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In Niagara Falls, bitcoin mining brings a new roar to town

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Bryan Maacks put up a sign protesting US Bitcoin over the noise of its operations in Niagara Falls, New York
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In the US border town of Niagara Falls, residents accustomed to the soothing roar of the famous waterfalls recently discovered a much less pleasant sound: the “haunting hum” of bitcoin mining farms.

“I get four hours of sleep, maybe, because of that constant noise,” said Elizabeth Lundy, an 80-year-old retired hairdresser. “I can hear the noise even through the storm windows.” 

On a sunny October morning, a mechanical whirring could be heard clearly on Lundy’s front porch. The noise turned to a deafening din as one walked two blocks toward Buffalo Avenue where the US bitcoin miners operate.

Bitcoin mining farms have multiplied in the United States since China halted this activity in 2021. The United States is now emerging as a global leader in the industry.

Attracted by the cheap hydroelectric power available in Niagara Falls, Blockfusion took up residence at a former coal factory there in 2019, followed by US Bitcoin in 2020, which operates from a former sodium plant.

US Bitcoin installed hundreds of noisy fans outside, needed to cool the thousands of computer graphics cards that heat up as they solve the complex equations required to earn them cryptocurrency.

– ‘A 747 jet’ –

“It sounds like a 747 jet,” said Frank Peller, a 70-year-old resident who lives in a brownstone more than a mile from this crypto mining operation.

“It’s the loudest in the morning, at night and if there’s high humidity and a breeze,” he added.

He once could sit in his backyard and hear the roar of Niagara Falls more than two miles away. But now, “you can’t hear it at all” and you can’t avoid “the roar of bitcoin mining every day.” 

Bryan Maacks, who lives closer to Buffalo Avenue, described a “haunting, vibrating hum” — a vexing throb that has run through his house day and night since last winter. 

“It’s very mentally daunting. It’s like having a toothache for 24 hours a day every day,” Maacks, 65, said.

He said he wears headphones all the time and uses a fan to block out the noise to get to sleep. 

Maacks launched a petition and made a “US Bitcoin Stop the Noise” sign on the back of his red pickup truck, which he parked for several weeks in front of the company.

“The noise pollution of this industry is like nothing else that has been there,” said Niagara Falls Mayor Robert Restaino in his office decorated with paintings of the famous waterfalls.

That’s quite a statement in a city that embraced heavy industry for decades.

Faced with a flood of complaints, mainly regarding US Bitcoin, the mayor decreed a moratorium on any new mining activity in December 2021, then in early September set strict noise limits of 40 to 50 decibels near residential areas. 

– ‘Noise barrier’ –

US Bitcoin said it’s taking steps to address the problem.

“Immediately upon these concerns being flagged, we erected a plastic barrier,” the company said in a statement to AFP.

“We also conducted acoustic studies and had plans drawn for a larger noise abatement wall” that was prevented from being built by the moratorium, the company said.

In the nearby town of North Tonawanda, the Canadian mining company Digihost, is also facing the ire of local residents, and has undertaken the construction of a soundproofing wall more than six meters (20 feet) high, at an estimated cost of several hundred thousand dollars, Mayor Austin Tylec said.

In Niagara Falls, City Hall ordered the closure of the two bitcoin farms in early October until they comply with new local statutes.

While both companies say they are cooperating with the city, only Blockfusion had shut down its processors by the end of October and reduced the number of fans running, with US Bitcoin’s still running at full capacity, an AFP reporter found.

“If they continue to refuse to comply with our order to stop, then we’ll have to be in court,” Restaino said.

Such a legal battle already pits the bitcoin farm Red Dog Technologies against local authorities in Tennessee. Other complaints about noise pollution in the vicinity of computer centers have arisen from North Carolina to Pennsylvania.

“I’m going to be protesting till the hum is gone, basically, till I get the roar of the falls back because that’s what I used to hear,” Maacks said.   

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IBM to cut 3,900 jobs as it reorganizes business

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IBM becomes the latest tech firm to announce it is trimming staff, joining titans such as Amazon and Google
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IBM will slash some 3,900 jobs, slightly more than one percent of its workforce, related to businesses it has divested, a source close to the matter told AFP on Wednesday.

The computing company based in New York state did not talk of job cuts in its quarterly earnings report published Wednesday, however, nor in a call with analysts to discuss the financial results.

IBM said it would take a one-time $300 million charge in its first quarter this year, which the source said was related to the layoffs.

This cost is “entirely related” to the spin-off of Kyndryl and the disposal of health data and analysis businesses, an IBM spokesperson told AFP.

“It is not an action based on 2022 performance or 2023 expectations,” the spokesperson added.

The more than century old technology firm reported profit of $2.9 billion in the final three months of last year, some 17 percent higher than the same period in 2021 despite revenue remaining flat at $16.7 billion.

“Clients in all geographies increasingly embraced our hybrid cloud and AI solutions as technology remains a differentiating force in today’s business environment,” IBM chief executive officer Arvind Krishna said in an earnings release.

The company founded in 1911 announced late last year that it will invest $20 billion in semiconductors, quantum computing and other cutting-edge technology in New York state.

Krishna unveiled the spending, which will take place over a decade, in a speech alongside US President Joe Biden in the tech giant’s Poughkeepsie facility.

Biden hailed the pledge from the “iconic American company” as another sign that his strategy of rebuilding the US innovative edge is working.

