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+ - Hints of Life's Start Found in a Giant Virus->

Submitted by Anonymous Coward
An anonymous reader writes "In the world of microbes, viruses are small — notoriously small. Pithovirus is not. The largest virus ever discovered, pithovirus is more massive than even some bacteria. Most viruses copy themselves by hijacking their host’s molecular machinery. But pithovirus is much more independent, possessing some replication machinery of its own. Pithovirus’s relatively large number of genes also differentiated it from other viruses, which are often genetically simple — the smallest have a mere four genes. Pithovirus has around 500 genes, and some are used for complex tasks such as making proteins and repairing and replicating DNA. “It was so different from what we were taught about viruses,” Abergel said.

The stunning find, first revealed in March, isn’t just expanding scientists’ notions of what a virus can be. It is reframing the debate over the origins of life."

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Comment: Re:Learn JS and compete with $2/hr developers (Score 1) 152

by eriks (#45512043) Attached to: If You Want To Code From Home, Learn JavaScript

If you make little enough (after deductions) you essentially pay no federal tax, just FICA and medicare, but there's a line you cross, where you then (as you say) pay a straight percentage. Some years I cross that line, some years I don't. It doesn't usually make a large difference, but it does make a difference.

Comment: Re:Learn JS and compete with $2/hr developers (Score 3, Interesting) 152

by eriks (#45509259) Attached to: If You Want To Code From Home, Learn JavaScript

Liked. Appreciated. I do (essentially) the same thing. Have been for almost 15 years. Vastly under-rated "business model": live (quite) comfortably with a (very) low-expense lifestyle and not be stressed out and over-burdened with work. I generally am just above "poverty" income, rather than below. It's kind of funny (strange), the years where a make a little more than usual usually hurt because I have to pay more in self-employment tax, so my net income is lower than if I had just made a little less... can't win 'em all...

Comment: R-Value (Score 3, Interesting) 1143

by eriks (#45380913) Attached to: EPA Makes Most Wood Stoves Illegal

In places where it gets very cold, the way to do it (as others I think are pointing out) is retrofit-assistance and (probably more importantly) insulation assistance programs, like we have in much of New England, so that people can still burn wood, but burn a lot less of it, and actually be more comfortable. Our small house has been well insulated recently and I expect to go from using around 600 gallons of oil a year to around 400, maybe even 300 if I'm careful. If I was using wood, there would be a similar decrease in the amount of wood I'd need to burn to stay warm.

In the 21st century, it just makes plain sense that building envelope and R-value should be every homeowner's first and second thoughts when heating any home, especially when doing so with the intent to keep from freezing to death. In a (very) well insulted home, it's possible to (easily) keep from freezing to death with little more than a few warm bodies, good clothing and maybe candle or two -- so a high-efficiency heating device, much smaller than you'd need in a conventionally-insulated house, will easily keep you very comfortable in such a home.

Comment: Re:I have a better idea. (Score 1) 382

by eriks (#45120757) Attached to: Obamacare Website Fixes Could Take Two Weeks Or Two Months

Probably just feeding the trolls here, but: Seriously? That's the best argument you can come up with? Just because something wasn't done before the modern era means that we shouldn't do it now? So we shouldn't have advanced medical care at all? We shouldn't have enfranchised women? Ended slavery? Have the Internet? I could go on, and on.

There really is no valid argument as to why "Society" shouldn't (to some extend) be "Socialist" -- since that's the whole *point* or society, and for that matter, civilization.

"Removing incentives" is a bullshit argument. Most Human beings have plenty of incentive to be meaningfully productive members of a society, it's called a conscience, and a full set of operating emotions. Unfortunately the people paid to come up with the memes like that one seem to be in the group of humans that lack both.

Yes there are people who abuse the trust of others. Some of them get foodstamps, but they don't really do much harm, they maybe add a few pennies a day to your taxes whereas the people truly causing harm are a small number of vampires sucking the life out of most of the world's population, and at the same time pitting those people they are abusing against each other so they lack the time and observational powers to notice what's really happening.

If we want to go ahead and be all "I've got mine Jack" and "Don't tread on me" and "Every man for himself" then we might as well go back to being stone-age nomadic hunter gatherers, so we can learn what "society" means again, and what it's for.

All that said, "Obamacare" probably isn't the best idea, but not because it's "socialism" -- BECAUSE IT'S NOT! It's a fucking insurance exchange where private insurers compete for the dollars of the uninsured, and soon-to-be uninsured with an allotment to subsidize those earning below 150% of the poverty level. The insurance companies LOBBIED FOR THE BILL.

The rest of the "civilized" world has fully socialized medicine (some places for almost a century), but Noooo, we can't have that, that would be *baaaad*.

