2019-01-01 00:00:00 ..
2019-04-18 10:57:46 UTC
2019-04-18 12:24:09 UTC
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A bridge linking the Kennedy Space Center to the mainland needs replacement:
In fast-track fashion, traffic engineers hope to finish design work on a future replacement State Road 405 bridge across the Indian River by January 2021.
The aging bridge serves as a critical corridor linking the mainland with Kennedy Space Center and Cape Canaveral Air Force Station — and the bridge must shoulder heavyweight spacecraft payloads and similar freight.
But by 2021, the drawbridge could prove unsafe for spacecraft and other heavy cargo, a NASA engineering study determined. Bridge replacement could cost $140 million — and no construction funding has been earmarked yet, said Bob Kamm, Space Coast Transportation Planning Organization executive director.
Traffic in and around the Kennedy Space Center has increased massively in recent years.
Congressmen want more money to upgrade the facilities at Kennedy Space Center, as well as to provide for the Space Launch System and Orion projects:
A letter sent last month by U.S. Rep. Bill Posey, the Rockledge Republican who sits on the House Space Subcommittee, and co-signed by 10 other members of Florida's delegation, urges $557 million for the exploration ground systems improvements in the 2019 federal budget, and another $17 million for other construction. It also calls for $150 million in 2019 to build a new mobile launcher that could support the SLS rocket for 40 years, a recent NASA policy direction change from plans now seen as problematic to retrofit the current mobile launcher. The letter also calls for another $2.15 billion for the SLS rocket development, and $1.35 billion for the final Orion crew vehicle development.
A U.S. judge in Philadelphia has ruled that limousine drivers for Uber Technologies Inc [UBER.UL] are independent contractors and not the company’s employees under federal law, the first ruling of its kind on a crucial issue for the ride-hailing company.
U.S. District Judge Michael Baylson on Wednesday said San Francisco-based Uber does not exert enough control over drivers for its limo service, UberBLACK, to be considered their employer under the federal Fair Labor Standards Act. The drivers work when they want to and are free to nap, run personal errands, or smoke cigarettes in between rides, Baylson said.
The legal classification of workers has been a major issue for “gig economy” companies that rely on independent contractors. Uber, in particular, has been hit with dozens of lawsuits in recent years claiming that its drivers are employees and are entitled to minimum wage, overtime, and other legal protections not afforded to contractors.
An Uber spokeswoman said the company is pleased with the decision.
Jeremy Abay, a lawyer for the plaintiffs, said he would appeal the ruling to the Philadelphia-based 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. The 3rd Circuit would be the first federal appeals court to consider whether Uber drivers are properly classified as independent contractors.
[...] The case is Razak v. Uber Technologies Inc, U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, No. 2:16-cv-00573.
Google today announced a pair of new artificial intelligence experiments from its research division that let web users dabble in semantics and natural language processing. For Google, a company that's primary product is a search engine that traffics mostly in text, these advances in AI are integral to its business and to its goals of making software that can understand and parse elements of human language.
The website will now house any interactive AI language tools, and Google is calling the collection Semantic Experiences. The primary sub-field of AI it's showcasing is known as word vectors, a type of natural language understanding that maps "semantically similar phrases to nearby points based on equivalence, similarity or relatedness of ideas and language." It's a way to "enable algorithms to learn about the relationships between words, based on examples of actual language usage," says Ray Kurzweil, notable futurist and director of engineering at Google Research, and product manager Rachel Bernstein in a blog post. Google has published its work on the topic in a paper here, and it's also made a pre-trained module available on its TensorFlow platform for other researchers to experiment with.
The first of the two publicly available experiments released today is called Talk to Books, and it quite literally lets you converse with a machine learning-trained algorithm that surfaces answers to questions with relevant passages from human-written text. As described by Kurzweil and Bernstein, Talk to Books lets you "make a statement or ask a question, and the tool finds sentences in books that respond, with no dependence on keyword matching." The duo add that, "In a sense you are talking to the books, getting responses which can help you determine if you're interested in reading them or not."
The second experiment is Semantris, a game that tests word association skills (while collecting data from users).
The very first thing I thought of to ask "Talk to Books" is "What is a cactus?" The first result is "peyote. A species of small cactus, or the powerful drug decocted therefrom by the Indians of Mexico and the western United States and widely used for medicinal, ceremonial, and religious purposes. G.P.M." Thanks, Google.
Also at TechCrunch.
"Algae may be the key to unlocking an important negative-emissions technology to combat climate change," said Charles Greene, Cornell professor of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences and a co-author of new research reported in Earth's Future [open, DOI: 10.1002/2017EF000704] [DX], published March 24 by the American Geophysical Union.
