Desktop PC Shipments Dip Below 100m/Year (theregister.co.uk) 54

Desktop PC shipments dipped below 100 million in 2017 and there's worse to come across the personal computing device market according to analyst firm IDC. From a report: The company on Wednesday published a summary of its Worldwide Quarterly Personal Computing Device Tracker for 2017's final quarter in which it totted up shipments for the year across all forms of PC and slate-style tablets. The headline figure was a 2.7 per cent year-over-year decline. The firm said "commercial PC renewal momentum remained as the main catalyst in a market that was also tempered by lackluster demand for legacy form factor devices and component shortages." There was a little good news in 2017 with growth in notebook sales, as they grew more strongly than in any year since 2012, but the overall picture was poor.

Amazon Buys Smart Doorbell Maker Ring For a Reported $1 Billion (cnbc.com) 90

hyperclocker shares a report from CNBC: Amazon is buying smart doorbell maker Ring, a deal that will allow the company to expand its home security and in-house delivery services. In an email statement to CNBC, Ring's spokesperson confirmed the deal, saying: "We'll be able to achieve even more by partnering with an inventive, customer-centric company like Amazon. We look forward to being a part of the Amazon team as we work toward our vision for safer neighborhoods." Amazon is expected to keep Ring as an independent business, much like it has with its other acquisitions, like Zappos and Twitch, according to GeekWire, which earlier reported details of the deal. Financial details of the move were not disclosed, but Reuters reported it could be worth more than $1 billion, making it one of the largest acquisitions in Amazon's history.

New Apple Patent Imagines an OLED Screen As a Keyboard For MacBooks (theverge.com) 119

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Verge: The United States Patent and Trademark Office has granted Apple a patent titled "dual display equipment with enhanced visibility and suppressed reflections." The documentation for what is patent number 9,904,502 outlines a device that would use a second display as a dynamic keyboard. Two implementations of this design are described in the patent application, according to Patently Apple. The first utilizes a permanent hinge, while the second allows the screen to be removed and used separately, along the lines of Microsoft's Surface Pro range and other two-in-one computers. The patent documentation makes it clear that the implementation is not intended as an accessory that would allow two iPads to be paired together, with one serving as the keyboard. Additionally, illustrations associated with the application explicitly state that one screen is an OLED display, while the other is an LCD. A double-display set-up could provide easy access to a different keyboard layout language, context-sensitive controls, or even a large sketching surface to use in conjunction with something like an Apple Pencil. However, that flexibility would come at the cost of the traditional typing experience offered by a mechanical keyboard.

Relying on Renewables Alone Significantly Inflates the Cost of Overhauling Energy (technologyreview.com) 248

A growing number of US cities and states have proposed or even passed legislation that would require producing all electricity from renewable energy sources like solar and wind within a few decades. That might sound like a great idea. But a growing body of evidence shows it's not. From a report: It increasingly appears that insisting on 100 percent renewable sources -- and disdaining others that don't produce greenhouse gases, such as nuclear power and fossil-fuel plants with carbon-capture technology -- is wastefully expensive and needlessly difficult. In the latest piece of evidence, a study published in Energy & Environmental Science determined that solar and wind energy alone could reliably meet about 80 percent of recent US annual electricity demand, but massive investments in energy storage and transmission would be needed to avoid major blackouts. Pushing to meet 100 percent of demand with these resources would require building a huge number of additional wind and solar farms -- or expanding electricity storage to an extent that would be prohibitively expensive at current prices. Or some of both.
Operating Systems

Apple To Suspend iTunes Store Support For 'Obsolete' First-Gen Apple TV (arstechnica.com) 123

The original Apple TV, first introduced in 2007, will no longer be able to connect to the iTunes Store due to new security changes to be implemented by Apple. The news comes from a support document, which also mentions that PCs running Windows XP or Windows Vista will lose access to the most recent version of iTunes. Ars Technica reports: According to the document, the "obsolete" original Apple TV won't be updated in the future to support access to the iTunes Store. After May 25, users will only be able to access iTunes on second-generation Apple TVs and newer streaming devices. The same security changes affecting the first-gen Apple TV will also affect Windows XP and Vista machines. Users on such devices can still run previous versions of iTunes, so they should still be able to play their music library without problems. However, affected users won't be able to make new iTunes purchases or re-download previous purchases. Only machines running Windows 7 or later after May 25 will have full access to iTunes, including the ability to make new purchases and re-download older purchases.

Pop-Up Cameras Could Soon Be a Mobile Trend (techcrunch.com) 58

An anonymous reader quotes a report from TechCrunch: There's an interesting concept making its way around Mobile World Congress. Two gadgets offer cameras hidden until activated, which offer a fresh take on design and additional privacy. Vivo built a camera into a smartphone concept that's on a little sliding tray and Huawei will soon offer a MacBook Pro clone that features a camera hidden under a door above the keyboard. This could be a glimpse of the future of mobile design. Cameras have long been embedded in laptops and smartphones much to the chagrin of privacy experts. Some users cover up these cameras with tape or slim gadgets to ensure nefarious players do not remotely activate the cameras. Others, like HP, have started to build in shutters to give the user more control. Both DIY and built-in options require substantial screen bezels, which the industry is quickly racing to eliminate.

With shrinking bezels, gadget makers have to look for new solutions like the iPhone X notch. Others still, like Vivo and Huawei, are look at more elegant solutions than carving out a bit of the screen. For Huawei, this means using a false key within the keyboard to house a hidden camera. Press the key and it pops up like a trapdoor. We tried it out and though the housing is clever, the placement makes for awkward photos -- just make sure you trim those nose hairs before starting your conference call. Vivo has a similar take to Huawei though the camera is embedded on a sliding tray that pops-up out of the top of the phone.


Tesla Model 3 Torn Down, Hacked and Set On a Dynamometer, Exposing Unusual Tech Details (electrek.co) 227

Rei writes: With an estimated 8,670 Model 3s delivered, a race is on as competitors and owners work to figure out its limits and explore the tech behind it. Many-time Tesla teardown expert "Ingineerix" has posted a series of videos and discussed his findings on Reddit. Among them: what appears to be the industry's first switched reluctance motor, a massive "smuggling compartment" allocated for a future front-wheel motor, no physical fuses (all solid-state), significant wiring harness length reductions via the use of multiple body controllers, a swappable crash energy absorption system, a liquid-cooled compute unit, and redundant controllers for all safety-related systems. He followed up by posting a screenshot of the car tricked into "factory mode" to reveal its internal specs, including a 1200A max discharge current, 370kW max discharge power, and a 76 kWh pack with 72,5kWh usable. Meanwhile, Munro and Associates tore down a Model 3 for an undisclosed, "not Tesla" client, releasing a video criticizing its build quality and for difficulty in accessing the HV cables in the event of an accident (Munroe's claims were dismissed by Ingineerix). Meanwhile, engineers from German automakers were extremely impressed by what they found during their teardown -- particularly the power electronics system, which they described as "compact, expandable, fully integrated, modular, easily accessible, well-protected, reasonably priced and astonishingly clever in many details." Other owners have been putting their cars on dynamometers to measure their power. Drag Times suffered some skid and measured a conflicting 281 / 327.6 hp with 552 lb-ft torque. Contrarily, Tesla Repair Channel found consistent readings around 250hp when starting from 30mph, but consistently around 390 hp when starting from 10mph. The reason for the discrepancy is not yet clear.

