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Submission + - NASA contracting development of new ion/nuclear engines

schwit1 writes: NASA has awarded three different companies contracts to develop advanced ion and nuclear propulsion systems for future interplanetary missions, both manned and unmanned.

These are development contacts, all below $10 million. However, they all appeared structured like NASA’s cargo and crew contracts for ISS, where the contractor does all of the development and design, with NASA only supplying some support and periodic payments when the contractor achieves agreed-upon milestones. Because of this, the contractors will own the engines their develop, and will be able to sell them to other customers after development, thereby increasing the competition and innovation in the field.

Submission + - Google: Too Many White/Asian Males Play Computer Scientists on TV and in Movies 2

theodp writes: In partnership with Gallup, Google has released a second report with its take on the state of U.S. K-12 CS education. Entitled Images of Computer Science: Perceptions Among Students, Parents and Educators in the U.S., the report suggests tech's woeful diversity can be traced back to Hollywood's portrayal of Computer Scientists. "Students and parents perceive that there are few portrayals of women, Hispanic or Black computer scientists on TV or in movies," the report explains in its Key Findings. "These groups are much more likely to see White or Asian men engaged in computer science. They also often see computer scientists portrayed wearing glasses." In an accompanying post at the Google for Education blog, Google's Head of R&D for K-12 Education adds, "The results show that there's high value and interest in CS among all demographics, and even more so for lower-income parents. But unfortunately perceptions of who CS is for and who is portrayed in CS are narrow-White, male, smart with glasses. Even though they value it, students often don't see themselves in it." As a result of this and other factors, the report notes that "among the 49 states with at least one student taking the [AP] computer science exam, 12 had no Black students participating in 2014." It's an alarming factoid, but also a misleading one. As Gas Station Without Pumps explained two years ago, it is hardly surprising from a statistical standpoint that there are no Black student test takers in a state if there are essentially no test takers at all. So, let's not forget about girls and minorities, but let's also not forget that pretty much everyone is underrepresented if we look at the big AP CS picture — only 46,344 AP CS scores were reported in 2015 for a HS population of about 16 million students. So, shouldn't the goal at this stage of the game really be CS education for all? Towards that end, perhaps Google might want to look into commissioning a free programming book for kids from O'Reilly instead of another point-the-finger report from Gallup. But if Google wants to continue its search for things that have discouraged kids from coding, it might want to look in the mirror. After all, dropping a programming language for kids — as Google did with App Inventor in 2011 after CEO Larry Page ordered the plug pulled on projects deemed unworthy of Google 'wood' — didn't exactly send kids (and their perplexed teachers) the message that CS was for them, did it?

Submission + - Georgia gives personal data of 6 million voters to Georgia GunOwner Magazine ( 1

McGruber writes: A class action lawsuit alleges that Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp's office released the personal identifying information of Georgia voters to twelve organizations, "including statewide political parties, news media organizations and Georgia GunOwner Magazine".

According to Kemp, his office shares "voter registration data every month with news media and political parties that have requested it as required by Georgia law. Due to a clerical error where information was put in the wrong file, 12 recipients received a disc that contained personal identifying information that should not have been included."

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution independently confirmed the inclusion of the personal data in the October file. The AJC did so by accessing the October data disc, looking up information for an AJC staffer and confirming his Social Security number and driver’s license information was included. The AJC has returned its copy of the disc to the state.

Submission + - Texas narrowly rejects allowing academics to fact-check public school textbooks (

jriding writes: AUSTIN, Texas â" Top Texas education officials rejected Wednesday letting university experts fact-check textbooks approved for use in public-school classrooms statewide, instead reaffirming a vetting system that has helped spark years of ideological battles over how potentially thorny lessons in history and science are taught.

Submission + - Don't Fall for Drone Registration Scams, Warns FAA ( 1

itwbennett writes: It's not exactly news that there's an abundance of confusion over what owners of consumer drones can do, can't do, and need to pay for. And it doesn't help matters that the FAA and Department of Transportation in early November said they intend to set up a registry that will likely cover many small consumer drones, but it's yet to happen. Because while the government is notoriously slow, scammers are notoriously fast. 'At least one company is already offering to help people register their drones for a fee,' the FAA said. 'Owners should wait until additional details about the forthcoming drone registration system are announced later this month before paying anyone to do the work for them.'

