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Technology

Fake Apple Chargers Fail Safety Tests (bbc.com) 90

Investigators have warned consumers they face potentially fatal risks after 99% of fake Apple chargers failed a basic safety test. From a report on BBC: Trading Standards, which commissioned the checks, said counterfeit electrical goods bought online were an "unknown entity." Of 400 counterfeit chargers, only three were found to have enough insulation to protect against electric shocks. It comes as Apple has complained of a "flood" of fakes being sold on Amazon. Apple revealed in October that it was suing a third-party vendor, which it said was putting customers "at risk" by selling power adapters masquerading as those sold by the Californian tech firm.
IBM

Erich Bloch, Who Helped Develop IBM Mainframe, Dies At 91 (google.com) 26

shadowknot writes: The New York Times is reporting (Warning: may be paywalled; alternate source) that Erich Bloch who helped to develop the IBM Mainframe has died at the age of 91 as a result of complications from Alzheimer's disease. From the article: "In the 1950s, he developed the first ferrite-core memory storage units to be used in computers commercially and worked on the IBM 7030, known as Stretch, the first transistorized supercomputer. 'Asked what job each of us had, my answer was very simple and very direct,' Mr. Bloch said in 2002. 'Getting that sucker working.' Mr. Bloch's role was to oversee the development of Solid Logic Technology -- half-inch ceramic modules for the microelectronic circuitry that provided the System/360 with superior power, speed and memory, all of which would become fundamental to computing."
United States

Trump Will Get Power To Send Unblockable Mass Text Messages To All Americans (nymag.com) 547

President-elect Donald Trump will have access to a system which can send unblockable texts to every phone in the United States once he becomes the president. From a report on NYMag: These 90-character messages, known as Wireless Emergency Alerts (or WEAs), are part of a program put in place after Congress passed the Warning, Alert, and Response Network (WARN) Act, in 2006. WEAs allow for targeted messages to be sent to every cell phone getting a signal from certain geographically relevant cell towers (or, in a national emergency, all of them). While it'd be a true nightmare to get screeching alerts from your phone that "Loser Senate Democrats still won't confirm great man Peter Thiel to Supreme Court. Sad!", there are some checks and balances on this. While President-elect Trump hasn't shown much impulse control when it comes to his favorite mass-messaging service, Twitter, the process for issuing a WEA isn't as simple as typing out a 90-character alert from a presidential smartphone and hitting "Send." All WEAs must be issued through FEMA's Integrated Public Alert Warning System, meaning that an emergency alert from the president still has at least one layer to pass through before being issued. While FEMA is under control of the executive branch (the head of FEMA is selected by the president, and reports to the Department of Homeland Security), the agency would have a vested interest in not seeing their alert system bent toward, uh, non-emergency ends.
Earth

India Unveils the World's Largest Solar Power Plant (aljazeera.com) 174

Kamuthi in Tamil Nadu, India is now home to the world's largest solar plant that adds 648 MW to the country's generating capacity. Previously, the Topaz Solar Farm in California, which was completed two years ago and has a capacity of 550 MW, held the title. Aljazeera reports: The solar plant, built in an impressive eight months, is cleaned every day by a robotic system, charged by its own solar panels. At full capacity, it is estimated to produce enough electricity to power about 150,000 homes. The project is comprised of 2.5 million individual solar modules, and cost $679 million to build. The new plant has helped nudge India's total installed solar capacity across the 10 GW mark, according to a statement by research firm Bridge to India, joining only a handful of countries that can make this claim. As solar power increases, India is expected to become the world's third-biggest solar market from next year onwards, after China and the U.S.
EU

Europe Is Getting a Network of 'Ultra-Fast, High-Powered' EV Chargers (theverge.com) 72

