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posted by martyb on Sunday March 29, @03:57AM   Printer-friendly
from the very-very-long-courtship dept.

A Judean date palm — a variety that was wiped out in the 6th century — has been grown from a 2,000 year-old seed found in an archeological excavation ten years ago, and is now reproducing:

Talk about perseverance, not to mention the mastery of nature’s design when it comes to plants. Decades ago a 2,000-year-old seed was plucked from an archaeological excavation near the Dead Sea. After many years lingering in a researcher's drawer in Tel Aviv, Elaine Solowey, director of the Arava Institute for Environmental Studies at Kibbutz Ketura in Israel, decided to give germination a go. Ten years later, and “Methuselah” (why don’t all plants have names?) is thriving. And not only thriving, but reproducing. Mazel tov!

Methuselah is a Judean date palm, a variety that was wiped out sometime in the 6th century, making the lonely male long the only one of its kind. Genetic testing reveal that Methuselah is closely related to an ancient variety of date palm from Egypt called Hayany – which corresponds with the legend indicating that dates came to Israel with the Exodus, Solowey says.

No word on the nutrition and flavor of its dates, but it's a good argument for projects like the Global Seed Vault.

posted by azrael on Sunday March 29, @02:10AM   Printer-friendly
from the putting-a-value-on-privacy dept.

According to the BBC UK Safari users can sue Google for working around Safari's Privacy Settings in a UK court.

Google has lost a Court of Appeal bid to stop consumers having the right to sue in the UK over alleged misuse of privacy settings.

A group of users claim that Google bypassed security settings on the Safari browser to install tracking cookies on their computers in order to target them with advertising.

...

The landmark case potentially opens the door to litigation from the millions of Britons who used Apple computers, iPhones, iPods and iPads during the relevant period, summer 2011 to spring 2012, said Jonathan Hawker who represents the Google Action Group, a not-for-profit company set up to manage claims against the internet giant for breach of privacy.

Also covered at Ars Technica and CNet.

posted by janrinok on Sunday March 29, @12:55AM   Printer-friendly
from the show-me-the-family-model dept.

Internal Combustion Engine (ICE) producers must be feeling the heat from electric vehicles (EVs) --enter the deltawing car, "half the weight, half the fuel, half the horsepower, all the speed.":

The Deltawing currently only exists as a race car, one that was designed under the mantra “half the weight, half the fuel, half the horsepower, all the speed.” But Panoz (a Georgia-based low-volume car company from the man who invented the nicotine patch) wants to make road-going Deltawings, saying that you don’t need 300 horsepower to go fast; 1.4 L and 138 horsepower should be enough. Oh, and it’ll get 57 mpg combined.

The concept originally appeared when IndyCar requested proposals for a new car for its series. The Deltawing promised speeds would be as fast as ever—about 230 mph at Indianapolis—with just 300 horsepower. An idea too radical for Indianapolis found a more welcoming reception in Le Mans, France, becoming a cult favorite. Viewed from above, it’s obvious why it’s called a Deltawing; the front track (the width between the front wheels) is tiny compared to the rear, with a pair of skinny tires that look far too small to go around corners quickly. Three quarters of the car’s weight is over the rear wheels, and there’s much less of that weight to begin with.

...

Panoz isn’t the only company who think the Deltawing is a good idea. Last year, Nissan revealed the Bladeglider concept car, built to the same idea.

posted by janrinok on Saturday March 28, @10:14PM   Printer-friendly
from the not-so-free-world dept.

Two items of news from Australia which mirror similar stories from other countries in the West.

Australian legislation to counter piracy finally released

Kept under wraps until this morning [Mar 26], the site-blocking elements of the Copyright Amendment (Online Infringement) Bill 2015 are likely to please rights holders with their significant reach. The bill, which is set to cost telcos about $130,000 a year, contains no cap on the number of websites rights holders can request a judge to block in a single injunction.

