Check out the new SourceForge HTML5 internet speed test! No Flash necessary and runs on all devices. ×

'Space Brain': Mars Explorers May Risk Neural Damage, Study Finds ( 186

An anonymous reader quotes a report from NBC News: Astronauts making a years-long voyage to Mars may get bombarded with enough cosmic radiation to seriously damage their brains, researchers reported Monday. The damage might be bad enough to affect memory and, worse, might heighten anxiety, the team at the University of California Irvine said. It's the second study the team has done to show that cosmic radiation causes permanent, and likely untreatable, brain damage. While their experiments involve mice, the brain structures that are damaged are similar, they write in the Nature journal Scientific Reports. NASA knows that astronauts risk physical damage from the radiation encountered in space. Earth is enveloped in a large, protective sheath called the magnetosphere, which deflects a lot of the ionizing radioactive particles that speed through space. Teams aboard the International Space Station are inside that envelope. But moon travelers were not, and this summer a study showed the cosmic radiation may have damaged the hearts of many of the Apollo program astronauts. A trip to Mars would expose astronauts to even more radiation -- enough to cause cancer, for sure, and now this research suggests brain damage, as well. They bombarded mice with the same type of radiation that would be encountered in space, and then looked at what happened to their brains. It did not look good. The changes were seen in the connections between brain cells and in the cells, as well. "Exposure to these particles can lead to a range of potential central nervous system complications that can occur during and persist long after actual space travel -- such as various performance decrements, memory deficits, anxiety, depression and impaired decision-making. Many of these adverse consequences to cognition may continue and progress throughout life."

Climate Change Doubled the Size of Forest Fires In Western US, Says Study ( 191

An anonymous reader quotes a report from TIME: Man-made climate change has doubled the total area burned by forest fires in the Western U.S. in the past three decades, according to new research. Damage from forest fires has risen dramatically in recent decades, with the total acres burned in the U.S. rising from 2.9 million in 1985 to 10.1 million in 2015, according to National Interagency Fire Center data. Suppression costs paid by the federal government now top $2 billion. Now a new study, published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, has found that a significant portion of the increase in land burned by forest fires can be attributed to man-made climate change. Other factors are also at play, including natural climate shifts and a change in how humans use land, but man-made climate change has had the biggest impact. That trend will likely continue as temperatures keep rising, researchers said. Climate change contributes to forest fires in a number of ways. Fires kill off trees and other plants that eventually dry and act as the fuel to feed massive wildfires. Global warming also increases the likelihood of the dry, warm weather in which wildfires can thrive. Average temperatures in the Western U.S. rose by 2.5 degree Fahrenheit since 1970, outpacing temperature rise elsewhere on the globe, according to the research.

MuckRock Identifies The Oldest US Government Computer Still in Use ( 60

Slashdot reader v3rgEz writes: When MuckRock started using public records to find the oldest computer in use by the U.S. government, they scoured the country -- but it wasn't until a few tipsters that they set their sights a little higher and found that the oldest computer in use by the government might be among other planets entirely.
The oldest computer still in use by the U.S. government appears to be the on-board systems for the Voyager 1 and 2 space probes -- nearly 40 years old, and 12.47 billion miles away from earth. (Last year NASA put out a call for a FORTRAN programmer to upgrade the probes' software.) But an earlier MuckRock article identified their oldest software still in use on earth -- "the computers inside the IRS that makes sure everybody is paying their taxes". And it also identified their oldest hardware still in use -- "the machines running the nuclear defense system". (The launch commands are still stored on 8-inch floppy disks.)

Can We Really Stop Climate Change By 'Capturing' Carbon? ( 275

An anonymous Slashdot reader writes: The recently-ratified Paris Climate Accord calls on countries to keep the rise in average global temperatures under 2 degrees Celsius (a threshold which would bring extreme weather, water shortages and reduced agricultural production). But a recent article on Vox warns that "the world has to zero out net carbon emissions...for a good chance of avoiding 2 degrees, by around 2065. After that, emissions have to go negative... We are betting our species' future on our ability to bury carbon."

