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Programming

20% of Scientific Papers On Genes Contain Conversion Errors Caused By Excel, Says Report (winbeta.org) 76

An anonymous reader writes from a report via WinBeta: A new report from scientists Mark Ziemann, Yotam Eren, and Assam El-Osta says that 20% of scientific papers on genes contain gene name conversion errors caused by Excel. In the scientific article, titled "Gene name errors are widespread in the scientific literature," article's abstract section, the scientists explain: "The spreadsheet software Microsoft Excel, when used with default settings, is known to convert gene names to dates and floating-point numbers. A programmatic scan of leading genomics journals reveals that approximately one-fifth of papers with supplementary Excel gene lists contain erroneous gene name conversions."

It's easy to see why Excel might have problems with certain gene names when you see the "gene symbols" that the scientists use as examples: "For example, gene symbols such as SEPT2 (Septin 2) and MARCH1 [Membrane-Associated Ring Finger (C3HC4) 1, E3 Ubiquitin Protein Ligase] are converted by default to '2-Sep' and '1-Mar', respectively. Furthermore, RIKEN identifiers were described to be automatically converted to floating point numbers (i.e. from accession '2310009E13' to '2.31E+13'). Since that report, we have uncovered further instances where gene symbols were converted to dates in supplementary data of recently published papers (e.g. 'SEPT2' converted to '2006/09/02'). This suggests that gene name errors continue to be a problem in supplementary files accompanying articles. Inadvertent gene symbol conversion is problematic because these supplementary files are an important resource in the genomics community that are frequently reused. Our aim here is to raise awareness of the problem."
You can view the scientific paper in its entirety here.
Microsoft

Microsoft Details Its 24-Core 'Holographic Processor' Used In HoloLens (pcworld.com) 46

The processor powering Microsoft's HoloLens augmented reality headset has been a mystery -- until now. During the annual Hot Chips conference in Cupertino, California, Microsoft revealed some juicy details about the secretive chip. PCWorld reports: "The HoloLens' HPU is a custom 28nm coprocessor designed by TSMC, The Register reports. The chip packs 24 Tensilica digital signal processor (DSP) cores. As opposed to more general-purpose CPU cores, DSPs are a specialized technology designed for rapidly processing data flowing in from the world -- a no doubt invaluable asset while rendering augmented reality environments in real time. Microsoft's HPU also contains roughly 65 million logic gates, 8MB of SDRAM, and 1GB of traditional DDR3 RAM. It draws less than 10W of power, and features PCIe and standard serial interfaces. The HPU's dedicated hardware is up to 200 times faster than performing the same calculations via software on the less-specialized 14nm Intel Cherry Trail CPU. Microsoft added custom instructions to the DSP cores that allow the HPU to churn through HoloLens-specific tasks even faster, The Register reports. The HPU can perform roughly 1 trillion calculations per second, and the data it passes to the CPU requires little additional processing."
Mars

NanoRacks Plans To Turn Used Rocket Fuel Tanks Into Space Habitats (ieee.org) 114

An anonymous reader writes from a report via IEEE Spectrum: A couple of weeks ago NASA announced it has committed $65 million to six companies over the course of two years for the purpose of developing and testing deep-space habitats that could be used for future missions to Mars. One of the six companies, called NanoRacks, is attempting to take empty fuel tanks from the upper stages of rockets and turn them into space habitats on-orbit. IEEE Spectrum reports: "A rocket like the the Atlas V, which can deliver payloads of nearly 19,000 kg to low Earth orbit, consists of three primary pieces: on the bottom, you've got the first stage booster, which consists of a huge engine and some big tanks holding kerosene fuel and oxidizer. Above that, there's the second stage, which consists of one or two smaller engines, a big tank for storing liquid hydrogen fuel, and a smaller tank for oxidizer. The payload, which is what all of the fuss is about, sits on top. The first stage launches the rocket off of the pad and continues firing for about four minutes. Meanwhile, the second stage fires up its own engine (or engines) to boost the payload the rest of the way into orbit. On the Atlas V, the second stage is called Centaur. Once Centaur gets its payload where it needs to go, it separates, and then suicides down into Earth's atmosphere. Getting a payload into space is so expensive because you have to build up this huge and complicated rocket, with engines and guidance systems and fuel tanks and stuff, and then you basically use it for like 15 minutes and throw it all away. But what about the second stage? You've got a whole bunch of hardware that made it to orbit, and when getting stuff to orbit costs something like $2,500 per kilogram, you then tell it to go it burn itself up in the atmosphere, because otherwise it's just useless space junk." NanoRacks thinks this is wasteful, so they want to turn these tanks into deep space habitats. IEEE notes that the hydrogen fuel tank on a Centaur upper stage has a diameter of over 4 meters, and an interior volume of 54 cubic meters, while the inflatable BEAM module that arrived at the ISS earlier this year has an interior volume of 16 cubic meters. For more details, IEEE Spectrum spoke with Jeff Manber, CEO of NanoRacks, and Mike Johnson, NanoRacks' Chief Designer. You can read their responses here.
Power

