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News Source Slashdot:Hardware

Last Fall a Drone Swarm Surveilled America's Largest Nuclear Reactor -- Twice
America's Nuclear Regulatory Commission honored a document request from a UFO group — which has inadvertently revealed a very real incident last fall at America's largest nuclear reactor in Arizona, reports Forbes:Documents gained under the Freedom of Information Act show how a number of small drones flew around a restricted area at Palo Verde Nuclear Power Plant on two successive nights last September. Security forces watched, but were apparently helpless to act as the drones carried out their incursions before disappearing into the night. Details of the event gives some clues as to just what they were doing, but who sent them remains a mystery... "Officer noticed several drones (5 or 6) flying over the site. The drones are circling the 3 unit site inside and outside the Protected Area. The drones have flashing red and white lights and are estimated to be 200 to 300 feet above the site. It was reported the drones had spotlights on while approaching the site that they turned off when they entered the Security Owner Controlled Area..." The drones departed at 22:30, eighty minutes after they were first spotted. The security officers estimated that they were over two feet in diameter. This indicates that they were not simply consumer drones like the popular DJI Phantom, which have a flight endurance of about half an hour and is about a foot across, but something larger and more capable. The Lockheed Martin Indago, a military-grade quadcopter recently sold to the Swiss Army, has a flight endurance of about seventy minutes and is more than two feet across. At several thousand dollars apiece minimum, these are far less expendable than consumer drones costing a few hundred. All of which suggests this was not just a prank. The next night events were repeated... The article notes that two months later America's Nuclear Regulatory Commission "decided not to require drone defenses at nuclear plants, asserting that small drones could not damage a reactor or steal nuclear material. It is highly likely that such sites are still vulnerable to drone overflights." The article also notes that this reactor supplies electricity to major American cities including Los Angeles, San Diego, Phoenix, and Tucson.

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Toshiba Formally and Finally Exits Laptop Business
The Register reports that Toshiba has transferred its remaining shares of Dynabook to Sharp, thus ending the company's time as a PC vendor. From the report: [...] As the 2000s rolled along Toshiba devices became bland in comparison to the always-impressive ThinkPad and the MacBook Air, while Dell and HP also improved. Toshiba also never really tried to capture consumers' imaginations, which didn't help growth. As the PC market contracted and Lenovo, Dell and HP came to dominate PC sales in the 2010s, Toshiba just became a less likely brand to put on a laptop shopping list. By 2018 the company saw the writing on the wall and sold its PC business unit to Sharp for a pittance -- just $36 million changed hands - but retained a 19.9 percent share of the company with an option in Sharp's favor to buy that stock. Sharp quickly renamed the business to "Dynabook," a product name Toshiba had used in Japan, and set about releasing new models and reviving the brand. Which brings us to June 30th, 2020, when Sharp exercised its option to acquire the 19.9 percent of Dynabook shares it did not already own. On Tuesday, Toshiba transferred those shares and announced the transaction on Thursday.

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The Next Step In SSD Evolution: NVMe Zoned Namespaces Explained
FallOutBoyTonto writes: In June we saw an update to the NVMe standard. The update defines a software interface to assist in actually reading and writing to the drives in a way to which SSDs and NAND flash actually works. Instead of emulating the traditional block device model that SSDs inherited from hard drives and earlier storage technologies, the new NVMe Zoned Namespaces optional feature allows SSDs to implement a different storage abstraction over flash memory. This is quite similar to the extensions SAS and SATA have added to accommodate Shingled Magnetic Recording (SMR) hard drives, with a few extras for SSDs. 'Zoned' SSDs with this new feature can offer better performance than regular SSDs, with less overprovisioning and less DRAM. The downside is that applications and operating systems have to be updated to support zoned storage, but that work is well underway. The NVMe Zoned Namespaces (ZNS) specification has been ratified and published as a Technical Proposal. It builds on top of the current NVMe 1.4a specification, in preparation for NVMe 2.0. The upcoming NVMe 2.0 specification will incorporate all the approved Technical Proposals, but also reorganize that same functionality into multiple smaller component documents: a base specification (one for each command set of block, zoned, key-value, and potentially more in the future), and separate specifications for each transport protocol (PCIe, RDMA, TCP). The standardization of Zoned Namespaces clears the way for broader commercialization and adoption of this technology, which so far has been held back by vendor-specific zoned storage interfaces and very limited hardware choices. [...]

