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News Source Slashdot:Hardware

It's Official: Solar Is the Cheapest Electricity In History
An anonymous reader writes: In a new report, the International Energy Agency (IEA) says solar is now the cheapest form of electricity for utility companies to build. That's thanks to risk-reducing financial policies around the world, the agency says, and it applies to locations with both the most favorable policies and the easiest access to financing. The report underlines how important these policies are to encouraging development of renewables and other environmentally forward technologies. Carbon Brief (CB) summarizes the annual report with a lot of key details. The World Energy Outlook 2020 "offers four 'pathways' to 2040, all of which see a major rise in renewables," CB says. "The IEA's main scenario has 43 [percent] more solar output by 2040 than it expected in 2018, partly due to detailed new analysis showing that solar power is 20 [to] 50 [percent] cheaper than thought." The calculation depends on financing figures compared with the amount of output for solar projects. That means that at the same time panel technology gets more efficient and prices for basic panels continue to fall, investors are getting better and better financing deals. "Previously the IEA assumed a range of 7 [to] 8 [percent] for all technologies, varying according to each country's stage of development," explains CB. "Now, the IEA has reviewed the evidence internationally and finds that for solar, the cost of capital is much lower, at 2.6 [to] 5.0 [percent] in Europe and the US, 4.4 [to] 5.5 [percent] in China and 8.8 [to] 10.0 [percent] in India."

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Print These Electronic Circuits Directly Onto Skin
An anonymous reader quotes a report from IEEE Spectrum: New circuits can get printed directly on human skin to help monitor vital signs, a new study finds. In the new study, researchers developed a way to sinter nanoparticles of silver at room temperature. The key behind this advance is a so-called a sintering aid layer, consisting of a biodegradable polymer paste and additives such as titanium dioxide or calcium carbonate. Positive electrical charges in the sintering aid layer neutralized the negative electrical charges the silver nanoparticles could accumulate from other compounds in their ink. This meant it took less energy for the silver nanoparticles printed on top of the sintering aid layer to come together, says study senior author Huanyu Cheng, a mechanical engineer at Pennsylvania State University. The sintering aid layer also created a smooth base for circuits printed on top of it. This in turn improved the performance of these circuits in the face of bending, folding, twisting and wrinkling. In experiments, the scientists placed the silver nanoparticle circuit designs and the sintering aid layer onto a wooden stamp, which they pressed onto the back of a human hand. They next used a hair dryer set to cool to evaporate the solvent in the ink. A hot shower could easily remove these circuits without damaging the underlying skin. After the circuits sintered, they could help the researchers measure body temperature, skin moisture, blood oxygen, heart rate, respiration rate, blood pressure and bodily electrical signals such as electrocardiogram (ECG or EKG) readings. The data from these sensors were comparable to or better than those measured using conventional commercial sensors that were simply stuck onto the skin, Cheng says. The findings have been published in the journal Applied Materials & Interfaces.

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IT'S INTERNATIONAL CAPS LOCK DAY
bobstreo informs us that it's CAPS LOCK DAY and shares an excerpt about its history: Caps Lock Day first came to pass in the year 2000, when Derek Arnold of Iowa decided that he, like so many other internet users, had simply had enough of people using all caps to emphasize themselves on the web. So he created Caps Lock Day in the interest of poking fun at people who use this abomination of a typing style, and to finally bring some sanity to the net. On mechanical typewriters, the Caps Lock key was first the Shift lock key. One of the earlier innovations in the use of typewriters saw a second character being added to each typebar. This caused the number of characters that a person was able to type to be doubled with the same number of keys being used. The second character was located above the first on each typebar's face, and the Shift key would cause the apparatus in its entirety to move, physically shifting the typebars position relative to the ribbon of inx. Just like in contemporary keyboards for computers today, the shifted position was used to create secondary characters and product capitals. The invention of the Shift lock key was for the purpose of maintaining the shift operation indefinitely without continual effort. The typebars were mechanically locked in a shifted position, resulting in the upper character being typed when any key was pressed. This was also supposed to lower finger muscle pain caused by repetitive typing because it could be challenging to hold the shift down for more than two or three consecutive strokes prior to this. On mechanical typewriters, you would typically hit both Lock and Shift at the same time. After this, you press shift by itself in order to release the lock.

