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The Geeky Advent Calendar Tradition Continues in 2020

Long-time Slashdot reader destinyland writes: Advent of Code isn't the only geeky tradition that's continuing in 2020. "This is going to be the first full year with Raku being called Raku," notes the site "However, it's going to be the 12th year (after this first article) in a row with a Perl 6 or Raku calendar, previously published in the Perl 6 Advent Calendar blog." The tradition continues, with a new article about the Raku programming language every day until Christmas. And meanwhile over at, the Perl Advent Calendar is also continuing its own article-a-day tradition (starting with a holiday tale about how Perl's TidyAll library "makes it trivial for the elves to keep their code formatting consistent and clean.") But they're not the only ones. "Pandemic or not, Christmas time is a time for wonder, joy and sharing," writes Kristofer Giltvedt Selbekk from Oslo-based Bekk Consulting (merging technology with user experience, product innovation and strategy). So this year they're "continuing our great tradition of sharing some of the stuff we know every December" with 11 different advent calendar sites sharing articles (or, on one site, podcast episodes), on topics including JavaScript, Kotlin, React, Elm, functional programming, and cloud computing. And if you're more interested in outer space, this also marks the 13th year for the official Hubble Space Telescope Advent Calendar. "Every day until Friday, December 25, this page will present one new incredible image of our universe from NASA's Hubble telescope," explains its page at the Atlantic.

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Legendary Science Fiction Author Ben Bova Has Passed At the Age of 88

Ben Bova "was the author of more than 120 works of science fact and fiction," according to Wikipedia, and was also a six-time winner of the Hugo Award. "He was also president of both the National Space Society and the Science Fiction Writers of America." reports Bova has passed "due to complications from COVID-19 and a stroke..." Born in 1932, Bova brought experience to the science fiction genre that few authors could match: he worked as a technical editor for the U.S.'s Project Vanguard, the first effort on the part of the country to launch a satellite into space in 1958. Bova went on to work as a science writer for Avco Everett Research Laboratory, which built the heat shields for the Apollo 11 module, putting man on the Moon and ensuring that science fiction would continue to increasingly define the future. It was around that time that Bova began writing and publishing science fiction. He published his first novel, The Star Conquerors, in 1959, and followed up with dozens of others in the following years, as well as numerous short stories that appeared in publications such as Amazing Stories, Analog Science Fact and Fiction, Galaxy Magazine, The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, and others. In 1971, he took over the helm of Analog following the death of its long-running editor, John W. Campbell Jr. — a huge task, given Campbell's influence on the genre to that point... From there, he became the first editor of Omni Magazine until 1982, and consulted on television shows such as The Starlost and Land of the Lost. While Bova wrote an episode of The Land of the Lost, his best-known works "involved plausible sciences about humanity's expansion into the universe, looking at how we might adapt to live in space..." notes Tor. The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction argues that "the straightforwardness of Bova's agenda for humanity may mark him as a figure from an earlier era; but the arguments he laces into sometimes overloaded storylines are arguments it is important, perhaps absolutely vital, to make."

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Apple Launches Repair Program For Unresponding IPhone 11 Displays

9to5Mac reports that Apple announced a repair program for "a small percentage" of iPhone 11s manufactured between November 2019 and May 2020 where the display stops responding to touch: The replacement program is exclusive to the regular iPhone 11 model and does not apply to the iPhone 11 Pro or iPhone 11 Pro Max. Users can check the Apple Support website to find out if their iPhone 11 is eligible for the replacement program using its serial number... Apple will replace the affected iPhone 11 for free. The repair program covers affected iPhone 11 models for two years after the first retail sale of the unit. Apple may refuse free technical support for devices with physical damages.

