Earth

Birds Had To Relearn Flight After Meteor Wiped Out Dinosaurs, Fossil Records Suggest (theguardian.com) 32

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Guardian: Birds had to rediscover flight after the meteor strike that killed off the dinosaurs, scientists say. The cataclysm 66 million years ago not only wiped out Tyrannosaurus rex and ground-dwelling dinosaur species, but also flying birds, a detailed survey of the fossil record suggests. As forests burned around the world, the only birds to survive were flightless emu-like species that lived on the ground. The six to nine-mile-wide meteor struck the Earth off the coast of Mexico, releasing a million times more energy than the largest atomic bomb. Hot debris raining from the sky is thought to have triggered global wildfires immediately after the impact. It took hundreds or even thousands of years for the world's forests of palms and pines to recover. Fossil records from New Zealand, Japan, Europe and North America, all show evidence of mass deforestation. They also reveal that birds surviving the end of the Cretaceous period had long sturdy legs made for living on the ground. They resembled emus and kiwis, said the researchers whose findings are reported in the journal Current Biology.
Japan

Japan Moves To Ease Aging Drivers Out of Their Cars (nytimes.com) 135

As Japan's population ages, so do its drivers. Japan has the oldest population in the world, with nearly 28 percent of its residents above 65 years old. One in seven people are over 75. In the United States, by comparison, that figure is closer to one in 16. From a report: According to data compiled by Japan's national police agency, drivers between 16 and 24 are more likely to cause traffic accidents than any other age group. But last year, drivers over 75 caused twice as many fatal accidents per 100,000 drivers as those under that age. Among drivers over 80 years old, the rate was three times as high as for drivers under that age. The news media regularly features grisly reports of deaths caused by older drivers, some of whom are later discovered to have Alzheimer's disease.

Since 2009, all drivers 75 and older must submit to a test of their cognitive functioning when they renew their licenses [Editor's note: the link may be paywalled], typically once every three years. Under a new traffic law that took effect in March 2017, those who score poorly are sent to a doctor for examination, and if they are found to have dementia, the police can revoke their licenses. More than 33,000 drivers who took the cognitive test last year showed what the police deemed to be signs of cognitive impairment and were ordered to see a doctor. The police revoked just over 1,350 licenses after doctors diagnosed dementia.

Businesses

Glassdoor, the Iconic Job-Hunting and Reviews Website, Has Been Bought For $1.2 billion (recode.net) 48

Glassdoor, the popular job-hunting platform that gives people a window into conditions at hundreds of thousands of companies, has agreed to be acquired by Japan's Recruit Holdings for $1.2 billion cash. From a report: Recruit Holdings, a large Japanese human resources company that owns other job sites like Indeed, spent eight figures in cash to acquire the decade-old company. Glassdoor hadn't raised new money in about two years, when it was valued by investors at around $860 million, so it likely needed to decide whether to raise more money, sell or try to go public. The company reportedly was at least considering an IPO in the second half of 2018 and was interviewing banks that could take them there.
Bug

Eight New Meltdown-Like Flaws Found (reuters.com) 82

An anonymous reader quotes Reuters: Researchers have found eight new flaws in computer central processing units that resemble the Meltdown and Spectre bugs revealed in January, a German computing magazine reported on Thursday. The magazine, called c't, said it was aware of Intel Corp's plans to patch the flaws, adding that some chips designed by ARM Holdings, a unit of Japan's Softbank, might be affected, while work was continuing to establish whether Advanced Micro Devices chips were vulnerable... The magazine said Google Project Zero, one of the original collective that exposed Meltdown and Spectre in January, had found one of the flaws and that a 90-day embargo on going public with its findings would end on May 7...

"Considering what we have seen with Meltdown and Spectre, we should expect a long and painful cycle of updates, possibly even performance or stability issues," said Yuriy Bulygin, chief executive officer of hardware security firm Eclypsium and a former Intel security researcher. "Hopefully, Meltdown and Spectre led to improvements to the complicated process of patching hardware."

