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Are You Ready for the End of Python 2?

Sat, 12/07/2019 - 11:34pm
"Users of an old version of the popular Python language face a reckoning at the end of the year," reports Wired, calling it a programmer's "own version of update hell." The developers who maintain Python, who work for a variety of organizations or simply volunteer their time, say they will stop supporting Python 2 on January 1, 2020 -- more than a decade after the introduction of Python 3 in December 2008. That means no more security fixes or other updates, at least for the official version of Python. The Python team extended the initial deadline in 2015, after it became apparent that developers needed more time to make the switch. It's hard to say how many organizations still haven't made the transition. A survey of developers last year by programming toolmaker JetBrains found that 75 percent of respondents use Python 3, up from 53 percent the year before. But data scientist Vicki Boykis points out in an article for StackOverflow that about 40 percent of software packages downloaded from the Python code management system PyPI in September were written in Python 2.7. For many companies, the transition remains incomplete. Even Dropbox, which employed Python creator Guido van Rossum until his retirement last month, still has some Python 2 code to update. Dropbox engineer Max Belanger says shifting the company's core desktop application from Python 2 to Python 3 took three years. "It wasn't a lot of absolute engineering work," Belanger says. "But it took a long time because stability is so important. We wanted to make sure our users didn't feel any effects of the transition." The transition from Python 2 to 3 is challenging in part because of the number and complexity of other tools that programmers use. Programmers often rely on open source bundles of code known as "libraries" that handle common tasks, such as connecting to databases or verifying passwords. These libraries spare developers from having to rewrite these features from scratch. But if you want to update your code from Python 2 to Python 3, you need to make sure all the libraries you use also have made the switch. "It isn't all happening in isolation," Belanger says. "Everyone has to do it." Today, the 360 most popular Python packages are all Python 3-compatible, according to the site Python 3 Readiness. But even one obscure library that hasn't updated can cause headaches. Python's core team is now prioritizing smaller (but more frequent) updates to make it easier to migrate to newer versions, according to the article, noting that Guido Van Rossum "wrote last month that there might not ever be a Python 4. The team could just add features to Python 3 indefinitely that don't break backward compatibility."

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Researchers Call Chronic Inflammation 'A Substantial Public Health Crisis'

Sat, 12/07/2019 - 9:34pm
UPI reports: Roughly half of all deaths worldwide are caused by inflammation-related diseases. Now, a team of international researchers is calling on physicians to focus greater attention on the diagnosis, prevention and treatment of severe, chronic inflammation so that people can live longer, healthier lives. In a commentary published Friday in the journal Nature Medicine, researchers at 22 institutions describe how persistent and severe inflammation in the body is often a precursor for heart disease, cancer, kidney disease, diabetes, and autoimmune and neurodegenerative disorders. The researchers point to inflammation-related conditions as the cause of roughly 50 percent of all deaths worldwide. "This is a substantial public health crisis," co-author George Slavich, a research scientist at the Norman Cousins Center for Psychoneuroimmunology at UCLA, said in a statement. "It's also important to recognize that inflammation is a contributor not just to physical health problems, but also mental health problems such as anxiety disorders, depression, PTSD, schizophrenia, self-harm and suicide." In the commentary, Slavich and his fellow authors describe inflammation as a naturally occurring response by the body's immune system that helps it fight illness and infection. However, when inflammation is chronic, it can increase the risk for developing potentially deadly diseases.

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Will Plunging Battery Prices Start a Boom In Electric Power?

