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What should be the Book Club pick for December 2018?

  • Snow Crash - by Neal Stephenson
  • We Are Legion (We Are Bob) (Bobiverse #1) - by Dennis Taylor
  • Dawn (Xenogenesis #1) - by Octavia Butler
  • The Metropolitan Man (Fan Fiction) - by Alexander Wales
  • Thinking, Fast and Slow (Non-Fiction) - by Daniel Kahneman
  • Superforecasting (Non-Fiction) - by Philip E. Tetlock and Dan Gardner
  • Makers (Fiction) - by Cory Doctorow
  • Rip Foster in Ride the Gray Planet - by Harold L. Goodwin

[ Results | Polls ]
Comments:27 | Votes:55

posted by mrpg on Tuesday October 10 2017, @11:05PM   Printer-friendly
from the cradle-of-life dept.

The discovery of evidence for ancient sea-floor hydrothermal deposits on Mars identifies an area on the planet that may offer clues about the origin of life on Earth.

A recent international report examines observations by NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) of massive deposits in a basin on southern Mars. The authors interpret the data as evidence that these deposits were formed by heated water from a volcanically active part of the planet's crust entering the bottom of a large sea long ago.

"Even if we never find evidence that there's been life on Mars, this site can tell us about the type of environment where life may have begun on Earth," said Paul Niles of NASA's Johnson Space Center, Houston. "Volcanic activity combined with standing water provided conditions that were likely similar to conditions that existed on Earth at about the same time -- when early life was evolving here."

Mars today has neither standing water nor volcanic activity. Researchers estimate an age of about 3.7 billion years for the Martian deposits attributed to seafloor hydrothermal activity. Undersea hydrothermal conditions on Earth at about that same time are a strong candidate for where and when life on Earth began. Earth still has such conditions, where many forms of life thrive on chemical energy extracted from rocks, without sunlight. But due to Earth's active crust, our planet holds little direct geological evidence preserved from the time when life began. The possibility of undersea hydrothermal activity inside icy moons such as Europa at Jupiter and Enceladus at Saturn feeds interest in them as destinations in the quest to find extraterrestrial life

Did they find any Xenon-129?

Also at BGR.

Ancient hydrothermal seafloor deposits in Eridania basin on Mars (open, DOI: 10.1038/ncomms15978) (DX)

Original Submission

posted by mrpg on Tuesday October 10 2017, @09:30PM   Printer-friendly
from the gud1dea dept.

Schneier on Security:

NIST recently published their four-volume SP800-63-3 Digital Identity Guidelines. Among other things, they make three important suggestions when it comes to passwords:

-Stop it with the annoying password complexity rules. They make passwords harder to remember. They increase errors because artificially complex passwords are harder to type in. And they don't help that much. It's better to allow people to use pass phrases.

-Stop it with password expiration. That was an old idea for an old way we used computers. Today, don't make people change their passwords unless there's indication of compromise.

-Let people use password managers. This is how we deal with all the passwords we need.

These password rules were failed attempts to fix the user. Better we fix the security systems.

Does this mean we can stop composing our passwords like Q*bert?

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posted by takyon on Tuesday October 10 2017, @08:02PM   Printer-friendly
Live updates: 15 dead from fires in Wine Country, Northern California

The death toll from Northern California's wildfires now stands at 15, officials say, with a total of nine confirmed fatalities in Sonoma County. The Sonoma County Sheriff's Office said on its Twitter page that the number of dead had increased from seven to nine. Three others are dead in Mendocino County, two more in Napa and one in Yuba, officials say. In Sonoma County, more than 200 people have been reported missing, and 45 of those have since been located, officials said.

The fires have burned 115,000 acres statewide and destroyed at least 2,000 homes and businesses, Cal Fire Ken Pimlott said Tuesday. More than 4,000 emergency workers have been deployed to help battle the fires, including a massive effort at McClellan Air Park, where a record 45 missions were flown Monday that dumped 266,000 acres of retardant on the blazes.

