Bill Pringle - Bill@BillPringle

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Interesting Articles

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

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

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

Article Description/Comments
Rosetta Probe Reveals What a Comet Smells Like
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If you like the smell of rotten eggs, horse urine, formaldehyde, bitter almonds, alcohol, vinegar with a hint of sweet ether, you'd love the smell of a comet . Researchers at the University of Bern, in Switzerland, determined the odor of 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko comet by analyzing the chemicals in its coma, the fuzzy head surrounding the nucleus. The molecules were collected by an instrument aboard the Rosetta spacecraft, which has been flying in tandem with the comet.
Law Lets IRS Seize Accounts On Suspicion, No Crime Required
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The IRS admits to seizing hundreds of thousands of dollars of private assets , without any proof of illegal activity, merely because there is a law that lets them do it. From the article: "Using a law designed to catch drug traffickers, racketeers and terrorists by tracking their cash, the government has gone after run-of-the-mill business owners and wage earners without so much as an allegation that they have committed serious crimes. The government can take the money without ever filing a criminal complaint, and the owners are left to prove they are innocent. Many give up and settle the case for a portion of their money.

'They're going after people who are really not criminals,' said David Smith, a former federal prosecutor who is now a forfeiture expert and lawyer in Virginia. 'They're middle-class citizens who have never had any trouble with the law.'" The article describes several specific cases, all of which are beyond egregious and are in fact entirely unconstitutional. The Bill of Rights is very clear about this: The federal government cannot take private property without just compensation."
Cancer-killing stem cells engineered in lab
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Scientists from Harvard Medical School have discovered a way of turning stem cells into killing machines to fight brain cancer.

In experiments on mice, the stem cells were genetically engineered to produce and secrete toxins which kill brain tumours, without killing normal cells or themselves.

Researchers said the next stage was to test the procedure in humans.

A stem cell expert said this was "the future" of cancer treatment.
Verizon Injects Unique IDs Into HTTP Traffic
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Verizon Wireless, the nation's largest wireless carrier, is now also a real-time data broker. According to a security researcher at Stanford, Big Red has been adding a unique identifier to web traffic. The purpose of the identifier is advertisement targeting, which is bad enough. But the design of the system also functions as a 'supercookie' for any website that a subscriber visits. "Any website can easily track a user, regardless of cookie blocking and other privacy protections. No relationship with Verizon is required. ...while Verizon offers privacy settings, they dont prevent sending the X-UIDH header. All they do, seemingly, is prevent Verizon from selling information about a user."
Just like they said they would.
Decades-old Scientific Paper May Hold Clues To Dark Matter
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Here's one reason libraries hang on to old science journals: A paper from an experiment conducted 32 years ago may shed light on the nature of dark matter, the mysterious stuff whose gravity appears to keep the galaxies from flying apart. The old data put a crimp in the newfangled concept of a 'dark photon' and suggest that a simple bargain-basement experiment could put the idea to the test. The data come from E137, a "beam dump" experiment that ran from 1980 to 1982 at SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory in Menlo Park, California. In the experiment, physicists slammed a beam of high-energy electrons, left over from other experiments, into an aluminum target to see what would come out. Researchers placed a detector 383 meters behind the target, on the other side of a sandstone hill 179 meters thick that blocked any ordinary particles.
Stem Cells Grown From Patient's Arm Used To Replace Retina
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The Globe and Mail is reporting the success of a procedure to implant a replacement retina grown from cells from the patient's skin. Quoting: "Transplant doctors are stepping gingerly into a new world, one month after a Japanese woman received the first-ever tissue transplant using stem cells that came from her own skin, not an embryo. On Sept. 12, doctors in a Kobe hospital replaced the retina of a 70-year-old woman suffering from macular degeneration, the leading cause of blindness in the developed world. The otherwise routine surgery was radical because scientists had grown the replacement retina in a petri dish, using skin scraped from the patient's arm.

The Japanese woman is fine and her retinal implant remains in place. Researchers around the world are now hoping to test other stem-cell-derived tissues in therapy. Dr. Jeanne Loring from the Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla, Calif., expects to get approval within a few years to see whether neurons derived from stem cells can be used to treat Parkinson's disease."
6,000 Year Old Temple Unearthed In Ukraine
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A massive archaeological dig of an ancient Ukrainian village first begun in 2009 has yielded a discovery that I sort of hope ends up inspiring a video game: a massive, scary-sounding temple. From the article: "Inside the temple, archaeologists found the remains of eight clay platforms, which may have been used as altars, the finds suggested. A platform on the upper floor contains "numerous burnt bones of lamb, associated with sacrifice," write Burdo and Videiko, of the Institute of Archaeology of the National Academy of Sciences of Ukraine. The floors and walls of all five rooms on the upper floor were "decorated by red paint, which created [a] ceremonial atmosphere." Maybe this is what Putin has been after.
Oldest Human Genome Reveals When Our Ancestors Mixed With Neanderthals
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DNA recovered from a femur bone in Siberia belongs to a man who lived 45,000 years ago, according to a new study. His DNA was so well preserved that scientists were able to sequence his entire genome, making his the oldest complete modern human genome on record. Like present-day Europeans and Asians, the man has about 2% Neanderthal DNA . But his Neanderthal genes are clumped together in long strings, as opposed to chopped up into fragments, indicating that he lived not long after the two groups swapped genetic material. The man likely lived 7000 to 13,000 years after modern humans and Neanderthals mated, dating the mixing to 52,000 to 58,000 years ago, the researchers conclude. That's a much smaller window than the previous best estimate of 37,000 to 86,000 years ago.
Astronomers Find Brightest Pulsar Ever Observed
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Astronomers using the Chandra X-ray Observatory and the NuSTAR satellite have discovered a pulsar so bright that it challenges how scientists think pulsars work. While observing galaxy M82 in hopes of spotting supernovae, the researchers found an unexpected source of X-rays very close to the galaxy's core. It was near another source, thought to be a black hole. But the new one was pulsing, which black holes don't do. The trouble is that according to known pulsar models, it's about 100 times brighter than the calculated limits to its luminosity (abstract). Researchers used a different method to figure out its mass, and the gap shrank, but it's still too bright to fit their theories.
What It Took For SpaceX To Become a Serious Space Company
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The Atlantic has a nice profile of SpaceX's rise to prominence how a private startup managed to successfully compete with industry giants like Boeing in just a decade of existence. "Regardless of its inspirations, the company was forced to adopt a prosaic initial goal: Make a rocket at least 10 times cheaper than is possible today. Until it can do that, neither flowers nor people can go to Mars with any economy. With rocket technology, Musk has said, "you're really left with one key parameter against which technology improvements must be judged, and that's cost." SpaceX currently charges $61.2 million per launch. Its cost-per-kilogram of cargo to low-earth orbit, $4,653, is far less than the $14,000 to $39,000 offered by its chief American competitor, the United Launch Alliance. Other providers often charge $250 to $400 million per launch; NASA pays Russia $70 million per astronaut to hitch a ride on its three-person Soyuz spacecraft. SpaceX's costs are still nowhere near low enough to change the economics of space as Musk and his investors envision, but they have a plan to do so (of which more later)."
Cell Transplant Allows Paralyzed Man To Walk
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A breakthrough medical treatment that has restored the ability to walk to a man who was paralyzed from the chest down after his spinal cord was severed in a knife attack. A research team from the UK, led by Professor Geoff Raisman, transplanted cells from the patient's nose, along with strips of nerve tissue from his ankle, to the place where the spine was severed. This allowed the fibers in the spinal cord to gradually reconnect. The treatment used olfactory ensheathing cells (OECs) - specialist cells that form part of the sense of smell. ... In the first of two operations, surgeons removed one of the patient's olfactory bulbs and grew the cells in culture. Two weeks later they transplanted the OECs into the spinal cord, which had been cut through in the knife attack apart from a thin strip of scar tissue on the right. They had just a drop of material to work with - about 500,000 cells. About 100 micro-injections of OECs were made above and below the injury. Four thin strips of nerve tissue were taken from the patient's ankle and placed across an 8mm (0.3in) gap on the left side of the cord. ... Two years after the treatment, he can now walk outside the rehabilitation center using a frame.
Your Online TV Watching Can Now Be Tracked Across Devices
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A partnership between TV measurement company Nielsen and analytics provider Adobe, announced today, will let broadcasters see (in aggregate and anonymized) how people interact with digital video between devices — for example if you begin watching a show on Netflix on your laptop, then switch to a Roku set-top box to finish it. The information learned will help broadcasters decide what to charge advertisers, and deliver targeted ads to viewers. Broadcasters can use the new Nielsen Digital Content Ratings, as they're called, beginning early next year. Early users include ESPN, Sony Pictures Television, Turner Broadcasting and Viacom.
Mars Orbiter Beams Back Images of Comet's Surprisingly Tiny Nucleus
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The High-Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) camera on board NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) has become the first instrument orbiting Mars to beam back images of comet Siding Spring's nucleus and coma. And by default, it has also become the first ever mission to photograph a long-period comet's pristine nucleus on its first foray into the inner solar system. Interestingly, through analysis of these first HiRISE observations, astronomers have determined that the icy nucleus at the comet's core is much smaller than originally thought. "Telescopic observers had modeled the size of the nucleus as about half a mile, or one kilometer, wide," writes a NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory news release. "However, the best HiRISE images show only two to three pixels across the brightest feature, probably the nucleus, suggesting a size less than half that estimate."
32 Cities Want To Challenge Big Telecom, Build Their Own Gigabit Networks
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More than two dozen cities in 19 states announced today that they're sick of big telecom skipping them over for internet infrastructure upgrades and would like to build gigabit fiber networks themselves and help other cities follow their lead. The Next Century Cities coalition, which includes a couple cities that already have gigabit fiber internet for their residents, was devised to help communities who want to build their own broadband networks navigate logistical and legal challenges to doing so.
China Staging a Nationwide Attack On iCloud and Microsoft Accounts
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According to The Verge and an original report from the site that monitor's China's Great Firewall activity, China is conducting a large-scale attack on iCloud and Microsoft accounts using its government firewall software. Chinese users may be facing an unpleasant surprise as they are directed to a dummy site designed to look like an Apple login page (or a Microsoft one, as appropriate).
The Woman Who Should Have Been the First Female Astronaut
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We like to think of the Mercury 7 — the very first group of NASA astronauts — as the "best of the best," having been chosen from a pool of over 500 of the top military test pilots after three rounds of intense physical and mental tests. Yet when women were allowed to take the same tests, one of them clearly distinguished herself, outperforming practically all of the men. If NASA had really believed in merit, Jerrie Cobb would have been the first female in space, even before Valentina Tereshkova, more than 50 years ago. She still deserves to go.
Court Rules Parents May Be Liable For What Their Kids Post On Facebook
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Parents can be held liable for what their kids post on Facebook, a Georgia appellate court ruled in a decision that lawyers said marked a legal precedent on the issue of parental responsibility over their children's online activity. The Georgia Court of Appeals ruled that the parents of a seventh-grade student may be negligent for failing to get their son to delete a fake Facebook profile that allegedly defamed a female classmate.
Trans-Pacific Partnership May Endanger World Health, Newly Leaked Chapter Shows
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WikiLeaks has released an updated version of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) chapter on intellectual property. The new version of the texts, dated May 2014, show that little improvement has been made to sections critics say would hurt free speech online. Further, some of the TPP's stipulations could have dire consequences for healthcare in developing nations. The Daily Dot reports: "Nearly all of the changes proposed by the U.S. advantage corporate entities by expanding monopolies on knowledge goods, such as drug patents, and impose restrictive copyright policies worldwide. If it came into force, TPP would even allow pharmaceutical companies to sue the U.S. whenever changes to regulatory standards or judicial decisions affected their profits. Professor Brook K. Baker of Northeastern U. School of Law [said] that the latest version of the TPP will do nothing less than lengthen, broaden, and strengthen patent monopolies on vital medications."
How Nigeria Stopped Ebola
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Americans need only look to Nigeria to calm their fears about an Ebola outbreak in the US. Nigeria is much closer to the West Africa outbreak than the US is, yet even after Ebola entered the country in the most terrifying way possible — via a visibly sick passenger on a commercial flight — officials successfully shut down the disease and prevented widespread transmission. If there are still no new cases on October 20, the World Health Organization will officially declare the country "Ebola-free." Here's how Nigeria did it.

The first person to bring Ebola to Nigeria was Patrick Sawyer, who left a hospital in Liberia against the wishes of the medical staff and flew to Nigeria. Once Sawyer arrived, it became obvious that he was ill when he passed out in the Lagos airport, and he was taken to a hospital in the densely packed city of 20 million. Once the country's first Ebola case was confirmed, Port Health Services in Nigeria started a process called contact tracing to limit the spread of the disease and created an emergency operations center to coordinate and oversee the national response. Health officials used a variety of resources, including phone records and flight manifests, to track down nearly 900 people who might have been exposed to the virus via Sawyer or the people he infected. As soon as people developed symptoms suggestive of Ebola, they were isolated in Ebola treatment facilities. Without waiting to see whether a "suspected" case tested positive, Nigeria's contact tracing team tracked down everyone who had had contact with that patient since the onset of symptoms making a staggering 18,500 face-to-face visits.

The US has many of these same procedures in place for containing Ebola, making the risk of an outbreak here very low. Contact tracing is exactly what is happening in Dallas right now; if any one of Thomas Eric Duncan's contacts shows symptoms, that person will be immediately isolated and tested. "That experience shows us that even in the case in Nigeria, when we found out later in the timeline that this patient had Ebola, that Nigeria was able to identify contacts, institute strict infection control procedures and basically bring their outbreak to a close," says Dr. Tom Inglesby. "They did a good job in and of themselves. They worked closely with the U.S. CDC. If we can succeed in Nigeria I do believe we will stop it here."
If Your Cloud Vendor Goes Out of Business, Are You Ready?
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With Amazon Web Services losing an estimated $2 billion a year, it's not inconceivable that the cloud industry could go the way of storage service providers (remember them?). So any plan for cloud services must include a way to retrieve your data quickly in case your cloud service provider goes belly up without much notice (think Nirvanix). In an article at Enterprise Storage Forum, Henry Newman notes that recovering your data from the cloud quickly is a lot harder than you might think. Even if you have a dedicated OC-192 channel, it would take 11 days to move a petabyte of data – and that's with no contention or other latency. One possible solution: a failover agreement with a second cloud provider – and make sure it's legally binding.
MAVEN Spies Mars' Atmosphere Leaching Out Into Space
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Early results from NASA's recently arrived MAVEN Mars spacecraft show an extensive, tenuous cloud of hydrogen surrounding the red planet, the result of water breaking down in the atmosphere, scientists said Tuesday. MAVEN, an acronym for Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution, arrived on Sept. 21 to help answer questions about what caused a planet that was once warm and wet to turn into the cold, dry desert that appears today. "It's measurements like these that will allow us to estimate the escape rate of hydrogen from the Martian atmosphere to space today. It's an important measurement to make because the hydrogen ... comes from water lower down in the atmosphere," MAVEN scientist Mike Chaffin, with the University of Colorado, Boulder, told reporters on a conference call.
Wind Power Is Cheaper Than Coal, Leaked Report Show
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A leaked report shows wind is the cheapest energy source in Europe, beating the presumably dirt-cheap coal and gas by a mile. Conventional wisdom holds that clean energy is more expensive than its fossil-fueled counterparts. Yet cost comparisons show that renewable energy sources are often cheaper than their carbon-heavy competition. The report (PDF) demonstrates that if you were to take into account mining, pollution, and adverse health impacts of coal and gas, wind power would be the cheapest source of energy.
VeraCrypt Is the New TrueCrypt -- and It's Better
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If you're looking for an alternative to TrueCrypt, you could do worse than VeraCrypt, which adds iterations and corrects weaknesses in TrueCrypt's API, drivers and parameter checking. According to the article, "In technical terms, when a system partition is encrypted, TrueCrypt uses PBKDF2-RIPEMD160 with 1,000 iterations. For standard containers and other (i.e. non system) partitions, TrueCrypt uses at most 2,000 iterations. What Idrassi did was beef up the transformation process. VeraCrypt uses 327,661 iterations of the PBKDF2-RIPEMD160 algorithm for system partitions, and for standard containers and other partitions it uses 655,331 iterations of RIPEMD160 and 500,000 iterations of SHA-2 and Whirlpool, he said. While this makes VeraCrypt slightly slower at opening encrypted partitions, it makes the software a minimum of 10 and a maximum of about 300 times harder to brute force."
First Man To Walk In Space Reveals How Mission Nearly Ended In Disaster
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Nearly fifty years after the first spacewalk by soviet cosmonaut Alexei Leonov, he's given a rare interview to the BBC revealing how the mission very nearly ended in disaster. Minutes after he stepped into space, Leonov realised his suit had inflated like a balloon, preventing him from getting back inside. Later on, the cosmonauts narrowly avoided being obliterated in a huge fireball when oxygen levels soared inside the craft. And on the way back to Earth, the crew was exposed to enormous G-forces, landing hundreds of kilometres off target in a remote corner of Siberia populated by wolves and bears.
Independent Researchers Test Rossi's Alleged Cold Fusion Device For 32 Days
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The E-Cat (or "Energy Catalyzer") is an alleged cold fusion device that produces heat from a low-energy nuclear reaction where nickel and hydrogen fuse into copper. Previous reports have tended to suggest the technology is a hoax, and the inventor Andrea Rossi's reluctance to share details of the device haven't helped the situation. ExtremeTech now reports that "six (reputable) researchers from Italy and Sweden" have "observed a small E-Cat over 32 days, where it produced net energy of 1.5 megawatt-hours, "far more than can be obtained from any known chemical sources in the small reactor volume."... "The researchers, analyzing the fuel before and after the 32-day burn, note that there is an isotope shift from a "natural" mix of Nickel-58/Nickel-60 to almost entirely Nickel-62 — a reaction that, the researchers say, cannot occur without nuclear reactions (i.e. fusion)." The paper (PDF) linked in the article concludes that the E-cat is "a device giving heat energy compatible with nuclear transformations, but it operates at low energy and gives neither nuclear radioactive waste nor emits radiation. From basic general knowledge in nuclear physics this should not be possible. Nevertheless we have to relate to the fact that the experimental results from our test show heat production beyond chemical burning, and that the E-Cat fuel undergoes nuclear transformations. It is certainly most unsatisfying that these results so far have no convincing theoretical explanation, but the experimental results cannot be dismissed or ignored just because of lack of theoretical understanding. Moreover, the E-Cat results are too conspicuous not to be followed up in detail. In addition, if proven sustainable in further tests the E-Cat invention has a large potential to become an important energy source."

The observers understandably hedge a bit, though:

The researchers are very careful about not actually saying that cold fusion/LENR is the source of the E-Cat’s energy, instead merely saying that an “unknown reaction” is at work. In serious scientific circles, LENR is still a bit of a joke/taboo topic. The paper is actually somewhat comical in this regard: The researchers really try to work out how the E-Cat produces so much darn energy — and they conclude that fusion is the only answer — but then they reel it all back in by adding: “The reaction speculation above should only be considered as an example of reasoning and not a serious conjecture.”
How Spurious Wikipedia Edits Can Attach a Name To a Scandal, 35 Years On
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For more than six years, Wikipedia named an innocent man as a key culprit in the 1978/79 Boston College point shaving scandal. The name Joe Streater was inserted into Wikipedia by an anonymous user in August 2008. The unsourced insertion was never challenged or deleted, and over time, Streater became widely associated with the scandal through newspaper and TV reports as well as countless blogs and fan sites, all of which directly or indirectly copied this spurious fact from Wikipedia. Yet research shows that Streater, whose present whereabouts are unknown, did not even play in the 1978/79 season. Before August 2008, his name was never mentioned in connection with the scandal. As journalists have less and less time for in-depth research, more and more of them seem to be relying on Wikipedia instead, and the online encyclopedia is increasingly becoming a vector for the spread of spurious information.
Indonesian Cave Art May Be World's Oldest
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The world's oldest cave art may not lie in Europe but rather halfway around the globe in Indonesia, according to a new study. The images date to around 40,000 years ago, making them a similar age to cave paintings from Western Europe that represent the world's oldest known cave art. The findings suggest that humans were producing figurative art by around 40,000 years ago at opposite ends of the Pleistocene Eurasian world. Further research is needed to investigate whether rock art was an integral part of the cultural repertoire of the first modern human populations to reach Southeast Asia from Africa, or whether these practices developed independently in different regions.
Eric Schmidt: Anxiety Over US Spying Will "Break the Internet"
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Oregon Senator Ron Wyden gathered a group of tech luminaries to discuss the implications of U.S. surveillance programs, and Google Chairman Eric Schmidt didn't mince words. He said that worries over U.S. surveillance would result in servers with different sets of data for users from different countries multiplying across the world. "The simplest outcome is that we're going to end up breaking the Internet."
Why America Won't Match Sweden's Cheap, Fast, Competitive Internet Services
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Swedish Internet services run both cheaper and faster than American ones. For example, many Swedes can pay about $40 a month for 100/100 mbps, choosing between more than a dozen competing providers. It's all powered by a nationwide web of municipal networks in direct competition with ex-government telecom Telia's fiber backbone. The presence of regional government in the Swedish data stream makes many Americans uncomfortable, to say nothing of the very different histories between these backbone buildouts. The Motley Fool explains how the Swedish model developed, and why the U.S. is unlikely ever to follow suit.
Killer Whales Caught On Tape Speaking Dolphin
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Two years ago, scientists showed that dolphins imitate the sounds of whales. Now, it seems, whales have returned the favor. Researchers analyzed the vocal repertoires of 10 captive orcas, three of which lived with bottlenose dolphins and the rest with their own kind. Of the 1551 vocalizations these seven latter orcas made, more than 95% were the typical pulsed calls of killer whales. In contrast, the three orcas that had only dolphins as pals busily whistled and emitted dolphinlike click trains and terminal buzzes, the scientists report in the October issue of The Journal of the Acoustical Society of America. The findings make orcas one of the few species of animals that, like humans, is capable of vocal learning (video)—a talent considered a key underpinning of language."
Infected ATMs Give Away Millions of Dollars Without Credit Cards
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Kaspersky Lab performed a forensic investigation into cybercriminal attacks targeting multiple ATMs around the world. During the course of this investigation, researchers discovered the Tyupkin malware used to infect ATMs and allow attackers to remove money via direct manipulation, stealing millions of dollars. The criminals work in two stages. First, they gain physical access to the ATMs and insert a bootable CD to install the Tyupkin malware. After they reboot the system, the infected ATM is now under their control and the malware runs in an infinite loop waiting for a command. To make the scam harder to spot, the Tyupkin malware only accepts commands at specific times on Sunday and Monday nights. During those hours, the attackers are able to steal money from the infected machine.
Adobe Spies On Users' eBook Libraries
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Nate at the-digital-reader.com reports that Adobe is spying on any computer that runs Digital Editions 4, the newest version of Adobe's Epub app. They are collecting data about what users are reading, and they're also searching users' computers for e-book files and sending that information too. That includes books not indexed in DE4. All of the data is sent in clear text. This is just another example of DRM going south.
Complain About Comcast, Get Fired From Your Job
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When you complain to your cable company, you certainly don't expect that the cable company will then contact your employer and discuss your complaint. But that's exactly what happened to one former Comcast customer who says he was fired after the cable company called a partner at his accounting firm. Be careful next time when you exercise your first amendment rights.

From the article:
At some point shortly after that call, someone from Comcast contacted a partner at the firm to discuss Conal. This led to an ethics investigation and Conal’s subsequent dismissal from his job; a job where he says he’d only received positive feedback and reviews for his work. Comcast maintained that Conal used the name of his employer in an attempt to get leverage. Conal insists that he never mentioned his employer by name, but believes that someone in the Comcast Controller’s office looked him up online and figured out where he worked. When he was fired, Conal’s employer explained that the reason for the dismissal was an e-mail from Comcast that summarized conversations between Conal and Comcast employees. But Conal has never seen this e-mail in order to say whether it’s accurate and Comcast has thus far refused to release any tapes of the phone calls related to this matter.
First Teleportation of Multiple Quantum Properties of a Single Photon
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Photons have many properties, such as their frequency, momentum, spin and orbital angular momentum. But when it comes to quantum teleportation, physicists have only ever been able to to transmit one of these properties at a time. So the possibility of teleporting a complete quantum object has always seemed a distant dream. Now a team of Chinese physicists has worked out how to teleport more than one quantum property. The team has demonstrated it by teleporting both the spin and orbital angular momentum of single photons simultaneously. They point out that there is no reason in principle why the technique cannot be generalized to include other properties as well, such as a photon's frequency, momentum and so on. That's an important step towards teleporting complex quantum objects in their entirety, such as atoms, molecules and perhaps even small viruses.
AIDS Origin Traced To 1920s Kinshasa
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A new study published in Science (abstract) has traced the origin of HIV/AIDS back to Kinshasa in the 1920s. The authors say Kinshasa, now in the Democratic Republic of Congo, was then undergoing explosive population growth while supporting an abundant sex trade. These factors, combined with the use of unsterilized needles at health clinics and the railways moving a million people in and out of the city each year, conspired to start the pandemic. "HIV is a mutated version of a chimpanzee virus, known as simian immunodeficiency virus, which probably made the species-jump through contact with infected blood while handling bush meat. The virus made the jump on multiple occasions. One event led to HIV-1 subgroup O which affects tens of thousands in Cameroon. Yet only one cross-species jump, HIV-1 subgroup M, went on to infect millions of people across every country in the world."
First Birth From Human Womb Transplant
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The headline sounds like something from the tabloids — "Woman becomes first to give birth from transplanted womb — using one donated from her own mother.'" But it's from The National Post, quoting The Lancet: "The breakthrough was reported by The Lancet medical journal on its website last night. It is thought the birth occurred within the last month after doctors transplanted wombs into several women who had a rare genetic condition that meant they were born without their own womb. In January, one of the patients underwent in-vitro fertilization treatment that resulted in an embryo being transferred to her new womb. The donated womb came from the woman's own mother, so the baby is also the first born to a woman using the same womb from which she emerged herself. In wake of the Lancet article, the Swedish team refused to confirm a baby had been born, saying: "As soon as there is a scientific peer-reviewed paper, we will comment on this. I will provide you with information as soon as we have some." Eight of Dr. Brannstrom's patients received their wombs from close relatives, reducing the risk of their bodies rejecting them." There's nothing at The Lancet online yet."
It's Not Just How Smart You Are: Curiosity Is Key To Learning
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Scientific American reports that a UC Davis study (paywalled) on how learning interacts with curiosity indicates that curiosity can lead to demonstrably better recall.

From the SciAm article: Neuroscientist Charan Ranganath and his fellow researchers asked 19 participants to review more than 100 questions, rating each in terms of how curious they were about the answer. Next, each subject revisited 112 of the questions—half of which strongly intrigued them whereas the rest they found uninteresting—while the researchers scanned their brain activity using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). During the scanning session participants would view a question then wait 14 seconds and view a photograph of a face totally unrelated to the trivia before seeing the answer. Afterward the researchers tested participants to see how well they could recall and retain both the trivia answers and the faces they had seen. Ranganath and his colleagues discovered that greater interest in a question would predict not only better memory for the answer but also for the unrelated face that had preceded it. A follow-up test one day later found the same results—people could better remember a face if it had been preceded by an intriguing question. Somehow curiosity could prepare the brain for learning and long-term memory more broadly."
Marriott Fined $600,000 For Jamming Guest Hotspots
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Marriott will cough up $600,000 in penalties after being caught blocking mobile hotspots so that guests would have to pay for its own Wi-Fi services, the FCC has confirmed today. The fine comes after staff at the Gaylord Opryland Hotel and Convention Center in Nashville, Tennessee were found to be jamming individual hotspots and then charging people up to $1,000 per device to get online. Marriott has been operating the center since 2012, and is believed to have been running its interruption scheme since then. The first complaint to the FCC, however, wasn't until March 2013, when one guest warned the Commission that they suspected their hardware had been jammed.
Satellites Reveal Hidden Features At the Bottom of Earth's Seas
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Oceanographers have a saying: Scientists know more about the surface of Mars than they do about the landscape at the bottom of our oceans. But that may soon change. Using data from satellites that measure variations in Earth's gravitational field, researchers have found a new and more accurate way to map the sea floor. The improved resolution has already allowed them to identify previously hidden features—including thousands of extinct volcanoes more than 1000 meters tall—as well as piece together some lingering uncertainties in Earth's ancient history.
End of an Era: After a 30 Year Run, IBM Drops Support For Lotus 1-2-3
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Although it has been fading for years, the final death knell came recently for the iconic Lotus 1-2-3. In many ways, Lotus 1-2-3 launched the PC era (and ensured the Apple II success), and once was a serious competitor for Excel (and prior to that Multiplan and VisiCalc). Although I doubt if anyone is creating new Lotus 1-2-3 spreadsheets, I'm sure there are spreadsheets still being used who trace their origin to Lotus 1-2-3, and even Office 2013 still has some functions and key compatibility with Lotus 1-2-3. Oh, how far the mighty have fallen.
35,000 Walrus Come Ashore In Alaska
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Lack of sea ice in the Arctic has forced record numbers of walrus to come ashore in Alaska. The walrus, looking for a place to rest have come ashore in Point Lay Alaska. The walrus normally rest on floating ice. "We are witnessing a slow-motion catastrophe in the Arctic," Lou Leonard, vice president for climate change at the World Wildlife Fund, said in a statement that was reported by CNN. "As this ice dwindles, the Arctic will experience some of the most dramatic changes our generation has ever witnessed. This loss will impact the annual migration of wildlife through the region, threaten the long-term health of walrus and polar bear populations, and change the lives of those who rely on the Arctic ecosystem for their way of life.
Obama Administration Argues For Backdoors In Personal Electronics
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Attorney General Eric Holder called it is "worrisome" that tech companies are providing default encryption on consumer electronics, adding that locking authorities out of being able to access the contents of devices puts children at risk. “It is fully possible to permit law enforcement to do its job while still adequately protecting personal privacy,” Holder said at a conference on child sexual abuse, according to a text of his prepared remarks. “When a child is in danger, law enforcement needs to be able to take every legally available step to quickly find and protect the child and to stop those that abuse children. It is worrisome to see companies thwarting our ability to do so.”
Back To Faxes: Doctors Can't Exchange Digital Medical Records
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Doctors with one medical records system can't exchange information with systems made by other vendors, including those at their own hospitals, according to the New York Times. One ophthalmologist spent half a million dollars on a system, but still needs to send faxes to get the information where it needs to go. The largest vendor is Epic Systems, Madison, WI, which holds almost half the medical records in the U.S. A report from RAND described Epic as a "closed" platform that made it "challenging and costly" for hospitals to interconnect.

The situation is bad for patients and costly for medical works: if doctors can't exchange records, they'll face a 1% Medicare penalty, and UC Davis alone has a staff of 22 dedicated to communication. On top of that, Epic charges a fee to send data to some non-Epic systems. Congress has held hearings on the matter, and Epic has hired a lobbyist. Epic's founder, billionaire computer science major Judith Faulkner, said that Epic was one of the first to establish code and standards for secure interchange, which included user authentication provisions and a legally binding contract. She said the federal government, which gave $24 billion in incentive payments to doctors for computerization, should have done that. The Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology said that it was a "top priority" and just recently wrote a 10-year vision statement and agenda for it.
Antarctic Ice Loss Big Enough To Cause Measurable Shift In Earth's Gravity
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Contrary to what we were sometimes taught in high school physics, the Earth's gravity is not constant. It actually shows slight variations on different parts of the Earth's surface, and the variations correlate with the density of the material on that surface. The European Space Agency has been measuring gravity for four years, mapping these variations and recording the changes those variations have undergone. Its data indicates "a significant decrease [in gravity] in the region of Antarctica where land ice is melting fastest. Further analysis is, of course, planned so that the whole of Antarctica can be taken into account and "the clearest picture yet of the pace of global warming" can be determined on that continent.
Medical Records Worth More To Hackers Than Credit Cards
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Reuters reports that your medical information including names, birth dates, policy numbers, diagnosis codes and billing information is worth 10 times more than your credit card number on the black market. Fraudsters use this data to create fake IDs to buy medical equipment or drugs that can be resold, or they combine a patient number with a false provider number and file made-up claims with insurers, according to experts who have investigated cyber attacks on healthcare organizations. Medical identity theft is often not immediately identified by a patient or their provider, giving criminals years to milk such credentials. That makes medical data more valuable than credit cards, which tend to be quickly canceled by banks once fraud is detected. Stolen health credentials can go for $10 each, about 10 or 20 times the value of a US credit card number says Don Jackson, director of threat intelligence at PhishLabs, a cyber crime protection company. He obtained the data by monitoring underground exchanges where hackers sell the information. Plus "healthcare providers and hospitals are just some of the easiest networks to break into," says Jeff Horne. "When I've looked at hospitals, and when I've talked to other people inside of a breach, they are using very old legacy systems — Windows systems that are 10 plus years old that have not seen a patch."
Facebook's Atlas: the Platform For Advertisers To Track Your Movements
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In its most direct challenge to Google yet, Facebook plans to sell ads targeted to its 1.3 billion users when they are elsewhere on the Web. The company is rolling out an updated version of Atlas that will direct ads to people on websites and mobile apps. From the article: "The company said Atlas has been rebuilt 'from the ground up' to cater for today's marketing needs, such as 'reaching people across devices and bridging the gap between online impressions and offline purchases.'"
Researchers Develop Purely Optical Cloaking
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Researchers at the University of Rochester have developed a remarkably effective visual cloak using a relatively simple arrangement of optical lenses. The method is unique in that it uses off-the-shelf components and provides cloaking through the visible spectrum. Also, it works in 3-D. As one researcher put it, "This is the first device that we know of that can do three-dimensional, continuously multidirectional cloaking, which works for transmitting rays in the visible spectrum." Bonus: The article includes instructions to build your own.
The Secret Goldman Sachs Tapes
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The radio program "This American Life" has published an extraordinary investigative report on how the U.S. government regulators in charge of keeping an eye on the banks actually interact with powerful financial institutions (podcast here). Financial journalist Michael Lewis describes the report thus: "The Fed failed to regulate the banks because it did not encourage its employees to ask questions, to speak their minds or to point out problems. Just the opposite: The Fed encourages its employees to keep their heads down, to obey their managers and to appease the banks. That is, bank regulators failed to do their jobs properly not because they lacked the tools but because they were discouraged from using them. The report quotes Fed employees saying things like, 'until I know what my boss thinks I don't want to tell you,' and 'no one feels individually accountable for financial crisis mistakes because management is through consensus.'"
DHL Goes Live With 'Parcelcopter' Drone Delivery Service
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In December, Amazon announced it intends to deliver packages to customers using drones. But its initiative was widely ridiculed for being an over-hyped announcement with little to show for it. This summer, Google demonstrated its own drone-based delivery service, using a fixed-wing aircraft to deliver little packages to farmers in the Australian outback. But now, German delivery firm DHL has beaten the tech firms to the punch, announcing a regular drone delivery service for the first time, nine months after it launched its "parcelcopter" research project in December 2013. The service will use an quadcopter to deliver small parcels to the German island of Juist, a sandbar island 12km into the North Sea from the German coast, inhabited by 2,000 people. Deliveries will include medication and other urgently needed goods. Flying below 50 meters to avoid entering regulated air traffic corridors, the drone takes a fully automated route, carrying a special air-transport container that is extremely lightweight as well as weatherproof.
Flurry of Scans Hint That Bash Vulnerability Could Already Be In the Wild
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The recently disclosed bug in bash was bad enough as a theoretical exploit; now, reports Ars Technica, it could already be being used to launch real attacks. In a blog post yesterday, Robert Graham of Errata Security noted that someone is already using a massive Internet scan to locate vulnerable servers for attack. In a brief scan, he found over 3,000 servers that were vulnerable "just on port 80"—the Internet Protocol port used for normal Web Hypertext Transfer Protocol (HTTP) requests. And his scan broke after a short period, meaning that there could be vast numbers of other servers vulnerable. A Google search by Ars using advanced search parameters yielded over two billion web pages that at least partially fit the profile for the Shellshock exploit.
More bad news: "[T]he initial fix for the issue still left Bash vulnerable to attack, according to a new US CERT National Vulnerability Database entry." And CNET is not the only one to say that Shellshock, which can affect Macs running OS X as well as Linux and Unix systems, could be worse than Heartbleed.
Why India's Mars Probe Was So Cheap
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Alan Boyle has some interesting thoughts on why it cost India so little, less than the budget of the movie Gravity, to build and send its probe Mangalyaan to Mars: 'The $74 million Mars Orbiter Mission, also known by the acronym MOM or the Hindi word Mangalyaan ("Mars-Craft"), didn't just cost less than the $100 million Hollywood blockbuster starring Sandra Bullock. The price tag is a mere one-ninth of the cost of NASA's $671 million Maven mission, which also put its spacecraft into Mars orbit this week. The differential definitely hints at a new paradigm for space exploration — one that's taking hold not only in Bangalore, but around the world. At the same time, it hints at the dramatically different objectives for MOM and Maven, and the dramatically different environments in which those missions took shape.' Read it all. It gives us a hint at the future of space exploration.
Water Discovered In Exoplanet Atmosphere
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Astronomers have detected water vapor in the atmosphere of a planet that orbits a star far beyond our solar system. Observations of the Neptune-sized planet, which lies 120 light years from Earth in the constellation of Cygnus, revealed that its atmosphere was mostly hydrogen with around 25% made up from water va-pour. Until now, researchers have been frustrated in their efforts to study the atmospheres of planets much smaller than Jupiter because their skies were thick with clouds. The problem was so persistent that astronomers had begun to think that all warm, small planets formed with substantial cloud cover. But writing in the journal Nature, scientists in the U.S. describe how they found a Neptune-sized planet with cloud-free skies, enabling them to make detailed measurements of a small planet's atmosphere for the first time.
Depression and Suicide: A Personal Blog
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A friend of mine wrote this excellent article. Please share this with anybody who might benefit.

This is the first of three blogs on this topic. Robin Williams committed suicide during the writing of these blogs. This blog is dedicated to him.
Physicist Claims Black Holes Mathematically Don't Exist
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Black holes, the stellar phenomena that continue to capture the imagination of scientists and science fiction authors, may not actually exist. According to a paper published by physics professor Laura Mersini-Houghton at the University of North Carolina and Mathematics Professor Harald Pfeiffer of the University of Toronto, as a collapsing star emits Hawking radiation, it also sheds mass at a rate that suggests it no longer has the density necessary to become a black hole the singularity and event horizon never form. While the arXiv paper with the exact solution has not yet been peer reviewed, the preceding paper by Mersini-Houghton with the approximate solutions was published in Physics Letters B.

"I'm still not over the shock," said Mersini-Houghton. "We've been studying this problem for a more than 50 years and this solution gives us a lot to think about... Physicists have been trying to merge these two theories Einstein's theory of gravity and quantum mechanics for decades, but this scenario brings these two theories together, into harmony."
Physicist Claims Black Holes Mathematically Don't Exist
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Black holes, the stellar phenomena that continue to capture the imagination of scientists and science fiction authors, may not actually exist. According to a paper published by physics professor Laura Mersini-Houghton at the University of North Carolina and Mathematics Professor Harald Pfeiffer of the University of Toronto, as a collapsing star emits Hawking radiation, it also sheds mass at a rate that suggests it no longer has the density necessary to become a black hole the singularity and event horizon never form. While the arXiv paper with the exact solution has not yet been peer reviewed, the preceding paper by Mersini-Houghton with the approximate solutions was published in Physics Letters B.

"I'm still not over the shock," said Mersini-Houghton. "We've been studying this problem for a more than 50 years and this solution gives us a lot to think about... Physicists have been trying to merge these two theories Einstein's theory of gravity and quantum mechanics for decades, but this scenario brings these two theories together, into harmony."
Russia Pledges To Go To the Moon
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Russia's space agency, Roscosmos, has announced it intends to bring humans to the Moon by roughly 2030. Russia plans a full-scale exploration of the Moon's surface. Agency head Oleg Ostapenko said that by the end of the next decade, "based on the results of lunar surface exploration by unmanned space probes, we will designate [the] most promising places for lunar expeditions and lunar bases.
Octopus-Inspired Robot Matches Real Octopus For Speed
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Underwater vehicles have never matched the extraordinary agility of marine creatures. While many types of fish can travel at speeds of up to 10 body lengths per second, a nuclear sub can manage a less than half a body length per second. Now a team of researchers has copied a trick used by octopuses to build an underwater robot capable of matching the agility of marine creatures. This trick is the way an octopus expands the size of its head as it fills with water and then squirts it out to generate propulsion. The team copied this by building a robot with a flexible membrane that also expands as it fills with water.

The fluid then squirts out through a rear-facing nozzle as the membrane contracts. To the team's surprise, the robot reached speeds of 10 body lengths per second with a peak acceleration of 14 body lengths per second squared. That's unprecedented in an underwater vehicle of this kind. What's more, the peak force experienced by the robot was 30 per cent greater than the thrust generated by the jet. The team think they know why and say the new technique could be used to design bigger subs capable of even more impressive octopus-like feats.
Mangalyaan Successfully Put Into Mars Orbit
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India's Mars satellite Mangalyaan was successfully placed into orbit around Mars early on Wednesday following a 10-month journey from Earth. India thus joins the U.S., the European Space Agency and the former Soviet Union in having successfully completed a Mars mission. It is, however, the only one to have done so on the first attempt. Headed by the Indian space agency ISRO, Mangalyaan was made in 15 months at a cost of just around 74 million USD the cheapest inter-planetary mission ever to be undertaken.
2 Mars Missions Set For Arrival, Both Prepare for Orbital Maneuvers
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As reported by the BBC, NASA's Maven Mars orbiter has nearly reached the red planet, and will undergo a 33-minute rocket burn to slow its course.

Monday's big manoeuvre on Maven's engines will place the satellite in a high, elliptical, 35-hour orbit around the planet. Confirmation of capture should be received on Earth shortly after 0220 GMT (2220 EDT Sunday; 0320 BST). "We should have a preliminary answer within just a few minutes after the end of the burn," said [principal investigator professor Bruce] Jakosky. In the coming weeks, engineers will then work to bring Maven into a regular 4.5-hour, operational orbit that takes the probe as close as 150km to Mars but also sends it out to 6,200km.

India's first mission to Mars faces a critical test as it does a similar maneuver -- firing of a rocket to slow its travel as it approaches Mars orbit.
TrueCrypt Gets a New Life, New Name
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Amid ongoing security concerns, the popular open source encryption program TrueCrypt may have found new life under a new name. Under the terms of the TrueCrypt license — which was a homemade open source license written by the authors themselves rather than a standard one — a forking of the code is allowed if references to TrueCrypt are removed from the code and the resulting application is not called TrueCrypt. Thus, CipherShed will be released under a standard open source license, with long-term ambitions to become a completely new product.
Europeans Came From Three Ancestry Groupings
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A recent study by researchers at Harvard Medical School and the University of Tübingen in Germany has found that present day Europeans are descendants of three different groups of people — A near east farmer group, an indigenous hunter gatherer group, and an ancient North Eurasian group from Siberia. "Nearly all Europeans have ancestry from all three ancestral groups," said Iosif Lazaridis, a research fellow in genetics in Reich's lab and first author of the paper. "Differences between them are due to the relative proportions of ancestry. Northern Europeans have more hunter-gatherer ancestry — up to about 50 percent in Lithuanians — and Southern Europeans have more farmer ancestry." The most surprising part of the project, however, was the discovery of the Basal Eurasians. Before Australian Aborigines, New Guineans, South Indians, Native Americans and other indigenous hunter-gatherers split, they split from Basal Eurasians. The study also found that Mediterranean groups such as the Maltese, as well as Ashkenazi Jews, had more Near East ancestry than anticipated, while far northeastern Europeans such as Finns and the Saami, as well as some northern Russians, had more East Asian ancestry in the mix.
Farmers Carry Multidrug-Resistant Staph For Weeks Into Local Communities
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Fresh research out of the UNC Gillings and JHU Bloomberg schools of public health shows industrial farm workers are carrying livestock-associated, multidrug-resistant staph into local communities for weeks at a time. "Among the [22 people tested], 10 workers carried antibiotic-resistant strains of the bacteria in their noses for up to four days. Another six workers were intermittent carriers of the bacteria. The 10 workers found to carry the bacteria persistently had strains associated with livestock that were resistant to multiple drugs, and one also carried MRSA. Three more of the workers tested positive for strains of S. aureus that were not resistant to antibiotics. So in total, 86 percent of the workers in the study carried the S. aureus bacteria, compared with about one-third of the population at large, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention." This problem has grown since its last mention on Slashdot. Unfortunately, massive industrial lobbying continues to neuter government action.
NASA's Manned Rocket Contract: $4.2 Billion To Boeing, $2.6 Billion To SpaceX
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NASA has chosen two companies to ferry astronauts to and from the International Space Station, and those companies are Boeing and SpaceX. This decision confirms that SpaceX is ready to go and gives the company the opportunity to finish the job, while also giving Boeing the chance to show that it can still compete. After NASA has certified that each company has successfully built its spacecraft, SpaceX and Boeing will each fly two to six missions. The certification process will be step-by-step, similar to the methods used in the cargo contracts, and will involve five milestones. The contracts will be paid incrementally as they meet these milestones. One milestone will be a manned flight to the ISS, with one NASA astronaut on board. Boeing will receive $4.2 billion, while SpaceX will get $2.6 billion. These awards were based on what the companies proposed and requested.
FBI Completes New Face Recognition System
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According to a report from Gizmodo, "After six years and over one billion dollars in development, the FBI has just announced that its new biometric facial recognition software system is finally complete. Meaning that, starting soon, photos of tens of millions of U.S. citizen's faces will be captured by the national system on a daily basis. The Next Generation Identification (NGI) program will logs all of those faces, and will reference them against its growing database in the event of a crime. It's not just faces, though. Thanks to the shared database dubbed the Interstate Photo System (IPS), everything from tattoos to scars to a person's irises could be enough to secure an ID. What's more, the FBI is estimating that NGI will include as many as 52 million individual faces by next year, collecting identified faces from mug shots and some job applications." Techdirt points out that an assessment of how this system affects privacy was supposed to have preceded the actual rollout. Unfortunately, that assessment is nowhere to be found.

Two recent news items are related. First, at a music festival in Boston last year, face recognition software was tested on festival-goers. Boston police denied involvement, but were seen using the software, and much of the data was carelessly made available online. Second, both Ford and GM are working on bringing face recognition software to cars. It's intended for safety and security — it can act as authentication and to make sure the driver is paying attention to the road.
Astronomers Find Star-Within-a-Star, 40 Years After First Theorized
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After 40 years, astronomers have likely found a rather strange celestial body known as a Thorne–Zytkow object (TZO), in which a neutron star is absorbed by a red supergiant. Originally predicted in the 1970s, the first non-theoretical TZO was found earlier this year, based on calculations presented in a paper forthcoming in MNRAS.

TZOs were predicted by astronomer Kip Thorne and Anna Zytkow, who wasthen postdoctoral fellow at CalTech. The pair imagined what might happen if a neutron star in a binary system merged with its partner red supergiant. This wouldn't be like two average stars merging. Neutron stars are the ancient remnants of stars that grew too big and exploded. Their cores remain small — about 12.5 miles across — as they shed material out into space. Red supergiants are the largest stars in the galaxy, with radii up to 800 times that of our sun, but they aren't dense.
New Global Plan Would Crack Down On Corporate Tax Avoidance
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Reuters reports that plans for a major rewriting of international tax rules have been unveiled by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) that could eliminate structures that have allowed companies like Google and Amazon to shave billions of dollars off their tax bills. For more than 50 years, the OECD's work on international taxation has been focused on ensuring companies are not taxed twice on the same profits (and thereby hampering trade and limit global growth). But companies have been using such treaties to ensure profits are not taxed anywhere. A Reuters investigation last year found that three quarters of the 50 biggest U.S. technology companies channeled revenues from European sales into low tax jurisdictions like Ireland and Switzerland, rather than reporting them nationally.

For example, search giant Google takes advantage of tax treaties to channel more than $8 billion in untaxed profits out of Europe and Asia each year and into a subsidiary that is tax resident in Bermuda, which has no income tax. "We are putting an end to double non-taxation," says OECD head of tax Pascal Saint-Amans.For the recommendations to actually become binding, countries will have to encode them in their domestic laws or amend their bilateral tax treaties. Even if they do pass, these changes are likely 5-10 years away from going into effect.
Schizophrenia Is Not a Single Disease
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New research from Washington University has found that the condition known as schizophrenia is not just a single disease, but instead a collection of eight different disorders. For years, researchers struggled to understand the genetic basis of schizophrenia. This new method was able to isolate and identify the different conditions (each with its own symptoms) currently classified under the same heading (abstract, full text). "In some patients with hallucinations or delusions, for example, the researchers matched distinct genetic features to patients' symptoms, demonstrating that specific genetic variations interacted to create a 95 percent certainty of schizophrenia. In another group, they found that disorganized speech and behavior were specifically associated with a set of DNA variations that carried a 100 percent risk of schizophrenia." According to one of the study's authors, "By identifying groups of genetic variations and matching them to symptoms in individual patients, it soon may be possible to target treatments to specific pathways that cause problems."
Artificial Spleen Removes Ebola, HIV Viruses and Toxins From Blood Using Magnets
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Harvard scientists have invented a new artificial spleen that is able to clear toxins, fungi and deadly pathogens such as Ebola from human blood, which could potentially save millions of lives. When antibiotics are used to kill them, dying viruses release toxins in the blood that begin to multiply quickly, causing sepsis, a life-threatening condition whereby the immune system overreacts, causing blood clotting, organ damage and inflammation. To overcome this, researchers have invented a "biospleen", a device similar to a dialysis machine that makes use of magnetic nanobeads measuring 128 nanometres in diameter (one-five hundredths the width of a single human hair) coated with mannose-binding lectin (MBL), a type of genetically engineered human blood protein.
Extent of Antarctic Sea Ice Reaches Record Levels
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Apparently, the warming atmosphere is causing an increase in sea ice coverage, but the thickness of ice above land is dropping.
Scientists have declared a new record has been set for the extent of Antarctic sea ice since records began. Satellite imagery reveals an area of about 20 million square kilometers covered by sea ice around the Antarctic continent. Jan Lieser from the Antarctic Climate and Ecosystems Cooperative Research Centre (CRC) said the discovery was made two days ago. "Thirty-five years ago the first satellites went up which were reliably telling us what area, two dimensional area, of sea ice was covered and we've never seen that before, that much area."
European Space Agency Picks Site For First Comet Landing In November
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Europe's Rosetta mission, which aims to land on a comet later this year, has identified what it thinks is the safest place to touch down. From the article: "Scientists and engineers have spent weeks studying the 4km-wide "ice mountain" known as 67P, looking for a location they can place a small robot. They have chosen what they hope is a relatively smooth region on the smaller of the comet's two lobes. But the team is under no illusions as to how difficult the task will be. Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, currently sweeping through space some 440 million km from Earth, is highly irregular in shape. Its surface terrain is marked by deep depressions and towering cliffs. Even the apparently flat surfaces contain potentially hazardous boulders and fractures. Avoiding all of these dangers will require a good slice of luck as well as careful planning.
NASA's deep-space craft readying for launch
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Orion, the agency's newest manned spaceship, is being prepared for its first mission in December. In future missions, it will journey into deep space -- to Mars and beyond -- farther than humans have ever gone before.

Orion comes loaded with superlatives. It boasts the largest heat shield ever built and a computer 400 times faster than the ones on the space shuttles. It will be launched into space on the most powerful rocket NASA has ever made.

No astronauts will be aboard the December flight, which will test the spacecraft's systems for future manned missions.
Medical Milestone: Scientists Reset Human Stem Cells
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news that researchers from the University of Cambridge have made a breakthrough in the production of human pluripotent stem cells. The goal when developing this kind of stem cell is to have them as early in the cell's lifecycle as possible, so that they're more like true embryonic stem cells and can fulfill whatever role is needed. But all of them made so far are advanced slightly down their developmental pathway. The new work, published in the journal Cell (abstract), has found a way to "reset" the cells by introducing two genes that induce a developmental "ground state."
Curiosity Rover Arrives At Long-Term Destination
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When NASA's Curiosity rover landed on Mars, the mission team had a particular destination in mind: Mount Sharp. Just over two years and about nine kilometers of driving later, Curiosity has arrived at Mount Sharp. It will now begin its ascent of the mountain (PDF), first analyzing basal rocks with a "paintbrush" texture, then moving further to observe hematite-bearing rocks further up the slope. It will then proceed into an area laden with clay-bearing rocks, and finally to the upper reaches of the foothills, which contain rocks with magnesium sulfate in them. The team has selected routes and driving modes that they hope will slow the steadily accumulating damage to the rover's wheels.
X-Class Solar Flare Coming Friday
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Satellites have just detected a powerful X1.6-class solar flare. The source was active sunspot AR2158, which is directly facing Earth. NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory recorded the extreme ultraviolet flash. Ionizing radiation from the flare could cause HF radio blackouts and other communications disturbances, especially on the day-lit side of Earth. In the next few hours, when coronagraph data from SOHO and STEREO become available, we will see if a coronal mass ejection (CME) emerges from the blast site. If so, the cloud would likely be aimed directly at Earth and could reach our planet in 2 to 3 days.
Hidden Archeology of Stonehenge Revealed In New Geophysical Map
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Utilizing a comprehensive array of remote sensing technology and non-invasive geophysical survey equipment, researchers working on the site of Stonehenge in Wiltshire, England have revealed hundreds of previously unknown features buried deep beneath the ground as part of the Stonehenge Hidden Landscapes Project. The finds include images of dwellings from the Bronze and Iron Ages as well as details of buried Roman settlements never before seen."
Google Hangouts Gets Google Voice Integration And Free VoIP Calls
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Google will integrate Voice and Hangouts with the launch of its redesigned Hangouts apps for Android and iOS, as well as on the web. Amit Fulay, Product Manager at Google says, "Starting today you can make voice calls from Hangouts on Android, iOS and the web. It's free to call other Hangouts users, it's free to call numbers in the U.S. and Canada, and the international rates are really low. So keeping in touch is easier and more affordable than ever."
Reanalysis of Clinical Trials Finds Misleading Results
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Clinical trials rarely get a second look — and when they do, their findings are not always what the authors originally reported. That's the conclusion of a new study (abstract), which compared how 37 studies that had been reanalyzed measured up to the original. In 13 cases, the reanalysis came to a different outcome — a finding that suggests many clinical trials may not be accurately reporting the effect of a new drug or intervention. Moreover, only five of the reanalyses were by an entirely different set of authors, which means they did not get a neutral relook.

In one of the trials, which examined the efficacy of the drug methotrexate in treating systemic sclerosis—an autoimmune disease that causes scarring of the skin and internal organs—the original researchers found the drug to be not much more effective than the placebo, as they reported in a 2001 paper. However, in a 2009 reanalysis of the same trial, another group of researchers including one of the original authors used Bayesian analysis, a statistical technique to overcome the shortcomings of small data sets that plague clinical trials of rare diseases such as sclerosis. The reanalysis found that the drug was, as it turned out, more effective than the placebo and had a good chance of benefiting sclerosis patients.
SpaceX and Boeing Battle For US Manned Spaceflight Contracts
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$3 billion in funding is on the line as private space companies duke it out for contracts to end U.S. reliance on Russian rockets for manned spaceflight. The two biggest contenders are SpaceX and Boeing, described as "the exciting choice" and "the safe choice," respectively. "NASA is charting a new direction 45 years after sending humans to the Moon, looking to private industry for missions near Earth, such as commuting to and from the space station. Commercial operators would develop space tourism while the space agency focuses on distant trips to Mars or asteroids." It's possible the contracts would be split, giving some tasks to each company. It's also possible that the much smaller Sierra Nevada Corp. could grab a bit of government funding as well for launches using its unique winged-shuttle design.
NASA Panel Finds Fault WIth Curiosity Rover Project's Focus
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The Curiosity Rover that's been exploring the surface of Mars for more than two years now has a lot of fans (and quite a few headlines here on Slashdot), but not everyone feels positively toward the project. Tech Times reports that
NASA revealed on Wednesday that it has renewed the funding of seven ongoing planetary exploration missions but of these, the space agency's Planetary Mission Senior Review panel, which reviewed and rated these planetary missions, was particularly critical of the Curiosity, which also happens to be the newest and the second costliest of the seven missions. The panel is disappointed that given the capabilities of the Curiosity rover, the team behind it only intends to take and analyze eight samples in two years, which translates to two samples from each of the four units it will visit during its extended mission. The Curiosity is the only NASA tool with the capabilities to detect carbon, do in situ age analysis, and measure ionizing particle flux.
Surprise! More Than Twice As Much Mercury In Environment As Thought
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The most comprehensive estimate of mercury released into the environment is putting a new spotlight on the potent neurotoxin. By accounting for mercury in consumer products, such as thermostats, and released by industrial processes, the calculations more than double previous tallies of the amount of mercury that has entered the environment since 1850. The analysis also reveals a previously unknown spike in mercury emissions during the 1970s, caused largely by the use of mercury in latex paint.
Space Station's 'Cubesat Cannon' Has Gone Rogue
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Last night (Thursday), two more of Planet Lab's shoebox-sized Earth imaging satellites launched themselves from aboard the International Space Station, the latest in a series of technical mysteries involving a commercially owned CubeSat deployer located outside Japan's Kibo laboratory module. Station commander Steve Swanson was storing some blood samples in one of the station's freezers Friday morning when he noticed that the doors on NanoRack's cubesat deployer were open, said NASA mission commentator Pat Ryan. Flight controllers at the Johnson Space Center in Houston determined that two CubeSats had been inadvertently released. "No crew members or ground controllers saw the deployment. They reviewed all the camera footage and there was no views of it there either," Ryan said.
Mushroom-Like Deep Sea Organism May Be New Branch of Life
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During a scientific cruise in 1986, scientists collected organisms at water depths of 400m and 1,000m on the south-east Australian continental slope, near Tasmania. But the two types of mushroom-shaped organisms were recognized only recently, after sorting of the bulk samples collected during the expedition. A team of scientists at the University of Copenhagen says the tiny organism does not fit into any of the known subdivisions of the animal kingdom. The organisms are described in the academic journal PLOS ONE. The authors of the paper recognise two new species of mushroom-shaped animal: Dendrogramma enigmatica and Dendrogramma discoides. Measuring only a few millimeters in size, the animals consist of a flattened disc and a stalk with a mouth on the end. One way to resolve the question surrounding Dendrogramma's affinities would be to examine its DNA, but new specimens will need to be found. The team's paper calls for researchers around the world to keep an eye out for other examples.
Newly Discovered Asteroid To Pass Within Geostationary Orbit Sunday
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A newly found asteroid the size of a house will give earth a close flyby this weekend. It will pass just below satellites in geostationary orbit, and above New Zealand around 14:18 EDT / 18:18 GMT / 06:18 NZST this coming Sunday (Monday morning in NZ). "Asteroid 2014 RC was initially discovered on the night of August 31 by the Catalina Sky Survey near Tucson, Arizona, and independently detected the next night by the Pan-STARRS 1 telescope, located on the summit of Haleakal on Maui, Hawaii," NASA officials said in a statement.
Egypt's Oldest Pyramid Is Being Destroyed By Its Own Restoration Team
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The oldest pyramid in Egypt, the Pyramid of Djoserat Saqqara, is being destroyed by the very company the Egyptian government has hired to restore it. The roughly 4,600-year-old structure has been in trouble since an earthquake hit the region in 1992, but in a difficult political and economic climate for the country, those now tasked with preserving the pyramid are said to be doing more harm than good.
Music Training's Cognitive Benefits Could Help "At-Risk" Students
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In recent years, emphasis on standardized testing and basic skills has forced many schools to cut back on things like arts and extracurricular activities. A study out this week from Northwestern University hints that schools may be hurting "at-risk" kids even more by cutting such programs. Just two years of music lessons were shown to have significant effects on brain activity and language processing which the researchers argue could help close achievement gaps between at-risk students and more affluent students. Aside from better brain response to language observed in the lab, practical effects of the interventions were readily apparent: 'Leaders at Harmony Project approached the researchers after the non-profit observed that their students were performing much better than other public school students in the area. Since 2008, over 90 percent of high school seniors who participated in Harmony Project's free music lessons went on to college, even though the high school dropout rates in the surrounding Los Angeles areas can reach up to 50 percent.' Note that this is only one of several ongoing studies showing significant cognitive benefits for music training among at-risk students; an article last year from The Atlantic gives a more detailed summary of related research.
Facebook Blamed For Driving Up Cellphone Bills, But It's Not Alone
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Consumer site MoneySavingExpert.com reported today that it has seen "many complaints" from users who believe a recent increase in data-related charges on their cellphone bills are the result of Facebook's auto-play feature. The default setting for the auto-play feature launches and continues to play videos silently until the user either scrolls past it or clicks on it; if the user does the latter, the video then goes full-screen and activates audio. The silent auto-play occurs regardless of whether users are connected to Wi-Fi, LTE, or 3G.

However, it's likely that Facebook isn't entirely to blame for this kind of trend, but rather, with the debut of its auto-play feature, threw gas on an already growing fire of video-sharing services. Auto-play for video is a default setting on Instagram's app, although the company refers to it as "preload." Instagram only introduced video last summer, after the Vine app, a Twitter-backed app that auto-plays and loops six-second videos, started to see significant growth.
FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler Says Switching ISPs Is Too Hard
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Did you hear about those Comcast service calls from hell that have been cropping up over the last couple months? So did FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler, who said today that switching internet service providers is too damn hard, in part because ISPs have grown used to having a monopoly on broadband services. "Once consumers choose a broadband provider, they face high switching costs that include early-termination fees and equipment rental fees," Wheeler said in a speech today. Wheeler didn't specifically say what the FCC will do (if anything) to change that, but said the answer is to help facilitate more true competition: "If those disincentives to competition weren't enough, the media is full of stories of consumers' struggles to get ISPs to allow them to drop service."
Dreadnoughtus: A New Giant Joins the 'Biggest Dinosaur' Parade
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There's a new contender for the "biggest dinosaur" title, with the imposing name of Dreadnoughtus, but even its lead discoverer says that size isn't everything. What matters the most is the completeness of this Argentinian titanosaur's skeleton — which should help scientists figure out how these ancient monsters lived, and not just how big they were.
Out of the Warehouse: Climate Researchers Rescue Long-Lost Satellite Images
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Once stashed in warehouses in Maryland and North Carolina, images and video captured from orbit by some of NASA's first environmental satellites in the mid-1960s are now yielding a trove of scientific data. The Nimbus satellites, originally intended to monitor Earth's clouds in visible and infrared wavelengths, also would have captured images of sea ice, researchers at the University of Colorado's National Snow and Ice Data Center realized when they heard about the long-lost film canisters in 2009. After acquiring the film—and then tracking down the proper equipment to read and digitize its 16-shades-of-gray images, which had been taken once every 90 seconds or so—the team set about scanning and then stitching the images together using sophisticated software. So far, more than 250,000 images have been made public, including the first image taken by Nimbus-1 ( on 31 August 1964, of an area near the tip of the Antarctic Peninsula. Besides yielding a wealth of sea ice data, the data recovery project, which will end early next year, could also be used to extend satellite records of deforestation and sea surface temperatures.
Low-Carb Diet Trumps Low-Fat Diet In Major New Study
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The NY Times reports on a new study (abstract) showing that low-carb diets have better health benefits than low-fat diets in a test without calorie restrictions. "By the end of the yearlong trial, people in the low-carbohydrate group had lost about eight pounds more on average than those in the low-fat group. They had significantly greater reductions in body fat than the low-fat group, and improvements in lean muscle mass — even though neither group changed their levels of physical activity. While the low-fat group did lose weight, they appeared to lose more muscle than fat. They actually lost lean muscle mass, which is a bad thing,' Dr. Mozaffarian said. 'Your balance of lean mass versus fat mass is much more important than weight. And that's a very important finding that shows why the low-carb, high-fat group did so metabolically well.' ... In the end, people in the low-carbohydrate group saw markers of inflammation and triglycerides — a type of fat that circulates in the blood — plunge. Their HDL, the so-called good cholesterol, rose more sharply than it did for people in the low-fat group. Blood pressure, total cholesterol and LDL, the so-called bad cholesterol, stayed about the same for people in each group."
Researchers Say Neanderthals Created Cave Art
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News of a study that suggests an engraving in Gorham's Cave in Gibraltar was made by Neanderthals more than 39,000 years ago.
Belying their reputation as the dumb cousins of early modern humans, Neanderthals created cave art, an activity regarded as a major cognitive step in the evolution of humankind, scientists reported on Monday in a paper describing the first discovery of artwork by this extinct species. The discovery is "a major contribution to the redefinition of our perception of Neanderthal culture," said prehistorian William Rendu of the French National Centre for Scientific Research, who was not involved in the work. "It is a new and even stronger evidence of the Neanderthal capacity for developing complex symbolic thought" and "abstract expression," abilities long believed exclusive to early modern humans.
Study: Antarctic Sea-Level Rising Faster Than Global Rate
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Melting ice is fuelling sea-level rise around the coast of Antarctica, a new report in Nature Geoscience finds. Near-shore waters went up by about 2mm per year more than the general trend for the Southern Ocean as a whole in the period between 1992 and 2011. Scientists say the melting of glaciers and the thinning of ice shelves are dumping 350 billion tonnes of additional water into the sea annually. This influx is warming and freshening the ocean, pushing up its surface. "Freshwater is less dense than salt water and so in regions where an excess of freshwater has accumulated we expect a localized rise in sea level," explained Dr Craig Rye from the University of Southampton, UK, and lead author on the new journal paper.
Saturn's F Ring Is Now Three Times As Wide As During the Voyager Flybys
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In 1980 and 1981, Voyager 1 and 2 flew past Saturn providing unprecedented images of its magnificent ring system. At that time, its most distant discrete ring, the F ring, was about 200 kilometres wide. But puzzlingly, images sent back by Cassini show that the ring is now 580 kilometres wide and twice as bright as it was thirty years ago. Now astronomers think they have finally solved the mystery of the expanding F ring. The ring is shepherded by a number of small moons, the most famous of which is Prometheus. These moons interact gravitationally with the ring creating structures such as braids and spokes. The new thinking is that the moons' orbits resonate with the F ring, pushing clouds of dust and ice further away from Saturn. This makes the ring wider. But beyond a certain radius the orbit of the dust becomes unstable and it begins to spiral back towards Saturn and collides with the rest of the ring. This causes a chain reaction of collisions that dramatically increases the number of particles in the ring and hence its brightness. This theory also leads to a prediction--the resonant process is currently at a maximum but should reduce sharply in the coming years, if the theory is correct. So by 2018, the F ring should be back to the same configuration the Voyagers saw in 80/81.
States Allowing Medical Marijuana Have Fewer Painkiller Deaths
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Narcotic painkillers aren't one of the biggest killers in the U.S., but overdoses do claim over 15,000 lives per year and send hundreds of thousands to the emergency room. Because of this, it's interesting that a new study (abstract) has found states that allow the use of medical marijuana have seen a dramatic reduction in opioid overdose fatalities. "Previous studies hint at why marijuana use might help reduce reliance on opioid painkillers. Many drugs with abuse potential such as nicotine and opiates, as well as marijuana, pump up the brain's dopamine levels, which can induce feelings of euphoria. The biological reasons that people might use marijuana instead of opioids aren't exactly clear, because marijuana doesn't replace the pain relief of opiates. However, it does seem to distract from the pain by making it less bothersome." This research comes at a time when the country is furiously debating the costs and benefits of marijuana use, and opponents of the idea are paying researchers to paint it in an unfavorable light.
Astronomers Find What May Be the Closest Exoplanet So Far
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Astronomers have found a 5.4 Earth-mass planet orbiting the star Gliese 15A, a red dwarf in a binary system just 11.7 light years away (PDF). Other exoplanets candidates have been found that are closer, but they are as yet unconfirmed. This is more evidence that alien planets are common in the galaxy.
NASA Telescopes Uncover Early Construction of Giant Galaxy
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"Astronomers have uncovered for the first time the earliest stages of a massive galaxy forming in the young Universe. The discovery was made possible through combining observations from the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope, NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope, ESA's Herschel Space Observatory, and the W.M. Keck Observatory in Hawaii. The growing galaxy core is blazing with the light of millions of newborn stars that are forming at a ferocious rate. The paper appears in the journal Nature on 27 August."
Brown Dwarf With Water Clouds Tentatively Detected Just 7 Light-Years From Earth
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Astronomers have found signs of water ice clouds on an object just 7.3 light-years from Earth — less than twice the distance of Alpha Centauri. If confirmed, the discovery is the first sighting of water clouds beyond our solar system. The clouds shroud a Jupiter-sized object known as a brown dwarf and should yield insight into the nature of cool giant planets orbiting other suns.
Comcast Tells Government That Its Data Caps Aren't Actually "Data Caps"
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Customers must pay more if they exceed limits — but it's not a cap, Comcast says. For the past couple of years, Comcast has been trying to convince journalists and the general public that it doesn't impose any "data caps" on its Internet service. ... That's despite the fact that Comcast in some cities enforces limits on the amount of data customers can use and issues financial penalties for using more than the allotment. Comcast has said this type of billing will probably roll out to its entire national footprint within five years, perhaps alongside a pricier option to buy unlimited data. ... Comcast's then-new approach was touted to "effectively offer unlimited usage of our services because customers will have the ability to buy as much data as they want."
Exomoon Detection Technique Could Greatly Expand Potential Habitable Systems
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Most of the detected exoplanets thus far have been gas giants which aren't great candidates for life as we know it. However, many of those planets are in fact in the star's habitable zone and could have moons with conditions more favorable. Until now, methods to detect the moons of such gas giants have been elusive, but researchers at the University of Texas, Arlington have discovered a way to detect the interaction of a moon's ionosphere with the parent gas giant from studies of Jupiter's moon Io. The search for 'Pandora' has begun.
Net Neutrality Is 'Marxist,' According To a Koch-Backed Astroturf Group
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American Commitment, a conservative group with strong ties to the Koch brothers has been bombarding inboxes with emails filled with disinformation and fearmongering in an attempt to start a "grassroots" campaign to kill net neutrality — at one point suggesting that "Marxists" think that preserving net neutrality is a good idea. American Commitment president Phil Kerpen suggests that reclassifying the internet as a public utility is the "first step in the fight to destroy American capitalism altogether" and says that the FCC is plotting a "federal Internet takeover," a move that "sounds more like a story coming out of China or Russia."
Predictive Modeling To Increase Responsivity of Streamed Games
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Streaming game services always bump up against a hard latency limit based on the total round-trip time it takes to send user input to a remote server and receive a frame of game data from that server. To alleviate the situation, Microsoft Research has been developing a system called DeLorean (whitepaper) using predictive modeling to improve the experienced responsiveness of a game. By analyzing previous inputs in a Markov chain, DeLorean tries to predict the most likely choices for the user's next input and then generates speculative frames that fit those inputs and sends them back to the user. The caveat is that sending those extra predictive frames and information does add a bandwidth overhead of anywhere from 1.5 to 4 times that of a normal streaming game client. During testing the benefits were apparent, though. Even when the actual round-trip time between input and server response was 256 ms, double-blind testers reported both the gameplay responsiveness and graphical quality of the DeLorean system were comparable to a locally played version of the game.
850 Billion NSA Surveillance Records Searchable By Domestic Law Enforcement
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The Intercept reported today on classified documents revealing that the NSA has built its own "Google-like" search engine to provide over 850 billion collected records directly to law enforcement agencies, including the FBI and the DEA. Reporter Ryan Gallagher explains, "The documents provide the first definitive evidence that the NSA has for years made massive amounts of surveillance data directly accessible to domestic law enforcement agencies." The search engine, called ICREACH, allows analysts to search an array of databases, some of which contain metadata collected on innocent American citizens, for the purposes of "foreign intelligence." However, questions have been raised over its potential for abuse in what is known as "parallel construction," a process in which agencies use surveillance resources in domestic investigations, and then later cover it up by creating a different evidence trail to use in court.
New Nail Polish Alerts Wearers To Date Rape Drugs
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Checking to see if your drink has been tampered with is about to get a whole lot more discreet. Thanks to the work of four North Carolina State University undergrads, you'll soon be able to find out without reaching for a testing tool. That's because you'll already have five of them on each hand. The team — Ankesh Madan, Stephen Gray, Tasso Von Windheim, and Tyler Confrey-Maloney — has come up with a creative and unobtrusive way to package chemicals that react when exposed to Rohypnol and GHB. They put it in nail polish that they're calling Undercover Colors.
Princeton Nuclear Fusion Reactor Will Run Again
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good news for the National Spherical Torus Experiment.
Tucked away from major roadways and nestled amid more than 80 acres of forest sits a massive warehouse-like building where inside, a device that can produce temperatures hotter than the sun has sat cold and quiet for more than two years. But the wait is almost over for the nuclear fusion reactor to get back up and running at the Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory. "We're very excited and we're all anxious to turn that machine back on," said Adam Cohen, deputy director for operations at PPPL. The National Spherical Torus Experiment (NSTX) has been shut down since 2012 as it underwent a $94 million upgrade that will make it what officials say will be the most powerful fusion facility of its kind in the world. It is expected to be ready for operations in late winter or early spring, Cohen said.
National Science Foundation Awards $20 Million For Cloud Computing Experiments
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The National Science Foundation today announced two $10 million projects to create cloud computing testbeds — to be called "Chameleon" and "CloudLab" — that will enable the academic research community to experiment with novel cloud architectures and pursue new, architecturally-enabled applications of cloud computing. While most of the original concepts for cloud computing came from the academic research community, as clouds grew in popularity, industry drove much of the design of their architecture. Today's awards complement industry's efforts and enable academic researchers to advance cloud computing architectures that can support a new generation of innovative applications, including real-time and safety-critical applications like those used in medical devices, power grids, and transportation systems.
How Patent Trolls Destroy Innovation
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Everyone agrees that there's been an explosion of patent litigation in recent years, and that lawsuits from non-practicing entities (NPEs) — known to critics as patent trolls — are a major factor. But there's a big debate about whether trolls are creating a drag on innovation — and if so, how big the problem is. A new study (PDF) by researchers at Harvard and the University of Texas provides some insight on this question. Drawing from data on litigation, R&D spending, and patent citations, the researchers find that firms that are forced to pay NPEs (either because they lost a lawsuit or settled out of court) dramatically reduce R&D spending: losing firms spent $211 million less on R&D, on average, than firms that won a lawsuit against a troll. "After losing to NPEs, firms significantly reduce R&D spending — both projects inside the firm and acquiring innovative R&D outside the firm," the authors write. "Our evidence suggests that it really is the NPE litigation event that causes this decrease in innovation."
Companies That Don't Understand Engineers Don't Respect Engineers
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Following up on a recent experiment into the status of software engineers versus managers, Jon Evans writes that the easiest way to find out which companies don't respect their engineers is to learn which companies simply don't understand them. "Engineers are treated as less-than-equal because we are often viewed as idiot savants. We may speak the magic language of machines, the thinking goes, but we aren't business people, so we aren't qualified to make the most important decisions. ... Whereas in fact any engineer worth her salt will tell you that she makes business decisions dailyalbeit on the micro not macro levelbecause she has to in order to get the job done. Exactly how long should this database field be? And of what datatype? How and where should it be validated? How do we handle all of the edge cases? These are in fact business decisions, and we make them, because we're at the proverbial coal face, and it would take forever to run every single one of them by the product people and sometimes they wouldn't even understand the technical factors involved. ... It might have made some sense to treat them as separate-but-slightly-inferior when technology was not at the heart of almost every business, but not any more."
Researchers Discover New Plant "Language"
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A Virginia Tech scientist has discovered a potentially new form of plant communication, that allows them to share genetic information with one another. Jim Westwood, a professor of plant pathology, physiology, and weed science, found evidence of this new communication mode by investigating the relationship between dodder, a parasitic plant, and the flowering plant Arabidopsis and tomato plants to which it attaches and sucks out nutrients with an appendage called a haustorium. Westwood examined the plants' mRNA, the molecule in cells that instructs organisms how to code certain proteins that are key to functioning. MRNA helps to regulate plant development and can control when plants eventually flowers. He found that the parasitic and the host plants were exchanging thousands of mRNA molecules between each other, thus creating a conversation.
Ancient Scribe Links Qumran Scrolls to Masada
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There has been a great deal written about the community of scribes that penned the Qumran scrolls. These studies rarely focus on an individual ancient scribe; they generally consider the religious orientation and scholarship of the broader community. Israeli paleographer Ada Yardeni recently identified over 50 Qumran scrolls penned by the same scribe; moreover, she identified a manuscript from the desert fortress at Masada written by the same scribe. In the November/December 2012 issue of Biblical Archaeology Review, Sidnie White Crawford discusses the implications of the important paleographic discoveries made by Ada Yardeni.
Patents That Kill
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From The Economist: "The patent system, which was developed independently in 15th century Venice and then in 17th century England, gave entrepreneurs a monopoly to sell their inventions for a number of years. Yet by the 1860s the patent system came under attack, including from The Economist. Patents, critics argued, stifled future creativity by allowing inventors to rest on their laurels. Recent economic research backs this up."
How to lock down Facebook privacy — and zip your lips
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In the current era of data mining, account hacking and identity theft, cyber-security has never been more important. And an area that many people leave insanely unprotected is social media, Facebook in particular. Crooks have begun using social media in a variety of ways, from pulling our personal information for identity theft, to paying attention to when you go on vacation in order to rob you while you’re away. And employers (even though they’re not supposed t0) ARE checking your profiles, people.

