February 28, 2017

Intel meets some of its key diversity goals

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Intel meets some of its key diversity goals

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Intel meets some of its key diversity goals

The company also says it beat its own hiring target for the year (45.1 percent diverse), and notes that representation for women is up to 25.8 percent, or 2.3 points more than in 2014. Other progress? Intel now has a more diverse roster of vice presidents (41 percent) and decision-making Fellows, and it’s spending more money with diverse suppliers.

As happy as Intel is, it’s quick to admit that not everything is going smoothly. The ratio of underrepresented minorities has barely moved, growing just 0.2 points to 12.5 percent. Minorities in technical roles even slid a bit — there’s a lower ratio of Hispanic tech workers than there was in the 2015 report. Intel’s hiring approach may do well for women and non-technical positions, then, but it still leaves something to be desired.

The findings are leading Intel to switch its focus for 2017. It’s going to focus more on improving minority representation, and will start to think about intersectionality between these groups. For example, it’s making sure that non-white women will have more opportunities for promotion. Also, every manager will go through training to help them create and run more inclusive teams. Intel isn’t certain to hit its 2020 diversity targets by any means, but it at least has an idea as to what needs the most work.


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Google has shipped over 10 million Cardboard VR headsets – The Verge

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Google has shipped over 10 million Cardboard VR headsets – The Verge

Google says it’s shipped 10 million of its Cardboard virtual reality viewers since they first appeared in 2014. The company celebrated the number in a blog post today, along with a couple more statistics: people have made 160 million downloads of Cardboard apps on Google Play, and 30 Cardboard titles have over a million downloads apiece. The shipment numbers also presumably don’t include mobile VR viewers that aren’t official Cardboard headsets, but could still be used with Cardboard apps.

It’s hard to say how much this tells us about demand for Cardboard headsets, since many were given out for free as promotional tools. The New York Times, for example, mailed over a million of them to print subscribers in 2015, then another round in 2016. But it’s useful to know how many are out there, especially right after Sony gave some hard numbers for its far more expensive PlayStation VR headset. Google’s last big Cardboard milestone came in January of 2016, when it marked 5 million headsets shipped.

Alongside this news, Google announced a few new virtual and augmented reality apps. For Daydream, there’s a video app from broadcasting company Sky, offering 360-degree videos. For its Tango augmented reality platform, there are three new apps. A Sims app lets you tour a Sims house, Chelsea Kicker lets you play with a virtual soccer star, and WSJ AR visualizes stock trends in augmented reality. None of these are exactly killer apps, but they show continued — if gradual — investment in VR and AR.


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This $100 Star-Lord helmet has built-in Bluetooth headphones – The Verge

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This $100 Star-Lord helmet has built-in Bluetooth headphones – The Verge

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 hits theaters later this year, and part of the oncoming wave of toys and tie-ins that Disney will be launching is this truly spectacular Star-Lord replica helmet. For $100, you’ll get a light-up version of the glowing helm from the film complete with sound effects. Oh, and it’s also a fully functional Bluetooth headset. So you can not only look like Star-Lord, but rock out in true Peter Quill style.

Do they sound good? Probably not. At the end of the day, it’s still a plastic toy helmet. But like the $100,00 diamond headphones, the Star-Lord helmet isn’t about specs. It’s about style. Throw in a fancy leather duster and some boots, and you’re basically Chris Pratt.

Most importantly, the helmet is sized to fit most adults. So grab your copy of the Guardians of the Galaxy: Awesome Mix, Vol. 1, cue up “Hooked on a Feeling” by Blue Swede, and get ready to save the galaxy.

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Amazon’s web servers are back online after more than four hours of disruption – The Verge

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Amazon’s web servers are back online after more than four hours of disruption – The Verge

Amazon has brought its hosting services back online after more than four hours of errors that took down sites and services across the web. Hosting services are now “operating normally,” Amazon says, and the errors that had been popping up throughout the day are supposed to have been resolved.

A huge number of companies rely on Amazon’s S3 hosting service for their websites and apps, so when Amazon began experiencing errors earlier today, a much larger part of the internet felt it too.

Trello, Quora, and IFTTT were among the services that went down because of the errors. Nest thermostats and Amazon’s Alexa had problems. And even standbys like isitdownrightnow.com went down.

