Power

US Tests Nuclear Power System To Sustain Astronauts On Mars (reuters.com) 77

Initial tests in Nevada on a compact nuclear power system designed to sustain a long-duration NASA human mission on the inhospitable surface on Mars have been successful and a full-power run is scheduled for March, officials said on Thursday. Reuters reports: National Aeronautics and Space Administration and U.S. Department of Energy officials, at a Las Vegas news conference, detailed the development of the nuclear fission system under NASA's Kilopower project. Months-long testing began in November at the energy department's Nevada National Security Site, with an eye toward providing energy for future astronaut and robotic missions in space and on the surface of Mars, the moon or other solar system destinations. A key hurdle for any long-term colony on the surface of a planet or moon, as opposed to NASA's six short lunar surface visits from 1969 to 1972, is possessing a power source strong enough to sustain a base but small and light enough to allow for transport through space. NASA's prototype power system uses a uranium-235 reactor core roughly the size of a paper towel roll. The technology could power habitats and life-support systems, enable astronauts to mine resources, recharge rovers and run processing equipment to transform resources such as ice on the planet into oxygen, water and fuel. It could also potentially augment electrically powered spacecraft propulsion systems on missions to the outer planets.
Transportation

Tesla Is Last In the Driverless Vehicle Race, Report Says (usnews.com) 124

Navigant Research has compiled a new report on 19 companies working on automated driving systems, and surprisingly, Tesla came in last place. U.S. News & World Report: Navigant ranked the 19 major companies developing AV technology based on 10 criteria, including vision, market strategy, partnerships, production strategy, technology, product quality and staying power. According to the report, General Motors Co. and Waymo, the auto unit of Alphabet, are the top two AV investment opportunities in the market today. Tesla and Apple are the two biggest laggards in the AV race, according to Navigant's rankings.

Investors are acutely aware of Tesla's production and distribution disadvantages compared to legacy automakers like GM, but Navigant is also highly critical of Tesla's technology. "The autopilot system on current products has stagnated and, in many respects, regressed since it was first launched in late 2015," Navigant says in the report, according to Ars Technica. "More than one year after launching V2, Autopilot still lacks some of the functionality of the original, and there are many anecdotal reports from owners of unpredictable behavior."

Businesses

Tim Cook Says Power Management Feature In Older iPhones Will Be Able To Be Turned Off In Future Update (macrumors.com) 148

In an interview with Rebecca Jarvis of ABC News, Apple CEO Tim Cook touched on the ongoing controversy over power management features in older iPhones. He says that a future update will allow customers to turn off the power management feature that has caused older iPhones to slow down. Mac Rumors reports: According to Cook, when the power management features were first introduced in iOS 10.2.1, Apple did explain what was going on, but following the controversy, he believes Apple should have been clearer. The company did indeed mention that the shutdown issue was caused by uneven power delivery and explained that its power management system had been tweaked, but there was no clear notice that it could cause devices to operate more slowly at times. Cook says Apple "deeply apologizes" to customers who thought the company had other motivations. Apple is introducing better battery monitoring features in a future iOS update, and Cook says Apple will also allow customers to turn off the power management feature, which is new information that the company has not previously shared. The majority of the interview was focused on the announcements that Apple made today. The company plans to contribute $350 billion in the U.S. economy over the next five years, as well as issue employees a bonus of $2,500 of restricted stock units following the introduction of the new U.S. tax law.
Transportation

LAPD Is Not Using the Electric BMWs It Announced In 2016 (cbslocal.com) 132

mi shares a report from CBS Los Angeles: "In a 2016 well-choreographed press conference, LAPD Chief Charlie Beck got out of an electric BMW driven by Mayor Garcetti to tout the city's ambitious project [to provide electric cars for the department]," reports CBS Los Angeles. "The cost: $10.2 million, which includes charging stations." However, the cars have seen very little use. With the monthly lease payment of a little more than $418, one vehicle ends up costing taxpayers over $15 a mile to use. Some of the use they do get is improper too, alleges CBS Los Angeles, citing footage captured from several hidden cameras. "We followed someone after leaving the downtown police garage; they went to the drive-through at Yoshinoya," reports CBS. "On another day, someone drove from downtown LA to Loyola Marymount University in West LA, picked up someone who appeared to be a student, and went to lunch." The deputy chief is looking into what CBS found and says the cars are to be used for business only.
Google

Google Search Will Start Ranking Faster Mobile Pages Higher In July (venturebeat.com) 73