Fortunately, there are several simple steps that can be taken to lock down your Facebook account and slam the digital door in the face of would-be thieves and other prying eyes.
Babylon 5 May Finally Get a Big-Screen Debut
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Ars Technica reports that "J. Michael Straczynski will shortly begin work on a rebooted big-screen version of his 1990s sci-fi TV series [ Babylon 5]." From the article:

According to JMS's latest announcement, the new script will be targeted at a 2016 theatrical release and will be a reboot of the series rather than a continuation. This is necessary for both dramatic and practical purposes—the series was in regular production from 1994-1998, and the cast has simply aged too far to credibly play themselves again during the series’ main timeline. Additionally, several of the foundational cast members — Michael O'Hare, Andreas Katsulas, Richard Biggs, and Jeff Conaway — have passed away. ... The movie rights to the Babylon 5 property remain in JMS's hands, but the creator is hopeful that this time around, Warner Bros. will choose to finance the film instead of passing on it. Nonetheless (at least according to TV Wise), JMS is prepared to fund the movie through his own production company if necessary — something that wasn't a possibility ten years ago — suggesting that B5 will in fact come to the big screen at last.
NASA Releases Footage of "Flying Saucer" Braking Test, Declares Success
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According to the AP, in a story carried by the San Jose Mercury News,

NASA engineers insisted Friday that a test of a vehicle they hope to one day use on Mars achieved most of its objectives, despite a parachute that virtually disintegrated the moment it deployed. The engineers laid out at a news conference what they've learned in the six weeks since the $150 million high-altitude test of a vehicle that's designed to bring spacecraft -- and eventually astronauts -- safely to Mars. Engineers said they achieved the main objective: getting a flying saucer-shaped craft to 190,000 feet above the Earth at more than four times the speed of sound under test conditions that matched the Martian atmosphere.

Ars Technica has (beautiful, high-speed, high-definition) video of the test that shows the parachute tearing itself apart, as well as the many parts that went as planned.
Wyoming's Natural Trap Cave Yields Huge Trove of Animal Remains
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Scientists excavating an ancient Wyoming sinkhole containing a rare trove of fossils of Ice Age mammals have unearthed hundreds of bones of such prehistoric animals as American cheetahs, a paleontologist said on Friday. The two-week dig by an international team of researchers led by Des Moines University paleontologist Julie Meachen marked the first exploration of Natural Trap Cave at the base of the Bighorn Mountains in north-central Wyoming since its initial discovery in the 1970s. ... Meachen said the extensive excavation that began late last month uncovered roughly 200 large bones of animals like horses that roamed North America from 12,000 to 23,000 years ago and an uncounted number of microfossils of creatures such as birds, lizards and snakes. ... A number of animals that fell 85 feet to their deaths after stumbling into the 15-foot-wide mouth of the cavern were unusually well preserved by cold and damp conditions, Meachen said.s
The Meteors You've Waited All Year For
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It's finally here! Sure, we witnessed the birth of a new meteor shower earlier this year, but it was a flop. Many other showers have come-and-gone like they do every year, but none of them have given us a significant number of meteors-per-hour. But even with a near-full Moon out, it's finally time for the Perseids, the most reliable meteor shower year-after-year. Here's where to find them, where they come from and a whole lot more, including some surprising facts about where they don't come from: cometary tails!
Paint Dust Covers the Upper Layer of the World's Oceans
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Even when the sea looks clean, its surface can be flecked with tiny fragments of paint and fiberglass. That's the finding from a study that looked for plastic pollution in the uppermost millimeter of ocean. The microscopic fragments come from the decks and hulls of boats, and they could pose a threat to zooplankton, an important part of the marine food web.
Google Will Give a Search Edge To Websites That Use Encryption
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Google will begin using website encryption, or HTTPS, as a ranking signal – a move which should prompt website developers who have dragged their heels on increased security measures, or who debated whether their website was “important” enough to require encryption, to make a change. Initially, HTTPS will only be a lightweight signal, affecting fewer than 1% of global queries, says Google. ... Over time, however, encryption’s effect on search ranking [may] strengthen, as the company places more importance on website security. ... While HTTPS and site encryption have been a best practice in the security community for years, the revelation that the NSA has been tapping the cables, so to speak, to mine user information directly has prompted many technology companies to consider increasing their own security measures, too. Yahoo, for example, also announced in November its plans to encrypt its data center traffic
Man-Made "Dead Zone" In Gulf of Mexico the Size of Connecticut
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Somewhere in the Gulf of Mexico there is a man-made "Dead Zone" the size of the State of Connecticut. Inside that "Dead Zone" the water contains no oxygen, or too little to support normal marine life, especially the bottom dwelling fish and shrimps. The "Dead Zone" measures about 5,000 square miles (13,000 square kilometers) [and] is caused by excess nutrient runoff from farms along the Mississippi River, which empties into the Gulf. The excess nutrients feed algae growth, which consumes oxygen when it works its way to the Gulf bottom. The Gulf dead zone, which fluctuates in size but measured 5,052 square miles this summer, is exceeded only by a similar zone in the Baltic Sea around Finland. The number of dead zones worldwide currently totals more than 550 and has been increasing for decades.
Edward Snowden Is Not Alone: US Gov't Seeks Another Leaker
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Apparently Edward Snowden is not alone. CNN is reporting that recent leaked documents published by The Intercept (a website that has been publishing Snowden's leaked documents) could not have been leaked by Snowden because they didn't exist prior to his fleeing the USA and he couldn't possibly have accessed them. Authorities are said to be looking for a new leaker.
Rosetta Achieves Orbit Around Comet
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"Rosetta has successfully achieved orbit around Comet 67P/C-G and has transmitted its first close up images. More information here (1) and here (2) about the rendezvous and what science the mission scientists plan to do as they orbit the comet."

This is the fruit of a 10-year mission. Reuters points out:

The mission performs several historical firsts, including the first time a spacecraft orbits a comet rather than just whizzing past to snap some fly-by pictures, and the first time a probe has landed on a comet. ... There is little flexibility in Rosetta's schedule this year. The comet is still hurtling toward the inner Solar System at almost 55,000 km per hour, and the closer it gets to the sun the more active it will become, emitting gases that can make it difficult to predict the trajectory of Rosetta and its probe.
RIP: The woman you never heard of... who changed our world!
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The story goes that Milly took a trip to Japan and was impressed with how clean the country was, the lack of litter and plastic that was tossed away that she was accustomed to in the U.S. That inspired her to figure out how to recycle plastics, when there was no system, no infrastructure, no market, no funding, no awareness, no public campaign, to do so. It all started in the small towns of Sauk County, Wisconsin, where Milly lived. But let's let Milly tell the story, courtesy this nice short video made a couple years ago by students at the UW-Madison.
Inside the Facebook Algorithm Most Users Don't Even Know Exists
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An examination of what we can know about Facebook's new machine learning News Feed algorithm. From the article: "Facebook's current News Feed algorithm might be smarter, but some of its core considerations don't stray too far from the groundwork laid by EdgeRank, though thanks to machine learning, Facebook's current algorithm has a better ear for 'signals from you.' Facebook confirmed to us that the new News Feed ranking algorithm does indeed take 100,000 weighted variables into account to determine what we see. These factors help Facebook display an average 300 posts culled from roughly 1,500 possible posts per day, per user."
Extracting Audio From Visual Information
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Researchers at MIT, Microsoft, and Adobe have developed an algorithm that can reconstruct an audio signal by analyzing minute vibrations of objects depicted in video. In one set of experiments, they were able to recover intelligible speech from the vibrations of a potato-chip bag (video) photographed from 15 feet away through soundproof glass.
Study: Dinosaurs "Shrank" Regularly To Become Birds
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A new study suggests that large dinosaurs shrunk to small birds to survive over a period of around 50 million years. Aside from a few large species, most modern birds are predominantly tiny and look nothing at all like their prehistoric meat-eating ancestors. The evolutionary process that governed this transformation has not been well understood, but now researchers from the University of Adelaide in Australia have put together a detailed family tree mapping the evolution of therapod dinosaurs to the agile flying birds we see today. Their results indicated that meat-eating dinosaurs underwent several distinct periods of miniaturization over the last 50 million years which took them down from an average weight of 163kg to just 0.8kg before finally becoming modern birds.
Ancient Skulls Show Civilization Rose As Testosterone Fell
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Even though modern humans started appearing around 200,000 years ago, it was only about 50,000 years ago that artistry and tool making became popular. New research shows that society bloomed when testosterone levels in humans started dropping. A paper published in the journal Current Anthropology, suggests that a testosterone deficit facilitated the friendliness and cooperation between humans, which lead to modern society. "Whatever the cause, reduced testosterone levels enabled increasingly social people to better learn from and cooperate with each other, allowing the acceleration of cultural and technological innovation that is the hallmark of modern human success," says University of Utah biology graduate student Robert Cieri.
NASA Announces Mars 2020 Rover Payload
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In short, the 2020 rover will cary 7 instruments, out of 58 proposals in total, and the rover itself will be based on the current Curiosity rover. The selected instruments are: Mastcam-Z, an advanced camera system with panoramic and stereoscopic imaging capability with the ability to zoom. SuperCam, an instrument that can provide imaging, chemical composition analysis, and mineralogy. The instrument will also be able to detect the presence of organic compounds in rocks and regolith from a distance. Planetary Instrument for X-ray Lithochemistry (PIXL), an X-ray fluorescence spectrometer that will also contain an imager with high resolution to determine the fine scale elemental composition of Martian surface materials. Scanning Habitable Environments with Raman & Luminescence for Organics and Chemicals (SHERLOC) — This one will have a UV laser! The Mars Oxygen ISRU Experiment (MOXIE), an exploration technology investigation that will produce oxygen from Martian atmospheric carbon dioxide. Mars Environmental Dynamics Analyzer (MEDA). This on is basically a weather station. The Radar Imager for Mars' Subsurface Exploration (RIMFAX), a ground-penetrating radar that will provide centimeter-scale resolution of the geologic structure of the subsurface.
NASA Tests Microwave Space Drive
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news that NASA scientists have tested the EmDrive, which claims to use quantum vacuum plasma for propulsion. Theoretically improbable, but perhaps possible after all. If it does work, it would eliminate the need for expendable fuel (just add electricity). From the article:

Either the results are completely wrong, or NASA has confirmed a major breakthrough in space propulsion. A working microwave thruster would radically cut the cost of satellites and space stations and extend their working life, drive deep-space missions, and take astronauts to Mars in weeks rather than months. ... [According to the researchers] "Test results indicate that the RF resonant cavity thruster design, which is unique as an electric propulsion device, is producing a force that is not attributable to any classical electromagnetic phenomenon and therefore is potentially demonstrating an interaction with the quantum vacuum virtual plasma."

Skepticism is certainly warranted: NASA researchers were only able to produce about 1/1000th of the force the Chinese researchers reported. But they were careful to avoid false sensor readings, so something is going on. The paper declined to comment on what that could be, leaving the physics of the system an open problem.
Enceladus's 101 Geysers Blast From Hidden Ocean
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New observations from NASA's Saturn-orbiting Cassini spacecraft have revealed at least 101 individual geysers erupting from Enceladus' crust and, through careful analysis, planetary scientists have uncovered their origin. From the cracked ice in this region, fissures blast out water vapor mixed with organic compounds as huge geysers. Associated with these geysers are surface "hotspots" but until now there has been some ambiguity as to whether the hotspots are creating the geysers or whether the geysers are creating the hotspots. "Once we had these results in hand, we knew right away heat was not causing the geysers, but vice versa," said Carolyn Porco, leader of the Cassini imaging team from the Space Science Institute in Boulder, Colo., and lead author of one of the research papers. "It also told us the geysers are not a near-surface phenomenon, but have much deeper roots." And those roots point to a large subsurface source of liquid water — adding Enceladus as one of the few tantalizing destinations for future astrobiology missions.
Smoking Mothers May Alter the DNA of Their Children
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"Pregnant women who smoke don't just harm the health of their baby—they may actually impair their child's DNA, according to new research. A genetic analysis shows that the children of mothers who smoke harbor far more chemical modifications of their genome — known as epigenetic changes — than kids of non-smoking mothers. Many of these are on genes tied to addiction and fetal development. The finding may explain why the children of smokers continue to suffer health complications later in life.
Attackers Install DDoS Bots On Amazon Cloud
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Attackers are exploiting a vulnerability in distributed search engine software Elasticsearch to install DDoS malware on Amazon and possibly other cloud servers. Last week security researchers from Kaspersky Lab found new variants of Mayday, a Trojan program for Linux that's used to launch distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks. The malware supports several DDoS techniques, including DNS amplification. One of the new Mayday variants was found running on compromised Amazon EC2 server instances, but this is not the only platform being misused, said Kaspersky Lab researcher Kurt Baumgartner Friday in a blog post.
How Bird Flocks Resemble Liquid Helium
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A flock of starlings flies as one, a spectacular display in which each bird flits about as if in a well-choreographed dance. Everyone seems to know exactly when and where to turn. Now, for the first time, researchers have measured how that knowledge moves through the flock—a behavior that mirrors certain quantum phenomena of liquid helium. Some of the more interesting findings: Tracking data showed that the message for a flock to turn started from a handful of birds and swept through the flock at a constant speed between 20 and 40 meters per second. That means that for a group of 400 birds, it takes just a little more than a half-second for the whole flock to turn.
Off the Florida Coast, Astronauts Train For Asteroid Mission
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Space.com gives an overview of the training that four astronauts are undergoing over 9 days submerged off the coast of Florida near Key Largo. The training mission, dubbed NEEMO 18, is one step toward a proposed (mid-2020s) mission to actually visit a captured asteroid in lunar orbit. In addition to the complications of working outside their school-bus sized habitat while awkwardly suited up in a low-gravity (or at least high buoyancy) environment, their mission also includes a 10-minute communications delay, to simulate the high-latency communications with mission control that would be inevitable for an actual asteroid mission.

The experiments astronauts are doing during the mission, which began Monday (July 21), range from the physical to the behavioral. For example, each of the crew members sports a sensor that records how close the crew members work with each other inside the school-bus-size habitat. ... Communications with NEEMO Mission Control is usually constant, and there is the ability to send items to and from the habitat as needed. Also living inside the habitat are two support staff who are assisting with Aquarius maintenance and systems, as required. The crew members also have Internet and phone service to talk
Private Data On iOS Devices Not So Private After All
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Personal data including text messages, contact lists and photos can be extracted from iPhones through previously unpublicized techniques by Apple Inc employees, the company acknowledged this week. The same techniques to circumvent backup encryption could be used by law enforcement or others with access to the 'trusted' computers to which the devices have been connected, according to the security expert who prompted Apple's admission. Users are not notified that the services are running and cannot disable them, Zdziarski said. There is no way for iPhone users to know what computers have previously been granted trusted status via the backup process or block future connections.

If you'd rather watch and listen, Zdziarski has posted a video showing how it's done.
Siberian Discovery Suggests Almost All Dinosaurs Were Feathered
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A new study published in Science (abstract) suggests that most dinosaurs were covered with feathers. This conclusion was drawn after the discovery of fossils belonging to a 1.5-meter-long, two-legged dinosaur called Kulindadromeus zabaikalicus. "The fossils, which included six skulls and many more bones, greatly broaden the number of families of dinosaurs sporting feathers—downy, ribboned, and thin ones in this case—indicating that plumes evolved from the scales that covered earlier reptiles, probably as insulation." Its distinctiveness from earlier theropod fossil discoveries suggests that feathered dinosaurs appeared much further back in history than previously thought. Paleontologist Stephen Brusatte said, "This does mean that we can now be very confident that feathers weren't just an invention of birds and their closest relatives, but evolved much deeper in dinosaur history. I think that the common ancestor of dinosaurs probably had feathers, and that all dinosaurs had some type of feather, just like all mammals have some type of hair."
Amazon's Ambitious Bets Pile Up, and Its Losses Swell
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investors are becoming impatient with Amazon's willingness to absorb short-term losses for theoretical long-term gains. The company brought in over $19 billion in revenue last quarter, but reported a net loss of $126 million. The company warned of even greater losses this quarter. Amazon officials exude a serene if vague confidence.

"We're not trying to optimize for short-term profits," Thomas J. Szkutak, the chief financial officer, said in a conference call. "We're investing on behalf of customers and share owners," he said. "We're fortunate to have these opportunities." But even the analysts, who are generally enthusiastic about the company and its global ambitions, are asking slightly more pointed questions these days. For all these investments, one analyst asked Mr. Szkutak, why are sales not increasing even faster? His answer: Just wait. ... Amazon, which is based in Seattle, long ago transcended its roots as a simple retailer. In recent weeks it introduced Zocalo, a document storage and sharing service that grew out of its fast-growing web services division. It began a program to allow readers to consume as many e-books as they want for a set monthly fee. And it is starting to ship its long-awaited entry in the smartphone sweepstakes. The phone, the result of years of development by thousands of Amazon programmers and designers, is meeting some resistance from reviewers.
How a Solar Storm Two Years Ago Nearly Caused a Catastrophe On Earth
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On July 23, 2012, the sun unleashed two massive clouds of plasma that barely missed a catastrophic encounter with the Earth's atmosphere. These plasma clouds, known as coronal mass ejections (CMEs), comprised a solar storm thought to be the most powerful in at least 150 years. "If it had hit, we would still be picking up the pieces," physicist Daniel Baker of the University of Colorado tells NASA. Fortunately, the blast site of the CMEs was not directed at Earth. Had this event occurred a week earlier when the point of eruption was Earth-facing, a potentially disastrous outcome would have unfolded.

"Analysts believe that a direct hit could cause widespread power blackouts, disabling everything that plugs into a wall socket. Most people wouldn't even be able to flush their toilet because urban water supplies largely rely on electric pumps. ... According to a study by the National Academy of Sciences, the total economic impact could exceed $2 trillion, or 20 times greater than the costs of a Hurricane Katrina. Multi-ton transformers damaged by such a storm might take years to repair." Steve Tracton put it this way in his frightening overview of the risks of a severe solar storm: "The consequences could be devastating for commerce, transportation, agriculture and food stocks, fuel and water supplies, human health and medical facilities, national security, and daily life in general."
Comet To Make Close Call With Mars
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In mid-October, a comet sweeping through our inner solar system for the first time will pass near Mars—so close, in fact, that if it were buzzing Earth at the same distance it would fly by well inside our moon's orbit. While material spewing from the icy visitor probably won't trigger the colossal meteor showers on the Red Planet that some scientists predicted, dust and water vapor may still slam into Mars, briefly heating up its atmosphere and threatening orbiting spacecraft. However it affects the planet, the comet should give scientists their closest view yet of a near-pristine visitor from the outer edges of our solar system.
85,000 historical films for free viewing
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Subscribe now to the largest archive of history on YouTube. Follow us through the 20th Century and dive into the good and the bad times of the past. Feel free to explore more than 80,000 videos of filmed history and maybe you'll find stuff no one else has ever seen.
Internet Explorer Vulnerabilities Increase 100%
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Bromium Labs analyzed public vulnerabilities and exploits from the first six months of 2014. The research determined that Internet Explorer vulnerabilities have increased more than 100 percent since 2013, surpassing Java and Flash vulnerabilities. Web browsers have always been a favorite avenue of attack, but we are now seeing that hackers are not only getting better at attacking Internet Explorer, they are doing it more frequently.
'Optical Fiber' Made Out of Thin Air
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Scientists from the University of Maryland say they have turned thin air into an "optical fiber" that can transmit and amplify light signals without the need for any cables. As described in the research, this was accomplished by generating a laser with its light split into a ring of multiple beams forming a pipe. Very short and powerful pulses from the laser are used to heat the air molecules along the beam extremely quickly. Such rapid heating produces sound waves that take about a microsecond to converge to the center of the pipe, creating a high-density area surrounded by a low-density area left behind in the wake of the laser beams. The lower density region of air surrounding the center of the air waveguide has a lower refractive index, keeping the light focused, and allowing the higher-density region (with its correspondingly higher index of refraction) to act like an optical fiber. The findings, reported in the journal Optica, have applications in long range laser communications, high-resolution topographic mapping, air pollution and climate change research, and could also be used by the military to make laser weapons.
Researcher Finds Hidden Data-Dumping Services In iOS
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There are a number of undocumented and hidden features and services in Apple iOS that can be used to bypass the backup encryption on iOS devices and remove large amounts of users' personal data. Several of these features began as benign services but have evolved in recent years to become powerful tools for acquiring user data.

Jonathan Zdziarski, a forensic scientist and researcher who has worked extensively with law enforcement and intelligence agencies, has spent quite a bit of time looking at the capabilities and services available in iOS for data acquisition and found that some of the services have no real reason to be on these devices and that several have the ability to bypass the iOS backup encryption. One of the services in iOS, called mobile file_relay, can be accessed remotely or through a USB connection can be used to bypass the backup encryption. If the device has not been rebooted since the last time the user entered the PIN, all of the data encrypted via data protection can be accessed, whether by an attacker or law enforcement, Zdziarski said.
States That Raised Minimum Wage See No Slow-Down In Job Growth
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The U.S. Department of Labor has released data that some proponents of raising minimum wage are touting as evidence that higher minimum wage promotes job growth. While the data doesn't actually establish cause and effect, it does "run counter to a Congressional Budget Office report in February that said raising the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour, as the White House supports, would cost 500,000 jobs." The data shows that the 13 states that raised their minimum wages in January added jobs at a faster rate than those that didn't. Other factors likely contributed to this outcome, but some economists are simply relieved that the higher wage factor didn't have a dramatically negative effect in general.
NASA: Lunar Pits and Caves Could House Astronauts
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Astronomers have documented hundreds of holes on the lunar surface. These aren't simply craters, but actual pits ranging from 5 to 900 meters across. Scientists suspects many of these will lead to underground cave systems, which NASA says would be great spots for an astronaut habitat once we get back to the Moon. "A habitat placed in a pit — ideally several dozen meters back under an overhang — would provide a very safe location for astronauts: no radiation, no micrometeorites, possibly very little dust, and no wild day-night temperature swings," said Robert Wagner of Arizona State University. He says it's time to send probes into a few of these pits to see what they're like: "Pits, by their nature, cannot be explored very well from orbit — the lower walls and any floor-level caves simply cannot be seen from a good angle. Even a few pictures from ground-level would answer a lot of the outstanding questions about the nature of the voids that the pits collapsed into. We're currently in the very early design phases of a mission concept to do exactly this, exploring one of the largest mare pits."
Fossils of Cambrian Predator Preserved With Brain Impressions
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Researchers on Wednesday described fossilized remains unearthed in China showing in fine detail the brain structures of a bizarre group of sea creatures that were the top predators more than half a billion years ago. The 520-million-year-old creature, one of the first predators of its day, sported compound eyes, body armor and two spiky claws for grabbing prey. "The animals of the Cambrian are noted for being a collection of oddballs that are sometimes difficult to match up with anything currently living on Earth. But even among these oddities, Anomalocarids stand out (as their name implies). The creatures propelled themselves with a series of oar-like paddles arranged on their flanks, spotted prey with enormous compound eyes, and shoveled them into a disk-like mouth with large arms that resided at the very front of their bodies—although some of them ended up as filter feeders.
ChickTech Brings Hundreds of Young Women To Open Source
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Opensource.com is running an interview with Jennifer Davidson of ChickTech, a non-profit organization whose mission is to create communities of support for women and girls pursuing (or interested in pursuing) careers in tech. "In the United States, many girls are brought up to believe that 'girls can't do math' and that science and other 'geeky' topics are for boys," Davidson said. "We break down that idea." Portland, OR-based ChickTech is quickly expanding throughout the United States—to cities like Corvallis and San Francisco—thanks to the "ChickTech: High School" initiative, which gathers hundreds of young women for two-day workshops featuring open source technologies. "We fill a university engineering department with 100 high school girls—more girls than many engineering departments have ever seen," Davidson said. "The participants can look around the building and see that girls from all backgrounds are just as excited about tech as they are."
Telcos Move Net Neutrality Fight To Congress
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"Public Knowledge is rallying its supporters after learning that some House members plan to try and add an amendment to H.R. 5016, the Financial Services and General Government Appropriations Act to block funding of FCC network neutrality rules. H.R. 5016 is the bill that keeps funding the government and whose failure to pass can shut it down. The White House has already said it opposed the existing FCC budget cuts and threatened a veto of a bill it says politicized the budget process." Public Knowledge is asking citizens to tell Congress to stop meddling with net neutrality. In a way this is a good sign. It is an indication that the telcos think that they will lose the current FCC debate.

Meanwhile, the FCC's deadline for comments about net neutrality has arrived, and the agency's servers buckled after recording over 670,000 of them. The deadline has been extended until midnight on Friday.
The Last Three Months Were the Hottest Quarter On Record
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The last three months were collectively the warmest ever experienced since record-keeping began in the late 1800s. From the article: "Taken as a whole, the just-finished three-month period was about 0.68 degrees Celsius (1.22 degrees Fahrenheit) above the 20th-century average. That may not sound like much, but the added warmth has been enough to provide a nudge to a litany of weather and climate events worldwide. Arctic sea ice is trending near record lows for this time of year, abnormally warm ocean water helped spawn the earliest hurricane ever recorded to make landfall in North Carolina, and a rash of heat waves have plagued cities from India to California to the Middle East." Also, it puts to bed the supposed 'fact' that there's been a pause in temperature increase the last 17 years. Raw data shows it's still increasing.

some climate related news:
A new report from libertarian think tank Heartland Institute claims that new government data debunks the concept of global climate change. However, an examination of the full data and some critical consideration shows that the organization, whether unintentionally or deliberately, has inaccurately characterized and misrepresented the information and what it shows. The Heartland Institute skews the data by taking two points and ignoring all of the data in between, kind of like grabbing two zero points from sin(x) and claiming you're looking at a steady state function.
Hacking Online Polls and Other Ways British Spies Seek To Control the Internet
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The secretive British spy agency GCHQ has developed covert tools to seed the internet with false information, including the ability to manipulate the results of online polls, artificially inflate pageview counts on web sites, "amplif[y]" sanctioned messages on YouTube, and censor video content judged to be "extremist." The capabilities, detailed in documents provided by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, even include an old standby for pre-adolescent prank callers everywhere: A way to connect two unsuspecting phone users together in a call. The tools were created by GCHQ's Joint Threat Research Intelligence Group (JTRIG), and constitute some of the most startling methods of propaganda and internet deception contained within the Snowden archive. Previously disclosed documents have detailed JTRIG's use of "fake victim blog posts," "false flag operations," "honey traps" and psychological manipulation to target online activists, monitor visitors to WikiLeaks, and spy on YouTube and Facebook users.
With New Horizons Spacecraft a Year Away, What We Know About Pluto
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In one year, NASA's New Horizons spacecraft will reach Pluto after over 8 years of travel. "Not only did we choose the date, by the way, we chose the hour and the minute. And we're on track," says Alan Stern, the principal investigator for NASA's Pluto-Kuiper Belt Mission. As the New Horizons spacecraft gets closer to Pluto, we will begin getting the clearest images we've ever gotten. "A great deal of planning went into this mission. But in case you're wondering, the New Horizons team did not plan for Pluto to be downgraded to a dwarf planet in the same year as the launch. That didn't change anything for Alan Stern. Some planetary scientists still dispute Pluto's planet status, and Stern says he'll always think of Pluto as a planet. Either way, it's a distant realm ripe for exploration. Scientists don't know exactly what they will see there. And that's the exciting part. 'When we first sent missions to Jupiter, no one expected to find moons that would have active volcanoes. And I could go down a long list of how often I've been surprised by the richness of nature,' Stern says."
How Deep Does the Multiverse Go?
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Our observable Universe is a pretty impressive entity: extending 46 billion light-years in all directions, filled with hundreds of billions of galaxies and having been around for nearly 14 billion years since the Big Bang. But what lies beyond it? Sure, there's probably more Universe just like ours that's unobservable, but what about the multiverse? Finally, a treatment that delineates the difference between the ideas that are thrown around and explains what's accepted as valid, what's treated as speculative, and what's completely unrelated to anything that could conceivably ever be observed from within our Universe.
New Technology Uses Cellular Towers For Super-Accurate Weather Measurements
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Israeli scientists from the Tel Aviv University perfected a method for using cell phone service towers' microwave emitters to measure rain and snow and even (for the first time ) detect fog with great accuracy over vast areas in real time. The research team members have analyzed endless amounts of raw cellular data and developed more accurate ways to measure meteorological information and added more parameters that they can now measure using their growing database. When combined with existing meteorological monitoring technologies such as radars and local ground based weather stations, the results show unprecedented level of accuracy that can give better and further weather forecast as well as special warnings about upcoming floods, fog and hail which can affect both people and crop production.
SpaceX Wins FAA Permission To Build a Spaceport In Texas
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SpaceX just got approval from the Federal Aviation Administration to build a 56.5-acre spaceport along the Gulf of Mexico on the Texas-Mexico bordera huge step toward actually making the spaceport a reality. Wednesday, the FAA, which handles all commercial space launch permitting in the United States, issued what's known as a "Record of Decision" that suggests the agency would allow the company to launch 10 Falcon 9 rockets and two Falcon Heavy rockets per year out of the spaceport, through at least 2025.
Study: Why the Moon's Far Side Looks So Different
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55 years ago, the Soviet probe Luna 3 imaged the side of the Moon that faces away from us for the first time. Surprisingly, there were only two very small maria (dark regions) and large amounts of mountainous terrain, in stark contrast to the side that faces us. This remained a mystery for a very long time, even after we developed the giant impact hypothesis to explain the origin of the Moon. But a new study finally appears to solve the mystery, crediting the heat generated on the near side from a hot, young Earth with creating the differences between the two hemispheres.
Cosmic Mystery Solved By Super-sized Supernova Dust
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How cosmic dust is created has been a mystery for some time. Although the textbooks tell us that the dusty stuff that builds the planets and, ultimately, the complex chemistry that forms life (we are, after all, made of 'star stuff') comes from supernova explosions, astronomers have been puzzled as to how delicate grains of dust condense from stellar material and how they can possibly survive the violent shock waves of the cataclysmic booms. But now, with the help of a powerful ground-based telescope, astronomers have not only watched one of these supernova 'dust factories' in action, they've also discovered how the grains can withstand the violent supernova shock. "When the star explodes, the shockwave hits the dense gas cloud like a brick wall," said lead author Christa Gall, of Aarhus University, Denmark. "It is all in gas form and incredibly hot, but when the eruption hits the 'wall' the gas gets compressed and cools down to about 2,000 degrees. At this temperature and density elements can nucleate and form solid particles. We measured dust grains as large as around one micron (a thousandth of a millimeter), which is large for cosmic dust grains. They are so large that they can survive their onward journey out into the galaxy (PDF)." The surprising size of the measured dust particles means they can better survive the supernova's shockwave. This research has been published in the journal Nature.
A Tour of One of the World's Only Underwater Labs With Fabien Cousteau
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Having completed his 31-day stretch underwater, Fabien Cousteau, grandson of famed oceanographer Jacques Cousteau, shows off his underwater laboratory to PBS in this video. When asked about his observations' Fabien said' "It's just amazing, we've seen so much new behavior that I've never seen before. Fish sleeping in sponges, a goliath grouper attacking a barracuda, never seen that before, I don't think anyone has ever caught it on film before. Christmas tree worms, spawning and giving off this milky smoke like stuff off. I mean it's just science fiction, it's really amazing down here. And that's why we're down here, my grandfather used to say, in order to film a fish you must become a fish. So we're trying to get as close as we can to becoming fish."
Study: Whales Are Ecosystem "Engineers"
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Researchers had previously thought that, being excessively uncommon and migrant, whales didn't have much of an effect on the more extensive marine environment. However, a new study distributed in the journal Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment gives whales a role as "engineers" of the oceans. In the study, scientists from the University of Vermont suggest that the 13 types of extraordinary whale have an essential and positive impact on the capacity of seas, on carbon storage, and on the state of fisheries around the globe. "The decline in great whale numbers, estimated to be at least 66% and perhaps as high as 90%, has likely altered the structure and function of the oceans, but recovery is possible and in many cases is already underway," researchers wrote in an article announcing their investigation.
Newly Spotted Frozen World Orbits In a Binary Star System
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A newly discovered planet in a binary, or twin, star system located 3,000 light-years from Earth is expanding astronomers' notions of where Earth-like planets can form. At twice the mass of Earth, the planet orbits one of the stars in the binary system at almost exactly the same distance at which Earth orbits the sun. However, because the planet's host star is much dimmer than the sun, the planet is much colder than Earth. "This greatly expands the potential locations to discover habitable planets in the future," said Scott Gaudi, professor of astronomy at Ohio State. "Half the stars in the galaxy are in binary systems. We had no idea if Earth-like planets in Earth-like orbits could even form in these systems."
When Beliefs and Facts Collide
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A New York Times article discusses a recent Yale study that shows that contrary to popular belief, increased scientific literacy does not correspond to increased belief in accepted scientific findings when it contradicts their religious or political views. The article notes that this is true across the political/religious spectrum and "factual and scientific evidence is often ineffective at reducing misperceptions and can even backfire on issues like weapons of mass destruction, health care reform and vaccines." So what is to be done? The article suggests that "we need to try to break the association between identity and factual beliefs on high-profile issues – for instance, by making clear that you can believe in human-induced climate change and still be a conservative Republican."
Study: Global Warming Solvable If Fossil Fuel Subsidies Given To Clean Energy
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A research team at the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis in Laxenburg, Austria, says it has studied how much it would cost for governments to stick to their worldwide global warming goal. They've concluded that for "a 70 per cent chance of keeping below 2 degrees Celsius, the investment will have to rise to $1.2 trillion a year." Where to get that money? The researchers say that "global investment in energy is already $1 trillion a year and rising" with more than half going to fossil fuel energy. If those subsidies were spent on renewable energy instead, the researchers hypothesize that "global warming would be close to being solved."
Oklahoma's Earthquakes Linked To Fracking
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Oklahoma has already experienced about 240 minor earthquakes this year, roughly double the rate at which California has had them. A recent study (abstract) has now tied those earthquakes to fracking. From the article: "Fracking itself doesn't seem to be causing many earthquakes at all. However, after the well is fracked, all that wastewater needs to be pumped back out and disposed of somewhere. Since it's often laced with chemicals and difficult to treat, companies will often pump the wastewater back underground into separate disposal wells. Wastewater injection comes with a catch, however: The process both pushes the crust in the region downward and increases pressure in cracks along the faults. That makes the faults more prone to slippages and earthquakes. ... More specifically, the researchers concluded that 89 wells were likely responsible for most of the seismic activity. And just four wells located southeast of Oklahoma City were likely responsible for about one-fifth of seismic activity in the state between 2008 and 2013."
NASA Approves Production of Most Powerful Rocket Ever
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As reported by the Sydney Morning Herald, NASA has given a green light to the production of a new motor, dubbed the Space Launch System, intended to enable deep space exploration. Boeing, prime contractor on the rocket, announced on Wednesday that it had completed a critical design review and finalized a $US2.8-billion contract with NASA. The last time the space agency made such an assessment of a deep-space rocket was the mighty Saturn V, which took astronauts to the moon. ... Space Launch System's design called for the integration of existing hardware, spurring criticism that it's a "Frankenstein rocket," with much of it assembled from already developed technology. For instance, its two rocket boosters are advanced versions of the Space Shuttle boosters, and a cryogenic propulsion stage is based on the motor of a rocket often used by the Air Force. The Space Frontier Foundation, an advocacy group and frequent NASA critic, said Space Launch System was "built from rotting remnants of left over congressional pork. And its budgetary footprints will stamp out all the missions it is supposed to carry, kill our astronaut program and destroy science and technology projects throughout NASA."
What Came First, Black Holes Or Galaxies?
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It was one of the most hotly contested questions for decades: we first expected and then found supermassive black holes at the centers of practically all large galaxies. But how did they get there? In particular, you could imagine it happening either way: either there was this top-down scenario, where large-scale structures formed first and fragmented into galaxies, forming black holes at their centers afterwards, or a bottom-up scenario, where small-scale structures dominate at the beginning, and larger ones only form later from the merger of these earlier, little ones. As it turns out, both of these play a role in our Universe, but as far as the question of what came first, black holes or galaxies, only one answer is right
Does Google Have Too Much Influence Over K-12 CS Education?
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Google recently announced Global Impact Awards for Computer Science, part of the company's $50 million investment to get girls to code. But Google's influence over K-12 CS education doesn't stop there. The Sun-Times reports that Chicago Public School (CPS) teachers are participating in a summer professional development program hosted by Google as part of the district's efforts to "saturate" schools with CS within 3 years: "The launch of CS4All [Computer Science for All], in partnership with Code.org and supported by Google, starts this fall in 60 CPS schools to try to bridge the digital divide and prepare students." And in two weeks, the Computer Science Teachers Association [CSTA] and Google will be presenting the National Computer Science Principles Education Summit. "Attendees at this event have been selected through a rigorous application process that will result in more than 70 educators and administrators working together to strategize about getting this new Advanced Placement course implemented in schools across the country," explains CSTA. The ACM, NSF, Google, CSTA, Microsoft, and NCWIT worked together in the past "to provide a wide range of information and guidance that would inform and shape CS education efforts," according to the University of Chicago, which notes it's now conducting a follow-up NSF-funded study — Barriers and Supports to Implementing Computer Science — that's advised by CPS, CSTA, and Code.org.
Solar-Powered Electrochemical Cell Used To Produce Formic Acid From CO2
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Rising atmospheric CO2 levels can generally be tackled in three ways: developing alternative energy sources with lower emissions; carbon capture and storage (CCS); and capturing carbon and repurposing it. Researchers at Princeton University are claiming to have developed a technique that ticks two of these three boxes by using solar power to convert CO2 into formic acid. With power from a commercially available solar panel provided by utility company Public Service Electric and Gas (PSE&G), researchers in the laboratory of Princeton professor of chemistry Andrew Bocarsly, working with researchers at New Jersey-based start-up Liquid Light Inc., converted CO2 and water to formic acid (HCOOH) in an electrochemical cell.
Tibetans Inherited High-Altitude Gene From Ancient Human
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A "superathlete" gene that helps Sherpas and other Tibetans breathe easy at high altitudes was inherited from an ancient species of human. That's the conclusion of a new study, which finds that the gene variant came from people known as Denisovans, who went extinct soon after they mated with the ancestors of Europeans and Asians about 40,000 years ago. This is the first time a version of a gene acquired from interbreeding with another type of human has been shown to help modern humans adapt to their environment.
Hierarchical Membrane For Cleaning Up Oil Spills
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Whenever there is a major spill of oil into water, the two tend to mix into a suspension of tiny droplets, called an "emulsion." It is extremely hard to separate them, and they can cause severe damage to ecosystems. Now, MIT researchers have discovered a new, inexpensive way of getting the two fluids apart again. This new approach uses membranes with hierarchical pore structures. The membranes combine a very thin layer of nanopores with a thicker layer of micropores to limit the passage of unwanted material while providing strength sufficient to withstand high pressure and throughput.
IEEE Launches Anti-malware Services To Improve Security
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The IEEE Standards Assocation has launched an Anti-Malware Support Service to help the computer security industry respond more quickly to malware. The first two services available are a Clean file Metadata Exchange (PDF), to help prevent false positives in anti-malware software, and a Taggant System (PDF) to help prevent software packers from being abused. Official announcement is available at the offical website."
NASA Launching Satellite To Track Carbon
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A NASA satellite being prepared for launch early on Tuesday is expected to reveal details about where carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas tied to climate change, is being released into Earth's atmosphere on a global scale. From the article: "The $468 million mission is designed to study the main driver of climate change emitted from smokestacks and tailpipes. Some of the carbon dioxide is sucked up by trees and oceans, and the rest is lofted into the atmosphere, trapping the sun's heat and warming the planet. But atmospheric CO2 levels fluctuate with the seasons and in different regions of the Earth. The natural and human activities that cause the changes are complicated. The Orbiting Carbon Observatory-2, or OCO-2 for short, will be able to take an ultra-detailed look at most of the Earth's surface to identify places responsible for producing or absorbing the greenhouse gas."
DNA from GMOs can pass directly into humans, study confirms
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The idea that DNA from genetically modified organisms (GMOs) is broken down in the digestive tract and rendered innocuous, a common industry claim, is patently false. A recent study published in the scientific journal PLOS ONE found that large, meal-derived DNA fragments from GMOs are fully capable of transferring their genes directly into the bloodstream, deconstructing the myth that transgenic foods act on the body in the same way as natural foods.
Intelligent Autonomous Flying Robots Learn and Map Environment As They Fly
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Using simple drones the researchers have created automatic-control software that enables the "flying robot" to learn about its surroundings using a camera and an array of sensors. The robot starts with no information about its environment and the objects within it. But by overlaying different frames from the camera and selecting key reference points within the scene, it builds up a 3D map of the world around it. Other sensors pick up barometric and ultrasonic data, which give the robot additional clues about its environment. All this information is fed into autopilot software to allow the robot to navigate safely, but also to learn about the objects nearby and navigate to specific items.
NASA Successfully Tests 'Flying Saucer' Craft, New Parachute
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As reported by the Associated Press, via the Washington Post, an update on the promised (and now at least mostly successful) new disc-shaped craft and parachute technology intended for a NASA mission to Mars, though applicable to other space missions as well:
A saucer-shaped NASA vehicle launched by balloon high into Earth’s atmosphere splashed down in the Pacific Ocean on Saturday, completing a successful test on Saturday of technology that could be used to land on Mars. Since the twin Viking spacecraft landed on the red planet in 1976, NASA has relied on the same parachute design to slow landers and rovers after piercing through the thin Martian atmosphere. The $150 million experimental flight tested a novel vehicle and a giant parachute designed to deliver heavier spacecraft and eventually astronauts. Despite small problems like the giant parachute not deploying fully, NASA deemed the mission a success. ... [T]he parachute unfurled — if only partially — and guided the vehicle to an ocean splashdown about three hours later. At 110 feet in diameter, the parachute is twice as big as the one that carried the 1-ton Curiosity rover through the Martian atmosphere in 2011. Coatta said engineers won't look at the parachute problem as a failure, but as a way to learn more and apply that knowledge during future tests. ... A ship was sent to recover a "black box" designed to separate from the vehicle and float. Outfitted with a GPS beacon, the box contains the crucial flight data that scientists are eager to analyze. "That's really the treasure trove of all the details," Coatta said. "Pressure, temperature, force. High-definition video. All those measurements that are really key to us to understanding exactly what happens throughout this test."
Is K-12 CS Education the Next Common Core?
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In an interview with The Washington Post's Lyndsey Layton that accompanied her report on How Bill Gates Pulled Off the Swift Common Core Revolution (the Gates Foundation doled out $233 million in grants to git-r-done), Gates denied that he has too much influence in K-12 education. Despite Gates' best efforts, however, there's been more and more pushback recently from both teachers and politicians on the standards, GeekWire's Taylor Soper reports, including a protest Friday by the Badass Teacher Association, who say Gates is ruining education. "We want to get corporations out of teaching," explained one protester. If that's the case, the "Badasses" probably won't be too pleased to see how the K-12 CS education revolution is shaping up, fueled by a deep-pocketed alliance of Gates, Google, Microsoft, Facebook, and others. Google alone has already committed $90 million to influence CS education. And well-connected Code.org, which has struck partnerships with school districts reaching over 2M U.S. students and is advising NSF-funded research related to the nation's CS 10K Project, will be conducting required professional development sessions for K-12 CS teachers out of Google, Microsoft, and Amazon offices this summer in Chicago, New York City, Boston, and Seattle. So, could K-12 CS Education ("Common Code"?) become the next Common Core?
CDC: 1 In 10 Adult Deaths In US Caused By Excessive Drinking
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According to new research from the CDC, 9.8% of deaths in working-age adults (22-64 years old) in the U.S. from 2006 to 2010 were "attributable to excessive drinking." This makes excessive drinking the fourth leading cause of preventable death in the U.S. The study included deaths from medical conditions, such as liver disease and alcohol-induced strokes, as well as deaths from alcohol-related events, like car accidents, homicides, and fall injuries. However, it did not account for cases where excessive alcohol consumption was a factor in contracting conditions like AIDS, pneumonia, and tuberculosis, so the count may actually be higher. Many western states with low population spread out over a large area showed the highest alcohol-related death rates, while states from the east coast and the midwest tended to be on the lower end of the spectrum. The study also tracked years of life lost, which is higher for alcohol-related deaths than for most other types of death. Researcher Robert Brewer said, "One of the issues with alcohol that is particularly tragic is the extent to which it gets people in the prime of their lives."
Trio of Big Black Holes Spotted In Galaxy Smashup
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Astronomers staring across the universe have spotted a startling scene: three supermassive black holes orbiting close to one another, two of them just a few hundred light-years apart. The trio, housed in a pair of colliding galaxies, may help scientists hunting for ripples in spacetime known as gravitational waves.
New Chemical Process Could Make Ammonia a Practical Car Fuel
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A phys.org article says UK researchers have made a breakthrough that could make ammonia a practical source of hydrogen for fueling cars. From the article: "Many catalysts can effectively crack ammonia to release the hydrogen, but the best ones are very expensive precious metals. This new method is different and involves two simultaneous chemical processes rather than using a catalyst, and can achieve the same result at a fraction of the cost. ... Professor Bill David, who led the STFC research team at the ISIS Neutron Source, said 'Our approach is as effective as the best current catalysts but the active material, sodium amide, costs pennies to produce. We can produce hydrogen from ammonia "on demand" effectively and affordably.'"
Hospitals Begin Data-Mining Patients
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a new and exciting use for all of the data various entities are collecting about you. From the article:
You may soon get a call from your doctor if you've let your gym membership lapse, made a habit of ordering out for pizza or begin shopping at plus-sized stores. That's because some hospitals are starting to use detailed consumer data to create profiles on current and potential patients to identify those most likely to get sick, so the hospitals can intervene before they do. Acxiom Corp. (ACXM) and LexisNexis are two of the largest data brokers who collect such information on individuals. They say their data are supposed to be used only for marketing, not for medical purposes or to be included in medical records. While both sell to health insurers, they said it's to help those companies offer better services to members.
Neanderthals Ate Their Veggies
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Scientists excavating an archaeological site in southern Spain have finally gotten the real poop on Neanderthals, finding that the Caveman Diet for these quintessential carnivores included substantial helpings of vegetables. Using the oldest published samples of human fecal matter, archaeologists have found the first direct evidence that Neanderthals in Europe cooked and ate plants about 50,000 years ago.
The Security Industry Is Failing Miserably At Fixing Underlying Dangers
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The security industry is adding layers of defensive technologies to protect systems rather than addressing the most substantial, underlying problems that sustain a sprawling cybercrime syndicate, according to an industry luminary who painted a bleak picture of the future of information security at a conference of hundreds of incident responders in Boston Tuesday. Eugene Spafford, a noted computer security expert and professor of computer science at Purdue University, said software makers continue to churn out products riddled with vulnerabilities, creating an incessant patching cycle for IT administrators that siphons resources from more critical areas.
Mysterious X-ray Signal Hints At Dark Matter
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Astronomers using the Chandra X-ray Observatory and the XMM-Newton have recorded an unusual emission of X-ray light from a remote cluster of galaxies which may turn out to be evidence of dark matter.
Astronomers think dark matter constitutes 85% of the matter in the Universe, but does not emit or absorb light like normal matter such as protons, neutrons and electrons that make up the familiar elements observed in planets, stars, and galaxies. Because of this, scientists must use indirect methods to search for clues about dark matter. he latest results from Chandra and XMM-Newton consist of an unidentified X-ray emission line, that is, a spike of intensity at a very specific wavelength of X-ray light. Astronomers detected this emission line in the Perseus galaxy cluster using both Chandra and XMM-Newton. They also found the line in a combined study of 73 other galaxy clusters with XMM-Newton. ... The authors suggest this emission line could be a signature from the decay of a "sterile neutrino." (Abstract.) Sterile neutrinos are a hypothetical type of neutrino that is predicted to interact with normal matter only via gravity. Some scientists have proposed that sterile neutrinos may at least partially explain dark matter.
Supreme Court Rules Cell Phones Can't Be Searched Without a Warrant
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The courts have long debated on if cell phones can be searched during an arrest without a warrant. Today, the Supreme Court unanimously ruled that the police need warrants to search the cellphones of people they arrest. "Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., writing for the court, said the vast amount of data contained on modern cellphones must be protected (PDF) from routine inspection."
Phones may still be searched under limited circumstances (imminent threats), but this looks like a clear win for privacy. Quoting the decision: "We cannot deny that our decision today will have an impact on the ability of law enforcement to combat crime. Cell phones have become important tools in facilitating coordination and communication among members of criminal enterprises, and can provide valuable incriminating information about dangerous criminals. Privacy comes at a cost."
Searching For Ocean Life On Another World
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National Geographic has a detailed article about efforts underway to search for life in the oceans of Europa, which are buried beneath miles of ice. A first mission would have a spacecraft orbit just 16 miles over the moon's surface, analyzing the material ejected from the moon, measuring salinity, and sniffing out its chemical makeup. A later mission would then deploy a rover. But unlike the rovers we've built so far, this one would be designed to go underwater and navigate using the bottom surface of the ice over the oceans. An early design was just tested successfully underneath the ice in Alaska. "[It] crawls along under a foot of ice, its built-in buoyancy keeping it firmly pressed against the frozen subsurface, sensors measuring the temperature, salinity, pH, and other characteristics of the water."

Astronomers and astrobiologists are hopeful that these missions will provide definitive evidence of life on other worlds. "Europa certainly seems to have the basic ingredients for life. Liquid water is abundant, and the ocean floor may also have hydrothermal vents, similar to Earth's, that could provide nutrients for any life that might exist there. Up at the surface, comets periodically crash into Europa, depositing organic chemicals that might also serve as the building blocks of life. Particles from Jupiter's radiation belts split apart the hydrogen and oxygen that makes up the ice, forming a whole suite of molecules that living organisms could use to metabolize chemical nutrients from the vents."
China Starts Outsourcing From ... the US
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Burdened with Alabama's highest unemployment rate, long abandoned by textile mills and furniture plants, Wilcox County, Alabama, desperately needs jobs. And the jobs are coming from China. Henan's Golden Dragon Precise Copper Tube Group opened a plant here last month, employing 300 locals. Chinese companies invested a record $14 billion in the United States last year, according to the Rhodium Group research firm. Collectively, they employ more than 70,000 Americans, up from virtually none a decade ago. Powerful forces narrowing wage gaps (Chinese wages have been doubling every few years), tumbling U.S. energy prices, the rising Yuan up 30% over the decade are pulling Chinese companies across the Pacific. Perhaps very soon, Chinese workers will start protesting their jobs being outsourced to the cheap labor in the U.S."
World's First Large-Scale Waste-to-Biofuels Facility Opens In Canada
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Thanks to its extensive composting and recycling facilities, the city of Edmonton, Canada is already diverting approximately 60 percent of its municipal waste from the landfill. That figure is expected to rise to 90 percent, however, once the city's new Waste-to-Biofuels and Chemicals Facility starts converting garbage (that can't be composted or recycled) into methanol and ethanol. It's the world's first such plant to operate on an industrial scale, and Gizmag recently got a guided tour of the place.
NOAA: Earth Smashed A Record For Heat In May 2014, Effects To Worsen
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Driven by exceptionally warm ocean waters, Earth smashed a record for heat in May and is likely to keep on breaking high temperature marks, experts say. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Monday said May's average temperature on Earth of 15.54 C beat the old record set four years ago. In April, the globe tied the 2010 record for that month. Records go back to 1880. Experts say there's a good chance global heat records will keep falling, especially next year because an El Nino weather event is brewing on top of man-made global warming. An El Nino is a warming of the eastern tropical Pacific Ocean that alters climate worldwide and usually spikes global temperatures.
The Bursting Social Media Advertising Bubble
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One of the great "paradigms" of the New Normal tech bubble that supposedly differentiated it from dot com bubble 1.0 was that this time it was different, at least when it came to advertising revenues. The mantra went that unlike traditional web-based banner advertising which has been in secular decline over the past decade, social media ad spending which the bulk of new tech company stalwarts swear is the source of virtually unlimited upside growth was far more engaging, and generated far greater returns and better results for those spending billions in ad bucks on the new "social-networked" generation. Sadly, this time was not different after all, and this "paradigm" has also turned out to be one big pipe dream. According to the WSJ, citing Gallup, "62% of the more than 18,000 U.S. consumers it polled said social media had no influence on their buying decisions. Another 30% said it had some influence. U.S. companies spent $5.1 billion on social-media advertising in 2013, but Gallup says "consumers are highly adept at tuning out brand-related Facebook and Twitter content."
US Government Introduces Pollinator Action Plan To Save Honey Bees
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The White House has announced a federal strategy to reverse a decline in the number of honeybees and other pollinators in the United States. Obama has directed federal agencies to use research, land management, education and public/private partnerships to advance honeybee and other pollinator health and habitats. The Environmental Protection Agency and the Agriculture Department will lead a multi-agency task force to develop a pollinator health strategy and action plan within six months. As part of the plan, the USDA announced $8 million in funding for farmers and ranchers in five states who establish new habitats for honeybee populations.
How Dying Became A Multibillion-Dollar Industry
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These large companies have proved tremendously effective at expanding hospice’s reach. More than 1 million people die each year while receiving hospice services in the U.S., according to the major hospice trade association. Nearly half of all Medicare patients who die now do so as a hospice patient — twice as many as in 2000, government data shows.
But mounting evidence indicates that many providers are imperiling the health of patients in a drive to boost revenues and enroll more people, an investigation by The Huffington Post found.
Continuous System For Converting Waste Plastics Into Crude Oil
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A MIT spinout company aims to end the landfilling of plastic with a cost-effective system that breaks down nonrecycled plastics into oil, while reusing some of the gas it produces to operate. To convert the plastics into oil, this new system first shreds them. The shreds are then entered into a reactor — which runs at about 400 degrees Celsius — where a catalyst helps degrade the plastics' long carbon chains. This produces a vapor that runs through a condenser, where it's made into oil. Much of the system's innovation is in its continuous operation (video). This company aims to produce more refined fuel that recyclers can immediately pump back into their recycling trucks, without the need for oil refineries. Currently, 2 trillion tons of plastic waste is sitting in U.S. landfills, so there is a huge demand for this technology.
Draper Labs Develops Low Cost Probe To Orbit, Land On Europa For NASA
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Ever since the House passed a NASA spending bill that allocated $100 million for a probe to Jupiter's moon Europa, the space agency has been attempting to find a way to do such a mission on the cheap. The trick is that the mission has to cost less than $1 billion, a tall order for anything headed to the Outer Planets. According to a Wednesday story in the Atlantic, some researchers at Draper Labs have come up with a cheap way to do a Europa orbiter and land instruments on its icy surface.
The first stage is to orbit a cubesat, a tiny, coffee can sized satellite that would contain two highly accurate accelerometers that would go into orbit around Europa and measure its gravity field. In this way the location of Europa's subsurface oceans would be mapped. Indeed it is possible that the probe might find an opening through the ice crust to the ocean, warmed it is thought by tidal forces.
The second stage is to deploy even smaller probes called chipsats, tiny devices that contain sensors, a microchip, and an antenna. Hundreds of these probes, the size of human fingernails, would float down on Europa's atmosphere to be scattered about its surface. While some might be lost, enough will land over a wide enough area to do an extensive chemical analysis of the surface of Europa, which would then be transmitted to the cubesat mothership and then beamed to Earth.
Elon Musk: I'll Put a Human On Mars By 2026
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Elon Musk says that he'll put the first human boots on Mars well before the 2020s are over. "I'm hopeful that the first people could be taken to Mars in 10 to 12 years, I think it's certainly possible for that to occur," he said. "But the thing that matters long term is to have a self-sustaining city on Mars, to make life multiplanetary." He acknowledged that the company's plans were too long-term to attract many hedge fund managers, which makes it hard for SpaceX to go public anytime soon. "We need to get where things a steady and predictable," Musk said. "Maybe we're close to developing the Mars vehicle, or ideally we've flown it a few times, then I think going public would make more sense."
Why Amazon Might Want a Big Piece of the Smartphone Market
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If rumors prove correct, Amazon will unveil a smartphone at a high-profile June 18 event in Seattle. According to a new article in The New York Times, Amazon's willing to take such enormous risks because a smartphone will help it sell more products via its gargantuan online store. In theory, a mobile device would allow customers in the midst of their daily routines to order products with a few finger-taps, allowing Amazon to push back against Google and other tech companies exploring similar instant-gratification territory. But a smartphone also plays into Amazon's plans for the digital world. Over the past several years, the company has become a popular vendor of cloud services and used that base to expand into everything from tablets to a growing mobile-app ecosystem. A smartphone could prove a crucial portal for all those services. If an Amazon smartphone proves a hit, however, it could become a game-changer for mobile developers, opening up a whole new market for apps and services. Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos has succeeded in the digital space largely by opening up various platforms—whether Kindle self-publishing or the Amazon app store—to third-party wares. It'll be interesting to see whether he does something similar with the smartphone.
Early reports suggest Amazon's phone will be exclusive to AT&T.
Canadian Court Orders Google To Remove Websites From Its Global Index
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In the aftermath of the European Court of Justice "right to be forgotten" decision, many asked whether a similar ruling could arise elsewhere. While a privacy-related ruling has yet to hit Canada, Michael Geist reports that last week a Canadian court relied in part on the decision in issuing an unprecedented order requiring Google to remove websites from its global index. The ruling is unusual since its reach extends far beyond Canada. Rather than ordering the company to remove certain links from the search results available through Google.ca, the order intentionally targets the entire database, requiring the company to ensure that no one, anywhere in the world, can see the search results.
Radar Data Yields High-Resolution Views of Near-Earth Asteroid HQ124
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On June 8th, with a radio source beamed at the asteroid designated 2014 HQ124 (less formally, "the beast") while two other telescopes tracked that beam's reflections, NASA was able to gather high-quality images of the object as it zipped by a mere 776,000 miles from Earth. (Some asteroids are closer, and a vast number of them could soon be better known, but none have allowed as good an opportunity for radar obvservation.) Astronomy Magazine's account adds a bit more detail:
To obtain the new views, researchers paired the 230-foot (70m) Deep Space Network antenna at Goldstone, California, with two other radio telescopes, one at a time. Using this technique, the Goldstone antenna beams a radar signal at an asteroid and the other antenna receives the reflections. The technique dramatically improves the amount of detail that can be seen in radar images. To image 2014 HQ124, the researchers first paired the large Goldstone antenna with the 1,000-foot (305m) Arecibo radio telescope in Puerto Rico. They later paired the large Goldstone dish with a smaller companion, a 112-foot (34m) antenna, located about 20 miles (32km) away. ... The first five images in the new sequence the top row in the collage represent the data collected by Arecibo and are 30 times brighter than what Goldstone can produce observing on its own.
Transforming the Web Into a Transparent 'HTTPA' Database
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MIT researchers believe the solution to misuse and leakage of private data is more transparency and auditability, not adding new layers of security. Traditional approaches make it hard, if not impossible, to share data for useful purposes, such as in healthcare. Enter HTTPA, HTTP with accountability.

From the article:
"With HTTPA, each item of private data would be assigned its own uniform resource identifier (URI), a component of the Semantic Web that, researchers say, would convert the Web from a collection of searchable text files into a giant database. Every time the server transmitted a piece of sensitive data, it would also send a description of the restrictions on the data’s use. And it would also log the transaction, using the URI, in a network of encrypted servers."
Appeals Court Finds Scanning To Be Fair Use
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In Authors Guild v Hathitrust, the US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit has found that scanning whole books and making them searchable for research use is a fair use. In reaching its conclusion, the 3-judge panel reasoned, in its 34-page opinion (PDF), that the creation of a searchable, full text database is a "quintessentially transformative use", that it was "reasonably necessary" to make use of the entire works, that maintaining four copies of the database was reasonably necessary as well, and that the research library did not impair the market for the originals. Needless to say, this ruling augurs well for Google in Authors Guild v. Google, which likewise involves full text scanning of whole books for research.
Dinosaurs May Have Been Neither Warm-blooded Nor Cold-Blooded
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An article published in Science (abstract) points to the possibility that dinosaurs were mesotherms more akin to modern Tuna. Their internal temperature would have been warmer than their surrounding environment, conferring on them the ability to move more quickly than any ectotherm ("cold blooded" animal), but wouldn't have been constant or as warm as any endoderm ("warm blooded" animal). Their energy use and thus their necessary food intake would have been greater than an ectotherm, but much less than an endotherm. In order to arrive at this possibility, bone growth rings in fossilized bone were used to establish growth rates and then compared to modern ectotherms and endotherms.
The Government Can No Longer Track Your Cell Phone Without a Warrant
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The government cannot use cell phone location data as evidence in a criminal proceeding without first obtaining a warrant, an appeals court ruled today, in one of the most important privacy decisions in recent memory. "In short, we hold that cell site location information is within the subscriber's reasonable expectation of privacy," the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit ruled. "The obtaining of that data without a warrant is a Fourth Amendment violation."
The Inexplicable Universe: Unsolved Mysteries
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I just watched a great science series on Netflix with Neil deGrasse Tyson. A good overview of modern science explained in easy to understand terms.
Amazon Dispute Now Making Movies Harder To Order
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Perhaps Amazon figures that if you are going to get bad press, they might as well pile on.

Hachette books aren't the only products that are now harder to order on Amazon the online retailer is going after movies, too. Amazon has turned off the preorder function for DVDs of prominent Warner Bros. films as it seeks to raise pressure on the company during negotiations. The Lego Movie, for example, is listed as "currently unavailable" on Amazon. Set for release in the home video marketplace on June 17, there is no option to place a preorder."
Auditors Release Verified Repositories of TrueCrypt
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As the uncertainty surrounding the end of TrueCrypt continues, members of the security community are working to preserve a known-good archive of the last version of the open source encryption software released before the developers inserted a warning about potential unfixed bugs in the software and ended development.
The message that the TrueCrypt posted about the security of the software also was included in the release of version 7.2a. The OCAP team decided to focus on version 7.1a and created the verified repository by comparing the SHA2 hashes with files found in other TrueCrypt repositories. So the files are the same as the ones that were distributed as 7.1a. "These files were obtained last November in preparation for our audit, and match the hash reported by iSec in their official report from phase I of the audit," said Kenn White, part of the team involved in the TrueCrypt audit.
Was Turing Test Legitimately Beaten, Or Just Cleverly Tricked?
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On Sunday we saw a story that the Turing Test had finally been passed. The same story was picked up by most of the mainstream media and reported all over the place over the weekend and yesterday. However, today we see an article in TechDirt telling us that in fact the original press release was just a load of hype. So who's right? Have researchers at a well established university managed to beat this test for the first time, or should we believe TechDirt who have pointed out some aspects of the story which, if true, are pretty damning?"
Kevin Warwick gives the bot a thumbs up, but the TechDirt piece takes heavy issue with Warwick himself on this front.
Turing Test Passed - or Was It?
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IMHO, pretending to be a young kid is kinda cheating, but still ...
Eugene Goostman, a computer program pretending to be a young Ukrainian boy, successfully duped enough humans to pass the iconic test. The Turing Test which requires that computers are indistinguishable from humans — is considered a landmark in the development of artificial intelligence, but academics have warned that the technology could be used for cybercrime. Computing pioneer Alan Turing said that a computer could be understood to be thinking if it passed the test, which requires that a computer dupes 30 per cent of human interrogators in five-minute text conversations.
NASA Beams Hi-Def Video From Space Via Laser
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NASA successfully beamed a high-definition video 260 miles from the International Space Station to Earth Thursday using a new laser communications instrument. Transmission of 'Hello, World!' as a video message was the first 175-megabit communication for the Optical Payload for Lasercomm Science (OPALS), a technology demonstration that allows NASA to test methods for communication with future spacecraft using higher bandwidth than radio waves.
Last September, NASA's LADEE (Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer) showed that they could supply a lunar colony with broadband via lasers.
Rising Sea Levels Uncover Japanese War Dead In Marshall Islands
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The foreign minister of the Marshall Islands says that, 'even the dead are affected' by climate change. From the article: 'Speaking at UN climate talks in Bonn, the Island's foreign minister said that high tides had exposed one grave with 26 dead. The minister said the bones were most likely those of Japanese troops. Driven by global warming, waters in this part of the Pacific have risen faster than the global average. With a high point just two metres above the waters, the Marshall Islands are one of the most vulnerable locations to changes in sea level.'
Millions of Smart TVs Vulnerable To 'Red Button' Attack
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Researchers from Columbia University's Network Security Lab discovered a flaw affecting millions of Smart TVs supporting the HbbTV standard. The flaw allows a radio-frequency attacker with a low budget to take control over tens of thousands of TVs in a single attack, forcing the TVs to interact with any website on their behalf — Academic paper available online.
Fasting Triggers Stem Cell Regeneration of Damaged, Old Immune System
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In both mice and a Phase 1 human clinical trial (abstract), long periods of not eating significantly lowered white blood cell counts. In mice, fasting cycles then "flipped a regenerative switch," changing the signaling pathways for hematopoietic stem cells, which are responsible for the generation of blood and immune systems, the research showed. "PKA is the key gene that needs to shut down in order for these stem cells to switch into regenerative mode. It gives the OK for stem cells to go ahead and begin proliferating and rebuild the entire system," explained [study author Valter Longo], noting the potential of clinical applications that mimic the effects of prolonged fasting to rejuvenate the immune system. "And the good news is that the body got rid of the parts of the system that might be damaged or old, the inefficient parts, during the fasting. Now, if you start with a system heavily damaged by chemotherapy or aging, fasting cycles can generate, literally, a new immune system."
Open Source Robot OS Finds Niches From Farms To Space
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Blue River Technology built a robot named LettuceBot that uses computer vision to kill unwanted lettuce plants in a field. Rather than build their creation from scratch, they built off of the Robot Operating System, an open source OS that, in the words of one engineer, 'allowed only a few engineers to write an entire system and receive our first check for service in only a few months.' With ROS robots starting to appear everywhere, including the International Space Station, it looks like open source may be making huge strides in this area.
Astronomers Solve Puzzle of Mysterious Streaks In Radio Images of the Sky
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Back in 2012, astronomers constructed an array of 256 radio antennas in the high deserts of New Mexico designed to listen for radio waves produced by gamma ray bursts, one of the most energetic phenomena in universe and thought to be associated with the collapse of a rapidly rotating stars to form neutron stars and black holes. The array generates all sky images of signals produced in the 25 MHz to 75 MHz region of the spectrum. But when researchers switched it on, they began to observe puzzling streaks across the sky that couldn't possibly be generated by gamma ray bursts. One source left a trail covering more than 90 degrees of the sky in less than 10 seconds. This trail then slowly receded to an endpoint which glowed for around 90 seconds. Now the first study of these transient radio signals has discovered that they are almost certainly produced by fireballs as they burn up after entering the Earth's atmosphere. The conclusion comes after the researchers were able to match several of the radio images with visible light images of fireballs gathered by NASA's All Sky Fireball Network. That solves the mystery but not without introducing another to keep astrophysicists busy in future. The question they're scratching their heads over now is how the plasma trails left by meteors can emit radio waves at this frequency.
Evidence of Protoplanet Found On Moon
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Researchers have found evidence of the world that crashed into the Earth billions of years ago to form the Moon. Analysis of lunar rock brought back by Apollo astronauts shows traces of the "planet" called Theia. The researchers claim that their discovery confirms the theory that the Moon was created by just such a cataclysmic collision. The accepted theory since the 1980s is that the Moon arose as a result of a collision between the Earth and Theia 4.5bn years ago. It is the simplest explanation, and fits in well with computer simulations. The main drawback with the theory is that no one had found any evidence of Theia in lunar rock samples. Earlier analyses had shown Moon rock to have originated entirely from the Earth whereas computer simulations had shown that the Moon ought to have been mostly derived from Theia. Now a more refined analysis of Moon rock has found evidence of material thought to have an alien origin.
A Year After Snowden's Disclosures, EFF, FSF Want You To Fight Surveillance
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Today, as the EFF notes, marks one year from Edward Snowden's first document leaks, and the group is using that as a good spur to install free software intended to make it harder for anyone (the NSA is certainly not the first, and arguably far from the worst) to spy on your electronic communications. Nowadays, that means nearly everything besides face-to-face communication, or paper shipped through the world's postal systems. Reader gnujoshua (540710) highlights one of the options:

'The FSF has published a (rather beautiful) infographic and guide to encrypting your email using GnuPG. In their blog post announcing the guide they write: "One year ago today, an NSA contractor named Edward Snowden went public with his history-changing revelations about the NSA's massive system of indiscriminate surveillance. Today the FSF is releasing Email Self-Defense, a guide to personal email encryption to help everyone, including beginners, make the NSA's job a little harder.'"

Serendipitous timing: a year and a day ago, we mentioned a UN report that made explicit the seemingly obvious truth that undue government surveillance, besides being an affront in itself, chills free speech. (Edward Snowden agrees.)
AT&T To Use Phone Geolocation To Prevent Credit Card Fraud
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Imagine you've spent years making credit card purchases in your home state of California, and suddenly a bunch of charges appear the card in Russia. Your bank might move to shut the card down for suspected fraud, which would be great if your account number had been stolen by hackers but really irritating if you were on vacation in Moscow. AT&T is proposing a service that would allow customers to let their bank track their movements via their cell phone, to confirm that you (or at least your phone) and your credit card are in the same place.
Star Within a Star: Thorne-Zytkow Object Discovered
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A weird type of 'hybrid' star has been discovered nearly 40 years since it was first theorized but until now has been curiously difficult to find. In 1975, renowned astrophysicists Kip Thorne, of the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) in Pasadena, Calif., and Anna Zytkow, of the University of Cambridge, UK, assembled a theory on how a large dying star could swallow its neutron star binary partner, thus becoming a very rare type of stellar hybrid, nicknamed a Thorne-Zytkow object (or TZO). The neutron star a dense husk of degenerate matter that was once a massive star long since gone supernova would spiral into the red supergiant's core, interrupting normal fusion processes. According to the Thorne-Zytkow theory, after the two objects have merged, an excess of the elements rubidium, lithium and molybdenum will be generated by the hybrid. So astronomers have been on the lookout for stars in our galaxy, which is thought to contain only a few dozen of these objects at any one time, with this specific chemical signature in their atmospheres. Now, according to Emily Levesque of the University of Colorado Boulder and her team, a bona fide TZO has been discovered and their findings have been accepted for publication in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society Letters.
Geophysicists Discover How Rocks Produce Magnetic Pulses
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Since the 1960s, geophysicists have known that some earthquakes are preceded by ultra-low frequency magnetic pulses that increase in number until the quake takes place. But this process has always puzzled them: how can rocks produce magnetic pulses? Now a group of researchers has worked out what's going on. They say that rocks under pressure can become semiconductors that produce magnetic pulses under certain circumstances.

When igneous rocks form in the presence of water, they contain peroxy bonds with OH groups. Under great temperature and pressure, these bonds break down creating electron-holes pairs. The electrons become trapped at the site of the broken bonds but the holes are free to move through the crystal structure. The natural diffusion of these holes through the rock creates p and n regions just like those in doped semiconductors. And the boundary between these regions behaves like the p-n junction in a diode, allowing current to flow in one direction but not the other. At least not until the potential difference reaches a certain value when the boundary breaks down allowing a sudden increase in current. It is this sudden increase that generates a magnetic field. And the sheer scale of this process over a volume of hundreds of cubic meters ensures that these magnetic pulses have an extremely low frequency that can be detected on the surface. The new theory points to the possibility of predicting imminent earthquakes by triangulating the position of rocks under pressure by searching for the magnetic pulses they produce (although significantly more work needs to be done to characterize the process before then).
Strange New World Discovered: The "Mega Earth"
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Meet 'mega-Earth' a souped-up, all-solid planet that, according to theory, should not exist. First spotted by NASA's Kepler space telescope, the planet is about 2.3 times larger than Earth. Computer models show planets that big would be more like Neptune or the other gas planets of the outer solar system since they would have the gravitational heft to collect vast amounts of hydrogen and helium from their primordial cradles. But follow-up observations of the planet, designated as Kepler-10c, show it has 17 times as much mass as Earth, meaning it must be filled with rock and other materials much heavier than hydrogen and helium. 'Kepler-10c is a big problem for the theory,' astronomer Dimitar Sasselov, director of the Harvard Origins of Life Initiative, told Discovery News. 'It's nice that we have a solid piece of evidence and measurements for it because that gives motivations to the theorists to improve the theory,' he said.
The Coming IT Nightmare of Unpatchable Systems
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Insecure by design and trusted by default, embedded systems present security concerns that could prove crippling if not addressed by fabricators, vendors, and customers alike, InfoWorld reports. Routers, smart refrigerators, in-pavement traffic-monitoring systems, or crop-monitoring drones — 'the trend toward systems and devices that, once deployed, stubbornly "keep on ticking" regardless of the wishes of those who deploy them is fast becoming an IT security nightmare made real, affecting everything from mom-and-pop shops to power stations. This unpatchable hell is a problem with many fathers, from recalcitrant vendors to customers wary of — or hostile to — change. But with the number and diversity of connected endpoints expected to skyrocket in the next decade, radical measures are fast becoming necessary to ensure that today's "smart" devices and embedded systems don't haunt us for years down the line.
Reading Rainbow Kickstarter Earns One Million Dollars In Less Than a Day
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LeVar Burton and the rest of the Reading Rainbow crew opened a Kickstarter campaign to bring back Reading Rainbow yesterday, with the ambitious goal of collecting a million dollars for their cause. They are now at almost two million dollars, with over a month left to go. 'This Kickstarter campaign is about reaching every web-connected child. Universal access. Thousands of more books than what we have now. And hundreds of more video field trips,' Burton said.
In First American TV Interview, Snowden Talks Accountability and Patriotism
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NBC News's interview with Edward Snowden, the first time Snowden has talked with an American television reporter. It's a wide-ranging conversation, in which Snowden emphasizes his ongoing belief that he did the right thing to release the many documents that he did, even at the cost of his ability to travel. Snowden told NBC's Brian Williams "he had tried to go through channels before leaking documents to journalists, repeatedly raising objections inside the NSA, in writing, to its widespread use of surveillance. But he said he was told, "more or less, in bureaucratic language, 'You should stop asking questions.'" Two U.S. officials confirmed Wednesday that Snowden sent at least one email to the NSA's office of general counsel raising policy and legal questions." Perhaps paving the way to eventual repatriation, Snowden also indicated that he would be willing to accept a "short period" behind bars. But, he said, the U.S. should "reform the Espionage Act to distinguish between people who sell secrets to foreign governments for their own gain and people who return information to public hands for the purpose of serving the public interest," and to include contractors as well as government employees.
Amazon Confirms Hachette Spat Is To "Get a Better Deal"
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Last week we heard that Amazon was withdrawing Hachette books from its virtual shelves including allowing preorders of the new JK Rowling book. Amazon has responded to these allegations, and confirms that yes, they are purposefully preventing pre-orders and lowering stock in order to get a better deal from Hachette. Amazon recommends that in the meantime, customers either buy a used or new copy from their zShops or buy from a competitor. Amazon admits there is nothing wrong with Hachette's business dealings and that they are a generally good supplier.

