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China

Microsoft Delivers Secure China-Only Cut of Windows 10 (theregister.co.uk) 27

Earlier this week, CEO of Microsoft Greater China, Alain Crozier, told China Daily that the company is ready to roll out a version of Windows 10 with extra security features demanded by China's government. "We have already developed the first version of the Windows 10 government secure system. It has been tested by three large enterprise customers," Crozier said. The Register reports: China used Edward Snowden's revelations to question whether western technology products could compromise its security. Policy responses included source code reviews for foreign vendors and requiring Chinese buyers to shop from an approved list of products. Microsoft, IBM and Intel all refused to submit source code for inspection, but Redmond and Big Blue have found other ways to get their code into China. IBM's route is a partnership with Dalian Wanda to bring its cloud behind the Great Firewall. Microsoft last year revealed its intention to build a version of Windows 10 for Chinese government users in partnership with state-owned company China Electronics Technology Group Corp. There's no reason to believe Crozier's remarks are incorrect, because Microsoft has a massive incentive to deliver a version of Windows 10 that China's government will accept. To understand why, consider that China's military has over two million active service personnel, the nation's railways employ similar numbers and Microsoft's partner China Electronics Technology Group Corp has more than 140,000 people on its books. Not all of those are going to need Windows, but plenty will.
Software

Blinking Cursor Devours CPU Cycles in Visual Studio Code Editor (theregister.co.uk) 187

An anonymous reader shares a report on The Register: Microsoft describes Visual Studio Code as a source code editor that's "optimized for building and debugging modern web and cloud applications." In fact, VSC turns out to be rather inefficient when it comes to CPU resources. Developer Jo Liss has found that the software, when in focus and idle, uses 13 percent of CPU capacity just to render its blinking cursor. Liss explains that the issue can be reproduced by closing all VSC windows, opening a new window, opening a new tab with an empty untitled file, then checking CPU activity. For other macOS applications that present a blinking cursor, like Chrome or TextEdit, Liss said, the CPU usage isn't nearly as excessive. The issue is a consequence of rendering the cursor every 16.67ms (60 fps) rather than every 500ms.
Education

'New' Clouds Earn Atlas Recognition (bbc.com) 25

Twelve "new" types of cloud -- including the rare, wave-like asperitas cloud -- have been recognized for the first time by the International Cloud Atlas. From a report: The atlas, which dates back to the 19th Century, is the global reference book for observing and identifying clouds. Last revised in 1987, its new fully-digital edition includes the asperitas after campaigns by citizen scientists. Other new entries include the roll-like volutus, and contrails, clouds formed from the vapour trail of aeroplanes. Since its first publication in 1896, the International Cloud Atlas has become an important reference tool for people working in meteorological services, aviation and shipping. The first edition contained 28 coloured photographs and set out detailed standards for classifying clouds. The last full edition was published in 1975 with a revision in 1987, which quickly became a collector's item. Now, embracing the digital era, the new atlas will initially be available as a web portal, and accessible to the public for the first time.
Mars

Mars Rover Spots Clouds Shaped By Gravity Waves (sciencemag.org) 55

sciencehabit writes from a report via Science Magazine: NASA's Curiosity rover has shot more than 500 movies of the clouds above Mars, including the first ground-based view of martian clouds shaped by gravity waves, researchers reported this week at the Lunar and Planetary Science Conference. The shots are the best record made so far of a mysterious recurring belt of equatorial clouds known to influence the martian climate. Understanding these clouds will help inform estimates of ground ice depth and perhaps recurring slope lineae, potential flows of salty water on the surface, says John Moores, a planetary scientist at York University in Toronto, Canada, who led the study with his graduate student, Jake Kloos. "If we wish to understand the water story of Mars's past," Moores says, "we first need to [separate out] contributions from the present-day water cycle." Using Curiosity's navigation camera, Moores and Kloos recorded eight-frame movies of this wispy cloud belt for two martian years. They've used two angles to capture the clouds: one pointed directly up, to see wind direction and speed, and another that keeps the rover's horizon in the frame, allowing a view into the clouds' depth. Given the limited water vapor, solar energy, and atmosphere, the martian clouds lack the variety of shapes seen on Earth. But during one day of cloud gazing -- Curiosity's 1302th martian day, to be precise -- the team got lucky and saw something unusual. That day, when Curiosity looked to the horizon, it saw a sequence of straight, parallel rows of clouds flowing in the same direction: the first ground-based view of a gravity wave cloud. Similar to the waves that follow a pebble tossed into a pond, gravity waves are created when some unknown feature of the martian landscape causes a ripple in the atmosphere that is then seen in clouds. Such waves are common at the edge of the martian ice caps, but thought to be less frequent over its equator.
Microsoft

