Technology

The Impossible Dream of USB-C (marco.org) 296

Marco Arment, a prominent developer best known for co-founding Tumblr, explains things that are still crippling USB-C, despite being around for years and being used in mainstream products. Arment writes: While a wide variety of USB-C dongles are available, most use the same handful of unreliable, mediocre chips inside. Some USB-A dongles make Wi-Fi drop on MacBook Pros. Some USB-A devices don't work properly when adapted to USB-C, or only work in certain ports. Some devices only work when plugged directly into a laptop's precious few USB-C ports, rather than any hubs or dongles. And reliable HDMI output seems nearly impossible in practice. Very few hubs exist to add more USB-C ports, so if you have more than a few peripherals, you can't just replace all of their cables with USB-C versions. You'll need a hub that provides multiple USB-A ports instead, and you'll need to keep your USB-A cables for when you're plugged into the hub -- but also keep USB-C cables or dongles around for everything you might ever need to plug directly into the computer's ports. Hubs with additional USB-C ports might pass Thunderbolt through to them, but usually don't. Sometimes, they add a USB-C port that can only be used for power passthrough. Many hubs with power passthrough have lower wattage limits than a 13-inch or 15-inch laptop needs. Fortunately, USB-C is a great charging standard. Well, it's more of a collection of standards. USB-C devices can charge via the slow old USB rates, but for higher-powered devices or faster charging, that's not enough current.
United States

EPA Says Higher Radiation Levels Pose 'No Harmful Health Effect' (bloomberg.com) 286

Readers share a report: In the event of a dirty bomb or a nuclear meltdown, emergency responders can safely tolerate radiation levels equivalent to thousands of chest X-rays, the Environmental Protection Agency said in new guidelines that ease off on established safety levels. The EPA's determination sets a level ten times the drinking water standard for radiation recommended under President Barack Obama. It could lead to the administration of President Donald Trump weakening radiation safety levels, watchdog groups critical of the move say. "It's really a huge amount of radiation they are saying is safe," said Daniel Hirsch, the retired director of the University of California, Santa Cruz's program on environmental and nuclear policy. "The position taken could readily unravel all radiation protection rules." The change was included as part of EPA "guidance" on messaging and communications in the event of a nuclear power plant meltdown or dirty bomb attack. The FAQ document, dated September 2017, is part of a broader planning document for nuclear emergencies, and does not carry the weight of federal standards or law.
Businesses

Apple's Tim Cook Shares What He Learned From Steve Jobs (businessinsider.com) 167

Speaking at Oxford, Apple CEO Tim Cook shared a lesson learned from the "spectacular" commercial failure of the Power Mac G4 Cube in 2000 -- and from his mentor Steve Jobs. An anonymous reader quotes Business Insider: "It was a very important product for us, we put a lot of love into it, we put enormous engineering into it," Cook said of the G4 Cube on stage. He calls it an "engineering marvel." At the time, Cook was Apple Senior VP of Worldwide Operations, recruited personally by then-CEO Steve Jobs... While the design was a hit, it was $200 more expensive than the regular Power Mac G4, a more traditional-looking PC with very similar specs. And some Cubes would develop cosmetic cracks in the acrylic cube casing due to a manufacturing flaw. In his talk, Cook says that Apple knew the Cube was flopping "from the very first day, almost..."

Ultimately, Cook says, it was a lesson in humility and pride. Apple had told both employees and customers that the G4 Cube was the future. And yet, despite Apple's massive hype, demand just wasn't there, and the company had to walk away. "This was another thing that Steve [Jobs] taught me, actually," says Cook. "You've got to be willing to look yourself in the mirror and say I was wrong, it's not right." In a broader sense, Cook says that Jobs taught him the value of intellectual honesty -- that, no matter how much you care about something, you have to be willing to take new data and apply it to the situation.

He advised his audience to "be intellectually honest -- and have the courage to change."

