Extra Credits, a regular lecture on game industry topics with funny pictures hosted by Penny Arcade addressed this issue a while back. I found it very illuminating.
ambermichelle pointed out a story about the search for life on other planets, and the likelihood that it would be much different than what we find on Earth. With the increase of extremophile discovery in recent years perhaps it's time to reassess what the definition of "life" should be. "In November 2011, NASA launched its biggest, most ambitious mission to Mars. The $2.5 billion Mars Science Lab spacecraft will arrive in orbit around the Red Planet this August, releasing a lander that will use rockets to control a slow descent into the atmosphere. Equipped with a 'sky crane,' the lander will gently lower the one-ton Curiosity rover on the surface of Mars. Curiosity, which weighs five times more than any previous Martian rover, will perform an unprecedented battery of tests for three months as it scoops up soil from the floor of the 96-mile-wide Gale Crater. Its mission, NASA says, will be to 'assess whether Mars ever was, or is still today, an environment able to support microbial life.' For all the spectacular engineering that's gone into Curiosity, however, its goal is actually quite modest. When NASA says it wants to find out if Mars was ever suitable for life, they use a very circumscribed version of the word. They are looking for signs of liquid water, which all living things on Earth need. They are looking for organic carbon, which life on Earth produces and, in some cases, can feed on to survive. In other words, they're looking on Mars for the sorts of conditions that support life on Earth. But there's no good reason to assume that all life has to be like the life we're familiar with. In 2007, a board of scientists appointed by the National Academies of Science decided they couldn't rule out the possibility that life might be able to exist without water or carbon. If such weird life on Mars exists, Curiosity will probably miss it."
kenekaplan writes "Intel application engineer Travis Bonifield has been working closely with Hawking to communicate with the world for a decade. He's traveled from the United States to England every few years to hand-deliver Hawking a customized PC. Bonifield talks about the technology that powers the customized system." Hawking's latest machine is a Thinkpad x220. Lately he's been trouble speaking due to weakened cheek muscles (down to one word per minute). New Scientist has a brief interview with Hawking's outgoing technician on the challenges he faced. It turns out Hawking is still using a DECtalk (despite some reports suggesting otherwise).
First time accepted submitter en4bz writes "Representative Lamar Smith, the creator of the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA), has been consistently receiving donations averaging $50 000 from the TV/Film/Music industry for each of his re-election campaigns for the past ten years. Smith has received roughly half a million dollars from the TV/Film/Music lobby over the past ten years according to opensecrets.org. Check out the source link for a full breakdown of donors to Smith's campaigns." Speaking of SOPA, new submitter DarkStar1O9 submits this "explanation in simple terms of why this dangerous new bill in congress could result in the extinction of sites that are based on user-generated content like YouTube, Reddit, and StumbleUpon." Update: 12/18 20:42 GMT by T : An anonymous reader writes "Eric S. Raymond weighs in on SOPA and the question of why so many people hate this bill and not the dozens of others just like it that get passed on a regular basis."
CWmike writes "Researchers at Rice University have demonstrated a new data storage medium made out of a layer of graphite only 10 atoms thick. The technology could potentially provide many times the capacity of current flash memory and withstand temperatures of 200 degrees Celsius and radiation that would make solid-state disk memory disintegrate. 'Though we grow it from the vapor phase, this material [graphene] is just like graphite in a pencil. You slide these right off the end of your pencil onto paper. If you were to place Scotch tape over it and pull up, you can sometimes pull up as small as one sheet of graphene. It is a little under 1 nanometer thick,' Professor James Tour said."
An anonymous reader writes "We're a school district in the beginning phases of a laptop program which has the eventual goal of putting a Macbook in the hands of every student from 6th to 12th grade. The students will essentially own the computers, are expected to take them home every night, and will be able to purchase the laptops for a nominal fee upon graduation. Here's the dilemma — how much freedom do you give to students? The state mandates web filtering on all machines. However, there is some flexibility on exactly what should be filtered. Are things like Facebook and Myspace a legitimate use of a school computer? What about games, forums, or blogs, all of which could be educational, distracting or obscene? We also have the ability to monitor any machine remotely, lock the machine down at certain hours, prevent the installation of any software by the user, and prevent the use of iChat. How far do we take this? While on one hand we need to avoid legal problems and irresponsible behavior, there's a danger of going so far to minimize liability that we make the tool nearly useless. Equally concerning is the message sent to the students. Will a perceived lack of trust cripple the effectiveness of the program?"