Sat, 12/07/2019 - 7:34pm
An anonymous reader quotes Utility Dive: Average market prices for battery packs have plunged from $1,100 per kilowatt hour in 2010 to $156 per kilowatt hour in 2019, an 87% fall in real terms, according to a report released Tuesday by Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF). Prices are projected to fall to around $100 per kilowatt hour by 2023, driving electrification across the global economy, according to BNEF's forecast. BNEF's latest forecast, from its 2019 Battery Price Survey, is an example of how advancements in battery technology have driven down costs at rates faster than previously predicted. Three years ago, when battery prices were around $300 per kilowatt hour, BNEF projected they would fall to $120 per kilowatt hour by 2030... The cost of lithium-ion batteries mandates the cost of electric vehicles for consumers and the ability of battery storage projects to compete in electricity markets. As they get cheaper, batteries will be used in more industry sectors. "For example, the electrification of commercial vehicles, like delivery vans, is becoming increasingly attractive," BNEF said. Earlier this year, Amazon placed an order for 100,000 all-electric delivery vans from Michigan-based start-up manufacturer Rivian. Just this week, Reuters reported that DHL will run pilot programs for its StreetScooter electric delivery vehicles in U.S. cities, starting in 2020.

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'Why Are Cops Around the World Using This Outlandish Mind-Reading Tool?'

Sat, 12/07/2019 - 6:34pm
ProPublica has determined that dozens of state and local agencies have purchased "SCAN" training from a company called LSI for reviewing a suspect's written statements -- even though there's no scientific evidence that it works. Local, state and federal agencies from the Louisville Metro Police Department to the Michigan State Police to the U.S. State Department have paid for SCAN training. The LSI website lists 417 agencies nationwide, from small-town police departments to the military, that have been trained in SCAN -- and that list isn't comprehensive, because additional ones show up in procurement databases and in public records obtained by ProPublica. Other training recipients include law enforcement agencies in Australia, Belgium, Canada, Israel, Mexico, the Netherlands, Singapore, South Africa and the United Kingdom, among others... For Avinoam Sapir, the creator of SCAN, sifting truth from deception is as simple as one, two, three. 1. Give the subject a pen and paper. 2. Ask the subject to write down his/her version of what happened. 3. Analyze the statement and solve the case. Those steps appear on the website for Sapir's company, based in Phoenix. "SCAN Unlocks the Mystery!" the homepage says, alongside a logo of a question mark stamped on someone's brain. The site includes dozens of testimonials with no names attached. "Since January when I first attended your course, everybody I meet just walks up to me and confesses!" one says. [Another testimonial says "The Army finally got its money's worth..."] SCAN saves time, the site says. It saves money. Police can fax a questionnaire to a hundred people at once, the site says. Those hundred people can fax it back "and then, in less than an hour, the investigator will be able to review the questionnaires and solve the case." In 2009 the U.S. government created a special interagency task force to review scientific studies and independently investigate which interrogation techniques worked, assessed by the FBI, CIA and the U.S. Department of Defense. "When all 12 SCAN criteria were used in a laboratory study, SCAN did not distinguish truth-tellers from liars above the level of chance," the review said, also challenging two of the method's 12 criteria. "Both gaps in memory and spontaneous corrections have been shown to be indicators of truth, contrary to what is claimed by SCAN." In a footnote, the review identified three specific agencies that use SCAN: the FBI, CIA and U.S. Army military intelligence, which falls under the Department of Defense... In 2016, the same year the federal task force released its review of interrogation techniques, four scholars published a study on SCAN in the journal Frontiers in Psychology. The authors -- three from the Netherlands, one from England -- noted that there had been only four prior studies in peer-reviewed journals on SCAN's effectiveness. Each of those studies (in 1996, 2012, 2014 and 2015) concluded that SCAN failed to help discriminate between truthful and fabricated statements. The 2016 study found the same. Raters trained in SCAN evaluated 234 statements -- 117 true, 117 false. Their results in trying to separate fact from fiction were about the same as chance.... Steven Drizin, a Northwestern University law professor who specializes in wrongful convictions, said SCAN and assorted other lie-detection tools suffer from "over-claim syndrome" -- big claims made without scientific grounding. Asked why police would trust such tools, Drizin said: "A lot has to do with hubris -- a belief on the part of police officers that they can tell when someone is lying to them with a high degree of accuracy. These tools play in to that belief and confirm that belief." SCAN's creator "declined to be interviewed for this story," but they spoke to some users of the technique. Travis Marsh, the head of an Indiana sheriff's department, has been using the tool for nearly two decades, while acknowledging that he can't explain how it works. "It really is, for lack of a better term, a faith-based system because you can't see behind the curtain." Pro Publica also reports that "Years ago his wife left a note saying she and the kids were off doing one thing, whereas Marsh, analyzing her writing, could tell they had actually gone shopping. His wife has not left him another note in at least 15 years..."

