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Site Update scheduled for 03:00 UTC, Monday, January 26. Should be 5 to 10 minutes.
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The First Draft of the SN manifesto is available

My typing speed in words per minute is:

  • less than 50
  • 50-74
  • 75-99
  • 100-124
  • 125-149
  • more than 150
  • I can't type, you insensitive clod!
  • it depends - explain

[ Results | Polls ]
Comments:32 | Votes:247

posted by martyb on Sunday January 25, @05:05PM   Printer-friendly
from the what-could-possibly-go-wrong? dept.

Millions of genetically modified mosquitoes could be released in the Florida Keys if British researchers win approval to use the bugs against two extremely painful viral diseases. Never before have insects with modified DNA come so close to being set loose in a residential U.S. neighborhood. "This is essentially using a mosquito as a drug to cure disease," said Michael Doyle, executive director of the Florida Keys Mosquito Control District, which is waiting to hear if the Food and Drug Administration will allow the experiment.

Dengue and chikungunya are growing threats in the U.S., but some people are more frightened at the thought of being bitten by a genetically modified organism. More than 130,000 signed a petition against the experiment.

Even potential boosters say those responsible must do more to show that benefits outweigh the risks. "I think the science is fine, they definitely can kill mosquitoes, but the GMO [Genetically Modified Organism] issue still sticks as something of a thorny issue for the general public," said Phil Lounibos, who studies mosquito control at the Florida Medical Entomology Laboratory. "It's not even so much about the science—you can't go ahead with something like this if public opinion is negative."

[More after the break.]

posted by martyb on Sunday January 25, @02:45PM   Printer-friendly
from the sorry-about-that,-officer dept.

Giant bubbles of gas that erupted from the core of the Milky Way galaxy 2.5-4 million years ago are expanding out into space at mind-blowing speeds, according to new observations that may help reveal how the strange balloon-like lobes formed. The giant structures now extend 30,000 light-years above and below the plane of the Milky Way.

"A few million years ago, there was a very energetic event at the galactic center, and we're seeing a remnant," lead author Andrew Fox, of the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, Maryland, said at a press conference this month.

Fermi bubbles were first discovered in 2010 by scientists using NASA’s Fermi Large Area Telescope, which revealed two lobes of material protruding from the center of the Milky Way. Since then, the features have been studied in the X-ray and radio wavelengths.

Fox and his team paired Hubble's Cosmic Origins Spectrograph with a distant quasar to measure the speed and composition of the billowing bubbles. A quasar is a very bright source of light generated by fast-moving particles near a supermassive black hole inside a distant galaxy. Light from the quasar is so strong that it outshines its parent galaxy. The scientists measured how the ultraviolet light from quasar PDS 456 shifted as it passed through the base of the northern bubble.

With the help of the bright quasar, the team determined that material on the near side of the northern lobe is streaming toward the sun, while material on the far side is zipping away. The material is gushing out of the Milky Way at approximately 900 to 1,000 kilometers per second, or about 2 million mph.

The study will be published in the Astrophysical Journal Letters, and will be available online in preprint form on

posted by on Sunday January 25, @10:09AM   Printer-friendly
from the hope-nothing-explodes dept.

Slightly later than planned (due mostly to the holiday season and people's lives away from SN being hectic) the next bunch of updates for the site is ready to go. It's a bumper crop!

We have some further changes to the moderation system. As before, this is certainly not the end of changes in this area, rather another step along the road of improvement. We will be watching how the changes affect moderation usage with a view to further improvements.

There's also a number of more general improvements and bug fixes.

All being well these changes should go live around 03:00 26th January UTC. So no need for alarm if there's some minor site disruption at that point.

As always, feedback will be welcome once this deployed.

A major thanks to TheMightyBuzzard for the bulk of the work, paulej72 for sanity checking and martyb for testing/QA.

More details after the break....

posted by martyb on Sunday January 25, @09:32AM   Printer-friendly
from the you-must-enter-all-numbers-in-hex dept.

According to a report in The Wall Street Journal, about 70% of all US taxpayers are eligible for free federal income-tax-preparation and electronic-filing software through a program known as Free File. From the article:

Grappling with confusing tax forms and instructions may seem like the textbook definition of cruel and unusual punishment.

But there are a few ways for most taxpayers to make the task less burdensome. For example, about 70% of all taxpayers are eligible for free federal income-tax-preparation and electronic-filing software through a program known as “Free File.”

[...] Free File ( is a partnership between the Internal Revenue Service and a group of 14 tax-software companies, known as the Free File Alliance. The companies are offering products at no charge. But they aren’t available to everyone.

“If you earned $60,000 or less last year, you are eligible to choose from among 14 software products,” the IRS says.

Have you used this program before? What has your experience been? Would you recommend it to your fellow Solylentils?

posted by martyb on Sunday January 25, @06:52AM   Printer-friendly
from the keeping-up-is-hard-to-do dept.

