Medicine

The Feds Are Officially Cracking Down on Basement Biohackers (gizmodo.com) 170

Kristen Brown, reporting for Gizmodo: The Food and Drug Agency has issued a stern warning to anyone who might be crazy enough to undertake gene therapy in the do-it-yourself fashion. Definitely don't do this at home, a statement released on Tuesday implies. And if you do, we'll throw every law we can at you. The FDA's deterrent comes on the heels of a brazen DIY gene therapy experiment, in which a 27-year-old software engineer injected himself with an unprove gene therapy for HIV designed by three biohacker friends. The first injection was streamed live on Facebook in October, and went viral after it was covered by Gizmodo. "You can't stop it, you can't regulate these things," patient zero, Tristan Roberts, told Gizmodo at the time. Apparently the FDA begs to differ.
Power

Tesla Is Rethinking the Rest Stop For California Road Trips (bloomberg.com) 109

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Bloomberg: In-N-Out Burgers has some new competition for attracting drivers on two heavily traveled stretches of California freeways that help link Los Angeles to Las Vegas and San Francisco: Tesla's biggest Supercharger stations yet. The charging stations in Kettleman City, off Interstate 5, and Baker, near Interstate 15, each have 40 stalls, making them the largest among more than 1,000 in North America, according to an emailed statement Wednesday. If filling up your Tesla takes half an hour, you might as well get comfortable. The Kettleman City station north of Bakersfield has a play wall for kids, a pet relief area and outdoor space for families. It's open round-the-clock, there's wi-fi and there will be food as well. But if you want to stretch your legs, the nearest In-N-Out is just across the street. And there are inevitable Tesla touches at both: solar-covered parking and Tesla Powerpacks.
The Internet

Detroit's Marginalized Communities Are Building Their Own Internet (vice.com) 125

An anonymous reader writes: Motherboard has a report that discusses how some of Detroit's communities are building their own internet to help close the gap between the roughly 60 percent of Detroiters who have internet and 40 percent who don't. From the report: "[Diana Nucera, director of the Detroit Community Technology Project] is part of a growing cohort of Detroiters who have started a grassroots movement to close that gap, by building the internet themselves. It's a coalition of community members and multiple Detroit nonprofits. They're starting with three underserved neighborhoods, installing high speed internet that beams shared gigabit connections from an antenna on top of the tallest building on the street, and into the homes of people who have long gone without. They call it the Equitable Internet Initiative. The issue isn't only cost, though it is prohibitive for many Detroiters, but also infrastructure. Because of Detroit's economic woes, many Big Telecom companies haven't thought it worthwhile to invest in expanding their network to these communities. The city is filled with dark fiber optic cable that's not connected to any homes or businesses -- relics from more optimistic days.

Residents who can't afford internet, are on some kind of federal or city subsidy like food stamps, and students are prioritized for the Initiative, Nucera told me. The whole effort started last summer with enlisting digital stewards, locals from each neighborhood who were interested in working for the nonprofit coalition, doing everything from spreading the word, to teaching digital literacy, to installing routers and pulling fiber. Many of these stewards started out with little or no tech expertise, but after a 20-week-long training period, they've become experts able to install, troubleshoot, and maintain a network from end to end. They're also aiming to spread digital literacy, so people can truly own the network themselves."

