NASA chooses the Jezero Crater as the landing site for its 2020 Mars rover mission

Forward-looking: While it remains to be seen whether or not humans will ever establish long-term colonies on Mars, that doesn’t mean organizations like NASA aren’t exploring the Red Planet. Today, the space agency published a blog post announcing that it has selected a landing zone for its upcoming 2020 rover mission.

The mission, scheduled to take place in July, will see NASA’s latest rover land in the Jezero Crater, a giant “impact basin” just north of Mars’ equator. The rover’s primary job is to scour the crater for rock and soil samples, which can eventually be sent back to Earth for analysis.

NASA says the purpose of this analysis is to answer “important questions” regarding Mars’ unique planetary evolution and astrobiology. Furthermore, it may give scientists some clues about the planet’s capacity to support life, due to Jezero Crater’s unique history – scientists believe the crater was once home to an “ancient lake-delta system.” With a little luck, NASA’s rover could obtain samples from rocks in the region that still retain “signatures of past life.”

Obviously, there’s no guarantee that any such findings will turn up, but from NASA’s point of view, it’s worth trying. If life ever existed (or still exists) on Mars, the Jezero Crater is simply the best place to start looking for proof of it – for now.

It’s also worth noting that, according to NASA, the Jezero Crater mission has been a long time coming; the location wasn’t picked at random.

“The Mars community has long coveted the scientific value of sites such as Jezero Crater, and a previous mission contemplated going there, but the challenges with safely landing were considered prohibitive,” NASA’s 2020 mission project scientist Ken Farley said in a statement. “But what was once out of reach is now conceivable, thanks to the 2020 engineering team and advances in Mars entry, descent and landing technologies.”

We’ll probably be waiting quite some time for the mission’s results, but for now, cautious optimism might be warranted.

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TSMC to supply IBM with data center chips challenging Intel's dominance

Why it matters: Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company (TSMC) is set to sign a deal with IBM to produce mainframe server chips. As a big player in the global data center market, a contract to supply IBM could propel TSMC into a position to contend with Intel which currently owns the market.

The business machine giant designs its own server chips, which are presently produced by GlobalFoundries, so the change to a new supplier is a big blow for the rival manufacturer. According to sources with Nikkei, IBM looks to move to a smaller process for its next generation of mainframe servers, and Taiwan-based TSMC has the only 7nm technology available.

Currently, Intel controls 96 percent of the data center server market. It is working on a 10nm process that is expected to compete with TSMC’s slimmer wafers, but those chips have been delayed until some time in late 2019. In the meantime, IBM can start using a 7nm chip right away.

“We think Intel could gradually lose some market share … for its most lucrative data center server chip business,” said Trendforce analyst Liu Chia-hao.

As of its last earnings report, Intel receives about 50 percent of its operating revenue through its data center division. It reported revenues of $17.09 billion just in the first nine months of 2018. This chunk of the sector is made up of mostly Dell and HP servers with IBM in third place. Although it ships far fewer units than competitors, the IBM’s data servers are considered by some to be the “Rolls-Royces” of the market.

“Compared with ordinary enterprise servers that come with Intel’s X-86 chips, They are much more expensive than those products,” said Danny Kuo, an analyst with IDC. “The IBM sever core chips will be much more expensive as well.”

Banks and other companies use IBM setups ranging from $300,000 to $2 million. This higher-end clientele means TSMC will see greater profits producing custom chips for IBM. With recent shifts in the mobile market, including reduced production numbers from its main mobile client Apple, the company looks to other areas to hedge its numbers.

The Taiwan chip maker will not be knocking Intel off of its 96-percentage-point perch any time soon, but penning the deal with IBM could be a good start that is bound to bring immediate growth to the company.

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Celebrate Half-Life's 20th anniversary with this Black Mesa: Xen trailer

Through the looking glass: Half-Life is one of the most iconic franchises in all of gaming and perhaps the one that’s most due for a sequel. Unfortunately, Half-Life 3 will probably never be released and maybe that’s for the best. Could Valve possibly live up to the game’s incredible hype?

Crowbar Collective, the third-party developer and publisher behind the Half-Life remake that hit Steam Early Access in mid-2015, is celebrating the game’s 20th anniversary with a new trailer highlighting the final chapters of Xen.

In a Steam community post on Monday, Adam Engels said almost everything in Xen is design locked and functioning as intended. The levels and design are mostly the team’s original work, we’re told.

Everything you see in the trailer was captured in-game and boy does it look stunning.

Early testing has shown that Xen will add roughly six hours of playtime to the game, and even more for those who like to explore.

The last bit of time between now and launch in the second quarter of 2019 will be used to bring the game up to their art and polish standards. Additional details regarding graphics and NPC changes will be showcased in December, Engels said.

Found is a TechSpot feature where we share clever, funny or otherwise interesting stuff from around the web.

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Patent Office approves Google's concept for motorized VR shoes

Forward-looking: The US Patent and Trademark Office recently approved a patent for motorized shoes submitted by Google. The device is intended to be used in a virtual reality environment to give the user a sense that they are walking. The shoes would continually work to keep the user in the center of the play area.

