Portables (Apple)

10 Years of the MacBook Air (theverge.com) 89

Ten years ago today, Steve Jobs introduced the MacBook Air. "Apple's Macworld 2008 was a special one, taking place just days after the annual Consumer Electronics Show had ended and Bill Gates bid farewell to Microsoft," The Verge recalls. "Jobs introduced the MacBook Air by removing it from a tiny paper office envelope, and the crowd was audibly shocked at just how small and thin it was..." From the report: At the time, rivals had thin and light laptops on the market, but they were all around an inch thick, weighed 3 pounds, and had 8- or 11-inch displays. Most didn't even have full-size keyboards, but Apple managed to create a MacBook Air with a wedge shape so that the thickest part was still thinner than the thinnest part of the Sony TZ Series -- one of the thinnest laptops back in 2008. It was a remarkable feat of engineering, and it signaled a new era for laptops. Apple ditched the CD drive and a range of ports on the thin MacBook Air, and the company introduced a multi-touch trackpad and SSD storage. There was a single USB 2.0 port, alongside a micro-DVI port and a headphone jack. It was minimal, but the price was not. Apple's base MacBook Air cost $1,799 at the time, an expensive laptop even by today's standards.
Earth

Renewable Energy Set To Be Cheaper Than Fossil Fuels By 2020, Says Report (independent.co.uk) 134

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Independent: Continuous technological improvements have led to a rapid fall in the cost of renewable energy in recent years, meaning some forms can already comfortably compete with fossil fuels. The report suggests this trend will continue, and that by 2020 "all the renewable power generation technologies that are now in commercial use are expected to fall within the fossil fuel-fired cost range." Of those technologies, most will either be at the lower end of the cost range or actually undercutting fossil fuels. "This new dynamic signals a significant shift in the energy paradigm," said Adnan Amin, director-general of the International Renewable Energy Agency (IREA), which published the report. "Turning to renewables for new power generation is not simply an environmentally conscious decision, it is now -- overwhelmingly -- a smart economic one." The report looked specifically at the relative cost of new energy projects being commissioned. As renewable energy becomes cheaper, consumers will benefit from investment in green infrastructure. The current cost for fossil fuel power generation ranges from around 4p to 12p per kilowatt hour across G20 countries. By 2020, IREA predicted renewables will cost between 2p and 7p, with the best onshore wind and solar photovoltaic projects expected to deliver electricity by 2p or less next year.
The Almighty Buck

City-Owned Internet Services Offer Cheaper and More Transparent Pricing, Says Harvard Study (arstechnica.com) 78

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Ars Technica: Municipal broadband networks generally offer cheaper entry-level prices than private Internet providers, and the city-run networks also make it easier for customers to find out the real price of service, a new study from Harvard University researchers found. Researchers collected advertised prices for entry-level broadband plans -- those meeting the federal standard of at least 25Mbps download and 3Mbps upload speeds -- offered by 40 community-owned ISPs and compared them to advertised prices from private competitors. The report by researchers at the Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society at Harvard doesn't provide a complete picture of municipal vs. private pricing. But that's largely because data about private ISPs' prices is often more difficult to get than information about municipal network pricing, the report says. In cases where the researchers were able to compare municipal prices to private ISP prices, the city-run networks almost always offered lower prices. This may help explain why the broadband industry has repeatedly fought against the expansion of municipal broadband networks.
The Military

'Don't Fear the Robopocalypse': the Case for Autonomous Weapons (thebulletin.org) 136

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.

Power

California Will Close Its Last Nuclear Power Plant (sfchronicle.com) 315

An anonymous reader quotes the San Francisco Chronicle: California's last nuclear power plant -- Diablo Canyon, whose contentious birth helped shape the modern environmental movement -- will close in 2025, state utility regulators decided Thursday. The unanimous vote by the California Public Utilities Commission will likely bring an end to nuclear energy's long history in the state. State law forbids building more nuclear plants in California until the federal government creates a long-term solution for dealing with their waste, a goal that remains elusive despite decades of effort.

