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Mars

Curiosity Detects Mysterious Methane Spikes On Mars 64

Posted by Soulskill
from the and-still-hasn't-killed-any-cats dept.
astroengine writes: A gas strongly associated with life on Earth has been detected again in the Martian atmosphere, opening a new chapter in a decade-old mystery about the on-again, off-again appearance of methane on Mars. The latest discovery comes from NASA's Curiosity rover, which in addition to analyzing rocks and soil samples, is sniffing the air at its Gale Crater landing site. A year ago, scientists reported that Curiosity had come up empty-handed after an eight-month search for methane in the atmosphere, leaving earlier detections by ground-based telescopes and Mars-orbiting spacecraft an unexplained anomaly. "We thought we had closed the book on methane. It was disappointing to a lot of people that there wasn't significant methane on Mars, but that's where we were," Curiosity scientist Christopher Webster with NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., told Discovery News.
The Almighty Buck

Small Bank In Kansas Creates the Bank Account of the Future 151

Posted by samzenpus
from the tomorrow's-deposits dept.
HughPickens.com writes Nathaniel Popper writes at the NYT that the Citizens Bank of Weir, Kansas, or CBW, has been taken apart and rebuilt, from its fiber optic cables up, so it can offer services not available at even the nation's largest bank. In the United States the primary option that consumers have to transfer money is still the ACH payment. Requests for ACH transfers are collected by banks and submitted in batches, once a day, and the banks receiving the transfers also process the payments once a day, leading to long waits. ACH technology was created in the 1970s and has not changed significantly since. The clunky system, which takes at least a day to deliver money, has become so deeply embedded in the banking industry that it has been hard to replace. CBW went to work on the problem by using the debit card networks that power ATM cash dispensers. Ramamurthi's team engineered a system so that a business could collect a customer's debit card number and use it to make an instant payment directly into the customer's account — or into the account of a customer of almost any other bank in the country. The key to CBW's system is real-time, payment transaction risk-scoring — software that can judge the risk involved in any transaction in real time by looking at 20 to 40 factors, including a customers' transaction history and I.P., address where the transaction originated. It was this system that Elizabeth McQuerry, the former Fed official, praised as the "biggest idea" at a recent bank conference. "Today's banks offer the equivalent of 300-year-old paper ledgers converted to an electronic form — a digital skin on an antiquated transaction process," says Suresh Ramamurthi. "We'll now be one of the first banks in the world to offer customers a reliable, compliant, safe and secure way to instantly send and receive money internationally."
Science

Study of Massive Preprint Archive Hints At the Geography of Plagiarism 53

Posted by timothy
from the as-ralph-waldo-emerson-once-said dept.
sciencehabit writes with this excerpt from Science Insider: New analyses of the hundreds of thousands of technical manuscripts submitted to arXiv, the repository of digital preprint articles, are offering some intriguing insights into the consequences — and geography — of scientific plagiarism. It appears that copying text from other papers is more common in some nations than others, but the outcome is generally the same for authors who copy extensively: Their papers don't get cited much. The system attempts to rule out certain kinds of innocent copying: "It's a fairly sophisticated machine learning logistic classifier," says arXiv founder Paul Ginsparg, a physicist at Cornell University. "It has special ways of detecting block quotes, italicized text, text in quotation marks, as well statements of mathematical theorems, to avoid false positives."
Displays

The Case For Flipping Your Monitor From Landscape to Portrait 563

Posted by timothy
from the makes-it-hard-to-type dept.
Molly McHugh writes The vast majority of computer-related tasks see no benefit from a screen that is longer than it is tall. Sure, video playback and gaming are some key exceptions, but if you watch Netflix on your TV instead of your computer monitor and you're not into PC gaming, that long, wide display is doing nothing but hampering your experience. Let's flip it. No, seriously. Let's flip it sideways.
Music

Excuse Me While I Kiss This Guy: The Science of Misheard Song Lyrics 243

Posted by samzenpus
from the dirty-dean-and-the-dunder-cheese dept.
HughPickens.com writes Maria Konnikova writes in The New Yorker that mondegreens are funny but they also give us insight into the underlying nature of linguistic processing, how our minds make meaning out of sound, and how in fractions of seconds, we translate a boundless blur of sound into sense. One of the reasons we often mishear song lyrics is that there's a lot of noise to get through, and we usually can't see the musicians' faces. Other times, the misperceptions come from the nature of the speech itself, for example when someone speaks in an unfamiliar accent or when the usual structure of stresses and inflections changes, as it does in a poem or a song. Another common cause of mondegreens is the oronym: word strings in which the sounds can be logically divided multiple ways. One version that Steven Pinker describes goes like this: Eugene O'Neill won a Pullet Surprise. The string of phonetic sounds can be plausibly broken up in multiple ways—and if you're not familiar with the requisite proper noun, you may find yourself making an error.

