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Science

One in Five of Us May 'Hear' Flashes of Light (theguardian.com) 111

One in five people is affected by a synaesthesia-like phenomenon in which visual movements or flashes of light are "heard" as faint sounds, according to scientists. From a report on The Guardian: The findings suggest that far more people than initially thought experience some form of sensory cross-wiring -- which could explain the appeal of flashing musical baby toys and strobed lighting at raves. Elliot Freeman, a cognitive neuroscientist at City University and the study's lead author, said: "A lot of us go around having senses that we do not even recognise." More florid forms of synaesthesia, in which disparate sensory experiences are blended, are found in only about 2-4% of the population. To a synaesthete, the number seven might appear red, or the name Wesley might "taste" like boiled cabbage, for instance. The latest work -- only the second published on the phenomenon -- suggests that many more of us experience a less intrusive version of the condition in which visual movements or flashes are accompanied by an internal soundtrack of hums, buzzes or swooshes. Since movements are very frequently accompanied by sounds in everyday life, the effect is likely to be barely discernible.
NASA

NASA Is Making New Robots That Can Control Themselves (vice.com) 36

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Motherboard: NASA wants humans and robots to work together as teams. To ensure that, the space agency's autonomous robotics group is currently developing new technology to improve how humans explore the solar system, and how robots can help. When NASA began working with remotely operated robots several years ago, Fong said the scientists needed a piece of software that would allow them to look at terrain and sensor data coming from autonomous robots. That led to the creation of VERVE, a "3D robot user interface," which allows scientists to see and grasp the three-dimensional world of remotely operated robots. VERVE has been used with NASA's K10 planetary rovers (a prototype mobile robot that can travel bumpy terrain), with its K-Rex planetary rovers (robot to determine soil moisture), with SPHERES (Synchronized Position Hold, Engage, Reorient, Experimental Satellites) on the International Space Station (ISS), and with the new robot Astrobee (a robot that can fly around the ISS). In 2013, NASA carried out a series of tests with astronauts on the ISS, during which astronauts who were flying 200 miles above Earth remotely operated the K10 planetary rover in California. Because of time delay, astronauts can't just "joystick a robot," said Maria Bualat, deputy lead of intelligent robotics group at the NASA Ames Research Center. "You need a robot that can operate on its own, complete tasks on its own," she said. "On the other hand, you still want the human in the loop, because the human brings a lot of experience and very powerful cognitive ability that can deal with issues that the autonomy's not quite ready to handle." That's why, according to NASA, human capabilities and robotic capabilities comprise a powerful combination.
AI

AI Can Predict When Patients Will Die From Heart Failure 'With 80% Accuracy' (ibtimes.co.uk) 131

New submitter drunkdrone quotes a report from International Business Times: Scientists say they have developed an artificial intelligence (AI) program that is capable of predicting when patients with a serious heart disorder will die with an 80% accuracy rate. Researchers from the MRC London Institute of Medical Sciences (LMS) believe the software will allow doctors to better treat patients with pulmonary hypertension by determining how aggressive their treatment needs to be. The researchers' program assessed the outlook of 250 patients based on blood test results and MRI scans of their hearts. It then used the data to create a virtual 3D heart of each patient which, combined with the health records of "hundreds" of previous patients, allowed it to learn which characteristics indicated fatal heart failure within five years. The LMS scientists claim that the software was able to accurately predict patients who would still be alive after a year around 80% of the time. The computer was able to analyze patients "in seconds," promising to dramatically reduce the time it takes doctors to identify the most at-risk individuals and ensure they "give the right treatment to the right patients, at the right time." Dr Declan O'Regan, one the lead researchers from LMS, said: "This is the first time computers have interpreted heart scans to accurately predict how long patients will live. It could transform the way doctors treat heart patients. The researchers now hope to field-test the technology in hospitals in London in order to verify the data obtained from their trials, which have been published in the medical journal Radiology.
Medicine

