Power

No Fossil Fuel-Based Generation Was Added To US Grid Last Month (arstechnica.com) 89

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Ars Technica: In the U.S., two types of electricity generation are on the rise: natural gas and renewables. If one of those is set to make a bigger mark than the other this year, it's natural gas: in 2018, natural gas-burning capacity is expected to outpace renewable capacity for the first time in five years, according to data from the Energy Information Agency. Although natural gas additions are expected to overtake renewable energy additions in 2018, forecasts for renewable energy additions to the grid roughly match what we saw in 2017. Natural gas is overtaking renewables not because renewable energy adoption is slowing, but more because natural gas facilities are seeing a considerable boom.

In fact, barring any changes in the EIA numbers, natural gas, wind, and solar generation are the only electricity generation sources that will be added to the U.S. grid in any consequential manner in 2018. Battery, hydroelectric, and biomass facilities make up the small percentage of "other" sources that are expected to come online this year. Renewable energy also started off the year strong. According to the EIA, "in February 2018, for the first time in decades, all of the new generating capacity coming online within a month were non-fossil-fueled. Of the 475 MW of capacity that came online in February, 81 percent was wind, 16 percent was solar photovoltaic, and the remaining 3 percent was hydro and biomass."

Privacy

'I Asked Apple for All My Data. Here's What Was Sent Back' (zdnet.com) 158

"I asked Apple to give me all the data it's collected on me since I first became a customer in 2010," writes the security editor for ZDNet, "with the purchase of my first iPhone." That was nearly a decade ago. As most tech companies have grown in size, they began collecting more and more data on users and customers -- even on non-users and non-customers... Apple took a little over a week to send me all the data it's collected on me, amounting to almost two dozen Excel spreadsheets at just 5MB in total -- roughly the equivalent of a high-quality photo snapped on my iPhone. Facebook, Google, and Twitter all took a few minutes to an hour to send me all the data they store on me -- ranging from a few hundred megabytes to a couple of gigabytes in size...

The zip file contained mostly Excel spreadsheets, packed with information that Apple stores about me. None of the files contained content information -- like text messages and photos -- but they do contain metadata, like when and who I messaged or called on FaceTime. Apple says that any data information it collects on you is yours to have if you want it, but as of yet, it doesn't turn over your content which is largely stored on your slew of Apple devices. That's set to change later this year... And, of the data it collects to power Siri, Maps, and News, it does so anonymously -- Apple can't attribute that data to the device owner... One spreadsheet -- handily -- contained explanations for all the data fields, which we've uploaded here...

[T]here's really not much to it. As insightful as it was, Apple's treasure trove of my personal data is a drop in the ocean to what social networks or search giants have on me, because Apple is primarily a hardware maker and not ad-driven, like Facebook and Google, which use your data to pitch you ads.

CNET explains how to request your own data from Apple.
Operating Systems

Canonical Shares Desktop Plans For Ubuntu 18.10 (ubuntu.com) 78

Canonical's Will Cooke on Friday talked about the features the company is working on for Ubuntu 18.10 "Cosmic Cuttlefish" cycle. He writes: We're also adding some new features which we didn't get done in time for the main 18.04 release. Specifically: Unlock with your fingerprint, Thunderbolt settings via GNOME Control Center, and XDG Portals support for snap.

GNOME Software improvements
We're having a week long sprint in June to map out exactly how we want the software store to work, how we want to present information and to improve the overall UX of GNOME Software. We've invited GNOME developers along to work with Ubuntu's design team and developers to discuss ideas and plan the work. I'll report back from the sprint in June.

Snap start-up time
Snapcraft have added the ability for us to move some application set up from first run to build time. This will significantly improve desktop application first time start up performance, but there is still more we can do.

Chromium as a snap
Chromium is becoming very hard to build on older releases of Ubuntu as it uses a number of features of modern C++ compilers. Snaps can help us solve a lot of those problems and so we propose to ship Chromium only as a snap from 18.10 onwards, and also to retire Chromium as a deb in Trusty. If you're still running Trusty you can get the latest Chromium as a snap right now.
In addition, Ubuntu team is also working on introducing improvements to power consumption, adding support for DLNA, so that users could share media directly from their desktop to DLNA clients (without having to install and configure extra packages), and improved phone integration by shipping GS Connect as part of the desktop, the GNOME port of KDE Connect. Additional changelog here.
Earth

