Schoolchildren have won a competition by designing an app which transcribes school lessons for people who are deaf or who have hearing loss.

It was part of a competition run by Amazon Web Services (AWS) to encourage young people to consider careers in technology.

As prize winners they will have the Connect Hearo app developed by AWS. It will then be rolled out for use in schools.

BBC Click finds out more.

See more at Click’s website and @BBCClick

Lawyers representing users of bankrupt cryptocurrency exchange QuadrigaCX are asking Canadian authorities to exhume the body of its founder.

They say they want an exhumation given “questionable circumstances” surrounding his death.

Gerald Cotten died suddenly last year in India from complications related to Crohn’s disease.

Following his death, the exchange was unable to locate or secure significant cryptocurrency reserves.

When he died, the 30-year-old founder was the only person who had passwords to digital wallets containing C$180 million ($137m; £105m) in cryptocurrencies.

His untimely death forced the closure of QuadrigaCX, which had some 115,000 users at the time.

Online rumours have circulated since, speculating that Cotten faked his own death and sought to abscond with the funds, though no evidence of such a scheme has been revealed in the year since he died.

On Friday, the legal team representing users of the platform in the bankruptcy proceedings sent a letter to the Royal Canadian Mounted Police seeking an exhumation and post-mortem autopsy be performed on Cotten’s body “to confirm both its identity and the cause of death”.

They say information revealed during the proceedings “further highlight the need for certainty around the question of whether Mr Cotten is in fact deceased”.

Earlier this year, a report by auditor Ernst & Young found significant problems in how the exchange was managed, including finding that Cotten created certain accounts on the Quadriga platform under aliases that may have been used to trade on the exchange.

It was also found that substantial funds were transferred to Cotten personally and to other related parties.

The auditor managed to retrieve approximately C$33m in missing funds.

It confirmed in August it was aware of “at least four independent active law enforcement or regulatory reviews in progress” related to the platform’s demise, which includes the US Federal Bureau of Investigation.

In a statement sent through her lawyer on Friday, Cotten’s widow said she “is heartbroken to learn of this request”.

Jennifer Robertson said her late husband’s death “should not be in doubt”, adding it is unclear how its confirmation “would assist the asset recovery process further”.

…So consider rerouting your journey through that

Scientists have discovered a dangerous hotspot in Earth’s Van Allen radiation belts that spews so-called “killer electrons” that can knacker satellites and spacecraft.

Our home world is surrounded by two donut-shaped Van Allen radiation belts teeming with electrically charged particles. The inner belt stretches from 400 to 6,000 miles above our planet’s surface, and the outer one ranges from 8,400 to 36,000 miles out.

The electrons and protons in the belts are tiny in size, though they pack a sizable punch as they zoom around close to the speed of light. Any satellites that fly through the belts are pelted by the particles, which can damage any on-board electrical equipment, such as sensors and cameras.

Killer electrons n these belts pose an even greater risk: their energies run up to millions of electron volts, which can completely frazzle or kill passing spacecraft.

Now, physicists led by boffins at Nagoya University, Japan, have homed in on one region in particular of the belts that produces these killer electrons.

“An important topic in space weather science is understanding the dynamics of killer electrons in the Van Allen radiation belt,” Yoshizumi Miyoshi, a professor at the Institute for Space-Earth Environmental Research at Nagoya University, said this week. “The results of this study will improve the modelling and lead to more accurate forecasting of killer electrons in Van Allen radiation belts.”

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The eggheads found this killer-electron hotspot by analyzing readings from the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency’s Arase satellite and NASA’s Van Allen Probes. This hotspot pumps out accelerated electron fluxes with energies from 500,000 to 2 million electron volts, according to a paper published in Geophysical Research Letters.

Scientists believe these killer electrons are hopped up after interacting with ultra-low-frequency plasma waves. The paper supports that idea. The Van Allen Probes detected signs that electrons were, indeed, interacting with these ultralow frequency waves on one side of the outer belt, which contained the hotspot area. The other side of the belt without the hotspot, however, contained none of these ultralow frequency plasma waves.

By mapping the location of these killer-electron hotspots, boffins can avoid sending spacecraft through those treacherous environments.

