Science & Tech News

Kepler finds 219 new exoplanets and 10 are rocky and Earth-like

New Scientist - Breaking news - Tue, 06/20/2017 - 1:53am
NASA’s Kepler team has released its latest batch of planet candidates and they fall into two kinds: ones like Earth and those like mini-Neptunes
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Tripping up: The real danger of microdosing with LSD

New Scientist - Breaking news - Tue, 06/20/2017 - 1:00am
It may or may not improve your work performance, but a criminal record isn't worth the gamble. LSD should be downgraded
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Scientists Declare End to Global Coral Reef Bleaching Event

Slashdot Updates - Mon, 06/19/2017 - 11:00pm
Scientists in the U.S. have announced Monday that a mass bleaching of coral reefs worldwide has finally ended after three years. "About three-quarters of the world's delicate coral reefs were damaged or killed by hot water in what scientists say was the largest coral catastrophe," reports Phys.Org. From the report: The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration announced a global bleaching event in May 2014. It was worse than previous global bleaching events in 1998 and 2010. The forecast damage doesn't look widespread in the Indian Ocean, so the event loses its global scope. Bleaching will still be bad in the Caribbean and Pacific, but it'll be less severe than recent years, said NOAA coral reef watch coordinator C. Mark Eakin. Places like Australia's Great Barrier Reef, northwest Hawaii, Guam and parts of the Caribbean have been hit with back-to-back-to-back destruction, Eakin said. University of Victoria, British Columbia, coral reef scientist Julia Baum plans to travel to Christmas Island in the Pacific where the coral reefs have looked like ghost towns in recent years. While conditions are improving, it's too early to celebrate, said Eakin, adding that the world may be at a new normal where reefs are barely able to survive during good conditions.

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The Behind-the-Scenes Changes Found In MacOS High Sierra

Slashdot Updates - Mon, 06/19/2017 - 7:30pm
Apple officially announced macOS High Sierra at WWDC 2017 earlier this month. While the new OS doesn't feature a ton of user-visible improvements and is ultimately shaping up to be a low-key release, it does feature several behind-the-scenes changes that could help make it the most stable macOS update in years. Andrew Cunningham from Ars Technica has "browsed the dev docs and talked with Apple to get some more details of the update's foundational changes." Here are some excerpts from three key areas of the report: APFS Like iOS 10.3, High Sierra will convert your boot drive to APFS when you first install it -- this will be true for all Macs that run High Sierra, regardless of whether they're equipped with an SSD, a spinning HDD, or a Fusion Drive setup. In the current beta installer, you're given an option to uncheck the APFS box (checked by default) before you start the install process, though that doesn't necessarily guarantee that it will survive in the final version. It's also not clear at this point if there are edge cases -- third-party SSDs, for instance -- that won't automatically be converted. But assuming that most people stick with the defaults and that most people don't crack their Macs open, most Mac users who do the upgrade are going to get the new filesystem. HEVC and HEIF All High Sierra Macs will pick up support for HEVC, but only very recent models will support any kind of hardware acceleration. This is important because playing HEVC streams, especially at high resolutions and bitrates, is a pretty hardware-intensive operation. HEVC playback can consume most of a CPU's processor cycles, and especially on slower dual-core laptop processors, smooth playback may be impossible altogether. Dedicated HEVC encode and decode blocks in CPUs and GPUs can handle the heavy lifting more efficiently, freeing up your CPU and greatly reducing power consumption, but HEVC's newness means that dedicated hardware isn't especially prevalent yet. Metal 2 While both macOS and iOS still nominally support open, third-party APIs like OpenGL and OpenCL, it's clear that the company sees Metal as the way forward for graphics and GPU compute on its platforms. Apple's OpenGL support in macOS and iOS hasn't changed at all in years, and there are absolutely no signs that Apple plans to support Vulkan. But the API will enable some improvements for end users, too. People with newer GPUs should expect to benefit from some performance improvements, not just in games but in macOS itself; Apple says the entire WindowServer is now using Metal, which should improve the fluidity and consistency of transitions and animations within macOS; this can be a problem on Macs when you're pushing multiple monitors or using higher Retina scaling modes on, especially if you're using integrated graphics. Metal 2 is also the go-to API for supporting VR on macOS, something Apple is pushing in a big way with its newer iMacs and its native support for external Thunderbolt 3 GPU enclosures. Apple says that every device that supports Metal should support at least some of Metal 2's new features, but the implication there is that some older GPUs won't be able to do everything the newer ones can do.

