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Siemens Gamesa Unveils World First Electrothermal Energy Storage System - An anonymous reader quotes a report from CleanTechnica: Spanish renewable energy giant and offshore wind energy leader Siemens Gamesa Renewable Energy last week inaugurated operations of its electrothermal energy storage system which can store up to 130 megawatt-hours of electricity for a week in volcanic rock. The newly-opened electric thermal energy storage system is billed by Siemens Gamesa as "The Future Energy Solution" and as costing "significantly" less than classic energy storage solutions. Specifically, according to the company, even at the gigawatt-hour (GWh) pilot scale, ETES "would be highly competitive compared to other available storage technologies." The heat storage facility consists of around 1,000 tonnes of volcanic rock which is used as the storage medium. The rock is fed with electrical energy which is then converted into hot air by means of a resistance heater and a blower that, in turn, heats the rock to 750C/1382F. When demand requires the stored energy, ETES uses a steam turbine to re-electrify the stored energy and feeds it back into the grid. The new ETES facility in Hamburg-Altenwerder can store up to 130 MWh of thermal energy for a week, and storage capacity remains constant throughout the charging cycles.

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(2019-06-18T13:00:00+00:00)

Scientists Use Sound To See Around Corners - sciencehabit shares a report from Science Magazine: Spies may soon have another tool to carry out their shadowy missions: a new device that uses sound to "see" around corners. Previously, researchers developed gadgets that bounced light waves around corners to catch reflections and see things out of the line of sight. To see whether they could do something similar with sound, another group of scientists built a hardware prototype -- a vertical pole adorned with off-the-shelf microphones and small car speakers. The speakers emitted a series of chirps, which bounced off a nearby wall at an angle before hitting a hidden object on another wall -- a poster board cutout of the letter H. Scientists then moved their rig bit by bit, each time making more chirps, which bounced back the way they came, into the microphones. Using algorithms from seismic imaging, the system reconstructed a rough image of the letter H. The technique is years from practical application, but the authors suggest an ultrasound version might eventually be used on autonomous vehicles to detect unseen obstacles. Or it could be used to spy on your co-worker in the next cubicle.

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(2019-06-18T10:00:00+00:00)

Facebook Announces Libra Cryptocurrency - Facebook has finally revealed the details of its cryptocurrency Libra. From a blog post: Today we're sharing plans for Calibra, a newly formed Facebook subsidiary whose goal is to provide financial services that will let people access and participate in the Libra network. The first product Calibra will introduce is a digital wallet for Libra, a new global currency powered by blockchain technology. The wallet will be available in Messenger, WhatsApp and as a standalone app -- and we expect to launch in 2020. [...] For many people around the world, even basic financial services are still out of reach: almost half of the adults in the world don't have an active bank account and those numbers are worse in developing countries and even worse for women. The cost of that exclusion is high -- approximately 70% of small businesses in developing countries lack access to credit and $25 billion is lost by migrants every year through remittance fees. This is the challenge we're hoping to address with Calibra, a new digital wallet that you'll be able to use to save, send and spend Libra. From the beginning, Calibra will let you send Libra to almost anyone with a smartphone, as easily and instantly as you might send a text message and at low to no cost. And, in time, we hope to offer additional services for people and businesses, like paying bills with the push of a button, buying a cup of coffee with the scan of a code or riding your local public transit without needing to carry cash or a metro pass. When it launches, Calibra will have strong protections in place to keep your money and your information safe. We'll be using all the same verification and anti-fraud processes that banks and credit cards use, and we'll have automated systems that will proactively monitor activity to detect and prevent fraudulent behavior. We'll also offer dedicated live support to help if you lose your phone or your password -- and if someone fraudulently gains access to your account and you lose some Libra as a result, we'll offer you a refund. Facebook's currency is backed by more than two dozen companies ranging from Visa and Mastercard to Lyft and Spotify. Apple, Google, Amazon and Microsoft have not yet signed up. Banks decided not to join the starting roster because of uncertainties about regulation and concerns over logistical issues that could hamper take-up, Financial Times reported citing several industry executives. From the report: If successful, the project could dramatically reshapeÂsome corners of the finance industry, disintermediating payments platforms and stealing business from retail banks and fintech groups, particularly those that specialise in sending payments across borders. Jorn Lambert, executive vice-president for digital solutions at Mastercard, said he was not worried that fee-free transactions would threaten the payment card business. "It's an addition to what we do, not instead of what we do. It is not a zero-sum game. Today, 85 per cent of transactions are made in cash." It is unclear whether Libra will clear the steep hurdles needed to get off the ground, win over regulators, such as the US Securities and Exchange Commission, and be embraced, or strongly resisted, by the financial services industry. Central banks have already questioned the impact of company-created cryptocurrencies on financial stability. "We see hurdles to scale, we see hurdles to adoption, we see enough of this to decide that we would not participate in a scheme like this," said a senior payments executive at a large global bank.

