Archive for the ‘Biz & IT’ Category

Tropical Storm Harvey takes out 911 centers, cell towers, and cable networks

August 28th, 2017

Enlarge / Flooding in Houston’s theater district on Sunday, August 27, 2017 as the city battles with tropical storm Harvey and resulting floods. (credit: Getty Images | AFP | Thomas B. Shea)

Tropical Storm Harvey has disrupted at least 17 emergency call centers and 320 cellular sites, and it has caused outages for more than 148,000 Internet, TV, and phone customers.

The numbers come from the Federal Communications Commission, which activated its Disaster Information Reporting System to track Harvey’s impact on communications services. Communications providers are being asked to submit outage information each morning, and the FCC is publishing a daily summary.

In 55 Texas and Louisiana counties that are part of the disaster area, 320 out of 7,804 cell sites were down as of yesterday at 11am EDT, according to the FCC’s latest summary published yesterday. That’s 4.1 percent across the area, but in a few Texas counties the cell blackouts affected more than 80 percent of cell sites.

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Amazon Prime members will get even deeper discounts at Whole Foods

August 25th, 2017

Enlarge (credit: Francisco Antunes)

Amazon has the official green light to go through with its acquisition of Whole Foods, and customers will soon feel the difference in their wallets. According to a press release from Amazon, the company is set to lower prices of Whole Foods items the same day that the merger closes: Monday, August 28.

“We’re determined to make healthy and organic food affordable for everyone,” Jeff Wilke, CEO of Amazon Worldwide Consumer, wrote in the release. “Everybody should be able to eat Whole Foods Market quality.”

Customers shopping at Whole Foods locations on Monday will see new, lower prices on various “grocery staples,” including organic bananas, apples, salmon, organic large brown eggs, lean ground beef, avocados, and more. Amazon didn’t detail how low those new prices would be, but any change is likely welcomed by Whole Foods customers. The store has been cheekily called “Whole Paycheck,” due to how much money one can spend on a week’s worth of groceries there.

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Analysis of 187 documents concludes Exxon “misled the public” on climate change

August 24th, 2017

Enlarge / Oil processing towers and gas processing infrastructure stand at the Exxon Mobil Corp. (credit: Dimas Ardian/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

A review of 187 ExxonMobil documents, published by two Harvard researchers on Wednesday, has found that the company ”misled the public” on climate change.

The documents included internal papers published by journalists at InsideClimate News as well as 50 “peer-reviewed articles on climate research and related policy analysis” written by ExxonMobil researchers. The oil and gas company made the internal papers public and challenged anyone to “read all of these documents and make up your own mind,” accusing journalists of cherry-picking data.

Geoffrey Supran and Naomi Oreskes, from Harvard’s Department of the History of Science, took up that challenge, comparing the information in the documents cited by ExxonMobil against the information conveyed in the publicly-available advertorial columns published by the company on anthropogenic (or human-caused) climate change in the New York Times. They found that “83 percent of peer-reviewed papers and 80 percent of internal documents acknowledge that climate change is real and human-caused, yet only 12 percent of advertorials do so, with 81 percent instead expressing doubt.”

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Tales of an IT professional sailing around the Antarctic loop

August 22nd, 2017

Jen Thomas

Carles Pina i Estany is not what comes to mind when you picture your typical Polar explorer. A native of sunny Barcelona, he works as a Software Engineer at Mendeley—a London-based technology company owned by science publishers Elsevier. Before this year, he had never even slept aboard a ship. But when the invitation came for him to embark on a three-month expedition around the Antarctic, he jumped at the chance.

It all happened rather quickly. Pina i Estany’s partner, Jen Thomas, who had previously worked with the British Antarctic Survey, was working as Data Manager for a research trip led by the newly created Swiss Polar Institute. The SPI connects researchers active in polar or extreme environments, promotes public awareness of these environments, and facilitates access to research facilities in those extreme environments. Billionaire adventurer Frederik Paulsen sponsored the excursion—he even  went along for the rideThis was most definitely not your typical office tech support gig.

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Tales of an IT professional sailing around the Antarctic loop

August 22nd, 2017

Jen Thomas

Carles Pina i Estany is not what comes to mind when you picture your typical Polar explorer. A native of sunny Barcelona, he works as a Software Engineer at Mendeley—a London-based technology company owned by science publishers Elsevier. Before this year, he had never even slept aboard a ship. But when the invitation came for him to embark on a three-month expedition around the Antarctic, he jumped at the chance.

It all happened rather quickly. Pina i Estany’s partner, Jen Thomas, who had previously worked with the British Antarctic Survey, was working as Data Manager for a research trip led by the newly created Swiss Polar Institute. The SPI connects researchers active in polar or extreme environments, promotes public awareness of these environments, and facilitates access to research facilities in those extreme environments. Billionaire adventurer Frederik Paulsen sponsored the excursion—he even  went along for the rideThis was most definitely not your typical office tech support gig.

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OkCupid bans white supremacist “for life,” asks daters to report others

August 18th, 2017

Enlarge (credit: OkCupid)

Dating site OkCupid made the unusual move of announcing that it had given a single member a “lifetime” ban on Thursday—and naming him—in order to make a point.

“We were alerted that white supremacist Chris Cantwell was on OkCupid,” the company wrote at its official Twitter account on Thursday. “Within 10 minutes, we banned him for life.”

