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MIT Team's School-Bus Algorithm Could Save $5M and 1M Bus Miles

Slashdot - Fri, 08/11/2017 - 22:00
An anonymous reader shares a report: A trio of MIT researchers recently tackled a tricky vehicle-routing problem when they set out to improve the efficiency of the Boston Public Schools bus system. Last year, more than 30,000 students rode 650 buses to 230 schools at a cost of $120 million. In hopes of spending less this year, the school system offered $15,000 in prize money in a contest that challenged competitors to reduce the number of buses. The winners -- Dimitris Bertsimas, co-director of MIT's Operations Research Center and doctoral students Arthur Delarue and Sebastien Martin -- devised an algorithm that drops as many as 75 bus routes. The school system says the plan, which will eliminate some bus-driver jobs, could save up to $5 million, 20,000 pounds of carbon emissions and 1 million bus miles (Editor's note: the link could be paywalled; alternative source). The computerized algorithm runs in about 30 minutes and replaces a manual system that in the past has taken transportation staff several weeks to complete. "They have been doing it manually many years," Dr. Bertsimas said. "Our whole running time is in minutes. If things change, we can re-optimize." The task of plotting school-bus routes resembles the classic math exercise known as the Traveling Salesman Problem, where the goal is to find the shortest path through a series of cities, visiting each only once, before returning home.

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Categories: Tech/Science News

The Ghostly Radio Station That No One Claims To Run

Slashdot - Fri, 08/11/2017 - 21:20
Zaria Gorvett, writing for BBC: In the middle of a Russian swampland, not far from the city of St Petersburg, is a rectangular iron gate. Beyond its rusted bars is a collection of radio towers, abandoned buildings and power lines bordered by a dry-stone wall. This sinister location is the focus of a mystery which stretches back to the height of the Cold War. It is thought to be the headquarters of a radio station, "MDZhB", that no-one has ever claimed to run. Twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, for the last three-and-a-half decades, it's been broadcasting a dull, monotonous tone. Every few seconds it's joined by a second sound, like some ghostly ship sounding its foghorn. Then the drone continues. Once or twice a week, a man or woman will read out some words in Russian, such as "dinghy" or "farming specialist". And that's it. Anyone, anywhere in the world can listen in, simply by tuning a radio to the frequency 4625 kHz. It's so enigmatic, it's as if it was designed with conspiracy theorists in mind. Today the station has an online following numbering in the tens of thousands, who know it affectionately as "the Buzzer." It joins two similar mystery stations, "the Pip" and the "Squeaky Wheel." As their fans readily admit themselves, they have absolutely no idea what they are listening to.

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Categories: Tech/Science News

Uber Shareholder Group Wants Benchmark Off Board

Slashdot - Fri, 08/11/2017 - 21:00
Dan Primack, reporting for Axios: A group of Uber investors has asked that venture capital firm Benchmark step down from the company's board of directors, Axios has learned. It also wants Benchmark to divest enough shares so as to no longer have board appointment rights. The move comes one day after Benchmark sued former Uber CEO Travis Kalanick for fraud, in an attempt to have him removed from the board. From the letter: Mr. Kalanick's resignation, along with other concessions, on a few hours' notice and within weeks of a personal tragedy, under threat of public scandal. Even less so your escalation of this fratricidal course -- notwithstanding Mr. Kalanick's resignation -- through your recent lawsuit, which we fear will cost the company public goodwill, interfere with fundraising and impede the critical search for a new, world-class Chief Executive Officer. Benchmark has used false allegations from lawsuits like Waymo as a matter of fact and this and many actions has crossed the fiduciary line. Benchmark's investment of $27M is worth $8.4 billion today and you are suing the founder, the company and the employees who worked so hard to create such unprecedented value. We ask you to please consider the lives of these employees and allow them to continue to grow this company in peace and make it thrive. These actions do the opposite.