An anonymous reader writes: Google today announced a new project to improve its mobile search results: Factoring page speed into its search ranking. As the company notes, page speed "has been used in ranking for some time" but that was largely for desktop searches. Starting in July 2018, page speed will be a ranking factor for mobile searches on Google as well. In November 2014, Google started labeling sites as "mobile-friendly" to denote pages optimized for phones. The company then spend the next few years experimenting with using the label as a ranking factor, ultimately pushing those changes in April 2015 and increasing the effect in May 2016. The label was removed in August 2016 as the company noted that most pages had become "mobile-friendly." Google now plans to wield that power again to make mobile pages load faster.
Earth

Renewable Energy Set To Be Cheaper Than Fossil Fuels By 2020, Says Report (independent.co.uk) 258

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Independent: Continuous technological improvements have led to a rapid fall in the cost of renewable energy in recent years, meaning some forms can already comfortably compete with fossil fuels. The report suggests this trend will continue, and that by 2020 "all the renewable power generation technologies that are now in commercial use are expected to fall within the fossil fuel-fired cost range." Of those technologies, most will either be at the lower end of the cost range or actually undercutting fossil fuels. "This new dynamic signals a significant shift in the energy paradigm," said Adnan Amin, director-general of the International Renewable Energy Agency (IREA), which published the report. "Turning to renewables for new power generation is not simply an environmentally conscious decision, it is now -- overwhelmingly -- a smart economic one." The report looked specifically at the relative cost of new energy projects being commissioned. As renewable energy becomes cheaper, consumers will benefit from investment in green infrastructure. The current cost for fossil fuel power generation ranges from around 4p to 12p per kilowatt hour across G20 countries. By 2020, IREA predicted renewables will cost between 2p and 7p, with the best onshore wind and solar photovoltaic projects expected to deliver electricity by 2p or less next year.
Power

California Will Close Its Last Nuclear Power Plant (sfchronicle.com) 354

An anonymous reader quotes the San Francisco Chronicle: California's last nuclear power plant -- Diablo Canyon, whose contentious birth helped shape the modern environmental movement -- will close in 2025, state utility regulators decided Thursday. The unanimous vote by the California Public Utilities Commission will likely bring an end to nuclear energy's long history in the state. State law forbids building more nuclear plants in California until the federal government creates a long-term solution for dealing with their waste, a goal that remains elusive despite decades of effort.

The decision comes even as California expands its fight against global warming. Owned by Pacific Gas and Electric Co., Diablo Canyon is the state's largest power plant, supplying 9 percent of California's electricity while producing no greenhouse gases. "With this decision, we chart a new energy future by phasing out nuclear power here in California," said commission President Michael Picker. "We've looked hard at all the arguments, and we agree the time has come."

The Military

Russian Military Base Attacked By Drones (bellingcat.com) 183

A Russian military base in Syria was recently attacked -- 20 miles from the frontline. The only video of the attack is from a Facebook group for a nearby town, which identifies the noises as an "anti-aircraft response to a remote-controlled aircraft," while the Russian Ministry of Defence claims at least 13 drones were involved in the attack, displaying pictures of drones with a wingspan around 13 feet (four meters).

Long-time Slashdot reader 0x2A shares a report from a former British Army officer who calls drones "the poor man's Air Force," who writes that the attack shows "a strategic grasp of the use of drones, as well as a high level of planning." The lack of cameras on the drones suggest that they are likely pre-loaded with a flight plan and then flown autonomously to their target, where they dropped their payload en masse on a given GPS coordinate... The lack of any kind of claim, or even rumours from the rebels, indicates that whoever is producing these drone and launching these attacks has a high level of discipline and an understanding of operational and personal security...

Although some regard the threat from commerical off-the-shelf and improvised drones as negligible, they have the power to inflict losses at both a tactical and strategic level... Although the plastic sheeting, tape and simple design may belie the illusion of sophistication, it seems that the use of drones, whether military, commerical off-the-shelf or improvised, is taking another step to becoming the future of conflict.

The article notes there's already been four weaponized drone attacks in Syria over the last two weeks, which according to CNBC may be part of a growing trend. "Experts said swarm-like attacks using weaponized drones is a growing threat and likely to only get worse. They also said the possibility exists of terrorists using these drones in urban areas against civilians."
Linux

The Linux Kernel Mailing List is Down (lkml.org) 76

Every page on LKML.org is currently displaying this error message along with a picture of Flits the cat. What started out as a power outage while I was on vacation (leading to the computer hosting the backend of this site being unable to boot) became a larger issue as the mainboard in that computer appears to be broken.

