Covers the period:
2017-01-01 .. 2017-04-28
(SPIDs: [586..643]) --martyb
We always have a place for talented people, visit the Get Involved section on the wiki to see how you can make SoylentNews better.
PubMed — a powerful taxpayer-funded search engine for medical study abstracts that doctors, patients, and the media rely on — just started displaying conflict of interest data up front. New information about funding sources and potential conflicts will now appear right below study abstracts, which means readers don't have even to open a journal article to be made aware of any possible industry influence over studies.
[...] The change comes a year after 62 scientists and physicians from around the world (including the head of the Center for Science in the Public Interest) lobbied for the update, part of a broader transparency movement in science.
The Tails project announced the release of version 2.12 of the operating system which focuses on "privacy and anonymity."
The new version includes Gnome Sound Recorder, removes I2P, runs on version 4.9.13 of the Linux kernel, and as per usual remedies "numerous security holes" in the previous release. Distro Watch has additional coverage.
The audio maker Bose, whose wireless headphones sell for up to $350, uses an app to collect the listening habits of its customers and provide that information to third parties—all without the knowledge and permission of the users, according to a lawsuit filed in Chicago on Tuesday.
The complaint accuses Boston-based Bose of violating the WireTap Act and a variety of state privacy laws, adding that a person's audio history can include a window into a person's life and views.
"Indeed, one's personal audio selections – including music, radio broadcast, Podcast, and lecture choices – provide an incredible amount of insight into his or her personality, behavior, political views, and personal identity," says the complaint, noting a person's audio history may contain files like LGBT podcasts or Muslim call-to-prayer recordings.
The lead plaintiff in the lawsuit is a man named Kyle Zak, who claims he followed the company's suggestion to "get the most out of your headphones" by downloading the Bose Connect app, and supplying information such as his name, phone number and email address.
Zak is seeking to represent other headphone owners over allegations of illegal data mining. According to the complaint, Bose created detailed profiles of customers' listening histories and habits, and shared it with marketing companies, including a San Francisco firm called Segment whose website offers to "collect all or[sic] your customer customer data and send it anywhere."
Two months ago, I polled the community for advice on the underlying operating system that should power SoylentNews (SN). After reading comments, and some recent experiences in my personal and professional life, we are migrating to Gentoo as the operating system of choice. As of right now, we've already migrated our development box, lithium, over, and using it as a shakedown to see how painful the overall migration will be. I'm pleased to report that, aside from varnish (an HTTP accelerator), the process went relatively smoothly.
For those who weren't here for the original article querying the community (linked above), let me recap the situation. At the time that I wrote that article, SN was mostly standardized on Ubuntu 14.04, with a single CentOS 6.7 box lurking in our midst. In the course of testing updates and other projects, the staff and myself felt that Ubuntu (and Debian) had lost a lot of the advantages that had made it a rock solid choice for the last three years of powering SN, combined with the fact that the upgrade process would not have been trivial due to the systemd migration.
Though greatly disliked by all of us, systemd being part of Ubuntu 16.04 LTS (Long Term Stable) was not a deal breaker. More importantly was the perception that the release lacked stability and we had a serious sense that the upgrade would be problematic. I felt it was time to reopen the scenario to see if we were better off migrating to a different distro, or abandoning Linux entirely. As such the original article was penned to see what the community's feelings on the subject were. The overwhelming consensus was that I was not alone with my feelings on the latest LTS, and many thought FreeBSD would be a good choice for us. Ultimately, we decided to trial Gentoo over FreeBSD for four reasons
I'll break these first three item by item
FreeBSD is divided into two parts, the core system which has basic utilities, and the ports collection which has all the add on software like Apache and such. In theory, these two components can be updated independently of each other allowing a stable base while migrating to newer software versions with relative ease. Ports can be installed from binaries, or manually compiled to suit one's taste in a relatively automated fashion bringing together the best of a binary and source based distribution. On paper, it looks perfect.
In further research, I've found that port upgrades are fragile at the best of times. Unlike Debian's APT which has strict package dependence and shared library management, port upgrades are very much upgrade and pray and its possible to hose a system in this way. The situation is similar to using EPEL on CentOS, or using Slackware that port upgrades can leave artifacts, and there's often considerable manual intervention to keep things chugging around. This is compounded by the fact that the version of Kerberos we need is in the ports collection due to incompatibility between MIT Kerberos V (which we use) and Heimdal Kerberos which ships out of the box. For those of you familiar with Active Directory, this is roughly on par with the effort required to rebuild AD from scratch along side a pre-existing forest. This meant unless we rebuilt the entire Kerberos domain (a drastic and painful option to say the least) that we could easily break a node because a ports upgrade went sideways.
