Apple Must Explain Why It Doesn't Want You To Fix Your Own iPhone, California Lawmaker Says ( 195

A California state lawmaker says she hopes to make Apple explain specifically why it has opposed and lobbied against legislation that would make it easier for you to repair your iPhone and other electronics. Motherboard reports: Last week, California assemblymember Susan Talamantes-Eggman announced that she plans to introduce right to repair legislation in the state, which would require companies like Apple, Microsoft, John Deere, and Samsung to sell replacement parts and repair tools, make repair guides available to the public, and would require companies to make diagnostic software available to independent shops. Public records show that Apple has lobbied against right to repair legislation in New York, and my previous reporting has shown that Apple has privately asked lawmakers to kill legislation in places like Nebraska. To this point, the company has largely used its membership in trade organizations such as CompTIA and the Consumer Technology Association to publicly oppose the bill. But with the right to repair debate coming to Apple's home state, Talamantes-Eggman says she expects the company to show up to hearings about the bill.

"Apple is a very important company in the state of California, and one I have a huge amount of respect for. But the onus is on them to explain why we can't repair our own things and what damage or danger it causes them," Talamantes-Eggman told me in a phone interview. Talamantes-Eggman told me that the bill she plans to introduce will apply to both consumer electronics as well as agricultural equipment such as tractors. Broadly speaking, the electronics industry has decided to go with an "authorized repair" model in which companies pay the original device manufacturer to become authorized to fix devices.

Hardware Hacking

ESR's Newest Project: An Open Hardware/Open Source UPS ( 232

An anonymous reader writes: Last month Eric S. Raymond complained about his choices for a UPS (Uninterruptible Power Supply), adding that "This whole category begs to be disrupted by an open-hardware [and open-source] design that could be assembled cheaply in a makerspace from off-the-shelf components, an Arduino-class microcontroller, and a PROM...because it's possible, and otherwise the incentives on the vendors won't change." It could be designed to work with longer-lasting and more environmentally friendly batteries, using "EV-style intelligent battery-current sensors to enable accurate projection of battery performance" (along with a text-based alert system and a USB monitoring port).

Calling the response "astonishing," Raymond noted the emergence within a week of "the outlines of a coherent design," and in an update on GitLab reported that "The response on my blog and G+ was intense, almost overwhelming. It seems many UPS users are unhappy with what the vendors are pushing" -- and thus, the UPSide project was launched. "We welcome contributors: people with interest in UPSes who have expertise in battery technology, power-switching electronics, writing device-control firmware, relevant standards such as USB and the DMTF battery-management profile. We also welcome participation from established UPS and electronics vendors. We know that consumer electronics is a cutthroat low-margin business in which it's tough to support a real R&D team or make possibly-risky product bets. Help us, and then let us help you!"

There's already a Wiki with design documents -- plus a process document -- and Raymond says the project now even has a hardware lead with 30 years experience as a power and signals engineer, plus "a really sharp dev group. Half a dozen experts have shown up to help spec this thing, critique the design docs, and explain EE things to ignorant me." And he's already touting "industry participation! We have a friendly observer who's the lead software architect for one of the major UPS vendors." Earlier Raymond identified his role as "basically, product manager -- keeper of the requirements list and recruiter of talent" -- though he admits on his blog that he's already used a "cute hack" to create a state/action diagram for the system, "by writing a DSL to generate code in another DSL and provably correct equivalent C application logic."

He adds to readers of the blog that if that seems weird to you, "you must be new here."


MIT Plans To Build Nuclear Fusion Plant By 2033 170

Mallory Locklear reports via Engadget: MIT announced yesterday that it and Commonwealth Fusion Systems -- an MIT spinoff -- are working on a project that aims to make harvesting energy from nuclear fusion a reality within the next 15 years. The ultimate goal is to develop a 200-megawatt power plant. MIT also announced that Italian energy firm ENI has invested $50 million towards the project, $30 million of which will be applied to research and development at MIT over the next three years. MIT and CFS plan to use newly available superconducting materials to develop large electromagnets that can produce fields four-times stronger than any being used now. The stronger magnetic fields will allow for more power to be generated resulting in, importantly, positive net energy. The method will hopefully allow for cheaper and smaller reactors. The research team aims to develop a prototype reactor within the next 10 years, followed by a 200-megawatt pilot power plant.