Businesses

The Brutal Fight To Mine Your Data and Sell It To Your Boss (bloomberg.com) 75

An anonymous reader shares a report from Bloomberg, explaining how Silicon Valley makes billions of dollars peddling personal information, supported by an ecosystem of bit players. Editor Drake Bennett highlights the battle between an upstart called HiQ and LinkedIn, who are fighting for your lucrative professional identity. Here's an excerpt from the report: A small number of the world's most valuable companies collect, control, parse, and sell billions of dollars' worth of personal information voluntarily surrendered by their users. Google, Facebook, Amazon, and Microsoft -- which bought LinkedIn for $26.2 billion in 2016 -- have in turn spawned dependent economies consisting of advertising and marketing companies, designers, consultants, and app developers. Some operate on the tech giants' platforms; some customize special digital tools; some help people attract more friends and likes and followers. Some, including HiQ, feed off the torrents of information that social networks produce, using software bots to scrape data from profiles. The services of the smaller companies can augment the offerings of the bigger ones, but the power dynamic is deeply asymmetrical, reminiscent of pilot fish picking food from between the teeth of sharks. The terms of that relationship are set by technology, economics, and the vagaries of consumer choice, but also by the law. LinkedIn's May 23 letter to HiQ wasn't the first time the company had taken legal action to prevent the perceived hijacking of its data, and Facebook and Craigslist, among others, have brought similar actions. But even more than its predecessors, this case, because of who's involved and how it's unfolded, has spoken to the thorniest issues surrounding speech and competition on the internet.
Businesses

Walmart Is Raising Prices Online To Increase In-Store Traffic (theverge.com) 133

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Verge: Walmart is taking a bit of an nontraditional approach to boost sales ahead of Black Friday and Cyber Monday shopping events by raising prices for products sold online and discounting those same items in physical retail stores. According to The Wall Street Journal, the big-box store has quietly raised prices for household and food items such as toothbrushes, macaroni and cheese, and dog food on its website while the prices in stores remained the same. If there are price discrepancies between online and in-store purchases, Walmart will now highlight this on the product's web listing to encourage customers to buy them from their local stores. It's all part of an effort to increase foot traffic as Walmart continues to compete with Amazon just about everywhere else.

With the new pricing strategy, a twin-pack of Betty Crocker Hamburger Helper costs $3.30 on Walmart.com, but goes as low as $2.50 if purchased at a store in Illinois. The aim is to also help reduce processing costs and increase online sales margins, since driving customers to stores means less shipping costs for the retailer. Shipping one box of instant macaroni and cheese from Chicago to Atlanta could cost Walmart as much as $10, reports the WSJ.

AI

An Inside Look At the First Church of Artificial Intelligence (wired.com) 120

mirandakatz writes: This summer, Backchannel reported that Anthony Levandowski, the controversial engineer at the heart of the Uber/Waymo lawsuit, had filed paperwork for a new religion called the Way of the Future. Today, investigative reporter Mark Harris has all the details on what that AI-based religion actually likes -- and Levandowski granted him his first interview about the new religion and his only public interview since Waymo filed its suit in February. As Levandowski tells him, we can see a hint of how a superhuman intelligence might treat humanity in our current relationships with animals -- and that's why it's so important that we treat AI as a god, not a demon to be warded off. "Do you want to be a pet or livestock?" he asks. "We give pets medical attention, food, grooming, and entertainment. But an animal that's biting you, attacking you, barking and being annoying? I don't want to go there."
Medicine

What Did 17th Century Food Taste Like? (blogspot.com) 196

Benjamin Breen, an assistant professor of history at UC Santa Cruz, looks at art history to figure out what people cooked in the 1600s, and wonders whether it is possible to ascertain the taste of food. From a blog post: What can we learn about how people ate in the seventeenth century? And even if we can piece together historical recipes, can we ever really know what their food tasted like? This might seem like a relatively unimportant question. For one thing, the senses of other people are always going to be, at some level, unknowable, because they are so deeply subjective. Not only can I not know what Velazquez's fried eggs tasted like three hundred years ago, I arguably can't know what my neighbor's taste like. And why does the question matter, anyway? A very clear case can be made for the importance of the history of medicine and disease, or the histories of slavery, global commerce, warfare, and social change. By comparison, the taste of food doesn't seem to have the same stature. Fried eggs don't change the course of history. But taste does change history. Fascinating read.
Medicine

FDA Approves Digital Pill That Tracks If Patients Have Ingested Their Medication (nytimes.com) 72

