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Published: 2017-02-22T09:43:16+00:00

 



Cellphones As a Fifth-Order Elaboration of Maxwell's Theory

2017-02-22T07:00:00+00:00

schwit1 shares a report from IEEE Spectrum that reflects on the "Stages of Electronics" based on James Clerk Maxwell's theory: Now that the world has become addicted to portable electronics, billions of people have come to see the companies providing these gadgets as the most innovative, and the people who head those companies as the most exalted, of all time. "Genius" is a starter category in this discussion. But clever and appealing though today's electronic gadgets may be, to the historian they are nothing but the inevitable fifth-order elaborations of two fundamental ideas: electromagnetic radiation, the theory of which was formulated by James Clerk Maxwell in the 1860s, and miniaturized fabrication, which followed Richard Feynman's 1959 dictum [PDF] that "there's plenty of room at the bottom." Maxwell was a true genius. The history of science offers few examples of work as brilliant as unifying electricity, magnetism, and light as aspects of a single phenomenon: electromagnetic waves. As Max Planck put it, "in doing so he achieved greatness unequalled." Vaclav Smil writes via IEEE: "As I pass the zombielike figures on the street, oblivious to anything but their cellphone screens, I wonder how many of them know that the most fundamental advances enabling their addictions came not from Nokia, Apple, Google, Samsung, or LG. These companies' innovations are certainly admirable, but they amount only to adding a few fancy upper floors to a magnificent edifice whose foundations were laid by Maxwell 152 years ago and whose structure depends on decades-old advances that made it possible to build electronics devices ever smaller."

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The Only Thing, Historically, That's Curbed Inequality: Catastrophe

2017-02-22T03:30:00+00:00

ColdWetDog writes: The Atlantic has an interesting article on how societies have decreased economic equality. From the report: "Calls to make America great again hark back to a time when income inequality receded even as the economy boomed and the middle class expanded. Yet it is all too easy to forget just how deeply this newfound equality was rooted in the cataclysm of the world wars. The pressures of total war became a uniquely powerful catalyst of equalizing reform, spurring unionization, extensions of voting rights, and the creation of the welfare state. During and after wartime, aggressive government intervention in the private sector and disruptions to capital holdings wiped out upper-class wealth and funneled resources to workers; even in countries that escaped physical devastation and crippling inflation, marginal tax rates surged upward. Concentrated for the most part between 1914 and 1945, this 'Great Compression' (as economists call it) of inequality took several more decades to fully run its course across the developed world until the 1970s and 1980s, when it stalled and began to go into reverse. This equalizing was a rare outcome in modern times but by no means unique over the long run of history. Inequality has been written into the DNA of civilization ever since humans first settled down to farm the land. Throughout history, only massive, violent shocks that upended the established order proved powerful enough to flatten disparities in income and wealth. They appeared in four different guises: mass-mobilization warfare, violent and transformative revolutions, state collapse, and catastrophic epidemics. Hundreds of millions perished in their wake, and by the time these crises had passed, the gap between rich and poor had shrunk." Slashdot reader ColdWetDog notes: "Yep, the intro is a bit of a swipe at Trump. But this should get the preppers and paranoids in the group all wound up. Grab your foil! Run for the hills!"

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Health Apps Could Be Doing More Harm Than Good, Warn Scientists

2017-02-21T21:20:00+00:00

According to several scientists, fitness apps might be doing more harm than good because they don't work but force people to focus on ambitious goals that they will never reach. Some are so appalled by these apps that they have called it "snake oil salesmen of the 1860s." From a report on The Guardian: Greg Hager, professor of computer science at Johns Hopkins University, said that in the absence of trials or scientific grounding it was impossible to say whether apps were having the intended effect. "I am sure that these apps are causing problems," he told the American Association for the Advancement of Science annual meeting in Boston. [...] Hager claimed the 10,000 steps target dated back to a 1960s Japanese study that showed there were health benefits for men who burned at least 2,000 calories per week through exercise -- roughly equivalent to 10,000 steps each day. An early pedometer was known as the manpo-kei, which means "10,000-step meter" in Japanese. "But is that the right number for any of you in this room?" Hager asked. "Who knows. It's just a number that's now built into the apps." "We have an incredible number of apps in the wild basically being downloaded by people who may or may not understand what they are actually telling them or what the context for that is," he said. "Until we have evidence-based apps you could amplify issues. I mean, imagine everyone thinks they have to do 10,000 steps but you are not actually physically capable of doing that, you could actually cause harm or damage by doing so."

