Category Archives: language

We desperately need a way to defend against online propaganda

Despite years of fake news online, we still have no idea how to protect against it.

A new report in The Washington Post reveals that the Obama administration and intelligence community knew about Russian attempts to disrupt the 2016 election months in advance. But they did virtually nothing, mostly because they didn’t anticipate attacks from weaponized memes and propaganda bots.

Former deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes told the Post that the members of the intelligence community focused on more traditional digital threats like network penetration. They wanted to prevent e-mail leaks, and they also worried about Russian operatives messing with voting machines. “In many ways… we dealt with this as a cyberthreat and focused on protecting our infrastructure,” he said. “Meanwhile, the Russians were playing this much bigger game, which included elements like released hacked materials, political propaganda, and propagating fake news, which they’d pursued in other countries.”

Rhodes’ comments dovetail with many other reports over the past two years spotlighting how Russia has been honing its social-media propaganda skills. Last year, Time published a massive report in which senior intelligence officials talked about how Russians pretending to be American voters infiltrated social media groups, spread conspiracy stories via Facebook accounts for fictional media outlets, and bought Facebook ads to spread fake news.

Anyone who has ever succumbed to the clickbait headlines on Russia Today knows that Russian media hacks are adept at crafting dank memes of legendary stickiness. The weird part is that those hacks are now working alongside state-sponsored hackers. We don’t typically think of Facebook posts as a “cyberthreat,” but now we have ample evidence that they are.

In 2015, The New York Times published an article by Adrian Chen about Russian “troll farms” full of people paid to post pro-Putin comments on social media. A year later, Chen discovered that many of the Russian troll accounts had become “fake conservatives” posting about Trump. In a study published the day before the election, researchers at USC revealed that 20 percent of election-related tweets came from an army of 400,000 bots that appeared to originate in the US state of Georgia.

We know that these kinds of bot-driven memes fool ordinary people, in part because of two different incidents involving fake news about Ebola outbreaks. In 2014, a US nurse tried to return to her Maine home after treating Ebola patients in West Africa. That’s when the joke news site Amplifying Glass ran a story about how she was being treated in a hospital for symptoms of Ebola (she was not, and she was perfectly healthy). The story gained so much traction that the nurse was kicked out of her apartment by a landlord who feared exposure to the disease.

A couple of months later, the Russian troll farm that Chen followed for The New York Times tested its powers with its own fake Ebola story on Twitter. The farm used its thousands of accounts to spread disinformation about a fictional outbreak of Ebola in the state of Georgia. For a while, the story was so popular and widely shared that the hashtag #EbolainAtlanta was trending in Georgia.

when you figure out how you’ve been played pic.twitter.com/XLARbok9K4

— Swear Trek (@swear_trek) June 24, 2017

The Ebola stories are just two examples of how regular people get taken in by fake news—sometimes with dire consequences. Whether it’s a story in The Onion or fake news spread by state-sponsored trolls, people fall for it. And this has been going on for years. So why isn’t there a fake-news blocking tool yet?

Let’s return for a moment to the reaction that the Obama administration had when it realized that Russians were spreading fake news on US social media networks. The administration had no idea how to combat meme attacks without coming across as partisan. If Obama had come out immediately and warned people to beware of fake news that made Clinton look bad, he would have been pilloried. And for good reason: such a statement sounds exactly like the kind of propaganda he wanted to stop. So the Obama camp engaged in a tactic that dates back to the earliest days of the Web: don’t feed the trolls. Instead of calling out Russia’s propaganda bots, the administration said nothing.

And that’s pretty much where we’re at with fake news more generally. There have been weak efforts by Facebook and Google to label news as “disputed” if it might be fake. But we need more than that. We need to fundamentally change people’s expectations when it comes to what they’re reading online.

The problem is that most people weren’t raised to expect that their social spaces would be full of bots, blabbing the results of simple algorithms and infecting human conversations with misdirection. Rarely do audiences on Twitter and Facebook pause to wonder where their information is coming from.

So what is to be done? Helping Americans understand the difference between truthful information and malicious propaganda is a bipartisan issue. Plus, as I said earlier, it goes way beyond politics. Companies selling snake-oil “remedies” have everything to gain from fake health news, for example. Same goes for other hucksters. Marketing companies often hire social media teams to seed forums and comment sections with positive reviews of games and movies in order to sway public opinion and drum up business.

In a sense, social media audiences need basic “stranger danger” lessons. Every kid knows that the nice person offering candy and a ride might actually be trying to kidnap them. We need the same instincts in online public spaces, too. The friendly person tweeting at you from Georgia might actually be a bot under the control of Russian hackers. Don’t trust Internet people until you know them.

One of the most hopeful responses I’ve seen to these problems has come from an unlikely place: the Girl Scouts of America. The group has just created a cybersecurity badge that girls can earn alongside more traditional badges for skills like camping, first aid, and music (apparently the “whittling” badge I was so proud of as a kid is no longer offered).

