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European scientists puzzle over Mars lander's radio silence




FRANKFURT/BERLIN A European lander that descended to Mars on Wednesday has failed to send signs of life to its mothership, leaving scientists uncertain whether it touched down on the Red Planet gently as planned, or crashed and broke apart, the European Space Agency (ESA) said.

"We've had two overflights (by Mars orbiters) and there was no signal," ESA Spacecraft Operations Manager Andrea Accomazzo told journalists on Thursday.


The disc-shaped 577-kg (1,272 lb) Schiaparelli, which is testing technologies for a rover due to follow in 2020, represents only the second European attempt to land a craft on Mars. Britain's Beagle 2 was sent down by the Mars Express spacecraft in 2003 but never made contact after failing to deploy its solar panels on landing.


The primary part of the current Russian-European ExoMars mission, bringing the Schiaparelli lander's mothership into orbit around Mars to search for signs of life, was meanwhile a success.




Scientists said they had received data from Schiaparelli covering its entry into the Martian atmosphere and the deployment of its heat shield and parachute, which were designed to slow it from a speed of 21,000 km per hour.




But its thrusters, also used to slow down the lander, appeared to have fired for only a few seconds, much shorter than expected. The transmission stopped around 50 seconds before the planned touchdown on Mars, they said.


"We need to understand what happened in the last few seconds before the planned landing," said David Parker, ESA's Director of Human Spaceflight and Robotic Exploration.





(Reporting by Maria Sheahan and Victoria Bryan)


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No partner in sight, Twitter faces tough solo choices





By Liana B. Baker and Jim Finkle
| SAN FRANCISCO/BOSTON

SAN FRANCISCO/BOSTON The apparent lack of interest in Twitter Inc by potential suitors may force the social media company to consider a route anathema to aspiring tech startups: a major restructuring and cutting some its nearly 4,000 employees.

The popular but money-losing micro-blogging service spent aggressively on product development and marketing in recent years, betting that it could afford to post losses as long as it attracted new users.


But that growth stalled this year after it exceeded 300 million active monthly users, less than a fifth of Facebook Inc's users and below Facebook's Instagram.


Earlier this month, Twitter hired bankers to explore selling itself. Technology and media companies including Salesforce.com Inc, Walt Disney Co and Alphabet Inc's Google looked at the company but ultimately passed on buying it.


The aborted sales process - and the company's strategy as an independent company - will be back in the spotlight when Twitter reports earnings on Oct. 27. The company declined to comment.


"It’s going to take some bold moves here," said David Hsu, a management professor at the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School, suggesting job cuts may be an option. "It takes a very lean staff to maintain the core Twitter as an advertising and messaging platform," Hsu said.


According to SunTrust analyst Robert Peck, Twitter could cut 10 percent of its workforce and save about $100 million a year.


Major layoffs, though, could hurt the company's image in San Francisco, where the competition for engineering talent is fierce.





BIG SPENDER


The company may look first at cutting sales and marketing, an area in which it is spends more than twice as much as its rivals to earn each dollar of revenue.


"Twitter's cost structure was originally built to grow into a much larger user base," said Peck. "But with user growth stagnating, the company likely needs to reduce excess costs."


In the first six months of this year, Twitter's sales and marketing spending totaled $473 million, or about 40 percent of its revenue. By comparison, spending in that area accounted for 19 percent of revenue at Yahoo, 15 percent at Facebook, and 12 percent at Google-parent Alphabet, according to a Reuters analysis of quarterly financial reports.


Twitter also spends more, proportionately, than its peers on research and development. First-half spending on R&D accounted for $334 million, or 28 percent of revenue, compared to 24 percent at Facebook, 23 percent at Yahoo and 16 percent at Alphabet, according to a Reuters analysis.




Twitter could also reduce expenses by cutting products and moving some engineering positions to lower-cost overseas locations, analysts said.


It may also need to reform its stock-based compensation plans when it hires new employees. Twitter doled out $682 million in stock-based compensation last year, a large portion of its roughly $2 billion in annual revenue, which weighs on its profitability.


Private equity firms that examined a buyout of Twitter last year were turned off by the amount of equity-based compensation that would have to be paid out to employees in a deal, according to sources at the time.





ACTIVIST IN THE WINGS?


If Twitter does not slash its costs, activist investors - who have aggressively pushed U.S. companies in recent years for better cash management, leadership changes and new strategies - may see Twitter as an appealing target.


"Carl Icahn - Twitter needs you," Bronte Capital's John Hempton, an investor known for short-selling, or betting against stocks, wrote in a blog post earlier this month, referring to the well-known activist investor. Twitter "should be fixed with extreme prejudice by a disinterested outsider before it is sold again to a strategic buyer," he added.


Companies often resist activist campaigns, and sometimes a proxy fight takes place, where the investor tries to replace board members with its own nominees.