Furthermore, mixing binary and source ports also have several ways it can go wrong which is problematic. To ease our system maintenance burden, its long been a goal of the admin team to have rehash and its dependencies built and deployed through package management instead of the rather horrorifying script+rsync that we use now. While we could have technically achieved this with Ubuntu by running our own buildd (or using a PPA), the sheer amount of dependencies combined with the pain of rebuilding the world ultimately doomed this to the "would be nice" pile list of ideas.
On top of this, the split architecture of FreeBSD would also mean that upgrades are no longer "one command and done" as they are with Ubuntu and Debian. Instead it becomes a matter of determining what, if any, core system upgrades are available, deploy them, then deploy/rebuild ports as needed. None of this by itself would be deal-breaking, but when compounded with the other reasons it tipped me away from this option.
For any production website, having backups is the thing you must have, not the thing you wish you had. With the exception of our development box, all our systems are backed up to off-site storage on a machine called oxygen via rsnapshot nightly (and yes, we do test our backups). However, due to the way SoylentNews is situated, there is the possibility that if an attacker ever successfully breached SN, its possible they may be able to gain access to oxygen, and rm -rf / everything.
For this reason alone, we used two separate sets of backups in case of system failure or node compromise. As mentioned many times before, SN is hosted on a number of VPSes by Linode who I continue to highly recommend for anyone's VPS needs. One very useful and handy feature of Linode is that they offer snapshotting and node backups as part of their hosting services for reasonable prices, and critical system boxes are backed up with them as a second-level of defense. Unfortunately, Linode's backup services require that their system understand the underlying filesystem format used by the OS so they can snapshot it easily. As of writing, they do not support FreeBSD's UFS or ZFS. A migration would mean we'd have to sink additional costs in a new backup system to supplement oxygen.
I'm going to get flamed for this reason, but recent events have sort of drilled this home for me, both at SoylentNews and as my work as a freelancer. During the last round of security updates, I've been fighting to get several of CentOS's security issues fixed. Red Hat (and CentOS) offer ten year support for their products but in many ways it is the wrong approach to system stability and security. A real-world issue I ran into with CentOS's support is that they ship rather old issues of dovecot, a relatively popular IMAP server.
Now, in theory, as long as security patches are backported, this shouldn't be a problem. In practice however, it means you're essentially tethered to the security features as offered at the time of the release. For example, a good number of our users are likely familiar with the Logjam attack. The mitigation for Logjam is to regenerate DH parameters to larger sizes, and change to a non-common prime. Relatively straightforward, right?
Well, not so much. Dovecot 2.0 (which is what CentOS 6.7 ships with) doesn't allow for setting of custom DH parameters, or even tweaking anything beyond the most basic TLS settings. To a lesser extent, we also had this problem with Postfix (we can't disable client side negotiation). The solution in both cases is to upgrade. That would be great, if we could in-place upgrade CentOS, or reliably upgrade the RPMs without hosing YUM at a later date. In practice, we've been forced into doing a number of arcane hacks to get most of the survey tools to report anything better than a "C" grade, with the situation worsening as time goes on. Before people say "well that's a problem with dovecot", and not CentOS, you can't get OCSP stapling (which is an important security feature to help fix SSL's revocation system) with Apache out of the box. You need to either patch Apache 2.2 in place, or upgrade to 2.4.
This problem also has shown its head on Ubuntu. To Canonical's credit, their security team actually has gone through the work of mainlining newer security features in popular products; Ubuntu 14.04's Apache 2.2 supports OCSP stapling because they patch Apache in their binaries. However this practice only goes so far. Deploying CAA records to SoylentNews in the last round of tweaks was an exercise in frustration because only the most recent versions of BIND knows how to handle the CAA record type. Once again, we're in serious voodoo territory if we tried to upgrade BIND outside of a distro release.
This brings me to my final point: trying to follow industry best-practices falls apart if you can't easily update your stack. Release based distros at best (with Ubuntu) update once every six months, or once every year or so for longer term support from other distros. That's a very long time in the security world. Furthermore, each major upgrade is an event and a large time sink in and of itself. As such I've (grudgingly) come to the conclusion that if you actually want to have real security, you need to update frequently. Furthermore, by having smaller upgrades at a given time instead of them in one large pile, you have a better chance of not getting overwhelmed at those release points.