Microsoft Outlook, Skype, OneDrive Hit By Another Authentication Issue (zdnet.com) 48

Two weeks after a widespread authentication issue hit Outlook, Skype, OneDrive, Xbox and other Microsoft services, it's happening again. From a report: On March 21, users across the world began reporting via Twitter that they couldn't sign into Outlook.com, OneDrive and Skype, (and possibly more). I, myself, am unable to sign into Outlook.com, OneDrive or Skype at 2:30 pm ET today, but my Office 365 Mail account is working fine. (Knock wood.) I believe the issue started about an hour ago, or 1:30 p.m. ET or so. MSA is Microsoft's single sign-on service which authenticates users so they can log into their various Microsoft services. As happened two weeks ago, Skype Heartbeat site, has posted a message noting that users may be experiencing problems sending messages and signing in.
Android

Samsung Announces Bixby, Its New Digital Assistant Launching With the Galaxy S8 (phonedog.com) 71

Samsung has taken the wraps off its new digital assistant that will be launching with the upcoming Galaxy S8 and S8 Plus smartphones. Called "Bixby," the new assistant will use artificial intelligence to enable users to do everything that is possible to do by touch, but with voice. PhoneDog reports: Samsung is touting three main features of its new assistant. The first is "Completeness," which means that when an app is Bixby-enabled, the assistant will able to perform almost every task that the app normally supports using touch. The second Bixby property is "Context Awareness." This means that when Bixby is activated, it'l be able to understand the current context and the state of the app that you're in without interrupting the work that you're doing. Finally, there's "Cognitive Tolerance." Samsung says that Bixby is smart enough to understand commands with incomplete commands, meaning that you don't have to remember the exact phrase that you have to say to perform a task with an assistant. Bixby will also ask you for more information when performing a task and then execute it. A select number of apps on the Galaxy S8 will be Bixby-enabled at launch, and Samsung plans to add more over time. The company also intends to release an SDK so that third-party app developers can add Bixby support to their apps.
IBM

IBM Unveils Blockchain As a Service Based On Open Source Hyperledger Fabric Technology (techcrunch.com) 42

IBM has unveiled its "Blockchain as a Service," which is based on the open source Hyperledger Fabric, version 1.0 from The Linux Foundation. "IBM Blockchain is a public cloud service that customers can use to build secure blockchain networks," TechCrunch reports, noting that it's "the first ready-for-primetime implementation built using that technology." From the report: Although the blockchain piece is based on the open source Hyperledger Fabric project of which IBM is a participating member, it has added a set of security services to make it more palatable for enterprise customers, while offering it as a cloud service helps simplify a complex set of technologies, making it more accessible than trying to do this alone in a private datacenter. The Hyperledger Fabric project was born around the end of 2015 to facilitate this, and includes other industry heavyweights such as State Street Bank, Accenture, Fujitsu, Intel and others as members. While the work these companies have done to safeguard blockchain networks, including setting up a network, inviting members and offering encrypted credentials, was done under the guise of building extra safe networks, IBM believes it can make them even safer by offering an additional set of security services inside the IBM cloud. While Jerry Cuomo, VP of blockchain technology at IBM, acknowledges that he can't guarantee that IBM's blockchain service is unbreachable, he says the company has taken some serious safeguards to protect it. This includes isolating the ledger from the general cloud computing environment, building a security container for the ledger to prevent unauthorized access, and offering tamper-responsive hardware, which can actually shut itself down if it detects someone trying to hack a ledger. What's more, IBM claims their blockchain product is built in a highly auditable way to track all of the activity that happens within a network, giving administrators an audit trail in the event something did go awry.
AI

The First Practical Use For Quantum Computers: Chemistry (technologyreview.com) 42

"The first quantum computer to start paying its way with useful work in the real world looks likely to do so by helping chemists," writes MIT Technology Review, "trying to do things like improve batteries or electronics." An anonymous reader quotes their report: So far, simulating molecules and reactions is the use case for early, small quantum computers sketched out in most detail by researchers developing the new kind of algorithms needed for such machines... "From the point of view of what is theoretically proven, chemistry is ahead," says Scott Crowder, chief technology officer for the IBM division that today sells hardware including supercomputers and hopes to add cloud-hosted quantum computers to its product line-up in the next few years...

