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Submission + - Controversy Over High-Tech Brooms Sweeps Through Sport of Curling

HughPickens.com writes: Billy Witz reports at the NYT that the friendly sport of curling suddenly has become roiled in controversy over — what else? — the brooms. The crux of the debate is fabric — specifically, something called directional fabric. The use of this material in broom pads is the latest escalation in an arms race among manufacturers, whereby the world’s best curlers can guide the 44-pound stone around a sheet of ice as if it were controlled by a joystick. Many of the sport’s top athletes, but not all of them, signed an agreement last month not to use the newest brooms. But with few regulations on the books and Olympic qualifying tournaments underway this month, the World Curling Federation has stepped in and issued new rules that set severe restrictions on the types of brooms that can be used. “There’s definitely some anger over it,” says Dean Gemmell. “In curling, we’re generally known for being pretty friendly with most of your opponents. Even at the big events, you see the top players hanging out. But it’s sort of taken that away this year, that’s for sure.”

It was prototype brooms made by BalancePlus that were the focus of complaints at the Toronto tournament, but Scott Taylor, president of BalancePlus, says they were never intended for sale, and were meant to demonstrate the problems that the reversed fabrics could cause. Players say the brooms allowed sweepers to "steer" the rock much more than they were comfortable with, and even slow them down. The brooms have been compared to high-tech drivers that allow amateur golfers to hit the ball as far as a pro, or the advanced full-body swimsuits that were banned from competition in 2010 for providing an unfair advantage. Of his company’s high-tech broom, Taylor says: “This isn’t good. It’s like hitting a golf ball 500 yards.”

Submission + - Exploit Vendor Publishes Prices for Zero-Day Vulnerabilities

An anonymous reader writes: A shady exploit vendor published a price list for the zero-day bugs it's willing to buy. The highest paid bugs are for remote jailbreaks for iOS. Second is Android and Windows Phone. Third there are remote code execution bugs for Chrome, Flash, and Adobe's PDF Reader. This is the same company that just paid $1 million to a hacker for the first iOS9 jailbreak.

Submission + - Microsoft CEO Takes the Fifth, Declines Speaking Role at Grace Hopper Conference

theodp writes: Following last year's debacle, GeekWire reports that Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella will attend but not speak at the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing conference this week, trading the danger of the stage for the safety of the cheap seats. A Microsoft spokesman confirmed on Monday that Nadella was invited back to the event and had an opportunity to speak on stage, but he "decided this year to focus on listening, learning and exchanging ideas." Unlike Nadella, ex-Googler EricaJoy will not be heading to GHC. She explains: "The Grace Hopper Conference, put on by the Anita Borg Institute, is a celebration of women in computing. Every year it invites women in tech from around the world to come together in one place. Attendance grows with every conference; last year over 8,000 women joined the celebration in Phoenix, this year over 12,000 are meant to be in Houston. With that number of attendees, their networks, and connections to many big name tech companies, Grace Hopper and Anita Borg should, by all accounts, have access to virtually every woman in tech. Yet for the 2015 conference, they could not manage to find one black woman to be a 'headline' speaker. Two white men are included in the set of headline speakers at a conference celebrating women in technology, but not a single black woman. This would be surprising if not for the following: there is not a single black woman on the Anita Borg Board of Trustees. There is nobody in leadership at Anita Borg that doesn’t see themselves represented by the headliner speakers at Grace Hopper, so it probably doesn’t even register as a problem for them, which is at the root of the problem with Colorless Diversity."

Submission + - Apple Loses Patent Suit to University of Wisconsin, Faces Huge Damages (reuters.com)

An anonymous reader writes: Apple has frequently been in the news for various patent battles, but it's usually against one of their competitors. This time, Apple is on the losing end, and they're losing to the University of Wisconsin-Madison. A jury found that the university's patent on improving processor efficiency (5,781,752) was valid, and Apple's A7, A8, and A8X infringed upon it. Those chips are found within recent iPhone and iPad models. Because of the ruling, Apple could be liable for up to $826.4 million in damages, to be determined by later phases of the trial.

Comment This is more about hype than robots (Score 0) 114

Robots will *never* live up to the hype. Hype is there to get outsiders excited about something. I'm a robotics researcher, and even *inside* the community, people hype things in order to drum up interest. That's the point of hype.

The fact that things are sometimes overhyped doesn't detract from the fact that significant advancements are being made.

Submission + - The Evidence Supports Artificial Sweeteners Over Sugar (nytimes.com)

schwit1 writes: In the last few years, I've watched a continuing battle among my friends about which is worse for you: artificial sweeteners or sugar. Unless you want to forgo all beverages that are sweet, you're going to run into one of these. Rather than rely on anecdote or myth, we can inform this debate with research.

The available evidence points to the fact that there appears to be a correlation between sugar consumption and health problems; none can be detected with artificial sweeteners.

