Bill Pringle - Bill@BillPringle

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Interesting Articles

This page contains links to interesting articles about computers and other stuff. Please let me know if you find any broken links. I may or may not agree with the opinions expressed in any of these articles.

If you are interested in Facebook, you might want to see my Facebook page, which contains suggestions on how to keep your information safe while enjoying Facebook.

I found many of these on SlashDot, and used their descriptions. The nice thing about the Slashdot articles is that you can learn more information from the discussions.

Article Description/Comments
Adidas Creates Trainers Made From Plastic Ocean Debris in Bid To End Pollution
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Adidas is building on its previous commitment to turn plastic pollution into high-performance products. Next month, the German sportswear will begin selling three new editions of its popular UltraBoost shoe, all made from plastic debris found in the ocean.

From a report:
Helping to achieve its goal of creating one million pairs of the Ultra Boost style, Parley for the Oceans will produce trainers made from recycled ocean waste. Made up of 11 reused plastic bottles in each pair, the Ultra Boost' laces, lining and sock lining covers will be made of other recycled products, making for an environmentally-friendly high-performance product.
FCC Announces Plan To Reverse Title II Net Neutrality
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The Federal Communications Commission is cracking open the net neutrality debate again with a proposal to undo the 2015 rules that implemented net neutrality with Title II classification. FCC chairman Ajit Pai called the rules "heavy handed" and said their implementation was "all about politics." He argued that they hurt investment and said that small internet providers don't have "the means or the margins" to withstand the regulatory onslaught. "Earlier today I shared with my fellow commissioners a proposal to reverse the mistake of Title II and return to the light touch framework that served us so well during the Clinton administration, Bush administration, and first six years of the Obama administration," Pai said today. His proposal will do three things: first, it'll reclassify internet providers as Title I information services; second, it'll prevent the FCC from adapting any net neutrality rules to practices that internet providers haven't thought up yet; and third, it'll open questions about what to do with several key net neutrality rules -- like no blocking or throttling of apps and websites -- that were implemented in 2015.
An Artificial Womb Successfully Grew Baby Sheep -- and Humans Could Be Next
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Inside what look like oversized ziplock bags strewn with tubes of blood and fluid, eight fetal lambs continued to develop -- much like they would have inside their mothers. Over four weeks, their lungs and brains grew, they sprouted wool, opened their eyes, wriggled around, and learned to swallow, according to a new study that takes the first step toward an artificial womb. One day, this device could help to bring premature human babies to term outside the uterus -- but right now, it has only been tested on sheep. The Biobag may not look much like a womb, but it contains the same key parts: a clear plastic bag that encloses the fetal lamb and protects it from the outside world, like the uterus would; an electrolyte solution that bathes the lamb similarly to the amniotic fluid in the uterus; and a way for the fetus to circulate its blood and exchange carbon dioxide for oxygen. Flake and his colleagues published their results today in the journal Nature Communications.
A Caterpillar May Lead To a 'Plastic Pollution' Solution
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Researchers at Cambridge University have discovered that the larvae of the moth, which eats wax in bee hives, can also degrade plastic. Experiments show the insect can break down the chemical bonds of plastic in a similar way to digesting beeswax. The plastic is used to make shopping bags and food packaging, among other things, but it can take hundreds of years to decompose completely. However, caterpillars of the moth (Galleria mellonella) can make holes in a plastic bag in under an hour. They think microbes in the caterpillar -- as well as the insect itself -- might play a role in breaking down plastic. If the chemical process can be identified, it could lead to a solution to managing plastic waste in the environment.
No Longer a Dream: Silicon Valley Takes On the Flying Car
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Last year, Bloomberg reported that Google co-founder Larry Page had put money in two "flying car" companies. One of those companies, Kitty Hawk, has published the first video of its prototype aircraft.

From a report on The Verge:
The company describes the Kitty Hawk Flyer as an "all-electric aircraft" that is designed to operate over water and doesn't require a pilot's license to fly. Kitty Hawk promises people will be able to learn to fly the Flyer "in minutes." A consumer version will be available by the end of this year, the company says. The video is part commercial and part test footage, starting with a lakeside conversation between friends about using the Flyer to meet up before switching to what The New York Times says are shots of an aerospace engineer operating the craft in Northern California.
Scientists Consider 'Cloud Brightening' To Preserve Australia's Great Barrier Reef
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A group of Australian marine scientists believe that altering clouds might offer one of the best hopes for saving the Great Barrier Reef. For the last six months, researchers at the Sydney Institute of Marine Science and the University of Sydney School of Geosciences have been meeting regularly to explore the possibility of making low-lying clouds off the northeastern coast of Australia more reflective in order to cool the waters surrounding the world's biggest coral reef system...

Last year, as El Nino events cranked up ocean temperatures, at least 20% of the reef died and more than 90% of it was damaged. The Australian researchers took a hard look at a number of potential ways to preserve the reefs. But at this point, making clouds more reflective looks like the most feasible way to protect an ecosystem that stretches across more than 130,000 square miles, says Daniel Harrison, a postdoctoral research associate with the Ocean Technology Group at the University of Sydney. Cloud brightening is the only thing we've identified that's scalable, sensible, and relatively environmentally benign," he says... Next month, he plans to start computer climate modeling to explore whether cloud brightening could make a big enough temperature difference to help.

They're collaborating with Silicon Valley's Marine Cloud Brightening Project, which has spent the last seven years "developing a nozzle that they believe can spray salt particles of just the right size and quantity to alter the clouds. They're attempting to raise several million dollars to build full-scale sprayers." The article describes them as "one of several research groups that have started to explore whether cloud brightening, generally discussed as a potential tool to alter the climate as a whole, could be applied in more targeted ways."
Can Geoengineering Drones Fight Global Warming?
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David Mitchell, a lanky, soft-spoken atmospheric physicist, believes frigid clouds in the upper troposphere may offer one of our best fallback plans for combating climate change... Fleets of large drones would crisscross the upper latitudes of the globe during winter months, sprinkling the skies with tons of extremely fine dust-like materials every year. If Mitchell is right, this would produce larger ice crystals than normal, creating thinner cirrus clouds that dissipate faster. "That would allow more radiation into space, cooling the earth," Mitchell says...

Increasingly grim climate projections have convinced a growing number of scientists it's time to start conducting experiments to find out what might work. In addition, an impressive list of institutions including Harvard University, the Carnegie Council, and the University of California, Los Angeles, have recently established research initiatives... By this time next year, Harvard professors David Keith and Frank Keutsch hope to launch a high-altitude balloon from a site in Tucson, Arizona. This will mark the beginning of a research project to explore the feasibility and risks of an approach known as solar radiation management. The basic idea is that spraying materials into the stratosphere could help reflect more heat back into space, mimicking a natural cooling phenomenon that occurs after volcanoes blast tens of millions of tons of sulfur dioxide into the sky.

"I don't really know what the answer is," says a former associate director at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. "But I do believe we need to keep saying what the truth is, and the truth is, we might need it."
Can Parents Sue If Their Kid Is Born With the 'Wrong' DNA?
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It's a nightmare scenario straight out of a primetime drama: a child-seeking couple visits a fertility clinic to try their luck with in-vitro fertilization, only to wind up accidentally impregnated by the wrong sperm. In a fascinating legal case out of Singapore, the country's Supreme Court ruled that this situation doesn't just constitute medical malpractice. The fertility clinic, the court recently ruled, must pay the parents 30% of upkeep costs for the child for a loss of 'genetic affinity.' In other words, the clinic must pay the parents' child support not only because they made a terrible medical mistake, but because the child didn't wind up with the right genes...

"It's suggesting that the child itself has something wrong with it, genetically, and that it has monetary value attached to it," Todd Kuiken, a senior research scholar with the Genetic Engineering and Society Center at North Carolina State University, told Gizmodo. "They attached damages to the genetic makeup of the child, rather than the mistake. That's the part that makes it uncomfortable. This can take you in all sort of fucked up directions."
107 Cancer Papers Retracted Due To Peer Review Fraud
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The journal Tumor Biology is retracting 107 research papers after discovering that the authors faked the peer review process. This isn't the journal's first rodeo. Late last year, 58 papers were retracted from seven different journals -- 25 came from Tumor Biology for the same reason. It's possible to fake peer review because authors are often asked to suggest potential reviewers for their own papers. This is done because research subjects are often blindingly niche; a researcher working in a sub-sub-field may be more aware than the journal editor of who is best-placed to assess the work. But some journals go further and request, or allow, authors to submit the contact details of these potential reviewers. If the editor isn't aware of the potential for a scam, they then merrily send the requests for review out to fake e-mail addresses, often using the names of actual researchers. And at the other end of the fake e-mail address is someone who's in on the game and happy to send in a friendly review. This most recent avalanche of fake-reviewed papers was discovered because of extra screening at the journal. According to an official statement from Springer, the company that published Tumor Biology until this year, "the decision was made to screen new papers before they are released to production." The extra screening turned up the names of fake reviewers that hadn't previously been detected, and "in order to clean up our scientific records, we will now start retracting these affected articles...Springer will continue to proactively investigate these issues."
Light Sail Propulsion Could Reach Sirius Sooner Than Alpha Centauri
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A recent proposition to launch probes to other star systems driven by lasers which remain in the Solar system has garnered considerable attention. But recently published work suggests that there are unexpected complexities to the system. One would think that the closest star systems would be the easiest to reach. But unless you are content with a fly-by examination of the star system, with much reduced science returns, you will need to decelerate the probe at the far end, without any infrastructure to assist with the braking. By combining both light-pressure braking and gravitational slingshots, a team of German, French and Chilean astronomers discover that the brightness of the destination star can significantly increase deceleration, and thus travel time (because higher flight velocities can be used). Slingshotting around a companion star to lengthen deceleration times can help shed flight velocity to allow capture into a stable orbit. The 4.37 light year distant binary stars Alpha Centauri A and B could be reached in 75 years from Earth. Covering the 0.24 light year distance to Proxima Centauri depends on arriving at the correct relative orientations of Alpha Centauri A and B in their mutual 80 year orbit for the sling shot to work. Without a companion star, Proxima Centauri can only absorb a final leg velocity of about 1280km/s, so that leg of the trip would take an additional 46 years. Using the same performance characteristics for the light sail, the corresponding duration for an approach to the Sirius system, almost twice as far away (8.58 lightyears), is a mere 68.9 years, making it (and it's white dwarf companion) possibly a more attractive target. Of course, none of this addresses the question of how to get any data from there to here. Or, indeed, how to manage a project that will last longer than a working lifetime. There are also issues of aiming -- the motion of the Alpha Centauri system isn't well-enough known at the moment to achieve the precise maneuvering needed without course corrections (and so, data transmission from there to here) en route.
EFF Says Google Chromebooks Are Still Spying On Students
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In the past two years since a formal complaint was made against Google, not much has changed in the way they handle this. Google still hasn't shed its "bad guy" clothes when it comes to the data it collects on underage students. In fact, the Electronic Frontier Foundation says the company continues to massively collect and store information on children without their consent or their parents'. Not even school administrators fully understand the extent of this operation, the EFF says. According to the latest status report from the EFF, Google is still up to no good, trying to eliminate students privacy without their parents notice or consent and "without a real choice to opt out." This, they say, is done via the Chromebooks Google is selling to schools across the United States.
All-Electric 'Flying Car' Takes Its First Test Flight In Germany
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Today, Munich-based Lilium Aviation conducted the first test flight of its all-electric, two-seater, vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) prototype. "In a video provided by the Munich-based startup, the aircraft can be seen taking off vertically like a helicopter, and then accelerating into forward flight using wing-borne lift," reports The Verge.

From the report:
The craft is powered by 36 separate jet engines mounted on its 10-meter long wings via 12 movable flaps. At take-off, the flaps are pointed downwards to provide vertical lift. And once airborne, the flaps gradually tilt into a horizontal position, providing forward thrust. During the tests, the jet was piloted remotely, but its operators say their first manned flight is close-at-hand. And Lilium claims that its electric battery "consumes around 90 percent less energy than drone-style aircraft," enabling the aircraft to achieve a range of 300 kilometers (183 miles) with a maximum cruising speed of 300 kph (183 mph). "It's the same battery that you can find in any Tesla," Nathen told The Verge. "The concept is that we are lifting with our wings as soon as we progress into the air with velocity, which makes our airplane very efficient. Compared to other flights, we have extremely low power consumption." The plan is to eventually build a 5-passenger version of the jet.
Teenage Hackers Motivated By Morality Not Money, Study Finds
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Teenage hackers are motivated by idealism and impressing their mates rather than money, according to a study by the National Crime Agency.

From a report:

The law enforcement organisation interviewed teenagers and children as young as 12 who had been arrested or cautioned for computer-based crimes. It found that those interviewed, who had an average age of 17, were unlikely to be involved in theft, fraud or harassment. Instead they saw hacking as a "moral crusade", said Paul Hoare, senior manager at the NCA's cybercrime unit, who led the research. Others were motivated by a desire to tackle technical problems and prove themselves to friends, the report found. Speaking to BBC Radio 4's Today programme, Hoare said: "They don't understand the implications on business, government websites and individuals."
Ocean Currents Are Sweeping Billions of Tiny Plastic Bits to the Arctic
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The world's oceans are littered with trillions of pieces of plastic -- bottles, bags, toys, fishing nets and more, mostly in tiny particles -- and now this seaborne junk is making its way into the Arctic.

From a report:
The plastic was discovered by an international team of researchers who circumnavigated the Arctic on a five-month journey aboard the research vessel Tara in 2013. They sampled the ocean water along the way, looking at plastic pollution. And though the plastic concentrations were overall low, they located a specific region located north of the Greenland and the Barents seas with unusually high concentrations. They published their results in the journal Science Advances this week. It seems that the plastic is riding up to the pole with the Thermohaline Circulation, a "conveyor" belt ocean current that transports water from the lower latitudes of the Atlantic Ocean toward the poles. "[A]nd the Greenland and the Barents Seas act as a dead-end for this poleward conveyor belt," Andres Cozar Cabanas, lead author of the study and researcher at the University of Cadiz, Spain, says in a press release.
Louisiana's Governor Declares State Of Emergency Over Disappearing Coastline
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Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards has declared a state of emergency over the state's rapidly eroding coastline.

From a report on NPR:
It's an effort to bring nationwide attention to the issue and speed up the federal permitting process for coastal restoration projects. "Decades of saltwater intrusion, subsidence and rising sea levels have made the Louisiana coast the nation's most rapidly deteriorating shoreline," WWNO's Travis Lux tells our Newscast unit. "It loses the equivalent of one football field of land every hour." More than half of the state's population lives on the coast, the declaration states. It adds that the pace of erosion is getting faster: "more than 1,800 square miles of land between 1932 and 2010, including 300 square miles of marshland between 2004 and 2008 alone."
Trump's FCC Votes To Allow Broadband Rate Hikes Will Deprive More Public Schools From Getting Internet Access
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The FCC voted on Thursday to approve a controversial plan to deregulate the $45 billion market for business-to-business broadband, also known as Business Data Services (BDS), by eliminating price caps that make internet access more affordable for thousands of small businesses, schools, libraries and hospitals.

The Outline adds:
The price caps were designed to keep phone and, later, broadband, access cheap for community institutions like schools, hospitals, libraries, and small businesses. Now, there will be no limit. A spokesperson for the trade association Incompas, which advocates for competition among communications providers, told The Outline that the increase is expected to be at least 25 percent across the board. Low-income schools already don't have enough money; according to a report last year in The Atlantic, schools in high-poverty districts, where the property taxes are lower, spend 15.6 percent less per student than schools in low-poverty districts. If internet costs go up by 25 percent, it may make more sense to cut that budget item, or, for schools that still don't have internet, never add it at all. Add it to the list of things that well-funded schools in already-rich neighborhoods get that schools in low-income neighborhoods don't. New textbooks. Gyms. Advanced Placement classes that let students earn college credits. Computers. Internet access.
In The First Months of Trump Era, Facebook And Apple Spent More On Lobbying Than They Ever Have
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According to federal lobbying disclosures filed Thursday, Facebook and Apple set their all-time record high for spending in a single quarter. Facebook spent $3.2 million lobbying the federal government in the first months of the Trump era. During the same period last year, Facebook spent $2.8 million (about 15% less). The company lobbied both chambers of Congress, the White House, and six federal agencies on issues including high-tech worker visas, network neutrality, internet privacy, encryption, and international taxation. Facebook was the 12th-highest spender out of any company and second-highest in tech. [...] Apple spent $1.4 million, which is just $50,000 more than during the final months of the Obama presidency, when it set its previous record, but the most it has ever spent in a single quarter. Apple lobbied on issues including government requests for data, the regulation of mobile health apps, and self-driving cars. Google, once again, outspent every other technology company. It was 10th overall, tallying $3.5 million
Trump's FCC Votes To Allow Broadband Rate Hikes Will Deprive More Public Schools From Getting Internet Access
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The FCC voted on Thursday to approve a controversial plan to deregulate the $45 billion market for business-to-business broadband, also known as Business Data Services (BDS), by eliminating price caps that make internet access more affordable for thousands of small businesses, schools, libraries and hospitals.

The Outline adds:
The price caps were designed to keep phone and, later, broadband, access cheap for community institutions like schools, hospitals, libraries, and small businesses. Now, there will be no limit. A spokesperson for the trade association Incompas, which advocates for competition among communications providers, told The Outline that the increase is expected to be at least 25 percent across the board. Low-income schools already don't have enough money; according to a report last year in The Atlantic, schools in high-poverty districts, where the property taxes are lower, spend 15.6 percent less per student than schools in low-poverty districts. If internet costs go up by 25 percent, it may make more sense to cut that budget item, or, for schools that still don't have internet, never add it at all. Add it to the list of things that well-funded schools in already-rich neighborhoods get that schools in low-income neighborhoods don't. New textbooks. Gyms. Advanced Placement classes that let students earn college credits. Computers. Internet access.
Inside Elon Musk's New Company Neuralink Which Aims To Fight Brain Conditions And Help Humanity Survive in the Age of AI
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Billionaire entrepreneur Elon Musk has confirmed plans for his newest company, called Neuralink Corp, revealing he will be the chief executive of a startup that aims to merge computers with brains so humans could one day engage in "consensual telepathy." In an interview with explainer website Wait But Why (36,000-word), Musk said Neuralink aims to implant tiny brain electrodes that first would be used to fight brain conditions but later help humanity avoid subjugation at the hands of intelligent machines.

From the report:
"There are a bunch of concepts in your head that then your brain has to try to compress into this incredibly low data rate called speech or typing," Musk said. "That's what language is, your brain has executed a compression algorithm on thought, on concept transfer. If you have two brain interfaces, you could actually do an uncompressed direct conceptual communication with another person."
Neuroscientists Offer a Reality Check On Facebook's 'Typing By Brain' Project
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Facebook announced that it's working on a "typing by brain" project, promising a non-invasive technology that can decode signals from the brain's speech center and translate them directly to text (see the video beginning at 1:18:00). What's more, Facebook exec Regina Dugan said, the technology will achieve a typing rate of 100 words per minute. Here, a few neuroscientists are asked: Is such a thing remotely feasible? One neuroscientist points out that his team set the current speed record for brain-typing earlier this year: They enabled a paralyzed man to type 8 words per minute, and that was using an invasive brain implant that could get high-fidelity signals from neurons. To date, all non-invasive methods that read brain signals through the scalp and skull have performed much worse.

Thomas Naselaris, an assistant professor at the Medical University of South Carolina, says, "Our understanding of the way the words and their phonological and semantic attributes are encoded in brain activity is actually pretty good currently, but much of this understanding has been enabled by fMRI, which is noninvasive but very slow and not at all portable," he said. "So I think that the bottleneck will be the [optical] imaging technology," which is what Facebook's gear will be using.
Canada Rules To Uphold Net Neutrality
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According to a new ruling by Canada's telecommunications regulator, internet service providers should not be able to exempt certain types of content, such as streaming music or video, from counting toward a person's data cap. The ruling upholds net neutrality, which is the principle that all web services should be treated equally by providers.

CBC.ca reports:
"Rather than offering its subscribers selected content at different data usage prices, Internet service providers should be offering more data at lower prices," said Jean-Pierre Blais, chairman of the CRTC in a statement. "That way, subscribers can choose for themselves what content they want to consume." The decision stems from a 2015 complaint against the wireless carrier Videotron, which primarily operates in Quebec. Videotron launched a feature in August of that year, enabling customers to stream music from services such as Spotify and Google Play Music without it counting against a monthly data cap as a way to entice people to subscribe to Videotron's internet service. The decision means that Videotron cannot offer its unlimited music streaming plan to subscribers in its current form -- nor can other internet providers offer similar plans that zero-rate other types of internet content, such as video streaming or social media.
China's First Cargo Spacecraft Launch a 'Crucial Step' To Space Station
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China launched its first unmanned cargo spacecraft on a mission to dock with the country's space station, marking further progress in the ambitious Chinese space program. Chinese state media Xinhua described the event as a "crucial step for China's plan to have an operational space station by 2020."

From a report:
The Tianzhou-1 took off from the Wenchang Space Launch Center in China's southern Hainan province, on track to dock with the orbiting space lab Tiangong-2. The launch was the latest in a series of major announcements by the Chinese space program, which celebrated its longest-ever space mission in November.
South Indian Frog Oozes Molecule That Inexplicably Decimates Flu Viruses
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From the slimy backs of a South Indian frog comes a new way to blast influenza viruses. A compound in the frog's mucus -- long known to have germ-killing properties -- can latch onto flu virus particles and cause them to burst apart, researchers report in Immunity. The peptide is a potent and precise killer, able to demolish a whole class of flu viruses while leaving other viruses and cells unharmed. But scientists don't know exactly how it pulls off the viral eviscerations. No other antiviral peptide of its ilk seems to work the same way. The study authors, led by researchers at Emory University, note that the peptide appears uniquely nontoxic -- something that can't be said of many other frog-based compounds. Thus, the peptide on its own holds promise of being a potential therapy someday. But simply figuring out how it works could move researchers closer to a vaccine or therapy that could take out all flus, ditching the need for yearly vaccinations for each season's flavor of flu.
States Are Moving To Cut College Costs By Introducing Open-Source Textbooks
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In an effort to curb the rising cost of textbooks, which went up by 88% between 2006 and 2016, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Maryland and New York have announced initiatives that adopt open-source, copyright-free textbooks. The initiatives will reward colleges who adapt or scale the use of OER (open educational resources) -- "materials like electronic textbooks that typically use licenses that are far less restrictive than traditional, copyrighted textbooks," reports Quartz.

From the report:
The University System of Maryland recently announced that it would be giving out 21 "mini-grants" to seven community colleges and five public four-year schools. The grants will go to "faculty who are adopting, adapting or scaling the use of OER [open educational resources] in Fall 2017 through high-enrollment courses where quality OER exists," according to the announcement. Although the mini-grants are only $500 to $2,500 each, the effort in Maryland is expected to save 8,000 students up to $1.3 million in the Fall 2017 semester alone. That's a significant amount, but just a drop in the bucket of what students in the state spend on textbooks each year. Another big investment in open educational resources came in the budget passed in New York state last week. The news was somewhat buried by the fact that the budget includes free tuition for New York students whose families make up to $125,000 a year, but the state will also be putting $8 million into open source materials over the next fiscal year.
Researchers Discover New Species of Giant Spider
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Califorctenus cacachilensis, recently named by researchers at the San Diego Natural History Museum, was first located in 2013 in a mountain range in Baja California Sur, Mexico. The eye pattern led researchers to believe it was potentially part of a group of wandering spiders from the Ctenidae family. Knowing Ctenidae are nocturnal, the researchers returned to the cave at night, where they spotted a living specimen. Their research further led them to confirm that it was a previously unidentified species related to the Brazilian wandering spider.
Malaysia Air Is First Airline to Track Fleet With Satellites
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Malaysia Air, which lost a wide-body jet with 239 people aboard three years ago in one of history's most enduring aviation mysteries, has become the first airline to sign an agreement for space-based flight tracking of its aircraft. The subsidiary of Malaysian Airline System Bhd reached a deal with Aireon LLC, SITAONAIR and FlightAware LLC to enable it to monitor the flight paths of its aircraft anywhere in the world including over the polar regions and the most remote oceans, according to an emailed press release from Aireon. Aireon is launching a new satellite network with Iridium Communications Inc. that will allow it to monitor air traffic around the globe. It's projected to be completed in 2018. Most international flights are already transmitting their position with technology known as ADS-B and the signals can be tracked from the ground or space. The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration has already installed a ground-based tracking system for ADS-B. "Real-time global aircraft tracking has long been a goal of the aviation community," Malaysia Chief Operating Officer Izham Ismail said in the release. "We are proud to be the first airline to adopt this solution."
How the Six-Hour Workday Actually Saves Money
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In February, after almost two years worth of six-hour workdays, nurses at the Svartedalens elderly care facility in Gothenburg, Sweden went back to eight hour shifts -- despite recently published research showing the benefits of the shortened workdays. The City of Gothenburg didn't extend the experiment in part because funding ran out. It cost about 12 million krona ($1.3 million) to hire the 17 extra staff members needed to fill the gaps created by shorter work hours. The city had only budgeted for two years, and legislators said it would be too expensive to implement the project across the entire municipality. So, for now, the project has come to an end. Yet, there are longer term savings the study didn't take into account. Working shorter hours resulted in healthier workers, researcher Bengt Lorentzon found in a new paper. "They were less tired, less sick, had more energy coming home and more time to do activities," said Lorentzon. Specifically, the nurses took fewer sick days than they did when working longer, eight hour days. They also took fewer sick days than nurses in the control group. In fact, they took fewer sick days than nurses across the entire city of Gothenburg.
The Woman Whose Phone 'Misdiagnosed HIV'
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A report on BBC about a woman in Kenya, who downloaded a prank app that noted that she has HIV simply by "analyzing her fingerprint." While many people would have not trusted an app for such kind of diagnosis in the first place, and some would have figured that something is amiss about the app, the story tells the tale of people who are increasingly finding it hard to deal with the technological advances they see.

From the report:
Esther sells water on the side of the road in Kenya for a few dollars a day. She also owns a smartphone and ownership of such a device should, according to most of the received wisdom, empower its owner. But in fact it did quite the opposite for her when she acquired an app. It claimed to diagnose HIV simply by analysing her fingerprint on the touch screen. When researchers met her at her roadside workplace, she was worried. "She did not know if it was true and she was panicking," said researcher Laura de Reynal, who worked on a year-long study into the experiences of first-time smartphone users in Kenya. "And she wasn't the only one, there were others that came to us worried about this app and those were just the ones that were willing to speak out." The app was in fact a prank and anyone reading the comments on Google's Play Store would have seen that. However, many first-time smartphone users in Kenya get hold of apps via a friend's Bluetooth connection, rather than downloading them via the net, in order to save data. But the prank would not have been apparent via a Bluetooth share. "People are not able to understand the limits of the technology," said Ms de Reynal. "They think, because it was on a smartphone, it seems real and credible."
88% Of Medical 'Second Opinions' Give A Different Diagnosis - And So Do Some AI
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First, "A new study finds that nearly 9 in 10 people who go for a second opinion after seeing a doctor are likely to leave with a refined or new diagnosis from what they were first told,"

Researchers at the Mayo Clinic examined 286 patient records of individuals who had decided to consult a second opinion, hoping to determine whether being referred to a second specialist impacted one's likelihood of receiving an accurate diagnosis. The study, conducted using records of patients referred to the Mayo Clinic's General Internal Medicine Division over a two-year period, ultimately found that when consulting a second opinion, the physician only confirmed the original diagnosis 12 percent of the time. Among those with updated diagnoses, 66% received a refined or redefined diagnosis, while 21% were diagnosed with something completely different than what their first physician concluded.

But in a related story, Slashdot reader sciencehabit writes that four machine-learning algorithms all performed better than currently-used algorithm of the American College of Cardiology, according to newly-published research, which concludes that "machine-learning significantly improves accuracy of cardiovascular risk prediction, increasing the number of patients identified who could benefit from preventive treatment, while avoiding unnecessary treatment of others."

"I can't stress enough how important it is," one Stanford vascular surgeon told Science magazine, "and how much I really hope that doctors start to embrace the use of artificial intelligence to assist us in care of patients."
Troll With 'Stupid Patent' Sues EFF. EFF Sues Them Back
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The Electronic Frontier Foundation has sued an Australian company that it previously dubbed as a 'classic patent troll' in a June 2016 blog post entitled: Stupid Patent of the Month: Storage Cabinets on a Computer.

Ars Technica:
Last year, that company, Global Equity Management (SA) Pty. Ltd. (GEMSA), managed to get an Australian court to order EFF to remove its post -- but EFF did not comply. In January 2017, Pasha Mehr, an attorney representing GEMSA, further demanded that the article be removed and that EFF pay $750,000. EFF still did not comply. The new lawsuit, filed in federal court in San Francisco on Wednesday, asks that the American court declare the Australian ruling unenforceable in the U.S.

GEMSA's attorneys reportedly threatened to have the EFF's post de-indexed from search engine listings -- on the basis of the Australian court order -- so now the EFF "seeks a court order declaring the Australian injunction 'repugnant' to the U.S. Constitution and unenforceable in the United States."