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Categories: Tech/Science News

Startup To Put Cellphone Tower on the Moon

Slashdot - Fri, 08/11/2017 - 20:40
An astronaut wandering the moon next year could use a smartphone to call home. If everything goes according to a plan, that is. A German startup is preparing to set up the first telecommunication infrastructure on the lunar surface. From a report: The German company Part Time Scientists, which originally competed for the Google Lunar X Prize race to the moon, plans to send a lander with a rover in late 2018 to visit the landing site of Apollo 17. (Launched in 1972, this was NASA's final Apollo mission to the moon.) Instead of using a complex dedicated telecommunication system to relay data from the rover to the Earth, the company will rely on LTE technology -- the same system used on Earth for mobile phone communications. "We are cooperating with Vodafone in order to provide LTE base stations on the moon," Karsten Becker, who heads embedded electronics development and integration for the startup, told Space.com. "What we are aiming to do is to provide commercial service to bring goods to the moon and also to provide services on the surface of the moon," Becker added.

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Categories: Tech/Science News

Almost All of FCC's New Advisory Panel Works For Telecoms

Slashdot - Fri, 08/11/2017 - 20:00
New submitter simkel writes: When the Federal Communications Commission went looking this year for experts to sit on an advisory committee regarding deployment of high-speed internet, Gary Carter thought he would be a logical choice. Carter works for the city of Santa Monica, California, where he oversees City Net, one of the oldest municipal-run networks in the nation. The network sells high-speed internet to local businesses, and uses the revenue in part to connect low-income neighborhoods. That experience seemed to be a good match for the proposed Broadband Deployment Advisory Committee (BDAC), which FCC Chairman Ajit Pai created this year. One of the panel's stated goals is to streamline city and state rules that might accelerate installation of high-speed internet. But one of the unstated goals, members say, is to make it easier for companies to build networks for the next generation wireless technology, called 5G. The advanced network, which promises faster speeds, will require that millions of small cells and towers be erected nationwide on city- and state-owned public property. The assignment seemed to call out for participation from city officials like Carter, since municipal officials approve where and what equipment telecommunications companies can place on public rights of way, poles and buildings. But the FCC didn't choose Carter -- or almost any of the other city or state government officials who applied. Sixty-four city and state officials were nominated for the panel, but the agency initially chose only two: Sam Liccardo, mayor of San Jose, California, and Kelleigh Cole from the Utah Governor's Office, according to documents obtained by the Center for Public Integrity through a Freedom of Information Act request. Pai later appointed another city official, Andy Huckaba, a member of the Lenexa, Kansas, city council. Instead the FCC loaded the 30-member panel with corporate executives, trade groups and free-market scholars. More than three out of four seats on the BDAC are filled by business-friendly representatives from the biggest wireless and cable companies such as AT&T, Comcast, Sprint, and TDS Telecom. Crown Castle International Corp., the nation's largest wireless infrastructure company, and Southern, the nation's second-largest utility firm, have representatives on the panel.

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Categories: Tech/Science News

Blizzard Starts Drive To Recruit More Women and Ethnic Minorities

Slashdot - Fri, 08/11/2017 - 19:20
An anonymous reader shares a report: The company behind games like World of Warcraft and Overwatch has started a drive to recruit more women and ethnic minorities. The information is in a leaked internal email from Blizzard's CEO, seen by the website Kotako. It claims 21 percent of Blizzard's employees are women, and although that's similar to the rest of the gaming industry, it says it wants to do better. The company claims the initiative will focus on finding more female employees and getting them to stay on longer. At the moment women are leaving at a higher rate than men but it says it'll fall short of setting "quotas."

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Categories: Tech/Science News

Microsoft Dismisses Consumer Reports' Surface Complaints, But Doesn't Offer Much Evidence

