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China

China Cancels Over 100 Coal-Fired Power Plants (reuters.com) 20

In an effort to improve air quality, the Chinese government has canceled over 100 coal-fired power plants in 11 provinces -- totaling a combined installed capacity of more than 100 gigawatts. Reuters reports: In a document issued on Jan. 14, financial media group Caixin reported, the National Energy Administration (NEA) suspended the coal projects, some of which were already under construction. The projects worth some 430 billion yuan ($62 billion) were to have been spread across provinces and autonomous regions including Xinjiang, Inner Mongolia, Shanxi, Gansu, Ningxia, Qinghai, Shaanxi and other northwestern areas. Putting the power projects on hold is a major step towards the government's effort to produce power from renewable sources such as solar and wind, and wean the country off coal, which accounts for the majority of the nation's power supply. To put it in perspective, some 130 GW of additional solar and wind power will be installed by 2020, equal to France's total renewable power generation capacity, said Frank Yu, principal consultant at Wood Mackenzie. "This shows the government is keeping its promise in curbing supplies of coal power," Yu said. Some of the projects will still go ahead, but not until 2025 and will likely replace outdated technology, he said.
Medicine

Robotic Sleeve Mimics Muscles To Keep a Heart Beating (seeker.com) 23

randomErr writes: 5.7 million adults in the United States have heart failure each year with about 41 million worldwide. Currently, treatment involves surgically implanting a mechanical pump, called a ventricular assist device (VAD), into the heart. The VAD helps maintains the heart's function. But patients with VADs are at high risk for getting blood clots and having a stroke. Researchers at Harvard University and Boston Children's Hospital have created a soft robotic sleeve that doesn't have to be implanted. The robotic sleeve slips around the outside of the heart, squeezing it in sync with the natural rhythm. "This work represents an exciting proof of concept result for this soft robot, demonstrating that it can safely interact with soft tissue and lead to improvements in cardiac function," Conor Walsh, said in a press statement. Seeker reports: "The sleeve they developed is made from thin silicone and attaches to the outside of the heart with a combination of suction devices and sutures. It relies on soft, air-powered actuators that twist and compress in a way that's similar to the outer layer of muscle of a human heart. A gel coating reduces any friction between the sleeve and the organ. Because the sleeve is soft and flexible, it can be customized to fit not just the size and shape of individual hearts, but augment the organ's weaknesses. For example, if a patient's heart is weaker on the left side than the right, the sleeve can be tuned to squeeze with more authority on the left side. As the organ gains strength, the device can be adjusted." The study has been published in the journal Science Translational Medicine.
Desktops (Apple)

Malwarebytes Discovers 'First Mac Malware of 2017' (securityweek.com) 47

wiredmikey writes: Security researchers have a uncovered a Mac OS based espionage malware they have named "Quimitchin." The malware is what they consider to be "the first Mac malware of 2017," which appears to be a classic espionage tool. While it has some old code and appears to have existed undetected for some time, it works. It was discovered when an IT admin noticed unusual traffic coming from a particular Mac, and has been seen infecting Macs at biomedical facilities. From SecurityWeek.com: "Quimitchin comprises just two files: a .plist file that simply keeps the .client running at all times, and the .client file containing the payload. The latter is a 'minified and obfuscated' perl script that is more novel in design. It combines three components, Thomas Reed, director of Mac offerings at Malwarebytes and author of the blog post told SecurityWeek: 'a Mac binary, another perl script and a Java class tacked on at the end in the __DATA__ section of the main perl script. The script extracts these, writes them to /tmp/ and executes them.' Its primary purpose seems to be screen captures and webcam access, making it a classic espionage tool. Somewhat surprisingly the code uses antique system calls. 'These are some truly ancient functions, as far as the tech world is concerned, dating back to pre-OS X days,' he wrote in the blog post. 'In addition, the binary also includes the open source libjpeg code, which was last updated in 1998.' The script also contains Linux shell commands. Running the malware on a Linux machine, Malwarebytes 'found that -- with the exception of the Mach-O binary -- everything ran just fine.' It is possible that there is a specific Linux variant of the malware in existence -- but the researchers have not been able to find one. It did find two Windows executable files, courtesy of VirusTotal, that communicated with the same CC server. One of them even used the same libjpeg library, which hasn't been updated since 1998, as that used by Quimitchin."
PlayStation (Games)

