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Japan

Excessive Radiation Inside Fukushima Fries Clean-Up Robot (gizmodo.com) 307

"A remotely-controlled robot sent to inspect and clean a damaged reactor at Japan's Fukushima nuclear plant had to be pulled early when its onboard camera went dark, the result of excess radiation," reports Gizmodo. "The abbreviated mission suggests that radiation levels inside the reactor are even higher than was reported last week -- and that robots are going to have a hell of a time cleaning this mess up." From the report: Last week, Gizmodo reported that radiation levels inside the containment vessel of reactor No. 2 at Fukushima reached a jaw-dropping 530 sieverts per hour, a level high enough to kill a human within seconds. Some Japanese government officials questioned the reading because Tokyo Electric Power Company Holding (TEPCO) calculated it by looking at camera interference on the robot sent in to investigate, rather than measuring it directly with a geiger counter or dosimeter. It now appears that this initial estimate may have been too low. Either that, or TEPCO's robot is getting closer to the melted fuel -- which is very likely. High radiation readings near any of the used fuel are to be expected. Yesterday, that same remotely operated robot had to be pulled when its camera began to fail after just two hours of exposure to the radiation inside the damaged reactor. Accordingly, TEPCO has revised its estimate to about 650 sieverts per hour, which is 120 more sieverts than what was calculated late last month (although the new estimate comes with a 30 percent margin of error). The robot is designed to withstand about 1,000 accumulated sieverts, which given the failure after two hours, jibes well with the camera interference. This likely means that the melted fuel burned through its pressure vessel during the meltdown in March of 2011, and is sitting somewhere nearby.
Medicine

Amputees Control Virtual Prosthetic Arm Using Nerve Signals (newscientist.com) 8

CanadianRealist writes: Current prosthetic arms are usually controlled by detecting signals from the user twitching muscles in the shoulder or arm. This allows only a limited number of possible movements, such as grasp and release. Researchers have developed a new technique that interprets signals from motor neurons in the spinal cord, allowing for a greater range of control of an arm. Signals from nerves associated with hand and arm movements were mapped to the corresponding movements. Test subjects were able to move a virtual prosthetic arm with greater freedom than has been achieved with muscle-controlled prosthetics. (Note: A virtual prosthetic arm was used rather than a real one as this work is still in the early stages.) The study has been published in the journal Nature Biomedical Engineering.
Spam

Spammer Faces Decades In Prison For Sending More Than 1 Million Spam Emails (suntimes.com) 146

mi quotes a report from Chicago Sun-Times: A man has been indicted on federal fraud charges for allegedly sending more than a million spam emails. The indictment charges 36-year-old Michael Persaud of Scottsdale, Arizona, with 10 counts of wire fraud and seeks the forfeiture of four computers, according to a statement from the U.S. attorney's office. The indictment was returned Dec. 9, 2016, and was unsealed after Persaud was arrested last month in Arizona. Between 2012 and 2015, Persaud used multiple IP addresses and domains to send spam emails over at least nine networks, including several servers in Chicago, according to the indictment. He sent more than a million spam emails to people in the U.S. and abroad, using false names to register domains and creating fraudulent "from address" fields to conceal the fact that he was the one sending the emails. Each count carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison.
mi leaves us with some rather unpleasant imagery, writing: "Personally, I wish [the sentence] carried removal of 1 square millimeter of skin for each message instead."
Businesses

Lockheed Martin Screwup Delays Delivery of Air Force GPS Satellites (bloomberg.com) 68

schwit1 writes: Incompetence by a Lockheed Martin subcontractor will delay the delivery of 32 new Air Force GPS satellites and will likely cost the government millions. Bloomberg reports: "Lockheed has a contract to build the first 10 of the satellites designed to provide a more accurate version of the Global Positioning System used for everything from the military's targeting of terrorists to turn-by-turn directions for civilians' smartphones. The program's latest setback may affect a pending Air Force decision on whether to open the final 22 satellites to competition from Lockheed rivals Boeing Co. and Northrop Grumman Corp. 'This was an avoidable situation and raised significant concerns with Lockheed Martin subcontractor management/oversight and Harris program management,' Teague said in a Dec. 21 message to congressional staff obtained by Bloomberg News. The parts in question are ceramic capacitors that have bedeviled the satellite project. They take higher-voltage power from the satellite's power system and reduce it to a voltage required for a particular subsystem. Last year, the Air Force and contractors discovered that Harris hadn't conducted tests on the components, including how long they would operate without failing, that should have been completed in 2010. Now, the Air Force says it found that Harris spent June to October of last year doing follow-up testing on the wrong parts instead of samples of the suspect capacitors installed on the first three satellites. Harris 'immediately notified Lockheed and the government' after a post-test inspection, Teague said in his message." So, the subcontractor first failed to do the required tests, then they did the tests on the wrong parts. Sounds like the kind of quality control problems we have seen recently in Russia and Japan. The worst part? The contract is a cost-plus contract, which means the U.S. tax payer has to absorb the additional costs for fixing the screw-up, not Lockheed Martin or its subcontractor.
Intel

