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NASA Officially Greenlights $3.35 Billion Mission To Saturn's Moon Titan

Slashdot.org - 17 hours 22 min ago
NASA last week formally approved a $3.35 billion mission to explore Saturn's largest moon with a quadcopter drone. "Dragonfly is a spectacular science mission with broad community interest, and we are excited to take the next steps on this mission," said Nicky Fox, associate administrator of NASA's science mission directorate. "Exploring Titan will push the boundaries of what we can do with rotorcraft outside of Earth." The mission has a launch date of July 2028. Ars Technica reports: After reaching Titan, the eight-bladed rotorcraft lander will soar from place to place on Saturn's hazy moon, exploring environments rich in organic molecules, the building blocks of life. Dragonfly will be the first mobile robot explorer to land on any other planetary body besides the Moon and Mars, and only the second flying drone to explore another planet. NASA's Ingenuity helicopter on Mars was the first. Dragonfly will be more than 200 times as massive as Ingenuity and will operate six times farther from Earth. Despite its distant position in the cold outer Solar System, Titan appears to be reminiscent of the ancient Earth. A shroud of orange haze envelops Saturn's largest moon, and Titan's surface is covered with sand dunes and methane lakes. Titan's frigid temperatures -- hovering near minus 290 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 179 degrees Celsius) -- mean water ice behaves like bedrock. NASA's Cassini spacecraft, which flew past Titan numerous times before its mission ended in 2017, discovered weather systems on the hazy moon. Observations from Cassini found evidence for hydrocarbon rains and winds that appear to generate waves in Titan's methane lakes. Clearly, Titan is an exotic world. Most of what scientists know about Titan comes from measurements collected by Cassini and the European Space Agency's Huygens probe, which Cassini released to land on Titan in 2005. Huygens returned the first pictures from Titan's surface, but it only transmitted data for 72 minutes. Dragonfly will explore Titan for around three years, flying tens of kilometers about once per month to measure the prebiotic chemistry of Titan's surface, study its soupy atmosphere, and search for biosignatures that could be indications of life. The mission will visit more than 30 locations within Titan's equatorial region, according to a presentation by Elizabeth Turtle, Dragonfly's principal investigator at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory. "The Dragonfly mission is an incredible opportunity to explore an ocean world in a way that we have never done before," Turtle said in a statement. "The team is dedicated and enthusiastic about accomplishing this unprecedented investigation of the complex carbon chemistry that exists on the surface of Titan and the innovative technology bringing this first-of-its-kind space mission to life."

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Vanguard Sells All Solo 401(k) Accounts to Ascensus

MyMoneyBlog.com - 19 hours 41 min ago

Vanguard recently announced that they are selling their individual 401(k), multiple-participant SEP, and SIMPLE IRA plan business to Ascensus (press release). They’ve already updated their small business retirement plan page. One-person SEP IRAs will stay at Vanguard.

Ascensus will provide custodial and trustee services, recordkeeping, client servicing, transaction processing, tax reporting, and other services, and plan participants will retain access to a diverse lineup of Vanguard mutual funds via the Ascensus platform.

This will affect a lot of small business owners who previously chose to open a Traditional Pre-Tax and/or Roth Solo 401k plan directly with Vanguard. The new stated fee schedule includes a $20 annual fee per Vanguard fund per account holder in the Individual(k) plan and a $20 annual fee per participant for custodial services. I believe the previous fee schedule was just the $20 annual fee per Vanguard fund per account holder, but it was waived if at least one participant had at least $50,000 in qualifying Vanguard assets.

I also find this move interesting in the context of the Vanguard company as a whole. This same week, Fidelity continued moving gradually towards being an “all-in-one” financial marketplace, recently adding a high-yield sweep option to their full-featured Cash Management Account. (I will note though, Fidelity does directly not offer a Roth Solo 401k option!) Fidelity is competing directly with the fintechs like Robinhood and SoFi that also want to be everything finance.

Meanwhile, Vanguard already shut down their own Cash Management option, VanguardAdvantage, in 2019. They made their Admiral Shares mutual funds more expensive than their ETF equivalents (they were initially the same expense ratio), which removed a major incentive to use a Vanguard brokerage account (as most other brokers won’t let you trade Vanguard Admiral mutual funds). There isn’t much reason to hold Vanguard ETFs inside a Vanguard brokerage account now that everyone has commission-free trades, and Vanguard seems perfectly fine with that. Now, they are no longer going to service their past Solo 401(k) clients, whether they wanted to stay with Vanguard or not.