Caffeine May Counter Age-Related Inflammation, Says Study (stanford.edu) 92

According to a new Stanford study published in the journal Nature Medicine, caffeine may help to counter the inflammatory process that occurs in some older people. The researchers have found a connection between advancing age, systemic inflammation, cardiovascular disease and coffee consumption by analyzing blood samples, survey data and medical and family histories obtained from more than 100 human participants in a multiyear study. Stanford Medical Center Report adds: The study implicates this inflammatory process as a driver of cardiovascular disease and increased rates of mortality overall. Metabolites, or breakdown products, of nucleic acids -- the molecules that serve as building blocks for our genes -- circulating in the blood can trigger this inflammatory process, the study found. The study also provides evidence that caffeine and its own metabolites may counter the action of these circulating nucleic-acid metabolites, possibly explaining why coffee drinkers tend to live longer than abstainers. Notably, this inflammatory mechanism was found to be activated only in some, but not all, of the older study participants. Those in whom it was relatively quiescent tended to drink more caffeinated beverages. Laboratory experiments revealed that the mechanism was directly countered by caffeine and associated compounds. For the new study, the researchers compared blood drawn from older versus younger study participants to see which genes tended to be more highly activated in older people. They zeroed in on two clusters of genes whose activity was associated with the production of a potent circulating inflammatory protein called IL-1-beta. The genes within each cluster appeared to work in coordination with one another. The researchers found that incubating a type of immune cell with two of those nucleic-acid metabolites boosted activity in one of the gene clusters, resulting in increased IL-1-beta production. When injected into mice, the substances triggered massive systemic inflammation, along with high blood pressure. In addition, immune cells infiltrated and clogged the animals' kidneys, increasing renal pressure substantially. Intrigued by the correlation between older participants' health, gene-cluster activation and self-reported rates of caffeine consumption, the researchers followed up and verified that blood from the group with low cluster activity was enriched for caffeine and a number of its metabolites, compared with blood from the group with high cluster activity. (Examples of these metabolites are theophylline, also found in tea, and theobromine, which abounds in chocolate.) Incubating immune cells with caffeine and its breakdown products along with the inflammation-triggering nucleic acid metabolites substantially prevented the latter from exerting their powerful inflammatory effect on the cells.
Science

Scientists Turn Docile Mice Into Ruthless Hunters (the-scientist.com) 76

BenBoy writes: A couple of years ago, a story surfaced about smarter mice: Scientists Create Super-intelligent Mice, Discover They're Also Very Laid Back. Well, implicit challenge accepted! 2017 brings us a report from Cell, via The Scientist: "Neural circuits in the amygdala are responsible for predatory behavior in mice, according to a study published January 12 in Cell. Using optogenetics, a technique that uses light to turn neural circuits on and off, a group of researchers led by neuroscientist Ivan de Araujo of Yale University was able to turn docile mice into ruthless hunters. Earlier research revealed that the amygdala, an almond-shaped brain structure most commonly linked to fear, was active when rats were hunting and feeding. To see whether this brain region was actually controlling predatory behavior, Araujo and colleagues decided to use optogenetics to selectively activate specific neurons in mice, with light. When the researchers activated the amygdala, docile mice attacked everything from bottle caps to live insects. Even when there was no prey in sight, the mice displayed feeding behavior -- moving their jaws and lifted their paws as if holding a piece of food. Once the light was switched off, the animals went back to peacefully strolling around their cages." Nuclear death-mice are, we assume, right around the corner.
Space

Japanese Spacecraft Spots Massive Gravity Wave In Venus' Atmosphere (theverge.com) 82

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Verge: The Japanese probe Akatsuki has observed a massive gravity wave in the atmosphere of Venus. This is not the first time such a wave was observed on the Solar System's second planet, but it is the largest ever recorded, stretching just over 6,000 miles from end to end. Its features also suggest that the dynamics of Venus' atmosphere are more complex than previously thought. An atmospheric gravity wave is a ripple in the density of a planet's atmosphere, according to the European Space Agency. Akatsuki spotted this particular gravity wave, described in a paper published today in Nature Geoscience, when the probe arrived at the planet on December 7th, 2015. The spacecraft then lost sight of it on December 12th, 2015, because of a change in Akatsuki's orbit. When the probe returned to a position to observe the bow-shaped structure on January 15th, 2016, the bright wave had vanished. What sets the huge December wave apart from previously discovered ones is that it appeared to be stationary above a mountainous region on the planet's surface, despite the background atmospheric winds. The study's authors believe that the bright structure is the result of a gravity wave that was formed in the lower atmosphere as it flowed over the planet's mountainous terrain. It's not clear how the wave exactly propagates to the planet's upper atmosphere, where clouds rotate faster than the planets itself -- four days instead of the 243 days it takes Venus to rotate once.
Communications

