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Math

When Blind People Do Algebra, the Brain's Visual Areas Light Up (npr.org) 69

People born without sight appear to solve math problems using visual areas of the brain. NPR has a fascinating report on this: A functional MRI study of 17 people blind since birth found that areas of visual cortex became active when the participants were asked to solve algebra problems, a team from Johns Hopkins reports in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. "And as the equations get harder and harder, activity in these areas goes up in a blind person," says Marina Bedny, an author of the study and an assistant professor in the department of psychological and brain sciences at Johns Hopkins University. In 19 sighted people doing the same problems, visual areas of the brain showed no increase in activity. "That really suggests that yes, blind individuals appear to be doing math with their visual cortex," Bedny says. The findings, published online Friday, challenge the idea that brain tissue intended for one function is limited to tasks that are closely related.
Medicine

Hackers Offer a DIY Alternative To The $600 EpiPen (ieee.org) 326

After the pharmaceutical company Mylan raised the price of a 2-pen set of EpiPens by nearly $500 over the course of 9 years, Michael Laufer and his "pharma-hacking confederates at the Four Thieves Vinegar Collective," decided to make their own budget-friendly EpiPens. IEEE Spectrum reports: Today they released a video and instructions showing DIYers how to make a generic EpiPen using materials that can be bought online for about $30. They call it the EpiPencil. "It functions just as well as an EpiPen," Laufer says in the video, after demonstrating the assembly and showing that it works. "With no special training, anybody can use it." An EpiPen is just a spring-loaded syringe filled with the pharmaceutical epinephrine. Laufer's video shows how to assemble the "open source medical device" and provides links for where to buy the components online. He stops short of telling viewers how to get their hands on the drug, noting that you need a prescription for it. But Laufer tells IEEE Spectrum in an interview that it's easy to buy epinephrine online from a chemical supplier, and he hopes viewers will do just that. "There's a small but hopefully growing subculture of people who are buying the active ingredients of drugs," he says. "It's encouraging to see people take control of their own health."
NASA

NASA: Arctic Sea Ice 2nd-Lowest On Record (earthsky.org) 206

An anonymous reader quotes a report from EarthSky: NASA and the National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) said on September 15, 2016 that summertime Arctic sea ice appears to have reached its annual minimum on September 10. With fall approaching and temperatures in the Arctic dropping, it's unlikely more ice will melt, and so the 2016 Arctic sea ice minimum extent will likely be tied with 2007 for the second-lowest yearly minimum in the satellite record. Satellite data showed this year's minimum at 1.60 million square miles (4.14 million square km). NASA said in a statement: "Since satellites began monitoring sea ice in 1978, researchers have observed a steep decline in the average extent of Arctic sea ice for every month of the year [...] The sea ice cover of the Arctic Ocean and surrounding seas helps regulate the planet's temperature, influences the circulation of the atmosphere and ocean, and impacts Arctic communities and ecosystems. Arctic sea ice shrinks every year during the spring and summer until it reaches its minimum yearly extent. Sea ice regrows during the frigid fall and winter months, when the sun is below the horizon in the Arctic." The NASA/NSIDC statement explained why the melt of Arctic sea ice surprised scientists in 2016. For one thing, it changed pace several times: "The melt season began with a record low yearly maximum extent in March and a rapid ice loss through May. But in June and July, low atmospheric pressures and cloudy skies slowed down the melt. Then, after two large storms went across the Arctic basin in August, sea ice melt picked up speed through early September." NASA posted an animation on YouTube that "shows the evolution of the Arctic sea ice cover from its wintertime maximum extent, which was reached on Mar. 24, 2016, and was the lowest on record for the second year in a row, to its apparent yearly minimum, which occurred on Sept. 10, 2016, and is the second lowest in the satellite era."
Security

Anonymous Hacker Explains His Attack On Boston Children's Hospital (huffingtonpost.com) 294

