United States

Drone Killed Hostages From U.S. and Italy, Drawing Obama Apology 331

Posted by timothy
from the tragic-events dept.
HughPickens.com writes: The NYT reports that President Obama has offered an emotional apology for the accidental killing of two hostages held by Al Qaeda, one of them American, in a United States government counterterrorism operation in January, saying he takes "full responsibility" for their deaths. "As president and as commander in chief, I take full responsibility for all our counterterrorism operations," including the one that inadvertently took the lives of the two captives, a grim-faced Obama said in a statement to reporters in the White House briefing room. The White House earlier released an extraordinary statement revealing that intelligence officials had confirmed that Warren Weinstein, an American held by Al Qaeda since 2011, and Giovanni Lo Porto, an Italian held since 2012, died during the operation. Gunmen abducted Warren Weinstein in 2011 from his home in Lahore, Pakistan. They posed as neighbors, offered food and then pistol-whipped the American aid worker and tied up his guards, according to his daughter Alisa Weinstein.

The White House did not explain why it has taken three months to disclose the episode. Obama said that the operation was conducted after hundreds of hours of surveillance had convinced American officials that they were targeting an Al Qaeda compound where no civilians were present, and that "capturing these terrorists was not possible." The White House said the operation that killed the two hostages "was lawful and conducted consistent with our counterterrorism policies" but nonetheless the government is conducting a "thorough independent review" to determine what happened and how such casualties could be avoided in the future.
Earth

Pull-Top Can Tabs, At 50, Reach Historic Archaeological Status 120

Posted by timothy
from the remember-making-giant-chains-of-these dept.
New submitter kuhnto writes A simple relic of 20th century life has taken on new meaning for archaeologists: The ring-tab beer can — first introduced 50 years ago — is now considered an historic-era artifact, a designation that bestows new significance on the old aluminum cans and their distinctive tabs that are still found across the country.
Medicine

Columbia University Doctors Ask For Dr. Mehmet Oz's Dismissal 320

Posted by timothy
from the that's-just-like-your-opinion-man dept.
circletimessquare writes Dr. Mehmet Oz serves as vice chairman of Columbia University Medical Center's department of surgery. He is a respected cardiothoracic surgeon but his television show has been accused of pushing snake oil. Now other doctors at Columbia University want Dr. Oz kicked off the medical school faculty. Dr. Oz has responded on his Facebook account: "I bring the public information that will help them on their path to be their best selves. We provide multiple points of view, including mine which is offered without conflict of interest. That doesn't sit well with certain agendas which distort the facts. For example, I do not claim that GMO foods are dangerous, but believe that they should be labeled like they are in most countries around the world." In their letter, the doctors accuse Dr. Oz of quackery: "Dr. Oz has repeatedly shown disdain for science and for evidence-based medicine, as well as baseless and relentless opposition to the genetic engineering of food crops. Worst of all, he has manifested an egregious lack of integrity by promoting quack treatments and cures in the interest of personal financial gain."
Robotics

Drought and Desertification: How Robots Might Help 124

Posted by timothy
from the droids-you're-looking-for dept.
Hallie Siegel writes Groundwater levels in California's Central Valley are down to historic lows and reservoirs have been depleted following four consecutive years of severe drought in the state. California is set to introduce water rationing in the coming weeks, and though the new rationing rules will focus on urban areas and not farms for the time being, they serve as a warning bell to farmers who will inevitably need to adapt to the effects of climate change on food production. John Payne argues that long term solutions are needed to help make agriculture drought resistant and looks at some of the ways that robotics might help.
Hardware

Fifty Years of Moore's Law 101

Posted by Soulskill
from the not-over-the-hill-but-the-hill-keeps-getting-steeper dept.
HughPickens.com writes: IEEE is running a special report on "50 Years of Moore's Law" that considers "the gift that keeps on giving" from different points of view. Chris Mack begins by arguing that nothing about Moore's Law was inevitable. "Instead, it's a testament to hard work, human ingenuity, and the incentives of a free market. Moore's prediction may have started out as a fairly simple observation of a young industry. But over time it became an expectation and self-fulfilling prophecy—an ongoing act of creation by engineers and companies that saw the benefits of Moore's Law and did their best to keep it going, or else risk falling behind the competition."

