Power

Microsoft 'Cuts The Cord' With A Local Power Utility To Pursue Greener Energy (seattletimes.com) 62

Frosty Piss summarizes the Seattle Times: Microsoft will bypass Puget Sound Energy to secure carbon-free power on wholesale markets under an agreement with state regulators. In 2015, 60 percent of PSE electricity came from coal and natural-gas plants, according to company statistics. The agreement calls for Microsoft to pay a $23.6 million transition fee to Puget Sound Energy, which the utility will pass on to its Western Washington customers... But the settlement does not address one major financial issue that hangs over PSE and its customers -- how to handle the costs of shutting down coal-fired units in the Colstrip, Montana, power station... State regulators and Puget Sound Energy determined that Microsoft is legally responsible for a share of the Colstrip, Montana coal-fired generating plant costs.
NASA

Scrap Dealer Finds Apollo-Era NASA Computers In Dead Engineer's Basement (arstechnica.com) 104

Long-time Slashdot reader Joe_NoOne quotes Ars Technica: A pair of Apollo-era NASA computers and hundreds of mysterious tape reels have been discovered in a deceased engineer's basement in Pittsburgh... Most of the tapes are unmarked, but the majority of the rest appear to be instrumentation reels for Pioneer 10 and Pioneer 11, NASA's fly-by missions to Jupiter and Saturn... At some point in the early 1970s, an IBM engineer working for NASA at the height of the Space Race took home the computers -- and the mysterious tape reels. A scrap dealer, invited to clean out the deceased's electronics-filled basement, discovered the computers. The devices were clearly labelled "NASA PROPERTY," so the dealer called NASA to report the find. "Please tell NASA these items were not stolen," the engineer's heir told the scrap dealer, according to the report. "They belonged to IBM Allegheny Center Pittsburgh, PA 15212. During the 1968-1972 timeframe, IBM was getting rid of the items so [redacted engineer] asked if he could have them and was told he could have them."
"NASA told the family of the deceased that it was not in the junk removal business," Ars Technica reports, adding "The two computers are so heavy that a crane was likely used to move the machines." A NASA archivist concluded there's no evidence the tapes contained anything of historic significance.
Movies

Biologists Use Gene Editing To Store Movies In DNA (scientificamerican.com) 87

New submitter elmohound writes: A recent paper in Nature describes how gene editing was used to store a digital movie into a bacterial population. The choice of subject is a nice hommage to Muybridge's 1887 photos. From a report via Scientific American: "The technical achievement, reported on July 12 in Nature, is a step towards creating cellular recording systems that are capable of encoding a series of events, says Seth Shipman, a synthetic biologist at Harvard Medical School in Boston, Massachusetts. To develop such a system, however, his team would need to establish a method for recording hundreds of events in a cell. Shipman and his colleagues, including Harvard geneticist George Church, harnessed the CRISPR-Cas immune system best known for enabling researchers to alter genomes with relative ease and accuracy. Shipman's team exploited the ability to capture snippets of DNA from invading viruses and store them in an organized array in the host genome. In nature, those snippets then target an enzyme to slice up the invader's DNA. The team designed its system so that these snippets corresponded to pixels in an image. The researchers encoded the shading of each pixel -- along with a barcode that indicated its position in the image -- into 33 DNA letters. Each frame of the movie consisted of 104 of these DNA fragments." You can view the movie here, which consists of five frames adapted from Muybridge's Human and Animal Locomotion series.
China

Automakers Are Asking China To Slow Down Electric Car Quotas (electrek.co) 304

New submitter Kant shares a report from Electrek: The auto industry is once again attempting to slow down the rollout of electric vehicles. Virtually all automakers, except for Tesla of course, have sent a letter to the Chinese government in an attempt to have them drastically weaken their zero-emission vehicle mandate. As we previously reported, China, the world's biggest car market, has somewhat of an aggressive ZEV mandate that would force automakers to have zero-emission vehicles (ZEVs) represent 8% of new car sales as soon as 2018 and quickly ramp up to 12% by 2020. Now Germany's WirtschaftsWoche magazine (via Auto News) reports that the American Automotive Policy Council (AAPC), which represents Chrysler/Fiat, Ford, and GM, the European Automobile Manufacturers Association (ACEA), which represents all major European automakers, the Japan Automobile Manufacturers Association (JAMA) and the Korea Automobile Manufacturers Association (KAMA), have all sent a joint letter to China's Minister of Industry and Information Technology to ask for several significant changes to the mandate.

