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This is SpaceX’s big chance to really make history

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On Wednesday, May 27, at 4:33 p.m. US Eastern Time, NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley are scheduled to launch into orbit for a rendezvous with the International Space Station. This is standard stuff, except for three important facts: it will be the first time in almost nine years that American astronauts have flown to space from American soil; it will be the first time in history astronauts have reached low Earth orbit on a commercially built rocket and spacecraft; and it will the first time in its 18-year history that SpaceX has launched humans into space.

The mission, called Demo-2, is set to take off from Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Behnken and Hurley will fly to the ISS aboard the SpaceX Crew Dragon, launched using the company’s flagship Falcon 9 rocket. The mission could last anywhere between 30 and 119 days, depending on the status of Crew Dragon and whether NASA needs the pair to stay longer to help out with operations on the station. The agency won’t make that decision until they are already in orbit. Regardless, 119 days is the maximum because Crew Dragon’s solar arrays are currently not designed to withstand degradation for longer than 120 days. 

The launch date for the follow-up Crew Dragon mission to the ISS, Crew-1, won’t be set until Demo-1 returns safely to Earth. That mission, which plans to take one Japanese and three American astronauts into space, will use a version of the capsule that’s designed to last 210 days in orbit. 

NASA has not launched humans into space from American soil since the space shuttle flew for the last time on July 21, 2011. The plan has always been for NASA to turn over its low-Earth-orbit missions to the private sector—first for cargo resupply missions to the ISS and then for astronaut flights themselves through the Commercial Crew Program (CCP). NASA gave massive contracts to Boeing and SpaceX to build the crew vehicles required—and hoped to have them up and running by 2017. 

In the interim, NASA has paid Russia more than $4 billion to take its astronauts to the ISS aboard Soyuz missions. But the timeline slipped, forcing NASA to shell out additional money for Soyuz tickets and at one point raising the strange possibility the ISS would be unoccupied for the first time in two decades. The financial burden and the cratering of US-Russian relations through the last decade put more pressure on NASA to end its reliance on Soyuz. A successful Demo-2 mission gives NASA a preferable new option for its human spaceflight program. 

SpaceX and Boeing have almost never been on schedule. Although SpaceX aced all its major tests, it experienced its most significant setback in April 2019, when a launchpad fire destroyed one of its Crew Dragon capsules just a month after the vehicle finished a successful uncrewed test flight. That explosion eventually pushed Demo-2 into 2020. The December test flight for Starliner, meanwhile, never even made it to the ISS because of one of many software glitches. Boeing will redo this mission later in the fall

Wednesday’s mission, nevertheless, is a big leap forward for both SpaceX and the commercial space industry. SpaceX CEO Elon Musk wants to send humans to Mars one day through its Starship vehicle and establish a sustainable interplanetary transportation system. Crew Dragon is the first step toward making SpaceX a human spaceflight company, and the vehicle itself is expected to run private astronaut and tourist missions in the coming years. If successful, Crew Dragon’s and Starliner’s inaugural crewed missions will demonstrate that private spaceflight is technically viable, although the companies will still have to make the business case. 

The Commercial Crew Program wasn’t simply a selfless act by NASA to open up opportunities to private industry; it was also a way to save money. In the space shuttle’s heyday, each mission cost nearly $1.8 billion (in 2020 dollars). Now NASA is paying SpaceX $55 million per astronaut for every Crew Dragon mission. A recent analysis by the Planetary Society estimates that NASA has invested just $6.6 billion to bring Crew Dragon and Starliner to the launchpad—much cheaper than what the agency likely would have spent developing its own vehicle for low-Earth-orbit transportation. Instead, NASA has focused its own resources on developing deep-space architecture for a return to the moon and eventual travel to Mars (that program is also far behind schedule).

There’s been a fair share of criticism directed at NASA’s and SpaceX’s decision to continue with Demo-2during the covid-19 pandemic. One of the most prominent voices was former NASA deputy administrator Lori Garver, who told The Atlantic in April: “I’m not sure risking so many lives to launch two people to the same place we’ve been going for 20 years should be prioritized.” 

