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Updated: 2015-05-29

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The First Draft of the SN manifesto is available

The finalists for the 2015 Hugo Awards were announced on April 4, 2015. Who deserves the prize for Best Novel?

  • Ancillary Sword, Ann Leckie (Orbit US/Orbit UK)
  • The Dark Between the Stars, Kevin J. Anderson (Tor Books)
  • The Goblin Emperor, Katherine Addison (Sarah Monette) (Tor Books)
  • Skin Game, Jim Butcher (Orbit UK/Roc Books)
  • The Three Body Problem, Cixin Liu, Ken Liu translator (Tor Books)
  • I can't read, you insenstive clod!

[ Results | Polls ]
Comments:21 | Votes:84

posted by janrinok on Saturday May 30, @02:07AM   Printer-friendly
from the let-me-give-you-money! dept.

Science journalist John Bohannon, whose former work included exposing the awful quality of science journal peer reviewing, has landed a new coup. With only minor effort, as described in, he tricked a significant part of mainstream media into running stories how chocolate helps with weight loss.

"Slim by Chocolate!" the headlines blared. A team of German researchers had found that people on a low-carb diet lost weight 10 percent faster if they ate a chocolate bar every day. It made the front page of Bild, Europe's largest daily newspaper, just beneath their update about the Germanwings crash. From there, it ricocheted around the internet and beyond, making news in more than 20 countries and half a dozen languages. It was discussed on television news shows. It appeared in glossy print, most recently in the June issue of Shape magazine ("Why You Must Eat Chocolate Daily," page 128). Not only does chocolate accelerate weight loss, the study found, but it leads to healthier cholesterol levels and overall increased well-being. The Bild story quotes the study's lead author, Johannes Bohannon, Ph.D., research director of the Institute of Diet and Health: "The best part is you can buy chocolate everywhere."

I am Johannes Bohannon, Ph.D. Well, actually my name is John, and I'm a journalist. I do have a Ph.D., but it's in the molecular biology of bacteria, not humans. The Institute of Diet and Health? That's nothing more than a website.

Other than those fibs, the study was 100 percent authentic. My colleagues and I recruited actual human subjects in Germany. We ran an actual clinical trial, with subjects randomly assigned to different diet regimes. And the statistically significant benefits of chocolate that we reported are based on the actual data. It was, in fact, a fairly typical study for the field of diet research. Which is to say: It was terrible science. The results are meaningless, and the health claims that the media blasted out to millions of people around the world are utterly unfounded.

After a little actual, but mostly nonsensical research operation, he had a paper accepted by a supposedly reputable journal. With the aid of a media seeding agent, the story was placed and then took its course.

[Editor's Comment: Original Submission]

posted by janrinok on Friday May 29, @11:33PM   Printer-friendly

U.S. surveillance imagery has spotted weapons on artificial islands in the South China Sea:

The U.S. imagery detected two Chinese motorized artillery pieces on one of the artificial islands built by China about one month ago. While the artillery wouldn't pose a threat to U.S. planes or ships, U.S. officials said it could reach neighboring islands and that its presence was at odds with China's public statements that the reclaimed islands are mainly for civilian use.

"There is no military threat," a U.S. official told The Wall Street Journal on Thursday. "But it is about the symbolism."

While posing no military threat to the U.S., the motorized artillery was within range of an island claimed by Vietnam that Hanoi has armed with various weaponry for some time, the American officials said. Vietnamese officials didn't immediately respond to a request for comment.

A Chinese Embassy spokesman in Washington wouldn't comment specifically on the weaponry, but said its development work within the Spratly Islands—known by the Chinese as the Nansha Islands—was primarily civilian.

China's first white paper on military strategy [single page], published on May 26th by the State Council Information Office, reveals that China is planning to project naval power beyond its offshore borders and focus on "open seas protection." Additional BBC reporting.

[Editor's Comment: Original Submission]

posted by martyb on Friday May 29, @09:52PM   Printer-friendly
from the Embrace-Extend-Extinguish dept.

At its WinHEC hardware conference in Shenzhen, China, Microsoft talked about the hardware requirements for Windows 10. The precise final specs are not available yet, so all this is somewhat subject to change, but right now, Microsoft says that the switch to allow Secure Boot to be turned off is now optional. Hardware can be Designed for Windows 10 and can offer no way to opt out of the Secure Boot lock down.

