ISS

Bigelow Launching New Company To Sell Private Space Stations (popularmechanics.com) 57

hyperclocker shares a report from Popular Mechanics: The future of spacecraft in lower Earth orbit (LEO) looks to be an increasingly commercial affair. Bigelow Aerospace, a Las Vegas-based company that builds livable space habitats, has now created a spinoff company known as Bigelow Space Operations (BSO). BSO will market and operate any space habitats that Bigelow sells. The creation of BSO signals that Bigelow is preparing for a future of commercial space living. Recently leaked NASA documents show that the Trump Administration wants to convert the International Space Station into a commercial venture, and BSO is betting that businesses including private scientific ventures and hotels will be interested in creating a profit above the Earth. A prototype Bigelow habitat, the Bigelow Expandable Activity Module (BEAM), has been connected to the ISS since 2016. It's proven such a successful addition that last year NASA extended its contract for an additional three years. But Bigelow is thinking past the BEAM. In its press release announcing BSO, it highlights its planned launches of the B330-1 and B330-2, spacecraft with 6-person capacity, in 2021.
Data Storage

Samsung Starts Mass Producing an SSD With Monstrous 30.72TB Capacity (betanews.com) 158

Brian Fagioli, writing for BetaNews: Samsung says it is mass producing a solid state drive with monstrous capacity. The "PM1643," as it is called, offers an insane 30.72TB of storage space! This is achieved by using 32 x 1TB NAND flash. "Samsung reached the new capacity and performance enhancements through several technology progressions in the design of its controller, DRAM packaging and associated software. Included in these advancements is a highly efficient controller architecture that integrates nine controllers from the previous high-capacity SSD lineup into a single package, enabling a greater amount of space within the SSD to be used for storage. The PM1643 drive also applies Through Silicon Via (TSV) technology to interconnect 8Gb DDR4 chips, creating 10 4GB TSV DRAM packages, totaling 40GB of DRAM. This marks the first time that TSV-applied DRAM has been used in an SSD," says Samsung.
Android

FBI, CIA, and NSA: Don't Use Huawei Phones (cnbc.com) 238

The heads of six top U.S. intelligence agencies told the Senate Intelligence Committee on Tuesday they would not advise Americans to use products or services from Chinese smartphone maker Huawei. "The six -- including the heads of the CIA, FBI, NSA and the director of national intelligence -- first expressed their distrust of Apple-rival Huawei and fellow Chinese telecom company ZTE in reference to public servants and state agencies," reports CNBC. From the report: "We're deeply concerned about the risks of allowing any company or entity that is beholden to foreign governments that don't share our values to gain positions of power inside our telecommunications networks," FBI Director Chris Wray testified. "That provides the capacity to exert pressure or control over our telecommunications infrastructure," Wray said. "It provides the capacity to maliciously modify or steal information. And it provides the capacity to conduct undetected espionage."

In a response, Huawei said that it "poses no greater cybersecurity risk than any ICT vendor." A spokesman said in a statement: "Huawei is aware of a range of U.S. government activities seemingly aimed at inhibiting Huawei's business in the U.S. market. Huawei is trusted by governments and customers in 170 countries worldwide and poses no greater cybersecurity risk than any ICT vendor, sharing as we do common global supply chains and production capabilities."

Earth

Researchers Discover Efficient Way To Filter Salt, Metal Ions From Water (phys.org) 67

schwit1 shares a report on a new study, published in Sciences Advances, that offers a new solution to providing clean drinking water for billions of people worldwide: It all comes down to metal-organic frameworks (MOFs), an amazing next generation material that have the largest internal surface area of any known substance. The sponge like crystals can be used to capture, store and release chemical compounds. In this case, the salt and ions in sea water. Dr Huacheng Zhang, Professor Huanting Wang and Associate Professor Zhe Liu and their team in the Faculty of Engineering at Monash University in Melbourne, Australia, in collaboration with Dr Anita Hill of CSIRO and Professor Benny Freeman of the McKetta Department of Chemical Engineering at The University of Texas at Austin, have recently discovered that MOF membranes can mimic the filtering function, or "ion selectivity," of organic cell membranes. With further development, these membranes have significant potential to perform the dual functions of removing salts from seawater and separating metal ions in a highly efficient and cost effective manner, offering a revolutionary new technological approach for the water and mining industries. Currently, reverse osmosis membranes are responsible for more than half of the world's desalination capacity, and the last stage of most water treatment processes, yet these membranes have room for improvement by a factor of 2 to 3 in energy consumption. They do not operate on the principles of dehydration of ions, or selective ion transport in biological channels.
Power

