Hyperloop company unveils its full-scale 750-mph ‘passenger capsule’



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Hyperloop Transportation Technologies showcased the first full-scale Hyperloop capsule, named ‘Quintero One.’
USA TODAY

LOS ANGELES – If you think of it as a train, it’s really short and really fast.

But it’s not. It’s a “passenger capsule,” just revealed by one of the companies vying to create what has become known as a hyperloop. That’s the system designed to whisk people between cities through tubes.

Hyperloop Transportation Technologies, based in Los Angeles, showed off the sleek capsule capable of carrying 30 to 40 passengers.

The new capsule is “the real deal,” said HyperloopTT CEO Dirk Ahlborn, who unveiled it last week in Spain, where it was built. It will next go to Toulouse, France, for testing next year as the company prepares to build initial hyperloop segments in China and Abu Dhabi.

Ahlborn envisions the capsule being able to travel the more than 400 miles from Los Angeles to San Francisco in 36 minutes, levitating magnetically inside a tube for a complete lack of friction.

Several companies, including those headed by some of the world’s best-known tycoons, are working to be among the first to create a system that would compete for both with high-speed trains and airlines. 

Richard Branson, who is chairman of Virgin Hyperloop One, told CNBC in April that he wants it to be in operation within three years. Elon Musk, CEO of electric-car maker Tesla and rocket company SpaceX, has been backing the Boring Co. in its tunnel-digging efforts that could lead to a hyperloop.

Hyperloop Transportation Technologies, or HyperloopTT, as the company calls itself for short, considers the many rivals an advantage in order to generate interest around the notion of a hyperloop.

“We realized it has to be more than a company. It has to be a movement,” Ahlborn said. “You have the whole world talking hyperloop.”

The capsule is 105 feet long and is made of 82 carbon fiber panels. It is held together with 75,000 rivets, the company said. It has a front end that is sleek and contoured like the high-speed trains in Europe or Japan and a stubby back end.

Ahlborn said about 100 capsules would be needed to operate a line like one from Los Angeles to San Francisco, capable of departures as frequently as 45 seconds apart. He said the capsule was designed for speeds up to 750 mph, but “realistically” would operate at slower speeds, at least initially.

 

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Pumpkin Spice: Love it or leave it

October is here and that can only mean one thing: Pumpkin Spice season is in full bloom! There are two camps of people when it comes to this autumn phenomenon, those who love it and those who don’t. The coffee conglomerate, Starbucks, may be able to take the credit for this crazed movement, as so many years ago they introduced the infamous and limited-edition, seasonal pumpkin spice latte. Every year around the end of August, Starbucks announces when the popular coffee concoction will be available again, and all those on the pumpkin spice train fall in line (literally). 

I must admit, during the first week of September when the pumpkin spice latte was released, I was happily and unabashedly sipping one, riding along in my Suburban pre-Labor Day with temperatures still reaching 100 degrees. This year marks the 15th year Starbucks has had the popular drink on the menu.

Today, so many brands have launched their own pumpkin spice products, far beyond coffee. I read an article recently that said sales for pumpkin-flavored products reached $488.7 million in the past year, which was up 15.5 percent from the previous year, according to the latest Nielsen data! This year’s top pumpkin spice inspired food products include everything from bagels, ice cream and coffee creamer to cereal. I keep a large container of pumpkin spice creamer in my fridge throughout the fall. I embrace everything that is pumpkin spice, however basic pop culture tries to label it. 

It seems no matter what your brand, everyone wants a piece of the pumpkin spice pie. My Aunt posted a photo on Facebook recently of a builders supply store in Griffin Georgia whose outdoor sign read, “Try our new pumpkin spice 2×4’s.” Too funny and what a way to capitalize on such a trending and timely topic. Well played.

Speaking of pumpkin spice pie, I make one every fall, but instead of topping it with regular sweetened whipped cream, I make a buttermilk whipped cream. The buttermilk gives the cream a bit of a tang, and adds a little something extra. Sweet and creamy, the pie itself is mouthwatering served warm or cold. Enjoy a slice with a cup of hot coffee and a good friend. Add this dessert to your Thanksgiving table or autumn baking list and your entire home will beckon the changing leaves.   

Pumpkin Spice Pie with Buttermilk Whipped Cream

  • 1 (15-ounce) can pumpkin
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • 1/2 cup of pumpkin spice syrup
  • 1/3 cup heavy whipping cream
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2 egg yolks
  • 2 tablespoons butter, melted
  • 1 teaspoon (or more to taste) pumpkin pie spice
  • One 9-inch store-bought frozen pie crust 

Directions

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. In a large bowl, whisk together pumpkin and next eight ingredients. Roll thawed pie crust over 9-inch pie plate, crimping edges with a fork. Pour mixture into prepared crust. Bake for 1 hour and 25 to 30 minutes or until center is set and a wooden toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Let cool for 1 hour before serving.

