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Sci-Fi

Lost Winston Churchill Essay Reveals His Thoughts On Alien Life (theverge.com) 184

"A newly discovered essay by Winston Churchill shows that the British statesman gave a lot of thought to the existential question that has inspired years of scientific research and blockbuster movies: are we alone in the University?" reports The Verge. "The essay was drafted in the 1930s, but unearthed in a museum in Missouri last year." Astrophysicist Mario Livio was the first scientist to analyze the article and has published his comments in the journal Nature. The Verge reports: Livio was "stunned" when he first saw the unpublished, 11-page essay on the existence of alien life, he tells The Verge. The astrophysicist was visiting Westminster College in Fulton, Missouri, for a talk last year, when he was approached by Timothy Riley, the director of Fulton's US National Churchill Museum. Riley showed him the essay, titled "Are We Alone in the Universe?" In the essay, Churchill reasons that we can't possibly be alone in the Universe -- and that many other Suns will likely have many other planets that could harbor life. Because of how enormously distant these extrasolar planets are, we may never know if they "house living creatures, or even plants," Churchill concludes. He wrote this decades before exoplanets were discovered in the 1990s; hundreds have since been detected. What's impressive about the essay is the way Churchill approaches the existential and scientific question of whether life exists on other planets, Livio says. Churchill's reasoning mirrors extremely well the way scientists think about this problem today. The British leader also talks about several theories that still guide the search for alien life, Livio says. For example, he notes that water is the key ingredient for life on Earth, and so finding water on other planets could mean finding life there. Churchill also notes that life can only survive in regions "between a few degrees of frost and the boiling point of water" -- what today we call the habitable zone, the region around a star that is neither too hot or too cold, so that liquid water may exist on the planet's surface.
Security

Michael Flynn Resigns As Trump's National Security Adviser (go.com) 890

An anonymous reader quotes a report from ABC News: President Donald Trump's embattled national security adviser Michael Flynn, who faced questions about a call to the Russian ambassador prior to the inauguration, has resigned. Retired Army General Keith Kellogg was named acting national security adviser to replace Flynn. ABC News reported Monday that Flynn called Vice President Mike Pence on Friday to apologize for misleading him about his conversation with the ambassador in November. Flynn previously denied that he spoke about sanctions the U.S. imposed on Russia for its suspected interference in the 2016 election, a claim repeated by Pence in January. An administration official later claimed Pence was relying on information provided to him by Flynn. In his resignation later, Flynn cited the "fast pace of events" for "inadvertently" briefing "the Vice President Elect and others with incomplete information regarding [his] phone calls with the Russian Ambassador." You can view Flynn's full resignation letter, as provided by the White House, here.
Transportation

How UPS Trucks Saved Millions of Dollars By Eliminating Left Turns (ndtv.com) 357

Some people probably already know this, but for those who don't: UPS truck drivers don't take left turns, and despite this usually resulting in longer route, they are saving millions of dollars in fuel costs. From a report: The company decided on eliminating left turns (or right turns in left-hand driving countries such as India) wherever possible after it found that drivers have to sit idly in the trucks while waiting to take the left turn to pass through traffic. So, it created an algorithm that eliminated left turns from drivers' routes even if meant a longer journey. This meant that drivers do not have to wait in traffic to take a left turn and can take the right turn at junctions. Of course, the algorithm does not entirely eliminate left turns, but the number of left turns taken by UPS trucks is less than 10 percent of all turns made. Turns out that UPS was right -- the idea really paid off. In 2005, a year after it announced that it will minimize left turns, the company said that the total distance covered by its 96,000 trucks was reduced by 747,000km, and 190,000 litres of fuel had been saved. In 2011, Bob Stoffel, a UPS Senior Vice President, told Fortune that the company had reduced distance traveled by trucks by 20.4 million miles, and reduced CO2 emissions by 20,000 metric tons, by not taking left turns. A recent report by The Independent says that the total reduction in distance traveled by UPS trucks now stands at 45.8 million miles, and there are 1,100 fewer trucks in its fleet because of the algorithm. Even by conservative estimates, that's tens of millions of dollar of savings in fuel costs. Senior VP Bob Stoffel explained how it works on CNN a few years ago.
Medicine