Study Finds Link Between Profanity and Honesty (neurosciencenews.com) 274

A team of researchers from the Netherlands, the UK, the U.S. and Hong Kong report in the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science that people who use profanity are less likely to be associated with lying and deception. Neuroscience News reports: Profanity is obscene language which, in some social settings is considered inappropriate and unacceptable. It often refers to language that contains sexual references, blasphemy or other vulgar terms. It's usually related to the expression of emotions such as anger, frustration or surprise. But profanity can also be used to entertain and win over audiences. As dishonesty and profanity are both considered deviant they are often viewed as evidence of low moral standards. On the other hand, profanity can be positively associated with honesty. It is often used to express unfiltered feelings and sincerity. The researchers cite the example of President-elect Donald Trump who used swear words in some of his speeches while campaigning in last year's U.S. election and was considered, by some, to be more genuine than his rivals. The international team of researchers set out to gauge people's views about this sort of language in a series of questionnaires which included interactions with social media users. In the first questionnaire 276 participants were asked to list their most commonly used and favorite swear words. They were also asked to rate their reasons for using these words and then took part in a lie test to determine whether they were being truthful or simply responding in the way they thought was socially acceptable. Those who wrote down a higher number of curse words were less likely to be lying. A second survey involved collecting data from 75,000 Facebook users to measure their use of swear words in their online social interactions. The research found that those who used more profanity were also more likely to use language patterns that have been shown in previous research to be related to honesty, such as using pronouns like "I" and "me."
Moon

NASA Astronaut Gene Cernan, Last Man To Walk On the Moon, Dies At 82 (engadget.com) 95

NASA astronaut and retired U.S. Navy captain Gene Cernan was the second American to walk in space and the last to set foot on the moon during that mission. Unfortunately, today Cernan passed away at age 82. Engadget reports: During his time as an astronaut, Cernan logged over 500 hours in space and he spent more than 73 of those on the surface of the moon. Captain Cernan's NASA career began in 1963 and he made his first trip to space as part of the three-day Gemini IX mission in 1966. He went on to serve as the lunar module pilot for the Apollo 10 mission in 1969 before taking the role of spacecraft commander for Apollo 17 in December 1972. Apollo 17 was the last manned mission to the moon for the United States. Cernan retired from the U.S. Navy after a 20-year career in 1976 and left NASA at the same time. Watch Apollo 17 astronauts Gene Cernan and Jack Schmitt sing "I Was Strolling on the Moon One Day" on YouTube.
Power

Researchers Create A Lithium-Ion Battery With Built-In Flame Retardant (engadget.com) 71

An anonymous reader quotes Engadget: One big problem with lithium-ion batteries is that they have the tendency to catch fire and blow up all kinds of gadgets like toys and phones. To solve that issue, a group of researchers from Stanford University created lithium-ion batteries with built-in fire extinguishers. They added a component called "triphenyl phosphate" to the plastic fibers of the part that keeps negative and positive electrodes separate. Triphenyl phosphate is a compound commonly used as a flame retardant for various electronics. If the battery's temperature reaches 150 degrees Celsius, the plastic fibers melt and release the chemical. Based on the researchers' tests, the method can stop batteries from burning up within 0.4 seconds.
Privacy

Hackers Corrupt Data For Cloud-Based Medical Marijuana System (bostonglobe.com) 144

Long-time Slashdot reader t0qer writes: I'm the IT director at a medical marijuana dispensary. Last week the point of sales system we were using was hacked... What scares me about this breach is, I have about 30,000 patients in my database alone. If this company has 1,000 more customers like me, even half of that is still 15 million people on a list of people that "Smoke pot"...
" No patient, consumer, or client data was ever extracted or viewed," the company's data directory has said. "The forensic analysis proves that. The data was encrypted -- so it couldn't have been viewed -- and it was never extracted, so nobody has it and could attempt decryption." They're saying it was a "targeted" attack meant to corrupt the data rather than retrieve it, and they're "reconstructing historical data" from backups, though their web site adds that their backup sites were also targeted.

