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Submission + - Supersonic Plasma Jets Have Been Detected in Earth's Atmosphere (sciencealert.com)

An anonymous reader writes: For the first time, researchers have discovered supersonic plasma jets in Earth's upper atmosphere, and they're responsible for some pretty extreme conditions, including temperatures near 10,000C (18,032F).

These jets not only appear to be changing the chemical composition of Earth's ionosphere — they're actually pushing this atmospheric layer so far up, some of the planet's atmospheric materials are being leaked out into space.

More than a century ago, Norwegian scientist Kristian Birkeland proposed that vast electric currents powered by solar wind were travelling through Earth's ionosphere by the planet's magnetic field.

The ionosphere is an atmospheric layer spanning 75 to 1,000 km (46 to 621 miles) above Earth's surface, and once scientists finally figured out how to get satellites up there in the 1970s, the existence of these electric currents was confirmed.

Known as Birkeland currents, they carry up to 1 TW of electric power to the upper atmosphere — about a third of the total power consumption of the US in a year.

They're also responsible for the aurora borealis and aurora australis that light up the poles of the Northern and Southern Hemispheres.

Submission + - A Mysterious Flash From a Faraway Galaxy (nytimes.com)

schwit1 writes: It was a spark in the night. A flash of X-rays from a galaxy hovering nearly invisibly on the edge of infinity.

Astronomers say they do not know what caused it.

The orbiting Chandra X-ray Observatory, was in the midst of a 75-day survey of a patch of sky known as the Chandra Deep Field-South, when it recorded the burst from a formerly quiescent spot in the cosmos.

For a few brief hours on Oct 1, 2014, the X-rays were a thousand times brighter than all the light from its home galaxy, a dwarf unremarkable speck almost 11 billion light years from here, in the constellation Fornax. Then whatever had gone bump in the night was over and the X-rays died.

The event as observed does not fit any known phenomena, according to Franz Bauer, an astronomer at Pontifical Catholic University of Chile, and lead author of a report to be published in Science.

The most likely explanation, Dr. Bauer said in the paper and in an interview, is that the X-rays are the afterglow from a gamma ray burst seen sideways. These are caused by the collapse of a massive star into a black hole or the collision of a pair of the dense stellar remnants called neutron stars, and squirt gamma rays but only in one direction. If Earth is out of the beam then all astronomers will see is an “orphan afterglow.”

Submission + - Exercise is good but it won't help you lose weight, say doctors (theguardian.com)

schwit1 writes: Being dangerously overweight is all down to bad diet rather than a lack of exercise, according to a trio of doctors who have reopened the debate about whether food, sedentary lifestyles or both are responsible for the obesity epidemic.

In an article for a leading health journal the authors – who include British cardiologist Dr Aseem Malhotra, an outspoken critic of the food industry – accuse food and drink firms such as Coca-Cola of having wrongly emphasised how physical activity and sport can help prevent people becoming very overweight.

The truth, they say, is that while physical activity is useful in reducing the risk of developing heart disease, dementia and other conditions, it “does not promote weight loss”.

Submission + - Weapons of Math Destruction Author: Models are Opinions Embedded in Math (latimes.com)

dangle writes: The LA Times has an interview with "Weapons of Math Destruction" author Cathy O'Neil discussing her concerns about the social consequences of ill-considered mathematical modeling. She discusses the example of a NYC Department of Education algorithm designed to grade school teachers that no one outside of the coders had access to. "The Department of Education did not know how to explain the scores that they were giving out to teachers," she observes. "...(T)he very teachers whose jobs are on the line don’t understand how they’re being evaluated. I think that’s a question of justice. Everyone should have the right to know how they’re being evaluated at their job," she argues. Another example discussed is a Los Angeles Department of Children and Family Services risk-modeling algorithm developed by SAS to score children according to their risk of being abused so that social workers can better target their efforts. Depending on the ethical considerations, such an algorithm could intentionally overweight factors such as income or ethnicity in a way that could tip the balance between right to privacy and protection of abused minors one way or another. "I want to separate the moral conversations from the implementation of the data model that formalizes those decisions. I want to see algorithms as formal versions of conversations that have already taken place," she concludes.

Submission + - Google Fixes User Tracking Issue in Pixel Smartphones (bleepingcomputer.com)

An anonymous reader writes: Google engineers have addressed a serious user privacy issue that affected only versions of the Android operating system installed on the company's latest line of Pixel smartphones. According to Google engineers, the problem was a unique identifier (serial number of Pixel's camera sensor) that was stored inside a systems property file that could be read by anyone. This allowed apps to track users on a smartphone basis. The issue was fixed before the new year.

