United States

The Trump Administration Just Voted To Repeal the US Government's Net Neutrality Rules (recode.net) 572

The Federal Communications Commission voted on Thursday to dismantle landmark rules regulating the businesses that connect consumers to the internet, granting broadband companies power to potentially reshape Americans' online experiences. The agency scrapped so-called net neutrality regulations that prohibited broadband providers from blocking websites or charging for higher-quality service or certain content. The federal government will also no longer regulate high-speed internet delivery as if it were a utility, like phone services. From a report: Under the leadership of Chairman Ajit Pai -- and with only the backing of the agency's Republican members -- the repeal newly frees telecom companies from federal regulation, unravels a signature accomplishment of the Obama administration and shifts the responsibility of overseeing the web to another federal agency that some critics see as too weak to be effective. In practice, it means the U.S. government no longer will have rules on its books that require internet providers to treat all web traffic equally. The likes of AT&T and Verizon will be limited in some ways -- they can face penalties if they try to undermine their rivals, for example -- but they won't be subject to preemptive, bright-line restrictions on how they manage their networks. Meanwhile, the FCC's repeal will open the door for broadband providers to charge third parties, like tech giants, for faster delivery of their web content.
Power

Solar Power and Batteries Are Encroaching On Natural Gas In Energy Production (electrek.co) 169

Socguy writes: The relentless downward march in cost of both solar and battery storage is poised to displace 10GW worth of natural gas peaker plant electricity production in the U.S. by 2027. Already we are seeing the net cost of combined solar and batteries cheaper than the equivalent natural gas peaker plant. Some particularly aggressive estimates from major energy companies predict that we may not see another natural gas peaker plant built in the U.S. after 2020. GE has already responded to the weakness in the gas turbine market by laying off 12,000 workers. Further reading available via Greentech Media.
AT&T

AT&T Begins Testing High-Speed Internet Over Power Lines (reuters.com) 119

AT&T has started trials to deliver high-speed internet over power lines. The company announced the news on Wednesday and said that trials have started in Georgia state and a non-U.S. location. Reuters reports: AT&T aims to eventually deliver speeds faster than the 1 gigabit per second consumers can currently get through fiber internet service using high-frequency airwaves that travel along power lines. While the Georgia trial is in a rural area, the service could potentially be deployed in suburbs and cities, the company said in a statement. AT&T said it had no timeline for commercial deployment and that it would look to expand trials as it develops the technology.

"We think this product is eventually one that could actually serve anywhere near a power line," said Marachel Knight, AT&T's senior vice president of wireless network architecture and design, in an interview. She added that AT&T chose an international trial location in part because the market opportunity extends beyond the United States.

Anime

Why Is Anime Obsessed With Power Lines? (atlasobscura.com) 230

An anonymous reader shares a report: Why are there so many shots of power lines in Japanese anime cartoons? The Tumblr Power Lines in Anime is dedicated to appreciating the truly lovely and surprisingly ubiquitous depictions of mundane power lines that appear in a large number of Japanese animation series. The blog is run by Tumblr user whitequark, who first started to notice the trend while watching a romantic comedy anime. Anime series can cover any number of genres, including sports, high fantasy, office life, and, of course, science fiction, but no matter what it's about, it seems that if the story is set on modern-day Earth, it will contain some amazingly detailed images of power lines, telephone poles, and other wired infrastructure. While a number of anime series (and cartoons in general), opt for a style of hyper-detailed backgrounds before which relatively simpler characters can interact, power lines stand out for the detail and complexity required to illustrate them.
Microsoft

Microsoft Releases Free Preview of Its Quantum Development Kit (zdnet.com) 31

Microsoft is releasing a free preview version of its Quantum Development Kit. "The kit includes the Q# programming language and compiler and a local quantum computing simulator, and is fully integrated with Visual Studio," reports ZDNet. "There's also an Azure-based simulator that allows developers to simulate more than 40 logical qubits of computing power, plus documentation libraries, and sample programs, officials said in their December 11 announcement." From the report: Quantum computers are designed to process in parallel, thus enabling new types of applications across a variety of workloads. They are designed to harness the physics of subatomic particles to provide a different way to store data and solve problems compared to conventional computers, as my ZDNet colleague Tony Baer explains. The result is that quantum computers could solve certain high-performance-computing problems more efficiently. Microsoft officials have said applications that developers create for use with the quantum simulator ultimately will work on a quantum computer, which Microsoft is in the process of developing. Microsoft's goal is to build out a full quantum computing system, including both the quantum computing hardware and the related full software stack.
Music

