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Space

A Meteorite Crashed Through Somebody's Ceiling and Landed on Their Bed (chicagotribune.com) 6

The New York Times reports: Ruth Hamilton was fast asleep in her home in British Columbia when she awoke to the sound of her dog barking, followed by "an explosion." She jumped up and turned on the light, only to see a hole in the ceiling. Her clock said 11:35 p.m.

At first, Hamilton thought that a tree had fallen on her house. But, no, all the trees were there. She called 911 and, while on the phone with an operator, noticed a large charcoal gray object between her two floral pillows.

"Oh, my gosh," she recalled telling the operator, "there's a rock in my bed."

A meteorite, she later learned.

The 2.8-pound rock the size of a large man's fist had barely missed Hamilton's head, leaving "drywall debris all over my face," she said. Her close encounter on the night of Oct. 3 left her rattled, but it captivated the internet and handed scientists an unusual chance to study a space rock that had crashed to Earth.

"It just seems surreal," Hamilton said in an interview Wednesday. "Then I'll go in and look in the room and, yep, there's still a hole in my ceiling. Yep, that happened."

The Times reports that Peter Brown, a professor at the University of Western Ontario, places the odds of a meteor crashing into someone's bed at 1 in 100 billion.
Government

International 'US Cyber Games' Competition Seeks Next Generation of Cybersecurity Experts (washingtonpost.com) 9

"As the United States seeks to shore up its defenses against cyberattacks, the country is seeking to harness the skills of some of the country's most promising young minds," reports the Washington Post, "using a model that mirrors competitive video gaming, also known as esports."

Though it's a partnership between the federal government, academia and the private sector, it's being run by Katzcy, a northern Virginia-based digital marketing firm, the Post reports: U.S. Cyber Games, a project founded in April and funded by the National Institute of Standards and Technology's National Initiative for Cybersecurity Education, has assembled a team of 25 Americans, ages 18 to 26, who will compete against other countries in the inaugural International Cybersecurity Challenge, scheduled to be held in Greece in June 2022.

The cyber games consist of two broad formats, with the competitions organized and promoted to appeal to a generation raised on video gaming. The goal is to identify and train candidates for careers in cybersecurity. There are king-of-the-hill-type games where one team tries to break into a network while the other team tries to defend it. There are also capture-the-flag-type games where teams must complete a series of puzzles that follow the basic tenets of cybersecurity programs, like decrypting an encrypted file or analyzing secret network traffic...

The U.S. cyber team's head coach, retired Lt. Col. TJ O'Connor who served as a communications support officer with special forces, noted the unique platform presented by cybersecurity competitions. Unlike other forms of computer science education, O'Connor said, staying up to date on the latest developments in cybersecurity is difficult, with hackers constantly iterating on and developing new tactics to break through cyberdefenses. "Understanding the most likely attack is one thing you gain through Cyber Games. It's an attack-based curriculum, and then you can plan the most appropriate strategies when they occur," said O'Connor, who helped create and now chairs Florida Tech's cybersecurity program.

Security

'Dirty Servers': The Untold Story of The Great Twitch Breach of 2014 (vice.com) 5

A 2014 breach at Twitch "was so bad that Twitch essentially had to rebuild much of its code infrastructure because the company eventually decided to assume most of its servers were compromised," reports Vice. "They figured it would be easier to just label them 'dirty,' and slowly migrate them to new servers, according to three former employees who saw and worked with these servers."

Slashdot reader em1ly shares Vice's report (which Vice based on interviews with seven former Twitch employees who'd worked there when the breach happened): The discovery of the suspicious logs kicked off an intense investigation that pulled nearly all Twitch employees on deck. One former employee said they worked 20 hours a day for two months, another said he worked "three weeks straight." Other employees said they worked long hours for weeks on end; some who lived far from the office slept in hotel rooms booked by the company. At the time, Twitch had few, if any, dedicated cybersecurity engineers, so developers and engineers from other teams were pulled into the effort, working together in meeting rooms with glass windows covered, frantically trying to figure out just how bad the hack was, according to five former Twitch employees who were at the company at the time...

