Our VM hosting provider, Linode, needs to update the Xen VM software on the hosts that serve up all of our VMs. Linode is reserving 2 hours of downtime but expects to take less time. Unfortunately we cannot change when this is being done, but at least it is during low demand times. Here is a list of when servers will be going down for maintenance:
We will be taking time to also upgrade the kernel prior to the downtime so the newest one will be loaded upon restart.
More info is availabe here: http://status.linode.com/incidents/2dyvn29ds5mz.
Meet Ro-Bow, purportedly a "mechatronic" sculpture. That’s what Seth Goldstein built. He calls it a ‘kinetic sculpture’, but there more than enough electronics and mechatronics to keep even the most discerning tinkerer interested.
There are three main parts of Seth’s violin-playing kinetic sculpture. The first is a bow carriage that draws the bow across the strings using an electromagnet to press the bow against the strings. The individual strings are fingered with four rubber disks, and a tilting mechanism rotates the violin so the desired string is always underneath the bow and mechanical fingers.
Google's search engine currently uses the number of incoming links to a web page as a proxy for quality, determining where it appears in search results. So pages that many other sites link to are ranked higher. This system has brought us the search engine as we know it today, but the downside is that websites full of misinformation can rise up the rankings, if enough people link to them.
A Google research team is adapting that model to measure the trustworthiness of a page, rather than its reputation across the web. Instead of counting incoming links, the system – which is not yet live – counts the number of incorrect facts within a page. "A source that has few false facts is considered to be trustworthy," says the team (arxiv.org/abs/1502.03519v1). The score they compute for each page is its Knowledge-Based Trust score.
The software works by tapping into the Knowledge Vault, the vast store of facts that Google has pulled off the internet. Facts the web unanimously agrees on are considered a reasonable proxy for truth. Web pages that contain contradictory information are bumped down the rankings.
Following the recent tragic death of Leonard Nimoy mic.com is reporting a renewed interest in "Spocking" Canadian five dollar bills.
As it turns out, the late Nimoy resembles former Canadian Prime Minister Sir Wilfrid Laurier (1841-1919), whose profile just so happens to grace the Canadian five-dollar banknote. It didn't take long for Canadians to discover that with just a few strokes of a pen, the bill suddenly becomes a tribute to Spock
There is additional background at Quartz which notes that:
“Spocking fives,” as it’s called, is not a new campaign but in fact a fine Canadian tradition that involves etching the beloved Vulcan’s profile over Canada’s seventh prime minister Sir Wilfrid Laurier on the five-dollar banknote.
Defacing banknotes is illegal in Canada but they remain usable for commercial transactions, according to Falkowsky. “People have always played with money this way… love notes, return to sender, birthday greetings and remixing the images. I am not sure if it makes them harder to use but I’ve tried one in a parking garage and it worked no problem,” he says.
El Reg reports:
Austrian scientists have used a technique dubbed "bionic reconstruction" to connect a robot hand to grafted human nerves, enabling true mind-controlled prosthetics for the first time.
[...]Its creator, Oskar Aszmann, Head of the Christian Doppler Laboratory for the Restoration of Limb Functions at the MedUni Vienna's Department of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery [...] performed the surgery on three local volunteers who had hands that were crippled due to damage to the brachial plexus, the bundle of nerves that connect the spine to the arms and hand. A few residual nerves remained, but not enough for any useful control, only generating a few nanovolts, he reported in a research paper published by The Lancet. (Requires 6 cookies)
The team grafted muscle from the [subjects'] thighs onto their arms, to boost the nerve fibers present along the length of the arm and amplify their signals, and then let it heal. The patents then spent nine months learning to control the new muscles and interconnected nerves using an arm-mounted sensor pack.
[...][Each of the] three men had [his hand] cut off in an elective operation.
[...]Three months after the surgery[,] all three patients had significant success with the new hands and mobility tests reported nearly two-thirds the function of a normal hand.
Eric Mack reports at Cnet that a team of researchers at Cornell University, inspired by the book "World War Z" by Max Brooks, have used statistical-mechanics to model how an actual zombie outbreak might unfold and determined the best long-term strategy for surviving the walking dead: Head for the hills. Specifically, you should probably get familiar now with the general location of Glacier National Park so that when it all goes down, you can start heading in that direction. The project started with differential equations to model a fully connected population, then moved on to lattice-based models, and ended with a full US-scale simulation of an outbreak across the continental US. "At their heart, the simulations are akin to modelling chemical reactions taking place between different elements and, in this case, we have four states a person can be in--human," says Alex Alemi, "infected, zombie, or dead zombie--with approximately 300 million people."
