A Rural County's New Universal Basic Income Experiment – and the Case Against It

Amid worries that technological advances may someday eliminate jobs, the Associated Press reports on a new experimental universal basic income program in upstate New York:

During the pilot program, funded by private donations, 100 county residents making less than $46,900 annually will get $500 a month for a year. The income threshold was based on 80% of the county’s average median income, meaning it includes both the poor and a slice of the middle class — people who face financial stress but might not ordinarily qualify for government aid based on income.

For researchers, the pilot could give them a fuller picture of what happens when a range of people are sent payments that guarantee a basic living… Basic income programs elsewhere tend to focus on cities. In contrast, this upstate program stretches out over a mix of places: a city, small towns and remote areas many miles from bus lines and supermarkets. “Showing that this approach will work not just in urban areas, but for rural parts of the country — which we know is one of our big national problems — I think there’s great opportunity there,” said Ulster County Executive Patrick Ryan… Center for Guaranteed Income Research co-founder Stacia West, who is evaluating more than 20 such pilot programs, is interested in seeing how spending compares to cities like Stockton, California, where more that a third went for food. “Knowing what we know about barriers to employment, especially in rural areas, we may see more money going toward transportation than we’ve ever seen before in any other experiment,” said West, also a professor at the University of Tennessee College of Social Work…

The end goal for a number of advocates is a universal basic income, or UBI, which would distribute cash payment programs for all adults… Critics of cash transfer programs worry about their effectiveness and cost compared to aid programs that target funds for food, shelter or for help raising children. Drake University economics professor Heath Henderson is concerned the programs miss needier people less likely to apply, including those without homes. While there are times people might benefit from a cash infusion, the money is unlikely to address the structural issues holding people back, like inadequate health care and schools, he said.

“If we keep thinking about remedying poverty in terms of just throwing cash at people, you’re not thinking about the structures that kind of reproduce poverty in the first place and you’re not really solving the problem at all,” Henderson said.

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Source: Slashdot – A Rural County’s New Universal Basic Income Experiment – and the Case Against It

A Real Estate Mogul Will Spend $100 Million to Fix Social Media Using Blockchain

“Frank McCourt, the billionaire real estate mogul and former owner of the Los Angeles Dodgers, is pouring $100 million into an attempt to rebuild the foundations of social media,” reports Bloomberg:

The effort, which he has loftily named Project Liberty, centers on the construction of a publicly accessible database of people’s social connections, allowing users to move records of their relationships between social media services instead of being locked into a few dominant apps.
The undercurrent to Project Liberty is a fear of the power that a few huge companies — and specifically Facebook Inc. — have amassed over the last decade… Project Liberty would use blockchain to construct a new internet infrastructure called the Decentralized Social Networking Protocol. With cryptocurrencies, blockchain stores information about the tokens in everyone’s digital wallets; the DSNP would do the same for social connections. Facebook owns the data about the social connections between its users, giving it an enormous advantage over competitors. If all social media companies drew from a common social graph, the theory goes, they’d have to compete by offering better services, and the chance of any single company becoming so dominant would plummet.

Building DSNP falls to Braxton Woodham, the co-founder of the meal delivery service Sun Basket and former chief technology officer of Fandango, the movie ticket website… McCourt hired Woodham to build the protocol, and pledged to put $75 million into an institute at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., and Sciences Po in Paris to research technology that serves the common good. The rest of his $100 million will go toward pushing entrepreneurs to build services that utilize the DSNP…

A decentralized approach to social media could actually undermine the power of content moderation, by making it easier for users who are kicked off one platform to simply migrate their audiences to more permissive ones. McCourt and Woodham say blockchain could discourage bad behavior because people would be tied to their posts forever…

Eventually, the group plans to create its own consumer product on top of the DSNP infrastructure, and wrote in a press release that the eventual result will be an “open, inclusive data economy where individuals own, control and derive greater social and economic value from their personal information.”

