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Operating Systems

Contiki 3.0 Released, Retains Support For Apple II, C64 33

An anonymous reader writes that on Wednesday the Contiki team announced the release of Contiki 3.0, the latest version of the open source IoT operating system. The 3.0 release is a huge step up from the 2.x branch and brings support for new and exciting hardware, a set of new network protocols, a bunch of improvements in the low-power mesh networking protocols, along with a large number of general stability improvements. And, yes, the system still runs on the Commodore 64/128, Apple II, Atari.
Programming

In Praise of the Solo Programmer 93

HughPickens.com writes: Jean-Louis Gassée writes that once upon a time, we were awestruck by the solo programmer who could single-handedly write a magnum opus on a barebones machine like the Apple ][ with its 64 kilobytes of memory and an 8-bit processor running at 1MHz. Once such giant was Paul Lutus, known as the Oregon Hermit, who won a place next to Jobs and Wozniak in the Bandley Drive Hall of Fame for his Apple Writer word processor. "Those were the days Computers and their operating systems were simple and the P in Personal Computers applied to the programmer," writes Gassée. "There's no place for a 2015 Paul Lutus. But are things really that dire?"

As it turns out, the size and complexity of operating systems and development tools do not pose completely insurmountable obstacles; There are still programs of hefty import authored by one person. One such example is Preview, Mac's all-in-one file viewing and editing program. The many superpowers of Apple's Preview does justice to the app's power and flexibility authored by a solo, unnamed programmer who has been at it since the NeXT days. Newer than Preview but no less ambitious, is Gus Mueller's Acorn, an "Image Editor for Humans", now in version 5 at the Mac App Store. Mueller calls his Everett, WA company a mom and pop shop because his spouse Kristin does the documentation when she isn't working as a Physical Therapist. Gus recently released Acorn 5 fixing hundreds of minor bugs and annoyances. "It took months and months of work, it was super boring and mind numbing and it was really hard to justify, and it made Acorn 5 super late," writes Mueller. "But we did it anyway, because something in us felt that software quality has been going downhill in general, and we sure as heck weren't going to let that happen to Acorn."
Transportation

Many Drivers Never Use In-Vehicle Tech, Don't Want Apple Or Google In Next Car 317

Lucas123 writes: Many of the high-tech features automakers believe owners want in their vehicles are not only not being used by them, but they don't want them in their next vehicle, according to a new survey by J.D. Power. According to J.D. Power's 2015 Driver Interactive Vehicle Experience (DrIVE) Report, 20% of new-vehicle owners have never used 16 of 33 of the latest technology features. The five features owners most commonly report that they "never use" are in-vehicle concierge (43%); mobile routers (38%); automatic parking systems (35%); heads-up display (33%); and built-in apps (32%). Additionally, there are 14 technology features that 20% or more of owners don't even want in their next vehicle. Those features include Apple CarPlay and Google Android Auto, in-vehicle concierge services and in-vehicle voice texting. When narrowed to just Gen Yers, the number of vehicle owners who don't want entertainment and connectivity systems increases to 23%.
Google

Why Modular Smartphones Are Such a Nightmare To Develop 102

itwbennett writes: Last week Google postponed tests of its Project Ara until next year. Mikael Ricknäs has written about why developing such devices is particularly difficult. The biggest challenge, writes Ricknäs, 'is the underlying architecture, the structural frame and data backbone of the device, which makes it possible for all the modules to communicate with each other. It has to be so efficient that the overall performance doesn't take a hit and still be cheap and frugal with power consumption.' For more on Project Ara and its challenges, watch this Slashdot interview with the project's firmware lead Marti Bolivar.
Transportation

When Should Cops Be Allowed To Take Control of Self-Driving Cars? 230

HughPickens.com writes: A police officer is directing traffic in the intersection when he sees a self-driving car barreling toward him and the occupant looking down at his smartphone. The officer gestures for the car to stop, and the self-driving vehicle rolls to a halt behind the crosswalk. This seems like a pretty plausible interaction. Human drivers are required to pull over when a police officer gestures for them to do so. It's reasonable to expect that self-driving cars would do the same. But Will Oremus writes that while it's clear that police officers should have some power over the movements of self-driving cars, what's less clear is where to draw the line. Should an officer be able to do the same if he suspects the passenger of a crime? And what if the passenger doesn't want the car to stop—can she override the command, or does the police officer have ultimate control?

According to a RAND Corp. report on the future of technology and law enforcement "the dark side to all of the emerging access and interconnectivity (PDF) is the risk to the public's civil rights, privacy rights, and security." It added, "One can readily imagine abuses that might occur if, for example, capabilities to control automated vehicles and the disclosure of detailed personal information about their occupants were not tightly controlled and secured."
Power

Fusion Progress: Superheated Gas Kept Stable For 5 Milliseconds 95

An anonymous reader writes: A company called Tri Alpha has successfully kept a ball of superheated gas stable for a record time, 5 milliseconds, putting them closer to producing fusion power. "'They've succeeded finally in achieving a lifetime limited only by the power available to the system,' says particle physicist Burton Richter of Stanford University in Palo Alto, California, who sits on a board of advisers to Tri Alpha. If the company's scientists can scale the technique up to longer times and higher temperatures, they will reach a stage at which atomic nuclei in the gas collide forcefully enough to fuse together, releasing energy.