Vice President Mike Pence visited the state's emergency operations center at Mather Air Park Tuesday and announced that President Trump had approved the state's request for federal assistance in the counties of Butte, Lake, Mendocino, Napa, Nevada, Sonoma, and Yuba.

Also at CNN, The Washington Post, KQED, LA Times, and NPR.

2017 Statewide Fire Map.

posted by CoolHand on Tuesday October 10 2017, @06:52PM   Printer-friendly
from the not-as-sensitive-as-bacteria dept.

Researchers at Duke University have turned bacteria into the builders of useful devices by programming them with a synthetic gene circuit.

As a bacterial colony grows into the shape of a hemisphere, the gene circuit triggers the production of a type of protein to distribute within the colony that can recruit inorganic materials. When supplied with gold nanoparticles by researchers, the system forms a golden shell around the bacterial colony, the size and shape of which can be controlled by altering the growth environment.

The result is a device that can be used as a pressure sensor, proving that the process can create working devices.

While other experiments have successfully grown materials using bacterial processes, they have relied entirely on externally controlling where the bacteria grow and have been limited to two dimensions. In the new study, researchers at Duke demonstrate the production of a composite structure by programming the cells themselves and controlling their access to nutrients, but still leaving the bacteria free to grow in three dimensions.

If manufacturing comes to employ bacteria to fabricate, will antibiotics be banned as weapons of mass destruction?

Yangxiaolu Cao, Yaying Feng, Marc D. Ryser, Kui Zhu, Gregory Herschlag, Changyong Cao, Katherine Marusak, Stefan Zauscher, Lingchong You. Programmed Assembly of Pressure Sensors Using Pattern-Forming Bacteria. Nature Biotechnology, 2017. DOI: 10.1038/nbt.3978

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posted by CoolHand on Tuesday October 10 2017, @05:17PM   Printer-friendly
from the so-crazy-it-might-be-true? dept.

Plasma physicist and nuclear weapons specialist John Brandenburg has an out-of-left-field theory about two gigantic hydrogen bomb-type nuclear explosions that supposedly took place on Mars within last hundred million years. He points to overabundance of radioisotope Xenon 129 that results from fission of heavy nuclei as evidence. Xenon 129 is a signature of nuclear explosions and exists in Earth's atmosphere because of the atmospheric nuclear testing and plutonium production that had gone on in the twentieth century. It is also made in supernova explosions as a result of intense neutron bombardment and is therefore embedded in asteroids and meteoroids within the Solar System. John Brandenburg claims that the only way the amount of Xenon 129 that is inferred from 1976 Viking Mars mission data and verified by mass spectrometer on Curiosity rover could have been produced in the distant past is by the way of nuclear explosions. No meteor showers could explain this because meteors contain both Xenon 129 and 132 in equal quantities and the amount of Xenon 129 contained within them is tiny and gets released only at very high temperatures. Mars has 2.5 times more Xenon 129 than Earth's atmosphere prior to 1937 (no nuclear production) and the meteorites. He points to two sites on the Red Planet where the hypothetical explosions took place: in the Northern plains in Mare Acidalium at approximately 50N, 30W, near Cydonia Mensa and in Utopia Planum at approximately 50N 120W near Galaxias Chaos.

He was a recent guest on The Space Show, where he reiterated his theory. It's a long podcast and nukes on Mars talk starts at 47 minutes into the show.

Here is a link to his paper and his website.

He also gave a presentation to a packed auditorium at the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA) 2016 about a different theory of his:

Mars in one Month: The GEM theory of Energy and Momentum Exchange With Spacetime and Forces Observed in the Eaglework Q-V Thruster

Wacky, but interesting, no?

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posted by CoolHand on Tuesday October 10 2017, @03:47PM   Printer-friendly
from the articles-for-the-birds dept.

Spotted at Hackaday is a story on positive reinforcement to train crows to pick up litter:

A Dutch startup wants to teach the crow population to pick up cigarette butts in exchange for bird treats.

