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Submission + - Mutation, not Natural Selection, which led to the rise of new species (phys.org) 1

Taco Cowboy writes: Blair Hedges, a biologist at Temple University in Philadelphia, has proposed a provocative alternative to the natural selection view of evolution

According to Mr. Hedges, Adaptation had little to do with it. It was simply a matter of chance and time

No matter what the life form — plant or animal, insect or mammal — it takes about 2 million years for a new species to form. Random genetic events, not natural selection, play the main role in speciation

This controversial proposal stems from efforts by Hedges and collaborators to build the world’s most comprehensive tree of life — a chart plotting the connections among 50,000 species of Earth’s vast menagerie. Their analysis suggests that speciation is essentially random

Evolutionary biologists find the research effort intriguing, particularly in its size and scope, but they are also somewhat skeptical of the provocative ideas that have emerged. “It’s a huge tour de force” said Arne Mooers, a biologist at Simon Fraser University in British Columbia. “There are lots of interesting claims — the devil will be in the details”

To build the tree, Hedges, his Temple colleague Sudhir Kumar, and their collaborators compiled data from nearly 2,300 published studies, gleaning from each the time when two species diverged from a common ancestor. They used those data to construct a map of relationships among different species, known as a “timetree.” To form a branch, the researchers started with the two species within a closely related taxonomic group that have the most recent common ancestor. Then they added the next closest species, and so on

In a family tree for example, it is akin to starting with siblings, then adding in first cousins and second cousins

Bringing all those branches together results in a comprehensive timetree of life

It will take some time for scientists to sort through the technical details of the paper, which was published in April in the journal Molecular Biology and Evolution. And while some scientists have been complimentary, others immediately challenged the results, questioning both the accuracy of the tree and the conclusions that Hedges has drawn. “I am very skeptical about inferring patterns of speciation from such a broad overview of the tree of life,” said Chris Jiggins, a biologist at the University of Cambridge in England

“The classic view of evolution is that it happens in fits and starts,” said Michael Benton, a paleontologist at the University of Bristol in England

A change in the environment, such as a rise in temperatures after an ice age, might spark a burst of speciation as organisms adapt to their new surroundings. Alternatively, a single remarkable adaptation such as flight in the ancestors of birds or hair in mammals might trigger a massive expansion of animals with those characteristics

Hedges argues that while such bursts do occur, the vast majority of speciation is more prosaic and evenly timed

To start, two populations become separated, driven apart by geography or other factors. New species emerge every 2 million years, on average, in a metronomic rhythm tapped out by the random nature of genetic mutations. He likens the process to radioactive decay. It’s impossible to predict when an individual radioactive nucleus will decay, but a clump of many atoms will decay at a highly predictable rate known as the material’s half-life

Similarly, mutations strike the genome randomly, but over a long enough time the accumulation of mutations follows a pattern. “There is a kind of speciation clock ticking along” Hedges said

Submission + - AdBlock Plus Wins in German Court in Setback for Microsoft and Google

HughPickens.com writes: Andrew Patrizio reports at Network World that a German court has ruled that the practice of blocking advertising is legal, throwing a wrench into the plans of advertising and publishing giants like Microsoft and Google to stop AdBlock Plus, a simple add-on to Chrome and Firefox, that has about 144 million active users (PDF), up 69% in a year. German publishers Zeit Online and Handelsblatt brought the suit against Eyeo, the company that owns Adblock Plus saying Adblock Plus should not be allowed to block ads on their websites. Microsoft, Google, and some French publishers were reportedly considering a suit against AdBlock Plus as well, with the chief of a French publisher's association telling AFP that its members lose 20% to 40% of revenue due to AdBlock Plus, which has 144 million users worldwide. "The Hamburg court decision is an important one," says Ben Williams, a director of Eyeo, "because it sets a precedent that may help us avoid additional lawsuits and expenses defending what we feel is an obvious consumer right: giving people the ability to control their own screens by letting them block annoying ads and protect their privacy."

Submission + - New Privacy Concerns About U.S. Program That Can Track Snail Mail (fastcompany.com)

Lashdots writes: A lawyers’ group has called for greater oversight of a government program that gives state and federal law enforcement officials access to metadata from private communications for criminal investigations and national security purposes. But it's not digital: this warrantless surveillance is conducted on regular mail. "The mail cover has been in use, in some form, since the 1800s," Chief Postal Inspector Guy J. Cottrell told Congress in November. The program targets a range of criminal activity including fraud, pornography, and terrorism, but, he said, "today, the most common use of this tool is related to investigations to rid the mail of illegal drugs and illegal drug proceeds." Recent revelations that the U.S. Postal Service photographs the front and back of all mail sent through the U.S., ostensibly for sorting purposes, has, Fast Company reports, brought new scrutiny—and new legal responses—to this obscure program.
Programming

Submission + - The Struggles of Developing StarCraft (codeofhonor.com)

An anonymous reader writes: Patrick Wyatt led production efforts for several of Blizzard Entertainment's early games, including Warcraft 1 and 2 and StarCraft. Wyatt has just published an in-depth look at the development of StarCraft, highlighting many of the problems the team encountered, and several of the hacks they came to regret later. Quoting: 'Given all the issues working against the team, you might think it was hard to identify a single large source of bugs, but based on my experiences the biggest problems in StarCraft related to the use of doubly-linked linked lists. Linked lists were used extensively in the engine to track units with shared behavior. With twice the number of units of its predecessor — StarCraft had a maximum of 1600, up from 800 in Warcraft 2 — it became essential to optimize the search for units of specific types by keeping them linked together in lists. ... All of these lists were doubly-linked to make it possible to add and remove elements from the list in constant time — O(1) — without the necessity to traverse the list looking for the element to remove — O(N). Unfortunately, each list was “hand-maintained” — there were no shared functions to link and unlink elements from these lists; programmers just manually inlined the link and unlink behavior anywhere it was required. And hand-rolled code is far more error-prone than simply using a routine that’s already been debugged. ... So the game would blow up all the time. All the time.'

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