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Why do you post less frequently on internet forums than you used to?

  • I work longer hours.
  • My kids take up my time.
  • I spend more time on a hobby.
  • Due to my physical or mental health.
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  • I post more frequently, you insensitive clod!
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[ Results | Polls ]
Comments:78 | Votes:81

posted by mrpg on Wednesday January 31, @10:05PM   Printer-friendly
from the so-is-time-faster? dept.

https://phys.org/news/2024-01-stars-slowly-milky-edge-galaxy.html

By clocking the speed of stars throughout the Milky Way galaxy, MIT physicists have found that stars further out in the galactic disk are traveling more slowly than expected compared to stars that are closer to the galaxy's center. The findings raise a surprising possibility: The Milky Way's gravitational core may be lighter in mass, and contain less dark matter, than previously thought.

The new results are based on the team's analysis of data taken by the Gaia and APOGEE instruments. Gaia is an orbiting space telescope that tracks the precise location, distance, and motion of more than 1 billion stars throughout the Milky Way galaxy, while APOGEE is a ground-based survey.

The physicists analyzed Gaia's measurements of more than 33,000 stars, including some of the farthest stars in the galaxy, and determined each star's "circular velocity," or how fast a star is circling in the galactic disk, given the star's distance from the galaxy's center.

[...] The team translated the new rotation curve into a distribution of dark matter that could explain the outer stars' slow-down, and found the resulting map produced a lighter galactic core than expected. That is, the center of the Milky Way may be less dense, with less dark matter, than scientists have thought.


Original Submission

posted by janrinok on Wednesday January 31, @05:23PM   Printer-friendly
from the peering-into-the-abyss dept.

https://arstechnica.com/science/2024/01/we-keep-making-the-same-mistakes-with-spreadsheets-despite-bad-consequences/

Spreadsheet blunders aren't just frustrating personal inconveniences. They can have serious consequences. And in the last few years alone, there have been a myriad of spreadsheet horror stories.

In August 2023, the Police Service of Northern Ireland apologized for a data leak of "monumental proportions" when a spreadsheet that contained statistics on the number of officers it had and their rank was shared online in response to a freedom of information request.

There was a second overlooked tab on the spreadsheet that contained the personal details of 10,000 serving police officers.

[...] In 2021, Crypto.com, an online provider of cryptocurrency, accidentally transferred $10.5 million (£8.3 million) instead of $100 into the account of an Australian customer due to an incorrect number being entered on a spreadsheet.

The clerk who processed the refund for the Australian customer had wrongly entered her bank account number in the refund field in a spreadsheet. It was seven months before the mistake was spotted. The recipient attempted to flee to Malaysia but was stopped at an Australian airport carrying a large amount of cash.

Industry studies show that 90 percent of spreadsheets containing more than 150 rows have at least one major mistake. This is understandable because spreadsheet errors are easy to make but difficult to spot. My own research has shown that inspecting the spreadsheet's code is the most effective way of debugging them, but this approach still only catches between 60 and 80 percent of all errors.

[...] To break the cycle of repeated spreadsheet errors, there are several things organisations can do. First, introducing standardization would help to minimize confusion and mistakes. For example, this would mean consistent formatting, naming conventions, and data structures across spreadsheets.

Second, improving training is crucial. Equipping users with the knowledge and skills to build robust and accurate spreadsheets could help them identify and avoid pitfalls.

Finally, fostering a culture of critical thinking toward spreadsheets is vital. This would mean encouraging users to continually question calculations, validate their data sources, and double-check their work.


Original Submission

posted by janrinok on Wednesday January 31, @03:48PM   Printer-friendly
from the moving-forward dept.

We are running very short of time for creating a new site. We have one member of staff who has already volunteered for a post on the Board; other staff are already busy with their existing roles. We are looking for an additional 2 community members who wish to serve on a temporary Board so that we can create a new company and purchase the data, domains and other assets from the current site. But perhaps I should explain a little further....

The Board should, as a minimum, consist of 3 people, A Chairman, a Secretary and the site's Accountant. These people will be named at the creation of the new company and will each assume one of those formal roles. There are implications to this. Firstly, the company data is not publicised widely but we can make no guarantee that it will always remain hidden from public view, either by a change in US law or by, for example, the action of an hacker. Therefore, any volunteers must be prepared to waive his/her anonymity although as things stand it should never actually be compromised. Secondly, this is a temporary post. The latest draft of Bylaws is a very good starting point but it has become apparent that they are not perfect. There will be changes required to the Bylaws and, when they have been changed and accepted by the Community, all posts on the Board must be filled by people who have been elected by the community. You could, of course, stand for election at that time if you so wish.

