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If You’re Ready for Arch, ArchMerge Eases the Way

Newcomer
ArchMerge Linux offers a big change for the better to those switching from the Debian Linux lineage to the Arch Linux infrastructure.

ArchMerge Linux is a recent spinoff of ArchLabs Linux. I recently
reviewed Archlabs and found it to be a step up from most Arch Linux offerings in terms of installation and usability. Arch Linux distros, in general, are notorious for their challenging installation and software management processes.

ArchMerge Linux brings a few extra ingredients that make trying it well worth your while if you want to consider migrating to the Arch Linux platform. Still, no Arch Linux distro is a suitable starting point for Linux newcomers. That reality does not change with ArchMerge, although it helps ease the process considerably for those who are ready for it.

Anyone who wants to upgrade to the Arch Linux family likely will have a much less frustrating experience with ArchMerge. This distro’s development team split with the Archlabs community, and last month released a forked version that runs a choice of Openbox, Xfce or i3 desktops.

Developer Erik Dubois designed the new distro as part of a platform to help users learn how to use Linux in general and Arch Linux in particular. He has provided a series of learning steps that enable new users to gain proficiency and comfort using Arch Linux.The goal of ArchMerge Linux is to make the distro more than just an Arch-based distro.

Choices Within Choices

That learning scheme is built around a two-part choice of downloads. ArchMerge is the logical starting point. It is somewhat of a rarity in that it offers a fully functional live session that lets you try it out without installing anything.

The ArchMerge ISO gets you the default Xfce desktop. You must work your way through the learning materials to discover how to install the Openbox and I3 choices.

Most Arch Linux options merely let you burn the downloaded ISO file to DVD to use as an installation medium. They usually do not boot your computer into a standalone demo mode.

Download the ArchMergeD ISO file to get he bare-bones installation to begin building your own custom-made Arch computing platform. The developer set up two distinct websites —
Archmerge and
Archmerged. You can download both versions from
Sourceforge.

Differences Defined

ArchMerge is a complete desktop computing system with themes and numerous Conky options for the desktop display and icons. The 2-GB ISO provides an Arch core with video, network, display manager, desktop environments and lots of installed applications.

About the only thing you have to do with ArchMerge is select your wallpaper. That is a very big improvement over the installation process most other Arch Linux distros require. Often, you need command line skills to set up each of those components from the installation medium.

ArchMergeD, on the other hand, is a minimal installation without themes and desktop environment. The 1-GB ISO provides the Arch core with video and network support but nothing more.

So the ArcdhMergeD option needs considerably more hands-on skills to complete the installation. It is a platform for learning about Arch Linux and building your own system on the Arch base.

Philosophical Shift

Comparing the ArchLabs and ArchMerge distros makes it easier to guess what may have led to the rift between developers. I see a lot of similarities between ArchMerge and Manjaro. ArchLabs runs the Openbox desktop by default and imitates the defunct Crunchbank distro with an Arch environment.

With ArchMerge, the focus is on learning the Arch procedures. With ArchLabs, the push is for a more sane installation routine within the Arch style. That difference instantly is apparent with ArchMerge’s implementation of the desktops.

I would have preferred separate ISO downloads so I could select the desktop of my choice in ArchMerge: Xfce, Openbox or I3. Until you learn how to handle Arch, what you get by default is Xfce4.

Perhaps the developer eventually will provide the scripts to at least semi-automate the process of changing desktop environments. After all, scripts and command lines are part and parcel with managing Arch Linux distros.

ArchMerge avoids the Arch debacle by giving the user a fully functioning system when the installation is complete. The developer goes above and beyond in providing user guides and instructional videos.

Think of ArchMerge as a building block to learn about the technical side of the Arch Linux family. That is where ArchmergeD comes into play. It gives you a core-only platform upon which you learn and apply the basics.

Software Sufficiency

Another directional change with ArchMerge is its well-stocked supply of installed applications. Arch distros tend to start off with bare-bones software by design. ArchLab Linux is much more a minimal design reinforced with the lightweight Openbox desktop.

ArchMerge, with its much heftier feature base provided by the Xfce4 desktop, goes against the typical Arch grain by including lots of software and user-friendly learning pages to get you started.



This is actually a benefit not typically found in Arch bare-bones installations. With Arch, the goal is to start out with just core components and then build the software supply your way.

That is where many of the difficulties in learning to use Arch distros arise. The user may lack familiarity with application names and system processes, so the learning curve is very steep.

Look and Feel

The ArchMerge screen displays an efficient interface that is very configurable, thanks to the Qt4 tools and system settings options. Across the bottom lies a panel with a virtual workplace switcher already active. The main menu button sits in the left corner. The notification area and several applets grace the right end of the panel.

The combination of bottom panel and side dock/favorites bar makes using ArchMerge delightful. A vertical dock bar rests along the left edge of the screen. The icons grow in size as you fan the mouse pointer along the dock.



Right-click on a main menu item to add an application icon to the dock, the desktop or the panel. Right-click anywhere on the desktop to access an actions menu pop-up display.

I was pleased with the collection of installed applications. Some key titles are ready out of the box. You get three Web browsers: Chromium, Firefox (although not yet the Quantum release) and Vivaldi.

The LibreOffice suite is included, along with a very nice set of graphics and multimedia standard apps. Even my favorite IDE text editor, Geany, is bundled. Nearly every one of the specialty tools I use for audio and video file creation and productivity come preinstalled in ArchMerge.

Bottom Line

ArchMerge is a rolling release distribution. It easily installs with the Calamaries installer.

Arch Linux distros are not ideal starting points for new adopters, but some Arch variants are more user-friendly and less frustrating than most members of the Arch Linux family. ArchMerge Linux is one such distro that is worth checking out.

Remember, though, the real value of using ArchMerge and ArcdhMergeD is in the learning platform they provide to expand your Linux skills and move toward mastering the challenges of Arch Linux.

Want to Suggest a Review?

Is there a Linux software application or distro you’d like to suggest for review? Something you love or would like to get to know?

Please
email your ideas to me, and I’ll consider them for a future Linux Picks and Pans column.

And use the Reader Comments feature below to provide your input!


Jack M. Germain has been an ECT News Network reporter since 2003. His main areas of focus are enterprise IT, Linux and open source technologies. He has written numerous reviews of Linux distros and other open source software.
Email Jack.

The internet is having a lot of fun with the latest ‘Ready Player One’ poster

The latest poster for Ready Player One has been widely derided online after it appeared to show lead actor Tye Sheridan with an inexplicably long leg.

The Steven Spielberg movie is set for release next year, and sees Sheridan star as Wade Watts, who escapes a dystopian future vision of earth in 2045 by entering a virtual reality world.

But while the film is among the most anticipated releases of 2018, it’s already having a few teething problems after the release of a new poster didn’t quite go to plan.

The poster proved ripe for parody after it appeared to show Sheridan climbing a telegraph pole – with his right leg extended to a near comical degree.

It’s yet to be revealed if the unusual look is a yet-to-be revealed plot twist, but it wasn’t long before it became a meme.

“There is nothing wrong with the new Ready Player One poster”, one user wrote alongside a photo of Sheridan with photoshopped long legs.

Another said: “Who allowed this poster to be released?”. Check out a selection of reactions below.

‘Ready Player One’ is set for release next March, and is set in a world on the brink of collapse due to global warming and an energy crisis.

To avoid the problems of the world going on around them, people spend their time in the OASIS, which is a virtual reality universe created by James Halliday. The OASIS functions as an alternate society, and also a MMORPG.

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The Internet’s Having Some Fun With Ready Player One’s New Poster

5da0d_apjilcpls19whlwunk77 The Internet's Having Some Fun With Ready Player One's New Poster

Steven Spielberg’s Ready Player One adaptation got its first poster this weekend and there’s something a little off about it. Namely actor Tye Sheridan’s left right leg which seems to stretch on into infinity.

The book, and the movie recreating it, are about a virtual reality called the OASIS and one teenager’s journey (Sheridan) to discover and Easter Egg there whose discovery will grant him a small fortune and control of the simulation. It’s a futuristic take on Charlie and the Chocolate Factory of sorts that’s littered with references to pop culture, video games, and other pillars of geek culture. With this in mind it would be reasonable to wonder whether Sheridan’s leg in the newly released poster is just a bitter graphics artist getting one last laugh at Warner Bros. expense or actually a mysterious clue that hints at something else.

That’s not normal. Yes, Sheridan’s climbing upwards so the perspective of the viewer in this poster would leave him looking a little stretched but there’s hall of mirrors distortion and then there’s slender man. The poster is in many ways intended to be a call back to the original E.T. one where Elliot and the alien are flying through the air on a bicycle in front of the moon. That leg though…

Advertisement

Here’s what the kid looks like in the book’s 2012 release as illustrated by Whiskey Tree.

These are the anatomic proportions we’ve all come to know and love. Meanwhile here’s a smattering of the internet’s take on Sheridan’s appendage:

The Internet Is Having Fun With Ready Player One’s New Poster

1c624_apjilcpls19whlwunk77 The Internet Is Having Fun With Ready Player One's New Poster

Steven Spielberg’s Ready Player One adaptation got its first poster this weekend and there’s something a little off about it. Namely actor Tye Sheridan’s left leg which seems to stretch on into infinity.

The book, and the movie recreating it, are about a virtual reality called the OASIS and one teenager’s journey (Sheridan) to discover and Easter Egg there whose discovery will grant him a small fortune and control of the simulation. It’s a futuristic take on Charlie and the Chocolate Factory of sorts that’s littered with references to pop culture, video games, and other pillars of geek culture. With this in mind it would be reasonable to wonder whether Sheridan’s leg in the newly released poster is just a bitter graphics artist getting one last laugh at Warner Bros. expense or actually a mysterious clue that hints at something else.

That’s not normal. Yes, Sheridan’s climbing upwards so the perspective of the viewer in this poster would leave him looking a little stretched but there’s hall of mirrors distortion and then there’s slender man. The poster is in many ways intended to be a call back to the original E.T. one where Elliot and the alien are flying through the air on a bicycle in front of the moon. That leg though…

Advertisement

Here’s what the kid looks like in the book’s 2012 release as illustrated by Whiskey Tree.

These are the anatomic proportions we’ve all come to know and love. Meanwhile here’s a smattering of the internet’s take on Sheridan’s appendage:

Open source baseboard teams up with Linux-ready MAX 10 FPGA module

Aries launched a $33 “SpiderBase” carrier with a large prototyping area for its recent “MX10” COM, which can run NIOS II softcore Linux on a MAX 10 FPGA.

In March, when we reported on the i.MX6 UL based M6UL computer-on-module from Aries Embedded, we also briefly noted that an MX10 computer-on-module was on the way. Since then, Aries has shipped the MX10, and has now launched a SpiderBase carrier (AKA Spiderboard Baseboard) for the module.

MX10 module (left) and SpiderBase baseboard
(click images to enlarge)

The SpiderBase carrier — but not the MX10 COM — is an open hardware design, with available BOM, Gerber, and KiCAD files licensed under CERN OHL v1.2. Later this year, or in 1Q 2018, the SpiderBase will also be available with an MX10-like COM called the “Spider SoM,” which will offer the same open source hardware licensing as the carrier. All of the open source Spiderboard products will be supported at a Spiderboard.org community site.

 
MX10 COM

The MX10 COM is available with four flavors of MAX 10 FPGA, ranging from a 10M04DC to a 10M50DA. The choice of FPGA affects the level of I/O provided (see spec list below). The F256-packaged MAX 10 FPGA, which implements the bulk of the MX10 COM’s functionality, provides instant-on functionality, integrated analog-to-digital converters (ADCs), and dual configuration flash.

Unlike some other Intel PSG (Altera) FPGAs, such as the Stratix 10, the MX10’s MAX 10 FPGA lacks ARM Cortex-A cores. Yet, the high-end 10M16DA and 10M50DA configured models can still run Linux, as they ship with optional allotments of 128MB and 512MB of DDR3, respectively. These configurations can host a softcore NIOS II Linux stack with U-Boot, which has been around for over a decade. The MX10 can also run FreeRTOS.

MX10 block diagram (left) and spec table
(click images to enlarge)

As shown in the spec table above, the higher-end models also support memory options including 4MB SPI NOR flash and 4GB eMMC. The 10M50DA enabled model also features an RTC with battery backup and a Li-Po charger.

