Catch up on stories from the past week (and beyond) at the Slashdot story archive
astroengine writes "Scientists have found superflares more than 1 million times more powerful than flares generated by the sun occurring on sun-like stars being studied by NASA's Kepler space telescope. The finding, culled from 120 days of observations of 83,000 stars, is the first to detail how often and how energetic flares on other stars can be. The discovery, however, raises a question about how the massive outbursts, believed to be caused by complex magnetic interactions, can physically occur."
TheGift73 writes in with news about an over-the-counter HIV test getting the backing of a panel of FDA experts. "American consumers may soon be able to test themselves for the virus that causes AIDS in the privacy of their own homes, after a panel of experts on Tuesday recommended approval of the first rapid, over-the-counter HIV test. The 17 members of the Food and Drug Administration advisory panel voted unanimously that the benefits of the OraQuick HIV test outweigh its potential risks for consumers. While the test, which uses a mouth swab to return a result in 20 minutes, does not appear to be as accurate as professionally-administered diagnostics, panelists said it could provide an important way to expand HIV testing. The FDA will make its final decision on whether to approve the product later this year, weighing the opinion of the panel."
eldavojohn writes "The Logic of Chance: The Nature and Origin of Biological Evolution is a comprehensive snapshot of the latest research of biological evolution. The text is written by Eugene V. Koonin, an editor for a journal and researcher at NCBI. The book, although lacking in foundational knowledge and often foregoing explanation of research, presents a comprehensive and well-referenced view of modern evolutionary research. It is heavily laden with acronyms and jargon specific to biology and evolution. As a result, reading it requires either prior knowledge or a high tolerance for looking up these advanced topics with the reward of it being an extremely eye opening and enjoyable read worthy of your time." Keep reading for the rest of eldavojohn's review.
Hugh Pickens writes "The NY Times reports that Carson C. Chow, an MIT-trained mathematician and physicist, has taken a new look at America's obesity epidemic and found that a food glut is behind America's weight problem, with the national obesity rate jumping from 20 percent to over 30 percent since 1970. 'Beginning in the 1970s, there was a change in national agricultural policy. Instead of the government paying farmers not to engage in full production, as was the practice, they were encouraged to grow as much food as they could,' says Chow. 'With such a huge food supply, food marketing got better and restaurants got cheaper. The low cost of food fueled the growth of the fast-food industry. If food were expensive, you couldn't have fast food.' Chow and mathematical physiologist Kevin Hall created a mathematical model of a human with hundreds of equations, boiled it down to one simple equation, and then plugged in all the variables — height, weight, food intake, exercise. The slimmed-down equation proved to be a useful platform for answering a host of questions. For example, huge variations in your daily food intake will not cause variations in weight, as long as your average food intake over a year is about the same. Unfortunately, another finding is that weight change, up or down, takes a very, very long time. Chow has posted an interactive version of the model on the web where people can plug in their information and learn how much they'll need to reduce their intake and increase their activity to lose."
New submitter MathIsTasty writes "Recently, it was announced on the Octave-maintainers list that a Kickstarter campaign has been launched to bring Matlab style numerical computations and graphing to Android via a 'more than' port of Octave and gnuplot. While I doubt it will be as successful as some recent games on Kickstarter, is this a reasonable way to fund free software development? Now, we just have to worry about people working on simulating solar irradiation while driving. Here is a good blog post about the project."
An anonymous reader writes "A 71-year-old man who became paralyzed from the waist down and lost all use of both hands in a 2008 car accident has regained motor function in his fingers after doctors rewired his nerves to bypass the damaged ones in a pioneering surgical procedure, according to a case study published on Tuesday."
Grond writes "ScienceDaily reports, 'Researchers at the Spanish National Cancer Research Centre have demonstrated that the mouse lifespan can be extended by the application in adult life of a single treatment acting directly on the animal's genes. Mice treated at the age of one lived longer by 24% on average (PDF), and those treated at the age of two, by 13%. The therapy, furthermore, produced an appreciable improvement in the animals' health, delaying the onset of age-related diseases — like osteoporosis and insulin resistance — and achieving improved readings on aging indicators like neuromuscular coordination.' Notably, the therapy did not cause an increase in the incidence of cancer."