There is also Hachette's response to the Amazon statement.
TrueCrypt Website Says To Switch To BitLocker
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The website for TrueCrypt, the popular disk encryption system, says that development has ended, and Windows users should switch to BitLocker. A notice on the site reads, "WARNING: Using TrueCrypt is not secure as it may contain unfixed security issues. ... You should migrate any data encrypted by TrueCrypt to encrypted disks or virtual disk images supported on your platform." It includes a link to a new version of TrueCrypt, 7.2, and provides instructions on how to migrate to BitLocker. Many users are skeptical of a site defacement, and there's been no corroborating post or communication from the maintainers. However, the binaries appear to be signed with the same GPG key that the TrueCrypt Foundation used for previous releases. A source code diff of the two versions has been posted, and the new release appears to simply remove much of what the software was designed to do. It also warns users away from relying on it for security. (The people doing an audit of TrueCrypt had promised a 'big announcement' soon, but that was coincidental.) Security experts are warning to avoid the new version until the situation can be verified.
The Andromeda Galaxy Just Had a Bright Gamma Ray Event
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We just saw something bright in the Andromeda Galaxy, and we don't know what it was. A Gamma Ray Burst or an Ultraluminous X-Ray Object, either way it will be the closest of its type we've ever observed at just over 2 million light years away. It's the perfect distance: close enough to observe in unprecedented detail, and far enough to not kill us all.
Parenting Rewires the Male Brain
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Cultures around the world have long assumed that women are hardwired to be mothers. But a new study (abstract) suggests that caring for children awakens a parenting network in the brain—even turning on some of the same circuits in men as it does in women. The research implies that the neural underpinnings of the so-called maternal instinct aren't unique to women, or activated solely by hormones, but can be developed by anyone who chooses to be a parent.
Why You Shouldn't Use Spreadsheets For Important Work
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Computer science professor Daniel Lemire explains why spreadsheets shouldn't be used for important work, especially where dedicated software could do a better job. His post comes in response to evaluations of a new economics tome by Thomas Piketty, a book that is likely to be influential for years to come. Lemire writes, 'Unfortunately, like too many people, Piketty used speadsheets instead of writing sane software. On the plus side, he published his code on the negative side, it appears that Piketty's code contains mistakes, fudging and other problems. ... Simply put, spreadsheets are good for quick and dirty work, but they are not designed for serious and reliable work. ... Spreadsheets make code review difficult. The code is hidden away in dozens if not hundreds of little cells If you are not reviewing your code carefully and if you make it difficult for others to review it, how do expect it to be reliable?'
Why Snowden Did Right
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Ebon Moglen Gives a comprehensive explanation of how the NSA's surveillance operations are a threat to a functioning democracy, and why there is a need for real change. There are interesting parallels to the Roman Empires: 'The power of that Roman empire rested in its leaders' control of communications. ... The emperors invented the posts to move couriers and messages at the fastest possible speed. Using that infrastructure, with respect to everything that involved the administration of power, the emperor made himself the best-informed person in the history of the world. That power eradicated human freedom. "Remember," said Cicero to Marcellus in exile, "wherever you are, you are equally within the power of the conqueror.'

Nowadays, 'Our military listeners have invaded the centre of an evolving net, where conscriptable digital superbrains gather intelligence on the human race for purposes of bagatelle and capitalism. In the US, the telecommunications companies have legal immunity for their complicity, thus easing the way further. The invasion of our net was secret, and we did not know that we should resist. But resistance developed as a fifth column among the listeners themselves. Because of Snowden, we now know that the listeners undertook to do what they repeatedly promised respectable expert opinion they would never do. They always said they would not attempt to break the crypto that secures the global financial system. That was false.'
50 Years Later, MIT Looks Back At AI and Networking Pioneer Project MAC
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Fifty years ago, a major project that ultimately seeded much of today's computer technology was created at MIT: Project MAC, and the Multics operating system initiative within the project. Daniel Dern interviews some of the key figures involved in the pioneering project, looking at how one laboratory helped spawn Ethernet, AI, and dozens of tech companies and other innovations that took ideas from the lab to the personal computer.
The Flaw Lurking In Every Deep Neural Net
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A recent paper, 'Intriguing properties of neural networks,' by Christian Szegedy, Wojciech Zaremba, Ilya Sutskever, Joan Bruna, Dumitru Erhan, Ian Goodfellow and Rob Fergus, a team that includes authors from Google's deep learning research project, outlines two pieces of news about the way neural networks behave that run counter to what we believed — and one of them is frankly astonishing. Every deep neural network has 'blind spots' in the sense that there are inputs that are very close to correctly classified examples that are misclassified. To quote the paper: 'For all the networks we studied, for each sample, we always manage to generate very close, visually indistinguishable, adversarial examples that are misclassified by the original network.' To be clear, the adversarial examples looked to a human like the original, but the network misclassified them. You can have two photos that look not only like a cat but the same cat, indeed the same photo, to a human, but the machine gets one right and the other wrong. What is even more shocking is that the adversarial examples seem to have some sort of universality. That is a large fraction were misclassified by different network architectures trained on the same data and by networks trained on a different data set. You might be thinking 'so what if a cat photo that is clearly a photo a cat is recognized as a dog?' If you change the situation just a little and ask what does it matter if a self-driving car that uses a deep neural network misclassifies a view of a pedestrian standing in front of the car as a clear road? There is also the philosophical question raised by these blind spots. If a deep neural network is biologically inspired we can ask the question, does the same result apply to biological networks? Put more bluntly, 'Does the human brain have similar built-in errors?' If it doesn't, how is it so different from the neural networks that are trying to mimic it?
Registry Hack Enables Continued Updates For Windows XP
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A registry workaround, which tricks Windows Update into thinking you are running Windows Embedded POSReady 2009, allows you to get free security updates until 2019. All you need is a simple 32bit or 64bit registry entry in order to make this work. POSReady 2009 is slated to receive security updates for another five years. Microsoft ended support for Windows XP on April 8th of 2014.
Kids react to old computers
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My sweetie found this for me. Amazing how something can go from bleeding edge to boring. ;^) The kids act a bit over the top, but that is why they were selected.
Mental Illness Reduces Lifespan As Much as Smoking
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That smoking is bad for your health is a commonplace; cancer, lung disease, and other possible consequences can all shorten smokers' lifespans. A new meta study from researchers at Oxford concludes that mental illness is just as big a factor in shortening lives, and not only because depression is a contributing factor to suicide. From the story at NPR:
"We know that smoking boosts the risk of cancer and heart disease, says Dr. Seena Fazel, a psychiatrist at Oxford University who led the study. But aside from the obvious fact that people with mental illnesses are more likely to commit suicide, it's not clear how mental disorders could be causing early deaths. The researchers looked at data on 1.7 million patients, drawing from 20 recent scientific reviews and studies from mostly wealthy countries. Comparing the effects of mental illness and smoking helps put the stats in context, Fazel tells Shots. 'It was useful to benchmark against something that has a very high mortality rate.'
Amazon Escalates Its Battle Against Publishers
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Amazon, under fire in much of the literary community for energetically discouraging customers from buying books from the publisher Hachette, has abruptly escalated the battle. The retailer began refusing orders late Thursday for coming Hachette books, including J.K. Rowling's new novel. The paperback edition of Brad Stone's The Everything Store: Jeff Bezos and the Age of Amazon a book Amazon disliked so much it denounced it is suddenly listed as 'unavailable.' In some cases, even the pages promoting the books have disappeared. Anne Rivers Siddons's new novel, The Girls of August, coming in July, no longer has a page for the physical book or even the Kindle edition. Only the audio edition is still being sold (for more than $60). Otherwise it is as if it did not exist. Amazon is also flexing its muscles in Germany, delaying deliveries of books issued by Bonnier, a major publisher.
If You Need Any Convincing That Solar Roadways Are The Future, This Video Will Help
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The concept has been around for a long time, but these folks have introduced some very interesting features.
Honey bees without hive, queen 'doomed' after wreck
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Seems to me that we should pay more attention to what is being transported.
NEWARK, Del. Several hundred hives of honey bees that survived intact when a truck carrying them overturned Tuesday on a freeway ramp near here were reloaded Wednesday night and sent on their way to blueberry fields in Maine, the shipment owner said.
Spanish Conquest Altered Peru's Shoreline, New Research Shows
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It isn't so much that they changed the shoreline, but they prevented the change that was underway
The Spanish conquest of the Inca had a profound effect on the regions indigenous people, but a new paper published today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences reveals that it also had an unexpected impact on the land itself.
The Big Bang's Last Great Prediction
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Even with the add-ons of dark matter, dark energy and inflation, the Big Bang still thrives as the most successful scientific model of the Universe ever constructed. It not only accounting for phenomena like the abundance of the light elements, the cosmic microwave background, and the Universe's large-scale structure, but it's led to observable predictions about their details that have since been verified. But there's one thing the Big Bang has generically predicted that we haven't been able to test: a cosmic background of low-energy, relic neutrinos.
New Mars Crater Spotted In Before-and-After Pictures
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The Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter spotted a new crater on the surface of Mars, and, using before-and-after pictures, the impact date has been nailed down to less than a day it happened on or about March 27, 2012. The crater is 50 meters or so in size, and surrounded by smaller craters that may have been caused by smaller impacts due to the incoming meteoroid breaking up. Several landslides were spotted in the area as well, possibly due to the shock wave of the impact.
May Offers Possible New Meteor Shower
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Step outside and take a look at the skies on the evening of May 23 into the early morning of May 24. Scientists are anticipating a new meteor shower, the May Camelopardalids. No one has seen it before, but the shower could put on a show that would rival the prolific Perseid meteor shower in August. The Camelopardalids shower would be dust resulting from a periodic comet, 209P/LINEAR.
Witness the Birth of a Meteor Shower
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Here on Earth, we think of shooting stars and meteor showers as things that happen periodically; sometimes they're spectacular, sometimes they're rare. But in all cases, they're caused by comet debris, and they should flare up each time the Earth crosses the comet's path. But as it turns out, every meteor shower had a point in its past where it happened for the very first time. In all of human history, we've never recorded one that occurred for the very first time where none happened before. Well, for those of you who want to take the chance to be a part of it, this coming Friday night/Saturday morning, look for the Camelopardalids, making their Earthly debut this year!
Congress Unhappy With FCC's Proposed Changes To Net Neutrality
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the FCC's suggested net neutrality rules are facing opposition in Congress. "FCC chairman Tom Wheeler took the hot seat today in an oversight hearing before the House Subcommittee on Communications and Technology to testify about current issues before his agency, including net neutrality. The overriding theme of the day? Pretty much everyone who spoke hates the rule the FCC narrowly approved for consideration last week just for different reasons." Wheeler himself made some interesting comments in response to their questions:
"[He said] the agency recognizes that Internet providers would be disrupting a 'virtuous cycle' between the demand for free-flowing information on one hand and new investment in network upgrades on the other if they started charging companies like Google for better access to consumers. What's more, he said, the FCC would have the legal authority to intervene. 'If there is something that interferes with that virtuous cycle which I believe paid prioritization does then we can move against it,' Wheeler said, speaking loudly and slowly. A little later, in response to a question from Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), Wheeler cited network equipment manufacturers who've argued that you can't create a fast lane without worsening service for some Internet users. 'That's at the heart of what you're talking about here,' Wheeler said. 'That would be commercially unreasonable under our proposal.'"
Rising Sea Level Could Put East Coast Nuclear Plants At Risk
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"During the 1970s and 1980s, when many nuclear reactors were first built, most operators estimated that seas would rise at a slow, constant rate. ... But the seas are now rising much faster than they did in the past ... Sea levels rose an average of 8 inches between 1880 and 2009, or about 0.06 inches per year. But in the last 20 years, sea levels have risen an average of 0.13 inches per year... NOAA) has laid out four different projections for estimated sea level rise by 2100. Even the agency's best-case scenario assumes that sea levels will rise at least 8.4 inches by the end of this century. NOAA's worst-case scenario, meanwhile, predicts that the oceans will rise nearly 7 feet in the next 86 years. But most nuclear power facilities were built well before scientists understood just how high sea levels might rise in the future. And for power plants, the most serious threat is likely to come from surges during storms. Higher sea levels mean that flooding will travel farther inland, creating potential hazards in areas that may have previously been considered safe."
The article has charts comparing the current elevation of various plants with their estimated elevations under the various NOAA sea level rise estimates.
Grace Hopper, UNIVAC, and the First Programming Language
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It weighed 13 tons, had 5,200 vacuum tubes, and took up a whole garage, but the UNIVAC I was an incredible machine for its time. Memory was provided by tanks of liquid mercury, while the clock speed was a whopping 2.25 MHz. The UNIVAC I was one of the first commercial general-purpose computers produced, with 46 shipped, and Linux Voice has taken an in-depth look at it. Learn its fascinating instruction set, and also check out FLOW-MATIC, the first English-language data processing language created by American computing pioneer Grace Hopper.
Static Electricity Defies Simple Explanation
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If you've ever wiggled a balloon against your hair, you know that rubbing together two different materials can generate static electricity. But rubbing bits of the same material can create static, too. Now, researchers have shot down a decades-old idea of how that same-stuff static comes about (study). '[The researchers] mixed grains of insulating zirconium dioxide-silicate with diameters of 251 micrometers and 326 micrometers and dropped them through a horizontal electric field, which pushed positively charged particles one way and negatively charged particles the other. They tracked tens of thousands of particles—by dropping an $85,000 high-speed camera alongside them. Sure enough, the smaller ones tended to be charged negatively and the larger ones positively, each accumulating 2 million charges on average. Then the researchers probed whether those charges could come from electrons already trapped on the grains' surfaces. They gently heated fresh grains to liberate the trapped electrons and let them "relax" back into less energetic states. As an electron undergoes such a transition, it emits a photon. So by counting photons, the researchers could tally the trapped electrons. "It's pretty amazing to me that they count every electron on a particle," Shinbrot says. The tally showed that the beads start out with far too few trapped electrons to explain the static buildup, Jaeger says.'
Congressmen Who Lobbied FCC Against Net Neutrality & Received Payoff
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We used to call this bribery, but since Citizens United, it is called "free speech".

Ars Technica published an article Friday highlighting the results from research conducted by a money-in-politics watchdog regarding the 28 congressmen who sent a combined total of three letters to the FCC protesting against re-classifying the internet as a public utility. These 28 members of the U.S. House of Representatives 'received, on average, $26,832 from the "cable & satellite TV production & distribution" sector over a two-year period ending in December. According to the data, that's 2.3 times more than the House average of $11,651.' That's average. Actual amounts that the 28 received over a two year period ranged from $109,250 (Greg Waldon, R-OR) to $0 (Nick Rahall, D-WV). Look at the list yourselves, and find your representative to determine how much legitimacy can be attributed to their stated concerns for the public.
Biggest Dinosaur Yet Discovered
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Fossilised bones of a dinosaur believed to be the largest creature ever to walk the Earth have been unearthed in Argentina, palaeontologists say. Based on its huge thigh bones, it was 40m (130ft) long and 20m (65ft) tall. Weighing in at 77 tonnes, it was as heavy as 14 African elephants, and seven tonnes heavier than the previous record holder, Argentinosaurus. Scientists believe it is a new species of titanosaur an enormous herbivore dating from the Late Cretaceous period. A local farm worker first stumbled on the remains in the desert near La Flecha, about 250km (135 miles) west of Trelew, Patagonia.
Cable TV Prices Rising At Four Times the Inflation Rate
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A new FCC report (PDF) has found that U.S. cable TV prices are rising at four times the rate of inflation over the past two decades. 'Basic cable service prices increased by 6.5 percent [to $22.63] for the 12 months ending January 1, 2013. Expanded basic cable prices increased by 5.1 percent [to $64.41] for those 12 months, and at a compound average annual rate of 6.1 percent over the 18-year period from 1995-2013. ... These price increases compare to a 1.6 percent increase in general inflation as measured by the CPI (All Items) for the same one-year period.' Equipment prices rose faster than inflation, too. The report also found that the price increases weren't helped by competition in fact, the prices rose faster where there were competing providers than in areas where the main provider had no effective competition.
NASA's Broken Planet-hunter Spacecraft Given Second Life
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NASA today said it would fund the technology fixes required to make its inoperative Kepler space telescope active again and able to hunt for new planets and galaxies. Kepler, you may recall, was rendered inoperable after the second of four gyroscope-like reaction wheels, which are used to precisely point the spacecraft for extended periods of time, failed last year, ending data collection for the original mission. The spacecraft required three working wheels to maintain the precision pointing necessary to detect the signal of small Earth-sized exoplanets.
Apple's Revenge: iMessage Might Eat Your Texts If You Switch To Android
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When my best friend upgraded from an iPhone 4S to a Galaxy S4, I texted her hello. Unfortunately, she didn't get that text, nor any of the five I sent in the following three days. My iPhone didn't realize she was now an Android user and sent all my texts via iMessage. It wasn't until she called me about going to brunch that I realized she wasn't getting my text messages. What I thought was just a minor bug is actually a much larger problem. One that, apparently, Apple has no idea how to fix. Apple said the company is aware of the situation, but it's not sure how to solve it. One Apple support person said: 'This is a problem a lot of people are facing. The engineering team is working on it but is apparently clueless as to how to fix it. There are no reliable solutions right now for some people the standard fixes work immediately; many others are in my boat.'
New PostgreSQL Guns For NoSQL Market
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Embracing the widely used JSON data-exchange format, the new version of the PostgreSQL open-source database takes aim at the growing NoSQL market of nonrelational data stores, notably the popular MongoDB. The first beta version of PostgreSQL 9.4, released Thursday, includes a number of new features that address the rapidly growing market for Web applications, many of which require fast storage and retrieval of large amounts of user data.
Orca Identified As 103 Years Old
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The oldest known orca has recently been spotted off western Canada at an age of 103. A female nicknamed 'granny,' photos exist of her from the 1930s, where she can be identified by her distinctive saddle patch. The news has prompted calls for another evaluation of marine mammals in captivity — orcas in captivity usually don't live beyond their 20s.
Humans Causing California's Mountains To Grow
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This is a cool story about anthropogenic effects of water withdrawal moving mountains literally. According to new research published today (abstract) and reported in EARTH Magazine, humans have been causing the Sierra Nevada mountains to rise. By withdrawing water for irrigation and other purposes, we have inadvertently removed water from the mountains, allowing them to uplift. The research shows a seasonal and annual cycle.
Supermassive Black Hole At the Centre of Galaxy May Be Wormhole In Disguise
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There is growing evidence that the center of the Milky Way contains a mysterious object some 4 million times more massive than the Sun. Many astronomers believe that this object, called Sagittarius A*, is a supermassive black hole that was crucial in the galaxy's birth and formation. The thinking is that about 100 million years after the Big Bang, this supermassive object attracted the gas and dust that eventually became the Milky Way. But there is a problem with this theory--100 million years is not long enough for a black hole to grow so big. The alternative explanation is that Sagittarius A* is a wormhole that connects the Milky Way to another region of the universe or even a another multiverse. Cosmologists have long known that wormholes could have formed in the instants after the Big Bang and that these objects would have been preserved during inflation to appear today as supermassive objects hidden behind an event horizon, like black holes. It's easy to imagine that it would be impossible to tell these objects apart. But astronomers have now worked out that wormholes are smaller than black holes and so bend light from an object orbiting close to them, such as a plasma cloud, in a unique way that reveals their presence. They've even simulated what such a wormhole will look like. No telescope is yet capable of resolving images like these but that is set to change too. An infrared instrument called GRAVITY is currently being prepared for the Very Large Telescope Interferometer in Chile and should be in a position to spot the signature of a wormhole, if it is there, in the next few years.
Your Old CD Collection Is Dying
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I suggest you rip your CDs to an External Hard Drive, and then periodically back it up to a second hard drive.
Adrienne LaFrance reports at the Atlantic that if you've tried listening to any of the old CDs lately from your carefully assembled collection from the 1980's or 1990's you may have noticed that many of them won't play. 'While most of the studio-manufactured albums I bought still play, there's really no telling how much longer they will. My once-treasured CD collection so carefully assembled over the course of about a decade beginning in 1994 isn't just aging; it's dying. And so is yours.'

Fenella France, chief of preservation research and testing at the Library of Congress is trying to figure out how CDs age so that we can better understand how to save them. But it's a tricky business, in large part because manufacturers have changed their processes over the years and even CDs made by the same company in the same year and wrapped in identical packaging might have totally different lifespans. 'We're trying to predict, in terms of collections, which of the types of CDs are the discs most at risk,' says France. 'The problem is, different manufacturers have different formulations so it's quite complex in trying to figure out what exactly is happening because they've changed the formulation along the way and it's proprietary information.' There are all kinds of forces that accelerate CD aging in real time. Eventually, many discs show signs of edge rot, which happens as oxygen seeps through a disc's layers. Some CDs begin a deterioration process called bronzing, which is corrosion that worsens with exposure to various pollutants. The lasers in devices used to burn or even play a CD can also affect its longevity. 'The ubiquity of a once dominant media is again receding. Like most of the technology we leave behind, CDs are are being forgotten slowly,' concludes LaFrance. 'We stop using old formats little by little. They stop working. We stop replacing them. And, before long, they're gone.'
What Caused a 1300-Year Deep Freeze?
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Things were looking up for Earth about 12,800 years ago. The last Ice Age was coming to an end, mammoths and other large mammals romped around North America, and humans were beginning to settle down and cultivate wild plants. Then, suddenly, the planet plunged into a deep freeze, returning to near-glacial temperatures for more than a millennium before getting warm again. The mammoths disappeared at about the same time, as did a major Native American culture that thrived on hunting them. A persistent band of researchers has blamed this apparent disaster on the impact of a comet or asteroid, but a new study concludes that the real explanation for the chill, at least, may lie strictly with Earth-bound events.
Astronomers Identify the Sun's Long-Lost Sister
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A team of researchers led by astronomer Ivan Ramirez of the University of Texas — Austin has identified the first 'sibling' of the sun, a star almost certainly born from the same cloud of gas and dust as our star. 'Astronomers had been observing the star for almost two decades without realizing it's the long-lost sister of the Sun. No doubt we have catalogued other solar siblings whose common heritage has yet to be discovered. Indeed, the UT team, lead by astronomer Ivan Ramirez, is confident that the identification of HD 162826 is just the beginning. "We want to know where we were born," Ramirez said in a statement. "If we can figure out in what part of the galaxy the Sun formed, we can constrain conditions on the early solar system. That could help us understand why we are here."'
Brazilian Kids Learning English By Video Chatting With Elderly Americans
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Tim Nudd writes that it's the perfect match: Young Brazilians want to learn English. Elderly Americans living in retirement homes just want someone to talk to. Why not connect them? The advertising company FCB Brazil did just that with its 'Speaking Exchange' project for CNA language schools where young Brazilians and older Americans connect via Web chats, and they not only begin to share a language—they develop relationships that enrich both sides culturally and emotionally. 'The goal of the Speaking Exchange project is to transform lives,' says Luciana Fortuna. 'Our students have the opportunity to practice English with people who are willing to listen. During the chat sessions, the students discuss ideas and information from their lives in Brazil with the American senior citizens, many of whom have never had contact with anyone from Brazil before.' The pilot project was implemented at a CNA school in Liberdade, Brazil, and the Windsor Park Retirement Community in Chicago. The conversations are recorded and uploaded as private YouTube videos for the teachers to evaluate the students' development. 'The idea is simple and it's a win-win proposition for both the students and the American senior citizens. It's exciting to see their reactions and contentment. It truly benefits both sides,' says Joanna Monteiro.
Al Franken Says FCC Proposed Rules Are "The Opposite of Net Neutrality"
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Senator Al Franken can be counted among the many who are at odds with the FCC's proposed net neutrality rules. From the article: 'Senator Al Franken has a pretty good idea of what the term "net neutrality" meansand that, he says, puts him head-and-shoulders above many of his colleagues in the U.S. Congress. "We literally have members of CongressI've heard members of the Housesay, 'We've had all this innovation on the Internet without net neutrality. Why do we need it now?'" he told TIME in an interview last week. "I want to say, 'Come on, just try to understand the idea. Or at least just don't give a speech if you don't know what you're saying. Pleaseit hurts my head."'
Former NSA Director: 'We Kill People Based On Metadata'
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An article by David Cole at the NY Review of Books lays out why we should care as much about the collection of metadata as we do about the collection of the data itself. At a recent debate, General Michael Hayden, who formerly led both the NSA and the CIA, told Cole, 'we kill people based on metadata.' The statement is stark and descriptive: metadata isn't just part of the investigation. Sometimes it's the entire investigation. Cole talks about the USA Freedom Act, legislation that would limit the NSA's data collection powers if it passes. The bill contains several good steps in securing the privacy of citizens and restoring due process. But Cole says it 'only skims the surface.' He writes, 'It does not address, for example, the NSA's guerilla-like tactics of inserting vulnerabilities into computer software and drivers, to be exploited later to surreptitiously intercept private communications. It also focuses exclusively on reining in the NSA's direct spying on Americans. ... In the Internet era, it is increasingly common that everyone's communications cross national boundaries. That makes all of us vulnerable, for when the government collects data in bulk from people it believes are foreign nationals, it is almost certain to sweep up lots of communications in which Americans are involved.' He concludes, '[T]he biggest mistake any of us could make would be to conclude that this bill solves the problem.'
Eavesdropping With a Smart TV
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A article on The Register titled talks about a demo that was given in London last month by NCC Group where they turned a modern TV into an audio bug. 'The devices contain microphones and cameras that can be utilized by applications Skype and similar apps being good examples. The TV has a fairly large amount of storage, so would be able to hold more than 30 seconds of audio we only captured short snippets for demonstrations purposes. A more sophisticated attack could store more audio locally and only upload it at certain times, or could even stream it directly to a server, bypassing the need to use any of the devices storage.' Given the Snowden revelations and what we've seen previously about older tech being deprecated, how can we protect ourselves with the modern devices (other than not connecting them to the Internet)?
Feds Issue Emergency Order On Crude Oil Trains
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Joan Lowy writes for AP that the Department of Transportation has issued an emergency order requiring that railroads inform state emergency management officials about the movement of large shipments of crude oil through their states and urged shippers not to use older model tanks cars that are easily ruptured in accidents, even at slow speeds. The emergency order follows a warning two weeks ago from outgoing National Transportation Safety Board Chairwoman Deborah Hersman that the department risks a 'higher body count' as the result of fiery oil train accidents if it waits for new safety regulations to become final. There have been nine oil train derailments in the U.S. and Canada since March of last year, many of them resulting in intense fires and sometimes the evacuation of nearby residents, according to the NTSB. The latest was last week, when a CSX train carrying Bakken crude derailed in downtown Lynchburg, Va., sending three tank cars into the James River and shooting flames and black smoke into the air. Concern about the safe transport of crude oil was heightened after a runaway oil train derailed and then exploded last July in the small town of Lac-Megantic in Canada, just across the border from Maine. More than 60 tank cars spilled more than 1.3 million gallons of oil. Forty-seven people were killed and 30 buildings destroyed in the resulting inferno. Hersman says that over her 10 years on the board she has 'seen a lot of difficulty when it comes to safely rules being implemented if we don't have a high enough body count. That is a tombstone mentality. We know the steps that will prevent or mitigate these accidents. What is missing is the will to require people to do so.'
Space Telescope Reveals Weird Star Cluster Conundrum
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We thought we had star formation mechanisms pinned down, but according to new observations of two star clusters, it seems our understanding of how stars are born is less than stellar. When zooming in on the young star clusters of NGC 2024 (in the center of the Flame Nebula) and the Orion Nebula Cluster, NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory teamed up with infrared telescopes to take a census of star ages. Conventional thinking suggests that stars closest to the center of a given star cluster should be the oldest and the youngest stars can be found around the edges. However, to their surprise, astronomers have discovered that the opposite is true: 'Our findings are counterintuitive,' said Konstantin Getman of Penn State University, lead scientist of this new study. 'It means we need to think harder and come up with more ideas of how stars like our sun are formed.'
Average American Cable Subscriber Gets 189 Channels and Views 17
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Nielsen, the company that studies the viewing habits of television viewers, announced its findings in a blog post Tuesday. Since 2008, the number of cable TV channels offered as a bundle rose from 129 to 189 in 2013, but in that time-frame viewers have consistently only watched an average of 17 channels. The data seems to support the notion that consumers are better off subscribing to channels a la carte, but cable companies are of the opinion that 'the price of cable TV wouldn't change much if channels were served à la carte because content providers won't sell the most popular programs to cable companies unless the provider's other channels are also served up.' Nielsen concluded in its post that 'quality is imperative—for both content creators and advertisers', signaling the possibility that more Americans will cut the cord after realizing that their cable bill has increased in the last few years but their consumption of content hasn't.
US Climate Report Says Global Warming Impact Already Severe
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Darryl Fears reports in the Washington Post on the U.S. government's newest national assessment of climate change. It says Americans are already feeling the effects of global warming. The assessment carves the nation into sections and examines the impacts: More sea-level rise, flooding, storm surge, precipitation and heat waves in the Northeast; frequent water shortages and hurricanes in the Southeast and Caribbean; more drought and wildfires in the Southwest. 'Residents of some coastal cities see their streets flood more regularly during storms and high tides. Inland cities near large rivers also experience more flooding, especially in the Midwest and Northeast. Insurance rates are rising in some vulnerable locations, and insurance is no longer available in others. Hotter and drier weather and earlier snow melt mean that wildfires in the West start earlier in the spring, last later into the fall, and burn more acreage. In Arctic Alaska, the summer sea ice that once protected the coasts has receded, and autumn storms now cause more erosion, threatening many communities with relocation.' The report concludes that over recent decades, climate science has advanced significantly and that increased scrutiny has led to increased certainty that we are now seeing impacts associated with human-induced climate change. 'What is new over the last decade is that we know with increasing certainty that climate change is happening now. While scientists continue to refine projections of the future, observations unequivocally show that climate is changing and that the warming of the past 50 years is primarily due to human-induced emissions of heat-trapping gases.'
Help EFF Test a New Tool To Stop Creepy Online Tracking
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EFF is launching a new extension for Firefox and Chrome called Privacy Badger. Privacy Badger automatically detects and blocks spying ads around the Web, and the invisible trackers that feed information to them. You can try it out today.
Finally, Hi-Def Streaming Video of the ISS's View of Earth
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After being continuously inhabited for more than 13 years, it is finally possible to log into Ustream and watch the Earth spinning on its axis in glorious HD. This video feed [embedded at ExtremeTech] comes from from four high-definition cameras, delivered by last month's SpaceX CRS-3 resupply mission, that are attached to the outside of the International Space Station. You can open up the Ustream page at any time, and as long as it isn't night time aboard the ISS, you'll be treated to a beautiful view of the Earth from around 250 miles (400 km) up.
Google Shifts Editing From Drive to Docs and Sheets In 'Confusing' Switch
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GottaBeMobile offers a better explanation than many other reports of a recent Google upgrade (some users would say more of a lateral move) that makes offline document creation and editing a first-class option for users of Google's office apps, but removes editing capabilities from Google Drive per se. Instead of creating or editing documents directly through Drive, users will instead be able to do this (including offline) with a dedicated app called Docs and Sheets. The article explains a few ways in which the new configuration is confusing, including this one: "Splitting out the editing functionality from Google Drive into the new Apps certainly seems odd given that fundamentally there are no new or different editing features offered in the new Google Docs and Google Sheets standalone Apps. Some users wont appreciate having to download the new stand alone Apps to replace previous functionality, especially limited functionality."
Star Cluster Ejected From Galaxy At 2,000,000 MPH
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According to a new report, a globular cluster of several thousand stars (compressed into a space just a few dozen light-years apart) is being thrown out of galaxy M87. The cluster, named HVGC-1, is traveling at a rate of 2 million miles per hour. The discovery was made by Nelson Caldwell of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics and his team while studying the space around the supergiant elliptical galaxy M87. Caldwell and colleagues think M87 might have two supermassive black holes at its center. The star cluster wandered too close to the pair, which picked off many of the cluster's outer stars while the inner core remained intact. The black holes then acted like a slingshot, flinging the cluster away at a tremendous speed.
Physics Students Devise Concept For Star Wars-Style Deflector Shields
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If you have often imagined yourself piloting your X-Wing fighter on an attack run on the Death Star, you'll be reassured that University of Leicester students have demonstrated that your shields could take whatever the Imperial fleet can throw at you. The only drawback is that you won't be able to see a thing outside of your starfighter. In anticipation of Star Wars Day on 4 May, three fourth-year Physics students at the University have proven that shields, such as those seen protecting spaceships in the Star Wars film series, would not only be scientifically feasible, they have also shown that the science behind the principle is already used here on Earth.
The Greatest 'Amateur' Astronomer You've Probably Never Heard Of
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From a true dark-sky site, the kind that was available to all of humanity for the first 200,000 years or so of our species' existence, the human eye can discern tens of thousands of stars, detailed features of the Milky Way and a handful of deep-sky nebulae. With the advent of the telescope, our reach into the Universe was greatly enhanced, as the increase in light-gathering power opened up orders of magnitude more stars and nebulae, and even allowed us to see a spiral structure to some nebulae beginning in the 1840s. But in all the time since then, the largest telescope ever developed is not even six times bigger than the largest from nearly 200 years ago. Yet the details we can observe in the Universe today aren't limited by what our eyes can perceive looking through our telescopes at all. The combination of astronomy and photography has changed our understanding of the Universe forever, and we owe the greatest advances to an 'amateur' you've probably never heard of: Isaac Roberts.
Understanding the 2 Billion-Year-Old Natural Nuclear Reactor In W Africa
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In June 1972, nuclear scientists at the Pierrelatte uranium enrichment plant in south-east France noticed a strange deficit in the amount of uranium-235 they were processing. That's a serious problem in a uranium enrichment plant where every gram of fissionable material has to be carefully accounted for. The ensuing investigation found that the anomaly originated in the ore from the Oklo uranium mine in Gabon, which contained only 0.600% uranium-235 compared to 0.7202% for all other ore on the planet. It turned out that this ore was depleted because it had gone critical some 2 billion years earlier, creating a self-sustaining nuclear reaction that lasted for 300,000 years and using up the missing uranium-235 in the process. Since then, scientists have studied this natural reactor to better understand how buried nuclear waste spreads through the environment and also to discover whether the laws of physics that govern nuclear reactions may have changed in the 1.5 billion years since the reactor switched off. Now a review of the science that has come out of Oklo shows how important this work has become but also reveals that there is limited potential to gather more data. After an initial flurry of interest in Oklo, mining continued and the natural reactors--surely among the most extraordinary natural phenomena on the planet-- have all been mined out.
What It's Like To Be the Scientific Consultant For The Big Bang Theory
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Science sits down with David Saltzberg, who's been The Big Bang Theory's one and only science consultant since it premiered. Saltzberg is an astrophysicist at the University of California, Los Angeles. He chats about how the portrayal of science on the show has changed over the years, whether it turns kids away from science, and how you can get your own job as a scientific consultant in Hollywood.
Astronomers Determine the Length of Day of an Exoplanet
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Astronomers have just announced that the exoplanet Beta Pic b — a 10-Jupiter-mass world 60 light years away — rotates in about 8 hours. Using a high-resolution spectrometer and exploiting the Doppler shift of light seen as the planet spins, they measured its rotation velocity as 28,000 mph. Making reasonable assumptions about the planet's size, that gives the length of its day. This is the first time such a measurement has been achieved for an exoplanet.
Maintaining Internet Freedom Isn't Easy (Video)
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Go to Stop the Secrecy.net and you'll see that this is something that requires action now, not someday, It's about the TPP, or Trans Pacific Partnership, a trade agreement that could place major restrictions on how we use the Internet. This is far from the only attack on Internet freedom we need to fight against, just one the EFF (and others) feel is one of the worst ones in play right now. Mild-mannered Steve Anderson, founder and Executive Director of OpenMedia.ca, is today's interview guest. He's Canadian, but OpenMedia.ca doesn't stop at Canada's southern border. Steve and the rest of the group want U.S. citizens to have the same Internet freedoms they want Canadians to have -- as well as people all over the world, because Internet balkanization hurts all Internet users. Including you. And worse, this is not the only problem with the TPP. Did you notice, in the TPP link above (to Wikipedia), that parts of this trade agreement are secret? So even if you want to protest against it, you might end up holding a sign that's mostly blank. This is a "Call your Congressional representatives" situation. Unless you're in Canada, in which case it's a "Call your Member of Parliament" situation. Ditto if you're in another TPP country. In any case, it's going to take a lot of calls, letters, emails, and faxes from people like us to overcome some of the heavy money that wants the TPP to go through.
50 Years of BASIC, the Language That Made Computers Personal
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On May 1, 1964 at 4 a.m. in a computer room at Dartmouth University, the first programs written in BASIC ran on the university's brand-new time-sharing system. With these two innovations, John Kemeny and Thomas Kurtz didn't just make it easier to learn how to program a computer: They offered Dartmouth students a form of interactive, personal computing years before the invention of the PC. Over at TIME.com, I chronicle BASIC's first 50 years with a feature with thoughts from Kurtz, Microsoft's Paul Allen and many others.
Proposed Indicator of of Life On Alien Worlds May Be Bogus
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bad news for anyone hoping to use the spectral signatures of exoplanets to determine if their atmospheres have life-enabling compositions. "Call it the cosmic version of fool's gold. What was once considered a sure-fire sign of life on distant planets may not be so sure-fire after all, a new study suggests. The signala strong chemical imbalance in the planet's atmosphere that could only be generated by thriving ecosystemscould instead be the combined light from a lifeless exoplanet and its equally barren moon.
Minesweepers Robotic Competition Aims For a Landmine-Free World
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Dr. Alaa Khamis writes: 'Detection and removal of antipersonnel landmines is, at present, a serious problem of political, economical, environmental and humanitarian dimensions in many countries across the world. It is estimated that there are 110 million landmines in the ground right now; one for every 52 inhabitants on the planet. These mines kill or maim more than 5,000 people annually. If demining efforts remain about the same as they are now, and no new mines are laid, it will still take 1100 years to get rid of all the world's active land mines because current conventional methods of removal are very slow, inefficient, dangerous and costly. Robotic systems can provide efficient, reliable, adaptive and cost effective solutions for the problem of landmines and unexploded ordnance (UXO) contamination. Minesweepers: Towards a Landmine-free World was initiated in 2012 as the first international outdoor robotic competition on humanitarian demining by the IEEE Robotics and Automation Society – Egypt Chapter, which won the Chapter of the Year Award in IEEE Region 8 that year. It aims to raise public awareness of the seriousness of landmines and UXO contamination and the role of science and technology in addressing these; it also aims to foster robotics research in the area of humanitarian demining by motivating professors, engineers and students to work on innovative solutions for this serious problem.
Male Scent Molecules May Be Compromising Biomedical Research
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Scientists have found that mice feel 36% less pain when a male researcher is in the room, versus a female researcher. The rodents are also less stressed out. The effect appears to be due to scent molecules that male mammals (including humans, dogs, and cats) have been emitting for eons. The finding could help explain why some labs have trouble replicating the results of others, and it could cause a reevaluation of decades of animal experiments: everything from the effectiveness of experimental drugs to the ability of monkeys to do math. Male odor could even influence human clinical trials.
NASA Mars Rover Begins Examining Strange Slab Nicknamed "Windjana"
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NASA's Curiosity Mars rover is using several tools this weekend to take a closer look at a sandstone slab being assessed as a possible drilling target. If it fits the bill, the target could become Curiosity's third drilled rock. 'Windjana,' named after a gorge in Western Australia, would be the mission's first drilled rock that is not mudstone. To determine whether Curiosity should drill at Windjana, engineers have asked the rover to perform a number of tasks, including observations with the camera and X-ray spectrometer located at the end of the its arm and interpretations of composition at different points on the rock with a device that fires laser shots from the rover's mast.
American Judge Claims Jurisdiction Over Data Stored In Other Countries
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An American judge has just added another reason why foreign (non-American) companies should avoid using American Internet service companies. The judge ruled that search warrants for customer email and other content must be turned over, even when that data is stored on servers in other countries. The ruling came out of a case in which U.S. law enforcement was demanding data from Microsoft's servers in Dublin, Ireland. Microsoft fought back, saying, 'A U.S. prosecutor cannot obtain a U.S. warrant to search someone's home located in another country, just as another country's prosecutor cannot obtain a court order in her home country to conduct a search in the United States. We think the same rules should apply in the online world, but the government disagrees.'

If this ruling stands, foreign governments will not be happy about having their legal jurisdiction trespassed by American courts that force American companies to turn over customers' data stored in their countries. The question is: who does have legal jurisdiction on data stored in a given country? The courts of that country, or the courts of the nationality of the company who manages the data storage? This is a matter that has to be decided by International treaties. While we're at it, let's try to establish an International cyber law enforcement system. In the meantime.
Frigid Brown Dwarf Found Only 7.2 Light-Years Away
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Astronomer Kevin Luhman just found the 7th closest star to the sun. It's a mere 7.2 light-years away, discovered using NASA's Spitzer and WISE telescopes. How could it exist so close for so long without us knowing? It's a brown dwarf barely a star at all. 'Brown dwarfs are star-like objects that are more massive than planets, but not quite massive enough to ignite sustained fusion in their cores. Hydrogen fusion is what powers the Sun, and makes it hot; it's the mighty pressure of the Sun's core that makes that happen. Brown dwarfs don't have the oomph needed to keep that going.' This small almost-star is downright chilly at around 225-260 Kelvin. That's -48 to -13 C (or -54 to 9 F). As Phil Plait points out, that's not much different from the temperature in the freezer in your kitchen. He adds, 'It implies this object is very old, too, because it would've been a few thousands degrees when it formed, and would take at least a billion years to cool down to its current chilly temperature. It's hard to determine how old it actually is, but it's most likely 1-10 billion years old. It has a very low mass, too, probably between 3 and 10 times the mass of Jupiter. That's pretty lightweight even for a brown dwarf. And here's another amazing thing about it: It might be a planet. What I mean is, it may have formed around a star like a planet does, then got ejected by gravitational interactions with other planets.'
Fossils of Earliest Known Pterosaur Found
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A fossil of the earliest known Pterosaur flying reptile was found recently in China. Named Kryptodrakon progenitor, it was described in a paper published yesterday in the journal Current Biology (abstract). Its wingspan was about a meter and a half, very small compared to its evolutionary descendents, whose wingspan reached over 10 meters. 'The pterosaurs remained largely unchanged for tens of millions of years — with characteristics like long tails and relatively small heads — and none became very big. But later during the Jurassic period, some developed anatomical changes that heralded the arrival of a new branch called pterodactyloids that eventually replaced the more primitive forms of pterosaurs. Many of these pterodactyloids had massive, elongated heads topped with huge crests, lost their teeth and grew to huge sizes. Perhaps the defining characteristic of the group is an elongation in the bone at the base of the fourth finger called the fourth metacarpal, and Kryptodrakon is the oldest known pterosaur to have this advance, the researchers said.'
SpaceX Files Suit Against US Air Force
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Elon Musk announced that SpaceX has decided to challenge the U.S. Air Force's restrictions on rocket launches related to national security. Such launches are done with a Russian rocket right now, and that contract is not up for competition with other rocket makers, like SpaceX. Musk says the company has exhausted other options to become part of the bidding process. "We're just protesting and saying these launches should be competed. And if we compete and lose, that's fine, but why were they not even competed?" He also said it's the "wrong time to send hundreds of millions of dollars to the Kremlin," referencing events in the Ukraine.

At the same press conference, Musk announced that SpaceX's recent attempt to soft-land a rocket booster stage was successful. It landed and was in "healthy condition" immediately afterward. Unfortunately, they weren't able to recover it because it landed in the middle of a rough storm, which eventually destroyed the stage. The storm was rough enough that the Coast Guard wouldn't even send a boat out to help recover it. Musk said, "We'll get much bigger boats next time." SpaceX also plans on landing the stage on shore at some point, which makes recovery easier. Musk made this prediction: "I expect we will be able to land a stage back at Cape Canaveral by the end of the year.
Astronomers Discover Pair of Black Holes In Inactive Galaxy
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The Astronomers at XMM-Newton have detected a pair of supermassive black holes at the center of an inactive galaxy. Most massive galaxies in the Universe are thought to harbor at least one supermassive black hole at their center. And a pair of black holes is indication of strong possibility that the galaxies have merged. Finding black holes in quiescent galaxies is difficult because there are no gas clouds feeding the black holes, so the cores of these galaxies are truly dark. It can be only detected by this 'tidal disruption event'.
Microsoft, Google, Others Join To Fund Open Source Infrastructure Upgrades
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Technology giants including Microsoft, Google, Intel, and Cisco are banding together to support and fund open source projects that make up critical elements of global information infrastructure. The new Core Infrastructure Initiative brings technology companies together to identify and fund open source projects that are widely used in core computing and Internet functions, The Linux Foundation announced today. Formed primarily as the industry's response to the Heartbleed crisis, the OpenSSL library will be the initiative's first project. Other open source projects will follow. The funds will be administered by the Linux Foundation and a steering group comprised of the founding members, key open source developers, and other industry stakeholders. Anyone interested in joining the initiative, or donating to the fund can visit the Core Infrastructure Initiative site.
Kepler-186f: Most 'Earth-Like' Alien World Discovered
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About 500 light-years away in the constellation Cygnus lives a star, which, though smaller and redder than the sun, has a planet that may look awfully familiar. With a diameter just 10 percent bigger than Earth's, the newly found world is the first of its size found basking in the benign temperature region around a parent star where water, if it exists, could pool in liquid form (abstract). Scientists on the hunt for Earth's twin are focused on worlds that could support liquid surface water, which may be necessary to brew the chemistry of life. "Kepler-186f is significant because it is the first exoplanet that is the same temperature and the same size (well, ALMOST!) as the Earth," David Charbonneau, with the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, wrote in an email to Discovery News. "Previously, the exoplanet most like Earth was Kepler-62f, but Kepler-186f is significantly smaller. Now we can point to a star and say, 'There lies an Earth-like planet.'"
Vintage 1960s Era Film Shows IRS Defending Its Use of Computers
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It's impossible to imagine the Internal Revenue Service or most other number-crunching agencies or companies working without computers. But when the IRS went to computers — the Automatic Data Processing system --there was an uproar. The agency went so far as to produce a short film on the topic called Right On The Button, to convince the public computers were a good thing.
Astronomers Solve Puzzle of the Mountains That Fell From Space
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Iapetus, Saturn's third largest moon, was first photographed by the Cassini spacecraft on 31 December 2004. The images created something of a stir. Clearly visible was a narrow, steep ridge of mountains that stretch almost halfway around the moon's equator. The question that has since puzzled astronomers is how this mountain range got there. Now evidence is mounting that this mountain range is not the result of tectonic or volcanic activity, like mountain ranges on other planets. Instead, astronomers are increasingly convinced that this mountain range fell from space. The latest evidence is a study of the shape of the mountains using 3-D images generated from Cassini data. They show that the angle of the mountainsides is close to the angle of repose, that's the greatest angle that a granular material can form before it landslides. That's not proof but it certainly consistent with this exotic formation theory. So how might this have happened?

Astronomers think that early in its life, Iapetus must have been hit by another moon, sending huge volumes of ejecta into orbit. Some of this condensed into a new moon that escaped into space. However, the rest formed an unstable ring that gradually spiraled in towards the moon, eventually depositing the material in a narrow ridge around the equator. Cassini's next encounter with Iapetus will be in 2015 which should give astronomers another chance to study the strangest mountain range in the Solar System.
Study Finds US Is an Oligarchy, Not a Democracy
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Researchers from Princeton University and Northwestern University have concluded, after extensive analysis of 1,779 policy issues, that the U.S. is in fact an oligarchy and not a democracy. What this means is that, although 'Americans do enjoy many features central to democratic governance,' 'majorities of the American public actually have little influence over the policies our government adopts.' Their study (PDF), to be published in Perspectives on Politics, found that 'When the preferences of economic elites and the stands of organized interest groups are controlled for, the preferences of the average American appear to have only a minuscule, near-zero, statistically non-significant impact upon public policy.
IRS Can Now Seize Your Tax Refund To Pay a Relative's Debt
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Just in time for the April 15 IRS filing deadline comes news from the Washington Post that hundreds of thousands of taxpayers expecting refunds are instead getting letters informing them of tax debts they never knew about: often a debt incurred by their parents. The government is confiscating their checks, sometimes over debts 20—30 years old. For example, when Mary Grice was 4 (in 1960), her father died ... 'Until the kids turned 18, her mother received survivor benefits from Social Security ... Now, Social Security claims it overpaid someone in the Grice family in 1977. ... Four years after Sadie Grice died, the government is coming after her daughter. ... "It was a shock," says Grice, 58. "What incenses me is the way they went about this. They gave me no notice, they can't prove that I received any overpayment, and they use intimidation tactics, threatening to report this to the credit bureaus."' The Treasury Department has intercepted ... $75 million from debts delinquent for more than 10 years according to the department's debt management service. 'The aggressive effort to collect old debts started three years ago — the result of a single sentence tucked into the farm bill lifting the 10-year statute of limitations on old debts to Uncle Sam.'
Saturn May Have Given Birth To a Baby Moon
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NASA's Saturn-orbiting Cassini spacecraft has imaged something peculiar on the outermost edge of the gas giant's A-ring. A bright knot, or arc, has been spotted 20 percent brighter than the surrounding ring material and astronomers are interpreting it as a gravitational disturbance caused by a tiny moon. "We have not seen anything like this before," said Carl Murray of Queen Mary University of London. 'We may be looking at the act of birth, where this object is just leaving the rings and heading off to be a moon in its own right.
NASA To Send SpaceX Resupply Capsule To ISS Despite Technical Problems
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Despite a critical backup computer failing on the ISS Friday, an unmanned SpaceX rocket will launch from Cape Canaveral at 4:58 p.m. Monday with more than 2 tons of supplies for the space station. From the article: 'The U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration decided to proceed with its resupply mission, despite technical problems with its computer in the International Space Station (ISS), as it needed to deliver necessary supplies.'
Defensive Programming
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A friend of mine sent this link to me. I think even the non-programmers could appreciate this.
UN: Renewables, Nuclear Must Triple To Save Climate
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On the heels of a study that concluded there was less than a 1% chance that current global warming could be simple fluctuations, U.N. scientists say energy from renewables, nuclear reactors and power plants that use emissions-capture technology needs to triple in order keep climate change within safe limits. From The Washington Post: 'During a news conference Sunday, another co-chair, Rajendra K. Pachauri of India, said the goal of limiting a rise in global temperatures "cannot be achieved without cooperation." He added, "What comes out very clearly from this report is that the high-speed mitigation train needs to leave the station soon, and all of global society needs to get on board."'
Private Keys Stolen Within Hours From Heartbleed OpenSSL Site
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It was reported when heartbleed was discovered that only passwords would be at risk and private keys were still safe. Not anymore. Cloudfare launched the heartbleed challenge on a new server with the openSSL vulnerability and offered a prize to whoever could gain the private keys. Within hours several researchers and a hacker got in and got the private signing keys. Expect many forged certificates and other login attempts to banks and other popular websites in the coming weeks unless the browser makers and CA's revoke all the old keys and certificates.
Various sites affected by the Heartbleed bug
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An encryption flaw called the Heartbleed bug is already being called one of the biggest security threats the Internet has ever seen. The bug has affected many popular websites and services — ones you might use every day, like Gmail and Facebook — and could have quietly exposed your sensitive account information (such as passwords and credit card numbers) over the past two years.
Crowd Wisdom Better At Predictions Than Top CIA Analysts
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The Good Judgment Project is an experiment put together by three well-known psychologists and some people inside the intelligence community. What they aim to prove is that average, ordinary people in large groups and access just to Google search can predict far more accurately events of geopolitical importance than smart intelligence analysts with access to actual classified information. In fact there is a clearly identified top 1 percent of the 3000 predictors group, who have been identified as super-forecasters: people whose predictions are reportedly 30 percent better than intelligence officers.
LHCb Confirms Existence of Exotic Hadrons
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The Large Hadron Collider beauty (LHCb) collaboration today announced results that confirm the existence of exotic hadrons – a type of matter that cannot be classified within the traditional quark model. Hadrons are subatomic particles that can take part in the strong interaction – the force that binds protons inside the nuclei of atoms. Physicists have theorized since the 1960s, and ample experimental evidence since has confirmed, that hadrons are made up of quarks and antiquarks that determine their properties. A subset of hadrons, called mesons, is formed from quark-antiquark pairs, while the rest – baryons – are made up of three quarks. ... The Belle Collaboration reported the first evidence for the Z(4430) in 2008. They found a tantalizing peak in the mass distribution of particles that result from the decays of B mesons. Belle later confirmed the existence of the Z(4430) with a significance of 5.2 sigma on the scale that particle physicists use to describe the certainty of a result. LHCb reports a more detailed measurement of the Z(4430) that confirms that it is unambiguously a particle, and a long-sought exotic hadron at that. They analyzed more than 25,000 decays of B mesons selected from data from 180 trillion (180x10^12) proton-proton collisions in the Large Hadron Collider
Isolated Tribes Die Shortly After We Meet Them
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It's a story we all know — Christopher Columbus discovers America, his European buddies follow him, they meet the indigenous people living there, they indigenous people die from smallpox and guns and other unknown diseases, and the Europeans get gold, land, and so on. It's still happening today in Brazil, where 238 indigenous tribes have been contacted in the last several decades, and where between 23 and 70 uncontacted tribes are still living. A just-published report that takes a look at what happens after the modern world comes into contact with indigenous peoples isn't pretty: Of those contacted, three quarters went extinct. Those that survived saw mortality rates up over 80 percent. This is grim stuff.
Study: Video Gamer Aggression Result of Game Experience, Not Violent Content
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A new study published in the March edition of the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology indicates that a gamer's experience of a video game and not the content of the game itself can give rise to violent behavior. In other words, 'researchers found it was not the narrative or imagery, but the lack of mastery of the game's controls and the degree of difficulty players had completing the game that led to frustration.' Based on their findings, researchers note that even games like Tetris and Candy Crush can inspire violent behavior more so than games like World of Warcraft or Grand Theft Auto if they are poorly designed and difficult to play
Edward Snowden and Laura Poitras Win Truth-Telling Award
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Snowden has received the Ridenhour Truth-Telling award. From the announcement: "We have selected Edward Snowden and Laura Poitras for their work in exposing the NSA's illegal and unconstitutional bulk collection of the communications of millions of people living in the United States. Their act of courage was undertaken at great personal risk and has sparked a critical and transformative debate about mass surveillance in a country where privacy is considered a constitutional right." The award will be presented at the National Press Club. It is hoped that Snowden and Poitras will be able to appear remotely (Poitras is in effective exile in Berlin).
In related news, the ACLU has indexed all publicly released documented leaked by Snowden. You can even full-text search them.
Ancient Shrimp-Like Creature Has Oldest Known Circulatory System
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A 520-million-year-old shrimp-like creature known as Fuxianhuia protensa has the oldest known cardiovascular system, researchers report. It was both modern and unsophisticated. A simple, tubelike heart was buried in the creature's belly — or thorax — and shot single blood vessels into the 20 or so segments of its primitive body. In contrast, x-ray scans of the specimen revealed profoundly intricate channels in the head and neck. The brain was well supplied with looping blood vessels, which extended branches into the arthropod's alienlike eyestalks and antennae and rivaled the complexity of today's crustaceans. From this Gordian architecture, the researchers can now speculate about the critter's lifestyle. Its brain required abundant oxygen, so it presumably did a fair amount of thinking.
Online Skim Reading Is Taking Over the Human Brain
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Michael S. Rosenwald reports in the Washington Post that, according to cognitive neuroscientists, humans seem to be developing digital brains with new circuits for skimming through the torrent of information online at the expense of traditional deep reading circuitry... Maryanne Wolf, one of the world's foremost experts on the study of reading, was startled last year to discover her brain was apparently adapting, too. After a day of scrolling through the Web and hundreds of e-mails, she sat down one evening to read Hermann Hesse's challenging novel The Glass Bead Game. 'I'm not kidding: I couldn't do it,' says Wolf. 'It was torture getting through the first page. I couldn't force myself to slow down so that I wasn't skimming, picking out key words, organizing my eye movements to generate the most information at the highest speed. I was so disgusted with myself.'

The brain was not designed for reading and there are no genes for reading like there are for language or vision. ... Before the Internet, the brain read mostly in linear ways — one page led to the next page, and so on. The Internet is different. With so much information, hyperlinked text, videos alongside words and interactivity everywhere, our brains form shortcuts to deal with it all — scanning, searching for key words, scrolling up and down quickly. This is nonlinear reading, and it has been documented in academic studies. ... Some researchers believe that for many people, this style of reading is beginning to invade our ability to deal with other mediums. 'We're spending so much time touching, pushing, linking, scrolling and jumping through text that when we sit down with a novel, your daily habits of jumping, clicking, linking is just ingrained in you,' says Andrew Dillon.
NASA Laying Foundation For Jupiter Moon Space Mission
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NASA recently began laying out the groundwork for the technology it will need to fly an unmanned mission to Jupiter's intriguing moon Europa. Scientists say Europa which orbits the planet Jupiter about 778 million km (484 million miles) from the Sun could support life because it might have an ocean of liquid water under its miles-thick frozen crust. NASA said in December the Hubble Space Telescope observed water vapor above the frigid south polar region of Jupiter's moon Europa, providing the first strong evidence of water plumes erupting off the moon's surface.
Fifty Years Ago IBM 'Bet the Company' On the 360 Series Mainframe
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Those of us of a certain age remember well the breakthrough that the IBM 360 series mainframes represented when it was unveiled fifty years ago on 7 April 1964. Now Mark Ward reports at BBC that the first System 360 mainframe marked a break with all general purpose computers that came before because it was possible to upgrade the processors but still keep using the same code and peripherals from earlier models. "Before System 360 arrived, businesses bought a computer, wrote programs for it and then when it got too old or slow they threw it away and started again from scratch," says Barry Heptonstall. IBM bet the company when they developed the 360 series. At the time IBM had a huge array of conflicting and incompatible lines of computers, and this was the case with the computer industry in general at the time, it was largely a custom or small scale design and production industry, but IBM was such a large company and the problems of this was getting obvious: When upgrading from one of the smaller series of IBM computers to a larger one, the effort in doing that transition was so big so you might as well go for a competing product from the "BUNCH" (Burroughs, Univac, NCR, CDC and Honeywell). Fred Brooks managed the development of IBM's System/360 family of computers and the OS/360 software support package and based his software classic "The Mythical Man-Month" on his observation that "adding manpower to a late software project makes it later." The S/360 was also the first computer to use microcode to implement many of its machine instructions, as opposed to having all of its machine instructions hard-wired into its circuitry. Despite their age, mainframes are still in wide use today and are behind many of the big information systems that keep the modern world humming handling such things as airline reservations, cash machine withdrawals and credit card payments. "We don't see mainframes as legacy technology," says Charlie Ewen. "They are resilient, robust and are very cost-effective for some of the work we do."
It's Time To Bring Pseudoscience Into the Science Classroom
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Roughly one in three American adults believes in telepathy, ghosts, and extrasensory perception," wrote a trio of scientists in a 2012 issue of the Astronomy Education Review. "Roughly one in five believes in witches, astrology, clairvoyance, and communication with the dead (PDF). Three quarters hold at least one of these beliefs, and a third has four distinct pseudoscientific beliefs." Now Steven Ross Pomeroy writes in Forbes Magazine that it's time to bring pseudoscience into public schools and universities. "By incorporating examples of pseudoscience into lectures, instructors can provide students with the tools needed to understand the difference between scientific and pseudoscientific or paranormal claims," say Rodney Schmaltz and Scott Lilienfeld.
Single-Celled Organism Converted Into Electronic Oscillator For Bio-Computing
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The single-celled organism slime mold, or Physarum polycephalum, is an extraordinary creature. It explores its world by extending protoplasmic tubes into its surroundings in search of food and it does this rather well. Various researchers have exploited this process to show how Physarum can find optimal routes between different places and even solve mazes. Now one researcher has worked out how to use these protoplasmic tubes as clock-like electronic oscillators. His experiment was straightforward. He encouraged the growth of protoplasmic tubes between two blobs of agar sitting on electrical contacts. He then measured the resistance of the tubes at various voltages. This turns out to be about 6 megaohms. But the results show something else too: that the resistance oscillates over a period of about 73 seconds. That's due to the tubes contracting as waves of calcium ions pass through them. So altering the period of oscillation should be possible by influencing the production of calcium ions, perhaps using light or biochemistry. Electronic oscillators are significant because they are basic drivers of almost all active electronic devices. But this guy's goal is bigger than this. The plan is to grow a "Physarum chip" that acts as a general purpose computer, a device that will need some kind of oscillator or clock to co-ordinate activity, just as in an ordinary processor, although speed will not be its chief characteristic.
NASA To Catalog and Release Source Code For Over 1,000 Projects
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By the end of next week, NASA will release a master catalog of over 1,000 software projects it has conducted over the years and will provide instructions on how the public can obtain copies of the source code. NASA's goal is to eventually 'host the actual software code in its own online repository, a kind of GitHub for astronauts.' This follows NASA's release of the code running the Apollo 11 Guidance Computer a few years back. Scientists not affiliated with NASA have already adapted some of NASA's software. 'In 2005, marine biologists adapted the Hubble Space Telescope's star-mapping algorithm to track and identify endangered whale sharks. That software has now been adapted to track polar bears in the arctic and sunfish in the Galapagos Islands.' The Hubble Space Telescope's scheduling software has reportedly also been used to schedule MRIs at hospitals and as control algorithms for online dating services. The possibilities could be endless.
European Parliament Votes For Net Neutrality, Forbids Mobile Roaming Costs
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The European Parliament has voted to accept the telecommunications reform bill. This bill simultaneously forbids mobile providers from charging roaming costs as of December 15, 2015 and guarantees net neutrality. Previous versions of the bill contained a much weaker definition of net neutrality, offering exemptions for 'specialized services,' but this was superseded in an amendment (original link, in Dutch) submitted by Dutch MEP Marietje Schaake (liberal fraction). Note that the legislation is not yet definitive: the Council of Ministers still has the deciding vote, but they are expected to follow the EP's vote.
Vint Cerf: CS Programs Must Change To Adapt To Internet of Things
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The Internet of Things has tremendous potential but also poses a tremendous risk if the underlying security of Internet of Things devices is not taken into account, according to Vint Cerf, Google's Internet Evangelist. Cerf, speaking in a public Google Hangout(video) on Wednesday, said that he's tremendously excited about the possibilities of an Internet of billions of connected objects. But Cerf warned that it necessitates big changes in the way that software is written. Securing the data stored on those devices and exchanged between them represents a challenge to the field of computer science one that the nation's universities need to start addressing. Internet of Things products need to do a better job managing access control and use strong authentication to secure communications between devices.
Researchers: Rats Didn't Spread Black Death, Humans Did
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Scientists studying the human remains of plague victims found during excavations for London's new Crossrail train line have concluded that humans spread the Black Death rather than rats, a fact that could rewrite history books. University of Keele scientists, working together with Crossrail's lead archaeologist Jay Carver and osteologists from the Museum of London, analyzed the bones and teeth of 25 skeletons dug up by Crossrail. They found DNA of Yersinia pestis, which is responsible for the Black Death, on the teeth of some of the victims.
How Linguists Are Pulling Apart the Bering Strait Theory
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Over the past few weeks, new scientific discoveries have rekindled the debate over the Bering Strait Theory. Two of the discoveries were covered recently in Indian Country Today. The first “More Reasons to Doubt the Bering Strait Migration Theory,” dealt with the growing problem of “science by press release,” as scientific studies hype their conclusions to the point that they are misleading; and the second, “DNA Politics: Anzick Child Casts Doubt on Bering Strait Theory,” discussed how politics can influence science, and the negative effects these politically-based scientific results can have on Native peoples.
Geologists Warned of Washington State Mudslides For Decades
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The Seattle Times reports that since the 1950s, geological reports on the hill that buckled last weekend, killing at least 17 residents in Snohomish County in Washington State, have included pessimistic analyses and the occasional dire prediction. But no language seems more prescient than what appears in a 1999 report filed warning of 'the potential for a large catastrophic failure.' Daniel Miller, a geomorphologist, documented the hill's landslide conditions in a report written in 1997 for the Washington Department of Ecology and the Tulalip Tribes. Miller knows the hill's history, having collected reports and memos from the 1950s, 1960s, 1980s and 1990s and has a half-dozen manila folders stuffed with maps, slides, models and drawings, all telling the story of an unstable hillside that has defied efforts to shore it up. That's why he could not believe what he saw in 2006, when he returned to the hill within weeks of a landslide that crashed into and plugged the North Fork of the Stillaguamish River, creating a new channel that threatened homes on a street called Steelhead Drive. Instead of seeing homes being vacated, he saw carpenters building new ones. 'Frankly, I was shocked that the county permitted any building across from the river,' says Miller. 'We've known that it's been failing. It's not unknown that this hazard exists.'
Discovery of ancient stone tools in Brazil challenges belief about human arrival in the Americas
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Archaeologists have announced the discovery of stone tools in Brazil which they say prove that ancient humans arrived in the Americas long before the Clovis people, upending the predominant theory of how the continent was settled.

According to current perspectives, the Clovis people arrived in the Americas from Asia about 13,000 – 15,000 years ago. However, researchers found stone tools embedded in a rock shelter where prehistoric humans once lived, which have been dated to 22,000 years.
Small World Discovered Far Beyond Pluto
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After a decade of searching, astronomers have found a second dwarf-like planet far beyond Pluto and its Kuiper Belt cousins, a presumed no-man's land that may turn out to be anything but. How Sedna, which was discovered in 2003, and its newly found neighbor, designated 2012 VP 2113 by the Minor Planet Center, came to settle in orbits so far from the sun is a mystery. Sedna comes no closer than about 76 times as far from the sun as Earth, or 76 astronomical units. The most distant leg of its 11,400-year orbit is about 1,000 astronomical units. Newly found VP 2113's closest approach to the sun is about 80 astronomical units and its greatest distance is 452 astronomical units (abstract). The small world is roughly 280 miles (450 kilometers) wide, less than half the estimated diameter of Sedna.
First Asteroid Discovered Sporting a Ring System
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When you think of a celestial ring system, the beautiful ringed planet Saturn will likely jump to mind. But for the first time astronomers have discovered that ring systems aren't exclusive to planetary bodies asteroids can have them too. Announced on Wednesday, astronomers using several observatories in South America, including the ESO's La Silla Observatory in Chile, have discovered that distant asteroid Chariklo possesses two distinct rings. Chariklo, which is approximately 250 kilometers (155 miles) wide, is the largest space rock in a class of asteroids known as Centaurs that orbit between Saturn and Uranus in the outer solar system. 'We weren't looking for a ring and didn't think small bodies like Chariklo had them at all, so the discovery and the amazing amount of detail we saw in the system came as a complete surprise!' said lead researcher Felipe Braga-Ribas, of the Observatrio Nacional and MCTI, in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
MIT Researchers Create Platform To Build Secure Web Apps That Never Leak Data
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Researchers in the MIT Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory have developed a platform for building secure web applications and services that never decrypt or leak data. MIT researcher Raluca Ada Popa, who previously worked on the Google and SAP-adopted CryptoDB, and her team, have put a longstanding philosophy into practice: to never store unencrypted data on servers. They've redesigned the entire approach to securing online data by creating Mylar, which builds and updates applications to keep data secure from server breaches with constant encryption during storage, only decrypting the data in the user's browser. Integrated with the open-source Meteor framework, a Mylar prototype has already secured six applications by changing only 35 lines of code.
WHO: Air Pollution 'Killed 7 Million People' In 2012
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New figures from the World Health Organization that estimate around 7 million people died in 2012 as a result of their exporuse to air pollution. "In particular, the new data reveal a stronger link between both indoor and outdoor air pollution exposure and cardiovascular diseases, such as strokes and ischaemic heart disease, as well as between air pollution and cancer. This is in addition to air pollutions role in the development of respiratory diseases, including acute respiratory infections and chronic obstructive pulmonary diseases." The Organization says the bulk of the deaths occurred in South-East Asia and the Western Pacific Regions (PDF), with indoor air pollution causing more deaths than outdoor pollution in those areas, largely due to the use of coal, wood, and biomass stoves for cooking.
Jimmy Carter: Snowden Disclosures Are 'Good For Americans To Know'
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"Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter defended the disclosures by fugitive NSA contractor Edward Snowden on Monday, saying revelations that U.S. intelligence agencies were collecting meta-data of Americans' phone calls and e-mails have been 'probably constructive in the long run.' 'I think it's wrong,' President Carter said of the NSA program. 'I think it's an intrusion on one of the basic human rights of Americans, is to have some degree of privacy if we don't want other people to read what we communicate.'"

It's important to note that Carter doesn't believe Snowden should necessarily get a pass for his actions. Carter said, "I think it's inevitable that he should be prosecuted and I think he would be prosecuted, [if he comes back to the U.S.] But I don't think he ought to be executed as a traitor or any kind of extreme punishment like that." Nevertheless, Carter thinks NSA surveillance has gotten out of control. "We've gone a long way down the road of violating Americans' basic civil rights, as far as privacy is concerned." He added, "For the last two or three years, when I want to write a highly personal letter to a foreign leader, or even some American leaders, I hand-write it and mail it, because I feel that my telephone calls and my email are being monitored, and there are some things I just dont want anybody to know except me and my wife."
Big Bang's Smoking Gun Found
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and here is the counter-story
For the first time, scientists have found direct evidence of the expansion of the universe, a previously theoretical event that took place a fraction of a second after the Big Bang explosion nearly 14 billion years ago. The clue is encoded in the primordial cosmic microwave background radiation that continues to spread through space to this day. Scientists found and measured a key polarization, or orientation, of the microwaves caused by gravitational waves, which are miniature ripples in the fabric of space. Gravitational waves, proposed by Albert Einstein's General Theory of Relativity nearly 100 years ago but never before proven, are believed to have originated in the Big Bang explosion and then been amplified by the universe's inflation. 'Detecting this signal is one of the most important goals in cosmology today,' lead researcher John Kovac, with the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, said in a statement.
How Satellite Company Inmarsat Tracked Down MH370
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Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak has announced that, based on satellite data analysis from UK company Inmarsat, Malayian Airlines flight MH370 ended in the southern Indian Ocean, and no one on board survived. 'Effectually we looked at the doppler effect, which is the change in frequency, due to the movement of a satellite in its orbit. What that then gave us was a predicted path for the northerly route and a predicted path the southerly route,' explained Chris McLaughlin, senior vice president of external affairs at Inmarsat. 'What we discovered was a correlation with the southerly route and not with the northern route after the final turn that the aircraft made, so we could be as close to certain as anybody could be in that situation that it went south. Where we then went was to work out where the last ping was, knowing that the aircraft still had some fuel, but that it would have run out before the next automated ping. We don't know what speed the aircraft was flying at, but we assumed about 450 knots.' Inmarsat passed the relevant analysis to the UK Air Accidents Investigation Branch (AAIB) yesterday. The cause of the crash remains a mystery.
MIT Researcher Enlists Bacteria To Assemble Nanotech Materials
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The Register reports on an approach to nanotech that combines biological computing with micro-mechanics, embodied in the work of MIT associate professor Timothy Lu. Lu's research has resulted in the creation of tiny structures assembled using modified E. coli. "Specifically," says the article, "the MIT researchers were able to put bacteria to work producing conducting biofilms, some of which were studded with quantum dots, and arranging gold nanowires. This paves the way for the development of mass manufactured cell-based material factories, and even 'living materials' that have some of the desirable properties of bones or trees, Lu confirmed." His most radical idea, says Lu, is furniture that shapes itself to cushion the user's most-stressed areas.
L.A. Police: All Cars In L.A. Are Under Investigation
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an article by the EFF's Jennifer Lynch, carried by Gizmodo, which reports that the L.A. Police Department and L.A. Sheriff's Department "took a novel approach in the briefs they filed in EFF and the ACLU of Southern California's California Public Records Act lawsuit seeking a week's worth of Automatic License Plate Reader (ALPR) data. They have argued that 'All [license plate] data is investigatory.' The fact that it may never be associated with a specific crime doesn't matter. This argument is completely counter to our criminal justice system, in which we assume law enforcement will not conduct an investigation unless there are some indicia of criminal activity. In fact, the Fourth Amendment was added to the U.S. Constitution exactly to prevent law enforcement from conducting mass, suspicionless investigations under "general warrants" that targeted no specific person or place and never expired.

ALPR systems operate in just this way. The cameras are not triggered by any suspicion of criminal wrongdoing; instead, they automatically and indiscriminately photograph all license plates (and cars) that come into view. ... Taken to an extreme, the agencies' arguments would allow law enforcement to conduct around-the-clock surveillance on every aspect of our lives and store those records indefinitely on the off-chance they may aid in solving a crime at some previously undetermined date in the future. If the court accepts their arguments, the agencies would then be able to hide all this data from the public."
IPPC's "Darkest Yet" Climate Report Warns of Food, Water Shortages
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The Australian reports that "UN scientists are set to deliver their darkest report yet on the impacts of climate change, pointing to a future stalked by floods, drought, conflict and economic damage if carbon emissions go untamed. A draft of their report, seen by the news organisation AFP, is part of a massive overview by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, likely to shape policies and climate talks for years to come. Scientists and government representatives will meet in Yokohama, Japan, from tomorrow to hammer out a 29-page summary. It will be unveiled with the full report on March 31. 'We have a lot clearer picture of impacts and their consequences ... including the implications for security,' said Chris Field of the US’s Carnegie Institution, who headed the probe.