Alemi believes cities would succumb to the zombie scourge quickly, but the infection rate would slow down significantly in more sparsely populated areas and could take months to reach places like the Northern Rockies and Glacier National Park. "Given the dynamics of the disease, once the zombies invade more sparsely populated areas, the whole outbreak slows down--there are fewer humans to bite, so you start creating zombies at a slower rate," Alemi says. Once you hit Montana and Idaho, you might as well keep heading farther north into the Canadian Rockies and all the way up to Alaska where data analysis shows you're most likely to survive the zombie apocalypse. The state with the lowest survival rate? - New Jersey. Unfortunately a full scale simulation of an outbreak in the United States shows that for `realistic' parameters, we are largely doomed.
The Los Angeles Times is running an article describing the challenges faced by Asian Americans as they apply for acceptance to top colleges.
The article describes the impact that their race and ethnicity has on their SAT scores:
Lee's next slide shows three columns of numbers from a Princeton University study that tried to measure how race and ethnicity affect admissions by using SAT scores as a benchmark. It uses the term “bonus” to describe how many extra SAT points an applicant's race is worth.
She points to the first column. African Americans received a “bonus” of 230 points, Lee says.
She points to the second column. “Hispanics received a bonus of 185 points.”
The last column draws gasps. Asian Americans, Lee says, are penalized by 50 points — in other words, they had to do that much better to win admission.
“Do Asians need higher test scores? Is it harder for Asians to get into college? The answer is yes,” Lee says.
A core tenet of the American philosophy, even from before the days of the Founding Fathers, is that through hard work and excellence one should be able to obtain success in life. But is this ideal even possible when certain underachieving groups are given artificial advantages, while those with the most merit are artificially held back?
The Ars reports of an interesting study published in Nature about a possible link between food emulsifiers and inflammatory disorders.
Emulsifiers are used in processed foods, drugs, vitamins, vaccines, soaps, and cosmetics. They hold ingredients that generally don't like to be together, like oil and water, in a stable union. They are found in everyday products ranging from mouthwash to ice cream to salad dressing and barbecue sauce.
When emulsifiers first came into vogue, they were classified by the government as GRAS—"generally regarded as safe"—because in animal studies designed to detect acute toxicity and/or carcinogenic properties, they exhibited neither. But their consumption in the Western world has risen dramatically over the late twentieth century, largely in tandem with inflammatory disorders like colitis and metabolic syndrome, a collective suite of obesity-associated diseases. That connection has prompted more refined safety studies on emulsifiers and other food additives.
Although further work is obviously needed to assess the effects of emulsifiers on human health, the authors suggest that emulsifiers may have contributed to the enormous increase in inflammatory bowel disease and metabolic syndrome that has occurred over the last half century. However, the researchers note that "this hypothesis does not dispute the commonly held assumption that excess caloric consumption is a predominant factor driving the metabolic syndrome epidemic."
Maybe it's not entirely our fault that we've been eating everything in sight; by messing with our microbiome, the emulsifiers made us do it.
Original found in Nature, 2014. DOI: 10.1038/nature14232. Of course, correlation is not causation, but the results do suggest there is link between gut health, inflammatory disorders, and what's in the food we eat.
Battery technology advances seem to come every other month, all of them seem to be the proverbial 5 years away. But by and large, these developments are simply nibbling around the edges of current battery technology, making minor improvements.
ArsTechnica reports that at the recent meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, scientists explain that what is needed to make battery technology suitable for use in motor vehicles and grid storage is to triple capacity, AND cut price by nearly 70%. This would require raising the energy density of batteries from its present 200 W-hr/kg to about 600 W-hr/kg.
The way forward is to step out side the familiar battery chemistry we've been working with.
Electrodes play a key role in batteries in that they're where charge carriers—lithium in today's batteries—are held. Their ability to store lithium therefore becomes a key determinant of the storage density of a battery. Right now, carbon electrodes require six atoms of carbon for each lithium atom stored. Elements further down that column in the periodic table, like silicon and germanium, however, have a more complicated electronic structure, which can interact with more lithium atoms. As a result, you can store 4.4 lithium atoms for each silicon atom—a significant boost in capacity.
The article goes on to explain the issues with silicon. Lithium atoms cause silicon to expand, damaging the battery. Using, amorphous silicon beads and a polymer they've achieved 360 W-hr/kg version working in the lab. Still far short of the goal.