Apple Buys Shazam To Boost Apple Music (bloomberg.com) 36

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Bloomberg: Apple agreed to acquire music-identification service Shazam, taking ownership of one of the first apps to demonstrate the power of the iPhone, recognizing songs after hearing just a few bars of a tune. Terms of the deal weren't disclosed, but a person familiar with the situation said Apple is paying about $400 million for the U.K.-based startup. That would be one of Apple's largest acquisitions ever, approaching the size of its 1996 purchase of Next Computer Inc. which brought co-founder Steve Jobs back to the company. That transaction would be worth more than $600 million in today's dollars. The Shazam app uses the microphone on a smartphone or computer to identify almost any song playing nearby, then points users to places they can listen to it in future, such as Apple Music or Google's YouTube.

"Apple Music and Shazam are a natural fit, sharing a passion for music discovery and delivering great music experiences to our users," Apple said in an emailed statement on Monday. "We have exciting plans in store, and we look forward to combining with Shazam upon approval of today's agreement. Since the launch of the App Store, Shazam has consistently ranked as one of the most popular apps for iOS," Apple also said. "Today, it's used by hundreds of millions of people around the world, across multiple platforms." The acquisition would help Apple embed that capability more deeply into its music offerings. The company's digital assistant Siri gained Shazam integration in 2014, so users could ask it what song is playing in the background.

Security

Touting Government/Industry 'Partnership' on Security Practices, NIST Drafts Cybersecurity Framework Update (scmagazine.com) 15

Remember NIST, the non-regulatory agency of the U.S. Department of Commerce? Their mission expanded over the years to protecting businesses from cyberthreats, including a "Cybersecurty Framework" first published in 2014. "The original goal was to develop a voluntary framework to help organizations manage cybersecurity risk in the nation's critical infrastructure, such as bridges and the electric power grid," NIST wrote in January, "but the framework has been widely adopted by many types of organizations across the country and around the world." Now SC Media reports: The second draft of the update to the National Institute of Standards and Technology's cybersecurity framework, NIST 1.1, is meant "to clarify, refine, and enhance the Cybersecurity Framework, amplifying its value and making it easier to use," according to NIST. Specifically, it brings clarity to cybersecurity measurement language and tackles improving security of the supply chain. Calling the initial NIST CSF "a landmark effort" that delivered "important benefits, such as providing common language for different models" of standards and best practices already in use, Larry Clinton, president and CEO of the Internet Security Alliance, said "it fell short of some of the most critical demands of Presidential Executive Order 13636, which generated its development...

"To begin with, the new draft makes it clear that our goal is not some undefined metric for use of the Framework, but for effective use of the Framework. Moreover, this use-metric needs to be tied not to some generic standard, but to be calibrated to the unique threat picture, risk appetite and business objective of a particular organization"... Clinton praised the process used by NIST as "a model 'use case' for how government needs to engage with its industry partners to address the cybersecurity issue." The internet's inherent interconnectedness makes it impossible for sustainable security to be achieved through anything other than true partnership, he contended.

Slashdot reader Presto Vivace reminds you that public comments on the draft Framework and Roadmap are due to NIST by 11:59 p.m. EST on January 19, 2018. "If you have an opinion about this, NOW is the time to express it."
Power

China Has Launched the World's First All-Electric Cargo Ship (futurism.com) 150

slash.jit writes: China has launched the world's first all-electric cargo ship. It can travel 80 kilometers (approximately 50 miles) after being charged for 2 hours. As noted by Clean Technica, 2 hours is roughly the amount of time it would take to unload the ship's cargo while docked. Oh...and Ironically, the world's first all-electric cargo ship is being used to move coal.
China Daily reports that the 230 foot long vessel is equipped with a 2,400 kWh lithium-ion battery, a cheaper and cleaner power supply. And Clean Technica notes that that battery is comprised of 1,000 individual lithium-ion packs, while "Adding enough power to carry more cargo is simply a matter of adding more battery packs."
Technology

