Rocket Lab launch streak goes up in smoke with 41st mission

The Register - Tue, 09/19/2023 - 09:32
Electron rocket was lost when reusable first stage separated early this morning

It's back to zero days without incident at Rocket Lab, whose 41st launch ended in failure this morning, breaking a streak that had been going since 2021.…

Categories: Tech News

Failure strikes Rocket Lab after launch from New Zealand

ARS Technica - Tue, 09/19/2023 - 09:06
Rocket Lab's Electron launch vehicle lifts off Tuesday from New Zealand on an ill-fated mission.

Enlarge / Rocket Lab's Electron launch vehicle lifts off Tuesday from New Zealand on an ill-fated mission. (credit: Rocket Lab)

Rocket Lab's string of 20 consecutive successful launches ended Tuesday when the company's Electron rocket failed to deliver a small commercial radar imaging satellite into orbit.

The problem occurred on the upper stage of the Electron rocket about two and a half minutes after liftoff from Mahia Peninsula in New Zealand. This was the fourth time a Rocket Lab mission has failed in 41 flights.

In a statement, Rocket Lab said it is "working closely" with the Federal Aviation Administration and supporting agencies as the company begins an investigation into the cause of the failure. While Rocket Lab launches most of its missions from New Zealand, the company is headquartered in the United States, giving the FAA regulatory oversight authority over failure investigations.

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Categories: Tech News

Earth Littered With Vast Troves of Diamonds Linked to Ancient Events, Scientists Propose

Motherboard (Vice) - Tue, 09/19/2023 - 09:02

Scientists have discovered that the world’s largest source of natural diamonds was forged by the breakup of an ancient supercontinent some 1.3 billion years ago, a finding that provides tantalizing clues about where to find similar sources of rare diamonds made by similar events, reports a new study. 

The results reveal the true age of the Argyle diamond deposit, located in the remote far north of Australia, which became one of the world’s biggest sources of diamonds, as well as the origin of about 90 percent of all pink diamonds, following its discovery in 1979. Though the mine at the site closed in 2020, scientists continue to study Argyle to better understand its geological history and the origin of its immense trove of gems.

Now, a team led by Hugo Olierook, a research fellow and geochemist at Curtin University in Perth, have discovered that Argyle is about 1.3 billion years old, making it about 100 million years older than previous estimates. The updated timeline reveals that “diamond deposits created by (super)continental breakup may be prevalent but hitherto under-recognized in rift zones at the edges of ancient continental blocks,” according to the team’s study, which was published on Tuesday in Nature Communications.

Olierook and his colleagues were inspired to investigate Argyle’s age and origin by a workshop organized by study co-author Murray Rayner, principal geologist at the mining company Rio Tinto, focused on sharing the legacy of the mine with undergraduate students interested in geology.

“It was from this workshop, seeing the rocks and diamonds first-hand, and a chat between [study co-author] Denis Fougerouse and I, where we realized we could constrain the true age of the Argyle volcano with modern dating techniques, and figure out what the real trigger was for Argyle,” Olierook told Motherboard in an email. “And, if we could do that, maybe, just maybe, it could help us to search for another pink diamond trove, now that Argyle had closed.”

Argyle was initially estimated to be 1.2 billion years old by the geologist Bob Pidgeon, though Pidgeon was never fully satisfied with this timeline, according to Olierook. While the origins of the trove have remained unclear for decades, the researchers knew that its vast stores of pink diamonds were made by carbon that was buried at least 100 miles underground and was exposed to extreme pressures and volcanic activities associated with continental collisions.

“Pink diamonds are damaged diamonds,” Olierook explained. “The pink color is imparted by the diamonds actually getting bent and twisted, and this deformation causes the pink color. But, push a little too hard, and the diamonds turn brown. This is also how pink synthetic diamonds can be made today.”

“Argyle was the first discovered diamond deposit, and one of only a handful, that was discovered not in the middle of an ancient continent (where the crust is thicker, and you’re more likely to have diamond rather than graphite) but at the juncture of where two continents (the Kimberley block and northern Australia) collided some 1.85 billion years ago, creating a large mountain belt,” he continued. “What we really didn’t know was what triggered Argyle to erupt—how did these pink diamonds get to the surface?”

To answer this question, Olierook and his colleagues applied geochronology and dating techniques to a drill core of Argyle rock. To their astonishment, the results suggested that the deposit dates back 1.3 billion years, when this region was being pulled apart by the breakup of an ancient supercontinent called Nuna.

“We actually had a bit of a betting pool going as to what the age of Argyle was, and all of us were wrong,” Olierook said. “Safe to say, we were pretty surprised. An age of approximately 1.3 billion years pushed the age back by 100 million years older than was previously thought by Prof. Pidgeon, and the rest of the scientific community.” 

“It was not until later that day that I appreciated the significance of that,” he added. “1.3 billion years ago, all the continents had been part of what is the first well-established supercontinent for about 300 million years (from 1.6 to 1.3 billion years ago), a time when almost all the continents were joined in a single landmass with one giant ocean around it. At 1.3 billion years ago, all these continents started to break up. And while the mountain belt that created Argyle, now eroded to a flat plain, didn’t break up the Kimberley and northern Australia, it certainly would have stretched. And it’s this stretching that allowed a little bit of magma to shoot from deep down in the bowels of the Earth to the surface, bringing their pink diamonds with them.”

In other words, subterranean diamonds that were created by continental collisions were then pushed upward through Earth’s crust by volcanism fueled by the disintegration of Nuna. By the early Cretaceous period, the deposit had risen to within about a mile from Earth’s surface; erosive forces have since exposed it at mineable depths in our modern geological time.

This rewritten history of Argyle is fascinating on its own merits, but it could also serve as a roadmap to other diamond deposits formed by supercontinent breakups, which are far less common than deposits found in the middle of ancient continents.

“If I was a diamond explorer and looking for pink diamonds, I’d focus my attention at any of these now-eroded ancient mountain belts that surround the cores of ancient continents,” Olierook said. “And every one of our continents on Earth has these—with prevalent countries including Canada, Brazil, Russia, South Africa and Australia, amongst others. I would look for rock types that coincide with the breakup of (super)continents, as it’s these rocks that might host new pink diamond deposits.”