It’s encouraging to see the Girl Scouts teaching cybersecurity to children, because this is the kind of basic skill that people will need more than ever in years to come.

Perhaps the next step will be encouraging teachers and librarians to teach kids defensive social-media skills. Lessons would start with the basics, like how to find the sources for an article and how to understand who has made edits on Wikipedia. More advanced students could be trained to recognize the kinds of bots that are used in propaganda campaigns. Eventually, students could learn to build tools that block known sources of malicious information, much the way Block Together works to prevent the spread of trolling and sockpuppet armies on Twitter.

We’re in the early stages of figuring out how to defend against weaponized memes, but that doesn’t mean we won’t be able to do it. In the end, there is a defense for every attack. But first we have to recognize the danger.

Potential jurors call Shkreli evil, snake—one blamed him for EpiPen price

Drug pricing scandal slows first day of trial over alleged Ponzi-like scheme.

Shkreli is facing eight counts of securities and wire fraud in connection to an alleged Ponzi-like scheme involving one of his old pharmaceutical companies, Retrophin. But the ex-CEO is infamous for something completely different: raising the price of a life-saving medication given to infants and people with HIV/AIDS by more than 5,000 percent overnight as CEO and founder of Turing Pharmaceuticals. Outrage over that unrelated move spilled into the courtroom today and stands to slow progress of the fraud trial.

In interviews with Judge Kiyo Matsumoto, potential jurors called Shkreli “evil” and “the face of corporate greed in America,” CNBC reports. One potential juror said, “He’s a snake.” Another admitted, “I have total disdain for the man.” One potential juror blamed Shkreli for the skyrocketing price of EpiPens, which are made by Mylan, a pharmaceutical company that has no connection with Shkreli.

All the admittedly biased potential jurors were excused, as were many others who simply had scheduling conflicts. By lunchtime, no jurors had been seated.

The colorful first day in court and the hampered progress may offer a glimpse of what is to come with the attention-seeking defendant. The trial is expected to take about four to six weeks. But as Shkreli’s defense attorney Benjamin Brafman noted at an earlier pre-trial hearing, Shkreli “travels to the beat of a very unique drummer.”

Brafman had advised Shkreli to keep quiet as he awaited the trial—he was charged and released on $5 million bail in December 2015. However, Shkreli has continued to talk with reporters and be active on social media. Earlier this year, he was banned from Twitter for harassing a journalist. In a recent live stream, Shkreli said that he was “so innocent, the jury, judge, and the prosecution are gonna give me an apology.”

Shkreli and his former counsel Evan Greebel are charged with allegedly defrauding investors of hedge funds that Shkreli formerly managed. They are also charged with siphoning $11 million in assets from Shkreli’s former pharmaceutical company, Retrophin. Brafman intends to argue in court that Shkreli lacked the requisite criminal intent to defraud investors and relied on his trusted counsel, Greebel.

MIT-Forscherin Katia Vega vereint Schönheit mit Technologie

Tattoos, Make-Up, Haar-Verlängerungen: Wenn all das mit Technologie angereichert und verknüpft wird, verbessert das den Körper, sagt Katia Vega vom MIT.

Wimpern, mit denen man Licht anmachen kann, Tattoos für Diabetiker und Haare, die Nachrichten verschicken: Mit ihrer „Beauty Technology“ macht die MIT-Forscherin Katia Vega den menschlichen Körper zur interaktiven Plattform. „So bleiben wir viel mehr wir selbst, als wenn wir irgendetwas nur am Körper tragen“, sagt sie.

Katia Vega entwickelt Hair Extensions, mit denen man im Notfall Hilfe rufen kann und spezielle Tattoos, die Diabetikern helfen, ihre Blutzuckerwerte im Auge zu behalten. Ihre Projekte fasst Vega, die am MIT Media Lab arbeitet, unter dem Begriff „Beauty Technology“ zusammen. Was sich dahinter verbirgt und warum Technik und der menschliche Körper sich näherkommen sollten, erklärt Vega im Interview.

WIRED: Was ist Beauty Technology?
Katia Vega: Beauty Technology integriert Elektronik in Kosmetik, die direkt auf der Haut, den Fingernägeln oder dem Haar angewendet werden kann, um so die Körperoberfläche in eine interaktive Plattform zu verwandeln. Stell dir vor, du hast Wimpern, mit denen du das Licht anmachen kannst. Oder Haare, die, wenn du mit der Hand über sie streichst, Nachrichten verschicken. Oder Fingernägel mit Chips, mit denen du die Tür öffnen kannst. Unser Körper wird zu einer Art Gerät, das mit anderen Geräten verbunden ist. Es ist eine neue Ära der Wearable Technology.

WIRED: Warum sind Technik und Kosmetik eine gute Kombination?
Vega: Kosmetik gibt es schon immer. Ich habe einen roten Lippenstift, meine Mutter hat einen roten Lippenstift, meine Großmutter auch. Seine Funktionalität ist aber immer die gleiche geblieben. Ich gebe der Kosmetik eine neue Funktion, indem ich sie interaktiv mache. Und auch die Technologie kommt unserem Körper so näher.