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Volkswagen Headquarters Raided Again After They Disclosed New Diesel Filtering 'Issue'

Sat, 12/07/2019 - 5:34pm
"Reuters is reporting that German public prosecutors have again raided the Wolfsburg headquarters of Volkswagen in the latest investigation into the carmaker's diesel emissions," writes Slashdot reader McGruber. The purpose of the raid was to "confiscate documents," the article reports: Volkswagen, which admitted in 2015 to cheating U.S. emissions tests on diesel engines, said it was fully cooperating with the authorities, but viewed the investigation as unfounded.... The carmaker said it had itself disclosed the issue at the center of the new investigation -- which is targeting individual employees -- to the relevant registration authorities... Volkswagen said the raids were linked to an investigation into diesel cars with engine type EA 288, a successor model to the EA 189 which was at the heart of the test cheating scandal... In simulations, vehicles with the EA 288 engine did not indicate a failure of the diesel filter, while still complying with emissions limits, Volkswagen said, adding the engine did not have an illegal defeat device.

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The U.S. Considers Ban on Exporting Surveillance Technology To China

Sat, 12/07/2019 - 4:34pm
The South China Morning Post reports that the U.S. may be taking a stand against China. This week the U.S. House of Representatives passed a new bill that would "tighten export controls on China-bound U.S. technology that could be used to 'suppress individual privacy, freedom of movement and other basic human rights' [and] ordering the U.S. president, within four months of the legislation's enactment, to submit to Congress a list of Chinese officials deemed responsible for, or complicit in, human rights abuses in Xinjiang... "The UIGHUR Act also demands that, on the same day, those individuals are subject to sanctions under the Global Magnitsky Act, seizing their U.S.-based assets and barring them from entry onto U.S. soil." Reuters notes that American government officials "have sounded the alarm on China's detention of at least a million Uighur Muslims, by U.N. estimates, in the northwestern region of Xinjiang as a grave abuse of human rights and religious freedom..." U.S. congressional sources and China experts say Beijing appears especially sensitive to provisions in the Uighur Act passed by the House of Representatives this week banning exports to China of items that can be used for surveillance of individuals, including facial and voice-recognition technology... A U.S. congressional source also said a Washington-based figure close to the Chinese government told him recently it disliked the Uighur bill more than the Hong Kong bill for "dollars and cents reasons," because the former measure contained serious export controls on money-spinning security technology, while also threatening asset freezes and visa bans on individual officials. Victor Shih, an associate professor of China and Pacific Relations at the University of California, San Diego, said mass surveillance was big business in China and a number of tech companies there could be hurt by the law if it passes. China spent roughly 1.24 trillion yuan ($176 billion) on domestic security in 2017 -- 6.1% of total government spending and more than was spent on the military. Budgets for internal security, of which surveillance technology is a part, have doubled in regions including Xinjiang and Beijing.

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Remembering Star Trek Writer DC Fontana, 1939-2019

