Transportation

Volkswagen Admits To Testing Diesel Fumes On Monkeys (cnet.com) 151

An anonymous reader quotes a report from CNET: In what seems like a John Henry versus the steam shovel-style competition to dig diesel's grave, Volkswagen has admitted to funding (and subsequently cheating on) animal testing to prove the relative safety of diesel exhaust fumes, according to findings by the New York Times. The tests, which were undertaken at the Lovelace Respiratory Research Institute in Albuquerque in 2014, involved as many as 10 monkeys and had them sitting in airtight containers as they breathed exhaust fumes from a diesel-powered Volkswagen Beetle while they watched cartoons for entertainment. The tests went on for 4 hours. "We apologize for the misconduct and the lack of judgment of individuals," said a Volkswagen representative in a statement. "We're convinced the scientific methods chosen then were wrong. It would have been better to do without such a study in the first place." The Volkswagen Beetle used in the test was equipped with the same compromised emissions software that could detect when the car was being tested in a lab environment so it was running as cleanly as it could, which I guess proves that Volkswagen will waste no opportunity to be hoisted by its own oil-burning petard.
United Kingdom

One in 50 of Us is Face Blind -- and Many Don't Even Realize (theguardian.com) 202

An anonymous reader shares a report: Ever found yourself confronted by someone who seems to knows you, but you have no idea who they are? You could be suffering from prosopagnosia, a condition that new research shows affects more people in the UK than autism, yet largely goes undetected. Also known as face blindness, the condition makes those who have it -- including Brad Pitt and the late neuroscientist Oliver Sacks -- unable to recognise other people, and sometimes even themselves, by their face alone. It is believed to affect as many as one in 50 Britons. Dr Sarah Bate, an associate professor of psychology at Bournemouth University, is developing face-training programs to help those with face blindness learn management tools. She says many people with the condition go undiagnosed. Its impact can be severe if undetected.
Science

Do Particles Have Consciousness? (qz.com) 498

An anonymous reader quotes Quartz: Consciousness permeates reality. Rather than being just a unique feature of human subjective experience, it's the foundation of the universe, present in every particle and all physical matter. This sounds like easily-dismissible bunkum, but as traditional attempts to explain consciousness continue to fail, the "panpsychist" view is increasingly being taken seriously by credible philosophers, neuroscientists, and physicists, including figures such as neuroscientist Christof Koch and physicist Roger Penrose...

"Physical science tells us a lot less about the nature of matter than we tend to assume," says Philip Goff, a philosophy professor at Central European University in Budapest, Hungary. "Arthur Eddington" -- the English scientist who experimentally confirmed Einstein's theory of general relativity in the early 20th century -- "argued there's a gap in our picture of the universe. We know what matter does but not what it is. We can put consciousness into this gap"...

An alternative panpsychist perspective holds that, rather than individual particles holding consciousness and coming together, the universe as a whole is conscious. This, says Goff, isn't the same as believing the universe is a unified divine being; it's more like seeing it as a "cosmic mess." Nevertheless, it does reflect a perspective that the world is a top-down creation, where every individual thing is derived from the universe, rather than a bottom-up version where objects are built from the smallest particles. Goff believes quantum entanglement -- the finding that certain particles behave as a single unified system even when they're separated by such immense distances there can't be a causal signal between them -- suggests the universe functions as a fundamental whole rather than a collection of discrete parts. Such theories sound incredible, and perhaps they are. But then again, so is every other possible theory that explains consciousness.

Space

Rocket Lab Criticized For Launching Their Own Private 'Star' Into Orbit (newsweek.com) 265

Newsweek reports: A private satellite company launched a three-foot-wide, carbon-fiber orb called the Humanity Star into the sky last week. Rocket Lab has promised the Humanity Star will be "the brightest thing in the sky," presumably other than the sun. The orb will reflect light from the sun back to Earth to achieve this effect. It's expected to orbit the Earth once every 90 minutes for the next nine months before it falls out of the sky and burns up in the atmosphere. The reaction on social media has been largely swift and scornful...