A previous study confirmed a 60-year-old theory that the energetic protons and electrons whizzing around the belts were the result of atoms being zapped with cosmic rays. The Earth’s magnetic field traps these charged particles into two concentrated regions to form the above-mentioned Van Allen belts. Human activity, such as nuclear tests, can also create artificial Van Allen belts that can last weeks or years around Earth too. ®

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Car smash-and-grab ends with loss of payroll details for 20,000 employees

Facebook has lost a copy of the personal details of 29,000 of its employees after hard drives containing unencrypted payroll information were stolen from an employee’s car.

The antisocial network said it is in the process of informing those who were exposed, though so far there is no indication of the purloined details being used for fraud, it is claimed.

“We worked with law enforcement as they investigated a recent car break-in and theft of an employee’s bag containing company equipment with employee payroll information stored on it,” a Facebook spokesperson told The Register. “We have seen no evidence of abuse and believe this was a smash and grab crime rather than an attempt to steal employee information

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“Out of an abundance of caution, we have notified the current and former employees whose information we believe was stored on the equipment – people who were on our US payroll in 2018 – and are offering them free identity theft and credit monitoring services. This theft impacts current and former Facebook employees only and no Facebook user data was involved.”

A report from Bloomberg today cites an internal email explaining that last month an employee in the payroll department had their car broken into and, among the items stolen, were unencrypted hard drives containing corporate records. The report also notes that the worker was not authorized to have the drive in their car, and has been disciplined.

The lifted records were said to include employee names, bank account numbers, and partial social security numbers.

So far, Facebook has yet to file a data breach notification with the state of California, as is required by law.

This is certainly a unique situation for Facebook, as the data-slurping biz usually finds itself on the other side of egregious violations of personal privacy. Facebook has made something of a custom out of letting outside developers play fast and loose with user profile information. ®

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Pending tariffs on notebooks, phones, monitors shelved as super powers strike ‘prelimary’ deal

Chinese officials have announced a preliminary agreement on phase one of negotiations with the United States – and of course US President Trump has leapt onto his favourite digital soap box to add his cents worth.

Nothing has actually been signed but the text of the agreement has been drafted and agreed by both sides.

Trump confirmed on Twitter:

He said that Sunday’s extra duties would not be imposed and that his government would begin negotiations on the second phase of the deal immediately. The orange one previously mused that he may wait until after the 2020 election to start the next stage.

A new raft of tariffs were days away from coming into force, including a 10 per cent levy on laptops, games consoles, mobile phones, computer monitors and shoes.

Manufacturers ramped up production last quarter in a bid to avoid the tax hike, which could mean there are some sweet deals out there to be had by consumer and business buyers.

A statement from the US Trade Representative said the deal required China to make structural reforms and changes to intellectual property, technology transfer and financial services. China has also pledged to make sizeable agriculture and services purchases while the US agreed to significant changes to Section 301 tariffs.

The statement ended: “The United States will be maintaining 25 percent tariffs on approximately $250 billion of Chinese imports, along with 7.5 percent tariffs on approximately $120 billion of Chinese imports.”

In other news the US House Judiciary Committee has passed two articles of impeachment against President Trump after voting along party lines. He is accused of abuse of power and of obstruction of Congress. The House of Representatives will likely hold a vote next week.

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Launch opportunities per year now over 130. Actually launched in 2019: 6

Peter Beck, boss of upstart small-sat flinger Rocket Lab, gave himself an early Christmas present this week as he declared the company’s second launch complex, this time in the US, operational.

Kind of.

While it has been a mere 10 months since construction began, there are still a good few months to go until an Electron rocket will be scorching the freshly built pad.

Located at the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport (MARS) on Wallops Island, Virginia, Rocket Lab Launch Complex 2 complements the original New Zealand launchpad and gives customers somewhere on US soil to fling their satellites.

The first spacecraft will be another for the US Air Force Space Test Program, in this case STP-27RM, a single research and development micro-sat due for launch during Q2 2020.

Rocket Lab has form when it comes to these missions, having launched STP-27RD back in May on board the amusingly named “That’s a Funny Looking Cactus”. The 5 May launch was from the company’s original Māhia Peninsula Launch Complex 1 and the payload weighed in at 180kg in total.