Twitch's users would only find out about the breach six months after its discovery, on March 23, 2015, when the company published a short blog post that explained "there may have been unauthorized access to some Twitch user account information," but did not let on nearly how damaging the hack was to Twitch internally.... When Twitch finally disclosed the hack in March of 2015, security engineers at Twitch and Amazon, who had come to help with the incident response, concluded that the hack had started at least eight months before the discovery in October of 2014, though they had no idea if the hackers had actually broken in even earlier than that, according to the former employee. "That was long enough for them to learn entirely how our whole system worked and the attacks they launched demonstrated that knowledge," the former employee said...

For months after the discovery and public announcement, several servers and services were internally labeled as "dirty," as a way to tell all developers and engineers to be careful when interacting with them, and to make sure they'd get cleaned up eventually. This meant that they were still live and in use, but engineers had put restrictions on them in the event that they were still compromised, according to three former employees. "The plan apparently was just to rebuild the entire infra[structure] from known-good code and deprecate the old 'dirty' environment. We still, years later, had a split between 'dirty' services (servers or other things that were running when the hack took place) and 'clean' services, which were fired up after," one of the former employees said. "We celebrated office-wide the day we took down the last dirty service!"

Another former employees tells Vice that the breach came as a surprise, even though the company hadn't invested in keeping itself secure. "Security efforts kept getting cancelled or deprioritized with the argument that 'everyone loves Twitch; no one wants to hack us.'" The Twitch engineer who'd first stumbled onto the breach described his reaction to Vice. " 'Oh fuck.' But I remember thinking that there was so much 'I told you so' here."

One former employee added later that a more recent incident just this month "demonstrates that they didn't learn anything from the incident in 2014." But not everyone agrees. Other former employees, however, said that the damage of this new data breach appears to be less severe than the 2014 hack. And that it's likely thanks to Twitch taking security more seriously since then.
Transportation

New Study Finds Ridesharing Actually Increases Pollution, Congestion (nytimes.com) 69

Greg Bensinger of the New York Times editorial board argues ridesharing companies haven't delivered on their promises of well-paying driver jobs with less traffic congestion (let alone their predictions of an end to car ownership — or even of a sustainable, profitable, business model).

And he adds that now a new study "is punching a hole in another of Uber and Lyft's promised benefits: curtailing pollution." The companies have long insisted their services are a boon to the environment in part because they reduce the need for short trips, can pool riders heading in roughly the same direction and cut unnecessary miles by, for instance, eliminating the need to look for street parking. It turns out that Uber rides do spare the air from the high amount of pollutants emitted from starting up a cold vehicle, when it is operating less efficiently, researchers from Carnegie Mellon University found. But that gain is wiped out by the need for drivers to circle around waiting for or fetching their next passenger, known as deadheading. Deadheading, Lyft and Uber estimated in 2019, is equal to about 40 percent of rideshare miles driven in six American cities.

The researchers at Carnegie Mellon estimated that driving without a passenger leads to a roughly 20 percent overall increase in fuel consumption and greenhouse gas emissions compared with trips made by personal vehicles.

The researchers also found that switching from a private car to on-demand rides, like an Uber or Lyft, increased the external costs of a typical trip by 30 percent to 35 percent, or roughly 35 cents on average, because of the added congestion, collisions and noise from ridesharing services. "This burden is not carried by the individual user, but rather impacts the surrounding community," reads a summary of the research conducted by Jacob Ward, Jeremy Michalek and Constantine Samaras. "Society as a whole currently shoulders these external costs in the form of increased mortality risks, damage to vehicles and infrastructure, climate impacts and increased traffic congestion."

Moon

The Moon Will Soon Have Its Own Internet (autoevolution.com) 32

"Humanity will return to the lunar surface in 2024 as part of the Artemis program," writes the Auto Evolution site. "However, before NASA begins shuttling people to our natural satellite, it has to build a network there that will go beyond Earth's low orbit and connect space to Earth in a sort of Internet connection..." The network's name? LunaNet: Astronauts will be able to use the LunaNet via numerous nodes and communicate with the crew on and around the Moon in the same manner that we use Wi-Fi here on Earth. In addition, missions using the network will have access to position and time signals, allowing astronauts and rovers to navigate the rugged lunar terrain and return to their base. LunaNet will also use space-weather instruments to identify potentially dangerous solar activity, such as flares that erupt from the Sun and send harsh radiation towards the astronauts. With this new connectivity, the crew can be directly alerted. This will cut down the time it takes for network management on Earth to do so. These warnings will be comparable to the ones we receive on our phones when there is hazardous weather. The architecture's capabilities will also include a lunar search and rescue capability...