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Computer Glasses Claim To Protect Eyesight Are Selling Like Hotcakes, But They Probably Aren't Useful

2017-02-21T20:40:00+00:00

People are increasingly concerned that bright light -- especially "blue light" from computer screens -- is causing harm, making it a potentially dangerous public health issue. Eyewear and screen protector companies have been selling products they say can protect people from these harms. But are they really making any difference? From a report: We do know that blue light at night can interfere with sleep, causing a host of negative effects. But the evidence that the amount of light screen expose us to during the day is harmful is not really there. Furthermore, many experts think these products are unnecessary and could perhaps do more harm than good. [...] The research that companies selling blue-blocking products cite falls into three categories: animal studies, in vitro studies of retinal cells exposed to light, and studies of people exposed to outdoor light. [...] "I think it's largely hype, not science," says Dr. Richard Rosen, Director of Retina Services at New York Eye and Ear Infirmary of Mount Sinai and Ophthalmology Research Director at Icahn School of Medicine. "They want to sell it; they know people get uncomfortable staring at screens all day, so they say, it's because of this [blue light issue]." The report cites insight from several other doctors as well studies to make a case for why these glasses aren't useful.

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New Zealand May Be the Tip of a Submerged Continent

2017-02-21T09:00:00+00:00

An anonymous reader shares a report on The Outline: A group of geologists believe it is time to name a new continent. A paper published in the March/April edition of GSA Today, the journal for the Geological Society of America, lays out the case for Zealandia as the seventh and youngest geological continent. In the past, New Zealand was thought to be part of a collection of "islands, fragments, and slices," the authors wrote, but it's now understood to be part of a solid landmass. New Zealand is essentially the highest mountains of a 1.9 million square mile landmass that is 94 percent underwater, according to the paper. The authors believe it is both large and isolated enough to qualify as a continent. They note that it is elevated relative to the oceanic crust, as befits a continent, and its distinctiveness and thickness are also on par with continents one through six. What does it matter if Zealandia is officially a continent? Reclassifying the area would encourage geologists to include it in studies of comparative continental rifting and continent-ocean boundaries.

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Why Astronauts Are Banned From Getting Drunk in Space

2017-02-21T06:00:00+00:00

Bryan Lufkin, writing for BBC: "Alcohol is not permitted onboard the International Space Station for consumption," says Daniel G Huot, spokesperson for Nasa's Johnson Space Center. "Use of alcohol and other volatile compounds are controlled on ISS due to impacts their compounds can have on the station's water recovery system." For this reason, astronauts on the space station are not even provided with products that contain alcohol, like mouthwash, perfume, or aftershave. Spilling beer during some drunken orbital hijinks could also risk damaging equipment. [...] There could be another reason to avoid frothy drinks like beer -- without the assistance of gravity, liquid and gases can tumble around in an astronaut's stomach, causing them to produce rather soggy burps.

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NASA Is Studying A Manned Trip Around The Moon On A $23 Billion Rocket

2017-02-20T15:10:00+00:00

An anonymous reader shares a report on NASA's ongoing work on a manned trip to the moon. From the report: Without a new administrator even nominated yet, NASA's acting head Robert Lightfoot on Wednesday requested a study of whether next year's first flight of the Space Launch System rocket, billed as the most powerful NASA has built, could have a crew of astronauts. "I know the challenges associated with such a proposition," Lightfoot said in a letter to his agency, citing costs, extra work, and "a different launch date" for the planned 2018 Exploration Mission-1 (EM-1). The mission would be launched by the massive SLS, which is still in development, then boosted by a European service module to put three astronauts inside the new Orion space capsule on a three-week trip around the moon. NASA first sent three astronauts around the moon in 1968 in the Apollo 8 mission. The last astronaut to stand on the moon, the late Gene Cernan returned to Earth in 1972. The new talk of a repeat moon-circling mission, aboard an untested spacecraft, has space policy experts variously thrilled, dismissive, and puzzled. "I frankly don't quite know what to say about it," space policy expert John Logsdon of George Washington University said. Writing on NASAWatch, Keith Cowing called the study request a "Hail Mary" pass to save the life of the SLS ahead of Trump installing a budget cutter to head the space agency. The Government Accountability Office estimates the costs of SLS and its two planned launches (a second, crewed mission is planned for 2023) at $23 billion.

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NASA Scientist Revive 10,000-Year-Old Microorganisms

2017-02-20T11:30:00+00:00

"Scientists have extracted long-dormant microbes from inside the famous giant crystals of the Naica mountain caves in Mexico -- and revived them," reports the BBC. An anonymous reader writes: "The organisms were likely to have been encased in the striking shafts of gypsum at least 10,000 years ago, and possibly up to 50,000 years ago," according to the BBC, which calls the strange lifeforms "another demonstration of the ability of life to adapt and cope in the most hostile of environments." With no light, extremophile species must "chemosynthesise," deriving all their energy by extracting minerals from rocks. These ancient microbes "are not very closely related to anything in the known genetic databases," according to the new director of NASA's Astrobiology Institute, who helped conduct the research, and believes that the microbes could help suggest what life might look like on other planets. The BBC adds that many other scientists "suspect that if life does exist elsewhere in the Solar System, it is most likely to be underground, chemosynthesising like the microbes of Naica."