Apple Confirms It Uses Google's Cloud For iCloud Services (cnbc.com) 46

An anonymous reader quotes a report from CNBC: A file that Apple updated on its website last month provides the first acknowledgment that it's relying on Google's public cloud for data storage for its iCloud services. The disclosure is fresh evidence that Google's cloud has been picking up usage as it looks to catch up with Amazon and Microsoft in the cloud infrastructure business. Some media outlets reported on Google's iCloud win in 2016, but Apple never provided confirmation. Apple periodically publishes new versions of a PDF called the iOS Security Guide. For years the document contained language indicating that iCloud services were relying on remote data storage systems from Amazon Web Services, as well as Microsoft's Azure. But in the latest version, the Microsoft Azure reference is gone, and in its place is Google Cloud Platform. Before the January update, Apple most recently updated the iOS Security Guide in March. The latest update doesn't indicate whether Apple is using any Google cloud services other than core storage of "objects" like photos and videos. The document also doesn't make it clear when Apple started storing data in Google's cloud.
The Matrix

Nokia's Banana Phone From The Matrix is Back (theverge.com) 93

The Verge: Back in 1999, Keanu Reeves was famous for playing Neo in The Matrix, and not for looking sad on a bench. Nokia was also the "world's leading mobile phone supplier" back then, and it used this popularity to feature its Nokia 8110 "banana phone" in The Matrix film. At the time everyone who considered themselves cool (definitely me) wanted a Nokia phone just like Neo's, but most of us had to settle for the Nokia 7110 with its spring-loaded slider. Now HMD, makers of Nokia-branded phones, is bringing the Nokia 8110 back to life as a retro classic . Just like the Nokia 3310 that was a surprise hit at Mobile World Congress last year, the 8110 plays on the same level of nostalgia. The slightly curved handset has a slider that lets you answer and end calls, and HMD is creating traditional black and banana yellow versions. The Nokia 8110 runs on the Smart Feature OS, so this is a basic featurephone and you're not going to get access to the Android apps found on other Nokia Android smartphones. The Nokia 8110 will be available in May for just 79 euros ($97).

Samsung Announces the Galaxy S9 With a Dual Aperture Camera, AR Emojis (arstechnica.com) 137

Samsung has taken the wraps off of its latest flagship, the Galaxy S9, at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Spain. The S9 features a familiar body with an upgraded camera, relocated fingerprint scanner, and newer processor. As usual, there are two versions: the Galaxy S9 and Galaxy S9+. Ars Technica reports: The S9 is one of the first phones announced with the new 2.8Ghz Snapdragon 845 SoC in the US, while the international version will most likely get an Exynos 9810. Qualcomm is promising a 25-percent faster CPU and 30-percent faster graphics compared to the Snapdragon 835. The rest of the base S9 specs look a lot like last year, with 4GB of RAM, 64GB of storage, a 3000mah battery, and a 5.8-inch 2960x1440 OLED display. The S9+ gets the usual bigger screen (6.2 inches @ 2960x1440) and bigger battery (3500mAh), but one improvement over last year is a RAM bump to 6GB. Neither RAM option is really outstanding for a phone this expensive, considering the much cheaper OnePlus 5T will give you 6GB and 8GB options for RAM at a much lower price. Both S9 models have headphone jacks, MicroSD slots, a new stereo speaker setup (one bottom firing, one doubles as the earpiece), IP68 dust and water resistance, wireless charging, and ship with Android 8.0 Oreo.

Both the Galaxy S9 versions are getting a main camera with two aperture settings. Just like a real camera, the Galaxy S9 has a set of (very tiny) aperture blades that can move to change the amount of incoming light. On the S9 they're limited to two different positions, resulting in f/1.5 and f/2.4 apertures. In low light the aperture can open up to f/1.5 to collect as much light as possible, while in normal or bright light it can switch to f/2.4 for a wider depth of field. Samsung is also answering Apple's Animojis with "AR Emoji." They work just like Apple's Animoji: using the front sensors to perform a primitive version of motion capture, the phone syncs up a character's facial expressions to your facial expressions.
The Galaxy S9 clocks in at $719.99 and the S9+ is going for $839.99. In the U.S., preorders start March 2 at all four major carriers, and the phones ship out on March 16.

Tesla Deploys Over 300 Powerwalls To Give Hawaiian School Kids AC (electrek.co) 147

Fred Lambert reports via Electrek: As part of a state initiative, Tesla deployed over 300 Powerwalls in schools to cool down hot classrooms in Hawaii. Hawaii has a problem with hot temperatures in public classrooms that is affecting students negatively. The problem was so significant that the Hawaii State Department of Education had to intervene. They put together a $100 million fund, which has already helped cool down 1,190 classrooms to date, with contracts set for more than 1,300 classrooms, according to The Garden Island. In order to roll out the program without significantly increasing energy costs for public schools, they partnered with Tesla to pair Powerwalls with solar power to reduce the impact of running the air conditioners in classrooms across the state. It also resulted in an interesting learning opportunity about renewable energy and energy storage for students.

'Memtransistor' Brings World Closer To Brain-Like Computing 94

the gmr writes: According to a recent article published in the journal Nature, researchers at Northwestern University's McCormick School of Engineering have developed a "memtransistor," a device that both stores information in memory and processes information. The combined transistor and memory resistor work more like a neuron and purports to make computing more brain-like. The new "memtransistor" would use less energy than digital computers and eliminate the need to run memory and processing as separate functions while also being more brain-like. Lead researcher Mark C. Hersam clarified the brain-like efficacy of the memtransistor: "...in the brain, we don't usually have one neuron connected to only one other neuron. Instead, one neuron is connected to multiple other neurons to form a network. Our device structure allows multiple contacts, which is similar to the multiple synapses in neurons... [but] making dozens of devices, as we have done in our paper, is different than making a billion, which is done with conventional transistor technology today." Hersam reported no barriers to scaling up to billions of devices. This new technology would make smart devices more capable and possibly more seemingly-human. The devices may also promote advances in neural networks and brain-computer interfaces, new technologies also recently reported at Futurism.

