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Businesses

Westinghouse Files For Bankruptcy, In Blow To Nuclear Power (reuters.com) 100

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Reuters: Westinghouse Electric Co, a unit of Japanese conglomerate Toshiba Corp, filed for bankruptcy on Wednesday, hit by billions of dollars of cost overruns at four nuclear reactors under construction in the U.S. Southeast. The bankruptcy casts doubt on the future of the first new U.S. nuclear power plants in three decades, which were scheduled to begin producing power as soon as this week, but are now years behind schedule. The four reactors are part of two projects known as V.C. Summer in South Carolina, which is majority owned by SCANA Corp, and Vogtle in Georgia, which is owned by a group of utilities led by Southern Co. Costs for the projects have soared due to increased safety demands by U.S. regulators, and also due to significantly higher-than-anticipated costs for labor, equipment and components. Pittsburgh-based Westinghouse said it hopes to use bankruptcy to isolate and reorganize around its "very profitable" nuclear fuel and power plant servicing businesses from its money-losing construction operation. Westinghouse said in a court filing it has secured $800 million in financing from Apollo Investment Corp, an affiliate of Apollo Global Management, to fund its core businesses during its reorganization. Westinghouse's nuclear services business is expected to continue to perform profitably over the course of the bankruptcy and eventually be sold by Toshiba, people familiar with the matter said. When regulators in Georgia and South Carolina approved the construction of Westinghouse's AP1000 reactors in 2009, it was meant to be the start of renewed push to develop U.S. nuclear power. However, a flood of cheap natural gas from shale, the lack of U.S. legislation to curb carbon emissions and the 2011 Fukushima nuclear accident in Japan dampened enthusiasm for nuclear power. Toshiba had acquired Westinghouse in 2006 for $5.4 billion. It expected to build dozens of its new AP1000 reactors -- which were hailed as safer, quicker to construct and more compact -- creating a pipeline of work for its maintenance division.
IT

More Than Ever, Employees Want a Say in How Their Companies Are Run (qz.com) 161

Two readers share a report: While workers have traditionally looked to unions to address their grievances, a new generation is trusting in the power of petitions to force changes. At the Wall Street Journal, 160 reporters and editors, delivered a letter to their managers protesting the lack of women and minorities running the organization, Business Insider reported yesterday. "Nearly all the people at high levels at the paper deciding what we cover and how are white men," the letter read. IBM employees are circulating an online petition objecting to the tone of CEO Ginni Rometty's letter to US president Donald Trump, and calling on her affirm what they call the company's progressive values. [...] Other employee petitions call for Oracle to oppose US president Donald Trump's second travel ban, and to let men who work at US regional supermarket Publix grow beards. Employee petitions are now so popular there's a website, coworker.org, devoted to hosting them. In some cases, the campaigns work: Starbuck's relaxed its rules about visible tattoos and unnatural hair color for baristas after thousands signed petitions asking for a change. Sometimes, they fail disastrously. Interns at one (unnamed) company described in a blog about being fired en masse after signing a petition asking for a more relaxed dress code.
Programming

Ask Slashdot: What Are Some Lies Programmers Tell Themselves? 515

snydeq writes: "Confidence in our power over machines also makes us guilty of hoping to bend reality to our code," writes Peter Wayner, in a discussion of nine lies programmers tell themselves about their code. "Of course, many problems stem from assumptions we programmers make that simply aren't correct. They're usually sort of true some of the time, but that's not the same as being true all of the time. As Mark Twain supposedly said, 'It ain't what you don't know that gets you into trouble. It's what you know for sure that just ain't so.'" The nine lies Wayner mentions in his discussion include: "Questions have one answer," "Null is acceptable," "Human relationships can be codified," "'Unicode' stands for universal communication," "Numbers are accurate," "Human language is consistent," "Time is consistent," "Files are consistent," and "We're in control." Can you think of any other lies programmers tell themselves?
Power

Interviews: Ask Lithium-Ion Battery Inventor John Goodenough a Question 143

John B. Goodenough is a solid-state physicist and professor of mechanical engineering and materials science at The University of Texas at Austin. While he is most famous for identifying and developing the lithium-ion battery, which can be found in just about every portable electronic device on the market, he has recently created a new fast charging solid-state battery that looks to revolutionize the industry. We sent him an email about doing an interview and he has responded. Now is your chance to ask Goodenough a question!