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Python Beats Java Again in New GitHub Annual Report

This week the Microsoft-owned code repository site GitHub released its annual report with statistics about its community, writes programming columnist Mike Melanson: The report offers a deep dive into three specific areas, with a look at developer productivity in the time of COVID, community and collaboration, and open source security. Highlights include increased productivity with 35% more repositories created in 2020 than 2019, a large open source community with more than 56M developers in 2020 with 100M expected by 2025, and security vulnerabilities that often go undetected for more than 4 years before being disclosed and 94% of projects relying on open source components. "2020 has been a year of extraordinary change," notes GitHub's report. "Yet with 60M+ new repositories created this past year, one thing has remained true — developers came together from all corners of the world to innovate, find connection, and solve problems." GitHub reports that over 1.9 billion contributions were added in the last year, with users distributed around the globe: North America: 34% Asia: 30.7% Europe: 26.8% South America: 4.9% Africa: 2% Oceania: 1.7% And while JavaScript is still the most popular language used on the site, Python remains more popular (at #2) than Java (at #3) for the second year in a row. JavaScriptPythonJavaTypeScriptC#PHPC++CShellRuby

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Are America's Hospitals Becoming Overwhelmed?

New Mexico's governor announced plans to allow hospitals "to ration care depending on a patient's likelihood of surviving," according to the Washington Post. But in fact, many of America's hospitals are now "overwhelmed," reports CBS News, adding "A record-breaking 227,00 new cases were reported in the U.S. on Friday alone — the first time the daily case count has topped 220,000, according to a tally from Johns Hopkins University." Two co-founders of the COVID Tracking Project offer this assessment of the state of America: On Wednesday, the country tore past a nauseating virus record. For the first time since the pandemic began, more than 100,000 people were hospitalized with COVID-19 in the United States, nearly double the record highs seen during the spring and summer surges. The pandemic nightmare scenario — the buckling of hospital and health-care systems nationwide — has arrived. Several lines of evidence are now sending us the same message: Hospitals are becoming overwhelmed, causing them to restrict whom they admit and leading more Americans to die needlessly... Many states have reported that their hospitals are running out of room and restricting which patients can be admitted. In South Dakota, a network of 37 hospitals reported sending more than 150 people home with oxygen tanks to keep beds open for even sicker patients. A hospital in Amarillo, Texas, reported that COVID-19 patients are waiting in the emergency room for beds to become available. Some patients in Laredo, Texas, were sent to hospitals in San Antonio — until that city stopped accepting transfers. Elsewhere in Texas, patients were sent to Oklahoma, but hospitals there have also tightened their admission criteria.... The bulk of evidence now suggests that one of the worst fears of the pandemic — that hospitals would become overwhelmed, leading to needless deaths — is happening now. Americans are dying of COVID-19 who, had they gotten sick a month earlier, would have lived.

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All Three Monoliths Gone -- Two Removed By Activist Vandals

A Reddit user found Google Earth photos showing the Utah monolith may have appeared in its canyon up to five years ago, according to The Daily Beast. But it's gone now: Last week, a team of four people removed the Utah obelisk. One of them, a Utah adventure guide, explained their actions in an Instagram post. "We removed the Utah Monolith because there are clear precedents for how we share and standardize the use of our public lands, natural wildlife, native plants, fresh water sources, and human impacts upon them. The mystery was the infatuation and we want to use this time to unite people behind the real issues here — we are losing our public lands — things like this don't help," Sylvan Christensen wrote. Although the statue had damaged some of the surrounding rock formations, its real cost came when hordes of tourists drove cars and rode helicopters to the remote canyon to see it, Christensen said. "This land wasn't physically prepared for the population shift (especially during a pandemic)," he wrote. "People arrived by car, by bus, by van, helicopter, planes, trains, motorcycles and E-bikes and there isn't even a parking lot. There aren't bathrooms — and yes, pooping in the desert is a misdemeanor. There was a lot of that." "The group of four took the big pieces of the monolith and placed them in a wheelbarrow and said 'leave no trace' as they rolled it away," reports CNN, citing a photographer who witnessed the event. The second mysterious monolith that appeared in Romania has also been "removed by parties unknown," reports the Bay Area Newsgroup. But a third monolith also mysteriously appeared 200 miles south of San Francisco in the small town of Atascadero on Tuesday, according to SFGate. Though their reporter has a theory as to why: Atascadero is a handy place. There's plenty of rugged cowboy types, and plenty of people with the room and machinery to weld and rivet some sheets of metal together. The local band when I was in high school was in fact known for riveting metal parts and tubing onto stages and cars and painting the whole thing silver... [W]hen Atascadero saw this monolith trend hitting, someone took note of the importance of getting in fast, went out into their garage and built a monolith. "And then, overnight, it was gone," notes the Bay Area News Group. Forbes describes the young men responsible as "Dressed in camo gear, armed with night-vision goggles and energy drinks," and at least once referencing the QAnon conspiracy theory. "One of the men even states: 'We don't want illegal aliens from Mexico, or outer space.'" The Bay Area News Group writes: The revelation that the culprits drove five hours from Southern California to tear it down, live-streaming the trek, has angered Central Coast residents. Video shows the four young men chanting "Christ is king" as they tear down the monolith and replace it with a plywood cross. They also made racist and anti-immigrant statements... In a statement Thursday, Atascadero Mayor Heather Moreno said: "We are upset that these young men felt the need to drive 5 hours to come into our community and vandalize the Monolith. "The Monolith was something unique and fun in an otherwise stressful time."

