Frequency Deviations In Continental Europe Are Causing Electric Clocks To Run Behind By 5 Minutes ( 251

elgatozorbas shares a short note from the European Network of Transmission System Operators for Electricity (ENTSO-E): Apparently the Continental European Power System has been off since mid-January, causing some clocks to run behind by 5 minutes. How common are these mains-frequency synchronized clocks anyway, and why are they built that way? "The power deviations have led to a slight drop in the electric frequency," reports ENTSO-E. "This in turn has also affected those electric clocks that are steered by the frequency of the power system and not by a quartz crystal... All actions are taken by the transmission system operators (TSOs) of Continental Europe and by ENTSO-E to resolve the situation."

Thieves Steal 600 Powerful Bitcoin-Mining Computers In Iceland ( 88

The Associated Press reports of a Bitcoin heist in Iceland where thieves stole some 600 computers used to "mine" bitcoin and other virtual currencies. "Some 11 people were arrested, including a security guard, in what Icelandic media have dubbed the 'Big Bitcoin Heist,'" reports the Associated Press. From the report: The powerful computers, which have not yet been found, are worth almost $2 million. But if the stolen equipment is used for its original purpose -- to create new bitcoins -- the thieves could turn a massive profit in an untraceable currency without ever selling the items. Three of four burglaries took place in December and a fourth took place in January, but authorities did not make the news public earlier in hopes of tracking down the thieves. Police tracking the stolen computers are monitoring electric consumption across the country in hopes the thieves will show their hand, according to an industry source who spoke on condition of anonymity because he is not allowed to speak to the media. Unusually high energy usage might reveal the whereabouts of the illegal bitcoin mine. Authorities this week called on local internet providers, electricians and storage space units to report any unusual requests for power.

2M Americans Lost Power After 'Bomb Cyclone' ( 129

An anonymous reader quotes the Associated Press: Tens of thousands of utility workers in the Northeast raced to restore power to more than 1.5 million homes and businesses just days after a powerful nor'easter caused flooding and wind damage from Virginia to Maine... Flood waters had receded in most areas, but Friday's storm had taken huge chunks out of the coastline in Massachusetts and other states... Residents in other areas, meanwhile, bailed out basements and surveyed the damage while waiting for power to be restored, a process that power companies warned could take days in some areas.

Power outages on the East Coast dipped by about 500,000 from a peak of 2 million earlier Saturday, but officials said lingering wind gusts were slowing repair efforts. The storm's aftermath also was still affecting travel, with airports from Washington, D.C. to Boston reporting dozens of delays and cancellations, while service was slowly returning to normal on rail systems throughout the region... The death toll from the storm increased by four, with authorities saying at least nine people had lost their lives.

Airlines canceled more than 2,800 flights, according to the Associated Press, while Amtrak suspended service along the northeast corridor (though it's saying they should all return to service on Sunday).

CNN reported roughly 1 in 4 Americans were in the storm's path, facing winds as high as 50 mph, while the Associated Press reports gusts up to 90 mph on Cape Cod.

China Bans Letter N From Internet as Xi Jinping Extends Grip on Power ( 196

Speaking of things the Chinese government has been censoring in the country, The Guardian reports: It is the 14th letter in the English alphabet and, in Scrabble, the springboard for more than 600 8-letter words. But for the Communist party of China it is also a subversive and intolerable character that was this week banished from the internet as Chinese censors battled to silence criticism of Xi Jinping's bid to set himself up as ruler for life. The contravening consonant was perhaps the most unusual victim of a crackdown targeting words, phrases and even solitary letters censors feared might be used to attack Beijing's controversial decision to abolish constitutional term limits for China's president. The Communist party has painted the move -- which experts say paves the way for Xi to become a dictator for life -- as an expression of overwhelming popular support for China's strongman leader. However, there has been widespread online push-back in China since it was announced on Sunday on the eve of an annual political congress in Beijing.