The "six recommended modifications" include slowing the rollout of the mandate by 1 to 3 years, reconsidering the penalty system if they don't meet the quota, having credits not only for all-electric cars but also plug-in hybrid cars, and basically making the whole mandate weaker so that they don't have to produce as many electric cars.

Cloud

Border Patrol Says It's Barred From Searching Cloud Data On Phones (nbcnews.com) 74

According to a letter obtained by NBC News, U.S. border officers aren't allowed to look at any data stored only in the "cloud" -- including social media data -- when they search U.S. travelers' phones. "The letter (PDF), sent in response to inquiries by Sen. Ron Wyden, (D-Ore.), and verified by Wyden's office, not only states that CBP doesn't search data stored only with remote cloud services, but also -- apparently for the first time -- declares that it doesn't have that authority in the first place." From the report: In April, Wyden and Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., introduced legislation to make it illegal for border officers to search or seize cellphones without probable cause. Privacy advocates and former Homeland Security lawyers have said they are alarmed by how many phones are being searched. The CBP letter, which is attributed to Kevin McAleenan, the agency's acting commissioner, is dated June 20, four months after Wyden asked the Department of Homeland Security (PDF), CBP's parent agency, to clarify what he called the "deeply troubling" practice of border agents' pressuring Americans into providing passwords and access to their social media accounts. McAleenan's letter says officers can search a phone without consent and, except in very limited cases, without a warrant or even suspicion -- but only for content that is saved directly to the device, like call histories, text messages, contacts, photos and videos.
Businesses

PC Shipments Hit the Lowest Level In a Decade (cnbc.com) 202

PC shipments are at the lowest levels since 2007. From a report: Gartner said this week that the PC market declined 4.3 percent during the second quarter. The research company said that shipments were at the "lowest quarter volume since 2007," noting the market dropped for the 11th quarter in a row. The report is in stark contrast to another from IDC in April which said that the PC market grew for the first time in five years. Gartner said HP has the largest global market share with 20.8 percent of the market. HP is trailed by Lenovo which has a 19.9 percent share, with shipments down a substantial 8.4 percent since last year. Dell, Apple and Asus finish out the top five players. In the U.S., Gartner suggests Apple's shipments were down 9.6 percent from last year. The research firm didn't give an explanation for why that might have occurred, though Apple was late to refresh its computers with the latest Intel processors. Upgraded Macs just hit the market last month.
AMD

AMD Unveils Ryzen Threadripper 1950X 16-Core and 1920X 12-Core Specs and Pricing (hothardware.com) 85

MojoKid writes: AMD first teased its Ryzen Threadripper series of high-end desktop (HEDT) processors back in mid-May, but is now sharing additional details on the first two products in the family. Both processors are based on the 14nm Zen core, make use of AMD's new Socket TR4 interface, support quad-channel DDR memory, and feature a total of 64 PCIe lanes. In addition, both processors will come from the factory unlocked. Ryzen Threadripper 1920X will have 12 Cores, 24 Threads, and 3.5/4.0 GHz (Base Clock/Precision Boost) clock speeds. Ryzen Threadripper 1950X will have 16 Cores, 32 Threads, and 3.4/4.0 GHz (Base Clock/Precision Boost) clock speeds. Pricing is set at $799 and $999, respectively, with availability in early August, though Dell's Alienware gaming PC division will have systems shipping with the new chip starting this month. AMD also put the new chips up against Intel's Core i7-7900X 10-core CPU in a Cinebench benchmark run in a video demo, and the 12-core Threadripper chip beats Intel's currently available Skylake-X chip handily, while the 16-core Threadripper outpaces it even further.
Privacy

Amazon May Give Developers Your Private Alexa Transcripts (engadget.com) 166

According to The Information, Amazon may give developers access to your private Alexa audio recordings. Until now, Amazon has not given third-party developers access to what you say to the voice assistant, while Google has with its Google Home speaker. Engadget reports: So far, Alexa developers can only see non-identifying information, like the number of times you use a specific skill, how many times you talk to your Echo device and your location data. The Information reports that some developers have heard from Amazon representatives about more access to actual transcripts, though how and how much wasn't discovered. If developers knew what exactly is being said to their skills, they could make adjustments based on specific information.
AI

'World's First Robot Lawyer' Now Available In All 50 States (theverge.com) 79

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Verge: A chatbot that provides free legal counsel using AI is now available in all 50 states starting today. This is following its success in New York, Seattle, and the UK, where it was invented by British entrepreneur Joshua Browder. Browder, who calls his invention "the world's first robot lawyer," estimates the bot has helped defeat 375,000 parking tickets in a span of two years. Browder, a junior at Stanford University, tells The Verge via Twitter that his chatbot could potentially experience legal repercussions from the government, but he is more concerned with competing with lawyers.