Never one to shy away from hyperbole, Rocket Lab has laid claim to a capacity for 120 launches a year from its New Zealand launchpad. The company has actually managed just six in 2019, up from four in 2018 (three if you don’t count the first, which had to be destroyed due to a telemetry issue). The launcher is capable of lofting a payload of up to 225kg (although 150kg is described as “nominal”).

As well as the ability to 3D print an engine in 24 hours, plans are also afoot to recover and reuse the Electron boosters in the coming years with a view to increasing cadence capability.

Ambitions are a tad more modest for the US site, which has been tailored specifically for US government missions. Launch Complex 2 can support up to 12 missions per year. The location appealed due in part to the variety of orbital inclinations available from the site.

The Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport is no stranger to launches, having recently hosted Northrop Grumman’s NG-12 resupply mission to the International Space Station in November. It also saw Orbital’s Antares rocket explode impressively in 2014, damaging Pad 0A.

Rocket Lab’s Launch Complex 2 is relatively near the rebuilt Pad 0A. An Integration and Control Facility has been located within the Wallops Research Park for processing payloads and Electron launch vehicles prior to lift-off.

A Rocket Lab spokesperson told The Register that the lengthy gap between the pad becoming “operational” and the first scheduled launch was down to payload and vehicle requirements. “Given this is a new launch pad, we’re allowing a little longer than usual to make sure everything is integrated and working in top form together.” ®

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Probably a better investment than WeWork

If you thought the service at your local Starbucks was robotic and impersonal, you might want to give Softbank’s newest Tokyo cafe a miss. Working alongside the company’s meatbag workers are a small army of Softbank Robotics’ droids, who’ll help serve and entertain the punters, and will even clean up after them.

The new cafe, called Pepper PARLOR, seats 162 and is located in the Tokyu Plaza Shibuya. As the name suggests, Softbank’s humanoid robot, Pepper, plays a starring role, with ten of these bots spread across the cafe. They take orders, make casual conversation with customers, and will even take your picture.

Announced in 2014, Pepper was pitched as an emotionally intelligent robot, purportedly able to read basic human emotions and respond in kind. In theory, this makes it ideally suited to service industry jobs. Although undeniably a bit of a novelty, SoftBank has sold several thousands of these bots, with the customers including several famous names, like Pizza Hut, and Palo Alto tech retailer B8ta.

Accompanying Pepper is Softbank Robotics’ NAO robots, which perform delicately choreographed dances while you eat. This is the 21st century equivalent of a violinist awkwardly playing while you dine at a retro Italian eatery. Finally, another robot, Whiz, cleans the cafe after hours.

As for food, SoftBank has recruited Fumio Yonezawa, a former New York chef who has created a menu that blends “Gourmet Food and Sweet Waffles from travels around the world.”

It could be pointed out that the main advantage of a cafe staffed entirely by robots is that you don’t have to tip them — but that’s a bit of a moot point, given Japan doesn’t have much of a tipping culture.

This isn’t the first time Japan’s leisure and hospitality space has been invaded by steely hearted, dead eyed machine. Japanese hotel chain HIS Group uses reception and bedside robots in some of its properties. Awkwardly, earlier this year it transpired that these had been hacked, allowing pervs to snoop on unsuspecting guests.

Given you’re unlikely to get your kit off in a cafe, hackers are less of a concern here — so just the inevitable rise of the machines to worry about then.

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Plus: Meg Whitman and Co had ‘buyer’s remorse’ over $11bn purchase

Autonomy Trial Mike Lynch was “thoroughly unreliable” and “willing to lie” to the High Court about the $11bn purchase of Autonomy by Hewlett Packard, according to HPE’s lawyers in court yesterday.

Starting the marathon closing arguments in Britain’s biggest fraud trial, Laurence Rabinowitz QC spared nobody’s blushes as he charged straight into a character assassination of Lynch, repeatedly saying the former Autonomy CEO had lied to trial judge Mr Justice Hildyard.

Unusually, Rabinowitz also tried to impress the judge by referring to the ongoing US criminal and extradition proceedings against Lynch. This line of argument appeared to go down with his lordship like a lead zeppelin, judging by his reply to it.