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(2019-06-18T09:14:00+00:00)

Mysterious Clouds On Mars Formed By 'Meteoric Smoke,' Study Says - Scientists have discovered that some clouds on Mars are created from the debris of meteors that burn up in the planet's atmosphere. "This 'meteoric smoke,' described in a paper published Monday in Nature Geoscience, stimulates cloud formation at altitudes between 30 and 60 kilometers," reports Motherboard. From the report: "Until now, meteoric smoke has been neglected in general circulation model studies of the formation of Martian water ice clouds," said the study's authors, who were led by Victoria Hartwick, a graduate student at the University of Colorado Boulder. "We conclude that Mars atmospheric simulations that neglect meteoric smoke do not reproduce the observed spatial distribution of water ice clouds." These meteoric smoke clouds are distinct from low-altitude clouds that form when dust particles are kicked up from the Martian surface by winds, and also differ from high altitude clouds that nucleate around carbon dioxide particles, the team said. The team used data from NASA's Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution (MAVEN) orbiter to show that about three or four tons of alien dust slams into Mars' atmosphere every sol, which is the Martian version of a day. Only a fraction of this interplanetary material sprinkles down to lower altitudes, but that is more than enough to encourage cloud formation. The new research not only explains how these enigmatic clouds form on Mars, it also suggests that meteors may play a larger role in the Martian climate than previously assumed. For instance, meteoric smoke could help explain cloud formation during Mars' early years, when the planet was warmer, wetter, and possibly conducive to life.

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(2019-06-18T07:00:00+00:00)

China Is Harvesting Organs From Detainees, Tribunal Concludes - An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Guardian: An independent tribunal sitting in London has concluded that the killing of detainees in China for organ transplants is continuing, and victims include imprisoned followers of the Falun Gong movement. The China Tribunal, chaired by Sir Geoffrey Nice QC, who was a prosecutor at the international criminal tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, said in a unanimous determination at the end of its hearings it was "certain that Falun Gong as a source -- probably the principal source -- of organs for forced organ harvesting." Among those killed, it has been alleged, are members of religious minorities such as Falun Gong. Persecution of the group began in 1999 after it had attracted tens of millions of followers and came to be seen as a threat to the communist party. There is less evidence about the treatment of Tibetans, Uighur Muslims and some Christian sects. China announced in 2014 that it would stop removing organs for transplantation from executed prisoners and has dismissed the claims as politically-motivated and untrue. "The conclusion shows that very many people have died indescribably hideous deaths for no reason, that more may suffer in similar ways and that all of us live on a planet where extreme wickedness may be found in the power of those, for the time being, running a country with one of the oldest civilizations known to modern man," said Sir Geoffrey Nice QC. He added: "There is no evidence of the practice having been stopped and the tribunal is satisfied that it is continuing."

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(2019-06-18T03:30:00+00:00)