What Apple's Battery Health 'Fix' Looks Like (bgr.com) 69

Apple has released new battery health features in iOS 11.3 beta 2, which was seeded to developers today. BGR reports what those battery health functions look like, and how to disable power management if you're using an older iPhone: The feature is contained within a new "Battery Health" menu, which is under the "Battery" tab on iOS 11.3. The page only really has two fields: Maximum Capacity, which shows what percentage of the original charge your battery can still hold; and Peak Performance Capacity, which tells you if your phone's performance is being throttled due to the battery. Right now, there are no options to change anything within the menu. Maximum Capacity should be at 100% for newer phones, and it should fall down to around 80% over the course of about two years of normal use. A Redditor on the iOSBeta forum uploaded a photo of his iPhone 7, which is sitting at 87% capacity. That device still shows peak performance.

On older devices with a worse battery, the phone will show that reduced Maximum Capacity, as well as detail any performance slowdowns due to the decreased battery capacity. On devices that have weaker batteries, the Peak Performance Capability will change to read "This iPhone has experienced an unexpected shutdown because the battery was unable to deliver the necessary peak power. Performance management has been applied to help prevent this from happening again." A small blue hyperlink then says "Disable," which lets you manually turn off your iPhone's performance management.

The Almighty Buck

New York's $6 Billion Plan For Offshore Wind Shows That Oil Drilling Really Is On the Way Out (businessinsider.com) 399

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Business Insider: Governor Andrew Cuomo unveiled a plan earlier this month to develop $6 billion of offshore wind projects off the southern coast of Long Island by 2028 and predicted that the industry would bring 5,000 jobs to the state. The plan calls for developing 2.4 gigawatts -- enough to power 1.2 million homes -- by 2030. It's all part of New York's Clean Energy Standard, which requires 50% of the state's electricity come from renewable sources like solar and wind. The move comes as President Donald Trump earlier this month announced a five-year plan to open up areas of the East Coast to offshore drilling.

"While the federal government continues to turn its back on protecting natural resources and plots to open up our coastline to drilling, New York is doubling down on our commitment to renewable energy and the industries of tomorrow," Cuomo said in a statement. Cuomo has asked Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke for an exemption from the drilling plan, saying in an open letter that the plan "undermines New York's efforts to combat climate change by shifting from greenhouse gas emitting fossil energy sources to renewable sources, such as offshore wind." The report identifies a 1 million acre site approximately 20 miles south of Long Island that would best support the wind turbines, and "ensure that, for the vast majority of the time, turbines would have no discernible or visible impact from the casual viewer on the shore."
The report also notes that New Jersey announced a similar plan last Wednesday to develop 3.5 gigawatts of offshore wind capacity off its coast.
Power

Tesla To Construct 'Virtual Solar Power Plant' Using 50,000 Homes (cleantechnica.com) 199

Long-time Slashdot readers denbesten, haruchai, and Kant all submitted this story. CleanTechnica reports: Tesla and the government of South Australia have announced a stunning new project that could change how electricity is generated not only in Australia but in every country in the world. They plan to install rooftop solar system on 50,000 homes in the next four years and link them them together with grid storage facilities to create the largest virtual solar power plant in history. And here's the kicker: The rooftop solar systems will be free. The cost of the project will be recouped over time by selling the electricity generated to those who consume it.