The Register reports that GEMSA has already sued 37 companies, "including big-name tech companies Airbnb, Uber, Netflix, Spotify, and eBay. In each case, GEMSA accused the company's website design of somehow trampling on the GUI patent without permission." But things were different after the EFF's article, according to Courthouse News. "GEMSA said the article made it harder to enforce its patents in the United States, citing its legal opponents' 'reduced interest in pursuing pre-trial settlement negotiations.'"
Tiny Changes Can Cause An AI To Fail
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According to the BBC there is growing concern in the machine learning community that as their algorithms are deployed in the real world they can be easily confused by knowledgeable attackers. These algorithms don't process information in the same way humans do, a small sticker placed strategically on a sign could render it invisible to a self driving car.

The article points out that a sticker on a stop sign "is enough for the car to 'see' the stop sign as something completely different from a stop sign," while researchers have created an online collection of images which currently fool AI systems. "In one project, published in October, researchers at Carnegie Mellon University built a pair of glasses that can subtly mislead a facial recognition system -- making the computer confuse actress Reese Witherspoon for Russell Crowe."

One computer academic says that unlike a spam-blocker, "if you're relying on the vision system in a self-driving car to know where to go and not crash into anything, then the stakes are much higher," adding ominously that "The only way to completely avoid this is to have a perfect model that is right all the time." Although on the plus side, "If you're some political dissident inside a repressive regime and you want to be able to conduct activities without being targeted, being able to avoid automated surveillance techniques based on machine learning would be a positive use."
Scientists Win $2.6 Million For Star Trek Tricorder Device
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The Qualcomm Foundation, along with the XPRIZE Foundation, "announced the winning team of its nearly four-year-long global competition to develop a functional, easily usable tricorder," reports Vocativ. The Pennsylvania-based Final Frontier Medical Devices team was the first place winner, receiving the top prize of $2.6 million, while Boston-based Dynamical Biomarkers nabbed $1 million.

From the report:
Led by Dr. Basil Harris, a Philadelphia emergency room physician, the team was mostly made out of family and friends Harris coaxed into volunteering their free time on the weekend. By contrast, Dynamical Biomarkers had 50 scientists and programmers, mostly paid, and was sponsored by the Taiwanese government and Taiwan-based cellphone company HTC. The device kit developed by Final Frontier, called DxtER, uses non-invasive sensors that collect data from the user and combines that with an AI frontloaded with information in the field of clinical emergency medicine to come with a diagnosis. The device currently operates on an iPad tablet, but future versions should work equally fine on a smartphone as well. The device, ideally, would allow patients to then send their readings to their doctors so they could collaborate on their health care. According to an interview Harris held with the Washington Post, DxtER can diagnose up to 34 medical conditions in its present design. The device developed by Dynamical Biomarkers could reach up to 50, team leader and Harvard Medical School professor Chung-Kang Peng, told the Post, given it surpasses the five-pound weight limit imposed by the competition guidelines.
FDA Slams St. Jude Medical For Ignoring Security Flaws In Medical Devices
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The U.S. Food and Drug Administration issued a letter of warning to medical device maker Abbott on Wednesday, slamming the company for what it said was a pattern of overlooking security and reliability problems in its implantable medical devices at its St. Jude Medical division and describing a range of the company's devices as "adulterated," in violation of the U.S. Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act, the Security Ledger reports. In a damning warning letter, the FDA said that St. Jude Medical knew about serious security flaws in its implantable medical devices as early as 2014, but failed to address them with software updates or by replacing those devices. The government found that St. Jude, time and again, failed to adhere to internal security and product quality guidelines, a lapse that resulted in at least one patient death. St. Jude Medical, which is now wholly owned by the firm Abbott, learned of serious and exploitable security holes in the company's "high voltage and peripheral devices" in an April, 2014 "third party assessment" commissioned by the company. But St. Jude "failed to accurately incorporate the findings of that assessment" in subsequent risk assessments for the affected products, including Merlin@home, a home-based wireless transmitter that is used to provide remote care for patients with implanted cardiac devices, the FDA revealed. Among the security flaws: a "hardcoded universal unlock code" for the company's implantable, high voltage devices. The report casts doubt on a defamation lawsuit St. Jude filed against the firm MedSec Holdings Ltd over its August, 2016 report that warned of widespread security flaws in St. Jude products, including Merlin@home. The MedSec report on St. Judes technology was released in conjunction with a report by the investment firm Muddy Waters Research, which specializes in taking "short" positions on firms. At the time, MedSec said that the security of the company's medical devices and support software was "grossly inadequate compared with other leading manufacturers," and represents "unnecessary health risks and should receive serious notice among hospitals, regulators, physicians and cardiac patients." St. Judes has called the MedSec allegations false, but it now appears that the company had heard similar warnings raised by its own third-party security auditor more than a year prior.
New Solar-Powered Device Can Pull Water Straight From the Desert Air
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You can't squeeze blood from a stone, but wringing water from the desert sky is now possible, thanks to a new spongelike device that uses sunlight to suck water vapor from air, even in low humidity. The device can produce nearly 3 liters of water per day, and researchers say future versions will be even better. That means homes in the driest parts of the world could soon have a solar-powered appliance capable of delivering all the water they need, offering relief to billions of people. To find an all-purpose solution, researchers led by Omar Yaghi, a chemist at the University of California, Berkeley, turned to a family of crystalline powders called metal organic frameworks, or MOFs. Yaghi developed the first MOFs -- porous crystals that form continuous 3D networks -- more than 20 years ago. The networks assemble in a Tinkertoy-like fashion from metal atoms that act as the hubs and sticklike organic compounds that link the hubs together. By choosing different metals and organics, chemists can dial in the properties of each MOF, controlling what gases bind to them, and how strongly they hold on. The system Wang and her students designed consists of a kilogram of dust-sized MOF crystals pressed into a thin sheet of porous copper metal. That sheet is placed between a solar absorber and a condenser plate and positioned inside a chamber. At night the chamber is opened, allowing ambient air to diffuse through the porous MOF and water molecules to stick to its interior surfaces, gathering in groups of eight to form tiny cubic droplets. In the morning, the chamber is closed, and sunlight entering through a window on top of the device then heats up the MOF, which liberates the water droplets and drives them -- as vapor -- toward the cooler condenser. The temperature difference, as well as the high humidity inside the chamber, causes the vapor to condense as liquid water, which drips into a collector.
Apple Has a Secret Team Working On Non-Invasive Diabetes Sensors
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A report from CNBC: Apple has hired a small team of biomedical engineers to work at a nondescript office in Palo Alto, miles from corporate headquarters. They are part of a super secret initiative, initially envisioned by the late Apple co-founder Steve Jobs, to develop sensors that can non-invasively and continuously monitor blood sugar levels to better treat diabetes, according to three people familiar with the matter. Such a breakthrough would be a "holy grail" for life sciences. Many life sciences companies have tried and failed, as it's highly challenging to track glucose levels accurately without piercing the skin. The initiative is far enough along that Apple has been conducting feasibility trials at clinical sites across the Bay Area and has hired consultants to help it figure out the regulatory pathways, the people said.

"From a business aspect, the most interesting part of this venture might be how Apple combines its penchant for secrecy with maneuvering through those regulatory pathways. It's one thing to introduce another new bit of consumer electronics kit. It's an entirely other thing to get a medical device past the FDA."
Hubble's Greatest Hits
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Pictures from the space telescope have dazzled us for 25 years. Now, Hubble?s lead imaging scientist picks his favorite celestial views.
Nintendo Discontinues the NES Classic Edition
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A Nintendo representative has confirmed today that the company will be discontinuing the NES Classic Edition, "a plug-and-play console that became popular with collectors as soon as it launched last fall," reports Polygon. The last shipments of the consoles will hit stores this month.

From the report: [Nintendo said in a statement to IGN:]
"Throughout April, NOA territories will receive the last shipments of Nintendo Entertainment System: NES Classic Edition systems for this year. We encourage anyone interested in obtaining this system to check with retail outlets regarding availability. We understand that it has been difficult for many consumers to find a system, and for that we apologize. We have paid close attention to consumer feedback, and we greatly appreciate the incredible level of consumer interest and support for this product." "NES Classic Edition wasn't intended to be an ongoing, long-term product. However, due to high demand, we did add extra shipments to our original plans," it told IGN.
Nearby Ocean Worlds Could Be Best Bet For Life Beyond Earth, Says NASA
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NASA has new evidence that the most likely places to find life beyond Earth are Jupiter's moon Europa or Saturn's moon Enceladus. In terms of potential habitability, Enceladus particularly has almost all of the key ingredients for life as we know it, researchers said.

From a report:
New observations of these active ocean worlds in our solar system have been captured by two NASA missions and were presented in two separate studies in an announcement at NASA HQ in Washington today. Using a mass spectrometer, the Cassini spacecraft detected an abundance of hydrogen molecules in water plumes rising from the "tiger stripe" fractures in Enceladus' icy surface. Saturn's sixth-largest moon is an ice-encased world with an ocean beneath. The researchers believe that the hydrogen originated from a hydrothermal reaction between the moon's ocean and its rocky core. If that is the case, the crucial chemical methane could be forming in the ocean as well.
Pirate Bay Founder: 'I Have Given Up'
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The future of illegal torrent websites doesn't look good. As torrent websites continue to disappear, the founder of The Pirate Bay believes the trend is the just the beginning.

From an article:
While it might look like torrenters are are still fighting this battle, Sunde claims that the reality is more definitive: "We have already lost." [...] Take the net neutrality law in Europe. It's terrible, but people are happy and go like "it could be worse." That is absolutely not the right attitude. Facebook brings the internet to Africa and poor countries, but they're only giving limited access to their own services and make money off of poor people. [...] Well, I have given up the idea that we can win this fight for the internet. The situation is not going to be any different, because apparently that is something people are not interested in fixing. Or we can't get people to care enough. Maybe it's a mixture, but this is kind of the situation we are in, so its useless to do anything about it. We have become somehow the Black Knight from Monty Python's Holy Grail. We have maybe half of our head left and we are still fighting, we still think we have a chance of winning this battle.
Scientists Capture First Image of Dark Matter Web
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Scientists have long suspected that the universe is woven together by a vast cosmic connector but, until now, they couldn't prove it. Now, for the first time ever, scientists have captured an image of a dark matter bridge, confirming the theory that galaxies are held together by a cosmic web. Using a technique called weak gravitational lensing, researchers were able to identify distortions of distant galaxies as they are influenced by a large, unseen mass -- in this case, a web of dark matter.

In order to create a composite image that shows the dark matter web, scientists had to look at more than 23,000 galaxy pairs located 4.5 billion light-years away. "Results show the dark matter filament bridge is strongest between systems less than 40 million light years apart," reports Phys.Org. The findings have been published in the journal Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.
The First Manned Space Flight Was the Rocket Designer's Victory as Much as Yuri Gagarin's
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On this day in 1961, Yuri Gagarin became the first person in space. And given the risks inherent to early spaceflight, he certainly deserves his place in history. But what about the man who designed the rocket that got Gagarin there? His name was Sergei Korolev, and his influence on the Soviet space program stretched much farther than Gagarin's 108 minutes of fame -- the time it took to make a single orbit of Earth. The flight of Vostok 1, Gagarin's craft, "was a defining moment of the 20th century and opened up the prospect of interplanetary travel for our species," writes Robin McKie for The Guardian. For Gagarin, it was the moment that made him a famous figurehead for the Soviet Union. As Gagarin toured the globe, the space program's chief designer remained at home and unknown. That Sergei Korolev ran the Soviet Union's rocket program wasn't revealed until after his death. "Gagarin became the face of Soviet space supremacy," McKie writes, "while Korolev was the brains. The pair made a potent team and their success brought fame to one and immense power to the other. Neither lived long enough to enjoy those rewards, however."
Tennessee Could Give Taxpayers America's Fastest Internet For Free, But It Gave Comcast and AT&T $45 Million Instead
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Chattanooga, Tennessee is home to some of the fastest internet speeds in the United States, offering city dwellers Gbps and 10 Gpbs connections. Instead of voting to expand those connections to the rural areas surrounding the city, which have dial up, satellite, or no internet whatsoever, Tennessee's legislature voted to give Comcast and AT&T a $45 million taxpayer handout.

Motherboard reports:
The situation is slightly convoluted and thoroughly infuriating. EPB -- a power and communications company owned by the Chattanooga government -- offers 100 Mbps, 1 Gbps, and 10 Gpbs internet connections. A Tennessee law that was lobbied for by the telecom industry makes it illegal for EPB to expand out into surrounding areas, which are unserved or underserved by current broadband providers. For the last several years, EPB has been fighting to repeal that state law, and even petitioned the Federal Communications Commission to try to get the law overturned. This year, the Tennessee state legislature was finally considering a bill that would have let EPB expand its coverage (without providing it any special tax breaks or grants; EPB is profitable and doesn't rely on taxpayer money). Rather than pass that bill, Tennessee has just passed the "Broadband Accessibility Act of 2017," which gives private telecom companies -- in this case, probably AT&T and Comcast -- $45 million of taxpayer money over the next three years to build internet infrastructure to rural areas.
Investigation Finds Inmates Built Computers, Hid Them In Prison Ceiling
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The discovery of two working computers hidden in a ceiling at the Marion Correctional Institution prompted an investigation by the state into how inmates got access. In late July, 2015 staff at the prison discovered the computers hidden on a plywood board in the ceiling above a training room closet. The computers were also connected to the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction's network. Authorities say they were first tipped off to a possible problem in July, when their computer network support team got an alert that a computer "exceeded a daily internet usage threshold." When they checked the login being used, they discovered an employee's credentials were being used on days he wasn't scheduled to work. That's when they tracked down where the connection was coming from and alerted Marion Correctional Institution of a possible problem. Investigators say there was lax supervision at the prison, which gave inmates the ability to build computers from parts, get them through security checks, and hide them in the ceiling. The inmates were also able to run cabling, connecting the computers to the prison's network.

Furthermore, "investigators found an inmate used the computers to steal the identify of another inmate, and then submit credit card applications, and commit tax fraud," reports WRGB. "They also found inmates used the computers to create security clearance passes that gave them access to restricted areas."
Glowing Bacteria Detect Buried Landmines
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More than 100 million landmines lay hidden in the ground around the world, but glowing bacteria may help us find them, according to a new study. The approach relies on small quantities of vapor released from the common explosive TNT. Previously, researchers engineered E. coli to glow green upon detection of DNT, a byproduct of TNT. In a study published in Nature Biotechnology today, the same team reports on a small field test with mines buried in sand and soil, whose triggering mechanisms were removed. The scientists loaded about 100,000 DNT-detecting bacterial cells into a single bead made of polymers derived from seaweed and sprinkled these beads over the landmine site at night. Twenty-four hours later, they used a laser to remotely detect and quantify fluorescing bacteria from 20 meters away, mapping the location of the landmines.
US Dismantles Forensic Science Commission
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Thought the Trump Administration's war on science was just about climate change? Think again. "Attorney General Jeff Sessions will end a Justice Department partnership with independent scientists to raise forensic science standards and has suspended an expanded review of FBI testimony across several techniques that have come under question, saying a new strategy will be set by an in-house team of law enforcement advisers," reports Washington Post. The National Commission on Forensic Science, "jointly led by Justice and the Commerce Department's National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) has prompted several changes," including "new accrediting and ethical codes for forensic labs and practitioners" and the FBI abandoning "its four-decade-long practice of tracing bullets to a specific manufacturer's batch through chemical analyses after its method were scientifically debunked."
Sir Tim Berners-Lee Lays Out Nightmare Scenario Where AI Runs the Financial World
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The architect of the world wide web Sir Tim Berners-Lee has talked about some of his concerns for the internet over the coming years, including a nightmarish scenario where artificial intelligence (AI) could become the new 'masters of the universe' by creating and running their own companies.

From an article:
Masters of the universe is a reference to Tom Wolfe's 1987 novel The Bonfire of the Vanities, regarding the men (and they were men) who started racking up multi-million dollar salaries and a great deal of influence from their finance roles on Wall Street and in London during the computerised trading boom pre-Black Monday. Berners-Lee said, "So when AI starts to make decisions such as who gets a mortgage, that's a big one. Or which companies to acquire and when AI starts creating its own companies, creating holding companies, generating new versions of itself to run these companies. So you have survival of the fittest going on between these AI companies until you reach the point where you wonder if it becomes possible to understand how to ensure they are being fair, and how do you describe to a computer what that means anyway?"
Large Near-Earth Astroid Will Fly Past Earth On April 19
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A relatively large (650 meters) near-Earth asteroid discovered nearly three years ago will fly safely past Earth on April 19 at a distance of about 1.1 million miles (1.8 million kilometers), or about 4.6 times the distance from Earth to the moon. The asteroid will approach Earth from the direction of the sun and will become visible in the night sky after April 19. It is predicted to brighten to about magnitude 11, when it could be visible in small optical telescopes for one or two nights. For comparison, Chelyabinsk meteor was 20m. Small asteroids pass within this distance of Earth several times each week, but this upcoming close approach is the closest by any known asteroid of this size, or larger, since asteroid Toutatis , a 3.1-mile (five-kilometer) asteroid, which approached within about four lunar distances in September 2004. The April 19 encounter provides an outstanding opportunity to study this asteroid, and astronomers plan to observe it with telescopes around the world to learn as much about it as possible.
Sorry America, Your Taxes Aren't High
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Americans generally feel they're being over-taxed, especially around this time of the year. But is that really true?

An article on Bloomberg investigates:
The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development analyzed how 35 countries tax wage-earners, making it possible to compare tax burdens across the world's biggest economies. Each year, the OECD measures what it calls the "tax wedge," the gap between what a worker gets paid and what they actually spend or save. Included are income taxes, payroll taxes, and any tax credits or rebates that supplement worker income. Excluded are the countless other ways that governments levy taxes, such as sales and value-added taxes, property taxes, and taxes on investment income and gains. Guess who came out at the top of the list? No. Not the U.S. At the top are Belgium and France, while workers in Chile and New Zealand are taxed the least. America is in the bottom third.
Scientists Identify Parts of Brain Involved In Dreaming
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Scientists have unpicked the regions of the brain involved in dreaming, in a study with significant implications for our understanding of the purpose of dreams and of consciousness itself. What's more, changes in brain activity have been found to offer clues as to what the dream is about. Writing in the journal Nature Neuroscience, Siclari and colleagues from the U.S., Switzerland and Italy, reveal how they carried out a series of experiments involving 46 participants, each of whom had their brain activity recorded while they slept by electroencephalogram (EEG) -- a noninvasive technique that involved placing up to 256 electrodes on the scalp and face to monitor the number and size of brainwaves of different speeds. While the experiments probed different aspects of the puzzle, all involved participants being woken at various points throughout the night and asked to report whether they had been dreaming. If the participants had been dreaming, they were asked how long they thought it had lasted and whether they could remember anything about their dream, such as whether it involved faces, movement or thinking, or whether it was instead a vivid, sensory experience. Analysis of the EEG recording reveal that dreaming was linked to a drop in low-frequency activity in a region at the back of the brain dubbed by the researchers the "posterior cortical hot zone" -- a region that includes visual areas as well as areas involved in integrating the senses. The result held regardless of whether the dream was remembered or not and whether it occurred during REM or non-REM sleep. The researchers also looked at changes in high-frequency activity in the brain, finding that dreaming was linked to an increase in such activity in the so-called "hot zone" during non-REM sleep. Further, the team identified the region of the brain which appears to be important in remembering what a dream was about, finding that this recall was linked to an increase in high-frequency activity towards the front of the brain. A similar pattern of activity was seen in the hot zone and beyond for dreams during REM sleep. The upshot is that dreaming is rooted in the same changes in brain activity regardless of the type of sleep.
Americans Support Letting Cities Build Their Own Broadband Networks, Pew Finds
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Most Americans want to let local governments build out internet service if the internet providers in their area aren't any good, according to the Pew Research Center. In a phone survey of over 4,000 people last month, Pew found that 70 percent of respondents agreed that local governments should have the power to start their own high-speed networks if current offerings are "too expensive or not good enough." The results show an overwhelming support for municipal broadband -- networks that are at least somewhat run by local governments -- at a time when encouraging broadband buildout is a top federal priority. But despite the support, in much of the US, building out municipal networks just isn't possible. More than 20 states have passed laws banning local governments from starting their own broadband service, largely at the behest of internet providers that want to avoid competition at all cost. Though Pew's survey found some positive results for municipal broadband, it found less support for broadband subsidies for low-income homes. Under half of all Americans, 44 percent, said they supported subsidies, while nearly everyone else surveyed said they felt internet service "is affordable enough" that most households should be able to pay for it. (At the same time, nearly half of all people surveyed said they didn't know what speed of internet they received.)
If Humble People Make the Best Leaders, Why Do We Fall for Charismatic Narcissists?
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Numerous studies and real-life examples show humble, unassuming people as leaders improve the performance of a company in the long run. The humity, exuded by these leaders, can be contagious. Yet, instead of following the lead of these unsung heroes, an article on Harvard Business Review argues, we appear hardwired to search for people who exude charisma.

The article looks into why such is the case:
One study suggests that despite being perceived as arrogant, narcissistic individuals radiate "an image of a prototypically effective leader." Narcissistic leaders know how to draw attention toward themselves. They enjoy the visibility. It takes time for people to see that these early signals of competence are not later realized, and that a leader's narcissism reduces the exchange of information among team members and often negatively affects group performance. It's not that charismatic and narcissistic people can't ever make good leaders. In some circumstances, they can. For example, one study found that narcissistic CEOs "favor bold actions that attract attention, resulting in big wins or big losses." A narcissistic leader thus can represent a high-risk, high-reward proposition.
Major Banks and Parts of Federal Gov't Still Rely On COBOL, Now Scrambling To Find IT 'Cowboys' To Keep Things Afloat
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Bill Hinshaw is not a typical 75-year-old. He divides his time between his family -- he has 32 grandchildren and great-grandchildren -- and helping U.S. companies avert crippling computer meltdowns. Hinshaw, who got into programming in the 1960s when computers took up entire rooms and programmers used punch cards, is a member of a dwindling community of IT veterans who specialize in a vintage programming language called COBOL. The Common Business-Oriented Language was developed nearly 60 years ago and has been gradually replaced by newer, more versatile languages such as Java, C and Python. Although few universities still offer COBOL courses, the language remains crucial to businesses and institutions around the world. In the United States, the financial sector, major corporations and parts of the federal government still largely rely on it because it underpins powerful systems that were built in the 70s or 80s and never fully replaced. And here lies the problem: if something goes wrong, few people know how to fix it. The stakes are especially high for the financial industry, where an estimated $3 trillion in daily commerce flows through COBOL systems. The language underpins deposit accounts, check-clearing services, card networks, ATMs, mortgage servicing, loan ledgers and other services. The industry's aggressive push into digital banking makes it even more important to solve the COBOL dilemma. Mobile apps and other new tools are written in modern languages that need to work seamlessly with old underlying systems. That is where Hinshaw and fellow COBOL specialists come in. A few years ago, the north Texas resident planned to shutter his IT firm and retire after decades of working with financial and public institutions, but calls from former clients just kept coming.
Airlines Make More Money Selling Miles Than Seats
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Does your wallet contain an airline-branded credit card? If so, your daily Starbucks visits, iTunes selections and dining habits serve a critical role in keeping the U.S. airline industry fat and happy. For carriers such as American Airlines, riding Citigroup Inc. plastic, or Delta, on American Express Co., these programs are a cash cow, a golden goose -- or any other fiscal livestock you care to conjure. Each mile fetches an airline anywhere from 1.5 cents to 2.5 cents, and the big banks amass those miles by the billions (alternative source), doling them out to cardholders each month. For the banks, people who pay annual fees for those cards in order to accumulate miles are the closest thing to a sure bet. These consumers typically have higher-than-average incomes and spend more on their cards, generating merchant fees for the banks. They also tend to maintain high credit scores, which means they pay their bills on time and banks experience fewer defaults. The airline-miles business, formally known as loyalty programs, has become a high-margin enterprise that's grown in size and value amid airline consolidation, with carriers keen to expand credit card rolls and see loyalty members spend more.
Tesla Tops GM by Market Value as Investors See Musk as Future
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Tesla became the largest U.S. auto maker by market value on Monday, overtaking General Motors -- a feat that would have seemed highly improbable 13 years ago when the electric-car maker first began tinkering with the idea of making a sports car.

From a report:
Tesla climbed as much as 3.4 percent in early Monday trading, boosting its market capitalization to about $51 billion. The company was valued at about $1.7 billion more than GM as of 9:35 a.m. in New York. The turnabout shows the extent to which investors have bought into Musk's vision that electric vehicles will eventually rule the road. While GM has beat Tesla to market with a plug-in Chevrolet Bolt with a price and range similar to what Musk has promised for his Model 3 sedan coming later this year, the more than century-old company has failed to match the enthusiasm drummed up by its much smaller and rarely profitable U.S. peer. No matter, say investors who like the stock. Tesla is a technology player with the ability to dominate a market for electric cars and energy storage. To those same investors, GM and Ford are headed for a slowdown in car sales that will erode profits. "Is it fair? No, it isn't fair," Maryann Keller, an auto-industry consultant in Stamford, Connecticut, said of GM ceding the market-cap crown. "Even if Tesla turns a profit, they will eventually have to make enough to justify this valuation."
American Farmers Are Still Fighting Tractor Software Locks
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Manufacturers lock consumers into restrictive "user agreements," and inside "there's things like you won't open the case, you won't repair," complains a U.S. advocacy group called The Repair Association. But now the issue is getting some more attention in the American press.

Quoting NPR:
Modern tractors, essentially, have two keys to make the engine work. One key starts the engine. But because today's tractors are high-tech machines that can steer themselves by GPS, you also need a software key -- to fix the programs that make a tractor run properly. And farmers don't get that key.

"You're paying for the metal but the electronic parts technically you don't own it. They do," says Kyle Schwarting, who plants and harvests fields in southeast Nebraska... "Maybe a gasket or something you can fix, but everything else is computer controlled and so if it breaks down I'm really in a bad spot," Schwarting says. He has to call the dealer. Only dealerships have the software to make those parts work, and it costs hundreds of dollars just to get a service call. Schwarting worries about being broken down in a field, waiting for a dealer to show up with a software key.

The article points out that equipment dealers are using those expensive repair calls to offset slumping tractor sales. But it also reports that eight U.S. states, including Nebraska, Illinois and New York, are still considering bills requiring manufacturers to sell repair software, adding that after Massachusetts passed a similar lar, "car makers started selling repair software."
'Unprecedented' Bleaching Damages Two-Thirds Of Australia's Great Barrier Reef
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Unprecedented coral bleaching in consecutive years has damaged two-thirds of Australia's Great Barrier Reef, aerial surveys have shown. The bleaching ? or loss of algae ? affects a 1,500km (900 miles) area of the reef, according to scientists. The latest damage is concentrated in the middle section, whereas last year's bleaching hit mainly the north. Experts fear the proximity of the two events will give damaged coral little chance to recover.
Russian Arrested in Spain 'Over US Election Hacking'
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Spanish police have arrested a Russian programmer for alleged involvement in "hacking" the US election, BBC reported Monday, citing local press reports

S From the report:
Pyotr Levashov, arrested on 7 April in Barcelona, has now been remanded in custody. A "legal source" also told the AFP news agency that Mr Levashov was the subject of an extradition request by the US. The request is due to be examined by Spain's national criminal court, the agency added. El Confidencial, a Spanish news website, has said that Mr Levashov's arrest warrant was issued by US authorities over suspected "hacking" that helped Donald Trump's campaign.
Amazon's Third-Party Sellers Hit By Hackers
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Hackers are targeting the growing population of third-party sellers on Amazon.com using stolen credentials to post fake deals and steal cash.

From a report:
In recent weeks, attackers have changed the bank-deposit information on Amazon accounts of active sellers to steal tens of thousands of dollars from each (Editor's note: the link could be paywalled; alternative source), according to several sellers and advisers. Attackers also have hacked into the Amazon accounts of sellers who haven't used them recently to post nonexistent merchandise for sale at steep discounts in an attempt to pocket the cash, those people say. The fraud stems largely from email and password credentials stolen from previously hacked accounts and then sold on what's dubbed the "dark web," a network of anonymous internet servers where hackers communicate and trade illicit information. Such hacks previously have favored sites such as PayPal and eBay, but Amazon recently has become a target of choice, according to cybersecurity experts.
ARCA Plans 2018 Launch For Revolutionary Single-Stage Rocket
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An aerospace company is building a cheap, simple, lightweight rocket that they hope will redefine the microsatellite industry.

Quoting New Atlas:
New Mexico-based ARCA Space Corporation has announced that it is developing the world's first Single Stage to Orbit (SSTO) launch vehicle that can deliver both a small payload and itself into low Earth orbit, at a cost of about US$1 million per launch. Dubbed the Haas 2CA after the 16th century rocket pioneer Conrad Haas, the new booster uses a linear aerospike engine instead of conventional bell-shaped rocket engines to do away with multiple stages.