Google Is Finally Taking Charge of the RCS Rollout - Google is finally taking charge of the RCS rollout by allowing Android users in the UK and France to opt in to RCS Chat services provided directly by Google instead of waiting for their carrier to support it, which is largely the reason why it hasn't been more widely adopted. Google says that it will release the services to more countries "throughout the year," but wouldn't commit to saying that it would be available in all regions by the end of the year. The Verge reports: That seems like yet another minor status check-in on the service meant to replace SMS, but in fact it's a huge shift in strategy: as Google rolls this offering out to more countries, it should eventually mean that RCS will become universally available for all Android users. For the first time in years, Google will directly offer a better default texting experience to Android users instead of waiting for cellphone carriers to do it. It's not quite the Google equivalent of an iMessage service for Android users, but it's close. Not knowing when or if RCS Chat would be available for your phone was RCS's second biggest problem, and Google is fixing it. RCS's biggest problem is that messages are still not end-to-end encrypted. iMessage, WhatsApp, and Signal are secured in that way, and even Facebook has said it will make all its apps encrypted by default. Google's chat solution is increasingly looking out of touch -- even immoral. But there is hope on that front as well. The product management director overseeing Android Messages, Sanaz Ahari, assures me that Google recognizes the need for private chat within RCS and is working on it. Here's her full statement: "We fundamentally believe that communication, especially messaging, is highly personal and users have a right to privacy for their communications. And we're fully committed to finding a solution for our users."

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(2019-06-18T02:03:00+00:00)

New Deepfake Algorithm Allows You To Text-Edit the Words of a Speaker In a Video - It is now possible to take a talking-head style video, and add, delete or edit the speaker's words as simply as you'd edit text in a word processor. A new deepfake algorithm can process the audio and video into a new file in which the speaker says more or less whatever you want them to. New Atlas reports: It's the work of a collaborative team from Stanford University, Max Planck Institute for Informatics, Princeton University and Adobe Research, who say that in a perfect world the technology would be used to cut down on expensive re-shoots when an actor gets something wrong, or a script needs to be changed. In order to learn the face movements of a speaker, the algorithm requires about 40 minutes of training video, and a transcript of what's being said, so it's not something that can be thrown onto a short video snippet and run if you want good results. That 40 minutes of video gives the algorithm the chance to work out exactly what face shapes the subject is making for each phonetic syllable in the original script. From there, once you edit the script, the algorithm can then create a 3D model of the face making the new shapes required. And from there, a machine learning technique called Neural Rendering can paint the 3D model over with photo-realistic textures to make it look basically indistinguishable from the real thing. Other software such as VoCo can be used if you wish to generate the speaker's audio as well as video, and it takes the same approach, by breaking down a heap of training audio into phonemes and then using that dataset to generate new words in a familiar voice.

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(2019-06-18T01:25:00+00:00)

AT&T Cuts Another 1,800 Jobs As It Finishes Fiber-Internet Buildout - AT&T is planning to cut another 1,800 jobs from its wireline division. "Last week, AT&T declared more than 1,800 jobs nationwide as 'surplus,' meaning they are slated to be eliminated in August or September," reports Ars Technica, citing the Communications Workers of America (CWA). From the report: "They've been cutting their employment massively in the past year and a half or so," with cuts affecting both union and non-union jobs, CWA Communications Director Beth Allen told Ars. Under union contracts, AT&T can declare a surplus of jobs each quarter, she said. But even by AT&T standards, last week's surplus declaration "was a very large number," Allen said. Jobs that are declared "surplus" are taken off the payroll, CWA says. AT&T told Ars that most affected union workers will be able to stay at the company in other positions. But letters from AT&T to the CWA say that only 27 of about 550 employees declared "surplus" in the Southwest division will be given so-called "follow-the-work" opportunities in which they can take nearly identical jobs in other locations. Follow-the-work offers are given when an employee's specific job is consolidated with another position or moved to another geographic location, AT&T said. This is different from the job-offer guarantee that ensures "surplus" employees will be offered a different type of job in the company; AT&T didn't say exactly how many surplus employees will get those offers. The 1,800 newly announced AT&T job cuts affect wireline technicians who fix customer problems, install new service, and who work on AT&T's fiber expansion, Allen said. Over the past four years, AT&T expanded its fiber-to-the-home network to 12.5 million customer locations to meet a government mandate imposed on its purchase of DirecTV. But AT&T is apparently slowing its fiber deployments now that it has finished the government-mandated buildout.