"We will use people's homes as a way to generate energy for the South Australian grid, with participating households benefiting with significant savings in their energy bills," says South Australia's premier Jay Weatherill. "More renewable energy means cheaper power for all South Australians..." Price predicts utility bills for participating households will be slashed by 30%.

Electrek reports that the project will result in at least 650 MWh of additional energy storage capacity, and Tesla points out that "At key moments, the virtual power plant could provide as much capacity as a large gas turbine or coal power plant."
Space

Japan Launches the World's Smallest Satellite-Carrying Rocket (nasaspaceflight.com) 64

Japan has launched the world's smallest satellite-carrying rocket. Long-time Slashdot reader hey! writes: Last week Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) successfully placed a three-kilogram cubesat into an 180 x 1,500 kilometer orbit at 31 degrees inclination to the equator. The payload was launched on a modified sounding rocket, called the SS-520-5. The assembled rocket weighed a mere 2600 kilograms [2.87 tons] on the launchpad, making the SS-520-5 the smallest vehicle ever to put an object into orbit.

Note that the difference in the SS-520's modest orbital capacity of four kilograms and its ability to launch 140 kilograms to 1000 kilometers on a suborbital flight. That shows how much more difficult it is to put an object into orbit than it is to merely send it into space.

NASA

SpaceX and Boeing Slated For Manned Space Missions By Year's End (fortune.com) 79

schwit1 shares a report from Fortune, covering NASA's announcement last week that it expects SpaceX to conduct a crewed test flight by the end of the year: SpaceX's crewed test flight is slated for December, after an uncrewed flight in August. Boeing will also be demonstrating its CST-100 Starliner capsule, with a crewed flight in November following an uncrewed flight in August. NASA's goal is to launch crews to the ISS from U.S. soil, a task that has fallen to Russia's space program since the retirement of the U.S. Space Shuttle program in 2011. NASA began looking for private launch companies to take over starting in 2010, and contracted both SpaceX and Boeing in 2014 to pursue crewed launches. The push to restore America's crewed spaceflight capacity has been delayed in part, according to a detailed survey by Ars Technica, by Congress redirecting funds in subsequent years. The test flights could determine whether Boeing or SpaceX conducts the first U.S. commercial space launch to the ISS. Whichever company gets that honor may also claim a symbolic U.S. flag stuck to a hatch on the space station. Sources speaking to Ars describe the race between the two companies as too close to call, and say that a push to early 2019 is entirely possible. But in an apparent vote of confidence, NASA has already begun naming astronauts to helm the flights.
The Military

'Don't Fear the Robopocalypse': the Case for Autonomous Weapons (thebulletin.org) 150

Lasrick shares "Don't fear the robopocalypse," an interview from the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists with the former Army Ranger who led the team that established the U.S. Defense Department policy on autonomous weapons (and has written the upcoming book Army of None: Autonomous Weapons and the Future of War). Paul Scharre makes the case for uninhabited vehicles, robot teammates, and maybe even an outer perimeter of robotic sentries (and, for mobile troops, "a cloud of air and ground robotic systems"). But he also argues that "In general, we should strive to keep humans involved in the lethal force decision-making process as much as is feasible. What exactly that looks like in practice, I honestly don't know."

So does that mean he thinks we'll eventually see the deployment of fully autonomous weapons in combat? I think it's very hard to imagine a world where you physically take the capacity out of the hands of rogue regimes... The technology is so ubiquitous that a reasonably competent programmer could build a crude autonomous weapon in their garage. The idea of putting some kind of nonproliferation regime in place that actually keeps the underlying technology out of the hands of people -- it just seems really naive and not very realistic. I think in that kind of world, you have to anticipate that there are, at a minimum, going to be uses by terrorists and rogue regimes. I think it's more of an open question whether we cross the threshold into a world where nation-states are using them on a large scale.

And if so, I think it's worth asking, what do we mean by"them"? What degree of autonomy? There are automated defensive systems that I would characterize as human-supervised autonomous weapons -- where a human is on the loop and supervising its operation -- in use by at least 30 countries today. They've been in use for decades and really seem to have not brought about the robopocalypse or anything. I'm not sure that those [systems] are particularly problematic. In fact, one could see them as being even more beneficial and valuable in an age when things like robot swarming and cooperative autonomy become more possible.

