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The Military

President Trump Directs Pentagon To Create New 'Space Force' Military Branch (defensenews.com) 402

Gunfighter shares a report from Defense News: President Donald Trump on Monday appeared to sign an executive order directing the Pentagon to create a new "Space Force," a move that could radically transform the U.S. military by pulling space functions variously owned by the Air Force, Navy and other military branches into a single independent service.

"I am hereby directing the Department of Defense and Pentagon to immediately begin the process necessary to establish a Space Force as the sixth branch of the armed forces," Trump said during a meeting of the National Space Council. "That's a big statement. We are going to have the Air Force and we are going to have the Space Force. Separate but equal. It is going to be something. So important," Trump added. "General Dunford, if you would carry that assignment out, I would be very greatly honored." Dunford responded in the affirmative, telling Trump, "We got you."
The oddity of Trump's statement was that it was followed up with a White House readout that "contained no language related to the creation of a new military branch, leaving open the question of whether Trump has actually issued formal guidance to the military," reports Defense News. It is believed that Trump still needs the support of Congress to actually establish a space force.
NASA

US Eyes Robot Moon Missions as it Prepares For Astronauts' Return (reuters.com) 81

The United States wants to send robotic explorers to the moon as soon as next year as a preparatory step toward sending astronauts back there for the first time since 1972, a NASA official said on Monday. From a report: The National Aeronautics and Space Administration is planning a series of lunar missions beginning next year aimed at developing the capacity for a return to the moon, said Cheryl Warner, a spokeswoman for NASA's Human Exploration Directorate. NASA will work with private companies, which have not yet been chosen, on the missions, Warner said in a phone interview. U.S. President Donald Trump in December signed a directive that he said would enable astronauts to return to the moon and eventually lead a mission to Mars. Last month he ordered the government to review regulations on commercial space flights.
Earth

Dutch Town Uses High-Tech Streetlights To Keep Their Bats Happy 78

Since streetlights disturb bats' internal sensors and rhythms and affect their feeding patterns, inner compasses, and general nocturnal behaviors, the Dutch town of Zuidhoek-Nieuwkoop is taking action. The town is using special streetlights that emit a red color and use a wavelength that doesn't interfere with a bat's internal compass and lets them feed undisturbed. The Next Web reports: The lights [developed by Signify and the University of Wageningen and other NGO's active in conservation], being both beneficial for bats and humans alike, are also proving to be extremely energy saving, and is therefore also a big plus for the environment and the town's carbon footprint. The lights are connected LED lights that can be controlled remotely. This means that if there is one particular neighborhood in need of more or less light, this can be adjusted as needed.

Zuidhoek-Nieuwkoop, due to their specific natural surroundings, is keen on being a sustainable town. The town and its surrounding area are part of the nature-protection network Natura 2000, which protects breeding and nesting areas for rare and threatened species all over Europe.
Medicine

Man Reports PillCam Stuck In His Gut For Over 12 Weeks 173

A Portland man appears to have a pill-sized camera stuck in his gut. That man is me... Let me explain.

For the average Joe, the following statement might sound a bit peculiar: I have swallowed a pill-sized camera a number of times. You see, I have Crohn's Disease (CD) in the small intestine -- a 20 foot-long portion of the gastrointestinal tract that runs between the stomach and the large intestine (colon). A "PillCam" is the most non-invasive, detailed method to survey this area as it doesn't require a scope up the rectum or down the esophagus, nor does it require any tissue slicing. It's also one of the safest procedures available -- the retention rate is as low as 1%. Unfortunately, this most recent capsule endoscopy resulted in my admission to the 1% club.

On March 27th, 2018, I swallowed the PillCam that is currently lodged in my small intestine. If you do the math, that's more than 82 days ago (over 12 weeks). After hiking Smith Rock and summiting Black Butte a couple weeks later, I thought for sure the pill would have exited. It didn't, as evident by the follow-up X-ray. It can be difficult to find research on such a what-if scenario that happens to so few, but I did manage to find a Motherboard article telling the story of Scott Willis, a CD patient that had a PillCam lodged in his gut for eight weeks. One of the key differences between him and me is that he had a partial block and endured more symptoms, prompting him to schedule a procedure to get it out quicker. I'm relatively symptom free.

