First US Android flip phone launched

in mobile on (#1XDTQ)
story imageThe first Android flip phone to be sold in the US is here. TracFone's ZTE Cymbal T is now available to order, today, from Best Buy at the early adopter price of $100. Other than having a flip phone form factor, the Cymbal is a typical entry-level Android phone with a nameless quad-core processor, 3.5 inch 320×480px screen, 8GB (3GB usable) of internal memory, 1GB of RAM and Android 5.1.1 Lollipop. There's a memory card slot, a 5MP camera and a removable battery. The Cymbal runs on the Verizon network and includes 4G LTE support.

The ZTE Cymbal is quite large for a flip phone at 4.72×2.40×0.72 inches. Compared with the Classic Motorola RAZR V3, the Cymbal is almost an inch taller, and obviously wider and thicker. On the other hand, at 3.5 inches, the screen is small when compared with most current phones. While there is a roomy physical keyboard, it's only used for dialing phone numbers, the smallish on screen QWERTY keyboard is used for texting and other text entry.

The fight over a new Wi-Fi channel is coming to a head

in legal on (#1XDQ9)
story imageGlobalstar Inc., operator of a low Earth orbit (LEO) satellite constellation for phones, plans to open up another Wi-Fi channel, but only for those who can pay. Globalstar's petition seeks to expand its use of the 2483.5-2495 MHz (Channel 14) band. Unlike all other Wi-Fi channels, which are open to any FCC-approved device and don’t require permission, this one would be under Globalstar’s control. A carrier that makes a deal with Globalstar might be able to set that channel aside for its own subscribers.

While users in some other countries have been using channel 14 for years, part of it has been set aside in the U.S. as a guard band to protect Globalstar’s satellite frequencies. Most Wi-Fi devices could be easily modified via firmware upgrades to take advantage of the extra channel. The plan has come under sharp criticism during the lengthy approval process at the FCC. Microsoft, Google, the cable industry and backers of Wi-Fi and Bluetooth all have filed comments urging the agency not to approve the scheme. Tests at the FCC have shown it would interfere with Bluetooth, which already uses part of the channel. But the non-profit Public Knowledge is supporting the plan, as encouraging more competition and more public internet access options. The Globalstar proceeding has been in the works going on three years.

California bill will cut greenhouse emissions – from cows

in environment on (#1VERA)
California's Gov. Jerry Brown signed legislation Monday to reduce a variety of pollutants, from hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) used in aerosol and air conditioning refrigerants, black carbon from diesel trucks, to methane from cows. Livestock contribute about 14.5 percent of global greenhouse-gas emissions, methane accounts for about 44 percent of that, of which cows contribute the lion’s share. Cows release most of their methane directly by belching and flatulence, but approximately one third comes from their manure.

In California, dairy farmers will be required to reduce methane emissions from manure to 40 percent below their 2013 levels by 2030. They will receive $50 million from the fees the state collects from polluters through its cap-and-trade program. The funding will go toward buying methane digesters, which generate energy from the methane in manure. The energy will be sold to electrical utilities. The law also allows the Air Resources Board to regulate cow flatulence in the future, if and when a practical technology exists to reduce it. If successful, it could inspire other nations to follow suit. The United States is behind India as the largest dairy producer in the world.

LinkNYC discovers the social problems of free Wi-Fi on city streets

in internet on (#1VEPR)
New York City’s cutting edge public Wi-Fi project, LinkNYC has hit some stumbling blocks. After continued complaints about people viewing pornography and other inappropriate content, on September 14 LinkNYC completely turned off browsing capabilities for the tablets installed in each kiosk. Their main functionality—free public Wi-Fi, phone calls, map functions, and USB charging ports has not changed. LinkNYC notes that “The kiosks were never intended for anyone’s extended, personal use.”

Many people continued to browse the web using their own device, tethered to the kiosks’ free Wi-Fi and charging ports, seemingly allowing continued misuse that LinkNYC is trying to prevent. While the city's desire to provide the city’s under-served with access to an important utility is admirable, they do not want the social problems to be visibly manifesting on street corners. The “home offices” being improvised on street corners with homeless and loiterers camped out on overturned newspaper stands around the city, does not seem to be exactly what the city had it mind when it pledged to help break down the digital divide.

ITT Tech shuts down all its schools

in legal on (#1TY7N)
The company that operates the for-profit vocational school chain ITT Technical Institute, with more than 130 campuses in 38 states (one of the country’s largest) announced that it was permanently closing all its campuses nationwide. It blamed the shutdown on the recent move by the U.S. Education Department to ban ITT from enrolling new students who use federal financial aid. Like many other for-profit college operators, ITT has faced federal and state investigations of its predatory recruiting and shady accounting practices, with up to 60% of students defaulting on loans.

The shutdown will affect about 35,000 students who were preparing for the start of classes this month. It will also cost more than 8,000 employees their jobs. Those students and others who left the school within the last 120 days would be eligible to have federal loans for their ITT education forgiven if they want to give-up any earned credits and start over at another school, Education Department officials said.

In addition to the ban on ITT’s enrollment of new students who used federal aid, the U.S. Education Department also prohibited ITT from awarding its executives any pay raises or bonuses. Now, sources claim ITT Tech is preparing to file for bankruptcy.

SanDisk Connect offers tiny portable wireless flash storage for any mobile device

in hardware on (#1T0XC)
With a lot of phones having small internal storage and no means with which to expand it (SD cards are still uncommon), there is a constant battle to make space. There is cloud storage but WiFi internet access isn’t always available. There are USB OTG (On The Go) adapters that can provide storage but it's not natively supported on many devices either.

