Japan's Hayabusa 2 Successfully Touches Down On Ryugu Asteroid, Fires Bullet Into Its Surface
Japan's Hayabusa 2 spacecraft
has successfully touched down on the asteroid Ryugu at around 11:30 GMT on Thursday. "Data from the probe showed changes in speed and direction, indicating it had reached the asteroid's surface, according to officials from the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA)," reports The Guardian. From the report:
The probe was due to fire a bullet at the Ryugu asteroid, to stir up surface matter, which it will then collect for analysis back on Earth. The asteroid is thought to contain relatively large amounts of organic matter and water from some 4.6 billion years ago when the solar system was born. The complicated procedure took less time than expected and appeared to go without a hitch, said Hayabusa 2 mission manager Makoto Yoshikawa. The spacecraft is seeking to gather 10g of the dislodged debris with an instrument named the Sampler Horn that hangs from its underbelly. Whatever material is collected by the spacecraft will be stored onboard until Hayabusa 2 reaches its landing site in Woomera, South Australia, in 2020 after a journey of more than three billion miles.
UPDATE: JAXA says it
successfully fired a "bullet" into Ryugu, collecting the disturbed material. "JAXA scientists had expected to find a powdery surface on Ryugu, but tests showed that the asteroid is covered in larger gravel," reports CNN. "As a result the team had to carry out a simulation to test whether the projectile would be capable of disturbing enough material to be collected by [the Sampler Horn]. The team is planning a total of three sampling events over the next few weeks."
Researchers Make Coldest Quantum Gas of Molecules
An anonymous reader quotes a report from Phys.Org:
JILA researchers have made a long-lived, record-cold gas of molecules that follow the wave patterns of quantum mechanics instead of the strictly particle nature of ordinary classical physics. The creation of this gas boosts the odds for advances in fields such as designer chemistry and quantum computing. As featured on the cover of the Feb. 22 issue of Science, the team produced a gas of potassium-rubidium (KRb) molecules at temperatures as low as 50 nanokelvin (nK). That's 50 billionths of a Kelvin, or just a smidge above absolute zero, the lowest theoretically possible temperature. The molecules are in the lowest-possible energy states, making up what is known as a degenerate Fermi gas.
In a quantum gas, all of the molecules' properties are restricted to specific values, or quantized, like rungs on a ladder or notes on a musical scale. Chilling the gas to the lowest temperatures gives researchers maximum control over the molecules. The two atoms involved are in different classes: Potassium is a fermion (with an odd number of subatomic components called protons and neutrons) and rubidium is a boson (with an even number of subatomic components). The resulting molecules have a Fermi character. Before now, the coldest two-atom molecules were produced in maximum numbers of tens of thousands and at temperatures no lower than a few hundred nanoKelvin. JILA's latest gas temperature record is much lower than (about one-third of) the level where quantum effects start to take over from classical effects, and the molecules last for a few seconds -- remarkable longevity. These new ultra-low temperatures will enable researchers to compare chemical reactions in quantum versus classical environments and study how electric fields affect the polar interactions, since these newly created molecules have a positive electric charge at the rubidium atom and a negative charge at the potassium atom. Some practical benefits could include new chemical processes, new methods for quantum computing using charged molecules as quantum bits, and new precision measurement tools such as molecular clocks.
Frontier Demands $4,300 Cancellation Fee Despite Horribly Slow Internet
Frontier Communications reportedly
charged a cancellation fee of $4,302.17 to the operator of a one-person business in Wisconsin, even though she switched to a different Internet provider because Frontier's service was frequently unusable. From the report:
Candace Lestina runs the Pardeeville Area Shopper, a weekly newspaper and family business that she took over when her mother retired. Before retiring, her mother had entered a three-year contract with Frontier to provide Internet service to the one-room office on North Main Street in Pardeeville. Six months into the contract, Candace Lestina decided to switch to the newly available Charter offering "for better service and a cheaper bill," according to a story yesterday by News 3 Now in Wisconsin. The Frontier Internet service "was dropping all the time," Lestina told the news station. This was a big problem for Lestina, who runs the paper on her own in Pardeeville, a town of about 2,000 people. "I actually am everything. I make the paper, I distribute the paper," she said. Because of Frontier's bad service, "I would have times where I need to send my paper -- I have very strict deadlines with my printer -- and my Internet's out."