The work comes six months after the first volume in the long-awaited Fifth Assessment Report declared scientists were more certain than ever that humans caused global warming. It predicted global temperatures would rise 0.3C-4.8C this century, adding to roughly 0.7C since the Industrial Revolution. Seas will creep up by 26cm-82cm by 2100. The draft warns costs will spiral with each additional degree, although it is hard to forecast by how much."
Don't Help Your Kids With Their Homework
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There are a number of good arguments against this concept in the Slashdot comments.
Dana Goldstein writes in The Atlantic that while one of the central tenets of raising kids in America is that parents should be actively involved in their children's education — meeting with teachers, volunteering at school, and helping with homework — few parents stop to ask whether they're worth the effort. Case in point: In the largest-ever study of how parental involvement affects academic achievement researchers combed through nearly three decades' worth of longitudinal surveys of American parents and tracked 63 different measures of parental participation in kids' academic lives, from helping them with homework, to talking with them about college plans, to volunteering at their schools. What they found surprised them. Most measurable forms of parental involvement seem to yield few academic dividends for kids, or even to backfire — regardless of a parent's race, class, or level of education. Once kids enter middle school, parental help with homework can actually bring test scores down, an effect Robinson says could be caused by the fact that many parents may have forgotten, or never truly understood, the material their children learn in school. 'As kids get older—we're talking about K-12 education — parents' abilities to help with homework are declining,' says Keith Robinson. 'Even though they may be active in helping, they may either not remember the material their kids are studying now, or in some cases never learned it themselves, but they're still offering advice. And that means poor quality homework.'
Spacecraft Returns Seven Particles From Birth of the Solar System
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After a massive, years-long search, researchers have recovered seven interstellar dust particles returned to Earth by the Stardust spacecraft. The whole sample weighs just a few trillionths of a gram, but it's the first time scientists have laid their hands on primordial material unaltered by the violent birth of the solar system. Once the sample panel was back on Earth, the problem quickly became finding any collected particles embedded in the aerogel. Out of desperation, Stardust team members called on 30,714 members of the general public. The 'dusters' of the Stardust@home project volunteered to examine microscopic images taken down through the aerogel. They used the world's best pattern-recognition system the human eye and brain to pick out the telltale tracks left by speeding particles.
Earth Barely Dodged Solar Blast In 2012
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Coronal mass ejections, happened in 2012, according to researchers. The Carrington event caused widespread damage to the telegraph system in the U. S., and a similar occurrence would be devastating to modern electronics, it is thought. From the Reuters article, 'Had it hit Earth, it probably would have been like the big one in 1859, but the effect today, with our modern technologies, would have been tremendous.' The potential global cost for such damage is pegged at $2.6 trillion.
Waves Spotted On Titan
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Planetary scientists believe they have observed waves rippling on one of Titan's seas. The findings, presented on March 17 at the Lunar and Planetary Science Conference, describes how the Cassini spacecraft captured images of sunlight glinting off the Punga Mare (abstract), suggesting they are not reflective sunlight but waves.
The Planetary Society recently posted a nice breakdown of the basics about Titan's lakes: "To flow with liquid, those river valleys must have been filled with methane that came from higher elevations; it had to rain methane on Titan. Rainfall runs off, and then what? It must pool somewhere. What we learned from the Cassini orbiter at Saturn is that there are lakes on Titan. ... Rainfall, river runoff, lakes, evaporation into clouds, rainfall again. Cassini has seen clouds make storms on Titan. We have seen the whole cycle -- it's just like Earth's water cycle, but with a completely different substance [methane], and much, much colder."
Pluto Regains Its Title As Largest Object In Its Neighborhood
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In 2005 astronomers discovered Pluto's biggest neighborhood rival: Eris, which they claimed definitely surpassed Pluto in size. Now, as astronomers report an analysis of methane gas in Pluto's atmosphere suggests that Pluto is about 2368 kilometers across, in which case it's larger than Eris and thus the champ of the Edgeworth-Kuiper belt, which boasts more than a thousand known objects revolving around the sun beyond Neptune's orbit.
Planet Mercury Has Shrunk More Than Thought
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Measuring just 4880 kilometers across, Mercury is a small world. The planet became slightly smaller as its interior cooled, which caused Mercury to shrink, buckling its surface and creating numerous cliffs and ridges. Now, after studying 5934 of these features, researchers report online today in Nature Geoscience that Mercury's contraction was much greater than previously thought: During the past 4 billion years, the planet's diameter decreased by 7 to 14 kilometers. The greater estimate of shrinkage accords with models that predict how much a rocky planet should contract as its interior cools; the new work may also lend insight into the evolution of extrasolar planets that, like Mercury and unlike Earth, lack any moving continents.
Forests Around Chernobyl Aren't Decaying Properly
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Smithsonian Magazine has an article about one of the non-obvious effects of the Chernobyl nuclear meltdown: dead organisms are not decomposing correctly. 'According to a new study (abstract) published in Oecologia, decomposersorganisms such as microbes, fungi and some types of insects that drive the process of decayhave also suffered from the contamination. These creatures are responsible for an essential component of any ecosystem: recycling organic matter back into the soil. Issues with such a basic-level process, the authors of the study think, could have compounding effects for the entire ecosystem.' The scientists took bags of fallen leaves to various areas around Chernobyl and found that locations with more radiation caused the leaves to retain more than half of their original weight after almost a year. They're now beginning to worry that almost three decades of dead brush buildup is contributing to the area's fire risk, and a large fire could distribute radioactive material beyond Chernobyl's exclusion zone
NASA-Funded Study Investigates Collapse of Industrial Civilization
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A new study (PDF) sponsored by NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center has highlighted the prospect that global industrial civilization could collapse in coming decades due to unsustainable resource exploitation and increasingly unequal wealth distribution. Noting that warnings of 'collapse' are often seen to be fringe or controversial, the study attempts to make sense of compelling historical data showing that 'the process of rise-and-collapse is actually a recurrent cycle found throughout history.' Cases of severe civilizational disruption due to 'precipitous collapse often lasting centuries have been quite common.' They say, 'Technological change can raise the efficiency of resource use, but it also tends to raise both per capita resource consumption and the scale of resource extraction, so that, absent policy effects, the increases in consumption often compensate for the increased efficiency of resource use.' After running simulations on the survivability of various types of civilizations, the researchers found that for the type most resembling ours, 'collapse is difficult to avoid.'
The Slashdot comments reference the book Collapse:_How_Societies_Choose_to_Fail_or_Succeed by Jared Diamond.
Target Ignored Signs of Data Breach
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Target's security team reviewed -- and ignored -- urgent warnings from threat-detection tool about unknown malware spotted on the network.
Singapore To Regulate Virtual Currency Exchanges
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Following on the heels of the Mt Gox, bankruptcy, the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) plans to impose new regulations on currency exchanges dealing in bitcoin and other virtual currencies. Virtual currency exchanges would need to verify their customers' identities and report any suspicious transactions under the new rules.
The MAS said its regulation of virtual currency intermediaries — which include virtual currency exchanges and vending machines — was tailored specifically to the money-laundering and terrorism financing risks they posed. However, the new regulations would do nothing to ensure the solvency of virtual currency intermediaries or the safety of their client's funds.
Crowdsourcing Confirms: Websites Inaccessible on Comcast
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A website that was temporarily inaccessible on my Comcast Internet connection (but accessible to my friends on other providers) led me to investigate further. Using a perl script, I found a sampling of websites that were inaccessible on Comcast (hostnames not resolving on DNS) but were working on other networks. Then I used Amazon Mechanical Turk to pay volunteers 25 cents apiece to check if they could access the website, and confirmed that (most) Comcast users were blocked from accessing it while users on other providers were not. The number of individual websites similarly inaccessible on Comcast could potentially be in the millions.
How Wolves Change Rivers
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An interesting piece about the interdependence of our environment. It makes me wonder about the scientists that are confident that reintroducing an extinct species into the environment couldn't possibly create problems that we couldn't fix. ;^)
Snowden Says No One Listened To 10 Attempts To Raise Concerns At NSA
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Edward Snowden denies in no uncertain terms the idea that he failed to go through proper channels to expose what he thought were troubling privacy violations being committed by the NSA, and that he observed as a contractor employed by the agency. The article begins:
"[Snowden] said he repeatedly tried to go through official channels to raise concerns about government snooping programs but that his warnings fell on the deaf ears. In testimony to the European Parliament released Friday morning, Snowden wrote that he reported policy or legal issues related to spying programs to more than 10 officials, but as a contractor he had no legal avenue to pursue further whistleblowing."
Further,
"Elsewhere in his testimony, Snowden described the reaction he received when relating his concerns to co-workers and superiors. The responses, he said, fell into two camps. 'The first were well-meaning but hushed warnings not to "rock the boat," for fear of the sort of retaliation that befell former NSA whistleblowers like Wiebe, Binney, and Drake.' All three of those men, he notes, were subject to intense scrutiny and the threat of criminal prosecution."
SpaceX Wants To Go To Mars -- and Has a Plan To Get There
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an article at NASA SpaceFlight which lays out the details of a plan from SpaceX to send a craft to Mars, using an in-development engine ("Raptor") along with the company's Super Heavy Lift Launch Vehicle. "Additionally, Mr. Musk also introduced the mysterious MCT project, which he later revealed to be an acronym for Mars Colonial Transport. This system would be capable of transporting 100 colonists at a time to Mars, and would be fully reusable. Article is technically dense but he does seem to follow through on his promises!"
This is an endeavor that's been on Elon Musk's mind for a while.
Impact Crater Origin of Mars Meteorites Discovered
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Out of the thousands of craters scarring the face of Mars, one has emerged as the likely source of most of the Martian meteorites that have been recovered on Earth, a new study shows. Researchers pinpoint Mojave Crater, a 34 mile (55 kilometer) wide basin on the planet's equator, as the origin of the so-called 'shergottites' meteorites, a family that includes about 75 percent of the roughly 150 known Martian meteorites. The crater is located slightly north and east of Meridian Planum, where NASA's Mars rover Opportunity landed in January 2004.
Hubble Witnesses Mysterious Breakup of Asteroid
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Hubble has observed some weird things since it was launched in 1990, but this is probably one of the strangest. In September 2013, the Catalina and Pan-STARRS sky surveys spotted a mysterious object in the asteroid belt, a region of rocky debris that occupy the space between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter. Follow-up observations by the Keck Observatory in Hawaii resolved three separate objects within the fuzzy cloud. It was so strange that Hubble mission managers decided to use the space telescope to get a closer look. And what they saw has baffled and thrilled astronomers in equal measure. 'This is a really bizarre thing to observe we've never seen anything like it before,' said co-author Jessica Agarwal of the Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research, Germany. 'The break-up could have many different causes, but the Hubble observations are detailed enough that we can actually pinpoint the process responsible.'
NASA Wants To Go To Europa
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NASA and the White House are asking Congress to bankroll a new intrastellar road trip to a destination that's sort of like the extraterrestrial Atlantis of our solar system — Jupiter's intriguing moon, Europa.' Since Europa seems one of the most likely worlds in the Solar System other than Earth where we have some hope of finding extant life, let's hope Congress gives the green light to this project.
Pro-Vaccination Efforts May Be Scaring Wary Parents From Shots
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Thomas Kienzle reports for the Associated Press on a study which found public health campaigns touting vaccines' effectiveness and debunking the links between autism and other health risks might actually be backfiring, and convincing parents to skip the shots for their kids. 'Corrections of misperceptions about controversial issues like vaccines may be counterproductive in some populations,' says Dr. Brendan Nyhan. 'The best response to false beliefs is not necessarily providing correct information.' In the study, researchers focused on the now-debunked idea that the vaccine for measles, mumps and rubella (or MMR) caused autism. Surveying 1,759 parents, researchers found that while they were able to teach parents that the vaccine and autism were not linked, parents who were surveyed who had initial reservations about vaccines said they were actually less likely to vaccinate their children after hearing the researchers messages. Researchers looked at four methods designed to counter the myth (PDF) that the MMR vaccine can cause autism. They gave people either information from health authorities about the lack of evidence for a connection, information about the danger of the three diseases the MMR vaccine protects against, pictures of children who had one of those three diseases, or a story about an infant who almost died from measles. At the study's start, the group of parents who were most opposed to vaccination said that on average, the chance they would vaccinate a future child against MMR was 70 percent. After these parents had been given information that the MMR vaccine does not cause autism, they said, on average, the chance they would vaccinate a future child was only 45 percent even though they also said they were now less likely to believe the vaccine could cause autism. Vaccination rates are currently high, so it's important that any strategies should focus on retaining these numbers and not raise more concerns, tipping parents who are willing to vaccinate away from doing so. 'We shouldn't put too much weight on the idea that there's some magic message out there that will change people's minds.'
NASA Forgets How To Talk To ICE/ISEE-3 Spacecraft
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Launched in 1978 ISEE-3 was the first spacecraft to be placed in a halo orbit at one of Earth-Sun Lagrangian points (L1). It was later (as ICE) sent to visit Comet Giacobini-Zinner and became the first spacecraft to do so by flying through a comet's tail passing the nucleus at a distance of approximately 7800 km. ICE has been in a heliocentric orbit since then, traveling just slightly faster than Earth and it's finally catching up to us from behind, and will return to Earth in August. According to Emily Lakdawalla, it's still functioning, broadcasting a carrier signal that the Deep Space Network successfully detected in 2008 and twelve of its 13 instruments were working when we last checked on its condition, sometime prior to 1999.

Can we tell the spacecraft to turn back on its thrusters and science instruments after decades of silence and perform the intricate ballet needed to send it back to where it can again monitor the Sun? Unfortunately the answer to that question appears to be no. 'The transmitters of the Deep Space Network, the hardware to send signals out to the fleet of NASA spacecraft in deep space, no longer includes the equipment needed to talk to ISEE-3. These old-fashioned transmitters were removed in 1999.' Could new transmitters be built? Yes, but it would be at a price no one is willing to spend. 'So ISEE-3 will pass by us, ready to talk with us, but in the 30 years since it departed Earth we've lost the ability to speak its language,' concludes Lakdawalla. 'I wonder if ham radio operators will be able to pick up its carrier signal it's meaningless, I guess, but it feels like an honorable thing to do, a kind of salute to the venerable ship as it passes by.'
First Look At the Animals of the New Hebrides Trench
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Scientists have released pictures of the animals they've found in the New Hebrides Trench, more than 7,000m down. 'The team used an unmanned lander fitted with cameras to film the deep-sea creatures. The scientists said the ecology of this trench differed with other regions of the deep that had been studied. "We're starting to find out that what happens at one trench doesn't necessarily represent what happens in all the trenches," said Dr Alan Jamieson, from Oceanlab at the University of Aberdeen, UK, who carried out the expedition with the National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research in New Zealand.'
Oil From the Exxon Valdez Spill Still Lingers On Alaska Beaches
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It's been 25 years since the Exxon Valdez dumped 11 million gallons of crude oil in Prince William Sound, and you can still find oil sticking to rocks. Worse yet, scientists say the oil could be around for decades yet to come. From the article: 'There are two main reasons why there's still oil on some of the beaches of the Kenai Fjords and Katmai National Parks and Preserves in the Gulf of Alaska, explains Gail Irvine, a marine ecologist with the U.S. Geological Survey and lead researcher on the study. When the oil first spilled from the tanker, it mixed with the seawater and formed an emulsion that turned it into a goopy compound, she says. "When oil forms into the foam, the outside is weathering, but the inside isn't," Irvine explains. It's like mayonnaise left out on the counter. The surface will crust over, but the inside of the clump still looks like mayonnaise, she explains.'
NASA Scientists Find Evidence of Water In Martian Meteorite
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Scientists at NASA and JPL have found evidence of past water movement throughout a Martian meteorite, reviving debate over life on Mars. 'In this new study, Gibson and his colleagues focused on structures deep within a 30-pound (13.7-kilogram) Martian meteorite known as Yamato 000593 (Y000593). The team reports that newly discovered different structures and compositional features within the larger Yamato meteorite suggest biological processes might have been at work on Mars hundreds of millions of years ago. ... Analyses found that the rock was formed about 1.3 billion years ago from a lava flow on Mars. Around 12 million years ago, an impact occurred on Mars which ejected the meteorite from the surface of Mars. The meteorite traveled through space until it fell in Antarctica about 50,000 years ago.'
Water Filtration With a Tree Branch
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Dirty water is a major cause of mortality in the developing world. 'The most common water-borne pathogens are bacteria (e.g. Escherichia coli, Salmonella typhi, Vibrio cholerae), viruses (e.g. adenoviruses, enteroviruses, hepatitis, rotavirus), and protozoa (e.g. giardia). These pathogens cause child mortality and also contribute to malnutrition and stunted growth of children.' People have been working on engineering cheaper and cheaper filtration systems for years, but now a group of researchers has found a promising and simple solution: a tree branch. 'Approximately 3 cm^3 of sapwood can filter water at the rate of several liters per day, sufficient to meet the clean drinking water needs of one person.' 'Before experimenting with contaminated water, the group used water mixed with red ink particles ranging from 70 to 500 nanometers in size. After all the liquid passed through, the researchers sliced the sapwood in half lengthwise, and observed that much of the red dye was contained within the very top layers of the wood, while the filtrate, or filtered water, was clear. This experiment showed that sapwood is naturally able to filter out particles bigger than about 70 nanometers.' The team tested E. coli-contaminated water, and the branch was able to filter out 99 percent of the bacterial cells.
MPAA's latest anti-piracy move accidentally, completely screws Hollywood studios
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the Academy Awards ceremony played host to its share of high-profile protests. This year, though, the biggest protest will likely happen outside the Dolby Theater. Visual effects industry workers plan a mass demonstration against the major studios’ ongoing efforts to offshore post production work. That offshoring has led to the slow collapse of the American FX industry at the very moment digital effects have become a central ingredient in entertainment products.
Unfortunately for the studios, however, the visual effects workers have just been handed a powerful new legal and political weapon, one with the potential to fundamentally change the economic dynamics throughout the entertainment and tech industries.
And here’s the twist: It is a weapon the MPAA itself created in its own desperate attempt to prevent Internet piracy.
Find Along Chilean Highway Suggests Ancient Mass Stranding of Whales
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In 2010, workers widening a remote stretch of highway near the northwestern coast of Chile uncovered a trove of fossils, including the skeletons of at least 30 large baleen whales. The fossils—which may be up to 9 million years old—are the first definitive examples of ancient mass strandings of whales, according to a new study. The work also fingers a possible culprit.
Horseshoe Crabs Are Bled Alive To Create an Unparalleled Biomedical Technology
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Alexis Madrigal at the Atlantic: 'The marvelous thing about horseshoe crab blood, though, isn't the color. It's a chemical found only in the amoebocytes of its blood cells that can detect mere traces of bacterial presence and trap them in inescapable clots.' Madrigal continues, 'To take advantage of this biological idiosyncrasy, pharmaceutical companies burst the cells that contain the chemical, called coagulogen. Then, they can use the coagulogen to detect contamination in any solution that might come into contact with blood. If there are dangerous bacterial endotoxins in the liquideven at a concentration of one part per trillionthe horseshoe crab blood extract will go to work, turning the solution into what scientist Fred Bang, who co-discovered the substance, called a "gel."
Kepler's Alien World Count Skyrockets
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"The number of known planets beyond the solar system took a giant leap thanks to a new technique that verifies candidate planets found by NASA's Kepler space telescope in batches rather than one-by-one. The new method adds 715 planets to Kepler's list of confirmed planets, which previously totaled 246, scientists said Wednesday. Combined with other telescopes' finds, the overall exoplanet headcount now reaches nearly 1,700. 'By moving ... to statistical studies in a "big data" fashion, Kepler has showcased the diversity and types of planets present in our galaxy,' said astronomer Sara Seager."
In other exoplanet news, a recent study found that so-called 'super earths,' planets that are bigger than Earth but smaller than gas giants like Uranus and Neptune, are unlikely to be habitable to known forms of life. The higher mass traps significantly more hydrogen during the formation of the planetary system, which results in extremely high atmospheric pressure — high enough to be hostile to known life.
Report: Space Elevators Are Feasible
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It's the scourge of futurists everywhere: The space elevator can't seem to shake its image as something that's just ridiculous, laughed off as the stuff of sci-fi novels and overactive imaginations. But there are plenty of scientists who take the idea quite seriously, and they're trying to buck that perception. To that end, a diverse group of experts at the behest of the International Academy of Astronautics completed an impressively thorough study this month on whether building a space elevator is doable. Their resulting report, 'Space Elevators: An Assessment of the Technological Feasibility and the Way Forward,' found that, in a nutshell, such a contraption is both totally feasible and a really smart idea. And they laid out a 300-page roadmap detailing how to make it happen.
Astronomers Catch Asteroid Striking Moon On Video
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A 4.5-foot-wide asteroid struck the moon in September 2013, and astronomers were lucky enough to catch the impact flash on video, now confirmed as the brightest ever witnessed from Earth. The Orlando Sentinel reports that the asteroid likely weighed nearly 900 pounds, and exploded on impact with the moon with the force of 15 tons of TNT.
Navy Won't Investigate Nuclear Pollution At San Francisco's Treasure Island
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The Center for Investigative Reporting spent a year investigating whether San Francisco's Treasure Island is contaminated with radioactive material left over from the decades the island was a naval base. Treasure Island is being transferred into civilian hands, and the city of San Francisco has plans to turn it into a 'second downtown.' Despite the fact that radioactive debris has been found around the island, the Navy refuses to conduct testing that might show whether radiation cleanup should be started before development begins, Independent testing by CIR and others has found high levels of cesium 137 and other radioactive substances at several spots on the island, and by examining unclassified military documents, CIR has found that the history of the nuclear work done at Treasure Island and the lack of safety protocols at the time mean the contamination is most likely wide-spread. Complaints by current residents has only resulted in bureaucratic infighting among state health departments and the Navy.
Most Alarming: IETF Draft Proposes "Trusted Proxy" In HTTP/2.0
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You'd think that with so many concerns these days about whether the likes of AT&T, Verizon, and other telecom companies can be trusted not to turn our data over to third parties whom we haven't authorized, that a plan to formalize a mechanism for ISP and other 'man-in-the-middle' snooping would be laughed off the Net. But apparently the authors of IETF (Internet Engineering Task Force) Internet-Draft 'Explicit Trusted Proxy in HTTP/2.0' (14 Feb 2014) haven't gotten the message. What they propose for the new HTTP/2.0 protocol is nothing short of officially sanctioned snooping.
The Neuroscience of Computer Programming
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Chris Parnin has an interesting read about an international team of scientists lead by Dr. Janet Siegmund using brain imaging with fMRI to understand the programmer's mind and to compare and contrast different cognitive tasks used in programming by analyzing differences in brain locations that are activated by different tasks. One recent debate illuminated by their studies is recent legislation that considers offering foreign-language credits for students learning programming languages. There have been many strong reactions across the software-developer community. Some developers consider the effort laudable but misguided and proclaim programming is not at all like human language and is much closer to mathematics. Siegmund observed 17 participants inside an fMRI scanner while they were comprehending short source-code snippets and found a clear, distinct activation pattern of five brain regions, which are related to language processing, working memory, and attention. The programmers in the study recruited parts of the brain typically associated with language processing and verbal oriented processing (ventral lateral prefrontal cortex). At least for the simple code snippets presented, programmers could use existing language regions of the brain to understand code without requiring more complex mental models to be constructed and manipulated.
ISP Fights Causing Netflix Packet Drops
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We've been hearing more and more reports of ISPs throttling Netflix and other high-bandwidth services lately. The ISPs have denied it, and even Netflix itself seems to believe them. If that's the case, what's going on? Well, according to this article, the blame still lies with the ISPs. While they may not be explicitly throttling connection speeds, they're refusing to upgrade network connections as they demand more money from content distributors. For example, Netflix pays Cogent to distribute their internet traffic. Cogent has an agreement with Verizon to exchange traffic which works fine until the massive amount of traffic from Netflix makes it a lopsided arrangement. Verizon wants more money from Cogent, and one of their negotiating tactics is simply to stop upgrading their infrastructure so that service degrades. 'There are about 11 Cogent/Verizon peering connections in major cities around the country. When peering partners aren't fighting, they typically upgrade the connections (or "ports") when they're about 50 percent full, Cogent says. ... With Cogent and Verizon fighting, the upgrades are happening at a glacial pace, according to Schaeffer. "Once a port hits about 85 percent throughput, you're going to begin to start to drop packets," he said. "Clearly when a port is at 120 or 130 percent [as the Cogent/Verizon ones are] the packet loss is material."'
European Space Agency Picks Plato Planet-hunting Mission
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A telescope to find worlds around other stars has been selected for launch by the European Space Agency's Science Policy Committee. Known as Plato (Planetary Transits and Oscillations of stars), the mission should launch on a Soyuz rocket in 2024. The Plato space telescope will prepare the way for scientists searching for alien life by locating the first genuinely Earth-like exoplanets orbiting nearby stars. It will break new ground in astronomy by using a "bug eye" array of 34 individual telescopes. The intention is for this array to sweep about half the sky, to investigate some of its brightest and nearest stars.
Supernova Secrets Seen In X-Rays
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CNN reports that astronomers using NASA's NuSTAR telescope have for the first time mapped deep within the radioactive material from a supernova. The light from the originating star, Cassiopeia A, located about 11,000 light-years away and having had about eight time the mass of our sun, first reached Earth about 350 years ago. But that does not mean there still isn't a lot to study. Scientists using the NuSTAR, which stands for Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array, launched in June 2012 and consisting of an instrument with two telescopes that focus high energy X-ray light, were able to peer deep within the cataclysmic aftermath. While there is currently no model for how the process of a supernova works, the findings in the study are a big step forward. 'Until we had NuSTAR, we couldn't see down to the core of the explosion,' Brian Grefenstette, lead author and research scientist at the California Institute of Technology, said at a news conference Wednesday.
Another Possible Voynich Breakthrough
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Over the past few weeks we've been hearing a lot about a possible breakthrough in decoding the infamous Voynich manuscript, made by a team of botanists who suggested that the plants depicted in the manuscript may have been from the New World and the mysterious writing could be a form of an Aztec language. But the latest development comes from linguist Stephen Bax, of Bedfordshire University, who believes he has identified some proper names (including of the constellation 'Taurus') in the manuscript and is using these as a crib to begin deciphering the rest of the text, which he believes comes from the near east or Asia.
Healthcare Organizations Under Siege From Cyberattacks, Study Says
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A new study set to be officially released Wednesday found that networks and Internet-connected devices in places such as hospitals, insurance companies and pharmaceutical companies are under siege and in many cases have been infiltrated without their knowledge. ... In the report, the groups found from September 2012 to October 2013 that 375 healthcare organizations in the U.S. had been compromised, and in many cases are still compromised because they have not yet detected the attacks. ... 'What's concerning to us is the sheer lack of basic blocking and tackling within these organizations,' said Sam Glines, chief executive of Norse. 'Firewalls were on default settings. They used very simple passwords for devices. In some cases, an organization used the same password for everything.'
Astronomers Make the Science Case For a Mission To Neptune and Uranus
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The only planets never to have been the subjects of bespoke space missions from Earth are Neptune and Uranus. Now European astronomers are planning to put that straight with a mission called Odinus, which involves twin spacecraft making the journey in 2034. Their justification is that the mission will help explain how the Solar System formed, how it ended up in the configuration we see today and may also explain why 'hot' Neptune-class planets are common around other stars. They also have to overcome the common misconception that Neptune and Uranus are just smaller, less interesting versions of Jupiter and Saturn. Nothing could be further from the truth. For a start, Neptune and Uranus and made of entirely different stuff--mostly ices such as water, ammonia and methane compared with hydrogen and helium for Jupiter and Saturn. That raises the question of how they formed and how they got to the distant reaches of the Solar System. However it happened, Uranus ended up lying on its side, probably because of a cataclysmic collision. And Neptune's largest moon Triton orbits in the opposite direction to its parent's rotation, the only moon in the Solar System to do this. How come? Another question still unanswered is who's going to pay for all this. The team are pinning their hopes on the European Space Agency which has already expressed interest. But would an international collaboration be a better option?
12-Year-Old Builds Lego Braille Printer
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Shubham Banerjee, a California seventh grader, is one of those kids whose heart and mind extend well beyond his own life and into the the wider world beyond. For a science fair project, he contemplated the issue of braille printers, which can cost upwards of $2,000, and decided there must be a better way.
Psychologists: Internet Trolls Are Narcissistic, Psychopathic, and Sadistic
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Chris Mooney reports at Slate that research conducted by Erin Buckels of the University of Manitoba confirmed that people who engage in internet trolling are characterized by personality traits that fall in the so-called Dark Tetrad: Machiavellianism (willingness to manipulate and deceive others), narcissism (egotism and self-obsession), psychopathy (the lack of remorse and empathy), and sadism (pleasure in the suffering of others). In the study, trolls were identified in a variety of ways. One was by simply asking survey participants what they 'enjoyed doing most' when on online comment sites, offering five options: 'debating issues that are important to you,' 'chatting with others,' 'making new friends,' 'trolling others,' and 'other.' The study recruited participants from Amazon's Mechanical Turk website and two measures of sadistic personality were administered (PDF): the Short Sadistic Impulse Scale and the Varieties of Sadistic Tendencies Scale. Only 5.6 percent of survey respondents actually specified that they enjoyed 'trolling.' By contrast, 41.3 percent of Internet users were 'non-commenters,' meaning they didn't like engaging online at all. So trolls are, as has often been suspected, a minority of online commenters, and an even smaller minority of overall Internet users. Overall, the authors found that the relationship between sadism and trolling was the strongest, and that indeed, sadists appear to troll because they find it pleasurable. 'Both trolls and sadists feel sadistic glee at the distress of others. Sadists just want to have fun ... and the Internet is their playground!' The study comes as websites are increasingly weighing steps to rein in trollish behavior but the study authors aren't sure that fix is a realistic one. 'Because the behaviors are intrinsically motivating for sadists, comment moderators will likely have a difficult time curbing trolling with punishments (e.g., banning users),' says Buckels. 'Ultimately, the allure of trolling may be too strong for sadists, who presumably have limited opportunities to express their sadistic interests in a socially-desirable manner.' Perhaps posting rights should only be unlocked if you pass a test.
Hackers Sweep Up FTP Credentials For the New York Times, UNICEF and 7,000 Others
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Alex Holden of Hold Security has come forward with a significant find: a 7,000-strong list of FTP sites run by a variety of companies, complete with login credentials. The affected companies include The New York Times and UNICEF. The hackers have uploaded malicious PHP scripts in some cases, perhaps as a launch pad for further attacks. The passwords for the FTP applications are complex and not default ones, indicating the hackers may have other malware installed on people's systems in those organizations
Financing College With a Tax On All Graduates
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As the number of students attending colleges and universities has steadily increased and the cost for most students has climbed even faster, student debt figures (both total and per person) have continued to get bigger. Now Josh Freedman at Forbes Magazine proposes a graduate tax-funded system of higher education, under which students would pay nothing to attend college upfront. Instead, once they graduate and move out of their parents' basements, they would begin to pay an additional income tax (say, for example, three percent) on their earnings that would fund higher education. 'In other words, the current crop of college graduates funds the current crop of college students, and so on down the line. There is no debt taken on by students, which minimizes risk (good); repayment is tied to income, because only people who make income pay the tax (also good); and it is simpler and more easily administrable than plans to make loans easier to pay off (still good).' The main argument for a graduate tax comes from its progressivity. Supporters of a graduate tax point out that most college graduates, particularly those from elite universities that use a greater share of resources, are richer than people who have not graduated from college. The state of Oregon made headlines last year for an innovative proposal called 'Pay It Forward' to fund higher education without having students take on any debt. Pay It Forward amounts to a graduate tax: All of the graduates of public colleges in Oregon would pay nothing up front in tuition but would pay back a percentage of their income for a set number of years. These payments would build a fund that would cover the cost for future students to receive the same opportunity to attend college with no upfront costs. 'As pressure mounts for more students from all backgrounds to attend college, it will become increasingly difficult to try to stem the rapid tuition inflation under a loan system,' concludes Freedman. 'Our current student loan system has made college more expensive, turned higher education into an individual, rather than a communal, good, and generated serious negative economic and social risks.'
Study Finds Methane Leaks Negate Benefits of Natural Gas-Powered Vehicles
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Coral Davenport at the NY Times reports on a study to be published on Friday: '...a surprising new report...concludes that switching buses and trucks from traditional diesel fuel to natural gas could actually harm the planet's climate.' The report apparently documents that the leaks of methane that occur when drilling for natural gas more than make up for the climate change benefits of using natural gas as a transportation fuel. The report will be published Friday in the journal Science.
900-Year-Old Coded Viking Message Carved on Wood Fragment Finally Solved, It Says "Kiss Me"
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For the past several years researchers have been trying to crack a Viking rune alphabet known as Jtunvillur, a perplexing code dating back to the 11th or 12th century thats been found in some 80 inscriptions including the scratched piece of wood found above. Recently runologist (!) Jonas Nordby from the University of Oslo managed to crack the code and discovered the secret message etched into this particular 900-year-old object reads Kiss me. Via Medievalists.net:
Unlocking 120 Years of Images of the Night Sky
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Researchers at the Pisgah Astronomical Research Institute, a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit foundation located at a former NASA Tracking Station, are preparing to unlock 120 years of images of the night sky. The images are embedded on more than 220,000 astronomical photographic plates and films dating back to 1898 collected from over 40 institutions and observatories in the United States. These plates and films are housed in the Astronomical Photographic Data Archive at PARI.. The researchers plan to begin digitizing these collections this year, bringing these fantastic observational works by generations of astronomers who spent more than a million hours at telescopes to the general public and scientists worldwide . The PARI researchers are calling this the Astronomy Legacy Project. The researchers will use an extremely high precision, fast, scanning machine to do the work. To get the project off the ground, they are beginning with a crowdfunding campaign and the funds from that campaign will be used to buy the digitizing machine.
Majority of Young American Adults Think Astrology Is a Science
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Americans have always had a strange fascination with astrology. First Lady Nancy Reagan famously employed the services of an astrologer after the assassination attempt on her husband. Now UPI reports that according to a new survey by the National Science Foundation, nearly half of all Americans say astrology is either 'very' or 'sort of' scientific. Younger respondents, in particular, were the least likely to regard astrology as unscientific, with 58% of 18 to 24 years olds saying that astrology is scientific (PDF). What's most alarming is that American attitudes about science are moving in the wrong direction. Skepticism of astrology hit an all-time high in 2004, when 66 percent of Americans said astrology was total nonsense. But each year, fewer and fewer respondents have dismissed the connections between star alignment and personality as bunk. Among respondents in the 25 44 age group 49% of respondents in the 2012 survey said astrology is either 'very scientific' or 'sort of scientific,' up from 36% in 2010. So what's behind this data? The lead author of the report chapter in question, public opinion specialist John Besley of Michigan State University, cautions that we should probably wait for further data 'to see if it's a real change' before speculating. But, he admits, the apparent increase in astrology belief 'popped out to me when I saw it.'
Oldest Known Star In the Universe Discovered
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A team of astronomers at The Australian National University working on a five-year project to produce the first comprehensive digital survey of the southern sky has discovered the oldest known star in the Universe. The star dates back 13.7 billion years, only shortly after the Big Bang itself. It's also nearby (at least, from a cosmological perspective) about 6,000 light-years away. The star is notable for the very small amount of iron it contains (abstract). The lead researcher, Stefan Keller, said, 'To make a star like our Sun, you take the basic ingredients of hydrogen and helium from the Big Bang and add an enormous amount of iron the equivalent of about 1,000 times the Earth's mass. To make this ancient star, you need no more than an Australia-sized asteroid of iron and lots of carbon. It's a very different recipe that tells us a lot about the nature of the first stars and how they died.'
Fossil Trove Discovered In Canada's Kootenay National Park Hailed As 'Mother Lode'
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A treasure trove of fossils chiseled out of a canyon in Canada's Kootenay National Park rivals the famous Burgess Shale, the best record of early life on Earth, scientists say.
Oil Companies Secretly Got Paid Twice For Cleaning Up Toxic Fuel Leaks
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Mica Rosenberg reports at Reuters that major oil companies including Chevron, Exxon, ConocoPhillips, Phillips 66, and Sunoco were paid twice for dealing with leaks from underground fuel storage tanks — once from government funds and again, secretly, from insurance companies. Court documents show many of the cases and settlement agreements follow a similar pattern, accusing the oil companies of 'double-dipping' by collecting both special state funds and insurance money for the same tank cleanups. Some states say any insurance payouts should have gone to them since they covered the cost of the work. 'It appears this was a really common practice and it's very disconcerting,' says Colorado Attorney General John Suthers. 'Basically the companies were defrauding the state.' Approximately 40 states and the District of Columbia have special funds to cover the costs of removing and replacing the old tanks, excavating tainted dirt and pumping out dirty groundwater. Since 1988, there have been more than half a million leaky tanks reported across the country. Nearly 80,000 spills still are waiting to be cleaned up. The lawsuits against the oil companies allege fraud or other civil, not criminal, claims, which have a lower burden of proof and do not lead to jail time. Companies are largely cooperating to forge settlement deals and were interested in partnering with the states to clean up the legacy of petroleum leaks. For example Phillips 66 paid Utah $2 million to resolve allegations that the oil company defrauded a state fund to the tune of $25 million for cleanups associated with leaking underground tanks. Phillips sued myriad insurers over coverage for contamination arising from leaking tanks around the country and Phillips 66 wound up collecting $286 million from its insurers to resolve these disputes, but it never divulged any of this to Utah officials, the suit alleged. 'When I first saw these cases, I thought this is kind of incredible,' says New Mexico assistant attorney general Seth Cohen, who handled the lawsuit for the state. 'The oil companies have, in effect, profited off polluting.'
Scientists Solve Mystery of World-Traveling Plant
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By land or by sea? Thats the question scientists have been pondering for decades when it comes to the bottle gourd, a plant with a hard-skinned fruit thats used by cultures all over the world to make lightweight containers and other tools. Archaeologists know that people were using domesticated bottle gourds in the Americas as early as 10,000 years ago. But how did the plant make the jump from its original home in Africa to the New World with an ocean in the way? A new study overturns previous evidence pointing to a human-assisted land migration and concludes that the bottle gourd floated across the Atlantic Ocean to the Americas on its own.
Online, You're Being Watched At All Times; Act Accordingly.
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Kaspersky Lab's Internet security expert Costin Raiu discussing internet surveillance claims that you should assume that you're being watched at all times. The article reports that Raiu conducts his online activities under the assumption that his movements are being monitored by government hackers. Raiu: 'I operate under the principle that my computer is owned by at least three governments' ... 'this is not meant as a scare tactic, but a rather as a statement of fact that should now be the default setting for everyone.'
Britain's Eastern Coast Yields Oldest Human Footprints Outside Africa
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They were a British family on a day out — almost a million years ago. Archaeologists announced Friday that they have discovered human footprints in England that are between 800,000 and 1 million years old — the most ancient found outside Africa, and the earliest evidence of human life in northern Europe. A team from the British Museum, London's Natural History Museum and Queen Mary college at the University of London uncovered imprints from up to five individuals in ancient estuary mud at Happisburgh on the country's eastern coast
Curiosity Dominates Mars Dune, Drives Into Dingo Gap
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On Thursday at 3:41 p.m. EST (20:41 UTC), Mars rover Curiosity beamed back the above photograph from its rear hazard avoidance camera (Hazcam). In the shot we see wheel tracks in the downward slope of the dune bridging Dingo Gap with the peak of Curiositys eventual goal, Mount Sharp, on the horizon. This can mean only one thing; the one-ton robot has successfully conquered its first Mars dune!
California Bill Proposes Mandatory Kill-Switch On Phones and Tablets
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Politicians and law enforcement officials in California will introduce a bill on Friday that requires all smartphones and tablet PCs sold in the state be equipped with a digital 'kill-switch' that would make the devices useless if stolen. The bill is a response to a rise in thefts of portable electronics devices, often at knife or gunpoint, being seen across the state. Already half of all robberies in San Francisco and 75 percent of those in Oakland involve a mobile device and the number is rising in Los Angeles, according to police figures. The trend is the same in major cities across the U.S. and the California bill, if it passes, could usher in kill-switch technology nationwide if phone makers choose not to produce custom devices for California. California Senate bill 962 says all smartphones and tablet PCs sold from Jan. 1, 2015, should have 'a technological solution that can render the essential features of the device inoperable when the device is not in possession of the rightful owner.'
Target's Data Breach Started With an HVAC Account
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Security blogger Krebs reports that Target's data breach started with a stolen HVAC account. Last week, Target said the initial intrusion into its systems was traced back to network credentials that were stolen from a third party vendor. Sources now claim that the vendor in question was a refrigeration, heating and air conditioning subcontractor that has worked at a number of locations at Target and other top retailers. Attackers stole network credentials from Fazio Mechanical Services, then used that to gain access to Target's network. It's not immediately clear why Target would have given an HVAC company external network access, or why that access would not be cordoned off from Target's payment system network.
Fracking Is Draining Water From Areas In US Suffering Major Shortages
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RT reports that some of the most drought-ravaged areas of the US are also heavily targeted for oil and gas development using hydraulic fracturing a practice that exacerbates water shortages with half of the oil and gas wells fracked across America since 2011 located in places suffering through drought. Taken together, all the wells surveyed from January 2011 to May 2013 consumed 97 billion gallons of water, pumped under high pressure to crack rocks containing oil or natural gas. Up to 10 million gallons can go into a single well. 'Hydraulic fracturing is increasing competitive pressures for water in some of the country's most water-stressed and drought-ridden regions,' says Mindy Lubber. 'Barring stiffer water-use regulations and improved on-the-ground practices, the industry's water needs in many regions are on a collision course with other water users, especially agriculture and municipal water use.' Nearly half (47%) of oil and gas wells recently hydraulically fractured in the U.S. and Canada are in regions with high or extremely high water stress. Amanda Brock, head of a water-treatment firm in Houston, says oil companies in California are already exploring ways to frack using the briny, undrinkable water found in the state's oil fields. While fracking consumes far less water than agriculture or residential uses, the impact can be huge on particular communities and is 'exacerbating already existing water problems,' says Monika Freyman. Hydraulic fracking is the 'latest party to come to the table,' says Freyman. The demands for the water are 'taking regions by surprise,' she says. More work needs to be done to better manage water use, given competing demand
NASA Pondering Two Public Contests To Build Small Space Exploration Satellites
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NASA today said it was looking into developing two new Centennial Challenge competitions that would let the public design, build and deliver small satellites known as Cubesats capable of operations and experiments near the moon and beyond. The first challenge will focus on finding innovative ways to allow deep space communications with small spacecraft, while the second focuses on primary propulsion for small spacecraft.
Weird Asteroid Itokawa Has a Dual Personality
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We care about how asteroids are made, in large part because if one were aiming to smash into us, we'd like to know what we can do about it. The structure of asteroids is also a matter of scientific curiosity, as it tells us a bit about the formation and evolution in our solar system. ... 25143 Itokawa is a relatively small near-Earth asteroid that was visited by the Japanese Habayusa spacecraft in 2005. It has also been monitored by Stephen Lowry of the University of Kent and his colleagues over a twelve year span with the 3.58 meter New Technology Telescope in La Silla, Chile. In that time span, Itokawa has made five near approaches to Earth. And what did they find? The asteroid is composed of two lobes of different densities, suggesting that Itokawa is in fact a merged binary.
US Democrats Introduce Bill To Restore Net Neutrality
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Lawmakers are introducing the Open Internet Preservation Act (PDF) which aims to restore net neutrality rules enforced by the FCC before being struck down by the DC appeals court. Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA) said, 'The Internet is an engine of economic growth because it has always been an open platform for competition and innovation. Our bill very simply ensures that consumers can continue to access the content and applications of their choosing online.' Unfortunately, it looks unlikely the bill will make it through Congress. 'Republicans are almost entirely united in opposition to the Internet rules, meaning the bill is unlikely to ever receive a vote in the GOP-controlled House.'
Adobe's New Ebook DRM Will Leave Existing Users Out In the Cold Come July
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Whether it's EA and SimCity, the Sony rootkit scandal, or Ubisoft, we've all read numerous stories about companies using DRM in stupid ways that harm their customers, and now we can add Adobe to the list. Adobe has just announced a new timeline for adoption of their recently launched 'hardened' DRM, and it's going to take your breath away. In a video posted to Youtube, Adobe reps have stated that Adobe expects all of their ebook partners to start adopting the new DRM in March. This is the same DRM that was launched only a few weeks ago and is already causing problems, but that hasn't stopped Adobe. They also expect all the stores that use Adobe's DRM to sell ebooks (as well as the ebook app and ebook reader developers) to have fully adopted the new ebook DRM by July 2014. That's when Adobe plans to end support for the old DRM (which everyone is using now). Given the dozens and dozens of different ebook readers released over the past few years, including models from companies that have gone under, this is going to present a significant problem for a lot of readers. Few, if any, will be updated in time to meet Adobe's deadline, and that's going to leave many readers unable to buy DRMed ebooks.
Atlas of US Historical Geography Digitized
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Charles O. Paullin and John K. Wright's Atlas of the Historical Geography of the United States, first published in 1932, has been digitized by The Digital Scholarship Lab at the University of Richmond. From the website: 'Here you will find one of the greatest historical atlases: Charles O. Paullin and John K. Wright's Atlas of the Historical Geography of the United States, first published in 1932. This digital edition reproduces all of the atlas's nearly 700 maps. Many of these beautiful maps are enhanced here in ways impossible in print, animated to show change over time or made clickable to view the underlying data—remarkable maps produced eight decades ago with the functionality of the twenty-first century.'
Australia OKs Dumping Dredge Waste In Barrier Reef
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Australia's Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority has approved the dumping of 3 million cubic meters of dredge waste in park waters. The decision has been blasted by environmentalists. 'This is a sad day for the reef and anyone who cares about its future,' said WWF Great Barrier Reef campaigner Richard Leck. 'The World Heritage Committee will take a dim view of this decision, which is in direct contravention of one of its recommendations.'
Astronomers Investigating Unknown Object That Hit the Earth In 773 AD
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In November 2012, a group of Japanese scientists discovered that the concentration of carbon-14 in Japanese cedar trees suddenly rose between 774 AD and 775 AD. Others have since found similar evidence and narrowed the date to 773 AD. Astronomers think this stuff must have come from space so now the quest is on to find the extraterrestrial culprit. Carbon-14 is continually generated in the atmosphere by cosmic rays hitting nitrogen atoms. But because carbon-14 is radioactive, it naturally decays back into nitrogen with a half-life of about 5700 years. This constant process of production and decay leaves the amount of carbon-14 in the atmosphere relatively constant at about one part in a trillion will be carbon-14. One possible reason for the increase is that the Sun belched a superflare our way, engulfing the planet in huge cloud of high energy protons. Recent calculations suggest this could happen once every 3000 years and so seems unlikely. Another possibility is a nearby supernova, which bathed the entire Solar System in additional cosmic rays. However, astronomers cannot see any likely candidates nearby and there are no historical observations of a supernova from that time. Yet another possibility is that a comet may have hit the Earth, dumping the extra carbon-14 in the atmosphere. But astronomers have ruled that out on the basis that a comet carrying enough carbon-14 must have been over 100 km in diameter and would surely have left other evidence such as an impact crater. So for the moment, astronomers are stumped.
Israeli Group To Attempt Moon Landing
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NDTV reports, 'Israel plans to do what only the world's biggest countries have so far managed to do: land an unmanned spacecraft on the moon ... only Russia, the U.S. and China have soft landed on the moon, and India hard landed its tri-colour using the moon impact probe in 2008 ... The washing machine-sized spacecraft that weighs 121 kilograms is being readied by a not-for-profit venture called SpaceIL. ... The Israeli lunar probe had its genesis after the $30 million Google Lunar X Prize was announced as a competition which challenged non-state-owned space agencies to land on the moon, send back photos, and move 500 meters on the surface of the moon. About two dozen global teams are racing to win the prize- SpaceIL reckons it's in pole position. ... ex-NASA engineer Yonatan Winetraub and two of his friends conceived of the spacecraft in 2010 ... then used a Facebook page to promote the dream. Today, the dream has matured into a $36 million mission with 20 full time employees and 250 volunteers. ... Around 40,000 school students have been associated with this project.' Further details are available here.
GPM Satellite To Usher In a New Era of Weather Observation
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A new satellite designed to take detailed, near real-time measurements of rain and snowfall on a global scale whilst mapping the interior of storm systems is set to launch. The Global Precipitation Measurement Core Observatory has been in development since 2005 and is a collaboration project between NASA and the Japanese Space Agency (JAXA). The satellite is due to be launched on the Japanese manufactured H-IIA delivery vehicle from the Tanegashima Space Centre, Tanegashima Island, Japan, on February 27.
Asteroids Scarred By Solar System's Violent Youth
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Telltale evidence of the solar system's traumatic childhood can be found in the main asteroid belt, which contains a far more integrated assortment of bodies than previously believed, a new study shows. Previous observations of the 2,000 or so biggest asteroids in the belt — those with diameters of roughly 100 kilometers (62 miles) or larger — showed a neat structure, with asteroids closer to the sun having surface temperatures warmer than those located farther away. The observations neatly matches theories about the formation of the solar system, which posits that bodies formed in warm environments would be found closer to the sun and those formed in cold environments are farther away.
The Human Body May Not Be Cut Out For Space
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The human body did not evolve to live in space, and the longest any human has been off Earth is 437 days. Some problems, like the brittling of bone, may have been overcome already. Others have been identified — for example, astronauts have trouble eating and sleeping enough — and NASA is working to understand and solve them. But Kenneth Chang reports in the NY Times that there are some health problems that still elude doctors more than 50 years after the first spaceflight. The biggest hurdle remains radiation. Without the protective cocoon of Earth's magnetic field and atmosphere, astronauts receive substantially higher doses of radiation, heightening the chances that they will die of cancer. Another problem identified just five years ago is that the eyeballs of at least some astronauts became somewhat squashed. 'It is now a recognized occupational hazard of spaceflight,' says Dr. Barratt. 'We uncovered something that has been right under our noses forever.' NASA officials often talk about the 'unknown unknowns,' the unforeseen problems that catch them by surprise. The eye issue caught them by surprise, and they are happy it did not happen in the middle of a mission to Mars. Another problem is the lack of gravity jumbles the body's neurovestibular system (PDF) that tells people which way is up. When returning to the pull of gravity, astronauts can become dizzy, something that Mark Kelly took note of as he piloted the space shuttle to a landing. 'If you tilt your head a little left or right, it feels like you're going end over end.' Beyond the body, there is also the mind. The first six months of Scott Kelly's one-year mission are expected to be no different from his first trip to the space station. Dr. Gary E. Beven, a NASA psychiatrist, says he is interested in whether anything changes in the next six months. 'We're going to be looking for any significant changes in mood, in sleep, in irritability, in cognition.' In a Russian experiment in 2010 and 2011, six men agreed to be sealed up in a mock spaceship simulating a 17-month Mars mission. Four of the six developed disorders, and the crew became less active as the experiment progressed. 'I think that's just an example of what could potentially happen during a Mars mission, but with much greater consequence,' says Dr. Beven. 'Those subtle changes in group cohesion could cause major problems.'
The Public Patent Foundations Fights for Freedom From Bad Patents (Video)
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The Public Patent Foundations Fights for Patent Freedom (Video) The PUBPAT website's About page says, "The Public Patent Foundation at Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law ('PUBPAT') is a not-for-profit legal services organization whose mission is to protect freedom in the patent system." Today's interviewee, Daniel B. Ravicher, is the group's Executive Director and founder. Eben Moglen is on the Board of Directors, and PUBPAT's goals have been aligned with the FSF since PUBPAT started. The most publicized PUBPAT success so far was, in conjunction with the ACLU, getting patents on naturally-occurring genes overturned. Go, PUBPAT!
Bees Are Building Nests With Our Waste Plastic
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In a paper published in the Ecological Society of America's journal Ecosphere, researchers from York University and the University of Guelph in Canada explained that while plastic waste has previously been shown to have devastating impacts on the environment, less attention has been given to the resourcefulness of species in the face of their changing surroundings. "Plastic waste pervades the global landscape," they wrote. "Although adverse impacts on both species and ecosystems have been documented, there are few observations of behavioral flexibility and adaptation in species, especially insects, to increasingly plastic-rich environments."
Mars Rover Opportunity Finds Life-Friendly Niche
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Gale Crater, the region being explored by NASA's Curiosity rover, isn't the only place on Mars where ancient microbes may have thrived. New evidence from NASA's senior robotic Mars scout, Opportunity, shows life-friendly water once mixed with telltale, clay-bearing rocks that now lie on the broken rim of Endeavour Crater, an ancient 14-mile wide basin on the other side of the planet from Gale. 'If I were to go Mars early in time and wanted to do a well, I'd do it there,' planetary scientist Ray Arvidson, with Washington University in St. Louis, told Discovery News. 'It's like drinking water. This would have been a niche for whatever life at the time existed."
Chrome Bugs Lets Sites Listen To Your Private Conversations
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Last year Google rolled out a new feature for the desktop version of Chrome that enabled support for voice recognition directly into the browser. In September, a developer named Tal Ater found a bug that would allow a malicious site to record through your microphone even after you'd told it to stop. Quoting: 'When you grant an HTTPS site permission to use your mic, Chrome will remember your choice, and allow the site to start listening in the future, without asking for permission again. This is perfectly fine, as long as Chrome gives you clear indication that you are being listened to, and that the site can't start listening to you in background windows that are hidden to you. When you click the button to start or stop the speech recognition on the site, what you won't notice is that the site may have also opened another hidden popunder window. This window can wait until the main site is closed, and then start listening in without asking for permission. This can be done in a window that you never saw, never interacted with, and probably didn't even know was there.' Ater reported this to Google in September, and they had a fix ready a few days later. But they haven't rolled it out yet they can't decide whether or not it's the proper way to block this behavior. Thus: the exploit remains. Ater has published the source code for the exploit to encourage Google to fix it.
CmdrTaco Launches Trove, a Curated News Startup
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The Verge reports on a new app from Slashdot co-founder Rob Malda, a.k.a. CmdrTaco, which aims to provide a user-powered and -curated stream of news. It's called Trove, and it's currently available on the web as well as iPhones and iPads. From the article: 'Trove basically lets users opt in to feeds of stories that align with their interests. Users are encouraged to curate "troves," collections of stories that relate to a particular theme.' You can also read CmdrTaco's announcement post.
" Rob says, "At its simplest, Slashdot combines editor quality control and insight with crowd-sourced harvesting to cover the 'News for Nerds' space. Trove uses automated harvesting and machine learning to simplify a workflow for curators interested in ANY topic. The idea is that this opens up non-nerdy subjects. This will let us maintain a strong signal/noise ratio for casual users less interested in expending effort to get their news across diverse subject matter.
Water Plume Detected At Dwarf Planet Ceres
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Astronomers analyzing data from the now defunct Herschel infrared space observatory have made a huge discovery deep inside the asteroid belt. Dwarf planet Ceres, the largest body in the region, is generating plumes of water vapor. 'This is the first time water vapor has been unequivocally detected on Ceres or any other object in the asteroid belt and provides proof that Ceres has an icy surface and an atmosphere,' said Michael Kppers of the European Space Agency in Spain and lead author of a paper published today (Jan. 22) in the journal Nature
New Supernova Seen In Nearby Galaxy M82
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A new and potentially bright supernova was just discovered in the nearby galaxy M82. This is a Type Ia supernova, the catastrophic explosion of a white dwarf. It appears to be on the rise, and may have been caught as much as two weeks before peak brightness. It's currently already brighter than magnitude 12, and may get to mag 8, easy to see in small telescopes. The galaxy is less than 12 million light years away, so this may become one of the best-studied supernovae in recent times. Type Ia supernovae are used to measure dark energy, so seeing one nearby is a huge boon to astronomy.
Probe Awakens, Prepares To Chase Comet
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The European comet-chasing probe Rosetta is up and running again today after it successfully roused itself from a 2-year sleep and signaled anxious controllers on the ground. The spacecraft had been put into hibernation during the most distant part of its 10-year journey in pursuit of comet 67 P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko because sunlight was too dim to keep its solar-powered systems running. Dozing in a slow stabilizing spin, Rosetta could not receive signals from the ground, so there was a risk that some problem might prevent it from responding to its preset alarm call at 10:00 GMT. Even then, there were many processes to go through before news reached Earth: The spacecraft's heaters would need to warm up its systems, its startrackers get a fix, boosters halt the spin, solar arrays turn towards the sun, and, finally, its communications antenna would need to point at Earth. It was not till 18:18 GMT that the signal was picked up by NASA's ground stations at Goldstone, California, and Canberra in Australia, and transmitted to the European Space Agency's (ESA's) control center at Darmstadt in Germany.
Ball Lightning Caught On Video and Spectrograph
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Ball lightning has been reported for hundreds of years, and experimentally produced, but for the first time a natural will 'o wisp has been captured on video and amazingly, spectrograph, accidentally by researchers studying ordinary lightning
Canadian Health Scientists Resort To Sneaker Net After Funding Slashed
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Sad to see Canada becoming more like the US
Health Canada scientists are so concerned about losing access to their research library that they're finding workarounds, with one squirreling away journals and books in his basement for colleagues to consult, says a report obtained by CBC News. The report said the number of in-house librarians went from 40 in 2007 to just six in April 2013. 'I look at it as an insidious plan to discourage people from using libraries' said Dr. Rudi Mueller, who left the department in 2012. 'If you want to justify closing a library, you make access difficult and then you say it is hardly used.' This is hardly new for Stephen Harper's Conservative government. Over the Christmas holidays, several scientific libraries were closed and their contents taken to the dump.