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GMC Hummer EV vs. Tesla Cybertruck, Bollinger and Rivian
Last night, GMC unveiled the Hummer EV, the company's first electric pickup with a 350-mile range, 1,000 HP and up to 11,500 pound-feet of torque. Although there's still plenty more questions than answers, CNET has compared what we know about the Hummer EV against the Tesla Cybertruck, as well as trucks from startups like Bollinger and Rivian. And just for fun, they've included the tried and true Ford F-150 (Raptor).Here's a summary of the specs/features based on CNET's analysis: Performance Tesla Cybertruck: Three motors with more performance than the Model S Performance (though tech specs are limited). GMC Hummer EV: 1,000 horsepower and 11,500 pound-feet of torque (likely axle torque). 60mph in 3 seconds flat. The Bollinger B2: Dual-motor setup with 614 horsepower and 668 pound-feet of torque.The Rivian R1T: The top-spec variant will feature 750 horsepower and 829 pound-feet of torque. Ford F-150: High-output turbocharged V6 with 450 horsepower and 510 pound-feet of torque. Range Tesla Cybertruck: 500 milesGMC Hummer EV: 350 miles; compatible with 350-kW DC fast-charging; 100 miles of range in just 10 minutesRivian R1T: 400 milesBollinger B2: 200 miles; 120 kWh batteryFord F-150: 850 miles; 26-gallon tank of diesel Towing and payload Tesla Cybertruck: 14,000 pounds; NAGMC Hummer EV: NA; NARivian R1T: 11,000 pounds; NABollinger B2: 7,500 pounds; 5,000 poundsFord F-150: 13,200 pounds; 3,270 pounds Cost Tesla Cybertruck: "under $40,000" for base model with rear-wheel driveGMC Hummer EV: The fancy Edition 1 will cost $112,595 with less expensive versions in following yearsRivian R1T: starts at $69,000Bollinger B2: starts at $125,000 Ford F-150: starts at $28,495 -> $67,485

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Backblaze Hard Drive Stats Q3 2020
Backblaze's Q3 2020 hard drive stats: As of September 30, 2020, Backblaze had 153,727 spinning hard drives in our cloud storage ecosystem spread across four data centers. Of that number, there were 2,780 boot drives and 150,947 data drives. This review looks at the Q3 2020 and lifetime hard drive failure rates of the data drive models currently in operation in our data centers and provides a handful of insights and observations along the way. [...] There are several models with zero drive failures in the quarter. That's great, but when we dig in a little we get different stories for each of the drives. The 18TB Seagate model (ST18000NM000J) has 300 drive days and they've been in service for about 12 days. There were no out of the box failures which is a good start, but that's all you can say. The 16TB Seagate model (ST16000NM001G) has 5,428 drive days which is low, but they've been around for nearly 10 months on average. Still, I wouldn't try to draw any conclusions yet, but a quarter or two more like this and we might have something to say.The 4TB Toshiba model (MD04ABA400V) has only 9,108 drive days, but they have been putting up zeros for seven quarters straight. That has to count for something. The 14TB Seagate model (ST14000NM001G) has 21,120 drive days with 2,400 drives, but they have only been operational for less than one month. Next quarter will give us a better picture. The 4TB HGST (model: HMS5C4040ALE640) has 274,923 drive days with no failures this quarter.

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A Group of Materials Called Perovskites Could Be a Game-Changer For Solar Power
Researchers from Australia have discovered that the widely acclaimed mineral perovskite can be used to transform the solar industry through cheaper and more efficient photovoltaics. The Independent reports: Perovskite, which is forged deep within the Earth's mantle, has been hailed for its unprecedented potential to convert sunlight into electricity. Researchers have already improved its sunlight-to-energy efficiency from around 3 per cent to over 20 per cent in the space of just a few years. "It's unbelievable, a miracle material," Z. Valy Vardeny, a materials science professor from the University of Utah, said about perovskite in 2017. At the time it was thought that it would be at least 10 years before it reached a point that the material could be used in commercial solar cells, however the latest breakthrough could see the wide uptake of the technology much sooner. "It was one of those unusual discoveries that you sometimes hear about in science," said Dr Hall from the University of Melbourne. With the help of researchers at the University of Sydney, the scientists were able to use computational modeling to solve the problem of instability within the material when exposed to sunlight. The unlikely solution was to undo the disruption caused by light at lower intensities by focussing the light into a high-intensity beam. Dr Hall added: "What we've shown is that you can actually use the material in the state that you want to use it, for a solar cell - all you need to do is focus more light onto it." The research could also have significant implications for data storage, with perovskites offering a way to dramatically increase a device's potential capacity. The study has been published in the journal Nature Materials.

