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Science

Oldest-Ever Proteins Extracted From 3.8-Million-Year-Old Ostrich Shells (sciencemag.org) 70

Slashdot reader sciencehabit writes: Scientists have smashed through another time barrier in their search for ancient proteins from fossilized teeth and bones, adding to growing excitement about the promise of using proteins to study extinct animals and humans that lived more than 1 million years ago. Until now, the oldest sequenced proteins are largely acknowledged to come from a 700,000-year-old horse in Canada's Yukon territory, despite claims of extraction from much older dinosaurs. Now geneticists report that they have extracted proteins from 3.8-million-year-old ostrich egg shells in Laetoli, Tanzania, and from the 1.7-million-year-old tooth enamel of several extinct animals in Dmanisi, Georgia...extinct horses, rhinos, and deer,
This raises the inevitable question. If we ever could clone a prehistoric species...should we?
United States

Oregon Settles $6 Billion Lawsuit Over Oracle's Botched Healthcare Website (registerguard.com) 113

"While the crippled website eventually worked, Oregon failed to enroll a single person online [and] had to resort to hiring 400 people to process paper applications." An anonymous Slashdot reader quotes the AP: The state paid Oracle $240 million to create its Cover Oregon website but ultimately abandoned the site and joined the federal exchange to comply with the Affordable Care Act... The state initially asked for more than $6 billion in punitive damages when it filed the lawsuit in 2014 against the Redwood City company, but Oregon ultimately accepted a package that included $35 million in cash payments and software licensing agreements and technical support with an estimated upfront worth of $60 million...

Six years of unlimited Oracle software and technical support included in the deal will save the state hundreds of millions of dollars in years to come and ends a bitter legal battle that has damaged Oregon's "collective psyche," Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum said in a statement. "The beauty of the deal is that if we choose to take full advantage of the free (software), we are uniquely situated to modernize our statewide IT systems over the next six years -- something we could not otherwise afford to do," she said.

"Oracle has insisted the website worked but former Gov. John Kitzhaber chose not to use it for political reasons."
Medicine

Vanity Fair Blames The Failure of Theranos On Silicon Valley (vanityfair.com) 127

"I was only a day or two behind FBI agents who were trying to put together a time line of what Elizabeh Holmes knew and when she knew it," writes Vanity Fair, in what Slashdot reader PvtVoid describes as "a compelling story of hubris, glamour and secrecy about the unicorn Silicon Valley company that turned out to be founded on bullshit." Another anonymous Slashdot reader writes: Holmes raised $700 million "on the condition that she would not divulge to investors how her technology actually worked," according to an article detailing how Silicon Valley can "replicate one big confidence game in which entrepreneurs, venture capitalists, and the tech media pretend to vet one another while, in reality, functioning as cogs in a machine that is designed to not question anything -- and buoy one another all along the way... In the end, it isn't in anyone's interest to call bullshit."

Theranos employed "hundreds of marketers, salespeople, communications specialists, and even the Oscar-winning filmmaker Errol Morris," as well as a chief scientist who eventually became suicidal. But then the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services "discovered that some of the tests Theranos was performing were so inaccurate that they could leave patients at risk of internal bleeding, or of stroke among those prone to blood clots." A reporter at the Wall Street Journal says "It's O.K. if you've got a smartphone app or a social network, and you go live with it before it's ready; people aren't going to die. But with medicine, it's different."

He became suspicious after reading the answer that the company's CEO, a Stanford dropout, supplied for a question about their technology. "A chemistry is performed so that a chemical reaction occurs and generates a signal from the chemical interaction with the sample, which is translated into a result, which is then reviewed by certified laboratory personnel."
Biotech

Ask Slashdot: Why Aren't Techies Improving The World? 530

Slashdot reader marmot7 isn't impressed by "the latest app that solves some made up problem. I'm impressed by apps that solve real problems..." I don't feel that developers, sys admins, finance people, even policy wonks focus on the problems that we need to solve to have a healthy functioning society. It seems like it's mostly about short-term gain and not much about making the world better. That may be just the way the market works.

Is it that there's no profit to be made in solving the most important problems? I'm puzzled by that as I would think that a good solution to an important problem could find some funding from somewhere but maybe government, for example, won't take investment risks in that way?

