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+ - Federal government demands NYC strip Times Square of billboards

Submitted by schwit1
schwit1 writes: Federal officials have ordered New York to remove the billboards that make Times Square famous or else the state will lose $90 million in federal highway funds.

The edict comes from a 2012 law that makes Times Square an arterial route to the national highway system. And that puts it under the 1965 Highway Beautification Act, which limits signs to 1,200 square feet. It took the feds until now to realize that Times Square was included.

+ - Extreme secrecy eroding support for Obama's trade pact->

Submitted by schwit1
schwit1 writes: Classified briefings and bill-readings in basement rooms are making members queasy.

f you want to hear the details of the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal the Obama administration is hoping to pass, you've got to be a member of Congress, and you've got to go to classified briefings and leave your staff and cellphone at the door.

If you're a member who wants to read the text, you've got to go to a room in the basement of the Capitol Visitor Center and be handed it one section at a time, watched over as you read, and forced to hand over any notes you make before leaving.

And no matter what, you can't discuss the details of what you've read.

"It's like being in kindergarten," said Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.), who's become the leader of the opposition to President Barack Obama's trade agenda. "You give back the toys at the end."

For those out to sink Obama's free trade push, highlighting the lack of public information is becoming central to their opposition strategy: The White House isn't even telling Congress what it's asking for, they say, or what it's already promised foreign governments.

Link to Original Source

+ - Mysterious X-rays at the center of the galaxy

Submitted by schwit1
schwit1 writes: The x-ray space telescope NuSTAR has detected high energy x-rays at the center of the Milky Way coming from no obvious source.

In and of themselves, X-rays from the galactic center aren't unusual. But the X-rays NuSTAR detects don't seem to be associated with structures already known to exist. For example, a supernova remnant named Sgr A East emits low-energy X-rays but not high-energy X-rays. The high-energy blotch doesn't correlate with structures seen in radio images either, such as the dust and gas clouds of Sgr A West that are falling toward the supermassive black hole.

Instead, Perez and her colleagues propose that thousands of stellar corpses could be responsible for the high-energy X-rays: massive (and still-growing) white dwarfs, spun-up pulsars, or black holes or neutrons stars feeding on low-mass companion stars.

All of their proposed solutions, however, have serious problems explaining all of the data.

+ - Astronaut drink the first home-brewed coffee in space

Submitted by schwit1
schwit1 writes: In addition to drinking the first home-brewed coffee in space, the astronauts also used a 3-D printed mug, though the printing took place not in space but on Earth.

Italian astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti, dressed in a "Star Trek" captain's uniform, became the first person in space to sip from a freshly-made cup of coffee on Sunday (May 3), using the International Space Station's newly-installed espresso machine.

+ - Congressional liberals, conservatives unite against NSA spying->

Submitted by SonicSpike
SonicSpike writes: In an ornate room on the first floor of the Capitol, some of the most liberal members of Congress met for lunch on Thursday with nearly a dozen stalwart conservatives who’ve repeatedly taken on their own leadership for being too soft.

The agenda consisted of a single topic, perhaps the only one that would bring together such ideologically divergent politicians in Washington at this moment: their shared disdain for the PATRIOT Act.

With key provisions of the controversial post-9/11 law set to expire at the end of the month, including authority for the National Security Agency’s bulk collection of Americans’ phone records, critics in both parties are preparing to strike. Among those on hand for the meeting were Democratic Rep. Mark Pocan, a card-carrying ACLU member from the liberal mecca of Madison, Wisconsin, and GOP Rep. Thomas Massie, a tea party adherent from Kentucky.

Along with Pocan and Massie, the Thursday gathering drew Reps. Justin Amash (R-Mich.), Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.) and Jared Polis (D-Colo.). The lawmakers, many of them privacy zealots with libertarian leanings, discussed the USA Freedom Act, bipartisan legislation that would rein in the bulk collection of telephone records and reauthorize expiring anti-terror surveillance provisions in the PATRIOT Act.

