Billion years

11 billion years of history in one map: Astrophysicists reveal largest 3D model of the universe ever created – CNN

(CNN)A global consortium of astrophysicists have created the world’s largest three-dimensional map of the universe, a project 20 years in the making that researchers say helps better explain the history of the cosmos.

The Sloan Digital Sky Survey (SDSS), a project involving hundreds of scientists at dozens of institutions worldwide, collected decades of data and mapped the universe with telescopes. With these measurements, spanning more than 2 million galaxies and quasars formed over 11 billion years, scientists can now better understand how the universe developed.
“We know both the ancient history of the Universe and its recent expansion history fairly well, but there’s a troublesome gap in the middle 11 billion years,” cosmologist Kyle Dawson of the University of Utah, who led the team that announced the SDSS findings on Sunday.
“For five years, we have worked to fill in that gap, and we are using that information to provide some of the most substantial advances in cosmology in the last decade,” Dawson said in a statement.
Here’s how it works: the map revealed the early materials that “define the structure in the Universe, starting from the time when the Universe was only about 300,000 years old.” Researchers used the map to measure patterns and signals from different galaxies, and figure out how fast the universe was expanding at different points of history. Looking back in space allows for a look back in time.
“These studies allow us to connect all these measurements into a complete story of the expansion of the Universe,” said Will Percival of the University of Waterloo in the statement.
The team also identified “a mysterious invisible component of the Universe called ‘dark energy,'” which caused the universe’s expansion to start accelerating about six billion years ago. Since then, the universe has only continued to expand “faster and faster,” the statement said.
There are still many unanswered questions about dark energy — it’s “extremely difficult to reconcile with our current understanding of particle physics” — but this puzzle will be left to future projects and researchers, said the statement.
Their findings also “revealed cracks in this picture of the Universe,” the statement said. There were discrepancies between researchers’ measurements and collected data, and their tools are so precise that it’s unlikely to be error or chance. Instead, there might be new and exciting explanations behind the strange numbers, like the possibility that “a previously-unknown form of matter or energy from the early Universe might have left a trace on our history.”
The SDSS is “nowhere near done with its mission to map the Universe,” it said in the statement. “The SDSS team is busy building the hardware to start this new phase (of mapping stars and black holes) and is looking forward to the new discoveries of the next 20 years.”

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Billion France

France to give $9 billion in pay raises to health care workers – CNN

(CNN)France will give health care workers across the nation $9 billion in pay raises in recognition of their work during the pandemic, the country’s Prime Minister Jean Castex has said.

Castex, the Health Minister Olivier Véran and trade union representatives signed the agreement on Monday in Paris.
In April, the French government said it would pay medical health care workers a bonus of up to $1,634 for treating Covid-19 patients. Hospital staff will receive $544 and those working directly in coronavirus-impacted areas will get $1,634.
Under the new measures, non-medical health care workers will also receive a pay rise of $208 per month. This will be implemented across two stages — the group will receive a $102 pay rise from September 2020 and a further additional $106 from March 2021.
French health care workers held protests in June demanding better working conditions. Their demonstrations triggered a nationwide debate about their treatment.
Activists from left-wing group Attac and Inter-Urgences, an association of paramedical staff, sprayed red paint on France’s Health Ministry building in Paris on June 20 as part of the protests.
“No one can doubt that this is a historic moment for our healthcare system,” Castex said in a speech Monday. He added that the pay package recognized workers on “the frontline of the fight against the unprecedented, enduring and strong epidemic.”
“It’s way of catching up for the years of delay where each and every one of us, including maybe even myself, has their part of the responsibility” he said.
The Prime Minister added that the French government had a “clear objective” in providing “better working conditions in all health establishments,” in a post on Twitter.
Véran also took to Twiiter on Monday to pay tribute to workers who had “fought to save lives without ever losing heart.”
“Beyond recognition they expected acts: this is the objective of the [agreement] with a historic revaluation of salaries,” he wrote.
The package for health workers follows the French government’s $16.9 billion funding pledge to support the country’s aviation industry and an $8.8 billion bailout for its embattled car companies.
In June, France’s $3 trillion economy grew for the first time since February, as coronavirus restrictions were eased.

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Billion signals

JD’s $34 Billion Gala Haul Signals Chinese Consumer Rebound – Yahoo Finance

JD’s $34 Billion Gala Haul Signals Chinese Consumer Rebound

(Bloomberg) — Inc. has bagged a record $34 billion of sales during the country’s biggest online shopping gala of the post-pandemic era, suggesting China’s nascent consumer spending recovery has legs.

JD and larger rival Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. this month put Chinese consumption to its first major test since Beijing locked down the country in February. China’s largest retailers are hoping the “6.18” summer extravaganza that wraps up Thursday has unleashed pent-up demand, making up for lost sales during a coronavirus-stricken March quarter. JD said it had racked up 239.2 billion yuan ($34 billion) of transactions as of mid-afternoon, up 33% from the same time a year earlier and already surpassing 2019’s total. The retailer’s shares rose 3.5% on their Hong Kong debut, after raising $3.9 billion in a stock sale designed to appeal to Asian investors.