We have tried upping the dose of corticosteroids to reduce inflammation and help the pill pass through the strictured areas, but that didn't seem to work. Most recently, I had two double-balloon enteroscopy procedures done within a week apart. They were able to locate the PillCam during the second procedure, but weren't able to retrieve it without risking the scope itself becoming stuck. The next step is to try again via the esophagus. The potential issue/complication here is the location. As my doctors warned, the PillCam is stuck 15 feet down and the scope is only 20 feet in length. There's little wiggle room if the pill is slightly further down the GI tract than estimated.

I am sharing this story with the Slashdot community for two reasons. First, those entrenched in the world of cyborgs and/or modern-day medical procedures may find this experience particularly interesting. Second, the more people who know about the procedures and complications of Crohn's Disease the better. For those interested, I'll update this post after the next procedure. Have you or someone you know experienced a capsule endoscopy? Please share what you feel comfortable with.
Businesses

Studies Find Evidence That Meditation Is Demotivating (nytimes.com) 159

An anonymous reader shares an excerpt from a report written by behavioral scientists Kathleen D. Vohs and Andrew C. Hafenbrack: The practical payoff of mindfulness [meditation] is backed by dozens of studies linking it to job satisfaction, rational thinking and emotional resilience. But on the face of it, mindfulness might seem counterproductive in a workplace setting. To test this hunch, we recently conducted five studies, involving hundreds of people, to see whether there was a tension between mindfulness and motivation. As we report in a forthcoming article in the journal Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, we found strong evidence that meditation is demotivating.

Some of the participants in our studies were trained in a few of the most common mindfulness meditation techniques. They were instructed by a professional meditation coach to focus on their breathing or mentally scan their bodies for physical sensations, being gently reminded throughout that there was no right or wrong way to do the exercise. Other participants were led through a different exercise. Some were encouraged to let their thoughts wander; some were instructed to read the news or write about recent activities they had done. Then we gave everyone a task to do. Among those who had meditated, motivation levels were lower on average. Those people didn't feel as much like working on the assignments, nor did they want to spend as much time or effort to complete them. Meditation was correlated with reduced thoughts about the future and greater feelings of calm and serenity -- states seemingly not conducive to wanting to tackle a work project.
The studies also found that meditation "neither benefited nor detracted from a participant's quality of work." Furthermore, Vohs and Hafenbrack found that a financial bonus for outstanding performance did not overcome the demotivating effect of mindfulness. "While the promise of material rewards will always be a useful tool for motivating employees, it is no substitute for internal motivation," the report reads.
Crime

Was the Stanford Prison Experiment a Sham? (nypost.com) 134

Frosty Piss writes: The Stanford Prison Experiment was conducted in 1971 by psychology professor Philip Zimbardo using college students to investigate the psychological effects of perceived power by focusing on the struggle between prisoners and prison officers. In the study, volunteers were randomly assigned to be either "guards" or "prisoners" in a mock prison, with Zimbardo serving as the superintendent. The results seemed to show that the students quickly embraced their assigned roles, with some guards enforcing authoritarian measures and ultimately subjecting some prisoners to psychological torture, while many of the prisoners passively accepted psychological abuse and, by the officers' request, actively harassed other prisoners who tried to stop it. After Berkeley graduate Douglas Korpi appeared to have a nervous breakdown while playing the role of an inmate, the experiment was shut down. There's just one problem: Korpi's breakdown was a sham. Dr. Ben Blum took to Medium to publish his claims. "Blum's expose -- based on previously unpublished recordings of Zimbardo, a Stanford psychology professor, and interviews with the participants -- offers evidence that the 'guards' were coached to be cruel," reports New York Post. "One of the men who acted as an inmate told Blum he enjoyed the experiment because he knew the guards couldn't actually hurt him."