Mystery Rock 'Appears' In Front of Mars Rover
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After a decade of exploring the Martian surface, the scientists overseeing veteran rover Opportunity thought they'd seen it all. That was until a rock mysteriously 'appeared' a few feet in front of the six wheeled rover a few days ago. News of the errant rock was announced by NASA Mars Exploration Rover lead scientist Steve Squyres of Cornell University at a special NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory '10 years of roving Mars' event at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech), Pasadena, Calif., on Thursday night. The rock, about 'the size of a jelly doughnut' according to Squyres, is thought to have either come from a freak "flipping" event or a very recent meteorite impact. However, the latter isn't thought to be very likely. Although they are still working on the rock's origin, the rover team believe it was 'tiddlywinked' by Opportunity's broken wheel; as the rover was turning on the spot, the rock was kicked from place under the wheel and flipped a few feet away from the rover. Never missing a science opportunity, Squyres told Discovery News, 'It obligingly turned upside down, so we're seeing a side that hasn't seen the Martian atmosphere in billions of years and there it is for us to investigate. It's just a stroke of luck.'
Global-Warming Skepticism Hits 6-Year High
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Chris Mooney writes at Mother Jones that a new study, from the Yale and George Mason University research teams on climate change communication, shows a 7-percentage-point increase in the proportion of Americans who say they do not believe that global warming is happening. And that's just since the spring of 2013. The number of deniers is now 23 percent; back at the start of last year, it was 16 percent (PDF). The obvious question is, what happened over the last year to produce more climate denial? The answer may lie in the so-called global warming "pause"the misleading idea that global warming has slowed down or stopped over the the past 15 years or so. This claim was used by climate skeptics, to great effect, in their quest to undermine the release of the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's Fifth Assessment Report in September 2013precisely during the time period that is in question in the latest study. "The notion of a global warming "pause" is, at best, the result of statistical cherry-picking," writes Mooney. " It relies on starting with a very hot year (1998) and then examining a relatively short time period (say, 15 years), to suggest that global warming has slowed down or stopped during this particular stretch of time." Put these numbers back into a broader context and the overall warming trend remains clear. "If you shift just 2 years earlier, so use 1996-2010 instead of 1998-2012, the trend is 0.14 C per decade, so slightly greater than the long-term trend," explains Drew Shindell, a climate scientist at NASA who was heavily involved in producing the IPCC report. This is why climate scientists generally don't seize on 15 year periods and make a big thing about them. "Journalists take heed: Your coverage has consequences. All those media outlets who trumpeted the global warming "pause" may now be partly responsible for a documented decrease in Americans' scientific understanding."
Comet-Chasing Probe Wakes Up On Monday
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Jason Major reports that after nearly a decade of soaring through the inner solar system, flying past Mars and Earth several times and even briefly visiting a couple of asteroids for a gravity assist, the European Space Agency's comet-chasing spacecraft, Rosetta, is due to 'wake up' on January 20 after 957 days of hibernation. The probe is awakening to prepare for its upcoming and highly-anticipated rendezvous with comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko in August. The spacecraft was designed to be put in hibernation for the coldest part of the journey that took it close to the orbit of Jupiter, because even with massive solar panels the size of a basketball court, Rosetta would not have enough power to complete its mission without this energy-saving strategy. Once Rosetta enters orbit around the comet the first time a spacecraft has ever done so it will map its surface and, three months later in November, deploy the 220-lb (100-kg) Philae lander that will intimately investigate the surface of the nucleus using a suite of advanced science instruments. 'It's the first time we've made a rendezvous with a comet that's never been done before and it's going to be the first time we've escorted a comet past its closest approach to the Sun,' says ESA project scientist Matt Taylor.
What Makes a Genius?
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Eric Barker writes at TheWeek that while high intelligence has its place, a large-scale study of more than three hundred creative high achievers including Leonardo da Vinci, Galileo, Beethoven, and Rembrandt has found that curiosity, passion, hard work, and persistence bordering on obsession are the hallmarks of genius. 'Successful creative people tend to have two things in abundance, curiosity and drive. They are absolutely fascinated by their subject, and while others may be more brilliant, their sheer desire for accomplishment is the decisive factor,' writes Tom Butler-Bowdon. It's not about formal education. 'The most eminent creators were those who had received a moderate amount of education, equal to about the middle of college. Less education than that or more corresponded to reduced eminence for creativity,' says Geoffrey Colvin. Those interested in the 10,000-hour theory of deliberate practice won't be surprised that the vast majority of them are workaholics. 'Sooner or later,' writes V. S. Pritchett, 'the great men turn out to be all alike. They never stop working. They never lose a minute. It is very depressing.' Howard Gardner, who studied geniuses like Picasso, Freud, and Stravinsky, found a similar pattern of analyzing, testing, and feedback used by all of them: 'Creative individuals spend a considerable amount of time reflecting on what they are trying to accomplish, whether or not they are achieving success (and, if not, what they might do differently).' Finally, genius means sacrifice. 'My study reveals that, in one way or another, each of the creators became embedded in some kind of a bargain, deal, or Faustian arrangement, executed as a means of ensuring the preservation of his or her unusual gifts. In general, the creators were so caught up in the pursuit of their work mission that they sacrificed all, especially the possibility of a rounded personal existence,' says Gardner.
Chrome Is the New C Runtime
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Cross-platform app development is more important than ever. But what about when you need the features and performance of native code, across platforms? And you're a startup with a small team and impossible deadlines?"
His answer? Take advantage of cross-platform Chrome.
From the article: "Out of necessity, the Chrome team has created cross-platform abstractions for many low-level platform features. We use this source as the core API on which we build our business logic, and it's made the bulk of our app cross-platform with little effort. Most importantly -- Chrome code has been battle-tested like almost nothing else, with an installed base in the hundreds of millions. That makes all the difference when you want to spend your days working on your company's business logic instead of debugging platform issues."
Previously-Unseen Photos of Challenger Disaster Appear Online
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Twenty-six photos of the space shuttle Challenger disaster have appeared online. According to io9, "Michael Hindes of West Springfield, MA, was sorting through boxes of his grandparents' old photographs when he happened upon 26 harrowing photos of the Space Shuttle Challenger Disaster of 1986. To his knowledge, these photos have never been publicly released." Hindes told the Website that the photographer was "a friend of his grandfather, who worked for NASA as an electrician on the Agency's hulking, spacecraft-schlepping crawler transporters." Someone at Reddit (which also has a lengthy thread devoted to the images) also threw together a GIF of the liftoff and subsequent explosion.
Scientists Glue Sensors To 5,000 Bees In a Bid To Better Understand Them
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Scientists at the University of Tasmania working with CSIRO have decided to use the latest sensor technology to help them better understand the behavior of thousands of bees. An RFID sensor has been attached with glue to the back of around 5,000 honey bees in Hobart, Tasmania. In order for that to work, shaving the area of the bee where the sensor would sit was necessary in some cases. Thankfully the bee was asleep during the process, and the sensor is small and light enough that they likely won't notice it is there. With the sensors attached, checkpoints can be setup around the area where the bees travel and pollinate in order to create a three-dimensional map of their movements.
Rare Exoplanet Found In Star Cluster, Orbits Sun's 'Twin'
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Three new exoplanets have been discovered inside a star cluster, which is a rare find as only a handful of such exoplanets are known to exist. However, one of the three new finds is even more remarkable it orbits a star that appears to be 'an almost perfect solar twin.' The discovery was made by astronomers using the European Southern Observatory's HARPS exoplanet-hunting instrument (PDF) attached to the 3.6-meter telescope at the La Silla Observatory in Chile and was confirmed by other collaborating observatories. The astronomers' attention was focused on the Messier 67 open star cluster, which is located approximately 2,600 light-years away in the constellation Cancer.
Target Hackers Have More Data Than They Can Sell
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The hackers who stole millions of credit card numbers from Target customers are probably 'laying low knowing that everyone is looking for them,' says Alex Holden, who runs cybercrime consultancy Hold Security. But it's also likely that they can't sell them: 'You can imagine that having a lot of stolen credit cards will not net the hackers, say $35 per card for all 40 million,' said Holden. 'Even if the hackers are willing to sell cards for $1 a card, no one will buy the stolen goods in these amounts.'
How Good Are Charter Schools For the Public School System?
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You go to these charters,' gushed Bill Gates in 2010, 'and you sit and talk to these kids about how engaged they are with adults and how much they read and what they think about and how they do projects together.' Four years later, Gates is tapping his Foundation to bring charter schools to Washington State, doling out grants that included $4.25 million for HP CEO Meg Whitman's Summit Public Schools. So what's not to like? Plenty, according to Salon's The Truth About Charter Schools, in which Jeff Bryant delves into the dark side of the charter movement, including allegations of abuse, corruption, lousy instruction, and worse results. Also troubling Bryant is that the children of the charter world's biggest cheerleaders seem never to attend these schools ('A family like mine should not use up the inner-city capacity of these great schools,' was Bill Gates' excuse). Bryant also cites Rethinking Schools' Stan Karp, who argues that Charter Schools Are Undermining the Future of Public Education, functioning more like deregulated 'enterprise zones' than models of reform, providing subsidized spaces for a few at the expense of the many. 'Our country has already had more than enough experience with separate and unequal school systems,' Karp writes. 'The counterfeit claim that charter privatization is part of a new 'civil rights movement', addressing the deep and historic inequality that surrounds our schools, is belied by the real impact of rapid charter growth in cities across the country. At the level of state and federal education policy, charters are providing a reform cover for eroding the public school system and an investment opportunity for those who see education as a business rather than a fundamental institution of democratic civic life. It's time to put the brakes on charter expansion and refocus public policy on providing excellent public schools for all.
Doctors Say Food Stamp Cuts Could Cause Higher Healthcare Costs
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Lauran Neergaard writes at the Christian Science Monitor that doctors are warning that if Congress cuts food stamps, the federal government could be socked with bigger health bills because over time the poor wind up seeking treatment in doctors' offices or hospitals as a result. 'If you're interested in saving health care costs, the dumbest thing you can do is cut nutrition,' says Dr. Deborah Frank of Boston Medical Center, who founded the Children's HealthWatch pediatric research institute. 'People don't make the hunger-health connection.' Food stamps feed 1 in 7 Americans and cost almost $80 billion a year, twice what it cost five years ago. The doctors' lobbying effort comes as Congress is working on a compromise farm bill that's certain to include food stamp cuts. Republicans want heftier reductions than do Democrats in yet another partisan battle over the government's role in helping poor Americans. Conservatives say the program spiraled out of control as the economy struggled and the costs are not sustainable. However research from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and The Pew Charitable Trusts estimated that a cut of $2 billion a year in food stamps could trigger in an increase of $15 billion in medical costs (PDF) for over the next decade. Other research shows children from food-insecure families are 30 percent more likely to have been hospitalized for a range of illnesses. 'Food is medicine,' says Massachusetts Representative Jim McGovern, who has led the Democrats' defense of the food stamp program. 'Critics focus almost exclusively on how much we spend, and I wish they understood that if we did this better, we could save a lot more money in health care costs.'
SpaceShipTwo Sets a New Altitude Record
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Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipTwo reached an altitude of 71,000 feet, beating out its previous record of 69,000 feet. From the article: 'This time around, Virgin Galactic and Mojave-based Scaled Composites, the plane's builder, tested a new reflective coating on the rocket plane's tail booms. The flight also marked the first tryout for a thruster system that's designed to keep the plane on course when it's above the atmosphere. Virgin Galactic said all of the test objectives were met
Neiman Marcus and Other Retailers Breached, Credit Card Details Stolen
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Another day, another data breach. Apparently high end retailer Neiman Marcus has also suffered a breach of credit card data. Brian Krebs has the report: 'Responding to inquiries about a possible data breach involving customer credit and debit card information, upscale retailer Neiman Marcus acknowledged today that it is working with the U.S. Secret Service to investigate a hacker break-in that has exposed an unknown number of customer cards. Earlier this week, I began hearing from sources in the financial industry about an increasing number of fraudulent credit and debit card charges that were being traced to cards that had been very recently used at brick-and-mortar stores run by the Dallas, Texas based high-end retail chain. Sources said that while it appears the fraud on those stolen cards was perpetrated at a variety of other stores, the common point of purchase among the compromised cards was Neiman Marcus. Today, I reached out to Neiman Marcus and received confirmation that the company is in fact investigating a breach that was uncovered in mid-December.'
The Chicago Tribune reports that "at least three other well-known U.S. retailers" suffered breaches this holiday season as well.
Lasers Unearth Lost 'Agropolis' of New England
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Hidden ruins are customary in the wild jungles of South America or on the white shores of the Mediterranean Sea. Now, researchers have uncovered a long-lost culture closer to Western civilization — in New England. Using aerial surveys created by LiDAR, a laser-guided mapping technique, the team detected the barely perceptible remnants of a former 'agropolis' around three rural New England towns (abstract). Near Ashford, Connecticut, a vast network of roads offset by stone walls came to light underneath a canopy of oak and spruce trees. More than half of the town has become reforested since 1870, according to historical documents, exemplifying the extent of the rural flight that marked the late 1800s. Some structures were less than 2 feet high and buried in inaccessible portions of the forest, making them essentially invisible to on-the-ground cartography.
Target Admits Data Breach May Have Up To 110 Million Victims
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Retail giant Target continues to drastically downplay the impact of the massive data breach it suffered during December, even while admitting the number of customers affected is nearly twice as large as it had previously estimated. Target admitted today the massive data breach it suffered during the Christmas shopping season was more than twice as large and far more serious than previously disclosed. A Jan. 10 press release admits the number of customers affected by the second-largest corporate data breach in history had increased from 40 million to 70 million, and that the data stolen included emails, phone numbers, street addresses and other information absent from the stolen transactional data that netted thieves 40 million debit- and credit-card numbers and PINs. 'As part of Target's ongoing forensic investigation, it has been determined that certain guest information separate from the payment card data previously disclosed was taken during the data breach' according to Target's statement. 'This theft is not a new breach, but was uncovered as part of the ongoing investigation.' The new revelation does represent a new breach, however, or at least the breach of an unrelated system during the period covered during the same attack, according to the few details Target has released. Most analysts and news outlets have blamed the breach on either the security of Target's Windows-based Point-of-Sale systems or the company's failure to fulfill its security obligations under the Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS).
Mobile Banking Apps For iOS Woefully Insecure
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Not sure why anyone in their right mind would do banking on their phone, but ...
Mobile banking applications fall short on their use of encryption, validation of digital certificates and two-factor authentication, putting financial transactions at risk worldwide. An examination of 40 iOS mobile banking apps from 60 leading banks worldwide revealed a slew of security shortcomings that also included hard-coded development credentials discovered during a static analysis of app binaries. It's a mess, and to date, most of the banks have been informed and none of provided feedback indicating the vulnerabilities were patched.
First Recorded Observation of Freshwater Fish Preying On Birds In Flight
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The waters of the African lake seem calm and peaceful. A few migrant swallows flit near the surface. Suddenly, leaping from the water, a fish grabs one of the famously speedy birds straight out of the air. 'The whole action of jumping and catching the swallow in flight happens so incredibly quickly that after we first saw it, it took all of us a while to really fully comprehend what we had just seen,' says Nico Smit, director of the Unit for Environmental Sciences and Management at North-West University in Potchefstroom, South Africa. After the images did sink in, he adds, 'the first reaction was one of pure joy, because we realized that we were spectators to something really incredible and unique.' Rumours of such behaviour by the African tigerfish (Hydrocynus vittatus), which has been reported as reaching one metre in length, have circulated since the 1940s. But this is the first confirmed record of a freshwater fish preying on birds in flight, the team reports in the Journal of Fish Biology (PDF).
New Class of "Hypervelocity Stars" Discovered Escaping the Galaxy
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Astronomers have discovered a surprising new class of 'hypervelocity stars' that are moving at more than a million miles per hour, fast enough to escape the gravitational grasp of the Milky Way galaxy. The 20 hyper stars are about the same size as the sun and, other than their extreme speed, have the same composition as the stars in the galactic disk. The big surprise is that they don't seem to come from the galaxy's center. The generally accepted mechanism for producing hypervelocity stars relies on the extreme gravitational field of the supermassive black hole that resides in the galaxy's core.
Swarms of Small Satellites Set To Deliver Close To Real-Time Imagery of Earth
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A swarm of small satellites set to deliver close to real-time imagery of swathes of the planet is launching today. San Francisco-based Planet Labs, founded in 2010 by three former NASA scientists, is scheduled to launch 28 of its 'Doves' on 9 January. Each toaster-sized device weighs about 5 kilograms and can take images at a resolution of 35 metres. Meanwhile Skybox Imaging plans to launch a swarm of 24 satellites, each weighing about 100 kilograms, which will take images of 1 meter resolution or better. Skybox launched its first satellite on 21 November (and captured the first HD video of the world from space) and plans to launch another this year, followed by the remainder between 2015 and 2017. In a first at least for civilian satellites Skybox's devices will also stream short segments of near-live high-resolution video footage of the planet. So, too, will UrtheCast, a start-up based in Vancouver, Canada, whose cameras will hitch a ride on the International Space Station. Because the swarms are still to be launched, scientists have yet to fully assess the quality of the imagery. But the satellites' spatial resolutions of 15 metres are much higher than those of most scientific satellites. Landsat, NASA's Earth-observation workhorse, for example, has a resolution of 15100 metres depending on the spectral frequency, with 30 metres in the visible-light range.
World's Oldest Decimal Multiplication Table Discovered
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From a few fragments out of a collection of 23-century-old Chinese bamboo strips, historians have pieced together what they say is the world's oldest example of a multiplication table in base 10. Each strip is about 7 to 12 millimeters wide and half a meter long, and has a vertical line of ancient Chinese calligraphy painted on it in black ink. The bamboo pieces constitute 65 ancient texts and are thought to be among the most important artifacts from the Warring States period before the unification of China. But 21 bamboo strips contained only numbers and, on closer inspection, turned out to be a multiplication table. As in a modern multiplication table, the entries at the intersection of each row and column in the matrix provide the results of multiplying the corresponding numbers. The table can also help users to multiply any whole or half integer between 0.5 and 99.5. The researchers suspect that officials used the multiplication table to calculate surface area of land, yields of crops and the amounts of taxes owed.
The $100 3D-Printed Artificial Limb
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In 2012, TIME wrote about Daniel Omar, a 14-year-old in South Sudan who lost both arms to a bomb dropped by his own government. Mick Ebeling of Not Impossible Labs read the story, was moved and went to Sudan, where he set up a 3D printing lab which can produce an artificial arm for $100. Omar and others have received them, and Ebeling hopes that other organizations around the world will adopt his open-source design to help amputees, many of whom will never receive more conventional prosthetics.
Carmakers Keep Data On Drivers' Locations From Navigation Systems
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Notice this is for built-in GPS systems only
The Detroit News reports, 'A government report finds that major automakers are keeping information about where drivers have been collected from onboard navigation systems for varying lengths of time. Owners of those cars can't demand that the information be destroyed. And, says the U.S. senator requesting the investigation, that raises questions about driver privacy. The Government Accountability Office in a report released Monday found major automakers have differing policies about how much data they collect and how long they keep it. Automakers collect location data in order to provide drivers with real-time traffic information, to help find the nearest gas station or restaurant, and to provide emergency roadside assistance and stolen vehicle tracking. But, the report found, "If companies retained data, they did not allow consumers to request that their data be deleted, which is a recommended practice."'
Exoplanet Camera Now Online
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The Bad Astronomer writes with news that the Gemini Planet Imager is officially online "The Gemini Planet Imager is a camera that is designed to take direct photos of exoplanets, alien worlds orbiting other stars. In a test run last November it spotted the exoplanet Beta Pictoris b, a dusty ring around a nearby star, and even snapped a portrait of Jupiter's moon Europa. Up to now, only about a dozen exoplanets have been directly imaged; GPI is expected to find dozens more in the next few years."
From the Gemini project: "'Even these early first-light images are almost a factor of 10 better than the previous generation of instruments. In one minute, we are seeing planets that used to take us an hour to detect,' says Bruce Macintosh of the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory who led the team that built the instrument." The announcement has pictures.
New Views of Supernova 1987A Reveal Giant Dust Factory
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Astronomers using the ALMA radio telescope in Chile have released images and data showing the oft-postulated but unobserved (until now) dust shell ejected by the supernova remnant SN1987A. 'We have found a remarkably large dust mass concentrated in the central part of the ejecta from a relatively young and nearby supernova,' astronomer Remy Indebetouw, of the National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO) and the University of Virginia, said in a statement. 'This is the first time we've been able to really image where the dust has formed, which is important in understanding the evolution of galaxies.' SN1987A was the first cataloged supernova event in our Galactic neighborhood in 1987. It lies 168,000 light years (987 quadrillion miles) away in the Large Magellanic Cloud, which means that at the time of the explosion, woolly mammoths still roamed Europe and Mitochondrial Eve saw her first sunrise.
From the article, the significance: "'Really early galaxies are incredibly dusty and this dust plays a major role in the evolution of galaxies,' Mikako Matsuura, a scientist associated with the study ... said ... 'Today we know dust can be created in several ways, but in the early universe most of it must have come from supernovas. We finally have direct evidence to support that theory.'"
KOI-314c: Weird Small "Puffed-Up" Exoplanet Discovered
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Speaking at the 223rd meeting of the American Astronomical Society in Washington D.C., astronomers have announced the discovery of an Earth-mass exoplanet that has a thick, puffed-up atmosphere making it 60% bigger than Earth. The exoplanet's mass is the first to be derived using transit timing variation (TTV) data from NASA's Kepler space telescope. 'Rather than looking for a wobbling star, we essentially look for a wobbling planet,' said co-investigator David Nesvorny, of the Southwest Research Institute (SwRI). 'Kepler saw two planets transiting in front of the same star over and over again. By measuring the times at which these transits occurred very carefully, we were able to discover that the two planets are locked in an intricate dance of tiny wobbles giving away their masses.' With this information, astronomers are now trying to understand how such a planet (with a very compact orbit around its star) evolved. The leading idea is that it might have been a Neptune-like gas giant that had the bulk of its atmosphere ripped away by stellar radiation.
India Launches Indigenous Cryogenic Rocket
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The Indian Space Research Organisation (Isro) today successfully launched its heavy-duty rocket the Geo Synchronous Satellite Launch vehicle (GSLV). The communication satellite, GSAT-14 was launched from Isro's spaceport at Sriharikota, about 80 km from Chennai. ISRO had to develop the cryogenic technology from scratch after the United States prevented Russia from transferring the technology to the India in 1993. Today's successful launch marks the culmination of a 20 year effort to develop the engine.
Counterpoint: Why Edward Snowden May Not Deserve Clemency
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Fred Kaplan, the Edward R. Murrow press fellow at the Council on Foreign Relation, writes at Slate that if Edward Snowden's stolen trove of beyond-top-secret documents had dealt only with the domestic surveillance by the NSA, then some form of leniency might be worth discussing. But Snowden did much more than that. 'Snowden's documents have, so far, furnished stories about the NSA's interception of email traffic, mobile phone calls, and radio transmissions of Taliban fighters in Pakistan's northwest territories; about an operation to gauge the loyalties of CIA recruits in Pakistan; about NSA email intercepts to assist intelligence assessments of what's going on inside Iran; about NSA surveillance of cellphone calls 'worldwide,' an effort that 'allows it to look for unknown associates of known intelligence targets by tracking people whose movements intersect.' Kaplan says the NYT editorial calling on President Obama to grant Snowden 'some form of clemency' paints an incomplete picture when it claims that Snowden 'stole a trove of highly classified documents after he became disillusioned with the agency's voraciousness.' In fact, as Snowden himself told the South China Morning Post, he took his job as an NSA contractor, with Booz Allen Hamilton, because he knew that his position would grant him 'to lists of machines all over the world [that] the NSA hacked.' Snowden got himself placed at the NSA's signals intelligence center in Hawaii says Kaplan for the sole purpose of pilfering extremely classified documents. 'It may be telling that Snowden did not release mdash; or at least the recipients of his cache haven't yet published any documents detailing the cyber-operations of any other countries, especially Russia or China,' concludes Kaplan. 'If it turned out that Snowden did give information to the Russians or Chinese (or if intelligence assessments show that the leaks did substantial damage to national security, something that hasn't been proved in public), then I'd say all talk of a deal is off and I assume the Times editorial page would agree.'
The New York Times Pushes For Clemency For Snowden
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The Editorial Board of the New York Times has weighed in on the criminal charges facing Edward Snowden and writes that 'Snowden deserves better than a life of permanent exile, fear and flight..' 'He may have committed a crime to do so, but he has done his country a great service. It is time for the United States to offer Mr. Snowden a plea bargain or some form of clemency that would allow him to return home, face at least substantially reduced punishment in light of his role as a whistle-blower, and have the hope of a life advocating for greater privacy and far stronger oversight of the runaway intelligence community.' The president said in August that Snowden should come home to face charges in court and suggested that if Snowden had wanted to avoid criminal charges he could have simply told his superiors about the abuses, acting, in other words, as a whistle-blower. In fact, notes the editorial board, the executive order regarding whistleblowers did not apply to contractors, only to intelligence employees, rendering its protections useless to Snowden. More important, Snowden told The Washington Post that he did report his misgivings to two superiors at the agency, showing them the volume of data collected by the NSA, and that they took no action. 'Snowden was clearly justified in believing that the only way to blow the whistle on this kind of intelligence-gathering was to expose it to the public and let the resulting furor do the work his superiors would not. ... When someone reveals that government officials have routinely and deliberately broken the law, that person should not face life in prison at the hands of the same government,' concludes the editorial. 'President Obama should tell his aides to begin finding a way to end Mr. Snowden's vilification and give him an incentive to return home.'
Facebook Being Sued Over Mining of Private Messages
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Two Facebook users are trying to start a class action lawsuit against Facebook for allegedly mining information from private messages with the intention of selling is to advertisers (full complaint PDF). It's not the first time a social medial player has been in the press over privacy or security issues. But when the services are provided free of charge, does the user have a realistic expectation of privacy or security, especially when it's understood that the user's data is being mined for advertising? If not, should social media networks be allowed to use words like 'private' (as in private messaging) or 'security' to describe their services?
Researchers Confirm Exoplanet Has Clouds Using Hubble Telescope
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Discovered in 2009 by the MEarth project, researchers now have strong evidence that GJ 1214 b has an atmosphere
"But now a team of astronomers led by UChicago's Laura Kreidberg and Jacob Bean have detected clear evidence of clouds in the atmosphere of GJ 1214b from data collected with the Hubble Space Telescope. The Hubble observations used 96 hours of telescope time spread over 11 months. This was the largest Hubble program ever devoted to studying a single exoplanet. ... The first spectra, which were obtained by Bean in 2010 using a ground-based telescope, suggested that the planet's atmosphere either was predominantly water vapor or hydrogen-dominated with high-altitude clouds. ... More precise Hubble observations made in 2012 and 2013 allowed the team to distinguish between these two scenarios. ... The best explanation for the new data is that there are high-altitude clouds in the atmosphere of the planet, though their composition is unknown. Models of super-Earth atmospheres predict clouds could be made out of potassium chloride or zinc sulfide at the scorching temperatures of 450 degrees Fahrenheit found on GJ 1214b."
The Strange Story Of the Sculpture On the Moon
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Slate magazine has written the story about the only work of art placed on the Moon , the Fallen Astronaut sculpture, placed on the Moon during the Apollo 15 mission to commemorate both American and Soviet deceased astronauts. The little statue, rather than bringing fame and fortune ended up being nearly forgotten and got both Apollo astronautDavid Scott and Belgian sculptor Van Hoeydonck in hot water with the U.S. government.
NASA Could Explore Titan With Squishable 'Super Ball Bot'
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IEEE Spectrum reports on a rover design being developed at NASA Ames Research Center: Super Ball Bot. The premise is that the rover's brain and scientific equipment would be suspended in the center of a structure made of rigid rods and elastic cables. The rods and cables would be deformable, allowing the rover to roll over complex terrain without damage. This design would be ideal for exploring a place like Saturn's moon Titan. Its atmosphere is thick enough that a probe could drop the rover from 100km above the surface, and it would survive the fall without a parachute. 'In a scenario studied by the team (PDF), the robot could be collapsed to a very compact configuration for launch. Once it reaches the moon, it would pop open and drop to the surface, flexing and absorbing the force of impact. By shortening and lengthening the cables that connect its rigid components, the ball bot could then roll about the surface. These same cables could be used to pull back parts of the robot, so that science instruments at the center could be exposed and used.'
Year In Communications: NSA Revelations Overshadow Communications Breakthroughs
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Communications news in 2013 was dominated by serial revelations of the National Security Agency's mass collection of data from major Internet companies and mobile carriers, leading to widespread cries of governmental overreach. But those revelations, based on leaks from former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, were accompanied by remarkable advances in wireless communications. The Snowden documents also galvanized new efforts at making the Internet more secure and private. The folks at MIT Technology Review have their year end rundown
Earth's Orbit Reshapes Sea Floor
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Earth's orbital variationsthe wobbling and nodding of the planet on its rotational axis and the rhythmic elongation of the shape of its orbitcan affect the shape of the sea floor, according to new research. Scientists already knew that orbital variations, which are driven by gravitational interactions among solar system bodies, pace the comings and goings of the ice ages by shifting where sunlight falls on Earth. Now, researchers have shown in a computer model that those pressure variations should vary the amount of mantle rock that melts kilometers beneath midocean ridges. That, in turn, would vary the amount of ocean crust that solidifies from the melted rock, changing the thickness of new crust by as much as a kilometer as it slides down either side of a midocean ridge. And the group found that indeed, on the Juan de Fuca Ridge offshore of the Pacific Northwest, the ocean floor is grooved like a vinyl LP record in time with Earth's orbital variations of the past million years.
A Short History of Computers In the Movies
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The big screen has always tried to keep step with technology usually unsuccessfully. Peter Salus looks at how the film industry has treated computing. For a long time, the 'product placement' of big iron was limited to a few brands, primarily Burroughs. For instance: 'Batman: The Movie and Fantastic Voyage (both 1966) revert to the archaic Burroughs B205, though Fantastic Voyage also shows an IBM AN/FSQ-7 Combat Direction Central. At 250 tons for each installation (there were about two dozen) the AN/FSQ-7 was the largest computer ever built, with 60,000 vacuum tubes and a requirement of 3 megawatts of power to perform 75,000 ips for regional radar centers. The last IBM AN/FSQ-7, at Luke Air Force Base in Arizona, was demolished in February 1984.' Fun reading, I think.
Alan Turing Pardoned
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Today's computing would be unthinkable without the contributions of the British mathematician Alan Turing, who laid down the foundations of computer science, broke Nazi codes that helped win World War II at the famous Bletchley Park, created a secure speech encryption system, made major contributions to logic and philosophy, and even invented the concept of Artificial Intelligence. But he was also an eccentric and troubled man who was persecuted (and prosecuted) for being gay, a tragedy that contributed to his suicide just short of the age of 42 when he died of cyanide poisoning, possibly from a half-eaten apple found by his side. He is hailed today as one of the great originators of our computing age. Today he received a royal pardon.
Rough Roving: Curiosity's Wheel Damage 'Accelerated'
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Despite the assurances that the holes seen in Mars rover Curiosity's wheels were just a part of the mission, there seems to be increasing concern for the wheels' worsening condition after the one-ton robot rolled over some craggy terrain. In an upcoming drive, rover drivers will monitor the six wheels over some smooth terrain to assess their condition. "We want to take a full inventory of the condition of the wheels," said Jim Erickson, project manager for the NASA Mars Science Laboratory at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif. 'Dents and holes were anticipated, but the amount of wear appears to have accelerated in the past month or so.' Although the wheels are designed to sustain significant damage without impairing driving activities, the monitoring of the situation is essential for future planning.
Fomalhaut C Has a Huge Cometary Debris Ring And, Potentially, Exoplanets
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Astronomers scoping-out the vicinity of the famous star Fomalhaut have discovered that its mysterious stellar sister is also sporting a rather attractive ring of comets. Located 25 light-years away in the constellation Piscis Austrinus, Fomalhaut A is one of the brightest stars in Southern Hemisphere skies. The bright blue giant is notable in that it hosts a gigantic ring of cometary debris and dust. Fomalhaut C is a red dwarf star and was only confirmed to be gravitationally bound Fomalhaut A and Fomalhaut B in October. Fomalhaut is therefore a triple, or trinary, star system. The small red dwarf star may be the proverbial runt of the Fomalhaut stellar litter, but it appears to share some common ground with its larger sibling. 'It's very rare to find two comet belts in one system, and with the two stars 2.5 light years apart this is one of the most widely separated star systems we know of,' said astronomer Grant Kennedy, of the University of Cambridge and lead researcher of this work. 'It made us wonder why both Fomalhaut A and C have comet belts, and whether the belts are related in some way.' One of the reasons why Fomalhaut A's cometary disk is so bright is down to the presence of its exoplanet, stirring up comet collisions. Fomalhaut C may be experiencing the same mechanism.
Unreleased 1963 Beatles Tracks On Sale To Preserve Copyright
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Back in 1963, the Beatles did some performances for the BBC and other places. The songs were recorded, but never officially released. Now, 50 years later, Apple has packaged all 59 tracks together and put them up for sale on iTunes for $40. The reason? Copyright. The copyright for unreleased works expires 50 years after the works are recorded. By releasing the 59 tracks on iTunes before the end of December, the songs will be protected under copyright law for 20 more years.
Disney Pulls a Reverse Santa, Takes Back Christmas Shows From Amazon Customers
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Since 2011, Amazon Instant Video has sold a series of Christmas shorts from Disney called 'Prep and Landing'. Unfortunately this holiday season, Disney has had a change of heart and has decided to make the shorts exclusive to its own channels. The company went so far as to retroactively withdrawn the shows from Amazon, so that customers who have already paid for them no longer have access. Apparently this reverse-Santa ability is a feature Amazon provides all publishers, and customers have little recourse but to go cap-in-hand to a Disney outlet and pay for the shows again.
Facebook Tracks the Status Updates and Messages You Don't Write Too
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It turns out Facebook tracks the stuff that people type and then erase before hitting the post button. If you start writing a message, and then think better of it and decide not to post it, Facebook still adds it to the dossier they keep on you. From the article: 'Storing text as you type isn't uncommon on other websites. For example, if you use Gmail, your draft messages are automatically saved as you type them. Even if you close the browser without saving, you can usually find a (nearly) complete copy of the email you were typing in your Drafts folder. Facebook is using essentially the same technology here. The difference is that Google is saving your messages to help you. Facebook users don't expect their unposted thoughts to be collected, nor do they benefit from it.'
Google Makes It Harder For Marketers To Collect User Data
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In a seemingly minor update, Google announced that all Gmail images will now be cached on their own servers, before being displayed to users. This means that users won't have to click to download images in every email now they'll just automatically be shown. For marketers, however, the change has serious implications. Because each user won't download the images from a third-party server, marketers won't be able to see open-rates, log IP addresses, or gather information on user location and browser type. Google says the changes are intended to enhance user privacy and security.
Programming Molecules To Let Chemicals Make Decisions
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Computer scientists at Harvard University have come up with a way to convert algorithms that teach machines to learn into a form that would allow artificial intelligence to be programmed into complex chemical reactions. The ultimate result could be smart drugs programmed to react differently depending on which of several probable situations they might encounter without the need to use nano-scale electronics to carry the instructions. 'This kind of chemical-based AI will be necessary for constructing therapies that sense and adapt to their environment,' according to Ryan P. Adams, assistant professor of computer science at Harvard's School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS), who co-wrote the paper explaining the technique. 'The hope is to eventually have drugs that can specialize themselves to your personal chemistry and can diagnose or treat a range of pathologies.' The techniques are part of a larger effort to program the behavior of molecules in manufacturing, decision-making and diagnostics, using both nano-scale electronics and the still-relatively-new study of bionanotechnology.
Chinese Lunar Probe Lands Successfully
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(Click for follow-up story on streaming)
China's Chang'e 3 moon probe made its intended landing earlier today, setting down softly in the moon's Sinus Iridum, as reported by Reuters. From the article: "The Chang'e 3, a probe named after a lunar goddess in traditional Chinese mythology, is carrying the solar-powered Yutu, or Jade Rabbit buggy, which will dig and conduct geological surveys. ... China Central Television (CCTV) broadcast images of the probe's location on Saturday and a computer generated image of the probe on the surface of the moon on its website. The probe and the rover are expected to photograph each other tomorrow. ... The Bay of Rainbows was selected because it has yet to be studied, has ample sunlight and is convenient for remote communications with Earth, Xinhua said. The rover will be remotely controlled by Chinese control centers with support from a network of tracking and transmission stations around the world operated by the European Space Agency (ESA)."
Safari Stores Previous Browsing Session Data Unencrypted
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Users of Apple's Safari browser are at risk for information loss because of a feature common to most browsers that restores previous sessions. The problem with Safari is that it stores session information including authentication credentials used in previous HTTPS sessions in a plaintext XML file called a Property list, or plist, file. The plist files, a researcher with Kaspersky Lab's Global Research and Analysis Team said, are stored in a hidden folder, but hiding them in plain sight isn't much of a hurdle for a determined attacker. 'The complete authorized session on the site is saved in the plist file in full view despite the use of https,' said researcher Vyacheslav Zakorzhevsky on the Securelist blog. 'The file itself is located in a hidden folder, but is available for anyone to read.'
Pulsar Gets the Munchies, Snacks On an Asteroid
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In research accepted for publication in the Astrophysical Journal, astronomers documented the anomalous spin rate of a pulsar that has been observed 'multiple times' between 1988 and 2012. In September 2005, the spin rate of the well-observed PSR J0738-4042 changed and a team of astronomers headed by Paul Brook, of the University of Oxford, think they know why. 'The data lead us to postulate that we are witnessing an encounter with an asteroid or in-falling debris from a disk,' they write in a paper published to the arXiv pre-print service. The moral of the story? It's not just black holes that get the asteroid munchies.
JPMorgan Files Patent Application On 'Bitcoin Killer'
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Banking giant JPMorgan Chase has filed a patent application for an electronic commerce system that sounds remarkably like Bitcoin but never mentions the controversial, Internet-only currency. The patent application was filed in early August but made publicly available only at the end of November; it describes a 'method and system for processing Internet payments using the electronic funds transfer network.' The system would allow people to pay bills anonymously over the Internet through an electronic transfer of funds just like Bitcoin. It would allow for micropayments without processing fees just like bitcoin. And it could kill off wire transfers through companies like Western Union just like Bitcoin. There are 18,126 words in the patent application. 'Bitcoin' is not one of them
Mars Rover Curiosity Finds Ancient Lakebed
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The site where NASA's Mars rover Curiosity landed last year contains at least one lake that would have been perfectly suited for colonies of simple, rock-eating microbes found in caves and hydrothermal vents on Earth. Analysis of mudstones in an area known as Yellowknife Bay, located inside the rover's Gale Crater landing site, show that fresh water pooled on the surface for tens of thousands or even hundreds of thousands of years. 'The results show that the lake was definitely a habitable environment,' Curiosity lead scientist John Grotzinger, with the California Institute of Technology, told Discovery News. The finding was announced at the American Geophysical Union conference in San Francisco.
NSA Collect Gamers' Chats and Deploy Real-Life Agents Into WoW and Second Life
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news that some NSA agents were trying to dig up info by joining the horde.
"To the National Security Agency analyst writing a briefing to his superiors, the situation was clear: their current surveillance efforts were lacking something. The agency's impressive arsenal of cable taps and sophisticated hacking attacks was not enough. What it really needed was a horde of undercover Orcs. That vision of spycraft sparked a concerted drive by the NSA and its UK sister agency GCHQ to infiltrate the massive communities playing online games, according to secret documents disclosed by whistleblower Edward Snowden.....The agencies, the documents show, have built mass-collection capabilities against the Xbox Live console network, which has more than 48 million players. Real-life agents have been deployed into virtual realms, from those Orc hordes in World of Warcraft to the human avatars of Second Life. There were attempts, too, to recruit potential informants from the games' tech-friendly users."
How a Bitcoin Transaction Actually Works
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a detailed article describing the nuts and bolts of a Bitcoin transaction. He builds the concepts from the ground up, starting with a basic, no-frills digital currency. He then examines it for flaws and tweaks the currency to patch up areas where we run into technical or security problems. Eventually, he ends up with Bitcoin, and explains how a transaction works. It's an interesting, technical read; much more in-depth than any explanation I've heard. Here's a brief snippet from a walkthrough of the transaction data: 'One thing to note about the input is that there's nothing explicitly specifying how many bitcoins from the previous transaction should be spent in this transaction. In fact, all the bitcoins from the n=0th output of the previous transaction are spent. So, for example, if the n=0th output of the earlier transaction was 2 bitcoins, then 2 bitcoins will be spent in this transaction. This seems like an inconvenient restriction – like trying to buy bread with a 20 dollar note, and not being able to break the note down. The solution, of course, is to have a mechanism for providing change. This can be done using transactions with multiple inputs and outputs...'
Visual Guide the Making of a DIY Space Capsule
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"Wanna build your own space capsule capable of doing an atmospheric re-entry on a suborbital mission? Well, here are some production hints and a visual guide."
The initial stages begin with sketches on paper before moving to 3D design software. He writes, "A whole bunch of sketches were done to get some kind of initial idea of the size, subsystems layout and how to actually produce the capsule while keeping an open structure for further development and potential changes. One of the main concerns was the small size and the ability to easy install and replace avionics. This led to the decision that all external side panels will have to accommodate being taken on and off no welding, only on the main structure." Afterward, he moves on to show the final metal cuts and how the pieces are put together via bolts and welding.
Two Supermassive Black Holes About To Embrace
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NASA's WISE (Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer) satellite was looking at a distant galaxy, some 3.8 billion light-years away, and saw something rather unusual. At first they thought that they saw a galaxy was forming new stars at a furious rate, but upon closer checking, they found that they were seeing two supermassive black holes spiraling closer and closer to each other. The dance of this black hole duo started out slowly, with the objects circling each other at a distance of about a few thousand light-years. As the black holes continued to spiral in toward each other, they were separated by just a few light-years. Supermassive black holes at the cores of galaxies typically shoot out pencil-straight jets, but in this case, the jet showed a zig-zag pattern. According to the scientists, a second massive black hole could, in essence, be pushing its weight around to change the shape of the other black hole's jet. Visible-light spectral data from the Gemini South telescope in Chile showed similar signs of abnormalities, thought to be the result of one black hole causing disk material surrounding the other black hole to clump. Together, these and other signs point to what is probably a fairly close-knit set of circling black holes, though the scientists can't say for sure how much distance separates them.
1.5 Million Pages of Ancient Manuscripts Online
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The Vatican Library and Oxford University's Bodleian Library have put the first of 1.5 million pages of ancient manuscripts online. The two libraries in 2012 announced a four-year project to digitize some of the most important works of their collections of Hebrew manuscripts, Greek manuscripts and early printed books. Among the first up on the site Tuesday, are the two-volume Gutenberg bibles from each of the libraries and a beautiful 15th-century German bible, hand-colored and illustrated by woodcuts. ... The Vatican Library was founded in 1451 and is one of the most important research libraries in the world. The Bodleian is the largest university library in Britain.
SpaceX Launch Achieves Geostationary Transfer Orbit
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SpaceX launched a Falcon 9 rocket this afternoon in a bid to deliver a large commercial satellite into geostationary orbit. The flight was successful: "Approximately 185 seconds into flight, Falcon 9s second stages single Merlin vacuum engine ignited to begin a five minute, 20 second burn that delivered the SES-8 satellite into its parking orbit. Eighteen minutes after injection into the parking orbit, the second stage engine relit for just over one minute to carry the SES-8 satellite to its final geostationary transfer orbit. The restart of the Falcon 9 second stage is a requirement for all geostationary transfer missions." This is a significant milestone for SpaceX, and it fulfills another of the three objectives set forth by the U.S. Air Force to certify SpaceX flights for National Security Space missions.
Three New Exoplanets Seen In Direct Photographs
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Planets orbiting other stars are usually found indirectly (by blocking their stars' light or inducing a Doppler shift in the light as they orbit, for example), but direct images of exoplanets are extremely rare. However, using the 10-meter Keck telescope in Hawaii, astronomers have taken photographs of three nearby exoplanets, all young, massive, and hot. One may be massive enough to count as a brown dwarf, but the other two are more likely in the planet-mass range. All three are very far from their stars, which means they may have formed differently than the planets in our solar system.
Lawsuits Seeks To Turn Chimpanzees Into Legal Persons
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This morning, an animal rights group known as the Nonhuman Rights Project (NhRP) filed a lawsuit in a New York Supreme Court in an attempt to get a judge to declare that chimpanzees are legal persons and should be freed from captivity. The suit is the first of three to be filed in three New York counties this week. They target two research chimps at Stony Brook University and two chimps on private property, and are the opening salvo in a coordinated effort to grant 'legal personhood' to a variety of animals across the United States. If NhRP is successful in New York, it would upend millennia of law defining animals as property and could set off a 'chain reaction' that could bleed over to other jurisdictions, says Richard Cupp, a law professor at Pepperdine University in Malibu, California, and a prominent critic of animal rights. 'But if they lose it could be a giant step backward for the movement. They're playing with fire.'
Chinese Chang'e-3 Lunar Rover On Its Way After Successful Launch
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The Chang'e-3 lunar probe, which includes the Yutu or Jade Rabbit buggy, blasted off on board an enhanced Long March-3B carrier rocket from the Xichang Satellite Launch Center at 1:30 a.m. (12.30 p.m. EDT). Landing is expected on December 14, at a landing site called Sinus Iridium (the Bay of Rainbows), a relic of a huge crater 258 km in diameter. Coverage of the launch was carried live on CCTV, with youtube copies available.
Indian Mars Probe Successfully Enters Sun-Centric Orbit
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excerpt from The Hindu, updating our earlier mention of the successful launch of India's Mars-bound probe:
"In a remarkably successful execution of a complex manoeuvre, the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) fired the propulsion system on board the spacecraft for a prolonged duration of 23 minutes from 0049 hours on Sunday. In space parlance, the manoeuvre is called Trans-Mars Injection (TMI). ISRO called it 'the mother of all slingshots.' Celebrations broke out at the control centre of the ISRO Telemetry, Tracking and Command Network (ISTRAC) at Bangalore from where the spacecraft specialists gave commands for the orbiter's 440 Newton engine to begin firing. The Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM), also known as Mangalyaan, is designed to demonstrate the technological capability to reach Mars orbit. But the $72m (45m) probe will also carry out experiments, including a search for methane gas in the planet's atmosphere."
ESA's Long-Term Plan To Investigate the Invisible Universe
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The European Space Agency (ESA) have decided that its next two large astronomy missions (costing 2bn Euros) will be to study two aspects of the "invisible universe". The first will be a very large X-ray telescope to be launched in 2028. It will study the physics of the hottest and largest structures in the universe, investigating how they formed and evolved. It will also investigate how black holes grow and affect the universe. The second mission, launched in 2034, will be an observatory capable to measure gravitation waves, the stretches and compressions in space-time caused by massive moving systems, such as merging pairs of black holes. Although the final designs are not yet chosen, the two proposed observatories Athena and eLISA are likely choices. BBC News has more information.
Intelligence Officials Fear Snowden's 'Doomsday' Cache
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Edward Snowden is believed to have a collection of highly sensitive classified documents that will be released in the event he is detained, hurt, or killed. According to Reuters, "The data is protected with sophisticated encryption, and multiple passwords are needed to open it, said two of the sources, who like the others spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss intelligence matters. The passwords are in the possession of at least three different people and are valid for only a brief time window each day, they said. The identities of persons who might have the passwords are unknown." These details have caused several security experts to express skepticism, but multiple sources, including Glenn Greenwald, believe Snowden has not released all of the documents he appropriated. "U.S. officials and other sources said only a small proportion of the classified material Snowden downloaded during stints as a contract systems administrator for NSA has been made public. Some Obama Administration officials have said privately that Snowden downloaded enough material to fuel two more years of news stories." Whether or not it's true, U.S. and U.K. officials clearly believe it, which can only serve to protect Snowden.
Comet ISON Approaches Perihelion
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"Comet ISON has been speeding towards the sun, and while doing so, it has been getting brighter. There was hope that ISON would be 'Comet of the Century' material. That does not seem to be the case, but it still exists and it's still very interesting. Recently, ISON has undergone some outbursts, making it a near naked-eye object. ISON is still approaching perihelion (it will get there at 18:25 UTC on 28 November). For now, we can keep watching the STEREO spacecraft images for more evidence."
Emily Lakdawalla of the Planetary Society put together this animated GIF of the comet from images taken by the STEREO-A spacecraft. Karl Battams put together a fascinating GIF as well. The Planetary Society has a list of information feeds and scheduled events for keeping tabs on ISON.
NASA's Next Frontier: Growing Plants On the Moon
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a NASA project that aims to grow plants on the moon in specially made containers.
"In 2015, NASA will attempt to make history by growing plants on the Moon. If they are successful, it will be the first time humans have ever brought life to another planetary body. The Lunar Plant Growth Habitat team, a group of NASA scientists, contractors, students and volunteers, is finally bringing to life an idea that has been discussed and debated for decades. They will try to grow arabidopsis, basil, sunflowers, and turnips in coffee-can-sized aluminum cylinders that will serve as plant habitats. But these are no ordinary containers – they’re packed to the brim with cameras, sensors, and electronics that will allow the team to receive image broadcasts of the plants as they grow. These habitats will have to be able to successfully regulate their own temperature, water intake, and power supply in order to brave the harsh lunar climate."
3D-Printed Dinosaur Bones "Like Gutenberg's Printing Press" For Paleontologists
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Uses for 3D printers are more widespread than ever, but researchers in Germany are expanding 3D-printing territory even further. For the first time ever, scientists from the Department of Radiology at Charit Campus Mitte in Berlin have recreated dinosaur fossils from blueprints made by computed tomography, or CT, scans. The ability to scan and 3D-print dinosaur fossils could have wide-ranging applications for not only paleontologists but also educators and private collectors alike.
Chicxulub Impact Might Have Spread Life-Bearing Rocks Through the Solar System
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Some 65 million years ago, an asteroid the size of a small city hit the Yucatan Peninsula in what is now Mexico, devastating Earth and triggering the sequence of events that wiped out the dinosaurs. This impact ejected 70 billion kg of Earth rock into space. To carry life around the Solar System, astrobiologists say these rocks must have stayed cool, less than 100 degrees C, and must also be big, more than 3 metres in diameter to protect organisms from radiation in space. Now they have calculated that 20,000 kilograms of this Earth ejecta must have reached Europa, including at least one or two potentially life-bearing rocks. And they say similar amounts must have reached other water-rich moons such as Callisto and Titan. Their conclusion is that if we find life on the moons around Saturn and Jupiter, it could well date from the time of the dinosaurs (or indeed from other similar impacts).
Comet ISON Nears Date With Sun
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Now visible in the morning sky comet ISON will swing around the Sun on November 28. ISON will pass 730,000 km above the surface of the Sun at closest approach (Mercury's perihelion distance is 46 million km). If it survives its near brush with the Sun it could provide a spectacular sky show from December into January. This NASA timeline shows that ISON will be the most observed comet ever as instruments ranging from a balloon carried telescope to the Hubble Space Telescope to the STEREO satellites will be brought into play. Lowell Observatory astronomer Matthew Knight lays out three possibilities for ISON: spontaneous disintegration before it gets to the Sun (less than 1% chance); disintegration as it rounds the Sun; or survival. If it survives, its closest approach to Earth will be on December 26 at about 1/3 of an AU.
Getting the Dirt On Ancient Life With Coprolites
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Paleoscatologist Karen Chin knows you can learn a lot about ancient ecosystems by studying coprolites fossilized feces. She has studied dino droppings from herbivores, and identified the types of plants those dinosaurs ate. She has identified T. rex turds, and found evidence that prehistoric dung beetles made use of those king-sized dino patties. This profile of Chin goes through her greatest hits, then focuses on her latest work, which sheds light on the reemergence of life after the K-Pg extinction event that brought down the dinosaurs... but left some surprising creatures unscathed.
How Big Companies Can Hamper the Surveillance Infrastructure
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Buried underneath the ever-growing pile of information about the mass surveillance methods of the NSA is a small but significant undercurrent of change that's being driven by the anger and resentment of the large tech companies that the agency has used as tools in its collection programs. The changes have been happening since almost the minute the first documents began leaking out of Fort Meade in June. When the NSA's PRISM program was revealed this summer, it implicated some of the larger companies in the industry as apparently willing partners in a system that gave the agency 'direct access' to their servers. Officials at Google, Yahoo and others quickly denied that this was the case, saying they knew of no such program and didn't provide access to their servers to anyone and only complied with court orders. More recent revelations have shown that the NSA has been tapping the links between the data centers run by Google and Yahoo, links that were unencrypted. That revelation led a pair of Google security engineers to post some rather emphatic thoughts on the NSA's infiltration of their networks. It also spurred Google to accelerate projects to encrypt the data flowing between its data centers. These are some of the clearer signs yet that these companies have reached a point where they're no longer willing to be participants, witting or otherwise, in the NSA's surveillance programs.
How the NSA Is Harming America's Economy
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According to an article at Medium, 'Cisco has seen a huge drop-off in demand for its hardware in emerging markets, which the company blames on fears about the NSA using American hardware to spy on the rest of the world. ... Cisco saw orders in Brazil drop 25% and Russia drop 30%. ... Analysts had expected Cisco's business in emerging markets to increase 6%, but instead it dropped 12%, sending shares of Cisco plunging 10% in after-hours trading.' This is in addition to the harm caused to remote services that may cost $35 billion over the next three years. Then, of course, there are the ways the NSA has made ID theft easier. ID theft cost Americans $1.52 billion in 2011, to say nothing of the time wasted in solving ID theft issues — some of that figure is certainly attributable to holes the NSA helped build. The NSA, its policies, and the politicians who support the same are directly responsible for massive losses of money and jobs.
Global Warming Since 1997 Underestimated By Half
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A new paper shows that global temperature rise of the past 15 years has been greatly underestimated. The reason is that the weather station network covers only about 85% of the planet. Satellite data shows that the parts of the Earth that are not covered by the surface station network, especially the Arctic, have warmed exceptionally fast over the last 15 years. Most temperature reconstructions simply omit any region not covered. A temperature reconstruction developed by NASA somewhat addresses the gaps by filling in missing data using temperatures from the nearest available observations. Now Kevin Cowtan (University of York) and Robert Way (University of Ottawa) have developed a new method to fill the data gaps using satellite data. The researchers describe their methods and findings in this YouTube video. 'The most important part of our work was testing the skill of each of these approaches in reconstructing unobserved temperatures. To do this we took the observed data and further reduced the coverage by setting aside some of the observations. We then reconstructed the global temperatures using each method in turn. Finally, we compared the reconstructed temperatures to the observed temperatures where they are available... While infilling works well over the oceans, the hybrid model works particularly well at restoring temperatures in the vicinity of the unobserved regions.' The authors note that 'While short term trends are generally treated with a suitable level of caution by specialists in the field, they feature significantly in the public discourse on climate change.'
Astronomers Discover Largest Structure In the Universe
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Until now, the largest known structure in the Universe was the Huge-LQG (Large Quasar Group), a cluster of 73 quasars stretching over a distance of 4 billion light years. Now astronomers say they've spotted something even bigger in data from gamma ray bursts, the final explosions of energy released by stars as they die and the universe's most energetic events. Astronomers have measured the distance to 283 of these bursts and mapped their position in the universe. This throws up a surprise. At a distance of ten billion light years, there are more gamma ray bursts than expected if they were evenly distributed throughout the universe. This implies the existence of a structure at this distance that is about ten billion light years across and so dwarfs the Huge-LQG. What's odd about the discovery is that the Cosmological principle--one of the fundamental tenets of cosmology--holds that the distribution of matter in the universe will appear uniform if viewed at a large enough scale. And yet, structures clearly emerge at every scale astronomers can see. The new discovery doesn't disprove the principle but it does provide some interesting food for thought for theorists.
Clam That Was Killed Determining Its Age Was Over 100 Years Older Than Estimated
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In 2006, climate change experts from Bangor University in north Wales found a very special clam while dredging the seabeds of Iceland. At that time scientists counted the rings on the inside shell to determine that the clam was the ripe old age of 405. Unfortunately, by opening the clam which scientists refer to as 'Ming,' they killed it instantly. Cut to 2013, researchers have determined that the original calculations of Ming's age were wrong, and that the now deceased clam was actually 102 years older than originally thought. Ming was 507 years old at the time of its demise.
TSA Screening Barely Working Better Than Chance
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The General Accounting Office (GAO) has completed a study of the TSAs SPOT (Screening of Passengers by Observation Techniques) program and found the program is only slightly better than chance at finding criminals. Given that the TSA has spent almost a billion dollars on the program, that's a pretty poor record. As a result, the GAO is requesting that both Congress and the president withhold funding from the program until the TSA can demonstrate its effectiveness.
WikiLeaks Releases the Secret Draft Text of the TPP IP Rights Chapter
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"WikiLeaks releases the secret negotiated draft text for the entire TPP (Trans-Pacific Partnership) Intellectual Property Rights Chapter."