Vanguard definitely seems to be narrowing their focus towards offering investment products like ETFs and mutual funds and simple investment advice. They appear happy to move away from anything that requires high-touch customer interaction like phone calls and paperwork. (I would note that my more recent customer service interactions with Vanguard have been more positive with lower hold times.) This is not necessarily a bad thing, especially if it leaves more resources for their other customers, but definitely a different direction than others.

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Categories: Finance

Voyager 1 Resumes Sending Updates To Earth

Slashdot.org - 20 hours 22 min ago
quonset writes: Just over two weeks ago, NASA figured out why its Voyager 1 spacecraft stopped sending useful data. They suspected corrupted memory in its flight data system (FDS) was the culprit. Today, for the first time since November, Voyager 1 is sending useful data about its health and the status of its onboard systems back to NASA. How did NASA accomplish this feat of long distance repair? They broke up the code into smaller pieces and redistributed them throughout the memory. From NASA: "... So they devised a plan to divide the affected code into sections and store those sections in different places in the FDS. To make this plan work, they also needed to adjust those code sections to ensure, for example, that they all still function as a whole. Any references to the location of that code in other parts of the FDS memory needed to be updated as well. The team started by singling out the code responsible for packaging the spacecraft's engineering data. They sent it to its new location in the FDS memory on April 18. A radio signal takes about 22 1/2 hours to reach Voyager 1, which is over 15 billion miles (24 billion kilometers) from Earth, and another 22 1/2 hours for a signal to come back to Earth. When the mission flight team heard back from the spacecraft on April 20, they saw that the modification worked: For the first time in five months, they have been able to check the health and status of the spacecraft. During the coming weeks, the team will relocate and adjust the other affected portions of the FDS software. These include the portions that will start returning science data.

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California Is Grappling With a Growing Problem: Too Much Solar

Slashdot.org - Mon, 04/22/2024 - 22:33
An anonymous reader quotes a report from the Washington Post: In sunny California, solar panels are everywhere. They sit in dry, desert landscapes in the Central Valley and are scattered over rooftops in Los Angeles's urban center. By last count, the state had nearly 47 gigawatts of solar power installed -- enough to power 13.9 million homes and provide over a quarter of the Golden State's electricity. But now, the state and its grid operator are grappling with a strange reality: There is so much solar on the grid that, on sunny spring days when there's not as much demand, electricity prices go negative. Gigawatts of solar are "curtailed" -- essentially, thrown away. In response, California has cut back incentives for rooftop solar and slowed the pace of installing panels. But the diminishing economic returns may slow the development of solar in a state that has tried to move to renewable energy. And as other states build more and more solar plants of their own, they may soon face the same problems. Curtailing solar isn't technically difficult -- according to Paul Denholm, senior research fellow at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, it's equivalent to flipping a switch for grid operators. But throwing away free power raises electricity prices. It has also undercut the benefits of installing rooftop solar. Since the 1990s, California has been paying owners of rooftop solar panels when they export their energy to the grid. That meant that rooftop solar owners got $0.20 to $0.30 for each kilowatt-hour of electricity that they dispatched. But a year ago, the state changed this system, known as "net-metering," and now only compensates new solar panel owners for how much their power is worth to the grid. In the spring, when the duck curve is deepest, that number can dip close to zero. Customers can get more money back if they install batteries and provide power to the grid in the early evening or morning. The change has sparked a huge backlash from Californians and rooftop solar companies, which say that their businesses are flagging. Indeed, Wood Mackenzie predicts that California residential solar installations in 2024 will fall by around 40 percent. Some state politicians are now trying to reverse the rule. "Under the CPUC's leadership California is responsible for the largest loss of solar jobs in our nation's history," Bernadette del Chiaro, the executive director of the California Solar and Storage Association, said in a statement referring to California's public utility commission. But experts say that it reflects how the economics of solar are changing in a state that has gone all-in on the technology. [...] To cope, [California's grid operator, known as CAISO] is selling some excess power to nearby states; California is also planning to install additional storage and batteries to hold solar power until later in the afternoon. Transmission lines that can carry electricity to nearby regions will also help -- some of the lost power comes from regions where there simply aren't enough power lines to carry a sudden burst of solar. Denholm says the state is starting to take the steps needed to deal with the glut. "There are fundamental limits to how much solar we can put on the grid before you start needing a lot of storage," Denholm said. "You can't just sit around and do nothing." Further reading: The Energy Institute discusses this problem in a recent blog post. Since 2020, the residential electricity rates in California have risen by as much as 40% after adjusting for inflation. While there's been "a lot of finger-pointing about the cause of these increases," the authors note that the impact on rates is multiplied when customers install their own generation and buy fewer kilowatts-hours from the grid because those households "contribute less towards all the fixed costs in the system." These fixed costs include: vegetation management, grid hardening, distribution line undergrounding, EV charging stations, subsidies for low income customers, energy efficiency programs, and the poles and wires that we all rely on whether we are taking electricity off the grid or putting it onto the grid from our rooftop PV systems. "Since those fixed costs still need to be paid, rates go up, shifting costs onto the kWhs still being bought from the grid."