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Google Confirms the Nest Secure Has Been Discontinued
Google's Nest Secure alarm system, which was discussed on Slashdot for featuring an unlisted, disabled microphone, has been discontinued by Google, though it will continue functioning. Android Police reports: Google released the Nest Guard in 2017 as a simple security system with motion sensors and a keypad, but it never received an upgrade, even as other Nest devices were updated again and again. The product page for the Nest Guard on the Google Store was updated last week with a 'No longer available' message, possibly indicating it had been discontinued. Google later confirmed to Android Police that the Nest Guard will no longer be sold, but it will continue to work for people who have already bought it.

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Tesla Powerwall Rival Seeks To Bring Hydrogen Into Your Home
An anonymous reader quotes a report from Bloomberg: It's about the size of Tesla Inc.'s Powerwall, but can store up to three times as much energy over a longer period. That's the promise of a new hydrogen-based energy-storage system for homes and businesses being developed by Australian startup Lavo Hydrogen Technology Ltd. The technology, developed with scientists at the University of New South Wales, uses power from rooftop solar panels to produce hydrogen from water by electrolysis. The gas is stored in a metal hydride container and converted back into electricity when needed using a fuel cell. Australia's world-beating rooftop-solar take-up rates make it an ideal early market, said Lavo Chief Executive Officer Alan Yu. The unit will go on sale from November, with installations starting in June 2021, subject to final approvals. The company plans to sell 10,000 units a year by 2022. At about triple the price of a Powerwall, the Lavo unit's main selling point will be its ability to store more energy for longer. Each system will initially cost A$34,750 ($24,620) and will be able to hold 40 kilowatt-hours of power -- enough to supply an average household for more than two days, according to the company. Tesla's Powerwall holds about 13.5 kilowatt-hours. Lavo's Yu acknowledged that the higher cost of the system might initially limit interest to energy-technology enthusiasts initially, but he also sees it as a solution for small off-grid rural villages to replace diesel generators or a compact solution for communities and homes cut off from the main grid by natural disasters such as bushfires.

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Motley Fool: AMD 'Isn't Done Hammering Intel Yet'
The Motley Fool writes:AMD held just under 18% of the CPU market at the end of 2016 before Ryzen arrived. The latest third-party estimates suggest that the chipmaker now controls close to 37% of the market. Other reliable estimates from the likes of video gaming platform Steam also suggest that AMD has been consistently chipping away at Intel's CPU dominance. And AMD isn't done hammering Intel in CPUs just yet — especially since the arrival of its latest Ryzen 5000 CPUs... According to AMD's own claims, a high-end Ryzen 5000 processor can deliver a 26% jump in gaming performance over the previous-generation chip. AMD also claims that the chip is 7% faster in gaming performance than the competing Intel chip... Rumors suggest that Intel may not launch its 12th-generation 10nm Alder Lake processors until the second half of 2021 to compete with AMD's 7nm process. So AMD is likely to continue enjoying a technology lead over Intel, especially considering that it could make the move to a 5nm manufacturing process with the Zen 4 microarchitecture by the end of 2021, according to rumors. As such, don't be surprised to see AMD continuing to eat Intel's market share, and remaining a top growth stock in the future thanks to a combination of improved CPU sales and stronger pricing power.

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Has Apple Abandoned CUPS, Linux's Widely Used Open-Source Printing System? Seems So
The official public repository for CUPS, an Apple open-source project widely used for printing on Linux, is all-but dormant since the lead developer left Apple at the end of 2019. From a report: Apple adopted CUPS for Mac OS X in 2002, and hired its author Michael Sweet in 2007, with Cupertino also acquiring the CUPS source code. Sweet continued to work on printing technology at Apple, including CUPS, until December 2019 when he left to start a new company. Asked at the time about the future of CUPS, he said: "CUPS is still owned and maintained by Apple. There are two other engineers still in the printing team that are responsible for CUPS development, and it will continue to have new bug fix releases (at least) for the foreseeable future." Despite this statement, Linux watcher Michael Larabel noted earlier this week that "the open-source CUPS code-base is now at a stand-still. There was just one commit to the CUPS Git repository for all of 2020." This contrasts with 355 commits in 2019, when Sweet still worked at Apple, and 348 the previous year. We asked Apple about its plans for CUPS and have yet to hear back.