"There were no repercussions. We knew [the guards] couldn't hurt us, they couldn't hit us. They were white college kids just like us, so it was a very safe situation," said Douglas Korpi, who was 22-years-old when he acted as an inmate in the study. The Berkeley grad now admits the whole thing was fake. Zimbardo also "admitted that he was an active participant in the study, meaning he had influence over the results," reports New York Post. According to an audio recording from the Stanford archive, you can hear Zimbardo encouraging the guards to act "tough."
Software

Machine Figures Out Rubik's Cube Without Human Assistance (technologyreview.com) 84

An anonymous reader quotes a report from MIT Technology Review: [Stephen McAleer and colleagues from the University of California, Irvine] have pioneered a new kind of deep-learning technique, called "autodidactic iteration," that can teach itself to solve a Rubik's Cube with no human assistance. The trick that McAleer and co have mastered is to find a way for the machine to create its own system of rewards. Here's how it works. Given an unsolved cube, the machine must decide whether a specific move is an improvement on the existing configuration. To do this, it must be able to evaluate the move. Autodidactic iteration does this by starting with the finished cube and working backwards to find a configuration that is similar to the proposed move. This process is not perfect, but deep learning helps the system figure out which moves are generally better than others. Having been trained, the network then uses a standard search tree to hunt for suggested moves for each configuration.

The result is an algorithm that performs remarkably well. "Our algorithm is able to solve 100% of randomly scrambled cubes while achieving a median solve length of 30 moves -- less than or equal to solvers that employ human domain knowledge," say McAleer and co. That's interesting because it has implications for a variety of other tasks that deep learning has struggled with, including puzzles like Sokoban, games like Montezuma's Revenge, and problems like prime number factorization.
The paper on the algorithm -- called DeepCube -- is available on Arxiv.
Space

NASA's Most Experienced Astronaut Retires, Spent 665 Days In Space (upi.com) 48

An anonymous reader quotes UPI: After nearly four decades with NASA, including 22 years as an astronaut, Peggy Whitson is leaving the space agency. Her retirement is effective Friday, NASA announced... Whitson ends her career with multiple records to her name, including most time spent in space by a U.S. astronaut -- 665 days...

The 57-year-old Whitson was a scientist before she was an astronaut, earning graduate degrees in biochemistry from Rice University in Houston before coming to conduct research at NASA's Johnson Space Center in 1989. The NASA scientist began training as an astronaut in 1996. She made her first trip to the International Space Station in 2008. During her time in space, including three long-duration stints aboard International Space Station, she helped carry out 21 science investigation and became the agency's first space station science officer... Whitson took a second turn as commander during Expedition 51, part of her most recent -- and last -- stay on the space station, which spanned from November 2016 to September 2017.

Education

We're All Getting Dumber, Says Science (fastcompany.com) 550

dryriver shares a report from Fast Company: Researchers at Norway's Ragnar Frisch Center for Economic Research now have scientific proof of something we've long suspected -- we're all getting dumber. In their paper, "Flynn effect and its reversal are both environmentally caused," which was published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Bernt Bratsberg and Ole Rogeberg report that IQ scores have been steadily dropping since the 1970s.

The study consisted of analyzing 730,000 IQ test results gleaned from young men entering Norway's compulsory military service from 1970 to 2009. They found that scores declined by an average of seven points per generation, a reversal of the so-called "Flynn effect" where IQ was seen to be rising during the first part of the 20th century. The decline may be due to environmental factors, but because the researchers couldn't find consistent trends among families, Bratsberg and Rogeberg discounted factors like parental education, family size, increased immigration, and genetics as significant causes.

The Almighty Buck

$950 Million Large Hadron Collider Upgrade 'Could Upend Particle Physics' (theguardian.com) 196

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Guardian: A massive project to supercharge the world's largest particle collider launched on Friday in the hope that the beefed-up machine will reveal fresh insights into the nature of the universe. The approximately $950 million Swiss franc mission will see heavy equipment, new buildings, access shafts and service tunnels installed, constructed and excavated at the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) at Cern, the particle physics laboratory on the edge of Geneva.