"The legal industry is more than a 200 billion dollar industry, but I am excited to make the law free," says Browder. "Some of the biggest law firms can't be happy!" Browder believes that his chatbot could also save government officials time and money. "Everybody can win," he says, "I think governments waste a huge amount of money employing people to read parking ticket appeals. DoNotPay sends it to them in a clear and easy to read format."

Education

Students Are Better Off Without a Laptop In the Classroom (scientificamerican.com) 247

Cindi May writes via Scientific American about new research that "suggests that laptops do not enhance classroom learning, and in fact students would be better off leaving their laptops in the dorm during class." From the report: Although computer use during class may create the illusion of enhanced engagement with course content, it more often reflects engagement with social media, YouTube videos, instant messaging, and other nonacademic content. This self-inflicted distraction comes at a cost, as students are spending up to one-third of valuable (and costly) class time zoned out, and the longer they are online the more their grades tend to suffer. To understand how students are using computers during class and the impact it has on learning, Susan Ravizza and colleagues took the unique approach of asking students to voluntarily login to a proxy server at the start of each class, with the understanding that their internet use (including the sites they visited) would be tracked. Participants were required to login for at least half of the 15 class periods, though they were not required to use the internet in any way once they logged in to the server. Researchers were able to track the internet use and academic performance of 84 students across the semester.

participants spent almost 40 minutes out of every 100-minute class period using the internet for nonacademic purposes, including social media, checking email, shopping, reading the news, chatting, watching videos, and playing games. This nonacademic use was negatively associated with final exam scores, such that students with higher use tended to score lower on the exam. Social media sites were the most-frequently visited sites during class, and importantly these sites, along with online video sites, proved to be the most disruptive with respect to academic outcomes. In contrast with their heavy nonacademic internet use, students spent less than 5 minutes on average using the internet for class-related purposes (e.g., accessing the syllabus, reviewing course-related slides or supplemental materials, searching for content related to the lecture). Given the relatively small amount of time students spent on academic internet use, it is not surprising that academic internet use was unrelated to course performance. Thus students who brought their laptops to class to view online course-related materials did not actually spend much time doing so, and furthermore showed no benefit of having access to those materials in class.

Data Storage

Western Digital Gets US Court Order To Access Toshiba Databases, Chip Samples (reuters.com) 12

Western Digital won a temporary U.S. court order on Tuesday saying that Toshiba must allow Western Digital's employees to access databases and chip samples as part of a joint venture with Toshiba around flash memory chip plants in Japan. Reuters reports: Toshiba is scrambling to sell its flash memory business and Western Digital is among the bidders. In a sign of high tensions around the deal, Toshiba threatened to lock Western Digital out of shared databases and quit sending chip samples. Western Digital sued Toshiba in San Francisco County Superior Court saying that its joint venture with Toshiba means Toshiba must get its consent for a sale. It asked the court for two separate orders: An injunction to stop the sale, and a temporary restraining order forcing Toshiba to give its workers access to shared databases. A judge granted the temporary order for access to the shared databases Tuesday and set a further hearing on July 28.
Bug

24 Cores and the Mouse Won't Move: Engineer Diagnoses Windows 10 Bug (wordpress.com) 352

Longtime Slashdot reader ewhac writes: Bruce Dawson recently posted a deep-dive into an annoyance that Windows 10 was inflicting on him -- namely, every time he built Chrome, his extremely beefy 24-core (48-thread) rig would begin stuttering, with the mouse frequently becoming stuck for a little over one second. This would be unsurprising if all cores were pegged at 100%, but overall CPU usage was barely hitting 50%. So he started digging out the debugging tools and doing performance traces on Windows itself. He eventually discovered that the function NtGdiCloseProcess(), responsible for Windows process exit and teardown, appears to serialize through a single lock, each pass through taking about 200 microseconds each. So if you have a job that creates and destroys a lot of processes very quickly (like building a large application such as Chrome), you're going to get hit in the face with this. Moreover, the problem gets worse the more cores you have. The issue apparently doesn't exist in Windows 7. Microsoft has been informed of the issue and they are allegedly investigating.
Intel

Intel Launches Xeon Scalable CPUs: Dual Xeon Platinum 8176, 112 Threads Tested (hothardware.com) 54

