Category Archives: Technology

silicon valley & technology news

Twitter Surprises With Third Quarter Earnings

Twitter is reporting a loss of $21.1 million in its third quarter, but turned in a better-than-expected profit when one-time charges and benefits are removed.

 

Shares of Twitter Inc. soared almost 9 percent before the opening bell Thursday.

 

The San Francisco company had a loss of 3 cents, but a gain of 10 cents if those non-re-occurring events are removed.  That’s 2 cents better than industry analysts had predicted, according to a survey by Zacks Investment Research.

 

Revenue was $589.6 million in the period, in line with expectations.

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Twitter Toughens Abuse Rules – and now has to Enforce Them

Twitter is enacting new policies around hate, abuse and ads, but creating new rules is only half the battle – the easy half.

The bigger problem is enforcement, and there the company has had some high-profile bungles recently. That includes its much-criticized suspension of actress Rose McGowan while she was speaking out against Harvey Weinstein, and the company’s ban, later reversed, of a controversial ad by a Republican Senate candidate.

 

The twists and turns suggest that Twitter doesn’t always communicate the intent of its rules to the people enforcing them. The company says it will be clearer about these policies and decisions in the future.

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Ancient Origami Art Becomes Engineers’ Dream in Space

Robert Salazar has been playing with origami, the Japanese art of paper folding, since he was 8 years old. When he sees a sheet of paper, his imagination takes over and intricate animals take shape.

“Seeing the single uncut sheet, it has everything you need to create all of the origami that have ever been folded. It is all in the single sheet so there is endless potential,” Salazar said.

The endless potential of origami, folding a single sheet of paper into an intricate sculpture, reaches all the way to space.

Salazar’s 17-year experience with origami is appreciated at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. As a contractor and intern, Salazar is helping create objects that may one day be used in space exploration.

“Origami offers the potential to take a very large structure, even a vast structure, and you can get it to fit within the rocket, go up, then deploy back out again. So it greatly magnifies what we are capable of building in space,” Salazar said.

Folding a large object into a relatively small space is not a simple task.

“A big challenge in origami design in general is that because all of these folds share a single resource, which is a single sheet … everything is highly interdependent, so if you change just one feature it has an impact on everything else,” Salazar said.

“One of our guide stars really is keep it as simple as can be,” said Manan Arya, a technologist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. “Don’t add unnecessary complexity because every piece of complexity, every piece of hardware you add, that ends up being another potential point of failure.”

Starshade

Folding an object the size of a baseball diamond so that it could fit into a rocket is the goal of a NASA project called Starshade.

Once it opens in space, Starshade would allow a space telescope to better see the planets around bright stars.

“Seeing an exoplanet next to its parent star is like trying to image a firefly next to a search light, the searchlight being the star,” said Arya, who is  working on the Starshade project. “Starshade seeks to block out that starlight so you can image a really faint exoplanet right next to it.”

Origami robot

Origami is also used in designing a robot called the Pop-Up Flat Folding Explorer Robot, or PUFFER. It has a body that can fold itself flat and roll under small spaces. PUFFER has been tested on desert terrains and snowy slopes. It may one day end up on a mission to another planet.

 

“It [PUFFER] is to explore environments otherwise inaccessible to a robot that could not fold itself to fit inside these cracks, [to] explore cave systems, could be other planets, even on our own,” Salazar said.

Origami antenna

Another application for space origami design is to pack an antenna into satellites the size of a briefcase, called CubeSats.

“The bigger the antenna you have, the more gain your antenna has, so it is useful to have a big antenna that gets packaged into this tiny space that unfolds out to be a large antenna. The biggest CubeSat antennas right now are about half a meter,” Arya said.

Unexplored territory

There are also largely unexplored surfaces that can utilize origami concepts in designing new technologies.

“So often, origami design has been tailored toward materials that are already lying flat,” Salazar said. “But there is actually a vastly, a much larger field of application for which the surfaces are not flat, so they could be parabolic. They could be spherical. They could be many combinations of doubly curved surfaces coming together. All of these things can also be folded.”

In the current origami-inspired technologies being developed at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, there is a graceful beauty to the folding and unfolding of designs such as the Starshade, which unfurls into what looks like a sunflower. In origami, Salazar said, art, science and engineering are only superficially different.

“Really, when it comes down to it, you’re looking at the world,” he said. “You’re making observations. You’re finding patterns in these observations. [You’re] developing an understanding of what you see, then using that understanding to create. And when you’re creating, [it] can either be creating with the intention of solving a physical problem or it could be nonphysical. It could be aesthetic. You’re trying to find a particular impact on people when they see your work. So really, the practice is the same.”