"Combining two technologies – BECCS and microalgae production – may seem like an odd couple, but it could provide enough scientific synergy to help solve world hunger and at the same time reduce the level of greenhouse gases that are changing our climate system," Greene said. Based on an idea first conceptualized by co-author Ian Archibald of Cinglas Ltd., Chester, England, the scientists call the new integrated system ABECCS, or algae bioenergy with carbon capture and storage.
The ABECCS system can act as a carbon dioxide sink while also generating food and electricity. For example, a 7,000-acre ABECCS facility can yield as much protein as soybeans produced on the same land footprint, while simultaneously generating 17 million kilowatt hours of electricity and sequestering 30,000 tons of carbon dioxide per year.
The ABECCS system's economic viability depends on the value of the nutritional products being produced and the price of carbon. Even without a price on carbon, microalgae production – in a fish-farming, aquacultural sense – is commercially viable today if the algae are priced as a fishmeal replacement in aquafeeds.
As artificial intelligence (AI) allows machines to become more like humans, will they experience similar psychological quirks such as hallucinations or depression? And might this be a good thing?
Last month, New York University in New York City hosted a symposium called Canonical Computations in Brains and Machines, where neuroscientists and AI experts discussed overlaps in the way humans and machines think. Zachary Mainen, a neuroscientist at the Champalimaud Centre for the Unknown, a neuroscience and cancer research institute in Lisbon, speculated [36m video] that we might expect an intelligent machine to suffer some of the same mental problems people do.
[...] Q: Why do you think AIs might get depressed and hallucinate?
A: I'm drawing on the field of computational psychiatry, which assumes we can learn about a patient who's depressed or hallucinating from studying AI algorithms like reinforcement learning. If you reverse the arrow, why wouldn't an AI be subject to the sort of things that go wrong with patients?
Q: Might the mechanism be the same as it is in humans?
A: Depression and hallucinations appear to depend on a chemical in the brain called serotonin. It may be that serotonin is just a biological quirk. But if serotonin is helping solve a more general problem for intelligent systems, then machines might implement a similar function, and if serotonin goes wrong in humans, the equivalent in a machine could also go wrong.
Related: Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?
[A] Melbourne-based company Assembly Four created Switter after its founders learned that social media platforms were either removing sex workers' content or banning their accounts. Without the time or resources to build a whole new network from scratch, the group turned to Mastodon.
Sex workers are running out of safe online spaces. Craigslist is no longer displaying personal ads. The controversial classifieds site Backpage, which many escorts used to screen clients, has been seized by the FBI. Adult content is disappearing off Google Drive, and many sex workers say they're being forced off social media. With the news that President Trump has signed the Allow States and Victims to Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act (FOSTA), their options will continue to dwindle — and with it, the ability for many sex workers to pay their bills, let alone do so safely.
Over the past few weeks, sex workers have been turning to an unexpected platform to remain online: the social network Mastodon, under a new instance called "Switter." Melbourne-based company Assembly Four created Switter after its founders learned that social media platforms were either removing sex workers' content or banning their accounts. Without the time or resources to build a whole new network from scratch, the group turned to Mastodon.
Although ostensibly aimed at sex trafficking prevention, FOSTA's reduction of legal protections for websites is having disastrous consequences for sex workers. Faced with the new potential for litigation, many websites are removing any content or avenues that could possibly violate FOSTA. It's disconnecting many of the most vulnerable sex workers from crucial resources.
[...] Switter may offer a temporary salve for the community, yet sex workers say it cannot stand as a last bastion, an end-all be-all answer for their profession. Assembly Four says it's prepared to continue working to make it a safe destination for sex workers, but that they need real change.
"The best-case scenario would be the opposite," says Hunt. "The best-case scenario would be if we didn't need to have safe spaces, if public spaces were somewhere we were accepted."
Blue Origin submitted a proposal late last year in what's expected to be a four-way competition for U.S. Air Force funding to support development of new orbital-class rockets, a further step taken by the Jeff Bezos-owned company to break into the military launch market, industry officials said. The proposal, confirmed by two space industry sources, puts Blue Origin up against SpaceX, Orbital ATK and United Launch Alliance, which could use Blue Origin's BE-4 engine to power its next-generation Vulcan rocket. It also sets up the New Glenn rocket, in development by Blue Origin, to be certified by the Air Force for national security missions.