Slashdot - Fri, 08/11/2017 - 18:40
Microsoft has publicly responded to Consumer Reports, saying that it disagrees with the publication's Surface reliability findings. But the company hasn't offered much in the way of evidence. In a blog post, Surface chief Panos Panay writes: In the Surface team we track quality constantly, using metrics that include failure and return rates -- both our predicted 1-2-year failure and actual return rates for Surface Pro 4 and Surface Book are significantly lower than 25%. Additionally, we track other indicators of quality such as incidents per unit (IPU), which have improved from generation to generation and are now at record lows of well below 1%. Surface also ranks highly in customer satisfaction. 98% of Surface Pro 4 users and Surface Book users say they are satisfied with their device, and our Surface Laptop and new Surface Pro continue to get rave reviews. Long-time watcher Paul Thurrott writes: Does changing the time frame from "by the end of the second year of ownership" to "1-2 year failure rate" skew the results because more failures happen later in a product's lifetime? Also, he introduces the notion of "return rates" here. By definition, the feedback that Consumer Reports receives is from product owners, not those who have returned products. If someone is almost two years into device ownership, they are not returning the product. They're just using it. And dealing with it. So consider the issue muddled, in just one carefully-constructed sentence. Which I believe was crafted to confuse the issue. But there is more. "Additionally, we track other indicators of quality such as incidents per unit (IPU), which have improved from generation to generation and are now at record lows of well below 1 percent," Panay offers. It's not possible to understand how an "incident" relates to a "failure." Mostly because he doesn't explain the term. Likely because doing so would betray that this is an apples to oranges comparison. [...] I will point the reader to Welcome to Surfacegate, my description of Microsoft's feeble attempts to ignore and then slowly fix endemic issues with those exact two Surface models. And anecdotally, I'll point to the fact that the three Surface Book models I've used have all had reliability problems. But the biggest issue I have with "customer satisfaction" is that it's kind of a bullshit measurement when it comes to premium products.

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Categories: Tech/Science News

Oracle Fiddles With Major Database Release Cycle Numbers

Slashdot - Fri, 08/11/2017 - 18:00
An anonymous reader shares a report: Big Red has changed its database release cycle, scrapping names that see decimal points and numbers added on for an indeterminate amount of time, instead plumping for annual releases numbered by the year. So what would have been Oracle Database 12.2.0.2 will now be Oracle Database 18; 12.2.0.3 will come out a year later, and be Oracle Database 19. The approach puts Oracle only about 20 years behind Microsoft in adopting a year-based naming convention (Microsoft still uses years to number Windows Server, even though it stopped for desktop versions when it released XP). [...] Well, Big Red will surely be using the revamp as a way to boost sales of database licences -- a crucial part of its business -- which have been in decline for two years running. In fiscal 2016, Oracle reported a 12 per cent drop in annual sales of new software licences, and its most recent results for fiscal 2017 revealed a further 5 per cent drop. And, for all that Oracle has shouted about its cloudy success of late, it isn't yet a major money-maker for the biz. New software license sales make up a quarter of overall revenue, while support for that software makes up a further 45 per cent. In part, the new numbering will be a handy marketing ploy. Rather than playing with the decimal points, a release with a new whole number could be an attempt to give the impression of agility in the face of younger, fresher competitors. Meanwhile, fewer patches and releases on each system also allows Oracle to know more quickly, and more accurately, what security features each customer has. The annual numbering system is also a very simple way of telling you your system is old.

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Categories: Tech/Science News

Developers File Antitrust Complaint Against Apple in China

Slashdot - Fri, 08/11/2017 - 17:20
A Chinese law firm has filed a complaint against Apple on behalf of 28 local developers alleging the firm breached antitrust regulations. From a report: The complaint, lodged by Beijing-based Dare & Sure Law Firm, accuses Apple of charging excessive fees and removing apps from its local store without proper explanation, Lin Wei, an attorney at the firm told Reuters on Thursday. "During its localization process Apple has run into several antitrust issues ... after an initial investigation we consulted a number of enterprises and got a very strong response," said Lin. The law firm invited developers to join the complaint in April and on Tuesday filed it to China's State Administration for Industry and Commerce and the National Development and Reform Commission, which oversees antitrust matters in the country.

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Categories: Tech/Science News

HBO Hacker Leaks Message From HBO Offering $250,000 'Bounty Payment'

Slashdot - Fri, 08/11/2017 - 16:40
The HBO hacker has struck yet again. From a report: Variety has obtained a copy of another message released Thursday by the anonymous hacker to select journalists in which HBO is apparently responding to the initial video letter that was sent informing the Time Warner-owned company of the massive data breach. The message from HBO, dated July 27, features the network's offer to make a "bounty payment" of $250,000 as part of a program in which "white hat IT professionals" are rewarded for "bringing these types of things to our attention." While the message takes a curiously non-confrontational tone in response to a hacker out to damage HBO, a source close to the investigation who confirmed the veracity of the email explained it was worded that way to stall for time while the company attempted to assess the serious situation.