The presentation is silent on whether OEMs can or should provide support for adding custom certificates.

[Original Submission]

posted by martyb on Friday May 29, @08:53PM   Printer-friendly

NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) is teaming up with the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) on its Memex "deep Web" search project:

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has been developing tools as part of its Memex program that access and catalog this mysterious online world. Researchers at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, have joined the Memex effort to harness the benefits of deep Web searching for science. Memex could, for example, help catalog the vast amounts of data NASA spacecraft deliver on a daily basis.

"We're developing next-generation search technologies that understand people, places, things and the connections between them," said Chris Mattmann, principal investigator for JPL's work on Memex. Memex checks not just standard text-based content online but also images, videos, pop-up ads, forms, scripts and other ways information is stored to look at how they are interrelated. "We're augmenting Web crawlers to behave like browsers -- in other words, executing scripts and reading ads in ways that you would when you usually go online. This information is normally not catalogued by search engines," Mattmann said.

Additionally, a standard Web search doesn't get much information from images and videos, but Memex can recognize what's in this content and pair it with searches on the same subjects. The search tool could identify the same object across many frames of a video or even different videos.

The video and image search capabilities of Memex could one day benefit space missions that take photos, videos and other kinds of imaging data with instruments such as spectrometers. Searching visual information about a particular planetary body could greatly facilitate the work of scientists in analyzing geological features. Scientists analyzing imaging data from Earth-based missions that monitor phenomena such as snowfall and soil moisture could similarly benefit. Memex would also enhance the search for published scientific data, so that scientists can be better aware of what has been released and analyzed on their topics. The technology could be applied to large NASA data centers such as the Physical Oceanography Distributed Active Archive Center, which makes NASA's ocean and climate data accessible and meaningful. Memex would make PDF documents more easily searchable and allow users to more easily arrive at the information they seek. Awareness of existing publications also helps program managers to assess the impact of spacecraft data.

JPL had previously been involved with DARPA's XDATA project. Memex is inspired by a 1945 article by Vannevar Bush in The Atlantic Monthly.

[Original Submission]

posted by martyb on Friday May 29, @07:16PM   Printer-friendly
from the bias-removal-or-indoctrination? dept.

When the desired behavior is performed, a sound is played. When the test subjects reach deep sleep, that same sound is played repeatedly. Subjects were then more likely to perform the desired behavior.

The article, "Unlearning implicit social biases during sleep" appears in the journal Science; an abstract and full report are available.

[Original Submission - Ed.]

posted by CoolHand on Friday May 29, @05:49PM   Printer-friendly
from the getting-all-they-can-give dept.

Silk Road founder Ross Ulbricht, aka the "Dread Pirate Roberts," has been sentenced to life in prison on multiple charges by a federal judge in Manhattan. The charges he faced carried a minimum sentence of 20 years, but he received the maximum sentence of life in prison for "engaging in a continuing criminal enterprise" (The Kingpin Statute):

Ross Ulbricht, the man behind illegal online drug emporium Silk Road, was sentenced to life in prison on Friday by Judge Katherine Forrest of Manhattan's US district court for the southern district of New York. Before the sentencing the parents of the victims of drug overdoses addressed the court. Ulbricht broke down in tears. "I never wanted that to happen," he said. "I wish I could go back and convince myself to take a different path." Ulbrict was handed five sentences one of 20 year, one of 15 years, one of five and two of life. All are to be served concurrently.

Ulbrict, 31, begged the judge to "leave a light at the end of the tunnel" ahead of his sentence. "I know you must take away my middle years, but please leave me my old age," he wrote to Forrest this week. Prosecutors wrote Forrest a 16-page letter requesting the opposite: "[A] lengthy sentence, one substantially above the mandatory minimum is appropriate in this case."

Forrest rejected arguments that Silk Road had reduced harm among drug users by taking illegal activities off the street. "No drug dealer from the Bronx has ever made this argument to the court. It's a privileged argument and it's an argument made by one of the privileged," she said.

