Movies

What Disney's Acquisition of Fox Means For the Future of Film and TV (qz.com) 30

Disney announced on Thursday it had reached a $52 billion deal to buy most of the assets of 21st Century Fox. It is "the biggest and most consequential media merger in an era of big and consequential media consolidation deals," reports Quartz. "The deal will have a lasting effect on film, television, and the internet." From the report: If the merger is approved, Disney will own: All of Fox's film studios (20th Century Fox, Fox Searchlight, and Fox 2000); Fox's television studio; FX Networks; National Geographic; Fox's stake in European broadcaster Sky; Fox's stake in North American streamer Hulu. Staying with the hollowed out 21st Century Fox is the Fox broadcast network, Fox News, Fox Sports, and Fox Business. With Fox's film and TV studios and its cable networks, Disney will acquire the rights to literally hundreds of popular television series and movies. (Some of which include Avatar, X-Men, Deadpool, Modern Family and The Simpsons.)

Imagine all of the properties mentioned above, plus all of Disney's existing franchises (Star Wars, Marvel, Pixar, etc.) combined into one internet streaming service. You won't have to imagine for long, because that's pretty much exactly why Disney CEO Bob Iger was so keen on buying all of Fox's biggest assets. Disney plans to release a streaming entertainment service in 2019. It would have been quite formidable on its own, even without Fox's help, but now it will likely be the first true rival to Netflix in the streaming space. Before today, Disney, Fox, and Comcast (NBCUniversal) all shared equal 30% stakes in Hulu (Time Warner owns 10%). But when Disney takes over Fox's share of the streaming service, it will own 60%, becoming a controlling majority owner, relegating Comcast to minority owner in the process.

20th Century Fox, we hardly knew ye. Okay, that may be a bit premature, but it's clear that Fox's film business won't be the same if the merger is approved. The deal marks the first time in modern history that one major film studio has purchased another, eliminating one of the "big six," and essentially giving Disney control of two-thirds of Hollywood. (The other four major movie studios are Universal, Warner Bros., Paramount, and Sony.)

Space

Astronomers Have Come Up With a Better Way To Weigh Millions of Solitary Stars (vanderbilt.edu) 22

Science_afficionado writes: By measuring the flicker pattern of light from distant stars, astronomers have developed a new and improved method for measuring the masses of millions of solitary stars, especially those hosting exoplanets. Stevenson Professor of Physics and Astronomy Keivan Stassun says, "First, we use the total light from the star and its parallax to infer its diameter. Next, we analyze the way in which the light from the star flickers, which provides us with a measure of its surface gravity. Then we combine the two to get the star's total mass." Stassun and his colleagues describe the method and demonstrate its accuracy using 675 stars of known mass in an article titled "Empirical, accurate masses and radii of single stars with TESS and GAIA" accepted for publication in the Astronomical Journal.

David Salisbury via Vanderbilt University explains the other methods of determining the mass of distant stars, and why they aren't always the most accurate: "Traditionally, the most accurate method for determining the mass of distant stars is to measure the orbits of double star systems, called binaries. Newton's laws of motion allow astronomers to calculate the masses of both stars by measuring their orbits with considerable accuracy. However, fewer than half of the star systems in the galaxy are binaries, and binaries make up only about one-fifth of red dwarf stars that have become prized hunting grounds for exoplanets, so astronomers have come up with a variety of other methods for estimating the masses of solitary stars. The photometric method that classifies stars by color and brightness is the most general, but it isn't very accurate. Asteroseismology, which measures light fluctuations caused by sound pulses that travel through a star's interior, is highly accurate but only works on several thousand of the closest, brightest stars." Stassun says his method "can measure the mass of a large number of stars with an accuracy of 10 to 25 percent," which is "far more accurate than is possible with other available methods, and importantly it can be applied to solitary stars so we aren't limited to binaries."
Bitcoin

A Cryptocurrency Without a Blockchain Has Been Built To Outperform Bitcoin (technologyreview.com) 106

An anonymous reader quotes a report from MIT Technology Review: Bitcoin isn't the only cryptocurrency on a hot streak -- plenty of alternative currencies have enjoyed rallies alongside the Epic Bitcoin Bull Run of 2017. One of the most intriguing examples is also among the most obscure in the cryptocurrency world. Called IOTA, it has jumped in total value from just over $4 billion to more than $10 billion in a little over two weeks. But that isn't what makes it interesting. What makes it interesting is that it isn't based on a blockchain at all; it's something else entirely. The rally began in late November, after the IOTA Foundation, the German nonprofit behind the novel cryptocurrency, announced that it was teaming up with several major technology firms to develop a "decentralized data marketplace."

