Businesses

Turning Soybeans Into Diesel Fuel Is Costing Us Billions (npr.org) 13

This year, trucks and other heavy-duty motors in America will burn some 3 billion gallons of diesel fuel that was made from soybean oil. They're doing it, though, not because it's cheaper or better, but because they're required to, by law. From a report: The law is the Renewable Fuel Standard, or RFS. For some, especially Midwestern farmers, it's the key to creating clean energy from American soil and sun. For others -- like many economists -- it's a wasteful misuse of resources. And the most wasteful part of the RFS, according to some, is biodiesel. It's different from ethanol, a fuel that's made from corn and mixed into gasoline, also as required by the RFS. In fact, gasoline companies probably would use ethanol even if there were no law requiring it, because ethanol is a useful fuel additive -- at least up to a point. That's not true of biodiesel. "This is an easy one, economically. Biodiesel is very expensive, relative to petroleum diesel," says Scott Irwin, an economist at the University of Illinois, who follows biofuel markets closely. He calculates that the extra cost for biodiesel comes to about $1.80 per gallon right now, meaning that the biofuel law is costing Americans about $5.4 billion a year.
Bitcoin

Bitcoin Watchers Running Out of Explanations Blame Slump on Moon (bloomberg.com) 40

If regulatory concerns aren't enough to explain Bitcoin's 50 percent slump from its record high reached last month, how about blaming it on the moon? An anonymous reader writes: The Lunar New Year, which marks the first day of the year in the Chinese calendar, is being cited by some as contributing to Bitcoin's slump as Asian traders cash out their cryptocurrencies to travel and buy gifts for the holiday that starts Feb. 16 this year. The festivity is celebrated not just in China, but in other Asian countries including Singapore, Indonesia, Malaysia, Korea and Thailand. "The January drop is a recurring theme in cryptocurrencies as people celebrating the Chinese New Year, aka Lunar New Year, exchange their crypto for fiat currency," said Alexander Wallin, chief executive officer of trading social network SprinkleBit in New York. "The timing is about four to six weeks before the lunar year, when most people make their travel arrangements and start buying presents."
Businesses

'No One Wants Your Used Clothes Anymore' (bloomberg.com) 122

An anonymous reader shares a report: For decades, the donation bin has offered consumers in rich countries a guilt-free way to unload their old clothing. In a virtuous and profitable cycle, a global network of traders would collect these garments, grade them, and transport them around the world to be recycled, worn again, or turned into rags and stuffing. Now that cycle is breaking down. Fashion trends are accelerating, new clothes are becoming as cheap as used ones, and poor countries are turning their backs on the secondhand trade. Without significant changes in the way that clothes are made and marketed, this could add up to an environmental disaster in the making. [...] The tide of secondhand clothes keeps growing even as the markets to reuse them are disappearing. From an environmental standpoint, that's a big problem. Already, the textile industry accounts for more greenhouse-gas emissions than all international flights and maritime shipping combined; as recycling markets break down, its contribution could soar. The good news is that nobody has a bigger incentive to address this problem than the industry itself.
Businesses

Within Next Five Years Your Pizzas Will Probably Be Delivered by Autonomous Cars, Domino's Pizza CEO Says (thestreet.com) 137

In an interview with The Street, Domino's Pizza outgoing CEO Patrick Doyle said in three to five years at the earliest he expects driverless cars and voice orders to shift the way the world orders pizza. From the report: "We have been investing in natural voice for ordering for a few years. We rolled that out in our own apps before Amazon launched Alexa and Alphabet launched Google Home...[and] we are making investments...to understand how consumers will want to interact with autonomous vehicles and pizza delivery," Doyle said.
Japan