Researchers could also use LunaNet antennas to peer into deep space and search for radio signals from distant celestial objects. Altogether, the architecture's capabilities will give scientists a new platform to test space theories, allowing them to extend their scientific knowledge. Recently, NASA released the "Draft LunaNet Interoperability Specification" in order to kickstart the development of this new "lunar internet." Technical discussions among industry experts from around the world are expected to follow.

AI

5G Lobbyist Argues It May Be a Long Time Before Autonomous Vehicles Reach Cities (eetimes.com) 12

Slashdot reader dkatana shares IoT Times interview with Dr. Johannes Springer, Director General for the 5G Automotive Association, an EU lobbying group pushing for the inclusion of short-range 5G wireless technology in autonomous vehicles for vehicle-to-vehicle communications. Springer describes some of the services already being tested (like in Hamburg, Germany, where even traffic lights can communicate with vehicles for "optimal speed advisories" for avoiding red lights): We have, for instance, an initiative in Europe called a European Data Task Force, or data task force for world safety. And in this activity, millions of vehicles are already sharing safety-related data between the different car manufacturers. Of course, this data sharing exists via cellular networks. One vehicle that detects, for instance, a black ice warning, or produces a black ice warning, sends this warning via the cellular networks to other vehicles. And this consensus, the data sharing via the cellular networks, creates a lot of benefits for other traffic participants, not, by the way, just the vehicles, but also to other vulnerable road users, cyclists, pedestrians, and so on...
But they also discuss the prospects for automous vehicles beyond highway/intercity driving — and the idea of restricting them in cities to dedicated "safe corridors": Of course, the whole thing starts on a broad scale with restricted areas... And also, the private car industry is going heavily in this direction. If you take, for instance, the example of valet parking, automated parking. So, the automated driving task is restricted to a parking spot, to a parking garage: you can leave your car in front of the parking garage, and the car finds the free parking space by itself. And the same upon returning the vehicle. So this is something which takes place in the city but within a restricted area.

Suppose it goes, for instance, to buses or something like that. In that case, you can also see two examples during the ITS World Congress, two different, let's say, technical setups, where automated driving buses happen in the city. One is in a, let's say, non-controlled environment, and the vehicle drives entirely on its own, yeah? So this is shown by Easy Drive, part of Continental, a company that produces these types of systems. Of course, there is still the need to have a backup driver in the bus, which directly destroys the business case for the bus operator. And secondly, the driving speed is relatively low; I think 30 kilometers per hour or something like that.

The second example is, which is shown by Siemens, called the Heat Project, where the whole environment is completely controlled by roadside infrastructure. You have cameras and all these things equipped at the road to assess the situation and things around the bus. Personally, I don't believe that it can happen in cities or other open urban areas. Maybe, of course, if you have an airport, it might be different. But we cannot afford the necessary infrastructure, let's say, for monitoring the situation around the vehicle in real-time, whether it's a bus or another vehicle. No city is willing to pay for such an infrastructure just for the benefit of autonomous driving. So I'm pretty sure that this will not happen.

In the comments on the original submission, long-time Slashdot reader Gravis Zero discounts this as the opinion of a lobbying group advocating for specific 5G technologies (rather than using WiFi for direct vehicle-to-vehicle and vehicle-to-infrastructure communication).

But for what it's worth, the IoT Times interviewer also says "I've been talking to some experts in smart cities and some vehicle manufacturers... They say that certain types of autonomous driving have been going around for some time... But they are mainly focusing on motorways and intercity driving. We still have many problems allowing full autonomous driving in cities because of the number of different things that can happen."
Anime

Is the Comic Book Industry Dying or Thriving? (gamesradar.com) 90

Somewhere on Yahoo, one writer asks "Is the comic book industry dying or thriving?" There was a time when comic books were sold at newsstands alongside mainstream publications, according to Forbes, but that changed in the early 1980s when periodical comics all but disappeared from newsstands. From then on, the vast majority of comic books were sold through independently owned retail comic shops.
But GamesRadar+ notes a boom started in the 1990s — when comic books became an investment: Long story short, folks outside of regular comic book readers discovered that, in some cases, key comic book issues (such as those that debuted popular characters or titles) could be worth significant amounts of money on the secondary market, leading to some fans buying dozens of copies of a single issue in the hopes of someday capitalizing on their monetary value...

