Friday, January 20, 2023
Elon Musk admits at trial that he ignored pleas to stop tweeting
"Elon Musk will never stop posting, no matter who tells him to stop.
That was one of the takeaways from his brief testimony during his securities fraud trial, which took place in a San Francisco courthouse Friday. Lawyers for the plaintiffs peppered Musk with questions about his tweets as they work up to his infamous “funding secured” tweet from 2018 at the center of this case. Musk is being sued by a class of Tesla investors who claim his bumbling attempts to take Tesla private that year cost them millions of dollars.
Musk wasn’t asked about that tweet yet, though. He took the stand for a little over 30 minutes before the trial recessed until next Monday. But the plaintiff’s lawyers got in plenty of questions about his Twitter habits, most notably about all the people in his life who have begged him to quit the bird site.
Among the people who asked him to stop tweeting are Antonio Gracias, a former director on Tesla’s board, investors Ron Baron and Sam Teller, Musk’s former de facto chief of staff, and other close associates.
Musk got plenty of questions about his Twitter habits, most notably about all the people in his life who have begged him to quit
“I suppose I continued to tweet, yes,” Musk replied when asked if he ignored his advisors and investors.
(Worth noting: Musk tweeted a mere seven minutes before taking the stand and waited approximately 45 minutes after stepping down before sending his next tweet.)
The plaintiffs are working to portray Musk as a reckless tweeter who disregards good advice about the significant impact his public statements can have on his company’s stock price and shareholders. Early in his testimony, Musk was asked to describe the relationship between his tweets and Tesla’s retail investors.
“I care a great deal about retail investors,” Musk said. “There are our most loyal and steadfast investors.”
It’s easy to envision how this statement will come back to haunt him later in the trial, as plaintiffs’ lawyers are likely to remind him of the financial pain his tweets have caused these investors.
“I care a great deal about retail investors,” Musk said.
Musk was also asked to expound on one of his favorite subjects: short sellers. Tesla is one of the most shorted stocks on the market, and Musk has made no secret of his contempt for investors who bet against the success of his company.
“I believe short selling should be made illegal,” he said. “It is a means, in my opinion, for bad people on Wall Street to steal money from small investors. Not good.”
Most of the day’s testimony was devoted to Guhan Subramanian, a Harvard Business School professor and an expert witness for the plaintiffs, who described how unusual and unprecedented it was for Musk to try to tweet his way through Tesla’s managed buyout.
“What’s really different here is the communication of material non-public information about a managed buyout over Twitter,” Subramanian testified. “That’s just never been done before.”
A possible sign of Musk’s much-reported exhaustion: late in his testimony, he said there were “two main companies that I run and where I’m essentially the chief technologist and product person” — SpaceX and Tesla.
There was no mention of running a third company, Twitter."
Thursday, January 19, 2023
Wednesday, January 18, 2023
Microsoft to Lay Off 10,000 Workers as It Looks to Trim Costs
"The job cuts, which amount to less than 5 percent of the company’s work force, are its largest in roughly eight years.
Microsoft plans to lay off 10,000 workers, the company said Wednesday, as it looks to trim costs amid economic uncertainty and to refocus on strategic priorities, such as artificial intelligence.
The company employed about 221,000 workers as of the end of June, and the cuts amount to less than 5 percent of its global work force.
With the cuts, Microsoft becomes the latest tech giant to pull back after a frenzied few years of hiring, when the pandemic-fueled surge in online services and the expansion of cloud computing created fierce competition for tech talent.
“These are the kinds of hard choices we have made throughout our 47-year history to remain a consequential company in this industry that is unforgiving to anyone who doesn’t adapt to platform shifts,” Satya Nadella, Microsoft’s chief executive, said in a message to staff.
The layoffs, which will begin on Wednesday and continue through March, are the company’s largest in roughly eight years. Mr. Nadella cut about 25,000 jobs over the course of 2014 and 2015 as Microsoft abandoned its ill-fated acquisition of the mobile phone maker Nokia.
