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News Source Slashdot:Hardware

ASML and TSMC Can Disable Chip Machines If China Invades Taiwan
An anonymous reader quotes a report from Bloomberg: ASML Holding NV and Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co. have ways to disable the world's most sophisticated chipmaking machines in the event that China invades Taiwan, according to people familiar with the matter. Officials from the US government have privately expressed concerns to both their Dutch and Taiwanese counterparts about what happens if Chinese aggression escalates into an attack on the island responsible for producing the vast majority of the world's advanced semiconductors, two of the people said, speaking on condition of anonymity. ASML reassured officials about its ability to remotely disable the machines when the Dutch government met with the company on the threat, two others said. The Netherlands has run simulations on a possible invasion in order to better assess the risks, they added. The remote shut-off applies to Netherlands-based ASML's line of extreme ultraviolet machines, known within the industry as EUVs, for which TSMC is its single biggest client. EUVs harness high-frequency light waves to print the smallest microchip transistors in existence -- creating chips that have artificial-intelligence uses as well as more sensitive military applications. About the size of a city bus, an EUV requires regular servicing and updates. As part of that, the company can remotely force a shut-off which would act as a kill switch, the people said, speaking on condition of anonymity. The Veldhoven-based company is the world's only manufacturer of these machines, which sell for more than $217 million apiece.

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California Exceeds 100% of Energy Demand With Renewables Over a Record 45 Days
An anonymous reader quotes a report from Electrek: In a major clean energy benchmark, wind, solar, and hydro exceeded 100% of demand on California's main grid for 69 of the past 75 days. Stanford University professor of civil and environmental engineering Mark Z. Jacobson continues to track California's renewables performance – and it's still exciting. In an update today on Twitter (X), Jacobson reports that California has now exceeded 100% of energy demand with renewables over a record 45 days straight, and 69 out of 75. [...] Jacobson predicted on April 4 that California will entirely be on renewables and battery storage 24/7 by 2035. California passed a law that commits to achieving 100% net zero electricity by 2045. Will it beat that goal by a decade? We hope so. It's going to be exciting to watch. Further reading: California Exceeds 100% of Energy Demand With Renewables Over a Record 30 Days

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Gordon Bell, an Architect of Our Digital Age, Dies At Age 89
An anonymous reader quotes a report from Ars Technica: Computer pioneer Gordon Bell, who as an early employee of Digital Equipment Corporation (DEC) played a key role in the development of several influential minicomputer systems and also co-founded the first major computer museum, passed away on Friday, according to Bell Labs veteran John Mashey. Mashey announced Bell's passing in a social media post on Tuesday morning. "I am very sad to report [the] death May 17 at age 89 of Gordon Bell, famous computer pioneer, a founder of Computer Museum in Boston, and a force behind the @ComputerHistory here in Silicon Valley, and good friend since the 1980s," wrote Mashey in his announcement. "He succumbed to aspiration pneumonia in Coronado, CA." Bell was a pivotal figure in the history of computing and a notable champion of tech history, having founded Boston's Computer Museum in 1979, which later became the heart of the Computer History Museum in Mountain View, with his wife Gwen Bell. He was also the namesake of the ACM's prestigious Gordon Bell Prize, created to spur innovations in parallel processing. Bell also mentored at Microsoft in 1995, where he "studied telepresence technologies and served as the subject of the MyLifeBits life-logging project," reports Ars. "The initiative aimed to realize Vannevar Bush's vision of a system that could store all the documents, photos, and audio a person experienced in their lifetime." Former Windows VP Steven Sinofsky said Bell "was immeasurably helpful at Microsoft where he was a founding advisor and later full time leader in Microsoft Research. He advised and supported countless researchers, projects, and product teams. He was always supportive and insightful beyond words. He never hesitated to provide insights and a few sparks at so many of the offsites that were so important to the evolution of Microsoft." "His memory is a blessing to so many," added Sinofsky in a post memorializing Bell. "His impact on all of us in technology will be felt for generations. May he rest in peace."

