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.

Power

California To Become First US State Mandating Solar On New Homes (ocregister.com) 305

OCRegister reports that "The California Energy Commission is scheduled to vote Wednesday, May 9, on new energy standards mandating most new homes have solar panels starting in 2020." From the report: Just 15 percent to 20 percent of new single-family homes built include solar, according to Bob Raymer, technical director for the California Building Industry Association. The proposed new rules would deviate slightly from another much-heralded objective: Requiring all new homes be "net-zero," meaning they would produce enough solar power to offset all electricity and natural gas consumed over the course of a year. New thinking has made that goal obsolete, state officials say. True "zero-net-energy" homes still rely on the electric power grid at night, they explained, a time when more generating plants come online using fossil fuels to generate power. In addition to widespread adoption of solar power, the new provisions include a push to increase battery storage and increase reliance on electricity over natural gas.
Transportation

Sorry Elon Musk, There's No Clear Evidence Autopilot Saves Lives (arstechnica.com) 128

Timothy B. Lee writes for Ars Technica: A few days after the Mountain View crash, Tesla published a blog post acknowledging that Autopilot was active at the time of the crash. But the company argued that the technology improved safety overall, pointing to a 2017 report by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). "Over a year ago, our first iteration of Autopilot was found by the U.S. government to reduce crash rates by as much as 40 percent," the company wrote. It was the second time Tesla had cited that study in the context of the Mountain View crash -- another blog post three days earlier had made the same point. Unfortunately, there are some big problems with that finding. Indeed, the flaws are so significant that NHTSA put out a remarkable statement this week distancing itself from its own finding.

"NHTSA's safety defect investigation of MY2014-2016 Tesla Model S and Model X did not assess the effectiveness of this technology," the agency said in an email to Ars on Wednesday afternoon. "NHTSA performed this cursory comparison of the rates before and after installation of the feature to determine whether models equipped with Autosteer were associated with higher crash rates, which could have indicated that further investigation was necessary." Tesla has also claimed that its cars have a crash rate 3.7 times lower than average, but as we'll see there's little reason to think that has anything to do with Autopilot. This week, we've talked to several automotive safety experts, and none has been able to point us to clear evidence that Autopilot's semi-autonomous features improve safety. And that's why news sites like ours haven't written stories "about how autonomous cars are really safe." Maybe that will prove true in the future, but right now the data just isn't there. Musk has promised to publish regular safety reports in the future -- perhaps those will give us the data needed to establish whether Autopilot actually improves safety.

Communications

NASA Successfully Tests New Nuclear Reactor For Future Space Travelers (npr.org) 178

An anonymous reader quotes a report from NPR: NASA and the U.S. Department of Energy say they have successfully tested a new type of nuclear reactor that could one day provide juice to colonies on other worlds. The reactor can power several homes and appears able to operate in harsh environments. The new reactor uses more-conventional uranium fuel. Using a "core" about the size of a paper towel roll, the reactor can turn pistons that can run a generator. The generator can put out about 10 kilowatts of electrical power -- enough to run a few small homes. Scientists believe it could run continuously for a decade or so, making deep space travel a lot simpler. They also gave it a catchy acronym: KRUSTY, which stands for Kilopower Reactor Using Stirling TechnologY.

To see if it actually worked, scientists tested KRUSTY out in the Nevada desert on America's old nuclear test range. They put KRUSTY through its paces, culminating in a 28-hour test at full power. The team also simulated failures in KRUSTY's reactor components to show it wouldn't result in a meltdown on Mars. KRUSTY may find its way onto future space probes. Researchers say they might use an ensemble of four or five of the reactors to power colonies on the moon (which has 14-day nights, when the sun isn't available) or Mars.

China

China's Bungled Drone Display Breaks World Record (bbc.com) 67

Chinese company EHang has broken the Guinness World Record for the most drones flown simultaneously, despite them failing to coordinate for a light show. The company programmed a fleet of 1,374 drones to fly in set patterns, "but failed to spell out the date and the record-setting number of drones," reports the BBC. From the report: The South China Morning Post called the event an "epic fail." The record was previously held by U.S. technology company Intel, which flew 1,218 aircraft at the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympic Games in February. Intel's show was pre-recorded before being aired during the opening ceremony, due to "possible freezing weather and strong winds." According to the South China Morning Post, EHang was paid 10.5 million yuan ($1.65 million) for the Labor Day performance in the north-western city of Xi'an. You can watch a video of the drone display here.
Data Storage

How Reliable Are 10TB and 12TB Hard Drives? Backblaze Publishes Q1 2018 Hard Drive Reliability (zdnet.com) 123

Wolfrider writes: Backblaze's hard drive report for the first quarter 2018 makes very interesting reading for anyone who is interested in hard drive performance and reliability. As of March 31, 2018, the company had 100,110 hard drives working for it, made up of 1,922 boot drives and 98,188 data drives, ranging from 3TB WDC WD30EFRX drives all the way up to 10TB and 12TB Seagate ST10000NM0086 and ST12000NM0007 drives, along with 10 Samsung 850 EVO SSDs. [...] The overall Annualized Failure Rate (AFR) for Q1 sat at just 1.2 percent, well below the Q4 2017 AFR of 1.65 percent. Some drives had an AFR of 0 percent (in other words, no drives failed during the period), while the 4TB Seagate ST4000DM000 had the highest AFR of 2.3 percent (out of 30,941 drives the company had in service, 178 failed during the Q1 period).
Wireless Networking