Importantly, the Tri Alpha machine may be able to operate with a different fuel than most other fusion reactors. This fuel-a mix of hydrogen and boron-is harder to react, but Tri Alpha researchers say it avoids many of the problems likely to confront conventional fusion power plants." The article does not say how much this success cost the privately-funded Tri Alpha, but it certainly wasn't in the billions of dollars.
Businesses

Next Texas Energy Boom: Solar 301

Layzej writes: The Wall Street Journal reports: "Solar power has gotten so cheap to produce—and so competitively priced in the electricity market—that it is taking hold even in a state that, unlike California, doesn't offer incentives to utilities to buy or build sun-powered generation." Falling cost is one factor driving investment. "Another reason for the boom: Texas recently wrapped up construction of $6.9 billion worth of new transmission lines, many connecting West Texas to the state's large cities. These massive power lines enabled Texas to become, by far, the largest U.S. wind producer. Solar developers plan to move electricity on the same lines, taking advantage of a lull in wind generation during the heat of the day when solar output is at its highest."
Power

South Africans Revolutionize Concentrated Solar Power With Mini Heliostats 99

Taffykay writes: Concentrated Solar Power (CSP) offers significant benefits, but it's often prohibitively expensive. Paul Gauché from Stellenbosch University in South Africa hopes to change that with Helio 100, a series of 'plonkable' miniature heliostats that require no installation or concrete, and offer solar energy that's cheaper than diesel. The Guardian reports: "Helio100 is a pilot project with over 100 heliostats of 2.2 sq meters each, generating 150 Kilowatts (kW) of power in total – enough to power about 10 households. According to Gauché, the array is already cheaper than using diesel, the go-to fuel for most companies and businesses during regular power outages in the country.
Transportation

Tesla Partners With Airbnb, Subsidizes Chargers 59

Fortune reports that Tesla and Airbnb have teamed up; certain Airbnb properties will get Tesla chargers as a perk. There are 12 locations already equippped with chargers, but expect to see more soon, because Tesla is willing to pay for some of them, at least in California. To get on the list from which Tesla is drawing takes more than an air mattress in a spare room: An existing Airbnb host who lists an entire home, has had more than more than five bookings, and has an average overall star rating of 4+ is eligible to receive a free Tesla charger, which cost $750. The host must pay for the installation, which costs between $200 and $900 depending on the layout of the home.
Software

Ask Slashdot: Maintaining Continuity In Your Creative Works? 95

imac.usr writes: I recently rewatched the Stonecutters episode of The Simpsons and laughed as always at the scene where Homer pulls into his parking space — right next to his house. It's such a great little comic moment. This time, though, it occurred to me that someone probably wrote in to complain that the power plant was normally in a completely different part of town, no doubt adding "I really hope somebody got fired for that blunder." And that got me to wondering: how do creators of serial media — books, web comics, TV shows, even movie serials — record their various continuities? Is there a story bible with the information, or a database of people/places/things, or even something scribbled on a 3x5 card. I know Slashdot is full of artists who must deal with this issue on a regular basis, so I'd be interested in hearing any perspectives on how (or even if) you manage it.
Earth

NASA's Hurricane Model Resolution Increases Nearly 10-Fold Since Katrina 89

zdburke writes: Thanks to improvements in satellites and on-the-ground computing power, NASA's ability to model hurricane data has come a long way in the ten years since Katrina devastated New Orleans. Their blog notes, "Today's models have up to ten times the resolution than those during Hurricane Katrina and allow for a more accurate look inside the hurricane. Imagine going from video game figures made of large chunky blocks to detailed human characters that visibly show beads of sweat on their forehead." Gizmodo covered the post too and added some technical details, noting that, "the supercomputer has more than 45,000 processor cores and runs at 1.995 petfalops."
Google

Lightning Wipes Storage Disks At Google Data Center 141

An anonymous reader writes: Lightning struck a Google data center in Belgium four times in rapid succession last week, permanently erasing a small amount of users' data from the cloud. The affected disks were part of Google Computer Engine (GCE), a utility that lets people run virtual computers in the cloud on Google's servers. Despite the uncontrollable nature of the incident, Google has accepted full responsibility for the blackout and promises to upgrade its data center storage hardware, increasing its resilience against power outages.
Desktops (Apple)

Could the Best Windows 10 Laptop Be a Mac? 432

dkatana writes: Now that Windows 10 is finally out there many people are looking for the best laptop with the power to make the new OS shine. The sweet spot appears to be in $900-$1500 machines from Dell, Asus and HP. But Apple, the company that has been fighting Windows for ever, has other options for Windows 10: the MacBook Pro and MacBook Air. According to InformationWeek there are many reasons to consider purchasing a MacBook as the next Windows machine, including design, reliability, performance, battery life, display quality and better keyboard. Also MacBooks have a higher resell value, retaining up to 50% of their price after five years.
Power