Finding these undiscovered troves involves all sorts of challenges, but the team hopes the new study can at least narrow down the search, while also revealing new details about the global carbon cycle.

“How does carbon get transferred from the deepest parts of the Earth to the surface, and back again, and what does this cycle tell us about global Earth processes?” Olierook concluded. “In any carbon story, diamonds form an integral part as, most commonly, the carbon deep down would be in the form of diamond.” 

Categories: Tech News

‘Sound of Freedom’ Producer Felt the Naked Breasts of Apparently Underage Trafficking Victim

Motherboard (Vice) - Tue, 09/19/2023 - 08:41

Paul Hutchinson—an executive producer of Sound of Freedom, the film focused on the heavily fictionalized exploits of anti-trafficking activist Tim Ballard—touched the naked breasts of an apparently underage trafficking victim during a 2016 undercover operation in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico.

Footage of the incident and its aftermath was captured by videographers working with Operation Underground Railroad, or OUR, the private anti-trafficking group Ballard founded. An investigator with the Davis County Attorney’s Office obtained the footage and wrote detailed descriptions of it as part of a criminal investigation into Ballard and OUR carried out with the FBI. That investigation was closed this year without any charges being brought. The descriptions were included among documents obtained by VICE News through a public-records request, and make clear that the trafficking victim appeared to be—and was believed at the time by Hutchinson and OUR operatives to be—about 16 years old. They also assert that OUR believed the footage had been destroyed.

A description of one of the videos, written by an investigator, shows Hutchinson expressing concerns over whether he could be prosecuted by Mexican authorities over the incident. He was speaking to Matt Osborne, an OUR operative, who dismissed his worries while making clear he didn’t think the video should be shown to the U.S. government. Osborne is currently the president and chief operating officer of OUR, as he has been since Ballard resigned from the organization earlier this year following an internal investigation into allegations of sexual misconduct.

Hutchinson, 52, is an anti-trafficking activist, philanthropist, and entrepreneur with lines in, among other things, ballistic protection technology and private vaults who’s long been associated with the Utah anti-trafficking movement. According to his LinkedIn, he was the first investor in Sound of Freedom. Currently affiliated with the Child Liberation Foundation, he was a key fundraiser and operative for OUR before splitting with Ballard several years ago over, as he put it in an email to VICE News, “similar reasons as those you are bringing to light in your stories.” Provided with a detailed description of what was in the investigative files, he did not deny that the videos showed him doing what the investigator’s description said they did, or dispute that he had felt the trafficking victim’s naked breasts. He did dispute that she was a minor, asserting that he had a sworn affidavit from Mexican federal police saying that she was over 18. He did not respond to multiple requests, sent over a period of weeks, to provide a copy of this document.

A detailed description of another video shows Hutchinson potentially creating demand for trafficking while posing as a wealthy sex tourist. According to an investigator’s description, he asked a trafficker, who was showing him pictures of sex workers, for younger girls—or, as he and the trafficker both described them, “mas fresca.” The trafficker, according to the investigator’s description of the video, tells women who are working with him to find girls as young as 14 to provide to Hutchinson. 

There is no suggestion in the files that Hutchinson’s behavior was aimed at anything but identifying and exposing traffickers, but federal agents with extensive experience working undercover overseas told VICE News that Hutchinson’s methods ran contrary to best practice. For years, experts in the anti-trafficking field have raised concerns about OUR’s methods potentially creating demand for trafficking victims, due to scenarios precisely like this one. Rather than finding minors who were already being trafficked, requesting younger victims while undercover could cause traffickers to try and find people to fill that request. In other words, such a request would not rescue trafficking victims; it could potentially create them. 

Tim Ballard—who has said he is likely to run for the Senate seat MItt Romney is vacating—did not respond to requests for comment for this story; OUR provided a statement which can be found below.

“There is a lot to the story, a very dangerous situation and I am happy to let the world know the details when the time is right,” Hutchinson wrote in an email to VICE News. “Every operator who was present stands behind me in how I reacted to the situation. I have zero reservations as to how I handled myself undercover.

“You don’t find trafficked children in the lobby of the Ritz-Carlton. We had to go to the most dangerous places on the planet to find the children.

“All my undercover work was done with integrity and honor.”

Documents related to the incident can be read here.

The footage reviewed by investigators was taken as part of the filming of The Abolitionists, a 2016 documentary movie and 2019 television series featuring Hutchinson. The documentaries valorize the exploits of Ballard and OUR, who are depicted carrying out private undercover operations in foreign countries aimed at liberating child sex slaves. (Darrin Fletcher and Chet Thomas, the producers and directors for the film, did not respond to requests for comment from VICE News.)

abol.jpgA promotional image for "The Abolitionists" from OUR's website.

The files obtained by VICE News consist of audio transcripts and timestamped descriptions of what investigator Bryan Purdy of the Davis County Attorney’s Office saw while reviewing the footage—which OUR, according to an investigator’s note, believed it had “scrubbed.”

A description of one video—which was, going by its associated file name, taken in February 2016 using an “earphone cam”—starts, "Paul Hutchinson and his team are standing in the street area talking with local men." They cross the street and go into a club, where females are seen walking toward them down a staircase.

“A female,” the description—which like the others in this story we are reproducing verbatim aside from minor redactions, complete with typographical and grammatical errors—reads, “gets to the bottom of the stairs and there is an adult male standing to her left side. The male is wearing a light-colored shirt with long sleeves and a necktie. The male uses both of his hands to lift the female’s shirt up to her shoulders exposing her naked breasts. While he continues to hold the female’s shirt up with both hands, another adult male approaches from directly in front of the female. This male (identified as Paul Hutchinson based on his own statements on a phone call to Matt Osborn.) is wearing a light-colored shirt with short sleeves. Paul approaches the female and lifts both of his hands and places them on each of the female’s naked breasts. The female uses her hand to push down Paul’s hands and pulls her shirt down. There is another female standing above them higher on the stairway wearing a dark colored skirt/shorts and a dark colored tube top shirt.