The decision comes even as California expands its fight against global warming. Owned by Pacific Gas and Electric Co., Diablo Canyon is the state's largest power plant, supplying 9 percent of California's electricity while producing no greenhouse gases. "With this decision, we chart a new energy future by phasing out nuclear power here in California," said commission President Michael Picker. "We've looked hard at all the arguments, and we agree the time has come."

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.
Government

Ask Slashdot: How Would You Use Computers To Make Elections Better? 496

shanen writes: Regarding politics, is there anything that Americans agree on? If so, it's probably something negative like "The system is broken," or "The leading candidates are terrible," or even "Your state is a shithole." With all our fancy technology, what's going wrong? Our computers are creating problems, not solutions. For example, gerrymandering relies on fancy computers to rig the maps. Negative campaigning increasingly relies on computers to target the attacks on specific voters. Even international attacks exploit the internet to intrude into elections around the world. Here are three of my suggested solutions, though I can't imagine any of today's politicians would ever support anything along these lines:

(1) Guest voting: If you hate your district, you could vote in a neighboring district. The more they gerrymander, the less predictable the election results.
(2) Results-based weighting: The winning candidates get more voting power in the legislature, reflecting how many people actually voted for them. If you win a boring and uncontested election where few people vote, then part of your vote in the legislature would be transferred to the winners who also had more real votes.
(3) Negative voting: A voter could use an electronic ballot to make it explicit that the vote is negative, not positive. The candidate with the most positive or fewest negative votes still wins, but if the election has too many negative votes, then that "winner" would be penalized, perhaps with a half term rather than a full term.

What wild and crazy ideas do you have for using computers to make elections better, not worse?
Businesses

PC Market Still Showing Few Signs of Life (axios.com) 217

An anonymous reader writes: It was another rough quarter for the global PC market, as fourth quarter unit sales dropped 2%, according to preliminary results from Gartner. In the U.S. things were even bleaker, with sales down 8%. HP was the only big name maker to post a sales increase in the U.S. and globally. It also passed Lenovo to grab the top spot globally and increased its lead in the U.S. over Dell. Apple saw Mac sales globally up 1.4%, but in the U.S. sales were down 1.6%. Dell gained less than 1% globally but fell more than 12% in the U.S. Lenovo sales dipped slightly globally, but its market share increased slightly, to 22% of the worldwide market.
AMD

AMD Is Releasing Spectre Firmware Updates To Fix CPU Vulnerabilities (theverge.com) 74

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Verge: AMD's initial response to the Meltdown and Spectre CPU flaws made it clear "there is a near zero risk to AMD processors." That zero risk doesn't mean zero impact, as we're starting to discover today. "We have defined additional steps through a combination of processor microcode updates and OS patches that we will make available to AMD customers and partners to further mitigate the threat," says Mark Papermaster, AMD's chief technology officer. AMD is making firmware updates available for Ryzen and EPYC owners this week, and the company is planning to update older processors "over the coming weeks." Like Intel, these firmware updates will be provided to PC makers, and it will be up to suppliers to ensure customers receive these. AMD isn't saying whether there will be any performance impacts from applying these firmware updates, nor whether servers using EPYC processors will be greatly impacted or not. AMD is also revealing that its Radeon GPU architecture isn't impacted by Meltdown or Spectre, simply because those GPUs "do not use speculative execution and thus are not susceptible to these threats." AMD says it plans to issue further statements as it continues to develop security updates for its processors.
Businesses

Dropbox Files Confidentially For IPO (bloomberg.com) 20

Dropbox, the file-sharing private company valued at $10 billion, has filed confidentially for a U.S. initial public offering. From the report: Goldman Sachs Group Inc. and JPMorgan Chase & Co. will lead the potential listing, according to the people, who asked not to be identified because the filing wasn't public. Dropbox is talking to other banks this month to fill additional roles on the IPO, the people said. The company is aiming to list in the first half of this year, one of the people said. Dropbox could be one of the biggest U.S. enterprise technology companies to list domestically in recent years.