Sat, 12/07/2019 - 3:34pm
Long-time Slashdot reader sandbagger brings the news that D. C. Fontana, an influential story editor and writer on the original 1960s TV series Star Trek, has died this week. People reports: The writer is credited with developing the Spock character's backstory and "expanding Vulcan culture," SyFy reported of her massive contribution to the beloved sci-fi series. Fontana was the one who came up with Spock's childhood history revealed in "Yesteryear," an episode in Star Trek: The Animated Series, on which she was both the story editor and associate producer. As the outlet pointed out, Fontana was also responsible for the characters of Spock's parents, the Vulcan Sarek and human Amanda, who were introduced in the notable episode "Journey to Babel." In fact, Fontana herself said that she hopes to be remembered for bringing Spock to life. "Primarily the development of Spock as a character and Vulcan as a history/background/culture from which he sprang," she said in a 2013 interview published on the Star Trek official site, when asked what she thought her contributions to the series were. With Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry, she also penned the episode "Encounter at Farpoint," which launched The Next Generation in 1987. The episode introduced Captain Picard, played by Patrick Stewart, and earned the writing pair a Hugo Award nomination. Fontana was one of four Star Trek writers who re-wrote Harlan Ellison's classic episode The City on the Edge of Forever , and her profile at IMDB.com credits her with the story or teleplay for 11 episodes of the original series. In the 1970s Fontana worked on other sci-fi television shows, including Land of the Lost, The Six Million Dollar Man, and the Logan's Run series. Fontana later also wrote an episode of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, three episodes of Babylon 5, and even an episode of the fan-created science fiction webseries Star Trek: New Voyages.

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Jury Sides With Elon Musk, Rejects $190M Defamation Claim Over Tweet

Sat, 12/07/2019 - 2:34pm
Aighearach (Slashdot reader #97,333) shared this story from Reuters: Tesla Inc boss Elon Musk emerged victorious on Friday from a closely watched defamation trial as a federal court jury swiftly rejected the $190 million claim brought against him by a British cave explorer who Musk had branded a "pedo guy" on Twitter. The unanimous verdict by a panel of five women and three men was returned after roughly 45 minutes of deliberation on the fourth day of Musk's trial. Legal experts believe it was the first major defamation lawsuit brought by a private individual over remarks on Twitter to be decided by a jury... The jury's decision signals a higher legal threshold for challenging potentially libelous Twitter comments, said L. Lin Wood, the high-profile trial lawyer who led the legal team for the plaintiff, Vernon Unsworth... Other lawyers specializing in defamation agreed the verdict reflects how the freewheeling nature of social media has altered understandings of what distinguishes libel punishable in court from casual rhetoric and hyperbole protected as free speech. Musk, 48, who had testified during the first two days of the trial in his own defense and returned to court on Friday to hear closing arguments, exited the courtroom after the verdict and said: "My faith in humanity is restored."

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Why Is Russia's Suspected Internet Cable Spy Ship In the Mid-Atlantic?

Sat, 12/07/2019 - 1:34pm
"Russia's controversial intelligence ship Yantar has been operating in the Caribbean, or mid-Atlantic, since October," writes defense analyst H I Sutton this week in Forbes. He adds that the ship "is suspected by Western navies of being involved in operations on undersea communications cables." Significantly, she appears to be avoiding broadcasting her position via AIS (Automated Identification System). I suspect that going dark on AIS is a deliberate measure to frustrate efforts to analyse her mission. She has briefly used AIS while making port calls, where it would be expected by local authorities, for example while calling at Trinidad on November 8 and again on November 28. However in both cases she disappeared from AIS tracking sites almost as soon as she left port... Yantar has been observed conducting search patterns in the vicinity of internet cables, and there is circumstantial evidence that she has been responsible for internet outages, for example off the Syrian coast in 2016. Yantar is "allegedly an 'oceanographic research vessel'," notes Popular Mechanics, in a mid-November article headlined "Why is Russia's spy ship near American waters?" A study by British think tank Policy Exchange mentioned that the ship carried two submersibles capable of tapping undersea cables for information -- or outright cutting them, the Forbes article points out. "Whether Yantar's presence involves undersea cables, or some other target of interest to the Russians, it will be of particular interest to U.S. forces."