Privacy

Congress Is About To Vote On Expanding the Warrantless Surveillance of Americans (vice.com) 226

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Motherboard: On Tuesday afternoon, a handful of U.S. Representatives will convene to review an amendment that would reauthorize warrantless foreign surveillance and expand the law so that it could include American citizens. It would, in effect, legalize a surveillance practice abandoned by the NSA in 2017 in order to appease the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, which found the NSA to have abused its collection capacity several times. If it passes Tuesday's review, the bill may be voted on by the U.S. House of Representatives as early as Thursday. Drafted by the House Intelligence Committee last December, the FISA Amendments Reauthorization Act of 2017 is an amendment to Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA). It is one of six different FISA-related bills under consideration by Congress at the moment, but by far the most damaging to the privacy rights of American citizens.

FISA was enacted in 1978, but Section 702, referred to by former FBI Director James Comey as the "crown jewels of the intelligence community," wasn't added until 2008. This section allows intelligence agencies to surveil any foreigner outside the U.S. without a warrant that the agency considers a target. The problem is that this often resulted in the warrantless surveillance of U.S. citizens as well due to two loopholes known as "backdoor searches" and "about collection." Backdoor search refers to a roundabout way of monitoring Americans' communications. Since intelligence agencies are able to designate any foreigner's communications as a target for surveillance, if this foreigner has communicated with an American this means this American's communications are then also considered fair game for surveillance by the agency.

Iphone

Apple Will Replace Old iPhone Batteries Regardless of Diagnostic Test Results (macrumors.com) 191

After apologizing to customers for slowing older iPhones down as the batteries degrade, Apple has started offering battery swaps for $29. This has led to some confusion as Apple did not clarify how it qualified batteries as eligible for the discounted replacement, as the Apple Genius Bar uses a diagnostic test to check whether a battery can retain 80 percent of its original capacity at 500 complete charge cycles. According to Mac Rumors, Apple has confirmed that they will replace the battery if your iPhone 6 or later even if it passes a Genius Bar diagnostic test. From the report: Apple has since independently confirmed to MacRumors that it will agree to replace an eligible battery for a $29 fee, regardless of whether an official diagnostic test shows that it is still able to retain less than 80 percent of its original capacity. The concession appears to have been made to mollify the anger of customers stoked by headlines suggesting that Apple artificially slows down older iPhones to drive customers to upgrade to newer models. Anecdotal reports also suggest that customers who paid $79 to have their battery replaced before the new pricing came into effect on Saturday, December 30, will receive a refund from Apple upon request.
IBM

Blockchain Brings Business Boom To IBM, Oracle, and Microsoft (fortune.com) 94

An anonymous reader quotes Fortune's new report on blockchain: Demand for the technology, best known for supporting bitcoin, is growing so much that it will be one of the largest users of capacity next year at about 60 data centers that IBM rents out to other companies around the globe. IBM was one of the first big companies to see blockchain's promise, contributing code to an open-source effort and encouraging startups to try the technology on its cloud for free. That a 106-year-old company like IBM is going all in on blockchain shows just how far the digital ledger has come since its early days underpinning bitcoin drug deals on the dark web. The market for blockchain-related products and services will reach $7.7 billion in 2022, up from $242 million last year, according to researcher Markets & Markets.

That's creating new opportunities for some of the old warships of the technology world, companies like IBM and Microsoft Corp. that are making the transition to cloud services. And products that had gone out of vogue, such as databases sold by Oracle Corp., are becoming sexy again... In October, Oracle announced the formation of Oracle Blockchain Cloud Service, which helps customers extend existing applications like enterprise-resource management systems. A month earlier, rival SAP SE said clients in industries like manufacturing and supply chain were testing its cloud service. And on Nov. 20, Microsoft expanded its partnership with consortium R3 to make it easier for financial institutions to deploy blockchains in its Azure cloud. Big Blue, meanwhile, has been one of key companies behind the Hyperledger consortium, a nonprofit open-source project that aims to create efficient standards for commercial use of blockchain technology.

