Japan

The Neon Glow of Tokyo Modified Car Culture (kottke.org) 77

Jason Kottke: New Zealand drift racer Mike Whiddett recently travelled to Japan to explore Tokyo's "extraordinary after-dark modified auto scene." He found people making California-style lowriders, Dekotora (my favorite, if only for the sheer spectacle), illegally modified cars, and a man who says with a straight face that "driving an unmodified Lamborghini is boring."
Businesses

Amazon Bringing Echo and Alexa To 80 Additional Countries in Major Global Expansion (geekwire.com) 38

Amazon is launching three of its Echo devices with Alexa in 80 additional countries starting today -- a major international expansion for the company's smart speakers and voice-based assistant. From a report: New markets for the Echo, Echo Dot, and Echo Plus include Mexico, China, Russia and other countries in regions and continents including Europe, Africa, South America, the Middle East and Asia. Other Echo devices, such as the touch-screen Echo Show, are not included as part of the international expansion. Echo devices were previously only available in the US, UK, Germany, India, Japan, and Canada. Amazon earlier announced plans to bring Echo and Alexa to Australia and New Zealand next year. In addition, Amazon says its Music Unlimited subscription streaming service is available in 28 additional countries, including many of those where the Echo is now expanding, as well. Recommended reading: Don't buy anyone an Amazon Echo speaker.
Businesses

Tesla Could Be Hogging Batteries and Causing a Global Shortage, Says Report (gizmodo.com) 158

According to a report from the Korea news outlet ETNews, Tesla's solution to fixing a manufacturing bottleneck responsible for a $619 million loss last quarter could be causing a global battery shortage. Panasonic reportedly gave most of its cache of batteries in Japan to Tesla so that the automaker and Gigafactory 1 energy-storage company could keep up with its ambitious production schedule. Gizmodo reports: In early October, Tesla struggled with a "production bottleneck," but by the end of the month, Panasonic stated it would increase battery output at the Gigafactory, now that it understood the issues that led to the bottleneck and could automate some of the processes that had been done by hand. But this likely did not help Tesla fix any immediate shortage issues. ETNews claims that Panasonic is coping with the shortage by shipping batteries in from Japan. And many Japanese companies in need of cylinder batteries have turned to other suppliers like LG, Murata, and Samsung -- but those companies have not been able to meet the demands. Reportedly, companies that had contracts before 2017 aren't affected by the shortage, but several other manufacturers have not been able to place orders for batteries, and won't be able to order more batteries until the middle of next year.
Earth

Nations Agree To Ban Fishing in Arctic Ocean For At Least 16 Years (sciencemag.org) 96

Several readers share a report: Nine nations and the European Union have reached a deal to place the central Arctic Ocean (CAO) off-limits to commercial fishers for at least the next 16 years. The pact, announced last week, will give scientists time to understand the region's marine ecology -- and the potential impacts of climate change -- before fishing becomes widespread. "There is no other high seas area where we've decided to do the science first," says Scott Highleyman, vice president of conservation policy and programs at the Ocean Conservancy in Washington, D.C., who also served on the U.S. delegation to the negotiations. "It's a great example of putting the precautionary principle into action." The deal to protect 2.8 million square kilometers of international waters in the Arctic was reached after six meetings spread over 2 years. It includes not just nations with coastal claims in the Arctic, but nations such as China, Japan, and South Korea with fishing fleets interested in operating in the region.
The Internet

