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Tech News

After Math: Redemption songs

July 22, 2018 — by Engadget.com0

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Joe Skipper / Reuters

Self-inflicted SNAFUs are an inevitable, albeit cringe-inducing, aspect of life — whether that’s referring to the veteran who helped save a squad of young soccer players as “pedo guy” or wondering aloud if maybe holocaust deniers are simply misunderstood. So yeah, it was a good week for mea culpas as well as countries and companies alike stepping up to do the right thing (for once).

15 inches: It’s not easy squeezing a kid through a flooded passageway barely more than a foot wide and apparently impossible to do if that kid is housed in a miniature submarine that your company threw together from spare parts. But don’t tell that to Elon Musk, unless you want to be accused of pedophilia. But at least he apologized for it.

13 years: Technically, Facebook is only meant for use by adults and proper teenagers. Tweens need not apply thanks to the US Child Online Privacy Protection Act which excludes anyone under the age of 13 from signing up for social media accounts. Facebook announced this week that it would begin enforcing that rule, some 20 years after the passage of the COPPA.

58 million: It Twitter seems ever so slightly less toxic these days, it probably has something to do with the company knocking nearly 60 million bot accounts offline during the final months of 2017. Or it could be the additional 70 million fake accounts that they’ve nixed in the past two months.

6 years: Adidas is going all in on going green. The company announced that by 2024, any plastics used in its shoes and athletic gear will come exclusively from recycled sources. Good on them.

44.92 Mbps: Residents of Minneapolis rejoice! You’ve got some of the fastest internet connectivity in the entire country, beating out the likes of San Francisco and Irvine in California, Fort Wayne, Indiana and sister city Saint Paul.

$0: Not only did Google announce this week that it will be working with the UN to study the impact of human activity on the environment, the company will be doing so at no charge. Because we’re all in this together. Yes, even you weirdos who think that climate change is caused by body heat.

4.5 months: Cuba is finally joining the digital revolution and has announced plans to roll out internet connectivity island-wide by the end of this year. Journalists with the state-run media will get first crack at the service, though there’s no word yet on what it will cost everybody else.

Tech News

NASA and the UAE will team up for human spaceflight

July 20, 2018 — by Engadget.com0

NASA/George Roberts

The UAE is the latest country to sign a deal with NASA to cooperate on human spaceflight. NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine tweeted about the joint letter of intent today, which was also signed by Dr. Mohammed Al Ahbabi, the director general of the UAE Space Agency. While there are no details about what the agreement entails, presumably UAE astronauts will be eligible for spots on NASA’s crewed missions.

This morning I met with the Director General of the @UAESpaceAgency, HE Dr. Mohammed Al Ahbabi. We signed a joint letter of intent for cooperation in human space flight. I look forward to working with @DrAlahbabi to further humanity’s exploration of space. pic.twitter.com/LJfBoilO6q

— Jim Bridenstine (@JimBridenstine) July 18, 2018

The UAE is currently in the process of selecting its first group of astronauts. It has narrowed the field down to nine candidates who are in training. From this pool, four astronauts will be officially selected. The first UAE astronaut is scheduled to launch to the International Space Station in April 2019. The UAE Space Agency already has a deal with Roscosmos, Russia’s space agency, for that flight.

NASA and the UAE signed an outer space and aeronautics research agreement in June of 2016. However, this new joint letter emphasizes human spaceflight along with other space exploration goals. Considering that NASA has a long way to go before it regains the ability to fly its own astronauts, though, thanks to delays from both SpaceX and Boeing, this is all theoretical for right now.

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Breathtaking photos show Saturn's moon in a new light

July 20, 2018 — by Engadget.com0

NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Nantes/University of Arizona

Photos of Saturn’s largest moon, Titan, have typically captured the muted, apricot tones of its nitrogen-rich atmosphere. But thanks to more than a decade of data gathered by the Cassini spacecraft, new photographs of an atmosphere-free Titan can show us the mesmerizing beauty of its surface.

To capture the photos, The Cassini team used a Visible Infrared Mapping Spectrometer (VIMS) which was able to peek through Titan’s haze. The generated images — which come from several observations under different lighting and viewing conditions throughout Cassini’s $3.2 billion mission — show a near-seamless depiction of the moon’s icy exterior. Its slimy methane seas and windswept dunes are on full display in what NASA says is the “best representation” of Titan we’ll see for a long while.