Like other tech companies, Microsoft expanded rapidly during the pandemic, hiring more than 75,000 people since 2019. Microsoft’s annual revenue grew 58 percent over three years, but rising interest rates and the prospect of a recession have tempered the company’s outlook. In the quarter that ended in October, it reported its slowest growth in five years and warned that more tepid results could follow.
Customers are seeking “to do more with less,” Mr. Nadella said. “We’re also seeing organizations in every industry and geography exercise caution as some parts of the world are in a recession and other parts are anticipating one.”
The changes, including severance and other restructuring expenses, will cost $1.2 billion, Mr. Nadella said. In a regulatory filing, Microsoft, which makes the Surface line of laptops and tablets, indicated some of the costs would come from making “changes to our hardware portfolio,” as well as consolidating office leases. Microsoft is scheduled to report its quarterly earnings on Tuesday.
Mr. Nadella said the company will continue to hire in strategic areas, and called advances in artificial intelligence “the next major wave of computing.”
The company has been pursuing several expensive bets, including potentially putting another $10 billion into its investment in OpenAI, which makes the explosively popular ChatGPT artificial intelligence system, and a $69 billion acquisition of the video game maker Activision that is facing challenges globally by antitrust regulators.
Other tech giants have also been reducing costs after several years of breakneck expansion. Amazon began what is expected to be a huge round of layoffs on Wednesday, as part of its plans to reduce its corporate work force by about 18,000 jobs.
The business software company Salesforce said this month that it planned to lay off 10 percent of its work force, or about 8,000 employees, and Meta, the parent company of Facebook, announced at the end of last year that it was cutting more than 11,000 jobs."
Monday, January 16, 2023
Scientists steer lightning bolts with lasers for the first time
"Demo during heavy storms at top of a Swiss mountain involved firing powerful laser pulses at thunderclouds
Scientists have steered lightning bolts with lasers for the first time in the field, according to a demonstration performed during heavy storms at the top of a Swiss mountain.
The feat, which involved firing powerful laser pulses at thunderclouds over several months last year, paves the way for laser-based lightning protection systems at airports, launchpads and tall buildings.
“Metal rods are used almost everywhere to protect from lightning, but the area they can protect is limited to a few metres or tens of metres,” said Aurélien Houard, a physicist at École Polytechnique in Palaiseau. “The hope is to extend that protection to a few hundred metres if we have enough energy in the laser.”
Lightning bolts are huge electrical discharges that typically spark over two to three miles. The charge carried in a bolt is so intense that it reaches 30,000C, about five times hotter than the surface of the sun. More than a billion bolts strike Earth each year, causing thousands of deaths, 10 times as many injuries, and damage that runs into tens of billions of dollars.
Traditional lightning rods date back to Benjamin Franklin who used to chase thunderstorms on horseback before his famous kite experiment in 1752. But in more recent times, scientists have looked for other ways to protect buildings and objects from damaging strikes.
Writing in the journal Nature Photonics, Houard and colleagues in Switzerland describe how they carted a powerful laser to the top of the Säntis mountain in north-eastern Switzerland and parked it near a 124m-high telecoms tower that is struck by lightning about 100 times a year.
The scientists waited for storms to gather and between July and September last year, fired rapid laser pulses at thunderclouds for a total of more than six hours. Instruments set up to record lightning strikes showed that the laser diverted the course of four upward lightning discharge over the course of the experiments.
Only one strike, on 21 July, happened in clear enough conditions for the researchers to film the path of the lightning from two directions using high speed cameras several kilometres away. The footage shows that the lightning bolt followed the laser path for about 50 metres, suggesting that the pulses helped steer the strike.
The laser diverts lightning bolts by creating an easier path for the electrical discharge to flow down. When laser pulses are fired into the sky, a change in the refractive index of the air makes them shrink and become so intense that they ionise air molecules around them. This leads to a long chain of what the researchers call filaments in the sky, where air molecules rapidly heat up and race away at supersonic speeds, leaving a channel of low density, ionised air. These channels, which last for milliseconds, are more electrically conductive than the surrounding air, and so form an easier path for the lightning to follow.
The laser is powerful enough to be a risk to the eyes of overflying pilots, and during the experiments air traffic was closed over the test site. But the scientists believe the technology could still be useful, as launchpads and airports often have designated areas where no-fly restrictions apply. “It’s important to consider this aspect of safety,” said Houard.