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Verge: BMW Group, Daimler AG, Ford, and Volkswagen have entered into a partnership to create a network of high-speed charging stations for electric vehicles across Europe. The new chargers will be capable of doling out up to 350 kW of power -- which would make them almost three times as powerful as Tesla's Supercharging stations. The result will be "the highest-powered charging network in Europe," according to a statement released by the manufacturers. The automakers say that construction will begin in 2017 with "about 400 sites" being targeted, and that the network will have "thousands of high-powered charging points" available by 2020. Those four major conglomerates will be "equal partners" in the joint venture, but according to the statement they are encouraging other manufacturers to "participate in the network." One of the reasons for bothering to call on other automakers to hook into this system is because there's a standards war happening with fast charging networks. The charging network announced today will use the Combined Charging System (CCS) technology, which is what that most major automakers already use for their EVs. But Nissan, Toyota, and Honda are notable holdouts from CCS, because many of their EVs and plug-in hybrids use a competing standard known as CHAdeMO.
Communications

The UK Is About to Legalize Mass Surveillance [Update] (vice.com) 394

From a report on Motherboard: On Tuesday, the UK is due to pass its controversial new surveillance law, the Investigatory Powers Act, according to the Home Office. The Act, which has received overwhelming support in both the House of Commons and Lords, formally legalizes a number of mass surveillance programs revealed by Edward Snowden in 2013. It also introduces a new power which will force internet service providers to store browsing data on all customers for 12 months. Civil liberties campaigners have described the Act as one of the most extreme surveillance laws in any democracy, while law enforcement agencies believe that the collection of browsing data is vital in an age of ubiquitous internet communications. "The Investigatory Powers Act 2016 will ensure that law enforcement and the security and intelligence agencies have the powers they need in a digital age to disrupt terrorist attacks, subject to strict safeguards and world-leading oversight," a statement from the Home Office reads. Much of the Act gives stronger legal footing to the UK's various bulk powers, including "bulk interception," which is, in general terms, the collection of internet and phone communications en masse. In June 2013, using documents provided by Edward Snowden, The Guardian revealed that the GCHQ taps fibre-optic undersea cables in order to intercept emails, internet histories, calls, and a wealth of other data. Update: "Snooper's charter" bill has become the law. The home secretary said:"The Investigatory Powers Act is world-leading legislation, that provides unprecedented transparency and substantial privacy protection. "The government is clear that, at a time of heightened security threat, it is essential our law enforcement and security and intelligence services have the power they need to keep people safe. The internet presents new opportunities for terrorists and we must ensure we have the capabilities to confront this challenge. But it is also right that these powers are subject to strict safeguards and rigorous oversight."
Japan

Japan Fukushima Nuclear Plant 'Clean-Up Costs Double,' Approaching $200 Billion (bbc.com) 291

An anonymous reader quotes a report from BBC: Japan's government estimates the cost of cleaning up radioactive contamination and compensating victims of the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster has more than doubled, reports say. The latest estimate from the trade ministry put the expected cost at some 20 trillion yen ($180 billion). The original estimate was for $50 billion, which was increased to $100 billion three years later. The majority of the money will go towards compensation, with decontamination taking the next biggest slice. Storing the contaminated soil and decommissioning are the two next greatest costs. The compensation pot has been increased by about 50% and decontamination estimates have been almost doubled. The BBC's Japan correspondent, Rupert Wingfield-Hayes, says it is still unclear who is going to pay for the clean up. Japan's government has long promised that Tokyo Electric Power, the company that owns the plant, will eventually pay the money back. But on Monday it admitted that electricity consumers would be forced to pay a portion of the clean up costs through higher electricity bills. Critics say this is effectively a tax on the public to pay the debt of a private electricity utility.
Power