That's why everyone's watching the W.A. Parish Generating Station in Texas, which came online this week -- on schedule, and under budget. "The plant will use a newly installed system to capture 90 percent of the carbon dioxide created during combustion."

Alas, Slashdot reader Dan Drollette brings bad news from the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists: To fight climate change with carbon capture and storage technology, we'd have to complete one new carbon capture facility every working day for the next 70 years. It's better to switch to a diet of energy conservation, efficiency, and renewables, rather than rely on this technology as a kind of emergency planetary liposuction.

How Tech Companies Are Responding To Hurricane Matthew ( 38

South Carolina was hit by Hurricane Matthew at 11 a.m. EST, after the hurricane killed at least 300 people in Haiti (with Reuters estimating Haiti's death toll over 800). But as the U.S. declares a state of emergency for Florida, Georgia, South Carolina and North Carolina, and with the power out for more than a million people, an anonymous Slashdot reader looks at the role tech companies are playing in responding to the storm system: AirBNB "has been advertising free rooms in parts of Florida and South Carolina" reports Motherboard. AirBNB's Disaster Reponse Tool connects people needing shelter with volunteers who are offering their residences for free. Meanwhile, Uber promised to cap its "surge pricing" for the area, while Lyft promised its fares would rise no more than two times their normal rate.

But many escaped the path of the hurricane thanks to Shofur, a startup that books chartered buses and matches riders to low-cost tickets, according to the Daily Dot. "Through Thursday night and into the early morning hours of Friday, Shofur evacuated an estimated 10,000 Floridians and Georgians to areas such as Atlanta, Florida's west coast, and the panhandle."

NASA is also flying a huge 15,000-pound drone over the area to collect real-time weather data, while Verizon is testing a 17-foot drone which may one day provide LTE mobile connectivity to first responders. In addition, a Verizon spokesperson says drone-enabled connectivity has "set the stage" for connecting drones to their IoT platform next year.

Linux Foundation Shares LinuxCon Highlights ( 50

An anonymous Slashdot reader writes: The Linux Foundation held its "LinuxCon Europe" this week, "where developers, sys admins, architects and all types and levels of technical talent gather together under one roof for education, collaboration and problem-solving to further the Linux platform." They've now updated their web site with photos and slide presentations.

The 44 presentations included a talk about Linux kernel security subsystem by kernel developer James Morris and an interesting talk by GitHub's Carol Smith arguing that mandatory math requirements can create a "steep barrier to entry" for people trying to launch programming careers. Karsten Gerloff also described how Siemens is making "strategic" use of free software.


Teens' Penchant For Risk-Taking May Help Them Learn Faster, Says Study ( 37

An anonymous reader quotes a report from NPR: The teenage brain has been characterized as a risk-taking machine, looking for quick rewards and thrills instead of acting responsibly. But these behaviors could actually make teens better than adults at certain kinds of learning. "In neuroscience, we tend to think that if healthy brains act in a certain way, there should be a reason for it," says Juliet Davidow, a postdoctoral researcher at Harvard University in the Affective Neuroscience and Development Lab and the lead author of the study, which was published Wednesday in the journal Neuron. But scientists and the public often focus on the negatives of teen behavior, so she and her colleagues set out to test the hypothesis that teenagers' drive for rewards, and the risk-taking that comes from it, exist for a reason. When it comes to what drives reward-seeking in teens, fingers have always been pointed at the striatum, a lobster-claw-shape structure in the brain. When something surprising and good happens -- say, you find $20 on the street -- your body produces the pleasure-related hormone dopamine, and the striatum responds. But the striatum isn't just involved in reward-seeking. It's also involved in learning from rewards, explains Daphna Shohamy, a cognitive neuroscientist at the Zuckerman Mind Brain Behavior Institute at Columbia University who worked on the study. She wanted to see if teenagers would be better at this type of learning than adults would. To test this, Shohamy and her colleagues used an fMRI scanner to watch brain activity in a group of adults and teenagers. They were looking at the striatum, but also in a different part of the brain called the hippocampus. The hippocampus (which looks like, and is named after, a seahorse) helps people remember things like dates and times: the who, what, when and where. As the adults and teens had their brains scanned, they played a game that rewarded players for guessing correctly. Between questions, participants saw random pictures of neutral objects. As expected, the reward-hungry teenagers figured out the game faster than the adults did. Surprisingly, the striatum was equally active in both teenagers and adults. But in teens, it also worked closely with their hippocampus.