We'll pick the very best questions and forward them to John Goodenough himself. (Feel free to leave your suggestions for who Slashdot should interview next.) Go on, don't be shy!
Transportation

Aerospace Startup Will Build A Supersonic Mach 2.2 Aircraft (fortune.com) 149

A new commercial aircraft will fly more than twice the speed of sound, traveling from New York to London in 3.4 hours. An anonymous reader quotes Fortune: Colorado-based startup Boom Supersonic is one step closer to making such travel a reality after securing $33 million in investments to construct and fly its first supersonic jet, the XB-1 demonstration and testing craft, according to TechCrunch... With the new funding, Boom will be able to put that concept -- and the technology needed to power it -- to the test. "This funds our first airplane, all the way through flight tests," Boom founder and CEO Blake Scholl told TechCrunch. "Now we have all the pieces we need â" technology, suppliers and capital â" to go out and make some history and set some speed records."
They'll be testing a prototype that's one-third smaller than the commercial version within the next year.
Earth

'Moore's Law' For Carbon Would Defeat Global Warming (technologyreview.com) 269

An anonymous reader quotes a report from MIT Technology Review: A streamlined set of goals for reducing carbon emissions could simplify the way nations approach the quest to reduce human impact on the planet. A group of European researchers have a refreshingly straightforward solution that they call a carbon law -- or, as the Guardian has coined it, a "Moore's law for carbon." The overarching goal is simple: globally, we must halve carbon dioxide emissions every decade. That's essentially it. The rule would ideally be applied "to all sectors and countries at all scales," and would encourage "bold action in the short term." Dramatic changes would naturally have to occur as a result -- from quick wins like carbon taxes and energy efficiency regulations, to longer-term policies like phasing out combustion-engine cars and carbon-neutral building regulations. If policy makers followed the carbon law, adoption of renewables would continue its current pace of doubling energy production every 5.5 years, and carbon dioxide sequestration technologies would need to ramp up in order for the the planet to reach net-zero emissions by the middle of the century, say the researchers. Along the way, coal use would end as soon as 2030 and oil use by 2040. There are, clearly, issues with the idea, not least being the prospect of convincing every nation to commit to such a vision. The very simplicity that makes the idea compelling can also be used as a point of criticism: Can such a basic rule ever hope to define practical ideas as to how to change the world's energy production and consumption? The study has been published in the journal Science.
Patents

Apple Explores Using An iPhone, iPad To Power a Laptop (appleinsider.com) 76

According to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, Apple has filed a patent for an "Electronic accessory device." It describes a "thin" accessory that contains traditional laptop hardware like a large display, physical keyboard, GPU, ports and more -- all of which is powered by an iPhone or iPad. The device powering the hardware would fit into a slot built into the accessory. AppleInsider reports: While the accessory can take many forms, the document for the most part remains limited in scope to housings that mimic laptop form factors. In some embodiments, for example, the accessory includes a port shaped to accommodate a host iPhone or iPad. Located in the base portion, this slot might also incorporate a communications interface and a means of power transfer, perhaps Lightning or a Smart Connector. Alternatively, a host device might transfer data and commands to the accessory via Wi-Fi, Bluetooth or other wireless protocol. Onboard memory modules would further extend an iOS device's capabilities. Though the document fails to delve into details, accessory memory would presumably allow an iPhone or iPad to write and read app data. In other cases, a secondary operating system or firmware might be installed to imitate a laptop environment or store laptop-ready versions of iOS apps. In addition to crunching numbers, a host device might also double as a touch input. For example, an iPhone positioned below the accessory's keyboard can serve as the unit's multitouch touchpad, complete with Force Touch input and haptic feedback. Coincidentally, the surface area of a 5.5-inch iPhone 7 Plus is very similar to that of the enlarged trackpad on Apple's new MacBook Pro models. Some embodiments also allow for the accessory to carry an internal GPU, helping a host device power the larger display or facilitate graphics rendering not possible on iPhone or iPad alone. Since the accessory is technically powered by iOS, its built-in display is touch-capable, an oft-requested feature for Mac. Alternatively, certain embodiments have an iPad serving as the accessory's screen, with keyboard, memory, GPU and other operating guts located in the attached base portion. This latter design resembles a beefed up version of Apple's Smart Case for iPad.
Earth

Let There Be Light: Germans Switch on 'Largest Artificial Sun' (theguardian.com) 123

German scientists are switching on "the world's largest artificial sun" in the hope that intense light sources can be used to generate climate-friendly fuel. From a report: The Synlight experiment in Julich, about 19 miles west of Cologne, consists 149 souped-up film projector spotlights and produces light about 10,000 times the intensity of natural sunlight on Earth. When all the lamps are swivelled to concentrate light on a single spot, the instrument can generate temperatures of around 3,500C -- around two to three times the temperature of a blast furnace. "If you went in the room when it was switched on, you'd burn directly," said Prof Bernard Hoffschmidt, a research director at the German Aerospace Center, where the experiment is housed in a protective radiation chamber. The aim of the experiment is to come up with the optimal setup for concentrating natural sunlight to power a reaction to produce hydrogen fuel.
Businesses

