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Personal Genomics is Booming, But There's a Nationwide Shortage of Genetic Counselors Who Can Make Sense of that DNA Data

An anonymous reader shares a Wired report: When Dan Riconda graduated with a master's degree in genetic counseling from Sarah Lawrence College in 1988, the Human Genome Project was in its very first year, DNA evidence was just beginning to enter the courts, and genetic health tests weren't yet on the market. He found one of the few jobs doing fetal diagnostics for rare diseases, which often meant helping young families through the worst time in their lives. What a difference 30 years makes. Today, with precision medicine going mainstream and an explosion of apps piping genetic insights to your phone from just a few teaspoons of spit, millions of Americans are having their DNA decoded every year. That deluge of data means that genetic counselors -- the specialized medical professionals trained to help patients interpret genetic test results -- are in higher demand than ever. With two to three job openings for every new genetic counseling graduate, the profession is facing a national workforce shortage. [...] Pharmaceutical and lab testing firms are routinely hiring genetic counselors to make sure new screening technologies for these targeted drugs are developed in an ethical way. According to a 2018 survey conducted by the National Society for Genetic Counselors, a quarter of the workforce now works in one of these non-patient-facing jobs. A smaller study, published in August, found that one-third of genetic counselors had changed jobs in the past two years, nearly all of them from a hospital setting to a laboratory one.

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Posted on 16 October 2018 | 12:22 am

Many Pay High Investment Company Fees For Services They Don't Use, Survey Shows

Penelope Wang, writing for Consumer Reports: If you are investing in stocks, bonds, or mutual funds, you have a wide range of options to help manage your portfolio -- everything from traditional brokerages to mutual fund companies to online financial firms. But as consumers search for an investment company, many pay little attention to the fees they're being charged, according to a just-released Consumer Reports survey of more than 46,000 CR members. Four out of 10 surveyed said they weren't sure what they paid in fees. And of those who knew the costs, only 60 percent rated their investment company in our survey as Excellent or Very Good on the amount charged. "Hidden and confusing fees are proliferating across the marketplace, making it hard for consumers to know what they're getting for their money, and to comparison shop across providers," says Anna Laitin, director of financial policy at Consumers Union, the advocacy division of Consumer Reports. "It is concerning that so many investors don't know how much they are paying in fees and that many of those who do understand the fees don't appear to think they are getting their money's worth," she says.

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Posted on 15 October 2018 | 7:06 pm

Twitter is Being Investigated Over Data Collection In Its Link-Shortening System

New submitter DavidDoherty writes: The Ireland Data Protection Commission is investigating Twitter because the company refused to provide their t.co (URL shortening service owned and used by Twitter) web link tracking data to UK professor, Michael Veale. "Their refusal to comply with the request is potentially a violation of the EU's allowance for requests under GDPR. The privacy expert said that Twitter refused to cite an exception to GDPR for requests that required 'disproportionate effort.'" By contrast, Veale believed that twitter was distorting the law in order to limit the information they handed over to the authorities. A new GDPR regulation, which was first enforced in May, requires that tech companies aim towards a more transparent relationship with user data and provide their customers with data privacy rights.

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Posted on 15 October 2018 | 4:02 pm

UK Steps Towards Zero-Carbon Economy

The UK is taking a tentative step towards a radical "green" future with zero emissions of greenhouse gases. From a report: The government is formally seeking Climate Change Committee (CCC) guidance about how and when to make this leap. If it happens it would mark an extraordinary transformation of an economy built on burning fossil fuels. The decision was prompted by last week's UN report warning that CO2 emissions must be stopped completely to avoid dangerous climate disruption. Climate minister Claire Perry told BBC News: "The report was a really stark and sober piece of work -- a good piece of work. "Now we know what the goal is and we know what some of the levers are. But for me, the constant question is what is the cost and who's going to bear that, both in the UK and in the global economy. The question is: what does government need to do, where can the private sector come in, and what technologies will come through?" Ms Perry has declared this week to be Green GB Week, which aims to raise debate in society about how to tackle climate change while also growing the economy. The UK's current target is a reduction of 80% of emissions by 2050 based on 1990 levels. But the CCC is warning that the UK will drift further away from this goal unless new policies are introduced.

