Airless tires making inroads, off-road

in hardware on (#23VZG)
story imageIf you’ve never driven a Tweel, it might be time to try one (or four). It is basically an airless tire held up with rubber spokes. Michelin says the spokes provide a unique energy transfer that reduces bounce associated with pneumatic tires while offering two to three times the wear life. And because the tires have no air, you never have to adjust the air pressure or risk getting a flat. Tweels are best suited for low-speed vehicles that don't have suspensions and are prone to flats, such as lawnmowers and skid-steer loaders used on construction sites, but Michelin isn’t ruling out their use on other vehicles in the future.

Different companies make tires that don’t use air, including Bridgestone and Goodyear, and they go by different names: Non-pneumatic tires (NPT), airless tires, or run-flat tire are the most common. The first time I drove NPT tires was in 2014, I was floored by how the tires absorbed the bumps and seemingly rolled without noise or resistance. The product manager talked about how these "Terrain Armor" NPTs won't go flat (punctures) and won't get stuck in mud because the honeycomb design actually pushes mud out. Of course, they also have some drawbacks, such as noise and vibration at higher speeds.

Ultra-fast broadband terminal installed in toilet

in internet on (#236G1)
story imageAn ultrafast broadband installation that technicians have jokingly dubbed "fibre to the throne" has left New Zealand networking company Chorus red-faced. An optical network terminal (ONT) – where optical-fibre transitions to home wiring – was installed on the back wall of a toilet in a Lower Hutt home with leads draped over the lid of the cistern. It shared a power socket with a washing machine and had to be plugged when that was in use.

In its annual report, TDR recounted a complaint it had received from a 71 year-old woman who was asked to stand on a hot water cylinder to plug in her phone. That was so technicians could troubleshoot a problem with her landline, after an ONT was installed in her hot water cupboard. Pullen said that case was an extreme and "bizarre" example of a wider issue of UFB installers placing equipment where it was convenient for them, rather than homeowners.

Chorus typically received about 10 "queries" on the 600 installs it arranged each day, Chorus spokesman Nathan Beaumont said. "Anyone who has any experience of building projects of this nature will know occasionally there will be snags."

Communities taking back their broadband destiny from big telecoms

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Comcast, AT&T, Verizon, and others have created very favorable conditions for themselves, but in the fight for better broadband, more cities, towns, counties, and municipalities are building their own high speed networks. And many have been hugely successful. Sandy, Oregon became one of the first towns to start offering fiber internet without the help of a local power utility, and Madison, Wisconsin may become one of the first cities to build its own network and lease it to other operators.

There are startup internet service providers such as Ting and Brooklyn Fiber competing with incumbents. Rural power co-ops have found themselves well positioned to build fiber networks into sparsely populated areas without losing money, which was deemed impossible by big telecom companies who refused to invest in places without high population density. Even cities in states with legal barriers: Nebraska prevents cities laying their own fiber, so Lincoln built a conduit system—the tubes that actually hold the fiber—and is leasing that space to Allo Communications. Increasingly, these networks are being paid for with loans rather than federal government grants or taxpayer money, meaning the lenders see them as financially viable, long-term investments.

Office Depot caught selling 'fixes' for non-existent PC problems

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story imageSeattle-based KIRO 7 news team recently took a pile of brand-new computers to six Office Depot locations around Portland, Ore. Technicians at four shops claimed the PCs showed "symptoms of malware," and offered to sell repair and protection services for up to $180.

Sister station FOX25 in Boston recently ran a similar undercover report, bringing three out-of-the-box PCs to Office Max, an Office Depot Inc. affiliate. Techs at two locations suggested signs of "poor performance," recommending a fix between $149 and $199; a third store found no problems. Washington Sen. Maria Cantwell last week requested that the Federal Trade Commission investigate Office Depot Inc. for deceptive or unfair marketing practices related to these allegations.

Does millimeter wave cellular broadband offer rural applications?

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A New York University (NYU) student research team pushed the envelope for millimeter wave network range in a recently conducted field test in rural southwest Virginia. Setting up a millimeter wave transmitter on the porch of the country home of their professor Ted Rappaport, the students found that they could receive signals at distances of over 10 km (6.2 mi) even when line of sight was obstructed by a hill or a stand of trees. Equally significant, the millimeter wave transmitter needed less than 1 watt (W) of power operating at 73 GHz.

The FCC in June opened 11 GHz of new spectrum in the millimeter wave band to network operators for the development of 5G technology. The results of the NYU student research team’s field trial bode well for prospective carrier-grade applications, particularly regarding using existing cellular telecom infrastructure to provide 5G broadband services in underserved rural areas, according to Prof. Rappaport. The results could broaden industry participants’ and regulators’ perspectives regarding the use of millimeter wave technology

Others disagree with that conclusion. University of California, San Diego professor of electrical and computer engineering Gabriel Rebeiz pointed out that the field trial was conducted over two days when the skies were clear. Previous research has found that rain can reduce millimeter wave signal strength at a rate of 20 decibels per kilometer, the equivalent of nearly 100-fold per kilometer. Despite its potential in urban areas, Rebeiz still believes proposing to use millimeter wave technology in rural areas is a non-starter.