In origami, Salazar said art, science and engineering are quite similar. They draw on making observations and creating something that produces an impact.

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Facebook to Build Wind Farm to Help Power Omaha Data Center

Facebook is partnering with a developer to build a wind power farm in northeast Nebraska that will supply energy for the company’s planned data center.

The social media giant announced last week that it has partnered with Trade Winds Energy to build the Rattlesnake Creek Wind Project in rural Dixon County.

Facebook plans to use energy from the wind farm to power its upcoming data center in Papillion, a suburb of Omaha. Of the 320 megawatts of power the wind farm will create, 200 of them will be allocated to the data center while the remaining will be available for other buyers.

 

Officials said the project will produce the second-largest wind farm in Nebraska, behind the 400-megawatt Grande Prairie project in Holt County. Officials also said the new wind farm will generate enough energy to power 90,000 homes.

 

Both projects are examples of the state’s rich wind resource being acknowledged, said David Bracht, director of the Nebraska Energy Office.

 

“The wind projects that have been installed [in Nebraska] have shown themselves to be very, very productive,” Bracht said.

 

A new electric rate structure rolled out in January by the Omaha Public Power District means Facebook can power its data center with 100 percent clean energy. The company also aims to get at least 50 percent of its total electricity consumption from clean and renewable energy sources in 2018.

 

Neither Facebook nor Trade Winds provided a timeline or cost for the wind farm.

 

 

 

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Cell Game: Novel Software Helps Match Up Inmates, Prisons

A university engineering department has developed what amounts to a Tinder app for criminals — a computer program that matches inmates with suitable prisons.

The software, unique in the corrections field, has saved the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections about $3 million in its first year. It’s resulted in fewer prison assaults, shortened wait times for treatment programs by nearly two months, reduced the number of prison transfers and lightened the workload of corrections staff.

Corrections officials marvel that nobody thought of it sooner.

“It’s pretty amazing, and what we’ve seen so far is the outcomes are a lot better,” said Major William Nicklow of the state prison in Camp Hill, who oversaw the project as the prison system’s director of population management.

On Tuesday, the Lehigh University team that developed the software accepted the Wagner Prize, the top international prize in the field of operations research practice.

Their work has dramatically simplified the job of assigning inmates to prisons.

Previously, corrections staff handled prisoner assignments one at a time, a laborious and inefficient process that meant inmates farther down the list were at a disadvantage when it came to placement in high-demand treatment programs.

The software, in contrast, can assign hundreds of inmates simultaneously, taking into account dozens of factors including age and other inmate demographics, criminal history, mental illness, and educational and vocational interests to come up with the most appropriate placement for each inmate. It also identifies gang members as well as inmates most likely to be violent and separates them, reducing the threat at individual prisons.

The software can finish in minutes what it took a staff of seven an entire week to do.

“This very complex problem is mathematically modeled, put in the system and the system is advising where the inmate has to be assigned,” said Tamas Terlaky, one of the program’s developers and a professor in Lehigh’s industrial and systems engineering department. “The benefits are quite obvious.”

Other corrections departments have taken note. At least three other states as well as the federal prison system have made inquiries about the software, Terlaky said.

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Twitter to Label Election Ads after US Regulatory Threat

Twitter Inc said on Tuesday it would add labels to election-related advertisements and say who is behind each of them, after a threat of regulation from the United States over the lack of disclosure for political spending on social media.

Twitter said in a blog post the company would launch a website so that people could see the identities of the buyers, targeting demographics and total ad spending by election advertisers, as well as information about all ads currently running on Twitter, election-related or otherwise.

Silicon Valley social media firms and the political ads that run on their websites have generally been free of the disclaimers and other regulatory demands that U.S. authorities impose on television, radio and satellite services.

Calls for that to change have grown, however, after Twitter, Facebook Inc and Alphabet Inc’s Google said in recent weeks that Russian operatives used fake names on their platforms to spread divisive messages in the run-up to the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

Russia has denied interfering in the election.

Twitter plans to make changes first in the United States and then roll them out globally.

Changes would appear within Twitter feeds, where election ads would have a label like “promoted by political account,” the company said.

“To make it clear when you are seeing or engaging with an electioneering ad, we will now require that electioneering advertisers identify their campaigns as such,” Bruce Falck, Twitter’s general manager of revenue product, said in the blog post.

Twitter also said it would limit the targeting options for election ads, although it did not say how, and introduce stronger penalties for election advertisers who violate policies.

Democratic U.S. Senator Mark Warner said from his Twitter account that the moves by the company were a “good first step” but he added that Congress should make the disclosures mandatory by approving legislation he is co-sponsoring.