Exhorting the judge to ignore Lynch’s submission that HPE’s entire case against him was a “manufactured claim”, Rabinowitz said that was “not the impression that the US criminal authorities have got.”

The US habit of doing attention-grabbing legal things while the British case progresses has been a sore point throughout the Autonomy Trial, though only ever hinted at in the courtroom. Having that brought up as a reason to side with HPE made little headway with the judge.

“If it’s something which, were I to say, ‘and actually I’m comforted in all this by the fact that the criminal authorities in the US thought fit to indict, and now to seek to extradite Dr Lynch and they found Mr Hussain guilty and that has weighed with me’, if you think that the Court of Appeal would be content with that, well and good,” said Mr Justice Hildyard to HPE’s barrister.

The reference to the Court of Appeal couldn’t have been clearer: the judge was saying, do you think “well, everyone else says he’s guilty so I’d better fall into line” in a judgment would survive serious scrutiny?

HPE: Here’s why we say Lynch lied

Later on Rabinowitz referred to an Autonomy whistleblower, former US CFO Brent Hogenson, who, HPE alleges, emailed and phoned Lynch to warn him that all was not well with the company’s accounts. HPE says Lynch sidelined Hogenson and ignored the man’s warnings because he knew full well the accounts weren’t right – and now seeks to use Lynch’s version of events as proof the former CEO is lying about what truly happened.

During his month-long cross-examination, Lynch claimed Hogenson was trying to blackmail Autonomy for an exit payoff and his purported whistleblowing was part of that. Despite that claim, Lynch accepted in court that private investigation firm Kroll had failed to find any evidence that Hogenson was engaged in a payroll fraud, as Lynch had claimed at the time.

Rabinowitz, speaking in court yesterday, described the Hogenson episode as demonstrating that Lynch is a “liar and unreliable witness,” saying: “What you do not do, which is what Dr Lynch did, is to sideline Mr Hogenson, to undermine him, to make false accusations against him and indeed before your lordship to suggest that what was motivating Mr Hogenson was the payroll fraud which had occurred in San Francisco at a time before he was even there.”

Warming to his theme, HPE’s lead barrister continued: “Why not just investigate this properly? Why not speak to Mr [former US sales person Christopher] Egan? Why not gather the information… why would you not just lift up the carpets and make sure there was nothing in this at all?”

Mr Justice Hildyard could think of one reason, which he put straight to HPE’s barrister: “My understanding of what Dr Lynch says he did was to refer all this matter to the [internal Autonomy] audit committee and to [company auditors] Deloitte and himself refrain from making his own enquiries, lest that would, in some sense, pollute or undermine the enquiries which he had caused to be made by those persons. Is that indicative of dishonesty?”

After Rabinowitz demurred, Hildyard pressed the point: “You can’t just say because he didn’t himself make enquiries, he’s in some way dishonest, can you?”

Rabinowitz highlighted passages from his mammoth 2,000-page written closing argument in which HPE’s legal team says Hogenson was prevented from effectively raising his concerns with auditors, saying Lynch not only didn’t personally investigate but also ensured those who did look into Hogenson’s claims were steered away from getting the full picture.

All of the next judicial week will be spent on hearing HPE’s closing arguments. In January the trial will reconvene to hear Lynch and Hussain’s closing arguments, while the court will be reassembled again in February or March so the judge can ask the lawyers further questions. Judgment is expected by May. The Autonomy Trial continues. ®

Bootnote

Mr Justice Hildyard also summarised the entire case rather neatly while engaged in one of his back-and-forth exchanges with Rabinowitz.

They say that you had buyer’s remorse and Hewlett-Packard, in the light of that remorse, scratched around for reasons to justify its rather immediate writing-off of a large part of the purchase price. That’s what they say. You say they’re wrong about that and they say they’re right about that.

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The ‘experience’ will be available from mid-January, 2020

Microsoft has been alerting admins today to changes to its Microsoft Teams Exploratory “experience”, which effectively allow users to sign up for a trial rather than requiring admins to grant the privileges.

A Message Center post explained that the MS Teams Commercial Cloud Trial is being replaced with “MS Teams Exploratory experience” which: “allows existing Azure Active Directory users in your organization who are not licensed for Microsoft Teams to initiate a trial of the product.”