“Paul leans in and kisses the first female on the side of the cheek,” read the investigator’s notes. 

The adult male in the white shirt, according to the description, goes outside with Hutchinson and his team. “You want more touch, feel, oh no more touch,” he says. Another man says, “You like more 16” and that he can provide IDs. Hutchinson pays one of these men—which isn’t made clear in the description—money and says, “For showing ‘em to me right there.”

Purdy, the investigator, also wrote a description of a second video, which to go by its file name was taken the same day as the first one using a “backpack cam.” (According to a note, this video was taken in the same club and in the same time frame as the other one, using a different camera.)  

“Another girl like her, (inaudible),” says a local male’s voice, according to the description. “16, she’s 16.”

One of the OUR operatives is heard saying, “Let’s get the hell out of here.” Hutchinson is heard saying, “Yeah, let’s get out of here, I’m down a grand.”

“For a thousand bucks you got your hands on some breasts,” says a male voice, to laughter.

“What was I going to do?” asks a second male voice, whose words are described as being interrupted repeatedly by laughter. “Okay, she’s 16, here, feel them, they’re nice. I’m like, shit, those are 16.”

“You think they’re under age, huh?” asks the first male voice.

“Oh yeah,” says a third male voice, “I would put money on that.” The men continue their discussion for a bit before the first male voice says, “Yeah, those girls were young, man.”

“I don’t know how wise it was to grab that girl’s boobs, though,” says the second male voice.

“You didn’t get that on video or anything, did you?” asks the first male voice.

In a statement to VICE News, Hutchinson wrote, “In regards to the undercover mission in Cabo San Lucas, 23 victims were liberated, and some very bad men are now in prison. Your reference to the trafficker testing our legitimacy is a non story. I have a sworn affidavit by the federal police saying she was over 18.”

A description of a third video covers a February 28, 2016 phone call between Hutchinson and Matt Osborne. During the call, which took place on speakerphone and was filmed in a room with Hutchinson and several other men in it, Osborne talks to the videographer filming the call about the hard drive containing the footage he’s shot, at which point Hutchinson brings up the incident at the club. 

During the conversation he refers to himself in the third person as “Paul Stone”—a reference, according to Purdy’s description of the video, to the alias he used while undercover—and asks if he’s “gonna get in big trouble from the Mexican authority for touching a sixteen-year-old on film.”

“When you get the hard drive I have to, I have to confess to something,” he says, according to a transcript. “But I believe that it helped to make them, really believe that we weren’t a police officers in any way. Uh, (starts to laugh), so, so we uh, we, we we, were taken to the um to the strip club, (Paul laughs again as well as the man next to him.) K so, the very first time that V. was vetting is out and um he took us, he took us to the strip club, and, and, the, a owner of the strip club brought down the minors. And um, and V.’s the very first time V.’s shown us any minors, and, uh, brought down these minors well, well Paul Stone (referring to himself as the Undercover name he was going by) is standing there at the bottom of the stairs. A, these two girls working the strip club, these two minors come down. The owner of the strip club pulls up one of their shirts and grabs one of Paul Stone’s hand and places it on her breast and so it’s on the video. I just wanna find out if I’m gonna get in big trouble from the Mexican authority for touching a sixteen-year-old on film?”

“Uh, is it clear that they pulled it, pulled your hand there?” asks Osborne. (In the copy of the description obtained by VICE News, this entire passage is highlighted and the word “LIE” is written next to it, with a margin note reading “PAUL PUTS BOTH HANDS ON VOLUNTARILY.” Those appear to be an investigator’s notes; the Davis County Attorney’s Office did not respond to a request for comment.)

“It’s not clear on the video,” says Hutchinson. “I was standing on the side and he grabbed the hand from down on the right hand, on my right-hand side as he pulled up her shirt and put em up. (Paul then raised his hands, one his right hand while holding the phone and then raised his left hand in a motion of grabbing with his hand.) And so, we feel like and if, we were all there, and we all feel like, if I had hesitated, and oh yeah. I’m not really interested in touching that right now as he was pulling it up, I think it would have thrown up a lot of red flags. Um, but a, that is on the hard drive. I just wanted to run that by and see what your thoughts are.”

“Yea I don’t think at this point that will be an issue, a maybe if it was the Mexican’s,” says Osborne. “And we’re sending it just the Mexicans. I don’t want this video to be to HSI, the U.S. Embassy because I’m sure, and I’ve done it before too one time, I’m sure that technically you guys probably entrap some of these people. Try not to, a yeah, and I’ve done it before accidentally. So, I’m just content that is not an issue.”

A man sitting on a couch, according to the description, tells Hutchinson, “The only thing you have to do is not tell your bishop.”

Hutchinson laughs.

A final description of a video carries no reference to when or where it was taken.

According to an investigator's notes, in the video, a trafficker is showing Hutchinson and a male associate photos of females on his phone. “Paul and the other male are joking that they are old, and saying 20, 22, 30, 40 years old. The trafficker says 16 and they ask him who? He replies he doesn’t know them but states these are the girls.

“Paul pulls out his wallet and gives the guy $20. Then says, I’ll give you $100 just to see them. Paul states, ‘Mas Pequeno’ (meaning more small) as he is handing the trafficker the money.

“They continue to see images of women on the traffickers’ phones of what appear, based upon Paul and other team members statements, to be adult women in their twenties and thirties. The traffickers try to say the girls are ‘16 or 17’ but Paul would say they look like they were 30 and continue to ask for younger girls.”

The description ends with an account of the trafficker talking to two females “and telling then to go out and find ‘la mas chicas’ (the smallest) the more young you can find. La mas chicas. 16, 14, 15, he pay you in dollars.”

Tim Ballard did not respond to a request for comment; in response to other reporting VICE News has done about him recently, he issued a statement to a crowd in Boston and, later, another through the SPEAR Fund, his new organization, referring to VICE obliquely as “a tabloid that is often hostile to people of faith.” 

In response to requests for comment about this story as well as others, an OUR spokesperson sent one statement, which read as follows:

These allegations have been raised previously, written about by Vice and thoroughly investigated by the Davis County District Attorney. That investigation concluded without the filing of any charges.

