Dear Elon Musk: Stop spreading fake news


Elon Musk, a billionaire playboy whose parents weren’t murdered in front of him outside of a theater (yet still seems to think he’s Batman), today stopped rocketing cars at the sky long enough to rage-tweet his displeasure with journalists’ criticisms of Tesla. As best we can tell, it all started when Elon tweeted an article from a news source that quoted someone saying “despite” media negativity, Tesla could “rally.” The holier-than-thou hypocrisy of big media companies who lay claim to the truth, but publish only enough to sugarcoat the lie, is why the public no longer respects them https://t.co/Ay2DwCOMkr —…

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Square launches its Square Stand payments system in the UK


Square, the payments company founded by Twitter’s Jack Dorsey, is aggressively expanding in the UK. Today, it announced the British launch of the Square Stand, which turns an iPad into a full point-of-sale (POS) system. The Square Stand lets vendors process card payments, track sales, and manage inventory. Square launched the device in the US in 2013, where it has undergone several iterations and improvements. As is the case stateside, the company expects it to be popular with smaller vendors who otherwise wouldn’t possess the equipment to take card transactions. In a press release, Jesse Dorogusker, Hardware Lead for Square,…

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Cord-cutters for the win: Netflix just passed Comcast in market value


Netflix announced a production deal with President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama earlier this week. Investors must have found the news enticing, because now the streaming media titan has passed Comcast in market value. What’s up: Bloomberg reports Netflix, for the second time this week, is worth more than telecommunications company Comcast – perhaps best known for its mutually-beneficial relationship with former Verizon laywer Ajit Pai. This time, however, there could be some staying power in Netflix’s lead. Facing an impending threat from Disney’s upcoming streaming service, Netflix has more than doubled down on its production spending, and…

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Or just read more coverage about: Netflix

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How tech is changing the real estate game


While technology has been an intrinsic component of real estate since the inception of digitalization, the terms are less often mentioned together when discussing their potential. Despite this, tech-related concepts appeared three times in the results of a survey performed by PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) and the Urban Land Institute (ULL). These data were published in a 2018 analytical report entitled “Emerging Trends in Real Estate: USA and Canada.” The 100+ page document gives technology a section of its own, and makes it apparent that tech is one of the most underappreciated and underutilized tools in the real estate arsenal. Technology and…

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Coinbase is shutting down GDAX to launch new ‘Pro’ cryptocurrency exchange


Popular cryptocurrency exchange desk Coinbase has announced plans to shutter its digital asset platform GDAX to launch the brand new Coinbase Pro which will cater specifically to crypto-traders. While both platforms will remain active for the time being, the idea is to phase out GDAX on June 29. The new platform will retain all GDAX functionalities – and introduce some new ones, of course. In addition to a smoother and more intuitive redesign, the platform claims it will also offer simplified deposit and withdrawal features, access to improved charts and historical data, as well as a revamped portfolio page. Needless…

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Planetary scientists suggest that Pluto was put together from a billion comets

Pluto composition
These maps, assembled using data from the Ralph spectral imager on NASA’s New Horizons probe, shows the relative concentration of four chemicals on Pluto’s surface. Methane is shown in purple, nitrogen in yellow, carbon monoxide in green, and water ice in blue. (NASA / JHUAPL / SwRI Images)

Did Pluto form like its closer-in brethren in the solar system, or is it the result of an agglomeration of comets from the edge of the solar system? A study published in the journal Icarus makes the case for comets.

To reach that conclusion, Christopher Glein and J. Hunter Waite Jr. of the Southwest Research Institute compared chemical analyses from NASA’s New Horizons mission to Pluto with readings from the European Space Agency’s Rosetta mission to Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko.

The result is what’s known as the “giant comet” cosmochemical model of Pluto formation.

Glein said the nitrogen-rich ice detected in Sputnik Planitia, a large glacier that forms the smooth left-hand side of Pluto’s “heart,” provided a key clue.

