Spider News Digest: 11/29/2017


  • Once in a supermoon: Catch 2017’s largest moon on December 3 (Newsweek):

The first and only visible supermoon of 2017 will occur on the night of December 3, shining up to 16 percent brighter and 7 percent larger than normal, according to National Geographic.

Because the moon’s orbit of the Earth is not perfectly circular, its distance from us varies. A supermoon occurs when perigree – the closest point to Earth in the moon’s orbit – coincides with a full moon. This makes the moon appear larger and brighter in the sky than usual.

Budding astronomers on the East Coast need only stay awake until 4:00am ET on December 4 to see the moon at its nearest distance to Earth – a measly 222,443 miles. During the average apogee – when the moon is furthest from the earth – this distance stretches to roughly 252,000 miles, according to NASA. ​

Londoners will be able, for once, to make the best of the short winter days in their city, and observe the supermoon – or Full Cold Moon, as the last supermoon of the year is traditionally known – at 4:40 pm GMT. Romans can do the same at 5pm local time (GMT +1). Rome will also be the site of a live stream courtesy of the Virtual Telescope Project.

Urging the casual stargazer excited by the supermoon to adjust their expectations, the project’s scientific director, astrophysicist Gianluca Masi said: “These are not really obvious variations, but they add charm to the event, a precious opportunity to admire our natural satellite in the night sky context, an increasingly overlooked and forgotten landscape.”

To see the supermoon at its most vivid, however, make sure to catch a glimpse just after sunrise. A phenomenon called the “moon illusion” makes the celestial body look much larger than at its peak height.

If you live in Washington state, you may also be able to see the full moon pass over the bright star Aldebaran. According to Space.com, this “occultation” will be visible from Seattle, WS, at 6:09 a.m.The star will be visible again from 6:46am. Anchorage, Alaska will witness the occultation at 4:38, while Aldebaran will re-emerge at 5:32 a.m. This is just shy of the moon becoming full at 6.46am.

Around the world, you can spy the event from Northern Canada, Russia, China and Bangladesh.

Bigger than November’s full Beaver Moon

While November didn’t see a supermoon, it did give us the closest moon of the year so far in the full Beaver Moon. The Full Cold Moon will be the only moon of the year to dwarf November’s, which reached around 227,000 miles from earth at perigree.

The closest moon to the earth in recent memory was 2016’s supermoon, beating all supermoons since 1948, as the above video from NASA shows.

Don’t fear if you miss December’s supermoon, as January 2018 offers not just one but two. Make sure to look to the skies on the nights of January 2 and January 31st for the Full Wolf Moon and a Blue Moon.

  • Stupid Bug Lets Anyone Change Apple macOS High Sierra Passwords — Here’s How To Fix It (Forbes): 

If you’re running macOS High Sierra, don’t let anyone near your Apple Mac. It’s possible for anyone to login to the Mac and get the admin level of access to change passwords, get access to all data on the main account and lock the original user out. Fortunately, there’s a fix that should solve the problem, even as Apple works to patch. First, the bug. In what may go down as one of the most embarrassing vulnerabilities in Apple history, all a “hacker” needs to do is sign in as an “Other” user, type in “root” for a username and no password. Then they’re in.

Forbes tested the vulnerability and found it wide open, allowing a change of passwords for other accounts on the Mac. The initial finding came from Lemi Orhan Ergin, founder of Software Craftsmanship Turkey, who disclosed the bug via Twitter.

Patrick Wardle, a security researcher with Synack with a history of Apple hacks, tweeted how simple (and baffling) the bug really is.

Ohhh so (as others have said) click #1 -for whatever freaking reason- enables the root account with a blank pw (or whatever you entered) and then on click #2, logs you in/auths pic.twitter.com/Dhe6pGAh8f

Whilst it would normally require physical access, and won’t work if the Apple Mac is rebooted and has disk encryption enabled (and therefore requires another password), the attack opens up some serious issues. Thieves will now have an easy way into Apple Macs they’ve stolen, whilst the government can now quickly login to any devices they couldn’t get into before.

Wardle and other researchers have noted it’s possible to launch attacks without physical access to devices. But hacks from afar will only work where screen sharing features are turned on. It’s possible to check if they’re on (and turn them off) by going to the Sharing section of System Preferences.

There’s a fix!

