Buying renewable energy should be easy — here’s one way to make it less complex – Microsoft on the Issues

By Brian Janous, Microsoft General Manager of Energy and Sustainability; Kenneth Davies, Microsoft Director of Innovation for Energy Strategy & Research; and Lee Taylor, cofounder and CEO, REsurety

It would be difficult to overestimate the impact that corporate procurement of renewable energy, primarily through power purchase agreements (PPAs), has had on the overall renewable market. In less than a decade, renewable energy created from corporate PPAs went from zero to more than 13 gigawatts in the U.S. alone.  Microsoft is one of the largest players in this market, beginning with a 110-megawatt wind project in Texas in 2013 to a portfolio of more than 1.2 gigawatts in six states and three continents.

This rapid growth, both within our portfolio and beyond, is because these deals are good for business. Renewable energy agreements help companies meet sustainability commitments customers increasingly expect and – if structured properly – do so in a way that provides a hedge against the risk of rising electricity costs on the open market. The fuel for renewable energy projects – the wind and the sun – are free, enabling a fixed price over the length of the agreement. However, as the market has matured, it’s become clear that other risks and complexities exist within the PPA structure that may inhibit their effectiveness as risk management tools. The failure to simplify this complex process and mitigate the risk assumed by the buyer could endanger the corporate procurement market, causing it to slow or stall out completely.

We want to see continued growth of renewables. That is why today, Microsoft and REsurety, along with their partners at Nephila Climate (“Nephila”) and Allianz Global Corporate & Specialty, Inc.’s Alternative Risk Transfer unit (Allianz) announced a new solution that mitigates those risks. We’re calling it a volume firming agreement (VFA), and Microsoft, in addition to co-developing it, will become the first adopter.

The concept of a VFA has its roots in late 2010, when Nephila Capital approached several of the first corporate renewable energy buyers with the idea of helping them manage the risks inherent in PPAs. At the time, however, the idea was just that. Unable to find a corporate buyer willing to put in the effort to help co-develop what would become the VFA, Nephila elected instead to sponsor an MBA project at the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth College, led by Lee Taylor. Upon graduation, Taylor turned that concept into a company, REsurety. In 2016, Nephila and REsurety finally found that corporate partner in Microsoft, when we signed a PPA with Allianz for the output of the 178-megawatt Bloom wind project in Kansas. This was the first Proxy Generation PPA, winning honors as North American Wind Project of the Year, and laying the groundwork for today’s VFA.

VFAs are intended to be a simple fix to a big challenge with renewable energy PPAs, namely that these deals expose the buyer to all the weather-related risks of power production, and the inherent intermittent nature of wind and solar means there are hourly issues to be addressed. Put simply, the power needs of buyers are static but the power from the project varies on a day-to-day, hour-to-hour basis.

While it’s true that the fixed-price nature of PPAs provide the buyer some protection against a long-term increase in price, the hourly variability of wind and solar creates near-term complexity and risk. In periods when the wind or solar project is producing more than average, the market value of this energy is often lower due to the impact of additional supply in the market. Conversely, in periods when it is producing less than average, the market price is often high.  In other words, volume and price move inversely. This variability and the financial impact are difficult for even the savviest energy buyers and a substantial deterrent to smaller companies, as well as retailers, looking to engage in the renewables market.

But what is undesirable to buyers is very attractive to others, namely insurance companies whose core business revolves around taking weather-related risks, including temperature, rain, snow, wind and so on. VFAs effectively remove the risk related to how future weather conditions will impact the financial value of a PPA from buyers and reallocates it to people who want that risk.

As the market for VFAs and similar products grow, we believe it will create new incentives for those who now bear these risks to procure storage resources and other assets capable of physically balancing the intermittency of renewables. Through the aggregation of risk, these insurers will be able to procure resources at economies of scale that even Microsoft is unable to achieve. In that way, today’s financial firming solution is tomorrow’s physical firming solution, accelerating the adoption of storage and other resources required to eventually transition to a 100 percent carbon-free power generation system.

VFAs are not a replacement for PPAs, nor are they a product Microsoft is selling. They are contracts that simply sit atop new PPAs, or existing PPAs, mitigating the risk to the buyer. Microsoft has signed three of these contracts with Allianz, in conjunction with their partners at Nephila, covering three wind projects in the U.S. in Texas, Illinois and Kansas, totaling almost 500 megawatts. As Microsoft continues to purchase renewable energy to power our operations, we anticipate utilizing VFAs to firm the energy and match our consumption on an hourly basis.

At Microsoft, we are committed to driving a more sustainable future beyond our own four walls. That is why our corporate energy commitments are far broader than just megawatts. We intend to support and enable the transformation of the energy sector using our buying power and innovations so everyone can benefit. REsurety is also focused on enabling the growth of renewable energy by providing tools to understand and manage risks.