The upgrade will make the collider far more sensitive to subtle quirks in the laws of physics, and physicists hope these anomalies will pry open the door to entirely new theories of the universe. If the upgrade goes to plan, the proton beams in the souped-up accelerator, known as the high-luminosity LHC, or HL-LHC, will be so intense that the number of collisions in the machine will be five to 10 times greater than today. The upgrade is expected to take eight years. While new magnets and beam instruments will be installed when the LHC is switched off for two years in 2019, most of the required equipment will be fitted in a longer shutdown from 2024 to 2026, when the revamped machine will switch back on again.

Medicine

The Most Important Study of the Mediterranean Diet Has Been Retracted (qz.com) 115

Zorro shares a report from Quartz: In 2013, the New England Journal of Medicine published a landmark study that found that people put on a Mediterranean diet had a 30% lower chance of heart attack, stroke, or death from cardiovascular disease than people on a low-fat diet. It received massive media and public attention when released, and since has been cited by 3,268 other scientific papers. The study had tremendous impact on the field of nutrition and health science. Yesterday (June 13), however, the journal retracted the study -- providing a new reason for skepticism about how effective the now-popular Mediterranean diet really is.

The reasons for the withdrawal are complicated, having to do with the methodology of the study. As Alison McCook of the Retraction Watch blog writes for NPR, this retraction is the result of the work of John Carlisle, a British anesthesiologist and self-taught statistician. Carlisle has spent recent years analyzing over 5,000 published randomized controlled trials (the gold standard of medical science research) to see how likely they were to have actually been properly randomized. In 2017, he reported his results: at least 2% of the studies were problematic. One was the 2013 NEJM article on the Mediterranean diet.

Science

Making Buildings, Cars and Planes From Materials Based on Plant Fibres (economist.com) 50

Materials-science researchers are finding that plant fibres can add durability and strength to substances already used in the construction of buildings and in goods that range from toys and furniture to cars and aircraft. From a report: A big bonus is that, because plants lock up carbon in their structure, using their fibres to make things should mean less carbon dioxide is emitted. The production of concrete alone represents some 5% of man-made global CO{-2} emissions, and making 1kg of plastic from oil produces 6kg of the greenhouse gas. Start with the carrots. These are being investigated by Mohamed Saafi at Lancaster University, in England. Dr Saafi and his colleagues do not use whole carrots, but rather what they call "nanoplatelets" that have been extracted from carrots discarded by supermarkets or as waste from food-processing factories. Sugar-beet peelings are also a useful source of nanoplatelets.

The researchers are working with CelluComp, a British firm that produces such platelets for industrial applications, including as an additive that helps toughen the surface of paint as it dries. Each platelet is only a few millionths of a metre across. It consists of a sheet of stiff cellulose fibres. Although the fibres are minute, they are strong. By combining platelets with other materials a powerful composite can be produced. Dr Saafi is mixing the platelets into cement, which is made by burning limestone and clay together at high temperature. To turn cement into concrete it is mixed with aggregates such as sand, stones and crushed rocks, which act as reinforcement, and with water, which reacts with the chemicals in the cement to form a substance called calcium silicate hydrate. This starts off as a thick gel, but then hardens into a solid matrix that binds the aggregates together.

Science

Stephen Hawking's Voice Beamed Into Space as His Ashes Are Interred (cnet.com) 110

The ashes of renowned physicist Stephen Hawking were interred at Westminster Abbey in London on Friday in a memorial ceremony attended by a mixture of celebrities and members of the public. From a report: Astronaut Tim Peake and British actor Benedict Cumberbatch and both gave readings, and Astronomer Royal Martin Rees paid tribute to the Hawking's work. Following the service, Hawking's words, set to an original score by composer Vangelis, will be beamed into space by the European Space Agency.

