Windows

E-Waste Innovator Will Go To Jail For Making Windows Restore Disks That Only Worked With Valid Licenses (gizmodo.com) 366

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Washington Post: California man Eric Lundgren, an electronic waste entrepreneur who produced tens of thousands of Windows restore disks intended to extend the lifespan of aging computers, lost a federal appeals court case in Miami after it ruled "he had infringed Microsoft's products to the tune of $700,000," the Washington Post reported on Tuesday. Per the Post, the appeals court ruled Lundgren's original sentence of 15 months in prison and a $50,000 fine would stay, despite the software being freely available online and only compatible with valid Windows licenses: "The appeals court upheld a federal district judge's ruling that the disks made by Eric Lundgren to restore Microsoft operating systems had a value of $25 apiece, even though they could be downloaded free and could be used only on computers with a valid Microsoft license. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit initially granted Lundgren an emergency stay of his prison sentence, shortly before he was to surrender, but then affirmed his original 15-month sentence and $50,000 fine without hearing oral argument in a ruling issued April 11." All told, the court valued 28,000 restore disks he produced at $700,000, despite testimony from software expert Glenn Weadock that they were worth essentially zero.
Robotics

A Study Finds Half of Jobs Are Vulnerable To Automation (economist.com) 188

The Economist reports of a new working paper by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) that assesses the automatability of each task within a given job, based on a survey of skills in 2015. "Overall, the study finds that 14% of jobs across 32 countries are highly vulnerable, defined as having at least a 70% chance of automation," reports Economist. "A further 32% were slightly less imperiled, with a probability between 50% and 70%. At current employment rates, that puts 210 million jobs at risk across the 32 countries in the study." From the report: The pain will not be shared evenly. The study finds large variation across countries: jobs in Slovakia are twice as vulnerable as those in Norway. In general, workers in rich countries appear less at risk than those in middle-income ones. But wide gaps exist even between countries of similar wealth. Differences in organizational structure and industry mix both play a role, but the former matters more. In South Korea, for example, 30% of jobs are in manufacturing, compared with 22% in Canada. Nonetheless, on average, Korean jobs are harder to automate than Canadian ones are. This may be because Korean employers have found better ways to combine, in the same job, and without reducing productivity, both routine tasks and social and creative ones, which computers or robots cannot do. A gloomier explanation would be "survivor bias": the jobs that remain in Korea appear harder to automate only because Korean firms have already handed most of the easily automatable jobs to machines.
Power

Electric Buses Are Hurting the Oil Industry (bloomberg.com) 272

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Bloomberg: Electric buses were seen as a joke at an industry conference in Belgium seven years ago when the Chinese manufacturer BYD showed an early model. Suddenly, buses with battery-powered motors are a serious matter with the potential to revolutionize city transport -- and add to the forces reshaping the energy industry. With China leading the way, making the traditional smog-belching diesel behemoth run on electricity is starting to eat away at fossil fuel demand. The numbers are staggering. China had about 99 percent of the 385,000 electric buses on the roads worldwide in 2017, accounting for 17 percent of the country's entire fleet. Every five weeks, Chinese cities add 9,500 of the zero-emissions transporters -- the equivalent of London's entire working fleet, according Bloomberg New Energy Finance. All this is starting to make an observable reduction in fuel demand. And because they consume 30 times more fuel than average sized cars, their impact on energy use so far has become much greater than the than the passenger sedans produced companies from Tesla to Toyota. For every 1,000 battery-powered buses on the road, about 500 barrels a day of diesel fuel will be displaced from the market, according to BNEF calculations. This year, the volume of fuel buses take off the market may rise 37 percent to 279,000 barrels a day, about as much oil as Greece consumes, according to BNEF.
Data Storage

Samsung Announces 970 PRO and 970 EVO NVMe SSDs (anandtech.com) 49

hyperclocker shares a report from AnandTech: Samsung has announced the third generation of their high-end consumer NVMe SSDs. The new 970 PRO and 970 EVO M.2 NVMe SSDs use a newer controller and Samsung's latest 64-layer 3D NAND flash memory. The outgoing 960 PRO and 960 EVO were first announced in September 2016 and shipped that fall, so they have had a fairly long run as Samsung's flagship consumer SSDs. Compared to its predecessor, the 970 EVO promises a small improvement in sequential read speed, and a more substantial boost to sequential write speed for all but the smallest 250GB model. Peak random access performance is also substantially improved, but again the 250GB model gets left out, and is actually rated as slower than the 960 EVO 250GB. The warranty on the EVO has been extended from three years to five years, and the write endurance ratings have been increased by 50% to retain almost the same drive writes per day rating.