Though IOTA tokens can be used like any other cryptocurrency, the protocol was designed specifically for use on connected devices, says cofounder David Sonstebo. Organizations collect huge amounts of data from these gadgets, from weather tracking systems to sensors that monitor the performance of industrial machinery (a.k.a. the Internet of things). But nearly all of that information is wasted, sitting in siloed databases and not making money for its owners, says Sonstebo. IOTA's system can address this in two ways, he says. First, it can assure the integrity of this data by securing it in a tamper-proof decentralized ledger. Second, it enables fee-less transactions between the owners of the data and anyone who wants to buy it -- and there are plenty of companies that want to get their hands on data.
The report goes on to note that instead of using a blockchain, "IOTA uses a 'tangle,' which is based on a mathematical concept called a directed acyclic graph." The team decided to research this new alternative after deciding that blockchains are too costly. "Part of Sonstebo's issue with Bitcoin and other blockchain systems is that they rely on a distributed network of 'miners' to verify transactions," reports MIT Technology Review. "When a user issues a transaction [with IOTA], that individual also validates two randomly selected previous transactions, each of which refer to two other previous transactions, and so on. As new transactions mount, a 'tangled web of confirmation' grows, says Sonstebo."
Medicine

Noninvasive Radiation Therapy Halts Deadly Heart Rhythm (nytimes.com) 18

schwit1 shares a report from The New York Times (Warning: source may be paywalled; alternative source): The patients were gravely ill, their hearts scarred by infections or heart attacks. In each, the electrical system that maintains a regular heartbeat had been short-circuited. They suffered frequent bursts of rapid heartbeats, which can end in sudden death. The condition kills an estimated 325,000 Americans each year, the most common cause of death in this country. And these people had exhausted all conventional treatments. So researchers at Washington University in St. Louis offered the patients something experimental: short bursts of radiation aimed at their hearts in an effort to obliterate the cells that were causing the electrical malfunctions. Results in the first five patients were published on Thursday in the New England Journal of Medicine, and the experiment seems to have worked -- offering hope to similar patients everywhere who have had no alternatives except a heart transplant. The treatment requires weeks to take full effect, so it cannot be used for cardiac patients who need immediate help. And the method must be studied in larger groups of patients over longer times, an effort that has already begun.
Crime

DOJ Confirms Uber Is Being Investigated For Criminal Behavior (arstechnica.com) 24

A newly released letter from the Department of Justice has formally acknowledged that federal prosecutors have an open criminal investigation into Uber. Ars Technica reports: Late last month, as part of the proceedings in the high-profile and ongoing Waymo v. Uber trade secrets lawsuit, U.S. District Judge William Alsup said that on November 22 he had received a letter from San Francisco-based federal prosecutors. It is very unusual for a judge in a civil case to be apprised of a pending criminal investigation involving one of the litigants. In a separate November 28 letter sent to Judge Alsup, Acting U.S. Attorney Alex Tse asked that the first letter not be made public. The judge unsealed both letters on Wednesday. The first letter was signed by two prosecutors, Matthew Parrella and Amie Rooney. Those attorneys are assigned to the Computer Hacking and Intellectual Property (CHIP) Unit at the United States Attorney's Office in San Jose. [T]he letter could mean Uber and/or its current or former employees may be under investigation for possible crimes under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, a longstanding anti-hacking law.
Advertising

Facebook Will Introduce Ads As Videos Start Playing (recode.net) 51

Facebook is going to start running pre-roll ads on its "Watch" videos next year. While you won't see your News Feed full of video ads, you will start to see pre-rolls, which will run for up to six seconds, on videos in Facebook's "Watch" hub. Recode reports: Facebook launched its Watch hub earlier this year, using "mid-roll" ads (another ad format Facebook tried to avoid for a long time). The fact that they have added pre-rolls -- the format used around the web and the one advertisers are most comfortable with -- should be read as an admission that the mid-roll ads aren't generating significant revenue for Facebook or the publishers putting video into Watch. Speaking of those mid-roll ads: Facebook now says they won't appear until later in videos and they'll only run on longer videos. It says the ads (it calls them "ad breaks") can't run until a minute into a video, and they can only run if the video is at least three minutes long. At first, the ads could run after 20 seconds and on videos as short as 90 seconds.
The Internet

Lawmakers Are Fighting For Net Neutrality (theverge.com) 148

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Verge: Lawmakers and public officials are responding to the FCC's decision to gut net neutrality with promises of action. In the hours following the FCC hearing, officials from around the country announced lawsuits and bills intended to counter the FCC's decision. In New York, Attorney General Eric Schneiderman said that he's leading a multi-state lawsuit to challenge the FCC's vote, though he didn't give further details on the suit or who would be joining him. Calling today's decision an "illegal rollback," he described it as giving "Big Telecom an early Christmas present."