Scientists Turn Nuclear Waste Into Diamond Batteries (newatlas.com) 153

Scientists at the University of Bristol have found a way to convert thousands of tons of nuclear waste into man-made diamond batteries that can generate a small electric current for thousands of years. New Atlas reports: How to dispose of nuclear waste is one of the great technical challenges of the 21st century. The trouble is, it usually turns out not to be so much a question of disposal as long-term storage. Disposal, therefore is more often a matter of keeping waste safe, but being able to get at it later when needed. One unexpected example of this is the Bristol team's work on a major source of nuclear waste from Britain's aging Magnox reactors, which are now being decommissioned after over half a century of service. These first generation reactors used graphite blocks as moderators to slow down neutrons to keep the nuclear fission process running, but decades of exposure have left the UK with 104,720 tons of graphite blocks that are now classed as nuclear waste because the radiation in the reactors changes some of the inert carbon in the blocks into radioactive carbon-14. Carbon-14 is a low-yield beta particle emitter that can't penetrate even a few centimeters of air, but it's still too dangerous to allow into the environment. Instead of burying it, the Bristol team's solution is to remove most of the c-14 from the graphite blocks and turn it into electricity-generating diamonds. The nuclear diamond battery is based on the fact that when a man-made diamond is exposed to radiation, it produces a small electric current. According to the researchers, this makes it possible to build a battery that has no moving parts, gives off no emissions, and is maintenance-free. The Bristol researchers found that the carbon-14 wasn't uniformly distributed in the Magnox blocks, but is concentrated in the side closest to the uranium fuel rods. To produce the batteries, the blocks are heated to drive out the carbon-14 from the radioactive end, leaving the blocks much less radioactive than before. c-14 gas is then collected and using low pressures and high temperatures is turned into man-made diamonds. Once formed, the beta particles emitted by the c-14 interact with the diamond's crystal lattice, throwing off electrons and generating electricity. The diamonds themselves are radioactive, so they are given a second non-radioactive diamond coating to act as a radiation shield.
Government

Fidel Castro Is Dead (nytimes.com) 269

Striek quotes the New York Times: Fidel Castro, the fiery apostle of revolution who brought the Cold War to the Western Hemisphere in 1959 and then defied the United States for nearly half a century as Cuba's maximum leader, bedeviling 11 American presidents and briefly pushing the world to the brink of nuclear war, died Friday. He was 90. His death was announced by Cuban state television.

In declining health for several years, Mr. Castro had orchestrated what he hoped would be the continuation of his Communist revolution, stepping aside in 2006 when he was felled by a serious illness. He provisionally ceded much of his power to his younger brother Raul, now 85, and two years later formally resigned as president. Raul Castro, who had fought alongside Fidel Castro from the earliest days of the insurrection and remained minister of defense and his brother's closest confidant, has ruled Cuba since then, although he has told the Cuban people he intends to resign in 2018.

Kebertson shares an AP article which remembers a book proclaiming "Castro's Last Hour" -- in 1982. And Miamicanes jokes there'll be celebrations among Castro-haters in Miami, sharing a CNN article which notes that in the end, Castro "lived long enough to see a historic thaw in relations between Cuba and the United States."
Power

6 Major Countries Have Recently Announced Plans To Phase-Out All Coal-Fired Power Plants (electrek.co) 275

At least 6 major countries, including Canada, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Austria and Finland, have all recently -- several within the past few weeks -- announced the imminent phase-out of all coal-fired power plants. Electrek reports: Earlier this week, Canada, which has already significantly reduced its use of coal to about 7% of its energy generation, announced a phase of the resource by 2030. The country's strong hydropower should keep dominating its energy generation, but the country has also been investing in wind and solar to make up the difference. A week before Canada's announcement, France announced a more aggressive timeline of 2023 for its own phase-out of coal, but it should be more easily achievable since they have already reduced the use of coal to 3% of their electricity generation -- thanks to a strong local nuclear industry. Finland is the latest country to join the group, but it also announced a more aggressive solution of simply banning entirely the use of coal to produce energy by 2030. The country gets about 12% of its electricity from coal, which it has to import. Peter Lund, a researcher at Aalto University and chair of the energy program at the European Academies' Science Advisory Council, told New Scientist: "These moves are important forerunners to enforce the recent positive signals in coal use. The more countries join the coal phase-out club, the better for the climate as this would force the others to follow." As for the U.S., it gets about 33% of its total electricity generation from coal and will likely grow the coal industry rather than phase it out under President-elect Donald Trump.
Power

Finland Set To Become First Country To Ban Coal Use For Energy (newscientist.com) 248

