2020-07-01 00:00:00 ..
2020-11-23 01:37:00 UTC --Fnord666
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Alan Dean Foster, author of several Star Wars novelizations, says Disney hasn't paid him his royalties. According to Foster, Disney has asked him to sign a non-disclosure agreement before the company will speak with him. According to SFWA president Mary Robinette Kowal, Disney is arguing that when it bought Lucasfilm and 20th Century Fox, they bought contract rights — but not the legal obligation to pay Foster for his work.
[...] Foster ghost-wrote the novelization of Star Wars: A New Hope, under the byline of George Lucas; it was published in 1976 before the movie's release. He also published a sequel to Star Wars, Splinter of the Mind's Eye. Disney acquired Lucasfilm in 2012; according to Foster, Disney stopped paying him royalties. Last year, Disney bought 20th Century Fox, acquiring the rights to some other novelizations by Foster: Alien, Aliens, and Alien 3. Disney hasn't paid Foster a dime on any of the Alien books, he says.
A park ranger heard that a group with cooking pots were hiking toward the park's Shoshone Geyser Basin. The ranger found two whole chickens in a burlap sack in a hot spring. A cooking pot was nearby, Yellowstone spokeswoman Linda Veress said.
"Make dinner," said defendant Eric Roberts, of Idaho Falls, Idaho, when asked Thursday what the group was up to in the Yellowstone backcountry.
As for whose idea it was: "It was kind of a joint thing," Roberts explained.
Chang'e 5, scheduled for launch around November 24th, is intended to drill two metres down into the Moon's surface, retrieve about 2kg of rock, and then return this to Earth. If successful, it will be the first lunar sample-return mission since 1976, when a Soviet probe called Luna 24 sent back a mere 170g of the stuff. And it will be another step forward in China's space programme.
The Chang'e missions, named after a Chinese Moon goddess, have had their ups and downs. Chang'e 5 was originally scheduled for blast off in 2017, but the failure in July of that year of an otherwise-unrelated project that was, like Chang'e 5, using a Long March 5 as its launch vehicle, caused a delay. (Chang'e 4 used a different sort of launcher, a Long March 3B.) The "go" does, however, now seem to have been given. State media reported on November 17th that the rocket with Chang'e 5 on board has been moved to its launch pad at Wenchang space centre, on Hainan island.
Assuming the launch goes to plan, success will then depend on a complex ballet involving the craft's four components. These are a service module, a return-to-Earth module, a lunar lander and an ascender—a configuration originally used by America's Apollo project. Once the mission is in lunar orbit, the lander and the ascender will separate from the orbiting mother ship of service and return modules as a single unit and go down to the surface. The landing site is in the northern part of a vast expanse of basalt called Oceanus Procellarum, a previously unvisited area. Researchers hope rocks collected here will confirm that volcanic activity on the Moon continued until far more recently than the 3.5bn years ago that is the estimate derived from studies of currently available samples.
Once the new material has been gathered, which will take several days, the ascender will lift off, dock with the mother ship and transfer its haul to the return module. The service module will then carry the return module back to Earth, releasing it just before arrival to make a landing at a recovery site in Inner Mongolia, also used for China's crewed missions, in December.
I wonder if this will this put another nail in the coffin of the exorbitantly-expensive SLS (Space Launch System) or be leveraged to increase its funding?
In one of the biggest changes to the App Store model ever, Apple [...] announced that the majority of third-party developers releasing apps and games on the company's App Store will see a reduction in Apple's cut of revenues from 30 percent to 15 percent. The company calls it the App Store Small Business Program, and it aims to improve the company's standing in public perception and antitrust battles while minimally impacting its own bottom line.
The program is opt-in, and any developer whose combined revenue across all their apps was less than $1 million in the previous year (or any developers new to the App Store) can apply and be accepted. The revenue measure at play here includes not just app purchases, but also in-app purchase (IAP) and subscriptions revenue.
If during the course of the year the developer surpasses the $1 million threshold, the 30-percent rate will kick back into effect for the remainder of that year. If the developer falls below the threshold again, they'll receive the 15-percent rate once more the following year.
True random numbers are required in fields as diverse as slot machines and data encryption. These numbers need to be truly random, such that they cannot even be predicted by people with detailed knowledge of the method used to generate them.
[...] For this new approach, the ETH researchers apply the synthesis of DNA molecules, an established chemical research method frequently employed over many years. It is traditionally used to produce a precisely defined DNA sequence. In this case, however, the research team built DNA molecules with 64 building block positions, in which one of the four DNA bases A, C, G and T was randomly located at each position. The scientists achieved this by using a mixture of the four building blocks, rather than just one, at every step of the synthesis.