China Censors Social Media Responses To Proposal To Abolish Presidential Terms ( 163

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Verge: Negative social media reactions in China toward the government's interest in abolishing presidential term limits have sparked a crackdown on memes since Sunday evening. China's constitution currently restricts the president and vice-president to 10 years of leadership, meaning that President Xi Jinping would have been out of power by 2023. The Party's Central Committee proposed removing a phrase in the constitution that stated the two leaders would "serve no more than two consecutive terms," according to the state-run Xinhua News Agency. Authorities will vote on the proposal in March. Many took to social media platforms like WeChat and Weibo with Winnie the Pooh memes, as the animated bear resembles President Xi Jinping to some degree. Winnie the Pooh has been associated with Xi for years and this week, he donned a crown and sat on a throne, enjoying his honey pot. These memes and social media posts were then taken down, hours after the Committee's announcement, signaling that the public's reaction was more unfavorable than authorities predicted. An assortment of phrases have been filtered out by new censors, including "constitution amendment," "re-elected," "proclaim oneself as emperor," and "two term limit." The lag time between the censorship and the initial proposal indicates authorities expected the public to react less critically.
United States

After Rising For 100 Years, Electricity Demand is Flat ( 229

An anonymous reader shares a report: The US electricity sector is in a period of unprecedented change and turmoil. Renewable energy prices are falling like crazy. Natural gas production continues its extraordinary surge. Coal, the golden child of the current administration, is headed down the tubes. In all that bedlam, it's easy to lose sight of an equally important (if less sexy) trend: Demand for electricity is stagnant. Thanks to a combination of greater energy efficiency, outsourcing of heavy industry, and customers generating their own power on site, demand for utility power has been flat for 10 years, and most forecasts expect it to stay that way. The die was cast around 1998, when GDP growth and electricity demand growth became "decoupled." This historic shift has wreaked havoc in the utility industry in ways large and small, visible and obscure. Some of that havoc is high-profile and headline-making, as in the recent requests from utilities (and attempts by the Trump administration) to bail out large coal and nuclear plants.

Relying on Renewables Alone Significantly Inflates the Cost of Overhauling Energy ( 248

A growing number of US cities and states have proposed or even passed legislation that would require producing all electricity from renewable energy sources like solar and wind within a few decades. That might sound like a great idea. But a growing body of evidence shows it's not. From a report: It increasingly appears that insisting on 100 percent renewable sources -- and disdaining others that don't produce greenhouse gases, such as nuclear power and fossil-fuel plants with carbon-capture technology -- is wastefully expensive and needlessly difficult. In the latest piece of evidence, a study published in Energy & Environmental Science determined that solar and wind energy alone could reliably meet about 80 percent of recent US annual electricity demand, but massive investments in energy storage and transmission would be needed to avoid major blackouts. Pushing to meet 100 percent of demand with these resources would require building a huge number of additional wind and solar farms -- or expanding electricity storage to an extent that would be prohibitively expensive at current prices. Or some of both.

Math Shows Some Black Holes Erase Your Past and Give You Unlimited Futures ( 190

dmoberhaus writes: An international team of mathematicians has found that there are theoretical black holes that would allow an observer to survive passage through the event horizon. This would result in the breakdown of determinism, a fundamental feature of the universe that allows physics to have predictive power, and result in the destruction of the observer's past and present them with an infinite number of futures. The findings were detailed in a report published last week in Physical Review Letters.

Tesla Model 3 Torn Down, Hacked and Set On a Dynamometer, Exposing Unusual Tech Details ( 227