From the Arctic's Melting Ice, an Unexpected Digital Hub (nytimes.com) 67

Cecilia Kang, reporting for the New York Times: This is one of the most remote towns in the United States, a small gravel spit on the northwest coast of Alaska, more than 3,700 miles from New York City. Icy seas surround it on three sides, leaving only an unpaved path to the mainland. Getting here from Anchorage, about 700 miles away, requires two flights. Roads do not connect the two places. Basics like milk and bread are delivered by air, and gas is brought in by barge during the summer. Needless to say, this is not the sort of place you expect to be a hub of the high-tech digital world. But in a surprising, and bittersweet, side effect of global warming -- and of the global economy -- one of the fastest internet connections in America is arriving in Point Hope, giving the 700 or so residents their first taste of broadband speed. The new connection is part of an ambitious effort by Quintillion, a five-year old company based in Anchorage, to take advantage of the melting sea ice to build a faster digital link between London and Tokyo. High-speed internet cables snake under the world's oceans, tying continents together and allowing email and other bits of digital data sent from Japan to arrive quickly in Britain. Until recently, those lines mostly bypassed the Arctic, where the ice blocked access to the ships that lay the cable. But as the ice has receded, new passageways have emerged, creating a more direct path for the cable -- over the earth's northern end through places like the Chukchi Sea -- and helping those emails move even move quickly. Quintillion is one of the companies laying the new cable, and Point Hope is one of the places along its route.
Power

Electric Cars Are Already Cheaper To Own and Run Than Petrol Or Diesel, Says Study (theguardian.com) 474

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Guardian: Electric cars are already cheaper to own and run than petrol or diesel cars in the UK, US and Japan, new research shows. The lower cost is a key factor driving the rapid rise in electric car sales now underway, say the researchers. At the moment the cost is partly because of government support, but electric cars are expected to become the cheapest option without subsidies in a few years. The researchers analyzed the total cost of ownership of cars over four years, including the purchase price and depreciation, fuel, insurance, taxation and maintenance. They were surprised to find that pure electric cars came out cheapest in all the markets they examined: UK, Japan, Texas and California.

Pure electric cars have much lower fuel costs -- electricity is cheaper than petrol or diesel -- and maintenance costs, as the engines are simpler and help brake the car, saving on brake pads. In the UK, the annual cost was about 10% lower than for petrol or diesel cars in 2015, the latest year analyzed. Hybrid cars which cannot be plugged in and attract lower subsidies, were usually a little more expensive than petrol or diesel cars. Plug-in hybrids were found to be significantly more expensive -- buyers are effectively paying for two engines in one car, the researchers said. The exception in this case was Japan, where plug-in hybrids receive higher subsidies.
The study has been published in the journal Applied Energy.
Iphone

Every iPhone X Is Not Created Equal (pcmag.com) 74

According to a PC Magazine report that uses data from Cellular Insights, the Qualcomm-powered iPhone X has better LTE performance than the Intel-powered model. From the report: There are three iPhone X models sold globally. Using lab equipment, Cellular Insights tested two of them: the Qualcomm-powered A1865, sold by Sprint, Verizon, and U.S. Cellular and in Australia, China, and India; and the Intel-powered A1901, sold by most other global carriers including AT&T and T-Mobile. (The third model, A1902, is only sold in Japan.) Here in the U.S., we anticipate that the SIM-free model sold directly by Apple will be the A1865, as that's the model that supports all four U.S. carriers. For this test, Cellular Insights looked at performance on LTE Band 4, which is used by every major U.S. carrier except Sprint, as well as in Canada and parts of Latin America. Cellular Insights attenuated an LTE signal from a strong -85dBm until the modems showed no performance. While both modems started out with 195Mbps of download throughput on a 20MHz carrier, the Qualcomm difference appeared quickly, as the Intel modem dropped to 169Mbps at -87dBm. The Qualcomm modem took an additional -6dBm of attenuation to get to that speed. Most consumers will feel the difference in very weak signal conditions, where every dBm of signal matters, so we zoomed in on that in the chart below. At very weak signal strength, below -120dBm, the Qualcomm modem got speeds on average 67 percent faster than the Intel modem. The Intel modem finally died at -129dBm and the Qualcomm modem died at -130dBm, so we didn't find a lot of difference in when the modems finally gave out.
The Military

After Two Months of Quiet, North Korea Launches Another Ballistic Missile (arstechnica.com) 245