The Cassini spacecraft was born to die from the beginning — operators crashed it into Saturn’s center to ensure stray debris wouldn’t litter the planet’s assembly of moons, but not before learning some valuable information. For us, the most pertinent was the discovery that Titans’ liquid methane lakes contained something that could potentially sustain life — vinyl cyanide. Scientists believe it would be a good alternative to the phospholipids that form cell membranes, but NASA’s current pictures still aren’t enough to inspect the biochemistry further, or determine whether Titan’s 290 °F climate is hiding living organisms. However, if NASA’s Dragonfly mission gets the greenlight, that could change.

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Scientists discover structure within the Sun's atmosphere

July 20, 2018 — by Engadget.com0

john finney photography via Getty Images

While scientists have been learning more and more about our solar system and the way things work, many of our Sun’s mechanics still remain a mystery. In advance of the launch of the Parker Solar Probe, which will make contact with the Sun’s outer atmosphere, however, scientists are foreshadowing what the spacecraft might see with new discoveries. In a paper published this week in The Astrophysical Journal, scientists detected structures within the Sun’s corona, thanks to advanced image processing techniques and algorithms.

The question that this group of scientists, led by Craig DeForest from the Southwest Research Institute’s branch in Boulder, Colorado, was trying to answer was in regard to the source of solar wind. “In deep space, the solar wind is turbulent and gusty,” said DeForest in a release. “But how did it get that way? Did it leave the Sun smooth, and become turbulent as it crossed the solar system, or are the gusts telling us about the Sun itself?”

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The answer lies in the outer corona of the Sun, where the solar wind originates. If the Sun causes the turbulence, then the outer corona itself should have some structure. Up until now, when scientists studied the outer corona, it appeared smooth and homogenous. The team used long-exposure images from the spacecraft STEREO-A that blocked out the star itself to look at this area. The problem was increasing the resolution of cameras that were already flying in space and couldn’t be serviced.

The answer: Use algorithms in order to process the images in various ways to enhance the clarity. By filtering out the noise from background stars, correcting for how long the shutter was open during image capture and normalizing brightness, the team was able to reduce the signal-to-noise ratio and produce clearer and crisper images. Additionally, the team ran an algorithm to reduce motion blur in real-time. They accomplished this by actually shifting their images to take the motion of the solar wind into account. “We smoothed, not just in space, not just in time, but in a moving coordinate system,” DeForest said. “That allowed us to create motion blur that was determined not by the speed of the wind, but by how rapidly the features changed in the wind.”

By taking these advanced steps, the team was able to determine that the Sun’s outer corona does indeed have a physical structure. “When we removed as much noise as possible, we realized that the corona is structured, all the way down to the optical resolution of the instrument,” DeForest said. Additionally, they also discovered that the Alfvén zone, or the area where material has traveled too far and too fast from the Sun to be recaptured, is less of clean boundary than scientists thought — it’s more of a “no man’s land” zone than a

Tech News

Three top FBI officials quit as US cybersecurity threats mount

July 20, 2018 — by Engadget.com0

Loop Images/Alan Novelli via Getty Images

Looming cybersecurity threats are reportedly behind the departure of several cybersecurity officials at the Federal Bureau of Investigation. According to The Wall Street Journal, three of the top FBI officials — Scott Smith, David Resch, and Carl Ghattas — are exiting the bureau.

The resignations come amidst an “unprecedented” number of cyberattacks, which apparently include Russian meddling in the political system, as well as disputes with President Trump. Last year, the US President took a swipe at the FBI’s reputation on social media, calling it “the worst in history”.

Assistant FBI director Scott Smith is set to resign this month, and will be joined by David Resch, the FBI’s executive assistant director of the cyber, response and services office. Meanwhile, the national security branch of the FBI will lose Carl Ghattas — also an executive assistant director — as he pursues other opportunities in the private sector.

All of the departures have been confirmed by the FBI.

