The Courts

State Board Concedes It Violated Free Speech Rights of Oregon Man Fined For Writing 'I Am An Engineer' (oregonlive.com) 178

According to Oregon Live, "A state panel violated a Beaverton man's free speech rights by claiming he had unlawfully used the title 'engineer' and by fining him when he repeatedly challenged Oregon's traffic-signal timing before local media and policymakers, Oregon's attorney general has ruled." From the report: Oregon's Board of Examiners for Engineering and Land Surveying unconstitutionally applied state law governing engineering practice to Mats Jarlstrom when he exercised his free speech about traffic lights and described himself as an engineer since he was doing so "in a noncommercial'' setting and not soliciting professional business, the state Department of Justice has conceded. "We have admitted to violating Mr. Jarlstrom's rights,'' said Christina L. Beatty-Walters, senior assistant attorney general, in federal court Monday. The state's regulation of Jarlstrom under engineering practice law "was not narrowly tailored to any compelling state interests,'' she wrote in court papers. The state has pledged the board will not pursue the Beaverton man any further when he's not acting in a commercial or professional manner, and on Monday urged a federal judge to dismiss the case. The state also sent a $500 check to Jarlstrom in August, reimbursing him for the state fine.

Jarlstrom and his lawyers argued that's not good enough. They contend Jarlstrom isn't alone in getting snared by the state board's aggressive and "overbroad'' interpretation of state law. They contend others have been investigated improperly and want the court to look broader at the state law and its administrative rules and declare them unconstitutional. In the alternative, the state law should be restricted to only regulating engineering communications that are made as part of paid employment or a contractual agreement.

Science

Fewer Toys Gives Kids a Better Quality of Playtime, Study Claims (nypost.com) 145

An anonymous reader quotes a report from New York Post: Toddlers with just a few toys were more creative and focused than tots with more choices, according to the study, published in an upcoming edition of the journal Infant Behavior and Development. For the study, University of Toledo researchers gave kids under age 3 either four toys or 16 toys and recorded their playing habits, according to the report. "When provided with fewer toys in the environment, toddlers engage in longer periods of play with a single toy, allowing better focus to explore and play more creatively," researchers said. Fewer toys "promotes development and healthy play," they concluded. The bah humbug-boosting findings may be one reason to skimp on the stocking stuffers -- but parents have another option. Simply keep more toys in storage also helps rein in the attention of scatterbrained toddlers, researchers said.
Censorship

Cloudflare's CEO Has a Plan To Never Censor Hate Speech Again (arstechnica.com) 395

"Cloudflare CEO Matthew Prince hated cutting off service to the infamous neo-Nazi site the Daily Stormer in August," reports Ars Technica. "And he's determined not to do it again. 'I'm almost a free-speech absolutist.' Prince said at an event at the New America Foundation last Wednesday. But in a subsequent interview with Ars, Prince argued that in the case of the Daily Stormer, the company didn't have much choice." From the report: Prince's response was to cut Daily Stormer off while laying the groundwork to make sure he'd never have to make a decision like that again. In a remarkable company-wide email sent shortly after the decision, Prince described his own actions as "arbitrary" and "dangerous." "I woke up this morning in a bad mood and decided to kick them off the Internet," Prince wrote in August. "It was a decision I could make because I'm the CEO of a major Internet infrastructure company." He argued that "it's important that what we did today not set a precedent." Prior to August, Cloudflare had consistently refused to police content published by its customers. Last week, Prince made a swing through DC to help ensure that the Daily Stormer decision does not, in fact, set a precedent. He met with officials from the Federal Communications Commission and with researchers at the libertarian Cato Institute and the left-of-center New America Foundation -- all in an effort to ensure that he'd have the political cover he needed to say no next time he came under pressure to take down controversial content.

The law is strongly on Cloudflare's side here. Internet infrastructure providers like Cloudflare have broad legal immunity for content created by their customers. But legal rights may not matter if Cloudflare comes under pressure from customers to take down content. And that's why Prince is working to cultivate a social consensus that infrastructure providers like Cloudflare should not be in the censorship business -- no matter how offensive its customers' content might be.