They're working with six different NASA centers and have scheduled their first launch for 2018. The rocket will be 53 feet tall (16 meters) with a diameter of just 4.95 feet (1.5 meters), and will weigh 1,210 pounds when empty, but 35,887 pounds when fueled, "thanks to ACRA's proprietary composite materials for the propellant tanks and other components."
Belgian Scientists Inhibit Protein Responsible For Allergic Reactions
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Scientists at the University of Gent exposed the TSLP protein's function in triggering allergic reactions such as asthma and eczema. The team then developed a protein-based inhibitor used to capture TSLP and prevent its bioactivity as it associates with its natural receptors. Using this method, allergic reactions can be inhibited before they are triggered.
Wolves May Be 'Re-Domesticating' Into Dogs
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It happened thousands of years ago, and it may be happening again: Wolves in various parts of the world may have started on the path to becoming dogs. That's the conclusion of a new study, which finds that the animals are increasingly dining on livestock and human garbage instead of their wild prey, inching closer and closer to the human world in some places. But given today's industrialized societies, this closeness might also bring humans and wolves into more conflict, with disastrous consequences for both. To find out how gray wolves might be affected by eating more people food, Thomas Newsome, an evolutionary biologist at the Deakin University in Melbourne, Australia, and his colleagues examined studies of what's happened to other large carnivores that live close to people. Newsome's 2014 study of a dingo population in Australia's Tanami Desert showed that the wild dogs' habit of dining almost exclusively on junk food at a waste management facility had made them fat and less aggressive. They were also more likely to mate with local dogs and had become "cheeky," says Newsome, daring to run between his legs as he set out traps for them. Most intriguingly, the dumpster dingoes' population formed a genetic cluster distinct from all other dingoes -- indicating that they were becoming genetically isolated, a key step in forming a new species. Is this happening to gray wolves? The conditions are ripe for it, says Newsome, noting that human foods already make up 32% of gray wolf diets around the world. The animals now mostly range across remote regions of Eurasia and North America, yet some are returning to developed areas.
Over 90% of College Students Today Regularly Use Netflix, But Only 34% Are Actually Paying For Their Own Account
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According to a new survey from LendEDU, more than 90% of today's college students have access to a Netflix account they regularly use, while only 8% who responded to the survey said they don't have a Netflix account. What some may find even more surprising is that of the 90% of students who have access to Netflix, only 34% of them are actually paying for their own Netflix account.

Streaming Observer News reports:
That actually goes right in line with numbers from Piper Jaffray that showed almost 40% of teens watch Netflix every single day. Their closest competitors, Amazon Prime Video and Hulu, each came in at just 3% each for daily use. Of course, that doesn't mean they're all paying for Netflix. 54% of respondents to LendEDU's survey said they use a family member's or friend's account, and 5% more said they used a boyfriend/girlfriend or ex's account. While only 34% of college students are actually paying for their own Netflix account, that's apparently not too big of a concern for Netflix, who has taken a relatively lax attitude towards password sharing in recent years.
Walt Mossberg Is Retiring
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Walt Mossberg, a well-respected and long-time tech journalist, announced via The Verge that he will be retiring in June of this year. In his announcement post, he starts by reflecting on where it all began:

It was a June day when I began my career as a national journalist. I stepped into the Detroit Bureau of The Wall Street Journal and started on what would be a long, varied, rewarding career. I was 23 years old, and the year was 1970. That's not a typo. So it seems fitting to me that I'll be retiring this coming June, almost exactly 47 years later. I'll be hanging it up shortly after the 2017 edition of the Code Conference, a wonderful event I co-founded in 2003 and which I could never have imagined back then in Detroit. I didn't make this decision lightly or hastily or under pressure. It emerged from months of thought and months of talks with my wise wife, my family, and close friends. It wasn't prompted by my employer or by some dire health diagnosis. It just seems like the right time to step away. I'm ready for something new.
WikiLeaks Reveals Grasshopper, the CIA's Windows Hacking Tool
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In case you haven't had your dose of paranoia fuel today, WikiLeaks released new information concerning a CIA malware program called "Grasshopper," that specifically targets Windows. The Grasshopper framework was (is?) allegedly used by the CIA to make custom malware payloads. According to the user guide: "Grasshopper is a software tool used to build custom installers for target computers running Microsoft Windows operating systems." Grasshopper is designed to detect the OS and protection on any Windows computer on which it's deployed, and it can escape detection by anti-malware software. If that was enough for you to put your computer in stasis, brace yourself for a doozy: Grasshopper reinstalls itself every 22 hours, even if you have Windows Update disabled. As if this wasn't alarming enough, the Grasshopper user guide even states upfront that Grasshopper uses bits from a toolkit taken from Russian organized crime.
Employers Added Just 98,000 Jobs in March Below Expectations of 180,000
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Employers slowed their pace of hiring while the unemployment rate fell to the lowest level in almost a decade in March, highlighting steady but sometimes mixed progress across the labor market.

From a report on USA Today:
Payroll growth weakened significantly last month amid harsher winter weather as employers added 98.000 jobs in a sharper pullback than anticipated. The unemployment rate, which is calculated from a different survey, fell to 4.5% from 4.7%, the Labor Department said Friday. Economists surveyed by Bloomberg projected 180,000 employment gains, based on their median estimate. Analysts expected some payback in March after unseasonably mild temperatures pulled forward hiring to early in the year, especially in sectors such as construction, resulting in 200,000-plus job gains in January and February. And a snowstorm that slammed into the Midwest and East Coast in mid-March likely further curtailed job growth, says economist Jim O'Sullivan of High Frequency Economics. [...] But some economists also have said the outsize job gains early this year defied a low unemployment rate that's supplying businesses a shrinking pool of available workers. Many analysts expect that trend ultimately to result in average monthly job gains of about 170,000 this year, down from 187,000 last year and 226,000 in 2015.
FCC Chairman Ajit Pai Plans Fast-Track Repeal of Net Neutrality
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The chairman of the U.S. Federal Communications Commission is moving quickly to replace the Obama administration's landmark net neutrality rules and wants internet service providers to voluntarily agree to maintain an open internet, three sources briefed on the meeting said Thursday. FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, a Republican appointed by President Donald Trump, met on Tuesday with major telecommunications trade groups to discuss his preliminary plan to reverse the rules, the sources said. The rules approved by the FCC under Democratic President Barack Obama in early 2015 prohibited broadband providers from giving or selling access to speedy internet, essentially a "fast lane," to certain internet services over others. As part of that change, the FCC reclassified internet service providers much like utilities. Pai wants to overturn that reclassification, but wants internet providers to voluntarily agree to not obstruct or slow consumer access to web content, two officials said late Tuesday. The officials briefed on the meeting said Pai suggested companies commit in writing to open internet principles and including them in their terms of service, which would make them binding. It is unclear if regulators could legally compel internet providers to adopt open internet principles without existing net neutrality rules. As part of that move, the Federal Trade Commission would assume oversight of ensuring compliance.Three sources said Pai plans to unveil his proposal to overturn the rules as early as late April and it could face an initial vote in May or June.
Public Crowd-sourcing Finds New Exoplanets
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A participant in a TV program "Stargazing Live" on Australia's ABC TV channel has found four planets closely orbiting a star, using an online database. Astrophysicist Dr Chris Lintott, the principal investigator of Zooniverse, reported on Thursday's show that four "Super Earth" planets had been identified in the data. They orbit closer to their star than Mercury does to our Sun. The person responsible for the find, Andrew Grey, is a mechanic by day and amateur astronomer in his spare time, and lives in the city of Darwin, Northern Territory. The data is sourced from NASA's Kepler Space Telescope. "Stargazing Live" host Professor Brian Cox said he could not be more excited about the discovery. "In the seven years I've been making Stargazing Live this is the most significant scientific discovery we've ever made. The results are astonishing"
Alcohol-Related Car Accidents Declined In New York After Introduction of Uber, Analysis Finds
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According to a new paper from Jessica Lynn Peck of the Graduate Center at the City University of New York, ride-hailing services may have helped reduce alcohol-related traffic accidents by 25-30% in New York City. The report specifically focuses on Uber, which was first introduced in the city in May 2011, and looks at how the ride-hailing service has impacted New York City. The Economist notes in its report that Uber is "largely banned outside of New York City."

From the report:
To control for factors unrelated to Uber's launch such as adverse weather conditions, Ms Peck compares accident rates in each of New York's five boroughs to those in the counties where Uber was not present, picking those that had the most similar population density and pre-2011 drunk-driving rate. The four boroughs which were quick to adopt Uber -- Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens and the Bronx-- all saw decreases in alcohol-related car crashes relative to their controls. By contrast, Staten Island, where Uber caught on more slowly, saw no such decrease.
Facebook Messenger Now Analyzes Your Chats To Give You Recommendations
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Facebook's messaging platform, which reports 1 billion monthly active users, announced on Thursday that it is rolling out its experimental virtual assistant "M" to all Messenger users in the United States this week through a new feature called M Suggestions.

A report adds:
M Suggestions does exactly what its name suggests, using artificial intelligence to understand what is being said in any given Messenger chat to make recommendations that pop up during the course of a conversation. Some folks who already feel like Facebook is watching them when they see ads in their News Feed for bridal gowns after getting engaged may be creeped out by the fact their messages are being analyzed. But Stan Chudnovsky, Facebook Messenger's Head of Product, contends their goal with M Suggestions is to offer a better user experience. To wit, M Suggestions does not currently generate any revenues for Messenger. "The history of the internet is all about removing friction," Chudnovsky told Yahoo Finance. "In this case, instead of you having to think about doing something, like sending a sticker, paying a friend for something or sharing your location, and having to press three taps, M does it for you."
NASA's Cassini Spacecraft Begins Its Final Mission Before Plunging Into Saturn
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NASA has announced that their Cassini spacecraft will begin its final mission before slamming into Saturn on April 23rd. The "final mission" consists of a series of dives through a 1,500-mile-wide gap between Saturn and its rings. "No spacecraft has ever gone through the unique region that we'll attempt to boldly cross 22 times," said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator for the Science Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters in Washington. "What we learn from Cassini's daring final orbits will further our understanding of how giant planets, and planetary systems everywhere, form and evolve. This is truly discovery in action to the very end." The spacecraft will then dive into the gas giant's atmosphere, where it will "break apart, melt, vaporize, and become a part of the very planet it left Earth 20 years ago to explore," Cassini project manager Earl Maize said.

Popular Science explains in its report why Cassini has to die:
Some space probes are allowed to keep orbiting their targets in perpetuity after their mission ends -- like the Dawn spacecraft at the dwarf planet Ceres. But things are a lot more complicated around Saturn. Whereas Ceres is essentially just a really big rock with no moons, Saturn has 62 satellites, at last count. The gravitational push and pull from those moons -- especially the largest, Titan -- wreak havoc on Cassini's trajectory, which it normally corrects by burning fuel. But the spacecraft's fuel is running out, and ultimately its fate is sealed by its own discoveries; scientists don't want to risk the spacecraft crashing into Titan and Enceladus, which may be capable of supporting life. Although Cassini launched 20 years ago, experiments on the Space Station have suggested microbes can survive for years in the extreme temperatures, radiation, and airless vacuum of space. If NASA were to accidentally put water bears on Enceladus, the tiny Earthlings could potentially wipe out any native lifeforms that the moon may harbor, and/or complicate the search for those alien organisms later. This is why Cassini must die now, while NASA can still control its last swan dive.
Amazon Will Refund Millions of Unauthorized In-App Purchases Made By Kids
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Amazon will refund millions of dollars worth of unauthorized in-app purchased made by kids, having dropped its appeal of last year's ruling by a federal judge who sided with the Federal Trade Commission in the agency's lawsuit against Amazon. "The FTC's original complaint said that Amazon should be liable for millions of dollars it charged customers, because of the way its Appstore software was designed -- that is, it allowed kids to spend unlimited amounts of money in games and other apps without requiring parental consent," reports TechCrunch.

From the report:
s The issue had to do with the way the Amazon Appstore's in-app purchasing system worked. The Amazon Appstore is the store that comes preloaded on Amazon mobile devices, like Kindle Fire tablets, for example, though there is a way to load it onto other Android devices, too. In Amazon's Appstore, which launched back in 2011, the company didn't originally require passwords on in-app purchases. This allowed kids to buy coins and other items to their hearts' content. One particularly awful example involved a game called "Ice Age Village" that offered an in-app purchase of $99.99. Amazon introduced password-protected in-app purchases in March 2012, but then only on those where the purchase exceeded $20. In early 2013, it updated the system again to require passwords, but also allowed a 15-minute window afterwards where no password was required. The FTC said Amazon didn't obtain "informed consent" until July 2014. To make matters worse, parents complaining weren't told how to get a refund and Amazon had even suggested at times that refunds weren't possible, the FTC's complaint had said. More than $70 million in in-app charges made between November 2011 and May 2016 may be eligible for refunds, the FTC notes. It's not likely that all affected customers will take the time to make their requests, however.
Electric Car Ferries Enter Service In Norway
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Following two years of trials of the world's first electric car ferry, named Ampere, Norwegian ferry operators are busy making the transition from diesel. It is thought that 84 ferries are ripe for conversion to electric power, and 43 ferries on longer routes would benefit from conversion to hybrids that use diesel engines to charge their batteries. If this were done, nitrogen oxide (NOx) emissions would be cut by 8,000 tons per year and CO2 emissions by 300,000 tons per year, equivalent to the annual emissions from 150,000 cars. The Ampere uses an 800kWh battery, equivalent to 8 high end Tesla cars.

According to a report from Siemens and environmental campaign group Bellona, Long-distance ferries are not well suited to electrification, but about 70% of Norway's ferries cover relatively short crossings, so switching to electric power would pay for itself in a few years. The BBC report also mentions some of the challenges associated with converting the diesel ferries to electric ferries. For example, "during initial trials, the fast charging placed excessive strain on the local grid, designed as it was to service a relatively small population," reports BBC. "To lighten the load, high-capacity batteries were put on constant charge on either side of the fjord, ready to transfer the electricity quickly to the ferry's batteries whilst docked."
Google's Custom Machine Learning Chips Are 15-30x Faster Than GPUs and CPUs
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Four years ago, Google was faced with a conundrum: if all its users hit its voice recognition services for three minutes a day, the company would need to double the number of data centers just to handle all of the requests to the machine learning system powering those services, reads a PCWorld article, which talks about how Tensor Processing Unit (TPU), a chip that is designed to accelerate the inference stage of deep neural networks came into being.

The article shares an update:
Google published a paper on Wednesday laying out the performance gains the company saw over comparable CPUs and GPUs, both in terms of raw power and the performance per watt of power consumed. A TPU was on average 15 to 30 times faster at the machine learning inference tasks tested than a comparable server-class Intel Haswell CPU or Nvidia K80 GPU. Importantly, the performance per watt of the TPU was 25 to 80 times better than what Google found with the CPU and GPU.
FCC's Ajit Pai Says Broadband Market Too Competitive For Strict Privacy Rules
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In an op-ed published on the Washington Post, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai and his counterpart at the FTC have argued that strict privacy rules for ISPs aren't necessary in part because the broadband market is more competitive than the search engine market.

From a report on ArsTechnica:
Internet users who have only one choice of high-speed home broadband providers would probably scoff at this claim. But an op-ed written by Pai and Acting FTC Chair Maureen Ohlhausen ignored the lack of competition in home Internet service, focusing only on the competitive wireless broadband market. Because of this competition, it isn't fair to impose different rules on ISPs than on websites, they wrote. "Others argue that ISPs should be treated differently because consumers face a unique lack of choice and competition in the broadband marketplace," Pai and Ohlhausen wrote in their op-ed. "But that claim doesn't hold up to scrutiny either. For example, according to one industry analysis, Google dominates desktop search with an estimated 81 percent market share (and 96 percent of the mobile search market), whereas Verizon, the largest mobile broadband provider, holds only an estimated 35 percent of its market." [...] Instead of addressing the lack of competition in home Internet service, Pai and Ohlhausen simply didn't mention it in their op-ed. But they argued that ISPs shouldn't face stricter privacy rules than search engines and other websites because of the level of competition in broadband and the amount of data companies like Google collect about Internet users. "As a result, it shouldn't come as a surprise that Congress decided to disapprove the FCC's unbalanced rules," they wrote. "Indeed, the FTC's criticism of the FCC's rules last year noted specifically that they 'would not generally apply to other services that collect and use significant amounts of consumer data.'"
We're Creating a Perfect Storm of Unprecedented Global Warming
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If we do nothing to reduce our carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions, by the end of this century the Earth will be as hot as it was 50 million years ago in the early Eocene, according to a new study out today in the journal Nature Communications. This period -- roughly 15 million years after dinosaurs went extinct and 49.8 million years before modern humans appeared on the scene -- was 16F to 25F warmer than the modern norm. [...] During the Eocene, it took more atmospheric CO2 to influence temperatures than it does today. In fact, if we don't change our behavior, 2100 will be as hot as the Eocene with much less atmospheric CO2 than was present at the time. A hotter sun means we get more bang for our CO2 buck. "Climate change denialists often mention that CO2 was high in the past, that it was warm in the past, so this means there's nothing to worry about," said lead study author Gavin Foster, a researcher in isotope geochemistry and paleoceanography at the United Kingdom's University of Southampton. "It's certainly true, that the CO2 was high in the past and that it was warm in the past. But because the sun was dimmer, the climate wasn't being forced as much [as it will be] in the future if we carry on as we are."
Scientists Invent Smartphone Screen Material That Can Repair Its Own Scratches
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a report from International Business Times:

Researchers say they have developed a new material that could pave the way for self-repairing smartphones, robots and other electronic devices. Scientists from the American Chemical Society claim that the material, which can stretch up to 50 times its usual size, is able to heal itself "like nothing has happened" even when cut in two. The material is flexible, transparent and shares similar properties to human skin. When exposed to electrical signals, a current is generated that creates a chemical bonding reaction between molecules. The most obvious applications for electronics devices seems to be self-healing displays, although lead researcher Dr Chao Wang is also exploring the possibility of a self-healing lithium-ion battery.

While the technology is similar to the hydrogen-infused rear cover found on the LG G Flex, which allows for small scratches to be healed, the material developed by the American Medical Society is a completely new innovation that can "automatically stitch itself back together" within one day of being sliced into pieces. The team will present its research at a Tuesday meeting of the American Chemical Society, according to Business Insider.
Android Overtakes Windows as the Internet's Most Used Operating System
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As expected last month, Android has surpassed Windows to become the world's most used operating system, according to the web analytics firm StatCounter.

From a report:
Usage figures published by StatCounter show that Android accounted for 37.93 percent of the worldwide OS Internet usage share in March. Windows is not far behind at 37.91 percent, but Android taking the lead is being described as a "milestone in technology history." The fact that Android is now topping the charts can be attributed to the fact that mobile devices are now used to connect to the Internet far more frequently than desktop computers and laptop. Coupled with declining PC sales, Windows is starting to lose out overall, although it still accounts for 84 percent of the worldwide desktop operating system market.
Web Inventor Sir Tim Berners-Lee Slams UK and US Net Plans
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The web's creator has attacked any UK plans to weaken encryption and promised to battle any moves by the Trump administration to weaken net neutrality.

From a report on BBC:
Sir Tim Berners-Lee was speaking to the BBC following the news that he has been given the Turing Award. It is sometimes known as the Nobel Prize of computing. Sir Tim said moves to undermine encryption would be a "bad idea" and represent a massive security breach. Home Secretary Amber Rudd has said there should be no safe space for terrorists to be able to communicate online. But Sir Tim said giving the authorities a key to unlock coded messages would have serious consequences. "Now I know that if you're trying to catch terrorists it's really tempting to demand to be able to break all that encryption but if you break that encryption then guess what -- so could other people and guess what -- they may end up getting better at it than you are," he said. Sir Tim also criticised moves by legislators on both sides of the Atlantic, which he sees as an assault on the privacy of web users. He attacked the UK's recent Investigatory Powers Act, which he had criticised when it went through Parliament: "The idea that all ISPs should be required to spy on citizens and hold the data for six months is appalling." In the United States he is concerned that the principle of net neutrality, which treats all internet traffic equally, could be watered down by the Trump administration and the Federal Communications Commission. "If the FCC does move to reduce net neutrality I will fight it as hard as I can," he vowed.
Bill Would Stop Warrantless Border Device Searches of US Citizens
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Senators Ron Wyden and Rand Paul as well as Reps. Jared Polis and Blake Farenthold have introduced legislation that would require law enforcement to first obtain a warrant before they can search our electronic devices when we enter the United States.

From a report:
A new bipartisan bill would prevent Americans' electronic devices from being searched at the border without a warrant, a response to an increase in such electronic searches. The bill would require a warrant before agents could search Americans' phones, laptops and other devices at entries to the US, including airports and border crossings. "Americans' constitutional rights shouldn't disappear at the border," Wyden said in a statement. "By requiring a warrant to search Americans' devices and prohibiting unreasonable delay, this bill makes sure that border agents are focused on criminals and terrorists instead of wasting their time thumbing through innocent Americans' personal photos and other data."
Student Loan Debt Has Nearly Tripled
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Recent college graduates who borrow are leaving school with an average of $34,000 in student loans. That's up from $20,000 just 10 years ago, according to a new analysis from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. In that report, out this week, the New York Fed took a careful look at the relationship between debt and homeownership. For people aged 30 to 36, the analysis shows having any student debt significantly hurts your chances of buying a home, compared to college graduates with no debt. The cliche of "good debt" notwithstanding, the consequences of borrowing are real, and they are lasting. The report paints a mixed picture of how student borrowing has evolved over the last decade, since the financial crisis. There are some bright spots: For example, student loan defaults peaked five years ago and have declined ever since. And repayment seems to have slowed down among high-balance borrowers -- those who owe $75,000 or more. Meaning, after 10 years, they have paid down only one-quarter to one-third of what they owe.
Nintendo Switch Consoles Are Reportedly Warping When Docked
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When the Nintendo Switch was launched in early March, some users complained about dead or stuck pixels, which Nintendo later dismissed as being "normal." We're now approaching the one-month mark and some users are reporting that the console can warp when it's been docked for an extended period of gaming.

The Independent reports:
[Reddit] User _NSR has posted a picture of a bent Switch online, alongside a message reading, "The Nintendo Switch is starting to warp while only being in dock mode." _NSR expanded on the issue in further comments, explaining, "It does get very hot, considering how small the system is and it is outputting Breath of the Wild for long periods of time on a big screen, it may be too much for it to handle. I'm wondering if it being docked is the problem though, most of my time has been on the dock, and it has to work harder to output to a larger screen. Luckily it hasn't affected the way that it plays, the lack of disc drive is definitely a good thing here." Fellow Reddit users have offered multiple possible explanations for the warp, with battery issues and thermal expansion being suggested. Another Switch user, Magnaha23, backed up _NSR's claim, commenting, "I actually checked my Switch after seeing this. It's starting to do the exact same thing just not as bad as yours yet. I called Nintendo and got a repair set up in like 10 minutes. "I got a prepaid label for overnight shipping. Once they get it it takes a few days to process and repair. If they can repair the unit, which if the whole thing is warped they probably can't, they will send back. Otherwise, they will transfer my data over to a new unit and send that back. They said 6-8 business days once they get my Switch. We shall see..." Other people on the thread, however, say they haven't noticed any warping despite using it for lengthy gaming sessions while docked.
Graphene-Based Sieve Turns Seawater Into Drinking Water
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A UK-based team of researchers has created a graphene-based sieve capable of removing salt from seawater. The sought-after development could aid the millions of people without ready access to clean drinking water. The promising graphene oxide sieve could be highly efficient at filtering salts, and will now be tested against existing desalination membranes. It has previously been difficult to manufacture graphene-based barriers on an industrial scale. Reporting their results in the journal Nature Nanotechnology, scientists from the University of Manchester, led by Dr Rahul Nair, shows how they solved some of the challenges by using a chemical derivative called graphene oxide. Isolated and characterized by a University of Manchester-led team in 2004, graphene comprises a single layer of carbon atoms arranged in a hexagonal lattice. Its unusual properties, such as extraordinary tensile strength and electrical conductivity, have earmarked it as one of the most promising materials for future applications. But it has been difficult to produce large quantities of single-layer graphene using existing methods, such as chemical vapor deposition (CVD). Current production routes are also quite costly. On the other hand, said Dr Nair, "graphene oxide can be produced by simple oxidation in the lab." Graphene oxide membranes have already proven their worth in sieving out small nanoparticles, organic molecules and even large salts. But until now, they couldn't be used to filter out common salts, which require even smaller sieves. Previous work had shown that graphene oxide membranes became slightly swollen when immersed in water, allowing smaller salts to flow through the pores along with water molecules. Now, Dr Nair and colleagues demonstrated that placing walls made of epoxy resin (a substance used in coatings and glues) on either side of the graphene oxide membrane was sufficient to stop the expansion.
Why Bargain Travel Sites May No Longer Be Bargains
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Most of us rely on metasearch engines, like Priceline, Expedia, or Travelocity, which typically use dozens (sometimes as many as 200) of online travel agents, called OTAs, and aggregators to find the best deals. (A metasearch engine and an aggregator are interchangeable terms -- they both scour other sites and compile data under one roof. An OTA is an actual travel agency that actually does the booking and is the lone site responsible for everything you buy through them.) We rely on these sites because we assume they have the secret sauce -- the most powerful search engines, tweaked by superstar programmers armed with the most sophisticated algorithms -- to guide us to the cheapest options. With a single search, you can feel assured that you are paying a rock bottom price. Over time, however, the convention has flipped. As competition among the sites heated up, the hard-to-believe cheap fares required some filtering. A too-good-to-be-true fare ($99 to Europe from California) usually came with a catch (the $400, indirect, ticket home). And as the business models that on which these aggregators rely are getting tighter, the deals are getting worse. How can you be certain you're getting the lowest quote? The short answer is, you can't.
Will Streaming Media Lead To A Massive Writer's Strike?
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Streaming services like Netflix and Amazon have transformed Hollywood and contributed to an unprecedented number of quality series being produced -- a phenomenon often described as the new Golden Age of TV. But times haven't been golden for many writers for whom more is now less. Shorter seasons are the new norm, with many series consisting of 10 or fewer episodes on cable and streaming -- less than half the length of traditional seasons on network shows. That has put writers in a financial crunch since many have exclusivity clauses that prevent them from working on multiple shows per season...
How To Protect Your Privacy Online
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Though the U.S. Congress voted to roll back privacy rules, broadband customers can still opt-out of targeted advertising from Comcast, Charter, AT&T, and T-Mobile. But an anonymous reader explains why that's not enough: "It's not clear that opting out will prevent ISPs from putting your data to use," reports The Verge, adding "you're opting out of seeing ads, but not out of providing data." Neema Singh Guliani, legislative counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union, tells NPR that consumers can also "call their providers and opt out of having their information shared." But he also suggests a grass roots effort, calling this "an opportunity to pressure companies to implement good practices and for consumers to say 'I think that you should require opt-in consent and if you're not, why not?'"

To try to stop the creation of that data, Brian Krebs has also posted a guide for choosing a VPN provider, and shared a useful link to a chart comparing VPN providers that was recommended by the EFF. This may help avoid some of the problems reported with VPN services, and Krebs also recommends Tor as a free (albeit possibly slower) option, while sharing an informational link describing Tor's own limitations.
Jetpack Entrepreneur Creates Iron Man-Style Human Flying Suit
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"British aeronautic engineering startup Gravity unveiled a new human flying suit Friday," writes VentureBeat.

It's a six-engine jet-propelled personal flying apparatus that the company says will take regular humans to superhero heights at several hundred miles per hour. At the moment, flights are limited to just a few feet above the ground. The suit includes six miniaturized jet engines, two of which are worn on each of the pilot's arms, and two of which can be mounted on the feet, or, in later incarnations of the suit, low on the pilot's back. Each of the jet engines gets fuel from a backpack...

Gravity says the human body is "the airframe" and that your arms and legs serve to both direct and control thrust... "We've already had a few comparisons to Tony Stark, but this is real-world aeronautical innovation,"Gravity founder Richard Browning said in a statement. "We are serious about building a world-changing technology business. We stand at the very beginning of what human propulsion systems will do." Browning tells TechCrunch "It's no way as dangerous or crazy as it looks."
Verizon, AT&T, Comcast Say They Will Not Sell Customer Browsing Histories
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Comcast, Verizon, AT&T Inc said Friday they would not sell customers' individual internet browsing information, days after the U.S. Congress approved legislation reversing Obama administration era internet privacy rules.