As a result, a relatively simple synthesis produced a combination of approximately three quadrillion individual molecules. The scientists subsequently used an effective method to determine the DNA sequence of five million of these molecules. This resulted in 12 megabytes of data, which the researchers stored as zeros and ones on a computer.
[...] However, an analysis showed that the distribution of the four building blocks A, C, G and T was not completely even. Either the intricacies of nature or the synthesis method deployed led to the bases G and T being integrated more frequently in the molecules than A and C. Nonetheless, the scientists were able to correct this bias with a simple algorithm, thereby generating perfect random numbers.
Linda C. Meiser, Julian Koch, Philipp L. Antkowiak, et al. DNA synthesis for true random number generation [open], Nature Communications (DOI: 10.1038/s41467-020-19757-y)
"First we were enslaved. Then we were poisoned." That's how many on Martinique see the history of their French Caribbean island that, to tourists, means sun, rum, and palm-fringed beaches. Slavery was abolished in 1848. But today the islanders are victims again - of a toxic pesticide called chlordecone that's poisoned the soil and water and been linked to unusually high rates of prostate cancer.
"They never told us it was dangerous," Ambroise Bertin says. "So people were working, because they wanted the money. We didn't have any instructions about what was, and wasn't, good. That's why a lot of people are poisoned." He's talking about chlordecone, a chemical in the form of a white powder that plantation workers were told to put under banana trees, to protect them from insects.
Ambroise did that job for many years. Later, he got prostate cancer, a disease that is commoner on Martinique and its sister French island of Guadeloupe than anywhere else in the world. And scientists blame chlordecone, a persistent organic pollutant related to DDT. It was authorised for use in the French West Indies long after its harmful effects became widely known.
"They used to tell us: don't eat or drink anything while you're putting it down," Ambroise, now 70, remembers. But that's the only clue he and other workers in Martinique's banana plantations in the 1970s, 80s and early 90s had about the possible danger. Few if any were told to wear gloves or masks. Now, many have suffered cancer and other illnesses.
Chlordecone is an endocrine disrupter, meaning it can affect hormonal systems.
One of the world's leading experts on the chemical, Prof Luc Multigner, of Rennes University in France, says epidemiological studies have shown increased risk of premature births and increased risk of adverse brain development in children at the exposure levels people in Martinique and Guadeloupe face through contaminated food consumption.
He also says: "There is enough toxicological and experimental data to conclude that chlordecone is carcinogenic."
Following a detailed study Prof Multigner and colleagues conducted on Guadeloupe in 2010, he estimates chlordecone is responsible for about 5-10% of prostate cancer cases in the French West Indies, amounting to between 50 to 100 new cases per year, out of a population of 800,000.
[n.b. Emphasis retained from source article]
Leonardo da Vinci is famous for his elaborate, nuanced artworks and advanced technological ideas. But new research has revealed another level of complexity to his drawings: a hidden world of tiny life-forms on his artwork.
The findings, the researchers said, could help build a microbiome "catalogue" for artwork. Each of the pieces had a unique enough collection of microbes that researchers could have identified it again later purely from a study of its microscopic biology. And the drawings' microbiomes had enough key elements in common to help researchers spot counterfeits based on differences in their microbiomes, or even authentic drawings that had been stored in different conditions over the centuries. The researchers also showed that da Vinci's drawings had a significantly different microbiome than expected, with lots of bacteria and human DNA — likely a consequence of centuries of handling by art restorers and other people. Microbes known to make paper degrade over time were also present, showing why those restorers' efforts had been necessary The study amounts to a proof-of-concept exercise, showing how microbiomes might, in the future, reveal unexpected histories of certain artworks or help detect forgeries.
Researchers examined the microscopic biological material, living and dead, in seven of the master's "emblematic" drawings, and found an unexpected diversity of bacteria, fungi and human DNA. Most of that material probably landed on the sketches well after da Vinci's death 501 years ago, so the DNA (or the bulk of it at least) likely comes from other people who have handled the drawings over the centuries and not the polymath himself. But the newfound biological materials do have a story to tell.
[...] The biggest surprise, the researchers wrote, was the high concentration of bacteria in the drawings, especially as compared with fungi. Past studies have shown that fungi tend to dominate the microbiomes of paper objects such as these drawings, but in this case an unusually high amount of bacteria from humans and insects (likely flies that pooped on the paper at some point) were present.
The study was published Friday (Nov. 20) in the journal Frontiers in Microbiology.