Australia

Amazon Finally Launches In Australia (mashable.com) 57

After a very soft launch on Nov. 23, Amazon has officially launched in Australia. Mashable reports: One of the biggest things to happen to Australia's retail sector, Amazon's website has switched over from a Kindle Store presence to its fully fledged Amazon.com.au, with millions of products now ready for eager Christmas shoppers across more than 20 categories. It's a huge moment for Australian retail, and one of the most anticipated launches of the year, after Amazon confirmed in April 2017 it would expand its operations in Australia. Local retailers like David Jones and Myer have been scrambling to launch their own "premium" in-store services and price matching strategies or revamped online stores ahead of Amazon's arrival.

Thousands of Australian brands have already signed up with Amazon to sell their wares locally and internationally. Small and medium-sized Australian businesses are selling on Amazon Marketplace. Amazon's allowing free delivery on eligible orders above $49 that are sold by Amazon, and the company is rolling out one-day delivery service to select areas. Plus, for the first time, Australian customers will be able to access Prime Video and Twitch Prime, launching Prime shipping benefits in Australia in mid-2018 (registration for Prime is open now for Aussies).

Piracy

Gamer Streams Pay-Per-View UFC Fight By Pretending To Play It (theverge.com) 75

WheezyJoe writes: A pay-per-view UFC Match was streamed in its entirety on Twitch and other platforms by a gamer pretending he was "playing" the fight as a game. The gamer, AJ Lester, appearing in the corner of the image holding his game controller, made off like he was controlling the action of the "game" when in fact he was re-broadcasting the fight for free. A tweet showing Lester's antics went viral with over 63,000 retweets and 140,000 likes at the time of publication. Another clip shows him reacting wildly yelling "oooooooooooooooh!!!" and "damnnnnnn!" in response to the match.
Piracy

Not Even Free TV Can Get People To Stop Pirating Movies and TV Shows (qz.com) 221

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Quartz: Since the internet made it easier to illegally download and stream movies and TV shows, Hollywood struggled with people pirating its works online. About $5.5 billion in revenue was lost to piracy globally last year, Digital TV Research found (pdf), and it's expected to approach $10 billion by 2022. Streaming-video services like Netflix and Hulu have made it more affordable to access a wide-range of titles from different TV networks and movie studios. But the availability of cheap content online has done little to curb piracy, according to research published in Management Science (paywall) last month. Customers who were offered free subscriptions to a video-on-demand package (SVOD) were just as likely to turn to piracy to find programming as those without the offering, researchers at Catolica Lisbon School of Business & Economics and Carnegie Mellon University found.

The researchers partnered with an unnamed internet-service provider -- in a region they chose not to disclose -- to offer customers who were already prone to piracy an on-demand package for free for 45 days. About 10,000 households participated in the study, and about half were given the free service. The on-demand service was packaged like Netflix or Hulu in layout, appearance, and scope of programming, but was delivered through a TV set-top box. It had a personalized recommendation engine that surfaced popular programming based on what those customers were already watching illegally through BitTorrent logs, which were obtained from a third-party firm. The study found that while the participants watched 4.6% more TV overall when they had the free on-demand service, they did not stop using BitTorrent to pirate movies and TV shows that were not included in the offering.

EU

Apple To Start Paying Ireland the Billions It Owes In Back Taxes (engadget.com) 124

Last year, Apple was ordered to pay a record sum of 13 billion euros ($14.5 billion) plus interest after the European Commission said Ireland illegally slashed the iPhone maker's tax bill. "But Ireland was rather slow to start collecting that cash, which led the Commission to refer the Irish government to the European Court of Justice in October due to Ireland's non-compliance with the 2016 ruling," reports Engadget. "However, the Wall Street Journal reports today that the country will finally start collecting those billions of dollars owed by Apple and it may start doing so early next year." From the report: Both Apple and Ireland have fought back against the ruling -- Ireland has said that the European Union overstepped its authority and got some of the country's laws wrong while Apple has maintained that the amount it's being told to repay was miscalculated. Both are continuing to appeal the decision and the money will sit in an escrow fund while they do so. Ireland has said that negotiating the terms of that fund is what has held up its collection of the money but the European Commission said that the action it has taken against Ireland for failing to follow the 2016 ruling will proceed until the money is collected in full.
Security