MIT and Samsung Researching Solid-State Batteries 60

jones_supa writes: Researchers at Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Samsung have developed a new approach to one of the three basic components of batteries, the electrolyte. The new findings are based on the idea that a solid electrolyte, rather than liquid, could greatly improve both device lifetime and safety, while also providing a significant boost in power density. The new type of electrolyte would also cope better in cold temperatures. The results are reported in the journal Nature Materials in a paper by MIT postdoc Yan Wang, visiting professor of materials science and engineering Gerbrand Ceder, and five others.
Intel

Intel Discloses Detailed Skylake Architecture Enhancements 53

MojoKid writes: Intel is still keeping a number of details regarding its complete Skylake microarchitecture and product line-up under wraps for a few more weeks, but at a public session at IDF, some of the design updates introduced with Skylake were detailed. Virtually every aspect of Skylake has been improved versus the previous-gen Haswell microarchitecture. I/O, Ring Bus, and LLC throughput has been increased, the graphics architecture has been updated to support DX12 and new eDRAM configurations, it has an integrated camera ISP, support for faster DDR4 memory, and more flexible overclocking features. All of these things culminate in a processor that offers higher IPC performance and improved power efficiency. There are also new security technologies dubbed Intel Software Guard Extensions (Intel SGX) onboard Skylake, which support new instructions to create and isolate enclaves from malware and privileged software attack, along with Memory Protection Extensions (Intel MPX) to help protect stack and heap buffer boundaries as well. A new technology, dubbed Intel Speed Shift, also allows Skylake to switch power states faster than previous-gen products, controlling P states fully in hardware, whereas previous-gen products required OS control. The end result is that Skylake can switch P states in 1ms, whereas it takes roughly 30ms with older processors.
Graphics

Intel Skylake Gen9 Series Graphics Architecture Unveiled 29

MojoKid writes: Intel's Skylake is here and the new architecture comprises Intel's 6th generation Core line of CPUs. In recent testing it was confirmed that Intel's Skylake-based Core i7-6700K is the company's fastest quad-core desktop processor to date. However, one thing Intel kept a tight lid on was the underlying technology of the Gen9 Intel HD Graphics engine on board Skylake, that is until now. An overview of the changes Intel made specific to Intel Gen9 graphics, notes the following among other tweaks: Available L3 cache capacity has been increased to 768 Kbytes per slice (512 Kbytes for application data). Sizes of both L3 and LLC request queues have been increased. This improves latency hiding to achieve better effective bandwidth against the architecture peak theoretical. Gen9 EDRAM now acts as a memory-side cache between LLC and DRAM. Also, the EDRAM memory controller has moved into the system agent, adjacent to the display controller, to support power efficient and low latency display refresh. Gen9 has also been designed to enable products with 1, 2, or 3 slices, each with 24 EUs per slice and 8 EUs per subslice. Finally, Gen9 adds new power gating and clock domains for more efficient dynamic power management. This can particularly improve low power media playback modes.
Google

Google's Project Sunroof Tells You How Well Solar Would Work On Your Roof 105

An anonymous reader writes: Google's Project Sunroof aims to make the task of installing solar panels easier by providing financial advice and stats on what solar energy could do for you. The project is only available in San Francisco, Boston, and Fresno for now. Techcrunch reports: "To get started, you simply plug in your address and some data about your monthly electricity bill, and the tool will tell you what the recommended solar installation size is and how much it would cost to buy or lease the hardware. In case you want to go ahead with a solar install, the tool also lets you reach out to local solar providers. Google says these listings are sponsored, so chances are it'll get a bit of a kickback when it generates a sales lead for these companies."
Power

Interviews: Ask Engineer and L5 Society Cofounder Keith Henson a Question 111

Keith Henson is an electrical engineer and writer on space engineering, space law, cryonics, and evolutionary psychology. He co-founded the L5 society in 1975, which sought to promote space colonization. In addition to being an outspoken critic and target of the Church of Scientology, Keith has recently been working on the design of an orbiting power satellite (video here). The proposed satellite would collect solar energy, send it to Earth via microwaves, and Henson has a plan on how to launch it cheaply. Keith has agreed to give us some of his time and answer any questions you might have. As usual, ask as many as you'd like, but please, one question per post.
Star Wars Prequels

Death Star Science: The Physics Of Destroying An Earth-Sized Planet 173

StartsWithABang writes: The ability to destroy an Alderaan-like (or, ahem, Earth-like) planet has long been the dream of slashdotters everywhere. But generating the power necessary to unbind a planet — some 2.24 x 10^32 Joules — is simply impossible on board an object only the size of a small moon. But if, instead, you could house a 1-2 trillion ton asteroid (about 5-7 km across) made of antimatter and deliver it to the planet's core, Einstein's E=mc^2 ensures that the planet will be destroyed in seconds.