Andrew "bunnie" Huang argues that Moore's Law is slowing and will someday stop, but the death of Moore's Law will spur innovation. "Someday in the foreseeable future, you will not be able to buy a better computer next year," writes Huang. "Under such a regime, you'll probably want to purchase things that are more nicely made to begin with. The idea of an "heirloom laptop" may sound preposterous today, but someday we may perceive our computers as cherished and useful looms to hand down to our children, much as some people today regard wristwatches or antique furniture."

Vaclav Smil writes about "Moore's Curse" and argues that there is a dark side to the revolution in electronics for it has had the unintended effect of raising expectations for technical progress. "We are assured that rapid progress will soon bring self-driving electric cars, hypersonic airplanes, individually tailored cancer cures, and instant three-dimensional printing of hearts and kidneys. We are even told it will pave the world's transition from fossil fuels to renewable energies," writes Smil. "But the doubling time for transistor density is no guide to technical progress generally. Modern life depends on many processes that improve rather slowly, not least the production of food and energy and the transportation of people and goods."

Finally, Cyrus Mody tackles the question: what kind of thing is Moore's Law? "Moore's Law is a human construct. As with legislation, though, most of us have little and only indirect say in its construction," writes Mody. "Everyone, both the producers and consumers of microelectronics, takes steps needed to maintain Moore's Law, yet everyone's experience is that they are subject to it."
Earth

California Looks To the Sea For a Drink of Water 332

Posted by samzenpus
from the taking-the-salt-out dept.
HughPickens.com writes Justin Gillis writes in the NYT that as drought strikes California, residents can't help noticing the substantial reservoir of untapped water lapping at their shores — 187 quintillion gallons of it, more or less, shimmering invitingly in the sun. Once dismissed as too expensive and harmful to the environment desalination is getting a second look. A $1 billion desalination plant to supply booming San Diego County is under construction and due to open as early as November, providing a major test of whether California cities will be able to resort to the ocean to solve their water woes. "It was not an easy decision to build this plant," says Mark Weston, chairman of the agency that supplies water to towns in San Diego County. "But it is turning out to be a spectacular choice. What we thought was on the expensive side 10 years ago is now affordable."

Carlsbad's product will sell for around $2,000 per acre-foot (the amount used by two five-person U.S. households per year), which is 80 percent more than the county pays for treated water from outside the area. Water bills already average about $75 a month and the new plant will drive them up by $5 or so to secure a new supply equal to about 7 or 8 percent of the county's water consumption. Critics say the plant will use a huge amount of electricity, increasing the carbon dioxide emissions that cause global warming, which further strains water supplies. And local environmental groups, which fought the plant, fear a substantial impact on sea life. "There is just a lot more that can be done on both the conservation side and the water-recycling side before you get to [desalination]," says Rick Wilson, coastal management coordinator with the environmental group Surfrider Foundation. "We feel, in a lot of cases, that we haven't really explored all of those options."
Science

'Smart Sewer' Project Will Reveal a City's Microbiome 37

Posted by Soulskill
from the becomes-self-aware,-realizes-it's-a-toilet,-initiates-rebellion dept.
the_newsbeagle writes: Public health officials want to turn streams of sewage into streams of data. A new project in Cambridge, Mass. will equip sewer tunnels with robotic samplers that can routinely collect sewage from 10 different locations. MIT scientists will then analyze the sewage content for early signs of a viral outbreak or a food-borne bacterial illness, and may be able to draw conclusions about specific health trends throughout the city. This Cambridge effort is a proof of concept; the MIT researchers plan to deploy a larger system in Kuwait, where officials are particularly interested in studying obesity and the effectiveness of public health interventions.
Earth

The Last Time Oceans Got This Acidic This Fast, 96% of Marine Life Went Extinct 417

Posted by Soulskill
from the it's-not-easy-being-green dept.
merbs writes: The biggest extinction event in planetary history was driven by the rapid acidification of our oceans, a new study concludes (abstract). So much carbon was released into the atmosphere, and the oceans absorbed so much of it so quickly, that marine life simply died off, from the bottom of the food chain up. That doesn't bode well for the present, given the similarly disturbing rate that our seas are acidifying right now. A team led by University of Edinburgh researchers collected rocks in the United Arab Emirates that were on the seafloor hundreds of millions of years ago, and used the boron isotopes found within to model the changing levels of acidification in our prehistoric oceans. They now believe that a series of gigantic volcanic eruptions in the Siberian Trap spewed a great fountain of carbon into the atmosphere over a period of tens of thousands of years. This was the first phase of the extinction event, in which terrestrial life began to die out.
Technology