Days After Hawaii's False Missile Alarm, a New One in Japan (nytimes.com) 39

An anonymous reader shares a report: Japan's public broadcaster on Tuesday accidentally sent news alerts that North Korea had launched a missile and that citizens should take shelter -- just days after the government of Hawaii had sent a similar warning to its citizens. The broadcaster, NHK, corrected itself five minutes later and apologized for the error on its evening news (Editor's note: the link may be paywalled; alternative source). The initial texts cited J-Alert, a system used by the government to issue warnings to its citizens about missiles, tsunamis and other natural disasters. But NHK later said that the system was not to blame for the false alarm. Makoto Sasaki, a spokesman for NHK, apologized, saying that "staff had mistakenly operated the equipment to deliver news alerts over the internet."
China

Philippine Lawmakers Worry China Telecom May Be a 'Trojan horse' (reuters.com) 24

An anonymous reader shares a report: Opposition members of the Philippine Congress raised concern on Wednesday that China Telecom Corp, which may enter the Philippine industry, could be a "Trojan horse" aimed at giving China access to state secrets. The Southeast Asian country aims to name a third telecom operator within the first quarter that will break the duopoly of PLDT and Globe Telecom State-run China Telecom has been named as a possible investor in that third entity. President Rodrigo Duterte, who has warned both PLDT and Globe to shape up or face competition, has welcomed Chinese entities specifically to become the third telecoms operator. Beijing has selected China Telecom to invest in the Philippines, according to Philippine officials, but it would need to partner with a local company as it cannot operate alone under the law. China Telecom's presence in the Philippines, however, does not sit well with some lawmakers, given China's telecommunications expertise and sophisticated technology.
Earth

Salmonella Probably Killed the Aztecs (theguardian.com) 87

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Guardian: In 1545 disaster struck Mexico's Aztec nation when people started coming down with high fevers, headaches and bleeding from the eyes, mouth and nose. Death generally followed in three or four days. Within five years as many as 15 million people -- an estimated 80% of the population -- were wiped out in an epidemic the locals named "cocoliztli." The word means pestilence in the Aztec Nahuatl language. Its cause, however, has been questioned for nearly 500 years. On Monday scientists swept aside smallpox, measles, mumps, and influenza as likely suspects, identifying a typhoid-like "enteric fever" for which they found DNA evidence on the teeth of long-dead victims.

Scientists now say they have probably unmasked the culprit. Analysing DNA extracted from 29 skeletons buried in a cocoliztli cemetery, they found traces of the salmonella enterica bacterium, of the Paratyphi C variety. It is known to cause enteric fever, of which typhoid is an example. The Mexican subtype rarely causes human infection today. Many salmonella strains spread via infected food or water, and may have travelled to Mexico with domesticated animals brought by the Spanish, the research team said.
The study has been published in the journal Nature Ecology and Evolution.
The Military

America's Fastest Spy Plane May Be Back -- And Hypersonic (bloomberg.com) 188

A Lockheed Skunk Works executive implied last week at an aerospace conference that the successor to one of the fastest aircraft the world has seen, the SR-71 Blackbird, might already exist. Previously, Lockheed officials have said the successor, the SR-72, could fly by 2030. Bloomberg reports: Referring to detailed specifics of company design and manufacturing, Jack O'Banion, a Lockheed vice president, said a "digital transformation" arising from recent computing capabilities and design tools had made hypersonic development possible. Then -- assuming O'Banion chose his verb tense purposely -- came the surprise. "Without the digital transformation, the aircraft you see there could not have been made," O'Banion said, standing by an artist's rendering of the hypersonic aircraft. "In fact, five years ago, it could not have been made." Hypersonic applies to speeds above Mach 5, or five times the speed of sound. The SR-71 cruised at Mach 3.2, more than 2,000 mph, around 85,000 feet.

"We couldn't have made the engine itself -- it would have melted down into slag if we had tried to produce it five years ago," O'Banion said. "But now we can digitally print that engine with an incredibly sophisticated cooling system integral into the material of the engine itself and have that engine survive for multiple firings for routine operation." The aircraft is also agile at hypersonic speeds, with reliable engine starts, he said. A half-decade before, he added, developers "could not have even built it even if we conceived of it."