And the article points out that today there's a small but enthusiastic community who are still hacking their Power Mac G4 Cubes.
The Almighty Buck

In a Cashless World, You'd Better Pray the Power Never Goes Out (mises.org) 441

schwit1 quotes the Mises Institue: When Hurricane Maria knocked out power in Puerto Rico, residents there realized they were going to need physical cash — and a lot of it. Bloomberg reported that the Fed was forced to fly a planeload of cash to the Island to help avert disaster. "William Dudley, the New York Fed president, put the word out within minutes, and ultimately a jet loaded with an undisclosed amount of cash landed on the stricken island. [Business executives in Puerto Rico] described corporate clients' urgent requests for hundreds of thousands in cash to meet payrolls, and the challenge of finding enough armored cars to satisfy endless demand at ATMs... As early as the day after the storm, the Fed began working to get money onto the island."

For a time, unless one had a hoard of cash stored up in ones home, it was impossible to get cash at all. 85 percent of Puerto Rico is still without power... Bloomberg continues: "When some generator-powered ATMs finally opened, lines stretched hours long, with people camping out in beach chairs and holding umbrellas against the sun." In an earlier article from September 25, Bloomberg noted how, without cash, necessities were simply unavailable:

"Cash only," said Abraham Lebron, the store manager standing guard at Supermax, a supermarket in San Juan's Plaza de las Armas. He was in a well-policed area, but admitted feeling like a sitting duck with so many bills on hand. "The system is down, so we can't process the cards. It's tough, but one finds a way to make it work."


Chrome

Microsoft Edge Beats Chrome and Firefox in Malware-Blocking Tests (computerworld.com) 126

An anonymous reader quotes Computerworld:Microsoft's Edge easily beat rival browsers from Google and Mozilla in third-party tests of the behind-the-scenes services which power anti-malware warnings and malicious website-blocking... NSS Labs says Windows 10's default browser is better at blocking phishing and socially-engineered malware attacks than Google Chrome or Mozilla Firefox... According to NSS Labs of Austin, Texas, Edge automatically blocked 92% of all in-browser credential phishing attempts and stymied 100% of all socially-engineered malware (SEM) attacks. The latter encompassed a wide range of attacks, but their common characteristic was that they tried to trick users into downloading malicious code. The tactics that SEM attackers deploy include links from social media, such as Facebook and Twitter, and bogus in-browser notifications of computer infections or other problems.

Edge bested Chrome and Firefox by decisive margins. For instance, Chrome blocked 74% of all phishing attacks, and 88% of SEM attacks. Meanwhile, Firefox came in third in both tests, stopping just 61% of the phishing attacks and 70% of all SEM attempts... Both Chrome and Mozilla's Firefox rely on the Safe Browsing API (application programing interface), but historically, Mozilla's implementation has performed poorly compared to Google's. No shock: Google created the API. Edge also took top prize in blocking attacks from the get-go. In NSS's SEM attack testing, for example, the Microsoft browser stopped nearly every attempt from the first moments a new attack was detected. Chrome and Firefox, on the other hand, halted 75% and 54% of the brand-new attacks, respectively. Over a week's time, Chrome and Firefox improved their blocking scores, although neither reached Edge's impressive 99.8%.

The researchers spent three weeks continuously monitoring the browsers on Windows 10 computers. But in the real world, Edge runs on just 5% of all personal computers, while Firefox runs on 13% and Chrome on 60%.
Power

Toshiba's Fast-Charging Battery Could Triple the Range of Electric Vehicles (newatlas.com) 119

Big Hairy Ian quotes New Atlas: A key focus of electric vehicle (EV) makers is maximizing the range users can get from each charge, and for that reason new battery technologies are poised to play a huge part in driving their adoption. Toshiba has developed a new fast-charging battery it claims could allow EVs to travel three times as far as they do now, and then be fully recharged again in a matter of minutes.