Powdered Alcohol Banned In Six States 421

Posted by timothy
from the only-had-one-packet-officer dept.
HughPickens.com writes Rachel Abrams reports at the NYT that six states have passed legislation to ban Palcohol, a freeze-dried, powdered alcohol developed by Mark Phillips who he says was inspired by a love of hiking but a distaste for carrying bottles of adult beverages uphill. "When I hike, kayak, backpack or whatever, I like to have a drink when I reach my destination. And carrying liquid alcohol and mixers to make a margarita for instance was totally impractical," says Phillips, who hopes to have Palcohol on store shelves by the summer. One packet of Palcohol equals one shot with each packet weighing 1 ounce and turning into liquid when mixed with 6 ounces of water. Phillips has vigorously defended his product, called Palcohol, saying it is no more dangerous than the liquid version sold in liquor stores and plans to release five flavors: vodka, rum, cosmopolitan, powderita (which is like a margarita) and lemon drop.

Critics are concerned people may try to snort the powder or mix it with alcohol to make it even stronger or spike a drink. "It's very easy to put a couple packets into a glass and have super-concentrated alcohol," says Frank Lovecchio. Amy George, a spokeswoman for Mothers Against Drunk Driving, said MADD did not typically take a stand on the dangers of specific alcohol products, but MADD is concerned about the colorful or playful packaging of such products that can sometimes appeal to children. Phillips dismisses concerns saying that they don't make sense if you think it through. "People unfortunately use alcohol irresponsibly. But I don't see any movement to ban liquid alcohol. You don't ban something because a few irresponsible people use it improperly," says Phillips. "They can snort black pepper. Do you ban black pepper?"
Technology

Commercial Flamethrower Successfully Crowdfunded 181

Posted by Soulskill
from the for-clearing-that-stubborn-ice-off-your-roof-and-that-stubborn-roof-off-your-house dept.
ColdWetDog writes: You've always wanted one, of course. Zombies, the occasional alien infestation. The neighbor's smelly roses. You just need to be prepared for things. You can get freeze dried food, AR15's, enough ammo to start a small police action (at least here in the U.S. -- YMMV), but it has been difficult to get a modern, portable flamethrower until now. CNET has a brief explanation on the XM42, which doubled its Indiegogo funding target in just a few days.
Transportation

Modern Cockpits: Harder To Invade But Easier To Lock Up 385

Posted by Soulskill
from the difficulty-with-edge-cases dept.
HughPickens.com writes: Jad Mouawad And Christopher Drew write in the NY Times that although airplane cockpits are supposed to be the last line of defense from outside aggressors, airlines have fewer options if the threat comes from within. One of the major safety protocols that actually made planes safer in the past 15 years was that the cockpits were turned into fortresses. Unfortunately, that exact advantage was exploited by the co-pilot of the Germanwings plane on Tuesday to crash it intentionally. "It is shocking to me that there was not a second person present in the cockpit," says Mark Rosenker, a former chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board. Access to the cockpit is strictly regulated in the United States. Passengers are not allowed to congregate near the cockpit door, and whenever the door is open, no one is allowed in the forward bathroom and flight attendants usually block aisle access, sometimes using a food cart. The Federal Aviation Administration mandates that a flight attendant must sit in the cockpit when either pilot steps into the passenger area; European regulations do not have a similar two-person rule, but they're now talking about creating one.

The Germanwings accident also points to potential shortcomings in how pilots are screened for mental problems, a recurring concern for an industry that demands focus and discipline in an increasingly technical job, often in stressful situations. In 2012, a well-regarded pilot with JetBlue, one of the airline's earliest employees, was physically restrained by passengers on a flight from New York to Las Vegas after displaying erratic behavior. In that case, the co-pilot locked the pilot out of the cabin and made an emergency landing in Amarillo, Tex. "Aircraft-assisted pilot suicides," as the Federal Aviation Administration calls them, are rare. They include the November 2013 crash of a Mozambique Airlines plane bound for Luanda, Angola, which bears an eerie resemblance to the Germanwings plane's demise. When the flight's co-pilot left to use the lavatory, the captain locked him out of the cockpit and manually steered the aircraft earthward. The crash of Egypt Airlines Flight 990 off Nantucket, Mass., in 1999, which killed all 217 people on board, was also caused by deliberate action, a National Transportation Safety Board investigation concluded. Experts on suicide say that the psychology of those who combine suicide with mass murder may differ in significant ways from those who limit themselves to taking their own lives.
Education