Genetically Modified Salmonella Destroys Cancer By Provoking An Immune Response, Study Finds (sandiegouniontribune.com) 78

schwit1 quotes a report from San Diego Union-Tribune: A genetically modified bacterium destroys tumors by provoking an immune response, according to a study published Wednesday. Using mice and cultures of human cancer cells, a South Korean-led scientific team demonstrated that Salmonella typhimurium engineered to make a foreign protein caused immune cells called macrophages and neutralizes to mobilize against the cancer. The bacterium came from an attenuated strain that has little infectious potential. Such strains have been tested as vaccines. The protein, called FlaB, is made by a gene in the estuarine bacterium Vibrio vulnificus, a close relative of the cholera bacterium, Vibrio cholerae. Tumors shrank below detectable levels in 11 out of 20 mice injected with the modified Salmonella, said the study, published in Science Translational Medicine. The engineered Salmonella provoke a sustained immune response, in addition to preventing the spread of a human colon cancer implanted in a mouse. The bacterium also were found to be nontoxic, multiplying almost exclusively inside tumors.
Government

Amateur Scientists Find New Clue In D.B. Cooper Case, Crowdsource Their Investigation (kare11.com) 139

Six months after the FBI closed the only unsolved air piracy in American aviation history -- after a 45-year investigation -- there's a new clue. An anonymous reader quotes Seattle news station KING: A band of amateur scientists selected by the Seattle FBI to look for clues in the world's most infamous skyjacking may have found new evidence in the 45-year-old case. They're asking for the public's help because of new, potential leads that could link DB Cooper to the Puget Sound aerospace industry in the early 1970s. The scientific team has been analyzing particles removed from the clip-on tie left behind by Cooper after he hijacked a Northwest Orient passenger jet in November 1971. A powerful electron microscope located more than 100,000 particles on old the JCPenny tie. The team has identified particles like Cerium, Strontium Sulfide, and pure titanium.

Tom Kaye, lead researcher for the group calling itself Citizen Sleuths, says the group is intrigued by the finding, because the elements identified were rarely used in 1971, during the time of Cooper's daring leap with a parachute from a passenger jet. One place they were being used was for Boeing's high-tech Super Sonic Transport plane...

Interestingly, it was even a Boeing aircraft that Cooper hijacked, and witnesses say he wasn't nervous on the flight, and seemed familiar with the terrain below.
Science

New Research Suggests the Appendix Has a Purpose After All (qz.com) 133

The appendix is an organ thought to have gone the way of our wisdom teeth and body hair: At one point we all needed them, now people can get by just fine without them. However, it turns out, at least the appendix has some purpose in the body. From a report: Scientists, though, have never been certain what the appendix used to do -- and if it is still, in fact, useless. On Jan. 9, a team of researchers led by scientists at Midwestern University Arizona College of Osteopathic Medicine published a review study proposing an answer: the appendix is a secondary immune function that both catalyzes immune cell responses and floods your gut with beneficial bacteria when they've been depleted. And it still plays that role, in a limited fashion, in human body function."We can function okay without it, but the appendix does provide some degree of immunity and beneficial bacteria,â Heather Smith, an anatomist and lead author of the paper said.
Intel

Origin PC's Custom, Professional Overclocking Will Push Your Kaby Lake Chip Past 5GHz (pcworld.com) 94

An anonymous reader writes: Intel's new Kaby Lake desktop processors may not be huge improvements over their Skylake predecessors in terms of raw speed, but they've got it where it counts in one enthusiast-friendly area: overclocking. Now the high-end custom PC builder Origin is putting its (and your) money where its mouth is. Origin's has offered professional overclocking as a $75 option in its systems for a while, and now the builder is touting that Kaby Lake desktops chips will go up to -- and potentially over -- the 5GHz barrier. Hot, hot, hot, hot damn. Intel's chips haven't hit such lofty heights since the Sandy Bridge days and the Core i7-2600K. Since then, Intel's processors usually tap out around the 4.5GHz mark. While the current wording for Origin's professional overclocking doesn't guarantee a set frequency due to the silicon lottery -- promising only that "Origin PC's award winning system integrators will overclock your processor and squeeze out every last megahertz" with every overclock "stringently tested and benchmarked for ensured stability" -- the company must feel darn confident to market that 5GHz number in big, bold numbers in a press release.
Star Wars Prequels