Piñar, Guadalupe, Guadalupe, Sclocchi, Maria Carla, Pinzari, Flavia, et al. The Microbiome of Leonardo da Vinci's Drawings: A Bio-Archive of Their History, Frontiers in Microbiology (DOI: 10.3389/fmicb.2020.593401)
From the horse's mouth
Corning Incorporated (NYSE: GLW) announced on Thursday a new breakthrough in glass-ceramic technology, Corning® Guardiant®. Under test methods approved by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), paint and coatings containing Corning Guardiant were shown to kill more than 99.9% of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19.
The tests provide the first demonstration of highly durable antimicrobial activity against SARS-CoV-2. The demonstrated antimicrobial efficacy remained active even after tests simulating six years of scrubbing. The tests were designed to account for the cleaning that a surface could be subjected to over time.
[...] Corning is working alongside PPG as it seeks EPA registration for its paint product formulated with Corning Guardiant.
Corning Guardiant contains copper, which has been shown to exhibit antimicrobial efficacy when applied to surfaces, consistently reducing germs on contact. Corning Guardiant keeps the most effective form of copper readily available for reducing harmful germs.
[...] Corning is currently collaborating with leading paint and coatings manufacturers around the world, including PPG, to develop products containing Corning Guardiant that meet governmental and regulatory requirements. Subject to EPA approval, PPG's antiviral paint product will be available under the name COPPER ARMOR™
[...] The results of SARS-CoV-2 testing on coatings containing Corning Guardiant were recently obtained by Dr. Luisa Ikner in Professor Charles Gerba's lab at the University of Arizona. Following U.S. EPA recommendations that test methods mimic in-use conditions for antimicrobial surface materials seeking claims against harmful germs, the lab used stringent test methods that simulated realistic contamination, which is dry and invisible.
In addition to the SARS-CoV-2 results, Corning has also published research on Corning Guardiant demonstrating kill[sic] of other bacteria and viruses with greater than 99.9% efficacy in under two hours, including gram positive bacteria (such as Staphylococcus aureus), gram negative bacteria (such as Pseudomonas aeruginosa), and non-enveloped viruses (such as murine norovirus, which belongs to the hardest-to-kill class of viruses in terms of its susceptibility to disinfectants).
As the amount of sensitive data stored on computers has exploded over the past decade, hardware and software makers have invested increasing amounts of resources into securing devices against physical attacks in the event that they're lost, stolen, or confiscated. Earlier this week, Intel fixed a series of bugs that made it possible for attackers to install malicious firmware on millions of computers that use its CPUs.
The vulnerabilities allowed hackers with physical access to override a protection Intel built into modern CPUs that prevents unauthorized firmware from running during the boot process. Known as Boot Guard, the measure is designed to anchor a chain of trust directly into the silicon to ensure that all firmware that loads is digitally signed by the computer manufacturer. Boot Guard protects against the possibility of someone tampering with the SPI-connected flash chip that stores the UEFI, which is a complex piece of firmware that bridges a PC's device firmware with its operating system.
[...] Intel isn't saying how it fixed a vulnerability that stems from fuse settings that can't be reset. Hudson suspects that Intel made the change using firmware that runs in the Intel Management Engine, a security and management coprocessor inside the CPU chipset that handles access to the OTP fuses, among many other things. (Earlier this week, Intel published never-before-disclosed details about the ME here.)
The two other vulnerabilities stemmed from flaws in the way CPUs fetched firmware when they were powered up. All three of the vulnerabilities were indexed under the single tracking ID CVE-2020-8705, which received a high severity rating from Intel. (Intel has an overview of all November security patches here. Computer manufacturers began making updates available this week. Hudson's post, linked above, has a far more detailed and technical writeup.
US District Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers this week threw out two Apple counterclaims stemming from the company's antitrust/breach-of-contract court battle with Epic Games over the fate of Fortnite on iOS.
[...] This week's ruling, however, deals with counterclaims filed by Apple in response to that lawsuit. In those counterclaims, Apple argued that the introduction of Epic Direct Payments (which are still available in the iOS version of the game, for people who downloaded it before the App Store removal) amounted to "intentional interference" with Apple's legitimate business. The company also sought extra punitive damages for what it considers "little more than theft" of the 30-percent commission that it is rightfully owed.
[...] "This is a high-stakes breach of contract case and an antitrust case and that's all in my view," Rogers said. And despite Apple's loss here, those two core elements of the case will continue to be argued as the case moves forward to a trial, with arguments scheduled for May.
"Epic enabled a feature in its app which was not reviewed or approved by Apple, and they did so with the express intent of violating the App Store guidelines that apply equally to every developer who sells digital goods and services," Apple said in a statement. "Their reckless behavior made pawns of customers, and we look forward to making it right for them in court next May."