Sexual Harassment In Tech Is As Old As the Computer Age (ieee.org) 422

Tekla Perry writes: Historian Marie Hicks, speaking at the Computer History Museum talks about how women computer operators and programmers were driven out of the industry, gives examples of sexual harassment dating back to the days of the Colossus era, and previews her next research. "It's all a matter of power, Hicks pointed out -- and women have never had their share of it," reports IEEE Spectrum. "Women dominated computer programming in its early days because the field wasn't seen as a career, just a something someone could do without a lot of training and would do for only a short period of time. Computer jobs had no room for advancement, so having women 'retire' in their 20s was not seen as a bad thing. And since women, of course, could never supervise men, Hicks said, women who were good at computing ended up training the men who ended up as their managers. But when it became clear that computers -- and computer work -- were important, women were suddenly pushed out of the field."

Hicks has also started looking at the bias baked into algorithms, specifically at when it first crossed from human to computer. The first example she turned up had "something to do with transgender people and the government's main pension computer." She says that when humans were in the loop, petitions to change gender on national insurance cards generally went through, but when the computer came in, the system was "specifically designed to no longer accommodate them, instead, to literally cause an error code to kick out of the processing chain any account of a 'known transsexual.'"

Earth

Toyota's New Power Plant Will Create Clean Energy From Manure (usatoday.com) 75

schwit1 shares a report from Futurism: Japanese automobile giant Toyota is making some exciting moves in the realm of renewable, clean energy. The company is planning to build a power plant in California that turns the methane gas produced by cow manure into water, electricity, and hydrogen. The project, known as the Tri-Gen Project, was unveiled at this year's Los Angeles Auto Show. The plant, which will be located at the Port of Long Beach in California, will be "the world's first commercial-scale 100% renewable power and hydrogen generation plant," writes USA Today. Toyota is expecting the plant to come online in about 2020.

The plant is expected to have the capability to provide enough energy to power 2,350 average homes and enough fuel to operate 1,500 hydrogen-powered vehicles daily. The company is estimating the plant to be able to produce 2.35 MW of electricity and 1.2 tons of hydrogen each day. The facility will also be equipped with one of the largest hydrogen fueling stations in the world. Toyota's North America group vice president for strategic planning, Doug Murtha, says that the company "understand[s] the tremendous potential to reduce emissions and improve society."

The Internet

Zimbabwe's Internet Went Down for About Five Hours. The Culprit Was Reportedly a Tractor. (slate.com) 63

Zimbabweans lost internet access en masse on Tuesday when a tractor reportedly cut through key fiber-optic cables in South Africa and another internet provider experienced simultaneous issues with its primary internet conduits. From a report: The outage began shortly before noon local time and persisted for more than five hours, affecting not only citizens' day-to-day internet usage but businesses that rely upon web access. And while five internet-free hours might sound unfathomable to those of us accustomed to having the web constantly at our fingertips, large-scale internet outages -- from inadvertent lapses caused by ship anchors to government-calculated blackouts designed to showcase political power -- do happen, and maybe more frequently than you'd thought. According to local news sources, a tractor in South Africa damaged cables belonging to Liquid Telecom, which has an 81.5 percent market share of Zimbabwe's international-equipped internet bandwidth as of the second quarter of 2017 and leases capacity to other internet providers. In a bad coincidence, city council employees in Kuwadzana, a suburb of Zimbabwe's capitol city of Harare, cut an additional TelOne cable around the same time. (According to NewsDay Zimbabwe, it was an accident. The company blamed "faults that occurred on our main links through South Africa and Botswana" in a statement.)
Businesses

GE Cuts 12,000 Jobs In Response To Falling Demand For Fossil Fuel Energy (qz.com) 142

In response to the drop in demand for fossil fuel energy, General Electric -- the world's largest maker of gas turbines -- announced plans to cut 12,000 jobs. Quartz reports: Those cuts will mostly come from GE's power division, which makes energy-generation technologies. The reduction will account for 18% of the division's workforce and affect both professional and production employees, the company said in a statement. The majority of job losses will occur outside the U.S., Bloomberg reports. In a statement, Russell Stokes, the division's president and CEO, said disruptions to the power market were "driving significantly lower volumes in products and services." Demand for GE's power-generation equipment has stalled in part because of renewable energy growth, says Robert McCarthy, an analyst at Stifel Financial.