“We found an intriguing consistency between the estimated amount of nitrogen inside the glacier and the amount that would be expected if Pluto was formed by the agglomeration of roughly a billion comets or other Kuiper Belt objects similar in chemical composition to 67P,” he said today in a news release.

The levels of nitrogen and frozen carbon monoxide in Sputnik Planitia were a closer match for the cometary model than they were for having Pluto form from cold ices that are similar in composition to solar material.

“Our research suggests that Pluto’s initial chemical makeup, inherited from cometary building blocks, was chemically modified by liquid water, perhaps even in a subsurface ocean,” Glein said. That’s consistent with other findings from the New Horizons mission, hinting that some water may still exist in liquid form deep beneath Pluto’s frozen surface.

The solar model for Pluto’s formation hasn’t yet been completely ruled out, however. Glein said “we are only starting to grasp” Pluto’s life story, and further analysis of New Horizons’ data may lead scientists to change their story.

New Horizons has already moved on toward its next target. The piano-sized spacecraft is due to fly past a Kuiper Belt object known as 2014 MU69 or Ultima Thule on New Year’s Day. There’s no moving on for Rosetta, though. That probe was sent to a mission-ending crash onto the surface of 67P in 2016.

The Icarus paper is titled “Primordial N2 provides a cosmochemical explanation for the existence of Sputnik Planitia, Pluto.”

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Next-generation GOES-17 weather satellite encounters infrared imaging glitch in orbit

GOES-R series satellite
An artist’s conception shows a GOES-R series satellite. (NASA Photo)

Two months after its launch, the main imaging instrument on a next-generation weather satellite is experiencing problems with its cooling system.

That, in turn, is hurting the Advanced Baseline Imager’s ability to capture infrared and near-infrared images for the GOES-17 satellite, which is supposed to take over the task of monitoring weather systems over the Pacific Ocean and the western U.S.

Managers say the issue is being investigated by NASA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the imager’s contractor team, led by Harris Corp.

The problem has to do with the plumbing for the system that keeps the imager’s infrared detectors sufficiently chilled. Stephen Volz, NOAA’s assistant administrator for satellite and information services, told reporters that the glitch is a “serious problem.”

Advanced Baseline Imager
A worker examines the Advanced Baseline Imager for the GOES-R satellite. (ITT Exelis Photo)

“This is the premier Earth-pointing instrument on the GOES platform, and 16 channels, of which 13 are infrared or near-infrared, are important elements of our observing requirements, and if they are not functioning fully, it is a loss,” he said during a teleconference. “It is a performance issue we have to address.”

Volz said the anomaly was detected three weeks ago during the checkout process for the satellite.

The visible-wavelength channels are working, but the infrared and near-infrared channels are unable to produce usable data for about half of the day, centered around satellite local midnight, said Tim Walsh, NOAA program manager for the GOES-R series. (GOES stands for Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite.)

Volz said the other instruments on the satellite, including four space-weather instruments and a lightning mapper, are “checking out fine.” NOAA released the first imagery from the Geostationary Lightning Mapper on Monday.

Volz also stressed that the GOES satellites that NOAA is currently using for weather imagery, GOES-East and GOES-West, are working fine as well. There’s also a fully functioning on-orbit spare, GOES-14.

“There is no impact to the performance of the system,” Volz said.

He said the investigation team was “looking at several options to correct the problem.” If the problem can’t be fixed, there’d have to be revisions to the satellite operation plan. The current plan calls for GOES-17 to take over the GOES-West observational duties by the end of this year.

Like GOES-East, GOES-17 was designed with enhanced capabilities to help NOAA’s National Weather Service monitor storms, wildfires, fog conditions and other atmospheric phenomena in near real-time.

Two more satellites in the next-generation GOES-R series, currently known as GOES-T and GOES-U, are to be launched in 2020 and 2024. Total price tag for the satellite upgrade program is $10.8 billion, which includes development, launch and operations through 2036.

