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NASA

Rosetta Spacecraft Prepares To Land On Comet, Solve Lingering Mysteries (sciencemag.org) 27

sciencehabit writes from a report via Science Magazine: All good things must come to an end, and so it will be tomorrow when the Rosetta spacecraft makes its planned soft landing onto the surface of comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, the culmination of 2 years of close-up studies. Solar power has waned as 67P's orbit takes it and Rosetta farther from the sun, and so the mission team decided to go on a last data-gathering descent before the lights go out. This last data grab is a bonus after a mission that is already changing theorists' views about how comets and planets arose early in the solar system. Several Rosetta observations suggest that comets form not from jolting mergers of larger cometesimals, meters to kilometers across, but rather from the gentle coalescence of clouds of pebbles. And the detection of a single, feather-light, millimeter-sized particle -- preserved since the birth of the solar system -- should further the view of a quiet birth. The report concludes: "A slew of instruments will keep gathering data as Rosetta approaches the surface at the speed of a gentle stroll. For team members whose instruments have already been turned off to conserve power, the ending is bittersweet -- but their work is far from over. Most instrument teams have only examined their own data, and are just now thinking about combining data sets. "We've just started collaborating with other teams," [Holger Sierks of the Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research in Gottingen, Germany, chief of Rosetta's main camera,] says. "This is the beginning of the story, not the end."
Earth

92% of the World's Population Exposed To Unsafe Levels of Air Pollution: WHO (sciencedaily.com) 114

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Science Daily: A new World Health Organization (WHO) air quality model confirms that 92% of the world's population lives in places where air quality levels exceed WHO limits. "The new WHO model shows countries where the air pollution danger spots are, and provides a baseline for monitoring progress in combatting it," says Dr Flavia Bustreo, Assistant Director General at WHO. It also represents the most detailed outdoor (or ambient) air pollution-related health data, by country, ever reported by WHO. The model is based on data derived from satellite measurements, air transport models and ground station monitors for more than 3000 locations, both rural and urban. It was developed by WHO in collaboration with the University of Bath, United Kingdom. Some 3 million deaths a year are linked to exposure to outdoor air pollution. Indoor air pollution can be just as deadly. In 2012, an estimated 6.5 million deaths (11.6% of all global deaths) were associated with indoor and outdoor air pollution together. Nearly 90% of air-pollution-related deaths occur in low- and middle-income countries, with nearly 2 out of 3 occurring in WHO's South-East Asia and Western Pacific regions. Ninety-four per cent are due to noncommunicable diseases -- notably cardiovascular diseases, stroke, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and lung cancer. Air pollution also increases the risks for acute respiratory infections. Major sources of air pollution include inefficient modes of transport, household fuel and waste burning, coal-fired power plants, and industrial activities. However, not all air pollution originates from human activity. For example, air quality can also be influenced by dust storms, particularly in regions close to deserts. The model has carefully calibrated data from satellite and ground stations to maximize reliability. National air pollution exposures were analyzed against population and air pollution levels at a grid resolution of about 10 km x 10 km. The interactive maps provide information on population-weighted exposure to particulate matter of an aerodynamic diameter of less than 2.5 micrometers (PM2.5) for all countries. The map also indicates data on monitoring stations for PM10 and PM2.5 values for about 3000 cities and towns. Quartz's report features a table that highlights the countries with the world's worst air pollution. The table "shows all the median levels of particulate matter in each country where the WHO collected data."
Businesses

D-Wave's 2,000-Qubit Quantum Annealing Computer Now 1,000x Faster Than Previous Generation (tomshardware.com) 116