PayPal Says 1.6 Million Customer Details Stolen In Breach At Canadian Subsidiary (bleepingcomputer.com) 24

New submitter Kargan shares a report from BleepingComputer: PayPal says that one of the companies it recently acquired suffered a security incident during which an attacker appears to have accessed servers that stored information for 1.6 million customers. The victim of the security breach is TIO Networks, a Canadian company that runs a network of over 60,000 utility and bills payment kiosks across North America. PayPal acquired TIO Networks this past July for $238 million in cash. PayPal reportedly suspended the operations of TIO's network on November 10th. "PayPal says the intruder(s) got access to the personal information of both TIO customers and customers of TIO billers," reports BleepingComputer. "The company did not reveal what type of information the attacker accessed, but since this is a payment system, attackers most likely obtained both personally-identifiable information (PII) and financial details." The company has started notifying customers and is offering free credit monitoring memberships.
The Internet

FCC Won't Delay Vote, Says Net Neutrality Supporters Are 'Desperate' (arstechnica.com) 347

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Ars Technica: The Federal Communications Commission will move ahead with its vote to kill net neutrality rules next week despite an unresolved court case that could strip away even more consumer protections. FCC Chairman Ajit Pai says that net neutrality rules aren't needed because the Federal Trade Commission can protect consumers from broadband providers. But a pending court case involving AT&T could strip the FTC of its regulatory authority over AT&T and similar ISPs. A few dozen consumer advocacy groups and the City of New York urged Pai to delay the net neutrality-killing vote in a letter today. If the FCC eliminates its rules and the court case goes AT&T's way, there would be a "'regulatory gap' that would leave consumers utterly unprotected," the letter said. When contacted by Ars, Pai's office issued this statement in response to the letter: "This is just evidence that supporters of heavy-handed Internet regulations are becoming more desperate by the day as their effort to defeat Chairman Pai's plan to restore Internet freedom has stalled. The vote will proceed as scheduled on December 14."
Businesses

Vidme To Shut Down On Dec 15th 2017 49

New submitter substance2003 writes: Vid.me has announced they are shutting down on December 15th 2017 citing that they could not find a path to sustainability. This news should be of concern as content creators have been getting increasingly frustrated with Youtube's algorithms that demonetize their videos and this means they have one less alternative to turn towards.
Windows

Lead Developer of Popular Windows Application Classic Shell Is Quitting 97

WheezyJoe writes: Classic Shell is a free Windows application that for years has replaced Microsoft's Start Screen or Start Menu with a highly configurable, more familiar non-tile Start menu. Yesterday, the lead developer released what he said would be the last version of Classic Shell. Citing other interests and the frequency at which Microsoft releases updates to Windows 10, as well as lagging support for the Win32 programming model, the developer says that he won't work on the program anymore. The application's source code is available on SourceForge, so there is a chance others may come and fork the code to continue development. There are several alternatives available, some pay and some free (like Start10 and Start Is Back++), but Classic Shell has an exceptionally broad range of tweaks and customizability.
IT

Man Hacks Jail Computer Network To Get Inmate Released Early (bleepingcomputer.com) 31

An anonymous reader writes: A Michigan man pleaded guilty last week to hacking the computer network of the Washtenaw County Jail, where he modified inmate records in an attempt to have an inmate released early. To breach the jail's network, the attacker used only spear-phishing emails and telephone social engineering.

The man called jail employees and posed as local IT staffers, tricking some into accessing a website, and downloading and installing malware under the guise of a jail system upgrade. Once the man (Konrads Voits) had access to this data, investigators said he accessed the XJail system, searched and accessed the records of several inmates, and modified at least one entry "in an effort to get that inmate released early." Jail employees noticed the modification right away and alerted the FBI. The man as arrested a month later and is now awaiting sentencing (maximum 10 years and a fine of up to $250,000).