Intel Confirms 8th Gen Core On 14nm, Data Center First To New Nodes (anandtech.com) 78

Ian Cutress, writing for AnandTech: Intel's 8th Generation Core microarchitecture will remain on the 14nm node. This is an interesting development with the recent launch of Intel's 7th Generation Core products being touted as the 'optimization' behind the new 'Process-Architecture-Optimization' three-stage cadence that had replaced the old 'tick-tock' cadence. With Intel stringing out 14nm (or at least, an improved variant of 14nm as we've seen on 7th Gen) for another generation, it makes us wonder where exactly Intel can promise future performance or efficiency gains on the design unless they start implementing microarchitecture changes.
Iphone

All Three New 2017 iPhones To Feature Wireless Charging, Says Analyst (macrumors.com) 143

In late October, Nikkei Asian Review released a report claiming Foxconn was testing wireless charging modules for the iPhone 8. Another report has surfaced recently that further reinforces those claims. KGI Securities analyst Ming-Chi Kuo now claims that all three new iPhones expected to launch later this year will feature wireless charging. MacRumors reports: Kuo said wireless charging increases the internal temperature of smartphones, so he expects the rumored iPhone 8 with an OLED display and glass casing to have a new 3D Touch module with "additional graphite sheet lamination" in order to prevent the device from malfunctioning due to overheating. An excerpt from Kuo's research note obtained by MacRumors: "While we don't expect general users to notice any difference, lamination of an additional graphite sheet is needed for better thermal control and, thus, steady operation; this is because FPCB is replaced with film, which is more sensitive to temperature change of the 3D touch sensor in OLED iPhone." The new 3D Touch module could be up to $5 more expensive for Apple to procure per phone. While that is a minimal increase, it lends further credence to a report claiming the high-end iPhone 8 could cost upwards of $1,000 in the United States due to a significant redesign and the use of premium parts.
EU

86 Percent of New Power in Europe From Renewable Sources in 2016 (theguardian.com) 189

Renewable energy sources made up nearly nine-tenths of new power added to Europe's electricity grids last year, in a sign of the continent's rapid shift away from fossil fuels. From a report on The Guardian: But industry leaders said they were worried about the lack of political support beyond 2020, when binding EU renewable energy targets end. Of the 24.5GW of new capacity built across the EU in 2016, 21.1GW -- or 86% -- was from wind, solar, biomass and hydro, eclipsing the previous high-water mark of 79% in 2014. For the first time windfarms accounted for more than half of the capacity installed, the data from trade body WindEurope showed. Wind power overtook coal to become the EU's second largest form of power capacity after gas, though due to the technology's intermittent nature, coal still meets more of the blocâ(TM)s electricity demand.
Transportation

Tesla To Start Pilot Production of Model 3 This Month (reuters.com) 112

According to Reuters, Tesla is planning to "begin test-building its Model 3 sedans on February 20, a move that could allay concerns about the company meeting its target to start production in July." The sources familiar with the matter did not mention how many of the Model 3 vehicles Tesla aims to build in February, though the number is likely to be small to test the assembly system and the quality of vehicle parts. From the report: Tesla Chief Executive Elon Musk last year told investors and more than 370,000 customers who put deposits down for a Model 3 that he intended to start building the cars in July 2017. At the time, many analysts and suppliers said the timeline was too ambitious and would be difficult to achieve, pointing to Tesla's history of missing aggressive production targets. If Tesla succeeds in starting pilot production of the sedan at its factory in Fremont, California on Feb. 20, the company would be able to share the news with shareholders two days later when it reports fourth-quarter results and better answer any questions about the Model 3 rollout. Musk had told investors last year that the company could miss the July 2017 startup target if suppliers do not meet deadlines.
Android

Android Wear 2.0 Is An Evolutionary Update To Google's Smartwatch OS (techcrunch.com) 40

