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Rick Perry disavows DOE questionnaire sent by Trump team in Senate hearing

1/19/2017 7:30pm

Enlarge / WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 19: Former Texas Governor Rick Perry, President-elect Donald Trump's choice as Secretary of Energy, testifies during his confirmation hearing before the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources on Capitol Hill January 19, 2017 in Washington, DC. Perry is expected to face questions about his connections to the oil and gas industry. (Photo by Aaron P. Bernstein/Getty Images) (credit: Getty Images)

On Thursday, former Texas Governor Rick Perry appeared before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee to answer questions from the senators, who will vote on whether Perry will become the nation’s Energy Secretary. The Republican-controlled Senate gave him little trouble this morning, although Democratic and Independent senators lobbed a few tough questions.

Perry’s nomination has been controversial, notably because in a 2011 presidential primary election debate, he couldn’t remember the name of one of the Departments he promised to eliminate as President—that Department was the Department of Energy (DOE). He also drew criticism after the New York Times reported last night that Perry had accepted the Energy Secretary nomination unaware that more than half of the Department of Energy’s budget is devoted to managing the US nuclear arsenal as well as directing nuclear energy facilities’ cleanup and maintenance. 

At the Senate hearing today, Perry attempted to persuade senators that he actually wanted the job. “My past statements made over five years ago about abolishing the Department of Energy do not reflect my current thinking,” Perry said in his opening statements. “In fact, after being briefed on so many of the vital functions of the Department of Energy, I regret recommending its elimination.”

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Bosch debuts the modular, scalable, and compact eAxle

1/19/2017 6:55pm

(video link)

DETROIT—The annual North American International Auto Show, unlike most similar events in the US, is remarkably well attended by automotive suppliers as well as major OEMs like Bosch. The tier one supplier used the latest show to debut its new eAxle, a compact unit that's modular and scalable in design.

As you'll see in the video, the eAxle really is a lot more compact than combining the company's current individual systems together. "We can realize five-to-ten percent efficiency over standalone components when we move to an integrated unit," explained Bosch's Jon Poponea. Look in an electric vehicle on the roads right now, and you'll probably see a whole bunch of different components, all connected with thick orange-wrapped leads.

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With heart-firming embrace, squishy device keeps blood pumping

1/19/2017 5:35pm

A demonstration of the soft robotic sleeve in a pig. (credit: Ellen Rouche/Harvard SEAS)

A good squeeze can definitely get the blood flowing. But the firm, rhythmic squeezes of an inflatable robot, can keep that blood flowing.

The device—a silicone sleeve ribbed with inflatable tubes—wraps around a waning heart and provides extra muscle-power to pump blood. In early tests, the heart-snuggling sleeve restored blood flow in six living pigs after they had suffered acute cardiac arrest, researchers reported Wednesday in Science Translational Medicine. If the thumping tech passes further testing, it could one day help prolong the lives of people with heart failure, an affliction that strikes around 40 million people worldwide.

(credit: Ellen Roche/Harvard University)

It’s not the only device that helps weakened hearts to go on. But existing medical devices involve pumps and valves that carry risks of blood clotting and severe blood infections. So, an international team of researchers, headed by scientists at Harvard, set out to make a heart fortifier that doesn’t have to contact blood.

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Microsoft to have holographic developer kits for cheap VR headsets at GDC

1/19/2017 3:25pm

Enlarge / Lenovo's Windows Holographic VR headset. (credit: Valentina Palladino)

Microsoft will have Windows Holographic developer kits at Game Developers Conference (GDC) 2017, according to a video on the company's Channel 9 site that was spotted by MSPoweruser. GDC will run February 27 to March 3 at the Moscone Center in San Francisco.

The Windows 10 Creators Update, currently anticipated to be released in April, will include a wealth of new 3D, virtual, and augmented reality capabilities. This will be used with a range of relatively cheap headsets such as the one Lenovo showed at CES.

So far, however, Microsoft hasn't revealed a great deal about Windows Holographic's APIs, capabilities, or compatibility, though information has been trickling out. Insider preview builds of the Creators Update showed that the PC hardware requirements will be lower than those of the HTC Vive and Oculus Rift, with the GPU demands in particular being significantly reduced (with even integrated graphics acceptable).

