Technology Blog

August 13, 2022

California’s Governor Proposes Extending the Life of Its Last Nuclear Plant

"California Gov. Gavin Newsom on Friday proposed extending the life of the state's last operating nuclear power plant by five to 10 years," reports the Associated Press, "to maintain reliable power supplies in the climate change era." Newsom's draft proposal includes a potential forgivable loan for PG&E for up to $1.4 billion and would require state agencies to act quickly to clear the way for the reactors to continue running. The seaside plant located midway between Los Angeles and San Francisco produces 9% of the state's electricity. The proposal says its continued operation beyond 2025 is "critical to ensure statewide energy system reliability" as climate change stresses the energy system.... Newsom clearly wants to avoid a repeat of August 2020, when a record heat wave caused a surge in power use for air conditioning that overtaxed California's electrical grid. That caused two consecutive nights of rolling blackouts for the state, affecting hundreds of thousands of residential and business customers. The Newsom administration is pushing to expand clean energy, as the state aims to cut emissions by 40% below 1990 levels by 2030. Nuclear power doesn't produce carbon pollution like fossil fuels, but leaves behind waste that can remain dangerously radioactive for centuries. The California Legislature has less than three weeks to determine if it will endorse the plan and attempt to extend the life of the plant — a decision that would be made amid looming questions over the costs and earthquake safety risks.... The Democratic governor, who is seen as a possible future White House candidate, has urged PG&E for months to pursue a longer run beyond a scheduled closing by 2025, warning that the plant's power is needed as the state transitions to solar, wind and other renewable sources of energy. One concerned Democratic state Senator (from the district housing the plant) argued that another earthquake fault was discovered near the plant in 2008, and reminded the Associated Press that "seismic upgrades were never totally completed. Will they address that?"

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August 13, 2022

Gen Z Streaming Stars React to Classic Sci-Fi Movies of the ’80s

The New York Times tried an experiment with four classic science fiction films from exactly 40 years ago: If you were a moviegoer in the 1980s, you were constantly presented with imaginative questions that seemed cosmic and existential. Would humanity someday settle its differences here on earth and learn to travel the stars as a unified species? Or were we destined for a dystopian future with little more to look at than smoggy skies and gargantuan billboards? Did our advancing technology have the ability to literally absorb us or replace us entirely? Might we someday encounter alien life that was intelligent and benevolent? Surely some of these questions would be answered by the far-off future year 2000. "Blade Runner," "E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial," "Tron" and "Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan," all released 40 years ago, in the summer of '82, have become foundational works, shaping the next several decades of fantasy franchises. But what if this wasn't the science-fiction cinema you grew up with? What if you came of age in a later generation, and knew these movies only as celebrated if somewhat distant influences? Would they still seem exciting, innovative and thought-provoking? Or — to confront another terrifying speculative scenario — would they just seem uncool? To find out for ourselves, we enlisted four stars of the current day — all born in the 21st century — and asked them each to watch one of those seminal science-fiction films. They shared their reactions and reflections, didn't judge the special effects too harshly and still shed tears when they thought E.T. died. They showed Star Trek II: The Wrath Of Khan to Celia Rose Gooding, who plays Uhura in the Paramount+ series Star Trek: Strange New Worlds. Gooding's response was "the machoism of the men in charge has not changed in the future... these are still two guys trying to see whose ship is bigger." Meanwhile, the 22-year-old star of Netflix's Cobra Kai, Jacob Bertrand, was watching both Tron and its 2010 sequel Tron: Legacy. "I feel like the new one doesn't hold a candle to the old one.... I was trying to think of how they could have done this with the technology at the time, and everything that I could think of just sounds like so much work. I was like, dude, how are they pulling this off back then? Holy cow, these people were dedicated." 19-year-old Iman Vellani (star of Disney+ show Ms. Marvel) felt that Blade Runner "hit the mark... I feel like everyone of my generation is always searching for some higher purpose or trying to prove they're worthy enough or special enough for the spotlight, or just worthy of more life. I find myself sympathizing with the replicants a lot more, upon rewatch, in a way I did not expect." And the 19-year-old star of Netflix's Stranger Things, Finn Wolfhard, described E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial as "incredibly sweet."