WIRED: Aber warum sollen sich Technologie und der menschliche Körper überhaupt so nahe kommen?
Vega: Bis vor einiger Zeit hatten wir nur Laptops und Smartphones. Aber heutzutage gibt es all diese zusätzlichen Technologien, die wir integrieren müssen, wie zum Beispiel Smartwatches oder Fitbits. Diese Technologien sind nicht Teil unseres Körpers, sondern wir müssen sie jeden Tag anziehen. Aber was ist, wenn ich zu diesem T-Shirt lieber etwas anderes anziehen würde? Das geht nicht. Dein Körper bleibt dagegen immer der gleiche. Wenn wir die Technologie also an unsere Körperoberfläche verschieben, können wir wir selbst bleiben und gleichzeitig all diese Technologien benutzen.

WIRED: Die Technik soll also natürlicher, menschlicher werden?
Vega: Ja. Die Frage ist: Wie kann man die Technik verstecken, so dass du immer noch hübsch aussiehst – oder wie auch immer du aussehen möchtest – und gleichzeitig eine Art neue Kraft hast.

WIRED: Make-up, künstliche Fingernägel oder Haarverlängerungen werden vor allem von Frauen getragen. Glauben Sie, das ändert sich in Zukunft?
Vega: Ich denke, diese Dinge werden auch von Männern genutzt werden. Jungs nutzen ja auch heute schon Kosmetik wie zum Beispiel Shampoo – denn auch die Art und Weise, wie wir uns waschen, ist Kosmetik. Eines meiner Projekte, winky mote, habe ich für einen Mann entwickelt: Felipe, ein früherer Jiu Jitsu Champion, der sich beim Training verletzte und seitdem querschnittsgelähmt ist. Wir haben eine Möglichkeit für ihn entwickelt, wie er mit seinen Augen den Fernseher bedienen kann. Wenn er mit dem linken oder rechten Auge blinzelt, kann er den Kanal wechseln. Wenn er beide Augen schließt, kann er den Fernseher ein- und ausschalten. Aber mir gefällt auch der Gedanke, dass ich Technologie speziell für Mädchen entwickle, denn es gibt zu viel Technik für Männer.

WIRED: Ist das auch eine Rückmeldung, die Sie von Frauen erhalten?
Vega: Ich hatte das nicht erwartet, aber viele Mädchen und Wissenschaftlerinnen, die sich meine Arbeit anschauen, sagen, dass sie sie toll finden, weil alles sonst so männlich ist. Meine Arbeit wurde dagegen für Mädchen und auch von Mädchen geschaffen. Ich sehe auch, wie das für viele Mädchen ein guter Einfluss ist, sich selbst mehr einzubringen und Technik nicht nur zu nutzen, sondern auch zu schaffen. Das freut mich.

WIRED: Es geht bei Ihren Projekten aber nicht nur um das Aussehen. Sie haben ein Tattoo entwickelt, das auch einen medizinischen Nutzen hat.
 

Katia Vega entwickelt Technologie, die als Teil des Körpers funktioniert

Vega: Ja, „The Dermal Abyss“ ist ein neues Projekt des MIT Media Labs und der Harvard Medical School, das die Möglichkeiten eines interaktiven Tattoos beleuchtet. Unsere Motivation war, ein Portal in den Körper zu schaffen, indem wir die Haut zu einem Display machen, das abhängig von Biodaten die Farbe ändert. Jemand mit Diabetes könnte also zum Beispiel anhand der Farbe seines Tattoos erkennen, ob sich seine Blutzuckerwerte verändert haben. Damit kann man Informationen aus dem Körperinneren an der Oberfläche sehen – ohne irgendwelche Tests machen zu müssen. Wir haben jetzt erst mal ein Proof of Concept gemacht. Um es wirklich zu implementieren, sind noch viele Tests nötig. Aber wir haben extrem viel Rückmeldung zu diesem Projekt bekommen. Es hat mich sehr überrascht, dass so viele Menschen diese Technologie nutzen wollen. Es zeigt auch, welche Möglichkeiten die Biotechnologie hat.

Judge rips lawyers in IP rift over viral Facebook childbirth video

Judge says media should be paid the “costs of defending this frivolous litigation.”

The Supreme Court said that the imposition of a fee award against a copyright holder should be denied if the rights holder held an “objectively reasonable” belief that there was infringement—even if the copyright holder loses the lawsuit.

Today, we’re seeing another example in practice on how that ruling is playing out. A New York federal judge on Wednesday ruled that no “reasonable attorney” would have sued news organizations for broadcasting or publishing seconds-long clips from the 45-minute live Facebook video of a childbirth. Hence, the media outlets that were on the receiving end of the lawsuit are entitled to recover what may amount to hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal costs.

