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Preview: Seattle Post-Intelligencer: Sci-Tech Science & Technology News


Trump announces $10 billion Foxconn plant in Wisconsin

Wed, 26 Jul 2017 22:50:45 UT

The announcement comes at a critical juncture for a Trump administration that pledged to generate manufacturing jobs but has struggled to deliver results as quickly as the president promised. Trump's plans for health care and tax cuts face a murky future in Congress, while his administration is bogged down by an investigation into Russia's possible ties with his presidential campaign. Inside the White House, discussions with Foxconn about opening a U.S. plant were led over several months by Jared Kushner, a senior adviser and the president's son-in-law, and Reed Cordish, an assistant to the president on technology initiatives. Foxconn promised in 2013, for example, to invest $30 million and hire 500 workers for a new, high-tech factory in Pennsylvania that was never built. White House chief of staff Reince Priebus, who is from Ryan's congressional district in southeast Wisconsin, told WTMJ-TV on Tuesday that Trump, when flying over the area in Kenosha County during a visit to Wisconsin in April, noticed vacant land where a former Chrysler Motors plant used to be. To make flat-panel displays, the company will need access to great quantities of water to keep work spaces dust-free, among other things.

Blowing smoke? E-cigarettes might help smokers quit

Wed, 26 Jul 2017 22:37:40 UT

Nicotine patches, gums and medications are known to aid smoking cessation, but there's no consensus on whether vaping devices can help anti-smoking efforts. The U.S. research is the largest look yet at electronic cigarette users and it found e-cigarettes played a role in helping people quit. Health experts have credited taxes on tobacco products and anti-smoking ads for the drop. Most devices heat a liquid nicotine solution into vapor and were promoted to smokers as a less dangerous alternative since they don't contain all the chemicals, tar or odor of regular cigarettes. Earlier this month, a House panel renewed its efforts to prevent the Food and Drug Administration from requiring retroactive safety reviews of e-cigarettes already on the market.

Facebook's ads just keep creeping into new apps

Wed, 26 Jul 2017 21:55:13 UT

The company didn't want to upset Instagram's loyal fans, who were used to scrolling through beautiful landscapes, stylized breakfast shots and well-groomed kittens in their feed. Paralleling its experience with Instagram, Facebook told developers and businesses they can start showing ads — specifically for brands that people "love" or that offer an "opportunity to discover experiences" — to Messenger's 1.2 billion users. Facebook product manager Ted Helwick wrote in a blog post that a "small percentage" of Messenger users will start seeing ads by the end of July. [...] it highlights the importance of Facebook's decision to spin out the Messenger app from its main Facebook app (and to start pressuring people to use it ). While Facebook billed its decision as a way to make Messenger easier to use, it also essentially doubled the available real estate for its mobile ads. In a conference call with analysts on Wednesday, CEO Mark Zuckerberg said he wants to see the company "move a little faster" when it comes to ads on Messenger, but added that he is "confident that we're going to get this right over the long term." [...] last August, WhatsApp updated its privacy policy to reflect that the service would be sharing user data with Facebook so that it could "offer better friend suggestions" and "show you more relevant ads" on Facebook and its other properties. Because they can.

Things looking up as Los Angeles Zoo unveils baby giraffe

Wed, 26 Jul 2017 21:50:50 UT

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Things are looking up at the Los Angeles Zoo, where visitors are getting their first glimpses of a baby giraffe. The female Masai giraffe born July 11 made its public debut Wednesday. Still without a name, the giraffe already stands about 6 feet tall and weighs 156 pounds. It's the second baby born to mother Zainabu and father Philip. Masai giraffes, native to eastern Africa, can grow up to 17 feet tall and weigh 1,700 pounds.