The 70 x 35mm MX10 module interfaces to a carrier board via a 230-pin MXM2 edge connector. The interface implements 178 FPGA GPIO pins, including 13 LVDS transmitters and 54 receivers, plus various other signal and power connections. The module is further equipped with a 25MHz XO programmable clock generator and PLL, with optional external reference input. A PMIC is available, and the I/O voltages are configurable.

The upcoming, open source, similarly MXM2-style Spider SoM module will ship with either the lowest-end 10M02SC MAX 10 part or the mid-range 10M08SA. One Spider SoM module SKU will also offer 4MB SPI flash. It’s unclear if the Spider SoM will offer DDR3, or be able to run NIOS II Linux, but an effort appears to be underway to develop a RISC V softcore for the MAX 10 that would enable the module to run FreeRTOS.

 
SpiderBase carrier board

The open source SpiderBase baseboard extends the MX10 module — and soon the Spider SoM — via the module’s 230-pin MXM2 edge connector. Major features of the baseboard include an Arduino shield interface, 4x PMOD compatible headers (2.5V or 3.3V), and a large prototyping area.

SpiderBase with (left) and without the MX10 COM
(click images to enlarge)

The SpiderBase carrier board is equipped with a mini-USB B port, 2x LEDs, configuration jumpers, reset abd power buttons, and 2x user buttons. Other features include a CR2032 cell holder, a JST-2.0 lithium battery connector, and PICkit and Intel PSG (Altera) Blaster compatible programming interfaces. Like the MX10 module, the simple, 2-layer board supports 0 to 60°C temperatures.

Spiderboard block diagram (left) and detail view
(click images to enlarge)

 
MX10 Evaluation Kit

The MX10 COM is also available with an evaluation kit that offers a more feature rich carrier board. The MX10 Evaluation Kit (MX10EVK) ships with the MX10 module, and includes an SD slot, USB 2.0 host and OTG ports, and dual 10/100 Ethernet ports.

MX10 Evaluation Kit
(click image to enlarge)

You also get 2x RS232 and 2x CAN connections on DB-9 ports, as well as an LCD and JTAG interfaces and a power supply. Like the SpiderBase, the MX10 Evaluation Kit ships with schematics.

 
Further information

The SpiderBase is available for 28.50 Euros ($34) plus VAT and shipping. More information may be found on the Aries Embedded SpiderBase product page, wiki, and shopping pages. The more advanced MX10EVK kit is not listed on the Aries shopping site, but more information may be found in this MX10 brochure (PDF).

The MX10 COM is available for 45 Euros ($53) plus VAT and shipping. More information may be found on the MX10 product page and shopping page. The similar, but open source, Spider SoM will ship by the end of the year or early 1Q 2018, at a currently unstated price. More details for all of the Spider series boards — including sources — will eventually reside at Spiderboard.org.
 

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Android Wear’s Oreo upgrade is ready

Unlike Android Wear 2.0., Oreo doesn’t mark any big shifts on the design or functionality fronts. There are tweaks galore, though, including vibration strength settings for notifications, touch lock, and battery-saving enhancements.

Google adds that Android Wear is now available in seven additional regions and several new languages, including Belgium (Dutch), Czech Republic (Czech), El Salvador (Spanish), Honduras (Spanish), Nigeria (English), Paraguay (Spanish), and Portugal (Portuguese).

5 signs that you’re ready to upgrade your smartphone

It seems like the next must-have smartphone is never more than a week or two from launch. This constant stream of snazzy new flagships might make you assume people are finding it harder and harder to stick with a single phone for very long.

Surprisingly, most users get about two years out of their smartphones before finally upgrading. The most recent data indicates the average user will upgrade his or her daily driver after 22.7 months with the device. But as contracts with wireless providers become less common and we’re no longer bound by a two-year upgrade cycle, how do you know when it’s time for an upgrade?

8590c_HTC-U11-1080p-60-fps-software-update-AA-840x560 5 signs that you're ready to upgrade your smartphone

1. It doesn’t run the latest version of the OS

Android flagships are typically supported with software updates for two years following their release. So when you buy the latest Samsung Galaxy, you can probably expect to receive the next two major Android versions. However, it’s worth noting that most OEMs prioritize flagships, while budget and mid-range devices don’t receive the same level of support. It’s a little different over at Apple, though. While Android flagships usually have a two-year support cycle, iPhones tend to receive software updates for longer, usually between three and four years.

Is having the latest version of the mobile OS all that important? It is for some, but less important for others.

Of course, all the core functions you’ve come to expect and love from your smartphone will be present whether you’re on Android Nougat or KitKat. Where it makes a difference is with security; newer versions of Android address the security vulnerabilities that hackers inevitably find and exploit. Up-to-date software offers a level of protection from such vulnerabilities.

How do you know if your phone is still supported by the manufacturer? OEMs usually have lists on their websites of devices for which they publish updates. Reaching the end of a device’s support cycle is generally viewed as a great reason to upgrade your device. You can also keep an eye on our Nougat update and Oreo update trackers to see if your phone is on the list.

8590c_HTC-U11-1080p-60-fps-software-update-AA-840x560 5 signs that you're ready to upgrade your smartphone

2. Performance has declined

We’ve all marveled at how snappy a smartphone feels when it’s brand new and freshly unboxed. Over time though, it will feel less peppy and less capable of running demanding games without dropping frames. After a year, there’s usually noticeable lag throughout the UI and things take much longer than before. Why does this happen?

Performance decay is something of a controversial topic in the Android world. Many believe it’s actually the user’s fault, due to the inevitable build-up of bloat after months and months of installing apps, which take up space and often run continuously in the background. Others insist that, while having an abundance of apps installed certainly worsens things, performance decay is due to the fragmented nature of file management, which allegedly makes a mess of its system files over time by breaking them down and spreading them all over the place.

The reality is that apps are constantly becoming bigger, more complex, and more resource-intensive. Your device may run the current crop of popular apps without a hiccup, but in a year or two the newer versions of those apps will inevitably put your phone under more strain than they do today. This can be caused by software and firmware updates gradually becoming geared towards more powerful, newer phones, or newer API versions your phone isn’t running. So while you may be able to download Asphalt 8 on a flagship from 2015, that doesn’t mean it will run well on such dated hardware and quite possibly won’t.

If it’s been a couple years since you’ve last upgraded your smartphone, whether from file bloat or just not being able to handle the strain of new software, it’s probably a good idea to start looking for an upgrade.

8590c_HTC-U11-1080p-60-fps-software-update-AA-840x560 5 signs that you're ready to upgrade your smartphone

3. Battery life has become poor

In addition display and camera quality, battery life is one of the biggest selling points when shopping for a new smartphone. Depending on who you ask, it might actually be the most important feature.

As smartphones become more powerful, their batteries are put under a growing amount of strain. Moreover, every time the battery in your smartphone runs down, its full capacity will be slightly less when it comes time to charge. It’s not just with smartphone batteries; this performance decay is something that all lithium-ion batteries exhibit.

From the moment you start using a new smartphone, the battery loses some of its capacity with every charge. Batteries are only ever guaranteed for a finite number of charge cycles, which is defined as anytime you plug your device into its charging cable to charge when its power level is at 70 percent or lower. According to the Battery University, the battery in your smartphone will be somewhere between 84 and 73 percent of its original capacity after 250 charge cycles; assuming you charge your phone once per day, that’s a little less than eight-and-a-half months.

The battery is what allows you to use all your smartphone’s great features. So on a phone with a non-removable, and sometimes non-replaceable battery, once it has gone seriously downhill, it might be time to get a new phone.

8590c_HTC-U11-1080p-60-fps-software-update-AA-840x560 5 signs that you're ready to upgrade your smartphone Alex Dobie

4. The display shows burn-in

Our own Robert Triggs recently wrote a piece that explains display burn-in quite nicely, but here’s the gist of it: burn-in is when you see the “ghost” of an image permanently fixed on the display. Once it’s there, screen burn-in will be visible no matter where you are in the operating system and no matter what is being displayed on the screen. Lately, burn-in has become especially concerning when it comes to on-screen or software navigation buttons.

If you want to check your smartphone for burn-in, find an image file that’s just a single solid color (white is the go-to for this exercise) and open it full-screen. Then look around the display for anything that looks like a watermark. If you see something, it’s not a secret message hidden in the image; it’s burn-in. If your device uses software navigation keys, that’s one of the most common places to see burn-in.

If your smartphone has an OLED display, burn-in is basically inevitable. Many smartphone makers have been looking for ways to prevent or slow this process down. For instance, Samsung and other OEMs have made tweaks that cause on-screen buttons and always-on display elements to periodically shift by a couple pixels. The shift is so small that you’ll only notice if you’re really looking for it, but this minute shifting of pixels ensures that the navigation buttons aren’t continuously lighting up the exact same pixels anytime the display is on.

LCD displays aren’t susceptible to burn-in, but for those whose smartphones have OLED displays, burn-in is a genuine concern. After using a device with an OLED display for two years, it’s likely that you’ll see some noticeable burn-in. If that burn-in is compromising your experience (i.e., making media consumption distracting and less enjoyable), it’s probably time for a new phone.

8590c_HTC-U11-1080p-60-fps-software-update-AA-840x560 5 signs that you're ready to upgrade your smartphone Reddit

5. There’s physical damage that affects everyday use

If you’ve had your smartphone for a while, it’s probably been dropped. These drops can crack displays and break rear panels. Typically, a broken rear panel doesn’t affect usability with dangers of cutting oneself on shattered glass notwithstanding. A shattered display, however, tends to be a bigger problem. Even if the touch layer is still intact, it affects visibility and threatens to cut your fingers.

Drops can cause damage to other parts of your smartphone, too. With any impact, there’s a risk of causing internal components to shift and become loose. Buttons and ports, which can fail with regular use after sufficient time, can also stop working. The camera sensor could become detached from the main circuitboard, preventing you from taking photos or videos. The USB port might likewise get knocked loose, making it impossible to charge your device (unless it has wireless charging).

Drops can result in a major impedance to your overall user experience, even if it’s still usable. And smartphones wear out sooner or later anyway, even if they’re not dropped. When you’ve incurred damage that affects the user experience, you’ll likely find yourself upgrading ahead of your intended timeframe. Some can live with a damaged smartphone, but that depends on how the phone has been damaged. In many cases, it’ll no longer be serviceable sooner or later.

Why you should never buy a new smartphone in the first month

Conclusion

Any of these reasons can be enough to warrant an upgrade, but that’s not to say there aren’t others. There are plenty of reasons why a person might choose not to upgrade, too. Maybe you’d prefer not to switch into a new phone unless it’s the one you really want, which may not have come out yet. With plenty of people keeping their phones for about two years, upgrading isn’t done haphazardly, nor should it be when you consider ballooning prices.

It’s also worth mentioning that after a couple years of using the same smartphone, the difference when you do get a new phone will be much more noticeable. The two-year contracts of yesteryear conditioned many users to the ritual of upgrading every other year. So even if there aren’t any clearly measurable “signs” that you’re ready for a new smartphone, maybe you’ll know you’re ready because you just feel it.

Now I’d like to hear from you. Do you use any of these indicators as signs that it’s time for a new smartphone? Is there some other way you know it’s time? Do you keep a smartphone for a couple of years or do you upgrade more frequently? Sound off in the comments below!

River town of Wuzhen ready for 4th World Internet Conference

The logo of the World Internet Conference is highlighted on a building featuring traditional white wall and black roof-tiles in Wuzhen, East China’s Zhejiang province, Nov 26, 2017. [Photo/IC]

Wuzhen, an ancient river town in Tongxiang city, East China’s Zhejiang province, has become the permanent home of the World Internet Conference, also known as Wuzhen Summit, since 2014.

The summit, to be held for the fourth time, will run from Dec 3 to 5 this year.

Focusing on the digital economy, openness and sharing to build an online community of a shared future, it will gather 1,500 guests from around the world, including the heads of international organizations, leading figures in the internet industry, online celebrities and academics, according to Xinhua.

Established more than 1,300 years ago, Wuzhen is seen as the “last site of waterside households in China”.

Let’s sneak a peek at the scenic town before the event kicks off.