Gentoo ultimately won by being both rolling-release based, and source based. It meant that we could easily upgrade the entire stack (including rehash's special dependencies) as a single emerge world, and then deploy. It also edged out the other options by not forcing systemd on us (and OpenRC is an absolute pleasure to debug and maintain in comparison). We've also discussed the issue at length and have determined how we're going to approach the rather daunting task ahead of us.
The first step, which was already completed, was to migrate our development system over to Gentoo to get an idea of how much pain we're going to be in. This was accomplished by booting the system in rescue mode, moving "/" (i.e. the root of our filesystem) to "/old-rootfs", extracting a stage3, cooking the kernel, and rebooting. audioguy and TheMightyBuzzard worked out the correct set of USE flags for our environment, and I used the serial console to do the actual changeover. Aside from Varnish breaking, the migration was actually relatively smooth if time consuming. Right now, we're still wrestling with varnish, but after kicking MySQL cluster's init scripts and copying configs, it sputtered to life and dev.soylentnews.org popped back onto the internet.
The next steps is to create ebuilds for hesinfo (a Hesiod support tool that Gentoo doesn't ship in their hesiod package), and then to create a custom stage3 with our kernel config and base system with catalyst. We're going to work out the set of packages we need and configure lithium to work as a binary package source for portage. In effect, every package we need will be compiled once on lithium, then published via a private portage repository. Other machines will simply be able to emerge world and download the pre-tested and compiled binaries in one fell swoop keeping the software stack across SoylentNews consistent across the organization. As an added bonus, we can now easily migrate our custom set of compilation scripts to ebuilds and have sane package and dependency tracking for the entire site infrastructure.
Since most of the site infrastructure is fully redundant, we don't expect too much downtime or breakage as we begin migrating other boxes from Ubuntu. As usual, we'll keep the community apprised of our status, as well as if we need to schedule actual site downtime during this period. While some of us might thing we're insane, I will just note for the record we took a similarly drastic step of migrating to a IPv6-only backend two years ago in the name of administration sanity, and serving SN needs best. As always, I'll be reading and commenting below.
Since this time last year, Ohio, Florida, North Dakota, and Arkansas legalized medical cannabis, Illinois decriminalized it, and California, Nevada, Maine and Massachusetts legalized recreational cannabis. An attempt to legalize recreational cannabis in Arizona narrowly failed.
29 U.S. states and the District of Columbia have legalized cannabis for medical use, although restrictions vary widely from state to state.
Germany's medical cannabis law was approved in January and came into effect in March. Poland has also legalized medical cannabis, and Georgia's Supreme Court has ruled that imprisonment for possession of small amounts of cannabis is unconstitutional.
Last week, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau unveiled (archive) legislation (archive) that would make Canada the first major Western country to legalize recreational cannabis (the only country to legalize it to date is Uruguay, although implementation has taken years), dealing a serious blow to the crumbling United Nations Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs. However, the Liberal Party of Canada intends to wait more than a year to act on its campaign promise, during which time Canadians can still face prosecution for possession of the drug:
True to form, this government has written down a series of talking points, in this case, trying to make it sound like it's cracking down on pot rather than legalizing it. And Justin Trudeau's ministers are sticking to the messaging from party central like a child reciting Dr. Seuss.
Not once in that As It Happens interview did [Justice Minister Jody] Wilson-Raybould explain why the government intends to keep on criminalizing Canadians so unfairly (see the Liberal party's website statement) for another year. Instead, literally every second time she opened her mouth, she re-spouted the line about "strictly regulating and restricting access." Off asked eight questions. Four times, Wilson-Raybould robotically reverted to the same phrase.
Meanwhile, Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale, a parliamentary lifer who mastered the art of repetitive dronetalk sometime back in the last millennium, was out peddling more or less the same line, but with an added warning: Not only will the government continue to criminalize Canadians for what it considers a trifling offence, enforcement will be vigorous. "Existing laws prohibiting possession and use of cannabis remain in place, and they need to be respected," Goodale declared. "This must be an orderly transition. It is not a free-for-all." Why the government cannot simply decide to invoke prosecutorial and police discretion, and cease enforcing the cannabis laws it considers unjust, was not explained. Why that would necessarily be a "free for all" also went unexplained.
