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NASA Decommissions the Kepler Space Telescope

4 hours 49 min ago
Late last month, NASA announced that it would be retiring the Kepler space telescope after nearly ten years of service -- double its initial mission life. Now, as Space.com reports, the planet-hunting telescope has been officially decommissioned, "beaming 'goodnight' commands to the sun-orbiting observatory." From the report: "Kepler's team disabled the safety modes that could inadvertently turn systems back on, and severed communications by shutting down the transmitters," NASA officials wrote in a statement today (Nov. 16). "Because the spacecraft is slowly spinning, the Kepler team had to carefully time the commands so that instructions would reach the spacecraft during periods of viable communication." The final commands were sent from Kepler's operations center at the University of Colorado Boulder's Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics, NASA officials said. The commands got to the spacecraft via NASA's Deep Space Network, the system of big radio dishes the space agency uses to keep in touch with its far-flung probes.

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There Is No Link Between Insomnia and Early Death, Study Finds

Fri, 11/16/2018 - 10:30pm
A new report published in the journal Science Direct says there is no link between insomnia and early death. The researchers reportedly "reviewed 17 studies, which covered close to 37 million people, to compile their results," the BBC notes. From the report: This new report goes against what the NHS says, which claims that as well as putting people at risk of obesity, heart disease and type 2 diabetes, that insomnia shortens life expectancy. The NHS recommends things like exercising to tire yourself out during the day and cutting down on caffeine. It also says smoking, eating too much or drinking alcohol late at night can stop you from sleeping well. Other recommendations include writing a list of things that are playing on your mind and trying to get to bed at a similar time every night. "There was no difference in the odds of mortality for those individuals with symptoms of insomnia when compared to those without symptoms," the study says. "This finding was echoed in the assessment of the rate of mortality in those with and without symptoms of insomnia using the outcomes of multivariate models, with the most complete adjustment for potential confounders, as reported by the individual studies included in this meta-analysis. Additional analyses revealed a tendency for an increased risk of mortality associated with hypnotic use."

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A New Senate Bill Would Hit Robocallers With Up To a $10,000 Fine For Every Call

Fri, 11/16/2018 - 9:05pm
Massachusetts Democratic Senator Ed Markey and South Dakota Republican Senator John Thune have introduced a bill on Friday that aims to ramp up the penalties on illegal robocalls and stop scammers from sending them. Gizmodo reports: The Telephone Robocall Abuse Criminal Enforcement and Deterrence (TRACED) Act, raises the penalty for robocalls from $1,500 per call to up to $10,000 per call, and allows the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to take action on illegal robocalls up to three years after the calls are placed, instead of a year. The Act also aims to push the FCC to work along with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, Department of Justice, Department of Homeland Security, Federal Trade Commission (FTC), and other agencies to provide information to Congress about advancements in hindering robocall and prosecuting scammers. Perhaps most importantly for us highly annoyed Americans, the bill would also force phone service providers to use call authentication that filters out illegitimate calls before they go through to consumers.

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Mid-Range Google 'Pixel 3 Lite' Leaks With Snapdragon 670, Headphone Jack

Fri, 11/16/2018 - 8:25pm
The first alleged images of the rumored "budget" Pixel 3 have been leaked. The Pixel 3 Lite, as it is being called, looks very similar to the Pixel 3, although it features a plastic build construction, slower processor, and a headphone jack. 9to5Google reports: Just like the standard Pixel 3, there's a display that's roughly 5.56-inches in size, but this time it's an IPS LCD panel at 2220x1080 rather than an OLED panel. Obviously, there's also no notch to be seen on this alleged Pixel 3 Lite. There's a single front-facing camera as well as one speaker above that display, relatively thick bezels on the top and bottom, and a speaker along the bottom of the device as well. Perhaps most interesting when it comes to the hardware, though, is that there's a headphone jack on the top of the phone. That's certainly unexpected since the Pixel 2 dropped the jack and Google hasn't looked back since. Tests from Rozetked reveal some of the specifications running this device as well. That includes a Snapdragon 670 chipset, 4GB of RAM, and 32GB of storage. Previous reports have pointed to a Snapdragon 710. Battery capacity on this device is also reported at 2915 mAh and there's a USB-C port along the bottom. It is rumored to include the same 12MP and 8MP cameras found in the standard Pixel 3 and Pixel 3 XL, which will be a huge selling point for the affordable phone market. The price is expected to be around $400-500.

