Earth

Researchers Discover Efficient Way To Filter Salt, Metal Ions From Water (phys.org) 67

schwit1 shares a report on a new study, published in Sciences Advances, that offers a new solution to providing clean drinking water for billions of people worldwide: It all comes down to metal-organic frameworks (MOFs), an amazing next generation material that have the largest internal surface area of any known substance. The sponge like crystals can be used to capture, store and release chemical compounds. In this case, the salt and ions in sea water. Dr Huacheng Zhang, Professor Huanting Wang and Associate Professor Zhe Liu and their team in the Faculty of Engineering at Monash University in Melbourne, Australia, in collaboration with Dr Anita Hill of CSIRO and Professor Benny Freeman of the McKetta Department of Chemical Engineering at The University of Texas at Austin, have recently discovered that MOF membranes can mimic the filtering function, or "ion selectivity," of organic cell membranes. With further development, these membranes have significant potential to perform the dual functions of removing salts from seawater and separating metal ions in a highly efficient and cost effective manner, offering a revolutionary new technological approach for the water and mining industries. Currently, reverse osmosis membranes are responsible for more than half of the world's desalination capacity, and the last stage of most water treatment processes, yet these membranes have room for improvement by a factor of 2 to 3 in energy consumption. They do not operate on the principles of dehydration of ions, or selective ion transport in biological channels.
Businesses

Why Hiring the 'Best' People Produces the Least Creative Results (qz.com) 333

An anonymous reader shares an excerpt from a report written by Scott E. Page, who explains why hiring the "best" people produces the least creative results: The burgeoning of teams -- most academic research is now done in teams, as is most investing and even most songwriting (at least for the good songs) -- tracks the growing complexity of our world. We used to build roads from A to B. Now we construct transportation infrastructure with environmental, social, economic, and political impacts. The complexity of modern problems often precludes any one person from fully understanding them. The multidimensional or layered character of complex problems also undermines the principle of meritocracy: The idea that the "best person" should be hired. There is no best person. When putting together an oncological research team, a biotech company such as Gilead or Genentech would not construct a multiple-choice test and hire the top scorers, or hire people whose resumes score highest according to some performance criteria. Instead, they would seek diversity. They would build a team of people who bring diverse knowledge bases, tools and analytic skills. That team would more likely than not include mathematicians (though not logicians such as Griffeath). And the mathematicians would likely study dynamical systems and differential equations.

Believers in a meritocracy might grant that teams ought to be diverse but then argue that meritocratic principles should apply within each category. Thus the team should consist of the "best" mathematicians, the "best" oncologists, and the "best" biostatisticians from within the pool. That position suffers from a similar flaw. Even with a knowledge domain, no test or criteria applied to individuals will produce the best team. Each of these domains possesses such depth and breadth, that no test can exist. When building a forest, you do not select the best trees as they tend to make similar classifications. You want diversity. Programmers achieve that diversity by training each tree on different data, a technique known as bagging. They also boost the forest 'cognitively' by training trees on the hardest cases -- those that the current forest gets wrong. This ensures even more diversity and accurate forests.

Communications

NSA Sent Coded Messages From Its Twitter To Communicate With Foreign Spies (gizmodo.com) 108

Matt Novak reports via Gizmodo: During the first Cold War, American and British spies would sometimes place coded messages in newspaper classified ads to communicate with each other. And according to new reports in the New York Times and The Intercept, the National Security Agency (NSA) has updated the tactic, using its public Twitter account to send secret messages to at least one Russian spy. That's just one relatively small detail in much more salacious articles about NSA and CIA agents traveling to Germany in an effort to recover cyberweapons that had been stolen from U.S. intelligence agencies. A Russian spy allegedly offered up the stolen cyber tools to the Americans in exchange for $10 million, eventually lowering his price to just $1 million. The Russian spy allegedly claimed to even have dirt on President Trump.

According to the reports, the unnamed Russian met with U.S. spies in person in Germany, and the NSA sometimes communicated with the Russian spy by sending roughly a dozen coded messages from the NSA's Twitter account. The one important question: Were the messages sent via direct message or were they sent out as public tweets? The New York Times report leaves some ambiguity, but according to James Risen in The Intercept they were very public.