Worldwide Smartphone Shipments Down For First Time Ever (theregister.co.uk) 77

According to Gartner, global sales of smartphones have declined year-on-year for the first time since the research company started tracking the global smartphone market in 2004. "Global sales of smartphones to end users totaled nearly 408 million units in the fourth quarter of 2017, a 5.6 percent decline over the fourth quarter of 2016," reports Gartner. The Register reports: In Gartner's Q4 sales stats, Samsung maintained a narrow lead in global volume shipments of smartphones -- but every major (top five) vendor outside of those based in China saw unit shipments slip. Several major factors caused the market shrinkage, said Anshul Gupta, research director at Gartner. "First, upgrades from feature phones to smartphones have slowed right down due to a lack of quality 'ultra-low-cost' smartphones and users preferring to buy quality feature phones. Second, replacement smartphone users are choosing quality models and keeping them longer, lengthening the replacement cycle of smartphones. Moreover, while demand for high quality, 4G connectivity and better camera features remained strong, high expectations and few incremental benefits during replacement weakened smartphone sales," Gupta added. This is a characteristic of the emerging markets, where all the action is -- not mature markets like the UK or USA. Samsung leap-frogged Apple by virtue of its sales declining slower than the market average -- Sammy's numbers were 3.6 per cent to 74.02 million units.

Automated Cars Are Not Able To Use the Automated Car Wash (thetruthaboutcars.com) 150

schwit1 shares a report from The Truth About Cars: [T]he simple task of washing a self-driving car is far more complicated than one might expect, as anything other than meticulous hand washing a big no-no. Automated car washes could potentially dislodge expensive sensors, scratch them up, or leave behind soap residue or water spots that would affect a camera's ability to see. According to CNN, automakers and tech firms have come up with a myriad of solutions to this problem -- though a man with a rag and some water appears to be the most popular. Toyota, Aptiv, Drive.AI, May Mobility, and Uber have all said they use rubbing alcohol, water, or glass cleaner to manually wash the sensors, before carefully finishing the job with a microfiber cloth. While it's more than just a little ironic that these automated vehicles require gobs of attention and pampering from human hands just to function correctly, some companies are working on a way around it. General Motors' Cruise has said it will design and implement sensor-cleaning equipment in production vehicles.
Data Storage

Putting Civilization in a Box For Space Means Choosing Our Legacy (space.com) 92

When SpaceX's record-breaking Falcon Heavy rocket made its first test launch in early February , the craft didn't just hurl Elon Musk's shiny red roadster and spacesuit-clad mannequin to space. It had another, smaller payload, which at first glance seems much less impressive: a 1-inch-wide (2.5 centimeters) quartz disc with Isaac Asimov's "Foundation" trilogy encoded in laser-etched gratings . From a report: The famous science fiction series is only the beginning of the discs' planned contents. At a time when traditional hard drives are just breaking into the terabyte range, the quartz medium can hold up to 360 terabytes per disc. It also boasts a life span of 14 billion years. That's longer than the current age of the universe. This disc was symbolic; future devices will contain much more, and more useful, information. But the technology speaks to grander issues that humanity is now pondering: becoming a multiplanetary civilization, storing information for thousands or millions of years, and contacting and communicating with other intelligences (alien and Earthling).

So how should we record our knowledge and experiences for posterity? How should we ensure that this information is understandable to civilizations that may be quite different from our own? And, most importantly, what should we say? Humans have faced challenges like these before. Ancient civilizations built monuments like the pyramids and left artifacts and writing, sometimes deliberately. Later researchers have used this material to try to piece together ancient worldviews. However, in the modern era, we've set our sights much further: from centuries to millennia, from one planet to interstellar space, and from one species to many.

Data Storage

Dropbox Shows How It Manages Costs By Deleting Inactive Accounts (cnbc.com) 29

Dropbox employs a somewhat unusual technique to lower its costs, the cloud software company revealed on Friday in its filing to go public . From a report: In a process the company calls "infrastructure optimization," Dropbox said it deletes users' accounts if they don't sign in for a year and don't respond to emails. That keeps the company from incurring storage costs for inactive users, a tactic Yahoo has used in the past. Dropbox said that the costs of revenue dropped 6 percent in 2017 to $21.7 million, mostly due to a $35.1 million reduction "in our infrastructure costs." As it prepares to lure public market investors, Dropbox is paying particularly close attention to its expenses. The company operates in an intensively competitive market against vendors including Apple, Amazon, Box, Google and Microsoft. Once reliant on Amazon Web Services , Dropbox has moved away from public cloud in recent years and has been building its own data center infrastructure to store the majority of user data. Another way it's managed costs is by making sure that there weren't too many copies of users' files on third-party infrastructure.

Japanese Scientists Invent Floating 'Firefly' Light (reuters.com) 28

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Reuters: Japanese engineering researchers say they have created a tiny electronic light the size of a firefly which rides waves of ultrasound, and could eventually figure in applications ranging from moving displays to projection mapping. Named Luciola for its resemblance to the firefly, the featherweight levitating particle weighs 16.2 mg, has a diameter of 3.5 mm (0.14 inch), and emits a red glimmer that can just about illuminate text. But its minuscule size belies the power of the 285 microspeakers emitting ultrasonic waves that hold up the light, and have a frequency inaudible to the human ear, allowing Luciola to operate in apparent total silence. It took two years for Luciola to get this far, said circuit design specialist Makoto Takamiya, a member of the Kawahara Universal Information Network Project that developed the device. The developers expect Luciola to find applications in the so-called Internet of Things, in which regular objects, such as cars, or domestic appliances such as air-conditioners, are connected to networks to send and receive data. Equipped with movement or temperature sensors, Luciola could fly to such objects to deliver a message or help to make moving displays with multiple lights that can detect the presence of humans, or participate in futuristic projection mapping events.

Dropbox Files To Go Public 41

Ten years after its launch, Dropbox has filed to go public. The cloud storage company has been around since 2007 and has raised more than $600 million in funding. TechCrunch reports: We knew that it had already filed confidentially, but the company has now unveiled its filing, meaning the actual IPO is likely very soon, probably late March. The company says it will be targeting a $500 million fundraise, but this number is usually just a placeholder. The filing shows that Dropbox had $1.1 billion in revenue last year. This compares to $845 million in revenue the year before and $604 million for 2015. The company is not yet profitable, having lost nearly $112 million last year. This shows significantly improved margins when compared to losses of $210 million for 2016 and $326 million for 2015. Dropbox has been cash flow positive since 2016.

Tesla Will Supply Free Charging Stations To Office Parking Lots 39

Tesla has unveiled a new "workplace charging" program today, which offers businesses free Tesla wall connectors and will also cover installation, provided they meet certain qualifications set forth by the California carmaker. "Tesla won't cover the cost of operating the charging stations, and the company says there could be other permitting, construction, zoning, or labor costs," reports The Verge. From the report: The workplace charging stations will be compatible with all Tesla cars, but not with other EVs, and they won't show up on publicly available Tesla charging maps. The wall chargers are 240 volts, or "Level 2," which is capable of topping off a battery pack in a handful of hours, though the company says the charge rate will vary by location depending on the infrastructure available.