Dropbox is likely to tout its biggest investment in recent years: its own cloud. It's spent hundreds of millions of dollars to build data centers and mostly wean itself off of Amazon.com Inc.'s servers, a rare feat for a software business with hundreds of millions of users. That's made it easier for Dropbox to cut costs while speeding file transfers, Chief Operating Officer Dennis Woodside said in an interview last year.

Encryption

FBI Calls Apple 'Jerks' and 'Evil Geniuses' For Making iPhone Cracks Difficult (itwire.com) 348

troublemaker_23 shares a report from iTWire: A forensics expert from the FBI has lashed out at Apple, calling the company's security team a bunch of "jerks" and "evil geniuses" for making it more difficult to circumvent the encryption on its devices. Stephen Flatley told the International Conference on Cyber Security in New York on Wednesday that one example of the way that Apple had made it harder for him and his colleagues to break into the iPhone was by recently making the password guesses slower, with a change in hash iterations from 10,000 to 10,000,000. A report on the Motherboard website said Flatley explained that this change meant that the speed at which one could brute-force passwords went from 45 attempts a second to one every 18 seconds. "Your crack time just went from two days to two months," he was quoted as saying. "At what point is it just trying to one up things and at what point is it to thwart law enforcement? Apple is pretty good at evil genius stuff," Flatley added.
Electronic Frontier Foundation

Violating a Website's Terms of Service Is Not a Crime, Federal Court Rules (eff.org) 82

An anonymous reader quotes a report from the Electronic Frontier Foundation: Good news out of the Ninth Circuit: the federal court of appeals heeded EFF's advice and rejected an attempt by Oracle to hold a company criminally liable for accessing Oracle's website in a manner it didn't like. The court ruled back in 2012 that merely violating a website's terms of use is not a crime under the federal computer crime statute, the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act. But some companies, like Oracle, turned to state computer crime statutes -- in this case, California and Nevada -- to enforce their computer use preferences. This decision shores up the good precedent from 2012 and makes clear -- if it wasn't clear already -- that violating a corporate computer use policy is not a crime.
Cellphones

Future Samsung Phones Will Have a Working FM Radio Chip (androidpolice.com) 215

A few months ago, LG announced a partnership with NextRadio to unlock the FM chip in its smartphones. Now, Samsung is doing the same. Android Police reports: NextRadio made the announcement, rightly explaining that FM radio is essential in areas with low connectivity and in emergency and disaster situations where a connection might be difficult to obtain or maintain and where access to information could be a matter of life and death. With the chip unlocked, users will be able to listen to local radio on their phone using the NextRadio Android app. The press release mentions that "upcoming [Samsung] smartphone models in the U.S. and Canada" will have the FM chip unlocked, however I did find several existing Samsung devices with their FM chip enabled on NextRadio's site.
China

Apple To Transfer Chinese iCloud Operations To Chinese Firm (bbc.com) 72

Apple's iCloud services in mainland China will be operated by a Chinese company from next month, the tech giant has confirmed, though Apple will still have access to all data stored on iCloud. The company said it had made the move to comply with the country's cloud computing regulations. iCloud accounts registered outside of China are not affected. BBC reports: The Chinese cyber security rules, introduced in July last year, include a requirement for companies to store all data within China. The firm, Guizhou on the Cloud Big Data (GCBD), is owned by the Guizhou provincial government in southern China. Guizhou is where Apple opened a $1 billion data center last year to meet the regulations. iCloud data will be transferred from February 28, Apple said. Customers living in mainland China who did not want to use iCloud operated by GCBD were given the option to terminate their account. Apple said the "partnership" with GCBD would allow it to "improve the speed and reliability of our iCloud services products while also complying with newly passed regulations that cloud services be operated by Chinese companies." It added that Apple had "strong data privacy and security protections in place and no backdoors will be created into any of our systems." However, some on social media have said the step gives Beijing more opportunity to monitor its citizens and others living in the country.
Cellphones

