Effective: 2016-June to 2016-December
Updated by: NCommander
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Since January, police have been testing an aerial surveillance system adapted from the surge in Iraq. And they neglected to tell the public.
[...] The verdict trickled out of the courthouse in text messages: not guilty, all counts. Ralph Pritchett Sr., who's spent each of his 52 years in Baltimore, stood on the sidewalk among the protesters. He chewed on a toothpick and shook his head slowly. In a city with more than 700 street-level police cameras, he wondered, shouldn't the authorities have had video of Gray's ride?
"This whole city is under a siege of cameras," said Pritchett, a house painter who helps run a youth center in a low-income, high-crime neighborhood called Johnston Square. "In fact, they observed Freddie Gray himself the morning of his arrest on those cameras, before they picked him up. They could have watched that van, too, but no—they missed that one. I thought the cameras were supposed to protect us. But I'm thinking they're there to just contradict anything that might be used against the City of Baltimore. Do they use them for justice? Evidently not." Pritchett had no idea that as he spoke, a small Cessna airplane equipped with a sophisticated array of cameras was circling Baltimore at roughly the same altitude as the massing clouds. The plane's wide-angle cameras captured an area of roughly 30 square miles and continuously transmitted real-time images to analysts on the ground. The footage from the plane was instantly archived and stored on massive hard drives, allowing analysts to review it weeks later if necessary.
Since the beginning of the year, the Baltimore Police Department had been using the plane to investigate all sorts of crimes, from property thefts to shootings. The Cessna sometimes flew above the city for as many as 10 hours a day, and the public had no idea it was there. A company called Persistent Surveillance Systems, based in Dayton, Ohio, provided the service to the police, and the funding came from a private donor. No public disclosure of the program had ever been made. Outside the courthouse, several of the protesters began marching around the building, chanting for justice. The plane continued to circle overhead, unseen.
NASA announced last Tuesday that they would be releasing hundreds of peer-reviewed, scholarly articles on NASA-funded research projects online. The articles are entirely free to access for any member of the public.
The new service is a big deal for the space agency, which has been gathering scientific information on a huge variety of topics since it was established in 1958.
The move comes amid a greater push for scientists to make their research free to the public for others to learn from and to build upon. One computer programmer and research associate at the[sic] Britain's University of Bristol went as far as to call the practice of sealing scientific research behind a journal's paywall "immoral."
Here's hoping that NASA's decision will move the trend for open publishing in the sciences closer to the tipping point.
UPDATE: NASA's free research trove may have broken arms trafficking rules (also at Space News):
The Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States, a U.S. government committee which assesses the potential effect of foreign investment on that country's security, has given its approval for the proposed purchase of the Swiss seed and chemical manufacturer Syngenta by China National Chemical Corp., also known as ChemChina.
The conventional view of the brain is that the gray matter is primarily involved in information processing and cognition, while white matter transmits information between different parts of the brain. The structure of white matter—the connectome—is essentially the brain's wiring diagram.
This structure is poorly understood, but there are several high-profile projects to study it. This work shows that the connectome is much more complex than originally thought. The human brain contains some 1010 neurons linked by 1014 synaptic connections. Mapping the way this link together is a tricky business, not least because the structure of the network depends on the resolution at which it is examined.
[...] understanding this structure over vastly different scales is one of the great challenges of neuroscience; but one that is hindered by a lack of appropriate mathematical tools.
Today, that looks set to change thanks to the mathematical field of algebraic topology, which neurologists are gradually coming to grips with for the first time. This discipline has traditionally been an arcane pursuit for classifying spaces and shapes. Now Ann Sizemore at the University of Pennsylvania and a few pals show how it is beginning to revolutionize our understanding of the connectome.
I had always hoped algebraic topology would finally unlock the secrets to untangling my fishing line, but figuring out how the brain works is useful, too.
Last week, news of the discovery of a potentially habitable "Earth-like" exoplanet orbiting the nearest star to our Sun (Proxima Centauri) leaked to Der Spiegel. Today, the European Southern Observatory confirmed the news about Proxima b:
Astronomers using ESO telescopes and other facilities have found clear evidence of a planet orbiting the closest star to Earth, Proxima Centauri. The long-sought world, designated Proxima b, orbits its cool red parent star every 11 days and has a temperature suitable for liquid water to exist on its surface. This rocky world is a little more massive than the Earth and is the closest exoplanet to us — and it may also be the closest possible abode for life outside the Solar System. A paper describing this milestone finding will be published in the journal Nature on 25 August 2016.