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TikTok Misses US Deadline For Sale Without Punishment

"After months of wrangling, proposals, court rulings and a few extensions, a deadline set by the Trump Administration's Treasury Department mandated a sale for TikTok by December 4th," remembers Engadget. But that's not what happened. "Instead, Bloomberg and Reuters report, based on anonymous sources, that the Chinese company and the US government will continue negotiations." Bloomberg reports: While the deadline has been extended multiple times, TikTok isn't expected to receive a new one, said the people, who asked not to be identified because the decision isn't yet public... The U.S. Treasury Department told TikTok and Chinese parent company ByteDance Ltd. that they won't face a fine or other punishment for missing the deadline because the sides are still negotiating. The deal, which has been in the works for months, is close to being finished, and the administration is eager to complete it before President-elect Joe Biden takes office on Jan. 20, according to one of the people.

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One In Six Cadillac Dealers Opt To Close Instead of Selling Electric Cars

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Drive: General Motors knows all too well that a fully electric future is coming. As a company, GM wants to have 30 EVs for sale by 2025 and Cadillac will reportedly be leading the Detroit automaker's electric charge in the United States. Recently, it was reported that GM told dealerships to invest in the future or get out of the way. Cadillac has 880 dealerships nationwide, and now, citing sources familiar with the matter, The Wall Street Journal reports that 150 of them have taken a $300,000 to $1,000,000 buyout to cease operations instead of investing $200,000 in charging infrastructure and other updates to their facilities to support the brand's electric future. This is a little more than one in six Cadillac dealerships nationwide, so in a nutshell, a fair amount of them will probably close. It's unclear if GM expected so many to take the buyout, however, a $200,000 investment is likely a lot to ask for many dealerships, especially during a pandemic. That being said, some of Cadillac's vehicles like the XT6 crossover have seen dramatic increases in sales over the past year, and it's betting on the new electric Lyriq SUV to further improve its fortunes.

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China Expanding Weather-Control Program To Make Artificial Rain, Snow

China is massively expanding its weather-control project, and is aiming to be able to cover half the country in artificial rain and snow by 2025, the government said Tuesday. Business Insider reports: The practice of "cloud seeding" was discovered in the US in 1946 by a chemist working for General Electric. China launched its own similar program in the 1960s. Dozens of other countries -- including the US -- also have such programs, but Beijing has the world's largest, employing around 35,000 people, The Guardian reported. In a statement, China's State Council said that the country's cloud seeing project will expand fivefold to cover an area of 2.1 million square miles and be completed by 2025. (China encompasses 3.7 million square miles, meaning the project could cover 56% of the country's surface area.) The project will be at a "worldwide advanced level" by 2035, the State Council said, and will help alleviate "disasters such as drought and hail" and facilitate emergency responses "to forest or grassland fires."