NJ School District Hit With Ransomware-For-Bitcoins Scheme 167

Posted by timothy
from the so-is-there-a-downside? dept.
An anonymous reader sends news that unidentified hackers are demanding 500 bitcoins, currently worth about $128,000, from administrators of a New Jersey school district. Four elementary schools in Swedesboro-Woolwich School District, which enroll more than 1,700 students, are now locked out of certain tasks: "Without working computers, teachers cannot take attendance, access phone numbers or records, and students cannot purchase food in cafeterias. Also, [district superintendent Dr. Terry C. Van Zoeren] explained, parents cannot receive emails with students grades and other information." According to this blog post from security company BatBlue, the district has been forced to postpone the Common Core-mandated PARCC state exams, too. Small comfort: "Fortunately the Superintendent told CBS 3’s Walt Hunter the hackers, using a program called Ransomware, did not access any personal information about students, families or teachers." Perhaps the administrators can take heart: Ransomware makers are, apparently, starting to focus more on product support; payment plans are probably on the way.
Medicine

Hacking Weight Loss: What I Learned Losing 30 Pounds 496

Posted by timothy
from the can't-be-more-than-a-hundred-and-ninety-seven dept.
reifman writes The CDC reports that 69% of adult Americans are overweight or obese. Techies like us are at increased risk because of our sedentary lifestyles. Perhaps you even scoffed at Neilsen's recent finding that some Americans spend only 11 hours daily of screen time. Over the last nine months, I've lost 30 pounds and learned a lot about hacking weight loss and I did it without fad diets, step trackers, running or going paleo. No such discussion is complete without a link to the Hacker Diet.
Earth

How 'Virtual Water' Can Help Ease California's Drought 417

Posted by timothy
from the it's-as-if-prices-conveyed-information dept.
HughPickens.com writes Bill Davidow And Michael S. Malone write in the WSJ that recent rains have barely made a dent in California's enduring drought, now in its fourth year. Thus, it's time to solve the state's water problem with radical solutions, and they can begin with "virtual water." This concept describes water that is used to produce food or other commodities, such as cotton. According to Davidow and Malone, when those commodities are shipped out of state, virtual water is exported. Today California exports about six trillion gallons of virtual water, or about 500 gallons per resident a day. How can this happen amid drought? The problem is mispricing. If water were priced properly, it is a safe bet that farmers would waste far less of it, and the effects of California's drought—its worst in recorded history—would not be so severe. "A free market would raise the price of water, reflecting its scarcity, and lead to a reduction in the export of virtual water," say Davidow and Malone. "A long history of local politics, complicated regulation and seemingly arbitrary controls on distribution have led to gross inefficiency."

For example, producing almonds is highly profitable when water is cheap but almond trees are thirsty, and almond production uses about 10% of California's total water supply. The thing is, nuts use a whole lot of water: it takes about a gallon of water to grow one almond, and nearly five gallons to produce a walnut. "Suppose an almond farmer could sell real water to any buyer, regardless of county boundaries, at market prices—many hundreds of dollars per acre-foot—if he agreed to cut his usage in half, say, by drawing only two acre-feet, instead of four, from his wells," say the authors. "He might have to curtail all or part of his almond orchard and grow more water-efficient crops. But he also might make enough money selling his water to make that decision worthwhile." Using a similar strategy across its agricultural industry, California might be able to reverse the economic logic that has driven farmers to plant more water-intensive crops. "This would take creative thinking, something California is known for, and trust in the power of free markets," conclude the authors adding that "almost anything would be better, and fairer, than the current contradictory and self-defeating regulations."
Earth

Greenpeace Co-Founder Declares Himself a Climate Change Skeptic 573

Posted by timothy
from the but-that's-unpossible dept.
New submitter PensacolaSlick writes that [Patrick Moore a], co-founder of Greenpeace, and seven-year director of Greenpeace International, with other very pro-environmental credentials, has come out with a brief rationale for why he is "skeptical that humans are the main cause of climate change and that it will be catastrophic in the near future." He argues instead that in a historical context, human activity has saved the planet, declaring that "at 400 parts per million, all our food crops, forests, and natural ecosystems are still on a starvation diet for carbon dioxide." (Consider the source, which according to the New York Times is "the primary American organization pushing climate change skepticism.") Moore breaks with what might be expected of a Greenpeace founder as well in that he is currently chair of Allow Golden Rice.
Science