With many of NASA’s projects slowed or outright halted by the pandemic, CCP has been one of the few programs continuing as regular business. Though the agency has minimized Behnken’s and Hurley’s contact with the outside world, the hundreds of NASA and SpaceX personnel required to launch the mission must still risk coronavirus exposure. NASA and SpaceX both say they are taking precautions to increase social distancing between people on site and having employees work in shifts to minimize contact. Spectators are being asked to stay home and watch the launch remotely. “No virus is stronger than the human desire to explore,” NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine tweeted in April. And Musk has publicly stated his opposition to lockdown measures, even reopening a Tesla factory in Fremont, California, in defiance of stay-at-home orders. If Demo-2 is delayed, it won’t be because of coronavirus.



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Arctic river runs red following devastating Russian fuel spill

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Furious Russian President Vladimir Putin has ordered a state of emergency after a devastating fuel spill occurred in the Arctic.

Environmentalists say it is the worst such accident to happen in the Arctic as over 20,000 tonnes of diesel burst from a fuel tank at an industrial site.

The diesel reservoir collapsed at a power station outside the northern Siberian city of Norilsk last Friday, releasing 15,000 tonnes of fuel into a river and 6,000 tonnes into the soil, according to Russia’s state environmental watchdog.

The fuel was being stored there to ensure a continuous supply to a nearby power plant in case of an interruption to gas supplies.

Putin angrily criticised the delay in a cleanup operation because the authorities weren’t notified. However, Norilsk Nickel, the company that owns the collapsed fuel reservoir (through a subsidiary) insists it notified the proper agencies immediately.

An aerial view of the site of oil products spill into a river outside of Norilsk, Russia. (Credits: EPA)

Greenpeace Russia said the accident was the ‘first accident of such a scale in the Arctic’ and comparable to the Exxon Valdez disaster off the coast of Alaska in 1989.

Russia’s Investigative Committee said a power station supervisor has been detained and will be charged shortly as it conducts three probes into environmental pollution and safety violations.

The Ambarnaya River, which is affected by the spill, feeds into Lake Pyasino, a major body of water and the source of the Pyasina River that is vitally important to the entire Taimyr peninsula.

Russian fisheries agency spokesman Dmitry Klokov said restoring the polluted water system would take ‘decades’.

Rescuers working at the site of oil products spill into the Ambarnaya river outside of Norilsk, Russia. (Credits: EPA)

Rescuers working at the site of oil products spill into the Ambarnaya river outside of Norilsk, Russia. (Credits: EPA)

A rescuer pumping out pollutions from a large diesel spill in the Ambarnaya River outside Norilsk (Photo by YURI KADOBNOV/Marine Rescue Service/AFP via Getty Images)

A rescuer pumping out pollutions from a large diesel spill in the Ambarnaya River outside Norilsk (Photo by YURI KADOBNOV/Marine Rescue Service/AFP via Getty Images)

‘The scope of this catastrophe is being underestimated,’ he told the TASS news agency, adding that most of the fuel had sunk to the bottom of the river and already reached the lake.

Marine rescue service has put up six oil containment booms in the Ambarnaya River to stop the diesel fuel going into the lake and was using special devices to skim off the fuel.

But the clean-up mission is being hampered by the lack of roads in the area and windy weather that has already caused blocks of ice to breach the barriers, releasing more fuel towards the lake, and forcing responders to reposition them, Malov said.

‘It’s swampy territory, and everything can only be delivered there on all-terrain vehicles,’ Malov said, predicting that the collected fuel will have to stay on site until the winter in special tanks.

Putin is furious at the delay in cleanup operations (Reuters)

Putin is furious at the delay in cleanup operations (Reuters)

Norilsk Nickel said the accident possibly occurred because the ground under the fuel reservoir subsided as the permafrost melted due to climate change.

WWF expert Alexei Knizhnikov said that while climate change does affect permafrost, the accident wouldn’t have happened if the company followed the rules.