Deal: LTE-ready Verizon Wear24 smartwatch with Android Wear 2.0 is now 77% off, grab one for $79.99

Posted:
27 Nov 2017, 02:50
,
by 48ee6_showimage Deal: LTE-ready Verizon Wear24 smartwatch with Android Wear 2.0 is now 77% off, grab one for $79.99Plamen D.

Tags :
Verizon- Android- Deals- Wearables-

Armed with tough computer chips, scientists are ready to return to …

CLEVELAND, OHIO—In an underdog city, at an underdog NASA lab, researchers are thinking hard about an undeservedly neglected planet. Venus is Earth’s cousin, closest in composition and size, but for decades it has remained veiled. NASA hasn’t sent a mission there since 1989; more recent European and Japanese orbiters have made halting progress that stops largely at the planet’s thick sulfur clouds. No craft has touched down since 1985, when the last of a series of advanced Soviet landers clad in armored pressure vessels endured a couple hours before succumbing to the deep-ocean pressure and furnacelike temperature of the planet’s surface. The baleful conditions and lack of funding have made Venus, Earth’s closest neighbor, feel more distant than ever. That is, except here.

3ff12_Alamy%2520H3F2DR%2520Venus_350px Armed with tough computer chips, scientists are ready to return to ...

In the 1990s, NASA’s Magellan spacecraft used radar to penetrate Venus’s thick clouds and map its surface.

In September, Phil Neudeck, an electrical engineer at NASA’s Glenn Research Center, a complex abutting the main airport in this Rust Belt city, sat watching purple and turquoise waveforms on a display. It was his window into the Venus next door. Behind sealed doors stood a 14-ton stainless steel tank, its massive ports sealed to hold pressures so high that the screws to secure its nuts have their own nuts. For 33 days, the Glenn Extreme Environments Rig (GEER) had run nonstop, simulating an atmosphere at 460°C and flooded with carbon dioxide at pressures that render it supercritical, both liquid and gas. Inside sat two microchips, pulsing with metronomic accuracy. Neudeck was running a clock on Venus, and it was keeping perfect time.

Neudeck and his Glenn colleagues are helping drive a technological leap that could transform the exploration of Venus, making it almost as accessible as Mars. Rather than barricading electronics within pressure vessels, by early next decade NASA may be able to land simple unprotected robots on Venus that can measure wind, temperature, chemistry, pressure, and seismic waves. And instead of running for a few hours, the landers could last for months. “We don’t have the world’s fastest chips,” Neudeck says. “We don’t have the world’s most complex chips. But in terms of Venus environment durability—that’s what we got.”

If the chips live up to their potential, scientists’ elusive dream of extended stays on Venus may at last be within reach. “The paradigm has been that long-term surface stuff is way down the road,” says Tibor Kremic, the scientist who has launched a push toward Venus at Glenn, a little-known NASA lab that has specialized in aviation. But early this decade, engineers here began to build heat-resistant electronics out of a new type of semiconductor, with an eye to placing sensors inside jet engines. Neudeck kept adding transistors to build more complex circuits. Meanwhile, at meetings, Russian researchers told Kremic they were seeking U.S. help in creating a pressure-vessel probe for a possible return-to-Venus mission called Venera-D. Kremic recalled Neudeck’s work and thought, “Maybe there’s another way to do this?”

Glenn’s campaign, if successful, could help revive interest in the planet. Once a primary target of planetary exploration, thanks especially to the brute-force Soviet campaign to land on its surface, Venus has long been overshadowed by missions to Mars, asteroids, and the outer planets and their moons. Early this year, missions to orbit Venus or dive into its atmosphere made up two of the five finalists for NASA’s latest Discovery mission—its line of $500 million planetary probes. The odds seemed good, but neither made the final cut.

3ff12_Alamy%2520H3F2DR%2520Venus_350px Armed with tough computer chips, scientists are ready to return to ...

The only close-ups of Venus’s crushing inferno come from Soviet Venera and Vega landers, such as the one captured by Venera-13 in 1982.

Later this year, the agency will announce finalists in the competition for its next billion-dollar New Frontiers mission; among the dozen candidates, three target Venus. But they face stiff competition—including a return to the saturnian moons Enceladus and Titan, which the Cassini mission showed have the potential for harboring life.

If Venus loses out again, Glenn’s innovations could be the best route back—not just to venusian orbit, but all the way to the surface. “The pie is finite,” says Bob Grimm, a geophysicist at the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colorado, and chairman of NASA’s Venus Exploration Analysis Group. “If we want to improve Venus’s share, we have to have some kind of initial mission to get people excited again.” Ralph Harvey, a planetary scientist at Case Western Reserve University here, agrees: “This is the kind of technology development that could take a flagship kind of planetary mission and suddenly allow it to deliver a hell of a lot more.”

The scientific case for Venus is strong. No planet has more to say about how Earth came to be. Mars is tiny and frozen, its heat and atmosphere largely lost to space long ago. “In terms of Earth-sized terrestrial planets, it’s really Venus,” says Colin Wilson, a planetary scientist at the University of Oxford in the United Kingdom. “Venus is all we got.” The planet could host active volcanoes, and it may have once featured oceans and continents, which are critical to the evolution of life. Plate tectonics roughly like Earth’s might have held sway there, or might be starting today, hidden under the clouds. Venus also proves by example that orbiting within a star’s “habitable zone” doesn’t guarantee that a planet is suitable for life. Understanding how Venus’s atmosphere went bad and turned into a runaway greenhouse, boiling away any oceans and baking the surface, could help astronomers studying other solar systems distinguish truly Earth-like exoplanets from our evil twins.

Being able to rove or explore the surface of Venus is within the future horizon.

Lori Glaze, Goddard Space Flight Center

When Neudeck joined Glenn in the early 1990s, Venus was far from his mind. He was chasing an earthly quarry: new semiconductors, materials that can deliver finely controlled doses of electric current. Under extreme heat, silicon, the backbone of modern electronics, becomes a pure conductor. That makes it useless for computing, because stopping and starting the flow of electricity is how zeroes turn into ones.

Neudeck had his eye on silicon carbide, a hybrid of silicon and carbon commonly used as an abrasive in sandpaper and for growing fake diamonds. Silicon carbide has a bigger bandgap than silicon, which means its electrons can absorb much more energy before it becomes a conductor. As a result, it functions as a semiconductor at much higher temperatures. But it is difficult to work with. Because silicon carbide doesn’t melt, the techniques used to produce large silicon wafers break down. When researchers managed to grow wafers by vaporizing the material and depositing it on a seed crystal, the resulting films were riddled with impurities that made them unreliable.

The allure of high-temperature electronics was too great to ignore, however. Slowly, with the support of NASA and the Office of Naval Research, researchers, led especially by Cree, an upstart electronics company, devised ways to grow usable silicon carbide crystals more than 150 millimeters in diameter. The power industry is now harnessing the material to build smaller transformers and more efficient power plants, Neudeck says.

He and his colleagues set out to turn the material into full-fledged computer circuits, assembling more and more complex chips in their clean room. The biggest breakthrough came 4 years ago, when they figured out how to create layered chips that allow electrical signals to crisscross, rapidly increasing potential complexity. “We’re really trying to recreate Moore’s law, but to do it for high temperature,” Neudeck says. In 1 year, they increased the number of transistors on their silicon carbide chips 10-fold.

Pentiums these are not. A modern silicon chip can contain 7 billion transistors; each of the chips running in the Venus chamber has 175. Neudeck also uses an old-school transistor design, long since abandoned in conventional microelectronics. It’s basically a hyperexpensive, obtuse pocket calculator. But a pocket calculator running on Venus could be valuable indeed. “This is already the complexity of many of the early scientific missions flown back in the ’60s and ’70s,” Neudeck says, and more powerful than the chips on Apollo flight computers. “You really can do science.”

Still, Neudeck’s team’s work would have been a sideshow unless he had a way to prove his chips’ endurance. Last year, that’s exactly what the team did.

You could be forgiven for not knowing that Glenn even exists. It has never become a scientific hotbed like the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California, the leader in robotic space exploration. Several times, past NASA administrators or Congress have considered closing it.

The Venus chamber started as another failed dream. NASA planned to test efficient nuclear-fueled engines called Stirling generators that could have driven refrigerators to keep traditional silicon-based electronics cool. Glenn’s experience in simulating the extreme environments inside jet and rocket engines made it a natural home for the chamber. “The mantra of our branch is small, smart, and rugged,” says Glenn engineer Gary Hunter, who had developed basic chemical sensors for the Venus environment. But the agency canceled the program in 2013, leaving the stainless steel vessel and its gas-mixing apparatus gathering dust.

Kremic, who had spent some time at NASA headquarters in Washington, D.C., in planetary science before returning to Glenn, saw an opportunity. In fits and starts, he cobbled together money to create the largest and most advanced facility for simulating the surface of Venus. The minivan-size chamber was rebuilt and upgraded last year. Now, besides simply running large volumes of gas at high temperature and pressures of 90 bars or more, the GEER can mix eight different gases to create a Venus-like atmosphere, and it can inject water and other liquids into the cauldron. “The end result is we’re much more likely to understand more fully what Venus will be like when we get there,” Harvey says.

The chamber quickly proved its worth both for stress tests and for basic science. “It was kind of heaven,” says Harvey, who has pushed the GEER to run for a record 80 days in two “cook and look” experiments to see how different volcanic rocks would react with the venusian atmosphere—long a matter of debate among planetary scientists.

3ff12_Alamy%2520H3F2DR%2520Venus_350px Armed with tough computer chips, scientists are ready to return to ...

Computer chips tested at high temperatures and pressures in NASA’s Glenn Extreme Environments Rig could enable long-lived Venus landers.

The chamber’s marquee moment came last year, when the previous, 24-transitor generation of Neudeck’s chip survived 21 days in the GEER—an ordeal that may have changed the course of Venus exploration. Since then, NASA has funded Kremic’s team to explore three different concepts for longlived landers. Across the country, a team at JPL, led by mechatronics engineer Jonathan Sauder, had been exploring a clockwork rover, virtually free of electronics, that could explore the surface of Venus. When they caught wind of the developments at Glenn, they began to think about how their mechanical designs could supplement the high-temperature chips. “We’re starting to get into a different realm,” says Lori Glaze, who is based at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, and is leading one of the proposed billion-dollar New Frontiers missions to Venus (all of which rely on conventional silicon chips). “I definitely think that being able to rove or explore the surface of Venus is within the future horizon.”

That surface could prove a lot more active than planetary scientists thought just a few years ago. In the 1990s, cloud-penetrating radar aboard NASA’s Magellan orbiter showed relatively few craters, distributed seemingly at random. Some 500 million years ago, researchers theorized, a catastrophic event—perhaps a vast flood of magma—wiped the surface clean, like a planet-size slate, smothering any possibility of volcanoes or plate tectonics beneath a thick, cold crust. And Venus has been pretty much dead ever since.

In the late 2000s, however, the European Venus Express orbiter began to sketch a much livelier picture. Tracking the atmosphere, it saw what appeared to be a fourfold spike in sulfur dioxide that lasted about a year—perhaps the sign of a large, Mount Pinatubo-style volcanic eruption. Peering through the clouds in specific wavelengths of light, Venus Express seemed to discern unusually dark terrain near volcanic features—what fresh lava might look like on Earth. And near the end of its mission, in a rift on the side of a volcano, it saw what seemed to be a spike in temperatures of several hundred degrees. “This really makes us think Venus should be active,” Wilson says.

3ff12_Alamy%2520H3F2DR%2520Venus_350px Armed with tough computer chips, scientists are ready to return to ...

Heat measured from orbit suggests some of Venus’s volcanoes (vertically exaggerated) may be active.

Scientists would love to find out. Missions such as NASA’s three New Frontiers candidates, however, focus more on the planet’s distant past. Two of them—one led by Glaze, the other by Larry Esposito, a planetary scientist at the University of Colorado in Boulder—would be short-lived. Each would drop a pressure vessel into the atmosphere, which would measure atmospheric chemistry on the way down and spend its few hours of life on the surface sampling rocks with either lasers or a drill. Analyzing isotopes of nonreactive noble gases in the atmosphere could give scientists a window into whether Venus started with as much water as Earth did—and whether it might still be hiding water, the lubricant of plate tectonics, deep in its interior. Probing the rock composition could reveal whether, as some researchers suspect, the slightly elevated regions called tesserae are remnants of continents.