The stated goal of the project, at least, seems admirable: "No matter where you are in the world, rich or in poverty, in conflict or at peace, everyone will be able to see the bright, blinking Humanity Star orbiting Earth in the night sky," Rocket Lab CEO Peter Beck said in a statement on the project's website. "Wait for when the Humanity Star is overhead, and take your loved ones outside to look up and reflect. You may just feel a connection to the more than 7 billion other people on this planet we share this ride with."

Slashdot reader dmoberhaus writes that "astronomers are annoyed by what they perceive as just another piece of space junk getting in the way."

"Wow. Intentionally bright long-term space graffiti. Thanks a lot Rocket Lab," complained an astronomer at the California Institute of Technology. And one New Zealand journalist accused Rocket Lab of "vandalising the night sky with shiny space rubbish."
Earth

Scientists Discover the Oldest Human Fossils Outside Africa (npr.org) 107

Archaeologists in Israel have discovered the oldest fossil of a modern human outside Africa, suggesting that humans first migrated out of the content much earlier than previously believed. NPR reports: The scientists were digging in a cave called Misliya, on the slopes of Mount Carmel on the northern coast of Israel. "The cave is one of a series of prehistoric caves," says Mina Weinstein-Evron of the Zinman Institute of Archaeology at the University of Haifa, who led the team. "It's a collapsed cave, but people lived there before it collapsed." The cave had been occupied for several hundred thousand years, she says. All the archaeological evidence suggested that the ancient people who lived in the cave were hunter-gatherers. "They were hunting animals, mainly ungulates, like fallow dear, gazelle, aurochs [an extinct species of wild cattle] and other small animals," says Weinstein-Evron. "They built fireplaces throughout the length of the cave, again and again, in the same place, in the same sort of defined arrangement."

Weinstein-Evron says she and her team wanted to find out which species of ancient humans lived in the cave. So, she says, they kept digging. "And among the animal bones and flint tools we found a jawbone, an upper jawbone of an individual," she says. A detailed analysis of the jawbone and the teeth confirmed that it indeed belonged to someone of our species, Homo sapiens. And when they dated the fossil, it turned out to be between 177,000 and 194,000 years old, making it the oldest known such fossil outside the African continent.

NASA

Amateur Astronomer Discovers Long-Dead NASA Satellite Has Come Back To Life (behindtheblack.com) 62

schwit1 shares a report from Behind The Black: In his hunt to locate Zuma, an amateur astronomer has discovered that a long-dead NASA satellite, designed to study the magnetosphere, has come back to life. IMAGE went dead in 2005, and though NASA thought it might come back to life after experiencing a total eclipse in 2007 that would force a reboot, no evidence of life was seen then. It now appears that the satellite came to life sometime between then and 2018, and was chattering away at Earth waiting for a response. NASA is now looking at what it must do to take control of the spacecraft and resume science operations. Zuma is the secret U.S. government payload that was launched by SpaceX earlier this month and reportedly lost. As for why Scott Tilley -- the amateur radio astronomer -- decided to have a look for the present of secret military satellites, Ars Technica reports that he apparently does this semi-regularly as a hobby and, in this case, was inspired by the Zuma satellite.
Mars

Ask Slashdot: What Kind of Societies Will the First Mars Colonies Be? 305

New submitter nyri writes: I'm making a two-part study in what kind of societies humans will build on Mars when we start to colonize the red planet. In first part, I'm trying to approach the question sociologically as rigorously as possible. Sociology being what it is, this also includes informed speculation. So, what does Slashdot think: What sort of colonies will humans build on the red planet? How large will they be? How will they make decisions and select their leaders? What kind of judicial systems will they use? What happens if a colony's population grows larger than they are able to sustain? Will they be religious and if so, how? How will their internal and external economy work? And so on...