This photograph released by the Marine Rescue Service of Russia shows a rescuer as he pumps out pollutions of a large diesel spill in the Ambarnaya River outside Norilsk. (Photo by YURI KADOBNOV/Marine Rescue Service/AFP via Getty Images)

This photograph released by the Marine Rescue Service of Russia shows a rescuer as he pumps out pollutions of a large diesel spill in the Ambarnaya River outside Norilsk. (Photo by YURI KADOBNOV/Marine Rescue Service/AFP via Getty Images)

By Russian law, there should be a containment structure around any fuel reservoir that would have kept most of the spillage on site, he said.

‘A lot of the blame lies with the company,’ he added.

The difficult terrain prompted some officials to suggest the collected fuel should be burned off at the scene, but Russia’s environmental watchdog chief Svetlana Radionova on Thursday ruled this out.



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How to Wi-Fi Unlock Your Android Phone With Smart Lock

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Because our phones have so much personal information, most people are horrified at the thought of someone fiddling with their phone. Even worse is what could happen if you lose your smartphone completely.

Thankfully, modern devices come with multiple security options. Protecting your device while out and about is easy. But what about when you’re safely at home? Manually unlocking your phone each time you want to use it is a pain.

Android Smart Lock lets you keep your phone unlocked at all times, under certain circumstances. But can you keep your phone unlocked when connected to your home Wi-Fi network? Let’s take a look.

What Is Android Smart Lock?

Android Smart Lock first hit devices with Android 5.0 Lollipop. The Smart Lock feature allows you to specify certain circumstances where the device’s lock screen security will remain off.

You can enable and configure these options by heading to Settings > Security > Smart Lock (this may differ slightly depending on your device). Enter your PIN, then you can select the Smart Lock option you want.

It’s possible to use multiple Smart Lock methods in conjunction, too. Here’s how they work.

On-Body Detection

With this option, after unlocking it once, your Android device will remain unlocked as long as it detects motion, such as you holding or carrying the device. Your phone will lock automatically again when put down.

On-body detection poses some security issues. The lock mechanism doesn’t always activate immediately after you put the device down. Furthermore, it can sometimes take longer if you are in a car, train, bus, or other forms of transportation.

Trusted Places

Use this option and your Android device will remain unlocked while in the vicinity of a specific location. Once you enable Trusted Places, your device will detect its location using GPS. If the signal shows you are within the range of a specified location, it will unlock.

There are three Trusted Places modes:

  • High Accuracy: Uses your phone’s GPS, Wi-Fi connection, provider network, and more to maintain an accurate location.
  • Battery Saving: Trusted Places will use less power-intensive location tracking tools, such as your Wi-Fi connection or mobile network.
  • Device Only: Uses only GPS to update the location of your device.

Trusted Places is a handy unlocking tool. Like the other options, though, it has limitations. For example, if you live in an apartment building, Trusted Places finds it extremely difficult to differentiate between your apartment and your neighbors’ residences. Since the GPS location is almost the same and the range for the unlocking can cover multiple apartments, your device might stay unlocked outside your home.

Although Trusted Places can take your Wi-Fi connection into account, you cannot tell your phone to stay unlocked when it connects to a certain network. However, there are workarounds for this that allow you to unlock your phone when connected to a Wi-Fi network. We’ll cover more on these in a moment.

Trusted Devices

You can keep your Android device unlocked if it has a connection to a separate trusted device. For example, you could set your smartwatch, in-car Bluetooth speakers, or fitness tracker as a trusted device. Then, while the two devices share a connection, the Android phone will remain unlocked.

Trusted Devices uses a Bluetooth connection to check Smart Lock status. If the Bluetooth connection between your devices drops for any reason, Smart Lock will disable, and your device will lock.

Voice Match

On certain Android devices, if you use Google Assistant, you can use the Voice Match option to keep your Android phone unlocked. Smart Lock recognizes the tone and inflections of your voice to create a unique unlocking tool.

If you switch on Voice Match, “OK Google” becomes the unlock tool. Check out our guide on how to use Google Assistant to lock and unlock your phone, plus the handy video walkthrough. Unfortunately, Google removed this option in Android 8 Oreo and above, but it still works on older devices.

How to Unlock Your Phone When Connected to Wi-Fi

One glaring Android Smart Lock omission is the option to keep your device unlocked when you connect to a specific Wi-Fi network. You can work around this issue with the Automate app; here’s how to keep your Android device unlocked when connected to Wi-Fi.