Earth

Nations Agree To Ban Fishing in Arctic Ocean For At Least 16 Years (sciencemag.org) 96

Several readers share a report: Nine nations and the European Union have reached a deal to place the central Arctic Ocean (CAO) off-limits to commercial fishers for at least the next 16 years. The pact, announced last week, will give scientists time to understand the region's marine ecology -- and the potential impacts of climate change -- before fishing becomes widespread. "There is no other high seas area where we've decided to do the science first," says Scott Highleyman, vice president of conservation policy and programs at the Ocean Conservancy in Washington, D.C., who also served on the U.S. delegation to the negotiations. "It's a great example of putting the precautionary principle into action." The deal to protect 2.8 million square kilometers of international waters in the Arctic was reached after six meetings spread over 2 years. It includes not just nations with coastal claims in the Arctic, but nations such as China, Japan, and South Korea with fishing fleets interested in operating in the region.
Businesses

NYTimes Editorial Board: The FCC Wants To Let Telecoms Cash In on the Internet (nytimes.com) 268

The New York Times' Editorial Board writes: The chairman of the Federal Communications Commission wants to let Comcast, Verizon and other broadband companies turn the internet into a latter-day version of cable TV, in which they decide what customers can watch and how much they pay for that content. That's essentially what would happen under the proposal by the chairman, Ajit Pai, to abandon the commission's network neutrality rules, which prevent telecom companies from interfering with how their customers use the internet. Net neutrality prevents those companies from having companies like Amazon pay a fee to get their content delivered more quickly than their rivals', and from having the firms throttle other services and websites, even blocking customer access to, say, Netflix or an online newspaper. Under Mr. Pai's proposal, telecom companies would effectively be allowed to sell you a basic internet plan that might include only limited access to Google and email. For Facebook and Twitter you might need a slightly more expensive deluxe plan. The premium plan might include access to Netflix and Amazon. Oh, and by the way, media businesses eager to gain more users could pay broadband companies to be included in their enhanced basic or deluxe plans. Further reading: Associated Press fact check: Net-neutrality claims leave out key context; The death of the Internet.
Education

To Solve the Diversity Drought in Software Engineering, Look to Community Colleges (vice.com) 336

An anonymous reader shares a report: Community college is not flashy and does not make promises about your future employability. You will also likely not learn current way-cool web development technologies like React and GraphQL. In terms of projects, you're more likely to build software for organizing a professor's DVD or textbook collection than you are responsive web apps. I would tell you that all of this is OK because in community college computer science classes you're learning fundamentals, broad concepts like data structures, algorithmic complexity, and object-oriented programming. You won't learn any of those things as deeply as you would in a full-on university computer science program, but you'll get pretty far. And community college is cheap, though that varies depending on where you are. Here in Portland, OR, the local community college network charges $104 per credit. Which means it's possible to get a solid few semesters of computer science coursework down for a couple of grand. Which is actually amazing. In a new piece published in the Communications of the ACM, Silicon Valley researchers Louise Ann Lyon and Jill Denner make the argument that community colleges have the potential to play a key role in increasing equity and inclusion in computer science education. If you haven't heard, software engineering has a diversity problem. Access to education is a huge contributor to that, and Denner and Lyon see community college as something of a solution in plain sight.
Censorship

Apple, Google CEOs Bring Star Power as China Promotes Censorship (bloomberg.com) 38

An anonymous reader shares a Bloomberg report: Apple's Tim Cook and Google's Sundar Pichai made their first appearances at China's World Internet Conference, bringing star power to a gathering the Chinese government uses to promote its strategy of tight controls online. Apple's chief executive officer gave a surprise keynote at the opening ceremony on Sunday, calling for future internet and AI technologies to be infused with privacy, security and humanity. The same day, one of China's most-senior officials called for more aggressive government involvement online to combat terrorism and criminals. Wang Huning, one of seven men on China's top decision-making body, even called for a global response team to go well beyond its borders. It was Cook's second appearance in China in two months, following a meeting with President Xi Jinping in October. The iPhone maker has most of its products manufactured in the country and is trying to regain market share in smartphones against local competitors such as Huawei. "The theme of this conference -- developing a digital economy for openness and shared benefits -- is a vision we at Apple share," Cook said. "We are proud to have worked alongside many of our partners in China to help build a community that will join a common future in cyberspace."
Bitcoin