Also at Ars Technica, Wired, and The Verge. Ulbricht faces additional charges in Maryland over an alleged murder-for-hire plot.

[Original Submission - Ed.]

posted by martyb on Friday May 29, @04:49PM   Printer-friendly
from the amnesiac-neuromorphic-chips-rejoice dept.

Engineers have produced an alloy that springs back into shape even after it is bent more than 10 million times. "Memory shape alloys" like this have many potential uses, but present incarnations are prone to wearing out. The new material - made from nickel, titanium and copper - shatters previous records and is so resilient it could be useful in artificial heart valves, aircraft components or a new generation of solid-state refrigerators. The work appears in Science Magazine.

Memory alloys are already used in some situations, including surgical operations. A stent, for example, might be squashed into a small space and then spring into its designed shape to prop open a blood vessel. But the alloys have never entirely fulfilled their promise and entered the world of "high cycle fatigue" applications.

[Original Submission - Ed.]

posted by martyb on Friday May 29, @03:12PM   Printer-friendly
from the where-did-I-put-my-car-keys dept.

The latest research shows memories "lost" to amnesia aren't gone forever; they're just not accessible

Mice certainly aren't men, but they can teach us a lot about memories. And in the latest experiments, mice are helping to resolve a long-simmering debate about what happens to "lost" memories. Are they wiped out permanently, or are they still there, but just somehow out of reach?

Researchers in the lab of Susumu Tonegawa at the Picower Institute for Learning and Memory at MIT conducted a series of studies using the latest light-based brain tracking techniques to show that memories in certain forms of amnesia aren't erased, but remain intact and potentially retrievable. Their findings, published Thursday in the journal Science , are based on experiments in mice, but they could have real implications for humans, too.

[Original Submission - Ed.]

posted by martyb on Friday May 29, @01:47PM   Printer-friendly
from the merger-mania dept.

The Orange County Register reports

Irvine chipmaker Broadcom Corp. will be purchased by Singapore-based Avago Technologies Ltd. for $37 billion, making the deal the biggest technology acquisition ever.

The two companies said they expected the deal to produce $750 million in savings over the first 18 months of their union. The new company will take Broadcom's name, Avago's CEO, Hock Tan, will retain his leading role in the newly combined enterprise.

[...] The purchase of Broadcom, the biggest maker of Wi-Fi chips for short-range connections in mobile devices, will create the world's sixth-largest chipmaker in terms of revenue. The deal is the latest in a round of consolidation in the $300 billion industry as the rising costs of production and design push manufacturers to combine.

[...] Broadcom is closing its unit that makes modem chips for mobile phones. That is reducing losses and expenses in a business that failed to gain significant market share from Qualcomm Inc.

Have any Soylentils had dealings with Avago which indicate that (notoriously closed) Broadcom will now become more open?

[Editor's Comment: Original Submission]

posted by janrinok on Friday May 29, @11:35AM   Printer-friendly
from the preach-to-the-choir dept.

United Nations Special Rapporteur David Kaye has written that encryption is necessary for freedom of expression and privacy:

No restrictions may be imposed on the right to hold opinions without interference; [...] opinions, however held online, result in surveillance or harassment, encryption and anonymity may provide necessary privacy. Restrictions on such security tools may interfere with the ability of individuals to hold opinions.

Interference may also include such efforts as targeted surveillance, distributed denial of service attacks, and online and offline intimidation, criminalization and harassment. Targeted digital interference harasses individuals and civil society organizations for the opinions they hold in many formats. Encryption and anonymity enable individuals to avoid or mitigate such harassment.

Efforts to restrict encryption and anonymity also tend to be quick reactions to terrorism, even when the attackers themselves are not alleged to have used encryption or anonymity to plan or carry out an attack. Moreover, even where the restriction is arguably in pursuit of a legitimate interest, many laws and policies regularly do not meet the standards of necessity and proportionality and have broad, deleterious effects on the ability of all individuals to exercise freely their rights to privacy and freedom of opinion and expression. [...] Outright prohibitions on the individual use of encryption technology disproportionately restrict the freedom of expression, because they deprive all online users in a particular jurisdiction of the right to carve out private space for opinion and expression, without any particular claim of the use of encryption for unlawful ends.