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Posted on 15 October 2018 | 1:01 pm

US Senators Urge India To Soften Data Localization Stance

Two U.S. senators have called on Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi to soften India's stance on data localization, warning that measures requiring it represent "key trade barriers" between the two nations. From a report: In a letter to Modi dated Friday and seen by Reuters, U.S. Senators John Cornyn and Mark Warner -- co-chairs of the Senate's India caucus that comprises over 30 senators -- urged India to instead adopt a "light touch" regulatory framework that would allow data to flow freely across borders. The letter comes as relations between Washington and New Delhi are strained over multiple issues, including an Indo-Russian defense contract, India's new tariffs on electronics and other items, and its moves to buy oil from Iran despite upcoming U.S. sanctions. Global payments companies including Mastercard, Visa and American Express have been lobbying India's finance ministry and the Reserve Bank of India to relax proposed rules that require all payment data on domestic transactions in India be stored inside the country by October 15. The letter is most likely a last-ditch effort after the RBI told officials at top payment firms this week that the central bank would implement, in full, its data localization directive without extending the deadline, or allowing data to be stored both offshore as well as locally -- a practice known as data mirroring. "We see this (data localization) as a fundamental issue to the further development of digital trade and one that is crucial to our economic partnership," the U.S. senators said in the letter that has not been previously reported.

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Posted on 15 October 2018 | 12:10 pm

Software Freedom Conservancy Shares Thoughts on Microsoft Joining Open Invention Network's Patent Non-Aggression Pact

Earlier this week, Microsoft announced that it was joining the open-source patent consortium Open Invention Network (OIN). The press release the two shared this week was short on details on how the two organizations intend to work together and what does the move mean to, for instance, the billions of dollars Microsoft earns each year from its Android patents (since Google is a member of OIN, too.) Software Freedom Conservancy (SFC), a non-profit organization that promotes open-source software, has weighed in on the subject: While [this week's] announcement is a step forward, we call on Microsoft to make this just the beginning of their efforts to stop their patent aggression efforts against the software freedom community. The OIN patent non-aggression pact is governed by something called the Linux System Definition. This is the most important component of the OIN non-aggression pact, because it's often surprising what is not included in that Definition especially when compared with Microsoft's patent aggression activities. Most importantly, the non-aggression pact only applies to the upstream versions of software, including Linux itself. We know that Microsoft has done patent troll shakedowns in the past on Linux products related to the exfat filesystem. While we at Conservancy were successful in getting the code that implements exfat for Linux released under GPL (by Samsung), that code has not been upstreamed into Linux. So, Microsoft has not included any patents they might hold on exfat into the patent non-aggression pact. We now ask Microsoft, as a sign of good faith and to confirm its intention to end all patent aggression against Linux and its users, to now submit to upstream the exfat code themselves under GPLv2-or-later. This would provide two important protections to Linux users regarding exfat: (a) it would include any patents that read on exfat as part of OIN's non-aggression pact while Microsoft participates in OIN, and (b) it would provide the various benefits that GPLv2-or-later provides regarding patents, including an implied patent license and those protections provided by GPLv2 (and possibly other GPL protections and assurances as well).

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Posted on 15 October 2018 | 11:10 am

Our Reliance on Cellphones Began 35 Years Ago This Week

With 95% of Americans owning a cellphone, it can feel like we've been calling, texting, and tweeting on the go forever. But the infrastructure supporting our cellphones has actually not been around that long. From a report: While we're now on 4G networks, it was only 35 years ago this week that Ameritech (now part of AT&T) launched 1G, or the first commercial cell phone network. That network, called the Advanced Mobile Phone System (AMPS), went online on October 13, 1983, allowing people in the Chicago area to make and receive mobile calls for the first time. Ameritech president Bob Barnett, who made the first call, decided to make the historic moment count by ringing Alexander Graham Bell's grandson. A little more than a year later, UK's Vodafone hosted its first commercial call on New Year's Day. Israel's Pelephone followed suit in 1986, followed by Australia in 1987. Cellphone technology had been around for quite a while before that. AMPS was in development for around 15 years, and engineers made the first mobile call on a prototype network a decade before the first commercial network call. It took that long to troubleshoot the various hardware, software, and radio frequency issues associated with setting up a fully functional commercial network.