In a statement, Resch assured the public that “the Bureau will remain the FBI the American people have depended on for 110 years”. Those familiar with the decisions have labelled the mass exodus of senior officials as “highly unusual”, particularly in the case of Smith, whose premature departure diverges from the standard practice of agents leaving after retirement age.

With the shadow of the 2016 election hacking still lingering, and concerns with present cybersecurity issues, senior US intelligence officials have cautioned the country has reached a “critical point”.

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Google, Facebook, Microsoft and Twitter unite to simplify data transfers

July 20, 2018 — by Engadget.com0

Dean Mouhtaropoulos via Getty Images

Four of the biggest technology companies are banding together to make it easier for users to download and transfer their data between services. Google, Microsoft, Facebook and Twitter formally announced The Data Transfer Project (DTP) today, an open-source initiative to create new tools that “enable people to freely move their information across the web,” Damien Kieran, Data Protection Officer at Twitter explained. It’s early days, but the group has published a white paper that details its vision for an easier, more flexible “data portability ecosystem.” The group says it wants an open dialogue with developers and users alike moving forward.

At its core, the DTP will use a series of “adapters” that can unravel propriety APIs into easily understandable data packets. Adapters will come in two types: import and export data adapters, and authentication adapters for verifying and protecting users. In practice, a person could transfer their Instagram photos to Flickr, or Google Photos, without having to mass-download and upload their library. Once it’s finalized, the new system should cover all types of data including email, contacts, calendars and tasks. Individual data types, called Data Models, will be grouped together under Verticals. A service like YouTube Music, for instance, could have Data Models for playlists and music videos under its music Vertical.

The challenge for Facebook, Microsoft, Google and Twitter, of course, will be getting everyone to adopt and maintain the most popular Data Models.

The DTP is still in development and not available to the wider public. There are, however, a couple of GitHub-hosted methods that curious engineers can try out right now. The end-goal is to get companies outside of the current contributors to embrace the new system. That way, users will have true flexibility over the services they use and the amount of data each one holds. You might have all your running data on Strava, for instance, and suddenly discover a new app with a superior service. Or decide that actually, you would prefer to do all of your social networking on Google+.

The announcement follows the introduction of GDPR in the EU. The legislation adds a number of consumer-focused protections inside the European Union, including the requirement that all companies offer some kind of data download tool. The DTP is meant for everyone — not just the EU — but has likely been accelerated because of the new regulations. “This will take time but we are very excited to work with innovators and passionate people from other companies to ensure we are putting you first,” Kieran added. “Fundamentally this is about pushing towards a more open and dynamic internet.”

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Artificial meteor shower displays are coming

July 19, 2018 — by Engadget.com0

Pixabay

Fireworks. So passé, right? That could well be the thinking of one Japanese start-up, which is developing shooting stars on demand, and plans to put on the world’s first artificial meteor shower in early 2020.

Tokyo-based ALE has created micro-satellites that release tiny orbs that glow brightly when they enter the atmosphere, simulating the dazzling spectacle of a meteor shower. The chemicals involved are apparently a closely-guarded secret, but each satellite is able to carry 400 balls — enough for 20-30 meteor events — which can be tinkered with to produce multi-colored “stars”. Each star will burn for several seconds before being completely burned up, long before they’re close enough to Earth to pose any danger.

The first satellite will hitch a ride into space via a rocket launched by Japan’s space agency in March 2019, while the second will be launched in mid-2019 on a private sector rocket. The company is also looking at the possibility of using existing non-operational satellites to create “giant” shooting stars.

The first show is scheduled to take place over Hiroshima, although the company says their meteor showers could easily be deployed anywhere on the planet, since the stockpile of “stars” is being kept in space. It’s not clear how much a faux meteor shower will cost, but with the company spending $20 million on the development and production of just two satellites, it probably won’t be cheap.

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Nissan's Leaf E-Plus may offer more range and extra power in 2019

July 19, 2018 — by Engadget.com0

Engadget

Nissan’s 2018 Leaf model upped the ante with a ProPilot Assist system and 150-mile travel range on full battery. That was a solid improvement compared to the original Leaf’s 107 miles, and positioned it somewhere between the Hyundai Iconiq EV and Tesla’s Model 3. Still, it left many hungry for a vehicle that could offer a longer range. Now, the best-selling EV maker has confirmed its 2019 model will boost mileage and battery power.