"In response to this attack, all client sites have been migrated to a new, more secure environment," the company's CEO announced on YouTube Saturday, adding that "Keeping our client's data secure has always been our top priority." Last week one industry publication had reported that the outage "has sent 1,000 marijuana retailers in 23 states scrambling to handle everything from sales and inventory management to regulatory compliance issues."
Space

SpaceX Returns To Flight, And Nails Another Drone Landing (cnn.com) 129

Applehu Akbar writes: SpaceX successfully launched a 10-satellite Iridium NEXT package, and then landed on a drone ship — this time from Vandenburg AFB in California. The launch had been delayed several days by this week's record rainfall and flooding.
CNN has video of the launch, and points out its obvious significance. "Because rockets are worth tens of millions of dollars, and they have historically been discarded after launch, mastering the landing is key to making space travel more affordable... Saturday's launch marks the seventh time SpaceX has successfully landed a rocket."
Medicine

'Superbug' Resistant To 26 Antibiotics Kills A Patient In Nevada (upi.com) 293

An anonymous reader quotes UPI: A Nevada woman in her 70s who'd recently returned from India died in September from a "superbug" infection that resisted all antibiotics, according to a report released Friday... The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention "basically reported that there was nothing in our medicine cabinet to treat this lady," report co-author Dr. Randall Todd told the Reno Gazette-Journal. He's director of epidemiology and public health preparedness for the Washoe County Health District, in Reno... CDC testing subsequently revealed the germ was New Delhi metallo-beta-lactamase -- a highly resistant form of CRE typically found outside the United States.
Supercomputing

D-Wave Open Sources Its Quantum Computing Tool (gcn.com) 45

Long-time Slashdot reader haruchai writes: Canadian company D-Wave has released their qbsolv tool on GitHub to help bolster interest and familiarity with quantum computing. "qbsolv is a metaheuristic or partitioning solver that solves a potentially large QUBO problem by splitting it into pieces that are solved either on a D-Wave system or via a classical tabu solver," they write on GitHub.

This joins the QMASM macro assembler for D-Wave systems, a tool written in Python by Scott Pakin of Los Alamos National Labs. D-Wave president Bo Ewald says "D-Wave is driving the hardware forward but we need more smart people thinking about applications, and another set thinking about software tools."

Earth

Moon Express Raises $20 Million In Series B-1, Fully Funds Trip To The Moon (techcrunch.com) 63

The company competing in the Google Lunar X-Prize, Moon Express, has raised $20 million in funding and announced that they have now fully financed their mission to the moon. The company made history last year as it became the first private company to receive permission to travel to the moon. Moon Express plans to launch their MX-1E spacecraft to the moon at the end of 2017 with the goal of winning the $20 million grand prize in the X-Prize competition. TechCrunch reports: If successful, Moon Express would become the first private company and the fourth entity in history to soft-land on the moon. The first three entities were all government-funded superpowers from the U.S., USSR and China. Of course to win that title, Moon Express will need to beat the other X-Prize competitors including SpaceIL from Israel, Team Indus from India (carrying the Japanese team HAKUTO as a payload), and the international team Synergy Moon. Each company has had launch contracts confirmed by X-Prize, a requirement to remain in the competition. The first company to soft-land on the Moon, travel 500 meters across its surface, and transmit high-definition video and images back to Earth will win the grand prize of $20 million. There's also $5 million up for grabs for the company that comes in second. Perhaps the most challenging of the X-Prize requirements is the deadline. To win the prizes, competitors must complete all tasks by the end of 2017. Although the X-Prize Foundation has pushed the deadline back before. What makes the Google Lunar X-Prize competition especially unique is that it required participants to obtain 90% of their funding from private sources. In theory, this would encourage profit-driven business plans, kick-starting a wave of lunar-based commercialization.
Businesses