New Mexico Nuclear Accident Ranks Among the Costliest In US History (latimes.com) 288

mdsolar quotes a report from Los Angeles Times: When a drum containing radioactive waste blew up in an underground nuclear dump in New Mexico two years ago, the Energy Department rushed to quell concerns in the Carlsbad desert community and quickly reported progress on resuming operations. The early federal statements gave no hint that the blast had caused massive long-term damage to the dump, a facility crucial to the nuclear weapons cleanup program that spans the nation, or that it would jeopardize the Energy Department's credibility in dealing with the tricky problem of radioactive waste. But the explosion ranks among the costliest nuclear accidents in U.S. history, according to a Times analysis. The long-term cost of the mishap could top $2 billion, an amount roughly in the range of the cleanup after the 1979 partial meltdown at the Three Mile Island nuclear power plant in Pennsylvania. The Feb. 14, 2014, accident is also complicating cleanup programs at about a dozen current and former nuclear weapons sites across the U.S. Thousands of tons of radioactive waste that were headed for the dump are backed up in Idaho, Washington, New Mexico and elsewhere, state officials said in interviews. "The direct cost of the cleanup is now $640 million, based on a contract modification made last month with Nuclear Waste Partnership that increased the cost from $1.3 billion to nearly $2 billion," reports Los Angeles Times. "The cost-plus contract leaves open the possibility of even higher costs as repairs continue. And it does not include the complete replacement of the contaminated ventilation system or any future costs of operating the mine longer than originally planned."
Robotics

Intel Demos A New Robotics Controller Running Ubuntu (hackerboards.com) 19

Intel demoed their new robotics compute module this week. Scheduled for release in 2017, it's equipped with various sensors, including a depth-sensing camera, and it runs Ubuntu on a quad-core Atom. Slashdot reader DeviceGuru writes: Designed for researchers, makers, and robotics developers, the device is a self contained, candy-bar sized compute module ready to pop into a robot. It's augmented with a WiFi hotspot, Bluetooth, GPS, and IR, as well as proximity, motion, barometric pressure sensors. There's also a snap-on battery.

The device is preinstalled with Ubuntu 14.04 with Robot Operating System (ROS) Indigo, and can act as a supervisory processor to, say, an Arduino subsystem that controls a robot's low-level functions. Intel demoed a Euclid driven robot running an obstacle avoidance and follow-me tasks, including during CEO Brian Krzanich's keynote (YouTube video).

Intel says they'll also release instructions on how to create an accompanying robot with a 3D printer. This plug-and-play robotics module is a proof-of-concept device -- the article includes some nice pictures -- but it already supports programming in Node.js (and other high-level languages), and has a web UI that lets you monitor performance in real-time and watch the raw camera feeds.
Earth

Every Month This Year Has Been the Hottest In Recorded History (vice.com) 402

Slashdot reader iONiUM quotes an article from Vice that calls attention to the fact that record-setting temperatures in July are just part of the story: On Wednesday, the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration announced that July was the hottest month ever recorded on our planet, since modern record-keeping began in 1880. NASA has reached the same conclusion. July smashed all previous records... "We should be absolutely concerned," [NOAA climatologist] Sanchez-Lugo said. "We need to look at ways to adapt and mitigate. If we don't, temperatures will continue to increase"...