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The New York Times (Warning: source may be paywalled; alternative source): For the first time, the Food and Drug Administration has approved a digital pill -- a medication embedded with a sensor that can tell doctors whether, and when, patients take their medicine. The approval, announced late on Monday, marks a significant advance in the growing field of digital devices designed to monitor medicine-taking and to address the expensive, longstanding problem that millions of patients do not take drugs as prescribed. Experts estimate that so-called nonadherence or noncompliance to medication costs about $100 billion a year, much of it because patients get sicker and need additional treatment or hospitalization. Patients who agree to take the digital medication, a version of the antipsychotic Abilify, can sign consent forms allowing their doctors and up to four other people, including family members, to receive electronic data showing the date and time pills are ingested. A smartphone app will let them block recipients anytime they change their mind. Although voluntary, the technology is still likely to prompt questions about privacy and whether patients might feel pressure to take medication in a form their doctors can monitor.
Google

Google To Add Restaurant Wait Times To Google Search, Maps (techcrunch.com) 59

Google Search and Maps already show you the peak traffic times for your favorite restaurants, but it will soon show you the wait times as well. Google says the feature begins rolling out today, and will eventually expand to include grocery stores. TechCrunch reports: Google's new restaurant wait times also comes from the aggregated and anonymized data from users who opted in to Google Location History -- the same data that powers popular times, wait times and visit duration. In the case of restaurants, Google will now include a pop-up box that appears when you click on a time frame in the popular times' chart. The box shows the live or historical data labeled as "busy," "usually busy," "usually not busy," etc., along with the wait time. Below the popular times chart, there's also a section that helps users plan their visit by offering info on the peak wait times and duration. (e.g. "People typically spend 45 mins to 2 hr here.") The new wait time feature will be supported on nearly a million sit-down restaurant listings worldwide, initially in Google Search.
Businesses

China is Finally Going After Click Farms and Fake Online Sales (bloomberg.com) 20

China enacted sweeping changes to a business competition law to address fraud in the e-commerce industry, which is plagued by malfeasance ranging from fake positive reviews to merchants goosing sales numbers. From a report: The National People's Congress adopted revisions Saturday to the Anti-Unfair Competition Law intended to address online retailers, the official Xinhua News Agency reported. The changes take effect Jan. 1 but were announced days before Alibaba Group Holding Ltd.'s Nov. 11 Singles' Day bargain extravaganza, which dwarfs Black Friday in the U.S. in terms of revenue. The Chinese law initially took effect in 1993 as a way to protect consumers and businesses from unfair market practices. At that time, none of China's biggest online companies -- including Alibaba, Tencent Holdings Ltd., Baidu Inc. and JD.com Inc. -- even existed. As e-commerce developed and prospered, attendant problems grew with it. These latest revisions stipulate that operators shouldn't deceive consumers by faking sales or employing "click farms" to rack up positive product reviews -- increasingly common practices that have drawn the ire of buyers. And the rules encompass the entire breadth of internet commerce, from online goods and movie ticketing to food delivery.
Medicine

Scientists Find a Better Way To Wash Pesticides Off Your Apples (cnet.com) 138

According to a new study, the best way to reduce pesticides from your supermarket apple is to use a baking soda solution. The discovery was made by a team of scientists from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. They compared the effectiveness of plain tap water, a commercial bleach solution and a baking soda/water mix in removing pesticides from apples. CNET reports: The scientists started with organic Gala apples and applied the fungicide thiabendazole and the insecticide phosmet before testing the different washing liquids. "The baking soda solution was the most effective at reducing pesticide," a release on the study notes. "After 12 and 15 minutes, 80 percent of the thiabendazole was removed, and 96 percent of the phosmet was removed, respectively." The researchers say the industry-standard approach of washing fruit in a bleach solution for two minutes after harvest is not an effective way to completely remove pesticides. They also found the fungicide thiabendazole penetrated into the apple peel much more than the insecticide. Apple lovers would need to remove the peel to also get rid of the pesticide that wasn't washed off with the baking soda solution. The researchers published the findings this week in the American Chemical Society's Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry.
Robotics

