Power

Supercomputers Are Driving a Revolution In Hurricane Forecasting (arstechnica.com) 64

Ars Technica's Eric Berger reports of how dramatic increases in computer power have helped improve the accuracy of hurricane forecasts: Based upon new data from the National Hurricane Center for hurricanes based in the Atlantic basin, the average track error for a five-day forecast fell to 155 nautical miles in 2017. That is, the location predicted by the hurricane center for a given storm was just 155 nautical miles away from the actual position of the storm five days later. What is incredible about this is that, back in 1998, this was the average error for a two-day track forecast. In fact, the annual "verification" report released Wednesday shows that for the hyperactive 2017 Atlantic hurricane season -- which included the devastating hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria -- the National Hurricane Center set records for track forecasts at all time periods: 12-hour, 24-hour, and two-, three-, four- and five-day forecasts.
Google

Google Announces 8x Faster TPU 3.0 For AI, Machine Learning (extremetech.com) 27

At its developer conference yesterday, Google announced third-generation TPUs (Tensor Processing Units) for AI and machine learning, which are eight times more powerful than the Google TPU 2.0 pods with up to 100 petaflops in performance. They're so power-hungry that they require water cooling -- something previous TPUs haven't required. ExtremeTech reports: So what do we know about TPU 3.0? Not much -- but we can make a few educated guesses. According to Google's own documentation, TPU 1.0 was built on a 28nm process node at TSMC, clocked at 700MHz, and consumed 40W of power. Each TPU PCB connected via PCIe 3.0 x16. TPU 2.0 made some significant changes. Unlike TPU v1, which could only handle 8-bit integer operations, Google added support for single-precision floats in TPU v2 and added 8GB of HBM memory to each TPU to improve performance. A TPU cluster consists of 180 TFLOPS of total computational power, 64GB of HBM memory, and 2,400GB/s of memory bandwidth in total (the last thrown in purely of the purposes of making PC enthusiasts moan with envy).

No word yet on other advanced capabilities of the processors, and they are supposedly still for Google's own use, rather than wider adoption. Pichai claims TPU v3 can handle 100 PFLOPS, but that has to be the clustered variant, unless Google is also rolling out a new tentative project we'll call "Google Stellar-Equivalent Thermal Density." We would've expected to hear about it, if that was the case. As more companies flock to the AI / ML banner, expect to see more firms throwing their hats into this proverbial ring.

Hardware

System76 Oryx Pro Linux Laptop is Now Thinner and Faster (betanews.com) 113

An anonymous reader shares a report: Last week, System76 started to share details about its refreshed Linux-powered Oryx Pro laptop. It would be thinner and more powerful, while adding twice the battery life of its predecessor. Unfortunately, we did not yet know exactly what the laptop looked like. Today, we finally have official images. The new Oryx Pro is quite breathtaking, as it is a true Pro machine -- with the USB Type-A, Ethernet, and HDMI ports you expect -- while being just 19mm thin. It has the horsepower that power-users need, thanks to its 8th Gen Intel Core i7 processor and NVIDIA GeForce GTX 10-Series GPU.
Crime

Police Drop Charges Filed Against 19-Year-Old Archivist For Downloading FOIA Releases (techdirt.com) 154

An anonymous reader quotes a report form Techdirt: Last month, [...] an unnamed 19-year-old was facing criminal charges for downloading publicly-available documents from a government Freedom of Information portal. The teen had written a script to fetch all available documents from the Nova Scotia's government FOI site -- a script that did nothing more than increment digits at the end of the URL to find everything that had been uploaded by the government. The government screwed up. It uploaded documents to the publicly-accessible server that hadn't been redacted yet. It was a very small percentage of the total haul -- 250 of the 7,000 docs obtained -- but the government made a very big deal out of it after discovering they had been accessed.

Fortunately, Nova Scotia law enforcement has decided there's nothing to pursue in this case: "In an email to CBC News, Halifax police Supt. Jim Perrin did not mention what kind of information police were given from the province, but he said it was a 'high-profile case that potentially impacted many Nova Scotians.' 'As the investigation evolved, we have determined that the 19-year-old who was arrested on April 11 did not have intent to commit a criminal offense by accessing the information,' Perrin said in the email."