But the truth is that record-breaking temperatures, month after month, year after year, are starting to look less like an exception, more like the norm.

In fact, CityLab reports that the earth has now experienced 14 consecutive months of unprecedented hotness. Although July stands out, Vice notes that "each consecutive month in 2016 has broken its own previous record (May was the hottest May, April the hottest April, etc.)..."
Biotech

Can Cow Backpacks Reduce Global Methane Emissions? (bloomberg.com) 189

Slashdot reader schwit1 shares an article from Bloomberg which argues "It's time to have a conversation about flatulent cows." "Enteric fermentation," or livestock's digestive process, accounts for 22 percent of all U.S. methane emissions, and the manure they produce makes up eight percent more, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency... Methane, like carbon, is a greenhouse gas, but methane's global warming impact per molecule is 25 times greater than carbon's, according to the EPA.
Cargill has tried capturing some of the methane released from cow manure by using domed lagoons, while researchers at Danone yogurt discovered they could reduce methane emissions up to 30% by feeding cows a diet rich in Omega-3 fatty acids (mostly from flax seed). But now Argentina researchers are testing plastic "methane backpacks" which they strap on to the back of cows, and according to the article "have been able to extract 300 liters of methane a day, enough to power a car or refrigerator."
ISS

Astronauts Successfully Install Parking Spot At ISS (phys.org) 45

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Phys.Org: With more private spaceship traffic expected at the International Space Station in the coming years, two U.S. astronauts embarked on a spacewalk Friday to install a special parking spot for them. Americans Jeff Williams and Kate Rubins switched their spacesuits to internal battery power at 8:04 (1204 GMT) and floated outside the orbiting laboratory to begin the work of attaching the first of two international docking adaptors. The spacewalkers finished the task in just over two hours. "With that, we have a new port of call," said NASA commentator Rob Navias, as the space station flew over Singapore at 10:40 am (1440 GMT). NASA describes the docking adaptor as a "metaphorical gateway to a future" that will allow a new generation of U.S. spacecraft -- the first since the space shuttle program ended in 2011 -- to carry astronauts to the space station. The second docking adaptor is expected to be installed in 2018. Built by Boeing, the circular adaptor measures around 42 inches (one meter) tall and about 63 inches wide. The adaptors will work with Boeing's CST-100 Starliner and SpaceX's Crew Dragon, two spaceships under construction that are planned to ferry astronauts to the space station. The docking adaptor is more sophisticated than past equipment because it will allow automatic parking instead of the current grapple and berthing process, which is managed by astronauts.
Medicine

Marijuana Provides More Pain Relief For Men Than Woman, Says Study (psypost.org) 144

An anonymous reader quotes a report from PsyPost: Researchers from Columbia University Medical Center (CUMC) found that men had greater pain relief than women after smoking marijuana. In this study, the researchers analyzed data from two double-blinded, placebo-controlled studies looking at the analgesic effects of cannabis in 42 recreational marijuana smokers. After smoking the same amount of either an active or placebo form of cannabis, the participants immersed one hand in a a cold-water bath until the pain could no longer be tolerated. Following the immersion, the participants answered a short pain questionnaire. After smoking active cannabis, men reported a significant decrease in pain sensitivity and an increase in pain tolerance. Women did not experience a significant decrease in pain sensitivity, although they reported a small increase in pain tolerance shortly after smoking. "These findings come at a time when more people, including women, are turning to the use of medical cannabis for pain relief," said Ziva Cooper, PhD, associate professor of clinical neurobiology (in psychiatry) at CUMC. "Preclinical evidence has suggested that the experience of pain relief from cannabis-related products may vary between sexes, but no studies have been done to see if this is true in humans." You can view the results of the study online in Drug and Alcohol Dependence.
Businesses