Finland could become the first country to ditch coal for good. As part of a new energy and climate strategy due to be announced tomorrow, the government is considering banning the burning of coal for energy by 2030. From a New Scientist article: "Basically, coal would disappear from the Finnish market," says Peter Lund, a researcher at Aalto University, and chair of the energy programme at the European Academies' Science Advisory Council. The groundwork for the ban already seems to be in place. Coal use has been steadily declining in Finland since 2011, and the nation heavily invested in renewable energy in 2012, leading to a near doubling of wind power capacity the following year. It also poured a further $85 million into renewable power this past February. On top of this, Nordic energy prices, with the exception of coal, have been dropping since 2010. As a result of such changes, coal-fired power plants are being mothballed and shut all over Finland, leaving coal providing only 8 per cent of the nation's energy.
Power

Scientists Create Battery That Charges In Seconds and Lasts For Days (telegraph.co.uk) 230

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Telegraph: A new type of battery that lasts for days with only a few seconds' charge has been created by researchers at the University of Central Florida. The high-powered battery is packed with supercapacitors that can store a large amount of energy. It looks like a thin piece of flexible metal that is about the size of a finger nail and could be used in phones, electric vehicles and wearables, according to the researchers. As well as storing a lot of energy rapidly, the small battery can be recharged more than 30,000 times. Normal lithium-ion batteries begin to tire within a few hundred charges. They typically last between 300 to 500 full charge and drain cycles before dropping to 70 per cent of their original capacity. To date supercapacitors weren't used to make batteries as they'd have to be much larger than those currently available. But the Florida researchers have overcome this hurdle by making their supercapacitors with tiny wires that are a nanometer thick. Coated with a high energy shell, the core of the wires is highly conductive to allow for super fast charging. The battery isn't yet ready to be used in consumer devices, the researchers said, but it shows a significant step forward in a tired technology.
Power

US Navy's High-Tech Ship Loses Power In Panama Canal (usni.org) 143

bsharma writes: USS Zumwalt suffered engine failure and collided with lock walls while transiting the Panama Canal. The ship lost propulsion in its port shaft during the transit and the crew saw water intrusion in two of the four bearings that connect to Zumwalt's port and starboard Advanced Induction Motors (AIMs) to the drive shafts, a defense official told USNI News on Tuesday. The AIMs are the massive electrical motors that are driven by the ship's gas turbines and, in turn, electrically power the ship's systems and drive the shafts. USNI News reports: "Zumwalt entered the Panama Canal following a successful port visit to Columbia last week -- a visit which the service intended to skip if it thought the engineering problems would continue, several defense officials told USNI News. The ship's engineering plant -- the Integrated Power System (IPS) -- is arguably the most complex and unique in the service. Installing and testing the system -- that provides ship additional power margins to power high energy weapons and sensors -- was a primary reason the ship delivered months late to the service. Before the casualty, the ship was set to arrive in San Diego by the end of the year and start weapon system activation period before joining the fleet as an operational warship sometime in 2018. (Zumwalt is the first of three in the $22-billion class.)
Bug

Malicious Video Link Can Cause Any iOS Device To Freeze (9to5mac.com) 53

A new bug in iOS has surfaced that will cause any iOS device to freeze when trying to view a certain .mp4 video in Safari. YouTube channel EverythingApplePro explains the bug in a video titled "This Video Will CRASH ANY iPhone!" 9to5Mac reports: As you'll see in the video below from EverythingApplePro, viewing a certain video in Safari will cause iOS to essentially overload and gradually become unusable. We won't link the infectious video here for obvious reasons, but you can take our word for it when we say that it really does render your device unusable. It's not apparently clear as to why this happens. The likely reason is that it's simply a corrupted video that's some sort of memory leak and when played, iOS isn't sure how to properly handle it, but there's like more to it than that. Because of the nature of the flaw, it isn't specific to a certain iOS build. As you can see in the video below, playing the video on an iPhone running as far back as iOS 5 will cause the device to freeze and become unusable. Interestingly, with iOS 10.2 beta 3, if you let an iPhone affected by the bug sit there for long enough, it will power off and indefinitely display the spinning wheel that you normally see during the shutdown process. If someone sends you the malicious link and you fall for it, this is luckily a pretty easy problem to fix. All you have to do is hard reboot your device. For any iPhone but the iPhone 7, this can be done by long-pressing the power and Home buttons at the same time. The iPhone 7, of course, uses a new non-mechanical Home button. In order to reboot an iPhone 7, you must long-press the power button and volume down button at the same time.
Power