Experts: Software theft shows threat of mercenary hackers

Wed, 26 Jul 2017 21:23:11 UT

(AP) — On an October morning in 2012, the system administrator of a tiny Vermont defense contractor arrived at work to find the business' computers had been hacked and a sophisticated software program stolen. Prosecutors later concluded the thieves were a group of Iranians who sold the software to organizations within the Iranian government. The hack, revealed in an indictment unsealed last week, shows that mercenary hackers who sell stolen data to friendly governments are a growing threat to defense contractors, experts say. The South Burlington company, Arrow Tech Associates, makes software used to monitor projectiles in flight. [...] hacks are a growing threat for defense contractors, said Phil Sussman, the president of Norwich University Applied Research Institutes, which works on cyber security issues at the private Vermont military college.

Now hiring at Amazon: Thousands of people in 1 day

Wed, 26 Jul 2017 20:39:44 UT

The hiring spree is yet another sign of Amazon's massive growth at a time when traditional retailers are closing stores and cutting jobs. Retailers are facing a tighter job market; the nation's unemployment rate is 4.4 percent, near a 16-year low. [...] Amazon has often reported quarterly losses , even as revenue grows. Inc. said its jobs offer health insurance, disability insurance, retirement savings plans and company stock. The event will take place at 10 Amazon shipping sites. Besides Baltimore and Kenosha, they are Chattanooga, Tennessee; Etna, Ohio; Fall River, Massachusetts; Hebron, Kentucky; Kent, Washington; Robbinsville, New Jersey; Romeoville, Illinois and Whitestown, Indiana.

Whole Foods sales struggle shows Amazon buying a fixer-upper

Wed, 26 Jul 2017 20:32:27 UT

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Amazon is set to have a fixer-upper on its hands, with Whole Foods reporting that a key sales figure declined again. The companies have not said what might change for customers, but the announcement rattled the supermarket industry, given the track records of Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos and Whole Foods CEO John Mackey. [...] Whole Foods has been struggling to set itself apart as organic and natural foods become more widely available, and had recently hit the brakes on its expansion plans. Though sales at established locations fell again in the most recent quarter, Whole Foods noted that the drop wasn't as steep as in the previous quarter. Whole Foods said it would not be updating its financial outlook for the year or holding a conference call to discuss its results, given the pending merger. Before the results were released, Whole Foods shares had climbed 36 percent since the beginning of the year, while the Standard & Poor's 500 index has increased 11 percent.

At hacker summit, a new focus on preventing brazen attacks

Wed, 26 Jul 2017 19:17:53 UT

LAS VEGAS (AP) — Against a backdrop of cyberattacks that have grown into full-fledged sabotage, Facebook chief security officer Alex Stamos brought a sobering message Wednesday to hackers and security experts at the Black Hat conference. The Black Hat security gathering, happening this week in Las Vegas, follows a series of attacks and data breaches that have paralyzed hospitals, disrupted commerce, caused blackouts and interfered with national elections. "People now know how important it is to build secure systems to underlie our civilization," Stamos said at a keynote speech. Stamos called for a culture change among hackers and more emphasis on defense — and basic digital hygiene — over the thrilling hunt for undiscovered vulnerabilities. [...] he called for diversifying an industry that skews white and male, and generally showing more empathy for the people whom security professionals are tasked to protect.

Pew poll: A quarter of blacks have been harassed online

Wed, 26 Jul 2017 18:46:50 UT

A recently released Pew Research Center survey says 25 percent of African-Americans adults — or 1 in 4 — have faced some sort of harassment online based on race or ethnicity.

New York eyes 'textalyzer' to bust drivers using phones

Wed, 26 Jul 2017 18:46:25 UT

ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) — Police in New York state may soon have a high-tech way of catching texting drivers: a device known as a "textalyzer" that allows an officer to quickly check if a phone has been in use before a crash. "Despite laws to ban cellphone use while driving, some motorists still continue to insist on texting behind the wheel — placing themselves and others at substantial risk," Cuomo said in a statement first reported by The Associated Press. Digital privacy and civil liberties groups already have questioned whether the technology's use would violate personal privacy, noting that police can already obtain search warrants if they believe information on a private phone could be useful in a prosecution. Many security experts are skeptical when it comes to promises that the textalyzer would only access information about phone usage, and not personal material, according to Rainey Reitman, of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a nonprofit organization that advocates for civil liberties when it comes to digital technology. The committee will hear from supporters and opponents of the technology, law enforcement officials and legal experts before issuing a report, Cuomo's office said.