Rei writes: With an estimated 8,670 Model 3s delivered, a race is on as competitors and owners work to figure out its limits and explore the tech behind it. Many-time Tesla teardown expert "Ingineerix" has posted a series of videos and discussed his findings on Reddit. Among them: what appears to be the industry's first switched reluctance motor, a massive "smuggling compartment" allocated for a future front-wheel motor, no physical fuses (all solid-state), significant wiring harness length reductions via the use of multiple body controllers, a swappable crash energy absorption system, a liquid-cooled compute unit, and redundant controllers for all safety-related systems. He followed up by posting a screenshot of the car tricked into "factory mode" to reveal its internal specs, including a 1200A max discharge current, 370kW max discharge power, and a 76 kWh pack with 72,5kWh usable. Meanwhile, Munro and Associates tore down a Model 3 for an undisclosed, "not Tesla" client, releasing a video criticizing its build quality and for difficulty in accessing the HV cables in the event of an accident (Munroe's claims were dismissed by Ingineerix). Meanwhile, engineers from German automakers were extremely impressed by what they found during their teardown -- particularly the power electronics system, which they described as "compact, expandable, fully integrated, modular, easily accessible, well-protected, reasonably priced and astonishingly clever in many details." Other owners have been putting their cars on dynamometers to measure their power. Drag Times suffered some skid and measured a conflicting 281 / 327.6 hp with 552 lb-ft torque. Contrarily, Tesla Repair Channel found consistent readings around 250hp when starting from 30mph, but consistently around 390 hp when starting from 10mph. The reason for the discrepancy is not yet clear.

Scientists Say Space Aliens Could Hack Our Planet ( 293

Scientists are worried that space aliens might send messages that worm their way into human society -- not to steal our passwords but to bring down our culture. "Astrophysicists Michael Hippke and John Learned argue in a recent paper that our telescopes might pick up hazardous messages sent our way -- a virus that shuts down our computers, for example, or something a bit like cosmic blackmail: 'Do this for us, or we'll make your sun go supernova and destroy Earth,'" reports NBC News. "Or perhaps the cosmic hackers could trick us into building self-replicating nanobots, and then arrange for them to be let loose to chew up our planet or its inhabitants." From the report: The astrophysicists also suggest that the extraterrestrials could show their displeasure (what did we do?) by launching a cyberattack. Maybe you've seen the 1996 film "Independence Day," in which odious aliens are vanquished by a computer virus uploaded into their machinery. That's about as realistic as sabotaging your neighbor's new laptop by feeding it programs written for the Commodore 64. In other words, aliens that could muster the transmitter power (not to mention the budget) to try wiping us out with code are going to have a real compatibility problem.

Yet there is a way that messages from space might be disruptive. Extraterrestrials could simply give us some advanced knowledge -- not as a trade, but as a gift. How could that possibly be a downer? Imagine: You're a physicist who has dedicated your career to understanding the fundamental structure of matter. You have a stack of reprints, a decent position, and a modicum of admiration from the three other specialists who have read your papers. Suddenly, aliens weigh in with knowledge that's a thousand years ahead of yours. So much for your job and your sense of purpose. If humanity is deprived of the opportunity to learn things on its own, much of its impetus for novelty might evaporate. In a society where invention and discovery are written out of the script, progress and improvement would suffer.


Tesla Deploys Over 300 Powerwalls To Give Hawaiian School Kids AC ( 147

Fred Lambert reports via Electrek: As part of a state initiative, Tesla deployed over 300 Powerwalls in schools to cool down hot classrooms in Hawaii. Hawaii has a problem with hot temperatures in public classrooms that is affecting students negatively. The problem was so significant that the Hawaii State Department of Education had to intervene. They put together a $100 million fund, which has already helped cool down 1,190 classrooms to date, with contracts set for more than 1,300 classrooms, according to The Garden Island. In order to roll out the program without significantly increasing energy costs for public schools, they partnered with Tesla to pair Powerwalls with solar power to reduce the impact of running the air conditioners in classrooms across the state. It also resulted in an interesting learning opportunity about renewable energy and energy storage for students.