'Automating Jobs Is How Society Makes Progress' (qz.com) 236

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Quartz, written by Per Bylund, assistant professor at Oklahoma State University: Analysts discuss the automation of jobs as if robots are rising from the sea like Godzilla, rampaging through the Tokyo of stable employment, and leaving only chaos in their wake. According to data from PWC, 38% of jobs in the U.S. could become automated by the early 2030s. Meanwhile, a report from Ball State University's Center for Business and Economic Research warned that half of all American jobs could be replaced by automation. These prophecies of doom fail to recognize that automation and increased productivity are nothing new. From the cotton gin to the computer, automation has been happening for centuries. Consider the way automation has improved the mining industry over the past 100 years. Without machines, humans were forced to crawl into unstable passageways and chip away at rocks with primitive tools while avoiding the ever-present dangers of gas poisoning and cave-ins. Not only was this approach terrible for health, but it was also a highly inefficient use of skilled human laborers. With machines doing the heavy lifting, society was able to dedicate resources to building, servicing, and running the machinery.

Fewer people now do the traditional physical labor, but this advancement is celebrated rather than mourned. By letting machines handle the more tedious -- and, in some cases, dangerous -- tasks, people were liberated to use their labor in more efficient, effective, and fulfilling ways. Critics of automation miss the point. Nobody works for the sake of work -- people strive to create value, which helps pay our salaries and feed our families. Automation effectively opens the door for more new endeavors that will elevate our species to greater heights. Just as past generations turned away the mines for better careers, modern workers whose jobs are altered by automation will see their roles in society evolve rather than disappear.


Study Finds Automatic Braking With Rearview Cameras, Sensors Can Cut Backup Crashes By 78 Percent (cbsnews.com) 161

A new study from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) found that combining automatic braking with rearview cameras and sensors can cut reverse crashes by 78 percent. Rear automatic braking alone, which is an option in just 5 percent of new vehicles, is linked to a 62 percent drop in reported backup accidents in cars with that equipment. CBS News reports: Starting in May, all new cars in the U.S. will be required to have a rearview camera. Some automakers are going further by adding backup warning sensors and reverse automatic braking. For the first time, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety tested that combination of technology. Two models -- the 2017 Subaru Outback and Cadillac XT5 SUV -- earned superior ratings. Four other vehicles scored an advanced rating for generally avoiding a collision or substantially reducing the vehicle's speed. But there's some room to improve. One vehicle did not stop automatically when backing up to a dummy car parked at an angle. Automatic braking in the front will become standard in most cars in 2022 but there's currently no plan to make it standard for backing up.

Intel, Microsoft, Dell, HP and Lenovo Expect PCs With Fast 5G Wireless To Ship Next Year (pcworld.com) 59

Intel, along with Dell, HP, Lenovo, and Microsoft said Thursday that the companies expect the first 5G Windows PCs to become available during the second half of 2019. From a report: That's about the same time that Intel plans to begin shipping its XMM 8000 commercial modems, marking the company's entrance into the 5G market. Intel will show off a prototype of the new 5G connected PC at Mobile World Congress show in Barcelona. In addition the company will demonstrate data streaming over the 5G network. At its stand, Intel said that it will also show off eSIM technology -- the replacement for actual, physical SIM cards -- and a thin PC running 802.11ax Wi-Fi, the next-gen Wi-Fi standard.

Boston Dynamics Is Teaching Its Robot Dog To Fight Back Against Humans (theguardian.com) 146

Zorro shares a report from The Guardian: Boston Dynamics' well-mannered four-legged machine SpotMini has already proved that it can easily open a door and walk through unchallenged, but now the former Google turned SoftBank robotics firm is teaching its robo-canines to fight back. A newly released video shows SpotMini approaching the door as before, but this time it's joined by a pesky human with an ice hockey stick. Unperturbed by his distractions, SpotMini continues to grab the handle and turn it even after its creepy fifth arm with a claw on the front is pushed away. If that assault wasn't enough, the human's robot bullying continues, shutting the door on Spot, which counterbalances and fights back against the pressure. In a last-ditch effort to stop the robot dog breaching the threshold, the human grabs at a leash attached to the back of the SpotMini and yanks. Boston Dynamics describes the video as "a test of SpotMini's ability to adjust to disturbances as it opens and walks through a door" because "the ability to tolerate and respond to disturbances like these improves successful operation of the robot." The firm helpfully notes that, despite a back piece flying off, "this testing does not irritate or harm the robot." But teaching robots to fight back against humans may might end up harming us.
Data Storage

Scientists Discover a New Way To Use DNA As a Storage Device (betanews.com) 68

Mark Wilson shares a report from BetaNews: Researchers from the Waterford Institute of Technology (WIT) in Ireland have developed a way to use bacteria to archive up to up to one zettabyte in one gram of DNA. The technique uses double-strained DNA molecules called plasmids to encode data which is stored in the Novablue strain of the E Coli bacteria. The Novablue bacteria has a fixed location, making it viable for storage, and the data can be transferred by releasing a mobile HB101 strain of E Coli which uses a process called conjugation to extract the data. The antibiotics tetracycline and streptomycin are used to control this process. The method is currently not only expensive, but also slow. Data retrieval takes up to three days at the moment, but researchers believe it should be possible to dramatically speed up this process. Equipment already exists that can be used to write to DNA in seconds. Stability and security are also an issue right now, but it is very early days for the technique, and these current downsides are not viewed as being significant enough to write it off. Potential uses for this method of data storage that have been suggested include the recording of medical records in human DNA, and increasing the traceability of the food chain.

Apple In Talks To Buy Cobalt Directly From Miners (bloomberg.com) 58

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Bloomberg: Apple Inc. is in talks to buy long-term supplies of cobalt directly from miners for the first time, according to people familiar with the matter, seeking to ensure it will have enough of the key battery ingredient amid industry fears of a shortage driven by the electric vehicle boom. The iPhone maker is one of the world's largest end users of cobalt for the batteries in its gadgets, but until now it has left the business of buying the metal to the companies that make its batteries. The talks show that the tech giant is keen to ensure that cobalt supplies for its iPhone and iPad batteries are sufficient, with the rapid growth in battery demand for electric vehicles threatening to create a shortage of the raw material. About a quarter of global cobalt production is used in smartphones. Apple is seeking contracts to secure several thousand metric tons of cobalt a year for five years or longer. Its first discussions on cobalt deals with miners were more than a year ago, and it may end up deciding not to go ahead with any deal, another person said.

Samsung To Cut OLED Production Due To Poor iPhone X Sales 150

Samsung's panel-making division, Samsung Display, is reportedly reducing OLED panel production at its South Chungcheong plant due to lower than expected iPhone X sales. According to Nikkei Asian Review, Samsung now plans to cover 20 million or fewer iPhone X devices for the quarter ending in March, a large decrease from the expected 45 to 50 million units. CNET reports: Apple sold 77.3 million iPhones in the quarter ending in January, down by 1 percent on the previous year. The $1,000 price tag on the iPhone X was blamed for the volume shortfall -- but also contributed to the company making record-breaking profits. Samsung did not respond to CNET's request for comment.

