Data Storage

Microsoft Wants To Use DNA For Cloud Data Storage (technologyreview.com) 11

Last July, researchers from Microsoft and the University of Washington said that they had successfully encoded about 200 megabytes of data onto synthetic DNA molecules. The company is now planning to take the technology commercial. "Computer architects at Microsoft Research say the company has formalized a goal of having an operational storage system based on DNA working inside a data center toward the end of this decade," reports MIT Technology Review. "The aim is a 'proto-commercial system in three years storing some amount of data on DNA in one of our four centers for at least a boutique application,' says Doug Carmean, a partner architect at Microsoft Research." From the report: Internally, Microsoft harbors the even more ambitious goal of replacing tape drives, a common format used for archiving information. Major obstacles to a practical storage system remain. Converting digital bits into DNA code (made up of chains of nucleotides labeled A, G, C, and T) remains laborious and expensive because of the chemical process used to manufacture DNA strands. In its demonstration project, Microsoft used 13,448,372 unique pieces of DNA. Experts say buying that much material on the open market would cost $800,000. According to Microsoft, the cost of DNA storage needs to fall by a factor of 10,000 before it becomes widely adopted. While many experts say that's unlikely, Microsoft believes such advances could occur if the computer industry demands them.
Power

Switzerland Votes To Abandon Nuclear Power In Favor of Renewables (bbc.com) 293

Slashdot reader bsolar writes: Swiss voters approved a new energy strategy proposed by the government. Under this new policy no new nuclear power plant will be built and the five existing nuclear power plants will continue operating and will be shut down at the end of their operating life (expected to last about 20-30 years). The plan is to offset the missing nuclear energy production by renewables and lower energy consumption.
Though one-third of the country's power comes from nuclear energy, the BBC reports that more than 58% of the voters "backed the move towards greener power sources." One Swiss news site notes that "regions where the country's five nuclear reactors are situated rejected the reform with clear majorities."
The Internet

Vint Cerf Reflects On The Last 60 Years (computerworld.com) 63

Computerworld celebrated its 50th anniversary by interviewing Vinton Cerf. The 73-year-old "father of the internet" remembers reading the early issues of the magazine, and reflects on how much things have changed since he gained access to computers at UCLA in 1960, "the beginning of my love affair with computing." I worry 100 years from now our descendants may not know much about us or be able to read our emails or tweets or documents because nobody saved them or the software you need to read them won't exist anymore. It's a huge issue. I have files of text that were written 20 years ago in WordPerfect, except I don't have WordPerfect running anywhere...

Q: Do you think [creating the internet] was your greatest accomplishment?

No. Getting it turned on was a big deal. Keeping it running for the last some odd years was an even bigger deal. Protecting it from hostile governments that want to shut it down and supporting new applications at a higher capacity are all evolutions. The evolution continues... I don't know if I can point to anything and say that's the biggest accomplishment. It's one big climb up the mountain.

Looking ahead to a future filled with AI, Cerf says "I worry about turning over too much autonomous authority to a piece of software," though he's not overly concerned, "not like Stephen Hawking or Elon Musk, who are alarmists about artificial intelligence. Every time you use Google search or self-driving cars, you're using A.I. These are all assistive technologies and I suspect this is how it will be used."

He also acknowledges that "I probably don't have another 50 years left, unless Ray Kurzweil's predictions come true, and I can upload my consciousness into a computer."
Biotech

New Battery Technology Draws Energy Directly From The Human Body (bleepingcomputer.com) 94

An anonymous reader quotes BleepingComputer: A team of eleven scientists from UCLA and the University of Connecticut has created a new energy-storing device that can draw electrical power from the human body. What researchers created is a biological supercapacitor, a protein-based battery-like device that extracts energy from the human body and then releases it inside an electrical circuit â" the implantable medical device. According to a research paper published earlier this month, the supercapacitor is made up by a device called a "harvester" that operates by using the body's heat and movements to extract electrical charges from ions found in human body fluids, such as blood, serum, or urine.