On rare occasions, companies invite friendly activists to get involved before they become hostile. Last month, hard-drive maker Seagate Technology Plc invited ValueAct Capital in as an investor, selling a roughly 4 percent stake to the activist hedge fund. ValueAct received an observer board seat as part of the deal, but no voting power.


Twitter could also explore ways to bring in an outside strategic investor to assist in a turnaround. But finding the right company to invest in Twitter without it looking like a desperate move could be tricky, private equity executives said.


Whatever Twitter does, it needs to act fast. Former high-fliers Zynga Inc and Groupon Inc, which now trade at a fraction of their initial public offering prices, stand as startling evidence of how quickly an internet star can fade.



(Reporting by Liana B. Baker in San Francisco and Jim Finkle in Boston; Additional reporting by Greg Roumeliotis in New York; Editing by Eric Effron and Bill Rigby)


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Better Recommendations, Events and Business Interactions coming to Facebook




Your Facebook friends will be a lot more helpful in the coming days as Facebook is rolling out some new features that will use your connections to discover new places, activities and businesses that may interest you. Here’s a rundown on all the features that will be coming to Facebook.



Get More Fans: 5 Tips to Promote your Facebook Page




Get More Fans: 5 Tips to Promote your Facebook Page


Almost every other blog, site or organization online (and off) has a Facebook page for two reasons: one,…Read more




Receive recommendations by your friends

Visiting a new place and don’t know what to do or where to go? Why not source that information from your friends list? Recommendations is a feature that can be enabled when you write a Facebook post looking for suggestions on local places or service.


If the feature is turned on, your friends can comment on your post with their suggestions, and Facebook will mark those locations on a map and save them in a single post. The Recommendations bookmark will allow you to ask a new question or help your friends.


Monitor upcoming Events better

Expanding upon the currently available Events feature, Facebook will be implementing a revamped Events bookmark on the website.


With it, you will now be able to track your friends’ latest event activity, as well as browse event recommendations based on your friends’ interests and your past events.


This feature will be available to U.S. Facebook users in the coming weeks.


Interact with businesses via Facebook

Many businesses have their own Facebook pages, and Facebook will be adding a feature that would allow you to interact with these businesses in a more direct manner.


For example, you will soon be able to order food from a restaurant’s Facebook Page that uses Delivery.com or Slice.


For businesses such as salons, you can also book an appointment through a salon’s Facebook page. Confirmation would be handled through Facebook Messenger.





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Europe's Mars probe destroyed after plunging to surface





By Maria Sheahan
| FRANKFURT

FRANKFURT Images taken by a NASA Mars orbiter indicate that a missing European space probe was destroyed on impact after plummeting to the surface of the Red Planet from a height of 2-4 km (1.2 to 2.5 miles), the European Space Agency said on Friday.

The disc-shaped, 577-kg (1,272 lb) Schiaparelli probe, part of the Russian-European ExoMars program to search for evidence of life on Mars, descended on Wednesday to test technologies for a rover that scientists hope to send to the surface of the planet in 2020.


But contact with the vehicle was lost around 50 seconds before the expected landing time, leaving its fate uncertain until the NASA images were received.


"Schiaparelli reached the ground with a velocity that was much higher than it should have been, several hundred kilometers per hour, and was then unfortunately destroyed by the impact," ExoMars Flight Director Michel Denis told Reuters TV.


It was only the second European attempt to land a craft on Mars, after a failed mission by the British landing craft Beagle 2 in 2003.


The U.S. space agency's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, which has been circling the planet for about 10 years, took low-resolution pictures that show a bright spot that ESA believes is the 12-metre parachute that Schiaparelli used to slow down. (bit.ly/2efEs3u)


They also show a fuzzy dark patch, around 15 by 40 meters in size, about 1 km north of the parachute, which scientists interpret as having been created by the impact of the lander following a longer-than-planned free fall.




ESA said it was possible that Schiaparelli's landing was accompanied by an explosion, as its thrusters' fuel tanks were probably still full.


The primary part of the ExoMars mission has, however, been a success so far, as the Schiaparelli lander's mothership has been brought into orbit around Mars, from where it will try to sniff out methane and other gases that might indicate the presence of life. It will also act as a data relay station for the rover, which is due to follow in 2020.





HOSTILE ENVIRONMENT


Landing on Mars, Earth's neighbor and at its closest some 35 million miles (56 million km) away, is a notoriously difficult task that has thwarted most Russian efforts and given NASA trouble as well.


That has not diminished its allure, with U.S. President Barack Obama recently highlighting his pledge to send people to the surface by the 2030s.


Entrepreneur Elon Musk's SpaceX is developing a massive rocket and capsule to transport large numbers of people and cargo to Mars with the ultimate goal of colonizing the planet.




ESA scientists have been poring over data that the Schiaparelli lander transmitted before its signal was lost, to look for clues as to what happened. They found that a heat shield and parachute intended to slow the craft down from a speed of 21,000 km per hour deployed as expected.


"But somehow the parachute was released a bit too early, and after that the engine functioned, but only for a few seconds, which was too little," ESA's Denis said.