The Syndney Morning Herald took a look at the leaked documents, from their article: "An expert in intellectual property law, Matthew Rimmer, said the draft was 'very prescriptive' and strongly reflected U.S. trade objectives and multinational corporate interests 'with little focus on the rights and interests of consumers, let alone broader community interests.'"
Puzzled Scientists Say Strange Things Are Happening On the Sun
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Robert Lee Hotz reports in the WSJ that current solar activity is stranger than it has been in a century or more. The sun is producing barely half the number of sunspots as expected, and its magnetic poles are oddly out of sync. Based on historical records, astronomers say the sun this fall ought to be nearing the explosive climax of its approximate 11-year cycle of activitythe so-called solar maximum. But this peak is 'a total punk,' says Jonathan Cirtain. 'I would say it is the weakest in 200 years,' adds David Hathaway, head of the solar physics group at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center. Researchers are puzzled. They can't tell if the lull is temporary or the onset of a decades-long decline, which might ease global warming a bit by altering the sun's brightness or the wavelengths of its light. To complicate the riddle, the sun also is undergoing one of its oddest magnetic reversals on record, with the sun's magnetic poles out of sync for the past year so the sun technically has two South Poles. Several solar scientists speculate that the sun may be returning to a more relaxed state after an era of unusually high activity that started in the 1940s (PDF). 'More than half of solar physicists would say we are returning to a norm,' says Mark Miesch. 'We might be in for a longer state of suppressed activity.' If so, the decline in magnetic activity could ease global warming, the scientists say. But such a subtle change in the sunlowering its luminosity by about 0.1%wouldn't be enough to outweigh the build-up of greenhouse gases and soot that most researchers consider the main cause of rising world temperatures over the past century or so. 'Given our current understanding of how the sun varies and how climate responds, were the sun to enter a new Maunder Minimum, it would not mean a new Little Ice Age,' says Judith Lean. 'It would simply slow down the current warming by a modest amount.'
Bill Gates's Plan To Improve Our World
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Bill Gates has written an article in Wired outlining his strategy to improve people's lives through philanthropy and investment in technology and the sciences. He says, 'We want to give our wealth back to society in a way that has the most impact, and so we look for opportunities to invest for the largest returns. That means tackling the world's biggest problems and funding the most likely solutions. That's an even greater challenge than it sounds. I don't have a magic formula for prioritizing the world's problems. You could make a good case for poverty, disease, hunger, war, poor education, bad governance, political instability, weak trade, or mistreatment of women. ...I am a devout fan of capitalism. It is the best system ever devised for making self-interest serve the wider interest. This system is responsible for many of the great advances that have improved the lives of billionsfrom airplanes to air-conditioning to computers. But capitalism alone can't address the needs of the very poor. This means market-driven innovation can actually widen the gap between rich and poor. ... We take a double-pronged approach: (1) Narrow the gap so that advances for the rich world reach the poor world faster, and (2) turn more of the world's IQ toward devising solutions to problems that only people in the poor world face.'
NASA's Mars Orbiter Reaches Data Milestone
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NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter has sent 200 terabits of scientific data all the way back to Earth over the past seven years. That data largely comes from six instruments aboard the craft, and doesn't include the information used to manage the equipment's health. That 200-terabit milestone also surpasses the ten years' worth of data returned via NASA's Deep Space Network from all other missions managed by NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. 'The sheer volume is impressive, but of course what's most important is what we are learning about our neighboring planet,' JPL's Rich Zurek, the project scientist for the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, wrote in a statement. It takes roughly two hours for the craft to orbit Mars, recording voluminous amounts of data on everything from the atmosphere to the subsurface. Thanks to its instruments, we know that Mars is a dynamic environment, once home to water. 'Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter has shown that Mars is still an active planet, with changes such as new craters, avalanches and dust storms,' Zurek added. 'Mars is a partially frozen world, but not frozen in time.' While the Orbiter's two-year 'primary science phase' ended in 2008, NASA has granted the hardware three additional extensions, each of which has resulted in additional insight into the Red Planet's secrets.
International Space Station Infected With Malware Carried By Russian Astronauts
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Nowhere is safe. Even in the cold expanse of space, computer malware manages to find a way. According to Russian security expert Eugene Kaspersky, the SCADA systems on board the International Space Station have been infected by malware which was carried into space on USB sticks by Russian astronauts.
Study Explains Why Lunar Craters Are Bigger On the Near Side
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A new study of asteroid craters on the moon has uncovered some big differences in the composition of the crust on the two sides of the moon. 'While massive impact basins pockmark the moon's near side, its far side contains considerably smaller basins. The discrepancy in crater distribution has puzzled scientists for decades. To investigate what may have caused this difference, the team obtained data from NASA's twin GRAIL probes, which orbited the moon from January to December 2012. During its mission, the probes circled the moon, making measurements of its gravity. Zuber and her colleagues used this data to generate a highly detailed map of the moon's crust, showing areas where the crust thickens and thins; in general, the group observed that the moon's near side has a thinner crust than its far side.
Where Does America's Fear Come From?
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While far from a dictatorship, the United States has employed a number of paranoid tactics that delegitimize its democracy. And the motivation for doing so is — fear. That seems to be a long way from 'So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is...fear itself: nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance. In every dark hour of our national life a leadership of frankness and of vigor has met with that understanding and support of the people themselves which is essential to victory. And I am convinced that you will again give that support to leadership in these critical days.' Where is the U.S. heading?
Bizarre Six-Tailed Asteroid Dumbfounds Scientists
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Many images from deep space are so cool, weird and unusual it is hard to believe they are real sometimes. This is one of them. Astronomers looking deep into the asteroid belt through NASA's Hubble Space Telescope say they have spotted an asteroid, designated P/2013 P5, with six comet-like tails of dust radiating from it like spokes on a wheel or a spinning garden sprinkler
Scientists Says Jellyfish Are Taking Over the Oceans
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Karla Cripps reports at CNN that a combination of overfishing, warming water, low oxygen and pollution are creating perfect conditions for jellyfish to multiply. "The jellyfish seem to be the ones that are flourishing in this while everything else is suffering," says Australian jellyfish researcher Lisa-ann Gershwin. In 2000, a bloom of sea tomato jellyfish in Australia was so enormous — it stretched for more than 1,000 miles from north to south — that it was even visible from space. While most blooms are not quite that big, Gershwin's survey of research on jellyfish from the last few decades indicate that populations are most likely on the rise, and that this boom is taking place in an ocean that is faced with overfishing, acid rain, nutrient pollution from fertilizers and climate change, among other problems. This past summer, southern Europe experienced one of its worst jellyfish infestations ever. Experts there have been reporting a steady increase in the number of jellyfish in the Mediterranean Sea for years. With more than 2,000 species of jellyfish swimming through the world's waters, most stings are completely harmless, some will leave you in excruciating pain, then there are the killers. There are several species of big box jellyfish that have caused many deaths — these include chironex fleckeri in Australia, known as the "most lethal jellyfish in the world whose sting can kill in three minutes. "Just the lightest brush — you don't even feel it — and then, whammo, you're in more pain than you ever could have imagined, and you are struggling to breathe and you can't move your limbs and you can't stop vomiting and your blood pressure just keeps going up and up," says Gershwin. "It is really surprising how many places they occur around the world — places you would never expect: Hawaii, Caribbean, Florida, Wales, New Caledonia, Thailand, Malaysia, Philippines, India ... as well as Australia."
Chelyabinsk-Sized Asteroid Impacts May Be More Common Than We Thought
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Using data from the Feb. 15, 2013 asteroid impact over Russia, scientists have determined that we may be hit by objects in this size range (10 50 meters across) more often than we previously thought, something like once every 20 years (abstract). They also found the Chelyabinsk asteroid was likely a single rock about 19 meters (60 feet) across, had a mass of 12,000 tons, and was criss-crossed with internal fractures which aided in its breakup as it rammed through the Earth's atmosphere.
10-Year-Old Boy Discovers 600-Million-Year-Old Supernova
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Nathan Gray, 10, from Nova Scotia, Canada, recently discovered a 600-million-year-old supernova in the galaxy PGC 61330, which lies in the constellation of Draco beating his sister by 33 days as the youngest person to find a supernova. Gray made the discovery on October 30 while looking at astronomical images taken by Dave Lane, who runs the Abbey Ridge Observatory (ARO) in Nova Scotia. The Royal Astronomical Society of Canada confirmed Gray's discovery, but astronomers with the International Astronomical Union say they will need to use a larger telescope to make the finding official.
A Math Test That's Rotten To the Common Core
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The Common Core State Standards Initiative," explains the project's website, ""is a state-led effort that established a single set of clear educational standards for kindergarten through 12th grade in English language arts and mathematics that states voluntarily adopt." Who could argue with such an effort? Not Bill Gates, who ponied up $150 million to help git-r-done. But the devil's in the details, notes Washington Post education reporter Valerie Strauss, who offers up a ridiculous Common Core math test for first graders as Exhibit A, which also helps to explain why the initiative is facing waning support. Explaining her frustration with the intended-for-5-and-6-year-olds test from Gates Foundation partner Pearson Education, Principal Carol Burris explains, "Take a look at question No. 1, which shows students five pennies, under which it says 'part I know,' and then a full coffee cup labeled with a '6' and, under it, the word, 'Whole.' Students are asked to find 'the missing part' from a list of four numbers. My assistant principal for mathematics was not sure what the question was asking. How could pennies be a part of a cup?" The 6-year-old first-grader who took the test didn't get it either, and took home a 45% math grade to her parents. And so the I'm-bad-at-math game begins!
Microsoft To Can Skype API; Third-Party Products Will Not Work
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If you use any third-party devices with Skype, you may have a problem.
If you've recently fired up Skype you may have noticed a dialog box with a warning appear briefly (at least on OS X) then vanish. If you're fast enough to catch it you'll find that it's warning you that some application you're using that works with Skype will stop working in December, 2013. This applies to all sorts of software supporting headsets, cameras, ... you name it.
Pen Testers Break Into Gov't Agency With Fake Social Media ID
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Security experts used fake Facebook and LinkedIn profiles to penetrate the defenses of an (unnamed) U.S. government agency with a high level of cybersecurity awareness. The attack was part of a sanctioned penetration test performed in 2012 and its results were presented Wednesday at the RSA Europe security conference in Amsterdam. The testers built a credible online identity for a fictional woman named Emily Williams and used that identity to pose as a new hire at the targeted organization. The attackers managed to launch sophisticated attacks against the agency's employees, including an IT security manager who didn't even have a social media presence. Within the first 15 hours, Emily Williams had 60 Facebook connections and 55 LinkedIn connections with employees from the targeted organization and its contractors. After 24 hours she had 3 job offers from other companies.
Genome Hacker Uncovers 13-Million-Member Family Tree
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Using data pulled from online genealogy sites, a renowned 'genome hacker' has constructed what is likely the biggest family tree ever assembled. The researcher and his team now plan to use the data — including a single uber-pedigree comprising 13 million individuals, which stretches back to the 15th century — to analyze the inheritance of complex genetic traits, such as longevity and facial features. In addition to providing the invitation list to what would be the world's largest family reunion, the work presented by computational biologist Yaniv Erlich at the American Society of Human Genetics annual meeting in Boston could provide a new tool for understanding the extent to which genes contribute to certain traits. The pedigrees have been made available to other researchers, but Erlich and his team at the Whitehead Institute in Cambridge, Massachusetts, have stripped the names from the data to protect privacy.
Welcome to the Goodwill Computer Museum (Video)
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Goodwill Industries rehabs computers and sells computer parts, at least in Austin, Texas. The Goodwill Computer Museum is a natural outgrowth of that effort. In this video, museum curator Lisa Worley takes Slashdot's Timothy Lord on a tour of the museum. Remember that TRS-80 you threw away in 1982? Well, they saved several of them to stimulate your nostalgia-based pleasure nodules. Ditto many other devices both common and rare, including a pre-Dell computer made and signed by Texas computer celebrity Michael Dell. So sit back and enjoy the ride, as Timothy does the walking and Lisa does the talking, kind of like Night at the Museum -- but without CGI dinosaurs and other life forms getting between you and the classic computers.
How Kentucky Built the Country's Best ACA Exchange
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This is why I prefer function over form:
Dylan Scott writes at TPM that Kentucky, with its deeply conservative congressional delegation, seems like an unlikely place for Obamacare to find success. Instead, Kentucky's online health insurance exchange has proven to be one of the best, and shows that the marketplace concept can work in practice. Kentucky routinely ranks toward the bottom in overall health, and better health coverage is one step toward reversing that norm. It started with the commitment to build the state's own website rather than default to the federal version. On July 17, 2012, a few weeks after the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the Affordable Care Act, Democratic Gov. Steve Beshear created the exchange via executive order, over the objections of a Republican-controlled state legislature, which sought other means — including an effort to prevent the exchange from finding office space — to block the site's creation. ... Testing was undertaken throughout every step of the process, says Carrie Banahan, kynect's executive director, and it was crucial because it allowed state officials to identify problems early in the process. ... From a design standpoint, Kentucky made the conscious choice to stick to the basics, rather than seeking to blow users away with a state-of-the-art consumer interface. It 'doesn't have all the bells and whistles that other states tried to incorporate,' says Jennifer Tolbert. 'It's very straightforward in allowing consumers to browse plans without first creating an account.' A big part of that was knowing their demographics: A simpler site would make it easer to access for people without broadband Internet access, and the content was written at a sixth-grade reading level so it would be as easy to understand as possible
Why Is Broadband More Expensive In the US Than Elsewhere?
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The BBC reports "Home broadband in the US costs far more than elsewhere. At high speeds, it costs nearly three times as much as in the UK and France, and more than five times as much as in South Korea. Why?...'Americans pay so much because they don't have a choice,' says Susan Crawford, a former special assistant to President Barack Obama on science, technology and innovation policy. We deregulated high-speed internet access 10 years ago and since then we've seen enormous consolidation and monopolies, so left to their own devices, companies that supply internet access will charge high prices, because they face neither competition nor oversight.
Is Europa Too Prickly To Land On?
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A deadly bed of icy javelins known as penitentes could be awaiting any spacecraft that tries to land on some parts of the ice-covered world Europa, say researchers who have carefully modeled the ice processes at work on parts of the Jovian moon to detect features beyond the current low resolution images. If the prediction of long vertical blades of ice is correct, it will not only help engineers design a lander to tame or avoid the sabers, but also help explain a couple of nagging mysteries about the strange moon. 'This is a game changer,' said planetary scientist Don Blankenship of the University of Texas in Austin. Blankenship has been involved in NASA's planning process for sending a reconnaissance spacecraft and eventually a lander to Europa.
California Watchdog: "Koch Brothers Network" Behind $15 Million Dark-Money Donations
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The California attorney general and the state's top election watchdog named the 'Koch brothers network' of donors and dark-money nonprofits as the true source of $15 million in secret donations made last year to influence two bitterly fought ballot propositions in California. State officials unmasked the Kochs' network as part of a settlement deal that ends a nearly year-long investigation into the source of the secret donations that flowed in California last fall.
Ten Steps You Can Take Against Internet Surveillance
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Danny O'Brien writes for the EFF that as the NSA's spying has spread, more and more ordinary people want to know how they can defend themselves from surveillance online. 'The bad news is: if you're being personally targeted by a powerful intelligence agency like the NSA, it's very, very difficult to defend yourself,' writes O'Brien. 'The good news, if you can call it that, is that much of what the NSA is doing is mass surveillance on everybody. With a few small steps, you can make that kind of surveillance a lot more difficult and expensive, both against you individually, and more generally against everyone.' Here's ten steps you can take to make your own devices secure: Use end-to-end encryption; Encrypt as much communications as you can; Encrypt your hard drive; Use Strong passwords; Use Tor; Turn on two-factor (or two-step) authentication; Don't click on attachments; Keep software updated and use anti-virus software; Keep extra secret information extra secure with Truecrypt; and Teach others what you've learned. 'Ask [your friends] to sign up to Stop Watching Us and other campaigns against bulk spying. Run a Tor node; or hold a cryptoparty. They need to stop watching us; and we need to start making it much harder for them to get away with it.'
Finally, a Bill To End Patent Trolling
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According to Ars Technica, a new bill introduced by Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-VA), the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, has received bipartisan support and has a real chance of passing. In a press call, lawyers from the CCIA, EFF, and Public Knowledge had universal praise for the bill, which is called the Innovation Act of 2013. The EFF has a short summary of the good and bad parts of an earlier draft of the bill. The bill will require patent holders who are filing a suit to identify the specific products and claims which are being infringed, require the loser in a suit to pay attorney's fees and costs, and force trolls to reveal anyone who has a 'financial interest' in the case, making them possibly liable for damages.
5-Year Mission Continues After 45-Year Hiatus
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Hackaday brings us news about a continuation of the original Star Trek series. The Kickstarter-funded project is attempting to complete the original 5-year mission, which ended after only three seasons on the air. The fan-based and fan-supported reincarnation is cleverly titled Star Trek Continues and has CBS's consent. Check out the first episode, Pilgrim of Eternity. For being fan-made, it's actually pretty good." The attention to detail in the sets, costumes, and even lighting is incredible. It's far and away the most faithful re-creation of the original series I've ever seen.
Laser Communication System Sets Record With Data Transmissions From Moon
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NASA reports that it has used a pulsed laser beam to transmit data over the 384,633 kilometers (239,000 miles) between the Moon and the Earth at a transfer rate of 622 megabits per second. The transmissions took place between a ground station in New Mexico and the LADEE robotic spacecraft now orbiting the moon. 'LLCD is NASA's first system for two-way communication using a laser instead of radio waves. It also has demonstrated an error-free data upload rate of 20 Mbps transmitted from the primary ground station in New Mexico to the spacecraft currently orbiting the moon. ... LLCD is a short-duration experiment and the precursor to NASA's long-duration demonstration, the Laser Communications Relay Demonstration (LCRD). LCRD is a part of the agency's Technology Demonstration Missions Program, which is working to develop crosscutting technology capable of operating in the rigors of space. It is scheduled to launch in 2017.'
Scientists Say Climate Change Is Damaging Iowa Agriculture
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Radio Iowa reports that 155 scientists from 36 colleges and universities in Iowa are jointly issuing a call for action against global warming and calling on the US Department of Agriculture to update its policies to better protect the land. 'The last couple of years have underscored the fact that we are very vulnerable to weather conditions and weather extremes in Iowa,' says Gene Takle, director of the Climate Science Program at Iowa State. Both years were marked by heavy spring rains followed by droughts that damaged Iowa's farmland. 'This has become a real issue for us, particularly with regard to getting crops planted in the spring,' says Takle adding that Iowa had 900,000 acres that weren't planted this year because of these intense spring rains. 'Following on the heels of the disastrous 2012 loss of 90% of Iowa's apple crop, the 2013 cool March and record-breaking March-through-May rainfall set most ornamental and garden plants back well behind seasonal norms,' says the Iowa Climate Statement for 2013 . 'Iowa's soils and agriculture remain our most important economic resources, but these resources are threatened by climate change (PDF)." When the Iowa climate change statement was first released in 2011, 44 Iowa scientists signed on and last year's statement was signed by 137 Iowa scientists. "It's easy to set up a straw-man argument, to say, 'Oh, well climates always change; there have been changes in the past. This might just be natural,' " says David Courard-Hauri. "And often that gets played on the Internet as, 'Maybe scientists haven't thought about the fact that there have been natural changes in the past and maybe this is related.' " Of course scientists have thought about that possibility, says Courard-Hauri, but the evidence strongly suggests the climate is changing faster than could be expected to happen naturally.
Carbon-Negative Energy Machines Catching On
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All Power Labs in Berkeley, California has produced and sold over 500 machines that take in dense biomass and put out energy. What makes the machines special is that instead of releasing carbon back into the atmosphere, it's concentrated into a lump charcoal that makes excellent fertilizer. The energy is produced cheaply, too; many of the machines went to poor nations who normally pay much more per kilowatt. '[T]he PowerPallets are still relatively simple, at least as far as their users are concerned. For one, thing Price explained, much of the machine is made with plumbing fixtures that are the same everywhere in the world. That means they're easy to repair. At the same time, while researchers at the 50 or so institutions that have bought the machines are excited by opening up the computer control system and poking around inside, a guy running a corn mill in Uganda with a PowerPallet "will never need to open that door and never will," Price said.'
No, the Earth (almost Certainly) Won't Be Hit By an Asteroid In 2032
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Last week, astronomers discovered 2013 TV135, a 400-meter wide asteroid that will swing by the Earth in 2032. The odds of an impact at that time are incredibly low in fact, the chance it will glide safely past us is 99.99998%! But that hasn't stopped some venues from playing up the apocalypse angle. Bottom line: we do not have a good orbit for this rock yet, and as observations get better the chance of an impact will certainly drop. We can breathe easy over this particular asteroid.
Saturn In All Its Glory
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On Oct. 10, 2013, the Cassini spacecraft took a series of wide-angle pictures of Saturn from well above the plane of the rings. Croatian software developer and amateur astronomical image processor Gordan Ugarkovic assembled them into a stunning mosaic (mirrored on Flickr), showing the planet from a high angle not usually seen. There's a lot to see in this image, including the rings (and the gaps therein), moons, and the planet itself, including the remnants of a monstrous northern hemisphere storm that kicked off in 2010. It's truly wondrous.
Curiosity Confirms Origins of Martian Meteorites
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Earth's most eminent emissary to Mars has just proven that those rare Martian visitors that sometimes drop in on Earth a.k.a. Martian meteorites really are from the Red Planet. A key new measurement of Mars' atmosphere by NASA's Curiosity rover provides the most definitive evidence yet of the origins of Mars meteorites while at the same time providing a way to rule out Martian origins of other meteorites.
No, Oreos Aren't As Addictive As Cocaine
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If you give a mouse a cookie, you can spend all day following it around the house while it wants to do a bunch of tedious activities. Or, you can trap it in a box, keep feeding it cookies, and then make the outrageous claim that Oreos are as addictive as cocaine. Students at Connecticut College opted for the second option, and the consequences that ensued were much more annoying than making some arts and crafts with a darn mouse. Fox News reported that a 'College study finds Oreo cookies are as addictive as drugs,' Forbes explained 'Why Your Brain Treats Oreos Like a Drug,' and a ton of other sites ran with the story as well. Here's how the experiment, which has not been peer reviewed and has not been presented yet, went down. Mice were placed in a maze, with one end holding an Oreo and the other end holding a rice cake. The mice, without fail, decided to eat the Oreo over the rice cake, proving once and for all that mice like cookies better than tasteless discs with a styrofoamy texture.
1.5 Meter Long Meteorite Fragment Recovered From Russian Lake
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"The BBC writes about the meteorite that fell from the sky 8 months ago: 'The object plunged into Lake Chebarkul in central Russia on 15 February, leaving a 6m-wide hole in the ice. Scientists say that it is the largest fragment of the meteorite yet found.'" This is one of the ten largest meteorite fragments ever recovered. Unfortunately, it broke into three pieces after being lifted from the lake, and managed to destroy the scale used to weight it when it hit 570kg.
The Curious Mind of Ada Lovelace
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Going beyond the usual soundbites about Ada Lovelace, Amy Jollymore explores the life of the worlds first programmer: 'When I heard that Ada Lovelace Day was coming, I questioned myself, "What do I actually know about Ada Lovelace?" The sum total of my knowledge: Ada was the first woman programmer and the Department of Defense honored her contributions to computation in 1979 by naming its common programming language Ada. A few Ada biographies later, I know Augusta Ada Lovelace to be an incredibly complex woman with a painful life story, one in which math, shame, and illness were continuously resurfacing themes. Despite all, Ada tirelessly pursued her passion for mathematics, making her contributions to computing undeniable and her genius all the more clear. Her accomplishments continue to serve as an inspiration to women throughout the world.'
Why Targeted Ads are Bad
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Two videos about why targeted ads are not as valuable as others might think.
First Evidence Found of a Comet Strike On Earth
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a story about evidence of a comet explosion over Egypt 28 million years ago.
"Saharan glass and a brooch belonging to King Tut provide the first evidence of a comet directly impacting Earth, a new study claims. The finding may help unlock some of the mysteries surrounding the birth of our solar system. About 28 million years ago a comet exploded over Egypt, creating a 3600F (2000C) blast wave that spread out over the desert below. The fiery shockwave melted the sand, forming copious amounts of yellow silica glass scattered over 2,300 square miles (6,000 square kilometers) of the Sahara. Polished into the shape of a scarab beetle, a large piece of this glass found its way into a brooch owned by the famed Egyptian boy king Tutankhamen. 'Because there is no sign of an impact crater, it has been a mystery as to what kind of celestial event actually could have caused this debris field, but a small, black stone found lying in the middle of the glass area caught our attention,' said study co-author David Block, an astronomer at Wits University in Johannesburg, South Africa."
Hillary Clinton: "We Need To Talk Sensibly About Spying"
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The Guardian reports: 'Hillary Clinton has called for a "sensible adult conversation", to be held in a transparent way, about the boundaries of state surveillance highlighted by the leaking of secret NSA files by the whistleblower Edward Snowden. In a boost to Nick Clegg, the British deputy prime minister, who is planning to start conversations within government about the oversight of Britain's intelligence agencies, the former US secretary of state said it would be wrong to shut down a debate. Clinton, who is seen as a frontrunner for the 2016 US presidential election, said at Chatham House in London: "This is a very important question. On the intelligence issue, we are democracies thank goodness, both the US and the UK. We need to have a sensible adult conversation about what is necessary to be done, and how to do it, in a way that is as transparent as it can be, with as much oversight and citizens' understanding as there can be."
Hubble Finds Sign That Habitable Planets Could Exist Beyond Solar System
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this excerpt from the BBC:
"Astronomers have detected the tell-tale signs of a shattered asteroid being eaten by a dead star, or white dwarf. The Hubble telescope spotted the event some 150 light-years from Earth. The researchers tell Science Magazine that the chemical signatures in the star's atmosphere indicate the asteroid must contain a lot of water. This makes it the first time both water and a rocky surface key components for habitable planets have been found together beyond our Solar System. ... Of the 1,000 planets so far identified beyond our Solar System, none has been definitively associated with the presence of water."
Read Better Books To Be a Better Person
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Researchers from the New School for Social Research in New York have demonstrated that if you read quality literary fiction you become a better person, in the sense that you are more likely to empathize with others [paper abstract]. Presumably we can all think of books that have changed the way we feel about the world — so this is, in a sense, a scientific confirmation of something fairly intuitive.
Patriot Act Author Introduces Bill To Limit Use of Patriot Act
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In an ironic but welcome twist, the author of the Patriot Act, Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.), is introducing the USA FREEDOM Act, a bill specifically aimed at countering the portions of the Patriot Act that were interpreted to let the NSA collect telephone metadata in bulk. The congressman has been a vocal opponent of the NSA's interpretation and misuse of the Patriot Act since Edward Snowden first leaked evidence of the program in June. On Wednesday, he wrote (PDF) to U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder that the 'collection of a wide array of data on innocent Americans has led to serious questions about how government will use or misuse such information.'
Diamond Rain In Saturn
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Back in 1999, it was postulated that diamonds may rain from the sky in the atmospheres of our solar system's gas giants. Now, research has shown that diamond rains on Saturn are more than probable. '"We don't want to give people the impression that we have a Titanic-sized diamondberg floating around," said researcher Mona Delitsky, of California Specialty Engineering, "We're thinking they're more like something you can hold in your hand." Recent data compiled by planetary scientists ... has been combined with newly published pressure temperature diagrams of Jupiter and Saturn. These diagrams, known as adiabats, allow researchers to decipher at what interior level that diamond would become stable. They also allow for calculations at lower levels – regions where both temperature and pressure are so concentrated that diamond becomes a liquid. Imagine diamond rain or rivulets of pure gemstone.' 'At even greater depths, the scientists say the diamond will eventually melt to form liquid diamond, which may then form a stable ocean layer.'
CPJ Report: the Obama Administration and Press Freedoms
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Committee To Protect Journalists reports: U.S. President Barack Obama came into office pledging open government, but he has fallen short of his promise. Journalists and transparency advocates say the White House curbs routine disclosure of information and deploys its own media to evade scrutiny by the press. Aggressive prosecution of leakers of classified information and broad electronic surveillance programs deter government sources from speaking to journalists. In the Obama administration's Washington, government officials are increasingly afraid to talk to the press. Those suspected of discussing with reporters anything that the government has classified as secret are subject to investigation, including lie-detector tests and scrutiny of their telephone and e-mail records. An 'Insider Threat Program' being implemented in every government department requires all federal employees to help prevent unauthorized disclosures of information by monitoring the behavior of their colleagues. Six government employees, plus two contractors including Edward Snowden, have been subjects of felony criminal prosecutions since 2009 under the 1917 Espionage Act, accused of leaking classified information to the presscompared with a total of three such prosecutions in all previous U.S. administrations. Still more criminal investigations into leaks are under way. Reporters' phone logs and e-mails were secretly subpoenaed and seized by the Justice Department in two of the investigations, and a Fox News reporter was accused in an affidavit for one of those subpoenas of being 'an aider, abettor and/or conspirator' of an indicted leak defendant, exposing him to possible prosecution for doing his job as a journalist. In another leak case, a New York Times reporter has been ordered to testify against a defendant or go to jail.
What the Surveillance State Does With Your Private Data
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Conor Friedersdorf at the Atlantic writes up a new report (and infographic) from the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University Law School. 'What the Government Does With Americans' Data' is the best single attempt I've seen to explain all of the ways that surveillance professionals are collecting, storing, and disseminating private data on U.S. citizens. The report's text and helpful flow-chart illustrations run to roughly 50 pages. Unless you're already one of America's foremost experts on these subjects, it is virtually impossible to read this synthesis without coming away better informed.
Juno Needs Radio Amateurs!
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NASA's Juno mission to Jupiter will perform a close 'fly-by' of the Earth in a few hours. To assist with its radio and plasma wave experiment, the mission is asking amateur radio operators to send a 'Morse Code' message to the probe as it passes."
The page has all the info you need: "The activity will begin at 18:00 UTC on October 9, 2013 and continue until 20:40 UTC. This page will clearly indicate when you should key up or key down to transmit 'HI' to Juno in Morse Code (see examples below). The Morse code pattern below can also act as a guide. The 'HI' message will be repeated every 10 minutes, beginning at 18:00, 18:10, 18:20, etc.
The NSA Is Making Us All Less Safe
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By weakening encryption, the NSA allows others to more easily break it. By installing backdoors and other vulnerabilities in systems, the NSA exposes them to other malicious hackerswhether they are foreign governments or criminals. As security expert Bruce Schneier explained, Its sheer folly to believe that only the NSA can exploit the vulnerabilities they create.
Space Camp: Not Just For Kids Any More
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The L.A. Times features a description of what space camp is like, not for for its traditional demographic of teens and pre-teens interested in science (and possibly thinking of careers in space), but for adults. The Huntsville program where writer Jane Engle spent three days playing astronaut gives adults a chance to experience simulated low gravity and fighter jet simulation. "We also spent hours inside mock-ups of a space shuttle cockpit, NASA mission control and the International Space Station, the settings for simulated shuttle missions that formed the core of our training. Working in teams, we took turns crewing the space shuttle orbiter, monitoring the mission, conducting research experiments and doing extravehicular activities, a.k.a. spacewalks, to make repairs." The price strikes me as surprisingly reasonable, too: about $550.
Scientists Boycott NASA Conference Because of Ban On Chinese Participants
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Congress has passed laws forbidding NASA from allowing Chinese nationals on its premises, so NASA was forced to reject applications from Chinese scientists to attend the upcoming meeting on the Kepler space telescope next month. This ban extends even to Chinese scientists and students working in the USA, angering many American scientists. Geoff Marcy, known for his work on exoplanets, is reported to be boycotting the conference. 'In good conscience, I cannot attend a meeting that discriminates in this way. The meeting is about planets located trillions of miles away, with no national security implications.' he said in an email to the conference organisers.
Probe of Einstein's Brain Reveals Clues To His Genius
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Smart, successful, and well-connected: a good description of Albert Einstein and his brain. The father of relativity theory didn't live to see modern brain imaging techniques, but after his death his brain was sliced into sections and photographed. Now, scientists have used those cross-sectional photos to reveal a larger-than-average corpus callosum the bundle of nerve fibers connecting the brain's two hemispheres. The thickness of Einstein's corpus callosum was greater than the average, and more nerve fibers connected key regions such as the two sides of the prefrontal cortex, which are responsible for complex thought and decision-making. Combined with previous evidence that parts of the physicist's brain were unusually large and intricately folded, the researchers suggest that this feature helps account for his extraordinary gifts." Abstract (full article is paywalled) at the journal Brain.
MAVEN Mission To Mars Will Proceed, Despite Shutdown
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Due to the ongoing shutdown of the U.S. Government, NASA is largely grounded. This is bad for all kinds of reasons, but one particularly bad outcome would have been missing the launch window for the MAVEN spacecraft, due to launch 18 November. The next launch window would not have been until 2016. MAVEN, thankfully, has been given the go-ahead, in large part because this orbiter will serve as a vital communications link for the Opportunity and Curiosity rovers currently on the surface. Currently, these rovers are served by two aging orbiters: Mars Odyssey (launched 2001) and Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (launched 2005). Maintaining communications with the rovers is considered essential, hence the preparations and launch will proceed. (NASA's official mission website is currently offline.)
Lavabit Case Unsealed: FBI Demands Companies Secretly Turn Over Crypto Keys
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Lavabit won a victory in court and were able to get the secret court order [which led to the site's closure] unsealed. The ACLU's Chris Soghoian called it the nuclear option: The court order revealed the FBI demanded Lavabit turn over their root SSL certificate, something that would allow them to monitor the traffic of every user of the service. Lavabit offered an alternative method to tap into the single user in question but the FBI wasn't interested. Lavabit could either comply or shut down. As such, no U.S. company that relies on SSL encryption can be trusted with sensitive data. Everything from Google to Facebook to Skype to your bank account is only encrypted by SSL keys, and if the FBI can force Lavabit to hand over their SSL key or face shutdown, they can do it to anyone.
Mars Orbiter Spies Comet ISON
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Scientists managing the High-Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) camera aboard NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) have released their first observations of the incoming Comet ISON. The MRO was commanded to turn away its perpetual Mars-ward gaze and point into deep space to capture its own snapshot of the famous comet. ISON is currently making its closest approach to the red planet, passing just 7 million miles from its surface. The first raw images were snapped on Sept. 29 when the object was 8 million miles from the planet and more images (taken on Oct. 1 and Oct. 2) are currently being processed.
Researchers Show How Easy It Is To Manipulate Online Opinions
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A recent study shows that a single random up-vote, randomly chosen, created a herding behavior in ratings that resulted in a 25% increase in the ratings but the negative manipulation had no effect. An intuitive explanation for this asymmetry is that we tend to go along with the positive opinions of others, but we tend to be skeptical of the negative opinions of others, and so we go in and correct what we think is an injustice. The third major result was that these effects varied by topic. So in business and society, culture, politics, we found substantial susceptibility to positive herding, whereas in general news, economics, IT, we found no such herding effects in the positive or negative direction.
Snowden Shortlisted For Europe's Top Human Rights Award
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Edward Snowden, the fugitive American former intelligence worker, has made the shortlist of three for the Sakharov prize, Europe's top human rights award. Mr Snowden was nominated by Green politicians in the European Parliament for leaking details of U.S. surveillance. Nominees also include Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistani teenager shot in the head for demanding education for girls. Former recipients of the prize, awarded by the European Parliament, include Nelson Mandela and Aung San Suu Kyi. Mr Snowden's nomination recognized that his disclosure of U.S. surveillance activities was an 'enormous service' to human rights and European citizens, the parliament's Green group said.
Obamacare Could Help Fuel a Tech Start-Up Boom
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The arrival of Obamacare may make it easier for some employees to quit their full-time jobs to launch tech start-ups, work as a freelance consultant, or pursue some other solo career path. Most tech start-up founders are older and need health insurance. 'The average age of people who create a tech start-up is 39, and not 20-something,' said Bruce Bachenheimer, who heads Pace University's Entrepreneurship Lab. Entrepreneurs are willing to take on risks, but health care is not a manageable risk, he said. 'There is a big difference between mortgaging your house on something you can control, and risking going bankrupt by an illness because of something you can't control,' said Bachenheimer. Donna Harris, the co-founder of the 1776 incubation platform in Washington, believes the healthcare law will encourage more start-ups. 'You have to know that there are millions of Americans who might be fantastic and highly successful entrepreneurs who are not pursuing that path because of how healthcare is structured,' said Harris"
Facebook Delivers Viewer Engagement Reports To TV Networks
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I can't believe TV still pays attention to the Nielsen ratings.
Facebook has started delivering custom weekly reports to select TV networks, detailing the total amount of social interactions related to individual TV episodes.According to the Wall Street Journal, Facebook is using its data analytics to track the amount of times an episode is liked, shared, or mentioned each week. The data is then anonymized and delivered to networks. This comes a week after Twitter announced they were pursuing deals with major network as well. Facebook may be trying to establish itself as a modern alternative to the traditional Nielsen ratings system, the current benchmark for gauging viewership.
Underwater Sonar Linked To Whale Deaths
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A group of scientists have confirmed a link between the sonar, used by Exxon Mobil to map the ocean floor for oil, and the death of melon-headed whales. From the article: 'A spokesman for ExxonMobil said the company disagrees with the findings. "ExxonMobil believes the panel's finding about the multi-beam echo sounder is unjustified due to the lack of certainty of information and observations recorded during the response efforts in 2008," spokesman Patrick McGinn told AFP in an email. He added that observers employed by the Madagascar government and the oil giant "were on board the vessel and did not observe any whales in the area."'
Cygnus Spacecraft Makes Historic Rendezvous With Space Station
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Orbital Sciences Corp's robotic Cygnus spacecraft made history by docking with the International Space Station early Sunday. From the article: 'The robotic Cygnus spacecraft was captured by space station astronauts using the outpost's robotic arm at 7 a.m. EDT (1100 GMT) as the two spacecraft sailed over the Indian Ocean. The orbital arrival, which occurred one week later than planned due to a software data glitch, appeared to go flawlessly.
RMS On Why Free Software Is More Important Now Than Ever Before
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an article by Richard Stallman following up on the 30th anniversary of the start of his efforts on the GNU Project. RMS explains why he thinks we should continue to push for broader adoption of free software principles. He writes,
"Much has changed since the beginning of the free software movement: Most people in advanced countries now own computers sometimes called phones and use the internet with them. Non-free software still makes the users surrender control over their computing to someone else, but now there is another way to lose it: Service as a Software Substitute, or SaaSS, which means letting someone elses server do your own computing activities. Both non-free software and SaaSS can spy on the user, shackle the user, and even attack the user. Malware is common in services and proprietary software products because the users dont have control over them. Thats the fundamental issue: while non-free software and SaaSS are controlled by some other entity (typically a corporation or a state), free software is controlled by its users. Why does this control matter? Because freedom means having control over your own life. ... Schools and all educational activities influence the future of society through what they teach. So schools should teach exclusively free software, to transmit democratic values and the habit of helping other people. (Not to mention it helps a future generation of programmers master the craft.) To teach use of a non-free program is to implant dependence on its owner, which contradicts the social mission of the school. Proprietary developers would have us punish students who are good enough at heart to share software or curious enough to want to change it."
Robotic Boat Hits 1,000-Mile Mark In Transatlantic Crossing
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Scout,' a 4-meter-long autonomous boat built by a group of young DIYers, is attempting to cross the Atlantic Ocean. It is traveling from Rhode Island, where it launched on 24 August, to Spain, where all being well it will arrive in a few months' time. Scout has now gone about 1,000 miles (1,600 kilometers) of its planned 3,700-mile (5,900 kilometer) journey. Should it complete this voyage successfully, its passage will arguably belong in the history books.
Declassified NSA Docs Shed Light On Cold War (And Modern) Operations
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With the U.S. trying to understand the domestic role of their foreign intelligence and counterintelligence services in 2013, what can a declassified look back into the 1960s and 1970s add to the ongoing legal debate? Welcome to the world of Interagency Security Classification Appeals Panel and the work done by the National Security Archive at George Washington University. Read how prominent anti-war critics and U.S. senators were tracked, and who was on the late-1960s NSA watch list, from Rev. Martin Luther King to civil rights leader Whitney Young, boxer Muhammad Ali, Tom Wicker, the Washington bureau chief and Washington Post columnist Art Buchwald, and Sen. Howard Baker (R-Tenn.). The NSA was aware of the legality of its work and removed all logos or classification markings, using the term 'For Background Use Only.' Even back then, NSA director at the time, Lew Allen noted: "appeared to be a possible violation of constitutional guarantees" (from page 86 of this PDF). What did the NSA think about signals intelligence sites in your country? See if your country makes the 'indefinite' list on page 392.
Scientists Create New "Lightsaber-Like" Form of Matter
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A group of scientists led by Harvard Professor of Physics Mikhail Lukin and MIT Professor of Physics Vladan Vuletic have developed a form of matter by binding massless photons together in a special kind of medium to create 'photonic molecules', effectively bringing us a bit closer to a world with lightsabers. 'The discovery, Lukin said, runs contrary to decades of accepted wisdom about the nature of light. Photons have long been described as massless particles which don't interact with each other shine two laser beams at each other, he said, and they simply pass through one another. "Photonic molecules," however, behave less like traditional lasers and more like something you might find in science fiction the light saber.' The work is described in Nature (paywalled).
Water Discovery Is Good News For Mars Colonists
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By now, we probably all know that there was once significant quantities of water on the Martian surface and, although the red planet is bone dry by terrestrial standards, water persists as ice just below the surface to this day. Now, according to a series of new papers published in the journal Science, NASA's Mars Science Laboratory rover Curiosity has found that the Mars topsoil is laced with surprisingly high quantities of the wet stuff. And this could be good news for future Mars colonists. 'If you take a cubic foot of that soil you can basically get two pints of water out it a couple of water bottles like you'd take to the gym, worth of water,' Curiosity scientist Laurie Leshin, of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, N.Y., told Discovery News.
Scientists Build Computer Using Carbon Nanotubes
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Future computers could run on lab-grown circuits that are thousands of times thinner than a human hair and operate on a fraction of the energy required to power today's silicon-based computer chips, extending 'Moore's Law' for years to come. Stanford engineers' very basic computer device using carbon nanotube technology validates carbon nanotubes as potential successors to today's silicon semiconductors. The achievement is reported today in an article on the cover of Nature magazine written by Max Shulaker and other doctoral students in electrical engineering. The research was led by Stanford professors Subhasish Mitra and H.S. Philip Wong.
LexisNexis and Other Major Data Brokers Hacked By ID Theft Service
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"Have we reached the point where it is time to admit that the ID thieves are winning and will continue to win as long as their incentives are sufficient to make it lucrative for them? According to Krebs On Security an analysis of a database pilfered from commercial identity thieves identified breaches in 25 data brokers including the heavyweights Dun and Bradstreet and LexisNexis."
And they had access for months to most of them. From the article: The botnet’s online dashboard for the LexisNexis systems shows that a tiny unauthorized program called nbc.exe was placed on the servers as far back as April 10, 2013, suggesting the intruders have had access to the company’s internal networks for at least the past five months. The program was designed to open an encrypted channel of communications from within LexisNexis’s internal systems to the botnet controller on the public Internet." The companies compromised aggregated data for things like "credit decisions, business-to-business marketing and supply chain management. ... employment background, drug and health screening."
Facebook Autofill Wants To Store Users' Credit Card Info
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Facebook has teamed up with payment processors PayPal, Braintree, and Stripe, in an attempt to simplify mobile payments. The system allows Facebook members (who have turned over their credit and billing info) to click a 'Autofill with Facebook' button when checking-out on a mobile app. Facebook will then verify the details, and securely transfer a user's info over to the payment processing company. The move is likely aimed at gathering more data on user behavior, which can be used to increase the prices Facebook charges for mobile ads. Whether or not the feature takes off however, will depend almost entirely on how willing users are to trust Facebook with their credit card data.
The Internet Society is Unhappy with U.S. Govt's Internet Spying Tactics
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On September 9, The Internet Society issued a position paper in which it said the group "...is alarmed by continuing reports alleging systematic United States government efforts to circumvent Internet security mechanisms," and went on to say, "The Internet Society President and CEO, Lynn St. Amour, said, 'If true, these reports describe government programmes that undermine the technical foundations of the Internet and are a fundamental threat to the Internets economic, innovative, and social potential. Any systematic, state-level attack on Internet security and privacy is a rejection of the global, collaborative fabric that has enabled the Internet's growth to extend beyond the interests of any one country.'" Those are tough words from an international organization that usually spends its time bringing the Internet to people in out-of-the-way villages and sponsoring the Internet Engineering Task Force. You can join the Internet Society for as little as $0 per year, and possibly help beat back some of the U.S. government eavesdropping and encryption circumvention efforts. And if you can make it to San Francisco on October 2, you can attend a (free) Internet Society discussion. Meanwhile, today's Slashdot interviewee is Paul Brigner, the Internet Society Regional Bureau Director for North America, who talks about the Internet Society in general, as well as the group's reaction to the U.S. government's online surveillance.
"Ballooning" Spiders Use Electrostatic Forces To Generate Lift
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Many types of small spider release threads into the air which then lift and carry them significant distances. Biologists have found them at altitudes of up to 4 km. The conventional thinking is that the threads catch thermal air currents which then carry them away but this does not explain how spiders perform their trick even when there is little or no wind. Now one physicist says the explanation is the atmosphere's natural electric field which has an average downward-pointing magnitude of 120 Volts per metre. He calculates that a strand of silk need only gain a negative charge of around 30 nanoCoulombs to lift a spider. That explains how the spiders take off on windless days, how they reach such great heights and how several strands can lift heavier spiders of up to 100 milligrams.
New Species of Legless Lizard Discovered Near LAX Runway
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From an article at Discovery News: "A bustling airport would hardly seem the place to find a new species of reclusive animal, but a team of California biologists recently found a shy new species of legless lizard living at the end of a runway at Los Angeles International Airport. Whats more, the same team discovered three additional new species of these distinctive, snake-like lizards that are also living in some inhospitable-sounding places for wildlife: at a vacant lot in downtown Bakersfield, among oil derricks in the lower San Joaquin Valley and on the margins of the Mojave desert." Here's some more information in the form of a press release from Cal State Fullerton, home to James Parham, one of the discoverers.
Hiccup In Space: Orbital Sciences ISS Docking Delayed By Days
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"[a] software glitch will delay Orbital Sciences' trial cargo ship from reaching the International Space Station until Tuesday, officials said on Sunday. The company's Cygnus capsule, which blasted off Wednesday from Virginia for a test flight, had been scheduled to reach the station on Sunday. ... Orbital Sciences said it had found the cause of the data discrepancy and was developing a software fix. ... The next opportunity for the capsule to rendezvous and dock with the station will be on Tuesday."
The WSJ has a more detailed article, and notes "The mission is a challenge for Orbital, which has invested more than five years and about $500 million of its own funds to develop a commercial-cargo capability. But it also presents a dramatic test of NASA's plans to outsource to industry all U.S. resupply missions to the space station. The agency has paid Orbital about $285 million to spur development of the Cygnus and Antares rocket system."
Linking Mass Extinctions To the Sun's Journey In the Milky Way
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In a paper published today on the Los Alamos astro-ph preprint service, astronomers propose that as many as eleven past extinction events can be linked to the Sun's passage through the spiral arms of the Milky Way. (You can download the paper here [pdf].) From the paper: 'A correlation was found between the times at which the Sun crosses the spiral arms and six known mass extinction events. Furthermore, we identify five additional historical mass extinction events that might be explained by the motion of the Sun around our Galaxy. These five additional significant drops in marine genera that we find include significant reductions in diversity at 415, 322, 300, 145 and 33 Myr ago. Our simulations indicate that the Sun has spent ~60% of its time passing through our Galaxy's various spiral arms.'
LinkedIn Accused of Hacking Customers' E-Mails To Slurp Up Contacts
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LinkedIn Corp. ... was sued by customers who claim the company appropriated their identities for marketing purposes by hacking into their external e-mail accounts and downloading contacts' addresses. The customers, who aim to lead a group suit against LinkedIn, asked a federal judge in San Jose, California, to bar the company from repeating the alleged violations and to force it to return any revenue stemming from its use of their identities to promote the site ... 'LinkedIn's own website contains hundreds of complaints regarding this practice,' they said in the complaint filed Sept. 17. ... LinkedIn required the members to provide an external e-mail address as their username on its site, then used the information to access their external e-mail accounts when they were left open ... 'LinkedIn pretends to be that user and downloads the e-mail addresses contained anywhere in that account to LinkedIn's servers,' they said. 'LinkedIn is able to download these addresses without requesting the password for the external e-mail accounts or obtaining users' consent.'"
"This puts an interesting twist on LinkedIn's recent call for transparency," adds cold fjord. (More at Bloomberg.)
Software Glitch Means Loss of NASA's Deep Impact Comet Probe
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NASA is calling off attempts to find its Deep Impact comet probe after a suspected software glitch shut down radio communications in August, officials said on Friday.' Last month, engineers lost contact with Deep Impact and unsuccessfully tried to regain communications. The cause of the failure was unknown, but NASA suspects the spacecraft lost control, causing its antenna and solar panels to be pointed in the wrong direction. NASA had hoped Deep Impact would play a key role in observations of the approaching Comet ISON, a suspected first-time visitor to the inner solar system that was discovered in September 2012 by two Russian astronomers. The comet is heading toward a close encounter with the sun in November, a brush that it may not survive."
Deep Impact has had a pretty good run, though: from its original mission to launch a copper slug at a comet (hence the name), to looking for Earth-sized planets.
Open Well-Tempered Clavier: a Kickstarter Campaign For Open Source Bach
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The Open Goldberg Variations team has launched a new project to make an open source, public domain version of J.S. Bach's Well-Tempered Clavier. The work is significant because of its enormous influence on musicians and composers throughout history. A new studio recording, a new digital MuseScore score (with support for MusicXML and MIDI), as well as all source materials (multitrack WAV, lossless FLAC) will be provided as libre and gratis downloads. New to the project are publisher GRIN Verlag, as well as record label PARMA Recordings. GRIN and PARMA will produce and distribute the physical score and double CD, even though the digital versions are to be widely available and in the public domain. Their enthusiasm for the project runs counter to the general publishing and music industry's fear of digital file sharing, and shows growing momentum for finding new models to make free music commercially sustainable.
Homeless, Unemployed, and Surviving On Bitcoins
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Wired profiles a homeless man who's supporting himself primarily through Bitcoin. Jesse Angle, a former network engineer, earns small amounts throughout the day by visiting various websites that pay him to look at ads. He then converts it to gift certificates and uses the certificates to buy food. '"It's a lot less embarrassing," he says. "You don't have to put yourself out there." And unlike panhandling in Pensacola, using an app like Bitcoin Tapper won't put him on the wrong side of the law. This past May, Pensacola — where Angle has lived since April — passed an ordinance that bans not only panhandling but camping on city property.' Angle learned about Bitcoin from a charity organization called Sean's Outpost that wanted something better than PayPal for accepting donations over the internet. The organization has even opened an outreach center paid for solely with Bitcoins. Founder Jason King said, 'Bitcoin beats the s#!% out of regular money, We've resonated so well with people because it's direct action. There's no chaff between donation and helping people.'
40-Million-Year-Old 'Walking Whale' Fossil Found In Peru
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Found in the Ocucaje Desert in southern Peru, the fossils belong to a group called Achaeocetes, or ancient whales, that possess both land and sea-dwelling characteristics. Over time, the ancient land animals adapted to water environments where their legs became fin-like and their bodies began to resemble modern sea mammals like dolphins and whales.
Mystery of Missing Martian Methane Deepens
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NASA's Mars rover Curiosity has been scouring the thin Martian atmosphere for methane a potential tracer for the presence of Martian life. However, since the gas also can be produced geologically, any findings promised a meaty debate. That discussion can be shelved, perhaps permanently, new findings from a team of Curiosity scientists shows. The most extensive search yet for methane in Mars' atmosphere has come up empty. 'It's disappointing, of course. We would have liked to get [to Gale Crater] and found lots of methane and measure all the isotopes,' lead researcher Christopher Webster, with NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., told Discovery News.
Orbital Sciences Cargo Test Mission To ISS Launches Successfully
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Months after a successful test launch of the Antares rocket with a dummy payload, today Orbital Sciences Corp successfully launched their demo cargo mission to the ISS. Their Cygnus resupply craft detached from the second stage and at 11:33 a.m. deployed its solar array. From NASA:
"Solar array deployment is complete for Orbital Sciences Corp.'s Cygnus spacecraft, now traveling 17,500 mph in Earth's orbit to rendezvous with the International Space Station on Sunday, Sept. 22, for a demonstration resupply mission. The spacecraft will deliver about 1,300 pounds (589 kilograms) of cargo, including food and clothing, to the space station's Expedition 37 crew, who will grapple and attach the capsule using the orbiting laboratory's robotic arm."
There's an updates weblog, and some pictures.
Stronger Winds Explain Puzzling Growth of Sea Ice In Antarctica
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As NOAA announces a new record for the extent of sea ice in Antarctica, a new modeling study to be published in the Journal of Climate shows that stronger polar winds lead to an increase in Antarctic sea ice, even when Earth's overall climate is getting warmer. The study (abstract) by Jinlun Zhang, a University of Washington oceanographer, shows that stronger westerly winds swirling around the South Pole can explain 80 percent of the increase in Antarctic sea ice volume during the past three decades. The polar vortex that swirls around the South Pole is not just stronger than it was when satellite records began in the 1970s, it also shoves the sea ice together to cause ridging. Stronger winds also drive ice faster, which leads to still more deformation and ridging. This creates thicker, longer-lasting ice, while exposing surrounding water and thin ice to the blistering cold winds that cause more ice growth. A computer simulation that includes detailed interactions between wind and sea shows that thick ice more than 6 feet deep increased by about 1 percent per year from 1979 to 2010, while the amount of thin ice stayed fairly constant. The end result is a thicker, slightly larger ice pack that lasts longer into the summer.
NSA Bought Exploit Service From VUPEN
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NSA subscribes to malware. Really???
The U.S. government particularly the National Security Agency is often regarded as having advanced offensive cybersecurity capabilities. But that doesn't mean that they're above bringing in a little outside help when it's needed. A newly public contract shows that the NSA last year bought a subscription to the zero-day service sold by French security firm VUPEN. The contract, made public through a Freedom of Information Act request by MuckRock, an open government project that publishes a variety of such documents, shows that the NSA bought VUPEN's services on Sept. 14, 2012. The NSA contract is for a one-year subscription to the company's 'binary analysis and exploits service.'
Doubleclick Cofounder Responds to Patent Troll by Filing Extortion Lawsuit
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someone other than newegg is fighting back against patent trolls, despite the business case for settling. This time, however, one of the founders of the Doubleclick ad network has decided to use his personal money to not only fight a patent troll attacking his new startup, but to strike back at them under the RICO act.
"'There's a lot of outrageous stories, but everyone's so damn afraid of coming forward — It's like going against the Mafia,' he [Kevin O'Connor] said. But the idea that trolls may retaliate against those who speak out is overblown, he thinks. 'If they want to try to teach me a lesson, go for it. This will be my retirement. I'll fight them.' The patent troll's attorney also made the claim that calling someone a 'patent troll' was actually a 'hate crime' under 'Ninth Circuit precedent' and threatened to file criminal charges — unless they settled the civil case immediately, apologized, and gave financial compensation to the troll. The offer was 'good until close of business that day.'"
German Data Protection Expert Warns Against Using iPhone5S Fingerprint Function
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Translated from Der Spiegel: Hamburg Data-Protection Specialist Johannes Caspar warns against using iPhone 5S's new Fingerprint ID function. 'The biometric features of your body, like your fingerprints, cannot be erased or deleted. They stay with you until the end of your life and stay constant they cannot be changed. One should thus avoid using biometric ID technologies for non-vital or casual everyday uses like turning on a smartphone. This is especially true if a biometric ID, like your fingerprint, is stored in a data file on the electronic device you are using.' Caspar finds Apple's argument that 'your fingerprint is only stored on the iPhone, never transmitted over the network' weak and misleading. 'The average iPhone user is not capable of checking, on a technical level, what happens to his or her fingerprint once it is on the iPhone. He or she cannot tell with any certainty or ease what kind of private data applications downloaded onto the iPhone can or cannot access. The recent disclosure of spying programs like Prism makes it riskier than ever before to share important personal data with electronic devices.' Caspar adds: 'As a matter of principle, one should never hand over any biometric data when it isn't strictly needed. Handing over a non-changeable biometric feature like a fingerprint for no better reason than that it provides 'some convenience' in everyday use, is ill advised and foolish. One must always be extremely cautious where and for what reasons one hands over biometric features.'
FISA Court Will Release More Opinions Because of Snowden
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"Call it the Edward Snowden effect: Citing the former NSA contractor, a federal judge has ordered the government to declassify more reports from the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court. In an opinion from the FISC itself, Judge F. Dennis Saylor on Friday told the White House to declassify all the legal opinions relating to Section 215 of the Patriot Act written after May 2011 that aren't already the subject of FOIA litigation. The court ruled (PDF) that the White House must identify the opinions in question by Oct. 4. 'The unauthorized disclosure of in June 2013 of a Section 215 order, and government statements in response to that disclosure, have engendered considerable public interest and debate about Section 215,' wrote Saylor. 'Publication of FISC opinions relating to this opinion would contribute to an informed debate.' The ruling comes in response to a petition by the American Civil Liberties Union seeking greater government transparency. But because the ACLU already has a similar FOIA case pending in another court, Saylor wrote that the new FISC order can only cover documents that don't relate to that case."
Director of National Intelligence James Clapper said that Snowden's information leaks started conversations that should have happened a long time ago. Also, the privacy reform panel created by President Obama met for the first time earlier this week. It did not discuss the NSA's surveillance activities. [Two attendees of the Monday meeting said the discussion was dominated by the interests of major technology firms, and the session did not address making any substantive changes to the controversial mass collection of Americans' phone data and foreigners' internet communications, which can include conversations with Americans."
Verizon's Plan To Turn the Web Into Pay-Per-View
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InfoWorld's Bill Snyder writes of Verizon's diabolical plan to to charge websites for carrying their packets a strategy that, if it wins out, will be the end of the Internet as we know it. 'Think of all the things that tick you off about cable TV. Along with brainless programming and crummy customer service, the very worst aspect of it is forced bundling. ... Now, imagine that the Internet worked that way. You'd hate it, of course. But that's the direction that Verizon, with the support of many wired and wireless carriers, would like to push the Web. That's not hypothetical. The country's No. 1 carrier is fighting in court to end the Federal Communications Commission's policy of Net neutrality, a move that would open the gates to a whole new and wholly bad economic model on the Web.'
It's Official: Voyager 1 Is an Interstellar Probe
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After a 35-year, 11-billion mile journey, NASA's Voyager 1 spacecraft left the solar system to become the first human-made object to reach interstellar space, new evidence from a team of scientists shows. 'It's kind of like landing on the moon. It's a milestone in history. Like all science, it's exploration. It's new knowledge,' long-time Voyager scientist Donald Gurnett, with the University of Iowa, told Discovery News. The first signs that the spacecraft had left the solar system's heliopause was a sudden drop in solar particles and a corresponding increase in cosmic rays in 2012, but this evidence alone wasn't conclusive. Through indirect means, scientist analyzing oscillations along the probe's 10-meter (33-foot) antennas were able to deduce that Voyager was traveling through a less dense medium i.e. interstellar space."
Social Media Is a New Vector For Mass Psychogenic Illness
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There is an interesting read at the Atlantic where Laura Dimon writes that mass psychogenic illness, historically known as "mass hysteria"—is making a comeback and it appears that social media is a new vector for its spread. Mass hysteria such as the Salem Witch Trials of 1692-1693, the most widely recognized episode of mass hysteria in history, which ultimately saw the hanging deaths of 20 women, spreads through sight and sound, and historically, one person would have to be in the same room as somebody exhibiting symptoms to be at risk of 'catching' the illness. 'Not anymore,' says Robert Bartholomew, a sociologist who has studied over 600 cases of mass hysteria dating back to 1566, noting that social media — 'extensions of our eyes and ears' — speeds and extends the reach of mass hysteria. 'Epidemic hysterias that in earlier periods were self-limited in geography now have free and wide access to the globe in seconds,' says Bartholomew. 'It's a belief, that's the power here, and the technology just amplifies the belief, and helps it spread more readily.' In a recent case, nearly 20 students at a Western New York Junior-Senior High school began experiencing involuntary jerks and tics. Some believe that the Le Roy outbreak was a direct result of videos posted to YouTube by Lori Brownell, a girl with severe tics in Corinth, New York, 250 miles east of Le Roy. The story took off quickly, not just on the local and national news but on Facebook and autism blogs and sites devoted to mental health and environmental issues. Bartholomew warns that there is 'potential for a far greater or global episode, unless we quickly understand how social media is, for the first time, acting as the primary vector or agent of spread for conversion disorder.
Exxon Charged With Illegally Dumping Waste In Pennsylvania
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Exxon has been charged with illegally dumping over 50,000 gallons of wastewater at a shale-gas drilling site in Pennsylvania. From the article: 'Exxon unit XTO Energy Inc. discharged the water from waste tanks at the Marquandt well site in Lycoming County in 2010, according to a statement on the website of Pennsylvanias attorney general. The pollution was found during an unannounced visit by the states Department of Environmental Protection. The inspectors discovered a plug removed from a tank, allowing the wastewater to run onto the ground, polluting a nearby stream. XTO was ordered to remove 3,000 tons of soil to clean up the area. Wastewater discharged from natural-gas wells can contain chlorides, barium, strontium and aluminum, the attorney generals statement showed. Criminal charges are unwarranted and legally baseless, the XTO unit said yesterday in a statement posted on its website. There was no intentional, reckless or negligent misconduct by XTO.'
Evidence of 100,000-Year-Old Life Found In Antarctic Subglacial Lake
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Researchers taking advantage of retreating ice shelves in Antarctica have discovered evidence of life that's been sealed away for nearly 100,000 years. Lake Hodgson on the Antarctic Peninsula, once covered by over 400 meters of ice, is now obscured only by a thin layer three to four meters thick. Scientists carefully drilled through the ice and took samples (abstract) from the layers of mud at the bottom (as much as 93 meters below the lake's surface). "The top few centimetres of the core contained current and recent organisms which inhabit the lake but once the core reached 3.2 m deep the microbes found most likely date back nearly 100,000 years. ... Some of the life discovered was in the form of Fossil DNA showing that many different types of bacteria live there, including a range of extremophiles which are species adapted to the most extreme environments. These use a variety of chemical methods to sustain life both with and without oxygen. One DNA sequence was related to the most ancient organisms known on Earth and parts of the DNA in twenty three percent has not been previously described."
SpaceShipTwo Goes Supersonic Over the Mojave In 2nd Test Flight
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NASA wasn't the only organization with a successful launch this week; Virgin Galactic might not have any firm plans for a launch to the moon, but this week successfully tested SpaceShip Two for the second time, hopefully bringing the era of (more) affordable space tourism even closer.
"The test began when the company’s WhiteKnightTwo carrier aircraft took off with SpaceShipTwo at about 8 a.m. local time from the Mojave Air and Space Port. From there, the mated aircraft ascended to 46,000 feet, whereupon SpaceShipTwo was released from the carrier aircraft and ignited the rocket motor for a 20-second burn to an altitude of 69,000 feet. SpaceShipTwo achieved its maximum speed of Mach 1.43 during this portion of the mission, then returned to Mojave at 9:25 a.m. local time. Upon landing, the test pilots at the controls of SpaceShipTwo, Mark Stucky and Clint Nichols, both pilots for Scaled Composites, reported a flawless flight."
The L.A. Times' story on the launch has some great video footage, too.
Using Rasberry Pi and iOS App To Catch Rhino Poachers
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Cambridge Consultants has rigged together about a hundred motion-triggered cameras around Kenyan watering holes to help catch and dissuade elephant poachers. 'The challenge was to create a remote monitoring system that was robust enough to withstand extreme weather conditions and animal attacks and could be easily hidden in any surroundings all within the available budget,' according to one of the projects leads. And to help make sure all those cameras are being monitored, the team has released an iOS app that lets users review, tag, and flag images, tracking what kinds of animals pass by and keeping an eye open for any human predators on the prowl.
Schneier: The US Government Has Betrayed the Internet, We Need To Take It Back
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Quoting Bruce Schneier in the Guardian:
'The NSA has undermined a fundamental social contract. We engineers built the internet and now we have to fix it. Government and industry have betrayed the internet, and us. This is not the internet the world needs, or the internet its creators envisioned. We need to take it back. And by we, I mean the engineering community. Yes, this is primarily a political problem, a policy matter that requires political intervention. But this is also an engineering problem, and there are several things engineers can and should do.
New Giant Volcano Below Sea Is Largest In the World
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If you're a fan of gigantic volcanoes you'll be happy to know that the biggest volcano on Earth, and one of the biggest in the solar system, has just been discovered under the Pacific Ocean, about 1,000 miles east of Japan. From the article: 'Called Tamu Massif, the giant shield volcano had been thought to be a composite of smaller structures, but now scientists say they must rethink long-held beliefs about marine geology. "This finding goes against what we thought, because we found that it's one huge volcano," said William Sager, a geology professor at the University of Houston in Texas. Sager is lead author in a study about the find that was published this week in the peer-reviewed journal Nature Geoscience. "It is in the same league as Olympus Mons on Mars, which had been considered to be the largest volcano in the solar system," Sager told National Geographic.'
Outsourced Manufacturing Plant Maintenance Creates IT Opportunities (Video)
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American manufacturing plants are no longer necessarily dank, dirty places where large men without shirts sweat until they drop. Rather, most plants today are full of computer-driven machinery that takes strong skills to install and maintain. And since many manufacturers, especially small ones, can't afford to have high level IT and repair people on staff, their maintenance work is often outsourced. Obviously, this doesn't mean outsourcing to a company in China or India (that's offshoring), but to one right here in the USA. Today's interviewee, Chris LeBeau, is director of information technologies for Advanced Technology Services, which is one of many companies that have sprung up to help factories operate efficiently in a highly computerized world. Most of their techs have wrench-turning skills, but more and more, they also have strong IT skills and walk around carrying tablet computers. So what you have here is a whole set of IT-related careers for people who enjoy working with computers but would rather stay physical and move around than spend all day in front of a monitor at a desk. Chris's comments about why IT-based factory maintenance is more usful here than in China are interesting, too -- and may offer a clue as to why some types of industry are bringing their manufacturing operations back to the U.S. from low-wage countries in order to increase efficiency.
What Marketers Think They Know About You and What They Really Do
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Data broker Acxiom did something a little unusual this week. It launched a service that lets you see the data they've collected on you. CITEworld writer Ron Miller checked it out, and found it to be mostly laughably inaccurate. Among the things they got wrong included his religion, his interests, and the number of kids he has. But worst? It pegged him as a Windows user.
What Works In Education: Scientific Evidence Gets Ignored
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According to Gina Kolata in the New York Times, The Institute of Education Sciences in the Department of Education Sciences, U.S. Department of Education, has supported 175 randomized controlled studies, like the studies used in medicine, to find out what works and doesn't work, which are reported in the What Works Clearinghouse. Surprisingly, the choice of instructional materials — textbooks, curriculum guides, homework, quizzes — can affect achievement as much as teachers; poor materials have as much effect as a bad teacher, and good materials can offset a bad teacher's deficiencies. One popular math textbook was superior to 3 competitors. A popular computer-assisted math program had no benefit. Most educators, including principals and superintendents, don't know the data exists. 42% of school districts had never heard of the clearinghouse. Up to 90% of programs that seemed promising in small studies had no effect or made achievement scores worse. For example a program to increase 7th-grade math teachers' understanding of math increased their understanding but had no effect on student achievement. Upward Bound had no effect.
Chris Kraft Talks About The Decline of NASA
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a recent interview with Chris Kraft, founder of Mission Control, discussing the impracticality of the SLS, and why the best and brightest are slowing leaving NASA. From the article:
"The problem with the SLS is that it's so big that makes it very expensive. It's very expensive to design, it's very expensive to develop. When they actually begin to develop it, the budget is going to go haywire. They're going to have all kinds of technical and development issues crop up, which will drive the development costs up. Then there are the operating costs of that beast, which will eat NASA alive if they get there. ... You go talk to the guys who were doing Constellation (NASA's now-scuttled plan to return to the moon), and the reason they came to NASA was to go back to the moon. They're all leaving now. The leaders are leaving for a lot of other reasons also, but they're leaving because there's no future that they want to be involved in. And that's unfortunate."
NASA's LADEE Rocket Mission To Launch September 6
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NASA's Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer (LADEE) will orbit Earth for three weeks before heading to the moon for a 100-day trip where it will measure lunar dust and the moon's atmosphere. from the article: 'A $6 million University of Colorado Boulder instrument designed to study the behavior of lunar dust will be riding on a NASA mission to the moon now slated for launch on Friday, Sept. 6, from the agency's Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia. The mission, known as the Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer, or LADEE, will orbit the moon to better understand its tenuous atmosphere and whether dust particles are being lofted high off its surface. The $280 million LADEE mission, designed, developed, integrated and tested at NASA's AMES Research Center in Moffett Field, Calif., will take about a month to reach the moon and another month to enter the proper elliptical orbit and to commission the instruments. A 100-day science effort will follow.'
The Cognitive Cost of Poverty
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It's a common trope that most poor people are poor because they're lazy or just inherently bad with money. But a new study (abstract) makes a fascinating find: being poor actually reduces your cognitive capabilities when thinking about money. 'In a series of experiments run by researchers at Princeton, Harvard, and the University of Warwick, low-income people who were primed to think about financial problems performed poorly on a series of cognition tests, saddled with a mental load that was the equivalent of losing an entire night's sleep. Put another way, the condition of poverty imposed a mental burden akin to losing 13 IQ points, or comparable to the cognitive difference that's been observed between chronic alcoholics and normal adults.' This makes the difficulty in climbing out of poverty much easier to understand. The researchers also demonstrated causality by showing that thinking about a very small expense led to no impairment, while thinking about a very large expense did. They confirmed this by looking at a group of farmers in India who tend to receive most of their income at one time — immediately following their harvest. Shortly before that payment, when the farmers had very little money, their scores dropped as well.
Curiosity Goes Autonomous For the First Time
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NASA took the metaphorical training wheels off the Mars rover Curiosity on Tuesday, as the unmanned explorer took its first drive using autonomous navigation. It used its onboard cameras and software to select and drive over an area of ground that mission control at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California couldn't see and vet beforehand. This capability allows the nuclear-powered rover to negotiate the most direct route to Mount Sharp rather than having to detour to find routes that can be seen directly by Curiosity before entering, so they can be analyzed by mission control.
Huge Canyon Discovered Under Greenland Ice
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One of the biggest canyons in the world has been found beneath the ice sheet that smothers most of Greenland. The canyon which is 800km long and up to 800m deep was carved out by a great river more than four million years ago ... It was discovered by accident as scientists researching climate change mapped Greenland's bedrock by radar. The British Antarctic Survey said it was remarkable to find so huge a geographical feature previously unseen. The hidden valley is longer than the Grand Canyon in Arizona. ... The ice sheet, up to 3km (2 miles) thick, is now so heavy that it makes the island sag in the middle (central Greenland was previously about 500m above sea level, now it is 200m below sea level).
OLPC Now Distributes Kid-Friendly Tablets, Not Just Notebooks (Video)
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Giulia D'Amico, Business Development VP for One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) talks about the new OLPC tablets, which are now available in the U.S. through Target, Amazon, Walmart, and other retailers, with some of the $150 sales price for each tablet going to support the OLPC project in places like Uruguay, Cambodia, Rwanda, and other countries where a tablet loaded with teaching software is a way better deal than trying to supply all the books a child needs for six or eight years of school. While there are many Android tablets for sale for less than $150, Giulia points out that the OLPC tablets contain up to $300 worth of software. Plus, of course, just as with almost any other Android device, there are many thousands of apps available for it through Google Play. And let's not forget the original OLPC laptop. It has been redesigned, and renamed the OLPC XO-4 and looks much cooler than the original. You can learn more about it through olpc.tv, which has videos from the introduction of both the OPLC tablet and the XO-4 at CES 2013. OLPC has shipped close to 3 million laptops so far, and is working to port Sugar to Android so that the laptop and the tablet can use the same software. One more thing: OLPC is now focusing on software rather than hardware. When the project started at MIT, back in 2006 or so, there was no suitable hardware available. Today, many companies make low-cost tablets and keyboards for them, so there's no real need for OLPC to make its own instead of using existing hardware.
Measles Outbreak Tied To Texas Megachurch
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They don't mind putting other people at risk, but when it is their own members ...
An outbreak of measles tied to a Texas megachurch where ministers have questioned vaccination has sickened at least 21 people, including a 4-month-old infant — and it's expected to spread further, state and federal health officials said. 'There's likely a lot more susceptible people,' said Dr. Jane Seward, the deputy director for the viral diseases division at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. ... All of the cases are linked to the Eagle Mountain International Church in Newark, Texas, where a visitor who'd traveled to Indonesia became infected with measles – and then returned to the U.S., spreading it to the largely unvaccinated church community, said Russell Jones, the Texas state epidemiologist. ... Terri Pearsons, a senior pastor of Eagle Mountain International said she has had concerns about possible ties between early childhood vaccines and autism. In the wake of the measles outbreak, however, Pearsons has urged followers to get vaccinated and the church has held several vaccination clinics. ... 'In this community, these cases so far are all in people who refused vaccination for themselves and their children,' [Steward] added. The disease that once killed 500 people a year in the U.S. and hospitalized 48,000 had been considered virtually eradicated after a vaccine introduced in 1963. Cases now show up typically when an unvaccinated person contracts the disease abroad and spreads it upon return to the U.S.
The Next US Moonshot Will Launch From Virginia
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As reported by the Washington Post, a U.S. spacecraft headed for the moon (to circle it, though, not to land) is to be launched for the first time from the facility at Virginia's Wallops Island. If you'll be in the D.C. area on the night of September 6 and the weather cooperates enough for a launch, it should be worth staying up for. "The robotic mission is to collect detailed information about the moon's thin atmosphere. Sometimes thought to be nonexistent, the lunar atmosphere has been described as extremely tenuous and fragile, but present. According to the space agency, the launch will record many firsts. One will be the first launch beyond Earth orbit from the Virginia facility. It also will be the first flight for the Minotaur V rocket, NASA said. NASA said the five-stage Air Force rocket is an excess ballistic missile that was transformed into a space-launch vehicle. It will boost the space probe into position for it to reach lunar orbit." Though the satellite is NASA's, the launch will be controlled by Orbital Sciences.
New, Canon-Faithful Star Trek Series Is In Pre-Production
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Star Trek veterans such as Walter Koenig (Pavel Chekov), Tim Russ (Tuvok), Robert Picardo (the Doctor) and others are busy in pre-production of a professionally produced pilot episode for a suggested new online Star Trek series named Star Trek: Renegades, which will be faithful to the original Star Trek canon. The events of the series are placed a decade after Voyager's return from Delta Quadrant. When the pilot is complete, they'll present it to CBS in the hopes that it'll be picked up. They have also opened an Indiegogo campaign, seeking more funds from Star Trek fans to help make the production even more professional. They've already reached their primary funding goal.
Magellan II's Adaptive Optics Top Hubble's Resolution
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The incredible 'first light' images captured by the new adaptive optics system called Magellan|AO for "Magellan Adaptive Optics" in the Magellan II 6.5-meter telescope are at least twice as sharp in the visible light spectrum as those from the NASA's Hubble Space Telescope. 'We can, for the first time, make long-exposure images that resolve objects just 0.02 arcseconds across — the equivalent of a dime viewed from more than a hundred miles away,' said Laird Close (University of Arizona), the project's principal scientist. The 6.5-meter Magellan telescopes in the high desert of Chile were widely considered to be the best natural imaging telescopes in the world and this new technology upgraded them to the whole new level. With its 21-foot diameter mirror, the Magellan telescope is much larger than Hubble with its 8-foot mirror. Until now, Hubble always produced the best visible light images, since even large ground-based telescope with complex adaptive optics imaging cameras could only make blurry images in visible light. The core of the new optics system, the so-called Adaptive Secondary Mirror (ASM) that can change its shape at 585 points on its surface 1,000 times each second, counteracts the blurring effects of the atmosphere.
EFF Wins Release of Secret Court Opinion: NSA Surveillance Unconstitutional
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We can't really talk about this, but somehow EFF scored a win:
For over a year, EFF has been fighting the government in federal court to force the public release of an 86-page opinion of the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC). Issued in October 2011, the secret court's opinion found that surveillance conducted by the NSA under the FISA Amendments Act was unconstitutional and violated 'the spirit of' federal law.
Joining Lavabit Et Al, Groklaw Shuts Down Because of NSA Dragnet
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There is now no shield from forced exposure. Nothing in that parenthetical thought list is terrorism-related, but no one can feel protected enough from forced exposure any more to say anything the least bit like that to anyone in an email, particularly from the U.S. out or to the U.S. in, but really anywhere. You don't expect a stranger to read your private communications to a friend. And once you know they can, what is there to say? Constricted and distracted. That's it exactly. That's how I feel. So. There we are. The foundation of Groklaw is over. I can't do Groklaw without your input. I was never exaggerating about that when we won awards. It really was a collaborative effort, and there is now no private way, evidently, to collaborate.
Dyslexia Seen In Brain Scans of Pre-School Children
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Brain scans may allow detection of dyslexia in pre-school children even before they start to read, say researchers. A U.S. team found tell-tale signs on scans that have already been seen in adults with the condition. And these brain differences could be a cause rather than a consequence of dyslexia something unknown until now the Journal of Neuroscience reports. Scans could allow early diagnosis and intervention, experts hope. The part of the brain affected is called the Arcuate Fasciculus. Among the 40 school-entry children they studied they found some had shrinkage of this brain region, which processes word sounds and language. They asked the same children to do several different types of pre-reading tests, such as trying out different sounds in words. Those children with a smaller Arcuate Fasciculus had lower scores.
Easily-Captured Asteroids Identified
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Long overlooked as mere rocky chunks leftover from the formation of the solar system, asteroids have recently gotten a lot more scrutiny as NASA moves forward with plans to capture, tow, and place a small asteroid somewhere near our planet. Two different private space companies, Planetary Resources and Deep Space Industries, plan to seek out and mine precious metals and water from near-Earth asteroids. Now Adam Mann reports that astronomers have identified 12 candidate Easily Retrievable Objects (EROs) ranging in size from approximately 2 meters to 60 meters in diameter that already come (cosmically) close enough to our planet close enough that it would take a relatively small push to put them into orbits at Lagrange points near Earth using existing rocket technology. For example, 2006 RH120 could be sent into orbit at L2 by changing its velocity by just 58 meters per second with a single burn on 1 February 2021. Moving one of these EROs would be a 'logical stepping stone towards more ambitious scenarios of asteroid exploration and exploitation, and possibly the easiest feasible attempt for humans to modify the Solar System environment outside of Earth (PDF),' write the authors in Celestial Mechanics and Dynamical Astronomy. None of the 12 ERO asteroids are new to astronomers; in fact, one of them became briefly famous when it was found to be temporarily orbiting the Earth until 2007. But until now nobody had realized just how easily these bodies could be captured.
Obama on Surveillance: "We Can and Must Be More Transparent"
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Today President Obama held a press conference to address the situation surrounding the NSA's surveillance activities. (Here is the full transcript.) He announced four actions the administration is undertaking to restore the public's confidence in the intelligence community. Obama plans to work with Congress to reform the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to give greater weight to civil liberties, and to revisit section 215 of the PATRIOT Act, which is the section that allowed bulk collection of phone records. (Of course, "will work with Congress" is a vague term, and Congress isn't known for getting things done lately. Thus, it remains to be seen if anything substantive happens.) Obama is ordering the Dept. of Justice to make public their legal rationale for data collection, and there will be a new NSA official dedicated to transparency efforts. There will also be a new website for citizens to learn about transparency in intelligence agencies. Lastly, a group of outside experts will be convened to review the government's surveillance capabilities. Their job will include figuring out how to maintain the public's trust and prevent abuse, and to consider how the intelligence community's actions will affect foreign policy. In addition to these initiatives, President Obama made his position very clear about several different aspects of this controversy. While acknowledging that "we have significant capabilities," he said, "America is not interested in spying on ordinary people." He added that the people who have raised concerns about privacy and government overreach in a lawful manner are "patriots." This is in stark contrast to his view of leakers like Edward Snowden: "I don't think Mr. Snowden was a patriot." (For his part, Snowden says the recent shut down of encrypted email services is 'inspiring.') When asked about how his opinion of the surveillance programs have changed, he said his perception of them have not evolved since the story broke worldwide. "What you're not seeing is people actually abusing these programs." Obama also endorsed finding technological solutions that will protect privacy regardless of what government agencies want to do.
4-Billion-Year-Old Fossil Protein Resurrected
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Researchers have 'resurrected' a 4-billion-year-old Precambrian protein and found they resembled those that existed when life began, proving that protein structures have the ability to remain constant over extended periods of time.
Encrypted Email Provider Lavabit Shuts Down, Blames US Gov't
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he following explanation posted to the front page of encrypted email provider Lavabit:
"'I have been forced to make a difficult decision: to become complicit in crimes against the American people or walk away from nearly ten years of hard work by shutting down Lavabit. After significant soul searching, I have decided to suspend operations. I wish that I could legally share with you the events that led to my decision. I cannot. I feel you deserve to know what's going on--the first amendment is supposed to guarantee me the freedom to speak out in situations like this. Unfortunately, Congress has passed laws that say otherwise. As things currently stand, I cannot share my experiences over the last six weeks, even though I have twice made the appropriate requests.'
Former Director of the ISS Division At NASA Talks About Science Behind 'Elysium'
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In the new movie 'Elysium,' Earth a century and a half from now is an overtaxed slum, low on niceties like clean water and riddled with crime and sickness. The ultra-rich have abandoned terra firma in favor of Elysium, an orbital space station where the champagne flows freely and the medical care is the best possible. Mark Uhran, former director of the International Space Station Division at NASA headquarters, talked with Slashdot about what it would take (and how much it would cost) to actually build a space station like that for civilians. It turns out NASA did a report way back in 1975 describing what it would take to build a Stanford torus space station like the one in the movie: rotation for artificial gravity, a separate shield for radiation and debris, the ability to mine materials from astroids or possibly the moon, and $190.8 billion in 1975 dollars (the equivalent of $828.11 billion today). Looks like the ultra-rich are stuck on Earth for the time being." And still artificial gravity experiments languish.
DEA Program "More Troubling" Than NSA
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Reuters is reporting on a secret effort by the Drug Enforcement Agency to collect data from wiretaps, informants, and other sources. Considered most troubling is a systematic campaign to hide this program from the courts, denying defendants their right to know how evidence against them was obtained. This agenda targets U.S. citizens directly, as it is mainly focused on drug trafficking. From the article: 'Although these cases rarely involve national security issues, documents reviewed by Reuters show that law enforcement agents have been directed to conceal how such investigations truly begin - not only from defense lawyers but also sometimes from prosecutors and judges. The undated documents show that federal agents are trained to "recreate" the investigative trail to effectively cover up where the information originated, a practice that some experts say violates a defendant's Constitutional right to a fair trial. If defendants don't know how an investigation began, they cannot know to ask to review potential sources of exculpatory evidence - information that could reveal entrapment, mistakes or biased witnesses.'
Snowden and the Fate of the Internet As a Global Network
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Turns out that all those conspiracy theorists were right. :-(
John Naughton writes in the Guardian that the insight that seems to have escaped most of the world's mainstream media regarding the revelations from Edward Snowden is how the US has been able to bend nine US internet companies to its demands for access to their users' data proving that no US-based internet company can be trusted to protect our privacy or data. 'The fact is that Google, Facebook, Yahoo, Amazon, Apple and Microsoft are all integral components of the US cyber-surveillance system,' writes Naughton. 'Nothing, but nothing, that is stored in their "cloud" services can be guaranteed to be safe from surveillance or from illicit downloading by employees of the consultancies employed by the NSA.' This spells the end of the internet as a truly global network. 'It was always a possibility that the system would eventually be Balkanised, ie divided into a number of geographical or jurisdiction-determined subnets as societies such as China, Russia, Iran and other Islamic states decided that they needed to control how their citizens communicated. Now, Balkanisation is a certainty.' Naughton adds that given what we now know about how the US has been abusing its privileged position in the global infrastructure, the idea that the western powers can be allowed to continue to control it has become untenable. 'Why would you pay someone else to hold your commercial or other secrets, if you suspect or know they are being shared against your wishes?' writes Neelie Kroes, vice-president of the European Commission. 'Front or back door it doesn't matter any smart person doesn't want the information shared at all. Customers will act rationally, and providers will miss out on a great opportunity.'
Plants Communicate Using Fungi
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In response to aphid attacks, some plants produce chemicals that repel the aphids and attract wasps, the aphids' natural enemies. Researchers at the University of Aberdeen have shown that plants attacked by aphids can communicate that information to neighboring plants via existing networks of fungi in the soil. Thus fungal symbiosis with plants is shown to be taken one step further: not only do they provide nutrients to plants, they also function as communication hardware.
Paper: Evolution Favors Cooperation Over Selfishness
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Conventional wisdom has suggested selfishness is most beneficial evolutionary strategy for humans, while cooperation is suboptimal. This dovetailed with a political undercurrent dating back more than a century, starting with social Darwinism. A new paper in the journal Nature Communications casts doubt on this school of thought. The paper shows that while selfishness is optimal in the short term, it fails in the long term. Cooperation is seen as the most effective long term human evolutionary strategy.
Watch the Crab Nebula Expand Over a 13 Year Period
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A thousand years ago, the light from the explosion of a massive star reached the Earth. We now call this supernova remnant the Crab Nebula, and a new image of the Crab taken by astronomer Adam Blockshows the physical expansion of the debris, made obvious in a short video comparing his 2012 observations with some taken in 1999. The outward motion of filaments and knots in the material can be easily traced even over this relatively short time baseline.
Saturn's Tidal Tugs Energize Enceladus' Icy Plumes
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Giant plumes of water vapor and ice particles blast from geysers on Saturn's moon Enceladus but scientists have often wondered why the relatively diminutive moon, which measures only 310 miles across, wasn't frozen solid. They also began creating computer models to try to unravel the physics behind the stunning geological phenomenon. Now, after analyzing 252 images of Enceladus' plumes, scientists have part of the answer: Gravitational variations during the moon's slightly eccentric, 1.37-day orbit around Saturn create tidal forces that directly impact how much material is shot into space from four fissures around the moon's south pole. 'It's not a subtle variation. You can look at some of the images and you can actually see it with your eyes. It's very dramatic,' said planetary scientist Matthew Hedman.
Remember the Computer Science Past Or Be Condemned To Repeat It?
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In the movie Groundhog Day, a weatherman finds himself living the same day over and over again. It's a tale to which software-designers-of-a-certain-age can relate. Like Philip Greenspun, who wrote in 1999, 'One of the most painful things in our culture is to watch other people repeat earlier mistakes. We're not fond of Bill Gates, but it still hurts to see Microsoft struggle with problems that IBM solved in the 1960s.' Or Dave Winer, who recently observed, 'We marvel that the runtime environment of the web browser can do things that we had working 25 years ago on the Mac.' And then there's Scott Locklin, who argues in a new essay that one of the problems with modern computer technology is that programmers don't learn from the great masters. 'There is such a thing as a Beethoven or Mozart of software design,' Locklin writes. 'Modern programmers seem more familiar with Lady Gaga. It's not just a matter of taste and an appreciation for genius. It's a matter of forgetting important things.' Hey, maybe it's hard to learn from computer history when people don't acknowledge the existence of someone old enough to have lived it, as panelists reportedly did at an event held by Mark Zuckerberg's FWD.us last Friday!
GMO Oranges? Altering a Fruit's DNA To Save It
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A fairly balanced article on the issues surrounding GMO food.
A New York Times story says the Florida orange crop is threatened by an incurable disease and traces the efforts of one company to insert a spinach gene in orange trees to fend it off. Not clear if consumers will go for it though." The article focuses on oranges, but touches on the larger world of GMO crop creation as well.
Same Programs + Different Computers = Different Weather Forecasts
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Most major weather services (US NWS, Britain's Met Office, etc) have their own supercomputers, and their own weather models. But there are some models which are used globally. A new paper has been published, comparing outputs from one such program on different machines around the world. Apparently, the same code, running on different machines, can produce different outputs due to accumulation of differing round-off errors. The handling of floating-point numbers in computing is a field in its own right. The paper apparently deals with 10-day weather forecasts. Weather forecasts are generally done in steps of 1 hour. I.e. the output from hour 1 is used as the starting condition for the hour 2 forecast. The output from hour 2 is used as the starting condition for hour 3, etc. The paper is paywalled, but the abstract says: 'The global model program (GMP) of the Global/Regional Integrated Model system (GRIMs) is tested on 10 different computer systems having different central processing unit (CPU) architectures or compilers. There exist differences in the results for different compilers, parallel libraries, and optimization levels,primarily due to the treatment of rounding errors by the different software systems. The system dependency, which is the standard deviation of the 500-hPa geopotential height averaged over the globe, increases with time. However, its fractional tendency, which is the change of the standard deviation relative to the value itself, remains nearly zero with time. In a seasonal prediction framework, the ensemble spread due to the differences in software system is comparable to the ensemble spread due to the differences in initial conditions that is used for the traditional ensemble forecasting.'
Feds Allegedly Demanding User Passwords From Services
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For those of you who think there might still be some privacy left in the world ...
Following the /. story on the Feds demanding SSL keys, now comes news that the feds are demanding user passwords, and in some cases, the encryption algorithm and salt used. From the article: 'A second person who has worked at a large Silicon Valley company confirmed that it received legal requests from the federal government for stored passwords. Companies "really heavily scrutinize" these requests, the person said. "There's a lot of 'over my dead body.'" ... Some of the government orders demand not only a user's password but also the encryption algorithm and the so-called salt, according to a person familiar with the requests. ... Other orders demand the secret question codes often associated with user accounts.' I'm next expecting to see the regulation or law demanding that all users use plain text for all web transactions, to catch terrorists and for the children
Unique Howls Are What Wolves Use As Names
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Each wolf has a unique howl, which scientists can now decipher through voice recognition (audio), allowing them to identify wolves individually. The scientists developed sound analysis code that can tell which wolf is howling with 100% accuracy. Previously, pitch was used to tell wolves apart, but these only achieved a relatively low accuracy rate. This sound analysis is important because it could well give researchers the first proper way to effectively monitor wolves in the wild. Interestingly, this research comes after the recent finding that dolphins have names for one another. In the case of wolves, their howls are essentially their names.
What is wrong with movies these days?
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Does anyone else see a connection between these two stories? Has anyone seen a really new movie? One that isn't a sequel or a remake or based on a book, comic, video game, or whatever.

