Frequency Deviations In Continental Europe Are Causing Electric Clocks To Run Behind By 5 Minutes ( 251

elgatozorbas shares a short note from the European Network of Transmission System Operators for Electricity (ENTSO-E): Apparently the Continental European Power System has been off since mid-January, causing some clocks to run behind by 5 minutes. How common are these mains-frequency synchronized clocks anyway, and why are they built that way? "The power deviations have led to a slight drop in the electric frequency," reports ENTSO-E. "This in turn has also affected those electric clocks that are steered by the frequency of the power system and not by a quartz crystal... All actions are taken by the transmission system operators (TSOs) of Continental Europe and by ENTSO-E to resolve the situation."

Google Unveils 72-Qubit Quantum Computer With Low Error Rates ( 76

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Tom's Hardware: Google announced a 72-qubit universal quantum computer that promises the same low error rates the company saw in its first 9-qubit quantum computer. Google believes that this quantum computer, called Bristlecone, will be able to bring us to an age of quantum supremacy. In a recent announcement, Google said: "If a quantum processor can be operated with low enough error, it would be able to outperform a classical supercomputer on a well-defined computer science problem, an achievement known as quantum supremacy. These random circuits must be large in both number of qubits as well as computational length (depth). Although no one has achieved this goal yet, we calculate quantum supremacy can be comfortably demonstrated with 49 qubits, a circuit depth exceeding 40, and a two-qubit error below 0.5%. We believe the experimental demonstration of a quantum processor outperforming a supercomputer would be a watershed moment for our field, and remains one of our key objectives."

According to Google, a minimum error rate for quantum computers needs to be in the range of less than 1%, coupled with close to 100 qubits. Google seems to have achieved this so far with 72-qubit Bristlecone and its 1% error rate for readout, 0.1% for single-qubit gates, and 0.6% for two-qubit gates. Quantum computers will begin to become highly useful in solving real-world problems when we can achieve error rates of 0.1-1% coupled with hundreds of thousand to millions of qubits. According to Google, an ideal quantum computer would have at least hundreds of millions of qubits and an error rate lower than 0.01%. That may take several decades to achieve, even if we assume a "Moore's Law" of some kind for quantum computers (which so far seems to exist, seeing the progress of both Google and IBM in the past few years, as well as D-Wave).


Oculus Rift Is Now the Most Popular VR Headset On Steam ( 60

The Oculus Rift has overtaken the HTC Vive on the monthly Steam hardware survey for the first time since the launch of both headsets in early 2016. VentureBeat reports: The survey is entirely optional and scans a user's PC for various hardware components, including any VR headsets that may be connected. After a few months of catching up to Vive, the Rift was neck-and-neck with its rival in January's survey with 0.9 percent between the two. However, February saw Oculus step past HTC; Rift took 47.31 percent of the total hardware use, and Vive fell to 45.38 percent, leaving just under 2 percent between them. It's still a tight race, then, but this is the first time Rift has managed to surpass Vive. Again, this is in no way confirmation that the Oculus Rift has sold more units than the HTC Vive, as neither headset has had official sales figures released, but it's the best shot we've got at gauging the market share right now. Rift also took the "Most Popular Headset" space in Steam's individual listings for the second time ever.
The Internet

Google Fiber Is a Faint Echo of the Disruption We Were Promised ( 173

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Motherboard: Some eight years on and Google Fiber's ambitions are just a pale echo of the disruptive potential originally proclaimed by the company. While Google Fiber did make some impressive early headway in cities like Austin, the company ran into numerous deployment headaches. Fearing competition, incumbent ISPs like AT&T and Comcast began a concerted effort to block the company's access to essential utility poles, even going so far as to file lawsuits against cities like Nashville that tried to expedite the process. Even in launched markets, customer uptake wasn't quite what executives were expecting. Estimates peg Google Fiber TV subscribers at fewer than 100,000, thanks in large part to the cord cutting mindset embraced by early adopters. Broadband subscriber tallies (estimated as at least 500,000) were notably better, but still off from early company projections. Even without anti-competitive roadblocks, progress was slow. Digging up city streets and burying fiber was already a time-consuming and expensive process. And while Google has tried to accelerate these deployments via something called "microtrenching" (machines that bury fiber an inch below roadways), broadband deployment remains a rough business. It's a business made all the rougher by state and local regulators and lawmakers who've been in the pockets of entrenched providers like Comcast for the better part of a generation.