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Posted on 15 October 2018 | 10:11 am

Japanese Passport Now World's Most Powerful

According to the Henley Passport Index, compiled by global citizenship and residence advisory firm Henley & PartnersCitizens, Japan now has the most powerful passport on the planet. From a report: Having gained visa-free access to Myanmar earlier this month, Japanese citizens can now enjoy visa-free or visa-on-arrival access to a whopping 190 destinations around the world -- knocking Singapore, with 189 destinations, into second place. Germany, which began 2018 in the top spot, is now in third place with 188 destinations, tied with France and South Korea. Uzbekistan lifted visa requirements for French nationals on October 5, having already granted visa-free access to Japanese and Singaporean citizens in early February.

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Posted on 15 October 2018 | 9:10 am

The Magic Leap Con

Reader merbs shares a report about Magic Leap, a US-based startup valued at north of $6 billion and which counts Google, Alibaba, Warner Bros, AT&T, and several top Silicon Valley venture capital firms as its investors. The company, which held its first developer conference this week, announced that it is making its $2,295 AR headset available in more states in the United States. Journalist Brian Merchant attended the conference and shares the other part of the story. From a story: After spending two days at LEAPcon, I feel it is my duty -- in the name of instilling a modicum of sanity into an age where a company that has never actually sold a product to a consumer can be worth a billion dollars more than the entire GDP of Fiji -- to inform you that it is not. Magic Leap clearly wants its public launch to appear huge -- who wouldn't? In decidedly Magic Leapian fashion, the company covered an entire side of LA Mart, the 12-story building in downtown Los Angeles where the conference was to be held, with a psychedelic image of an astronaut and the tagline 'Free Your Mind'. In similarly Leapian fashion, the actual demos and keynote took place in the basement, where a wrong turn could land you in shipping and receiving and cell reception was nil. [...] You know that weird sensation when it feels like everyone around you is participating in some mild mass hallucination, and you missed the dosing? The old 'what am I possibly missing here' phenomenon? That's how I felt at LEAP a lot of the time, amidst crowds of people dropping buzzwords and acronym soup at light speed, and then again while I was reading reviews of the device afterwards -- somehow, despite years of failing to deliver anything of substance, lots of the press is still in Leap's thrall. Demo after demo, I felt like, sure, that was kind of neat. The games were charming, if often glitchy and simplistic, and yes, it might be helpful for architects to be able to blow up and walk around their designs. I liked the developers, who were smart and funny. Some of the graphics and interactions were very nicely rendered. But there wasn't anything -- besides a single demo, which I'll get to in a second -- that I'd feel compelled to ever do again. It felt genuinely crazy to me that people could get too excited about this, especially after years of decent VR and the Hololens, without having a distinct monetary incentive to do so. As many have noted, the hardware is still extremely limiting. The technology underpinning these experiences seems genuinely advanced, and if it were not for a multi-year blitzkrieg marketing campaign insisting a reality where pixels blend seamlessly with IRL physics was imminent, it might have felt truly impressive. (Whether or not it's advanced enough to eventually give rise to Leap's prior promises is an entirely open question at this point.) For now, the field of vision is fairly small and unwieldy, so images are constantly vanishing from view as you look around. If you get too close to them, objects will get chopped up or move awkwardly. And if you do get a good view, some objects appear low res and transparent; some looked like cheap holograms from an old sci-fi film. Text was bleary and often doubled up in layers that made it hard to read, and white screens looked harsh -- I loaded Google on the Helio browser and immediately had to shut my eyes. Further reading: Magic Leap is Pushing To Land a Contract With US Army To Build AR Devices For Soldiers To Use On Combat Missions, Documents Reveal.