A second part of the study is of psychometric nature to explore the kind of personalities be present in first colonies. I also encourage you to take the survey.
Science

Genes that Your Parents Don't Pass To You Still Shape Who You Are, Study Finds (sciencemag.org) 57

From a research paper published on ScienceMag journal on Friday: Children resemble their parents in health, wealth, and well-being. Is parent-child similarity in traits and behaviors due to nature (the genes that children inherit from their parents) or nurture (the environment that parents provide for their children)? Answering this enduring question can directly inform our efforts to reduce social inequality and disease burden. Kong et al. used genetic data from trios of parents and offspring to address this question in an intriguing way. By measuring parents' and children's genes, they provide evidence that inherited family environments influence children's educational success, a phenomenon termed genetic nurture.

Specifically, Kong et al. show that the part of the parental genotype that children do not inherit can nonetheless predict children's educational attainment. This genetic nurture effect is an indirect link between parental genotypes and children's characteristics, not caused by the children's own biology but rather by the family environment that covaries with parental genes.

Medicine

Microbes May Help Astronauts Transform Human Waste Into Food (phys.org) 103

A Penn State researcher team has shown that it is possible to rapidly break down solid and liquid waste to grow food with a series of microbial reactors, while simultaneously minimizing pathogen growth. They reported their findings in the journal Life Sciences in Space Research. Phys.Org reports: To test their idea, the researchers used an artificial solid and liquid waste that's commonly used in waste management tests. They created an enclosed, cylindrical system, four feet long by four inches in diameter, in which select microbes came into contact with the waste. The microbes broke down waste using anaerobic digestion, a process similar to the way humans digest food. The team found that methane was readily produced during anaerobic digestion of human waste and could be used to grow a different microbe, Methylococcus capsulatus, which is used as animal feed today. The team concluded that such microbial growth could be used to produce a nutritious food for deep space flight. They reported in Life Sciences in Space Research that they grew M. capsulatus that was 52 percent protein and 36 percent fats, making it a potential source of nutrition for astronauts.

Because pathogens are also a concern with growing microbes in an enclosed, humid space, the team studied ways to grow microbes in either an alkaline environment or a high-heat environment. They raised the system's pH to 11 and were surprised to find a strain of the bacteria Halomonas desiderata that could thrive. The team found this bacteria to be 15 percent protein and 7 percent fats. At 158 degrees Fahrenheit, which kills most pathogens, they grew the edible Thermus aquaticus, which consisted of 61 percent protein and 16 percent fats.

Earth

Plastic Pollution Is Killing Coral Reefs, 4-Year Study Finds (npr.org) 90

An anonymous reader quotes a report from NPR: A new study based on four years of diving on 159 reefs in the Pacific shows that reefs in four countries -- Australia, Thailand, Indonesia and Myanmar -- are heavily contaminated with plastic. It clings to the coral, especially branching coral. And where it clings, it sickens or kills. "The likelihood of disease increases from 4 percent to 89 percent when corals are in contact with plastic," researchers report in the journal Science. Study leader Drew Harvell at Cornell University says the plastic could be harming coral in at least two ways. First, bacteria and other harmful microorganisms are abundant in the water and on corals; when the coral is abraded, that might invite pathogens into the coral. In addition, Harvell says, plastic can block sunlight from reaching coral. Based on how much plastic the researchers found while diving, they estimate that over 11 billion plastic items could be entangled in coral reefs in the Asia-Pacific region, home to over half the world's coral reefs. And their survey did not include China, one of the biggest sources of plastic pollution.
Security

Researchers Warn of Physics-Based Attacks On Sensors (securityledger.com) 85

chicksdaddy shares a report from The Security Ledger: Billions of sensors that are already deployed lack protections against attacks that manipulate the physical properties of devices to cause sensors and embedded devices to malfunction, researchers working in the U.S. and China have warned. In an article in Communications of the ACM, researchers Kevin Fu of the University of Michigan and Wenyuan Xu of Zhejiang University warn that analog signals such as sound or electromagnetic waves can be used as part of "transduction attacks" to spoof data by exploiting the physics of sensors. Researchers say a "return to classic engineering approaches" is needed to cope with physics-based attacks on sensors and other embedded devices, including a focus on system-wide (versus component-specific) testing and the use of new manufacturing techniques to thwart certain types of transduction attacks.