Levi Strauss Replaces Human Sanding With Automated Lasers ( 237

_Sharp'r_ writes: Stressing jeans used to require 300 to 400 workers with sandpaper all day. Now Levi Strauss does a better job by shooting their new jeans with computer-guided lasers in intricate patterns generated in CAD systems. Along the way, they save water and "will cut the number of chemicals it uses to produce jeans from 1,000 to a few dozen," reports Bloomberg.

Thieves Steal 600 Powerful Bitcoin-Mining Computers In Iceland ( 88

The Associated Press reports of a Bitcoin heist in Iceland where thieves stole some 600 computers used to "mine" bitcoin and other virtual currencies. "Some 11 people were arrested, including a security guard, in what Icelandic media have dubbed the 'Big Bitcoin Heist,'" reports the Associated Press. From the report: The powerful computers, which have not yet been found, are worth almost $2 million. But if the stolen equipment is used for its original purpose -- to create new bitcoins -- the thieves could turn a massive profit in an untraceable currency without ever selling the items. Three of four burglaries took place in December and a fourth took place in January, but authorities did not make the news public earlier in hopes of tracking down the thieves. Police tracking the stolen computers are monitoring electric consumption across the country in hopes the thieves will show their hand, according to an industry source who spoke on condition of anonymity because he is not allowed to speak to the media. Unusually high energy usage might reveal the whereabouts of the illegal bitcoin mine. Authorities this week called on local internet providers, electricians and storage space units to report any unusual requests for power.

Bad iPhone Notches Are Happening To Good Android Phones ( 260

The Verge's Vlad Savov argues that Android smartphone manufacturers are copying the iPhone's design (specifically, the iPhone X's notch) with more speed and cynicism than ever before: I've been coming to Mobile World Congress for close to a decade now, and I've never seen the iPhone copied quite so blatantly and cynically as I witnessed during this year's show. MWC 2018 will go down in history as the launch platform for a mass of iPhone X notch copycats, each of them more hastily and sloppily assembled than the next. No effort is being made to emulate the complex Face ID system that resides inside Apple's notch; companies like Noa and Ulefone are in such a hurry to get their iPhone lookalike on the market that they haven't even customized their software to account for the new shape of the screen. More than one of these notched handsets at MWC had the clock occluded by the curved corner of the display. Asus is one of the biggest consumer electronics companies in the world, and yet its copycat notch is probably the most galling of them all. The Zenfone 5 looks and feels like a promising phone, featuring loud speakers, the latest Sony imaging sensor with larger-than-average pixels, and a price somewhere south of $499. I should be celebrating it right now, but instead I'm turning away in disgust as Asus leans into its copying by calling Apple a "Fruit Company" repeatedly. If you're going to copy the iPhone, at least have the decency to avoid trying to mock it.

It would be stating the obvious to say that this trend is not a good one. I'm absolutely of the belief that everyone, Apple included, copies or borrows ideas from everyone else in the mobile industry. This is a great way to see technical improvements disseminated across the market. But the problem with these notched screens on Android phones is that they're purely cosmetic. Apple's notch at the top of the iPhone X allows the company to have a nearly borderless screen everywhere else, plus it accommodates the earpiece and TrueDepth camera for Face ID. Asus et al have a sizeable "chin" at the bottom of their phones, so the cutouts at the top are self-evidently motivated by the desire to just look -- not function, look -- like an iPhone X.