Android

Android Wear Is Getting Killed, and It's All Qualcomm's Fault (arstechnica.com) 174

The death of Android Wear is all Qualcomm's fault, largely due to the fact that the company "has a monopoly on smartwatch chips and doesn't seem interested in making any smartwatch chips," writes Ars Technica's Ron Amadeo. This weekend marks the second birthday of Qualcomm's Snapdragon Wear 2100 SoC, which was announced in February 2016 and is the "least awful smartwatch SoC you can use in an Android Wear device." Since Qualcomm skipped out on an upgrade last year, and it doesn't seem like we'll get a new smartwatch chip any time soon, the entire Android Wear market will continue to suffer. From the report: In a healthy SoC market, this would be fine. Qualcomm would ignore the smartwatch SoC market, make very little money, and all the Android Wear OEMs would buy their SoCs from a chip vendor that was addressing smartwatch demand with a quality chip. The problem is, the SoC market isn't healthy at all. Qualcomm has a monopoly on smartwatch chips and doesn't seem interested in making any smartwatch chips. For companies like Google, LG, Huawei, Motorola, and Asus, it is absolutely crippling. There are literally zero other options in a reasonable price range (although we'd like to give a shoutout to the $1,600 Intel Atom-equipped Tag Heuer Connected Modular 45), so companies either keep shipping two-year-old Qualcomm chips or stop building smartwatches. Android Wear is not a perfect smartwatch operating system, but the primary problem with Android Wear watches is the hardware, like size, design (which is closely related to size), speed, and battery life. All of these are primarily influenced by the SoC, and there hasn't been a new option for OEMs since 2016. There are only so many ways you can wrap a screen, battery, and body around an SoC, so Android smartwatch hardware has totally stagnated. To make matters worse, the Wear 2100 wasn't even a good chip when it was new.
Software

Researchers Are Developing An Algorithm That Makes Smartphones Child-Proof (technologyreview.com) 67

An anonymous reader quotes a report from MIT Technology Review: Researchers at the University of South Carolina and China's Zhejiang University have created an algorithm that can spot whether your kid is accidentally trying to, say, order from Amazon without your knowing. There are already plenty of activity-monitoring apps that aim to control what kids do on phones, but parents need to add them and turn them on, and they could be disabled by tech-savvy children. The researchers figured that automated age-range detection would make it easier for parents to hand their phones over to curious children without worrying that the kids will stumble upon an inappropriate website or get into a work e-mail account.

The researchers built a simple app and asked a group of kids between the ages of three and 11 -- and a group of adults between 22 and 60 -- to use it. The app had participants unlock an Android phone and then play a numbers-based game on it, so that the researchers could record a variety of taps and swipes. They also tracked things like the amount of pressure applied by a user's finger and the area it encompassed. The researchers used the resulting data to train an age-detecting algorithm that they say is 84 percent accurate with just one swipe on the screen -- a figure that goes up to 97 percent after eight swipes.

Software

Ask Slashdot: What Is Missing In Tech Today? 357

dryriver writes: There is so much tech and gadget news pouring out of the internet every day that one might think "everything tech that is needed already exists." But of course, people thought precisely that at various points in human history, and then completely new tools, technologies, processes, designs, devices and innovations came along soon after and changed everything. Sometimes the opposite also happens: tech that was really good for its day and used to exist is suddenly no longer available. For example, many people miss the very usable Psion palmtop computers with their foldout QWERTY keyboards, touchscreens, and styluses; or would have liked the Commodore Amiga with its innovative custom chips and OS to continue existing and evolving; or would have liked to be able to keep using software like Softimage XSI or Adobe Director, which were suddenly discontinued.

So here is the question: what tech, in your particular profession, industry, personal area of interest, or scientific or academic field, is currently "missing?" This can be tech that is needed but does not exist yet, either hardware or software, or some kind of mechanical device or process. It could also be tech that was available in the past, but was EOL'd or "End Of Lifed" and never came back in an updated or evolved form. Bonus question: if what you feel is "missing" could quite feasibly be engineered, produced, and sold today at a profit, what do you think is the reason it isn't available?
Transportation

US Transportation Department Calls For 'Summit' On Autonomous Cars (reuters.com) 38

