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.
The Guardian (and pretty much every other news outlet on the web) is reporting that Boris Nemtsov, former deputy Russian Prime Minister and critic of President Vladimir Putin has been killed in a drive-by shooting near the Kremlin, sustaining four gunshot wounds to the chest and dying at the scene. Nemtsov was due to lead a major opposition rally on Sunday. A spokesman for Putin has stated that the President will take personal control of the investigation into the killing, claiming it was "a pure provocation." A police spokesman has stated that a manhunt is under way.
Nemtsov was first deputy Prime Minister during Boris Yeltsin's presidency between March 1997 and April 1998. He wrote a number of reports linking Putin to corruption, spoke out against government inefficiency, criticized the Kremlin's policy towards Ukraine, and asserted that billions of dollars earmarked for spending on the Winter Olympics in his home town of Sochi had been embezzled. Several hours prior to his death, he promoted Sunday's opposition rally in Moscow on Ekho Moskvy radio. When he asked Alexei Venediktov, the editor-in-chief of the station, if he had any concerns regarding his appearance, Venediktov tweeted "It wasn’t me who needed to be scared."
While it's been a decade since a Russian opposition politician has been murdered in the capital, there has been no shortage of tactics used to suppress dissent against Putin's regime. Another organiser of the upcoming rally, Alexei Navalny, was jailed on 19 February for 15 days after handing out leaflets in public promoting the rally. Navalny was previously convicted of defrauding two firms of 30million roubles ($462k US) and given a suspended sentence in December, a move that critics say was an attempt to stifle political dissent.
Remember that story about the Siberian mystery crater last June? Turns out there are six more and, as Siberian Times reports, there could be dozens of others which popped out recently enough to allow satellite comparisons between before and after.
Respected Moscow scientist Professor Vasily Bogoyavlensky has called for 'urgent' investigation of the new phenomenon amid safety fears.
Until now, only three large craters were known about in northern Russia with several scientific sources speculating last year that heating from above the surface due to unusually warm climatic conditions, and from below, due to geological fault lines, led to a huge release of gas hydrates, so causing the formation of these craters in Arctic regions.
Two of the newly-discovered large craters - also known as funnels to scientists - have turned into lakes, revealed Professor Bogoyavlensky, deputy director of the Moscow-based Oil and Gas Research Institute, part of the Russian Academy of Sciences.
Examination using satellite images has helped Russian experts understand that the craters are more widespread than was first realised, with one large hole surrounded by as many as 20 mini-craters, The Siberian Times can reveal.
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In the field of cryptography, a secretly planted “backdoor” that allows eavesdropping on communications is usually a subject of paranoia and dread. But that doesn’t mean cryptographers don’t appreciate the art of skilled cyphersabotage. Now one group of crypto experts has published an appraisal of different methods of weakening crypto systems, and the lesson is that some backdoors are clearly better than others—in stealth, deniability, and even in protecting the victims’ privacy from spies other than the backdoor’s creator.
In a paper titled “Surreptitiously Weakening Cryptographic Systems,” well-known cryptographer and author Bruce Schneier and researchers from the Universities of Wisconsin and Washington take the spy’s view to the problem of crypto design: What kind of built-in backdoor surveillance works best ?
Color scientists already have a word for it: Dressgate. Now the Washington Post reports that a puzzling thing happened on Thursday night consuming millions — perhaps tens of millions — across the planet and trending on Twitter ahead of even Jihadi John’s identification. The problem was this: Roughly three-fourths of people swore that this dress was white and gold, according to BuzzFeed polling but everyone else said it's dress was blue. Others said the dress could actually change colors. So what's going on? According to the NYT our eyes are able to assign fixed colors to objects under widely different lighting conditions. This ability is called color constancy. But the photograph doesn’t give many clues about the ambient light in the room. Is the background bright and the dress in shadow? Or is the whole room bright and all the colors are washed out? If you think the dress is in shadow, your brain may remove the blue cast and perceive the dress as being white and gold. If you think the dress is being washed out by bright light, your brain may perceive the dress as a darker blue and black.
According to Beau Lotto, the brain is doing something remarkable and that's why people are so fascinated by this dress. “It’s entertaining two realities that are mutually exclusive. It’s seeing one reality, but knowing there’s another reality. So you’re becoming an observer of yourself. You’re having tremendous insight into what it is to be human. And that’s the basis of imagination.” As usual xkcd has the final word.
Ars Technica reports:
For decades after Linux's early '90s debut, even the hardest of hardcore boosters for the open source operating system had to admit that it couldn't really compete in one important area of software: gaming.
Now, more than a year into the SteamOS era (measuring from that beta launch), the nascent Linux gaming community is cautiously optimistic about the promise of a viable PC gaming market that doesn't rely on a Microsoft OS. Despite technical and business problems that continue to get in the way, Valve has already transformed gaming on Linux from "practically nothing" to "definitely something" and could be on the verge of making it much more than that.
For those already running Linux on their main machines, though, finally having significant gaming options on their platform of choice will continue to be a happy side effect of Valve's still-developing push into this new market. "I do know that in the absolute worst case, the chicken-and-egg problem is solved," Gordon said. "You get people to a platform with games, but games won't come until people are on a platform. Valve being there has clearly given developers the faith to stick their toes in the water right away."
We had two submissions on non-water-based life forms; the study and images are available at: https://cornell.box.com/azotosome
The search for extra-terrestrial life focuses quite heavily on the presence of liquid water. That's because all life on earth depends on water, using it as a medium for all cells, and an ingredient for many biological processes.
Is life without water possible? A chemical engineer and others at Cornell University devised a hypothetical model for life that could instead use liquid methane as its medium, opening more possibilities for simple life on Titan and on other cold moons and planets.
A new type of methane-based, oxygen-free life form that can metabolize and reproduce similar to life on Earth has been modeled by a team of Cornell University researchers.
The main reason why the U.S. military can promote global peace is because of the aura of invincibility it gained in World War II, because of the end of the Cold War, and because of its overwhelming military spending and technological advantage. But an aura of invincibility is a dangerous thing. And unfortunately, there are signs of rot.
Today, the U.S. military has fallen under the Bureaucracy Rule. The U.S. has no great power rivals, and thank God for that. Iraq and Afghanistan have not caused an identity crisis for the U.S. military because many senior commanders view these as "freakshow" wars — counterinsurgency wars, not the kind of "real" wars that militaries fight.
What are the signs that an organization has become a bureaucracy?
The first is excessive PowerPoint. Every organization should ban PowerPoint ( http://theweek.com/audio/442552/ban-powerpoint ). But it has become particularly endemic in the military ( http://www.nytimes.com/2010/04/27/world/27powerpoint.html?_r=0 ).
The fact that the new Defense secretary has banned PowerPoint from some senior briefings is a step in the right direction ( http://www.forbes.com/sites/pascalemmanuelgobry/2015/02/23/the-war-on-powerpoint-in-the-military-continues/ ).