Walmart Tests Shelf-Scanning Robots In Over 50 Stores (engadget.com) 76

Walmart is expanding a shelf-scanning robot trial to 50 additional stores, including some in its home state of Arkansas. "Machines from Bossa Nova Robotics will roam the aisles to check for stock levels, pricing and misplaced items, saving human staffers the hassle of checking everything themselves," reports Engadget. The robots will be fully autonomous, though technicians will be available in case things go awry. They employ 3D imaging to dodge obstacles and make notes to return later if their path is completely blocked. From the report: Walmart stresses that the robots are there to supplement humans, not replace them -- to eliminate drudgery and the expenses that go with it. This helps workers get to the task of filling empty shelves, and that's a job that the company doesn't see ending any time soon given the difficulty robots still have when grabbing objects. "Store associates will always be better at that," Walmart's Martin Hitch told the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. And the chief of Bossa Nova rival Simbe Robotics, Brad Bogolea, added that shelf checks can cost a major retailer hundreds of millions of dollars per year. However expensive the robots may be, they could pay for themselves very quickly. Whether or not the robots see wider use will, unsurprisingly, hinge on the success of this wider trial. Walmart posted a video about the shelf-scanning robots on its YouTube page.
Medicine

Intelligent People More At Risk of Mental Illness, Study Finds (independent.co.uk) 276

schwit1 shares a report from The Independent: The stereotype of a tortured genius may have a basis in reality after a new study found that people with higher IQs are more at risk of developing mental illness. A team of U.S. researchers surveyed 3,715 members of American Mensa with an IQ higher than 130. An "average IQ score" or "normal IQ score" can be defined as a score between 85 and 115. The team asked the Mensa members to report whether they had been diagnoses with mental illnesses, including autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). They were also asked to report mood and anxiety disorders, or whether the suspected they suffered from any mental illnesses that had yet to be diagnosed, as well as physiological diseases, like food allergies and asthma. After comparing this with the statistical national average for each illness they found that those in the Mensa community had considerably higher rates of varying disorders. While 10 per cent of the general population were diagnosed with anxiety disorder, that rose to 20 percent among the Mensa community, according to the study which published in the Science Direct journal.
Crime

Pizza Hut Leaks Credit Card Info On 60,000 Customers (kentucky.com) 76

An anonymous reader quotes McClatchy: Pizza Hut told customers by email on Saturday that some of their personal information may have been compromised. Some of those customers are angry that it took almost two weeks for the fast food chain to notify them. According to a customer notice emailed from the pizza chain, those who placed an order on its website or mobile app between the morning of Oct. 1 and midday Oct. 2 might have had their information exposed. The "temporary security intrusion" lasted for about 28 hours, the notice said, and it's believed that names, billing ZIP codes, delivery addresses, email addresses and payment card information -- meaning account number, expiration date and CVV number -- were compromised... A call center operator told McClatchy that about 60,000 people across the U.S. were affected.
"[W]e estimate that less than one percent of the visits to our website over the course of the relevant week were affected," read a customer notice sent only to those affected, offering them a free year of credit monitoring. But that hasn't stopped sarcastic tweets like this from the breach's angry victims.

"Hey @pizzahut, thanks for telling me you got hacked 2 weeks after you lost my cc number. And a week after someone started using it."
Earth

Startup Plans To Clean Up Cigarette Butts Using Crows (popularmechanics.com) 205

AmiMoJo writes: A startup in the Netherlands is developing the "Crowbar," a bird feeder that takes discarded cigarette butts as payment for dispensing food. A camera recognises cigarette filters and rejects any other objects placed in the Crowbar. The idea isn't entirely original, a gentleman in the US has already built a similar device and trained crows to deposit coins. The hope is that crows will be able to keep cities clean, sort through refuse and perform other tasks for our mutual benefit.
Popular Mechanics notes that crows "are some of the smartest animals in the world," suggesting this means "we could harness their abilities for the greater good of our planet."
Government

FDA Advisers Endorse Gene Therapy To Treat Form of Blindness (cbsnews.com) 15

An anonymous reader quotes a report from CBS News: A panel of U.S. health advisers has endorsed an experimental approach to treating inherited blindness, setting the stage for the likely approval of an innovative new genetic medicine. A panel of experts to the Food and Drug Administration voted unanimously in favor of Spark Therapeutics' injectable therapy, which aims to improve vision in patients with a rare mutation that gradually destroys normal vision. The vote amounts to a recommendation to approve the therapy. According to Spark Therapeutics' website, inherited retinal diseases are a group of rare blinding conditions caused by one of more than 220 genes. Some living with these diseases experience a gradual loss of vision, while others may be born without the ability to see or lose their vision in infancy or early childhood. Genetic testing is the only way to verify the exact gene mutation that is the underlying cause of the disease.
EU

