D&D maker promises to get player feedback for coming “open” license update

ARS Technica - Wed, 01/18/2023 - 11:11
Artist's conception of the coming discussion between Wizards of the Coast and the <em>D&D</em> community over proposed OGL updates.

Enlarge / Artist's conception of the coming discussion between Wizards of the Coast and the D&D community over proposed OGL updates. (credit: WotC)

When Wizards of the Coast (WotC) rolled out proposed changes to its decades-old Open Gaming License (OGL), most average players and smaller creators had to hear about it via a leaked copy of a version sent to big content makers. Now, WotC promises any coming changes will be done through a "more open and transparent" process that will start a "robust conversation" around any new proposals.

In a post on the D&D Beyond forums today, WotC Executive Producer Kyle Brink writes that "new proposed OGL documentation" will be shared publicly on or before Friday, January 20. At that point, community members will have at least two weeks to offer feedback via a survey that will include specific questions and open-response fields.

WotC compared the new process to the one it uses for playtests of Unearthed Arcana documents, which are often used to solicit feedback on draft mechanics and gameplay ideas that haven't been fully tested. Once the new OGL survey concludes, Brink says WotC will "compile, analyze, react to, and present back what we heard from you."

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Categories: Tech News

Mobile Game Takes Down Ad Portraying Its Players as Horny Nerds

Motherboard (Vice) - Wed, 01/18/2023 - 10:57

Tencent, the company behind the popular, frequently mocked, and loudly horny mobile shooter, NIKKE: Goddess of Victory, has caught flak for releasing a Thai ad portraying its players as horny nerds, which led to Tencent taking the ad down—then, because we are Online, there was a backlash to the backlash where a noticeable portion of the game’s U.S. Reddit community decided that being called horny nerds was good, actually.

NIKKE is a much maligned gacha shooter known for its jiggle physics and audience pandering. Even among the gacha community, it is a near constant target of mockery. It’s a simple mobile shooter with a wide range of horny characters, its own cottage industry of cosplayers, and an uncomfortable place in the wider gaming ecosystem as both wildly popular and widely derided. It is no different from many, many mobile gacha games, except it just so happens to be louder and includes more jiggle physics.

The ad depicts a teenager at a birthday party playing NIKKE on his phone. As he plays the game his tongue starts to lick at the air and he begins to bounce up and down. Eventually, a younger child approaches him with a cake and wishes him a happy birthday. At this point, he begins fantasizing about cosplayers, and becomes lost in the fantasy until the younger boy snaps him out of it—at which point he blows out the candles and the ad ends. It is a deeply uncomfortable ad.

The ad was uncomfortable enough that, following some fan backlash, Tencent apologized for it before the company attempted to pull the ad from the video platforms to which it’s been posted. This resulted in a counter-backlash, where other players complained about the ad having been removed. This counter-backlash was bolstered by a recent censorship controversy, following the release of a character with slightly more clothes than leaked images suggested, as part of a winter holiday event. Players were already mad at Tencent, creating a damned if you do, damned if you don’t situation where the company would either be accused of mocking its player base or censoring content.

If there is a major critique of the ad to be made outside of its implicit fatphobia, it is that the ad revels in a problem that the game it’s selling created. Gacha games are, by their nature, designed to alter human behavior. It is, after all, a genre built on the back of gambling addictions. This particularly objectifying brand of horniness is no different. Nikke doesn’t just capitalize on an extant mode of horny, but actively reinforces it in the playerbase, because it, like the gambling addictions that underpin the game’s business model, keeps people coming back. It isn’t alone in this, either.

Ads like this are, as some in the days old Reddit thread point out, self selecting. The goal is not to attract the average person to the game, but is instead to only court those most likely to spend money on the game—socially isolated, horny nerds. The mockery is just one part of the self selection process. The cringe is the point.

Categories: Tech News

Apple’s full-size HomePod is back with new features

ARS Technica - Wed, 01/18/2023 - 10:38

As previously rumored, Apple today announced the release of a new second-generation, $299 HomePod smart speaker in a similar design to the first-generation HomePod from 2018.

This new model is a comeback for the HomePod, which was discontinued in 2021 after it struggled in the marketplace despite a price cut.

Critics and consumers felt that while the HomePod delivered outstanding audio quality and great ease of use within the Apple ecosystem, its inability to elegantly play back non-Apple content, the limitations of Siri compared to Alexa or Google Assistant, and the speaker's steep price made it unappealing compared to more affordable smart speakers from Sonos, Amazon, or Google.

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Proposed Washington law puts period-tracking apps and search engines on notice

The Register - Wed, 01/18/2023 - 10:31
And no more geofencing around health clinics either

A bill proposed by Washingston state lawmakers would make it illegal for period-tracking apps, Google or any other website to sell consumers' health data while also making it harder for them to collect and share this personal information.…

Categories: Tech News

Samsung and iFixit now have parts for the Galaxy S22, Galaxy laptops

ARS Technica - Wed, 01/18/2023 - 10:12
iFixit sells bundles of the part and all the tools you need.

Enlarge / iFixit sells bundles of the part and all the tools you need. (credit: iFixit)

Samsung and iFixit launched an official repair program last August, and it's now getting support for a few more devices. Samsung says its self-repair program now includes the Galaxy S22 family and some laptops: the Galaxy Book Pro 15 and Galaxy Book Pro 360 15.

Like we said at the launch, this repair program isn't really blowing us away. The Galaxy S22 is the first time the program has featured a current Samsung phone, but it's only going to be current for about two more weeks. People drop brand-new phones just as frequently as old phones, so it would be nice to see modern parts hit the store faster. The program is also woefully incomplete when it comes to device selection, only supporting the last three years of Samsung flagships, when Samsung releases about 40 phone models a year. There's nothing for Samsung's foldables line (which still break all the time!), and nothing for the cheaper phones, which are often Samsung's highest sellers.