'Flippy,' the Fast Food Robot, Turned Off For Being Too Slow ( 126

He was supposed to revolutionize a California fast food kitchen, churning out 150 burgers per hour without requiring a paycheck or benefits. But after a single day of working as a cook at a Caliburger location in Pasadena this week, Flippy the burger-flipping robot has stopped flipping. From a report: In some ways, Flippy was a victim of his own success. Inundated with customers eager to see the machine in action this week, Cali Group, which runs the fast food chain, quickly realized the robot couldn't keep up with the demand. They decided instead to retrain the restaurant staff to work more efficiently alongside Flippy, according to USA Today. Temporarily decommissioned, patrons encountered a sign Thursday noting that Flippy would be "cooking soon," the paper reported. "Mostly it's the timing," Anthony Lomelino, the Chief Technology Officer for Cali Group told the paper. "When you're in the back, working with people, you talk to each other. With Flippy, you kind of need to work around his schedule. Choreographing the movements of what you do, when and how you do it."

Apple Files Patent For a Crumb-Resistant MacBook Keyboard ( 91

According to a patent application made public on Thursday, March 8, Apple could be developing a new MacBook keyboard designed to prevent crumbs and dust from getting those super-shallow MacBook keys stuck. "Liquid ingress around the keys into the keyboard can damage electronics. Residues from such liquids may corrode or block electrical contacts, getting in the way of key movement and so on," the patent application reads. Digital Trends reports: The application goes on to describe how those problems might be remedied: With the careful application of gaskets, brushes, wipers, or flaps that block gaps beneath keycaps. One solution would include a membrane beneath each key, effectively insulating the interior of the keyboard from the exterior, while another describes using each keypress as a "bellows" to force contaminants out of the keyboard. "A keyboard assembly [could include] a substrate, a key cap, and a guard structure extending from the key cap that funnels contaminants away from the movement mechanism," the patent application reads.

Intel Launches Mainstream Optane SSD 800P Series Based On 3D Xpoint Memory ( 36

MojoKid writes: Intel just launched a new family of consumer-targeted Optane solid state drives today, dubbed the Intel Optane SSD 800P. Unlike Intel Optane Memory sticks, which accelerate hybrid storage configurations with hard drives through intelligent data caching, or Intel's flagship Optane SSD 900P that's aimed squarely at hardcore enthusiasts with big budgets, these M.2 form factor Intel Optane 800P SSDs target the meat of the mobile and desktop markets, with higher capacities than Optane Memory but more affordable pricing than the 900P. In the benchmarks, the Optane SSD 800P series drives offered a mixed-bag of performance, with sequential transfers that top out at about 1.4GB/s, but with small file transfers, 4K random and mixed workloads, latency, and overall QoS looking strong. Intel will initially be offering two drives in the Optane SSD 800P series, with M.2 80mm 58GB and 118GB models. Suggested pricing for the drives is $129 for the 58GB capacity and $199 for the 118GB drive.

Qarnot Unveils a Cryptocurrency Heater For Your Home ( 65

Qarnot, the French startup known for using Ryzen Pro processors to heat homes and offices for free, is unveiling a new computing heater specifically made for cryptocurrency mining. "The QC1 is a heater for your home that features a passive computer inside," reports TechCrunch. "And this computer is optimized for mining." From the report: The QC1 features two AMD GPUs (Sapphire Nitro+ Radeon RX580 with 8GB of VRAM) and is designed to mine Ethers by default. You can set it up in a few minutes by plugging an Ethernet cable and putting your Ethereum wallet address in the mobile app. You'll then gradually receive ethers on this address -- Qarnot doesn't receive any coin, you keep 100 percent of your cryptocurrencies. If you believe Litecoin or another cryptocurrency is the future, you can also access the computer and mine another cryptocurrency. It's a Linux server and you can access it directly. If your home is cold and you desperately need to turn on the heaters, the QC1 is going to turn on the two GPUs and mine at a 60 MH/s speed. There are also traditional heating conductors in case those two GPUs are not enough. Qarnot heaters don't have any hard drive and rely on passive heating. You won't hear any fan buzzing in the background. You can order the QC1 for $3,600 starting today -- you can also pay in bitcoins. The company hopes to sell hundreds of QC1 in the next year.
United States

'Personal Drone' Crash Causes 335-Acre Wildfire In Coconino National Forest ( 70

McGruber writes: A "personal drone" that crashed and burst into flames was the cause of the Kendrick Fire, a 335-acre fire in the Coconino National Forest in northern Arizona. Coconino National Forest spokesman George Jozens said that about 30 firefighters from the U.S. Forest Service and Summit Fire and Medical worked to quell the fire.