SolarCity Plans To Release New 'Solar Roof' Product Next Year (computerworld.com) 160

An anonymous reader writes: SolarCity, the American provider of energy services recently purchased by Tesla Motors for $2.6 billion, is planning to produce a new "solar roof" product next year. Computerworld reports: "Five million roofs are replaced each year in the U.S., so instead of simply swapping out old shingles with new ones, why not turn the whole roof into a solar power generator that's integrated with your home's electrical utility? That is SolarCity's plan for a new product it expects to begin producing next year, according to statements made during the company's second-quarter earnings call last week. During the call, SolarCity Chief Technology Officer Peter Rive alluded to a new product that would be produced at the soon to open Buffalo, N.Y., solar panel manufacturing facility. Then SolarCity co-founder and Chairman Elon Musk interjected and said the product would be a solar roof, 'as opposed to a [solar] module on a roof.' The solar roof also has the advantage that it doesn't 'cannibalize' any existing SolarCity product, such as solar panels installed atop roofs, Musk said." "If your roof is nearing end of life, you definitely don't want to put solar panels on it because you're going to have to replace the roof," Musk said. "So there's a huge market segment that's kind of inaccessible to SolarCity. So, why not have a solar roof that's better in many other ways as well," he continued. "We don't want to turn over all our cards right now, but I think people are going to be really excited about what they'll see."
Communications

US Air Force Wants To Plasma Bomb The Sky To Improve Radio Communication (newscientist.com) 159

An anonymous reader quotes a report from New Scientist: [The U.S. Air Force has plans to improve radio communication over long distances by detonating plasma bombs in the upper atmosphere using a fleet of micro satellites. It's not the first time we've tried to improve radio communication by tinkering with the ionosphere. HAARP, the High Frequency Active Auroral Research Program in Alaska, stimulates the ionosphere with radiation from ground-based antennas to produce radio-reflecting plasma.] Now the USAF wants to do this more efficiently, with tiny satellites -- such as CubeSats -- carrying large volumes of ionized gas directly into the ionosphere. As well as increasing the range of radio signals, the USAF says it wants to smooth out the effects of solar winds, which can knock out GPS, and also investigate the possibility of blocking communication from enemy satellites. [There are at least two major challenges. One is building a plasma generator small enough to fit on a CubeSat -- roughly 10 centimeters cubed. Then there's the problem of controlling exactly how the plasma will disperse once it is released. The USAF has awarded three contracts to teams who are sketching out ways to tackle the approach. The best proposal will be selected for a second phase in which plasma generators will be tested in vacuum chambers and exploratory space flights.]
Earth

Flaming 'Blue Whirl' Could Be Used In Fuel Spill Cleanup (sciencenews.org) 39

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Science News: An unfortunate mix of electricity and bourbon has led to a new discovery. After lightning hit a Jim Beam warehouse in 2003, a nearby lake was set ablaze when the distilled spirit spilled into the water and ignited. Spiraling tornadoes of fire leapt from the surface. In a laboratory experiment inspired by the conflagration, a team of researchers produced a new, efficiently burning fire tornado, which they named a blue whirl. To re-create the bourbon-fire conditions, the researchers, led by Elaine Oran of the University of Maryland in College Park, ignited liquid fuel floating on a bath of water. They surrounded the blaze with a cylindrical structure that funneled air into the flame to create a vortex with a height of about 60 centimeters. Eventually, the chaotic fire whirl calmed into a blue, cone-shaped flame just a few centimeters tall, the scientists report online August 4 in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The soot-free blur whirls could be a way of burning off oil spills on water without adding much pollution to the air, the researchers say, if they can find a way to control them in the wild. You can view the clean-burning 'blue whirl' here.
Earth