The parts selection is very incomplete, with each member of the Galaxy S22 family only featuring the charging port, back glass, and a bundle of the screen battery and frame together. Why would anyone, ever, want to buy the screen and battery at the same time? How do you even break both of those components at once? Did the phone stop a bullet? It's also missing a ton of parts, like cameras, speakers, buttons, a million delicate ribbon cables you could easily break when attempting a repair, antennas, the charging coil, rumble motor, fingerprint sensor, cooling pads, the sim tray, screws, and the motherboard.

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Microsoft to lay off 10,000 workers, blames decelerated customer spending

ARS Technica - Wed, 01/18/2023 - 10:09
A building with offices belonging to Microsoft is seen in Chevy Chase, Maryland, January 18, 2023.

Enlarge (credit: Getty)

Microsoft is laying off about 10,000 employees by the end of Q3 of its 2023 fiscal year, the company confirmed today. Microsoft's Securities and Exchange Commission filing (PDF) described the move as a "response to macroeconomic conditions and changing customer priorities."

Microsoft says it has 221,000 workers worldwide, meaning about 4.5 percent of its global workforce will be affected. Some of those workers will receive notifications today, the filing said.

Bloomberg reported that the layoffs will include "positions in a number of engineering divisions." The publication also reported, citing unnamed "people familiar with the matter," that the workforce reduction includes Microsoft's mixed reality division, which makes the HoloLens and HoloLens-based gear being tested by the US Army. Last week, Bloomberg reported that Congress turned down the Army's request for $400 million for 6,900 headsets, citing concern over soldiers feeling sick while testing the tech. Microsoft declined to comment to Bloomberg regarding the HoloLens claims.

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Republican Wants to Fix the Completely Made-Up Issue of Aborted Fetal Tissue in Food

Motherboard (Vice) - Wed, 01/18/2023 - 10:09

Food does not contain aborted fetuses, but the total lack of existence of such a product hasn’t stopped one Texas Republican from trying to regulate it.

Ahead of the opening of the Texas state legislature last week, Republican state Sen. Bob Hall introduced a bill to mandate that food containing “human fetal tissue” be “clearly and conspicuously labeled.” If passed, this bill would also apply to food that is “manufactured using human fetal tissue,” or “derived from research using “derived from research using human fetal tissue.” Medical and cosmetic products that have links to fetal tissue would also be subject to these requirements. 

Fetal tissue, according to the bill, is “tissue, cells, or organs obtained from an aborted unborn child.”

To be clear, food with fetal tissue in it? Not a thing. It doesn’t exist.

“There are no conditions under which the FDA would consider human fetal tissue to be safe or legal for human or animal consumption,” an FDA spokesperson told VICE News in a statement. Eating food with fetal tissue would also likely constitute cannibalism, which is typically frowned upon. 

Cannibalism has found its way into the news quite a bit lately. Prominent conspiracy theory movements like QAnon hold (falsely) that elite Democrats are running a cannibalistic, Satan-worshiping, child sex-trafficking ring. QAnon’s beliefs are linked to antisemitic and anti-LGBTQ tropes that hold that Jewish and LGBTQ people are trying to hurt children, and even drink their blood. These conspiracies, which have flourished partly through lockdown isolationism and election denialism, have radicalized a stunning number of Americans and torn families apart.  

Although food would not be impacted if Hall’s bill became law, medicine and science could be, since fetal cell lines can be used to develop and test drugs. These lines can be collected from a single miscarriage or abortion, then replicated in labs, over and over again, for decades. (Cell lines derived from aborted fetal tissue can be preferable, both because it’s easier to collect and because fetal tissue derived from a miscarriage may carry whatever genetic or chromosomal problem may have caused the miscarriage in the first place.) Fetal cell lines have led to development of many major vaccines, such as the vaccines against chickenpox and Hepatitis A

After the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic, a split erupted in the anti-abortion community over the morality of taking covid vaccines that may have been developed or tested using fetal cell lines. The Moderna, Pfizer, and Johnson & Johnson vaccines do not include any fetal cells, although fetal cell lines were sometimes used in the development stages. 

Hall’s office did not immediately return a VICE News list of questions about the bill. However, his office told HuffPost in a statement, “Unfortunately, many Texans are unknowingly consuming products that either contain human fetal parts or were developed using human fetal parts.”

“While some may not be bothered by this, there are many Texans with religious or moral beliefs that would oppose consumption or use of these products,” the statement continued.

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has previously said that, although vaccines with links to fetal cell lines can cause “a problem of conscience for some Catholic parents,” they can take them in service of the greater good of public health. In 2020, the conference urged people to get vaccinated against covid.

“A well-informed consumer can make whatever choice they decide on purchasing a product so long as they have all of the information in hand to make the choice,” Hall told HuffPost.

So far, Hall’s bill has not been assigned to a committee.

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Categories: Tech News

OpenAI Used Kenyan Workers Making $2 an Hour to Filter Traumatic Content from ChatGPT

Motherboard (Vice) - Wed, 01/18/2023 - 10:07

A Time investigation published on Wednesday reported that OpenAI, the company behind ChatGPT, paid Kenyan workers less than $2 an hour to filter through tens of thousands of lines of text to help make its chatbot safer to use.

The workers were tasked to label and filter out toxic data from ChatGPT’s training dataset and were forced to read graphic details of NSFW content such as child sexual abuse, bestiality, murder, suicide, torture, self-harm, and incest, Time reported.