A Lithuanian Phisher Tricked Two Big US Tech Companies Into Wiring Him $100 Million (theverge.com) 129

According to a recent indictment from the U.S. Department of Justice, a 48-year-old Lithuanian scammer named Evaldas Rimasauskas managed to trick two American technology companies into wiring him $100 million. He was able to perform this feat "by masquerading as a prominent Asian hardware manufacturer," reports The Verge, citing court documents, "and tricking employees into depositing tens of millions of dollars into bank accounts in Latvia, Cyprus, and numerous other countries." From the report: What makes this remarkable is not Rimasauskas' particular phishing scam, which sounds rather standard in the grand scheme of wire fraud and cybersecurity exploits. Rather, it's the amount of money he managed to score and the industry from which he stole it. The indictment specifically describes the companies in vague terms. The first company is "multinational technology company, specializing in internet-related services and products, with headquarters in the United States," the documents read. The second company is a "multinational corporation providing online social media and networking services." Both apparently worked with the same "Asia-based manufacturer of computer hardware," a supplier that the documents indicate was founded some time in the late '80s. What's more important is that representatives at both companies with the power to wire vast sums of money were still tricked by fraudulent email accounts. Rimasauskas even went so far as to create fake contracts on forged company letterhead, fake bank invoices, and various other official-looking documents to convince employees of the two companies to send him money. Rimasauskas has been charged with one count of wire fraud, three counts of money laundering, and aggravated identity theft. In other words, he faces serious prison time of convicted -- each charge of wire fraud and laundering carries a max sentence of 20 years. The court documents don't reveal the names of the two companies. Though, one could surely think of a few candidates that would fit the descriptions provided in the court documents.
Power

Japanese Company Develops a Solar Cell With Record-Breaking 26%+ Efficiency (arstechnica.com) 133

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Ars Technica: The silicon-based cells that make up a solar panel have a theoretical efficiency limit of 29 percent, but so far that number has proven elusive. Practical efficiency rates in the low-20-percent range have been considered very good for commercial solar panels. But researchers with Japanese chemical manufacturer Kaneka Corporation have built a solar cell with a photo conversion rate of 26.3 percent, breaking the previous record of 25.6 percent. Although it's just a 2.7 percent increase in efficiency, improvements in commercially viable solar cell technology are increasingly hard-won. Not only that, but the researchers noted in their paper that after they submitted their article to Nature Energy, they were able to further optimize their solar cell to achieve 26.6 percent efficiency. That result has been recognized by the National Renewable Energy Lab (NREL). In the Nature Energy paper, the researchers described building a 180.4 cm2 cell using high-quality thin-film heterojunction (HJ) -- that is, layering silicon within the cell to minimize band gaps where electron states can't exist. Controlling heterojunctions is a known technique among solar cell builders -- Panasonic uses it and will likely incorporate it into cells built for Tesla at the Solar City plant in Buffalo, and Kaneka has its own proprietary heterojunction techniques. For this record-breaking solar cell, the Kaneka researchers also placed low-resistance electrodes toward the rear of the cell, which maximized the number of photons that collected inside the cell from the front. And, as is common on many solar cells, they coated the front of the cell with a layer of amorphous silicon and an anti-reflective layer to protect the cell's components and collect photons more efficiently.
Transportation

Plans For London-Paris Electric Flight in 'Next Decade' Unveiled (telegraph.co.uk) 90

A start-up has unveiled ambitious plans to offer an electric-powered commercial flight between London and Paris in the next ten years. From a report: Wright Electric believes the proposed low-emission electric plane would offer a cheaper alternative to jet fuel for airlines and consumers. However, the start-up's bid to revolutionize short-haul flights relies on the continued advancement of battery technology. The company, who pitched to investors this week, would be forced to switch to a hybrid of aviation fuel and electricity if the advances in battery technology fail to materialise.
AI

