A senior vice president of Google, Alan Eustace, 57, has broken Felix Baumgartner's 127,852-feet altitude record, set in 2012, with the new highest free fall to Earth (short video) at 135,890 feet. While Baumgartner's feat was funded by Red Bull, Eustace's attempt was largely self-funded.
On Friday morning, Pacific time, Google's SVP of Knowledge Alan Eustace rode a helium-filled balloon to more than 135,000 feet above the deserts of Roswell, New Mexico, in a specially designed space suit before firing a small explosive charge and cutting himself lose for free fall.
Eustace didn't bother with the capsule: he simply strapped himself under the balloon with a GoPro camera attached to his suit, and only had a small team of advisers to help him make the jump. Google offered to fund the attempt, but Eustace paid for it himself so that it could be done without publicity until after the event.
Mr. Eustace was carried aloft without the aid of the sophisticated capsule used by Mr. Baumgartner or millions of dollars in sponsorship money. Instead, Mr. Eustace planned his jump in secrecy, working for almost three years with a small group of technologists skilled in spacesuit design, life-support systems, and parachute and balloon technology.
After he decided to pursue the project in 2011, Mr. Eustace was introduced to Taber MacCallum, one of the founding members of the Biosphere 2 project, an artificial closed ecosystem built to explore concepts such as space colonization. Mr. Eustace had decided to pursue a simpler approach than Mr. Baumgartner's.
He asked Mr. MacCallum's company, Paragon Space Development Corporation, to create a life-support system to make it possible for him to breathe pure oxygen in a pressure suit during his ascent and fall.
Roy Schestowitz notes:
Today I learned something somewhat shocking. A policy which I believed was some kind of controversial fringe policy from way back in the days of Vista is still in place, and it's in place right here in the UK. Currys/PC World is totally overzealous with its GNU/Linux-hostile policy, which is almost definitely dictated by non-technical management, maybe in collusion with Microsoft.
[...] an old desktop of mine died on me and I sought a replacement immediately (within the hour). [...] Currys pretty much devoured the competition [...and] has an outrageous policy regarding warranty.
As it turns out--and this was confirmed to us by multiple people (in multiple PC World stores) after arguing for more than half an hour--once you install GNU/Linux (even if it's dual boot with Windows) no damage to hardware would be covered by the warranty (keyboard, screen, and so on). One of the sellers, who follows the Linux Action Show, regretted this but also defended this policy because it's imposed from above.
No matter how ridiculous a policy it is, changes to [zeros] and ones on the hard-drive (to remove spyware), according to Currys, would void the warranty on what clearly is not connected to [the pre-installed] software. [...] we decided we just couldn't do business at PC World. The company is inherently GNU/Linux-hostile. Avoid Currys.
The Register Follows with, FTDI yanks chip-bricking driver from Windows Update, vows to fight on:
Chipmaker FTDI has pulled a driver from Windows Update that could brick devices containing knockoff versions of its USB-to-serial bridge chips, but says it won't back down on its aggressive anti-counterfeiting stance.
Earlier this week, hackers from various hardware forums began noticing that FTDI's latest driver would set a USB device's USB product ID to 0 if it contained a fake version of one of FTDI's chips. Once zeroed, neither Windows, OS X, nor Linux would recognize the device anymore, rendering it useless.
Naturally, owners of devices containing the counterfeit chips were less than pleased.
Responding to the growing furor, FTDI now says it has yanked the offending driver from Windows Update so that Windows users will no longer receive it automatically. But it says it has no intention of giving up the fight against (presumably) Chinese chip knockoff artists.
