Using a model similar to what meteorologists use to forecast weather and a computer simulation of the physics of evaporating ices, scientists have found evidence of snow and ice features on Pluto that, until now, had only been seen on Earth. Formed by erosion, the features, known as "penitentes," are bowl-shaped depressions with blade-like spires around the edge that rise several hundreds of feet.
The research, led by John Moores of York University, Toronto, and done in collaboration with scientists at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory and NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, indicates that these icy features may also exist on other planets where environmental conditions are similar.
The identification of these ridges in Pluto's informally named Tartarus Dorsa area suggests that the presence of an atmosphere is necessary for the formation of penitentes – which Moores says would explain why they have not previously been seen on other airless icy satellites or dwarf planets. "But exotic differences in the environment give rise to features with very different scales," he adds. "This test of our terrestrial models for penitentes suggests that we may find these features elsewhere in the solar system, and in other solar systems, where the conditions are right."
New Horizons measured Pluto's surface atmospheric pressure at about 1 Pascal when it flew by. Mars has an average of around 600 Pascals, ranging from 30 Pa at the peak of Olympus Mons to 1,155 Pa at the bottom of Hellas Planitia. Earth's average at sea level is about 101,300 Pa. Titan's surface pressure is greater than Earth's, at about 146,700 Pa.
Penitentes as the origin of the bladed terrain of Tartarus Dorsa on Pluto (DOI: 10.1038/nature20779) (DX)
A security vulnerability that can be used to allow Facebook and others to intercept and read encrypted messages has been found within its WhatsApp messaging service.
Facebook claims that no one can intercept WhatsApp messages, not even the company and its staff, ensuring privacy for its billion-plus users. But new research shows that the company could in fact read messages due to the way WhatsApp has implemented its end-to-end encryption protocol.
Privacy campaigners said the vulnerability is a "huge threat to freedom of speech" and warned it could be used by government agencies as a backdoor to snoop on users who believe their messages to be secure.
Reporting at Ars Technica took a different view — Reported "backdoor" in WhatsApp is in fact a feature, defenders say:
At issue is the way WhatsApp behaves when an end user's encryption key changes. By default, the app will use the new key to encrypt messages without ever informing the sender of the change. By enabling a security setting, users can configure WhatsApp to notify the sender that a recently transmitted message used a new key.
Critics of Friday's Guardian post, and most encryption practitioners, argue such behavior is common in encryption apps and often a necessary requirement. Among other things, it lets existing WhatsApp users who buy a new phone continue an ongoing conversation thread.
[...] Moxie Marlinspike, developer of the encryption protocol used by both Signal and WhatsApp, defended the way WhatsApp behaves.
"The fact that WhatsApp handles key changes is not a 'backdoor,'" he wrote in a blog post. "It is how cryptography works. Any attempt to intercept messages in transmit by the server is detectable by the sender, just like with Signal, PGP, or any other end-to-end encrypted communication system."
[...] Ultimately, there's little evidence of a vulnerability and certainly none of a backdoor—which is usually defined as secret functionality for defeating security measures. WhatsApp users should strongly consider turning on security notifications by accessing Settings > Account > Security.
In his final days as the chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, Tom Wheeler has accused AT&T and Verizon Wireless of violating net neutrality rules with "zero-rating" policies:
Wheeler described his views in a letter to US senators who had expressed concern about the data cap exemptions, or "zero-rating." FCC Wireless Telecommunications Bureau staff today also issued a report concluding that AT&T and Verizon zero-rating programs are unfair to competitors. Both Wheeler's letter and the staff report can be read in full here.
The main issue is that AT&T and Verizon allow their own video services (DirecTV and Go90, respectively) to stream on their mobile networks without counting against customers' data caps, while charging other video providers for the same data cap exemptions. The FCC also examined T-Mobile USA's zero-rating program but found that it poses no competitive harms because T-Mobile offers data cap exemptions to third parties free of charge. T-Mobile also "provides little streaming video programming of its own," giving it less incentive to disadvantage video companies that need to use the T-Mobile network, the FCC said.
Finally, a real "Digital Liberty" story for the mechanical among us. The EU has released a report mulling topics such as "electronic personhood" status for robots, and kill switches:
The European Parliament Committee on Legal Affairs has proposed a legal framework for robots that clarifies whether they should have the legal status of people, even as it recommends the inclusion of kill switches in automated systems. "A growing number of areas of our daily lives are increasingly affected by robotics," said rapporteur Mady Delvaux in a statement. "In order to address this reality and to ensure that robots are and will remain in the service of humans, we urgently need to create a robust European legal framework."
The committee's draft report, due to be considered by the full EU Parliament in February, says that robot sales were increasing about 17 per cent annually between 2010 and 2014, then in 2014 the rate jumped to 29 per cent, driven by automotive parts suppliers and the electronics industry. It also notes that robot-oriented patent filings have tripled over the last decade.