Critics of the regime are likely to argue that having no cap on the scheme could result in what happened in India, where a number of legitimate websites were blocked, including Google services, when a judge agreed to block some 472 websites. An updated judgement fixed the error. But it appears consumers and rights groups won't be able to apply to a court to revoke blocks, as they are not listed as one of the types of parties that can do this.

The competition watchdog, the ACCC, and the communications regulator, the ACMA, are the only people envisaged by the government to be able to apply to revoke a block other than the people behind a blocked site, an internet service provider asked to block it, or a rights holder.

Mandatory Data Retention Becomes Law in Australia

The Australian Parliament has passed a series of amendments to the country's Telecommunications Interception and Access Act 1979, requiring "telecommunications service providers to retain for two years telecommunications data (not content) prescribed by regulations". The Coalition government and Labor party joined forces to pass the laws, ignoring a number of last-minute amendments from the Greens and other senators.

The Register reports that Attorney-General George Brandis continues to misrepresent the data retention requirement:

Brandis told ABC Radio's AM program this morning that “nothing is different to the way it has been for the last 20 years or so”. Yet Telstra recently told a Parliamentary Committee that it doesn't record IP addresses or missed call records for users of its mobile networks. So Telstra is clearly being asked to do something new.

The AM interview we've linked to above is worth a listen because Brandis, six months into the metadata debate, still can't speak with authority on the subject. He jitters and struggles to articulate his position. At times he makes little sense, such as when asked why we need metadata retention when there are so many alternative communications media for ne'er-do-wells to use. His response is that criminals always break the law and will continue to do so despite the new legislation.

Left unsettled is the cost of metadata retention to ISPs, which recently led them to write an open letter to George Brandis. One report suggests a cost of AU$3.98 per subscriber per year.

posted by cmn32480 on Saturday March 28, @07:41PM   Printer-friendly
from the will-wonders-never-cease dept.

As if graphene needed any more strange and wonderful properties to recommend its study, it has been shown that sandwiching water between two layers of graphene causes the water to form ice at room temperature:

An international team of scientists recently discovered some intriguing structural characteristics of water confined in graphene nanocapillaries. In these studies, the researchers deposited a graphene monolayer on a small grid, added a small amount of water, and then covered it with another monolayer of graphene. This sample was left overnight to allow excess water to evaporate, eventually bringing the graphene layers together so that only a small amount of adsorbed water remained between them. The water left behind showed some unusual structural properties.

[...] The water molecules formed layers with square lattices where each molecule interacted with the four molecules surrounding it, forming hydrogen bonds at 90° angles. This square lattice symmetry, which they also saw assembled into bilayers and trilayers, is strikingly different from the normal three-dimensional arrangement in ice, where hydrogen bonds exhibit a bond angle of approximately 109°. The researchers found that this lattice structure could be produced even after certain variables had been changed, including the capillary width, applied pressure, and rigidity of the graphene sheets.

Fascinating stuff. Wouldn't it be wonderful to mine it from the air and spin it into sheets and ropes and anything at all?

posted by NotSanguine on Saturday March 28, @05:26PM   Printer-friendly
from the Don't-fence-me-in dept.

Ars Technica is reporting on new regulations to limit region-based restrictions in the European Union:

At the heart of the European Union lies the Single Market—the possibility for people to buy and sell goods and services anywhere in the EU. So it is ironic that the European sector least constrained by geography—the digital market—is also the least unified. To remedy that situation, the European Commission has announced its Digital Single Market Strategy, which addresses three main areas.

The first is "Better access for consumers and businesses to digital goods and services" and includes two of the thorniest issues: geo-blocking and copyright. As the EU's strategy notes, "too many Europeans cannot use online services that are available in other EU countries, often without any justification; or they are re-routed to a local store with different prices. Such discrimination cannot exist in a Single Market."