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Serious Computer Glitches Can Be Caused By Cosmic Rays

2017-02-19T23:34:00+00:00

The Los Alamos National Lab wrote in 2012 that "For over 20 years the military, the commercial aerospace industry, and the computer industry have known that high-energy neutrons streaming through our atmosphere can cause computer errors." Now an anonymous reader quotes Computerworld: When your computer crashes or phone freezes, don't be so quick to blame the manufacturer. Cosmic rays -- or rather the electrically charged particles they generate -- may be your real foe. While harmless to living organisms, a small number of these particles have enough energy to interfere with the operation of the microelectronic circuitry in our personal devices... particles alter an individual bit of data stored in a chip's memory. Consequences can be as trivial as altering a single pixel in a photograph or as serious as bringing down a passenger jet. A "single-event upset" was also blamed for an electronic voting error in Schaerbeekm, Belgium, back in 2003. A bit flip in the electronic voting machine added 4,096 extra votes to one candidate. The issue was noticed only because the machine gave the candidate more votes than were possible. "This is a really big problem, but it is mostly invisible to the public," said Bharat Bhuva. Bhuva is a member of Vanderbilt University's Radiation Effects Research Group, established in 1987 to study the effects of radiation on electronic systems. Cisco has been researching cosmic radiation since 2001, and in September briefly cited cosmic rays as a possible explanation for partial data losses that customer's were experiencing with their ASR 9000 routers.

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SpaceX's Next Launch Carries Colonies Of A Drug-Resistant Superbug

2017-02-18T18:34:00+00:00

An anonymous reader quotes Business Insider: SpaceX is preparing to launch a lethal, antibiotic-resistant superbug into orbit...to live its days in the microgravity environment of the International Space Station. The idea is not to weaponize space with MRSA -- a bacterium that kills more Americans every year than HIV/AIDS, Parkinson's disease, emphysema, and homicide combined -- but to send its mutation rates into hyperdrive, allowing scientists to see the pathogen's next moves well before they appear on Earth. The NASA-funded study will see SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket launch colonies of MRSA into space, to be cultivated in the US National Laboratory on the International Space Station. "We will leverage the microgravity environment on the ISS to accelerate the Precision Medicine revolution here on Earth," lead researcher Anita Goel, CEO of biotech company Nanobiosym, told Yahoo News... "Our ability to anticipate drug-resistant mutations with Gene-RADAR will lead to next generation antibiotics that are more precisely tailored to stop the spread of the world's most dangerous pathogens," says Goel. That launch was scheduled for today, but SpaceX postponed it to "take a closer look at positioning of the second stage engine nozzle." [UPDATE: The launch was completed successfully on Sunday.] Two more externally-mounted payloads will conduct other experiments, with one monitoring lightning strikes on earth and the other measuring chemicals in the earth's atmosphere. In addition, there's also 21 science experiments that were submitted by high school students Meanwhile, Slashdot reader tomhath brings news that researchers have discovered the red berries of a U.S. weed can help fight superbugs. The researchers found "extracts from the Brazilian peppertree, which traditional healers in the Amazon have used for hundreds of years to treat skin and soft-tissue infections, have the power to stop methicillin-resistant MRSA infections in mice." One of the researchers said the extract "weakens the bacteria so the mouse's own defenses work better."

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Genetically-Modified 'Surrogate Hens' Could Lay Eggs of Rare Chicken Breeds, Scientists Say

2017-02-18T10:00:00+00:00

In an effort to preserve rare varieties of chicken breeds and diversify the chicken gene pool, scientists at the University of Edinburgh's Roslin Institute have come up with a plan to breed genetically-modified chickens designed to act as surrogates that would be capable of laying eggs from any rare breed. Such rare breeds include the Nankin, Scots Dumpy and Sicilian Buttercup. The Guardian reports: The surrogacy technique, which places a new, mind-bending twist on the classic chicken or egg question, involves first genetically engineering hens to be sterile. This is done by deleting a gene, called DDX4, that is required for the development of primordial follicles (the precursors to eggs) meaning that the surrogate hens will never lay eggs that are biologically their own. The next step will be to transplant follicles from rare birds into the surrogate (this is done before the surrogate chick is hatched from its own egg), meaning it would go on to lay eggs belonging to entirely different breeds of chicken. Given that the hens would also need to be artificially inseminated with sperm from the same rare variety, the approach may appear unnecessarily convoluted. Why not just breed the rare birds the normal way? The scientists' ultimate goal is to create a gene bank of chicken breeds preserved for posterity, and since primordial follicles can be frozen efficiently, while eggs cannot, the surrogacy technique serves an essential work-around. Mike McGrew, who is leading the project and is the first author on a paper on the work published this week in the journal Development, predicts that the surrogates will be able to lay eggs from any breed, including chicken's wild predecessor, the red junglefowl, but he is doubtful about whether it will work efficiently across species -- it is not likely that the surrogate hens will be giving birth to eagle chicks, for instance. Richard Broad, a field officer for the Rare Breeds Survival Trust, agreed that rare chickens could be a source of valuable genetic variation, potentially carrying variants that would provide resistance against new forms of avian flu. At present, the team is focused on chicken breeds, but expects the technique to work to preserve rare varieties of ducks, geese and quail. Read more of this story at Slashdot.[...]