The partnership between our two organizations leverages deep expertise in markets, risk and the challenges buyers face in these markets. That is why we’re confident that innovations like the VFA will make it cheaper and easier to procure renewable energy, enabling corporate buyers of all sizes, as well as retailers, to play a role in enabling the transition from fossil fuels to clean energy.

We invite other corporate buyers to take a more in-depth look at our white paper expounding on the role of Proxy Generation PPAs in the implementation of VFAs, co-authored by Microsoft, REsurety and Orrick, Herrington and Sutcliffe LLP, available today here, or contact us. We’re looking forward to a future where even more corporations can participate in the renewable energy market, which would be a big step toward a low-carbon future for the planet.

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Kendo UI helps devs build accessibility into apps, websites

App development tools have begun to incorporate updated guidelines to help disabled individuals access the virtual world.

The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG), which came out of the World Wide Web Consortium’s Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI), set standards for web accessibility. The latest version, WCAG 2.1, addresses requirements for building mobile apps and websites for people with various disabilities.

Progress Software’s Kendo UI JavaScript component tool set is among the first to support WCAG 2.1 to make web content more accessible to people with visual, auditory, physical, speech, cognitive, language, learning and neurological disabilities.

In June, WAI released WCAG 2.1, which adds 17 requirements. In October, Progress released its latest version of Kendo UI, Kendo UI R3 2018, which incorporates all of those requirements, said Carl Bergenhem, product manager for Kendo UI at Progress, based in Bedford, Mass. The tool set helps developers build apps that are accessible, without having to write any additional code, he said.

“They have compliance to the WCAG standard baked into their product,” said Bekah Rice, a Kendo UI user and an interactive designer and front-end developer at True Matter LLC, a usability consultancy in West Columbia, S.C.

But the product doesn’t solve every potential accessibility issue.

“Kendo provides components that make up your application, but anything else that you build or add still has to be accessible,” Rice said.

True Matter looks to third-party tools such as Kendo UI to save time and increase productivity.

“It allows us to have a toolbox that lets us know what we can and cannot do,” Rice said. “It’s a huge timesaver, and it is a big help with testing. I used to have to test sites page by page using a screen reader. But, with Kendo, we don’t have to screen-read everything that we build.”

In addition to support for WCAG 2.1, Kendo UI R3 2018 also features updates to several components, including components for jQuery, Vue, React and Angular.

An accessibility movement

Kendo provides components that make up your application, but anything else that you build or add still has to be accessible.
Bekah Riceinteractive designer, True Matter

Progress Software sees demand for accessibility tools, especially from organizations required by law to comply with the standards — financial institutions, banks and government organizations.

“They want to keep up with the modern look and feel that consumers have come to expect from today’s applications, while they also must comply with these standards,” Bergenhem said.

Kendo UI aids Accessible Rich Internet Applications (ARIA) development, which defines accessibility requirements to build dynamic content and user interface components.

“Usability is our thing, and that means enhancing the user experience for users that are hard of hearing, low vision, deaf, blind or anything,” Rice said, with regard to ARIA.  

Accessibility is a huge deal for True Matter, which provides user experience strategy to clients across a variety of industries, Rice said. Government sites are required to comply with the WCAG standards, and banks and other financial institutions are following suit, she said.

For Sale – 2x eMachines ER1401

Hi….

I have 2x eMachines ER1401 for sale. They are in good condition, a few scratches on the case due to their age. Everything working fine. They come with the power supply only.

Specs:

1.3 GHz AMD Athlon II Neo Processor K325
nVidia nForce 9200 Chipset
250GB 5400rpm SATA hard drive
Multi-in-One Digital Media Card Reader: MultiMediaCard, Secure Digital Card, Memory Stick, xDPicture Card
10/100/1000 Gigabit Ethernet LAN (RJ-45 port), integrated 802.11b/g/n wireless

£40 each.

Will sort pictures out if there is any interest in them. Thanks for looking.

Price and currency: £40 each
Delivery: Delivery cost is included within my country
Payment method: PPG or BT
Location: Liverpool
Advertised elsewhere?: advertised elsewhere
Prefer goods collected?: I have no preference

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Introducing Component Firmware Update – Windows Developer Blog

The Microsoft Devices Team is excited to announce the release of an open-source model for Component Firmware Update for Windows system developers – Component Firmware Update (CFU).  With CFU, you can easily deliver firmware updates for through Windows Update by using CFU drivers.

