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Submission + - Blue Origin "New Shepherd" makes it to space... and back again

Geoffrey.landis writes: Blue Origin's "New Shepherd" suborbital vehicle made its first flight into space (defined as 100 km altitude)... and successfully landed both the capsule (by parachute) and the booster rocket (vertical landing under rocket power). This is the first time that a vehicle has made it into space and had all components fully recovered for reuse since the NASA flights of the X-15 in the 1960s.
Check out the videos at various places on the web

Submission + - Virginia ditches "America's worst voting machines" (

Geoffrey.landis writes: Computerized voting machines are bad news in general, but the WINVote machines used in Virginia might just have earned their reputation as the most insecure voting machine in America, featuring wifi that can't be turned off (protected, however, with a WEP password of "abcde"), an unencrypted database, and administrative access with a hardcoded password of "admin." According to security research Jeremy Epstein, if the machines weren't hacked in past elections, "it was because nobody tried." But with no paper trail-- we'll never know. Well, after ignoring the well-documented problems for over a decade, Virginia finally decided to decommission the machines... after the governor had problems with the machines last election and demanded an investigation.

"In total, the vulnerabilities investigators found were so severe and so trivial to exploit, Epstein noted that “anyone with even a modicum of training could have succeeded” in hacking them. An attacker wouldn’t have needed to be inside a polling place either to subvert an election... someone 'within a half mile with a rudimentary antenna built using a Pringles can could also have attacked them."

Submission + - You can't audit voting machines in Kansas

Geoffrey.landis writes: A statistician discovered evidence of suspicious counting on voting machines in Kansas. The voting machines keep a paper trail for verification... but her request to examine the record of votes is being blocked with the explanation that no one, not even the election officials, is allowed to see it.

According to the Washington Post "The voting machines that Sedgwick County uses have a paper record of the votes, known as Real Time Voting Machine Paper Tapes... . Since the software is proprietary, even elections officials can’t examine it and postelection audits can’t be done, according to Pamela Smith, president of Verified Voting Foundation".

Even the Kansas papers editorialize that this is going too far. More evidence that the software used in voting machines should never be proprietary.

Submission + - Mini Ice Age: nothing to worry about

Geoffrey.landis writes: Last week a news story suggested that a new model of sunspot activity predicted a dramatic drop in solar activity coming up, possibly resulting in coming a mini-ice age. Take that prediction with a bit of skepticism, though-- later news analysis suggests that the story may be more media hype than science. Valentina Zharkova, the scientist whose research is being quoted, made no mention of a "mini Ice age"-- her work was only on modelling the solar dynamo. And, in any case, the solar minimum predicted was estimated to last only three solar cycles-- far less than the 17th century Maunder Minimum.

Phil Plait, known for his "bad astronomy" column, does a more detailed analysis of the claims, pointing out that the effect, if it even exists at all, is weak-- and the much discussed "Little Ice Age" is currently believed to most likely have been triggered by volcanic action, not sunspots. And, in any case, any predicted cooling is small compared to already-present global warming. So, probably no need to stock up on firewood, dried food, and ammunition quite yet-- the mini ice age isn't likely to be coming quite yet.

Submission + - Five Craziest Space Missions (

An anonymous reader writes: We’ve landed on a comet – so where next? The BBC Future lists its choice of the five craziest space missions currently being proposed. They may sound wild, but all of these are missions that have been seriously discussed as possible future missions: Floating astronauts in the clouds of Venus, sailing on the methane seas of Titan, melting a torpedo probe through the ice of Europa, catching an asteroid in a net and bringing it to lunar orbit, and a 100-year starship mission to the Alpha Centauri and beyond.

Submission + - Linking drought and climate change: difficult to do (

Geoffrey.landis writes: An article about the current California drought on 538 points out that even though global climate warming may exacerbate droughts, it's nearly impossible to attribute any particular drought to climate warming: The complex, dynamic nature of our atmosphere and oceans makes it extremely difficult to link any particular weather event to climate change. That’s because of the intermingling of natural variations with human-caused ones. They also cite a Nature editorial pointing out the same thing about extreme weather:

Submission + - Adrift (

Geoffrey.landis writes: After the space shuttle retired in 2011, Russia has hiked the price of a trip to the International Space Station, to $71 million per seat. Less well recognized is the disparity in station crews. Before the shuttle stopped flying, an equal number of American and Russian crew members lived on board. But afterwards the bear began squeezing. For every two NASA astronauts that have flown to the station, three Russians have gone.