The 970 PRO's performance specs aren't too different from the 970 EVO. Many of the ratings are the same, and the ones that differ are mostly better by just 3-11% for the PRO. There are just two major exceptions to this. First, the PRO doesn't rely on SLC write caching so it can maintain its write speed far longer than the EVO. Second, the rated write endurance of the 970 PRO is twice that of the EVO, going from just over 0.3 Drive Writes Per Day to 0.6 DWPD. Neither of these are an important factor for ordinary consumer use cases, but they help the 970 PRO retain some shine as a premium product.

Social Networks

Instagram Launches 'Data Download' Tool To Let You Leave (techcrunch.com) 15

An anonymous reader quotes a report from TechCrunch: Two weeks ago TechCrunch called on Instagram to build an equivalent to Facebook's "Download Your Information" feature so if you wanted to leave for another photo sharing network, you could. The next day it announced this tool would be coming and now TechCrunch has spotted it rolling out to users. Instagram's "Data Download" feature can be accessed here or through the app's privacy settings. It lets users export their photos, videos, archived Stories, profile, info, comments, and non-ephemeral messages, though it can take a few hours to days for your download to be ready. An Instagram spokesperson now confirms to TechCrunch that "the Data Download tool is currently accessible to everyone on the web, but access via iOS and Android is still rolling out." We'll have more details on exactly what's inside once my download is ready.
Youtube

YouTube Says Computers Helped It Pull Down Millions of Objectionable Videos Last Quarter (recode.net) 144

YouTube says it has successfully trained computers to flag objectionable videos. In the last quarter of 2017, the company reportedly pulled down more than six million of these videos before any users saw them. The news comes from a brief aside in Google CEO Sundar Pichai's scripted remarks during parent company Alphabet's earnings call today. "He said YouTube had pulled down more than six million videos in the last quarter of 2017 after first being flagged by its 'machine systems,' and that 75 percent of those videos 'were removed before receiving a single view,'" reports Recode.
Cellphones

Surface Phone Speculation Spurred By New Phone APIs In Windows (arstechnica.com) 75

Microsoft has been rumored to be working on a "Surface Phone" for years now, with little concrete evidence that such a device actually exists. "But the latest Windows 10 Insider Preview has given new fuel for the speculative fire, it has a set of new APIs for cellular phones," reports Ars Technica. From the report: Windows has had integrated support for cell modems since Windows 8, but this has been restricted to supporting data connections. Telephony -- dialing numbers, placing calls -- has always required either Windows Phone or Windows 10 Mobile. This has made the full Windows 10 unsuitable for a phone. That may be changing. Windows 10 build 17650 -- a preview of Redstone 5, the next Windows update after the delayed April update -- includes some telephony APIs. The new APIs cover support for a range of typical phone features: dialing numbers and contacts, blocking withheld numbers, support for Bluetooth headsets and spearphone mode, and so on and so forth. There also looks to be some kind of video-calling support, suggesting support for 3G or LTE video calling.
Businesses

Amazon Has a Top-Secret Plan to Build Home Robots (bloomberg.com) 91

After making smart speakers a household product (at least to some), Amazon seems to have found its next big consumer product: robots. Amazon is building smart robots that are equipped with cameras that let them drive around homes, Bloomberg reported Monday. These robots could launch as soon as next year. From the report: Codenamed "Vesta," after the Roman goddess of the hearth, home and family, the project is overseen by Gregg Zehr, who runs Amazon's Lab126 hardware research and development division based in Sunnyvale, California. Lab126 is responsible for Amazon devices such as the Echo speakers, Fire TV set-top-boxes, Fire tablets and the ill-fated Fire Phone.

