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05.12.16 | 8:55 am

Is the $1.3 billion probiotic food industry a sour, curdled con?

After running a series of studies, researchers at the University of Copenhagen conclude that probiotics have no conclusive benefits for healthy people.

Then again, the studies featured small sample sizes, and the scientists note that probiotic foods may offer some relief to people with gastrointestinal ailments. So maybe don't chuck that kefir quite yet.

07.26.17 | 7 minutes ago

The U.K. will ban sales of gas powered cars from 2040

From 2040 all new vehicle sales must be fully electric cars, reports the Times. Not even hybrid vehicles will be allowed to be sold in the U.K. after 2040. The move comes as the U.K. attempts to improve its air quality and follows a similar plan announced by President Macron in France. Currently, just 1% of cars sold in the U.K. are electric. Now the country has just over 22 years to change that.

07.26.17 | 30 minutes ago

A North Korean nuke could hit the U.S. in a year, intelligence agencies say

The U.S. intelligence agencies previously believed it would take four years for North Korea to develop the technology to put a nuclear warhead on a missile and hit the United States with it. Now the intelligence agencies say North Korea will have that capability sometime in 2018, reports the New York Times. The revised timeline is due to the significant advancements the country has made and demonstrated in its July 4 missile test, which saw the country launch a missile with a warhead 1,700 miles into space. Regarding that test Scott Bray, the national intelligence manager for East Asia acknowledged:

"North Korea's recent test of an intercontinental range ballistic missile — which was not a surprise to the Intelligence Community — is one of the milestones that we have expected would help refine our timeline and judgments on the threats that Kim Jong Un poses to the continental United States. This test, and its impact on our assessments, highlight the threat that North Korea's nuclear and ballistic missile programs pose to the United States, to our allies in the region, and to the whole world."

07.26.17 | an hour ago

You’ll now have to pay Uber $15 to return that thing you left in the back seat

Uber has told drivers that they'll no longer be expected to make free trips to return lost items to customers, reports Business Insider. Now when a passenger contacts a driver to ask they come back to return an item left in the car, the Uber app will allow the driver to report they made a return and Uber will compensate the driver $15, a fee which will be charged to the passenger. The move is part of Uber's  "180 days" campaign to address driver feedback, and though it won't make passengers happy, it seems like a fair deal. After all, why should a driver waste his time, gas, and potential customers to fix their passengers' mistakes? 

07.26.17 | an hour ago

Check out this boring video of Elon Musk’s Boring Company’s first car elevator

It's like a regular elevator, but for cars. Groundbreaking stuff, Elon. 

Testing The Boring Company car elevator

A post shared by Elon Musk (@elonmusk) on

Of course, what that elevator will eventually lead to is a bit more exciting…

07.26.17 | an hour ago

Rick Perry gave an interview to a Russian prankster he thought was Ukraine’s prime minister

The U.S. Energy secretary, and former presidential candidate, got punked by two Russian pranksters called the "Jerky Boys of Russia," reports Reuters. The Russian duo is famous in the country for fooling high-level officials into thinking they are speaking with foreign heads of state. In this case, the Russian pranksters got Perry to discuss his thoughts on a Russian project to its natural gas to Europe and the energy security of Ukraine. You can listen to the entire 22-minute (!!) prank below.

07.25.17 | 5:55 pm

Trump says Apple will build three “big, beautiful” new plants in U.S.

Donald Trump claimed during an interview with the Wall Street Journal on Tuesday that Apple's Tim Cook committed to building three new plants. If the claim is even true, Apple probably has something very different in mind than the large, blue-collar-job-creating factories Trump is likely imagining. Any new plants would likely be highly automated affairs that call for fewer and more skilled workers, experts say. 

Or the new factories may be part of a quid pro quo arrangement between Trump and Cook, and completely dependent on the government doing some nice thing for Apple. For example, Apple (and others) wants the government to let it return its massive profits currently held overseas to the U.S. at a low tax rate. Trump has proposed a 10% tax rate. 

But, sources tell me, he and his administration are laboring under the assumption that tech companies will use a big part of the repatriated money to build factories. The tech companies have other ideas, as they did after the last repatriation in 2004 when George W. Bush was president.

07.25.17 | 5:51 pm

I’ll pay extra if Lyft takes me to good tacos instead of Taco Bell

Word comes today that Lyft has partnered with Taco Bell on a new "taco mode," which, to quote a blog post about the pact, "brings to life a first-of-its-kind offering . . . that will delight consumers by bringing them to a Taco Bell drive-thru in a Lyft ride." It's being tested out in California's Orange County for a few days starting Thursday, and again in August, and then will be rolled out nationally next year.

Here's the thing: I don't care how late it is, or how hungry I am. I'm not going to be delighted by having my ride home interrupted by swinging through Taco Bell, even if the visit comes with a free Doritos Locos Taco (which it does). I'm sure there are people for whom this will seem like a great idea. I am not one of them. Sorry, but maybe it's the fact that I've lived in or near San Francisco most of my life, and have had easy access to actual, you know, good tacos. But, hey, Lyft, if my ride takes a detour to La Taqueria, I'll be happy to pay more. Take me to Taco Bell, though, and I'm switching to Uber.