Computers and peripherals have components running their own software preprogrammed in the factory.  However, over time, the factory software (“firmware”) must be updated to support new features or fix issues.
Firmware updates for embedded components have three primary delivery mechanisms:

Each of those mechanisms have its own advantages.  Stand-alone tools can support component-specific protocols but require the user to find and download the tools and find out if an update is available and applicable.  UEFI UpdateCapsule drivers can be pushed through Windows Update but can only update components during boot-time when components may not be available or may not be attached.  The most flexible mechanism is the component-specific firmware update driver, which can support component-specific protocols and can run whenever the device is enumerated on the system.
Writing a firmware update driver for each component-specific protocol can become a burden, so we defined the Component Firmware Update (CFU) standard protocol for use in our firmware update drivers and components.  The protocol permits us to use a standardized driver and protocol to deliver firmware to any component that supports CFU.
Due to architectural differences, third-party firmware, or other issues, many of our components cannot support CFU.  We designed CFU to allow a CFU-compatible component to receive firmware by using the CFU protocol and forward it to other components using their specific protocols.  Thus, only one component in a collection of components needs to be CFU-compatible. The CFU driver delivers sub-component firmware to the primary component for forwarding to non-CFU components.
For components with very limited battery power, such as small wireless peripherals, firmware downloads are expensive operations and waste significant battery life if the firmware is ultimately rejected by the peripheral.  To avoid this, CFU “offers” a firmware image before it is downloaded, providing specific properties such as version, hardware platform, and so on.   If the primary component accepts an offer, it may still reject the firmware after download due to integrity issues that may arise during the transport of the image, or if the received image properties do not match the offered properties.
As part of our open-source effort, we are sharing the CFU protocol, driver sample, firmware sample code, and tool sample. This aims at enabling the system and peripheral developers to leverage this protocol, support their development, easily and automatically push firmware updates to Windows Update for many of their firmware components.

CFU was developed with the following tenets in mind:

Update must occur with little or no user disruption – no “update mode” that requires the user to wait or even be aware that an update is taking place.
Update must be delivered through Windows Update drivers.
Update must be able to wait to update a device until it becomes available.
Drivers must not have to “know” specifics of any update package other than which component device to send it to.
Evaluation of the appropriateness of the update lies with the component receiving it, not in the driver.
Target must be able to reject firmware before it is downloaded if it is inappropriate.
Update must permit third-party versioning schemes to be mapped to a standardized versioning scheme.

CFU permits but does not specify:

Authentication policies or methods
Encryption policies or methods
Rollback policies or methods
Recovery of bricked firmware

In CFU, a primary component is a device that understands the CFU protocol. This component can receive firmware from a CFU driver for itself or for the sub-components to which the component is connected. The CFU driver (host) is created by the component or device manufacturer and delivered through Windows Update. The driver is installed and loaded when the device is detected by Windows.
Primary Components and Sub-Components
A CFU-compatible system uses a hierarchical concept of a primary component and sub-components.  A primary component is a device that implements the device side of the CFU protocol and can receive updates for itself or its sub-components directly from the CFU driver. A primary component and sub-components can be internal or detachable.  A device may have multiple primary components, with or without sub-components, each with its own CFU driver.

Sub-components are updated by the component after receiving a CFU firmware image that is targeted for the sub-component.  The mechanism that the component uses to update its sub-components is implementation specific between the sub-component and the primary component and is beyond the scope of the CFU specification.
Offers and Payloads
A CFU driver (host) may contain multiple firmware images for a primary component and sub-components associated with the component.

A package within the host comprises an offer and a payload or image and other information necessary for the driver to load.  The offer contains enough information about the payload to allow the primary component to decide if it is an acceptable payload.  Offer information includes a CFU protocol version, component ID (and sub-component ID if applicable), firmware version, release vs. debug status, and other information.  For some devices, downloading and flashing new firmware is expensive for battery life and other reasons.  By issuing an offer, the CFU protocol avoids downloading or flashing firmware that would be rejected based on versioning and other platform policies.
The payload of a package is a range of addresses and bytes to be programmed. The bytes are opaque to the host.
Offer Sequence
The general firmware update sequence by using CFU is for the host to issue the offer of each package to the primary component.  In general, the primary component can accept, reject, or skip the offer.

Accept offer—The primary component is ready to accept the firmware that was offered. If an offer is accepted, the payload is immediately delivered to the primary component.
Reject offer—The primary component is not interested in the firmware, possibly because it already has a better firmware, or the firmware violates some other internal policy.
Skip offer—The primary component may be interested in the firmware, but it is choosing to skip it for now.

If the offer is rejected or skipped, the host continues to cycle through its list of offers.  The driver repeats this cycle until all offers are rejected.
The optional skip response permits the primary component to examine the entire offer list to arrange it for ordering dependencies according to internal policies. After it has prioritized the offers in the list, it can continue to skip and accept the highest priority offer when the host replays the sequence. After an offer has been accepted and installed it is subsequently rejected if offered in a later cycle because the entity is up to date.  The cycle ends when all offers have been rejected.  Because updates can change the policies themselves, such as “jail-breaking” during development, all offers are issued every cycle, even those that were previously rejected.
An offer can also be rejected if the primary component has accepted a download but must be restarted.  In this case the component can reboot itself, if the user disruption is minimal, or the update can remain pending until the next system reboot.  The host restarts the offer cycle after the reboot or component reset.
Consider an example of a device that has four components: one primary component and three sub components. Offers are made in no specific order within a cycle.  Here is a representation of a possible host offer cycle:

In an example, in the first round, all offers are skipped to see all the Offers.