Who's Liable For Decisions AI and Robotics Make? (betanews.com) 180

An anonymous reader shares a BetaNews article: Reuters news agency reported on February 16 that "European lawmakers called [...] for EU-wide legislation to regulate the rise of robots, including an ethical framework for their development and deployment and the establishment of liability for the actions of robots including self-driving cars." The question of determining "liability" for decision making achieved by robots or artificial intelligence is an interesting and important subject as the implementation of this technology increases in industry, and starts to more directly impact our day to day lives. Indeed, as application of Artificial Intelligence and machine learning technology grows, we are likely to witness how it changes the nature of work, businesses, industries and society. And yet, although it has the power to disrupt and drive greater efficiencies, AI has its obstacles: the issue of "who is liable when something goes awry" being one of them. Like many protagonists in industry, Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) are trying to tackle this liability question. Many of them are calling for new laws on artificial intelligence and robotics to address the legal and insurance liability issues. They also want researchers to adopt some common ethical standards in order to "respect human dignity."
Power

John Goodenough's Colleagues Are Skeptical of His New Battery Technology (qz.com) 250

Earlier this month, a research team led by John Goodenough announced that they had created a new fast charging solid-state battery that can operate in extreme temperatures and store five to ten times as much energy as current standard lithium-ion batteries. The announcement was big enough to have Google's Eric Schmidt tweeting about it. However, there are some skeptics, including other leading battery researchers. "For his invention to work as described, they say, it would probably have to abandon the laws of thermodynamics, which say perpetual motion is not possible," reports Quartz. "The law has been a fundamental of batteries for more than a century and a half." Quartz reports: Goodenough's long career has defined the modern battery industry. Researchers assume that his measurements are exact. But no one outside of Goodenough's own group appears to understand his new concept. The battery community is loath to openly challenge the paper, but some come close. "If anyone but Goodenough published this, I would be, well, it's hard to find a polite word," Daniel Steingart, a professor at Princeton, told Quartz. Goodenough did not respond to emails. But in a statement released by the University of Texas, where he holds an engineering chair, he said, "We believe our discovery solves many of the problems that are inherent in today's batteries. Cost, safety, energy density, rates of charge and discharge and cycle life are critical for battery-driven cars to be more widely adopted." In addition, Helena Braga, the paper's lead author, in an exchange of emails, insisted that the team's claims are valid. For almost four decades, Goodenough has dominated the world of advanced batteries. If anyone could finally make the breakthrough that allows for cheap, stored electricity in cars and on the grid, it would figure to be him. Goodenough invented the heart of the battery that is all but certainly powering the device on which you are reading this. It's the lithium-cobalt-oxide cathode, invented in 1980 and introduced for sale by Sony in 1991. Again and again, Goodenough's lab has emerged with dramatic discoveries confirming his genius. It's what is not stated in the paper that has some of the battery community stumped. How is Goodenough's new invention storing any energy at all? The known rules of physics state that, to derive energy, differing material must produce differing eletro-chemical reactions in the two opposing electrodes. That difference produces voltage, allowing energy to be stored. But Goodenough's battery has pure metallic lithium or sodium on both sides. Therefore, the voltage should be zero, with no energy produced, battery researchers told Quartz. Goodenough reports energy densities multiple times that of current lithium-ion batteries. Where does the energy come from, if not the electrode reactions? That goes unexplained in the paper.
PlayStation (Games)

Ask Slashdot: Best Virtual Reality Headsets? 141

Quantus347 writes: Straightforward question: I held off for a year to let the various manufacturers shake out the bugs, but now it's down to either a virtual-reality system or a new generation console. So I ask you, the Slashdot community, what are your personal experiences with any of the various VR systems out there? What are their strengths and weaknesses? What little things annoy you the most? What features make a given product the best (or worst) option? "Sprinkle us with wisdom from your mighty brain!" For reference, the HTC Vive costs $799.00, while the Oculus Rift with Oculus Touch motion controllers costs $598 (which is the price after the recent markdown from $799). These prices do not include the necessary hardware required to power each headset. The PlayStation VR ($399.99), Samsung Gear VR ($99.99), and Google Daydream View ($79.00) are also available for less moolah.
Power

Tesla Discontinuing Model S With 60 KWh Battery (electrek.co) 53

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Electrek: April 16th, 2017 will be the last day to order the Model S 60 and 60D. The vehicles were the least expensive models that customers could purchase from Tesla -- starting at $68,000. The Model S 60 and 60D were equipped with 75 kWh battery packs software-locked to 60 kWh. Owners were able to unlock the remaining 15 kWh through a software update for a fee at any time after the purchase if they decided that they wanted more capacity. Tesla says that they are making the change because most customers ultimately end up upgrading to 75 kWh and they want to streamline the ordering process. It comes as Tesla is preparing to launch the Model 3, which should start at $35,000, but higher performance versions are expected to be offered at higher prices closer to the price of the Model S. It would make sense for Tesla to try to create a bigger gap between the two vehicles.
Businesses