Toshiba's SCiB (Super Charge ion Battery) has been around in various forms since 2007, with its chief claim to fame an ability to charge to 90 percent of capacity in just five minutes. It also boasts a life-span of 10 years and high levels of safety, and has found its way into a number of notable EVs, including Mitsubishi's i MiEV and Honda's Fit EV. The current SCiB uses lithium titanium oxide as its anode, but Toshiba says it has now come up with a better way of doing things. The next-generation SCiB uses a new material for the anode called titanium niobium oxide, which Toshiba was able to arrange into a crystal structure that can store lithium ions more efficiently. So much so, that the energy density has been doubled.

Toshiba calls the battery "a game changing advance that will make a significant difference to the range and performance of EV," and hopes to put it "into practical application" in 2019.
Bitcoin

Over 500 Million PCs Are Secretly Mining Cryptocurrency, Researchers Reveal (newsweek.com) 78

Ad blocking firm AdGuard has found that over 500 million people are inadvertently mining cryptocurrencies through their computers after visiting websites that are running background mining software. The company found 220 popular websites with an aggregated audience of half a billion people use so-called crypto-mining scripts when a user opens their main page. Newsweek reports: The mining tool works by hijacking a computer's central processing unit (CPU), commonly referred to as "the brains" of a computer. Using part of a computer's CPU to mine bitcoin effects the machine's overall performance and will slow it down by using up processing power. The researchers found that bitcoin browser mining is mostly found on websites "with a shady reputation" due to the trouble such sites have with earning revenue through advertising. However, in the future it could become a legitimate and ethical way of making money if the website requests the permission of the visitor first.

"220 sites may not seem like a lot," the researchers wrote in a blogpost detailing their discovery. "But CoinHive was launched less than one month ago on September 14. The growth has been extremely rapid: from nearly zero to .22 percent of Alexa's top 100,000 websites. "This analysis well illustrates the whole web, so it's safe to say that one of every forty websites currently mines cryptocurrency (namely Monero) in the browsers their users employ."

China

Why China is Winning the Clean Energy Race (axios.com) 212

An anonymous reader shares a report: U.S. politicians have been warning for years that America couldn't let China win the clean energy race. That's exactly what has happened, with the trends most stark in electric cars, solar and nuclear energy. Why it matters: Building for the last decade, these trends have accelerated in the last couple of years. Politicians and business leaders said America's dominance in this space would bring jobs to the U.S. and security to our clean-energy resources, and now both of those goals are at risk. Why China is doing this: It needs to literally energize its 1.4 billion people, both how they travel and how they power their homes. Its leadership feels compelled to do it in a cleaner way than the U.S. did. Air pollution is at dangerously high levels across many of China's cities. People are seeing and feeling health repercussions of China's dependence on fossil fuel-fired cars and power plants in an acute way. Traditional air pollution, not climate change, is a big driver.
Businesses

Qualcomm Seeks China iPhone Ban, Escalating Apple Legal Fight (bloomberg.com) 36

Qualcomm filed lawsuits in China seeking to ban the sale and manufacture of iPhones in the country, the chipmaker's biggest shot at Apple so far in a sprawling and bitter legal fight. From a report: The San Diego-based company aims to inflict pain on Apple in the world's largest market for smartphones and cut off production in a country where most iPhones are made. The product provides almost two-thirds of Apple's revenue. Qualcomm filed the suits in a Beijing intellectual property court claiming patent infringement and seeking injunctive relief, according to Christine Trimble, a company spokeswoman. "Apple employs technologies invented by Qualcomm without paying for them," Trimble said. An Apple spokesman didn't immediately respond to a request for comment on Friday. Qualcomm's suits are based on three non-standard essential patents, it said. They cover power management and a touch-screen technology called Force Touch that Apple uses in current iPhones, Qualcomm said. The inventions "are a few examples of the many Qualcomm technologies that Apple uses to improve its devices and increase its profits," Trimble said. The company made the filings at the Beijing court on Sept. 29. The court has not yet made them public.
Earth