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Spinach Gives Fuel Cells a Power Up
Researchers at the Department of Chemistry, American University, used spinach to make a carbon-rich catalyst that can be used to improve the performance of fuel cells and metal-air batteries. IEEE Spectrum reports: The spinach was a used a precursor for high-performance catalysts required for the oxygen reduction reactions (ORRs) in fuel cells. Traditionally, fuel cells have used platinum-based catalysts, but not only is platinum very expensive and difficult to obtain, it can be vulnerable to chemical poisoning in certain conditions. Consequently, researcher have looked into biomass-derived, carbon-based, catalysts to replace platinum, but there have been bottlenecks in preparing the materials in a cost-effective and non-toxic way. "We were a little bit lucky to pick up spinach," says [Shouzhong Zou], because of its high iron and nitrogen content. "At this point [our method] does require us to add a little bit more nitrogen into the starting material, because even though [spinach] has a lot of nitrogen to begin with, during the preparation process, some of this nitrogen gets lost." The preparation of the spinach-based catalyst sounds as first suspiciously like a smoothie recipe at first -- wash fresh leaves, pulverize into a juice, and freeze-dry. This freeze-dried juice is then ground into a powder, to which melamine is added as a nitrogen promoter. Salts like sodium chloride and potassium chloride -- "pretty much like the table salt that we use in our kitchen," says Zou -- are also added, necessary for creating pores that increase the surface area available for reactions. Nanosheets are produced from the spinach -- melamine -- salt composites by pyrolyzing them at 900 C a couple of times. "Obviously... we can optimize how we prepare this material [to make it more efficient]." An efficient catalyst means a faster, more efficient reaction. In the case of fuel cells, this can increase the energy output of batteries. This is where the porosity of the nanosheets helps. "Even though we call them nanosheets," Zou says, "when they are stacked together, it's not like a stack of paper that is very solid." The addition of salts to create tiny holes that allows oxygen to penetrate the material rather than access only the outer surfaces. "We need to make it porous enough that... all the active sites can be used." The other factor that favorably disposed the American University team towards spinach was that it is a renewable source of biomass. "Sustainability is a very important factor in our consideration," says Zou. The big question to explore, he adds, is how can we avoid competition "with the dinner table." (Biofuel production has already raised concerns about food crops being diverted away from hungry mouths.) "And the second is, how do we keep the carbon footprint down in terms of his catalyst preparation... because currently we do use high temperatures in our preparation procedure?" If we can find different ways to do these to achieve the same type of material, that will cut back the energy consumption and reduce significantly the carbon footprint."

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Google Is Killing Unlimited Drive Storage For Non-Enterprise Users
If you're one of the Google Drive users who is taking advantage of unlimited storage for $12 per month on G Suite, beware. Workspace is replacing G Suite and offers more features for those who do, but you might not want to switch: unlimited storage on Workspace will cost you at least $20 a month. Jaron Schneider reports via PetaPixel: Currently G Suite business subscribers (which do not need to be actual businesses, but any individuals looking for greater storage capacity) can access unlimited storage on Drive for just $12 a month. For photographers with considerable backlogs of photos, this was a relatively inexpensive cloud storage backup solution. Google states in its plans that groups using this particular plan with four or fewer members are supposed to be only eligible for 1 TB of storage each, but in testing by Android Police and others have shown that Google has never enforced that limit. Unfortunately, this appears to be changing with the transition to Workplace. According to the company's list of plans, which you can view here, there is a limit of 2 TB for individual Business Standard users and 5 TB per person on its new Business Plus plan. To get more, you will have to go to the Enterprise level which Google says requires you to work directly with a Google sales representative (this appears to actually be the case), but Google does promise they can offer as much storage "as you need" in this category. That doesn't explicitly say unlimited, but should realistically operate as such for now. Pricing in that Enterprise level will cost you $20 per month ($30 per month on Enterprise Plus), nearly double the previous price for the same amount of storage. For now, G Suite customers will be able to stick with their current plans if they do not switch to Workplace, but Google is intending to transition all users over to the new system eventually.

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Apple Announces Smaller HomePod Mini For $99
Apple has announced a new version of its HomePod smart speaker, the $99 HomePod mini -- a smaller version of the speaker that shrinks down the original model into a more compact size. The Verge reports: Like the full-size HomePod, the HomePod mini still features a mesh fabric exterior in both black and white colors, along with a small display on top to show the Siri waveform and volume controls. The new model is more of a short, spherical shape, however, instead of the oblong design of the original. The HomePod mini features one main driver, two passive radiators, and an "acoustic waveguide" on the bottom. The new HomePod mini also features an Apple S5 chip, which Apple says allows for "computational audio" processing to adjust how your music sounds 180 times per second. Multiple HomePod mini speakers can play music in sync and "intelligently" create stereo pairing when placed in the same room. Apple is also using the U1 chips that it debuted in last year's iPhones to create a better Handoff experience later this year. Apple said third-party support is coming later this year for Pandora, Amazon Music, and iHeartRadio. There's also a new "Intercom" feature that allows for customers with multiple HomePod devices in different rooms to communicate throughout the house. "Intercom messages will also appear on connected iPhones, iPads, and Apple Watches (although they won't immediately play out loud like they do on the HomePod mini)," adds The Verge. Preorders for the HomePod Mini start on November 6th and shipping begins on November 16th.