ChatGPT has been soaring in popularity since the machine learning-powered chatbot was launched by OpenAI in late November. Millions of people were impressed by the app’s advanced writing skills and have employed the app for a variety of purposes, from writing news articles to songs. But the bot was not always so eloquent. Its predecessor, GPT-3, often produced sexist, violent, and racist text because the model was trained on a dataset that was scraped from billions of internet pages. In order to launch ChatGPT, OpenAI needed a way to filter out all of the toxic language from its dataset, fast.

OpenAI partnered with Sama, a data labeling partner based in San Francisco that claims to provide developing countries with “ethical” and “dignified digital work,” to detect and label toxic content that could be fed as data into a filtering tool for ChatGPT. Sama recruited data labelers in Kenya to work on behalf of OpenAI, playing an essential role in making the chatbot safe for public usage.

Despite their integral role in building ChatGPT, the workers faced grueling conditions and low pay. One Kenyan worker who was responsible for reading and labeling text for OpenAI told TIME that “he suffered from recurring visions after reading a graphic description of a man having sex with a dog in the presence of a young child.” The workers took home wages between $1.32 and $2 an hour, based on seniority and performance.

“That was torture,” the Sama worker told Time. “You will read a number of statements like that all through the week. By the time it gets to Friday, you are disturbed from thinking through that picture.”

Motherboard reported in December on the pattern of AI innovation being powered by underpaid workers in foreign countries. Tech companies regularly hire tens of thousands of gig workers to maintain the illusion that their AI tools are fully functioning and self-sufficient, when, in reality, they still rely on a great number of human moderation and development. AI ethics researchers said that the inclusion of the Global South in the AI pipeline continues a legacy of colonial exploitation and imbalance between the Global North and South.

Sama canceled its work for OpenAI in February 2022, eight months earlier than the contracted period, in part because of the traumatic nature of the work, and in part because Time had published an investigative report about Sama’s work with Meta on February 14. In that report, Time reported that content moderators at Sama who worked on projects for Meta became traumatized after viewing images and videos of executions, rape, and child abuse for $1.50 an hour.

Three days after the Time piece was published, Sama CEO Wendy Gonzalez messaged a group of senior executives on Slack, saying “We are going to be winding down the OpenAI work.” Sama announced a week ago that it would also be discontinuing its work for Meta.

However, these decisions left many Sama workers unemployed or facing lower wages on other projects. “We were told that they [Sama] didn’t want to expose their employees to such [dangerous] content again,” a Sama employee told TIME. “We replied that for us, it was a way to provide for our families.”

The outsourcing of workers to perform rote, traumatizing tasks benefits big tech companies in many ways—they are able to save money by using cheap labor, avoid strict jurisdiction over working conditions, and create distance between their “innovative” tools and the workers behind them. The data labeling companies, too, exhibit an imbalance. While Sama is based in San Francisco and made an estimated $19 million in 2022, its workers in Kenya are making a maximum of $2 an hour.

AI experts want to bring to light the human labor that builds the foundation of machine learning systems in order to focus less on innovation and more on how to ethically include humans in the process. This includes acknowledging the power imbalances, providing more transparency about humans-in-the-loop, improving working conditions, and creating opportunities for workers beyond data labeling and moderating. The exploitation of workers to build ChatGPT reminds us of how far away the tool is from magic and glamor and asks us to reconsider how much we should really be praising its innovation.

Categories: Tech News

Russia Says Its ‘Unstoppable’ Nuclear Underwater Drone Is Ready to Go

Motherboard (Vice) - Wed, 01/18/2023 - 09:40

Russia has finished building its first batch of “nuclear-capable underwater drone” torpedoes nicknamed Poseidon, according to state-owned news agency TASS. According to TASS, Poseidon is meant to be used in Russia’s new nuclear-powered Belgorod submarine. Billed as an unstoppable super torpedo by both Putin and some Western news outlets, the Poseidon is another unknown and unproven Russian weapon.

Poseidon is NATO’s name for Russia’s Status-6 Oceanic Multipurpose System, a new kind of underwater drone capable of carrying both nuclear and conventional warheads. TASS, citing an anonymous source, said that the new weapon was finished and would soon be delivered to a Russian submarine.

Little is actually known about the mysterious weapon and its capabilities. According to Russian sources and Western intelligence, it’s enormous. It weighs more than 200,000 pounds, has a diameter of around 6 feet, and a length of more than 60 feet. It’s so big that the Belgorod can only carry six of them. This would make it the largest torpedo ever developed and deployed by any country in the world.

The world first caught a glimpse of the Poseidon thanks to a 2015 leak that showed off the weapons the Kremlin planned to deploy with the Belgorod. The giant torpedo seems to be unwieldy, an enormous torpedo that uses a nuclear engine to carry it vast distances. Its size and nuclear signature might make it easy to track, but it would be hard to know until one was fired. It’s also important to note that though this weapon has been billed as capable of carrying a nuclear warhead, there’s no confirmation that the ones that have been produced are carrying one. 

Putin first revealed the torpedoes to the world during a 2018 presentation to the Federal Assembly, Russia’s legislative body. During the speech he announced the development of four new nuclear weapons and demonstrated their use by showing a CGI video of a nuke hitting Mar-a-Lago. Along with the Poseidon, Putin also teased the RS-28 “Satan II” Sarmat intercontinental-ballistic missile (ICBM), the Zircon hypersonic missile, and a nuclear powered cruise missile called the SSC-X-9 Skyfall.

According to the Kremlin, work on these new nuclear weapons has borne fruit. It said it tested a launch of the Satan II in April, 2022. Earlier this month, it announced that it had deployed the Zircon hypersonic missile on a ship that planned to tour the world’s seas.

The Skyfall and Poseidon have remained more mysterious and TASS provided no official confirmation from the Russian Ministry of Defense about the completion of the torpedo’s construction. When the Zircon was shipped out a few weeks ago, both Putin and Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu announced it publicly. Neither have recently mentioned the Poseidon or Skyfall.