Okian Warrior writes: Martin Gottesfeld of Anonymous was arrested in connection with the Spring 2014 attacks on a number of healthcare and treatment facilities in the Boston area. The attacks were in response/defense of a patient there named Justina Pelletier. Gottesfeld now explains why he did what he did, in a statement provided to The Huffington Post. Here's an excerpt from his statement: [Why I Knocked Boston Children's Hospital Off The Internet] The answer is simpler than you might think: The defense of an innocent, learning disabled, 15-year-old girl. In the criminal complaint, she's called 'Patient A,' but to me, she has a name, Justina Pelletier. Boston Children's Hospital disagreed with her diagnosis. They said her symptoms were psychological. They made misleading statement on an affidavit, went to court, and had Justina's parents stripped of custody. They stopped her painkillers, leaving her in agony. They stopped her heart medication, leaving her tachycardic. They said she was a danger to herself, and locked her in a psych ward. They said her family was part of the problem, so they limited, monitored, and censored her contact with them..."
Robotics

UK Standards Body Issues Official Guidance On Robot Ethics (digitaltrends.com) 68

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Digital Trends: The British Standards Institution, which is the U.K.'s national standards body charged with creating the technical standards and certification for various products and services, has just produced its first set of official ethics guidelines relating to robots. "The expert committee responsible for this thought there was really a need for a set of guidelines, setting out the ethical principles surrounding how robots are used," Dan Palmer, head of market development at BSI, told Digital Trends. "It's an area of big public debate right now." The catchily-named BS 8611 guidelines start by echoing Asimov's Three Laws in stating that: "Robots should not be designed solely or primarily to kill or harm humans." However, it also takes aim at more complex issues of transparency by noting that: "It should be possible to find out who is responsible for any robot and its behavior." There's even discussion about whether it's desirable for a robot to form an emotional bond with its users, an awareness of the possibility robots could be racist and/or sexist in their conduct, and other contentious gray areas. In all, it's an interesting attempt to start formalizing the way we deal with robots -- and the way roboticists need to think about aspects of their work that extend beyond technical considerations. You can check it out here -- although it'll set you back 158 pounds ($208) if you want to read the BSI guidelines in full. (Is that ethical?) "Robots have been used in manufacturing for a long time," Palmer said. "But what we're seeing now are more robots interacting with people. For instance, there are cases in which robots are being used to give care to people. These are usages that we haven't seen before -- [which is where the need for guidelines comes in.]"
Mars

Elon Musk Scales Up His Ambitions, Considering Going 'Well Beyond' Mars (arstechnica.com) 289

An anonymous reader writes: For most of its 14-year existence, SpaceX has focused on designing and developing the hardware that will lead to its ultimate goal: colonizing Mars. These plans have remained largely secret from the general public, as company founder Elon Musk has dropped only the barest of hints. But that is expected to change on Sept. 27, during a session at the International Astronautical Congress, when Musk details some of these plans for the first time in a public forum. However, on the eve of the meeting, Musk dropped a surprise on Twitter. The workhorse spacecraft that will carry approximately 100 tons of cargo or 100 people to the surface of Mars, which until now has been popularly known as the Mars Colonial Transporter, can't be called that, Musk said. "Turns out MCT can go well beyond Mars, so will need a new name..." he tweeted on Friday evening. By Saturday evening he had a new name dubbing the spacecraft the "Interplanetary Transport System," or ITS. Mars, it turns out, isn't the solar system's only marginally habitable world for would-be new world colonists. The Moon, Venus, the asteroid Ceres, and outer Solar System moons Titan and Callisto all have some advantages that could allow for colonies to subsist. However, Mars has generally been the preferred destination -- due to its relative proximity to Earth, a thin atmosphere, and sources of water ice. Musk now seems to be suggesting that some of these more distant destinations, especially moons around Jupiter and Saturn, might be reachable with the Interplanetary Transport System.
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? 537

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.

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