As electrodes, the harvester uses a carbon nanomaterial called graphene, layered with modified human proteins. The electrodes collect energy from the human body, relay it to the harvester, which then stores it for later use. Because graphene sheets can be drawn in sheets as thin as a few atoms, this allows for the creation of utra-thin supercapacitors that could be used as alternatives to classic batteries. For example, the bio-friendly supercapacitors researchers created are thinner than a human hair, and are also flexible, moving and twisting with the human body.

Data Storage

Endless OS Now Ships With Steam And Slack FlatPak Applications (endlessos.com) 87

An anonymous reader writes: Steam and Slack are now both included as Flatpak applications on the Endless OS, a free Linux distribution built upon the decades of evolution of the Linux operating system and the contributions of thousands of volunteers on the GNOME project. The beauty of Flatpak is the ability to bridge app creators and Linux distributions using a universal framework, making it possible to bring this kind of software to operating systems that encourage open collaboration...

As an open-source deployment mechanism, Flatpak was developed by an independent cohort made up of volunteers and contributors from supporting organizations in the open-source community. Alexander Larsson, lead developer of Flatpak and principal engineer at Red Hat, provided comment saying, "We're particularly excited about the opportunity Endless affords to advance the benefits of open-source environments to entirely new audiences."

Power

Possible Radioactive Leak Investigated At Washington Nuclear Site (upi.com) 90

Authorities are investigating radioactive material found on a worker's clothing one week after a tunnel collapse at the waste nuclear waste site in the state of Washington. Around 7 p.m. Thursday, Washington River Protection Solutions, a government contractor contractor in charge of all 177 underground storage tanks at the nuclear site. detected high radiation readings on a robotic device that seven workers were pulling out of a tank. Then, contamination was also discovered on the clothing of one worker -- on one shoe, on his shirt and on his pants in the knee area.

"Radiological monitoring showed contamination on the unit that was three times the planned limit. Workers immediately stopped working and exited the area according to procedure," said Rob Roxburgh, deputy manager of WRPS Communications & Public Relations said to KING-TV. Using leak-detection instruments, WRPS said it did not find liquid escaping the tank. "Everybody was freaked, shocked, surprised," said a veteran worker, who was in direct contact with crew members. "[The contamination] was not expected. They're not supposed to find contamination in the annulus [safety perimeter] of the double shell tanks."

Washington's attorney general, urging a federal clean-up of the site, insists "This isn't the first potential leak and it won't be the last."
Displays

New Evidence of a Decline In Electricity Use By U.S. Households (wordpress.com) 310

There's some surprising news from the Energy Institute at the University of California's business school. America's households are using less electricity than they did five years ago. So what is different? Energy-efficient lighting. Over 450 million LEDs have been installed to date in the United States, up from less than half a million in 2009, and nearly 70% of Americans have purchased at least one LED bulb. Compact fluorescent lightbulbs (CFLs) are even more common, with 70%+ of households owning some CFLs. All told, energy-efficient lighting now accounts for 80% of all U.S. lighting sales.

It is no surprise that LEDs have become so popular. LED prices have fallen 94% since 2008, and a 60-watt equivalent LED lightbulb can now be purchased for about $2. LEDs use 85% less electricity than incandescent bulbs, are much more durable, and work in a wide-range of indoor and outdoor settings.

"I would add LED TVs replacing LCD, Plasma and CRTs," writes Slashdot reader schwit1.
Robotics

Robots Could Wipe Out Another 6 Million Retail Jobs (cnn.com) 277

According to a new study this week from financial services firm Cornerstone Capital Group, between 6 million and 7.5 million retail jobs are at risk of being replaced over the course of the next 10 years by some form of automation. "That represents at least 38% of the current retail work force, which consists of 16 million workers," reports CNN. "Retail could actually lose a greater proportion of jobs to automation than manufacturing has, according to the study." From the report: That doesn't mean that robots will be roving the aisles of your local department store chatting with customers. Instead, expect to see more automated checkout lines instead of cashiers. This shift alone will likely eliminate millions of jobs. "Cashiers are considered one of the most easily automatable jobs in the economy," said the report. And these job losses will hit women particularly hard, since about 73% of cashiers are women. There will also be fewer sales jobs, as more and more consumers use in-store smartphones and touchscreen computers to find what they need, said John Wilson, head of research at Cornerstone. There will still be some sales people on the floor, but just not as many of them. Rising wages are also helping to drive automation, as state and city governments hike their minimum wages. Additionally, several major retailers including Walmart, the nation's largest employer, have increased wages in order to find and retain the workers they need. The increased competition from e-commerce is also a factor, since it requires retailers to be as efficient as possible in order to compete.
China