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Pareto's Economic Theories Used To Find the Best Mario Kart 8 Racer

Slashdot.org - Mon, 04/22/2024 - 20:25
Data scientist Antoine Mayerowitz, PhD, applied Vilfredo Pareto's (the early 20th-century Italian economist) theories to Mario Kart 8 Deluxe to determine the best racer combinations. "When you break down the build options (including driver stats and various vehicle details) in Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, there are over 700,000 possible combinations," notes Engadget. "But once you eliminate duplicates that differ only in appearance, you can narrow it down to 'only' 25,704 possibilities." From the report: Pareto's theories, most notably the Pareto front, help us navigate the complexities of choice. They can pinpoint the solutions with the most balanced strengths and the fewest trade-offs. Pareto's work is about efficiency and effectiveness. [...] Mayerowitz's Pareto front analysis lets you narrow your possibilities down to the 14 most efficient. And it turns out the game's top players were onto something: One of the combinations with the most ideal balance of speed, acceleration and mini-turbo is Cat Peach driving the Teddy Buggy, roller tires and cloud glider -- one already favored among Mario Kart 8 competitors. Of course, if that combination isn't your cup of tea, there are others that allow you to stay within the Pareto front's optimal range. As Eurogamer points out, Donkey Kong, Wario (my old standby, mostly because he makes me laugh) and Princess Peach are often highlighted as drivers, and you can use Mayerowitz's data fields to find the best matching vehicles. Keep in mind that others have identical stats, so racers like Villager (female), Inkling Girl and Diddy Kong are separated only by appearances. To find your ideal racer, you can head over to Mayerowitz's website. There, you can enter your most prized stats and view the combos that give you the best balance (those highlighted in yellow), according to Pareto's theories.

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Apple Acquires Datakalab, a French Startup Behind AI and Computer Vision Tech

Slashdot.org - Mon, 04/22/2024 - 19:45
According to French business magazine Challenges, Apple has acquired Datakalab -- a Paris-based startup specializing in artificial intelligence compression and computer vision technology. 9to5Mac reports: Datakalab described itself as "experts in low power, runtime efficient, and deep learning algorithms" that work on device. On its LinkedIn page, Datakalab highlights "industry leading compression and adaptation to deploy embedded computer vision that is fast, cost-effective and precise." Prior to the Apple acquisition had between 10 and 20 employees. From Datakalab's now-defunct website: "Datakalab is a French technology company that develops computer image analysis algorithms to measure flows in public space. The images are instantly transformed into anonymized statistical data processed locally in 100ms. Datakalab does not store any images or personal data and only keeps statistical data. Datakalab products are built according to the principle of 'Privacy by Design.'" While neither Apple nor DatakaLab have acknowledged the acquisition, Challenges says that the deal was reported to the European Commission this month. The report says that Datakalab's two founders did not join Apple, but multiple other employees did make the jump. Datakalab also held multiple patents related to AI compression and vision technology. The acquisition makes perfect sense given Apple's rumored ambitions to run its upcoming AI-related features in iOS 18 "entirely on device."

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Huawei Wants To Take Homegrown HarmonyOS Phone Platform Worldwide

