sciencehabit writes "To humans, all fire ants may look alike. But the tiny, red, stinging bugs known as Solenopsis invicta have two types of social organization, and these factions are as recognizable to the ants as rival football teams are to us. Researchers once thought that the groups' distinct physiological and behavioral profiles stemmed from a variant in a single gene. Now, a new study (abstract) provides the first evidence that the gene in question is bound up in a bundle of some 600 other genes, versions of which are all inherited together. This 'supergene' takes up a large chunk of what may be the first known social chromosome, analogous to the chromosomes that determine sex in humans."
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fangmcgee writes "Rethink Robotics invented a $22,000 humanoid robot named "Baxter" that could give cheap offshore labor a run for its money and return manufacturing jobs to U.S. soil. Artificial intelligence expert Rodney Brooks is the brain behind Baxter. From the article: 'Brooks’s company, Rethink Robotics, says the robot will spark a “renaissance” in American manufacturing by helping small companies compete against low-wage offshore labor. Baxter will do that by accelerating a trend of factory efficiency that’s eliminated more jobs in the U.S. than overseas competition has. Of the approximately 5.8 million manufacturing jobs the U.S. lost between 2000 and 2010, according to McKinsey Global Institute, two-thirds were lost because of higher productivity and only 20 percent moved to places like China, Mexico, or Thailand.'"
redletterdave writes "Dell is reportedly working on a project codenamed 'Ophelia,' a USB stick-sized self-contained computer that provides access to virtually every major operating system — from the Mac OS, to Windows, to Google's Chrome OS, to cloud-based solutions from Citrix and Dell — all via the cloud. Powered by Android, Ophelia works just like a USB stick: Just plug it into any flat panel monitor or TV, and boom, you have a computer. Ophelia connects to the Internet via Wi-Fi, and can connect to keyboards and other peripherals over Bluetooth. Not only is the computer portable and power-efficient, but to make it truly accessible, Dell plans to sell the device for just $50."
Marcion writes "Journalists and commentators are now questioning the role of Massachusetts prosecutors Carmen Ortiz and Stephen Heymann in the suicide of Aaron Swartz and whether they levied disproportionate charges in order to boost their own political profiles, despite being warned he was a suicide risk. Meanwhile White House petitions to remove Ortiz and Heymann have already received tens of thousands of signatures. Should these prosecutors be investigated for their actions regarding Swartz?"
tsamsoniw writes "Mere days after Oracle rolled out a fix for the latest Java zero-day vulnerabilities, an admin for an Underweb hacker forum put code for a purportedly new Java exploit up for sale for $5,000. Though unconfirmed, it's certainly plausible that the latest Java patch didn't do the job, based on an analysis by the OpenJDK community. Maybe it's high time for Oracle to fix Java to better protect both its enterprise customers and the millions of home users it picked up when it acquired Sun."
jones_supa writes "The Wikimedia Foundation has marked its 12th anniversary by launching a Creative-Commons-licensed travel guide called Wikivoyage. Like other Wikimedia projects, Wikivoyage contains material written collaboratively by volunteers. The site has launched under the aegis of Wikimedia with around 50,000 articles and approximately 200 volunteer editors. Wikivoyage started in 2006 as a travel guide in German and Italian, backed by the German non-profit Wikivoyage Association. The transition to a Wikimedia project was initiated by contributors and the Association, and content is currently offered in Dutch, English, French, German, Italian, Russian, Portuguese, Spanish and Swedish. The purpose of the Wikivoyage is to promote education and knowledge of all countries and regions in the world, as well as understanding among nations. There's a huge global demand for travel information, but very few sources are both comprehensive and non-commercial. That's about to change."
CVG is reporting that Microsoft is working on "consolidating all their communications technology" around Skype, which they acquired in 2011 for $8.5 billion. Citing a source within the company, they say Skype will "become the default chat service on the next generation Xbox console as well as on PC and tablets." This would fit in with Microsoft's recent announcement that it is closing Messenger in March and replacing it with Skype. The article also cites a Microsoft job posting from last August which sought a UI designer for "Skype in the living room," with a focus on the next-gen Xbox system.