The third New Frontiers mission, proposed by JPL research scientist Suzanne Smrekar, would take a more unconventional approach: using orbiting radar and spectrometers to probe the surface’s composition while a small probe swoops in and out of the atmosphere to capture air for isotope analysis. The high-resolution radar could reveal surface features lost in the noise of old measurements, Smrekar says: perhaps chasms that resemble Earth’s midocean ridges, or the details of mysterious oval-shaped features called coronae, which could mark where plumes of hot material from Venus’s mantle are causing parts of the crust to sink under others. Smrekar suspects Venus is a good analog for the time when plate tectonics began on Earth. Its greenhouse-heated surface is cooling much more slowly than Earth’s, and may only now be starting to crack into plates. “We may be seeing evidence for the process of subduction starting on Venus today,” she says.

To know for sure, however, researchers need to measure what’s happening in Venus’s interior today. That information can come only with sustained listening—exactly what Glenn’s landers propose to provide.

3ff12_Alamy%2520H3F2DR%2520Venus_350px Armed with tough computer chips, scientists are ready to return to ...

Electronic components, including a silicon carbide computer chip, withstood 2 months of Venus-like conditions in the Glenn Extreme Environments Rig in Cleveland, Ohio.

Each of them, Kremic says, was designed to be small enough to hitch a ride on other missions—either one of the New Frontiers spacecraft, Venera-D, or spacecraft that could swoop by Venus en route to other destinations. The first proposal, called the Long-Life In-Situ Solar System Explorer (LLISSE), was modest: a glorified cube the size of a car battery that would drop from a balloon or larger probe and record temperature, pressure, wind speed, and a few specific chemicals for 60 Earth days. Because silicon carbide isn’t good for storing data, the LLISSE would stream its observations either up to an orbiter or straight to Earth. The readings would provide ground truth for circulation models of the planet’s atmosphere, and they would help researchers estimate how mass is distributed throughout the planet—one fundamental mystery that a short-term mission could not answer.

A slightly larger design, the Seismic and Atmospheric Exploration of Venus, unveiled this month at a Venus meeting at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Maryland, could add a seismometer, a heat flux gauge, possibly even a camera, all for $100 million. Such a seismometer would be the killer app for long-lived landers. “The ultimate goal is to have seismometers on Venus,” Smrekar says. Nothing can tell you more about the interior structure of a planet. By listening to the ground over a long span of time, Wilson says, you might hear the crust stretching or cracking from tectonic processes, including “Venusquakes,” or hear the rumbling of distant volcanoes. Such a mission could quickly answer the fundamental question: Is Venus dead or alive?

Another test of Glenn’s silicon carbide electronics could potentially come quite soon: a proposal called Venus Bridge Orbiter and Surface Science (V-BOSS), one of two candidates for a quick-to-fly, low-cost (less than $200 million) “Venus Bridge” mission that NASA’s associate administrator for science, Thomas Zurbuchen, asked Venus scientists to prepare in the wake of the failed Discovery round. While details of the V-BOSS won’t be set until early next year, it would build off of the LLISSE and add an orbiter to relay lander data back to Earth.

Some researchers, blindsided by the brisk progress in high-temperature electronics, worry that the Glenn and Venus Bridge landers could outcompete more conventional missions such as New Frontiers. That would be a loss to science, Esposito says, because the cut-rate landers can’t match sophisticated sensors, such as mass spectrometers and radar, for answering key questions. “There’s not a cheap way to find out the dominant mineral on the surface of Venus,” he says. But Harvey says Glenn-style electronics could make even more ambitious future Venus probes—such as a long-delayed potential multibillion-dollar flagship mission—vastly more productive.

Meanwhile, back here in Cleveland, the latest endurance test has wound up. Neudeck reports that his microchips worked the whole way through, and could have run longer. One day, he is confident, devices like these will brave the hellish surface of Venus. Until they are ready, he will keep putting them through their paces, marking time in the little hell next door.

Armed with tough computer chips, scientists are ready to return to the hell of Venus

CLEVELAND, OHIO—In an underdog city, at an underdog NASA lab, researchers are thinking hard about an undeservedly neglected planet. Venus is Earth’s cousin, closest in composition and size, but for decades it has remained veiled. NASA hasn’t sent a mission there since 1989; more recent European and Japanese orbiters have made halting progress that stops largely at the planet’s thick sulfur clouds. No craft has touched down since 1985, when the last of a series of advanced Soviet landers clad in armored pressure vessels endured a couple hours before succumbing to the deep-ocean pressure and furnacelike temperature of the planet’s surface. The baleful conditions and lack of funding have made Venus, Earth’s closest neighbor, feel more distant than ever. That is, except here.

2c2e4_Alamy%2520H3F2DR%2520Venus_350px Armed with tough computer chips, scientists are ready to return to the hell of Venus

In the 1990s, NASA’s Magellan spacecraft used radar to penetrate Venus’s thick clouds and map its surface.

In September, Phil Neudeck, an electrical engineer at NASA’s Glenn Research Center, a complex abutting the main airport in this Rust Belt city, sat watching purple and turquoise waveforms on a display. It was his window into the Venus next door. Behind sealed doors stood a 14-ton stainless steel tank, its massive ports sealed to hold pressures so high that the screws to secure its nuts have their own nuts. For 33 days, the Glenn Extreme Environments Rig (GEER) had run nonstop, simulating an atmosphere at 460°C and flooded with carbon dioxide at pressures that render it supercritical, both liquid and gas. Inside sat two microchips, pulsing with metronomic accuracy. Neudeck was running a clock on Venus, and it was keeping perfect time.

Neudeck and his Glenn colleagues are helping drive a technological leap that could transform the exploration of Venus, making it almost as accessible as Mars. Rather than barricading electronics within pressure vessels, by early next decade NASA may be able to land simple unprotected robots on Venus that can measure wind, temperature, chemistry, pressure, and seismic waves. And instead of running for a few hours, the landers could last for months. “We don’t have the world’s fastest chips,” Neudeck says. “We don’t have the world’s most complex chips. But in terms of Venus environment durability—that’s what we got.”

If the chips live up to their potential, scientists’ elusive dream of extended stays on Venus may at last be within reach. “The paradigm has been that long-term surface stuff is way down the road,” says Tibor Kremic, the scientist who has launched a push toward Venus at Glenn, a little-known NASA lab that has specialized in aviation. But early this decade, engineers here began to build heat-resistant electronics out of a new type of semiconductor, with an eye to placing sensors inside jet engines. Neudeck kept adding transistors to build more complex circuits. Meanwhile, at meetings, Russian researchers told Kremic they were seeking U.S. help in creating a pressure-vessel probe for a possible return-to-Venus mission called Venera-D. Kremic recalled Neudeck’s work and thought, “Maybe there’s another way to do this?”

Glenn’s campaign, if successful, could help revive interest in the planet. Once a primary target of planetary exploration, thanks especially to the brute-force Soviet campaign to land on its surface, Venus has long been overshadowed by missions to Mars, asteroids, and the outer planets and their moons. Early this year, missions to orbit Venus or dive into its atmosphere made up two of the five finalists for NASA’s latest Discovery mission—its line of $500 million planetary probes. The odds seemed good, but neither made the final cut.

2c2e4_Alamy%2520H3F2DR%2520Venus_350px Armed with tough computer chips, scientists are ready to return to the hell of Venus

The only close-ups of Venus’s crushing inferno come from Soviet Venera and Vega landers, such as the one captured by Venera-13 in 1982.

Later this year, the agency will announce finalists in the competition for its next billion-dollar New Frontiers mission; among the dozen candidates, three target Venus. But they face stiff competition—including a return to the saturnian moons Enceladus and Titan, which the Cassini mission showed have the potential for harboring life.

If Venus loses out again, Glenn’s innovations could be the best route back—not just to venusian orbit, but all the way to the surface. “The pie is finite,” says Bob Grimm, a geophysicist at the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colorado, and chairman of NASA’s Venus Exploration Analysis Group. “If we want to improve Venus’s share, we have to have some kind of initial mission to get people excited again.” Ralph Harvey, a planetary scientist at Case Western Reserve University here, agrees: “This is the kind of technology development that could take a flagship kind of planetary mission and suddenly allow it to deliver a hell of a lot more.”

The scientific case for Venus is strong. No planet has more to say about how Earth came to be. Mars is tiny and frozen, its heat and atmosphere largely lost to space long ago. “In terms of Earth-sized terrestrial planets, it’s really Venus,” says Colin Wilson, a planetary scientist at the University of Oxford in the United Kingdom. “Venus is all we got.” The planet could host active volcanoes, and it may have once featured oceans and continents, which are critical to the evolution of life. Plate tectonics roughly like Earth’s might have held sway there, or might be starting today, hidden under the clouds. Venus also proves by example that orbiting within a star’s “habitable zone” doesn’t guarantee that a planet is suitable for life. Understanding how Venus’s atmosphere went bad and turned into a runaway greenhouse, boiling away any oceans and baking the surface, could help astronomers studying other solar systems distinguish truly Earth-like exoplanets from our evil twins.

Being able to rove or explore the surface of Venus is within the future horizon.

Lori Glaze, Goddard Space Flight Center

When Neudeck joined Glenn in the early 1990s, Venus was far from his mind. He was chasing an earthly quarry: new semiconductors, materials that can deliver finely controlled doses of electric current. Under extreme heat, silicon, the backbone of modern electronics, becomes a pure conductor. That makes it useless for computing, because stopping and starting the flow of electricity is how zeroes turn into ones.

Neudeck had his eye on silicon carbide, a hybrid of silicon and carbon commonly used as an abrasive in sandpaper and for growing fake diamonds. Silicon carbide has a bigger bandgap than silicon, which means its electrons can absorb much more energy before it becomes a conductor. As a result, it functions as a semiconductor at much higher temperatures. But it is difficult to work with. Because silicon carbide doesn’t melt, the techniques used to produce large silicon wafers break down. When researchers managed to grow wafers by vaporizing the material and depositing it on a seed crystal, the resulting films were riddled with impurities that made them unreliable.

The allure of high-temperature electronics was too great to ignore, however. Slowly, with the support of NASA and the Office of Naval Research, researchers, led especially by Cree, an upstart electronics company, devised ways to grow usable silicon carbide crystals more than 150 millimeters in diameter. The power industry is now harnessing the material to build smaller transformers and more efficient power plants, Neudeck says.

He and his colleagues set out to turn the material into full-fledged computer circuits, assembling more and more complex chips in their clean room. The biggest breakthrough came 4 years ago, when they figured out how to create layered chips that allow electrical signals to crisscross, rapidly increasing potential complexity. “We’re really trying to recreate Moore’s law, but to do it for high temperature,” Neudeck says. In 1 year, they increased the number of transistors on their silicon carbide chips 10-fold.

Pentiums these are not. A modern silicon chip can contain 7 billion transistors; each of the chips running in the Venus chamber has 175. Neudeck also uses an old-school transistor design, long since abandoned in conventional microelectronics. It’s basically a hyperexpensive, obtuse pocket calculator. But a pocket calculator running on Venus could be valuable indeed. “This is already the complexity of many of the early scientific missions flown back in the ’60s and ’70s,” Neudeck says, and more powerful than the chips on Apollo flight computers. “You really can do science.”

Still, Neudeck’s team’s work would have been a sideshow unless he had a way to prove his chips’ endurance. Last year, that’s exactly what the team did.

You could be forgiven for not knowing that Glenn even exists. It has never become a scientific hotbed like the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California, the leader in robotic space exploration. Several times, past NASA administrators or Congress have considered closing it.

The Venus chamber started as another failed dream. NASA planned to test efficient nuclear-fueled engines called Stirling generators that could have driven refrigerators to keep traditional silicon-based electronics cool. Glenn’s experience in simulating the extreme environments inside jet and rocket engines made it a natural home for the chamber. “The mantra of our branch is small, smart, and rugged,” says Glenn engineer Gary Hunter, who had developed basic chemical sensors for the Venus environment. But the agency canceled the program in 2013, leaving the stainless steel vessel and its gas-mixing apparatus gathering dust.

Kremic, who had spent some time at NASA headquarters in Washington, D.C., in planetary science before returning to Glenn, saw an opportunity. In fits and starts, he cobbled together money to create the largest and most advanced facility for simulating the surface of Venus. The minivan-size chamber was rebuilt and upgraded last year. Now, besides simply running large volumes of gas at high temperature and pressures of 90 bars or more, the GEER can mix eight different gases to create a Venus-like atmosphere, and it can inject water and other liquids into the cauldron. “The end result is we’re much more likely to understand more fully what Venus will be like when we get there,” Harvey says.

