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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.

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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
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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