Future Tense
The Citizen's Guide to the Future

Oct. 21 2016 6:41 PM

How Low-G Coffee Cups Could Help Get Us to Mars

If you’re a coffee lover, there’s nothing quite as enjoyable as sitting by a window and watching the sunrise, hot mug of java in hand. But until recently, caffeine-loving astronauts have had to check their hot beverage sipping habits at the airlock. Despite the installation of an espresso maker on the International Space Station, and what is arguably the greatest window view in the solar system, the ISS crew has been stuck sipping beverages from a pouch. Floating spheres of scalding hot liquid are an operational hazard.

That may change with the invention of a new coffee cup by mechanical engineering professor Mark Weislogel and his team at Portland State University. In this video from NASA, Weislogel describes how the unique geometry of the cup—it looks like the offspring of a demitasse and a gravy boat after a topological deformation—takes advantage of surface tension to keep hot liquids from floating free. Normally overwhelmed and masked by gravity on Earth, Weislogel says surface tension and capillary forces create a gradient such that when astronauts puts their lips to the cup, the liquid inside is driven into their mouths. ISS crew members are seen passing cups filled with hot coffee to one another, the vessels tumbling through the air without losing a drop.


Although it cannot be denied they contribute to crew morale, space lattes are really just a proof of concept prototype. There are real challenges to designing fluid systems—such as refrigeration, or waste and fuel management—that will work when you cannot count on gravity to direct the fluid, Weislogel says. By studying how geometry can stand in for gravity and control liquids in microgravity, Weislogel and his team hope to create more reliable, passive systems necessary for long term space flight. A failure in your potable water system on the ISS means no espresso for a while—but on a voyage to Mars, it could be fatal.

Oct. 21 2016 4:53 PM

The Unexpected Beauty of Burning Steel Wool

Normally, oxidation is boring: You leave a wet steel wool scrubbing pad on your sink and a few days later you wind up with a rusty pad and a stain on your counter. But speed the oxidation up a bit—say, with a blowtorch—and you get a light show to rival the best fireworks display.

In this video, the folks at Macro Room turn their highly focused attention on the burning tendrils of clumps of steel wool—as well as a few choice props. Iconic Pokémon Pikachu sits in the midst of a cloud of electric spark, while a wooden figure holds a cloud of orange-hot traces of incandescent steel. A wicker man miniature in hi-def. There are moments where the burning metal seems almost alive, the sparkling lights the synapses of some strange brain.


In the final scene, a clump of steel wool is attached to a small motor, ignited, and spun to creating a burning ring of fire spitting orange sparks in every direction. Some (rather brave) people attempt a similar trick with large clumps of burning steel wool spun like fire poir at the end of a rope, making for some incredible still photography. This video shows these fiery metal filaments might well be their most beautiful seen through the aperture of a macro lens.

Oct. 21 2016 4:06 PM

Google Changed a Major Privacy Policy Four Months Ago, and No One Really Noticed

For almost 10 years, Google promised to protect users’ privacy from advertisers by keeping personally identifiable information about its users, gleaned from Gmail accounts and other Google services, separate from its subsidiary DoubleClick’s database of web-browsing records.

But the company quietly updated its privacy policy in June to say that users’ activities on other sites “may be associated with your personal information,” ProPublica reported Friday. Google’s previous privacy policy, which is literally crossed through in front of its new one in Google’s new privacy policy, had pledged to “not combine DoubleClick cookie information with personally identifiable information” without users’ consent.

Oct. 21 2016 3:22 PM

If You Still Don’t Get How Global Warming Will Alter Everything, Read Some Climate Fiction

Earth is hotter in 2016 than it has been in 115,000 years, according to a (not yet peer-reviewed) paper from climate change pioneer and former NASA scientist James Hansen and an international team of colleagues, published Oct. 4.