Cloud

Nintendo Switch Online Service Will Launch With 20 NES Games, Cloud Saves, More (polygon.com) 51

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Polygon: Nintendo's online service for the Switch will include access to a selection of classic video games from the NES era as part of the subscription service. Today, Nintendo announced some of the games that will be included as part of the Nintendo Switch Online classic games selection. The 10 NES titles confirmed for the service, which Nintendo refers to as "Nintendo Entertainment System -- Nintendo Switch Online" in a press release, are: Soccer, Tennis, Donkey Kong, Mario Bros., Super Mario Bros., Balloon Fight, Ice Climber, Dr. Mario, The Legend of Zelda, and Super Mario Bros. 3. Nintendo promises 20 NES games will be available when Nintendo Switch Online goes live in September, meaning 10 classic NES games are still to be announced. New games for the service will be added regularly, Nintendo says.

Those NES games will include some sort of online play as part of Nintendo Switch Online. That includes online competitive or cooperative multiplayer, or simply taking turns controlling the game. "Friends can even watch each other play single-player games online, and 'pass the controller' at any time," Nintendo said in a release. "Every classic NES game will support voice chat via the Nintendo Switch Online smartphone app. It will also be possible to play these games offline."
Some other details of the service, as reported by Nintendo Life, include the option for cloud save data backups and a four tiered pricing plan. In the U.S., the pricing is as follows: one month is $3.99; three months is $7.99; twelve months is $19.99; twelve month family membership is $34.99 (with up to eight Nintendo accounts on different systems that will be able to use the service).
Cloud

Edge Computing: Explained (theverge.com) 159

An anonymous reader shares a report from The Verge, written by Paul Miller: In the beginning, there was One Big Computer. Then, in the Unix era, we learned how to connect to that computer using dumb (not a pejorative) terminals. Next we had personal computers, which was the first time regular people really owned the hardware that did the work. Right now, in 2018, we're firmly in the cloud computing era. Many of us still own personal computers, but we mostly use them to access centralized services like Dropbox, Gmail, Office 365, and Slack. Additionally, devices like Amazon Echo, Google Chromecast, and the Apple TV are powered by content and intelligence that's in the cloud -- as opposed to the DVD box set of Little House on the Prairie or CD-ROM copy of Encarta you might've enjoyed in the personal computing era. As centralized as this all sounds, the truly amazing thing about cloud computing is that a seriously large percentage of all companies in the world now rely on the infrastructure, hosting, machine learning, and compute power of a very select few cloud providers: Amazon, Microsoft, Google, and IBM.

The advent of edge computing as a buzzword you should perhaps pay attention to is the realization by these companies that there isn't much growth left in the cloud space. Almost everything that can be centralized has been centralized. Most of the new opportunities for the "cloud" lie at the "edge." The word edge in this context means literal geographic distribution. Edge computing is computing that's done at or near the source of the data, instead of relying on the cloud at one of a dozen data centers to do all the work. It doesn't mean the cloud will disappear. It means the cloud is coming to you.
Miller goes on to "examine what people mean practically when they extoll edge computing," focusing on latency, privacy and security, and bandwidth.
iMac

Apple's iMac Turns 20 Years Old (cnn.com) 127

Twenty years ago on May 6, 1998, Steve Jobs unveiled the iMac for the first time. Current CEO Tim Cook shared footage from the event on Twitter Sunday. It shows Jobs describing the $1,299 iMac as an impossibly futuristic device. CNNMoney reports: "The whole thing is translucent, you can see into it. It's so cool," Jobs gushes. He points to a handle that allows the computer's owner to easily lift the device, which is about the size of a modern microwave oven. He takes a jab at the competition: "The back of this thing looks better than the front of the other guy's, by the way." In January 1999, less than a year after the iMac's debut, Apple more than tripled its quarterly profit.

The San Francisco Chronicle declared Apple was "cashing in on insatiable demand for its new space-age iMac computer." For the next decade, Jobs kept the new "i" products coming. Today, the iMac is in its seventh generation and is virtually unrecognizable from its ancestor. An Apple spokesperson notes an "iMac today consumes up to 96% less energy in sleep mode than the first generation."
Some of the original iMac's tech specs include: PowerPC G3 processor clocked at 233MHz, 15-inch display with 1,024x768 resolution, two USB ports and Ethernet with a built-in software modem, 4GB hard drive, 32MB of RAM (expandable to 128MB), 24x CD-ROM drive, built-in stereo speakers with SRS sound, Apple-designed USB keyboard and mouse, and Mac OS 8.1.
Software

MIT Invented a Tool That Allows Driverless Cars To Navigate Rural Roads Without a Map (vice.com) 69

