Businesses

Former CenturyLink Employee Accuses Company of Running a Wells Fargo-Like Scheme (bloomberg.com) 61

A former CenturyLink employee has filed a lawsuit this week claiming she was fired for "blowing the whistle on the telecommunications company's high-pressure sales culture that left customers paying millions of dollars for accounts they didn't request," reports Bloomberg. From the report: The plaintiff, Heidi Heiser, worked from her home for CenturyLink as a customer service and sales agent from August 2015 to October 2016. The suit claims she was fired days after notifying Chief Executive Officer Glen Post of the alleged scheme during a companywide question-and-answer session held on an internal message board. The complaint alleges CenturyLink "allowed persons who had a personal incentive to add services or lines to customer accounts to falsely indicate on the CenturyLink system the approval by a customer of new lines or services." This would sometimes result in charges that hadn't been authorized by customers, according to the complaint. Heiser's complaint alleges that she became increasingly concerned about what she observed at CenturyLink after news of Wells Fargo & Co.'s regulatory troubles broke in September. In that case, Wells Fargo employees opened deposit and credit card accounts without customers' consent to earn incentives and meet sales goals. Without admitting wrongdoing, Wells Fargo ended up firing more than 5,000 employees and agreeing to pay $185 million in fines, in addition to compensating customers for fees related to the unauthorized accounts. The complaint likens what Heiser said CenturyLink sales agents did to the Wells Fargo scandal and estimated the alleged unauthorized fees amounted to "many millions" of dollars. She says her concerns were bolstered by posts she had read on review websites.
Piracy

Alleged KickassTorrents Owner Considers 'Voluntary Surrender' To the US (torrentfreak.com) 59

An anonymous reader quotes a report from TorrentFreak: Earlier this year a Polish court ruled that Artem Vaulin, the alleged owner of the defunct torrent site KickassTorrents, can be extradited to the United States. The decision came as a disappointment to the defense team, which quickly announced an appeal. Vaulin has since been released on bail and currently resides in a Warsaw apartment. His release has made it easier to communicate with his attorneys in the United States, who have started negotiations with the U.S. Government. While the extradition appeal is still ongoing, it now appears that under the right conditions Vaulin might consider traveling to the United States voluntarily, so he can "resolve" the pending charges. This is what the defense team states in a motion for a status conference (pdf), which was submitted earlier this week.
Earth

Coal Market Set To Collapse Worldwide By 2040 As Solar, Wind Dominate (bloomberg.com) 375

Jess Shankleman reports via Bloomberg: Solar power, once so costly it only made economic sense in spaceships, is becoming cheap enough that it will push coal and even natural-gas plants out of business faster than previously forecast. That's the conclusion of a Bloomberg New Energy Finance outlook for how fuel and electricity markets will evolve by 2040. The research group estimated solar already rivals the cost of new coal power plants in Germany and the U.S. and by 2021 will do so in quick-growing markets such as China and India. The scenario suggests green energy is taking root more quickly than most experts anticipate. It would mean that global carbon dioxide pollution from fossil fuels may decline after 2026, a contrast with the International Energy Agency's central forecast, which sees emissions rising steadily for decades to come.

The report also found that through 2040:
-China and India represent the biggest markets for new power generation, drawing $4 trillion, or about 39 percent all investment in the industry.
-The cost of offshore wind farms, until recently the most expensive mainstream renewable technology, will slide 71 percent, making turbines based at sea another competitive form of generation.
-At least $239 billion will be invested in lithium-ion batteries, making energy storage devices a practical way to keep homes and power grids supplied efficiently and spreading the use of electric cars.
-Natural gas will reap $804 billion, bringing 16 percent more generation capacity and making the fuel central to balancing a grid that's increasingly dependent on power flowing from intermittent sources, like wind and solar.

Australia

Movie Piracy Cost Australian Network 'Hundreds of Millions of Dollars' (theaustralian.com.au) 119

Film television piracy and illegal downloads are partly to blame for Australian broadcaster Ten Network's woes, according to Village Roadshow co-chief executive Graham Burke. From a report: He said piracy had cost Ten "hundreds of millions of dollars" in potential advertising revenue because of lower ratings resulting from pirated versions of films supplied by 21st Century Fox under an onerous output deal with the Hollywood studio. He said copies of Fox's Leonardo DiCaprio movie The Revenant and The Peanuts Movie were stolen last year and shared illegally via a piracy website. "Piracy is a much bigger channel and an illicit economy than the three main commercial networks combined. It is ripping off viewers from legitimate, taxpaying enterprises," Mr Burke said. "The product that Ten is buying from 21st Century Fox and is now arriving have been pirated out of sight."
Earth

Life On Mars: Elon Musk Reveals Details of His Colonisation Vision 229

Elon Musk has put his Mars-colonization vision to paper, and you can read it for free. SpaceX's billionaire founder and CEO published the plan, which he unveiled at a conference in Mexico in September 2016, in the journal New Space. From a report: The paper outlines early designs of the gigantic spacecraft, designed to carry 100 passengers, that he hopes to construct. "The thrust level is enormous," the paper states. "We are talking about a lift-off thrust of 13,000 tons, so it will be quite tectonic when it takes off." Creating a fully self-sustained civilisation of around one million people -- the ultimate goal -- would take 40-100 years according to the plans. Before full colonisation takes place, though, Musk needs to entice the first pioneers to pave the way.
Businesses