Ask Slashdot: Why Does Science Appear To Be Getting Things Increasingly Wrong? 320

Posted by Soulskill
from the tougher-questions-tougher-answers dept.
azaris writes: Recent revelations of heavily policy-driven or even falsified science have raised concern in the general public, but especially in the scientific community itself. It's not purely a question of political or commercial interference either (as is often claimed when it comes to e.g. climate research) — scientists themselves are increasingly incentivized to game the system for improved career prospects, more funding, or simply because they perceive everyone else to do it, too. Even discounting outright fraud or manipulation of data, the widespread use of methodologies known to be invalid plagues many fields and is leading to an increasing inability to reproduce recent findings (the so-called crisis of reproducibility) that puts the very basis of our reliance on scientific research results at risk. Of course, one could claim that science is by nature self-correcting, but the problem appears to be getting worse before it gets better.

Is it time for more scientists to speak out openly about raising the level of transparency and honesty in their field?
United States

Powdered Alcohol Approved By Feds, Banned By States 190

Posted by timothy
from the nanny-states-plural dept.
StikyPad writes Powdered alcohol was approved for sale by the U.S. Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau, but that hasn't stopped several states from introducing their own legislation to ban the substance, including Alaska, Louisiana, South Carolina, Vermont, New York, Virginia, Ohio, and Iowa. The utility of powdered alcohol is said to be in weight reduction, particularly for transport on foot when hiking and camping, but lawmakers cite fears about the potential of abuse by minors and spiked drinks.
Earth

California's Hot, Dry Winters Tied To Climate Change 279

Posted by samzenpus
from the it's-getting-hot-in-here dept.
mdsolar sends word that hot dry winters may be the norm in the future for California. "Climate change is one of the most prominent public health issues currently on the CDC's radar. The organization's Climate and Health Program attempts to help state and city health departments to prepare for the health impacts of climate change, which can come in the form of things like temperature extremes, air pollution, allergens, and changes in disease patterns; they can also be felt indirectly through issues like food security. Since 2012, California has been in the midst of a record-setting drought, with extremely warm and dry conditions characterizing the last three years in that state. A new paper published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences concludes that warming caused by humans is responsible for the conditions that have led to this California drought. This study, published by scientists affiliated with the Department of Environmental Earth System Science and the Woods Institute for Environment at Stanford University, used historical statewide data for observed temperature, precipitation, and drought in California. The investigators used the Palmer Hydrological Drought Index (PHDI) and the Palmer Drought Severity Index (PDSI), collected by the National Climatic Data Center, as measures of the severity of wet/dry anomalies. They also used global climate model simulations from the Coupled Model Intercomparison Project (CMIP) to compare historical predictions for anthropogenic and non-anthropogenic historical climates."
Earth

Doomsday Vault: First Tree Samples Arrive At Underground Seed Store 55

Posted by samzenpus
from the last-hope dept.
An anonymous reader writes "The Svalbard Global Seed Vault, built into an Arctic mountain, received its first delivery of tree seeds. Opened in 2008, the vault is designed to withstand all natural and human disasters. From the article: "The 'doomsday' vault built into an Arctic mountain, which stores seeds for food crops in case of a natural disaster, has received its first delivery of tree samples. Norway spruce and Scots pine seeds have arrived at the frozen vault, which is located on Svalbard, an archipelago owned by and north of Norway. The organizations behind the vault hope to bring more seeds from outside of the Nordic countries. The Svalbard Global Seed Vault will now look after the samples and use them to monitor how natural forests change. They will also keep them as back-ups, in case any of the species are lost, and to see how the forests change during breeding."
Printer

3D Printers Making Inroads In Kitchens 91

Posted by Soulskill
from the license-to-print-honey dept.
mpicpp sends an article from Fortune about the tiny industry springing up around food-related 3D printing. While such devices are still too expensive and too special-purpose for home kitchens, professionals in restaurants and large cafeterias are figuring out ways they can automate certain time-intensive tasks. For example, pasta: "If the user is making a recipe for ravioli, for instance, the [device] prints the bottom layer of dough, the filling and the top dough layer in subsequent steps. It reduces a lengthy recipe to two minutes construction time and ensures that no one has to clean a countertop caked with leftover dough and flour." The companies developing these 3D printers hope they'll be this generation's version of the microwave, gradually finding a use in almost every kitchen.