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posted by takyon on Friday January 18, @11:30PM   Printer-friendly
from the I-was-too-busy-browsing-Facebook dept.

The FBI 'Can Neither Confirm nor Deny' That It Monitors Your Social Media Posts

In recent years, the federal government has significantly ramped up its efforts to monitor people on social media. The FBI, for one, has repeatedly acknowledged that it engages in surveillance of social media posts. So it was surprising when the bureau responded to our Freedom of Information Act request on this kind of surveillance by saying that it "can neither confirm nor deny the existence of records."

The six other federal agencies we submitted the FOIA request to haven't produced a single document. The request, filed last May, seeks information on how the agencies collect and analyze posts from Facebook, Twitter, and other social media sites.

Today we sued the agencies to get some answers, because the public has a right to know about the exact nature of social media surveillance — especially whether agencies are monitoring and retaining social media posts, or using surveillance products that label activists and people of color as threats to public safety based on their First Amendment-protected activities.

Original Submission

posted by martyb on Friday January 18, @09:29PM   Printer-friendly
from the time-for-a-change dept.

Google just spent $40 million for Fossil's secret smartwatch tech

Google and watchmaker Fossil Group today announced an agreement for the search giant to acquire some of Fossil's smartwatch technology and members of the research and development division responsible for creating it. The deal is worth roughly $40 million, and under the current terms Fossil will transfer a "portion" of its R&D team, the portion directly responsible for the intellectual property being sold, over to Google. As a result, Google will now have a dedicated team with hardware experience working internally on its WearOS software platform and potentially on new smartwatch designs as well.

[...] According to Wareable, the technology is a "new product innovation that's not yet hit the market," Greg McKelvey, Fossil's executive vice president of chief strategy and digital officer, told the publication. It's unclear what exactly that innovation is, or why exactly Google is so eager to buy it, although $40 million is a drop in the bucket for Google when it comes to acquisition costs.

Hologram watch.

See also: Fossil shares jump after Google agrees to buy smartwatch tech for $40 million

Also at AnandTech.

Original Submission

posted by martyb on Friday January 18, @07:52PM   Printer-friendly
from the how-many-more-will-suffer dept.

Anti-vaccine nonsense spurred NY's largest outbreak in decades

Health officials in New York are cautiously optimistic that they have a large measles outbreak under control after tackling the noxious anti-vaccine myths and unfounded fears that fueled the disease's spread.

Since last fall, New York has tallied 177 confirmed cases of measles, the largest outbreak the state has seen in decades. It began with infected travelers, arriving from parts of Israel and Europe where the highly contagious disease was spreading. In New York, that spread has largely been confined to ultra-Orthodox Jewish communities. As measles rippled through those insular religious communities, health officials ran into members who were wary of outsiders as well as those who harbor harmful myths and fears about vaccines. This included the completely false-yet-pernicious belief that the measles vaccine causes autism.

To quash the outbreak, health officials met with rabbis and pediatricians in the community, who in turned urged community members to be vigilant and, above all, get vaccinated, according to The New York Times. "Good people, great parents were terrified," Rabbi Yakov Horowitz, founder of Darchei Noam yeshiva in Monsey in Rockland County, told the Times. Despite the fears, he insisted parents vaccinate their children. "They felt that I was asking to give their children something that would harm them."

Original Submission

posted by martyb on Friday January 18, @06:15PM   Printer-friendly

Winter Storm Harper is already pummeling parts of the West with heavy snow and will spread its mess of snow, ice and wind into the Plains, Midwest and Northeast into this weekend.

Harper's heaviest snow, so far, is in the Sierra Nevada of California. Early Thursday morning, Lone Pine, California, reported 5 inches of snow had fallen in just 2 hours.

That storm will tap into cold air once it moves through the central and eastern states Friday through the weekend, delivering a widespread swath of significant snow.


Winter storm watches and warnings and winter weather advisories have been posted by the National Weather Service from the northern and central Plains eastward through the southern Great Lakes and into the Northeast.

Cities included in the winter storm watches or warnings include Chicago, Milwaukee, Boston, Hartford, Providence, Pittsburgh, Albany, Buffalo, Cleveland and Des Moines.

