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Earth

Thermosphere Contraction Puzzles Scientists 200

The thermosphere layer of earth's atmosphere begins 80 to 90 kilometers above the surface and extends several hundred kilometers into the sky; it is the home to numerous satellites and the International Space Station. It is known that the thermosphere occasionally cools and contracts, but a recent study of satellite orbital decay (due to light atmospheric drag) found that the contraction during 2008 and 2009 was significantly more severe than expected, leaving researchers at a loss for how to explain it. From Space.com: "This type of collapse is not rare, but its magnitude shocked scientists. 'This is the biggest contraction of the thermosphere in at least 43 years,' said John Emmert of the Naval Research Lab, lead author of a paper announcing the finding in the June 19 issue of the journal Geophysical Research Letters. 'It's a Space Age record.' The collapse occurred during a period of relative solar inactivity — called a solar minimum from 2008 to 2009. These minimums are known to cool and contract the thermosphere, however, the recent collapse was two to three times greater than low solar activity could explain."
Education

Colleges Stepping Up Anti-Cheating Technology 439

Bruce Schneier's blog highlights a New York Times piece on high-tech methods for detecting student cheating. Schneier notes, "The measures used to prevent cheating during tests remind me of casino security measures." "No gum is allowed during an exam: chewing could disguise a student's speaking into a hands-free cellphone to an accomplice outside. The 228 computers that students use are recessed into desk tops so that anyone trying to photograph the screen — using, say, a pen with a hidden camera, in order to help a friend who will take the test later — is easy to spot. Scratch paper is allowed — but it is stamped with the date and must be turned in later. When a proctor sees something suspicious, he records the student's real-time work at the computer and directs an overhead camera to zoom in, and both sets of images are burned onto a CD for evidence." The Times article quotes from research published a few months back suggesting that the more you copy homework, the lower your grades.
Bug

Apple To Issue a 'Fix' For iPhone 4 Reception Perception 534

Lisandro and several other readers let us know that Apple has just released a statement addressing the signal issues a lot of users are having with their iPhone 4. They claim to have discovered the cause for the drop in bars, which is "both simple and surprising" — a wrong formula used to calculate how many bars are displayed for a given signal strength. "Upon investigation, we were stunned to find that the formula we use to calculate how many bars of signal strength to display is totally wrong. ... we sometimes display 4 bars when we should be displaying as few as 2 bars. Users observing a drop of several bars when they grip their iPhone in a certain way are most likely in an area with very weak signal strength, but they don’t know it because we are erroneously displaying 4 or 5 bars. Their big drop in bars is because their high bars were never real in the first place. ... We will issue a free software update within a few weeks that incorporates the corrected formula. Since this mistake has been present since the original iPhone, this software update will also be available for the iPhone 3GS and iPhone 3G." Wired notes that there is still a signal drop when the iPhone 4 is gripped in particular ways.
Announcements

Knuth Plans 'Earthshaking Announcement' Wednesday 701

I Don't Believe in Imaginary Property writes "Donald Knuth is planning to make an 'earthshaking announcement' on Wednesday, at TeX's 32nd Anniversary Celebration, on the final day of the TUG 2010 Conference. Unfortunately, nobody seems to know what it is. So far speculation ranges from proving P!=NP, to a new volume of The Art of Computer Programming, to his retirement. Maybe Duke Nukem Forever has been ported to MMIX?" Let the speculation begin.
Education

Science Historian Deciphers Plato's Code 402

Reader eldavojohn tips the news of a researcher in the UK, Jay Kennedy, who has uncovered a hidden code in the writings of Plato. From the University of Manchester press release: "[Dr. Kennedy said] 'I have shown rigorously that the books do contain codes and symbols and that unraveling them reveals the hidden philosophy of Plato. This is a true discovery, not simply reinterpretation.' ... The hidden codes show that Plato anticipated the Scientific Revolution 2,000 years before Isaac Newton, discovering its most important idea — the book of nature is written in the language of mathematics. ... Plato did not design his secret patterns purely for pleasure — it was for his own safety. Plato's ideas were a dangerous threat to Greek religion. He said that mathematical laws and not the gods controlled the universe. Plato's own teacher [Socrates] had been executed for heresy. Secrecy was normal in ancient times, especially for esoteric and religious knowledge, but for Plato it was a matter of life and death." Here is the paper (PDF), which was published in the journal Apeiron: A Journal of Ancient Philosophy and Science.
The Internet

ICANN Likely Finally To Approve .xxx For Porn Sites 266

shmG writes with this from the International Business Times: "The company that oversees Web addresses is expected to give the go-ahead on Friday for the creation of a .xxx suffix for websites with pornographic content, company officials indicated on Thursday. The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), which oversees the Internet on behalf of the US government, has in the past resisted creating a .xxx generic domain name system akin to those for .com and .net."
Youtube

