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United Kingdom

For The UK's 'Snoopers' Charter', Politicians Voted Themselves An Exemption (independent.co.uk) 73

The "Snoopers' Charter" passed in the U.K. greatly expands the government's surveillance power. But before they'd enact the new Investigatory Powers Act, Britain's elected officials first voted to make themselves exempt from it. Sort of. An anonymous reader writes: While their internet browsing history will still be swept up, just like everyone else's, no one will ever be able to access it without specific approval from the Prime Minister. And according to The Independent, "That rule applies not only to members of the Westminster parliament but also politicians in the devolved assembly and members of the European Parliament."
The article adds that the exemption was the very first amendment they approved for the legislation. And for a very long time, the only amendment.
EU

CO2 Researchers Are Now Hacking Photosynthesis (chicagotribune.com) 71

Remember that story about the "artificial leaf" solar cells? Long-time Slashdot reader managerialslime quotes the Chicago Tribune: University of Illinois at Chicago researchers have developed a way to mimic plants' ability to convert carbon dioxide into fuel, a way to decrease the amounts of harmful gas in the atmosphere and produce clean energy. The artificial leaf essentially recycles carbon dioxide. And it's powered entirely by the sun, mimicking the real photosynthesis process.
But meanwhile, in Germany: Biochemists led by Tobias Erb at the Max Planck Institute for Terrestrial Microbiology...have developed a new, super-efficient method for living organisms to suck CO2 out of the atmosphere. Plants, algae, and other organisms turn CO2 into fuel. Erb and his colleagues reengineered this process, making it about 25 percent more energy efficient and potentially up to two or three times faster... Erb hopes that one day the CETCH cycle could be genetically engineered into living organisms, helping them more rapidly reduce atmospheric CO2 while producing useful materials.
The researchers created their new CO2-transforming cycle using 11 carefully chosen enzymes.
Linux

Ask Slashdot: What's the Best Linux Laptop? 238

Long-Time Slashdot reader sconeu is finally replacing his 10-year-old Toshiba Satellite laptop, and needs suggestions on the best current laptops for running Linux. I'm looking to run some flavor of Linux (probably KDE-based UI, but not mandatory) while using a virtual machine to run Windows 7 (for stuff needed for work). For me personally, battery life and weight are more important than raw power. I'm not going to be running games on this. I've been considering an XPS 13 Developer Edition, or something from System76, ZaReason or Emperor Linux. What laptop do you use? Do you have any suggestions?
It's your chance to share useful information, recommendations, and your own experiences with various brands of laptop. So leave your best answers in the comments. What's the best Linux laptop?
Biotech

Our Brains Use Binary Logic, Say Neuroscientists (sciencedaily.com) 58

"The brain's basic computational algorithm is organized by power-of-two-based logic," reports Sci-News, citing a neuroscientist at Augusta University's Medical College. hackingbear writes: He and his colleagues from the U.S. and China have documented the algorithm at work in seven different brain regions involved with basics like food and fear in mice and hamsters. "Intelligence is really about dealing with uncertainty and infinite possibilities," he said. "It appears to be enabled when a group of similar neurons form a variety of cliques to handle each basic like recognizing food, shelter, friends and foes. Groups of cliques then cluster into functional connectivity motifs to handle every possibility in each of these basics. The more complex the thought, the more cliques join in."
Government

Paris, Madrid, Athens, Mexico City Will Ban Diesel Vehicles By 2025 (bbc.com) 219

The mayors of four major global cities -- Paris, Mexico City, Madrid and Athens -- announced plans to stop the use of all diesel-powered cars and trucks by 2025. The leaders made their commitments in Mexico at a biennial meeting of city leaders. BBC reports: At the C40 meeting of urban leaders in Mexico, the four mayors declared that they would ban all diesel vehicles by 2025 and "commit to doing everything in their power to incentivize the use of electric, hydrogen and hybrid vehicles." "It is no secret that in Mexico City, we grapple with the twin problems of air pollution and traffic," said the city's mayor, Miguel Angel Mancera. "By expanding alternative transportation options like our Bus Rapid Transport and subway systems, while also investing in cycling infrastructure, we are working to ease congestion in our roadways and our lungs." Paris has already taken a series of steps to cut the impact of diesel cars and trucks. Vehicles registered before 1997 have already been banned from entering the city, with restrictions increasing each year until 2020. The use of diesel in transport has come under increasing scrutiny in recent years, as concerns about its impact on air quality have grown. The World Health Organization (WHO) says that around three million deaths every year are linked to exposure to outdoor air pollution. Diesel engines contribute to the problem in two key ways -- through the production of particulate matter (PM) and nitrogen oxides (NOx). Very fine soot PM can penetrate the lungs and can contribute to cardiovascular illness and death. Nitrogen oxides can help form ground level ozone and this can exacerbate breathing difficulties, even for people without a history of respiratory problems. The diesel ban is hugely significant. Carmakers will look at this decision and know it's just a matter of time before other city mayors follow suit.
Power