In other words, air travel is going to be severely impacted with many delayed or cancelled flights. Even if your flight is not in the storm area, the plane may be delayed in coming from someplace that is. Better leave early on your tropical vacation.

Original Submission

posted by martyb on Friday January 18, @04:38PM   Printer-friendly
from the taking-Ultima-Thule-for-a-spin dept.

New Movie Shows Ultima Thule from an Approaching New Horizons

This movie shows the propeller-like rotation of Ultima Thule in the seven hours between 20:00 UT (3 p.m. ET) on Dec. 31, 2018, and 05:01 UT (12:01 a.m.) on Jan. 1, 2019, as seen by the Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) aboard NASA's New Horizons as the spacecraft sped toward its close encounter with the Kuiper Belt object at 05:33 UT (12:33 a.m. ET) on Jan. 1.

The images, which cover about a half of a rotation, help illustrate the solution to Ultima Thule's apparent lack of brightness variations:

The brief video also shows why New Horizons didn't detect any brightness variations from Ultima Thule during the approach phase, a surprising development that initially puzzled the mission team. The lack of such a "light curve" is expected for spherical objects, which don't shift from a viewer's perspective as they rotate, but early data indicated that the 21-mile-long (34 km) Ultima Thule was highly elongated.

As we can now see, it was all about New Horizons' orientation to Ultima Thule. The object's pole of rotation was pointing directly at the approaching spacecraft, so New Horizons didn't see any appreciable changes in the light bouncing off Ultima Thule.

Previously: New Horizons Survives Flyby, Begins Sending Back Data
New Images Reveal Structure, Color, and Features of 2014 MU69 (Ultima Thule)

Original Submission

posted by mrpg on Friday January 18, @03:01PM   Printer-friendly
from the bring-it-on dept.

Submitted via IRC for takyon

Milky Way to face a one-two punch of galaxy collisions

If our knowledge of galaxy structures was limited to the Milky Way, we'd get a lot of things wrong. The Milky Way, it turns out, is unusual. It's got a smaller central black hole than other galaxies its size; its halo is also smaller and contains less of the heavier elements. Fortunately, we've now looked at enough other galaxies to know that ours is a bit of an oddball. What has been less clear is why.

Luckily, a recent study provides a likely answer: compared to most galaxies, the Milky Way has had a very quiet 10 billion years or so. But the new study suggests we're only a few billion years from that quiet period coming to an end. A collision with a nearby dwarf galaxy should turn the Milky Way into something more typical looking—just in time to have Andromeda smack into it.

The researchers behind the new work, from the UK's Durham University, weren't looking to solve the mysteries of why the Milky Way looks so unusual. Instead, they were intrigued by recent estimates that suggest one of its satellite galaxies might be significantly more massive than thought. A variety of analyses have suggested that the Large Magellanic Cloud has more dark matter than the number of stars it contains would suggest. (Its stellar mass is estimated to be only five percent of the stellar mass of the Milky Way.)

Original Submission

posted by mrpg on Friday January 18, @01:30PM   Printer-friendly
from the don't-lose-hope-humans! dept.

First green leaf on moon dies as temperatures plummet

The appearance of a single green leaf hinted at a future in which astronauts would grow their own food in space, potentially setting up residence at outposts on the moon or other planets. Now, barely after it had sprouted, the cotton plant onboard China’s lunar rover has died.

The plant relied on sunlight at the moon’s surface, but as night arrived at the lunar far side and temperatures plunged as low as -170C, its short life came to an end.

Prof Xie Gengxin of Chongqing University, who led the design of the experiment, said its short lifespan had been anticipated. “Life in the canister would not survive the lunar night,” Xie said.

Original Submission

posted by mrpg on Friday January 18, @12:03PM   Printer-friendly
from the interesting++ dept.

5 Takeaways From the Ancient DNA Research Story

What can genes tell us about who we are? Millions of people around the world have begun using consumer ancestry services like 23andMe in an attempt to peer into their personal origins and understand where they came from.

Meanwhile, though, in a handful of elite genetics labs around the world, scientists have begun analyzing ancient DNA — which can now be extracted from skeletal remains that are thousands or even tens of thousands of years old — to ask, and try to answer, even more fundamental questions about the human past.