Virtual reality developers are always looking for ways to make the VR experience more immersive. We’ve covered various haptic gloves that allow you to “feel” objects. Realistically walking around in VR, however, is more difficult to pull off requiring either an expensive and bulky omnidirectional treadmill, or tons of play space.

Google filed a patent for motorized shoes that simulate walking, but can be used in a confined space like your living room. The footwear would use small wheels that gently roll the user back toward the center of the room as he or she walks in any direction.

UploadVR reports that the idea is based on “infinite redirected walking” that is under development by other companies. Dynamic Saccadic Redirection (DSR) is one technique to achieve this. Developed by Nvidia, DSR tricks the user’s eyes and causes them to walk in different directions even though the VR is telling them they are walking straight. Thus the user can be redirected to avoid walking into walls and even physical and virtual obstacles.

However, Nvidia’s technique requires at least a 20-square-foot play area. Since Google’s shoes would redirect the users physically back toward the center of the play space by rolling the wheels opposite the player’s direction of movement, the space required would be significantly less.

Japanese startup Cybershoes has a similar approach using strap-on shoes with slick bottoms. Rollers on the soles register distance-traveled data, which is relayed to the VR computer for rendering. The disadvantage here is that to use the Cybershoes users must be seated on a stool to keep them stationary. Google’s method proposes to eliminate this necessity.

The patent reads:

“A physical position of motorized footwear in a physical environment may be tracked, and movement of the footwear may be transmitted into corresponding movement in a virtual environment. When a distance between the motorized footwear and a boundary of an operational zone defined in the physical environment is less than or equal to a threshold distance, a motor of the motorized shoe may be actuated. Actuation of the motor may in turn actuate a locomotion device of the motorized footwear, to move the motorized footwear back into a return zone defined within the operational zone. This may allow the user to walk, seemingly endlessly in the virtual environment, while remaining within a defined physical space in the physical environment.”

At this time the motorized shoes are only a concept that has been approved by the US Patent and Trademark Office. There is no official word from Google on how far into development the shoes are.

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Instagram is cracking down on fake likes, follows and comments

Why it matters: Instagram is now large enough that it can afford to trim fake users without attracting too much negative attention. Influencers and brands may not like it as it could noticeably impact follower numbers but it’s a good move that helps clean up the social network’s image.

Instagram is borrowing a page from Twitter’s playbook and will now be more proactive with regard to limiting what it calls inauthentic activity.

In a blog post published Monday, the Facebook-owned photo sharing service said it has recently noticed accounts using third-party apps to artificially grow their audience. From today, Instagram will begin removing fake follows, likes and comments from accounts that utilize such apps to synthetically boost popularity.

Instagram notes that some people that use these types of apps share their login details to score the extra attention. As such, accounts identified using these services will receive an in-app message alerting them to the deleted activity and suggesting they change their passwords.

It’s possible that some people may have inadvertently shared their credentials with third-party apps, hence why offending accounts aren’t automatically being deleted.

Instagram said the behavior exhibited by such apps violates their Community Guidelines and Terms of Use. It also introduces bad behavior into the community and makes accounts less secure.

Instagram surpassed the one billion monthly active user mark in June, further solidifying its reputation as a valuable destination for influencers and brands. It’s no surprise, then, to see the social network attempting to clean up its act.

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Fallout 76 server crashes under triple nuke strike

In brief: As a group of Fallout 76 players recently found out, more isn’t always better. After coordinating a triple nuke strike, the server stopped responding and they were booted from play. Surely Bethesda had planned for such a scenario, right?

It didn’t take long for gamers to drop the first nuke in Fallout 76. The player-triggered end-game event isn’t exactly a cakewalk to initiate as multiple steps are involved (this tool helps speed along the process) although because beta progress carried over to the main launch, it only took about one day for the first atomic bomb to hit West Virginia.

If one nuke is good, then surely more must be better, right?

To find out, YouTube user Nickaroo93 and his crew recently staged the simultaneous launch of three nukes. Apparently, that was simply too much radiation for a single server to handle. Shortly after dropping the bombs and attempting to venture into ground zero, they were booted from the game.

Nickaroo93 told The Verge that his squad now wants to try launching nukes at three different regions on the map (rather than all in the same place) to see how the server responds.

Bethesda on Monday pushed out a new patch for Fallout 76 that introduces multiple performance and stability improvements. The full patch notes don’t mention anything about changes to how nukes operate, however.

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Facebook launches £4.5 million fund to support UK journalists and fight fake news

Facebook has a new plan to fight the spread of fake news on its platform, and it’s a particularly ambitious one. The company announced in a blog post that it wants to “do more to support” local publishers, due to the important role it plays in the spread of modern news.

To accomplish that goal, Facebook is launching the Community News Project, a £4.5 million fund ($6 million) which will support and encourage local journalism in the UK. Specifically, the money will be used to recruit and train a total of 80 prospective journalists, from a “range” socioeconomic backgrounds.

One of Facebook’s main partners on the Community News Project — and the party responsible for handling the money — is the National Council for the Training of Journalists (NCTJ).