Submission + - Prison Hack Show Attorney-Client Privilege Violation (

Advocatus Diaboli writes: "An enormous cache of phone records obtained by The Intercept reveals a major breach of security at Securus Technologies, a leading provider of phone services inside the nation’s prisons and jails. The materials — leaked via SecureDrop by an anonymous hacker who believes that Securus is violating the constitutional rights of inmates — comprise over 70 million records of phone calls, placed by prisoners to at least 37 states, in addition to links to downloadable recordings of the calls. The calls span a nearly two-and-a-half year period, beginning in December 2011 and ending in the spring of 2014."

"Particularly notable within the vast trove of phone records are what appear to be at least 14,000 recorded conversations between inmates and attorneys, a strong indication that at least some of the recordings are likely confidential and privileged legal communications — calls that never should have been recorded in the first place. The recording of legally protected attorney-client communications — and the storage of those recordings — potentially offends constitutional protections, including the right to effective assistance of counsel and of access to the courts."

Submission + - TPP makes copy left licences illegal 8

ras writes: With the release of the final version of the Trans-Pacific Partnership treaty yesterday, this little gem was noted on the Linux Australia mailing list. Quoting article 14.7.1 of the TPP:

No Party shall require the transfer of, or access to, source code of software owned by a person of another Party, as a condition for the import, distribution, sale or use of such software, or of products containing such software, in its territory.

It goes onto to exempt demanding copies of the source in commercially negotiated contracts, quality assurance, patents, orders made by judicial authorities or to comply with the regulation. The one notable exception to the exemptions: copy left licences.

Submission + - The International Space Station Turns 15 (

An anonymous reader writes: Today marks the 15th birthday of the International Space Station (ISS). Since Nov. 2, 2000 the ISS has hosted more than 220 people from more than a dozen countries. Time reports: "The ISS was little more than three pressurized modules, some supplies and a couple of solar wings to help keep it powered on the day the first crew climbed aboard. Today, the station is a flying piece of cosmic infrastructure the size of a football field, containing 15 pressurized modules, which afford the astronauts as much habitable space as a six-bedroom home. It weighs 1 million pounds (454,000 kg), runs on 3.3 million lines of software code and required 115 launches just to carry all of its components up to orbit."

Submission + - FCC strikes again on Wi-Fi blocking: Hilton, big electrical contractor fined (

alphadogg writes: The FCC isn’t kidding around in going after Wi-Fi blockers: Now it has slapped big electrical contracting company M.C. Dean with a $718,000 fine for blocking consumers’ Wi-Fi connections and has proposed a $25,000 fine for Hilton Worldwide for “apparent obstruction of an investigation” into whether Hilton blocked consumers’ Wi-Fi devices.

Word of this punishment comes on the heels of the FCC hitting Smart City, an ISP for convention centers and hotels, with a $750,000 fine for kicking users off their hotspots so that they’d have to use Smart City’s more expensive service.

Submission + - MIT Drone Autonomously Avoids Obstacles at 30 MPH (

An anonymous reader writes: Traditional obstacle-avoidance software uses images from each camera, and search through the depth-field at multiple distances to determine if an object is in the drone’s path. Such approaches are computationally intensive, meaning the drone can’t fly faster than 6 miles per hour without specialized processors.

Barry’s realization was that, at the fast speeds that his drone could travel, the world simply does not change much between frames. Because of that, he could get away with computing just a small subset of measurements — distances of 10 meters away.

“As you fly, you push that 10-meter horizon forward, and, as long as your first 10 meters are clear, you can build a full map of the world around you,” Barry says.