[...] The committee is calling for an EU agency to oversee robotics and artificial intelligence and for the adoption of a voluntary ethical code governing who will be accountable for the social, health, and environmental impact of robots. It wants to ensure that robots operate according to established legal, ethical, and safety standards. The committee also hopes robot designers will take responsibility for the actions of their creations. "Robotics engineers should remain accountable for the social, environmental and human health impacts that robotics may impose on present and future generations," the report says.
The Prometheans are coming, and they don't care about anything's personhood.
If you're one to heed "TL;DR" then this is most definitely not the book for you, as the almost three inch thick paperback is well over a thousand pages long. That's not counting its afterword, which isn't part of the story, but about its writing.
I don't like Mr. King's chosen genre (but an author doesn't choose a genre, in my experience the genre chooses its author), but I'd loved the movie The Green Mile and a friend loaned me the book. After reading that book, when I heard he's written a time travel story I got out my credit card and visited Amazon; in my opinion, King is one of our time's best writers, even though I find horror distasteful.
This is another of those tales that blur the line between fantasy and science fiction. No time machine is produced or even discussed. The narrator of the story, written in the first person perspective, is a high school English teacher named Jake Epping. His friend Al Templeton has a house trailer that serves as a burger joint, "Al's Fatburgers" with impossibly cheap burgers. Townspeople suspect he's grinding up cats and dogs, and nickname it "Al's catburgers". It's popular among Jake's students. But Al had found a "rabbit hole" back to the year 1958 in the back corner of the trailer, and buying hamburger meat at 1958 prices using money he won back in the past betting on sports, games he knew the outcome of when he placed the bet.
You don't discover that it's science fiction until near the end of the book, when the identity of the "yellow card man" is revealed. This guy is always there when the man from now (or rather, 2011) enters 1958, and in fact it's always the exactly the same every time he goes back. Al has found that he can affect the present by changing the past, and decides to prevent the Kennedy assassination.
The trouble is, he catches lung cancer.
I think Mr. King deliberately blurred the line between fantasy and science fiction. There is nothing actually supernatural, but it feels supernatural. The story starts with Jake, a man who never cries (this is repeated through the story) being brought to tears while grading papers for his GED class. The assignment was "The one thing that changed my life," and the school's elderly janitor, Harry Dunning, a mildly retarded and physically lame man, had a story about how his drunken father murdered his family and almost the janitor with a hammer when Harry was a child.
After the poor old guy gets his GED, Jake takes him to celebrate at Al's. The next day Al calls him and asks him to see him at the diner. He's thirty pounds lighter and his hair has gone gray, and is coughing up blood; he was in lung cancer's final stage. He wanted to prevent Kennedy's assassination and enlists Jake to take over the job.
Jake wants to prevent Harry's family from being murdered, as well.
There is a lot of very graphic brutality, but of course, it's a story of an assassination, with attempted murders, and successful homicides. There is also some great humor. At one point in his first visit back, he's flummoxed by a phone booth and its phone with a rotary dial. The dime slips through, because it's a clad copper 2000 coin; they changed them in the 1960s.
It's also a love story, with the sweetest ending of any story I've ever read.
I've read an awful lot of books this year, and I think this is the best of the lot. I highly recommend this tome! Actually, it's my second favorite this century, right behind The Martian.
The tightest molecular knot ever has been created, using 192 atoms:
In a feat that breaks one of the most obscure world records in science, a team of chemists has created a microscopic circular triple helix, or put in more simple terms, the tightest knot ever made. Researchers in Manchester in the UK built the knot from a strand of atoms which curls around in a triple loop and crosses itself eight times. Made from 192 atoms linked in a chain, the knot is only two millionths of a millimetre wide – around 200,000 times thinner than a human hair.
[...] The tightness of a knot is defined by the distance between points where the rope, string – or chain of atoms, in this case – cross each other. For the Manchester group's circular triple helix, each crossing point is a mere 24 atoms apart. "That's very, very tight indeed," said Leigh. "It is definitely the most tightly knotted physical structure known."
Building molecular knots has become something of a passion for Leigh. The latest knot beats the record his own team set four years ago when they created a so-called pentafoil knot from 160 atoms. That knot bested an even earlier effort called a trefoil knot [DOI: 10.1002/anie.201105012] [DX] with three crossing points. "There are actually billions of different knots known to mathematicians," Leigh said in a comment that hinted at a busy future.
Imagine my surprise while surfing articles on ScienceMag.org site when I discover an article not paywalled, (how unusual). It soon became apparent this was probably because it was produced at tax payer expense.
