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Submission + - Japanese Company Develops a Solar Cell With Record-Breaking 26%+ Efficiency (arstechnica.com)

An anonymous reader writes: The silicon-based cells that make up a solar panel have a theoretical efficiency limit of 29 percent, but so far that number has proven elusive. Practical efficiency rates in the low-20-percent range have been considered very good for commercial solar panels. But researchers with Japanese chemical manufacturer Kaneka Corporation have built a solar cell with a photo conversion rate of 26.3 percent, breaking the previous record of 25.6 percent. Although it’s just a 2.7 percent increase in efficiency, improvements in commercially viable solar cell technology are increasingly hard-won. Not only that, but the researchers noted in their paper that after they submitted their article to Nature Energy, they were able to further optimize their solar cell to achieve 26.6 percent efficiency. That result has been recognized by the National Renewable Energy Lab (NREL). In the Nature Energy paper, the researchers described building a 180.4 cm2 cell using high-quality thin-film heterojunction (HJ)—that is, layering silicon within the cell to minimize band gaps where electron states can’t exist. Controlling heterojunctions is a known technique among solar cell builders—Panasonic uses it and will likely incorporate it into cells built for Tesla at the Solar City plant in Buffalo, and Kaneka has its own proprietary heterojunction techniques. For this record-breaking solar cell, the Kaneka researchers also placed low-resistance electrodes toward the rear of the cell, which maximized the number of photons that collected inside the cell from the front. And, as is common on many solar cells, they coated the front of the cell with a layer of amorphous silicon and an anti-reflective layer to protect the cell’s components and collect photons more efficiently.

Submission + - LastPass Bugs Allow Malicious Websites to Steal Passwords (bleepingcomputer.com)

An anonymous reader writes: LastPass patched three bugs that affected the Chrome and Firefox browser extensions, which if exploited, would have allowed a third-party to extract passwords from users visiting a malicious website. All bugs were reported by Google security researcher Tavis Ormandy, and all allowed the theft of user credentials, one bug affecting the LastPass Chrome extension, while two impacted the LastPass Firefox extension [1, 2].

The exploitation vector was malicious JavaScript code that could be very well hidden in any online website, owned by the attacker or via a compromised legitimate site.

Submission + - GNOME 3.24 Linux desktop environment is here (betanews.com)

BrianFagioli writes: Today, GNOME reaches version 3.24, code-named "Portland." While it looks great, it is hardly a monumental change. Moving from 3.22, we see some new features and applications, but on the UI front, there are improved icons too. In fact, they have doubled from 256×256px to 512×512px! Not only can these icons scale larger, but they are more vibrant and intricate too. Overall, there are many new aspects of GNOME to excite fans.

"Night Light is one of the new features being introduced in this release. This subtly changes the screen color according to the time of day, which can help to reduce sleeplessness if you use your computer at night. Another new feature that will make a lot of users happy is the incorporation of weather information into the notifications area. This shows a simple summary of the day’s weather, and links to the Weather application", says The GNOME Foundation

Submission + - 17,000 AT&T Workers Go On Strike In California and Nevada (fortune.com)

An anonymous reader writes: Approximately 17,000 workers in AT&T's traditional wired telephone business in California and Nevada walked out on strike on Wednesday, marking the most serious labor action against the carrier in years. The walkout—formally known as a grievance strike—occurred after AT&T changed the work assignments of some of the technicians and call center employees in the group, the Communications Workers of America union said. The union would not say how long the strike might last. A contract covering the group expired last year and there has been little progress in negotiations over sticking points like the outsourcing of call center jobs overseas, stagnant pay, and rising health care costs. The union said it planned to file an unfair labor charge with the National Labor Relations Board over the work assignment changes. "A walkout is not in anybody’s best interest and it's unfortunate that the union chose to do that," an AT&T spokesman told Fortune. "We're engaged in discussion with the union to get these employees back to work as soon as possible."

Submission + - 'Dig Once' Bill Could Bring Fiber Internet To Much of the US (arstechnica.com)

