Space

Rocket Lab Successfully Reaches Orbit and Deploys Its First Satellites (geekwire.com) 38

Long-time Slashdot reader ClarkMills writes: Rocket Lab has successfully launched its second Electron rocket from New Zealand's Mahia Peninsula, with the rocket reaching orbit for the first time... This follows the company's first launch last May, in which the rocket got to space but did not make it to orbit after range safety officials had to kill the flight.
Just 60 seconds before lift-off yesterday, a "rogue ship" entered their launch-range area, prompting them to postpone the launch until today. GeekWire reports: This mission was nicknamed "Still Testing," but unlike the first mission, the objective was not merely to test Rocket Lab's hardware. The rocket had the additional task of putting three nanosatellites in orbit: an Earth-imaging Dove satellite for Planet, and two Lemur-2 satellites that the Spire space venture would use for tracking ships and monitoring weather... The price tag for a mission is as low as $5 million, thanks to streamlined hardware production techniques. The Electron makes use of carbon composite materials for its rocket core, and 3-D printing techniques for its Rutherford rocket engines.
90 minutes ago Spire tweeted that they'd experienced a "good clean deployment" of their satellites, adding that they were already receiving images and calling it "a huge win" for commercial space, small satellites, the Electron rocket, and New Zealand.
Government

'New California' Movement Wants To Create a 51st State (wqad.com) 402

PolygamousRanchKid, Ayano, and an anonymous reader all shared the same story. Tribune Media reports: A group has launched a campaign to divide California into two states. It isn't the first attempt to split California, but unlike a failed campaign in 2016 to divide California into six states, the campaign to create New California would split the state into one made up of rural counties and another made up of coastal counties.
USA Today provides some context: Breaking up California remains no easy task: A formal secession means getting approval from both Congress and California's legislature itself. But that hasn't stopped folks from trying. Hundreds of times... Monday's declaration of "the State of New California" marked the latest in more than 200 long-shot efforts to split the Golden State. All so far have failed.
Transportation

Tesla Is Last In the Driverless Vehicle Race, Report Says (usnews.com) 157

Navigant Research has compiled a new report on 19 companies working on automated driving systems, and surprisingly, Tesla came in last place. U.S. News & World Report: Navigant ranked the 19 major companies developing AV technology based on 10 criteria, including vision, market strategy, partnerships, production strategy, technology, product quality and staying power. According to the report, General Motors Co. and Waymo, the auto unit of Alphabet, are the top two AV investment opportunities in the market today. Tesla and Apple are the two biggest laggards in the AV race, according to Navigant's rankings.

Investors are acutely aware of Tesla's production and distribution disadvantages compared to legacy automakers like GM, but Navigant is also highly critical of Tesla's technology. "The autopilot system on current products has stagnated and, in many respects, regressed since it was first launched in late 2015," Navigant says in the report, according to Ars Technica. "More than one year after launching V2, Autopilot still lacks some of the functionality of the original, and there are many anecdotal reports from owners of unpredictable behavior."

Google

Project Fi Creates Its Own Version of An Unlimited Plan (theverge.com) 60

Google's Project Fi mobile virtual network operator (MVNO) has launched a new feature called Bill Protection that will cap your $10 per GB data bill at $60 a month, while still allowing you to use as much data as you want, essentially creating its own version of an unlimited data plan. The Verge reports: Prior to today, Project Fi users were charged $10 per GB no matter how much data they used, which could become quite costly for heavy users. Bill Protection should help alleviate those worries for most users. Google says those who use up to 15GB of data in a month won't experience any throttling, but if they cross that threshold -- Google says less than 1 percent of its users pass that mark -- they will "experience slower data" with speeds going down to 256kbps. If you don't want to be throttled when you pass 15GB in a month, Google says you can pay the usual $10 per GB to opt out of the slower speeds. It also noted that Bill Protection for Project Fi users on group plans will kick in at different usage levels, depending on the size of your group.
Businesses

Within Next Five Years Your Pizzas Will Probably Be Delivered by Autonomous Cars, Domino's Pizza CEO Says (thestreet.com) 208