The Vesta project originated a few years ago, but this year Amazon began to aggressively ramp up hiring. There are dozens of listings on the Lab 126 Jobs page for openings like "Software Engineer, Robotics" and "Principle Sensors Engineer." People briefed on the plan say the company hopes to begin seeding the robots in employees' homes by the end of this year, and potentially with consumers as early as 2019, though the timeline could change, and Amazon hardware projects are sometimes killed during gestation.

Displays

Are Widescreen Laptops Dumb? (theverge.com) 404

"After years of phones, laptops, tablets, and TV screens converging on 16:9 as the 'right' display shape -- allowing video playback without distracting black bars -- smartphones have disturbed the universality recently by moving to even more elongated formats like 18:9, 19:9, or even 19.5:9 in the iPhone X's case," writes Amelia Holowaty Krales via The Verge. "That's prompted me to consider where else the default widescreen proportions might be a poor fit, and I've realized that laptops are the worst offenders." Krales makes the case for why a 16:9 screen of 13 to 15 inches in size is a poor fit: Practically every interface in Apple's macOS, Microsoft's Windows, and on the web is designed by stacking user controls in a vertical hierarchy. At the top of every MacBook, there's a menu bar. At the bottom, by default, is the Dock for launching your most-used apps. On Windows, you have the taskbar serving a similar purpose -- and though it may be moved around the screen like Apple's Dock, it's most commonly kept as a sliver traversing the bottom of the display. Every window in these operating systems has chrome -- the extra buttons and indicator bars that allow you to close, reshape, or move a window around -- and the components of that chrome are usually attached at the top and bottom. Look at your favorite website (hopefully this one) on the internet, and you'll again see a vertical structure.

As if all that wasn't enough, there's also the matter of tabs. Tabs are a couple of decades old now, and, like much of the rest of the desktop and web environment, they were initially thought up in an age where the predominant computer displays were close to square with a 4:3 aspect ratio. That's to say, most computer screens were the shape of an iPad when many of today's most common interface and design elements were being developed. As much of a chrome minimalist as I try to be, I still can't extricate myself from needing a menu bar in my OS and tab and address bars inside my browser. I'm still learning to live without a bookmarks bar. With all of these horizontal bars invading our vertical space, a 16:9 screen quickly starts to feel cramped, especially at the typical laptop size. You wind up spending more time scrolling through content than engaging with it.
What is your preferred aspect ratio for a laptop? Do you prefer Microsoft and Google's machines that have a squarer 3:2 aspect ratio, or Apple's MacBook Pro that has a 16:10 display?
Power

Tesla Batteries Retain Over 90 Percent Charging Power After 160,000 Miles, Survey Finds (engadget.com) 186

According to a survey of over 350 Tesla owners, Tesla batteries retain over 90 percent of their charging power after 160,000 miles. The EVs dropped only 5 percent of their capacity after 50,000 miles, but lose it at a much slower rate after that. Most Tesla vehicles will have over 90 percent of their charging power after around 185,000 miles, and 80 percent capacity after 500,000. Engadget reports: Tesla has no battery degradation warranty on its Model S and X luxury EVs, but guarantees that the Model 3 will retain 70 percent battery capacity after 120,000 miles (long-range battery) and 100,000 miles (shorter-range battery). That's a bit more generous than the one Nissan offers on the Leaf (66 percent over 100,000 miles) for instance. According to the survey data, Tesla will easily be able to meet this mark.
Power

White House Reportedly Exploring Wartime Rule To Help Coal, Nuclear (arstechnica.com) 306

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Ars Technica: According to reports from Bloomberg and E&E News, the Trump Administration has been exploring another way to help coal and nuclear generators: the Defense Production Act of 1950. The Act was passed under President Truman. Motivated by the Korean War, it allows the president broad authority to boost U.S. industries that are considered a priority for national security. On Thursday, E&E News cited sources that said "an interagency process is underway" at the White House to examine possible application of the act to the energy industry. The goal would be to give some form of preference to coal and nuclear plants that are struggling to compete with cheap natural gas.

