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August 13, 2015

Female Engineers? Huh? Also, Coming Soon:

Ultra HD Blu-ray, Facebook Live & New 911 Rules

Barbara Ortutay,

AP Technology Writer

New York (AP) Thousands of female engineers, coders, self-described science nerds and other tech superstars joined a Twitter campaign this week to break down stereotypes about what engineers should look like.

As of Thursday afternoon, more than 75,000 people used the hashtag (hash)ILookLikeAnEngineer to post photos of themselves and promote gender diversity in technology, according to analytics firm Topsy.

The campaign started when Isis Anchalee, an engineer at tech startup OneLogin, got an avalanche of attention after her photo appeared in a recruitment ad for her company.

The ad features Anchalee, with long, wavy hair and glasses, smiling in a black T-shirt bearing her company logo. Many people could not believe that an attractive woman could also be an engineer at a tech company and assumed that the company had hired a model for its recruiting efforts.

``I didn’t want or ask for any of this attention, but if I can use this to put a spotlight on gender issues in tech I consider that to be at least one win,’’ she wrote in an essay on Medium.

Yes, attractive women are engineers, too!

As such, she suggested people use (hash)ILookLikeAnEngineer to post photos of themselves and redefine perceptions of what engineers should look like.

From the look of the photos, it’s working. And it’s not only women. Other traditionally underrepresented groups in tech, such as African-American men, have joined in too, as the campaign grows bigger each minute.

Facebook is launching its own live streaming servic, with a catch: It’s only for famous people.

The streaming tool, called Live, is part of Facebook’s Mentions app, which lets celebrities, athletes, politicians and other public figures interact with fans. Facebook says Live lets public figures host question and answer sessions, make announcements or take their fans behind the scenes, all in real time.

Live comes amid the popularity of two live-streaming apps available to anyone, Meerkat and Twitter’s Periscope. Facebook says it has been planning its service since last year, before Meerkat and Periscope launched.

The Live videos will be automatically published to the celebrity’s Facebook page so they can be viewed on demand. The page’s administrators can remove it, just like any other post. Although it’s possible to save streams on Periscope and Meerkat to your phone, this isn’t done automatically.

Ryan Nakashima,

AP Business Writer

Blu-ray players capable of showing movies with super-crisp images will likely hit stores this holiday season.

Ultra HD Blu-ray players support four times as many pixels as existing Blu-ray players. The Blu-ray Disc Association will start licensing the technical specifications for such players starting Aug. 24.

Currently, content for Ultra HD TV sets, also known as 4K, are limited to certain streaming videos offered by Netflix, Amazon, YouTube and M-Go. IHS estimates that 42 million homes worldwide will have 4K TVs by the end of the year. In addition, some media players from manufacturers like Sony let you watch 4K video downloaded to it.

Spending on physical media has been falling, with U.S. packaged disc sales down 14 percent to $2.8 billion in the first half of the year, while subscription streaming revenue grew 25 percent to $2.4 billion, according to the Digital Entertainment Group, an industry consortium pairing Hollywood studios and manufacturers.

Panasonic demonstrated its Blu-ray player at the International CES gadget show in January and is expected to be among the manufacturers that’ll have a model ready soon.

Expect bundles with 4K movie discs—though specific studios and bundle pricing haven’t been announced yet.

Ultra HD Blu-ray discs will provide picture quality up to resolutions of 3,840-by-2,160 pixels (which is known as 4K).

They will also support high frame rates up to 60 frames per second for hyper-realistic motion and object-based surround sound, including the Dolby Atmos and DTS:X formats, though studios decide which movies get those upgrades on a case-by-case basis.

Tali Arbel,

AP Technology Writer

The Federal Communications Commission has approved new rules designed to help people reach 911 and prepare for changes in home phone service as the old copper network that powers it gets replaced.

Companies such as AT&T and Verizon will have to let customers know when they’re turning off the copper network so customers can figure out if they need to change services that depend on it, including home burglar alarms and medical monitoring systems. They’ll give home customers at least three months’ notice.

``Changing technology is not a rationale for stifling service or competition,’’ FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler said during Thursday’s meeting. ``Changing technology does not change responsibility.’’

Another set of rules also mandates that when phone and cable companies sell Internet-based home phone systems that look and feel like an old-school phone, they must let customers know their limitations.

The copper network for phone lines is going away soon

That includes service going out when the power does, which can be dangerous in an emergency if someone needs to reach 911. Now home phone providers must sell backup batteries with at least eight hours of standby time. They will have to sell batteries that would last for 24 hours within three years.

Some consumer advocates are concerned that the batteries will be expensive for lower-income customers. Verizon sells an eight-hour backup battery for $40.

The rules are expected to go into effect in a few months.