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Ethiopia's Coffee Is the Latest Victim of Climate Change

Slashdot Updates - Mon, 06/19/2017 - 6:05pm
According to a study published today in Nature Plants, by the end of this century, increasing temperatures could make it impossible to grow coffee in about half of Ethiopia's coffee-growing regions. "That's because Arabica coffee trees (which are grown in Ethiopia) require pretty mild temperatures to survive, ideally between 59 to 75 degree Fahrenheit," reports The Verge. "Climate projections show that Ethiopia will generally become warmer and drier, and that means that 40 to 60 percent of areas where coffee is currently grown won't be suitable to grow the beans, the study says." From the report: In fact, climate change is already hurting Ethiopia's coffee growers: days and nights are already warmer, and the weather is more unpredictable and extreme. Hot days are hotter and rainy days are rainier. That leads to more unpredictable harvests and it hurts the local economy. Ethiopia is Africa's biggest coffee producer and the world's fifth largest coffee exporter, with 15 million Ethiopians living off coffee farming. Climate change risks disrupting the country's future. But there is a way Ethiopia can brace for its brewing troubles. The study found that rising temperatures will turn swaths of land at higher elevation into just the right places to grow coffee in the future. In fact, coffee farming could increase four fold if plantations are moved uphill, the study says. But to do that, the country needs to prepare: millions of farmers can't just take their crops and move to land they don't own. You need careful planning.

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Microsoft Now Lets Surface Laptop Owners Revert Back To Windows 10 S

Slashdot Updates - Mon, 06/19/2017 - 5:25pm
Microsoft is kind enough to offer Surface Laptop users the option to upgrade to Windows 10 Pro for free until later this year if they don't like Windows 10 S, which is installed by default and is only able to run apps or games that are in the Windows Store. The company is taking that generosity one step further by letting users revert back to Windows 10 S if they installed Windows 10 Pro and aren't happy with the performance and battery life. The option to revert back to the default OS wasn't available until now. MSPoweruser reports: Microsoft recently released the official recovery image for the Surface Laptop which will technically let you go back to Windows 10 S on your device but you'll be required to remove all of your files which is a bit frustrating. The recovery image wasn't available a few days after the Surface Laptop started shipping, but it is now available and you can download it to effectively reset your Surface Laptop. The recovery image is 9GB, so make sure you have a good internet connection before downloading the file. It is quite interesting how Microsoft isn't letting users go back to Windows 10 S from Windows 10 Pro without having to completely reset their devices, as the company would want more users to use its new version of Windows 10 for many reasons. Maybe this is something Microsoft will be adding in the future, but for now, we'll just have to do with the recovery image. If you own a Surface Laptop, you can find the recovery image here.

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Cable Lobby Tries To Stop State Investigations Into Slow Broadband

Slashdot Updates - Mon, 06/19/2017 - 4:45pm
An anonymous reader quotes a report from Ars Technica: Broadband industry lobby groups want to stop individual states from investigating the speed claims made by Internet service providers, and they are citing the Federal Communications Commission's net neutrality rules in their effort to hinder the state-level actions. The industry attempt to undercut state investigations comes a few months after New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman filed a lawsuit against Charter and its Time Warner Cable (TWC) subsidiary that claims the ISP defrauded and misled New Yorkers by promising Internet speeds the company knew it could not deliver. NCTA-The Internet & Television Association and USTelecom, lobby groups for the cable and telecom industries, last month petitioned the Federal Communications Commission for a declaratory ruling that would help ISPs defend themselves against state-level investigations. The FCC should declare that advertisements of speeds "up to" a certain level of megabits per second are consistent with federal law as long as ISPs meet their disclosure obligations under the net neutrality rules, the groups said. There should be a national standard enforced by the FCC instead of a state-by-state "patchwork of inconsistent requirements," they argue. Another cable lobby group, the American Cable Association (ACA), asked the FCC to approve the petition in a filing on Friday. An FCC ruling in favor of the petition wouldn't completely prevent states from filing lawsuits, but such a ruling would make it far more difficult for the states to protect consumers from false speed claims.

