dryriver writes: The BBC reports: Astronomers have detected a record seven Earth-sized planets orbiting a single star. The researchers say that all seven could potentially support liquid water on the surface, depending on the other properties of those planets. However, three of these worlds are within the traditional "habitable" zone where life is considered a possibility. The compact system of exoplanets orbits Trappist-1, a low-mass, cool star located 40 light-years away. The planets were detected using Nasa's Spitzer Space Telescope and several ground-based observatories are described in the journal Nature. Lead author Michaël Gillon, from Belgium's University of Liège, said: "The planets are all close to each other and very close to the star, which is very reminiscent of the moons around Jupiter." "Still, the star is so small and cold that the seven planets are temperate, which means that they could have some liquid water — and maybe life, by extension — on the surface."
dryriver writes: The Economist reports: "ISIDRO BALDENEGRO LÓPEZ, a farmer and a leader of the indigenous Tarahumara people, had spent much of his life campaigning against illegal logging in the Sierra Madre region of northern Mexico. On January 15th he was shot dead. His father died in the same way, for defending the same cause, 30 years before. Defending nature is a dangerous occupation, especially in Latin America. According to a recent report by Global Witness, an NGO, 185 environmental activists were murdered worldwide in 2015, an increase of 59% from the year before. More than half the killings were in Latin America. In Brazil 50 green campaigners died in 2015. Honduras is especially perilous: 123 activists have died there since 2010, the highest number of any country relative to its population. Berta Cáceres, an indigenous leader who was a prominent campaigner against dams and plantations, was murdered there last March. Why is Latin America so deadly? One reason is its abundant natural resources, which attract enterprises of all sorts, from multinationals to mafias. When prices are low, as they are now, the most rapacious do not go away; to maintain their profits they become more aggressive, says David Kaimowitz of the Ford Foundation."
dryriver writes: Most of the time, when you order fast food, you know exactly what you're getting: an inexpensive meal that tastes great but is probably loaded with fat, cholesterol and sodium. But it turns out that the packaging your food comes in could also have a negative impact on your health, according to a report published Wednesday in the journal Environmental Science & Technology Letters. The report found fluorinated chemicals in one-third of the fast food packaging researchers tested. These chemicals are favored for their grease-repellent properties. Along with their use in the fast food industry, fluorinated chemicals — sometimes called PFASs — are used "to give water-repellant, stain-resistant, and non-stick properties to consumer products such as furniture, carpets, outdoor gear, clothing, cosmetics (and) cookware," according to a news release that accompanied the report. "The most studied of these substances (PFOSs and PFOAs) has been linked to kidney and testicular cancer, elevated cholesterol, decreased fertility, thyroid problems and changes in hormone functioning, as well as adverse developmental effects and decreased immune response in children."
dryriver writes: A 12 year old girl named Muhanum Anggriawati is believed to have been one of many victims of the haze, or air pollution, that regularly spreads across Indonesia because of the huge deforestation fires linked to palm oil production and other agribusiness. A number of large Indonesian agribusiness companies appear to be burning down vast swathes of Indonesian forest to grow profitable produce on the cleared land. The Global Fire Emissions Database reports that in 2015, fires in Indonesia generated about 600m tonnes of greenhouse gases, which is roughly equivalent to Germany’s entire annual output. The smoke contains dangerous chemicals such as carbon monoxide, ammonia and cyanide. A study by Harvard and Columbia universities revealed that the haze may have caused the premature deaths of more than 100,000 people in south-east Asia in 2015. The authors estimated that there were 91,000 deaths in Indonesia; 6,500 in Malaysia and 2,200 in Singapore. Due to widespread corruption in Indonesia's court system, the victims of the deadly haze caused by deforestation-by-fire face grave problems in getting the perpetrators held to account.
dryriver writes: I've noticed a disturbing trend while trying to resolve a rather tricky tech issue by asking questions on a number of internet forums. The number of people who don't help at all with problems but rather butt into threads with unhelpful comments like "why would you want to do that in the first place?" or "why don't you look at X poorly written documentation page " was staggering. One forum user with 1,500+ posts even posted "you are such a n00b if you can't figure this out" in my question thread, even though my tech question wasn't one that is obvious or easy to resolve. The ratio of unhelpful comments to actually helpful comments was about 5 to 1. I seem to remember a time when people helped each other far more readily on the internet. Now there seems to be a new breed of forum user who a) hangs out at a forum socially all day b) does not bother to help at all and c) gets a kick out of telling you things like "what a stupid question" or "nobody will help you with that here" or similar. Who are these forum users? Are they emotionally unstable t(w)eenagers who hang around forums looking for some "n00b" to trash? Where have the good old days gone when people much more readily gave other people step-by-step tips, tricks, instructions and advice?
