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Space

NASA's Lunar Space Station Might Be a Boondoggle (ieee.org) 206

"NASA's orbiting Lunar Gateway is either essential for a moon landing or a boondoggle in the making," writes IEEE Spectrum.

the_newsbeagle writes: NASA is under pressure to put humans back on the moon by 2024... NASA's plan for meeting that ambitious target relies on building a space station in lunar orbit, called the Gateway. NASA says it will use its (over budget and behind schedule) SLS rocket and Orion crew capsule to dock at this (yet unbuilt) Gateway, then send down a lunar lander. Critics say this is a stupid and over-complicated plan.

This article by veteran space reporter Jeff Foust explains how NASA got itself into this situation.

From the article: Critics of the Gateway argue that NASA shouldn't just scale back the space station -- it should cancel the project altogether. If you want to go to the surface of the moon, the refrain goes, go there directly, as the Apollo missions did a half century ago. Building an outpost in lunar orbit adds expense, delay, and complications to a task that is already hard enough....

Critics say that technological alternatives are emerging in the commercial space sector. They look to Blue Origin, the space company founded by Amazon billionaire Jeff Bezos and based near Seattle. Blue Origin is building both a reusable heavy-lift rocket, called New Glenn, and a lunar lander known as Blue Moon. Another contender is Elon Musk's SpaceX, based in Hawthorne, Calif., which is also working on a fully reusable rocket. It will carry an upper stage called Starship, which the company says could land directly on the moon and carry heavy cargo. "Having that vehicle on the moon can basically serve as the core of a pretty significant lunar outpost, growing with time," said Paul Wooster, principal Mars development engineer at SpaceX.

The article ends by presenting two possibilities.
  • "If NASA, heedful of sunk costs and political realities, continues to march toward the Gateway, we may indeed witness a triumphant return of NASA astronauts to the moon's surface in 2024..."
  • "The determined billionaires behind SpaceX and Blue Origin might not wait around for NASA, and the next moon boots in the regolith might stamp a corporate logo in the dust."

Television

6.6 Million Lose CBS Channels After 'Business Dispute' With AT&T (engadget.com) 143

"Media giants are embroiled in yet another fight over TV rates, and viewers are once again paying the price," writes Engadget. CBS' channels in 17 markets (including New York, San Francisco and Atlanta) have gone dark on AT&T services like DirecTV Now and U-verse after the two companies failed to reach an agreement on a new carriage contract before the old one expired at 2AM ET on July 19th. As is often the case in disputes like this, the two sides are each accusing each other of being unreasonable -- though AT&T in particular has also claimed that CBS is using All Access as a weapon.
CNET notes that the dispute also affects 100 CBS stations and affiliates on Direct Now, citing reports that it ultimately impacts a total of 6.6 million TV viewers in the U.S. "A business dispute took CBS off the air for millions of satellite television customers of DirecTV and AT&T U-verse on Saturday," according to a news report (from CBS): CBS said that while it didn't want its customers caught in the middle, it is determined to fight for fair value... AT&T countered in a statement provided to Variety that CBS is "a repeat blackout offender" that has pulled its programming from other carriers before in order to get its way.
"Isn't this the sort of thing they enemies of net neutrality assured us would never happen?" writes long-time slashdot reader shanen. "Or is it just a plot to sell VPN services?"
Education

When Online Teachers See Child Abuse (edsurge.com) 55

Rick Zeman (slashdot reader #15,628) shares "a thought-provoking article on when online English teachers see child abuse at the other end of their cameras."

Of the 24 online teachers interviewed, about two thirds told "harrowing" stories, EdSurge reports, and within the teachers' Facebook groups new reports "surface nearly every week." The teachers post in these private Facebook groups because they aren't sure how to process, much less report, what they saw. They ask one another the same few questions in many different ways: Has this ever happened to you? Is what I'm feeling normal? How should I respond? Will the company do something about it?
One company employs 70,000 online teachers who reach more than 600,000 children in China -- yet one of its teachers complains that the company offered her no guidance for these situations.

After saying they "take these matters very seriously" (with a procedure in place for these "very rare" instances), that company declined repeated requests for further interviews "and would not elaborate on its procedure for referring reports of abuse to local agencies." (Even though in China, as in the U.S., the described behavior is illegal.) One China-born anthropologist says that many parents may not even be aware of a 2015 law which banned domestic abuse against children.