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Tom's Hardware: D-Wave, a Canadian company developing the first commercial "quantum computer," announced its next-generation quantum annealing computer with 2,000 qubits, which is twice as many as its previous generation had. One highly exciting aspect of quantum computers of all types is that beyond the seemingly Moore's Law-like increase in number of qubits every two years, their performance increases much more than just 2x, unlike with regular microprocessors. This is because qubits can hold a value of 0, 1, or a superposition of the two, making quantum systems able to deal with much more complex information. If D-Wave's 2,000-qubit computer is now 1,000 faster than the previous 1,000-qubit generation (D-Wave 2X), that would mean that, for the things Google tested last year, it should now be 100 billion times faster than a single-core CPU. The new generation also comes with control features, which allows users to modify how D-Wave's quantum system works to better optimize their solutions. These control features include the following capabilities: The ability to tune the rate of annealing of individual qubits to enhance application performance; The ability to sample the state of the quantum computer during the quantum annealing process to power hybrid quantum-classical machine learning algorithms that were not previously possible; The ability to combine quantum processing with classical processing to improve the quality of both optimization and sampling results returned from the system. D-Wave's CEO, Vern Brownell, also said that D-Wave's quantum computers could also be used for machine learning task in ways that wouldn't be possible on classical computers. The company is also training the first generation of programmers to develop applications for D-Wave quantum systems. Last year, Google said that D-Wave's 1,000 qubit computer proved to be 100 million times faster than a classical computer with a single core: "We found that for problem instances involving nearly 1,000 binary variables, quantum annealing significantly outperforms its classical counterpart, simulated annealing. It is more than 10^8 times faster than simulated annealing running on a single core," said Hartmut Neven, Google's Director of Engineering.
AI

Google's New Translation Software Powered By Brainlike Artificial Intelligence (sciencemag.org) 87

sciencehabit quotes a report from Science Magazine: Today, Google rolled out a new translation system that uses massive amounts of data and increased processing power to build more accurate translations. The new system, a deep learning model known as neural machine translation, effectively trains itself -- and reduces translation errors by up to 87%. When compared with Google's previous system, the neural machine translation system scores well with human reviewers. It was 58% more accurate at translating English into Chinese, and 87% more accurate at translating English into Spanish. As a result, the company is planning to slowly replace the system underlying all of its translation work -- one language at a time. The report adds: "The new method, reported today on the preprint server arXiv, uses a total of 16 processors to first transform words into a value known as a vector. What is a vector? 'We don't know exactly,' [Quoc Le, a Google research scientist in Mountain View, California, says.] But it represents how related one word is to every other word in the vast dictionary of training materials (2.5 billion sentence pairs for English and French; 500 million for English and Chinese). For example, 'dog' is more closely related to 'cat' than 'car,' and the name 'Barack Obama' is more closely related to 'Hillary Clinton' than the name for the country 'Vietnam.' The system uses vectors from the input language to come up with a list of possible translations that are ranked based on their probability of occurrence. Other features include a system of cross-checks that further increases accuracy and a special set of computations that speeds up processing time."
Space

SpaceX Shows Off Its Interplanetary Transport System in New Video (techcrunch.com) 201

Elon Musk's SpaceX plans to send humans to Mars with a ship called the Interplanetary Transport System, the company announced today in a video, revealing how the ITS will actually work. The ITS will be capable of carrying up to 100 tons of cargo -- people and supplies -- and it will utilize a slew of different power sources en route to Mars. From a report on TechCrunch: SpaceX has released a new video showing a CG concept of its Interplanetary Transport System, the rocket and spacecraft combo it plans to use to colonize Mars. The video depicts a reusable rocket that can get the interplanetary spacecraft beyond Earth's orbit, and a craft that uses solar sails to coast on its way to a Mars entry. The booster returns to Earth after separating from the shuttlecraft to pick up a booster tank full of fuel, which it then returns to orbit to fuel up the waiting spaceship. The booster craft then also returns to Earth under its own power, presumably also for re-use. The solar arrays that the spacecraft employs provide 200 kW of power, according to captions in the video.The Verge is live blogging SpaceX's conference, and has details on specs.
Space

SpaceX Tests Its Raptor Engine For Future Mars Flights (techcrunch.com) 112

Thelasko writes: Elon Musk is preparing to unveil his plans to colonize Mars at the 67th annual International Astronautical Congress tomorrow. As a tease to his lecture, he has released some details about the Raptor engine on Twitter, including pictures. Mr. Musk states that, "Production Raptor coal is specific impulse of 382 seconds and thrust of 3 MN (~310 metric tons) at 300 bar." He goes on to note that the specific impulse spec is at Mars ambient pressure. The Raptor interplanetary engine is designed for use with Space X's Mars Colonial Transporter craft. Musk notes that the "chamber pressure runs three times what's present in the Merlin engine currently used to power Falcon 9," according to TechCrunch. "Merlin has specific impulse of 282 seconds (311 seconds in the vacuum of space), and a relatively paltry 654 kilonewton (0.6 MN) at sea level, or 716 kN (0.7 MN) in a vacuum. You can view a picture of the "Mach diamonds" here, which are visible in the engine's exhaust.
Math