Depending on the results of the investigation, the launch dates for those future satellites may be revised.

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TLDR: Judge rules Trump can’t block critics on Twitter, backyard cottages & urban housing crisis, Russell Wilson’s new show on TraceMe

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Microsoft says AI is finally ready for broader use to help solve Earth’s environmental woes

Seattle’s Snow Leopard Trust is a grantee with Microsoft’s AI for Earth initiative. Machine learning tools could help conservationists better quantify and understand the rare cats. (Emmanuel Keller Photo)

REDMOND, Wash. — Lucas Joppa agrees we’re living in the Information Age. But he wishes that the present tech era wasn’t so navel gazingly focused on Homo sapiens.

“I want an Information Age that encapsulates all information about life on Earth,” said Joppa, who is Microsoft’s first chief environmental scientist — and likely the first chief of this kind anywhere in the tech sector.

“We’ve allowed ourselves to exist in a world where we’re completely flying blind to the rest of the life on Earth,” Joppa said. “We do that at our own peril, and it exhibits an exceptional lack of wonder about where we are and who we are and why we’re here.”

Joppa is leading Microsoft’s new AI for Earth initiative, a five-year, $50 million grant-making project to unravel some of the world’s non-human mysteries. It’s helping environmental groups and researchers use artificial intelligence, machine learning and a variety of the company’s cloud-based tools to further their eco-causes.

Lucas Joppa, Microsoft’s chief environmental scientist and lead on AI for Earth. (Photo courtesy of Lucas Joppa)

Since its December launch at the Paris climate event, the initiative has awarded 112 grants for projects from 27 countries and 25 U.S. states. The AI for Earth project has four focus areas: climate, agriculture, water and biodiversity. Some of the initial projects target wildlife population surveys through image- and sound-recognition tools. The group has also produced a tool that generates detailed maps showing U.S. land use.

The project is unusual for working across the tech giant’s numerous departments and products, and fits into the approach of company-wide collaboration championed by CEO Satya Nadella and company President Brad Smith. Earlier this month, Microsoft announced the similar AI for Accessibility initiative, with a five-year, $25 million budget and a focus on helping people with disabilities.

Last week Microsoft hosted some of its AI for Earth grantees at a conference on its Redmond campus. They provided training for some of the cutting-edge tools and services available through Azure, its division of cloud-based offerings.

While the partnerships benefit Microsoft through positive publicity and by cultivating new customers in the environmental sector, grantees say there’s real potential for technology-fueled breakthroughs in conservation science.

Seattle’s Snow Leopard Trust is working with Microsoft to develop tools for estimating the population size and location of the elusive, Central Asian cats.

Using camera traps, the nonprofit has captured roughly 1.3 million images from the leopards’ rocky, mountainous habitat and aims to gather half-a-million images or more each year. But the cameras are triggered by all sorts of movement and other animals, so only about 5 percent of those pictures actually contain one of the well-camouflaged cats.

It’s one of the “largest data sets of goats and grass blowing in the wind,” joked Mark Hamilton, a Microsoft software engineer assisting the nonprofit.

Sifting through the existing images would take roughly 19,500 hours of human labor. So the trust and Microsoft have employed deep learning, a technique that uses “brainlike algorithms” that learn to sort through the photos automatically. Engineers have created a scalable image recognition program that is nearly 95 percent accurate in identifying snow leopards.

A snow leopard in its natural habitat in Central Asia. (Snow Leopard Conservation Foundation Mongolia / Snow Leopard Trust Photo)

Hamilton additionally created a live dashboard that highlights snow leopard hot spots where the cats particularly like hanging out.

The snow leopards’ habitat spans 12 countries and an area that’s more than twice the size of Texas. Conservationists believe there are between 3,900-6,500 snow leopards in the wild.