SpaceX Accident Cost it Hundreds of Millions (fortune.com) 67

Elon Musk's SpaceX lost more than a quarter of a billion dollars in 2015 after a botched cargo run to the International Space Station and the subsequent grounding of its Falcon 9 rocket fleet, The Wall Street Journal reported on Friday. From a report: The accident derailed SpaceX's expectations of $1.8 billion in launch revenue in 2016, an analysis of the privately held firm's financial documents showed, according to the Journal, which said it had obtained the documents. SpaceX declined to comment on the Journal's report. In a statement emailed to Reuters, SpaceX chief financial officer Bret Johnsen said the company "is in a financially strong position" with more than $1 billion in cash reserves and no debt.
United States

Congress Will Consider Proposal To Raise H-1B Minimum Wage To $100,000 (arstechnica.com) 536

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Ars Technica: President-elect Donald Trump is just a week away from taking office. From the start of his campaign, he has promised big changes to the US immigration system. For both Trump's advisers and members of Congress, the H-1B visa program, which allows many foreign workers to fill technology jobs, is a particular focus. One major change to that system is already under discussion: making it harder for companies to use H-1B workers to replace Americans by simply giving the foreign workers a raise. The "Protect and Grow American Jobs Act," introduced last week by Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif. and Scott Peters, D-Calif., would significantly raise the wages of workers who get H-1B visas. If the bill becomes law, the minimum wage paid to H-1B workers would rise to at least $100,000 annually, and be adjusted it for inflation. Right now, the minimum is $60,000. The sponsors say that would go a long way toward fixing some of the abuses of the H-1B program, which critics say is currently used to simply replace American workers with cheaper, foreign workers. In 2013, the top nine companies acquiring H-1B visas were technology outsourcing firms, according to an analysis by a critic of the H-1B program. (The 10th is Microsoft.) The thinking goes that if minimum H-1B salaries are brought closer to what high-skilled tech employment really pays, the economic incentive to use it as a worker-replacement program will drop off. "We need to ensure we can retain the world's best and brightest talent," said Issa in a statement about the bill. "At the same time, we also need to make sure programs are not abused to allow companies to outsource and hire cheap foreign labor from abroad to replace American workers." The H-1B program offers 65,000 visas each fiscal year, with an additional 20,000 reserved for foreign workers who have advanced degrees from US colleges and universities. The visas are awarded by lottery each year. Last year, the government received more than 236,000 applications for those visas.
Earth

US Puts Bumblebee On the Endangered Species List For First Time (npr.org) 129

For the first time for a bumblebee and a bee species in the U.S., the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has designated the bumblebee an endangered species. The protected status goes into effect on February 10, and includes requirements for federal protections and the development of a recovery plan. NPR reports: "Today's Endangered Species listing is the best -- and probably last -- hope for the recovery of the rusty patched bumble bee," NRDC Senior Attorney Rebecca Riley said in a statement from the Xerces Society, which advocates for invertebrates. "Bumble bees are dying off, vanishing from our farms, gardens, and parks, where they were once found in great numbers." Large parts of the Eastern and Midwestern United States were once crawling with these bees, Bombus affinis, but the bees have suffered a dramatic decline in the last two decades due to habitat loss and degradation, along with pathogens and pesticides. Indeed, the bee was found in 31 states and Canadian provinces before the mid- to late-1990s, according to the final rule published in the Federal Register. But since 2000, it has been reported in only 13 states and Ontario, Canada. It has seen an 88 percent decline in the number of populations and an 87 percent loss in the amount of territory it inhabits. This means the species is vulnerable to extinction, the rule says, even without further habitat loss or insecticide exposure. Canada designated the species as endangered in 2012.
Medicine