China Successfully Mines Gas From Methane Hydrate In Production Run (oilprice.com) 130

hackingbear writes from a report via OilPrice.com: In a world's first, China has successfully extracted gas from gas hydrates in production run in the northern part of the South China Sea. According to the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), global estimates vary, but the energy content of methane in hydrates, also known as "fire ice" or "flammable ice," is "immense, possibly exceeding the combined energy content of all other known fossil fuels." But no methane production other than small-scale field experiments has been documented so far. The China Geographical Survey said that it managed to collect samples from the Shenhu area in the South China Sea in a test that started last Wednesday. Every day some 16,000 cubic meters (565,000 cubic feet) of gas, almost all of which was methane, were extracted from the test field, exceeding goals for production mining. This is expected to help cut down China's coal-induced pollution greatly and reduce reliance on politically sensitive petroleum imports controlled by the US. "The production of gas hydrate will play a significant role in upgrading China's energy mixture and securing its energy security," Minister of Land and Resources Jiang Daming said on Thursday.
Government

Apple Is Lobbying Against Your Right To Repair iPhones, New York State Records Confirm (vice.com) 234

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Motherboard: Lobbying records in New York state show that Apple, Verizon, and the tech industry's largest trade organizations are opposing a bill that would make it easier for consumers and independent companies to repair your electronics. The bill, called the "Fair Repair Act," would require electronics companies to sell replacement parts and tools to the general public, would prohibit "software locks" that restrict repairs, and in many cases would require companies to make repair guides available to the public. Apple and other tech giants have been suspected of opposing the legislation in many of the 11 states where similar bills have been introduced, but New York's robust lobbying disclosure laws have made information about which companies are hiring lobbyists and what bills they're spending money on public record. According to New York State's Joint Commission on Public Ethics, Apple, Verizon, Toyota, the printer company Lexmark, heavy machinery company Caterpillar, phone insurance company Asurion, and medical device company Medtronic have spent money lobbying against the Fair Repair Act this year. The Consumer Technology Association, which represents thousands of electronics manufacturers, is also lobbying against the bill. The records show that companies and organizations lobbying against right to repair legislation spent $366,634 to retain lobbyists in the state between January and April of this year. Thus far, the Digital Right to Repair Coalition -- which is generally made up of independent repair shops with several employees -- is the only organization publicly lobbying for the legislation. It has spent $5,042 on the effort, according to the records.
Medicine

Researchers Create a T-Shirt That Monitors the Wearer's Breathing Rate In Real Time (sciencedaily.com) 38

"Researchers at Universite Laval's Faculty of Science and Engineering and its Center for Optics, Photonics, and Lasers have created a smart T-shirt that monitors the wearer's respiratory rate in real time," reports Science Daily. The details have been published in the latest edition of Sensors. From the report: Unlike other methods of measuring respiratory rate, the smart T shirt works without any wires, electrodes, or sensors attached to the user's body, explains Younes Messaddeq, the professor who led the team that developed the technology. "The T shirt is really comfortable and doesn't inhibit the subject's natural movements. Our tests show that the data captured by the shirt is reliable, whether the user is lying down, sitting, standing, or moving around." The key to the smart T shirt is an antenna sewn in at chest level that's made of a hollow optical fiber coated with a thin layer of silver on its inner surface. The fiber's exterior surface is covered in a polymer that protects it against the environment. "The antenna does double duty, sensing and transmitting the signals created by respiratory movements," adds Professor Messaddeq, who also holds the Canada Excellence Research Chair in Photonic Innovations. "The data can be sent to the user's smartphone or a nearby computer." As the wearer breathes in, the smart fiber senses the increase in both thorax circumference and the volume of air in the lungs, explains Messaddeq. "These changes modify some of the resonant frequency of the antenna. That's why the T shirt doesn't need to be tight or in direct contact with the wearer's skin. The oscillations that occur with each breath are enough for the fiber to sense the user's respiratory rate."
EU