Lucasfilm Creates A 4K Ultra-HD Restoration of the Original 'Star Wars' (4k.com) 304

An anonymous reader quotes 4K.com: When the first ever of the Star Wars films, "A New Hope" turns 40 in 2017, millions of dedicated fans of the immensely popular franchise might get a very unique treat in the form of a limited theater screening in beautifully restored form with theatrical 4K resolution of the first movie released in the series. According to recent comments made by Rogue One director Gareth Edwards, a 4K restoration of Star Wars Episode IV "A New Hope" does indeed exist and now the only real question is whether or not the cleaned up and sharpened version of the movie will be hitting the big screen once again.
White it's release status is unknown, the ultra-high definition footage is said to be spectacular. In the interview, Edwards says "You can't watch it without getting carried away... It just turns you into a child."
Businesses

More Than One-Third of Schoolchildren Are Homeless In Shadow of Silicon Valley (theguardian.com) 504

Alastair Gee writes via The Guardian about Palo Alto's problem with homeless children. Palo Alto is one of the most expensive cities in the United States, yet "slightly more than one-third of students (1,147 children) are defined as homeless here, mostly sharing homes with other families because their parents cannot afford one of their own, and also living in RVs and shelters." From the report: The circumstances of the crisis are striking. Little more than a strip of asphalt separates East Palo Alto from tony Palo Alto, with its startups, venture capitalists, Craftsman homes and Whole Foods. East Palo Alto has traditionally been a center for African American and Latino communities. Its suburban houses are clustered on flat land by the bay, sometimes with no sidewalks and few trees, but residents say the town boasts a strong sense of cohesion. Yet as in the rest of Silicon Valley, the technology economy is drawing new inhabitants and businesses -- the Facebook headquarters is within Ravenswood's catchment area -- and contributing to dislocation as well as the tax base. "Now you have Caucasians moving back into the community, you have Facebookers and Googlers and Yahooers," said Pastor Paul Bains, a local leader. "That's what's driven the cost back up. Before, houses were rarely over $500,000. And now, can you find one under $750,000? You probably could, but it's a rare find." Several homeless families whose children attend local schools told the Guardian that they had considered moving to cheaper real estate markets, such as the agricultural Central Valley, but there were no jobs there. One man shares a single room with three children, in a house where three other families each have a room. Another woman lives with her partner and five children in a converted garage. Even teachers are not immune to such difficulties. Ten of the staff who work on early education programs -- one-third of the total -- commute two or more hours each way a day because they cannot find housing they can afford.
Businesses

Apple CEO Tim Cook Calls AirPods 'a Runaway Success' (cnbc.com) 214

It turns out the $159 AirPods Bluetooth earphones are selling well, or so CEO Tim Cook would have us believed. Cook dropped by the New York Stock Exchange on Wednesday while on vacation, and talked about the AirPods sales. From a report on CNBC: In comments to CNBC, Cook declined to talk specifically on Apple's outlook, but he said it has been a "great holiday." He added that the company's new wireless earbuds, AirPods, are "a runaway success." When asked if more would come into stock, he said Apple's "making them just as fast as we can." AirPods debuted at September's splashy event, but saw shipping delays through most of the fall and finally hit shelves just days before the crucial Christmas shopping rush. The limited shipments were sold quickly -- ship dates are now six weeks out on Apple's website.
Science

Pregnancy Alters Woman's Brains 'For At Least Two Years' (bbc.com) 280

EzInKy writes: The BBC and others are reporting the results of a study that women's brains do in fact change during pregnancy. BBC reports: "Pregnancy reduces grey matter in specific parts of a woman's brain, helping her bond with her baby and prepare for the demands of motherhood. Scans of 25 first-time mums showed these structural brain changes lasted for at least two years after giving birth. European researchers said the scale of brain changes during pregnancy were akin to those seen during adolescence. But they found no evidence of women's memory deteriorating. This study, from researchers at the Universitat Autonoma de Barcelona and Leiden University and published in Nature Neuroscience, looked at the brain scans of women before they became pregnant, soon after they gave birth, and two years later, to see how the brain changed. And they compared these women's brains with those of 19 first-time fathers, 17 men without children and 20 women who had never given birth. The researchers found 'substantial' reductions in the volume of grey matter in the brains of first-time mothers. The grey matter changes occurred in areas of the brain involved in social interactions used for attributing thoughts and feelings to other people -- known as 'theory-of-mind' tasks. The researchers thought this would give new mothers an advantage in various ways - help them recognize the needs of their child, be more aware of potential social threats and become more attached to their baby." Thanks Mom! As for first-time fathers, the researchers found no changes in their grey matter.
Firefox

