Category Archives: Tech

Plastic To Fuel

By: Luke Dormehl of Digital Trends

To achieve this, they have pioneered a new chemical conversion process, capable of converting more than 90 percent of polyolefin waste — the polymer behind widely used plastic polyethylene — into high-quality gasoline or diesel-like fuel. The results could be a game-changer.

“We have developed a method to convert polyolefin waste, which include Type 2 (HDPE), Type 4 (LDPE and LLDPE), and Type 5 (PP), into various useful products,” Nien-Hwa Linda Wang, a professor in Purdue’s Davidson School of Chemical Engineering, told Digital Trends. “The conversion is achieved using subcritical or supercritical water, which can convert plastic waste into oil, fuels, or gas, depending on the processing conditions. Some impurities in the plastic waste is converted into oil or extracted into the processing water. Both conversion and extraction are achieved in the same process.”

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Opportunity Stop Answering and Now We May Lowe It Forever

By: Eric Berger of Arstechnica

Late Tuesday night, scientists at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory sent their final data uplink to the Opportunity rover on Mars. Over this connection, via the Deep Space Network, the American jazz singer Billie Holiday crooned “I’ll Be Seeing You,” a song that closes with the lines:

I’ll find you in the morning sun
And when the night is new
I’ll be looking at the moon
But I’ll be seeing you

The scientists waited to hear some response from their long-silent rover, which had been engulfed in a global dust storm last June, likely coating its solar panels in a fatal layer of dust. Since then, the team of scientists and engineers has sent more than 835 commands, hoping the rover will wake up from its long slumber—that perhaps winds on Mars might have blown off some of the dust that covered the panels.

So on Tuesday night, they listened. They reminisced. But in the end, no response came. Opportunity would finally be declared dead on Sol 5352, as in five thousand, three hundred, and fifty-two days on Mars. NASA is expected to make it official at 2pm ET Wednesday, when NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine and the chief of the agency’s science division, Thomas Zurbuchen, convene a news conference.

Opportunity landed on Mars more than 15 Earth years ago, on January 25, 2004. So much time has passed since then. Facebook would not be created until a month later. YouTube would not get its first video upload for more than a year. George W. Bush was still in his first presidential term. NASA’s Cassini spacecraft had not yet even arrived in the Saturn system.

And yet from that moment on, Opportunity and its sister rover Spirit began plugging along the surface of Mars. Originally designed for 90-day lifetimes, the rovers persisted. Spirit lasted until 2010, when its batteries were unable to keep the spacecraft’s critical components from freezing.

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Judge Rules Feds Can’t Force Anyone to Open Their Phones With Their Faces or Fingers

By: Thomas Brewster

A California judge has ruled that American cops can’t force people to unlock a mobile phone with their face or finger. The ruling goes further to protect people’s private lives from government searches than any before and is being hailed as a potentially landmark decision.

Previously, U.S. judges had ruled that police were allowed to force unlock devices like Apple’s iPhone with biometrics, such as fingerprints, faces or irises. That was despite the fact feds weren’t permitted to force a suspect to divulge a passcode. But according to a ruling uncovered by Forbes, all logins are equal.

The order came from the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California in the denial of a search warrant for an unspecified property in Oakland. The warrant was filed as part of an investigation into a Facebook extortion crime, in which a victim was asked to pay up or have an “embarassing” video of them publicly released. The cops had some suspects in mind and wanted to raid their property. In doing so, the feds also wanted to open up any phone on the premises via facial recognition, a fingerprint or an iris.

While the judge agreed that investigators had shown probable cause to search the property, they didn’t have the right to open all devices inside by forcing unlocks with biometric features.

On the one hand, magistrate judge Kandis Westmore ruled the request was “overbroad” as it was “neither limited to a particular person nor a particular device.” 

But in a more significant part of the ruling, Judge Westmore declared that the government did not have the right, even with a warrant, to force suspects to incriminate themselves by unlocking their devices with their biological features. Previously, courts had decided biometric features, unlike passcodes, were not “testimonial.” That was because a suspect would have to willingly and verbally give up a passcode, which is not the case with biometrics. A password was therefore deemed testimony, but body parts were not, and so not granted Fifth Amendment protections against self-incrimination.

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Gene Editing The Next Social Divide

By: Emma Court

Gene editing is one of the most promising new approaches to treating human diseases today. 

It also raises “enormous” ethical questions, Bill Gates recently warned, and “could make inequity worse, especially if it is available only for wealthy people.” 

“I am surprised that these issues haven’t generated more attention from the general public,” he said in a December blog post, adding that “this might be the most important public debate we haven’t been having widely enough.” 

Gene editing allows scientists to make powerful, precise changes to a person’s DNA, typically to fix a defective gene.

Ethical concerns about what the approach might be used for have long existed, but it came to a boil recently when a Chinese researcher said he had played a role in creating the first genetically edited babies. 