In the paper, just about all the data that matters is laid out early:
CO2 emissions from the energy sector fell by 9.5% from 2008 to 2015, while the economy grew by more than 10%. In this same period, the amount of energy consumed per dollar of real gross domestic product (GDP) fell by almost 11%, the amount of CO2 emitted per unit of energy consumed declined by 8%, and CO2 emitted per dollar of GDP declined by 18%.
Basically the paper points out that costs of renewable energy is falling fast, from affordable only to experimental projects to competitive pricing in the every day world:
Renewable electricity costs also fell dramatically between 2008 and 2015: the cost of electricity fell 41% for wind, 54% for rooftop solar photovoltaic (PV) installations, and 64% for utility-scale PV.
Recovery Act investments and recent tax credit extensions have played a crucial role, but technology advances and market forces will continue to drive renewable deployment. The levelized cost of electricity from new renewables like wind and solar in some parts of the United States is already lower than that for new coal generation.
The paper looks all studious and sciency, with footnotes and charts and citations of all sorts of government publications, scholarly papers from universities, blogs and industrial press releases.
And even an admission at the end that several other "researchers" contributed to the researching, drafting, and editing of the article. All at tax payers expense, of course.
The record safely set straight, the government guy walks off into the sunset, to a retirement and a new career in publishing science papers.
Kingston has announced the DataTraveler Ultimate GT USB flash drive in two capacities: 1 terabyte and 2 terabytes.
The USB 3.0 Type-A device is fairly bulky at 72mm × 26.94mm × 21mm. It comes with a carrying pouch and a USB extension cable to prevent it from blocking nearby USB ports. The drive has a 5-year warranty. A price for either model isn't mentioned.
Scientific American interviewed the director of DARPA's Biological Technologies Office:
The Pentagon's research and development division, DARPA—the creative force behind the internet and GPS—retooled itself three years ago to create a new office dedicated to unraveling biology's engineering secrets. The new Biological Technologies Office (BTO) has a mission to "harness the power of biological systems" and design new defense technology. Over the past year, with a budget of about $296 million, it has been exploring challenges including memory improvement, human–machine symbiosis and speeding up disease detection and response.
DARPA, or the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, is hoping for some big returns. The director of its BTO, neuroprosthetic researcher Justin Sanchez, recently spoke with Scientific American about what to expect from his office in 2017, including work on neural implants to aid healthy people in their everyday lives and other advances that he says will "change the game" in medicine.
Some of the ideas discussed include "living foundries" (using microbes to create drugs), nucleic acid approaches to immunization, and brain-controlled prosthetics. More information can be found in this 73-slide PowerPoint PDF. No word on whether or not replacing PPT with direct brain stimulation is in the works.
Good news for anyone looking to overwhelm their fovea centralis with pixels: Dell has announced the first "mass-market" 8K (7680×4320) display, which will be sold for around $5,000 beginning in March:
Dell introduced the industry's first mass-market 8K display aimed at professional designers, engineers, photographers and software developers. The UP3218K will be available this March, but its rough $5,000 price tag will be rather high even for professionals dealing with content creation. That being said, $5K or so was the price that the original 4K MST monitors launched at in 2013, which perhaps makes this display price more palatable. On the other hand, right now an 8K professional display is such a niche product that the vast majority of users will have to wait a few years to see the price come down.
Up to now, 8K reference displays were available only from Canon, in very low quantities and at very high prices. The displays were primarily aimed at video professionals from TV broadcasting companies like NHK, who are working on 8K (they call it Super Hi-Vision) content to be available over-the-air in select regions of Japan next year. A number of TV makers have also announced their ultra large 8K UHDTVs, but these are hardly found in retail. Overall, Dell is the first company to offer an 8K display that can be bought online by any individual with the money and be focused on the monitor market rather than TVs.
At present, Dell is not publishing the full specifications of its UltraSharp 32 Ultra HD 8K monitor (UP3218K), but reveals key specs like resolution (7680×4320), contrast ratio (1300:1), brightness (400 nits), pixel density (280 ppi) as well as supported color spaces: 100% Adobe RGB and 100% sRGB.
Vital Statistics on Congress, first published in 1980, long ago became the go-to source of impartial data on the United States Congress. Vital Statistics’ purpose is to collect and provide useful data on America’s first branch of government, including data on the composition of its membership, its formal procedure (such as the use of the filibuster), informal norms, party structure, and staff. With some chapters of data dating back nearly 100 years, Vital Statistics also documents how Congress has changed over time, illustrating, for example, the increasing polarization of Congress and the diversifying demographics of those who are elected to serve.
Vital Statistics began as a joint effort undertaken by Thomas E. Mann of Brookings and Norman J. Ornstein of the American Enterprise Institute, in collaboration with Michael Malbin of the Campaign Finance Institute. The datasets were published in print until 2013 when the project migrated online for the first time. This year, Brookings’ Molly E. Reynolds spearheaded Vital Statistics’ most recent update. The eight chapters [...] contain more than 90 tables of data which were collected through the years of this project and updated most recently in January 2017.