Colossal numbers like this are certainly alarming. But the bombshells that should motivate us to start making big changes immediately often fall into a familiar trap of troubling climate change news. Climate change is a gradual force, a creeping calamity. The roughly half of us who believe it’s caused by human activity say, “We’ve got to do something about this, and quick.” But it’s abstract. The signal of a changing climate is too easily lost in the noise of fluctuating weather patterns and the usual daily catastrophes of the 24-hours news cycle. Other divisive issues, like abortion rights, are more tangible, and they come with human protagonists and antagonists. As Phil Plait put it: “Part of the problem … is the scope and scale of climate change itself coupled with our puny brains trying to deal with it.”


This is where climate fiction can help out. A genre of speculative storytelling dedicated to exploring the effects of climate change on humans and Earth, climate fiction is an increasingly recognizable part of the literary landscape, with entries in 2015 alone ranging from Paolo Bacigalupi’s hardboiled thriller The Water Knife to Claire Vaye Watkins’ dreamy Gold Fame Citrus. Climate fiction makes climate change a stage for playing out compelling human dramas: fractured families, political intrigue, bitter arguments. It’s flexible enough to accommodate thrilling stories about geoengineering and water wars, but also more reflective, elegiac narratives (like Barbara Kingsolver’s Flight Behavior) about people’s frustration or wistful nostalgia for a world and a way of life being wiped away.

Like a lot of good literature, climate fiction can help us to empathize with people whose lives are utterly different from our own. When I talked with Bacigalupi about this last fall, he said that fostering empathy is fiction’s “superpower.” In The Water Knife, he unfolds a story of a climate change-powered megadrought in the U.S. Southwest through the eyes of a jaded hired gun, a climate refugee forced into sex work for subsistence, and a fatally persistent investigative journalist. Each character illuminates different aspects of the climate crisis, helping us to construct a holistic picture of the messy human consequences of drastic environmental transformation.

Presenting a diversity of perspectives is important, because climate change looks dramatically different depending on where you are and who you are. In Everything Change—a new, free anthology of climate fiction I co-edited—our stories take place in locations including Tibet, Madagascar, Venice, Malaysia, and rural New England. In some of these places, the stories show climate change leading to catastrophic flooding or extreme storm systems, while in others, it ignites ethnic tensions, kills coral reefs, destroys local crops and indigenous cuisines, fuels catastrophic wildfires, or turns a sturdy umbrella into a rare and expensive treasure. And in almost every story in the book, climate change sets off deep conversations, vexing arguments, and frustrated hopes and ambitions within friendships, families, romantic relationships, and small, close-knit communities. (Everything Change is published by Arizona State University’s Imagination and Climate Futures Initiative; Future Tense is a partnership of Slate, ASU, and New America.)

Everything Change Cover

Climate fiction can help us see how a rapidly changing planet affects people in a host of geographically specific ways. The challenges are very different in coastal regions than in landlocked cities. Changes in the planet’s temperature might create floods, fires, or food shortages, as we’ve all heard, but also rampant xenophobia and other surprising manifestations. Our stories highlight how the disruptions caused by climate change will likely exacerbate existing inequalities based on race, ethnicity, social class, gender, religion, and more. In Everything Change, for elites, climate change might be an occasion for an unexpected political realignment, or the establishment of secret mountain oases where privileged people rebuild the world with the help of advanced science. For marginalized people, it often spells displacement, deprivation, unsafe food and water, and increased scrutiny from law enforcement and military forces. Climate fiction makes these nuances emotionally immediate. Intellectually, sure, we know that a changing climate matters differently in different geographic locations. But the right story can help make those distinctions feel real and urgent. It broadens the scope of our personal experience of climate change beyond the vagaries of the weather.

Some of the most moving stories in our anthology are about resilience and mutual support: a Burning Man-style collective of geo-hackers working on the fringes of society to save the Florida Everglades, or a family of Venetian artisans safeguarding the traditions of gondola-building and glass-blowing even as the city itself is reclaimed by rising seas. In another story, two young climate refugees face a bleak future living rough on tiny boats tethered to a rocky island, but they find hope and exhilaration in the bespoke bicycles they build meticulously from salvaged scrap metal.

It’s too late to avoid the effects of climate change entirely; it’s already happening. Climate fiction is an affordable laboratory for ideas about how we can adapt in the face of change, and how we can respond in ways that are equitable and ensure livable lives for the most vulnerable populations.