Is there a systematic bias that channels technology workers into more profitable careers? (Or stunning counter-examples that show technology workers are making the world a better place?) Leave your answers in the comments. Why aren't geeks doing more to improve the world?
China

China's Atomic Clock in Space Will Stay Accurate For a Billion Years (rt.com) 111

The space laboratory that China launched earlier this week has an atomic clock in it which is more accurate than the best timepiece operated by America's National Institute of Standards and Technology, according to Chinese engineers. The atomic called, dubbed CACS or Cold Atomic Clock in Space, will slow down by only one second in a billion years. In comparison, the NIST's F2 atomic clock, which serves as the United States' primary time and frequency standard, loses a second every 300 million years. From an RT report:"It is the world's first cold atomic clock to operate in space... it will have military and civilian applications," said Professor Xu Zhen from the Shanghai Institute of Optics and Fine Mechanics, who was involved in the CACS project. An atomic clock uses vibrations of atoms to measure time, which are very consistent as long as the atoms are held at constant temperature. In fact, since 1967 the definition of second has been "9,192,631,770 vibrations of a cesium-133 atom." In a cold atomic clock, the atoms are cooled down with a laser to decrease the effect of atom movement on the measurements. CACS goes even further and eliminates the pull of Earth's gravity by being based in orbit.
Space

Pluto Is Emitting X-Rays (digitaltrends.com) 106

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Digital Trends: Scientists have noticed the tiny trans-Neptunium object emitting X-rays, which, if it is confirmed, is both a baffling and exciting discovery. Carey Lisse and Ralph McNutt from Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory and a team of colleagues detected the X-rays by pointing the Chandra X-Ray Obervatory telescope in Pluto's direction four different times between February 2014 and August 2015. Seven photons of X-ray light were detected during these observations, confirming the team's hypothesis that the dwarf planet is detectable on the X-ray spectrum, potentially due to the presence of an atmosphere. Their findings have been published in the scientific journal Icarus. Why is this such a big deal? First of all, it would challenge what scientists have previously believed to be true of Pluto's nature. Until now, the popular description of the dwarf planet is as a tiny ball of frozen rock slowly meandering around the sun some 3.6-billion miles away. One of the possible explanations for why Pluto is emanating X-rays would be that the high energy particles emitted by the sun are stripping away and reacting with Pluto's atmosphere, producing the X-rays that are visible to Chandra. There are other potential explanations, such as haze particles in Pluto's atmosphere scattering the sun's X-rays are possible, though unlikely given the temperature of the X-rays observed. It is also possible that these X-rays are actually bright auroras produced by the atmosphere, but that would require Pluto to have a magnetic field -- something that would have been detected during New Horizon's flyby, yet no evidence of one was found.
IOS

iPhone 7 Home Button Now Requires Skin Contact To Work (todaysiphone.com) 167

Gone are the days of pressing the home button of your iPhone with an inanimate object. With the new iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus, the home button can only be activated when in contact with skin. TodaysiPhone reports: The new "solid-state" Home button found in the new iPhone 7 and 7 Plus appears to require skin contact to function. As the season gets colder, and as people put gloves on, users will quickly realize that attempting to unlock the iPhone with said gloves or with a sleeve of a shirt over your finger will not work. And with the new lock screen in iOS 10, there's no way to bring up the passcode screen without pressing the Home button. Tests have shown that using gloves designed for touch screens will get an iPhone 6s Plus to unlock but not an iPhone 7 Plus. As most of us know, the Home button in the iPhone 7 is no longer a physical button -- it sits flush and uses the iPhone's haptic feedback to give the sensation of a button press. Because the button requires skin contact, it's lead us to believe that the Home button on the iPhone 7 uses Touch ID to figure out if you're pressing the button. The report notes that Carl Hancock on Twitter was able to activate the Home button using gloves made to work specifically with touch screens. The reason (in a nutshell) why we cannot interact with the capacitive Home button when wearing gloves is because the gloves block the body's natural conductivity -- humans conduct electricity and Apple's new Home button (as well as most touch screens) has an electrical charge. On the flip side, the reason why the Home button registers our skin is because it distorts the screen's electrostatic field at the point of contact, thus triggering an action.
Government

'Government Abuse' of the Internet Makes Some People More Equal Than Others, Says Study (washingtonpost.com) 39

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Washington Post: When the Arab Spring spread across the Middle East and North Africa, the internet was considered to have been one of the main facilitators of the revolutions, and while the Arab Spring has since become a source of frustration to many of those who fought for it, the assumption that the internet will facilitate future uprisings has rarely been questioned. A new study, however, now raises doubts about to what extent the internet plays a role in fostering democracy. In fact, it may make some people more equal than others. To voice discontent online, groups first need access to the internet, but too often, that is precisely what they lack, according to the report which was published by the academic journal Science. Those findings could force Western governments and nongovernmental organizations engaged in pro-democracy initiatives to rethink how they spread their message. Comparing the accessibility of internet in certain regions and taking into account the existence of minority communities, the authors found "a strong and persistent political bias in the allocation of internet coverage across ethnic groups worldwide [...] an effect that cannot be explained by economic or geographic factors." Around 500 minority groups worldwide were included in the study, with consistent findings of what the authors called "digital discrimination." The 10 worst-affected minorities mostly come from Russia and Malaysia, said researcher Nils B. Weidmann.
Earth

