Power

The World's Astonishing Dependence On Fossil Fuels Hasn't Changed In 40 Years (qz.com) 243

schwit1 shares a report from Quartz, adding: "Maybe 'dependence' is a poor description of poor people using the ready availability of cheap energy to help lift themselves out of poverty": There are few ways to understand why. First, most of the world's clean-energy sources are used to generate electricity. But electricity forms only 25% of the world's energy consumption. Second, as the rich world moved towards a cleaner energy mix, much of the poor world was just starting to gain access to modern forms of energy. Inevitably, they chose the cheapest option, which was and remains fossil fuels. So yes, we're using much more clean energy than we used to. But the world's energy demand has grown so steeply that we're also using a lot more fossil fuels than in the past.
Intel

Dell Begins Offering Laptops With Intel's 'Management Engine' Disabled (liliputing.com) 140

An anonymous reader quotes Liliputing.com Linux computer vendor System76 announced this week that it will roll out a firmware update to disable Intel Management Engine on laptops sold in the past few years. Purism will also disable Intel Management Engine on computers it sells moving forward. Those two computer companies are pretty small players in the multi-billion dollar PC industry. But it turns out one of the world's largest PC companies is also offering customers the option of buying a computer with Intel Management Engine disabled.

At least three Dell computers can be configured with an "Intel vPro -- ME Inoperable, Custom Order" option, although you'll have to pay a little extra for those configurations... While Intel doesn't officially provide an option to disable its Management Engine, independent security researchers have discovered methods for doing that and we're starting to see PC makers make use of those methods.

The option appears to be available on most of Dell's Latitude laptops (from the 12- to 15-inch screens), including the 7480, 5480, and 5580 and the Latitude 14 5000 Series (as well as several "Rugged" and "Rugged Extreme" models).

Dell is charging anywhere from $20.92 to $40 to disable Intel's Management Engine.
Power

R.I.P., Cape Wind (bostonglobe.com) 228

schwit1 quotes the Boston Globe: What a long, slow death it has been for Massachusetts's first proposed offshore wind farm. But now, its proponents are finally pulling the plug. While others in the energy industry considered the Cape Wind project dead, developer Jim Gordon didn't quit after losing power contracts he needed for financing in early 2015, or after state regulators yanked permission for a power line connection last year.

Another big blow came later in 2016 when Cape Wind foes worked their magic on Beacon Hill. They successfully lobbied lawmakers to prevent Cape Wind from benefitting from a major energy bill, one that requires utilities to buy large amounts of offshore wind. This was exactly the kind of legislation Gordon needed. But he wasn't being allowed at the party...

We're embarking on a new era. Wind turbines are on their way for deeper waters, south of Martha's Vineyard. They won't be Gordon's. But at least he can take some credit, in his defeat, for being a pioneer.

Mozilla

Mozilla Releases Open Source Speech Recognition Model, Massive Voice Dataset (mozilla.org) 58

Mozilla's VP of Technology Strategy, Sean White, writes: I'm excited to announce the initial release of Mozilla's open source speech recognition model that has an accuracy approaching what humans can perceive when listening to the same recordings... There are only a few commercial quality speech recognition services available, dominated by a small number of large companies. This reduces user choice and available features for startups, researchers or even larger companies that want to speech-enable their products and services. This is why we started DeepSpeech as an open source project.

Together with a community of likeminded developers, companies and researchers, we have applied sophisticated machine learning techniques and a variety of innovations to build a speech-to-text engine that has a word error rate of just 6.5% on LibriSpeech's test-clean dataset. vIn our initial release today, we have included pre-built packages for Python, NodeJS and a command-line binary that developers can use right away to experiment with speech recognition.

The announcement also touts the release of nearly 400,000 recordings -- downloadable by anyone -- as the first offering from Project Common Voice, "the world's second largest publicly available voice dataset." It launched in July "to make it easy for people to donate their voices to a publicly available database, and in doing so build a voice dataset that everyone can use to train new voice-enabled applications." And while they've started with English-language recordings, "we are working hard to ensure that Common Voice will support voice donations in multiple languages beginning in the first half of 2018."