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Microsoft Isn't Renaming Xbox Live and Has 'No Plans' To Discontinue Xbox Live Gold
Last month, Microsoft removed the option to purchase 12 months of Xbox Live Gold from the Microsoft Store, leading many to believe the company could be planning to phase out the service altogether with the launch of the Xbox Series X. When asked about the plans by The Verge, Microsoft said: "We have no plans to discontinue Xbox Live Gold at this time. It is an important part of gaming on Xbox today, and will continue to be in the future." The Verge's report also notes the company isn't planning to rename Xbox Live: Rumors of an Xbox Live rename appeared this week, after Microsoft announced changes to its services agreement. The software giant started referring to Xbox Live as the "Xbox online service," prompting some to assume Xbox Live was going away. "The update to 'Xbox online service' in the Microsoft Services Agreement refers to the underlying Xbox service that includes features like cross-saves and friend requests," says a Microsoft spokesperson in a statement to The Verge. "This language update is intended to distinguish that underlying service, and the paid Xbox Live Gold subscription. There are no changes being made to the experience of the service or Xbox Live Gold." While it's clear Xbox Live Gold isn't going away, Microsoft's statement doesn't mean the service won't be made free at some point in the future. Microsoft still requires Xbox One owners, and potentially Xbox Series X owners, to purchase an Xbox Live Gold subscription to play multiplayer games online. Windows 10 players of Xbox Live-enabled games do not require the same subscription, however. This split gets especially tricky for games like Halo Infinite, which Microsoft has promised will have a free-to-play multiplayer mode. If Microsoft does continue Xbox Live Gold as a paid service on Xbox consoles, then PC players will get totally free access to Halo Infinite and Xbox players will not.

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Ryzen 4000 Notebooks Delayed By At Least Two Months Due To Shortage of Processors
New submitter spth writes: Demand for notebooks with AMD Ryzen processors is far higher than supply. Following a reddit post by a Schenker (German computer manufacturer) employee about Ryzen 4800H shortages, Heinz Heise (Heinz Heise is the publisher of some leading German computer magazines, such as c't and iX) journalists investigated and found that the shortage apparently affects all Ryzen 4000 mobile APUs, and according to AMD is an industry-wide phenomena. Apparently, a large part of TSMC production capacity is needed for production of the APUs of future PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X consoles, and cannot be used to compensate for increased Ryzen 4000 demand.

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Japan Is Running Diagnostic Tests On Its First Real Gundam
New submitter nightflameauto writes: Japan has a working prototype of a real Gundam that is currently undergoing testing at the Gundam Factory. No, that's not the plot of some silly sci-fi movie, it's actually happening. There's a somewhat sensationally-titled video available of the 18-meter (60-foot) robot assembly running some small movement tests where it twists its torso and lifts a leg, then places it back down. Small steps, but the initial plan is to have this beast debut this October in free-standing/walking form. Welcome to 2020. We may have calamity upon calamity, but at least we've got a Gundam.

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Here's Exactly How Inefficient Wireless Charging Is
News outlet OneZero crunched the numbers on just how inefficient wireless charging is -- and the results are pretty revealing. From the report: On paper, wireless charging sounds appealing. Just drop a phone down on a charger and it will start charging. There's no wear and tear on charging ports, and chargers can even be built into furniture. Not all of the energy that comes out of a wall outlet, however, ends up in a phone's battery. Some of it gets lost in the process as heat. While this is true of all forms of charging to a certain extent, wireless chargers lose a lot of energy compared to cables. They get even less efficient when the coils in the phone aren't aligned properly with the coils in the charging pad, a surprisingly common problem. [...] To get a sense of how much extra power is lost when using wireless charging versus wired charging in the real world, I tested a Pixel 4 using multiple wireless chargers, as well as the standard charging cable that comes with the phone. I used a high-precision power meter that sits between the charging block and the power outlet to measure power consumption. In my tests, I found that wireless charging used, on average, around 47% more power than a cable. Charging the phone from completely dead to 100% using a cable took an average of 14.26 watt-hours (Wh). Using a wireless charger took, on average, 21.01 Wh. That comes out to slightly more than 47% more energy for the convenience of not plugging in a cable. In other words, the phone had to work harder, generate more heat, and suck up more energy when wirelessly charging to fill the same size battery. [...] The first test with the Yootech pad -- before I figured out how to align the coils properly -- took a whopping 25.62 Wh to charge, or 80% more energy than an average cable charge. Hearing about the hypothetical inefficiencies online was one thing, but here I could see how I'd nearly doubled the amount of power it took to charge my phone by setting it down slightly wrong instead of just plugging in a cable.