JSBiff sends this quote from MITnews: "A new study from MIT scientists suggests that the guidelines governments use to determine when to evacuate people following a nuclear accident may be too conservative. The study (abstract), led by Bevin Engelward and Jacquelyn Yanch and published in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives, found that when mice were exposed to radiation doses about 400 times greater than background levels for five weeks, no DNA damage could be detected. Current U.S. regulations require that residents of any area that reaches radiation levels eight times higher than background should be evacuated. However, the financial and emotional cost of such relocation may not be worthwhile, the researchers say."
scibri writes "Omid Kokabee, a laser physics graduate student from the University of Texas who has been imprisoned in Tehran for the past 15 months, was sentenced to 10 years in jail on Sunday for allegedly conspiring with foreign countries against Iran. Kokabee was arrested in February 2011 while on a trip home, and charged with 'communicating with a hostile government' (i.e. Israel) and 'illegal earnings.' He has consistently denied the charges, and refused to speak at his trial, where no evidence against him was presented. Several international science groups, including the American Physical Society, have spoken up in his defense, and an online petition has been set up in support."
ananyo writes, quoting Nature: "The development of retinal implants has been dogged by problems of unwieldiness since the first implantable stimulator for vision restoration was developed in 1968. Now researchers have come up with a solution that overcomes many of the problems by the use of special glasses that fire infrared signals into the eye and onto an implanted array of silicon photodiodes. The system, tested in rats, simplifies what needs to be implanted and both transmits visual data and power directly to the implants, eliminating the need for any bulky external power source (abstract)."
scibri writes "England is finally getting around to updating its notoriously plaintiff-friendly libel laws, which have been extensively criticized for stifling scientific debate in the past few years, such as in the case of Simon Singh. The government introduced a defamation bill last week that would extend explicit protection to statements in scientific or academic journals — providing the work was properly peer reviewed. The protection would also extend to reports of academic and scientific conferences. The proposed legislation is popular among the UK's researchers and journalists, but a similar law on whistleblower protection has had mixed reviews in the U.S."
MrSeb writes "A group of American researchers from MIT, Indiana University, and Tufts University, led by Erin Treacy Solovey, have developed Brainput — a system that can detect when your brain is trying to multitask, and offload some of that workload to a computer. Using functional near-infrared spectroscopy (fNIRS), which is basically a portable, poor man's version of fMRI, Brainput measures the activity of your brain. This data is analyzed, and if Brainput detects that you're multitasking, the software kicks in and helps you out. In the case of the Brainput research paper (PDF), Solovey and her team set up a maze with two remotely controlled robots. The operator, equipped with fNIRS headgear, has to navigate both robots through the maze simultaneously, constantly switching back and forth between them. When Brainput detects that the driver is multitasking, it tells the robots to use their own sensors to help with navigation. Overall, with Brainput turned on, operator performance improved — and yet they didn't generally notice that the robots were partially autonomous. Moving forward, Solovey wants to investigate other cognitive states that can be reliably detected using fNIRS. Imagine a computer that increases the size of buttons and text when you're tired, or a video game that slows down when you're stressed. Your Xbox might detect that you're in the mood for fighting games, and change its splash screen accordingly. Eventually, computer interfaces might completely remold themselves to your mental state."
Diggester writes "The satellite, known as Elektro-L No.1, took an image from its stationary point over 35,000 kilometers above the Indian Ocean. This is the most detailed image of the Earth yet available, capturing the Earth in a single shot with 121-megapixels. NASA satellites use a collection of pictures from multiple flybys stitched together. The detail in the pic is just amazing."
First time accepted submitter toomuchtogrok writes "Imagine charging your phone as you walk, thanks to a paper-thin generator embedded in the sole of your shoe. This futuristic scenario is now a little closer to reality. Scientists from the U.S. Department of Energy's Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) have developed a way to generate power using harmless viruses that convert mechanical energy into electricity. The scientists tested their approach by creating a generator that produces enough current to operate a small liquid-crystal display. It works by tapping a finger on a postage stamp-sized electrode coated with specially engineered viruses. The viruses convert the force of the tap into an electric charge."
mikejuk writes "The Goldbach conjecture is not the sort of thing that relates to practical applications, but they used to say the same thing about electricity. The Goldbach conjecture is reasonably well known: every integer can be expressed as the sum of two primes. Very easy to state, but it seems very difficult to prove. Terence Tao, a Fields medalist, has published a paper that proves that every odd number greater than 1 is the sum of at most five primes. This may not sound like much of an advance, but notice that there is no stipulation for the integer to be greater than some bound. This is a complete proof of a slightly lesser conjecture, and might point the way to getting the number of primes needed down from at most five to at most 2. Notice that no computers were involved in the proof — this is classical mathematical proof involving logical deductions rather than exhaustive search."