Top Stories for the Week of March 7, 2018

  • Episode 546
  • March 7, 2018
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Here are the stories we're following for the week of Wednesday March 7, 2018

A floating windmill farm off the coast of Scotland is generating energy quite efficiently.

The world's first commercial, floating, offshore wind farm, called Hywind, started sending electricity to the grid last October. Since then, the six-turbine, 30 megawatt installation has been working really well. In fact, Hywind has had a 65-percent capacity factor over the last three months according to Statoil (the Norwegian mega-corporation that built the wind farm off the coast of Scotland).

A capacity factor of 100 percent means the wind farm would be sending 30 megawatts of power to the grid every minute of every day.

Hywind's capacity factor exceeds the average capacity factors of many sources of electricity. Onshore wind installations in the US for example, had an average capacity factor of about 36.7 percent last year. Solar averaged 27 percent, and hydro power generation was only around 45.2 percent, comparatively.

Comparing Hywind's 65-percent capacity factor in the winter, when wind is blowing at its hardest in Scotland, to the average capacity factor of other renewable installations over the whole year isn't quite fair: We can assume Hywind will have a lower capacity factor in months when the winds are milder.

The company says it hopes to bring the cost of floating offshore wind down to 40-60 euro per MWh, around $50-74 USD per MWh, by 2030.


Sent to us by: Roy W. Nash

A DDoS attack of an unprecedented scale is taking place thanks to an exploit in memcached.

A new technique is abusing poorly-secured servers and fueling record-breaking denial-of-service attacks—along with notes demanding the targets pay hefty ransoms if they want the debilitating flood of junk traffic to stop.

memcached, a database caching system for speeding up websites and networks, lets DDoS vandals amplify their attacks by an unprecedented factor of 51,000. That means a single home computer with a 100 megabit-per-second upload capacity from its ISP, is capable of bombarding a target with a once-unimaginable 5 terabits per second of traffic; at least in theory.

Following the discovery that DDoS vandals in the wild were abusing open memcached servers, researchers last week predicted a new round of record attacks. Two days later, DDoS mitigation service Akamai/Prolexic reported the 1.3 Tbps attack against Github, just slightly topping previous records set in 2016.

On Monday, researchers from a separate DDoS mitigation service, Arbor Networks, reported a 1.7 Tbps DDoS that also relied on the newly documented memcached amplification method.

Researchers are also reporting that many of the potentially paralyzing attacks are accompanied by a ransom demand, presumably so that the data flood will stop.

Some of the attackers who are abusing the servers to deliver DDoSes are including the words "Pay 50 XMR" along with the address to a wallet. As the screenshot below demonstrates, the message is repeated over and over in the payload delivered to targets in an attempt to exhaust the network bandwidth they have available. At current prices for the digital currency known as Monero, 50 XMR is valued at about $18,415.

If providers everywhere deployed measures that prevented spoofed UDP traffic on their networks and shut down all publicly available memcached servers they hosted, the new amplification technique would no longer be available. The new record-setting DDoS reported Monday demonstrates that a significant number of providers have yet to adopt these commonsense measures.


Sent to us by: Roy W. Nash

Levi's is switching to lasers in an effort to cut down on chemical use in the manufacture of denim.

Levi Strauss is introducing a digitizing technique that uses lasers to ethically create designs on its jeans in place of manual labor.

Called Project FLX (which stands for Future-Led Execution), the technique will cut out harmful chemicals and reduce labor-intensive steps in producing jean finishes—from between 18 to 24 steps, to just three. Levi is also planning to scale this across the company’s denim supply chain.

The lasers use infrared to lightly scratch designs into the top layer of the jean’s surface, creating the faded outlines and tears.

Levi says for the past 30 years, the clothing industry has generally used hand-finishing and a chemical process to create the worn and faded designs on denim. The company has committed to achieving a “zero discharge of hazardous chemicals by 2020,” and says it will reduce the number of chemicals used (from thousands to only a few dozen during the denim finishing process), with this laser technology.

As part of the project, Levi’s designers are also using a new imaging tool to create different patterns and finishes on jeans using a tablet to create a prototype. The platform allows designers to tweak colors, and control the design of rips and tears. While this isn’t new, Eureka labs reportedly tried to make the 3D graphics more realistic. Prototype jeans are usually created by using chemicals and manually ripping, tearing, or wearing down a physical pair of jeans.

The company states that this new digital tool will cut development in half, from months to weeks and sometimes, only to days. Those digital files created can also be sent to the laser machine to create a prototype, or even to a vendor for large-scale manufacturing. Levi anticipates that the digital platform will be fully implemented in 2020.


Sent to us by: Sr. Wences

Driverless cars are raising some big questions in UK courts as the Law Commission aims to adjust British driving laws to accommodate a future filled with autonomous vehicles.

The Law Commission in the UK is to conduct a study into British driving laws with the aim of making sure humans can still be blamed for road accidents caused by driverless cars—as well as criminalising hackers who target autonomous vehicles.

The Department for Transport said about the planned three-year review, "Key aspects will be adjusting traditional laws to reflect the fact self-driving vehicles of the future will not have a 'driver' or perhaps even a 'steering wheel' like traditional cars and also consider some of the criminal offences involved."

Insurance companies have already told the government they will refuse to pay out if autonomous vehicles run up speeding fines, even threatening to pull their all-important support from the Autonomous and Electric Vehicle Bill (currently before Parliament), if they were made liable in such cases.

The Law Commission will look at "how to allocate civil and criminal responsibility where there is some shared control in a human-machine interface," as well as the creation of new criminal offences for "novel types of conduct and interference." In otherwords, the hacking of driverless cars.

Cyclists have in all seriouisness suggested prosecuting developers of driverless car software for making "errors" if a cyclist gets squished by a self-driving vehicle; and academics have also questioned whether insurance companies would pay out in a mass-driverless-car-hack scenario.

Normally the Law Commission issues public consultations to inform its work and then publishes a paper summarising both the responses and its recommendations to the government. No announcement has yet been made about a motoring law consultation.


Sent to us by: Roy W. Nash


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