South Korean and U.S. officials have confirmed that North Korea has launched another ballistic missile into the sea of Japan. The ballistic missile test -- launched just after 3am Wednesday local time from Sin-ni in South Pyongyang -- is the first since an intermediate-range missile test in September. Ars Technica reports: In a statement to the press, a spokesperson for South Korea's Joint Chiefs of Staff said, "North Korea fired an unidentified ballistic missile early this morning from Pyongsong, South Pyongan [Province], to the east direction. South Korea's Joint Chiefs of Staff is analyzing more details of the missile with the U.S. side." The U.S. Department of Defense and the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) have made an initial assessment that the missile was an ICBM, according to Office of the Secretary of Defense spokesperson Col. Robert Manning. The missile traveled 1,000 kilometers, flew over Japan, and landed in the sea east of Japan within its exclusive economic zone.
Japan

Six Years After Fukushima, Robots Finally Find Its Reactors' Melted Uranium Fuel (gizmodo.com) 220

An anonymous reader quotes Gizmodo: Earlier this year, remotely piloted robots transmitted what officials believe was a direct view of melted radioactive fuel inside Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant's destroyed reactors [YouTube] -- a major discovery, but one that took a long and painful six years to achieve... Japanese officials are now hoping that they can convince a skeptical public that the worst of the disaster is over, the New York Times reported, but it's not clear whether it's too late despite the deployment of 7,000 workers and massive resources to return the region to something approaching normal.

Per the Times, officials admit the recovery plan -- involving the complete destruction of the plant, rather than simply building a concrete sarcophagus around it as the Russians did in Chernobyl -- will take decades and tens of billions of dollars. Currently, Tepco plans to begin removing waste from one of the three contaminated reactors at the plant by 2021, "though they have yet to choose which one"... Currently, radiation levels are so high in the ruined facility that it fries robots sent in within a matter of hours, which will necessitate developing a new generation of droids with even higher radiation tolerances.

Friday a group of Japanese businesses and doctors sued General Electric of behalf of 150,000 Japanese citizens, saying their designs for the Fukushima reactors were reckless and negligent.
Twitter

Jack Dorsey Responds To Serial Killer Who Found His Victims Through Suicidal Twitter Posts (nhk.or.jp) 73

AmiMoJo shares a report from NHK WORLD: Twitter's CEO is reacting to a grisly case in Japan where a suspected serial killer allegedly found his victims through their suicidal posts on the social media platform. In an interview with NHK, Jack Dorsey said it is unrealistic and impossible to remove suicidal tweets. But he said he hoped Twitter could become a tool for prevention. Last month, the dismembered bodies of 9 people were found in 27-year-old Takahiro Shiraishi's apartment near Tokyo. Police say he admitted to the killings. They believe he preyed on people who posted about wanting to kill themselves on Twitter. Recently, Twitter updated its rules regarding posts about self-harm: "You may not promote or encourage suicide or self-harm. When we receive reports that a person is threatening suicide or self-harm, we may take a number of steps to assist them, such as reaching out to that person and providing resources such as contact information for our mental health partners."
Japan

Apology After Japanese Train Departs 20 Seconds Early (bbc.com) 215

Several readers share a BBC report: A rail company in Japan has apologised after one of its trains departed 20 seconds early. Management on the Tsukuba Express line between Tokyo and the city of Tsukuba say they "sincerely apologise for the inconvenience" caused. In a statement, the company said the train had been scheduled to leave at 9:44:40 local time but left at 9:44:20. Many social media users reacted to the company's apology with surprise. "Tokyo train company's apology for 20-second-early departure is one of the best things about Japan," a user wrote. The mistake happened because staff had not checked the timetable, the company statement said.
The Military

North Korean Hackers Are Targeting US Defense Contractors (wpengine.com) 146

chicksdaddy quotes Security Ledger: North Korean hackers have stepped up their attacks on U.S. defense contractors in an apparent effort to gain intelligence on weapon systems and other assets that might be used against the country in an armed conflict with the United States and its allies, The Security Ledger is reporting. Security experts and defense industry personnel interviewed by The Security Ledger say that probes and attacks by hacking groups known to be associated with the government of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) have increased markedly as hostilities between that country and the United States have ratcheted up in the last year. The hacking attempts seem to be aimed at gaining access to intellectual property belonging to the companies, including weapons systems deployed on the Korean peninsula.