World's First 'Negative Emissions' Plant Has Begun Operation (qz.com) 218

In an effort to reduce the 40 trillion kg of carbon dioxide humans produce each year, three companies have been working to build machines that can capture the gas directly from the air. One such machine in Iceland has begun operation. Quartz reports: Climeworks just proved the cynics wrong. On Oct. 11, at a geothermal power plant in Iceland, the startup inaugurated the first system that does direct air capture and verifiably achieves negative carbon emissions. Although it's still at pilot scale -- capturing only 50 metric tons CO2 from the air each year, about the same emitted by a single U.S. household -- it's the first system to take CO2 in the air and convert the emissions into stone, thus ensuring they don't escape back into the atmosphere for the next millions of years. Climeworks and Global Thermostat have piloted systems in which they coat plastics and ceramics, respectively, with an amine, a type of chemical that can absorb CO2. Carbon Engineering uses a liquid system, with calcium oxide and water. The companies say it's too early in the development of these technologies to predict what costs will be at scale.
Power

Driverless Cars Are Giving Engineers a Fuel Economy Headache (bloomberg.com) 208

schwit1 shares a report from Bloomberg: Judging from General Motors' test cars and Elon Musk's predictions, the world is headed toward a future that's both driverless and all-electric. In reality, autonomy and battery power could end up being at odds. That's because self-driving technology is a huge power drain. Some of today's prototypes for fully autonomous systems consume two to four kilowatts of electricity -- the equivalent of having 50 to 100 laptops continuously running in the trunk, according to BorgWarner Inc. The supplier of vehicle propulsion systems expects the first autonomous cars -- likely robotaxis that are constantly on the road -- will be too energy-hungry to run on battery power alone. A fully autonomous subcompact car like a Honda Fit, for example, will get 54.6 miles to the gallon in 2025 in the best-case scenario, more than 5 miles below the U.S. emissions target, according to BorgWarner. A small pickup or SUV would be at 45.8 mpg, versus a target of 50. Engineers don't have much time to resolve this, as companies are planning to deploy their first fully self-driving cars in the next couple of years. One way for automakers to meet the power-hungry needs of self-driving systems will be to use gasoline-electric hybrid models rather than purely electric cars, said Mary Gustanski, chief technology officer of supplier Delphi Automotive Plc's powertrain business.
Earth

Evidence Suggests Updated Timeline Towards Yellowstone's Supervolcano Eruption (nytimes.com) 317

Camel Pilot writes: Geologist have been aware of fresh magma moving in the Yellowstone's super volcano system. Previously this was thought to precede an eruption by thousands of years. Recent evidence by Hannah Shamloo, a graduate student at Arizona State University, demonstrates that perhaps the timeline from the underground basin filling to eruption is more on the scale of decades. A super volcano eruption has the power to alter life's story on this earth and even destroy all life on a continent. In light of this, it seems like a good time to invest some effort and resources into finding ways to prepare, delay or deflect the potential threat. The research was presented at the International Association of Volcanology and Chemistry of the Earth's Interior (IAVCEI) 2017 conference in Portland, Oregon.
Google

Google Will Hit 100 Percent Renewable Energy This Year (inverse.com) 130

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Inverse: Google has announced that after 10 years a carbon-neutral company, it will be able to brag running on entirely renewable energy at the end of 2017. That means that all of the electricity the company consumes in both its data centers and offices are provided by wind and solar energy. Announced in Google's 2017 environmental report, Google says it has created "new energy purchasing models that others can follow" and that "we've helped drive wide-scale global adoption of clean energy." In addition to being an obvious PR boon, the company says its mission of full sustainability fits in with its larger mission. (It also makes the fact that as recently as 2015 Google alone reportedly consumed as much energy as the entire city of San Francisco in a year way more palatable.)