Not wanting to let you wait for a spare part to arrive, I'm currently (while being assisted by our cat Flits) busy copying over all data to a VPS, and getting things working from there. The rsync is progressing slowly, having copied over the first 50% in three hours (at 14:30 CET). Please check back later for status updates.

Moon

Scientists Think They've Discovered Lava Tubes Leading To the Moon's Polar Ice (sciencealert.com) 59

schwit1 quotes ScienceAlert: Small pits in a large crater on the Moon's North Pole could be "skylights" leading down to an underground network of lava tubes -- tubes holding hidden water on Earth's nearest neighbour, according to new research. There's no lava in them now of course, though that's originally how the tubes formed in the Moon's fiery past. But they could indicate easy access to a water source if we ever decide to develop a Moon base sometime in the future.

Despite the Moon's dry and dusty appearance, scientists think it contains a lot of water trapped as frozen ice. What these new observations carried out by NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) show is that it might be much more accessible than we thought... Scientists have long been thinking about how to extract the ice reserves we think are up there -- solar power was originally out of the question, as it's the freezing shadowed areas of the Moon that have preserved the ice in the first place. Not only would natural skylights like these provide easier access to the underground ice, it would also mean solar power would be back on the table as an idea.

Government

Ask Slashdot: How Would You Use Computers To Make Elections Better? 498

shanen writes: Regarding politics, is there anything that Americans agree on? If so, it's probably something negative like "The system is broken," or "The leading candidates are terrible," or even "Your state is a shithole." With all our fancy technology, what's going wrong? Our computers are creating problems, not solutions. For example, gerrymandering relies on fancy computers to rig the maps. Negative campaigning increasingly relies on computers to target the attacks on specific voters. Even international attacks exploit the internet to intrude into elections around the world. Here are three of my suggested solutions, though I can't imagine any of today's politicians would ever support anything along these lines:

(1) Guest voting: If you hate your district, you could vote in a neighboring district. The more they gerrymander, the less predictable the election results.
(2) Results-based weighting: The winning candidates get more voting power in the legislature, reflecting how many people actually voted for them. If you win a boring and uncontested election where few people vote, then part of your vote in the legislature would be transferred to the winners who also had more real votes.
(3) Negative voting: A voter could use an electronic ballot to make it explicit that the vote is negative, not positive. The candidate with the most positive or fewest negative votes still wins, but if the election has too many negative votes, then that "winner" would be penalized, perhaps with a half term rather than a full term.

What wild and crazy ideas do you have for using computers to make elections better, not worse?
Transportation

Americans Still Deeply Skeptical About Driverless Cars, Says Poll (theverge.com) 275

A new poll was released today that basically repeats data we've seen in previous surveys: Americans still don't trust self-driving cars, and are nervous about the coming onslaught. The Verge reports: Asked how concerned they'd be to share the road with a driverless car, 31 percent said they'd be "very concerned," while 33 percent said "somewhat concerned," according to the poll which was just released by Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety. A majority (63 percent) said they would not support "mass exemptions" from federal motor vehicle safety standards for self-driving cars, and were not comfortable (75 percent) with automakers having the power to remotely disable vehicle controls, such as the steering wheel, and brake and gas pedals, when the autonomous vehicle is being operated by the computer. And people overwhelmingly support (75 percent) the U.S. Department of Transportation developing new standards related to driverless vehicles. The poll surveyed 1,005 adults between December 7-10th, 2017, with a margin of error of +/- 3.09 percent.
Power

Power Outage Brings CES To a Standstill For Nearly 2 Hours (cnet.com) 58

A major power outage brought a major portion of the Consumer Electronics Show in the Las Vegas Center to a standstill for nearly 2 hours today. The lights went out at around 11:13 a.m. PT, just as the second day of CES 2018 was ramping up, and didn't turn back on until around 12:34 p.m. PT. CNET reports: It came a day after more than an inch of rain fell in Las Vegas, which caused flash flooding in the desert city. (Wednesday's weather is clear and warm, and it's unclear if the power outage was at all related.) The first reports of the blackout came from the convention center's Central Hall, which houses the giant booths for show mainstays including Sony, Samsung, LG and Intel -- though Samsung's booth still had limited electricity thanks to its own private backup power. By noon, security guards were refusing entry to parts of the Convention Center. The website of Nevada Energy, the power provider, listed the cause of the problem as "customer-owned electrical equipment."
Power