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Cheaper, Disc-Free Xbox One Coming Next Year, Report Says

Fri, 11/16/2018 - 7:45pm
An anonymous reader quotes a report from Ars Technica: Microsoft is planning to release a disc-free version of the Xbox One as early as next spring, according to an unsourced report from author Brad Sams of Thurrott.com (who has been reliable with early Xbox-related information in the past). The report suggests the disc-free version of the system would not replace the existing Xbox One hardware, and it would instead represent "the lowest possible price for the Xbox One S console." Sams says that price could come in at $199 "or lower," a significant reduction from the system's current $299 starting price (but not as compelling compared to $199 deals for the Xbox One and PS4 planned for Black Friday this year). Buyers will also be able to add a subscription to the Xbox Games Pass program for as little as $1, according to Sams. For players who already have games on disc, Sams says Microsoft will offer a "disc to digital" program in association with participating publishers. Players will be able to take their discs into participating retailers (including Microsoft Stores) and trade them in for a "digital entitlement" that can be applied to their Xbox Live account.

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MiSafes' Child-Tracking Smartwatches Are 'Easy To Hack'

Fri, 11/16/2018 - 7:03pm
The location-tracking "MiSafe" smartwatch may not be as safe as the name proclaims. According to security researchers from Pen Test Partners, the watches are easy to hack as they do not encrypt the data they use or secure each child's account. The researchers found that they could track children's movements, surreptitiously listen in to their activities and make spoof calls to the watches that appeared to be from parents. The BBC reports: The MiSafes watch was first released in 2015. It uses a global positioning system (GPS) sensor and a 2G mobile data connection to let parents see where their child is, via a smartphone app. In addition, parents can create a "safe zone" and receive an alert if the child leaves the area. The adult can also listen in to what their offspring is doing at any time and trigger two-way calls. Pen Test Partner's Ken Munro and Alan Monie learned of the product's existence when a friend bought one for his son earlier this year. Out of curiosity, they probed its security measures and found that easy-to-find PC software could be used to mimic the app's communications. This software could be used to change the assigned ID number, which was all it took to get access to others' accounts. This made it possible to see personal information used to register the product, including: a photo of the child; their name, gender and date of birth; their height and weight; the parents' phone numbers; and the phone number assigned to the watch's Sim card.

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Google Cloud Executive Who Sought Pentagon Contract Steps Down

Fri, 11/16/2018 - 6:20pm
Diane Greene, whose pursuit of Pentagon contracts for artificial intelligence technology sparked a worker uprising at Google, is stepping down as chief executive of the company's cloud computing business (Warning: source may be paywalled; alternative source). "Ms. Greene said she would stay on as chief executive until January. She will be replaced by Thomas Kurian, who oversaw product development at Oracle until his resignation in October. Ms. Greene will remain a board director at Google's parent company, Alphabet," reports The New York Times. From the report: The change in leadership caps a turbulent three years for Ms. Greene, who was brought on to expand Google's cloud computing business. Google Cloud has struggled to make major inroads in persuading corporate customers to use its computing infrastructure over alternatives like Amazon's A.W.S. and Microsoft's Azure. In a blog post published by the company, Ms. Greene said she had initially told friends and family that she was planning to run Google Cloud for only two years but stayed for three. Ms. Greene, a widely respected technologist and entrepreneur, said that after leaving Google Cloud, she planned to help female founders of companies by investing in and mentoring them. Ms. Greene joined Google in 2015 when it acquired Bebop, a start-up she had founded, for $380 million. Ms. Greene defended Google's pursuit of a Defense Department contract for the Maven program, which uses AI to interpret video images and could be used to improve the targeting of drone strikes. In March, she said it was a small contract worth "only" $9 million and that the technology would be used for nonlethal purposes.