Submission + - The caves that prove Neanderthals were cannibals (phys.org)

schwit1 writes: Deep in the caves of Goyet in Belgium researchers have found the grisly evidence that the Neanderthals did not just feast on horses or reindeer, but also on each other.

Human bones from a newborn, a child and four adults or teenagers who lived around 40,000 years ago show clear signs of cutting and of fractures to extract the marrow within, they say.

"It is irrefutable, cannibalism was practised here," says Belgian archaeologist Christian Casseyas as he looks inside a cave halfway up a valley in this site in the Ardennes forest.

The bones in Goyet date from when Neanderthals were nearing the end of their time on earth before being replaced by Homo sapiens, with whom they also interbred.

Once regarded as primitive cavemen driven to extinction by smarter modern humans, studies have found that Neanderthals were actually sophisticated beings who took care of the bodies of the deceased and held burial rituals.

Submission + - NASA Designs 'Ice Dome' For Astronauts On Mars (phys.org)

An anonymous reader writes: The "Mars Ice Home" is a large inflatable dome that is surrounded by a shell of water ice. NASA said the design is just one of many potential concepts for creating a sustainable home for future Martian explorers. The idea came from a team at NASA's Langley Research Center that started with the concept of using resources on Mars to help build a habitat that could effectively protect humans from the elements on the Red Planet's surface, including high-energy radiation. The advantages of the Mars Ice Home is that the shell is lightweight and can be transported and deployed with simple robotics, then filled with water before the crew arrives. The ice will protect astronauts from radiation and will provide a safe place to call home, NASA says. But the structure also serves as a storage tank for water, to be used either by the explorers or it could potentially be converted to rocket fuel for the proposed Mars Ascent Vehicle. Then the structure could be refilled for the next crew. Other concepts had astronauts living in caves, or underground, or in dark, heavily shielded habitats. The team said the Ice Home concept balances the need to provide protection from radiation, without the drawbacks of an underground habitat. The design maximizes the thickness of ice above the crew quarters to reduce radiation exposure while also still allowing light to pass through ice and surrounding materials.

Submission + - Smart Electricity Meters Can Be Dangerously Insecure, Warns Expert (theguardian.com)

An anonymous reader writes: Smart electricity meters, of which there are more than 100 million installed around the world, are frequently “dangerously insecure," a security expert has said. The lack of security in the smart utilities raises the prospect of a single line of malicious code cutting power to a home or even causing a catastrophic overload leading to exploding meters or house fires, according to Netanel Rubin, co-founder of the security firm Vaultra. If a hacker took control of a smart meter they would be able to know “exactly when and how much electricity you’re using”, Rubin told the 33rd Chaos Communications Congress in Hamburg. An attacker could also see whether a home had any expensive electronics. “He can do billing fraud, setting your bill to whatever he likes [...] The scary thing is if you think about the power they have over your electricity. He will have power over all of your smart devices connected to the electricity. This will have more severe consequences: imagine you woke up to find you’d been robbed by a burglar who didn’t have to break in. “But even if you don’t have smart devices, you are still at risk. An attacker who controls the meter also controls the meter’s software, allowing him to cause it to literally explode.” The problems at the heart of the insecurity stem from outdated protocols, half-hearted implementations and weak design principles. To communicate with the utility company, most smart meters use GSM, the 2G mobile standard. That has a fairly well-known weakness whereby an attacker with a fake mobile tower can cause devices to “hand over” to the fake version from the real tower, simply by providing a strong signal. In GSM, devices have to authenticate with towers, but not the other way round, allowing the fake mast to send its own commands to the meter. Worse still, said Rubin, all the meters from one utility used the same hardcoded credentials. “If an attacker gains access to one meter, it gains access to them all. It is the one key to rule them all.”

Submission + - Microsoft Is No Longer Selling Any Lumia Windows Phones On Its US Store (neowin.net)

An anonymous reader writes: It seems that Lumia has reached the end of the line, as the Microsoft Store is no longer selling any of the company's Windows Phone 8.1 or Windows 10 Mobile handsets in the U.S. The first signs that the end was approaching for Lumia came back in February, when Microsoft launched the Lumia 650, which was said to be the last in the company's Lumia line. In August, Microsoft removed all mention of Windows handsets from its US store homepage, relegating 'Windows phone' to a dropdown menu instead. This week, just one Lumia handset remained on sale: the AT&T-locked Lumia 950, available only in white. Now, that model has sold out too, leaving none of the company's Lumia handsets available to buy on its store. The Windows phones page on the Microsoft Store lists thirteen products, but eight of these are out of stock. When more stock is expected on a temporarily sold-out product, Microsoft typically replaces the 'Add to cart' button with one that says 'Email me when available'. Instead, each of these products now has a grayed-out button, stating "Out of stock."