Amazon’s hosting outages have been pretty rare, but when they hit, they’re wide and noticeable. The last major issue popped up in 2015 and took down or slowed down sites including Netflix, Airbnb, and IMDb.

Today’s issues started around 12:40PM ET. Amazon had begun to restore parts of the service by around 4PM, but it wasn’t until just after 5PM that Amazon said its systems had fully recovered.


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Google says no new Pixel laptop in the works

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Google says no new Pixel laptop in the works

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Google says no new Pixel laptop in the works

Google hardware chief Rick Osterloh had some bad news for Pixel fans at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona today. According to Osterloh, Google has "no plans" to build another laptop, although the wording and the questioning around the statement has us curious about what exactly that might mean, because the questioning appeared to be focused specifically on a new Chromebook Pixel and doesn’t mention a new hybrid Pixel C tablet/laptop.

According to TechCrunch, Osterloh told journalists at MWC that Google doesn’t currently have plans for a "Google-branded laptop", but Osterloh reiterated that Google is dedicated to the Chrome OS platform as a whole. The push behind Android apps on Chrome OS, and Google’s close work with Samsung on the new Samsung Chromebook Plus and (upcoming) Pro proves that Google is all-in on Chrome, which Osterloh said holds the "number two market share in the U.S. and U.K." for laptops. 

However, no "Google-branded laptop" doesn’t necessarily mean we won’t see something very similar, like a new tablet hybrid in the Pixel C line. Sure, it’s a technicality, but it would make sense. Google is pushing hard for Android apps on Chrome, but a big part of that is getting developers to update apps to take advantage of larger displays (something Google has failed to do over the years for the most part) and a new Pixel C tablet would help show that Google is not giving up on the tablet form factor. 

We’ll have to wait and see though. 



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Bread Starts Screwing the Environment Before It’s a Loaf

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Bread Starts Screwing the Environment Before It’s a Loaf

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Welcome to planet Earth, little wheat berry. I know, you didn’t ask to be brought into the world…no one did. But you should know that you started fucking the planet over just by being here.

Sure, it may seem like things will get worse when you grow up, what with all of the greenhouse gas emissions—from harvesting to transporting to baking—it’ll take to turn you into a loaf of bread. Those emissions are no joke. But some British scientists told me you’ve been a shit kid from the start.

Those scientists said that food production and consumption leads to around a third of our greenhouse gas emissions, so they too a look at bread to see where the real problems lie. By the time you grow up into an 800 gram (1.8 pound) loaf, the atmosphere will receive greenhouse gases equivalent to 0.388 kilograms (0.85 pounds) of CO2. Of that, 0.173 kg (0.4 pounds) of CO2 comes from the baking stage and another 0.028 kg (.06 lbs) from milling. But you and your friends will also emit the equivalent of 0.256 kg (0.56 lbs) of CO2 per loaf from fertilizer, the chemicals dumped on the ground just to make you grow.

Almost half of your total potential to cause global warming comes from fertilizer alone.

So really, it’s not your fault, but ours. We used ammonium nitrate to fertilize you, which releases the greenhouse gas N20, nitrous oxide, when it goes into the atmosphere. Some experts say N20 is 300 times as good at trapping heat as CO2, which means it is very bad.

And there’s no easy solution. Those scientists behind the new study, which is published this week in Nature Plants, think that we need to reduce the amount of fertilizer we use, but there wouldn’t be nearly as many of you without it. Producing ammonium nitrate more energy efficiently might offset some of the greenhouse gasses, but that seems unlikely.

Sure, maybe we could use fertilizer more carefully, only plots only where we wanted to raise you, rather than blanketing all of the soil with it. Maybe we can talk to other scientists about how to raise you a genetically-modified sibling that needs fewer climate-destroying chemicals to grow.

I know you’re scared about the damage you’ll do to the environment when you move to one of those big belching factories to get turned into flour. But, little wheat berry, this new study has convinced us the real problem is that you were born in the first place.

[Nature Plants]

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Trump Is Rolling Back a Key Obama Rule Protecting US Waters

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Trump Is Rolling Back a Key Obama Rule Protecting US Waters

Better double check that tap water—today, President Trump signed  an executive order aimed at reworking Obama-era protections of clean water. The order asks for a revision of the 2015 Water of the US Act, a move likely to thrill Trump’s supporters in the fossil fuel industry and big agriculture, and confuse just about everyone else. The order doesn’t outright repeal WOTUS, it simply signals new EPA head Scott Pruitt to begin the process of revising and rewriting the law.