The chamber quickly proved its worth both for stress tests and for basic science. “It was kind of heaven,” says Harvey, who has pushed the GEER to run for a record 80 days in two “cook and look” experiments to see how different volcanic rocks would react with the venusian atmosphere—long a matter of debate among planetary scientists.

2c2e4_Alamy%2520H3F2DR%2520Venus_350px Armed with tough computer chips, scientists are ready to return to the hell of Venus

Computer chips tested at high temperatures and pressures in NASA’s Glenn Extreme Environments Rig could enable long-lived Venus landers.

The chamber’s marquee moment came last year, when the previous, 24-transitor generation of Neudeck’s chip survived 21 days in the GEER—an ordeal that may have changed the course of Venus exploration. Since then, NASA has funded Kremic’s team to explore three different concepts for longlived landers. Across the country, a team at JPL, led by mechatronics engineer Jonathan Sauder, had been exploring a clockwork rover, virtually free of electronics, that could explore the surface of Venus. When they caught wind of the developments at Glenn, they began to think about how their mechanical designs could supplement the high-temperature chips. “We’re starting to get into a different realm,” says Lori Glaze, who is based at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, and is leading one of the proposed billion-dollar New Frontiers missions to Venus (all of which rely on conventional silicon chips). “I definitely think that being able to rove or explore the surface of Venus is within the future horizon.”

That surface could prove a lot more active than planetary scientists thought just a few years ago. In the 1990s, cloud-penetrating radar aboard NASA’s Magellan orbiter showed relatively few craters, distributed seemingly at random. Some 500 million years ago, researchers theorized, a catastrophic event—perhaps a vast flood of magma—wiped the surface clean, like a planet-size slate, smothering any possibility of volcanoes or plate tectonics beneath a thick, cold crust. And Venus has been pretty much dead ever since.

In the late 2000s, however, the European Venus Express orbiter began to sketch a much livelier picture. Tracking the atmosphere, it saw what appeared to be a fourfold spike in sulfur dioxide that lasted about a year—perhaps the sign of a large, Mount Pinatubo-style volcanic eruption. Peering through the clouds in specific wavelengths of light, Venus Express seemed to discern unusually dark terrain near volcanic features—what fresh lava might look like on Earth. And near the end of its mission, in a rift on the side of a volcano, it saw what seemed to be a spike in temperatures of several hundred degrees. “This really makes us think Venus should be active,” Wilson says.

2c2e4_Alamy%2520H3F2DR%2520Venus_350px Armed with tough computer chips, scientists are ready to return to the hell of Venus

Heat measured from orbit suggests some of Venus’s volcanoes (vertically exaggerated) may be active.

Scientists would love to find out. Missions such as NASA’s three New Frontiers candidates, however, focus more on the planet’s distant past. Two of them—one led by Glaze, the other by Larry Esposito, a planetary scientist at the University of Colorado in Boulder—would be short-lived. Each would drop a pressure vessel into the atmosphere, which would measure atmospheric chemistry on the way down and spend its few hours of life on the surface sampling rocks with either lasers or a drill. Analyzing isotopes of nonreactive noble gases in the atmosphere could give scientists a window into whether Venus started with as much water as Earth did—and whether it might still be hiding water, the lubricant of plate tectonics, deep in its interior. Probing the rock composition could reveal whether, as some researchers suspect, the slightly elevated regions called tesserae are remnants of continents.

The third New Frontiers mission, proposed by JPL research scientist Suzanne Smrekar, would take a more unconventional approach: using orbiting radar and spectrometers to probe the surface’s composition while a small probe swoops in and out of the atmosphere to capture air for isotope analysis. The high-resolution radar could reveal surface features lost in the noise of old measurements, Smrekar says: perhaps chasms that resemble Earth’s midocean ridges, or the details of mysterious oval-shaped features called coronae, which could mark where plumes of hot material from Venus’s mantle are causing parts of the crust to sink under others. Smrekar suspects Venus is a good analog for the time when plate tectonics began on Earth. Its greenhouse-heated surface is cooling much more slowly than Earth’s, and may only now be starting to crack into plates. “We may be seeing evidence for the process of subduction starting on Venus today,” she says.

To know for sure, however, researchers need to measure what’s happening in Venus’s interior today. That information can come only with sustained listening—exactly what Glenn’s landers propose to provide.

2c2e4_Alamy%2520H3F2DR%2520Venus_350px Armed with tough computer chips, scientists are ready to return to the hell of Venus

Electronic components, including a silicon carbide computer chip, withstood 2 months of Venus-like conditions in the Glenn Extreme Environments Rig in Cleveland, Ohio.

Each of them, Kremic says, was designed to be small enough to hitch a ride on other missions—either one of the New Frontiers spacecraft, Venera-D, or spacecraft that could swoop by Venus en route to other destinations. The first proposal, called the Long-Life In-Situ Solar System Explorer (LLISSE), was modest: a glorified cube the size of a car battery that would drop from a balloon or larger probe and record temperature, pressure, wind speed, and a few specific chemicals for 60 Earth days. Because silicon carbide isn’t good for storing data, the LLISSE would stream its observations either up to an orbiter or straight to Earth. The readings would provide ground truth for circulation models of the planet’s atmosphere, and they would help researchers estimate how mass is distributed throughout the planet—one fundamental mystery that a short-term mission could not answer.

A slightly larger design, the Seismic and Atmospheric Exploration of Venus, unveiled this month at a Venus meeting at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Maryland, could add a seismometer, a heat flux gauge, possibly even a camera, all for $100 million. Such a seismometer would be the killer app for long-lived landers. “The ultimate goal is to have seismometers on Venus,” Smrekar says. Nothing can tell you more about the interior structure of a planet. By listening to the ground over a long span of time, Wilson says, you might hear the crust stretching or cracking from tectonic processes, including “Venusquakes,” or hear the rumbling of distant volcanoes. Such a mission could quickly answer the fundamental question: Is Venus dead or alive?

Another test of Glenn’s silicon carbide electronics could potentially come quite soon: a proposal called Venus Bridge Orbiter and Surface Science (V-BOSS), one of two candidates for a quick-to-fly, low-cost (less than $200 million) “Venus Bridge” mission that NASA’s associate administrator for science, Thomas Zurbuchen, asked Venus scientists to prepare in the wake of the failed Discovery round. While details of the V-BOSS won’t be set until early next year, it would build off of the LLISSE and add an orbiter to relay lander data back to Earth.

Some researchers, blindsided by the brisk progress in high-temperature electronics, worry that the Glenn and Venus Bridge landers could outcompete more conventional missions such as New Frontiers. That would be a loss to science, Esposito says, because the cut-rate landers can’t match sophisticated sensors, such as mass spectrometers and radar, for answering key questions. “There’s not a cheap way to find out the dominant mineral on the surface of Venus,” he says. But Harvey says Glenn-style electronics could make even more ambitious future Venus probes—such as a long-delayed potential multibillion-dollar flagship mission—vastly more productive.

Meanwhile, back here in Cleveland, the latest endurance test has wound up. Neudeck reports that his microchips worked the whole way through, and could have run longer. One day, he is confident, devices like these will brave the hellish surface of Venus. Until they are ready, he will keep putting them through their paces, marking time in the little hell next door.

Not all banks are ready to trust Face ID on the iPhone X

The iPhone X brings over a brand new type of iPhone feature, one that changes the way you interact with the device, facial recognition. But Apple’s not doing facial recognition the Android way, which can be easily hacked with a photo. Instead, Apple built a miniaturized Kinect that analyzes the unique patterns of each face with the help of components that can measure depth. Thus, the 3D facial recognition of the iPhone X is unparalleled when it comes to biometrics-based mobile security.

Face ID is the first step towards the kind of seamless, perpetual authentication we’re heading to. But it’s not good enough for Korean banks.

A report from The Korea Herald says that several banks in the county are not ready to fully trust Face ID. The list includes online-only banks Kakao Bank and K-Bank and commercial entities like Kookmin Bank, Shinhan, IBK, Busan, and NH.

The fact that a hacker in Vietnam was able to hack Face ID after building a complex face mask, although that hacker never fully answered questions about his hack, is a cause of concern for these banks. As is the fact that children can unlock the iPhones of parents.

“It was difficult for us to adopt the biometric technology (of iPhone X) abruptly since it normally takes some time to undergo several security procedures before adopting a new technology. Plus, the phone’s facial authentication technology was not fully proven,” a Kookmin Bank official said.

Face ID replaces Touch ID functionality in apps without developers having to do anything about it. Because the iPhone lacks a fingerprint sensor, iPhone X users in Korea will have to use other apps to authenticate themselves when it comes to mobile banking.

In the future, things will probably change, as local banks verify the security of Face ID. The report notes that banks in Australia, Canada, UK, and New Zealand have already confirmed that they’ll support Face ID.

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The iPhone X Is Cool. That Doesn’t Mean You Are Ready for It. – The …

And although the face scanner for unlocking the device is impressive and creepily accurate, in many situations, it didn’t work as quickly as a fingerprint scanner. It also failed to unlock the phone when I wore a pair of Persol sunglasses.

The iPhone X feels ahead of its time, perfect for a target audience of technology enthusiasts and obsessive photographers. Everyone else may want to wait awhile to buy.

An iPhone X overview

First, the basics: The iPhone X has a 5.8-inch screen that is larger than the 5.5-inch display on the iPhone 8 Plus and the 4.7-inch screen on the iPhone 8. Yet the iPhone X’s overall body is smaller than that of the iPhone 8 Plus (though a little bit larger than that of the iPhone 8).

Apple managed to squeeze a larger screen onto a smaller body by eliminating the iPhone’s bezel, which is the border surrounding the display. The screen takes up the entire face of the device, with the exception of a notch at the top containing the infrared face scanner.

In the process of removing the bezel, Apple also eliminated the home button. As a result, controlling the iPhone X mostly involves using touch gestures. When inside an app or unlocking the phone, swiping up from the bottom brings you to the home screen. That’s simple, but other functions are trickier. To open the app switcher, a popular feature, you swipe up from the bottom and hold your finger for a second. Many times, I lifted my thumb too soon before opening this shortcut. (On past iPhones, you would just press the home button twice to open the app switcher.)

Apple has included a shortcut on the phone called Reachability, which lowers the top of the screen to make it easier for one-handed users to reach for buttons or apps on the top row with their thumb. To engage it, swipe downward from the bottom of the screen. Yet it often took me multiple attempts to swipe the sweet spot before successfully opening it. It is much easier to use Reachability with other iPhones: you just tap the home button twice.

I struggled with the new iPhone controls when I ran into a bug. One morning, the Amazon app was loaded on the screen — then it froze.

I tried swiping up to leave the app, then holding two physical side buttons down to shut down the phone, but to no avail.

Advertisement

Continue reading the main story

I fumbled around for at least 10 minutes before I read a guide that revealed that pressing three physical buttons in a sequence would force a restart.

These are troubling signs for how less technologically inclined people may respond to the iPhone X. For the last decade, the iPhone has been a computer that anyone can use without reading an instruction manual. With the iPhone X, that is no longer the case.

Testing Face ID

Apple’s Face ID, the official name for its face scanner technology, works by spraying an object with infrared dots and stitching the patterns into a detailed 3D image of your face to determine whether you are the owner of the smartphone before unlocking it.

Face ID continues to update this map of your face with more information every time you unlock your smartphone — whether you are wearing a scarf or a hat or growing facial hair. In addition, Face ID can authorize mobile payments, log in to apps and create animated emojis that mimic your face movements.

I put Face ID through dozens of tests and it recognized my face in most situations, including when I wore a beanie, Ray-Ban sunglasses or goggles for my Halloween costume or draped a dog toy over my head. It worked in pitch dark at night and outside on a sunny day.

But Face ID worked inconsistently — or not at all — when I lay the iPhone X flat on a table or my night stand, wore a gas mask for my Halloween costume, walked around in bright sunlight at a park or wore Persol sunglasses. (According to Apple, these particular sunglasses probably blocked the part of the infrared spectrum used by Face ID.) It also didn’t work when I tried using the face scanner while slurping a bowl of noodles.