A Fleet of Sailing Robots Sets Out To Quantify the Oceans (bloomberg.com) 76

pacopico writes: A start-up in California called Saildrone has built a fleet of robotic sailboats that are gathering tons of data about the oceans. The saildrones rely on a hard, carbon-fiber sail to catch wind, and solar panels to power all of their electronics and sensors. "Each drone carries at least $100,000 of electronics, batteries, and related gear," reports Businessweek. "Devices near the tip of the sail measure wind speed and direction, sunlight, air temperature and pressure, and humidity. Across the top of the drone's body, other electronics track wave height and period, carbon dioxide levels, and the strength of the Earth's magnetic field. Underwater, sensors monitor currents, dissolved oxygen levels, and water temperature, acidity, and salinity. Sonars and other acoustic instruments try to identify animal life." So far they've been used to find sharks, monitor fisheries, check on climate change and provide weather forecasts. Saildrone just raised $90 million to build a fleet of 1,000 drones, which it thinks will be enough to measure all of the world's oceans.
Businesses

Senate Votes To Save Net Neutrality (gizmodo.com) 288

In a monumental decision that will resonate through election season, the U.S. Senate on Wednesday voted to reinstate the net neutrality protections the Federal Communications Commission decided to repeal late last year. From a report: For months, procedural red tape has delayed the full implementation of the FCC's decision to drop Title II protections that prevent internet service providers from blocking or throttling online content. Last week, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai confirmed that the repeal of the 2015 Open Internet Order would go into effect on June 11. But Democrats put forth a resolution to use its power under the Congressional Review Act (CRA) to review new regulations by federal agencies through an expedited legislative process. All 49 Democrats in the Senate supported the effort to undo the FCC's vote. Republicans, Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, John Kennedy of Louisiana and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska crossed party lines to support the measure. Further reading: ArsTechnica.
United States

Hacker Breaches Securus, the Company That Helps Cops Track Phones Across the US (vice.com) 68

Securus, the company which tracks nearly any phone across the US for cops with minimal oversight, has been hacked, Motherboard reported Wednesday. From the report: The hacker has provided some of the stolen data to Motherboard, including usernames and poorly secured passwords for thousands of Securus' law enforcement customers. Although it's not clear how many of these customers are using Securus's phone geolocation service, the news still signals the incredibly lax security of a company that is granting law enforcement exceptional power to surveill individuals. "Location aggregators are -- from the point of view of adversarial intelligence agencies -- one of the juiciest hacking targets imaginable," Thomas Rid, a professor of strategic studies at Johns Hopkins University, told Motherboard in an online chat.
Bitcoin

Nobody Knows How Much Energy Bitcoin Is Using (vice.com) 161

dmoberhaus writes: A new report published in 'Joule' today claims Bitcoin may use up to 0.5% of the world's energy by the end of this year. We often hear about how bad Bitcoin is for the environment -- it already uses the same amount of energy as the country of Ireland -- but these numbers are usually just the /minimum/ amount of energy the network must be using. The actual amount of energy used by the Bitcoin network is likely substantially higher, but getting an accurate reading on that energy level is hard. The only researcher trying to quantify Bitcoin's energy use spoke to Motherboard about opening Bitcoin's 'black box.'
Robotics

Researchers Create First Flying Wireless Robotic Insect (newatlas.com) 64

An anonymous reader quotes a report from New Atlas: You might remember RoboBee, an insect-sized robot that flies by flapping its wings. Unfortunately, though, it has to be hard-wired to a power source. Well, one of RoboBee's creators has now helped develop RoboFly, which flies without a tether. Slightly heavier than a toothpick, RoboFly was designed by a team at the University of Washington -- one member of that team, assistant professor Sawyer Fuller, was also part of the Harvard University team that first created RoboBee. That flying robot receives its power via a wire attached to an external power source, as an onboard battery would simply be too heavy to allow the tiny craft to fly. Instead of a wire or a battery, RoboFly is powered by a laser. That laser shines on a photovoltaic cell, which is mounted on top of the robot. On its own, that cell converts the laser light to just seven volts of electricity, so a built-in circuit boosts that to the 240 volts needed to flap the wings. That circuit also contains a microcontroller, which tells the robot when and how to flap its wings -- on RoboBee, that sort of "thinking" is handled via a tether-linked external controller. The robot can be seen in action here.
Power

Tesla Unveils New Large Powerpack Project For Grid Balancing In Europe (electrek.co) 99

Tesla has unveiled a new large Powerpack energy storage project to be used as a virtual power plant for grid balancing in Europe. It consists of 140 Powerpacks and several Tesla inverters for a total power output of 18.2 MW. Electrek reports: Tesla partnered with Restore, a demand response aggregator, to build the system and offer balancing services to European transmission system operators. Instead of using gas generators and steam turbines kicking to compensate for losses of power on the grid, Tesla's batteries are charged when there's excess power and then discharge when there's a need for more power.