Today, Google Photos VP Shimrit Ben-Yair announced the end of Google Photos' unlimited photo storage policy. The plan already came with significant caveats—unlimited storage was for the tier Google deems "High quality," which includes compressed media only, capped at 16 megapixels for photos and 1080p for videos. Uncompressed or higher-resolution photos and videos saved in original quality count against the 15GiB cap for the user's Google Drive account.
As of June 2021, high-quality photos and videos will also begin counting against a user's Google Drive storage capacity. That said, if you've already got a terabyte of high quality photos and videos stored in Photos, don't panic—the policy change affects new photos and videos created or stored after June 2021 only. Media that's already saved to Google Photos is grandfathered in and will not be affected by the new policy change.
[...] If you're not sure how long your available storage will last, you can get an estimate at https://photos.google.com/storage. That page will use the rate at which a Google account has stored data—including Drive, Gmail, and Photos—and project the date at which that account will bump up against capacity limits.
RadioShack's shambling remains were given another jolt of life today when they were purchased by another company that plans to relaunch the once-great retailer as an online-focused brand.
The store's remains were purchased by Retail Ecommerce Ventures (REV), a startup founded in 2019 that's been scooping up brands from other faded retail giants as well, including Pier 1, Modell's Sporting Goods, Dressbarn, and more. REV says RadioShack's website already has "strong existing sales and sales potential," and the company is "confident" it can further raise awareness of the brand internationally.
REV claims it's successfully turned around other companies it's launched as online brands. The Wall Street Journal reported that Dressbarn more than doubled its revenue between the first and second quarter of 2020.
SpaceX delivered its second crew of astronauts to the International Space Station late Monday night, just 27 hours after their launch from NASA's Kennedy Space Center.
In their first press conference from orbit, the four astronauts described Sunday night's launch and their first impressions of the space station, their new home until spring.
Japanese astronaut Soichi Noguchi—who became only the third person to launch aboard three kinds of spacecraft—said "the Dragon is the best, short answer."
[...] First-time space flyer Victor Glover, the crew's pilot, said the G-forces gradually built up after the rocket's second stage kicked in.
"In a fighter, you can't hold 4 G's for several minutes, not most aircraft," Glover noted. "I've been able to feel that for a few seconds. But to have that for an extended period was just truly amazing."
Once reaching orbit, "it's surreal," he added. "I've seen tons of pictures. But when I first looked out the window at the Earth, it's hard to describe. There are no words ... It was an amazing, once-in-a-lifetime feeling."
[...] The astronauts chose a small, plush Baby Yoda as their zero-gravity indicator for the same reason—"when you see him, it's hard not to smile," said commander Mike Hopkins. The crew had started watching the Disney and "Star Wars" TV series, "The Mandalorian," featuring Baby Yoda.
"The ride into space was probably a little rougher than Baby Yoda was used to," Hopkins said.
The SpaceX crew—which also includes Shannon Walker—joined one other American and two Russians at the orbiting outpost. It's the first time the space station has had seven long-term crew members all at once, which is expected to boost scientific output.
Following a review of engineering assessments that found damage to the Arecibo Observatory cannot be stabilized without risk to construction workers and staff at the facility, the U.S. National Science Foundation will begin plans to decommission the 305-meter telescope, which for 57 years has served as a world-class resource for radio astronomy, planetary, solar system and geospace research.
The decision comes after NSF evaluated multiple assessments by independent engineering companies that found the telescope structure is in danger of a catastrophic failure and its cables may no longer be capable of carrying the loads they were designed to support. Furthermore, several assessments stated that any attempts at repairs could put workers in potentially life-threatening danger. Even in the event of repairs going forward, engineers found that the structure would likely present long-term stability issues.
"NSF prioritizes the safety of workers, Arecibo Observatory's staff and visitors, which makes this decision necessary, although unfortunate," said NSF Director Sethuraman Panchanathan. "For nearly six decades, the Arecibo Observatory has served as a beacon for breakthrough science and what a partnership with a community can look like. While this is a profound change, we will be looking for ways to assist the scientific community and maintain that strong relationship with the people of Puerto Rico."
The recent failure of two support cables at the Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico has destabilized the structure such that it cannot be repaired without placing construction workers at significant risk, according to officials with the National Science Foundation. As feared, the beloved 1,000-foot telescope will have to be decommissioned.
As if 2020 couldn't get any worse, we received news this morning that the giant dish at Arecibo will have to be demolished. The National Science Foundation came to this hard decision following a review of engineering assessments, which concluded that the observatory is in seriously bad shape and that it cannot be stabilized without placing workers in danger. The NSF is now planning for the controlled decommission of the dish, ending a historic 57-year run.
But there is this . . .
"I want to say this as forcefully as possible," said Ralph Gaume, the director of NSF's Division of Astronomical Sciences, at a call for reporters earlier today. "We're not closing the Arecibo Observatory."