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Trump Signs Bill That Creates the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency

Fri, 11/16/2018 - 5:40pm
An anonymous reader quotes a report from ZDNet: U.S. President Donald Trump signed today a bill into law, approving the creation of the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA). The bill, known as the CISA Act, reorganizes and rebrands the National Protection and Programs Directorate (NPPD), a program inside the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), as CISA, a standalone federal agency in charge of overseeing civilian and federal cybersecurity programs. The NPPD, which was first established in 2007, has already been handling almost all of the DHS' cyber-related issues and projects. As part of the DHS, the NPPD was the government entity in charge of physical and cyber-security of federal networks and critical infrastructure, and oversaw the Federal Protective Service (FPS), the Office of Biometric Identity Management (OBIM), the Office of Cyber and Infrastructure Analysis (OCIA), the Office of Cybersecurity & Communications (OC&C), and the Office of Infrastructure Protection (OIP). As CISA, the agency's prerogatives will remain the same, and nothing is expected to change in day-to-day operations, but as a federal agency, CISA will now benefit from an increased budget and more authority in imposing its directives. "Elevating the cybersecurity mission within the Department of Homeland Security, streamlining our operations, and giving NPPD a name that reflects what it actually does will help better secure the nation's critical infrastructure and cyber platforms," said NPPD Under Secretary Christopher Krebs. "The changes will also improve the Department's ability to engage with industry and government stakeholders and recruit top cybersecurity talent."

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Linux 4.20 is Running Slower Than 4.19 On Intel CPUs

Fri, 11/16/2018 - 5:05pm
Freshly Exhumed writes: An intentional kernel change in Linux kernel 4.20 for enhanced Spectre mitigation is unfortunately causing Intel Linux performance to be much slower than with 4.19. That change is 'STIBP' (Single Thread Indirect Branch Predictors), which allows for preventing cross-hyperthread control of decisions that are made by indirect branch predictors. It affects Intel systems that have up-to-date microcode and CPU Hyper Threading enabled. Phoronix gives the evidence.

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Air Quality in San Francisco is So Bad that Uber Drivers Are Selling Masks Out of Their Cars

Fri, 11/16/2018 - 4:25pm
California's devastating wildfires are causing unhealthy air conditions for locals breathing in harmful fumes. From a report: In San Francisco, which currently has the second-worst-rated air quality out of any city in the world, one driver was spotted selling N95 respirator masks for $5 apiece. That's significantly above market rate. Right now you can buy a 10-pack of similar masks for about $13 on Amazon. But considering the masks are sold out at many local stores, riders may be willing to dish out the cash for immediate access to the protective gear. Further reading: California needs to reinvent its fire policies, or the death and destruction will go on.

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Amazon Has Everything it Needs To Make Massively Popular Algorithm-Driven Fiction