"As the situation between the DPRK and the US has become more tense, we've definitely seen an increase in number of probe attempts from cyber actors coming out of the DPRK," an official at an aerospace and defense firm told Security Ledger. The so-called "probes" were targeting the company's administrative network and included spear phishing attacks via email and other channels. The goal was to compromise computers on the corporate network... So far, the attacks have targeted "weakest links" within the firms, such as Human Resources personnel and general inquiry mailboxes, rather than targeting technical staff directly. However, experts who follow the DPRK's fast evolving cyber capabilities say that the country may have more up their sleeve.

CNBC also reports that America's congressional defense committees have authorized a last-minute request for $4 billion in extra spending for "urgent missile defeat and defense enhancements to counter the threat of North Korea."

Other countries newly interested in purchasing missile defense systems include Japan, Sweden, Poland, and Saudi Arabia.
Japan

The Booming Japanese Rent-a-Friend Business (theatlantic.com) 276

An anonymous reader shares a report on The Atlantic which talks about a growing business in Japan wherein you can pay an actor to impersonate your relative, spouse, coworker, or any kind of acquaintance. The reporter has interviewed Ishii Yuichi, CEO of a Family Romance, a company that rents such actors. Yuichi believes that Family Romance, and other companies that provide a similar service can help people cope with unbearable absences or perceived deficiencies in their lives. In an increasingly isolated and entitled society, the chief executive officer predicts the exponential growth of his business and others like it, as a la carte human interaction becomes the new norm. An exchange between Yuichi and the reporter, from the story: Morin: When was your first success?
Yuichi: I played a father for a 12-year-old with a single mother. The girl was bullied because she didn't have a dad, so the mother rented me. I've acted as the girl's father ever since. I am the only real father that she knows.
Morin: And this is ongoing?
Yuichi: Yes, I've been seeing her for eight years. She just graduated high school.
Morin: Does she understand that you're not her real father?
Yuichi: No, the mother hasn't told her.
Morin: How do you think she would feel if she discovered the truth?
Yuichi: I think she would be shocked. If the client never reveals the truth, I must continue the role indefinitely. If the daughter gets married, I have to act as a father in that wedding, and then I have to be the grandfather. So, I always ask every client, "Are you prepared to sustain this lie?" It's the most significant problem our company has.

Earth

The US Has Destroyed A Critical Sea Ice-Measuring Satellite (scientificamerican.com) 283

"A key polar satellite used to measure the Arctic ice cap failed a few days ago, leaving the U.S. with only three others, and those have lived well beyond their shelf lives," writes long-time Slashdot reader edibobb. The Guardian reports that all three of the remaining satellites "are all beginning to drift out of their orbits over the poles" and will no longer be operational by 2023. This could put an end to nearly 40 years of uninterrupted data on polar ice, notes the original submission, adding "It seems like there would be a backup satellite, right?

"In fact, there was a backup satellite ready to go." The $58 million satellite was dismantled in 2016 when the Republican-controlled Congress cut its funding. (The Guardian reports that many scientists "say this decision was made for purely ideological reasons.") Now Nature reports: The U.S. military is developing another set of weather satellites...but the one carrying a microwave sensor will not launch before 2022. That means that when the current three aging satellites die, the United States will be without a reliable, long-term source of sea-ice data... For now, the the U.S. National Snow and Ice Data Center is preparing for those scenarios by incorporating data from Japan's AMSR2 microwave sensor into its sea-ice record. Another, more politically fraught option is to pull in data from the China Meteorological Administration's Fengyun satellite series... Since 2011 Congress has banned NASA scientists from working with Chinese scientists -- but not necessarily from using Chinese data. One final possibility is finding a way to launch the passive-microwave sensor that scientists at the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory salvaged from the dismantled DMSP satellite. The sensor currently sits at the Aerospace Corporation in El Segundo, California, where researchers are trying to find a way to get it into orbit.
Businesses