In an interview with The Street, Domino's Pizza outgoing CEO Patrick Doyle said in three to five years at the earliest he expects driverless cars and voice orders to shift the way the world orders pizza. From the report: "We have been investing in natural voice for ordering for a few years. We rolled that out in our own apps before Amazon launched Alexa and Alphabet launched Google Home...[and] we are making investments...to understand how consumers will want to interact with autonomous vehicles and pizza delivery," Doyle said.
Japan

Days After Hawaii's False Missile Alarm, a New One in Japan (nytimes.com) 67

An anonymous reader shares a report: Japan's public broadcaster on Tuesday accidentally sent news alerts that North Korea had launched a missile and that citizens should take shelter -- just days after the government of Hawaii had sent a similar warning to its citizens. The broadcaster, NHK, corrected itself five minutes later and apologized for the error on its evening news (Editor's note: the link may be paywalled; alternative source). The initial texts cited J-Alert, a system used by the government to issue warnings to its citizens about missiles, tsunamis and other natural disasters. But NHK later said that the system was not to blame for the false alarm. Makoto Sasaki, a spokesman for NHK, apologized, saying that "staff had mistakenly operated the equipment to deliver news alerts over the internet."
EU

Is Finland's Universal Basic Income Trial Too Good To Be True? (theguardian.com) 534

It was one year ago that Finland began giving money to 2,000 unemployed people -- roughly $652 a month (€560 or £475). But have we learned anything about universal basic incomes? An anonymous reader quotes the Guardian: Amid this unprecedented media attention, the experts who devised the scheme are concerned it is being misrepresented. "It's not really what people are portraying it as," said Markus Kanerva, an applied social and behavioural sciences specialist working in the prime minister's office in Helsinki. "A full-scale universal income trial would need to study different target groups, not just the unemployed. It would have to test different basic income levels, look at local factors. This is really about seeing how a basic unconditional income affects the employment of unemployed people."

While UBI tends often to be associated with progressive politics, Finland's trial was launched -- at a cost of around €20m (£17.7m or $24.3 million) -- by a centre-right, austerity-focused government interested primarily in spending less on social security and bringing down Finland's stubborn 8%-plus unemployment rate. It has a very clear purpose: to see whether an unconditional income might incentivise people to take up paid work. Authorities believe it will shed light on whether unemployed Finns, as experts believe, are put off taking up a job by the fear that a higher marginal tax rate may leave them worse off. Many are also deterred by having to reapply for benefits after every casual or short-term contract... According to Kanerva, the core data the government is seeking -- on whether, and how, the job take-up of the 2,000 unemployed people in the trial differs from a 175,000-strong control group -- will be "robust, and usable in future economic modelling" when it is published in 2019.

Although the experiment may be impacted by all the hype it's generating, according to the Guardian. "One participant who hoped to start his own business with the help of the unconditional monthly payment complained that, after speaking to 140 TV crews and reporters from as far afield as Japan and Korea, he has simply not been able to find the time."
Books

'Science Fiction Writers of America' Accuse Internet Archive of Piracy (sfwa.org) 117

An anonymous reader writes: The "Open Library" project of the nonprofit Internet Archive has been scanning books and offering "loans" of DRM-protected versions for e-readers (which expire after the loan period expires). This week the Legal Affairs Committe of the Science Fiction Writers of America issued a new "Infringement Alert" on the practice, complaining that "an unreadable copy of the book is saved on users' devices...and can be made readable by stripping DRM protection."

The objection, argues SFWA President Cat Rambo, is that "writers' work is being scanned in and put up for access without notifying them... it is up to the individual writer whether or not their work should be made available in this way." But the infringement alert takes the criticism even further. "We suspect that this is the world's largest ongoing project of unremunerated digital distribution of entire in-copyright books."

The Digital Reader blog points out one great irony. "The program initially launched in 2007. It has been running for ten years, and the SFWA only just now noticed." They add that SFWA's tardiness "leaves critical legal issues unresolved."

