2017-07-01 00:00:00 ..
2017-12-02 16:11:37 UTC
2017-12-03 07:12:14 UTC
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Private emails between scientists working on a controversial genetic technology called "gene drive" were released last week. Obtained through a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request, their publication has been criticized by some as an attempt to discredit the science community.
[...] The emails themselves, however, are news, and they were obtained in a lawful, straightforward way and were reported on by respected traditional news sources, such as The Guardian, which gave proper context to the files.
The release of these emails by [biosafety consultant Edward Hammond] who has a clear point-of-view on the issue, however, has led to yet another discussion of the proper way of publishing raw documents. Nature, one of the more respected and widely read science publishers, mentions the release of these emails in the same breath as emails that were obtained by illegal hacking in an editorial published this week:
The release of the e-mails echoes the way in which hackers released documents stolen from climate scientists before a major UN meeting in 2009. Much commentary on those documents suggested—wrongly—that scientists were up to no good. Still, damage was done and public trust in scientists declined. It would be unfortunate if the trick were repeated here, not least because it is scientists working on gene drives who have raised many of the concerns.
The 2009 hack that Nature mentions was terrible for scientists—climate scientists, in particular. When an email server at University of East Anglia's Climatic Research Unit was breached, as part of a climate change denier campaign, emails were dishonestly misrepresented to suggest a conspiracy was afoot.
It is reasonable and fair game for Nature to take issue with the way Hammond framed the documents, but juxtaposing the use of FOIA—a crucial process by which citizens hold their governments accountable—alongside a major incident of criminal hacking is bizarre, and was handled poorly.
If Nature meant to say that Hammond's FOIA trove was presented with malicious intent, then it failed to make that point clear.
"In our view, the editorial did not imply that FOIA—including the publishing of FOIA documents—is comparable to illegal hacking," Nature senior press manager Rebecca Walton told Motherboard.
Submitted via IRC for Bytram
One of Amazon's top-selling electronic gun safes contains a critical vulnerability that allows it to be opened by virtually anyone, even when they don't know the password.
The Vaultek VT20i handgun safe, ranked fourth in Amazon's gun safes and cabinets category, allows owners to electronically open the door using a Bluetooth-enabled smartphone app. The remote unlock feature is supposed to work only when someone knows the four- to eight-digit personal identification number used to lock the device. But it turns out that this PIN safeguard can be bypassed using a standard computer and a small amount of programming know-how.
As the video demonstration below shows, researchers with security firm Two Six Labs were able to open a VT20i safe in a matter of seconds by using their MacBook Pro to send specially designed Bluetooth data while it was in range. The feat required no knowledge of the unlock PIN or any advanced scanning of the vulnerable safe. The hack works reliably even when the PIN is changed. All that's required to make it work is that the safe have Bluetooth connectivity turned on.
[...] The vulnerability means that anyone who relies on a VT20i safe to secure valuables should immediately turn off Bluetooth connectivity and leave it off indefinitely. Safes can still be locked and unlocked using a traditional physical key, as well as by owners' fingerprints. Some Amazon customers, however, have complained the fingerprint feature is flawed as well.
[It's not clear from the story if the issue can be patched. - Ed]
Arthur T Knackerbracket has found the following story:
Algae are highly prized for their ability to make useful products, but a lack of engineering tools has hindered basic research and growth of the industry for decades, researchers say.
Scientists at the University of Edinburgh sought to improve the efficiency of gene-editing to increase yields of products currently made using algae, including some food supplements. The advance could also enable algae to make new products, such as medicines.
The technique uses molecules that act like scissors to cut DNA -- called CRISPR molecules -- which allow researchers to add new genes or modify existing ones. Until now, scientists have struggled to develop a technique that works efficiently in algae.
To overcome this, the team added CRISPR molecular scissors and short pieces of DNA directly to algae cells to make precise modifications to the genetic code.
Their new method is more specific and increases efficiency 500-fold compared to previous techniques. The discovery could unleash the potential of the global algae industry, projected to be worth $1.1billion by 2024.
[...] Dr Attila Molnar, of the University of Edinburgh's School of Biological Sciences, who led the study, said: "Our findings mark a key advance in large-scale algal genome engineering. Our technique is applicable to a wide range of species, and could pave the way for the development of designer algae, which has many biotechnology applications."