Submission + - New Tesla Model S P90D "Ludicrous Speed" Goes 0-60 MPH in 2.8 Seconds Read more (automobilemag.com)

Eloking writes: The highest-performance Tesla Model S gets even quicker thanks to a new “Ludicrous Speed” mode (Elon Musk must be a big “Spaceballs” fan). In combination with a newly optional 90-kWh battery pack, this new mode brings 0-60 mph acceleration down to 2.8 seconds (from a quoted 3.2 seconds for the P85D model). This larger battery pack is offered as an upgrade from the existing 85-kWh model, creating new 90, 90D, and P90D models.

Submission + - G7 vows to phase out fossil fuel by 2100 (euobserver.com)

Taco Cowboy writes: The G7 group of countries, comprises of Germany, England, Japan, Canada, France, Italy and the United States, has issued a pledge that they will phase out fossil fuel by the end of this century

The conclusions after the meeting in Bavaria, southern Germany, said the Paris agreement should have “binding rules at its core to track progress towards achieving targets

The announcementwas warmly welcomed environment groups. “Angela Merkel took the G7 by the scruff of the neck,” said Ruth Davis a political advisor to Greenpeace and a senior associate at E3G

“Politically, the most important shift is that chancellor Merkel is back on climate change. This was not an easy negotiation. She did not have to put climate change on the agenda here. But she did,” she said

Tom Burke, environmental advisor to Shell, Rio Tinto and Unilever, said Merkel had made a “big play”

“It’s more aggressive than you would have expected. That’s been helped a lot by the US démarche with China and the growing signs are that China is probably going to do better than a lot of people are expected,” he said

The G7 plege includes a goal proposed by the EU to cut emissions 60% on 2010 levels by 2050, with full decarbonisation by 2100, and another goal for G7 countries to decarbonize their own energy sectors by 2050

In a sign of growing hopes the G7 could deliver a significant boost to UN climate talks, on Sunday thousands of leading businesses issued a call for the G7 to adopt a long term goal

“We want a global climate deal that achieves net zero emissions well before the end of the century, and that to be a firm commitment at COP21 In Paris in December,” said Nigel Topping, CEO of We Mean Business

A coalition of UK NGOs including Greenpeace, WWF and CAFOD also issued a plea to prime minister David Cameron to support a zero emissions target

Getting previously reluctant governments from the US, Canada and Japan to agree to a long term climate goal would be hugely significant for global efforts to secure agreement in Paris, said Jennifer Morgan from the World Resources Institute

“It makes a difference – having the G7 signal in any way they’re up for along term goal that makes avoiding 2C [of warming] more real would I hope be a shot in arm for the in debate in the UN – it matters,” she said

“To get the US, Canada and Japan to agree to this is a remarkable achievement by Angela Merkel and Francois Hollande, and a good sign for the negotiations," said Michael Jacobs, advisor to the Global Commission on the Economy and Climate

The G7 also noted that the earth's average temperature must not be allowed to rise above 2 degrees Celsius, but this is a pledge that has been made before, including at international climate talks

More importantly is the statement “that deep cuts in global greenhouse gas emissions are required with a decarbonisation of the global economy over the course of this century”

It is the first time that G7 leaders speak of decarbonisation — reducing to zero the carbon emissions from fossil fuels — of the global economy

That means that by the year 2100, there are roughly two outcomes for fossil fuels

One is that energy production has shifted away from coal, oil, and gas – the three fossil fuels which according to the International Energy Agency, in 2012 accounted for about 81.7 percent of the world's energy

The other is that fossil fuels are still used, but their emissions are captured before they would have been released into the air

However, the technique of carbon capture and storage, is still at an experimental stage

“From an investment point of view, this announcement from the G7 today only serves to further highlights that fossil fuels now and in the future are a poor risk”, said Tim Buckley, director at the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis

Comment Honest Thought (Score 1) 451

I think that autonomous vehicles will come and go, but they'll be around almost as long as cars with drivers. I'd bet that in the long-long term, urban planning will change such that cars become entirely unnecessary in all but the most remote places. I don't think that we'll ever become so densely populated that the world is one big city, but I'll bet that we'll see large high-rise condos become much much more common, and then it'll be a ride down an elevator to do your shopping and a walk or train ride to school.

It's not that suburbia isn't awesome. It's just the direction I kind of envision things going in. I could be wrong. This sort of radical shift in urban planning would take centuries, to take hold in the west.

Submission + - Facebook lets you choose a custom gender, now it's time to drop real names (betanews.com)

Mark Wilson writes: Facebook found itself under fire last year for imposing a real name policy. Drag artists, the LGBT community, musicians and other groups were among those who felt they should be able to use a name other than the one that appears on their birth certificate. The social network ultimately backed down, but the whole debacle left something of a bad taste in the mouth.

People are able to use "the authentic name they use in real life" to identify themselves on the site, and Facebook has opened up gender options further. There's no need to feel limited by the male or female labels, or even make a selection from a readymade list — you can now specify whatever gender you want. But is this enough?

Submission + - Is That Dress White and Gold or Blue and Black?