Slashdot Asks: Which Smart Speaker Do You Prefer? 234

Every tech company wants to produce a smart speaker these days. Earlier this month, Apple finally launched the HomePod, a smart speaker that uses Siri to answer basic questions and play music via Apple Music. In December, Google released their premium Google Home Max speaker that uses the Google Assistant and Google's wealth of knowledge to play music, answer questions, set reminders, and so on. It may be the most advanced smart speaker on the market as it has the hardware capable of playing high fidelity audio, and a digital assistant that can perform over one million actions. There is, however, no denying the appeal of the Amazon Echo, which is powered by the Alexa digital assistant. Since it first made its debut in late 2014, it has had more time to develop its skill set. Amazon says Alexa controls "tens of millions of devices," including Windows 10 PCs.

A new report from The Guardian, citing the industry site MusicAlly, says that Spotify is working on a line of "category defining" hardware products "akin to Pebble Watch, Amazon Echo, and Snap Spectacles." The streaming music company has posted an ad for a senior product manager to "define the product requirements for internet connected hardware [and] the software that powers it." With Spotify looking to launch a smart speaker in the not-too-distant-future, the decision to purchase a smart speaker has become all the more difficult. Do you own a smart speaker? If so, which device do you own and why? Do you see a clear winner, or can they all satisfy your basic needs?
Data Storage

Samsung Starts Mass Producing an SSD With Monstrous 30.72TB Capacity (betanews.com) 158

Brian Fagioli, writing for BetaNews: Samsung says it is mass producing a solid state drive with monstrous capacity. The "PM1643," as it is called, offers an insane 30.72TB of storage space! This is achieved by using 32 x 1TB NAND flash. "Samsung reached the new capacity and performance enhancements through several technology progressions in the design of its controller, DRAM packaging and associated software. Included in these advancements is a highly efficient controller architecture that integrates nine controllers from the previous high-capacity SSD lineup into a single package, enabling a greater amount of space within the SSD to be used for storage. The PM1643 drive also applies Through Silicon Via (TSV) technology to interconnect 8Gb DDR4 chips, creating 10 4GB TSV DRAM packages, totaling 40GB of DRAM. This marks the first time that TSV-applied DRAM has been used in an SSD," says Samsung.

Microsoft Finally Documents the Limitations of Windows 10 on ARM (thurrott.com) 121

For over a year we've been treated to the fantasy that Windows 10 on ARM was the same as Windows 10 on x86. But it's a bit more nuanced than that. Paul Thurrott: 64-bit apps will not work. Yes, Windows 10 on ARM can run Windows desktop applications. But it can only run 32-bit (x86) desktop applications, not 64-bit (x64) applications. (The documentation doesn't note this, but support for x64 apps is planned for a future release.)
Certain classes of apps will not run. Utilities that modify the Windows user interface -- like shell extensions, input method editors (IMEs), assistive technologies, and cloud storage apps -- will not work in Windows 10 on ARM.
It cannot use x86 drivers. While Windows 10 on ARM can run x86 Windows applications, it cannot utilize x86 drivers. Instead, it will require native ARM64 drivers instead. This means that hardware support will be much more limited than is the case with mainstream Windows 10 versions. In other words, it will likely work much like Windows 10 S does today.
No Hyper-V.
Older games and graphics apps may not work. Windows 10 on ARM supports DirectX 9, DirectX 10, DirectX 11, and DirectX 12, but apps/games that target older versions will not work. Apps that require hardware-accelerated OpenGL will also not work.


Microsoft Stops Pushing Notifications To Windows 7 and 8 Phones (engadget.com) 64

The end of Microsoft's Windows Phone project has been a long time coming, and now there's another nail in the coffin. From a report: Microsoft is ending support for all push notifications for Windows Phone 7.5 and Windows Phone 8.0 starting Tuesday, February 20th. According to Microsoft's blog post, in addition to the discontinuation of push notifications, live tiles will no longer be updated and the find my phone feature will not work. It's important to note that this doesn't apply to newer devices.

Salon Magazine Mines Monero On Your Computer If You Use an Ad Blocker (bbc.com) 314

dryriver shares a report from BBC: News organizations have tried many novel ways to make readers pay -- but this idea is possibly the most audacious yet. If a reader chooses to block its advertising, U.S. publication Salon will use that person's computer to mine for Monero, a cryptocurrency similar to Bitcoin. Creating new tokens of a cryptocurrency typically requires complex calculations that use up a lot of computing power. Salon told readers: "We intend to use a small percentage of your spare processing power to contribute to the advancement of technological discovery, evolution and innovation." The site is making use of CoinHive, a controversial mining tool that was recently used in an attack involving government websites in the UK, U.S. and elsewhere. However, unlike that incident, where hackers took control of visitors' computers to mine cryptocurrency, Salon notifies users and requires them to agree before the tool begins mining.

We've Reached Peak Smartphone (washingtonpost.com) 222

You don't really need a new smartphone. From a column on the Washington Post (may be paywalled): Sure, some of them squeeze more screen into a smaller form. The cameras keep getting better, if you look very close. And you had to live under a rock to miss the hoopla for Apple's 10th-anniversary iPhone X or the Samsung Galaxy S8. Many in the smartphone business were sure this latest crop would bring a "super cycle" of upgrades. But here's the reality: More and more of Americans have decided we don't need to upgrade every year. Or every other year. We're no longer locked into two-year contracts and phones are way sturdier than they used to be. And the new stuff just isn't that tantalizing even to me, a professional gadget guy. Holding onto our phones is better for our budgets, not to mention the environment. This just means we -- and phone makers -- need to start thinking of them more like cars. We may have reached peak smartphone. Global shipments slipped 0.1 percent in 2017 -- the first ever decline, according to research firm IDC. In the United States, smartphone shipments grew just 1.6 percent, the smallest increase ever. Back in 2015, Americans replaced their phones after 23.6 months, on average, according to research firm Kantar Worldpanel. By the end of 2017, we were holding onto them for 25.3 months.

Apple Says That All New Apps Must Support the iPhone X Screen (9to5mac.com) 80

Today, Apple emailed developers to inform them that all new apps that are submitted to the App Store must support the iPhone X's Super Retina display, starting this April. What this means is that developers of new applications must ensure they accommodate the notch and go edge-to-edge on the 5.8-inch OLED screen. 9to5Mac reports: Apple has not set a deadline for when updates to existing apps must support iPhone X natively. From April, all new apps must also be built against the iOS 11 SDK. In recent years, Apple has enforced rules more aggressively when it comes to supporting the latest devices. Apple informed the news in an email today encouraging adoption of the latest iOS 11 features like Core ML, SiriKit and ARKit. Requiring compilation with the iOS 11 SDK does not necessarily mean the apps must support new features. It ensures that new app developers are using the latest Apple development tools, which helps prevent the App Store as a whole from going stale, and may encourage adoption of cutting edge features. The rules don't mean that much until Apple requires updates to also support iPhone X and the iOS 11 SDK, as updates represent the majority of the App Store. Most developers making new apps already target iPhone X as a top priority.