States should promote strong encryption and anonymity. National laws should recognize that individuals are free to protect the privacy of their digital communications by using encryption technology and tools that allow anonymity online. [...] States should not restrict encryption and anonymity, which facilitate and often enable the rights to freedom of opinion and expression. Blanket prohibitions fail to be necessary and proportionate. States should avoid all measures that weaken the security that individuals may enjoy online, such as backdoors, weak encryption standards and key escrows.

The report hits on many digital liberty topics, shaming Russia, China, and South Africa for online "real-name" policies, calling compulsory SIM card registration "well beyond any legitimate government interest," calling for access to Tor, proxies, and VPNs to be "protected and promoted," and asserting that data retention "of all users has inevitably resulted in the State having everyone's digital footprint."

By contrast, newly appointed U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch has become the latest Obama administration official to express "concerns" over encryption hampering anti-terrorism and law enforcement efforts.

[Editor's Comment: Original Submission]

posted by janrinok on Friday May 29, @09:56AM   Printer-friendly
from the all-charged-up dept.

Chemists at the Waterloo University have discovered the key reaction that takes place in sodium-air batteries that could pave the way for development of the so-called holy grail of electrochemical energy storage.

Unlike the traditional solid-state battery design, a metal-oxygen battery uses a gas cathode that takes oxygen and combines it with a metal such as sodium or lithium to form a metal oxide, storing electrons in the process. Applying an electric current reverses the reaction and reverts the metal to its original form.

In the case of the sodium-oxygen cell, the proton phase catalyst transfers the newly formed sodium superoxide (NaO2) entities to solution where they nucleate into well-defined nanocrystals to grow the discharge product as micron-sized cubes. The dimensions of the initially formed NaO2 are critical; theoretical calculations from a group at MIT has separately shown that NaO2 is energetically preferred over sodium peroxide, Na2O2 at the nanoscale. When the battery is recharged, these NaO2 cubes readily dissociate, with the reverse reaction facilitated once again by the proton phase catalyst.

Chemistry says that the proton phase catalyst could work similarly with lithium-oxygen. However, the lithium superoxide (LiO2) entities are too unstable and convert immediately to lithium peroxide (Li2O2). Once Li2O2 forms, the catalyst cannot facilitate the reverse reaction, as the forward and reverse reactions are no longer the same. So, in order to achieve progress on lithium-oxygen systems, researchers need to find an additional redox mediator to charge the cell efficiently.

Another battery technology "only a few years from the market"?

[Editor's Comment: Original Submission]

posted by cmn32480 on Friday May 29, @08:15AM   Printer-friendly
from the are-you-horny-baby? dept.

A startup company called Pembient is developing a process to synthesize rhino horns. Their aim is to mass produce fakes that are indistinguishable from real horns, and hence destroy the profit motive for killing wild rhinos.

The plan begins with using modified yeast cells to produce a substance called keratin, the main component of the horn. Various trace elements found in natural horns are added in, as well as genuine rhino DNA. From these materials, a 3D printer is then used to recreate the complex structure of the horn. The only things that are missing, are the trace elements of pollutants that have made their way into the real rhino horn over time. This makes the synthetic horn more pure than the real one.

Some wildlife groups are very skeptical of the plan.

Pembient's concept, which another company – Rhinoceros Horn LLC – is also pursuing a version of, has raised the hackles of conservation groups from the World Wildlife Foundation to the wildlife monitoring network Traffic. It panders to consumers' behaviour rather than trying to change it, which could set back efforts to educate, they say. "There is general horror at the idea," says Cathy Dean, international director of the UK-based charity Save the Rhino, which earlier this month issued a joint statement with the International Rhino Foundation opposing the synthetic horn. Dean adds that ersatz horn is unlikely to dent the market – if people can afford the real thing they are going to buy it – and rebukes the company for failing properly to consult conservation professionals on the idea first.

posted by cmn32480 on Friday May 29, @06:26AM   Printer-friendly
from the i-wanna-text-it-to-all-my-apple-loving-friends dept.

iOS bug causes crash when rendering certain text string

Ars Technica reports on a bug in iOS that can cause iPhones to reboot. This bug also seems to affect OS X under certain situations and extends beyond text messages on iOS. The trigger is trying to render the string in question.