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Apple Fails To Stop Class Action Lawsuit Over MacBook Butterfly Keyboards

Sat, 12/07/2019 - 12:34pm
Mark Wilson quotes BetaNews: Apple has failed in an attempt to block a class action lawsuit being brought against it by a customer who claimed the company concealed the problematic nature of the butterfly keyboard design used in MacBooks. The proposed lawsuit not only alleges that Apple concealed the fact that MacBook, MacBook Pro and MacBook Air keyboards were prone to failure, but also that design defects left customers out of pocket because of Apple's failure to provide an effective fix. Engadget argues that Apple "might face an uphill battle in court. "While the company has never said the butterfly keyboard design was inherently flawed, it instituted repair programs for that keyboard design and even added the latest 13-inch MacBook Pro to the program the moment it became available. Also, the 16-inch MacBook Pro conspicuously reverted to scissor switches in what many see as a tacit acknowledgment that the earlier technology was too fragile."

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Hospitals' New Issue: A 'Glut' of Machines Making Alarm Sounds

Sat, 12/07/2019 - 11:34am
"Tens of thousands of alarms shriek, beep and buzz every day in every U.S. hospital," reports Fierce Healthcare -- even though most of them aren't urgent, disturb the patients, and won't get immediate attention anyways: The glut of noise means that the medical staff is less likely to respond. Alarms have ranked as one of the top 10 health technological hazards every year since 2007, according to the research firm ECRI Institute. That could mean staffs were too swamped with alarms to notice a patient in distress or that the alarms were misconfigured. The Joint Commission, which accredits hospitals, warned the nation about the "frequent and persistent" problem of alarm safety in 2013. It now requires hospitals to create formal processes to tackle alarm system safety... The commission has estimated that of the thousands of alarms going off throughout a hospital every day, an estimated 85% to 99% do not require clinical intervention. Staff, facing widespread "alarm fatigue" can miss critical alerts, leading to patient deaths. Patients may get anxious about fluctuations in heart rate or blood pressure that are perfectly normal, the commission said.... In the past 30 years, the number of medical devices that generate alarms has risen from about 10 to nearly 40, said Priyanka Shah, a senior project engineer at ECRI Institute. A breathing ventilator alone can emit 30 to 40 different noises, she said... Maria Cvach, an alarm expert and director of policy management and integration for Johns Hopkins Health System, found that on one step-down unit (a level below intensive care) in the hospital in 2006, an average of 350 alarms went off per patient per day -- from the cardiac monitor alone.... By customizing alarm settings and converting some audible alerts to visual displays at nurses' stations, Cvach's team at Johns Hopkins reduced the average number of alarms from each patient's cardiac monitor from 350 to about 40 per day, she said. Hospitals are also installing sophisticated software to analyze and prioritize the constant stream of alerts before relaying the information to staff members.

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How Fake News Is Still Fooling Facebook's Fact-Checking Systems

Sat, 12/07/2019 - 10:34am
Slashdot reader peterthegreat321 shared an article from Medium's technology blog OneZero revealing the "cracks, loopholes, and limitations in Facebook's systems that bad actors are busily exploiting." Facebook says it's proud of the progress it has made, though it acknowledges there's more to be done. "Multiple independent studies have found that we've cut the amount of fake news on Facebook by more than half since the 2016 election," the company said in a statement to OneZero. "That still means plenty of people see fake news, which is why we now have more visible warning labels flagging this type of content, and prominent notifications when someone tries to share it or already has...." The most glaring shortcoming in Facebook's systems might also be the one that's hardest to fix. Even when everything goes right with its fact-checking partners, their human editorial resources pale in comparison to the scope of misinformation on the platform, and they can only vet a fraction of it... In most cases, a story only rises to the top of fact-checkers' priority list once it has already gone viral. And it continues going viral during the fact-checking process. By the time it's marked as debunked on Facebook, its reach may have already peaked. The discouraging reality is that Facebook's fact-checking efforts, however sincere, appear to be overmatched by the dynamics of its platform. To make the News Feed a less misleading information source would require far more than belated debunkings and warning labels. It would require altering the basic structure of a network designed to rapidly disseminate the posts that generate the greatest quantity of quick-twitch reactions. It would require differentiating between more and less reliable information sources -- something Facebook has attempted in only the most halfhearted ways, and upon which Zuckerberg recently indicated he has little appetite to expand... [T]he progress the platform has made appears to be reaching its limits under a CEO who sees his platform as a bulwark of free speech more than of human rights, democracy, or truth. Last week, Facebook's only Dutch fact-checking partner quit the program in protest of the company's refusal to fact-check politicians.

