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Data Storage

Amazon Is Killing Off Its $12/Year Plan For Unlimited Photo Storage (petapixel.com) 49

To many's surprise, Amazon introduced a consumer-focused storage option -- unlimited photo backup for only $12 per year. This was Amazon's attempt to lure customers away from Google, Dropbox, and iCloud. But it seems, even for Amazon, $12 per year for so much storage space is not feasible. The company has reportedly started to inform the customers that the plan is being discontinued. PetaPixel reports: Subscribers of the plan, which was launched in March 2015, are taking to the web to report receiving an email from Amazon informing them of the change. Amazon is offering customers free months of the Unlimited Storage plan, which costs $60 per year. It seems that some people are being offered a standard 3-month free trial of the service, while others are being offered a 12-month free period.
Communications

Scientists Discover That Horses Can Use Symbols To Talk To Us (sciencemag.org) 167

sciencehabit writes from a report via Science Magazine: Scientists have discovered that horses can learn to use another human tool for communicating: pointing to symbols. They join a short list of other species, including some primates, dolphins, and pigeons, with this talent. Scientists taught 23 riding horses of various breeds to look at a display board with three icons, representing wearing or not wearing a blanket. Horses could choose between a "no change" symbol or symbols for "blanket on" or "blanket off." The horses did not touch the symbols randomly, but made their choices based on the weather. If it was wet, cold, and windy, they touched the blanket-on icon; horses that were already wearing a blanket nosed the "no change" image. But when the weather was sunny, the animals touched the blanket-off symbol; those that weren't blanketed pressed the "no change" icon. The study's strong results show that the horses understood the consequences of their choices, say the scientists, who hope that other researchers will use their method to ask horses more questions. The report has been published in Applied Animal Behaviour Science.
Microsoft

Microsoft and Sony Are Debating Over Whose Console Really Offers 'True 4K' (arstechnica.com) 147

Sony's PlayStation 4, which will go on sales in two months, comes loaded with rendering pipeline and some proprietary upscaling techniques that can improve lower resolution base signals to take fuller advantage of a 4K display. Microsoft is seemingly upset with how Sony is marketing this, and it is not shying from telling people that no amount of upscaling can fill in those missing 4K pixels and the hardware inefficiency to produce native and "true 4K" images that the Project Scorpio, its gaming console that is coming next year can. Microsoft has also said that any game that it will launch during the Scorpio timeframe will "natively render at 4K." But the debate is anything from over because Microsoft keeps reminding everyone that the processor and GPU in its upcoming console is more powerful. As ArsTechnica explains: With Scorpio, Microsoft seems to be arguing that every first-party game at launch will be able to generate and render nearly 8.3 million pixels (four times as many as a 1080p game) at an acceptable frame rate (i.e., at least 30 times a second). That would be quite an achievement. As we noted back at E3, it currently takes pricey, high-end PC graphics cards like the Nvidia GTX 1080 or the AMD R9 Fury X -- cards that run $300 or much higher -- to "barely scrape by" with a native 4K, 30fps game. And those PC cards seem to have significantly more raw power than what is being claimed by Microsoft -- 9 and 8.4 teraflops, respectively, vs. a claimed 6 teraflops for Scorpio (and 4.2 teraflops for the PS4 Pro).Microsoft's head of Xbox planning, Albert Penello said, "I know that 4.2 teraflops is not enough to do true 4K." In an interview with Eurogamer, Penello adds:I think there are a lot of caveats they're giving customers right now around 4K. They're talking about checkerboard rendering and up-scaling and things like that. There are just a lot of asterisks in their marketing around 4K, which is interesting because when we thought about what spec we wanted for Scorpio, we were very clear we wanted developers to take their Xbox One engines and render them in native, true 4K. That was why we picked the number, that's why we have the memory bandwidth we have, that's why we have the teraflops we have, because it's what we heard from game developers was required to achieve native 4K.
China

China Plans To Build A Deep-Sea 'Space Station' In South China Sea (huffingtonpost.co.uk) 73