Someone should've explained supply and demand — the bubble burst because when everyone is buying and meticulously preserving a million copies of a comic book, there is no rarity to drive up the value to the level of less well-preserved comic books from earlier eras.

Their article also points out that this era saw the dawn of lucrative "variant covers". But the '90s also saw a rebellion of top Marvel artists who left to found Image comics, "the first major third-party publisher to challenge Marvel and DC's reign over the industry in years," which led to "a rise in independent and creator-owned comic books, both large and small, and helped the rising tide of indie publishers gain a solid foothold as an overall industry presence." (Presumably this "rising tide" would also include publishers of manga and anime-derived titles.)

So where are we now? The article on Yahoo notes the vast popularity of comic book movies, and also argues that "The billion-dollar comic business continues to boom." According to Publisher's Weekly, sales of comic books and graphic novels topped $1.28 billion in 2020, an all-time high. It's no fluke. With a few exceptions — sales fell a little in 2017, for example — comic book sales have been rising consistently for decades.
But who's actually reading comic books? Is it teenagers? Nostalgic adults? Investing collectors? People who saw the movies first? (If you're 12 years old, are you going to read some comic book, or watch The Avengers?)

Comic books now also have to compete with incredibly immersive videogames, virtual reality, and a gazillion cellphone apps — not to mention social media, and even online fan fiction. So I'd be interested to hear the experiences of Slashdot's readers. It seems like we'd be a reasonably good cross section of geek culture — but can we solve the riddle of the state of the comic book industry today?

Share your own thoughts in the comments. Is the comic book industry dying or thriving?
China

Surprising US Intelligence, China Tested a Hypersonic Missile (livemint.com) 65

"China tested a nuclear-capable hypersonic missile in August," reports Reuters, "showing a capability that caught U.S. intelligence by surprise, the Financial Times reported, citing five unnamed sources."

AFP explains what's uniquely threatening about hypersonic missiles: Ballistic missiles fly high into space in an arc to reach their target, while a hypersonic flies on a trajectory low in the atmosphere, potentially reaching a target more quickly. Crucially, a hypersonic missile is maneuverable (like the much slower, often subsonic cruise missile), making it harder to track and defend against. While countries like the United States have developed systems designed to defend against cruise and ballistic missiles, the ability to track and take down a hypersonic missile remains a question.
Business Insider highlights this assessment from the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD), the US/Canada organization providing North America's aerospace warnings: In August, General Glen VanHerck, head of NORAD, said that China's advanced hypersonic capability would "provide significant challenges to my Norad capability to provide threat warning and attack assessment," the Financial Times said... Sources also told the paper that the Chinese weapon could theoretically fly over the South Pole, another cause for concern for the US military, whose missile systems focus on the northern polar route.
Bloomberg reports that the missile missed its target (by over 32 kilometers — about 20 miles), "and the test doesn't necessarily mean China will deploy such a weapon, the Financial Times said..."

They also point out that "Along with China, the United States, Russia and at least five other countries are working on hypersonic technology." (Reuters adds that "last month North Korea said it had test-fired a newly-developed hypersonic missile.")
The Almighty Buck

The Ups and Downs of Bitcoin's First Month in El Salvador (msn.com) 27

One month ago El Salvador made bitcoin legal tender in the country. The Motley Fool looks at how it's playing out: Even before the launch, President Bukele's push for Bitcoin was not popular at home or abroad. The IMF refused to help fund the rollout, warning of "macroeconomic, financial, and legal issues." And Salvadorians took to the streets to protest the Bitcoin project before and after the launch. One Central American University survey showed that 68% of people did not agree with the move.

The first stumbling block in El Salvador's Bitcoin experiment was that the price of Bitcoin fell 11% on the first day, and further in the days that followed. Crypto investors may be familiar with Bitcoin's volatility. But for many El Salvadorians, who'd each been given $30 worth of Bitcoin (about 0.00065 BTC) only to see its value tumble, it was another matter... In the U.S., Bitcoin is widely seen as a store of value — an investment that people hope will appreciate over time. But El Salvador is using it as a currency. And as a currency, Bitcoin's volatility is problematic, especially in a low-income country. According to Bloomberg, 1 in 4 Salvadorians make less than $5.50 per day.