Last month another company advised its teachers that those who do report incidents will not receive any follow-up from the company, for reasons of "student confidentiality" -- though "We assure you that our teams will address any concerns in a prudent manner."
Google

Google Settles Age Descrimination Lawsuit (forbes.com) 115

Long-time slashdot reader sfcat quotes Forbes: Almost a decade ago, courts sounded a clear warning bell that Google's culture was tainted by illegal and pervasive age discrimination. Inexplicably, Google didn't listen.

And so the Los Angeles Times recently reported that Google has agreed to pay $11 million to settle a federal lawsuit alleging Google engaged in a systemic practice of discriminating on the basis of age in hiring. Some 227 plaintiffs will collect an average of $35,000 each.

Google actually agreed to settle the case in December but the final settlement agreement was presented to a federal judge on Friday. The lawsuit was filed by Cheryl Fillekes, a software engineer who was interviewed by Google four times from 2007 to 2014, starting when she was 47, but was never hired.

The lawsuit alleged Google hired younger workers based on "cultural fit."

In the settlement Google also agrees to train its managers about age bias and create an "age diversity in recruiting" committee. Forbes points out that the median age for all Google employees in 2017 was 30, "a decade younger than the median age of U.S. workers."

"On its web page, Google says its mission is to 'organize the world's information and make it universally accessible and useful.' But for some reason Google has failed as a company to organize and use the information that age discrimination is illegal."
Television

Comic-Con Trailers Include 'Star Trek: Picard' and HBO's 'Watchmen' Series (cbsnews.com) 181

"At Comic-Con, Sir Patrick Stewart took to the Hall H stage Saturday afternoon to discuss his new series, Star Trek: Picard," reports CBS News: The series will focus on what caused famed captain and admiral Jean-Luc Picard to leave Starfleet, and his life since.... Patrick Stewart -- who is also an executive producer -- answered questions about the show. "We never know, do we, when our best moment will be. And that is now," Stewart said. "I knew something unusual would happen. I knew I needed to be a part of it."

Stewart has been heavily involved in crafting "Star Trek: Picard" and frequently visits the writer's room... Brent Spiner, who played the character Data on TNG, said there was "no way" he could say no to the opportunity to work with Stewart again....

The show is set 20 years after the events of "Star Trek: The Next Generation" around the year 2399. This sets the series further into the future than any previous Star Trek series. But fans should not expect to see the same Jean-Luc Picard they know from "The Next Generation" series. During the press tour, Kurtzman teased that the show will be very different and "grounded." The series will explore how Picard has changed in that time, making him reckon with the choices he has made. Kurtzman hinted that there are circumstances that have "radically" shifted that have caused the beloved Starfleet admiral to question his life decisions.

The two-minute trailer includes a surprising cameo, and Variety reports that CBS has also committed to two seasons of Star Trek: Lower Decks, an animated series focused on "the support crew serving on one of Starfleet's least important ships." (They also report that Seth MacFarlane announced season 3 of The Orville will be moving from Fox to Hulu.)

Also at Comic-Con, HBO shared the first full trailer for their upcoming Watchmen TV series, a sequel to the original Alan Moore graphic novel. Rolling Stone quotes HBO as saying that Watchmen "takes place in an alternative, contemporary reality in the United States, in which masked vigilantes became outlawed due to their violent methods."

Marvel also revealed that their next Thor movie (Thor: Love and Thunder) will incude both Chris Hemsworth and Natalie Portman as Lady Thor, and shared footage from their upcoming Black Widow movie. And CNET has a comprehensive rundown (with trailers) of all the DC Comics superhero shows on the CW network, including Arrow, Supergirl, The Flash, Black Lightning, and Batwoman.
IT

Atlassian Changes Annual Performance Reviews To Stop Rewarding 'Brilliant Jerks' (businessinsider.com.au) 418

Australia-based Atlassian"has implemented a new performance review strategy designed to give their workers a better evaluation of how they're performing," reports Business Insider, adding that Atlassian's global head of talent said the company wants to measure contributions to a larger team effort. "We want people to get rewarded for what they delivered." In 2018 it soft-launched a strategy where most of its performance review process will have nothing to do with the skills in an employee's job, but more to do with how well they are living with the company values. Now, the strategy is being rolled out permanently and will be tied to employee bonuses... "We want to be able to evaluate a whole person and encourage them to bring their full self to work and not just focus on skills itself, but really focus on the way they do their work," said Bek Chee, Atlassian's global head of talent. She added that while workforces have changed over the past 30 years, performance reviews, for the most part, have stayed the same...