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Scientists Propose Using Mountains To Build a New Type of Battery For Long-Term Energy Storage

Sat, 12/07/2019 - 8:00am
An anonymous reader quotes a report from IEEE Spectrum: One of the big challenges of making 100 percent renewable energy a reality is long-term storage," says Julian Hunt, an engineering scientist at the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis in Austria. Hunt and his collaborators have devised a novel system to complement lithium-ion battery use for energy storage over the long run: Mountain Gravity Energy Storage, or MGES for short. Similar to hydroelectric power, MGES involves storing material at elevation to produce gravitational energy. The energy is recovered when the stored material falls and turns turbines to generate electricity. The group describes its system in a paper published November 6 in Energy. "Instead of building a dam, we propose building a big sand or gravel reservoir," explains Hunt. The key to MGES lies in finding two mountaintop sites that have a suitable difference in elevation -- 1,000 meters is ideal. "The greater the height difference, the cheaper the technology," he says. The sites will look similar, with each comprised of a mine-like station to store the sand or gravel, and a filling station directly below it. Valves release the material into waiting vessels, which are then transported via cranes and motor-run cables to the upper site. There, the sand or gravel is stored -- for weeks, months, or even years -- until it's ready to be used. When the material is moved back down the mountain, that stored gravitational energy is released and converted into electrical energy. Not only is the system more environmentally friendly than pumped-storage hydropower and dams, but it's more flexible to meet varying energy demands. "Hunt estimates that the annual cost of storing energy via this system will vary between $50 to $100 per megawatt hour (MWh)," the report adds. "And he says that the energy expended to transport materials to the upper sits will be offset by the amount of gravitational energy the system produces."

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Hour of Code Will Teach Kids How To Use AI To Judge Who Is 'Awesome' Or Not

Sat, 12/07/2019 - 5:00am
theodp writes: In 2003, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg famously faced expulsion from Harvard after launching FaceMash, a type of "hot or not" website for Harvard students that asked visitors to review pictures of female students and rate their attractiveness. So perhaps it's fitting that during next week's Hour of Code, Facebook-sponsored Code.org's signature tutorial will introduce schoolchildren aged 8 and up to Artificial Intelligence concepts by asking them to review pictures of fish and rate their "awesomeness." "A.I. is learning which fish are 'awesome' and then sorting them based on the data provided by the student," explains Code.org in a post describing AI for Oceans: a #CSforGood activity, in which students create training data by answering the question of "Is this fish awesome?" by clicking on an "awesome" or "not awesome" button. It's a well-intentioned cautionary lesson in AI: Training Data & Bias, and one that seems to presume today's 3rd graders will know the correct answer to "Is it fair to use artificial intelligence to judge a fish by its looks?" better than certain circa-2003 Harvard students might have!

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Recordings Reveal That Plants Make Ultrasonic Squeals When Stressed