*facepalm*

Comment: Re:It's true (Score 1) 182

by eriks (#44998571) Attached to: The Difference Between Film and Digital Photography (Video)

Sometimes the best portrait studio in the world is outside, with the sun at your back, or behind a thin cloud. I'd say about half of the best photos I've ever taken "just happened" and didn't happen in a studio (since I don't have access to one), and until recently (mirrorless FTW!), they were all taken with P&S cameras. Good composition and an interesting subject are 80% of the battle -- lighting (when not in a studio) is about being in the right place at the right time and choosing (or letting your camera choose) the optimal shutter speed and aperture setting, of course, there are always limits.

Do I drool over cameras (that I can't afford) that would let me shoot a smile in a dim room at f16? Absolutely. ISO 25600 (and more) is here. Within 10 years that will be in your phone. In the meantime, my ~$700 kit lets me take that photo at f1.2 and ISO 800 -- that part of photography is all about compromises, unless you're a pro, or have a lot of disposable income.

For me, photography is about capturing an expression on a human face, or a nature scene from an interesting perspective, or a beautiful creature in a natural setting. That's the great thing about photography though, it is about many different things to different people.

Don't get me wrong, I encourage anyone to buy the best camera they can afford, though the motto: "The best camera is the one you have with you" applies more than ever. There's nothing wrong with using a phone camera or a P&S. No, you won't be able to blow them up into (satisfying) posters or do extreme cropping, but it's still possible to get great photos with them, with a little skill, creativity and luck. Her $50,000 medium format DSLR body is still just a light box. It's possible to take a great photo with nothing more than a piece of film, a cardboard box, some tape and a pin.

Comment: It's true (Score 5, Insightful) 182

by eriks (#44995425) Attached to: The Difference Between Film and Digital Photography (Video)

I liked what she had to say, especially: "The camera doesn't take the picture, the human does." -- that's very important. It's always been possible to take *great* photos with very inexpensive gear, if the composition, subject and lighting are all great.

Most people don't need anything more than a decent $200 or even $100 camera. The trouble is that if you want to go to the "next level" -- you need to spend two or three times that (or lots more), and you can then get into low-light territory, which (IMO) is where all the excitement is. A truly *usable* 6400 or 12800 ISO is unbelievably liberating, and that's now here for well-under $1000.

Comment: Latency. (Score 1) 128

by eriks (#44915451) Attached to: Post-post PC: Materials and Technologies That Could Revive Enthusiast Computing

As an "enthusiast", for me, it's almost all about latency. I want a system that responds as close to instantaneously as possible, especially for the stuff that really should be nearly instantaneous on modern hardware. These days, that means plenty of ram and a fast storage subsystem: SSD is the best upgrade I've done in years. I wait less. A 2 hour render is still a 2 hour render, but when I start up a heavy application I only wait 3 seconds instead of 10, or even 20. It just makes everything less frustrating, even 1 and 2 second waits can be really annoying if they happen a lot.

Many things are much better than they used to be, but I still say "hurry up" to my system too often, especially using a GUI. Though, my 3-year-old built-from-parts "enthusiast" machine feels faster to me than many newer commodity machines with better specs. "Tuning" things on the software side can make a difference, which is something that "enthusiasts" do, and want to be *able* to do.

So long as there are systems that can be tuned, streamlined and knocked about for fun, enthusiasts will be happy. Though I'm still searching for the "holy grail" of a GUI that never stutters, stalls or hiccups. Mostly, if you want that, you still have to use a command line.

Though I guess, if we ever get such a "holy grail" I may cease to be an enthusiast, since computing perfection will be a commodity.

Comment: Living in the biosphere. (Score 4, Insightful) 490

by eriks (#44858095) Attached to: Dialing Back the Alarm On Climate Change

I really wish that both "sides" in the climate change "debate" could put away the hyperbole and come to grips with the fact that we need to live in some way approaching equilibrium with the various processes happening here on planet Earth. That's not just about co2 production. Even though there is unquestionably consensus among climate scientists that the rising co2 level IS significant, there are *many* other factors at play. It won't matter if we get the co2 situation under control, but still have high-levels of fresh water pollution and half-dead oceans.

We need to pollute less, period.

We need to dramatically increase our total energy efficiency, which can largely be achieved by picking the "low-hanging fruit" of building insulation, indoor daytime lighting and industrial energy usage. All three of these can be addressed (easily!) with incentives like rebates and tax credits -- granted that takes political will, which seems in short supply, but it's all there already, just waiting to happen: just (gradually) shift the subsidies currently granted to fossil fuel companies over to businesses and homeowners that are willing to make investments in long-term energy efficiency and savings, it just makes sense: since energy saving == money saving.