Oct. 21 2016 3:09 PM

The East Coast Cyberattack: What We Know Now

If you’re located in the Eastern United States, odds are good that you’ve noticed that the internet is a little ragged today. On Friday morning, a distributed denial of service attack against the company Dyn brought down websites and apps across the internet, temporarily barring access to Twitter, Pinterest, WhatsApp, and more for millions of users. While Dyn was able to stabilize the situation within a few hours, a second DDoS attack began in the early afternoon, again disrupting services across the web.

Dyn provides domain name system services, translating common internet addresses into machine-legible information that ensures you get to where you’re trying to go on the web. So every request you make for a website has to go through a DNS server. (If you want a more detailed explanation for how DNS works, here's one from Verisign, another company that works in this space.) As Lily Hay Newman explains in Wired, DDoS attacks against DNS services are effective because “an attacker can take out the entire Internet for any end user whose DNS requests route through a given server.” That is, they can bring down entire swaths of the internet, not just individual sites.


Some initial speculation (including ours here at Future Tense) suggested that the problems might have originated with an Amazon Web Services data center in Northern Virginia. That now appears to be only partly true. An early afternoon update to the AWS service health dashboard claimed that the problems had been resolved. Amazon did not directly point to Dyn, instead more ambiguously acknowledging, “The root cause was an availability event that occurred with one of our third party DNS service providers.” That provider is presumably Dyn.

In the same update, Amazon claims that it has resolved the incident, and asserts that “all security controls continued to operate normally” throughout. Despite that, it states, “Customers that independently utilize the third party DNS service provider may continue experiencing errors resolving DNS names hosted with that provider.” In other words, there may still be problems, but Amazon doesn’t take any responsibility for them.

Significantly, we don’t yet know who perpetrated the attacks against Dyn or why. While Reuters reports that both U.S. Homeland Security and the Federal Bureau of Investigation are looking into the situation, they don’t name any suspects or otherwise indicate who is being investigated.

The security researcher Brian Krebs brings up one possibility in a blog post.* Krebs notes that the initial attack unfolded “just hours after DYN researcher Doug Madory presented a talk on DDoS attacks.” (You can listen to that talk here, though it’s quite technical.) Notably, that talk tied back to earlier work by both Krebs and Madory on DDoS extortion. Krebs is careful to insist that we can’t confirm this connection with any certainty. For maybe the first time this year, though, criminal revenge seems just a little more likely than state-sponsored hackers.

We will update this post as more information becomes available.

Update, Oct. 21, 4:35 p.m.: While we still don't know who is behind the attacks, their methodology seems increasingly clear. Citing Flashpoint, a security intelligence firm, Forbes reports that the attackers appear to have used a Mirai botnet against Dyn.

Mirai botnets exploit Internet of Things devices, taking advantage their frequently low security to employ them in DDoS offensives. In late September, someone going by the handle Anna-senpai released Mirai's source code, and the number of attacks employing it have apparently risen in the subsequent weeks.

In an update to his initial blog post about the attacks, Krebs writes, “I have heard from a trusted source who’s been tracking this activity and saw chatter in the cybercrime underground yesterday discussing a plan to attack Dyn.”

Update, Oct. 22, 10:47 a.m.: In a new blog post published Friday night, Krebs laid out and further expanded on Flashpoint’s findings. Krebs writes that according to the firm, the majority of the compromised devices employed in the attack were digital video recorders and cameras produced by a Chinese company called XiongMai Technologies.

Many of these devices reportedly have passwords “hardcoded into the firmware,” according to Flashpoint research developer Zach Wikholm. Even if a user changes the default username and password on their purchase, these alternate access points persist. It can be difficult for the end user to even detect such vulnerabilities in a device—and may be all but impossible for an individual to correct them.

To put that plainly, the problem here probably wasn’t with personal cybersecurity. Instead, it’s that companies are manufacturing devices that weren’t secure in the first place and probably can’t be secured after the fact. As Krebs explains, this is all the more worrisome, because the compromised devices are simply out there. Short of a “global cleanup effort” to pull them out of circulation, we’ll likely see more attacks like the one against Dyn in the days and months ahead.

