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Amazon Will Raise Its Minimum Wage To $15 For All 350,000 US Workers
Posted by News Fetcher on October 02 '18 at 08:30 AM
By msmash from Slashdot's step-in-the-right-direction department:
Amazon said Tuesday it's raising the minimum wage for all 350,000 of its U.S. employees to $15, effective next month. From a report: The new pay threshold will go into effect Nov. 1 and impact all full-time, temporary and seasonal workers across the company's U.S. warehouse and customer service teams as well as Whole Foods, the company said in a blog post. It did not disclose what its current minimum pay wage is for U.S. workers, perhaps in part because there is not one set rate. "We listened to our critics, thought hard about what we wanted to do, and decided we want to lead," Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos said in a statement. "We're excited about this change and encourage our competitors and other large employers to join us." Alongside the cash compensation bump, Amazon said it will eventually eliminate its practice of granting stock to these workers and will instead institute a program that allows them to purchase Amazon stock through the company. The announcement comes as Amazon faces increased criticism over its pay and treatment of warehouse workers. Senator Bernie Sanders, in particular, has been relentless in his criticism of Amazon over the last few months, proposing a bill that would tax the company as a penalty for having workers who need food stamps and other public assistance to make ends meet.

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Ex-Apple Engineers Unveil a Next-Generation Sensor For Self-Driving Cars
Posted by News Fetcher on October 02 '18 at 05:51 AM
By BeauHD from Slashdot's game-changing department:
An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Verge: Aeva, a Mountain View, California-based startup founded only just last year, has built what its two-cofounders claim is a next-generation version of LIDAR, the 3D mapping technology that has become instrumental for how self-driving cars measure the distance of objects and effectively see the road in front of them. And today, the company is officially unveiling its product, a tiny box that can more directly measure objects in a given scene and the distance and velocity of those objects relative to one another.

Aeva's technology is able to separate objects based on distance and whether the object is moving away from or toward it. It's also able to measure the velocity of the object, which enables the software to predict where cars and pedestrians are going. The company even says its sensing system is capable of completely shutting out interference from other, similar sensors -- including those from other companies -- and operating in all weather conditions and in the dark, thanks to a reflectivity sensor. Not only is Aeva's version of LIDAR superior to the variety found in most self-driving test vehicles on the road today, the company says, but the lightweight, low-power box it's housed in also contains all the other types of sensors and cameras necessary for an autonomous vehicle to see and make sense of every component within its field of vision. Aeva's new system sounds a lot more promising when you consider the company's co-founders, Soroush Salehian and his business partner Mina Rezk, are former Apple engineers who both worked on Apple's "Special Projects" team. Although they will not say so, they likely helped progress the company's secretive autonomous car division. The Verge notes that Salehian also "worked on developing the first Apple Watch and the iPhone 6, while Rezk is a veteran of Nikon where he worked on optical hardware."

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The US Government Is Using Road Signs Showing Drivers How Fast They're Going To Capture License Plate Data
Posted by News Fetcher on October 02 '18 at 05:51 AM
By BeauHD from Slashdot's keep-your-eyes-peeled department:
Zorro shares a report from Quartz: According to recently released U.S. federal contracting data, the Drug Enforcement Administration will be expanding the footprint of its nationwide surveillance network with the purchase of "multiple" trailer-mounted speed displays "to be retrofitted as mobile LPR [License Plate Reader] platforms." The DEA is buying them from RU2 Systems Inc., a private Mesa, Arizona company. How much it's spending on the signs has been redacted. Two other, apparently related contracts, show that the DEA has hired a small machine shop in California, and another in Virginia, to conceal the readers within the signs. An RU2 representative said the company providing the LPR devices themselves is a Canadian firm called Genetec.