"This is about uncovering the physics of cyber security and how some of the physical properties of systems have been abstracted to the point that we don't have a good way to describe the security of the system," Dr Fu told The Security Ledger in a conversation last week. That is particularly true of sensor driven systems, like those that will populate the Internet of Things. Cyberattacks typically target vulnerabilities in software such as buffer overflows or cross-site scripting. But transduction attacks target the physics of the hardware that underlies that software, including the circuit boards that discrete components are deployed on, or the materials that make up the components themselves. Although the attacks target vulnerabilities in the hardware, the consequences often arise as software systems, such as the improper functioning or denial of service to a sensor or actuator, the researchers said. Hardware and software have what might be considered a "social contract" that analog information captured by sensors will be rendered faithfully as it is transformed into binary data that software can interpret and act on it. But materials used to create sensors can be influenced by other phenomenon -- such as sound waves. Through the targeted use of such signals, the behavior of the sensor can be interfered with and even manipulated. "The problem starts with the mechanics or physics of the material and bubbles up into the operating system," Fu told The Security Ledger.

Science

Scientists Calculate Carbon Emissions of Your Sandwich (theguardian.com) 258

An anonymous reader shares a report: It's a staple of the British diet and a popular choice for a quick and easy lunch. But new research reveals the carbon footprint of the humble sandwich could be fuelling harmful greenhouse emissions. The worst offender is revealed as the ready-made "all-day breakfast" sandwich, crammed with egg, bacon and sausage. Researchers at the University of Manchester carried out the first ever study of the carbon footprint of sandwiches -- both home-made and ready-made. They considered the entire life cycle of sandwiches, including the production of ingredients, packaging, refrigeration and food waste. The team scrutinised 40 different sandwich types, recipes and combinations and found the highest carbon footprints for the sandwiches containing pork meat (bacon, ham or sausages) and also those filled with cheese or prawns. The researchers estimate that a ready-made (and highly calorific) all-day breakfast sandwich generates 1441g of carbon dioxide equivalent -- equal to the emissions created by driving a car for 12 miles (19km).
Science

The Doomsday Clock Just Ticked Closer To Midnight (usatoday.com) 319

Scientists moved the hands of the symbolic "Doomsday Clock" closer to midnight on Thursday amid increasing worries over nuclear weapons and climate change. From a report: The clock is now two minutes to midnight. "Because of the extraordinary danger of the current moment, the Science and Security Board today moves the minute hand of the Doomsday Clock 30 seconds closer to catastrophe," said Rachel Bronson, president of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. "This is the closest the Clock has ever been to Doomsday, and as close as it was in 1953, at the height of the Cold War." Each year, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, a non-profit group that sets the clock, decides whether the events of the previous year pushed humanity closer or farther from destruction. The symbolic clock is now the closest it's been to midnight since 1953. It was also two minutes to midnight in 1953 when the hydrogen bomb was first tested.
Cellphones

Study Links Decline In Teenagers' Happiness To Smartphones (pressherald.com) 158

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Press Herald: In a study published Monday in the journal Emotion, psychologists from San Diego State University and the University of Georgia used data on mood and media culled from roughly 1.1 million U.S. teens to figure out why a decades-long rise in happiness and satisfaction among U.S. teenagers suddenly shifted course in 2012 and declined sharply over the next four years. Was this sudden reversal a response to an economy that tanked in 2007 and stayed bad well into 2012? Or did it have its roots in a very different watershed event: the 2007 introduction of the smartphone, which put the entire online world at a user's fingertips?