Essentially, the Waters of the US Act (WOTUS) brings clarity to the matter of which specific water bodies are covered by the 1972 Clean Water Act, a federal law that regulates harmful pollution entering “waters of the united states.” While navigable rivers and lakes, and their immediate tributaries, were already protected under the Clean Water Act, the regulatory status of upstream tributaries and wetlands that feed into said waterways has long been unclear.

Under WOTUS, all tributaries that have a bed, bank and a high water mark are automatically protected, among other water bodies. The EPA estimates that WOTUS created more regulatory clarity for approximately 3 percent of US waters, and that the rule would protect the drinking water of 117 million Americans, roughly a third of the population.

The WOTUS rule was intended to reduce the number of punitive suits filed against anyone intending to pollute a waterway, by making it so companies must first apply for an EPA permit to do so. Companies must also promise to stay beneath pollution thresholds set by the EPA itself. The more water bodies that are explicitly protected under the Clean Water Act, the more regulatory power the EPA has in setting the water quality standards, issuing permits and penalizing companies and farmers who put drinking water and ecosystems at risk.

WOTUS has many critics, including the American Farm Bureau Federation, which argues that the rule is still unclear about which water sources require permits, and says that the rule micromanages farmers. The EPA has countered that the language of WOTUS is intended to clarify which waterways will be protected, and that the focus will remain on critical waterways, not trivial suits for ditches or puddles. Trump, while signing, said the rule did, in fact, legislate “puddles.”

Undoing EPA legislation aimed at protecting our environment is entirely in line with Trump and Pruitt’s agenda of massive deregulation. Pruitt has also taken to emphasizing “federalism,” saying that the EPA shouldn’t interfere in matters best left to states. But when it comes to pollution, he’s ignoring one crucial truth: nature doesn’t care about borders. What if a polluting company is within localized regulations in the state where polluted water begins, but not where it ends up? Cross-state pollution via waterways requires a mediating body, and if that mediating body is not going to be the EPA, it’s going to be the courts.

“There are very few states that have the regulatory apparatus, the institutions and the civil servants with the scientific and legal expertise” to handle Pruitt’s federalist approach to environmental oversight, said Danny Cullenward, a research associate at the Carnegie Institution for Science. “I think the idea that more than a small number of states would be capable of doing that is a farce.”

In addition to Big Ag, fossil fuel, timber, and mining companies all spoke out against WOTUS in wake of its rollout in 2015. Massive WOTUS revision is likely to be good news for Big Oil’s pipeline projects, because companies often have to go through EPA hurdles if their pipelines crossed certain protected water bodies. (This was not true, unfortunately, of the Dakota Access Pipeline. In that case, the Sioux tribe argued that the Clean Water Act permit issued by the EPA overlooked many potential areas of impact in a rush to approve the pipeline.)

Like most environmental laws, however, repealing and revising this one will be a lengthy process that could take years. The New York Times reports full revision may even extend beyond Trump’s first (and hopefully only) term.

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How One Little Amazon Error Can Destroy the Internet

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How One Little Amazon Error Can Destroy the Internet

Image: Amazon / Gizmodo

The fact that Amazon controls a vast swath of cloud computing services became dreadfully clear on Tuesday afternoon when a string of errors brought countless websites to their knees. This consolidation of power is, perhaps suddenly, a very big problem.

Unlike its internet marketplace, Amazon Web Services (AWS) works more like a house of cards than a traditional retail business. After all, instead of selling books and reasonably priced electronics, AWS caters to enterprise clients to provide cloud-computing services. Amazon Simple Storage Service (S3), the product that suffered errors and knocked out a solid portion of the web on Tuesday, provides storage for cloud-based apps like Slack and Trello. Amazon says that its S3 service is “designed to deliver 99.999999999 percent durability” and “99.99 percent availability of objects over a given year.” But when one piece of the infrastructure fails, AWS fails big.

This is because Amazon controls a ridiculous portion of the market share when it comes to cloud computing and, specifically, cloud storage. A Gartner study from August 2016 claims that AWS controls 31 percent of the market in global cloud infrastructure, and the business is growing. The same study said that AWS accounted for 51 percent of Amazon’s profits. (Another study from the same time period puts Amazon’s market share at 45 percent.) Microsoft, IBM, and Google are all expanding their cloud offerings as well, but Amazon’s been the leader in the space since 2006.