The move is part of a larger restructuring effort under GE's new chief executive John Flannery, who has faced immense pressure to regain the company's footing since taking the helm in June of this year. GE's stock price plunged 44% this year, the worst performer on the Dow, according to Bloomberg. The company aims to cut $3.5 billion of expenses across its divisions by the end of 2018, including a $1 billion cut from the power division.

The Military

The US Is Testing a Microwave Weapon To Stop North Korea's Missiles (vox.com) 217

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Vox: According to an NBC News report, the weapon -- which is still under development -- could be put on a cruise missile and shot at an enemy country from a B-52 bomber. It's designed to use microwaves to target enemy military facilities and destroy electronic systems, like computers, that control their missiles. The weapon itself wouldn't damage the buildings or cause casualties. Air Force developers have been working with Boeing on the system since 2009. They're hoping to receive up to $200 million for more prototyping and testing in the latest defense bill. There's just one problem. It's not clear that the weapon is entirely ready for use -- and it's not clear that it would be any more effective than the powerful weapons the U.S. already possesses. The weapon, which has the gloriously military-style name of Counter-electronics High Power Microwave Advanced Missile Project, or CHAMP, isn't quite ready for action, but it could be soon. Two unnamed Air Force officials told NBC that the weapon could be ready for use in just a few days.
Businesses

Tesla Could Be Hogging Batteries and Causing a Global Shortage, Says Report (gizmodo.com) 159

According to a report from the Korea news outlet ETNews, Tesla's solution to fixing a manufacturing bottleneck responsible for a $619 million loss last quarter could be causing a global battery shortage. Panasonic reportedly gave most of its cache of batteries in Japan to Tesla so that the automaker and Gigafactory 1 energy-storage company could keep up with its ambitious production schedule. Gizmodo reports: In early October, Tesla struggled with a "production bottleneck," but by the end of the month, Panasonic stated it would increase battery output at the Gigafactory, now that it understood the issues that led to the bottleneck and could automate some of the processes that had been done by hand. But this likely did not help Tesla fix any immediate shortage issues. ETNews claims that Panasonic is coping with the shortage by shipping batteries in from Japan. And many Japanese companies in need of cylinder batteries have turned to other suppliers like LG, Murata, and Samsung -- but those companies have not been able to meet the demands. Reportedly, companies that had contracts before 2017 aren't affected by the shortage, but several other manufacturers have not been able to place orders for batteries, and won't be able to order more batteries until the middle of next year.
Government

Volkswagen Executive Sentenced To Maximum Prison Term For His Role In Dieselgate (arstechnica.com) 101

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Ars Technica: On Wednesday, a U.S. District judge in Detroit sentenced Oliver Schmidt, a former Volkswagen executive, to seven years in prison for his role in the Volkswagen diesel emissions scandal of 2015. Schmidt was also ordered to pay a criminal penalty of $400,000, according to a U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) press release. The prison term and the fine together represent the maximum sentence that Schmidt could have received under the plea deal he signed in August. Schmidt, a German citizen who lived in Detroit as an emissions compliance executive for VW, was arrested in Miami on vacation last January. In August, he pleaded guilty to conspiracy and to making a false statement under the Clean Air Act. Schmidt's plea deal stated that the former executive could face up to seven years in prison and between $40,000 and $400,000 in fines.

Last week, Schmidt's attorneys made a last-minute bid requesting a lighter sentence for Schmidt: 40 months of supervised release and a $100,000 fine. Schmidt also wrote a letter to the judge, which surfaced over the weekend, in which the executive said he felt "misused" by his own company and claimed that higher-ranked VW executives coached him on a script to help him lie to a California Air Resources Board (CARB) official. Instead, Schmidt was sentenced to the maximum penalties outlined in the plea deal. Only one other VW employee has been sentenced in connection with the emissions scandal: former engineer James Liang, who received 40 months in prison and two years of supervised release as the result of his plea deal. Although six other VW Group executives have been indicted, none is in U.S. custody.