If the DOE decides not to invoke Section 202(c), the president may turn to the Defense Production Act. According to a 2014 summary report (PDF) from the Congressional Research Service (CRS), the act would allow the president to "demand priority for defense-related products," "provide incentives to develop, modernize, and expand defense productive capacity," and establish "a voluntary reserve of trained private sector executives available for emergency federal employment," among other powers. (Some even more permissive applications of the Act were terminated in 1957.) Using the Act to protect coal and nuclear facilities would almost certainly be more controversial, as the link between national defense and keeping uneconomic coal generators running is not well-established.
The Administration could apply the Act to "provide or guarantee loans to industry" for material-specific deliveries and production. "The president may also authorize the purchase of 'industrial items or technologies for installation in government or private industrial facilities,'" reports Ars.
Intel

Intel Is Giving Up On Its Smart Glasses (theverge.com) 41

Intel is planning to shut down the New Devices Group (NDG), and cease development on the Vaunt smart glasses project that was revealed earlier this year. The glasses are unique in that they use retinal projection to put a display in your eyeball. "There is no camera to creep people out, no button to push, no gesture area to swipe, no glowing LCD screen, no weird arm floating in front of the lens, no speaker, and no microphone," reports The Verge.

Intel issued a statement announcing the plans: "Intel is continuously working on new technologies and experiences. Not all of these develop into a product we choose to take to market. The Superlight [the codename for Vaunt] project is a great example where Intel developed truly differentiated, consumer augmented reality glasses. We are going to take a disciplined approach as we keep inventing and exploring new technologies, which will sometimes require tough choices when market dynamics don't support further investment." From the report: It was always unclear how precisely Intel intended to bring the Vaunt glasses to market, though sources indicated that Intel wanted to find a partner with retail expertise to partner with. Jerry Bautista, the lead for Vaunt, told me back in December that Intel was "working with key ecosystem hardware providers -- whether they're frames or lenses and things like that. Because we believe there's a whole channel to people who wear glasses that's already there." The story was first reported by The Information.
Power

Can Tesla's Batteries Power Puerto Rico? (electrek.co) 87

An anonymous reader quotes Electrek: Almost 1 million ratepayers of the Puerto Rican Electric Power Authority on the island of Puerto Rico were reportedly without power Wednesday during an island-wide blackout. But a few hundred locations with Tesla Energy storage systems were able to keep the lights on, according to CEO Elon Musk... Some of those locations include very critical services. For example, Tesla deployed a series of Powerpack systems on the Puerto Rican islands of Vieques and Culebra for a sanitary sewer treatment plant, the Arcadia water pumping station, the Ciudad Dorada elderly community, the Susan Centeno hospital, and the Boys and Girls Club of Vieques. Furthermore, the automaker's energy division also deployed a solar+battery system at a hospital in Puerto Rico...

It was also reported that the Puerto Rican government was considering Tesla's plan for a series of microgrids to help bring back power on a larger scale. The government has confirmed that they "presented several projects in remote areas that would allow entire communities to be more independent" and they also "presented a proposal to the Authority for Public-Private Partnerships for the deployment of a large-scale battery system designed to help stabilize the entire Puerto Rico electricity network."

The proposal, involving de-centralized local solar farms, "should prove more resilient to natural disaster," Electrek reported earlier, adding " and of course, it would be a lot cleaner than their currently mostly fossil fuel-based power generation." Already Tesla batteries are "live and delivering power" at 662 locations, Elon Musk tweeted Wednesday.

Meanwhile, CNN reports that one Puerto Rico resident spent three weeks building his own solar power system using $7,500 in parts -- which will ultimately prove cheaper than the $350 a month he was spending to run a gas generator (and waiting as long as six hours in the long gas lines).