Poland Builds a Solar-Powered Bike Path That Glows Blue At Night ( 104

Poland recently unveiled a new solar-powered bike path in the town of Pruszkow that is built with "light-emitting material" that gets its power from the sun. While the bike path has the potential to glow multiple different colors, the path in Prusczkow glows a cool blue for up to 10 hours in the dark. TechCrunch reports: The company that made it, TPA sp. z o.o, is an engineering firm focused on future tech. They expect this sort of road to be useful in larger projects -- highways, say -- but for now they're limiting it to bike paths until they can test the material in the wild. They said that this type of path may be installed in Warsaw soon and that it can glow multiple colors. The lane uses luminophores -- chemicals that "ingest" light -- to keep the bike path nicely lit at night. They chose blue to "match the Mazurian landscape" where lakes abound. You can read a bit more at Gazeta Wyborcza if your Polish isn't too rusty or you can just bask in the cold beauty of a glowing bike lane in deepest Poland.

Law-Defying Transistor Smashes Industry 'Limit', Measures Just 1nm ( 66

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Stack: U.S. researchers have unveiled the world's smallest transistor reported to date, combining a new mix of materials, which makes even the tiniest silicon-based transistor appear big in comparison. The team, led by the U.S. Department of Energy's Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, designed the minuscule transistor with a working one-nanometer gate -- far surpassing any industry expectation for reducing transistor sizes. In the scientific study, MoS2 transistors with 1-nanometer gate lengths, published today in the journal Science, the researchers describe a prototype device which uses a novel semiconductor material known as transition metal dichalcogenides (TMDs). The transistor structure uses a single-walled carbon nanotube as the gate electrode and molybdenum disulfide (MoS2) for the channel material, rather than silicon. "The semiconductor industry has long assumed that any gate below 5 nanometers wouldn't work, so anything below that was not even considered. This research shows that sub-5-nanometer gates should not be discounted. Industry has been squeezing every last bit of capability out of silicon. By changing the material from silicon to MoS2, we can make a transistor with a gate that is just 1 nanometer in length, and operate it like a switch," explained study lead Sujay Desai.

Kennedy Space Center Braces For Hurricane Matthew ( 82

Hurricane Matthew, one of the most powerful storms to hit Florida's Space Coast in the last 50 years, is expected to pummel the Kennedy Space Center and the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station Thursday night and into Friday. "Kennedy Space Center is now in HurrCon 1 status, meaning a hurricane is imminent. Hurricane preparations at Kennedy were completed early last night, and remaining employees were then sent home," NASA spokesman George Diller said in a blog post today. CBS News reports: The National Hurricane Center is predicting heavy rain, dangerous storm surges and winds gusting up to 140 mph along Florida's east coast with the eye passing just off shore or directly over Cape Canaveral and the Kennedy Space Center. Satellite observations of Matthew show the hurricane features "a distinct eye surrounded by very deep convection," the National Hurricane Center reported in its 11 a.m. EDT update. "Data from an Air Force reconnaissance plane traversing the eye of the hurricane also indicate that Matthew has strengthened. Members of a 139-member "rideout" team will be stationed at various facilities across the space center to monitor critical systems "and report any significant events" to emergency operations personnel in the Complex 39 Launch Control Center where space shuttle launchings were once managed. "After the hurricane has passed, and winds have dropped below 50 knots, areas around KSC will be assessed and the damage assessment and recovery team will report for duty," said Diller. You can view satellite images of the storm here.

