Astronomers have stumbled across the nearest black hole to us yet. The void lies at the heart of a stellar system just 1,000 light years away, and indications to its location are visible to the naked eye.
A team of researchers were observing the HR 6819 star system from the European Southern Observatory in Chile as part of a wider survey studying binary star systems, and they stumbled across a third object. Spectrographic data revealed that one of the stars orbited an invisible companion every 40 days. Meanwhile, the second star sits much further away from the first.
They now believe that HR 6819 is not a double system, but a triple system – one that contains two stars that are both around six solar masses, and a third object that is at least 4.2 solar masses. That number is much too high for the object to be a neutron star.
Thomas Rivinius, first author of the study said, "An invisible object with a mass at least four times that of the Sun can only be a black hole".
If the researchers are, indeed, correct, the object will be the closest black hole from Earth discovered yet.
Petr Hadrava, co-author of the research said the team was "totally surprised when we realised that this is the first stellar system with a black hole that can be seen with the unaided eye."
As a point of clarity, the black hole itself isn't visible to the naked eye, only the stars are. For those in the southern hemisphere hoping to catch a glimpse, it's located in the Telescopium constellation, and will be best viewed during a clear night, and two fuzzy bright pinpricks should be discernible without binoculars or a telescope.
Although the object seems to have been near us all along, it has escaped detection until now. Not only is the black hole pretty small, it's also very quiet – meaning it doesn't spew jets of electromagnetic radiation, unlike the supermassive ones at the centres of galaxies guzzling up stars. The team has only managed to infer its existence from the wobble of the stars that orbit it.
The team is hoping to capture images of the orbit to further establish the distance and mass of the system's objects.
Sent to us by: Roy W. Nash
An anonymous hacker leaked around 2TB worth of source code related to the Nintendo Wii, GameCube, and Nintendo 64 designs. This cache includes Verilog code for the hardware--essentially the coded blueprints for the various chips.
While a neat peek into the inner workings of Nintendo and a rare look at the low-level design of the specialized chips that go into consoles, don't expect much to come out of this. While in theory the Verilog code could be used to turn clone chips into Nintendo chip knock-offs, the equipment and expertise needed to do that would be very expensive and not the sort of thing a hobbyist could do. And any commercial efforts would no doubt be torn to shreds by Nintendo lawyers.
The leak also, apparently, won't be of any use to the developers of emulators, who can only legally do what they do by reverse engineering. The developers of the Dolphin Emulator say in response to the leak, "We cannot use anything of any sort from a leak. In fact, we can't even look at it. Dolphin is only legal because we are clean room reverse engineering the GameCube and Wii. If we use anything from a leak, Dolphin is no longer legal and Nintendo *will* shut us down."
That's not to say there won't be fly-by-night emulators which include the leaked code, but we'd advise serious caution when considering using any such tool as it is very likely to include malware or backdoors for malicious use.
Sent to us by: Roy W. Nash
Facebook has launched a new chatbot that it claims is able to demonstrate empathy, knowledge and personality.
Their chatbot, which they've annoyingly named "Blender," was trained using available public domain conversations which included 1.5 billion examples of human exchanges.
But experts say training the artificial intelligence using a platform such as Reddit has its drawbacks.
Numerous issues arose during longer conversations. Blender would sometimes respond with offensive language, and at other times it would make up facts altogether.
Researchers said they hoped further models would address some of these issues.
Artificial Intelligence expert Dave Coplin said that Blender was a "step in the right direction," but noted two fundamental issues that still need to be overcome. He told the BBC, "The first is just how complex it is to replicate all of the nuances of a human attribute, like the ability to hold a conversation, a skill that most three-year-olds can master. The second is around the relationship with the data used to train the model and the results generated by the model."
He goes on to explain, "As great a platform as Reddit is, training algorithms based on the conversations you find there is going to get you a lot of chaff amongst the wheat."
Facebook also compared Blender's performance with the latest version of Google's own chatbot, Meena. It showed people two sets of conversations, one made with Blender and the other with Meena. Conversations included a wide range of topics including movies, music and veganism.
Facebook said that 67% of respondents thought Blender sounded more human than Meena.
The researchers noted, "We achieved this milestone through a new chatbot recipe that includes improved decoding techniques, novel blending of skills, and a model with 9.4 billion parameters, which is 3.6-times more than the largest existing system. Building a truly intelligent dialogue agent that can chat like a human remains one of the largest open challenges in AI today."
Sent to us by: Roy W. Nash
Best known for its electric cars, Elon Musk's company, Tesla, also makes batteries that store renewable energy on both a domestic and an industrial scale, and they have applied to become an electricity supplier in the UK.