Neowin now reports that Intel "is expected to release microcode updates in two waves; one in May, and the other in August."
Intel

'Next Generation' Flaws Found on Computer Processors (reuters.com) 144

An anonymous reader shares a report: Researchers have found eight new flaws in computer central processing units that resemble the Meltdown and Spectre bugs revealed in January, a German computing magazine reported on Thursday. The magazine, called c't, said it was aware of Intel's plans to patch the flaws, adding that some chips designed by ARM Holdings, a unit of Japan's Softbank, might be affected, while work was continuing to establish whether Advanced Micro Devices chips were vulnerable. Meltdown and Spectre bugs could reveal the contents of a computer's central processing unit -- designed to be a secure inner sanctum -- either by bypassing hardware barriers or by tricking applications into giving up secret information.
Facebook

Facebook May Have Secret Plans To Build a Satellite-Based Internet (ieee.org) 75

Public filings suggest the social media giant is quietly developing orbital tech to rival efforts by SpaceX and OneWeb to deliver Internet by satellite. From a report: A filing with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) last week revealed details of a multi-million dollar experimental satellite from a stealthy company called PointView Tech LLC. The satellite, named Athena, will deliver data 10 times faster than SpaceX's Starlink Internet satellites, the first of which launched in February. However, PointView appears to exist only on paper. In fact, the tiny company seems to be a new subsidiary of Facebook, formed last year to keep secret the social media giant's plans to storm space.

Many technology companies believe the future of the Internet is orbital. Around half the people on the planet lack a broadband Internet connection, particularly those who live in rural areas and developing nations. SpaceX aims to put nearly 12,000 Starlinks into low Earth orbit (LEO), to deliver gigabit-speed Internet to most of the Earth's surface. Rival OneWeb, funded by Japan's SoftBank, chipmaker Qualcomm, and Richard Branson's Virgin Group, plans similar global coverage using perhaps 2,500 LEO satellites.
Further reading: Facebook's free walled-garden internet program ended quietly in Myanmar, several other places last year.
China

Mobile Gaming Cements Its Dominance, Takes Majority of Worldwide Sales (arstechnica.com) 94

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Ars Technica: Newzoo's 2018 Global Games Market Forecast now predicts that mobile games will make up a slim majority (51 percent) of all worldwide gaming revenue this year (including smartphones and tablets, but not dedicated gaming handhelds). That's up from 34 percent in 2015 and just 18 percent in 2012. Console and PC games will split the remainder of the pie relatively evenly in 2018, at 25 percent and 24 percent of worldwide spending, respectively. The growth of the mobile market doesn't show any signs of stopping, either: by 2021, Newzoo estimates that 59 percent of all gaming spending will go to mobile platforms, with console and PC games dividing up the scraps. The report finds that China is responsible for 28 percent of all gaming spending in the world, up from 24 percent in 2015. "Mobile gaming is overrepresented in the world's biggest gaming market, responsible for 61 percent of all Chinese gaming revenue and poised to grow to 70 percent by 2021," reports Ars. Japan's overall spending on mobile games is nearly on par with the United States, despite the country having one-third as many gamers overall.
Software

North Korean Antivirus Software Uses Decade Old Pirated Scan Engine (betanews.com) 68

With a name like 'SiliVaccine' you could be forgiven it's something your doctor would give you if you were worried about turning into a clown. But in fact this is North Korea's home grown antivirus product. From a report: Check Point Software has obtained and analyzed a rare copy of the software and discovered key components of its source code to be identical to a 10-year old copy of Trend Micro's AV software. Analysis has also uncovered that SiliVaccine is designed to allow a specific malware signature to pass undetected to users, and an update patch for the software contained JAKU malware, which has been used to target and track specific individuals in South Korea and Japan. Check Point believes this could have been used to target journalists who write about North Korean affairs.
Earth

Great Barrier Reef Gets $379 Million Boost After Coral Dies Off (bloomberg.com) 104

The Great Barrier Reef is being given a $379 million boost by Australia in the battle to save the world's largest living structure as it faces mounting challenges such as climate change, agricultural runoff and a coral-eating starfish. From a report: "Like reefs all over the world, the Great Barrier Reef is under pressure," Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said in a statement on Sunday, calling the funding the largest granted to the famous tourist icon. "A big challenge demands a big investment -- and this investment gives our reef the best chance." [...] The new funding comes after Deloitte Access Economics valued the reef last year at A$56 billion, based on an asset supporting tens of thousands of jobs and which contributes A$6.4 billion a year to the economy. Still, that was before a study released this month in Nature showed about 30 percent of the reef, which is bigger than Japan, died off in 2016 during an extended marine heatwave.
Businesses