From a report on Reuters:
The bill would repeal regulations adopted in October by the Federal Communications Commission under former President Barack Obama requiring internet service providers to do more to protect customers' privacy than websites like Alphabet's Google or Facebook. The easing of restrictions has sparked growing anger on social media sites. "We do not sell our broadband customers' individual web browsing history. We did not do it before the FCC's rules were adopted, and we have no plans to do so," said Gerard Lewis, Comcast's chief privacy officer. He added Comcast is revising its privacy policy to make more clear that "we do not sell our customers' individual web browsing information to third parties." Verizon does not sell personal web browsing histories and has no plans to do so in the future, said spokesman Richard Young.
Your Save Data Is Not Safe On the Nintendo Switch
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In a post-launch update to our initial Nintendo Switch review, we noted that there is no way to externally back up game save data stored on the system. A recent horror story from a fellow writer who lost dozens of hours of game progress thanks to a broken system highlights just how troublesome this missing feature can be. Over at GamesRadar, Anthony John Agnello recounts his experience with Nintendo support after his Switch turned into a useless brick for no discernible reason last week (full disclosure: I know Agnello personally and have served with him on some convention panels). After sending his (under warranty) system to Nintendo for repair, Agnello received a fixed system and the following distressing message from the company two days later: "We have inspected the Nintendo Switch system that was sent to us for repair and found that the issue has made some of the information on this system unreadable. As a result, the save data, settings, and links with any Nintendo Accounts on your system were unable to be preserved." Agnello says he lost 55 hours of progress on The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, as well as more progress on a few other downloadable games. While he was able to redownload the games that were deleted, he'd have to start from scratch on each one (if only all that progress was easily, instantly unlockable in some way...)
Will VPNs Protect Your Privacy? It's Complicated
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From a CNET report: A VPN redirects your internet traffic, disguising where your computer, phone or other device is when it makes contact with websites. It also encrypts information you send across the internet, making it unreadable to anyone who intercepts your traffic. That includes your internet service provider. Ha! Problem solved -- right? Well, sort of. The big catch is, now the VPN has your internet traffic and browsing history, instead of your ISP. What's to stop the VPN from selling your information to the highest bidder? Of course, there are reputable VPN services out there, but it's incumbent on you the user to "do your homework," Ajay Arora, CEO of cybersecurity company Vera said. In addition to making sure the VPN will actually keep your data private, you'll want to make sure there's nothing shady in the terms and conditions. Shady how? Well, in 2015, a group of security-minded coders discovered that free VPN service Hola was selling its users' bandwidth to the paying customers of its Luminati service. That meant some random person could have been using your internet connection to do something illegal. So, shady like that. "I would recommend you do some cursory level research in terms of reputation [and] how long they've been around," Arora said, "And when you sign up, read the fine print."

From a report on Wired:
Christian Haschek, an Austria-based security researcher, wrote a script that analyzed 443 open proxies, which route web traffic through an alternate, often pseudo-anonymous, computer network. The script tested the proxies to see if they modified site content or allowed users to browse sites while using encryption. According to Haschek's research, just 21 percent of the tested proxies weren't "shady." Haschek found that the other 79 percent of surveyed proxy services forbid secure, HTTPS traffic.
UW Professor: The Information War Is Real, and We're Losing It
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It started with the Boston marathon bombing, four years ago. University of Washington professor Kate Starbird was sifting through thousands of tweets sent in the aftermath and noticed something strange. Too strange for a university professor to take seriously. "There was a significant volume of social-media traffic that blamed the Navy SEALs for the bombing," Starbird told me the other day in her office. "It was real tinfoil-hat stuff. So we ignored it." Same thing after the mass shooting that killed nine at Umpqua Community College in Oregon: a burst of social-media activity calling the massacre a fake, a stage play by "crisis actors" for political purposes. "After every mass shooting, dozens of them, there would be these strange clusters of activity," Starbird says. "It was so fringe we kind of laughed at it. "That was a terrible mistake. We should have been studying it." Starbird argues in a new paper, set to be presented at a computational social-science conference in May, that these "strange clusters" of wild conspiracy talk, when mapped, point to an emerging alternative media ecosystem on the web of surprising power and reach. There are dozens of conspiracy-propagating websites such as beforeitsnews.com, nodisinfo.com and veteranstoday.com. Starbird cataloged 81 of them, linked through a huge community of interest connected by shared followers on Twitter, with many of the tweets replicated by automated bots. Starbird is in the UW's Department of Human Centered Design & Engineering -- the study of the ways people and technology interact. Her team analyzed 58 million tweets sent after mass shootings during a 10-month period. They searched for terms such as "false flag" and "crisis actor," web slang meaning a shooting is not what the government or the traditional media is reporting it to be. Then she analyzed the content of each site to try to answer the question: Just what is this alternative media ecosystem saying? Starbird is publishing her paper as a sort of warning. The information networks we've built are almost perfectly designed to exploit psychological vulnerabilities to rumor.

"Your brain tells you 'Hey, I got this from three different sources,'" Starbird says. "But you don't realize it all traces back to the same place, and might have even reached you via bots posing as real people. If we think of this as a virus, I wouldn't know how to vaccinate for it." The report goes on to say that "Starbird says she's concluded, provocatively, that we may be headed toward 'the menace of unreality -- which is that nobody believes anything anymore.'"
The Guardian Interviews Valentina Tereshkova, the First Woman In Space
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The Guardian published an interview today with the first woman in space, Valentina Tereshkova, ahead of her forthcoming exhibition at the London Science Museum. An interesting and informal chat with perhaps the most visible and famous living face of the Soviet space program.

Here's an excerpt from the interview:
"Over 50 years ago, in 1963, Tereshkova became the first woman to go into space, and it was her parachuting experience that qualified her for selection. She was only 26 when she made her one and only space flight, but that feat has defined the rest of her life. It propelled her into the upper reaches of the Soviet elite, and gave her security for life. That elevation though came at a life-long cost: a treadmill of obligations that has lasted more than half a century. Public speaking, accepting honors, roving the world as a citizen-diplomat, being a very visible part of Soviet, and now Russian, public life, are roles that she continues to fulfill to this day. Hence her visit to London for the opening of a display of artifacts linked to her cosmonaut's life. It is one of a series of UK-Russia collaborations, following the hugely successful Russian space exhibition at the museum last year."
Activist Starts a Campaign To Buy and Publish Browsing Histories of Politicians Who Passed Anti-Privacy Law
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Congress sent proposed legislation to President Trump that wipes away landmark online privacy protections. In a party-line vote, House Republicans freed Internet service providers such as AT&T, Verizon, and Comcast of protections approved just last year that had sought to limit what companies could do with information such as customer browsing habits, app usage history, location data and Social Security numbers. Now call it a poetic justice, online privacy activist Adam McElhaney has launched an initiative called Search Internet History, with an objective of raising funds to buy browsing history of each politician and official who voted in favor of S.J.Res 34. On the site, he has also put up a poll asking people whose internet history they would like to see first.
NASA Launches Massive Digital Library For Space Video, Photos and Audio
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NASA on Tuesday (March 28) unveiled a new online library that assembles the agency's amazing space photos, videos and audio files into a single searchable library. The NASA Image and Video Library, as the agency calls it, can be found at http://images.nasa.gov/ and consolidates space imagery from 60 different collections into one location. The new database allows users to embed NASA imagery in websites, includes image metadata like date, description and keywords, and offers multiple resolution sizes, NASA officials said. According to the NASA statement, other features include: Automatic scaling to suite the interface for mobile phones and tablets; EXIF/camera data that includes exposure, lens used and other information (when available from the original image); Easy public access to high resolution files; Downloadable caption files for all videos. The new NASA archive is not meant to be a complete archive of all of the space agency imagery. But it does aim to showcase what the space agency has to offer.
World's Largest Dinosaur Footprints Discovered In Western Australia
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The largest known dinosaur footprints have been discovered in Western Australia, including 1.7 meter prints left by gigantic herbivores. Until now, the biggest known dinosaur footprint was a 106cm track discovered in the Mongolian desert and reported last year. At the new site, along the Kimberley shoreline in a remote region of Western Australia, paleontologists discovered a rich collection of dinosaur footprints in the sandstone rock, many of which are only visible at low tide. The prints, belonging to about 21 different types of dinosaur, are also thought to be the most diverse collection of prints in the world. Steve Salisbury, a vertebrate paleontologist at the University of Queensland told ABC News: "We've got several tracks up in that area that are about 1.7 meters long. So most people would be able to fit inside tracks that big, and they indicate animals that are probably around 5.3 to 5.5 meters at the hip, which is enormous." "It is extremely significant, forming the primary record of non-avian dinosaurs in the western half the continent and providing the only glimpse of Australia's dinosaur fauna during the first half of the early Cretaceous period," he said. The findings were reported in the Memoir of the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology. The largest tracks belonged to sauropods, huge Diplodocus-like herbivores with long necks and tails. The scientists also discovered tracks from about four different types of ornithopod dinosaurs (two-legged herbivores) and six types of armored dinosaurs, including Stegosaurs, which had not previously been seen in Australia. At the time the prints were left, 130m years ago, the area was a large river delta and dinosaurs would have traversed wet sandy areas between surrounding forests.
US Congress Votes To Shred ISP Privacy Rules
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The U.S. House of Representatives has just approved a "congressional disapproval" vote of privacy rules, which gives your ISP the right to sell your internet history to the highest bidder. The measure passed by 232 votes to 184 along party lines, with one Democrat voting in favor and 14 not voting. This follows the same vote in the Senate last week. Just prior to the vote, a White House spokesman said the president supported the bill, meaning that the decision will soon become law. This approval means that whoever you pay to provide you with internet access -- Comcast, AT&T, Time Warner Cable, etc -- will be able to sell everything they know about your use of the internet to third parties without requiring your approval and without even informing you. That information can be used to build a very detailed picture of who you are: what your political and sexual leanings are; whether you have kids; when you are at home; whether you have any medical conditions; and so on -- a thousand different data points that, if they have sufficient value to companies willing to pay for them, will soon be traded without your knowledge. With over 100 million households online in the United States, that means Congress has just given Big Cable an annual payday of between $35 billion and $70 billion.
Sightings' of Extinct Tasmanian Tiger Prompt Search in Queensland
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"Plausible" possible sightings of a Tasmanian tiger in northern Queensland have prompted scientists to undertake a search for the species thought to have died out more than 80 years ago. The last thylacine is thought to have died in Hobart zoo in 1936, and it is widely believed to have become extinct on mainland Australia at least 2,000 years ago. But sightings of large, dog-like animals that are neither dingoes nor foxes have persisted over the decades, despite widespread scepticism. Recent eyewitness accounts of potential thylacines in far north Queensland have spurred scientists from James Cook University to launch a search for the animal long considered extinct. Professor Bill Laurance said he had spoken at length to two people about animals they had seen in Cape York peninsula that could potentially be thylacines, and that they had given plausible and detailed descriptions.
Climate Change Is Altering Global Air Currents
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One of the scientists who demonstrated conclusively that global warming was an unnatural event with the famous "hockey stick" graph is now warning that giant jetstreams which circle the planet are being altered by climate change. Jetstreams are influenced by the difference in temperatures between the Arctic and the equator. But the Arctic has been warming much faster than tropical climates -- the island of Svalbard, for example was 6.5 degrees celsius warmer last year compared to the average between 1961 and 1990. The land has also been warming faster than the sea. Both of those factors were changing the flow of these major air currents to create "extreme meanders" which were helping to cause "extreme weather events", Professor Michael Mann said. In a paper in the journal Scientific Reports, Professor Mann and other researchers wrote that evidence of the effect of climate change on the jetstreams had "only recently emerged from the background noise of natural variability." They said that projections of the effect on the jetstreams in "state-of-the-art" climate models were "mirrored" in "multiple" actual temperature measurements. The jetstream normally flows reasonably consistently around the planet, but can develop loops extending north and south. The researchers, who studied temperature records going back to 1870 as well as satellite data, said these loops could grow "very large" or even "grind to a halt" rather than moving from west to east. The effect has been most pronounced during the past 40 years, they found.
Facebook Launches 'Town Hall' For Contacting Government Reps, Adds Local Election Reminders
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Facebook has officially launched their "Town Hall" feature that allows users to locate, follow and contact their local, state and federal government representatives. The social media company also announced that they will be launching local election reminders in an effort to get more users to vote in state, county, and municipal elections.

TechCrunch reports:
The feature was recently made available in the "More" menu on mobile and on desktop to a subset of users. When you launch it, you would be presented with a list of reps at the local, state and federal level, and you could click to visit their Facebook page or send them a message, call them, or email. Not all reps offer their contact information via Facebook, however. And Facebook doesn't yet pull in the missing phone numbers or emails from off-site sources, like official government websites, for example. The company tell us that's something it wants to address in time, though. Today, Town Hall is available to all U.S. Facebook users and some of its features will now be integrated in the News Feed. If you like or comment on a post made by one of your elected officials, a new feature below the comments will invite you to call, message or email the rep. After doing so, users will then be prompted to share a post saying that they contacted the rep, as a means of encouraging their friends to do the same. Facebook says that this Contact Your Rep post is not shown to everyone, but only to those who are also already engaging with an elected official's post, through a like or comment. Additionally, Facebook says it will now offer Election Reminders for local elections. The new, local election reminders will appear for all state, county, and municipal elections in the U.S. in areas with a population of over 10,000 people, and will include both primaries and general elections.
Facial Recognition Database Used By FBI Is Out of Control, House Committee Hears
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The House oversight committee claims the FBI's facial recognition database is out of control, noting that "no federal law controls this technology" and "no court decision limits it." At last week's House oversight committee hearing, politicians and privacy campaigners presented several "damning facts" about the databases. "About 80% of photos in the FBI's network are non-criminal entries, including pictures from driver's licenses and passports," reports The Guardian. "The algorithms used to identify matches are inaccurate about 15% of the time, and are most likely to misidentify black people than white people."

From the report:
"Facial recognition technology is a powerful tool law enforcement can use to protect people, their property, our borders, and our nation," said the committee chair, Jason Chaffetz, adding that in the private sector it can be used to protect financial transactions and prevent fraud or identity theft. "But it can also be used by bad actors to harass or stalk individuals. It can be used in a way that chills free speech and free association by targeting people attending certain political meetings, protests, churches, or other types of places in the public." Furthermore, the rise of real-time face recognition technology that allows surveillance and body cameras to scan the faces of people walking down the street was, according to Chaffetz, "most concerning." "For those reasons and others, we must conduct proper oversight of this emerging technology," he said.
Laptop Ban on Planes Came After Plot To Put Explosives in iPad
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United States and United Kingdom officials announced new restrictions for airline passengers from eight Middle Eastern countries, forbidding passengers to carry electronics larger than a smartphone into an airplane cabin. Now The Guardian reports, citing a security source, the ban was prompted in part by a plot involving explosives hidden in a fake iPad.

From the report:
The security source said both bans were not the result of a single specific incident but a combination of factors. One of those, according to the source, was the discovery of a plot to bring down a plane with explosives hidden in a fake iPad that appeared as good as the real thing. Other details of the plot, such as the date, the country involved and the group behind it, remain secret. Discovery of the plot confirmed the fears of the intelligence agencies that Islamist groups had found a novel way to smuggle explosives into the cabin area in carry-on luggage after failed attempts with shoe bombs and explosives hidden in underwear. An explosion in a cabin (where a terrorist can position the explosive against a door or window) can have much more impact than one in the hold (where the terrorist has no control over the position of the explosive, which could be in the middle of luggage, away from the skin of the aircraft), given passengers and crew could be sucked out of any subsequent hole.
Sea Ice Extent Sinks To Record Lows At Both Poles
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According to NASA, Arctic sea ice appears to have reached on March 7 a record low wintertime maximum extent. On the opposite side of the planet, Antartica ice hit its lowest extent ever recorded by satellites (since satellites began measuring sea ice in 1979) on March 3 at the end of summer in the Southern Hemisphere.

Science Daily reports:
Total polar sea ice covered 6.26 million square miles (16.21 million square kilometers), which is 790,000 square miles (2 million square kilometers) less than the average global minimum extent for 1981-2010 -- the equivalent of having lost a chunk of sea ice larger than Mexico. The ice floating on top of the Arctic Ocean and surrounding seas shrinks in a seasonal cycle from mid-March until mid-September. As the Arctic temperatures drop in the autumn and winter, the ice cover grows again until it reaches its yearly maximum extent, typically in March. The ring of sea ice around the Antarctic continent behaves in a similar manner, with the calendar flipped: it usually reaches its maximum in September and its minimum in February. This winter, a combination of warmer-than-average temperatures, winds unfavorable to ice expansion, and a series of storms halted sea ice growth in the Arctic. This year's maximum extent, reached on March 7 at 5.57 million square miles (14.42 million square kilometers), is 37,000 square miles (97,00 square kilometers) below the previous record low, which occurred in 2015, and 471,000 square miles (1.22 million square kilometers) smaller than the average maximum extent for 1981-2010.
Molecule Kills Elderly Cells, Reduces Signs of Aging In Mice
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Even if you aren't elderly, your body is home to agents of senility -- frail and damaged cells that age us and promote disease. Now, researchers have developed a molecule that selectively destroys these so-called senescent cells. The compound makes old mice act and appear more youthful, providing hope that it may do the same for us. As we get older, senescent cells build up in our tissues, where researchers think they contribute to illnesses such as heart disease, arthritis, and diabetes. In the past, scientists have genetically modified mice to dispatch their senescent cells, allowing the rodents to live longer and reducing plaque buildup in their arteries. Such genetic alterations aren't practical for people, but researchers have reported at least seven compounds, known as senolytics, that kill senescent cells. A clinical trial is testing two of the drugs in patients with kidney disease, and other trials are in the works. However, current senolytic compounds, many of which are cancer drugs, come with downsides. They can kill healthy cells or trigger side effects such as a drop in the number of platelets, the cellular chunks that help our blood clot. Cell biologist Peter de Keizer of Erasmus University Medical Center in Rotterdam, the Netherlands, and colleagues were investigating how senescent cells stay alive when they uncovered a different strategy for attacking them. Senescent cells carry the type of DNA damage that should spur a protective protein, called p53, to put them down. Instead, the researchers found that a different protein, FOXO4, latches onto p53 and prevents it from doing its duty. To counteract this effect, De Keizer and colleagues designed a molecule, known as a peptide, that carries a shortened version of the segment of FOXO4 that attaches to p53. In a petri dish, this peptide prevented FOXO4 and p53 from hooking up, prompting senescent cells to commit suicide. But it spared healthy cells. The researchers then injected the molecule into mutant mice that age rapidly. These rodents live about half as long as normal mice, and when they are only a few months old, their fur starts to fall out, their kidneys begin to falter, and they become sluggish. However, the peptide boosted the density of their fur, reversed the kidney damage, and increased the amount of time they could scurry in a running wheel, the scientists report online today in Cell. When the researchers tested the molecule in normal, elderly mice, they saw a similar picture: In addition to helping their kidneys and fur, the molecule also increased their willingness to explore their surroundings.
'New' Clouds Earn Atlas Recognition
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Twelve "new" types of cloud -- including the rare, wave-like asperitas cloud -- have been recognized for the first time by the International Cloud Atlas.

From a report:
The atlas, which dates back to the 19th Century, is the global reference book for observing and identifying clouds. Last revised in 1987, its new fully-digital edition includes the asperitas after campaigns by citizen scientists. Other new entries include the roll-like volutus, and contrails, clouds formed from the vapour trail of aeroplanes. Since its first publication in 1896, the International Cloud Atlas has become an important reference tool for people working in meteorological services, aviation and shipping. The first edition contained 28 coloured photographs and set out detailed standards for classifying clouds. The last full edition was published in 1975 with a revision in 1987, which quickly became a collector's item. Now, embracing the digital era, the new atlas will initially be available as a web portal, and accessible to the public for the first time.
Senate Votes To Kill FCC's Broadband Privacy Rules
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The Senate voted 50-48 along party lines Thursday to repeal an Obama-era law that requires internet service providers to obtain permission before tracking what customers look at online and selling that information to other companies.

PCWorld adds:
The Senate's 50-48 vote Thursday on a resolution of disapproval would roll back Federal Communications Commission rules requiring broadband providers to receive opt-in customer permission to share sensitive personal information, including web-browsing history, geolocation, and financial details with third parties. The FCC approved the regulations just five months ago. Thursday's vote was largely along party lines, with Republicans voting to kill the FCC's privacy rules and Democrats voting to keep them. The Senate's resolution, which now heads to the House of Representatives for consideration, would allow broadband providers to collect and sell a "gold mine of data" about customers, said Senator Bill Nelson, a Florida Democrat.

Kate Tummarello, writing for EFF:
[This] would be a crushing loss for online privacy. ISPs act as gatekeepers to the Internet, giving them incredible access to records of what you do online. They shouldn't be able to profit off of the information about what you search for, read about, purchase, and more without your consent. We can still kill this in the House: call your lawmakers today and tell them to protect your privacy from your ISP.
WikiLeaks' New Dump Shows How The CIA Allegedly Hacked Macs and iPhones Almost a Decade Ago
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WikiLeaks said on Thursday morning it will release new documents it claims are from the Central Intelligence Agency which show the CIA had the capability to bug iPhones and Macs even if their operating systems have been deleted and replaced.

From a report on Motherboard:
"These documents explain the techniques used by CIA to gain 'persistenc'' on Apple Mac devices, including Macs and iPhones and demonstrate their use of EFI/UEFI and firmware malware," WikiLeaks stated in a press release. EFI and UEFI is the core firmware for Macs, the Mac equivalent to the Bios for PCs. By targeting the UEFI, hackers can compromise Macs and the infection persists even after the operating system is re-installed. The documents are mostly from last decade, except a couple that are dated 2012 and 2013. While the documents are somewhat dated at this point, they show how the CIA was perhaps ahead of the curve in finding new ways to hacking and compromising Macs, according to Pedro Vilaca, a security researcher who's been studying Apple computers for years. Judging from the documents, Vilaca told Motherboard in an online chat, it "looks like CIA were very early adopters of attacks on EFI."
Mars Rover Spots Clouds Shaped By Gravity Waves
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NASA's Curiosity rover has shot more than 500 movies of the clouds above Mars, including the first ground-based view of martian clouds shaped by gravity waves, researchers reported this week at the Lunar and Planetary Science Conference. The shots are the best record made so far of a mysterious recurring belt of equatorial clouds known to influence the martian climate. Understanding these clouds will help inform estimates of ground ice depth and perhaps recurring slope lineae, potential flows of salty water on the surface, says John Moores, a planetary scientist at York University in Toronto, Canada, who led the study with his graduate student, Jake Kloos. "If we wish to understand the water story of Mars's past," Moores says, "we first need to [separate out] contributions from the present-day water cycle." Using Curiosity's navigation camera, Moores and Kloos recorded eight-frame movies of this wispy cloud belt for two martian years. They've used two angles to capture the clouds: one pointed directly up, to see wind direction and speed, and another that keeps the rover's horizon in the frame, allowing a view into the clouds' depth. Given the limited water vapor, solar energy, and atmosphere, the martian clouds lack the variety of shapes seen on Earth. But during one day of cloud gazing -- Curiosity's 1302th martian day, to be precise -- the team got lucky and saw something unusual. That day, when Curiosity looked to the horizon, it saw a sequence of straight, parallel rows of clouds flowing in the same direction: the first ground-based view of a gravity wave cloud. Similar to the waves that follow a pebble tossed into a pond, gravity waves are created when some unknown feature of the martian landscape causes a ripple in the atmosphere that is then seen in clouds. Such waves are common at the edge of the martian ice caps, but thought to be less frequent over its equator.
'Extreme and Unusual' Climate Trends Continue After Record 2016
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In the atmosphere, the seas and around the poles, climate change is reaching disturbing new levels across the Earth. That's according to a detailed global analysis from the World Meteorological Organization (WMO). It says that 2016 was not only the warmest year on record, but it saw atmospheric CO2 rise to a new high, while Arctic sea ice recorded a new winter low. The "extreme and unusual" conditions have continued in 2017, it says. Reports earlier this year from major scientific bodies - including the UK's Met Office, Nasa and NOAA -- indicated that 2016 was the warmest year on record. The WMO's State of the Global Climate 2016 report builds on this research with information from 80 national weather services to provide a deeper and more complete picture of the year's climate data.
Cord-Cutting Isn't Nearly as Significant as Cable Providers Make It Out To Be
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Despite legacy media's anxieties about cord-cutting, data suggest that the phenomenon isn't nearly as significant as cable providers make it out to be. In its 11th annual "Digital Democracy Survey," Deloitte found that the percentage of American households that subscribe to paid television services has remained relatively stable since 2012, even as adoption of streaming services has accelerated. In its survey of 2,131 consumers, Deloitte said two-thirds of respondents reported they have kept their TV subscriptions because they're bundled with their internet plan. Kevin Westcott, vice chairman and U.S. media and entertainment leader at Deloitte, told CNBC that bundling seems to be a huge deterrent for cord cutting.
Patents Are A Big Part Of Why We Can't Own Nice Things
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Today, the Supreme Court heard arguments in a case that could allow companies to keep a dead hand of control over their products, even after you buy them. The case, Impression Products v. Lexmark International, is on appeal from the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, who last year affirmed its own precedent allowing patent holders to restrict how consumers can use the products they buy. That decision, and the precedent it relied on, departs from long established legal rules that safeguard consumers and enable innovation. When you buy something physical -- a toaster, a book, or a printer, for example -- you expect to be free to use it as you see fit: to adapt it to suit your needs, fix it when it breaks, re-use it, lend it, sell it, or give it away when you're done with it. Your freedom to do those things is a necessary aspect of your ownership of those objects. If you can't do them, because the seller or manufacturer has imposed restrictions or limitations on your use of the product, then you don't really own them. Traditionally, the law safeguards these freedoms by discouraging sellers from imposing certain conditions or restrictions on the sale of goods and property, and limiting the circumstances in which those restrictions may be imposed by contract. But some companies are relentless in their quest to circumvent and undermine these protections. They want to control what end users of their products can do with the stuff they ostensibly own, by attaching restrictions and conditions on purchasers, locking down their products, and locking you (along with competitors and researchers) out. If they can do that through patent law, rather than ordinary contract, it would mean they could evade legal limits on contracts, and that any one using a product in violation of those restrictions (whether a consumer or competitor) could face harsh penalties for patent infringement.
Norway Plans to Build the World's First Ship Tunnel
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Norway is planning to build the world's first ship tunnel through the country's Stad peninsula, which is home to harsh weather conditions that often delay shipments and cause dangerous conditions for ship crews. The proposed tunnel would enable ships to travel through the peninsula in safety. New Atlas recently interviewed Stad Ship Tunnel Project Manager Terje Andreassen about the project:

NA: We'd usually expect a canal to be built for this kind of purpose, so why a tunnel? Because in this case we are crossing a hill which is more than 300 meters (984 ft) high. The only alternative is a tunnel. From a maritime point of view this is still a canal, but with a "roof." NA: How would you go about making such a large tunnel -- would you use a boring machine, for example, or explosives? First we will drill horizontally and use explosives to take out the roof part of the tunnel. Then all bolts and anchors to secure the roof rock before applying shotcrete. The rest of the tunnel will be done in the same way as in open mining. Vertical drilling and blasting with explosives down to the level of 12 m (42 ft) below the sea level. NA: How much rock will be removed, and how will you go about removing it? There will be 3 billion cubic meters (over 105 billion cubic ft) of solid rock removed. All transportation from the tunnel area will be done by large barges. NA: What, if any, are the unique challenges to building a ship tunnel when compared with a road tunnel? The challenge is the height of this tunnel. There is 50 m (164 ft) from bottom to the roof, so all secure works and shotcrete must be done in several levels. The tunnel will be made dry down to the bottom. We solve this by leaving some rock unblasted in each end of the tunnel to prevent water flowing in.

Assuming it does indeed go ahead -- and with the Norwegian government having already set aside the money, this seems relatively likely -- the Stad Ship Tunnel will reach a length of 1.7 km (1.05 miles), and measure 37 m (121 ft) tall and 26.5 m (87 ft) wide. It's expected to cost NOK 2.3 billion (over US$272 million) to build and won't actually speed up travel times, but instead focuses on making the journey safer. Top-tier architecture and design firm Snohetta has designed the entrances, and the company's early plans include sculpted tunnel openings and adding LED lighting on the tunnel ceiling.
Boston Public Schools Map Switch Aims To Amend 500 Years of Distortion
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Students attending Boston public schools are now getting a more accurate depiction of the world after the school district rolled out a new standard map of the world that show North America and Europe much smaller than Africa and South America.

From a report on The Guardian:
In an age of "fake news" and "alternative facts", city authorities are confident their new map offers something closer to the geographical truth than that of traditional school maps, and hope it can serve an example to schools across the nation and even the world. For almost 500 years, the Mercator projection has been the norm for maps of the world, ubiquitous in atlases, pinned on peeling school walls. Gerardus Mercator, a renowned Flemish cartographer, devised his map in 1569, principally to aid navigation along colonial trade routes by drawing straight lines across the oceans. An exaggeration of the whole northern hemisphere, his depiction made North America and Europe bigger than South America and Africa. He also placed western Europe in the middle of his map. Mercator's distortions affect continents as well as nations. For example, South America is made to look about the same size as Europe, when in fact it is almost twice as large, and Greenland looks roughly the size of Africa when it is actually about 14 times smaller.
Your Hotel Room Photos Could Help Catch Sex Traffickers
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100,000 people people have already downloaded an app that helps fight human trafficking. dryriver summarizes a report from CNN:

Police find an ad for paid sex online. It's an illegally trafficked underage girl posing provocatively in a hotel room. But police don't know where this hotel room is -- what city, what neighborhood, what hotel or hotel room. This is where the TraffickCam phone app comes in. When you're staying at a hotel, you take pictures of your room... The app logs the GPS data (location of the hotel) and also analyzes what's in the picture -- the furniture, bed sheets, carpet and other visual features. This makes the hotel room identifiable. Now when police come across a sex trafficking picture online, there is a database of images that may reveal which hotel room the picture was taken in.