Automate is a user-friendly Android automation app. You can it for our intended purpose of staying unlocked on Wi-Fi. First, download the Automate app.

Now, open Automate. Given the nature of the service (it automates everything on your device), you must accept the permissions.

Select More Flows from the options, then search for disable screen lock on home wifi. The version you want is the creation of user p s, as you can see in the below image. Select Download, then head back to the Automate homepage.

Next, select the Disable screen lock on home wifi flow from the list, tap the blue pen icon in the bottom-right, then hit the circuits icon just above. This opens the Automate flow edit screen.

Tap the third box on the left, When Wi-Fi connected. Input the Wi-Fi network’s SSID in the box. Alternatively, select Pick Network, then select the Wi-Fi network from the list.

Now, you can Start the Automate flow, and your device will remain unlocked while connected to the Wi-Fi network you specified.

If there’s another Wi-Fi network you want to stay unlocked on, you can duplicate the Automate flow by tapping the three-dot menu and selecting Duplicate. Then in the duplicated flow, switch out the Wi-Fi network SSID for another one.

Is Smart Lock Secure?

Android’s Smart Lock is a handy tool in the eternal battle between security and convenience. Using Smart Lock is a security compromise, but is it one worth making? That depends on the situation.

When you’re at home, why not keep your device unlocked? Finding your phone suddenly locked is infuriating at times. Think about if you’re cooking from a recipe or following a DIY tutorial. You glance away for a moment, only to find you need to unlock your device at a critical moment.

The key is finding the correct Smart Lock use that suits you. Unlocking your device when you connect to your home Wi-Fi is a great option for most people.

Whatever you do choose, make sure you use some form of security on your Android device. Here are some of the best Android anti-theft apps to get you started.

You Can Unlock Your Device Automatically

Now that you know how to unlock your device automatically when you join a Wi-Fi connection, you can consider automating other tasks on Android. Automate is a great free app with countless community-made automation flows.

That said, Automate isn’t the only Android task automation tool. Tasker is a paid automation app that is much more powerful than Automate. Check out these Tasker tricks you can use to automate more on your Android phone.

Read the full article: How to Wi-Fi Unlock Your Android Phone With Smart Lock



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This startup is using AI to give workers a “productivity score”

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In the last few months, millions of people around the world stopped going into offices and started doing their jobs from home. These workers may be out of sight of managers, but they are not out of mind. The upheaval has been accompanied by a reported spike in the use of surveillance software that lets employers track what their employees are doing and how long they spend doing it.

Companies have asked remote workers to install a whole range of such tools. Hubstaff is software that records users’ keyboard strokes, mouse movements, and the websites that they visit. Time Doctor goes further, taking videos of users’ screens. It can also take a picture via webcam every 10 minutes to check that employees are at their computer. And Isaak, a tool made by UK firm Status Today, monitors interactions between employees to identify who collaborates more, combining this data with information from personnel files to identify individuals who are “change-makers.” 

Now, one firm wants to take things even further. It is developing machine-learning software to measure how quickly employees complete different tasks and suggest ways to speed them up. The tool also gives each person a productivity score, which managers can use to identify those employees who are most worth retaining—and those who are not. 

How you feel about this will depend on how you view the covenant between employer and employee. Is it okay to be spied on by people because they pay you? Do you owe it to your employer to be as productive as possible, above all else?

Critics argue that workplace surveillance undermines trust and damages morale. Workers’ rights groups say that such systems should only be installed after consulting employees. “It can create a massive power imbalance between workers and the management,” says Cori Crider, a UK-based lawyer and cofounder of Foxglove, a nonprofit legal firm that works to stop governments and big companies from misusing technology. “And the workers have less ability to hold management to account.”

Whatever your views, this kind of software is here to stay—in part because remote work is normalizing it. “I think workplace monitoring is going to become mainstream,” says Tommy Weir, CEO of Enaible, the startup based in Boston that is developing the new monitoring software. “In the next six to 12 months it will become so pervasive it disappears.” 

Weir thinks most tools on the market don’t go far enough. “Imagine you’re managing somebody and you could stand and watch them all day long, and give them recommendations on how to do their job better,” says Weir. “That’s what we’re trying to do. That’s what we’ve built.”