Sprint, T-Mobile Aiming To Reach Merger Deal Next Week (reuters.com) 79

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Reuters: U.S. wireless carriers T-Mobile and Sprint have made progress in negotiating merger terms and are aiming to successfully complete deal talks as early as next week. The combined company would have more than 127 million customers and could create more formidable competition for the No.1 and No.2 wireless players, Verizon and AT&T, amid a race to expand offerings in 5G, the next generation of wireless technology. T-Mobile majority-owner Deutsche Telekom and Japan's SoftBank, which controls Sprint, are considering an agreement that would dictate how they exercise voting control over the combined company. This could allow Deutsche Telekom to consolidate the combined company on its books, even without owning a majority stake. Deutsche Telekom owns more than 63 percent of T-Mobile, while SoftBank owns 84.7 percent of Sprint. Deutsche Telekom and T-Mobile are also in the process of finalizing the debt financing package they will use to fund the deal, the sources said. There is no certainty that a deal will be reached, the sources cautioned.
Television

8K TVs Are Coming, But Don't Buy the Hype (engadget.com) 299

If the 8,294,400 pixels of resolution on an Ultra High Definition television just don't seem to convey enough detail, fear not: The electronics industry has heard your cry. From a report: Even as UHD TVs, often called 4K TVs for their nearly 4,000 pixels of horizontal resolution, approach half of display shipments in the U.S., set manufacturers have been stepping up their demos of 8K sets that, with their 7680-by-4320 resolution, pack in a full 33,177,600 pixels. And Sharp is now expanding its distribution of one such set, the 70-inch LV-70X500E. Following its October debut in China and subsequent arrivals in Japan and Taiwan, this 8K display will go on sale across Europe at the end of April for about $13,800 at current exchange rates. That, apparently, is supposed to be a reasonable price for a set that supports a video format that offers next to nothing to watch, that can't be streamed on most broadband connections or fit onto Blu-ray discs and which can't even be properly appreciated unless you get a set too big to fit in many living rooms.

[...] The highlights reel playing on a demo unit of Sharp's 8K set required 300 megabits per second of bandwidth to stream, said Adrian Wysocki, group product manager at UMC, the Sharp-owned firm that builds TVs in Poland for the company. He suggested in a conversation Friday that more efficient formats could cut that to 100 Mbps. Only 23.2% of U.S. fixed-broadband connections hit that speed at the end of 2016, according to to the Federal Communications Commission's latest report on internet access services.

News

The Last Known Person Born in the 19th Century Dies in Japan at 117 (kottke.org) 193

Jason Kottke: As of 2015, only two women born in the 1800s and two others born in 1900 (the last year of the 19th century) were still alive. In the next two years, three of those women passed away, including Jamaican Violet Brown, the last living subject of Queen Victoria, who reigned over the British Empire starting in 1837. Last week Nabi Tajima, the last known survivor of the 19th century, died in Japan at age 117.
Earth

Scientists Accidentally Create Mutant Enzyme That Eats Plastic Bottles (theguardian.com) 219

Scientists have created a mutant enzyme that breaks down plastic drinks bottles -- by accident. The breakthrough could help solve the global plastic pollution crisis by enabling for the first time the full recycling of bottles. From a report: The new research was spurred by the discovery in 2016 of the first bacterium that had naturally evolved to eat plastic, at a waste dump in Japan. Scientists have now revealed the detailed structure of the crucial enzyme produced by the bug. The international team then tweaked the enzyme to see how it had evolved, but tests showed they had inadvertently made the molecule even better at breaking down the PET (polyethylene terephthalate) plastic used for soft drink bottles. "What actually turned out was we improved the enzyme, which was a bit of a shock," said Prof John McGeehan, at the University of Portsmouth, UK, who led the research. "It's great and a real finding." The mutant enzyme takes a few days to start breaking down the plastic -- far faster than the centuries it takes in the oceans. But the researchers are optimistic this can be speeded up even further and become a viable large-scale process.
Japan