Report: PS4 Is Selling Twice As Well As Xbox One (arstechnica.com) 76

The latest numbers released by analysts suggest that the Sony PlayStation 4 is selling twice as many units worldwide as the Xbox One since both systems launched in late 2013. The data comes from a new SuperData report on the Nintendo Switch, which is backed up by Niko Partners analyst Daniel Ahmad. SuperData mentions an installed base of 26 million Xbox One units and 55 million PS4 units. Ars Technica reports: Ahmad's chart suggests that Microsoft may have sold slightly more than half of the 53.4 million PS4 units that Sony recently announced it had sold through January 1. Specific numbers aside, though, it's clear Microsoft has done little to close its console sales gap with Sony over the past year -- and may have actually lost ground in that time. The last time we did our own estimate of worldwide console sales, through the end of 2015, we showed the Xbox One with about 57 percent as many systems sold as the PS4 (21.49 million vs. 37.7 million). That lines up broadly with numbers leaked by EA at the time, which suggest the Xbox One had sold about 52.9 percent as well as the PS4 (19 million vs. 35.9 million). One year later, that ratio has dipped to just above or even a bit below 50 percent, according to these reports. The relative sales performance of the Xbox One and PS4 doesn't say anything direct about the health or quality of those platforms, of course. Microsoft doesn't seem to be in any danger of abandoning the Xbox One platform any time soon and has, in fact, recently committed to upgrading it via Project Scorpio later this year. The gap between PS4 and Xbox One sales becomes important only if it becomes so big that publishers start to consider the Xbox One market as a minor afterthought that can be safely ignored for everything but niche games.
Businesses

Tesla Is Investing $350 Million In Its Gigafactory, Hiring Hundreds of Workers (cnbc.com) 92

Just weeks after the massive Gigafactory started producing batteries, Tesla has announced plans to hire more workers and use the facility to make the motor and gearbox for its upcoming Model 3 electric sedan. CNBC reports: Tesla will invest $350 million for the project, and hire an additional 550 people, according to the governor's comments. That will be over and above the company's existing commitment to hiring 6,500 people at the Gigafactory, according to comments made by Steve Hill, the director of the governor's Office of Economic Development, to Nevada newspaper the Nevada Appeal. Tesla CEO Elon Musk has made manufacturing efficiency a high priority for the company, but Tesla will require a lot of factory floor to meet its goal of to pumping out 500,000 cars by the end of 2018, and then making one million cars by 2020. Meanwhile, the city of Fremont recently approved Tesla's application for an additional 4.6 million square feet of space there.
Android

Thousands of Note 7 Phones Still in Use On Verizon, All Non-911 Calls To Be Rerouted To Customer Service (cnet.com) 135

Thousands of Verizon customers continue to use the Galaxy Note 7 smartphone, the carrier said. This despite the widely publicized recalls spurred by battery fire concerns and a software upgrade designed to kill the phone by preventing it from recharging. From a report: "In spite of our best efforts, there are still customers using the recalled phones who have not returned or exchanged their Note 7 to the point of purchase," a Verizon spokeswoman said. "The recalled Note 7s pose a safety risk to our customers and those around them." So now Verizon is fighting fire with fire, so to speak. The carrier plans to reroute all non-911 outgoing calls to its customer service line, and it might bill the holdouts for the full retail cost of the phone.
Android

Android Will Now Store Google Searches Offline and Deliver Them When You Get Signal (theverge.com) 35

Google is rolling out an update for its Android app that makes it easier to search on the web with an inconsistent internet connection. Users can make searches when offline and the Google app will store them, delivering the results later (with an optional notification) when the devices get signal again. From a report: As Google product manager Shekhar Sharad writes in a blog post: "So the next time you lose service, feel free to queue up your searches, put your phone away and carry on with your day. The Google app will work behind-the-scenes to detect when a connection is available again and deliver your search results once completed."
NASA