"We at Mozilla believe technology should be open and accessible to all, and that includes voice... As the web expands beyond the 2D page, into the myriad ways where we connect to the Internet through new means like VR, AR, Speech, and languages, we'll continue our mission to ensure the Internet is a global public resource, open and accessible to all."
Power

Electric Cars Are Already Cheaper To Own and Run Than Petrol Or Diesel, Says Study (theguardian.com) 474

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Guardian: Electric cars are already cheaper to own and run than petrol or diesel cars in the UK, US and Japan, new research shows. The lower cost is a key factor driving the rapid rise in electric car sales now underway, say the researchers. At the moment the cost is partly because of government support, but electric cars are expected to become the cheapest option without subsidies in a few years. The researchers analyzed the total cost of ownership of cars over four years, including the purchase price and depreciation, fuel, insurance, taxation and maintenance. They were surprised to find that pure electric cars came out cheapest in all the markets they examined: UK, Japan, Texas and California.

Pure electric cars have much lower fuel costs -- electricity is cheaper than petrol or diesel -- and maintenance costs, as the engines are simpler and help brake the car, saving on brake pads. In the UK, the annual cost was about 10% lower than for petrol or diesel cars in 2015, the latest year analyzed. Hybrid cars which cannot be plugged in and attract lower subsidies, were usually a little more expensive than petrol or diesel cars. Plug-in hybrids were found to be significantly more expensive -- buyers are effectively paying for two engines in one car, the researchers said. The exception in this case was Japan, where plug-in hybrids receive higher subsidies.
The study has been published in the journal Applied Energy.
Iphone

Every iPhone X Is Not Created Equal (pcmag.com) 74

According to a PC Magazine report that uses data from Cellular Insights, the Qualcomm-powered iPhone X has better LTE performance than the Intel-powered model. From the report: There are three iPhone X models sold globally. Using lab equipment, Cellular Insights tested two of them: the Qualcomm-powered A1865, sold by Sprint, Verizon, and U.S. Cellular and in Australia, China, and India; and the Intel-powered A1901, sold by most other global carriers including AT&T and T-Mobile. (The third model, A1902, is only sold in Japan.) Here in the U.S., we anticipate that the SIM-free model sold directly by Apple will be the A1865, as that's the model that supports all four U.S. carriers. For this test, Cellular Insights looked at performance on LTE Band 4, which is used by every major U.S. carrier except Sprint, as well as in Canada and parts of Latin America. Cellular Insights attenuated an LTE signal from a strong -85dBm until the modems showed no performance. While both modems started out with 195Mbps of download throughput on a 20MHz carrier, the Qualcomm difference appeared quickly, as the Intel modem dropped to 169Mbps at -87dBm. The Qualcomm modem took an additional -6dBm of attenuation to get to that speed. Most consumers will feel the difference in very weak signal conditions, where every dBm of signal matters, so we zoomed in on that in the chart below. At very weak signal strength, below -120dBm, the Qualcomm modem got speeds on average 67 percent faster than the Intel modem. The Intel modem finally died at -129dBm and the Qualcomm modem died at -130dBm, so we didn't find a lot of difference in when the modems finally gave out.
Australia

Tesla Switches on Giant Battery To Shore Up Australia's Grid (reuters.com) 173

Tesla switched on the world's biggest lithium ion battery on Friday in time to feed Australia's shaky power grid for the first day of summer, meeting a promise by Elon Musk to build it in 100 days or give it free. From a report: "South Australia is now leading the world in dispatchable renewable energy," state Premier Jay Weatherill said at the official launch at the Hornsdale wind farm, owned by private French firm Neoen. Tesla won a bid in July to build the 129-megawatt hour battery for South Australia, which expanded in wind power far quicker than the rest of the country, but has suffered a string of blackouts over the past 18 months. In a politically charged debate, opponents of the state's renewables push have argued that the battery is a "Hollywood solution" in a country that still relies on fossil fuels, mainly coal, for two-thirds of its electricity.
Earth

CNN Visualizes Climate Change-Driven Arctic Melt With 360-Degree VR Video (cnn.com) 163

dryriver writes: CNN has put up a slickly produced and somewhat alarming 360-degree browser video experience that allows the viewer to see firsthand what arctic melt looks like in Greenland. The video takes the viewer to the "Ground Zero" of climate change. Throughout the 7-minute long video, the viewer can interactively look around the locations visited. Voice narration and various scientists featured in the video explain what is happening in the Arctic, what causes the melting, and what the potential consequences are for the world.
Robotics

Russia Says It Will Ignore Any UN Ban of Killer Robots (ibtimes.com) 132

According a report from Defense One, a United Nations meeting in Geneva earlier this month on lethal autonomous weapons systems (LAWS) was derailed when Russia said they would not adhere to any prohibitions on killer robots. "The U.N. meeting appeared to be undermined both by Russia's disinterest in it and the framework of the meeting itself," reports International Business Times. "Member nations attempted to come in and define what LAWS' systems would be, and what restrictions could be developed around autonomous war machines, but no progress was made." From the report: In a statement, Russia said that the lack of already developed war machines makes coming up with prohibitions on such machines difficult. "According to the Russian Federation, the lack of working samples of such weapons systems remains the main problem in the discussion on LAWS... this can hardly be considered as an argument for taking preventive prohibitive or restrictive measures against LAWS being a by far more complex and wide class of weapons of which the current understanding of humankind is rather approximate," read the statement.
Robotics