Currently, we are only looking at putting names to roles so that we can create a company. Your experience and skill level are not the most important aspects. We will employ an professional accountant to produce the annual formal account reporting and it will not simply be left to our own 'Accountant'. Rather, the role is one of providing checks and balances for any expenditure and the management of the site's accounting records.

How long the 'temporary' role will last is not something that we can currently forecast. But I would estimate it to be weeks or months rather than a long term responsibility.

I think any sensible person would agree that we cannot simply pass control of the site and finances to unknown people so we must limit applications from those who have held an account for at least 6 months and have contributed to the site. The staff will treat all applications as sensitive data and we will only refer to individuals by their user name in any discussions or at subsequent meetings. We will, of course, need to know your true identity and contact details for the creation of the new company.

This is a chance for us to move the site to a new start and to ensure that we can provide continuity of stories each day for everyone to enjoy. We will all be involved - Board, staff and community - in producing new policy documents that are a reasonable balance between discussions and freedom of speech. We are almost at our 10th birthday. Many people did not expect us to reach our 1st birthday. I would like to see the site looking forward to many more birthdays to come.

We can only achieve this with your help. The are approximately 250 unique accounts, excluding ACs, active on the site each week although not all commenting in stories. We are only looking for 2 volunteers.

If you wish to volunteer please send your email giving your username to admin@soylentnews.org with the word "volunteer" in the subject. All emails will be treated in the strictest confidence. Time is of the essence so please don't delay in contacting us should you wish to volunteer.

UPDATE: 31 Jan 2004: We have the volunteers that we need to create a new company, many thanks to them for stepping forward. However, if you feel that you have something to offer and you wish to volunteer also then please do so.

There is still some preparatory work to be done but I am doing that as quickly as I am able within my current time limitations.

Another point worth noting which may, or may not, be related is that the number of active accounts has gone over the 300 mark for the first time in many months. There are probably many more who are lurking or posting solely as AC.

janrinok

posted by janrinok on Wednesday January 31, @01:05PM   Printer-friendly

Now that the poles are melting, and that seven of the world's ten biggest shipping companies have suspended transit through the Red Sea, and that deforestation is drying up the Panama Canal, the site Modern Diplomacy raises the question, how viable is Arctic shipping? Even with the ice eventually out of the way, it is not necessarily the best option for transportation.

Increasingly, yes — and for a worrying reason. The Arctic is warming four times faster than the global average. Since 1978 ice cover has shrunk by roughly 78,000 square kilometres per year. In June 2023 a study in Nature Communications, a journal, suggested that the Arctic's first ice-free summer could come as soon as the 2040s, even if the world significantly reduces its greenhouse-gas emissions. As ice thins and cold-water shipping technology advances, Arctic waters will become more easily navigable.

They are already getting busier, if from a low base. The most popular shipping route in the Arctic is the nsr, which is controlled by Russia. Trade volumes along the route increased by 755% between 2014 and 2022. Russia wants traffic to increase ten-fold from 2022 levels by 2035. In October it announced a joint venture with DP World, an Emirati logistics company, to develop Arctic container shipping. That month NewNew Shipping Line, a Chinese firm, completed its first round-trip on an Arctic route between Shanghai and St Petersburg.

[...] The Arctic will struggle to rival established shipping routes. Extreme seasonal weather limits its potential for commercial shipping. But as the ice cover shrinks, its waters will become busier — and Russia will make ever greater use of them.

Back in September, Nature had an article about updating the Polar Code as shipping through the region increases. The Polar Code is a regulatory framework to try to reduce the likelihood of shipping disasters along the Arctic routes.


Original Submission

posted by mrpg on Wednesday January 31, @08:31AM   Printer-friendly
from the noone-knows-how-the-cloud-works dept.

A nearly invisible dwarf galaxy is challenging the model of dark matter. An international team of astronomers, led by the Instituto de Astrofísica de Canarias (IAC) in collaboration with the University of La Laguna (ULL) and other institutions, discovered this fascinating galaxy dubbed "Nube."