NASA Is Making New Robots That Can Control Themselves (vice.com) 40

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Motherboard: NASA wants humans and robots to work together as teams. To ensure that, the space agency's autonomous robotics group is currently developing new technology to improve how humans explore the solar system, and how robots can help. When NASA began working with remotely operated robots several years ago, Fong said the scientists needed a piece of software that would allow them to look at terrain and sensor data coming from autonomous robots. That led to the creation of VERVE, a "3D robot user interface," which allows scientists to see and grasp the three-dimensional world of remotely operated robots. VERVE has been used with NASA's K10 planetary rovers (a prototype mobile robot that can travel bumpy terrain), with its K-Rex planetary rovers (robot to determine soil moisture), with SPHERES (Synchronized Position Hold, Engage, Reorient, Experimental Satellites) on the International Space Station (ISS), and with the new robot Astrobee (a robot that can fly around the ISS). In 2013, NASA carried out a series of tests with astronauts on the ISS, during which astronauts who were flying 200 miles above Earth remotely operated the K10 planetary rover in California. Because of time delay, astronauts can't just "joystick a robot," said Maria Bualat, deputy lead of intelligent robotics group at the NASA Ames Research Center. "You need a robot that can operate on its own, complete tasks on its own," she said. "On the other hand, you still want the human in the loop, because the human brings a lot of experience and very powerful cognitive ability that can deal with issues that the autonomy's not quite ready to handle." That's why, according to NASA, human capabilities and robotic capabilities comprise a powerful combination.
Businesses

US Antitrust Agency Sues Qualcomm Over Patent Licensing (reuters.com) 56

Qualcomm shares have plunged after the U.S. Federal Trade Commission filed a lawsuit against the company on Tuesday, accusing the company of using "anticompetitive" tactics to maintain its monopoly on a key semiconductor used in mobile phones. Reuters reports: The FTC, which works with the Justice Department to enforce antitrust law, said that San Diego-based Qualcomm used its dominant position as a supplier of certain phone chips to impose "onerous" supply and licensing terms on cellphone manufacturers and to weaken competitors. Qualcomm said in a statement that it would "vigorously contest" the complaint and denied FTC allegations that it threatened to withhold chips in order to collect unreasonable licensing fees. In its complaint, the FTC said the patents that Qualcomm sought to license are standard essential patents, which means that the industry uses them widely and they are supposed to be licensed on fair, reasonable and non-discriminatory terms. The FTC complaint also accused Qualcomm of refusing to license some standard essential patents to rival chipmakers, and of entering into an exclusive deal with Apple Inc. The FTC asked the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California in San Jose to order Qualcomm to end these practices.
The Almighty Buck

Blockchain Technology Could Save Banks $12 Billion a Year (silicon.co.uk) 108

Mickeycaskill quotes a report from Silicon.co.uk: Accenture research has found Blockchain technology has the potential to reduce infrastructure costs by an average of 30 percent for eight of the world's ten biggest banks. That equates to annual cost savings of $8-12 billion. The findings of the "Banking on Blockchain: A Value Analysis for Investment Banks" report are based on an analysis of granular cost data from the eight banks to identify exactly where value could be achieved. A vast amount of cost for today's investment banks comes from complex data reconciliation and confirmation processes with their clients and counterparts, as banks maintain independent databases of transactions and customer information. However, Blockchain would enable banks to move to a shared, distributed database that spans multiple organizations. It has become increasingly obvious in recent months that blockchain will be key to the future of the banking industry, with the majority of banks expected to adopt the technology within the next three years.
Portables (Apple)

Apple To Offer 32GB of Desktop RAM, Kaby Lake In Top-End 2017 MacBook Pro, Says Analyst (appleinsider.com) 291