The whole Corvidae family of birds is highly intelligent so it shouldn’t be a problem training them that they will get a reward for depositing something the Hominidae family regularly throw on the street where the birds live. This idea is in turn an evolution of the open-source Crow Box.

For some, leveraging the intelligence of animals is more appealing than programming drones which could do the same thing. A vision system mixed with a drone and a manipulator could fulfull[sic] the same function but animals are self-repairing and autonomous without our code. The irony of this project is that, although it's probably fairly easy to train crows to recognize cigarette butts, the implementation hinges on having a vision system that can recognize the butts in order to properly train the crows in the first place.

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posted by CoolHand on Tuesday October 10 2017, @02:14PM   Printer-friendly
from the freedom-fighter dept.

"The most popular mobile operating system on the planet, Android, is already based on Linux, but with Google in charge of it, many consumers cannot depend on it for privacy. With that said, Purism is planning to fight the impossible fight against Android and iOS with the "Librem 5" smartphone. This is a device that will run a privacy-focused Linux-based OS called "Pure OS," but the hardware is wide open for any OS, really. Purism is trying to raise $1.5 million through crowdfunding, and earlier today, it reached a significant milestone -- $1 million! Maybe the fight isn't impossible after all..." - via BetaNews

In the news:

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posted by cmn32480 on Tuesday October 10 2017, @12:41PM   Printer-friendly
from the not-surfable dept.

I know what you're thinking after you read that title: If the wavelength is infinitely long, isn't it a line rather than a wave?

In 2015, researchers, researchers at the Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS) developed the first on-chip metamaterial with a refractive index of zero, meaning that the phase of light could be stretched infinitely long. The metamaterial represented a new method to manipulate light and was an important step forward for integrated photonic circuits, which use light rather than electrons to perform a wide variety of functions.

Now, SEAS researchers have pushed that technology further - developing a zero-index waveguide compatible with current silicon photonic technologies. In doing so, the team observed a physical phenomenon that is usually unobservable—a standing wave of light.

The research is published in ACS Photonics.

There's a lot more in the full story about the difficulties of proving the wavelength is infinite and what can be down with this new material with a refractive index of 0.

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posted by cmn32480 on Tuesday October 10 2017, @11:04AM   Printer-friendly
from the me-me-me-me-me-me-me-me-me-me dept.

Submitted via IRC for TheMightyBuzzard

In an age of political animus, increasing hostility toward "others," and 24/7 media coverage that seems to focus on the negative, a recent article in Frontiers in Psychology provides a glimmer of hope, particularly for those who live in the United States.

Written by Yale University academic Gabriel Grant, "Exploring the Possibility of Peak Individualism, Humanity's Existential Crisis, and an Emerging Age of Purpose" aims to clear up two competing views of today's cultural narrative in the United States. First is the traditional view of the next generation—millennials—whom many view as individualistic, materialistic, and narcissistic. Some even refer to millennials as "Gen Me" in response to those who develop their "personal brand" with selfies and social media posts.

In stark contrast there is a view of millennials as rejecting selfish values and leading America into a "great age of purpose." Unlike previous generations, simply earning money is not enough for them—significant data shows that younger people are searching for purpose in their lives and their work. Consider the fact that the non-profit group 80,000 Hours (whose name represents the amount of time spent at work in the average lifespan) even exists. 80,000 Hours provides career advice to help young people build careers with social impact. Universities and businesses are increasingly following this path to help millennial workers achieve their goal of finding purpose in their lives.

Both sides can provide reams of anecdotal evidence that supports their view of millennials, and until recently, there have been few studies on the issue. In his article, however, Grant theorized that Google's digitization of millions of books and the Ngram Viewer, a tool that shows how phrases have appeared in books, could allow a quantified analysis of culture over the past two centuries, and he used this approach to quantitatively test the popular notion that a drive for purpose is increasing. What he found is encouraging.

Yeah, because people with a healthy ego would never possibly do volunteer work...


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posted by cmn32480 on Tuesday October 10 2017, @09:22AM   Printer-friendly
from the no-not-the-cable-people dept.