In the new study, researchers tried to find it by plumbing a trove of eighth-, 10th- and 12th-graders' responses to queries on how they felt about life and how they used their time. They found that between 1991 and 2016, adolescents who spent more time on electronic communication and screens -- social media, texting, electronic games, the internet -- were less happy, less satisfied with their lives and had lower self-esteem. TV watching, which declined over the nearly two decades they examined, was similarly linked to lower psychological well-being. By contrast, adolescents who spent more time on non-screen activities had higher psychological well-being. They tended to profess greater happiness, higher self-esteem and more satisfaction with their lives. While these patterns emerged in the group as a whole, they were particularly clear among eighth- and 10th-graders, the authors found: "Every non-screen activity was correlated with greater happiness, and every screen activity was correlated with less happiness."

Medicine

Scientists Develop Glucose-Tracking Smart Contact Lenses Comfortable Enough To Wear (engadget.com) 35

A team of Korean scientists have developed a smart lens that could help diabetics track blood glucose levels while remaining stretchable enough to be comfortable and transparent enough to preserve vision. Engadget reports: The lens achieves its flexibility thanks to a design that puts its electronics into isolated pockets linked by stretchable conductors. There's also an elastic material in between that spreads the strain to prevent the electronics from breaking when you pinch the lens. And when the refractive indices all line up, you should get a lens that's as transparent as possible and largely stays out of your way. The sensor in question is straightforward: an LED light stays on as long as glucose levels are normal, and shuts off when something's wrong. Power comes through a metal nanofiber antenna that draws from a nearby power source coil. That's about the only major drawback -- the low conductivity of the antenna means that you can't just tuck the coil wherever it's convenient. The co-author of the study, Jang-Ung Park, told IEEE Spectrum that a commercial version of the contact lens should arrive within the next five years.
ISS

Trump Administration Wants To End NASA Funding For ISS By 2025 (theverge.com) 344

According to budget documents seen by The Verge, the Trump administration is preparing to end support for the International Space Station program by 2025. As a result, American astronauts could be grounded on Earth for years with no destination in space until NASA develops new vehicles for its deep space travel plans. From the report: The draft may change before an official budget request is released on February 12th. However, two people familiar with the matter have confirmed to The Verge that the directive will be in the final proposal. We reached out to NASA for comment, but did not receive a response by the time of publication. Any budget proposal from the Trump administration will also be subject to scrutiny and approval by Congress. But even announcing the intention to cancel ISS funding could send a signal to NASA's international partners that the U.S. is no longer interested in continuing the program. Many of NASA's partners still have yet to decide if they'd like to continue working on the station beyond 2024. The International Space Station has been an ongoing program for more than two decades. It costs NASA between $3 to $4 billion each year, and represents a more than $87 billion investment from the U.S. government. It's become a major hub for conducting both government and commercial experiments in microgravity, as well as testing out how the human body responds to weightlessness.
The Almighty Buck

How a PhD Student Unlocked 1 Bitcoin Hidden In DNA (vice.com) 58

dmoberhaus writes: A 26-year-old Belgian PhD student named Sander Wuytz recently solved a 3-year-old puzzle that had locked the private key to 1 Bitcoin in a strand of synthetic DNA. Motherboard spoke with the student about how they managed to crack the puzzle, just days before it was set to expire. From the report: "As detailed by Nick Goldman, a researcher at the European Bioinformatics Institute, in his pioneering Nature paper on DNA storage, to encode information into DNA you take a text or binary file and rewrite it in base-3 (so rather than just ones and zeroes, there are zeroes, ones, and twos). This is then used to encode the data in the building blocks of life, the four nucleobases cytosine, thymine, adenine and guanine. As Wuyts explained to me, coding the data as nucleobases depended upon which nucleobase came before. So, for instance, if the previous base was adenine and the next pieces of data is a 0, it is coded as cytosine. If the next piece of data is a 1, it's coded as guanine, and so on. After the data is encoded as synthetic DNA fragments, these fragments are used to identify and read the actual files stored in the DNA. In the case of the Bitcoin challenge, there were a total of nine files contained in the DNA fragments. The files were encrypted with a keystream, which is a random series of characters that is included with the actual plain text message to obfuscate its meaning. The keystream code had been provided by Goldman in a document explaining the competition.