In only the past few years, as a new report in The New York Times Magazine describes, this burgeoning science of “paleogenomics” has begun to offer surprising revisions to the story of humanity. But at the same time, this research has generated significant controversy, including among some of the archaeologists, anthropologists and other academics who have collaborated with geneticists on this work.

Original Submission

posted by mrpg on Friday January 18, @10:34AM   Printer-friendly
from the in-six-weeks dept.

Submitted via IRC for Bytram

Man drives 6,000 miles to prove Uncle Sam's cellphone coverage maps are wrong – and, boy, did he manage it

A Vermont state employee drove 6,000 miles in six weeks to prove that the cellular coverage maps from the US government suck – and was wildly successful.

In fact not only did he prove conclusively that reports delivered to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) by mobile operators aren't worth the paper they're printed on but also swung a spotlight on just how bad bureaucracy can get when it comes to Washington DC.

Corey Chase, a telecommunications infrastructure specialist who works for the Vermont Department of Public Service (PSD), undertook the monster road trip with some specialized equipment: six phones, each connected to a different mobile nework, and a custom piece of software, G-NetTrack, that carried out constant measurements of download speeds.

Original Submission

posted by mrpg on Friday January 18, @09:12AM   Printer-friendly
from the kamisama-onegai dept.

First artificial meteor shower might outshine natural 'shooting stars'

[...] Tokyo-based ALE (for Astro Live Experiences) pitches itself as a pioneer in the "space entertainment sector." It hopes to conduct a groundbreaking artificial meteor event in 2020 using its first satellite over an area near Hiroshima, where it will be observable by up to 6 million people over an area 200 kilometers (124 miles) wide.

[...] "I hope that our man-made meteors will help reveal new discoveries in science, and that it will gather and entertain people under the night sky," CEO Lena Okajima said in a statement.

The satellite creates its sky show by firing off little pellets a centimeter in diameter that are made up of a proprietary mix of non-toxic materials. The "particles," as ALE calls them, are designed to generate a range of bright colors as they heat up and disintegrate during reentry into the atmosphere, all while still over 60 kilometers (37 miles) above our heads.

Related: Now, meteor shower on demand? Here is Japanese firm’s controversial plan for the ultra-rich

Previously: Company Will Create an "Artificial Meteor Shower" Over Hiroshima, Japan in 2019

Original Submission

posted by martyb on Friday January 18, @07:39AM   Printer-friendly
from the more-better-way-to-make-beer dept.

'Junk DNA' may help yeast survive stress

Like deleted scenes snipped out of a movie, some sequences in our genes end up on the cutting-room floor, and cells don't use them to make proteins. Now, two studies find that these segments, known as introns, help yeast survive during hard times. The research uncovers another possible function for a type of DNA that scientists once thought was useless.

"They are very strong, very convincing, and very exciting results," says evolutionary molecular biologist Scott Roy of San Francisco State University in California, who wasn't connected to the studies. The research "opens a whole new paradigm of what introns could be doing." It also answers the long-standing question of why yeast has kept what was formerly considered "junk DNA," says yeast microbiologist Guillaume Chanfreau of the University of California, Los Angeles.

[...] [Researchers] typically haven't looked at yeast under conditions it would face in the wild, where it could endure periods of food scarcity that don't occur in the lab. To determine what happens during deprivation, RNA biologist Sherif Abou Elela of the University of Sherbrooke in Canada and colleagues systematically deleted introns from yeast, producing hundreds of strains, each of which was missing all of the introns from one gene. The researchers then grew combinations of these modified strains alongside normal fungi.

When food was scarce, most of the intron-lacking strains rapidly died out [DOI: 10.1038/s41586-018-0859-7], the team reports today in Nature. They couldn't compete with normal yeast. However, in cultures with more nutrients, the altered yeast had the advantage. "If you are in good times, it's a burden" to have introns, Abou Elela says. "In bad times, it's beneficial."

Original Submission

posted by chromas on Friday January 18, @06:02AM   Printer-friendly

Facebook made a $300 million pledge to help journalists — just like Google did last year

Facebook says it is going to spend $300 million over the next three years to support journalism.

Does that sound familiar?

Here's why: Ten months ago, Google said it was going to spend $300 million over three years to support journalism.