“The NCTJ cares deeply about the number, quality and diversity of journalists working in our local communities,” said NCTJ executive Joanne Butcher. “We are very proud to support the sustainability of quality local journalism by overseeing the recruitment of additional local news journalists from diverse and inclusive backgrounds and by ensuring they are properly trained and qualified.”

“The NCTJ cares deeply about the number, quality and diversity of journalists working in our local communities…”

The NCTJ will use the money to train fledgling journalists to receive their NCTJ Diploma in Journalism, while training more seasoned journalists to acquire the National Qualification in Journalism.

It’s certainly nice to see Facebook support quality journalism in such a concrete manner, but it’s tough to say how effective this initiative will be. Hundreds, if not thousands, of stories are being shared on the platform at any given time.

As such, training roughly 80 reporters will likely not be enough to significantly improve the accuracy of the information spread on Facebook.

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Hardware hangover expected to extend into 2019

Why it matters: Motherboard and video card makers will continue to experience ill effects from misfortunes in 2018 that led to excess inventory. Those hoping to score a deal out of the situation may be out of luck as at least some hardware makers could raise prices to maintain profitability.

The hardware hangover plaguing motherboard and graphics card makers is expected to spill over into the first half of 2019.

Industry sources tell DigiTimes that a combination of Intel’s processor supply shortage, a sustained chill in the cryptocurrency mining sector and lackluster buying at terminal markets amidst the trade dispute with China led to increased inventory levels at companies like Asus and Gigabyte in the third quarter. As such, revenue for the peak season fell below expectations.

Asus, for example, saw its third quarter net earnings drop 43 percent to $107.95 million. Gigabyte in the third quarter only brought in $4.27 million in profit after tax, the lowest level recorded since Q4 2008. Its motherboard shipments could dip below 12 million units this year, a better case scenario than the 10 million unit dip rumored earlier this year but still far from ideal.

Sources further note that enduring sluggish demand from the DIY market, Nvidia’s pricey new GPU platforms and poor growth momentum in China will result in dim revenue prospects for the fourth quarter.

As the issue stretches on, sources say Intel and Nvidia are likely to raise chip prices to maintain profitability.

Nvidia’s stock is still down following a massive drop in value late last week. As of writing, it’s down nearly 25 percent since closing at $202.39 on Thursday.

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Amazon is hosting an advance screening of Aquaman exclusively for Prime members

The big picture: Amazon’s friendly relationship with the theater industry is in stark contrast to the position that some of its rivals in the streaming business have taken. It could very well pay dividends down the road but just as easily come back to bite the company if it isn’t careful.

Amazon Prime members in the US will be able to watch Aquaman in theaters nearly a week before anyone else thanks to a promotion with Warner Bros. Pictures.

The DC Comics film, scheduled to hit theaters on December 21 in the US, will be part of an early showing on December 15 at 7:00 p.m. local time. Prime members can purchase up to 10 tickets and take in the flick at one of more than 1,000 theaters across the country including branches owned by AMC, Regal, ArcLight Cinemas and National Amusement Theaters.

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If you aren’t a Prime member, you can sign up for a 30-day free trial and still take advantage of the advance showing of Aquaman.

This isn’t the first time Amazon has partnered with the cinema industry. In 2017, Amazon offered Prime members advance screenings of Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle and Hotel Transylvania 3.

Rumors surfaced over the summer that Amazon was interested in purchasing a movie theater chain. Should such a deal materialize, it would put further pressure on rival Netflix and almost certainly ensure further tie-ins with Prime members.

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Apple reportedly slashes production orders for iPhone XR and XS

Cutting corners: Apple’s most recent handsets, the iPhone XR, XS, and XS Max, didn’t exactly set the smartphone industry ablaze with excitement, and it seems the company may have overestimated their popularity. According to a recent report, the firm has decided to reduce orders for all three phones.

It was only a few weeks ago when we heard that Apple had slashed production of the iPhone XR as demand failed to meet expectations. According to the Wall Street Journal, this is an issue with all three new iPhones, which has “created turmoil along its supply chain.” The move comes as global smartphone sales are slowing down, along with what appears to be weak demand from the Chinese market.

An anonymous supplier told the WSJ: “Growth fixes a lot of sins. When it slows, rocks start to show up in the bottom of the ocean.”

“Doing business with Apple is very risky as it often reverses what it has promised,” they added.

The report repeats earlier claims that iPhone XR production will be cut by a third, though the reduction in iPhone XS and XS Max orders don’t appear as severe. Many iPhone suppliers have cut their quarterly profit estimates after a large customer, which is almost certainly Apple, reduced its orders. Even Foxconn has reduced its overtime hours that are typically available during peak production periods.

At the start of November, Apple’s stock fell after it revealed the company might miss Wall Street expectations during the upcoming holiday season. It also said it would no longer report how many devices it sells each quarter, focusing instead on their increasing revenue—a result of the iPhone’s higher Average Selling Price (ASP).

Slashing the iPhone orders won’t have Apple worried. The ever-increasing ASP of its phones and the massive growth of its Services division means revenue is at an all-time high (the last Q4 was its best ever). But the company’s suppliers are suffering as a result of the reduced demand.

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