A Juniper Research survey found six in 10 larger corporations are considering blockchain, according to the article, which adds that blockchain "is increasingly being tested or used by companies such as Wal-Mart Stores Inc. and Visa Inc. to streamline supply chain, speed up payments and store records."

And because of blockchain's popularity, the CEO of WinterGreen Research predicts that 55% of large companies with over 1,000 employees will use the cloud rather than their own data centers within five years -- up from 17% today.
Bitcoin

Estimates of Bitcoin's Soaring Energy Use Are Likely Overstating the Electric Power Required To Mine the Cryptocurrency (cnbc.com) 115

From a report: The computer process that generates each coin is said to be on pace to require more electricity than the United States consumes in a year. This bitcoin "mining" allegedly consumes more power than most countries use each year, and its electricity usage is roughly equivalent to Bulgaria's consumption. But here's another thing you might want to know: All of that analysis is based on a single estimate of bitcoin's power consumption that is highly questionable, according to some long-time energy and IT researchers. Despite their skepticism, this power-consumption estimate from the website Digiconomist has quickly been accepted as gospel by many journalists, research analysts and even billionaire investors. That model is also the basis for forecasts of bitcoin's future energy use that remind some experts of wild projections about internet data traffic in the mid-1990s that contributed back then to companies spending far too much for capacity they would eventually not need. "Doing these wild extrapolations can have real-world consequences," said Jonathan Koomey, a Stanford University lecturer who pioneered studies of electricity usage from IT equipment and helped debunk faulty forecasts in the 1990s. "I would not bet anything on the bitcoin thing driving total electricity demand. It is a tiny, tiny part of all data center electricity use."
Businesses

Wind Power Is Now The Cheapest Energy In India (bloombergquint.com) 54

An anonymous reader shares a report: Wind power prices fell to its lowest and below the cheapest solar tariffs in the fourth round of auctions, putting more pressure on turbine makers as developers are expected to negotiate already-falling equipment prices. State-run Gujarat Urja Vikas Nigam Ltd. auctioned 500-megawatt of grid-connected projects at as low as Rs 2.43 (3.8 cents) a unit. That was quoted by Actis-backed Sprng Energy that bid for 197.5-megawatt capacity and KP Energy that won 30 MW. That's lower than the lowest solar power tariffs of Rs 2.44 a unit discovered in May and 8 percent lower than wind power prices discovered in earlier national auctions in October, according to Bloomberg New Energy Finance. A decline in auction tariffs will put the manufacturers under even more pressure to innovate and meet the price expectations of developers, Bloomberg New Energy Finance said. Falling tariffs may lead to discovery of even lower bids in the national wind auctions scheduled for January, it added. India aims to auction 28-gigawatt wind projects by March 2020 to take it closer to the total targeted capacity of 60 GW by 2022. That's part of the plan to install 175 GW renewable energy capacity by 2022.
Iphone

Apple Confirms iPhone With Older Batteries Will Take Hits On Performance (theverge.com) 172

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Verge: Reddit users have noticed that Apple appears to be slowing down old iPhones that have low-capacity batteries. While many iPhone users have experienced perceived slowdowns due to iOS updates over the years, it appears that there's now proof Apple is throttling processor speeds when a battery capacity deteriorates over time. Geekbench developer John Poole has mapped out performance for the iPhone 6S and iPhone 7 over time, and has come to the conclusion that Apple's iOS 10.2.1 and 11.2.0 updates introduce this throttling for different devices. iOS 10.2.1 is particularly relevant, as this update was designed to reduce random shutdown issues for the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6S. Apple's fix appears to be throttling the CPU to prevent the phone from randomly shutting down. Geekbench reports that iOS 11.2.0 introduces similar throttling for low iPhone 7 low-capacity batteries.