Brian Maragno, Nissan’s director of Marketing and Sales Strategy told AutoGuide that the Leaf “E-Plus” will up the horsepower from 142BHP to 200BHP and will utilize a higher capacity battery. According to reports, battery power will rise from 40kW to 60kW. The E-Plus is also said to feature a 160kW electric motor and a fast-charging capacity that isn’t currently part of the Leaf line-up.

While Maragno did not reveal exact figures on the E-Plus’s range, it’s been proposed as early as December 2017 that it will reach approximately 225 miles — which would bring it more in line with the Model 3 and Chevy’s Bolt EV.

For Leaf fans wanting a more sporty look, Nissan is also delivering on that front. At the Tokyo Game Show last year, the company first exhibited the Leaf Nismo — a concept vehicle with a “fondness for song” that’s based on the 2018 Leaf design. The ‘Canto’ (Latin for ‘I sing’) feature, which was built-in to insure pedestrian safety, changes the pitch of sounds depending on whether the Leaf is accelerating or decelerating. Although the Nismo didn’t come with a release timeline, that’s since changed. The Japanese company has recently announced it will be on sale in Japan beginning July 31st. There’s no confirmation yet on when or if it will arrive on US shores.

At any rate, Nissan’s strides toward improving its EV lineup could further cement its grip on the EV market and cause prospective owners less range-anxiety.

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Tesla to cover the cost of Germany's court-ruled subsidy repayments

July 19, 2018 — by Engadget.com0

Some German Tesla owners are facing a surprise €4,000 bill for purchasing their Model S cars, thanks to a confusing ruling by Germany’s Federal Office for Economic Affairs and Export Control. In a bid to push EVs and plug-in hybrids in the country, Germany offers a €4,000 subsidy for electric vehicles with a base price under €60,000 (half of the subsidy comes from the government, the other half from the automaker itself).

While the Model S has a base price low enough to qualify, it was previously removed from the approved vehicles list when the government came to believe the base model wasn’t actually available in Germany. Tesla could only prove this model was available to German buyers from March 6th, so anyone purchasing the car prior to this date was — according to the government — erroneously in receipt of the subsidy, and must now pay it back.

The decision affects around 800 Model S owners, but Tesla is stepping in to help. In a statement, the company said that “the arbitrary decision to temporarily remove Tesla from the list of vehicles eligible for the Environmental Bonus (Umweltbonus) was unjustified, contrary to the stated goals of the program, and unfair to our customers.”

It says it plans to appeal the government’s decision, and “to make sure our customers are not harmed by this decision, we will cover the cost of the bonus for them until the issue is resolved.” It also says it won’t ask for its half of the payment to be returned. The issue could end up lumping Tesla with a bill of €1.7 million (the government’s share of the subsidy) — not a serious sum for a company of its size but certainly enough to get their accounts in a sweat, so it’ll no doubt push for a quick resolution.

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Alphabet's Loon internet balloons are making their way to Kenya

July 19, 2018 — by Engadget.com0

Stephen Lam / Reuters

Alphabet has announced Loon’s first commercial deal in Africa merely a few days after the former X lab experiment finally became a full-fledged company. According to Reuters, the new subsidiary will deploy internet-relaying balloons in Kenya starting next year in partnership with local provider Telkom Kenya. The partnership will bring high-speed internet access to rural communities in the country, particularly those in remote locations ISPs can’t service.

Loon’s technology works by receiving wireless internet signals from a telcom partner on the ground. The balloon that receives that signal then relays it across the network of balloons in the region, which then beams it down to users on the ground. Those balloons are solar-powered, fly at an altitude of 60,000 feet above sea level and are capable of delivering a connection with LTE speeds. Kenya’s authorities are hoping that the technology can help the country achieve full internet coverage, one people can rely on even if they live far from cities.

While it remains to be seen whether Loon can connect all of Kenya, its previous tests prove that its technology works. Back when the company was still part of the X lab, it successfully provided over 100,000 people in Puerto Rico with basic internet connectivity after Hurricane Maria. It wasn’t perfect, since the island’s infrastructure suffered massive damage, but it was definitely a huge accomplishment for what was once considered a crazy X lab experiment.