Global brands and smaller merchants alike had stocked up on goods for months in anticipation of the annual summer event, a bargain buffet surpassed only by the Nov. 11 Singles’ Day in scale. It comes down to how willing hundreds of millions of shoppers are to spend after the world’s No. 2 economy contracted for the first time in decades. The stakes couldn’t be higher at the conclusion of an 18-day shopping marathon conceived by JD to commemorate its June 18 anniversary.

This year’s deals-fest culminates with the biggest bargains Thursday and has so far featured more generous subsidies than ever before, as well as an unprecedented cohort of live-streaming personalities. Competition also intensified with the likes of ByteDance Ltd. and Kuaishou — whose video app now sells JD goods — vying for buyers.

“Chinese and foreign brands had sluggish sales due to the pandemic, and 6.18 has become their most important opportunity in the first half,” JD Retail Chief Executive Officer Xu Lei said in an interview with Bloomberg Television. For discretionary items like home appliances, “we’ve seen a recovery in consumption.”

Read more: Chinese Shoppers Can Go Out Again. Online Buys Show They Won’t

Chinese retail suffered a record collapse in the first three months of 2020. While it’s on the mend, latest data shows private consumption still sluggish, dashing hopes of a V-shaped recovery as people head back to work. The picture is further complicated by the fact that Covid-19 has kept people away from stores and shifted an unknown proportion of retail activity online, propping up online purchases.

JD has projected revenue growth of 20% to 30% this quarter. Xu — widely viewed as the front-runner to succeed billionaire founder Richard Liu — says JD is on track to meet that goal and isn’t threatened by competitors encroaching upon its turf, like in consumer gadgets.

“I don’t dance with them, I dance with users,” he said.

What Bloomberg Intelligence Says

A strong 2Q sales and profit recovery is likely for Alibaba, and Pinduoduo, as merchant operations and logistics return to normal. User reliance on these platforms may also have increased during the coronavirus pandemic.

– Vey-Sern Ling and Tiffany Tam, analysts

Click here for the research.

Based on the first 17 days of June, China’s e-commerce giants are on track for record sums as measured by gross merchandise value, or total value of goods sold. During the first ten hours of its 6.18 campaign, Alibaba’s Tmall business-to-consumer marketplace logged sales 50% higher than during the same period last year, after participating brands doubled. JD has said sales of imports like HP laptops and Dyson hairdryers soared, while it’s selling more fresh produce in smaller cities.

Read more: JD’s Outlook Beats After E-Commerce Surges in China Lockdown

Initiated in 2014 as a riposte to Alibaba’s Singles’ Day, 6.18 has become yet another annual ritual for e-commerce companies and their offline partners from Walmart Inc. to Co. Beyond headline figures, it’s less clear how much it contributes to the bottom line given the enormous discounting involved.

“My lens for this year is competition, not consumer confidence,” said Michael Norris, researcher with Shanghai-based marketing firm AgencyChina. “After the pandemic, the frequency of flash sales and e-commerce shopping events has increased. This boosts GMV but does little for margin expansion. Each platform’s monetization rate — how much revenue it generates per unit of GMV — is the best indication of relative strength and staying power.”

Alibaba, along with brands on its platforms, committed cash and other coupons worth a total of 14 billion yuan ($2 billion), according to the company. JD said it offered 10 billion yuan in subsidies.

“User growth and retention, and the digitization of brands and merchants are key considerations” when Alibaba pushes subsidies during promotions like 6.18, said Alibaba Vice President Mike Gu, who heads Tmall’s fashion and consumer goods businesses.

Read more: Alibaba Drops After Projecting Slowing Growth in Uncertain Times

Sales of fast-moving consumer goods on the Tmall and Taobao marketplaces in the June quarter has so far exceeded the pace of 2019’s final quarter, Gu said in an interview. Thanks to 6.18, apparel growth this month has also climbed back to pre-Covid-19 levels, he added.

Live-streaming is also playing a bigger role during this year’s 6.18, at a time Covid-19 is fueling an unprecedented boom in online media. Alibaba’s Taobao Live championed the use of influencers to sell everything from lipstick to rockets, prompting rivals like JD and Pinduoduo Inc. to follow suit.

Social media companies like TikTok-owner ByteDance and Tencent Holdings Ltd.-backed Kuaishou are jumping on the bandwagon. Their mini-video platforms in China have lured a long list of tech chieftains hawking products of their own to live-streaming fans: The latest was NetEase Inc.’s usually reclusive founder, William Ding. Last week, his debut on Kuaishou amassed 72 million yuan of sales in just four hours.

“I’ve never eaten beef jerky as tasty as this in the last twenty years,” the billionaire said during the livestream.