"Remember, Google won the Google Books case, and had its scanning activities legalized as fair use ex post facto... [I]n fact the Internet Archive has a stronger case than Google did; the latter had a commercial interest in its scans, while the Internet Archive is a non-profit out to serve the public good."
Japan

Japanese Console Market Grows For the First Time In 11 Years (kotaku.com) 34

According to Famitsu, hardware sales in Japan experienced a huge spike in 2017 compared to the previous year. In 2016, Japanese hardware sales were 117.05 billion yen ($1.05 billion), while in 2017, they jumped to 202.37 billion yen ($1.81 billion). Kotaku reports: Software sales also increased: in 2016, they were 182.4 billion yen ($1.63 billion) and the following year, they were 189.3 billion yen ($1.69 billion). A big part of this increase is due to the Nintendo Switch's brisk hardware sales. The PS4 has also continued to churn out steady numbers. The last time the Japanese gaming market saw an uptick was in 2006, when the Nintendo DS Lite, the Nintendo Wii, the PS3 launched.
The Almighty Buck

Cryptocurrency Exchange Kraken Suddenly Goes Dark For Two Days (sfchronicle.com) 118

An anonymous reader quotes the San Francisco Chronicle: One of the biggest cryptocurrency exchanges was down more than 40 hours this week, causing clients to freak out... San Francisco's Kraken went offline at 9 p.m. on Wednesday for maintenance that was initially scheduled to last two hours, plus an additional two to three hours for withdrawals, according to an announcement on the company's website. "We are still working to resolve the issues that we have identified and our team is working around the clock to ensure a smooth upgrade," according to a status update on Kraken's website posted early Friday. "This means it may still take several hours before we can relaunch." Shortly after noon, the company said it was "still working to track down an elusive bug which is holding up launch." It promised customers "a substantial amount of free trading" after the problem was resolved. In previous updates, Kraken mentioned it is working on "unexpected and delicate issues" and assured clients their funds were secure, adding that "Yes, this is our new record for downtime since we launched in 2013. No, we're not proud of it."
It's 53 hours after the downtime began, and their web page is still showing the same announcement.

"Kraken is presently offline for maintenance."
Cellphones

Samsung Will Unveil the Galaxy S9 Next Month At Mobile World Congress (theverge.com) 55

Samsung will unveil its next flagship handset, the Galaxy S9, next month at Mobile World Congress (MWC). DJ Koh, the company's smartphone chief, confirmed the launch to ZDNet at CES yesterday without offering a specific date. The Verge reports: The S9 (and, presumably, an S9 Plus) will be the successors to the S8 and S8 Plus, which launched at a Samsung event in New York last March before going on sale in April. The S8 and its bigger brother were a hit with critics, who praised the phones' gorgeous design and brilliant cameras. The phones were even good enough to make consumers forget about the disaster of the Galaxy Note 7 and its exploding batteries. Not much is known about the Galaxy S9 at this point, though we're not expecting any radical departures from the S8. A handful of leaked renders suggest it will look near-identical to its predecessor, with a slight tweak moving the rear fingerprint sensor to below the camera (rather than its current, awkward position of off to one side).
Communications

FCC Plan To Lower Broadband Standards Is Met With 'Mobile Only Challenge' (arstechnica.com) 145

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Ars Technica: Broadband consumer advocates have launched a "Mobile Only Challenge" to show U.S. regulators that cellular data should not be considered an adequate replacement for home Internet service. The awareness campaign comes as the Federal Communications Commission is considering a change to the standard it uses to judge whether broadband is being deployed to all Americans in a reasonable and timely fashion. While FCC Chairman Ajit Pai hasn't released his final plan yet, the FCC may soon declare that America's broadband deployment problem is solved as long as everyone has access to either fast home Internet or cellular Internet service with download speeds of at least 10Mbps. That would be a change from current FCC policy, which says that everyone should have access to both mobile data and fast home Internet services such as fiber or cable.

"The FCC wants to lower broadband standards," organizers of the Mobile Only Challenge say on the campaign's website. "Pledge to spend one day in January 2018 accessing the Internet only on your mobile device to tell them that's not OK." The Mobile Only Challenge was organized by Public Knowledge, Next Century Cities, New America's Open Technology Institute, the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, the National Hispanic Media Coalition (NHMC), and other groups. Participants are encouraged to share their experiences using the #MobileOnly hashtag.