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HP Resurrects '90s OmniBook Branding, Kills Spectre and Dragonfly
HP announced today that it will resurrect the "Omni" branding it first coined for its business-oriented laptops introduced in 1993. The vintage branding will now be used for the company's new consumer-facing laptops, with HP retiring the Spectre and Dragonfly brands in the process. Furthermore, computers under consumer PC series names like Pavilion will also no longer be released. "Instead, every consumer computer from HP will be called either an OmniBook for laptops, an OmniDesk for desktops, or an OmniStudio for AIOs," reports Ars Technica. From the report: The computers will also have a modifier, ranging from 3 up to 5, 7, X, or Ultra to denote computers that are entry-level all the way up to advanced. For instance, an HP OmniBook Ultra would represent HP's highest-grade consumer laptop. "For example, an HP OmniBook 3 will appeal to customers who prioritize entertainment and personal use, while the OmniBook X will be designed for those with higher creative and technical demands," Stacy Wolff, SVP of design and sustainability at HP, said via a press announcement today. [...] So far, HP has announced one new Omni computer, the OmniBook X. It has a 12-core Snapdragon X Elite X1E-78-100, 16GB or 32GB of MPDDR5x-8448 memory, up to 2TB of storage, and a 14-inch, 2240x1400 IPS display. HP is pointing to the Latin translation of omni, meaning "all" (or everything), as the rationale behind the naming update. The new name should give shoppers confidence that the computers will provide all the things that they need. HP is also getting rid of some of its commercial series names, like Pro. From now on, new, lower-end commercial laptops will be ProBooks. There will also be ProDesktop desktops and ProStudio AIOs. These computers will have either a 2 modifier for entry-level designs or a 4 modifier for ones with a little more power. For example, an HP ProDesk 2 is less powerful than an HP ProDesk 4. Anything more powerful will be considered either an EliteBook (laptops), EliteDesk (desktops), or EliteStudio (AIOs). For the Elite computers, the modifiers go from 6 to 8, X, and then Ultra. A Dragonfly laptop today would fall into the Ultra category. HP did less overhauling of its commercial lineup because it "recognized a need to preserve the brand equity and familiarity with our current sub-brands," Wolff said, adding that HP "acknowledged the creation of additional product names like Dragonfly made those products stand out, rather than be seen as part of a holistic portfolio." [...] As you might now expect of any tech rebranding, marketing push, or product release these days, HP is also announcing a new emblem that will appear on its computers, as well as other products or services, that substantially incorporate AI. The two laptops announced today carry the logo. According to Wolff, on computers, the logo means that the systems have an integrated NPU "at 40+ trillions of operations per second." They also come with a chatbot based on ChatGPT 4, an HP spokesperson told me.

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Microsoft Launches Arm-Powered Surface Laptop
Microsoft today launched its new Surface Laptop, featuring Qualcomm's Snapdragon X Elite or Plus chips, aiming to compete with Apple's powerful and efficient MacBook laptops. The Surface Laptop, available for preorder starting at $999.99, boasts up to 22 hours of battery life, a haptic touchpad, and support for three external 4K monitors. Microsoft claims the device is 80% faster than its predecessor and comes with AI features powered by its Copilot technology.

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Robot Dogs Armed With AI-aimed Rifles Undergo US Marines Special Ops Evaluation
Long-time Slashdot reader SonicSpike shared this report from Ars Technica:The United States Marine Forces Special Operations Command (MARSOC) is currently evaluating a new generation of robotic "dogs" developed by Ghost Robotics, with the potential to be equipped with gun systems from defense tech company Onyx Industries, reports The War Zone. While MARSOC is testing Ghost Robotics' quadrupedal unmanned ground vehicles (called "Q-UGVs" for short) for various applications, including reconnaissance and surveillance, it's the possibility of arming them with weapons for remote engagement that may draw the most attention. But it's not unprecedented: The US Marine Corps has also tested robotic dogs armed with rocket launchers in the past. MARSOC is currently in possession of two armed Q-UGVs undergoing testing, as confirmed by Onyx Industries staff, and their gun systems are based on Onyx's SENTRY remote weapon system (RWS), which features an AI-enabled digital imaging system and can automatically detect and track people, drones, or vehicles, reporting potential targets to a remote human operator that could be located anywhere in the world. The system maintains a human-in-the-loop control for fire decisions, and it cannot decide to fire autonomously. On LinkedIn, Onyx Industries shared a video of a similar system in action. In a statement to The War Zone, MARSOC states that weaponized payloads are just one of many use cases being evaluated. MARSOC also clarifies that comments made by Onyx Industries to The War Zone regarding the capabilities and deployment of these armed robot dogs "should not be construed as a capability or a singular interest in one of many use cases during an evaluation."