Failure of Sprint/T-Mobile Merger Means a Missed Chance To Save $30B (kansascity.com) 127

UPDATE (11/5/17): Sprint and T-Mobile confirmed Saturday that they've ended their merger talks, saying they were "unable to find mutually agreeable terms." The Kansas City Star reports that the failure "means shareholders of the two companies gave up $30 billion or more in cost savings that their managements had expected a merger to generate.

"One combined wireless company would have needed to invest less in its network than the two competing companies spend separately... Absent a merger, Sprint now faces a highly competitive marketplace as the smallest national player and with a more aggressive rival in T-Mobile."

Several news outlets had already reported on Monday that Japan's conglomerate SoftBank, which owns Sprint, has pulled the plug on a proposed merger between the two carriers. From a report: SoftBank will reportedly propose ending merger talks with T-Mobile parent company Deutsche Telekom as soon as Tuesday, October 31st. That's according to Nikkei, which says that SoftBank wants to end merger talks due to "a failure to agree on ownership of the combined entity." It's said that Deutsche Telekom insisted on a controlling stake of the combined T-Mobile-Sprint, and that some people at SoftBank were okay with that as long as SoftBank had some sort of influence. However, SoftBank's board recently decided that it wouldn't give up control, and today it decided that it wants to call off the merger talks.
Last Monday Sprint and T-Mobile shares both fell immediately following the media reports.
Botnet

A Third of the Internet Experienced DoS Attacks in the Last Two Years (sciencedaily.com) 31

Long-time Slashdot reader doom writes: Over a two year period, a third of the IPv4 address space have experienced some sort of DoS attack, though the researchers who've ascertained this suspect this is an underestimate. This is from a story at Science Daily reporting on a study recently presented in London at the Internet Measurement Conference.

"As might be expected, more than a quarter of the targeted addresses in the study came in the United States, the nation with the most internet addresses in the world. Japan, with the third most internet addresses, ranks anywhere from 14th to 25th for the number of DoS attacks, indicating a relatively safe nation for DoS attacks..."

The study itself states, "On average, on a single day, about 3% of all Web sites were involved in attacks (i.e., by being hosted on targeted IP addresses)."

"Put another way," said the report's principal investigator, "during this recent two-year period under study, the internet was targeted by nearly 30,000 attacks per day."
Businesses

Ask Slashdot: Why Do We Still Commute? (citylab.com) 422

An anonymous reader writes: Over the last year, many companies have ended their liberal work-from-home policies. Firms like IBM, Honeywell, and Aetna joined a long list of others that have deemed it more profitable to force employees to commute to the city and work in a central office than give them the flexibility to work where they want. It wasn't supposed to be this way. In 1975, when personal computers were little more than glorified calculators for geeks and the Internet was an obscure project being developed by the United States government, Macrae, an influential journalist for The Economist who earned a reputation for clairvoyant prophesies -- including the fall of the Soviet Union and the rise of Japan -- made a radical prediction about how information technology would soon transform our lives. Macrae foretold the exact path and timeline that computers would take over the business world and then become a fixture of every American home. But he didn't stop there. The spread of this machine, he argued, would fundamentally change the economics of how most of us work. Once workers could communicate with their colleagues through instant messages and video chat, he reasoned, there would be little coherent purpose to trudge long distances to work side by side in centrally located office spaces.
Businesses