MojoKid writes: Intel announced its new Xeon Scalable processor family based on the 14nm Skylake-SP microarchitecture a few weeks back, though today marks the official launch of the platform. Not only do these processors feature a new microarchitecture, but Intel has also revamped the naming convention and arrangement of the Xeon product stack, branding them with Platinum, Gold, Silver, and Bronze model families. Intel Xeon Scalable series processors feature core counts ranging from 4 to 28, with varied frequencies and cache configurations. Workstation processors and lower-core count server chips top out in the 3.2GHz -- 3.6GHz range, while the higher-core count products typically fall in the 2GHz -- 2.7GHz range. Six memory channels are supported and the chips have 48 lanes of integrated PCIe 3.0 connectivity. Power envelopes range all the way from 70W on up to 205W. The Xeon Scalable series also introduces new security, virtualization, and storage-related features, more memory bandwidth, support for AVX-512 extensions, a mesh interconnect, and enhanced hardware controlled power management, among a host of other architectural improvements. Testing of a 2P Xeon Platinum 8176 system, sporting 56 physical cores / 112 threads shows significantly increased performance and bandwidth, with only moderately higher power consumption versus a previous-gen 2P Xeon E5-2679 v4-based system.
Iphone

Would You Buy the iPhone 8 If It Cost $1,200? (9to5mac.com) 561

As we near the launch of the next iPhone, rumors are swirling about what it may feature. One of the most recent reports comes from developer and blogger John Gruber, who claims the iPhone 8 will have a starting price of around $1200. 9to5Mac reports: He last week said that he believed that what we've been referring to as the iPhone 8 would be called the iPhone Pro and that he actually hoped it would be really expensive: "I hope the iPhone Pro starts at $1500 or higher. I'd like to see what Apple can do in a phone with a higher price." As you might imagine, that generated quite a bit of discussion. Gruber has backed down somewhat from this position, and is now suggesting a starting point of around $1200: "$1,500 as a starting price is probably way too high. But I think $1,200 is quite likely as the starting price, with the high-end model at $1,300 or $1,400." His argument is effectively that Apple is constrained in what it can do in a phone because any technology included in the phone has to be available in huge volumes. If it were willing to sell fewer at a higher price, then it would have more options. There has been speculation that Gruber may have been tipped by Apple, and using his posts to prepare the ground for what would otherwise be a severe case of sticker shock. But Gruber denied this. If Apple does launch the iPhone 8 with a 4-figure price tag, would you buy it?
Businesses

The Oculus Rift Still Isn't Selling, In a Worrying Sign For VR (technologyreview.com) 413

An anonymous reader quotes a report from MIT Technology Review: Despite Mark Zuckerberg's early enthusiasm for virtual reality, the technology has stubbornly remained a hard sell for Facebook. Now, in yet another sign that VR is failing to capture the imagination of the public, the company has just cut the price of its Oculus Rift hardware for the second time this year. For the next six weeks, the Oculus Rift headset and its matching controllers will cost just $399. That's $400 less than when it first hit the market, and $200 less than when its price was first slashed in March. It means that the Rift now costs less than the package offered by its cheapest rival, Sony, whose PlayStation VR currently totals $460 including headset and controllers. Even so, it's not clear that it will be enough to lure people into buying a Rift. Jason Rubin, vice president for content at Oculus, tells Reuters that the reduction isn't a sign of weak product sales, but rather a decision to give the headset more mass market appeal now that more games are available.
Earth

World's Cheapest Energy Source Will Be Renewables Within Three Years (qz.com) 474

Morgan Stanley researchers predict renewable energy will become the world's cheapest form of power within three years. An anonymous reader quotes Qz: Renewable energy is simply becoming the cheapest option, fast... "We project that by 2020, renewables will be the cheapest form of new-power generation across the globe," with the exception of a few countries in Southeast Asia, the Morgan Stanley analysts said in a report published Thursday... Globally, the price of solar panels has fallen 50% between 2016 and 2017, they write. And in countries with favorable wind conditions, the costs associated with wind power "can be as low as one-half to one-third that of coal- or natural gas-fired power plants." Innovations in wind-turbine design are allowing for ever-longer wind blades; that boost in efficiency will also increase power output from the wind sector, according to Morgan Stanley.
The researchers also predict America will reach its Paris Climate Accord targets in 2020 -- five years early -- simply because renewables are already becoming the cheapest option for power.
Cellphones