Buttermilk Whipped Cream

(Makes about two cups)

  • 1 cup heavy whipping cream
  • 1/4 cup buttermilk
  • 3 tablespoons firmly packed brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon good pure vanilla extract
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Directions

In a large bowl, beat cream with a mixer at high-speed until soft peaks form. Add all remaining ingredients, and beat until stiff peaks form. Plop a big dollop on top of a slice of pie. Garnish with a dash of cinnamon or pumpkin pie spice. Enjoy!

Food Network Star finalist Rebekah Faulk Lingenfelser is a food enthusiast and writer. Her blog, Some Kinda Good, features local, in-season recipes with Southern coastal influences. A Georgia Southern University alumna, she also attended Savannah Technical College’s Culinary Institute of Savannah. Like Some Kinda Good on Facebook, follow @SKGFoodBlog on Twitter and Instagram or visit RebekahLingenfelser.com.

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Posted October 06, 2018 at 09:27 AM | Updated October 06, 2018 at 09:27 AM

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Could spies actually insert malicious chips into computer circuit boards? A manufacturing expert says it’s possible

Could Chinese spies covertly insert malicious chips into computer circuit boards sold in the United States to the military, Apple, and Amazon?

It’s a wild possibility to think about — but that’s exactly what Bloomberg reported in a deeply reported investigative story this week. It claimed that a supplier named SuperMicro, which manufactures the motherboards, was infiltrated by the spies several years ago.

Muddying the waters, all parties involved vigorously deny the report even as Bloomberg stands by its reporting. Amazon said the inaccuracies are “hard to count.” Apple published a rare 750-word statement in response, calling the report untrue.

It’s not surprising that the situation is unclear. The story touches on matters of international spying, high-tech manufacturing, and the world of information security — three of the most secretive realms in the entire world.

Ultimately, we may never know with a high degree of certainty what actually happened in the past three years, in regards to SuperMicro’s supply chain.

But according to one high-tech manufacturing expert, it’s entirely realistic to think that one bad actor could change the design on a circuit board, and that it wouldn’t be caught until the finished product is out in the wild.

“There’s so much complexity in these products,” Anna-Katrina Shedletsky told Business Insider in a phone interview. “I think what’s really great about that Bloomberg GIF that’s the top of that at the top of their article.”

“See how tiny that chip is? There’s no way human inspector is going to notice that there when it wasn’t supposed to be. Even the engineer who is intimately familiar with the layout of that design may not notice that,” she continued.

Shedletsky would know about detecting issues in contract manufacturing. She’s a cofounder of Instrumental, a company that uses machine learning to head off manufacturing defects, and she estimates she’s spent 500 days in factories in China and around the world, first as a product design engineer at Apple for six years, and later in her role as Instrumental’s CEO.

“I think based on the methodology in which these parts are designed and manufactured, whether it’s a nation-state actor or even just someone else, I don’t actually think it’s hard to inject stuff that the brand or design team didn’t intentionally ask for,” she said. She believes that easily searchable, high-resolution digital photos of circuit boards, one Instrumental’s main products, will become increasingly important as companies implement more controls on the supply chain.

All electronics have a circuit board

Instrumental cofounders Anna Shedletsky and Sam Weiss.
Instrumental

Shedletsky doesn’t have any direct knowledge about the Bloomberg report or how SuperMicro does its manufacturing, and doesn’t know what to think given the strong and detailed denials provided by the companies involved.

“I don’t know what to believe, but at the same time it doesn’t really matter, because it’s possible, and we have to act like it is true to solve the problem,” she said.

After all, Bloomberg alleges that spies were able to put an unwanted chip on a printed circuit board. All electronics have a circuit board in them, she said. And often, one person can change the computer file that has the design.

“The manufacturer doesn’t even need to be nefarious,” she explained, speaking generally. “You just need one person who is going to change the reference design and hit save. Now it’s going to go on any customer that pulls that reference design, for something like a server that’s pretty generic.”

These parts go through an inspection before they’re packed and shipped, but these kind of inspections aren’t set up to detect things that have been added — they’re often more concerned with common issues like whether the solder was properly applied. And if the design document was altered, then these tests wouldn’t pick it up either.

“It would be very easy to get by one of those tests. Those tests are based on what’s called the ‘Gerber file’ or the computer aided design of what’s supposed to be on the board,” she explained.

One problem that has come up in her experience is counterfeits. Sometimes, she said, factories can replace one chip on a circuit board with cheaper, counterfeit alternatives and the company that built the product doesn’t realize until it’s shipping.

Reuters Pictures Archive

“A friend of mine built a product and their batteries started smoking,” she said. “The root cause was that the power chip was a cheaper version that was not on the design. It had less circuitry, but it looked like a power chip and kind of functions like one, but it was a ‘cost-down’ model, like it was a cheaper chip.”

There’s also a range of different levels of security at different factories, she said. In some, everything is locked down and controlled. At others, circuit boards and other parts are seen as less critical than stuff like the enclosures, which can be considered super-secret.

In general, though, she doesn’t worry about consumer devices like smartphones from big, well-resourced brands like Apple being vulnerable to hardware attacks like the one Bloomberg alleges — there are simply too many people looking at the design and finished product.

But that still leaves a lot of vulnerable products out there.