New Tech Industry Lobbying Group Argues 'Right to Repair' Laws Endanger Consumers ( 146

chicksdaddy brings this report from Security Ledger: The Security Innovation Center, with backing of powerful tech industry groups, is arguing that letting consumers fix their own devices will empower hackers. The group released a survey last week warning of possible privacy and security risks should consumers have the right to repair their own devices. It counts powerful electronics and software industry organizations like CompTIA, CTIA, TechNet and the Consumer Technology Association as members... In an interview with The Security Ledger, Josh Zecher, the Executive Director of The Security Innovation Center, acknowledged that Security Innovation Center's main purpose is to push back on efforts to pass right to repair laws in the states.

He said the group thinks such measures are dangerous, citing the "power of connected products and devices" and the fact that they are often connected to each other and to the Internet via wireless networks. Zecher said that allowing device owners or independent repair professionals to service smart home devices and connected appliances could expose consumer data to hackers or identity thieves... Asked whether Security Innovation Center was opposed to consumers having the right to repair devices they purchased and owned, Zecher said the group did oppose that right on the grounds of security, privacy and safety... "People say 'It's just my washing machine. Why can't I fix it on my own?' But we saw the Mirai botnet attack last year... Those kinds of products in the wrong hands can be used to do bad things."


Japanese Scientists Invent Floating 'Firefly' Light ( 28

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Reuters: Japanese engineering researchers say they have created a tiny electronic light the size of a firefly which rides waves of ultrasound, and could eventually figure in applications ranging from moving displays to projection mapping. Named Luciola for its resemblance to the firefly, the featherweight levitating particle weighs 16.2 mg, has a diameter of 3.5 mm (0.14 inch), and emits a red glimmer that can just about illuminate text. But its minuscule size belies the power of the 285 microspeakers emitting ultrasonic waves that hold up the light, and have a frequency inaudible to the human ear, allowing Luciola to operate in apparent total silence. It took two years for Luciola to get this far, said circuit design specialist Makoto Takamiya, a member of the Kawahara Universal Information Network Project that developed the device. The developers expect Luciola to find applications in the so-called Internet of Things, in which regular objects, such as cars, or domestic appliances such as air-conditioners, are connected to networks to send and receive data. Equipped with movement or temperature sensors, Luciola could fly to such objects to deliver a message or help to make moving displays with multiple lights that can detect the presence of humans, or participate in futuristic projection mapping events.

Tesla Will Supply Free Charging Stations To Office Parking Lots 39

Tesla has unveiled a new "workplace charging" program today, which offers businesses free Tesla wall connectors and will also cover installation, provided they meet certain qualifications set forth by the California carmaker. "Tesla won't cover the cost of operating the charging stations, and the company says there could be other permitting, construction, zoning, or labor costs," reports The Verge. From the report: The workplace charging stations will be compatible with all Tesla cars, but not with other EVs, and they won't show up on publicly available Tesla charging maps. The wall chargers are 240 volts, or "Level 2," which is capable of topping off a battery pack in a handful of hours, though the company says the charge rate will vary by location depending on the infrastructure available.

Venezuela Says Its Cryptocurrency Raised $735 Million -- But It's a Farce ( 89

Earlier this week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro claimed that a new state-sponsored cryptocurrency called the petro raised $735 million on the first day of its sale. ArsTechnica dives deep on the matter to suggest that it's all a farce. From the report: The government hasn't provided any way to independently verify that $735 million figure. And there's reason to doubt almost everything the Venezuelan government has said about the project. Moreover, there's little reason to believe that the petro will maintain its value over time. The Venezuelan government has portrayed petro tokens as backed by Venezuela's vast oil reserves, but they're not. The government is merely promising to accept tax payments in petros at a government-determined exchange rate linked to oil prices. Given the Venezuelan government's history of manipulating exchange rates, experts say investors should be wary of this arrangement. Moreover, the petro scheme has been opposed by opposition legislators in Venezuela's opposition-controlled legislature. They say that the Maduro government is essentially issuing oil-backed debt, and legally that can't be done without approval from the legislature. If Maduro falls from power in the future, his successor might refuse to honor petro redemptions.