Submitted via IRC for AndyTheAbsurd

AMP - Google's collaborative project to speed up the loading time for mobile web pages — is getting an interesting acceleration of its own today. Relay Media, a company founded by an ex-Googler that had developed technology to help covert web pages to the AMP format, has been acquired by Google.

The company announced the news on its home page, to its customers (one of whom, Russell Heimlich, lead developer at Philly blog, tipped the news to us), and on its LinkedIn page. We have reached out to Google to get a statement and will update this post as we learn more.

For now, what we know is that it looks like Google may be closing down Relay Media as part of the deal but will continue to operate the service as the tech is transferred to Google's platform. New-publisher onboarding will be put on hold for the time being, it seems.

"We're excited to announce that Google has acquired Relay Media's AMP Converter technology," the company writes. "Service for current customers will continue uninterrupted as we transition the Relay Media AMP Converter to Google's infrastructure. We're pausing new publisher onboarding as we focus on the integration effort."

The note to existing users had only slightly more detail: some contact addresses for support and the indication that new AMP features would continue to be supported with Relay Media's converter for now, although also with a warning:

The rules for AMP are pretty close to what I learned when I first started working with HTML in the late 1990s. Why can't designers follow those rules without Google enforcing them? (Oh, right: Marketing departments that insist on three separate analytics sources. And designers who can't stay away from anything that ...


AMP (Accelerated Mobile Pages project)'s homepage, an example of basic markup, coverage at Wikipedia.

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posted by martyb on Tuesday October 10 2017, @07:49AM   Printer-friendly
from the problem-of-looking-for-an-asymmetric-traveling-salesman dept.

The real-world version of the famous traveling salesman problem finally gets a good-enough solution.

From the abstract on arXiv (full article is available):

We give a constant-factor approximation algorithm for the asymmetric traveling salesman problem. Our approximation guarantee is analyzed with respect to the standard LP relaxation, and thus our result confirms the conjectured constant integrality gap of that relaxation. Our techniques build upon the constant-factor approximation algorithm for the special case of node-weighted metrics. Specifically, we give a generic reduction to structured instances that resemble but are more general than those arising from node-weighted metrics. For those instances, we then solve Local-Connectivity ATSP, a problem known to be equivalent (in terms of constant-factor approximation) to the asymmetric traveling salesman problem.

[1] LP == Linear Programming
[2] ATSP == Asymmetric Traveling Salesman Problem

Any Soylentils able to explain what, if any, impact this research has on the class of NP-complete problems?


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posted by Fnord666 on Tuesday October 10 2017, @06:16AM   Printer-friendly
from the ethics-committee dept.

Submitted via IRC for TheMightyBuzzard

Bath Spa University is conducting an internal inquiry into claims that it turned down an application for research on gender reassignment reversal because it was "potentially politically incorrect" and would attract criticism on social media.

James Caspian, a psychotherapist who specialises in working with transgender people, proposed the research about "detransitioning" to the university in south-west England, which, he said, initially approved the application.

When he went back with his preliminary findings that suggested growing numbers of young people, particularly women, were regretting gender reassignment, Bath Spa said his proposal would have to be resubmitted to the ethics committee, which rejected it.

Caspian, who enrolled on an MA course at the university, said he was "astonished" by the decision and had sought legal advice.

"The fundamental reason given was that it might cause criticism of the research on social media, and criticism of the research would be criticism of the university. They also added it's better not to offend people," he told BBC Radio 4's Today programme on Monday.

I was going to add some snark here but they pretty well covered making a mockery of academia for me.

Source: The Guardian

Also at: The Times

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posted by Fnord666 on Tuesday October 10 2017, @04:42AM   Printer-friendly
from the stay-out-of-politics dept.

The world is full of assholes. Wherever you live, whatever you do, odds are you're surrounded by assholes. The question is, what to do about it?

Robert Sutton, a psychology professor at Stanford University, has stepped up to answer this eternal question. He's the author of a new book, The Asshole Survival Guide, which is basically what it sounds like: a guide for surviving the assholes in your life.