Submission + - Just a nudge could collapse West Antarctic Ice Sheet, raise sea levels 3 meters (

sciencehabit writes: It won’t take much to cause the entire West Antarctic Ice Sheet to collapse—and once it starts, it won’t stop. In the last year, a slew of papers has highlighted the vulnerability of the ice sheet covering the western half of the continent, suggesting that its downfall is inevitable—and probably already underway. Now, a new model shows just how this juggernaut could unfold. A relatively small amount of melting over a few decades, the authors say, will inexorably lead to the destabilization of the entire ice sheet and the rise of global sea levels by as much as 3 meters, inundating many of the East Coast’s largest cities, including New York and Miami.

Submission + - UK to ban "unbreakable" encryption ( 1

Retron writes: The Telegraph reports that the UK Government is going to ban companies from offering "unbreakable" encryption, effectively requiring a backdoor in products from the likes of Google and Apple. The reasons given are that they don't want the likes of terrorists and paedophiles to communicate in places the Police can't reach.

Given that Apple especially makes a big fuss of their encryption standards, will they really cave in to the Government's demands? Will the population support the moves? And why is there no mention of Tor or VPNs?

Submission + - Crime Lab Scandals Just Keep Getting Worse ( 1

schwit1 writes: How many people are in jail based on faked data?

Perhaps the most dramatic example of a massive scandal that cannot seem to be reversed involves Annie Dookhan, a chemist who worked at a Massachusetts state lab drug analysis unit. Dookhan was sentenced in 2013 to at least three years in prison, after pleading guilty in 2012 to having falsified thousands of drug tests. Among her extracurricular crime lab activities, Dookhan failed to properly test drug samples before declaring them positive, mixed up samples to create positive tests, forged signatures, and lied about her own credentials. Over her nine-year career, Dookhan tested about 60,000 samples involved in roughly 34,000 criminal cases. Three years later, the state of Massachusetts still can’t figure out how to repair the damage she wrought almost single-handedly.

Submission + - Most of the Universe's gold doesn't come from supernovae

StartsWithABang writes: Building up the heaviest elements in the periodic table seems like a task well-suited to stars in the final stages of their lives. Red giants produce neutrons that are captured through the s-process, building up elements one-by-one all the way up to lead and bismuth, but only in small quantities and very slowly. Supernovae produce free neutrons copiously and that can be captured many-at-a-time through the r-process, giving us the full suite of known elements in much greater abundance. But the majority of elements like gold, platinum and tungsten comes from neutron star-neutron star mergers instead, which are very rare, but a single merger produces 20 times the mass of the Moon in gold. It's not supernovae after all!

Submission + - The Popular Over-The-Counter Cold Medicine That Science Says Doesn't Work 1 writes: Back before methamphetamine cooks started buying up non-prescription decongestants to brew crank, all of us were able to buy effective decongestants right off the store shelf without a problem. Now David DiSalvo writes at Forbes that to fill the store-shelf void, drug companies substituted the already-FDA approved ingredient phenylephrine for pseudoephedrine but the oral decongestant phenylephrine simply doesn’t work at the FDA-approved amount found in popular non-prescription brands, and it may not even work at much higher doses. Researchers at the University of Florida are asking the FDA to remove oral phenylephrine from the market. "We think the evidence supports that phenylephrine’s status as a safe and effective over-the-counter product should be changed,” says Randy Hatton. “We are looking out for the consumer, and he or she needs to know that science says that oral phenylephrine does not work for the majority of people.”

In 1976, the FDA deemed a 10 milligram oral dose of phenylephrine safe and effective at relieving congestion, making it possible for companies to use the ingredient without conducting studies. But Leslie Hendeles and Hatton say phenylephrine does not effectively relieve nasal stuffiness at this dose. They say the FDA cited four tests demonstrating efficacy at the 10 milligram dose, two of which were unpublished and sponsored by drug manufacturers. In contrast, the FDA cited six tests demonstrating no significant difference between phenylephrine and placebo. Hendeles said a higher dose may work, but no research has been published regarding safety at higher doses. “They need to do a dose-response study to determine at what higher dose they get both efficacy and safety,” says Hendeles adding that until then “consumers should go that extra step and get it (pseudoephedrine) from behind the counter."

"Spock, did you see the looks on their faces?" "Yes, Captain, a sort of vacant contentment."