One step the company has recently taken in marrying its ethos of sustainability with its products is a new initiative to equip Google Street View vehicles with air quality sensors. In addition to its goal of being run by renewable energy, Google is also working on achieving zero waste to landfill. Nearly half of the company's 14 data centers have already reached this goal, according to Google executive Urs Holzle's 2017 Google Environmental report released on Tuesday.

Piracy

Pirate Bay is Mining Cryptocurrency Again, No Opt Out (torrentfreak.com) 184

The Pirate Bay is mining cryptocurrency again, causing a spike in CPU usage among many visitors. From a report: For now, the notorious torrent site provides no option to disable it. The new mining expedition is not without risk. CDN provider Cloudflare previously suspended the account of a site that used a similar miner, which means that The Pirate Bay could be next. Last month The Pirate Bay caused some uproar by adding a Javascript-based cryptocurrency miner to its website. The miner utilizes CPU power from visitors to generate Monero coins for the site, providing an extra source of revenue. [...] The Pirate Bay currently has no opt-out option, nor has it informed users about the latest mining efforts. This could lead to another problem since Coinhive said it would crack down on customers who failed to keep users in the loop.
Transportation

Dutch Government Confirms Plan To Ban New Petrol, Diesel Cars By 2030 (electrek.co) 348

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Electrek: Today, the new Dutch government presented its detailed plan for the coming years and it includes making all new cars emission-free by 2030 -- virtually banning petrol- and diesel-powered cars in favor of battery-powered vehicles. The four coalition parties have been negotiating their plans since the election in March and now after over 200 days, they have finally released the plan they agreed upon. NL Times posted all the main points of the plan and in "transportation," it includes: By 2030 all cars in the Netherlands must be emission free. While some local publications are reporting "all cars," we are told that it would be for "all new cars" as it is the case for the countries with similar bans under consideration. The potential for the ban has been under consideration in the country since last year. The year 2025, like in Norway, has been mentioned, but they apparently decided for the less ambitious goal of 2030.
Transportation

Nvidia Introduces a Computer For Level 5 Autonomous Cars (engadget.com) 175

From a report: At the center of many of the semi-autonomous cars currently on the road is NVIDIA hardware. Once automakers realized that GPUs could power their latest features, the chipmaker, best known for the graphics cards that make your games look outstanding, became the darling of the car world. But while automakers are still dropping level 2 and sometimes level 3 vehicles into the market, NVIDIA's first AI computer, the NVIDIA Drive PX Pegasus, is apparently capable of level 5 autonomy. That means no pedals, no steering wheel, no need for anyone to ever take control. The new computer delivers 320 trillion operations per second, 10 times more than its predecessor. Before you start squirreling away cash for your own self-driving car, though, NVIDIA's senior director of automotive, Danny Shapiro, notes that it's likely going to be robotaxis that drive us around. In fact, the company said that over 25 of its partners are already working on fully autonomous taxis. The goal with this smaller, more powerful computer is to remove the huge computer arrays that sit in the prototype vehicles of OEMs, startups and any other company that's trying to crack the autonomous car nut.
Earth

EPA Announces Repeal of Major Obama-Era Carbon Emissions Rule (nytimes.com) 315

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The New York Times (Warning: source may be paywalled; alternative source: The Trump administration announced Monday that it would take formal steps to repeal President Barack Obama's signature policy to curb greenhouse gas emissions from power plants, setting up a bitter fight over the future of America's efforts to tackle global warming. At an event in eastern Kentucky, Scott Pruitt, the head of the Environmental Protection Agency, said that his predecessors had departed from regulatory norms in crafting the Clean Power Plan, which was finalized in 2015 and would have pushed states to move away from coal in favor of sources of electricity that produce fewer carbon emissions. The repeal proposal, which will be filed in the Federal Register on Tuesday, fulfills a promise President Trump made to eradicate his predecessor's environmental legacy. Eliminating the Clean Power Plan makes it less likely the United States can fulfill its promise as part of the Paris climate agreement to ratchet down emissions that are warming the planet and contributing to heat waves and sea-level rise. Mr. Trump has vowed to abandon that international accord.