"Technology drives everything we do nowadays, and this is just one more tool that law enforcement can use to make our job a little safer and a little bit easier," says Sergeant Adam Kavanaugh, supervisor of the St. Louis County Multi-Jurisdictional Human Trafficking Task Force. "Right now we're just beta testing the St. Louis area, and we're getting positive hits," he says (meaning ads that match hotel-room photos in the database). But the app's creators hope to make it available to all U.S. law enforcement within the next few months, and eventually globally, so their app is already collecting photographs from hotel rooms around the world to be stored for future use.
CBS Reports 'Suspicious' Cell Phone Tower Activity In Washington DC
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"An unusually high amount of suspicious cell phone activity in the nation's capital has caught the attention of the Department of Homeland Security, raising concerns that U.S. officials are being monitored by a foreign entity,"

Reports CBS News:
The issue was first reported in the Washington Free Beacon, but a source at telecom security firm ESD America confirmed the spike in suspicious activity to CBS News. ESD America, hired preemptively for a DHS pilot program this January called ESD Overwatch, first noticed suspicious activity around cell phone towers in certain parts of the capital, including near the White House. This kind of activity can indicate that someone is monitoring specific individuals or their devices... According to the ESD America source, the first such spike of activity was in D.C. but there have been others in other parts of the country. Based on the type of technology used, the source continued, it is likely that the suspicious activity was being conducted by a foreign nation.

The news coincides with a letter sent to the DHS by two congressmen "deeply concerned" about vulnerabilities in the SS7 protocol underlying U.S. cellular networks, according to an article shared by Slashdot reader Trailrunner7. Senator Ron Wyden and Representative Ted Lieu are asking if the agency has enough resources to address the threat. "Although there have been a few news stories about this topic, we suspect that most Americans simply have no idea how easy it is for a relatively sophisticated adversary to track their movements, tap their calls, and hack their smartphones."
1.6 Billion-Year-Old Plant Fossil Found In India
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Complex multicellular life began 400 million years earlier than we thought, according to a Phys.org article

Scientists found two kinds of fossils resembling red algae in uniquely well-preserved sedimentary rocks at Chitrakoot in central India. One type is thread-like, the other one consists of fleshy colonies. The scientists were able to see distinct inner cell structures and so-called cell fountains, the bundles of packed and splaying filaments that form the body of the fleshy forms and are characteristic of red algae... The oldest known red algae before the present discovery are 1.2 billion years old. The Indian fossils, 400 million years older and by far the oldest plant-like fossils ever found, suggest that the early branches of the tree of life need to be recalibrated.
Scientists Sent a Rocket To Mars For Less Than It Cost To Make 'The Martian'
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Ipsita Agarwal via Backchannel retells the story of how India's underfunded space organization, ISRO, managed to send a rocket to Mars for less than it cost to make the movie "The Martian," starring Matt Damon as Mark Watney. "While NASA's Mars probe, Maven, cost $651 million, the budget for this mission was $74 million," Agarwal writes. In what appears to be India's version of "Hidden Figures" (a movie that also cost more to make than ISRO's budget for the Mars rocket), the team of scientists behind the rocket launch consisted of Indian women, who not only managed to pull off the mission successfully but did so in only 18 months.

Backchannel reports:
A few months and several million kilometers later, the orbiter prepared to enter Mars' gravity. This was a critical moment. If the orbiter entered Mars' gravity at the wrong angle, off by so much as one degree, it would either crash onto the surface of Mars or fly right past it, lost in the emptiness of space. Back on Earth, its team of scientists and engineers waited for a signal from the orbiter. Mission designer Ritu Karidhal had worked 48 hours straight, fueled by anticipation. As a child, Minal Rohit had watched space missions on TV. Now, Minal waited for news on the orbiter she and her colleague, Moumita Dutta, had helped engineer. When the signal finally arrived, the mission control room broke into cheers. If you work in such a room, deputy operations director, Nandini Harinath, says, "you no longer need to watch a thriller movie to feel the thrill in life. You feel it in your day-to-day work." This was not the only success of the mission. An image of the scientists celebrating in the mission control room went viral. Girls in India and beyond gained new heroes: the kind that wear sarees and tie flowers in their hair, and send rockets into space.
Miniature Lab Begins Science Experiments in Outer Space
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Orbiting the earth at more than 500 kilometers (300 miles), a tiny satellite with a laboratory shrunk to the size of a tissue box is helping scientists carry out experiments that take gravity out of the equation. The technology was launched into space last month by SpacePharma, a Swiss-Israeli company, which on Thursday announced that its first experiments have been completed successfully. In space, with hardly any interference from earth's gravity, cells and molecules behave differently, helping researchers make discoveries in fields from medicine to agriculture. Nestle turned to zero gravity -- or what scientists refer to as microgravity -- to perfect the foam in its chocolate mousse and coffee, while drugmakers like Eli Lilly have used it to improve drug designs.
Physicist Declassifies Rescued Nuclear Test Films
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The U.S. conducted 210 atmospheric nuclear tests between 1945 and 1962, with multiple cameras capturing each event at around 2,400 frames per second. But in the decades since, around 10,000 of these films sat idle, scattered across the country in high-security vaults. Not only were they gathering dust, the film material itself was slowly decomposing, bringing the data they contained to the brink of being lost forever. For the past five years, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) weapon physicist Greg Spriggs and a crack team of film experts, archivists and software developers have been on a mission to hunt down, scan, reanalyze and declassify these decomposing films. The goals are to preserve the films' content before it's lost forever, and provide better data to the post-testing-era scientists who use computer codes to help certify that the aging U.S. nuclear deterrent remains safe, secure and effective. To date, the team has located around 6,500 of the estimated 10,000 films created during atmospheric testing. Around 4,200 films have been scanned, 400 to 500 have been reanalyzed and around 750 have been declassified. An initial set of these declassified films -- tests conducted by LLNL -- were published today in an LLNL YouTube playlist.
Astronomers Find Star Orbiting a Black Hole At 1 Percent the Speed of Light
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Astronomers have spotted a star whizzing around a vast black hole at about 2.5 times the distance between Earth and the Moon, and it takes only half an hour to complete one orbit. To put that into perspective, it takes roughly 28 days for our Moon to do a single lap around our relatively tiny planet at speeds of 3,683 km(2,288 miles) per hour. Using data from an array of deep space telescopes, a team of astronomers have measured the X-rays pouring from a binary star system called 47 Tuc X9, which sits in a cluster of stars about 14,800 light-years away. The pair of stars aren't new to astronomers -- they were identified as a binary system way back in 1989 -- but it's now finally becoming clear what's actually going on here. When a white dwarf pulls material from another star, the system is described as a cataclysmic variable star. But back in 2015, one of the objects was found to be a black hole, throwing that hypothesis into serious doubt. Data from Chandra has confirmed large amounts of oxygen in the pair's neighborhood, which is commonly associated with white dwarf stars. But instead of a white dwarf ripping apart another star, it now seems to be a black hole stripping the gases from a white dwarf. The real exciting news, however, is regular changes in the X-rays' intensity suggest this white dwarf takes just 28 minutes to complete an orbit, making it the current champion of cataclysmic dirty dancers. To put it in perspective, the distance between the two objects in X9 is about 1 million kilometers (about 600,000 miles), or about 2.5 times the distance from here to the Moon. Crunching the numbers, that's a journey of roughly 6.3 million kilometers (about 4 million miles) in half an hour, giving us a speed of 12,600,000 km/hr (8,000,000 miles/hr) - about 1 percent of the speed of light.
Unproven Stem Cell Treatments Blind 3 Women
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Scientists have long hoped that stem cells might have the power to treat diseases. But it's always been clear that they could be dangerous too, especially if they're not used carefully. Now a pair of papers published Wednesday in the New England Journal of Medicine is underscoring both the promise and the peril of using stem cells for therapy. In one report, researchers document the cases of three elderly women who were blinded after getting stem cells derived from fat tissue at a for-profit clinic in Florida. The treatment was marketed as a treatment for macular degeneration, the most common cause of blindness among the elderly. Each woman got cells injected into both eyes. In a second report, a patient suffering from the same condition had a halt in the inexorable loss of vision patients usually experience, which may or may not have been related to the treatment. That patient got a different kind of stem cell derived from skin cells as part of a carefully designed Japanese study. The Japanese case marks the first time anyone has given induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells to a patient to treat any condition. The report about the three women in their 70s and 80s who were blinded in Florida is renewing calls for the Food and Drug Administration to crack down on the hundreds of clinics that are selling unproven stem cell treatments for a wide variety of medical conditions, including arthritis, autism and stroke.
Most People Would Give Lab-Grown Meat a Try, New Survey Reveals
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In a recent survey, published this month in PLOS One, we investigated the views of people in the United States, a country with one of the largest appetites for meat and an equally large appetite for adopting new technologies. A total of 673 people responded to the survey, done online via Amazon Mechanical Turk, in which they were given information about in vitro meat (IVM) and asked questions about their attitudes to it. Although most people (65 percent), and particularly males, were willing to try IVM, only about a third said they would use it regularly or as a replacement for farmed meat. But many people were undecided: 26 percent were unsure if they would use it as a replacement for farmed meat and 31 percent unsure if they would eat it regularly. This suggests there is scope to persuade consumers that they should convert to IVM if a suitable product is available. As an indication of this potential, 53 percent said it was seen as preferable to soy substitutes. The biggest concerns were about IVM's taste and lack of appeal, particularly in the case of meats seen as healthy, such as fish and chicken, where only two-thirds of people that normally ate them said that they would if it was produced by in vitro methods. By contrast, 72 percent of people who normally eat beef and pig products would still do so if they were produced as IVM.
Formed by Megafloods, This Place Fooled Scientists for Decades
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Geologists couldn't account for the strange landforms of eastern Washington State. Then a high school teacher dared to question the scientific dogma of his day.
Hyperloop One Reveals Test Track Progress
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Hyperloop One has released the first photographs of its "proof of concept" test track near Las Vegas, Nevada, and there's now also a couple short videos online.

Quoting Computerworld: The company revealed its progress on Tuesday at the Middle East Rail conference in Dubai, sharing pictures and footage of its Nevada development site dubbed "DevLoop." Taking Elon Musk's Hyperloop concept of a levitating pod in a low-pressure tube, Hyperloop One has developed what is so far the only full-scale, full-system Hyperloop test site...and says it plans to test the entire apparatus this year.

In addition, Investopedia reports that Hyperloop One has now also signed letter of intent agreements to investigate the feasibility of building more hyperloop systems in Finland and the Netherlands
Proof Daylight Saving Time Is Dumb, Dangerous, and Costly
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The case for daylight saving time has been shaky for a while. The biannual time change was originally implemented to save energy. Yet dozens of studies around the world have found that changing the clocks has either minuscule or non-existent effects on energy use. [...] The latest research suggests the time change can be harmful to our health and cost us money. The suffering of the spring time change begins with the loss of an hour of sleep. That might not seem like a big deal, but researchers have found it can be dangerous to mess with sleep schedules. Car accidents, strokes, and heart attacks spike in the days after the March time change. It turns out that judges, sleep deprived by daylight saving, impose harsher sentences. [...] Some of the last defenders of daylight saving time have been a cluster of business groups who assume the change helps stimulate consumer spending. That's not true either, according to recent analysis of 380 million bank and credit-card transactions by the JPMorgan Chase Institute.
How The FBI Used Geek Squad To Increase Secret Public Surveillance
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n 2011 a gynecology doctor took his computer for repairs at Best Buy's Geek Squad. But the repair technician was a paid FBI informant -- one of several working at Geek Squad -- and the doctor was ultimately charged with possessing child pornography, according to OC Weekly.

According to their new report:
Recently unsealed records reveal a much more extensive secret relationship than previously known between the FBI and Best Buy's Geek Squad, including evidence the agency trained company technicians on law-enforcement operational tactics, shared lists of targeted citizens and, to covertly increase surveillance of the public, encouraged searches of computers even when unrelated to a customer's request for repairs. Assistant United States Attorney M. Anthony Brown last year labeled allegations of a hidden partnership as "wild speculation." But more than a dozen summaries of FBI memoranda filed inside Orange County's Ronald Reagan Federal Courthouse this month in USA v. Mark Rettenmaier contradict the official line...

Other records show how [Geek Squad supervisor Justin] Meade's job gave him "excellent and frequent" access for "several years" to computers belonging to unwitting Best Buy customers, though agents considered him "underutilized" and wanted him "tasked" to search devices "on a more consistent basis"... evidence demonstrates company employees routinely snooped for the agency, contemplated "writing a software program" specifically to aid the FBI in rifling through its customers' computers without probable cause for any crime that had been committed, and were "under the direction and control of the FBI."

The doctor's lawyer argues Best Buy became an unofficial wing of the FBI by offering $500 for every time they found evidence leading to criminal charges.
NASA Finds Lunar Spacecraft That Vanished 8 Years Ago
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It made history as India's first unmanned lunar spacecraft. Then it vanished. Nearly a decade later, NASA has located two unmanned spacecraft orbiting the moon, including India's Chandrayaan-1, which went quiet in 2009. Scientists used a new ground radar to locate the two spacecraft -- one active and one dormant, NASA said Thursday. "We have been able to detect NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter [LRO] and the Indian Space Research Organization's Chandrayaan-1 spacecraft in lunar orbit with ground-based radar," said Marina Brozovic, a radar scientist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. "Finding LRO was relatively easy, as we were working with the mission's navigators and had precise orbit data where it was located."
Elon Musk: I Can Fix South Australia Power Network in 100 Days Or It's Free
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Elon Musk, the billionaire founder of electric car giant Tesla, has thrown down a challenge to the South Australian and federal governments, saying he can solve the state's energy woes within 100 days -- or he'll deliver the 100MW battery storage system for free. On Thursday, Lyndon Rive, Tesla's vice-president for energy products, told the AFR the company could install the 100-300 megawatt hours of battery storage that would be required to prevent the power shortages that have been causing price spikes and blackouts in the state. Thanks to stepped-up production out of Tesla's new Gigafactory in Nevada, he said it could be achieved within 100 days. Mike Cannon-Brookes, the Australian co-founder of Silicon Valley startup Atlassian, on Friday tweeted Elon Musk, asking if Tesla was serious about being able to install the capacity. Musk replied that the company could do it in 100 days of the contract being signed, or else provide it free, adding: "That serious enough for you?"
Stunning Close-up of Saturn's Moon, Pan, Reveals a Space Empanada
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Astronomers have long known that Pan, one of Saturn's innermost moons, has an odd look. Based on images taken from a distance, researchers have said it looks like a walnut or a flying saucer. But now, NASA's Cassini probe has delivered stunning close-ups of the 35-kilometer-wide icy moon, and it might be better called a pan-fried dumpling or an empanada. Pan orbits Saturn in a gap in the planet's rings and pulls material from them, so the ridge around it likely started accumulating soon after the moon formed, researchers say. If material in the ridge is still loose, rather than somehow fused together, the ridge can maintain its steepness only because the moon's gravity is so low. The latest pictures were obtained as Cassini conducts its final (and riskiest) flybys past Saturn's moons and rings before it blazes into the planet's atmosphere later this year.
Nearly 200,000 Wi-Fi Cameras Are Open To Hacking
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What started as an analysis of a simple security flaw in a random wireless IP camera turned into seven vulnerabilities that affect over 1,250 camera models and expose nearly 200,000 cameras to hacking. The flaws affect a generically named product called Wireless IP Camera (P2P) WIFICAM, manufactured by a (currently unnamed) Chinese company, who sells it as a white-label product to several other camera vendors. Security researcher Pierre Kim says the firmware produced by this Chinese vendor comes with several flaws, which have all made their way down the line into the products of other companies that bought the white-label (unbranded) camera. In total, nearly 1,250 camera models based on the original camera are affected. At the heart of many of these issues is the GoAhead web server, which allows camera owners to manage their device via a web-based dashboard. According to Kim, the cameras are affected by a total of seven security flaws. Yesterday, Kim said that around 185,000 vulnerable cameras could be easily identified via Shodan. Today, the same query yields 198,500 vulnerable cameras. Proof-of-concept exploit code for each of the seven flaws is available on Kim's blog, along with a list of all the 1,250+ vulnerable camera models.
Study Suggests Potatoes Can Grow On Mars
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The International Potato Center (CIP) has launched a series of experiments to discover if potatoes can grow under Mars' atmospheric conditions, as well as under extreme conditions on Earth. The CIP placed a potato inside a "specially constructed CubeSat contained environment" that simulates Mars temperature, air pressure, oxygen and carbon dioxide levels. They then used sensors and live-streaming cameras to record the soil and monitor the status of the potato. Preliminary results are positive as cameras inside the container show sprouts.

Phys.Org reports:
"We have been looking at the very dry soils found in the southern Peruvian desert. These are the most Mars-like soils found on Earth." Chris McKay of NASA ARC. "This [research] could have a direct technological benefit on Earth and a direct biological benefit on Earth," says Chris McKay of NASA ARC. From the initial experiment, CIP scientists concluded that future Mars missions that hope to grow potatoes will have to prepare soil with a loose structure and nutrients to allow the tubers to obtain enough air and water to allow it to tuberize. "It was a pleasant surprise to see that potatoes we've bred to tolerate abiotic stress were able to produce tubers in this soil," Amoros said. He added that one of the best performing varieties was very salt-tolerant from the CIP breeding program for adaptation to subtropical lowlands with tolerance to abiotic stress that was also recently released as a variety in Bangladesh for cultivation in coastal areas with high soil salinity. Amoros noted that whatever their implications for Mars missions, the experiments have already provided good news about potato's potential for helping people survive in extreme environments on Earth.
Tesla's New Solar Energy Station On Kauai Will Power Hawaii At Night
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The Kapaia project is a combination 13MW SolarCity solar farm and 53MWh Tesla Powerpack station on the island of Kauai. In partnership with the KIUC (Kauai Island Utility Cooperative) the project will store the sun's energy during the day and release it at night. The station (along with Kauai's other renewable resource solutions including wind and biomass) won't completely keep the island from using fossil fuels but it will temper the need. In addition to using Tesla's station to battle the island's incredibly high electric bills, it's also part of a long-term Hawaii-state plan to be completely powered by renewable energy sources by 2045. Kauai has its own goal of using 70 percent renewable energy by 2030. With this project the island is getting closer to that goal and can now produce 100 percent of the energy it needs during high usage mid days and low loads via renewables during a brief period of time. The island state doesn't have the benefit of a massive grid like the mainland to pull electricity from sources hundreds of miles away. Instead each island has to take care of its own energy solutions. According to Tesla and the KIUC, the 45 acre Kapaia project will reduce the use of fossil fuels by 1.6 million gallons a year.
GOP Senators' New Bill Would Let ISPs Sell Your Web Browsing Data
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Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) and 23 Republican co-sponsors introduced a resolution that would overturn new privacy rules for internet service providers. "If the Federal Communications Commission rules are eliminated, ISPs would not have to get consumers' explicit consent before selling or sharing web browsing data and other privacy information with advertisers and other third parties," reports Ars Technica. "The measure would use lawmakers' power under the Congressional Review Act to ensure that the FCC rulemaking 'shall have no force or effect.' The resolution would also prevent the FCC from issuing similar regulations in the future."

From the report:
Flake's announcement said he's trying to "protect consumers from overreaching Internet regulation." Flake also said that the resolution "empowers consumers to make informed choices on if and how their data can be shared," but he did not explain how it will achieve that. The privacy order had several major components. The requirement to get the opt-in consent of consumers before sharing information covered geo-location data, financial and health information, children's information, Social Security numbers, Web browsing history, app usage history, and the content of communications. This requirement is supposed to take effect on December 4, 2017. The rulemaking had a data security component that required ISPs to take "reasonable" steps to protect customers' information from theft and data breaches. This was supposed to take effect on March 2, but the FCC under newly appointed Chairman Ajit Pai halted the rule's implementation. Another set of requirements related to data breach notifications is scheduled to take effect on June 2. Flake's resolution would prevent all of those requirements from being implemented. He said that this "is the first step toward restoring the [Federal Trade Commission's] light-touch, consumer-friendly approach." Giving the FTC authority over Internet service providers would require further FCC or Congressional action because the FTC is not allowed to regulate common carriers, a designation currently applied to ISPs.
Tech's Ruling Class Casts a Big Shadow
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Veteran technology columnist Walt Mossberg believes that Google, Apple, Microsoft, Amazon, and Facebook, or Gang of Five -- as he likes to call them, are casting a big shadow over how today's startups foster, a phenomenon he believes will continue to happen over the years to come.

From his column for The Verge:
What we have now in consumer tech, in 2017, is an oligopoly, at least superficially similar to the old industrial-era American corporate groups that once dominated key industries. I think that their enduring and growing power casts a shadow over the Silicon Valley legend that there are lots of great new consumer tech innovations being incubated right now in garages or dorm rooms somewhere that will be taken all the way to becoming great companies, the way each of the Gang of Five was. What I fear is more likely to happen to any such startup is that, if they're good, they get acquired by a member of the Gang, or that their idea is turned into a feature for one of the Gang's products. And, even if that never happens and a startup thrives, too often it can only thrive by being successful on a platform controlled by one or more Gang members, with the big guy maybe taking a cut. For instance, Snap, the parent company of Snapchat, which went public last week, famously spurned a $3 billion takeover offer from Gang member Facebook in 2013. But it depends for its very operation on the cloud services of Google and on the mobile app platforms of Apple and Google. And plenty of other companies which either presented threats or opportunities to the Gang have been snapped up by them. Each of the five companies actively scoops up numerous smaller companies every year, in many cases just for their talent and / or patents. In fact, I'd be amazed if there weren't plenty of startups whose main goal is to be purchased by the Gang.
WikiLeaks CIA Files: The 6 Biggest Spying Secrets Revealed By the Release of 'Vault 7'
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Earlier today, WikiLeaks unleashed a cache of thousands of files it calls "Year Zero," which is part one of the release associated with "Vault 7." Since there are over 8,000 pages in this release, it will take some time for journalists to comb through the release. The Independent has highlighted six of the "biggest secrets and pieces of information yet to emerge from the huge dump"

in their report.

1) The CIA has the ability to break into Android and iPhone handsets, and all kinds of computers. The U.S. intelligence agency has been involved in a concerted effort to write various kinds of malware to spy on just about every piece of electronic equipment that people use. That includes iPhones, Androids and computers running Windows, macOS and Linux.
2) Doing so would make apps like Signal, Telegram and WhatsApp entirely insecure. Encrypted messaging apps are only as secure as the devices they are used on -- if an operating system is compromised, then the messages can be read before they are encrypted and sent to the other user(s).
3) The CIA could use smart TVs to listen in on conversations that happened around them. One of the most eye-catching programs detailed in the documents is "Weeping Angel." That allows intelligence agencies to install special software that allows TVs to be turned into listening devices -- so that even when they appear to be switched off, they're actually on.
4) The agency explored hacking into cars and crashing them, allowing "nearly undetectable assassinations." Many of the documents reference tools that appear to have dangerous and unknown uses. One file, for instance, shows that the CIA was looking into ways of remotely controlling cars and vans by hacking into them.
5) The CIA hid vulnerabilities that could be used by hackers from other countries or governments. Such bugs were found in the biggest consumer electronics in the world, including phones and computers made Apple, Google and Microsoft. But those companies didn't get the chance to fix those exploits because the agency kept them secret in order to keep using them, the documents suggest.
6) More information is coming. The documents have still not been looked through entirely. There are 8,378 pages of files, some of which have already been analyzed but many of which haven't. And that's not to mention the other sets of documents that are coming. The "Year Zero" leaks are just the first in a series of "Vault 7" dumps, Julian Assange said.
New Sponge Can Soak Up and Release Spilled Oil Hundreds of Times
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Seth Darling and his colleagues at Argonne National Laboratory in Illinois have created a new material that can absorb up to 90 times its own weight in spilled oil and then be squeezed out like a sponge and reused. This is compared to most commercial products used for soaking up oil, called "sorbents," which act like a paper towel and are only good for a single use. Once the sorbents are used, they get incinerated along with the oil.

New Scientist reports:
The oil sponge consists of a simple foam made of polyurethane or polyimide plastics and coated with "oil-loving" silane molecules with a sweet spot for capturing oil. Too little chemical attraction would render the sponge useless as an absorber, whereas too much would mean the oil could not be released. In laboratory tests, the researchers found that when engineered with just the right amount of silane, their foam could repeatedly soak up and release oil with no significant changes in capacity. But to determine whether this material could help sort out a big spill in marine waters, they needed to perform a special large-scale test. To do this, the team made an array of square pads of the sponge material measuring around 6 square meters. "We made a lot of the foam, and then these pieces of foam were placed inside mesh bags -- basically laundry bags, with sewn channels to house the foam," Darling says. The researchers suspended their sponge-filled bags from a bridge over a large pool specially designed for practicing emergency responses to oil spills. They then dragged the sponges behind a pipe spewing crude oil to test the material's capability to remove oil from the water. They next sent the sponges through a wringer to remove the oil and then repeated the process, carrying out many tests over multiple days. This so-far unpublished test was conducted in early December at the National Oil Spill Response Research and Renewable Energy Test Facility in Leonardo, New Jersey.

Here's a video showing the sponge in action.
NASA Proposes a Magnetic Shield To Protect Mars' Atmosphere
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Apparently it is no longer necessarily science fiction to consider terraforming the red planet in a human lifetime. NASA scientists have proposed putting a magnetic shield at the Mars L1 Lagrange Point, diverting sufficient solar wind in hopes that the Martian atmosphere would thicken and heat the planet to the point of melting the ice caps, causing what remains of Martian water to pool on the surface. While not enough of a change to allow walking around without a space suit, this would make human exploration of the planet a much easier task.
Poachers Are Trying To Hack Animal Tracking Systems
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Animal tracking through electronic tagging has helped researchers gain insight into the lives of many wild animal species, but can also be misused by wildlife poachers, hunters, animal-persecution groups and people interested in seeing and interacting with the animals -- all to the detriment of our animal brethren. A recent paper by a group of researchers from several Canadian and U.S. universities has pointed to several instances of misuse or attempted misuse of the tracking technology. The researchers believe that instances of poachers intercepting signals to track animals down are under-reported, as the researchers and conservationists are worried about losing funding. The researchers have also noted that photographers and people interested in seeing wild animals have been known to acquire and use tracking equipment, and they are worried that "frequent exposure of animals to people can habituate them to human interaction, which at minimum alters the animal's natural behavior, thus negatively influencing research findings." The tagging devices are usually collars with GPS or radio transmitters, and cost between 150 and 4,000 British pounds, The Times reports. But, unfortunately, security measures for protecting their signal are not adequate.
US Wind Capacity Surpasses Hydro, Overall Generation To Follow
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Wind power is now the largest source of renewable energy generating capacity, passing hydroelectric power in 2016. And since the two sources produce electricity at nearly the same rate, we'll soon see wind surpass hydro in terms of electricity produced. Wind power capacity has been growing at an astonishing pace (as shown in the graph above), and 2016 was no exception. As companies rushed to take advantage of tax incentives for renewable power, the U.S. saw 8.7 Gigawatts of new wind capacity installed in 2016. That's the most since 2012, the last time tax incentives were scheduled to expire. This has pushed the U.S.' total wind capacity to over 81 GW, edging it past hydroelectric, which has remained relatively stable at roughly 80 GW. Note that this is only capacity; since generators can't be run non-stop, they only generate a fraction of the electricity that their capacity suggests is possible. That fraction, called a capacity factor, has been in the area of 34 percent for U.S. wind, lower than most traditional sources of electricity. But hydropower's capacity factor isn't that much better, typically sitting at 37-38 percent. As a result, wind won't need to grow much to consistently exceed hydro.

Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration, Electricity Data Browser
Consumer Reports To Consider Cyber Security in Product Reviews
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Consumer Reports, an influential U.S. non-profit group that conducts extensive reviews of electronic products, cars, kitchen appliances and other goods, is gearing up to start considering cyber security and privacy safeguards when scoring products.

From a report:
The group, which issues scores that rank products it reviews, said on Monday it had collaborated with several outside organizations to develop methodologies for studying how easily a product can be hacked and how well customer data is secured. Consumer Reports will gradually implement the new methodologies, starting with test projects that evaluate small numbers of products, Maria Rerecich, the organization's director of electronics testing, said in a phone interview. "This is a complicated area. There is going to be a lot of refinement to get this right," Rerecich said. The effort follows a surge in cyber attacks leveraging easy-to-exploit vulnerabilities in webcams, routers, digital video recorders and other connected devices, which are sometimes collectively referred to as the internet of things.
Streaming TV Sites Now Have More Subscribers Than Cable TV
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Nielsen reported this week that millennials "spend about 27% less time watching traditional TV than viewers over the age of 35," possibly threatening the dominance of cable TV.

Quoting Axios:
Streaming service subscribers (free or paid) increased again (68% in 2016 vs. 63% in 2014) and have caught up with the percentage of paid TV service providers (67%) for the first time ever, according to the Consumer Technology Association's new study, The Changing Landscape for Video and Content. The rise of streaming services represents a shift in consumption habits towards cord-cutting, primarily amongst millennials.