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Steve Jobs Wanted the First iPhone To Have a Permanent Back Button Like Android

Slashdot Updates - Mon, 06/19/2017 - 4:05pm
anderzole shares a report from BGR: Brian Merchant's new book, The One Device: The Secret History of the iPhone, provides a captivating and intriguing look at how the most revolutionary product of our time was designed and developed. Through a series of interviews with Apple engineers and designers who played an integral role in the iPhone's creation and development, Merchant maps out how the iPhone came to be after more than two years of non-stop work at breakneck speed. One of the more interesting revelations from the book is that the iPhone design Apple unveiled in January of 2007 might have looked vastly different if Steve Jobs had his way. According to Imran Chaudhri, a veteran Apple designer who spent 19 years working on Apple's elite Human Interface Team, Steve Jobs wanted the original iPhone to have a back button in addition to a home button. Believe it or not, the original iPhone could have very well looked like a modern-day Android device. "The touch-based phone, which was originally supposed to be nothing but screen, was going to need at least one button," Merchant writes. "We all know it well today -- the Home button. But Steve Jobs wanted it to have two; he felt they'd need a back button for navigation. Chaudhri argued that it was all about generating trust and predictability. One button that does the same thing every time you press it: it shows you your stuff. 'Again, that came down to a trust issue,' Chaudhri says, 'that people could trust the device to do what they wanted it to do. Part of the problem with other phones was the features were buried in menus, they were too complex.' A back button could complicate matters too, he told Jobs. 'I won that argument,' Chaudhri says."

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Swiss Supercomputer Edges US Out of Top Spot

Slashdot Updates - Mon, 06/19/2017 - 3:20pm
There have only been two times in the last 24 years where the U.S. has been edged out of the top spot of the world's most powerful supercomputers. Now is one of those times. "An upgrade to a Swiss supercomputer has bumped the U.S. Department of Energy's Cray XK7 to number four on the list rating these machines," reports the BBC. "The only other time the U.S. fell out of the top three was in 1996." The top two slots are occupied by Chinese supercomputers. From the report. The U.S. machine has been supplanted by Switzerland's Piz Daint system, which is installed at the country's national supercomputer center. The upgrade boosted its performance from 9.8 petaflops to 19.6. The machine is named after a peak in the Grison region of Switzerland. One petaflop is equal to one thousand trillion operations per second. A "flop" (floating point operation) can be thought of as a step in a calculation. The performance improvement meant it surpassed the 17.6 petaflop capacity of the DoE machine, located at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee. The U.S. is well represented lower down in the list, as currently half of all the machines in the top 10 of the list are based in North America. And the Oak Ridge National Laboratory looks set to return to the top three later this year, when its Summit supercomputer comes online. This is expected to have a peak performance of more than 100 petaflops.

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Equipment Already In Space Can Be Adapted For Extremely Secure Data Encryption

Slashdot Updates - Mon, 06/19/2017 - 2:40pm
Orome1 quotes a report from Help Net Security: In a new study, researchers from the Max Planck Institute in Erlangen, demonstrate ground-based measurements of quantum states sent by a laser aboard a satellite 38,000 kilometers above Earth. This is the first time that quantum states have been measured so carefully from so far away. A satellite-based quantum-based encryption network would provide an extremely secure way to encrypt data sent over long distances. Developing such a system in just five years is an extremely fast timeline since most satellites require around 10 years of development. For the experiments, the researchers worked closely with satellite telecommunications company Tesat-Spacecom GmbH and the German Space Administration. The German Space Administration previously contracted with Tesat-Spacecom on behalf of the German Ministry of Economics and Energy to develop an optical communications technology for satellites. This technology is now being used commercially in space by laser communication terminals onboard Copernicus -- the European Union's Earth Observation Program -- and by SpaceDataHighway, the European data relay satellite system. It turned out that this satellite optical communications technology works much like the quantum key distribution method developed at the Max Planck Institute. Thus, the researchers decided to see if it was possible to measure quantum states encoded in a laser beam sent from one of the satellites already in space. In 2015 and the beginning of 2016, the team made these measurements from a ground-based station at the Teide Observatory in Tenerife, Spain. They created quantum states in a range where the satellite normally does not operate and were able to make quantum-limited measurements from the ground. The findings have been published in the journal Optica.