“We are definitely making it a bipartisan effort because we believe there are people on both sides of the aisle who are interested in protecting the rights of Americans,” Amash said.

Democrats and libertarian-minded Republicans want changes that go beyond what’s currently on the table, but it’s unclear whether they have the numbers. Massie and Amash are key players in a growing conservative bloc of the Republican caucus that in the past has forced Boehner and Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) to alter legislation that didn’t pass conservative muster.

“People are going to have to make a decision if there are enough real reforms in there to make it worth reauthorizing the PATRIOT Act,” Massie said. “I don’t think the reforms are significant enough.”

“The onus is really on [Republican and Democratic leaders] to have something in place if this is going to run out and they need to reauthorize something,” the Republican added. “We’re trying to figure out how to get a better, stronger [bill] that protects privacy rights.”

Link to Original Source

+ - SpaceX Landing - Picture and Video from Barge

Submitted by Maddog Batty
Maddog Batty writes: Last months Falcon 9 1st stage barge landing attempt was unfortunately a failure but it was very close. An official photo taken from the barge has now been released showing the rocket just before landing. There is also an unofficial video from the barge, which shows just how close they got. In particular, the "hover slam" method of landing where the rocket engine produces thrust to weight ratio significantly above 1 to rapidly reduce velocity just before landing seems to work well. This method compared to a gentle landing uses less fuel but the throttle up needs to be performed at exactly the right point so as to bring the velocity down to zero as it hits the deck.

+ - Sea level rise on Northwest European Shelf caused by moon - not man

Submitted by Anonymous Coward
An anonymous reader writes: This recent (free-access) paper from the Geological Survey of Denmark and Greenland uses a 160-year tidal gauge series from 26 stations in the Baltic Sea to show that the (global) sea level is completely governed by multi-decadal oscillations of the lunar cycle — superimposed on a unchanging and slow (1.2 mm/yr) sea level rise during that long period. The upside of studying the Baltic is that the daily tidal difference is very low in this region, which gives data with low noise. The final correlation coefficient with the lunar influence was 0.997, so not much room for anthropogenic global warming there.

The authors note in the end: "If our theory is correct and no unprecedented sea-level changing mechanism occurs during the ongoing nodal cycle, then the region’s ongoing sea-level rise (quasi-oscillatory rise since 1971) would be expected to culminate around 2011 and thereafter be falling. At the earliest, this prognosis can be empirically documented when the ongoing lunar nodal period is complete in 2020–21, i.e. within the next 6–7 years."

According to the Danish weekly ‘Weekendavisen’) the article was turned down by Nature, Nature Geoscience, Nature Climate, and the Nature-affiliated Earth Science Review before the authors turned to Journal of Coastal Research who happily accepted it. One of the authors, Jens Morten Hansen, believes the reason for Nature's rejection is that it does not fit with the IPCC political agenda.

+ - An exoplanet that shouldn't exist

Submitted by schwit1
schwit1 writes: Astronomers have discovered an exoplanet that is too big for its tiny host star.

Present theory says that a Jupiter-sized planet should not have formed around this M-class dwarf star. But it has. In addition, the planet has the mass of Saturn but has been puffed up to the size of Jupiter. Yet, the star doesn't provide it enough heat to cause it to puff up in this manner.

+ - FBI Slammed On Capitol Hill For 'Stupid' Ideas About Encryption->

Submitted by blottsie
blottsie writes: At a hearing in Washington, D.C., on Wednesday, the FBI endured outright hostility as both technical experts and members of Congress from both parties roundly criticized the law enforcement agency's desire to place so-called back doors into encryption technology.

"Creating a technological backdoor just for good guys is technologically stupid," said Rep. Ted Lieu (D-Calif.), a Stanford University computer science graduate. "That's just stupid."

Link to Original Source

+ - Progress freighter declared lost

Submitted by schwit1
schwit1 writes: The Russians have declared lost the Progress freighter that had been launched to ISS yesterday.

They never could regain control of the craft, plus it was in an incorrect orbit. Moreover, the U.S. Air Force has detected debris nearby, suggesting a significant failure of some kind.