Now we have something a little different, a wireless USB thumb drive from SanDisk, called the Connect Wireless Stick. It looks like any other simple little flash drive, the difference is the inclusion of a WiFi module and internal battery to set it up as a wireless access point, which you can log into with either a web browser, or a dedicated app for mobiles; all the data now becomes accessible over WiFi. You can stream movies easily and smoothly, but beyond about 10ft, the speed does start to drop off, and by about 30ft, it slows to a crawl.

While there are other wireless storage options, they are either limited to SD card sizes, or based on large spinning hard drives not rerally practical for truly portable use. You are most likely to get about 8 hours of wireless access time (actual data transfer) on a Connect Stick battery charge, so it’s worth remembering to turn the wireless feature off when not in use (it does have an auto-sleep mode). Prices start at just $24 for 32GB, $38 for 64GB, $72 for 128GB and a $100 for the large 200GB version. Full review can be found here.

Growing evidence supports the existence of a hypothetical Planet Nine

in space on (#1SJW7)
The case for Planet Nine's existence keeps getting stronger. Astronomers have discovered several more objects in the extreme outer solar system whose orbital characteristics hint at the existence of an unseen "perturber" in the dark depths far from the sun — a hypothetical world larger than Earth that scientists are calling Planet Nine. "If you want to put a number on it, I'd be somewhere like 80 percent sure that there's a Planet [Nine] out there," said Scott Sheppard.

In their 2014 study, Sheppard and Trujillo noted that several extremely distant objects share certain orbital characteristics, and suggested that these bodies' paths around the sun may have been shaped by a large planet in the region. This hypothesis was bolstered earlier this year. Computer simulations suggested that the gravitational influence of a roughly 10-Earth-mass planet about 600 AU from the sun could indeed explain the odd "clustering" in the orbits of Sedna, 2012 VP113 and a handful of other distant objects.

Finding Planet Nine via a blind search would be incredibly difficult and time-consuming. The putative world, while big, would also be quite faint because of its immense distance from the sun. The planet's huge and as-yet-undetermined orbital path also means it could be hiding anywhere along a large swath of sky. But Mike Brown of the California Institute of Technology has said that Planet Nine may well be visible through powerful telescopes, provided astronomers point them in the right direction at the right time.

Rackspace found a buyer, going private

in internet on (#1S16B)
Cloud management provider and co-founder of OpenStack, Rackspace says it will be going private in a deal that will pay shareholders $4.3bn. Investment house Apollo Global Management will be paying $32 per share to buy out stakeholders and run Rackspace as a privately held company. Rackspace stock closed yesterday (prior to the announcement) at $30.19 per share.

Pending stockholder approval, the deal is expected to be completed in the fourth quarter of this year. News of the deal hardly comes as a surprise – reports of an imminent deal to take the company private surfaced weeks ago, causing Rackspace's stock price to soar in the meantime. The acquisition could help Rackspace in its efforts against larger competition in the cloud management space. The company had entertained the idea of a buyout in 2014, but backed out of talks.

Dark matter detection experiment comes up empty-handed

in space on (#1RQW8)
After 20-month search period, a key dark matter detection experiment has officially come up empty-handed, casting doubt on the existence of weakly interacting massive particles (WIMPS), which have been far and away the leading explanation for one of the biggest mysteries in astrophysics.

Scientists "have pushed the sensitivity of the instrument to a final performance level that is four times better than the original project goals. It would have been marvelous if the improved sensitivity had also delivered a clear dark matter signal. However, what we have observed is consistent with background alone.” The LHC, meanwhile, is conducting experiments that should produce cross-sections of particles that may point to the presence of WIMPs, but it has so far come up empty-handed as well.

Besides WIMPs, there are other candidates for dark matter, including MACHOS (dim stars or black holes that give off little or no radiation), axions (theorized chargeless, very low mass particles), sterile neutrinos, and gravitinos. WIMPs are favored, however as they are predicted by Supersymmetry, and might solve a great deal of astrophysical mysteries—from explaining the apparent weakness of the gravitational force to the existence of the Higgs boson.

Scorching Kuwait weather sets Eastern Hemisphere's all-time high record

in environment on (#1NA1N)
story imageIt was a historic day in the annals of meteorology on Thursday, July 21, 2016 in the Middle East, where the temperature in Mitribah, Kuwait soared to an astonishing 54°C (129.2°F). If the reading is verified, this would be Earth's hottest temperature ever reliably measured outside of Death Valley, California. The temperature is likely to be verified, since Thursday's incredible heat also extended into Iraq, which set their local all-time heat record of 128°F (53.4°C) at Basrah. A temperature of 129.2°F has now also been reported in Basrah, Iraq, for July 23, possibly tying Kuwait's new record.

The official world record high temperature is 56.7 °C (134.1 °F) set on July 10, 1913, at Furnace Creek Ranch, California, in Death Valley. The previous all-time world record of 136 °F on September 13, 1922 in El Azizia, Libya was ruled invalid in 2012 by the World Meteorological Organization. More recently recorded temperatures at Death Valley include a 54.0 °C (129.2 °F) reading on June 30, 2013--tied with recent measurements in Kuwait and Iraq.

This year's heat waves are certain to result in speculation about the connection between global warming and extreme weather. Scientists are increasingly willing to connect climate change to extreme heat waves, at least those “that appear out of the norm in some way.” It will be interesting to see how many more years of warming are needed until the century-old world's record is finally surpassed.