After seeing all the offers, the primary component determines that sub-component 1 must be updated before sub-component 3, and that the order of the primary component and sub-component 2 does not matter. The component sets sub-component 3 as lower priority than sub-component 1.
In the next offer cycle, the sub-component 3 offer is skipped again because sub-component 1 has not yet been updated and is higher priority.  Each of the other offers is accepted and updated.

In the next round, the sub-component 3 offer is accepted because the requirement to first update sub-component 2 has been met. All other offers are rejected because they are up to date.

Finally, in the last round, all offers are Rejected because the primary component and all sub-components are up to date.

At this time, the host has done all it can do. It ends the update process and updates its status in Device Manager according to the update results.
So, this mechanism permits ordering of updates, even to the same entity.  For example, if a component cannot receive version Y until it has version X due to some breaking change, both versions could be included, and version Y could be skipped until version X has been applied.
CFU Driver (host) Independence
It is important to note that the host does not have to make any decisions based on content of the offers or payloads. It simply sends the offers down and sends down the payloads that are accepted. It does not have to have any logic about what it is offering.  This permits it to be reused for diverse components and sub-components by changing only the offers and payloads it contains, and the component that the driver loads on.
The host does know the standard format of the offers to send the offer command. The host needs to understand the standard format of the payloads so that it can break them into addresses and bytes to deliver to the primary component. In the payload, the host does not need to know what data those fields contain.
Payload Delivery
After an offer has been accepted, the CFU Driver (the host) proceeds to download the firmware image, or Payload.  The primary component may prepare itself to receive it upon accepting the offer, or it may wait for the download to commence before making any changes.  The primary component may optionally cache the offer to check it against the payload after the payload is delivered but if possible, must evaluate the payload on its own merit, regardless of the offer.
Payload Delivery is accomplished in three phases, essentially, beginning, middle and end.
The Payload, in simplest terms, is a set of addresses and fixed-size arrays of bytes, for example Address 0x0000 0000 and 16 associated bytes, then Address 0x0000 0010 and 16 more bytes.  These are turned into write requests, one per address in the set, with its associated bytes.
The first write request is flagged so that the Component can do any preparations that it did not do when the Offer was first accepted, such as erase memory.  After the first write request, the Driver sends more Address + Data write commands until the final write.  The final write is flagged such that the Component knows that the download is complete and that it should validate the download and invoke or forward the new firmware.

The CFU Protocol specification defines several other result codes to assist in troubleshooting failures.  See the complete specification for details.  There is also room for implementers to add other codes for their own specific purposes, such as requesting immediate resets.
Payload Validation and Authentication
One of the most important aspects of firmware update is the validation of incoming firmware.  The first line of defense is to use a reliable transport mechanism with built-in robustness, such as USB or Bluetooth. These transports have built-in CRCs and retry mechanisms so that data is delivered reliably and in order.  Interfaces such as I2C™, SPI and UART do not have those mechanisms built-in and such robustness must be provided by higher layers.  At Microsoft, we prefer to use USB or Bluetooth Human Interface Device Class (HID) protocols for CFU, with a Vendor-Specific report structure, but any bidirectional command-response based mechanism can be used.
At a minimum, the primary component should verify bytes after each write to ensure that the data is properly stored before accepting the next set of bytes.  Also, a CRC or hash should be calculated on the download in its entirety to be verified after the download is complete, to ensure that the data was not modified in transit. The delivery of a reference CRC or hash to be validated is beyond the scope of the protocol but is typically contained within the download image itself and verified by the primary component or sub-component that receives it before issuing a Result Code.
For enhanced protection, a cryptographic signature mechanism is recommended to provide end-to-end protection against accidental modification or intentional attack at any stage in the update delivery, from creation at the manufacturer to invocation by the component.  If the download is required be confidential, an encryption mechanism can also be employed. Decryption and key management is also beyond of scope of the CFU protocol specification.
After the image has been authenticated, its properties should be validated against the offer and any other internal rules that the manufacturer requires. CFU does not specify the rules to be applied — these are up to the implementer.  It is important to do this check after the update has been authenticated so that any self-declared characteristics can be considered trustworthy.
While it is possible (and recommended) for each sub-Component to validate its own images, one advantage of CFU is that the primary component can accept offers and validate the sub-component image on behalf of the sub-component by using a standardized validation algorithm devised by the manufacturer.  The manufacturer can then design the primary component to apply the firmware by using less-secure means such as ARM-SWD, JTAG or other hardware-based methods.
Payload Invocation
One of the advantages of the CFU Protocol is that it is run at the application level in the primary component.  It is not necessary to place the component in any special mode that disrupts its normal operation.  As long as the component can receive and store the incoming payload without significant disruption, it can continue to do other tasks.  The only potential disruption comes when the new firmware must be invoked.
There are two recommended means to avoid that disruption, although others are possible.  Both involve having enough storage to maintain the current running application while receiving at least one additional image.  For the primary component, this means that it requires at least twice the normal application space, one space for the running primary component application, and one space for the incoming firmware package. For sub-components whose images are smaller than the primary component image, the primary component can use the extra space to store the sub-component image in its entirety.  If the sub-component image is larger than the primary component firmware, then separate packages are necessary, and must all be downloaded successfully for the sub-component update to complete.
The first invocation method uses a small bootloader image to select one of multiple images to run when the device is reset, typically at boot time, connection or power-up. The image selection algorithm is implementation specific, but typically is based on an algorithm involving the version of code, and an indication of successful validation of that image either at boot or when it was received.  This is the most generic approach.
A second invocation method is to physically swap the memory of the desired image into the active address space upon reset.  This capability is available in some microcontrollers and can also be accomplished with logic controls on external memory address bits.  This method has a disadvantage in that it requires specialized hardware but has the advantage that all images are statically linked to the same address space, and the mechanism does not require any bootloader.