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Source: Slashdot – A Real Estate Mogul Will Spend 0 Million to Fix Social Media Using Blockchain

Hell Yes Bring Back That 1990s Flight Sim Aesthetic

While some retro video game looks are making huge comebacks—muddy PS1 textures, I’m looking at you—I’m particularly excited here to see here a developer bringing back one very particular aesthetic that I was super into as a kid: that of early 90s hardcore military flight sims.

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Source: Kotaku – Hell Yes Bring Back That 1990s Flight Sim Aesthetic

Report: Hackers Breached More US Water Treatment Plants

“On January 15, a hacker tried to poison a water treatment plant that served parts of the San Francisco Bay Area,” reports NBC News:

It didn’t seem hard. The hacker had the username and password for a former employee’s TeamViewer account, a popular program that lets users remotely control their computers, according to a private report compiled by the Northern California Regional Intelligence Center in February and seen by NBC News. After logging in, the hacker, whose name and motive are unknown and who hasn’t been identified by law enforcement, deleted programs that the water plant used to treat drinking water.

The hack wasn’t discovered until the following day, and the facility changed its passwords and reinstalled the programs. “No failures were reported as a result of this incident, and no individuals in the city reported illness from water-related failures,” the report, which did not specify which water treatment plant had been breached, noted.

The incident, which has not been previously reported, is one of a growing number of cyberattacks on U.S. water infrastructure that have recently come to light. The Bay Area attack was followed by a similar one in Oldsmar, Florida, a few weeks later. In that one, which made headlines around the world, a hacker also gained access to a TeamViewer account and raised the levels of lye in the drinking water to poisonous levels. An employee quickly caught the computer’s mouse moving on its own, and undid the hacker’s changes… The usernames and passwords for at least 11 Oldsmar employees have been traded on the dark web, said Kent Backman, a researcher at the cybersecurity company Dragos…

[A] number of facilities have been hacked in the past year, though most draw little attention. In Pennsylvania, a state water warning system has reportedly alerted its members to two recent hacks at water plants in the state. In another previously unreported hack, the Camrosa Water District in Southern California was infected with ransomware last summer. Whether hacks on water plants have recently become more common or just more visible is impossible to tell, because there is no comprehensive federal or industry accounting of water treatment plants’ security… Unlike the electric grid, which is largely run by a smaller number of for-profit corporations, most of the more than 50,000 drinking water facilities in the U.S. are nonprofit entities.

Some that serve large populations are larger operations with dedicated cybersecurity staff. But rural areas in particular often get their water from small plants, often run by only a handful of employees who aren’t dedicated cybersecurity experts, said Bryson Bort, a consultant on industrial cybersecurity systems. “They’re even more fragmented at lower levels than anything we’re used to talking about, like the electric grid,” he said. “If you could imagine a community center run by two old guys who are plumbers, that’s your average water plant.”

NBC News also a spokesperson for America’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, who shared an internal survey conducted earlier this year. As many as 1 in 10 water and wastewater plants reported they’d recently found a critical cybersecurity vulnerability — and more than 80% of their major vulnerabilities were software flaws discovered before 2017.

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Source: Slashdot – Report: Hackers Breached More US Water Treatment Plants

As Lockdowns End, Some Want to Continue Working From Inside Their Vans

During the lockdowns I edited dozens of Slashdot posts from the front-passenger seat of my car (using a cellphone for a mobile hotspot).
But according to CNBC, I wasn’t the only person working from a vehicle…

When Erica Horn received a work email in May 2020 saying her company would be fully remote for the next year, she knew right away it was time to live out her long-held dream of living out of a van… Horn is not alone. Many workers with jobs that let them work remotely during the pandemic left behind their sedentary housing situations and moved full-time into vans. These remote workers drive from location to location in their homes, working from internet hotspots in their vans and spending their free time in nature and exploring new places. As vaccines roll out and states start to open up, some workers are returning to their offices.