[...] At times Proxima Centauri is approaching Earth at about 5 kilometres per hour — normal human walking pace — and at times receding at the same speed. This regular pattern of changing radial velocities repeats with a period of 11.2 days. Careful analysis of the resulting tiny Doppler shifts showed that they indicated the presence of a planet with a mass at least 1.3 times that of the Earth, orbiting about 7 million kilometres from Proxima Centauri — only 5% of the Earth-Sun distance.
A note on the press release discusses the potential habitability of Proxima b, given that it is orbiting close to a red dwarf star:
A 25-year-old man recovering from a coma has made remarkable progress following a treatment at UCLA to jump-start his brain using ultrasound. The technique uses sonic stimulation to excite the neurons in the thalamus, an egg-shaped structure that serves as the brain's central hub for processing information.
"It's almost as if we were jump-starting the neurons back into function," said Martin Monti, the study's lead author and a UCLA associate professor of psychology and neurosurgery. "Until now, the only way to achieve this was a risky surgical procedure known as deep brain stimulation, in which electrodes are implanted directly inside the thalamus," he said. "Our approach directly targets the thalamus but is noninvasive."
[...] The technique, called low-intensity focused ultrasound pulsation, was pioneered by Alexander Bystritsky, a UCLA professor of psychiatry and biobehavioral sciences in the Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior and a co-author of the study. Bystritsky is also a founder of Brainsonix, a Sherman Oaks, California-based company that provided the device the researchers used in the study.
That device, about the size of a coffee cup saucer, creates a small sphere of acoustic energy that can be aimed at different regions of the brain to excite brain tissue. For the new study, researchers placed it by the side of the man's head and activated it 10 times for 30 seconds each, in a 10-minute period.
Monti said the device is safe because it emits only a small amount of energy — less than a conventional Doppler ultrasound.
Three days after the treatment the patient in the study regained full consciousness and language comprehension.
Non-Invasive Ultrasonic Thalamic Stimulation in Disorders of Consciousness after Severe Brain Injury: A First-in-Man Report (DOI: 10.1016/j.brs.2016.07.008) (DX)
Costa Rica is much more than a lush, green tourist paradise; it's also a green energy pioneer. The small Central American nation has generated 100 percent of its electricity from renewable sources for the past 113 days, and the run isn't over yet. The country, which draws clean energy from a variety of renewable sources, still has its sights on a full year without fossil fuels for electricity generation.
With a 113-day stretch of 100-percent renewable energy under its belt and several months left in the year, Costa Rica is edging closer to its target. Costa Rica could be on track to match the record set with its renewable energy production last year, which accounted for 99 percent of the country's electricity. That included 285 days powered completely by renewable sources, according to the Costa Rican Electricity Institute.
It's a small country with 5 million people and not a lot of heavy industry, but it's still impressive. There are many other countries with similar climate and terrain that could do likewise.
In the ongoing battle of site improvements and shoring up security, I finally managed to scratch a long-standing itch and signed the soylentnews.org domain. As of right now, our chain is fully validated and pushed to all our end-points.
Right now, I'm getting ready to dig in with TheMightyBuzzard to work on improving XSS protection for the site, and starting to lay out new site features (which will be in a future post). As with any meta post, I'll be reading your comments below.
Are subjects passé in comments on the post-social media web? Or are they a valid feature to enable human eye-scanning and relevant search results?
It is the opinion of this anonymous submitter that putting "Subjects are an anachronism"  or "SubjectsinCommentsareStupid"  is unhelpful at best and spam at worst. SoylentNews has a long legacy going back to Chips & Dips, the predecessor site to Slashdot (from whose code SoylentNews was forked).
With that in mind, subjects are not a vestigial feature but a useful and defining one. It makes longer threads friendly to readers, and separates this site from Digg, Reddit, Voat, and so many other disposable social media sites. Just as email would be worse without subjects, so too would SoylentNews.
Ed Note: I'm of two minds as to running this story. This is presented as one person's opinion and makes a case for continuing to have a Subject for each comment. As noted, others do not feel the same way. As SoylentNews is a community, your input guides us. So, what say you? Should we continue as-is? Make subjects optional? Dispense with them entirely? Other? What benefits and/or problems are likely to result?
The Environmental Audit Committee in the British parliament has called for a ban by the end of 2017 on plastic microbeads used in personal care products such as toothpaste, exfoliant and shower gel. The tiny beads are detrimental when eaten by fish. Some manufacturers had promised to end their use of the material by 2020.
The chair of the committee said:
Cosmetic companies' voluntary approach to phasing out plastic microbeads simply won't wash. We need a full legal ban, preferably at an international level as pollution does not respect borders. If this isn't possible after our vote to leave the EU, then the government should introduce a national ban. The best way to reduce this pollution is to prevent plastic being flushed into the sea in the first place.