Even in a higher-income country, it would be difficult for a company to accept payments in a currency that might rapidly shrink in value in a matter of weeks. Unless the business could transfer the money immediately into dollars (which is what happens with many crypto payments), it would play havoc with things like payroll, rent, and other obligations. This is exponentially harder to manage for a family with little cash to spare.

El Salvador also experienced technical glitches in both its bitcoin ATMs and the state-run wallet, according to the article. "It is a real shame that the El Salvadorian government rushed into launching Bitcoin as legal tender without first building the technical infrastructure and popular support that would have helped its ambitious scheme.

"Nonetheless, if we check in again in a year's time, there's still a chance we'll see a different story."
Books

In New Sequel to 'The Circle', Dave Eggers Satirizes Algorithms Instead of Surveillance (arstechnica.com) 23

Novelist Dave Eggers has just published a sequel to his 2013 dystopian tale of a tech company called The Circle — in which a low-tech crusader now tries to destroy the most powerful tech company in the world. Ars Technica quips that "When big tech rules all, don't say Dave Eggers didn't warn us." The Every quickly asserts itself as a logical progression from its literary forebear. Moving past simply recording everything, this world now revolves around measuring everything so that technology can spit out directions... The Every's health app tells you when to get up and jump at your desk. The Every's storage solution will digitize all your belongings as 3D-printable files so you can incinerate your waste and lower your carbon footprint. Media from The Every is driven by data-tracking technology that can tell when readers/viewers/listeners tend to abandon ship; it then tells creators how to improve...

"The Circle was more about surveillance and whether privacy is possible," said Eggers. "This is more about whether we want to exercise free will on a daily basis, or are we happier to have these algorithms feed us and free us of all these decisions and anxieties? What if there was one monopoly who promised to make you your best self so long as you basically gave up control over every decision?"

Though its themes are no laughing matter, The Every is littered with the smirk-inducing ideas you'd expect from Eggers. Each matter-of-fact aside about how life has evolved from our present day into this book's near future is a comedic dystopian gem... You don't have to go far these days to see how tech-reliant society has become; it's painfully evident that our world is quite comfortable with outsourcing decisions and plans to the algorithm. In this light, The Every isn't blazing new trails with its central themes, but few works will so reliably stop you mid-sentence or post-chapter for a moment of reflection. And that's because Eggers has a gift. Consistently, his ideas are amusing and laugh-out-loud funny, but there's also a deep sense of reality beneath them. When that clicks for you during a reading session, you arrive at the realization that the real world isn't so far behind the Every world.

Comedy can turn into horror quickly.

"The best way to hold a mirror up to the way we live now is to turn the absurdity up just a little more, and we can reflect back on how we're living now," Eggers tells Ars Technica. "Then, maybe, there's a fork in the road where we say, 'Well, we actually don't want that, if that comes to fruition, maybe we'll fight back.' That's about the only hope you can have writing something like this."

Ars Technica notes that Eggers and his publisher McSweeney's "took extra care to sell through places beyond Amazon... 'It felt like a book about the increasing saturation and reach of a monopoly was a good opportunity to make a bit of a point: We still have a choice for the time being. You can go into [a local store like] Book People and buy a book there and support the local economy as opposed to giving money to the apex predator. If we want retail diversity, we need to feed smaller operations."

The article adds that Eggers doesn't have a smartphone, and he tries to stay offline.
Crime

Man Arrested for Scamming Amazon's Textbook Rental Service Out of $1.5 Million (theregister.com) 66

"A 36-year-old man from Portage, Michigan, was arrested on Thursday for allegedly renting thousands of textbooks from Amazon and selling them rather than returning them," reports the Register: From January 2016 through March 2021, according to the indictment, Talsma rented textbooks from the Amazon Rental program in order to sell them for a profit... His alleged fraud scheme involved using Amazon gift cards to rent the textbooks and prepaid MyVanilla Visa cards with minimal credit balances to cover the buyout price charged for books not returned. "These gift cards and MyVanilla Visa cards did not contain names or other means of identifying him as the person renting the textbooks," the indictment says. "Geoffrey Mark Talsma made sure that the MyVanilla Visa cards did not have sufficient credit balances, or any balance at all, when the textbook rentals were past due so that Amazon could not collect the book buyout price from those cards."