Nintendo

Hackers Seem Close To Publicly Unlocking the Nintendo Switch (arstechnica.com) 76

Ars Technica reports that "hackers have been finding partial vulnerabilities in early versions of the [Nintendo] Switch firmware throughout 2017." They have discovered a Webkit flaw that allows for basic "user level" access to some portions of the underlying system and a service-level initialization flaw that gives hackers slightly more control over the Switch OS. "But the potential for running arbitary homebrew code on the Switch really started looking promising late last month, with a talk at the 34th Chaos Communication Congress (34C3) in Leipzig Germany," reports Ars. "In that talk, hackers Plutoo, Derrek, and Naehrwert outlined an intricate method for gaining kernel-level access and nearly full control of the Switch hardware." From the report: The full 45-minute talk is worth a watch for the technically inclined, it describes using the basic exploits discussed above as a wedge to dig deep into how the Switch works at the most basic level. At one point, the hackers sniff data coming through the Switch's memory bus to figure out the timing for an important security check. At another, they solder an FPGA onto the Switch's ARM chip and bit-bang their way to decoding the secret key that unlocks all of the Switch's encrypted system binaries. The team of Switch hackers even got an unexpected assist in its hacking efforts from chipmaker Nvidia. The "custom chip" inside the Switch is apparently so similar to an off-the-shelf Nvidia Tegra X1 that a $700 Jetson TX1 development kit let the hackers get significant insight into the Switch's innards. More than that, amid the thousand of pages of Nvidia's public documentation for the X1 is a section on how to "bypass the SMMU" (the System Memory Management Unit), which gave the hackers a viable method to copy and write a modified kernel to the Switch's system RAM. As Plutoo put it in the talk, "Nvidia backdoored themselves."
The Internet

Lawsuit Filed By 22 State Attorneys General Seeks To Block Net Neutrality Repeal (techcrunch.com) 262

An anonymous reader quotes a report from TechCrunch: A lawsuit filed today by the attorneys general of 22 states seeks to block the Federal Communications Commission's recent controversial vote to repeal Obama era Net Neutrality regulations. The filing is led by New York State Attorney General Schneiderman, who called rollback a potential "disaster for New York consumers and businesses, and for everyone who cares about a free and open internet." The letter, which was filed in the United States District Court of Appeals in Washington, is cosigned by AGs from California, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Mississippi, New Mexico, North Carolina, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia, Washington and Washington DC.

"An open internet -- and the free exchange of ideas it allows -- is critical to our democratic process," Schneiderman added in an accompanying statement. "The repeal of net neutrality would turn internet service providers into gatekeepers -- allowing them to put profits over consumers while controlling what we see, what we do, and what we say online."

Medicine

New Study Claims That the 'Black Death' Was Spread By Humans, Not Rats (bbc.com) 90

dryriver shares a report from BBC: Rats were not to blame for the spread of plague during the Black Death, according to a study. The rodents and their fleas were thought to have spread a series of outbreaks in 14th-19th Century Europe. But a team from the universities of Oslo and Ferrara now says the first, the Black Death, can be "largely ascribed to human fleas and body lice." The study, in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, uses records of its pattern and scale. The Black Death claimed an estimated 25 million lives, more than a third of Europe's population, between 1347 and 1351. "We have good mortality data from outbreaks in nine cities in Europe," Prof Nils Stenseth, from the University of Oslo, told BBC News. "So we could construct models of the disease dynamics [there]." He and his colleagues then simulated disease outbreaks in each of these cities, creating three models where the disease was spread by: rats, airborne transmission, and fleas and lice that live on humans and their clothes. In seven out of the nine cities studied, the "human parasite model" was a much better match for the pattern of the outbreak. It mirrored how quickly it spread and how many people it affected. "The conclusion was very clear," said Prof Stenseth. "The lice model fits best. It would be unlikely to spread as fast as it did if it was transmitted by rats. It would have to go through this extra loop of the rats, rather than being spread from person to person." Plague is still endemic in some countries of Asia, Africa and the Americas, where it persists in "reservoirs" of infected rodents. According to the World Health Organization, from 2010 to 2015 there were 3,248 cases reported worldwide, including 584 deaths. And, in 2001, a study that decoded the plague genome used a bacterium that had come from a vet in the U.S. who had died in 1992 after a plague-infested cat sneezed on him as he had been trying to rescue it from underneath a house.
Security