“No reasonable lawyer with any familiarity with the law of copyright could have thought that the fleeting and minimal uses, in the context of news reporting and social commentary, that these defendants made of tiny portions of the 45-minute video was anything but fair,” US District Judge Lewis Kaplan of New York wrote.

Kaplan was ruling in a fees motion as part of a failed copyright case brought by the father who live-streamed the birth of his son by mother Sarah Dome. The suit targeted ABC, NBC, Yahoo, and COED Media.

Kaplan, calling the lawsuit “frivolous,” concluded that awarding fees to the defendants “would much better serve the purposes of the Copyright Act than the denial of such awards.”

Kali Kanongataa started broadcasting his partner giving birth on Facebook in May 2016. He intended to share it with just family and friends. He realized the birth was actually streaming publicly after about half an hour, but he decided to leave it that way. That led to about 120,000 people worldwide watching the delivery.

In response to his suit, (PDF) ABC prevailed by claiming that using 22 seconds of the 45-minute video was a “textbook example of fair use.”

Fair use is a defense to copyright infringement if certain elements are met. The US Copyright Office says fair use is decided on a case-by-case basis. “The distinction between what is fair use and what is infringement in a particular case will not always be clear or easily defined. There is no specific number of words, lines, or notes that may safely be taken without permission. Acknowledging the source of the copyrighted material does not substitute for obtaining permission,” the US Copyright Office says.

That said, there are at least four factors that judges must consider when deciding fair use: the purpose of use, the nature of the copyrighted work, the amount and substantiality of the portion taken, and the effect of the use upon the potential market.

Kanongataa’s lawyers from New York—Yekaterina Tsyvkin and Richard Liebowitz—did not immediately respond for comment. The judge gave the media companies three weeks to say how much they think they should be awarded in costs associated with defending the lawsuit.

Special cells explain why cabbage and stress churn your guts

When a type of cell in the intestine detects dietary irritants and stress hormones, it sends distress signals to the brain, telling it to move things along

Have you ever needed to hurry to the toilet during times of stress or after eating a spicy meal? This may be because taste buds lining your intestine can sense inflammatory chemicals and warn your brain to move things along.

We know little about these taste buds, known as enterochromaffin cells. They first provoked curiosity when it was discovered that they produce 90 per cent of the body’s serotonin, a chemical mostly known for regulating mood, appetite and sleep in the brain.

To find out why gut cells are releasing such large amounts of a brain chemical, David Julius at the University of California, San Francisco and his colleagues have been studying these cells in mini-intestines, grown from mouse cells in the lab.

They have discovered that enterochromaffin cells have receptors for sensing dietary irritants, stress hormones and bacterial byproducts. When exposed to these substances, the cells pump out serotonin molecules, which activate intestinal nerve endings that connect back to the brain.

The brain responds by speeding up bowel movements, or – if the situation is really bad – inducing diarrhoea or vomiting. “It might also give you a general sense of discomfort as a way of letting you know you’ve got some kind of inflammatory episode going on in there,” says Julius.

The team found that the dietary irritant that activated this response most strongly was allyl isothiocyanate – a sulphur-containing compound found in wasabi, horseradish, cabbage and broccoli. These foods are known to affect gut movements and cause abdominal grumblings when eaten in excess.

Stress hormones – including adrenaline and noradrenaline – also had an activating effect. Levels of these chemicals in the gut rise in response to local inflammation there, but may also increase in response to general stress, says Julius. More research is needed, but this may be part of the link between stress and digestive issues, he says.

The other major activator of the cells was a bacterial byproduct known as isovalerate. This substance is thought to be a marker of bacterial imbalances in the gut, and has been linked to abdominal pain.

All the substances that stimulated enterochromaffin cells have been implicated in irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) – a condition involving alternating episodes of constipation and diarrhoea. “We’re now looking into whether these cells might be hypersensitive in people with IBS,” says Julius.

Already, there is evidence that antidepressants that boost serotonin levels – selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) – help relieve constipation for some people with IBS, says Waliul Khan at McMaster University in Ontario, Canada. “This is consistent with increased serotonin causing increased gut motility,” he says.

Drugs that lower serotonin levels, like the anti-nausea drug ondansetron, are sometimes used to reduce gut motility and relieve diarrhoea in people with IBS, says Julius. “But this drug acts on serotonin receptors all around the body, so it’s not very targeted,” he says. His team’s findings may lead to more targeted treatments for IBS and other gastrointestinal disorders, he says.

More on these topics:

Grenfell Tower: Eleven high rises ‘fail fire-risk tests’

Cladding on about 600 high rises in England is being tested, as Premier Inn admits concerns about three of its hotels.

Eleven residential high-rise buildings in eight local authority areas have been found to be covered in combustible cladding following safety tests.

It comes as tests are being carried out on about 600 high rises across England.

Meanwhile, the BBC has learned that Premier Inn is “extremely concerned” about cladding on three of its hotels.

Cladding is thought to have contributed to the rapid spread of fire at Grenfell Tower, in which at least 79 people are believed to have died.