Tesla's New York Gigafactory Kicks Off Solar Roof Production (bloomberg.com) 103

In an email Tuesday, Tesla said that its manufacturing of the long-awaited electricity-producing shingles began last month at a factory in Buffalo built with backing from New York State. It comes more than a year after Tesla unveiled the shingles to a mix of fanfare and skepticism. Bloomberg reports: The appeal: a sleek, clean solar product, especially for homeowners seeking to replace aging roofs. The tiles -- from most angles -- look like ordinary shingles. They allow light to pass from above and onto a standard flat solar cell. Tesla, the biggest U.S. installer of rooftop-solar systems, piloted the product on the homes of several employees. The company expects to begin installing roofs for customers within the next few months.

Tesla started production of solar cells and panels about four months ago at its Gigafactory 2 in Buffalo. New York committed $750 million to help build the 1.2 million-square-foot factory, which currently employs about 500 people. The plant will eventually create nearly 3,000 jobs in Western New York and nearly 5,000 statewide, Governor Andrew Cuomo said in 2015.

Graphics

Nvidia's GeForce Now Windows App Transforms Your Cheap Laptop Into a Gaming PC (theverge.com) 100

The GeForce Now game streaming service that Nvidia announced for the Mac last year is finally coming to Windows PCs. According to their website, the service lets you stream high-resolution games from your PC to your Mac or Windows PC that may or may not have the power to run the games natively. Starting this week, beta users of the GeForce Now Mac client will be able to install and run the Windows app. Tom Warren reports via The Verge: I got a chance to play with an early beta of the GeForce Now service on a $400 Windows PC at CES today. My biggest concerns about game streaming services are latency and internet connections, but Nvidia had the service setup using a 50mbps connection on the Wynn hotel's Wi-Fi. I didn't notice a single issue, and it honestly felt like I was playing Player Unknown's Battlegrounds directly on the cheap laptop in front of me. If I actually tried to play the game locally, it would be impossible as the game was barely rendering at all or at 2fps. Nvidia is streaming these games from seven datacenters across the US, and some located in Europe. I was playing in a Las Vegas casino from a server located in Los Angeles, and Nvidia tells me it's aiming to keep latency under 30ms for most customers. There's obviously going to be some big exceptions here, especially if you don't live near a datacenter or your internet connectivity isn't reliable. The game streaming works by dedicating a GPU to each customer, so performance and frame rates should be pretty solid. Nvidia is also importing Steam game collections into the GeForce Now service for Windows, making it even more intriguing for PC gamers who are interested in playing their collection on the go on a laptop that wouldn't normally handle such games.
Power

Wireless Charging Nears Unification As Powermat Cedes To Qi (engadget.com) 37

Powermat, the only contender to the dominant format Qi, has joined the Wireless Power Consortium (WPC) and now backs its rival. "Qi has become the dominant wireless charging standard on the market and the recently launched Apple iPhone lineup is evidence of this success," Powermat said in a statement. "[We] will share technology innovation to further unlock wireless charging potential, and will expedite the growth of the wireless charging infrastructure." Engadget reports: Powermat was barely hanging on as a standard, but as it mentioned, Apple's favoring of Qi for its upcoming chargers pretty much sealed its fate. The company was forced to upgrade its chargers to support Qi at Starbucks locations, for instance, so that Apple's Qi-supported iPhone X- and 8-owning clients could juice up. Until a few years ago, there were essentially three standards, the Alliance for Wireless Power, the Power Matters Alliance (no joking), and Qi, which was already the dominant player. The first two merged to form the Airfuel alliance in 2015, of which Powermat was the main player.
The Military

Pentagon Seeks Laser-Powered Bat Drones (defenseone.com) 44

Zorro quotes DefenseOne: A new contest seeks flight systems inspired by Mother Nature and powered by directed-energy beams. Tired: multi-rotor copters and fixed-wing drones. Wired: flying robots that move like living animals, are crafted of next-generation materials, and draw their power not from batteries but energy beamed from nearby aircraft...

"The biological study of agile organisms such as bats and flying insects has yielded new insights into complex flight kinematics of systems with a large number of degrees of freedom, and the use of multi-functional flight surface materials," the announcement reads. The Air Force believes that more and more naturalistic design -- coupled with more powerful and smaller sensors to form a better picture of the outside world -- should yield "significant improvements in maneuverability, survivability and stealth over traditional quadcopter or fixed wing designs."