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Physics Nobel Won By Laser Wizardry -- Laureates Include First Woman in 55 Years
Posted by News Fetcher on October 02 '18 at 04:21 AM
By msmash from Slashdot's nobel-prize department:
A trio of laser scientists have won the 2018 Nobel Prize in Physics for their work using intense beams to capture superfast processes and to manipulate tiny objects. From a report: The laureates include Donna Strickland, who is the first woman to win the award in 55 years. Strickland, at the University of Waterloo, Canada, will share half the 9 million Swedish krona (US$1 million) prize with her former supervisor, Gerard Mourou, from the Ecole Polytechnique, in Palaiseau, France. The other half of the prize went to Arthur Ashkin, of Bell Laboratories in Holmdel, New Jersey. Strickland and Mourou pioneered a way to produce the shortest, most intense pulses of light ever created, which are now used throughout science to unravel processes that previously appeared instantaneous, such as the motion of electrons within atoms, as well as in laser-eye surgery. Ashkin won the prize for his pioneering development of 'optical tweezers', beams of laser light that can grab and control microscopic objects such as viruses and cells. Further reading: The Guardian.

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Half the World Is Now Middle Class Or Wealthier, Says Brookings Institution
Posted by News Fetcher on October 02 '18 at 03:00 AM
By BeauHD from Slashdot's global-tipping-point department:
schwit1 shares a report from the Brookings Institution: Something of enormous global significance is happening almost without notice. For the first time since agriculture-based civilization began 10,000 years ago, the majority of humankind is no longer poor or vulnerable to falling into poverty. By our calculations, as of this month, just over 50 percent of the world's population, or some 3.8 billion people, live in households with enough discretionary expenditure to be considered "middle class" or "rich." About the same number of people are living in households that are poor or vulnerable to poverty. So September 2018 marks a global tipping point. After this, for the first time ever, the poor and vulnerable will no longer be a majority in the world. Barring some unfortunate global economic setback, this marks the start of a new era of a middle-class majority.
In most countries, there is a clear relationship between the fate of the middle class and the happiness of the population. According to the Gallup World Poll, new entrants into the middle class are noticeably happier than those stuck in poverty or in vulnerable households. Conversely, individuals in countries where the middle class is shrinking report greater degrees of personal stress. The middle class also puts pressure on governments to perform better. They look to their governments to provide affordable housing, education, and universal health care. They rely on public safety nets to help them in sickness, unemployment or old age. But they resist efforts of governments to impose taxes to pay the bills. This complicates the politics of middle-class societies, so they range from autocratic to liberal democracies. Many advanced and middle-income countries today are struggling to find a set of politics that can satisfy a broad middle-class majority. The tipping point in the world today offers opportunities for business but complications for policymakers.

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The Story of Starlite, the 'Blast Proof' Material
Posted by News Fetcher on October 02 '18 at 12:20 AM
By BeauHD from Slashdot's lost-forever department:
OpenSourceAllTheWay writes: The BBC has posted an interesting video series on "Starlite," a white paste developed in the 1970s and 1980s by British hairdresser Maurice Ward that could completely insulate any object it coated, like a raw egg or a piece of cardboard, against extreme heat sources -- even acetylene torches, nuclear blasts and lasers capable of heating an object to 10,000 degrees Celsius. Anything Starlite paste was smeared on could withstand extreme heat exposure without the coated object melting or combusting or heating at all in the process. The heat-proof paste got a lot of attention around the world when it was demonstrated on the BBC's Tomorrow's World TV program in 1990. Ward was an eccentric inventor -- not a classically trained scientist -- who came up with the formula for Starlite by experimenting wildly with different substances. He got the initial idea for Starlite when he was burning garbage in his backyard one day and one particular piece of garbage simply would not burn at all. Ward thought that Starlite would be worth billions when commercialized. He let NASA and other scientists test Starlite -- it did work as advertised -- but never allowed anyone to retain a sample of the substance, fearing that it could be reverse engineered. Starlite never was commercialized properly, and Ward died in 2011 without making the millions or billions he had imagined he would. Sadly, Ward took the chemical formula for Starlite to his grave with him. To this day, nobody knows the exact chemical composition of Starlite, or how one might go about recreating the substance.

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Seattle Police Department Is Offering An Anti-Swatting Service
Posted by News Fetcher on October 01 '18 at 08:21 PM
By BeauHD from Slashdot's new-tactics department:
An anonymous reader quotes a report from Ars Technica: The practice of "swatting," or calling in fake threats to activate an aggressive police response to an unwitting home or business, has unfortunately lingered for the past few years. Starting this week, one police department in the United States is rolling out a system targeted directly at this illegal hoax practice. On its official "swatting" resource site, the Seattle Police Department acknowledges how swatting works, along with the fact that citizens have requested a way to submit their own concerns or worries about being a potential victim. "To our knowledge, no solution to this problem existed, so we engineered one," SPD's site reads. The site claims that swatting victims are "typically associated with the tech industry, video game industry, and/or the online broadcasting community."