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(2019-06-18T00:45:00+00:00)

Microsoft's Plan To Split OS From Shell Takes Shape - An anonymous reader quotes a report from ZDNet: The latest Windows preview from the 20H1 branch, build 18917, has some hidden components that signal a future where the Windows Shell UI parts, such as Action Center, will be separate from the rest of Windows and can be updated with shell packages. A developer who uses the Twitter handle Albacore gave a breakdown of a new component in Build 18917 called 'Shell Update Agent,' which he notes is "capable of obtaining and updating the shell on demand." That capability may mean nothing to most Windows 10 users. However, for Windows watchers it could be an interesting development of Microsoft's unannounced plans for Windows Core OS, in which Windows is modularized and calls on a range of shells that target different form factors, from HoloLens to Surface and dual-screen devices like the recently revealed Centaurus laptop, whose shell is called Santorini. Albacore goes on to explain that the Shell Update Agent references 'Package Family Names,' which suggests that the "shell will indeed be a separate, packaged component." Those shell packages can be acquired from both external and internal sources, which could mean shell components like the Start Menu, Action Center and Taskbar could be selectively built, based on these acquired packages. Finally, one more shell-related change noted relates to a new method for syncing settings. "The new one should support syncing more advanced and previously 'legacy' options such as File Explorer configuration," Albacore notes.

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(2019-06-18T00:03:00+00:00)

Adobe's Experimental AI Tool Can Tell If Something's Been Photoshopped - Adobe and UC Berkeley researchers are working on tool that can tell if a photo has been manipulated in Adobe Photoshop. The goal is to cut down on fake content and "to increase trust and authority in digital media." TheINQUIRER reports: A bunch of images were created using Photoshop's "Face Aware Liquify" tool, and mixed with a set of expertly human-doctored photographs. When humans were shown the original image and the doctored version, they spotted the fakes 53 percent of the time, but the artificial intelligence hit 99 percent. That's pretty good -- changing a coin toss guess into near certainty, but the AI isn't quite done showboating. As well as being able to point out what areas might have been changed, the AI can also predict what methods have been used to change the image. Better still, it'll have a stab at undoing the vandalism, and returning the image to its former untampered glory. Not perfectly, but well enough to impress the researchers all the same: it's like having an undo button on someone else's work, and who hasn't always wanted one of those? "It might sound impossible because there are so many variations of facial geometry possible," said Professor Alexei A. Efros of UC Berkeley. "But, in this case, because deep learning can look at a combination of low-level image data, such as warping artifacts, as well as higher level cues such as layout, it seems to work."

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(2019-06-17T23:20:00+00:00)

First Amendment Constraints Don't Apply To Private Platforms, Supreme Court Affirms - In a case that could have potential implications for social media, the Supreme Court has ruled that a nonprofit running public access channels isn't bound by governmental constraints on speech. "The case, which the conservative wing of the court decided in a split 5-4 ruling, centered around a Manhattan-based nonprofit tasked by New York City with operating public access channels in the area," reports The Verge. "The organization disciplined two producers after a film led to complaints, which the producers argued was a violation of their First Amendment speech rights. The case turned on whether the nonprofit was a 'state actor' running a platform governed by First Amendment constraints." From the report: In a decision written by Justice Brett Kavanaugh, the conservative justices ruled that the First Amendment constraints didn't apply to the nonprofit, which they considered a private entity. Providing a forum for speech wasn't enough to become a government actor, the justices ruled. Nowhere is the internet or social media discussed in the ruling, but the idea that the decision could be used to penalize social media companies was raised by groups like the Electronic Frontier Foundation. The groups argued that too broad of a decision could prevent other private entities like YouTube and Twitter from managing their platforms by imposing new constraints them. The Internet Association, a trade group, said last year that such a decision could mean the internet "will become less attractive, less safe and less welcoming to the average user." But today's decision seems to assuage those concerns. The liberal justices on the court, in a dissenting ruling, argued instead that the terms under which the nonprofit ran the channels for the city should have bound it to First Amendment constraints. The nonprofit, Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote, "stepped into the City's shoes and thus qualifies as a state actor, subject to the First Amendment like any other."