Related article: FTDI Driver is Disabling Fake Chips
After Anonabox requested US$7,500 and raised US$585,549 before being suspended, I hoped that one-stop solutions would be discouraged but according to Wired News, I couldn't be wronger because there are at least five parties aiming to fill Anonabox's niche:
Maintaining your privacy online, like investing in stocks or looking good naked, has become one of those nagging desires that leaves Americans with a surplus of stress and a deficit of facts. So it’s no surprise that a cottage industry of privacy marketers now wants to sell them the solution in a $50 piece of hardware promising internet "anonymity" or "invisibility." And as with any panacea in a box, the quicker the fix, the more doubt it deserves.
Last week saw the fast forward rise and fall of Anonabox, a tiny $45 router that promised to anonymize all of a user's traffic by routing it over the anonymity network Tor. That promise of plug-and-play privacy spurred Anonabox to raise $615,000 on the fundraising platform Kickstarter in four days, 82 times its modest $7,500 goal. Then on Thursday, Kickstarter froze those pledges, citing the project's misleading claims about its hardware sources. Other critics pointed to flaws in Anonabox's software's security, too.
But the Anonabox fiasco hasn't deterred other projects hoping to sell an anonymity router of their own. In fact, many of them see Anonabox's 9,000 disappointed backers as proof of the demand for their own privacy-in-a-box product. At least five new or soon-to-launch crowdfunding projects now claim to offer a consumer-focused anonymity router with names like Invizbox, Cloak, TorFi, and PORTAL, each with its own promises - and caveats.
Full disclosure: I may or may not be connected to one of the parties mentioned in the article but I think they're all misguided.
Paul Armentano of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) blogs:
Testimony regarding the constitutionality of the federal statute designating marijuana as a Schedule I Controlled Substance will be taken on Monday, October 27 in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of California in the case of United States v. Pickard, et. al., No. 2:11-CR-0449-KJM.
Members of Congress initially categorized cannabis as a Schedule I substance, the most restrictive classification available, in 1970. Under this categorization, the plant is defined as possessing "a high potential for abuse, ... no currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States, ... [and lacking] accepted safety for ... use ... under medical supervision."
Expert witnesses for the defense--including Drs. Carl Hart, Associate Professor of Psychology in the Department of Psychiatry and Psychology at Columbia University in New York City, retired physician Phillip Denny, and Greg Carter, Medical Director of St. Luke's Rehabilitation Institute in Spokane, Washington--will testify that the accepted science is inconsistent with the notion that cannabis meets these Schedule I criteria.
"It is my considered opinion that including marijuana in Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act is counter to all the scientific evidence in a society that uses and values empirical evidence," Dr. Hart declared. "After two decades of intense scientific inquiry in this area, it has become apparent the current scheduling of cannabis has no footing in the realities of science and neurobiology."
The Gaurdian reports that Australia's comet-spotting program lost funding and shut down last year,
The Earth has been left with a huge blind spot for potentially devastating comet strikes after the only dedicated comet-spotting program in the southern hemisphere lost its funding, leading astronomers have warned.
The program, which discovered the Siding Spring comet that was shut down last year after losing funding.
“It’s a real worry,” Bradley Tucker, an astronomer at the Australian National University (ANU) and University of California Berkeley, told Guardian Australia.
“There could be something hurtling towards us right now and we wouldn’t know about it.”
The Siding Spring survey – named after the observatory near Coonabarabran in central New South Wales, where the Mars comet was first spotted – was the only program in the southern hemisphere actively searching for potentially hazardous comets, asteroids and meteors.
It seems that the Gaurdian is running this story now because the program had previously spotted a comet that came close to Mars on Sunday, but this is the first I remember hearing about it.
Two of the most aggressive forms of neurological illness, Alzheimer’s disease and brain cancer, may see tougher fights now that scientists have opened up the blood-brain barrier in humans for the first time.
The surgery is already being hailed as a breakthrough. Considered the “front frontier” in neuroscience, the blood-brain barrier is the sheath of cells that separates the organ from the rest of the body. While it stops harmful toxins in the blood from hijacking vital tissues, it also prevents helpful drugs from rooting out tumors and disease. But now scientists say all that could change.