Until now, safety fears over cladding have centred on council high rises, but concerns appear to reach beyond the housing sector.

Premier Inn has told BBC Newsnight that cladding on its hotels in Maidenhead, Brentford and Tottenham did not appear to comply with government guidance for tall buildings – although it did appear to be a less flammable type than that used at Grenfell Tower.

The hotel chain said an independent expert has assured them that the hotels were safe to stay open given their “robust” safety measures including fire detectors and smoke alarms in every room.

The hotels do not operate a “stay put” policy and have multiple means of escape.

Newsnight’s Chris Cook said Premier Inn was just one of a long list of places that could have fire safety issues – and were only singled out by the programme because they responded so quickly and in full to his questions.

The Department for Communities and Local Government has written to all local authority and housing association chief executives to advise them on steps to take if tower blocks in their area are found to be clad in combustible panels.

Communities Secretary Sajid Javid has also written to all MPs saying landlords of the 11 affected buildings have been told to inform their tenants – once done, the areas could be identified to the public.

Only Camden, Manchester and Plymouth are named in his letter, which also says the Army has been assisting with building repairs.

Speaking earlier, the prime minister’s spokesman said extra checks by the fire service would determine whether the 11 high-rise buildings found to have combustible cladding were safe and what – if any – action needed to be taken.

He pointed out that a failed cladding test did not necessarily mean a building was unsafe – that would depend on the amount of cladding used and where it was fitted.

Arconic, an engineering and manufacturing company, said one of its products, Reynobond PE (polyethylene) – an aluminium composite material – was “used as one component in the overall cladding system” of Grenfell Tower.

“We will fully support the authorities as they investigate this tragedy,” a spokesman for the US-based firm said.

The BBC has established that Reynobond PE was issued a certificate in the UK in 1997 allowing it to be used on high rise buildings. Chancellor Philip Hammond has said he thought the Grenfell cladding was banned in the UK.

An inquiry into whether it did in fact meet fire safety regulations is due to be published by the weekend.

Earlier, footage emerged showing the prime minister being booed after her latest visit to meet residents of Grenfell Tower.

In the video, cries of “shame on you” are heard but Theresa May does not appear to respond as she is ushered into her official car by waiting security officers.

In the wake of the Grenfell Tower tragedy, councils were told to give the government samples of cladding used in their tower blocks for testing.

Cladding is typically fitted to the outside of high-rise buildings to improve insulation and tidy up the appearance of the exterior.

A Downing Street spokeswoman said no-one would be left to live in unsafe buildings.

“They will be rehoused if they need to be and landlords will be asked to provide alternative accommodation where that’s possible,” she said.

Arnold Tarling, a member of the Association for Specialist Fire Protection, told BBC 5 live that removing combustible cladding around the country could cost “hundreds of millions of pounds”.

Tests showed that decorative cladding around Village 135, a tower block in south Manchester, could have been made with the same materials as the Grenfell Tower.

As a result, that cladding would be replaced “as soon as possible so that residents feel reassured”, Wythenshawe Housing Group said.

Another of the blocks found to have combustible cladding is on Camden Council’s Chalcots estate, in north London.

The panels, found to have been made up of aluminium with a polyethylene core, are now being removed, the council said.

Its leader Georgia Gould said the panels were “not to the standard” that the council had commissioned, and it would be informing the contractor behind the work that they would be taking legal advice.

Three tower blocks in Plymouth have also been found to be clad in combustible panels, local Labour MP Luke Pollard has said.

He is calling for the government to pay for cladding on the Mount Wise buildings to be “urgently” replaced.

John Clark, CEO of Plymouth Community Homes which manages the buildings, said extra fire safety precautions were being introduced after tests showed the cladding was “aluminium coated with a polyethylene core”.

By Jim Reed, BBC Victoria Derbyshire programme

Residents at a 22-storey block of flats in Tottenham, north London, have been sent an email – seen by the BBC’s Victoria Derbyshire programme – saying the building has the same cladding as Grenfell Tower.

Rivers Apartments – which is shared ownership, so classed as social housing – was built just two years ago, with the cladding incorporated as part of the design.

It is understood the block is clad in Reynobond PE, the same brand of cladding believed to have been used on Grenfell Tower.

The programme was told the tower passed all building regulation checks by Haringey Council.

Unlike Grenfell Tower, this block does contain modern safety features, such as a sprinkler system.

Newlon Housing Trust, the housing association that part-owns the block, said it had arranged with the fire service to carry out more checks.

It is still waiting for final test results to confirm it is the most flammable type of cladding.

It says the cladding on the building may have to be replaced.

Grenfell Tower is coming to be seen as a “political symbol of inequality”, the BBC’s Iain Watson said.

The new Labour MP for Kensington, Emma Dent Coad, told the Commons the “burnt-out carcass” of the tower revealed the “true face” of her constituency, with poverty, malnutrition and overcrowding existing alongside wealth.

In her maiden speech, she criticised people who think social tenants have “no right to live in an area like desirable Kensington”, and called for fire service cuts to be reversed.