Apes Can Guess What Others Are Thinking -- Just Like Humans, Study Finds ( 66

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Guardian: Apes have a human-like ability to guess what others are thinking, even in cases when someone holds a mistaken belief, according to research that supports the view that other primates can empathize and have complex inner lives. The findings, in chimpanzees, bonobos and orangutans, are the first to clearly demonstrate that apes can predict another's beliefs -- even when they know that presumption is false. In a fresh take on a classic psychology experiment, the apes were able to correctly anticipate that someone would look for a hidden item in a specific location, even if the apes knew that the item was no longer there. The ability to predict that someone holds a mistaken belief -- which psychologists refer to as a "theory of mind" -- is seen as a milestone in cognitive development that children normally acquire by the age of five. The findings overturn the view that the ability to place oneself in another's shoes is uniquely human. Krupenye and Fumihiro Kano, a comparative psychologist at Kyoto University who co-led the study, re-examined the question using a creative approach that involved showing the apes videos of a capering actor dressed in a King Kong suit. The video features an actor dressed as King Kong, who hits a man holding a long pole before darting under one of two haystacks while the human looks on. In some scenarios, the King Kong character switches haystack while the human disappears out of view behind a door. The man then reappears and smacks the haystack he thinks his assailant is hidden under -- presumably to get his own back. By using eye-tracking technology, the scientists showed that 17 out of 22 apes tested switched their gaze to show they had correctly anticipated when the man would target the wrong haystack. The findings were published on Thursday in the journal Science.

Tech Billionaires Are Asking Scientists For Help To Break Humans Out of Computer Simulation ( 1042

Many believe that we live in a computer simulation. But it takes a billionaire and his money to ask scientists to help break us out of the simulation. The New Yorker recently did a profile about Y Combinator's Sam Altman. In the story, Altman discusses his theories about being controlled by technology and delves into the simulation theory. From an article on The New Yorker: Many people in Silicon Valley have become obsessed with the simulation hypothesis, the argument that what we experience as reality is in fact fabricated in a computer; two tech billionaires have gone so far as to secretly engage scientists to work on breaking us out of the simulation. Business Insider adds: The piece doesn't give any clue as to who those two billionaires are -- although it's easy to hazard a few guesses at who they might be, like Musk himself or Altman's friend Peter Thiel -- but it's fascinating to see how seriously people are taking this theory. According to Musk, it's the most popular topic of conversation right now.Earlier this year, at Code Conference, Elon Musk said there's "one in billions" chance we're not living in a computer simulation.

Zuckerberg Teases An 'Affordable' Standalone Oculus VR Headset ( 63

At the Oculus Connect developers conference today, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg teased a standalone Oculus VR headset that fits somewhere imbetween the Gear VR consumer headset for Samsung Galaxy users and the high-end Oculus Rift headset designed for professional gamers. TechCrunch reports: The hallmark feature of the new prototype standalone headset is positional tracking. In a brief demo video, the headset appeared to be a modified Rift with a compute module embedded into the back of the headset. This positional tracking technology allows the headset to understand where it is in physical space and adjust the onscreen content accordingly. With 360 videos, you're limited to a spherical viewpoint from a fixed point, but with positional tracking enabled you can walk through an experience and see a story from every angle. There's a reason that plenty of enthusiasts refer to this as the hallmark feature of "real VR." Zuckerberg said development is still incredibly early, but that it's on the product roadmap. Unbelievably the word "affordable" was mentioned at some point. Oculus did also announce that its Oculus Touch motion controllers will be coming out on December 6th. They will cost $199, and will put the combined Oculus Rift price at roughly $800. Pre-orders for Touch start on October 10th.