Source: The Brookings Institution
Opera has released an experimental web browser called Neon that mainly shows off new UI ideas:
Opera released a new web browser today called Neon that's meant to try out a bunch of untested design ideas. Neon isn't close to being ready to replace your main web browser — it's being called a "concept browser" — but it does have some neat ideas that are fun to try out and, in some cases, you can imagine becoming part of a major browser one day.
Neon's homepage looks far different than any other browser's. Though it still includes shortcuts to bookmarks and top websites, they're displayed as floating bubbles that are overlaid on your desktop wallpaper. There's no discrete address bar either; there's just a line above all the floating balls asking you to type something in. Visually, it's very cool. The browser also does away with traditional tabs, replacing them with a series of circular icons on the righthand side of the browser, with one appearing for every page you have open. There are neat little animations as websites are pulled up and minimized back into their bubbles, but the animations are pretty sluggish right now in a way that hampers your ability to use the browser.
One of the smarter ideas in Neon is built-in support for split-screen browsing. Drag one website's bubble (its tab) over top of an already open page, and Opera will offer to split your view in two. Their sizes are adjustable, though only one side of the split-screen will respond to other tabs you want to open up — the other side remains more or less fixed.
There's always Vivaldi (1.6.689.40).
A new proposed model of the formation of Earth's Moon runs counter to the giant impact hypothesis:
The newly proposed theory by researchers Assistant Prof. Hagai Perets, of the Technion, and Weizmann Institute Raluca Rufu (lead author) and Prof. Oded Aharonson, runs counter to the commonly held "giant impact" paradigm that the moon is a single object that was formed following a single giant collision between a small Mars-like planet and the ancient Earth.
"Our model suggests that the ancient Earth once hosted a series of moons, each one formed from a different collision with the proto-Earth," said co-author Assistant Prof. Perets. "It's likely that such moonlets were later ejected, or collided with the Earth or with each other to form bigger moons." To check the conditions for the formation of such mini-moons or moonlets the researchers ran 800 simulations of impacts with the Earth.
The new model is consistent with science's current understanding of the formation of the Earth. In its last stages of the growth, the Earth experienced many giant impacts with other bodies. Each of these impacts contributed more material to the proto-Earth, until it reached its current size. "We believe the Earth had many previous moons," said Assistant Prof. Perets, who added that, "a previously-formed moon could therefore already exist when another moon-forming giant impact occurs."
The free ride is over:
For the past few years, anyone who owned a Tesla could charge it up at one of the company’s Supercharging stations free of charge.
But as we’ve known for a few months now, this all-you-can-eat setup is being phased out. While existing owners will still get to charge up for free, anyone who orders a Tesla after January 15th would get around 1,000 miles worth of charging credit each year then pay for anything beyond that.
But how much would they pay, exactly?
Turns out there’s not any single answer to that question — due to variations in regulations around the world, the pricing varies a bit depending on where you are.
Tesla started outlining how it works in a blog post tonight:
- In most of the world, Tesla owners will pay per kWh — that is, you’ll be charged for the actual amount of electricity you receive.
- In select places, however, Tesla will be required (by local regulations) to charge per-minute at the charging station. It’s a bit less accurate, but Tesla says they [are] going to work with regulators in these regions; it’s also a good bit more complicated, with two different charging tiers based on how charged your battery is or whether or not yours is the only Tesla at the charging station.
- In North America, you’ll pay the same price to charge up throughout any given state or province.
- Outside of North America, pricing is set on a country-by-country basis.
Recently, some astronomers and others have excitedly pointed to Tabby's Star (KIC 8462852) as a possible example of alien megastructures causing a star to dim. A new study favors a more terrestrial explanation - a planetary collision with the star:
A new study set to be published Monday in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society suggests that smart aliens aren't responsible for KIC 8462852's dimming. Instead, the authors suggest, a planetary collision with Tabby's Star is to blame. This crash would explain not only why Tabby's Star has had wild fluctuations in brightness as of late, but why the star has been dimming gradually over the course of the last century.
It seems strange that a spectacular collision between a star and planet would cause a star to become dimmer, explains Ken Shen, a UC Berkeley astronomer and author on the study. But, says Shen, "the star has to eventually go back to being dimmer—the equilibrium state—the state that it was at before the collision."
KC 8462852's more recent and erratic dimming episodes, however, can be explained by a mess of debris moving around the star and absorbing its light, sometimes making it appear significantly dimmer to us Earthlings.
Mysterious Star May Be Orbited by Alien Megastructures
I'm STILL Not Sayin' Aliens. but This Star is Really Weird.
"Breakthrough Listen" to Search for Alien Radio Transmissions Near Tabby's Star