Researchers have long used simulations of molecules and chemical reactions to aid research into things like new materials, drugs, or industrial catalysts. The tactic can reduce time spent on physical experiments and scientific dead ends, and it accounts for a significant proportion of the workload of the world's supercomputers. Yet the payoffs are limited because even the most powerful supercomputers cannot perfectly re-create all the complex quantum behaviors of atoms and electrons in even relatively small molecules, says Alan Aspuru-Guzik, a chemistry professor at Harvard. He's looking forward to the day simulations on quantum computers can accelerate his research group's efforts to find new light-emitting molecules for displays, for example, and batteries suitable for grid-scale energy storage.

Microsoft is already focusing on chemistry and materials science in its quantum algorithm effort, saying a hybrid system combining conventional computers with a small quantum computer "has great promise for studying molecules." Meanwhile, the article argues that breaking encryption, "although a genuine threat, is one of the most distant applications of the technology, because the algorithms involved would require an extremely large quantum processor."
Botnet

Bruce Schneier Calls for IoT Legislation, Argues The Internet Is Becoming One Giant Robot (linux.com) 84

"We're building a world-size robot, and we don't even realize it," security expert Bruce Schneier warned the Open Source Leadership Summit. As mobile computing and always-on devices combine with the various network-connected sensors, actuators, and cloud-based AI processing, "We are building an internet that senses, thinks, and acts." An anonymous reader quotes Linux.com: You can think of it, he says, as an Internet that affects the world in a direct physical manner. This means Internet security becomes everything security. And, as the Internet physically affects our world, the threats become greater. "It's the same computers, it could be the same operating systems, the same apps, the same vulnerability, but there's a fundamental difference between when your spreadsheet crashes, and you lose your data, and when your car crashes and you lose your life," Schneier said...

"I have 20 IoT-security best-practices documents from various organizations. But the primary barriers here are economic; these low-cost devices just don't have the dedicated security teams and patching/upgrade paths that our phones and computers do. This is why we also need regulation to force IoT companies to take security seriously from the beginning. I know regulation is a dirty word in our industry, but when people start dying, governments will take action. I see it as a choice not between government regulation and no government regulation, but between smart government regulation and stupid government regulation."

Google

Google's New Campus Will Open Its Restaurants To The Public (recode.net) 76

Google's new 18-acre campus will feature a 595,000-square foot building for 2,400 employees, most of them engineers -- and its bottom floor will be open to the public. An anonymous reader quotes Recode: People will be able to walk through the middle of the building, where they can shop in retail stores and dine at cafes also frequented by Googlers... A summary of plans from Google also describes spaces for workshops and demonstrations of new technologies such as virtual reality. Visitors might encounter a pop-up store devoted to virtual reality or demonstrations of smart-home devices made by Alphabet subsidiary Nest, according to the spokesperson... This is the first time Google has built a campus from the ground up...

Generally speaking, Bay Area tech companies have tended to of cut their workplaces off from the communities surrounding them. Employees take private buses to their campuses, and stay on-site for non-work activities like meals in private cafeterias and exercise classes. Google offers similar amenities to its employees, but makes its open, grassy areas open to anyone.

The San Francisco Chronicle reports Google's new building will be "shaped to resemble a puffy white cloud, with solar panels on the roof... The campus also will have a plaza where the public can soak in performances."
AI

Ray Kurzweil On How We'll End Up Merging With Our Technology (foxnews.com) 161

Mr.Intel quotes a report from Fox News: "By 2029, computers will have human-level intelligence," Kurzweil said in an interview at the SXSW Conference with Shira Lazar and Amy Kurzweil Comix. Known as the Singularity, the event is oft discussed by scientists, futurists, technology stalwarts and others as a time when artificial intelligence will cause machines to become smarter than human beings. The time frame is much sooner than what other stalwarts have said, including British theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking, as well as previous predictions from Kurzweil, who said it may occur as soon as 2045. Softbank CEO Masayoshi Son, who recently acquired ARM Holdings with the intent on being one of the driving forces in the Singularity, has previously said it could happen in the next 30 years. Kurzweil apparently ins't worried about the rise in machine learning and artificial intelligence. In regard to AI potentially enslaving humanity, Kurzweil said, "That's not realistic. We don't have one or two AIs in the world. Today we have billions." He shares a similar view with Elon Musk by saying that humans need to converge with machines, pointing out the work already being done in Parkinson's patients. "They're making us smarter," Kurzeil said during the SXSW interview. "They may not yet be inside our bodies, but, by the 2030s, we will connect our neocortex, the part of our brain where we do our thinking, to the cloud... We're going to be funnier, we're going to be better at music. We're going to be sexier. We're really going to exemplify all the things that we value in humans to a greater degree." You can watch the full interview on Facebook.
Open Source