An anonymous reader writes: If the U.S. adopts a "dig once" policy, construction workers would install conduits just about any time they build new roads and sidewalks or upgrade existing ones. These conduits are plastic pipes that can house fiber cables. The conduits might be empty when installed, but their presence makes it a lot cheaper and easier to install fiber later, after the road construction is finished. The idea is an old one. U.S. Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.) has been proposing dig once legislation since 2009, and it has widespread support from broadband-focused consumer advocacy groups. It has never made it all the way through Congress, but it has bipartisan backing from lawmakers who often disagree on the most controversial broadband policy questions, such as net neutrality and municipal broadband. It even got a boost from Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.), who has frequently clashed with Democrats and consumer advocacy groups over broadband—her "Internet Freedom Act" would wipe out the Federal Communications Commission's net neutrality rules, and she supports state laws that restrict growth of municipal broadband. Blackburn, chair of the House Communications and Technology Subcommittee, put Eshoo's dig once legislation on the agenda for a hearing she held yesterday on broadband deployment and infrastructure. Blackburn's opening statement (PDF) said that dig once is among the policies she's considering to "facilitate the deployment of communications infrastructure." But her statement did not specifically endorse Eshoo's dig once proposal, which was presented only as a discussion draft with no vote scheduled. The subcommittee also considered a discussion draft that would "creat[e] an inventory of federal assets that can be used to attach or install broadband infrastructure." Dig once legislation received specific support from Commerce Committee Chairman Greg Walden (R-Ore.), who said that he is "glad to see Ms. Eshoo’s 'Dig Once' bill has made a return this Congress. I think that this is smart policy and will help spur broadband deployment across the country."

Submission + - Trump team communications intercepted w/o foreigners in conversation (cnn.com)

bongey writes: The intelligence community is coming clean. Telling congress there was "incidental collection" of the Trump transition team from Nov-2016-Jan-2017. The intercepts included reports of communications between Trump team members, with team members being unmasked that were wildly disseminated throughout the intelligence community. The intercepts had little to no foreign intelligence value, and the intercepts had nothing to do with Russian investigation.

Submission + - SpaceX disapointed in lack of NASA Mars funding & looks for own landing site

frank249 writes: Elon Musk says that NASA legislation 'changes almost nothing about what NASA is doing. Existing programs stay in place and there is no added funding for Mars,' Musk is absolutely correct on two counts. First, an "authorization" bill does not provide funding. That comes from appropriations committees. Secondly, while Congress has been interested in building rockets and spacecraft, it is far less interested in investing in the kinds of technology and research that would actually enable a full-fledged Mars exploration program.

In other news, Spacenews reports that SpaceX has been working with NASA to identify potential landing sites on Mars for both its Red Dragon spacecraft starting in 2020 and future human missions. SpaceX, working with scientists at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory and elsewhere, had identified several potential landing sites, including one that looks particularly promising — Arcadia Planitia. Those landing sites are of particular interest, he said, for SpaceX’s long-term vision of establishing a human settlement on Mars, but he said the company wouldn’t rule our sending Red Dragon spacecraft elsewhere on the planet to serve other customers. “We’re quite open to making use of this platform to take various payloads to other locations as well,” he said. “We’re really looking to turn this into a steady cadence, where we’re sending Dragons to Mars on basically every opportunity.” The Red Dragon spacecraft, he said, could carry about one ton of useful payload to Mars, with options for those payloads to remain in the capsule after landing or be deployed on the surface. “SpaceX is a transportation company,” he said. “We transport cargo to the space station, we deliver payloads to orbit, so we’re very happy to deliver payloads to Mars.” Fans of the book/movie "The Martian" would be happy if SpaceX does select Arcadia Planitia for their first landing site as that was the landing site of the Ares 3.

Submission + - A 21st Century Version Of OS/2 Warp Appears To Be About To Be Released (arcanoae.com)

dryriver writes: A company named Arca Noae is working on a new release of the X86 OS/2 operating system code named "Blue Lion" and likely called ArcaOS 5 in its final release. Blue Lion wants to be a modern 21st Century OS/2 Warp, with support for the latest hardware and networking standards, a modern accelerated graphics driver, support for new cryptographic security standards, full backward compatibility with legacy OS/2, DOS and Windows 3.1 applications, suitability for use in mission-critical applications, and also, it appears, the ability to run "ported Linux applications". Blue Lion, which appears to be in closed Beta with March 31st 2017 cited as the target release date, will come with up to date Firefox browser and Thunderbird mail client, Apache OpenOffice, other productivity tools, a new package manager, and software update and support subscription to ensure system stability. It is unclear from the information provided whether Blue Lion will be able to run modern Windows applications.

Submission + - John Goodenough responds to skeptics of his new lithium-on battery (computerworld.com)

Lucas123 writes: John Goodenough, the University of Texas researcher who this week demonstrated new battery cells that are safer and have at least three times as much energy density as today's standard Li-on batteries, responded to skeptics who said the technology described in research published in a peer-reviewed journal, appear to defy the laws of thermodynamics. In an article published Monday by Quartz , various energy experts took exception to Goodenough's claims, even calling them "unbelievable." Goodenough is also co-inventor of the original lithium-ion battery. In an email to Computerworld, Goodenough said "any new discovery invites strong skepticism." In this case, the skeptical scientists wondered how it is possible to strip lithium from the anode and plate it on a cathode current collector to obtain a battery voltage since the voltage is the difference in the chemical potentials (Fermi energies) between the two metallic electrodes,. "The answer is that if the lithium plated on the cathode current collector is thin enough for its reaction with the current collector to have its Fermi energy lowered to that of the current collector, the Fermi energy of the lithium anode is higher than that of the thin lithium plated on the cathode current collector," Goodenough said.