dryriver writes: The BBC has a longish story on a Mexican surgeon who makes his patients wear a VR headset that distracts them from the surgical procedure being performed on them. While Dr Mosso cuts and removes and stitches, the patient flies through a 3D VR re-creation of Machu Picchu or other fantastical places, oblivious to being in an otherwise — for many patients — stress inducing surgical setting. This removes the need to give patients powerful sedatives or painkillers to keep them calm and prevent their blood pressure from fluctuating. The surgeon only anesthetizes the part of the body where the surgery is performed, while the patient is absorbed in colorful and immersive VR worlds. An excerpt: "The surgeon makes his first cut and blood spills down Ana’s leg. She’s surrounded by medical equipment – stools, trolleys, swabs, syringes – with super-bright surgical lamps suspended above the bed. Her vital signs are displayed on monitors just behind. But Ana is oblivious. She’s immersed in a three-dimensional re-creation of Machu Picchu. She begins her journey with a breathtaking aerial view of the ancient city clinging to the mountainside, before swooping down to explore the details of stepped terraces, moss-covered walls and tiny stone huts. Mosso watches her carefully. A 54-year-old surgeon at Panamerican University in Mexico City, he’s on a mission to bring virtual reality into the operating room. Mosso is using VR as a high-tech distraction technique, allowing surgeons to carry out operations that would normally require powerful painkillers and sedatives, with nothing more than local anaesthetic."
dryriver writes: CNN reports: Our home galaxy, the Milky Way, is being pushed across the universe by a large unseen force, according to new research. Although it may not seem like a friendly gesture, the newly discovered Dipole Repeller is actually helping our galaxy on its journey across the expanding universe. Researchers have known that the galaxy was moving at a relative speed for the past 30 years, but they didn't know why. "Now we find an emptiness in exactly the opposite direction, which provides a 'push' in the sense of a lack of pull," said Brent Tully, one of the study authors and an astronomer at the Institute for Astronomy in Honolulu. "In a tug-of-war, if there are more people at one end, then the flow will be toward them and away from the weaker side." But this is no aimless journey of motion. Researchers have long believed that our galaxy was attracted to an area rich with dozens of clusters of galaxies 750 million light-years away, called the Shapley Concentration or Shapley Attractor.
dryriver writes: The Guardian reports: Scientists have created a human-pig hybrid in a milestone study that raises the prospect of being able to grow human organs inside animals for use in transplants. It marks the first time that embryos combining two large, distantly-related species have been produced. The creation of this so-called chimera – named after the cross-species beast of Greek mythology – has been hailed as a significant first step towards generating human hearts, livers and kidneys from scratch. Juan Carlos Izpisua Belmonte, who led the work on the part-pig, part-human embryos at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies in La Jolla, California, said: “The ultimate goal is to grow functional and transplantable tissue or organs, but we are far away from that. This is an important first step.”
dryriver writes: Everybody knows who "the biggest tech companies" are — Sony, Samsung, Apple, Microsoft, Alphabet, Facebook, Intel and so forth. It is no big mystery who makes the most annual revenue/profits or employs the most people or files the most patents every year or has the highest stock price. But this is a different question entirely: Which tech companies, in your opinion, are the BEST at what they do? Who makes the best products in tech? Whose tech products or services would you not want to live without? Whose products would you take on a deserted island with you? If you could pick just 5 — 10 tech companies that are absolutely essential to you as a tech nerd, tech enthusiast or other, which companies would those be? And why?
dryriver writes: Phys.org reports: New evidence involving the ancient poop of some of the huge and astonishing creatures that once roamed Australia indicates the primary cause of their extinction around 45,000 years ago was likely a result of humans, not climate change. The Australian collection of megafauna some 50,000 years ago included 1,000-pound kangaroos, 2-ton wombats, 25-foot-long lizards, 400-pound flightless birds, 300-pound marsupial lions and Volkswagen-sized tortoises. More than 85 percent of Australia's mammals, birds and reptiles weighing over 100 pounds went extinct shortly after the arrival of the first humans. The new theory posits that either early humans overhunted Australia's megafauna into extinction in a short span of time, or that a combination of climate change AND humans overhunting caused the collapse of the population of these large animals.