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Australia's Great Barrier Reef Status Lowered To 'Critical' and Deteriorating

The health status of Australia's Great Barrier Reef has officially declined from "significant concern" to "critical" for the first time, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) announced this week. CBS News reports: It said climate change is now the biggest threat to natural World Heritage sites, including the world's largest and most spectacular coral reef. According to the new report, one-third of the 252 natural World Heritage sites are now threatened by climate change. Previously, invasive species were listed as the top threat. The Great Barrier Reef must contend with ocean warming, acidification and extreme weather to stay alive amid record heat waves. It has lost half of its coral to climate change since 1995, with its status now listed as "critical" -- the most urgent designated status in the classification system of the UNESCO advisory board. Sites listed as critical are "severely treated and require urgent, additional and large-scale conservation measures," the report said. Additionally, the report warns that plans to protect the reef long-term have been slow to implement, failing to stop or reverse the reef's deterioration. The report adds that four other Australian world heritage sites have also deteriorated and received lowered statuses -- the Blue Mountains, the Gondwana rainforests, the Ningaloo Coast and Shark Bay. "Overall, more sites have deteriorated than improved since 2017," reports CBS News.

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Why Players Blame Skill-Based Matchmaking For Losing In Call of Duty

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Motherboard: Two months ago, esports pro Seth "Scump" Abner logged into the Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War multiplayer alpha and found himself struggling. Not because of any major gameplay changes developer Treyarch had made, Cold War plays like any other Call of Duty from the past decade, but rather because of the players Abner was being put up against: They were all good. This, Abner felt, wasn't normal. He should know: he's a world champion, he spends dozens of hours every week playing against the best in the world, and dozens more streaming his "casual" play on Twitch. Why was he having to suddenly work so hard to win games? A few hours into the alpha test weekend, Abner came up with an answer: it was the skill-based matchmaking (SBMM). Skill-based matchmaking, as you can guess, is a type of multiplayer matchmaking system in which players' are pitted against other players of similar skill level. In other words, the Black Ops Cold War alpha was purposefully matching Abner up against players with players who were just as good as him. This, he felt, was not good. "[Skill-based matchmaking] does not belong in Call of Duty. There should be a ranked playlist for people to sweat in," he tweeted as the alpha weekend was coming to a close. "I'm not trying to play Scuf wielding game fuel chugging demons with szn in their psn on Miami TDM." Abner wasn't the only esports pro to take issue with this system. With the release of Cold War last week, a number of notable streamers have echoed Abner's criticisms. Skill-based matchmaking, they argue, takes their agency away, forcing them into a purgatory of having to play their "best" every single game. These critics point to a number of games like Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 and Halo 3 as examples games who have gotten multiplayer "right" by letting players choose between a "ranked" playlist and "unranked" playlist -- offering the freedom to decide when they want to sweat and when they want to kick back and own some noobs. Modern multiplayer developers have made a serious misstep in implementing skill-based matchmaking across the board, they argue, and they should go back to the way things used to be. This all sounds reasonable, were it not for the fact that skill-based matchmaking has been in every major multiplayer shooter since Halo 2. [...] The issue today is not that skill-based matchmaking exists, but that players are now aware of just how prevalent it is. Up until recently, one could assume that joining an "unranked" playlist meant they were being dropped into matches with the entire playerbase, and thus who they played against was purely random. Under this false assumption, it's easy to wave away bad games as flukes, while conveniently believing that any good games were the result of skill. Now that most know that they're being matched with people with similar skill levels all the time, they can't help but perceive their opponent as equals. In closing, Steve Rousseau writes via Motherboard: "The unavoidable truth about multiplayer matchmaking is that there will always be winners and losers. Someone's success always comes at the expense of someone else's failure. When players ask to be put into matches in which they can reliably chill and get 20 kills while only dying 10 times, this inevitably requires someone else to die 20 times. What they're asking for is special treatment. And that's just not fair."