Some other trends are impossible to ignore. 2016 also saw a saw dramatic drops in the use of physical disks -- from 41% in 2015 to just 28% -- as well as another big drop in the use of antennas, from 18% to just 10%
Local Police Departments Are Building Their Own DNA Databases
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Dozens of police departments around the U.S. are amassing their own DNA databases to track criminals, a move critics say is a way around regulations governing state and national databases that restrict who can provide genetic samples and how long that information is held. The local agencies create the rules for their databases, in some cases allowing samples to be taken from children or from people never arrested for a crime. Police chiefs say having their own collections helps them solve cases faster because they can avoid the backlogs that plague state and federal repositories...

Frederick Harran, the public safety director in Bensalem Township, Pennsylvania...said he knows of about 60 departments using local databases... "The local databases have very, very little regulations and very few limits, and the law just hasn't caught up to them," said Jason Kreig, a law professor at the University of Arizona who has studied the issue.

One ACLU attorney cites a case where local police officers in California took DNA samples from children without even obtaining a court order first.
New Research Suggests Earth's Mantle Might Be Hotter Than Anyone Expected
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New data suggests that the upper parts of Earth's mantle are around 60C (108F) hotter than previously expected. The mantle is the layer between our planet's super-hot core and outer crust, and it plays an incredibly important role in things like earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, and tectonic shifts. But despite the impact the mantle has on our planet, scientists have always struggled to pinpoint its temperature, and new research suggests our previous estimates were off the mark. If the new estimates made by scientists at the Carnegie Institution of Science in Washington DC are verified, it would mean the mantle is melting shallower than previously expected, and it could change the way we predict earthquakes and volcanic eruptions. The new estimates are based on the fact that the Earth's upper mantle is more affected by the presence of water in its minerals than we've assumed in the past. One of the most common ways to measure the temperature of the upper mantle is to analyze lava emerging from mid-ocean ridges - an underwater mountain range where two plates meet and hot mantle is drawn up and partially melts. So to more accurately measure the temperature at which this would melt, the researchers, led by Emily Sarafian, have used a new technique to add a quantifiable amount of water into mantle samples through tiny particles of the mineral olivine. This allowed them to more accurately measure the melting point of peridotite under mantle-like pressures in the presence of known amounts of water. "Small amounts of water have a big effect on melting temperature, and this is the first time experiments have ever been conducted to determine precisely how the mantle's melting temperature depends on such small amounts of water," said one of the researchers, Erik Hauri. They found that the potential temperature of the mantle beneath the oceanic crust is on average around 60C higher than previous estimates - with some parts much hotter than that. "Our experimental results indicate that mantle potential temperatures along all ocean spreading centers are hotter than existing estimates," the team writes in Science.
Researchers Create New Form of Matter
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MIT physicists have created a new form of matter, a supersolid, which combines the properties of solids with those of superfluids. By using lasers to manipulate a superfluid gas known as a Bose-Einstein condensate, the team was able to coax the condensate into a quantum phase of matter that has a rigid structure -- like a solid -- and can flow without viscosity -- a key characteristic of a superfluid. Studies into this apparently contradictory phase of matter could yield deeper insights into superfluids and superconductors, which are important for improvements in technologies such as superconducting magnets and sensors, as well as efficient energy transport. The researchers report their results this week in the journal Nature. The team used a combination of laser cooling and evaporative cooling methods, originally co-developed by Ketterle, to cool atoms of sodium to nanokelvin temperatures. Atoms of sodium are known as bosons, for their even number of nucleons and electrons. When cooled to near absolute zero, bosons form a superfluid state of dilute gas, called a Bose-Einstein condensate, or BEC. To create the supersolid state, the team manipulated the motion of the atoms of the BEC using laser beams, introducing "spin-orbit coupling." In their ultrahigh-vacuum chamber, the team used an initial set of lasers to convert half of the condensate's atoms to a different quantum state, or spin, essentially creating a mixture of two Bose-Einstein condensates. Additional laser beams then transferred atoms between the two condensates, called a "spin flip."
California Government On the Dangers of Cellphones
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After keeping it hidden for years, California's Department of Public Health has released a draft document outlining health officials' concerns about cellphone radiation exposure. The previously unpublished document was released this week after a judge indicated she would order the documents be disclosed. Health officials' overall recommendation is to "increase the distance between you and your phone" by using a headset, the speaker phone function and text messaging. Health officials recommend not sleeping near your phone and not carry it in your pocket or directly on your body, unless it is off. The fact sheet also states that "EMFs can pass deeper into a child's brain than and adult's" so suggests parents limit their child's cellphone use to texting, important call and emergencies.
3.77-Billion-Year-Old Fossils Found, Could be Earliest Evidence of Life On Earth
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Scientists say they have found the world's oldest fossils, thought to have formed between 3.77bn and 4.28bn years ago. Comprised of tiny tubes and filaments made of an iron oxide known as haematite, the microfossils are believed to be the remains of bacteria that once thrived underwater around hydrothermal vents, relying on chemical reactions involving iron for their energy. If correct, these fossils offer the oldest direct evidence for life on the planet. And that, the study's authors say, offers insights into the origins of life on Earth. "If these rocks do indeed turn out to be 4.28 [bn years old] then we are talking about the origins of life developing very soon after the oceans formed 4.4bn years ago," said Matthew Dodd, the first author of the research from University College, London. With iron-oxidising bacteria present even today, the findings, if correct, also highlight the success of such organisms. "They have been around for 3.8bn years at least," said the lead author Dominic Papineau, also from UCL.
White House Supports Renewal of Spy Law Without Reforms
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The Trump administration does not want to reform an internet surveillance law to address privacy concerns, a White House official told Reuters on Wednesday, saying it is needed to protect national security. The announcement could put President Donald Trump on a collision course with Congress, where some Republicans and Democrats have advocated curtailing the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, or FISA, parts of which are due to expire at the end of the year. The FISA law has been criticized by privacy and civil liberties advocates as allowing broad, intrusive spying. It gained renewed attention following the 2013 disclosures by former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden that the agency carried out widespread monitoring of emails and other electronic communications. Portions of the law, including a provision known as Section 702, will expire on Dec. 31 unless Congress reauthorizes them. Section 702 enables two internet surveillance programs called Prism and Upstream, classified details of which were revealed by Snowden. Democratic and Republican lawmakers have said reforms to Section 702 are needed, in part to ensure the privacy protections on Americans are not violated. The U.S. House of Representatives' Judiciary Committee met Wednesday to discuss possible changes to the law.
NSA Risks Talent Exodus Amid Morale Slump, Trump Fears
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The National Security Agency risks a brain-drain of hackers and cyber spies due to a tumultuous reorganization and worries about the acrimonious relationship between the intelligence community and President Donald Trump, according to current and former NSA officials and cybersecurity industry sources. Half-a-dozen cybersecurity executives told Reuters they had witnessed a marked increase in the number of U.S. intelligence officers and government contractors seeking employment in the private sector since Trump took office on Jan. 20. One of the executives, who would speak only on condition of anonymity, said he was stunned by the caliber of the would-be recruits. They are coming from a variety of government intelligence and law enforcement agencies, multiple executives said, and their interest stems in part from concerns about the direction of U.S intelligence agencies under Trump. Retaining and recruiting talented technical personnel has become a top national security priority in recent years as Russia, China, Iran and other nation states and criminal groups have sharpened their cyber offensive abilities. NSA and other intelligence agencies have long struggled to deter some of their best employees from leaving for higher-paying jobs in Silicon Valley and elsewhere.
SpaceX Plans To Send Two People Around the Moon In 2018
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Today, SpaceX founder Elon Musk announced that in 2018, the company will fly two private citizens around the Moon in its Dragon 2 spacecraft, carried by its Falcon Heavy rocket. "While the voyagers' names have not been disclosed, according to SpaceX, a 'significant deposit' has already been made," Gizmodo reports.

From the report:
According to Musk, the mission will last approximately one week. The passengers will travel beyond the moon and loop back to Earth, spanning roughly 300,000 to 400,000 miles. While the passengers will undergo some sort of training beforehand, it's unclear if the two have any experience with piloting, nevermind spaceflight. The mission, although unrelated to NASA's plan to slingshot astronauts around the Moon in several years' time using the SLS rocket and the Orion capsule, was made possible in part by funding SpaceX has received to develop its human spaceflight technology through the commercial crew program.

"This is a really thing that's happened," Elon Musk told reporters at a press conference. "We've been approached to do a crewed mission beyond the Moon ... [and these passengers] are very serious about it. We plan to do that probably Dragon 2 spacecraft with the Falcon Heavy rocket." He went on to say the company is "expected to do more than one mission of this nature."
Indian State Saves $45 Million As Schools Switch To Open Source Software
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The Kerala government has made a saving of Rs 300 crore ($45 million) through introduction and adoption of Free & Open Source Software (FOSS) in the school education sector, said a state government official on Sunday. IT became a compulsory subject in Kerala schools from 2003, but it was only in 2005 that FOSS was introduced in a phased manner and started to replace proprietary software. The decision made by the curriculum committee to implement it in the higher secondary sector has also been completed now. "It's not the cost saving that matters more, but the fact that the Free Software license enables not only teachers and students but also the general public an opportunity to copy, distribute and share the contents and use it as they wish," K. Anwar Sadath, executive director IT@School said.
Questioning The Privacy Policies Of Data-Collecting Cars
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Remember when Vizio's televisions started collecting data about what shows people were watching? One transportation reporter is more worried about all the data being collected by cars.

Quoting Autoblog:
Nowadays, auto manufacturers seem to be tripping over each other pointing out that they offer Apple CarPlay and Google Android Auto. And more recent phenomenon are announcements -- from companies including Ford and Hyundai -- that they are offering Amazon Alexa capabilities. You talk. It listens... Here's the thing. While it may seem appealing to have all manner of connectivity in cars, there is the other side of that. Without getting all tinfoil hat about this, when your TV set is ratting you out, isn't it likely that your car will? It drives. And watches. And listens. And collects data...

That data could be shared with everyone from auto insurers and advertisers to law enforcement officials and divorce attorneys. But the real problem may be consumers assuming strong privacy protections that don't actually exist. The article argues that GM's privacy policy "is like most privacy policies, which boils down to: You use it (the device, software, etc.), you potentially give up a portion of your privacy."
How To Get Back To the Moon In 4 Years -- This Time To Stay
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Scientific American describes "a way to get to the Moon and to stay there permanently...to begin this process immediately and to achieve moon landings in less than four years." It starts by abandoning NASA's expensive Space Launch System and Orion capsule, and spending the money saved on private-industry efforts like Elon Musk's SpaceX and Robert Bigelow's Bigelow Aerospace.

Quoting their report:
Musk's rockets -- the Falcon and the soon-to-be-launched Falcon Heavy -- are built to take off and land. So far their landing capabilities have been used to ease them down on earth. But the same technology, with a few tweaks, gives them the ability to land payloads on the surface of the Moon. Including humans. What's more, SpaceX's upcoming seven-passenger Dragon 2 capsule has already demonstrated its ability to gentle itself down to earth's surface. In other words, with a few modifications and equipment additions, Falcon rockets and Dragon capsules could be made Moon-ready...

Major segments of the space community want every future landing to add to a permanent infrastructure in the sky. And that's within our grasp thanks to Robert Bigelow... Since the spring of 2016, Bigelow, a real estate developer and founder of the Budget Suites of America hotel chain, has had an inflatable habitat acting as a spare room at the International Space Station 220 miles above your head and mine. And Bigelow's been developing something far more ambitious -- an inflatable Moon Base, that would use three of his 330-cubic-meter B330 modules.

The article calls Jeff Bezos's Blue Origin rockets "a wild car" which could also land passengers and cargo on the moon and suggests NASA would be better off funding things like lunar-surface refueling stations, lunar construction equipment, and "devices to turn lunar ice into rocket fuel, drinkable water, and breathable oxygen."
How Cable Monopolies Hurt ISP Customers
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"New York subscribers have had to overpay month after month for services that Spectrum deliberately didn't provide," reports Backchannel -- noting these practices are significant because together Comcast and Charter (formerly Time Warner Cable) account for half of America's 92 million high-speed internet connections.

Quoting Backchannel:
Based on the company's own documents and statements, it appears that just about everything it has been saying since 2012 to New York State residents about their internet access and data services is untrue...because of business decisions the company deliberately made in order to keep its capital expenditures as low as possible... Its marketing department kept sending out advertising claims to the public that didn't match the reality of what consumers were experiencing or square with what company engineers were telling Spectrum executives. That gives the AG's office its legal hook: Spectrum's actions in knowingly saying one thing but doing another amount to fraudulent, unfair, and deceptive behavior under New York law...
Scientists Teach Bees How To Play Soccer
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Clint Perry, a biologist who studies the evolution of cognition in insects at Queen Mary University of London, and his colleagues have released the results of a creative new experiment in which they essentially taught bumblebees how to play "bee soccer." "The insects' ability to grasp this novel task is a big score for insect intelligence, demonstrating that they're even more complex thinkers than we thought," reports Smithsonian.

From the report:
For the study, published in the February 23 issue of Science, researchers gave a group of bees a novel goal (literally): to move a ball about half their size into a designated target area. The idea was to present them with a task that they would never have encountered in nature. Not only did the bees succeed at this challenge -- earning them a sugary treat -- but they astonished researchers by figuring out how to meet their new goal in several different ways. Some bees succeeded at getting their ball into the goal with no demonstration at all, or by first watching the ball move on its own. But the ones that watched other bees successfully complete the game learned to play more quickly and easily. Most impressively, the insects didn't simply copy each other -- they watched their companions do it, then figured out on their own how to accomplish the task even more efficiently using their own techniques. The results show that bees can master complex, social behaviors without any prior experience -- which could be a boon in a world where they face vast ecological changes and pressures.
Security Lapse Exposed New York Airport's Critical Servers For a Year
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A security lapse at a New York international airport left its server backups exposed on the open internet for almost a year, ZDNet has found. The internet-connected storage drive contained several backup images of servers used by Stewart International Airport, but neither the backup drive nor the disk images were password protected, allowing anyone to access their contents. Since April last year, the airport had been inadvertently leaking its own highly-sensitive files as a result of the drive's misconfiguration. Vickery, who also posted an analysis of his findings, said the drive "was, in essence, acting as a public web server" because the airport was backing up unprotected copies of its systems to a Buffalo-branded drive, installed by a contract third-party IT specialist. When contacted Thursday, the contractor dismissed the claims and would not comment further. Though the listing still appears on Shodan, the search engine for unprotected devices and databases, the drive has since been secured. The files contained eleven disk images, accounting for hundreds of gigabytes of files and folders, which when mounted included dozens of airport staff email accounts, sensitive human resources files, interoffice memos, payroll data, and what appears to be a large financial tracking database. Many of the files we reviewed include "confidential" internal airport documents, which contain schematics and details of other core infrastructure.
Most Scientists 'Can't Replicate Studies By Their Peers'
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Science is facing a "reproducibility crisis" where more than two-thirds of researchers have tried and failed to reproduce another scientist's experiments, research suggests.

From a report:
This is frustrating clinicians and drug developers who want solid foundations of pre-clinical research to build upon. From his lab at the University of Virginia's Centre for Open Science, immunologist Dr Tim Errington runs The Reproducibility Project, which attempted to repeat the findings reported in five landmark cancer studies. "The idea here is to take a bunch of experiments and to try and do the exact same thing to see if we can get the same results." You could be forgiven for thinking that should be easy. Experiments are supposed to be replicable. The authors should have done it themselves before publication, and all you have to do is read the methods section in the paper and follow the instructions. Sadly nothing, it seems, could be further from the truth.
NASA Scientists Propose New Definition of Planets, and Pluto Could Soon Be Back
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After several years of publicly complaining about the "bullshit" decision at the IAU redefining what comprises a planet, New Horizons program head Alan Stern and fellow planetary geologists have put forth a new definition which they seek to make official, basing planethood on hydrostatic equilibrium. Under this definition, in addition to Ceres, Pluto and other Kuiper Belt objects, large moons like Titan and Europa, as well as our own moon, would also become planets; "planet" would be a physical term, while "moon" would be an orbital term, and hence one can have a planetary moon, as well as planets that orbit other stars or no star at all (both prohibited under the current definition). The paper points out that planetary geologists already refer to such bodies as planets, citing examples such as a paper about Titan: "A planet-wide detached haze layer occurs between 300-350 km above the surface; the visible limb of the planet, where the vertical haze optical depth is 0.1, is about 220 km above the surface."
Americans at Risk of Identity Theft as They File their Tax Returns
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As we move into the tax return season a new study reveals that attitudes to identity theft and a pattern of poor practices are leaving much of the public vulnerable. Data security and ID theft protection company CyberScout has carried out its second annual Tax Season Risk Report and finds 58 percent of Americans are not worried about tax fraud in spite of federal reports of 787,000 confirmed identity theft returns in 2016, totaling more than $4 billion in potential fraud. Among other findings are that only 35 percent of taxpayers demand that their preparers use two-factor authentication to protect their clients' personal information. Less than a fifth (18 percent) use an encrypted USB drive to save important documents like tax worksheets, W-2s, 1099s or 1040s. And another 38 percent either store tax documents on their computer's hard drive or in the cloud, approaches that are susceptible to a variety of hacks.
Thrilling Discovery of Seven Earth-Sized Planets Orbiting Nearby Star
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At a press conference on Wednesday, NASA scientists announced that they have spotted seven Earth-sized planets orbiting closely around a small, ultra-cool star. The star is 39 light years away.

From a report on The Guardian: It is the first time that so many Earth-sized planets have been found in orbit around the same star, an unexpected haul that suggests the Milky Way may be teeming with worlds that, in size and firmness underfoot at least, resemble our own rocky home. The planets closely circle a dwarf star named Trappist-1, which at 39 light years away makes the system a prime candidate to search for signs of life. Only marginally larger than Jupiter, the star shines with a feeble light about 2,000 times fainter than our sun. "The star is so small and cold that the seven planets are temperate, which means that they could have some liquid water and maybe life, by extension, on the surface," said Michael Gillon, an astrophysicist at the University of Liege in Belgium. [...] While the planets have Earth-like dimensions, their sizes ranging from 25 percent smaller to 10 percent larger, they could not be more different in other features. Most striking is how compact the planet's orbits are. Mercury, the innermost planet in the solar system, is six times farther from the sun than the outermost seventh planet is from Trappist-1.
College Senior Turns His Honda Civic Into a Self-Driving Car Using Free Hardware, Software
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University of Nebraska student Brevan Jorgenson swapped the rear-view mirror in his 2016 Honda Civic for a home-built device called a Neo, which can steer the vehicle and follow traffic on the highway. Jorgenson used hardware designs and open-source software released by Comma, a self-driving car startup that decided to give away its technology for free last year after receiving a letter asking questions about its functionality from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). Jorgenson is just one person in a new hacker community trying to upgrade their cars using Comma's technology.

"A Neo is built from a OnePlus 3 smartphone equipped with Comma's now-free Openpilot software, a circuit board that connects the device to the car's electronics, and a 3-D-printed case," reports MIT Technology Review. The report notes that Neodriven, a startup based in Los Angeles, has recently started selling a pre-built Neo device that works with Comma's Openpilot software, but it costs $1,495.
UPS Develops 'Rolling Warehouse' System In Which Drones Are Launched From Atop Trucks
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A Bloomberg article describes a test conducted by UPS on Monday, "launching an unmanned aerial vehicle from the roof of a UPS truck about a quarter-mile to a blueberry farm outside Tampa, Florida. The drone dropped off a package at a home on the property, and returned to the truck, which had moved about 2,000 feet." The company is looking to design a "rolling warehouse" system in which a drone is "deployed from the roof of a UPS truck and flies at an altitude of 200 feet to the destination." It returns after dropping off the package while the truck is already on its way to the next stop
New Zealand May Be the Tip of a Submerged Continent
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A group of geologists believe it is time to name a new continent. A paper published in the March/April edition of GSA Today, the journal for the Geological Society of America, lays out the case for Zealandia as the seventh and youngest geological continent. In the past, New Zealand was thought to be part of a collection of "islands, fragments, and slices," the authors wrote, but it's now understood to be part of a solid landmass. New Zealand is essentially the highest mountains of a 1.9 million square mile landmass that is 94 percent underwater, according to the paper. The authors believe it is both large and isolated enough to qualify as a continent. They note that it is elevated relative to the oceanic crust, as befits a continent, and its distinctiveness and thickness are also on par with continents one through six. What does it matter if Zealandia is officially a continent? Reclassifying the area would encourage geologists to include it in studies of comparative continental rifting and continent-ocean boundaries.
NASA Is Studying A Manned Trip Around The Moon On A $23 Billion Rocket
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Without a new administrator even nominated yet, NASA's acting head Robert Lightfoot on Wednesday requested a study of whether next year's first flight of the Space Launch System rocket, billed as the most powerful NASA has built, could have a crew of astronauts. "I know the challenges associated with such a proposition," Lightfoot said in a letter to his agency, citing costs, extra work, and "a different launch date" for the planned 2018 Exploration Mission-1 (EM-1). The mission would be launched by the massive SLS, which is still in development, then boosted by a European service module to put three astronauts inside the new Orion space capsule on a three-week trip around the moon. NASA first sent three astronauts around the moon in 1968 in the Apollo 8 mission. The last astronaut to stand on the moon, the late Gene Cernan returned to Earth in 1972. The new talk of a repeat moon-circling mission, aboard an untested spacecraft, has space policy experts variously thrilled, dismissive, and puzzled. "I frankly don't quite know what to say about it," space policy expert John Logsdon of George Washington University said. Writing on NASAWatch, Keith Cowing called the study request a "Hail Mary" pass to save the life of the SLS ahead of Trump installing a budget cutter to head the space agency. The Government Accountability Office estimates the costs of SLS and its two planned launches (a second, crewed mission is planned for 2023) at $23 billion.
NASA Scientist Revive 10,000-Year-Old Microorganisms
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"Scientists have extracted long-dormant microbes from inside the famous giant crystals of the Naica mountain caves in Mexico -- and revived them," reports the BBC.:

"The organisms were likely to have been encased in the striking shafts of gypsum at least 10,000 years ago, and possibly up to 50,000 years ago," according to the BBC, which calls the strange lifeforms "another demonstration of the ability of life to adapt and cope in the most hostile of environments." With no light, extremophile species must "chemosynthesise," deriving all their energy by extracting minerals from rocks. These ancient microbes "are not very closely related to anything in the known genetic databases," according to the new director of NASA's Astrobiology Institute, who helped conduct the research, and believes that the microbes could help suggest what life might look like on other planets. The BBC adds that many other scientists "suspect that if life does exist elsewhere in the Solar System, it is most likely to be underground, chemosynthesising like the microbes of Naica."
Used Cars Can Still Be Controlled By Their Previous Owners' Apps
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An IBM security researcher recently discovered something interesting about smart cars.Quoting CNN:

Charles Henderson sold his car several years ago, but he still knows exactly where it is, and can control it from his phone... "The car is really smart, but it's not smart enough to know who its owner is, so it's not smart enough to know it's been resold," Henderson told CNNTech. "There's nothing on the dashboard that tells you 'the following people have access to the car.'" This isn't an isolated problem. Henderson tested four major auto manufacturers, and found they all have apps that allow previous owners to access them from a mobile device. At the RSA security conference in San Francisco on Friday, Henderson explained how people can still retain control of connected cars even after they resell them.

Manufacturers create apps to control smart cars -- you can use your phone to unlock the car, honk the horn and find out the exact location of your vehicle. Henderson removed his personal information from services in the car before selling it back to the dealership, but he was still able to control the car through a mobile app for years. That's because only the dealership that originally sold the car can see who has access and manually remove someone from the app.
Researchers Discover Security Problems Under the Hood of Automobile Apps
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Malware researchers Victor Chebyshev and Mikhail Kuzin examined seven Android apps for connected vehicles and found that the apps were ripe for malicious exploitation. Six of the applications had unencrypted user credentials, and all of them had little in the way of protection against reverse-engineering or the insertion of malware into apps. The vulnerabilities looked at by the Kaspersky researchers focused not on vehicle communication, but on the Android apps associated with the services and the potential for their credentials to be hijacked by malware if a car owner's smartphone is compromised. All seven of the applications allowed the user to remotely unlock their vehicle; six made remote engine start possible (though whether it's possible for someone to drive off with the vehicle without having a key or RFID-equipped key fob present is unclear). Two of the seven apps used unencrypted user logins and passwords, making theft of credentials much easier. And none of the applications performed any sort of integrity check or detection of root permissions to the app's data and events -- making it much easier for someone to create an "evil" version of the app to provide an avenue for attack. While malware versions of these apps would require getting a car owner to install them on their device in order to succeed, Chebyshev and Kuzin suggested that would be possible through a spear-phishing attack warning the owner of a need to do an emergency app update. Other malware might also be able to perform the installation.
Woolly Mammoth On Verge of Resurrection, Scientists Reveal
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The woolly mammoth vanished from the Earth 4,000 years ago, but now scientists say they are on the brink of resurrecting the ancient beast in a revised form, through an ambitious feat of genetic engineering. Speaking ahead of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) annual meeting in Boston this week, the scientist leading the "de-extinction" effort said the Harvard team is just two years away from creating a hybrid embryo, in which mammoth traits would be programmed into an Asian elephant. "Our aim is to produce a hybrid elephant-mammoth embryo," said Prof George Church. "Actually, it would be more like an elephant with a number of mammoth traits. We're not there yet, but it could happen in a couple of years." The creature, sometimes referred to as a "mammophant," would be partly elephant, but with features such as small ears, subcutaneous fat, long shaggy hair and cold-adapted blood. The mammoth genes for these traits are spliced into the elephant DNA using the powerful gene-editing tool, Crispr. Until now, the team have stopped at the cell stage, but are now moving towards creating embryos -- although, they said that it would be many years before any serious attempt at producing a living creature.
Scientists Use Stem Cells To Grow Animal-Free Pork In a Lab
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A new study published in the journal Scientific Reports describes research "designed to generate muscle from a newly established pig stem-cell line, rather than from primary cells taken directly from a pig," says co-author Dr. Nicholas Genovese, a stem-cell biologist. "This entailed understanding the biology of relatively uncharacterized and recently-derived porcine induced pluripotent stem cell lines. What conditions support cell growth, survival and differentiation? These are all questions I had to figure out in the lab before the cells could be turned into muscle."

Digital Trends reports:
It may not sound like the most appetizing of foodstuffs, but pig skeletal muscle is in fact the main component of pork. The fact that it could be grown from a stem-cell line, rather than from a whole pig, is a major advance. This is also true of the paper's second big development: the fact that this cultivation of pig skeletal muscle didn't use animal serum, a component which has been used in other livestock muscle cultivation processes. [Genovese] acknowledges that there are other non-food-related possibilities the work hints at. "There is a contingent interest in using the pig as a model to study disease and test regenerative therapies for human conditions," he said.
EU Privacy Watchdogs Seek Assurances on US Data Transfer Pact
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European Union data privacy watchdogs will seek assurances from U.S. authorities that a move by U.S. President Donald Trump to crack down on illegal immigration will not undermine a transatlantic pact protecting the privacy of Europeans' data.

From a report:
European concerns have been raised by an executive order signed by Trump on Jan. 25 aiming to toughen enforcement of U.S. immigration law. The order directs U.S. agencies to "exclude persons who are not United States citizens or lawful permanent residents from the protections of the Privacy Act regarding personally identifiable information." The exemption of foreigners from the U.S. law governing how federal agencies collect and use information about people has stoked worries across the Atlantic about the new administration's approach to privacy and its impact on cross-border data flows.
Astronomers Discover 60 New Planets Including 'Super Earth'
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An international team of astronomers has found 60 new planets orbiting stars close to Earth's solar system, including a rocky "super Earth." The experts also found evidence of an additional 54 planets, bringing the potential discovery of new worlds to 114. One planet in particular, Gliese 411b, has been generating plenty of attention. Described as a "hot super Earth with a rocky surface," Gliese 411b is located in the fourth-nearest star system to the Sun, making it the third-nearest planetary system to the Sun, according to the U.K.'s University of Hertfordshire, which participated in the research. Gliese 411b (also known as GJ 411b or Lalande 21185) orbits the star Gliese 411 (or GJ 411). Despite the "super Earth" label, Dr. Mikko Tuomi from University of Hertfordshire's Centre for Astrophysics told Fox News that Gliese 411b is too hot for life to exist on its surface. The 60 new planets are found orbiting stars that are mostly some 20 to 300 light years away, according to Tuomi. The discoveries are based on observations taken over 20 years by U.S. astronomers using the Keck-I telescope in Hawaii as part of the Lick-Carnegie Exoplanet Survey. During the course of the research, scientists obtained almost 61,000 observations of 1,600 stars, which are now available to the public.
Bipartisan Bill Seeks Warrants For Police Use of 'Stingray' Cell Trackers
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A bipartisan group of House and Senate lawmakers introduced legislation Wednesday requiring police agencies to get a search warrant before they can deploy powerful cellphone surveillance technology known as "stingrays" that sweep up information about the movements of innocent Americans while tracking suspected criminals. "Owning a smartphone or fitness tracker shouldn't give the government a blank check to track your movements," said Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee who introduced the bill with Reps. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, and John Conyers, D-Mich. "Law enforcement should be able to use GPS data, but they need to get a warrant. This bill sets out clear rules to make sure our laws keep up with the times." The legislation introduced Wednesday, called the Geolocation Privacy and Surveillance (GPS) Act, would require a warrant for all domestic law enforcement agencies to track the location and movements of individual Americans through GPS technology without their knowledge. It also aims to combat high-tech stalking by creating criminal penalties for secretly using an electronic device to track someone's movements.
Scientists Propose Plan To Re-Freeze the Arctic
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In case you've been under a rock for the past 20 years, the Arctic is melting super fast. Certain *ahem* governments are dragging their feet doing anything about it, which means the planet could be in for a spectacular meltdown within the next 20 years. But a clever bunch of scientists have hatched a plan to re-freeze the Arctic using wind-powered pumps that will bring water to the surface, allowing it to freeze. This new layer of ice could last well into the summer, which is vital, because scientists think summer Arctic ice could be gone by 2030 -- and that causes a whole chain of terrible events that will only make our climate change problem much, much worse. The plan has a $500 billion price tag, but that's pocket change compared to the cost of dealing with an ice-free Arctic.