With this performance review system, Atlassian aims to throw out the idea of the "brilliant jerk", which Chee describes as someone who is technically-talented, but perhaps at the expense of others. Instead it is focusing on how an employee demonstrates the company values, how they complete their roles and how they contribute to their team. "We really want to enforce the way that values get lived, the way that people impact the team and the way that they also contribute within their role.

Space

Can We Use Special Sails To Bring Old Satellites Back Down To Earth? (universetoday.com) 68

There's already nearly 5,000 satellites orbiting earth, "and many of them are non-functioning space debris now, clogging up orbital paths for newer satellites," reports Universe Today. Yet over the next five years we expect to launch up to 2600 more -- which is prompting a search for solutions to "the growing problem of space debris in Low-Earth Orbit." Some exotic-sounding solutions involve harpoons, nets, magnets, even lasers. Now NASA has given Purdue University-related startup Vestigo Aerospace money for a six month study that looks at using drag sails to de-orbit space junk, including satellites, spent rocket boosters, and other debris, safely...Drag sails are a bit different than other methods. While the harpoons, lasers, and nets proposed by various agencies are meant to deal with the space junk that's already accumulated, drag sails are designed to be built into a satellite and deployed at the end of their useful life... Once deployed, they would reduce an object's velocity and then help it deorbit safely.

Currently, satellites deorbit more or less on their own terms, and it's difficult to calculate where they may strike Earth, if they're too large to burn up on re-entry... [D]rag sails offer an affordable, and potentially easy-to-develop method to ensure future satellites don't outlive their usefulness.

The company was started by a Purdue associate professor of engineering who tells the site they're building in scalability, so their sails can handle satellites that weigh one kilogram -- or one ton.
Graphics

'Fortnite' Creator Epic Games Supports Blender Foundation With $1.2 Million (blender.org) 43

Long-time slashdot reader dnix writes: Apparently having a lot of people playing Fortnite is good for the open source community too. Epic Games' MegaGrants program just awarded the Blender Foundation with $1.2 million over the next three years...to further the success of the free and open source 3D creation suite.
It's part of the company's $100 million "MegaGrants" program, according to the announcement. "Open tools, libraries and platforms are critical to the future of the digital content ecosystem," said Tim Sweeney, founder and CEO of Epic Games. "Blender is an enduring resource within the artistic community, and we aim to ensure its advancement to the benefit of all creators."
Programming

GitLab Survey Finds Positive Results For Both DevOps and Working Remotely (gitlab.com) 34

GitLab's CEO and co-founder says there was one big takeaway from their recent "2019 Global Developer Report: DevSecOps": that early adopters of a strong Devops model experience greater security. "Security teams in a longstanding DevOps environment reported they are three times more likely to discover bugs before code is merged," according to the GitLab blog, "and 90% more likely to test between 91% and 100% of code than teams who encounter early-stage DevOps."

But after polling over 4,000 software professionals, the survey also found positive results from another workplace arrangement, which they report under the headline "Remote work works." According to our survey respondents, working remotely leads to greater collaboration, better documentation, and transparency.

In fact, developers in a mostly remote environment are 23% more likely to have good insight into what colleagues are working on and rate the maturity of their organization's security practices 29% higher than those who work in a traditional office environment.

Microsoft

Microsoft demos Hologram 'Holoportation' (zdnet.com) 48

Microsoft "continues to plug away at making holoportation possible," reports ZDNet: In a new demonstration, officials showed off a scenario where a life-sized holographic representation of a person could be beamed into a scenario with real-time simultaneous language translation happening -- a communication scenario on which Microsoft has been working for years. At Microsoft's Inspire partner show (which is co-located with its Ready sales kick-off event) on July 17, Microsoft demonstrated such a scenario on stage during CEO Satya Nadella's keynote. Azure Corporate Vice President Julia White donned a HoloLens 2 headset and [demonstrated] a full-size hologram of herself translated simultaneously into Japanese and maintaining her speech cadence and patterns. [Microsoft later said that the life-sized hologram was created at Microsoft's Mixed Reality Capture Studios.]

Microsoft pulled off the demo by combining a number of its existing technologies, White said, including Azure speech-to-text, Azure Speech Translation and neural text-to-speech. The text-to-speech from Azure Speech Services allows apps, tools and devices to convert text into natural human-like synthesized speech. Users can create their own custom voice unique to them.