In 2010, Sutton published The No Asshole Rule, which focused on dealing with assholes at an organizational level. In the new book, he offers a blueprint for managing assholes at the interpersonal level. If you've got an asshole boss, an asshole friend, or an asshole colleague, this book might be for you.

Asshole survival, Sutton says, is a craft, not a science, meaning one can be good or bad at it. His book is about getting better at it.

I sat down with him recently to talk about his strategies for dealing with assholes, what he means when he says we have to take responsibility for the assholes in our lives, and why he says self-awareness is key to recognizing that the asshole in your life may be you.

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posted by Fnord666 on Tuesday October 10 2017, @03:09AM   Printer-friendly
from the doesn't-recharge-in-the-basement dept.

Solar-powered watches are nothing new, but being more power-hungry beasts, solar-powered smartwatches are a different story. A San Francisco-based startup called LunaR now claims to have bridged the divide by developing a smartwatch that never needs to be plugged in for a recharge as it draws all the energy it needs from the sun.

The LunaR... includes sleep and activity tracking, along with integration with social media and messaging apps to bring notifications to the wrist through an embedded LED array.

At the heart of what the creators claim is the world's first solar-powered smartwatch is (unsurprisingly) a breakthrough in solar technology. With a clear solar panel layered over the watch face, it's claimed the LunaR can harvest energy from both natural and artificial light. So much so, that with as little as one hour of daily exposure to light, its 110-mAh lithium-polymer battery can apparently stay fully charged.

Original Submission

posted by Fnord666 on Tuesday October 10 2017, @01:36AM   Printer-friendly
from the swords-are-technology dept.

I have been reading The Japanese Sword Column and thought it may be of niche interest to other Soylentils. It is written by Paul Martin, a noted British expert of Japanese swords. From the introduction:

Along with cherry blossoms and Mount Fuji, the Japanese sword has become one of the enduring symbols of Japan. It has experienced centuries of warfare, evolved through Mongol invasions, survived the introduction of the musket, the end of the samurai era, modernization, and confiscation and destruction by the Allied forces following World War II. They are an anachronism in modern society, yet they continue to be made. They are an integral part of Japanese culture.
Today, I feel very fortunate that we have access to Japanese swords and can observe the artistry of blades that were previously only accessible by Japan's ancient military and social elites.

I particularly enjoyed the July 25th article, The Changes in the Shape of the Japanese Sword. The articles are short, update infrequently and have plenty of pictures of museum-quality swords. A good fit for those with a casual interest in the subject.

Original Submission

posted by cmn32480 on Tuesday October 10 2017, @12:03AM   Printer-friendly
from the technicians-get-seasick-too dept.

The world's first offshore wind farm employing floating turbines is taking shape 25 kilometers off the Scottish coast and expected to begin operating by the end of this year.
[...] Wind power generation is obviously contingent on how fast and how often winds blow. But only over the past decade have scientists and wind farm developers recognized that the winds measured prior to erecting turbines may not endure. For one thing, dense arrays of wind turbines act as a drag on the wind, depleting local or even regional wind resources.

It is now generally accepted that drag from wind turbines in the boundary layer (where the atmosphere interacts with Earth's surface) limits the kinetic energy that large land-based wind farms can extract to about 1.5 megawatts per square kilometer (MW/km2). "If your average turbine extracts 2-6 MW, you really need to space those turbines 2-3 kilometers apart because the atmosphere just doesn't give you more kinetic energy to extract," says Carnegie postdoctoral researcher Anna Possner.

Wind speeds over open ocean areas are often higher than those in the windiest areas over land, which has motivated a quest to develop technologies that could harvest wind energy in deep water environments. However, it remains unclear whether these open ocean wind speeds are higher because of lack of surface drag or whether a greater downward transport of kinetic energy may be sustained in open ocean environments. Focusing on the North Atlantic region, we provide evidence that there is potential for greater downward transport of kinetic energy in the overlying atmosphere. As a result, wind power generation over some ocean areas can exceed power generation on land by a factor of three or more.

Research Article:

Original Submission