Category Archives: Tech

The Battle For Net Neutrality Is In Full Effect

By: Jake Johnson of Common Dreams

“The FCC under Pai is handing over the internet to a few humongous gatekeepers who see the rest of us as products to be delivered to advertisers, not as citizens needing communications that serve democracy’s needs.”

Open internet advocates warned that “we’re running out of time” to save the web from corporate control and called on Americans to make their representatives’ phones “ring off the hook” Tuesday after FCC chairman Ajit Pai unveiled (pdf) his long-awaited plan to scrap net neutrality that critics slammed as “naked corporatism” designed to give a major gift to the telecom industry at the expense of the public.

“The reckless wrecking ball strikes again,” former FCC commissioner and current special adviser at Common Cause Michael Copps said in a statement. “FCC Chairman Ajit Pai’s scorched-earth plan for net neutrality displays callous disregard for both process and substance. The chairman’s plan to do away with net neutrality will be a disaster for consumers and yet another handout for big business.”

Matt Wood, policy director at Free Press, said Pai’s plan “makes no sense” for a variety of key reasons.

“It ignores the will of people from across the political spectrum who overwhelmingly support these protections. It ignores the law and the courts, which have repeatedly upheld the 2015 Title II rules. And it ignores the vibrancy of the internet marketplace following adoption of that 2015 order, with incontrovertible economic data showing that both investment in networks and online innovation are flourishing under the very same rules Pai wants to destroy,” Wood said.

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15 States Join Global Alliance To Phase Out Coal

By: Nina Chestney and Stine Jacobsen of Reuters

At least 15 countries have joined an international alliance to phase out coal from power generation before 2030, delegates at U.N. climate talks in Bonn said on Thursday.

Britain, Canada, Denmark, Finland, Italy, France, the Netherlands, Portugal, Belgium, Switzerland, New Zealand, Ethiopia, Mexico and the Marshall Islands have joined the Powering Past Coal Alliance, delegates said.

The alliance aims to have 50 members by the next U.N. climate summit in 2018 to be held in Poland’s Katowice, one of Europe’s most polluted cities.

But some of the world’s biggest coal users, such as China, the United States, Germany and Russia, have not signed up.

Powering Past Coal comes just days after U.S. administration officials, along with energy company representatives, led a side event at the talks to promote “fossil fuels and nuclear power in climate mitigation.”

The event triggered a peaceful protest by anti-coal demonstrators and jarred with many ministers who are working on a rule book for implementing the 2015 Paris Agreement, which aims to move the world economy off fossil fuels.

The alliance was kicked off by Britain, Canada and the Marshall Islands, who urged other nations to join them in a letter seen by Reuters on Wednesday.

A source close to the matter said signatories to the alliance so far had been at least a dozen, in addition to some U.S. states, Canadian provinces and businesses.

“It is a rebuke to (President) Donald Trump from the UK and Canada, two of America’s closest allies, that his obsession for dirty energy will not spread,” said Mohamed Adow, international climate lead at Christian Aid.

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Countries Are Using Digital Disinformation To Manipulate Public Opinion

By: Alex Hern of The Guardian

The governments of 30 countries around the globe are using armies of so called opinion shapers to meddle in elections, advance anti-democratic agendas and repress their citizens, a new report shows.

Unlike widely reported Russian attempts to influence foreign elections, most of the offending countries use the internet to manipulate opinion domestically, says US NGO Freedom House.

“Manipulation and disinformation tactics played an important role in elections in at least 17 other countries over the past year, damaging citizens’ ability to choose their leaders based on factual news and authentic debate,” the US government-funded charity said. “Although some governments sought to support their interests and expand their influence abroad, as with Russia’s disinformation campaigns in the United States and Europe, in most cases they used these methods inside their own borders to maintain their hold on power.”

Even in those countries that didn’t have elections in the last year, social media manipulation was still frequent. Of the 65 countries surveyed, 30, including Venezuela, the Philippines and Turkey, were found to be using “armies of opinion shapers” to “spread government views, drive particular agendas, and counter government critics on social media”, according to Freedom House’s new Freedom on the Net report. In each of the 30 countries it found “strong indications that individuals are paid to distort the digital information landscape in the government’s favour, without acknowledging sponsorship”.

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Research Claims Earthquakes Due to Water and Oil Water Pumping

By: Jim Scott of Colorado University

A rash of earthquakes in southern Colorado and northern New Mexico recorded between 2008 and 2010 was likely due to fluids pumped deep underground during oil and gas wastewater disposal, says a new CU Boulder study.

The study, which took place in the 2,200-square-mile Raton Basin along the central-Colorado northern New Mexico border, found more than 1,800 earthquakes up to magnitude 4.3 during that period, linking most to wastewater injection well activity. Such wells are used to pump water back in the ground after it has been extracted during the collection of methane gas from

subterranean coal beds.