Lestina figured she'd have to pay a cancellation fee when she switched to Charter's faster cable Internet but nothing near the $4,300 that Frontier later sent her a bill for, the News 3 Now report said. Charter offered to pay $500 toward the early termination penalty, but the fee is still so large that it could "put her out of business," the news report said. [...] Lestina said the early termination fee wasn't fully spelled out in her contract. "Nothing is ever described of what those cancellation fees actually are, which is that you will pay your entire bill for the rest of the contract," she said. Lestina said she pleaded her case to Frontier representatives, without success, even though Frontier had failed to provide a consistent Internet connection. "They did not really care that I was having such severe problems with the service. That does not bother them," she said. Instead of waiving or reducing the cancellation fee, Frontier threatened to send the matter to a collections agency, Lestina said.
NVIDIA Turing-Based GeForce GTX 1660 Ti Launched At $279
NVIDIA has launched yet another graphics card today based on the company's new Turing GPU. This latest GPU, however, doesn't support NVIDIA's RTX ray-tracing technology or its DLSS (Deep Learning Super Sampling) image quality tech. The new GeForce GTX 1660 Ti does, however, bring with it all of the other GPU architecture improvements NVIDIA Turing offers. The new TU116 GPU on board the GeForce GTX 1660 Ti supports concurrent integer and floating point instructions (rather than serializing integer and FP instructions), and it also has a redesigned cache structure with double the amount of L2 cache versus their predecessors, while its L1 cache has been outfitted with a wider memory bus that ultimately doubles the bandwidth. NVIDIA's TU116 has 1,536 active CUDA cores, which is a decent uptick from the GTX 1060, but less than the current gen RTX 2060. Cards will also come equipped with 6GB of GDDR6 memory at 12 Gbps for 288GB/s of bandwidth. Performance-wise, the new GeForce GTX 1660 Ti is typically slightly faster than a previous gen GeFore GTX 1070, and much faster than a GTX 1060. Cards should be available at retail in the next few days, starting at $279.
Microsoft Workers' Letter Demands Company Drop $479 Million HoloLens Military Contract
A group of Microsoft workers have addressed top executives in a letter
demanding the company drop a controversial contract with the U.S. army. The Verge reports:
The workers object to the company taking a $479 million contract last year to supply tech for the military's Integrated Visual Augmentation System, or IVAS. Under the project, Microsoft, the maker of the HoloLens augmented reality headset, could eventually provide more than 100,000 headsets designed for combat and training in the military. The Army has described the project as a way to "increase lethality by enhancing the ability to detect, decide and engage before the enemy." "We are alarmed that Microsoft is working to provide weapons technology to the US Military, helping one country's government 'increase lethality' using tools we built," the workers write in the letter, addressed to CEO Satya Nadella and president Brad Smith. "We did not sign up to develop weapons, and we demand a say in how our work is used."
The letter, which organizers say included dozens of employee signatures at publication time, argues Microsoft has "crossed the line into weapons development" with the contract. "Intent to harm is not an acceptable use of our technology," it reads. The workers are demanding the company cancel the contract, stop developing any weapons technology, create a public policy committing to not build weapons technology, and appoint an external ethics review board to enforce the policy. While the letter notes the company has an AI ethics review process called Aether, the workers say it is "not robust enough to prevent weapons development, as the IVAS contract demonstrates." "As employees and shareholders we do not want to become war profiteers," the letter sent today concludes. "To that end, we believe that Microsoft must stop in its activities to empower the U.S. Army's ability to cause harm and violence."