The committee also speculated on the possibility of harm to wildlife from synthetic fibres such as those in microfleece cloth (sometimes made from recycled polyethylene terephthalate).
Common Dreams reports:
The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) said [August 23] that graduate students who work as teaching and research assistants at private colleges are employees--a ruling with "big implications" for both higher education and organized labor in the United States.
Inside Higher Ed explains:
The NLRB said that a previous ruling by the board--that these workers were not entitled to collective bargaining because they are students--was flawed. The NLRB ruling, 3 to 1, came in a case involving a bid by the United Auto Workers to organize graduate students at Columbia University. The decision reverses a 2004 decision--which has been the governing one until today--about a similar union drive at Brown University.
[...] Stanford University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and "the entire Ivy League" had jointly submitted a brief, the Washington Post reports, "arguing that involving students in the bargaining process would disrupt operations, if they want to negotiate the length of a class, amount or grading or what's included in curriculum. Bringing more people to the table, they said, could lead to lengthy and expensive bargaining to the detriment of all students".
But the NLRB, in its ruling (pdf), sided with the students, in a decision that "could potentially deliver tens of thousands of members to the nation's struggling labor movement", according to The Wall Street Journal.
Mobileye and Delphi Automotive are developing a self-driving system that uses cheap sensors and shuns LIDAR:
Auto-parts suppliers Mobileye NV and Delphi Automotive Plc said they are teaming up to develop a low-cost system for self-driving vehicles that will be available to carmakers by the end of the decade. The companies are spending "hundreds of millions of dollars" to develop the system, which will be ready to sell by 2019, Kevin Clark, chief executive officer of U.K.-based Delphi, said in a conference call Tuesday.
Their technology will rely less on costly lidar sensors, which bounce light off objects to assess shape and location, resulting in a more affordable system for carmakers that might lack funding to develop the technology on their own, Amnon Shashua, chairman and chief technology officer of Israel-based Mobileye, said on the call. "Together, we're planning to build a new class of machine intelligence capable of mimicking true human driving capabilities," Shashua said. "Our alliance provides a solution with a much smaller investment to our customers" to deploy fully autonomous cars.
Professional programming is hard: dealing with large amounts of data, network requests which can fail in umpteen bizarro ways, and Gordian Knot style interdependencies. And then, to top it all off, there's all those different programming paradigms to choose from.
For example, in passive programming, communication between program modules happens through public function/method calls.
In reactive programming, communication occurs through publishing events to which subscribers react.
Both styles of programming differ in how they manage state [responsibility]. Both styles differ in how dependencies are expressed. And both styles differ in the strains put on you, the put-upon, well-paid programmer, trying to construct a mental model of the code and its interactions.
In the July/August issue of acmqueue, Andre Medeiros proposes that modules employ both approaches in Dynamics of Change: Why Reactivity Matters — Tame the dynamics of change by centralizing each concern in its own module (open, DOI: 10.1145/2956641.2971330) (DX). He provides an introduction to the two approaches — their advantages and shortcomings — and then illustrates how combining the two provides a clearer presentation of state for the developer.
The Joplin Globe reports that Missouri lawmakers have inducted science fiction writer Robert Heinlein to the Hall of Famous Missourians to a cheering crowd of fans who call themselves "Heinlein's children."
State Rep. T.J. Berry says Heinlein encouraged others to "strive for the stars, for the moon" and "for what's next." Donors to the Heinlein Society and the Heinlein Prize Trust paid for a bronze bust of Heinlein, which will be displayed in the House Chamber at the Capitol where it will join 45 other Missourians honored with busts in the hall including Mark Twain, Dred Scott and Ginger Rogers, as well as more controversial Missourians such as Rush Limbaugh.
"Our devotion to this man must seem odd to those outside of the science fiction field, with spaceships and ray guns and bug-eyed monsters," Heinlein Society President Keith Kato said. "But to Heinlein's children, the writing was only the beginning of doing."
Pokémon Go is unquestionably this season's hit game. But whether it has any staying power is a very open question, and early signs suggest it's already trailing off.
Bloomberg has published some charts by Axiom Capital Management that show daily users and engagement dropping. One chart, using data from analytics firm Apptopia, shows Pokémon Go peaking at around 45 million users in mid-July, during the week or so following its launch. It then begins a decline to somewhere above 30 million daily users last week.
Bloomberg's article also notes a surge in searches for "augmented reality" coinciding with Pokémon Go's debut.