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Earth

Mysterious Siberian Crater Is Just One of Many 73

Posted by Soulskill
from the watch-out-for-exploding-earth dept.
New submitter Sardaukar86 sends this excerpt from a Washington Post report: In the middle of last summer came news of a bizarre occurrence no one could explain. Seemingly out of nowhere, a massive crater appeared in one of the planet's most inhospitable lands. Early estimates said the crater, nestled in a land called "the ends of the Earth" where temperatures can sink far below zero, yawned nearly 100 feet in diameter. The saga deepened. The Siberian crater wasn't alone. There were two more, ratcheting up the tension in a drama that hit its climax as a probable explanation surfaced. Global warming had thawed the permafrost, which had caused methane trapped inside the icy ground to explode.

Now, however, researchers fear there are more craters than anyone knew — and the repercussions could be huge. Russian scientists have now spotted a total of seven craters, five of which are in the Yamal Peninsula. Two of those holes have since turned into lakes. And one giant crater is rimmed by a ring of at least 20 mini-craters, the Siberian Times reported.
Science

Is That Dress White and Gold Or Blue and Black? 331

Posted by timothy
from the enoy-your-lovely-ochre-sky dept.
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.
It would make the comments more informatively scannable if you include your perceived color pair in the title of any comments below.
Earth

We Stopped At Two Nuclear Bombs; We Can Stop At Two Degrees. 274

Posted by timothy
from the ok-but-where-to-buy-the-best-grazing-land dept.
Lasrick writes Dawn Stover writes in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists that climate change is irreversible but not unstoppable. She describes the changes that are happening already and also those likely to happen, and compares what is coming to the climate of the Pliocene: 'Even if countries reduce emissions enough to keep temperatures from rising much above the internationally agreed-upon "danger" threshold of 2 degrees Celsius (which seems increasingly unlikely), we can still look forward to conditions similar to those of the mid-Pliocene epoch of 3 million years ago. At that time, the continents were in much the same positions that they are today, carbon dioxide levels ranged between 350 and 400 ppm, the global average temperature was 2 to 3 degrees Celsius higher than it is today (but up to 20 degrees higher than today at the northernmost latitudes), the global sea level was about 25 meters higher, and most of today's North American forests were grasslands and savanna.' Stover agrees with two scientists published in Nature Geoscience that 'Future warming is therefore driven by socio-economic inertia," and points the way toward changing a Pliocene future.
Programming

Invented-Here Syndrome 150

Posted by Soulskill
from the all-of-this-has-happened-before-and-all-of-this-will-happen-again dept.
edA-qa writes: Are you afraid to write code? Does the thought linger in your brain that somewhere out there somebody has already done this? Do you find yourself trapped in an analysis cycle where nothing is getting done? Is your product mutating to accommodate third party components? If yes, then perhaps you are suffering from invented-here syndrome.

Most of use are aware of not-invented-here syndrome, but the opposite problem is perhaps equally troublesome. We can get stuck in the mindset that there must be a product, library, or code sample, that already does what we want. Instead of just writing the code we need a lot of effort is spent testing out modules and trying to accommodate our own code. At some point we need to just say, 'stop!', and write the code ourselves.
Patents

Patent Trolls On the Run But Not Vanquished Yet 56

Posted by samzenpus
from the don't-forget-the-fire dept.
snydeq writes Strong legislation that will weaken the ability of the trolls to shake down innovators is likely to pass Congress, but more should be done, writes InfoWorld's Bill Snyder. "The Innovation Act isn't an ideal fix for the program patent system. But provisions in the proposed law, like one that will make trolls pay legal costs if their claims are rejected, will remove a good deal of the risk that smaller companies face when they decide to resist a spurious lawsuit," Snyder writes. That said, "You'd have to be wildly optimistic to think that software patents will be abolished. Although the EFF's proposals call for the idea to be studied, [EFF attorney Daniel] Nazer doesn't expect it to happen; he instead advocates several reforms not contained in the Innovation Act."
Security