Three-Quarters of All Honey On Earth Has Pesticides In It (theverge.com) 103

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Verge: About three quarters of all honey worldwide is contaminated with pesticides known to harm bees, according to a new study. Though the pesticide levels were below the limit deemed safe for human consumption, there was still enough insecticide in there to harm pollinators. The finding suggests that, as one of the study authors said, "there's almost no safe place for a bee to exist." Scientists analyzed 198 honey samples from all continents, except Antarctica, for five types of pesticides called neonicotinoids, which are known to harm bees. They found at least one of the five compounds in most samples, with the highest contamination in North America, Asia, and Europe. The results are published today in the journal Science.

To get a better sense of just how widespread neonic contamination is, Mitchell and his colleagues analyzed 198 worldwide honey samples collected as a citizen science project between 2012 and 2016. They found that 75 percent of honey contained at least one of the five tested neonics, and 45 percent of samples had two or more. Honey from North America, Asia, and Europe was most contaminated, while the lowest contamination was in South America. Neonic concentrations were relatively low: on average, 1.8 nanograms per gram in contaminated honey -- below the limits set as safe for people by the EU.

Medicine

Skipping Breakfast May Be Linked To Poor Heart Health, Study Says (theguardian.com) 165

A new study says that skipping breakfast could be linked to poorer cardiovascular health. The findings reveal that, compared with those who wolfed down an energy-dense breakfast, those who missed the meal had a greater extent of the early stages of atherosclerosis -- a buildup of fatty material inside the arteries. The Guardian reports: The research is part of a larger study that will follow the participants over a decade or more to see how disease in the arteries progresses. Published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, the research looked at the health and diets of 4,052 middle-aged bank workers, both men and women, with no previous history of cardiovascular disease. At the start of the study, which is partly funded by the Spanish bank Santander, participants completed a detailed questionnaire into what they had eaten and when over the previous 15 days. Body mass index, cholesterol levels and other measures were collected, together with data including the participants' smoking status, educational attainment and level of physical activity. Imaging techniques were used to track the extent of the early, sub-clinical stages of atherosclerosis in six arteries, including those around the heart, thighs and neck. The results reveal that, compared to those tucking into more than 20% of their daily calories at breakfast, those who consumed next to nothing for breakfast had a greater extent of atherosclerosis.
Power

Tesla Is Shipping Hundreds of Powerwall Batteries To Puerto Rico (futurism.com) 167

schwit1 quotes a report from Futurism: In a continued streak of goodwill during this year's devastating hurricane season, Tesla has been shipping hundreds of its Powerwall batteries to Puerto Rico in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria. Since the hurricane hit on 20 September, much of the U.S. territory has been left without power -- about 97 percent, as of 27 September -- hampering residents' access to drinkable water, perishable food, and air conditioning. The island's hospitals are struggling to keep generators running as diesel fuel dwindles. Installed by employees in Puerto Rico, Tesla's batteries could be paired with solar panels in order to store electricity for the territory, whose energy grid may need up to six months to be fully repaired. Several power banks have already arrived to the island, and more are en route.
Mars

Dubai Proposes Giant Simulated Mars City In the Desert (newatlas.com) 104

future guy shares a report from New Atlas: The UAE government has announced it is building the world's largest space simulation city, and to top it off it will be designed by one of the world's flashiest architects, Bjarke Ingels, whose company is literally called BIG. The project is called the Mars Science City and will cover 1.9 million sq ft (176,516 sq m) at a cost of nearly $140 million dollars. The city will span several domes, including a space for a team to live for up to a year as part of a Mars simulation. Several scientific laboratories will be included, focusing on developing methods for a Mars colony to produce food, energy and water. A museum exhibiting great space achievements will also be incorporated into the city with the walls of the museum being 3D printed using sand from the nearby Emirati desert.

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