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Hackers Could Use IoT Botnets To Manipulate Energy Markets
An anonymous reader quotes a report from Wired: At the Black Hat security conference on Wednesday, [researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology] will present their findings, which suggest that high-wattage IoT botnets -- made up of power-guzzling devices like air conditioners, car chargers, and smart thermostats -- could be deployed strategically to increase demand at certain times in any of the nine private energy markets around the US. A savvy attacker, they say, would be able to stealthily force price fluctuations in the service of profit, chaos, or both. The researchers used real, publicly available data from the New York and California markets between May 2018 and May 2019 to study fluctuations in both the "day-ahead market" that forecasts demand and the "real-time market," in which buyers and sellers correct for forecasting errors and unpredictable events like natural disasters. By modeling how much power various hypothetical high-wattage IoT botnets could draw, and crunching the market data, the researchers devised two types of potential attacks that would alter energy pricing. They also figured out how far hackers would be able to push their attacks without the malicious activity raising red flags. "Our basic assumption is that we have access to a high-wattage IoT botnet," says Tohid Shekari, a PhD candidate at the Georgia Institute of Technology who contributed to the research, along with fellow PhD candidate Celine Irvine and professor Raheem Beyah. "In our scenarios, attacker one is a market player; he's basically trying to maximize his own profit. Attacker two is a nation-state actor who can cause financial damage to market players as part of a trade war or cold war. The basic part of either attack is to look at price-load sensitivity. If we change demand by 1 percent, how much is the price going to change as a result of that? You want to optimize the attack to maximize the gain or damage." An attacker could use their botnet's power to increase demand, for instance, when other entities are betting it will be low. Or they could bet that demand will go up at a certain time with certainty that they can make that happen. "The researchers caution that, based on their analysis, much smaller demand fluctuations than you might expect could affect pricing, and that it would take as few as 50,000 infected devices to pull off an impactful attack," the report adds. "Consumers whose devices are unwittingly conscripted into a high-wattage botnet would also be unlikely to notice anything amiss; attackers could intentionally turn on devices to pull power late at night or while people are likely to be out of the house. [...] The researchers calculated that market manipulation campaigns would cause, at most, a 7 percent increase in consumers' home electric bills, likely low enough to go unnoticed." The researchers say market manipulators could take home as much as $245 million a year, and cause as much as $350 million per year in economic damage.

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Amazon's Engineers Are Building Robots In Their Garages
An anonymous reader quotes a report from ZDNet: The next generation of Amazon's Scout bots -- the fully-electric autonomous delivery devices the company is hoping to deploy soon -- is currently being designed and built by a team of mechanical engineers in Seattle, and not in the most orthodox of settings. Instead of working in sleek labs, Amazon's engineers have effectively resorted to re-arranging their homes and garages to accommodate the development of the sophisticated piece of technology the Scout bot is promising to be. The cooler-sized bot is already deployed in a handful of US cities where it is being tested, albeit always accompanied by a human. And to make sure that Scout bots ever reach the next stage of development, Amazon's team had to work their way around the new restrictions suddenly imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic. Unfortunately, engineers need a lot more than a decent internet connection to be able to work remotely. In early March, therefore, Seattle-based Amazon mechanical engineer Jeff Gorges transformed his garage into an R&D lab of motors and wheels in anticipation of office closures. Since then, Gorges has been iterating the bot from his garage workbench, testing various new features by driving the device around his patio. The new Scout bot has now been assembled and debugged by Gorges, all from the comfort from his own home. Amazon's Canvas robotics team, which works on small autonomous carts that use spatial AI to move items through the company's fulfillment centers, moved their testing and manufacturing equipment from their office and lab space to several team members' homes. "With the new tools set up in their apartment living rooms, hardware engineers were able to build and assemble the sub-components for the carts, and then to pass the prototypes onto an R&D technician's home, who set up test and safety systems from his garage," reports ZDNet. "The robots were then sent to a computer vision scientist who worked on calibrating the devices' cameras by reconstructing the carts' future surroundings in the fulfillment center in 3D. All in all, six robots circulated through seven team members home, with precautions taken to disinfect the devices on each transition."