*Correction, Oct. 21, 2016: This post originally misspelled Brian Krebs’ last name.

Oct. 21 2016 2:26 PM

Tesla Says Customers Can’t Use Its Self-Driving Cars for Uber

On Tuesday, Oct. 25, Future Tense will host an event in Washington, D.C., on how technology is changing the nature of ownership. For more information and to RSVP, visit the New America website.

It’s always in the fine print. When Tesla announced its upcoming models, the company said all of the cars could be used as driverless vehicles—but not, in some circumstances, for Uber-style activities outside of a service Tesla itself plans to announce.


“[U]sing a self-driving Tesla for car sharing and ride hailing for friends and family is fine, but doing so for revenue purposes will only be permissible on the Tesla Network, details of which will be released next year,” the company said on a webpage listing features and terms.



Tesla’s warning to future customers was only the latest demonstration of our emerging “you don’t own it, you’re just using it” world. It’s bad enough when we’re restricted in using media, games, and so many other things. It’s more than that when we start applying the notion to fundamental parts of our lives, such as our ability to get where we need to go.

This is why the seemingly unstoppable move toward autonomous vehicles—cars guided and controlled by a networked combination of internal and external sensors and computers—has implications far beyond proponents’ hoo-rah boosterism. Unquestionably, vehicles not controlled directly by humans would be a huge benefit in some ways.

But the word directly is important. Autonomous cars will still be controlled by humans, in a way. They’ll be controlled via algorithms—computer programs written by human computer programmers who design the systems for specific goals and outcomes.

The goals would mostly be laudable: more efficiency in using the roads, leading to lower construction costs; fewer accidents that cause death, injury, and damage to property; better options for people, such as the elderly, who shouldn’t be driving; among other things.

But if Tesla can prevent you from operating your car in a way it finds objectionable from a business standpoint, it—or Ford, GM, Toyota, or any other manufacturer—could make similar choices, choices that go well beyond ride-sharing. Cars controlled by centralized companies—and governments that will regulate them—will be a nightmare for privacy and liberty, especially the latter.

When a small group of large companies sells most of our cars, you can bet they’ll all insist on as much control as possible and as little for you as they can get away with. Even now, cars can be disabled remotely when a borrower falls behind on a car loan; imagine a day when the lender (often the car company) simply brings the vehicle back to the lot and invites the passenger to get out. Worse: We already have an opaque and unfair “no fly” list. Our “no drive” list is, essentially, people who don’t have licenses—an easily extensible notion with autonomous cars. But what happens when there’s a “no travel” list that prevents certain people from even riding in a car? It’s coming.

I admire Elon Musk’s vision and drive (pun intended). With Tesla and, more so, SpaceX, he and his colleagues are pushing us into a future that will take advantage of technology in often-disruptive but also valuable ways.

But Tesla’s upcoming restrictions are a part of the future that we need to prevent. It may be good business for Elon Musk and his shareholders to tell us what we may or may not do with the company’s very expensive cars. In fact, when it comes to how you will use a vehicle you purchase, it should be your business, as long as you’re not breaking the law, and no one else’s.

Oct. 21 2016 11:58 AM

Why Did This Guy Collect 500 Screenshots of Soda Machines in Video Games? Because He’s a Genius.

There are few constants in the history of video gaming. But if one thing links all those role-playing games and first-person shooters, beat-’em-ups and adventure games, it’s probably the soda machines.

By way of evidence, look no further than the Video Game Soda Machine Project, a comprehensive—and constantly growing—archive of screenshots from video games new and old, each of them featuring a soda machine.


Maintained by political science professor and amateur game designer Jess Morrissette, the VGSMP features astonishing array of images. Morrissette began his archive in August 2016 while playing Batman: Arkham Knight, where he spotted a machine that initially intrigued him for its incongruity. “I just thought it was interesting, in this very dark and shadowy game, to see this really brightly lit up soda machine pop up out of nowhere,” he told me.

Batman Arkham Knight
Batman: Arkham Knight


Thinking others might share his amusement, he posted a screenshot on Twitter, and before long his followers were helping him identify other examples. “What started out as a joke became a kind of fun challenge, just seeing how many of these we could track down,” Morrissette said.