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WD Rolls Out New 2.5-Inch HDDs For the First Time In 7 Years
Western Digital has unveiled new 6TB external hard drives -- "the first new capacity point for this hard drive drive form factor in about seven years," reports Tom's Hardware. "There is a catch, though: the HDD is slow and will unlikely fit into any mobile PCs, so it looks like it will exclusively serve portable and specialized storage products." From the report: Western Digital's 6TB 2.5-inch HDD is currently used for the latest versions of the company's My Passport, Black P10, and G-Drive ArmorATD external storage devices and is not available separately. All of these drives (excluding the already very thick G-Drive ArmorATD) are thicker than their 5 TB predecessors, which may suggest that in a bid to increase the HDD's capacity, the manufacturer simply installed another platter and made the whole drive thicker instead of developing new platters with a higher areal density. While this is a legitimate way to expand the capacity of a hard drive, it is necessary to note that 5TB 2.5-inch HDDs already feature a 15-mm z-height, which is the highest standard z-height for 2.5-inch form-factor storage devices. As a result, these 6TB 2.5-inch drives will unlikely fit into any desktop PC. When it comes to specifications of the latest My Passport, Black P10, and G-Drive ArmorATD external HDDs, Western Digital only discloses that they offer up to 130 MB/s read speed (just like their predecessors), feature a USB 3.2 Gen 1 (up to 5 GT/s) interface using either a modern USB Type-C or Micro USB Type-B connector and do not require an external power adapter.

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In a Milestone, the US Exceeds 5 Million Solar Installations
According to the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA), the U.S. has officially surpassed 5 million solar installations. "The 5 million milestone comes just eight years after the U.S. achieved its first million in 2016 -- a stark contrast to the four decades it took to reach that initial milestone since the first grid-connected solar project in 1973," reports Electrek. From the report: Since the beginning of 2020, more than half of all U.S. solar installations have come online, and over 25% have been activated since the Inflation Reduction Act became law 20 months ago. Solar arrays have been installed on homes and businesses and as utility-scale solar farms. The U.S. solar market was valued at $51 billion in 2023. Even with changes in state policies, market trends indicate robust growth in solar installations across the U.S. According to SEIA forecasts, the number of solar installations is expected to double to 10 million by 2030 and triple to 15 million by 2034. The residential sector represents 97% of all U.S. solar installations. This sector has consistently set new records for annual installations over the past several years, achieving new highs for five straight years and in 10 out of the last 12 years. The significant growth in residential solar can be attributed to its proven value as an investment for homeowners who wish to manage their energy costs more effectively. California is the frontrunner with 2 million solar installations, though recent state policies have significantly damaged its rooftop solar market. Meanwhile, other states are experiencing rapid growth. For example, Illinois, which had only 2,500 solar installations in 2017, now boasts over 87,000. Similarly, Florida has seen its solar installations surge from 22,000 in 2017 to 235,000 today. By 2030, 22 states or territories are anticipated to surpass 100,000 solar installations. The U.S. has enough solar installed to cover every residential rooftop in the Four Corners states of Colorado, Utah, Arizona, and New Mexico.