Japan Team Maps 'Semi-Infinite' Trove of Rare Earth Elements (japantimes.co.jp) 162

schwit1 quotes a report from The Japan Times: Japanese researchers have mapped vast reserves of rare earth elements in deep-sea mud, enough to feed global demand on a "semi-infinite basis," according to a new study. The deposit, found within Japan's exclusive economic zone waters, contains more than 16 million tons of the elements needed to build high-tech products ranging from mobile phones to electric vehicles, according to the study, released Tuesday in the journal Scientific Reports. The team, comprised of several universities, businesses and government institutions, surveyed the western Pacific Ocean near Minamitori Island. In a sample area of the mineral-rich region, the team's survey estimated 1.2 million tons of "rare earth oxide" is deposited there, said the study, conducted jointly by Waseda University's Yutaro Takaya and the University of Tokyo's Yasuhiro Kato, among others. The finding extrapolates that a 2,500-sq. km region off the southern Japanese island should contain 16 million tons of the valuable elements, and "has the potential to supply these metals on a semi-infinite basis to the world," the study said.
Bitcoin

Japan Could Have More Than 3 Million Cryptocurrency Traders (coindesk.com) 35

According to Japan's Financial Services Agency (FSA), the country has at least 3.5 million individuals that are trading with cryptocurrencies as actual assets. "Among them, crypto investors in their 20s, 30s and 40s make up a major share, accounting for 28, 34, and 22 percent, respectively, of the total crypto trader population in Japan," reports CoinDesk. From the report: Announced at the first meeting of a cryptocurrency exchange study group established by the FSA in early March, the data release marks the latest effort by the financial watchdog in bringing greater transparency to the industry following a recent hack of one of the domestic exchange Coincheck. According to the FSA, the study and disclosure of the domestic trading statistics is a first step towards a more comprehensive examination over institutional issues in the cryptocurrency trading space in Japan. In comparison, the financial regulator also disclosed in the latest report that the number of traders investing in cryptocurrency margins and futures is about 142,842 as of the end of March. What's perhaps notable is the major contrast in the growth of yearly trading volume drawn to these two different types of investments. According to the FSA's data, for example, yearly trading volume of the actual bitcoin cryptocurrency has grown from $22 million as of Mar. 31 in 2014 to $97 billion in 2017. Yet at the same time, trading on margins, credit and futures of bitcoin as an underlying asset has surged from only $2 million in 2014 to a whopping $543 billion just in 2017 alone, the agency said.
Anime

Animation Legend Isao Takahata, Co-founder of Studio Ghibli, Dies at 82 (nbcnews.com) 27

Isao Takahata, co-founder of the prestigious Japanese animator Studio Ghibli, which stuck to a hand-drawn "manga" look in the face of digital filmmaking, has died. He was 82. From a report: Takahata started Ghibli with Oscar-winning animator Hayao Miyazaki in 1985, hoping to create Japan's Disney. He directed "Grave of the Fireflies," a tragic tale about wartime childhood, and produced some of the studio's films, including Miyazaki's 1984 "Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind," which tells the horror of environmental disaster through a story about a princess. Takahata died Thursday of lung cancer at a Tokyo hospital, the studio said in a statement Friday.

He was fully aware of how the floating sumie-brush sketches of faint pastel in his works stood as a stylistic challenge to Hollywood's computer-graphics cartoons. In a 2015 interview with The Associated Press, Takahata talked about how Edo-era woodblock-print artists like Hokusai had the understanding of Western-style perspective and the use of light, but they purposely chose to depict reality with lines, and in a flat way, with minimal shading.
"Pom Poko", a movie released in 1994, is often considered the best work of Takahata. The New York Times described it as, "a comic allegory about battling packs of tanuki (Japanese raccoon dogs) joining forces to fight human real estate developers. It's earthy and rollicking in a way that his co-founder's films aren't." In an interview with Wired in 2015, when Takahata was asked what he felt about people regarding him as the heart of Studio Ghibli. "Now you've both finished your final films, what are your feelings on Ghibli's legacy and reputation?, the interviewer asked. Takahata said, "I'm not sure I can respond in any meaningful way. What Hayao Miyazaki has built up is the greatest contribution. The existence of that thick trunk has allowed leaves to unfurl and flowers to bloom to become the fruitful tree that is Studio Ghibli."