Aron Ferenczi, Douglas Euan Pyott, Andromachi Xipnitou, Attila Molnar. Efficient targeted DNA editing and replacement inChlamydomonas reinhardtiiusing Cpf1 ribonucleoproteins and single-stranded DNA. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 2017; 201710597 DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1710597114
When Mark DePristo and Ryan Poplin began their work, Google's artificial intelligence did not know anything about genetics. In fact, it was a neural network created for image recognition—as in the neural network that identifies cats and dogs in photos uploaded to Google. It had a lot to learn.
But just eight months later, the neural network received top marks at an FDA contest for accurately identifying mutations in DNA sequences. And in just a year, the AI was outperforming a standard human-coded algorithm called GATK. DePristo and Poplin would know; they were on the team that originally created GATK.
It had taken that team of 10 scientists five years to create GATK. It took Google's AI just one to best it. "It wasn't even clear it was possible to do better," says DePristo. They had thrown every possible idea at GATK. "We built tons of different models. Nothing really moved the needle at all," he says. Then artificial intelligence came along.
This week, Google is releasing the latest version of the technology as DeepVariant. Outside researchers can use DeepVariant and even tinker with its code, which the company has published as open-source software.
DeepVariant, like GATK before it, solves a technical but important problem called "variant calling." When modern sequencers analyze DNA, they don't return one long strand. Rather, they return short snippets maybe 100 letters long that overlap with each other. These snippets are aligned and compared against a reference genome whose sequence is already known. Where the snippets differ with the reference genome, you probably have a real mutation. Where the snippets differ with the reference genome and with each other, you have a problem.
"The Defense Department is starting the first agency-wide financial audit in its history," the Pentagon's news service says, announcing that it's undertaking an immense task that has been sought, promised and delayed for years.
Of the tally that is starting this week, chief Pentagon spokesperson Dana W. White said, "It demonstrates our commitment to fiscal responsibility and maximizing the value of every taxpayer dollar that is entrusted to us."
"Beginning in 2018, our audits will occur annually, with reports issued Nov. 15," the Defense Department's comptroller, David L. Norquist, said.
The Defense Department has famously never been audited, despite receiving hundreds of billions of dollars annually and having more than $2.2 trillion in assets.
The Iron Age began in Anatolia and the Caucasus around 1200 BCE. But nearly 2,000 years earlier, various cultures were already fashioning objects out of iron. These items were extremely rare and always greatly treasured. Iron ore abounds on the Earth's surface. So what made these artifacts so valuable? Initial research had shown that some were made with iron from meteorites, which led scientists to wonder how many others were. Albert Jambon gathered the available data and conducted his own nondestructive chemical analyses of samples using a portable X-ray fluorescence spectrometer. His collection of iron artifacts includes beads from Gerzeh (Egypt, −3200 BCE); a dagger from Alaca Höyük (Turkey, −2500 BCE); a pendant from Umm el-Marra (Syria, −2300 BCE); an axe from Ugarit (Syria, −1400 BCE) and several others from the Shang dynasty civilization (China, −1400 BCE); and the dagger, bracelet, and headrest of Tutankhamen (Egypt, −1350 BCE).
Bronze Age iron: Meteoritic or not? A chemical strategy. (DOI: 10.1016/j.jas.2017.09.008) (DX)
Google's R&D arm, Google Research, recently dedicated some time and resources to discovering ways to improve the performance of foveated rendering. Foveated rendering already promises vast performance improvements compared to full-resolution rendering. However, Google believes that it can do even better. The company identified three elements that could be improved, and it proposed three solutions that could potentially solve the problems, including two new foveation techniques and a reworked rendering pipeline.
Foveated rendering is a virtual reality technique that uses eye tracking to reduce the amount of image quality necessary in areas covered by the peripheral vision.
The new techniques mentioned are Phase-Aligned Rendering and Conformal Rendering.
Also at Google's Research Blog.
Related: Oculus VR Founder Palmer Luckey on the Need for "Unlimited Graphics Horsepower"
Google Implements Equi-Angular Cubemaps Technique for Better VR Quality
Oculus Research Presents Focal Surface Display. Will Eliminate Nausea in VR
Virtual Reality Audiences Stare Straight Ahead 75% of the Time
Women who rely on birth control pills or contraceptive devices that release hormones face a small but significant increase in the risk for breast cancer, according to a large study published on Wednesday.