SPD's process asks citizens to create a profile on a third-party data-management service called Rave Facility (run by the company Smart911). Though this service is advertised for public locations and businesses, it supports private residences as well, and SPD offers steps to input data and add a "swatting concerns" tab to your profile. With that information in hand, SPD says that any police or 911 operator who receives a particularly troubling emergency report and matches it to a location that has already been flagged with a "swatting concerns" notice, will share that information "with first responders to inform and improve their police response to the incident." The report notes that "all calls" will still receive standard police response, whether or not any swatting concerns are filed. "Nothing about this solution is designed to minimize or slow emergency services," the site reads. "At the same time, if information is available, it is more useful for responding officers to have it than to not."

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A Computer Has Written A 'Novel' Narrating Its Own Cross-Country Road Trip
Posted by News Fetcher on October 01 '18 at 07:01 PM
By BeauHD from Slashdot's first-of-its-kind department:
Ross Goodwin, a former ghostwriter for the Obama administration, uses neural networks to generate poetry, screenplays, and, now, literary travel fiction. The Atlantic tells the story of how Goodwin used a custom machine to write a "novel" narrating its own cross-country road trip. Slashdot reader merbs shares an excerpt from the report: On March 25, 2017, a black Cadillac with a white-domed surveillance camera attached to its trunk departed Brooklyn for New Orleans. An old GPS unit was fastened atop the roof. Inside, a microphone dangled from the ceiling. Wires from all three devices fed into Ross Goodwin's Razer Blade laptop, itself hooked up to a humble receipt printer. This, Goodwin hoped, was the apparatus that was going to produce the next American road-trip novel. The aim was to use the road as a conduit for narrative experimentation, in the tradition of Kerouac, Wolfe, and Kesey, but with the vehicle itself as the artist. He chose the New York-to-NOLA route as a nod to the famous leg of Jack Kerouac's expedition in On the Road. Underneath the base of the Axis M3007 camera, Goodwin scrawled "Further."

Along the way, the four sensors would feed data into a system of neural networks Goodwin had trained on hundreds of books and Foursquare location data, and the printer would spit out the results one letter at a time. By the end of the four-day trip, receipts emblazoned with artificially intelligent prose would cover the floor of the car. They're collected in 1 the Road, a book Goodwin's publisher, Jean Boite Editions, is marketing as "the first novel written by a machine." (Though, for the record, Goodwin says he disagrees it should bear that distinction -- "That might be The Policeman's Beard Is Half Constructed by a program from the '80s," he tells me.) Regardless, it is a hallucinatory, oddly illuminating account of a bot's life on the interstate; the Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test meets Google Street View, narrated by Siri.

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Former Students Say Steve Wozniak's $13,200 Coding Bootcamp Is 'Broken' and Sometimes Links To Wikipedia
Posted by News Fetcher on October 01 '18 at 05:41 PM
By BeauHD from Slashdot's to-each-their-own department:
Last year, Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak announced a coding program called Woz U that's designed with the goal of offering an affordable education. "Our goal is to educate and train people in employable digital skills without putting them into years of debt," Wozniak said last fall. "People often are afraid to choose a technology-based career because they think they can't do it. I know they can, and I want to show them how."

Now that a round of students have been through the 33-week program, a number of problems have appeared. Former student, Bill Duerr, called the program "broken," and that "lots of times there's just hyperlinks to Microsoft documents, to Wikipedia." 9to5Mac reports: "Duerr said typos in course content were one of many problems. So-called 'live lectures' were pre-recorded and out of date, student mentors were unqualified, and at one point, one of his courses didn't even have an instructor," reports CBS. CBS heard from over 24 current and former students and employees that reiterated Duerr's experiences. Instead of a quality program, Duerr said Woz U was comparable to an ultra expensive e-book: "'I feel like this is a $13,000 e-book,' Duerr said. While it was supposed to be a program written by one of the greatest tech minds of all time, 'it's broken, it's not working in places, lots of times there's just hyperlinks to Microsoft documents, to Wikipedia,' he said."