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Hugging Face Is Sharing $10 Million Worth of Compute To Help Beat the Big AI Companies
Kylie Robison reports via The Verge: Hugging Face, one of the biggest names in machine learning, is committing $10 million in free shared GPUs to help developers create new AI technologies. The goal is to help small developers, academics, and startups counter the centralization of AI advancements. [...] Delangue is concerned about AI startups' ability to compete with the tech giants. Most significant advancements in artificial intelligence -- like GPT-4, the algorithms behind Google Search, and Tesla's Full Self-Driving system -- remain hidden within the confines of major tech companies. Not only are these corporations financially incentivized to keep their models proprietary, but with billions of dollars at their disposal for computational resources, they can compound those gains and race ahead of competitors, making it impossible for startups to keep up. Hugging Face aims to make state-of-the-art AI technologies accessible to everyone, not just the tech giants. [...] Access to compute poses a significant challenge to constructing large language models, often favoring companies like OpenAI and Anthropic, which secure deals with cloud providers for substantial computing resources. Hugging Face aims to level the playing field by donating these shared GPUs to the community through a new program called ZeroGPU. The shared GPUs are accessible to multiple users or applications concurrently, eliminating the need for each user or application to have a dedicated GPU. ZeroGPU will be available via Hugging Face's Spaces, a hosting platform for publishing apps, which has over 300,000 AI demos created so far on CPU or paid GPU, according to the company. Access to the shared GPUs is determined by usage, so if a portion of the GPU capacity is not actively utilized, that capacity becomes available for use by someone else. This makes them cost-effective, energy-efficient, and ideal for community-wide utilization. ZeroGPU uses Nvidia A100 GPU devices to power this operation -- which offer about half the computation speed of the popular and more expensive H100s. "It's very difficult to get enough GPUs from the main cloud providers, and the way to get them -- which is creating a high barrier to entry -- is to commit on very big numbers for long periods of times," Delangue said. Typically, a company would commit to a cloud provider like Amazon Web Services for one or more years to secure GPU resources. This arrangement disadvantages small companies, indie developers, and academics who build on a small scale and can't predict if their projects will gain traction. Regardless of usage, they still have to pay for the GPUs. "It's also a prediction nightmare to know how many GPUs and what kind of budget you need," Delangue said.

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US Regulators Approve Rule That Could Speed Renewables
Longtime Slashdot reader necro81 writes: The U.S. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), which controls interstate energy infrastructure, approved a rule Monday that should boost new transmission infrastructure and make it easier to connect renewable energy projects. (More coverage here, here, and here.) Some 11,000 projects totaling 2,600 GW of capacity are in planning, waiting to break ground, or connect to the grid. But they're stymied by the need for costly upgrades, or simply waiting for review. The frustrations are many. Each proposed project undergoes a lengthy grid-impact study and assessed the cost of necessary upgrades. Each project is considered in isolation, regardless of whether similar projects are happening nearby that could share the upgrade costs or auger different improvements. The planning process tends to be reactive -- examining only the applications in front of them -- rather than considering trends over the coming years. It's a first-come, first-served queue: if one project is ready to break ground, it must wait behind another project that's still securing funding or permitting. Two years in development, the dryly-named Improvements to Generator Interconnection Procedures and Agreements directs utility operators to plan infrastructure improvements with a 20-yr forecast of new energy sources and increased demand. Rather than examining each project in isolation, similar projects will be clustered and examined together. Instead of a First-Come, First-Served serial process, operators will instead examine First-Ready, allowing shovel-ready projects to jump the queue. The expectation is that these new rules will speed up and streamline the process of developing and connecting new energy projects through more holistic planning, penalties for delays, sensible cost-sharing for upgrades, and justification for long-term investments.