07.25.17 | 5:05 pm

Read Steve Jobs’s biting 2010 farewell to Flash

Finally. Mercifully. At long last. These are the headlines collectively cheering the demise of Flash Player, which will stop receiving support from Adobe at the end of 2020. But long before hating on Flash was cool, Steve Jobs was ahead of the curve. As I noted in a 2015 story on the slow death of Adobe Flash, Jobs's seven-year-old essay on why iOS would never support Flash also serves as a takedown of the technology as a whole, one that's become increasingly applicable to laptops and desktop PCs.

The entire "Thoughts on Flash" essay is still available on Apple's website, but here's an excerpt:

Besides the fact that Flash is closed and proprietary, has major technical drawbacks, and doesn't support touch-based devices, there is an even more important reason we do not allow Flash on iPhones, iPods, and iPads.

We know from painful experience that letting a third-party layer of software come between the platform and the developer ultimately results in sub-standard apps and hinders the enhancement and progress of the platform. If developers grow dependent on third-party development libraries and tools, they can only take advantage of platform enhancements if and when the third party chooses to adopt the new features. We cannot be at the mercy of a third party deciding if and when they will make our enhancements available to our developers.

Jobs concluded, "Perhaps Adobe should focus more on creating great HTML5 tools for the future, and less on criticizing Apple for leaving the past behind." Read more about how the end of Flash began.

[Photo: Acaben/Wikimedia Commons]

07.25.17 | 4:30 pm

Google threw its algorithms into the hot race for nuclear fusion

Amid advances in physics and climate concerns, nuclear fusion energy has become an increasingly hot pursuit for governments, startups, and skunk works. A long-heralded holy grail of the energy world (it's said to always be "30 years away"), fusion smashes together atomic nuclei in a controlled fashion and in a way that, theoretically, could provide virtually unlimited "clean" energy. 

To accelerate its research into plasmas, the ultra-hot gas balls used in fusion, fusion startup TriAlpha has turned to Google. As The Guardian reports, the secretive Paul Allen-backed company collaborated with Google Research to create "the Optometrist algorithm," which is intended to combine computation with human judgement in the complex search for useful engineering and physics. 

"The whole thing is beyond what we know how to do even with Google-scale computer resources," said Ted Baltz, at the Google Accelerated Science Team. So the scientists combined computer learning approaches with human input by presenting researchers with choices. The researchers choose the option they instinctively feel is more promising, akin to choosing the clearer text during an eye test. 

As a result, operations that had formerly taken a month speeded up to just a few hours, and achieved a 50% reduction in energy losses from the system, according to research published on Tuesday in the journal Scientific Reports

Even as it fires up a new reactor, and though it has raised over $500 million, TriAlpha will need more funds if it wants to reach the even more difficult next stage: a reactor with superconducting magnets. Alongside the multi-government ITER test reactor project in France, the companies racing to develop fusion also include General Fusion, which is backed by Amazon founder Jeff Bezos. As with other billionaire moonshots, the private tech money is betting it can advance science that up until now has been publicly-funded, subject to red tape and political winds. That's to say nothing of some very big science and engineering. Earlier this month, a new version of a European "road map" on fusion energy pushed its estimate for a working reactor back a decade to the 2050s. 

[Photo: Tri Aplha Energy]

07.25.17 | 4:02 pm

Apple appeals to ‘Merica in new Music ad

The new Apple Music ad features motorbikes, country music, small-town folk, open fields and open roads, and the flag. The star of the ad is country singer Brantley Gilbert, who narrates an ode to his old hometown and his love of country. The spot debuted Sunday before a Nascar race. Getting the idea? 

07.25.17 | 3:33 pm

John McCain, fresh out of the hospital, casts crucial yes vote in GOP’s Obamacare repeal effort

The fight to repeal Obamacare is not over yet, despite recent polls showing a majority of people want the current health care law to stay. Today, the Senate voted to advance a debate to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act. It was a close vote, but ultimately a few Republicans who had vowed to vote against it changed course.

Most apparent among them is John McCain, who just announced a brain cancer diagnosis. The Arizona senator returned to Congress specifically to vote for this motion, and voted yes. With the vote tied at 50-50, Vice President Mike Pence delivered the tiebreaker

Following today's vote, the GOP will begin floor debate and roll out amendments to the Senate's health care bill. A House version of the bill passed in May.

07.25.17 | 2:47 pm

Trump is confused about Amazon and taxes. Here’s what Amazon really wants

Lower taxes, but not sales taxes. Trump fired off a series tweets on Monday night and Tuesday morning suggesting that Amazon is "using the Washington Post as a lobbyist" to keep Congress from scrutinizing Amazon's "no-tax monopoly." First of all, the Post is owned by Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, not by Amazon. The question of whether Amazon should pay state sales tax was settled in March, when Amazon relented and began to collect tax in any state that has it. So it's very doubtful Amazon would be spending lobbying hours on that issue. 

Amazon spent a healthy $3.2 million on lobbying in the second quarter, filings show, but it was very likely to influence lawmakers on the same key issues concerning other large tech companies like Apple, Google, and Microsoft. The top two items on the tech policy agenda this year are a lower corporate tax rate and a low tax rate on profits returned from overseas (repatriated). 

Ironically, Trump and Amazon are probably aligned on both those issues. The Trump administration's tax reform plan is centered around reducing the corporate tax rate (that's why the markets went up after Trump was elected), and Trump has proposed a low 10% tax rate (it's normally 35%) on repatriated profits. Amazon currently holds about $22 billion in overseas accounts.