So for over a decade, Amazon has been king of the cloud. During that span of time, the company’s business model, which Jeff Bezos once compared to the early days of electricity, enabled startups to scale and yet still afford the cost of hosting. Ingrid Burrington explained in The Atlantic last year:

In practice, this meant that pricing for services was entirely contingent on actual use, an approach that allowed developers to rapidly scale small startups into massive companies by paying for infrastructure support on an as-needed basis and scaffolding as needs grew. Thanks to AWS, the initial overhead for starting a service like Airbnb or Slack (both AWS customers) is so low that those companies can afford to expand quickly.

But what happens when any service gets so big that its tentacles touch the entire industry? Its failures become amplified to a destructive degree. In the case of AWS, that .01 percent of the time when your data isn’t available means that over a third of the internet ceases to function well. Amazon won’t say how many cloud computing customers it has or the exact percentage of internet traffic that’s affected when an error happens. But Tuesday’s outage showed that it could bring entire networks of websites grinding to a halt. (Gizmodo Media is an AWS customer, so I can confirm that this was a fucked up day.)

Meanwhile, the fact that many of Amazon’s AWS servers are located in northern Virginia, where an unholy number of tubes come together to form one of the most congested bottlenecks of internet traffic, certainly doesn’t help. Amazon says that this region, known as US-EAST-1, was the source of Tuesday’s outage.

So while this week’s paralyzing series of errors gave Amazon engineers a terrible headache, cloud computing competitors like Microsoft, IBM, and Google must be thrilled. As mentioned earlier, they’re all gaining on Amazon’s absurd market share, and now their salespeople will have a single incident to show that AWS is not 100 percent durable. The fact that added competition should improve services and lower prices for everyone is undeniably a good thing, too.

Amazon still hasn’t explained exactly what went down on Tuesday. In response to a Gizmodo request for comment the company said:

We continue to experience high error rates with S3 in US-EAST-1, which is impacting various AWS services. We are working hard at repairing S3, believe we understand root cause, and are working on implementing what we believe will remediate the issue.

That’s basically a different version of the error notice posted on the AWS website. We’ll update this post as we learn more. In the meantime, good luck using the internet. It’s a mess out there.

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Amazon Just Broke the Internet [Updating]

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Amazon Just Broke the Internet [Updating]

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Amazon Just Broke the Internet [Updating]

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A little after 1pm on Tuesday, countless websites and web services ground to a halt following a reported widespread outage of Amazon Web Services (AWS).

Everything from Slack to Quora to your own beloved Gizmodo saw major disruptions. Before Down Detector itself went down, the site showed outages on the tier 1 network Level3 in most major population centers in the United States.

Image: Level3

It’s unclear what’s causing the problem, but AWS did say on its website that it’s experiencing “increased error rates.” More specifically, the company said in an alert:

We’ve identified the issue as high error rates with S3 in US-EAST-1, which is also impacting applications and services dependent on S3. We are actively working on remediating the issue.

Amazon S3 refers to the company’s Simple Storage Service that helps countless websites stay up and running. Because so many services depend on Amazon’s cloud storage, a single outage can cripple America’s internet in a matter of minutes.

The situation undeniably draws comparison to the DDoS attack that affected Dyn’s systems late last year, bringing most of America’s internet to its knees. While it’s unclear if hackers are behind this AWS outage, lots of work days are being ruined for people who depend on the internet to do their jobs.

We’ve reached out to Amazon for more details about the outage and will update this post when we hear back.

Update 3:37 PM: Looks like Amazon is making progress!

Update 3:45 PM: We now know that the widespread outage was cause by a failure at AWS’ Northern Virginia facility. It’s AWS’ oldest farm and also the most commonly borked. The Atlantic did a nice story on it earlier this year.

Our own services here were affected by the outage, and others affected that we’ve seen include Slack, Trello, JWPlayer, SocialFlow, Charbeat, and Imgur. What’s not working for you?

Update 5:12pm: The latest from Amazon:

S3 object retrieval, listing and deletion are fully recovered now. We are still working to recover normal operations for adding new objects to S3.

That sounds like progress, but the catastrophe still isn’t quite over.

Updating…

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