The reality is that our total energy usage is increasing, so the more we stretch it, the more comfortable humanity can be in the long term. We need to be building as many solar, wind, wave, thermal gradient and salinity gradient systems as we can, all the while earnestly studying the effects and operation of these systems, and discovering our mistakes and correcting them as we go. We need better fission reactor designs: meaning serious R&D and testing. We need better (and more!) energy storage systems. And probably most importantly we need to come up with new ideas for generating and storing energy. Life is not static, we can't just say "hey, this is good enough" -- we have to make it better! Life forms don't stop evolving just because they find a successful niche. They keep going, because there's always more pressure around the corner. As humans, we've insulated ourselves from a lot of pressures, but that's really an illusion, since all we can ever really do is make buffers. Everything remains interconnected and interdependent.

As Bunker Roy says: Decentralize, demystify! People should know that they CAN provide for themselves, but they have to understand how it all works.

We are squandering our resources: geological, biological, financial and (most importantly) human. We need to refine our entire way of doing things.

The oil and coal WILL run out someday. It might be 100 years or 1000 -- but we need to be thinking truly long term here. It would be nice to still have plenty of oil and coal left for other stuff when we finally stop having to burn it for fuel just to keep the lights on. It's amazingly useful, and we have a finite supply.

Comment: Re:Might be? (Score 4, Interesting) 314

by eriks (#44793959) Attached to: Research Shows E-Cigs Might Be As Good For Quitting As Nicotine Patches

Another anecdote: Me. Almost exactly a year ago I was a smoker, then a year minus one day ago, I was an "e-cig" vaper. I made the switch that easily and quickly. And (so far) it has been a tobacco *replacement* not a route for quitting, though I can see how it could be, I'm just not using it for that it. There was an initial learning curve and expense, but now it's cheaper, and (theoretically) safer. Nicotine is *not* a harmful drug. The low doses vapers or smokers consume are decidedly non-harmful, when compared to *many* other substances that modern humans typically eat, drink and inhale. It's demonstrably non-carcinogenic. Though I guess we can't expect a rational response to the dangers of ingested substances with the state of things being as they are.

I wish we had hundreds of thousands of people marching in the streets chanting "Be Reasonable!" and "Use Science, not Fear", and maybe even "Have a Heart!".

Comment: HTPC? (Score 1) 197

by eriks (#44753107) Attached to: Tiny $45 Cubic Mini-PC Supports Android and Linux

Something like this might be just the thing I'm looking for -- There are other tiny android boxes I've been looking at to replace my (aging) htpc. I want to be able to use my nexus 7 as a remote -- to control *everything* on the TV -- that's local video, netflix & random web stuff. Also I'd like to have a single audio output to my sound system for everything, but not have to have the TV on to listen to music. I've yet to find anything truly ideal. Even this probably won't be perfect, but at least it would be inexpensive and tiny: my current htpc is in a large case. I've been thinking Raspberry PI, which would be almost perfect, except no netflix...

Comment: Wait for lane speeds (Score 1) 732

by eriks (#44735657) Attached to: EU Proposes To Fit Cars With Speed Limiters

This measure probably won't happen. I don't think it will fly, because it offers no incentive, it's just a restriction.

Though eventually, we'll likely see single lane speeds on (for instance) 3 or 4 lane highways, you pick a lane, and the speed control system in your car sets your speed to match all the other vehicles in that lane, and maintain separation distance. The optimal speed would be chosen by the traffic system. Drivers without automatic speed controls will have to match lane speed and separation, or use the one (or two) lanes dedicated to manually-speed controlled lanes, which would have lower conventional speed limits.

Then you can do neat things like cars announcing intentions to the whole traffic system. Think what a traffic system could do if it knew the intended routes of a majority of the vehicles in transit, especially incorporating data like the locations of any road hazards and moving emergency vehicles.

You can also (more) safely set lane limits at higher speeds than might be wise with all the cars having manual speed controls, thus solving the safety issue as well as the desire to let people move freely at maximum safe speed.

Comment: Re:We shouldn't have elections (Score 1) 120

by eriks (#44591373) Attached to: Obama, Romney Data Scientists Strike Out On Their Own

That is a great idea. At least until we have Multivac:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Franchise_(short_story)

But seriously. That would solve a lot of issues. A completely random selection of the public to sit in the Senate and the House would give a much more interesting cross section of the American public. Right now the idea probably wouldn't even be controversial. Even just doing that a few times, say, 20 years, and then letting elections proceed normally again (with sensible campaign finance rules) might fix a lot of things.

Would it create more issues than it solves? I don't think so. Though really only because the system is *so* friggin messed up, that even an idea that radical couldn't really hurt.

Will it happen? Dunno. I sure hope that SOMETHING good happens though, since it's looking more and more like most of us are totally screwed unless something does, or absolutely everyone just starts behaving like actual Human Beings. Don't know which is more likely.

Nobody's gonna believe that computers are intelligent until they start coming in late and lying about it.

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