Bigfoot Spotted Sneaking Around Below Bald Eagle Nest, Multiple Outlets Report ( 173

Take it with a pinch of salt. Maybe some more. Eric Mack, writing for CNET:Bigfoot, that mysteriously unkempt and anti-social gentlemen of the woodlands, has again made an appearance on camera in his trademark blurry yet intriguing style. This time the legendary cryptid has apparently been captured on the CarbonTV Eagle Cam in northern Michigan. The live webcam is trained on a bald eagle nest 100 feet (30 meters) above the ground near the Platte River State Fish Hatchery. In the aforementioned video we see a dark lumbering figure talking into frame about 10 seconds into the clip. The shadowy silhouette of something clearly bipedal makes its way through the stand of trees before walking out of frame. While the creature appears to fit the traditional description of Bigfoot, it also could pretty easily be explained as a bear or a human. Because the camera is capturing the forest floor looking down from 100 feet up, the perspective is a little screwy and it's hard to get much clarity.Further reporting on Time, and Fox.

New Study Suggests There's a Limit To How Long People Can Live ( 290

Life expectancies have risen in many countries around the world thanks to breakthroughs in medical treatment and sanitation in the last century. The maximum age of death has also increased. But as these numbers continue to rise, it raises the question as to how long can people live? ABC News reports: The record for the world's oldest person is 122 years and the odds of shattering that record are slim, according to an analysis published Wednesday in the journal Nature. In the new study, researchers [at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York] analyzed mortality data from a global database. They found that while there have been strides in reducing deaths among certain groups -- children, women during childbirth and the elderly -- the rate of improvement was slower for the very old, those over 100 years old. Next they examined how old centenarians were when they died. The record holder is Jeanne Calment, of France, who lived until 122 years old. Since her death in 1997, no one has broken her record. The researchers calculated the odds of someone reaching 125 years in a given year are less than 1 in 10,000. They think the human life span more likely maxes out at 115 years. Some aging specialists said the study doesn't take into account advances that have been made in extending the life span -- and health -- of certain laboratory animals including mice, worms and flies through genetic manipulation and other techniques. The goal is to eventually find treatments that might slow the aging process in humans and keep them healthier longer.

'Nano-Machines' Win European Trio Chemistry Nobel Prize ( 16

Dave Knott writes from a report via The Guardian: Sir Fraser Stoddart, from Scotland, Bernard Feringa, from the Netherlands, and Jean-Pierre Sauvage, from France have won the Nobel prize in chemistry for developing "nano-machines," an advance that paved the way for the world's first smart materials. In living organisms, cells work as molecular machines to power our organs, regulate temperature and repair damage. Working separately, the Nobel trio were among the first to replicate this kind of function in synthetic molecules, by working out how to convert chemical energy into mechanical motion. This allowed them to construct molecular devices a thousand times smaller than the width of a human hair, including switches, motors, shuttles and even something resembling a motorcar. The advances have allowed scientists to develop materials that will reconfigure and adapt by themselves depending on their environment -- for instance contracting with heat, or opening up to deliver drugs when they arrive at a target site in the body.

Blue Origin Lands Rocket During Launch Escape Test ( 89

SpaceX isn't the only private company interested in reusable rockets. Blue Origin, an American privately-funded aerospace manufacturer established by founder Jeff Bezos, surprised everyone, including itself, by successfully landing its New Shepard rocket in today's in-flight launch escape test. Gizmodo reports: Moments ago, Blue Origin conducted an in flight test of its launch escape system, separating a crew capsule from its New Shepard booster at an altitude of 16,000 feet. This test was critical to ensure that the rocket will be safe for human passengers, whom Blue Origin hopes to start flying into sub-orbital space as early as next year. Not only did the crew capsule make a clean separation, deploy its parachutes, and land softly in a small cloud of dust back on Earth, but the booster -- which everybody expected to go splat -- continued on its merry way into suborbital space, after which it succeeded in landing smoothly back on Earth for a fifth time. Although Blue Origin has tested its launch escape system on the launchpad before, this is the first time such a system has been tested, by anyone, in flight since the 1960s. It was almost too perfect. You can watch the test here.