Washington state Attorney General Bob Ferguson also announced he would sue alongside Schneiderman and other attorneys general across the country, saying that he held "a strong legal argument" and that it was likely the government had failed to follow the law with this vote. Other officials from Santa Clara, California, including county supervisor Joe Simitian, are also suing the FCC to block the decision. "We believe the depth of your ideas should outweigh the depths of your pockets," Simitian said at a press conference.

State Sen. Scott Wiener (D-CA) announced plans to introduce a bill to adopt net neutrality as a requirement in his state. He wrote in a Medium post, "If the FCC won't stand up for a free and open internet, California will."

Rep. Mike Coffman (R-CO) tweeted that he will be submitting net neutrality legislation, saying that this was a decision better left to Congress. Coffman was the first Republican to ask the FCC to delay the vote, citing "unanticipated negative consequences" on Tuesday.
Furthermore, Sen. Bernie Sanders (D-VT) and Sen. Brian Schatz (D-HI) are supporting Sen. Ed Markey's (D-MA) plan to introduce a Congressional Review Act resolution to undo the FCC vote. Even Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN), who had previously announced on Twitter her support for Ajit Pai and the FCC, tweeted a video, saying, "We will codify the need for no blocking, no throttling, and making certain that we preserve that free and open internet." We're likely to see many others express their disappointment with the FCC's decision over the next few hours and days.
Security

Attackers Deploy 'Triton' Malware Against Industrial Safety Equipment (securityweek.com) 19

wiredmikey writes: A new piece of malware designed to target industrial control systems (ICS) has been used in an attack aimed at a critical infrastructure organization, FireEye said on Thursday. The malware, which has been dubbed "Triton," is designed to target Schneider Electric's Triconex Safety Instrumented System (SIS) controllers, which are used to monitor the state of a process and restore it to a safe state or safely shut it down if parameters indicate a potentially hazardous situation. The investigation found that the attackers shut down operations after causing the SIS controllers to initiate a safe shutdown, but they may have done it inadvertently while trying to determine how they could cause physical damage.
America Online

PSA: AIM Will Be Discontinued Tomorrow (fortune.com) 91

Cutting_Crew writes: Along with Yahoo Messenger, MSN Messenger and ICQ, I used AIM extensively (without an AOL subscription of course). AIM will finally come to a halt on December 15th, 2017, as reported a few months ago and explained in AOL fashion over on their website. I remember using AIM to keep in touch with friends, co-workers and yes, even tried dating back in the day using the "looking for love" feature not only available to AOL subscribers but also extended to AIM users as well. Any memories you want to share? Speak now, or forever hold your peace.
Electronic Frontier Foundation

EFF: Accessing Publicly Available Information On the Internet Is Not a Crime (eff.org) 146

An anonymous reader quotes a report from EFF: EFF is fighting another attempt by a giant corporation to take advantage of our poorly drafted federal computer crime statute for commercial advantage -- without any regard for the impact on the rest of us. This time the culprit is LinkedIn. The social networking giant wants violations of its corporate policy against using automated scripts to access public information on its website to count as felony "hacking" under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, a 1986 federal law meant to criminalize breaking into private computer systems to access non-public information.

EFF, together with our friends DuckDuckGo and the Internet Archive, have urged the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals to reject LinkedIn's request to transform the CFAA from a law meant to target "hacking" into a tool for enforcing its computer use policies. Using automated scripts to access publicly available data is not "hacking," and neither is violating a website's terms of use. LinkedIn would have the court believe that all "bots" are bad, but they're actually a common and necessary part of the Internet. "Good bots" were responsible for 23 percent of Web traffic in 2016. Using them to access publicly available information on the open Internet should not be punishable by years in federal prison. LinkedIn's position would undermine open access to information online, a hallmark of today's Internet, and threaten socially valuable bots that journalists, researchers, and Internet users around the world rely on every day -- all in the name of preserving LinkedIn's advantage over a competing service. The Ninth Circuit should make sure that doesn't happen.