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Carbon nanotube transistors push up against quantum uncertainty limits

1/19/2017 3:15pm

Enlarge / A diagram of the transistors built in this paper, next to a false-colored image of the actual hardware.

Atomically thin materials like graphene and carbon nanotubes have the potential to provide significant benefits compared to today's electronics, like smaller features, lower operating voltages, and more efficient performance. So, even though we're struggling to figure out how to use them in bulk manufactured electronics, lots of organizations are spending money, brains, and time to work that out.

Note the phrasing above—potential. Since it's been incredibly hard to make transistors based on these materials, we aren't entirely sure how all of them will behave. A group of researchers from China's Peking University decided it was time to cut down on some of the uncertainty. The answer they came up with: transistors made with carbon nanotubes and graphene that perform so well they're pushing up against the fundamental limits set by Heisenberg's uncertainty principle.

We still can't necessarily make a chip full of these things, but their work does show it's worth the continued effort to try to figure out how.

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Scott Pruitt, nominee for EPA Administrator, invokes “federalism” in senate hearing

1/19/2017 3:10pm

Enlarge / WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 18: Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt, President-elect Donald Trump's choice to head the Environmental Protection Agency, testifies during his confirmation hearing before the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works on Capitol Hill January 18, 2017 in Washington, DC. Pruitt is expected to face tough questioning about his stance on climate change and ties to the oil and gas industry. (Photo by Aaron P. Bernstein/Getty Images) (credit: Getty Images)

In his career as Oklahoma Attorney General, Scott Pruitt led or participated in many lawsuits seeking to block Environmental Protection Agency rules on water pollution, air pollution, and climate change. On Wednesday, the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee questioned Pruitt as they considered him for the position of EPA Administrator.

For the most part, Pruitt seemed comfortable and prepared as senators peppered him with questions for hours. As is generally the case for confirmation hearings, he avoided most specific questions about potential EPA actions, assuring the senators that he would carefully review any decisions before passing judgment. Republican committee members mainly used their turns at the microphone to paint the EPA under the Obama Administration as an oppressive rogue agency, tossing friendly questions at Pruitt that sought to highlight his qualifications. Democratic members, on the other hand, were sharply critical of Pruitt’s history, attempting to paint him as a friend to polluters.

In his comments, Pruitt repeatedly emphasized his intent to ensure that the EPA would respect “the rule of law,” be more deferential to state governments, and make sure “all voices are heard” during the rule-making process. The picture was a greatly restrained EPA meant to contrast with what he perceived as an agency that had overstepped its legal authority, interfered with states, and ignored the economic costs of regulations in favor of environmental and health benefits. Pruitt said he had tried to “stay in my lane” as Attorney General, and he clearly believes the EPA should have a narrow lane.

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The Lawnmower Man is coming back, will let you “touch god” in VR

1/19/2017 3:00pm

Enlarge / The Lawnmower Man revival's naive idiocy makes this guy very angry! (credit: New Line Cinema)

Last year's Sundance Film Festival was marked, in part, by quite a case of virtual-reality fever. Content creators and filmmakers began to embrace 360-degree videos, just as consumer-grade VR headsets started rolling out in greater numbers.

This year, Sundance appears poised to continue the trend, with the fest's kickoff being marked by the announcement of a VR project that nobody was necessarily asking for: The Lawnmower Man.

On Thursday, Jaunt, a 360-degree video production company, announced a slate of upcoming projects that will require VR headsets. Lawnmower Man stands out in this list as the only one based on a previously known film, though the only names currently attached to the project are its "rights holders." No directors, writers, actors, or production dates have yet been announced.

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After fatal Tesla crash probe, US regulators conclude there’s no need for recall

1/19/2017 1:48pm

A Tesla S with autopilot features. (credit: Ron Amadeo)

On Thursday afternoon, the National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration (NHTSA) concluded a months-long probe of Tesla’s Automatic Emergency Braking (AEB) and Autopilot systems without finding any defects in the systems (PDF). The NHTSA opened the probe following a fatal crash that occurred in Florida while the car was in Autopilot.