AppleInsider has obtained a note to investors from KGI analyst Ming-Chi Kuo that says Apple's 2017 laptop line will focus on internal component updates, including the platform-wide adoption of Intel's Kaby Lake architecture. What's more is that Apple is expected to manufacture a 15-inch MacBook Pro with up to 32GB of RAM in the fourth quarter of 2017. AppleInsider reports: Apple took flak in releasing its latest MacBook Pro with Touch Bar models with a hard memory cap of 16GB, an minimal allotment viewed as a negative for imaging and video professionals. Responding to customer criticism, Apple said the move was made in a bid to maximize battery life. Essentially, the Intel Skylake CPUs used in Apple's MacBook Pro only support up to 16GB of LPDDR3 RAM at 2133MHz. Though Intel does make processors capable of addressing more than 16GB of memory, those particular chipsets rely on less efficient DDR4 RAM and are usually deployed in desktops with access to dedicated mains power. In order to achieve high memory allotments and keep unplugged battery life performance on par with existing MacBook Pro models, Apple will need to move to an emerging memory technology like LPDDR4 or DDR4L. Such hardware is on track for release later this year. As for the 12-inch MacBook, Kuo believes next-generation versions of the thin-and-light will enter mass production in the second quarter with the same basic design aesthetic introduced in 2015. New for 2017 is a 16GB memory option that will make an appearance thanks to Intel's new processor class.
Businesses

Oculus Accused of Destroying Evidence, Zuckerberg To Testify In $2 Billion Lawsuit (arstechnica.com) 136

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Ars Technica: ZeniMax Media, the parent company of both Bethesda Softworks and Id Software, says it will prove at trial that John Carmack and others at Oculus stole trade secrets to "misappropriate" virtual reality technology that was first developed while Carmack was working at Id Software. What's more, ZeniMax is now accusing Oculus of "intentional destruction of evidence to cover up their wrongdoing." Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of Oculus parent company Facebook, is scheduled to respond to those accusations in testimony starting tomorrow, according to a report by Business insider. ZeniMax's statement comes after Carmack testified at trial last week, saying the case was "ridiculous and absurd." His testimony echoed Oculus' initial reaction when ZeniMax's accusations first surfaced in 2014. In court filings leading up to the trial, ZeniMax detailed its case that Carmack, while still an employee at Id Software, "designed the specifications and functionality embodied in the Rift SDK and directed its development." Carmack's technology and guidance allegedly "literally transformed" Oculus founder Palmer Luckey's early Rift prototype from a "primitive virtual reality headset" that was "little more than a display panel." Carmack allegedly used "copyrighted computer code, trade secret information, and technical know-how" from his time at ZeniMax after he moved to Oculus as CTO in 2013. As the trial began last week (as reported by a Law360 summary, registration required), Carmack told the court of his development of a virtual reality demo for Doom 3 in 2012 and his search for a VR headset that would be suitable to run it. That's when he says he got in touch with Luckey, leading to the now legendary E3 2012 demo that introduced Oculus to the public. ZeniMax is seeking $2 billion in damage, which matches the value that Facebook paid for Oculus in 2014. The trial is expected to last three weeks.
Communications

Amazon Seeks FCC Permission To Run Wireless Tests In Washington State (csmonitor.com) 24

Amazon has filed an application with the U.S. federal government that details plans to experiment with wireless communications technology. The application asks the FCC for permission "to test undisclosed prototypes and their related software for five months in and around its Seattle headquarters," reports Christian Science Monitor. "The experiments will involve mobile devices and anchored stations alike, according to an FCC application made public last week and first reported by Business Insider's Eugene Kim, who noted the project could be part of Amazon's drone-delivery initiatives or something even more novel." From the report: In recent years, Google and Facebook have begun conducting wireless experiments of their own with FCC approval, pursuing a number of innovative projects, such as self-driving cars, as Mr. Kim reported. Amazon, meanwhile, has focused on its aspirations of drone delivery service for its online retail business -- a service the firm has pursued in Britain and several other countries as well. Given the company's wide-ranging interests, it is difficult to anticipate precisely what the tests entail. Last year alone, Amazon unveiled projects to change the way people grocery shop, offer drivers a voice-activated driving assistant, and ship cargo with its own branded planes, as the Monitor reported. Amazon's application to the FCC notes that the tests would begin indoors at the Seattle headquarters then later move outdoors to a customer service site more than 220 miles away, in Kennewick, Wash. The tests would last five months, beginning as early as Feb. 11, 2017, the documents state.
The Military