There is strong resistance to removing geo-blocking, particularly from copyright companies that have traditionally sold rights on a national basis and which therefore want geo-blocking to enforce that fragmentation. The Pirate Party Member of the European Parliament (MEP), Julia Reda, quoted a fellow MEP justifying geo-blocking as follows: "I can’t buy Finnish bread in any German supermarket or bakery. Far too few people here would buy it, so the market doesn't offer it to me. And you don’t see me demanding that the European Commission bloody-well make that product available to me."

Julia Reda responded to those who defend geo-blocking by actually buying Finnish bread online without incident or issue.

The European Union's Digital Single Market Strategy covers several other areas, including Telecom/network investment and management, copyright reform, and future goals for a single EU digital market.

As an American, it's hard to believe government could possibly work on behalf of voters, so let's see if this initiative can make it into law. But it is an enticing idea.

posted by CoolHand on Saturday March 28, @03:30PM   Printer-friendly
from the increase-subwoofer-popularity dept.

George Mason University engineering students have designed a hand-held infrasonic extinguisher to snuff out fires without chemicals or water:

When Seth Robertson and Viet Tran from George Mason University hatched their senior project plan, there were plenty of raised eyebrows. But the doubters no doubt ate their words when the two engineering students debuted their creation: a fire extinguisher that successfully puts out flames with sound waves.

Their initial idea was to employ high-pitched tones, but as it turned out, low-frequency sounds were the ticket, "like the thump-thump bass in hip-hop," Tran told the Washington Post.

By hitting fire with the low-frequency sound waves in the 30 to 60 hertz range, the device separates oxygen from fuel. “The pressure wave is going back and forth, and that agitates where the air is. That specific space is enough to keep the fire from reigniting,” Tran said.

Conventional fire extinguishers typically employ water or chemicals which cause damage that compounds the havoc wrought by the fire itself; by comparison, a sound-based extinguisher would be great. The article does not specify how many decibels the extinguisher projects or the frequency used, but let's hope its range doesn't drop into the 17Hz range or even the 5-9Hz range.

posted by CoolHand on Saturday March 28, @01:00PM   Printer-friendly
from the who-kicked-over-my-sand-castle dept.

Wired reports:

Apart from water and air, humble sand is the natural resource most consumed by human beings. People use more than 40 billion tons of sand and gravel every year. There’s so much demand that riverbeds and beaches around the world are being stripped bare. (Desert sand generally doesn’t work for construction; shaped by wind rather than water, desert grains are too round to bind together well.) And the amount of sand being mined is increasing exponentially.

Though the supply might seem endless, sand is a finite resource like any other. The worldwide construction boom of recent years—all those mushrooming megacities, from Lagos to Beijing—is devouring unprecedented quantities; extracting it is a $70 billion industry. In Dubai enormous land-reclamation projects and breakneck skyscraper-building have exhausted all the nearby sources. Exporters in Australia are literally selling sand to Arabs.

It's a crazy, crazy world.

posted by cmn32480 on Saturday March 28, @11:21AM   Printer-friendly
from the how-sweet-it-is dept.

An article in this week's Time magazine gives us an insight into how the process of roasting and storing cocoa beans can be adjusted to enhance the antioxidant content of the chocolate they become.

Emmanuel Ohene Afoakwa, a professor of food science and technology at the University of Ghana, and his team have figured out a new process for making chocolate that’s healthier and contains more antioxidants.

Chocolate’s antioxidants are thought to be responsible for some of its health perks related to cardiovascular health and memory support. Capitalizing on those antioxidants could not only provide better nutrition, but could be of interest to the candy industry. The researchers presented their process at the American Chemical Society’s national meeting in Denver on Tuesday.
...
Afoakwa says his team recommends consumers choose dark chocolate over milk or white chocolate since dark chocolate typically has more antioxidants and less sugar. The researchers are continuing to identify changes to the chocolate-making process that could increase the candy’s nutritional content. The researchers are currently receiving funding from the Belgium government.