Soon after the May 2016 crash, an internal investigation by Tesla concluded that the cameras on the Tesla did not register a truck that was turning left into the Tesla’s lane due to glare from the sun. While critics suggested this meant the car was unsafe, Tesla countered that having Autopilot engaged did not take away responsibility from the driver. A month later, the NHTSA then opened its probe to conduct “a preliminary evaluation into the performance of Autopilot.”

In the document the NHTSA released today, the administration found that the AEB system was “designed to avoid or mitigate rear end collisions” but that “braking for crossing path collisions, such as that present in the Florida fatal crash, are outside the expected performance capabilities of the system.”

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Yakuza 0 review: All aboard the crazy train

1/19/2017 12:14pm

Enlarge / STYLE!

For a game with Yakuza right in the title, there’s little yakuza-ing to be done in Yakuza 0.

It’s not just because the “zero” in the title marks this as a prequel to Sega’s long-running drama of Japanese organized crime, either. By the time the game starts, anti-heroes Kiryu Kazuma and Goro Majima have already been embroiled in organized crime for some time.

Two unrelated events before and during Yakuza 0 split the pair from their respective gangs, however, and they soon wind up fighting against the racketeers they once worked for. Meanwhile, a real estate conspiracy across two cities eventually connects the characters’ conflicts together—despite the fact that neither of them even knows the other exists.

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Dealmaster: Get a Google DayDream VR headset for just $50

1/19/2017 11:58am

Greetings, Arsians! Courtesy of our partners at TechBargains, we're here to share some more deals with you! You can now get 37 percent off Google's DayDream VR headset from Verizon. Using a Pixel smartphone or another DayDream ready smartphone, you can use the headset to immerse yourself in games, movies, and more.

If you've been itching to try DayDream out, now's your chance. Also on our list are more gaming deals, including an Alienware desktop with a $100 discount and a Velocifire gaming keyboard for just $40.

Check out the full list of deals below.

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Making an invisible, silent, and heat-proof cylinder—for science

1/19/2017 11:25am

Enlarge / A 3D printed metamaterial. (credit: Lawrence Livermore National Lab)

It has been a long time since I've been grabbed by a metamaterial. For those of you who don't know or remember what metamaterials are, they are the things that make invisibility cloaks work. Unfortunately, I got tired of writing about incrementally better invisibility cloaks and stopped paying attention.

So it was with a glorious sense of anticipation that I attended the opening talk at the [email protected] 2017 conference. Martin Wegener, who delivered it, hails from Karlsruhe Institute of Technology in Germany. Wegener has quite a reputation in the field of optics, but for this talk, he took a kind of scattered approach to show how the ideas behind metamaterials apply everywhere and can be used to design entirely new functions into simple materials—materials that may find their way into almost every aspect of your life one day.

What are metamaterials?

A metamaterial is both a very simple and a very complex object to describe. The simple level is very simple: mix two materials to obtain a new material with distinct properties. But, to borrow Wegener's analogy, imagine that we take two materials, one very dense, like lead, and the other less dense, like air. I can mix the two by drilling holes in a bar of lead. At the end of the process, the density of my new material lies somewhere between the density of air and lead. But, with a metamaterial, this combination can result in strange properties—the equivalent of a density that is larger than that of lead or less than that of air.

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Samsung chief avoids arrest in South Korean corruption scandal

1/19/2017 11:09am

Enlarge / Lee Jae-Yong, vice chairman of Samsung, leaves after attending a court hearing at the Seoul Central District Court. (credit: Chung Sung-Jun/Getty Images)

On Thursday, South Korean judges denied a request by prosecutors to arrest Lee Jae-yong, the vice chairman of Samsung Group and acting head of the company, over accusations of bribery, embezzlement, and perjury. Lee was accused of giving multimillion-dollar bribes to Choi Soon-sil, a friend of the South Korean President, in exchange for the approval of a 2015 merger between two Samsung Group affiliates, Cheil Industries and Samsung C&T.

The judge said in a statement that the arrest of Lee was not necessary, saying "it is difficult to acknowledge the necessity and substantiality of an arrest at the current stage." Lee isn't out of the woods though, and could still face another arrest warrant as the prosecutors gather more evidence. In a statement to Reuters, a Samsung spokesperson said "We appreciate the fact that the merits of this case can now be determined without the need for detention."