Fri, 11/16/2018 - 3:45pm
Thu-Huong Ha, writing for Quartz: Amazon's power in books extends way beyond its ability to sell them super cheap and super fast. This year, a little over 40% of the print books sold in the US moved through the site, according to estimates from Bookstat, which tracks US online book retail. (NPD, which tracks 85% of US trade print sales, declined to provide data broken out by retailer.) In the US, Amazon dominates ebook sales and hosts hundreds of thousands of self-published ebooks on its platforms, many exclusively. It looms over the audiobook scene, in retail as well as production, and is one of the biggest marketplaces for used books in the US. Amazon also makes its own books -- more than 1,500 last year. All that power comes with great data, which Amazon's publishing arm is well positioned to exploit in the interest of making books tailored exactly to what people want -- down to which page characters should meet on or how many lines of dialogue they should exchange. Though Amazon declined to comment specifically on whether it uses data to shape or determine the content of its own books, the company acknowledged that authors are recruited for their past sales (as is common in traditional publishing). "Amazon Publishing titles are thoughtfully acquired by our team -- made up of publishing-industry veterans and long-time Amazonians -- with many factors taken into consideration," says Amazon Publishing publisher Mikyla Bruder, "including the acquiring editor's enthusiasm, the strength of the story, quality of the writing, editorial fit for our list, and author backlist/comparable titles' sales track." Amazon's Kindle e-reader, first released in 2007, is a data-collection device that doubles as reading material. Kindle knows the minutiae of how people read: what they highlight, the fonts they prefer, where in a book they lose interest, what kind of books they finish quickly, and which books gets skimmed rather than read all the way through. A year after the Kindle came out, Amazon acquired Audible. Audiobooks have been a rare bright spot in the publishing industry, with double-digit growth in total sales for the past few years. Audible now touts itself as the "world's largest seller and producer of downloadable audiobooks and other spoken-word entertainment," and its site has around 450,000 audio programs.

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Most ATMs Can Be Hacked in Under 20 Minutes

Fri, 11/16/2018 - 3:02pm
An extensive testing session carried out by bank security experts at Positive Technologies has revealed that most ATMs can be hacked in under 20 minutes, and even less, in certain types of attacks. From a report: Experts tested ATMs from NCR, Diebold Nixdorf, and GRGBanking, and detailed their findings in a 22-page report published this week. The attacks they tried are the typical types of exploits and tricks used by cyber-criminals seeking to obtain money from the ATM safe or to copy the details of users' bank cards (also known as skimming). Experts said that 85 percent of the ATMs they tested allowed an attacker access to the network. The research team did this by either unplugging and tapping into Ethernet cables, or by spoofing wireless connections or devices to which the ATM usually connected to. Researchers said that 27 percent of the tested ATMs were vulnerable to having their processing center communications spoofed, while 58 percent of tested ATMs had vulnerabilities in their network components or services that could be exploited to control the ATM remotely.

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Microsoft is Testing Ads in Mail App For Windows 10 in Select Markets

Fri, 11/16/2018 - 2:20pm
Mark Wilson writes: Ads in your inbox. Sounds like something you'd expect from the likes of Google or Yahoo, but Microsoft appears to be about to get in on the act as well. And we're not talking about online ads in your Outlook.com account -- we're talking about ads in the Mail app that's included with Windows 10. A new report says that Microsoft is currently testing ads with Windows Insiders, so it could be just a matter of time before they spread wider. In a support page, spotted first by news outlet Thurrott, Microsoft says, "Consistent with consumer email apps and services like Outlook.com, Gmail, and Yahoo Mail, advertising allows us to provide, support, and improve some of our products. We're always experimenting with new features and experiences. Currently, we have a pilot running in Brazil, Canada, Australia, and India to get user feedback on ads in Mail." Update: ZDNet reports that Calendar app for Windows 10 is getting the same treatment.

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Google Maps Has Introduced So Many New Features and Design Changes in Recent Months That Getting Directions On It is Becoming an Increasingly Challenging Task

Fri, 11/16/2018 - 1:40pm
Earlier this week, Google announced it is bringing business messaging to Maps, the latest in a myriad of features it has introduced to its mapping platform in recent months. A business that wants to participate will need to use Google's "My Business" verification system and its associated app to send and receive messages. While that could prove useful to a number of businesses and customers, it has raised a concern as well. From a report: But that leads me to my third feeling: what the heck is going on with Google Maps? It is becoming overburdened with so many features and design changes that it's becoming harder and harder to just get directions in it. There's Group Planning, there's a social-esque "follow" button for local businesses, you can share your ETA, there's a redesigned "Explore" section, and there's almost no way to get the damn thing to show you a cross street near your destination without three full minutes of desperate pinching and zooming and re-zooming. It's becoming bloated, is what I'm saying. It's Google's equivalent of Big Blue, as Facebook nicknames its flagship app that does a thousand things across countless strange nooks and crannies. It's as though Google wants to kill off Yelp once and for all, but can't let anybody notice how hard it's trying to do that so it just slow rolls those things into Google Maps instead.