Samsung's New TVs Are Almost Invisible ( 158

Mike Murphy reports via Quartz of Samsung's new top-of-the-line televisions announced at an event in New York today: Samsung's new QLED line of 4K TVs features a technology the company is calling "Ambient Mode." Before you mount the TV, you'll snap a picture of the wall it's going to hang on -- it doesn't matter if it's brick, wood, patterned wallpaper, or just a white wall -- and then after it's up, you can set that picture as the TV's background. The result is something that looks like a floating black rectangle mounted on a wall. Samsung even includes a digital version of the shadow this black rectangle would cast on the wall, as if there really wasn't a large LED panel sitting in the middle of the thin metal strips. There are five QLED models, with minor tweaks between them, ranging in size from 49 inches, up to an absolutely massive 88 inches. The televisions have a built-in timer so that the ambient setting will turn off after a while, in order to spare your electricity bill. Viewing the televisions before Samsung's event, the ambient really did appear to blend them into the walls at first blush. One, against a fake brick wall, was indistinguishable from what was behind it until you really got close up to the screen. The distinction on another, attempting to mimic a painted off-white wall, was a little more obvious. But that's not really the point -- the mode is just intended to give the illusion of invisibility between watching TV, and when you want to show off your new television to a visitor. Pricing isn't available but you can expect them to range from a few thousands dollars all the way up to $20,000 for the largest, sharpest models. Samsung also announced that it's partnering with The Weather Channel, The New York Times, and others to overlay content on the ambient TVs. They will also be able to control any smart device that can control to Samsung's SmartThings system, like Amazon Echoes, Ring doorbells, and Philips Hue Lights. Bixby is baked into the remote to help you search for content and cater to commands.

California Becomes 18th State To Consider Right To Repair Legislation ( 96

Jason Koebler shares a report from Motherboard: The right to repair battle has come to Silicon Valley's home state: Wednesday, a state assembly member announced that California would become the 18th state in the country to consider legislation that would make it easier to repair your electronics. "The Right to Repair Act will provide consumers with the freedom to have their electronic products and appliances fixed by a repair shop or service provider of their choice, a practice that was taken for granted a generation ago but is now becoming increasingly rare in a world of planned obsolescence," Susan Talamantes Engman, a Democrat from Stockton who introduced the bill, said in a statement. The announcement had been rumored for about a week but became official Wednesday. The bill would require electronics manufacturers to make repair guides and repair parts available to the public and independent repair professionals and would also would make diagnostic software and tools that are available to authorized and first-party repair technicians available to independent companies.

Oculus Rift Headsets Are Offline Following a Software Error ( 111

Polygon reports that Oculus Rift virtual reality headsets around the world are experiencing an outage. The outage appears to be a result of an expired security certificate. "That certificate has expired," said the Oculus support team on its forums, "and we're looking at a few different ways to resolve the issue. We'll update you with the latest info as available. We recommend you wait until we provide an official fix. Thanks for your patience." Polygon reports: One place where users experiencing the issue are gathering is on the Oculus forums. Last night user apexmaster booted up his computer, tried to open the Oculus app and was greeted by an error indicating that the software could not reach the "Oculus Runtime Service." That same error is cropping up on computers all around the world, including several devices here at Polygon. Once it has appeared, there's no way to restart the Oculus app, which renders the Rift headset unusable.

Self-Driving Cars Are Being Attacked By Angry Californians ( 351

According to incident reports collected by the California department of motor vehicles, some Californians are purposely colliding with self-driving cars. The Guardian reports: On January 10, a pedestrian in San Francisco's Mission District ran across the street to confront a GM Cruise autonomous vehicle that was waiting for people to cross the road, according to an incident report filed by the car company. The pedestrian was "shouting," the report states, and "struck the left side of the Cruise AV's rear bumper and hatch with his entire body." No injuries occurred, but the car's left tail light was damaged. In a separate incident just a few blocks away on January 28, a taxi driver in San Francisco got out of his car, approached a GM Cruise autonomous vehicle and "slapped the front passenger window, causing a scratch." The police were not called in either case.