Instagram Code Reveals Public 'Collections' Feature To Take On Pinterest
An anonymous reader quotes a report from TechCrunch:
Instagram is threatening to attack Pinterest just as it files to go public the same way the Facebook-owned app did to Snapchat. Code buried in Instagram for Android shows the company has prototyped an option to create public "Collections" to which multiple users can contribute. Instagram launched private Collections two years ago to let you Save and organize your favorite feed posts. But by allowing users to make Collections public, Instagram would become a direct competitor to Pinterest. Instagram public Collections could spark a new medium of content curation. People could use the feature to bundle together their favorite memes, travel destinations, fashion items, or art. That could cut down on unconsented content stealing that's caused backlash against meme "curators" like F*ckJerry by giving an alternative to screenshotting and reposting other people's stuff. Instead of just representing yourself with your own content, you could express your identity through the things you love -- even if you didn't photograph them yourself.
The "Make Collection Public" option was discovered by frequent TechCrunch tipster and reverse engineering specialist Jane Manchun Wong. It's not available to the public, but from the Instagram for Android code, she was able to generate a screenshot of the prototype. It shows the ability to toggle on public visibility for a Collection, and tag contributors who can also add to the Collection. Previously, Collections was always a private, solo feature for organizing your bookmarks gathered through the Instagaram Save feature Instagram launched in late 2016. Currently there's nothing in the Instagram code about users being able to follow each other's Collections, but that would seem like a logical and powerful next step.
Once Hailed As Unhackable, Blockchains Are Now Getting Hacked
schwit1 shares a report from MIT Technology Review:
Early last month, the security team at Coinbase noticed something strange going on in Ethereum Classic, one of the cryptocurrencies people can buy and sell using Coinbase's popular exchange platform. Its blockchain, the history of all its transactions, was under attack. An attacker had somehow gained control of more than half of the network's computing power and was using it to rewrite the transaction history. That made it possible to spend the same cryptocurrency more than once -- known as "double spends." The attacker was spotted pulling this off to the tune of $1.1 million. Coinbase claims that no currency was actually stolen from any of its accounts. But a second popular exchange, Gate.io, has admitted it wasn't so lucky, losing around $200,000 to the attacker (who, strangely, returned half of it days later).
Just a year ago, this nightmare scenario was mostly theoretical. But the so-called 51% attack against Ethereum Classic was just the latest in a series of recent attacks on blockchains that have heightened the stakes for the nascent industry. [...] In short, while blockchain technology has been long touted for its security, under certain conditions it can be quite vulnerable. Sometimes shoddy execution can be blamed, or unintentional software bugs. Other times it's more of a gray area -- the complicated result of interactions between the code, the economics of the blockchain, and human greed. That's been known in theory since the technology's beginning. Now that so many blockchains are out in the world, we are learning what it actually means -- often the hard way.
YouTube Is Heading For Its Cambridge Analytica Moment
Earlier this week, Disney, Nestle and others
pulled its advertising spending from YouTube after a blogger detailed how comments on Google's video site were being used to facilitate a "soft-core pedophilia ring." Some of the videos involved ran next to ads placed by Disney and Nestle. With the company
facing similar problems over the years, often being "caught in a game of whack-a-mole to fix them," Matt Rosoff from CNBC writes that it's only a matter of time until YouTube
faces a scandal that actually alienates users, as happened with Facebook in the
Cambridge Analytica scandal. From the report:
To be fair, YouTube has taken concrete steps to fix some problems. A couple of years ago, major news events were targets for scammers to post misleading videos about them, like videos claiming shootings such as the one in Parkland, Florida, were staged by crisis actors. In January, the company said it would stop recommending such videos, effectively burying them. It also favors "authoritative" sources in search results around major news events, like mainstream media organizations. And YouTube is not alone in struggling to fight inappropriate content that users upload to its platform. The problem isn't really about YouTube, Facebook or any single company. The problem is the entire business model around user-generated content, and the whack-a-mole game of trying to stay one step ahead of people who abuse it.