Most Firefox Users Still Running Windows 7 (softpedia.com) 210

Microsoft is pushing hard for Windows 10 to become the operating system of choice for everyone across the world, but this isn't happening just yet, as Windows 7 keeps dominating the desktop market. From a report on Softpedia: The Firefox Hardware Report published recently by Mozilla shows that Windows 7 is the number one browser for users running the company's browser, with a share of 44.86 percent, followed by Windows 10 with 25.67 percent. Seeing Windows 7 dominating the desktop OS charts is not surprising, but on the other hand, it's living proof that Microsoft will really have a hard time moving users to Windows 10 before 2020 when it reaches end of support. Microsoft's Windows 10, however, already improved substantially since its launch in 2015, mostly thanks to the free upgrade offer targeting Windows 7 and 8.1 users, but this still isn't enough to become the number one choice for PC users.
AI

Londoners Tests A Self-Driving Beer Tap And An AI-Assisted Brewery (gizmodo.co.uk) 90

At a bar in London, they're now testing the prototype for a self-driving beer tap, according to drunkdrone. Gizmodo UK reports: All you need to do is select your pint of choice on the touchscreen, pay with a tap of your contactless card and stick your pint glass at its base. The pump contains an electronic valve, which opens to allow beer to flow through. A liquid flow meter ensures the right amount of good stuff comes out.
Meanwhile, Bloomberg is also reporting on a London startup that's brewing beer with a special algorithm that constantly modifies the percentage of each ingredient -- hops, water, yeast and grain -- based on ongoing customer feedback. Levels of carbonation, bitterness and alcohol content all change based on how people are responding... The algorithm produces new recipes every month incorporating the feedback. "There are too many brands out there that just have one recipe for a beer, and they've had it for 60 years," said Hew Leith, co-founder of IntelligentX, the maker of the beer appropriately named AI. "We're not about that. We're about using data to listen to our customers, get all that feedback, and then brew something that's more attuned to what they actually want and need."
He believes the same process could also be used to design perfume, chocolate, and coffee.
Microsoft

Microsoft Will Soon Start Bundling Drivers With Windows Store Games (thurrott.com) 102

Microsoft will start bundling drivers with Windows Store games to improve the performance of the game once downloaded. A report on Thurrott adds: This will work by the game download trigging Windows Update to acquire the minimum driver requirements to make sure that application works as intended. This may perturb some users who like having complete control over the driver updates for their hardware as this auto-download mechanism will overwrite the existing installation of the driver. Of course, you can still roll-back the update but hopefully Microsoft gives us a way to stop the auto-download of the driver via the Windows Store when this feature arrives.
Earth

Radiation From Fukushima Disaster Reaches Oregon Coast (nypost.com) 139

An anonymous reader quotes a report from New York Post: Radiation from Japan's 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster has apparently traveled across the Pacific. Researchers reported that radioactive matter -- in the form of an isotope known as cesium-134 -- was collected in seawater samples from Tillamook Bay and Gold Beach in Oregon. The levels were extremely low, however, and don't pose a threat to humans or the environment. In 2011, a 9.0-magnitude earthquake triggered a wave of tsunamis that caused colossal damage to Japan's Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant. The disaster released several radioactive isotopes -- including the dangerous fission products of cesium-137 and iodine-131 -- that contaminated the air and water. The ocean was later contaminated by the radiation. But cesium-134 is the fingerprint of Fukushima due to its short half-life of two years, meaning the level is cut in half every two years. Cesium-137 has a 30-year half-life. Particles from Chernobyl, nuclear weapons tests, and discharge from other nuclear power plants are still detectable -- in small, harmless amounts. While this is the first time cesium-134 has been detected on US shores, Higley said "really tiny quantities" have previously been found in albacore tuna. The Oregon samples were collected by the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in January and February. Each sample measured 0.3 becquerels, a unit of radioactivity, per cubic meter of cesium-134 -- significantly lower than the 50 million becquerels per cubic meter measured in Japan after the disaster.

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