Both the Poseidon and Skyfall are said to use nuclear-powered engines to drive them. It’s a weapon idea that the U.S. also attempted to develop in the 1960s but abandoned after increasing concerns about, among other things, radioactive emissions caused by the engine. Unless Russia has developed a new kind of shielding for the Skyfall and Poeisden’s engines, there’s a chance the weapons will spew radioactive material in their wake once fired. This kind of uncontrolled spew was too much of a risk even for the Americans at the height of nuclear development.

In 2019, a nuclear accident at a Russian facility in the Arctic killed 7 people. Moscow claimed the accident was the result of a small nuclear reactor explosion. The evidence, however, indicated that the Kremlin was testing a Skyfall missile and something had gone wrong. Now, it appears a similar weapon, with similar issues, will soon be deployed on a Russian submarine.

Categories: Tech News

Plugging end-of-life EV batteries into the grid could ease renewables transition

The Register - Wed, 01/18/2023 - 09:32
Study says this would give old power units years of useful life once unsuitable for cars

EV batteries could help meet short-term electricity grid storage demand by as early as 2030 in most parts of the world, scientists are claiming.…

Categories: Tech News

Twitter says third-party apps broke “long-standing API rules,” won’t name rules

ARS Technica - Wed, 01/18/2023 - 09:02
Two birds fighting on a tree branch

Enlarge / Two birds are enforcing long-standing bird feeder access rules. That may result in some birds not eating. (credit: Tony Quinn / EyeEm / Getty Images)

Ever since Twitter revoked the API access of prominent third-party clients, developers, dedicated fans, and tech pundits have been waiting for an explanation. They still haven't received one, but a recent tweet from Twitter's API team suggests it's all the developers' fault for breaking "long-standing API rules" that the company will not name.

Twitter is enforcing its long-standing API rules. That may result in some apps not working.

— Twitter Dev (@TwitterDev) January 17, 2023

The Twitter Dev account says the social network "is enforcing" those rules, and it "may result in some apps not working." Twitter's API documentation is extensive and contains many rules and limits dependent on several factors. Tech video producer Marques Brownlee, who has 6 million followers, replied to the account soon after its post, asking, "What are the rules." Neither Brownlee's nor any other questions elicited a response.

No one outside of Twitter can say whether the company sought a reason to ban third-party clients and found it in its API language or if the company suddenly decided to enforce API rules against some of the most popular third-party clients just as the company was seeking to bolster its revenues against a significant drop in ad revenue and upcoming debt payments. (Third-party clients typically don't show Twitter's "promoted" tweet advertising.) A timeline of Musk's Twitter ownership published recently by The Verge and New York Magazine noted that the entire API team of Amir Shevat was wiped out during an early November layoff.

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Enterprise vendor layoffs happened because 'some CEOs got ahead of their skis'

The Register - Wed, 01/18/2023 - 08:30
But tech research giant Gartner says spending still rosy despite job loss clouds

Some enterprise tech CEOs suffered a degree of over-optimism in their hiring strategies during and coming out of the pandemic, according to a senior Gartner soothsayer.…

Categories: Tech News

A Black Teacher Died After Being Tased 4 Times. Ex-Cops Say It Didn’t Need to Happen.

Motherboard (Vice) - Wed, 01/18/2023 - 08:24

When an LAPD cop tased Keenan Anderson, the cousin of a Black Lives Matter co-founder and a high school English teacher, four times as other officers restrained him, they had other options and could have used less force, several experts told VICE News.

“I’ve handled hundreds of these cases in my practice, and in my opinion, the tasering seen here was excessive,” Timothy T. Williams Jr., a retired LAPD officer with nearly 50 years working in criminal justice, told VICE News. “Any of those officers should have interceded and said, ‘Enough is enough, let’s stop this’ or ‘This is not working’ or ‘We have enough personnel here to get him back up so he won’t have any distress and take it from there.’”

An LAPD officer encountered Anderson on Jan. 3 after he was involved in a traffic accident. The officer approached the distressed Black man down the block from where the accident had taken place, according to police body camera footage released last week. On the video, Anderson can be heard repeatedly saying someone “is trying to kill me.”

After about seven minutes, Anderson runs into the street away from the officer. When the officer catches up, he demands that Anderson lay on the ground on his stomach so he can be detained. Anderson sits down, but doesn’t roll over. He’s then approached by eight officers who help restrain him.

Officers tell Anderson to relax but he continues to scream and struggle. An officer warns Anderson multiple times that he will tase him, as another can be seen burying an elbow to the Black man’s neck.

One of the officers who arrived deployed the taser at least six times, four right up against Anderson’s body, over the course of 33 seconds. Only those four were effective in delivering a shock to Anderson, according to LAPD Police Chief Michel Moore. Throughout the struggle, Anderson can be heard screaming “Help,” and “They’re trying to kill me.” He also tells the cops, “Don’t do this” and says the police are “trying to George Floyd me.”

Anderson was transported to the hospital five minutes later by paramedics. According to police, he experienced a “medical emergency” hours after they detained him and died.

“I’ve handled hundreds of these cases in my practice, and in my opinion, the tasering seen here was excessive.”

Williams spent 29 years with the LAPD, 26 dedicated to criminal and administrative investigations. He’s been running his own private investigation practice for 20 years and has also authored a book analyzing police procedure, use of force and wrongful convictions. In his opinion, not only did the officer who tased Anderson have other options, the other officers on the scene should have stopped him. 

“There were about six officers who appeared to initially respond to back up this motor cop,” Williams said. “It would seem to me that even if he was resisting, you had enough personnel there to turn him over and get him handcuffed.”