The space agency said that NASA's orbiter would take pictures with its highest-resolution camera next week, which may provide further clues.


ESA Director General Jan Woerner said earlier that the ExoMars mission had been "96 percent" successful so far, despite problems with the lander, as the orbiter was functioning well and the experience with Schiaparelli would still provide valuable lessons for future attempts to land on Mars.



(Reporting by Maria Sheahan; Editing by Georgina Prodhan and Mark Trevelyan)


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'Siri, catch market cheats': Wall Street watchdogs turn to A.I





By John McCrank
| NEW YORK

NEW YORK Artificial intelligence programs have beaten chess masters and TV quiz show champions. Next up: stock market cheats.

Two exchange operators have announced plans to launch artificial intelligence tools for market surveillance in the coming months and officials at a Wall Street regulator tell Reuters they are not far behind. Executives are hoping computers with humanoid wit can help mere mortals catch misbehavior more quickly.


The software could, for instance, scrub chat-room messages to detect dubious bragging or back slapping around the time of a big trade. It could also more quickly unravel complex issues, like "layering," where orders are rapidly sent to exchanges and then canceled to artificially move a stock price.


A.I. may even sniff out new types of chicanery, said Tom Gira, executive vice president for market regulation at the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA).


"The biggest concern we have is that there is some manipulative scheme that we are not even aware of," he told Reuters. "It seems like these tools have the potential to give us a better window into the market for those types of scenarios."


FINRA plans to test artificial intelligence software being developed in-house for surveillance next year, while Nasdaq Inc (NDAQ.O) and the London Stock Exchange Group (LSE.L) expect to use it by year-end.


The exchange operators also plan to sell the technology to banks and fund managers, so that they can monitor their traders.


Artificial intelligence is the notion that computers can imitate nuanced human behavior, like understanding language, solving puzzles or even diagnosing diseases. It has been in development since the 1950s and is now used in some mainstream ways, like Siri, an application on Apple Inc's (AAPL.O) iPhone that can engage in conversation and perform tasks.


While financial firms are already applying artificial intelligence software for everything from compliance to stock-picking, it is only starting to become useful for market oversight.


"We haven't really let the machines loose, as it were, on the surveillance side," said Bill Nosal, a Nasdaq business development executive who is overseeing its artificial intelligence effort.





50 BILLION EVENTS


Market surveillance generally relies on algorithms to detect patterns in trading data that may signal manipulation and prompt staff to investigate.


But the sheer volume of data can lead to an overwhelming number of alerts, many of which are false alarms.


FINRA monitors roughly 50 billion market "events" a day, including stock orders, modifications, cancellations and trades. It looks for around 270 patterns to uncover potential rule violations. It would not say how many events are flagged, or how many of those yield evidence of misbehavior.


The "machine learning" software it is developing will be able to look beyond those set patterns and understand which situations truly warrant red flags, said Gira.


Machine learning is a subset of artificial intelligence in which computers figure out new tasks without having been programmed to do so. In the case of market surveillance, that would mean the computers "learn" which trading patterns lead to enforcement charges, in order to flag the right ones.




FINRA plans to test the new tool next year alongside its existing systems to compare the results.


The regulator has already moved its surveillance systems to Amazon.com Inc's (AMZN.O) web-based Cloud, giving it more computing power to quickly analyze massive data.


Nasdaq is working with cognitive computing firm Digital Reasoning, which it invested in earlier this year.


LSE has teamed up with International Business Machine Corp's (IBM.N) Watson business and cyber-security firm SparkCognition to develop its A.I.-enhanced surveillance, Chris Corrado, chief operating officer of LSE Group, told Reuters in an interview. Watson has become something of a household name, having bested contestants in the game show "Jeopardy" in 2011.





TRADER INTEGRITY


The technology would not necessarily prevent events such as the 2010 "flash crash," when the Dow Jones Industrial Average temporarily plunged more than 1,000 points.


However, it could be quicker to catch manipulative behavior thought to contribute to them, potentially saving market watchdogs time and money.


FINRA, Nasdaq and LSE would not provide specific figures for how much the software costs to develop or how much money they expect it to save.


For instance, investigators spent years cross-referencing trading data with old electronic communications to make their case against a group of global banks whose traders were rigging foreign exchange benchmarks. (reut.rs/2ceTeFB)


Nasdaq said the software it is testing with Digital Reasoning and other financial firms could do that task almost in real time.


Artificial intelligence startup Neurensic on Wednesday launched a tool that creates an "integrity score" for traders based on how their trading patterns match up against patterns regulators have deemed suspicious.


"To have that information in terms of running your business more efficiently or proactively avoiding regulatory troubles is huge," said David Widerhorn, the firm's chief executive.


Neurensic has also worked with regulators on market-manipulation investigations and is in talks with two exchanges on supplying artificial intelligence software for surveillance, he said.



(Reporting by John McCrank; Editing by Lauren Tara LaCapra and Tomasz Janowski)


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