In announcing the repeal, Mr. Pruitt made many of the same arguments that he had made for years to Congress and in lawsuits: that the Obama administration exceeded its legal authority in an effort to limit greenhouse gas emissions from power plants. (Last year, the Supreme Court blocked the rule from taking effect while courts assessed those lawsuits.) A leaked draft of the repeal proposal asserts that the country would save $33 billion by not complying with the regulation and rejects the health benefits the Obama administration had calculated from the original rule.

Transportation

42 Solar-Powered Cars Race in 31st Annual 'Solar Challenge' Race (engadget.com) 48

An anonymous reader quotes Engadget: It's a special moment in the history of clean energy: the 30th anniversary World Solar Challenge has begun. A total of 42 solar-powered cars (the largest field to date) left Darwin, Australia on October 8th to travel roughly 1,880 miles to Adelaide. The race officially lasts a week, but it's likely going to end considerably sooner for the front-runners -- the world record holders, Tokai University, took just under 30 hours in 2009...

This year, the race regulations are a clear sign of how rapidly solar technology is changing. Teams have to use a smaller solar collector than before: cars in the Challenger class can have no more than 43 square feet of solar cells versus nearly 65 square feet for the previous race, in 2015. That's half the area allowed on cars from the original 1987 race. In other words, technology is advanced enough now (both in solar cells and the underlying vehicle designs) that you don't need a sea of panels to keep a car running.

Power

CNN Skeptical of Elon Musk's 'Big Promises' (cnn.com) 206

An anonymous reader writes: Tesla's electric semi-truck will be launched three weeks later than planned, CNN reports. It's been bumped to November 16th because Tesla says it's "diverting resources" to address problems with its Model 3 sedan production -- they've produced just 17.3% of the cars they'd planned -- and to make more batteries to send to areas hit by hurricanes. CNN notes Tesla's Model X "didn't start shipping until two years after it was supposed to roll out," and production of its Model S sedan "was also much slower than originally promised." Michelle Krebs, an analyst with Autotrader.com, complains Tesla "may well have far too much on its plate. It should focus and deliver on some key promises."

But Elon Musk "has a history of some pretty pie-in-the-sky promises," complained CNN business anchor Maggie Lake, citing Musk's claim that he had verbal approval for an underground hyperloop connecting New York City to Washington D.C. ("This is news to City Hall," said New York's press secretary at the time, and no actual approval has ever been produced.) Lake also noted Musk's promise to fix South Australia's blackout problems by building the world's largest lithium-ion battery within 100 days back in March. Last Friday Tesla signed a contract to begin the work, so the 100-day countdown has begun.

CNN's report ran under the headline "Elon Musk: Big Dreamer or Monorail Salesman?" -- referencing a satirical 1993 episode of The Simpson's. "Here's a spoiler alert," the segment concludes. "If you haven't seen that episode...the monorail plan doesn't work out too well. Let's put it that way."
Earth

100K Lose Power As America Faces Its Third Hurricane In Three Weeks (go.com) 119

An anonymous reader writes: The good news: Hurricane Nate was eventually downgraded to "a tropical storm" at 4:30 Sunday morning (EST), moving north-northeast with maximum winds of 70 mph. The bad news: 100,000 people don't have power in Mississippi and Alabama, and a tornado watch is in effect until 11 a.m. "Even though Nate has made landfall and will weaken today, we are still forecasting heavy rain from Nate to spread well inland towards the Tennessee Valley and Appalachian mountains," ABC News meteorologist Daniel Manzo said Sunday morning. Saturday the Gulf Coast near Biloxi, Mississippi was hit with 85 mph winds and a storm surge of between four to five feet. "Gulf Coast residents are waking up to a wet, windy -- and in some cases, powerless -- Sunday morning," reports ABC News, "but it's still not as devastating as they expected."

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