Electronics-Recycling Innovator Faces Prison For Extending Computers' Lives 288

schwit1 shares a report from Los Angeles Times: Prosecutors said 33-year-old [Eric Lundgren, an electronic-waste recycling innovator] ripped off Microsoft by manufacturing 28,000 counterfeit discs with the company's Windows operating system on them. He was convicted of conspiracy and copyright infringement, which brought a 15-month prison sentence and a $50,000 fine. In a rare move though, a federal appeals court has granted an emergency stay of the sentence, giving Lundgren another chance to make his argument that the whole thing was a misunderstanding. Lundgren does not deny that he made the discs or that he hoped to sell them. But he says this was no profit-making scheme. By his account, he just wanted to make it easier to extend the usefulness of secondhand computers -- keeping more of them out of the trash.

The case centers on "restore discs," which can be used only on computers that already have the licensed Windows software and can be downloaded free from the computer's manufacturer, in this case Dell. The discs are routinely provided to buyers of new computers to enable them to reinstall their operating systems if the computers' hardware fails or must be wiped clean. But they often are lost by the time used computers find their way to a refurbisher. Lundgren said he thought electronics companies wanted the reuse of computers to be difficult so that people would buy new ones. He thought that producing and selling restore discs to computer refurbishers -- saving them the hassle of downloading the software and burning new discs -- would encourage more secondhand sales. In his view, the new owners were entitled to the software, and this just made it easier. The government, and Microsoft, did not see it that way. Federal prosecutors in Florida obtained a 21-count indictment against Lundgren and his business partner, and Microsoft filed a letter seeking $420,000 in restitution for lost sales. Lundgren claims that the assistant U.S. attorney on the case told him, "Microsoft wants your head on a platter and I'm going to give it to them."

MIT Develops New Chip That Reduces Neural Networks' Power Consumption by Up to 95 Percent (mit.edu) 55

MIT researchers have developed a special-purpose chip that increases the speed of neural-network computations by three to seven times over its predecessors, while reducing power consumption 94 to 95 percent. From a report: That could make it practical to run neural networks locally on smartphones or even to embed them in household appliances. "The general processor model is that there is a memory in some part of the chip, and there is a processor in another part of the chip, and you move the data back and forth between them when you do these computations," says Avishek Biswas, an MIT graduate student in electrical engineering and computer science, who led the new chip's development. "Since these machine-learning algorithms need so many computations, this transferring back and forth of data is the dominant portion of the energy consumption. But the computation these algorithms do can be simplified to one specific operation, called the dot product. Our approach was, can we implement this dot-product functionality inside the memory so that you don't need to transfer this data back and forth?"

Windows 10 Is Adding an Ultimate Performance Mode For Pros (engadget.com) 151

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Engadget: When you're creating 3D models or otherwise running intensive tasks, you want to wring every ounce of performance out of your PC as possible. It's a good thing, then, that Microsoft has released a Windows 10 preview build in the Fast ring that includes a new Ultimate Performance mode if you're running Pro for Workstations. As the name implies, this is a step up for people for whom even the High Performance mode isn't enough -- it throws power management out the window to eliminate "micro-latencies" and boost raw speed. You can set it yourself, but PC makers will have the option of shipping systems with the feature turned on. Ultimate Performance isn't currently available for laptops or tablets, but Microsoft suggests that could change.

Cryptocurrency Miners Are 'Limiting' the Search For Alien Life Now (vice.com) 135

Since the latest graphics processing units (GPUs) are so popular with cryptocurrency miners, the SETI project -- short for "Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence" -- can't find the graphics cards it needs to expand its operations. The SETI@home project helps provide some computing power, as it involves thousands of volunteers who turn the power of their computers over to the project, but it's only a portion of the SETI project's total computing power. Motherboard reports: Searching the stars is intense work that "uses radio telescopes to listen for narrow-bandwidth radio signals from space." Analyzing all of the data from these telescopes uses a lot of computing power. "We'd like to use the latest GPUs and we can't get 'em," Dan Werthimer, chief scientist of SETI, told the BBC. "That's limiting our search for extraterrestrials." Manufacturers such as Nvidia are struggling to keep up with demand for graphics cards. It recently told investors it would rise to meet its manufacturing challenge while focusing on its core market -- gamers. It even suggested vendors limit purchases of graphics cards from individual buyers in an effort to stop miners from buying up all the cards. "This is a new problem, it's only happened on orders we've been trying to make in the last couple of months," Werthimer told the BBC. "We've got the money, we've contacted the vendors, and they say, 'we just don't have them.'"

New Silicon Chip-Based Quantum Computer Passes Major Test (gizmodo.com) 22

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Gizmodo: Researchers from two teams now working with Intel have reported advances in a new quantum computing architecture, called spin qubits, in a pair of papers out today. They're obviously not the full-purpose quantum computers of the future. But they've got a major selling point over other quantum computing designs. "We made these qubits in silicon chips, similar to what's used in classical computer processes," study author Thomas Watson from TU Delft in the Netherlands told me. "The hope is that by doing things this way, we can potentially scale up to larger numbers needed to perform useful quantum computing."

Today, a research group at TU Delft, called QuTech, announced that they'd successfully tested two "spin qubits." These qubits involve the interaction of two confined electrons in a silicon chip. Each electron has a property called spin, which sort of turns it into a tiny magnet, with two states: "up" and "down." The researchers control the electrons with actual cobalt magnets and microwave pulses. They measure the electron's spins by watching how nearby electric charges react to the trapped electrons' movements. Those researchers, now working in partnership with Intel, were able to perform some quantum algorithms, including the well-known Grover search algorithm (basically, they could search through a list of four things), according to their paper published today in Nature. Additionally, a team of physicists led by Jason Petta at Princeton reported in Nature that they were able to pair light particles, called photons, to corresponding electron spins. This just means that distant spin qubits might be able to talk to one another using photons, allowing for larger quantum computers.
There are some advantages to these systems. "Present-day semiconductor technology could create these spin qubits, and they would be smaller than the superconducting chips used by IBM," reports Gizmodo. "Additionally, they stay quantum longer than other systems." The drawbacks include the fact that it's very difficult to measure the spins of these qubits, and even more difficult to get them to interact with each other. UC Berkeley postdoc Sydney Schreppler also mentioned that the qubbits needed to be really close to each other.

FBI, CIA, and NSA: Don't Use Huawei Phones (cnbc.com) 238

The heads of six top U.S. intelligence agencies told the Senate Intelligence Committee on Tuesday they would not advise Americans to use products or services from Chinese smartphone maker Huawei. "The six -- including the heads of the CIA, FBI, NSA and the director of national intelligence -- first expressed their distrust of Apple-rival Huawei and fellow Chinese telecom company ZTE in reference to public servants and state agencies," reports CNBC. From the report: "We're deeply concerned about the risks of allowing any company or entity that is beholden to foreign governments that don't share our values to gain positions of power inside our telecommunications networks," FBI Director Chris Wray testified. "That provides the capacity to exert pressure or control over our telecommunications infrastructure," Wray said. "It provides the capacity to maliciously modify or steal information. And it provides the capacity to conduct undetected espionage."