Solutions to the issue are coming in. One that Forbes has tested appears to work. It involves opening a terminal and typing the command sudo passwd root. Then type the user’s normal password, which will then allow them to add a password to the root account. No longer will an unauthorized user be able to get in without that additional credential.

Wardle told Forbes the fact the fix worked confirmed what is happening: if root isn’t set up on macOS High Sierra, Apple will enable a new admin-level account without a password when prompted as per the attack above.

An Apple spokesperson said in an emailed statement: “We are working on a software update to address this issue. In the meantime, setting a root password prevents unauthorized access to your Mac. To enable the Root User and set a password, please follow the instructions here: https://support.apple.com/en-us/HT204012. If a Root User is already enabled, to ensure a blank password is not set, please follow the instructions from the ‘Change the root password’ section.”

Mac users would also be wise to add full disk encryption in the meantime.

  • Google’s AI knows when a stranger is looking at your phone (The Verge): 

Ever get the feeling someone is looking over your shoulder at your phone? Well, you might not have to worry about that in the future: Google’s researchers have developed an AI tool that can spot when someone is sneaking a peek at your screen.

The software — which was first spotted by Quartz — is called an “e-screen protector,” and is currently just in the research stage. (We don’t know if Google has plans to add it to future versions of Android, but we’ve reached out to check.) It’s quite simple: it uses your front-facing camera in combination with some face- and gaze-detection algorithms to identify anyone looking at your display.


In the demo video, above, you can see it reacting almost instantaneously to a suspicious looky-loos, switching the user’s screen to catch the culprit red-faced, and tagging them with some Snapchat-style rainbow vomit for good effect. According to Quartz, the creators of the e-screen protector, Google researchers Hee Jung Ryu and Florian Schroff, say the system works in all sorts of different lighting conditions, and has a reaction time of just two milliseconds. With that speed, even a passing glance is likely to be spotted!

Although we can’t say whether or not Google will ever bring this feature to Android, it’s a perfect example of the sort of small software tweaks AI can offer mobile devices. Google is doing more and more on-device machine learning with the help of its TensorFlow Lite software, and has added simple tools that automatically detect numbers and addresses when you’re copy and pasting text, and suggest quick replies to your emails, for example.

Features like this may look trivial in isolation, but collectively they’re going to add up to a whole lot more. Machine learning and AI are already becoming the big differentiators between smartphones — so expect to see more like this in the near future.

  • Microsoft is bringing clever tabs to every Windows 10 app (The Verge): 

One of the most popular feature requests (more than 20,000 votes) for Windows 10 is tabs in File Explorer. Microsoft has resisted adding tabs to File Explorer and apps in general for years, after originally introducing tabs in Internet Explorer 6 with a toolbar extension back in 2005. That resistance is about to change, in a big way. Microsoft is planning to add tabs to apps in Windows 10, allowing you to group together apps in a better way.

Windows 10 testers will first start testing what Microsoft calls “Sets” in the coming weeks, and the tab integration will be initially limited to Windows 10’s special Universal Windows Apps. Microsoft is planning to get as much feedback on the new feature as possible, before tweaking it and making it available to everyone. The software giant isn’t committing to a specific timeline for tabs.

The idea behind the tabs feature is revealed in the name. “Sets” is designed to group a particular task together. Let’s say you’re working on a Word document and you need to research data on the web or grab notes from an app, you could create Sets (or tabs) of these tasks in a single window. It’s designed to keep that browser tab you’re using to research work separate from the other one you’re using to watch YouTube, and to have tabs in a single window that are relevant to the tasks you’re performing in Windows.

I got a chance to see some early concepts for Sets earlier this month, and the feature seems like something that should have just been part of Windows 10 all along. It looks natural, and I can see the benefits even if it’s not something I’ll use all the time. Microsoft has some ambitions for Sets that go further than just the Windows desktop, though.

Like its Timeline feature of Windows 10, which will be available to testers in the next build, Sets are designed to let you carry on working on or from a mobile device By grouping tasks into these Sets, Microsoft is aiming to let iPhone and Android users start Sets and then resume them on a PC or vice versa. It’s a logical extension of Timeline, which groups together your apps in a similar way so you can resume them across mobile and PCs.