Slashdot.org - Mon, 04/22/2024 - 19:02
An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Register: Huawei plans to expand its native HarmonyOS smartphone platform worldwide, despite coming under US-led sanctions that have deprived it of access to key technologies. "We will work hard to build up the HarmonyOS app ecosystem in the China market first, then, from country to country, we will start gradually pushing it out to other parts of the world," Huawei's rotating chairman Erik Xu told attendees at its 21st Analyst Summit in Shenzhen last week. Part of this process will involve porting apps to HarmonyOS and encouraging other app developers to code for the platform. "In the China market, Huawei smartphone users spend 99 percent of their time on about 5,000 apps. So we decided to spend 2024 porting these apps over to HarmonyOS first in our drive to truly unify the OS and the app ecosystem. We are also encouraging other apps to be ported over to HarmonyOS," Xu said. According to Huawei's rotating chairman, more than 4,000 of those apps are already in the process of being transferred, and the company is "communicating with developers" on the 1,000 or so apps that remain. "This is a massive undertaking, but we have broad support in the industry and from many app developers," he claimed. "Once we have these first 5,000 Android apps -- and thousands of other apps -- up and running on HarmonyOS, we will have a real HarmonyOS: a third mobile operating system for the world," Xu said. That number could reach up to 1 million apps in the future, he claimed. According to Counterpoint Research, HarmonyOS accounted for 4 percent of global market share in the fourth quarter of 2023, and exceeded 16 percent market share in China. That makes it the third largest mobile OS by handset sales, behind Android and iOS. It remains to be seen whether there will be much of a market for HarmonyOS outside of China, given the current sanctions and sour US/EU-China relations.

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Gaming Giant Embracer Group Is Splitting Into Three Companies

Slashdot.org - Mon, 04/22/2024 - 18:20
Jess Weatherbed reports via The Verge: Swedish gaming conglomerate Embracer Group announced plans on Monday to split itself into three distinct games and entertainment companies: Asmodee Group, Coffee Stain & Friends, and Middle-earth Enterprises & Friends. These will be separate, publicly listed companies, according to Embracer, which says the move will allow "each entity to better focus on their respective core strategies and offer more differentiated and distinct equity stories for existing and new shareholders." [...] The three new companies will be broken down as follows: - Middle-earth Enterprises & Friends: This company, which will be renamed from Embracer Group, is described as a "creative powerhouse in AAA game development and publishing" that will retain ownership of the Dead Island, Killing Floor, Kingdom Come Deliverance, Tomb Raider, and The Lord of the Rings IPs. - Asmodee Group: a new arm dedicated to publishing and distributing tabletop games. The existing catalog includes established titles like Ticket to Ride, 7 Wonders, Azul, CATAN, Dobble, and Exploding Kittens. Asmodee is also developing licensed tabletop games based on The Lord of the Rings, Marvel, Game of Thrones, and Star Wars franchises. Embracer anticipates the spinoff and share listings will take place "within 12 months." - Coffee Stain & Friends: described as a "diverse gaming entity" that will focus on indie, mid-market, and free-to-play games. Properties sitting under this new company include Deep Rock Galactic, Goat Simulator, Satisfactory, Wreckfest, Teardown, and Valheim. The share listings are projected to become available in 2025.

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EU Opens Probe of TikTok Lite, Citing Concerns About Addictive Design

Slashdot.org - Mon, 04/22/2024 - 17:40
The European Union has opened a second formal investigation into TikTok under its Digital Services Act (DSA), an online governance and content moderation framework. The investigation centers around TikTok Lite's "Task and Reward" feature that may harm mental health, especially among minors, by promoting addictive behavior. TechCrunch reports: The Commission also said it's minded to impose interim measures that could force the company to suspend access to the TikTok Lite app in the EU while it investigates concerns the app poses mental health risks to users. Although the EU has given TikTok until April 24 to argue against the measure -- meaning the app remains accessible for now. Penalties for confirmed violations of the DSA can reach up to 6% of global annual turnover. So ByeDance, TikTok's parent, could face hefty fines if EU enforcers do end up deciding it has broken the law. The EU's first TikTok probe covers multiple issues including the protection of minors, advertising transparency, data access for researchers, and the risk management of addictive design and harmful content. Hence it said the latest investigation will specifically focus on TikTok Lite, a version of the video sharing platform which launched earlier this month in France and Spain and includes a mechanism that allows users to earn points for doing things like watching or liking videos. Points earned through TikTok Lite can be exchanged for things like Amazon gift vouchers or TikTok's own digital currency for gifting to creators. The Commission is worried this so-called "task and reward" feature could negatively impact the mental health of young users by "stimulating addictive behavior." The EU wrote that the second probe will focus on TikTok's compliance with the DSA obligation to conduct and submit a risk assessment report prior to the launch of the "Task and Reward Lite" program, with a particular focus on negative effects on mental health, including minors' mental health. It also said it will look into measures taken by TikTok to mitigate those risks. In a press release announcing the action, the EU said ByeDance failed to produce a risk assessment about the feature which it had asked to see last week -- when it gave the company 24 hours to produce the document. Since it failed to submit the risk assessment paperwork on April 18 the Commission wrote that it suspects a "prima facie infringement of the DSA."