Nikola Motor Company Reveals Hydrogen Fuel Cell Truck With Range of 1,200 Miles (valuewalk.com) 97

An anonymous reader quotes a report from ValueWalk: Nikola Motor Company just unveiled a huge class 8 truck which will run on hydrogen fuel cells. Nikola claimed that the truck's operational range will be as much as 1,200 miles (1,900 km), and it will be released in 2020. Nikola designed the Nikola One for long-haul transport across a large landmass. The truck will deliver over 1,000 horsepower and 2,000 foot-pounds of torque. Provided these claims are true, the vehicle will provide nearly double the power of the current-gen diesel-powered semis/articulated lorries, notes Ars Technica. The leasing cost of the trucks will include the fuel price, servicing costs and warranty, but exactly how the lease will work is not known now, notes Ars Technica. The company says it has already accepted nearly $3 billion in future orders. A fully-electric drivetrain which gets power from high-density lithium batteries runs the vehicle, and a hydrogen fuel cell charges the batteries on the go. Its reach is presently limited, as hydrogen fueling stations currently exist in only small numbers. This made Nikola decide to construct a network of 364 hydrogen fueling stations across the U.S. and Canada, just like Tesla with its network of Superchargers. Milton claims it will come with a smart dashboard which has the capability of picking the most cost-efficient route for drivers. Also one or two full-size beds will be included inside the vehicle's enormous cab. It will have other luxuries and necessities as well, such as Wi-Fi, a refrigerator, 4G LTE connectivity, freezer, a 40-inch curved 4K TV with Apple TV and a microwave.
Security

The 'USB Killer' Has Been Mass Produced -- Available Online For About $50 (arstechnica.com) 223

New submitter npslider writes: The "USB Killer," a USB stick that fries almost everything that it is plugged into, has been mass produced -- available online for about $50. Ars Technica first wrote about this diabolical device that looks like a fairly humdrum memory stick a year ago. From the report: "The USB Killer is shockingly simple in its operation. As soon as you plug it in, a DC-to-DC converter starts drawing power from the host system and storing electricity in its bank of capacitors (the square-shaped components). When the capacitors reach a potential of -220V, the device dumps all of that electricity into the USB data lines, most likely frying whatever is on the other end. If the host doesn't just roll over and die, the USB stick does the charge-discharge process again and again until it sizzles. Since the USB Killer has gone on sale, it has been used to fry laptops (including an old ThinkPad and a brand new MacBook Pro), an Xbox One, the new Google Pixel phone, and some cars (infotainment units, rather than whole cars... for now). Notably, some devices fare better than others, and there's a range of possible outcomes -- the USB Killer doesn't just nuke everything completely." You can watch a video of EverythingApplePro using the USB Killer to fry a variety of electronic devices. It looks like the only real defense from the USB Killer is physically capping your ports.
Technology

Fake Apple Chargers Fail Safety Tests (bbc.com) 115

Investigators have warned consumers they face potentially fatal risks after 99% of fake Apple chargers failed a basic safety test. From a report on BBC: Trading Standards, which commissioned the checks, said counterfeit electrical goods bought online were an "unknown entity." Of 400 counterfeit chargers, only three were found to have enough insulation to protect against electric shocks. It comes as Apple has complained of a "flood" of fakes being sold on Amazon. Apple revealed in October that it was suing a third-party vendor, which it said was putting customers "at risk" by selling power adapters masquerading as those sold by the Californian tech firm.
IBM

Erich Bloch, Who Helped Develop IBM Mainframe, Dies At 91 (google.com) 34

shadowknot writes: The New York Times is reporting (Warning: may be paywalled; alternate source) that Erich Bloch who helped to develop the IBM Mainframe has died at the age of 91 as a result of complications from Alzheimer's disease. From the article: "In the 1950s, he developed the first ferrite-core memory storage units to be used in computers commercially and worked on the IBM 7030, known as Stretch, the first transistorized supercomputer. 'Asked what job each of us had, my answer was very simple and very direct,' Mr. Bloch said in 2002. 'Getting that sucker working.' Mr. Bloch's role was to oversee the development of Solid Logic Technology -- half-inch ceramic modules for the microelectronic circuitry that provided the System/360 with superior power, speed and memory, all of which would become fundamental to computing."
United States