Policing difficult

Separately, Twitter has long been criticized by users and lawmakers as lax in policing fake or abusive accounts. Unlike Facebook, Twitter allows anonymous accounts and automated accounts, or bots, making the service more difficult to police.

Twitter said last month it had suspended about 200 Russia-linked accounts as it investigated online efforts to influence last year’s U.S. election.

The general counsels for Facebook, Google and Twitter are scheduled to testify next week before public hearings of the Senate and House intelligence committees.

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Source of Protective Space Shield Identified

Human-caused space pollution can range from a hammer that floats away from a space station, to a nuclear weapons test in the atmosphere, and could damage nearby spacecraft. But one unexpected source of “pollution” helps many satellites. The special pollution protects spacecraft from “killer electrons,” in a region above the earth called the Van Allen belts. Reporting from Boulder, Colorado, Shelley Schlender reports.

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High Rise Buildings Can Be Earthquake-Proof

After a deadly earthquake in 1985, authorities in Mexico City decided they must start constructing houses that can withstand strong shakes. Government buildings, hospitals and schools are now built according to stricter rules, while architects are pushing for their application to other structures too, especially high rise apartment buildings. VOA’s George Putic reports.

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Facebook Tests Splitting Its News Feed Into Two

Facebook Inc said on Monday it was testing the idea of dividing its News F eed in two, separating commercial posts from personal news in a move that could lead some businesses to increase advertising.

The Facebook News Feed, the centerpiece of the world’s largest social network service, is a streaming series of posts such as photos from friends, updates from family members, advertisements and material from celebrities or other pages that a user has liked.

 

The test, which is occurring in six smaller countries, now  offers two user feeds, according to a statement from the company: one feed focused on friends and family and a second dedicated to the pages that the customer has liked.

The change could force those who run pages, everyone from news outlets to musicians to sports teams, to pay to run advertisements if they want to be seen in the feed that is for friends and family.

The test is taking place in Bolivia, Cambodia, Guatemala, Serbia, Slovakia and Sri Lanka, and it will likely go on for months, Adam Mosseri, the Facebook executive in charge of the News Feed, said in a blog post.

Mosseri said the company has no plans for a global test of the two separate feeds for its 2 billion users.

Facebook also does not currently plan to force commercial pages “to pay for all their distribution,” he said.

Facebook, based in Menlo Park, California, frequently tests changes big and small as it tries to maximize the time people spend scrolling and browsing the network. Sometimes it makes changes permanent, and other times not.

Depending on how people respond, two news feeds could mean that they see fewer links to news stories. News has proved to be a tricky area for Facebook, as hoaxes and false news stories have sometimes spread easily on the network.

The test has already affected website traffic for smaller media outlets in recent days, Slovakian journalist Filip Struharik wrote over the weekend in a post on Medium.

Publishers might need to buy more Facebook ads to be seen, he wrote: “If you want your Facebook page posts to be seen in old newsfeed, you have to pay.”

 

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Amazon Says It Received 238 Proposals for 2nd Headquarters

Amazon said Monday that it received 238 proposals from cities and regions in the United States, Canada and Mexico hoping to be the home of the company’s second headquarters.

The online retailer kicked off its hunt for a second home base in September, promising to bring 50,000 new jobs and spend more than $5 billion on construction. Proposals were due last week, and Amazon made clear that tax breaks and grants would be a big deciding factor on where it chooses to land.

Amazon.com Inc. said the proposals came from 43 U.S. states as well as Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico, three Mexican states and six Canadian provinces. In a tweet, the company said it was “excited to review each of them.”

Besides looking for financial incentives, Amazon had stipulated that it was seeking to be near a metropolitan area with more than a million people; be able to attract top technical talent; be within 45 minutes of an international airport; have direct access to mass transit; and be able to expand that headquarters to as much as 8 million square feet in the next decade.

Generous tax breaks and other incentives can erode a city’s tax base. For the winner, it could be worth it, since an Amazon headquarters could draw other tech businesses and their well-educated, highly paid employees.

The seven U.S. states that Amazon said did not apply were: Arkansas, Hawaii, Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Vermont and Wyoming.

Ahead of the deadline, some cities turned to stunts to try and stand out: Representatives from Tucson, Arizona, sent a 21-foot tall cactus to Amazon’s Seattle headquarters; New York lit the Empire State Building orange to match Amazon’s smile logo.

The company plans to remain in its sprawling Seattle headquarters, and the second one will be “a full equal” to it, founder and CEO Jeff Bezos said in September. Amazon has said that it will announce a decision sometime next year.

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