Blue Origin received funding in an earlier phase of the Air Force's initiative to help companies develop new liquid-fueled U.S.-built booster engines in a bid to end the military's reliance on the Russian RD-180 powerplant, which drives the first stage of ULA's Atlas 5 rocket. The Air Force's money supported development of the BE-4 engine, which was designed with private money, and is still primarily a privately-funded program. The Pentagon funding announced in early 2016 for the BE-4 program was directly awarded to ULA, which routed the money to Blue Origin's engine program.
SpaceX, Orbital ATK and Aerojet Rocketdyne also received Air Force funding in 2016 for propulsion work. SpaceX used the Air Force money for its methane-fueled Raptor engine, which will power the company's next-generation super-heavy BFR launcher. Orbital ATK is developing its own launcher for national security missions, which would use solid-fueled rocket motors for the initial boost into space, then use a hydrogen-fueled upper stage for orbital injection. Aerojet Rocketdyne's AR1 engine is a backup option for ULA's new Vulcan rocket.
Related: Jeff Bezos' Vision for Space: One Trillion Population in the Solar System
NASA Opens Door to Possibly Lowering SLS Cost Using Blue Origin's Engines
SpaceX BFR vs. ULA Vulcan Showdown in the 2020s
One-shot cures for diseases are not great for business—more specifically, they’re bad for longterm profits—Goldman Sachs analysts noted in an April 10 report for biotech clients, first reported by CNBC.
The investment banks’ report, titled “The Genome Revolution,” asks clients the touchy question: “Is curing patients a sustainable business model?” The answer may be “no,” according to follow-up information provided.
[...] The potential to deliver “one shot cures” is one of the most attractive aspects of gene therapy, genetically engineered cell therapy, and gene editing. However, such treatments offer a very different outlook with regard to recurring revenue versus chronic therapies... While this proposition carries tremendous value for patients and society, it could represent a challenge for genome medicine developers looking for sustained cash flow.
[...] Ars reached out to Goldman Sachs, which confirmed the content of the report but declined to comment.
The Whois public database of domain name registration details is dead.
In a letter [PDF] sent this week to DNS overseer ICANN, Europe's data protection authorities have effectively killed off the current service, noting that it breaks the law and so will be illegal come 25 May, when GDPR comes into force.
The letter also has harsh words for ICANN's proposed interim solution, criticizing its vagueness and noting it needs to include explicit wording about what can be done with registrant data, as well as introduce auditing and compliance functions to make sure the data isn't being abused.
ICANN now has a little over a month to come up with a replacement to the decades-old service that covers millions of domain names and lists the personal contact details of domain registrants, including their name, email and telephone number.
ICANN has already acknowledged it has no chance of doing so: a blog post by the company in response to the letter warns that without being granted a special temporary exemption from the law, the system will fracture.
[...] Critics point out that ICANN has largely brought these problems on itself, having ignored official warnings from the Article 29 Working Party for nearly a decade, and only taking the GDPR requirements seriously six months ago when there has been a clear two-year lead time.
One company that is caught in the middle of the dispute is sanguine about the possible death of the service. "Is this the end of public Whois? Yes, in its current form," CEO of Irish registrar Blacknight, Michele Neylon told us. "But is it going to go completely dark? No."
Neylon has long complained about ICANN's refusal to acknowledge European law when it comes to the Whois service: back in 2013, he refused to sign an updated version of the contract that domain name sellers have with ICANN until it gave him a legal waiver over its data retention requirements.
"That decision probably cost us money, but if we have to choose between operating legally or illegally our path is clear," he wrote in a blog post this week.
Apple's HomePod has failed to take away much market share from rival devices such as Amazon Echo and Google Home:
When Apple Inc.'s HomePod smart speaker went on sale in January, it entered a market pioneered and dominated by Amazon's Echo lineup of Alexa-powered devices. Apple has been touting the HomePod's superior sound quality but so far hasn't enticed many consumers to part with $349.
By late March, Apple had lowered sales forecasts and cut some orders with Inventec Corp., one of the manufacturers that builds the HomePod for Apple, according to a person familiar with the matter.
At first, it looked like the HomePod might be a hit. Pre-orders were strong, and in the last week of January the device grabbed about a third of the U.S. smart speaker market in unit sales, according to data provided to Bloomberg by Slice Intelligence. But by the time HomePods arrived in stores, sales were tanking, says Slice principal analyst Ken Cassar. "Even when people had the ability to hear these things," he says, "it still didn't give Apple another spike."
During the HomePod's first 10 weeks of sales, it eked out 10 percent of the smart speaker market, compared with 73 percent for Amazon's Echo devices and 14 percent for the Google Home, according to Slice Intelligence. Three weeks after the launch, weekly HomePod sales slipped to about 4 percent of the smart speaker category on average, the market research firm says. Inventory is piling up, according to Apple store workers, who say some locations are selling fewer than 10 HomePods a day. Apple declined to comment.
