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News Source Slashdot:Hardware

Small Slug Blamed For Power Failure On Japan's High-Speed Rail Network
Last month, Japan's high-speed rail network suffered a massive power outage that cancelled a total of 26 trains and delayed an estimated 12,000 passengers. The cause of the outage? A single, small slug. CNN reports: During a later inspection of the network's electrical equipment, the company's engineers discovered a dead slug, measuring about 2 to 3 centimeters (0.7 to 1.1 inches) long. According to a company spokesman, the slug had burned to death after touching an electrical cable leading to the mass power failure. Although it was discovered on May 30, shortly after the outage, the reason for the disruption wasn't revealed for more than a month.

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Slashdot Asks: What Do You Do With Your Raspberry Pi?
The Raspberry Pi is a small single-board computer that's exploded in popularity over the years thanks to its wide array of uses. While it was originally designed to promote the teaching of basic computer science in schools and in developing countries, the computers have been adapted to be used for robotics, media, game and print servers, and even as replacements for traditional desktop PCs. That last one may be even more of a popular use case with the Raspberry Pi 4, the newest version announced today featuring a more powerful quad-core 64-bit ARM processor, up to 4GB of LPDDR4 SDRAM, and dual monitor support at resolutions up to 4K. For those of you with a Raspberry Pi, what do you use it for? Do you have any plans to upgrade to the $35 Raspberry Pi 4?

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Raspberry Pi 4 Featuring Faster CPU, Up To 4GB of RAM Launched
Raspberry Pi today introduced a new version of its popular line of single-board computer. The Raspberry Pi 4 Model B is the fastest Raspberry Pi ever, with the company promising "desktop performance comparable to entry-level x86 PC systems." The specifications are: A 1.5GHz quad-core 64-bit ARM Cortex-A72 CPU (~3x performance); 1GB, 2GB, or 4GB of LPDDR4 SDRAM; full-throughput Gigabit; Ethernet; dual-band 802.11ac wireless networking; Bluetooth 5.0; two USB 3.0 and two USB 2.0 ports; dual monitor support, at resolutions up to 4K;VideoCore VI graphics, supporting OpenGL ES 3.x; 4Kp60 hardware decode of HEVC video; and complete compatibility with earlier Raspberry Pi products. It starts at $35.

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Clean Electricity Overtaking Fossil Fuels In Britain
An anonymous reader quotes a report from the BBC: For the first time since the Industrial Revolution, Britain is obtaining more power from zero-carbon sources than fossil fuels. The milestone has been passed for the first five months of 2019. National Grid says clean energy has nudged ahead with 48% of generation, against 47% for coal and gas. The rest is biomass burning. The transformation reflects the precipitous decline of coal energy, and a boom from wind and solar. National Grid says that in the past decade, coal generation will have plunged from 30% to 3%. Meanwhile, wind power has shot up from 1% to 19%. Mini-milestones have been passed along the way. In May, for instance, Britain clocked up its first coal-free fortnight and generated record levels of solar power for two consecutive days.

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Millions of Dell PCs Vulnerable To Flaw In Pre-Installed Software
secwatcher shares a report from Threatpost: Millions of PCs made by Dell and other OEMs are vulnerable to a flaw stemming from a component in pre-installed SupportAssist software. The flaw could enable a remote attacker to completely takeover affected devices. The high-severity vulnerability (CVE-2019-12280) stems from a component in SupportAssist, a proactive monitoring software pre-installed on PCs with automatic failure detection and notifications for Dell devices. That component is made by a company called PC-Doctor, which develops hardware-diagnostic software for various PC and laptop original equipment manufacturers (OEMs). A patch has been issued by PC-Doctor that fixes impacted devices. Impacted customers can find the latest version of SupportAssist here (for single PC users) or here (for IT managers).

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Intel Will Cut Desktop CPU Prices By 10-15% as Ryzen 3000 Draws Near, Report Says
It's just over two weeks until AMD's full Ryzen 3000 family of processors arrive, and it appears Intel is concerned about the effect they may have on its own chip sales. From a report: As such, the company is reportedly planning to reduce the price of its eighth- and ninth-generation CPUs by 10 to 15 percent. The report comes from DigiTimes, citing sources from motherboard makers. It claims Intel has already notified its downstream PC and motherboard partners about the processor price drops, which could see anything from $25 to $75 knocked off the CPUs. If the report is accurate, the enthusiast eight-core/16-thread Core i9 9900K will be one of the chips to see a price reduction, as will the i7-9700K, and the i5-9600K.