Cantwell was the subject of a Vice documentary about the white-supremacist Unite The Right marches in Charlottesville, Virginia, over the past weekend, where he offered numerous racist and threatening comments while acting as a march organizer and riding in a car alongside former KKK Grand Wizard David Duke. (“We’re not non-violent,” Cantwell offered at one point in the documentary. “We’ll fucking kill these people if we fucking have to.”)

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Investors rescue embattled SoundCloud with $170 million lifeline

August 11th, 2017

Enlarge / Alexander Ljung, co-founder of SoundCloud, will step aside as CEO. (credit: David Paul Morris/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

The struggling audio-hosting startup SoundCloud has secured a financial lifeline, with two investors putting up almost $170 million to help the company stay afloat, according to Billboard. As part of the deal, SoundCloud will get a new CEO, the company announced in a press release.

The German company’s service is one of the most popular ways to store audio files online, but it has struggled to find a viable business model. As we reported last month, the company was forced to close its San Francisco and London offices and lay off 40 percent of its staff. The company’s losses have steadily widened in recent years, reaching €51 million ($60 million) in 2015 and more than $150 million total between 2010 and 2015. Financial results for 2016 aren’t publicly available yet.

Until this deal, it looked like SoundCloud could be forced to shut its doors before the end of the year. The new funding will give the company at least a couple more years to figure out how to become a profitable business. The company launched a subscription music service last year, but that didn’t generate enough revenue to avoid last month’s layoffs.

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Military tech could be Amazon’s secret to cheap, non-refrigerated food

August 11th, 2017

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Amazon is using everything at its disposal to take on the grocery and food delivery business. The online retailer purchased Whole Foods Market in June for $13.7 billion, announced new meal-prep boxes that challenge Blue Apron in July, and now it’s turning to the military for its next move. According to a CNBC report, Amazon wants to use military food technology to create prepared meals that don’t need to be refrigerated. This would allow the company to store and ship more food more efficiently and to offer ready-to-eat, (hopefully) tasty meals at a lower price.

Amazon could debut ready-to-eat meals like beef stew and vegetable frittata as soon as next year. These kinds of prepared meals would be delivered through Amazon Fresh, the online retailer’s grocery delivery service. Amazon is still figuring out how these meals would be made, but it’s reportedly looking into MATS technology, or microwave assisted thermal sterilization. This food-prep process takes sealed food packages and puts them into pressurized water, heating them with microwaves. It’s different from the traditional way of processing foods with a pressure cooker, and researchers claim it better retains the food’s natural flavor and texture.

MATS technology was developed at Washington State University as a way to improve the quality of military rations. MREs (Meals, Ready to Eat) provide just enough calories to fuel military personnel, but they aren’t exactly the most mouth-watering things to eat. In addition to feeding troops, MREs were also designed to be efficiently transported and stored. That’s a concept that Amazon likely loves because if it can find a way to maximize the efficiency of its shipping and storing processes, it can deliver more prepared meals to customers and make more money.

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Reuters: Tesla looking to start testing autonomous semi in “platoon” formation

August 9th, 2017

Enlarge (credit: Yuriko Nakao/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Tesla CEO Elon Musk announced in April that the company is working on pushing a long-haul electric semi truck to market, which is set to be formally revealed in September. Now, Reuters has viewed e-mail correspondence between Tesla and the Nevada Department of Motor Vehicles that indicate that the company has discussed testing semi trucks on the state’s roads.

The Reuters report also mentioned that the semis would be outfitted with autonomous functions, so they could traverse the nation’s highways without a driver in the front seat. The e-mails seemed to indicate that Tesla’s semis would “platoon,” that is, drive in a formation such that a number of trucks could follow a lead vehicle. It’s unclear whether the lead vehicle would have a driver, or operate autonomously with a person in the front seat to monitor safety.

The idea of “platooning” autonomous semis is an old one. More than a year ago, the Dutch Ministry of Infrastructure and the Environment held an autonomous truck platooning demo that involved automakers such as DAF Trucks, Daimler, IVECO, MAN, Scania, and Volvo. The advantages of platooning is that it’s theoretically safer—if the lead truck slows down, the rest automatically follow. It also offers most of the trucks decreased wind resistance, which could help increase an EV semi’s range—a major concern given the weight freight companies load semis with. Of course, there are social ramifications too. Platooning reduces the number of drivers that a shipping company would have to employ.

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Faraday Future raises $14m, leases old factory for future electric car line

August 7th, 2017

Enlarge / Faraday Future’s rendering of the refurbished Hanford factory. (credit: Faraday Future)

Faraday Future announced on Monday that it has signed a lease on a turn-key manufacturing facility in Hanford, California, south of Fresno. The company has been hyping its plans to build a luxury electric vehicle called the FF 91 that would compete with high-end Teslas, but it has struggled with funding and production. Faraday recently pulled out of plans to build a massive factory north of Las Vegas as well as plans to negotiate a deal for another new factory location in Vallejo, California.

According to the Los Angeles Times, Faraday Future received an emergency loan from an investment firm to the tune of $13.75 million, using a claim to the company’s Gardena, California, headquarters as collateral. The company will need to raise millions more to deliver market-ready FF 91s by the end of next year, as it has promised to do. Stefan Krause, Faraday Future’s Chief Operating Officer, told the Times that having an assembly line will attract additional investors, as it “makes it more real” for them.

The warehouse being leased was originally a tire factory, first built by Armstrong Rubber Co. in 1962 and purchased by Italian tire maker Pirelli in 1985. Pirelli shut the factory down in 2001 for economic reasons, and tenants have been various since then, most recently a potential pot-growing operation.

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