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(2019-06-17T22:40:00+00:00)

Nvidia Will Support ARM Hardware For High-Performance Computing - An anonymous reader quotes a report from VentureBeat: At the International Supercomputing Conference (ISC) in Frankfurt, Germany this week, Santa Clara-based chipmaker Nvidia announced that it will support processors architected by British semiconductor design company Arm. Nvidia anticipates that the partnership will pave the way for supercomputers capable of "exascale" performance -- in other words, of completing at least a quintillion floating point computations ("flops") per second, where a flop equals two 15-digit numbers multiplied together. Nvidia says that by 2020 it will contribute its full stack of AI and high-performance computing (HPC) software to the Arm ecosystem, which by Nvidia's estimation now accelerates over 600 HPC applications and machine learning frameworks. Among other resources and services, it will make available CUDA-X libraries, graphics-accelerated frameworks, software development kits, PGI compilers with OpenACC support, and profilers. Nvidia founder and CEO Jensen Huang pointed out in a statement that, thanks to this commitment, Nvidia will soon accelerate all major processor architectures: x86, IBM's Power, and Arm. "As traditional compute scaling has ended, the world's supercomputers have become power constrained," said Huang. "Our support for Arm, which designs the world's most energy-efficient CPU architecture, is a giant step forward that builds on initiatives Nvidia is driving to provide the HPC industry a more power-efficient future."

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(2019-06-17T22:03:00+00:00)

YouTube is Too Big To Fix Completely, Google CEO Says - Google CEO Sundar Pichai says YouTube is too big to completely fix the site's problems with harmful content. From a report: During a CNN interview that aired Sunday, Pichai was asked whether there will ever be enough humans to filter through and remove such content. "We've gotten much better at using a combination of machines and humans," Pichai said. "So it's one of those things, let's say we're getting it right 99% of the time, you'll still be able to find examples. Our goal is to take that to a very, very small percentage well below 1%." Pichai said Google probably can't get that to 100%. "Any large scale systems, it's tough," Pichai said. "Think about credit card systems, there's some fraud in that. ... Anything when you run at that scale, you have to think about percentages."

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(2019-06-17T21:25:00+00:00)

Linux PCs, Servers, Gadgets Can Be Crashed by 'Ping of Death' Network Packets - Artem S. Tashkinov writes: The Register reports that it is possible to crash network-facing Linux servers, PCs, smartphones and tablets, and gadgets, or slow down their network connections, by sending them a series of maliciously crafted packets. It is also possible to hamper FreeBSD machines with the same attack. Patches and mitigations are available, and can be applied by hand if needed, or you can wait for a security fix to be pushed or offered to your at-risk device. A key workaround is to set /proc/sys/net/ipv4/tcp_sack to 0. At the heart of the drama is a programming flaw dubbed SACK Panic aka CVE-2019-11477: this bug can be exploited to remotely crash systems powered by Linux kernel version 2.6.29 or higher, which was released 10 years ago.

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(2019-06-17T20:45:00+00:00)

Robocalls Are Overwhelming Hospitals and Patients, Threatening a New Kind of Health Crisis - An anonymous reader shares a report: In the heart of Boston, Tufts Medical Center treats scores of health conditions, from administering measles vaccines for children to pioneering next-generation tools that can eradicate the rarest of cancers. But doctors, administrators and other hospital staff struggled to contain a much different kind of epidemic one April morning last year: a wave of thousands of robocalls that spread, like a virus, from one phone line to the next, disrupting communications for hours to come. For most Americans, such robocalls represent an unavoidable digital-age nuisance, resulting in constant interruptions targeting their phones each month. For hospitals, though, the spam calls amount to a literal life-or-death challenge, one that increasingly is threatening doctors and patients in a setting where every second can count. At Tufts Medical Center, administrators registered more than 4,500 calls between about 9:30 and 11:30 a.m. on April 30, 2018, said Taylor Lehmann, the center's chief information security officer. Many of the messages seemed to be the same: Speaking in Mandarin, an unknown voice threatened deportation unless the person who picked up the phone provided their personal information. Such calls are common, widely documented scams that seek to swindle vulnerable foreigners, who may surrender their private data out of fear their families and homes are at risk. But it proved especially troubling at Tufts, which is situated amid Boston's Chinatown neighborhood, Lehmann said. Officials there couldn't block the calls through their telecom carrier, Windstream, which provides phone and web services to consumers and businesses. "There's nothing we could do," Lehmann said Windstream told them.

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(2019-06-17T20:05:00+00:00)