The Liberal Party of Canada has taken pains to remind everyone that the Conservative Party will "do everything they can to stop real change and protect a failed status quo". Unfortunately, they did not get the memo that "marijuana" is a term with racist origins.
Make like a tree and legalize it, Cannadia... Cannibinoidia.
Backtrack to April 20th, 2016. Bernie Sanders still seemingly had a shot at becoming the President of the United States. Sanders, as well as Hillary Clinton (though begrudgingly), supported decriminalization of cannabis, medical use, and the continuation of states making decisions about recreational use. The #2 Republican candidate Ted Cruz also had a "let the states sort it out" stance.
One contender stood out, and he went on to become the @POTUS to #MAGA. The widely predicted "third term" was prevented, and that outcome may greatly affect a burgeoning semi-legal cannabis industry. One recent casualty are Amsterdam-style "cannabis clubs" (think: brewpubs). Colorado's legislature has backed off on a bill that would have allowed on-site consumption of cannabis at dispensaries due to the uncertain future of federal enforcement of cannabis prohibition.
Trump's position on cannabis has been ill-defined, although he supports medical use and has indicated that states should handle the issue. But the same can't be said of his Attorney General, former Senator Jeff Sessions. Here are some quotes about the drug from Mr. Sessions:
We need grown-ups in charge in Washington to say marijuana is not the kind of thing that ought to be legalized, it ought not to be minimized, that it's in fact a very real danger.
I think one of [President Obama's] great failures, it's obvious to me, is his lax treatment in comments on marijuana... It reverses 20 years almost of hostility to drugs that began really when Nancy Reagan started 'Just Say No.
You can't have the President of the United States of America talking about marijuana like it is no different than taking a drink... It is different... It is already causing a disturbance in the states that have made it legal.
Good people don't smoke marijuana.
Cannabis advocates are becoming increasingly paranoid about the federal government's stance towards the states (and a certain District) that have legalized cannabis. And this is following an Obama administration that was criticized for conducting raids in states with legalization. It is too early to tell how the Trump administration will choose to deal with cannabis, but there are signs that harsher policies and greater enforcement could be coming:
On Wednesday, [April 5th,] Jeff Sessions directed Justice Department lawyers to evaluate marijuana enforcement policy and send him recommendations. And some state officials are worried. This week the governors of Alaska, Colorado, Oregon and Washington wrote the attorney general. They asked Sessions and the new Treasury secretary to consult with them before making any changes to regulations or enforcement.
At the White House, press secretary Sean Spicer said recently that the president is sympathetic to people who use marijuana for medical reasons. He pointed out that Congress has acted to bar the Justice Department from using federal money to interfere in state medical cannabis programs. But Spicer took a harsh view of recreational marijuana. "When you see something like the opioid addiction crisis blossoming in so many states around this country, the last thing we need to be doing is encouraging people. There is still a federal law we need to abide by," Spicer said.
Really, Spicer? Recreational cannabis use shouldn't be encouraged during an opioid addiction crisis? Read on.
Politics nexus unavailable for comment.
Heroin use has become more dangerous as dealers have increasingly added other substances that massively increase potency without affecting the size of a dose significantly. Carfentanil, which is used as an elephant tranquilizer, has led to hundreds of deaths over very short timespans. It is impossible for the average user to predict the potency and potential danger of street heroin. While there have been international responses to these compounds, new chemical analogues are being created all the time:
Chinese labs producing the synthetic opiates play hide-and-seek with authorities. On their websites, they list fake addresses in derelict shopping centers or shuttered factories, and use third-party sales agents to conduct transactions that are hard to trace. The drugs themselves are easy to find with a Google search and to buy with a few mouse clicks. A recent check found more than a dozen Chinese sites advertising fentanyl, carfentanil, and other derivatives, often labeled as "research chemicals," for sale through direct mail shipments to the United States. On one website, carfentanil goes for $361 for 50 grams: tens of thousands of lethal doses.
The cat-and-mouse game extends to chemistry, as the makers tinker with fentanyl itself. Minor modifications like adding an oxygen atom or shifting a methyl group can be enough to create whole new entities that are no longer on the list of sanctioned compounds. Carfentanil itself was, until recently, unregulated in China.