Satellite Images Can Map Poverty (bbc.com) 120

A new study using satellite images and machine learning plans to map poverty from space in an effort to "fix the world's problems." Satellite imagery can be less dangerous, slow and expensive than gathering the data on the ground. BBC reports: "A team from Stanford University were able to train a computer system to identify impoverished areas from satellite and survey data in five African countries. The latest study looked at daylight images that capture features such as paved roads and metal roofs -- markers that can help distinguish different levels of economic wellbeing in developing countries. They then used a sophisticated computer model to categorize the various indicators in daytime satellite images of Nigeria, Tanzania, Uganda, Rwanda and Malawi. 'If you give a computer enough data it can figure out what to look for. We trained a computer model to find things in imagery that are predictive of poverty,' said Dr Burke. 'It finds things like roads, like urban areas, like farmland, it finds waterways -- those are things we recognize. It also finds things we don't recognize. It finds patterns in imagery that to you or I don't really look like anything... but it's something the computer has figured out is predictive of where poor people are.' The researchers used imagery from countries for which survey data were available to validate the computer model's findings." The results of the study are published in the journal Science.
Power

America's First Offshore Wind Farm In Pictures (businessinsider.com) 209

Last week, an anonymous Slashdot reader submitted a story from the Associated Press, detailing the United States' first offshore wind farm that is set to open off the cost of Rhode Island this fall. Business Insider issued a report today with some additional specifications and stunning pictures of the Block Island Wind Farm: "GE and Deepwater Wind, a developer of offshore turbines, are installing five massive wind turbines in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. They will make up the first offshore wind farm in North America, called the Block Island Wind Farm. Over the past several weeks, the teams have worked to install the turbines 30 miles off the cost of Rhode Island, and are expected to finish by the end of August 2016. The farm will be fully operational by November 2016." Fun fact: GE's offshore wind farm has turbines that are twice as tall as the Statue of Liberty. You can view the slideshow of images here.
Businesses

Airbus Details Plan To Build Flying Taxis (autoblog.com) 70

CityAirbus is a new program from Airbus that aims to put commuters in the air to combat overcrowded cities. It sounds a lot like an airborne Uber, writes Brandon Turkus from Autoblog: "Passengers can use an app to book passage, head to their local helipad, climb aboard with a number of other passengers, and in the words of Airbus are 'whisked away to their destination.' Each ride would cost 'nearly the equivalent of a normal taxi ride for each passenger.' Beyond the advantages of avoiding traffic, Airbus claims its new conveyance will be faster, more sustainable, and, obviously, more exciting. Initially, the program would rely on a human pilot, but as with nearly every mode of modern transport, there would eventually be an autonomous version." The company has no timeline for when CityAirbuses will be ready for flight. They did note that the autonomous functionality will be the biggest challenge. "No country in the world today allows drones without remote pilots to fly over cities -- with or without passengers," writes Bruno Trabel from Airbus Helicopters. He leads the Skyways project, "which aims to help evolve current regulatory constraints." Project Vahana, a similar project that consists of an electric-powered, autonomous helicopter used for personal and cargo flights, will be tested in late 2017.
Science

When We're Happy, We Actively Sabotage Our Good Moods With Grim Tasks (arstechnica.com) 85

Beth Mole, writing for Ars Technica: Always keeping your house tidy and spotless may earn you the label of "neat freak" -- but "super happy" may be a more accurate tag. When people voluntarily take on unpleasant tasks such as housework, they tend to be in particularly happy states, according to a new study on hedonism. The finding challenges an old prediction by some researchers that humans can be constant pleasure-seekers. Instead, the new study suggests we might seek out fun, uplifting activities mainly when we're in bad or down moods. But when we're on the up, we're more likely to go for the dull and dreary assignments. This finding of "flexible hedonism," reported this week in The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, may seem counterintuitive because it suggests we sabotage our own high spirits. But it hints at the idea that humans tend to make sensible short-term trade-offs on happiness for long-term gains. "Although our data cannot directly tell us whether regularly engaging in unpleasant activities predicts psychological and social adjustment five or 10 years down the line, a large body of work has consistently demonstrated the importance of sleeping, employment, and living in a reasonably clean and organized home on mental and physical health," according to the study authors, led by Maxime Taquet of Harvard and Jordi Quoidbach of the University Pompeu Fabra in Spain.
Transportation