Apple Crushes Expectations, Sees Record Holiday Quarter (axios.com) 97

Apple on Thursday reported sales and earnings well ahead of projections, and said holiday sales should be a record and ahead of many analysts' expectations. The company sold 46.6 million iPhones last quarter, which came in about 500,000 units ahead of expectations. Axios reports: Going into the earnings report, there were concerns about both iPhone 8 demand and iPhone X supply. Thursday's report should go a long way toward answering those questions. Sales were up in every region expect Japan, where business was down from the prior year, though up sequentially. Notably, the company finally saw a much-needed turnaround in Greater China, where sales of $9.8 billion were up 22% from the prior quarter and 12% from a year ago. The company's business has been weak in China for some time, though the company had predicted improvement this quarter. Apple reported $52.6 billion in revenue (vs $51.2 billion estimated) and per-share earnings of $2.02 (vs $1.87 estimated). In addition to the 46.6 million iPhones sold (vs 46.1 million estimated), the company sold 10.3 million iPads (vs about 10 million expected) and 5.4 million Macs (vs about 5 million expected).
Japan

Can Japan Burn Flammable Ice For Energy? (cnn.com) 153

dryriver writes: Japan is a country that currently has to import 90% of its fuels for energy generation, having very little in the way of oil, coal or natural gas reserves in the country. Since the Fukushima disaster, its 50-plus nuclear reactors have been mostly idle. This makes Japan one of the least self-sufficient countries in terms of energy generation in the developed world. But there is an untapped energy resource that Japan has in abundance: ice that has large quantities of methane trapped in it. These ice crystals hold a remarkable quantity of natural methane gas. It is estimated that one cubic meter of frozen gas hydrate contains 164 cubic meters of methane. Japan has so far spent over $1 billion on research and development efforts in order to find a way to efficiently extract the methane from the ice. Where is this methane rich ice located? Engineers have so far focused on Nankai Trough, a long, narrow depression 50 kilometers off the coast of central Japan, which had been extensively surveyed over many years. Analysis of extracted core samples and seismic data has revealed that 1.1 trillion cubic meters of methane -- enough to meet Japan's gas needs for more than a decade -- lies below the floor of the trough. Some experts think that if an efficient method is found to extract methane from flammable ice, it could change the energy map of the entire world. Flammable ice has either been found, or is suspected to be present in large quantities, off the coastlines of all 5 continents in the world (the linked article has a map showing the currently known locations). Ten years from now the price of energy around the world may thus not be set by how much oil, coal or natural gas costs at that point in time, but rather by how much methane extraction from flammable ice costs.
Communications

Scientists Prove Emoticons Are Not Universally Understood (qz.com) 122

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Quartz: The most recent such study, published Oct. 24 in the Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology, examined how emotions expressed in symbols and pictures are understood in three nations with varying degrees of internet connectivity and access: Japan, Cameroon, and Tanzania. Psychologists from the University of Tokyo tested subjects on how well they recognized emotions in emoticons and photographs. Participants across cultures could read emotion accurately in images of real people regardless of race -- but symbolic tech expression was not universally comprehensible. The study subjects were shown photographs of happy, neutral, and sad Caucasians, Asians, and Africans and told to describe the emotions expressed in the images. Generally, participants accurately assessed the feelings expressed across the board. The researchers noted one difference: African participants tended to confuse Asian neutral and sad faces, "perhaps due to lack of exposure to the out-group [Asian] faces," they suggest.

When it came to symbols, however, the scientists found clear cultural differences in emotion recognition. Subjects from all three countries were given a tablet, on which they were asked to scroll through a series of emoticons. They were shown emoticons in the Japanese style, with happiness, sadness, and neutrality expressed in the eyes; in a western style with emotion expressed in the mouth; and "smiley face" emoticons (pictured above). The Japanese subjects fluently read emotion in emoticons, whereas subjects from Cameroon and Tanzania found emoticons utterly mystifying at similar rates. This was true both for urban and rural dwellers in both African nations. The researchers believe this is due to the varying levels of internet exposure in the three countries.

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