2016 saw the addition of kratom to Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act in the U.S. Advocates for the tree leaf drug, which was formerly classified as a supplement, believe that its painkiller effects and low risk factors make it a useful replacement for the oft-deadly opioids that millions of Americans are addicted to. Kratom users have treated their pain and opioid withdrawal symptoms using the formerly "legal high". The DEA has refused to acknowledge this application and points out the "skyrocketing" number of calls to the Poison Control Center regarding kratom in recent years. One skeptic of kratom, Dr. Josh Bloom of the American Council on Science and Health, has looked at the same evidence and concluded that the trail of bodies left by substances like fentanyl and the scarce number of deaths (perhaps wrongly) attributed to kratom make it clear that the substance is the better "poison". He also notes that:
The number of calls to poison control centers is not reliable for determining how many poisonings actually occurred. It is a crude approximation at best.
Much like kratom, medical cannabis has been touted as a solution to the opioid crisis. States with legalized medical cannabis have seen a reduction in reported instances of opioid dependence [DOI: 10.1016/j.drugalcdep.2017.01.006] [DX] So it is puzzling that White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer would use opioids as a bludgeon against cannabis legalization while AG Sessions expresses astonishment over the suggestion of using cannabis as a "cure" for the opioid crisis.
Bonus: Here's a video (2m14s) of a woman getting administered Narcan/naloxone. Here's an alternate video (2m39s) in which a man who overdosed on heroin is able to sit up in about a minute after being administered naloxone.
While the Drug Enforcement Agency has refused to reclassify cannabis from its current Schedule I status, citing the supposedly rigorous conclusions reached by the Food and Drug Administration, it will allow more than one institution to grow cannabis for research purposes, ending the monopoly held by the University of Mississippi. However, the Schedule I status of cannabis remains an impediment to further research:
[...] DEA's decision not to reschedule marijuana presents a Catch-22. By ruling that there is not enough evidence of "currently accepted medical use"—a key distinction between the highly restrictive Schedule I classification and the less restrictive Schedule II—the administration essentially makes it harder to gather such evidence.
"They're setting a standard that can't be met," says David Bradford, a health economist at the University of Georgia, Athens. "That level of proof is never going to be forthcoming in the current environment because it requires doing a really extensive clinical trial series, and given that a pharmaceutical company can't patent whole plant marijuana, it's in no company's interest to do that."
Schedule I status presents obstacles for clinical researchers because of restrictions on how the drugs must be stored and handled, Bradford says. Perhaps more significant, that listing may evoke skittishness at funding agencies and on the institutional review boards that must sign off on research involving human subjects.
"It doesn't resemble cannabis. It doesn't smell like cannabis," Sisley told PBS NewsHour last week.
Jake Browne, a cannabis critic for the Denver Post's Cannabist marijuana news site, agrees. "That is, flat out, not a usable form of cannabis," he said. Browne should know: He's reviewed dozens of strains professionally and is running a sophisticated marijuana growing competition called the Grow-Off.
"In two decades of smoking weed, I've never seen anything that looks like that," Browne said. "People typically smoke the flower of the plant, but here you can clearly see stems and leaves in there as well, parts that should be discarded. Inhaling that would be like eating an apple, including the seeds inside it and the branch it grew on."
Research on cannabinoids and psychedelics is proceeding, slowly. One study published yesterday (74 years after the first LSD trip) came to an astounding conclusion: Psychedelics can induce a "heightened state of consciousness":
Healthy volunteers who received LSD, ketamine or psilocybin, a compound found in magic mushrooms, were found to have more random brain activity than normal while under the influence, according to a study into the effects of the drugs. The shift in brain activity accompanied a host of peculiar sensations that the participants said ranged from floating and finding inner peace, to distortions in time and a conviction that the self was disintegrating.
[...] What we find is that under each of these psychedelic compounds, this specific measure of global conscious level goes up, so it moves in the other direction. The neural activity becomes more unpredictable," said Anil Seth, a professor of neuroscience at the University of Sussex. "Until now, we've only ever seen decreases compared to the baseline of the normal waking state."