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Motherboard: A student at MIT's Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Lab (CSAIL) is developing new technology, called MapLite, that eliminates the need for maps in self-driving car technology altogether. This could more easily enable a fleet-sharing model that connects carless rural residents and would facilitate intercity trips that run through rural areas. In a paper posted online on May 7 by CSAIL and project partner Toyota, 30-year-old PhD candidate Teddy Ort -- along with co-authors Liam Paull and Daniela Rus -- detail how using LIDAR (a radar-like sensor that uses lasers instead of radio waves to measure distances) and GPS together can enable self-driving cars to navigate on rural roads without having a detailed map to guide them. The team was able to drive down a number of unpaved roads in rural Massachusetts and reliably scan the road for curves and obstacles up to 100 feet ahead, according to the paper.
Cloud

Microsoft Is Moving Kinect to the Cloud (theverge.com) 37

At the annual Build conference, Microsoft's CEO Satya Nadella announced that Kinect is moving to the cloud. "Kinect, when we first launched it in 2010, was a speech-first, gaze-first, vision-first device. It was used in gaming, and then, later on, it came to the PC, and it was used in many applications: medical, industrial, robotics, education," said Nadella. "We've been inspired by what developers have done, and since Kinect, we've made a tremendous amount of progress when it comes to some of the foundational technologies in HoloLens. So we're taking those advances and packaging them up as Project Kinect for Azure." The Verge reports: It's big news after the depth camera and microphone accessory that originally debuted on the Xbox 360 was basically declared dead last October when Microsoft stopped manufacturing it. Alex Kipman, a technical fellow at Microsoft, explained in a LinkedIn blog post that Project Kinect for Azure would combine the depth sensor with Azure AI services that could help developers make devices that will be more precise "with less power consumption." Kipman also notes that AI deep learning on depth images could lead to "cheaper-to-deploy AI algorithms" that require smaller networks to operate.
United Kingdom

UK Police Say 92 Percent False Positive Facial Recognition Is No Big Deal (arstechnica.com) 189

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Ars Technica: A British police agency is defending its use of facial recognition technology at the June 2017 Champions League soccer final in Cardiff, Wales -- among several other instances -- saying that despite the system having a 92-percent false positive rate, "no one" has ever been arrested due to such an error. New data about the South Wales Police's use of the technology obtained by Wired UK and The Guardian through a public records request shows that of the 2,470 alerts from the facial recognition system, 2,297 were false positives. In other words, nine out of 10 times, the system erroneously flagged someone as being suspicious or worthy of arrest.

In a public statement, the SWP said that it has arrested "over 450" people as a result of its facial recognition efforts over the last nine months. "Of course, no facial recognition system is 100 percent accurate under all conditions. Technical issues are normal to all face recognition systems, which means false positives will continue to be a common problem for the foreseeable future," the police wrote. "However, since we introduced the facial recognition technology, no individual has been arrested where a false positive alert has led to an intervention and no members of the public have complained." The agency added that it is "very cognizant of concerns about privacy, and we have built in checks and balances into our methodology to make sure our approach is justified and balanced."

Software

Google Says Android Things is Finally Ready For Smart Devices (theverge.com) 34

Ahead of its developer conference I/O, Google said Monday Android Things, a platform for smart devices that the company announced in 2016, is ready for shipping with consumer devices. From a report: Android Things is hitting its 1.0 release today after launching to developers at the end of 2016. Google says the first devices -- which include speakers from LG and iHome, and smart displays from LG, Lenovo, and JBL -- will be released over the next several months. Android Things is a development platform that's meant to make it easier for hardware companies to start building a gadget. It lets Google handle some of the software and intelligence features, while allowing hardware companies to code for it using the Android tools they're likely already familiar with. It's not clear exactly how much easier this makes things, but it probably simplifies development particularly for gadgets that are going to end up with Google Assistant features or Cast capabilities in them.
Data Storage

Engineers Devise a Technique To Fight Counterfeit or Recycled Smartphone Memory (ieee.org) 52

Flash is designed to last a decade or more of use. A lot of the gadgets that rely on it, however, are not. Shady recyclers have spotted opportunity in that mismatch, stripping out used chips and selling them as new. But fret not, there is something that can be done to address the issue. From a report: Engineers at the University of Alabama have come up with a straightforward electronic examination that can tell if a flash chip is new or recycled, even if that chip has only seen 5 percent or less of its life. And the technique is so straightforward that a smartphone app could run it on its own memory. [...] A flash memory cell is like an ordinary transistor, it has a source and a drain and a channel through which current flows under the control of voltage on the gate electrode. The difference is that the gate is split into several layers -- the control gate, the blocking oxide, the floating gate, and the tunneling oxide.