375 Million Jobs May Be Automated By 2030, Study Suggests (cnn.com) 236

An anonymous reader quotes a report from CNNMoney: The McKinsey Global Institute cautions that as many as 375 million workers will need to switch occupational categories by 2030 due to automation. The work most at risk of automation includes physical jobs in predictable environments, such as operating machinery or preparing fast food. Data collection and processing is also in the crosshairs, with implications for mortgage origination, paralegals, accounts and back-office processing. To remain viable, workers must embrace retraining in different fields. But governments and companies will need to help smooth what could be a rocky transition.

Despite the looming challenges, the report revealed how workers can move forward. While the introduction of the personal computer in the 1980s eliminated some jobs, it created many more roles. Workers who are willing to develop new skills should be able to find new jobs. The authors don't expect automation will displace jobs involving managing people, social interactions or applying expertise. Gardeners, plumbers, child and elder-care workers are among those facing less risk from automation.
The report says that 39 million to 73 million jobs in the U.S. could be destroyed, but about 20 million of those displaced workers can be shifted fairly easily into similar occupations. Globally, up to 800 million workers could be displaced.
Education

Physicists Made An Unprecedented 53 Qubit Quantum Simulator (vice.com) 70

Two teams of researchers have published papers [1, 2] in the journal Nature detailing how they were able to create unprecedented quantum simulators consisting of over 50 qubits. The University of Maryland team and National Institute of Standards and Technology team -- the two teams behind one of the two new papers -- were able to create a quantum simulator with 53 qubits. Motherboard reports: Quantum simulators are a special type of quantum computer that uses qubits to simulate complex interactions between particles. Qubits are the informational medium of quantum computers, analogous to a bit in an ordinary computer. Yet rather than existing as a 1 or 0, as is the case in a conventional bit, a qubit can exist in some superposition of both of these states at the same time. For the Maryland experiment, each of the qubits was a laser cooled ytterbium ion. Each ion had the same electrical charge, so they repelled one another when placed in close proximity. The system created by Monroe and his colleagues used an electric field to force the repelled ions into neat rows. At this point, lasers are used to manipulate all the ytterbium qubits into the same initial state. Then another set of lasers is used to manipulate the qubits so that they act like atomic magnets, where each ion has a north and south pole. The qubits either orient themselves with their neighboring ions to form a ferromagnet, where their magnetic fields are aligned, or at random. By changing the strength of the laser beams that are manipulating the qubits, the researchers are able to program them to a desired state (in terms of magnetic alignment).

According to Zhexuan Gong, a physicist at the University of Maryland, the 53 qubits can be used to simulate over a quadrillion different magnetic configurations of the qubits, a number that doubles with each additional qubit added to the array. As these types of quantum simulators keep adding more qubits into the mix, they will be able to simulate ever more complex atomic interactions that are far beyond the capabilities of conventional supercomputers and usher in a new era of physics research. Another team from Harvard and Maryland also released a paper today in which it demonstrated a quantum simulator using 51 qubits.

Power

EPA Confirms Tesla's Model 3 Has a Range of 310 Miles (theverge.com) 283

Tesla's Model 3 has a confirmed range of 310 miles, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. "That figure applies to the long-range version of the Model 3, and echoes the vehicle specs released by Tesla back in July," reports The Verge. "It also makes the Model 3 one of the most efficient passenger electric vehicles on the market." From the report: The EPA's range is used as the advertised figure for electric vehicles that are sold in the US. The 310-mile range is an estimate of the number of miles the vehicle should be able to travel in combined city and highway driving from a full charge. That's 131 miles per gallon gasoline equivalent (MPGe) for city driving, 120 MPGe on the highway, and 126 MPGe combined. You'll have to pay more to get that extended range, though. Tesla said it would be selling a standard version of the Model 3, with just 220 miles of range, for $35,000. The long-range version will start at $44,000, the automaker says. Production on the standard version isn't expected to begin until 2018.
Power

Samsung Develops 'Graphene Ball' Battery With 5x Faster Charging Speed (digitaltrends.com) 137