Following Tim Ballard's departure from O.U.R. three months ago, we have been working tirelessly to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of our domestic and international operations.

At O.U.R., we are proud to support law enforcement in liberating any person in the grips of human trafficking or exploitation and we strive to ensure ongoing aftercare for all those affected.  Our resources have contributed to the arrest of over 7,400 suspected predators and have impacted the lives of over 7,800 individuals. Currently, we are carrying out an average of five missions per week worldwide. We are committed to this important work until everyone in need is safe.

Contact the reporters at or For extra security, download the Signal app to a non-work device and text us there at 267-713-9832.

Categories: Tech News

Tabular's Iceberg vision goes from Netflix and chill to database thrill

The Register - Tue, 09/19/2023 - 08:29
Promise of neutral data layer between vendors' vested interests attracts $26M

It is a year since a flurry of vendors including Snowflake, Google, and Cloudera backed the Apache Iceberg table format – promising to bring analytics to data wherever it sits.…

Categories: Tech News

Toyota reveals its plan to catch up on EV battery technology

ARS Technica - Tue, 09/19/2023 - 08:26
Electric vehicle lithium ion rechargeable battery module inside metal enclosure packed for car, solid li-ion cell pack manufacturing for ev automotive energy storage industry 3D rendering

Enlarge (credit: Getty Images)

Toyota, the world's largest automaker, has a problem. Although the company is famous for pioneering lean methods of manufacturing and being an early pioneer of hybrid electric powertrains, the switch to battery electric vehicles caught it somewhat unprepared. As rivals locked up contracts for critical minerals and formed joint ventures with battery makers (or built their own), Toyota has appeared to fall behind.

Now, it has released a new roadmap showing how it will regain competitiveness and sell 3.5 million EVs by 2030.

After some early experiments with electric-converted RAV4s (including a partnership with Tesla), Toyota has finally released a modern BEV, the bZ4x. The car had a difficult launch—a recall for wheels falling off will lead to that—but a week's test of a bZ4x exceeded our low expectations. A look at the car's specs makes clear Toyota's problem, though: There are different battery packs for the single-motor and dual-motor versions, made by Panasonic and CATL, respectively.

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FTC v. Microsoft document leak outs detailed plans for mid-gen Xbox refresh

ARS Technica - Tue, 09/19/2023 - 07:58
A leaked internal slide deck shows an unusually detailed preview of the Xbox Series X's proposed mid-generation refresh.

Enlarge / A leaked internal slide deck shows an unusually detailed preview of the Xbox Series X's proposed mid-generation refresh. (credit: Microsoft)

The US Federal Trade Commission's case against Microsoft didn't ultimately block the company's proposed $68.7 billion acquisition of Activision Blizzard, but leaked documents from the case are giving us an unusually detailed look at Microsoft's near-future plans for the Xbox. Court documents published by the Verge include a slide deck, complete with renders, that detail a mid-generation refresh of both Xbox Series consoles, plus a revamped controller with an updated design and new features.

The biggest changes are coming to the Xbox Series X. Codenamed "Brooklin," the updated console looks like a marriage of the original boxy monolith that is the Series X and the cylindrical design of Apple's old "trash can" Mac Pro. The console would be all-digital, ditching its optical drive but stepping up from 1TB to 2TB of internal storage. The port on the front changes from USB-A to USB-C, and the console would include Wi-Fi 6E and Bluetooth 5.2 upgrades.

On the inside, the console's CPU and GPU would use a 6 nm manufacturing process instead of the current 7 nm process. Because the specs are changing, this means power consumption will go down, and the deck indicates that the console's power supply will be 15 percent smaller than the current Series X (that measures out to around 270 W, based on the 315 W capacity of the current power supply). An "all-new southbridge" will "modernize IO," and a "new low-power standby mode" would use just 20 percent as much power as the current console's standby mode.

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Categories: Tech News

How scientists are mitigating space travel’s risks to the human body

ARS Technica - Tue, 09/19/2023 - 07:44
With NASA planning more missions to space in the future, scientists are studying how to mitigate health hazards that come with space flight

Enlarge / With NASA planning more missions to space in the future, scientists are studying how to mitigate health hazards that come with space flight (credit: SpaceX)

When 17 people were in orbit around the Earth all at the same time on May 30, 2023, it set a record. With NASA and other federal space agencies planning more manned missions and commercial companies bringing people to space, opportunities for human space travel are rapidly expanding.

However, traveling to space poses risks to the human body. Since NASA wants to send a manned mission to Mars in the 2030s, scientists need to find solutions for these hazards sooner rather than later.

As a kinesiologist who works with astronauts, I’ve spent years studying the effects space can have on the body and brain. I’m also involved in a NASA project that aims to mitigate the health hazards that participants of a future mission to Mars might face.

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'Small monthly payment' only thing that stands between X and bot chaos, says Musk

The Register - Tue, 09/19/2023 - 07:29
Yes, because automated accounts are really the problem here

Comment  You couldn't make it up. The godlike genius Elon Musk, under the cosh from accusations of rising antisemitism on the website formerly known as Twitter, invites Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu to have a chat at Tesla's Fremont factory.…

Categories: Tech News

Watch a NASA Probe Fly Right Through a Massively Powerful Sun Explosion In First

Motherboard (Vice) - Tue, 09/19/2023 - 06:57

A NASA spacecraft flew right through one of the most powerful explosions ever recorded as coming from the Sun, capturing stunning footage of the fallout from a distance of just 5.7 million miles, which is about six times closer to our star than Mercury.

NASA’s Parker Solar Probe became the first spacecraft to swoop directly through a coronal mass ejection (CME), a type of eruption from the Sun, on September 5, 2022. As it traveled through this gushing stream of energetic particles, Parker took images and observations that have helped scientists unravel long-standing mysteries about how CMEs interact with dust cast off by celestial objects in the solar system.

“Parker Solar Probe has flown through a stream of particles that erupted from the Sun,” NASA said in a tweet on Monday. “No other spacecraft has done this and it’s letting us see how the Sun’s energy interacts with nearby dust particles that were left over from comets and asteroids!”