President Obama believes America must build “21st century infrastructure—modern ports, stronger bridges, faster trains and the fastest Internet,” and in his State of the Union this week he asked the Republican-controlled Congress to pass a bipartisan infrastructure plan, likely the trillion-dollar legislation Senator Bernie Sanders proposed earlier this month. It’s an ambitious plan that many agree is desperately needed.

The American Society of Civil Engineers says the US needs massive investments in all essential infrastructure, from bridges and airports to dams and railways. According to the society’s most recent infrastructure report card ( ), the US earns a D+ for its infrastructure. It is, in a word, a mess. This is about much more than potholes. This is about keeping the economy, literally and figuratively, moving. Much of the economic boom the United States has experienced over the last 50 years is because the network of highways makes it easy to ship goods. If it continues into a state of disrepair, the long-term hit to our economy could be catastrophic.

posted by martyb on Sunday January 25, @04:39AM   Printer-friendly
from the there-are-no-birds-in-the-tropics dept.

No, I didn't get the headline wrong. While you surely have heard that aviation is bad for global warming, this is about the reverse: Climate change could make it harder for airplanes to get liftoff. From the article:

As air gets hotter, it gets less dense, and this can spell trouble for aircraft. Thin air can't generate enough lift and thrust to get a plane safely airborne within the fixed length of a runway. If it's too hot, airplanes will have to shed pounds, in the form of passengers and cargo, according to a study from Columbia University.

As the climate gets hotter, airports may have to adapt:

Airports might have to put in longer runways, or flights may have to be shifted to cooler parts of the day. The study, which was published in the journal Weather Climate Society and presented at the American Geophysical Union meeting this week, forces us to reckon with yet another niggling consequence of climate change.

posted by martyb on Sunday January 25, @02:25AM   Printer-friendly
from the it's-nice-to-share dept.

From The Hacker News (not to be confused with Hacker News ;) ):

Barrett Brown, a journalist [who] formerly served as an unofficial spokesman for the hacktivist collective Anonymous, was sentenced Thursday to over five years in prison, after pleading guilty to federal charges of "transmitting a threat in interstate commerce," "for interfering with the execution of a search warrant," and to being "accessory after the fact in the unauthorized access to a protected computer."

Brown was arrested in 2012 and nailed with 12 cyber crime charges, including a fraud charge for spreading around the hyperlink to an IRC (Internet Relay Chat) channel where Anonymous members were distributing stolen information from the hack, including credit card details.

posted by martyb on Saturday January 24, @11:35PM   Printer-friendly
from the but-your-homework-is-still-due-on-time dept.

The Orange County Register reports

Two dozen unvaccinated students [including the one who had measles] have been sent home from Huntington Beach High School for three weeks in the latest effort to slow the measles outbreak spreading throughout Orange County.

An unspecified student with measles was on campus from Jan. 6 to Jan. 8, possibly spreading the extremely contagious disease, according to a letter to parents from Matt Zahn, medical director for epidemiology at the Orange County Health Care Agency.

[...]State law requires schoolchildren to get the MMR shots to protect against measles, mumps, and rubella, but parents who believe there are links between the vaccines and medical conditions such as autism can get an exemption by signing a personal belief waiver.

On Jan. 14, Zahn issued a letter to Huntington Beach High School parents warning that "measles spreads very easily by air and by direct contact. Simply being in the same room with someone who has measles is sufficient to become infected." [...] "One in every 20 people with measles develops pneumonia; more rarely, serious, even life-threatening complications can occur."

Any ideas on how this could be made into a disincentive rather than a 3-week vacation?

posted by martyb on Saturday January 24, @09:50PM   Printer-friendly
from the you-can-check-out-any-time-you-like-but-you-can-never-leave-♩♩♬♪♫ dept.

Proposed legislation just passed out of committee has the stated goal, “to require the Secretary of Homeland Security to gain and maintain operational control of the international borders of the United States.”

Down inside the "Secure Our Borders First Act" is a clause which calls for a biometric data exit system, (mentioned briefly here). From this news item:

The Secure our Borders First Act would require full implementation of a biometric exit data system, which would require persons heading from the U.S. to Canada to not only be stopped and interviewed by Canadian authorities, as they currently are, but also by U.S. authorities, which has never been the case. This would require billions of dollars of plaza expansions on the U.S. side of the border, and new Customs and Border Protection officers to staff these currently-nonexistent booths and gates.

Elsewhere, biometrics were defined as fingerprinting or retina scan.

posted by LaminatorX on Saturday January 24, @06:45PM   Printer-friendly
from the you-get-what-you-measure dept.

A post on the Revolution Analytics Blog announced today that it had been acquired by Microsoft.

For what it's worth, they say that users experiences' shouldn't change:

For our users and customers, nothing much will change with the acquisition. We’ll continue to support and develop the Revolution R family of products — including non-Windows platforms like Mac and Linux. The free Revolution R Open project will continue to enhance open source R. We’ll continue to offer expert technical support for R with Revolution R Plus subscriptions from the same team of R experts. We’ll continue to advance the big data and enterprise integration capabilities of Revolution R Enterprise. And we’ll continue to offer expert technical training and consulting services.

