intended to keep medical information private. A few apps even shared what The Verge calls "very sensitive information" like self reports about substance use and user names.

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Amazon's Algorithm Automatically Fires Inefficient Warehouse Workers

Sat, 04/27/2019 - 2:34pm
The Verge obtained Amazon documents detailing the firing of hundreds of warehouse workers who failed to live up to "a proprietary productivity metric." Those firings "are far more common than outsiders realize" -- and they're apparently initiated by an algorithm. In a signed letter last year, an attorney representing Amazon said the company fired "hundreds" of employees at a single facility between August of 2017 and September 2018 for failing to meet productivity quotas. A spokesperson for the company said that, over that time, roughly 300 full-time associates were terminated for inefficiency. The number represents a substantial portion of the facility's workers: a spokesperson said the named fulfillment center in Baltimore includes about 2,500 full-time employees today. Assuming a steady rate, that would mean Amazon was firing more than 10 percent of its staff annually, solely for productivity reasons. The documents also show a deeply automated tracking and termination process. "Amazon's system tracks the rates of each individual associate's productivity," according to the letter, "and automatically generates any warnings or terminations regarding quality or productivity without input from supervisors." (Amazon says supervisors are able to override the process....) "One of the things that we hear consistently from workers is that they are treated like robots in effect because they're monitored and supervised by these automated systems," says Stacy Mitchell, co-director of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance and a prominent Amazon critic. "They're monitored and supervised by robots...." The bottom 5 percent of workers are placed on a training plan, according to the company. An appeal system is also part of the termination process.

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10% of Twitter Users Create 80% of the Tweets

Sat, 04/27/2019 - 1:34pm
In America, 10% of Twitter's users create 80% of its tweets, according to a new study by the Pew Research Center: The median user in the top 10% by tweet volume creates 138 tweets per month, "favorites" 70 posts per month, follows 456 accounts, and has 387 followers. By comparison, the median user in the bottom 90% of tweeters creates just two tweets per month, "favorites" one post per month, follows 74 accounts, and has 19 followers. And when asked to report how often they use the platform, fully 81% of these highly active tweeters say they do so every day; 47% of other Twitter users visit the platform with this regularity... Twitter users also tend to have higher levels of household income and educational attainment relative to the general adult population. Some 42% of adult Twitter users have at least a bachelor's degree -- 11 percentage points higher than the overall share of the public with this level of education (31%). Similarly, the number of adult Twitter users reporting a household income above $75,000 is 9 points greater than the same figure in the general population: 41% vs. 32%.

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Four Whistleblowers Reported 737 Max Problems to the FAA After Fatal Crash

Sat, 04/27/2019 - 12:34pm
Four different Boeing employees called the whistleblower hotline at America's Federal Aviation Administration after a fatal crash in March, CNN reports: A source familiar with the matter says the hotline submissions involve current and former Boeing employees describing issues related to the angle of attack sensor -- a vane that measures the plane's angle in the air -- and the anti-stall system called MCAS, which is unique to Boeing's newest plane.... The FAA tells CNN it received the four hotline submissions on April 5, and it may be opening up an entirely new investigative angle into what went wrong in the crashes of two Boeing 737 Max commercial airliners -- Lion Air flight 620 in October and Ethiopian Air flight 302 in March. Among the complaints is a previously unreported issue involving damage to the wiring of the angle of attack sensor by a foreign object, according to the source. Boeing has reportedly had previous issues with foreign object debris in its manufacturing process; The New York Times reported metal shavings were found near wiring of Boeing 787 Dreamliner planes, and the Air Force stopped deliveries of the Boeing KC-46 tanker after foreign object debris was found in some of the planes coming off the production line. Other reports by the whistleblowers involve concerns about the MCAS control cut-out switches, which disengage the MCAS software, according to the source. CNN reminds readers that all of Boeing's 737 Max planes worldwide are still grounded

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Four Ways To Reduce Bad Scientific Research

Sat, 04/27/2019 - 11:34am
An experimental psychologist at the University of Oxford argues that in two decades, "we will look back on the past 60 years -- particularly in biomedical science -- and marvel at how much time and money has been wasted on flawed research." [M]any researchers persist in working in a way almost guaranteed not to deliver meaningful results. They ride with what I refer to as the four horsemen of the reproducibility apocalypse: publication bias, low statistical power, P-value hacking and HARKing (hypothesizing after results are known). My generation and the one before us have done little to rein these in. In 1975, psychologist Anthony Greenwald noted that science is prejudiced against null hypotheses; we even refer to sound work supporting such conclusions as 'failed experiments'... The problems are older than most junior faculty members, but new forces are reining in these four horsemen. First, the field of meta-science is blossoming, and with it, documentation and awareness of the issues. We can no longer dismiss concerns as purely theoretical. Second, social media enables criticisms to be raised and explored soon after publication. Third, more journals are adopting the 'registered report' format, in which editors evaluate the experimental question and study design before results are collected -- a strategy that thwarts publication bias, P-hacking and HARKing. Finally, and most importantly, those who fund research have become more concerned, and more strict. They have introduced requirements that data and scripts be made open and methods be described fully. I anticipate that these forces will soon gain the upper hand, and the four horsemen might finally be slain.

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