Nube, which means "Cloud" in Spanish, was named by the 5-year-old daughter of one of the researchers, aptly reflecting the galaxy's ghostly and diffuse appearance. Its discovery is significant because its faint surface brightness allowed it to remain undetected in previous sky surveys, despite its considerable size.

"With our present knowledge we do not understand how a galaxy with such extreme characteristics can exist," says study first author Mireia Montes, researcher at the IAC and the ULL, in a media release.

Nube is unique in its properties, being ten times fainter yet ten times more extended than other dwarf galaxies with a similar number of stars. Its discovery is akin to finding a hidden treasure in a well-explored attic. Nube is large and yet faint, a ghostly apparition in the universe. To put it into perspective, it's about one-third the size of the Milky Way but has a mass comparable to the Small Magellanic Cloud.

What sets it apart is its significant amount of dark matter, an invisible substance that does not emit, absorb, or reflect light, making it undetectable by traditional telescopes.

Related: Bizarre Galaxy Discovered With Seemingly No Stars Whatsoever


Original Submission

posted by mrpg on Wednesday January 31, @04:00AM   Printer-friendly
from the but-but-but-the-fancy-brochure-said dept.

CNN Reports: https://www.cnn.com/2024/01/11/business/hertz-tesla-selling/index.html

Hertz, which has made a big push into electric vehicles in recent years, has decided it's time to cut back. The company will sell off a third of its electric fleet, totaling roughly 20,000 vehicles, and use the money they bring to purchase more gasoline powered vehicles.

Electric vehicles have been hurting Hertz's financials, executives have said, because, despite costing less to maintain, they have higher damage-repair costs and, also, higher depreciation.

"[C]ollision and damage repairs on an EV can often run about twice that associated with a comparable combustion engine vehicle," Hertz CEO Stephen Scherr said in a recent analyst call.

And EV price declines in the new car market have pushed down the resale value of Hertz's used EV rental cars.

[...] For rental car companies like Hertz, which sell lots of vehicles in the used car market, depreciation has a big impact on their business, and is a major factor when deciding which cars to have in their fleets.

SoylentNews previously reported when Hertz was expanding their EV fleet.


Original Submission

posted by janrinok on Tuesday January 30, @11:33PM   Printer-friendly

NSA finally admits to spying on Americans by purchasing sensitive data:

The National Security Agency (NSA) has admitted to buying records from data brokers detailing which websites and apps Americans use, US Senator Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) revealed Thursday.

This news follows Wyden's push last year that forced the FBI to admit that it was also buying Americans' sensitive data. Now, the senator is calling on all intelligence agencies to "stop buying personal data from Americans that has been obtained illegally by data brokers."

"The US government should not be funding and legitimizing a shady industry whose flagrant violations of Americans' privacy are not just unethical but illegal," Wyden said in a letter to Director of National Intelligence (DNI) Avril Haines. "To that end, I request that you adopt a policy that, going forward," intelligence agencies "may only purchase data about Americans that meets the standard for legal data sales established by the FTC."

Wyden suggested that the intelligence community might be helping data brokers violate an FTC order requiring that Americans are provided "clear and conspicuous" disclosures and give informed consent before their data can be sold to third parties. In the seven years that Wyden has been investigating data brokers, he said that he has not been made "aware of any company that provides such a warning to users before collecting their data."

The FTC's order came after reaching a settlement with a data broker called X-Mode, which admitted to selling sensitive location data without user consent and even to selling data after users revoked consent.

In his letter, Wyden referred to this order as the FTC outlining "new rules," but that's not exactly what happened. Instead of issuing rules, FTC settlements often serve as "common law," signaling to marketplaces which practices violate laws like the FTC Act.

According to the FTC's analysis of the order on its site, X-Mode violated the FTC Act by "unfairly selling sensitive data, unfairly failing to honor consumers' privacy choices, unfairly collecting and using consumer location data, unfairly collecting and using consumer location data without consent verification, unfairly categorizing consumers based on sensitive characteristics for marketing purposes, deceptively failing to disclose use of location data, and providing the means and instrumentalities to engage in deceptive acts or practices."

The FTC declined to comment on whether the order also applies to data purchases by intelligence agencies. In defining "location data," the FTC order seems to carve out exceptions for any data collected outside the US and used for either "security purposes" or "national security purposes conducted by federal agencies or other federal entities."