[T]ech platforms that rely on user-generated content are protected by the 1996 Communications Decency Act, which says platform providers cannot be held liable for material users post on them. It made sense at the time -- the internet was young, and forcing start-ups to monitor their comments sections (remember comments sections?) would have exploded their expenses and stopped growth before it started. Even now, when some of these companies are worth hundreds of billions of dollars, holding them liable for user-generated content would blow up these companies' business models. They'd disappear, reduce services or have to charge fees for them. Voters might not be happy if Facebook went out of business or they suddenly had to start paying $20 a month to use YouTube. Similarly, advertiser boycotts tend to be short-lived -- advertisers go where they get the best return on their investment, and as long as billions of people keep watching YouTube videos, they'll keep advertising on the platform. So the only way things will change is if users get turned off so badly that they tune out. Following Facebook's Cambridge Analytica scandal, people deleted their accounts, Facebook's growth largely stalled in the U.S., and more young users have abandoned the platform. "YouTube has so far skated free of any similar scandals. But people are paying closer attention than ever before, and it's only a matter of time before the big scandal that actually starts driving users away," writes Rosoff.
Apple To Close Retail Stores In the Patent Troll-Favored Eastern District of Texas
An anonymous reader quotes a report from TechCrunch:
Apple has confirmed its plans to close retail stores in the Eastern District of Texas -- a move that will allow the company to better protect itself from patent infringement lawsuits, according to Apple news sites 9to5Mac and MacRumors which broke the news of the stores' closures. Apple says that the impacted retail employees will be offered new jobs with the company as a result of these changes. The company will shut down its Apple Willow Bend store in Plano, Texas as well as its Apple Stonebriar store in Frisco, Texas, MacRumors reported, and Apple confirmed. These stores will permanently close up shop on Friday, April 12. Customers in the region will instead be served by a new Apple store located at the Galleria Dallas Shopping Mall, which is expected to open April 13. "The Eastern District of Texas had become a popular place for patent trolls to file their lawsuits, though a more recent
Supreme Court ruling has attempted to crack down on the practice," the report adds. "The court ruled that patent holders could no longer choose where to file." One of the most infamous patent holding firms is VirnetX, which has won
cases against Apple in recent years.
A spokesperson for Apple confirmed the stores' closures, but wouldn't comment on the company's reasoning: "We're making a major investment in our stores in Texas, including significant upgrades to NorthPark Center, Southlake and Knox Street. With a new Dallas store coming to the Dallas Galleria this April, we've made the decision to consolidate stores and close Apple Stonebriar and Apple Willow Bend. All employees from those stores will be offered positions at the new Dallas store or other Apple locations."
A Philosopher Argues That an AI Can't Be an Artist
Sean Dorrance Kelly, a philosophy professor at Harvard,
writes for MIT Technology Review:
Human creative achievement, because of the way it is socially embedded, will not succumb to advances in artificial intelligence. To say otherwise is to misunderstand both what human beings are and what our creativity amounts to. This claim is not absolute: it depends on the norms that we allow to govern our culture and our expectations of technology. Human beings have, in the past, attributed great power and genius even to lifeless totems. It is entirely possible that we will come to treat artificially intelligent machines as so vastly superior to us that we will naturally attribute creativity to them. Should that happen, it will not be because machines have outstripped us. It will be because we will have denigrated ourselves.
[...] My argument is not that the creator's responsiveness to social necessity must be conscious for the work to meet the standards of genius. I am arguing instead that we must be able to interpret the work as responding that way. It would be a mistake to interpret a machine's composition as part of such a vision of the world. The argument for this is simple. Claims like Kurzweil's that machines can reach human-level intelligence assume that to have a human mind is just to have a human brain that follows some set of computational algorithms -- a view called computationalism. But though algorithms can have moral implications, they are not themselves moral agents. We can't count the monkey at a typewriter who accidentally types out Othello as a great creative playwright. If there is greatness in the product, it is only an accident. We may be able to see a machine's product as great, but if we know that the output is merely the result of some arbitrary act or algorithmic formalism, we cannot accept it as the expression of a vision for human good.