Beavis and Butt-Head Virtual Stupidity
Beavis and Butt-Head in Virtual Stupidity


Since then, Morrissette has accumulated more than 500 examples. There’s a soda machine propped up against a wall in the 1995 Beavis and Butt-Head in Virtual Stupidity and another in the seminal Final Fantasy VII. There are the enticing ones found on the streets of Overwatch and others shining in the corridors of DARK. You may not be able to find one in every game, but Morrissette’s collection makes a compelling case that they’re unexpectedly frequent.

In the course of assembling his archive, Morrissette has come across some particularly delicious examples. He takes special pleasure, he said, in those that parody familiar brands. As both a professor and a dedicated Dr Pepper drinker, he was especially amused to come across a machine hawking Professor Doctor soda in F.E.A.R. 2. Other notable oddities include a wasabi steak–flavored soda in Infamous Second Son and the perfectly named Handsomeman Executive Cola in Killer7. (That same Killer7 machine also dispenses Creamy Southern Coffee and Bloody Tomato Juice, about which the less said the better.)



Silly as the VGSMP can get, Morrissette has done some serious thinking about its contents. In the past—most notably in conversation with All Tech Considered’s Gabriel Rosenberg—he’s identified a handful of reasons for the prevalence of these machines. Most notably, as he told Rosenberg, they may work as “a shorthand for modernity.” Expanding on that point over the phone, he suggested to me that they serve as anchors, objects “that we can latch onto and say, OK, this is a real world. Maybe I can immerse myself in it a little more deeply.

In that respect, Morrissette’s endeavor has already begun to influence the way he thinks about his own game design projects. Though none of his games have featured soda machines, the many examples he’s studied have him thinking about other ways of quickly conveying a sense of connection to a virtual world. At the moment, that’s come up in an American Revolutionary War–era game he’s working on. “A soda machine would be out-of-place there, but I’m trying to think about what would be like a soda machine to convey realism in the world we’re trying to create,” Morrissette told me.

FEAR 2 Project Origin
F.E.A.R. 2: Project Origin


Circling back to the reasons he first started the project, however, Morrissette has to admit that sometimes soda machines are fun because they don’t fit in. They regularly show up, for example, in the Monkey Island games, a series of goofy adventure titles set in a pirate-ruled (and ghost-haunted) Caribbean. “The Monkey Island example is a good one,” Morrissette said. “In fact, I think it’s the first soda machine I remember encountering in a video game.” It stuck out, he added because it didn’t belong, much like the richly illuminated model that showed up in Arkham Knight. Though they often blend in, it’s the more incongruous examples that are the most fun.

Even when the machines don’t belong, though, Morrissette thinks they still speak to something familiar. “The idea that when I need something there’s a vending machine where I can just insert some gold coins or cash and get the thing I need is something all of us know from our real lives,” he said. They resonate because they express a feeling of pleasure on demand—the possibility of getting what we want when we want it. In that respect, they may not be unlike video games themselves.

Oct. 21 2016 10:36 AM

Nintendo Switch Brings Back a Classic Part of Old-School Gaming

Here’s something I never thought I’d be saying in 2016: Nintendo is having one hell of a year. The 127-year-old Japanese company has earned some of the splashiest press on a near-quarterly basis, and it’s well deserved. The trend started when the company used augmented reality to create the mega-successful Pokémon Go. In the early fall, Nintendo partnered to bring the classic Mario franchise to Apple’s range of products.

Best of all: This week, it announced a brand-new offering with an all-in one gaming system that seeks to combine the at-home console with the portable gaming device.


The Nintendo Switch, which will be released in 2017, is notable for a number of reasons. First, the new console will enable franchises like The Legend of Zelda and Mario Kart to consolidate, instead of releasing some titles exclusively on the handheld and others for the home console. It marks the long-awaited return of third-party games to the Nintendo ecosystem. And of course it means that instead of having to buy two systems, you can just buy one. But there’s one change in particular that serves a reminder of just how innovative and agile the brand—which spent the last decade struggling­­–can be. Nintendo is going old-school.