grrlscientist writes in with a beautiful piece of science, beautifully explicated. The poignant bit is that the birds in question are all extinct. "Every once in awhile, I will read a scientific paper that astonishes and delights me so much that I can hardly wait to tell you all about it. Such is the situation with a newly published paper about the Hawai'ian Honeyeaters. In short, due to the remarkable power of convergent evolution, Hawai'ian Honeyeaters have thoroughly deceived taxonomists and ornithologists as to their true origin and identity for more than 200 years."
The Other A.N. Other writes "How does the latest build of Windows 7 stack up against Windows Vista? The answer seems to be very well if the benchmarks run by ZDNet are anything to go by. If Microsoft keeps up the good then Windows 7 should be head and shoulders better than Vista. 'What we have here is one set of data points for one particular system, but I think that the results are very promising. The fact that Windows 7 comes out on top in three out of four of these tests at this early stage is very promising indeed. The boot time and PCMark Vantage results are particularly good.'"
coondoggie writes "The Federal Trade Commission today got a court to at least temporarily halt a massive 'scareware' scheme, which falsely claimed that scans had detected viruses, spyware, and pornography on consumers' computers. According to the FTC, the scheme has tricked more than one million consumers into buying computer security products such as WinFixer, WinAntivirus, DriveCleaner, ErrorSafe, and XP Antivirus. The court also froze the assets of Innovative Marketing, Inc. and ByteHosting Internet Services, LLC to preserve the possibility of providing consumers with monetary redress, the FTC stated."
kpesler writes "Today, the Khronos Group released the OpenCL API specification (which we discussed earlier this year). It provides an open API for executing general-purpose code kernels on GPUs — so-called GPGPU functionality. Initially bolstered by Apple, the API garnered the support of major players including NVIDIA, AMD/ATI, and Intel. Motivated by inclusion in OS X Snow Leopard, the spec was completed in record time — about half a year from the formation of the group to the ratified spec."
Since shortly after its release in late 2004, World of Warcraft has held the position of the most popular MMO, quickly outstripping predecessors such as Everquest and Ultima Online, and continuing to hold the lead despite competition from contemporaries and newer offerings, like Warhammer Online. When World of Warcraft's first expansion, The Burning Crusade, was released, it built on an already rich world by using feedback from players and two extra years of design experience to work on condensing the game to focus more on the best parts. Now, with the release of Wrath of the Lich King, Blizzard seems to have gotten themselves ahead of the curve; in addition to the many changes intended to remove the "grind" aspect that is so prevalent in this genre, they've gone on to effectively put themselves in the player's shoes and ask, "What would make this more fun? Wouldn't it be cool if..?" Read on for the rest of my thoughts.
Falkkin writes "Ars Technica reports that audio CAPTCHAs consisting of only distorted digits or letters can be easy to crack using machine learning techniques. This includes most of the audio CAPTCHAs currently in use on the Web. The reCAPTCHA team has discussed their new audio CAPTCHA, which is resistant to this attack."
Mark.J - ISPreview writes "The Number Resource Organization, which is made up of the five Regional Internet Registries, has revealed that the rate of new entrants into the IPv6 routing system has increased by 300% over the past two years. The news is important because IPv4 addresses (e.g. 220.127.116.11), which are assigned to your computer periodically, are running out. IPv6 addressing (e.g. 2ffe:1800:3525:3:200:f8ff:fe21:67cf) was invented as a longer and more secure replacement." IPv6 is still gaining ground slowly, particularly in the US.
KingofGnG writes "AV-Comparatives, the Austrian team of experts dedicated to antivirus tests acknowledged as a reference point in the field, has published the second part of the mid-year comparative, an ideal addendum to the one already released last September. This time the aim is to evaluate the antimalware tools' effectiveness against unknown threats in a test scenario meant to prove the heuristic part and the generic markers of the on-demand scanning engines." The best in show (of 16 anti-malware packages evaluated), Avira AntiVir was able to find 71% of the unknown malware it was exposed to in the first week, dropping to 67% after the fourth.