[Additional Coverage]: http://www.newscientist.com/article/dn26432-brain-barrier-opened-for-first-time-to-treat-cancer.html
The Register reports
A drop in the solar wind of a kind not seen since 1715 has made travel beyond Earth orbit a lot more dangerous, according to Professor Nathan Schwadron, studying data from the Cosmic Ray Telescope for the Effects of Radiation – so much so that a manned Mission to Mars may not be feasible for many decades.
The Sun may be entering a so-called "Maunder Minimum", a lengthy spell of low activity. Such a minimum last occurred from 1645-1715. Solar Minimums are characterized by significant reduction in the solar wind.
The solar wind normally has the effect of reducing the amount of dangerous cosmic radiation that can reach the inner solar system. While particles and radiation from the Sun are dangerous to astronauts, cosmic rays are even worse, so the effect of a solar calm is to make space even more radioactive than it already is.
For the sake of planning, a 3 per cent risk of an astronaut dying due to radiation exposure during a mission is seen as the acceptable limit: it's a dangerous job, after all (one should note that the death would probably be after the mission from cancer, perhaps many years later, rather than from severe radiation sickness while still in space). From Schwadron and his crew's analysis, if a lengthy solar quiet spell is indeed in the cards, the maximum time an astronaut can reasonably spend in space will be well under a year.
The time to 3 per cent Risk of Exposure Induced Death (REID) in interplanetary space was less than 400 days for a 30 year old male and less than 300 days for a 30 year old female in the last solar Maximum cycle.
The time to 3 per cent REID is estimated to be ~20 per cent lower in the coming solar Minimum cycle. If the heliospheric magnetic field continues to weaken over time, as is likely, then allowable mission duration will decrease correspondingly to about 320 days for men, 240 days for women.
Using our current technology, Space.com says the fasted time to Mars orbit is 168 days, making even a manned fly-by mission perilously close to the 300 day limit.
One way missions would still seem possible. But the Martian atmosphere provides precious little shielding and a solar minimum would double the amount of cosmic radiation on the surface.
Former NASA astronaut Dr Franklin Chang Díaz has suggested that nuclear plants of the type used in submarines could power plasma rockets to take a crewed ship to Mars in a month.
Today I discovered an absolute gem from the past.
If you were around in 1984 you might have been super awesome and played core wars.
Core Wars is a programming game in which two or more programs run in a simulated computer with the goal of terminating every other program and surviving as long as possible. Known as Warriors, these programs are are written in an assembly language called Redcode.
Basically it's Counter-Strike/COD for programmers where you can fight in a team team, as a free-for-all, or one-vs-one.
What other cool things from the past might us youngun programmers have missed or not have an appreciation of?
The Center for American Progress reports:
New research has found that climate change is causing mountain goats living in the Alps to shrink. The study, which was published Tuesday in the journal Frontiers in Zoology, found that adolescent Alpine chamois mountain goats are significantly smaller than their peers were 30 years ago, weighing about 25 percent less than goats in the 1980s did. The researchers called this change in body mass over 3 decades "striking". They also said the shrinking "appears to be strongly linked" with increased temperatures in the growing season of the goats' Alpine habitats.
The study noted that climate change has been linked to changes in body mass of other species before. But in those situations, the mass change was typically due to a change in the amount of food available or in the timing in which food was available--changes in bud burst timing in the spring, for instance. That wasn't the case in the goats' situation, however.
They have modified their behaviour and avoid foraging during the warmest part of the day so that they don't overheat.
The American Physical Society (APS) and the American Institute of Physics (AIP) announced today, on behalf of the Heineman Foundation for Research, Educational, Charitable, and Scientific Purposes, that theoretical physicist Pierre Ramond, director of the Institute for Fundamental Theory at the University of Florida, has won the 2015 Dannie Heineman Prize for Mathematical Physics -- one of the highest honors for scientific investigators in that field.