The accusations against Lee are part of an ongoing corruption scandal that has reached the highest levels of the South Korean government. South Korean President Park Geun-hye has already been impeached, and she is expected to become South Korea's first elected leader to be forced from office early. Two other Samsung executives are also under investigation.

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Netflix is so big that it doesn’t need net neutrality rules anymore

1/19/2017 10:38am

(credit: Netflix)

Netflix has long been an outspoken supporter of net neutrality rules, but the streaming video provider says it is now so popular with consumers that it wouldn't be harmed if the rules were repealed.

The potential of reversing net neutrality rules increased the moment Donald Trump became president-elect, as Republicans in the Federal Communications Commission and Congress want to get rid of the rules. But in a letter to shareholders yesterday, Netflix reassured investors that this won't affect the company's financial performance or service quality.

"Weakening of US net neutrality laws, should that occur, is unlikely to materially affect our domestic margins or service quality because we are now popular enough with consumers to keep our relationships with ISPs stable," Netflix wrote.

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Theranos’ downfall due to elaborate $4M conspiracy, investor says

1/19/2017 10:14am

Enlarge / Elizabeth Holmes, Theranos CEO. (credit: Getty | CNBC)

It’s been a rough couple of years for Elizabeth Holmes, CEO and founder of the now-floundering blood-testing company Theranos. The biotech company went from a promising golden child of Silicon Valley, at one point valued at $9 billion, to a disgrace that put patients in harm's way with tens of thousands of inaccurate blood tests. It had one of its two diagnostic labs shut down by federal regulators, it lost high-profile business partners, and it now faces a mountain of lawsuits. Holmes herself has been banned from the blood-testing industry (pending an appeal).

But the failures aren’t due to defects in Holmes’ unproven blood testing technology or from her hard oversell. It’s really due to a vast conspiracy involving a Wall Street Journal reporter, rats at her company, and a Hollywood movie deal worth millions—at least, that's according to long-time Theranos investor and personal friend of Holmes, Tim Draper.

In an interview with AXIOS, the venture capitalist claimed that “Elizabeth is the victim of a witch hunt." And the WSJ reporter who broke the story of the company’s problems, John Carreyrou, has “some strange vendetta” against her.

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Back to the future: Silicon may work for quantum computing

1/19/2017 9:12am


Although I write a lot about quantum computing, I've not really paid much attention to performing quantum computations with silicon-based qubits. Luckily Stephanie Simmons from Simon Fraser University in Canada helped me catch up.

The idea with silicon-based quantum computers is that impurities form the basis of a qubits. If you drop a single phosphorous atom into a silicon crystal, it replaces a silicon atom. But it has one proton and one electron more than the surrounding atoms. That single proton and electron behave like their own little artificial atom, one that looks a lot like hydrogen.

A good qubit needs to have certain properties: well-defined states that are long lived, the ability to create superpositions of states, and the ability to entangle and couple different qubits. Now, I don't want to delve into the meaning of any of these particular properties. But suffice to say that phosphorous in silicon does very well at several of these aspects, but it's not very good for coupling multiple qubits.

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Netflix calls out HBO for not letting subscribers binge on new shows

1/19/2017 8:43am

Enlarge (credit: Westworld, HBO)

Netflix has gleefully poked a stick at its competitors in the video streaming market, after revealing it had added more than seven million subscribers to its service in the last three months of 2016.

HBO also got a special mention. In a letter to shareholders, the company's boss Reed Hastings teased the TV drama maker by noting that, if the BBC was willing to stream shows before they air on television, then maybe HBO—which has rigidly stuck to its strategy of eking out episodes to viewers—should do the same. He said:

the BBC has become the first major linear network to announce plans to go binge-first with new seasons, favouring Internet over linear viewers. We presume HBO is not far behind the BBC.

In short, it’s becoming an Internet TV world, which presents both challenges and opportunities for Netflix as we strive to earn screen time.

But it's worth noting that HBO currently has an exclusive deal with Sky in the UK, Ireland, Germany, Austria, and Italy, allowing the broadcaster to have first-run rights on the likes of Game of Thrones and Westworld until 2020—so any such change isn't likely to happen in the near-term.