Tesla Runs an Entire Island on Solar Power (engadget.com) 191

Jon Fingas, writing for Engadget:Now that Tesla has officially acquired SolarCity, it's not wasting any time showing what the combined entity can do. Tesla has revealed that it's running the island of Ta'u (in American Samoa) on a solar energy microgrid that, at 1.4 megawatts, can cover "nearly 100 percent" of electrical needs. It's not just the 5,328 solar panels that are key -- it's the 60 Tesla Powerpacks that offer 6 megawatt-hours of energy storage. While Ta'u is normally very sunny, the packs can keep it running for three days without sunlight. They don't have to worry about a cloudy day leading to blackouts. The solar switch, which took a year to complete, has both its long-term environmental and immediate practical benefits. Like many remote communities, Ta'u previously had to run on diesel generators. That burns 300 gallons of fuel per day, which is neither eco-friendly nor cheap. Solar eliminates the pollution, of course, but it also saves the cost of having to continuously buy and ship barrels of diesel. And crucially, it provides a more reliable source of electricity.
China

China To Build a Solar Plant In Chernobyl's Exclusion Zone (reuters.com) 87

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Reuters: Two Chinese firms plan to build a solar power plant in the exclusion zone around the Chernobyl nuclear reactor, which has been off limits since a devastating explosion contaminated the region with deadly radiation in 1986. GCL System Integration Technology (GCL-SI), a subsidiary of the GCL Group, said it would cooperate with China National Complete Engineering Corp (CCEC) on the project in Ukraine, with construction expected to start next year. CCEC, a subsidiary of state-owned China National Machinery Industry Corp, will be in overall charge of the project, while GCL-SI will provide and install solar components. GCL-SI did not say how much it would cost. The Chernobyl reactor, which is due to be covered next year by a 1.5 billion euro ($1.6 billion) steel-clad arch, is surrounded by a 2,600 square km (1,000 square mile) exclusion zone of forest and marshland. GCL-SI would not disclose exactly where the solar plant would be built, but a company manager told Reuters that the site had already gone through several rounds of inspections by the company's technicians. China is the world's biggest solar power generator, with 43 gigawatts of capacity by the end of last year. It is also the world's top manufacturer, producing 72 percent of global solar power components in 2015, according to a research note by Everbright Securities last week. "There will be remarkable social benefits and economic ones as we try to renovate the once damaged area with green and renewable energy," said Shu Hua, chairman of GCL-SI. A company manager added: "Ukraine has passed a law allowing the site to be developed for agriculture and other things, so that means (the radiation) is under control."
Canada

Canada Plans To Phase Out Coal-Powered Electricity By 2030 (theguardian.com) 146

Last week, French president Francois Hollande announced that France will shut down all its coal-fired power plants by 2023. This week, Canada's environment minister, Kathleen McKenna, announced that Canada plans to phase out its use of coal-fired electricity by 2030. The Guardian reports: [McKenna] said the goal is to make sure 90% of Canada's electricity comes from sustainable sources by that time -- up from 80% today. The announcement is one of a series of measures Justin Trudeau's Liberal government is rolling out as part of a broader climate change plan. Trudeau also has plans to implement a carbon tax. "Taking traditional coal power out of our energy mix and replacing it with cleaner technologies will significantly reduce our greenhouse gas emissions, improve the health of Canadians, and benefit generations for years to come," McKenna said. Four of Canada's 10 provinces still use coal-based electricity. Alberta had been working toward phasing out coal-fired electricity by 2030.
Businesses

Tesla Acquires SolarCity: Little Can Stand in Elon Musk's Way When He Wants Something (cnbc.com) 161