Android P Drops Support For Nexus Phones, Pixel Tablet ( 86

Google has launched the first developer preview of Android P, the company's new mobile operating system that brings new features and improvements over Android Oreo. Unfortunately, developers will only have a small set of blessed hardware to choose from with Android P: the Pixel, Pixel XL, Pixel 2, and Pixel 2 XL. Google's Nexus smartphones and Pixel C tablet will not get Android P when it's fully released. The Verge reports: Eventually, Android P will ship on new phones from other manufacturers, along with the handful of handsets that third-parties bother to update, but there are a couple Android mainstays that won't get to enjoy this marvelous future: Google's Nexus 5X and Nexus 6P phones, and the oft-forgotten Pixel C tablet. As Ars Technica confirmed with Google, those devices won't be getting Android P when it's released fully. Also, as Android Police notes, there's no Developer Preview image for the Nexus Player, which came out in 2014, so it might be done getting updates as well. It's 2018, and we're beyond the two years of major OS update support these devices were promised, so this isn't hugely surprising. All three devices will continue to get monthly security updates through at least November of this year, but they'll remain stuck on Android 8.1 for an underlying OS as far as official Google updates go.

Modders Get Intel's Coffee Lake CPUs To Run On Incompatible Motherboards ( 83

Paul Lilly reports via PC Gamer: It took some time and a whole lot of tweaking, but modders have finally figured out a way to get Intel's Coffee Lake processors running on older motherboards based on Intel's Z270 and Z170 chipsets. Even though Coffee Lake is pin compatible with older LGA 1151 motherboards, the official word from Intel is that the power requirements differ, and as such Coffee Lake only works in newer motherboards based on Intel's Z370 chipset. [T]here is a forum post on that outlines how it can be done. It is a fairly involved process and specific to ASRock motherboards, which the modders claim "have proven to work well" with the steps that are outlined. In short, getting a Coffee Lake processor to run in an older motherboard requires making tweaks to the CPU's microcode, the iGPU's UEFI GOP driver, and some Management Engine bootstraps. The modders were able to get a Core i3-8300 processor to boot in a couple of older boards, but not a Core i7-8700 chip. That is a higher core chip, of course -- six cores instead of four -- which seems to suggest that the power issue is related to driving higher core counts.

Google Lens Is Coming To All Android Phones Running Google Photos ( 57

Google announced that Google Lens, a machine learning-powered image analyzer, will be rolling out to more Android devices and make an appearance on iOS. "This means users will be able to scan things through the app to receive information, like a dog's breed or a flower type," reports The Verge. Some phones will also be able to access Lens through the Google Assistant too, including flagships from Samsung, Huawei, LG, Motorola, Sony, and HMD / Nokia. "Google says Lens is rolling out in batches, so you might not get the update right away," reports The Verge.

Flippy the Robot Takes Over Burger Duties At California Restaurant ( 226

Chain eatery CaliBurger announced today that its location in Pasadena is the first to employ Flippy, a burger-flipping robot developed by Miso Robotics. The robot is able to take over the cooking duties after a human puts the patties on the grill. KTLA reports: "The kitchen of the future will always have people in it, but we see that kitchen as having people and robots," said David Zito, co-founder and chief executive officer of Miso Robotics. Flippy uses thermal imaging, 3D and camera vision to sense when to flip -- and when to remove. "It detects the temperature of the patty, the size of the patty and the temperature of the grill surface," explained Zito. The device also learns through artificial intelligence -- basically, the more burgers that Flippy flips, the smarter it gets. Right now, cheese and toppings are added by a co-worker. CaliBurger CEO John Miller says the robot can cut down on costs as it will work a position that has a high turnover rate. "It's not a fun job -- it's hot, it's greasy, it's dirty," said Miller about the grill cook position. Less turnover means less time training new grill cooks. Flippy costs about $60,000 minimum and is expected to be used at other CaliBurger locations soon.