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August 13, 2022

Facing Privacy Concerns, Facebook Begins Testing End-to-End Encrypted Chats, Secure Backups

Thursday Meta published a blog post by their "product management director of Messenger Trust," who emphasized that they've begun at least testing end-to-end encryption by default for Messenger chats. But Meta also announced plans "to test a new secure storage feature for backups of your end-to-end encrypted chats on Messenger...." "As with end-to-end encrypted chats, secure storage means that we won't have access to your messages, unless you choose to report them to us." CNBC provides some context: The announcement comes after Facebook turned over Messenger chat histories to Nebraska police as part of an investigation into an alleged illegal abortion. Meta spokesperson Andy Stone said the feature has been in the works for a while and is not related to the Nebraska case... The feature is rolling out on Android and iOS devices this week, but it isn't yet available on the Messenger website. The company has been discussing full-scale deployment of end-to-end encryption since 2016, but critics have said the security measure would make it much more difficult for law enforcement to catch child predators....Meta said in the release that it is making progress toward the global rollout of default end-to-end encryption for personal messages and calls in 2023. Other privacy enhancements announced Thursday by Meta: "We plan to bring end-to-end encrypted calls to the Calls Tab on Messenger." Meta announced that the deleting of messages will start syncing across your other devices "soon." Messenger will continue offering the option of "Disappearing" messages, in which viewed messages in an end-to-end encrypted chat automatically then disappear after a pre-specified period of time. And there's more, according to Meta's announcement:. "This week, we'll begin testing default end-to-end encrypted chats between some people. If you're in the test group, some of your most frequent chats may be automatically end-to-end encrypted, which means you won't have to opt in to the feature. You'll still have access to your message history, but any new messages or calls with that person will be end-to-end encrypted. You can still report messages to us if you think they violate our policies, and we'll review them and take action as necessary.... "Last year, we started a limited test of opt-in end-to-end encrypted messages and calls on Instagram, and in February we broadened the test to include adults in Ukraine and Russia. Soon, we'll expand the test even further to include people in more countries and add more features like group chats.... "We will continue to provide updates as we make progress toward the global rollout of default end-to-end encryption for personal messages and calls in 2023."

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August 13, 2022

The Hacking of Starlink Terminals Has Begun

AmiMoJo shares a report from Wired: Since 2018, ELON Musk's Starlink has launched more than 3,000 small satellites into orbit. This satellite network beams internet connections to hard-to-reach locations on Earth and has been a vital source of connectivity during Russia's war in Ukraine. Thousands more satellites are planned for launch as the industry booms. Now, like any emerging technology, those satellite components are being hacked. Today, Lennert Wouters, a security researcher at the Belgian university KU Leuven, will reveal one of the first security breakdowns of Starlink's user terminals, the satellite dishes (dubbed Dishy McFlatface) that are positioned on people's homes and buildings. At the Black Hat security conference in Las Vegas, Wouters will detail how a series of hardware vulnerabilities allow attackers to access the Starlink system and run custom code on the devices. To access the satellite dish's software, Wouters physically stripped down a dish he purchased and created a custom hacking tool that can be attached to the Starlink dish. The hacking tool, a custom circuit board known as a modchip, uses off-the-shelf parts that cost around $25. Once attached to the Starlink dish, the homemade printed circuit board (PCB) is able to launch a fault injection attack -- temporarily shorting the system -- to help bypass Starlink's security protections. This 'glitch' allows Wouters to get into previously locked parts of the Starlink system. The researcher notified Starlink of the flaws last year and the company paid Wouters through its bug bounty scheme for identifying the vulnerabilities. Wouters says that while SpaceX has issued an update to make the attack harder (he changed the modchip in response), the underlying issue can't be fixed unless the company creates a new version of the main chip. All existing user terminals are vulnerable, Wouters says. Wouters is making his hacking tool open source on GitHub. Following his presentation, Starlink says it plans to release a "public update" to address the issue but additional details were not shared.