Google is officially launching Android Wear 2.0 today -- the biggest update to the company's wearable operating system since its launch in 2014. While Android Wear 2.0 will be launching with two new flagship watches from LG -- the LG Watch Sport and LG Watch Style, a number of existing Wear watches will also get this update in the coming weeks and months. TechCrunch reports: The first thing you'll notice when you get a 2.0 watch is the overall update to its design -- both in terms of the overall look but also the user experience. The look of Wear 2.0 now skews closer to Google's Material Design guidelines. While the overall look will still feel familiar to Wear 1.0 users, the update put a stronger emphasis on cards, for example. This means every notification now gets a full screen to show its preview and you can use the watch's dial to scroll through them (assuming your watch has a dial, of course -- otherwise you can obviously still use the touch screen to scroll). The other marquee feature of Wear 2.0 is support for standalone apps that don't need a companion app to run on your phone. That means developers can write apps that are purely geared toward the watch and they can then publish it on the Google Play store, which is now also available directly on the watch. That sounds more useful than it is -- unless you plan on getting an LTE-enabled watch and leave your phone at home. That's an option now that you could run Hangout or Google Music directly on the watch, but, except for runners, that's likely not a typical use case. At the end of the day, the most important use case for a smartwatch remains dealing with notifications. Everything else often feels like an unnecessary complication. [In summary, Frederic Lardinois writes via TechCrunch:] The Android smartwatch market could use a revolution to kickstart what now occasionally feels like a moribund ecosystem. Wear 2.0 doesn't feel revolutionary. It is, however, a perfectly adequate update that addresses many of the issues with Android Wear. It also puts it on parity with its competitors, like Apple's watchOS or Samsung's Tizen. It does also introduce some new use cases for LTE-enabled watches, but I can't help but feel that this will remain a niche category. Much, however, will depend on Google's hardware partners who will now have to bring Wear 2.0 to life.
Facebook

Facebook Is Closing 200 of Its 500 VR Demo Stations At Best Buy Stores Across US (businessinsider.com) 128

According to Business Insider, "Facebook is closing around 200 of its 500 Oculus Rift virtual-reality demo stations at Best Buy locations across the U.S." The reason has to do with "store performance," as multiple Best Buy pop-ups told Business Insider that "it was common for them to go days without giving a single demonstration." From their report: Oculus spokeswoman Andrea Schubert confirmed the closings and said they were due to "seasonal changes." "We're making some seasonal changes and prioritizing demos at hundreds of Best Buy locations in larger markets," she said. "You can still request Rift demos at hundreds of Best Buy stores in the U.S. and Canada." "We still believe the best way to learn about VR is through a live demo," she continued. "We're going to find opportunities to do regular events and pop ups in retail locations and local communities throughout the year." Best Buy spokeswoman Carly Charlson said stores that no longer offer demos will continue to sell the Oculus Rift headset and accompanying touch controllers, which cost $600 and $200 respectively. Multiple "Oculus Ambassador" workers BI spoke with said that, at most, they would sell a few Oculus headsets per week during the holiday season, and that foot traffic to their pop-ups decreased drastically after Christmas. "There'd be some days where I wouldn't give a demo at all because people didn't want to," said one worker at a Best Buy in Texas who asked to remain anonymous. Another worker from California said that Oculus software bugs would often render his demo headsets unusable.
Botnet

Programmer Develops Phone Bot To Target Windows Support Scammers (onthewire.io) 97

Trailrunner7 quotes a report from On the Wire: The man who developed a bot that frustrates and annoys robocallers is planning to take on the infamous Windows support scam callers head-on. Roger Anderson last year debuted his Jolly Roger bot, a system that intercepts robocalls and puts the caller into a never-ending loop of pre-recorded phrases designed to waste their time. Anderson built the system as a way to protect his own landlines from annoying telemarketers and it worked so well that he later expanded it into a service for both consumers and businesses. Users can send telemarketing calls to the Jolly Roger bot and listen in while it chats inanely with the caller. Now, Anderson is targeting the huge business that is the Windows fake support scam. This one takes a variety of forms, often with a pre-recorded message informing the victim that technicians have detected that his computer has a virus and that he will be connected to a Windows support specialist to help fix it. The callers have no affiliation with Microsoft and no way of detecting any malware on a target's machine. It's just a scare tactic to intimidate victims into paying a fee to remove the nonexistent malware, and sometimes the scammers get victims to install other unwanted apps on their PCs, as well. Anderson plans to turn the tables on these scammers and unleash his bots on their call centers. "I'm getting ready for a major initiative to shut down Windows Support. It's like wack-a-mole, but I'm getting close to going nuclear on them. As fast as you can report fake 'you have a virus call this number now' messages to me, I will be able to hit them with thousands of calls from bots," Andrew said in a post Tuesday.
Space