Trump Will Get Power To Send Unblockable Mass Text Messages To All Americans (nymag.com) 550

President-elect Donald Trump will have access to a system which can send unblockable texts to every phone in the United States once he becomes the president. From a report on NYMag: These 90-character messages, known as Wireless Emergency Alerts (or WEAs), are part of a program put in place after Congress passed the Warning, Alert, and Response Network (WARN) Act, in 2006. WEAs allow for targeted messages to be sent to every cell phone getting a signal from certain geographically relevant cell towers (or, in a national emergency, all of them). While it'd be a true nightmare to get screeching alerts from your phone that "Loser Senate Democrats still won't confirm great man Peter Thiel to Supreme Court. Sad!", there are some checks and balances on this. While President-elect Trump hasn't shown much impulse control when it comes to his favorite mass-messaging service, Twitter, the process for issuing a WEA isn't as simple as typing out a 90-character alert from a presidential smartphone and hitting "Send." All WEAs must be issued through FEMA's Integrated Public Alert Warning System, meaning that an emergency alert from the president still has at least one layer to pass through before being issued. While FEMA is under control of the executive branch (the head of FEMA is selected by the president, and reports to the Department of Homeland Security), the agency would have a vested interest in not seeing their alert system bent toward, uh, non-emergency ends.
Earth

India Unveils the World's Largest Solar Power Plant (aljazeera.com) 176

Kamuthi in Tamil Nadu, India is now home to the world's largest solar plant that adds 648 MW to the country's generating capacity. Previously, the Topaz Solar Farm in California, which was completed two years ago and has a capacity of 550 MW, held the title. Aljazeera reports: The solar plant, built in an impressive eight months, is cleaned every day by a robotic system, charged by its own solar panels. At full capacity, it is estimated to produce enough electricity to power about 150,000 homes. The project is comprised of 2.5 million individual solar modules, and cost $679 million to build. The new plant has helped nudge India's total installed solar capacity across the 10 GW mark, according to a statement by research firm Bridge to India, joining only a handful of countries that can make this claim. As solar power increases, India is expected to become the world's third-biggest solar market from next year onwards, after China and the U.S.
EU

Europe Is Getting a Network of 'Ultra-Fast, High-Powered' EV Chargers (theverge.com) 72

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Verge: BMW Group, Daimler AG, Ford, and Volkswagen have entered into a partnership to create a network of high-speed charging stations for electric vehicles across Europe. The new chargers will be capable of doling out up to 350 kW of power -- which would make them almost three times as powerful as Tesla's Supercharging stations. The result will be "the highest-powered charging network in Europe," according to a statement released by the manufacturers. The automakers say that construction will begin in 2017 with "about 400 sites" being targeted, and that the network will have "thousands of high-powered charging points" available by 2020. Those four major conglomerates will be "equal partners" in the joint venture, but according to the statement they are encouraging other manufacturers to "participate in the network." One of the reasons for bothering to call on other automakers to hook into this system is because there's a standards war happening with fast charging networks. The charging network announced today will use the Combined Charging System (CCS) technology, which is what that most major automakers already use for their EVs. But Nissan, Toyota, and Honda are notable holdouts from CCS, because many of their EVs and plug-in hybrids use a competing standard known as CHAdeMO.
Communications

The UK Is About to Legalize Mass Surveillance [Update] (vice.com) 394

From a report on Motherboard: On Tuesday, the UK is due to pass its controversial new surveillance law, the Investigatory Powers Act, according to the Home Office. The Act, which has received overwhelming support in both the House of Commons and Lords, formally legalizes a number of mass surveillance programs revealed by Edward Snowden in 2013. It also introduces a new power which will force internet service providers to store browsing data on all customers for 12 months. Civil liberties campaigners have described the Act as one of the most extreme surveillance laws in any democracy, while law enforcement agencies believe that the collection of browsing data is vital in an age of ubiquitous internet communications. "The Investigatory Powers Act 2016 will ensure that law enforcement and the security and intelligence agencies have the powers they need in a digital age to disrupt terrorist attacks, subject to strict safeguards and world-leading oversight," a statement from the Home Office reads. Much of the Act gives stronger legal footing to the UK's various bulk powers, including "bulk interception," which is, in general terms, the collection of internet and phone communications en masse. In June 2013, using documents provided by Edward Snowden, The Guardian revealed that the GCHQ taps fibre-optic undersea cables in order to intercept emails, internet histories, calls, and a wealth of other data. Update: "Snooper's charter" bill has become the law. The home secretary said:"The Investigatory Powers Act is world-leading legislation, that provides unprecedented transparency and substantial privacy protection. "The government is clear that, at a time of heightened security threat, it is essential our law enforcement and security and intelligence services have the power they need to keep people safe. The internet presents new opportunities for terrorists and we must ensure we have the capabilities to confront this challenge. But it is also right that these powers are subject to strict safeguards and rigorous oversight."
Japan