ISIS Is Dropping Bombs With Drones In Iraq (popsci.com) 197

In addition to rifles, mortars, artillery and suicidal car bombs, ISIS has recently added commercial drones, converted into tiny bombs, into the mix of weapons it uses to fight in Iraq. In October, The New York Times reported that the Islamic State was using small consumer drones rigged with explosives to fight Kurdish forces in Iraq. Two Kurdish soldiers died dismantling a booby-trapped ISIS drone. Several months later and it appears the use of drones on the battlefield is becoming more prevalent. Popular Science reports: Previously, we've seen ISIS scratch-build drones, and as Iraqi Security Forces retook parts of Mosul, they discovered a vast infrastructure of workshops (complete with quality control) for building standardized munitions, weapons, and explosives. These drone bombers recently captured by Iraqi forces and shared with American advisors appear to be commercial, off-the-shelf models, adapted to carry grenade-sized payloads. "It's not as if it is a large, armed UAV [unmanned aerial vehicle] that is dropping munitions from the wings -- but literally, a very small quadcopter that drops a small munition in a somewhat imprecise manner," [Col. Brett] Sylvia, commander of an American military advising mission in Iraq, told Military Times. "They are very short-range, targeting those front-line troops from the Iraqis." Because the drones used are commercial models, it likely means that anti-drone weapons already on hand with the American advisors are sufficient to stop them. It's worth noting that the bomb-dropping drones are just a small part of how ISIS uses the cheap, unmanned flying machines. Other applications include scouts and explosive decoys, as well as one-use weapons. ISIS is also likely not the first group to figure out how to drop grenades from small drones; it's a growing field of research and development among many violent, nonstate actors and insurgent groups. Despite the relative novelty, it's also likely not the deadliest thing insurgents can do with drones.
Microsoft

Microsoft Patent Hints At Foldable Tablet Design For Surface Phone (trustedreviews.com) 26

A new patent has surfaced from Microsoft that may shed some light on the company's upcoming Surface Phone. The patent, which was first filed in October 2014 and recently made public, details a 2-in-1 foldable device with a flexible hinge that can act both as a smartphone and a tablet. TrustedReviews reports: The device in the filings can be configured into various shapes, either folded out like tablets, or folded back inwards to create a smaller phone-like handset. There's also the opportunity to place it in a tent-mode much like Lenovo's range of Yoga hybrids which can be propped up to make it easier to watch media. Microsoft has taken a universal approach to Windows 10, in that the OS is designed to work across multiple devices, so a Surface Phone that could transform into another mobile product would make a lot of sense in terms of demonstrating Windows 10s capabilities. The inventor of the product in the patent is listed as Kabir Siddiqui, the man behind Microsoft's successful patent for the Surface kickstand and Surface camera angle -- which bodes well for this latest design in the long run. Unfortunately, there's every chance we'll never see this technology in a retail-ready product from Microsoft, though some version of the foldable device could well arrive.
Data Storage

Raspberry Pi Upgrades Compute Module With 10 Times the CPU Performance (arstechnica.com) 69

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Ars Technica: The Raspberry Pi Compute Module is getting a big upgrade, with the same processor used in the recently released Raspberry Pi 3. The Compute Module, which is intended for industrial applications, was first released in April 2014 with the same CPU as the first-generation Raspberry Pi. The upgrade announced today has 1GB of RAM and a Broadcom BCM2837 processor that can run at up to 1.2GHz. "This means it provides twice the RAM and roughly ten times the CPU performance of the original Compute Module," the Raspberry Pi Foundation announcement said. This is the second major version of the Compute Module, but it's being called the "Compute Module 3" to match the last flagship Pi's version number. The new Compute Module has more flexible storage options than the original. "One issue with the [Compute Module 1] was the fixed 4GB of eMMC flash storage," the announcement said. But some users wanted to add their own flash storage. "To solve this, two versions of the [Compute Module 3] are being released: one with 4GB eMMC on-board and a 'Lite' model which requires the user to add their own SD card socket or eMMC flash." The core module is tiny so that it can fit into other hardware, but for development purposes there is a separate I/O board with GPIO, USB and MicroUSB, CSI and DSI ports for camera and display boards, HDMI, and MicroSD. The Compute Module 3 and the lite version cost $30 and $25, respectively.
Power