More powerful lasers that operate at different wavelengths could guide lightning over longer distances, he added, and even trigger lightning before it becomes a threat. “You avoid it going somewhere else where you cannot control it,” Houard said.
“The cost of the laser system is very high compared with that of a simple rod,” said Professor Manu Haddad, director of the Morgan-Botti Lightning Laboratory at Cardiff University. “However, lasers could be a more reliable way to direct the lightning discharge, and this may be important for the lightning protection of critical ground installations and equipment.”
Sunday, January 15, 2023
The sun is crackling with ‘solar flares’. Here’s what that means.
"The sudden flare-up of activity bodes well for a potentially active solar cycle and colorful aurora displays
After a long period of relative slumber, the sun is waking up and sputtering with unrest. Experts say the start of the new “solar cycle” could be roaring in like a lion — with impacts possible here on Earth.
In just the past week, three X-class solar flares — the strongest bracket on the scale — have erupted on the sun’s surface. Solar flares are bursts of energy that travel at the speed of light, composed of electromagnetic radiation that can affect radio communications. None has been aiming toward Earth, but that could change in the weeks ahead.
The sudden flare-up of activity may also be a sign that experts grossly underestimated how busy Solar Cycle 25 — the current iteration of the sun’s magnetic rhythm — will be. A few bold solar physicists have deviated from the consensus expectations, calling instead for a spike of robust storminess on the sun in the years ahead. This new flurry shows those outliers may wind up being right.
Solar flares come from sunspots, or bruiselike discolorations on the surface of the sun that pulsate with energy. They’re also regions from which magnetic flux pours out; those magnetic field lines loop back and reconnect elsewhere on the sun’s surface.
Like stretched rubber bands, sometimes magnetic fields get contorted, causing pent-up energy that must be released. When that happens, a burst of electromagnetism known as a flare is ejected from the parent “sunspot.”
Flares can cause radio blackouts and sometimes interfere with or even damage satellites. They can also deliver harmful radiation to passengers on aircraft passing near the poles.
Sometimes a CME, or coronal mass ejection, can occur as well. CMEs are accompanied by magnetic disturbances that can rattle Earth’s geomagnetic field, triggering vibrant displays of the Northern and Southern lights (aurora borealis and australis). CMEs only affect us if they are Earth-directed.
The number of flares and CMEs that occur is proportional to the number of sunspots on the solar disk. Those sunspots are most common at the peak of each 11-year “solar cycle,” which solar physicists have confirmed is actually a subset of several overlapping cycles on both shorter and longer time frames.
At “solar maximum,” which is estimated to occur in July 2025 (give or take), NASA and NOAA forecasters are anticipating about 115 sunspots per month. But a pair of researchers — Scott McIntosh, deputy director of the National Center for Atmospheric Research, and Bob Leamon, a researcher at the University of Maryland Baltimore County and NASA Goddard — predict twice as many. So far, current trends are on pace for their prediction.
In either case, the number of sunspots, and subsequently flares and CMEs, will increase over the coming two-plus years. It’s a stark change from 2019, during which 77 percent of the year — 281 days total — showed not a single blemish anywhere on the sun.
What’s going on right now?
Over the past week, three X-class flares have spurted off from two eruptive sunspot groups. The sunspot clusters have been named “active region 3186” and “active region 3184,” according to NOAA. Both are located in the eastern hemisphere of the sun; the former is north of the equator, and the latter to the south. Both will rotate more directly toward the center of the solar disk (what’s facing us head-on), and could find themselves in position to affect Earth’s “space weather” in the weeks ahead.
On Tuesday, at least one X flare caused a strong radio blackout. Amateur radio operators and those using sensitive navigation equipment near the poles might may have noticed. Minor shortwave radio blackouts are unlikely to be disruptive to the most people.
In the event of an Earth-directed flare and CME, there’s a chance for more serious geomagnetic storming, which could force power companies and satellite operators to take precautions to protect valuable, sensitive electronics. More pronounced displays of the Northern and Southern lights, possibly down to the mid-latitudes (including the northern United States), may also be in the offing."