Bitcoin

Cryptocurrency Miners Are Using Old Tires to Power Their Rigs (vice.com) 79

Christopher Malmo, writing for Motherboard: An entrepreneurial cryptocurrency mining company has just announced an unusual deal: it has partnered with a tire-based waste-to-energy company in the United States to power its mining computers. Standard American Mining and PRTI, a tire "thermal demanufacturing" company based in North Carolina, are powering graphics cards-based mining equipment to earn a range of alternative cryptocurrencies like Ethereum. Basically, they take used tires and heat them to a precise temperature, resulting in components like steel (from belted tires), carbon black, and a burnable fuel. That fuel is the energy source driving turbines to make electricity, which powers an onsite cryptocurrency mining farm. Taking advantage of an underutilized electricity source to run computers isn't groundbreaking, but the unusual set-up shows that cryptocurrency mining is now profitable enough to justify finding quite unconventional sources of cheap or new energy generation.
Power

Airlines Restrict 'Smart Luggage' Over Fire Hazards Posed By Batteries (npr.org) 108

An anonymous reader quotes a report from NPR: Airlines including American, Delta and Alaska have announced restrictions on so-called smart luggage because the lithium-ion batteries found in many of these suitcases pose a fire risk. "Beginning Jan. 15, customers who travel with a smart bag must be able to remove the battery in case the bag has to be checked at any point in the customer's journey. If the battery cannot be removed, the bag will not be allowed," American said in a statement on Friday. The same day, Delta and Alaska announced similar policies on their flights.

American's policy dictates that if the bag is carry-on size, passengers can take the luggage onboard, so long as the battery can be removed if needed. If passengers need to check the bag, the battery must be removed and carried onboard. But if the bag has a non-removable battery, it can't be checked or carried on. An FAA spokesman told The Washington Post that the airlines' policies are "consistent with our guidance that lithium-ion batteries should not be carried in the cargo hold."

Bitcoin

'Bitcoin Could Cost Us Our Clean-Energy Future' (grist.org) 468

An anonymous reader shares an article: Bitcoin wasn't intended to be an investment instrument. Its creators envisioned it as a replacement for money itself -- a decentralized, secure, anonymous method for transferring value between people. But what they might not have accounted for is how much of an energy suck the computer network behind bitcoin could one day become. Simply put, bitcoin is slowing the effort to achieve a rapid transition away from fossil fuels. What's more, this is just the beginning. Given its rapidly growing climate footprint, bitcoin is a malignant development, and it's getting worse. Digital financial transactions come with a real-world price: The tremendous growth of cryptocurrencies has created an exponential demand for computing power. As bitcoin grows, the math problems computers must solve to make more bitcoin (a process called "mining") get more and more difficult -- a wrinkle designed to control the currency's supply. Today, each bitcoin transaction requires the same amount of energy used to power nine homes in the U.S. for one day. And miners are constantly installing more and faster computers. Already, the aggregate computing power of the bitcoin network is nearly 100,000 times larger than the world's 500 fastest supercomputers combined. The total energy use of this web of hardware is huge -- an estimated 31 terawatt-hours per year. More than 150 individual countries in the world consume less energy annually. And that power-hungry network is currently increasing its energy use every day by about 450 gigawatt-hours, roughly the same amount of electricity the entire country of Haiti uses in a year.
Encryption

US Says It Doesn't Need a Court Order To Ask Tech Companies To Build Encryption Backdoors (gizmodo.com) 249

schwit1 shares a report from Gizmodo: According to statements from July released this weekend, intelligence officials told members of the Senate Intelligence Committee that there's no need for them to approach courts before requesting a tech company help willfully -- though they can always resort to obtaining a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court order if the company refuses. The documents show officials testified they had never needed to obtain such an FISC order, though they declined to tell the committee whether they had "ever asked a company to add an encryption backdoor," per ZDNet. Other reporting has suggested the FISC has the power to authorize government personnel to compel such technical assistance without even notifying the FISC of what exactly is required. Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act gives authorities additional powers to compel service providers to build backdoors into their products.
Android

Qualcomm Announces Latest Snapdragon 845 Processor (9to5google.com) 38

The processor to power the next generation of Android flagship smartphones has been announced today. Qualcomm unveiled the new Snapdragon 845 processor at the 2017 Snapdragon Tech Summit, where Microsoft announced it was working with its PC partners to bring Windows 10 to Qualcomm's ARM processors. While more technical details of the chip will be announced tomorrow, we do know that the Snapdragon 845 processor is based on a 10nm processor and will feature the latest X20 LTE modem for gigabit connectivity speeds. Generally speaking, the new processor will bring improved performance, better power efficiency, and improved image processing.

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