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August 13, 2022

Microsoft Urges Windows Users To Run Patch For DogWalk Zero-Day Exploit

joshuark shares a report from Computerworld: Despite previously claiming the DogWalk vulnerability did not constitute a security issue, Microsoft has now released a patch to stop attackers from actively exploiting the vulnerability. [...] The vulnerability, known as CVE-2022-34713 or DogWalk, allows attackers to exploit a weakness in the Windows Microsoft Support Diagnostic Tool (MSDT). By using social engineering or phishing, attackers can trick users into visiting a fake website or opening a malicious document or file and ultimately gain remote code execution on compromised systems. DogWalk affects all Windows versions under support, including the latest client and server releases, Windows 11 and Windows Server 2022. The vulnerability was first reported in January 2020 but at the time, Microsoft said it didn't consider the exploit to be a security issue. This is the second time in recent months that Microsoft has been forced to change its position on a known exploit, having initially rejected reports that another Windows MSDT zero-day, known as Follina, posed a security threat. A patch for that exploit was released in June's Patch Tuesday update.

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August 13, 2022

17-Year-Old Designed Electric Motor Without Rare-Earth Magnets

"A 17-year-old [named Robert Sansone] created a prototype of a novel synchronous reluctance motor that has greater rotational force -- or torque -- and efficiency than existing ones," writes Slashdot reader hesdeadjim99 from a report via Smithsonian Magazine. "The prototype was made from 3-D printed plastic, copper wires and a steel rotor and tested using a variety of meters to measure power and a laser tachometer to determine the motor's rotational speed. His work earned him first prize, and $75,000 in winnings, at this year's Regeneron International Science and Engineering Fair (ISEF), the largest international high school STEM competition." From the report: The less sustainable permanent magnet motors use materials such as neodymium, samarium and dysprosium, which are in high demand because they're used in many different products, including headphones and earbuds, explains Heath Hofmann, a professor of electrical and computer engineering at the University of Michigan. Hofmann has worked extensively on electric vehicles, including consulting with Tesla to develop the control algorithms for its propulsion drive. [...] Synchronous reluctance motors don't use magnets. Instead, a steel rotor with air gaps cut into it aligns itself with the rotating magnetic field. Reluctance, or the magnetism of a material, is key to this process. As the rotor spins along with the rotating magnetic field, torque is produced. More torque is produced when the saliency ratio, or difference in magnetism between materials (in this case, the steel and the non-magnetic air gaps), is greater. Instead of using air gaps, Sansone thought he could incorporate another magnetic field into a motor. This would increase this saliency ratio and, in turn, produce more torque. His design has other components, but he can't disclose any more details because he hopes to patent the technology in the future. [...] It took several prototypes before he could test his design. [...] Sansone tested his motor for torque and efficiency, and then reconfigured it to run as a more traditional synchronous reluctance motor for comparison. He found that his novel design exhibited 39 percent greater torque and 31 percent greater efficiency at 300 revolutions per minute (RPM). At 750 RPM, it performed at 37 percent greater efficiency. He couldn't test his prototype at higher revolutions per minute because the plastic pieces would overheat -- a lesson he learned the hard way when one of the prototypes melted on his desk, he tells Top of the Class, a podcast produced by Crimson Education. In comparison, Tesla's Model S motor can reach up to 18,000 RPM, explained the company's principal motor designer Konstantinos Laskaris in a 2016 interview with Christian Ruoff of the electric vehicles magazine Charged. Sansone validated his results in a second experiment, in which he "isolated the theoretical principle under which the novel design creates magnetic saliency," per his project presentation. Essentially, this experiment eliminated all other variables, and confirmed that the improvements in torque and efficiency were correlated with the greater saliency ratio of his design. [...] Sansone is now working on calculations and 3-D modeling for version 16 of his motor, which he plans to build out of sturdier materials so he can test it at higher revolutions per minute. If his motor continues to perform with high speed and efficiency, he says he'll move forward with the patenting process.