But many workers who’ve adopted the van life don’t want to give it up…

Like overseas backpacking, van life appeals to those with a love for travel or the outdoors who have the privilege to work remotely and the budget to spend thousands of dollars buying and setting up their vans. They can shift the money from rent and car payments toward a lifestyle of endless travel… For some, working out of a van is less about travel and more of an alternative to leasing an office. Kenzo Fong, CEO of tech start-up Rock, began working out of his van in May 2020 after his children began doing their schoolwork at home during the pandemic. Fong still lives in his San Francisco home, but during the days, he gets into his van and picks a new location in the city…

Some van lifers only need a laptop. Others have more elaborate set ups complete with multiple monitors. But most carry at least two hot spots from different network providers so they can catch signal from at least one of the services as they hit new locations… Despite the challenges of life on the road, those who spoke with CNBC said they plan to continue their nomadic lifestyle until their companies stop allowing remote work or until they get burnt out. Horn said she originally planned to live on the road for at least a year, but that’s now changed.

“At six months, I still feel like I’m just learning this, just getting the hang of it and just getting started,” she said. “I could actually see myself doing it for closer to two years, and who knows, maybe longer.”

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Source: Slashdot – As Lockdowns End, Some Want to Continue Working From Inside Their Vans

Porsche will build a high-performance battery factory in Germany

Porsche plans to first use these new silicon anode cells in motorsports, but we don't know where that will be yet, since Formula E and LMDh will both require a spec battery. This car is the Porsche 920 concept from 2020.

Enlarge / Porsche plans to first use these new silicon anode cells in motorsports, but we don’t know where that will be yet, since Formula E and LMDh will both require a spec battery. This car is the Porsche 920 concept from 2020. (credit: Porsche)

Porsche is setting up a new factory for battery cells, called Cellforce, in Tübingen, Germany. The plant will be run as a subsidiary of Porsche in a joint venture with Customcells and will develop cells that use silicon as opposed to graphite for the anode material.

“We already started within research and pre-development to build up know how and knowledge about cell chemistry, and the company Cellforce Group will have around 60 engineers in development and about 20 in production; the main focus, at least in the beginning, is to take care about the development of the cell and cell chemistry,” said Michael Steiner, member of the executive board, R&D at Porsche.

But unlike other recent battery factory announcements, the goal for Cellforce is high performance, not high volume.

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Source: Ars Technica – Porsche will build a high-performance battery factory in Germany

The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard is the raunchy action/comedy we need right now

Ryan Reynolds, Samuel Jackson, and Salma Hayek reunite for more madcap hijinks in The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard.

It took a little while for Ryan Reynolds to find his true cinematic niche—one that makes good use of his rare combination of leading-man looks, self-deprecating amiability, and smartly sardonic sense of humor. He was sheer perfection in 2016’s raunchy, R-rated blockbuster, Deadpool. Reynolds is at his best when he has a strong co-star to play off of as a foil, and he has that in Samuel L. Jackson and Salma Hayek, his co-stars in The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard, Yes, it’s an awkward title for this sequel to 2017’s action/comedy, The Hitman’s Bodyguard. But if you liked that movie (I thought it was a blast), chances are you’ll enjoy this latest flawed-but-fun outing.

(Spoilers for first film below. Only mild spoilers for new film; no major reveals.)

In the first film, Reynolds’ ambitious, tightly controlled, triple-A rated “executive protection agent,” Michael Bryce, finds his professional life in shambles after one of this clients is assassinated on his watch. Two years later, his ex-girlfriend (an Interpol agent) reluctantly hires him to protect hitman Darius Kinkaid (Jackson). Darius is a key witness in the trial of the ruthless dictator of Belarus (Gary Oldman), agreeing to testify in exchange for the release of his con-artist wide, Sonia (Hayek) from prison. Michael has to get Darius from London to the International Criminal Court while being pursued by all the crack assassins and firepower the Belarus dictator can muster. Do they ultimately succeed and save the day against nigh-impossible odds? Do you really need to ask?