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Supreme Court Rules Sex Offenders Can't Be Barred From Social Media

Slashdot Updates - Mon, 06/19/2017 - 2:00pm
An anonymous reader quotes a report from Gizmodo: In a unanimous decision today, the Supreme Court struck down a North Carolina law that prevents sex offenders from posting on social media where children might be present, saying it "impermissibly restricts lawful speech." In doing so, the Supreme Court asserted what we all know to be true: Posting is essential to the survival of the republic. The court ruled that to "foreclose access to social media altogether is to prevent the user from engaging in the legitimate exercise of First Amendment rights." The court correctly noted that "one of the most important places to exchange views is cyberspace." The North Carolina law was ruled to be overly broad, barring "access to what for many are the principal sources for knowing current events, checking ads for employment, speaking and listening in the modern public square, and otherwise exploring the vast realms of human thought and knowledge."

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Fidget Spinners Are Over

Slashdot Updates - Mon, 06/19/2017 - 1:20pm
Walt Hickey, writing for Five Thirty Eight: The toy craze that has swept the nation -- cheaply manufactured fidget spinners of dubious metallic constitution -- is probably on the way out, with the high-water mark of fidget obsession appearing to be about a month behind us and the interest in the glorified ball bearings plateauing or declining. [...] Even if there's a long tail on this trend, it's very likely that peak fidget spinner is behind us. The kind of content now doing well on YouTube is either fidget-adjacent stunt videos or videos that have taken a particularly weird turn. This doesn't mean the ball-bearing business is doomed, just maybe don't go long on the spinner industrial complex or quit your job to live off a fidget-related Kickstarter idea at this point.

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Dropbox Is Rolling Out a Private Network to Speed Up File Access

Slashdot Updates - Mon, 06/19/2017 - 12:40pm
Dropbox, the file storage company that last year moved 90 percent of its data out of Amazon Web Services cloud and into its own data centers, is at it again. From a report on Fortune: The San Francisco company is building its own international private network to make sure users abroad can access their files -- most of which reside in those aforementioned Dropbox U.S. data centers -- faster. "What people don't realize about the internet is that it is very 'bursty' and can hit bottlenecks," Akhil Gupta, vice president of engineering at Dropbox tells Fortune. That is why the company is ripping out third-party load balancers and replacing them with its own software running on standard Linux hardware. Insulating itself from the balky internet is also the reason Dropbox is contracting to use its own dedicated fiber cable to carry that traffic. "We want to make user experience as real time as possible since 70 percent of our users are outside the U.S. and most of the data lives in North America," says Dan Williams, Dropbox's head of production engineering. Dropbox still partners with Amazon for customers in some countries, like Germany, which require user data to stay in the country of origin.

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World’s largest annual wildlife drowning boosts river ecosystem

New Scientist - Breaking news - Mon, 06/19/2017 - 12:00pm
Thousands of wildebeest drown as they cross the Mara river in Kenya on their yearly migration – creating a boon for the river’s ecosystem
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NASA Finds Evidence Of 10 New Earth-sized Planets

Slashdot Updates - Mon, 06/19/2017 - 12:00pm
NASA said Monday it has found new evidence of 219 planets outside our Solar System. Ten of those exoplanets appear to be similar to the size of the Earth and orbit their stars in the habitable zone. From a report: The new planets' existence must still be double-checked. But Kepler's latest haul -- which includes a planet that is only slightly larger than Earth and receives the same amount of energy from its sun as Earth -- is the latest triumph for Kepler, which has spotted roughly 80 percent of the planets orbiting stars other than our sun. Because of their potential for hosting life, the 10 Earth-size planets are the most glamorous of the newly announced planets from Kepler. But those 10 were joined by an additional 209 more garden-variety planets that are unlikely to be hospitable to life because they are too gassy, too hot, too cold or otherwise unlike the only known planet to host life: Earth.