Linux Foundation Chief: Businesses 'Will Fail' If They Don't Use Open Source Code (techrepublic.com) 109

The luminaries speaking at the Google Cloud Next conference had some strong words about the importance of openness, innovation, and a rich developer community. An anonymous reader writes: First Vint Cert said there's a "thread of openness" that runs throughout the internet, adding that "the internet, itself, has open characteristics" and thrives on "permissionless innovation." And Eric Brewer, vice president of infrastructure at Google, touched on the same themes, according to Tech Republic. "Linux, Brewer said, won some of the early internet wars because it was open, but also because it was the most innovative of its time. He also said that companies should work with open source for the value of the ecosystem and community, not just the value of the code." Then Linux Foundation executive director Jim Zemlin told the audience that business models were already changing to include open source, and ultimately made the argument that organizations that "don't harvest the shared innovation" of open source "will fail."
Businesses

Google's Compute Engine Now Offers Machines With Up To 64 CPU Cores, 416GB of RAM (techcrunch.com) 74

An anonymous reader shares a TechCrunch report: Google is doubling the maximum number of CPU cores developers can use with a single virtual machine on its Compute Engine service from 32 to 64. These high-power machines are now available in beta across all of Google's standard configurations and as custom machine types, which allow you to select exactly how many cores and memory you want. If you opt to use 64 cores in Google's range of high-memory machine types, you'll also get access to 416GB of RAM. That's also twice as much memory as Compute Engine previously offered for a single machine and enough for running most memory-intensive applications, including high-end in-memory databases. Running your apps on this high-memory machine will set you back $3.7888 per hour (though you do get all of Google's usual sustained-use discounts if you run it for longer, too).
Google

Google Can Now Recognize Objects in Videos Using Machine Learning (theverge.com) 47

Google has found a new way to allow software to parse video. On Wednesday, the company announced "Video Intelligence API", which is able to identify objects in a video. From a report: By playing a short commercial, the API was able to identify the dachshund in the video, when it appeared in the video, and then understand that the whole thing was a commercial. In another demo, we saw a simple search for "beach" and was able to find videos which had scenes from beaches in them, complete with timestamps. That's similar to how Google Photos lets you search for "sunset" and pull up your best late-day snapshots. Before now, computers couldn't really understand the content of a video directly without manual tagging. "We are beginning to shine light on the dark matter of the digital universe," Fei-Fei Li, chief scientist of artificial intelligence and machine learning at Google Cloud, said. At least in Google's demo, it was genuinely impressive. And Google is making the API available to developers, just as it has with its other machine learning APIs.
Businesses

Tech's Ruling Class Casts a Big Shadow (theverge.com) 74

Veteran technology columnist Walt Mossberg believes that Google, Apple, Microsoft, Amazon, and Facebook, or Gang of Five -- as he likes to call them, are casting a big shadow over how today's startups foster, a phenomenon he believes will continue to happen over the years to come. From his column for The Verge: What we have now in consumer tech, in 2017, is an oligopoly, at least superficially similar to the old industrial-era American corporate groups that once dominated key industries. I think that their enduring and growing power casts a shadow over the Silicon Valley legend that there are lots of great new consumer tech innovations being incubated right now in garages or dorm rooms somewhere that will be taken all the way to becoming great companies, the way each of the Gang of Five was. What I fear is more likely to happen to any such startup is that, if they're good, they get acquired by a member of the Gang, or that their idea is turned into a feature for one of the Gang's products. And, even if that never happens and a startup thrives, too often it can only thrive by being successful on a platform controlled by one or more Gang members, with the big guy maybe taking a cut. For instance, Snap, the parent company of Snapchat, which went public last week, famously spurned a $3 billion takeover offer from Gang member Facebook in 2013. But it depends for its very operation on the cloud services of Google and on the mobile app platforms of Apple and Google. And plenty of other companies which either presented threats or opportunities to the Gang have been snapped up by them. Each of the five companies actively scoops up numerous smaller companies every year, in many cases just for their talent and / or patents. In fact, I'd be amazed if there weren't plenty of startups whose main goal is to be purchased by the Gang.

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