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Source: Ars Technica – The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard is the raunchy action/comedy we need right now

'Google's No-Click Searches — Good Or Evil?'

“That Google is the dominant force in web and mobile search won’t surprise you,” write a columnist at Forbes. “What might, though, is that roughly two thirds of the searches on Google never leave the search results page.”

That is, the searchers get what they are looking for without leaving Google. These are called “no-click” or “zero-click” searches. The percentages vary a bit depending on device, geography, and the precise definition of “no-click,” but it’s clear that Google is retaining a large share of searchers within its domain.

Search expert Rand Fishkin, who compiled much of this data, thinks that the percentage of no-click searches will continue to rise… Increasingly, Google tries to provide the information the searcher wants on the search results page. For example, if one clicks “weather” after typing “w,” Google provides a large amount of weather data for the user’s location at the top of the results: current conditions, plus hourly and daily forecasts. Most users probably find what they need without having to click through to weather.com, where the data is sourced…

A no-click result seems like a win for users, and it almost always is. The loser, if there is one, is the website where Google found the information. Users who might have lingered, consumed other content, subscribed, bought something, or created ad impressions now never get to the website… Google itself disputes that third party websites are being harmed as described by Fishkin. They note that many searches don’t result in a click because the searcher refines their query or uses a link like “related searches.” They also point out that users can interact with a business directly without having to click. For example, a customer who viewed the address and operating hours of a local business could visit that business despite the lack of a click.

Beyond effort-saving, an additional factor that ensures no-click searches are here to stay is the explosion in smart speaker use. If you ask your Google Assistant or Alexa a question, you don’t want multiple options to get the information. You want the answer. I predict that Google will continue to use and expand its no-click results.

Absent legislative or regulatory intervention, they have no reason to impair their user experience.

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Source: Slashdot – ‘Google’s No-Click Searches — Good Or Evil?’

Using WordOps to Install WordPress Automatically on Ubuntu 20.04

WordOps is a simple tool that provides the ability to deploy WordPress sites from the command line using an optimized LEMP stack. In this tutorial we’ll use WordOps to quickly and easily install WordPress on an Ubuntu 20.04 machine, and we’ll check out and explain some of the extra features that WordOps offers.

Source: LXer – Using WordOps to Install WordPress Automatically on Ubuntu 20.04

Ring Once Gave Free Cameras to 100 Los Angeles Police Officers

“In a bid to bolster its claims as a crime-fighting tool, Ring deployed a tactic popular in the business world: influencer marketing,” reports the Los Angeles Times. “It selected a cadre of brand ambassadors, rewarded them with free gadgets and discount codes, and urged them to use their connections to promote the Santa Monica security camera startup via word of mouth.

“In this case, the brand ambassadors were Los Angeles Police Department officers.”

“You are killing it, by the way. Your code has 14 uses, eleven more and I will be sending you every device that we sell,” a Ring employee wrote to one officer in a 2016 email. “Do you have any community meetings or crime prevention fairs coming up?”

Ring provided at least 100 LAPD officers with one or more free devices or discount codes and encouraged them to recommend the company’s web-connected doorbells and security cameras, emails reviewed by The Times reveal. In more than 15 cases, emails show that officers who received free gadgets or discounts promoted Ring products to fellow police officers or members of the public… [P]articipating officers got tens of thousands of dollars’ worth of free and discounted electronics and helped establish a network of personal surveillance cameras that the LAPD could tap into with much less red tape than the typical means of obtaining video.

The practice, privacy and criminal justice experts warn, raises the question of whether LAPD officers were serving the public in their interactions with Ring, or if they were serving a private business and themselves…

It’s unclear whether LAPD officers disclosed their arrangements with Ring to the public or fellow officers.

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Source: Slashdot – Ring Once Gave Free Cameras to 100 Los Angeles Police Officers