Sat, 12/07/2019 - 2:00am
Researchers have discovered that plants make airborne sounds when stressed, which they say "could open up a new field of precision agriculture where farmers listen for water-starved crops," reports New Scientist. From the report: Itzhak Khait and his colleagues at Tel Aviv University in Israel found that tomato and tobacco plants made sounds at frequencies humans cannot hear when stressed by a lack of water or when their stem is cut. Microphones placed 10 centimeters from the plants picked up sounds in the ultrasonic range of 20 to 100 kilohertz, which the team says insects and some mammals would be capable of hearing and responding to from as far as 5 meters away. A moth may decide against laying eggs on a plant that sounds water-stressed, the researchers suggest. Plants could even hear that other plants are short of water and react accordingly, they speculate. On average, drought-stressed tomato plants made 35 sounds an hour, while tobacco plants made 11. When plant stems were cut, tomato plants made an average of 25 sounds in the following hour, and tobacco plants 15. Unstressed plants produced fewer than one sound per hour, on average. It is even possible to distinguish between the sounds to know what the stress is. The researchers trained a machine-learning model to discriminate between the plants' sounds and the wind, rain and other noises of the greenhouse, correctly identifying in most cases whether the stress was caused by dryness or a cut, based on the sound's intensity and frequency. Water-hungry tobacco appears to make louder sounds than cut tobacco, for example. The study, which has not yet been published in a journal, can be found here.

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Early Humans Domesticated Themselves, New Genetic Evidence Suggests

Fri, 12/06/2019 - 10:30pm
An anonymous reader quotes a report from Science Magazine: A new study -- citing genetic evidence from a disorder that in some ways mirrors elements of domestication -- suggests modern humans domesticated themselves after they split from their extinct relatives, Neanderthals and Denisovans, approximately 600,000 years ago. Domestication encompasses a whole suite of genetic changes that arise as a species is bred to be friendlier and less aggressive. In dogs and domesticated foxes, for example, many changes are physical: smaller teeth and skulls, floppy ears, and shorter, curlier tails. Those physical changes have all been linked to the fact that domesticated animals have fewer of a certain type of stem cell, called neural crest stem cells. Giuseppe Testa, a molecular biologist at University of Milan in Italy, and colleagues knew that one gene, BAZ1B, plays an important role in orchestrating the movements of neural crest cells. Most people have two copies of this gene. Curiously, one copy of BAZ1B, along with a handful of others, is missing in people with Williams-Beuren syndrome, a disorder linked to cognitive impairments, smaller skulls, elfinlike facial features, and extreme friendliness. To learn whether BAZ1B plays a role in those facial features, Testa and colleagues cultured 11 neural crest stem cell lines: four from people with Williams-Beuren syndrome, three from people with a different but related disorder in which they have duplicates instead of deletions of the disorder's key genes, and four from people without either disorder. Next, they used a variety of techniques to tweak BAZ1B's activity up or down in each of the stem cell lines. That tweaking, they learned, affected hundreds of other genes known to be involved in facial and cranial development. Overall, they found that a tamped-down BAZ1B gene led to the distinct facial features of people with Williams-Beuren syndrome, establishing the gene as an important driver of facial appearance. "When the researchers looked at those hundreds of BAZ1B-sensitive genes in modern humans, two Neanderthals, and one Denisovan, they found that in the modern humans, those genes had accumulated loads of regulatory mutations of their own," the report says. "This suggests natural selection was shaping them. And because many of these same genes have also been under selection in other domesticated animals, modern humans, too, underwent a recent process of domestication." The findings have been reported in the journal Science Advances.

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Anti-Vaxxer Arrested As Samoa Executes Mass-Vaccination Campaign To Stop Measles Outbreak

Fri, 12/06/2019 - 9:10pm
Koreantoast writes: The Samoan government arrested a prominent local anti-vaxxer who was attempting to disrupt a mass vaccination campaign to stop an ongoing measles epidemic. Edwin Tamasese was arrested and charged with incitement, facing up to two years in prison after attempting to dissuade people from participating in the mass vaccination campaign and encouraging unproven "alternative treatments" such as Vitamin C supplements and papaya leaf extract. The small island nation of Samoa is currently battling a measles epidemic with over 2,000 infected and at least 63 confirmed deaths, mostly young children. Immunization rates dropped below 30% in the prior year following a medical scandal in 2018 when two nurses administering the MMR (measles, mumps, rubella) vaccination incorrectly mixed muscle relaxant with the doses instead of water, resulting in two infant deaths. The nurses attempted to cover up their mistake and blame the vaccine, but they were caught, charged with manslaughter, and sentenced to five years in prison. Unfortunately, the damage was done, and anti-vaxxers exploited the tragedy to scare parents away from immunizing their children, leading to the current crisis. Last month, the Pacific island nation declared a state of emergency while it finalized plans for a compulsory measles vaccination program. According to new data from the World Health Organization, measles infected nearly 10 million people in 2018 and killed 140,000, mostly children, as the number of cases around the world surged once again.