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Amazon's Latest Gimmicks Are Pushing the Limits of Privacy
At the end of September, Amazon debuted two especially futuristic products within five days of each other: a small autonomous surveillance drone, called Ring Always Home Cam, and a palm recognition scanner, called Amazon One. "Both products aim to make security and authentication more convenient -- but for privacy-conscious consumers, they also raise red flags," reports Wired. From the report: Amazon's latest data-hungry innovations are not launching in a vacuum. The company also owns Ring, whose smart doorbells have had myriad security issues and have been widely criticized for bringing unprecedented surveillance to traditionally semi-private spaces. Meanwhile, the biometric data that Amazon Go will collect is particularly sensitive, because unlike a password you can't simply change it if a hacker steals it or it gets unintentionally exposed. Amazon has a strong record for maintaining the security of its massive cloud infrastructure, but there have been lapses across the sprawling business. The stakes are already phenomenally high; the more data the company holds the more risk it takes on. "Amazon has a major genomics cloud platform, so maybe they hold your DNA and now they're going to have your palm as well? Plus all of these devices inside your house. And your purchase history on Prime. That's a lot of information. That's a lot of personal information," says Nina Alli, executive director of Defcon's Biohacking Village and a health care security researcher. "When you give away this data you're giving a company the ability to access and manage you, not the other way around."[...]Additionally, while companies like Apple and Samsung have brought biometric fingerprint and face scanners to the masses by making sure the data never leaves the device, Amazon One takes the opposite approach. Kumar writes that "palm images are never stored" on Amazon One itself. Instead they are encrypted and sent to a special high security area of Amazon's cloud to be converted into "palm signatures" based on the unique and distinctive features of a user's hand. Then the service compares that signature to the one on file in each user's account and returns a match or no match answer back down to the device. It makes sense that Amazon doesn't want to store databases of people's palm data locally on publicly accessible machines that could be manipulated. But the system could perhaps have been set up to generate a palm signature locally, delete the image of a person's hand, and send only the encrypted signature on for analysis. The fact that all of those palm images will be going for cloud processing creates a single point of failure. "I'm worried that people could read your palm vein pattern in other ways and construct an analog. It's only a matter of time," says Joseph Lorenzo Hall, a longtime security and privacy researcher and a senior vice president at the nonprofit Internet Society. "Both the home drone and the palm payment are going to rely heavily on the cloud and on the security provided by that cloud storage. That's worrying because it means all the risks -- rogue employees, government data requests, data breach, secondary uses -- associated with data collection on the server-side could be possible. I'm much more comfortable having a biometric template stored locally rather than on a server where it might be exfiltrated." An Amazon spokesperson told WIRED, "We are confident that the cloud is highly secure. In addition, Amazon One palm data is stored separately from other personal identifiers, and is uniquely encrypted with its own keys in a secure zone in the cloud."

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Electric Car Sales Triple In Race To Meet Europe CO2 Rules
An anonymous reader quotes a report from Ars Technica: One in 10 new cars sold across Europe this year will be electric or plug-in hybrid, triple last year's sales levels after carmakers rolled out new models to meet emissions rules, according to projections from green policy group Transport & Environment. The market share of mostly electric cars will rise to 15 percent next year, the group forecasts, as carmakers across the continent race to cut their CO2 levels. The projections are based on sales data for the first half of the year, as well as expected increases as manufacturers scramble to comply with tightening restrictions in 2021. Under the rules, carmakers must reduce the average emissions from their vehicles to 95g of CO2 per km or face fines that could run into billions of euros. In the first six months of the year, average emissions fell from 122g to 111g, the largest six-month drop in more than a decade. While five percent of the cars sold this year are excluded from the calculations, a concession from the EU to help carmakers ease into the new regime, every vehicle counts towards the total from next year. [...] Several carmakers are still lagging behind the new rules, according to T&E calculations, requiring a late spurt of electric sales, or the purchase of credits from a rival that has already exceeded the rules if they are to avoid large fines. The system allows those who have generated "credits" by selling pure electric cars or plug-in hybrids to sell them to rivals that are struggling to meet the rules. The value of credits falls over time.

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