Space

Rumors Swirl That Secret Zuma Satellite Launched By SpaceX Was Lost (scientificamerican.com) 171

Many media outlets are reporting that the U.S. government's top-secret Zuma satellite may have run into some serious problems during or shortly after its Sunday launch. Zuma was launched atop a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from Florida's Cape Canaveral Air Force Station Sunday evening -- a launch that also featured a successful landing back on Earth by the booster's first stage. While everything seemed fine at the time, rumors began swirling within the spaceflight community that something had happened to Zuma. "According to one source, the payload fell back to Earth along with the spent upper stage of the Falcon 9 rocket," Ars Technica's Eric Berger wrote. Scientific American reports: To be clear: There is no official word of any bad news, just some rumblings to that effect. And the rocket apparently did its job properly, SpaceX representatives said. "We do not comment on missions of this nature, but as of right now, reviews of the data indicate Falcon 9 performed nominally," company spokesman James Gleeson told Space.com via email. Space.com also reached out to representatives of aerospace company Northrop Grumman, which built Zuma for the U.S. government. "This is a classified mission. We cannot comment on classified missions," Northrop Grumman spokesman Lon Rains said via email. All we know about the satellite itself is that it was destined for a low-Earth orbit and built for the U.S. government. We will update this story if we hear anything else about Zuma's status.
Crime

Apple Investigated By France For 'Planned Obsolescence' (bbc.com) 313

AmiMoJo shares a report from the BBC: French prosecutors have launched a probe over allegations of "planned obsolescence" in Apple's iPhone. Under French law it is a crime to intentionally shorten the lifespan of a product with the aim of making customers replace it. In December, Apple admitted that older iPhone models were deliberately slowed down through software updates. It follows a legal complaint filed in December by pro-consumer group Stop Planned Obsolescence (Hop). Hop said France was the third country to investigate Apple after Israel and the U.S., but the only one in which the alleged offense was a crime. Penalties could include up to 5% of annual turnover or even a jail term.
Power

Wireless Charging Nears Unification As Powermat Cedes To Qi (engadget.com) 37

Powermat, the only contender to the dominant format Qi, has joined the Wireless Power Consortium (WPC) and now backs its rival. "Qi has become the dominant wireless charging standard on the market and the recently launched Apple iPhone lineup is evidence of this success," Powermat said in a statement. "[We] will share technology innovation to further unlock wireless charging potential, and will expedite the growth of the wireless charging infrastructure." Engadget reports: Powermat was barely hanging on as a standard, but as it mentioned, Apple's favoring of Qi for its upcoming chargers pretty much sealed its fate. The company was forced to upgrade its chargers to support Qi at Starbucks locations, for instance, so that Apple's Qi-supported iPhone X- and 8-owning clients could juice up. Until a few years ago, there were essentially three standards, the Alliance for Wireless Power, the Power Matters Alliance (no joking), and Qi, which was already the dominant player. The first two merged to form the Airfuel alliance in 2015, of which Powermat was the main player.
AMD

Intel Launches 8th Gen Core Series CPUs With Integrated AMD Radeon Graphics (hothardware.com) 123

MojoKid writes: At CES 2018, Intel unveiled more details of its 8th generation Intel Core processors with integrated AMD Radeon RX Vega M graphics. Like cats and dogs living together, the mashup of an Intel processor with an AMD GPU is made possible by an Embedded Multi-Die Interconnect Bridge (EMIB), which provides a high-speed data interconnect between the processor, GPU and 4GB of second-generation High-Bandwidth Memory (HBM2). Intel is delivering 8th generation H-Series Core processors in 65W TDP (laptops) and 100W TDP (desktops) SKUs that will take up 50 percent less PCB real estate, versus traditional discrete configs. Both the mobile and desktop variants of the processors will be available in Core i5 or Core i7 configurations, with 4 cores and 8 threads, up to 8MB of cache and 4GB of HBM2. The 65W mobile processors can boost up to 4.1GHz, while the Radeon RX Vega M GL GPU has base/boost clocks of 931MHz and 1011MHz, respectively. The AMD GPU has 20 compute units and memory bandwidth checks in at 179GB/s. Desktop processors ratchet the maximum boost slightly to 4.2GHz, while the base/boost clocks of the Radeon RX Vega M GH GPU jump to 1063MHz and 1190MHz, respectively. Desktop GPUs are also upgraded with 24 CUs and 204GB/s of memory bandwidth. Intel says that its 8th generation Core i7 with Radeon RX Vega M GL graphics is up to 1.4x faster than a Core i7-8550U with an NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1050 GPU in a notebook system. System announcements from Dell and HP are forthcoming, with availability in the first half of this year. Intel has also launched a new NUC small form factor gaming mini PC based on the technology as well.
Facebook