In recognizing Ramond, the two organizations cited his "pioneering foundational discoveries in supersymmetry and superstring theory, in particular the dual model of fermions and the theory of the Kalb-Ramond field".
"Since the days of ancient Democritus, philosophers and scientists who pondered what makes up the fundamental building blocks of matter have thought about point-like particles -- first atoms then subatomic particles like electrons or quarks", said H. Frederick Dylla, executive director and CEO of AIP. "But by initiating superstring theory in the early 1970s, Pierre Ramond generalized to all particles the notion that the basic building blocks are not point particles at all, but tiny string-like objects that vibrate to form the particles."
The prize consists of a certificate and a $10,000 award, which will be presented at a special ceremony during the April 2015 APS meeting in Baltimore, Md.
Adobe has tweaked its Digital Editions 4 desktop ebook reader to now encrypt the data it secretly sends back to headquarters – data that details a user's reading habits.
Previously, information on every single tome accessed by Digital Editions 4 was phoned home unencrypted, allowing anyone eavesdropping on a network to intercept it. Now that information is transmitted via HTTPS, and only if the book includes copy-protection measures.
Version 4.0 of the software collected detailed records about books the user has been reading, such as which pages were read and when, and sent this intelligence back to the adelogs.adobe.com server. There was no way to opt out of this, short of deleting the application.
Now, with version 4.0.1, that information is encrypted and sent to the aforementioned server, and is limited to books with DRM protections. We note that the server's SSL/TLS configuration scores an A- from Qualys; the server's certificate has a 2048-bit RSA key albeit with a SHA-1 signature, and it prefers RC4 over stronger ciphers.
A Silicon Valley company is paying more than $43,000 in back wages and penalties after labor regulators found eight employees brought from India were grossly underpaid and overworked while assigned to a special project in the U.S.
The probe announced this week by the U.S Department of Labor uncovered several egregious violations at Electronics for Imaging Inc., a printing technology specialist that generated revenue of $728 million last year, when the misconduct occurred.
Among other things, Electronics for Imaging paid the eight workers far below California's required minimum wage—$8 per hour at the time—while they helped the company move its headquarters from Foster City, California, to Fremont, California, during a three-month period, according to the Labor Department.
While assigned to the project, some of the Indian workers logged as many as 122 hours in a week without being paid overtime. As result, they received as little as $1.21 per hour.
The BBC and Phys.org report on a new paper by researchers from University of Florida and University of Zurich, concerning the megalodon (an extinct species of shark that could grow to four times the size of a modern great white). This latest research claims to peg the date of megalodon's extinction at 2.6 million years ago. It also suggests that the extinction of the largest sea predator at the time made it possible for whales to grow to their current size.
Our results suggest that C. megalodon went extinct around 2.6 Ma. Furthermore, when contrasting our results with known ecological and macroevolutionary trends in marine mammals, it became evident that the modern composition and function of modern gigantic filter-feeding whales was established after the extinction of C. megalodon. Consequently, the study of the time of extinction of C. megalodon provides the basis to improve our understanding of the responses of marine species to the removal of apex predators, presenting a deep-time perspective for the conservation of modern ecosystems.
A mathematical approach called Optimal Linear Estimation (OLE) was used by the researchers on 42 of the most recent megalodon fossils.
Justice Department lawyers have asked a federal court in Pittsburgh to dismiss a sweeping lawsuit brought earlier this year by a local lawyer against President Barack Obama and other top intelligence officials.
In a new motion to dismiss filed on Monday, the government told the court that the Pittsburgh lawyer, Elliott Schuchardt, lacked standing to make a claim that his rights under the Fourth Amendment have been violated as a result of multiple ongoing surveillance programs.
Specifically, Schuchardt argued in his June 2014 complaint that both metadata and content of his Gmail, Facebook, and Dropbox accounts were compromised under the PRISM program as revealed in the documents leaked by former National Security Agency (NSA) contractor Edward Snowden.