We Finally Have a Computer That Can Survive the Surface of Venus (arstechnica.com) 156

Planet Venus is one of the most inhospitable places in the solar system. The surface temperature there is 470C (878F). This has been one of the key challenges that has prevented us from deeply exploring Venus. Normal chips can only function until around 250C, but it appears, we will soon have a computer that can withstand Venus' weather. From a report on ArsTechnica: Now, researchers out of NASA's Glenn Research Centre appear to have cracked the other big problem with high-temperature integrated circuits: they've crafted interconnects -- the tiny wires that connect transistors and other integrated components together -- that can also survive the extreme conditions on Venus. The NASA Glenn researchers combined the new interconnects with some SiC transistors to create a ceramic-packaged chip. The chip was then placed into the GEER -- the Glenn Extreme Environments Rig, a machine that can maintain Venus-like temperature and pressure for hundreds of hours at a time. The chip, a simple 3-stage oscillator, kept functioning at a steady 1.26MHz for 521 hours (21.7) days before the GEER had to be shut down.
Businesses

Samsung Factory Fire Caused By Faulty Batteries (theguardian.com) 71

A fire that drew out 110 firefighters and 19 trucks to a factory operated by Samsung Galaxy Note 7 battery supplier, Samsung SDI, was caused by discarded faulty batteries, the company has said. From a report: A "minor fire" broke out Wednesday in a Samsung SDI plant in the northern Chinese city of Tianjin and had to be extinguished, according to local emergency services. The fire was contained to a part of the site used for waste processing, including faulty batteries. There were no casualties or significant impact on the operations of the plant, although the local fire department was called, said a Samsung SDI spokesperson. The Wuqing branch of the Tianjin fire department said on Sina Weibo that the "material that caught fire was lithium batteries inside the production workshops and some half-finished products."
Cellphones

Sony's Latest Smartphone Camera Sensor Can Shoot At 1,000fps (theverge.com) 86

Sony has taken the wraps off of its latest smartphone camera sensor which it says can shoot 1080p slow-motion video at 1,000 frames per second. "The new 3-layer CMOS sensor -- an industry first -- can capture slow motion video about eight times faster than its competition with minimal focal pane distortion, according to Sony," reports The Verge. From their report: The sensor can also take 19.3MP images in 1/120th of a second, which Sony says is four times faster than other chips, thanks to high-capacity DRAM, and a 4-tier construction on the circuit section used to convert analog video signals to digital signals. All of that fancy camera talk basically means this sensor blows every camera currently in a smartphone out of the water. Although the iPhone 7 and the Google Pixel can shoot 1080p slow-motion video at 120fps, they are still miles behind what Sony has reached with its latest sensor. At 1,000fps it even surpasses the Sony RX 100 V, which can only shoot at 960fps.
Power

There Are Now Twice As Many Solar Jobs As Coal Jobs In the US (vox.com) 414

According to a new survey from the nonprofit Solar Foundation, the solar industry now employs more than 260,000 people even though solar power provides just 1.3 percent of America's electricity. Last year, the industry accounted for one of every 50 new jobs nationwide. "Solar employs slightly more workers than natural gas, over twice as many as coal, over three times that of wind energy, and almost five times the number employed in nuclear energy," the report notes. "Only oil/petroleum has more employment (by 38%) than solar." Vox reports: This chart breaks it down by job type. The majority of solar jobs are in installation, with a median wage of $25.96 per hour. The residential market, which is the most labor-intensive, accounts for 41 percent of employment, the commercial market 28 percent, and the utility-scale market the rest. Now, mind you, comparing solar and coal is a bit unfair. Solar is growing fast from a tiny base, which means there's a lot of installation work to be done right now, whereas no one is building new coal plants in the U.S. anymore. (Quite the contrary: Many older coal plants have been closing in recent years, thanks to stricter air-pollution rules and cheap natural gas.) So solar is in a particularly labor-intensive phase at the moment. Still, it's worth thinking through what these numbers mean. One argument you could make about these numbers is that all this employment is, in a way, inefficient. If the solar industry hopes to keep pushing costs down and become a major U.S. energy source, it will likely need to become less labor-intensive over time. But labor costs are only one way to think about the issue. There's also a political angle here. America's energy system is inextricable from policy and politics, and an industry that creates a lot of jobs is inevitably going to have more influence over that process.

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