US and EU Reject Expanding Laptop Ban To Flights From Europe (bbc.com) 86

An anonymous reader writes: US and EU officials have decided against a ban on laptops and tablets in cabin baggage on flights from Europe. But after a four-hour meeting in Brussels to discuss the threats to aviation security, officials said other measures were still being considered. US officials had previously said they were looking into extending to Europe a ban on electronics on flights from eight mostly Muslim countries. The measure was introduced over fears a bomb could be concealed in a device. The meeting was requested by EU officials after recent reports suggested US authorities had new information regarding laptop parts being turned into explosives.
China

Drone Pilots In China Have to Register With the Government (engadget.com) 58

China's Civil Aviation Authority has announced that drone pilots will be required to register any unmanned aerial vehicle heavier than 0.55 pounds with the government starting on June 1st. "Online registration will open up on May 18th, and the government will start publishing no-fly zone data for civilian airports on the same day," reports Engadget. From the report: The initiative will also see regulators working with local government and police to curb drone interference, and will eventually standardize commercial drone use with four main categories: aerial photography, agricultural use, aviation photography and license training. The country already recognizes over 200 training outlets that have issued over 14,000 certificates so far, so some of this standardization would really just expand on what's already happening. It's hard to escape concerns that this will help the government crack down on drone pilots for spurious reasons, such as when they record protests or questionable government activities. However, the registration officially comes as a response to a mounting number of safety incidents involving drones at airports. Authorities note that Chengdu alone saw eight examples of drone interference since April, six of which grounded 138 flights. If those sorts of figures are applicable elsewhere, that's a lot hassle and potential danger.
Power

How the Lights Have Gone Out For the People of Syria (bbc.co.uk) 124

dryriver shares an excerpt from a report via the BBC that shows what the impact of the Syrian war looks like from space: Six years of war in Syria have had a devastating effect on millions of its people. One of the most catastrophic impacts has been on the country's electricity network. Images from NASA, obtained by BBC Arabic, show clearly how the lights have gone out during the course of the conflict, leaving people to survive with little to no power. Each timelapse frame shows an average of the light emitted at night every month from 2012, one year after the war began. They show that the areas where Syrians can turn lights on at night, power their daily lives and get access to life-saving medical equipment, have shrunk dramatically. The city of Aleppo was Syria's powerhouse and home to over two million people. But the country's industrial hub became a battleground and remained so for more than four years. Russian airstrikes against Syrian rebels began in October 2015 and the timelapse shows the city in almost complete darkness at night throughout 2016, when the battle for Aleppo was at its peak. As mains power supplies dropped off, ordinary people had to be creative in finding alternative sources for light and power.
Google

Google Home Gets Notifications, Hands-Free Calling, a TV Interface and More (theverge.com) 37

Google has announced several news features for Google Home to help it better compete against the Amazon Echo. The six new features coming to Google Home include: notifications, free calling to phones in the U.S. and Canada, calendar and reminders, more streaming services, a TV interface, and new locations. The Verge details each feature in its report: Notifications: Google calls this feature "proactive assistance." Essentially, Google Home will do its best to alert owners to things they need to know, like reminders, traffic alerts, or flight delays.
Free Calling To Phones In U.S. and Canada: Google is one-upping Amazon by letting the Home dial out to actual landline and mobile phones. Whenever this feature rolls out, you'll be able to ask the Home to call anyone on your contacts list, and it'll dial out to them on a private number.
Calendar and Reminders: You can finally set reminders and calendar entries. Finally.
More Streaming Services: Google Home has already been able to control a handful of music and video services, but it's about to get a bunch of major missing names. For music, that includes Spotify's free tier, Deezer, and SoundCloud. For video, it includes HBO Now and Hulu. On top of that, Home is also getting the ability to stream anything over Bluetooth.
A TV Interface: Sometimes you actually want to see what's going on, so Google's making a TV interface for the Google Home. You'll soon be able to ask the Home to send information to your TV, from basics like the weather and your calendar, to information it's looking up like nearby restaurants or YouTube videos you might want to watch.
New Locations: The Home is going to expand to five new countries this summer: Canada, Australia, France, Germany, and Japan.

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