China is ramping up its space efforts, it appears. A Chinese company named KuangChi Science plans to launch balloons from Hangzhou, in eastern China. HuffingtonPost reports: China is stepping up efforts to build a deep-sea underwater 'space station' in the South China Sea. If the plans go ahead, the station would be located 3000 metres below the surface, inhabited by humans, and would be used to hunt for minerals. There are also concerns that it would be used for military purposes in territories that are hotly contested between China and other nations, including the Philippines, Vietnam and Japan. The news comes from a Science Ministry presentation that revealed China's current five-year economic plan (till 2020). Despite no further details or blueprints being made public, the presentation ranked this project as second in a list of 100 science and technology priorities according to Bloomberg.
Education

ITT Tech Is Officially Closing (gizmodo.com) 420

Reader Joe_Dragon shares a Gizmodo report: ITT Technical Institute is officially closing all of its campuses following federal sanctions imposed against the company. The for-profit college announced the changes in a statement: "It is with profound regret that we must report that ITT Educational Services, Inc. will discontinue academic operations at all of its ITT Technical Institutes permanently after approximately 50 years of continuous service. With what we believe is a complete disregard by the U.S. Department of Education for due process to the company, hundreds of thousands of current students and alumni and more than 8,000 employees will be negatively affected."
ITT Tech announced it was closing all of its campuses just one week after it stopped enrolling students following a federal crackdown on for-profit colleges. ITT Tech and other higher education companies like it have been widely criticized for accepting billions of dollars in government grants and loans while failing to provide adequate job training for its students. Last year, ITT Tech received an estimated $580 million in federal money (aka taxpayer dollars), according to the Department of Education.

Sony

Sony To Boost Smartphone Batteries Because People Aren't Replacing Phones (theguardian.com) 210

Not too long ago, people would replace their phone every 18 months. But that isn't the case with most people now. According to new estimates, more people are now changing their phones after at least three years. The problem with this is that by the end of two-three years, the battery on the phone reaches a stage where it gets really annoying. Sony has a solution, or so it says. From The Guardian:Sony is trying to fix that, but not by fixing the battery. That's because the lithium ion cells within smartphones don't exactly need fixing -- they will continue to work for years -- but their ability to hold their original amount of charge rapidly diminishes with repeated recharging cycles. Everyone who finds themselves with a chunky battery pack for their new smartphone or desperately searching for a charger by mid-afternoon knows battery capacity is a never-ending headache that only gets worse as a smartphone, and its battery ages. Rather than fixing the battery, Sony wants to do something about the recharging. Jun Makino, Sony mobile's senior product marketing manager, said; "We've started learning your charging cycles so that our new Xperia X smartphones only complete charging to 100% when they estimate you're about to start using them, so that the damage caused by maintaining a battery at 100% is negated. This is important, a battery that's usually kept at a charge between 20% and 80% of its capacity is much healthier -- it's going to the extremes that wears it out at a faster rate. This is important, a battery that's usually kept at a charge between 20% and 80% of its capacity is much healthier - it's going to the extremes that wears it out at a faster rate. The Japanese electronics firm has partnered with Californian adaptive charging company Qnovo to put technology into its Xperia smartphones. This includes the new top-end Xperia XZ and Xperia X Compact, which Sony reckons will double the life of the battery to around four years.
Space

SETI Has Observed a 'Strong' Signal That May Originate From a Sun-like Star (arstechnica.com) 282

An anonymous reader writes: The RATAN-600 radio telescope in Zelenchukskaya, Russia has detected a strong signal around 11 GHz (which is very unlikely to be naturally-caused) coming from HD164595, a star nearly identical in mass to the Sun and located about 95 light years from Earth. The system is known to have at least one planet. If the signal were isotropic, it would seem to indicate a Kardashev Type II civilization. While it is too early to draw any conclusions, the discovery will be discussed at an upcoming SETI committee meeting on September 27th. According to Paul Gilster, author of the Centauri Dreams website, "No one is claiming that this is the work of an extraterrestrial civilization, but it is certainly worth further study. Working out the strength of the signal, the researchers say that if it came from an isotropic beacon, it would be of a power possible only for a Kardashev Type II civilization. If it were a narrow beam signal focused on our Solar System, it would be of a power available to a Kardashev Type I civilization. The possibility of noise of one form or another cannot be ruled out, and researchers in Paris led by Jean Schneider are considering the possible microlensing of a background source by HD164595. But the signal is provocative enough that the RATAN-600 researchers are calling for permanent monitoring of this target."
AI