In a response, Huawei said that it "poses no greater cybersecurity risk than any ICT vendor." A spokesman said in a statement: "Huawei is aware of a range of U.S. government activities seemingly aimed at inhibiting Huawei's business in the U.S. market. Huawei is trusted by governments and customers in 170 countries worldwide and poses no greater cybersecurity risk than any ICT vendor, sharing as we do common global supply chains and production capabilities."


Apple's HomePod Speakers Leave White Marks on Wood (bbc.com) 86

Apple's new smart speakers can discolour wooden surfaces, leaving a white mark where they are placed, the firm has acknowledged. From a report: The US company has suggested that owners may have to re-oil furniture if the HomePod is moved. The device went on sale last week after having been delayed from its original 2017 release date. Apple told Pocket-lint that it was "not unusual" for speakers with silicone bases to leave a "mild mark." But the gadget review site told the BBC it had never seen anything like this problem. The website's founder, Stuart Miles, told the BBC that a speaker left a mark on his kitchen worktop within 20 minutes.

Crypto-currency Craze 'Hinders Search For Alien Life' (bbc.com) 110

Scientists listening out for broadcasts by extra-terrestrials are struggling to get the computer hardware they need, thanks to the crypto-currency mining craze, a radio-astronomer has said. From a report: Seti (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) researchers want to expand operations at two observatories. However, they have found that key computer chips are in short supply. "We'd like to use the latest GPUs [graphics processing units]... and we can't get 'em," said Dan Werthimer. Demand for GPUs has soared recently thanks to crypto-currency mining. "That's limiting our search for extra-terrestrials, to try to answer the question, 'Are we alone? Is there anybody out there?'," Dr Werthimer told the BBC. "This is a new problem, it's only happened on orders we've been trying to make in the last couple of months."

New York Times CEO: Print Journalism Has Maybe Another 10 Years (cnbc.com) 208

New York Times CEO Mark Thompson believes that the newspaper printing presses may have another decade of life in them, but not much more. "I believe at least 10 years is what we can see in the U.S. for our print products," Thompson said on "Power Lunch." He said he'd like to have the print edition "survive and thrive as long as it can," but admitted it might face an expiration date. "We'll decide that simply on economics," he said. "There may come a point when the economics of [the print paper] no longer make sense for us. The key thing for us is that we're pivoting. Our plan is to go on serving our loyal print subscribers as long as we can. But meanwhile to build up the digital business, so that we have a successful growing company and a successful news operation long after print is gone." CNBC reports: Digital subscriptions, in fact, may be what's keeping the New York Times afloat for a new generation of readers. While Thompson said the number of print subscribers is relatively constant, "with a little bit of a decline every time," the company said last week that it added 157,000 digital subscribers in the fourth quarter of 2017. The majority were new subscribers, but that number also included cooking and crossword subscriptions. Revenue from digital subscriptions increased more than 51 percent in the quarter compared with a year earlier. Overall subscription revenue increased 19.2 percent. Meanwhile, the company's fourth-quarter earnings and revenue beat analysts expectations, "even though the print side of the business is still somewhat challenged," Thompson said. Total revenue rose 10 percent from a year earlier to $484.1 million. New York Times' shares have risen more than 20 percent this year. "Without question we make more money on a print subscriber," Thompson added. "But the point about digital is that we believe we can grow many, many more of them. We've already got more digital than print subscribers. Digital is growing very rapidly. Ultimately, there will be many times the number of digital subscribers compared to print."

Seattle To Remove Controversial City Spying Network After Public Backlash (seattletimes.com) 83

schwit1 shares a report from Activist Post: Following years of resistance from citizens, the city of Seattle has decided to completely remove controversial surveillance equipment -- at a cost of $150,000. In November 2013, Seattle residents pushed back against the installation of several mesh network nodes attached to utility poles around the downtown area. The American Civil Liberties Union of Washington and privacy advocates were immediately concerned about the ability of the nodes to gather user information via the Wi-Fi connection. The Seattle Times reports on the latest developments: "Seattle's wireless mesh network, a node of controversy about police surveillance and the role of federal funding in city policing, is coming down. Megan Erb, spokeswoman for Seattle Information Technology, said the city has budgeted $150,000 for contractor Prime Electric and city employees to remove dozens of surveillance cameras and 158 'wireless access points' -- little, off-white boxes with antennae mounted on utility poles around the city."

The nodes were purchased by the Seattle Police Department via a $3.6 million grant from the Department of Homeland Security. The Seattle Police Department argued the network would be helpful for protecting the port and for first-responder communication during emergencies. As the Times notes, "the mesh network, according to the ACLU, news reports and anti-surveillance activists from Seattle Privacy Coalition, had the potential to track and log every wireless device that moved through its system: people attending protests, people getting cups of coffee, people going to a hotel in the middle of the workday." However, by November 2013, SPD spokesman Sean Whitcomb announced, "The wireless mesh network will be deactivated until city council approves a draft (privacy) policy and until there's an opportunity for vigorous public debate." The privacy policy for the network was never developed and, instead, the city has now opted to remove the devices at a cost of $150,000. The Times notes that, "crews are tearing its hardware down and repurposing the usable parts for other city agencies, including Seattle Department of Transportation traffic cameras."


Amazon Is Designing Custom AI Chips For Alexa (theverge.com) 70

According to a report (paywalled) from The Information, Amazon is designing a custom artificial intelligence chip that would power future Echo devices and improve the quality and response time of its Alexa voice assistant. "The move closely followers rivals Apple and Google, both of which have already developed and deployed custom AI hardware at various scales," reports The Verge. From the report: While Amazon is unlikely to physically produce the chips, given its lack of both fabrication experience and a manufacturing presence in China, the news does pose a risk to the businesses of companies like Nvidia and Intel. Both companies have shifted large portions of their chipmaking expertise to AI and the future of the burgeoning field, and both make money by designing and manufacturing chips for companies like Apple, Amazon, and others. Amazon, which seeks to stay competitive in the smart home hardware market and in the realm of consumer-facing AI products, has nearly 450 people with chip expertise on staff, reports The Information, thanks to key hires and acquisitions the e-commerce giant has made in the last few years. The plan is for Amazon to develop its own AI chips so Alexa-powered products in its ever-expanding Echo line can do more on-device processing, instead of having to communicate with the cloud, a process that increases response rate times.

Qualcomm Snapdragon 845 Benchmarks Show An Incredible GPU, Faster CPU (hothardware.com) 52

MojoKid writes: Though the company has been evangelizing its new Snapdragon 845 Mobile Platform for a while now, Qualcomm is lifting the veil today on the new chip's benchmark performance profile. At the heart of the Snapdragon 845 is the new Kyro 385 CPU, which features four high-performance cores operating at 2.8GHz and four efficiency cores that are dialed back to 1.7GHz, all of which should culminate in a claimed 25 percent uplift over the previous generation Snapdragon 835, along with improved power efficiency. In addition, the Snapdragon 845's new Adreno 630 integrated GPU core should deliver a boost in performance over its predecessor as well, with up to a 30 percent increase in graphics throughput, allowing it to become the first mobile platform to enable room-scale VR/AR experiences. Armed with prototype reference devices, members of the press put the Snapdragon 845 through its paces and the chip proved to be anywhere from 15 to 35 percent faster, depending on workloads and benchmarks, with graphics showing especially strong. Next-generation Android smartphones and other devices based on the Snapdragon 845 are expected to be unveiled at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona at the end of this month.