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Categories: Tech/Science News

Safari Should Display Favicons in Its Tabs

Slashdot - Fri, 08/11/2017 - 16:00
Favicon -- or its lack thereof, to be precise -- has remained one of the longest running issues Safari users have complained about. For those of you who don't use Safari, just have a look at this mess I had earlier today when I was using Safari on a MacBook. There's no way I can just have a look at the tabs and make any sense of them. John Gruber, writing for DaringFireball: The gist of it is two-fold: (1) there are some people who strongly prefer to see favicons in tabs even when they don't have a ton of tabs open, simply because they prefer identifying tabs graphically rather than by the text of the page title; and (2) for people who do have a ton of tabs open, favicons are the only way to identify tabs. With many tabs open, there's really nothing subjective about it: Chrome's tabs are more usable because they show favicons. [...] Once Safari gets to a dozen or so tabs in a window, the left-most tabs are literally unidentifiable because they don't even show a single character of the tab title. They're just blank. I, as a decade-plus-long dedicated Safari user, am jealous of the usability and visual clarity of Chrome with a dozen or more tabs open. And I can see why dedicated Chrome users would consider Safari's tab design a non-starter to switching. I don't know what the argument is against showing favicons in Safari's tabs, but I can only presume that it's because some contingent within Apple thinks it would spoil the monochromatic aesthetic of Safari's toolbar area. [...] And it's highly debatable whether Safari's existing no-favicon tabs actually do look better. The feedback I've heard from Chrome users who won't even try Safari because it doesn't show favicons isn't just from developers -- it's from designers too. To me, the argument that Safari's tab bar should remain text-only is like arguing that MacOS should change its Command-Tab switcher and Dock from showing icons to showing only the names of applications. The Mac has been famous ever since 1984 for placing more visual significance on icons than on names. The Mac attracts visual thinkers and its design encourages visual thinking. So I think Safari's text-only tab bar isn't just wrong in general, it's particularly wrong on the Mac.

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Categories: Tech/Science News

Hearing Loss of US Diplomats In Cuba Is Blamed On Covert Device

Slashdot - Fri, 08/11/2017 - 15:00
bsharma shares a report from The Boston Globe: The two-year-old U.S. diplomatic relationship with Cuba was roiled Wednesday by what U.S. officials say was a string of bizarre incidents that left a group of American diplomats in Havana with severe hearing loss attributed to a covert sonic device. In the fall of 2016, a series of U.S. diplomats began suffering unexplained losses of hearing, according to officials with knowledge of the investigation into the case. Several of the diplomats were recent arrivals at the embassy, which reopened in 2015 as part of former President Barack Obama's reestablishment of diplomatic relations with Cuba. Some of the diplomats' symptoms were so severe that they were forced to cancel their tours early and return to the United States, officials said. After months of investigation, U.S. officials concluded that the diplomats had been exposed to an advanced device that operated outside the range of audible sound and had been deployed either inside or outside their residences. It was not immediately clear if the device was a weapon used in a deliberate attack, or had some other purpose.

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Categories: Tech/Science News

Error'd: D.O.A.

The Daily WTF - Fri, 08/11/2017 - 12:00

John A. writes, "Um, you know, I don't think this was a brilliant idead."

 

"Well, actually, let me describe how I can help you," writes Bruce W.

 

"I'm fairly certain it's supposed to compress my data, and not the free space," Carter K. wrote. (and yes, that is DriveSpace 3. On Windows 98. On a non-standard format 720K 5.25" floppy disk.)

 

"The problem with JIRA is that I have to use it. Yup. That's about right," wrote Chris I.

 

"Skd Chg is a happening place, man!" writes Bruce J.

 

"In response to where my spouse and I met, I typed a city name, but found that it would not accept any answer unless I included at least one number," William B. wrote.