Mrs May said she expected to name the judge who will lead a public inquiry into the fire within the next few days.

“No stone will be left unturned. For any guilty parties there will be nowhere to hide,” she warned.

Since the fire on 14 June, more than £700,000 has been paid out to survivors – none of which will have to be repaid, said Mrs May.

Resources, including healthcare and accommodation, would be available to everyone affected by the fire, regardless of their immigration status, she added.

The fire destroyed 151 homes – most in the tower block itself, but also a number of surrounding properties.

Mrs May said that 164 “suitable properties” had now been found for those made homeless, and they were being checked over before residents can move in.

The 600 figure does not include Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, which have autonomous powers in housing.

The Scottish government and Welsh ministers have said that none of their council high-rise blocks has cladding of the type said to have been used in the Grenfell Tower.

Similarly, there is no evidence of Grenfell Tower-type cladding used on tower blocks managed by the Northern Ireland Housing Executive.

Checks on other high-rise buildings owned by housing associations or private developers in Northern Ireland and Scotland are continuing.

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Three million EU citizens in the UK would get the right to stay after Brexit, under PM’s proposals.

Pelosi defends leadership following special election loss

WASHINGTON (AP) — Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi defended her leadership, and her job, on Thursday in the face of needling from President Donald Trump and grumbling from fellow House Democrats exasperated after a high-profile special election loss. “So you want me to sing my praises, is that what you’re saying?” the California Democrat remarked dismissively to reporters when asked why she should stay on as leader. “Well, I’m a master legislator. I’m a strategic, politically astute leader. My leadership is recognized by many around the country.”

FILE – In this June 9, 2017 House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., speakson Capitol Hill in Washington. Democratic Party divisions are on stark display after a disappointing special election loss in a hard-fought Georgia congressional race. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

Democratic candidate for 6th congressional district Jon Ossoff, left, concedes to Republican Karen Handel while joined by his fiancee Alisha Kramer at his election night party in Atlanta, Tuesday, June 20, 2017. (AP Photo/David Goldman)

In this March 28, 2017 photo, House Ways and Means Committee member Rep. Bill Pascrell Jr., D-N.J. speaks during a meeting on Capitol Hill in Washington. Democratic Party divisions are on stark display after a disappointing special election loss in a hard-fought Georgia congressional race. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

The leadership of the House Democratic Caucus tried to put the best face on Tuesday’s special election losses in Georgia and South Carolina by saying they’re making progress, and the GOP victories were much more narrow than in the past. (June 21)

Andra Gillespie, an associate professor of political science at Emory University, says Democrat Jon Ossoff wasn’t able to overcome Republican Karen Handel’s advantage in Georgia’s 6th Congressional District. (June 21)

The leadership of the House Democratic Caucus tried to put the best face on Tuesday’s special election losses in Georgia and South Carolina by saying they’re making progress, and the GOP victories were much more narrow than in the past. (June 21)

WASHINGTON (AP) — Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi defended her leadership, and her job, on Thursday in the face of needling from President Donald Trump and grumbling from fellow House Democrats exasperated after a high-profile special election loss.

“So you want me to sing my praises, is that what you’re saying?” the California Democrat remarked dismissively to reporters when asked why she should stay on as leader. “Well, I’m a master legislator. I’m a strategic, politically astute leader. My leadership is recognized by many around the country.”

The leadership of the House Democratic Caucus tried to put the best face on Tuesday’s special election losses in Georgia and South Carolina by saying they’re making progress, and the GOP victories were much more narrow than in the past. (June 21)

“That is why I’m able to attract the support that I do, which is essential to our elections, sad to say,” Pelosi added, in a reference to her unparalleled fundraising hauls.

Pelosi’s defiant comments came as Democrats remained angry and divided after throwing some $30 million into a House race in Georgia on Tuesday, only to end up with a loss that wasn’t even very close. Republican Karen Handel beat Democrat Jon Ossoff by around 5 percentage points in the suburban Atlanta district previously represented by Tom Price, now the Health and Human Services secretary.

Democrats lost another race in South Carolina that same night, and that followed previous disappointments in Montana and Kansas.

All the races were on GOP-friendly terrain. Pelosi and other Democratic leaders insisted that they demonstrated important progress by coming in a close second, and have a good shot at taking back the House in next year’s midterm elections. They must pick up 24 seats to do so.

But some rank-and-file House Democrats scoffed at such explanations and raised questions about Pelosi’s continued leadership. A group of her critics met Thursday in New York Democratic Rep. Kathleen Rice’s office, though it was not clear what if anything would come of it.

“If we take back the House in 2018 then I think she’d stay leader,” said Rep. Ruben Gallego, D-Ariz. “If we don’t, then I think it’s incumbent upon her and all of us to reassess who our leadership should be.”

Trump himself weighed in over Twitter Thursday morning with digs at Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York.

“I certainly hope the Democrats do not force Nancy P out. That would be very bad for the Republican Party – and please let Cryin’ Chuck stay!” Trump wrote.