The study has been published in The American Geophysical Union's journal Earth's Future. You can read more about the study via The Guardian
Around 2.2 Million Deaths in a Year in India and China From Air Pollution
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India is on the verge of overtaking China as the country with the most deaths caused by air pollution, the world's biggest environmental killer, according to research published on Tuesday.

From a report:
The State of Global Air 2017 report states that extensive, long-term exposure to fine particulate matter contributed to more than four million premature deaths in 2015. The report is a joint effort between the Health Effects Institute and the Institute for Health Metrics and Evalution's Global Burden of Disease Project. "We are seeing increasing air pollution problems worldwide," Dan Greenbaum, president of the Health Effects Institute, said in a statement. "The trends we report show that we have seen progress in some parts of the world -- but serious challenges remain," Greenbaum went on to add. The report's analysis showed that India -- with extra exposure and its aging population -- now competes with China in terms of air pollution health burdens. Both countries saw around 1.1 million early deaths due to air pollution in 2015.
Banned Chemicals From 1970's Persist In Deepest Reaches of the Pacific Ocean, Study Shows
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Scientists were surprised by the relatively high concentrations of pollutants like PCBs and PBDEs in deep sea ecosystems. Used widely during much of the 20th Century, these chemicals were later found to be toxic and to build up in the environment. The results are published in the journal Nature Ecology and Evolution. The team led by Dr Alan Jamieson at the University of Newcastle sampled levels of pollutants in the fatty tissue of amphipods (a type of crustacean) from deep below the Pacific Ocean surface. The pollutants found in the amphipods included polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs), which were commonly used as electrical insulators and flame retardants. PCB production was banned by the U.S. in 1979 and by the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants, a UN treaty signed in 2001. From the 1930s to when PCBs were banned in the 1970s, the total global production of these chemicals is estimated to be in the region of 1.3 million tons. Released into the environment through industrial accidents and discharges from landfills, these pollutants are resistant to being broken down naturally, and so persist in the environment. The authors of the study say that the deep ocean can become a "sink" or repository for pollutants. They argue that the chemicals accumulate through the food chain so that when they reach the deep ocean, concentrations are many times higher than in surface waters.
Microsoft Calls For 'Digital Geneva Convention'
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Microsoft is calling for a digital Geneva Convention to outline protections for civilians and companies from government-sponsored cyberattacks. In comments Tuesday at the RSA security industry conference in San Francisco, Microsoft President and Chief Legal Officer Brad Smith said the rising trend of government entities wielding the internet as a weapon was worrying.

From a report on USA Today:
In the cyber realm, tech must be committed to "100% defense and zero percent offense," Smith said at the opening keynote at the RSA computer security conference. Smith called for a "digital Geneva Convention," like the one created in the aftermath of World War II which set ground rules for how conduct during wartime, defining basic rights for civilians caught up armed conflicts. In the 21st century such rules are needed "to commit governments to protect civilians from nation-state attacks in times of peace," a draft of Smith's speech released to USA TODAY said. This digital Geneva Convention would establish protocols, norms and international processes for how tech companies would deal with cyber aggression and attacks of nations aimed at civilian targets, which appears to effectively mean anything but military servers.
223 Stranded Whales Rescue Themselves
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More than 650 whales beached themselves in New Zealand, and more than 350 of them died. But now an anonymous reader shares NPR's report about a surprising result for the second group of whales.

When volunteer rescuers left the beach for the night Saturday, hundreds of survivors from the second stranding remained ashore. Then something curious happened: When the people returned Sunday morning, almost all the surviving whales were gone. All but 17 had left the beach and returned to the waters of Golden Bay overnight.

"We had 240 whales strand yesterday in the afternoon and we were fearful we were going to end up with 240 dead whales this morning," Herb Christophers, a spokesman for New Zealand's Department of Conservation, told Reuters. "But they self-rescued, in other words the tide came in and they were able to float off and swim out to sea."
Hundreds of Stonehenge-Like Monuments Found In The Amazon Rainforest
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Hundreds of ancient earthworks resembling those at Stonehenge were built in the Amazon rainforest, scientists have discovered after flying drones over the area. The findings prove for the first time that prehistoric settlers in Brazil cleared large wooded areas to create huge enclosures meaning that the 'pristine' rainforest celebrated by ecologists is actually relatively new.

The researchers believe the monuments appeared roughly 2,000 years ago -- so after Stonehenge (by about 2,500 years). "It is thought they were used only sporadically," reports the BBC, "possibly as ritual gathering places similar to the Maya pyramids of Central America, or Britain's own Stonehenge."
Amputees Control Virtual Prosthetic Arm Using Nerve Signals
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Current prosthetic arms are usually controlled by detecting signals from the user twitching muscles in the shoulder or arm. This allows only a limited number of possible movements, such as grasp and release. Researchers have developed a new technique that interprets signals from motor neurons in the spinal cord, allowing for a greater range of control of an arm. Signals from nerves associated with hand and arm movements were mapped to the corresponding movements. Test subjects were able to move a virtual prosthetic arm with greater freedom than has been achieved with muscle-controlled prosthetics. (Note: A virtual prosthetic arm was used rather than a real one as this work is still in the early stages.)
How UPS Trucks Saved Millions of Dollars By Eliminating Left Turns
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Some people probably already know this, but for those who don't: UPS truck drivers don't take left turns, and despite this usually resulting in longer route, they are saving millions of dollars in fuel costs.

From a report:
The company decided on eliminating left turns (or right turns in left-hand driving countries such as India) wherever possible after it found that drivers have to sit idly in the trucks while waiting to take the left turn to pass through traffic. So, it created an algorithm that eliminated left turns from drivers' routes even if meant a longer journey. This meant that drivers do not have to wait in traffic to take a left turn and can take the right turn at junctions. Of course, the algorithm does not entirely eliminate left turns, but the number of left turns taken by UPS trucks is less than 10 percent of all turns made. Turns out that UPS was right -- the idea really paid off. In 2005, a year after it announced that it will minimize left turns, the company said that the total distance covered by its 96,000 trucks was reduced by 747,000km, and 190,000 litres of fuel had been saved. In 2011, Bob Stoffel, a UPS Senior Vice President, told Fortune that the company had reduced distance traveled by trucks by 20.4 million miles, and reduced CO2 emissions by 20,000 metric tons, by not taking left turns. A recent report by The Independent says that the total reduction in distance traveled by UPS trucks now stands at 45.8 million miles, and there are 1,100 fewer trucks in its fleet because of the algorithm. Even by conservative estimates, that's tens of millions of dollar of savings in fuel costs.
eBay Founder Pledges $500,000 To Test Universal Basic Income Program In Kenya
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"Ebay founder Pierre Omidyar is the latest tech bigwig to get behind the concept [of universal basic income]," reports Mashable. "His philanthropic investment firm, the Omidyar Network, announced Wednesday that it will give nearly half a million dollars to a group testing the policy in Kenya." The money will come from the Omidyar Network and be doled out to people living in Kenya through a program called GiveDirectly.
NSA Contractor Indicted Over Mammoth Theft of Classified Data
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A former National Security Agency contractor was indicted on Wednesday by a federal grand jury on charges he willfully retained national defense information, in what U.S. officials have said may have been the largest heist of classified government information in history. The indictment alleges that Harold Thomas Martin, 52, spent up to 20 years stealing highly sensitive government material from the U.S. intelligence community related to national defense, collecting a trove of secrets he hoarded at his home in Glen Burnie, Maryland. The government has not said what, if anything, Martin did with the stolen data. Martin faces 20 criminal counts, each punishable by up to 10 years in prison, the Justice Department said. "For as long as two decades, Harold Martin flagrantly abused the trust placed in him by the government," said U.S. Attorney Rod Rosenstein.
This Blog Is Republishing All the Animal Welfare Records the USDA Deleted
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Last year, thousands of animal welfare records were removed from the web by the Department of Agriculture. Now, a government transparency blog is on a mission to recover and republish as many of these records as possible.

From a report on Motherboard:
"Whenever there are documents that were online, but got pulled offline, they're automatically important," said Russ Kick, who runs the blog The Memory Hole 2, where many of the documents have already been re-published. "Nobody's going to go through the trouble to delete something that doesn't matter." The documents, which were removed by the USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) late last week, included inspection records and annual reports made under the Animal Welfare Act and the Horse Protection Act. The USDA indicated that removing the documents was in response to a court decision, but a spokesperson contacted by Motherboard would not specify what court case. The records were typically used by animal welfare groups to keep tabs on how well these laws were being enforced, but were also used by the general public to research the inspection records of everything from dog breeders to circuses and zoos. "I've learned that if I see something and think 'I'm really surprised the government posted this,' I need to download it," Kick told me. "So when I found these reports, I thought 'this is surprising,' and I downloaded them."
US Visitors May Have to Hand Over Social Media Passwords: DHS
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People who want to visit the United States could be asked to hand over their social-media passwords to officials as part of enhanced security checks, the country's top domestic security chief said.

From a report on NBC:
Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly told Congress on Tuesday the measure was one of several being considered to vet refugees and visa applicants from seven Muslim-majority countries. "We want to get on their social media, with passwords: What do you do, what do you say?" he told the House Homeland Security Committee. "If they don't want to cooperate then you don't come in."
A Supermassive Black Hole Has Been Devouring a Star For a Decade
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A massive black hole devoured a star over a 10 year period, setting a new record for the longest space meal ever observed, according to new research. Researchers spotted the ravenous black hole with NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory and Swift satellite as well as ESA's XMM-Newton, according to a statement from NASA. When objects like stars get too close to black holes, the intense gravity of the black hole can rip the star apart in what's called a tidal disruption event (TDE), according to NASA. While some of the debris from the star is flung forward, parts of it are pulled back and ingested by the black hole, where it heats up and emits an X-ray flare, NASA said in a statement. The tidal disruption event spotted by the trio of X-ray telescopes, is unlike anything researchers have ever seen, lasting ten times longer than any observed incident of star's death caused by a black hole, according to research published in Nature Astronomy Feb. 6. The black hole, dubbed XJ1500+0154, is located in a galaxy 1.8 billion light-years from Earth. Researchers first spotted it in 2005 and it reached peak brightness in 2008, according to the statement. According to NASA, researchers believe that the black hole may have consumed the most massive star ever completely torn apart during a TDE.
There Are Now Twice As Many Solar Jobs As Coal Jobs In the US
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According to a new survey from the nonprofit Solar Foundation, the solar industry now employs more than 260,000 people even though solar power provides just 1.3 percent of America's electricity. Last year, the industry accounted for one of every 50 new jobs nationwide. "Solar employs slightly more workers than natural gas, over twice as many as coal, over three times that of wind energy, and almost five times the number employed in nuclear energy," the report notes. "Only oil/petroleum has more employment (by 38%) than solar." Vox reports: This chart breaks it down by job type. The majority of solar jobs are in installation, with a median wage of $25.96 per hour. The residential market, which is the most labor-intensive, accounts for 41 percent of employment, the commercial market 28 percent, and the utility-scale market the rest. Now, mind you, comparing solar and coal is a bit unfair. Solar is growing fast from a tiny base, which means there's a lot of installation work to be done right now, whereas no one is building new coal plants in the U.S. anymore. (Quite the contrary: Many older coal plants have been closing in recent years, thanks to stricter air-pollution rules and cheap natural gas.) So solar is in a particularly labor-intensive phase at the moment. Still, it's worth thinking through what these numbers mean. One argument you could make about these numbers is that all this employment is, in a way, inefficient. If the solar industry hopes to keep pushing costs down and become a major U.S. energy source, it will likely need to become less labor-intensive over time. But labor costs are only one way to think about the issue. There's also a political angle here. America's energy system is inextricable from policy and politics, and an industry that creates a lot of jobs is inevitably going to have more influence over that process.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art Makes 375,000 Images Available For Free
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The Metropolitan Museum of Art announced Tuesday that more than 375,000 of its "public-domain artworks" are now available for unrestricted use. "We have been working toward the goal of sharing our images with the public for a number of years," said Thomas P. Campbell, director and CEO of the Met, in a statement. "Our comprehensive and diverse museum collection spans 5,000 years of world culture and our core mission is to be open and accessible for all who wish to study and enjoy the works of art in our care."

Fortune reports:
The image collection covers photographs, paintings, and sculptures, among other works. Images now available for both scholarly and commercial purposes include Emanuel Leutze's famous painting Washington Crossing the Delaware; photographs by Walker Evans, Alfred Steiglitz, and Dorothea Lange; and even some Vincent van Gogh paintings. The Met has teamed up with Creative Commons, Wikimedia, Artstor, Digital Public Library of America, Art Resource, and Pinterest to host and maximize the reach of their enormous collection. There is also a public GitHub repository of the images.
You Can Make Any Number Out of Four 4s Because Math Is Amazing
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Here's a fun math puzzle to brighten your day. Say you've got four 4s -- 4, 4, 4, 4 -- and you're allowed to place any normal math symbols around them. How many different numbers can you make? According to the fantastic YouTube channel Numberphile, you can make all of them. Really. You just have to have some fun and get creative. When you first start out, the problem seems pretty simple. So, for example, 4 - 4 + 4 - 4 = 0. To make 1, you can do 4 / 4 + 4 - 4. In fact, you can make all the numbers up to about 20 using only the basic arithmetic operations of addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division. But soon that's not enough. To start reaching bigger numbers, the video explains, you must pull in more sophisticated operations like square roots, exponents, factorials (4!, or 4 x 3 x 2 x 1), and concatenation (basically, turning 4 and 4 into 44).
A Crack in an Antarctic Ice Shelf Grew 17 Miles in the Last Two Months
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A rapidly advancing crack in Antarctica's fourth-largest ice shelf has scientists concerned that it is getting close to a full break. The rift has accelerated this year in an area already vulnerable to warming temperatures. Since December, the crack has grown by the length of about five football fields each day (Editor's note: the link could be paywalled; alternate source). The crack in Larsen C now reaches over 100 miles in length, and some parts of it are as wide as two miles. The tip of the rift is currently only about 20 miles from reaching the other end of the ice shelf. Once the crack reaches all the way across the ice shelf, the break will create one of the largest icebergs ever recorded, according to Project Midas, a research team that has been monitoring the rift since 2014. Because of the amount of stress the crack is placing on the remaining 20 miles of the shelf, the team expects the break soon.
SpaceX Plans to Start Launching Rockets Every Two To Three Weeks
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Space Exploration Technologies, better known as SpaceX, plans to launch its Falcon 9 rockets every two to three weeks, its fastest rate since starting launches in 2010, once a new launch pad is put into service in Florida next week.

From a report:
The ambitious plan comes only five months after a SpaceX rocket burst into flames on the launch pad at the company's original launch site in Florida. SpaceX, controlled by billionaire Elon Musk, has only launched one rocket since then, in mid-January. "We should be launching every two to three weeks," SpaceX President Gwynne Shotwell said in an interview on Monday.
Scientists Discover Evidence of a 'Lost Continent' Under the Indian Ocean
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Scientists at Wits University in Johannesburg, South Africa say they've discovered evidence of a "lost continent" beneath the island of Mauritius in the Indian Ocean. According to EarthSky, the evidence of the "lost continent" may be leftover from the breakup of the ancient supercontinent Gondwana, which started to break up around 200 million years ago. The evidence itself "takes the form of ancient zircon minerals found in much-younger rocks."

From the report: Geologist Lewis Ashwal of Wit University led a group studying the mineral zircon, found in rocks spewed up by lava during volcanic eruptions. Zircon minerals contain trace amounts of radioactive uranium, which decays to lead and can thus be accurately dated. Ashwal and his colleagues say they've found remnants of this mineral far too old to have originated on the relatively young island of Mauritius. They believe their work shows the existence of an ancient continent, which may have broken off from the island of Madagascar, when Africa, India, Australia and Antarctica split up and formed the Indian Ocean. Ashwal explained in a statement: "Earth is made up of two parts -- continents, which are old, and oceans, which are "young." On the continents you find rocks that are over four billion years old, but you find nothing like that in the oceans, as this is where new rocks are formed. Mauritius is an island, and there is no rock older than 9 million years old on the island. However, by studying the rocks on the island, we have found zircons that are as old as 3 billion years. The fact that we have found zircons of this age proves that there are much older crustal materials under Mauritius that could only have originated from a continent."
DC Inauguration Protestors Are Being Hit With Facebook Data Searches
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During the protests over the inauguration of Donald Trump, more than 230 protestors were arrested -- many of which were charged with rioting and had their phones seized by Washington, D.C., police. One of the individuals who was arrested received an email from Facebook's "Law Enforcement Response Team," which begs the question: Did D.C. police ask Facebook to reveal information about this arrestee?

CityLab reports: In an emailed response to CityLab's request for more information, Rachel Reid, a spokesperson for the D.C. Metropolitan Police Department, responded that "MPD does not comment on investigative tactics." The District of Columbia United States Attorney's Office -- the agency leading the prosecution of Inauguration protesters -- has not yet responded to CityLab's inquiry. CityLab also asked Facebook about the email. "We don't comment on individual requests," company spokesperson Jay Nancarrow said. He referred CityLab to the site's law enforcement guidelines page and to its Government Requests Report database, where the public can see how many legal processes it receives from countries worldwide. According to this database, U.S. law enforcement requested information on the accounts of 38,951 users over January to June of 2016, and they received some type of data in 80 percent of cases. Which "legal process" authorities sent to Facebook for information on the protester matters considerably in terms of how much data they can seize for investigation. According to Facebook's legal guidelines, a search warrant, for example, could allow Facebook to give away content data including "messages, photos, videos, timeline posts, and location information." A subpoena or a court order would give authorities less information, but would still include the individual's "name, length of service, credit card information, email address(es), and a recent login/logout IP address(es)."
16 Years of GPS Space Weather Data Made Publicly Available
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"It's not often that a scientific discipline gains a 23-satellite constellation overnight," reports Science magazine, describing 16 years worth of radiation measurements from GPS satellites finally released by Los Alamos National Lab. "Although billions of people globally use data from GPS satellites, they remain U.S. military assets."

Scientists have long sought the data generated by sensors used to monitor the status of the satellites, which operate in the heavy radiation of medium-Earth orbit and can be vulnerable to solar storms. But few have been allowed to tap this resource... That attitude changed in October 2016, when the outgoing Obama administration issued an executive order aimed at preparing the country for extreme space weather. Such bursts in charged particles, originating in a solar flare or coronal mass ejection, could disable the electrical power grid or divert flights away from the Arctic, where radiation exposure is heightened. The GPS data, which dates from December 2000, fill a hole in studies of space weather, the complex interplay of Earth's magnetic field with bombarding radiation from cosmic rays and the sun.
To Live Your Best Life, Do Mathematics
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Math conferences don't usually feature standing ovations, but Francis Su received one last month in Atlanta. In his talk he framed mathematics as a pursuit uniquely suited to the achievement of human flourishing, a concept the ancient Greeks called eudaimonia, or a life composed of all the highest goods. Su talked of five basic human desires that are met through the pursuit of mathematics: play, beauty, truth, justice and love. Su opened his talk with the story of Christopher, an inmate serving a long sentence for armed robbery who had begun to teach himself math from textbooks he had ordered. After seven years in prison, during which he studied algebra, trigonometry, geometry and calculus, he wrote to Su asking for advice on how to continue his work. After Su told this story, he asked the packed ballroom at the Marriott Marquis, his voice breaking: "When you think of who does mathematics, do you think of Christopher?" If mathematics is a medium for human flourishing, it stands to reason that everyone should have a chance to participate in it. But in his talk Su identified what he views as structural barriers in the mathematical community that dictate who gets the opportunity to succeed in the field -- from the requirements attached to graduate school admissions to implicit assumptions about who looks the part of a budding mathematician. When Su finished his talk, the audience rose to its feet and applauded, and many of his fellow mathematicians came up to him afterward to say he had made them cry. [...] Mathematics builds skills that allow people to do things they might otherwise not have been able to do or experience. If I learn mathematics and I become a better thinker, I develop perseverance, because I know what it's like to wrestle with a hard problem, and I develop hopefulness that I will actually solve these problems. And some people experience a kind of transcendent wonder that they're seeing something true about the universe. That's a source of joy and flourishing.
Labor Department Sues Oracle For Paying White Men More
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Oracle is being sued by the Labor Department for paying white men more than their counterparts and for favoring Asian workers when recruiting and hiring for technical roles. The administrative lawsuit is the latest from the Labor Department to take aim at the human resources practices of major technology companies. The Labor Department warned the lawsuit could cost Oracle hundreds of millions in federal contracts. Oracle makes software and hardware used by the federal government. "The complaint is politically motivated, based on false allegations, and wholly without merit," Oracle spokesman Deborah Hellinger said in a statement. "Oracle values diversity and inclusion, and is a responsible equal opportunity and affirmative action employer. Our hiring and pay decisions are non-discriminatory and made based on legitimate business factors including experience and merit." The lawsuit is the result of an Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs review of Oracle's equal employment opportunity practices, the Labor Department said. According to the lawsuit, Oracle America paid white male workers more, leading to pay discrimination against women, African American and Asian employees. The Labor Department also accused Oracle of favoring Asians for product development and other technical roles, resulting in discrimination against non-Asian applicants. Oracle refused to comply with the Labor Department's investigation, which began in 2014, such as refusing to provide compensation data for all employees, complete hiring data for certain business lines and employee complaints of discrimination, according to the federal agency.
2.5 million passwords leaked from Xbox and Playstation piracy forums
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Xbox360ISO.com and PSPISO.com have been hacked by an unknown attacker in late 2015 and the details of the 2.5 million users affected have been leaked online. The leaked information contains email addresses, IP addresses, usernames and passwords. The Next Web reports:

It seems that the operator of these sites did nothing to protect the latter, as all passwords were "protected" using the MD5 hashing system, which is trivially easy to overcome. For reference, that's the same hashing system used by LinkedIn. As the names of these sites imply, they were used to share pirated copies of games for Microsoft and Sony's gaming platforms. They also both have a thriving community where people discussed a variety of tech-related topics, including gaming news and software development. If you think you might have had an account on these sites at one point, and want to check if you were affected, you can visit Troy Hunt's Have I Been Pwned. If you have, it's worth emphasizing that anyone who gained access to that site, and anyone who has since downloaded the data dump, will be able to discern your password. If you've used it on another website or platform, you should change it.
Reached Via a Mind-Reading Device, Deeply Paralyzed Patients Say They Want to Live
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Neuroscientists have designed a brain-reading device to hold simple conversations with "locked-in" patients that promises to transform the lives of people who are too disabled to communicate. Details of four patients who were able to communicate using what is being touted as a groundbreaking system were made public this week.

From a report on MIT Technology Review:
Now researchers in Europe say they've found out the answer after using a brain-computer interface to communicate with four people completely locked in after losing all voluntary movement due to Lou Gehrig's disease, or amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. In response to the statement "I love to live" three of the four replied yes. They also said yes when asked "Are you happy?" Designed by neuroscientist Niels Birbaumer, now at the Wyss Center for Bio and Neuroengineering in Geneva, the brain-computer interface fits on a person's head like a swimming cap and measures changes in electrical waves emanating from the brain and also blood flow using a technique known as near-infrared spectroscopy. To verify the four could communicate, Birbaumer's team asked patients, over the course of about 10 days of testing, to respond yes or no to statements such as "You were born in Berlin" or "Paris is the capital of Germany" by modulating their thoughts and altering the blood-flow pattern. The answers relayed through the system were consistent about 70 percent of the time, substantially better than chance.
NASA's Cassini Captures Photos of Saturn's Rings In Unprecedented Detail
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NASA's Cassini probe has captured news images of Saturn's rings in unprecedented detail. The images were captured by the probe in its penultimate mission phase of its mission that includes "20 orbits that dive past the outer edge of the main ring system" before the spacecraft plunges into the planet itself. Interestingly, the rings include what NASA calls "moonlets" embedded in them. VOA News reports: The images are the closest ever taken of Saturn's rings and, according to NASA ‚oeresolve details as small as 550 meters, which is on the scale of Earth's tallest buildings.‚ The"ring-grazing" orbits began last November and will continue until the end of April, and in addition to spotting the moonlets, they have given greater clarity to other structures within the rings such as the so-called propeller-like formations. NASA added that Cassini has also provided the "closest-ever" glimpses of two small moons, Daphnis and Pandora.

The report via NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) adds:
"Some of the structures seen in recent Cassini images have not been visible at this level of detail since the spacecraft arrived at Saturn in mid-2004. At that time, fine details like straw and propellers -- which are caused by clumping ring particles and small, embedded moonlets, respectively -- had never been seen before. (Although propellers were present in Cassini's arrival images, they were actually discovered in later analysis, the following year.) Cassini came a bit closer to the rings during its arrival at Saturn, but the quality of those arrival images (examples: 1, 2, 3) was not as high as in the new views. Those precious few observations only looked out on the backlit side of the rings, and the team chose short exposure times to minimize smearing due to Cassini's fast motion as it vaulted over the ring plane. This resulted in images that were scientifically stunning, but somewhat dark and noisy.
Woman Built House From the Ground Up Using Nothing But YouTube Tutorials
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In this generation of self-starters and self-made women and men, do-it-yourself isn't just an option, it's a way of life. And if there's not an app for that, chances are there's a YouTube video for it. That was certainly the case for a woman named Cara Brookins, who is living proof that if you're willing to learn, you absolutely can. In 2008, Brookins was in the midst of a family struggle, having left a husband she called "violent and abusive." Looking to make a fresh start for herself, she took the idea of rebuilding quite literally, perhaps using the physical experience of constructing a house as an extension of her emotional and mental journey. Though she had no previous experience in construction or architecture, Brookins found a series of YouTube tutorials on building a home and got to work. Over the course of nine months, Brookins worked tirelessly with the help of her four children to build a new home for themselves. "I had rented this cabin for a Thanksgiving getaway," the mother of four told CBS News. "And driving there, we passed this house that had been ravaged by a tornado. It was this beautiful dream house and it was sort of wide open. You don't often get the opportunity to see the interior workings of a house, but looking at these 2x4s and these nails, it just looked so simple. I thought, "I could put this wall back up if I really tried. Maybe I should just start from scratch.'"
Trump's Next Immigration Move To Affect H-1B Visas; Require Tech Companies To Try To Hire Americans First: Bloomberg
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A report in Bloomberg describes a draft executive order that will hit the tech industry hard and potentially change the way those companies recruit workers from abroad. The H-1B, L-1, E-2, and B1 work visa programs would be targeted by requiring companies to prioritize higher-paid immigrant workers over lower-paid workers. In addition, the order will impose statistical reporting requirements on tech companies who sponsor workers under these programs. The order is expected to impact STEM workers from India the most.