Amazon, NVIDIA and The CIA Want To Teach AI To Watch Us From Space (technologyreview.com) 60

An anonymous reader quotes a report from MIT Technology Review: Satellite operator DigitalGlobe is teaming up with Amazon, the venture arm of the CIA, and NVIDIA to make computers watch the Earth from above and automatically map our roads, buildings, and piles of trash. MIT Technology Review reports: "In a joint project, DigitalGlobe today released satellite imagery depicting the whole of Rio de Janeiro to a resolution of 50 centimeters. The outlines of 200,000 buildings inside the city's roughly 1,900 square kilometers have been manually marked on the photos. The SpaceNet data set, as it is called, is intended to spark efforts to train machine-learning algorithms to interpret high-resolution satellite photos by themselves. DigitalGlobe says the SpaceNet data set should eventually include high-resolution images of half a million square kilometers of Earth, and that it will add annotations beyond just buildings. DigitalGlobe's data is much more detailed than publicly available satellite data such as NASA's, which typically has a resolution of tens of meters. Amazon will make the SpaceNet data available via its cloud computing service. Nvidia will provide tools to help machine-learning researchers train and test algorithms on the data, and CosmiQ Works, a division of the CIA's venture arm In-Q-Tel focused on space, is also supporting the project." "We need to develop new algorithms for this data," says senior vice president at DigitalGlobe, Tony Frazier. He goes on to say that health and aid programs are to benefit from software that is able to map roads, bridges and various other infrastructure. The CEO of Descartes Labs, Mark Johnson, a "startup that predicts crop yields from public satellite images," says the data that is collected "should be welcome to startups and researchers," according to MIT Technology Review. "Potential applications could include estimated economic output from activity in urban areas, or guiding city governments on how to improve services such as trash collections, he says."
Communications

Facebook Is Testing Autoplaying Video With Sound (thenextweb.com) 152

An anonymous reader writes: Facebook is testing a "feature" that autoplays video clips on your feed with sound. It's not a very big test, but there's a possibility the company could roll it out to a larger group of users. The Next Web reports: "The company is currently trying two methods of getting people to watch video with sound in Australia: the aforementioned autoplaying, and an unmute button on the lower right corner of videos, like Vine videos on a desktop. The latter certainly sounds more reasonable; the last thing you want is to be checking Facebook quickly during a meeting or class, and suddenly have your phone blaring out an advert because you happened to stop on a video. Thankfully, you can disable the 'feature' from your settings, but the point is there's nothing wrong with the current opt-in approach, especially considering how many companies are embracing video captioning, and that Facebook even has its own auto-caption tool for advertisers." "We're running a small test in News Feed where people can choose whether they want to watch videos with sound on from the start," a Facebook spokesperson told Mashable Australia. "For people in this test who do not want sound to play, they can switch it off in Settings or directly on the video itself. This is one of several tests we're running as we work to improve the video experience for people on Facebook."
The Almighty Buck

Pokemon Go Daily Active Users, Downloads, Engagement Are Dropping (bloomberg.com) 194

An anonymous reader writes:Pokemon Go is starting to lose the battle for mobile mindshare, according to Axiom Capital Management. As such, investors and executives at Facebook Inc., Instagram, Tinder (Match Group Inc.), Twitter Inc., and Snapchat can breathe a sigh of relief, says Senior Analyst Victor Anthony. "Given the rapid rise in usage of the Pokemon Go app since the launch in July, investors have been concerned that this new user experience has been detracting from time spent on other mobile focused apps," he writes. Enthusiasm about the potential for Pokemon Go (and augmented reality gaming in general) to improve Nintendo Co Ltd.'s financial performance sent shares parabolic after the app launched in the U.S., and even spurred rallies in secondary plays linked to the success of the game. Data from Sensor Tower, SurveyMonkey, and Apptopia, however, show that Pokemon Go's daily active users, downloads, engagement, and time spent on the app per day are all well off their peaks and on a downward trend.
Transportation