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Google's Officially Done Making Its Own Tablets
Google's decided to step away from its self-made tablets and focus instead on the laptop form. From a report: To be clear, Google hadn't actually announced any tablet-specific products this year; the last such item that made its way to the market was the Pixel Slate in 2018. But, as I learned today, the company did have two smaller-sized tablets under development -- and earlier this week, it decided to drop all work on those devices and make its roadmap revolve entirely around laptops instead. A couple of clarifying points here: First, none of this has any impact on Pixel phones. Pixel phones and Pixel computers are two different departments, and the roadmap in question is related exclusively to the latter. And second, when Google talks about a "tablet," it means a device that detaches completely from a keyboard base or doesn't even have a physical keyboard in the first place -- not a swiveling two-in-one convertible like the Pixelbook. The Pixelbook, with its attached keyboard and 360-degree hinge, falls under Google's definition of "laptop." Blurred lines, baby. A Google spokesperson directly confirmed all of these details to me.

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Engineers Boost Output of Solar Desalination System By 50 Percent
An anonymous reader quotes a report from Phys.Org: Researchers in Rice's Laboratory for Nanophotonics (LANP) this week showed they could boost the efficiency of their solar-powered desalination system by more than 50% simply by adding inexpensive plastic lenses to concentrate sunlight into "hot spots." The results are available online in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. "The typical way to boost performance in solar-driven systems is to add solar concentrators and bring in more light," said Pratiksha Dongare, a graduate student in applied physics at Rice's Brown School of Engineering and co-lead author of the paper. "The big difference here is that we're using the same amount of light. We've shown it's possible to inexpensively redistribute that power and dramatically increase the rate of purified water production." In conventional membrane distillation, hot, salty water is flowed across one side of a sheetlike membrane while cool, filtered water flows across the other. The temperature difference creates a difference in vapor pressure that drives water vapor from the heated side through the membrane toward the cooler, lower-pressure side. Scaling up the technology is difficult because the temperature difference across the membrane -- and the resulting output of clean water -- decreases as the size of the membrane increases. Rice's "nanophotonics-enabled solar membrane distillation" (NESMD) technology addresses this by using light-absorbing nanoparticles to turn the membrane itself into a solar-driven heating element. Dongare and colleagues, including study co-lead author Alessandro Alabastri, coat the top layer of their membranes with low-cost, commercially available nanoparticles that are designed to convert more than 80% of sunlight energy into heat. The solar-driven nanoparticle heating reduces production costs, and Rice engineers are working to scale up the technology for applications in remote areas that have no access to electricity.

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Iceland's Data Centers Are Booming -- Here's Why That's a Problem
The southwestern tip of Iceland is a barren volcanic peninsula called Reykjanesskagi. It's home to the twin towns of Keflavik and Njardvik, around 19,000 people, and the country's main airport. On the edge of the settlement is a complex of metal-clad buildings belonging to the IT company Advania, each structure roughly the size of an Olympic-size swimming pool. Less than three years ago there were three of them. By April 2018, there were eight. Today there are 10, and the foundations have been laid for an 11th. From a report: This is part of a boom fostered partly by something that Icelanders don't usually rave about: the weather. Life on the North Atlantic island tends to be chilly, foggy, and windy, though hard frosts are not common. The annual average temperature in the capital, Reykjavik, is around 41F (5C), and even when the summer warmth kicks in, the mercury rarely rises above 68. Iceland has realized that even though this climate may not be great for sunning yourself on the beach, it is very favorable to one particular industry: data. Each one of those Advania buildings in Reykjanesskagi is a large data center, home to thousands of computers. They are constantly crunching away, processing instructions, transmitting data, and mining Bitcoin. Data centers like these generate large amounts of heat and need round-the-clock cooling, which would usually require considerable energy.