Researcher Modifies Sieve of Eratosthenes To Work With Less Physical Memory Space (scientificamerican.com) 78

grcumb writes: Peruvian mathematician Harald Helfgott made his mark on the history of mathematics by solving Goldbach's weak conjecture, which states that every odd number greater than 7 can be expressed as the sum of three prime numbers. Now, according to Scientific American, he's found a better solution to the sieve of Eratosthenes: "In order to determine with this sieve all primes between 1 and 100, for example, one has to write down the list of numbers in numerical order and start crossing them out in a certain order: first, the multiples of 2 (except the 2); then, the multiples of 3, except the 3; and so on, starting by the next number that had not been crossed out. The numbers that survive this procedure will be the primes. The method can be formulated as an algorithm." But now, Helfgott has found a method to drastically reduce the amount of RAM required to run the algorithm: "Now, inspired by combined approaches to the analytical 100-year-old technique called the circle method, Helfgott was able to modify the sieve of Eratosthenes to work with less physical memory space. In mathematical terms: instead of needing a space N, now it is enough to have the cube root of N." So what will be the impact of this? Will we see cheaper, lower-power encryption devices? Or maybe quicker cracking times in brute force attacks? Mathematician Jean Carlos Cortissoz Iriarte of Cornell University and Los Andes University offers an analogy: "Let's pretend that you are a computer and that to store data in your memory you use sheets of paper. If to calculate the primes between 1 and 1,000,000, you need 200 reams of paper (10,000 sheets), and with the algorithm proposed by Helfgott you will only need one fifth of a ream (about 100 sheets)," he says.
Bitcoin

Japanese To Pay Utility Bills Using Bitcoin (thestack.com) 36

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Stack: Japanese citizens will soon be able to pay their utility bills using bitcoin. The facility is being provided by Coincheck Denki, a new service offered by the Japanese bitcoin company, which will be available to users in November. Coincheck outlined the new plan on its website. Also called 'Coincheck Electricity,' it will allow users to pay their electricity bills directly from their Coincheck bitcoin wallet. It also offers a discount plan for heavy users of electricity, with 4-6% of the total bill discounted for heavy users of electricity who pay in bitcoin. Coincheck's parent company, Reju Press, initially partnered with Mitsuwa Inc., to create the bitcoin payment system. Coincheck now works with Mitsuwa subsidiary E-Net Inc., and has formed a partnership with Marubeni Power Retail Corporation, which operates power plants in 17 locations in central Japan. Marubeni has offices in 66 countries worldwide, although no plans have been announced to take the bitcoin payment option outside of Japan. While the initial bitcoin payment rollout is for electricity bills, Coincheck plans to expand its offerings to bitcoin payment for 'life infrastructure,' to include payment of gas, water and mobile phone bills. It may even partner with landlords to allow customers of Coincheck to pay rent using bitcoin. The bitcoin payment plan will be rolled out in Chubu, Kanto (including Tokyo) and Kansai regions to start, with additional areas to be added sequentially. The company hopes to offer bitcoin payment options to one million electric customers within the first year.
Power

Amazon Pursues More Renewable Energy, Following Google, Apple, And Facebook (fortune.com) 85

An anonymous Slashdot reader writes: Amazon will open a 100-turbine, 253-megawatt wind farm in Texas by the end of next year -- generating enough energy to power almost 90,000 U.S. homes. Amazon already has wind farms in Indiana, North Carolina, and Ohio (plus a solar farm in Virginia), and 40% of the power for AWS already comes from renewable sources, but Amazon's long-term plan is to raise that to 100%.