There are a few caveats around CFU.

CFU cannot update a “bricked” component that can no longer run the protocol, yet new firmware has the potential to brick the component if not thoroughly validated and tested.

Care must be taken when adopting any update mechanism to always test the update mechanism prior to every release.
At Microsoft, we always build a “v.next” version so that we can validate that CFU has not been broken and can validate and invoke any subsequent update properly. Unbricking the component is beyond the of scope for the CFU protocol because the device cannot run the CFU protocol.
Implementers can use other methods to prevent bricking a device, such as having a third “fallback” fail-safe firmware image that is capable of CFU but that may not provide some features, or by implementing CFU as a function of the bootloader that is called by the application. If the application fails, the bootloader can be forced to take over and either fall back or provide a ‘bare-bones’ CFU interface until it is successfully updated.

CFU does not provide security. Security features can easily be overlaid on top of CFU by adding features to the validation algorithms used by the component and adding necessary data structures to the downloaded images such as Public Key Digital Signatures and appropriate key management.
CFU requires extra memory to store the incoming images because the protocol runs as part current firmware on the primary component. This will add cost to a system for the benefit of non-disruptive updates to the system.

Updating sub-component images that are larger than the component’s available storage requires dividing the sub-component image into a set of smaller update packages called segments and applying each segment separately.
The CFU protocol does not prohibit pausing the download to while portions of the image are forwarded. Thus, it may be possible to stream a large image through the primary component without segmentation.  Such “streamed” segmentation is beyond the scope of the CFU specification.  Care must be taken that the image can be properly validated after such a download is complete, such as maintenance of a running CRC or hash, as it is not fully resident in the primary component at the end of the download.
CFU presumes that the primary component has a set of validation rules to use.  If those rules are to be changed, the component must first be successfully updated by using the old rules before new rules can be applied.
There is example source code for the Host CFU drivers and Firmware along with documentation on GitHub.  Component Firmware Update

Updated October 17, 2018 4:45 pm

Samsung debuts the Galaxy Book2, an always on, always connected 2-in-1 PC with Snapdragon 850 – Windows Experience Blog

Samsung Galaxy Book2 with included pen and keyboard

Today’s workforce, along with the tech industry, is changing. More and more consumers are trading in traditional laptops and PCs for devices that do more – in both form factor and performance. Workers, consumers and enterprises also have an expectation of mobility, a seamless transition and integration between experiences.
If you’re often working on the go, check out a new 2-in-1 portable PC that’s on and always connected, Samsung’s new Galaxy Book2, running Windows 10 and powered by the Qualcomm Snapdragon 850 mobile compute platform.
Where LTE was once “nice to have,” more and more users are seeing the benefits of being always connected to what is important to them, both at home and at work. Fast gigabit LTE on the Samsung Galaxy Book 2 keeps you productive and connected, without having to look for a Wi-Fi connection. With Instant On, it starts up as quickly as your smartphone, so you can work, stream and download a full-length movie in HD resolution within seconds. No more “hibernating” or “sleep mode” like on traditional PCs. Multitask and get things done quickly with an ultra-fast and responsive Qualcomm Snapdragon 850 mobile compute platform.
With Windows 10, you’ll feel right at home running your favorite apps, creating spreadsheets, editing presentations and emailing files on the go. Being “Always On” requires that the Galaxy Book 2 has a powerful multi-day battery that recharges quickly, thanks to Adaptive Fast Charging. With it, you can watch up to 20+ hours of video with the immersive audio experience of Dolby Atmos and speakers tuned by AKG for true-to-life audio quality. Combine that incredible sound with a state-of-the-art Super AMOLED touch display and you’ve got a phenomenal cinematic experience wherever you go.
Power up and login instantly with the easy fingerprint scanner that opens to your touch only with Windows Hello. Galaxy Book2 ships with Windows 10 in S mode, which means you don’t have to think twice when downloading your favorite apps or visiting a website. Plus, apps available through the Microsoft Store are Microsoft-verified providing an additional level of security and protection. Windows 10 in S mode provides a streamlined, secure and battery efficient experience that is excellent for a variety of customers, particularly those who need every day browsing and apps. Users can also rest assured that the Windows app catalog gives customers the widest selection of full featured apps on Always Connected PCs.