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Siemens Gamesa Unveils World First Electrothermal Energy Storage System
An anonymous reader quotes a report from CleanTechnica: Spanish renewable energy giant and offshore wind energy leader Siemens Gamesa Renewable Energy last week inaugurated operations of its electrothermal energy storage system which can store up to 130 megawatt-hours of electricity for a week in volcanic rock. The newly-opened electric thermal energy storage system is billed by Siemens Gamesa as "The Future Energy Solution" and as costing "significantly" less than classic energy storage solutions. Specifically, according to the company, even at the gigawatt-hour (GWh) pilot scale, ETES "would be highly competitive compared to other available storage technologies." The heat storage facility consists of around 1,000 tonnes of volcanic rock which is used as the storage medium. The rock is fed with electrical energy which is then converted into hot air by means of a resistance heater and a blower that, in turn, heats the rock to 750C/1382F. When demand requires the stored energy, ETES uses a steam turbine to re-electrify the stored energy and feeds it back into the grid. The new ETES facility in Hamburg-Altenwerder can store up to 130 MWh of thermal energy for a week, and storage capacity remains constant throughout the charging cycles.

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Nvidia Will Support ARM Hardware For High-Performance Computing
An anonymous reader quotes a report from VentureBeat: At the International Supercomputing Conference (ISC) in Frankfurt, Germany this week, Santa Clara-based chipmaker Nvidia announced that it will support processors architected by British semiconductor design company Arm. Nvidia anticipates that the partnership will pave the way for supercomputers capable of "exascale" performance -- in other words, of completing at least a quintillion floating point computations ("flops") per second, where a flop equals two 15-digit numbers multiplied together. Nvidia says that by 2020 it will contribute its full stack of AI and high-performance computing (HPC) software to the Arm ecosystem, which by Nvidia's estimation now accelerates over 600 HPC applications and machine learning frameworks. Among other resources and services, it will make available CUDA-X libraries, graphics-accelerated frameworks, software development kits, PGI compilers with OpenACC support, and profilers. Nvidia founder and CEO Jensen Huang pointed out in a statement that, thanks to this commitment, Nvidia will soon accelerate all major processor architectures: x86, IBM's Power, and Arm. "As traditional compute scaling has ended, the world's supercomputers have become power constrained," said Huang. "Our support for Arm, which designs the world's most energy-efficient CPU architecture, is a giant step forward that builds on initiatives Nvidia is driving to provide the HPC industry a more power-efficient future."

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America Planted Malware In Russia's Power Grid, Says NYT
"The U.S. military's Cyber Command has gotten more aggressive than ever against Russia in the past year, placing 'potentially crippling malware' in systems that control the country's electrical grid," according to CNET, citing a report in the New York Times:Made possible by little-noticed legal authority granted last summer by Congress, Cyber Command's strategy shift from a defensive to offensive posture is meant in part as a warning shot, but it's also designed to enable paralysing cyberattacks in the event of a conflict, The New York Times said Saturday, quoting unnamed officials... [T]he recent moves appear to have taken place under a military authorization bill Congress passed in 2018 that gives the go-ahead for "clandestine military activity" in cyberspace to "deter, safeguard or defend against attacks or malicious cyberactivities against the United States...." The Times said Cyber Command is concerned Russia could trigger selective power outages in key states during the 2020 election and that it needs a way to discourage such attacks. But the agency and the U.S. have to consider their moves carefully in this international game of cyberchess. "The question now is whether placing the equivalent of land mines in a foreign power network is the right way to deter Russia," the Times report says. "While it parallels Cold War nuclear strategy, it also enshrines power grids as a legitimate target...." In related news, Bloomberg reported Friday that a Russia-linked hacking group that shut down an oil and gas facility in Saudi Arabia in 2017 has been probing utilities in the U.S. since late last year.