Reddit Audiophiles Test HomePod, Say It Sounds Better Than $1,000 Speaker (arstechnica.com) 327

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Ars Technica: Apple released its much-hyped HomePod speaker to the masses last week, and the general consensus among early reviews is that it sounds superb for a relatively small device. But most of those reviews seem to have avoided making precise measurements of the HomePod's audio output, instead relying on personal experience to give generalized impressions. That's not a total disaster: a general rule for speaker testing is that while it's good to stamp out any outside factor that may cause a skewed result, making definitive, "objective" claims is difficult. But having some proper measurements is important. Reddit user WinterCharm, whose real name is Fouzan Alam, has made just that in a truly massive review for the site's "r/audiophile" sub. And if his results are to be believed, those early reviews may be underselling the HomePod's sonic abilities. After a series of tests with a calibrated microphone in an untreated room, Alam found the HomePod to sound better than the KEF X300A, a generally well-regarded bookshelf speaker that retails for $999. What's more, Alam's measurements found the HomePod to provide a "near-perfectly flat frequency response," meaning it stays accurate to a given track without pushing the treble, mids, or bass to an unnatural degree. He concludes that the digital signal processing tech the HomePod uses to "self-calibrate" its sound to its surroundings allows it to impress at all volumes and in tricky environments. "The HomePod is 100% an audiophile grade speaker," he writes.
Open Source

How the First Open Source Software and Hardware Satellite UPSat Was Built (fosdem.org) 25

UPSat is the first open source -- both hardware and software -- satellite to have ever been launched in orbit. Pierros Papadeas, the Director of Operations for Libre Space Foundation, which helped build the UPSat, talked about the project at FOSDEM, a non-commercial, volunteer-organized European event focused on free and open-source software development. You can watch the talk here; and read an interview of him with folks at FOSDEM ahead of the talk here. Two excerpts from the interview: Q: What challenges did you encounter while designing, building, testing and eventually launching UPSat in orbit?
PP: The challenges where numerous, starting with the financial ones. Lack of appropriate funding led us to invest heavily in the project (through Libre Space Foundation funds) to ensure its successful completion. Countless volunteer participation was also key to the success. On the technical side, with minimal documentation and knowledge sharing around space projects we had to re-invent the wheel and discover many procedures and practices in a really short time-frame (6 months - unheard for a space mission). Lack of tools and equipment made our building process a creative exploration as we had to figure out ways to achieve specific tasks resorting to purpose-built projects in our local lab (hackerspace.gr). Testing and verification facilities where also a challenge mainly as we had to undergo much more extensive tests than other missions, having none of our components already "flight proven". Again creativity and countless hours of negotiations and documentation got us to the final delivery point. Launching UPSat in orbit was secured once the delivery happened, but as any typical space mission it came with long delays and timeline push-backs.

Q: What do you hope to accomplish by giving this talk? What do you expect?
Through this talk we would like to raise awareness for open source initiatives in space, and inspire open source technologists (engineers, programmers, analysts, makers) to engage in an open source project. We would also love to gather feedback and ideas on next steps and provide contribution opportunities for interested parties.


HomePod Repairs Cost Almost as Much as a New HomePod (theverge.com) 130

This may not come as a huge surprise, but it's going to be pricey if you break Apple's fully sealed and densely packed new speaker. From a report: Repair pricing for the HomePod was posted to Apple's website this week, and the number is high enough that it's clear you should invest in a warranty if you're worried about breaking one: an out-of-warranty repair from Apple will cost $279 in the US, which is 80 percent of the price of a brand-new HomePod. So you're not so much repairing it as getting a small discount on a new one.

Android Wear Is Getting Killed, and It's All Qualcomm's Fault (arstechnica.com) 174

The death of Android Wear is all Qualcomm's fault, largely due to the fact that the company "has a monopoly on smartwatch chips and doesn't seem interested in making any smartwatch chips," writes Ars Technica's Ron Amadeo. This weekend marks the second birthday of Qualcomm's Snapdragon Wear 2100 SoC, which was announced in February 2016 and is the "least awful smartwatch SoC you can use in an Android Wear device." Since Qualcomm skipped out on an upgrade last year, and it doesn't seem like we'll get a new smartwatch chip any time soon, the entire Android Wear market will continue to suffer. From the report: In a healthy SoC market, this would be fine. Qualcomm would ignore the smartwatch SoC market, make very little money, and all the Android Wear OEMs would buy their SoCs from a chip vendor that was addressing smartwatch demand with a quality chip. The problem is, the SoC market isn't healthy at all. Qualcomm has a monopoly on smartwatch chips and doesn't seem interested in making any smartwatch chips. For companies like Google, LG, Huawei, Motorola, and Asus, it is absolutely crippling. There are literally zero other options in a reasonable price range (although we'd like to give a shoutout to the $1,600 Intel Atom-equipped Tag Heuer Connected Modular 45), so companies either keep shipping two-year-old Qualcomm chips or stop building smartwatches. Android Wear is not a perfect smartwatch operating system, but the primary problem with Android Wear watches is the hardware, like size, design (which is closely related to size), speed, and battery life. All of these are primarily influenced by the SoC, and there hasn't been a new option for OEMs since 2016. There are only so many ways you can wrap a screen, battery, and body around an SoC, so Android smartwatch hardware has totally stagnated. To make matters worse, the Wear 2100 wasn't even a good chip when it was new.

Researchers Are Developing An Algorithm That Makes Smartphones Child-Proof (technologyreview.com) 67

An anonymous reader quotes a report from MIT Technology Review: Researchers at the University of South Carolina and China's Zhejiang University have created an algorithm that can spot whether your kid is accidentally trying to, say, order from Amazon without your knowing. There are already plenty of activity-monitoring apps that aim to control what kids do on phones, but parents need to add them and turn them on, and they could be disabled by tech-savvy children. The researchers figured that automated age-range detection would make it easier for parents to hand their phones over to curious children without worrying that the kids will stumble upon an inappropriate website or get into a work e-mail account.

The researchers built a simple app and asked a group of kids between the ages of three and 11 -- and a group of adults between 22 and 60 -- to use it. The app had participants unlock an Android phone and then play a numbers-based game on it, so that the researchers could record a variety of taps and swipes. They also tracked things like the amount of pressure applied by a user's finger and the area it encompassed. The researchers used the resulting data to train an age-detecting algorithm that they say is 84 percent accurate with just one swipe on the screen -- a figure that goes up to 97 percent after eight swipes.

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