The study [DOI: 10.1056/NEJMoa1700732] [DX], which followed 1.8 million Danish women for more than a decade, upends widely held assumptions about modern contraceptives for younger generations of women. Many women have believed that newer hormonal contraceptives are much safer than those taken by their mothers or grandmothers, which had higher doses of estrogen.
The new paper estimated that for every 100,000 women, hormone contraceptive use causes an additional 13 breast cancer cases a year. That is, for every 100,000 women using hormonal birth control, there are 68 cases of breast cancer annually, compared with 55 cases a year among nonusers.
While a link had been established between birth control pills and breast cancer years ago, this study is the first to examine the risks associated with current formulations of birth control pills and devices in a large population.
The study found few differences in risk between the formulations; women cannot protect themselves by turning to implants or intrauterine devices that release a hormone directly into the uterus.
The research also suggests that the hormone progestin — widely used in today's birth control methods — may be raising breast cancer risk.
Also at NPR.
"ZHANG denies downloading the movie but Defendant's current motion for summary judgment challenges a different portion of F&D's case: Defendant argues that F&D has alienated all of the relevant rights necessary to sue for infringement under the Copyright Act," Madden writes.
The filmmakers opposed the request and pointed out that they still had some rights. However, this is irrelevant according to the defense, since the distribution rights are not owned by them, but by a company that's not part of the lawsuit.
"Plaintiff claims, for example, that it still owns the right to exploit the movie on airlines and oceangoing vessels. That may or may not be true – Plaintiff has not submitted any evidence on the question – but ZHANG is not accused of showing the movie on an airplane or a cruise ship.
"He is accused of downloading it over the Internet, which is an infringement that affects only an exclusive right owned by non-party DISTRIBUTOR 2," Madden adds.
Much like the Altcoin fad of a few years ago, Forking Bitcoin is the new hotness. While some offer potentially interesting features, others appear to be so much me-too. If you do hold bitcoin, you may be in for a quick bump, as most if not all forks leave you with an equivalent amount on each blockchain. Take a look and enjoy your favorite tulip color. From news.bitcoin.com:
Super Bitcoin (SBTC) is planned to fork at block 498888, and we’re already seeing SBTC futures reach over 0.13 BTC
Bitcoin Platinum (BTP) plans to fork at block 498533 on December 12. It is said that BTP is GPU-mining-friendly with no pre-mine, and that it will adhere to the Segwit2x solution.
Lightning Bitcoin (LBTC) will fork at block 499999. It will be the first Bitcoin-forked coin to adopt the delegated Proof-of-Stake mechanism.
Bitcoin God (GOD). Blockchain angel investor Chandler Guo announced his forking of Bitcoin on the upcoming Christmas Day.
Bitcoin Cash Plus (BCP). BCP will fork at block 501407 on or around January 2, 2018. It will adopt the Equihash mining algorithm.
Bitcoin Uranium(BUM). BUM will occur in December. It allows GPU and CPU mining and does not sport a pre-mine.
Bitcoin Silver(BTSI). BTSI will fork some time in December, but block is still not decided. It changes Bitcoin’s proof-of-work algorithm from SHA256 to Equihash.
Bitcoin X (block to be decided). It has 210 billion in total and will be distributed to bitcoin holders on the rate of 1BTC=10000 Bitcoin X.
The article briefly discusses exchange and wallet support, and some tools to split your coins.
Submitted via IRC for Fnord666_
Google will take 30 days to gather feedback on 'responsible' uses of accessibility code before cracking down.
Almost a month ago, Google cracked down on developers that used Android's accessibility features for apps that weren't expressly created for people with disabilities. The company told developers that they had to show how their code actually helped those with a disability or face removal from the Play Store within 30 days. Now, however, Google is pausing that final solution for another month to consider "responsible and innovative uses of accessibility services."
[...] In the current email, Google asked recipients to send feedback around their appropriate use of the accessibility features in Android: "If you believe your app uses the Accessibility API for a responsible, innovative purpose that isn't related to accessibility, please respond to this email and tell us more about how your app benefits users. This kind of feedback may be helpful to us as we complete our evaluation of accessibility services."
Submitted via IRC for Bytram
Microsoft has posted an out-of-band security update to address a remote code execution flaw in its Malware Protection Engine.
Redmond says the flaw, dubbed CVE-2017-11937, has not yet been exploited in the wild. Because it is an out-of-band critical fix, however, it should be installed as soon as possible. For most users, this will happen automatically.
The security hole is present in Windows Defender and Microsoft Security Essentials, as well as Endpoint Protection, Forefront Endpoint Protection, and Exchange Server 2013 and 2016.