Ask Slashdot: What Is Your Horrible IT Boss Story? 300

snydeq writes: Good-bye, programming peers; hello, power to abuse at your whim, writes Bob Lewis in a send-up of an all-too-familiar situation: The engineering colleague who transforms into a greasy political manipulator upon promotion into management. "It's legendary: A CIO promotes his best developer into a management role, losing an excellent programmer and gaining a bad manager. The art of management isn't so much about assembling a dream team, helping others be successful, or solving technical problems. It's about aligning everything you do in service of the business -- the business of yourself.'" What tales do you have of colleagues who broke bad all the way to the top?
Medicine

Unproven Stem Cell Treatments Blind 3 Women (npr.org) 108

An anonymous reader quotes a report from NPR: Scientists have long hoped that stem cells might have the power to treat diseases. But it's always been clear that they could be dangerous too, especially if they're not used carefully. Now a pair of papers published Wednesday in the New England Journal of Medicine is underscoring both the promise and the peril of using stem cells for therapy. In one report, researchers document the cases of three elderly women who were blinded after getting stem cells derived from fat tissue at a for-profit clinic in Florida. The treatment was marketed as a treatment for macular degeneration, the most common cause of blindness among the elderly. Each woman got cells injected into both eyes. In a second report, a patient suffering from the same condition had a halt in the inexorable loss of vision patients usually experience, which may or may not have been related to the treatment. That patient got a different kind of stem cell derived from skin cells as part of a carefully designed Japanese study. The Japanese case marks the first time anyone has given induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells to a patient to treat any condition. The report about the three women in their 70s and 80s who were blinded in Florida is renewing calls for the Food and Drug Administration to crack down on the hundreds of clinics that are selling unproven stem cell treatments for a wide variety of medical conditions, including arthritis, autism and stroke.
Patents

Sony Patent Could Let You Wirelessly Charge Your Phone From Another Device (digitaltrends.com) 36

One of the biggest downsides to wireless charging is the wire necessary to actually charge your device. You generally need to place your wireless charging-enabled device on a compatible charger, which needs to be plugged into a wall. Well, Sony hopes to make the process of wireless charging a bit easier as it has applied for a patent that will allow you to wirelessly charge your phone straight from someone else's phone. Digital Trends reports: The feature could be very useful. Sure, an ideal situation would be if you had access to a power outlet whenever you needed it, but the fact is we've all experienced being out and about and running out of battery. With Sony's new tech, you could essentially just "steal" power from a friend who might have a slightly more charged up device than you. The patent filling itself was discovered by What Future, and the report notes that the tech may not be limited to phones. Instead, Sony could apply it to things like fridges, microwaves, TVs, computers, and really any kind of electronic device. The idea here is that all of you home devices could eventually become sources of wireless energy -- so your phone will almost always be charging if you're at home, without the need for wires.
Software

Swatch Takes on Google, Apple With Watch Operating System (bloomberg.com) 65

Corinne Gretler, reporting for Bloomberg: Swatch said it's developing an alternative to the iOS and Android operating systems for smartwatches as Switzerland's largest maker of timepieces vies with Silicon Valley for control of consumers' wrists. The company's Tissot brand will introduce a model around the end of 2018 that uses the Swiss-made system, which will also be able to connect small objects and wearables, Swatch Chief Executive Officer Nick Hayek said in an interview Thursday. The technology will need less battery power and it will protect data better, he said later at a press conference. Switzerland's four-century-old watch industry has been adjusting to new competition since Apple entered its territory with the Apple Watch in 2015. Hayek faces the uphill challenge of trying to outsmart Google and Apple, which have fended off would-be rivals to their operation systems in smartphones and watches.
Earth

Researchers Convert Biomass To Hydrogen Using Sunlight (rdmag.com) 106

New submitter omaha393 writes: Cambridge chemists have developed a new catalytic approach capable of converting biomass into hydrogen gas using only sunlight as an energy source. The method converts lignocellulose, one of Earth's most abundant biomaterials, into hydrogen gas and organic byproducts when in a basic water and in the presence of the cadmium sulfide/oxide nanoparticle catalysts. The new method, published in Nature Energy, offers a relatively cheap fuel alternative that researchers are looking to scale up to meet consumer demands at the industrial level. Per R&D Magazine: "'With this in place we can simply add organic matter to the system and then, provided it's a sunny day, produce hydrogen fuel,' says joint lead author David Wakerley. 'Future development can be envisioned at any scale.'" In addition to lignocellulose, the team was also able to produce hydrogen gas using unprocessed material including wood, paper and leaves. Further reading: New Atlas; ScienceDaily

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