Dr. John Peters Jr., a former police officer and deputy sheriff in York County, Pennsylvania, and Braintree, Massachusetts, agreed with Williams.

“As a general rule, once you have more officers on scene, you try to do physical restraint. And you back off on the use of an electronic device,” Peters told VICE News. “I think LAPD policy would pretty much confirm that.”

Peters, currently serves as president of the Institute for the Prevention of In-Custody Deaths, which provides  training and education on the prevention of deaths during police arrests. He’s also the executive director of the nonprofit organization, Americans for Effective Law Enforcement, which provides resources and education for law enforcement professionals.

Peters said that based on what we know about the arrest so far, using a stun gun wasn’t the best choice for what was happening at the moment of Anderson’s arrest.

“To shoot somebody who's down with a taser is going cause neuromuscular incapacitation, which means they're not going to be able to move,” Peters explained. “And then you're telling him [Anderson] to get on his stomach, but then use a taser which prevents him from getting on a stomach. That's kind of a ‘what came first the chicken or the egg?’ situation. It just doesn’t make logical sense to do that.”

“To shoot somebody who's down with a taser is going cause neuromuscular incapacitation, which means they're not going to be able to move.”

The LAPD doesn’t have a defined policy on how many times the taser can be used, but Chief Moore said officers should generally avoid repeated or simultaneous activations of the device to avoid seriously hurting a person they’re trying to detain.

The department does have guidelines on the use of force in its manual, which states that a use of force must be reasonable and done with a reverence for human life.

The officers on scene may have violated those guidelines, according to Williams and Peters.

Chief Moore, however, stopped short of saying as much and noted that the officer who tased Anderson “believed each activation was achieving some level of compliance.”

If the officer did indeed violate the LAPD’s use of force policy, the department’s manual is clear on what consequences could be.

“Officers who use unreasonable force degrade the confidence of the community we serve, expose fellow officers to physical hazards, violate the law and rights of individuals upon whom unreasonable force or unnecessary deadly force is used, and subject the department and themselves to potential civil and criminal liability” the manual reads.

Though tasers are meant to be a non-lethalway of incapcitating individuals who police are trying to detain, these devices also have a reputation of being harmful, and even deadly, under certain circumstances. In 2009 for example, Moberly, Missouri resident, 23-year-old Stanley Harlan, went into cardiac arrest and died after local police tased him three times for a total of 31 seconds. Just last year, an officer fired a taser at a 29-year-old man experiencing mental distress in their custody right after he covered himself in hand sanitizer. The jolt set the man ablaze, causing him catastrophic lung damage. He died of his injuries 45 days later.

Edward Obayashi, a deputy sheriff and policy advisor for the Plumas County Sheriff’s Office in California has been in law enforcement for 30 years. He told VICE News that no use of force will look pretty on camera, but what transpired during Anderson’s arrest is concerning.

“They all look bad,” Obayashi told VICE News. “And I’ll always use the provisal of I wasn’t there and we don’t know what else the officers perceived. But just from the visuals standpoint, there are legitimate questions regarding whether or not this force was reasonable.”

Even if Anderson wasn’t fully cooperating with the officers’ orders, the video seems to show that his behavior never rose above what is considered “physical active resistance” when police are dealing with a subject, Obayashi said.

“The level of resistance here isn’t the typical resistance where you see the subject flailing with his or her arms kicking at the officers or wrestling with them,” he said. “He may have tensed up. One officer was apparently having a hard time trying to control his arms and put them in a handcuffed position. But as I train officers, after two or three tasings, depending on the situation, if it doesn’t seem to be having a compliance effect, officers are trained to reassess what options should be employed at that point.”

Anderson is one of three people killed by LAPD officers in the first three days of the year, and over the weekend, the city’s residents and Black Lives Matter activists peacefully rallied against the violence. Those protests continued into Tuesday in front of Los Angeles City Hall, as several activists, including Anderson’s cousin, Black Lives Matter co-founder Patrisse Cullors, called on the LAPD and LA mayor Karen Bass to restrict the use of tasers, released unedited footage of Anderson’s arrest, and reevalutate how cops handle traffic stops.

“There’s no reason why law enforcement should be the first responders at a traffic stop or accident,” Cullors said. “Let’s fund unarmed professionals, trained in crisis management and deescalation to respond to our loved ones.”

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Categories: Tech News

George Santos Accused of Stealing Thousands from Dying Dog’s GoFundMe

Motherboard (Vice) - Wed, 01/18/2023 - 08:20

Along with lying about being Jewish, using stolen checks in Brazil, and essentially inventing out of thin air much of his resumé before he was elected to Congress, you can now add one more allegation against George Santos: stealing money from a GoFundMe for a veteran’s dying service dog

The veteran, 47-year-old Richard Osthoff, accused the freshman New York congressman Tuesday of setting up a GoFundMe to pay for medical treatment for his service dog, raising $3,000 through it, and then disappearing with the money without handing over a cent. The dog then died months later without receiving treatment. 

Osthoff told Patch.com that after his dog Sapphire developed a stomach tumor in 2016, a veterinarian referred him to “a guy who runs a pet charity.” That man was Santos, who was then going by the name Anthony Devolder, and the charity was Friends of Pets United, according to Patch.com. Santos has claimed that the charity was a registered nonprofit, but the Internal Revenue Service has no record of the organization’s existence, the New York Times reported in December

After the GoFundMe’s goal was reached, Santos “stopped answering my texts and calls," Osthoff told Patch.com. Osthoff posted on Facebook in November 2016 that he was “scammed by Anthony Devolder,” and that due to “bad veterinary contacts, and subterfuge regarding payment, Sapphire has NOT received veterinary care, and her growth is 3 to 4 times bigger than it was when the campaign was fulfilled,” according to a screenshot published by Patch.com. 