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Will Elon Musk License Tesla's Technology To Other Automakers?
Audi's CEO "willingly admits that Tesla is two years ahead of the industry in some critical areas of building electric vehicles," reports Electrek. But where will that lead? "Earlier this week, Musk made a subtle comment on Twitter that could majorly upend the auto industry," reports Inc. magazine:In response to an article in Teslarati highlighting German automakers' attempts to bridge the gap between Tesla's technology and their own, Musk tweeted the following: "Tesla is open to licensing software and supplying powertrains & batteries," tweeted Musk. "We're just trying to accelerate sustainable energy, not crush competitors!" Consider for just a moment the brilliant potential of Musk's statement. In addition to leading its rivals in electric vehicle production (and the larger style batteries needed to support these), Tesla is also at the forefront of utilizing modern technology in its vehicles. In fact, many have described Tesla as "a tech company that happens to make cars." In contrast, though, Musk has repeatedly spoken on the challenges of actually manufacturing cars at consistent quality, as well as delivering them. At one point, he described Tesla's journey as going from "production hell to delivery logistics hell...." [L]egacy automakers excel where Tesla is weak: namely, manufacturing and delivery. Since they've been making cars so long, they've developed huge factories, along with consistent and refined processes. But what if Tesla could reach a deal with automakers to license its strength — software and battery technology? Then everyone benefits... If you're surprised by Musk's tweet, you shouldn't be. In fact, for years Musk has insisted that his primary goal is not to compete with larger automakers but rather to win them over.... If the legacy automakers are smart, they'll jump at the opportunity to negotiate a licensing deal. The article cites a 2014 blog post in which Musk promised Tesla wouldn't initiate patent lawsuits against companies who wanted to use its technology, "in the spirit of the open-source movement, for the advancement of electric vehicle technology..." "Our true competition is not the small trickle of non-Tesla electric cars being produced, but rather the enormous flood of gasoline cars pouring out of the world's factories every day."

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Arm China Goes Rogue, Ex-CEO Accused of Blocking the Business
An anonymous reader quotes Bloomberg:Arm Ltd., the chip designer owned by SoftBank Group Corp., accused the ousted head of its China joint venture of hurting its business there, escalating a dispute that's becoming a test of Beijing's willingness to protect foreign investment in the world's second-largest economy. The U.K. chip giant in June announced it was firing Allen Wu, the head of its Chinese unit, over undisclosed breaches of conduct, but the executive has refused to step down and remains in control of the strategically important operation. Rather than the peaceful, rapid resolution that both sides have said they want, the situation has deteriorated. Wu has hired his own security and won't let representatives of Arm Ltd. or his board on the premises, said a person familiar with the situation. He's refused to hold a planned event to connect Chinese chipmakers with Arm Ltd. and avoided negotiations despite public statements to the contrary, said the person, who asked not to be named... Resolving the conflict will be crucial to SoftBank's reported plans to sell Arm, a lynchpin in the global smartphone and computing industry that the Japanese firm bought for $32 billion in 2016.