Close-up of pen and keyboard on the Samsung Galaxy Book2

Two accessories come with the Galaxy Book2 making it easy to work and play when you’re on the move: a backlit keyboard that connects on contact and adjusts to you, so you can easily switch from touch to type and a precise, pressure-responsive S Pen. Neither needs charging.
Another bonus: Samsung Flow gives users seamless file transfers between your Galaxy Book2 and your Galaxy smartphone. Start marking up a document on your Galaxy Book2, and then edit it on your phone whenever you want. And don’t worry about missing smartphone notifications—they come straight to your Always Connected PC screen so you can immediately reply to messages and social posts from your PC without skipping a beat.
Check out a video about the device on Facebook.
The Samsung Galaxy Book2 is available Nov. 2 on Samsung.com starting at $999.
Updated October 18, 2018 9:22 am

MileIQ Team Launches New Microsoft Garage Project to Simplify Expense Management – Microsoft Garage

In the fall of 2015, a startup team committed to making mileage logging easier joined Microsoft to expand their ability to empower the self-directed worker. Today, the team that created MileIQ now announces an iOS app to simplify expense management. Spend, a Microsoft Garage project, is now available for download in the US App Store.

The Microsoft Garage has released dozens of projects in the four years following the October 2014 launch of its Garage project program. Several projects have gone on to become features of flagship Microsoft products or new, branded products in their own right. Both self-organized, grassroots teams and arms of Microsoft product groups have leveraged the program to collect user feedback, add new features, and refine their approach.

Spend joins a host of Garage projects that have narrowed in on a specific target customer to understand their needs and build scenarios that tackle acute problems. Sports Performance Platform worked with the Seattle Seahawks, Benfica, Cricket Australia, and Real Madrid among other major sports teams and organizations. Video Indexer—the once-titled Video Breakdown and Garage project alum—synthesized multiple Microsoft Cognitive Services into an improved experience and is now offered as a standalone Azure Media Service. Microsoft Kaizala began its journey focusing on mobile collaboration scenarios, getting its big break working with the Indian state government to organize a massive holiday event attended by over 20 million people.

Hassle-Free, On-the-go Expense Management

Spend is mobile-first and built with the user in mind, making it simple to track expenses for reimbursements or taxes

• Quickly manage all your purchases for your expense reports with automatically tracked expenses from a connected credit card, debit card or bank account
• See purchases in a feed and easily classify expenses as business or personal with a single swipe
• Edit purchases or bulk classify expenses through the web dashboard
• Create accurate reports with only a few clicks for the week, month, or another customer period
• Fully customize reports which are available in either spreadsheet or PDF, commonly-used formats compatible with leading accounting and expense management software
• Snap pictures of receipts and attached to purchase with additional features for easy cash purchase management
• Track confidently: Spend uses 256-bit encryption, bank-level security, with Microsoft certifications

Spend, a Microsoft Garage project

The team has long focused on creating solutions that simplify work and empower self-directed workers, and built its first product MileIQ to enhance the mileage logging experience. When you’re on the road a lot, it can be time-consuming and chaotic to organize mileage and gas information for reimbursements or tax deductions. Now, the team is also turning its attention to another pain point for this audience: expense management.

“Keeping, sorting, and tracking paper receipts is annoying and inefficient. Spend uses intelligent features to bring receipt and expense tracking to the modern era,” says Heman Chawda, Product Manager for Spend. Built for mobile and designed around those always on the go, Spend takes a fresh approach to expense management. “It’s a great opportunity for us to be able to explore this space,” shared Nat Robinson, General Manager of MileIQ. “We are a growing team at Microsoft working on a number of experiences that empower small and medium businesses. The Microsoft Garage gives us the chance to offer a simplified expense management experience and really hone the value we provide. This is an important area of investment for us—we’re really excited to take this first step.”

Buying renewable energy should be easy — here’s one way to make it less complex – Microsoft on the Issues

By Brian Janous, Microsoft General Manager of Energy and Sustainability; Kenneth Davies, Microsoft Director of Innovation for Energy Strategy & Research; and Lee Taylor, cofounder and CEO, REsurety

It would be difficult to overestimate the impact that corporate procurement of renewable energy, primarily through power purchase agreements (PPAs), has had on the overall renewable market. In less than a decade, renewable energy created from corporate PPAs went from zero to more than 13 gigawatts in the U.S. alone.  Microsoft is one of the largest players in this market, beginning with a 110-megawatt wind project in Texas in 2013 to a portfolio of more than 1.2 gigawatts in six states and three continents.

This rapid growth, both within our portfolio and beyond, is because these deals are good for business. Renewable energy agreements help companies meet sustainability commitments customers increasingly expect and – if structured properly – do so in a way that provides a hedge against the risk of rising electricity costs on the open market. The fuel for renewable energy projects – the wind and the sun – are free, enabling a fixed price over the length of the agreement. However, as the market has matured, it’s become clear that other risks and complexities exist within the PPA structure that may inhibit their effectiveness as risk management tools. The failure to simplify this complex process and mitigate the risk assumed by the buyer could endanger the corporate procurement market, causing it to slow or stall out completely.