Restore UK Vice President Louis Burford told The Energyst that they are bundling their assets like batteries as a "synthetic pool": "By creating synthetic pools or portfolios, you reduce the technical requirements on individual assets that otherwise would not be able to participate [in certain balancing services]. By doing so you create value where it does not ordinarily exist. That is only achievable through synthetic portfolios."
For those interested, Tesla has released promo video on YouTube about the project.
China

Chinese Scientists Develop Photonic Quantum Analog Computing Chip (sciencemag.org) 55

hackingbear writes from a report via Xinhua: Chinese scientists demonstrated the first two-dimensional quantum walks of single photons in real spatial space, which may provide a powerful platform to boost analog quantum computing. Scientists at Shanghai Jiaotong University reported in a paper published in the journal Science Advances a three-dimensional photonic chip with a scale up to 49x49 nodes, by using a technique called femtosecond direct writing. Universal quantum computers, under develop by IBM, Google, Alibaba and other American and Chinese rivals, are far from being feasible before error correction and full connections between the increasing numbers of qubits could be realized. In contrast, analog quantum computers, or quantum simulators, can be built in a straightforward way to solve practical problems directly without error correction, and potentially be able to beat the computational power of classical computers in the near future.
AMD

AMD Integrates Ryzen PRO and Radeon Vega Graphics In Next-Gen APUs (zdnet.com) 76

The three biggest PC OEMs -- Dell, HP, and Lenovo -- are now offering AMD Ryzen PRO mobile and desktop accelerated processing units (APUs) with built-in Radeon Vega graphics in a variety of commercial systems. There are a total of seven new APUs -- three for the mobile space and four for the desktop. As AMD notes in its press release, the first desktops to ship with these latest chips include: the HP Elitedesk G4 and 285 Desktop, the Lenovo ThinkCentre M715, and the Dell Optiplex 5055. ZDNet's Adrian Kingsley-Hughes writes about what makes Ryzen PRO so appealing: Ryzen PRO has been built from the ground up to focus on three pillars -- power, security and reliability. Built-in security means integrated GuardMI technology, an AES 128-bit encryption engine, Windows 10 Enterprise Security support, and support for fTPM/TPM 2.0 Trusted Platform Module. One of the features of Ryzen PRO that AMD hopes will appeal to commercial users is the enterprise-grade reliability that the chips come backed with, everything from 18-moths of planned software availability, 24-months processor availability, a commercial-grade QA process, 36-moth warranty, and enterprise-class manageability.

There are no worries on the performance front either, with the Ryzen PRO with Vega Graphics being the world's fastest processor currently available for ultrathin commercial notebooks, with the AMD Ryzen 7 PRO 2700U offering up to 22 percent more productivity performance than Intel's 8th-generation Core i7-8550U in testing carried out by AMD. AMD has also designed the Ryzen PRO processors to be energy-efficient, enabling up to 16 hours of battery life in devices, or 10.5 hours of video playback. The Ryzen PRO with Vega Graphics desktop processors are also no slouches, opening up a significant performance gap when compared to Intel Core i5 8400 and Core i3 8100 parts.
AMD also announced that it is sampling its second-generation Threadripper 2900X, 2920X and 2950X products. "For Threadripper Gen2 you can expect a refresh of the current line-up; an 8-core Threadripper 2900X, a 12-core Threadripper 2920X and of course a 16-core Threadripper 2950X," reports Guru3D.com. "AMD will apply the same Zen+ tweaks to the processors; including memory latency optimizations and higher clock speeds."

AMD has something for the datacenter enthusiasts out there too. Epyc, AMD's x86 server processor line based on the company's Zen microarchitecture, has a new promo video, claiming more performance, more security features, and more value than Intel Xeon. The company plans to market Epyc in an aggressive head-to-head format similar to how T-Mobile campaigns against Verizon and AT&T. Given Intel Xeon's 99% market share, they sort of have to...
Businesses

Boston Dynamics' SpotMini Robot Dog Will Go On Sale Next Year (cnet.com) 61

Almost two years ago, Boston Dynamics unveiled their SpotMini robot to the world. It's a four-legged machine that can open doors and power through disturbances. CNET reports that the SpotMini will go on sale next year "for companies that want a mechanical quadruped to get to places a wheeled device can't reach." From the report: Boston Dynamics has 10 SpotMini prototypes now and will work with manufacturing partners to build 100 this year, company co-founder and President Marc Raibert said at a TechCrunch robotics conference Friday. "That's a prelude to getting into a higher rate of production" in anticipation of sales next year, he said.