Other times, the culprit is the perception of the sound itself: some letters and letter combinations sound remarkably alike, and we need further cues, whether visual or contextual, to help us out. In a phenomenon known as the McGurk effect, people can be made to hear one consonant when a similar one is being spoken. "There's a bathroom on the right" standing in for "there's a bad moon on the rise" is a succession of such similarities adding up to two equally coherent alternatives.

Finally along with knowledge, we're governed by familiarity: we are more likely to select a word or phrase that we're familiar with, a phenomenon known as Zipf's law. One of the reasons that "Excuse me while I kiss this guy" substituted for Jimi Hendrix's "Excuse me while I kiss the sky" remains one of the most widely reported mondegreens of all time can be explained in part by frequency. It's much more common to hear of people kissing guys than skies.
Science

How One Man Changed the Ecology of the Great Lakes With Salmon 118

Posted by samzenpus
from the and-the-gorillas-will-eat-the-snakes dept.
An anonymous reader writes During the sixties the Great Lakes were facing an ecological disaster due to invasive species and over fishing. Biologist Howard Tanner's solution to the problem was to bring in another non-native species, the Pacific salmon. Fishing boomed for many years but with the recent salmon crash in Lake Huron many wonder if the salmon were a band-aid on a ecological wound that's too big to fix. From the article: "Tanner's goal wasn't to just alter the species composition of the lakes; he wanted to change the public's relationship with the lakes themselves. Beyond pier fishing for perch and smallmouth bass, fishing in the lakes primarily had been the domain of relatively few commercial fishing crews using big boats and nets to harvest lake trout, perch, whitefish and chubs for restaurants and stores. But because these commercially fished native species had been so destroyed by overfishing and the lamprey and alewife infestations, Tanner inherited something of a blank slate — almost like a freshly filled reservoir in the West. He had little interest in trying to repaint the same old picture, but wanted instead to turn the waters over to large numbers of sportsmen who fished as much for thrill as fillet."
NASA

Pluto-Bound Spacecraft Ends Hibernation To Start Mission 77

Posted by samzenpus
from the time-to-get-up dept.
An anonymous reader writes NASA's New Horizons spacecraft awoke from hibernation on Saturday and sent a radio confirmation that it had successfully turned itself back on one and a half hours later. The spacecraft has been traveling for nine years across the solar system towards its destination, Pluto. From the article: "In 2006, with New Horizons already on its way, Pluto was stripped of its title as the ninth planet in the solar system and became a dwarf planet, of which more than 1,000 have since been discovered in the Kuiper Belt. With New Horizons approaching Pluto's doorstep, scientists are eager for their first close-up look at this unexplored domain."
Power

Why Elon Musk's Batteries Frighten Electric Companies 460

Posted by Soulskill
from the time-for-some-infrastructure-reliability-investments dept.
JoeyRox writes: The publicized goal of Tesla's "gigafactory" is to make electric cars more affordable. However, that benefit may soon be eclipsed by the gigafactory's impact on roof-top solar power storage costs, putting the business model of utilities in peril. "The mortal threat that ever cheaper on-site renewables pose" comes from systems that include storage, said physicist Amory Lovins. "That is an unregulated product you can buy at Home Depot that leaves the old business model with no place to hide."
Technology