GM Commits To 100% Renewable Energy By 2050 (cleantechnica.com) 114

We've seen a number of entities announce plans to operate with 100% renewable energy over the years. Costa Rica, for example, has gone 76 straight days using 100% renewable electricity. General Motors is the latest company to release a roadmap to achieving 100% renewable energy. The catch? It won't be until 2050. CleanTechnica reports: American multinational General Motors, or GM, has committed to generating or sourcing 100% of the electricity for its operations across 59 countries from 100% renewable energy by 2050. GM made the announcement on Wednesday, revealing that it planned to generate or source all its electrical power needs for its 350 operations in 59 countries with 100% renewable energy such as wind, solar, and landfill gas, by 2050. In turn, the company has joined the 100% renewable energy campaign RE100, lending its considerable global business weight to an already important and successful campaign. "Establishing a 100% renewable energy goal helps us better serve society by reducing environmental impact," said Mary Barra, GM Chairman and CEO. "This pursuit of renewable energy benefits our customers and communities through cleaner air while strengthening our business through lower and more stable energy costs."
Security

Alleged Hacker Lauri Love To Be Extradited To US (bbc.com) 71

An anonymous reader quotes a report from BBC: An autistic man suspected of hacking into U.S. government computer systems is to be extradited from Britain to face trial, a court has ruled. Lauri Love, 31, who has Asperger's syndrome, is accused of hacking into the FBI, the U.S. central bank and the country's missile defense agency. Mr Love, from Stradishall, Suffolk, has previously said he feared he would die in a U.S. prison if he was extradited. Earlier, his lawyer said his alleged hacking had "embarrassed" U.S. authorities. Tor Ekeland said the U.S. government "had very, very bad security and these hacks utilized exploits that were publicly-known for months." Mr Love's lawyers said he could face up to 99 years in prison if convicted of the hacking offenses. Mr Love's defense team argues his depression and Asperger's syndrome mean he should not be sent abroad, but U.S. prosecutors say he is using his mental health issues as an excuse to escape justice.
Medicine

How Cities Are Using Dry Ice To Kill Rats (usatoday.com) 429

Some of the United States' biggest cities have resorted to using dry ice to kill rats. Since dry ice (frozen carbon dioxide) turns into a gas, sanitation officials simply need to drop chunks of it into rat infested burrows and let science do the rest. Longtime Slashdot reader mi writes: USA Today reports: "Earlier this week, USA TODAY observed Chicago sanitation department workers at one of the city's oldest parks scoop chunks of smoking dry ice into a burrow before quickly covering the entry and exit holes with dirt and newspaper to stop any rats from escaping as the -109.3-degree Fahrenheit gas dissipated. Sanitation workers say they treat burrows during morning hours, when rats are less active and most likely to be huddled inside the burrows. The asphyxiated dead rats then decompose in place and out-of-sight of city denizens who count the disease-carrying vermin among the vilest of indignities of urban living. 'We are seeing 60% fewer burrows in areas where we are using the dry ice,' said Charles Williams, Chicago's streets and sanitation commissioner. 'It's more environmentally friendly, and it's very humane on the rodents as well.'" Humane or not, what is so especially "undignified" about rats? What makes them worse, than, for example, cats, deer or wild horses?
Sci-Fi

28 Years A Smeghead: Red Dwarf Is Coming Back (theguardian.com) 153

BarbaraHudson writes: Unless you're a smeghead, you'll be excited to know that (after 28 years after the smash cult sitcom began) Red Dwarf seasons 11 and 12 are now in production. The Guardian reports: "'I've known these guys longer than I've known my wife,' says Charles (Lister). 'That was what it came down to -- a choice between staying in Coronation Street or doing this.' Last year, after 10 years on the cobbliest of soaps, Charles left. He missed comedy, and the opportunity to strap on the famous dreads came up. 'I was like 'I've got to do it.' It's a career-defining role.' As it was with Llewellyn's (Kryton) re-application of the rubber head: 'The only reason I do it now -- and I don't do any other acting, it drives me mad -- is because it's being with your mates for a few weeks.' 'There's nothing similar about us,' says John-Jules (Kat). 'Except we all have Red Dwarf.'"
The Almighty Buck