 

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Categories: Fun/Other

Why Amazon's UK Tax Bill Has Dropped 50%

Slashdot - Fri, 08/11/2017 - 12:00
An anonymous reader quotes a report from BBC: Amazon has seen a 50% fall in the amount of UK corporation tax it paid last year, while recording a 54% increase in turnover for the same period. This snippet of news raised eyebrows this morning when it was revealed. So what's going on? Taxes are paid on profit not turnover. It paid lower taxes because it made lower profits. Last year it made 48 million British Pounds (BP) or ~$62 million U.S. dollars (USD) in profit -- this year it made only 24 million BP or ~$31 million USD so it paid 7 million BP (~$9 million USD) tax compared to 15 million BP (~$19 million USD). What is more interesting is WHY its profits were lower. Part of the reason is the way it pays its staff. Amazon UK Services is the division which runs the fulfillment centers which process, package and post deliveries to UK customers. It employs about 16,000 of the 24,000 people Amazon have in the UK. Each full-time employee gets given at least 1,000 BP (~$1,297 USD) worth of shares every year. They can't cash them in immediately -- they have to hold them for a period of between one and three years. If Amazon's share price goes up in that time, those shares are worth more. Amazon's share price has indeed gone up over the past couple of years -- a lot. In fact, in the past two years the share price has nearly doubled, so 1,000 BP (~$1,297 USD) in shares granted in August 2015 are now worth nearly 2,000 BP (~$2,595 USD). Staff compensation goes up, compensation is an expense, expenses can be deducted from revenue -- so profits are lower and so are the taxes on those profits.

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Categories: Tech/Science News

Astronomers Detect Four Earth-Sized Planets Orbiting The Nearest Sun-Like Star

Slashdot - Fri, 08/11/2017 - 09:00
Tim Stephens reports via The University of California in Santa Cruz: A new study by an international team of astronomers reveals that four Earth-sized planets orbit the nearest sun-like star, tau Ceti, which is about 12 light years away and visible to the naked eye. These planets have masses as low as 1.7 Earth mass, making them among the smallest planets ever detected around nearby sun-like stars. Two of them are super-Earths located in the habitable zone of the star, meaning they could support liquid surface water. The planets were detected by observing the wobbles in the movement of tau Ceti. This required techniques sensitive enough to detect variations in the movement of the star as small as 30 centimeters per second. The outer two planets around tau Ceti are likely to be candidate habitable worlds, although a massive debris disc around the star probably reduces their habitability due to intensive bombardment by asteroids and comets.

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Categories: Tech/Science News

US Product Safety Commission Warns That Some Fidget Spinners Explode

Slashdot - Fri, 08/11/2017 - 05:30
An anonymous reader quotes a report from CNN: Fidget spinners are supposed to be calming and fun, especially for students struggling to focus. But after some dangerous incidents involving the popular gizmos, the US Consumer Product Safety Commission has issued new fidget spinner safety guidance for consumers and businesses. There have been a handful of choking incidents reported with the toys, as well as two instances of battery-operated spinners catching on fire and another incident in which a fidget spinner melted, the agency said. No deaths have been reported. The agency also issued safety guidance on battery-operated fidget spinners. Consumers should always be present when the product is charging, never charge it overnight and always use the cable it came with, the statement said. Users should unplug their spinner immediately once it's fully charged and make sure they have working smoke detectors in their home. "As the agency investigates some reported incidents associated with this popular product, fidget spinner users or potential buyers should take some precautions," Ann Marie Buerkle, acting chief of the Consumer Product Safety Commission, said in a statement. "Keep them from small children; the plastic and metal spinners can break and release small pieces that can be a choking hazard; and older children should not put fidget spinners in their mouths." Fidget spinners should be kept away from children under the age of 3, the statement said.

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Categories: Tech/Science News