Hawking died in March aged 76 after a lifetime of studying the science of space and time. His final resting place is situated between the remains of two other great scientists: Charles Darwin and Isaac Newton. It is a rare honor to be interred at the Abbey, and one that has not been afforded to a scientist for almost 80 years. Before Hawking, the last scientists laid to rest at Westminster were atomic physicists Ernest Rutherford in 1937 and Joseph John Thomson in 1940.

Science

Antarctica Is Melting Three Times As Fast As a Decade Ago (nytimes.com) 289

An anonymous reader writes: Between 60 and 90 percent of the world's fresh water is frozen in the ice sheets of Antarctica, a continent roughly the size of the United States and Mexico combined. If all that ice melted, it would be enough to raise the world's sea levels by roughly 200 feet. While that won't happen overnight, Antarctica is indeed melting, and a study published Wednesday in the journal Nature shows that the melting is speeding up. The rate at which Antarctica is losing ice has tripled since 2007, according to the latest available data. The continent is now melting so fast, scientists say, that it will contribute six inches (15 centimeters) to sea-level rise by 2100. That is at the upper end of what the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has estimated Antarctica alone could contribute to sea level rise this century.

"Around Brooklyn you get flooding once a year or so, but if you raise sea level by 15 centimeters then that's going to happen 20 times a year," said Andrew Shepherd, a professor of earth observation at the University of Leeds and the lead author of the study. Even under ordinary conditions, Antarctica's landscape is perpetually changing as icebergs calve, snow falls and ice melts on the surface, forming glacial sinkholes known as moulins. But what concerns scientists is the balance of how much snow and ice accumulates in a given year versus the amount that is lost.

Businesses

Nearly Half the Patents on Marine Genes Belong To Just One Company (smithsonianmag.com) 157

A creature as majestic as a whale, you might think, should have no owner. Yet it turns out that certain snippets of the DNA that makes a sperm whale a sperm whale are actually the subjects of patents -- meaning that private entities have exclusive rights to their use for research and development. From a report: The same goes for countless other marine species. And new research shows that a single German chemical company owns 47 percent of patented marine gene sequences. A just-published paper in Science Advances finds that 862 separate species of marine life have genetic patents associated with them. "It's everything from microorganisms to fish species," says lead author Robert Blasiak, a conservation researcher at the University of Stockholm who was shocked to find out how many genetic sequences in the ocean were patented. "Even iconic species" -- like plankton, manta rays, and yes, sperm whales. Of some 13,000 genetic sequences targeted by patents, nearly half are the intellectual property of a company called Baden Aniline and Soda Factory (BASF).
AI

MIT's AI Uses Radio Signals To See People Through Walls (inverse.com) 76

Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have developed a new piece of software that uses wifi signals to monitor the movements, breathing, and heartbeats of humans on the other side of walls. While the researchers say this new tech could be used in areas like remote healthcare, it could in theory be used in more dystopian applications. Inverse reports: "We actually are tracking 14 different joints on the body [...] the head, the neck, the shoulders, the elbows, the wrists, the hips, the knees, and the feet," Dina Katabi, an electrical engineering and computer science teacher at MIT, said. "So you can get the full stick-figure that is dynamically moving with the individuals that are obstructed from you -- and that's something new that was not possible before." The technology works a little bit like radar, but to teach their neural network how to interpret these granular bits of human activity, the team at MIT's Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL) had to create two separate A.I.s: a student and a teacher.

[T]he team developed one A.I. program that monitored human movements with a camera, on one side of a wall, and fed that information to their wifi X-ray A.I., called RF-Pose, as it struggled to make sense of the radio waves passing through that wall on the other side. The research builds off of a longstanding project at CSAIL lead by Katabi, which hopes to use this wifi tracking to help passively monitor the elderly and automate any emergency alerts to EMTs and medical professionals if they were to fall or suffer some other injury.
For more information, a press release and video about the software are available.
Science

Giant African Baobab Trees Die Suddenly After Thousands of Years (theguardian.com) 174