An anonymous reader shares a CNBC report: You have to hand it to Elon Musk. He didn't just sell the deal of his life last week when shareholders of Tesla and SolarCity agreed to a merger. He pulled off the deal amid widespread criticism from business ethics and corporate governance experts who slammed Musk from the moment the $2.6 billion deal was proposed. Any skepticism Musk deserves he created for himself, but that skepticism now needs to move from the deal to something else: Just what exactly have Tesla investors gotten themselves into? Some pundits point to the deal as part of Musk's master plan to create a car powered by solar and to develop batteries that radically change how we generate and store energy. Musk noted earlier this month that a solar roof for cars is "probably" going to be added as an option for Tesla buyers. But a good place to look at the lingering confusion as the combined electric-car and solar-power company moves forward is the reaction from stock analysts. Musk's vision is so bold that some on Wall Street remain unable to fully comprehend it or, in the least, grasp how it's a catalyst for Tesla shares in the short term. "Whatever the synergies are down the road, it's negative for current holders," said Efraim Levy, analyst at CFRA Research.
AI

Intel Lays Roadmap For 100-Fold AI Performance Boost With Nervana and Knights (hothardware.com) 44

MojoKid writes: Intel is laying out its roadmap to advance artificial intelligence performance across the board. Nervana Systems, a company that Intel acquired just a few months ago, will play a pivotal role in the company's efforts to make waves in an industry dominated by GPU-based solutions. Intel's Nervana chips incorporate technology (which involves a fully-optimized software and hardware stack) that is specially tasked with reducing the amount of time required to train deep-learning models. Nervana hardware will initially be available as an add-in card that plugs into a PCIe slot, which is the quickest way for Intel to get this technology to customers. The first Nervana silicon, codenamed Lake Crest, will make its way to select Intel customers in H1 2017. Intel is also talking about Knights Mill, which is the next generation of the Xeon Phi processor family. The company claims that Knights Mill will deliver a 4x increase in deep learning performance compared to existing Xeon Phi processors and the combined solution with Nervana will offer orders of magnitude gains in deep learning performance. "We expect the Intel Nervana platform to produce breakthrough performance and dramatic reductions in the time to train complex neural networks," said Diane Bryant, Executive VP of Intel's Data Center Group. "We expect Nervana's technologies to produce a breakthrough 100-fold increase in performance in the next three years to train complex neural networks, enabling data scientists to solve their biggest AI challenges faster," added Intel CEO Brian Krzanich.
NASA

Final NASA Eagleworks Paper Confirms Promising EM Drive Results (hacked.com) 477

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Hacked: Earlier this month Hacked reported that a draft version of the much expected EmDrive paper by the NASA Eagleworks team, had been leaked. Now, the final version of the paper has been published. The NASA Eagleworks paper, titled "Measurement of Impulsive Thrust from a Closed Radio-Frequency Cavity in Vacuum," has been published online as an open access "article in advance" in the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA)'s Journal of Propulsion and Power, a prestigious peer-reviewed journal. The paper will appear in the December print issue of the journal. The final version of the paper is very similar to the leaked draft. In particular, the NASA scientists confirm the promising experimental results: "Thrust data from forward, reverse, and null suggested that the system was consistently performing at 1.2 +/- 0.1 mNkW, which was very close to the average impulsive performance measured in air. A number of error sources were considered and discussed." The scientists add that, though the test campaign was not focused on optimizing performance and was more an exercise in existence proof, it is still useful to put the observed thrust-to-power figure of 1.2 mN/kW in context. "[For] missions with very large delta-v requirements, having a propellant consumption rate of zero could offset the higher power requirements. The 1.2 mN/kW performance parameter is over two orders of magnitude higher than other forms of 'zero propellant' propulsion, such as light sails, laser propulsion, and photon rockets having thrust-to-power levels in the 3.33--6.67 uN/kW (or 0.0033--0.0067 mN/kW) range." In other words, a modest thrust without having to carry fuel can be better, especially for long-distance space missions, than a higher thrust at the cost of having to carry bulky and heavy propellant reserves, and the EmDrive performs much better than the other "zero propellant" propulsion systems studied to date.

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