Further reading: Isao Takahata's stark world of reality (The Japan Times).
Transportation

Nvidia Suspends Self-Driving Car Tests in Wake of Uber Crash (theverge.com) 113

Nvidia said on Tuesday it will suspend its autonomous vehicle testing on public roads in the aftermath of Uber's fatal crash in Arizona. Uber is a customer of Nvidia's, using the chipmaker's computing platform in its fleet of self-driving cars. From a report: Nvidia had been testing its self-driving cars in New Jersey, California, Japan, and Germany. The company is hosting its annual GPU Technology Conference in San Jose this week, where it is expected to make several announcements regarding its automotive products. "Ultimately AVs will be far safer than human drivers, so this important work needs to continue," a Nvidia spokesperson said in an email. "We are temporarily suspending the testing of our self-driving cars on public roads to learn from the Uber incident. Our global fleet of manually driven data collection vehicles continue to operate."
Technology

Report Says Radioactive Monitors Failed at Nuclear Plant (apnews.com) 83

A new report says mistakes and mismanagement are to blame for the exposure of workers to radioactive particles at the Hanford Nuclear Reservation in Washington state. From the report: Contractor CH2M Hill Plateau Remediation on Thursday released its evaluation of what went wrong in December during demolition of the nuclear reservation's highly contaminated Plutonium Finishing Plant. The Tri-City Herald reports the study said primary radioactive air monitors used at a highly hazardous Hanford project failed to detect contamination. Then, when the spread of contamination was detected, the report said steps taken to contain it didn't fully work.

At least 11 Hanford workers checked since mid-December inhaled or ingested small amounts of radioactive particles. Private and government vehicles were contaminated with radioactive particles. The sprawling site in southeastern Washington contains more than 50 million gallons of radioactive and toxic wastes in underground storage tanks. It's owned by the U.S. Department of Energy, which hires private contractors to manage the cleanup work. Hanford was established during World War II and made the plutonium for the atomic bomb dropped on Nagasaki, Japan. The 560-square mile site also made most of the plutonium for the nation's nuclear arsenal during the Cold War.

Iphone

Israel-Based Vendor Cellebrite Can Unlock Every iPhone, including the Current-Gen iPhone X, That's On the Market: Forbes (forbes.com) 146

Cellebrite, an Israel-based company, knows of ways to unlock every iPhone that's on the market, right up to the iPhone X, Forbes reported on Monday, citing sources. From the report: Cellebrite, a Petah Tikva, Israel-based vendor that's become the U.S. government's company of choice when it comes to unlocking mobile devices, is this month telling customers its engineers currently have the ability to get around the security of devices running iOS 11 . That includes the iPhone X, a model that Forbes has learned was successfully raided for data by the Department for Homeland Security back in November 2017, most likely with Cellebrite technology.

The Israeli firm, a subsidiary of Japan's Sun Corporation, hasn't made any major public announcement about its new iOS capabilities. But Forbes was told by sources (who asked to remain anonymous as they weren't authorized to talk on the matter) that in the last few months the company has developed undisclosed techniques to get into iOS 11 and is advertising them to law enforcement and private forensics folk across the globe. Indeed, the company's literature for its Advanced Unlocking and Extraction Services offering now notes the company can break the security of "Apple iOS devices and operating systems, including iPhone, iPad, iPad mini, iPad Pro and iPod touch, running iOS 5 to iOS 11." Separately, a source in the police forensics community told Forbes he'd been told by Cellebrite it could unlock the iPhone 8. He believed the same was most probably true for the iPhone X, as security across both of Apple's newest devices worked in much the same way.

Transportation

Airbus, Delta, and Sprint Are on a Quest for In-Flight Wi-fi That Actually Works (fortune.com) 48

It's 2018, so why is it still seemingly impossible to get a decent wi-fi on an airplane? From a report: Well, a lot of reasons, it turns out. The Wall Street Journal recently enumerated them: hardware, software, government regulation, aviation regulation, and rivalries between wireless and satellite companies. Despite the obstacles, a new alliance between Airbus, Delta Air Lines, Sprint, and two U.S. satellite companies is trying to find a way to provide faster Internet and a better user experience. Japan's SoftBank, which owns 80% of Sprint, and India's Bharti Airtel are also reportedly supporting the project. The group, which calls itself Seamless Air Alliance, envisions a world where a variety of devices could easily connect to the Internet while in flight at industry-leading speeds, rivaling cable and 5G. The businesses that are either involved in or backing the alliance pack a punch: they already serve about 150 million airline passengers and 450 million mobile users around the globe.

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