'Pharma Bro' won't stop talking, except to jury in trial

Wed, 26 Jul 2017 18:27:51 UT

NEW YORK (AP) — "Pharma Bro" Martin Shkreli has kept up his trademark trolling on social media during his securities fraud trial — calling the case "bogus" — but the jury won't hear him defend himself in court. Shkreli, 34, is best known for raising the price of a life-saving drug by 5,000 percent and targeting his critics with online rants so nasty that they got him kicked off Twitter for harassment. Government evidence introduced on Tuesday included emails in which Shkreli snapped at a lawyer charged separately with conspiring with him in a scheme to hide hedge fund client losses and pay them back, against their wishes, with stock in a new drug company called Retrophin. In other testimony, a former business partner described how Shkreli sent his wife a threatening letter. The defense has countered by trying to draw attention to the fact that the investors who claim they were victims of fraud ultimately made big profits once the drug company went public.

The Latest: Closing arguments in 'Pharma Bro' trial Thursday

Wed, 26 Jul 2017 18:02:58 UT

A jury will hear closing arguments in the securities fraud trial of "Pharma Bro" Martin Shkreli (SHKREHL'-ee) on Thursday. The former biotech CEO says on social media that he's being railroaded at his New York trial, but he has decided not to take the witness stand. Jurors heard testimony from the government's last witness on Tuesday, a day after a lawyer for the former biotech CEO told the court that his client had chosen not to take the witness stand.

EU court: EU-Canada passenger data deal breaches privacy

Wed, 26 Jul 2017 16:14:59 UT

BRUSSELS (AP) — The European Union's top court said in a written opinion Wednesday that parts of a deal between the EU and Canada on sharing airline passenger data breaches citizens' privacy and the agreement cannot be concluded in its current form. The EPP Christian Democrats, the biggest group in the European Parliament, cast the court's ruling as approving the deal in principle while calling for elements covering sensitive data to be reworked.

How scientists redesign DNA codes

Wed, 26 Jul 2017 14:35:58 UT

Chemical building blocks that correspond to these letters line up in DNA molecules like links in a chain; genes are made up of specific sequences of those building blocks. Yeast DNA is spread across 16 large chunks called chromosomes, which were parceled out among the team's labs to tackle. On a computer, start with the natural DNA sequence of the letters across a chromosome. [...] the TAG triplet could be used in a different place to make the yeast produce a protein from building blocks not found in nature, for example. — Insert bits of DNA code that will let researchers rearrange the order of genes on the chromosomes, like shuffling a deck of cards. Once the alterations are done, break the redesigned code into lengths of about 10,000 letters apiece and have a company create chunks of DNA that reflect each of these segments. In the test tube, use a chemical reaction to glue three to six of these chunks together into a "megachunk."

Swedish parties plan no-confidence vote over security leak

Wed, 26 Jul 2017 13:21:05 UT

HELSINKI (AP) — Sweden's left-leaning minority government faced a crisis Wednesday after a populist party said it would support four opposition parties in a no-confidence vote against it over one of the largest security breaches in the country. Lofven called an emergency Cabinet meeting after the head of the maverick anti-immigrant Sweden Democrats said they would back the right-wing opposition parties in a no-confidence vote, giving them the required majority to oust the ministers. Leaders of the opposition parties, known as the Alliance, announced their plan earlier Wednesday following reports last week that a 2015 leak allowed IT workers abroad to access confidential information in Sweden's government and police database.