Among the problems were that Santos told Osthoff he had to use a veterinarian in Queens rather than the one in New Jersey who had told him Sapphire needed the surgery—and then, the veterinarian in Queens told Osthoff that the tumor was inoperable. A second person who attempted to intervene on Osthoff’s behalf, another veteran who runs a nonprofit outreach group, also told Patch that Santos was “totally uncooperative” in a phone conversation. 

In text messages published by Patch.com, a person who is purportedly Santos told Osthoff that it was “our credibility”—meaning the charity’s—that brought in the donations, and that the funds raised for Sapphire would be “moved on to the next animal in need.” Osthoff also told Patch.com that Santos told him in a phone conversation that he would use the money donated for Sapphire for other animals because Osthoff “didn’t do things [Santos’s] way.” 

Sapphire died in Jan. 2017, according to Patch.com. 

Santos won election in November, flipping a Democratic district and helping Republicans win control of the House for the first time since 2018. Since then, however, he has been accused of lying about where he went to high school, about an invented college volleyball career at a school he appears to have never attended, and about his work on Wall Street. He has reportedly admitted to committing fraud in Brazil and been accused of theft in the U.S., where former roommates say he stole items from them—including a Burberry scarf he wore to a “Stop the Steal” rally on Jan. 5, 2021, Patch reported last week

Santos has also lied about having Jewish ancestry and even having relatives who survived the Holocaust. A former roommate of Santos’ told CNN Tuesday that Santos went by Anthony Devolder when he knew him, but used another different last name while soliciting money through Friends of Pets United because, as Santos allegedly told him: “The Jews will give more money if you’re a Jew.” 

Though the Nassau County GOP and six other New York Republican members of Congress have called for his resignation, it currently appears as though Santos will face zero consequences for essentially lying his way into Congress. Republican leaders appointed him to two committees on Tuesday, even as Speaker Kevin McCarthy admitted to reporters earlier this week that he “always had a few questions” about his new member’s largely invented resumé. 

Santos has largely refused to comment on most of the allegations against him. Last week, he told reporters on Capitol Hill that he would “be addressing the media soon… on my time.” He also tweeted on Jan. 11: “I will NOT resign!” 

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Trump tries to get back on Facebook, claims ban is electoral “interference”

ARS Technica - Wed, 01/18/2023 - 08:12
Police hold back a large group of Trump supporters on the day of the attack on the US Capitol.

Enlarge / Police hold back Trump supporters outside the US Capitol's Rotunda on January 6, 2021. (credit: Getty Images | Olivier Douliery/AFP)

Former US President Donald Trump yesterday petitioned Facebook owner Meta to restore his account, two years after he was banned for egging on his supporters as they attacked the US Capitol. "We believe that the ban on President Trump's account on Facebook has dramatically distorted and inhibited the public discourse," Trump's campaign wrote in a letter to Meta Tuesday, according to NBC News.

The Trump team's letter also reportedly said that a continuation of the ban would constitute a "deliberate effort by a private company to silence Mr. Trump's political voice... every day that President Trump's political voice remains silenced furthers an inappropriate interference in the American political and election process." The letter was sent to Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg, Meta VP of Global Affairs Nick Clegg, and Facebook VP of Public Policy Joel Kaplan.

Twitter already reversed its ban on Trump shortly after Elon Musk bought the company. Trump hasn't tweeted yet. He formed his own social network, Truth Social, after being banned from Facebook and Twitter.

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How flood forecasts in real time with block-by-block data could save lives

ARS Technica - Wed, 01/18/2023 - 07:44
A vehicle drives on a flooded road in Sebastopol, California, on January 5, 2023.

Enlarge / A vehicle drives on a flooded road in Sebastopol, California, on January 5, 2023. (credit: Josh Edelson/AFP via Getty Images)

The extreme flooding and mudslides across California in recent weeks took many drivers by surprise. Sinkholes swallowed cars, highways became fast-moving rivers of water, entire neighborhoods were evacuated. At least 20 people died in the storms, several of them after becoming trapped in cars in rushing water.

As I checked the forecasts on my cellphone weather apps during the weeks of storms in early January 2023, I wondered whether people in the midst of the downpours were using similar technology as they decided whether to leave their homes and determined which routes were safest. Did they feel that it was sufficient?

I am a hydrologist who sometimes works in remote areas, so interpreting weather data and forecast uncertainty is always part of my planning. As someone who once nearly drowned while crossing a flooded river where I shouldn’t have, I am also acutely conscious of the extreme human vulnerability stemming from not knowing exactly where and when a flood will strike.

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It looks like NASA will finally have an astronaut live in space for a full year

ARS Technica - Wed, 01/18/2023 - 07:39
NASA's Frank Rubio is on track to become the first American astronaut to spend a full year in space.

Enlarge / NASA's Frank Rubio is on track to become the first American astronaut to spend a full year in space. (credit: NASA)

Amid much fanfare, NASA astronaut Scott Kelly returned from space nearly seven years ago, landing on a barren, frozen steppe of Kazakhstan inside a hardy little Soyuz spacecraft.

NASA made much of this flight, billing it as the agency's first year-long mission. PBS was among the broadcast television stations that did extended features on Kelly's mission, its multi-episode series was titled "A year in space." But the dirty little secret is that, due to the inevitable shuffling of schedules in spaceflight, Kelly and a Russia colleague, Mikhail Kornienko, spent 340 days in space rather than a full year of 365.25 days.

After Kelly's mission, NASA health officials said they hoped to fly more one-year missions as they sought to better understand the biological effects of long-duration spaceflight on humans and how the agency might better mitigate bone loss and other deleterious effects.