The Winklevoss Twins Are Now Bitcoin Billionaires (theverge.com) 155

The twin brothers who gained notoriety for suing Mark Zuckerberg over the claim that they started Facebook have done remarkably well in the wake of Bitcoin's record gains. From a report: Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss won $65 million from the Facebook lawsuit, and invested $11 million of their payout into Bitcoin in 2013, amassing one of the largest portfolios of Bitcoin in the world -- 1 percent of the entire currency's dollar value equivalent, said the twins at the time. Their slice of the Bitcoin pie is now worth over $1 billion after Bitcoin surged past $10,000 last week to now trade at $11,100, according to CoinDesk. The cryptocurrency has surged over 10,000 percent since the Winklevoss' investment, when one coin traded at around $120.
Communications

Texting Is 25 Years Old (cnet.com) 68

Readers share a report: The first text message was sent on Dec. 3, 1992, by British engineer Neil Papworth to Richard Jarvis, an executive at British telecom Vodafone. Typed out on a PC, it was sent to Jarvis's Orbitel 901, a mobile phone that would take up most of your laptop backpack. Although Papworth is credited with sending the first text message, he's not the so-called father of SMS. That honor falls on Matti Makkonen, who initially suggested the idea back in 1984 at a telecommunications conference. But texting didn't take off over night. First it had to be incorporated into the then-budding GSM standard. Today, about 97 percent of smartphone owners use text messaging, according to Pew Research, and along the way, a new set of sub-languages based on abbreviations and keyboard-based imagery has evolved.
Businesses

People Have Spent Over $1M Buying Virtual Cats on the Ethereum Blockchain (techcrunch.com) 128

Launched a few days ago, CryptoKitties is essentially like an digital version of Pokemon cards but based on the Ethereum blockchain. And like most viral sensations that catch on in the tech world, it's blowing up fast. From a report, shared by an anonymous reader: Built by Vancouver and San Francisco-based design studio AxiomZen, the game is the latest fad in the world of cryptocurrency and probably soon tech in general. People are spending a crazy amount of real money on the game. So far about $1.3M has been transacted, with multiple kittens selling for ~50 ETH (around $23,000) and the "genesis" kitten being sold for a record ~246 ETH (around $113,000). This third party site tracks the largest purchases made to date on the game. And like any good viral sensation prices are rising and fluctuating fast. Right now it will cost you about .03 ETH, or $12 to buy the least expensive kitten in the game. So now we have people using Ether, an asset with arguably little tangible utility -- to purchase an asset with unarguably zero tangible utility. Welcome to the internet in 2017.
Facebook

Facebook Launches New Messenger App for Young Kids -- What Could Possibly Go Wrong? (gizmodo.com) 62

More than one billion people use Facebook's Messenger app to communicate every month. Now the social juggernaut is going after the younger audience. On Monday, it announced Messenger Kids, a standalone mobile app designed for children age 13 and under. From a report: The app, Messenger Kids, is a messaging service that gives parents authority over who their kids can chat with. Once a parent adds someone to their child's contact list through the main Facebook app, kids can video chat as well as send photos, videos, and texts, or pick something from "a library of kid-appropriate and specially chosen GIFs, frames, stickers, masks, and drawing tools," according to Facebook's announcement post. [...] A Facebook spokesperson said in an email to Gizmodo, "We've built automated systems that can detect things like nudity, violence, and child exploitative imagery to help limit that content from being shared on Messenger Kids. We also have blocking and reporting mechanisms, and have a dedicated team of human reviewers that review all content that is reported."
Businesses

Why 'Shark Tank' Investor Kevin O'Leary Refuses To Spend $2.50 On a Cup of Coffee (cnbc.com) 750

An anonymous reader shares a report: Kevin O'Leary has invested hundreds of thousands of dollars in small businesses over the course of his tenure as a star and investor on ABC's "Shark Tank." But there is one business to which he refuses to fork over his hard-earned dollars: coffee shops. "Do I pay $2.50 for a coffee? Never, never, never do I do that," O'Leary tells CNBC Make It. "That is such a waste of money for something that costs 20 cents. I never buy a frape-latte-blah-blah-blah-woof-woof-woof for $2.50." Instead, he makes it at home. "I drink coffee, one cup every morning," he explains. "It costs about 18 cents to make it, and I invest the rest." That idea -- saving small sums and investing continually -- is central to O'Leary's personal finance advice. "The truth is, there is a lot of crap you don't need," he explains.
The Internet