Auto manufacturers, technology companies, road safety advocates and policy makers will attend a March 1 conference over potential government actions that could speed the rollout of autonomous cars, the U.S. Transportation Department said on Friday. Reuters reports: Next month's "summit" is to help "identify priority federal and non-federal activities that can accelerate the safe rollout" of autonomous vehicles, the department said. It will also be open to the public. The U.S. National Highway Traffic-Safety Administration (NHTSA) wants comments on what research to conduct before deciding whether to eliminate or rewrite regulations. It could take the agency years to finalize rule changes, and advocates are pushing Congress to act. The March 1 meeting at the department's headquarters in Washington will include "several stakeholder breakout sessions on various topics related to automation," NHTSA said.
Nintendo

Hackers Manage To Run Linux On a Nintendo Switch (techcrunch.com) 119

Romain Dillet reports via TechCrunch: Hacker group fail0verflow shared a photo of a Nintendo Switch running Debian, a distribution of Linux. The group claims that Nintendo can't fix the vulnerability with future firmware patches. According to fail0verflow, there's a flaw in the boot ROM in Nvidia's Tegra X1 system-on-a-chip. When your console starts, it reads and executes a piece of code stored in a read-only memory (hence the name ROM). This code contains instructions about the booting process. It means that the boot ROM is stored on the chip when Nvidia manufactures it and it can't be altered in any way after that. Even if Nintendo issues a software update, this software update won't affect the boot ROM. And as the console loads the boot ROM immediately after pressing the power button, there's no way to bypass it. The only way to fix it would be to manufacture new Nvidia Tegra X1 chips. So it's possible that Nintendo asks Nvidia to fix the issue so that new consoles don't have this vulnerability.
Government

Budget Deal Has Tax Credit Extensions For Nuclear, Fuel Cells, Carbon Capture (arstechnica.com) 104

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Ars Technica: A two-year budget deal was approved by the House and the Senate this morning and signed by President Trump a few hours later. The budget (PDF) included a slew of tax credit extensions that will affect how the energy industry plans its next two years. Most notably, the deal extended a $0.018 per-kWh credit for nuclear power plants over 6,000MW -- a tax credit that is primarily going to benefit one project in the US. That project is the construction of two new reactors at the Georgia Vogtle nuclear power plant.

Interestingly, a bipartisan effort to increase and extend tax credits for carbon sequestration passed through this budget. The bill was pushed through by Senators Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.), Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.V.), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), and John Barrasso (R-Wyo.). The bill would offer a tax credit per ton of carbon dioxide that is captured and either sequestered, used for another end product, or used for enhanced oil recovery. The credit applies to any facility that started carbon capture construction within the past seven years, and the credit extends for 12 years.

While the budget deal leaves the federal tax credit scheme for electric vehicles unchanged (automakers can still entice buyers with a $7,500 credit for the first 200,000 electric vehicles that roll off that automaker's line), the budget did include and extend some interesting tax credits for other kinds of non-traditional energy. Fuel cell vehicles saw an extension of tax credits that will allow purchasers of new cars a tax credit of between $4,000 and $40,000, depending on the weight of the vehicle (this is probably good news for potential customers of Nikola's in-development fuel-cell semis). Non-hydrogen alternative fuel infrastructure also scored, as the new budget lets installers of infrastructure for alternative fuels like biodiesel and natural gas deduct 30 percent of the cost of installing the new pumps. Two-wheeled electric vehicle buyers will also see a 10-percent credit extended (though that credit has a $2,500 cap). Per-gallon biodiesel and renewable diesel credits that expired at the end of 2017 will continue.

Android

Rejoice: Samsung's Next Flagship Smartphone Looks To Keep the Headphone Jack Alive (theverge.com) 193

Notorious smartphone leaker Evan Blass has leaked a couple press images of the Galaxy S9, giving us the first indication that it will still have a headphone jack. "The full information spill today is actually focused on a new Samsung DeX Pad, which appears to be an evolution of last year's DeX dock for the Galaxy S8," reports The Verge. From the report: Samsung, LG, and a couple of other companies like OnePlus have remained resolute in their inclusion of a headphone jack, but that was far from a certainty for the next Galaxy S iteration. This is a phone that will compete against the iPhone X, Huawei Mate 10 Pro, and more niche rivals like Google's Pixel 2: all of them surviving sans a headphone jack. So Samsung could have dumped the analog audio output, but it seems to have opted against it, and that's worthy of commendation. USB-C earphones are all still either bad or expensive -- or both -- and phones that retain compatibility with 3.5mm connectors remain profoundly useful to consumers that aren't yet convinced by Bluetooth.
United States

Detroit Decides Against Banning Airbnb -- For Now (detroitnews.com) 37

Building officials say they will not enforce an apparent city ban of some Airbnb rentals until there is a legal review of an ordinance that went into effect this week. Detroit News reports: The ordinance, approved by the Detroit City Council in November, prohibits an owner-occupied-unit to be used for paid overnight guests. According to information listed online in the Detroit City Code, the rule went into effect Feb. 6, catching some city officials by surprise.