Submission + - New York State To Motorists: All Your Info Are Belong To Us (medium.com) 1

schwit1 writes: Beginning next month, all motorists who wish to travel through the Hugh L. Carey Tunnel or Queens Midtown Tunnel in New York City will have no choice but to hand over their location data to the government. Previously it was possible volunteer this information by way of “EZ Pass,” which motorists can purchase and install in their vehicles. However, those who wished not to utilize “EZ Pass” had the option of paying the old fashioned way, by handing over U.S. currency to attendants.

But now New York State is instituting a brand new “innovation” for these various crossings. No longer will there be any option available for those who’d prefer that the government not indiscriminately collect their data. As of January 2017, anyone traveling these bridges and tunnels will be forced forfeit their information by way of “scanning devices” which indiscriminately suck up the license plate information of every vehicle passing through.

Thus decrees King Cuomo II: “Customers who do not pay their tolls are subject to $50 violation fees, car registration suspensions, and other enforcement actions.”

Nanny-statists gotta nanny-state.

Submission + - Enigma encryption machines could help create fraud-proof bank cards

randomErr writes: German's Enigma ciphering machines technology will be used to create ultra-secure encryption cards. The digital Enigma machines inside the cards will replace the existing three-digit CVV security number and could remove the need for a PIN. These new credit and debit cards will have a complex Enigma-based machine integrated into them that will regularly create new three digit number combinations. This new system will hopefully add an extra step for would-be fraudsters. Near Field Communication (NFC) and possibly WiFi aerial or Bluetooth may be integrated as well.

Submission + - Researchers release 3600 Editable Profiles of Computer Science Professors (brown.edu)

swallis writes: Researchers at the Brown University Human Computer Interaction Research Group have released Drafty. It is a crowd-editable spreadsheet of over 3,600 computer science professors. For example, where they got their degrees, subfield of expertise, their join year and rank, etc...

Drafty is a smart system that aides in the long term upkeep of structured data. Visitors can help manage and edit the various profiles to improve accuracy. This dataset poses several benefits towards the computer science community. It allows for time series analysis of hiring trends across 70 top CS programs in the US and Canada. It is also a resource for graduate students and/or researchers to find experts in their field of interest. With your help we can keep Drafty up-to-date!

Submission + - Ask Slashdot: Why Are Some Great Games Panned And Some Inferior Games Praised? (soldnersecretwars.de) 2

dryriver writes: A few years ago I bought a multiplayer war game called Soldner that I had never heard of before. (The game is entirely community maintained now and free to download and play at www.soldnersecretwars.de) The professional reviews completely and utterly destroyed Soldner — buggy, bad gameplay, no singleplayer mode, disappointing graphics, server problems and so on. For me and many other players who did give it a chance beyond the first 30 minutes, Soldner turned out to be THE most fun, addictive, varied, sattisfying and multi-featured multiplayer war game ever. It had innovative features that AAA titles like Battlefield and COD did not have at all at the time — fully destructible terrain, walls and buildings, cool physics on everything from jeeps flying off mountaintops to Apache helicopters crashing into Hercules transport aircraft, to dozens of trees being blown down by explosions and then blocking an incoming tank's way. Soldner took a patch or three to become fully stable, but then was just fun, fun, fun to play. So much freedom, so much cool stuff you can do in-game, so many options and gadgets you can play with. By contrast, the far, far simpler — but better looking — Battlefield, COD, Medal Of Honor, CounterStrike war games got all the critical praise, made the tens of millions in profit per release, became longstanding franchises and are, to this day, not half the fun to play that Soldner is. How does this happen? How does a title like Soldner that tried to do more new stuff than the other war games combined get trashed by every reviewer, and then far less innovative and fun to play war games like BF, COD, CS sell tens of millions of copies per release and get rave reviews all around?

Submission + - How Russia Recruited Elite Hackers for Its Cyberwar (nytimes.com)

Lasrick writes: 'For more than three years, rather than rely on military officers working out of isolated bunkers, Russian government recruiters have scouted a wide range of programmers, placing prominent ads on social media sites, offering jobs to college students and professional coders, and even speaking openly about looking in Russia’s criminal underworld for potential talent.' Important read.

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