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Qualcomm To Offer GPU Driver Updates On Google Play Store For Some Snapdragon Chips

Fri, 12/06/2019 - 8:30pm
MojoKid writes: At its Snapdragon Summit in Maui, Hawaii this week, Qualcomm unveiled the new Snapdragon 865 Mobile Platform, which enable next year's flagship 5G Android phones with more performance, a stronger Tensor-based AI processor and a very interesting new forthcoming feature not yet offered for any smartphone platform to date. The company announced that it will eventually start delivering driver updates for its Adreno GPU engines on board the Snapdragon 865 as downloadable packages via the Google Play Store. This is big news for smartphones, as GPU drivers are rarely updated out of band, if ever, and typically have to wait for the next major Android release. And even then, many OEMs don't bother putting in the effort to ensure that mobile GPUs are running the most current graphics drivers from Qualcomm. The process, which would have to be pre-qualified by major OEMs as well, will be akin to what the PC GPU 3D graphics driver ecosystem has been benefiting from for a long time, for maximum performance and compatibility. Unfortunately, at least currently, GPU driver update support is limited to only the Adreno 650 core on board the new Snapdragon 865, which currently supports updating drivers in this fashion. Here's hoping this program is met with success and Qualcomm will begin to enable the feature for legacy and new midrange Snapdragon platforms as well.

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Deepfake Porn Is Evolving To Give People Total Control Over Women's Bodies

Fri, 12/06/2019 - 7:50pm
samleecole shares a report from Motherboard: A lineup of female celebrities stand in front of you. Their faces move, smile, and blink as you move around them. They're fully nude, hairless, waiting for you to decide what you'll do to them as you peruse a menu of sex positions. This isn't just another deepfake porn video, or the kind of interactive, 3D-generated porn Motherboard reported on last month, but a hybrid of both which gives people even more control of women's virtual bodies. This new type of nonconsensual porn uses custom 3D models that can be articulated and animated, which are then made to look exactly like specific celebrities with deepfaked faces. Until recently, deepfake porn consisted of taking the face of a person -- usually a celebrity, almost always a woman -- and swapping it on to the face of an adult performer in an existing porn video. With this method, a user can make a 3D avatar with a generic face, capture footage of it performing any kind of sexual act, then run that video through an algorithm that swaps the generic face with a real person's.

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Social Media Platforms Leave 95 Percent of Reported Fake Accounts Up, Study Finds

Fri, 12/06/2019 - 7:10pm
An anonymous reader quotes a report from Ars Technica: The report comes this week from researchers with the NATO Strategic Communication Centre of Excellence (StratCom). Through the four-month period between May and August of this year, the research team conducted an experiment to see just how easy it is to buy your way into a network of fake accounts and how hard it is to get social media platforms to do anything about it. The research team spent about $332 to purchase engagement on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and YouTube, the report (PDF) explains. That sum bought 3,520 comments, 25,750 likes, 20,000 views, and 5,100 followers. They then used those interactions to work backward to about 19,000 inauthentic accounts that were used for social media manipulation purposes. About a month after buying all that engagement, the research team looked at the status of all those fake accounts and found that about 80 percent were still active. So they reported a sample selection of those accounts to the platforms as fraudulent. Then came the most damning statistic: three weeks after being reported as fake, 95 percent of the fake accounts were still active. "Based on this experiment and several other studies we have conducted over the last two years, we assess that Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and YouTube are still failing to adequately counter inauthentic behavior on their platforms," the researchers concluded. "Self-regulation is not working."

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