But several of the world's largest tech companies are already pursuing their own aggressive renewable energy programs, according to Fortune. Google "has said it's the largest non-utility purchaser of renewable energy in the world. Apple claims that in 2015, 93% of its energy came from renewable sources, and its data centers are already 100% run on renewables (though that claim does rely on carbon trading). Facebook, which also uses Texas wind facilities, is aiming for 50% of its data center power to come from renewables by 2018. Even slightly smaller companies like Salesforce have made big commitments to renewable energy."

Last year for the first time utilities actually bought less than half the power produced by wind farms -- because tech companies, universities, and cities had already locked it down with long-term contracts.
United States

US Panel Extends Nuclear Power Tax Credit (thehill.com) 248

Slashdot reader mdsolar quotes The Hill: The House Ways and Means Committee voted Wednesday to remove a key deadline for a nuclear power plant tax credit... The credit was first enacted in 2005 to spur construction of new nuclear plants, but it has gone completely unused because no new plants have come online since then...

It would likely benefit two reactors under construction at Southern Co.'s Vogtle Electric Generating Plant in Georgia and another two at Virgil C. Summer Nuclear Generating Station in South Carolina. Both projects are at risk of missing the 2020 deadline... "When Congress passed the 2005 act, it could not have contemplated the effort it would take to get a nuclear plant designed and licensed," said representative Tom Rice (R-S.C.).

Although one Democrat criticized the extension by arguing that nuclear power "does better in a socialist economy than in a capitalist one, because nuclear energy prefers to have the public do the cleanup, do the insurance, cover all of the losses and it only wants the profits."
Education

Poor Scientific Research Is Disproportionately Rewarded (economist.com) 81

A new study calculates a low probability that real effects are actually being detected in psychology, neuroscience and medicine research paper -- and then explains why. Slashdot reader ananyo writes: The average statistical power of papers culled from 44 reviews published between 1960 and 2011 was about 24%. The authors built an evolutionary computer model to suggest why and show that poor methods that get "results" will inevitably prosper. They also show that replication efforts cannot stop the degradation of the scientific record as long as science continues to reward the volume of a researcher's publications -- rather than their quality.
The article notes that in a 2015 sample of 100 psychological studies, only 36% of the results could actually be reproduced. Yet the researchers conclude that in the Darwin-esque hunt for funding, "top-performing laboratories will always be those who are able to cut corners." And the article's larger argument is until universities stop rewarding bad science, even subsequent attempts to invalidate those bogus results will be "incapable of correcting the situation no matter how rigorously it is pursued."
Hardware

SolidRun x86 Braswell MicroSoM Runs Linux and Full Windows 10, Destroys Raspberry Pi (betanews.com) 205

BetaNews has a report today about a company called SolidRun, which has announced an Intel Braswell-based MicroSoM. Unlike the ARM-powered Raspberry Pi, this is x86 compatible, meaning it can run full Windows 10. Plus, if you install a Linux distro, there will be far more packages available, such as Google Chrome, which is not available for Pi. Heck, it can probably serve as a secondary desktop, Brian with the site writes. From the report: At 53mm by 40mm, these new MicroSoMs provide unheard of design flexibility while also eliminating the headache of having to design complicated power-delivery subsystems thanks to its single power input rail design. SolidRun's Braswell MicroSoM also offers flexibility in RAM options, ranging from 1GB to 8GB configurations, and offers on-board support of eMMC storage up to 128GB. Its robust design and unsurpassed HD Edge surveillance, event detection, and statistical data-extraction capabilities makes it the platform of choice for mission-critical applications requiring guaranteed reliability," says Solidrun.It starts at $117, the website has more details on specifications.
Power

Elon Musk To Unveil Solar Roof With Storage, Charger Next Month (bloomberg.com) 79

Elon Musk plans to unveil Tesla and SolarCity's new solar roof product, which will come integrated with version 2.0 of the Tesla's PowerWall solar storage battery for the home, as well as a Tesla car charger, he said today. Bloomberg adds: Billionaire Elon Musk, the chairman and the largest shareholder of both Tesla and SolarCity Corp., announced his plans to unveil the new product in a message on Twitter Thursday. SolarCity's board agreed to Tesla's offer to buy the biggest U.S. rooftop solar supplier on Aug. 1. The product fits into his long-term vision of helping provide green homes that run on solar energy and use battery storage to help power systems, including charging electric cars, even after sundown. He announced in August that SolarCity is developing a "solar roof," a roofing product that incorporates solar technology without using standard photovoltaic panels.
Power