The roll-out begins in January 2020 and tenant admins will get an email informing them that a user has started a trial.

The post notes that while the “new experience is enabled by default… you can turn off that capability in your organization’s settings.”

An admin who emailed The Register welcomed the ability to switch permissions off but was worried that users would otherwise be signing up for services and applications willy-nilly.

He said: “Off by default would be the preference, or even better if they just didn’t bother at all! TBH, it’s offensive that they’ve shown such disregard for the role of admins who are supposed to be responsible for the proper management and protection of systems and the data they contain. Giving end users this kind of power is asking for trouble.”

Microsoft is keen to get as many people on board with its shared working tools as possible in order to keep up the fight against Slack and other competitors.

The row echoed changes Microsoft recently made to Office 365 to allow users of its Power Platform to make their own purchases of some business intelligence applications without getting the nod from administrators.

Initially this would enable anyone with a company credit card to set up their own mini-admin centre to do their own billing and licensing of MS software. And it removed any ability for admins to control or configure user behaviour. Instead the software giant blithely suggesting that companies “update your training and documentation as appropriate.”

Microsoft quickly U-turned in the face of customer feedback such as “Are you insane?”, and granted admins the ability to switch off these self-service options on a per product basis. The days of iron-clad admin control over the minutiae of every application and device in use on an organisation’s network are mostly over.

Shadow IT, or user self-service, depending on your viewpoint, is either the brave new way to improve user satisfaction or the bane of innocent admins’ lives and their attempts to keep a modicum of control and compliance over corporate IT.

While most admins would still prefer that such options were left switched off until a business case has been made for them to turn them on, there is a strong temptation for software providers to boost user numbers by making the process easier.

As many commenters pointed out after our Power Platform story, users are quick to ask the IT department to help them when they buy hardware or software and then cannot get it to work properly. Although some pointed out that if IT did a better job of servicing business needs then no one would be off buying anything else anyway.

Microsoft’s explanation of the changes is here.

There’s a Reddit discussion of the issue here. ®

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Maker of cloudy PDF and services software … yes, that’s Perpetually Dosh Forming

It was ho-ho-ho and a kerching for reassuringly expensive graphic design software maker Adobe last night as it danced all the way to the bank, reporting double digit spike in Q4 revenues (PDF) and an upward swing in profit.

The position Adobe has carved for itself means there are relatively few viable alternatives out there, so has managed to pull customers into its cloud suites relatively successfully, despite some initial kicking and screaming from them.

Total revenue for the three months ended 29 November came in at $2.992bn, up 21.4 per cent year-on-year. Subscription sales rocketed to $2.686bn from $2.184bn; product was 11 per cent to $167m; and services edged up by a little less than $8m to $138m.

CEO Shantanu Narayen said “demand for mobile offerings and overall web traffic continued to grow.” And he said more than “50 per cent of our cumulative subscribers” were “new to the Creative Cloud franchise”.

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The Digital Media segment brought in $2.078bn, up 22 per cent. The Creative Cloud suite was given more than a good lick of paint earlier this year with new features to Photoshop, Lightroom, Premier Pro, Illustrator and InDesign, and – lest we forget – the slab dab.

Digital Experience captured $859m of creative types’ cash, up 22 per cent, and Publishing turned over $55m in sales, down from $65.4m.

Split by product sector (PDF), Creative Cloud on its own took in $1.74bn in revenues, up from $1.45bn; Document Cloud revenue was $339.3m from $258.9m.

For the year, revenue was $11.171bn, up 24 per cent: Digital Media – which includes services like the Creative SDK, as well as mobile and desktop versions of its Photoshop + creative app chums – leapt to $7.7bn from $6.32bn. Digital Experience – which houses analytics, Adobe’s ads platfrom and “customer journey” stalking – grew to $3.206bn from $2.443bn. Publishing, meanwhile, was down marginally to $258.1m from $260.9m.

And the margins on those sales? Adobe managed profit before tax of $957m versus $678.24m a earlier. For the 12 months, it made $3.204bn before the IRS took a slice, up from $2.793bn.

There’s gold in them thar mountains of graphic design software and PDF conversion trials. ®

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