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Submission + - Scientists Study Permian Mass Extinction Event as Lesson for 21st Century

Hugh Pickens DOT Com writes: About 252 million years ago, cracks in the Earth's crust in Siberia caused vast amounts of lava to spill out and blanket the region with about 6,000,000 cubic kilometers of molten material—enough to cover the continental US at one mile depth — and triggering a huge change in climate that caused a mass extinction event that killed roughly 90 percent of life on earth. Now Helen Thompson writes in the Smithsonian that a team at MIT have focused their efforts on this major extinction event, which marks the end of the Permian period and the beginning of the Triassic period and their results suggest that the die-out happened a lot faster than previously thought. Their initial results suggest that the extinction event spanned 60,000 years, a mere blink of an eye in geological time. The shorter time scale means that organisms would have had less and less time to react and adapt to changes in climate, atmospheric CO2 and ocean acidity. Failing the ability to adapt, they died. Other mass extinction events have also been narrowed down to short timeframes. The asteroid impact that killed the dinosaurs at the end of the Cretaceous period only took about 32,000 years. A similar study of another mass extinction triggered by volcanic eruptions at the end of the Triassic period suggests it lasted less than 5,000 years (PDF). Despite the fact that all of these extinction events were caused by different things, the ecosystem collapse happened very quickly. "Whatever the causes of the extinctions may be, and it looks like there are very different causes for some of them, the biosphere may collapse in very similar ways once it gets beyond a tipping point," says Doug Erwin. Some scientists see the end Permian as a lesson for the 21st century (PDF) and say that understanding the conditions leading up to, within, and after a mass extinction event may help us to avoid human-induced ecosystem collapses in the future. As Erwin puts it, "you don't want to start a mass extinction, because once a mass extinction begins, the prognosis is pretty grim.”

Submission + - Why Improbable Things Really Aren't (

sixoh1 writes: Scientific American has an excellent summary of a new book "The Improbabilty Principle: Why Coincidences, Miracles, and Rare Events Happen Every Day" by David J. Hand. The summary offers a quick way to relate statistical math (something that's really hard to intuit) to our daily experiences with unlikely events. The simple equations here make it easier to understand that improbable things really are not so improbable, which Hand call the "Improbability Principle":

How can a huge number of opportunities occur without people realizing they are there? The law of combinations, a related strand of the Improbability Principle, points the way. It says: the number of combinations of interacting elements increases exponentially with the number of elements. The “birthday problem” is a well-known example.

Now if only we could harness this to make an infinite improbability drive!

Submission + - Why do you need license from Canonical to create derivatives? (

sfcrazy writes: Canonical's requirement of a licence to create an Ubuntu derivative has surfaced again. Yesterday the Community council published a statement about Canonical's licencing policies but it doesn't nothing more than leaving things more vague than they were and tell derivatives to not go to the press and instead talk to the Community Council which seldom responds. Now Jonathan Riddell of Kubuntu has come forth and said no one needs any licence to create any derivative. So the question remains when Oracle or CentOS don't need licence from Red Hat to create a clone why does Canonical?

Feed Techdirt: Judge Finds St. Louis, MO's Red Light Camera Ordinance Invalid, Orders Halt Of T (

Another red light camera company is in trouble, this time in St. Louis, MO, where a judge has just invalidated the city's red light camera ordinance. American Traffic Solutions (whose legal issues we've detailed here previously) has just had its camera system kicked to the curb as a result of some questionable moves it made during a recent lawsuit.

A St. Louis judge issued an order Tuesday that invalidates the city's red-light camera ordinance.

Circuit Judge Steven Ohmer wrote in the order that the city is prohibited from attempting to enforce the ordinance, sending violation notices, processing payments or sending collection letters relating to the tickets.
So what prompted Ohmer to shut down the system? Well, the tickets that were central to the case, which were over a year old at the point of the suit's filing, were dismissed almost immediately after the lawsuit was filed. Why the sudden show of largesse?

Those named in the suit including the city, Mayor Francis Slay, Police Chief Sam Dotson and American Traffic Solutions Inc., which operates the cameras had argued to dismiss it. Some of the defendants said the claims were moot because the tickets had been dismissed and that the petitioners lacked standing because they were not hurt by the ordinance.
Ohmer didn't let this transparent attempt to dodge a legal battle go unnoticed.