There's a fine line between candy and bitter gack; I know, because my wife brings home dark chocolate that all too often crosses that line. At a certain point, why wouldn't you eat a bowl of kale if vitamins and anti-oxidants are what you're after?

posted by NotSanguine on Saturday March 28, @09:40AM   Printer-friendly
from the I-can-see-for-metres-and-metres dept.

From the article in The Independent:

Science for the Masses, an independent “citizen science” organisation that operates from the city of Tehacapi [sic], theorised that Chlorin e6 (Ce6), a natural molecule that can be created from algae and other green plants, could enhance eyesight in dark environments.

The molecule is found in some deep sea fish, forms the basis of some cancer therapies and has been previously prescribed intravenously for night blindness.
...
The next step was to moisten the eyes of biochemical researcher and willing guinea pig Gabriel Licina’s eyes with 50 microlitres of Ce6.

The effect was apparently almost instantaneous and, after an hour, he was able to distinguish shapes from 10 metres away in the dark and soon at even greater distances.

“We had people go stand in the woods,” Licina said, “At 50 metres, I could figure who they were, even if they were standing up against a tree.”

Chlorins have long been used in Photodynamic Therapy as treatment for a variety of eye disorders and cancers.

The research can be found on the Science For The Masses website.

This article over at ZME Science has more details and background about the research from the scientists involved. There, they mention the patent application which inspired their work.

Many of us have little need of night vision; in New York City there's a weird orange glow everywhere thanks to light pollution. Still, cool to have temporary night vision, cooler still that bio-hackers did it.

posted by janrinok on Saturday March 28, @07:25AM   Printer-friendly
from the I-can't-see dept.

As reported by TreeHugger

In the U.S. and Europe, myopia for kids and young adults has doubled; in China it’s up 80 percent. Scientists think they’ve found out why, and it’s probably not what you think.

For years the thinking was that myopia was largely genetic, but research began to show that it wasn’t purely a matter of genes. And indeed, the current increase in myopia reflects a similar increase in children reading and studying more. But surprisingly, it’s not the reading and computers and smartphones that are to blame. Now researchers believe that it’s the very act of spending too much time inside that is causing the problem.

After a great deal of research and eliminating other factors, scientists now think that it boils down to exposure to bright light. The leading hypothesis is that light stimulates the release of dopamine in the retina, and this neurotransmitter in turn blocks the elongation of the eye during development.

Based on epidemiological studies, Ian Morgan, a myopia researcher at the Australian National University in Canberra, recommends that children spend three hours per day under light levels of at least 10,000 lux for protection against the condition. Ten thousand lux would be about the amount of light one would get from beneath a shady tree on a bright summer day (and wearing sunglasses). For comparison, a well-lit schoolroom or office is generally under 500 lux.

posted by janrinok on Saturday March 28, @05:11AM   Printer-friendly
from the pop-a-poppy dept.

In honor of spring, a story about seed libraries:

The sharing of seed is an ancient practice, ensuring the survival of the human species, the local biodiversity of life, as well as local food security. If one gets philosophical about it, one could even say that the seed embodies a traditional, holistic knowledge of life that is as unbroken as the existence of the seed itself, and that is certainly a beautiful thing to think about.

But informal seed sharing -- a favourite pastime of gardeners everywhere -- may be considered illegal by some American states. According to a recent report by Mother Earth News, a number of states have laws in the books that require getting permits to sell seeds, and requires that they are properly labelled and tested, which makes sense if it's for commercial purposes. But some states actually include "giving away" in their definition of "selling," and that's where problems are arising. For small-time gardeners, informal seed swaps and seed libraries are a way to share in the spirit of cooperation and as a way to preserve the legacy of local plant biodiversity. To apply rules to hobbyists that are designed to regulate commercial operations is a bit mind-boggling, to say in the least.

At the recent, 34th Annual Making Brooklyn Bloom event at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, Onika Abraham, Director of Farm School NYC, gave the keynote address, "Roots of Resilience," in which she talked about how African slaves smuggled the seeds they needed to America, hidden in the braids of their hair. Perhaps people may need to do so again.