DavidHumus writes "The much-publicized international rankings of student test scores — PISA — rank the U.S. lower than it ought to be for two reasons: a sampling bias that includes a higher proportion of lower socio-economic classes from the U.S. than are in the general population and a higher proportion of of U.S. students than non-U.S. who are in the lower socio-economic classes. If one were to rank comparable classes between the U.S. and the rest of the world, U.S. scores would rise to 4th from 14th in reading (PDF) and to 10th from 25th in math."
gbrumfiel writes "Experts believe that the many thousands who fled from the Fukushima nuclear disaster received very low doses of radiation. But that doesn't mean there won't be health consequences. Nature magazine traveled to Fukushima prefecture and found evidence of an enormous mental strain from the accident. Levels of anxiety and PTSD-like symptoms are high among evacuees. Researchers fear that, in the long run, the mental problems could lead to depression and substance abuse among those who lost their homes. In other words, even if no one develops cancer as a direct result of radiation, the health effects could still be very real."
New submitter schneidafunk writes with news that the White House is raising the signature requirement for petitions from 25,000 to 100,000. From the source: "When we first raised the threshold — from 5,000 to 25,000 — we called it 'a good problem to have.' Turns out that 'good problem' is only getting better, so we're making another adjustment to ensure we’re able to continue to give the most popular ideas the time they deserve. ... In the first 10 months of 2012, it took an average of 18 days for a new petition to cross the 25,000-signature threshold. In the last two months of the year, that average time was cut in half to just 9 days, and most petitions that crossed the threshold collected 25,000 signatures within five days of their creation. More than 60 percent of the petitions to cross threshold in all of 2012 did so in the last two months of the year."
sciencehabit writes "Soot is bad stuff all around, whether you're breathing it into your lungs or it's heating the atmosphere by absorbing more of the sun's energy. But a new 4-year, 232-page assessment (PDF) of soot's role in climate finds that the combustion product could be warming the world twice as much as previously thought. The study points policymakers toward the best targets for reducing climate-warming soot emissions while at the same time improving the health of billions of people."
Nerval's Lobster writes "AMD, Intel, ARM: for years, their respective CPU architectures required separate sockets, separate motherboards, and in effect, separate servers. But no longer: Facebook and the Open Compute Summit have announced a common daughtercard specification that can link virtually any processor to the motherboard. AMD, Applied Micro, Intel, and Calxeda have already embraced the new board, dubbed 'Group Hug.' Hardware designs based on the technology will reportedly appear at the show. The Group Hug card will be connected via a simple x8 PCI Express connector to the main motherboard. But Frank Frankovsky, director of hardware design and supply chain operations at Facebook, also told an audience at the Summit that, while a standard has been provided, it may be some time before the real-world appearance of servers built on the technology."
kkleiner writes "Twenty-year-old Brooke Greenberg hasn't grown since age five. For the last 15 years, mystified doctors have been unable to explain the cause for Brooke's disorder that has kept her aging in check. At age twenty, she maintains the physical and mental appearance of a toddler. The researchers are now are painstakingly analyzing Brooke’s entire genome in search of unique mutations. Needless to say, it is a formidable undertaking. 'Cracking the code on Brooke’s condition,' [Dr. Eric Shadt] wrote, 'is the proverbial searching for a needle in a haystack, since likely there is one or a small number of letters changed in Brooke’s genome that has caused her condition.' To find the mutation Shadt and his team are using the latest genome sequencing and analysis tools. The strategy is to compare Brooke’s genome to the genomes of her parents and three normal sisters, as well as to other available sequences from the general population, and identify gene mutations that only Brooke has."
adeelarshad82 writes "The three things any streaming service needs in order to be successful are: a good price, a massive content library, and a decent app that is available on as many devices as possible. Unfortunately the only thing Redbox Instant has going for it right now is the price. The digital library that comprises Redbox Instant at the moment is limited to a handful of comedies, budget horror flicks, and one or two blockbuster titles from the last year. However, there is hope that once the final version is launched, Verizon FiOS On Demand's massive libraries of current television shows will be made available on Redbox. As for the app itself: while it's well designed and offers filtering by search, genre and rating, its biggest drawback is that it's only available on iOS and Android devices. You can't even stream from the Redbox website."
Lasrick writes "Physicist Lawrence Krauss has a great piece in the NY Times today about the lack of influence scientists wield on global security issues, to the world's detriment. He writes, 'To our great peril, the scientific community has had little success in recent years influencing policy on global security. Perhaps this is because the best scientists today are not directly responsible for the very weapons that threaten our safety, and are therefore no longer the high priests of destruction, to be consulted as oracles as they were after World War II. The problems scientists confront today are actually much harder than they were at the dawn of the nuclear age, and their successes more heartily earned. This is why it is so distressing that even Stephen Hawking, perhaps the world’s most famous living scientist, gets more attention for his views on space aliens than his views on nuclear weapons. Scientists' voices are crucial in the debates over the global challenges of climate change, nuclear proliferation and the potential creation of new and deadly pathogens. But unlike in the past, their voices aren't being heard.'"