Germany Unveils a Hydrogen-Powered Passenger Train (fortune.com) 199

An anonymous reader writes: The world's first CO2-emission-free train powered through hydrogen was unveiled this week in Germany. The Coradia iLint, created by French company Alstom, was presented at the Berlin InnoTrans trade show on Tuesday. The train's energy comes from combining hydrogen stored in tanks on the train with oxygen in the air. The energy is then stored in lithium-ion batteries. The train's only emissions are steam and condensed water. The train also has lower noise levels than diesel trains, emitting only the sound of its wheels on the track and any sounds from air resistance at even its highest speed of 140 kilometers per hour (about 87 miles per hour). The train has the ability to travel up to 800 kilometers (497 miles) and carry up to 300 passengers; it's the worldâ(TM)s first hydrogen passenger train that can regularly operate long journeys.
The Courts

Appeals Court Decision Kills North Carolina Town's Gigabit Internet (hothardware.com) 222

MojoKid writes: In early August, the 6th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals ruled the FCC had no authority to prevent states from imposing restrictions on municipal internet. This was a result of the FCC stepping in last year in an effort to "remove barriers to broadband investment and competition." However, the courts sided with the states, which said that the FCC's order impeded on state rights. In the end, this ruling clearly favored firmly entrenched big brand operators like Time Warner Cable, Comcast, and ATT, which lobbied hard to keep competition at bay. The federal ruling specifically barred municipal internet providers from offering service outside of their city limits, denying them from providing service to under-served communities. The fallout from the federal court's rejection of the FCC order to extend a lifeline to municipal internet providers has claimed another victim. The small community of Pinetops, North Carolina -- population 1,300 -- will soon have its gigabit internet connection shut off. Pinetops has been the recipient of Greenlight internet service, which is provided by the neighboring town of Wilson. The town of Wilson has been providing electric power to Pinetops for the past 40 years, and had already deployed fiber through the town in order to bolster its smart grid initiative. What's infuriating to the Wilson City Council and to the Pinetop residents that will lose their high-speed service is that the connections are already in place. There's no logical reason why they should be cut off, but state laws and the lobbyists supporting those laws have deemed what Greenlight is doing illegal. Provide power to a neighboring town -- sure that's OK. Provide better internet to a neighboring town -- lawsuit
Power

TV Manufacturers Accused of Gaming Energy Usage Tests (cbslocal.com) 86

The Natural Resources Defense Council has issued a new report accusing Samsung, LG and Vizio of "misleading consumers and regulators about how much energy high-definition screens devour, alleging that the televisions were designed to perform more efficiently during government testing than in ordinary use." The report "estimates that the collective electricity bills during a decade of watching the high-definition TVs will be $1.2 billion higher than the energy ratings imply," and that "the higher energy usage generates an additional 5 million metric tons of carbon pollution." CBS Local reports: The findings are based on an analysis of high-definition TVs with screens spanning at least 55 inches made in 2015 and 2016. The estimates on electricity costs are based on high definition TVs with screens 32 inches and larger. The study concluded that Samsung and LG have gamed the system during government testing in an effort to get better scores on the "Energy Star" yellow labels that appear on the sets in stores. Those scores often influence the buying decisions of consumers looking to save money on their utility bills. The report said Samsung and LG did not break any laws in their manipulation of the tests, but rather exploited weaknesses in the Department of Energy's system to measure electricity usage. The Samsung and LG sets have a dimming feature that turns off the screens' backlight during part of the 10-minute video clip used in government tests. But that does not typically happen when the sets are being used in homes to watch sports, comedies, dramas and news programming. The analysis also found that Samsung, LG and Vizio disable energy-saving features in their TVs when consumers change the factory setting on the picture, a common practice. The energy-saving feature is turned off, with little or no warning on the screen, sometimes doubling the amount of electricity consumed, according to the NRDC report.
The Internet