Facebook is Shutting Down M, Its Personal Assistant Service That Combined Humans and AI (cnbc.com) 18

Facebook M, the text-based virtual assistant that used human workers to train an artificial intelligence system, is ending the human-assisted part of the service after two and a half years. From a report: The human-enhanced version of M, which was available through a bot on Facebook Messenger, only ever became available to about 2,000 people living in California. The final day of the will be January 19th, Facebook said, and contractors who worked on it will be offered other jobs at the company. First introduced in August 2015, aspects of the service will live on through M suggestions, which offers fully automated suggestions for payments, making plans, and sending stickers through Messenger. When it launched, Facebook described M as a "beta" and suggested the human-powered assistant would come to more users over time. But it never did. Upon shutting down the human-powered M, Facebook described it as an "experiment."
Businesses

SpaceX Completes First Launch of 2018: Secretive 'Zuma' Spacecraft (cnn.com) 103

SpaceX's first launch of 2018 was "a secretive spacecraft commissioned by the U.S. government for an undisclosed mission," reports TechCrunch. An anonymous reader quotes CNN: After more than a month of delays, a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket vaulted toward the skies at 8 p.m. ET Sunday with the secretive payload. It launched from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida... The company [then] executed its signature move: guiding the first-stage rocket booster back to Earth for a safe landing. Just over two minutes after liftoff Sunday, the first-stage booster separated from the second stage and fired up its engines. The blaze allowed the rocket to safely cut back through the Earth's atmosphere and land on a pad at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station... The company completed a record-setting 18 launches last year, and SpaceX plans to do even more this year, according to spokesman James Gleeson.
Bitcoin

A Cryptocurrency Based On a Dog Meme Is Now Worth Over $1 Billion (vice.com) 141

Earlier today, the market capitlization of dogecoin, a cryptocurrency based on a meme about a Shiba Inu dog, passed the $1 billion mark for the first time. VICE News reports: Dogecoin was created back in the early days of the cryptocurrency craze. Launched in December 2013 as somewhat of a joke, the meme-inspired coin was dubbed "the internet currency" and designed to promote a sense of community and generosity rather than simply looking to make money. It gained fame during 2014 when it was used to send the Jamaican bobsled team to the Winter Olympics in Sochi and it even sponsored a Nascar team. The currency has been in relative stasis since, and despite no software updates being released in over two years, the cryptocurrency has risen more than 400 percent in the last month -- though one dogecoin is still worth just over 1 cent.

Even Jackson Palmer, one of the founders of the coin, expressed concern about the hyperinflation of dogecoin. "It says a lot about the state of the cryptocurrency space in general that a currency with a dog on it which hasn't released a software update in over 2 years has a $1 billion+ market cap," Jackson told Coindesk.

Google

$30 Unlocked Android Smartphones To Launch in India This Month (factordaily.com) 82

Several Indian smartphone manufacturers including Micromax, Intex and Lava plan to unveil a slew of Android smartphones priced around $30 in the coming weeks, Indian news outlet FactorDaily reported on Tuesday. These handsets would run Android Oreo Go, a lite version of Google's mobile operating system first unveiled last year. The report sheds light on India's smartphone market: With cheap smartphones, Google and the phone vendors hope to ride the wave of mass scale internet access on mobile phones in India. From a monthly consumption of 20 crore (200 million) GB of data about 16 months ago, Indians now consume over 150 crore (1.5 billion) GB a month making the country No. 1 among mobile data consuming countries. Much of this change is credited to aggressive data pricing plans by Reliance Jio, which launched services in September 2016.

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