Frequency Deviations In Continental Europe Are Causing Electric Clocks To Run Behind By 5 Minutes ( 251

elgatozorbas shares a short note from the European Network of Transmission System Operators for Electricity (ENTSO-E): Apparently the Continental European Power System has been off since mid-January, causing some clocks to run behind by 5 minutes. How common are these mains-frequency synchronized clocks anyway, and why are they built that way? "The power deviations have led to a slight drop in the electric frequency," reports ENTSO-E. "This in turn has also affected those electric clocks that are steered by the frequency of the power system and not by a quartz crystal... All actions are taken by the transmission system operators (TSOs) of Continental Europe and by ENTSO-E to resolve the situation."

Google Unveils 72-Qubit Quantum Computer With Low Error Rates ( 76

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Tom's Hardware: Google announced a 72-qubit universal quantum computer that promises the same low error rates the company saw in its first 9-qubit quantum computer. Google believes that this quantum computer, called Bristlecone, will be able to bring us to an age of quantum supremacy. In a recent announcement, Google said: "If a quantum processor can be operated with low enough error, it would be able to outperform a classical supercomputer on a well-defined computer science problem, an achievement known as quantum supremacy. These random circuits must be large in both number of qubits as well as computational length (depth). Although no one has achieved this goal yet, we calculate quantum supremacy can be comfortably demonstrated with 49 qubits, a circuit depth exceeding 40, and a two-qubit error below 0.5%. We believe the experimental demonstration of a quantum processor outperforming a supercomputer would be a watershed moment for our field, and remains one of our key objectives."

According to Google, a minimum error rate for quantum computers needs to be in the range of less than 1%, coupled with close to 100 qubits. Google seems to have achieved this so far with 72-qubit Bristlecone and its 1% error rate for readout, 0.1% for single-qubit gates, and 0.6% for two-qubit gates. Quantum computers will begin to become highly useful in solving real-world problems when we can achieve error rates of 0.1-1% coupled with hundreds of thousand to millions of qubits. According to Google, an ideal quantum computer would have at least hundreds of millions of qubits and an error rate lower than 0.01%. That may take several decades to achieve, even if we assume a "Moore's Law" of some kind for quantum computers (which so far seems to exist, seeing the progress of both Google and IBM in the past few years, as well as D-Wave).


Oculus Rift Is Now the Most Popular VR Headset On Steam ( 60

The Oculus Rift has overtaken the HTC Vive on the monthly Steam hardware survey for the first time since the launch of both headsets in early 2016. VentureBeat reports: The survey is entirely optional and scans a user's PC for various hardware components, including any VR headsets that may be connected. After a few months of catching up to Vive, the Rift was neck-and-neck with its rival in January's survey with 0.9 percent between the two. However, February saw Oculus step past HTC; Rift took 47.31 percent of the total hardware use, and Vive fell to 45.38 percent, leaving just under 2 percent between them. It's still a tight race, then, but this is the first time Rift has managed to surpass Vive. Again, this is in no way confirmation that the Oculus Rift has sold more units than the HTC Vive, as neither headset has had official sales figures released, but it's the best shot we've got at gauging the market share right now. Rift also took the "Most Popular Headset" space in Steam's individual listings for the second time ever.
The Internet

Google Fiber Is a Faint Echo of the Disruption We Were Promised ( 173

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Motherboard: Some eight years on and Google Fiber's ambitions are just a pale echo of the disruptive potential originally proclaimed by the company. While Google Fiber did make some impressive early headway in cities like Austin, the company ran into numerous deployment headaches. Fearing competition, incumbent ISPs like AT&T and Comcast began a concerted effort to block the company's access to essential utility poles, even going so far as to file lawsuits against cities like Nashville that tried to expedite the process. Even in launched markets, customer uptake wasn't quite what executives were expecting. Estimates peg Google Fiber TV subscribers at fewer than 100,000, thanks in large part to the cord cutting mindset embraced by early adopters. Broadband subscriber tallies (estimated as at least 500,000) were notably better, but still off from early company projections. Even without anti-competitive roadblocks, progress was slow. Digging up city streets and burying fiber was already a time-consuming and expensive process. And while Google has tried to accelerate these deployments via something called "microtrenching" (machines that bury fiber an inch below roadways), broadband deployment remains a rough business. It's a business made all the rougher by state and local regulators and lawmakers who've been in the pockets of entrenched providers like Comcast for the better part of a generation.

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