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Microsoft will lay off 10,000 people, is already notifying some today

The Register - Wed, 01/18/2023 - 07:15
Remaining employees told they need to ‘raise the bar’

Microsoft will cut the jobs of 10,000 employees by September. The move follows smaller rounds of layoffs at the software company last year as cloud growth slows due to the worsening economic situation.…

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‘Your Husband Is a Polar Bear’: Alaska Natives Got Nonsensical Instructions After Typhoon

Motherboard (Vice) - Wed, 01/18/2023 - 07:10

After extreme weather caused by Typhoon Merbok pounded Alaska’s west coast in September, Alaska Native residents sought government aid to help deal with the destruction—only to receive absurd instructions from FEMA that were supposed to be written in two Indigenous languages, a Yup’ik dialect and Iñupiaq, but were instead incoherent.

“Your husband is a polar bear, skinny,” stated one passage in Federal Emergency Management Agency paperwork that was supposed to help residents file for aid, the Associated Press reported.

“Tomorrow he will go hunting very early, and will (bring) nothing,” another fragment said. According to AP, the sentence inexplicably had the word “Alaska” in the middle. 

The unintelligible translations emerged as part of a contract between FEMA and a California-based third-party company, Accent on Language. The company, which was fired and has since apologized, was supposed to produce informational documents in Yup’ik and Iñupiaq to help people affected by the storm apply for disaster relief. Instead, whoever was in charge of producing the translations likely pulled random phrases from online sources and produced nonsensical materials, experts say. (The exact process that led to the errors remains unclear.) 

While this situation is unique—and government officials said this isn’t a “systemic” problem—it has made experts question whether existing translation processes can adequately honor Indigenous languages and the communities who speak them. Some experts are even worried that there are more mistranslated government texts in circulation already that simply haven’t been caught. These concerns feel particularly urgent at a time when Indigenous communities are bearing the brunt of climate change and related extreme weather events that are occurring with alarming frequency. 

“No one was attempting to do a translation,” said Gary Holton, a professor of linguistics at University of Hawai‘i at M&#x101;noa and former director of the Alaska Native Language Archive. “The (instructions) were kind of a word salad composed of random words.” 

Central Alaskan Yup'ik is the most commonly spoken Indigenous language in Alaska, with about 10,000 speakers, according to the Alaska Native Language Center. In fact, some children still learn it as a first language in 17 Yup'ik villages. The state is also home to about 13,500 Inupia, and about 3,000 of them, mostly older than 40, speak their language. Those most affected by poor translations are elders, many of whom are more comfortable speaking in their Indigenous languages than in English.  

“There are certainly very many people who are disenfranchised by this error,” Holton said. 

The Yup’ik phrases specifically appear to be pulled from a document dating back to the 1940s that was recently digitized, Holton said. The source document, collected by a Russian linguist, memorializes folk tales in Yup’ik dialects. 

“These documents record a language of elders—a rich and vibrant language,” Holton said. “These are recordings of elders with such valuable history for Yup’ik people that have become part of a game.” 

Holton said he’s worried there are more texts out there with similar translation errors that are yet to be caught.  

And bizarrely, the Iñupiaq phrases were written in Inuktitut syllabics, which aren’t even part of Alaska Native languages, but rather, are used in Nunavut, a northern territory in Canada, according to KYUK, the Alaska-based public radio station that broke the story. 

Iñupiaq and Inuktitut are related languages, but fluent Inuktitut speakers told KYUK that even the sentences written in syllabics make no sense.

FEMA did not respond to VICE News' request for comment, but spokesperson Jaclyn Rothenberg told AP that the organization takes responsibility for the errors and has since corrected them. The agency is also reportedly taking steps to make sure the same mistakes aren’t repeated. No one was denied aid amid the mistakes, AP reported.

Black people, Native people, and people of color are also disproportionately bearing the brunt of climate change, and the Arctic in particular is warming at an alarming rate. VICE News previously reported how one northern community is warming three times faster than the rest of the planet, more people in the North than ever are falling through weak ice, and coastal communities are literally following into the ocean. It’s highly likely that Typhoon Merbok was able to form in the first place because of rising ocean temperatures. 

This all makes these translation errors even more concerning. 

“They definitely missed the mark in the translations for their Merbok Typhoon Disaster outreach, which was disappointing,” Rep. Mary Peltola, the first Alaska Native to serve in Congress, said in an emailed statement to VICE News. Peltola said that her office has been in touch with FEMA, and confirmed that the agency started coordinating with the Language Interpreter Center at the Alaska Institute for Justice after it found out about the translation issues.

Accent on Language, the California-based team initially hired to translate the materials, issued its own public apology. “We were deeply upset to learn that grossly erroneous translations were submitted on behalf of our company,” said Caroline Lee, the company’s CEO. “Upon learning of this issue in October 2022, we immediately conducted an internal investigation, and all work with the translators responsible for these materials was terminated.”

Lee said the company has implemented new checks and balances as part of its translation process in order to avoid repeating mistakes, and will refund FEMA the money it received for the job. 

According to Holton, FEMA shouldn’t have hired a third party company in the first place, and instead should hire locals in Alaska. “It becomes an extension of persecution: ‘We won't even let you do the translations,’” Holton said. “It’s just bizarre. Why not approach the community and say, ‘Can you do this?’ There are plenty of people who could have done this in Alaska, but that’s not what they chose to do.” 

The situation in Alaska following Merbok, experts say, also serves as a stark reminder of the United States’ legacy of mistreating Native communities, and its concerted, decades-long efforts to assimilate Native people and eradicate their language and culture. 