Facebook says it's just a coincidence that it landed on the same dollar amount that its primary competitor landed on last year. But I'm not complaining. In part because I want Google and Facebook to spend money supporting journalism. And also because it means I don't have to rewrite this piece, from March 2018: "Google and Facebook can't help publishers because they're built to defeat publishers."

Previously: Google Pledges $300 Million for "Google News Initiative" to Fight Fake News

Original Submission

posted by martyb on Friday January 18, @04:25AM   Printer-friendly
from the Tea-Time? dept.

More than half of the world’s 124 wild coffee plant species meet the criteria for inclusion on the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List of Threatened Species, according to reports published today (January 16) in Science Advances and Global Change Biology. The authors say extinctions among the species would limit plant breeders’ options in developing new types of coffee in the future.

The study, carried out at Britain’s Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, found that 60 percent of wild coffee species are at risk, a figure that “is extremely high, especially when you compare this to a global estimate of 22% for plants,” says coauthor Eimear Nic Lughadha in a statement. “Some of the coffee species assessed have not been seen in the wild for more than 100 years, and it is possible that some may already be extinct.”

A second study, in Global Change Biology, found that wild Arabica coffee can be classed as threatened under official (IUCN Red List) rankings, when climate change projections are taken into account.

Its natural population is likely to shrink by up to 50% or more by 2088 because of climate change alone, according to the research.

Wild Arabica is used to supply seeds for coffee farming and also as a harvested crop in its own right.

Ethiopia is the home of Arabica coffee, where it grows naturally in upland rainforests.

"Given the importance of Arabica coffee to Ethiopia, and to the world, we need to do our utmost to understand the risks facing its survival in the wild," said Dr Tadesse Woldemariam Gole, of the Environment and Coffee Forest Forum in Addis Ababa.

Original Submission

posted by martyb on Friday January 18, @02:48AM   Printer-friendly
from the coyote-and-roadrunner-optional dept.

Groundbreaking deal makes large number of German studies free to public

Three years ago, a group of German libraries, universities, and research institutes teamed up to force the three largest scientific publishers to offer an entirely new type of contract. In exchange for an annual lump sum, they wanted a nationwide agreement making papers by German authors free to read around the world, while giving researchers in Germany access to all of the publishers' online content.

Today, after almost 3 years of negotiations, the consortium, named Project DEAL, can finally claim a success: This morning, it signed a deal with Wiley, an academic publisher headquartered in Hoboken, New Jersey.

Under the 3-year contract, scientists at more than 700 academic institutions will be able to access all of Wiley's academic journals back to 1997 and to publish open access in all of Wiley's journals. The annual fee will be based on the number of papers they publish in Wiley journals—about 10,000 in previous years, says one of the negotiators, physicist Gerard Meijer of the Fritz Haber Institute, a Max Planck Society institute here.

A precise formula for the fee has been agreed on but at Wiley's request will only be made public, along with other details in the contract, in 30 days, Meijer says. However, the total payment should be roughly what German institutes have been paying Wiley in subscription fees so far, Meijer says.

Original Submission

posted by martyb on Friday January 18, @01:11AM   Printer-friendly
from the what's-in-your-wallet? dept.

BitPay, the largest global blockchain payments provider, today announced another record year along with key accomplishments and expansion of the payment processing platform for 2018 after more than seven years in business.

In 2018, BitPay processed over a $1 Billion again in payments and set a new record for transaction fee revenue by adding new customers like Dish Networks, HackerOne, and the State of Ohio. BitPay’s B2B business also had a record year as it grew almost 255% from the previous year as many law firms, data center providers, and IT vendors signed up to accept Bitcoin. BitPay also hired Rolf Haag, Former Western Union and PayPal executive as Head of Industry Solutions responsible for the B2B business.

“BitPay’s B2B business continues to grow rapidly as our solution is cheaper and quicker than a bank wire from most regions of the world,” said Stephen Pair, Co-founder and CEO of BitPay. “To process over a $1 Billion for a second year in a row despite Bitcoin’s large price drop shows that Bitcoin is being used to solve real pain points around the world.”

Last year, BitPay also set a record for reducing payment error rates. The dollar volume lost to cryptocurrency payment errors dropped dramatically from over 8% (in December 2017) to well under 1% of BitPay's total dollar volume processed.

Original Submission