dryriver writes: Commercial software — as opposed to free open source software — frequently creates the following dilemma: A software X that costs 2,000 Dollars may be perfectly affordable for someone in America, Germany, Switzerland or Japan. The price is "normal" and the software pays for itself after Y weeks or months of use. When the same software X is also sold for 2,000 Dollars in Egypt, Mali, Bangladesh or Sudan, the situation is the opposite — the price is "far too high" and the software will NOT pay for itself after Y weeks or months of use. So here is an interesting idea: Why don't software makers look at the average income level in a given country — per capita GDP for example — and adjust their software prices in these countries accordingly? Most Software makers in the U.S. and EU currently insist on charging the full U.S. or EU price in much poorer countries. "Rampant piracy" and "low sales" is often the result in these countries. Why not change this by charging lower software prices in less wealthy countries?
dryriver writes: The BBC reports: About 13 million pages of declassified documents from the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) have been released online. The records include UFO sightings and psychic experiments from the Stargate programme, which has long been of interest to conspiracy theorists. The move came after lengthy efforts from freedom of information advocates and a lawsuit against the CIA. Among the more unusual records are documents from the Stargate Project, which dealt with psychic powers and extrasensory perception. Those include records of testing on celebrity psychic Uri Geller in 1973, when he was already a well-established performer. Memos detail how Mr Geller was able to partly replicate pictures drawn in another room with varying — but sometimes precise — accuracy, leading the researchers to write that he "demonstrated his paranormal perceptual ability in a convincing and unambiguous manner".
dryriver writes: Elon Musk's OpenAI initiative has released a download package (http://deepdrive.io/) that lets interested tinkerers work on developing their own self-driving car tech. If you combine a valid copy of Grand Theft Auto 5 for Windows with this download package, you get a self-driving agent that you can test drive on the roads of San Andreas.The agent actually appears to "see" what is going on inside GTA 5 through machine vision, rather than direct access to game data such as where other cars, pedestrians are. The initiative wants to give people other than select Tech Giants and Car Companies a chance to develop self-driving technology. Don't worry — if the the AI you are creating causes an accident, the damage stays inside GTA 5's virtual world. The package also removes guns, prostitutes, fistfights and other "distractions" from GTA 5 — this is all about testing self-driving AI in an environment as close to the real world as possible. While GTA 5 runs on a Windows machine, the self-driving AI agent appears to run on Linux and OS X. Happy self-driving!
dryriver writes: I'm a heavy headphone user. It doesn't matter what headphones I buy — Sony, Philips, Logitech you name it — the headphones typically fail to work properly within a few weeks of purchase. It is never the headphones/earbuds themselves that fail. It is always the part of the headphone cable where the small wires connect to the almost indestructible 3.5mm metal headphone jack. Result? Either the left or right ear audio cuts out and you need new headphones. Putting 1/2 a cent worth of extra rubber/plastic/metal around that part of the cable to strengthen it would likely fix the problem very effectively. The headphones would last for a year or even longer. But almost no manufacturer seems to do this. I keep trying new models and brands, and they all have the same "cable goes bad" problem — earbuds that came with a Sony MP3 player I bought developed the problem within 15 minutes of first use. My question to Slashdot: Do headphone manufacturers do this deliberately? Do they think "We'll sell 40% more headphones each year if the average pair doesn't last beyond 3 months of normal use" and engineer a deliberate weakness into the headphone cable? How can these major brands with all their product engineers not be able to strengthen the most obviously failure-prone part of the headphone cable a bit?
dryriver writes: Somebody I know has been searching up and down the internet for an open source software that can apply GPU pixel shaders (HLSL/GLSL/Cg/SweetFX) to a video and save the result out to a video file. He came up with nothing. So I said "Why not petition the open source community to create such a tool?" His reply was "Where exactly does one go to ask for a new open source software?" So that is my question: Where on the internet can one best go to request that a new open source software tool that does not exist yet be developed? Or do open source tools only come into existence when someone — a coder — starts to build a software, opens the source, and invites other coders to join the fray?