Some of Africa's oldest and biggest baobab trees have abruptly died, wholly or in part, in the past decade, according to researchers. From a report: The trees, aged between 1,100 and 2,500 years and in some cases as wide as a bus is long, may have fallen victim to climate change, the team speculated. "We report that nine of the 13 oldest ... individuals have died, or at least their oldest parts/stems have collapsed and died, over the past 12 years," they wrote in the scientific journal Nature Plants, describing "an event of an unprecedented magnitude." "It is definitely shocking and dramatic to experience during our lifetime the demise of so many trees with millennial ages," said the study's co-author Adrian Patrut of the Babes-Bolyai University in Romania. Among the nine were four of the largest African baobabs. While the cause of the die-off remains unclear, the researchers "suspect that the demise of monumental baobabs may be associated at least in part with significant modifications of climate conditions that affect southern Africa in particular." Further research is needed, said the team from Romania, South Africa and the United States, "to support or refute this supposition."
Math

Honeybees Seem To Understand the Notion of Zero, Study Finds (sci-news.com) 154

A new study published in the journal Science finds honeybees are able to understand the concept of zero numerosity, joining the ranks of dolphins, parrots, and primates. Sci-News.com reports: The study authors set out to test the honeybee on its understanding, marking individual honeybees for easy identification and luring them to a specially-designed testing apparatus. The bees were trained to choose an image with the lowest number of elements in order to receive a reward of sugar solution. For example, the bees learned to choose three elements when presented with three vs. four; or two elements when presented with two vs. three. When the scientists periodically tested the bees with an image that contained no elements versus an image that had one or more, the bees understood that the set of zero was the lower number -- despite never having been exposed to an "empty set."
Communications

Mars Opportunity Rover Is In Danger of Dying From a Dust Storm (engadget.com) 105

According to NASA, the Mars Opportunity rover is currently trying to survive an intensifying dust storm on the red planet. "The storm's atmospheric opacity -- the veil of dust blowing around, which can blot out sunlight -- is now much worse than a 2007 storm that Opportunity weathered," reports NASA. "The previous storm had an opacity level, or tau, somewhere above 5.5; this new storm had an estimated tau of 10.8 as of Sunday morning." Engadget reports: The storm was first detected on Friday June 1st by the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, at which point the rover's team was notified because of the weather event's proximity to Opportunity. The rover uses solar panels, so a dust storm could have an extremely negative impact on Opportunity's power levels and its batteries. By Wednesday June 6th, Opportunity was in minimal operations mode because of sharply decreasing power levels. The brave little rover is continuing to weather the storm; it sent a transmission back to Earth Sunday morning, which is a good sign. It means there's still enough charge left in the batteries to communicate with home, despite the fact that the storm is continuing to worsen.
Medicine

Experimental Spit Test Could Identify Men Most At Risk of Prostate Cancer (gizmodo.com) 58

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Gizmodo: A test developed by scientists in the U.K. and U.S. might someday be able to pinpoint the men most likely to get prostate cancer. A new study published Monday in Nature Genetics suggests the test can detect the one percent of men who are genetically most vulnerable to developing prostate cancer, a leading cause of cancer deaths among American men. The international research team used a new DNA analysis technique to peer into the genes of more than 70,000 people enrolled in previous studies. Some 45,000 of the subjects had already developed prostate cancer, while 25,000 hadn't. So the researchers compared the two groups, singling out any inherited genetic variations that might have contributed to their cancer risk. According to the authors, they managed to find 63 new variants never before associated with prostate cancer.

These results were then integrated with nearly a hundred genetic variants linked to prostate cancer previously found among 60,000 people to create a total genetic risk score. And finally, the researchers devised a test that uses a person's saliva to detect these more than 150 variants. In the U.S., people over the age of 50 are generally screened for prostate cancer via the prostate-specific antigen (PSA) blood test. Those with a certain high level of PSA should be screened annually, while everyone else is advised to be screened every two years. But the saliva test could reveal especially high-risk people who need annual screening regardless of their PSA level, while ruling out low-risk people who don't need annual screening based on their genetic risk and PSA scores. Those people would only need screenings every two, five, and maybe even 10 years.

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