Google

NASA, Google Spot Eighth Planet in Solar System Rivaling Ours (cnet.com) 59

An anonymous reader shares a report: Google isn't just good for finding cat videos on the internet. The search giant's machine learning technology is also helping search the universe for planets outside our solar system. NASA on Thursday revealed the discovery of blazing-hot exoplanet Kepler-90i thanks to the use of a Google neural network trained to identify planets from the NASA Kepler space telescope's data. It's the eighth planet discovered in the Kepler-90 system, which ties it with our own solar system for the most known planets around a single star. Kepler-90 is a sun-like star located around 2,545 light-years from us.
Businesses

Amazon Will Resume Selling Apple TV, Google's Chromecast (axios.com) 46

Ina Fried, reporting for Axios: Amazon confirmed Thursday that it will again sell the Apple TV set-top box and Google Chromecast dongle. The company had stopped selling the devices amid disputes with both giants. There's a lot of frenemy stuff at play here, with Google, Apple and Amazon all selling their own streaming devices, but also looking to offer their own services on one another's devices. Apple doesn't offer its programing on rival devices, but does move a lot of hardware through Amazon.
Security

Fortinet VPN Client Exposes VPN Creds; Palo Alto Firewalls Allow Remote Attacks (bleepingcomputer.com) 26

An anonymous reader shares a report: It's been a bad week for two of the world's biggest vendors of enterprise hardware and software -- Fortinet and Palo Alto Networks. The worst of the bunch is a credentials leak affecting Fortinet's FortiClient, an antivirus product provided by Fortinet for both home and enterprise-level clients. Researchers from SEC Consult said in an advisory released this week that they've discovered a security issue that allows attackers to extract credentials for this VPN client. The second major security issue disclosed this week affects firewall products manufactured by Palo Alto Networks and running PAN-OS, the company's in-house operating system. Security researcher Philip Pettersson discovered that by combining three vulnerabilities together, he could run code on a Palo Alto firewall from a remote location with root privileges.
United States

The Trump Administration Just Voted To Repeal the US Government's Net Neutrality Rules (recode.net) 538

The Federal Communications Commission voted on Thursday to dismantle landmark rules regulating the businesses that connect consumers to the internet, granting broadband companies power to potentially reshape Americans' online experiences. The agency scrapped so-called net neutrality regulations that prohibited broadband providers from blocking websites or charging for higher-quality service or certain content. The federal government will also no longer regulate high-speed internet delivery as if it were a utility, like phone services. From a report: Under the leadership of Chairman Ajit Pai -- and with only the backing of the agency's Republican members -- the repeal newly frees telecom companies from federal regulation, unravels a signature accomplishment of the Obama administration and shifts the responsibility of overseeing the web to another federal agency that some critics see as too weak to be effective. In practice, it means the U.S. government no longer will have rules on its books that require internet providers to treat all web traffic equally. The likes of AT&T and Verizon will be limited in some ways -- they can face penalties if they try to undermine their rivals, for example -- but they won't be subject to preemptive, bright-line restrictions on how they manage their networks. Meanwhile, the FCC's repeal will open the door for broadband providers to charge third parties, like tech giants, for faster delivery of their web content.
Space

Space Is Not a Void (slate.com) 230

An anonymous reader shares an article: When President Kennedy announced the Apollo Program, he famously argued that we should go to the moon because it is hard. Solving the technical challenges of space travel is a kind of civilizational achievement on its own, like resolving an interplanetary Rubik's Cube. The argument worked, perhaps all too well. As soon as we landed on the moon, humanity's expansion into the cosmos slowed and then stopped (not counting robots). If you were to draw a graph charting the farthest distance a human being has ever been from the surface of Earth, the peak was in 1970 with Apollo 13. With the successful moon landings, we solved all of the fundamental challenges involved in launching humans into orbit and bringing them back safely. The people watching those early feats of exploration imagined we would soon be sending astronauts to Mars and beyond, but something has held us back. Not know-how, or even money, but a certain lack of imagination. Getting to space isn't the hard part -- the hard part is figuring out why we're there. Sure, we can celebrate the human spirit and the first person to do this or that, but that kind of achievement never moves beyond the symbolic. It doesn't build industries, establish settlements and scientific research stations, or scale up solutions from expensive one-offs to mass production. Furthermore, as five decades of failing to go farther than our own moon have demonstrated, that kind of symbolism can't even sustain itself, much less energize new activity.

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