Microsoft is planning to extend these tabs to standard desktop apps like File Explorer or Notepad, and eventually to apps that have custom titlebars like Photoshop. An updated desktop version of Office will support Sets early next year. Microsoft’s real challenge with Sets will be convincing developers to embrace them on the mobile side, so apps can resume easily. That’s not an easy thing to solve, so I’d expect that type of experience will be limited to Office and Edge mobile initially.

The experience of Sets also includes a universal search feature and a new blank tab is identical to the new tab interface in the Microsoft Edge browser. Microsoft is essentially extending Edge into the shell of all apps in Windows 10, a move that will generate a lot of discussion. Microsoft ended up in court with the US Department of Justice back in 2001 over bundling Internet Explorer directly into Windows. Either way, computing and competition has changed a lot since then, and without some type of web functionality this tabs interface wouldn’t work efficiently.

Microsoft is planning to open tabs up to Windows 10 testers in the coming weeks, and the company will be testing it with a small subsection of testers initially. The plan is to get specific feedback before letting all Windows 10 testers get a closer look at the new tabs interface.

  • Facebook using AI to identify suicidal users and get help (Sky News):

Mark Zuckerberg, the company’s founder and chief executive, explained the move in a post on the platform, writing: “Here’s a good use of AI: helping prevent suicide.”

Facebook said it is starting to roll out the software beyond the US, and that it would eventually be available worldwide – except in the EU.

Facebook did not immediately respond to Sky News’ enquiries regarding why the proactive detection service would not be available in the EU.

Other services the social media company offers, such as the tag suggestions feature, are prohibited in the EU due to strict data protection laws.

The move came after Facebook announced a trial to tackle revenge pornography on the site by having users register their nude photographs ahead of time.

“Starting today we’re upgrading our AI tools to identify when someone is expressing thoughts about suicide on Facebook so we can help get them the support they need quickly,” Mr Zuckerberg said.

The upgrade to those tools followed a trial which Mr Zuckerberg said “helped us connect with first responders quickly more than 100 times”, although no other data regarding the trials was made available.

“With all the fear about how AI may be harmful in the future, it’s good to remind ourselves how AI is actually helping save people’s lives today.

“There’s a lot more we can do to improve this further,” he said.

“Today, these AI tools mostly use pattern recognition to identify signals – like comments asking if someone is okay – and then quickly report them to our teams working 24/7 around the world to get people help within minutes.

“In the future, AI will be able to understand more of the subtle nuances of language, and will be able to identify different issues beyond suicide as well, including quickly spotting more kinds of bullying and hate,” said Mr Zuckerberg.

Earlier in November, Prince William described anonymity online as “really, really dangerous” in a video to launch a new action plan against cyberbullying.

The Duke of Cambridge spoke to the mother of a son killed himself after being bullied online, and a young girl who also tried to take her own life at the age of 13 after suffering abuse through social media.

:: Anyone feeling emotionally distressed or suicidal can call Samaritans for help on 116 123 or email jo@samaritans.org in the UK.

  • Bungie Cancels Destiny 2: Curse of Osiris Stream To Address Fan Anger (Kotaku): 

In the wake of widespread anger over the state of Destiny 2, Bungie said today that it is canceling tomorrow’s livestream, which was meant to be the third of three streams promoting the game’s upcoming expansion, Curse of Osiris. Instead, Bungie said, it will address the overall state of the game tomorrow in a blog post.

Posting on Bungie’s forums this afternoon, David “Deej” Dague delivered the news:

Tomorrow, we had planned to conduct the final stream prior to the launch of “Curse of Osiris” to show off some of the weapons and armor the expansion includes. Instead, we are investing all our efforts into delivering some higher priority information about Destiny 2. You’ll hear from studio leadership about their assessment of Destiny all up, they’ll talk about our goals for the game going forward, and you’ll also learn about how we’re reacting to your feedback with some game updates that will arrive in the next few weeks.

That will appear on the Bungie Blog on Wednesday.

This comes after a bad few days for Destiny 2, as hardcore fans grumble not just over the recently changed XP system (which Bungie modified after players discovered it was rigged) but about the endgame, the loot system, and other perceived flaws in the popular shooter. Bungie had received a great deal of criticism for its lack of communication with fans, and the company now appears to be taking big steps to address that.

Curse of Osiris comes out on Tuesday, December 5. Tomorrow’s stream was scheduled to focus on the expansion’s new gear.