Lizard Squad Claims Attack On Lenovo Days After Superfish 36

Posted by Soulskill
from the some-publicity-is-bad-publicity dept.
Amanda Parker writes with news that hacker group Lizard Squad has claimed responsibility for a defacement of Lenovo's website. This follows last week's revelations that Lenovo installed Superfish adware on consumer laptops, which included a self-signed certificate authority that could have allowed man-in-the-middle attacks. The hackers seemingly replaced the manufacturer's website with images of an unidentified youth, displayed with a song from the Disney film High School Musical playing in the background. Taking to a new Twitter account that has only been active a matter of days, the Lizards also posted emails alleged to be from Lenovo, leading some to speculate that the mail system had been compromised. While some have seen the attack as retaliation for the Superfish bug, it is also possible that Lizard Squad are jumping on the event merely to promote their own hacking services.
Earth

Lawmakers Seek Information On Funding For Climate Change Critics 382

Posted by Soulskill
from the all-about-the-benjamins dept.
HughPickens.com writes: John Schwartz reports at the NY Times that prominent members of the U.S. House of Representatives and the Senate are demanding information from universities, companies and trade groups about funding for scientists who publicly dispute widely held views on the causes and risks of climate change. In letters sent to seven universities, Representative Raúl M. Grijalva, an Arizona Democrat who is the ranking member of the House committee on natural resources, sent detailed requests to the academic employers of scientists who had testified before Congress about climate change. "My colleagues and I cannot perform our duties if research or testimony provided to us is influenced by undisclosed financial relationships." Grijalva asked for each university's policies on financial disclosure and the amount and sources of outside funding for each scholar, "communications regarding the funding" and "all drafts" of testimony. Meanwhile Edward J. Markey of Massachusetts, Barbara Boxer of California and Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island. sent 100 letters to fossil fuel companies, trade groups and other organizations asking about their funding of climate research and advocacy asking for responses by April 3. "Corporate special interests shouldn't be able to secretly peddle the best junk science money can buy," said Senator Markey, denouncing what he called "denial-for-hire operations."

The letters come after evidence emerged over the weekend that Wei-Hock Soon, known as Willie, a scientist at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, had failed to disclose the industry funding for his academic work. The documents also included correspondence between Dr. Soon and the companies who funded his work in which he referred to his papers and testimony as "deliverables." Soon accepted more than $1.2 million in money from the fossil-fuel industry over the last decade while failing to disclose that conflict of interest in most of his scientific papers. At least 11 papers he has published since 2008 omitted such a disclosure, and in at least eight of those cases, he appears to have violated ethical guidelines of the journals that published his work. "What it shows is the continuation of a long-term campaign by specific fossil-fuel companies and interests to undermine the scientific consensus on climate change," says Kert Davies.
Businesses

5 White Collar Jobs Robots Already Have Taken 254

Posted by samzenpus
from the I-for-one-welcome-our-new-robot-coworkers dept.
bizwriter writes University of Oxford researchers Carl Benedikt Frey and Michael Osborne estimated in 2013 that 47 percent of total U.S. jobs could be automated and taken over by computers by 2033. That now includes occupations once thought safe from automation, AI, and robotics. Such positions as journalists, lawyers, doctors, marketers, and financial analysts are already being invaded by our robot overlords. From the article: "Some experts say not to worry because technology has always created new jobs while eliminating old ones, displacing but not replacing workers. But lately, as technology has become more sophisticated, the drumbeat of worry has intensified. 'What's different now?' asked Leigh Watson Healy, chief analyst at market research firm Outsell. 'The pace of technology advancements plus the big data phenomenon lead to a whole new level of machines to perform higher level cognitive tasks.' Translated: the old formula of creating more demanding jobs that need advanced training may no longer hold true. The number of people needed to oversee the machines, and to create them, is limited. Where do the many whose occupations have become obsolete go?"
Medicine

The Peculiar Economics of Developing New Antibiotics 243

Posted by samzenpus
from the killing-bugs dept.
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.
China

It's Official: NSA Spying Is Hurting the US Tech Economy 266

Posted by samzenpus
from the who's-to-blame dept.
An anonymous reader writes China is backing away from U.S. tech brands for state purchases after NSA revelations, according to Reuters. This confirms what many U.S. technology companies have been saying for the past year: the activities by the NSA are harming their businesses in crucial growth markets, including China. From the article: "A new report confirmed key brands, including Cisco, Apple, Intel, and McAfee -- among others -- have been dropped from the Chinese government's list of authorized brands, a Reuters report said Wednesday. The number of approved foreign technology brands fell by a third, based on an analysis of the procurement list. Less than half of those companies with security products remain on the list."
Patents