I hope that is true, but I'm far more worried that the talents of the likes of Hadley Wickham and the recent surge of R development are going to be subsumed by the M-Monster, much like we've seen when other open source projects have been acquired by large software companies *ahemORACLEahem*

posted by LaminatorX on Saturday January 24, @02:43PM   Printer-friendly
from the lotta-splainin-to-do dept.

In a recent post on Google Plus, Adrian Ludwig explains why Google is not fixing web security in old Android phones.

Engadget explains:

it's no longer viable to "safely" patch vulnerable, pre-Android 4.4 versions of WebView (a framework that lets apps show websites without a separate browser) to prevent remote attacks. The sheer amount of necessary code changes would create legions of problems, he claims, especially since developers are introducing "thousands" of tweaks to the open source software every month.

He does offer some suggestions though (and engadget summarizes them) on how to avoid or mitigate issues if you are on an older version of Android.

posted by martyb on Saturday January 24, @01:20PM   Printer-friendly
from the Shining-a-light-on-dark-matter dept.

From observations of the Milky Way galaxy, we’ve learned that in any given cubic meter of space, even the particular cubic meter that snugly fits your seated form as you read this article, there’s a small amount of matter—only about 50 proton masses worth—passing through in any given moment. But unlike the particles that make up your seated form, this matter doesn’t interact [electromagnetically]. It doesn’t reflect light, it isn’t repelled by solid objects, it passes right through walls. This mysterious substance is known as dark matter.

Since there’s so little of it in each cubic meter, you would never notice its presence. But over the vast distances of space, there’s a lot of cubic meters, and all that dark matter adds up. It’s only when you zoom out and look at the big picture that dark matter’s gravitational influence becomes apparent. It’s the main source of gravity holding every galaxy together; it binds galaxies to one another in clusters; and it warps space around galaxy clusters, creating a lensing effect.

But despite its importance to the large-scale structure of the Universe, we still don’t know what dark matter really is. Currently, the best candidate is WIMPs, or Weakly Interacting Massive Particles (Which makes sense, now that we know it’s not MAssive Compact Halo Objects, or MACHOs). But WIMPs are not the only option—there are quite a few other possibilities being investigated ( ). Some of them are other kinds of massive particles, which would constitute cold dark matter, while others aren’t particles at all. ( )



posted by martyb on Saturday January 24, @11:15AM   Printer-friendly
from the Look!-Up-in-the-Sky!-Faster-than-a-speeding-bullet!-Oh?-Oh.-Oh!-Ooooooh! dept.

An asteroid will be stopping by for a visit around Monday (or Tuesday, depending on your time zone). From National Geographic:

A mountain-size space rock will sail past Earth on Monday, offering stargazers a close look at an interplanetary pinball. Luckily, NASA says there is no risk of collision, but it will be a rare astronomically close encounter that backyard telescope owners can watch.

This will be a rare opportunity to see a bright flyby of a potentially hazardous asteroid from your backyard. For several hours on Monday, [asteroid] 2004 BL86 will reach a visual brightness of magnitude 9. That means small telescopes and possibly even large binoculars will reveal the asteroid—as long as you know where to look.

The asteroid will travel through the constellations Hydra and Cancer in the south-southeastern evening sky and will glide just to the right of a bright celestial guidepost, the planet Jupiter. Between 10 p.m. and 12 a.m. EST [3–5 UTC], it will be making a close pass of the famed Beehive star cluster.

posted by janrinok on Saturday January 24, @09:06AM   Printer-friendly
from the amateur-archaeologists-historians-welcome dept.

A new site is attempting to put the enthusiasm and knowledge of amateur archaeologists and historians to work on current archaeological projects, with the help and guidance of professional academics.

MicroPasts, a joint project of University College London, the British Museum, and the Arts and Humanities Research Council, is a new hybrid site combining citizen science and crowdfunding under one umbrella.

“MicroPasts is a web platform that brings together full-time academic researchers, volunteer archaeological and historical societies and other interested members of the public to collaborate on new kinds of research about archaeology, history and heritage,” according to the site’s coordinators, including Chiara Bonacchi, Adi Keinan-Schoonbaert, Andrew Bevan, and Daniel Pett. “In particular, we want to improve how people traditionally distinguished as ‘academics,' ‘professionals,’ and ‘volunteers’ cooperate with one another (as well as with other people out there who as yet have no more than a passing interest).”

MicroPasts - Conducting, designing and funding research into our human past.

Portable Antiquities Scheme website:

How does this work? -

posted by janrinok on Saturday January 24, @07:03AM   Printer-friendly
from the your-guess-is-as-good-as-mine dept.

Politico Magazine asked 15 other big thinkers and doers for their ideas of what will change the world the most in the next 15 years. We got back lots of inspiration—from the transformative power of opening up national borders to the commercialization of the human genome—and one dyspeptic dissenter. Read on, for a sense of the possible in the world of 2030.

Would you agree with their predictions? What would surveillance be like in 2030? Would we have any freedoms at all, any privacy?

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