Religion In US 'Worth More Than Google and Apple Combined' (theguardian.com) 539

A new study says religion in the United States is worth $1.2 trillion per year. Not only is that equivalent to the 15th largest national economy in the world, but it's more than the combined revenues of the top 10 technology companies in the U.S., including Apple, Amazon and Google. The study, "The Socioeconomic Contributions of Religion To American Society: An Empirical Analysis," was conducted by Brian J. Grim from Georgetown University and Melissa E. Grim from Newseum Institute. The Guardian reports: The Socioeconomic Contributions of Religion to American Society: An Empirical Analysis calculated the $1.2 trillion figure by estimating the value of religious institutions, including healthcare facilities, schools, daycare and charities; media; businesses with faith backgrounds; the kosher and halal food markets; social and philanthropic programs; and staff and overheads for congregations. Co-author Brian Grim said it was a conservative estimate. More than 344,000 congregations across the U.S. collectively employ hundreds of thousands of staff and buy billions of dollars worth of goods and services. More than 150 million Americans, almost half the population, are members of faith congregations, according to the report. Although numbers are declining, the sums spent by religious organizations on social programs have tripled in the past 15 years, to $9 billion. The report points to analysis by the Pew Research Center which shows that two-thirds of highly religious adults had donated money, time or goods to the poor in the previous week, compared with 41% of adults who said they were not highly religious. The analysis didn't account for the value of financial or physical assets held by religious groups, or for "the negative impacts that occur in some religious communities, including [...] such things as the abuse of children by some clergy, cases of fraud, and the possibility of being recruitment sites for violent extremism."
China

China Launches Second Space Lab (space.com) 88

Reader hackingbear writes: China's next space laboratory, Tiangong-2 launched from the country's Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center today at 10:04 a.m. EDT (1404 GMT) on a Long March 2F carrier rocket. Like its predecessor Tiangong-1, Tiangong-2 is an orbiting space lab -- but this latest model has made several improvements in the series. Among the advances: astronauts can remain on the station up to 30 days; New systems allow in orbit refueling of propellant; and 14 new experiments in a wide range of sciences including composite material fabrication, advanced-plant cultivation, gamma ray burst polarization, fluid physics, space-to-earth quantum communications. The space lab is also equipped with a cold atom space clock, that has an estimated precision of 10 to the power of minus 16 seconds, or a one-second error every 30 million years, enhancing accuracy of time-keeping in space by one to two orders of magnitudes. This exactitude will help measure previously undetectable fluctuations for experiments conducted in zero-gravity.The Tiangong 2, while is an experimental space station, is still operational. The astronauts that would come on board next month are to spend a full month up there -- a longer period of time than possible on Tiangong 1.
Earth

The Sixth Mass Extinction Will Hit The Biggest Animals The Hardest, Says Stanford Study (gizmodo.com) 156

The sixth mass extinction will be an event triggered by people and will hit the biggest animals the hardest. "There is no past event that looks biologically like what's happening today," says lead study author Jonathan Payne of Stanford University. "Processes like warming and ocean acidification are not the dominant cause of threat in the modern ocean." Gizmodo reports: A paleontologist by training, Payne and his research group started compiling data on modern marine organisms several years back, in order to study how body size and ecological traits have changed over evolutionary time. Payne, who has studied the End Permian extinction event that wiped out more than 95 percent of all marine species 250 million years ago, soon realized that his dataset -- which included living and extinct members of nearly 2,500 marine genera -- could serve another purpose. By comparing the extinction threat faced by modern marine genera (as indicated by their official conservation status) with their ancestral counterparts, Payne and his colleagues discovered that modern extinction threat is more strongly associated with body size. Larger animals face a greater risk of disappearing than smaller animals. Today, the dominant driver of marine extinction is people, and people aren't terribly selective about which environments they pluck animals from. We go for the biggest game, fishing down the food web and removing top predators. Within species, too, we tend to hunt the largest individuals, which is why North Atlantic cod and Chesapeake oysters were historically much larger. "In a sense, we're driving evolution [toward smaller individuals]," Payne said. What's worth noting is that the Stanford researchers only looked at organisms whose extinction risk has been assessed by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), which creates a bias towards big, charismatic groups like fish, sea turtles, marine mammals, etc. The marine genera that were analyzed only had fossil counterparts, too. Gizmodo also notes that the study "excluded corals, which are currently in the midst of a catastrophic, global die-off."

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