As the scheme progressed, the indictment says, Talsma "recruited individuals, including defendants Gregory Mark Gleesing, Lovedeep Singh Dhanoa, and Paul Steven Larson, and other individuals known to the grand jury, to allow him to use their names and mailing addresses to further continue receiving rental textbooks in amounts well above the fifteen-book limit..."

The indictment says the four alleged scammers stole 14,000 textbooks worth over $1.5m.

The U.S. Department of Justice adds If convicted, Talsma faces a maximum term of imprisonment of 20 years for each of the mail and wire fraud offenses; a maximum term of imprisonment of 10 years for interstate transportation of stolen property; and a maximum term of imprisonment of 5 years for making false statements to the FBI.

Additionally, if convicted of the aggravated identity theft charges, Talsma will serve a maximum term of imprisonment of four years consecutive to any sentence imposed for the other criminal offenses. Restitution and forfeiture of certain assets obtained with the proceeds of the scheme may also be ordered as a result of a conviction.

Crime

Los Angeles Police Declare Ghost Guns an 'Epidemic,' Citing 400% Increase in Seizures (yahoo.com) 329

The Los Angeles Times reports that homemade (usually 3D-printed) "ghost guns" have contributed to more than 100 violent crimes this year, according to a report released Friday by the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD)." Detectives have linked the untraceable weapons to 24 killings, eight attempted homicides and dozens of assaults and armed robberies since January, according to the report.

And police expect the problem to get worse, the report said. During the first half of this year, the department confiscated 863 ghost guns, a 400% increase over the 217 it seized during the same period last year, according to the report. That sharp jump suggests the number of ghost guns on the streets and such seizures "will continue to grow exponentially," the authors of the report wrote.

"Ghost guns are an epidemic not only in Los Angeles but nationwide," the department said...

Because they are not made by licensed manufacturers, they lack serial numbers, making them impossible to track. Felons who are banned from possessing firearms because of previous offenses increasingly are turning to ghost guns, LAPD officials have said. The LAPD's analysis was compiled in response to a City Council motion, introduced by Councilmen Paul Koretz and Paul Krekorian, that calls for a new city ordinance banning the possession, sale, purchase, receipt or transportation of such weapons or the "non-serialized, unfinished frames and unfinished receivers" that are used to make them.

The LAPD said it is "strongly in support" of the proposed ordinance. "Ghost guns are real, they work, and they kill," the agency said in the report.

Microsoft

Security Threat Analyst Accuses Microsoft of Hosting Malware on Office365's OneDrive (itwire.com) 47

Slashdot reader juul_advocate quotes ITWire: A British tech researcher, who quit working as a security threat analyst with Microsoft a few months back, has called on his former employer to act speedily to remove links to ransomware on its Office365 platform. In a tweet sent on Friday, Beaumont said: "Microsoft cannot advertise themselves as the security leader with 8,000 security employees and trillions of signals if they cannot prevent their own Office365 platform being directly used to launch Conti ransomware. OneDrive abuse has been going on for years. Fix it...."

An overwhelming majority of ransomware attacks only Windows, with an analysis by staff of the Google-owned VirusTotal database last Thursday showing that 95% of 80 million samples analysed — all the way back to January 2020 — were aimed at Windows... Beaumont, who has a well-earned reputation as a researcher who is quick to admit faults in his own industry, acknowledged that other technology companies also played a big role in hosting malware. Quoting a tweet from a Swiss researcher [given below], he said: "And yes, it's not just Microsoft. Tech companies have got to do better."

AI

Is It Time for Baseball to Adopt Robot Umpires? (msn.com) 89

The case for robot umpires in baseball got some new interest this week — especially for Silicon Valley's baseball fans. As America settled in to watch the final inning of this year's National League Division Series, the Washington Post reports that (human) viewers saw a (human) umpire "call a third strike on a checked swing by San Francisco Giants infielder Wilmer Flores...ending the night, and season, of MLB's best team of 2021." (Though instead of swinging "Flores clearly appeared to hold up.")

But the backlash raises the question of whether a so-called robo-umpire — essentially, a set of highly placed and well-programmed cameras — could have automatically adjudicated the checked swing...