The Russians are now considering delaying the next manned launch, scheduled for May 26, while they investigate this failure. Both Soyuz and Progress use some of the same systems, including the radar system that failed on Progress, and they want to make sure the problem won't pop up on the manned mission.

At the same time, they are also considering advancing the launch date of the next Progress to ISS from August 6.

Based on these reports, I think they might swap the launch dates for the two flights. A Dragon is scheduled to go to ISS in between these missions, though that schedule could be changed as well to accommodate the Russian plans.

+ - Is it dark matter, or a previously unrecognized failure of Newton? 2

Submitted by schwit1
schwit1 writes: The uncertainty of science: Using new data gathered by the 10-meter Keck telescope in Hawaii, astronomers have found that the outer stars of elliptical galaxies exhibit the same behavior as the outer stars of spirals, suggesting once again the existence of dark matter.

One of the most important scientific discoveries of the 20th century was that the spectacular spiral galaxies, such as our own Milky Way, rotate much faster than expected, powered by [the] extra gravitational force of invisible "dark matter" as it is now called. Since this discovery 40 years ago, we have learned that this mysterious substance, which is probably an exotic elementary particle, makes up about 85 percent of the mass in the Universe, leaving only 15 percent to be the ordinary stuff encountered in our everyday lives. Dark matter is central to our understanding of how galaxies form and evolve — and is ultimately one of the reasons for the existence of life on Earth — yet we know almost nothing about it.

"The surprising finding of our study was that elliptical galaxies maintain a remarkably constant circular speed out to large distances from their centers, in the same way that spiral galaxies are already known to do," said Cappellari. "This means that in these very different types of galaxies, stars and dark matter conspire to redistribute themselves to produce this effect, with stars dominating in the inner regions of the galaxies, and a gradual shift in the outer regions to dark matter dominance."

What is most fascinating about this press release, however, is that it also noted that dark matter is only one explanation for the data, and that the failure of Newtonian physics at large distances, instead of dark matter, might also provide an explanation.

However, the [solution] does not come out naturally from models of dark matter, and some disturbing fine-tuning is required to explain the observations. For this reason, the [problem] even led some authors to suggest that, rather than being due to dark matter, it may be due to Newton's law of gravity becoming progressively less accurate at large distances. Remarkably, decades after it was proposed, this alternative theory (without dark matter) still cannot be conclusively ruled out.

Physicists call this other theory MOND, for modified Newtonian dynamics. It is not a very popular theory, however, and is almost always ignored, even though it appears to work as well as dark matter to explain the motion of stars in galaxies. Instead, most scientists favor dark matter.

For this press release to mention it as suggests the new data favors it over dark matter, which would make this a significant discovery.

+ - Tiny robots climb walls carrying more than 100 times their weight->

Submitted by schwit1
schwit1 writes: Mighty things come in small packages. The little robots in this video can haul things that weigh over 100 times more than themselves.

The super-strong bots — built by mechanical engineers at Stanford — will be presented next month at the International Conference on Robotics and Automation in Seattle, Washington.

The secret is in the adhesives on the robots' feet. Their design is inspired by geckos, which have climbing skills that are legendary in the animal kingdom. The adhesives are covered in minute rubber spikes that grip firmly onto the wall as the robot climbs. When pressure is applied, the spikes bend, increasing their surface area and thus their stickiness. When the robot picks its foot back up, the spikes straighten out again and detach easily.

Link to Original Source

+ - Obama unveils 6-year-old report on NSA surveillance->

Submitted by schwit1
schwit1 writes: With debate gearing up over the coming expiration of the Patriot Act surveillance law, the Obama administration on Saturday unveiled a 6-year-old report examining the once-secret program to collect information on Americans' calls and emails.

They found that while many senior intelligence officials believe the program filled a gap by increasing access to international communications, others including FBI agents, CIA analysts and managers "had difficulty evaluating the precise contribution of the PSP to counterterrorism efforts because it was most often viewed as one source among many available analytic and intelligence-gathering tools in these efforts."

Link to Original Source

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