Samsung Will Unveil the Galaxy S9 Next Month At Mobile World Congress (theverge.com) 52

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).
Power

Power Outage Brings CES To a Standstill For Nearly 2 Hours (cnet.com) 58

A major power outage brought a major portion of the Consumer Electronics Show in the Las Vegas Center to a standstill for nearly 2 hours today. The lights went out at around 11:13 a.m. PT, just as the second day of CES 2018 was ramping up, and didn't turn back on until around 12:34 p.m. PT. CNET reports: It came a day after more than an inch of rain fell in Las Vegas, which caused flash flooding in the desert city. (Wednesday's weather is clear and warm, and it's unclear if the power outage was at all related.) The first reports of the blackout came from the convention center's Central Hall, which houses the giant booths for show mainstays including Sony, Samsung, LG and Intel -- though Samsung's booth still had limited electricity thanks to its own private backup power. By noon, security guards were refusing entry to parts of the Convention Center. The website of Nevada Energy, the power provider, listed the cause of the problem as "customer-owned electrical equipment."
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.

Windows

Microsoft Announces First Mobile Carriers To Support Always Connected PCs (zdnet.com) 108

An anonymous reader shares a report: The push behind the Always Connected PC vision has been ramping up in recent weeks, with manufacturers like HP, ASUS, and Lenovo all joining the fray with their own LTE PCs based on Qualcomm's Snapdragon platform. Now, Microsoft and Qualcomm have announced the first batch of mobile operators that will actively support Always Connected PCs around the world. These initial carriers will help to bring "easy and affordable connectivity plans to consumers on advanced LTE wireless networks," Microsoft and Qualcomm said in a press release. Throughout the first half of 2018 and beyond, the companies say, mobile operators in China, Italy, the UK, and the U.S. will officially support Always Connected PCs. Here's a look at the carriers you can expect to roll out support in each region: China -- China Telecom, Italy -- TIM (Telecom Italia), U.K. -- EE, U.S. -- Sprint, Verizon. In addition to supporting connected PCs on their LTE networks, you can expect each operator to stock Always Connected PCs in their retail store, Qualcomm and Microsoft say.
Businesses

Senator Wants Apple To Answer Questions on Slowing iPhones (reuters.com) 169

The chairman of a U.S. Senate committee overseeing business issues asked Apple to answer questions about its disclosure that it slowed older iPhones with flagging batteries, Reuters reported on Wednesday, citing a letter. From the report: The California-based company apologized over the issue on Dec. 28, cut battery replacement costs and said it will change its software to show users whether their phone battery is good. Senator John Thune, a Republican who chairs the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, said in a Jan. 9 letter to Apple Chief Executive Officer Tim Cook that "the large volume of consumer criticism leveled against the company in light of its admission suggests that there should have been better transparency."
XBox (Games)

Xbox One Adds New Achievement, Do Not Disturb Features In Previous Update (gamespot.com) 38

A Preview alpha build is now available for some Xbox One users who take part in the Insiders Program, which allows players to test out new system and game features before they go live to the public. This build contains several new features, such as the Next Achievements feature and a Do Not Disturb feature. GameSpot reports: The biggest addition coming for Xbox Insiders is the Next Achievements feature in the guide. Now, those who test new features and games from Xbox One will be able sort a cross-games list of upcoming Achievements. This way, you can easily see which Achievements you're closest to and quickly launch the game to achieve them. You can also sort your Achievements by how rare they are.

There are also a few tweaks to social settings. A Do Not Disturb online status is coming, which will suppress notifications and let your friends know you're unavailable at the moment. Comments on community posts are also getting an adjustment, and soon you'll be able to peek at the most recent comment and see who has liked your comments. The Narrator is also now able to read large amounts of text.

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