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A Leaky Database of SMS Text Messages Exposed Password Resets and Two-Factor Codes

Fri, 11/16/2018 - 1:00pm
A database which contained millions of text messages used to authenticate users signing into websites was left exposed to the internet without a password. From the report: The exposed server belongs to Voxox (formerly Telcentris), a San Diego, Calif.-based communications company. The server wasn't protected with a password, allowing anyone who knew where to look to peek in and snoop on a near-real-time stream of text messages. For Sebastien Kaul, a Berlin-based security researcher, it didn't take long to find. Although Kaul found the exposed server on Shodan, a search engine for publicly available devices and databases, it was also attached to to one of Voxox's own subdomains. Worse, the database -- running on Amazon's Elasticsearch -- was configured with a Kibana front-end, making the data within easily readable, browsable and searchable for names, cell numbers and the contents of the text messages themselves.

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Microsoft Store Starts Accepting Windows 10 on ARM Apps

Fri, 11/16/2018 - 12:20pm
Microsoft announced Friday that it is opening up its online apps store to 64-bit ARM app submissions from developers, further cementing its commitment to make Windows 10 on ARM a viable platform. From a report: Also, with the release of Visual Studio 2017 version 15.9 this week, developers can now create ARM64 apps using officially supported SDK and tools. Microsoft announced Windows 10 on ARM in December 2017 with three big feature promises: The screen turns on "instantly," unlike existing PCs; LTE is built right in; and the battery can last for days. But the unveiling came with a big caveat. These Always Connected PCs, as Microsoft and Qualcomm call them, were not coming anytime soon. [...] Microsoft wants to help address the performance problems by getting developers to rebuild apps for the platform. Developers can now use Visual Studio 15.9 to recompile UWP and C++ Win32 apps to run natively on Windows 10 on ARM devices.

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Science is Getting Less Bang for Its Buck

Fri, 11/16/2018 - 11:40am
Despite vast increases in the time and money spent on research, progress is barely keeping pace with the past. What went wrong? An anonymous reader shares a report: Today, there are more scientists, more funding for science, and more scientific papers published than ever before. On the surface, this is encouraging. But for all this increase in effort, are we getting a proportional increase in our scientific understanding? Or are we investing vastly more merely to sustain (or even see a decline in) the rate of scientific progress? It's surprisingly difficult to measure scientific progress in meaningful ways. Part of the trouble is that it's hard to accurately evaluate how important any given scientific discovery is. [...] With that in mind, we ran a survey asking scientists to compare Nobel prizewinning discoveries in their fields. We then used those rankings to determine how scientists think the quality of Nobel prizewinning discoveries has changed over the decades. As a sample survey question, we might ask a physicist which was a more important contribution to scientific understanding: the discovery of the neutron (the particle that makes up roughly half the ordinary matter in the universe) or the discovery of the cosmic microwave background radiation (the afterglow of the Big Bang). Think of the survey as a round-robin tournament, competitively matching discoveries against one another, with expert scientists judging which is better. For the physics prize, we surveyed 93 physicists from the world's top academic physics departments (according to the Shanghai Rankings of World Universities), and they judged 1,370 pairs of discoveries. [...] The first decade has a poor showing. In that decade, the Nobel Committee was still figuring out exactly what the prize was for. There was, for instance, a prize for a better way of illuminating lighthouses and buoys at sea. That's good news if you're on a ship, but scored poorly with modern physicists. But by the 1910s the prizes were mostly awarded for things that accord with the modern conception of physics. A golden age of physics followed, from the 1910s through the 1930s. [...] Our graph stops at the end of the 1980s. The reason is that, in recent years, the Nobel Committee has preferred to award prizes for work done in the 1980s and 1970s. In fact, just three discoveries made since 1990 have yet been awarded Nobel Prizes. This is too few to get a good quality estimate for the 1990s, and so we didn't survey those prizes. However, the paucity of prizes since 1990 is itself suggestive. The 1990s and 2000s have the dubious distinction of being the decades over which the Nobel Committee has most strongly preferred to skip back and award prizes for earlier work. Given that the 1980s and 1970s themselves don't look so good, that's bad news for physics.