Blizzard Is Getting Rid of the Battle.net Name (theverge.com) 31

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Verge: The Battle.net name is no more. Today Blizzard announced that it's moving away from using the Battle.net moniker when referring to its online services. "Battle.net technology will continue to serve as the central nervous system for Blizzard games -- nothing is changing in that regard," the company wrote in a forum post. "We'll just be referring to it as Blizzard tech instead." Battle.net originally debuted way back in 1996 alongside the original Diablo, and since then has been used to power iconic games like Starcraft, World of Warcraft, and more recent titles like Hearthstone and Overwatch. According to the company, as online multiplayer has become an expected part of its games -- and as Blizzard expanded to new platforms like Facebook Live -- the name was no longer needed. "When we created Battle.net, the idea of including a tailored online-gaming service together with your game was more of a novel concept, so we put a lot of focus on explaining what the service was and how it worked, including giving it a distinct name," the company explained. "Over time, though, we've seen that there's been occasional confusion and inefficiencies related to having two separate identities under which everything falls -- Blizzard and Battle.net."
Microsoft

Microsoft and Sony Are Debating Over Whose Console Really Offers 'True 4K' (arstechnica.com) 147

Sony's PlayStation 4, which will go on sales in two months, comes loaded with rendering pipeline and some proprietary upscaling techniques that can improve lower resolution base signals to take fuller advantage of a 4K display. Microsoft is seemingly upset with how Sony is marketing this, and it is not shying from telling people that no amount of upscaling can fill in those missing 4K pixels and the hardware inefficiency to produce native and "true 4K" images that the Project Scorpio, its gaming console that is coming next year can. Microsoft has also said that any game that it will launch during the Scorpio timeframe will "natively render at 4K." But the debate is anything from over because Microsoft keeps reminding everyone that the processor and GPU in its upcoming console is more powerful. As ArsTechnica explains: With Scorpio, Microsoft seems to be arguing that every first-party game at launch will be able to generate and render nearly 8.3 million pixels (four times as many as a 1080p game) at an acceptable frame rate (i.e., at least 30 times a second). That would be quite an achievement. As we noted back at E3, it currently takes pricey, high-end PC graphics cards like the Nvidia GTX 1080 or the AMD R9 Fury X -- cards that run $300 or much higher -- to "barely scrape by" with a native 4K, 30fps game. And those PC cards seem to have significantly more raw power than what is being claimed by Microsoft -- 9 and 8.4 teraflops, respectively, vs. a claimed 6 teraflops for Scorpio (and 4.2 teraflops for the PS4 Pro).Microsoft's head of Xbox planning, Albert Penello said, "I know that 4.2 teraflops is not enough to do true 4K." In an interview with Eurogamer, Penello adds:I think there are a lot of caveats they're giving customers right now around 4K. They're talking about checkerboard rendering and up-scaling and things like that. There are just a lot of asterisks in their marketing around 4K, which is interesting because when we thought about what spec we wanted for Scorpio, we were very clear we wanted developers to take their Xbox One engines and render them in native, true 4K. That was why we picked the number, that's why we have the memory bandwidth we have, that's why we have the teraflops we have, because it's what we heard from game developers was required to achieve native 4K.
Space

Wildfire at Vandenberg Air Force Base Threatens ULA, SpaceX Launches (latimes.com) 55

Longtime Slashdot reader Bruce Perens writes: A fire at Vandenberg Air Force Base on the California coast -- currently over 10,000 acres in size -- has approached the pads used by SpaceX and United Launch Alliance. No structures have been damaged, but power lines have been destroyed. There is about 1000 feet of firebreak around each pad, but the presence of smoke and the absence of electrical power is potentially a problem for rockets, payloads, and ground-support equipment. The WorldView 4 satellite, a Delta 4 rocket, and a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket with at least 7 (potentially 11) Iridium satellites are known to be on site. Ground support equipment at the base constitutes the United States' only access to polar orbit for large rockets without overflying populated areas. Liquid oxygen stored on the site may already have been released as a precaution or boiled off, and there are large supplies of rocket fuel, but these have so far not been a hazard. The Soberanes fire near Big Sur, located 180 miles farther South on the California coast, has gone on for two months, burning 185 square miles and costing over $200 million dollars to fight with no end in sight. Obviously, it's dry out there. The fire forced officials to cancel the Atlas V rocket launch on Sunday, and the next attempt won't occur for a week.

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