They're not revealing his name "because he's concerned someone may try to steal his new system."
Iphone

New iPhone SE Could Launch In May With Touch ID and A10 Fusion, Without 3.5mm Headphone Jack (macrumors.com) 127

Mac Rumors reports, citing Japanese website Mac Otakara, that Apple will release an updated iPhone SE next month with a similar form factor as the previous model. It is expected to retain Touch ID, but will drop the 3.5mm headphone jack. From the report: Also like the iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus, the new iPhone SE will supposedly be powered by Apple's last-generation A10 Fusion chip, up to 40 percent faster than the A9 processor in the current iPhone SE. The chip will likely enable support for the HEIF image format and HEVC video compression standard. The report speculates that the new iPhone SE may have a glass back with wireless charging capabilities, like the iPhone 8, iPhone 8 Plus, and iPhone X, but evidence is said to be inconclusive at this time.
AMD

AMD Wants To Hear From GPU Resellers and Partners Bullied By Nvidia (forbes.com) 125

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Forbes: Nvidia may not be talking about its GeForce Partner Program, but AMD has gone from silent to proactive in less than 24 hours. Hours ago Scott Herkelman, Corporate VP and General Manager of AMD Radeon Gaming, addressed AMD resellers via Twitter, not only acknowledging the anti-competitive tactics Nvidia has leveraged against them, but inviting others to share their stories. The series of tweets coincides with an AMD sales event held in London this week. This was preceded by an impassioned blog post from Herkelman yesterday where he comes out swinging against Nvidia's GeForce Partner Program, and references other closed, proprietary technologies like G-Sync and GameWorks.

AMD's new mantra is "Freedom of Choice," a tagline clearly chosen to combat Nvidia's new program which is slowly taking gaming GPU brands from companies like MSI and Gigabyte, and locking them exclusively under the GeForce banner. The GeForce Partner Program also seems to threaten the business of board partners who are are not aligned with the program. Here's what Herkelman -- who was a former GeForce marketing executive at Nvidia -- had to say on Twitter: "I wanted to personally thank all of our resellers who are attending our AMD sales event in London this week, it was a pleasure catching up with you and thank you for your support. Many of you told me how our competition tries to use funding and allocation to restrict or block [...] your ability to market and sell Radeon based products in the manner you and your customers desire. I want to let you know that your voices have been heard and that I welcome any others who have encountered similar experiences to reach out to me..."
The report adds that Kyle Bennett of HardOCP, the author who broke the original GPP story, "says that Nvidia is beginning a disinformation campaign against him, claiming that he was paid handsomely for publishing the story."
AI

AI Will Wipe Out Half the Banking Jobs In a Decade, Experts Say 111

Experts in the industry say that current advances in artificial intelligence and automation could replace as many as half the nation's financial services workers over the next decade, though it will take a big investment to make that happen. The Mercury News reports: "Unless banks deal with the performance issues that AI will cause for ultra-large databases, they will not be able to take the money gained by eliminating positions and spend it on the new services and products they will need in order to stay competitive," James D'Arezzo, CEO of Glendale-based Condusiv Technologies, said. Intensive hardware upgrades are often cited as an answer to the problem, but D'Arezzo said that's prohibitively expensive.

Speaking to an audience last year in Frankfurt, Germany, Deutsche Bank CEO John Cryan predicted a "bonfire" of industry jobs as automation moves forward. "In our bank we have people doing work like robots," he said. "Tomorrow we will have robots behaving like people. It doesn't matter if we as a bank will participate in these changes or not, it is going to happen." Increased processing power, cloud storage and other developments are making many tasks possible that once were considered too complex for automation, according to Cryan. D'Arezzo, whose company works to improve existing software performance, said the financial industry is being swamped by "a tsunami of data," including new compliance requirements for customer privacy and constantly changing bank regulations.
Bhagwan Chowdhry, a professor of finance and economics at the UCLA Anderson School of Management, offers a less bleak view of the future. "Technology will eliminate some jobs that are repetitive and require less human judgment," he said, "But I think they will get replaced by other jobs that humans are better at. Anything that requires judgment is something humans will continue to do. We are not good at multiplying 16-digit numbers, but we're good at judging people and detecting if someone is telling the truth."
Data Storage

Loud Sound From Fire Alarm System Shuts Down Nasdaq's Scandinavian Data Center (bleepingcomputer.com) 114

Catalin Cimpanu, writing for BleepingComputer: A loud sound emitted by a fire alarm system has destroyed the hard drives of a Swedish data center, downing Nasdaq operations across Northern Europe. The incident took place in the early hours of Wednesday, April 19, and was caused by a gas-based fire alarm system that are typically deployed in data centers because of their ability to put out fires without destroying non-burnt equipment. These systems work by releasing inert gas at high speeds, a mechanism usually accompanied by a loud whistle-like sound. With non-calibrated systems, this sound can get very loud, a big no-no in data centers, where loud sounds are known to affect performance, shut down, or even destroy hard drives.
Android