The Book That Is Making All Movies the Same

This Slate story explains how a 2005 book has led to all Hollywood movies following the same structure to a depressing extent. From the article: '...Summer movies are often described as formulaic. But what few people know is that there is actually a formulaone that lays out, on a page-by-page basis, exactly what should happen when in a screenplay. Its as if a mad scientist has discovered a secret process for making a perfect, or at least perfectly conventional, summer blockbuster. The formula didnt come from a mad scientist. Instead it came from a screenplay guidebook, Save the Cat! The Last Book on Screenwriting Youll Ever Need. In the book, author Blake Snyder, a successful spec screenwriter who became an influential screenplay guru, preaches a variant on the basic three-act structure that has dominated blockbuster filmmaking since the late 1970s.' I've always known we could be manipulated but this provides a segment by segment, almost minute by minute, guide how to do it.

Hollywood's Love of Analytics Couldn't Prevent Six Massive Blockbuster Flops

In June, Steven Spielberg predicted that Hollywood was on the verge of an 'implosion' in which 'three or four or maybe even a half-dozen megabudget movies are going to go crashing to the ground.' The resulting destruction, he added, could change the film industry in radical and possibly unwelcome ways. And sooner than he may have thought, the implosion has arrived: in the past couple weeks, six wannabe blockbusters have cratered at the North American box office: 'R.I.P.D.,' 'After Earth,' 'White House Down,' 'Pacific Rim,' and 'The Lone Ranger.' These films featured big stars, bigger explosions, and top-notch special effectsexactly the sort of summer spectacle that ordinarily assures a solid run at the box office. Yet all of them failed to draw in the massive audiences needed to earn back their gargantuan budgets. Hollywood's more reliant than ever on analytics to predict how movies will do, and even Google has taken some baby-steps into that arena with a white paper describing how search-query patterns and paid clicks can estimate how well a movie will do on its opening weekend, but none of that data seems to be helping Hollywood avoid shooting itself in the foot with a 'Pacific Rim'-sized plasma cannon. In other words, analytics can help studios refine their rollout strategy for new filmsbut the bulk of box-office success ultimately comes down to the most elusive and unquantifiable of things: knowing what the audience wants before it does, and a whole lot of luck.
Self-Assembling Multi-Copter Demonstrates Networked Flight Control
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Researchers at ETH Zurich have demonstrated an amazing capability for small robots to self-assemble and take to the air as a multi-rotor helicopter. Maximilian Kriegleder and Raymond Oung worked with Professor Raffaello D'Andrea at his research lab to develop the small hexagonal pods thatassemble into flying rafts. The true accomplishment of this research is that there is not one robot in control each unit in itself decides what actions to take to keep the group in the air in what's known as Distributed Flight Array.
Confirmed: F-1 Rocket Engine Salvaged By Amazon's Bezos Is From Apollo 11
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The folks at Bezos Expeditions have confirmed that faintly visible serial numbers on one of the large engine components they lifted from three miles below the ocean's surface match the serial number of F-1 engine F-6044, which flew in the center position on Saturn V number SA-506 Apollo 11. With the 44th anniversary of the first lunar landing coming up tomorrow, the confirmation comes at an auspicious time. The F-1 engine remains to this day the largest single-chamber liquid fueled engine ever produced although NASA is considering using a newer uprated design designated as the F-1Bto help boost future heavy-lift rockets into orbit.
When Metadata Analytics Goes Awry
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When blogger Dan Tynan started seeing lots of Latvians in his LinkedIn People You May Know list, it was pretty funny, considering he'd never been to Latvia or ever met anyone from there. But now thatshadowy spy agencies are using algorithms similar to LinkedIn's to see if we're terrorists, mistakes like this are a lot scarier. From the article: 'More than ever -- and online in particular -- who you know can be more important than who you are. In fact, who somebody thinks you know may be more important than who you are, especially if that somebody is a faceless government bureaucracy with limitless power to izjaukt savu dzvi (mess up your life).'
Research Suggests Mars Once Had a Thick Atmosphere
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At one time, Mars had a thick, protective atmosphere possibly even cushier than Earth's but the bubble of gases mostly dissipated about 4 billion years ago and has never been replenished, new research shows. The findings come from NASA's Mars rover Curiosity, which has been moonlighting as an atmospheric probe as it scours planet's surface for habitats that could have supported ancient microbial life. 'On Earth, our magnetic field protects us, it shields us from the solar wind particles. Without Earth's magnetic field, we would have no atmosphere and there would be no life on this planet. Everything would be wiped out especially when you go back 4 billion years. The solar wind was at least 100 times stronger then than it is today. It was a young sun with a very intense radiation,' Chris Webster, manager of the Planetary Sciences Instruments Office at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., told Discovery News. Unfortunately for Mars, the last 4 billion years have not been kind.
Very Large Telescope Observes Gas Cloud Being Ripped Apart By Black Hole
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New observations (PDF) from ESO's Very Large Telescope show for the first time a gas cloud being ripped apart by the supermassive black hole at the center of the galaxy. The cloud is now so stretched that its front part has passed the closest point and is traveling away from the black hole at more than 10 million km/h, whilst the tail is still falling towards it.
Oldest Lunar Calendar Found In Scotland
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The BBC reports that Archaeologists believe they have discovered the world's oldest lunar 'calendar' in an Aberdeenshire field. Excavations of a field at Crathes Castle found a series of 12 pits which appear to mimic the phases of the moon and track lunar months. A team led by the University of Birmingham suggests the ancient monument was created by hunter-gatherers about 10,000 years ago. The pit alignment, at Warren Field, was first excavated in 2004. The experts who analyzed the pits said they may have contained a wooden post. The Mesolithic calendar is thousands of years older than previous known formal time-measuring monuments created in Mesopotamia. The analysis has been published in the journal, Internet Archaeology
NSA Spying Hurts California's Business
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makes the argument that California's economic life depends on global connections. 'Our leading industries shipping, tourism, technology, and entertainment could not survive, much less prosper, without the trust and goodwill of foreigners. We are home to two of the world's busiest container ports, and we are a leading exporter of engineering, architectural, design, financial, insurance, legal, and educational services. All of our signature companies Apple, Google, Facebook, Oracle, Intel, Hewlett-Packard, Chevron, Disney rely on sales and growth overseas. And our families and workplaces are full of foreigners; more than one in four of us were born abroad, and more than 50 countries have diaspora populations in California of more than 10,000.' It quotes John Dvorak: 'Our companies have billions and billions of dollars in overseas sales and none of the American companies can guarantee security from American spies. Does anyone but me think this is a problem for commerce?' It points out that: 'Asian governments and businesses are now moving their employees and systems off Google's Gmail and other U.S.-based systems, according to Asian news reports. German prosecutors are investigating some of the American surveillance. The issue is becoming a stumbling block in negotiations with the European Union over a new trade agreement. Technology experts are warning of a big loss of foreign business.' The article goes on to suggest that perhaps a California constitutional amendment confirming privacy rights might help (but would not guarantee a stop to Federal snooping).
What Medical Tests Should Teach Us About the NSA Surveillance Program
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In many ways finding the small amount of terrorists within the United States is like screening a population of people for a rare disease. A physician explains why collecting excessive data is actually dangerous. Each time a test is run, the number of people incorrectly identified quickly dwarfs the correct matches. Just like in medicine, being incorrectly labelled has serious consequences.
Got Malware? Get a Hammer!
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After the Economic Development Administration (EDA) was alerted by the DHS to a possible malware infection, they took extraordinary measures. Fearing a targeted attack by a nation-state, they shut down their entire IT operations, isolating their network from the outside world, disabling their email services and leaving their regional offices high and dry, unable to access the centrally-stored databases. A security contractor ultimately declared the systems largely clean, finding only six computers infected with untargeted, garden-variety malware and easily repaired by reimaging. But that wasn't enough for the EDA: taking gross incompetence to a whole new level, they proceeded tophysically destroy $170,500 worth of equipment (PDF), including uninfected systems, printers, cameras, keyboards and mice. After the destruction was halted only because they ran out of money to continue smashing up perfectly good hardware they had racked up a total of $2.3 million in service costs, temporary infrastructure acquisitions and equipment destruction.
Solar Powered Plane Completes Cross-Country Flight
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The Solar Impulse, a solar powered aircraft, landed at New York's John F. Kennedy International Airport completing its historic cross-country flight. From the article: 'The flight plan for the revolutionary plane, powered by some 11,000 solar cells on its oversized wings, had called for it to pass the Statue of Liberty before landing early Sunday at New York. But an unexpected tear discovered on the left wing of the aircraft Saturday afternoon forced officials to scuttle the fly-by and proceed directly to JFK for a landing three hours earlier than scheduled. Pilot Andre Borschberg trumpeted the milestone of a plane capable of flying during the day and night, powered by solar energy, crossing the U.S. without the use of fuel.'
Landing On an Asteroid Might Cause an Avalanche
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As if landing on an asteroid wouldn't be dangerous enough, a new microgravity experiment on the forces generated by an asteroid and its make-up suggests landing on one may cause a big avalanche. The rubble and dust covering asteroids and comets can feel changes in what is known as 'force-chains' between particles over much larger distances than on Earth, making these surfaces less stable than previously imagined, said Dr. Ben Rozitis of the Open University, who presented his experiment's findings (abstract) on July 4 at the National Astronomy Meeting.
EU Parliament Supports Suspending US Data Sharing
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As seen previously here on Slashdot, the European Parliament was to vote on 'whether existing data sharing agreements between the two continents should be suspended, following allegations that U.S. intelligence spied on E.U. citizens.' With the votes now having been cast, the result is 483 in favor of the resolution and 98 against, while 65 abstained. The resolution in question in part called for the U.S. 'to suspend and review any laws and surveillance programs that "violate the fundamental right of E.U. citizens to privacy and data protection," as well as Europe's "sovereignty and jurisdiction."' It also decided that the E.U. should investigate the surveillance of E.U. citizens, and finally gave backing to the European Commision in case they should decide to suspend the data sharing deals currently in place with the U.S., such as the Passenger Name Record and Terrorist Finance Tracking Program agreements. The question now is whether the E.U. commision will go through with suspending these deals or not.
How NASA Steers the Int'l Space Station Around Asteroids & Other Debris
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I got to sit down with ISS TOPO Flight Controller Josh Parris at the Houston Mission Control Center and talk about how NASA steers all 400 tons of the International Space Station around potential collisions, or 'conjunctions,' in NASA-parlance. The TOPO controller, with assistance from USSTRATCOM's big radars, keeps track of every object that will pass within a 'pizza-box'-shaped 50km x 50km x 4km perimeter around the ISS. Actually moving the station is done with a combination of large control moment gyros and thrusters on both the Zvezda module and visiting vehicles. It's a surprisingly complex operation!
USPS Logs All Snail Mail For Law Enforcement
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The NY Times reports on a program in use by the United States Postal Service that photographs the exterior of every piece of mail going through the system and keeps it for law enforcement agencies. While the volume of snail mail is dropping, there were still over 160 billion pieces of mail last year. "The Mail Isolation Control and Tracking program was created after the anthrax attacks in late 2001 that killed five people, including two postal workers. Highly secret, it seeped into public view last month when the F.B.I. cited it in its investigation of ricin-laced letters sent to President Obama and Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg. It enables the Postal Service to retroactively track mail correspondence at the request of law enforcement. No one disputes that it is sweeping." This is in addition to the "mail covers" program, which has been used to keep tabs on mailings sent to and from suspicious individuals for over a century. "For mail cover requests, law enforcement agencies simply submit a letter to the Postal Service, which can grant or deny a request without judicial review. Law enforcement officials say the Postal Service rarely denies a request. In other government surveillance program, such as wiretaps, a federal judge must sign off on the requests. The mail cover surveillance requests are granted for about 30 days, and can be extended for up to 120 days. There are two kinds of mail covers: those related to criminal activity and those requested to protect national security. The criminal activity requests average 15,000 to 20,000 per year, said law enforcement officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they are prohibited by law from discussing the requests. The number of requests for antiterrorism mail covers has not been made public."
Google Street View Backpack Now Available To Volunteers
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"If you're a tourism board, non-profit, university, research organization or other third party who can gain access and help collect imagery of hard to reach places, you can apply to borrow the Trekker and help map the world."
You can also help map the world (albeit without the very neat Trekker backpack cam) without an application process via OpenStreetMap. But if you had access to a panoramic camera like this, what places or spaces would you want to capture? I hope there will be street view imagery of Petra, but I don't see any yet.
Voyager 1 Finds Unexpected Wrinkles At the Edge Of the Solar System
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Voyager 1 has been close to the boundary of the solar system for quite a while; we've mentioned that the edge is near a few times before, including an evidently premature report in 2010 that Voyager had reached a distance so far from the sun that it could no longer detect solar winds and another in 2011 that it had reached an "outer shell" of solar influence. It turns out that the boundaries of the solar system are fuzzier than once anticipated; the L.A. Times is reporting that "Toward the end of July 2012, Voyager 1's instruments reported that solar winds had suddenly dropped by half, while the strength of the magnetic field almost doubled, according to the studies. Those values then switched back and forth five times before they became fixed on Aug. 25. Since then, solar winds have all but disappeared, but the direction of the magnetic field has barely budged." Also at Wired, which notes "That's hard to explain because the galaxy's magnetic field is thought to be inclined 60 degrees from the sun's field. No one is entirely sure what's going on. ... [It's] almost as if Voyager thought it was going outside but instead found itself standing in the foyer of the sun's home with an open door that allows wind to blow in from the galaxy."
Scientists Work To Produce 'Star Trek' Deflector Shields
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This might be useful. From CNN: 'Recent evidence from NASA's Curiosity rover mission to the Red Planet has revealed that astronauts on the round-trip would be exposed to high levels of radiation from cosmic rays and high-energy particles from the sun ... this would clearly be bad for your health — and it is proving difficult to find a solution. ... [S]hielding to completely block the radiation danger would have to be "meters thick" and too heavy to be used aboard a spacecraft. In contrast, ... science fiction fans have once again got used to the ease with which Captain Kirk gives the order for "shields up" and the crew of the Enterprise being protected instantly from the hostility of space. Perhaps though, a real Star Trek shield may no longer be science fiction — scientists at the UK's Rutherford Appleton Laboratory (RAL) certainly think so. They have been testing a lightweight system to protect astronauts and spacecraft components from harmful radiation and working with colleagues in America to design a concept spaceship called Discovery that could take astronauts to the Moon or Mars. "Star Trek has great ideas — they just don't have to build it," said Ruth Bamford, lead researcher for the deflector shield project at RAL. ... The RAL plan is to create an environment around the spacecraft that mimics the Earth's magnetic field and recreates the protection we enjoy on the ground — they call it a mini magnetosphere." Related: 'Deflector Shields' protect the Lunar Surface.'
Cute Japanese Robots To Be Launched Into Space
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This summer, the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) plans to launch two amazingly cute yet advanced, white-helmeted robots into space. Then an astronaut aboard the International Space Station (ISS) will attempt to converse with one of them. Robot astronaut Kirobo and backup robot Mirata were created as part of the Kibo Robot Project, a collaboration among Robo Garage, Toyota, the University of Tokyo and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency JAXA. They aim to send the robots with the JAXA mission to the ISS on Aug. 4
Analyzing Congress's Multiple Approaches To Patent Reform
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Patent reform is becoming an unavoidable issue — and the United States Congress is taking note. But the scope and scale of the problem have prompted multiple legislative solutions, and keeping track of them all can be rather difficult. Mark Bohannon, Vice President of Corporate Affairs and Global Public Policy at Red Hat, provides an overview of four important legislative actions currently under consideration, offering clear and concise analysis of their goals and provisions. He also assesses their potential impacts. 'Given the widening attacks by PAEs [Patent Assertion Entities],' Bohannon concludes, 'it is essential that Congress work to produce meaningful legislation on at least the issues identified above in order to begin to stem the tide.'
NSA Releases Secret Pre-History of Computers
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The National Security Agency has declassified an eye-opening pre-history of computers used for code-breaking between the 1930s and 1960s. The 344 page report, entitled It Wasn't All Magic: The Early Struggle to Automate Cryptanalysis (pdf), it is available on the Government Attic web site. Government Attic has also just posted a somewhat less declassified NSA compendium from 1993: A Collection of Writings on Traffic Analysis. (pdf)
21 Financial Sites Found To Store Sensitive Data In Browser Disk Cache
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The LA Times mentions that after visiting well known sites such as ADP, Verizon Wireless, Scottrade, Geico, Equifax, PayPal and Allstate, sensitive data remains in the browser disk cachedespite those sites using SSL. This included full credit reports, prescription history, payroll statements, partial SSNs, credit card statements, and canceled checks. Web servers are supposed to send a Cache-Control: no-store header to prevent this, but many of the sites are sending non-standard headers recognized only by Internet Explorer, and others are sending no cache headers at all. While browsers were once cautious about writing content received over SSL to the disk cache, today, most do so by default unless the server specifies otherwise.
Microsoft Kills Xbox One Phone-Home DRM
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One of the biggest criticisms of Microsoft's recently-announced Xbox One console was that it would require an internet connection once every 24 hours in order to keep playing games. Enough people complained about the DRM, and Microsoft listened. Today, they announced that they're removing the phone-home requirement. "After a one-time system set-up with a new Xbox One, you can play any disc based game without ever connecting online again. There is no 24 hour connection requirement and you can take your Xbox One anywhere you want and play your games, just like on Xbox 360." They've also scrapped the game trading and resale system they'd built, which allowed publishers to set their own rules with regard to used game sales. "There will be no limitations to using and sharing games, it will work just as it does today on Xbox 360." Unfortunately, that also means users won't be able to take advantage of the good parts of the original system, such as trading and gifting games without needing the disc, or sharing games with remote family members. "While we believe that the majority of people will play games online and access the cloud for both games and entertainment, we will give consumers the choice of both physical and digital content. We have listened and we have heard loud and clear from your feedback that you want the best of both worlds." Also noteworthy: they've dropped region-locks as well.
U.S. House Wants 'Sustained Human Presence On the Moon and the Surface of Mars'
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From the same folks that say we can't afford meals on wheels ...
Politico reports in a June 18, 2013 story that House Republicans have added a Mars base to its demands for a lunar base in the draft 2013 NASA Authorization bill. Both the Bush-era Constellation program and President Obama space plan envisioned eventual human expeditions to Mars. But if Politico is correct, the new bill will be the first time an official piece of legislation will call for permanent habitation of the Red Planet. The actual legislative language states, 'The [NASA] Administrator shall establish a program to develop a sustained human presence on the Moon and the surface of Mars.'
Millions At Risk From Critical Vulnerabilities From WordPress Plugins
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For those of you who are bloggers, you might want to be very careful:
"Checkmarx's research lab identified that more than 20% of the 50 most popular WordPress plugins are vulnerable to common Web attacks, such as SQL Injection. Furthermore, a concentrated research into e-commerce plugins revealed that 7 out of the 10 most popular e-commerce plugins contain vulnerabilities. This is the first time that such a comprehensive survey was prepared to test the state of security of the leading plugins." It does seem that Wordpress continues to be a particularly perilous piece of software to run. When popularity and unsafe languages collide.
PDP-11 Still Working In Nuclear Plants - For 37 More Years
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I was working at Carnegie-Mellon when the PDP-11 came out. It ran RSTS, an interpretive O/S with built in BASIC.
"Most of the younger /. readers never heard of the PDP-11, while we geezers have to retrieve bits and pieces of our affairs with PDP-11 from the vast warehouse inside our memory lanes." From the article: "HP might have nuked OpenVMS, but its parent, PDP-11, is still spry and powering GE nuclear power-plant robots and will do for another 37 years. That's right: PDP-11 assembler programmers are hard to find, but the nuclear industry is planning on keeping them until 2050 long enough for a couple of generations of programmers to come and go." Not sure about the OpenVMS vs PDP comparison, but it's still amusing that a PDP might outlast all of the VAX machines.
Ancient Roman Concrete Is About To Revolutionize Modern Architecture
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You can't stand in the way of progress. Even when it goes backward. ;^)
After 2,000 years, a long-lost secret behind the creation of one of the world's most durable man-made creations ever - Roman concrete - has finally been discovered by an international team of scientists, and it may have a significant impact on how we build cities of the future. Researchers have analyzed 11 harbors in the Mediterranean basin where, in many cases, 2,000-year-old (and sometimes older) headwaters constructed out of Roman concrete stand perfectly intact despite constant pounding by the sea. The most common blend of modern concrete, known as Portland cement, a formulation in use for nearly 200 years, can't come close to matching that track record. In seawater, it has a service life of less than 50 years. After that, it begins to erode. The secret to Roman concrete lies in its unique mineral formulation and production technique. As the researchers explain in a press release outlining their findings, 'The Romans made concrete by mixing lime and volcanic rock. For underwater structures, lime and volcanic ash were mixed to form mortar, and this mortar and volcanic tuff were packed into wooden forms. The seawater instantly triggered a hot chemical reaction. The lime was hydrated - incorporating water molecules into its structure - and reacted with the ash to cement the whole mixture together.'
Congress Proposes Strategy For Fighting Patent Trolls
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Congressman Charles Schumer has written a piece decrying the evils of patent trolls. 'Because of the high cost of patent litigationthe average litigation defense costs a small or midsize company $1.75 millionit is often marginally cheaper for a defendant to pay up front to make the case go away. The average settlement for the same group of companies is $1.33 million....Patent trolls cost U.S. companies $29 billion in 2011 alone.' His solution? Make it easier for low quality patents to be re-examined and rejected by the patent office.
Video Gamers See the World Differently
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Hours spent at the video gaming console not only train a player's hands to work the buttons on the controller, they probably also train the brain to make better and faster use of visual input, according to Duke University researchers (abstract). 'Gamers see the world differently,' said Greg Appelbaum, an assistant professor of psychiatry in the Duke School of Medicine. 'They are able to extract more information from a visual scene.' ... Each participant was run though a visual sensory memory task that flashed a circular arrangement of eight letters for just one-tenth of a second. After a delay ranging from 13 milliseconds to 2.5 seconds, an arrow appeared, pointing to one spot on the circle where a letter had been. Participants were asked to identify which letter had been in that spot. At every time interval, intensive players of action video games outperformed non-gamers in recalling the letter.
Google Asks Government For More Transparency, Other Groups Push Back Against NSA
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In an open letter addressed to U.S. attorney general Eric Holder and FBI director Robert Mueller, Google chief legal officer David Drummond again insisted that reports of his company freely offering user data to the NSA and other agencies were untrue. 'However,' he wrote, 'government nondisclosure obligations regarding the number of FISA national security requests that Google receives, as well as the number of accounts covered by those requests, fuel that speculation.' In light of that, Drummond had a request of the two men: 'We therefore ask you to help make it possible for Google to publish in our Transparency Report aggregate numbers of national security requests, including FISA disclosuresin terms of both the number we receive and their scope.' Apparently Google's numbers would show 'that our compliance with these requests falls far short of the claims being made.' Google, Drummond added, 'has nothing to hide.'
Another open letter was sent to Congress from a variety of internet companies and civil liberties groups, (headlined by Mozilla, the EFF, the ACLU, and the FSF), asking them to enact legislation to prohibit the kind of surveillance apparently going on at the NSA and to hold accountable the people who implemented it. (A bipartison group of senators has just come forth with legislation that would end such surveillance.) In addition to the letter, the ACLU sent a lawsuit as well, directed at President Obama, Eric Holder, the NSA, Verizon and the Dept. of Justice (filing, PDF). They've also asked (PDF) for a release of court records relevant to the scandal. Mozilla has also launched Stopwatching.us, a campaign to "demand a full accounting of the extent to which our online data, communications and interactions are being monitored." Other reactions: Tim Berners-Lee is against it, Australia's Foreign Minister doesn't mind it, the European Parliament has denounced it, and John Oliver is hilarious about it (video). Meanwhile, Edward Snowden, the whistleblower who leaked the information about the NSA's surveillance program, is being praised widely as a hero and a patriot. There's already a petition on Whitehouse.gov to pardon him for his involvement, and it's already reached half the required number of signatures for a response from the Obama administration.
Cisco and iRobot Create Sheldonbot-Like Telepresence System
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Cisco has teamed up with robotics firm iRobot to create their own enterprise version of the 'Sheldonbot' from US comedy series The Big Bang Theory. The robot, known as Ava 500, brings together iRobot's autonomous navigation with Cisco's TelePresence system to enable a remote worker sitting in front of a video collaboration system to meet with colleagues in an office setting or take part in a facility tour.
NASA's "Opportunity" Rover Finds New Evidence For Once-Habitable Mars
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NASA's Mars rover 'Opportunity' found clay minerals in an ancient rock on the rim of the Endeavour Crater on Mars. The discovery suggests that neutral-pH water - slightly salty, and neither too acidic nor too alkaline for life - once flowed through the area, probably during the first billion years of Martian history. Opportunity's latest discovery fits well with one made recently on the other side of the planet by the rover's bigger, younger cousin Curiosity, which found strong evidence that its landing site could have supported microbial life in the ancient past. Such observations could help scientists map out Mars' transition from a relatively warm and wet world long ago to the cold and dry planet we know today
White House Announces Reforms Targeting Patent Trolls
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According to Politico (and, paywalled, at The Wall Street Journal), the White House on Tuesday plans to announce a set of executive actions President Barack Obama will take that are aimed at reigning in certain patent-holding firms, known as 'patent trolls' to their detractors, amid concerns that the firms are abusing the patent system and disrupting competition. The plan includes five executive actions and seven legislative recommendations. They include requiring patent holders and applicants to disclose who really owns and controls the patent, changing how fees are awarded to the prevailing parties in patent litigation, and protecting consumers with better protections against being sued for patent infringement.
Confirmed: Water Once Flowed On Mars
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A new study based on observations last September by the Curiosity rover on Mars has confirmed that pebble-containing slabs of rock found on the Martian surface were part of an ancient streambed. The work provides some of the most definitive evidence yet that water once flowed on Mars. '[The pebbles'] smooth appearance is identical to gravels found in rivers on Earth. Rock fragments that bounce along the bottom of a stream of water will have their edges knocked off, and when these pebbles finally come to rest they will often align in a characteristic overlapping fashion. ...It is confirmation that water has played its part in sculpting not only this huge equatorial bowl but by implication many of the other landforms seen on the planet.' According to NASA, 'The stream carried the gravels at least a few miles, or kilometers, the researchers estimated. The atmosphere of modern Mars is too thin to make a sustained stream flow of water possible, though the planet holds large quantities of water ice. Several types of evidence have indicated that ancient Mars had diverse environments with liquid water. However, none but these rocks found by Curiosity could provide the type of stream flow information published this week. Curiosity's images of conglomerate rocks indicate that atmospheric conditions at Gale Crater once enabled the flow of liquid water on the Martian surface.'
With Money at Risk, Hospitals Push Staff to Wash Hands
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Long Island's North Shore University Hospital is using sensors and video cameras to make sure employees wash their hands, according to an article in today's New York Times. Motion sensors detect when hospital staff enter an intensive care unit, and the sensors trigger a video camera. Feeds from the video camera are transmitted to India, where workers there check to make sure staff are washing their hands. The NYT article notes that hospital workers wash their hands as little as 30 percent of the time that they interact with patients. The Big Brother like system is intended to reduce transmission of infections as well as the costs associated with treating them.
Scientists Recover Wooly Mammoth Blood
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Russian scientists claimed Wednesday they have discovered blood in the carcass of a woolly mammoth, adding that the rare find could boost their chances of cloning the prehistoric animal.' As scientists unearthed the recent find, very dark blood flowed out from beneath the mammoth, and the muscle tissue was red. This is the best-preserved specimen found so far and they are hopeful they can recover DNA and clone a mammoth. Semyon Grigoriev, one of the researchers, said, 'The approximate age of this animal is about 10,000 years old. It has been preserved thanks to the special conditions, due to the fact that it did not defrost and then freeze again. We suppose that the mammoth fell into water or got bogged down in a swamp, could not free herself and died. Due to this fact the lower part of the body, including the lower jaw, and tongue tissue, was preserved very well. The upper torso and two legs, which were in the soil, were gnawed by prehistoric and modern predators and almost did not survive.'
Computer Network Piecing Together a Jigsaw of Ancient Jewish Lore
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The New York Times and the Times of Israel report today that artificial intelligence and a network of 100 computers in a basement in Tel Aviv University are being used to match 320,000 fragments of documents dating as far back as the 9th century in an attempt to reassemble the original documents. Since the trove of documents from the Jewish community of Cairo was discovered in 1896 only about 4000 of them have been pieced together, and the hope is that the new technique, which involves taking photographs of the fragments and using image recognition and other algorithms to match the language, spacing, and handwriting style of the text along with the shape of the fragment to other fragments could revolutionize not only the study of this trove documents, which has been split up into 67 different collections around the world since it's discovery, but also how humanities disciplines study documents like these. They expect to make 12 billion comparisons of different fragments before the project is completed - they have already perform 2.8 billion. Among the documents, some dating from 950, was the discovery of letters by Moses Maimonides and that Cairene Jews were involved in the import of flax, linen, and sheep cheese from Sicily.
World's Biggest 'Agile' Software Project Close To Failure
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This is not the first time that the latest craze has crashed and burned. ;^)
'Universal Credit' the plan to consolidate all Britain's welfare payments into one is the world's biggest 'agile' software development project. It is now close to collapse, the British government admitted yesterday. The failure, if and when it comes, could cost billions and have dire social consequences. 'Some steps have been taken to try to rescue the project. The back end the benefits calculation has reportedly been shifted to a "waterfall" development process which offers some assurances that the government at least takes its fiduciary duties seriously as it should mean no code will be deployed that has not been finished. The front end the bit used by humans is still meant to be agile which makes some sense, but where is the testing? Agile is supposed to be about openness between developer and client and we the taxpayers are the clients: why cant we see what our money is paying for?'
Violent Galactic Clash May Solve Cosmic Mystery
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The mother of all cosmic collisions has been spotted between two galaxies containing a total of 400 billion stars, igniting the birth of 2,000 new stars per year! This incredible event was first spotted by the recently-retired Herschel infrared space observatory (abstract), a mission managed by the European Space Agency. This violent discovery isn't just awesome to look at, it could also help explain how massive, red elliptical galaxies evolved in the early universe.
NWS Announces Big Computer Upgrade
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After being embarrassed when the Europeans did a better job forecasting Sandy than the National Weather Service Congress allocated $25 million ($23.7 after sequestration) in the Sandy relief bill for upgrades to forecasting and supercomputer resources. The NWS announced that their main forecasting computer will be upgraded from the current 213 TeraFlops to 2,600 TFlops by fiscal year 2015, over a twelve-fold increase. The upgrade is expected to increase the horizontal grid scale by a factor of 3 allowing more precise forecasting of local features of weather. The some of the allocated funds will also be used to hire some contract scientists to improve the forecast model physics and enhance the collection and assimilation of data
Music and Movies Could Trigger Mobile Malware
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Lights, sounds and magnetic fields can be used to activate malware on phones, new research has found. The lab-style attacks defined in a paper (PDF) used pre-defined signals hidden in songs and TV programmes as a trigger to activate embedded malware. Malware once activated would carry out programmed attacks either by itself or as part of a wider botnet of mobile devices.
Medical Firm Sues IRS For 4th Amendment Violation In Records Seizure
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A healthcare provider has sued the Internal Revenue Service and 15 of its agents, charging they wrongfully seized 60 million medical records from 10 million Americans ... [The unnamed company alleges] the agency violated the Fourth Amendment in 2011, when agents executed a search warrant for financial data on one employee - and that led to the seizure of information on 10 million, including state judges. The search warrant did not specify that the IRS could take medical information, UPI said. And information technology officials warned the IRS about the potential to violate medical privacy laws before agents executed the warrant, the complaint said.
NASA Meteoroid-Spotting Program Captures Brightest-Yet Moon Impact
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From a NASA press release published Friday:
"For the past 8 years, NASA astronomers have been monitoring the Moon for signs of explosions caused by meteoroids hitting the lunar surface. 'Lunar meteor showers' have turned out to be more common than anyone expected, with hundreds of detectable impacts occurring every year. They've just seen the biggest explosion in the history of the program."
97% of Climate Science Papers Agree Global Warming Is Man-made
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A meta-study published yesterday looked at over 12,000 peer-reviewed papers on climate science that appeared in journals between 1991 and 2011. The papers were evaluated and categorized by how they implicitly or explicitly endorsed humans as a contributing cause of global warming. The meta-study found that an overwhelming 97.1% of the papers that took a stance endorsed human-cause global warming. They also asked the 1,200 of the scientists involved in the research to self-evaluate their own studies, with nearly identical results. In the interest of transparency, the meta-study results were published in an open access journal, and the researchers set up a website so that anybody can check their results. From the article: '... a memo from communications strategist Frank Luntz leaked in 2002 advised Republicans, "Should the public come to believe that the scientific issues are settled, their views about global warming will change accordingly. Therefore, you need to continue to make the lack of scientific certainty a primary issue in the debate." This campaign has been successful. A 2012 poll from U.S. Pew Research Center found less than half of Americans thought scientists agreed humans were causing global warming. The media has assisted in this public misconception, with most climate stories "balanced" with a "skeptic" perspective. However, this results in making the 23% seem like 50%. In trying to achieve "balance," the media has actually created a very unbalanced perception of reality. As a result, people believe scientists are still split about what's causing global warming, and therefore there is not nearly enough public support or motivation to solve the problem.'
Larry Page: You Worry Too Much About Medical Privacy
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Larry Page revealed that he'd been suffering from a vocal cord ailment that impaired his ability to speak for more than a year. The positive feedback he got from opening up about it inspired him to tell attendees at Google I/O that we should all be less uptight about keeping our medical records private. As far as Page is concerned, pretty much the only legitimate reason for worry on this score is fear of being denied health insurance. 'Maybe we should change the rules around insurance so that they have to insure people,' he said.
Water Isolated for Over a Billion Years Found Under Ontario
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Scientists working 2.4 kilometers below Earth's surface in a Canadian mine have tapped a source of water that has remained isolated for at least a billion years. The researchers say they do not yet know whether anything has been living in it all this time, but the water contains high levels of methane and hydrogen the right stuff to support life. Micrometer-scale pockets in minerals billions of years old can hold water that was trapped during the minerals' formation. But no source of free-flowing water passing through interconnected cracks or pores in Earth's crust has previously been shown to have stayed isolated for more than tens of millions of years (paper abstract).
Groklaw Turns Ten
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Founded just to cover the SCO/Caldera UNIX lawsuits back in 2003, Groklaw has proven itself a great place to read and discuss many of the major tech trials since. And today, it turns ten:
"We made it. A decade of Groklaw as of today. Who'd a thunk it? Not I. When I started, I thought I'd do a little fiddling around for a couple of months to learn how to blog. But then all you guys showed up and taught me some important things that I didn't know, and vice versa I hope, and here we are, on our 10th anniversary, still going strong, together on a very different path than I originally imagined. The important moment for me was when I realized the potential we had as a group and decided to try to surf this incredible wave all of you created by contributing your skills and time. I saw we could work as a group, explain technology to the legal world so lawyers and judges could make better decisions, and explain the legal process to techies, so they could avoid troubles and also could be enabled to work effectively to defend Free and Open Source Software from cynical 'Intellectual Property' attacks from the proprietary world."
This despite a smear campaign by SCO and nearly shutting down in 2009. And it's archived in the Library of Congress.
Global Warming Shifts the Earth's Poles
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Global warming is changing the location of Earth's geographic poles, according to a study published this week. Researchers at the University of Texas, Austin, report that increased melting of the Greenland ice sheet and to a lesser degree, ice loss in other parts of the globe helped to shift the North Pole several centimeters east each year since 2005. From 1982 to 2005, the pole drifted southeast towards northern Labrador, Canada, at a rate of about 2 milliarcseconds or roughly 6 centimetres per year. But in 2005, the pole changed course and began galloping east towards Greenland at a rate of more than 7 milliarcseconds per year (PDF of the paper). The results suggest that tracking polar shifts can serve as a check on current estimates of ice loss. Scientists can locate the north and south poles to within 0.03 milliarcseconds by using Global Positioning System measurements to determine the angle of Earth's spin. When mass is lost in one part of a spinning sphere, its spin axis will tilt directly towards the position of the loss exactly as the team observed for Greenland.
Microsoft Reads Your Skype Chat Messages
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Wonder how this will affect Microsoft ads complaining that Google reads Gmail.?
A Microsoft server accesses URLs sent in Skype chat messages, even if they are HTTPS URLs and contain account information. A reader of Heise publications notified Heise Security (link to German website, Google translation). They replicated the observation by sending links via Skype, including one to a private file storage account, and found that these URLs are shortly after accessed from a Microsoft IP address. When confronted, Microsoft claimed that this is part of an effort to detect and filter spam and fishing URLs.
Astronaut Chis Hadfield Performs Space Oddity On the ISS
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With updated lyrics, commander of expedition 35 on the International Space Station, Chris Hadfield, sings Space Oddity on board the ISS. He's not Bowie, but he's pretty good.
Here is a direct link to the video
Make Your Own Invisibility Cloak With a 3D Printer
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Invisibility cloaks have been around in various forms since 2006, when the first cloak based on optical metamaterials was demonstrated. The design of cloaking devices has come a long way in the past seven years, as illustrated by a simple, yet highly effective, radar cloak developed by Duke University Professor Yaroslav Urzhumov, that can be made using a hobby-level 3D printer.
Biometric Database Plans Hidden In Immigration Bill
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Buried deep in the bowels of a bi-partisan immigration reform bill is a 'photo tool.' The goal is to create a photo database consisting of every citizen. Wired calls it 'a massive federal database administered by the Department of Homeland Security and containing names, ages, Social Security numbers and photographs of everyone in the country with a drivers license or other state-issued photo ID.' Of course the database would be used only for good, and never evil. 'This piece of the Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act is aimed at curbing employment of undocumented immigrants. But privacy advocates fear the inevitable mission creep, ending with the proof of self being required at polling places, to rent a house, buy a gun, open a bank account, acquire credit, board a plane or even attend a sporting event or log on the internet.'
Hubble Discovers 'Planetary Graveyard' Around White Dwarf
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The Hubble Space Telescope has discovered rocky remains of planetary material 'polluting' the atmospheres of two white dwarfs- a sign that these stars likely have (or had) planetary systems and that asteroids are currently being shredded by extreme tidal forces. Although white dwarfs with polluted atmospheres have been observed before, this is the first time evidence of planetary systems have been discovered in stars belonging to a relatively young cluster of stars. 'We have identified chemical evidence for the building blocks of rocky planets,' said Jay Farihi of the University of Cambridge in a Hubble news release. 'When these stars were born, they built planets, and there's a good chance that they currently retain some of them. The signs of rocky debris we are seeing are evidence of this - it is at least as rocky as the most primitive terrestrial bodies in our Solar System.
Weird Geological Features Spied On Mars
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The High-Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) camera carried by NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter has spotted a strange geological feature that, for now, defies an obvious explanation. Found at the southern edge of Acidalia Planitia, small pits with raised edges appear to hug a long ridge. So far, mission scientists have ruled out impact craters and wind as formation processes, but have pegged the most likely cause to be glacial in nature.
Fermi and Swift Observe Record-setting Gamma Ray Burst
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Phys.org shares a visual image of a 'shockingly bright' gamma ray burst observed April 27th, labelled GRB 130427A and subsequently observed by ground optical and radio telescopes. One gamma ray photon from the event measured 94 billion electron volts three times the previous record. The burst lasted four hours and was observable for most of a day another record. Typical duration of a gamma ray burst is from 10 milliseconds to a few minutes. Astronomers will now train optical telescopes on the spot searching for the supernova expected to have caused it typically one is observed some few days after the burst. They expect to find one by the middle of May. The event occurred about 3.6 billion lightyears distant which is fairly close as gamma ray bursts go. Click on the GIF to view the actual burst.
Smithsonian Releases 128-Year-Old Recording of Alexander Graham Bell
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Thanks to a newly developed audio extraction technology called optical scanning, the Smithsonian was able torecover the voice of Alexander Graham Bell from one of his hundreds of discs he donated to the museum, which were once considered 'mute artifacts.' Since many of the collected recordings are very fragile due to their age and experimental nature, optical scanning is a non-invasive procedure that creates a high-resolution digital map of the disc or cylinder, which is then reconstructed and used to simulate the motion of a stylus moving through its grooves to reproduce the original audio content. Bell, who created this recording on a wax and cardboard disc on April 15, 1885, can be heard clearly saying, 'In witness whereof hear my voice, Alexander Graham Bell.'
Texas Company's Antique Computers Are For Production, Not Display
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Sparkler Filters up north in Conroe [Texas] still uses an IBM 402 in conjunction with a Model 129 key punch with the punch cards and all to do company accounting work and inventory. The company makes industrial filters for chemical plants and grease traps. Lutricia Wood is the head accountant at Sparkler and the data processing manager. She went to business school over 40 years ago in Houston, and started at Sparkler in 1973. Back then punch cards were still somewhat state of the art."
See kottke.org for an eye-popping view of one of the "programs" imagine debugging that.
3D Printers Could Actually Make Donuts Healthy
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These days, restaurant dishes can't be customized too far beyond requests to hold the dressing or to cook the meat medium-rare.
But thanks to 3D printing technology, along with the proliferation of sensors tracking our activities and tastes, future meals -- even mass-produced ones -- could be tailored specifically to suit an individual's dietary needs. A dish someone is served might even be calibrated to the calories she burned that day
What's Actually Wrong With DRM In HTML5?
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The Free Culture Foundation has posted a thorough response to the most common and misinformed defenses of the W3C's Extended Media Extensions (EME) proposal to inject DRM into HTML5. They join the EFF and FSF in a call to send a strong message to the W3C that DRM in HTML5 undermines the W3C's self-stated mission to make the benefits of the Web 'available to all people, whatever their hardware, software, network infrastructure, native language, culture, geographical location, or physical or mental ability.' The FCF counters the three most common myths by unpacking some quotes which explain that 1.) DRM is not about protecting copyright. That is a straw man. DRM is about limiting the functionality of devices and selling features back in the form of services. 2.) DRM in HTML5 doesn't obsolete proprietary, platform-specific browser plug-ins; it encourages them. 3.) the Web doesn't need big media; big media needs the Web.
Also: the FSF has announced that a coalition of 27 web freedom organizations have sent a joint letter to the W3Copposing DRM support in HTML5.
Lawrence Lessig: We the People, and the Republic we must reclaim
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There is a corruption at the heart of American politics, caused by the dependence of Congressional candidates on funding from the tiniest percentage of citizens. That's the argument at the core of this blistering talk by legal scholar Lawrence Lessig. With rapid-fire visuals, he shows how the funding process weakens the Republic in the most fundamental way, and issues a rallying bipartisan cry that will resonate with many in the U.S. and beyond.
Privately Built Antares Test Flight Successfully Launched From Virginia
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After high winds (up to 140mph) delayed yesterday's scheduled launch (itself a re-do because of a cabling problem), Orbital Science's Antares rocket has made it to space. This launch was a test run, but Antares is intended to launch supplies to the ISS. Space.com reports:
"The third try was the charm for the private Antares rocket, which launched into space from a new pad at NASA's Wallops Flight Facility, its twin engines roaring to life at 5 p.m. EDT (2100 GMT) to carry a mock cargo ship out over the Atlantic Ocean and into orbit. The successful liftoff came after two delays caused by a minor mechanical glitch and bad weather."
Tracking Whole Colonies Shows Ants Make Career Moves
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Researchers have tagged every single worker in entire colonies and used a computer to track them, accumulating what they say is the largest-ever data set on ant interactions. The biologists have found that the workers fall into three social groups that perform different roles: nursing the queen and young; cleaning the colony; and foraging for food. The insects, they found, tend to graduate from one group to another as they age. By creating heat maps to represent the workers' positions, Mersch's team showed that nurses and foragers stick to their own company and seldom mix, even if the colony's entrance and brood chamber are close together (abstract). Cleaners are more widely dispersed, patrolling the whole colony and interacting with both of the other groups. 'The ants can probably be in any place within their enclosures in less than a minute,' says Mersch, 'but even in these simple spaces, they organize into these spatial groups.'
Kepler-62 Has 2 Good Candidate Planets In the Search for Life
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About 1,200 light-years from Earth, five planets are circling around sun-like star Kepler-62, two of which are fortuitously positioned for water, if any exists, to remain liquid on their surfaces a condition believed to be necessary for life. The discovery, made by scientists using NASA's planet-hunting Kepler space telescope, is the strongest evidence yet for more than one Earth-sized planet existing in a star's so-called 'habitable' zone. 'We're particularly delighted to find that there are two planets in the habitable zone,' lead Kepler scientist William Borucki, with NASA's Ames Research Center in California, told Discovery News. 'It sort of doubles our chances of finding that Earth we'd all like to find. When you think about Earth and Mars, if Mars had been a bit larger, if Jupiter hadn't been so close, we'd again have two planets in the habitable zone and maybe we'd have a place to go,' he said."
There's also a third planet believed to be a good candidate for hosting water.
Oh Look, Rep. Mike Rogers Wife Stands To Benefit Greatly From CISPA Passing...
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It would appear that Rep. Mike Rogers, the main person in Congress pushing for CISPA, has kept rather quiet about a very direct conflict of interest that calls into serious question the entire bill. It would appear that Rogers' wife stands to benefit quite a lot from the passage of CISPA, and has helped in the push to get the bill passed. It's somewhat amazing that no one has really covered this part of the story, but it highlights, yet again, the kind of activities by folks in Congress that make the public trust Congress less and less.
Rep. Mike Rogers Dismisses CISPA Opponents "14 Year Old Tweeter On the Internet"
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Mike Rodgers made a minor splash Tuesday when he decided to liken CISPA opponents to 14-year-old basement dwellers. The EFF, naturally, picked up on this generalization and asked everyone to let the representative know that it is not just the 14-year-olds that care about privacy.
Excel Error Contributes To Problems With Austerity Study
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Many politicians, especially in Europe, have used the idea that economic growth is impeded by debt levels above 90% of GDP to justify austerity measures. The academic justification came from a paper and a book by Kenneth Rogoff and Carmen Reinhart. Now researchers at U Mass at Amherst have refuted the study - they find that not only was the data tainted by bad statistics, it also had an Excel error . Apparently when averaging a few GDP numbers in an excel sheet, they did not drag down the cell ranges down properly, excluding Belgium. Thesupporting website for the book 'This time it is different' has lots of financial information if a reader might want to replicate some of the results.
"The Excel error is making the rounds as the cause of the problems with the study, but it's actually a minor component. The study also ignores some post-WWII data for countries that had a high debt load and high growth, and there's some fishy weighting going on: "The U.K. has 19 years (1946-1964) above 90 percent debt-to-GDP with an average 2.4 percent growth rate. New Zealand has one year in their sample above 90 percent debt-to-GDP with a growth rate of -7.6. These two numbers, 2.4 and -7.6 percent, are given equal weight in the final calculation, as they average the countries equally. Even though there are 19 times as many data points for the U.K."
Interviews: J. Michael Straczynski Answers Questions
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Several people had the chance to ask J. Michael Straczynski (jms) about Babylon 5, his new original series, Sense8, and all things sci-fi. Below you'll find his answers to your questions
NOAA: Arctic Likely Free Of Summer Ice By 2050 Possibly Much Sooner
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Scientists from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration have published research into the shrinking levels of sea ice in the Arctic. They wanted to figure out how long it would take before summer sea ice disappeared entirely. Since there's no perfect model for predicting ice levels, they used three different methods. All three predicted the Arctic would be nearly free of summer sea ice by the middle of the century, and one indicated it could happen as early as 2020. Two of the methods were based on observed sea ice trends. If ice loss proceeds as it has in the past decade, we get the 2020 timeframe. If ice loss events are large, like the 2007 and 2012 events, but happen at random some years, the estimate is pushed back to 2030. The third method uses global climate models to 'predict atmosphere, ocean, land, and sea ice conditions over time.' This model pushes the timeframe back to 2040 at the earliest, and around 2060 as the median (abstract). One of the study's authors, James Overland, said, "Rapid Arctic sea ice loss is probably the most visible indicator of global climate change; it leads to shifts in ecosystems and economic access, and potentially impacts weather throughout the northern hemisphere. Increased physical understanding of rapid Arctic climate shifts and improved models are needed that give a more detailed picture and timing of what to expect so we can better prepare and adapt to such changes. Early loss of Arctic sea ice gives immediacy to the issue of climate change."
IAU: No, You Can't Name That Exoplanet
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The International Astronomical Union (IAU) the official body that governs the designations of all celestial bodies in their capacity of purveyors of all things 'official' has deemed attempts at crowdsourcing names for exoplanets illegitimate. 'In the light of recent events, where the possibility of buying the rights to name exoplanets has been advertised, the International Astronomical Union wishes to inform the public that such schemes have no bearing on the official naming process,' writes Thierry Montmerle, General Secretary of the IAU in Paris, France. Although the 'schemes' are not specifically named, the most popular U.S.-based "exoplanet naming" group Uwingu appears to be the target of today's IAU statement. Set up by Alan Stern, planetary scientist and principal investigator for NASA's Pluto New Horizons mission, Uwingu encourages the public to nominate and vote (for a fee) on names for the slew of exoplanets steadily being discovered.
Giant Dinosaurs Were Fastest Growing Animals Ever
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Lufengosaurus, a long-necked, plant-eating dinosaur that lived in China during the Jurassic period were the biggest animals of their age, measuring 30 feet long. Now, fossilized embryos reveal that they were also the fastest growing animals on record--'faster than anything we have ever seen,' according to one researcher. What's more, researchers have found traces of organic matter in their bones, which may belong to the oldest fossil proteins ever found.
The Search Engine More Dangerous Than Google
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This is why you want to make sure that your IT Security people are happy and well paid:
This is an article about a search engine that is designed to look for devices on the net that are not really intended to be viewed and used by the general public. Devices include pool filters, skating rink cooling system, and other goodies. 'Shodan runs 24/7 and collects information on about 500 million connected devices and services each month. It's stunning what can be found with a simple search on Shodan. Countless traffic lights, security cameras, home automation devices and heating systems are connected to the Internet and easy to spot. Shodan searchers have found control systems for a water park, a gas station, a hotel wine cooler and a crematorium. Cybersecurity researchers have even located command and control systems for nuclear power plants and a particle-accelerating cyclotron by using Shodan. ... A quick search for "default password" reveals countless printers, servers and system control devices that use "admin" as their user name and "1234" as their password. Many more connected systems require no credentials at all - all you need is a Web browser to connect to them.'
Why French Govt's Attempt to Censor Wikipedia Matters
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In the end, the Streisand Effect prevailed, as you might expect, when a French domestic intelligence agency apparently browbeat a French citizen into removing content from Wikipedia. The attention caused the Wikipedia entry on a formerly obscure military radio site (English version) to leap in popularity not only in French, but in languages where it was formerly far less likely to have been noticed at all. Lauren Weinstein makes the case, though, that this sort of move isn't just something to shrug at or assume will always end so nicely.
"Even though attempts at Internet censorship will almost all fail in the end, governments and authorities have the capability to make groups' and individuals' lives extremely uncomfortable, painful, or even terminated in the process of attempts at censorship, and equally important, by instilling fear to encourage self-censorship in the first place."
Kepler Watches White Dwarf Warp Spacetime
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The Kepler space telescope's prime objective is to hunt for small worlds orbiting distant stars, but that doesn't mean it's not going to detect some extreme relativistic phenomena along the way. While monitoring a red dwarf star designated KOI-256 astronomers detected a dip in starlight in the Kepler data. But it wasn't caused by an exoplanet. After some careful detective work, the researchers found that the red dwarf was actually in orbit around a binary partner a white dwarf. As the white dwarf passed in front of the red dwarf, the starlight was enhanced by microlensing a phenomenon caused by an intense gravitational field focusing light from behind. This had the counter-intuitive result of causing the starlight to dim when the white dwarf passed behind the red dwarf and then brighten as the white dwarf passed in front. This is one of the first discoveries of a binary partner through microlensing. 'Only Kepler could detect this tiny, tiny effect,' said Doug Hudgins, Kepler program scientist at NASA Headquarters, Washington. 'But with this detection, we are witnessing Einstein's theory of general relativity at play in a far-flung star system.'
New CFAA Could Subject Teens To Jail For Reading Online News
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Anyone under 18 found reading the news online could hypothetically face jail time according to the latest draft of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA), which is said to be 'rushed' to Congress during its 'cyber week' in the middle of April. According to the new proposal floated by the House Judiciary Committee, the CFAA would be amended to treat any violation of a website's Terms of Service or an employer's Terms of Use policy as a criminal act. Applied to the world of online publications, this could be a dangerous notion: For example, many news websites' Terms of Use warn against any users under a certain age to use their site. In fact, NPR and the Hearst Corporation's entire family of publications, which includes Popular Mechanics, the San Francisco Chronicle and the Houston Chronicle, all disallow readers under 18 from using their 'services.' According to the DOJ, this would mean anyone under 18 found accessing these sites even just to read or comment on a story could face criminal charges.
Wiping a Smartphone Still Leaves Data Behind
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To probably no one's surprise, wiping a smartphone by standard methods doesn't get all the data erased. From an article at Wired: 'Problem is, even if you do everything right, there can still be lots of personal data left behind. Simply restoring a phone to its factory settings won't completely clear it of data. Even if you use the built-in tools to wipe it, when you go to sell your phone on Craigslist you may be selling all sorts of things along with it that are far more valuable your name, birth date, Social Security number and home address, for example. ... [On a wiped iPhone 3G, mobile forensics specialist Lee Reiber] found a large amount of deleted personal data that he recovered because it had not been overwritten. He was able to find hundreds of phone numbers from a contacts database. Worse, he found a list of nearly every Wi-Fi and cellular access point the phone had ever come across 68,390 Wi-Fi points and 61,202 cell sites. (This was the same location data tracking that landed Apple in a privacy flap a few years ago, and caused it to change its collection methods.) Even if the phone had never connected to any of the Wi-Fi access points, iOS was still logging them, and Reiber was able to grab them and piece together a trail of where the phone had been turned on.'
NASA Gets $75 Million For Europa Mission
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It may not be a lander or an orbiter, but its something. Europa, one of Jupiter's largest moons, has been the focus of much scrutiny over its potential life-bearing qualities. It has an icy crust over a liquid water ocean and now salts have been detected on its surface, suggesting a cycling of nutrients from the surface to the interior. This only amplifies the hypothesis that Europa not only could support basic life, it could support complex life. But how can we find out? The proposed Europa Clipper received interest at NASA HQ last year as it would optimize the science while keeping the mission budget under $2 billion. It would be a spacecraft that will be in orbit around Jupiter, but make multiple flybys of Europa to assess the moon for its habitable qualities. Now, in a bill signed by President Obama and approved by lawmakers, $75 million has been allocated (for the remainder of this fiscal year) for a 'Jupiter Europa mission.' Could it represent the seed money for the Europa Clipper? We'll have to wait and see.
4-Billion-Pixel Panorama View From Curiosity Rover
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A great new panorama made from shots from the Curiosity Rover.
"Sweep your gaze around Gale Crater on Mars, where NASA's Curiosity rover is currently exploring, with this 4-billion-pixel panorama stitched together from 295 images. ...The entire image stretches 90,000 by 45,000 pixels and uses pictures taken by the rover's two MastCams. The best way to enjoy it is to go into fullscreen mode and slowly soak up the scenery - from the distant high edges of the crater to the enormous and looming Mount Sharp, the rover's eventual destination."
PlanetIQ's Plan: Swap US Weather Sats For Private Ones
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We've mentioned over the last few years several times the funding problems that mean the U.S. government's weather satellite stable is thinner than we might prefer. A story at the Weather Underground outlines the plan of a company called PlanetIQ to fill the needs met with the current constellation of weather sats with private ones instead. From the article, describing testimony last week before the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Commerce:
"PlanetIQ's solution includes launching a constellation of 12 small satellites in low-Earth orbit to collect weather data, which PlanetIQ says the federal government could access at less cost and risk than current government-funded efforts. ... [PlanetIQ Anne Hale] Miglarese added that within 28 to 34 months from the beginning of their manufacture, all 12 satellites could be in orbit. As for the cost, she says, "We estimate that for all U.S. civilian and defense needs globally for both terrestrial and space weather applications, the cost to government agencies in the U.S. will be less than $70 million per year. As the satellites collect data, PlanetIQ would sell the data to government weather services around the world as well as the U.S. Air Force. The most recently launched polar-orbiting satellite, sent into space by the U.S. in 2011, cost $1.5 billion."
Drone Swarm Creates Star Trek Logo In London Sky
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As a harbinger for the Paramount film 'Star Trek - Into Darkness', starting in May in Europe's cinemas, last night a swarm of 30 mini-helicopters equipped with the LED lights drew the Star Trek logo into the skies over London. The choreography for the show was developed by Ars Electronica Futurelab from Linz (Austria). Quadrocopter maker Ascending Technologies GmbH from Munich (Germany) provided the aircrafts.
'Energy Beet' Power Is Coming To America
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Gosia Wonzniacka reports that farmers in Fresno County, California, supported by university experts and a $5 million state grant, are set to start construction of the nation's first commercial-scale bio-refinery to turn beets into biofuel with farmers saying the so-called 'energy beets' can deliver ethanol yields more than twice those of corn per acre because beets have a higher sugar content per ton than corn. 'We're trying to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and to shift our transportation fuels to a lower carbon content,' says Robert Weisenmiller. 'The beets have the potential to provide that.' Europe already has more than a dozen such plants, so the bio-refinery would resurrect a crop that has nearly vanished. The birthplace of the sugar beet industry, California once grew over 330,000 acres of the gnarly root vegetable (PDF), with 11 sugar mills processing the beets but as sugar prices collapsed, the mills shut down. So what's the difference between sugar beets and energy beets? To produce table sugar, producers are looking for sucrose, sucrose and more sucrose. Energy beets, on the other hand, contain multiple sugars, meaning sucrose as well as glucose, fructose and other minor sugars, called invert sugars. To create energy beet hybrids, plant breeders select for traits such as high sugar yield, not just sucrose production. America's first commercial energy beet bio-refinery will be capable of producing 40 million gallons of ethanol annually but the bio-refinery will also bring jobs and investment, putting about 80 beet growers and 35,000 acres back into production.
IRS Spent $60,000 Producing Star Trek Parody
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According to the AP, the IRS is being "scolded for spending $60,000 dollars on an elaborate parody video that played at a 2010 conference. 'The video features an elaborate set depicting the control room, or bridge, of the spaceship featured in the hit TV show. IRS workers portray the characters, including one who plays Mr. Spock, complete with fake hair and pointed ears. The production value is high even though the acting is what one might expect from a bunch of tax collectors. In the video, the spaceship is approaching the planet 'Notax,' where alien identity theft appears to be a problem.' You can find the hilarious and/or nausea-inducing video on YouTube."
Meet the Gamers Keeping Retro Consoles Alive
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You see those stories popping up every now and then new Dreamcast game released, first SNES game in 15 years etc but an in-depth feature published today takes a look at the teams behind the retro revival, and looks at why they do what they do. Surprisingly, there seems to be a viable audience for new releases one developer says his games sell better on Dreamcast than they do on Nintendo Wii. Even if the buyers vanished, the retro games would still keep coming though: 'I wager I'd have to be dead, or suffering from a severe case of amnesia, to ever give this up completely,' says one developer.
Voyager 1 Officially Exits Our Solar System (maybe)
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"A new study released today (abstract) indicates that the Voyager 1 spacecraft has become the first man-made object to exit our solar system. Instrumentation data sent back to NASA indicate the historic event likely occurred on August 25, 2012, evidenced by drastic changes in radiation levels as the craft ventured past the heliopause. What remains to be seen, however, is whether Voyager 1 has actually made it to true interstellar space, or whether it has entered a separate, undefined region beyond our solar system. Either way, the achievement is truly monumental. 'It's outside the normal heliosphere, I would say that. We're in a new region,' said Bill Webber, professor emeritus of astronomy at New Mexico State University in Las Cruces. 'And everything we're measuring is different and exciting.'"
Update: 03/20 20:44 GMT by S : Reader skade88 points out that the JPL Voyager team is not so sure: "It is the consensus of the Voyager science team that Voyager 1 has not yet left the solar system or reached interstellar space. In December 2012, the Voyager science team reported that Voyager 1 is within a new region called 'the magnetic highway' where energetic particles changed dramatically. A change in the direction of the magnetic field is the last critical indicator of reaching interstellar space and that change of direction has not yet been observed." So we'll probably be hearing about this again in a couple years.
The Real Purpose of DRM
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Ian Hickson, author and maintainer of the HTML5 specification, comments about the real reasons for DRM. They're not what you might think. Ian nails it in my opinion. He wrote, 'The purpose of DRM is not to prevent copyright violations. The purpose of DRM is to give content providers leverage against creators of playback devices. Content providers have leverage against content distributors, because distributors can't legally distribute copyrighted content without the permission of the content's creators. But if that was the only leverage content producers had, what would happen is that users would obtain their content from those content distributors, and then use third-party content playback systems to read it, letting them do so in whatever manner they wanted. ... Arguing that DRM doesn't work is, it turns out, missing the point. DRM is working really well in the video and book space. Sure, the DRM systems have all been broken, but that doesn't matter to the DRM proponents. Licensed DVD players still enforce the restrictions. Mass market providers can't create unlicensed DVD players, so they remain a black or gray market curiosity."
Supreme Court Upholds First Sale Doctrine
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In a closely-watched case, the U.S. Supreme Court today vindicated the first-sale doctrine, declaring that it "applies to copies of a copyrighted work lawfully made abroad." The case involved a Thai graduate student in the U.S. who sold cheap foreign versions of textbooks on eBay without the publisher's permission. The 6-3 decision has important implications for goods sold online and in discount stores. Justice Stephen Breyer said in his opinion (PDF) that the publisher lost any ability to control what happens to its books after their first sale abroad.
New Insights Help Shed Light On Star's Death That Created Kepler's Super Nova
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Wired has a good article that covers the origins of the white dwarf super nova Johannes Kepler observed in 1604. From the article: 'Up until now, it was unclear what lead to the star's explosion. New Chandra data suggests that, at least in the case of Kepler's remnant, the white dwarf grabbed material from its companion star. The disk-shaped structure seen near the center suggests that the supernova explosion hit a ring of gas and dust that would have formed, like water circling a drain, as the white dwarf sucked material away from its neighbor. In addition, magnesium is not an element formed in great abundances during Type 1a supernovas, suggesting it came from the companion star. Whether or not Kepler's supernova is a typical case remains to be seen. '
Everything We Know About What Data Brokers Know About You
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Data companies are scooping up enormous amounts of information about almost every American. They sell information about whether you're pregnant or divorced or trying to lose weight, about how rich you are and what kinds of cars you have.
Regulators and some in Congress have been taking a closer look at these so-called data brokers and are beginning to push the companies to give consumers more information and control over what happens to their data.
Berkeley Scientists Plan To 'Jurassic Park' Some Extinct Pigeons Back To Life
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Researchers at Berkeley are attempting to revive the extinct passenger pigeon in order to set up a remote island theme park full of resurrected semi-modern extinct animals. (Well, maybe not that last part.) Quoting: 'About 1,500 passenger pigeons inhabit museum collections. They are all that's left of a species once perceived as a limitless resource. The birds were shipped in boxcars by the tons, sold as meat for 31 cents per dozen, and plucked for mattress feathers. But in a mere 25 years, the population shrank from billions to thousands as commercial hunters decimated nesting flocks. Martha, the last living bird, took her place under museum glass in 1914. ... Ben Novak doesn't believe the story should end there. The 26-year-old genetics student is convinced that new technology can bring the passenger pigeon back to life. "This whole idea that extinction is forever is just nonsense," he says. Novak spent the last five years working to decipher the bird's genes, and now he has put his graduate studies on hold to pursue a goal he'd once described in a junior high school fair presentation: de-extinction. ... Using next-generation sequencing, scientists identified the passenger pigeon's closest living relative: Patagioenas fasciata, the ubiquitous band-tailed pigeon of the American west. This was an important step. The short, mangled DNA fragments from the museums' passenger pigeons don't overlap enough for a computer to reassemble them, but the modern band-tailed pigeon genome could serve as a scaffold. Mapping passenger pigeon fragments onto the band-tailed sequence would suggest their original order.
'Freedom of Information, Finally Made Easy' by MuckRock (Video)
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The quote in the title is from www.muckrock.com/about/. And that is exactly what MuckRock is all about: Making FOIA (Freedom of Information Act) requests for you (and investigative reporters) so you don't have to deal with the often-daunting paperwork and runarounds you may run into when you try to pry information out of a recalcitrant government agency. In theory, most government information is public. In practice, many local, state and federal government bodies would just as soon never tell you anything. This is why Tim Lord talked with MuckRock co-founder Michael Morisy, and why we're running this interview in the middle of Sunshine Week, which exists "...to educate the public about the importance of open government and the dangers of excessive and unnecessary secrecy."
Evidence For Comet-Borne Microfossils Supports Panspermia
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On December 29th of last year a comet exploded over Sri Lanka. When examined by Cardiff University one of the comet samples was found to contain micro-fossils akin to plankton. NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center tested additional samples with similar results. The research paper was published in the Journal of Cosmology. In practice this means that the argument that life did not start on Earth has gained additional evidence
Facebook [Thinks it] Knows If You're Gay, Use Drugs, Or Are a Republican
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Not that there's anything wrong with that as the Guardian reports that Facebook users are unwittingly revealing their sexual orientation, drug use and political beliefs using only public 'like' updates. A study of 58,000 Facebook users in the US found that sensitive personal characteristics about people can be accurately inferred from information in the public domain. Researchers were able to accurately infer a Facebook user's race, IQ, sexuality, substance use, personality or political views (PDF) using only a record of the subjects and items they had 'liked' on Facebook even if users had chosen not to reveal that information. 'It is good that people's behavior is predictable because it means Facebook can suggest very good stories on your news feed,' says Michal Kosinski, 'But what is shocking is that you can use the same data to predict your political views or your sexual orientation. This is something most people don't realize you can do.' For example, researchers were able to predict whether men were homosexual with 88% accuracy by their likes of Facebook pages such as 'Human Rights Campaign' and 'Wicked the Musical' even if those users had not explicitly shared their sexuality on the site. According to the study other personality traits linked to predictive likes include for High IQ 'The Godfather,' 'Lord of the Rings,' 'The Daily Show'; for Low IQ 'Harley Davidson,' 'I Love Being A Mom,' 'Tyler Perry'; and for male heterosexuality 'Wu Tang Clan,' 'Shaq,' and 'Being Confused after Waking Up from Naps.' Facebook's default privacy settings mean that your 'likes' are public to anyone and Facebook's own algorithms already use these likes to dictate what stories end up in users' news feeds, while advertisers can access them to determine which are the most effective ads to show you as you browse.
Astronomers Discover Third-Closest Star System To Earth
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Astronomers have found the third-closest star system to the Earth: called WISE 1049-5319, it's a binary brown dwarf system just 6.5 light years away. Brown dwarfs are faint, low mass objects 13 75 times the mass of Jupiter, and are so dim they are very difficult to detect. These newly-found nearby objects were seen in observations from 1978 but went unnoticed at the time, but since that date the large apparent motion of the binary made their proximity obvious. Only two star systems are closer: Alpha Centauri (4.3 light years) and Barnard's star (6 light years).
Dr. Robert Bakker Answers Your Questions
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(Part 2 of story)
A while ago you had the chance to ask paleontologist Dr. Robert Bakker a wide variety of questions. Instead of answering them individually, Dr. Bob decided to write a lengthy piece that covers most of your inquiries, and includes personal stories and some of his philosophy. The first part is a narrative about his childhood conversion to fossil studies and how his paleo-CSI approach developed. We'll post the second half, covering his training in the history of theology and how it intersects with his science, tomorrow.
Global Warming Has Made the North Greener
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NASA has released its latest green data showing a creeping of green towards the northern hemisphere. From the article: 'Results show temperature and vegetation growth at northern latitudes now resemble those found 4 degrees to 6 degrees of latitude farther south as recently as 1982.'
SXSW: How Mobile Devices Are Changing Africa
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Mobile phones are kicking off a revolution in Africa, with everyone from farmers to villagers relying on apps to make electronic payments, check on expiration dates for medicine, and predict future storms or the best prices for produce. In a SXSW session titled 'The $100bn Mobile Bullet Train Called Africa' (which would also be a pretty good name for one of the indie films playing at this massive convention), Tech4Africa founder Gareth Knight explained the contours of this revolution. According to Shapshak, more kids in Africa have access to the Internet than consistent electricity. Nobody owns a PC or can access a fixed-line telephone, so mobile phones are a conduit for everything from email to news to making payments via SMS. ... Many of the mobile devices used in Africa aren't cutting-edge, and SMS-based platforms are a necessity when it comes to sharing information. 'SMS is so fantastic because it gets to every device everywhere,' Shapshak said. ... Here's how a typical SMS platform might work: someone purchasing a box of malaria medicine could send the barcode information to a text number, which would send back an SMS message identifying the drug as real or counterfeit. Famers and other food-producers can receive SMS messages about the best ways to handle pests, for example, or take care of their cows.
Iowa Meteorite Crater: Long-Hidden 'Decorah Impact Structure' Revealed By Aerial Imaging
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Buried beneath the rocks, dirt, buildings and roads of the city of Decorah, Iowa, lies a 470 million-year-old meteorite crater. Unlike the craters on the pockmarked surfaces of the moon and Mars, this crater can't be seen by looking down at Earth's surface, at least not by the human eye. But recent aerial surveys primarily aimed at getting a better picture of the minerals that underlie the region got a look at the crater structure using instruments that detect the variations in gravity of different types of rock, as well as their ability to conduct electricity.
Salt Linked To Autoimmune Diseases
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The incidence of autoimmune diseases, such as multiple sclerosis and type 1 diabetes, has spiked in developed countries in recent decades. In three studies published today, researchers describe the molecular pathways that can lead to autoimmune disease and identify one possible culprit that has been right under our noses and on our tables the entire time: salt. Some forms of autoimmunity have been linked to overproduction of TH17 cells, a type of helper T cell that produces an inflammatory protein called interleukin-17. Now scientists have found sodium chloride turns on the production of these cells (abstract). They also showed that in a mouse model of multiple sclerosis, a high-salt diet accelerated the disease's progression (abstract).
Swimming With Spacemen In NASA's Giant NBL Pool
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Lee Hutchinson spent two days at NASA's Neutral Buoyancy Laboratory in Houston, watching astronauts dive and getting a thorough tour of the facility. The largest indoor pool in the world contains 6.2M gallons of water and is filled with life-size replicas of International Space Station modules (though at 202'x101' and 40' deep, it isn't nearly enough to hold the entire station). Every spacewalk requires a huge amount of rehearsal, and that rehearsal is done right here in this pool. I talk at length with divers, astronauts, test coordinators, and test directors about how the facility works and what it takes to train folks to work in spacesuits. I also get to talk about the NBL's commercial future, and what's next for the big pool. Plus, lots and lots of pictures!
Researchers Describe First 'Functional HIV Cure' In an Infant
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A baby born with the AIDS virus two years ago in Mississippi who was put on antiretroviral therapy within hours of birth appears to have been cured of the infection, researchers said Sunday at a scientific conference in Atlanta. Whether the cure is complete and permanent, or only partial and long-lasting, is not certain. Either way, the highly unusual case raises hope for the more than 300,000 babies born with the infection around the world each year.
SpaceX Cargo Capsule Reaches International Space Station
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Despite having some trouble with maneuvering thrusters a few days ago, SpaceX's Dragon cargo capsule has successfully reached the International Space Station. from the article:
"Astronauts aboard the outpost used the station's robotic arm to pluck the capsule from orbit at 5:31 a.m. EST as the ships sailed 250 miles over northern Ukraine. Flight controllers at NASA's Mission Control in Houston then stepped in to drive the capsule to its berthing port on the station's Harmony connecting node."
How Power Failures Corrupt Flash SSD Data
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Flash SSDs are non-volatile, right? So how could power failures screw with your data? Several ways, according to a ZDNet post that summarizes a paper (PDF) presented at last month's FAST 13 conference. Researchers from Ohio State and HP Labs researchers tested 15 SSDs using an automated power fault injection testbed and found that 13 lost data. 'Bit corruption hit 3 devices; 3 had shorn writes; 8 had serializability errors; one device lost 1/3 of its data; and 1 SSD bricked. The low-end hard drive had some unserializable writes, while the high-end drive had no power fault failures. The 2 SSDs that had no failures? Both were MLC 2012 model years with a mid-range ($1.17/GB) price.
NASA Discovers Third Radiation Belt Circling Earth
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NASA scientists using the Relativistic Electron Proton Telescope (REPT) about the Van Allen Probes have discovered a third radiation belt surrounding Earth. Scientists have been aware of the Van Allen radiation belts since the 1950s, but it was thought that there were only two of them. The probes were sent up to simply map the belts in fine detail; the discovery of a third belt was a complete surprise. Deputy mission scientist Shri Kanekal said, "By the fifth day REPT was on, we could plot out our observations and watch the formation of a third radiation belt. We started wondering if there was something wrong with our instruments. We checked everything, but there was nothing wrong with them. The third belt persisted beautifully, day after day, week after week, for four weeks." Part of the reason they caught a glimpse of this belt was that they turned the REPT on early, so it would overlap with another probe that had reached end-of-life and was about to de-orbit. If they hadn't decided to do so, or if the REPT hadn't worked perfectly, we still might be in the dark about a third Van Allen belt.
New Bill Would Require Patent Trolls To Pay Defendants' Attorneys
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According to Law 360, H.R. 845, the 'Saving High-Tech Innovators from Egregious Legal Disputes' (SHIELD) Act of 2013 would require non-practicing entities that lose in patent litigation to pay the full legal costs of accused infringers. The new bill (PDF) would define a 'non-practicing entity' as a plaintiff that is neither the original inventor or assignee of a patent, and that has not made its own 'substantial investment in exploiting the patent.' The bill is designed to particularly have a chilling effect on 'shotgun' litigation tactics by NPEs, in which they sue numerous defendants on a patent with only a vague case for infringement. Notably, once a party is deemed to be an NPE early in the litigation, they will be required to post a bond to cover the defendants' litigation costs before going forward.
Spinning Black Hole's Edge Rotates At Nearly the Speed of Light
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Astronomers have directly measured the spin of a black hole for the first time by detecting the mind-bending relativistic effects that warp space-time at the very edge of its event horizon. By monitoring X-ray emissions from iron ions (iron atoms with some electrons missing) trapped in the black hole's accretion disk, the rapidly-rotating inner edge of the disk of hot material has provided direct information about how fast the black hole is spinning. Astronomers used NASA's Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array (NuSTAR) that was launched into Earth orbit in June 2012 and the European observatory XMM-Newton measured X-ray radiation as a tool to directly infer the spin of NGC 1365's black hole. 'What excites me is the fact that we are able to do this for the very massive black holes at the centers of galaxies but we can also make the same measurement for black holes in our galaxy ... black holes that resulted from the explosion of a star ... The fact we can extend this from billions of solar masses to 10 solar masses is pretty cool,' Fiona Harrison, professor of physics and astronomy at the California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, Calif., and principal investigator of the NuSTAR mission, told Discovery News.
Software Lets Scientists Assemble DNA
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Biochemical engineers can now download a piece of software and with a few simple clicks, assemble the DNA for new life forms through their laptops. 'With the proper computer tools, biologists can write their own genetic code and then turn that code into life,' said biochemist Omri Amirav-Drory, who founded Genome Compiler Corp., the company that sells the software. He demonstrated at a coffee shop early one morning by manipulating a bacteria's genes on his laptop. The synthetic biology app is still in beta; on Jan. 15, the company added an undo feature and support for new DNA file formats. Building creatures is increasingly like word processing, it would seem. But such is the strange reality in the age of cheap genome sequencing, DNA synthesizing and 'bioinformatics.'
NOAA Report: World Labor Capacity Dropping Because of Increased Temperatures
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a story about some interesting possible effects of Global Warming. From the article: "It's a good thing that robots are stealing our jobs, because in about thirty-five years, nobody in their right mind is going to want to do them. Scientists from NOAA just published a report ... that details how a warming climate impacts the way we work, and the results are pretty clear we do less of it. NOAA discovered that over the last 60 years, the hotter, wetter climate has decreased human labor capacity by 10%. And it projects that by 2050, that number will double."
DoJ Admits Aaron Swartz's Prosecution Was Political
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a blog post by Taren Stinebrickner-Kauffman, founder of corporate watchdog SumOfUs.org and partner of the late Aaron Swartz:

"The DOJ has told Congressional investigators that Aaron's prosecution was motivated by his political views on copyright. I was going to start that last paragraph with 'In a stunning turn of events,' but I realized that would be inaccurate because it's really not that surprising. Many people speculated throughout the whole ordeal that this was a political prosecution, motivated by anything/everything from Aaron's effective campaigning against SOPA to his run-ins with the FBI over the PACER database. But Aaron actually didn't believe it was he thought it was overreach by some local prosecutors who didn't really understand the internet and just saw him as a high-profile scalp they could claim, facilitated by a criminal justice system and computer crime laws specifically designed to give prosecutors, however incompetent or malicious, all the wrong incentives and all the power they could ever want. But this HuffPo article, and what Im hearing from sources on the Hill, suggest that thats not true. That Ortiz and Heymann knew exactly what they were doing: Shutting up, and hopefully locking up, an extremely effective activist whose political views, including those on copyright, threatened the Powers That Be."
Russian Meteor Likely an Apollo Asteroid Chunk
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Helped by the extensive coverage of eyewitness cameras, CCTV footage and a fortuitous observation made by the Meteosat-9 weather satellite, Jorge Zuluaga and Ignacio Ferrin of the University of Antioquia in Medellin, Colombia, have been able to reconstruct the most likely orbit of the meteoroid that slammed into the atmosphere over the Russian Urals region on Feb. 15. What's more, they know what type of space rock it was - the Chelyabinsk-bound meteoroid originated from an Apollo-class asteroid (PDF). Apollo asteroids are well-known near-Earth asteroids that cross the orbit of Earth. Around 5,200 Apollo asteroids are currently known, the largest being 1866 Sisyphus - a 10 kilometer-wide monster that was discovered in 1972.
Trekkies Vote 'Vulcan' Into the Solar System
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If William Shatner gets his wish, one of Pluto's two new moons will be named Vulcan. The two small moons were discovered recently, and the SETI Institute launched an online poll to let people choose names. Captain Kirk himself suggested the names Vulcan and Romulus. Vulcan was accepted as a candidate, and Shatner exhorted his Twitter followers to vote. Vulcan ended up winning by a landslide, taking 174,000 of the 450,000 total responses. The next highest was Cerberus at just shy of 100,000. The names still have to be approved by the International Astronomical Union, as they have the final say. Leonard Nimoy approves.
Long-Lost Continent Found Under the Indian Ocean
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The drowned remnants of an ancient micro-continent may lie scattered beneath the waters between Madagascar and India, a new study suggests. Evidence for the long-lost land comes from Mauritius, a volcanic island about 900 kilometers east of Madagascar (abstract) The oldest volcanic rocks on the island date to about 8.9 million years ago. Yet grain-by-grain analyses of beach sand collected at two sites on the Mauritian coast revealed around 20 zircons - tiny crystals of zirconium silicate that are exceedingly resistant to erosion or chemical change - that were far older. One of these zircons was at least 1.97 billion years old. The researchers that made the discovery think that geologically recent volcanic eruptions brought shards of the buried continent to the Earth's surface, where the zircons eroded from their parent rocks to pepper the island's sands. Analyses of Earth's gravitational field reveal several broad areas where sea-floor crust at the bottom of the Indian ocean is much thicker than normal - at least 25 to 30 kilometers thick, rather than the normal 5 to 10 kilometers. Those crustal anomalies may be the remains of a landmass that researchers have now dubbed Mauritia, which they suggest split from Madagascar when tectonic rifting and sea-floor spreading sent the Indian subcontinent surging northeast millions of years ago.
We Aren't the World: Why Americans Make Bad Study Subjects
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This is just fascinating: Joe Henrich and his colleagues are shaking the foundations of psychology and economics, and explain why social science studies of Westerners - and Americans in particular - don't really tell us about the human condition: 'Given the data, they concluded that social scientists could not possibly have picked a worse population from which to draw broad generalizations. Researchers had been doing the equivalent of studying penguins while believing that they were learning insights applicable to all birds.'
NASA's Basement Nuclear Reactor
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If Joseph Zawodny, a senior scientist at NASA's Langley Research Center, is correct, the future of energy may lie in a nuclear reactor small enough and safe enough to be installed where the home water heater once sat. Using weak nuclear forces that turn nickel and hydrogen into a new source of atomic energy, the process offers a light, portable means of producing tremendous amounts of energy for the amount of fuel used. It could conceivably power homes, revolutionize transportation and even clean the environment.
New Process Takes Energy From Coal Without Burning It
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Ohio State students have come up with a scaled-down version of a power plant combustion system with a unique experimental design--one that chemically converts coal to heat while capturing 99 percent of the carbon dioxide produced in the reaction. Typical coal-fired power plants burn coal to heat water to make steam, which turns the turbines that produce electricity. In chemical looping, the coal isn't burned with fire, but instead chemically combusted in a sealed chamber so that it doesn't pollute the air. This new technology, called coal-direct chemical looping, was pioneered by Liang-Shih Fan, professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering and director of Ohio State's Clean Coal Research Laboratory.
Got a Cell Phone Booster? FCC Says You Have To Turn It Off
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Some two million people have bought cell-phone wireless signal boosters and have been using them to get better communication between their phones and distant cell towers. But now, the FCC says they all have to turn their boosters off and ask permission from their providers, and register their devices with those providers, before they can turn them back on.
Astronomers Find Planet Barely Larger Than Earth's Moon
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A team of astronomers has announced the discovery of the smallest exoplanet orbiting a Sun-like star yet found: Kepler-37b, which has a diameter of only 3865 kilometers smaller than Mercury, and only a little bigger than our own Moon. It was found using the transit method; as it orbits its star, it periodically blocks a bit of the starlight, revealing its presence (abstract). Interestingly, the planet has been known for some time, but only new advances in asteroseismology (studying oscillations in the star itself) have allowed the star's size to be accurately found, which in turn yielded a far better determination of the planet's diminutive size. Also, the asteroseismology research was not funded by NASA, but instead crowd funded by a non-profit, which raised money by letting people adopt Kepler target stars.
Large Corporations Displacing Aging IT Workers With H-1B Visa Workers
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NPR is running an interesting story about the unfortunate status of the aging programmers in the IT industry. Older IT workers are opposing the H-1B visa overhaul. Large corporations want more visa, they claim, because of a shortage of IT talent. However, these companies are actively avoiding older, more experienced workers, and are bringing in large volumes of foreign staff. The younger, foreign workers are often easier to control, and they demand lower wages; indentured servitude is replacing higher cost labor.
New Imaging Sheds Light On Basic Building Blocks of Life
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Scientists at the UK's national synchrotron facility are studying the structure of Containment Level 3 pathogens such as Aids, Flu and Hepatitis. They use high intensity X-Rays to study the atomic and molecular structure of pathogens too small to be examined under a microscope. This leads to a greater understanding of how they work. They have already produced results on the hand, foot and mouth virus. This is the first time Level 3 pathogens have been imaged in this way.
Alcoholism Vaccine Makes Alcohol Intolerable To Drinkers
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Ariel Schwartz reports that researchers are working on an alcoholism vaccine that makes alcohol intolerable to anyone who drinks it. The vaccine builds on what happens naturally in certain people about 20% of the Japanese, Chinese, and Korean population with an alcohol intolerance mutation. Normally, the liver breaks down alcohol into an enzyme that's transformed into the compound acetaldehyde (responsible for that nasty hangover feeling), which in turn is degraded into another enzyme. The acetaldehyde doesn't usually have time to build up before it's broken down. But people with the alcohol intolerance mutation lack the ability to produce that second enzyme; acetaldehyde accumulates, and they feel terrible. Dr. Juan Asenjo and his colleagues have come up with a way to stop the synthesis of that second enzyme via a vaccine, mimicking the mutation that sometimes happens naturally. 'People have this mutation all over the world. It's like how some people can't drink milk,' says Asenjo. Addressing the physiological part of alcohol addiction is just one piece of the battle. Addictive tendencies could very well manifest in other ways; instead of alcohol, perhaps former addicts will move on to cigarettes. Asenjo admits as much: 'Addiction is a psychological disease, a social disease. Obviously this is only the biological part of it.
EFF Proposes a Working Code Requirement For Software Patents
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the Electronic Frontier Foundation has proposed a fix for software patents in general and patent trolls in particular: requiring applicants to provide specifics about their solution. They say the applications should include working code, or at least "detailed, line-by-line notations explaining how their code works."
"And if they do get a patent, they should be limited to the invention they claimed. We think software patents are bad news, and incredibly harmful to our society and economy. We wish we didnt have to deal with them at all. But by fixing the functional claiming problem, and limiting patentees to a narrow invention that they actually came up with, we would also limit the amount of harm those patents could cause. The Patent Office does not (yet) have the power to get rid of software patents entirely, but it can fix the functional claiming problem."
IE Standardization Fading Fast
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Just as Internet users in general have defected in huge numbers from Microsoft Internet Explorer over the past several years, the business world, as well, is becoming less dependent on the venerable browser. Companies that used to mandate the use of IE for access to web resources are beginning to embrace a far more heterodox attitude toward web browsers. While it hasn't gone away, the experience of having to use IE 6 to access some legacy in-house web app is becoming less common. 'A lot of it has to do with the emergence of the modern web and the popularity of mobile. They have made it very different for companies to truly standardize on a browser,' says Gartner Research analyst David Mitchell Smith.
Paleontologist Jack Horner Answers Questions
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A few weeks ago Slashdot had the chance to ask Jack Horner about dinosaurs, science funding, and extinction level events. He's sent back his responses and commented: "Very impressive audience you have!" Read below for more flattery and his answers to your questions.
DIY Web-Controlled Robot That Takes 1 Hour To Build
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We hooked up Pinoccio (an Open Source, wireless Arduino-compatible microcontroller) to a Pololu 3pi Robot to create an unmanned rover that can be driven via the Web. We posted a quick video where you can see us driving our Web Rover in Nevada all the way from Brazil. We used the iPhone's built-in accelerometer as a super-intuitive interface for driving the bot. You can read all about the project - how we built it, what you need to make your own (including source code), and a simulator of the accelerometer interface that you can play with. We're hoping to make Pinoccio the perfect platform for Software Developers to learn how to hack on DIY hardware.
COBOL Will Outlive Us All
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Here's an old computer science joke: What's the difference between hardware and software? If you use hardware long enough, it breaks. If you use software long enough, it works. The truth behind that is the reason that so much decades-old COBOL code is out there still driving crucial applications at banks and other huge companies. Many attempts to replace COBOL applications flopped in the 1980s and '90s, and we're stuck with them for the foreseeable future - but the Baby Boomers who wrote all that code are now retiring en masse.
Landsat 8 Satellite Successfully Launches Into Orbit
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The Landsat Data Continuity Mission is now in orbit, after launching Monday from Vandenberg Air Force Base in Calif. After about three months of testing, the U.S. Geological Survey will take control and the mission, renamed Landsat 8, will extend more than 40 years of global land observations critical to energy and water management, forest monitoring, human and environmental health, urban planning, disaster recovery, and agriculture."