Pelosi brushed off the tweet, contending that Trump hadn’t actually written it himself because “it’s a classic Republican line.”

In fact Pelosi, 77, has emerged as a favorite GOP bogeyman and was the target of a barrage of negative advertising in the Georgia House race, mocking her as a San Francisco liberal and tying her to Ossoff.

The apparent effectiveness of such attacks alarmed some fellow Democrats, and they show no signs of letting up. On Thursday, the National Republican Senatorial Committee sent out a press release attacking Nevada Democratic Rep. Jacky Rosen over her ties to Pelosi. Rosen is a likely candidate for Senate against the most endangered GOP Senate incumbent, Dean Heller of Nevada.

Pelosi said Republicans will always make a target of Democratic leaders, saying they did so with legendary former House Speaker Tip O’Neill and many others.

“Usually they go after the most effective leaders because they want to diminish the opportunity that we have,” Pelosi said.

“I think I’m worth the trouble, quite frankly.”

Pelosi, 77, has led the House Democratic caucus for nearly 15 years, from the minority into the majority and back again. She has beat back all comers, including last fall, when Democratic Rep. Tim Ryan of Ohio ran against her. Ryan fell well short but garnered dozens of votes, enough to underscore dissatisfaction with Pelosi and with her aging leadership team that has left promising young Democrats with few places to rise.

Pelosi also incorrectly predicted that Democrats were poised to take back the House last year, leading some of her colleagues to feel that this time around, she needs to deliver. Democrats have been chafing in the minority since they were thrust there in 2010 after risky votes in favor of President Barack Obama’s initiatives including the Affordable Care Act.

But Pelosi continues to command great loyalty from many in the House, and she insisted her position was not in jeopardy.

“I feel very confident in the support that I have in my caucus,” she said. “We don’t agonize. We organize. So let’s get started on winning the races where we really do have a chance.”

___

Associated Press writer Kevin Freking contributed to this report.

A remaster with no old code: Crash Bandicoot was rebuilt nearly from scratch

Just enough source material was salvaged, along with a happenstance speech of old.

Activision invited Ars to check out the near-final game one more time ahead of its June 30 launch, and, for some reason, they thought the most exciting news they had to offer was a new playable character. (Crash’s sister, Coco, will be playable in all three games, but she’s a cosmetic swap with zero unique moves.)

But after hammering developer Vicarious Visions with question after question, I got something more interesting out of the team: the amount of from-scratch work that was required to make this remaster.

“Almost everything was missing,” Vicarious designer Dan Tanguay said to Ars in an interview. By “everything,” he means all of the Crash games’ source code and reference materials.

“The original engine was specifically built for PlayStation 1,” Tanguay said. “Naughty Dog pushed [the PS1] to the limits. They made a fantastic engine for doing that. That engine didn’t see the light of day beyond PlayStation 1, as far as I know, and it certainly wasn’t usable by us. Any code, anything like that, we didn’t have access to.”

Thankfully for Vicarious, the team did uncover a crucial data set: all three games’ 3D meshes, provided by both Sony and Naughty Dog as a series of hard drives. (“They were compressed in some wacky format that we had to decode,” Tanguay pointed out.) Meshes don’t make an entire game, of course—far from it. Data on the original games’ animations, characters, artificial intelligence, control timing, textures, and even a lot of the music was gone (though Tanguay confirms some musical data was recovered to help the team lock into songs’ timing and MIDI instrumentation layers).

All the meshes did was help the team nail the architecture and scale of the worlds Crash would run, jump, spin, and repeatedly die in.

The rest, Vicarious producer Kara Massie said, came down to eyeballing and video comparisons. Crash remaster prototypes would run alongside video footage of the original games to confirm timings. The team relied on a group of “hardcore fans in quality assurance and design” who offered notes and complaints after testing each build. The game’s art team had a limited amount of concept art to access, so its members were encouraged to also study up on Crash‘s visual inspirations, including Who Framed Roger Rabbit and Animaniacs.

Massie freely admitted that Vicarious’ staff had combed various forums and guide sites on the Internet to double-check specific gameplay details. When asked a pointed question about whether Vicarious specifically lifted any GameFAQs.com guides, the game’s representatives burst into surprisingly loud laughter, then carefully said they appreciated the information they gathered from “all” online Crash communities.

“Thirty really allowed us to make sure we put as much on the screen as possible, to capture that original visual spectacle,” Massie said.The team also has classic-gaming speedrunners in mind, and Tanguay said that many speed-assisting exploits from the original trilogy have been preserved. “We took [each exploit] on a case-by-case basis,” Tanguay said. “In some levels, [exploits] are absolutely key. We left some in there, and we added some new ones to discover. I’m also of the opinion that we have to earn speedrun love.” (To that end, Tanguay admitted that his team discovered relatively late in the process how differently each sequel’s breakable crates worked compared to the others, which matters for the sake of how quickly Crash can spin-smash through them.)