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William English, Engineer Behind 'The Mother of All Demos', Dies at 91
An anonymous reader quotes The Los Angeles Times:On Dec. 9, 1968, the then-small world of computer engineering was shaken to its core by a presentation of new technologies projected onto a screen in a San Francisco hall. The attendees at the historic event saw demonstrations of video conferencing, the first public use of a computer mouse, hyperlinking in which clicking a word in a document transported the user to an entirely new document — and more. The man who was the star of the hands-on show seen in the hall was Douglas Engelbart, whose team at the research center SRI in Menlo Park, California, had been developing them for years. But the man who had designed what is known now as "The Mother of All Demos" and was working behind the scenes to make sure they all worked was William K. English, who died Sunday at the age of 91. Bill English played an indispensable role in more than Engelbart's demo... In 1965 the lab received a NASA grant to invent a technology for moving a cursor and selecting an item on a display screen; Engelbart developed the concept, but it was English who designed the first prototype &mdash the mouse... English essentially choreographed Engelbart's presentation. Just as important, he made sure there were no technical glitches. That was a challenge, since Engelbart would be in San Francisco demonstrating a system that was being operated 30 miles away in Menlo Park, the two sites connected via a microwave relay. The event went off virtually without a hitch, and a new world was born. "Doug wasn't doing it," recalls Roberta, who had worked as Engelbart's secretary. "It was all Bill." Engelbart died in 2013. English also participated in an early research project "into the psychological effects of LSD," according to the article. But a few years after the legendary demo, English was recruited for Xerox's legendary Palo Alto Research Center, "where he helped midwife PARC's invention of the personal computer and other innovations... He subsequently left Xerox to join Sun Microsystems and later the pioneering electronic game console maker 3DO."

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Qualcomm Hints That the 5G iPhone Might Not Arrive In September
Qualcomm's Q3 earnings report might indicate a delay for Apple's upcoming 5G iPhones, with the company highlighting a "partial impact from the delay of a global 5G flagship phone launch" for its fourth quarter projections (which covers July, August, and September earnings). The Verge reports: Looking at the calendar of upcoming phone releases, it's hard to imagine that Qualcomm is talking about any device other than the upcoming 5G iPhones, which are expected to arrive this fall. Typically, Apple releases its new iPhone in September, and it's one of the few upcoming devices that would sell in large enough numbers that Qualcomm might need to disclose the material impact on an earnings call. There are already rumors circulating of delays for Apple's 5G lineup due to production slowdowns caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. In an interview with Reuters, chief financial officer Akash Palkhiwala indicated that the delay likely wouldn't be too long for the unnamed phone, describing it as "a slight delay that pushes some of the units out from the September quarter to the December quarter for us." (Qualcomm's December quarter covers the months of October, November, and December, so if the phone was slated for September, it might only be delayed into the following month.)

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Google One Now Offers Free Phone Backups Up To 15GB on Android and iOS
Google One, Google's subscription program for buying additional storage and live support, is getting an update today that will bring free phone backups for Android and iOS devices to anybody who installs the app -- even if they don't have a paid membership. From a report: The catch: While the feature is free, the backups count against your free Google storage allowance of 15GB. If you need more you need -- you guessed it -- a Google One membership to buy more storage or delete data you no longer need. Paid memberships start at $1.99/month for 100GB. Last year, paid members already got access to this feature on Android, which stores your texts, contacts, apps, photos and videos in Google's cloud. The "free" backups are now available to Android users. iOS users will get access to it once the Google One app rolls out on iOS in the near future.

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Microsoft Used Hydrogen Fuel Cells To Power a Data Center For Two Days Straight
Microsoft announced Monday that hydrogen fuel cells powered a row of its datacenter servers for 48 consecutive hours, bringing the company one step closer toward its goal of becoming "carbon negative" by 2030. Engadget reports: The idea to explore hydrogen fuel cells originated in 2018, when researchers at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Golden, CO used a proton exchange membrane (PEM) hydrogen fuel cell to power a rack of computers. Mark Monroe, a principal infrastructure engineer on Microsoft's team for datacenter advanced development, said his team watched a demonstration and was intrigued with the technology. Monroe's team developed a 250-kilowatt fuel cell system, enough to power a full row of data center servers, and in September 2019 installed it at an Azure datacenter near Salt Lake City, Utah. In June, the system passed a 48-hour test. The team plans to test a 3-megawatt fuel system next, which matches the size of current diesel-powered backup generators. It's possible that an Azure data center could be equipped and run entirely on fuel cells, a hydrogen storage tank and an electrolyzer that converts water molecules into hydrogen and oxygen, Monroe said. These systems could integrate with the electric power grid to provide load balancing services. Further, hydrogen-powered long-haul vehicles could come to datacenters to refuel. By continuing to develop hydrogen fuel technology, Microsoft could eventually serve as a model for use of hydrogen fuel cells elsewhere.

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