A former Woz U enrollment counselor said that at times he had to do things that didn't feel right: "Asked whether he regrets working for Woz U, Mionske said, 'I regret in the aspect to where they're spending this money for, it's like rolling the dice. [...] But on the reverse side, I have to support my family.'" According to Business Insider, Steve Wozniak said that he's "not involved" in the "operational aspects" of Woz U and doesn't know anything about the report this morning.

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Saudi Arabia Puts World's Biggest Solar Power Project On Hold
Posted by News Fetcher on October 01 '18 at 05:41 PM
By BeauHD from Slashdot's boulevard-of-broken-dreams department:
An anonymous reader quotes a report from Deutsche Welle: Citing Saudi government officials, the U.S. business daily The Wall Street Journal (WSJ) reported Monday that Saudi plans to build the world's largest solar power generation facility had been shelved, as the desert kingdom was working on a "broader, more practical strategy to boost renewable energy." The solar project was expected to generate about 200 gigawatts of energy by 2030 -- more than three times the country's daily requirement. "It is easy to sway or grab one's attention, but difficult to do any execution," WSJ quoted a senior adviser to the Saudi government as saying. Now, no one was actively working on the project, the source added.

[T]he country's entry into the solar market is being hampered by high costs and logistical issues. The project's first phase alone was expected to gobble up $1 billion, and was due to be funded by the Vision Fund this year. According to the Saudi officials cited by WSJ, Riyadh hadn't yet made any decisions on the project's details, including land acquisition, the structure of development or whether it would receive subsidies from the state. "Everyone is just hoping this whole idea would just die," a Saudi energy official familiar with the matter was quoted as saying. Instead, Saudi officials said the government was now devising a broader renewable energies strategy to be announced in late October, which would help clarify renewable energy goals.

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Some iPhone XS, XS Max Devices Are Experiencing Charging Issues
Posted by News Fetcher on October 01 '18 at 04:21 PM
By BeauHD from Slashdot's power-hungry department:
Poor cellular reception doesn't appear to be the only issue affecting some new iPhone XS and XS Max owners. "Dozens of users have reported charging issues with their iPhone XS and XS Max devices, and shared their experiences on the MacRumors forums and Apple's support forums," reports The Verge. From the report: Specifically, users are experiencing issues where phones will not charge if the Lightning cable is plugged in while the device is asleep. The problem appears to be a software bug -- perhaps related to the phone's USB accessory settings -- and requires iPhones to be unlocked (or at least have the screen lit up) in order to begin charging. Tech vlogger Lewis Hilsenteger demonstrated the issues on nine different iPhone X, XS, and XS Max devices on his YouTube channel Unbox Therapy. Some iPhones respond immediately to being plugged into a charger, while others have to be tapped to awaken, and others freeze up. If you are experiencing this issue, you should find relief by upgrading to the iOS 12.1 beta, which apparently eliminates the problem entirely. "For now, others suggest going into Settings, FaceID and Passcode, scrolling down to 'Allow access when locked' and turning on USB Accessories," reports The Verge.

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Use of Internet, Social Media and Digital Devices Plateaus In US, Pew Research Center Finds
Posted by News Fetcher on October 01 '18 at 04:21 PM
By BeauHD from Slashdot's totally-saturated department:
A new analysis from the Pew Research Center finds that "the share of Americans who go online, use social media or own key devices has remained stable the past two years." From the report: The share who say they have broadband internet service at home currently stands at 65% -- nearly identical to the 67% who said this in a survey conducted in summer 2015. And when it comes to desktop or laptop ownership, there has actually been a small dip in the overall numbers over the last two years -- from 78% in 2016 to 73% today. A contributing factor behind this slowing growth is that parts of the population have reached near-saturation levels of adoption of some technologies. Put simply, in some instances there just aren't many non-users left. For example, nine-in-ten or more adults younger than 50 say they go online or own a smartphone. And a similar share of those in higher-income households have laptops or desktops.