Tanguay was particularly proud of one bit of memory recall, which he used to allegedly preserve the exact ways Crash 1-3 varied based on the chosen difficulty level. Turns out, the series’ original developers hosted a GDC panel years ago that went into the nitty-gritty of how the game’s difficulty levels were tuned. “I, surprisingly enough, attended that lecture,” Tanguay says. “I got this!”

When asked a follow-up question about why the team had to rely on old anecdotes, as opposed to having former Crash developers coming on board as official consultants, Massie made clear that she and her team were happy with how many assets and materials they’d been given. She also said her teammates showed off each major gameplay reveal of their project to members of the original Crash teams at Naughty Dog and Sony “out of courtesy” before showing them to the public.

Vicarious has gone to great lengths to rebuild the earliest Crash games, and, from my cursory glances, the team appears to have preserved their most core elements, on both a micro and macro level. (We’ll hopefully get a better look at the remasters ahead of the collection’s June 30 launch.) But thanks to a mix of missing code and inability to carry older assets over to newer engines, the N. Sane Trilogy will never share millisecond-level precision with its source material.

Not every classic series is so lucky to afford so much build-from-scratch design, programming, art, and animation work to get as close as this one appears to, either. Software makers of all walks, from gaming to productivity, would be wise to read about this N. Sane remaster and, you know, put a few hard drives and backup utilities in deep freeze. Just in case.

Uber founder Travis Kalanick resigns after months of turmoil

Travis Kalanick, chief executive of ride-sharing service Uber, resigns following pressure from investors.

Uber boss Travis Kalanick has resigned as chief executive after pressure from shareholders.

His resignation comes after a review of practices at the firm and scandals including complaints of sexual harassment.

Last week he said he was taking an indefinite leave of absence following the sudden death of his mother in a boating accident.

Mr Kalanick will remain on the board of the ride-hailing firm.

Five major Uber investors demanded Mr Kalanick’s immediate resignation as chief executive, the New York Times said.

Mr Kalanick reportedly said: “I love Uber more than anything in the world and at this difficult moment in my personal life I have accepted the investors request to step aside so that Uber can go back to building rather than be distracted with another fight.”

Uber’s board said in a statement: “Travis has always put Uber first. This is a bold decision and a sign of his devotion and love for Uber.

“By stepping away, he’s taking the time to heal from his personal tragedy while giving the company room to fully embrace this new chapter in Uber’s history. We look forward to continuing to serve with him on the board.”

Analysis: Dave Lee, BBC North America technology reporter, San Francisco

Surely the most dramatic fall from grace the start-up world has ever seen, a scalp so big it will have chief executives across this city sitting bolt upright, and thinking: “If Travis can get booted out of Uber… no-one is safe.”

What started out as a PR inconvenience has left the company without, to name just a few, a chief executive officer, chief operating officer, chief technology officer and chief financial officer. Uber is in tatters, engulfed by its own aggression.

Mr Kalanick embodied his company’s prevailing attitude: success at all costs. It saw Uber dominate the ride-sharing world, his chutzpah enabling the company to attract investment so effectively that last year Uber alone raised more money than the entire UK start-up scene.

But in doing so he didn’t play fair. He created a company that deceived local regulators, neglected the well-being of employees, wound-up drivers, troubled investors, obtained a rape victim’s medical records and allegedly stole trade secrets from a rival.

All this time Uber’s investors will have been weighing things up. What’s more risky to their investment – removing the man who made Uber what it is, or keeping him on? For the first time it’s become the latter – and Mr Kalanick is out the door.

Dan Primack, business editor of the Axios news service, was one of the first to report the investor demands for Mr Kalanick to go.

Mr Primack said a group of investors, but particularly Bill Gurley of venture capitalist firm Benchmark, had put pressure on Mr Kalanick to resign.

“It’s important to note: Travis controlled the board in terms of votes, so really, it was a vey big uphill climb for [Mr] Gurley and the other investors to get this done,” Mr Primack said.

Uber’s future prospects were now “pretty bright”, Mr Primack added.

The firm has been searching for a chief operating officer, but now can seek out Fortune 500 chief executives to take over the top spot, he said.

The ride-hailing company has had a series of recent controversies, including the departure of other high-level executives.

Eric Alexander, the former head of Uber’s Asia-Pacific business, left after a report that he had obtained the medical records of a woman who was raped by an Uber driver in 2014.

Mr Alexander reportedly shared them with Mr Kalanick, senior vice-president Emil Michael and others.

Mr Alexander was fired earlier this month, and Mr Michael later left Uber.

Board member David Bonderman made a sexist remark at a meeting about workplace practice recommendations last week and then resigned as a director.

In February Uber said it was investigating “abhorrent” sexual harassment claims made by former Uber engineer Susan Fowler.

This month Uber said it had fired more than 20 staff and had taken action against others following a review of more than 200 HR complaints that included harassment and bullying.

There has also been a lawsuit from Google’s parent company, Alphabet, over alleged theft of trade secrets related to driverless cars.