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  • Stanford Economist Predicts Working-From-Home Continues, City Centers Decline
    The new "working-from-home economy" will likely continue after the pandemic, predicts Stanford economist Nicholas Bloom, in an article shared by Slashdot reader schwit1. Bloom cites results from several nationwide surveys he's conducted: We see an incredible 42 percent of the U.S. labor force now working from home full-time. About another 33 percent are not working — a testament to the savage impact of the lockdown recession. And the remaining 26 percent — mostly essential service workers — are working on their business premises. So, by sheer numbers, the U.S. is a working-from-home economy. Almost twice as many employees are working from home as at work. More strikingly, if we consider the contribution to U.S. gross domestic product based on their earnings, this enlarged group of work-from-home employees now accounts for more than two-thirds of U.S. economic activity... The stigma associated with working from home prior to COVID-19 has disappeared... And a number of corporations are developing plans for more work-from-home options beyond the pandemic. A recent separate survey of firms from the Survey of Business Uncertainty that I run with the Atlanta Federal Reserve and the University of Chicago indicated that the share of working days spent at home is expected to increase fourfold from pre-COVID levels, from 5 percent to 20 percent. Of the dozens of firms I have talked to, the typical plan is that employees will work from home one to three days a week, and come into the office the rest of the time... Growth of city centers are going to stall. During the pandemic, the overwhelming share of employees who shifted to telecommuting previously worked in offices in cities. I estimate that the loss of their physical presence slashed total daily spending at city center restaurants, bars and shops by more than half. This upsurge in working from home is largely here to stay, and I see a longer-run decline in city centers. The largest U.S. cities have seen incredible growth since the 1980s as younger, educated Americans have flocked into revitalized downtowns. But it looks like that trend will reverse in 2020 — with a flight of economic activity out of city centers. The upside is this will be a boom for suburbs and rural areas. Bloom also predicts firms trying to cut the density of their offices will scatter from high-rise city skyscrapers into low-rise buildings in industrial parks, reducing the crowds on mass transit -- and the need to ride on elevators.

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  • US Senate Amends EARN IT Act -- To Let States Restrict Encryption
    Long-time Slashdot reader stikves reminded us that a committee in the U.S. Senate passed an amended version of the "EARN IT" act on Thursday. And this new version could do more than just end personal end-to-end encryption, warns Engadget: The other major concern opponents of the EARN IT Act raise has to do with Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which says that companies are not liable for much of the content that users post. Originally, the EARN IT Act proposed requiring that companies "earn" Section 230 protections by following recommended practices outlined by a Department of Justice commission. Without those protections, companies like Twitter or Facebook might be compelled to remove anything that might prompt a legal challenge, which could threaten freedom of speech. The amendments passed Thursday strip the Department of Justice commission of any legal authority and will not require companies to earn Section 230 protections by following recommended practices. But the amended bill would change Section 230 to allow lawsuits from states, and state legislatures could restrict or outlaw encryption technologies. The senior policy counsel for Free Press Action, a media reform advocacy group, harshly criticized the legislation's new version. "Even as amended today, it invites states to begin passing all sorts of laws under the guise of protecting against abuse, but replicating the problems with the original EARN IT Act's text."

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  • Microsoft Released an Emergency Security Update to Fix Two Bugs in Windows Codecs
    Tuesday Microsoft published two out-of-band security updates to patch two vulnerabilities in the Microsoft Windows Codecs Library, reports ZDNet: Tracked as CVE-2020-1425 & CVE-2020-1457, the two bugs only impact Windows 10 and Windows Server 2019 distributions... Microsoft said the two security flaws can be exploited with the help of a specially crafted image file. If the malformed images are opened inside apps that utilize the built-in Windows Codecs Library to handle multimedia content, then attackers would be allowed to run malicious code on a Windows computer and potentially take over the device. The two bugs -- described as two remote code execution vulnerabilities -- received patches Wednesday. "Customers do not need to take any action to receive the update," Microsoft said.

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  • Divers Find Evidence of Prehistoric Mining Operation in North America
    Iwastheone shared this article from CBS News: Experts and cave divers in Mexico's Yucatan peninsula have found ocher mines that are some of the oldest on the continent. Ancient skeletons were found in the narrow, twisting labyrinths of now-submerged sinkhole caves... The discovery of remains of human-set fires, stacked mining debris, simple stone tools, navigational aids and digging sites suggest humans went into the caves around 10,000 to 12,000 years ago, seeking iron-rich red ocher, which early peoples in the Americas prized for decoration and rituals. Such pigments were used in cave paintings, rock art, burials and other structures among early peoples around the globe. The early miners apparently brought torches or firewood to light their work, and broke off pieces of stalagmites to pound out the ocher. They left smoke marks on the roof of the caves that are still visible today... The research was published Friday in the journal Science Advances... "Now, for the first time we know why the people of this time would undertake the enormous risk and effort to explore these treacherous caves," said CINDAQ founder Sam Meacham. At least one reason, Meacham said, was to prospect and mine red ocher.