Eric Burger asks, how did it come to this?

Submission + - Police Departments Using Car Tracking Database Sworn to Secrecy (

An anonymous reader writes: Vigilant Solutions, maintains what they claim is the nation’s largest database of license-plate tracking data, "LEARN" (Law Enforcement Archival and Reporting Network). But when a law enforcement agency signs up to use the database, they are sworn to keep it secret. The reason? They are quite clear about that: "to prohibit users from cooperating with any media outlet to bring attention to LEARN or LEARN-NVLS."

So, they're tracking you (they're tracking everybody)... but they don't want you to know.

The agreement, uncovered by the Electronic Frontier Foundation, states: You shall not create, publish, distribute, or permit any written, electronically transmitted or other form of publicity material that makes reference to LEARN or this Agreement without first submitting the material to LEARN-NVLS and receiving written consent from LEARN-NVLS. This prohibition is specifically intended to prohibit users from cooperating with any media outlet to bring attention to LEARN or LEARN-NVLS. Breach this provision may result in LEARN-NVLS immediately termination of this Agreement upon notice to you."

...Immediately after WIRED published the story, though, the agreement mysteriously changed. The secrecy provision is still there, but the statement that it's "specifically intended" to prevent the media attention has vanished.

Submission + - A Playlist for Comet Ison (

Geoffrey.landis writes: As comet ISON made its perilous perihelion pass, I decided that ISON needed a theme song, but as the nature of its journey became evident, shattering in the sunlight, I realized that ISON needs an entire playlist. So, for your entertainment, here's my comet ISON playlist. Comments?

Submission + - Why the Arabic World Turned Away From Science (

Geoffrey.landis writes: "The historical period that we call the dark ages, from perhaps 600 to 1200 AD, was the golden age of Islamic science, when great advances in science and technology were taking place in the middle east. But somehow, as the west experienced its renaissance, the blossoming of the age of science, and the founding of the modern technological world, the Arabic world instead turned away from science. Muslim countries have nine scientists, engineers, and technicians per thousand people, compared with a world average of forty-one, and of roughly 1.6 billion Muslims in the world, only two scientists from Muslim countries have won Nobel Prizes in science. Why? In an article "Why the Arabic World Turned Away from Science" in The New Atlantis, Hillel Ofek examines both the reasons why Islamic science flourished, and why it failed. Are we turning the same way, with a rising tide of religious fundamentalism and dogma shouting down the culture of inquiry and free thinking needed for scientific advances? Perhaps we should be looking at the decline of Islamic science as a cautionary tale."

Submission + - The Election Map, as a Cartogram (

Geoffrey.landis writes: "By now we've all seen those maps of the US colored red and blue for which presidential candidate won a particular state. Those maps are a bit misleading, though, since vast areas of America have very low population. Mark Newman, of the University of Michigan, shows variant ways of mapping the election, with the maps distorted to un-distort the data."

Submission + - Harrassment of Climate Scientists is Unique to America (

Geoffrey.landis writes: "In the United States, climate scientists are subject to significant amounts of harassment , including "torrents of freedom of information requests, hate mail and even death threats from skeptics"-- but this phenomenon seems to be happening only in America. In other countries, climate scientists are mostly free to work without fear.

"The harassment has an intimidating effect—especially on young scientists," according to Stefan Rahmstorf, head of Earth system analysis at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research in Germany. Alan Leshner of the American Association for the Advancement of Science said he sees the attacks on scientists in the United States as "very disconcerting." Last year, AAAS released a statement condemning the harassment. "The incidents reflect two unfortunate things," Leshner said in an interview, "we live in a society where ideologies trump our willingness to hear what science says, and in a country where free speech is so widely valued, people are being attacked."

The only other country in which climate scientists routinely face harassment and death threats is Australia, which is the largest exporter of coal in the world. Coal industry groups in Australia have sought to cast doubt on climate science and have lobbied against carbon emission limits."


Submission + - Rover on a Parachute (

Geoffrey.landis writes: "Wow! The HiRise camera on Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter caught a snapshot of the MSL in its aeroshell descending on its parachute. In the close-up view, you can see the disk-gap-band structure of the supersonic parachute.
The story is available on several sites, including EarthSky and, or on the NASA MSL Image gallery"

Honesty is for the most part less profitable than dishonesty. -- Plato