NSA officials told Wyden that not only is the intelligence agency purchasing data on Americans located in the US but that it also bought Americans' Internet metadata.

[...] In response to Wyden's letter to Haines, the Under Secretary of Defense for Intelligence & Security, Ronald Moultrie, said that the Department of Defense (DoD) "adheres to high standards of privacy and civil liberties protections" when buying Americans' location data. He also said that he was "not aware of any requirement in US law or judicial opinion" forcing the DoD to "obtain a court order in order to acquire, access, or use" commercially available information that "is equally available for purchase to foreign adversaries, US companies, and private persons as it is to the US government."

In another response to Wyden, NSA leader General Paul Nakasone told Wyden that the "NSA takes steps to minimize the collection of US person information" and "continues to acquire only the most useful data relevant to mission requirements." That includes some commercially available information on Americans "where one side of the communications is a US Internet Protocol address and the other is located abroad," data which Nakasone said is "critical to protecting the US Defense Industrial Base" that sustains military weapons systems.


Original Submission

posted by janrinok on Tuesday January 30, @06:50PM   Printer-friendly
from the the-net-never-forgets-ha dept.

Web developer Trevor Morris has a short post on the attrition of web sites over the years.

I have run the Laravel Artisan command I built to get statistics on my outgoing links section. Exactly one year later it doesn't make good reading.

[...] The percentage of total broken links has increased from 32.8% last year to 35.7% this year. Links from over a decade ago have a fifty per cent chance of no longer working. Thankfully, only three out of over 550 have gone missing in the last few years of links, but only time will tell how long they'll stick around.

As pointed out in the early and mid 1990s, the inherent centralization of sites, later web sites, is the basis for this weakness. That is to say one single copy exists which resides under the control of the publisher / maintainer. When that one copy goes, it is gone.


Original Submission

posted by janrinok on Tuesday January 30, @02:02PM   Printer-friendly
from the phish-email-not-Phish-the-band dept.

From the Abstract:

Despite technical and non-technical countermeasures, humans continue to be tricked by phishing emails. How users make email response decisions is a missing piece in the puzzle to identifying why people still fall for phishing emails. We conducted an empirical study using a think-aloud method to investigate how people make 'response decisions' while reading emails. The grounded theory analysis of the in-depth qualitative data has enabled us to identify different elements of email users' decision-making that influence their email response decisions. Furthermore, we developed a theoretical model that explains how people could be driven to respond to emails based on the identified elements of users' email decision-making processes and the relationships uncovered from the data. The findings provide deeper insights into phishing email susceptibility due to people's email response decision-making behavior. We also discuss the implications of our findings for designers and researchers working in anti-phishing training, education, and awareness interventions.

The conclusion:

In this paper, we investigate in-depth how people make email response decisions while reading their emails. Analysis of the collected qualitative data enabled us to develop a theoretical model that describes how people can be driven to respond to emails by clicking on email links and replying to or downloading attachments based on people's email response decision-making elements and their relationships. Based on an improved understanding of how people make email responses, this study enables us to identify how people can be susceptible to manipulation, even in our controlled experiment environment. We proposed five concrete enhancements to state-of-the-art anti-phishing education, training, and awareness tools to support users in making safe email responses. Among others, we suggest that the goal of anti-phishing education, training, and awareness tools should shift from accurate email legitimacy judgments to secure email responses. Therefore, we believe our work lays the foundation for improving future anti- phishing interventions to make a significant difference in how we prevent phishing email attacks in the future.

Journal Reference: Why People Still Fall for Phishing Emails: An Empirical Investigation into How Users Make Email Response Decisions, Asangi Jayatilaka, Nalin Asanka Gamagedara Arachchilage, Muhammad Ali Babar - https://arxiv.org/pdf/2401.13199.pdf


Original Submission

posted by janrinok on Tuesday January 30, @09:15AM   Printer-friendly

https://phys.org/news/2024-01-gulls-swap-natural-urban-habitats.html

A recent study published in Ecological Informatics by a team of University of Alaska Fairbanks researchers has used artificial intelligence to further illuminate a habitat swap among short-billed gulls.

Typically gulls live along coastlines and near water sources such as rivers. They feed on bugs and other small mammals, fish or birds.