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  • Halfway Through ISS Mission, NASA Astronauts Anticipate Their Ride Back to Earth
    "They've been up there about a month now, floating around on the International Space Station, keeping tabs on their ride home," reports the Washington Post: "Certainly, the highlight for both Doug and I was the initial arrival at space station, coming through the hatch again and being on board after several years of working on a new spacecraft," Behnken said in an interview from the station this week. Since then, he has performed two spacewalks with Cassidy, successfully replacing batteries on the outside of the station... Now, NASA and the astronauts are turning their focus to the return trip. At the moment, the space agency says the soonest Behnken and Hurley could return is Aug. 2. If all goes well, the Dragon would undock from the station, fire its thrusters and descend through the atmosphere. The entire mission is a test to see how SpaceX's Dragon capsule performs, and while NASA said its ascent went flawlessly, there still are many risks ahead. As it plunges down, the thickening air will cause friction and generate enormous heat, testing the capsule's heat shield. Then the spacecraft's parachutes are to deploy to slow the vehicle further. SpaceX has struggled with its parachute designs in the past, however. "Parachutes are way harder than they look," Elon Musk said in an interview with The Post before the launch. "The Apollo program actually had a real morale issue with the parachutes because they were so damn hard. They had people quitting over how hard the parachutes were. And then you know we almost had people quit at SpaceX over how hard the parachutes were. I mean they soldiered through, but, man, the parachutes are hard." Another risk will be landing in the ocean. American astronauts have not splashed down in the water since 1975 — the Space Shuttles landed on land, as do the Russian Soyuz spacecraft. Behnken said he and Hurley expect to spend about an hour bobbing on the ocean surface before they are hoisted on the deck of a ship. SpaceX has been training extensively for the recovery mission, working to get the astronauts to safety as quickly as possible, but that will also be a key test.

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  • Is Our Technology Literally Changing Our Brains?
    Nicholas Carr authored The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains back in 2010. This week he offered an up-to-date assessment in his newest interview with Vox co-founder Ezra Klein. "The point of this conversation is not that the internet is bad, nor that it is good," Klein writes. "It's that it is changing us, just as every medium before it has. We need to see those changes clearly in order to take control of them ourselves..." But the conversation soon turns to neuroplasticity, the brain's special ability to physically adapt to changes happening in its environment: Nicholas Carr: When we adapt to a new medium — whether printed page or television or, more recently, the internet and social media and so forth — more and more neurons get recruited to the particular brain processes that you're using more often thanks to the different information technologies. But ways of thinking that aren't encouraged by the technology — we begin to lose those abilities... I think it was quite clear even back then [in 2010] that we were making this big tradeoff between getting lots and lots of information very, very quickly and developing a rich base of knowledge. What was lost was not only the ability to engage in deep reading and attentive thought and contemplation, but also when we come across new information, the ability to bring it into our mind and put it into a broader context. That takes time. That takes attention. That takes focus. The fundamental argument of The Shallows was that we were making this tradeoff. What I worried about then, and what I still worry about, is whether that tradeoff is worth it — are we losing more than we ultimately gain? What's happened since then? On one level, I think it's magnified all of my concerns. Over the last 10 years, the smartphone took over as the dominant form of the computer. Unlike a laptop, the smartphone is always on. It's always with us. We can access it almost instantaneously. People walk around with it in their hands. So this constant distraction that I documented with laptops and desktops is now much more dominant. It goes on all the time. Also social media exploded and became one of, if not the main, things people do with computers. And the way social media distributes information, the way it gives particular value or particular emphasis to very emotional information and simplified, kind of strong messages, I think all of this has made the problems I tried to delineate more intense in kind of [a] deeper set within society. What has also become clearer and clearer in the last 10 years is that now there's also a big social effect of the technology. On the one hand, all the distractions that we had 10 years ago have proliferated, but also the way we make sense of things socially has changed dramatically as social media has essentially taken over media.

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  • Former Yahoo Engineer Who Infiltrated 6,000 Accounts Avoids Jail
    This week finally saw the federal sentencing of a former Yahoo software engineer who "admitted to using his access through his work at the company to hack into about 6,000 Yahoo accounts" back in 2018, according to America's Department of Justice: Ruiz admitted to targeting accounts belonging to younger women, including his personal friends and work colleagues. He made copies of images and videos that he found in the personal accounts without permission, and stored the data at his home. Once he had access to the Yahoo accounts, Ruiz admitted to compromising the iCloud, Facebook, Gmail, DropBox, and other online accounts of the Yahoo users in search of more private images and videos. After his employer observed the suspicious account activity, Ruiz admitted to destroying the computer and hard drive on which he stored the images. He stopped working at Yahoo in July of 2018. The next month the FBI visited his home. He was indicted in April of 2019 and pleaded guilty in September — facing up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine. But it was not until this week that a federal court finally handed down its sentence for the "former Yahoo! engineer who hacked 6,000 accounts on a hunt for private sexual videos and pictures," according to one Bay Area newspaper. The sentence? Five years of probation, with a home confinement condition: Reyes Daniel Ruiz, 35, of Tracy, is allowed to leave his home for "verified employment, medical needs and religious services," according to the sentencing terms. He has also been ordered to pay nearly $125,000 in fines and restitution, court records show... He also accessed financial information, but his main goal was to steal pornographic files, prosecutors said. Assistant U.S. Attorney Daniel Kaleba asked for Ruiz to be sentenced to "a period of incarceration," arguing he'd violated not only the trust of his employee but the privacy of thousands of people. "By his estimation, he downloaded approximately two terabytes of data, and possessed between 1,000 and 4,000 private images and videos," Kaleba wrote in a sentencing memo. The defense argued that Ruiz, who has no criminal history, deserved leniency because he accepted responsibility quickly. He admitted to destroying the hard drive where he stored the ill-gotten files when the FBI visited his home in August 2018. Ruiz told federal investigators that he acquired the pictures and videos for his own personal "self-gratification" and that he didn't share them online, a pre-sentence report says. In October Gizmodo reported that Ruiz was now working for a Silicon Valley company specializing in SSO (single sign-on) solutions.

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