Gene editing has already taken place in humans in the US as a one-time treatment for disease. But unlike those efforts, the Chinese scientist’s work would allow genetic changes to be passed down to other generations. It quickly sparked backlash, with many researchers describing the project as concerning and unethical. 

Gates’ warning, released as part of the billionaire philanthropist’s 2018 wrap-up, appears to have been prompted by that recent news. 

“I agree with those who say this scientist went too far,” Gates said. “But something good can come from his work if it encourages more people to learn and talk about gene editing.”

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Climate Change Deniers Are Becoming A Danger To Society

By: Jennifer Rubin

Imagine during the Cold War that one political party, in the face of overwhelming evidence that the Soviet Union was engaged in espionage against the United States, had a nuclear arsenal pointed at the United States, kept Eastern Europe under its thumb and imprisoned dissenters, refused to consider the Soviet Union a danger — of any sort — to the United States or other Western democracies. And they would offer no credible evidence to the contrary, but rather assert that it was all a hoax. Besides, they’d insist (with no evidence) that it was too expensive to address the challenge posed by the Soviet Union, a danger which they claimed didn’t exist (So how expensive could it be? Don’t ask!). Actually, you don’t have to imagine this scenario. Many on the left have made arguments along these lines, and many on the right have responded by saying they were fuzzy-headed, in denial or captive of interest groups.

That is essentially what is going on, only with the parties flipped, in the climate-change debate. Climate-change denial has become as necessary to one’s right-wing identity as aversion to immigration, opposition to most abortions and a disbelief that sexual harassment and assault are widespread. Just as rejecting geopolitical reality became a requirement of inclusion in far-left circles, climate-change denial is a must for those who want to remain in the Trump fold.

On what basis do they deny climate change? President Trump says he knows a lot about science, so believe him instead of all the scientists who work for the federal government. Others seek refuge in the fantasy that there is reasonable doubt as to the existence of climate change or the severity of the problem, citing fringe characters without expertise on the subject. Those who know better or suspect climate-change denial is irrational (but are too cowardly to confront know-nothings who dominate the party) are willing to string along with the mob, even at the expense of endangering the country and the planet. Republican senators from Florida and Texas, where their constituents’ lives and property are threatened by the rising sea levels that result from rising temperatures, won’t admit the origin of the problem. They simply want bailout money each time another disaster strikes.

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Cyberbullying Now Punishable By Jail Time

By: Lee Devito

We’ve got bad news for you, Metro Timestrolls: Cyberbullying is now a crime in Michigan. 

On Thursday, Gov. Rick Snyder signed into law a bill sponsored by Rep. Pete Lucido, R-Shelby Township that formally defines cyberbullying as a misdemeanor crime punishable by 93 days in jail and a $500 fine. Public Act 457 of 2018 will take effect in March.

According to the law, a “pattern of repeated harassment” is a felony punishable by up to five years in prison and a $5,000 fine. Meanwhile, cyberbullying that is found to cause a victim’s death is punishable by up to 10 years in prison and a $10,000 fine.

According to Lucido’s bill, “cyberbullying” is defined by “posting a message or statement in a public media forum about any other person” if both “the message or statement is intended to place a person in fear of bodily harm or death and expresses an intent to commit violence against the person” and “the message or statement is posted with the intent to communicate a threat or with knowledge that it will be viewed as a threat.”

A “pattern of harassing or intimidating behavior” means a series of two or more separate noncontinuous acts of harassing or intimidating behavior. And a “public media forum” refers to “the internet or any other medium designed or intended to be used to convey information to other individuals, regardless of whether a membership or password is required to view the information.”

“Cyberbullying can cause just as much trauma as traditional bullying so it’s important that it be considered a crime,” Snyder said in a statement. “With this bill, we are sending a message that bullying of any kind is not tolerated in Michigan.”

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Elon Musk Explains What Fuels Him

By: CNBC

Elon Musk has become infamous for his extreme work schedule.

When he was ramping up production of the Model 3 Tesla, he put in as many as 120 hours in a week. He slept at the factory because he had no time to go home. He called 2018 “the most difficult and painful year of my career.” “[I]t was excruciating,” he told The New York Times.

In late October Musk finally said he was working a much more manageable schedule of 80 to 90 hours a week.

This from a man who is already worth more than $20 billion, according to Forbes.

So why does Musk push himself? To hear Musk tell it, he is trying to save planet Earth. Literally. Musk wants Tesla to be successful so the world moves away from driving cars that run on petroleum-derived fuel.

“Tesla is incredibly important for the future of sustainable transport and energy generation. The fundamental purpose, the fundamental good that Tesla provides is accelerating the advent of sustainable transport and energy production,” Musk said told Recode’s Kara Swisher. “The success of Tesla is, by far, the biggest forcing function for the other car makers to get into … electric cars.”

Providing alternative methods for mass transportation that do not depend on petroleum-derived fuel is key to slowing global warming.