Researchers Have Developed A Battery-Free Mobile Phone (hothardware.com) 83

An anonymous reader quotes HotHardware: Researchers from the University of Washington are looking to make batteries a thing of the past when it comes to mobile phones. The team has developed a phone that uses "almost zero power" according to associate professor Shyam Gollakota, who co-authored a paper which detailed the breakthrough... The researchers designed the phone to harvest microwatts of power from RF signals transmitted from a base station that is 31 feet away. Additional power is harnessed via ambient light through the use of miniature photodiodes that are about the size of a grain of rice. While in use, the phone consumes about 3.5 microwatts of power and is capable of communicating with a custom base station that is up to 50 feet away to send and receive calls... The phone ditches the traditional analog-to-digital converter, which turns your voice into data, in favor of a system that uses the vibrations from a microphone or speaker to perform the same task. An antenna then converts that motion into radio signals in such a way that very little power is consumed.
There's two drawbacks. First, modern smartphones "need a lot more than a 3.5-microwatt power budget for blazing fast processor, copious amounts of RAM and internal storage, and power-hungry displays." And more importantly, "you have to press a button to switch between transmissions and listening modes with the phone."
Debian

Survey Finds Most Popular Linux Laptop Distros: Ubuntu and Arch (phoronix.com) 141

After collating 30,171 responses, Phoronixhas released some results from their first Linux Laptop Survey. An anonymous reader quotes their report: To little surprise, Ubuntu was the most popular Linux distribution running on the respondents' laptops. 38.9% of the respondents were said to be using Ubuntu while interesting in second place was Arch Linux at 27.1% followed by Debian at 15.3%. Rounding out the top ten were then Fedora at 14.8%, Linux Mint in 5th at 10.8%, openSUSE/SUSE in sixth at 4.2%, Gentoo in seventh at 3.9%, CentOS/RHEL in eighth at 3.1%, Solus in ninth at 2%, and Manjaro in tenth at 1.6%. The other Linux distributions had each commanded less than 1% of the overall response.
Only 10.3% of respondents said their most recent laptop purchase came pre-loaded with Linux. But 29.3% are now dual-booting their Linux laptop with Windows, while another 4.4% were dual-booting with yet another Linux distribution.
Power

Google's New Startup Heats Your Home With Energy From Your Lawn (cnn.com) 168

WindBourne shares an article about Google's plans for "an extremely cheap form of HVAC." CNN reports: A new startup called Dandelion, born from the secretive and futuristic lab "X" of Google's parent company Alphabet, says it will offer affordable geothermal heating and cooling systems to homeowners. Existing systems are typically expensive with big upfront installation fees, discouraging homeowners from adopting the technology... Installing the pipes -- called "ground loops" -- under someone's lawn is a traditionally invasive, messy process. It involves using wide drills that dig wells more than 1,000 feet underground. Dandelion's drill is fast and lean, allowing for only one or two deep holes a few inches wide. The system will cost between $20,000 and $25,000, compared to conventional systems priced as high as $60,000.

Geothermal systems are better for the environment because they significantly cut down on carbon dioxide emissions... Buildings are responsible for 39% of carbon dioxide emissions in the U.S., according to the U.S. Green Building Council. Most of these emissions come from the combustion of fossil fuels to provide the building with heating, cooling and lighting, and to power appliances and electrical equipment.

Google has been studying the potential of geothermal energy since 2011. Dandelion will eventually partner with local companies to handle installations -- and is already accepting sign-ups from customers in New York.
The Media

Google Funds A Team Of Robot Journalists (theguardian.com) 43

Darren Sharp brings news about the arrival of robot journalists. The Guardian reports: Robots will help a national news agency to create up to 30,000 local news stories a month, with the help of human journalists and funded by a Google grant. The Press Association has won a €706,000 ($800,779 or £621,000) grant to run a news service with computers writing localised news stories. The national news agency, which supplies copy to news outlets in the U.K. and Ireland, has teamed up with data-driven news start-up Urbs Media for the project, which aims to create "a stream of compelling local stories for hundreds of media outlets"... PA's editor-in-chief, Peter Clifton, said journalists will still be involved in spotting and creating stories and will use artificial intelligence to increase the amount of content. He said: "Skilled human journalists will still be vital in the process, but Radar [the Reporters And Data And Robots project] allows us to harness artificial intelligence to scale up to a volume of local stories that would be impossible to provide manually." Journalists will create "detailed story templates" for articles about crime, health, and employment, for example, then use natural language software to create multiple versions to "scale up the mass localization."

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