"Here, it is clear that the City dismissed the Petitioners' tickets for the sole reason of avoiding an injunction in this matter, which the Court was poised to enter following the November hearing," he wrote.
Nearly every other claim made by the defendants was rebuffed by Judge Ohmer. The defendant's argued the plaintiffs had other venues to pursue their claims, like the municipal court, but a recent decision found that this court didn't provide adequate remedy for their claims. The defendants also argued the two filers didn't meet the requirements for a class action lawsuit. Judge Ohmer pointed out that the pair satisfied the "class action" stipulations because the ordinance affected other citizens.

The key element found to be in violation of state law is the fact that ATS' cameras (like all traffic enforcement cameras) presume the registered owner of the vehicle is the driver. This common aspect becomes even more problematic when the ticketed person has very limited avenues for recourse, which also unfortunately tends to be the case with automated enforcement. (This is also one of several problems with the recently introduced legislation that would allow Oklahoma police officers to issue traffic citations without leaving their vehicles.)

This combination of factors has led some traffic camera companies to basically convert their enforcement systems into purely voluntary operations. As the article notes, another Missouri city's council members recently voted unanimously to not enforce red light camera tickets. The camera system will be allowed to keep running and issuing citations but the city and the red light camera company won't pursue those who ignore tickets and will erase fines for anyone who contests their citation. Feeling safer yet, drivers?

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Submission + - Unlocking 120 Years of Images of the Night Sky

MCastelaz writes: Researchers at the Pisgah Astronomical Research Institute, a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit foundation located at a former NASA Tracking Station, are preparing to unlock 120 years of images of the night sky. The images are embedded on more than 220,000 astronomical photographic plates and films dating back to 1898 collected from over 40 institutions and observatories in the United States. These plates and films are housed in the Astronomical Photographic Data Archive at PARI..

The researchers plan to begin digitizing these collections this year, bringing these fantastic observational works by generations of astronomers who spent more than a million hours at telescopes to the general public and scientists worldwide . The PARI researchers are calling this the Astronomy Legacy Project. The researchers will use an extremely high precision, fast, scanning machine to do the work. To get the project off the ground, they are beginning with a crowdfunding campaign and the funds from that campaign will be used to buy the digitizing machine.

Submission + - CmdrTaco: Anti-Beta Movement a "Vocal Minority" ( 30

Antipater writes: The furor over Slashdot Beta is loud enough that even outside media has begun to notice. The Washington Post's tech blog The Switch has written a piece on the issue, and the anti-Beta protesters aren't going to be happy about it. The Post questioned Slashdot founder Rob Malda, who believes the protests are the work of only a vocal minority or readers: "It's easy to forget that the vocal population of a community driven site like Slashdot might be the most important group, but they are typically also the smallest class of users." The current caretakers of Slashdot need to balance the needs of all users with their limited engineering resources, Malda argues — noting wryly, "It ain't easy."

Submission + - CERN Wants a New Particle Collider Three Times Larger Than the LHC ( 1

Daniel_Stuckey writes: Not content with the 27-kilometre-round Large Hadron Collider, researchers at CERN have their sights set on a new beast of a particle collider that could have a circumference of 80 to 100 kilometres.

The nuclear research organisation announced that it was hatching plans for an ambitious successor to the LHC with an international study called the Future Circular Colliders (FCC) programme, which will kick off with a meeting next week.

The idea is to consider different hadron collider designs similar to the existing LHC but more powerful—much more powerful. CERN wrote it was looking for a collider “capable of reaching unprecedented energies in the region of 100 TeV.” The existing LHC will reach a maximum of around 14 TeV (tera electron Volts).

Submission + - A Scan of the Internet in 12 Minutes and Other Fun Things

shmaybebaby writes: The ShmooCon 2014 closing panel was both entertaining and scary. While there were plenty of laugh-out-loud moments, the topic of the panel was serious — what mass scanning of the Internet reveals about the state of security.

The closing panel included Bruce Potter, head of the Shmoo Group, as the moderator; Robert David Graham creator of the network IPS and Masscan; Dan Tentler, of general security community fame; Paul McMillan, who is on the security teams for Python and Django; and Alejandro Caceres, creator of the PunkSPIDER project.