HughPickens.com writes: Color scientists already have a word for it: Dressgate. Now the Washington Post reports that a puzzling thing happened on Thursday night consuming millions — perhaps tens of millions — across the planet and trending on Twitter ahead of even Jihadi John’s identification. The problem was this: Roughly three-fourths of people swore that this dress was white and gold, according to BuzzFeed polling but everyone else said it's dress was blue. Others said the dress could actually change colors. So what's going on? According to the NYT our eyes are able to assign fixed colors to objects under widely different lighting conditions. This ability is called color constancy. But the photograph doesn’t give many clues about the ambient light in the room. Is the background bright and the dress in shadow? Or is the whole room bright and all the colors are washed out? If you think the dress is in shadow, your brain may remove the blue cast and perceive the dress as being white and gold. If you think the dress is being washed out by bright light, your brain may perceive the dress as a darker blue and black.

According to Beau Lotto, the brain is doing something remarkable and that's why people are so fascinated by this dress. “It’s entertaining two realities that are mutually exclusive. It’s seeing one reality, but knowing there’s another reality. So you’re becoming an observer of yourself. You’re having tremendous insight into what it is to be human. And that’s the basis of imagination.” As usual xkcd has the final word.

Submission + - House Passes Bill That Prevents Scientists From Advising EPA (inhabitat.com)

Roger Wilcox writes: While everyone’s attention was focused on the Senate and the Keystone XL decision on Tuesday, some pretty shocking stuff was quietly going on in the House of Representatives. The GOP-dominated House passed a bill that effectively prevents scientists who are peer-reviewed experts in their field from providing advice — directly or indirectly — to the EPA, while at the same time allowing industry representatives with financial interests in fossil fuels to have their say. Perversely, all this is being done in the name of “transparency.”

Submission + - The Peculiar Economics of Developing New Antibiotics

HughPickens.com writes: Every year at least two million people are infected with bacteria that can’t be wiped out with antibiotics but the number of F.D.A.-approved antibiotics has decreased steadily in the past two decades. Now.Ezekiel J. Emanuel writes at the NYT that the problem with the development of new antibiotics is profitability. “There’s no profit in it, and therefore the research has dried up, but meanwhile bacterial resistance has increased inexorably and there’s still a lot of inappropriate use of antibiotics out there," says Ken Harvey. Unlike drugs for cholesterol or high blood pressure, or insulin for diabetes, which are taken every day for life, antibiotics tend to be given for a short time so profits have to be made on brief usage. "Even though antibiotics are lifesaving, they do not command a premium price in the marketplace," says Emanuel. "As a society we seem willing to pay $100,000 or more for cancer drugs that cure no one and at best add weeks or a few months to life. We are willing to pay tens of thousands of dollars for knee surgery that, at best, improves function but is not lifesaving. So why won’t we pay $10,000 for a lifesaving antibiotic?"

Emanuel says that we need to use prize money as an incentive. "What if the United States government — maybe in cooperation with the European Union and Japan — offered a $2 billion prize to the first five companies or academic centers that develop and get regulatory approval for a new class of antibiotics?" Because it costs at least $1 billion to develop a new drug, the prize money could provide a 100 percent return — even before sales. "From the government perspective, such a prize would be highly efficient: no payment for research that fizzles. Researchers win only with an approved product. Even if they generated just one new antibiotic class per year, the $2-billion-per-year payment would be a reasonable investment for a problem that costs the health care system $20 billion per year." Unless payers and governments are willing to provide favorable pricing for such a drug, the big companies are going to focus their R&D investments in areas like cancer, depression, and heart disease where the return-on-investments are much higher.

Submission + - Argonne National Laboratory shuts down Online Ask a Scientist Program (anl.gov)

itamblyn writes: In a surprising decision, Argonne National Laboratory has decided to pull the plug on its long-standing NEWTON Ask A Scientist Program. NEWTON is (soon to be was) an on online repository of science questions submitted by school children from around the world. A volunteer group of scientists contributed grade-level appropriate answers to these questions.

For the past 25 years, a wide range of topics ranging have been covered, including the classic “why is the sky blue” to “is there way to break down the components of plastics completely into their original form”. Over the years, over 20,000 questions have been answered.

According to ANL, the website will be shut down permanently on 1 March. There is no plan to make the content available in an alternate form or to hand over stewardship to another organization.

When contacted about transferring the repository to another institution or moving to a donation model, the response from ANL was simply: "Thank you again for all your support for Newton. Unfortunately, moving Newton to another organization is not a possibility at this time. Thank you again for your energy and support.”

Given the current state of scientific literacy in the general public, it is difficult to understand how removing 20,000 scientific FAQ from the internet makes any sense. If you’re interested in starting a letter writing campaign, the Director of ANL, Peter Littlewood, can be reached at pblittlewood@anl.gov. I’m sure he would love to hear from all of us.

Full disclosure: I am one of those scientific volunteers and I’ve already run wget on the site. It’s about 300 mb in total. I do not have the ability to host the material at scale (apparently NEWTON receives millions of hits / month).

Bell Labs Unix -- Reach out and grep someone.