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Posted on 15 October 2018 | 8:10 am

Patent Filings Reveal New Details About Microsoft's Vision For a Foldable, Dual-Screen Surface Device

A patent application published this week by Microsoft adds more fuel to the fire about the possibility of a new hybrid dual-screen Microsoft Surface device that blurs the lines between phone and tablet. From a report: The patent filing is for a "hinged device" with a "first and second portion" that includes a "flexible display." It would sport a hinge in the middle, similar in appearance to the one on the Surface Book, as well as familiar smartphone components like a bezel and camera. The inventor listed on the document is Kabir Siddiqui, who has been named on previous patent documents related to a foldable Surface device. He's also credited with inventing features like the Surface kickstand and camera. The patents represent one of the clearest signs yet that Microsoft has shown interest in building a "new and disruptive" category that includes elements of a smartphone, tablet and computer all in one. Rumblings of a new Surface phone-like device, under the codename Andromeda, have persisted for years, though the company has yet to confirm such a plan.

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Posted on 15 October 2018 | 7:02 am

Silicon Valley's Saudi Arabia Problem

An anonymous reader shares a report: Somewhere in the United States, someone is getting into an Uber en route to a WeWork co-working space. Their dog is with a walker whom they hired through the app Wag. They will eat a lunch delivered by DoorDash, while participating in several chat conversations on Slack. And, for all of it, they have an unlikely benefactor to thank: the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Long before the dissident Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi vanished, the kingdom has sought influence in the West -- perhaps intended, in part, to make us forget what it is. A medieval theocracy that still beheads by sword, doubling as a modern nation with malls (including a planned mall offering indoor skiing), Saudi Arabia has been called "an ISIS that made it." Remarkably, the country has avoided pariah status in the United States thanks to our thirst for oil, Riyadh's carefully cultivated ties with Washington, its big arms purchases, and the two countries' shared interest in counterterrorism. But lately the Saudis have been growing their circle of American enablers, pouring billions into Silicon Valley technology companies. While an earlier generation of Saudi leaders, like Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, invested billions of dollars in blue-chip companies in the United States, the kingdom's new crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, has shifted Saudi Arabia's investment attention from Wall Street to Silicon Valley. Saudi Arabia's Public Investment Fund has become one of Silicon Valley's biggest swinging checkbooks, working mostly through a $100 billion fund raised by SoftBank (a Japanese company), which has swashbuckled its way through the technology industry, often taking multibillion-dollar stakes in promising companies. The Public Investment Fund put $45 billion into SoftBank's first Vision Fund, and Bloomberg recently reported that the Saudi fund would invest another $45 billion into SoftBank's second Vision Fund. SoftBank, with the help of that Saudi money, is now said to be the largest shareholder in Uber. It has also put significant money into a long list of start-ups that includes Wag, DoorDash, WeWork, Plenty, Cruise, Katerra, Nvidia and Slack. As the world fills up car tanks with gas and climate change worsens, Saudi Arabia reaps enormous profits -- and some of that money shows up in the bank accounts of fast-growing companies that love to talk about "making the world a better place."

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Posted on 15 October 2018 | 6:00 am

Struggle With Statistics? Your 'Fixed Mindset' Might Be To Blame

A new study in Frontiers in Psychology examined why people struggle so much to solve statistical problems, particularly why we show a marked preference for complicated solutions over simpler, more intuitive ones. Chalk it up to our resistance to change. From a report: The study concluded that fixed mindsets are to blame: we tend to stick with the familiar methods we learned in school, blinding us to the existence of a simpler solution. Roughly 96 percent of the general population struggles with solving problems relating to statistics and probability. Yet being a well-informed citizen in the 21st century requires us to be able to engage competently with these kinds of tasks, even if we don't encounter them in a professional setting. "As soon as you pick up a newspaper, you're confronted with so many numbers and statistics that you need to interpret correctly," says co-author Patrick Weber, a graduate student in math education at the University of Regensburg in Germany. Most of us fall far short of the mark. Part of the problem is the counterintuitive way in which such problems are typically presented. Meadows presented his evidence in the so-called "natural frequency format" (for example, 1 in 10 people), rather than in terms of a percentage (10 percent of the population). That was a smart decision, since 1-in-10 a more intuitive, jury-friendly approach. Recent studies have shown that performance rates on many statistical tasks increased from four percent to 24 percent when the problems were presented using the natural frequency format.