McMillan used two tools, MassScan (created by Robert David Graham) and VNCsnapshot, to conduct a live scan of the Internet for machines with no authentication on the Virtual Network Computing (VNC) port and take a screenshot of whatever is on the desktop at the time of the check. Here's a great WIRED article about McMillan's project:

McMillan ran his scan at record-setting speed and clicked through the screenshots he captured (01:30 into the video). There were thousands, possibly tens of thousands, and they ranged from the mundane (background photo of a family and their dog) to the interesting (someone executing malware via a command prompt) to the unbelievable (a user typing "porn" into Google).

Other notable moments of the panel include a discussion about whether mass scanning of the Internet is legal (43:40 into the video), the crowd encouraging Alejandro to unleash the PunkSPIDER scanner on the .gov and .mil domains, which it currently doesn't scan (29:50 into the video), and a ground-breaking announcement of "The Internet Police" (19:40 into the video).

It’s worth a watch for the entertainment value, but also for a wake-up call at just how bad the state of network and web security really is.

Submission + - Only Apollo Camera to Make Return Trip to the Moon to Be Auctioned (

Zothecula writes: Sometimes history is preserved by accident rather than design. Thanks to a malfunction during the Apollo 15 mission in 1971 that prevented it from being abandoned with its fellows, the only camera used on the surface of the Moon and brought back to Earth will be auctioned by Westlicht Photographica Auction in Vienna. The motor-driven camera is a Hasselblad 500 "EL DATA CAMERA HEDC," also known as a Hasselblad Data Camera (HDC), that was specially designed for use on the Moon. It’s currently in the hands of a private collector and goes on the block in March.

Submission + - MIT researchers turn to networked flash for Big Data storage (

alphadogg writes: A team of MIT researchers next month will show off a networked system comprising flash storage devices that they say beats relying on DRAM and networked hard disks to handle Big Data demands. Their Blue Database Machine, or BlueDBM, consists of flash devices controlled by serially networked field-programmable gate array chips that can also process data. The researchers say flash systems can find random pieces of information from within large data sets in microseconds, whereas the seek time for hard disks can be more than double that. The current BlueDBM prototype is based on a four-node network, though a 16-node net is in the works in which each node will run at 3GB/sec on a 16TB/sec to 32TB/sec network. BlueDBM will be presented in February at the International Symposium on Field-Programmable Gate Arrays in Monterey, Calif.

Submission + - It's Not Memory Loss - Older Minds May Just Be Fuller of Information

Hugh Pickens DOT Com writes: Benedict Carey writes in the NYT that the idea that the brain slows with age is one of the strongest in all of psychology but a new paper suggests that older adults'; performance on cognitive tests reflects the predictable consequences of learning on information-processing, and not cognitive decline. A team of linguistic researchers from the University of Tübingen in Germany used advanced learning models to search enormous databases of words and phrases. Since educated older people generally know more words than younger people, simply by virtue of having been around longer, the experiment simulates what an older brain has to do to retrieve a word. When the researchers incorporated that difference into the models, the aging “deficits” largely disappeared. That is to say, the larger the library you have in your head, the longer it usually takes to find a particular word (or pair). “What shocked me, to be honest, is that for the first half of the time we were doing this project, I totally bought into the idea of age-related cognitive decline in healthy adults,” says lead author Michael Ramscar but the simulations “fit so well to human data that it slowly forced me to entertain this idea that I didn’t need to invoke decline at all.” The new report will very likely add to a growing skepticism about how steep age-related decline really is. Scientists who study thinking and memory often make a broad distinction between “fluid” and “crystallized” intelligence. The former includes short-term memory, like holding a phone number in mind, analytical reasoning, and the ability to tune out distractions, like ambient conversation. The latter is accumulated knowledge, vocabulary and expertise. “In essence, what Ramscar’s group is arguing is that an increase in crystallized intelligence can account for a decrease in fluid intelligence,” says Zach Hambrick, In the meantime the new digital-era challenge to “cognitive decline” can serve as a ready-made explanation for blank moments, whether senior or otherwise (PDF). "It’s not that you’re slow.," says Carey. "It’s that you know so much."