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GeoCities Japan Is Finally Shutting Down
Posted by News Fetcher on October 01 '18 at 04:21 PM
By BeauHD from Slashdot's end-of-an-era department:
"A decade ago, internet users who grew up with Web 1.0 bid a fond farewell to Sunset Strip, Rodeo Drive, Colosseum, and other 'neighborhoods' on web-hosting service GeoCities, when Yahoo announced it was shutting the main site down," writes Isabella Steger for Quartz. "Now Japanese GeoCities fans will face the same fate." From the report: Yahoo Japan announced today (Oct. 1) that it will shut down (link in Japanese) its GeoCities service in March 2019, 22 years after its launch. The company said in a statement that it was hard to encapsulate in one word the reason for the shut down, but that profitability and technological issues were primary factors. It added that it was full of "regret" for the fate of the immense amount of information that would be lost as a result of the service's closure. Japan is the only country where the web hosting service remained in operation. Like the main GeoCities, the Japanese service was also organized around different themed neighborhoods. For example, websites in the Silicon Valley neighborhood were tech-focused, while those in Berkeley focused on education.

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Vigilante Engineer Stops Waymo From Patenting Key Lidar Technology
Posted by News Fetcher on October 01 '18 at 03:01 PM
By BeauHD from Slashdot's interested-bystanders department:
An anonymous reader quotes a report from Ars Technica: A lone engineer has succeeded in doing what Uber's top lawyers and expert witnesses could not -- overturning most of a foundational patent covering arch-rival Waymo's lidar laser ranging devices. Following a surprise left-field complaint by Eric Swildens, the US Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) has rejected all but three of 56 claims in Waymo's 936 patent, named for the last three digits of its serial number. The USPTO found that some claims replicated technology described in an earlier patent from lidar vendor Velodyne, while another claim was simply "impossible" and "magic." The 936 patent played a key role in last year's epic intellectual property lawsuit with Uber. In December 2016, a Waymo engineer was inadvertently copied on an email from one of its suppliers to Uber, showing a lidar circuit design that looked almost identical to one shown in the 936 patent.

< article continued at Slashdot's interested-bystanders department >

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Google Gets Into Game Streaming With Project Stream and Assassin's Creed Odyssey in Chrome
Posted by News Fetcher on October 01 '18 at 03:01 PM
By msmash from Slashdot's how-about-that department:
Earlier this year, we heard rumors that Google was working on a game-streaming service. It looks like those rumors were true. From a report: The company today unveiled "Project Stream," and while Google calls this a "technical test" to see how well game streaming to Chrome works, it's clear that this is the foundational technology for a game-streaming service. To sweeten the pot, Google is launching this test in partnership with Ubisoft and giving a limited number of players free access to Assassin's Creed Odyssey for the duration of the test. You can sign up for the test now; starting on October 5, Google will invite a limited number of participants to play the game for free in Chrome. As Google notes, the team wanted to work with a AAA title because that's obviously far more of a challenge than working with a less graphics-intense game. And for any game-streaming service to be playable, the latency has to be minimal and the graphics can't be worse than on a local machine.

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VideoLAN Announces Dav1d, a New Libre and Open Source AV1 Decoder
Posted by News Fetcher on October 01 '18 at 01:41 PM
By msmash from Slashdot's marching-forward department:
Jean-Baptiste Kempf, president of VideoLan and developer of VLC media player, made the following announced Monday: AV1 is a new video codec by the Alliance for Open Media, composed of most of the important Web companies (Google, Facebook, Netflix, Amazon, Microsoft,...). AV1 has the potential to be up to 20% better than the HEVC codec, but the patents license is totally free, while HEVC patents licenses are insanely high and very confusing. The reference decoder for AV1 is great, but it's a research codebase, so it has a lot to improve. Therefore, the VideoLAN, VLC and FFmpeg communities have started to work on a new decoder, sponsored by the Alliance of Open Media. The goal of this new decoder is: be small, be as fast as possible, be very cross-platform, correctly threaded, libre and (actually) Open Source. Without further due, the code: https://code.videolan.org/videolan/dav1d Recommended: A talk during VDD 2018 conference about dav1d.