Ultrasound Used To Create Haptics That Can Be Touched and Felt 41

Posted by samzenpus
from the touch-it-feel-it dept.
mrspoonsi writes "Bristol University used ultrasound focused to create 3d objects out of the thin air. The research, led by Dr Ben Long and colleagues Professor Sriram Subramanian, Sue Ann Seah and Tom Carter from the University of Bristol's Department of Computer Science, could change the way 3D shapes are used. The new technology could enable surgeons to explore a CT scan by enabling them to feel a disease, such as a tumor, using haptic feedback. The method uses ultrasound, which is focused onto hands above the device and that can be felt. By focussing complex patterns of ultrasound, the air disturbances can be seen as floating 3D shapes. Visually, the researchers have demonstrated the ultrasound patterns by directing the device at a thin layer of oil so that the depressions in the surface can be seen as spots when lit by a lamp. "In the future, people could feel holograms of objects that would not otherwise be touchable, such as feeling the differences between materials in a CT scan or understanding the shapes of artifacts in a museum."
Businesses

Ask Slashdot: Convincing My Company To Stop Using Passwords? 247

Posted by timothy
from the you-forgot-duo dept.
gurps_npc writes Any password policy sufficiently complex to be secure is too complex to remember so people write them down. Worse, company policy is to leave a message on your answering machine describing it — when the software uses a 6 number password to get your 8 letter/symbol/number/capital/no dupes (ever) real password. I want to suggest a better method. I want to go with a two factor system — either token based or phone based (LaunchKey, Clef, Nok Nok). Does anyone have any advice on specific systems — or points I should bring up? Or alternatives such as graphical based passwords?
Science

James Watson's Nobel Prize Goes On Auction This Week 355

Posted by Soulskill
from the gift-that-keeps-on-giving dept.
HughPickens.com writes: Nicholas St. Fleur reports at The Atlantic that James Watson, the famed molecular biologist and co-discoverer of DNA, is putting his Nobel Prize up for auction on Thursday. He's the first Nobel laureate in history to do so. In 2007, Watson, best known for his work deciphering the DNA double helix alongside Francis Crick in 1953, made an incendiary remark regarding the intelligence of black people that lost him the admiration of the scientific community. It made him, in his own words, an "unperson." That year, The Sunday Times quoted Watson as saying that he felt "inherently gloomy about the prospect of Africa" because "all our social policies are based on the fact that their intelligence is the same as ours—whereas all the testing says not really." Watson has a history of making racist and sexist declarations, according to Time. At a science conference in 2012, Watson said of women in science, "I think having all these women around makes it more fun for the men but they're probably less effective." To many scientists his gravest offense was not crediting Rosalind Franklin with helping him deduce the structure of DNA.

Watson is selling his prized medallion because he has no income outside of academia, even though for years he had served on many corporate boards. The gold medal is expected to bring in between $2.5 million and $3.5 million when it goes to auction. Watson says that he will use the money to purchase art and make donations to institutions that have supported him, such as the University of Chicago. He adds that the auction will also offer him the chance to "re-enter public life." "I've had a unique life that's allowed me to do things. I was set back. It was stupid on my part," says Watson. "All you can do is nothing, except hope that people actually know what you are."
Christmas Cheer

Black Friday '14: E-commerce Pages Far Slower Than They Were in 2013 143

Posted by timothy
from the scarce-resources dept.
An anonymous reader writes Black Friday news kicked off this weekend quite early when Best Buy was hit with a massive outage, but it turns out that was only half the story. The top 50 e-commerce websites were slower overall this year compared to last, suggesting customers were frustrated even if they could get to their favorite shopping site. Web performance monitoring company Catchpoint Systems looked at aggregate performance this weekend and compared it to the same timeframe in 2013. The results are notable: desktop web pages were 19.85 percent slower, while mobile web pages were a whopping 57.21 percent slower.
Power

Jackie Chan Discs Help Boost Solar Panel Efficiency 194

Posted by samzenpus
from the super-solar-cop dept.
wbr1 writes Apparently the pit pattern on a blu-ray disk is great at helping trap photons, rather than reflecting them. Applying this pattern to the glass in a solar panel can boost efficiency by 22%. Researchers at Northwestern tested this system with Jackie Chan discs. From the article: "To increase the efficiency of a solar panel by 22%, the researchers at Northwestern bought a copy of Police Story 3: Supercop on Blu-ray; removed the top plastic layer, exposing the recording medium beneath; cast a mold of the quasi-random pattern; and then used the mold to create a photovoltaic cell with the same pattern....The end result is a solar panel that has a quantum efficiency of around 40% — up about 22% from the non-patterned solar panel."

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