Researchers Want To Turn Your Entire House Into a Co-Processor Using the Local Wi-Fi Signal (arstechnica.com) 102

An anonymous reader shares an excerpt from a report via Ars Technica: Researchers are proposing an idea to make your computer bigger. They are suggesting an extreme and awesome form of co-processing. They want to turn your entire house into a co-processor using the local Wi-Fi signal. Why, you may be asking, do we even want to do this in the first place? The real answer is to see if we can. But the answer given to funding agencies is thermal management. In a modern processor, if all the transistors were working all the time, it would be impossible to keep the chip cool. Instead, portions of the chip are put to sleep, even if that might mean slowing up a computation. But if, like we do with video cards, we farm out a large portion of certain calculations to a separate device, we might be able to make better use of the available silicon.

So, how do you compute with Wi-Fi in your bedroom? The basic premise is that waves already perform computations as they mix with each other, it's just that those computations are random unless we make some effort to control them. When two waves overlap, we measure the combination of the two: the amplitude of one wave is added to the amplitude of the other. Depending on the history of the two waves, one may have a negative amplitude, while the other may have a positive amplitude, allowing for simple computation. The idea here is to control the path that each wave takes so that, when they're added together, they perform the exact computation that we want them to. The classic example is the Fourier transform. A Fourier transform takes an object and breaks it down into a set of waves. If these waves are added together, the object is rebuilt. You can see an example of this in the animation here.

Nintendo

Nintendo Faces Switch Patent Infringement Investigation In the US (engadget.com) 63

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Engadget: Nintendo is under investigation by the U.S. International Trade Commission, and the fate of the Switch hangs in the balance. Gamevice, the company behind the Wikipad and a line of snap-on controllers for mobile devices, says the Nintendo Switch violates its patents on attachable handheld gamepads and their related accessories. Alleging violations of the Tariff Act of 1930, Gamevice is requesting a cease and desist order against Nintendo, a move that would halt imports of the Switch into the U.S. The USITC notes that while its investigation has begun, it hasn't ruled on the validity of the complaint. The commission will hold an evidentiary hearing to determine whether Nintendo is in violation of the Tariff Act, with a final decision "at the earliest practicable time." The USITC will announce a target date for the end of the investigation within 45 days.
Cellphones

Facebook's Phone-Free, Wireless 'Oculus Go' VR Headset Is Released Today 34

UnknownSoldier writes: The Oculus Go is finally available for purchase. Amazon is selling the 32GB model for $199, while the 64GB model is selling for $249. As a standalone virtual reality unit, it doesn't require a computer or phone to use. Ironically, you must use a phone for the initial setup. Reviews are out on The Verge and Ars Technica. The TL;DR -- Pros: Inexpensive; Cons: LCD, fixed 72 Hz rate, limited motion tracking. Will 2018 finally will be the year of cheap VR?
Robotics

The Smithsonian's New Tour Guide Is a Robot (cnet.com) 49

Last week, the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, DC, revealed its new employee -- an interactive robot named Pepper. According to Softbank, the company that created the 4-foot-tall humanoid robot, Pepper will help guide museum visitors through the museum and provide insight on different exhibits. CNET reports: Pepper is programmed to answer commonly asked questions and tell stories. The robot can react and make gestures, and is equipped with an interactive touch screen. To entertain museum visitors, Pepper often dances and poses for selfies, which will undoubtably attract a crowd. In each of the different museum branches, the Pepper robots perform different docent duties. For example, at the National Museum of African Art, Pepper can translate phrases in the Kiswahili (Swahili) language. At the National Museum of African American History and Culture, Pepper robots guide visitors to the Rosa Parks VR experience. Pepper robots are also programmed to teach visiting students coding and software engineering in the Smithsonian's teen educational space ARTLAB+.
Power

Russia Launches Floating Nuclear Power Plant That's Head To the Arctic (npr.org) 163

Russia's state nuclear corporation Rosatom launched a massive floating nuclear power plant over the weekend. It's the first nuclear power plant of its kind and it's headed to an Arctic port, reports NPR. From the report: Called the Akademik Lomonosov, the floating power plant is being towed at a creeping pace out of St. Petersburg, where it was built over the last nine years. It will eventually be brought northward, to Murmansk -- where its two nuclear reactors will be loaded with nuclear fuel and started up this fall. From there, the power plant will be pulled to a mooring berth in the Arctic port of Pevek, in far northeast Russia. There, it will be wired into the infrastructure so it can replace an existing nuclear power installment on land. Russian officials say the mandate of the Akademik Lomonoso is to supply energy to remote industrial plants and port cities, and to offshore gas and oil platforms.

It will take more than a year for the power plant to reach its new home port. The original plan had called for fueling the floating plant before it began that journey, at the shipyard in central St. Petersburg -- but that was scuttled last summer, after concerns were raised both in Russia and in countries along the power plant's route through the Baltic Sea and north to the Arctic. "The nuclear power plant has two KLT-40S reactor units that can generate up to 70 MW of electric energy and 50 Gcal/hr of heat energy during its normal operation," Rosatom said. "This is enough to keep the activity of the town populated with 100,000 people."

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