Google opposes proprietary phone fast-charging

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Google isn't a fan of non-standard approaches to fast-charging Android phones over USB-C, like Qualcomm's Quick Charge 3.0, and it wants manufacturers to fall in line. The newest Android Compatibility Definition document says it's "strongly recommended" that device makers don't support proprietary charging technology that modifies voltages beyond standard levels, or otherwise creates "interoperability issues" with standard USB charging. The company warns that later versions of Android might even require full interoperability with standard chargers.

This doesn't mean that you won't see fast charging. Both of Google's Pixel phones can top up quickly. However, it's evident that Google would like to fulfill USB-C's promise of cables and chargers that always work together. It doesn't like the idea that you might have to carry a specific charger for your phone to work as expected, or that a flaky cable might fry your charger, phone or both.

Electric current at record speed, thanks to lasers

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Scientists have generated the fastest electric current that has ever been measured inside a solid material. They made electrons in silicon dioxide oscillate with ultrafast laser pulses. The detected electric currents are approximately one million times faster than those widely used in a modern computer processor.

The researchers are also interested in exploring the physical limits: "As electrons move coherently they also generate light which is the key element of photonics. For this reason we may soon be able to unify two important areas of modern science and technology: electronics and photonics," Goulielmakis says. At the same time, the approach could pave the way for electronic devices which are one million times faster than those available today.

The possibility of having light replace conventional sources of electricity, such as batteries in order to generate electric currents inside solid materials, has captured the imagination of scientists for more than a century. The attempts to observe currents in solid materials by shining light on them have remained without any success for the past few decades. "Today, however, control of matter with lasers is rapidly advancing and the capability to measure light fields with ever finer precision has turned to reality."

The best large-screen smartphones

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Large-screen smartphones, a.k.a. phablets, are bigger than ever—especially in terms of popularity. Industry analyst IDC says more smartphones with 5.5-inch or larger displays are being sold than ever before, accounting for 33 percent of the phones sold in the U.S. this year. And the people who buy phablets use their phones more than consumers with smaller-screened models. The following phablets are among the best large-screen models in Consumer Reports' ratings.

* OnePlus 3
* LG V10
* Moto Z Droid Force
* Samsung Galaxy S7 edge
* Apple iPhone 7 Plus

With the exception of the iPhone 7, all of these models support rapid charging, which can replenish a near-dead battery to about 50 percent capacity in less than a half-hour.

Internet service stabilizes after waves of DDoS attacks

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story imageAt least two successive waves of online attacks blocked multiple major websites Friday, at times making it impossible for many users on the East Coast to access Twitter, Spotify, Netflix, Amazon, Tumblr, Reddit and other sites. The first attacks appear to have begun around 7:10 a.m. (ET) Friday, then resolved towards 9:30 a.m., but then a fresh wave began.

The cause was a large-scale distributed denial of service attack (DDoS) against Internet performance company Dyn that blocked user access to many popular sites. Amazon, whose web service AWS hosts many of the web's popular destinations including Netflix, also reported East Coast issues around the same time. Such DDoS attacks have a long history online but may be increasing in numbers and severity with the recent release of easy-to-use computer code to create them.

White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said the Department of Homeland Security was “monitoring the situation" but that “at this point I don’t have any information about who may be responsible for this malicious activity.” Others worried the attack could be from a nation-state rather than simply a single individual seeking to wreak havoc.

Russian ship suspected of tapping and disrupting Syria’s sub-sea internet cables

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An internet outage expert at US internet monitor Dyn, along with several bloggers, believe that a Russian Navy spy ship may be tapping and disrupting underwater cables in the Mediterranean Sea that feed internet to Syria. While telecommunications experts argue that this isn’t likely, several factors have aligned that seem to support this theory.

In 2015 Russian Navy oceanographic vessel Yantar was suspected by US intelligence of collecting data from underwater cables in the Caribbean whilst also spying on the US nuclear submarine fleet off the coast of Cuba. Fast forward to October 2016, and that same ship is moored off the coast of Syria, amidst ongoing internet outages in the country. With a previous history of internet outages in Syria linked to combat offensives by al-Assad forces, it suggest something of a conspiratorial nature may be at hand.

Tapping an underwater cable would be no easy task. “It is technically possible to tap an optical fiber, but getting access to it on the bottom of the ocean, through the steel armoring and high voltage would be a challenge best avoided.” Still, “it does seem kind of suspicious.” Other experts suggested that instead of the Russians, it could be seismic activity to blame for the disruption, as the Eastern Mediterranean is an active seismic area.