The FCC also outlined procedures for next year’s auction of ``spectrum,’’ the airwaves that let you make calls, use the Internet on your phone and carry broadcast TV signals. The government wants to shift some of these signals from broadcasters to wireless carriers as people spend more time on their smartphones and tablets.

If the auction works, broadcast TV stations _ the ones you can watch for free with an antenna _ could choose to give up their channels. Those broadcasters would receive a share of payments from wireless carriers like Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile and Sprint, with the rest going to the government.

Scientists Are Baffled & Upset By Deadly Snake Fungus

By Wilson Ring

Associated Press

New Haven, VT(AP) Hidden on hillsides in a remote part of western Vermont, a small number of venomous timber rattlesnakes slither among the rocks, but their isolation can’t protect them from a mysterious fungus spreading across the eastern half of the country that threatens to wipe them out.

In less than a decade, the fungus has been identified in at least nine Eastern states, and although it affects a number of species, it’s especially threatening to rattlesnakes that live in small, isolated populations with little genetic diversity, such as those found in Vermont, New Hampshire, Massachusetts and New York.

In Illinois the malady threatens the eastern massasauga rattlesnake, which was a candidate for the federal endangered species list even before the fungus appeared.

Biologists have compared its appearance to the fungus that causes white nose syndrome in bats, which since 2006 has killed millions of the creatures and continues to spread across North America.

It’s unclear, though, if snake fungal disease, ``ophidiomyces ophiodiicola’’ was brought to the United States from elsewhere, as was white nose fungus, or if it has always been present in the environment and for some unknown reason is now infecting snakes, biologists say.

``I think potentially this could overwhelm any conservation effort we could employ to try to protect this last remaining population,’’ said Doug Blodgett, a biologist with the Vermont Department of Fish and Wildlife who has been studying the state’s rattlesnake population for 15 years. ``We don’t have any control over it. It’s just completely out there in the wild.’’

Eastern rattlesnake with growth circled in red

Rattlesnakes were once found across much of the country, but habitat loss and efforts by fearful humans to wipe them out reduced their numbers, especially at the northern edges of their range.

In New Hampshire, the disease helped halve the population of rattlesnakes—now estimated at several dozen—after it was first spotted in 2006, although it was only afterward that scientists linked the fungus to the decline, officials said.

Vermont’s population of timber rattlesnakes is down to two locations near Lake Champlain in the western part of the state with an estimated total population of several hundred.

An Associated Press reporter was allowed to accompany wildlife officials to a rattlesnake habitat on condition the exact location not be revealed out of concern that too much attention could further threaten them. Blodgett led an hours-long search for some of the elusive creatures until he found a pair hiding in a rocky crevice, though it wasn’t clear if they were infected. Later, a healthy single snake was found on the forest floor.

The disease can cause crusty scabs and lesions, sometimes on the head.

Jeffrey Lorch, a microbiologist with the U.S. Geological Survey’s National Wildlife Health Center in Madison, Wisconsin, said he’s been getting reports of snake fungal disease from all over the eastern United States. Not every location is reporting that the disease is threatening snake populations.

``It does seem to be a disease that has different effects in different areas,’’ Lorch said.

The fungus poses a greater risk to snakes that reproduce slowly, such as rattlesnakes, which can live up to 30 years, experts say.

In Illinois every year the disease infects about 15 percent of the population of about 300 of massasauga rattlesnakes, most of which are in Clinton County, with a mortality rate of 80 to 90 percent, said Matt Allender, a wildlife veterinarian and epidemiologist at the University of Illinois who started noticing the fungus in 2011. The mortality rate in infected timber rattlesnakes is estimated between 30 and 70 percent, he said.

The fungus’ impact on the massasauga is expected to play a part in the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s determination on whether to list the snake as endangered, officials said.

``I think that in populations that have been shrunk due to other mechanisms, such as habitat loss, other environmental changes, those types of things, are more at risk of going extinct from snake fungal disease mainly because it’s a smaller population,’’ Allender said. ``They have less of a buffer to withstand these diseases.’’

Part of the challenge in studying the disease is that snakes, especially venomous varieties, don’t get much sympathy from the public, which makes funding studies harder. Snakes are also harder to find than, say, white-nose-infected bats where scientists can go into a cave and see tens of thousands of carcasses, Lorch said.

The fungus has been found in all five rattlesnake populations in Massachusetts, but it doesn’t appear to have had the high mortality rate reported elsewhere, said Anne Stengle, a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Massachusetts who is overseeing a federal grant in nine states to study the fungus.

Since the initial hit, the decline in the Granite State’s timber rattlesnakes appears to have stabilized and some are reproducing, said New Hampshire Fish and Game Biologist Mike Marchand.

``I’m at least optimistic that there are animals that are successfully surviving from year to year as well as reproducing,’’ Marchand said. ``We had a pretty strong dip in the population.’’

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


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