One key piece of the new study was the use of hydrogeological modeling of pore pressure in what is called the “basement rock” of the Raton Basin—rock several miles deep that underlies the oldest stratified layers. Pore pressure is the fluid pressure within rock fractures and rock pores.

While two previous studies have linked earthquakes in the Raton Basin to wastewater injection wells, this is the first to show that elevated pore pressures deep underground are well above earthquake-triggering thresholds, said CU Boulder doctoral student Jenny Nakai, lead study author. The northern edges of the Raton Basin border Trinidad, Colorado, and Raton, New Mexico.

“We have shown for the first time a plausible causative mechanism for these earthquakes,” said Nakai of the Department of Geological Sciences. “The spatial patterns of seismicity we observed are reflected in the distribution of wastewater injection and our modeled pore pressure change.”

A paper on the study was published in the Journal of Geophysical Research: Solid Earth. Co-authors on the study include CU Boulder professors Anne Sheehan and Shemin Ge of geological sciences, former CU Boulder doctoral student Matthew Weingarten, now a postdoctoral fellow at Stanford University, and Professor Susan Bilek of the New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology in Socorro.

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Syria Signs The Paris Climate Agreement Leaving U.S.A As The Only Country Out

By: Akshat Rathi of QZ

It’s everyone against the United States of America.

When Donald Trump announced that he intends to pull out of the Paris climate agreement, the implication was that the US would join Syria and Nicaragua as the only non-signatories of the accord. The other holdouts had legitimate excuses: Syria was in the middle of a war and Nicaragua thought the agreement wasn’t ambitious enough.

Now, both countries have had a change of heart.

At the climate talks in Bonn, Germany today (Nov. 7), the Syrian government announced that it will sign the Paris climate agreement after all, according to Climate Tracker. Last month, Nicaragua also signed up. That leaves the US as the only country opting not to be part of the global consensus on climate action.

The Paris climate agreement sets out a goal to stop global temperatures from rising more than 2°C above pre-industrial levels, a crucial threshold above which dangerous changes to the climate are likely irreversible. This requires the world to achieve net zero greenhouse-gas emissions by about 2050.

The climate accord lets each country determine its own plan of action. As per current commitments, even if Trump were to change his mind and re-engage the US in climate action, the total reduction in global emissions would still warm the planet beyond the 2°C threshold. In Bonn, countries are trying to figure out ways to work together to ensure we don’t cross that threshold.

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New Republican Tax Plan Will Kill Electric Vehicle Incentive 

By: Jonathan M. Gitlin of Ars Technica 

The nascent market for electric cars will suffer a big setback if the Republican tax plan released on Thursday enters into law. Among the changes to the current tax code would be an end to the Plug-In Electric Drive Vehicle Credit. That’s the tax incentive that currently means up to $7,500 back from the IRS when you purchase a new battery or plug-in hybrid electric vehicle.

Personal EV incentives gone

Since the start of 2010, the EV tax credit has been $2,500 for a plug-in vehicle with at least 5kWh battery capacity. Every extra kWh nets another $417 up to a maximum of $7,500, although you would need at least that amount in income tax liability—the IRS won’t cut you a check to make up the full amount. It was never meant to be permanent; once an automaker sells 200,000 qualifying vehicles (starting from January 1, 2010) its eligibility is phased out over a matter of months.

But in the almost seven years since, no one has reached that limit yet. Tesla will almost certainly be first, with General Motors not far behind; between them, they’ve sold a lot of Model Ses and Chevrolet Volts. If this tax plan is enacted, it will surely mean pain for both companies, as well as anyone else hoping to sell a lot of EVs here in the US. The data is pretty clear—tax incentives sell electric cars, and the market for EVs can dry up very fast when they’re abolished, as Georgia’s recent experience shows.

GM told Ars that “tax credits are an important customer benefit that can help accelerate the acceptance of electric vehicles. Because General Motors believes in an all-electric future, we will work with Congress to explore ways to maintain this incentive.” Tesla was not immediately available for comment.

Renewables for investors not so bad

Things aren’t quite as bad on the renewable energy side. There are new incentives to invest in small-scale wind, geothermal, solar, or fuel cell energy properties, and others have been extended. The nuclear industry also gets an extension on a tax incentive that was meant to expire in 2021. But the wind industry won’t be happy. Currently, wind power qualifies for a 2.3 cents/kWh credit; under the new scheme this would be just 1.5c/kWh.
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Mobile Game Goes Viral Clapping For Xi Jinping 

By: Cheang Ming of CNBC 

Chinese tech giant Tencent’s newest hit game wants you to applaud President Xi Jinping’s nearly three-and-a-half hour Communist Party congress address.