Researchers Create A Lithium-Ion Battery With Built-In Flame Retardant (engadget.com) 71

An anonymous reader quotes Engadget: One big problem with lithium-ion batteries is that they have the tendency to catch fire and blow up all kinds of gadgets like toys and phones. To solve that issue, a group of researchers from Stanford University created lithium-ion batteries with built-in fire extinguishers. They added a component called "triphenyl phosphate" to the plastic fibers of the part that keeps negative and positive electrodes separate. Triphenyl phosphate is a compound commonly used as a flame retardant for various electronics. If the battery's temperature reaches 150 degrees Celsius, the plastic fibers melt and release the chemical. Based on the researchers' tests, the method can stop batteries from burning up within 0.4 seconds.
Open Source

Will The Death of the PC Bring 'An End To Openness'? (infoworld.com) 482

Slashdot reader snydeq shared "11 Predictions For the Future of Programming" by InfoWorld's contributing editor -- and one prediction was particularly dire: The passing of the PC isn't only the slow death of a particular form factor. It;s the dying of a particularly open and welcoming marketplace... Consoles are tightly locked down. No one gets into that marketplace without an investment of capital. The app stores are a bit more open, but they're still walled gardens that limit what we can do. Sure, they are still open to programmers who jump through the right hoops but anyone who makes a false move can be tossed...

For now, most of the people reading this probably have a decent desktop that can compile and run code, but that's slowly changing. Fewer people have the opportunity to write code and share it. For all of the talk about the need to teach the next generation to program, there are fewer practical vectors for open code to be distributed.

Supercomputing

D-Wave Open Sources Its Quantum Computing Tool (gcn.com) 45

Long-time Slashdot reader haruchai writes: Canadian company D-Wave has released their qbsolv tool on GitHub to help bolster interest and familiarity with quantum computing. "qbsolv is a metaheuristic or partitioning solver that solves a potentially large QUBO problem by splitting it into pieces that are solved either on a D-Wave system or via a classical tabu solver," they write on GitHub.

This joins the QMASM macro assembler for D-Wave systems, a tool written in Python by Scott Pakin of Los Alamos National Labs. D-Wave president Bo Ewald says "D-Wave is driving the hardware forward but we need more smart people thinking about applications, and another set thinking about software tools."

Android

Headphone Users Rejoice: Samsung Reportedly Not Killing the Galaxy S8's Headphone Jack (thenextweb.com) 79

An anonymous reader writes: Contrary to previous reports, Samsung's upcoming flagship Galaxy S8 smartphone will come with a headphone jack, unlike the new iPhone 7 and 7 Plus and several other Android smartphones. The news comes from both Sammobile and Android Police. The Next Web reports: "Both Sammobile and Android Police are today reporting that Samsung is not actually killing the headphone jack. Sammobile, appears to be retracting its own report last month suggesting the jack would be dropped thanks to recent case renders, while Android Police has independently confirmed that the S8 will maintain the 3.5mm jack through its own source. In related news, Samsung's display unit may have also just given us our first good look at the S8. While there's a good chance the phone in the video is a generic model (it appears to be a render, rather than a physical object), as CNET points out, it looks an awful lot like the leaks we've seen from the S8 so far. There are also a few curious touches for a something that's supposed to be just a render, including what might be a faint visible antenna line (on the upper left corner) and a couple of LEDs or sensors to the left of the earpiece grill. By the way, there's also a definitely a headphone jack in this render."

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