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Apple Watch Apps Instantly Went 64-Bit Thanks To Obscure Bitcode Option
Posted by News Fetcher on October 01 '18 at 01:41 PM
By msmash from Slashdot's smart-move department:
Jeremy Horwitz, writing for VentureBeat: An obscure feature in Apple's Xcode development software enabled Apple Watch apps to make an instant transition from 32-bit to 64-bit last month, an unheralded win for Apple Watch developers inside and outside the company. The "Enable Bitcode" feature was introduced to developers three years ago, but the Accidental Tech Podcast suggests that it was quietly responsible for the smooth launch of software for the Apple Watch Series 4 last month. Support for Bitcode was originally added to Xcode 7 in November 2015, subsequently becoming optional for iOS apps but mandatory for watchOS and tvOS apps. Bitcode is an "intermediate representation" halfway between human-written app code and machine code. Rather than the developer sending a completely compiled app to the App Store, enabling Bitcode provides Apple with a partially compiled app that it can then finish compiling for whatever processors it wants to support. The report suggests that this change allowed Apple to avoid the great "appocalypse" which occurred when it decided to kill support for 32-bit apps on iOS.

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Facebook is Equipping K-8 Classrooms With Robot Sets To Boost Tech Diversity
Posted by News Fetcher on October 01 '18 at 12:21 PM
By msmash from Slashdot's further-push department:
Long time reader theodp writes: Facebook last week announced the launch of CodeFWD, "a free online education program created in partnership with [robotic toy maker] Sphero to increase the amount of underrepresented and female students interested in studying computer science." Sphero and CodeFWD are offering a free Sphero BOLT Power Pack (a classroom set of 15 robots valued at $2,499) for a select number of accepted applicants through the program. So, what do you need to begin CodeFWD by Facebook? "No experience necessary. No experience preferred ," explains the website. However, that's not to say CodeFWD is for all. "CodeFWD is intended for educators who are credentialed K-12 teachers or 501(c)(3) non-profit staff members in the United States," the website makes clear, adding that "given the limited supply of robots, we will evaluate the information you've provided and prioritize those applications that help us achieve the goal of expanding access to computer programming opportunities." And Facebook, being Facebook, adds that it wants some data out of the deal: "Please note that Facebook will have access to aggregate, anonymous usage data from Sphero, but will not have access to user-identifiable data collected by Sphero."

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Google Updates Chrome Web Store Review Process and Sets New Extension Code Requirements
Posted by News Fetcher on October 01 '18 at 12:21 PM
By msmash from Slashdot's making-things-better department:
Google is finally turning its attention to Chrome Web Store. On Monday, the company announced a range of big changes that would make the online store more secure for customers. From a report: The first two are happening now: Developers are being subjected to a more rigorous review process, and the Chrome Web Store no longer accepts obfuscated JavaScript files. In a couple of weeks, Chrome users will get the option to restrict host access for their extensions. And in 2019, two more changes will take effect: Chrome Web Store developer accounts will require 2-step verification, and Google will introduce manifest version 3 of the extensions platform. [...] Effective today, extensions that request powerful permissions will be subject to additional compliance review. Google doesn't offer much detail here, but it does say your extension's permissions should be as narrowly scoped as possible and all your code should be included directly in the extension package to minimize review time. If your extension uses remotely hosted code, Google will also be taking a closer look (and will monitor on an ongoing basis).

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For Now, at Least, the World Isn't Making Enough Batteries
Posted by News Fetcher on October 01 '18 at 11:01 AM
By msmash from Slashdot's demand-and-supply department:
An anonymous reader shares a report: Evidence of the battery-powered era is all around us. Electric vehicles are cruising down our freeways. Household appliances thrum with stored solar energy that was until recently a daytime-only power source. Governments from California to China and South Korea -- even Donald Trump's Washington -- have taken steps that will make battery power more ubiquitous. There's just one hitch to this battery boom: The world isn't making nearly enough. All of the new demand from North America, Europe and Asia is constrained at the moment by a market that remains heavily dependent on a few producers. Data on the global supply of batteries is hard to come by, but close observers of the industry have noticed evidence of the shortfall. "We've never seen such demand," said Yayoi Sekine, a New York-based analyst at Bloomberg NEF. "But the supply is struggling to keep up." Oddly, however, lithium-ion battery-rack prices have continued their annual decline, even in the face of constrained supply and expectations of ever-growing demand. To get a clear sense of the near future, consider battery-powered cars: Today, there are more than 3 million electric vehicles on the road worldwide; by 2025, Volkswagen AG alone plans to build as many as 3 million electric vehicles per year. Those vehicle batteries -- in addition to storage batteries for homes, businesses and utilities -- will have to come from somewhere.

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