Called “Excellent Speech: Clap for Xi Jinping,” a new mobile game from the tech behemoth asks users to “clap” for the Chinese leader by tapping on their screens as many times as they can in a span of 19 seconds. Users are first played a short snippet of Xi’s hours-long speech before they are allowed to show their appreciation by “clapping.”

The game had been played more than 400 million times by Wednesday evening in China, according to What’s on Weibo, an online outlet that tracks social media trends on the mainland. On messaging service WeChat, users claimed they had “clapped” some 1,695 times during the game, What’s on Weibo reported.

As of 3:05 p.m. HK/SIN on Thursday, a counter on the landing page of the game showed users had given Xi a total of more than a billion “claps.”

Xi’s speech on Wednesday touched on many issues, including a new era of “socialism with Chinese characteristics” and the progress of his highly-publicized anti-graft campaign.

The president also addressed the topic of economic reform in the world’s second-largest economy — which some believe might not necessarily be carried out anytime soon.

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Echo Dot Just Got 4wheel Drive 

By: Valentina Palladino of Arstechnica 

At a recent Amazon event, the company announced BMW would integrate Alexa into its 2018 models. It’s no secret that Amazon wants to stick Alexa anywhere and everywhere it can, and BMW is only the beginning. The latest company to announce a collaboration with Amazon is Garmin: the wearable and navigation device manufacturer revealed the new Garmin Speak today, a small disk-like device that installs on your windshield and brings Alexa voice commands into your car.

Describing the Garmin Speak device as “disk-like” is the polite way of drawing a comparison between it and Amazon’s Echo Dot speaker. Essentially, the Garmin Speak is a smaller, 1.5-inch-wide version of the Echo Dot, complete with a circular, glowing blue LED status light. Inside that circle is an OLED display that will show arrows, icons, and numbers as it provides audible turn-by-turn directions. The Garmin Speak comes with a windshield mount, making it a device you could easily confuse for a dash cam with just a quick glance.

But the Garmin Speak does not have the essential outward-facing camera like dash cams do. Instead, the device is solely a home for Garmin Speak software and Amazon’s Alexa. As with any other Alexa-toting device, you can summon Alexa with your voice through the Garmin Speak, asking for news, weather, sports, and other updates. You can also use Alexa to ignore or accept phone calls, and you can also control music search and playback so you can ask to hear a new song, artist, or genre without taking your hands off the wheel or eyes off the road. Alexa’s smart home controls work when you’re in the car as well, so you can ask Alexa to turn on your lights before you pull into your driveway.

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USA To Finally Battle Japan In Giant Robot Fight 

By: James Vincent of the Verge 

We’ve been waiting a long time to see the “world’s first giant robot duel,” and next week we’ll finally get to watch the metal-on-metal action. If you’ve forgotten the background, all the way back in July 2015 a US team of engineers (MegaBots Inc.) challenged their Japanese rivals (Suidobashi Heavy Industry) to a fight, but the difficulty in finding a venue and upgrading the robots has delayed the bout. Well, next Tuesday, October 17th at 7PM PT, the duel will finally be streamed on Twitch for all to see.

It won’t be a live event though. In a press release, MegaBots Inc, said that the duel consisted of “multiple rounds of fighting,” and that in order to give the teams time to repair their bots, the rounds were spread out over several days. This meant the fight “could not be livestreamed like a traditional sport.” The duel was held in an abandoned steel mill in Japan, with no spectators beyond the two sets of engineers. Commentary was provided by Mike Goldberg of the MMA and robotics expert Saura Naderi.

Over email, MegaBots’ Gui Cavalcanti explained that the duel was fought on a knockout system, with no point scoring involved. Victory is attained by either knocking over or disabling your opponent (or, if they surrender), with the weight, power, size, and weapons of the bots “left to each individual team.” Cavalcanti adds, though, that the weapons were chosen “to not cut through metal, but instead to damage it.”

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Fox Spends 400M To Broadcast WorldCup But U.S.A’s Team Will Not Be Participating

By: Alan O’Brian

It was a bad, bad night for the United States of America – as President Donald Trump would probably have put it.

For the first time since 1986 the country’s national men’s side failed to qualify for the World Cup.

Heading into their final qualifier against Trinidad and Tobago on Tuesday night, the USA simply had to avoid losing or else their fate would be out of their hands.

But it was not to be as Bruce Arena’s men succumbed to a 2-1 defeat at the hands of their Caribbean opponents.

This would have been fine if both Panama and Honduras had lost too, but unfortunately the former took down Costa Rica while the latter beat Mexico.
For some certain individuals in America, though, the ignominy of missing out on football’s central showpiece will be considerably greater than for others.

Indeed, Murdoch-owned broadcaster Fox, whose news arm have courted controversy after a string of sexual harassment cases, paid a staggering $400m for the rights to broadcast the 2018 World Cup.

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