Raibert didn't reveal price plans, but said the SpotMini robots could be useful for security patrols or for helping construction companies keep tabs on what's happening at building sites. SpotMini can be customized with attachments and extra software for particular jobs, he said. Eventually, though, the company hopes to sell it for use in people's homes.

Privacy

The Tech Used To Monitor Inmate Calls Is Able To Track Civilians Too (thedailybeast.com) 33

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Daily Beast: Securus Technologies' programs are used in thousands of prisons and detention centers nationwide to track calls to inmates, but the company's offerings are also capable of tracking and geolocating people's cellphones without any warrant or oversight, The New York Times reports. Securus obtains location information though data from major cellphone providers the same way marketers do. It also advertises the technology to law-enforcement agencies as a tool to find murder suspects, missing people, and those at-large -- but the feature can easily be abused for access to millions of cellphone users.

One Missouri sheriff used the service at least 11 times between 2014 and 2017, and secretly tracked state highway patrol members and a judge, prosecutors said. While the company said it "required customers to upload a legal document" to certify the location lookup, the Federal Communications Commission claims Securus did not "conduct any review of surveillance requests" -- giving law enforcement tracking power without verification of approval or oversight.

The Almighty Buck

Tesla's Giant Battery In Australia Reduced Grid Service Cost By 90 Percent (electrek.co) 251

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Electrek: Tesla's giant Powerpack battery in Australia has been in operation for about 6 months now and we are just starting to discover the magnitude of its impact on the local energy market. A new report now shows that it reduced the cost of the grid service that it performs by 90% and it has already taken a majority share of the market. It is so efficient that it reportedly should have made around $1 million in just a few days in January, but Tesla complained last month that they are not being paid correctly because the system doesn't account for how fast Tesla's Powerpacks start discharging their power into the grid.

The system is basically a victim of its own efficiency, which the Australian Energy Market Operator confirmed is much more rapid, accurate and valuable than a conventional steam turbine in a report published last month. Now McKinsey and Co partner Godart van Gendt presented new data at the Australian Energy Week conference in Melbourne this week and claimed that Tesla's battery has now taken over 55% of the frequency control and ancillary services (FCAS) services and reduced cost by 90%.
"In the first four months of operations of the Hornsdale Power Reserve (the official name of the Tesla big battery, owned and operated by Neoen), the frequency ancillary services prices went down by 90 percent, so that's 9-0 per cent," said Gendt via Reneweconomy. "And the 100MW battery has achieved over 55 percent of the FCAS revenues in South Australia. So it's 2 percent of the capacity in South Australia achieving 55 percent of the revenues in South Australia."
Power

Days After A Fiery Crash, a Tesla's Battery Keeps Reigniting (mercurynews.com) 302

An anonymous reader quotes the Mercury News Six days after a fiery crash on Highway 101 involving a Tesla Model X took the life of a 38-year-old San Mateo man, the car's high-voltage lithium-ion battery re-ignited while sitting in a tow yard, according to the Mountain View Fire Department... The battery reignited twice in the storage yard within a day of the accident and again six days later on March 29. Two weeks later, in an effort to avoid more fires, the NTSB and Tesla performed a battery draw down to fully de-energize it...

On the company website, Tesla wrote "the reason this crash was so severe is that the crash attenuator, a highway safety barrier which is designed to reduce the impact into a concrete lane divider, had either been removed or crushed in a prior accident without being replaced. We have never seen this level of damage to a Model X in any other crash"... Tesla also reported that the vehicle's autopilot function was active at the time of the crash...

The National Transportation Safety Board is investigating the Highway 101 crash and three other accidents also involving Teslas, including a fiery 2014 Model S crash Tuesday in Florida that killed two teenagers. Also under investigation: A Model S crashed into a fire truck near Culver City in January, and the driver reportedly said Autopilot was engaged at the time. And it is looking into a battery fire of a Model X that drove into a home's garage in Lake Forest in August.