When reached for comment, Apple basically confirmed the findings to The Verge, but disputes the assumed intention: "Our goal is to deliver the best experience for customers, which includes overall performance and prolonging the life of their devices. Lithium-ion batteries become less capable of supplying peak current demands when in cold conditions, have a low battery charge or as they age over time, which can result in the device unexpectedly shutting down to protect its electronic components. Last year we released a feature for iPhone 6, iPhone 6s and iPhone SE to smooth out the instantaneous peaks only when needed to prevent the device from unexpectedly shutting down during these conditions. We've now extended that feature to iPhone 7 with iOS 11.2, and plan to add support for other products in the future."

Bitcoin

Venezuela Will Force Bitcoin Miners To Register With the Government (themerkle.com) 152

schwit1 shares a report from The Merkle: No one will be surprised to hear the Venezuelan government isn't too keen on Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies. Since Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies can't be regulated or controlled by the government in any official capacity, they could damage the country's brittle economy even further. As a result, the government has imposed new rules for anyone mining cryptocurrency. To be more specific, all miners will now be taxed and required to register with the government. Being taxed is not entirely illogical, but the registration requirement is pretty worrisome, to say the least. The government shouldn't need to know who is doing what in regards to crypto trading and mining. Nevertheless, authorities want to know who is mining, where they are located, and what type of equipment they use. "That'll put food back on the shelves," adds schwit1.
Facebook

Former Exec Who Said Facebook Was 'Destroying Society' Still Loves Facebook (gizmodo.com) 46

Remember that former Facebook exec who felt "tremendous guilt" about creating tools "that are ripping apart the social fabric of how society works"? He's now walking back his criticism -- at least somewhat. Gizmodo reports: Palihapitiya said that he believes that "Facebook is a force for good in the world," and went on to express his belief that the social network is really trying to make its platform less of a hellish garbage fire of misinformation and election interference. "Facebook has made tremendous strides in coming to terms with its unforeseen influence and, more so than any of its peers, the team there has taken real steps to course correct," he wrote in the post... Facebook is certainly trying to soothe naysayers who think the platform might be rotting the brains of our youth -- a viewpoint that Sean Parker, Facebook's first president, essentially expressed last month... For Palihapitiya's part, Thursday night's statement wasn't a total reversal of his original claims, but seemingly an apologetic gesture toward Facebook (or perhaps friends still working at the company). Yes, social media has the capacity to utterly destroy us, but can't you see that Facebook is trying to be better?
His post argues social media platforms "have been used and abused in ways that we, their architects, never imagined.

"Much blame has been thrown and guilt felt, but the important thing is what we as an industry do now to ensure that our impact on society continues to be a positive one."
Google

Google Is Using Light Beam Tech To Connect Rural India To the Internet (techcrunch.com) 67

Google is preparing to use light beams to bring rural areas of the planet online after it announced to a planned rollout in India. From a report: The firm is working with a telecom operator in Indian state Andhra Pradesh, home to over 50 million people, to use Free Space Optical Communications (FSOC), a technology that uses beams of light to deliver high-speed, high-capacity connectivity over long distances. Now partner AP State FiberNet will introduce 2,000 FSOC links starting from January to add additional support to its network backbone in the state. The Google project is aimed at "critical gaps to major access points, like cell-towers and WiFi hotspots, that support thousands of people," Google said. The initiative ties into a government initiative to connect 12 million households to the internet by 2019, the U.S. firm added.
News

Wine Glasses Are Seven Times Larger Than They Used To Be (theguardian.com) 220

An anonymous reader shares a report: Our Georgian and Victorian ancestors may have enjoyed a Christmas tipple but -- judging by the size of the glasses they used -- they probably drank less wine than we do today. Scientists at the University of Cambridge have found that the capacity of wine glasses has ballooned nearly seven-fold over the past 300 years, rising most sharply in the last two decades in line with a surge in wine consumption. Wine glasses have swelled in size from an average capacity of 66ml in the early 1700s to 449ml today, the study reveals -- a change that may have encouraged us to drink far more than is healthy. Indeed, a typical wine glass 300 years ago would only have held about a half of today's smallest "official" measure of 125ml.

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