Parker has traveled closer to the Sun than any other spacecraft since its launch in 2018, and the daredevil mission will ultimately beat its own record by coming within 3.9 million miles of the Sun’s surface by 2025. Thanks to the protection of its advanced heat shield, the probe was able to show us what it looks like to be in the blast zone of a CME, revealing that interplanetary dust near the Sun is temporarily expelled by these forceful bursts.  

“These interactions between CMEs and dust were theorized two decades ago, but had not been observed until Parker Solar Probe viewed a CME act like a vacuum cleaner, clearing the dust out of its path,” said Guillermo Stenborg, an astrophysicist at the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) in Laurel, Maryland, and the lead author of a recent study about Parker’s CME observations.

You can tell when Parker is struck by the CME by the sudden spell of darkness in the probe’s imagery, which is caused by the sudden expulsion of reflective dust around it. These observations provide the first close-up look at these interactions, which could help scientists resolve questions about the Sun’s processes and to improve predictions about dangerous space weather around Earth.

Beyond its scientific implications, though, the footage is also a mesmerizing vicarious glimpse of the tempestuous environment around the Sun.

Categories: Tech News

Unity talks of price cap and fees for only largest games developers

The Register - Tue, 09/19/2023 - 06:45
That sound? It's the screeching noise of a massive U-turn as games engine biz admits mistakes

Unity is backtracking on commercial Ts&Cs for developers using its games engine, claiming that as part of a new tiering system under consideration fees will be capped and will apply only to top tier customers.…

Categories: Tech News

Nvidia's 900 tons of GPU muscle bulks up server market, slims down wallets

The Register - Tue, 09/19/2023 - 06:00
Fewer boxes shipped, but with 8 H100s apiece, revenue is up amid AI frenzy

The server market for the near future is going to be about GPUs, GPUs, and more GPUs, according to Omdia. The market researcher estimates the volume of Nvidia H100 GPUs alone shipped during calendar Q2 added up to more than 900 tons in weight.…

Categories: Tech News

Meeting Bloat Has Taken Over Corporate America. Can It Be Stopped?

Motherboard (Vice) - Tue, 09/19/2023 - 06:00

In July, the Canadian e-commerce giant Shopify unveiled an internal tool that struck a chord with people online. The way it worked was simple enough: Using a few metrics, like compensation, the number of people involved, and length of time, the tool was able to calculate and display the estimated cost of a proposed meeting by any of its employees.

The point of the tool, called the Shopify Meeting Cost Calculator, was not so much to point out an exact dollar value as to make employees think twice before they asked their co-workers to take a break from their work to come together at the exact same time and talk.

The tool, which was developed during a company hackathon, was part of a broader effort at the company to reduce the amount of time employees spent in meetings. At the start of the year, the company had deleted thousands of meetings (lots of which were recurring) and banned meetings on Wednesdays to help employees reclaim their time and focus on actual work. Shopify had determined that its employees’ “most precious resource” was “uninterrupted time,” said Kaz Nejatian, the company’s chief operating officer. And large numbers of meetings were increasingly getting in the way.

More and more, it seems that company leaders like Nejatian are starting to recognize what lower-level employees have understood for some time: The number of useless meetings employees are required to attend in corporate America (and beyond) has gotten out of hand. Counter to the stereotype of the lean capitalist efficiency machine, tens of millions of people are filling their calendars (not to mention the calendars of others) with ideation sessions, half-hour check-ins, and virtual happy hours. Lazy and unproductive employees are hiding behind this wall of calendar invites, and those who wish to opt out risk awkward explanations and offense.

The problem, exacerbated by the pandemic, has shown no signs of slowing down, but a growing number of companies are recognizing the issue as a significant one and trying to figure out how to turn their cultures around. NPR has reportedly made a concerted effort to shorten or otherwise reduce meetings. The scheduling company Calendly only allows meetings between 12 p.m. and 5 p.m. Meeting researchers told Motherboard that inbound requests for help befuddled leaders have recently increased.

“Companies are taking a much greater interest in this topic than they ever have before,” said Steven Rogelberg, a professor at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte who studies meeting culture and said companies now reach out weekly asking for help. Everyone knows there is a corporate meeting problem, but very few know what to do about it.

There is a paradox at the heart of the world’s meeting problem. On the one hand, it seems like everyone hates meetings. Elon Musk has described them as a “blight” at large organizations.  Mark Cuban has said that he won’t even agree to a meeting unless the other person is cutting him a check. Jeff Bezos famously banned PowerPoint presentations at Amazon and requires employees to sit and silently read a memo together so the conversation is useful. One survey of almost 200 senior executives found that only 17 percent of them considered meetings good uses of time, while most of them could agree that meetings get in the way of their own work and are otherwise inefficient. A separate survey found over 90 percent of workers consider the meetings they attend “costly and unproductive.” Meetings are so commonly understood to be regularly scheduled time sucks that the phrase this meeting could have been an email has become a corporate colloquialism.

And yet, meeting bloat only seems to be getting worse. While the exact figures vary, when viewed altogether the numbers make clear something is amiss. Microsoft has estimated that people are spending three times more of their week in meetings since February 2020, right before the pandemic sent the working world home. Various other surveys have found that so-called “knowledge workers” now spend as much as 85 percent of the time in meetings and the typical full-time white-collar U.S. worker spends more than 21 hours a week in them. After surveying 632 employees in 20 different industries, Rogelberg, the University of North Carolina at Charlotte professor, deduced that people spent about 18 hours a week in meetings, even though they only considered 11 hours worth of them to be critical.

The problem is not so much meetings in general as bad meetings in particular, experts say. “Organizations that have excellent meetings are actually more profitable than those that don't. So meetings can be a competitive advantage,” said Rogelberg. But studies of organizations in various industries have found evidence that “dysfunctional” meetings may lead to less innovation and a competitive disadvantage, and cause significant and negative psychological stress for the workers themselves.