“It’s an undisputed fact that no one knows what the numbers are,” said Rhetick Sengupta, president of the Snow Leopard Trust’s board of directors and a principal program manager at Microsoft.

Advocates fear that important decisions about the animals’ protection are being made based on too little data. Sophisticated new analytical tools could help.

“You can do predictive modeling as to where to put your conservation dollars,” Sengupta said.

The seed grants from AI for Earth are small — generally around $5,000-15,000 — but there are larger sums being doled out for bigger projects. Some of the snow leopard work was done pro bono before the initiative started, and the group now has a $5,000 grant.

Scientists are struggling to help save orcas that frequent the waters of Puget Sound. This photo of an adult and a baby was taken in the waters off one of the San Juan Islands. (SeaDoc Society Photo)

As part of their AI for Earth project, scientists studying endangered Puget Sound-area orcas are gathering together data and images from numerous nonprofit, governmental and academic researchers and putting them into the cloud to facilitate collaboration. Up to this point, the scientists were emailing giant attachments or passing around USB drives.

Each of the different research groups collect unique information on the orcas, including aerial photos indicating their weight, blubber samples that measure toxic contamination, fecal samples tested for pregnancies and surveys of marine pollutants. Pulling all of these pieces together could create detailed health profiles of the orcas, which currently number 76 whales.

Conservationists are trying to save the orcas, whose population has been affected by declining numbers of Chinook salmon, their preferred prey, as well as exposure to pollutants and vessel traffic and noise. Because there are numerous factors in play, it can be difficult to know what effect reducing salmon fishing in a certain location will have, or if restricting boat traffic in the orcas’ feeding area could help.

“Those are simple questions to ask when the data is centralized and you have the computing ability,” said Joe Gaydos, science director for the nonprofit SeaDoc Society.

Gaydos is coordinating the data compilation effort. And while it’s too soon to know the impact of putting more technical muscle behind conservation efforts, Gaydos expects a sea change for the field.

“It’s going to be a paradigm shift for the management of wild populations,” Gaydos said.

But many of the environmental organizations are cash-poor and lack tech expertise. Joppa says his team is mindful of these limitations, and that the technology shouldn’t be cost or skill prohibitive.

“The great thing about machine learning is that a lot of the costs are upfront,” he said. “It’s about getting the data together and getting the model trained up.”

Updates and changes will be less expensive, and Microsoft plans to keep developing and fine tuning tools for a variety of organizations to use. The power of the cloud is that it can be used strategically to keep costs down.

Joppa, who previously worked as a computational ecologist for Microsoft Research for more than seven years, knew some of the players in the enviro field before launching AI for Earth.

“We know who a lot of those people are, and we’ve been waiting for the technology to be good enough to be able to actually help them,” he said. “And we feel like that’s where we are right now.

“It wasn’t like this topic sat in Research for 10 years because nobody cared. It sat there because it wasn’t ready and now it’s ready,” he said. “It’s just ready — but it’s ready.”

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Geared Up Podcast: Mysterious new smartphone from camera maker Red and getting hyped for the Tesla Model 3

Geared Up co-host Andru Edwards with the Red Hydrogen One smartphone. (Photo courtesy of Andru Edwards)

The Geared Up Giveaway is back! We’re giving Geared Up subscribers the chance to win an Oculus Go headset. See the bottom of this post for details on how to enter the giveaway.

High-end camera maker Red unveiled a mysterious new smartphone this week, and Geared Up co-host Andru Edwards was there for the hands-on experience. He said the new phone has some cool and exciting features, but also some strange ones.

Plus, Microsoft is once again trying to take on Apple’s dominance in the tablet market. But can a new line of Surface devices make a real change? We also dive into the hype around the Tesla Model 3, which is now rolling out to customers. Andru ordered his Model 3 more than two years ago and is picking it up in just a few days.

Listen to the episode in the player below or subscribe to the show i your favorite podcast app.

This week’s stories:

Win an Oculus Go VR Headset from Geared Up!

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