  • Viagra can be sold over the counter (BBC): 

Men will no longer require a prescription to obtain the impotence drug Viagra and will instead be able to buy it over the counter at pharmacies.

The decision by the UK Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency follows a public consultation.

It will be up to pharmacists to judge whether men over the age of 18 can safely be sold the little blue pills.

Manufacturer Pfizer hopes to get stocks of Viagra Connect (sildenafil 50mg) into UK pharmacies by spring 2018.

Experts say making the medication more widely available will help men who might not feel able to visit their GP about impotence.

The MHRA hopes it will stop some men buying unregulated medicines from websites operating illegally.

Mick Foy, MHRA’s group manager in vigilance and risk management of medicines, said: “This decision is good news for men’s health.

“Erectile dysfunction can be a debilitating condition, so it’s important men feel they have fast access to quality and legitimate care, and do not feel they need to turn to counterfeit online supplies which could have potentially serious side-effects.”

Pharmacists will decide whether treatment is appropriate and can offer advice on erectile dysfunction, usage of the medicine, potential side-effects and whether further consultation with a general practitioner is required.

Viagra Connect will not be sold to:

those with severe cardiovascular disorder or at high risk of cadiovascular disease

those with liver failure

those with severe kidney failure

men taking certain medicines that could cause a bad reaction when combined with Viagra

Men who are sold it will be advised that they can take a 50 mg tablet an hour before having sex, but should not use more than one pill a day.

Sildenafil is already available on NHS prescription free of charge.

Erection problems

Most men occasionally fail to get or keep an erection.

This is usually due to factors such as stress, tiredness, anxiety or drinking too much alcohol, says NHS Choices.

Men should see their GP or go to a sexual health clinic if erection problems keep happening because it can be a sign of an underlying health condition, it advises.

The MHRA received 47 responses to its consultation, with 33 in support of making viagra available off prescription and one ‘unsure’.

The 13 that did not support the proposal included eight pharmacists. Some were concerned that customers might withhold medical information from staff in order to get the treatment. Risk of abuse or misuse of the drugs was another worry.

In reaching its decision the MHRA judged that the benefits of permitting Viagra to be sold without a prescription would outweigh potential risks.

Denise Knowles, psychosexual therapist and counsellor at Relate, warned that taking a pill was not a sticking plaster for relationship problems.

“Many of the people I have spoken with have a misconception that it will give them a stronger erection or add to their desire. But it’s not there to enhance prowess.

“It’s not a magic pill that will cure problems in a relationship.”

  • Airbnb Finally Solved One Of The Biggest Hassles Of Traveling With Friends (Forbes): 

Last Christmas, Airbnb’s CEO Brian Chesky asked a simple question on Twitter: If Airbnb could launch anything in 2017, what would it be?

One of the top resounding answers was splitting payments among friends, and it’s easy to see why.

People who have traveled as a group know the hassle of putting a large reservation on the group organizer’s card. Then comes the task of chasing friends to pay their share in a timely manner.

It’s a headache, and one that Airbnb finally solved with the introduction of split payments. Starting Tuesday, the ability to split the payment between friends will become available globally.

While Chesky’s question predicted it would be a success, the company spent the last year building out how splitting a rental with friends would work. In February 2017, Airbnb acquired peer-to-peer payments startup Tilt, which was like an early precursor to Venmo or Square Cash. A few months later, Airbnb started quietly testing how it could use Tilt’s technology to help people traveling as a group. The early results were promising and more than 80,000 groups used it to make it easier to pay, the company said in a blog post.

Here’s how it works: Whoever is booking the Airbnb will have the option for 72 hours to split the payment among friends. The reservation will show as booked on a host’s calendar, but the group has three days to make sure friends pay their fair share.

If the group hasn’t paid in full at the end of the deadline, the person who did the original booking will be encouraged to pay the remainder in full and be given a final 24 hours to make the payment. Otherwise, the reservation will be canceled.

By default, it will be set so friends split the reservation equally, but it can be adjusted by certain increments so a couple, for example, could pay double the price from one account as needed. Currently, the maximum number of people who can split the reservation is 16.

Airbnb says it’s already seen that 30% of trips of that used split payments during the test brought new users to its platform. As Airbnb continues to add more luxury properties to its platform, the ability to split payment among guests may give it a small advantage compared to its other homesharing competitors, like Homeaway or VRBO.


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