Worse still, bad meetings have a compounding effect, according to Joe Allen, who studies meetings at the University of Utah and directs the Center for Meeting Effectiveness. “One bad meeting causes three more meetings,” said Allen, because follow-up meetings become necessary to decipher what was said. More meetings lead to more stress, then more burnout, then even worse meetings, and the issues become larger and self-perpetuating, according to Allen. Such was the case with one company almost a decade ago that was analyzed by consultants from Bain. A single weekly executive meeting at an unnamed “large company” led to additional meetings with unit heads in order to prepare, which led to additional meetings with their underlings, which led to even more preparation meetings, and so on. In all, the Bain partners found that the company was accidentally committing 300,000 hours a year to preparing for that one weekly executive meeting—and that’s before considering prep time not officially marked on a calendar.

All of these meetings leave little time for workers to perform actual work. Research has found it takes the typical worker almost half an hour to refocus after a distraction. Colette Stallbaumer, who leads Microsoft’s future of work initiative, described “inefficient meetings” as the “number one productivity disrupter” today, according to her team’s research. But saying no to a meeting request takes a little courage, no matter how useless it seems, especially when a superior sends the invite.

As Stallbaumer put it to me: Nowadays, “it takes work to do work.”

It wasn’t always like this. In the 1960s, executives spent less than 10 hours a week in meetings. But over the next five decades, that number steadily rose to 23 hours. Everyone else started to get invited to more meetings too. According to Rogelberg, the development was at least partially benevolent. Since the industrial revolution, organizations had taken a strict top-down approach to management. Lower-level workers were to follow orders, not make suggestions. As workers moved from factories to offices—a shift to a more knowledge-based economy—the decision to hold meetings was a recognition that employees’ opinions were valuable and that their perspective on corporate decisions could be beneficial to all parties. “So the increase of meetings really stemmed from a positive place, almost a counter to the old command-and-control systems in the industrial revolution, where everyone just followed a manager blindly,” said Rogelberg.

This, and a good-natured desire to be inclusive, led to unintended negative consequences. Out of fear of making others feel excluded, meeting organizers started to invite people who didn’t actually need to be there, according to Allen, creating larger meetings in which ideas flowed less freely and concrete decisions became harder to make. Over time, the way organizations of all sorts used meetings became less productive. One 2018 analysis of faculty meetings at the University of Missouri by a business professor there, for example, found that decades ago, such meetings were used to discuss (and then, critically, formally vote on) various specific academic matters like penalties for misconduct and student absences. However, the professor noticed a significant shift after 1993 in how meetings were used. Instead of attempting to achieve resolution on tangible matters, the meetings became a place for people to bloviate and expound, much to the exasperation of the members themselves.

“I’m frustrated by the presentations at our general faculty meetings. I really want to focus on problems. What are the concrete problems that we are confronting?” one philosophy professor was quoted as saying. “The presentations [of] these big, general ideas may be liked by lots of people and they may find them useful. I don’t!” His comments were reportedly met with loud applause.

Another part of the issue likely has to do with an issue separate from but correlated to the increasing uselessness of meetings over time: the rise of the middle manager in corporate America. Managers spend roughly 20 percent more time in meetings than others, which may seem like no big thing, except that the U.S. now reportedly boasts a manager (or administrator) for every 4.7 other workers. An even bigger part of the equation is new managers, who on average arrange 29 percent more meetings than their more experienced peers. Ed Zitron, a writer who also runs a media relations firm, has argued that meetings are often little more than a “a corporate security blanket” that disguises managerial incompetence, laziness, and uselessness. “Meetings are a great way to seem busy, and they are an agreed-upon method of doing stuff at work without having to show you’re doing any work of any kind,” he has written. This is particularly true of managers, he argues. “Without these meetings, it’s very hard to point to what these people do all day.”

Recognizing the issue, Jeff Bezos famously took action at Amazon in 2004, when he “outlawed” PowerPoints and bullet-point lists and instituted a system in which meetings started with participants sitting and silently reading a six-page memo together. The idea was to make sure everyone was actually up to speed before discussion started, so that executives couldn’t “bluff their way through the meeting.” The amount of work involved in creating the memo also dissuaded half-hearted attempts at getting together. He later said the overhaul was “probably the smartest thing we ever did.”

The plan was heralded as proof of the Amazon founder’s acumen. But that external celebration of Bezos’ meeting plan in and of itself also proof that other people were recognizing that a sizable problem had formed too.

Like a lot of people, the scope of global meeting bloat didn’t become quite clear to Benjamin Laker until the pandemic hit. In the early months of lockdown, Laker, a business professor in the U.K. who studies workplace culture, was inundated with requests to join meetings. He couldn't help but feel annoyed, not simply by the sheer volume of meetings or the fact that he was suddenly spending so much time on Zoom, but because so many of the invitations served “absolutely no purpose whatsoever,” he said.

At first, he figured that he was alone in his irritation with what he saw as an increasingly “indulgent meeting culture.” But as he started speaking to people about how much of his life had become taken over by meetings, he came to realize that was not true. “It seems that many other people felt the same thing,” he said. The pandemic had taken the corporate world’s meeting-related issues and pushed them beyond the pale.

Part of the reason was technological. Stuck at home, people started to schedule online video conferences at a rate never before seen. The number of daily users of the video conference software Zoom reportedly rose to more than 300 million in 2020, up from just 10 million in 2019. The growing comfort with these online meetings was a problem on its own. But it also made it easier than ever to “take over people’s calendars,” Rogelberg said. No longer did people have to vie for a conference room, nor did they have to travel across the country to sit down with someone. With a few clicks, a virtual meeting could be arranged between anyone with an internet connection, and it felt rude to decline such a request. What else were people doing?

But psychological factors played a role as well. For some, digital work led to an absence of connection, loneliness, and anxiety, and some started to compensate for the loss of spontaneous chats and accidental office run-ins with awkward online meetings and, worse still, virtual happy hours that were often longer, less fun and—due to continued desires to be inclusive—filled with people who had been invited (and joined themselves) out of a sense of obligation.