Jury Tells Apple To Pay $532.9 Million In Patent Suit 186

Posted by Soulskill
from the or-remit-821,110-iphones dept.
An anonymous reader writes: Smartflash LLC has won a patent lawsuit against Apple over DRM and technology relating to the storage of downloaded songs, games, and videos on iTunes. Apple must now pay $532.9 million in damages. An Apple spokesperson did not hesitate to imply Smartflash is a patent troll: "Smartflash makes no products, has no employees, creates no jobs, has no U.S. presence, and is exploiting our patent system to seek royalties for technology Apple invented. We refused to pay off this company for the ideas our employees spent years innovating and unfortunately we have been left with no choice but to take this fight up through the court system." The trial happened in the same court that decided Apple owed VirnetX $368 million over FaceTime-related patents back in 2012.
United Kingdom

Use Astrology To Save Britain's Health System, Says MP 318

Posted by Soulskill
from the gullible-like-a-capricorn dept.
An anonymous reader writes: An MP from the governing Conservative Party has said that using astrology could radically improve the performance of Britain's National Health Service and that its opponents are "racially prejudiced" and driven by "superstition, ignorance and prejudice." David Treddinick even claims he has "helped" fellow legislators through astrology.
Medicine

Researchers: Alcohol Health Risks Underestimated, Marijuana Relatively Safe 396

Posted by samzenpus
from the not-so-bad-after-all dept.
schwit1 writes Compared to other recreational drugs — including alcohol — marijuana may be even safer than previously thought. And researchers may be systematically underestimating risks associated with alcohol use. They found that at the level of individual use, alcohol was the deadliest substance (abstract), followed by heroin and cocaine.
Earth

What If We Lost the Sky? 421

Posted by timothy
from the we'd-still-have-the-space-needle dept.
HughPickens.com (3830033) writes "Anna North writes in the NYT that a report released last week by the National Research Council calls for research into reversing climate change through a process called albedo modification: reflecting sunlight away from earth by, for instance, spraying aerosols into the atmosphere. But such a process could, some say, change the appearance of the sky — and that in turn could affect everything from our physical health to the way we see ourselves. "You'd get whiter skies. People wouldn't have blue skies anymore." says Alan Robock. "Astronomers wouldn't be happy, because you'd have a cloud up there permanently. It'd be hard to see the Milky Way anymore."

According to Dacher Keltner, a psychology professor at the University of California, losing the night sky would have big consequences. "When you go outside, and you walk in a beautiful setting, and you just feel not only uplifted but you just feel stronger. There's clearly a neurophysiological basis for that," says Keltner, adding that looking up at a starry sky provides "almost a prototypical awe experience," an opportunity to feel "that you are small and modest and part of something vast." If we lose the night sky "we lose something precious and sacred." "We're finding in our lab that the experience of awe gets you to feel connected to something larger than yourself, see the humanity in other people," says Paul K. Piff. "In many ways it's kind of an antidote to narcissism." And the sky is one of the few sources of that experience that's available to almost everybody: "Not everyone has access to the ocean or giant trees, or the Grand Canyon, but we certainly all live beneath the night sky."

Alan Robock says one possible upside of adding aerosols could be beautiful red and yellow sunsets as "the yellow and red colors reflect off the bottom of this cloud." Robock recommends more research into albedo modification: "If people ever are tempted to do this, I want them to have a lot of information about what the potential benefits and risks would be so they can make an informed decision. Dr. Abdalati says deploying something like albedo modification is a last-ditch effort. "We've gotten ourselves into a climate mess. The fact that we're even talking about these kinds of things is indicative of that."
Earth

Bill Nye Disses "Regular" Software Writers' Science Knowledge 672

Posted by timothy
from the line-in-the-sand dept.
conoviator writes Bill Nye, one of the foremost science educators in the United States states that only the upper crust members of American science and technology (with degrees from top tier schools) understand science, particularly climate change. He opines that "regular software writers" dwell in the realm of the semi-science-literate. Nye rates science education in the U.S. an F. ("But if it makes you feel any better, you can say a B-minus.")

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