The application was lodged at the end of March with the UK's Gas and Electricity Markets Authority, for a licence to generate electricity to supply "any premises" in Great Britain.
There has been lower demand for electricity during lockdown as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, with many factories and major businesses had to shut down. But electricity supply and demand has to be balanced within the grid for it to function.
Being able to generate and store our own electricity does have its appeal, especially if the grid becomes unbalanced and requires the power to be cut temporarily.
In addition, Tesla has developed software, called Autobidder, that allows customers to sell surplus electricity back to the grid, automatically.
They use Autobidder in South Australia, but it's not yet clear if they plan to build similar large battery plants in the UK, which are required to store the surplus.
The home version of the Tesla battery, the Powerwall, costs thousands of British pounds and requires a set of solar panels.
Sent to us by: Roy W. Nash
You remember the Pocophone F1. Now, the Poco F2 Pro has launched, complete with the Qualcomm Snapdragon 865 and impressive 8K video recording.
The Pocophone F1 was a rare beast, an actual example of a “flagship killer”. Now, almost two years later it is finally time for an upgrade.
The Poco brand began as a sub-brand of Chinese phone manufacturer, Xiaomi. But with the success of the F1, it was decided it could stand on its own, and they broke it out to its own independent company, based in India.
Following the F1, they rebranded the mid-range Redmi K30, calling it the Poco X2. Now, the new F2 model is essentially a rebranded K30 Pro.
The Poco F2 Pro brings a long list of improvements compared to the F1, starting with the latest chipset. The Snapdragon 865 is the best chip from Qualcomm yet and one of the first to feature GPU drivers that can be updated, which might improve the phone’s longevity.
A lot of emphasis was placed on the LiquidCool 2.0 tech, with a vapor chamber that in itself is larger than competing phones. Poco says this will enable more efficient cooling.
The F2 Pro runs Android 10 out of the box with Poco Launcher 2.0. Dark mode is available, which looks gorgeous on the upgraded AMOLED screen.
Storage now starts at 128GB. There’s also a 256GB option, which we'd recommend since they've removed the MicroSD slot, and the 8K video can eat up a lot of space. The storage is fast UFS 3.1, up from 2.1 on the F1.
The new camera on the Poco F2 Pro may be what pushes die-hard Pocophone F1 fans to upgrade. The phone has four rear-facing camera sensors. The setup includes a 64-megapixel Sony IMX686 sensor. It supports 3x optical zoom as well as dual optical image stabilization.
There's also a 13-megapixel ultra-wide-angle camera, an 8-megapixel tele-macro camera, and a 5-megapixel sensor.
For selfies, you get a 20-megapixel camera on a motorized pop-up mechanism capable of just 1080p video. That's the one thing we'd really like to see improved for vloggers, who are forced to use the rear cameras if they want to shoot in 4K or 8K UltraHD.
Speaking of UltraHD, the more powerful chipset enables 8K recording at a full 30fps, and 4K videos can now be recorded at 60fps.
The switch to AMOLED also allowed the fingerprint reader to be hidden in the screen.
The screen refreshes at a standard 60Hz, but the touch sampling rate has been increased to 180Hz. The Poco F2 also has Widevine L1 certification, so it can play HD content from Netflix, Amazon Prime Video and other services.
The capacity of the battery has increased to 4,700mAh with faster 30W charging, and a headphone jack is still included.
The Poco F2 is available now through our partners. Head over to cat5.tv/f2 to check it out.
Sent to us by: Robbie Ferguson
According to a spokesperson for the company, Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey told his employees Tuesday that many of them will be allowed to work from home in perpetuity, even after the coronavirus pandemic ends.
In an email, first obtained by BuzzFeed News, Dorsey said it was unlikely that Twitter would open its offices before September and that all in-person events would be canceled for the remainder of the year. The company will assess its plans for 2021 events later this year.
The spokesperson said, "We were uniquely positioned to respond quickly and allow folks to work from home given our emphasis on decentralization and supporting a distributed workforce capable of working from anywhere. The past few months have proven we can make that work. So if our employees are in a role and situation that enables them to work from home and they want to continue to do so forever, we will make that happen. If not, our offices will be their warm and welcoming selves, with some additional precautions, when we feel it’s safe to return."
Twitter's new policy comes as businesses around the world are struggling to adapt to social distancing guidelines and rethinking how they will operate in a post-pandemic world.
Major tech companies such as Facebook, Google and Microsoft were early to move to a work-from-home model and have also been the most cautious in planning for moving employees back into the office.
Google has told employees that the vast majority of them will work from home until 2021, though some will return in the early summer. Facebook will similarly start to reopen offices after the July 4 weekend but will let employees who are able to work from home do so until next year.
Sent to us by: Bekah Ferguson