Apple In Talks To Buy Cobalt Directly From Miners ( 58

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Bloomberg: Apple Inc. is in talks to buy long-term supplies of cobalt directly from miners for the first time, according to people familiar with the matter, seeking to ensure it will have enough of the key battery ingredient amid industry fears of a shortage driven by the electric vehicle boom. The iPhone maker is one of the world's largest end users of cobalt for the batteries in its gadgets, but until now it has left the business of buying the metal to the companies that make its batteries. The talks show that the tech giant is keen to ensure that cobalt supplies for its iPhone and iPad batteries are sufficient, with the rapid growth in battery demand for electric vehicles threatening to create a shortage of the raw material. About a quarter of global cobalt production is used in smartphones. Apple is seeking contracts to secure several thousand metric tons of cobalt a year for five years or longer. Its first discussions on cobalt deals with miners were more than a year ago, and it may end up deciding not to go ahead with any deal, another person said.

Salon Magazine Mines Monero On Your Computer If You Use an Ad Blocker ( 314

dryriver shares a report from BBC: News organizations have tried many novel ways to make readers pay -- but this idea is possibly the most audacious yet. If a reader chooses to block its advertising, U.S. publication Salon will use that person's computer to mine for Monero, a cryptocurrency similar to Bitcoin. Creating new tokens of a cryptocurrency typically requires complex calculations that use up a lot of computing power. Salon told readers: "We intend to use a small percentage of your spare processing power to contribute to the advancement of technological discovery, evolution and innovation." The site is making use of CoinHive, a controversial mining tool that was recently used in an attack involving government websites in the UK, U.S. and elsewhere. However, unlike that incident, where hackers took control of visitors' computers to mine cryptocurrency, Salon notifies users and requires them to agree before the tool begins mining.
Open Source

The Future of Free and Open-Source Maps ( 56

Grady Martin writes: Former OpenStreetMap contributor and Google Summer of Code mentor Serge Wroclawski has outlined why OpenStreetMap is in serious trouble, citing unclear usage policies, poor geocoding (address-to-coordinate conversion), and a lack of a review model as reasons for the project's decline in quality. Perhaps more interesting, however, are the problems purported to stem from OpenStreetMap's power structure. Wroclawski writes: "In the case of OpenStreetMap, there is a formal entity which owns the data, called the OpenStreetMap Foundation. But at the same time, the ultimate choices for the website, the geographic database and the infrastructure are not under the direct control of the Foundation, but instead rest largely on one individual, who (while personally friendly) ranges from skeptical to openly hostile to change."

MIT Develops New Chip That Reduces Neural Networks' Power Consumption by Up to 95 Percent ( 55

MIT researchers have developed a special-purpose chip that increases the speed of neural-network computations by three to seven times over its predecessors, while reducing power consumption 94 to 95 percent. From a report: That could make it practical to run neural networks locally on smartphones or even to embed them in household appliances. "The general processor model is that there is a memory in some part of the chip, and there is a processor in another part of the chip, and you move the data back and forth between them when you do these computations," says Avishek Biswas, an MIT graduate student in electrical engineering and computer science, who led the new chip's development. "Since these machine-learning algorithms need so many computations, this transferring back and forth of data is the dominant portion of the energy consumption. But the computation these algorithms do can be simplified to one specific operation, called the dot product. Our approach was, can we implement this dot-product functionality inside the memory so that you don't need to transfer this data back and forth?"

Windows 10 Is Adding an Ultimate Performance Mode For Pros ( 151

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Engadget: When you're creating 3D models or otherwise running intensive tasks, you want to wring every ounce of performance out of your PC as possible. It's a good thing, then, that Microsoft has released a Windows 10 preview build in the Fast ring that includes a new Ultimate Performance mode if you're running Pro for Workstations. As the name implies, this is a step up for people for whom even the High Performance mode isn't enough -- it throws power management out the window to eliminate "micro-latencies" and boost raw speed. You can set it yourself, but PC makers will have the option of shipping systems with the feature turned on. Ultimate Performance isn't currently available for laptops or tablets, but Microsoft suggests that could change.

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