Two hours after that story was published, a Tesla smashed into a Starbucks in Los Gatos, California.
Power

Supercomputers Are Driving a Revolution In Hurricane Forecasting (arstechnica.com) 64

Ars Technica's Eric Berger reports of how dramatic increases in computer power have helped improve the accuracy of hurricane forecasts: Based upon new data from the National Hurricane Center for hurricanes based in the Atlantic basin, the average track error for a five-day forecast fell to 155 nautical miles in 2017. That is, the location predicted by the hurricane center for a given storm was just 155 nautical miles away from the actual position of the storm five days later. What is incredible about this is that, back in 1998, this was the average error for a two-day track forecast. In fact, the annual "verification" report released Wednesday shows that for the hyperactive 2017 Atlantic hurricane season -- which included the devastating hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria -- the National Hurricane Center set records for track forecasts at all time periods: 12-hour, 24-hour, and two-, three-, four- and five-day forecasts.
United States

California Becomes First State To Mandate Solar on New Homes (bloomberg.com) 360

California regulators said on Wednesday they have unanimously approved a historic plan that will require most new homes in the state have rooftop solar panels that turn sunlight into electricity starting in 2020. From a report: Most new homes built after Jan. 1, 2020, will be required to include solar systems as part of energy-efficiency standards adopted Wednesday by the California Energy Commission. While that's a boost for the solar industry, critics warned that it will also drive up the cost of buying a house by almost $10,000. The move underscores how rooftop solar, once a luxury reserved for wealthy, green-leaning homeowners, is becoming a mainstream energy source, with California -- the nation's largest solar market -- paving the way.

The Golden State has long been at the vanguard of progressive energy policies, from setting energy-efficiency standards for appliances to instituting an economy-wide program to curb greenhouse gases. The housing mandate is part of Governor Jerry Brown's effort to slash carbon emissions by 40 percent by 2030, and offers up a playbook for other states to follow.

Democrats

Senate Democrats Force a Vote To Restore Net Neutrality (theverge.com) 144

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Verge: Sen. Ed Markey (D-MA) and 32 other Democrats have submitted a new discharge petition under the Congressional Review Act, setting the stage for a full congressional vote to restore net neutrality. Because of the unique CRA process, the petition has the power to force a Senate vote on the resolution, which leaders say is expected next week. The Congressional Review Act allows Congress to roll back regulations within 60 legislative days of introduction, a process that today's resolution would apply to the internet rules introduced by FCC chairman Ajit Pai in December. Pai's rules reversed the 2015 Open Internet Order, which had explicitly banned blocking, throttling, and paid prioritization by internet providers. To successfully undo the Pai order and restore the 2015 rules, today's resolution would need a bare majority in both the Senate and the House, as well as the president's signature.
Google

Google Announces 8x Faster TPU 3.0 For AI, Machine Learning (extremetech.com) 27

At its developer conference yesterday, Google announced third-generation TPUs (Tensor Processing Units) for AI and machine learning, which are eight times more powerful than the Google TPU 2.0 pods with up to 100 petaflops in performance. They're so power-hungry that they require water cooling -- something previous TPUs haven't required. ExtremeTech reports: So what do we know about TPU 3.0? Not much -- but we can make a few educated guesses. According to Google's own documentation, TPU 1.0 was built on a 28nm process node at TSMC, clocked at 700MHz, and consumed 40W of power. Each TPU PCB connected via PCIe 3.0 x16. TPU 2.0 made some significant changes. Unlike TPU v1, which could only handle 8-bit integer operations, Google added support for single-precision floats in TPU v2 and added 8GB of HBM memory to each TPU to improve performance. A TPU cluster consists of 180 TFLOPS of total computational power, 64GB of HBM memory, and 2,400GB/s of memory bandwidth in total (the last thrown in purely of the purposes of making PC enthusiasts moan with envy).

No word yet on other advanced capabilities of the processors, and they are supposedly still for Google's own use, rather than wider adoption. Pichai claims TPU v3 can handle 100 PFLOPS, but that has to be the clustered variant, unless Google is also rolling out a new tentative project we'll call "Google Stellar-Equivalent Thermal Density." We would've expected to hear about it, if that was the case. As more companies flock to the AI / ML banner, expect to see more firms throwing their hats into this proverbial ring.

Hardware

System76 Oryx Pro Linux Laptop is Now Thinner and Faster (betanews.com) 113

An anonymous reader shares a report: Last week, System76 started to share details about its refreshed Linux-powered Oryx Pro laptop. It would be thinner and more powerful, while adding twice the battery life of its predecessor. Unfortunately, we did not yet know exactly what the laptop looked like. Today, we finally have official images. The new Oryx Pro is quite breathtaking, as it is a true Pro machine -- with the USB Type-A, Ethernet, and HDMI ports you expect -- while being just 19mm thin. It has the horsepower that power-users need, thanks to its 8th Gen Intel Core i7 processor and NVIDIA GeForce GTX 10-Series GPU.

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