If (perhaps when) the president follows through, his next move could limit or at least seriously alter the way H-1B visas are distributed, putting U.S. citizens at a higher priority, and possibly restricting H1-B visas tighter. From the article: "If implemented, the reforms could shift the way American companies like Microsoft, Amazon and Apple recruit talent and force wholesale changes at Indian companies such as Infosys and Wipro. Businesses would have to try to hire Americans first and if they recruit foreign workers, priority would be given to the most highly paid. "Our country's immigration policies should be designed and implemented to serve, first and foremost, the U.S. national interest," the draft proposal reads, according to a copy reviewed by Bloomberg. "Visa programs for foreign workers should be administered in a manner that protects the civil rights of American workers and current lawful residents, and that prioritizes the protection of American workers -- our forgotten working people -- and the jobs they hold."
Scientists Find 'Oldest Human Ancestor' -- A Big-Mouthed Sea Creature With No Anus
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Researchers have discovered the earliest known ancestor of humans -- along with a vast range of other species. They say that fossilized traces of the 540-million-year-old creature are "exquisitely well preserved." The microscopic sea animal is the earliest known step on the evolutionary path that led to fish and -- eventually -- to humans. Details of the discovery from central China appear in Nature journal. The research team says that Saccorhytus is the most primitive example of a category of animals called "deuterostomes" which are common ancestors of a broad range of species, including vertebrates (backboned animals). Saccorhytus was about a millimeter in size, and is thought to have lived between grains of sand on the sea bed. The researchers were unable to find any evidence that the animal had an anus, which suggests that it consumed food and excreted from the same orifice. The study was carried out by an international team of researchers, from the UK, China and Germany. Among them was Prof Simon Conway Morris, from the University of Cambridge. The study suggests that its body was symmetrical, which is a characteristic inherited by many of its evolutionary descendants, including humans. Saccorhytus was also covered with a thin, relatively flexible skin and muscles, leading the researchers to conclude that it moved by contracting its muscles and got around by wriggling. The researchers say that its most striking feature is its large mouth, relative to the rest of its body. They say that it probably ate by engulfing food particles, or even other creatures. Also interesting are the conical structures on its body. These, the scientists suggest, might have allowed the water that it swallowed to escape and so might have been a very early version of gills.
'Father of Pac-Man,' Masaya Nakamura, Dies At Age 91
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https://games.slashdot.org/story/17/01/30/2113232/father-of-pac-man-masaya-nakamura-dies-at-age-91
Asteroid Whizzing By Earth 6 Times Closer Than the Moon
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The problem with asteroids passing near Earth is that they're often difficult to spot. Fortunately the hardest ones to see in our neighborhood also tend to be the smaller ones. Such is the case with 2017 BH30, which was discovered Sunday by the Catalina Sky Survey just hours before passing by us at the creepy-close distance of only 40,563 miles (65,280 kilometres). This asteroid is estimated to be between 15-32.8 feet (4.6-10 metres) in length, making it somewhere between the size of a truck and a... big truck. That's pretty small by asteroid standards, but it's also the closest spotted asteroid to pass us since September when asteroid 2016 RB1 passed within 24,000 miles (about 39,000 kilometres) of our planet's surface, putting it almost as close as satellites in geosynchronous orbit. This is the third asteroid to buzz by earth closer than the distance to the moon this year. We don't expect a closer pass by one of these visitors until October, when asteroid 2012 TC4 could come more than twice as close.
US Puts Bumblebee On the Endangered Species List For First Time
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For the first time for a bumblebee and a bee species in the U.S., the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has designated the bumblebee an endangered species. The protected status goes into effect on February 10, and includes requirements for federal protections and the development of a recovery plan.

NPR reports:
"Today's Endangered Species listing is the best -- and probably last -- hope for the recovery of the rusty patched bumble bee," NRDC Senior Attorney Rebecca Riley said in a statement from the Xerces Society, which advocates for invertebrates. "Bumble bees are dying off, vanishing from our farms, gardens, and parks, where they were once found in great numbers." Large parts of the Eastern and Midwestern United States were once crawling with these bees, Bombus affinis, but the bees have suffered a dramatic decline in the last two decades due to habitat loss and degradation, along with pathogens and pesticides. Indeed, the bee was found in 31 states and Canadian provinces before the mid- to late-1990s, according to the final rule published in the Federal Register. But since 2000, it has been reported in only 13 states and Ontario, Canada. It has seen an 88 percent decline in the number of populations and an 87 percent loss in the amount of territory it inhabits. This means the species is vulnerable to extinction, the rule says, even without further habitat loss or insecticide exposure. Canada designated the species as endangered in 2012.
Solar Energy Now Employs More Americans Than Oil, Coal and Gas Combined
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Solar energy now accounts for 43% of the workers in the U.S. power-generating industry, surpassing the 22% from all workers in the coal, oil, and gas industries combined, according to new figures from the Department of Energy.

In 2016, the solar workforce in the U.S. increased by 25% to 374,000 employees, compared to 187,117 electrical generation jobs in the coal, gas and oil industries... [N]et power generation from coal sources declined by 53% between 2006 and September 2016; electricity generation from natural gas increased by 33%; and solar grew by over 5,000% -- from 508,000 megawatt hours (MWh) to just over 28 million MWh.

Solar industry created jobs at a rate 20 times faster than the national average, according to the Energy Department, while 102,000 more workers also joined the wind turbine industry last year, a 32% increase. In fact, 93% of the new power in America is now coming from solar, natural gas, and wind -- but it's building out new solar-generating capacity that's causing much of the workforce increases, according to the Energy Department. "The majority of U.S. electrical generation continues to come from fossil fuels," their report points out, adding that the latest projections show that will still be true in the year 2040.
New Data Shows 85% of Humans Live Under a Corrupt Government
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According to one think tank that studies corruption in government, 85% of the world lives under governments that are essentially corrupt. New Atlas reports: "'Corruption' is defined by Transparency International (TI) as 'the abuse of entrusted power for private gain.' Each year since 1995, TI has published a Corruption Perceptions Index that scores the world's nations out of 100 for their public sector honesty and the just-released 2016 report paints the same bleak picture we've been seeing now for two decades except it's getting worse. According to the data, despite the illusion of elected government in half the world's countries, democracy is losing. Only two countries scored 90 out of 100 this year, and just 54 of the 176 countries (30%) assessed in the report scored better than 50. Fifty percent might have constituted a pass in a High School arithmetic test, but for an elected government to be so inept at carrying out the will of the electorate, it is a clear betrayal of the people. The average country score this year is a paltry 43, indicating endemic corruption in a country's public sector is the norm. Even more damning is that more countries declined than improved in this year's results. Our analysis of TI's data shows 85 percent of human beings are governed by regimes that score 50 or less, indicating that the integrity of people in authority across the globe remains sadly lacking." schwit1 notes: "Not surprisingly, the countries at the bottom of the list are almost all Middle Eastern nations, all of whom are the source of most of the world's terrorism and Islamic madness. The few others are those trying to become communist paradises, Venezuela and North Korea."

New Atlas also mentions "the latest update of the Economist Intelligence Unit's Democracy Index, released on the same day as the Transparency International report, reflects an almost identical perspective. The EIU Democracy Index measures the state of democracy in 167 countries and the average global score fell from 5.55 out of 10 in 2015 to 5.52 in 2016, with 72 countries recording a lower score versus 38 which showed an improvement. You can register for free and download the EIU report here."
Mark Zuckerberg Drops Lawsuits To Force Hundreds of Hawaiians To Sell Him Land
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Last week, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg filed a lawsuit to force owners of several small parcels of land to sell to the highest bidder since these property owners are surrounded by Zuckerberg's land holdings and therefore have lawful easement to cross his private property. Ever since the story broke, Zuckerberg has faced major backlash from people all over the world, especially those living on the Hawaiian islands. On Wednesday, said he was "reconsidering" the set of lawsuits; today he announced that he will drop the lawsuits altogether.

The Guardian reports:
"Upon reflection, I regret that I did not take the time to fully understand the quiet title process and its history before we moved ahead," Zuckerberg wrote. "Now that I understand the issues better, it's clear we made a mistake." The process is controversial in Hawaii, where many view it as a tool of dispossession first employed by sugar barons, but later adopted by the wealthy malihini (newcomers) seeking vacation homes. Hawaii state representative Kaniela Ing, who emerged as one of the key critics of the lawsuits, said that he was "happy" and "humbled" by Zuckerberg's announcement. "It's not everyday where you face off with one of the most influential billionaires, best PR professionals and best attorneys in the world and win," he said. "It's a victory for everyone who shared the story on social media, for native Hawaiians, and for people everywhere. The parcels at stake in the Zuckerberg case were kuleana -- land granted to native Hawaiians in the 1850s after land was privatized for the first time in Hawaii -- contained within the boundaries of his 700-acre, $100m estate. Kuleana lands are especially important, law professor Kapua Sproat explained to the Guardian, because native Hawaiians view land as an "ancestor" or family member, rather than as a possession. "We understand that for native Hawaiians, kuleana are sacred and the quiet title process can be difficult," he wrote. "We want to make this right, talk with the community, and find a better approach." The CEO promised to hold discussion with "community leaders" representing native Hawaiians and environmentalists, and added that he is "looking for more ways to support the community as neighbors."
New, Higher Measurement of Universe's Expansion May Lead To a 'New Physics'
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Astronomers have measured the universe's current expansion rate (a value known as the Hubble constant) at about 44.7 miles (71.9 kilometers) per second per megaparsec (3.26 million light-years). This is consistent with a calculation that was announced last year by a research team, but it's considerably higher than the rate that was estimated by the European Space Agency's Planck satellite mission in 2015 -- about 41.6 miles (66.9 km) per second per megaparsec. The cause of this discrepancy is unclear. "The expansion rate of the universe is now starting to be measured in different ways with such high precision that actual discrepancies may possibly point towards new physics beyond our current knowledge of the universe," a researcher said.

Mike Wall writes via Space.com:
"The differences in the Hubble constant estimates may reflect something that astronomers don't understand about the early universe, or something that has changed since that long-ago epoch, scientists have said. For example, it's possible that dark energy -- the mysterious force that's thought to be driving the universe's accelerating expansion -- has grown in strength over the eons, members of Riess' team said last year. The discrepancy could also indicate that dark matter -- the strange, invisible stuff that astronomers think vastly outweighs 'normal' matter throughout the universe -- has as-yet-unappreciated characteristics, or that Einstein's theory of gravity has some holes, they added."
The Doomsday Clock Is Reset: Closest To Midnight Since The 1950s
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The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists has taken the unprecedented step of moving the Doomsday Clock ahead 30 seconds, taking the world to two-and-a-half-minute to midnight. The scientists said Thursday that several factors weighed heavily in their decision, particularly climate change denial by people in power -- they cited U.S. President Donald Trump -- and talk about more nuclear weapons.

From a report on NPR:
The setting is the closest the clock has come to midnight since 1953, when scientists moved it to two minutes from midnight after seeing both the U.S. and the Soviet Union test hydrogen bombs. It remained at that mark until 1960. "Make no mistake, this has been a difficult year," Rachel Bronson, executive director and publisher of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, said as the new setting was announced Thursday.
DragonflEye Project Wants To Turn Insects Into Cyborg Drones
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Scientists at a research and development company called Draper are using genetic engineering and optoelectronics to turn dragonflies into cybernetic insects, reports IEEE Spectrum. To control the dragonflies, Draper engineers are genetically modifying the nervous system of the insects so they can respond to pulses of light. The goal of the project, called DragonflEye, is enabling insects to carry scientific payloads or conduct surveillance.
Deep Learning Algorithm Diagnoses Skin Cancer As Well As Seasoned Dermatologists
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Remember how that Google neural net learned to tell the difference between dogs and cats? It's helping catch skin cancer now, thanks to some scientists at Stanford who trained it up and then loosed it on a huge set of high-quality diagnostic images. During recent tests, the algorithm performed just as well as almost two dozen veteran dermatologists in deciding whether a lesion needed further medical attention. The algorithm is called a deep convolutional neural net. It started out in development as Google Brain, using their prodigious computing capacity to power the algorithm's decision-making capabilities. When the Stanford collaboration began, the neural net was already able to identify 1.28 million images of things from about a thousand different categories. But the researchers needed it to know a malignant carcinoma from a benign seborrheic keratosis. Dermatologists often use an instrument called a dermoscope to closely examine a patient's skin. This provides a roughly consistent level of magnification and a pretty uniform perspective in images taken by medical professionals. Many of the images the researchers gathered from the Internet weren't taken in such a controlled setting, so they varied in terms of angle, zoom, and lighting. But in the end, the researchers amassed about 130,000 images of skin lesions representing over 2,000 different diseases. They used that dataset to create a library of images, which they fed to the algorithm as raw pixels, each pixel labeled with additional data about the disease depicted. Then they asked the algorithm to suss out the patterns: to find the rules that define the appearance of the disease as it spreads through tissue. The researchers tested the algorithm's performance against the diagnoses of 21 dermatologists from the Stanford medical school, on three critical diagnostic tasks: keratinocyte carcinoma classification, melanoma classification, and melanoma classification when viewed using dermoscopy. In their final tests, the team used only high-quality, biopsy-confirmed images of malignant melanomas and malignant carcinomas. When presented with the same image of a lesion and asked whether they would "proceed with biopsy or treatment, or reassure the patient," the algorithm scored 91% as well as the doctors, in terms of sensitivity (catching all the cancerous lesions) and sensitivity (not getting false positives).
Trump's FCC Chairman Pick Ajit Pai Vows To Close Broadband 'Digital Divide'
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On his first full day as Federal Communications Commission Chairman, Republican Ajit Pai yesterday spoke to FCC staff and said one of his top priorities will be bringing broadband to all Americans. "One of the most significant things that I've seen during my time here is that there is a digital divide in this country -- between those who can use cutting-edge communications services and those who do not," Pai said (transcript). "I believe one of our core priorities going forward should be to close that divide -- to do what's necessary to help the private sector build networks, send signals, and distribute information to American consumers, regardless of race, gender, religion, sexual orientation, or anything else. We must work to bring the benefits of the digital age to all Americans." Pai promised to "hear all points of view -- to approach every issue with a literal open door and a figurative open mind," as the FCC "confronts this and many other challenges." Pai didn't offer any specific initiatives for closing the digital divide yesterday, but in September 2016 he outlined a "digital empowerment agenda." The plan included "remov[ing] regulatory barriers to broadband deployment," changes to pole attachment rules, and "dig once" policies that install broadband conduit when roads are dug up during any road and highway construction project. He also proposed setting aside 10 percent of spectrum auction proceeds for deployment of mobile broadband in rural areas. Pai suggested requiring mobile carriers to build out service to 95 percent of the population in areas where they have spectrum licenses; he noted that some licenses only required service for 66 percent or 75 percent of residents, a problem in sparsely populated rural areas. At the same time, he proposed extending initial spectrum license terms from 10 years to 15 years to give the carriers more time to complete the construction. Pai also proposed creating "gigabit opportunity zones" in areas where average household income is below 75 percent of the national median. In these areas, state and local lawmakers would have to "adopt streamlined, broadband deployment-friendly policies," and there would be tax incentives and tax credits for companies building high-speed networks.
Mark Zuckerberg 'Reconsidering' Lawsuits To Force Property Sales in Hawaii
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Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg says he is "reconsidering" a set of lawsuits that he recently filed to compel hundreds of Hawaiians to sell him small plots of land they own that lie within the boundaries of 700-acre beachfront property on the island of Kauai.

From a report on CNBC:
The billionaire's potential about-face came after widespread publicity last week about the suits, which target a dozen plots comprising slightly more than eight acres of land strewn throughout the acreage that Zuckerberg bought for $100 million two years ago. Currently, owners of the lots, which have been in their families for generations, have the rights to travel across Zuckerberg's property. But many of the owners likely are unaware of their ownership interest in the plots. Last week, Zuckerberg said, "For most of these folks, they will now receive money for something they never even knew they had. No one will be forced off the land."
Implantable Cardiac Devices Could Be Vulnerable To Hackers, FDA Warns
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The U.S. Food and Drug Administration warned on Monday that pacemakers, defibrillators and other devices manufactured by St. Jude Medical, a medical device company based in Minnesota, could have put patients' lives at risk, as hackers could remotely access the devices and change the heart rate, administer shocks, or quickly deplete the battery. Thankfully, St. Jude released a new software patch on the same day as the FDA warning to address these vulnerabilities.

Motherboard reports:
St. Jude Medical's implantable cardiac devices are put under the skin, in the upper chest area, and have insulated wires that go into the heart to help it beat properly, if it's too slow or too fast. They work together with the Merlin@home Transmitter, located in the patient's house, which sends the patient's data to their physician using the Merlin.net Patient Care Network. Hackers could have exploited the transmitter, the manufacturer confirmed. "[It] could (...) be used to modify programming commands to the implanted device," the FDA safety communication reads. In an emailed response to Motherboard, a St. Jude Medical representative noted that the company "has taken numerous measures to protect the security and safety of our devices," including the new patch, and the creation of a "cyber security medical advisory board." The company plans to implement additional updates in 2017, the email said. This warning comes a few days after Abbott Laboratories acquired St. Jude Medical, and four months after a group of experts at Miami-based cybersecurity company MedSec Holding published a paper explaining several vulnerabilities they found in St. Jude Medical's pacemakers and defibrillators. They made the announcement at the end of August 2016, together with investment house Muddy Waters Capital.
New Research Suggests the Appendix Has a Purpose After All
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The appendix is an organ thought to have gone the way of our wisdom teeth and body hair: At one point we all needed them, now people can get by just fine without them. However, it turns out, at least the appendix has some purpose in the body.

From a report:
Scientists, though, have never been certain what the appendix used to do -- and if it is still, in fact, useless. On Jan. 9, a team of researchers led by scientists at Midwestern University Arizona College of Osteopathic Medicine published a review study proposing an answer: the appendix is a secondary immune function that both catalyzes immune cell responses and floods your gut with beneficial bacteria when they've been depleted. And it still plays that role, in a limited fashion, in human body function.

"We can function okay without it, but the appendix does provide some degree of immunity and beneficial bacteria,‚ Heather Smith, an anatomist and lead author of the paper said.
Pentagon Successfully Tests Micro-Drone Swarm
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The Pentagon may soon be unleashing a 21st-century version of locusts on its adversaries after officials on Monday said it had successfully tested a swarm of 103 micro-drones. The important step in the development of new autonomous weapon systems was made possible by improvements in artificial intelligence, holding open the possibility that groups of small robots could act together under human direction. Military strategists have high hopes for such drone swarms that would be cheap to produce and able to overwhelm opponents' defenses with their great numbers. The test of the micro-drone swarm in October included 103 Perdix micro-drones measuring around six inches (16 centimeters) launched from three F/A-18 Super Hornet fighter jets, the Pentagon said in a statement.
An Asteroid Passed By Earth At About Half the Distance Between Our Planet and Moon
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On 9 Jan 2017 at 7:47 A.M. EST, an asteroid thought to be between 36 and 111 feet wide passed roughly 120,000 miles from Earth -- and astronomers didn't spot it until Saturday.

Smithsonian reports:
According to astronomer Eric Edelman at the Slooh Observatory, 2017 AG13 is an Aten asteroid, or a space rock with an orbital distance from the sun similar to that of Earth. AG13 also has a particularly elliptical orbit, which means that as it circles the sun it also crosses through the orbits of both Venus and Earth. Lucky for us, 2017 AG13 wasn't a planet killer; according to Wall, the asteroid was in the size range of the space rock that exploded in Earth's atmosphere over Chelyabinsk, Russia, in February, 2013. According to Deborah Byrd at EarthSky, that meteor exploded 12 miles in the atmosphere, releasing 30 times the energy of the Hiroshima nuclear bomb. Not only did it break windows in six cities, it also sent 1,500 people to the hospital. That meteor also came out of the blue, and researchers are still trying to figure out its orbit and track down its origins. While 2017 AG13 would have caused minor damage if it hit Earth, the close call highlights the dangers of asteroids.
MIT Unveils New Material That's Strongest and Lightest On Earth
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A team of MIT researchers have created the world's strongest and lightest material known to man using graphene.

Futurism reports:
Graphene, which was heretofore, the strongest material known to man, is made from an extremely thin sheet of carbon atoms arranged in two dimensions. But there's one drawback: while notable for its thinness and unique electrical properties, it's very difficult to create useful, three-dimensional materials out of graphene. Now, a team of MIT researchers discovered that taking small flakes of graphene and fusing them following a mesh-like structure not only retains the material's strength, but the graphene also remains porous. Based on experiments conducted on 3D printed models, researchers have determined that this new material, with its distinct geometry, is actually stronger than graphene -- making it 10 times stronger than steel, with only five percent of its density. The discovery of a material that is extremely strong but exceptionally lightweight will have numerous applications. As MIT reports: "The new findings show that the crucial aspect of the new 3-D forms has more to do with their unusual geometrical configuration than with the material itself, which suggests that similar strong, lightweight materials could be made from a variety of materials by creating similar geometric features."
Scientists Create 3D Bioprinter Capable of Printing Living Human Skin
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Spanish scientists say they have developed a prototype 3D printer that is capable of printing "functional" human skin that can be used for transplant patients, as well as an ethical alternative to animal testing. The so-called bioprinter uses special "ink" consisting of human cells and other biological components to reproduce the natural structure of the skin, including the external epidermis and the deeper dermis layer. These "bio inks" are deposited from special injectors onto a print bed to produce skin that is bioactive and capable of producing its own human collagen, the researchers claim. This means that the 3D-printed skin is, in essence, living tissue, making it suitable for treating burn patients and for testing cosmetic, chemical and pharmaceutical products. According to UC3M, the technology could be used to print other human tissues, although first it needs to be approved by regulators in order to ensure the skin it produces is fit for use on human patients.
ISIS Is Dropping Bombs With Drones In Iraq
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In addition to rifles, mortars, artillery and suicidal car bombs, ISIS has recently added commercial drones, converted into tiny bombs, into the mix of weapons it uses to fight in Iraq. In October, The New York Times reported that the Islamic State was using small consumer drones rigged with explosives to fight Kurdish forces in Iraq. Two Kurdish soldiers died dismantling a booby-trapped ISIS drone. Several months later and it appears the use of drones on the battlefield is becoming more prevalent.

Popular Science reports:
Previously, we've seen ISIS scratch-build drones, and as Iraqi Security Forces retook parts of Mosul, they discovered a vast infrastructure of workshops (complete with quality control) for building standardized munitions, weapons, and explosives. These drone bombers recently captured by Iraqi forces and shared with American advisors appear to be commercial, off-the-shelf models, adapted to carry grenade-sized payloads. "It's not as if it is a large, armed UAV [unmanned aerial vehicle] that is dropping munitions from the wings -- but literally, a very small quadcopter that drops a small munition in a somewhat imprecise manner," [Col. Brett] Sylvia, commander of an American military advising mission in Iraq, told Military Times. "They are very short-range, targeting those front-line troops from the Iraqis." Because the drones used are commercial models, it likely means that anti-drone weapons already on hand with the American advisors are sufficient to stop them. It's worth noting that the bomb-dropping drones are just a small part of how ISIS uses the cheap, unmanned flying machines. Other applications include scouts and explosive decoys, as well as one-use weapons. ISIS is also likely not the first group to figure out how to drop grenades from small drones; it's a growing field of research and development among many violent, nonstate actors and insurgent groups. Despite the relative novelty, it's also likely not the deadliest thing insurgents can do with drones.
New Wyoming Bill Penalizes Utilities Using Renewable Energy
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An anonymous reader quotes a Christian Science Monitor report on "a bill that would essentially ban large-scale renewable energy" in Wyoming.

The new Wyoming bill would forbid utilities from using solar or wind sources for their electricity by 2019, according to Inside Climate News... The bill would require utilities to use "eligible resources" to meet 95 percent of Wyoming's electricity needs in 2018, and all of its electricity needs in 2019. Those "eligible resources" are defined solely as coal, hydroelectric, natural gas, nuclear, oil, and individual net metering... Utility-scale wind and solar farms are not included in the bill's list of "eligible resources," making it illegal for Wyoming utilities to use them in any way if the legislation passes. The bill calls for a fine of $10 per megawatt-hour of electricity from a renewable source to be slapped on Wyoming utilities that provide power from unapproved sources to in-state customers.

The bill also prohibits utilities from raising rates to cover the cost of those penalties, though utilities wouldn't be penalized if they exported that energy to other states. But one local activist described it as 'talking-point' legislation, and even the bill's sponsor gives it only a 50% chance of passing.
Tech Firm Creates Trump Monitor For Stock Markets
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London-based fintech firm Trading.co.uk is launching an app that will generate trading alerts for shares based on Donald Trump social media comments. Keeping one eye on the U.S. President-elect's personal Twitter feed has become a regular pastime for the fund managers and traders. Trump knocked several billion off the value of pharmaceutical stocks a week ago by saying they were "getting away with murder" with their prices. Comments earlier this week on China moved the dollar and a pair of December tweets sent the share prices of Lockheed Martin and Boeing spiraling lower. That plays to the growing group of technology startups that use computing power to process millions of messages posted online every day and generate early warnings on when shares are likely to move. Trading.co.uk chief Gareth Mann said the Trump signal generator used artificial intelligence technology to differentiate between tweets or other messages that, for example, just mention Boeing and those liable to move markets.
How the Human Brain Decides What Is Important and What's Not
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A new study reported by Neuroscience News sheds light on how we learn to pay attention in order to make the most of our life experiences. From the report: "The Wizard of Oz told Dorothy to 'pay no attention to that man behind the curtain' in an effort to distract her, but a new Princeton University study sheds light on how people learn and make decisions in real-world situations. The findings could eventually contribute to improved teaching and learning and the treatment of mental and addiction disorders in which people's perspectives are dysfunctional or fractured. Participants in the study performed a multidimensional trial-and-error learning task, while researchers scanned their brains using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). The researchers found that selective attention is used to determine the value of different options. The results also showed that selective attention shapes what we learn when something unexpected happens. For example, if your pizza is better or worse than expected, you attribute the learning to whatever your attention was focused on and not to features you decided to ignore. Finally, the researchers found that what we learn through this process teaches us what to pay attention to, creating a feedback cycle -- we learn about what we attend to, and we attend to what we learned high values for. 'If we want to understand learning, we can't ignore the fact that learning is almost always done in a multidimensional 'cluttered' environment,' says senior author Yael Niv, an associate professor in psychology and the Princeton Neuroscience Institute. 'We want kids to listen to the teacher, but a lot is going on in the classroom -- there is so much to look at inside it and out the window. So, it's important to understand how exactly attention and learning interact and how they shape each other.'"
Robotic Sleeve Mimics Muscles To Keep a Heart Beating
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5.7 million adults in the United States have heart failure each year with about 41 million worldwide. Currently, treatment involves surgically implanting a mechanical pump, called a ventricular assist device (VAD), into the heart. The VAD helps maintains the heart's function. But patients with VADs are at high risk for getting blood clots and having a stroke. Researchers at Harvard University and Boston Children's Hospital have created a soft robotic sleeve that doesn't have to be implanted. The robotic sleeve slips around the outside of the heart, squeezing it in sync with the natural rhythm.

"This work represents an exciting proof of concept result for this soft robot, demonstrating that it can safely interact with soft tissue and lead to improvements in cardiac function," Conor Walsh, said in a press statement. Seeker reports: "The sleeve they developed is made from thin silicone and attaches to the outside of the heart with a combination of suction devices and sutures. It relies on soft, air-powered actuators that twist and compress in a way that's similar to the outer layer of muscle of a human heart. A gel coating reduces any friction between the sleeve and the organ. Because the sleeve is soft and flexible, it can be customized to fit not just the size and shape of individual hearts, but augment the organ's weaknesses. For example, if a patient's heart is weaker on the left side than the right, the sleeve can be tuned to squeeze with more authority on the left side. As the organ gains strength, the device can be adjusted." The study has been published in the journal Science Translational Medicine.
Scientists Predict Star Collision Visible To The Naked Eye In 2022
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Scientists predict that a pair of stars in the constellation Cygnus will collide in 2022, give or take a year, creating an explosion in the night sky so bright that it will be visible to the naked eye.

From a report on NPR:
If it happens, it would be the first time such an event was predicted by scientists. Calvin College professor Larry Molnar and his team said in a statement that two stars are orbiting each other now and "share a common atmosphere, like two peanuts sharing a single shell." They predict those two stars, jointly called KIC 9832227, will eventually "merge and explode ... at which time the star will increase its brightness ten thousand fold becoming one of the brighter stars in the heavens for a time." That extra-bright star is called a red nova. They recently presented their research at a meeting of the American Astronomical Society in Grapevine, Texas.
A Federal Judge's Decision Could End Patent Trolling
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"Forcing law firms to pay defendants' legal bills could undermine the business model of patent trolls," reports Computerworld.

Patent trolls rely on the fact that they have no assets and, if they lose a case, they can fold the company that owned the patent and sued, thus avoiding paying any of the defendant's legal bills. However in a recent case, the judge told the winning defendant that it can claim its legal bills from the law firm. The decision is based on the plaintiff's law firm using a contract under which it would take a portion of any judgment, making it more than just counsel, but instead a partner with the plaintiff. This will likely result in law firms wanting to be paid up front, instead of offering a contingency-based fee.

The federal judge's decision "attacks the heart of the patent-troll system," according to the article, which adds that patent trolls are "the best evidence that pure evil exists."
US Government Offers $25,000 Prize For Inventing A Way To Secure IoT Devices
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America's Federal Trade Commission has announced a $25,000 prize for whoever creates the best tool for securing consumers' IoT devices. The so-called "IoT Home Inspector Challenge" asks participants to create something that will work on current, already-on-the-market IoT devices, with extra points also awarded for scalability ad easy of use.

"Contestants have the option of adding features, such as those that would address hard-coded, factory default, or easy-to-guess passwords," according to the official site, but "The tool would, at a minimum, help protect consumers from security vulnerabilities caused by out-of-date software." The winning submission can't be just a policy (or legal) solution, and will be judged by a panel which includes two computer science professors and a vulnerability researcher from Carnegie Mellon University's CERT Coordination Center.
Living Near Heavy Traffic Increases Risk of Dementia, Study Finds
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People living near a busy road have an increased risk of dementia, according to research that adds to concerns about the impact of air pollution on human health. Roughly one in 10 cases of Alzheimer's in urban areas could be associated with living amid heavy traffic, the study estimated -- although the research stopped short of showing that exposure to exhaust fumes causes neurodegeneration. Previously, scientists have linked air pollution and traffic noise to reduced density of white matter (the brain's connective tissue) and lower cognition. A recent study suggested that magnetic nano-particles from air pollution can make their way into brain tissue. The latest study, published in The Lancet, found that those who live closest to major traffic arteries were up to 12% more likely to be diagnosed with dementia -- a small but significant increase in risk.

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