Weir founded Enaible in 2018 after coaching CEOs for 20 years. The firm already provides its software to several large organizations around the world, including the Dubai customs agency and Omnicom Media Group, a multinational marketing and corporate communications company. But Weir claims to also be in in late-stage talks with Delta Airlines and CVS Health, a US health-care and pharmacy chain ranked #5 on the Fortune 500 list. Neither company would comment on if or when they were preparing to deploy the system.

Weir says he has been getting four times as many inquiries since the pandemic closed down offices. “I’ve never seen anything like it,” he says.

Why the sudden uptick in interest? “Bosses have been seeking to wring every last drop of productivity and labor out of their workers since before computers,” says Crider. “But the granularity of the surveillance now available is like nothing we’ve ever seen.”

It’s no surprise that this level of detail is attractive to employers, especially those looking to keep tabs on a newly remote workforce. But Enaible’s software, which it calls the AI Productivity Platform, goes beyond tracking things like email, Slack, Zoom, or web searches. None of that shows a full picture of what a worker is doing, says Weir⁠—it’s just checking if you are working or not.

Once set up, the software runs in the background all the time, monitoring whatever data trail a company can provide for each of its employees. Using an algorithm called Trigger-Task-Time, the system learns the typical workflow for different workers: what triggers, such as an email or a phone call, lead to what tasks and how long those tasks take to complete.

Once it has learned a typical pattern of behavior for an employee, the software gives that person a “productivity score” between 0 and 100. The AI is agnostic to tasks, says Weir. In theory, workers across a company can still be compared by their scores even if they do different jobs. A productivity score also reflects how your work increases or decreases the productivity of other people on your team. There are obvious limitations to this approach. The system works best with employees who do a lot of repetitive tasks in places like call centers or customer service departments rather than those in more complex or creative roles.

But the idea is that managers can use these scores to see how their employees are getting on, rewarding them if they get quicker at doing their job or checking in with them if performance slips. To help them, Enaible’s software also includes an algorithm called Leadership Recommender, which identifies specific points in an employee’s workflow that could be made more efficient.

For some tasks, that might mean cutting the human out of the loop and automating it. In one example, the tool suggested that automating a 40-second quality-checking task that was performed by customer service workers 186,000 times a year would save them 5,200 hours. This meant that the human employees could devote more attention to more valuable work, improving customer-service response times, suggests Weir.

Business as usual

But talk of cost cutting and time saving has long been double-speak for laying off staff. As the economy slumps, Enaible is promoting its software as a way for companies to identify the employees who must be retained—“those that are making a big difference in fulfilling company objectives and driving profits”—and keep them motivated and focused as they work from home.

The flipside, of course, is that the software can also be used by managers to choose whom to fire. “Companies will lay people off—they always have,” says Weir. “But you can be objective in how you do that, or subjective.” 

Crider sees it differently. “The thing that’s so insidious about these systems is that there’s a veneer of objectivity about them,” she says. “It’s a number, it’s on a computer—how could there be anything suspect? But you don’t have to scratch the surface very hard to see that behind the vast majority of these systems are values about what is to be prioritized.”

Machine-learning algorithms also encode hidden bias in the data they are trained on. Such bias is even harder to expose when it’s buried inside an automated system. If these algorithms are used to assess an employee’s performance, it can be hard to appeal an unfair review or dismissal. 

In a pitch deck, Enaible claims that the Dubai customs agency is now rolling out its software across the whole organization, with the goal of $75 million in “payroll savings” over the coming two years. “We’ve essentially decoupled our growth rate from our payroll,” the agency’s director general is quoted as saying. Omnicom Media Group is also happy with how Enaible helps it get more out its employees. “Our global team needs tools that can move the needle when it comes to building our internal capacity without adding to our head count,” says CEO Nadim Samara. In other words, squeezing more out of existing employees.

Crider insists there are better ways to encourage people to work. “What you’re seeing is an effort to turn a human into a machine before the machine replaces them,” she says. “You’ve got to create an environment in which people feel trusted to do their job. You don’t get that by surveilling them.”



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