Submission + - Megatons to Megawatts Program Comes to a Close

necro81 writes: In the aftermath of the Cold War, the disintegrating Soviet Union had tens of thousands of nuclear weapons and tons of weapons-grade fissile material. In the economic and political turmoil, many feared that it would fall into unfriendly hands. However, thanks to the doggedness of an MIT professor, Dr. Thomas Neff, 500 metric tons of weapons grade material made its way into nuclear reactors in the United States through the Megatons to Megawatts program. During the program, about 10% of all electricity generated in the U.S came weapons once aimed at the country. Now, after nearly 20 years, the program is coming to an end as the final shipment of Soviet-era uranium, now nuclear fuel, arrived in Baltimore.

Submission + - This 400-HP 3-Cylinder Race Car Engine Can Fit In Your Hands 2

cartechboy writes: Motorsports used to be about lots of horsepower, torque, and big engines. In recent years there's been a shift to downsizing engines, using less fuel, and even using alternative energy such as clean diesel and hybrid powertrains. Today Nissan unveiled a 400-horsepower 1.5-liter three-cylinder turbocharged engine that weighs only 88 pounds. This engine will be part of the advanced plug-in hybrid drivetrain that will power the ZEOD RC electrified race car that will run in the 2015 LMP1 class during the race season. Nissan says the driver of the ZEOD RC will be able to switch between electric power and gasoline power with the batteries being recharged via regenerative braking. Even more impressive, according to Nissan, for every hour the ZEOD RC races, the car will be able to run one lap of the Le Mans' 8.5-mile Circuit de la Sarthe on electric power alone. If true, that will make it the first race car in history to complete a lap during a formal race with absolutely zero emissions. If this all works, we could be witnessing the future of motorsports unfold before our eyes later this year when the ZEOD RC makes its race debut at this year's Le Mans 24 Hours in June.

Submission + - Smart Racquets Could Transform Tennis

Hugh Pickens DOT Com writes: L. J. Rick reports at BBC that Babolat has released a tennis racket with gyroscopes, accelerometers and a piezoelectric sensor in the handle that can assess your every shot, sensing where the ball strikes the racquet and the quality of the contact. It counts forehands and backhands, serves and smashes and provides stats in the form of tennis data that can be analysed, stored and compared. The sensor can gather data such as ball speed, accuracy, and angle, and will pair the info with devices such as Bluetooth, phones, computers and USB connections. "We integrated sensors inside the handle of the racquet, but it does not change the specification. And these sensors will analyse your tennis game, so your swing — your motion — and all this information will be collected by the racquet," says Gael Moureaux. The International Tennis Federation, aware of the growing influx of hi-tech equipment into the sport, has set up a program called Player Analysis Technology (PAT) to regulate such "virtual coaches" as the Babolat racquet. The governing body wants to be calling the shots on where and how innovation can be used, as in the past it has found itself having to ban some products like the so-called "spaghetti-strung" racquets (with double stringing that are already on the market and in use. In conjunction with its PAT approval program, the ITF has also brought in a new rule — Rule 31 — to reflect the growing use of connected equipment, and its possible role in tournament play. Approved devices need to be secure and protected against unauthorised access, to prevent "sporting espionage'" whereby data could be stolen. Knowing when an opponent's right hand gets tired during the second set would be a huge advantage. Despite the innovations, one trainer does not think he is in danger of being upstaged by a smart racquet. "I think that it's great for feedback but you still need someone to analyze it," says tennis coach says Nik Snapes. "At the end of the day it's the practice and the ability of someone that makes the player, not necessarily the equipment in their hand."

Submission + - Grand Canyon is "Frankenstein" of Geologic Formations (

sciencehabit writes: It’s a debate that has vexed scientists for decades: Is the Grand Canyon young or old, geologically speaking? Both, a new study declares. A group of scientists reports that the famed formation is a hybrid of five different gorges of various ages--two of three middle segments formed between 70 million and 50 million years ago and between 25 million and 15 million years ago, but the two end segments were carved in the past 5 million to 6 million years--and the Colorado River only tied them into a single continuous canyon 5 million or 6 million years ago.

To do two things at once is to do neither. -- Publilius Syrus