Portables (Apple)

Apple To Release a Cheaper MacBook Air Later This Year ( 149

According to Apple analyst Ming-Chi Kuo of KGI Securities, Apple doesn't appear to be axing its MacBook Air line, despite it being on the market for ten years. Kuo says Apple is planning to release a 13-inch MacBook Air "with a lower price tag" during the second quarter of 2018, which should help push MacBook shipments up by 10-15 percent this year. 9to5Mac reports: Details on the new MacBook Air are sparse, but this report from KGI corroborates a similarly vague report from Digitimes earlier this year. The MacBook Air line has been largely stagnate in recent years as Apple has shifted focus towards the 12-inch MacBook and MacBook Pro. Currently, Apple sells the 13-inch MacBook Air starting at $999, and KGI seems to think it will get even cheaper this year. Despite its neglect by Apple, the MacBook Air remains a popular choice for college students.

Amazon's Jeff Bezos Called Out On Counterfeit Products Problem ( 169

An anonymous reader quotes a report from CNET: Here's the scenario. A small company designs and creates a product and puts it up on Amazon. Things go well. People really like it. They post hundreds of positive reviews. Sales build -- and keep building. Everything is going great. And then, boom, things go south in a hurry. Another company has created a counterfeit version of the product and is selling it under the same name only it's selling it for less, stealing all the sales. That's exactly what happened to Portland-based Elevation Lab, its founder Casey Hopkins said, accusing Amazon of being "complicit with counterfeiting" in a blog post.

The Anchor, Elevation's popular under-desk headphone mount, has been getting flooded with counterfeits, Hopkins said, noting the situation certainly isn't unique to his company. "The current counterfeit seller, Suiningdonghanjiaju Co Ltd (yeah they sound legit), has been on there for the past 5 days and taken all the sales," Hopkins wrote. Adding further insult to injury, he said Elevation has paid Amazon a "boatload of money" to advertise the product that it has "built, invested in, and shipped." Amazon has now purged the Suiningdonghanjiaju listing, which is noted in our cart as "no longer available from the selected seller." It instead defaults to Elevation's own stock. Hopkins told CNET that counterfeiters have been purged at least five times in recent weeks only to return a week later under a different seller name "to hijack the listing." He said it takes Amazon 5 days to remove the seller.
"If you have a registered brand in the Brand Registry and don't sell the product wholesale, there could be one box to check for that," Hopkins wrote. "And anyone else would have to get approval or high vetting to sell the product, especially if they are sending large quantities to FBA [Fulfillment by Amazon]. I imagine there are some algorithmic solutions that could catch most of it too. And it wouldn't hurt to increase the size of the Brand Registry team so they can do their work faster." Hopkins took a final poke at Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, saying: "If you're reading this, come on, this is Day 2 activity."

2M Americans Lost Power After 'Bomb Cyclone' ( 129

An anonymous reader quotes the Associated Press: Tens of thousands of utility workers in the Northeast raced to restore power to more than 1.5 million homes and businesses just days after a powerful nor'easter caused flooding and wind damage from Virginia to Maine... Flood waters had receded in most areas, but Friday's storm had taken huge chunks out of the coastline in Massachusetts and other states... Residents in other areas, meanwhile, bailed out basements and surveyed the damage while waiting for power to be restored, a process that power companies warned could take days in some areas.

Power outages on the East Coast dipped by about 500,000 from a peak of 2 million earlier Saturday, but officials said lingering wind gusts were slowing repair efforts. The storm's aftermath also was still affecting travel, with airports from Washington, D.C. to Boston reporting dozens of delays and cancellations, while service was slowly returning to normal on rail systems throughout the region... The death toll from the storm increased by four, with authorities saying at least nine people had lost their lives.

Airlines canceled more than 2,800 flights, according to the Associated Press, while Amtrak suspended service along the northeast corridor (though it's saying they should all return to service on Sunday).

CNN reported roughly 1 in 4 Americans were in the storm's path, facing winds as high as 50 mph, while the Associated Press reports gusts up to 90 mph on Cape Cod.

Desktop PC Shipments Dip Below 100m/Year ( 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 ( 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 ( 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 ( 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 ( 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.

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