The team found that from May to August, short-billed gulls occupied areas that have typically been the haunts of scavenging ravens. Those include supermarket and fast-food restaurant parking lots and other human-made structures, such as industrial gravel pads and garbage dumpsters.

The study is the first of its kind to compile a three-year dataset using a citizen science-based, opportunistic research method to include a large sample of gulls and other sub-Arctic birds in urban Alaska. The study provides a current snapshot of the habitat shift to an urban landscape.

UAF professor Falk Huettmann, first author on the paper, and his team used artificial intelligence modeling that was given predictors—environmental variables for specific locations—to extrapolate information about the gull occurrences. A similar, earlier study analyzed the distribution of the great gray owl.

In this study, researchers used U.S. census data as well as urban municipality data, such as distances to roads, restaurants, waterways and waste transfer stations.

"Using socioeconomic datasets like the U.S. census is a real game-changer," said Moriz Steiner, a graduate student in Huettmann's lab. "It allows us to mirror the real-world environment and simulate a situation as true to nature as possible by including them as variables in the models."

The findings indicate that the gulls' transition from natural habitats to a more urban landscape is spurred by the availability of human food, as well as industrial changes.

"They are exploiting the waste opportunity left behind by humans," said Huettmann, who is associated with UAF's Institute of Arctic Biology.

More information: Falk Huettmann et al, Model-based prediction of a vacant summer niche in a subarctic urbanscape: A multi-year open access data analysis of a 'niche swap' by short-billed Gulls, Ecological Informatics (2023). DOI: 10.1016/j.ecoinf.2023.102364


Original Submission

posted by janrinok on Tuesday January 30, @04:32AM   Printer-friendly

Dungeons & Dragons turns 50 this year, and there's a lot planned for it

"We have just fromed [sic] Tactical Studies Rules, and we wish to let the wargaming community know that a new line of miniature rules is available."

With this letter, written by Gary Gygax to wargaming zine publisher Jim Lurvey, one of the founders of what would become TSR announced that a January 1974 release for Dungeons & Dragons was forthcoming. This, plus other evidence compiled by Jon Peterson (as pointed out by the Grognardia blog), points to the last Sunday of January 1974 as the best date for the "anniversary" of D&D. The first sale was in "late January 1974," Gygax later wrote, and on the last Sunday of January 1974, Gygax invited potential customers to drop by his house in the afternoon to try it out.

You could argue whether a final draft, printing, announcement, sale, or first session counts as the true "birth" of D&D, but we have to go with something, and Peterson's reasoning seems fairly sound. Gygax's memory, and a documented session at his own house, are a good point to pin down for when we celebrate this thing that has shaped a seemingly infinite number of other things.

As with playing a good campaign, you've got a lot of options for how you acknowledge D&D's long presence and deep influence. The game system itself, now under Wizards of the Coast, will this year push "One D&D," a name the D&D leaders sometimes stick with and sometimes don't. Whatever the next wave is called, it includes new handbooks, guides, and Monster Manual books that are not exactly a new "edition," but also an evolution. Books like Xanathar's Guide to Everything and Tasha's Cauldron of Everything will be codified and unified by a new sourcebook at some point, but all of it will be compatible with 5th Edition material.

Also, at some point this year, stamps celebrating D&D's 50th will be available from the US Postal Service, at least if you rush. Ten different designs, leaning heavily on the dragons, were commissioned based on existing illustrations. There's a documentary from Joe Manganiello (still in pre-production, seemingly). And there's a 500-plus-page non-fiction book, The Making of Original Dungeons & Dragons: 1970-1976, with research help from the aforementioned Peterson, containing never-before-seen correspondence between co-creators Gygax and Dave Arneson.

[...] Take a moment on this occasion to look back through some notable D&Dcoverage at Ars:


Original Submission

posted by janrinok on Monday January 29, @11:45PM   Printer-friendly

https://phys.org/news/2024-01-physicists-phenomenon-aging-materials.html

Physicists in Darmstadt are investigating aging processes in materials. For the first time, they have measured the ticking of an internal clock in glass. When evaluating the data, they discovered a surprising phenomenon.

We experience time as having only one direction. Who has ever seen a cup smash on the floor, only to then spontaneously reassemble itself? To physicists, this is not immediately self-evident because the formulae that describe movements apply irrespective of the direction of time.