[...] Voltage on the control gate causes electrons to tunnel through that bottom oxide and get stuck inside the floating gate. This charge or its absence is the stored bit. It alters how much voltage you need to turn the transistor on in a way that you can easily measure. Erasing the bit is done by reversing the voltage and driving the charge out of the floating gate. Ray and his team took advantage of the rather high voltages -- about plus or minus 20 volts -- needed to program and erase flash. The more you program and erase a cell, the more defects will accumulate in the oxide, he explains.

Bug

Eight New Meltdown-Like Flaws Found (reuters.com) 82

An anonymous reader quotes Reuters: Researchers have found eight new flaws in computer central processing units that resemble the Meltdown and Spectre bugs revealed in January, a German computing magazine reported on Thursday. The magazine, called c't, said it was aware of Intel Corp's plans to patch the flaws, adding that some chips designed by ARM Holdings, a unit of Japan's Softbank, might be affected, while work was continuing to establish whether Advanced Micro Devices chips were vulnerable... The magazine said Google Project Zero, one of the original collective that exposed Meltdown and Spectre in January, had found one of the flaws and that a 90-day embargo on going public with its findings would end on May 7...

"Considering what we have seen with Meltdown and Spectre, we should expect a long and painful cycle of updates, possibly even performance or stability issues," said Yuriy Bulygin, chief executive officer of hardware security firm Eclypsium and a former Intel security researcher. "Hopefully, Meltdown and Spectre led to improvements to the complicated process of patching hardware."

Neowin now reports that Intel "is expected to release microcode updates in two waves; one in May, and the other in August."
Crime

70-Year-Old Former Volkswagen CEO Charged With Fraud Over Emissions Scandal (cnn.com) 84

An anonymous reader quotes CNN: The U.S.government has charged Martin Winterkorn, the former chief executive officer of Volkswagen, with fraud in the company's diesel emissions-cheating scandal. The indictment was unsealed in Detroit on Thursday, revealing that Winterkorn had been charged on March 14 with wire fraud and conspiracy to defraud Volkswagen's American customers and violate the Clean Air Act...

Volkswagen admitted in late 2015 that it fitted as many as 11 million diesel vehicles worldwide with software that could cheat emissions tests... The indictment alleges that Winterkorn was made aware of emissions cheating in May 2014 and July 2015, and that he agreed with other senior executives to continue the practice... Winterkorn, 70, is believed to be a resident of Germany. He is the ninth person charged by the U.S. government over emissions cheating.

Graphics

Nvidia Shuts Down Its GeForce Partner Program, Citing Misinformation (theregister.co.uk) 82

In a blog post on Friday, Nvidia announced it is "pulling the plug" on the GeForce Partner Program (GPP) due to the company's unwillingness to combat "rumors" and "mistruths" about the platform. The GPP has only been active for a couple of months. It was launched as a way for gamers to know exactly what they're buying when shopping for a new gaming PC. "With this program, partners would provide full transparency regarding the installed hardware and software in their products," reports Digital Trends. From the report: Shortly after the launch, unnamed sources from add-in card and desktop/laptop manufacturers came forward to reveal that the program will likely hurt consumer choice. Even more, they worried that some of the agreement language may actually be illegal while the program itself could disrupt the current business they have with AMD and Intel. They also revealed one major requirement: The resulting product sports the label "[gaming brand] Aligned Exclusively with GeForce." As an example, if Asus wanted to add its Republic of Gamers (RoG) line to Nvidia's program, it wouldn't be allowed to sell RoG products with AMD-based graphics. Of course, manufacturers can choose whether or not to join Nvidia's program, but membership supposedly had its "perks" including access to early technology, sales rebate programs, game bundling, and more.

According to Nvidia, all it asked of its partners was to "brand their products in a way that would be crystal clear." The company says it didn't want "substitute GPUs hidden behind a pile of techno-jargon." Specifications for desktops and laptops tend to list their graphics components and PC gamers are generally intelligent shoppers that don't need any clarification. Regardless, Nvidia is pulling the controversial program because the "rumors, conjecture, and mistruths go far beyond" the program's intent.

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