Theranos To Shut Down Its Blood-Testing Facilities, Shrink Workforce By 40% ( 66

tripleevenfall quotes a report from The Wall Street Journal: Theranos Inc. said it will shut down its blood-testing facilities and shrink its workforce by more than 40% (Warning: may be paywalled; alternate source). The company said it had 790 full-time employees as of August 1. The moves mark a dramatic retreat by the Palo Alto, Calif., company and founder Elizabeth Holmes from their core strategy of offering a long menu of low-price blood tests directly to consumers. Those ambitions already were endangered by crippling regulatory sanctions that followed revelations by The Wall Street Journal of shortcomings in Theranos's technology and operations. Theranos later voided all results from its proprietary device for 2014 and 2015, though the company said it wasn't aware of any patient harm resulting form its tests. Ms. Holmes said in a statement: "We will return our undivided attention to our miniLab platform. Our ultimate goal is to commercialize miniaturized, automated laboratories capable of small-volume sample testing, with an emphasis on vulnerable patient populations, including oncology, pediatrics, and intensive care."

There's Even More Evidence That Fitness Trackers Don't Work ( 160

Turns out it's really hard to persuade people to exercise -- even when they have access to how many steps they've taken, and even when they get paid for it. A staggering 90 percent of people stop wearing fitness trackers when given the choice. Fortune reports: In the new yearlong study, published in The Lancet Diabetes & Endocrinology, researchers randomized 800 people in Singapore who had a full-time job into four groups. Some wore a Fitbit Zip and were paid a small amount of money to get moving -- which they were instructed either to keep or to donate to charity -- while others didn't wear Fitbits. Researchers measured their physical activity, weight, blood pressure, the body's ability to use oxygen (called cardiorespiratory fitness) and their self-reported quality of life. For the last six months of the study, all incentives were dropped, and people could choose whether or not to continue wearing their fitness trackers. (About 40% of people had stopped wearing it in the first six months anyway.) The cash seemed to work at first. Those who were rewarded with cash did an extra 13 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity each week and added 570 steps to their daily counts. Raising money for charity had no effect. But once the monetary rewards stopped, so did the improvements. By the end of the study, just 10% of people were still wearing the trackers.

Boeing CEO Vows To Beat Elon Musk To Mars ( 254

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Bloomberg: Boeing Chief Executive Officer Dennis Muilenburg sketched out a Jetsons-like future at a conference Tuesday, envisioning a commercial space-travel market with dozens of destinations orbiting the Earth and hypersonic aircraft shuttling travelers between continents in two hours or less. And Boeing intends to be a key player in the initial push to send humans to Mars, maybe even beating Musk to his long-time goal. "I'm convinced the first person to step foot on Mars will arrive there riding a Boeing rocket," Muilenburg said at the Chicago event on innovation, which was sponsored by the Atlantic magazine. Like Musk's SpaceX, Boeing is focused on building out the commercial space sector near earth as spaceflight becomes more routine, while developing technology to venture far beyond the moon. The Chicago-based aerospace giant is working with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration to develop a heavy-lift rocket called the Space Launch System for deep space exploration. Boeing and SpaceX are also the first commercial companies NASA selected to ferry astronauts to the International Space Station. Boeing built the first stage for the Saturn V, the most powerful U.S. rocket ever built, which took men to the moon. Nowadays, Muilenburg sees space tourism closer to home "blossoming over the next couple of decades into a viable commercial market." The International Space Station could be joined in low-earth orbit by dozens of hotels and companies pursuing micro-gravity manufacturing and research, he said. Muilenburg said Boeing will make spacecraft for the new era of tourists. He also sees potential for hypersonic aircraft, traveling at upwards of three times the speed of sound.

Slashdot Top Deals