Increased spontaneous MEG signal diversity for psychoactive doses of ketamine, LSD and psilocybin (open, DOI: 10.1038/srep46421) (DX)
And now to scrape the bottom of the barrel:
- Americans Don't Care If Their Parents Know They Smoke Weed, Survey Says
- California Today: At Newspapers, Covering Pot Like Wine (archive)
- Nation's first public needle vending machine for drug users debuts in Las Vegas
- GRiZ Won the Celebrity Weed Game Without Selling Out
- Secret A.T.F. Account Paid for $21,000 Nascar Suite and Las Vegas Trip (archive)
- Legal Marijuana Ends at Airport Security, Even if It's Rarely Stopped (archive)
- Anti-Heroin Video From a Florida Sheriff Appalls Critics but Impresses Constituents (archive)
Back in February, Verizon quietly unveiled a smartwatch of its own alongside the launch of Android Wear 2.0 in the LG Watch Style and Sport. Today, the carrier confirmed that the Wear24 watch will hit stores starting May 11.
Since the smartwatch sports the latest Android Wear operating system, it includes features that help it untether from your smartphone, such as 4G/LTE connectivity, an on-watch version of the Google Play Store and Google Assistant.
In terms of hardware and build, the Wear24 has a 1.39-inch AMOLED display, 450 mAh battery, and an IP67 water resistance rating. However, it lacks other coveted features like a built-in GPS, heart rate sensor, swappable bands, NFC mobile payment technology or an equivalent to the Apple Watch's Digital Crown. Judging from product images, it has a simpler aesthetic than some of its more aggressive counterparts.
But can it tell time?
Government restrictions on religion and social hostilities involving religion increased in 2015 for the first time in three years, according to Pew Research Center's latest annual study on global restrictions on religion.
The share of countries with "high" or "very high" levels of government restrictions – i.e., laws, policies and actions that restrict religious beliefs and practices – ticked up from 24% in 2014 to 25% in 2015. Meanwhile, the percentage of countries with high or very high levels of social hostilities – i.e., acts of religious hostility by private individuals, organizations or groups in society – increased in 2015, from 23% to 27%. Both of these increases follow two years of declines in the percentage of countries with high levels of restrictions on religion by these measures.
Among the world's 25 most populous countries, Russia, Egypt, India, Pakistan and Nigeria had the highest overall levels of government restrictions and social hostilities involving religion. Egypt had the highest levels of government restrictions in 2015, while Nigeria had the highest levels of social hostilities.
Does this reflect your personal experience ?
One of the biggest problems with computers, dating to the invention of the first one, has been finding ways to keep them cool so that they don't overheat or shut down.
Instead of combating the heat, two University of Nebraska-Lincoln engineers have embraced it as an alternative energy source that would allow computing at ultra-high temperatures.
Sidy Ndao, assistant professor of mechanical and materials engineering, said his research group's development of a nano-thermal-mechanical device, or thermal diode, came after flipping around the question of how to better cool computers.
"If you think about it, whatever you do with electricity you should (also) be able to do with heat, because they are similar in many ways," Ndao said. "In principle, they are both energy carriers. If you could control heat, you could use it to do computing and avoid the problem of overheating."
They documented their device working in temperatures up to 630 degrees Fahrenheit (332 Celsius).
Submitted via IRC for TheMightyBuzzard
Or 2018 if you're brave. For now, we have a boot screen!
Story's a bit dated but being as they're in no rush, I don't see any need for us to be either. So, you lot think we'll ever actually get to play with a VMS box on cheap hardware or is this going to be another DNF situation?
OpenVMS Not Yet Dead.
Greetings Commanders, Cerebrates, and Executors,
We're proud to announce that StarCraft will be patched for the first time in over 8 years today. The patch will go live at 2:00 PM PDT.
When patching, please use the 'Run as Admin' option; it is required during your first client run to migrate saves and avoid issues from Windows system admin changes.
StarCraft will be free with this patch as well. We'll add a link here when the patch is live.
Which are you, Human, Protoss, or Zerg?
Six teams from three continents are preparing for a unique race on a polished gold track in the south of France this month. But this is no luxurious supercar event: competitors will be racing single molecules. In 36 hours, they aim to move them a distance of 100 nanometres — about one-thousandth the width of a human hair — on a laboratory track held in a vacuum and chilled to a few degrees above absolute zero.
The contest is being billed as the world's first nanocar race, and the aim is to get people excited about nanotechnology and molecular machines, says co-organizer Christian Joachim, a chemist who works at the Centre for Materials Elaboration and Structural Studies in Toulouse, where the event will take place. He and Gwénaël Rapenne, a chemist at the University of Toulouse-Paul Sabatier, developed the contest after Joachim realized — following an interview with a journalist — that nanocars attracted much more public attention than did his research on fundamental aspects of nanotechnology.