We want to see continued growth of renewables. That is why today, Microsoft and REsurety, along with their partners at Nephila Climate (“Nephila”) and Allianz Global Corporate & Specialty, Inc.’s Alternative Risk Transfer unit (Allianz) announced a new solution that mitigates those risks. We’re calling it a volume firming agreement (VFA), and Microsoft, in addition to co-developing it, will become the first adopter.

The concept of a VFA has its roots in late 2010, when Nephila Capital approached several of the first corporate renewable energy buyers with the idea of helping them manage the risks inherent in PPAs. At the time, however, the idea was just that. Unable to find a corporate buyer willing to put in the effort to help co-develop what would become the VFA, Nephila elected instead to sponsor an MBA project at the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth College, led by Lee Taylor. Upon graduation, Taylor turned that concept into a company, REsurety. In 2016, Nephila and REsurety finally found that corporate partner in Microsoft, when we signed a PPA with Allianz for the output of the 178-megawatt Bloom wind project in Kansas. This was the first Proxy Generation PPA, winning honors as North American Wind Project of the Year, and laying the groundwork for today’s VFA.

VFAs are intended to be a simple fix to a big challenge with renewable energy PPAs, namely that these deals expose the buyer to all the weather-related risks of power production, and the inherent intermittent nature of wind and solar means there are hourly issues to be addressed. Put simply, the power needs of buyers are static but the power from the project varies on a day-to-day, hour-to-hour basis.

While it’s true that the fixed-price nature of PPAs provide the buyer some protection against a long-term increase in price, the hourly variability of wind and solar creates near-term complexity and risk. In periods when the wind or solar project is producing more than average, the market value of this energy is often lower due to the impact of additional supply in the market. Conversely, in periods when it is producing less than average, the market price is often high.  In other words, volume and price move inversely. This variability and the financial impact are difficult for even the savviest energy buyers and a substantial deterrent to smaller companies, as well as retailers, looking to engage in the renewables market.

But what is undesirable to buyers is very attractive to others, namely insurance companies whose core business revolves around taking weather-related risks, including temperature, rain, snow, wind and so on. VFAs effectively remove the risk related to how future weather conditions will impact the financial value of a PPA from buyers and reallocates it to people who want that risk.

As the market for VFAs and similar products grow, we believe it will create new incentives for those who now bear these risks to procure storage resources and other assets capable of physically balancing the intermittency of renewables. Through the aggregation of risk, these insurers will be able to procure resources at economies of scale that even Microsoft is unable to achieve. In that way, today’s financial firming solution is tomorrow’s physical firming solution, accelerating the adoption of storage and other resources required to eventually transition to a 100 percent carbon-free power generation system.

VFAs are not a replacement for PPAs, nor are they a product Microsoft is selling. They are contracts that simply sit atop new PPAs, or existing PPAs, mitigating the risk to the buyer. Microsoft has signed three of these contracts with Allianz, in conjunction with their partners at Nephila, covering three wind projects in the U.S. in Texas, Illinois and Kansas, totaling almost 500 megawatts. As Microsoft continues to purchase renewable energy to power our operations, we anticipate utilizing VFAs to firm the energy and match our consumption on an hourly basis.

At Microsoft, we are committed to driving a more sustainable future beyond our own four walls. That is why our corporate energy commitments are far broader than just megawatts. We intend to support and enable the transformation of the energy sector using our buying power and innovations so everyone can benefit. REsurety is also focused on enabling the growth of renewable energy by providing tools to understand and manage risks.

The partnership between our two organizations leverages deep expertise in markets, risk and the challenges buyers face in these markets. That is why we’re confident that innovations like the VFA will make it cheaper and easier to procure renewable energy, enabling corporate buyers of all sizes, as well as retailers, to play a role in enabling the transition from fossil fuels to clean energy.

We invite other corporate buyers to take a more in-depth look at our white paper expounding on the role of Proxy Generation PPAs in the implementation of VFAs, co-authored by Microsoft, REsurety and Orrick, Herrington and Sutcliffe LLP, available today here, or contact us. We’re looking forward to a future where even more corporations can participate in the renewable energy market, which would be a big step toward a low-carbon future for the planet.

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Hitachi storage technologies underpin AI and cloud plans

As an indication of its future direction, Hitachi Vantara devoted much of its recent user conference to explaining where its storage fits with AI and the internet of things.

While company executives painted the big picture at Hitachi Next in September, details on the Hitachi storage strategy received little attention. The specifics will start coming out within the next several months, said Nathan Moffitt, Hitachi senior director of AI operations software and infrastructure systems.

“Over the long term, there will be a couple pivots we’re going to make,” Moffitt said. “One is to have a storage operating system with the agility to cover a broader range of use cases at the core, the edge and the cloud. Another pivot is to coalesce and collate data sources to help you make better decisions.”