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Posted on 15 October 2018 | 5:00 am

Pentagon Reveals Cyber Breach of Travel Records

The Pentagon on Friday said there has been a cyber breach of Defense Department travel records that compromised the personal information and credit card data of U.S. military and civilian personnel. From a report: According to a U.S. official familiar with the matter, the breach could have affected as many as 30,000 workers, but that number may grow as the investigation continues. The breach could have happened some months ago but was only recently discovered. The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the breach is under investigation, said that no classified information was compromised. According to a Pentagon statement, a department cyber team informed leaders about the breach on Oct. 4. Lt. Col. Joseph Buccino, a Pentagon spokesman, said the department is still gathering information on the size and scope of the hack and who did it. "It's important to understand that this was a breach of a single commercial vendor that provided service to a very small percentage of the total population" of Defense Department personnel, said Buccino.

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Posted on 15 October 2018 | 4:00 am

In an Open Letter, Microsoft Employees Urge the Company To Not Bid on the US Military's Project JEDI

On Tuesday, Microsoft expressed its intent to bid on the Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure (JEDI) contract -- a contract that represents a $10 billion project to build cloud services for the Department of Defense. The contract is massive in scope and shrouded in secrecy, which makes it nearly impossible to know what technologies Microsoft would be building for the Department of Defense. At an industry day for JEDI, DoD Chief Management Officer John H. Gibson II explained the program's impact, saying, "We need to be very clear. This program is truly about increasing the lethality of our department." This has ruffled a few feathers inside the Redmond-based software giant. In an open letter published Saturday, an unspecified number of Microsoft employees stated their disapproval. They wrote: Many Microsoft employees don't believe that what we build should be used for waging war. When we decided to work at Microsoft, we were doing so in the hopes of "empowering every person on the planet to achieve more," not with the intent of ending lives and enhancing lethality. For those who say that another company will simply pick up JEDI where Microsoft leaves it, we would ask workers at that company to do the same. A race to the bottom is not an ethical position. Like those who took action at Google, Salesforce, and Amazon, we ask all employees of tech companies to ask how your work will be used, where it will be applied, and act according to your principles. We need to put JEDI in perspective. This is a secretive $10 billion project with the ambition of building "a more lethal" military force overseen by the Trump Administration. The Google workers who protested these collaborations and forced the company to take action saw this. We do too. So we ask, what are Microsoft's A.I. Principles, especially regarding the violent application of powerful A.I. technology? How will workers, who build and maintain these services in the first place, know whether our work is being used to aid profiling, surveillance, or killing? Earlier this year Microsoft published "The Future Computed," examining the applications and potential dangers of A.I. It argues that strong ethical principles are necessary for the development of A.I. that will benefit people, and defines six core principles: "fair, reliable and safe, private and secure, inclusive, transparent, and accountable." With JEDI, Microsoft executives are on track to betray these principles in exchange for short-term profits. If Microsoft is to be accountable for the products and services it makes, we need clear ethical guidelines and meaningful accountability governing how we determine which uses of our technology are acceptable, and which are off the table. Microsoft has already acknowledged the dangers of the tech it builds, even calling on the federal government to regulate A.I. technologies. But there is no law preventing the company from exercising its own internal scrutiny and standing by its own ethical compass. Further reading: Google Drops Out of Pentagon's $10 Billion Cloud Competition.

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Posted on 15 October 2018 | 3:00 am

Ask Slashdot: Can You Install a Wifi Mesh Network in a Barn?

Long-time Slashdot reader pikester has a friend running a museum "looking to make it more interactive for visitors." To make this happen, the museum is going to need to have good WiFi connectivity throughout the premises. The good news is that the museum is pretty small. The bad news is that it is located in an old horse barn with many metal walls. I'm hoping to put in a mesh network for him, but most solutions I've seen are pretty bulky. I'm looking for recommendations for a solution that is easily mountable in the building. Long-time Slashdot reader Spazmania suggests it's "not terribly complicated." After setting access points to same SSID but different channels (and with the transmit power down), "walk around with a piece of free software such as Wifi Analyzer and tweak the positions and transmit power on the access points until the signal levels look good in wifi analyzer." But are there other solutions? Leave your own best answers in the comments. Can you install a wifi mesh network in a barn?

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Posted on 15 October 2018 | 12:34 am