Former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer has a lot of money and nothing to prove. Post-Microsoft, his biggest achievement so far has been paying $2 billion to buy the LA Clippers, but on Monday The New York Times dropped an extensive report about his next venture: a project called "USAFacts," which aggregates publicly available government data to tell you how your city, state, and federal tax dollars are spent.
Ballmer has already spent $10 million on the project and is "happy to fund the damn thing" (his personal net worth is estimated at over $22 billion, so he's good for it). He describes it as "a [Form] 10-K for government," a big searchable database that shows where tax revenue goes in and where it comes out. If you want to find out how many police officers or public school teachers the government employs in your area, you can do that; if you want to know what percentage of their salaries come from taxes paid by businesses instead of individuals, you can do that, too.
[...] USAFacts is definitely one of his good ideas. The site itself is slick and responsive and instantly informative, though it's still a beta and has rough edges. It shows real promise, and it has the potential to better inform discussion of where tax money comes from, vital to alleviating the feeling among some citizens that they pay taxes and receive nothing of worth in return. And if journalists and citizens can more easily get ahold of and interpret this data, it could itself lead to greater accountability and smarter spending, things that every politician on the face of the earth pays lip service to on the campaign trail.
But good, easily accessible data is only part of the solution to our problems. What's really in short supply now is not data, but trust—in experts, in government, in the press, and in our fellow citizens—and as good an idea as USAFacts seems to be, that's not a problem it can solve.
An imperfect solution is better than no attempt at all?
Scientists sounded the alarm Tuesday over the problems posed to space missions from orbital junk—the accumulating debris from mankind's six-decade exploration of the cosmos.
In less than a quarter of a century, the number of orbiting fragments large enough to destroy a spacecraft has more than doubled, a conference in Germany heard.
And the estimated tally of tiny objects—which can harm or degrade spacecraft in the event of a collision, and are hard to track—is now around 150 million.
"We are very much concerned," said Rolf Densing, director of operations at the European Space Agency (ESA), pleading for a worldwide effort to tackle the mess.
"This problem can only be solved globally."
Travelling at up to 28,000 kilometres (17,500 miles) per hour, even a minute object impacts with enough energy to damage the surface of a satellite or manned spacecraft.
If you always wondered why the Death Star had a trash compactor, here's your answer.
A team of researchers made up of the group behind the fertility app Clue and a group at Oxford University have tested the popularly held notion that when women live or work in close proximity for a span of time, they find their menstrual cycles begin to sync with one another. But as researchers note in their article on the Clue website, such notions appear to be completely false.
It is a commonly held notion that women who live or work together, or just spend a lot of time together, find their menstrual cycles syncing. There was even a study done in 1971 by Harvard researcher Martha McClintock tracking the menstrual cycles of female colleges students sharing a dorm. But, as the researchers with this new effort note, no other studies have found it to be true, and McClintock's work has been discredited. But sill the myth persists. To perhaps put an end to the debate, the researchers conducted a test trial with women who use the Clue app—1500 women responded to their request for assistance in a trial and out of those, 360 pairs of women were selected for inclusion. Each were in a close relationship with another woman over an extended period of time. Because the app helps women track and share their period information, the data was already available; all that was needed was for the users to share it with the researchers.
The researchers looked back three menstrual cycles for each of the pairs to see if any alignment was occurring and report that 273 of them actually had cycles that diverged—just 79 were seen to converge. They note that women who were living together were no more aligned than the other pairs. This, they insist, is further proof that the entire idea is a myth with no basis in reality.
The owner of the Holiday Inn and Crowne Plaza hotel brands has disclosed that payment card-stealing malware has struck about 1,200 of its franchisees' properties.
UK-based Intercontinental Hotels Group (IHG) said all but one of the locations affected were in the US, with the other being in Puerto Rico. Guests have been warned they could have had money stolen as a consequence. One expert said there might be further hotels affected.
Buckinghamshire-based IHG had previously reported in February that a dozen US hotels that it managed itself had been affected by the same attack. "Individuals should closely monitor their payment card account statements," a spokeswoman told the BBC following the latest discovery.
"If there are unauthorised charges, individuals should immediately notify their bank. "Payment card network rules generally state that cardholders are not responsible for such charges."
Other affected brands include Hotel Indigo and Candlewood Suites.
Better pack the tent next time.