Juno Jupiter Probe Won't Move Into Shorter Orbit After All

2017-02-18T07:00:00+00:00

NASA announced today that their Juno spacecraft will not move into a closer orbit around Jupiter as originally planned. "Juno slipped into a highly elliptical, 53-Earth-day-long orbit around Jupiter when it arrived at the giant planet on July 4, 2016," reports Space.com. From their report: The probe was supposed to perform an engine burn in October to reduce its orbital period to 14 days, but an issue with two helium valves postponed that maneuver. The engine burn has now been canceled, meaning Juno will stay where it is through the end of its mission. "During a thorough review, we looked at multiple scenarios that would place Juno in a shorter-period orbit, but there was concern that another main engine burn could result in a less-than-desirable orbit," Rick Nybakken, Juno project manager at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California, said in a statement. "The bottom line is, a burn represented a risk to completion of Juno's science objectives." But Juno should still be able to accomplish its mission goals in the longer orbit, NASA officials said. In fact, the 53-day path will allow the probe to perform some "bonus science" in the outer regions of Jupiter's magnetosphere, they added.

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B Vitamins Reduce Schizophrenia Symptoms, Study Finds

2017-02-17T10:00:00+00:00

A new study published in the journal Psychological Medicine finds that high doses of B vitamins reduce the symptoms of schizophrenia. Researchers found that using B vitamins, including B6, inositol, and B12 as an adjunctive with antipsychotics significantly improved symptoms of the debilitating condition. Newsmax reports: For the new study, researchers identified 18 clinical trials with a combined total of 832 patients receiving antipsychotic treatment for schizophrenia. They found that B-vitamin interventions which used higher dosages or combined several vitamins were consistently effective for reducing psychiatric symptoms, whereas those which used lower doses were ineffective. The evidence also suggested that B-vitamin supplements were most beneficial when they were added to medicine regimens early after diagnosis.

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Woolly Mammoth On Verge of Resurrection, Scientists Reveal

2017-02-17T07:00:00+00:00

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Guardian: The woolly mammoth vanished from the Earth 4,000 years ago, but now scientists say they are on the brink of resurrecting the ancient beast in a revised form, through an ambitious feat of genetic engineering. Speaking ahead of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) annual meeting in Boston this week, the scientist leading the "de-extinction" effort said the Harvard team is just two years away from creating a hybrid embryo, in which mammoth traits would be programmed into an Asian elephant. "Our aim is to produce a hybrid elephant-mammoth embryo," said Prof George Church. "Actually, it would be more like an elephant with a number of mammoth traits. We're not there yet, but it could happen in a couple of years." The creature, sometimes referred to as a "mammophant," would be partly elephant, but with features such as small ears, subcutaneous fat, long shaggy hair and cold-adapted blood. The mammoth genes for these traits are spliced into the elephant DNA using the powerful gene-editing tool, Crispr. Until now, the team have stopped at the cell stage, but are now moving towards creating embryos -- although, they said that it would be many years before any serious attempt at producing a living creature.

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Scientists Use Stem Cells To Grow Animal-Free Pork In a Lab

2017-02-17T03:30:00+00:00

A new study published in the journal Scientific Reports describes research "designed to generate muscle from a newly established pig stem-cell line, rather than from primary cells taken directly from a pig," says co-author Dr. Nicholas Genovese, a stem-cell biologist. "This entailed understanding the biology of relatively uncharacterized and recently-derived porcine induced pluripotent stem cell lines. What conditions support cell growth, survival and differentiation? These are all questions I had to figure out in the lab before the cells could be turned into muscle." Digital Trends reports: It may not sound like the most appetizing of foodstuffs, but pig skeletal muscle is in fact the main component of pork. The fact that it could be grown from a stem-cell line, rather than from a whole pig, is a major advance. This is also true of the paper's second big development: the fact that this cultivation of pig skeletal muscle didn't use animal serum, a component which has been used in other livestock muscle cultivation processes. [Genovese] acknowledges that there are other non-food-related possibilities the work hints at. "There is a contingent interest in using the pig as a model to study disease and test regenerative therapies for human conditions," he said.

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