From the Arctic's Melting Ice, an Unexpected Digital Hub (nytimes.com) 67

Cecilia Kang, reporting for the New York Times: This is one of the most remote towns in the United States, a small gravel spit on the northwest coast of Alaska, more than 3,700 miles from New York City. Icy seas surround it on three sides, leaving only an unpaved path to the mainland. Getting here from Anchorage, about 700 miles away, requires two flights. Roads do not connect the two places. Basics like milk and bread are delivered by air, and gas is brought in by barge during the summer. Needless to say, this is not the sort of place you expect to be a hub of the high-tech digital world. But in a surprising, and bittersweet, side effect of global warming -- and of the global economy -- one of the fastest internet connections in America is arriving in Point Hope, giving the 700 or so residents their first taste of broadband speed. The new connection is part of an ambitious effort by Quintillion, a five-year old company based in Anchorage, to take advantage of the melting sea ice to build a faster digital link between London and Tokyo. High-speed internet cables snake under the world's oceans, tying continents together and allowing email and other bits of digital data sent from Japan to arrive quickly in Britain. Until recently, those lines mostly bypassed the Arctic, where the ice blocked access to the ships that lay the cable. But as the ice has receded, new passageways have emerged, creating a more direct path for the cable -- over the earth's northern end through places like the Chukchi Sea -- and helping those emails move even move quickly. Quintillion is one of the companies laying the new cable, and Point Hope is one of the places along its route.
Desktops (Apple)

Apple Snafu Means Updating To macOS 10.13.1 Could Reactivate Root Access Bug (betanews.com) 74

Mark Wilson writes: A few days ago, a serious security flaw with macOS High Sierra came to light. It was discovered that it was possible to log into the 'root' account without entering a password, and -- although the company seemed to have been alerted to the issue a couple of weeks back -- praise was heaped on Apple for pushing a fix out of the door quickly. But calm those celebrations. It now transpires that the bug fix has a bug of its own. Upgrade to macOS 10.13.1 and you could well find that the patch is undone. Slow hand clap.
Iphone

Should Apple Share iPhone X Face Data With App Developers? (washingtonpost.com) 66

The Washington Post ran a technology column asking what happens "when the face-mapping tech that powers the iPhone X's cutesy 'Animoji' starts being used for creepier purposes." It's not just that the iPhone X scans 30,000 points on your face to make a 3D model. Though Apple stores that data securely on the phone, instead of sending it to its servers over the Internet, "Apple just started sharing your face with lots of apps." Although their columnist praises Apple's own commitment to privacy, "I also think Apple rushed into sharing face maps with app makers that may not share its commitment, and it isn't being paranoid enough about the minefield it just entered." "I think we should be quite worried," said Jay Stanley, a senior policy analyst at the American Civil Liberties Union. "The chances we are going to see mischief around facial data is pretty high -- if not today, then soon -- if not on Apple then on Android." Apple's face tech sets some good precedents -- and some bad ones... Less noticed was how the iPhone lets other apps now tap into two eerie views from the so-called TrueDepth camera. There's a wireframe representation of your face and a live read-out of 52 unique micro-movements in your eyelids, mouth and other features. Apps can store that data on their own computers.

To see for yourself, use an iPhone X to download an app called MeasureKit. It exposes the face data Apple makes available. The app's maker, Rinat Khanov, tells me he's already planning to add a feature that lets you export a model of your face so you can 3D print a mini-me. "Holy cow, why is this data available to any developer that just agrees to a bunch of contracts?" said Fatemeh Khatibloo, an analyst at Forrester Research.