A video of a pendulum swinging unimpeded, for instance, would look just the same if it ran backwards. The everyday irreversibility we experience only comes into play through a further law of nature, the second law of thermodynamics. This states that the disorder in a system grows constantly. If the smashed cup were to reassemble itself, however, the disorder would decrease.

You might think that the aging of materials is just as irreversible as the shattering of a glass. However, when researching the movements of molecules in glass or plastic, physicists from Darmstadt have now discovered that these movements are time-reversible if they are viewed from a certain perspective.

The team led by Till Böhmer at the Institute for Condensed Matter Physics at the Technical University of Darmstadt has published its results in Nature Physics.

Glasses or plastics consist of a tangle of molecules. The particles are in constant motion, causing them to slip into new positions again and again. They are permanently seeking a more favorable energetic state, which changes the material properties over time—the glass ages.

In useful materials such as window glass, however, this can take billions of years. The aging process can be described by what is known as the "material time." Imagine it like this: the material has an internal clock that ticks differently to the clock on the lab wall. The material time ticks at a different speed depending on how quickly the molecules within the material reorganize.

Since the concept was discovered some 50 years ago, though, no one has succeeded in measuring material time. Now, the researchers in Darmstadt led by Prof. Thomas Blochowicz have done it for the first time.

"It was a huge experimental challenge," says Böhmer. The minuscule fluctuations in the molecules had to be documented using an ultra-sensitive video camera. "You can't just watch the molecules jiggle around," adds Blochowicz.

Yet the researchers did notice something. They directed a laser at the sample made of glass. The molecules within it scatter the light. The scattered beams overlap and form a chaotic pattern of light and dark spots on the camera's sensor. Statistical methods can be used to calculate how the fluctuations vary over time—in other words, how fast the material's internal clock ticks. "This requires extremely precise measurements which were only possible using state-of-the-art video cameras," says Blochowicz.

But it was worth it. The statistical analysis of the molecular fluctuations, which researchers from Roskilde University in Denmark helped with, revealed some surprising results. In terms of material time, the fluctuations of the molecules are time-reversible. This means that they do not change if the material time is allowed to tick backwards, similar to the video of the pendulum, which looks the same when played forwards and backwards.

More information: Böhmer, T. et al, Time reversibility during the ageing of materials. Nature Physics (2024). DOI: 10.1038/s41567-023-02366-z


Original Submission

posted by hubie on Monday January 29, @06:59PM   Printer-friendly
from the flushed-with-success dept.

Developer Hugo Landau has hacked a train's restroom door, based on the model found in the UK's Class 800 train:

Of course, there is a reason for the separation of the closing and locking functions, but not the opening and unlocking functions: it avoids a Denial of Service attack where someone can just press "close" and then jump out before the door closes. If the interior "close" button automatically locked the door, this would result in the toilet becoming permanently inaccessible.

The problem with this design is that most people don't understand state machines, and this design confused a lot of people who were unable to lock the door correctly, or believed they'd locked the door when they hadn't.

The result is a denial of service, being able to lock the door from the inside while no one is actually inside to subsequently unlock the door again.


Original Submission

posted by hubie on Monday January 29, @02:11PM   Printer-friendly

https://phys.org/news/2024-01-bacteria-plastic-multipurpose-spider-silk.html

Move over Spider-Man: Researchers at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute have developed a strain of bacteria that can turn plastic waste into a biodegradable spider silk with multiple uses.

Their new study, published in Microbial Cell Factories, marks the first time scientists have used bacteria to transform polyethylene plastic—the kind used in many single-use items—into a high-value protein product.

That product, which the researchers call "bio-inspired spider silk" because of its similarity to the silk spiders use to spin their webs, has applications in textiles, cosmetics, and even medicine.

"Spider silk is nature's Kevlar," said Helen Zha, Ph.D., an assistant professor of chemical and biological engineering and one of the RPI researchers leading the project. "It can be nearly as strong as steel under tension. However, it's six times less dense than steel, so it's very lightweight. As a bioplastic, it's stretchy, tough, nontoxic, and biodegradable."

All those attributes make it a great material for a future where renewable resources and avoidance of persistent plastic pollution are the norm, Zha said.