Heart44 writes: A number of outlets are reporting a Samsung laboratory breakthrough allowing smaller and faster charging lithium-ion batteries using three-dimensional graphene. Digital Trends reports: "Scientists created a 'graphene ball' coating for use inside a regular li-ion cell, which has the effect of increasing the overall capacity by up to 45 percent and speeding up charging by five times. If your phone charges up in 90 minutes now, that number will tumble to just 18 minutes if the cell inside has been given a graphene ball boost. What's more, this doesn't seem to affect the cell's lifespan, with the team claiming that after 500 cycles, the enhanced battery still had a 78 percent charge retention. The graphene coating improves the stability and conductivity of the battery's cathode and electrode, so it's able to take the rigors of fast charging with fewer downsides." The technical paper describing how the graphene ball works and how it's produced is published in the journal Nature.
Bitcoin

Tesla Owners Are Mining Bitcoins With Free Power From Charging Stations (vice.com) 141

dmoberhaus writes: Someone claimed to use their Tesla to power a cryptocurrency mine to take advantage of the free energy given to Tesla owners. But even with free energy, does this scheme make sense? Motherboard ran the numbers.

From the report: "...If we assume that each of the GPUs in this rig draws around 150 watts, then the 16 GPUs have a total power draw of 2.4 kilowatts per hour or 57.6 kilowatt hours per day if they ran for a full 24 hours. According to Green Car Reports, a Tesla Model S gets about 3 miles per kilowatt hour, meaning that running this mining rig for a full day is the equivalent of driving nearly 173 miles in the Tesla. According to the Federal Highway Administration, the average American drives around 260 miles a week. In other words, running this cryptocurrency mine out of the trunk of a Tesla for a day and a half would use as much energy as driving that Tesla for a full week, on average. Moreover, drivers who are not a part of Tesla's unlimited free energy program are limited to 400 kilowatt hours of free electricity per year, meaning they could only run their rig for a little over 7 days on free energy.

Okay, but how about the cost? Let's assume that this person is mining Ethereum with their GPUs. Out of the box, an average GPU can do about 20 megahashes per second on the Ethereum network (that is, performing a math problem known as hashing 20 million times per second). This Tesla rig, then, would have a total hashrate of about 320 megahashes. According to the Cryptocompare profitability calculator, if the Tesla rig was used to mine Ethereum using free electricity, it would result in about .05 Ether per day -- equivalent to nearly $23, going by current prices at the time of writing. In a month, this would result in $675 in profit, or about the monthly lease for a Tesla Model S. So the Tesla would pay for itself, assuming the owner never drove it or used it for anything other than mining Ethereum, Ethereum doesn't drop in value below $450, and the Tesla owner gets all of their energy for free."
Motherboard also notes that this conclusion "doesn't take into account the price of each of the mining rigs, which likely cost about $1,000 each, depending on the quality of the GPUs used." TL;DR: Mining cryptocurrency out of your electric car is not worth it.
Chrome

Microsoft Office Now Available On All Chromebooks (theverge.com) 113

Microsoft has reportedly finished testing out its Office apps on Chromebooks as a number of Chromebooks are now seeing the Office apps in the Google Play Store. Samsung's Chromebook Pro, Acer's Chromebook 15, and Acer's C771 have the Office apps available for download. The Verge reports: The apps are Android versions of Office which include the same features you'd find on an Android tablet running Office. Devices like Asus' Chromebook Flip (with a 10.1-inch display) will get free access to Office on Chrome OS, but larger devices will need a subscription. Microsoft has a rule across Windows, iOS, and Android hardware that means devices larger than 10.1 inches need an Office 365 subscription to unlock the ability to create, edit, or print documents.
Robotics

Scientists Have Built Robot Muscles That Can Lift 1,000 Times Their Own Weight (qz.com) 119

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Quartz: Researchers at Harvard's Wyss Institute and MIT's Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL) announced today (Nov. 27) that they've created robotic "muscles" that can lift up to 1,000 times their own weight. The simple objects are constructed out of metal or plastic "skeletons" that are covered in either a liquid or air, and then sealed in plastic or fabric "skins." The muscle pulls taught when a vacuum is created inside the skin, and goes slack when the vacuum is released. By folding the skeletons in different ways, the vacuum can pull the muscle in different directions. "Vacuum-based muscles have a lower risk of rupture, failure, and damage, and they don't expand when they're operating, so you can integrate them into closer-fitting robots on the human body," Daniel Vogt, a research engineer at the Wyss Institute, said in a release.