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August 12, 2022

Polio Has Been Detected In New York City Wastewater, Officials Say

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The New York Times: Polio has been detected in New York City wastewater, suggesting that the virus that causes the disease is probably circulating in the city, the health authorities said on Friday. The announcement came three weeks after a man in Rockland County, N.Y., north of the city, was diagnosed with polio thatleft him with paralysis. Health officials fear that the detection of polio in New York City's wastewater could precede other cases of paralytic polio. The spread of the virus poses a risk to unvaccinated people, but a three-dose course of the vaccine provides at least 99 percent protection. Most adults in the United Stateswere vaccinated against polio as children. In New York City, the overall rate of polio vaccination among children 5 and under is 86 percent. Still, insome city ZIP codes, fewer thantwo-thirds of children in that group have received a full regimen, a figure that worries health officials. (The citywide vaccination rate dipped amid the pandemic, as visits to pediatricians were postponed.) Although many people who become infected with polio do not develop symptoms, about 4 percent will get viral meningitis and about 1 in 200 will become paralyzed, according to the health authorities. Parents of children who have not yet been fully vaccinated should see that they are immediately, officials said. "While the polio virus had previously been detected in wastewater samples in Rockland and neighboring Orange Counties, the announcement on Friday was the first sign it had been found in New York City," adds the report. "The city's health department did not provide details about where exactly in the five boroughs polio had been found in the wastewater, nor did officials provide dates for when the virus was detected or say how many samples had tested positive." Further reading: Vaccine-Derived Polio Is On the Rise

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August 12, 2022

NetBSD 9.3: A 2022 OS That Can Run On Late-1980s Hardware

Version 9.3 of NetBSD is here, able to run on very low-end systems and with that authentic early-1990s experience. The Register reports: Version 9.3 comes some 15 months after NetBSD 9.2 and boasts new and updated drivers, improved hardware support, including for some recent AMD and Intel processors, and better handling of suspend and resume. The next sentence in the release announcement, though, might give some readers pause: "Support for wsfb-based X11 servers on the Commodore Amiga." This is your clue that we are in a rather different territory from run-of-the-mill PC operating systems here. A notable improvement in NetBSD 9.3 is being able to run a graphical desktop on an Amiga. This is a 2022 operating system that can run on late-1980s hardware, and there are not many of those around. NetBSD supports eight "tier I" architectures: 32-bit and 64-bit x86 and Arm, plus MIPS, PowerPC, Sun UltraSPARC, and the Xen hypervisor. Alongside those, there are no less than 49 "tier II" supported architectures, which are not as complete and not everything works -- although almost all of them are on version 9.3 except for the version for original Acorn computers with 32-bit Arm CPUs, which is still only on NetBSD 8.1. There's also a "tier III" for ports which are on "life support" so there may be a risk Archimedes support could drop to that. This is an OS that can run on 680x0 hardware, DEC VAX minicomputers and workstations, and Sun 2, 3, and 32-bit SPARC boxes. In other words, it reaches back as far as some 1970s hardware. Let this govern your expectations. For instance, in VirtualBox, if you tell it you want to create a NetBSD guest, it disables SMP support.

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August 12, 2022

Baidu Has China’s First Permits For Fully Driverless Robotaxi Services

China's first fully autonomous, commercial robotaxi rides -- with no safety drivers -- are about to open for public passengers in Wuhan and Chongqing, marking an inflection point for one of the key technological revolutions of the 21st century. New Atlas reports: The two newly-issued permits allow Baidu to charge for driverless rides within a 13-sq-km (5-sq-mi) area in Wuhan, between 9 am and 5 pm, and within a larger 30-sq-km (11.6-sq-mi) zone in Chonqing's Yongchuan district between 9.30 am and 5.30 pm -- so while they're currently set to avoid peak hours, they'll be mixing it up with plenty of daytime traffic. Each zone will run five 5th-generation Apollo cars, with remote drivers ready to assume control if the vehicles get themselves into any sticky situations. Home base will be watching closely through the cars' camera systems, particularly in these early days. Baidu's Apollo Go is already the world's biggest robotaxi company, with operations already live in all tier-one Chinese cities using the same 5th-gen car, with backup drivers on board. The company recently revealed its 6th-gen design, its first ground-up fully autonomous car for mass production. The Apollo RT6 will cost just RMB 250,000 (US$37,000) to manufacture, says Baidu, and its optional, removable steering wheel and generous, configurable cabin space will make it one of the first proper mobility pod-type services when it hits the streets commercially in 2023.

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