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Kilogram Gets a New Definition

Fri, 11/16/2018 - 11:03am
Scientists have changed the way the kilogram is defined. Currently, it is defined by the weight of a platinum-based ingot called "Le Grand K" which is locked away in a safe in Paris. On Friday, researchers meeting in Versailles voted to get rid of it in favour of defining a kilogram in terms of an electric current. From a report: The decision was made at the General Conference on Weights and Measures. But some scientists, such as Perdi Williams at the National Physical Laboratory in the UK, have expressed mixed feelings about the change. "I haven't been on this project for too long but I feel a weird attachment to the kilogram," she said. "I think it is such an exciting thing and this is a really big moment. So I'm a little bit sad about [the change]. But it is an important step forward and so the new system is going to work a lot better. It is also a really exciting time, and I can't wait for it to happen." Le Grand K has been at the forefront of the international system of measuring weights since 1889. Several close replicas were made and distributed around the globe. But the master kilogram and its copies were seen to change -- ever so slightly -- as they deteriorated. In a world where accurate measurement is now critical in many areas, such as in drug development, nanotechnology and precision engineering -- those responsible for maintaining the international system had no option but to move beyond Le Grand K to a more robust definition.

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PlayStation Begins Collecting Amusement Tax From Chicago Users

Fri, 11/16/2018 - 10:20am
schwit1 writes: PlayStation users in Chicago on Wednesday began paying a 9 percent tax on streaming content as the gaming company starts complying with a city levy. The Sony-owned company joins other streaming services including Spotify, Netflix and Hulu in complying with the charge, which took effect three years ago. The city's amusement tax, which used to apply mostly to concert and sporting event tickets, was extended to include streaming services in 2015. That includes charges paid for playing games, according to Chicago's Finance Department. Some tech companies have fought the additional 9 percent charge. Apple filed a lawsuit against the city in August alleging the tax on its music streaming services was illegal and discriminatory. That suit is pending in Cook County Circuit Court. Meanwhile, Apple is not collecting the tax. In 2015, a group of Netflix, Amazon Prime, Spotify, XBox Live and Hulu users sued Chicago in Cook County, alleging the tax violates federal law. The judge ruled in the city's favor in May, and the streaming service users appealed the decision. The case is pending in state Appellate Court.

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Jeff Bezos To Employees: 'One Day, Amazon Will Fail' But Our Job is To Delay it as Long as Possible

Fri, 11/16/2018 - 9:40am
Days before Amazon announced the cities it had picked for its HQ2, CEO Jeff Bezos had to address a separate but related concern among employees: Where is all this headed? At an all-hands meeting last Thursday in Seattle, an employee asked Bezos about Amazon's future. Specifically, the questioner wanted to know what lessons Bezos has learned from the recent bankruptcies of Sears and other big retailers. From a report: "Amazon is not too big to fail," Bezos said, in a recording of the meeting that CNBC has heard. "In fact, I predict one day Amazon will fail. Amazon will go bankrupt. If you look at large companies, their lifespans tend to be 30-plus years, not a hundred-plus years." The key to prolonging that demise, Bezos continued, is for the company to "obsess over customers" and to avoid looking inward, worrying about itself. "If we start to focus on ourselves, instead of focusing on our customers, that will be the beginning of the end," he said. "We have to try and delay that day for as long as possible." Bezos' comments come at a time of unprecedented success at Amazon, with its core retail business continuing to grow while the company is winning the massive cloud-computing market and gaining rapid adoption of its Alexa voice assistant in the home.

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