We’ve become used to software-defined radio as the future of radio experimentation, and many of us will have some form of SDR hardware. From the $10 RTL USB sticks through to all-singing, all-dancing models at eye-watering prices, there is an SDR for everyone.
What about the idea of an SDR without any external hardware? Instead of plugging something into your Raspberry Pi, how about using the Pi itself, unmodified? That’s just what the Nexmon SDR project has achieved, and this has been made possible through clever use of the on-board Broadcom 802.11ac WiFi chip. The result is a TX-capable SDR, albeit one only capable of operating within the 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz spectrum used by WiFi.
A New Hampshire state court has dismissed a defamation suit filed by a patent owner unhappy that it had been called a "patent troll". The court ruled [PDF] that the phrase "patent troll" and other rhetorical characterizations are not the type of factual statements that can be the basis of a defamation claim. While this is a fairly routine application of defamation law and the First Amendment, it is an important reminder that patent assertion entities--or "trolls"--are not shielded from criticism. Regardless of your view about the patent system, this is a victory for freedom of expression.
[...] The court went on to explain that "patent troll" is a term without a precise meaning that "doesn't enable the reader or hearer to know whether the label is true or false". The court notes that the term could encompass a broad range of activity (which some might see as beneficial, while others see it as harmful).
The court also ruled that challenged statements such as "shakedown" and comparisons to "blackmail" were non-actionable "rhetorical hyperbole". This is consistent with a long line of cases finding such language to be protected. Indeed, this is why John Oliver can call coal magnate Robert Murray a "geriatric Dr. Evil" and tell him to "eat shit". As the ACLU has put it, you can't sue people for being mean to you. Strongly expressed opinions, whether you find them childish or hilariously apt (or both), are part of living in a free society.
El Reg reports:
Apple has gone full swivel-eyed, control-freak crazy on its own employees with a demented internal memo decrying information leaks.
"In 2017, Apple caught 29 leakers. 12 of those were arrested", says the terror missive from Cupertino, ironically leaked to Bloomberg. "Among those were Apple employees, contractors and some partners in Apple's supply chain."
It then threatens long-lasting harm to anyone stupid enough to let anyone know anything about its products before, you know, it launches them and tries to sell as many as humanely possible.
"These people not only lose their jobs, they can face extreme difficulty finding employment elsewhere", the letter rants.
[...] "Leakers do not simply lose their jobs at Apple. In some cases, they face jail time and massive fines for network intrusion and theft of trade secrets both classified as federal crimes."
What a lovely company.
Unless you're the FCC.
On the Daily Dot:
The Facebook pages of Richard Spencer, the alt-right leader who was famously punched in the face last year, have been suspended.
The pages for the National Policy Institute, a lobbying group of sorts for white nationalists, and Spencer's online magazine "altright.com," vanished on Friday after Vice sent the social network an inquiry about hate groups. They had a combined following of almost 15,000 followers.
The action was taken just days after Mark Zuckerberg emphasized during his testimony before Congress that Facebook does not allow hate speech. But it wasn't until Vice flagged the accounts that Facebook suspended them. The social network said in a statement that it identifies violating pages using human monitors, algorithms, and partnerships with organizations.
El Reg reports:
Contract wrangle overshadows milestone
The F-35 fighter jet has completed one of its years-long flight testing programmes--just in time for the United States to suspend all deliveries of the new supersonic aircraft.
The final flight of the F-35's System Development and Demonstration (SDD) phase took place earlier this week, flown by British BAE Systems test pilot Pete "Wizzer" Wilson. He flew an F-35C (the version designed for conventional aircraft carriers) on a flight intended to check that the aircraft can safely carry 2,000lb bombs and Sidewinder anti-aircraft missiles together.
[...] Finishing SDD means that Block 3F of the aircraft's operating system can now be frozen and rolled out to all worldwide users. That block is not without its own rather fundamental problems, as the US Department of Operational Test and Evaluation has found. Flight tests will continue to validate later versions of the software, such as the still-in-beta Block 4, as well as ironing out bugs discovered during Block 3F testing and deferred to later releases.
However, even as the flight test programme came to a close, the US Department of Defence stopped accepting new jets from manufacturer Lockheed Martin over a contract wrangle. Reuters summarised it in the following terms: "Neither party discovered the issue at the time of production, so each has pointed to the other to fix it."
An American government spokesman said: "This is not a safety of flight issue but rather a contractual resourcing issue that needs to be resolved. The [US] government has implemented this pause to ensure the warfighter receives a quality product from industry."