“Yes. It’s very important for the future of the world. It’s very important for all life on Earth. This supersedes political parties, race, creed, religion, it doesn’t matter. If we do not solve the environment, we’re all damned,” Musk told Swisher.

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White House Wants to End Some Eco Based Subsidies

By: Reuters

White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow said on Monday the Trump administration wants to end subsidies for electric cars and other items, including renewable energy sources.

Asked about plans after General Motors Co (GM.N) announced U.S. plant closings and layoffs last week, Kudlow pointed to the $2,500-to-$7,500 tax credit for consumers who buy plug-in electric vehicles, including those made by GM, under federal law.

“As a matter of our policy, we want to end all of those subsidies,” Kudlow said. “And by the way, other subsidies that were imposed during the Obama administration, we are ending, whether it’s for renewables and so forth.” 

Asked about a timeline, he said: “It’s just all going to end in the near future. I don’t know whether it will end in 2020 or 2021.”

The tax credits are capped by Congress at 200,000 vehicles per manufacturer, after which the subsidy phases out. GM has said it expects to hit the threshold by the end of 2018, which means under the current law, its tax credit scheme would end in 2020. Tesla Inc (TSLA.O) said in July it had hit the threshold. Other automakers may not hit the cap for several years. 

Experts say the White House cannot change the cap unilaterally. U.S. President Donald Trump last week threatened to eliminate subsidies for GM in retaliation for the company’s decision.

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Is Gerrymandering Killing Democracy?

By: Zachery Roth of Daily Beast

Thousands of would-be voters at risk of being disenfranchised by ultra-strict registration rules. A draconian ID law that could keep Native Americans from the polls en masse. New measures targeting voting by college students. A Hispanic-majority city that moved its lone polling place out of town. 

As the 2018 campaign nears its end, experts who track voter suppression saythis is the worst it’s been in the modern era. In fact, making it harder to vote, especially for racial minorities, now appears to be—with the possible exception of stoking fear over a group of desperate migrants still about 700 miles from the Texas border—the single most important plank of the GOP’s strategy.

Aside from likely giving Republicans an undeserved boost in several key races, the drive to restrict voting has reached a scale that should raise serious questions about the democratic legitimacy of our elections. And alongside the extreme Republican gerrymander—currently the only reason why the party has even an outside shot at holding onto the House—it represents a massive structural obstacle to Democrats ever achieving the power their popular support deserves. In other words, Republicans can only win by rigging the game. 

Georgia has grabbed many of the headlines. Secretary of State Brian Kemp reportedly put around 53,000 registrations—70 percent of them from African-Americans—on pending status because of minor discrepancies with the information on state records.

The difference could be as trivial as a misplaced hyphen or a missing middle initial. Those on pending status are supposed to still be able to vote by showing ID, and two late-breaking court rulings softening some of the rules may help. But given the likely level of confusion that’s been kicked up, how it all will play out is anyone’s guess.

Kemp also has aggressively purged Georgia’s voter rolls, raising serious concerns that eligible voters have been wrongly removed. Since 2016, he has scrapped over one in 10 names. And in the four years before that, he purged 1.5 million, twice as many as in the previous four years.

The likely chief beneficiary of these strict policies? That would be Kemp himself, the Republican locked in that super-tight race with Democrat Stacey Abrams, who’s bidding to be the nation’s first ever female African-American governor. Oh, and just for good measure, back in 2014 Kemp, on flimsy evidence, launched an aggressive investigation into a voter registration group serving mostly minority voters that Abrams had founded, significantly stymieing the group’s work.

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Swedes Receiving Tech Injections

By: NPR

Technology continues to get closer and closer to our bodies, from the phones in our pockets to the smartwatches on our wrists. Now, for some people, it’s getting under their skin.

In Sweden, a country rich with technological advancement, thousands have had microchips inserted into their hands.

The chips are designed to speed up users’ daily routines and make their lives more convenient — accessing their homes, offices and gyms is as easy as swiping their hands against digital readers.

They also can be used to store emergency contact details, social media profiles or e-tickets for events and rail journeys within Sweden.

Proponents of the tiny chips say they’re safe and largely protected from hacking, but one scientist is raising privacy concerns around the kind of personal health data that might be stored on the devices.

Around the size of a grain of rice, the chips typically are inserted into the skin just above each user’s thumb, using a syringe similar to that used for giving vaccinations. The procedure costs about $180.

So many Swedes are lining up to get the microchips that the country’s main chipping company says it can’t keep up with the number of requests.

More than 4,000 Swedes have adopted the technology, with one company, Biohax International, dominating the market. The chipping firm was started five years ago by Jowan Osterlund, a former professional body piercer.

After spending the past two years working full time on the project, he is currently developing training materials so he can hire Swedish doctors and nurses to help take on some of his heavy workload.

“Having different cards and tokens verifying your identity to a bunch of different systems just doesn’t make sense,” he says. “Using a chip means that the hyper-connected surroundings that you live in every day can be streamlined.”

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