Many Enterprise Mobile Devices Will Never Be Patched Against Meltdown, Spectre (betanews.com) 92

Mark Wilson shares a report from BetaNews: The Meltdown and Spectre bugs have been in the headlines for a couple of weeks now, but it seems the patches are not being installed on handsets. Analysis of more than 100,000 enterprise mobile devices shows that just a tiny percentage of them have been protected against the vulnerabilities -- and some simply may never be protected. Security firm Bridgeway found that just 4 percent of corporate phones and tablets in the UK have been patched against Spectre and Meltdown. Perhaps more worryingly, however, its research also found that nearly a quarter of enterprise mobile devices will never receive a patch because of their age. Organizations are advised to check for the availability of patches for their devices, and to install them as soon as possible. Older devices that will never be patched -- older than Marshmallow, for example -- should be replaced to ensure security, says Bridgeway.
Wireless Networking

Google Home and Chromecast Could Be Overloading Your Home Wi-Fi (theverge.com) 116

Google Cast products could be to blame for your wonky internet connection. According to TP-Link, "The Cast feature normally sends packets of information at regular intervals to keep a live connection with products like Google Home," reports The Verge. "However, if the device is awakened from a 'sleep' mode, it will sometimes send a burst of information at once, which can overwhelm a router. The longer a Cast device has been in 'sleep' mode, the more information it might send at once." The engineer says that could exceed over 100,000 packets, an amount that "may eventually cause some of [the] router's primary features to shut down -- including wireless connectivity."

TP-Link has reportedly fixed the issue in its C1200 router, but a broader fix from Google's end has not been found.
Transportation

Lyft Says Nearly 250K of Its Passengers Ditched a Personal Car In 2017 (techcrunch.com) 90

An anonymous reader quotes a report from TechCrunch: Lyft has a new report out detailing its "economic impact" for 2017, and the document includes a lot of stats on its performance throughout the year. The ride-hailing provider claims 375.5 million rides for the year, which is 130 percent growth measured year-over-year. It served 23 million different passengers, itself a 92 percent YoY increase, and had 1.4 million drivers on the platform -- 100 percent growth vs. its total for 2016. Lyft is making some especially strong claims regarding its impact on car ownership trends: In 2017 alone, it said that almost a quarter of a million passengers on its platform dropped owning a personal vehicle, due to the availability of ridesharing specifically. Fifty percent of its users also report driving their own car less because of Lyft's service, and a quarter of those on the platform say they don't feel personal vehicle ownership is that important anymore. The ride-hailing company also found attitudes generally favorable towards self-driving vehicles and their use: 83 percent of Lyft passengers surveyed by the company said they'd be open to hailing and riding in a self-driving vehicle once they're available.
China

China Builds 'World's Biggest Air Purifier' That Actually Works (scmp.com) 128

The South China Morning Post shares an update on the status of an experimental tower in northern China, dubbed the world's biggest air purifier by its operators. According to the scientist leading the project, the tower -- which stands over 328 feet (100 meters) tall -- has brought a noticeable improvement in air quality. From the report: The head of the research, Cao Junji, said improvements in air quality had been observed over an area of 10 square kilometers (3.86 square miles) in the city over the past few months and the tower has managed to produce more than 10 million cubic meters (353 million cubic feet) of clean air a day since its launch. Cao added that on severely polluted days the tower was able to reduce smog close to moderate levels. The system works through greenhouses covering about half the size of a soccer field around the base of the tower. Polluted air is sucked into the glasshouses and heated up by solar energy. The hot air then rises through the tower and passes through multiple layers of cleaning filters. The average reduction in PM2.5 -- the fine particles in smog deemed most harmful to health -- fell 15 per cent during heavy pollution. Cao said the results were preliminary because the experiment is still ongoing. The team plans to release more detailed data in March with a full scientific assessment of the facility's overall performance.

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