We still need more new observation satellites to avoid losing Earth observing capabilities as the work horses of the NASA/USGS fleet die of old age.
HR Departments Tell Equifax Your Entire Salary History
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The Equifax credit reporting agency, with the aid of thousands of human resource departments around the country, has assembled...[a database]...containing 190 million employment and salary records covering more than one-third of U.S. adults...[Equifax] says [it] is adding 12 million records annually.' This salary information is for sale: "Its database is so detailed that it contains week-by-week paystub information dating back years for many individuals, as well as ... health care provider, whether someone has dental insurance and if they've ever filed an unemployment claim."
In 2011, Fracking Was #2 In Causing Greenhouse Gas In US
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According to Bloomberg, drilling and fracking results in greenhouse gases second only to coal power plants in the United States. From the article, 'Emissions from drilling, including fracking, and leaks from transmission pipes totaled 225 million metric tons of carbon-dioxide equivalents during 2011, second only to power plants, which emitted about 10 times that amount.' According to Mother Jones, we now have more giant methane fireballs than any other country in the world and we can now see once dim North Dakota at night from space.
China's Radical New Space Drive
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Scientists in China have built and tested a radical new space drive. Although the thrust it produces may not be enough to lift your mobile phone, it looks like it could radically change the satellite industry. Satellites are just the start: with superconducting components, this technology could generate the thrust to drive everything from deep space probes to flying cars. And it all started with a British engineer whose invention was ignored and ridiculed in his home country
Deloitte: Use a Longer Password In 2013. Seriously.
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Deloitte predicts that 8-character passwords will become insecure in 2013. Humans have trouble remembering passwords with more than seven characters, and it is difficult to enter long, complex passwords into mobile devices. Users have not adapted to increased computing power available to crackers, and continue to use bad practices such as using common and short passwords, and re-using passwords across multiple websites. A recent study showed that using the 10000 most common passwords would have cracked >98% of 6 million user accounts. All of these problems have the potential for a huge security hazard. Password vaults are likely to become more widely used out of necessity. Multifactor authentication strategies, such as phone texts, iris scans, and dongles are also likely to become more widespread, especially by banks.
Facebook's Graph Search: Kiss Your Privacy Goodbye
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Software developer Jeff Cogswell is back with an extensive under-the-hood breakdown of Facebook's Graph Search, trying to see if peoples' privacy concerns about the social network's search engine are entirely justified. His conclusion? 'Some of the news articles I've read talk about how Graph Search will start small and slowly grow as it accumulates more information. This is wrong-Graph Search has been accumulating information since the day Facebook opened and the first connections were made in the internal graph structure,' he writes. 'People were nervous about Google storing their history, but it pales in comparison to the information Facebook already has on you, me, and roughly a billion other people.' There's much more at the link, including a handy breakdown of graph theory.
Kepler: Many Red Dwarfs Have Earth-SIzed Planets Too
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Extrapolating from findings by NASA's planet-hunting Kepler Space Telescope, scientists on Wednesday said roughly six percent of so-called red dwarf stars have Earth-sized planets properly positioned around their parent stars so that liquid water could exist on their surfaces. The team looked at 95 candidate planets circling red dwarf stars observed by Kepler and found that at least 60 percent have planets smaller than Neptune. Most were not the right size or temperature to be Earth-like, but three were found to be both warm and approximately Earth-sized. Statistically that would mean six percent of all red dwarf stars should have a Earth-sized planet. Since 75 percent of the closest stars are red dwarfs, the nearest Earth-like world may be just 13 light-years away.
New Largest Known Prime Number: 2^57,885,161-1
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news from Mersenne.org, home of the Great Internet Mersenne Prime Search: "On January 25th at 23:30:26 UTC, the largest known prime number, 257,885,161-1, was discovered on GIMPS volunteer Curtis Cooper's computer. The new prime number, 2 multiplied by itself 57,885,161 times, less one, has 17,425,170 digits. With 360,000 CPUs peaking at 150 trillion calculations per second, GIMPS now in its 17th year is the longest continuously-running global 'grassroots supercomputing' project in Internet history."
FCC Proposal Would Cover the US With Public Wi-Fi
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Internet access is an essential need on par with education access, but at what point do regulators recognize that? When will government officials acknowledge that widespread, guaranteed access is essential to fostering growth in the country? Somewhat surprisingly, that time is now, as the FCC is now calling for nationwide free wi-fi networks to be opened up to the public. The FCC proposes buying back spectrum from TV stations that would allow for what the Washington Post is dubbing 'super wi-fi,' as the commission wants to cover the country with wide-ranging, highly-penetrative networks. Essentially, you can imagine the proposal as covering a majority of the country with open-access data networks, similar to cell networks now, that your car, tablet, or even phone could connect to. That means no one is ever disconnected, and some folks especially light users and the poor could likely ditch regular Internet and cell plans altogether.
A Robot With a Chainsaw!
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If are a fan of the Sci-Fi genre of the robot apocalypses you may well not want to give a robot a chainsaw to wield. If, on the other hand, you are a creative artist then it seems well worth the risk, as this video demonstrates. In this case the robot is a standard industrial arm with an electric chainsaw mounted where the gripper would normally go. Exactly what the robot is doing isn't obvious to the viewer, but once it is finished the whole thing is disassembled to reveal two wooden stools and some interesting shapes. A robot with a chainsaw is just a subtractive 3D printer.
Dolphins form life raft to help dying friend
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Everybody's favourite cetacean just got a little more lovable. For the first time, dolphins have been spotted teaming up to try to rescue an injured group member. The act does not necessarily mean dolphins are selfless or can empathise with the pain of their kin, however.
Craters Quickly Hidden On Titan
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NASA scientists say Cassini has discovered that far fewer craters are visible on Titan than on the other moons of Saturn. The craters they have discovered are far shallower than other moons' craters and appear to be filling with hydrocarbon sand. On top of being another reason Titan's active geology is very cool, it adds to the mystery of where all the methane on Titan is coming from. 'The rain that falls from Titan's skies is not water, but contains liquid methane and ethane, compounds that are gases at Earth's temperatures. ... The source of Titan's methane remains a mystery because methane in the atmosphere is broken down over relatively short time scales by sunlight. Fragments of methane molecules then recombine into more complex hydrocarbons in the upper atmosphere, forming a thick, orange smog that hides the surface from view. Some of the larger particles eventually rain out onto the surface, where they appear to get bound together to form the sand.'
Patient Access To Electronic Medical Records Strengthened By New HHS Rules
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The Department of Health and Human Services has released newly revised rules for the Health Information Privacy and Accountability Act (HIPAA) to ensure patient access to electronic copies of their electronic medical records. Several years ago, there was a great deal of excitement about personalized health information management (e.g. Microsoft HealthVault and Google Health). Unfortunately, patients found it difficult to obtain their medical records from providers in formats that could easily be imported. Personalized health records were time consuming and difficult to maintain, so these initiatives have not lived up to their expectations (e.g. Google Health has been discontinued). The new rules should address this directly and hopefully will revitalize interest in personal health information management. The new HIPAA rules also greatly strengthen patient privacy, the ability of patients to control who sees their medical information, and increases the penalties for leaking medical records information. 'Much has changed in health care since HIPAA was enacted over fifteen years ago,' said HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius. 'The new rule will help protect patient privacy and safeguard patients' health information in an ever expanding digital age.'
Facebook Lets Anyone Harvest Account Phone Numbers
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some strong cautions on a Facebook "feature" that lets you search for random phone numbers and find the accounts of users who have registered that number on their Facebook profile. This has privacy implications that are more serious than searching by email address. Especially in light of the expanding emphasis that Facebook is putting both on search qua search and on serving as a VoIP intermediary (not to mention the stream of robocalls that the FCC is unable to stop), this might make you think twice about where your phone number ends up.
DHS Steps In As Regulator for Medical Device Security
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The Department of Homeland Security has taken charge of pushing medical device manufacturers to fix vulnerable medical software and devices after researchers popped yet another piece of hospital hardware. It comes after the agency pushed Philips to move to fix critical vulnerabilities found in its popular medical management platform that is used in a host of services including assisting surgeries and generating patient reports. To date, no agency has taken point on forcing the medical manufacturers to improve the information security profile of their products, with the FDA even dubbing such a risk unrealistic (PDF).
Scientists Create New Gasoline Substitute Out of Plants
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California scientists have just created a new biofuel using plants that burns just as well as a petroleum-based fuel. 'The discovery, published in the journal Nature, means corn, sugar cane, grasses and other fast-growing plants or trees, like eucalyptus, could be used to make the propellant, replacing oil,' writes the San Francisco Chronicle, and the researchers predict mass marketing of their product within 5 to 10 years. They created their fuel using a fermentation process that was first discovered in 1914, but which was then discontinued in 1965 when petroleum became the dominant source of fuel. The new fuel actually contains more energy per gallon than is currently contained in ethanol, and its potency can even be adjusted for summer or winter driving.
Curiosity Finds Evidence of Ancient Surface Water
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Curiosity has wheeled its way over to the low point in Yellowknife Bay and has found veined rocks, evidence that water once percolated through this area. Scientists are excited because it is the first evidence of precipitation of minerals and water. There is also cross bedding that can be seen, thin layers of rocks oriented in different directions. The grains are apparently too coarse for the wind to have created, alluding to flowing water. Even with this discovery, much is still not known about Mars' past."
Rather than quickly moving along to Mount Sharp as planned, they're going to spend some time drilling into the rock.
Learn Basic Programming So You Aren't At the Mercy of Programmers
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Derek Sivers, creator of online indie music store CD Baby, has a post about why he thinks basic programming is a useful skill for everybody. He quotes a line from a musician he took guitar lessons from as a kid: "You need to learn to sing. Because if you don't, you're always going to be at the mercy of some a****** singer." Sivers recommends translating that to other areas of life. He says, 'The most common thing I hear from aspiring entrepreneurs is, "I have this idea for an app or site. But I'm not technical, so I need to find someone who can make it for me." I point them to my advice about how to hire a programmer, but as most of the good ones are already booked solid, it's a pretty helpless position to be in. If you heard someone say, "I have this idea for a song. But I'm not musical, so I need to find someone who will write, perform, and record it for me." - you'd probably advise them to just take some time to sit down with a guitar or piano and learn enough to turn their ideas into reality. And so comes my advice: Yes, learn some programming basics. Just some HTML, CSS, and JavaScript should be enough to start. ... You don't need to become an expert, just know the basics, so you're not helpless.'
US Near Bottom In Life Expectancy In Developed World
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Louise Radnofsky reports that a study by the National Research Council and Institute of Medicine has found U.S. life expectancy ranks near the bottom of 17 affluent countries. The U.S. is at or near the bottom in nine key areas of health: infant mortality and low birth weight; injuries and homicides; teenage pregnancies and sexually transmitted infections; prevalence of HIV and AIDS; drug-related deaths; obesity and diabetes; heart disease; chronic lung disease; and disability. Americans fare worse than people in other countries even when the analysis is limited to non-Hispanic whites and people with relatively high incomes and health insurance, nonsmokers, or people who are not obese. The report notes that average life expectancy for American men, at 75.6 years, was thelowest among the 17 countries and almost four years shorter than for Switzerland, the best-performing nation. American women's average life expectancy is 80.8 years, the second-lowest among the countries and five years shorter than Japan's, which had the highest expectancy. 'The [U.S.] health disadvantage is pervasive it affects all age groups up to age 75 and is observed for multiple diseases, biological and behavioral risk factors, and injuries,' say the report's authors. The authors offered a range of possible explanations for Americans' worse health and mortality, including social inequality, limited availability of contraception for teenagers, community designs that discourage physical activity such as walking, air pollution as well as individual behaviors such as high calorie consumption. The report's authors were particularly critical of the availability of guns. 'One behavior that probably explains the excess lethality of violence and unintentional injuries in the United States is the widespread possession of firearms and the common practice of storing them (often unlocked) at home,' reads the report. 'The statistics are dramatic.'
Crowdsourcing Mars Images
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In conjunction with BBC's recent astronomy television program Stargazing Live comes a citizen science project to analyze images of Mars. Zooniverse has set up a site that allows people to explore the surface of Mars in incredible detail with pictures taken from the HiRISE (High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment) camera on board the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. HiRISE can image Mars with resolutions of 0.3 m/pixel (about 1 foot), resolving objects below a meter across.
Book Review: The Nature of Code
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a project undertaken by Daniel Shiffman to write a book on what (at the time) seemed to be a very large knowledge space. What resulted is a good book (amazing by CC-BY-NC standards) available in both PDF and HTML versions. In addition to the book he maintains the source code for creating the book and of course the book examples. The Nature of Code starts off swimmingly but remains front heavy with a mere thirty five pages devoted to the final chapter on neural networks. This is an excellent book for Java and Processing developers that want to break into simulation and modeling of well, anything. It probably isn't a must-have title for very seasoned developers (unless you've never done simulation and modeling) but at zero cost why not?
The Tiny Console Killers Taking On the PS4 and Xbox 720
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As the next generation of consoles looms, we've seen a growing trend towards low price, compact alternatives such as the Ouya and GameStick, many of which run on the Android mobile platform. But this article on the trend raises a very good point: through the use of cloud computing and game streaming technology, it's entirely possible these machines will be able to keep pace with the powerhouse technology inside the Sony PS4 and Microsoft Xbox 720, and perhaps even overtake them. After all, if these little boxes can simply stream from powerful servers, how can the stalwarts of gaming keep up?
Anonymous Helps Find Evidence In Gang Rape Case
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Evidence of a gang rape committed by members of an Ohio high school football team, including video, was, in the way of digital native teenagers today, put online on various social media sites - and was quickly taken down as students began realizing the magnitude of the situation. The hactivist group Anonymous has been able to find archived and cached versions of the damning content, which may help prosecutors make their case."
(The original story from December at the New York Times adds more detail.)
Loss of a Single Laptop Leads to $50k Fine Against Idaho Hospice
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Losing a single laptop containing sensitive personal information about 441 patients will cost a non-profit Idaho hospice center $50,000, marking the first such HIPAA-related penalty involving fewer than 500 data-breach victims. Yes, the data was not encrypted. 'This action sends a strong message to the health care industry that, regardless of size, covered entities must take action and will be held accountable for safeguarding their patients' health information,' says the Department of Health and Human Services.
Teenager Makes Discovery About Galaxy Distribution
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It has been long thought that dwarf galaxies orbiting Andromeda galaxy (M31), or any other galaxy for that matter, are distributed more or less randomly around the host galaxy. It seemed so obvious in fact that nobody took time to check this assumption. Until a 15 year old student, Neil Ibata, working with his father at the astronomic observatory wanted to check it out. It turned out that dwarf galaxies tend to be placed on a plane around M31. The finding has been published in nature. Local press (especially in France) is ecstatic that a finding by a 15-year-old got published in Nature. However, there's another more important point: what other obvious things didn't we really bother to check?
The USPTO Would Like to Partner with the Software Community
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There is a notice in the Federal Register that the USPTO would like to form a partership with the software community to figure out how to "enhance" the quality of software patents. To that end, they are looking for comments and there will be two roundtable events sponsored by the USPTO, one in Silicon Valley and one in New York, both in February
Previously Unseen Stage of Planet Formation Observed
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Seen from the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) in Chile; scientists have detected a gas giant planet focusing material from a gas cloud toward a main star. The star, HD 142527, is a young 2 million years old, and is 450 light-years from Earth. The system has 'A disk of spinning dust and gas left over from its formation... and from this material, planets are being created.' The planetesimals are drawing material from the dust cloud inward, effectively fueling the expansion of the parent star, currently twice the size of our own Sun. 'Theoretical simulations have predicted such bridges between outer and inner portions of disks surrounding stars, but none have been directly observed until now.' Simon Casassus, lead scientist at the University of Chile, said, 'Currently, the only mechanism known to produce such gap-crossing dense molecular flows, with residual carbon monoxide gas more diffusely spread out inside the gap, is planetary formation.' While the planets currently are not visible, their presence is very noticeable. More examination of the dust cloud is needed to precisely pinpoint the planet(s).
Quantum Gas Goes Below Absolute Zero
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a story about scientists at Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich who have created an atomic gas that goes below absolute zero.
"It may sound less likely than hell freezing over, but physicists have created an atomic gas with a sub-absolute-zero temperature for the first time. Their technique opens the door to generating negative-Kelvin materials and new quantum devices, and it could even help to solve a cosmological mystery."
Peel-and-Stick Solar Cells Created At Stanford University
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Traditionally, thin-film solar cells are made with rigid glass substrates, limiting their potential applications. Flexible versions do exist, although they require special production techniques and/or materials. Now, however, scientists from Stanford University have created thin, flexible solar cells that are made from standard materials and they can applied to just about any surface, like a sticker. The cells have been successfully applied to a variety of both flat and curved surfaces including glass, plastic and paper without any loss of efficiency. Not only does the new process allow for solar cells to applied to things like mobile devices, helmets, dashboards or windows, but the stickers are reportedly both lighter and less costly to make than equivalent-sized traditional photovoltaic panels. There's also no waste involved, as the silicon/silicon dioxide wafers can be reused.
West Antarctica Warming Faster Than Thought
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NY Times reports that West Antarctica has warmed more over the last half century than was first thought. A paper released Sunday by the journal Nature Geoscience found that the temperature at a research station in the middle of West Antarctica has warmed by 4.4 degrees Fahrenheit since 1958. That is roughly twice as much as scientists previously thought and three times the overall rate of global warming, making central West Antarctica one of the fastest-warming regions on earth.
2012 Another Record-Setter For Weather, Fits Climate Forecasts
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The Associated Press reports: 'In 2012 many of the warnings scientists have made about global warming went from dry studies in scientific journals to real-life video played before our eyes. As 2012 began, winter in the U.S. went AWOL. Spring and summer arrived early with wildfires, blistering heat and drought. And fall hit the eastern third of the country with the ferocity of Superstorm Sandy. Globally, five countries this year set heat records, but none set cold records. 2012 is on track to be the warmest year on record in the United States. Worldwide, the average through November suggests it will be the eighth warmest since global record-keeping began in 1880 and will likely beat 2011 as the hottest La Nina year on record. America's heartland lurched from one extreme to the other without stopping at "normal." Historic flooding in 2011 gave way to devastating drought in 2012. But the most troubling climate development this year was the melting at the top of the world. Summer sea ice in the Arctic shrank to 18 percent below the previous record low. These are "clearly not freak events," but "systemic changes," said climate scientist Stefan Rahmstorf of the Potsdam Institute in Germany. "With all the extremes that, really, every year in the last 10 years have struck different parts of the globe, more and more people absolutely realize that climate change is here and already hitting us."'
Twin Probes Crash Into the Moon
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After their yearlong mission to map the Moon's gravitational field, twin probes Ebb and Flow crashed into the lunar surface, ending the GRAIL mission. The crashes were controlled events, each impacting 30 seconds apart from each other. The twin spacecraft were running low on maneuvering fuel and NASA, not wanting the crafts to fall on historical sites such as the Apollo landing sites, redirected their flight patterns to impart the far (dark) side of the moon. Their impact sites were named after Sally Ride, the first American woman in space. 'During the news conference last week, Maria T. Zuber, the principal investigator, said the probes would be crashing into a "non-sunlit" part of the surface.' When the site becomes sunlit again in several weeks, the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter will attempt to take pictures of the craters the probes undoubtedly made in the lunar soil.
Hubble Sees Tribe of Baby Galaxies 13+ Billion Light Years Away
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Using Hubble Space Telescope, astronomers have spotted seven galaxies that are all over 13 billion light years away... including one that appears to be a record breaker at a staggering 13.3+ billion light years distant. That one is seen as it was only 380 million years after the Big Bang. This observation reaches into the era of the young cosmos when stars were first forming, and allows astronomers to better understand what the Universe was like back then - a time we know very little about.
You're not anonymous. I know your name, email, and company.
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there is a "website intelligence" network that tracks form submissions across their customer network. So, if a visitors fills out a form on Site A with their name and email, Site B knows their name and email too as soon as they land on the site.
Brain Cells Made From Urine
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Scientists have found a relatively straightforward way to persuade the cells discarded in human urine to turn into valuable neurons. The technique, described online in a study in Nature Methods this week (abstract), does not involve embryonic stem cells. These come with serious drawbacks when transplanted, such as the risk of developing tumors. Instead, the method uses ordinary cells present in urine, and transforms them into neural progenitor cells the precursors of brain cells. Researchers routinely reprogram cultured skin and blood cells into induced pluripotent stem cells, which can go on to form any cell in the body. But urine is a much more accessible source.
Apollo Veteran: Skip Asteroid, Go To the Moon
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It's 40 years to the day that the final mission to the moon launched. Discovery News speaks with Apollo 17 astronaut and geologist Harrison 'Jack' Schmitt about where he thinks the Earth's only satellite came from and why he thinks a NASA manned asteroid mission is a mistake. 'I think an asteroid is a diversion,' said Schmitt. 'If the ultimate goal is to get to Mars, you have a satellite only three days away that has a great deal of science as well as resources. The science of the moon has just been scratched. We've hardly explored the moon.'
The National Research Council came out with a report a few days ago which found that the inability for the U.S. to find a consensus on where to go is damaging its ability to get there. Bill Nye spoke about the issue, saying, "I believe, as a country, we want to move NASA from [being] an engineering organization to a science organization, and this is going to take years, decades. Now, through investment, we have companies emerging that are exploring space on their own and will ultimately lower the cost of access to low-Earth orbit, which will free up NASA to go to these new and exciting places.
Voyager 1, So Close To Interstellar Space That We Can Taste It!
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Voyager 1 is nearing the edge of the 'magnetic highway' of our solar system and scientists believe this is thefinal area the space probe must cross before entering interstellar space. The Voyager team infers this region is still inside of our heliosphere because the direction of the magnetic field has not changed. The direction of this field is expected to change when Voyager goes into interstellar space. 'Although Voyager 1 still is inside the sun's environment, we now can taste what it's like on the outside because the particles are zipping in and out on this magnetic highway,' said Edward Stone, Voyager project scientist based at the California Institute of Technology, Pasadena. 'We believe this is the last leg of our journey to interstellar space. Our best guess is it's likely just a few months to a couple years away. The new region isn't what we expected, but we've come to expect the unexpected from Voyager.' Moving at 10.5 miles per second, the space probe is the most distant man-made object from Earth. The space craft has been in operation for 35 years and receives regular commands and transmits data back to the Deep Space Network.
MESSENGER Probe Finds Strong Evidence of Ice On Mercury
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The Bad Astronomer writes
"Just in time for the holiday season, the NASA space probe MESSENGER appears to have all but confirmed the existence of ice at Mercury's north pole. Ice has long been suspected to be hiding in permanently shadowed areas in deep craters at the planet's pole, but new data show several converging lines of evidence (thermal and visible light mapping, radar, neutron emission) that as much as a trillion tons of ice may be buried just centimeters deep under the surface. Scientists also see evidence of organic (carbon-based) molecules as well. That's not life, but it's more of an indication that volatile compounds can exist on the solar system's innermost planet."
Further, astroengine writes
"New results from the MESSENGER spacecraft not only confirm that the planet closest to the sun has ice inside shaded craters near the north pole, but that a thin layer of very dark organic material seems to be covering a good part of the frozen water. Both likely arrived via comets or asteroids millions - or hundreds of millions - of years ago."
Gameplay: the Missing Ingredient In Most Games
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Game designer Tadhg Kelly has an article discussing the direction the games industry has taken over the past several years. Gaming has become more of a business, and in doing so, become more of a science as well. When maximizing revenue is a primary concern, development studios try to reduce successful game designs to individual elements, then naively seek to add those elements to whatever game they're working on, like throwing spices into a stew. Kelly points out that indie developers who are willing to experiment often succeed becausethey understand something more fundamental about games: fun. Quoting: 'The guy who invented Minecraft(Markus "Notch" Persson) didn't just create a giant virtual world in which you could make stuff, he made it challenging. When Will Wright created the Sims, he didn't just make a game about living in a virtual house. He made it difficult to live successfully. That's why both of those franchises have sold millions of copies. The fun factor is about more than making a game is amusing or full of pretty rewards. If your game is a dynamic system to be mastered and won, then you can go nuts. If you can give the player real fun then you can afford to break some of those format rules, and that's how you get to lead rather than follow the market. If not then be prepared to pay through the nose to acquire and retain players.'
Judge Demands Email and Facebook Passwords From Women In Sexual Harassment Case
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Why don't they demand the same for the males?
Back in September, a U.S. judge ruled that a school district violated the First Amendment (freedom of speech) and Fourth Amendment (unreasonable search and seizure) rights of a 12-year-old student by forcing her to hand over her Facebook password to school officials who in turn used it to search for messages they deemed inappropriate. This month, another U.S. judge has ordered that women suing their employer for sexual harassment must hand over cell phones, passwords to their email accounts, blogs, as well as to Facebook and other social networks.
Mannequins That Watch Shoppers
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Benetton Group SpA is among fashion brands deploying mannequins equipped with technology used to identify criminals at airports to watch over shoppers in their stores. Retailers are introducing the EyeSee ... The 4,000-euro ($5,072) device has spurred shops to adjust window displays, store layouts and promotions to keep consumers walking in the door and spending. The EyeSee looks ordinary enough on the outside ... Inside, it's no dummy. A camera embedded in one eye feeds data into facial-recognition software like that used by police. Itlogs the age, gender, and race of passers-by. Demand for the device shows how retailers are turning to technology to help personalize their offers as growth slows in the $245 billion luxury goods industry. Bain & Co. predicts the luxury market will expand 5 percent in 2012, less than half last year's rate. 'It's a changing landscape but we're always going to be sensitive about respecting the customer's boundaries,' said spokesman Colin Johnson. ... Since the EyeSee doesn't store any images, retailers can use it as long as they have a closed-circuit television license.
Newly Released Einstein Brain Photos Hint At the Anatomy of Genius
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Photographs of Einstein's brain taken shortly after his death, but never before analysed in detail, have now revealed that it had several unusual features, providing tantalizing clues about the neural basis of his extraordinary mental abilities. The most striking observation was 'the complexity and pattern of convolutions on certain parts of Einstein's cerebral cortex,' especially in the prefrontal cortex, and also parietal lobes and visual cortex. The prefrontal cortex is important for the kind of abstract thinking that Einstein would have needed for his famous thought experiments on the nature of space and time, such as imagining riding alongside a beam of light. The unusually complex pattern of convolutions there probably gave the region a larger-than-normal surface area, which may have contributed to his remarkable abilities.
GOP Brief Attacks Current Copyright Law
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In less than a day, the RNC disowned and pulled the brief. You can read it on Scribd.
Regardless of how one feels about the GOP generally, it is always heartening to see current copyright and IP law questioned on a national stage. A Republican study committee, chaired by Ohio Representative Jim Jordan released a brief today titled Three Myths about Copyright Law and Where to Start to Fix it. Among other things, the brief attacks current copyright law as hampering scientific inquiry, penalizing journalism, and retarding the potential of the internet to allow the dispersion of knowledge through e-readers. In the briefs words, 'Current copyright law does not merely distort some markets - rather it destroys entire markets.' Four potential policy solutions are proposed: statutory damage reform, expansion of fair use, punishing false copyright claims, and limiting copyright terms. There may yet be hope for a national debate on the current oppressive copyright system, if just a fool's hope.
Brain Scans of Rappers and Jazz Musicians Shed Light On Creativity
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Rappers making up rhymes on the fly while in a brain scanner haveprovided an insight into the creative process. Freestyle rapping - in which a performer improvises a song by stringing together unrehearsed lyrics - is a highly prized skill in hip hop. But instead of watching a performance in a club, Siyuan Liu and Allen Braun, neuroscientists at the U.S. National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders in Bethesda, Maryland, and their colleagues had 12 rappers freestyle in a functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) machine. The artists also recited a set of memorized lyrics chosen by the researchers. By comparing the brain scans from rappers taken during freestyling to those taken during the rote recitation, they were able to see which areas of the brain are used during improvisation. The rappers showed lower activity in part of their frontal lobes called the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex during improvisation, and increased activity in another area, called the medial prefrontal cortex. The areas that were found to be 'deactivated' are associated with regulating other brain functions. The results echo an earlier study of jazz musicians. The findings also suggest an explanation for why new music might seem to the artist to be created of its own accord. With less involvement by the lateral prefrontal regions of the brain, the performance could seem to its creator to have 'occurred outside of conscious awareness,' the authors write in the paper.
How To Catch Photoshop Plagiarism?
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A friend of mine teaches electronic media (Photoshop, Premiere, etc.) at a local high-school. Right now, they're doing Photoshop, and each chapter in the book starts with an 'end result' file which shows what they're going to construct in that chapter, and then, given the basic graphical assets (background textures, photos, etc.), the students need to duplicate the same look in the final-result file. The problem, of course, is that some students just grab the final-result file and rename it and turn it in. Some are a little less brazen and they rename a few layers, maybe alter the colors on a few images, etc. So, it becomes time-consuming for her to open each file alongside the final-result file to see if it's 'too perfect.'
Petraeus Case Illustrates FBI Authority To Read Email
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Back in April, we discussed how the 1986 Electronic Communications Privacy Act says email that has resided on a server for more than six months can be considered abandoned. The recent investigation of General Petraeus brings this issue to light again, and perhaps to a broader audience. Under current U.S. law, federal authorities need only a subpoena approved by a federal prosecutor not a judge to obtain electronic messages that are six months old or older. Do you know anyone these days who doesn't have IMAP accounts with 6+-month-old mail on them?
'Treasure Trove' In Oceans May Bring Revolutions In Medicine and Industry
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Scientists have pinpointed a new treasure trove in our oceans: micro-organisms that contain millions of previously unknown genes and thousands of new families of proteins. These tiny marine wonders offer a chance to exploit a vast pool of material that could be used to create innovative medicines, industrial solvents, chemical treatments and other processes, scientists say. Researchers have already created new enzymes for treating sewage and chemicals for making soaps from material they have found in ocean organisms. 'The potential for marine biotechnology is almost infinite,' says Curtis Suttle, professor of earth, ocean and atmospheric sciences at the University of British Columbia. 'It has become clear that most of the biological and genetic diversity on Earth is by far tied up in marine ecosystems, and in particular in their microbial components. By weight, more than 95% of all living organisms found in the oceans are microbial. This is an incredible resource.'
NASA Pondering L2 Outpost, Return To Moon
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Now that the election is over, any voters that may have been influenced can rest easy. Space.com reports that the agency has been 'thinking about setting up a manned outpost beyond the moon's far side, both to establish a human presence in deep space and to build momentum toward a planned visit to an asteroid in 2025.' Space policy expert John Logsdon said, 'NASA has been evolving its thinking, and its latest charts have inserted a new element of cislunar/lunar gateway/Earth-moon L2 sort of stuff into the plan. They've been holding off announcing that until after the election.' According to the article, 'Rumors currently point toward parking a spacecraft at the Earth-moonL2 gateway, so NASA (and perhaps international partners) can learn more about supporting humans in deep space. Astronauts stationed there could also aid in lunar exploration by teleoperating rovers on the moon's surface, for example.'
Undocumented Gmail Search Operator Locates all the Emails with Large Attachments
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Gmail supports an undocumented size search operator that will let you quickly find all the big emails in the mailbox whose size exceeds a particular threshold. You can also have the attachments copied to your Google Drive.
The Privacy Illusion
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Scott Adams has an entertaining entry on his Dilbert Blog about the perception of privacy. He writes, 'It has come to my attention that many of my readers in the United States believe they have the right to privacy because of something in the Constitution. That is an unsupportable view. A more accurate view is that the government divides the details of your life into two categories: 1. Stuff they don't care about. 2. Stuff they can find out if they have a reason.' His post is written in response to some reader comments on another entry about privacy guardians andhow swell life would be if we voluntarily gave up certain personal info.
Curiosity Snaps 'Arm's Length' Self Portrait
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Using its robotic arm-mounted MAHLI camera, NASA's Mars rover Curiosity has snapped, quite possibly, the most iconic image to come from the mission so far. By stitching together 55 high-resolution photos, the rover has snapped an 'arm's length' self portrait, capturing its location in the geologically interesting area known as 'Rocknest,' including its recent scoop marks in the Martian soil and the base of Mt. Sharp.
WW2 Carrier Pigeon and Undecoded Message Found In Chimney
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The BBC is reporting that the remains of a World War 2 carrier pigeon were found during renovation of a chimney in England. What is interesting is that the pigeon's remains still had its message attached to the leg ring; even more interesting, this is the first recorded instance of a code being used rather than plain text. The successor to WW2 code-breaking HQ Bletchley Park, the GCHQ, is trying to decipher this unique code. Maybe a Slashdot reader can beat them to it?
US Government: You Don't Own Your Cloud Data So We Can Access It At Any Time
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On Tuesday the EFF filed a brief proposing a process for the Court in the Megaupload case to hold the government accountable for the actions it took (and failed to take) when it shut down Megaupload's service and denied third parties access to their property. Many businesses used Megaupload's cloud service to store and share files not related to piracy. The government is calling for a long, drawn-out process that would require individuals or small companies to travel to courts far away and engage in multiple hearings just to get their own property back. Additionally, the government's argument that you lose all your property rights by storing your data on the cloud could apply to Amazon's S3 or Google Apps or Apple iCloud services as well (see page 4 of their filing).
Atlantic Hurricane Season 30 Percent Stronger Than Normal
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The National Hurricane Center reported today that the combined energy and duration of all the storms in the Atlantic basin hurricane season was 30 percent above the average from 1981 to 2010. At Weather Underground, Dr. Jeff Masters blogs that record low levels of arctic ice could have caused a 'blocking ridge' over Greenland that pushed Hurricane Sandy west. Meanwhile, Bloomberg BusinessWeek says, 'it's global warming, stupid.'
Curiosity Finds Volcanic Soils
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NASA's Curiosity Mars rover has completed its first soil analysis of the Red Planet. The unmanned explorer used an advanced, miniaturized X-ray diffraction instrument that is part of the Chemistry and Mineralogy instrument (CheMin) of its internal laboratory. The soil, collected at a site designated 'Rocknest' in Gale Crater, reveals that Martian soil is a weathered volcanic type similar to soils found in the Hawaiian Islands."
And, of course, a shot of the area because it looks cool.
Our Weather Satellites Are Dying
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The NY Times reports that some experts say it is almost certain that the U.S. will soon face a year or more without crucial weather satellites that provide invaluable data for predicting storm tracks. This is because the existing polar satellites are nearing or beyond their life expectancies, and the launching of the next replacement, known as JPSS-1, has slipped until early 2017. Polar satellites provide 84 percent of the data used in the main American computer model tracking the course of Hurricane Sandy, which at first was expected to amble away harmlessly, but now appears poised to strike the mid-Atlantic states. The mismanagement of the $13 billion program to build the next generation weather satellites was recently described as a 'national embarrassment' by a top official of the Commerce Department. A launch mishap or early on-orbit failure of JPSS 1 could lead to a data gap of more than 5 years. The second JPSS satellite - JPSS 2 - is not scheduled for launch until 2022. 'There is no more critical strategic issue for our weather satellite programs than the risk of gaps in satellite coverage,' writes Jane Lubchenco, the under-secretary responsible for the Commerce Department's National Oceanic and Atmospheric Agency. 'This dysfunctional program that had become a national embarrassment due to chronic management problems.' As a aside, This isn't the first time NOAA has been in this situation. 'In 1992 NOAA's GOES weather satellites were at the end of their useful lives and could have failed at any time,' I wrote as a project manager for AlliedSignal at that time. 'So NOAA made an agreement with the government of Germany to borrow a Meteosat Weather Satellite as a backup and drift it over from Europe to provide weather coverage for the US's Eastern seaboard in the event of an early GOES failure.'
How employers make it hard to find good workers
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There are about 12 million unemployed people in the United States, and yet many employers will tell you that one of the biggest problems they face is finding qualified workers.
But as the job market slowly recovers, many also are pointing their fingers back at employers, who they say have become overly choosy and too reliant on technology that won't always spot the best candidate.
Malware Is 'Rampant' On Medical Devices In Hospitals
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Computerized hospital equipment is increasingly vulnerable to malware infections, according to participants in a recent government panel. These infections can clog patient-monitoring equipment and other software systems, at times rendering the devices temporarily inoperable. While no injuries have been reported, the malware problem at hospitals is clearly rising nationwide, says Kevin Fu, a leading expert on medical-device security and a computer scientist at the University of Michigan and the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, who took part in the panel discussion. [He said], 'Conventional malware is rampant in hospitals because of medical devices using unpatched operating systems. There's little recourse for hospitals when a manufacturer refuses to allow OS updates or security patches.' ... Despite FDA guidance issued in 2009 to hospitals and manufacturers-encouraging them to work together and stressing that eliminating security risks does not always require regulatory review-many manufacturers interpret the fine print in other ways and don't offer updates, Fu says. And such reporting is not required unless a patient is harmed.
Apple Has Quietly Started Tracking iPhone Users Again, And It's Tricky To Opt Out
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Apple's launch of the iPhone 5 in September came with a bunch of new commercials to promote the device.

But Apple didn't shout quite so loud about an enhancement to its new mobile operating system, iOS 6, which also occurred in September: The company has started tracking users so that advertisers can target them again, through a new tracking technology called IFA or IDFA.
These 19th Century Postcards Predicted Our Future
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Starting in 1899, a commercial artist named Jean-Marc Ct and other artists were hired to create a series of picture cards to depict how life in France would look in a century's time. Sadly, they were never actually distributed. However, the only known set of cards to exist was discovered by Isaac Asimov, who wrote a book in 1986 called 'Futuredays' in which he presented the illustrations with commentary. What's amazing about this collection is how close their predictions were in a lot of cases, and how others are close at hand.
Amateur Planet Hunters Find First Planet In a Four-Star System
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For the first time, a planet has been found in a stellar system composed of four stars. The planet, called PH-1, orbits a binary star made of two sun-like stars in a tight orbit. That binary is itself orbited by another binary pair much farther out. Even more amazing, this planet was found by two "citizen scientists", amateurs who participated in Planet Hunters, a project which puts Kepler Observatory data online for lay people to analyze. At least two confirmed planets have been found by this project, but this is the first ever in a quaternary system.
Dying Star Weaves a Trillion-Mile-Wide Spiral In the Sky
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Using the newly-commissioned ALMA radio observatory, astronomers have taken detailed images of one of the most amazing objects in the sky: the red giant R Sculptoris (abstract). As the star dies, it undergoes gigantic seizures beneath its surface that blast out waves of gas and dust from the surface. These normally expand into a spherical shell, but the presence of a nearby companion star changes things. The combined orbits of the two stars fling out the material like a garden sprinkler, forming enormous and incredibly beautiful spiral arms. Measuring the size and shape of the spiral shows the last eruption was 1800 years ago, lasted for nearly two centuries, and expelled enough material to make a thousand earths.
Supreme Court To Decide Whether Or Not You Own What You Own
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The Supreme Court is set to decide, in the case of Kirtsaeng v. John Wiley & Sons, whether or not First Sale Doctrine applies to products made with parts sourced from outside the United States. If the Supreme Court upholds an appellate ruling, it would mean that the IP holders of anything you own that has been made in China, Japan or Europe, for example, would have to give you permission to sell it. Your old used CDs, cell phone, books, or that Ford truck with foreign parts? It may not be yours to sell unless you get explicit permission and presumably pay royalties. 'It would be absurd to say anything manufactured abroad can't be bought or sold here,' said Marvin Ammori, a First Amendment lawyer and Schwartz Fellow at the New American Foundation who specializes in technology issues.
Google and Apple Spent More On Patents Than R&D Last Year
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NYTimes has an interesting article about how patents are really stifling innovation in the tech industry. Today, almost every major technology company is involved in ongoing patent battles. Of course, the most significant player is Apple, industry executives say, because of its influence and the size of its claims: in August in California, the company won a $1 billion patent infringement judgment against Samsung. Former Apple employees say senior executives made a deliberate decision over the last decade, after Apple was a victim of patent attacks, to use patents as leverage against competitors to the iPhone, the company's biggest source of profits. At a technology conference this year, Apple's chief executive, Timothy D. Cook, said patent battles had not slowed innovation at the company, but acknowledged that some aspects of the battles had 'kind of gotten crazy.' It is a complaint heard throughout the industry. The increasing push to assert ownership of broad technologies has led to a destructive arms race, engineers say. Some point to so-called patent trolls, companies that exist solely to sue over patent violations. Others say big technology companies have also exploited the system's weaknesses. 'There are hundreds of ways to write the same computer program,' said James Bessen, a legal expert at Harvard. And so patent applications often try to encompass every potential aspect of a new technology. When such applications are approved, Mr. Bessen said, 'the borders are fuzzy, so it's really easy to accuse others of trespassing on your ideas.'
NASA Prepares For Space Surgery and Zero Gravity Blood
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Draining an infected abscess is a straightforward procedure on Earth but on a spaceship travelling to the moon or Mars, it could kill everyone on board. Now Rebecca Rosen writes that if humans are to one day go to Mars, one logistical hurdle that will need to be overcome is what to do if one of the crew members has a medical emergency and needs surgery. 'Based on statistical probability, there is a high likelihood of trauma or a medical emergency on a deep space mission,' says Carnegie Mellon professor James Antaki. It's not just a matter of whether you'll have the expertise on board to carry out such a task: Surgery in zero gravity presents its own set of potentially deadly complications because in zero gravity, blood and bodily fluids will not just stay put, in the body where they belong but could contaminate the entire cabin, threatening everybody on board. This week, NASA is testing a device known as the Aqueous Immersion Surgical System (AISS) that could possibly make space surgery possible. Designed by researchers at Carnegie Mellon and the University of Louisville, AISS is a domed box that can fit over a wound. When filled with a sterile saline solution, a water-tight seal is created that prevents fluids from escaping. It can also be used to collect blood for possible reuse.
Astronomers Search For Dyson Spheres of Alien Civilizations
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An article by Ross Andersen makes note of Freeman Dyson's prediction in 1960 that every civilization in the Universe eventually runs out of energy on its home planet, a major hurdle in a civilization's evolution. Dyson argued that all those who leap over it do so in precisely the same way: they build a massive collector of starlight, a shell of solar panels to surround their home star. Last month astronomers began a two-year search for Dyson Spheres, a search that will span the Milky Way, along with millions of other galaxies. The search is funded by a sizable grant from the Templeton Foundation, a philanthropic organization that funds research on the 'big questions' that face humanity, questions relating to 'human purpose and ultimate reality.' Compared with SETI, a search for Dyson Spheres assumes that the larger the civilization, the more energy it uses and the more heat it re-radiates. If Dyson Spheres exist, they promise to give off a very particular kind of heat signature, a signature that we should be able to see through our infrared telescopes. 'A Dyson Sphere would appear very bright in the mid-infrared,' says project leader Jason Wright. 'Just like your body, which is invisible in the dark, but shines brightly in mid-infrared goggles.' A civilization that built a Dyson Sphere would have to go to great lengths to avoid detection, building massive radiators that give off heat so cool it would be undetectable, a solution that would involve building a sphere that was a hundred times larger than necessary. 'If a civilization wants to hide, it's certainly possible to hide,' says Wright, 'but it requires massive amounts of deliberate engineering across an entire civilization.'
For Obama, Jobs, and Zuckerberg, Boring Is Productive
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Robert C. Pozen writes in the Harvard Business Review that while researching a behind-the-scenes article of President Obama's daily life, Michael Lewis asked President Obama about his practice of routinizing the routine. 'I eat essentially the same thing for breakfast each morning: a bowl of cold cereal and a banana. For lunch, I eat a chicken salad sandwich with a diet soda. Each morning, I dress in one of a small number of suits, each of which goes with particular shirts and ties.' Why does President Obama subject himself to such boring routines? Because making too many decisions about mundane details is a waste of your mental energy, a limited resource. If you want to be able to have more mental resources throughout the day, you should identify the aspects of your life that you consider mundane - and then "routinize" those aspects as much as possible. Obama's practice is echoed by Steve Jobs who decided to wear the same outfit every day, so that he didn't have to think about it and the recent disclosure that Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg is proud that he wears the same outfit every day adding that he owns 'maybe about 20' of the gray, scoop neck shirts he's become famous for. 'The point is that you should decide what you don't care about and that you should learn how to run those parts of your life on autopilot,' writes Pozen. 'Instead of wasting your mental energy on things that you consider unimportant, save it for those decisions, activities, and people that matter most to you.'
Earthquakes Correlated With Texan Fracking Sites
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A recent peer reviewed paper and survey by Cliff Frohlich of the University of Texas' Institute for Geophysics reveals a correlation between an increase in earthquakes and the emergence of fracking sites in the Barnett Shale, Texas. To clarify, it is not the actual act of hydrofracking that induces earthquakes, but more likely the final process of injecting wastewater into the site, according to Oliver Boyd, a USGS seismologist. Boyd said, 'Most, if not all, geophysicists expect induced earthquakes to be more likely from wastewater injection rather than hydrofracking. This is because the wastewater injection tends to occur at greater depth, where earthquakes are more likely to nucleate. I also agree [with Frohlich] that induced earthquakes are likely to persist for some time (months to years) after wastewater injection has ceased.' Frohlich added, 'Faults are everywhere. A lot of them are stuck, but if you pump water in there, it reduces friction and the fault slips a little. I can't prove that that's what happened, but it's a plausible explanation.' In the U.S. alone this correlation has been noted several times.
Woman Successfully Grows Ear From Arm
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In 2008, Sherrie Walters, now 42 years old, discovered that she had rapidly spreading basal cell cancer in her ear. The disease is a type of skin cancer. The doctors pursued an aggressive treatment to combat the destructive disease, removing her ear, part of her skull, and her left ear canal. Though Walters was left without an ear, she was still able to hear with the help of a special hearing aid. A few months ago, doctors from the renowned Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore decided to try a new procedure on Walters. Using cartilage from her rib, the doctors stitched a new ear to match her right one. Then their creation was implanted under the skin of her forearm, where the ear grew for months. ...Doctors attached the ear and blood vessels surgically. Another surgery, conducted this week, gave the ear shape and detail. Dr. Patrick Byrne, a revered plastic and reconstructive surgeon, says that after the swelling goes down and the ear heals, Walters will have an ear that both looks and functions normally.
Google Captures Great Barrier Reef in First-ever Underwater 'Street View'
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Google has released the first-ever underwater street view of some of the worlds most famous undersea locations the Great Barrier Reef, Hawaiis Hanauma Bay, and Apo Island in the Philippines.
The Deepest Picture of the Universe Ever Taken: the Hubble Extreme Deep Field
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Astronomers have unveiled what may be the deepest image of the Universe ever created: the Hubble Extreme Deep Field, a 2 million second exposure that reveals galaxies over 13 billion light years away. The faintest galaxies in the images are at magnitude 31, or one-ten-billionth as bright as the faintest object your naked eye can detect. Some are seen as they were when they were only 500 million years old.
US Patent Office Seeks Aid To Spot Bogus Patent Claims
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Members of the public are being asked by the US Patent Office to help weed out bogus patent applications. It wants the public to contribute to a website that will spot applications for patents on technologies that have already been invented. The website, called Ask Patents, will be run by US firm Stack Exchange that has a track record of operating Q&A websites.
Federal Judge Says No Right To Secret Ballot, OKs Barcoded Ballots
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A Colorado county put bar codes on printed ballots in a last minute effort to comply with a rule about eliminating identifying markings. Citizens sued, because the bar codes can still be traced back to individual voters. In a surprise ruling, Denver U.S. District Judge Christine Arguello said the U.S. Constitution did not contain a 'fundamental right' to secret ballots, and that the citizens could not show their voting rights had been violated, nor that they might suffer any specific injury from the bar codes.
Medicare Bills Rise As Records Turn Electronic
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As part of the economic stimulus program, the Obama administration put into effect a Bush-era incentive program that provides tens of billions of dollars for physicians and hospitals that make the switch to electronic records, using systems likeAthenahealth [note: video advertisement] (which made U.S. CTO Todd Park a wealthy man). The goal was not only to improve efficiency and patient safety, but also to reduce health care costs. But, in reality, the move to electronic health records may be contributing to billions of dollars in higher costs for Medicare, private insurers and patients by making it easier for hospitals and physicians to bill more for their services, whether or not they provide additional care. Hospitals received $1 billion more in Medicare reimbursements in 2010 than they did five years earlier, at least in part by changing the billing codes they assign to patients in emergency rooms, according to a NY Times analysis. There are also fears that features which can be used to automatically generate detailed patient histories and clone examination findings for multiple patients make it too easy to give the appearance that more thorough exams were conducted than perhaps were. Critics say the abuses are widespread. 'It's like doping and bicycling,' said Dr. Donald W. Simborg. 'Everybody knows it's going on.
A scrap of papyrus contains "Jesus said to them, 'My wife …'
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A historian of early Christianity at Harvard Divinity School has identified a scrap of papyrus that she says was written in Coptic in the fourth century and contains a phrase never seen in any piece of scripture: "Jesus said to them, 'My wife …'"

The faded papyrus fragment is smaller than a business card, with eight lines on one side, in black ink legible under a magnifying glass. Just below the line about Jesus having a wife, the papyrus includes a second provocative clause that purportedly says, "she will be able to be my disciple."
First Word On Results From GRAIL, NASA's Moon Gravity Mission
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Nature has advance word on the first science results from GRAIL, NASA's twin probes launched a year ago which are mapping the gravity of the Moon from lunar orbit. This is coming out in advance of any official publication or NASA release, so the data isn't available, but the story trails what the PI Maria Zuber told a Harvard CFA colloquium last week are some of the team's key scientific findings: including that the Moon's crust is substantially thinner than once thought; and some of the more speculative impact basins haven't been confirmed.
Warp Drive Might Be Less Impossible Than Previously Thought
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Harold 'Sonny' White of NASA's Johnson Space Center said Friday (Sept. 14) at the 100 Year Starship Symposium that warp drive might be easier to achieve than earlier thought. The first concept for a real-life warp drive was suggested in 1994by Mexican physicist Miguel Alcubierre, however subsequent calculations found that such a device would require prohibitive amounts of energy, studies estimated the warp drive would require a minimum amount of energy about equal to the mass-energy of the planet Jupiter. But recent calculations showed that if the shape of the ring encircling the spacecraft was adjusted into more of a rounded donut, as opposed to a flat ring the warp drive could be powered by the energy of a mass as small as 500 kg. Furthermore, if the intensity of the space warps can be oscillated over time, the energy required is reduced even more.
Study Urges CIOs To Choose Open Source First
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A new study has urged CIOs to consider open source over proprietary software or public cloud services when replacing legacy gear. But the study's author, Professor Jim Norton, warns that open source won't be a cure-all for some companies. From the article: ' Open source software, Norton said, provides enterprise IT with easier access to innovation via a "great global self-re-enforcing community of shared resources, ideas and development." That same community provides a faster response to changes in customer preferences communicated on social networks or via business analytics, and faster resolution of common system problems.'
Easy Fix For Software Patents Found In US Patent Act
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What if there was an easy, inexpensive way to bring software patents under control, that did not involve Congress, which applied retrospectively to all patents and which was already part of the U.S. Patent Act? Stanford law professor Mark Lemley thinks he's found it. He asserts that the current runaway destruction being caused by software patents is just like previous problems with U.S. patent law, and that Congress included language in the Patent Act of 1952 that can be invoked over software patents just like it fixed the earlier problems. All it will take is a future defendant in a patent trial using his read of a crucial section of the Patent Act in their defense to establish case law. Can it really be that easy?
George Albercook Teaches Kids About Space with High-Altitude Balloons (Video)
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George Albercook says he got carried away talking with some third and fourth graders about space and asked them, "Would you like to go?" Except, of course, he couldn't send them beyond the atmosphere in person, so as a consolation he worked with them to send up a balloon that could carry experiments high enough that the sky is black 24 hours a day and the Earth's curvature is easy to see. This interview with George was at the 2012 Ann Arbor Mini Maker Faire.
Scientists Themselves Play Large Role In Bad Reporting
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A lot of science reporting is sensationalized nonsense but are are journalists, as a whole, really that bad at their jobs? Christie Wilcox reports that a team of French scientists have examined the language used in press releases for medical studies and found it was the scientists and their press offices that were largely to blame. As expected, they found that the media's portrayal of results was often sensationalistic. More than half of the news items they examined contained spin. But, while the researchers found a lot of over-reporting, they concluded that most of it was 'probably related to the presence of ''spin'' in conclusions of the scientific article's abstract.' It turns out that 47% of the press releases contained spin. Even more importantly, of the studies they examined, 40% of the study abstracts or conclusions did, too. When the study itself didn't contain spin to begin with, only 17% of the news items were sensationalistic, and of those, 3/4 got their hype from the press release. 'In the journal articles themselves, they found that authors spun their own results a variety of ways,' writes Wilcox. 'Most didn't acknowledge that their results were not significant or chose to focus on smaller, significant findings instead of overall non-significant ones in their abstracts and conclusions, though some contained outright inappropriate interpretations of their data.'
The Algorithmic Copyright Cops: Streaming Video's Robotic Overlords
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This is what happens when the fight against piracy gets out of control. The owners of the content can't make it available for others.
Geeta Dayal of Wired's Threat Level blog posts an interesting report about bot-mediated automatic takedowns of streaming video. He mentions the interruption of Michelle Obama's speech at the DNC, and the blocking of NASA's coverage of Mars rover Curiosity's landing by a Scripps News Service bot, but the story really drills down on the abrupt disappearance of the Hugo Award's live stream of Neil Gaiman's acceptance speech for his Doctor Who script. (Apparently the trigger was a brief clip from the Doctor Who episode itself, despite the fact that it was clearly a case of fair use.) Dayal points the finger at Vobile, whose content-blocking technology was used by Ustream, which hosted the derailed coverage of the Hugos.
Twitter Based "Ted" System Warns of Earthquakes Earlier
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Twitter based system has managed to detect the earthquake off the Philippines before any other advanced spotting systems being used by Seismologists. US Geological Survey uses the micro-blogging site to quickly gather information about earthquakes around the globe through the use of a system Twitter Earthquake Detection (Ted) which put behind USGS' own sensors on Friday when it came to detecting 7.6 magnitude earthquake off the Philippine coast. The Ted system gathers earth-quake related messages (Tweets) in real-time from Twitter. The system takes into consideration various parameters like place, time, keywords, photographs of affected places where tremors have been detected. Online information posted by people, Tweets in this case, can be picked up faster by researchers as compared to scientific alerts that may take up to 20 minutes.
Debtors' Prison Is Back -- and Just as Cruel as Ever
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To most of us, "debtors' prison" sounds like an archaic institution, something straight out of a Dickens novel. But the idea of jailing people who can't pay what they owe is alive and well in 21st-century America.
DNA Analysis Suggests Humans Interbred With Denisovans
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Tens of thousands of years ago modern humans crossed paths with the group of hominins known as the Neandertals. Researchers now think they also met another, less-known group called the Denisovans. The only trace that we have found, however, is a single finger bone and two teeth, but those fragments have been enough to cradle wisps of Denisovan DNA across thousands of years inside a Siberian cave. Now a team of scientists has been able to reconstruct their entire genome from these meager fragments. The analysis supports the idea that Neandertals and Denisovans were more closely related to one another than either was to modern humans and also suggests new ways that early humans may have spread across the globe."
Also, an article that focuses on the new techniques used to sequence the DNA of the bone fragments in question.
The Case Against DNA
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Thanks to fast-paced television crime shows such as CSI, we have come to regard DNA evidence as incontestable. But BBC reports that David Butler has every right to be cynical about the use of DNA evidence by the police. Butler spent eight months in prison, on remand, facing murder charges after his DNA was allegedly found on the victim. 'I think in the current climate [DNA] has made police lazy,' says Butler. 'It doesn't matter how many times someone like me writes to them, imploring they look at the evidence... they put every hope they had in the DNA result.' The police had accused Butler of murdering a woman, Anne Marie Foy, in 2005 his DNA sample was on record after he had willingly given it to them as part of an investigation into a burglary at his mother's home some years earlier. But Butler has a rare skin condition, which means he sheds flakes of skin, leaving behind much larger traces of DNA than the average person. Butler worked as a taxi driver, and so it was possible for his DNA to be transferred from his taxi via money or another person, onto the murder victim. The case eventually went to trial and Butler was acquitted after CCTV evidence allegedly placing Butler in the area where the murder took place was disproved. Professor Allan Jamieson, head of the Glasgow-based Forensic Institute, has become a familiar thorn in the side of prosecutors seeking to rely on DNA evidence and has appeared as an expert witness for the defense in several important DNA-centered trials, most notably that of Sean Hoey, who was cleared of carrying out the 1998 Omagh bombing, which killed 29 people. Jamieson's main concern about the growing use of DNA in court cases is that a number of important factors human error, contamination, simple accident can suggest guilt where there is none. 'Does anyone realize how easy it is to leave a couple of cells of your DNA somewhere?' says Jamieson. 'You could shake my hand and I could put that hand down hundreds of miles away and leave your cells behind. In many cases, the question is not "Is it my DNA?", but 'How did it get there?"
NASA "Mohawk Guy" To Host Radio Show
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NASA's 'Mohawk Guy' Bobak Ferdowsi, a flight director for the Mars Science Laboratory mission that lowered the Curiosity rover to the Martian surface in early August, will host a two-hour online broadcaston Internet radio station Third Rock Radio at 4 p.m. EDT, Thursday, August 30. The show, entitled 'Getting Curious with the Mohawk Guy,' will feature Ferdowsi discussing his experience with the landing of Curiosity, NASA's evolving image, and renewed interest in science and exploration.
NASA's Kepler Discovers Multiple Planets Orbiting a Pair of Stars
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Kepler has continued its stellar (pun intended) discovery spree, this time locating multiple planets orbiting a Binary Star. This is especially interesting because this proves that more than a single planet can form under the stresses of a binary star system. The system is known as a circumbinary planetary system, a mechanism where a planet orbits two stars. Prior to this discovery multiple planets in a circumbinary system was unproven. ... Named Kepler-47, the system consists of a pair of orbiting stars that eclipse each other every 7.5 days. One star is similar in size to our Sol however it only provides approximately 84% of the light, the other is smaller measuring one third of the size of our Sol and emits less than 1% the light. ... Kepler-47b is closer to its two suns orbiting in 50 Earth days. Kepler-47c [is further out and] orbits every 303 days ... within the Goldilocks zone. 'Unlike our sun, many stars are part of multiple-star systems where two or more stars orbit one another. The question always has been - do they have planets and planetary systems? This Kepler discovery proves that they do,' said William Borucki, Kepler mission principal investigator at NASA's Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, Calif. 'In our search for habitable planets, we have found more opportunities for life to exist.'
Why Juries Have No Place In the Patent System
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GigaOm's Jeff John Roberts has a compelling writeup about patent trials and how juries are detrimental to justice in such cases. Roberts uses the recent Apple-Samsung trial as the backdrop for his article; although the trial lasted three weeks, during which hundreds of documents were presented and the finer points of U.S. patent law were discussed, the jury only took 2-3 days to deliberate. 'Patents are as complex as other industrial policies like subsidies or regulatory regimes. When disputes arise, they should be put before an expert tribunal rather than a jury that is easily swayed by schoolyard "copycat" narratives.'
Apple v. Samsung Jurors Speak, Skipped Prior Art For "Bogging Us Down"
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PJ over at Groklaw has consolidated some of the more interesting juror comments made following the landmark $1 billion settlement. Apparently the foreman (a patent holder himself) took the jury through the process of how patents work and thus allowed them to return so quickly with a verdict without need of any instructions on how to work through all the material. Most sources are incredulous that all of the information was considered in the process. CNET quotes a juror as saying 'After we debated that first patent what was prior art because we had a hard time believing there was no prior art, that there wasn't something out there before Apple. In fact we skipped that one so we could go on faster. It was bogging us down.' While the fact that they they voted one way on infringement and another way on invalidity shows they were at least consistent, Groklaw is reporting on some odd inconsistencies in the aftermath of accounts from jurors. The appeal for something this huge goes without question but the accounts collected at Groklaw make this verdict and verdict process sound hasty, ambiguous and probably the result of one man's (the foreman's) personal opinion of patents.
Genetically Engineering Babies a Moral Obligation, Says Ethicist
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The Telegraph reports that Oxford Professor Julian Savulescu, an expert in practical ethics, says that creating so-called designer babies could be considered a 'moral obligation' as it makes them grow up into 'ethically better children' and that we should actively give parents the choice to screen out personality flaws in their children such as potential alcoholism, psychopathy and disposition to violence as it means they will then be less likely to harm themselves and others. 'Surely trying to ensure that your children have the best, or a good enough, opportunity for a great life is responsible parenting?' writesSavulescu, editor-in-chief of the Journal of Medical Ethics. 'So where genetic selection aims to bring out a trait that clearly benefits an individual and society, we should allow parents the choice. To do otherwise is to consign those who come after us to the ball and chain of our squeamishness and irrationality.' Savulescu says that wealready routinely screen embryos and fetuses for conditions such as cystic fibrosis and Down's syndrome and couples can test embryos for inherited bowel and breast cancer genes. 'Whether we like it or not, the future of humanity is in our hands now. Rather than fearing genetics, we should embrace it. We can do better than chance.'
Project To Turn Classical Scores Into Copyright-Free Music Completed
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Just under two years ago Musopen launched a Kickstarter campaign covered here on Slashdot. Today that project is complete with the release of a large amount of classical recordings into the public domain. This brings an extensive collection of high quality classical music into the public domain. The project music is hosted on the Musopen site, and on archive.org.
Inside a Ransomware Money Machine
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The FBI is warning that it's getting inundated with complaints from people taken in by ransomware scams that spoof the FBI and try to scare people into paying 'fines' in lieu of going to jail for having downloaded kiddie porn or pirated content. KrebsOnSecurity.com looks inside a few of the scams in the FBI alert, and it turns out it only takes 1-3 percent of victims to pay up to make it seriously worth the fraudsters' while.
Disney Turns Plants Into Multi-Touch Sensors
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Designers of Disney Research in Pittsburgh Pa, have turned the average household plant into a musical device and remote control. Called the Botanicus Interacticus project, this new program can turn any household plant into touch-sensitive computer system. 'The system is built upon capacitive touch sensing - the principle used on touchscreens in smartphones and tablets - but instead of sensing electrical signals at a single frequency, it monitors capacitive signals across a broad range of frequencies. It's called Swept Frequency Capacitive Sensing.' This works by putting a pulsating electrode into the soil around a plant, which excites the plant, making any touch to the parts of the plant a repayable signal. This could mean soon swatting at your household plant could change the television channel or turn up the volume.
Curiosity Transmits First 360-Degree Panorama From Mars
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Five days after NASA's Curiosity rover successfully landed on Mars, the one-ton robot sent another postcard back to Earth, this one a 360-degree doozy. Curiosity's first panorama, albeit black-and-white, gives Earthlings a great high-quality glimpse at the surface on Mars, specifically within the 96-mile Gale Crater.
Beware the Nocebo Effect
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An article at the NY Times looks at research into the "nocebo" effect. Named after the placebo effect, it'sthe term for when patient expectations do harm, rather than good. "When a patient anticipates a pill's possible side effects, he can suffer them even if the pill is fake." The article describes several instances of patients getting the placebo in a drug trial, but reporting the expected side effects of the drug, rather than the benefits or nothing at all. Quoting:
"Consider the number of people in medical trials who, though receiving placebos, stop participating because of side effects. We found that 11 percent of people in fibromyalgia drug trials who were taking fake medication dropped out of the studies because of side effects like dizziness or nausea. Other researchers reported that the discontinuation rates because of side effects in placebo groups in migraine or tension drug trials were as much as 5 percent. Discontinuation rates in trials for statins ranged from 4 percent to 26 percent. ... In one remarkable case, a participant in an antidepressant drug trial was given placebo tablets - and then swallowed 26 of them in a suicide attempt. Even though the tablets were harmless, the participant's blood pressure dropped perilously low."
Bad Software Runs the World
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a story at The Atlantic by James Kwak, who bemoans the poor quality of software underpinning so many important industries. He points out that while user-facing software is often well-polished, the code running supply chains, production lines, and financial markets is rarely so refined. From the article:
"The underlying problem here is that most software is not very good. Writing good software is hard. There are thousands of opportunities to make mistakes. More importantly, it's difficult if not impossible to anticipate all the situations that a software program will be faced with, especially when - as was the case for both UBS and Knight - it is interacting with other software programs that are not under your control. It's difficult to test software properly if you don't know all the use cases that it's going to have to support. There are solutions to these problems, but they are neither easy nor cheap. You need to start with very good, very motivated developers. You need to have development processes that are oriented toward quality, not some arbitrary measure of output."
'Wall of Shame' Exposes 21M Medical Record Breaches
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Over the past three years, about 21 million patients have had their unencrypted medical records exposed in data security breaches that were big enough to require they be reported to the federal government. Each of the 477 breaches that were reported to the Office for Civil Rights (OCR) involved 500 or more patients, which the government posts on what the industry calls 'The Wall of Shame.' About 55,000 other breach reports involving fewer than 500 records where also reported to the OCR. Among the largest breaches reported was TRICARE Management Activity, the Department of Defense's health care program, which reported 4.9 million records lost when backup tapes went missing. Another five breaches involved 1 million or more records each. Yet, only two of the organizations involved in the breaches have been fined by the federal government.
Get Over It! (And Other Things That Grievers Cannot Do)
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Our pain-averse culture wants to sweep grief under the carpet as quickly as possible. We prefer grievers to finish mourning in a timely manner so that we can all get back on schedule. Grief, however, is ongoing. It has many twists and turns that defy our best attempts at orderliness.
Content-Centric Networking & the Next Internet
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PARC research fellow Van Jacobson argues that the Internet was never designed to carry exabytes of video, voice, and image data to consumers' homes and mobile devices, and that it will never be possible to increase bandwidth fast enough to keep up with demand. In fact, he thinks that the Internet has outgrown its original underpinnings as a network built on physical addresses, and that it's time to put aside TCP/IP and start over with a completely novel approach to naming, storing, and moving data. The fundamental idea behind Jacobson's alternative proposal - Content Centric Networking - is that to retrieve a piece of data, you should only have to care about what you want, not where it's stored. If implemented, the idea might undermine many current business models in the software and digital content industries - while at the same time creating new ones. In other words, it's exactly the kind of revolutionary idea that has remade Silicon Valley at least four times since the 1960s.
NASA's Own Video of Curiosity Landing Crashes Into a DMCA Takedown
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NASA's livestream coverage of the Curiosity rover's landing on Mars was practically as flawless as the landing itself. But NASA couldn't prepare for everything. An hour or so after Curiosity's 1.31 a.m. EST landing in Gale Crater,the space agency's main YouTube channel had posted a 13-minute excerpt of the stream. Ten minutes later, the video was gone, replaced with the message: 'This video contains content from Scripps Local News, who has blocked it on copyright grounds. Sorry about that.' That is to say, a NASA-made video posted on NASA's official YouTube channel, documenting the landing of a $2.5 billion Mars rover mission paid for with public taxpayer money, was blocked by YouTube because of a copyright claim by a private news service.
Sci-Fi Writers of the Past Predict Life In 2012
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As part of the L, Ron Hubbard Writers of the Future award in 1987, a group of science fiction luminaries put together a text 'time capsule' of their predictions about life in the far off year of 2012. Including such names as Orson Scott Card, Robert Silverberg, Jack Williamson, Algis Budrys and Frederik Pohl, it gives us an interesting glimpse into how those living in the age before smartphones, tablets, Wi-Fi and on-demand streaming episodes of Community thought the future might turn out.
Bilingual Kids Show More Creativity
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a study from researchers at the University of Strathclyde which found bilingual children to be significantly more successful at a set of tasks than children who spoke only one language. "The differences were linked to the mental alertness required to switch between languages, which could develop skills useful in other types of thinking." Lead researcher Fraser Lauchlan said, "Bilingualism is now largely seen as being beneficial to children but there remains a view that it can be confusing, and so potentially detrimental to them. Our study has found that it can have demonstrable benefits, not only in language but in arithmetic, problem solving and enabling children to think creatively. We also assessed the children's vocabulary, not so much for their knowledge of words as their understanding of them. Again, there was a marked difference in the level of detail and richness in description from the bilingual pupils."
Algorithmic Trading Glitch Costs Firm $440 Million
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Yesterday an update to Knight Capital Group's algorithmic trading software caused >massive volume buys and sells, resulting in large price swings on the New York Stock Exchange. As a result, the NYSE canceled some of the trades, but today the loss to Knight has been calculated at $440 million. Ignoring adjustments for inflation, this makes the cost of this glitch almost as much as the $475 million charge Intel took for the Pentium FDIV Bug, which might warrant adding this bug to the list of worst bugs. In light of this loss and the May 6, 2010 Flash Crash, perhaps investors will demand changes from firms using algorithmic trading, since the SEC is apparently too antiquated to do anything about it
Shatner and Wheaton Narrate Mars Rover's Landing Sequence
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William Shatner and Wil Wheaton have each narrated a NASA video titled "Grand Entrance," which documents the upcoming descent and landing of Mars rover Curiosity onto the Red planet. Curiosity is the nickname for the Mars Science Laboratory, the largest rover ever sent to another world. It is scheduled to land on Mars on August 5 at 10:31PM PDT (August 6 at 05:31 UTC), and the event will be broadcast live on NASA TV. The landing process documented in the video will take about 7 minutes, and it has to go perfectly all on its own - the time delay caused by the 154-million-mile distance to Earth means that signals will take 14 minutes to even reach us. For further details, check outWil's video or William's. NASA's fact sheet (PDF) has more information as well.
Surfacestations: NOAA Has Overestimated Land Surface Temperature Trends
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Anthony Watts of Surfacestations project (crowdsourced research) has finally yielded somediscussion worthy results (PDF). He uses a siting classification system developed by Michel Leroy for Meteofrance in 1999 that was improved in 2010 to quantify the effect of heat sinks and sources within the thermometer viewshed by calculation of the area- weighted and distance-weighted impact of biasing elements to calculate both raw and gridded 30 year trends for each surveyed station, using temperature data from USHCNv2. His initial claims are that station siting is impacting the surface temperature record significantly, and NOAA adjustments are exacerbating that problem, not helping. Whether you agree with his results or not, recognize that this method of research is modern and worth your participation in the review. Poke holes in publicly sourced and presented research all you can, that's what makes this method useful.
RIAA Admits SOPA Wouldn't Have Stopped Piracy
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One of the arguments against the now-dormant SOPA legislation was that, in addition to eroding Internet freedom, it would also be ineffective in stopping music piracy. Well, according to a leaked report, the RIAA agrees with the latter argument. The proposed laws would "not likely to have been an effective tool for music," according to the report. Another interesting revelation is that, despite the buzz and outrage over P2P sharing, most digital music piracy takes place via sneakernet, with music moving among young people on hard drives and ripped CDs.
Study Finds New Pop Music Does All Sound the Same
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A study of music from the '50 to the present using the Million Song Dataset has concluded that modern music has less variation than older music and songs today are, on average, 9dB louder than 50 years ago. Almost all music uses just 10 chords, but the way these are used together has changed, leading to fewer types of transitions being used. Variation in timbre has also reduced over the past decades.
Koch Bros Study Finds Global Warming Is Real And Man-Made
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The results of the Berkeley Earth Surface Temperature are in and Richard Muller, the study's director (formerly an AGW skeptic) declares, 'Call me a converted skeptic. Three years ago I identified problems in previous climate studies that, in my mind, threw doubt on the very existence of global warming. Last year, following an intensive research effort involving a dozen scientists, I concluded that global warming was real and that the prior estimates of the rate of warming were correct. I'm now going a step further: Humans are almost entirely the cause.' The study was funded by the Folger Fund, the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, the Fund for Innovative Climate and Energy Research (created by Bill Gates), the Bowes Foundation, the Koch Foundation, and the Getty Foundation.
Travel Utah thru 3D panoramas
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360 degree panorama pictures that you can scroll around.
Microsoft Makes Skype Easier To Monitor
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Skype has gone under a number of updates and upgrades since it was bought by Microsoft last year, mostly in a bid to improve reliability. But according to a report by the Washington Post, Skype has also changed its system to make chat transcripts, as well as users' addresses and credit card numbers, more easily shared with authorities. As we've already seen with Facebook and Twitter, big Internet firms aren't digging their heels in against government requests, which shouldn't come as a shock; angering the authorities is bad business. The lesson then is that, while the Internet will always retain a vestige of its Wild West days, as companies get bigger and bigger, they're either going to play ball with governments or go the way of Kim Dotcom.
Resurrect Your Old Code With a DIY Punch Card Reader
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Need to read in some old punch cards? Have a hankering to return to yesteryear? I've combined an Arduino, the CHDK enhanced firmware for Canon cameras, and the Python Image Library to build a reader for standard IBM 80 column punch cards. You can see it in action in "Punch Card Reader - The Movie" or read more about it."
Open Millions of Hotel Rooms With Arduino
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Bad news: With an Arduino microcontroller and a little bit of programming, it's possible for a hacker to gain instant, untraceable access to millions of key card-protected hotel rooms. This hack was demonstrated by Cody Brocious, a Mozilla software developer, at the Black Hat security conference in Las Vegas. At risk are four million hotel rooms secured by Onity programmable key card locks. According to Brocious, who didn't disclose the hack to Onity before going public, there is no easy fix: There isn't a firmware upgrade - if hotels want to secure their guests, every single lock will have to be changed. I wish I could say that Brocious spent months on this hack, painstakingly reverse-engineering the Onity lock protocol, but the truth - as always, it seems - is far more depressing. 'With how stupidly simple this is, it wouldn't surprise me if a thousand other people have found this same vulnerability and sold it to other governments,' says Brocious. 'An intern at the NSA could find this in five minutes.'
Discovery Channel Telescope Snaps Inaugural Pictures
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Two decades ago ... Discovery Channel teamed up with Lowell Observatory and embarked upon a $53 million adventure: the fifth largest telescope in the United States funded entirely without state or federal money. The very first photos snapped with its 16 million pixel camera are in and they look beautiful. Yet to be seen are the simultaneous spectroscopic and imaging observationsthat should be provided to researchers by the DCT's Ritchey-Chretien instrument cube. Located near a dark-sky site (Coconino National Forest), scientists hope to use this new telescope to answer many research questions including how our solar system formed and how dwarf galaxies evolve. For more telescope porn, check out the DCT's photo tours. Luckily 'the process of planning and building the telescope is due to be featured in a one-hour Discovery Channel documentary set to air in September 2012.' Perhaps there is hope for Discovery Channel to return to its former glory?
DNI Admits FISA Surveillance Violated the 4th Amendment
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It's official; the government's spying efforts exceeded the legal limits at least once (PDF), meaning it is also officially 'unreasonable under the Fourth Amendment.' The Office of the Director of National Intelligence (DNI) sent a letter to Sen. Ron Wyden giving permission to admit that much. This started with Sen. Wyden requesting that the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (DNI) declassify some statements regarding the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act enacted by the FISA Amendments Act of 2008. Although this FISA power is supposed to sunset in December 2012, in May a new Senate bill extended the warrantless wiretapping program for five more years. That vote was regarded as the first step 'toward what the Obama administration hopes will be a speedy renewal of an expanded authority under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act to monitor the U.S. e-mails and phone calls of overseas targets in an effort to prevent international terrorist attacks on the country.'
Jack Daniels Shows How To Write a Cease and Desist Letter
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When the Jack Daniels distillery recently became aware of a book whose cover they felt substantially infringed their trademark, they didn't go into instant 'Terminator mode' - instead, they wrote a very thoughtful, civil letter to the infringing party, and even offered to help defray the costs of coming into compliance. I believe plenty of other companies (and many in the tech world) could use this as an example of how *not* to alienate people and come off looking like a bunch of greedy jerks.
Nanoparticle Completely Eradicates Hepatitis C Virus
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While Americans worry every year about getting a flu shot or preventing HIV/AIDS, the deadlier silent killer is actually Hepatitis C, killing over 15,000 people yearly in the U.S. since 2007 - and the numbers continue to increase as the carriers increase in age. While there is no vaccine, there is hope in nanoparticle technology. The breakthrough came from a group of researchers at the University of Florida, creating a 'nanozyme' that eliminates the Hep C 100% of the time; before now, the six-month treatment would only work about half the time. The particles are coated with two biological agents, the identifier and the destroyer; the identifier recognizes the virus and sends the destroyer off to eliminate the mRNA which allows Hep C to replicate." Reader Joiseybill adds a link to coverage in the IEEE Spectrum, and points out that the 100 percent success rate, while encouraging, is so far only in the lab.
Finding Fault With Anti-Fracking Science Claims
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A widely carried Associated Press article (here, as run by the Wall Street Journal) reports that some of the convincingly scientific-sounding claims of opponents of fracking don't seem to hold up to scrutiny. That's not to say that all is peaches: the article notes, for instance, that much of the naturally radioactive deep water called flowback forced up along with fracking-extracted gas "was once being discharged into municipal sewage treatment plants and then rivers in Pennsylvania," leading to concern about pollution of public water supplies. Public scrutiny and regulation mean that's no longer true. But specific claims about cancer rates, and broader ones about air pollution or other ills, are not as objective as they might appear to be, according to Duke professor Avner Vengosh and others. An excerpt:
"One expert said there's an actual psychological process at work that sometimes blinds people to science, on the fracking debate and many others. 'You can literally put facts in front of people, and they will just ignore them,' said Mark Lubell, the director of the Center for Environmental Policy and Behavior at the University of California, Davis. Lubell said the situation, which happens on both sides of a debate, is called 'motivated reasoning.' Rational people insist on believing things that aren't true, in part because of feedback from other people who share their views, he said."
Obama's Portrait of Cyberwar Isn't Complete Hyperbole
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It's hard to imagine what cyberwarfare actually looks like. Is it like regular warfare, where two sides armed with arsenals of deadly weapons open fire on each other and hope for total destruction? What do they fire instead of bullets? Packets of information? Do people die? Or is it not violent at all - just a bunch of geeks in uniforms playing tricks on each other with sneaky code? Barack Obama would like to clear up this question, thank you very much. In an op-ed published in the Wall Street Journal the president voiced his support for the Cybersecurity Act of 2012 now being considered by the Senate with the help of a truly frightening hypothetical: 'Across the country trains had derailed, including one carrying industrial chemicals that exploded into a toxic cloud,' Obama wrote, describing a nightmare scenario of a cyber attack. 'Water treatment plants in several states had shut down, contaminating drinking water and causing Americans to fall ill.' All because of hackers!
EFF: Americans May Not Know It, But Many Are In a Face Recognition Database Now
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People are not going to, nor should they have to, start walking around outside with a bag over their head to avoid security cameras capturing images of them. Yet 'face recognition allows for covert, remote and mass capture and identification of images - and the photos that may end up in a database include not just a person's face but also how she is dressed and possibly whom she is with. This creates threats to free association and free expression not evident in other biometrics,' testified EFF Staff Attorney Jennifer Lynch. There are 32 states that use some form of facial recognition for DMV photos. Every day, Facebook happily slurps up and automatically scans with facial recognition software about 300 million photos that users upload to the social networking giant. 'Face recognition is here to stay, and, though many Americans may not realize it, they are already in a face recognition database,' Lynch said. In fact, when you stop to consider Facebook "at least 54% of the United States population already has a face print." Now it purchased Face.com which had 31 billion face images profiled.
Joseph Palaia Answers Your Questions About Building Lunar Machines and Mars
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Joseph Palaia, Chief Operating Officer & Director of research laboratory Earthrise Space, Inc. about living on Mars one day andbuilding moon machines with students. Below you'll find his answers to your inquiries.
Earth, Night Glow, Aurora and Atmosphere (Video)
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Alex Rivest has created one of the most visually riveting videos we've seen. Alex says, "In looking at the pictures taken from the International Space Station of the earth at night, I find my attention drawn to that thin line separating earth from space: Our atmosphere." He also says, "A good photograph is one that sparks a question." Since this video runs at 30 (really 29.97) frames per second, and it's about 290 seconds long, that's close to 8700 questions. Luckily, Alex has written a blog post that answers most of them. This doesn't mean you shouldn't enjoy his work for its sheer beauty. Or that you shouldn't wish Alex well in his attempt to get into NASA's 2013 Astronaut Candidate Class. A fine art photographer who also has a PhD in Neuroscience from MIT... what better qualifications could there possibly be for astronauthood?
Is Pluto a Binary Planet?
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If the Pluto-Charon system were viewed in a similar way to binary stars and binary asteroids,Pluto would become a Pluto-Charon binary planet. After all, Charon is 12% the mass of Pluto, causing the duo to orbit a barycenter that is located above Pluto's surface. Sadly, in the IAU's haste to define what a planet is in 2006, they missed a golden opportunity to define the planetary binary. Interestingly, if Pluto was a binary planet, last week's discovery of a fifth Plutonian moon would have in fact been the binary's fourth moon to be discovered by Hubble - under the binary definition, Charon wouldn't be classified as a moon at all.
Bas Lansdorp Answers Questions About Going to Mars
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You asked questions of Bas Lansdorp, who's behind a project to send a quartet of astronauts to Mars - on a one-way trip. Lansdorp provides below his answers to inquiries about food, fuel, suicide, privacy, and more. So whether you're curious enough to put in for a Mars-bound ship or skeptical that this enterprise will get off the ground, read on.
Virgin Galactic Announces New Satellite Launch Vehicle
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Virgin Galactic has announced a new craft called LauncherOne, which it will use to put satellites into orbit. 'It appears to leverage some of the hardware already developed for SpaceShipTwo, Virgin's suborbital tourist vehicle. Like SpaceShipTwo, the new rocket rides up underneath Virgin's big carrier aircraft, WhiteKnightTwo, to about 50,000 feet. After release, the rocket drops for approximately four seconds before the first stage ignites. After the first stage burns out, a second stage takes the satellite to orbit.' Launching from a moving airplane eliminates many cost and scheduling concerns inherent to ground-based launches, and it's much easier to reach a broad range of trajectories for putting objects into orbit. According to the press release, LauncherOne will get objects up to 225kg into orbit for less than $10 million.
Why There Are Too Many Patents In America
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The judge who just dismissed the lawsuit between Apple and Motorola writes a column explaining what he considers to be reasonable uses of patents, and unreasonable ones. One of his thoughts would be to require a patent holder to produce the patented item within a certain time, to cut out patent trolls.
Study Finds Alcohol, Not Marijuana, Is the Biggest Gateway Drug For Teens
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a study out of the University of Florida which found thatalcohol is the biggest "gateway" drug, the use of which increases the likelihood of other drug use. Quoting:
"In the sample of students, alcohol also represented the most commonly used substance, with 72.2 percent of students reporting alcohol consumption at some point in their lifetime. Comparatively, 45 percent of students reported using tobacco, and 43.3 percent cited marijuana use. In addition, the drug use documented found that substance use typically begins with the most socially acceptable drugs, such as alcohol and cigarettes, then proceeds to marijuana use and finally to other illegal, harder drugs. Moreover, the study showed that students who used alcohol exhibited a significantly greater likelihood up to 16 times of licit and illicit substance use."
Hubble Discovers 5th Moon of Pluto
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This image shows 'P5,' the placeholder name for a fifth natural moon of Pluto, a tiny sliver that orbits ~29,000 miles from its primary in a circular orbit. Other than Charon, Hubble has been the means by which astronomers have found all of the known moons of Pluto. 'The new detection will help scientists navigate NASA's New Horizons spacecraft through the Pluto system in 2015, when it makes an historic and long-awaited high-speed flyby of the distant world. The team is using Hubble's powerful vision to scour the Pluto system to uncover potential hazards to the New Horizons spacecraft. Moving past the dwarf planet at a speed of 30,000 miles per hour, New Horizons could be destroyed in a collision with even a BB-shot-size piece of orbital debris.'
Gloves Translate Sign Language Into Auditory Speech
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some pretty cool sensor gloves. From the article:
"Since beginning in 2003, the Microsoft Imagine Cup has tasked students the world over with developing technology aimed at solving real-world problems. In this, its 10th year, students were asked to build their project around a specific Millennium Development Goal ... The winners have just been announced ... [and winning] first place (and US$25,000) in the Software Design category was the Ukraine's quadSquad with their EnableTalk gloves that translate sign language into speech in real time."
Florida GoogleX Team Offers To Send Your DNA To the Moon For a Price
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You might have heard of the Google LunarX Prize. It's a competition where private, often non-profit organizations race to build a vehicle capable of completing a short mission on the moon. But one of the problems facing these private teams is the issue of raising money to make the trip. However, one Florida team is taking an interesting approach: they are offering to send your DNA to the moon for a price. For the inclined, they've started a kickstarter page.
How Huffington Post's Clever Traffic-Generation Machine Works
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Frédéric Filloux writes that traditional newspapers that move online are losing the war against pure players and aggregators because original stories are getting very little traffic due to the poor marketing tactics of old-fashion publishers while aggregators like the Huffington Post use clever traffic-generation techniques, so the same journalistic item will make tens or hundred times more traffic. Here's an example: On July 5th, The Wall Street Journal runs an editorial piece about Mitt Romney's position on Obamacare and the rather dull and generic 'Romney's Tax Confusion' title for this 1000-word article attracted a remarkable 938 comments. But look at what the Huffington Post did: a 500-word treatment, including a 300 words article plus a 200-word excerpt of the WSJ opinion and a link back (completely useless) but, unlike the Journal, the HuffPo ran a much sexier headline: 'Mitt Romney is 'Squandering' Candidacy With Health Care Snafu.' The choice of words for the headline takes in account all Search Engine Optimization prerequisites, using high yield words such as 'Squandering' and 'Snafu,' in conjunction with much sought-after topics such as 'Romney' and 'Health Care.' Altogether, this guarantees a nice blip on Google's radar - and a considerable audience : 7000+ comments.
Nanotech Surprise: Shooting Lasers at Buckyballs Makes Them Bigger
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Since 1985, scientists have been trying to determine how Buckyballs (scientifically namedBuckminsterfullerene ) are created. They are molecules with the formula C60 (a fullerene ) that forms a hexagonal sphere of interlocking carbon atoms. 'But how these often highly symmetric, beautiful molecules with extremely fascinating properties form in the first place has been a mystery.' For over three decades the creation of these molecules have baffled the scientific community. Recently researchers at Florida State University, in cooperation with MagLab, have looked deeper into the creation process and determined their origin. It was already known the the process for buckyball creation was under highly energetic conditions over an instant, 'We started with a paste of pre-existing fullerene molecules mixed with carbon and helium, shot it with a laser, and instead of destroying the fullerenes we were surprised to find they'd actually grown.' The fullerenes were able to absorb and incorporate carbon from the surrounding gas. This study will help to illuminate the path towards carbon nanotechnology and extraterrestrial environmental studies, due to buckyball's abundance in extrasolar clouds.

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