These new structures are also surprisingly cheap. As they don't require anything other than water or air to move them, the researchers told Harvard that a single muscle can be built in about 10 minutes, for less than $1. (Obviously, there'd still be a cost for the vacuum or whatever is being used to change the pressure of the muscles.)

Intel

Intel Core i9 Mobile And 9th Gen Coffee Lake Processors Detailed In AIDA64 Update (hothardware.com) 49

Paul Lilly, writing for HotHardware: Looking at the release notes for the latest AIDA64 system diagnostics and benchmarking utility, there are several unannounced Intel processors on tap, including a mobile Core i9 processor and what appears to be a Coffee Lake refresh, due out sometime in 2018. Starting with mobile, it looks like Intel will be making an aggressive play in the laptop space with several new laptop chips, including at least one Core i9 processor with an unlocked multiplier. That is the Core i9-8950HK, a 6-core CPU with Hyper Threading support, 12MB of L3 cache, and a 45W TDP. Sitting below that are a handful of other mobile products, all based on Intel's Coffee Lake-H architecture. Two of them are Core i7 parts -- Core i7-8850H and Core i7-8750H, both of which are 6-core/12-thread processors with 12MB of L3 cache and a 45W TDP, same as the Core i9-8950H, but at presumably different clockspeeds and without an unlocked multiplier. The other two are the Core i5-8400H (6-core/6-thread, 9MB L3 cache, 45W TDP) and Core i3-8300H (4-core/4-thread, 8MB L3 cache, 45W TDP).
Businesses

Amazon: Heat From Data Centers Will Be Used as a Furnace (vox.com) 52

Vox reports on Amazon's recent push for "corporate sustainability": It plans to have 15 rooftop solar systems, with a total capacity of around 41 MW, deployed atop fulfillment centers by the end of this year, with plans to have 50 such systems installed by 2020. Amazon was the lead corporate purchaser of green energy in 2016. That year, it also announced its largest wind energy project to date, the 253 MW Amazon Wind Farm Texas. Overall, the company says, it has "announced or commenced construction on wind and solar projects that will generate a total of 3.6 million megawatt hours (MWh) of renewable energy annually."
But here's the most interesting part. GeekWire reports: Amazon is moving ahead with a unique plan to use heat generated from data centers in the nearby Westin Building to warm some of its new buildings downtown. The system transfers the heat from the data centers via water piped underground to the Amazon buildings. The water is then returned to the Westin Building once it's cooled down to help cool the data centers. The setup will be unusual. "Certainly there are other people using waste heat from server farms but you don't hear a lot about tying it in with buildings across the street from each other," said Seattle City Councilmember Mike O'Brien.
Data Storage

Computer Pioneer Geoff Tootill Passed Away (theguardian.com) 36

"Computer pioneer Geoff Tootill passed away in October," writes long-time Slashdot reader tigersha. Born in 1922, Tootill began his career troubleshooting airborne radar systems during World War II, leading him to some pioneering research in the late 1940s. "He worked on the first computer that stored a program in main memory, as opposed to a paper tape, and actually had the opportunity to teach Alan Turing and debug one of Turing's programs." The Guardian remembers: The computer could store just 32 instructions or numbers using a single cathode ray tube. The machine first worked in June 1948, taking 52 minutes to find the highest factor of 262,144, involving about 3.5 million arithmetic operations. The following year, Tootill transferred to Ferranti, the Manchester-based electrical engineering company, to specify a full-scale computer...the world's first commercially available computer.
That was the Ferranti Mark I, first released in 1951.

Tootill passed away at the age of 95.
Robotics

Famous Robot from 1956 Movie Auctioned For $5.3 Million (newatlas.com) 64

schwit1 tells us that "Robby the Robot" -- a prop from the 1956 movie Forbidden Planet -- has just been auctioned for $5.3 million, making it the second most-expensive movie prop in history. New Atlas reports: The complete Robby suit, control panel, his jeep, numerous spares, alternate original "claw" hands, and the original wooden stage shipping crates, were sold Tuesday by Bonhams in New York for US $5,375,000 including buyers premium. The only purpose-built movie prop to have ever sold for more is Marilyn Monroe's "subway dress" from The Seven Year Itch (1955) which was sold by Profiles in History for $5,520,000 (including buyers premium) in 2011.
After Forbidden Planet, Robby the Robot reappeared in a movie called The Invisible Boy, and later had a climactic showdown with the robot from Lost in Space. He also made appearances on other TV shows, including The Twilight Zone, Mork & Mindy, and The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis. And he even appeared in commercials, including one warning about the dangers of depleting the ozone layer -- plus a commercial for Charmin bathroom tissue.

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