Ultimately, it was faster to unlock the iPhone 8 with Touch ID, the fingerprint sensor, than it was to unlock the iPhone X with Face ID in most situations. Unlocking with a fingerprint sensor is one rapid gesture: You hold your fingerprint over the sensor, and the phone unlocks in less than a second. With Face ID, you have to wait for the camera to scan your face, which sometimes takes more than a second; you can swipe up to unlock the phone before or after the scan completes.

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Continue reading the main story

To be fair, Touch ID sometimes failed to scan my fingerprint on previous iPhones, like when my hands were sweaty, damp or dirty. Over the long term, Face ID is likely to save more time than using Touch ID because Face ID only failed in rare circumstances.

The wow factors

Before reviewing the iPhone X, I used an iPhone 8 Plus for two weeks for comparison. Both devices have a similar rear camera system with two lenses. The two cameras work together to show the picture’s main subject in sharp focus while gently blurring the background. Apple calls this Portrait mode, also known as the bokeh effect.

Photo

0f9dd_02TECHFIX-4-master675 The iPhone X Is Cool. That Doesn't Mean You Are Ready for It. - The ...

The smartphone’s rear camera has two lenses that work together to show the picture’s main subject in sharp focus while gently blurring the background.

Credit
Thomas Peter/Reuters

The dual-lens camera is extremely compelling, with Portrait mode making photos of even the most mundane things — like a bowl of ramen — look artistic and stunning. But the drawback was that the iPhone 8 Plus was so bulky that it was miserable to carry around and using the device with one hand felt impossible.

That means the iPhone X’s dual-lens camera and phone size may be a major draw for people. The iPhone X’s camera is slightly better than the camera on the iPhone 8 Plus because one lens has a higher aperture to let in more light. As a result, Portrait mode photos looked better (subjects were even clearer in the foreground), and so did photos taken in low light.

Another must mention: the screen. It uses OLED technology, a type of display with better color accuracy and contrast than its predecessor, LCD. That made the screen on the iPhone X look more vibrant than the ones on the iPhone 8 Plus and iPhone 8, which still use LCD. I also preferred the colors on the screen to those on the Samsung Galaxy Note 8, the $950 phablet that earned top ratings for its display. The Samsung device’s display colors looked bluer and less natural than those on the iPhone X.

Bottom line

In terms of features, the iPhone X is the most impressive smartphone ever made. It’s worth the $999 — but that doesn’t mean you should buy it. I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend the iPhone X to my tech-crazed friends in Silicon Valley, but the iPhone 8 is just as fast while being simpler and more familiar to use.

Then again, if you are willing to get up early to line up for a $999 phone, you are probably the target demographic for the iPhone X anyway. Make sure you wear something comfortable.


Continue reading the main story

The iPhone X Is Cool. That Doesn’t Mean You Are Ready for It.

Otherwise, there are plenty of cheaper smartphones with excellent features. And the iPhone X isn’t perfect. Losing the home button will make it awkward to use for a while.

Advertisement

Continue reading the main story

And although the face scanner for unlocking the device is impressive and creepily accurate, in many situations, it didn’t work as quickly as a fingerprint scanner. It also failed to unlock the phone when I wore a pair of Persol sunglasses.

The iPhone X feels ahead of its time, perfect for a target audience of technology enthusiasts and obsessive photographers. Everyone else may want to wait awhile to buy.

An iPhone X overview

First, the basics: The iPhone X has a 5.8-inch screen that is larger than the 5.5-inch display on the iPhone 8 Plus and the 4.7-inch screen on the iPhone 8. Yet the iPhone X’s overall body is smaller than that of the iPhone 8 Plus (though a little bit larger than that of the iPhone 8).

Apple managed to squeeze a larger screen onto a smaller body by eliminating the iPhone’s bezel, which is the border surrounding the display. The screen takes up the entire face of the device, with the exception of a notch at the top containing the infrared face scanner.

In the process of removing the bezel, Apple also eliminated the home button. As a result, controlling the iPhone X mostly involves using touch gestures. When inside an app or unlocking the phone, swiping up from the bottom brings you to the home screen. That’s simple, but other functions are trickier. To open the app switcher, a popular feature, you swipe up from the bottom and hold your finger for a second. Many times, I lifted my thumb too soon before opening this shortcut. (On past iPhones, you would just press the home button twice to open the app switcher.)

Apple has included a shortcut on the phone called Reachability, which lowers the top of the screen to make it easier for one-handed users to reach for buttons or apps on the top row with their thumb. To engage it, swipe downward from the bottom of the screen. Yet it often took me multiple attempts to swipe the sweet spot before successfully opening it. It is much easier to use Reachability with other iPhones: you just tap the home button twice.

I struggled with the new iPhone controls when I ran into a bug. One morning, the Amazon app was loaded on the screen — then it froze.

I tried swiping up to leave the app, then holding two physical side buttons down to shut down the phone, but to no avail.

Advertisement

Continue reading the main story

I fumbled around for at least 10 minutes before I read a guide that revealed that pressing three physical buttons in a sequence would force a restart.

These are troubling signs for how less technologically inclined people may respond to the iPhone X. For the last decade, the iPhone has been a computer that anyone can use without reading an instruction manual. With the iPhone X, that is no longer the case.

Testing Face ID

Apple’s Face ID, the official name for its face scanner technology, works by spraying an object with infrared dots and stitching the patterns into a detailed 3D image of your face to determine whether you are the owner of the smartphone before unlocking it.

Face ID continues to update this map of your face with more information every time you unlock your smartphone — whether you are wearing a scarf or a hat or growing facial hair. In addition, Face ID can authorize mobile payments, log in to apps and create animated emojis that mimic your face movements.

I put Face ID through dozens of tests and it recognized my face in most situations, including when I wore a beanie, Ray-Ban sunglasses or goggles for my Halloween costume or draped a dog toy over my head. It worked in pitch dark at night and outside on a sunny day.

But Face ID worked inconsistently — or not at all — when I lay the iPhone X flat on a table or my night stand, wore a gas mask for my Halloween costume, walked around in bright sunlight at a park or wore Persol sunglasses. (According to Apple, these particular sunglasses probably blocked the part of the infrared spectrum used by Face ID.) It also didn’t work when I tried using the face scanner while slurping a bowl of noodles.

Ultimately, it was faster to unlock the iPhone 8 with Touch ID, the fingerprint sensor, than it was to unlock the iPhone X with Face ID in most situations. Unlocking with a fingerprint sensor is one rapid gesture: You hold your fingerprint over the sensor, and the phone unlocks in less than a second. With Face ID, you have to wait for the camera to scan your face, which sometimes takes more than a second; you can swipe up to unlock the phone before or after the scan completes.

To be fair, Touch ID sometimes failed to scan my fingerprint on previous iPhones, like when my hands were sweaty, damp or dirty. Over the long term, Face ID is likely to save more time than using Touch ID because Face ID only failed in rare circumstances.

Advertisement

Continue reading the main story

The wow factors

Before reviewing the iPhone X, I used an iPhone 8 Plus for two weeks for comparison. Both devices have a similar rear camera system with two lenses. The two cameras work together to show the picture’s main subject in sharp focus while gently blurring the background. Apple calls this Portrait mode, also known as the bokeh effect.

Photo

23c5b_02TECHFIX-4-master675 The iPhone X Is Cool. That Doesn't Mean You Are Ready for It.

The smartphone’s rear camera has two lenses that work together to show the picture’s main subject in sharp focus while gently blurring the background.

Credit
Thomas Peter/Reuters

The dual-lens camera is extremely compelling, with Portrait mode making photos of even the most mundane things — like a bowl of ramen — look artistic and stunning. But the drawback was that the iPhone 8 Plus was so bulky that it was miserable to carry around and using the device with one hand felt impossible.

That means the iPhone X’s dual-lens camera and phone size may be a major draw for people. The iPhone X’s camera is slightly better than the camera on the iPhone 8 Plus because one lens has a higher aperture to let in more light. As a result, Portrait mode photos looked better (subjects were even clearer in the foreground), and so did photos taken in low light.

Another must mention: the screen. It uses OLED technology, a type of display with better color accuracy and contrast than its predecessor, LCD. That made the screen on the iPhone X look more vibrant than the ones on the iPhone 8 Plus and iPhone 8, which still use LCD. I also preferred the colors on the screen to those on the Samsung Galaxy Note 8, the $950 phablet that earned top ratings for its display. The Samsung device’s display colors looked bluer and less natural than those on the iPhone X.

Bottom line

In terms of features, the iPhone X is the most impressive smartphone ever made. It’s worth the $999 — but that doesn’t mean you should buy it. I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend the iPhone X to my tech-crazed friends in Silicon Valley, but the iPhone 8 is just as fast while being simpler and more familiar to use.

Then again, if you are willing to get up early to line up for a $999 phone, you are probably the target demographic for the iPhone X anyway. Make sure you wear something comfortable.


Continue reading the main story

Here’s How Unprepared the Internet Was for Taylor Swift’s ‘…Ready For It?’ Video

new video for “…Ready For It?” And while she had teased the visual in cryptic Instagram posts in advance, fans were definitely not prepared for the emotional sci-fi journey the Reputation singer was about to take them on.

Between apparent references or similarities to Blade Runner, Ghost in the Shell, TRON, X-Men and HBO’s Westworld, the video — in which a hooded droid Taylor faces off against a second, superpower-equipped-but-imprisoned droid Taylor in a grungy hangar — fans were left parsing through the packed visuals to find the metaphors and messages. But mostly, they were just overcome with the inner-struggle narrative of new Taylor, a battle-ready bot that shows human emotion. Like a supercharged version of her “Bad Blood” persona, new Taylor — both versions, as seen in this video — packs serious punch and is not to be messed with.

As music video director (and frequent Swift collaborator) Joseph Kahn put it in response to the wild reactions: “Love that you are digging deep. Have fun!” There’s no question that the video has plenty of intentional layers to keep fans and conspiracy theorists busy for a while, then.

Here’s How Unprepared the Internet Was for Taylor Swift’s ‘..Ready For It?’ Video

new video for “…Ready For It?” And while she had teased the visual in cryptic Instagram posts in advance, fans were definitely not prepared for the emotional sci-fi journey the Reputation singer was about to take them on.

Between apparent references or similarities to Blade Runner, Ghost in the Shell, TRON, X-Men and HBO’s Westworld, the video — in which a hooded droid Taylor faces off against a second, superpower-equipped-but-imprisoned droid Taylor in a grungy hangar — fans were left parsing through the packed visuals to find the metaphors and messages. But mostly, they were just overcome with the inner-struggle narrative of new Taylor, a battle-ready bot that shows human emotion. Like a supercharged version of her “Bad Blood” persona, new Taylor — both versions, as seen in this video — packs serious punch and is not to be messed with.

As music video director (and frequent Swift collaborator) Joseph Kahn put it in response to the wild reactions: “Love that you are digging deep. Have fun!” There’s no question that the video has plenty of intentional layers to keep fans and conspiracy theorists busy for a while, then.

Is health care ready for routine DNA screening? A massive new trial will find out

ec209_main_medicine Is health care ready for routine DNA screening? A massive new trial will find out

After learning of a heritable cancer mutation, Patrice Molesevich (back row, left) had sister-in-law Kerry Georgeadis (back row, right) encourage genetic screening for her daughters Cydney Engle, Ashley Meskill, and Lynsey Towne (front row, left to right).

DANVILLE, PENNSYLVANIA—Dana Atkinson begins to cry as she recalls the January phone call that cast a pall over her future and that of her children. “I’m just still processing. It’s a lot. Especially when your kids are involved,” says the 38-year-old nurse, who works at the Geisinger Medical Center here near the banks of the Susquehanna River. (She asked that Science not use her real name.)

Months earlier, during a routine medical checkup, a lab technician had drawn a vial of Atkinson’s blood. With her consent, some of the sample went off to Regeneron Pharmaceuticals, a biotech company in Tarrytown, New York, where the stretches of her DNA that encode proteins were sequenced. Atkinson forgot about her donation until the phone rang at home this winter. The caller, a research coordinator at Geisinger, told the mother of three that she carried a rare mutation linked to Long QT syndrome—a heart rhythm disorder that can cause the organ’s electrical activity to suddenly go haywire, triggering fainting, seizures, and even death.