Amazon Says It Won't Replace Whole Foods Cashiers With Computers... Yet (cnbc.com) 109

An anonymous reader shares a report: Amazon said it has no current plans to automate the jobs of cashiers in Whole Foods stores after it finishes acquiring the grocery chain. It also isn't planning any layoffs, according to a spokesperson. There is some speculation, however, that Amazon may change its plans and use new technology inside of Whole Foods locations. Commenting on Amazon's announcement from earlier today, LinkedIn CEO Jeff Weiner said, "Only one company on earth can buy grocery chain, be rumored to buy enterprise software company & in both cases be lauded for strategic vision."
Government

Putin Claims Russia Proposed a Cyber War Treaty In 2015 But the Obama Admin Ignored Them (qz.com) 193

An anonymous reader writes: Russian president Vladimir Putin (who denies any Russian part in the hacking) claims the Obama administration ignored a proposal in 2015 that might have avoided all of this. His administration suggested working out a cyber treaty with the US but was ignored by Obama officials, Putin told film director Oliver Stone in Showtime's four-part series broadcast this week. "A year and a half ago, in fall 2015, we made proposal to our American partners that we work through these issues and conclude a treaty on the rules of behavior in this sphere," he said in Stone's documentary The Putin Interviews. "The American side was silent, they didn't reply to us."
Education

Mathematical Biology Is Our Secret Weapon In the Fight Against Disease (scientificamerican.com) 57

An anonymous reader shares excerpts from a Scientific American article: In recent years, increasingly detailed experimental procedures have lead to a huge influx in the biological data available to scientists. This data is being used to generate hypotheses about the complexity of previously abstruse biological systems. In order to test these hypotheses, they must be written down in the form of a model which can be interrogated to determine whether it correctly mimics the biological observations. Mathematics is the natural language in which to do this. In addition, the advent of, and subsequent increase in, computational ability over the last 60 years has enabled us to suggest and then interrogate complex mathematical models of biological systems. The realisation that biological systems can be treated mathematically, coupled with the computational ability to build and investigate detailed biological models, has led to the dramatic increase in the popularity of mathematical biology. Maths has become a vital weapon in the scientific armoury we have to tackle some of the most pressing questions in medical, biological and ecological science in the 21st century. By describing biological systems mathematically and then using the resulting models, we can gain insights that are impossible to access though experiments and verbal reasoning alone. Mathematical biology is incredibly important if we want to change biology from a descriptive into a predictive science -- giving us power, for example, to avert pandemics or to alter the effects of debilitating diseases.
Google

EU Poised To Fine Google More Than $1 Billion in Antitrust Case (marketwatch.com) 102

Google is braced for a fine of potentially more than 1bn euro ($1.18 billion) as Brussels prepares to make the first of three antitrust decisions on the search group's practices, the first sanction by a leading competition regulator on the way it operates. From a report: The penalty, expected to be announced in the coming weeks, could exceed the record 1.1 billion euro bill slapped on Intel, in 2009 for anti-competitive behavior in the computer-chip market, the two people told The Times. The European Commission's antitrust body declined to comment to MarketWatch on the FT report, but referred to the latest steps taken in the case against Google. In July last year, the commission reiterated its conclusion that the search giant had "abused its dominant position by systematically favoring its comparison shopping service in its search result pages." Google and its parent company Alphabet were then given 10 weeks to respond to the findings. Reuters reported last month that Google had attempted to settle the dispute with the EU three times in the last six years, but the sides had failed to reach a compromise.
Businesses

Amazon To Buy Whole Foods Market For $13.7 Billion (usatoday.com) 198

Amazon said Friday it would buy Whole Foods Market for $13.7 billion as the giant internet retailer makes a deeper push into the grocery space. From a report: Amazon has dabbled in brick-and-mortar operations, experimenting with a bookstore that opened in New York last month and plans to open "no-checkout" convenience stores. But the Whole Foods acquisition represents a dramatic departure from its early business model founded on online retailing and related technology. Grocery retail is a notoriously thin-profit-margin business. And Whole Foods -- often derided as "Whole Paycheck" -- has struggled in recent years to keep up with emerging competitors that are expanding nationwide with cheaper items. Traditional grocery stores have also widened their organic food selections in hopes of retaining customers who are increasingly looking to eat healthily.
Space

New Evidence That All Stars Are Born In Pairs (phys.org) 90

InfiniteZero shares a report from Phys.Org: Did our sun have a twin when it was born 4.5 billion years ago? Almost certainly yes -- though not an identical twin. And so did every other sun-like star in the universe, according to a new analysis by a theoretical physicist from UC Berkeley and a radio astronomer from the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory at Harvard University. The new assertion is based on a radio survey of a giant molecular cloud filled with recently formed stars in the constellation Perseus, and a mathematical model that can explain the Perseus observations only if all sunlike stars are born with a companion. "We ran a series of statistical models to see if we could account for the relative populations of young single stars and binaries of all separations in the Perseus molecular cloud, and the only model that could reproduce the data was one in which all stars form initially as wide (more than 500 astronomical units) binaries," said co-author Steven Stahler, a UC Berkeley research astronomer. "These systems then either shrink or break apart within a million years." The study has been published in April on the arXiv server.

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