Japan Fukushima Nuclear Plant 'Clean-Up Costs Double,' Approaching $200 Billion (bbc.com) 298

An anonymous reader quotes a report from BBC: Japan's government estimates the cost of cleaning up radioactive contamination and compensating victims of the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster has more than doubled, reports say. The latest estimate from the trade ministry put the expected cost at some 20 trillion yen ($180 billion). The original estimate was for $50 billion, which was increased to $100 billion three years later. The majority of the money will go towards compensation, with decontamination taking the next biggest slice. Storing the contaminated soil and decommissioning are the two next greatest costs. The compensation pot has been increased by about 50% and decontamination estimates have been almost doubled. The BBC's Japan correspondent, Rupert Wingfield-Hayes, says it is still unclear who is going to pay for the clean up. Japan's government has long promised that Tokyo Electric Power, the company that owns the plant, will eventually pay the money back. But on Monday it admitted that electricity consumers would be forced to pay a portion of the clean up costs through higher electricity bills. Critics say this is effectively a tax on the public to pay the debt of a private electricity utility.
Power

Scientists Turn Nuclear Waste Into Diamond Batteries (newatlas.com) 154

Scientists at the University of Bristol have found a way to convert thousands of tons of nuclear waste into man-made diamond batteries that can generate a small electric current for thousands of years. New Atlas reports: How to dispose of nuclear waste is one of the great technical challenges of the 21st century. The trouble is, it usually turns out not to be so much a question of disposal as long-term storage. Disposal, therefore is more often a matter of keeping waste safe, but being able to get at it later when needed. One unexpected example of this is the Bristol team's work on a major source of nuclear waste from Britain's aging Magnox reactors, which are now being decommissioned after over half a century of service. These first generation reactors used graphite blocks as moderators to slow down neutrons to keep the nuclear fission process running, but decades of exposure have left the UK with 104,720 tons of graphite blocks that are now classed as nuclear waste because the radiation in the reactors changes some of the inert carbon in the blocks into radioactive carbon-14. Carbon-14 is a low-yield beta particle emitter that can't penetrate even a few centimeters of air, but it's still too dangerous to allow into the environment. Instead of burying it, the Bristol team's solution is to remove most of the c-14 from the graphite blocks and turn it into electricity-generating diamonds. The nuclear diamond battery is based on the fact that when a man-made diamond is exposed to radiation, it produces a small electric current. According to the researchers, this makes it possible to build a battery that has no moving parts, gives off no emissions, and is maintenance-free. The Bristol researchers found that the carbon-14 wasn't uniformly distributed in the Magnox blocks, but is concentrated in the side closest to the uranium fuel rods. To produce the batteries, the blocks are heated to drive out the carbon-14 from the radioactive end, leaving the blocks much less radioactive than before. c-14 gas is then collected and using low pressures and high temperatures is turned into man-made diamonds. Once formed, the beta particles emitted by the c-14 interact with the diamond's crystal lattice, throwing off electrons and generating electricity. The diamonds themselves are radioactive, so they are given a second non-radioactive diamond coating to act as a radiation shield.
Government

Fidel Castro Is Dead (nytimes.com) 275

Striek quotes the New York Times: Fidel Castro, the fiery apostle of revolution who brought the Cold War to the Western Hemisphere in 1959 and then defied the United States for nearly half a century as Cuba's maximum leader, bedeviling 11 American presidents and briefly pushing the world to the brink of nuclear war, died Friday. He was 90. His death was announced by Cuban state television.

In declining health for several years, Mr. Castro had orchestrated what he hoped would be the continuation of his Communist revolution, stepping aside in 2006 when he was felled by a serious illness. He provisionally ceded much of his power to his younger brother Raul, now 85, and two years later formally resigned as president. Raul Castro, who had fought alongside Fidel Castro from the earliest days of the insurrection and remained minister of defense and his brother's closest confidant, has ruled Cuba since then, although he has told the Cuban people he intends to resign in 2018.