ZTE Exports Ban May Mean No Google Apps, a Death Sentence For Its Smartphones (arstechnica.com) 139

New submitter krazy1 shares a report from Ars Technica: The U.S. government is going after another Chinese Android device maker. After shutting down Huawei's carrier deals and retail partners, the government is now pursuing ZTE. The U.S. Department of Commerce has banned U.S. companies from selling parts and software to ZTE for seven years. ZTE was caught violating U.S. sanctions by illegally shipping telecommunications equipment to Iran and North Korea. The company then made things worse by "making false statements and obstructing justice, including through preventing disclosure to and affirmatively misleading the U.S. Government," according to the Department of Commerce.

The latest news from Reuters raises even bigger issues for ZTE, though. A source told Reuters that "The Commerce Department decision means ZTE Corp may not be able to use Google's Android operating system in its mobile devices." Android is free and open source and will probably remain free for ZTE to use without Google's involvement. Reuters' source is probably referring to the Google apps, which aren't sold to device makers but are carefully licensed to them in exchange for other concessions. The Google apps package includes popular services like Gmail and Google Maps, and it also unlocks the Play Store, Google Play Services, and the entire Android app ecosystem. For a market-viable Android device, the Play Store is pretty much mandatory in every country other than China. So while ZTE could conceivably source hardware components from non-U.S. sources, being locked out of the Play Store would devastate ZTE's smartphones worldwide.

AMD

AMD 2nd Gen Ryzen Processors Launched and Benchmarked (hothardware.com) 106

MojoKid writes: AMD launched its 2nd Generation Ryzen processors today, based on a refined update to the company's Zen architecture, dubbed Zen+. The chips offer higher clocks, lower latencies, and a more intelligent Precision Boost 2 algorithm that improves performance, system responsiveness, and power efficiency characteristics. These new CPUs still leverage the existing AM4 infrastructure and are compatible with the same socket, chipsets, and motherboards as AMD's first-generation products, with a BIOS/UEFI update.

There are four processors arriving today, AMD's Ryzen 7 2700X, the Ryzen 7 2700, the Ryzen 5 2600X, and the Ryzen 5 2600. Ryzen 7 chips are still 8-core CPUs with 20MB of cache but now top out at 4.3GHz, while Ryzen 5 chips offer 6 cores with 19MB of cache and peak at 4.2GHz. AMD claims 2nd Gen Ryzen processors offer reductions in L1, L2, and L3 cache latencies of approximately 13%, 34%, and 16%, respectively. Memory latency is reportedly reduced by about 11% and all of those improvements result in an approximate 3% increase in IPC (instructions per clock). The processors now also have official support for faster DDR4-2933 memory as well. In the benchmarks, 2nd Gen Ryzen CPUs outpaced AMD's first gen chips across the board with better single and multithreaded performance, closing the gap even further versus Intel, often with better or similar performance at lower price points. AMD 2nd Gen Ryzen processors, and new X470 chipset motherboards that support them, are available starting today and the CPUs range from $199 to $299.

Robotics

Apple Has a New iPhone Recycling Robot Named 'Daisy' (techcrunch.com) 39

Apple has unveiled a new robot called Daisy that's designed to recycle nine different versions of the iPhone. The new robot is an update to Liam, the recycling robot the company announced back in 2016. TechCrunch reports: Daisy was developed in-house by Apple engineers, using some of Liam's parts -- a recycling of sorts. The industrial robot is able to disassemble nine different versions of the iPhone, sorting all of their reusable components in the process. In all, Daisy is capable of taking apart a full 200 iPhones in a given hour, proving a solid alternative to traditional methods that can destroy valuable components in the process. Along with Daisy, Apple's also using the occasion to announce GiveBack, an addition to its recycling program. For every device customers turn in or trade from now until April 30, the company will make a donation to Conservation International, a Virginia-based environmental nonprofit. Eligible devices will still qualify for an in-store or gift card credit.

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