Submission + - Firefox for Linux is now Netflix compatible (betanews.com)

BrianFagioli writes: For a while, Netflix was not available for traditional Linux-based operating systems, meaning users were unable to enjoy the popular streaming service without booting into Windows. This was due to the company's reliance on Microsoft Silverlight. Since then, Netflix adopted HTML5, and it made Google Chrome and Chromium for Linux capable of playing the videos. Unfortunately, Firefox — the open source browser choice for many Linux users — was not compatible. Today this changes, however, as Mozilla's offering is now compatible with Netflix!

"About four years ago, we shared our plans for playing premium video in HTML5, replacing Silverlight and eliminating the extra step of installing and updating browser plug-ins. Since then, we have launched HTML5 video on Chrome OS, Chrome, Internet Explorer, Safari, Opera, Firefox, and Edge on all supported operating systems. And though we do not officially support Linux, Chrome playback has worked on that platform since late 2014. Starting today, users of Firefox can also enjoy Netflix on Linux. This marks a huge milestone for us and our partners, including Google, Microsoft, Apple, and Mozilla that helped make it possible," says Netflix.

Submission + - GNOME 3.24 Officially Released

prisoninmate writes: GNOME 3.24 just finished its six-month development cycle, and it's now the most advanced stable version of the modern and popular desktop environment used by default in numerous GNU/Linux distributions. It was developed since October 2016 under the GNOME 3.23.x umbrella, during which it received numerous improvements. Prominent new features of the GNOME 3.24 desktop environment include a Night Light functionality that promises to automatically shift the colors of your display to the warmer end of the spectrum after sunset, and a brand-new GNOME Control Center with redesigned Users, Keyboard & Mouse, Online Accounts, Bluetooth, and Printer panels. As for the GNOME apps, we can mention that the Nautilus file manager now lets users browse files as root (system administrator), GNOME Photos imitates Darktable's exposure and blacks adjustment tool, GNOME Music comes with ownCloud integration and lets you edit tags, and GNOME Calendar finally brings the Week view. New apps like GNOME Recipes are also part of this release.

Submission + - Why American Farmers Are Hacking Their Tractors With Ukrainian Firmware (vice.com)

AmiMoJo writes: To avoid the draconian locks that John Deere puts on the tractors they buy, farmers throughout America's heartland have started hacking their equipment with firmware that's cracked in Eastern Europe and traded on invite-only, paid online forums. Tractor hacking is growing increasingly popular because John Deere and other manufacturers have made it impossible to perform "unauthorized" repair on farm equipment, which farmers see as an attack on their sovereignty and quite possibly an existential threat to their livelihood if their tractor breaks at an inopportune time. "When crunch time comes and we break down, chances are we don't have time to wait for a dealership employee to show up and fix it," Danny Kluthe, a hog farmer in Nebraska, told his state legislature earlier this month. "Most all the new equipment [requires] a download [to fix]."

Submission + - Fathers 'afraid to ask for flexible working' (bbc.co.uk)

AmiMoJo writes: Dads who want to be more involved in the care of their children fear that asking for more flexible hours might damage their careers. Such requests can even lead to employers questioning their workers' commitment. Research suggests 44% of dads have lied about family-related responsibilities. The UK government forecasts that between only 2% and 8% of eligible fathers will take up Shared Parental Leave.

Submission + - EFF needs your help to stop Congress dismantling Internet privacy protections! (eff.org)

Peter Eckersley writes: Last year the FCC passed rules forbidding ISPs (both mobile and landline) from using your personal data without your consent for purposes other than providing you Internet access. In other words, the rules prevent ISPs from turning your browsing history into a revenue stream to sell to marketers and advertisers. Unfortunately, members of Congress are scheming to dismantle those protections as early as this week. If they succeed, ISPs would be free to resume selling users' browsing histories, pre-loading phones with spyware, and generally doing all sorts of creepy things to your traffic.

The good news is, we can stop them. We especially need folks in the key states of Alaska, Colorado, Maine, Montana, Nevada, Ohio, and Pennsylvania to call their senators this week and tell them not to kill the FCC's Broadband Privacy Rules.

Together, we can stop Congress from undermining these crucial privacy protections.