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Could Atomically Thin Layers Bring A 19x Energy Jump In Battery Capacitors?
Researchers believe they've discovered a new material structure that can improve the energy storage of capacitors. The structure allows for storage while improving the efficiency of ultrafast charging and discharging. The new find needs optimization but has the potential to help power electric vehicles.*An anonymous reader shared this report from Popular Mechanics:In a study published in Science, lead author Sang-Hoon Bae, an assistant professor of mechanical engineering and materials science, demonstrates a novel heterostructure that curbs energy loss, enabling capacitors to store more energy and charge rapidly without sacrificing durability... Within capacitors, ferroelectric materials offer high maximum polarization. That's useful for ultra-fast charging and discharging, but it can limit the effectiveness of energy storage or the "relaxation time" of a conductor. "This precise control over relaxation time holds promise for a wide array of applications and has the potential to accelerate the development of highly efficient energy storage systems," the study authors write. Bae makes the change — one he unearthed while working on something completely different — by sandwiching 2D and 3D materials in atomically thin layers, using chemical and nonchemical bonds between each layer. He says a thin 3D core inserts between two outer 2D layers to produce a stack that's only 30 nanometers thick, about 1/10th that of an average virus particle... The sandwich structure isn't quite fully conductive or nonconductive. This semiconducting material, then, allows the energy storage, with a density up to 19 times higher than commercially available ferroelectric capacitors, while still achieving 90 percent efficiency — also better than what's currently available. Thanks to long-time Slashdot reader schwit1 for sharing the article.

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Father of SQL Says Yes to NoSQL
An anonymous reader shared this report from the Register:The co-author of SQL, the standardized query language for relational databases, has come out in support of the NoSQL database movement that seeks to escape the tabular confines of the RDBMS. Speaking to The Register as SQL marks its 50th birthday, Donald Chamberlin, who first proposed the language with IBM colleague Raymond Boyce in a 1974 paper [PDF], explains that NoSQL databases and their query languages could help perform the tasks relational systems were never designed for. "The world doesn't stay the same thing, especially in computer science," he says. "It's a very fast, evolving, industry. New requirements are coming along and technology has to change to meet them, I think that's what's happening. The NoSQL movement is motivated by new kinds of applications, particularly web applications, that need massive scalability and high performance. Relational databases were developed in an earlier generation when scalability and performance weren't quite as important. To get the scalability and performance that you need for modern apps, many systems are relaxing some of the constraints of the relational data model." [...] A long-time IBMer, Chamberlin is now semi-retired, but finds time to fulfill a role as a technical advisor for NoSQL company Couchbase. In the role, he has become an advocate for a new query language designed to overcome the "impedance mismatch" between data structures in the application language and a database, he says. UC San Diego professor Yannis Papakonstantinou has proposed SQL++ to solve this problem, with a view to addressing impedance mismatch between heavily object-based JavaScript, the core language for web development and the assumed relational approach embedded in SQL. Like C++, SQL++ is designed as a compatible extension of an earlier language, SQL, but is touted as better able to handle the JSON file format inherent in JavaScript. Couchbase and AWS have adopted the language, although the cloud giant calls it PartiQL. At the end of the interview, Chamblin adds that "I don't think SQL is going to go away. A large part of the world's business data is encoded in SQL, and data is very sticky. Once you've got your database, you're going to leave it there. Also, relational systems do a very good job of what they were designed to do... "[I]f you're a startup company that wants to sell shoes on the web or something, you're going to need a database, and one of those SQL implementations will do the job for free. I think relational databases and the SQL language will be with us for a long time."

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Are Small Modular Nuclear Reactors Costly and Unviable?
The Royal Institution of Australia is a national non-profit hub for science communication, publishing the science magazine Cosmos four times a year. This month they argued that small modular nuclear reactors "don't add up as a viable energy source."Proponents assert that SMRs would cost less to build and thus be more affordable. However, when evaluated on the basis of cost per unit of power capacity, SMRs will actually be more expensive than large reactors. This 'diseconomy of scale' was demonstrated by the now-terminated proposal to build six NuScale Power SMRs (77 megawatts each) in Idaho in the United States. The final cost estimate of the project per megawatt was around 250 percent more than the initial per megawatt cost for the 2,200 megawatts Vogtle nuclear power plant being built in Georgia, US. Previous small reactors built in various parts of America also shut down because they were uneconomical. The cost was four to six times the cost of the same electricity from wind and solar photovoltaic plants, according to estimates from the Australian Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation and the Australian Energy Market Operator. "The money invested in nuclear energy would save far more carbon dioxide if it were instead invested in renewables," the article agues:Small reactors also raise all of the usual concerns associated with nuclear power, including the risk of severe accidents, the linkage to nuclear weapons proliferation, and the production of radioactive waste that has no demonstrated solution because of technical and social challenges. One 2022 study calculated that various radioactive waste streams from SMRs would be larger than the corresponding waste streams from existing light water reactors... Nuclear energy itself has been declining in importance as a source of power: the fraction of the world's electricity supplied by nuclear reactors has declined from a maximum of 17.5 percent in 1996 down to 9.2 percent in 2022. All indications suggest that the trend will continue if not accelerate. The decline in the global share of nuclear power is driven by poor economics: generating power with nuclear reactors is costly compared to other low-carbon, renewable sources of energy and the difference between these costs is widening. Thanks to Slashdot reader ZipNada for sharing the article.