The caller provided few details, but advised Atkinson to come in soon for a consultation. “Though I have a medical background, I barely understood what I was positive for,” she recalls. But the nurse understood enough to worry about her own health and that of her children, who might have inherited the mutation. And she also wondered about her mother’s death 38 years before. She had died in her sleep, just 6 weeks after giving birth to her only child. An autopsy revealed nothing—but Long QT is a syndrome that leaves no obvious clues.

During Atkinson’s follow-up at a medical center in Forty Fort, Pennsylvania, a genetic counselor told her that although she carried the disease-linked gene variant, she didn’t necessarily have the syndrome. And if she did, her doctor could help her reduce her risk of developing problems. The counselor then had Atkinson diagram her family tree, to pinpoint other relatives who might also carry the dangerous variant. Atkinson’s children have had their DNA screened, but their mother has not yet shared her news or their results with her extended family. She’s still not ready.

Ready or not, more than 400 other Pennsylvanians have received similar calls, letters, or electronic messages over the past 2 years as part of the world’s largest clinical genome sequencing effort, the first available to average Americans as part of standard primary medical care. Known broadly as the MyCode Community Health Initiative and run by the Danville-based Geisinger Health System, the effort has so far sequenced the protein-coding DNA, or exomes, of more than 92,400 people. More than 166,000 have enrolled in the study, and the goal is to ultimately enlist half a million of the nonprofit’s 3.3 million patients. Geisinger asks each participant whether they are willing to be contacted if the sequencing reveals a DNA variant that puts them at risk for disease—and roughly 85% have agreed to be part of the experimental program called GenomeFIRST Return of Results.

In addition to using the sequencing results to prevent and treat diseases, Geisinger hopes to answer myriad questions, from how primary care physicians with little genetics knowledge cope with advising patients informed of disease mutations, to the challenges of “cascade testing”—the follow-up with relatives who could also be at risk. The project will inform ongoing debates, including how much people should be told about what their genomes reveal. “This is the future of health care,” predicts Michael Snyder, director of Stanford Medicine’s Center for Genomics and Personalized Medicine in Palo Alto, California. “Incorporating a person’s genome sequence information into disease risk assessment is a no-brainer.”

Beyond the ethical, medical, and scientific issues being explored by Geisinger is the crucial question of whether widespread genomic screening as a preventive medical measure is cost-effective. Regeneron is paying for each patient’s initial DNA sequencing, in return for access to those data and Geisinger’s health records, but that isn’t likely to be practical nationwide.

The cost of widespread genomic testing in the United States would fall mainly to insurance companies—and they will want to be sure that testing does not open the door to unsustainable health care costs, says David Veenstra of the University of Washington in Seattle, who studies the implications of using genomic information in health care. Veenstra, who is working with Geisinger researchers to assess GenomeFIRST’s cost effectiveness, adds: “In about 5 years I think we are going to have a very serious discussion about whether this is something that should be implemented in almost a public health sense.”

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Pennsylvanias pioneering genomic medicine program

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–>GeorgiaFranceIndonesiaYemenMadagascarBolivia, Plurinational State ofSerbiaTaiwan, Province of ChinaMexicoUnited Arab EmiratesBelizeBrazilSierra LeoneItalySomaliaBangladeshDominican RepublicGuinea-BissauSwedenTurkeyMozambiqueJapanNew ZealandCubaVenezuela, Bolivarian Republic ofPortugalMauritaniaAngolaGermanyThailandAustraliaPapua New GuineaCroatiaGreenlandDenmarkMyanmarFinlandSolomon IslandsOmanPanamaArgentinaUnited KingdomGuineaIrelandNigeriaTunisiaTanzania, United Republic ofSaudi ArabiaViet NamRussian FederationHaitiIndiaChinaCanadaEquatorial GuineaAzerbaijanIran, Islamic Republic ofMalaysiaPhilippinesMontenegroEstoniaSpainGabonCambodiaKorea, Republic ofHondurasChileNetherlandsSri LankaGreeceEcuadorNorwayMoldova, Republic ofLebanonEritreaUnited StatesKazakhstanFrench Southern TerritoriesSwazilandUzbekistanNew CaledoniaKuwaitTimor-LesteBahamasVanuatuFalkland Islands (Malvinas)South Georgia and the South Sandwich IslandsGambiaQatarJamaicaCyprusPuerto RicoPalestine, State ofBrunei DarussalamTrinidad and TobagoCape VerdeLuxembourgComorosMauritiusFaroe IslandsSao Tome and PrincipeVirgin Islands, U.S.CuracaoSint Maarten (Dutch Part)DominicaMicronesia, Federated States ofBahrainAndorraNorthern Mariana IslandsPalauSeychellesAntigua and BarbudaBarbadosTurks and Caicos IslandsSaint Vincent and the GrenadinesSaint LuciaGrenadaMaltaMaldivesCayman IslandsSaint Kitts and NevisMontserratSaint BarthelemySaint Pierre and MiquelonMarshall IslandsArubaLiechtensteinVirgin Islands, BritishSaint Helena, Ascension and Tristan Da CunhaJerseyAnguillaSaint Martin (French Part)GuernseySan MarinoBermudaNauruGibraltarPitcairnMonacoHoly See (Vatican City State)Isle of ManGuamPennsylvania’s pioneering genomic medicine programA half-million of Geisinger Health System’spatients may have their DNA analyzedfor disease mutations.Geisinger informs patients ofmutations in 76 genes solidlyconnected to various diseases.92,456People whose protein-coding DNA, or exome, has been sequenced. 417People who were found to have 420 mutations spanning 36 genes.166,772People who have agreed to have their DNA screened (all data as of 1 October).<!—-><!—-><!—-><!—->Cancer risk genesGrouped by types of cancer or syndromeBRCA2, BRCA1PMS2, MSH6, MSH2, MLH1RETSDHB, SDHC, SDHDMEN1TP53PTENTSC2APCCardiovascular risk genesGrouped by condition or symptomsAPOB, LDLRMYH7, MYBPC3, TPM1, TNNI3, TNNT2, MYL3SCN5A, KCNQ1, KCNE1, KCNH2DSP, PKP2, DSG2FBN1ACTA2OtherRYR1GLAUnited StatesDanville,Pennsylvania

In the early 1800s, iron and coal mines dotted the rolling green hills of northeastern Pennsylvania, where this ambitious medical experiment is unfolding. By the mid–19th century, iron mills dominated Danville’s economy. The widow of iron magnate George Geisinger, Abigail, used her fortune to open Geisinger Hospital in 1915, during a typhoid outbreak. Over the decades, Geisinger has become the region’s main health care provider with 13 hospitals, including its flagship here and two research centers. Today, its physicians battle health issues very different from typhoid. Type II diabetes, obesity, and opioid addiction are at crisis levels.

In 2001, Geisinger lured Glenn Steele, then the dean of biological sciences at the University of Chicago in Illinois, to its helm. A member of the National Academy of Medicine, Steele had a stellar record as a surgeon and researcher focusing on liver and colorectal cancer. His decision to go to the rural health system stunned colleagues, in part because he had spent years building one of the country’s top human genetics programs at the university. He tried to coax some of the faculty to follow him to Pennsylvania, but they declined. What Steele saw—that his colleagues didn’t—was that Geisinger was a potential gold mine for genetic data. It began using electronic health records very early, in 1990, and because this region maintains a relatively stable population, it has gathered data on the health of grandparents, parents, and children. This type of generational information is extremely valuable for tracking the roots of genetic disease—and Steele thought it could potentially allow Geisinger to reengineer medical care. “[In this area] you could look at multiple generations of outcomes and that’s something that, outside of Iceland and a few other places in the world, just wasn’t available,” he says.

Once here, Steele quickly launched a “center for population health” to study disease incidence among the people in the region. In 2006, hoping to speed the hunt for disease genes, three Geisinger researchers—epidemiologist Walter “Buzz” Stewart, molecular biologist David Carey, and pathologist Glenn Gerhard—successfully lobbied for a biobank with blood and tissue samples volunteered by Geisinger’s 3-millionpatient network. In 2007, the MyCode initiative enrolled its first volunteers. At the time Geisinger wasn’t telling its patients whether their DNA revealed a disease mutation. Patients only gave Geisinger permission to analyze their samples and DNA for research. But that changed in 2013, with the launch of GenomeFIRST. Participants were offered a consent form explaining that Geisinger would tell them, and their physicians, of genetic findings relevant to their health.

As the number of enrollees grew rapidly, Geisinger partnered in 2014 with Regeneron to use its growing DNA-sequencing capability for free. The company mines both DNA data and a version of the electronic health records stripped of patient identity for links between genetic variations and diseases, clues that could identify targets for new pharmaceuticals. If the effort leads to successful drug development, Geisinger will receive royalties that will be reinvested in the nonprofit’s health care system.

For now, GenomeFIRST tells patients about mutations in 76 genes that have been linked to 27 conditions, ranging from breast cancer to heart disease. All the conditions can be treated through surgery, pharmaceuticals, or lifestyle changes, or prevented altogether, says Michael Murray, Geisinger’s head of clinical genomics. Disease gene variants with no clear-cut medical treatments, such as APOE4, which raises the risk of Alzheimer’s disease, are not disclosed. Early indications are that about 3.5% of study participants will discover that their genomes harbor a disease-linked DNA variant, so Murray expects the impact of the population-wide scanning to be “profound.”

Once a second DNA sequencing confirms a patient has such a variant, their primary care physician receives a message through a secure medical portal, and a copy of the genetic test report is embedded in the patient’s record. The note also provides the physician with a link to an educational slideshow that describes the potential consequences of the risk variant and guides the doctor through talking to the patient. Stephanie Cabello, Atkinson’s internist, initially thought counseling a patient about a mutation would prove daunting. “But [Geisinger] made it really quite easy,” she says.

About a week after the physician is notified, the patient receives an electronic note through the Geisinger health portal—or a letter in the mail, or a call—that says, “We found important information in your DNA sample. This information may guide your healthcare and your family’s healthcare now and in the future.”

The note doesn’t say what the mutation is. Rather, it asks the patient to call Geisinger. On that call, a research coordinator begins a scripted conversation explaining the genetic finding and the implications for disease risk. The patient is also encouraged to complete a family history and to discuss the news with relatives by sharing a letter Geisinger has prepared. It explains the result and advises how they can pursue testing.

The coordinator then tells the patient they can meet with their physician or a genetic counselor to further discuss the result. Not all the follow-ups go as expected. In 2016, one of Cabello’s male patients learned he had a BRCA2 mutation. Although best known for causing breast and ovarian cancers in women, the gene can also raise the risk of many cancers in men. Cabello was excited by the chance to offer aggressive cancer screening that could save the man’s life, but his reaction startled her. “He actually wasn’t interested in knowing more about it, which was terrible,” she says. He said he would let her know when he was ready to hear more. Fourteen months later, he still hasn’t contacted Cabello.

When you start doing tests in people who you don’t understand adequately, you risk putting those people at great harm [from invasive follow-up tests].

James Evans, University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill

For some families, news of a potentially harmful genetic variation cascades beyond the Geisinger system, across state and national boundaries. Coal Township resident Patrice Molesevich, a nurse–turned–health plan case manager for Geisinger, joined GenomeFIRST in March 2015. A year later, a study coordinator called her about a mutation in the BRCA2 gene.

“I knew there was going to be cancer,” Molesevich says, because her brother died at 37 from pancreatic cancer, her father died from prostate cancer, and her family tree was speckled with other cancers, including colon, lung, and throat. But the actual mutation surprised her because, as far as she knew, there was no history of breast or ovarian tumors, which are more often linked to BRCA2.

She met with a Geisinger genetic counselor, who estimated, based on the pattern of cancers in her family tree, that she had an 85% chance of developing breast cancer and a 7% chance of pancreatic cancer. An MRI then revealed early-stage cancer in Molesevich’s left breast. Molesevich chose to have a double mastectomy and reconstruction. She was also prescribed a breast cancer treatment, anastrozole, for the next 10 years to further curb her risk.

The genetic counselor advised that her two children and her brother’s should have their BRCA2 checked. Molesevich’s daughter didn’t have any obvious mutations; her son is resisting the test.

Molesevich then contacted her sister-in-law, Kerry Georgeadis, who had been left to raise three young girls, one a baby, when her husband, Molesevich’s brother, died in 1992. Georgeadis was stalwart. “I never dreamt that we would still be dealing with cancer-related issues all these years later,” she says, “but we are, and we are going to do everything that we can to proactively and positively fight this dreaded disease.”