The largest culprit were managers, who, unable to peer over their workers’ shoulders, became obsessed with wondering if the people underneath them were working enough. Microsoft’s Stallbaumer described this insecurity as managerial  “productivity paranoia,” and it manifested itself in a longer work day. According to Microsoft research that has yet to be published publicly, the typical workday has increased by 42 minutes since 2020, and a lot of that rise can be attributed to what has traditionally been considered after hours work, when people can more easily work uninterrupted. Even still, only 12 percent of leaders are confident their teams are working productively, according to a Microsoft report from last year.

Altogether, the pandemic factors took a problem and turned it into a crisis. Microsoft saw the number of meetings made through Microsoft Teams double by the end of 2020, and things only got worse from there.

At some point, the number of total meetings became so overwhelming that the workforce started to hit a “paradoxical tipping point,” according to Allen, who runs the Center for Meeting Effectiveness. Allen’s research had previously found that while meetings contributed to feelings of burnout, stress, and anxiety, they also had some benefits, like a rise in employee engagement, commitment, and even job satisfaction.

But after the pandemic, something shifted. As the amount of time people spent in meetings crept ever higher, Allen noticed that the benefits started to drop off while the negatives only worsened. The meeting crisis had crossed some new chasm, and the numbers were not coming down.

Allen had started researching meetings at the end of the 2000s as a graduate student at University of North Carolina at Charlotte. Studying factors like voice behavior, he had tried to better understand what differentiated more satisfying and effective meetings from ones where people check out. What he found was that meeting load, the term for the amount of time people were spending in meetings, “was affecting everything” else, he said.

For a long time, very few people expressed much interest in Allen’s chosen field of research. “Nobody really cared what I did,” he said. “It was kind of frustrating that I would do all the science and all this research, and nobody was really contacting me.”

Since the pandemic, that has changed. The field of meeting science has become a hot topic as companies attempt to reverse the trend. Companies are more often asking meeting organizers to justify taking away people’s time by explaining why an email or a few Slack messages wouldn’t suffice. Some are adding meeting etiquette to their performance reviews, according to Allen. Microsoft has found evidence that people are more often opting for more 15- or 25-minute meetings. One Michigan-based startup helps companies set-up “one-way” job interviews, in which an applicant records an “asynchronous recorded video” that employees can review on their own time. (“You’ll never have to schedule a 'time to talk' again,” the company says.)

Curriculum Associates, a Massachusetts education company, last year went so far as to offer Apple watches to employees who reduced the amount of time they spend in meetings the most.

Like a growing number of people, CEO Sam Liang believes that the issues with meetings can be solved through technological innovation. His AI transcription company,, began as a way to help people transcribe and search audio files in hopes of improving people’s recall. But he came to see meetings as one of the more significant arenas where our memories fail us. How often do people walk out of an hour-long meeting, only to forget the specifics of what they had just heard or discussed?

Liang started to focus more of his company’s efforts around making meetings work better, developing features that can summarize the meeting for people who don’t attend, break it down into topics for people to easily refer back to relevant portions, and find out in live time if your name is mentioned. The company has even created a chat feature that allows you to ask specific questions about what occurred during the meeting. (Other companies, including Microsoft, have developed similar features. Microsoft has invested billions in the AI company OpenAI in recent years.)

The tweaks have made it possible, Liang claims, for him to bounce between two meetings by reading two live transcripts at the same time without attending all of either one of them. If his name is mentioned in one, he can jump in quickly, and then back out again.  Or he can simply opt out altogether and read a summary afterward.

While it might seem rude—and, to this reporter, a little maddening—Liang believes his willingness to skip meetings or leave early (and then come back) is part of a cultural reset at the company. His message to employees is not to feel bad if you want to leave a meeting before the organizer says it’s done. The transcription and summary will always be there later.

TheSoul Publishing, a digital media company based in Cyprus, has gone even further by instituting a near-ban on meetings. The company had considered a ban only on certain days, but deduced that that would only shift “the burden of meetings to other days, effectively compressing the same amount of disruption into a narrower time frame,” said Aleksandra Sulimko, the company’s head of human resources. The steps required at TheSoul to move forward with a meeting in spite of these restrictions can feel onerous. Employees must follow a two-page manual and “extremely strict protocol” that includes attempting to first “resolve the issue” through Slack or other asynchronous means, then craft “a plan and agenda for the conversation.” Requests to attend must come at least 24 hours in advance, and most meetings are limited to two people talking for 30 minutes.

Inspired by his own annoyance, Laker had himself started to research the rise of meetings after the pandemic, hoping to discover what, if anything, could be done to improve the situation. He ended up taking a particular interest in the effects of meeting-free days at companies like TheSoul Publishing.

His team surveyed 1,000 people across 76 companies that had instituted at least one meeting-free day a week. What they found was that employees responded positively across all metrics if they didn't allow meetings for three days a week. They were more engaged, cooperated better, felt more productive and satisfied. When meetings were banned entirely, stress levels went down and, ironically, communication got better, employees said.

However, some of the advantages started to wane if too many meeting-free days were instituted. Employee satisfaction started to dip if only one meeting day was allowed, and cooperation, productivity, and engagement all dropped off if meetings were banned every day of the week. In 2022, Laker’s team summarized their findings in an article in the MIT Sloan Management Review. It became the site’s second most read article that year, after research into factor s that were precipitating the Great Resignation.

To many of the experts I spoke with, the point is not that all meetings are bad, just bad meetings. No one wants a performance review over Slack. Getting together to solve a tangible problem can be beneficial. Rogelberg went so far as to call a top-down ban on meetings “nonsensical” and unproductive, comparing it to attempting a crash diet in order to lose weight.

“We know that that doesn't work,” he said.

Rather, experts like Rogelberg hope to promote healthy meeting habits.  “That requires work and effort,” said Rogelberg. Step one, said Rogelberg, is for leadership to recognize the problem and empower someone to own a cultural reset. Step two is to ask yourself why the meeting is happening. Does it have a purpose? Does it require in-person collaboration, or could it be an email? How much time do you really need? Who actually needs to be there?

Step three is to remain diligent. Dave DuBois, who led the meeting changes at Curriculum Associates, has come to see meetings as something akin to gardening. He tries to constantly prune his schedule, searching for meetings that can be plucked off each week.