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Great app migration takes enterprise “on-prem” applications to the Cloud

1/19/2017 7:30am

Enlarge / Fly, legacy app code! Off to the cloud!

Over the past decade, companies have virtualized more and more of their IT. We’ve moved to cloud services and “DevOps” to build and deploy bundles of our new applications. But a significant portion of most organizations' applications still run inside the corporate firewall today. Such setups use tried and true technologies, like 32-bit Windows code and enterprise Java, that were developed without any consideration for the cloud.

Let’s get one thing perfectly clear: the best way to have a butt-kicking cloud-native application is to write one from scratch. Leverage the languages, APIs, and architecture of the chosen cloud platform before exploiting its databases, analytics engines, and storage. This will allow you to take advantage of the wealth of resources offered by companies like Microsoft, with their Azure PaaS (Platform-as-a-Service) offering or by Google Cloud Platform’s Google App Engine PaaS service.

Sometimes, however, that’s not the job. Sometimes, you have to take a native application running on a server in your local data center or colocation facility and make it run in the cloud. That means virtual machines.

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Forgotten audio formats: 8-track tapes

1/19/2017 6:50am

Enlarge (credit: airplaneengine)

The 8-track cartridge, aka the Stereo 8, first appeared at trade shows in 1964, just 18 months after the cassette, and it did initially seem to have it all: it was comparatively small, portable, and had pretty good audio quality. And despite its roots in the Mad Men in-car market of the 1950s, it was seemingly future-proof, too, with a unique potential for quadraphonic sound (a potential later realised, in part). Within a few years various megastars were using it and it was swiftly installed in virtually every radio station in the western world—and, with rising domestic sales, it even had a massive ad campaign fronted by TV star Jimmie "Dy-no-mite!" Walker.

Yet within a few years of that expensive media blitz, the cartridge was dead in the water as far as the consumer market was concerned—and, by the mid-1990s, it was a rare antique even in broadcasting studios. What went wrong is easily explained with hindsight—though it seemed mysterious at the time.

To begin at the beginning, the 8-track was based on something refined by the one-and-only Earl "Madman" Muntz. Master Muntz was a businessman, engineer, and promoter who became famous—or, rather, infamous—in the US for his outrageous clothes, stunts, and TV appearances. He was quoted—and mocked—by many top celebs and comedians such as Bob Hope and Jack Benny. And Muntz loved publicity so much that during the height of McCarthyism—with people being sacked or deported merely for having communist friends—he seriously asked one of his advisers "do you think I’ll make the front pages again if I now join the Communist Party?"

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Star Trek: Discovery gets delayed again, this time until “question mark”

1/19/2017 1:00am

Enlarge / This CG model of the USS Discovery is pretty much all there is to see about CBS' newest Trek. (credit: CBS)

If you've been waiting patiently for CBS to release its new Star Trek series, prepare to keep waiting. According to The Hollywood ReporterStar Trek: Discovery has been delayed indefinitely while CBS gives the "ambitious project" more time to incubate.

"We've said from the beginning it's more important to do this right than to do it fast," CBS said in a statement. "There is also added flexibility presenting on CBS All Access, which isn't beholden to seasonal premieres or launch windows."

The Reporter also says that James Frain (Orphan BlackGothamTron: Legacy, and more) has been cast as Spock's father, Sarek, and that the series is set to begin production "next week."

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Mozilla ditches the dinosaur, unveils new branding only a nerd could love

1/18/2017 7:25pm

Enlarge (credit: Mozilla)

The old Netscape browser had a dinosaur named Mozilla as its mascot and codename. When the browser was open sourced in 1998, it used the dinosaur's name and visage as its branding.

No longer. After a rebranding was announced in August, the final decision has now been revealed. The Mozilla Organization has a shiny new wordmark that spells out the word "mozilla" with a mix of letters and punctuation (written in a requisite custom font, named Zilla). A blog post describes how the new brand is meant to signal Mozilla's support for an open and accessible Web.

I'm pretty sure I've seen a similar treatment of the colon-slash-slash in youth-oriented TV shows to show just how with it and Internet-savvy a person or company is; a kind of nerd shibboleth. The whole thing feels like it would have been bold and clever in the early 1990s—an intellectual counterpart to the stupidity of Yahoo!'s embedded exclamation mark.

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