“Even regardless of whether it’s true or not, if you were a SuperMicro customer for the last four years, five years you might be thinking, ‘do any of our server boards have problematic stuff going on?'” Shedletsky said. “I would be asking myself if I was a customer. Because it’s so plausible, there could be more we don’t know about.”

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Some Amazon Workers Fear They’ll Earn Less Even With a $15 Minimum Wage

When Amazon announced Tuesday that it was raising its minimum wage to $15 an hour for all employees, even vocal critics of its labor practices like Senator Bernie Sanders praised the company. The retail giant’s decision will undoubtedly put more money into the hands of its workers—especially the some 100,000 temporary US employees Amazon plans to hire in the coming months for the holiday season. But some Amazon workers, including one who spoke with WIRED, think they will earn less under the new policy—even though they are receiving an hourly raise.

The reason is that in addition to raising wages, Amazon is also slashing some performance bonuses and its restricted stock unit program. In total, workers say losing the benefits may amount to thousands of dollars in lost pay annually. The median salary for Amazon employees in the US, including stock and bonuses, is $34,123, according to the company. (That figure takes into account white collar workers at Amazon’s Seattle headquarters.)

During the holiday season in particular, the soon-to-be cut bonuses can be worth upwards of $300 per month, says the employee WIRED spoke with. “The timing of this; I don’t think it’s that much of a coincidence,” says the worker, who is employed at an Amazon fulfillment center on the East Coast. “November and December were the months where they would double the attendance and productivity bonuses.” (WIRED is granting the worker anonymity to protect them from reprisal from their employer.)

It’s not just bonuses that are being cut. Amazon is also ending its lucrative restricted stock unit program (RSU), which allows employees to vest stocks in the company after two years. In recent years, Amazon has steadily decreased the number of RSUs it has given employees as its stock price more than doubled. Warehouse workers were typically given several RSUs per year, though the number has shrunk as Amazon’s shares have soared in value, according to the employee.

Amazon said in its blog post announcing the $15 minium wage that it was choosing to phase out RSUs because “we’ve heard from our hourly fulfillment and customer service employees that they prefer the predictability and immediacy of cash.” The company says it will replace the program with a direct stock purchase plan before the end of next year and that hourly raises are meant to help compensate for the loss in RSUs. But Amazon has still been vague about how it plans to account for the lost productivity bonuses, which leaves some workers worried.

“There are a lot of people who are upset,” says the Amazon worker. “[Employees] got a bigger raise, but it still didn’t make up for the shares plus the bonuses.”

There is also still confusion about whether Whole Foods employees, some of which are reportedly trying to form a union, may still be offered an equity program, according to Gizmodo. (Amazon acquired the high-end grocery chain last year.)

Amazon disputes that any employees will make less as a result of the RSU program and incentive bonuses being cut. “The significant increase in hourly cash wages more than compensates for the phase out of incentive pay and RSUs,” a spokesperson for the company said in a statement. “We can confirm that all hourly Operations and Customer Service employees will see an increase in their total compensation as a result of this announcement. In addition, because it’s no longer incentive-based, the compensation will be more immediate and predictable.”

The employee who spoke with WIRED maintains they will lose at least $1,400 per year as a result of the benefits being cut, despite factoring in a $1 raise in hourly pay. When WIRED provided Amazon with the employee’s calculations, the company did not dispute their accuracy.

In one sense, Amazon has good reason to cut the benefits it previously offered and instead provide employees with more cash. One of the soon-to-expire bonuses, for example, was given based on whether an employee’s entire warehouse met its productivity goals—a factor no single worker can control. RSUs also aren’t vested for two years; many warehouse employees don’t work at the company long enough to claim them, causing millions to be forfeited each year.

“It’s not fair to offer [Amazon workers] compensation that most of them won’t get,” says Valerie Frederickson, the CEO and founder of Silicon Valley human resource firm Frederickson Partners. “In a way, it’s false compensation.”

But raising hourly wages and cutting the aforementioned benefits may still hurt some Amazon workers—particularly those that perform well at their job and have stuck around long enough to claim equity in the company. Amazon’s new compensation structure appears designed more to attract new employees in today’s tight labor market, rather than to keep loyal workers at the company for longer. After all, in the next several weeks, Amazon will need to begin competing against other retailers who are also hiring extra holiday season help.

Amazon likely also raised its minimum wage to stave off criticism from politicians like Sanders, who last month introduced legislation literally called the Stop BEZOS Act, which is designed to hold large employers financially accountable when their low-wage workers need to rely on public benefits like food stamps to make ends meet. The bill was introduced after Amazon spent months responding to negative reports about its grueling low-wage labor practices.

By raising wages, Amazon may also be attempting to ensure its employees don’t choose to collectively organize. Late last month, Gizmodo published excerpts from a training video the company distributed to Whole Foods managers that appears to teach them how to identify and dissuade employees who may be forming a union. Amazon workers have also repeatedly tried to organize for years. But by introducing a compensation structure that could hand some long-term employees the short end of the stick, Amazon’s plan to cool the desire for collective bargaining may have backfired.


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