After running the code, Wuyts was able to combine the DNA fragments in the correct order to form one long piece of DNA. After working out some technical kinks, Wuyts was able to convert the DNA sequence into plain text, revealing the private key and unlocking the bitcoin (as well as some artefacts, including a drawing of James Joyce and the logo for the European Bioinformatics Institute). He had cracked the puzzle just five days before it was set to expire."

Medicine

Apple Adds Medical Records Feature For iPhone (cnbc.com) 101

On Wednesday, Apple released the test version of a new product that lets users download their health records, store them safely and show them to a doctor, caregiver or friend. "We view the future as consumers owning their own health data," Apple COO Jeff Williams said in an interview with CNBC. From the report: It all works when a user opens the iPhone's health app, navigates to the health record section, and, on the new tool, adds a health provider. From there, the user taps to connect to Apple's software system and data start streaming into the service. Patients will get notified via an alert if new information becomes available. In June, CNBC first reported on Apple's plans, including early discussions with top U.S. hospitals. The company confirmed that it has contracts with about a dozen hospitals across the country, including Cedars-Sinai, Johns Hopkins Medicine, Penn Medicine and the University of California, San Diego. The medical information available will include allergies, conditions, immunizations, lab results, medications, procedures and vitals. The information is encrypted and protected through a user's iPhone passcode.
China

Two Twin Long-Tailed Macaque Monkeys Are the First Primates Cloned Using the Dolly Method (arstechnica.com) 61

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Ars Technica: The twin long-tailed macaque monkeys are the first primates cloned using the same method that created the world's most famous sheep in 1996 -- a method called somatic cell nuclear transfer, or SCNT. The twins' genetic blueprints were swiped from fetal cells of another monkey. Researchers then popped the DNA into egg cells that they had also cleared of their DNA-containing nuclei. With a dash of compounds that spur embryo development, the reprogrammed cells developed into healthy baby monkeys in surrogate mother monkeys. The two were born about seven weeks ago in China and are developing normally so far, researchers reported Wednesday in the journal Cell. Though the overall SCNT method is the same as what was used for Dolly, researchers struggled for years to tweak it to work in primates. The procedure is delicate and required a lot of optimization -- not to mention DNA-swaps.

The researchers behind the cute clones, led by Zhen Liu of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, first tried using DNA from adult monkey cells. They created 192 embryos this way, implanting 181 of them into 42 surrogates, leading to 22 pregnant monkeys. But this resulted in the live birth of only two monkeys, both of which died within hours. Next, the researchers tried using DNA from fetal tissue. They created 109 embryos, implanted 79 of them into 21 surrogates, leading to pregnancy in six of them. Two female monkeys, Zhong Zhong and Hua Hua, resulted. The researchers attribute their success to new cell-imaging methods, tweaking the right mix of reprogramming compounds, and lots of practice.

Australia

1.7-Billion-Year-Old Chunk of North America Found Sticking To Australia (livescience.com) 122

walterbyrd shares a report from Live Science: Geologists matching rocks from opposite sides of the globe have found that part of Australia was once attached to North America 1.7 billion years ago. Researchers from Curtin University in Australia examined rocks from the Georgetown region of northern Queensland. The rocks -- sandstone sedimentary rocks that formed in a shallow sea -- had signatures that were unknown in Australia but strongly resembled rocks that can be seen in present-day Canada. The researchers, who described their findings online Jan. 17 in the journal Geology, concluded that the Georgetown area broke away from North America 1.7 billion years ago. Then, 100 million years later, this landmass collided with what is now northern Australia, at the Mount Isa region.

"This was a critical part of global continental reorganization when almost all continents on Earth assembled to form the supercontinent called Nuna," Adam Nordsvan, Curtin University doctoral student and lead author of the study, said in a statement. Nordsvan added that Nuna then broke apart some 300 million years later, with the Georgetown area stuck to Australia as the North American landmass drifted away.

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