YouTube Gets a Vuvuzela Button (Seriously) 305

teh31337one writes "YouTube always has had a way with pranks. Some time in the last hour, the world's largest video portal activated a new button on some videos that looks like a tiny soccer ball. Clicking it will activate an endless, incredibly annoying sound that sounds vaguely like a swarm of insects. Or, for anyone who has been watching the World Cup, like the dreaded vuvuzela — an instrument commonly played in South Africa at football (soccer) games. South Africa is, of course, the host country for this year's World Cup, and fans watching the games have been subjected to the vuvuzela's mindless drone for hours on end. The noise is so annoying that television networks have taken measures to filter it out, and guides have popped up showing viewers how to block it from their TV sets and computers. I'm not seeing the button show up on all videos, but it is definitely appearing on some clips that aren't soccer-related."
The Almighty Buck

Visa Launches PayPal Alternative 141

An anonymous reader writes "Visa has entered the micropayment processing space with payclick, a pre-paid hosted service that will compete with the likes of PayPal. Payclick is aimed at teenagers purchasing online content like music and games where the value of the transaction is likely to be less than $20. Like PayPal, payclick is an online money repository that people can pay into with a bank account or credit card (Visa or MasterCard) and then use the funds to purchase products online. The service was developed and launched in Australia with a view for global markets. PayPal integration is not there yet, but parents can monitor the amount of funds their under-18 children have to spend online. For e-commerce sites, an SDK is available for payclick integration."
Cellphones

Windows Phone 7 Lacks Copy-and-Paste 319

theodp writes "In a behind-the-scenes look at Windows Phone 7 (photos), CNET's Ina Fried notes that Microsoft's new software has won early praise for breaking ground in some areas, but takes a step backward in others. In particular, it doesn't support features like copy and paste and multitasking that were already part of the old Windows Mobile. 'I think users use cut-copy-paste periodically,' said Microsoft exec Terry Myerson, '(but) there's other things they use more frequently.' Hey, tradeoffs had to be made — it was either copy-and-paste or Goo Splat."
Cellphones

iPhone 4 Pre-Orders Wreaking Havoc On Apple Store 285

theappwhisperer was one of a surprisingly large number of people writing in this morning to report that the Apple store is having serious troubles taking pre-orders of the new iPhone 4. People are seeing the error page or just waiting an insanely long time to get pages back. Just imagine trying to do this from an iPhone in a major market!
It's funny.  Laugh.

Newsweek Easter Egg Reports Zombie Invasion 93

danielkennedy74 writes "Newsweek.com becomes the latest in a long list of sites that will reveal an Easter egg if you enter the Konami code correctly (up, up, down, down, left, right, left, right, b, a, enter). This is a cheat code that appeared in many of Konami's video games, starting around 1986 — my favorite places to use it were Contra and Life Force, 30 lives FTW. The Easter egg was probably included by a developer unbeknownst to the Newsweek powers that be. It's reminiscent of an incident that happened at ESPN last year, involving unicorns."
Power

Bill Gates's New Version of the Einstein Letter 407

dcblogs writes "In 1939, Albert Einstein sent 'F.D. Roosevelt, President of the United States,' a letter with a warning about Germany's interest in a new type of energy with potential for use as a powerful bomb. The letter also outlined the competitive threat posed by Germany and steps for improving US research efforts. Last week, Bill Gates, along with GE's CEO and others, met with President Obama to deliver their own message: that of the top 30 companies in the world working on alternative energy, only four are in the US. Similar to Einstein's point and recommendations, Gates and his allies are asking the US to view the alternative energy push as a competitive threat posed by other nations, particularly China, which may be doing a better job in bringing its engineering talent and money to bear on this problem."
Education

MA High School Forces All Students To Buy MacBooks 1217

An anonymous reader sends in this excerpt from the Salem News: "A new program at Beverly High will equip every student with a new laptop computer to prepare kids for a high-tech future. But there's a catch. The money for the $900 Apple MacBooks will come out of parents' pockets. 'You're kidding me,' parent Jenn Parisella said when she found out she'd have to buy her sophomore daughter, Sky, a new computer. 'She has a laptop. Why would I buy her another laptop?' Sky has a Dell. Come September 2011, every student will need an Apple. They'll bring it to class and use it for homework. Superintendent James Hayes sees the technology as an essential move to prepare kids for the future. The School Committee approved the move last year, and Hayes said he's getting the news out now so families can prepare. 'We have one platform,' Hayes said. 'And that's going to be the Mac.'"

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