(Updates with latest haul and share action from first paragraph)” data-reactid=”53″ type=”text”>For more articles like this, please visit us at

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Billion takes

BP Takes $17.5 Billion Write-Down, Expects Oil Price to Stay Low – The Wall Street Journal

LONDON—BP PLC is writing down as much as $17.5 billion of its assets and might leave some of its oil and gas in the ground because of lower energy prices and weakened demand amid the global crisis caused by the novel coronavirus.

The British energy giant sees the pandemic—which caused nationwide shutdowns and drove U.S. oil prices into negative territory—having a lasting economic impact, leading to fragile energy demand and sinking prices. The virus will also accelerate the world’s shift to a lower carbon economy, BP said,…

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Apple Billion

Apple Just Gave 1.5 Billion iPad, iPhone Users A Reason To Leave – Forbes

05/23 Update below. This post was originally published on May 21

Apple has got a lot right recently, including its iPhone 12 pricing and its big iOS Coronavirus-focused update. But the company has also now given its 1.5 billion iPhone and iPad users worldwide a good reason to leave. 

Apple, iOS 13, iPhone, iPad, iPhone 11, iPad Pro, iPhone privacy, iOS privacy, Siri privacy,

Apple’s iPhone 11, iPhone 11 Pro, iPhone 11 Pro Max


MORE FROM FORBESApple iPhone 12: Everything We Know So FarBy Gordon Kelly

Last year, The Guardian broke a shocking story that Apple was employing contractors to listen to and ‘grade’ Siri recordings. This was done without users knowledge and contractors “regularly” heard confidential information from iPhone and iPad owners, including medical information, drug deals and recordings of couples having sex. Apple subsequently issued a full apology, admitting “we have not been fully living up to our high ideals.” But now, according to The Guardian’s whistleblower, we are learning that nothing has changed. 

Revealing his identity for the first time, Thomas le Bonniec, a contractor employed to listen to and grade Siri recordings, has written to data protection regulators stating that Apple “keeps ignoring and violating fundamental rights and continues their massive collection of data.” Describing his role in detail, he writes:

“I listened to hundreds of recordings every day, from various Apple devices (eg. iPhones, Apple Watches, or iPads). These recordings were often taken outside of any activation of Siri, eg in the context of an actual intention from the user to activate it for a request. These processings were made without users being aware of it, and were gathered into datasets to correct the transcription of the recording made by the device.

“The recordings were not limited to the users of Apple devices, but also involved relatives, children, friends, colleagues, and whoever could be recorded by the device. The system recorded everything: names, addresses, messages, searches, arguments, background noises, films, and conversations. I heard people talking about their cancer, referring to dead relatives, religion, sexuality, pornography, politics, school, relationships, or drugs with no intention to activate Siri whatsoever.

“These practices are clearly at odds with the company’s ‘privacy-driven’ policies and should be urgently investigated by data protection authorities and Privacy watchdogs. With the current statement, I want to bring this issue to your attention, and also offer my cooperation to provide any element substantiating these facts. Although this case has already gone public, Apple has not been subject to any kind of investigation to the best of my knowledge.”

05/23 Update: adding further complexity to this issue, a new ruling has confirmed that the FBI cannot even look at the lockscreen of a suspect’s iPhone without a warrant. Picked up by Ars Technica (PDF link), the new limitations restrict looking at a suspect’s smartphone to just the arresting agents and only at the time of the arrest. All of which means privacy laws around technology are tightening rapidly and this is likely to have a significant impact on what can and cannot be extracted from your smartphone, even by its creator.

Apple, iOS 13, iPhone, iPad, iPhone 11, iPad Pro, iPhone privacy, iOS privacy, Siri privacy,

Apple’s current Siri promotion


While Le Bonniec rounds primarily on Apple, he is also highly critical of the lack of action taken against Apple and big tech companies in general, saying “I am extremely concerned that [they] are basically wiretapping entire populations”. 

It is important to note that Apple’s so-called wiretapping is not an isolated case. Amazon, Google and Facebook have admitted to similar practices but none trade on privacy as a selling point like Apple. In fact, the company’s Privacy Page declares “At Apple, we believe privacy is a fundamental human right.”

In Apple’s defence, while it gave users the ability to delete Siri recordings in iOS 13.2, the company did state that it planned to resume Siri monitoring after its release. That said, given the new accusations labelled by Le Bonniec, it is clear that further scrutiny is required. I have contacted Apple for a response to the new claims and will update this story when I get one. 

In the meantime, I would advise all concerned iPhone and iPad owners to make the following changes: Settings > Privacy > Analytics & Improvement > Improve Siri & Dictation and check it is off, then Settings > Siri & Search > Siri History and tap ‘Delete Siri & Dictation History’. To enable further restrictions, such as revoking location tracking and third-party app integration with Siri, read Apple’s Ask Siri, Dictation & Privacy page.

This is a story which is set to run and run.


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