'Netflix Is the Most Intoxicating Portal To Planet Earth'
Instead of trying to sell American ideas to a foreign audience,
it's aiming to sell international ideas to a global audience. From an op-ed:
In 2016, the company expanded to 190 countries, and last year, for the first time, a majority of its subscribers and most of its revenue came from outside the United States. To serve this audience, Netflix now commissions and licenses hundreds of shows meant to echo life in every one of its markets and, in some cases, to blend languages and sensibilities across its markets. In the process, Netflix has discovered something startling: Despite a supposed surge in nationalism across the globe, many people like to watch movies and TV shows from other countries. "What we're learning is that people have very diverse and eclectic tastes, and if you provide them with the world's stories, they will be really adventurous, and they will find something unexpected," Cindy Holland, Netflix's vice president for original content, told me.
The strategy may sound familiar; Hollywood and Silicon Valley have long pursued expansion internationally. But Netflix's strategy is fundamentally different. Instead of trying to sell American ideas to a foreign audience, it's aiming to sell international ideas to a global audience. A list of Netflix's most watched and most culturally significant recent productions looks like a Model United Nations: Besides Ms. Kondo's show, there's the comedian Hannah Gadsby's "Nanette" from Australia; from Britain, "Sex Education" and "You"; "Elite" from Spain; "The Protector" from Turkey; and "Baby" from Italy. I'll admit there's something credulous and naive embedded in my narrative so far. Let me get this straight, you're thinking: A tech company wants to bring the world closer together? As social networks help foster misinformation and populist fervor across the globe, you're right to be skeptical. But there is a crucial difference between Netflix and other tech giants: Netflix makes money from subscriptions, not advertising.
Linus Torvalds on Why ARM Won't Win the Server Space
I can pretty much guarantee that as long as everybody does cross-development, the platform won't be all that stable. Or successful. Some people think that "the cloud" means that the instruction set doesn't matter. Develop at home, deploy in the cloud. That's bullshit. If you develop on x86, then you're going to want to deploy on x86, because you'll be able to run what you test "at home" (and by "at home" I don't mean literally in your home, but in your work environment). Which means that you'll happily pay a bit more for x86 cloud hosting, simply because it matches what you can test on your own local setup, and the errors you get will translate better. This is true even if what you mostly do is something ostensibly cross-platform like just run perl scripts or whatever. Simply because you'll want to have as similar an environment as possible.
Which in turn means that cloud providers will end up making more money from their x86 side, which means that they'll prioritize it, and any ARM offerings will be secondary and probably relegated to the mindless dregs (maybe front-end, maybe just static html, that kind of stuff). Guys, do you really not understand why x86 took over the server market? It wasn't just all price. It was literally this "develop at home" issue. Thousands of small companies ended up having random small internal workloads where it was easy to just get a random whitebox PC and run some silly small thing on it yourself. Then as the workload expanded, it became a "real server". And then once that thing expanded, suddenly it made a whole lot of sense to let somebody else manage the hardware and hosting, and the cloud took over. Do you really not understand? This isn't rocket science. This isn't some made up story. This is literally what happened, and what killed all the RISC vendors, and made x86 be the undisputed king of the hill of servers, to the point where everybody else is just a rounding error. Something that sounded entirely fictional a couple of decades ago. Without a development platform, ARM in the server space is never going to make it. Trying to sell a 64-bit "hyperscaling" model is idiotic, when you don't have customers and you don't have workloads because you never sold the small cheap box that got the whole market started in the first place.