"From years of covering tech, I've learned this much," the article concludes. "Given the opportunity to be creepy, someone will take it."
Earth

Silicon Valley Billionaires Award $22 Million in 'Breakthrough Prizes' (theguardian.com) 23

An anonymous reader quote The Guardian: The most glitzy event on the scientific calendar took place on Sunday night when the Breakthrough Foundation gave away $22 million in prizes to dozens of physicists, biologists and mathematicians at a ceremony in Silicon Valley. The winners this year include five researchers who won $3 million each for their work on cell biology, plant science and neurodegenerative diseases, two mathematicians, and a team of 27 physicists who mapped the primordial light that warmed the universe moments after the big bang 13.8 billion years ago. Now in their sixth year, the Breakthrough prizes are backed by Yuri Milner, a Silicon Valley tech investor, Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook and his wife Priscilla Chan, Anne Wojcicki from the DNA testing company 23andMe, and Google's Sergey Brin. Launched by Milner in 2012, the awards aim to make rock stars of scientists and raise their profile in the public consciousness. The annual ceremony at Nasa's Ames Research Center in California provides a rare opportunity for some of the world's leading minds to rub shoulders with celebrities, who this year included Morgan Freeman as host, fellow actors Kerry Washington and Mila Kunis, and Miss USA 2017 Kara McCullough...

Life sciences prizewinner, Joanne Chory at the Salk Institute in San Diego, was honoured for three decades of painstaking research into the genetic programs that flip into action when plants find themselves plunged into shade. Her work revealed that plants can sense when a nearby competitor is about to steal their light, sparking a growth spurt in response. The plants detect threatening neighbours by sensing a surge in the particular wavelengths of red light that are given off by vegetation. Chory now has ambitious plans to breed plants that can suck vast quantities of carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere in a bid to combat climate change. She believes that crops could be selected to absorb 20 times more of the greenhouse gas than they do today, and convert it into suberin, a waxy material found in roots and bark that breaks down incredibly slowly in soil. "If we can do this on 5% of the landmass people are growing crops on, we can take out 50% of global human emissions," she said.

The Mercury News published a list of all the winners, pointing out they were chosen from more than 11,000 entries (from 178 countries). And Wired notes that the top prize winners get $2 million more than Nobel prize winners.
Space

Two Stars Collided And Solved Half of Astronomy's Problems. Now What? (fivethirtyeight.com) 171

"It's hard to overstate the enormous leap forward that astronomy took on August 17, 2017," reports an article shared by schwit1: On that day, astronomers bore witness to the titanic collision of two neutron stars, the densest things in the universe besides black holes. In the collision's wake, astronomers answered multiple major questions that have dominated their field for a generation. They solved the origin of gamma-ray bursts, mysterious jets of hardcore radiation that could potentially roast Earth. They glimpsed the forging of heavy metals, like gold and platinum. They measured the rate at which the expansion of the universe is accelerating. They caught light at the same time as gravitational waves, confirmation that waves move at the speed of light. And there was more, and there is much more yet to come from this discovery... "Now it's a question of, do we have the right instrumentation for doing all the follow-up work?" said Edo Berger, an astronomer at Harvard who studies explosive cosmic events. "Do we have the right telescopes? What's going to happen when we have not just one event, but one a month, or one a week -- how do we deal with that flood...?"

The August 17 gravitational wave gave astronomers a glimpse at an entirely different universe. For most of history, they've studied stars and galaxies, which seem static and unchanging from the vantage point of human timescales... But GW170817 revealed a universe alive, pulsating with creation and destruction on human timescales... [T]he event itself unfolded in less than three human-designated weeks. This faster timescale is "pushing the way astronomy is done," Berger said... In space, the Fermi space telescope glimpsed a burst of gamma radiation. Within an hour, astronomers made six independent discoveries of a bright, fast-fading flash: A new phenomenon called a kilonova... Nine days later, X-rays streamed in, and after 16 days, radio waves arrived, too. Each type of information tells astronomers something different. Richard O'Shaughnessy, an astronomer at the Rochester Institute of Technology, describes the discovery as a "Rosetta stone for astronomy."

"What this has done is provide one event that unites all these different threads of astronomy at once," he said. "Like, all our dreams have come true, and they came true now..." Thanks to the August 17 event, astronomers now know what to look for. Soon, they will be able to sift through an embarrassment of neutron-star mergers and other phenomena... And they are talking about how to turn their eyes to the sky, at a moment's notice, the next time the universe throws something big their way. "It's a wonderful time, it's a terrifying time," O'Shaughnessy said. "I can't really capture the wonder and the horror and glee and happiness."

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