In a video of the demo, White first appears to be holding a smaller version of her hologram in the palm of her own hand.

She jokingly telling the audience, "Let me introduce you to Mini-Me."
Earth

Earth Just Had Its Hottest June On Record (therecord.com) 211

Layzej shared this article from the Washington Post: Boosted by a historic heat wave in Europe and unusually warm conditions across the Arctic and Eurasia, the average temperature of the planet soared to its highest level ever recorded in June. According to data released Monday by NASA, the global average temperature was 1.7 degrees Fahrenheit (0.93 Celsius) above the June norm (based on a 1951-to-1980 baseline), easily breaking the previous June record of 1.5 degrees Fahrenheit (0.82 Celsius), set in 2016, above the average.

The month was punctuated by a severe heat wave that struck Western Europe in particular during the last week, with numerous all-time-hottest-temperature records falling in countries with centuries-old data sets. Notably, 13 locations in France surpassed their highest temperature ever recorded. The heat wave's highest temperature of 114.6 degrees Fahrenheit (45.9 Celsius), posted in Gallargues-le-Montueux, was 3.2 degrees above the old record, set during an infamous heat wave in July and August 2003.

Canada

Unprecedented Heat Wave Near North Pole (www.cbc.ca) 195

Long-time slashdot reader Freshly Exhumed quotes the CBC: Weather watchers are focused on the world's most northerly community, which is in the middle of a record-breaking heat wave. "It's really quite spectacular," said David Phillips, Environment Canada's chief climatologist. "This is unprecedented." The weather agency confirmed that Canadian Forces Station Alert hit a record of 21 C [69.8 F] on Sunday. On Monday, the military listening post on the top of Ellesmere Island had reached 20 C [68 F] by noon and inched slightly higher later in the day.
A government report in April found that Canada was warming at twice the rate of the rest of the world, and this new article points out that recently records have been beaten "not by fractions, but by large margins." For example, the Alert station's average temperature had been a cool 44.6 F, and Environment Canada's chief climatologist says a deviation of this magnitude is like the city of Toronto reaching a high of 107.6 F.

"It's nothing that you would have ever seen."
Bitcoin

Celo Launches Decentralized Open Source Financial Services Prototype (forbes.com) 32

Forbes notes that other financial transaction platforms hope to benefit from Facebook's struggles in launching its Libra cryptocurrency -- including Celo. The key value proposition of the assets running on top of the [Celo] platform is that they are immune to the wide swings in volatility that have plagued leading crypto assets in recent years. Many are designed to mirror the price movements of traditional currency, and most have names that reflect their fiat brethren, such as the Gemini Dollar. This is a critical need for the industry, as no asset will be able to serve as a currency if it does not maintain a consistent price. However, rather than being a centralized issuer that supports the price pegs with fiat held in banks, Celo has built a full-stack platform (meaning it developed the underlying blockchain and applications that run on top), that can offer an unlimited number of stablecoins all backed by cryptoassets held in reserve.

Furthermore, Celo is what is known as an algorithmic-based stablecoin provider. This distinction means that rather than being a centralized entity that controls issuances and redemptions, the company employs a smart-contract based stability protocol that automatically expands or contracts the supply of its collateral reserves in a fashion similar to how the Federal Reserve adjusts the U.S. monetary supply... Additionally, a key differentiator for Celo from similar projects is that for the first time its blockchain platform allows users to send/receive money to a person's phone number, IP address, email, as well as other identifiers. This feature will be critical to the long-term success for the network because it eliminates the need for counterparties in a transaction to share their public keys with each other prior to a transaction.

And now... Celo is open-sourcing its entire codebase and design after two years of development. Additionally, the company is launching the first prototype of its platform, named the Alfajores Testnet, and Celo Wallet, an Android app that will allow users to manage their accounts and send/receive payments on the testnet.

This announcement and product is intended to be just the first of what will be a wide range of financial services applications designed to connect the world.

Celo's investors include LinkedIn founder Reid Hoffman and Twitter/Square CEO Jack Dorsey, the article points out, as well as some of Libra's first members, "including venerated venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz and crypto-unicorn Coinbase."
Google

Go Abandons try() Function Proposal, Citing 'Overwhelming' Community Response (theregister.co.uk) 123

Google's Go programming language will not add a try() function in its next major version, "despite this being a major part of what was proposed," reports the Register: Error handling in Go is currently based on using if statements to compare a returned error value to nil. If it is nil, no error occurred. This requires developers to write a lot of if statements. "In general Go programs have too much code-checking errors and not enough code handling them," wrote Google principal engineer Russ Cox in an overview of the error-handling problem in Go.