World's Largest Aircraft Completes Its First Flight (cnn.com) 187

The world's largest aircraft has finally completed its first flight after months of preparation and years of searching for funding. The Airlander 10 as it's called spent 20 minutes in the air on Wednesday, landing safely at Cardington Airfield north of London. CNNMoney reports: "Part airship, part helicopter, part plane, the 300-foot long aircraft is about 50 feet longer than the world's biggest passenger planes. The Airlander, made by British company Hybrid Air Vehicles, has four engines and no internal structure. It maintains its shape thanks to the pressure of the 38,000 cubic meters of helium inside its hull, which is made from ultralight carbon fiber. The aircraft was originally designed for U.S. military surveillance. But the project was grounded in 2013 because of defense spending cuts. [The team behind the giant blimp-like aircraft] said the aircraft could carry communications equipment or other cargo, undertake search and rescue operations, or do military and commercial survey work. The Airlander can stay airborne for up to five days at a time if manned, and for more than two weeks if unmanned. It can carry up to 10 tons of cargo at a maximum speed of 91 miles per hour. The aircraft doesn't need a runway to take off, meaning it can operate from land, snow, ice, desert and even open water." You can view the historic flight for yourself here (Warning: headphone users beware of loud sound).
ISS

Astronauts To Install A Parking Space For SpaceX and Boeing At The ISS (popularmechanics.com) 76

Since Boeing and SpaceX will begin sending NASA astronauts into orbit next year, the International Space Station is going to need a place for them to park. Astronauts Jeff Williams and Kate Rubins will journey outside the ISS on Friday to install a new docking adapter for these two private companies. Popular Mechanics reports: "Installing these adapters is a necessary step in NASA's Commercial Crew Program, which seeks to spur development of commercial crew spacecraft. The spacewalk is scheduled to begin at 8:05 a.m. on Friday, and live coverage will start at 6:30. This will be Williams' fourth spacewalk, and Rubins' first." In the meantime, you can watch this video describing exactly what the spacewalk will entail.
Security

People Ignore Software Security Warnings Up To 90% of the Time, Says Study (phys.org) 124

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Phys.Org: A new study from BYU, in collaboration with Google Chrome engineers, finds the status quo of warning messages appearing haphazardly -- while people are typing, watching a video, uploading files, etc. -- results in up to 90 percent of users disregarding them. Researchers found these times are less effective because of "dual task interference," a neural limitation where even simple tasks can't be simultaneously performed without significant performance loss. Or, in human terms, multitasking. For example, 74 percent of people in the study ignored security messages that popped up while they were on the way to close a web page window. Another 79 percent ignored the messages if they were watching a video. And a whopping 87 percent disregarded the messages while they were transferring information, in this case, a confirmation code. For example, Jenkins, Vance and BYU colleagues Bonnie Anderson and Brock Kirwan found that people pay the most attention to security messages when they pop up in lower dual task times such as: after watching a video, waiting for a page to load, or after interacting with a website. For part of the study, researchers had participants complete computer tasks while an fMRI scanner measured their brain activity. The experiment showed neural activity was substantially reduced when security messages interrupted a task, as compared to when a user responded to the security message itself. The BYU researchers used the functional MRI data as they collaborated with a team of Google Chrome security engineers to identify better times to display security messages during the browsing experience.
Power

Solid-State Battery Could Extinguish Fire Risks (thestack.com) 53

An anonymous reader writes: "Researchers have designed a new type of battery that, unlike traditional models containing liquid or gel electrolytes, consists purely of solid chemical compounds and is non-flammable, representing a huge boost for improving battery safety," reports The Stack. "Responding to dangers linked to traditional lithium-ion batteries, the team based at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich, has built a solid alternative which contains only solid-state electrodes and electrolytes." The battery is constructed with a layer of highly conductive lithium garnet, which works as a solid electrolyte between two electrodes. The researchers applied the material of the negative pole in viscous form, which allowed it to seep through the porous electrolyte layer. The team was able to temper the battery at 100C. "With a liquid or gel electrolyte, it would never be possible to heat a battery to such high temperatures," the study claims.

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