Norwich's Fortnite Live Festival Was a Complete Disaster
An anonymous reader
shares a report:
A festival designed to recreate Fortnite on the outskirts of Norwich has, somewhat predictably, not lived up to expectations. Event organisers flogged 2500 tickets to kids and parents. Entry cost upwards of $15 and unlimited access wristbands a further $26. In return, families got what amounted to a few fairground attractions. Photos from the event show a climbing wall for three people, archery for four people, and four go-karts. An attraction dubbed a "cave experience" was a lorry trailer with tarpaulin over it. An indoors area where you could play actual Fortnite was probably the best thing there -- although it cost money to access and you had to queue to do so. So much for free-to-play. And all of that was if you could actually get into the event to start with. Hundreds of people were left queuing for hours due to staff shortages.
Inside Elizabeth Holmes's Chilling Final Months at Theranos
In the final months of Theranos, before the blood testing start-up was debunked and its founders charged with fraud, then-CEO Elizabeth Holmes brought a puppy, who she insisted was a wolf to others, with a penchant for peeing into the mix, according to
which has detailed the chaos that ensued in the waning days of the startup, once
valued at $9 billion. The 35-year-old Stanford University dropout has also met with filmmakers who she hopes would make a documentary about her "real story," the outlet reported. She also "desperately wants to write a book." An excerpt from the story:
Holmes brushed it off when the scientists protested that the dog hair could contaminate samples. But there was another problem with Balto (name of the dog), too. He wasn't potty-trained. Accustomed to the undomesticated life, Balto frequently urinated and defecated at will throughout Theranos headquarters. While Holmes held board meetings, Balto could be found in the corner of the room relieving himself while a frenzied assistant was left to clean up the mess. [...]
By late 2017, however, Holmes had begun to slightly rein in the spending. She agreed to give up her private-jet travel (not a good look) and instead downgraded to first class on commercial airlines. But given that she was flying all over the world trying to obtain more funding for Theranos, she was spending tens of thousands of dollars a month on travel. Theranos was also still paying for her mansion in Los Altos, and her team of personal assistants and drivers, who would become regular dog walkers for Balto. But there were few places she had wasted so much money as the design and monthly cost of the company's main headquarters, which employees simply referred to as "1701," for its street address along Page Mill Road in Palo Alto. 1701, according to two former executives, cost $1 million a month to rent. Holmes had also spent $100,000 on a single conference table. Elsewhere in the building, Holmes had asked for another circular conference room that the former employees said "looked like the war room from Dr. Strangelove," replete with curved glass windows, and screens that would come out of the ceiling so everyone in the room could see a presentation without having to turn their heads.
Lessons From Six Software Rewrite Stories
A new take on the age-old question: Should you rewrite your application from scratch,
or is that "the single worst strategic mistake that any software company can make"? Turns out there are more than two options for dealing with a mature codebase. Herb Caudill:
Almost two decades ago, Joel Spolsky excoriated Netscape for rewriting their codebase in his landmark essay Things You Should Never Do . He concluded that a functioning application should never, ever be rewritten from the ground up. His argument turned on two points: The crufty-looking parts of the application's codebase often embed hard-earned knowledge about corner cases and weird bugs. A rewrite is a lengthy undertaking that keeps you from improving on your existing product, during which time the competition is gaining on you.
For many, Joel's conclusion became an article of faith; I know it had a big effect on my thinking at the time. In the following years, I read a few contrarian takes arguing that, under certain circumstances, it made a lot of sense to rewrite from scratch. For example: Sometimes the legacy codebase really is messed up beyond repair, such that even simple changes require a cascade of changes to other parts of the code. The original technology choices might be preventing you from making necessary improvements. Or, the original technology might be obsolete, making it hard (or expensive) to recruit quality developers.
The correct answer, of course, is that it depends a lot on the circumstances. Yes, sometimes it makes more sense to gradually refactor your legacy code. And yes, sometimes it makes sense to throw it all out and start over. But those aren't the only choices. Let's take a quick look at six stories, and see what lessons we can draw.