Kebertson shares an AP article which remembers a book proclaiming "Castro's Last Hour" -- in 1982. And Miamicanes jokes there'll be celebrations among Castro-haters in Miami, sharing a CNN article which notes that in the end, Castro "lived long enough to see a historic thaw in relations between Cuba and the United States."
Power

6 Major Countries Have Recently Announced Plans To Phase-Out All Coal-Fired Power Plants (electrek.co) 275

At least 6 major countries, including Canada, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Austria and Finland, have all recently -- several within the past few weeks -- announced the imminent phase-out of all coal-fired power plants. Electrek reports: Earlier this week, Canada, which has already significantly reduced its use of coal to about 7% of its energy generation, announced a phase of the resource by 2030. The country's strong hydropower should keep dominating its energy generation, but the country has also been investing in wind and solar to make up the difference. A week before Canada's announcement, France announced a more aggressive timeline of 2023 for its own phase-out of coal, but it should be more easily achievable since they have already reduced the use of coal to 3% of their electricity generation -- thanks to a strong local nuclear industry. Finland is the latest country to join the group, but it also announced a more aggressive solution of simply banning entirely the use of coal to produce energy by 2030. The country gets about 12% of its electricity from coal, which it has to import. Peter Lund, a researcher at Aalto University and chair of the energy program at the European Academies' Science Advisory Council, told New Scientist: "These moves are important forerunners to enforce the recent positive signals in coal use. The more countries join the coal phase-out club, the better for the climate as this would force the others to follow." As for the U.S., it gets about 33% of its total electricity generation from coal and will likely grow the coal industry rather than phase it out under President-elect Donald Trump.
Power

Finland Set To Become First Country To Ban Coal Use For Energy (newscientist.com) 249

Finland could become the first country to ditch coal for good. As part of a new energy and climate strategy due to be announced tomorrow, the government is considering banning the burning of coal for energy by 2030. From a New Scientist article: "Basically, coal would disappear from the Finnish market," says Peter Lund, a researcher at Aalto University, and chair of the energy programme at the European Academies' Science Advisory Council. The groundwork for the ban already seems to be in place. Coal use has been steadily declining in Finland since 2011, and the nation heavily invested in renewable energy in 2012, leading to a near doubling of wind power capacity the following year. It also poured a further $85 million into renewable power this past February. On top of this, Nordic energy prices, with the exception of coal, have been dropping since 2010. As a result of such changes, coal-fired power plants are being mothballed and shut all over Finland, leaving coal providing only 8 per cent of the nation's energy.
Power

Scientists Create Battery That Charges In Seconds and Lasts For Days (telegraph.co.uk) 230

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Telegraph: A new type of battery that lasts for days with only a few seconds' charge has been created by researchers at the University of Central Florida. The high-powered battery is packed with supercapacitors that can store a large amount of energy. It looks like a thin piece of flexible metal that is about the size of a finger nail and could be used in phones, electric vehicles and wearables, according to the researchers. As well as storing a lot of energy rapidly, the small battery can be recharged more than 30,000 times. Normal lithium-ion batteries begin to tire within a few hundred charges. They typically last between 300 to 500 full charge and drain cycles before dropping to 70 per cent of their original capacity. To date supercapacitors weren't used to make batteries as they'd have to be much larger than those currently available. But the Florida researchers have overcome this hurdle by making their supercapacitors with tiny wires that are a nanometer thick. Coated with a high energy shell, the core of the wires is highly conductive to allow for super fast charging. The battery isn't yet ready to be used in consumer devices, the researchers said, but it shows a significant step forward in a tired technology.
Power

US Navy's High-Tech Ship Loses Power In Panama Canal (usni.org) 143

bsharma writes: USS Zumwalt suffered engine failure and collided with lock walls while transiting the Panama Canal. The ship lost propulsion in its port shaft during the transit and the crew saw water intrusion in two of the four bearings that connect to Zumwalt's port and starboard Advanced Induction Motors (AIMs) to the drive shafts, a defense official told USNI News on Tuesday. The AIMs are the massive electrical motors that are driven by the ship's gas turbines and, in turn, electrically power the ship's systems and drive the shafts. USNI News reports: "Zumwalt entered the Panama Canal following a successful port visit to Columbia last week -- a visit which the service intended to skip if it thought the engineering problems would continue, several defense officials told USNI News. The ship's engineering plant -- the Integrated Power System (IPS) -- is arguably the most complex and unique in the service. Installing and testing the system -- that provides ship additional power margins to power high energy weapons and sensors -- was a primary reason the ship delivered months late to the service. Before the casualty, the ship was set to arrive in San Diego by the end of the year and start weapon system activation period before joining the fleet as an operational warship sometime in 2018. (Zumwalt is the first of three in the $22-billion class.)

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