It's not a hypothetical question: MLB is in the middle of a three-year partnership with the independent Atlantic League for just such a robo-umpire, a system called Automatic Balls and Strikes (ABS), that this past season rendered a home-plate umpire moot for his most important job. MLB hasn't given a timetable for when the system could reach the big leagues, but it's clearly a trial balloon. ABS is overseen by TrackMan, a Denmark-based start-up that began by helping golfers with their swing and then expanded to baseball before broadening again to auto-officiating responsibilities. Under their ABS system, players are measured for a strike zone before the season, with their info then fed into the machine. Then, during the game, the company's sensor in the stands behind home plate uses Doppler technology to determine where the ball is thrown and where it should have been thrown based on the player's strike zone. The sensor then relays the call to, well, whoever wants to hear it. In the case of the Atlantic League, this is an actual umpire behind the plate who, in an ironic reversal, is a human who simply does what the machine tells him to do and announces the call.

The system is not being used for checked swings, but the technology is equally applicable; it makes little difference whether a ball is crossing the plate in one direction or a bat crosses it the other way...

But accuracy is only part of the equation. Presumably TrackMan could have made the right call — but what effect would such automation have on us socially? An argument can be made that it would increase consumer confidence and eliminate discord; an equal argument could be made the other way, that subjectivity is what makes the public realm, or at least baseball, a dynamic and interesting place.

The Flores checked swing, in other words, gets at the question that stretches across much of innovation: Just because we could, does that mean we should?

"Some fans have questioned whether judgment calls are part of the fun of baseball and a legalistic rendering is contrary to the spirit of the game," the article points out. And another issue: currently catchers will sometimes even move their glove with the caught ball so it looks like it passed through the strike zone when it didn't. (Or, as Deadspin puts it, "It's lying about where the pitch came in to fool the umpire into giving your team a strike when he shouldn't have." Though they call it "a beautiful art that defines the catcher position... and it will be rendered useless by the emergence of robot umpires.")

Deadspin tracked down the President of TrackMan Baseball, who said that after an entire season of use in the Atlantic league, "Our system was accurate to about a half-inch, and we do this at hundreds of baseball stadiums every single day." But Deadspin worries that if it's actually implemented in Major League Baseball stadium, then pitchers would be afraid to throw borderline pitches, and would be forced to throw more balls over the plate. While endless hits and home runs might sound exciting, it would only lengthen an already slow sport, and the high that comes from witnessing incredible offensive feats would slowly fade as they would become more commonplace.
The Almighty Buck

Ransomware Summit Eyes Tighter Global Scrutiny for Crypto (wsj.com) 20

Officials from 32 countries "recognize that ransomware is an escalating global security threat with serious economic and security consequences," according to a statement issued Thursday: From malign operations against local health providers that endanger patient care, to those directed at businesses that limit their ability to provide fuel, groceries, or other goods to the public, ransomware poses a significant risk to critical infrastructure, essential services, public safety, consumer protection and privacy, and economic prosperity.

As with other cyber threats, the threat of ransomware is complex and global in nature and requires a shared response.

But the Wall Street Journal also reports the officials (who met virtually this week) blame another factor in the boom of ransomware: "uneven cryptocurrency standards." The representatives pledged to share information about cyberattacks and investigations, push firms to shore up security, and disrupt the financial infrastructure of a criminal hacking economy that has flourished in recent years. Consistent international scrutiny of cryptocurrencies will be key, the officials said, as ransomware groups that extort victims for digital payments can quickly transfer the funds to countries with lax standards for monitoring illicit transactions.

âoeWe are dedicated to enhancing our efforts to disrupt the ransomware business model and associated money-laundering activities,â the representatives said in a joint statement Thursday...

Hacking groups have increasingly targeted U.S. critical infrastructure, disrupting the East Coastâ(TM)s largest gas pipeline in May and a major meat processor in June. Law-enforcement officials are sometimes able to track crypto payments made by such victims, which can reach into the millions, across a public ledger known as a blockchain. The Counter-Ransomware Initiative convened by the White House this week called on countries to use such techniques alongside more aggressive enforcement of anti-money-laundering and know-your-customer rules that prevent cryptocurrency companies from facilitating such transactions...

Cybersecurity experts say international collaboration will be key to slowing criminal groups that often operate across borders and with relative impunity in countries such as Russia.

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