If you pay close enough attention to the release trailer that came out on Thursday, you’ll notice that the players aren’t inserting discs into the console. Instead, they’re doing the most 20th-century thing ever: loading cartridges into a gaming system. But while it might look like an eyeroll-worthy attempt to pander to the bizarre strain of ’90s nostalgia, this isn’t just a gimmick. It’s smart for Nintendo and good for consumers.

The shift away from cartridges and toward optical discs began in 1992, with a failed attempt at an add-on CD-ROM drive for the Sega Genesis, but took off in earnest with 1993’s 3DO and 1994’s PlayStation. Companies began moving to disc out of the belief that they could contain more data and would ultimately cost less to produce. But with the discs emerged a whole host of problems that can’t be solved by simply blowing on a hunk of plastic and inserting it again (a trick that has questionable merit but somehow seemed to work a fraction of the time, if you just believed). A little smudge can cause the system to give an irritating error message. A scratch from a stray pet hair can ruin your favorite game or movie. Plus, optical drives (and their accompanying discs) aren’t agile enough to handle the GPU/CPU data needs that accompany those mind-blowing graphics in your latest gaming purchase, which can lead to a Netflix-like bout of buffering and pixilation when you least expect it.

But the biggest downside of the shift affected systems like Xbox and Playstation: Saving a game requires storage that doesn’t come built into the disc­. The Wii U is the only current platform that enables disc storage. With other systems, you have to pay for extra memory for the console, or else you’ll spend a lot of time rage-quitting due to an overexhausted processor.

Cartridges, on the other hand, create a much more pleasant user experience: Not only is the game physically more durable, it also means that when you buy the console, you buy the storage. It also means that the high-quality look and feel of a game won’t be compromised by a flaw in an optical disc or disc reader, which comes as a huge relief after a decade of products with an identifiable lifespan.

It gives me hope that for the first time in recent memory, Nintendo might, might release a console that is not a disappointment. Here’s hoping that The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, the much-anticipated release which has now been bumped to 2017 to coincide with the Switch release, is the follow-up to Ocarina of Time that we—OK, I—have been waiting for all these years.

Oct. 21 2016 10:03 AM

How Samsung’s Exploding-Battery Disaster Could Lead to Something Great

This post originally appeared on The Conversation.


Most accidents caused by smartphones stem from distracted drivers or pedestrians. But a phone that bursts into flames—as Samsung’s Galaxy Note 7s have been doing—comes with the scariness of uncertainty, especially when these fires take place in airplane cabins.


From the publicly available information, it doesn’t seem that Samsung knows the actual technicalities of the problem, and external experts know even less. This uncertainty could cause consumer confidence to wobble, which makes it vital for the whole industry to identify and fix the problem as quickly as possible. In the meantime, Samsung has warned the debacle could cost the company more than $2 billion over the next six months, on top of the costs of recalling millions of handsets.

The sheer scale of the problem could, however, be a unique opportunity to improve battery safety across the industry for the future. If Samsung made its faulty batteries available to researchers, it could effectively crowd-source work into why they went wrong. This would provide much-needed insight into how batteries and their manufacture could be improved.

Scientists and engineers in battery research, both in industry and academia, have a closely related problem. Research on battery safety is more important than ever, but it is very difficult to get hold of batteries that are actually faulty. You can artificially introduce obstacles into a model production line, but then you are only investigating a self-created problem, which limits potential to learn new lessons.

The Note 7 recall could provide researchers with a huge batch of potentially faulty batteries. Samsung, with its millions of recalled handsets, could turn a corporate and environmental nightmare into a benefit for scientific research by initiating a global crowd-sourcing consortium of hundreds of academic battery laboratories.

One of the big questions is exactly what’s going wrong with the Note 7 batteries. A previous mass recall of faulty batteries by Sony in 2006 was down to the presence of small metal particles left in the battery cells by the manufacturing process. As the battery was charged and discharged, or put under mechanical pressure, these particles led to the growth of little trees of metallic lithium known as dendrites in one of the electrodes. These eventually penetrated the battery’s other electrode and caused a short circuit. They then heated up like a wire in a traditional light bulb and ignited the flammable electrolyte in the cell, consuming oxygen from the positive electrode material.