It's a situation quite analogous to file sharing, and the sharing economy in general (DRM in video games to prevent second sales is another example). We have a pretty good idea of how it's turned out vis-a-vis the music industry, and more and more with video and movies. Are those results widely applicable? Or is the learning curve for open source, seed sharing, and the like too high? Could it spread far enough to fatally undermine centralized business models?

posted by janrinok on Saturday March 28, @02:02AM   Printer-friendly
from the ..and-then-the-submarine-sinks-it dept.

An autonomous sub-hunting ship passed an important technological milestone and the oceans may never be the same.

In 2010, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, or DARPA, announced that they were building a 132-foot autonomous boat to track quiet, diesel-powered submarines. The program was dubbed Anti-submarine Warfare Continuous Trail Unmanned Vessel, or ACTUV.

To little notice, the system earlier this year passed a critical test, moving much closer to actual deployment and potentially changing not just naval warfare but also the way humans, ships, and robotic systems interact across the world’s waters.

In six weeks of tests along a 35-nautical mile stretch of water off of Mississippi, testers at engineering company Leidos and DARPA put the ACTUV’s systems through 100 different scenarios. The test boat, equipped with nothing more than off-the-shelf radar components, a digital area chart and some proprietary software, was able to complete an autonomous trip without crashing into rocks, shoals, or erratically behaving surface vessels. In future tests, the ship will tail a target boat at 1 kilometer distance.

Reminds me of an old STNG episode, prompting the question, yet again, "Does Man learn *nothing* from Star Trek?"

posted by martyb on Friday March 27, @10:47PM   Printer-friendly
from the working-for-a-living dept.

Adam Davidson at The New York Times has a story debunking the myth of the job-stealing immigrant:

When I was growing up in the 1980s, I watched my grandfather — my dad’s stepdad — struggle with his own prejudice. He was a blue-collar World War II veteran who loved his family above all things and was constantly afraid for them. He carried a gun and, like many men of his generation, saw threats in people he didn’t understand: African-Americans, independent women, gays. By the time he died, 10 years ago, he had softened. He stopped using racist and homophobic slurs; he even hugged my gay cousin. But there was one view he wasn’t going to change. He had no time for Hispanics, he told us, and he wasn’t backing down. After all, this wasn’t a matter of bigotry. It was plain economics. These immigrants were stealing jobs from “Americans.”

I’ve been thinking about my grandfather lately, because there are signs that 2015 could bring about the beginning of a truce — or at least a reconfiguration — in the politics of immigration. Several of the potential Republican presidential candidates, most notably Jeb Bush, have expressed pro-immigration views. Even self-identified Tea Party Republicans respond three to two in favor of a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants. Every other group — Republicans in general, independents and especially Democrats — is largely pro-immigrant. According to Pew, roughly as many people (18 percent of Americans) believed in 2010 that President Obama was a Muslim as believe today that undocumented immigrants should be expelled from the United States. Of course, that 18 percent can make a lot of noise. But for everyone else, immigration seems to be going the way of same-sex marriage, marijuana and the mohawk — it’s something that a handful of people freak out about but that the rest of us have long since come to accept.

posted by martyb on Friday March 27, @08:37PM   Printer-friendly
from the say-cheese dept.

Gorgeous new images of the Martian surface (javascript required, but see below) taken by the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter spacecraft have been released:

Mars might not look like much from Earth, but close up, it's a perfect spectacle of natural beauty.

Since 2006, the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter spacecraft has been orbiting Mars snapping pictures of the surface with its HiRISE camera.

Here is a collection of some of the most incredible images the camera has taken over the years.

The HiRISE images shown here have false coloring that highlights distinct Martian features, like sand dunes shown in the image to the right. The false-coloring helps scientists see how the grooves and troughs of these features change over time.

We can only imagine the poetry future settlers on Mars will write when inspired by these landforms.

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