First, Georgeadis told 30-year-old Lynsey Towne, her middle daughter, who was living in New York City. Towne’s OB-GYN helped her get tested, and good news followed: She had not inherited the mutation.

Ashley Meskill, 33, Georgeadis’s eldest child, had a more harrowing experience. Her doctor on Long Island in New York wasn’t familiar with genetic testing, and sent her to a small, local cancer center. When she learned she had the mutation, a counselor there simply rattled off the odds of developing various cancers and made her feel as if she had gotten “a death sentence,” Meskill says. “That sent me into a ball of anxiety.” Now she’s seeing physicians at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York City and she says she is slowly coming to terms with the news and what it means for her and her family.

Georgeadis’s youngest daughter, 25-year-old Cydney Engle, chose to go to Sloan Kettering for her BRCA2 test. In March, she got the bad news. Now that the initial shock has worn off, she is considering a double mastectomy. For Engle and Meskill, the test results have sparked a healthier lifestyle—and activism. They are now training for marathons and started an Instagram account, @brca_sisterhood, to connect with others who carry this variation.

Some believe Geisinger actually returns too little genomic information to patients. It started with a list of 56 genes that the American College of Medical Genetics (ACMG) in 2013 concluded were sufficiently linked to diseases that had medical interventions for people to be told about a mutation. After consulting clinical geneticists at Geisinger and other institutions around the country, Murray and his colleagues added three genes for two conditions—ornithine transcarbamylase deficiency and hereditary hemorrhagic telangiectasia—and 17 additional genes that are known to cause cardiovascular diseases, bringing the total to 76. “I’ve seen the list and nothing jumped out as radical or aggressive,” says David Miller, a medical geneticist at Boston Children’s Hospital and co-chairperson of an ACMG working group that tracks this issue.

But to Stanford’s Snyder, Geisinger is “not aggressive enough.” In a recent exome sequencing study of 70 individuals, he found 12 with variations in genes that he considers “medically actionable.” Half of these genes aren’t included on ACMG’s current list of 59 disease genes, nor are they part of Geisinger’s return of results. Geisinger also does not inform patients about recessive mutations, which are relatively harmless to the carrier but could cause diseases such as cystic fibrosis in offspring if they inherit a second copy of the mutation from their other parent. In Snyder’s view, people have the right to know about such genetic findings, as well as about mutations that confer elevated risk of Alzheimer’s disease.

“Treatability may not be the only consideration people have regarding such information,” says Lisa Parker, who directs the Center for Bioethics Health Law at the University of Pittsburgh in Pennsylvania.

But James Evans, a physician and director of Adult and Cancer Clinical Genetics Services at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill, warns that physicians and the public “shouldn’t be seduced by the occasional cherry-picked case reports” into thinking that broadly screening the DNA of healthy populations for clinical use is always a good idea. He calls that a “dicey proposition” and “dangerous.”

Only a few population-based screening procedures, he notes, have proved beneficial over time: colorectal center screening, pap smears, and mammograms (although that has been contested for younger women). “When you start doing tests in people who you don’t understand adequately, you risk putting those people at great harm” from invasive follow-up tests, Evans cautions.

Even if patients aren’t harmed, the cost may be unsustainable, says Leslie Biesecker, who leads the Medical Genomics and Metabolic Genetics Branch at the National Human Genome Research Institute in Bethesda, Maryland. For example, people who learn they have mutations that cause Lynch syndrome are advised to get screened more frequently for colon cancer, which could catch a tumor in an earlier, and more treatable, form. But, Biesecker asks, how many patients had to be sequenced, at what cost, to discover the one with a possibly harmful gene?

Current estimates place the actual cost of genome sequencing in the low thousands of dollars per person, but that’s just the beginning of the tab. How much does the additional colon cancer screening cost, and how accurate is it? False positives, Biesecker says, can lead to unnecessary surgery or follow-up tests, and additional costs.

ec209_main_medicine Is health care ready for routine DNA screening? A massive new trial will find out

Geisinger Medical Center genetic counselor Heather Rocha works with patient Jeffrey Mowery.

Health economists commonly measure changes in population health using “quality-adjusted life years” (QALYs), shorthand for a year of perfect health. The current consensus in the United States is that interventions that add a QALY to a person’s life span for less than $100,000 are cost-effective. So far, says health economist James Buchanan of the University of Oxford in the United Kingdom, no one knows whether using sequencing to screen for disease variants in a low-risk population beats that threshold.

Jason Vassy, a primary care physician at Harvard Medical School in Boston, and colleagues recently provided some rare data on the economic question, following 50 healthy adults receiving normal medical care and 50 who also had 4600 genes analyzed, at a cost of $5000. Physicians ordered twice as many follow-up tests for the people with DNA information, leading the group to conclude, in the 1 August issue of the Annals of Internal Medicine, that such an aggressive sequencing approach is not yet cost-effective.

However, Vassy notes that Geisinger’s approach may make more financial sense as it’s more targeted, limited to conditions for which treatments exist. “It’s a top-down approach to identifying high-risk individuals in a large population for whom they can provide a medical intervention,” he says.

Hard-to-predict human behavior also muddles cost-effectiveness calculations. Medical statistician Glenn Palomaki of Brown University’s Warren Alpert Medical School, who studies the consequences of prenatal screening and genetic testing, notes that there is no health benefit to learning about a mutation if a carrier doesn’t do anything—and the cost of DNA sequencing is wasted. In contrast, if a person overreacts out of fear, they might consume too many health care services. And will those who find out that they don’t carry a mutation in the BRCA genes assume they are protected from breast cancer and neglect regular mammograms, endangering their lives and racking up more medical costs in the long run? Geisinger’s researchers will try to analyze all those questions as Genome-FIRST amasses data.

Many have argued that adults who consider themselves healthy are afraid of genetic testing and will be depressed and anxious if they receive news they carry a disease-linked DNA variant. Biesecker suggests that Geisinger’s recruitment success in a “middle-America swath of the population” contradicts the first concern. “People are eager and interested in this,” he says, “If there is a way you can improve their health care with genomics and sequencing, they’re up for it.”

As for how they handle any bad news, the numbers present a more mixed message. About half the people told of a disease mutation meet with a genetic counselor; another quarter go to their primary care provider. One quarter don’t do anything right away, says genetic counselor Adam Buchanan, who co-leads GenomeFIRST.

Patients support the program’s research goals, says Mark Speake, a doctor who’s been working with Geisinger since 1990. “[They] just seem pleased to participate. … That’s their contribution to the next generation.” He thinks this is particularly important for many who suffer from obesity, diabetes, hypertension, lipid disorders, and thyroid disease. “These things run in families and they are very common in our population.” Three of Speake’s patients have received news of mutations, results that he says didn’t come as a total surprise, and didn’t overly disturb them. “A light bulb goes off and the family history makes sense to them now.”

Health care systems in Israel and Singapore, as well as others in the United States such as Kaiser Permanente, are watching Geisinger to inform their own genome-based medicine. But Speake isn’t optimistic about implementing a similar program in other health care systems or as part of a government program. “I think it is a good start and good that it is voluntary. I think a lot of folks are worried about 1984, George Orwell and all that,” he laughs. “[But] our patients trust us … they don’t think we are prying into their background. We are just trying to take good care of them.”

One GenomeFIRST element that is still a work in progress involves children. Between 2% and 3% of the participants enrolled are children; one couple even signed up their baby immediately after birth. Murray and his colleagues are working on a counseling system that provides extra support to families when parents are told a child has a mutation.

Atkinson’s experience underscores the need to support such parents. In May, a blood test showed that her daughter has not inherited the Long QT mutation, but both her sports-playing sons, who are 9 and 12, have. For boys with this syndrome, sudden death is most likely to strike during adolescence—and during intense exercise. (Girls are at high risk in their early 20s.)

Atkinson’s older son has now seen a pediatric cardiologist, had an electrocardiogram, and worn a heart monitor for 2 weeks. The results suggest that he has Long QT syndrome. A cardiologist has recommended he begin taking β-blockers to reduce the risk of his heart going haywire. Atkinson also purchased a $2500 automatic external defibrillator to jump-start his heart if it stops. The cost of the device was not covered by her insurance—even with a Long QT diagnosis.

According to the medical tests so far, Atkinson herself is a borderline case. But given her family history, she is taking β-blockers. Her younger son will be monitored regularly. Though it may take many years for others to resolve whether Geisinger’s genomic approach is the future of medicine, she’s a believer. “I thank God for this program, that this [mutation] was found and I’m not burying one of my kids.”

Get Ready for the ‘Reaper’ Botnet: It’s Already Infected Over a Million …

Just in time for Halloween, a growing hacked device botnet named “Reaper” could put the internet in the dark.

Over a million internet-connected cameras and routers have already been infected, researchers with the Israeli-based firm Check Point says — and the number is growing.

“Our research suggests we are now experiencing the calm before an even more powerful storm,” they warned last week. “The next cyber hurricane is about to come.”

Related: Internet Outage Shows How Vulnerable Your Home Is

“Botnets” consist of vast networks of thousands and even millions of computers that have been infected with malware, enslaving them to do someone else’s bidding. They can be commanded — usually without their owners’ knowledge — to provide the raw computing power to take down websites and launch further cyberattacks.

Last fall, chunks of the internet went offline for hours when a botnet of hacked cameras called “Mirai” was used to launch a “distributed denial of service” or DDoS attack on a major internet infrastructure provider. Sites like the New York Times, Twitter, and Netflix were unreachable via their web addresses for several hours.

Now “Reaper” could make that botnet look like child’s play.

“It’s a very big deal,” Avivah Litan, an analyst at Gartner, told NBC News.

Worse than last year’s massive attack

The botnet spreads from hacked device to hacked device, sneaking in via known security vulnerabilities, according to an analysis by Chinese researchers at 360 netlab. The at-risk devices include several webcams and routers, including those by popular makers such as Linksys, Netgear, and dlink.

In statements, Netgear and Linksys said they were aware of the problem. They recommended consumers visit their support websites to make sure their software is up to date and protected against the latest threats. dlink didn’t respond to a request for comment.

This is different from the attack last fall, which only used weak and default passwords to get into devices. It could easily be wiped just by rebooting the device. But the new botnet has automated basic hacking techniques in order to spread further. And by using known exploits it can get in and spread without raising any alarms.

“The potential here is even bigger than what Mirai had,” Maya Horowitz, the manager of Check Point’s research team, told Wired magazine. “With this version it’s much easier to recruit into this army of devices.”


f9c8d_2017-05-15t22-36-30-2z--1280x720.nbcnews-ux-1080-600 Get Ready for the 'Reaper' Botnet: It's Already Infected Over a Million ...


So far, researchers say the botnet is in its early “recruitment” and infection stage, focusing on amassing its army of zombie slave devices. No one knows what it might be used for. And it’s possible it could fizzle out without being used for anything at all, as some previous botnets have.

They also caution that the botnet has already lost one of its key advantages: staying covert,

“Their methods, servers and resources are exposed and this gives the world a fighting chance to stop the threat before it can be used for attacks,” Pascal Geenens, an expert with cybersecurity firm Radware wrote NBC News in an email.

And while its gathering force is a cause for concern, once it gets used for a specific purpose it shouldn’t take more than a few hours to shut down its rogue traffic, experts say.

“Having a big fat internet hate cannon is neat, and it’s hard to stop for a time, but it’s a bit of a one-trick pony so people will just cut them off the internet eventually,” an independent security analyst told NBC News. “The way these exploits appear to work, a firmware upgrade should in theory fix the problem.”

According to a recent PwC survey, 55 percent of consumers believe the biggest security and privacy threat comes from internet of things devices, and 25 percent “see their growing reliance on technology as one of the top threats facing humanity over the next 50 years.” Now the question is if they’ll do anything about it.

“I’m assuming there will be a botnet outbreak at any moment,” Shawn Burke, chief security officer at Sungard AS, told NBC News. “This is more about prevention instead of detection. First and foremost, consumers and organizations must be current with updates to avoid exploitation of hardware/software vulnerabilities.”

In a warning released six days before the Check Point report, the FBI recommends consumers and businesses check to make sure their “internet of things” connected devices have their default usernames and passwords changed and that all security patches are updated.