There was therefore a proposal to add a built-in try function which lets you eliminate many of the if statements and triggers a return from a function if an error is detected. The proposal was not for full exception handling, which is already present in Go via the panic and recover functions. That proposal has now been abandoned. Robert Griesemer, one of the original designers of Go, announced the decision in a post Tuesday...

"Based on the overwhelming community response and extensive discussion here, we are marking this proposal declined ahead of schedule. As far as technical feedback, this discussion has helpfully identified some important considerations we missed, most notably the implications for adding debugging prints and analyzing code coverage.

"More importantly, we have heard clearly the many people who argued that this proposal was not targeting a worthwhile problem. We still believe that error handling in Go is not perfect and can be meaningfully improved, but it is clear that we as a community need to talk more about what specific aspects of error handling are problems that we should address."

Transportation

The Inventor Who Fought To Get Black Box Flight Recorders Into Every Plane (bbc.com) 73

This week the BBC told the remarkable story of the man who invented the "black box" flight recorders -- and of all the resistance he enountered along the way.

dryriver shared this summary: In 1934, a passenger plane name Miss Hobart crashed into the sea off the coast of Australia. Among those killed was Anglican missionairy Rev Hubert Warren, whose last gift to his 8 year old son David had been a crystal radio set.

Young David Warren spent hours a day tinkering with the radio, eventually learning enough electronics engineering to build his own radios and sell them to other people. David Warren later grew to be a Rocket Scientist working for Australia's Aeronautical Research Laboratories. In 1953, the department loaned him to an expert panel trying to solve a costly and distressing mystery: why did the British de Havilland Comet, the world's first commercial jet airliner and the great hope of the new Jet Age, keep crashing? David Warren was confronted with a daunting problem -- how to determine from heavily deformed crashed plane fragments what had happened to the plane while it was in the air... Warren had an interesting idea -- what if every plane in the sky had a mini recorder in the cockpit...?

Warren's superior did not approve of the idea and told him to stick to chemicals and fuels.

When Warren got a new boss, the new boss was more sympathetic, but told him to do the R&D for it in complete secrecy. Since it wasn't a government-approved venture or a war-winning weapon, it couldn't be seen to take up lab time or money. "If I find you talking to anyone, including me, about this matter, I will have to sack you." When Warren first floated the idea of a cockpit recorder publicly, the pilots' union responded with fury, branding the recorder a snooping device, and insisted "no plane would take off in Australia with Big Brother listening."

Undeterred, Warren took to his garage and invented the first "Black Box" flight recorder.

NASA

NASA Marks The 50-Year Anniversary of Man's First Steps on the Moon (thehill.com) 114

It's exactly one half century from that moment in time when men first walked on the moon, writes NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine.

"Today, on the golden anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing, NASA looks back with heartfelt gratitude for the Apollo generation's trailblazing courage as we -- the Artemis generation -- prepare to take humanity's next giant leap to Mars." The lethargic lull of scientific fatalism afflicted portions of America then as it sometimes does today. There is nothing inevitable about scientific discovery nor is there a predetermined path of cutting-edge innovation. Long hours of arduous study and experimentation are required merely to glimpse a flicker of enlightenment that can lead to greater heights of human achievement...

The Apollo program hastened ground-breaking technological advancements that continue to bestow benefits to modern civilization today. Flame resistant textiles, water purification systems, cordless tools, more effective dialysis machines and improvements to food preservation and medicine are just some of the innovative wonders generated during that era. Furthermore, NASA's utilization of integrated circuits on silicon chips aboard the lunar module's computer unit helped jumpstart the budding computer industry into the massive enterprise it is today. Perhaps the most enduring legacy of the Apollo missions was their ability to inspire young Americans across the country to join science, technology, engineering and math related fields of study...

After more than 50 years, the benefits of human space exploration to humanity are clear. By proud example, the Apollo program taught us we cannot venture aimlessly into the uncharted territory of future discovery merely hoping to happen upon greater advancement. Technological progress is a deliberate choice made by investing in missions that will expand our limits of understanding and capability...

NASA is preparing to use the lunar surface as a proving ground to perfect our scientific and technological knowledge and utilize international partnerships, as well as the growing commercial space industry.

This time when we go back to the moon we are going to stay...

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