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Why 'Ambient Computing' Is Just A Marketing Buzzword -- For Now
An anonymous reader quotes Computerworld columnist Mike Elgan: Ambient computing is real. It's the next megatrend in computing.... To interact in an "ambient computing" context means to not care and not even necessarily know where exactly the devices are that you're interacting with. When IoT devices and sensors are all around us, and artificial intelligence can understand human contexts for what's happening and act accordingly and in our interests, then ambient computing will have arrived... As with many technology revolutions, including augmented reality and AI, the buzzword ambient will precede the actual technology by many years. In fact, the marketing buzzword is suddenly here in full force. The actual technologies? Not so much. Instead, we're on the brink of a revolution in what you might call "semi-ambient computing...." Rumors are circulating that Google's next smartphones, the Pixel 4 line, may come with Soli built in. I told you in January about Google's Project Soli, which may be called the "Aware" sensor or feature in the Pixel 4 -- again, according to unconfirmed rumors. Soli or Aware capability means the Pixel 4 may accept in-the-air hand gestures, such as "skip" and "silence" during music playback. The new Google "wave" is a hand gesture. The ability to wave away music with a hand gesture brings the smartphone into the semi-ambient computing era. It basically adds natural hand gestures to natural-language processing.... Google also briefly talked last year about a healthcare assistant called Dr. Liz., which was described by former Google CEO Eric Schmidt as an ambient computing virtual assistant for doctors. We'll see if Google ever ships a Dr. Liz product... Yes, ambient computing is real, and the Next Big Thing, showing up first in business, enterprises and healthcare. But for now, the term ambient computing will be misapplied. It's a buzzword that will be stapled to every semi-ambient computing product and service that comes out over the next few years. The article predicts we'll eventually see ambient computing arriving in cars, grocery stores, smart glasses -- and notes a Microsoft job listing for its "Ambient Computing & Robotics team" describing "the era where computer vision, AI-based cognition, and autonomous electro-mechanicals pervade the workplace." Computerworldd adds that Microsoft "was mocked for its 'Clippy' assistant, which the company released in 1996 as a way to provide friendly help for people using Microsoft Office. In the future, Microsoft may release what will essentially be a Clippy that works, because it will understand human context through AI."

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Massive Electrical Failure Cuts Power To Nearly All Of Argentina On Election Day -- and Uruguay
Iwastheone quotes the BBC:A massive electrical failure has left almost all of Argentina and Uruguay without power, according to a major Argentine electricity provider. Authorities say the cause of the blackout is still unclear. Argentine media said the power cut occurred shortly after 07:00 [03:00 PST, 11:00 BST], causing trains to be halted and failures with traffic signalling. It came as people in parts of Argentina were preparing to go to the polls for local elections. "A massive failure in the electrical interconnection system left all of Argentina and Uruguay without power," electricity supply company Edesur said in a tweet. Alejandra Martinez, a spokeswoman for the company, described the power cut as unprecedented. "This is the first time something like this has happened across the entire country." Argentina's energy secretary, Gustavo Lopetegui, said the cause of the power failure had not yet been determined. The Ministry of Civil Protection estimated that parts of the service could be restored in about seven or eight hours. Edesur said that power had been restored over 75,00 clients in parts of Buenos Aires and local media reported that two airports were operating on generators in the capital. Uruguay's energy company, UTE, said in a series of tweets that power had been restored to coastal areas and to areas north of Rio Negro. The combined population of Argentina and Uruguay is about 48 million people.... Tierra del Fuego in the far south is the only area that remains unaffected because it is not connected to the power grid. "Local media have been showing voters casting their ballots in the dark, with mobile phones being used as lanterns."

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AMD Is Working On a Monster 64-Core Threadripper CPU, Landing As Early As Q4 2019
AMD is preparing a monstrous 64-core/128-thread Threadripper CPU for launch in Q4 2019. "AMD's largest HEDT processor right now is the W2990X which tops out at 32-cores," reports Wccftech. "This is nothing to sneeze at and is already the highest core HEDT part around but because the world can't get enough of these yummy cores, AMD is planning to launch a 64-core version in Q4 2019." From the report: The platform is called X599 right now although I am told AMD is considering changing the name to avoid confusion with Intel. This is not really surprising since both Intel and AMD HEDT platforms have the same nomenclature and it can get really confusing. I am also told that they they plan to retain the "99" suffix. AMD is planning to launch the 64-core Threadripper part and the corresponding platform in Q4 2019. In fact, that is when you can expect these motherboards to start popping up from various AIBs. Now my source did not mention a new socket, so as far as I know, this should be socket compatible with the existing TR4 motherboards and only a bios update should be needed if you already own one. What I don't know right now is whether this is a 14nm part or a 7nm part. Conventional wisdom would dictate that this is a 14nm part trickling down from their server space, but who knows, maybe the company will surprise all of us? This is pretty exciting news, because knowing AMD, the 64-core Threadripper CPU will probably be priced in the $2500 to $3000 range, making it one of the most affordable workstation processors around with this many threads.

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