The article includes a link to a CalTech video showing footage of an advanced robotic bat.
Moon

John Young, Legendary Astronaut, Dies at Age 87 (cbsnews.com) 41

Legendary astronaut John Young -- who walked on the moon and piloted the first space shuttle -- died Friday at the age of 87. schwit1 shares a nice profile from CBS News: A naval aviator and test pilot, Young logged more than 15,275 hours flying time in a variety of aircraft, including 9,200 hours in T-38 jets. He spent 835 hours in space across his six NASA flights, serving as co-pilot of the first Gemini mission in 1965, commander of a second Gemini flight in 1966, lunar module pilot for Apollo 10 in 1969, commander of Apollo 16 in 1972 and commander of the first shuttle flight in 1981... Young was the first man to fly in space six times and the only astronaut to fly aboard Gemini and Apollo capsules and the space shuttle... He also brought a legendary cool nerve to an inherently dangerous job that amazed his compatriots. "I found out from the flight surgeon later on that my heartbeat was 144 at liftoff," Charlie Duke, one of Young's crewmates on the Apollo 16 moon landing mission, said of his reaction to launch atop a Saturn 5 rocket. "John's (heartbeat) was 70".
On one space shuttle flight, two of the ship's three auxiliary power units actually caught on fire, and exploded just minutes after touchdown. But Young always kept his cool. In 2010 Slashdot remembered the first manned Gemini mission in 1965. When it reached orbit, Young surprised his fellow astronaut Gus Grissom by pulling a fresh corned beef sandwich out of his pocket.

An anonymous Slashdot reader writes:
Andrew Chaikin, author of "A Man on the Moon: The Voyages of the Apollo Astronauts", remembers that Young "used to talk about how if we stay on this planet for too long, something's going to get us, whether it was a super volcano or whatever. He really was a true believer." NASA Administrator Robert Lightfoot added that Young's career "spanned three generations of spaceflight; we will stand on his shoulders as we look toward the next human frontier."

In 2012 -- when he was in his 80s -- Young published a memoir titled Forever Young: A Life of Adventure in Air and Space. "My life has been long, and it has been interesting. It's also been a lot of fun, and a lot of hard, challenging work. If I could do it over, I would do it over the very same way.

HP

HP Recalls 50,000 Lithium-Ion Laptop Batteries Over Fire Risk (consumerreports.org) 41

HP announced this week that it is recalling the lithium-ion batteries in more than 50,000 laptops because of the danger of fire in cases of battery malfunction. From a report: "These batteries have the potential to overheat, posing a fire and burn hazard to customers," the company said in a statement. "For this reason, it is extremely important to check whether your battery is affected." The recall affects the battery, not the entire computer. Consumers should run HP's Validation Utility software to determine if their battery has been recalled. If the battery needs to be replaced, they should then install an update that will put the device in Battery Safe Mode, which will discharge the battery and prevent it from being charged until it's replaced. This update will allow consumers to continue using the computers safely with AC power while they wait for a new battery. The recall affects batteries sold with, or as accessories for, the following models: HP Probook 640 G2, HP ProBook 640 G3, HP ProBook 645 G2, HP ProBook 645 G3, HP ProBook 650 G2, HP ProBook 650 G3, HP ProBook 655 G2, HP ProBook 655 G3, HP ZBook 17 G3, HP ZBook 17 G4, HP ZBook Studio G3, HP x360 310 G2, HP Pavilion x360, HP ENVY m6, and HP 11 Notebook PC.
Power

Why Most Electric Cars Are Leased, Not Owned (bloomberg.com) 206

Bloomberg's research shows that drivers in the U.S. lease almost 80 percent of battery-powered vehicles and 55 percent of plug-in hybrids. "The lease rate for the country's entire fleet hovers around 30 percent," reports Bloomberg, noting that Tesla does not divulge how many of its vehicles are leased since it sells its cars directly rather than through dealerships. From the report: The lopsided consumer preference for leases is fueled by the meager demand for battery-powered vehicles on the used market. Partly this is a consequence of public policy meant to spur electric vehicle adoptions: buyers of pre-owned cars can't grab thousands of dollars in federal and state incentives. The high lease rate is also fueled by the bet [many] are making that upcoming models will far exceed today's in value and capabilities. Perhaps electric vehicles will truly arrive when they are no longer compared to smartphones, which become obsolete after three years.

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