Polyethylene plastic, found in products such as plastic bags, water bottles, and food packaging, is the biggest contributor to plastic pollution globally and can take upward of 1,000 years to degrade naturally. Only a small portion of polyethylene plastic is recycled, so the bacteria used in the study could help "upcycle" some of the remaining waste.

Pseudomonas aeruginosa, the bacteria used in the study, can naturally consume polyethylene as a food source. The RPI team tackled the challenge of engineering this bacteria to convert the carbon atoms of polyethylene into a genetically encoded silk protein. Surprisingly, they found that their newly developed bacteria could make the silk protein at a yield rivaling some bacteria strains that are more conventionally used in biomanufacturing.

[...] "What's really exciting about this process is that unlike the way plastics are produced today, our process is low-energy and doesn't require the use of toxic chemicals," Zha said. "The best chemists in the world could not convert polyethylene into spider silk, but these bacteria can. We're really harnessing what nature has developed to do manufacturing for us."

Journal Reference:
Alexander Connor et al, Two-step conversion of polyethylene into recombinant proteins using a microbial platform, Microbial Cell Factories (2023). DOI: 10.1186/s12934-023-02220-0


Original Submission

posted by hubie on Monday January 29, @09:26AM   Printer-friendly
from the even-better-add-7000mg-of-coffee dept.

The British claim to know a thing or two when it comes to making a good cup of tea:

The beverage is a cultural institution in the UK, where an estimated 100 million cups are drunk every day.

But now a scientist based more than 3,000 miles away in the US claims to have found the secret to a perfect cuppa that many Brits would initially find absolutely absurd - adding salt.

Prof Michelle Francl's research has caused quite the stir in the UK, and has even drawn a diplomatic intervention from the US Embassy.

"We want to ensure the good people of the UK that the unthinkable notion of adding salt to Britain's national drink is not official United States policy. And never will be," the embassy said on X, formerly known as Twitter.

[...] It turns out that it is not a new idea - the ingredient is even mentioned in eighth century Chinese manuscripts, which Prof Francl analysed to perfect her recipe.

"What is new is our understanding of it as chemists," Prof Francl said.

She explains that salt acts as a blocker to the receptor which makes tea taste bitter, especially when it has been stewed.

By adding a pinch of table salt - an undetectable amount - you will counteract the bitterness of the drink.

"It is not like adding sugar. I think people are afraid they will be able to taste the salt."

She urges tea-loving Brits to have an open mind before pre-judging her research, which she has documented in her new book Steeped: The Chemistry of Tea, published by the Royal Society of Chemistry.

"It is okay to experiment," she says. "I did experiments in my kitchen for this - channel your inner scientist."

If you want a deeper dive into the chemistry and nuances of a cup of tea, there is this older article from Chemistry World:

The chemistry in your cuppa:

'Now I'm going to teach you how to slurp,' says Kathryn Sinclair, senior brand ambassador at British tea firm Twinings. 'We taste from the olfactory glands and we need to open these up, so breathe in through the mouth, breathe out through the mouth and slurp.' She noisily sucks up the pale-coloured liquid using a soup spoon. I try the same, experiencing a slightly sweet and fresh floral taste. This is tea number one – white tea – in the Twinings tea master class held at the company's 300-year old shop on the Strand in London. Sinclair notes that white tea is a young leaf that is rich in antioxidants and which has the highest caffeine content out of all the tea types because it is the least processed. 'White tea is the purest form of tea,' she explains.

[...] Ultimately, however, the differences in tea types come down to chemistry, and this chemistry is influenced by cultivation, environment, weather and, importantly, processing. 'From the chemistry perspective, tea is the ultimate mystery and challenge to food and analytical chemists,' says Nikolai Kuhnert, a chemist at Jacobs University in Bremen, Germany. 'No food material is more fascinating and chemically diverse and complex.'

[...] However, more research is required into the specific health properties of tea and its chemicals. There are concerns around the health impact of caffeine and, as yet, the US Food and Drug Administration has been slow to recognise the benefits of tea, Melican says. 'Personally, I drink nearly a quart of tea a day. I am 75 years old, healthy, active and still work a 50-hour week – so there may be something in it.'

Drinking tea has been popular for millennia. Slowly the science is starting to reveal the complex chemical nature of our favourite brew. 'In the Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, the Nutri Matic drink dispenser is unable to provide Arthur Dent with a good cup of tea. Now the science can explain why,' says Kuhnert: 'It's just too complicated.'

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