"Detroit homeowners have been able to rent out a room in their homes for more than 100 years, and we don't believe the new ordinance was intended to take away that right," said David Bell, director of the Buildings, Safety Engineering & Environmental Department for the City of Detroit, in a statement Friday. "The ordinance as written appears to ban all homeowners from having even their own friends and relatives stay at their homes if that friend or relative is paying them rent. The public was never told that was intended. I have asked the law department to review this question and give (the department) guidance." "Until the law department review is complete, (the department) will not be ticketing homeowners for renting out rooms in their own residence, whether through Airbnb or otherwise," Bell said. "(The department) and the administration will be working with City Council to resolve these issues."

The Courts

Maine Dairy Company Settles Lawsuit Over Oxford Comma (bostonmagazine.com) 169

Daniel Victor reports via The New York Times: Ending a case that electrified punctuation pedants, grammar goons and comma connoisseurs, Oakhurst Dairy settled an overtime dispute with its drivers that hinged entirely on the lack of an Oxford comma in state law. The dairy company in Portland, Me., agreed to pay $5 million to the drivers (Warning: source may be paywalled; alternative source), according to court documents filed on Thursday. The relatively small-scale dispute gained international notoriety last year when the United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit ruled that the missing comma created enough uncertainty to side with the drivers, granting those who love the Oxford comma a chance to run a victory lap across the internet. But the resolution means there will be no ruling from the land's highest courts on whether the Oxford comma -- the often-skipped second comma in a series like "A, B, and C" -- is an unnecessary nuisance or a sacred defender of clarity, as its fans and detractors endlessly debate.

The case began in 2014, when three truck drivers sued the dairy for what they said was four years' worth of overtime pay they had been denied. Maine law requires time-and-a-half pay for each hour worked after 40 hours, but it carved out exemptions for: The canning, processing, preserving, freezing, drying, marketing, storing, packing for shipment or distribution of: agricultural produce; meat and fish products; and perishable foods. What followed the last comma in the first sentence was the crux of the matter: "packing for shipment or distribution of." The court ruled that it was not clear whether the law exempted the distribution of the three categories that followed, or if it exempted packing for the shipment or distribution of them. Had there been a comma after "shipment," the meaning would have been clear.

Earth

'Sinking' Pacific Nation Tuvalu Is Actually Getting Bigger (phys.org) 152

mi shares a report from Phys.Org: The Pacific nation of Tuvalu -- long seen as a prime candidate to disappear as climate change forces up sea levels -- is actually growing in size, new research shows. A University of Auckland study examined changes in the geography of Tuvalu's nine atolls and 101 reef islands between 1971 and 2014, using aerial photographs and satellite imagery. It found eight of the atolls and almost three-quarters of the islands grew during the study period, lifting Tuvalu's total land area by 2.9 percent, even though sea levels in the country rose at twice the global average. Co-author Paul Kench said the research, published Friday in the journal Nature Communications, challenged the assumption that low-lying island nations would be swamped as the sea rose. It found factors such as wave patterns and sediment dumped by storms could offset the erosion caused by rising water levels.
Businesses

Mayfair Games Shuts Down After 36 Years of Board Games (polygon.com) 58

damnbunni writes: Longtime board game publisher Mayfair Games (English-language publisher for Settlers of Catan, Agricola, and many more) has shut down after 36 years. All of their games have been sold to Asmodee, who also owns Fantasy Flight Games, Z-Man Games, Rebel, Edge Entertainment, and a host of other board game companies they've picked up over the years. "As of today, the management team at Mayfair Games, Inc. announces we will wind down game publishing," the company said in a statement. "After 36 years, this was not an easy decision or one we took lightly, but it was necessary. Once we had come to this conclusion, we knew we had to find a good home for our games which is when we reached out to Asmodee."

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