Hitachi Vantara is a subsidiary of Tokyo-based Hitachi Ltd. The company was launched in 2017,combining its Hitachi Data Systems (HDS) storage unit, Hitachi Insight Group and Pentaho IoT data analytics.

But some wonder if the vendor already regrets its decision to move away from the HDS brand. Hitachi’s cloud message is hazy, and it appears to be playing catch-up to competitors with integrated storage for AI, nonvolatile memory express (NVMe) flash and multi-cloud data services.

“I think Hitachi made such a wide swing away from the storage message that they realized they may have gone too far. Now they’re trying to get the pendulum to swing back the other way,” said Mark Peters, an analyst at Enterprise Strategy Group. “From everything they’ve said, it sounds like they’re trying to go back to being Hitachi Data Systems, which had more of a focus on the storage.”

Hitachi AI tools

The name change signaled Hitachi’s intent to sell storage and other technologies to a limited number of customers, mostly high-dollar contracts with longer sales cycles.

The most recent Gartner Magic Quadrant report lists Hitachi Vantara’s Virtual Storage Platform (VSP) as a leading all-flash array. But by design, Hitachi is selling less of its flagship storage directly to mainstream data centers. The vendor said it has mostly ceded hardware refresh cycles to competitors, preferring to target high-end industrial sectors.

The strategy enables Hitachi storage to be combined with other business products in the Hitachi portfolio. Hitachi Ltd. posted $19.9 billion in consolidated revenue in the quarter that ended in June.

The move to develop storage for analyzing machine-generated data fits the overall Hitachi portfolio, which includes companies spanning the automotive, construction, defense, electronics, energy and medical industries.

“Hitachi storage is [aiming] at a higher level, which allows other parts of the Hitachi portfolio to be brought into a solution. That helps them create sales opportunities at the line-of-business level, rather than just the IT level,” said Eric Burgener, an analyst at IDC.

An example is Hitachi Transport System (HTS), which sells trains, tracks and other physical infrastructure. HTS reportedly is bidding on a multibillion-dollar contract with Finland’s national railway system that would include storage and AI automation technologies.

Hitachi’s storage innovations now center on mobility across local and cloud tiers. It’s an approach other vendors have taken, most notably the NetApp Data Fabric technologies.

The “intelligent data pipeline” encompasses primary Hitachi VSP storage arrays, Hitachi Content Platform object storage, Hitachi Enterprise Cloud and multiple hybrid clouds, said Iri Trashanski, a senior vice president of infrastructure and edge products at Hitachi.

“We’ve seen data centers move from consolidated architecture to one that is more distributed. We added capabilities at the edge. We call it an intelligent data pipeline. We help you ingest, cleanse, enrich and monetize your data,” Trashanski said.

An update in June to the flagship Hitachi Storage Virtualization Operating System (SVOS) added support for software-defined storage on commodity servers. SVOS was supported other vendors’ hardware before, but only via the VSP controller.

Hitachi customized the code base for different models of VSP hardware.

“It’s not a full virtual machine, just an encapsulation of the code that can be dropped onto any system,” Moffitt said.

NVMe for hyper-converged expected in 2019

Hitachi in September launched an all-flash Unified Compute Platform hyper-converged infrastructure with integrated NVMe flash. NVMe-based VSP arrays are also on Hitachi’s storage roadmap.

Even though most storage vendors already sell NVMe products, Hitachi said it will wait until 2019 to introduce a generation of NVMe flash-based VSP arrays. In the meantime, Hitachi will help customers identify the best use cases for NVMe flash, said Mark Adams, a Hitachi product marketing and business management director.

“NVMe is not a plug-and-play technology. There are a lot of things that need to be considered. We want to help customers make sure they deploy NVMe for the right use cases,” Adams said.

Hitachi’s custom flash hardware helps its SAS-based VSP arrays deliver performance that is close or equivalent to NVMe flash, Adams added. “We don’t have any customers complaining that our SAS-based VSP arrays are too slow — none,” he said.

For Sale – 2x eMachines ER1401

Hi….

I have 2x eMachines ER1401 for sale. They are in good condition, a few scratches on the case due to their age. Everything working fine. They come with the power supply only.

Specs:

1.3 GHz AMD Athlon II Neo Processor K325
nVidia nForce 9200 Chipset
250GB 5400rpm SATA hard drive
Multi-in-One Digital Media Card Reader: MultiMediaCard, Secure Digital Card, Memory Stick, xDPicture Card
10/100/1000 Gigabit Ethernet LAN (RJ-45 port), integrated 802.11b/g/n wireless

£40 each.

Will sort pictures out if there is any interest in them. Thanks for looking.

Price and currency: £40 each
Delivery: Delivery cost is included within my country
Payment method: PPG or BT
Location: Liverpool
Advertised elsewhere?: advertised elsewhere
Prefer goods collected?: I have no preference

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