[...] According to Microsoft, the vulnerability can be triggered when the Malware Protection Engine scans a downloaded file to check for threats. In many systems this is set to happen automatically for all new files.
By exploiting a memory corruption error in the malware scanning tool, the attack file would be able to execute code on the target machine with LocalSystem privileges.
Arthur T Knackerbracket has found the following story:
Canola oil is one of the most widely consumed vegetable oils in the world, yet surprisingly little is known about its effects on health. Now, a new study published online December 7 in the journal Scientific Reports by researchers at the Lewis Katz School of Medicine at Temple University (LKSOM) associates the consumption of canola oil in the diet with worsened memory, worsened learning ability and weight gain in mice which model Alzheimer's disease. The study is the first to suggest that canola oil is more harmful than healthful for the brain.
"Canola oil is appealing because it is less expensive than other vegetable oils, and it is advertised as being healthy," explained Domenico Praticò, MD, Professor in the Departments of Pharmacology and Microbiology and Director of the Alzheimer's Center at LKSOM, as well as senior investigator on the study. "Very few studies, however, have examined that claim, especially in terms of the brain."
Curious about how canola oil affects brain function, Dr. Praticò and Elisabetta Lauretti, a graduate student in Dr. Pratico's laboratory at LKSOM and co-author on the new study, focused their work on memory impairment and the formation of amyloid plaques and neurofibrillary tangles in an Alzheimer's disease mouse model. Amyloid plaques and phosphorylated tau, which is responsible for the formation of tau neurofibrillary tangles, contribute to neuronal dysfunction and degeneration and memory loss in Alzheimer's disease. The animal model was designed to recapitulate Alzheimer's in humans, progressing from an asymptomatic phase in early life to full-blown disease in aged animals.
Dr. Praticò and Lauretti had previously used the same mouse model in an investigation of olive oil, the results of which were published earlier in 2017. In that study, they found that Alzheimer mice fed a diet enriched with extra-virgin olive oil had reduced levels of amyloid plaques and phosphorylated tau and experienced memory improvement. For their latest work, they wanted to determine whether canola oil is similarly beneficial for the brain.
Submitted via IRC for Bytram
In a first for the company, SpaceX is planning to launch a supply mission to the International Space Station using both a pre-flown first stage rocket and a Dragon capsule that has already been in orbit.
The mission, which will carry 4,800 lbs of food, water, and science experiments to the astronauts in low-Earth orbit, was due to take off from Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral in Florida on Friday. But NASA said the launch had been kicked back to Tuesday due to "account pad readiness, requirements for science payloads, space station crew availability, and orbital mechanics."
There will be some nervous Musketeers watching the launch – the company has launched three pre-flown rockets without a hitch this year but those were commercial satellite launches, not a supply mission for SpaceX's biggest customer. For the superstitious there's an extra worry, this is SpaceX's 13th mission to the ISS.
Arthur T Knackerbracket has found the following story:
After a three-year battle in which he spent up to $1000 an hour on lawyers, Swildens ended up selling Speedera at a discount to Akamai for $130 million.
The experience left Swildens with a working knowledge of intellectual property battles in the tech world, and a lingering soft spot for others facing hefty patent claims. So when he heard in February that the world's second-most valuable company, Alphabet, was launching a legal broadside at Uber's self-driving car technology, he put himself in then-CEO Travis Kalanick's shoes: "I saw a larger competitor attacking a smaller competitor...and became curious about the patents involved."
In its most dramatic allegations, Waymo is accusing engineer Anthony Levandowski of taking over 14,000 technical confidential files to Uber. But the company also claimed that Uber's laser-ranging lidar devices infringed four of Waymo's patents.
"Waymo developed its patented inventions...at great expense, and through years of painstaking research, experimentation, and trial and error," the complaint read. "If [Uber is] not enjoined from their infringement and misappropriation, they will cause severe and irreparable harm to Waymo."
But Swildens had a suspicion. He dug into the history of Waymo's lidars, and came to the conclusion that Waymo's key patent should never have been granted at all. He asked the US Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) to look into its validity, and in early September, the USPTO granted that request. Days later, Waymo abruptly dismissed its patent claim without explanation. The USPTO examiners may still invalidate that patent, and if that happens, Waymo could find itself embroiled in another multi-billion-dollar self-driving car lawsuit—this time as a defendant.