The Democratic president has made a priority of encouraging growth in high-tech manufacturing, hoping to rebuild domestic supply chains in crucial components such as microchips that for years have been left to foreign companies based as far away as Taiwan.

Meanwhile, tech giants have been tightening belts and laying off workers to endure tough global economic conditions and a return to pre-pandemic lifestyles less dependent on internet services.

Amazon, Meta, Microsoft and Google’s parent company Alphabet have all recently laid out plans to reduce workforces, after hiring heavily during the pandemic to meet increased demand for digital services.

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Amsterdam unveils its largest bike garage. It’s underwater

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Finding proper bicycle parking has long been a headache in Amsterdam
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Plagued by ever-shrinking space to park its hundreds of thousands of bicycles, Amsterdam opened Wednesday the first of its largest-ever bicycle parking complexes, built underwater in a pioneering engineering project.

The shelter is constructed beneath the Open Haven Front, an access tributary to the city’s IJ river, and will be followed by another next to the IJ itself that will open in February.

They will have a combined capacity for 11,000 bikes in the cycling-mad Dutch capital.

“Together the shelters will be the largest in the city,” the Amsterdam municipality said, with the Open Haven Front storage able to take 7,000 bicycles and the IJ-side site around 4,000.

Construction started in 2019 and involved draining part of the Open Haven Front next to Amsterdam Central Station.

A time-lapse video posted by the Amsterdam municipality showed how the water was pumped out, the structure built and the area eventually reflooded.

“We have a lot of knowledge and expertise when it comes to water,” Dutch deputy infrastructure minister Vivianne Heijnen told AFP at the opening ceremony.

This storage “makes optimal use of the space you have in a small country”, she said. 

Conveyor belts take cyclists nine metres (30 feet) below ground level, according to wUrck, the architectural firm that designed the ultramodern parking spaces that aim to evoke their oceanic surroundings.

“The cyclist steps into an imaginary oyster with a rough exterior of basalt and natural stone and a smooth, light interior,” the firm said in a statement.

“Now you will be assured that you can immediately park your bicycle when you come to Amsterdam station,” the city’s transport alderwoman Melanie van der Horst said.

There are an estimated 900,000 bicycles in Amsterdam with some 625,000 trips made daily, according to the city’s 2021 Bicycle Monitor plan — and finding proper parking has long been a headache.

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Boeing reports Q4 loss but reaffirms 2023 targets

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Boeing reported a 2022 fourth quarter loss as elevated supply chain costs dragged down results despite a late-quarter uptick in plane deliveries
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Persistent supply chain woes and staffing issues led to another quarterly loss at Boeing, but the company on Wednesday confirmed its 2023 outlook amid strong aviation demand.

Boeing said its commercial plane business was dented by “abnormal costs,” while “labor instability and supply chain disruption” weighed on its defense, space and security unit.

The company’s $634 million loss for the quarter ending December 31 was smaller than the $4.1 billion loss in the same period last year. Revenues rose 35 percent to $20 billion, but came in below analyst forecasts.

The aviation giant, which has been beset in recent years with production problems and certification delays following the 737 MAX crashes, nevertheless finished 2022 with positive free cashflow for the first time since 2018 as it reaffirmed 2023 targets.

“We had a solid fourth quarter, and 2022 proved to be an important year in our recovery,” said Boeing Chief Executive Dave Calhoun.  

“Demand across our portfolio is strong, and we remain focused on driving stability in our operations and within the supply chain to meet our commitments in 2023 and beyond.”

Boeing has said it expects to return to a level of financial strength comparable to its pre-pandemic state around the 2025-26 timeframe. 

The company’s turnaround has been aided by robust demand for commercial planes as airlines struggle to meet pent-up demand for flying and replace older planes with newer jets that burn less energy and release fewer carbon emissions.

But efforts to ramp up output have been hindered by snags in garnering key parts and materials, including delays in receiving engines from key suppliers.

Calhoun, in an interview with CNBC, said suppliers have made progress in hiring more staff, but are still working through the process to be able to increase output.

“You have to train,” Calhoun told the network. “Every one of these products are pretty sophisticated.”

He predicted that 2023 would remain “bumpy” as far as the supply chain, but said the ramp-up was aided by shared knowledge that demand for aviation remains strong.

Boeing has resumed deliveries of the 787 Dreamliner after a lengthy halt, and confirmed it would increase production in 2023 from the current “low” level.

The company expects to deliver 70-80 Dreamliners in 2023, up from 31 last year. Boeing is eyeing 400-450 deliveries of 737s, compared with 387 in 2022.

– Breakthrough in China? –

A key unknown facing the company is the degree to which it can expect bankable revenues from China after a lengthy pause in deliveries of 737 MAX planes while the country maintained strict Covid-19 policies.

Boeing executives have previously suggested the suspension was a reflection at least in part of the tense state of US-China relations. 

China was the last major market to clear the MAX to return to service after a global grounding following two fatal crashes. 

On January 13, a 737 MAX operated by China Southern Airlines undertook the first flight by a MAX plane in the country since March 2019.

Calhoun told CNBC that he expects progress over the next six months in moving the 100 MAX planes already in China back into the air, but that he wouldn’t engage in a “guessing game” about when deliveries of new planes could resume.

The Boeing CEO said he was “optimistic and constructive” around the market given the reopening Chinese economy, but that he didn’t have “rose colored glasses on.”

Shares of Boeing fell 2.2 percent to $207.24 in early trading.

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