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'Star Trek: Discovery' Gets September Premiere Date On CBS & CBS All Access, Season 1 Split In Two

Slashdot Updates - Mon, 06/19/2017 - 11:20am
Nellie Andreeva, writing for Deadline: Star Trek: Discovery will debut Sunday, September 24, with a special broadcast premiere on the CBS TV network airing 8:30-9:30 PM. The first as well as the second episode of the sci-fi series will be available on-demand on CBS All Access immediately following the broadcast premiere, with subsequent new episodes released on All Access each Sunday. Originally slated for a January 2017 premiere, Star Trek: Discovery's debut was first pushed to May and then to fall 2017. At CBS' upfront presentation, the company announced that Star Trek: Discovery's first-season order had been increased from 13 to 15 episodes. The expanded season now will be split into two. The first eight episodes will run Sundays from September 24 through November 5. The season then will resume with the second chapter in January 2018. The break also will allow the show more time for postproduction on latter episodes.

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'The Unwillingness To Foresee The Future'

Slashdot Updates - Mon, 06/19/2017 - 10:40am
An anonymous reader shares a few excerpts from Ben Thompson's analysis: Back in 2006, when the iPhone was a mere rumor, Palm CEO Ed Colligan was asked if he was worried: "We've learned and struggled for a few years here figuring out how to make a decent phone," he said. "PC guys are not going to just figure this out. They're not going to just walk in." What if Steve Jobs' company did bring an iPod phone to market? Well, it would probably use WiFi technology and could be distributed through the Apple stores and not the carriers like Verizon or Cingular, Colligan theorized." I was reminded of this quote after Amazon announced an agreement to buy Whole Foods for $13.7 billion; after all, it was only two years ago that Whole Foods founder and CEO John Mackey predicted that groceries would be Amazon's Waterloo. And while Colligan's prediction was far worse -- Apple simply left Palm in the dust, unable to compete -- it is Mackey who has to call Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos, the Napoleon of this little morality play, boss. The similarities go deeper, though: both Colligan and Mackey made the same analytical mistakes: they mis-understood their opponents' goals, strategies, and tactics.

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The bandwidth black hole that will kill Elon Musk’s Mars dream

New Scientist - Breaking news - Mon, 06/19/2017 - 10:30am
Without a new interplanetary internet to support the imminent boom in Martian probes, those with hopes of walking on the Red Planet will be stuck on Earth
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Offensive Trademarks Must Be Allowed, Rules Supreme Court

Slashdot Updates - Mon, 06/19/2017 - 10:01am
In a ruling that could have broad impact on how the First Amendment is applied in other trademark cases in future, the U.S. Supreme Court on Monday threw out a federal prohibition on disparaging trademarks as a constitutional violation in a ruling involving a band called The Slants. From a report: The opinion in Matal v. Tam means that Simon Tam, lead singer of an Asian-American rock band called "The Slants," will be able to trademark the name of his band. It's also relevant for a high-profile case involving the Washington Redskins, who were involved in litigation and at risk of being stripped of their trademark. The court unanimously held that a law on the books holding that a trademark can't "disparage... or bring... into contemp[t] or disrepute" any "persons, living or dead," violates the First Amendment. Tam headed to federal court years ago after he was unable to obtain a trademark. In 2015, the US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit ruled in Tam's favor, finding that the so-called "disparagement clause" of trademark law was unconstitutional.

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Anxiety drug may prevent common virus that causes birth defects

New Scientist - Breaking news - Mon, 06/19/2017 - 10:00am
Cytomegalovirus is a common cause of seizures, deafness and Zika-like symptoms in infants. An anxiety drug available in France protects mice from the virus
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