A similar rendering bug for Apple has occurred previously that was also covered by Ars Technica

Microsoft has also fallen victim to font rendering bugs in the past:

iOS bug can cause text message to crash iPhones

I'm not a fan of iOS or Apple, in fact I find their interfaces so incredibly frustrating that I refuse to use their products, so I find this particularly amusing:

A newly discovered and potentially worrisome iOS bug has been causing Phones to crash and automatically reboot when a certain string of characters is received via the Messages app. The string in question, which consists of both English and Arabic characters, was first brought to light via a Reddit thread before being corroborated by MacRumors late on Wednesday evening.

"Sending the string of characters to an iPhone results in an immediate respring, causing an iPhone to crash and quickly reboot," the report notes. "From there, if the Messages app was opened at a list view, the Messages app crashes automatically when you try to open it. If it was opened to the conversation where you received the message, the app will open, but attempting to go to another conversation causes Messages to crash."

Read more here.

posted by CoolHand on Friday May 29, @04:42AM   Printer-friendly
from the sailing-away dept.

Covered at Sen is the news that a software glitch is causing problems for the Light Sail project launched by the Planetary Society

The privately funded Planetary Society, a California-based space exploration advocacy group, has not been in communication with its LightSail since Friday, two days after it hitched a ride to orbit aboard an Atlas 5 rocket carrying the U.S. Air Force’s X-37B robotic mini shuttle.

This is also covered at the Planetary Society blog:

It is now believed that a vulnerability in the software controlling the main avionics board halted spacecraft operations, leaving a reboot as the only remedy to continue the mission. When that occurs, the team will likely initiate a manual sail deployment as soon as possible.
The manufacturer of the avionics board corrected this glitch in later software revisions. But alas, LightSail’s software version doesn’t include the update.

The team are hoping for a reboot to bring the device back to life, either from a ground transmission or charged particle glitch, although attempts to reboot from the ground look to have failed to date.

Cal Poly is automating the reboot command transmission to be sent every few ground station passes, on the hope that one command sneaks through (we don't send the command on every pass because a successful reboot triggers a waiting period before beacon transmissions begin). But as of right now, we can’t do much except wait, hoping a charged particle smacks the spacecraft in just the right way to cause a reboot. LightSail is capable of remaining in orbit about six months in its CubeSat form.

Additional background on the project is available in a previous SN article, and ongoing updates at the mission control page for the LightSail project.

[Editor's Comment: Original Submission]

posted by CoolHand on Friday May 29, @02:05AM   Printer-friendly
from the could-you-please-speak-in-english dept.

Racial stereotypes and expectations can impact the way we communicate and understand others, according to UBC research. The new study, published in the Journal of the Acoustical Society of America, highlights how non-verbal "social cues" - such as photographs of Chinese Canadians - can affect how we comprehend speech.

"This research brings to light our internal biases, and the role of experience and stereotypes, in how we listen to and hear each other," says Molly Babel, the paper's lead author and an assistant professor with UBC's Department of Linguistics.

One of the study's tasks involved participants from the UBC community transcribing pre-recorded sentences amid background static. The sentences were recorded by 12 native speakers of Canadian English. Half of the speakers self-identified as White, and the other half self-identified as Chinese. All speakers were born and raised in Richmond, B.C., which is south of Vancouver.

The pre-recorded sentences were accompanied by either black and white photos of the speakers, or by an image of three crosses. Overall, listeners found the Chinese Canadians more difficult to understand than the White Canadians - but only when they were made aware that the speaker was Chinese Canadian due to the photo prompt.

Participants were also asked to rate the strength of the accents of the speakers. They were asked to listen to two sentences from each speaker - one accompanied by the speaker's photo, the other by an image of crosses. "Once participants were aware that they were listening to a White Canadian, suddenly the candidate was perceived as having less of a foreign accent and sounding more like a native speaker of Canadian English," says Babel.

"It tells us as listeners that we need to be sensitive about the stereotypes that we carry," notes Jamie Russell, the study's co-author who was an undergraduate honours student in UBC's Department of Linguistics during the project.



[Editor's Comment: Original Submission]

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