“When my mother was beaten for speaking her language in school, like so many hundreds, thousands of Alaska Natives, to then have the federal government distributing literature representing that it is an Alaska Native language, I can’t even describe the emotion behind that sort of symbolism,” Tara Sweeney, former assistant secretary of Indian Affairs, told AP. 

Sweeney, who is Iñupiaq herself, also said she wants to see a congressional oversight hearing to investigate further. 

“These government contracting translators have certainly taken advantage of the system, and they have had a profound impact, in my opinion, on vulnerable communities,” Sweeney said. 

Holton noted that because many Indigenous languages are endangered, bad translations risk making speakers second guess their own language abilities—making it easier for people abusing the system to get away with it. 

“The insulting thing about doing this with an endangered language is there are members of the target community who, after years of persecution, may say, ‘Well, I don't feel confident in my language, so maybe I don't know my language very well,” Holton said. “So, not only can you pull this off on FEMA or the general public, who doesn't know Yup’ik anyway, but you can even pull this off with the target population.”

“They probably thought Yup’ik and Iñupiaq were going extinct, and they probably thought they wouldn’t be caught,” Julia Jimmie, a translator in Alaska who works for KYUK, told her employer.  “This puts it out there that Yup’ik and Iñupiaq are still alive and used.”

Categories: Tech News

Republicans Want the DEA to Go After Tranq Dope. Experts Say It Won’t Help.

Motherboard (Vice) - Wed, 01/18/2023 - 07:01

House Republicans want the federal government to schedule the animal tranquilizer xylazine, one of the key components of a drug cocktail called “tranq dope” that’s been linked to horrific wounds and amputations and has spread to at least 39 states. 

In a letter addressed to the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and Customs and Border Protection (CBP), Rep. Jim Banks of Indiana, Rep. August Plfuger of Texas, and Rep. Kat Cammack of Florida said the response to the infiltration of tranq into the drug supply “remains wholly inadequate.” 

 “Xylazine must be recognized as the threat it is and be scheduled by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). These are critical actions the Biden Administration must take to effectively curb the misuse and abuse of xylazine,” the letter reads. 

If the DEA doesn’t schedule xylazine, the lawmakers said they will introduce legislation to do so. 

But experts worry that scheduling xylazine will only further contaminate the street opioid supply, which has shifted from heroin to fentanyl and now includes the addition of tranq and other synthetic drugs, and could limit future research on treating its effects.

Tranq is typically a mixture of xylazine and the synthetic opioid fentanyl. VICE News first reported on the horrific wounds affecting Philadelphia-based tranq users, some of which are causing people to have their fingers and toes amputated, last March. In a follow-up story in November, we obtained exclusive data showing that tranq had spread to 39 states as well as Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico. 

Tranq is also more dangerous than fentanyl alone because xylazine doesn’t respond to naloxone, making overdoses more complicated to reverse. (Naloxone should still be administered to people having suspected tranq overdoses). Because it’s not a controlled substance, it’s not included on most drug tests, so many users and healthcare providers aren’t aware that people are using it, nor do they have detox protocols to help people from the severe withdrawal they experience coming off tranq. 

It’s not clear where in the supply chain xylazine is getting added to fentanyl, nor where it’s coming from.  

Veterinary xylazine is typically sold as a liquid. VICE News Tonight’s documentary Beyond Fentanyl identified hundreds of Chinese suppliers selling powder xylazine online—some are already mixed with other common drug cutting agents. One of the sellers previously told VICE News that xylazine became “hot” among American customers in 2021 after President Donald Trump’s administration pressured China to ban fentanyl and its analogs in 2019. 

The lawmakers’ letter called for the DEA and CBP to answer if the process for scheduling xylazine has been started; if the DEA plans to interdict xylazine’s illicit use; and to what extent CBP is scrutinizing shipments from China. 

The DEA did not respond to VICE News’ request for comment. 

Last year, in response to questions about xylazine, a DEA spokesperson told VICE News, “Those are not controlled substances — not scheduled under the Controlled Substances Act — so they do not fall under DEA’s purview.” 

Dr. Nabarun Dasgupta, a scientist at the University of North Carolina who leads a drug checking program, said on the street level, scheduling xylazine wouldn’t make much of a difference because it’s almost exclusively found mixed with drugs that are already illegal. 

“Scheduling xylazine only increases individual penalties, without being a comprehensive solution,” he said, adding that a real solution would include funding for clinical research and wound care. 

Dasgupta said he’s already seeing new drug combinations with substances that are similar to xylazine but with a greater risk of stopping a person from breathing. 

“Since we’re already seeing the next thing show up, it’s going to be a perpetual cat and mouse game,” he said. 

It’s a sentiment shared by Dr. Ryan Marino, medical director of toxicology and addiction medicine at University Hospitals in Cleveland.  

“This is more of the same short-sighted and reactionary political grandstanding that may help politicians but won't help any American citizens and doesn’t solve any of our drug problems,” Marino said. “Our toxic drug supply is a direct result of failed policy and a failed War on Drugs.” 

Sarah Laurel, founder of the Philadelphia-based harm reduction group Savage Sisters, which provides on-the-street wound care to tranq users, said she fears that scheduling xylazine will make it harder to research how to treat its effects. 

Doing clinical trials to determine the best way to treat people using xylazine would already be difficult because the drug is not approved for use in humans. 

“If we schedule it, I don't know how that's going to limit our ability to start treating these things and updating withdrawal protocols,” she said, adding that drug traffickers will find a way around any new bans. 

“We've seen that when we schedule substances and make it more difficult for the criminal drug market, that a new, more lethal and potent substance will hit the market. All we're doing is creating a space where the drug market is just going to adapt. It always does.” 

Laurel said she believes part of the solution is giving drug users a safe supply of heroin, fentanyl, and other drugs that are free of contaminants. 

Follow Manisha Krishnan on Twitter.

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