Wisconsin Won't Break Even On Foxconn Plant Deal For Over Two Decades

Slashdot - Fri, 08/11/2017 - 03:25
Last month, Foxconn announced plans to build a $10 billion factory in southeastern Wisconsin in exchange for $3 billion in tax breaks. While the factory was heralded as a big win for President Trump and Governor Scott Walker, a report issued last week says the plan is looking less and less like a good deal for the state. In the report, Wisconsin's Legislative Fiscal Bureau said that the state wouldn't break even on its investment until 2043 -- and that's in an absolute best-case scenario. The Verge reports: How many workers Foxconn actually hires, and where Foxconn hires them from, would have a significant impact on when the state's investment pays off, the report says. The current analysis assumes that "all of the construction-period and ongoing jobs associated with the project would be filled by Wisconsin residents." But the report says it's likely that some positions would go to Illinois residents, because the factory would be located so close to the border. That would lower tax revenue and delay when the state breaks even. And that's still assuming that Foxconn actually creates the 13,000 jobs it claimed it might create, at the average wage -- just shy of $54,000 -- it promised to create them at. In fact, the plant is only expected to start with 3,000 jobs; the 13,000 figure is the maximum potential positions it could eventually offer. If the factory offers closer to 3,000 positions, the report notes, "the breakeven point would be well past 2044-45."

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Categories: Tech/Science News

China Working On 'Repression Network' Which Lets Cameras Identify Cars With Unprecedented Accuracy

Slashdot - Fri, 08/11/2017 - 02:45
schwit1 shares a report from The Sun: Researchers at a Chinese university have revealed the results of an investigation aimed at creating a "repression network" which can identify cars from "customized paintings, decorations or even scratches" rather than by scanning its number plate. A team from Peking University said the technology they have developed to perform this task could also be used to recognize the faces of human beings. Essentially, it works by learning from what it sees, allowing it to differentiate between cars (or humans) by spotting small differences between them. "The growing explosion in the use of surveillance cameras in public security highlights the importance of vehicle search from large-scale image databases," the researcher wrote. "Precise vehicle search, aiming at finding out all instances for a given query vehicle image, is a challenging task as different vehicles will look very similar to each other if they share same visual attributes." They added: "We can extend our framework [software] into wider applications like face and person retrieval [identification] as well."

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Categories: Tech/Science News

Password Power Rankings: a Look At the Practices of 40+ Popular Websites

Slashdot - Fri, 08/11/2017 - 02:03
Orome1 shares a report from Help Net Security: Nothing should be more important for these sites and apps than the security of the users who keep them in business. Unfortunately, Dashlane found that that 46% of consumer sites, including Dropbox, Netflix, and Pandora, and 36% of enterprise sites, including DocuSign and Amazon Web Services, failed to implement the most basic password security requirements. The most popular sites provide the least guidance when it comes to secure password policies. Of the 17 consumer sites that failed Dashlane's tests, eight are entertainment/social media sites, and five are e-commerce. Most troubling? Researchers created passwords using nothing but the lowercase letter "a" on Amazon, Google, Instagram, LinkedIn, Venmo, and Dropbox, among others. GoDaddy emerged as the only consumer website with a perfect score, while enterprise sites Stripe and QuickBooks also garnered a perfect score of 5/5. Here's a screenshot of how each consumer/enterprise website performed.

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Categories: Tech/Science News

Google Cancels Town Hall To Discuss Diversity In Its Ranks

Slashdot - Fri, 08/11/2017 - 01:20
NBC News originally reported: Google employees will gather for a town hall meeting Thursday afternoon to discuss the tensions ignited by a memo circulated inside the company that claimed to explain why more women are not engineers. Town hall meetings are nothing new at Google, but this one will likely be different after the so-called "Google Manifesto" went viral over the weekend, adding fresh fuel to the debate around gender bias in Silicon Valley. Google CEO Sundar Pichai told employees in an email earlier this week that he would cut his family vacation short in order to facilitate the forum. "The past few days have been very difficult for many at the company, and we need to find a way to debate issues on which we might disagree -- while doing so in line with our Code of Conduct," he wrote. "I'd encourage each of you to make an effort over the coming days to reach out to those who might have different perspectives from your own. I will be doing the same." The town hall comes amid a report from The Guardian that as many as 60 women are considering filing a class action lawsuit against Google, alleging sexism and wage disparity. UPDATE: NBC News now reports the event has been cancelled, with Google CEO Sundar Pichai saying "Googlers are writing in, concerned about their safety and worried they may be 'outed' publicly for asking a question in the Town Hall... we need to step back and create a better set of conditions for us to have the discussion." Instead of the company-wide format, Google will now hold several smaller forums "to gather and engage with Googlers, where people can feel comfortable to speak freely," Pichai wrote.

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Categories: Tech/Science News

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