Submission + - Trump Adds To NASA Budget, Approves Crewed Mission To Mars (nbcnews.com)

An anonymous reader writes: President Donald Trump signed a law on Tuesday authorizing funding for a crewed NASA mission to Mars. The new bill (S.442) adds a crewed mission to the red planet as a key NASA objective and authorizes the space agency to direct test human space flight programs that will enable more crewed exploration in deep space. The space agency has $19.5 billion in funding for the 2018 fiscal year, which starts this October. Trump had allocated $19.1 billion for NASA in his budget, which is slightly down from the current year, but still an improvement from the past decade, which saw the end of the space shuttle program. The commander in chief signed the bill surrounded by astronauts and his former Republican rivals, Senator Ted Cruz of Texas and Senator Marco Rubio of Florida, who both sponsored the bill. Getting to Mars, though, isn't expected to happen during the Trump presidency. NASA has its sights set on getting to the red planet in the 2030s. In the near term, NASA plans to test its Orion spacecraft and Space Launch System rocket, in addition to visiting an asteroid and redirecting a chunk of it into orbit around the moon. Astronauts could later visit the boulder and use the mission to test some of the tools needed for a Mars mission.

Submission + - Trump Is Weeks Away From Missing His Chance to Reform Work Visas (bloomberg.com)

pteddy writes: We haven't heard much from Trump or Congress on the issue of H1-B reform lately. As Bloomberg points out time is running out:

President Donald Trump and Congress have said they want to overhaul policies that allow companies to bring employees from overseas to the U.S. But the application deadline for the most controversial visa program is the first week of April, which means new rules have to be in place for that batch of applicants or another year's worth of visas will be handed out under the existing guidelines. The current H-1B visa program has been criticized for hurting American workers and undercutting salaries.


Submission + - Attackers Can Hijack Security Software via Microsoft Tool (securityweek.com)

wiredmikey writes: Researchers have identified a new technique that can be used by attackers to take full control of popular security software products.

The attack involves the Microsoft Application Verifier, a runtime verification tool for unmanaged code that helps developers find subtle programming errors in their applications.

The attack, dubbed by the security firm Cybellum as “DoubleAgent,” allegedly affects the products of several vendors, including Avast, AVG, Avira, Bitdefender, Trend Micro, Comodo, ESET, F-Secure, Kaspersky, Malwarebytes, McAfee, Panda, Quick Heal and Symantec (Norton). Only a few of the vendors have released patches.

The tool works by loading a so-called “verifier provider DLL” into the targeted application’s process for runtime testing, which allows a piece of malware executed by a privileged user to register a malicious DLL for a process associated with an antivirus or other endpoint security product, and hijack its agent.

Submission + - Hadoop has failed us, tech expert say (datanami.com)

atcclears writes: Hadoop is great if you’re a data scientist who knows how to code in MapReduce or Pig, Johnson says, but as you go higher up the stack, the abstraction layers have mostly failed to deliver on the promise of enabling business analysts to get at the data.

Submission + - How the Internet Gave Mail-Order Brides the Power (backchannel.com)

mirandakatz writes: For decades, the mail-order bride system in the Philippines went something like this: Western men picked Filipinas out of catalogues, and the women had little to no information about the men they were agreeing to marry. The internet has changed all of that. As Meredith Talusan reports at Backchannel, technology has empowered Filipinas to be choosy about the Western men they pursue—and indeed, when it comes to online dating, they now hold much of the power. As Talusan writes, "in one sense, the leveling of dating power between Filipinas and Westerners is the fulfillment of the global internet’s promise to equalize relations between disparate places and people. Yet even as Filipinas and Westerners face off as equals online, the world of dating exposes the ultimate limitations of the web."

Submission + - A new definition would add 102 planets to our solar system — including Plu (washingtonpost.com)

The Grim Reefer writes: Is Pluto a planet?

It's not a question scientists ask in polite company.

“It's like religion and politics,” said Kirby Runyon, a planetary scientist at Johns Hopkins University. “People get worked up over it. I've gotten worked up over it.”

For years, astronomers, planetary scientists and other space researchers have fought about what to call the small, icy world at the edge of our solar system. Is it a planet, as scientists believed for nearly seven decades? Or must a planet be something bigger, something more dominant, as was decided by vote at the International Astronomical Union (IAU) in 2006?

The issue can bring conversations to a screeching halt, or turn them into shouting matches. “Sometimes,” Runyon said, “it's just easier not to bring it up.”

But Runyon will ignore his own advice this week when he attends the annual Lunar and Planetary Science Conference in Houston. In a giant exhibit hall crowded with his colleagues, he's attempting to reignite the debate about Pluto's status with an audacious new definition for planet — one that includes not just Pluto, but several of its neighbors, objects in the asteroid belt, and a number of moons. By his count, 102 new planets could be added to our solar system under the new criteria.

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