Nobody yet knows if the Note 7 battery has suffered a similar problem. Today’s battery technology has moved on, packing more energy into the same space than in 2006. Modern batteries are built using advanced manufacturing techniques that coat powerful thin layers of active electrode materials onto thin aluminum and copper foils.

Metal particles of the kind that caused the problems back in 2006—big rocks in relation to the tiny structures in today’s batteries—would cause modern batteries to fail before they leave the factory. But the Note 7 battery problem could be caused by much smaller dust-type particles, small voids in the electrode material or just manufacturing inconsistencies.

All lithium ion batteries undergo the so-called “formation” process after the mechanical manufacturing. This involves charging and discharging them a fixed number of times in a way that forms internal protection layers and allows any side-reaction to happen in a controlled way. Cells that show any irregularities will be recycled. But this process can’t (yet) detect symptoms that would point towards a future failure. We would know about such a problem only once hundreds of thousands of units have been manufactured.

But Samsung’s problem gives us an opportunity to study battery failure in much greater depth. This could allow us to improve future manufacturing technology and defect detection. By agreeing a portfolio of diagnosis methods with the firm, scientists around the world could find out what’s wrong with the faulty cells. They could also work out methods to spot problem cells before they dangerously heat up, and fix the production process accordingly and introduce a new post-production check.

The biggest problem perhaps would be Samsung’s guarding of its intellectual property, which may explain why the company hasn’t had its Note 7 batteries tested externally already, despite it being considered good practice in the industry. But the risk of corporate damage resulting from the disclosure of a few company secrets would arguably be much smaller than that caused to consumer confidence by battery failures on any future models.

The Conversation

Oct. 21 2016 9:01 AM

This Is Probably Why a Whole Lot of the Internet Went Down This Morning

Update, October 21, 11:00 a.m.: Internet infrastructure company Dyn acknowledged that a distributed denial of service attack against its systems had caused disruptions. According to Dyn’s post, the disruptions primarily affected customers throughout the “US East.” Dyn claims, “Services have been restored to normal as of” 9:20 a.m. Speaking to Motherboard, Doug Madory, Dyn director of internet analysis, “said that there was ‘no doubt’ that Dyn was the primary target of the attack.

At one point Friday, Bloomberg Technology claimed, “It wasn’t immediately clear if the web outages were related, or whether Amazon Web Services was also the victim of a hack.” But by Friday evening, the site had deleted the line.*


Original post:

Sometime on Friday morning, something went wrong on the internet. Users noticed that a handful of familiar web services started failing to load, more or less simultaneously. Those services included PayPal, Twitter, Pintrest, and WhatsApp.

As of 8:30 a.m., those problems had spread more widely. According to the site Is It Down Right Now?, which monitors service disruptions across the internet, problems had also spread to encompass platforms such as Reddit and news sites including BuzzFeed. And some other sites appeared to be working, but only sluggishly.

The good news? By 9 a.m. many of the disrupted services were already accessible again. Moreover, much of the internet never seems to have gone down in the first place. Google and Facebook, for example, didn’t stop working in the first place, which may speak to what happened.

It seems likely that the problem derives from an issue with Amazon Web Services, the cloud computing platform the provides the backbone for much of the internet. Slate’s director of technology, Greg Lavallee, reports that Amazon Web Services posted a message to its status site this morning indicating that it was “investigating elevated errors resolving the DNS hostname used to access the EC2 APIs.”* Though Amazon is rarely forthcoming with information about service disruptions, the irregularity in question appears to be connected to a Northern Virginia data center.

It’s worth saying that this isn’t the first time such problems have cropped up. A similar early morning outage occurred in 2011, for example, and there have been other instances. We’ve contacted Amazon Web Services for comment and will update this post when we know more.

*Update, Oct. 21, 10:15 p.m.: This piece was updated to reflect that Bloomberg Technology had removed from an article about the outage a line speculating about whether Amazon Web Services was the victim of a hack.

*Correction, Oct. 21: This post originally indicated that Amazon had sent an email notice about the outage at 5:15 a.m. It did not.