Jumping beyond silicon, the scientists explored Lithium-sulfur batteries, which have a theoretical capacity of 2,500 W-hr/kg. This would be an ideal material for electrodes, because it is cheap and plentiful. The article explains the struggle to get sulfur to remain where its needed. It has a nasty habit of forming polysulfides that can leak away from the electrode and undergo reactions elsewhere in the battery. A couple of different approaches to solving the wandering sulfur problem appear to be promising, yielding batteries in the lab that exhibit charge-discharge cycle counts comparable with today's lithium technology.
Are they ready for market yet? Of course not. In fact the researchers aren't even sure these chemistries are the right approach. Costs of production may still be too high. But the results are good enough to demonstrate that the major jumps in battery energy density are possible, and we may be able to blow right by the the goal of tripling energy density.
Two former high-level managers at Microsoft have sued the company, claiming their terminations were in retaliation for raising questions about a well-connected subordinate's expense reports. The subordinate, who is not named in the complaint, allegedly submitted expenses in excess of $22,000 while entertaining Microsoft business partners at South Korean "hostesses bars".
The complaint (embedded in the GeekWire story) provides details. Eric Engstrom and Ted Stockwell both worked for Microsoft throughout the 1990's (the complaint credits Engstrom as being one of the three inventors of the DirectX API), left the company in 1998 or 1999, and returned in 2008 to work in Microsoft's Online Services Division, which was headed by Qi Lu. Engstrom was hired to lead Bing Mobile Program Management; Engstrom hired Stockwell to run a new organization called Bing Mobile International.
Engstrom and Stockwell allegedly created the blueprint for the "Bing as a Platform" (BaaP) initiative within Microsoft in 2010. Shortly thereafter, the unnamed employee ("John Doe") was loaned to Stockwell's fledgling organization by Harry Shum, EVP of Technology and Research; Doe was known to have personal connections to an important Microsoft business partner in Korea. John Doe's expense reports from Korea were submitted to Stockwell for approval.
More down the page...
Reported at Techradar is the news that swedish flat-pack furniture company Ikea will incorporate wireless charging into some new product ranges.
Starting April, Ikea will begin to roll out a new series of furniture including bedside tablets, desks and lamps that will double up as charging spots using the Qi standard.
The Qi Charging standard is a publicly available standard for charging via electromagnetic induction (up to 5W), and claims to be "the most widely deployed wireless power standard".
[Submitted via IRC]
Many of you will know about Markov chains. Named after Andrey Markov, [they] are mathematical systems that hop from one "state" (a situation or set of values) to another. For example, if you made a Markov chain model of a baby's behavior, you might include "playing," "eating", "sleeping," and "crying" as states, which together with other behaviors could form a 'state space': a list of all possible states. In addition, on top of the state space, a Markov chain tells you the probability of hopping, or "transitioning," from one state to any other state---e.g., the chance that a baby currently playing will fall asleep in the next five minutes without crying first.
Victor Powell and Lewis Lehe have produced a 'visual explanation' of how to produce Markov chains showing how they are used in a variety of disciplines; they are useful to computer scientists and engineers and many others. As they point out:
In the hands of meteorologists, ecologists, computer scientists, financial engineers and other people who need to model big phenomena, Markov chains can get to be quite large and powerful.
If you've not seen Markov chains in use before, or perhaps your knowledge is just a little rusty, then take a look at the link and see it they can be of any use to you.
Cellphone, Internet, and telephone services across half of Arizona went dark on Wednesday after vandals sliced a sensitive fiber optic cable
In addition to the question of "why?", this event also highlights the fragility of modern US infrastructure and the consequences of such fragility for both private individuals and government agencies alike.
The United States is in the final stages of negotiating the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a massive free-trade agreement with Mexico, Canada, Japan, Singapore and seven other countries. Who will benefit from the TPP? American workers? Consumers? Small businesses? Taxpayers? Or the biggest multinational corporations in the world?
One strong hint is buried in the fine print of the closely guarded draft. The provision, an increasingly common feature of trade agreements, is called “Investor-State Dispute Settlement,” or ISDS. The name may sound mild, but don’t be fooled. ISDS would allow foreign companies to challenge U.S. laws — and potentially to pick up huge payouts from taxpayers — without ever stepping foot in a U.S. court.
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Tia Ghose of LiveScience writes:
If a new theory turns out to be true, the universe was never a singularity or an infinitely small and infinitely dense point of matter. In fact, the universe may have no beginning at all.
At issue is that the two most dominant theories of physics, quantum mechanics and general relativity, can't be reconciled.
The new equations are just one way to reconcile quantum mechanics and general relativity. For instance, a part of string theory known as string gas cosmology predicts that the universe once had a long-lasting static phase, while other theories predict there was once a cosmic "bounce," where the universe first contracted until it reached a very small size, then began expanding, Brandenberg said.