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The People Who Won't Give Up Floppy Disks
Slashdot reader quonset writes: The last floppy disk was manufactured in 2011. Despite no new supplies being available for over a decade, there are still people, and organizations, who rely on floppy disks. Each has their own story as to why they rely on what is essentially 1970s technology. From the BBC: Tom Persky, a US businessman, has been selling "new", as in, unopened, floppy disks for years and still finds the trade lucrative. He runs Floppydisk.com, which offers disks for about US$1 (£0.80) each, though some higher capacity versions cost up to US$10 (£8) per disk, he says. Persky has customers all over the world and you could split them roughly 50-50 into hobbyists and enthusiasts like Espen Kraft on one side, and industrial users on the other. This latter category encompasses people who use computers at work that require floppy disks to function. They are, essentially, locked in to a format that the rest of the world has largely forgotten. "I sell thousands of floppy disks to the airline industry, still," says Persky. He declines to elaborate. "Companies are not happy about when I talk about them." But it is well-known that some Boeing 747s, for example, use floppy disks to load critical software updates into their navigation and avionics computers. While these older aircraft might not be so common in Europe or the US these days, you might find one in the developing world, for instance, Persky hints. There are also pieces of factory equipment, government systems — or even animatronic figures — that still rely on floppy disks. And in San Francisco, the Muni Metro light railway, which launched in 1980, won't start up each morning unless the staff in charge pick up a floppy disk and slip it into the computer that controls the railway's Automatic Train Control System, or ATCS. "The computer has to be told what it's supposed to do every day," explains a spokesman for the San Francisco Municipal Transport Agency (SFMTA). "Without a hard drive, there is nowhere to install software on a permanent basis." This computer has to be restarted in such a way repeatedly, he adds — it can't simply be left on, for fear of its memory degrading. The article also includes this quote from a cybersecurity expert at Pen Test Partners."If floppy was the only interface, the only way to get malware on to [the computer] would be via said floppy disk. That's quite a limiting factor for the attacker..."

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'Tungsten Wall' Leads To Nuclear Fusion Breakthrough
A tokamak in France achieved a new record in fusion plasma by using tungsten to encase its reaction, which enabled the sustainment of hotter and denser plasma for longer periods than previous carbon-based designs. Quartz reports: A tokamak is a torus- (doughnut-) shaped fusion device that confines plasma using magnetic fields, allowing scientists to fiddle with the superheated material and induce fusion reactions. The recent achievement was made in WEST (tungsten (W) Environment in Steady-state Tokamak), a tokamak operated by the French Alternative Energies and Atomic Energy Commission (CEA). WEST was injected with 1.15 gigajoules of power and sustained a plasma of about 50 million degrees Celsius for six minutes. It achieved this record after scientists encased the tokamak's interior in tungsten, a metal with an extraordinarily high melting point. Researchers from Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory used an X-ray detector inside the tokamak to measure aspects of the plasma and the conditions that made it possible. "These are beautiful results," said Xavier Litaudon, a scientist with CEA and chair of the Coordination on International Challenges on Long duration OPeration (CICLOP), in a PPPL release. "We have reached a stationary regime despite being in a challenging environment due to this tungsten wall."

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