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Home Assistant Has a New Foundation, Goal To Become a Consumer Brand

Slashdot.org - Mon, 04/22/2024 - 17:00
An anonymous reader quotes a report from Ars Technica: Home Assistant, until recently, has been a wide-ranging and hard-to-define project. The open smart home platform is an open source OS you can run anywhere that aims to connect all your devices together. But it's also bespoke Raspberry Pi hardware, in Yellow and Green. It's entirely free, but it also receives funding through a private cloud services company, Nabu Casa. It contains tiny board project ESPHome and other inter-connected bits. It has wide-ranging voice assistant ambitions, but it doesn't want to be Alexa or Google Assistant. Home Assistant is a lot. After an announcement this weekend, however, Home Assistant's shape is a bit easier to draw out. All of the project's ambitions now fall under the Open Home Foundation, a non-profit organization that now contains Home Assistant and more than 240 related bits. Its mission statement is refreshing, and refreshingly honest about the state of modern open source projects. "We've done this to create a bulwark against surveillance capitalism, the risk of buyout, and open-source projects becoming abandonware," the Open Home Foundation states in a press release. "To an extent, this protection extends even against our future selves -- so that smart home users can continue to benefit for years, if not decades. No matter what comes." Along with keeping Home Assistant funded and secure from buy-outs or mission creep, the foundation intends to help fund and collaborate with external projects crucial to Home Assistant, like Z-Wave JS and Zigbee2MQTT. Home Assistant's ambitions don't stop with money and board seats, though. They aim to "be an active political advocate" in the smart home field, toward three primary principles: - Data privacy, which means devices with local-only options, and cloud services with explicit permissions - Choice in using devices with one another through open standards and local APIs - Sustainability by repurposing old devices and appliances beyond company-defined lifetimes Notably, individuals cannot contribute modest-size donations to the Open Home Foundation. Instead, the foundation asks supporters to purchase a Nabu Casa subscription or contribute code or other help to its open source projects. Further reading: The Verge's interview with Home Assistant founder Paulus Schoutsen

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Europe Baked in 'Extreme Heat Stress' Pushing Temperatures To Record Highs

Slashdot.org - Mon, 04/22/2024 - 16:21
Scorching weather has baked Europe in more days of "extreme heat stress" than its scientists have ever seen. The Guardian: Heat-trapping pollutants that clog the atmosphere helped push temperatures in Europe last year to the highest or second-highest levels ever recorded, according to the EU's Earth-watching service Copernicus and the World Meteorological Organization (WMO). Europeans are suffering with unprecedented heat during the day and are stressed by uncomfortable warmth at night. The death rate from hot weather has risen 30% in Europe in two decades, the joint State of the Climate report from the two organisations found. "The cost of climate action may seem high," said WMO secretary-general Celeste Saulo, "but the cost of inaction is much higher." The report found that temperatures across Europe were above average for 11 months of 2023, including the warmest September since records began. The hot and dry weather fuelled large fires that ravaged villages and spewed smoke that choked far-off cities. The blazes that firefighters battled were particularly fierce in drought-stricken southern countries such as Portugal, Spain and Italy. Greece was hit by the largest wildfire recorded in the EU, which burned 96,000 hectares of land, according to the report. Heavy rain also led to deadly floods. Europe was about 7% wetter in 2023 than the average over the last three decades, the report found, and one-third of its river network crossed the "high" flood threshold. One-sixth hit "severe" levels.

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Study: Alphabetical Order of Surnames May Affect Grading

Slashdot.org - Mon, 04/22/2024 - 15:41
AmiMoJo writes: Knowing your ABCs is essential to academic success, but having a last name starting with A, B or C might also help make the grade. An analysis by University of Michigan researchers of more than 30 million grading records from U-M finds students with alphabetically lower-ranked names receive lower grades. This is due to sequential grading biases and the default order of students' submissions in Canvas -- the most widely used online learning management system -- which is based on alphabetical rank of their surnames. What's more, the researchers found, those alphabetically disadvantaged students receive comments that are notably more negative and less polite, and exhibit lower grading quality measured by post-grade complaints from students.

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New Search experiences in EEA: Rich results, aggregator units, and refinement chips

GoogleWebmasterCentral - Mon, 04/22/2024 - 15:35

Following our latest update on our preparations for the DMA (Digital Markets Act), we're sharing more details about what publishers can expect to see in regards to new search results in European Economic Area (EEA) countries, and how they can express interest in these experiences.

Categories: Web