Study Shows Wearable Sensors Can Tell When You Are Getting Sick (phys.org) 55

skids quotes a report from Phys.Org: Wearable sensors that monitor heart rate, activity, skin temperature and other variables can reveal a lot about what is going on inside a person, including the onset of infection, inflammation and even insulin resistance, according to a study by researchers at the Stanford University School of Medicine. Altogether, the team collected nearly 2 billion measurements from 60 people, including continuous data from each participant's wearable biosensor devices and periodic data from laboratory tests of their blood chemistry, gene expression and other measures. Participants wore between one and eight commercially available activity monitors and other monitors that collected more than 250,000 measurements a day. The team collected data on weight; heart rate; oxygen in the blood; skin temperature; activity, including sleep, steps, walking, biking and running; calories expended; acceleration; and even exposure to gamma rays and X-rays. "We want to study people at an individual level," said Michael Snyder, PhD, professor and chair of genetics. "We have more sensors on our cars than we have on human beings," said Snyder. In the future, he said, he expects the situation will be reversed and people will have more sensors than cars do.

Slashdot reader skids adds: "IT security being in the state it is, will we face the same decision about our actual lives that we already face about our social lives/identities: either risk very real hazards of misuse of your personal data, or get left behind?

Medicine

CVS Announces Super Cheap Generic Alternative To EpiPen (arstechnica.com) 372

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Ars Technica: Pharmaceutical giant CVS announced Thursday that it has partnered with Impax Laboratories to sell a generic epinephrine auto-injector for $109.99 for a two-pack -- a dramatic cut from Mylan's Epipen two-pack prices, which list for more than $600 as a brand name and $300 as a generic. The lower-cost auto-injector, a generic form of Adrenaclick, is available starting today nationwide in the company's more than 9,600 pharmacies. Its price resembles that of EpiPen's before Mylan bought the rights to the life-saving devices back in 2007 and raised the price repeatedly, sparking outcry. Helena Foulkes, president of CVS Pharmacy, said the company felt compelled to respond to the urgent need for a more affordable alternative. "Over the past year, nearly 150,000 people signed on to a petition asking for a lower-cost epinephrine auto-injector option and millions more were active in social media searching for a solution," she said in a statement. The price of $109.99 for the alternative applies to those with and without insurance, CVS noted. And Impax is also offering a coupon to reduce the cost to just $9.99 for qualifying patients. Also in the press statement, Dr. Todd Listwa of Novant Health, a network of healthcare providers, noted the importance of access to epinephrine auto-injectors, which swiftly reverse rapid-onset, deadly allergic reactions in some. "For these patients, having access to emergency epinephrine is a necessity. Making an affordable epinephrine auto-injector device accessible to patients will ensure patients have the medicine they need, when they need it."
Medicine

Rural Americans At Higher Risk From Five Leading Causes of Death: CDC (cbsnews.com) 373

An anonymous reader quotes a report from CBS News: Americans living in rural areas are more likely to die from five leading causes of death than people living in urban areas, according to a new government report. Many of these deaths are preventable, officials say, with causes including heart disease, cancer, unintentional injuries, stroke, and chronic lower respiratory disease. Approximately 46 million Americans -- about 15 percent of the U.S. population -- currently live in rural areas. According to the CDC report, several demographic, environmental, economic, and social factors might put rural residents at higher risk of death from these conditions. Rural residents in the U.S., for example, tend to be older and sicker than their urban counterparts, and have higher rates of cigarette smoking, high blood pressure, and obesity. People living in rural areas also report less leisure-time physical activity and lower seatbelt use than their those living in urban areas and have higher rates of poverty, less access to health care, and are less likely to have health insurance. Specifically, the report found that in 2014, deaths among rural Americans included: 25,000 from heart disease; 19,000 from cancer; 12,000 from unintentional injuries; 11,000 from chronic lower respiratory disease; 4,000 from stroke. The percentages of deaths that were potentially preventable were higher in rural areas than in urban areas, the authors report. For the study, the researchers analyzed numbers from a national database. The CDC suggests to help close the gap, health care providers in rural areas can: Screen patients for high blood pressure; Increase cancer prevention and early detection; Encourage physical activity and healthy eating; Promote smoking cessation; Promote motor vehicle safety; Engage in safer prescribing of opioids for pain.

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