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Google Fiber Rolls Out Insanely Fast 2Gbps Service In Two Lucky US Cities

Google Fiber has made its 2Gbps service "widely available" in Nashville, Tennessee, and Huntsville, Alabama, the company said Thursday. CNET reports: New and existing Google Fiber customers in Nashville and Huntsville can choose either 1-gigabit-per-second service for $70 a month, or 2Gbps service for $100 a month. The latter is designed for "power users, the latest devices, and advanced smart homes that use lots of internet," Google said in a blog post. The 2Gbps service comes with the Google Fiber Multi-Gig Router, which uses Wi-Fi 6. Google Fiber launched in 2010 with 1Gbps speeds, and now provides internet service in more than a dozen US cities. Customers who aren't in Nashville or Huntsville can sign up to test 2Gbps service through the company's Trusted Tester program.

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Chrome OS 87 Adds Tab Search and Bluetooth Device Battery Levels

Chrome OS 87 starting rolling out on Thursday, adding the ability to search tabs, view the battery levels of your Bluetooth devices, and more. 9to5Google reports: Tab Groups help people better manage (and collapse/hide) tabs, but it doesn't always reduce the number open. Google is now introducing Tab Search to let users find what pages they have open across all windows. Tapping the circular dropdown button in the top-right corner -- also accessible with Ctrl+Shift+A -- first shows a list of everything open. It includes the favicon, page name, and domain, as well as an individual close button. This feature is first rolling out to Chromebooks before coming to desktop browsers. Chrome OS 87 will list the Bluetooth battery levels of accessories in Settings and Quick Settings. Just navigate to the Bluetooth menu. This feature is primarily meant for wireless headphones and will show a notification with the current level in the bottom-right corner of your screen upon connection. Chrome OS 87 also adds 36 new backgrounds created by four different artists. To set, right-click on the desktop or shelf and select "Set wallpaper." Other features in this release include: - Saving to Google Drive has been updated with the ability to rename the file and selecting what folder to store it in - Chrome OS devices now support switch accessibility devices - Google has updated language settings to be easier for multilingual users to navigate - The Alt+Tab window switcher now supports mouse, touch screen, and stylus input - Version 87 makes visual improvements when renaming Virtual Desks and Launcher folders

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China Turns On Nuclear-Powered 'Artificial Sun'

China successfully powered up its "artificial sun" nuclear fusion reactor for the first time, state media reported Friday, marking a great advance in the country's nuclear power research capabilities. Phys.Org reports: The HL-2M Tokamak reactor is China's largest and most advanced nuclear fusion experimental research device, and scientists hope that the device can potentially unlock a powerful clean energy source. It uses a powerful magnetic field to fuse hot plasma and can reach temperatures of over 150 million degrees Celsius, according to the People's Daily -- approximately ten times hotter than the core of the sun. Located in southwestern Sichuan province and completed late last year, the reactor is often called an "artificial sun" on account of the enormous heat and power it produces. They plan to use the device in collaboration with scientists working on the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor -- the world's largest nuclear fusion research project based in France, which is expected to be completed in 2025.

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Report Claims Huawei Finance Chief Meng Wanzhou Could Be Set Free In Exchange of Admitting Guilt

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The U.S. Justice Department is talking to representatives of Meng Wanzhou about a potential deal that would allow the Chinese telecom executive to return home from Canada in exchange for signing a deferred prosecution agreement admitting criminal wrongdoing, according to a report in the Wall Street Journal. Meng, the chief financial officer of Huawei Technologies Co., was detained in December 2018 while she was changing planes in Vancouver. She was arrested on a U.S. extradition request over allegations she lied to a Hong Kong banker in August 2013 about Huawei's control of a subsidiary that's accused of violating U.S. sanctions against Iran. She has consistently denied the charges against her. Shortly after that arrest, Canadians Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor were detained in China, where they remain in detention and face charges of spying for Canada. The report also says the proposed deal could pave the way for China to return Kovrig and Spavor, which is a factor that is in part motivating the discussions, according to the paper's sources. In a report in the Wall Street Journal -- which CBC had not independently verified -- sources say the agreement with Meng would require her to admit to criminal wrongdoing. The newspaper reports that if she does that, U.S. prosecutors would defer the charges against her, and could even drop them at a later date.

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