“Without that constant attention and focus, it's easy to slip back into having a day jammed with meetings again,” he said.

But none of that matters if companies can’t regain something that appears to be in increasingly short supply these days: trust. The answer to the corporate meeting crisis might not lie in AI, jumping between two meetings, all-out bans, prizes, or a shaving a few minutes here and there, so much as in figuring out how people—and specifically managers—can learn to trust everyone using their time well without sending a calendar invite.

Laker, for one, felt relieved when he discovered that it wasn’t just him that had become so irritated by an increasingly indulgent meeting. But during his research, he has come to believe that meetings’ bad reputation has gone too far. “I think people can love meetings again,” he said. “It's about understanding the purpose.”

Categories: Tech News

The Clorox Company admits cyberattack causing 'widescale disruption'

The Register - Tue, 09/19/2023 - 05:15
Back to 'manual' order processing for $7B household cleaning biz, financial impact will be 'material'

The Clorox Company, makers of bleach and other household cleaning products, doesn't expect operations to return to normal until near month end as it combs over "widescale disruption to operations" caused by cyber baddies.…

Categories: Tech News

A One-Year-Old New York Boy Died of a Suspected Fentanyl Overdose at His Daycare

Motherboard (Vice) - Tue, 09/19/2023 - 04:42

A New York City daycare operator and her tenant have been charged with depraved indifference murder after police said a one-year-old boy died of a suspected fentanyl overdose on the weekend. 

Grei Mendez, 36, and Carlisto Brito, 41, are both facing murder charges as well as drug possession charges in connection with the death of Nicholas Dominici, who was at the Divino Nino Daycare in the Bronx. 

According to the complaint, three other children—two two-year-old boys and an eight-month old girl were also “poisoned by exposure” to fentanyl. The complaint said one kilogram of fentanyl was found inside a hallway closet in the daycare along with a kilogram press device, used to package drugs. An additional press was allegedly found in Brito’s room. 

Chief of Detectives Joseph Kenny said three of the children were unresponsive at the daycare and were given naloxone, the opioid overdose antidote, when authorities were called to the scene. Earlier in the day, he said, another two-year-old boy was “acting lethargic and unresponsive” after coming home from the daycare and was given naloxone at the hospital. 

Only the girl’s urine test has come back positive for fentanyl so far; toxicology reports for the three boys are still being processed. New York police said the case is still under investigation. Dominici’s official cause of death hasn’t been released. 

“My heart is broken,” Dominici’s father Otoniel Feliz told the New York Daily News. “I have no words to express how I’m feeling now. Nobody expects to send your kids to a safe place … and next you have a phone call saying ‘Your child has died.’ Every time I return home, he’s waiting for me at the door. It’s hard to come home yesterday and don’t see him over there.”

While the situation is very tragic, both Mayor Eric Adams and Ashwin Vasan, commissioner of the city’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, repeated incorrect information about how people can overdose on fentanyl, according to experts. 

“A small child—not someone we would think would be at risk of interacting with opioids—has come into contact with a powerful substance which can through either inhalation, ingestion or in touching of the skin, intoxicate the recipient,” said Vasan. 

Adams said the situation is “a real wake‑up call for individuals who have opioids or fentanyl in their homes. The mere contact is deadly for an adult and it's extremely deadly for a child.” 

However, a person cannot overdose from simply touching fentanyl, experts say. It has to be consumed. 

“To prevent future tragedies we need to better inform people about drugs, including how to prevent and treat overdoses. Small children are at risk for putting things in their mouths and ingesting them. Skin contact with illicit fentanyl powder is not a risk of overdose nor is breathing air near it, and to continue pushing that narrative instead of accurate information does a disservice to everyone,” said Dr. Ryan Marino, medical director of toxicology and addiction medicine at University Hospitals in Cleveland. 

Mendez’s lawyer Andres Aranda told CBS News he doesn’t believe she was “involved in what happened.” 

"She just didn't know. She rented a room to somebody, and she didn't know what was going on," he said. 

Leo Beletsky, a Northeastern University professor of law and health sciences, told VICE News the murder charges being faced by the defendants is unusual. 

“If what police allege is true and the daycare operators were using the very same premises to press illicit  fentanyl… that certainly shows egregious disregard for the welfare of the children under their care,” he said. “There are numerous legal tools to hold people commensurate with such actions. A murder charge is not.” 

Mendez and Brito are due back in court on Sept 21 and Sept 22, respectively.

Categories: Tech News

Schneider Electric warns that existing datacenters aren't buff enough for AI

The Register - Tue, 09/19/2023 - 04:32
You're going to need liquid-cooled servers, 415V PDUs, two-ton racks, and plenty of software management

The infrastructure behind popular AI workloads is so demanding that Schneider Electric has suggested it may be time to reevaluate the way we build datacenters.…

Categories: Tech News

GitHub Copilot, Amazon Code Whisperer sometimes emit other people's API keys

The Register - Tue, 09/19/2023 - 03:45
AI dev assistants can be convinced to spill secrets learned during training

GitHub Copilot and Amazon CodeWhisper can be coaxed to emit hardcoded credentials that these AI models captured during training, though not all that often.…

Categories: Tech News

UK courts award CGI £60M deal to keep ancient tech alive

The Register - Tue, 09/19/2023 - 03:00
Legacy - sorry 'heritage' - support contract includes case managements systems

The UK courts have awarded CGI a contract worth up to £60 million ($74.2 million) to keep its "heritage application" up and running after the much-delayed implementation of a new case management system.…

Categories: Tech News

Ubuntu's 'Mantic Minotaur' peeks out of the labyrinth

The Register - Tue, 09/19/2023 - 02:15
As outline becomes visible, including the return of ZFS, kernel 6.4 glides across the Styx into eternity

The next release of Ubuntu will appear in mid-October, and the latest daily builds reveal some of the features of the forthcoming interim release.…

Categories: Tech News

BT confirms it's switching off 3G in UK from Jan next year

The Register - Tue, 09/19/2023 - 01:30
Time to retire that Nokia N97 at last?

BT has updated the schedule to phase out 3G services from its networks a little later than planned, saying this will now start early next year.…

Categories: Tech News