World's Largest Aircraft Completes Its First Flight (cnn.com) 190

The world's largest aircraft has finally completed its first flight after months of preparation and years of searching for funding. The Airlander 10 as it's called spent 20 minutes in the air on Wednesday, landing safely at Cardington Airfield north of London. CNNMoney reports: "Part airship, part helicopter, part plane, the 300-foot long aircraft is about 50 feet longer than the world's biggest passenger planes. The Airlander, made by British company Hybrid Air Vehicles, has four engines and no internal structure. It maintains its shape thanks to the pressure of the 38,000 cubic meters of helium inside its hull, which is made from ultralight carbon fiber. The aircraft was originally designed for U.S. military surveillance. But the project was grounded in 2013 because of defense spending cuts. [The team behind the giant blimp-like aircraft] said the aircraft could carry communications equipment or other cargo, undertake search and rescue operations, or do military and commercial survey work. The Airlander can stay airborne for up to five days at a time if manned, and for more than two weeks if unmanned. It can carry up to 10 tons of cargo at a maximum speed of 91 miles per hour. The aircraft doesn't need a runway to take off, meaning it can operate from land, snow, ice, desert and even open water." You can view the historic flight for yourself here (Warning: headphone users beware of loud sound).

Submission + - Microsoft Moving To 'Rollup' Update Model For Older Windows Systems (microsoft.com)

An anonymous reader writes: A posting on the Microsoft TechNet blog announces Microsoft moving to a montly rollup-style update model for Windows 7 and Windows 8.1 systems. In this new model users will no longer be able to pick individual updates for installation. This will, according to Microsoft, improve the end-user experience by reducing system fragmentation. Microsoft will also provide enterprise users with a monthly minimal package only containing the latest security updates.

Submission + - Windows 10's "all or nothing" cumulative update scheme coming 7, 8.1 (arstechnica.com)

An anonymous reader writes: The shotgun "cumulative" update scheme used in Windows 10 is coming to 7 and 8.1. No longer will updates be offered through Windows Update individually. Instead, you'll grab the latest "cumulative" update for your version of Windows, and take whatever Microsoft gives you.

Of course, Microsoft says it will improve performance of Windows updates on the older versions (and that may very well be true, but so would an actual updated 'security fix only' service pack for them); but you know they will not be able to help themselves with their new method of obfuscating "other" non security updates. We all know that Microsoft does not document their updates well in Windows update (everything simply "resolves issues in Windows"? really? Windows 10 offer updates said that too, what exactly did that resolve?), rarely fully itemizes "cumulative updates, often improperly labels updates as "security update" and "important" when they are, in fact, neither.

This will include things people have begin to take notice of and avoid (such as non-security "important" updates, telemetry and spying updates, etc).

If you use Windows Update to update your systems, you will start to lose control over what updates get installed and what ones you can defer or avoid.

If you're a knowledgeable home or small business user, you may want to look into alternative means of obtaining the actual important security related updates (and only those) from utilities like WSUS Offline Update, as WSUS method will remain unchanged (at least for now, right?).

Games

PC Gaming Is Still Way Too Hard (vice.com) 729

Motherboard has an article in which it argues that PC gaming is still way too hard. The author of the article claims that for one to build a gaming PC, they need an "unreasonable" amount of disposable income, and also have an unreasonable amount of time to "research, shop around, and assemble parts" for their computer. The author adds that a person looking into making one such gear also needs to always have to keep investing time and money in as long as they want to stay at the cutting edge or recommended specifications range for new PC games. The author has shared the experience he had building his own gaming PC. An excerpt from it: The process of physically building a PC is filled with little frustrations, and mistakes can be costly and time consuming. I have big, dumb, sausage fingers, so mounting the motherboard into the case, and screwing in nine (!) tiny screws to keep it in place in a cramped space, in weird angles, where dropping the screwdriver can easily break something expensive -- it's just not what I'd call "consumer-friendly." This is why people buy from Apple. It designs everything from the trackpad to the box the computer comes in, which unfolds neatly to reveal everything you need. Apple reduces friction to the point where even my mom could upgrade the RAM on her iMac, and it can do this because it controls everything that goes in that box.That's accurate. But it also means -- at least as of today -- that the current Apple computer -- MacBook Air, MacBook, iMac, Mac Mini you purchase packs in at least three-year-old components.

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