General Electric: The Sharks Have Begun To Circle

23 Apr 2017, 11:00 am

3 Reasons To Be Bullish On Cisco Systems

23 Apr 2017, 6:39 am

Top 3 Health Care REITs Of April 2017

23 Apr 2017, 6:26 am

Weighing The Week Ahead:  Time To Rebuild The Wall Of Worry?

23 Apr 2017, 6:02 am

1st Quarter Portfolio Results - Better Than Expected

23 Apr 2017, 4:27 am

Is This 7% Yielder Turning Into One Of The Market's (Few) Bargains?

22 Apr 2017, 10:46 pm

Maximum Drawdowns Of Dividend Aristocrats

22 Apr 2017, 3:44 pm

Space technologies improve surgeries back on earth

22 Apr 2017, 2:20 pm
A novel surgical robotic system has been developed that provides tactile feedback and is capable of single-incision and natural orifice (incision-free) robotic surgery. The system minimizes surgical trauma and is safer than currently available robotic systems.

Cold weather, fewer sun hours are associated with increased rates of alcoholic cirrhosis

22 Apr 2017, 2:16 pm
Colder and less sunny regions of the world have higher rates of alcoholic cirrhosis, a disease caused by excessive drinking which results in irreversible scarring of the liver, new research shows. An international team of scientists found that every increase in temperature of one degree Celsius was linked with a decrease in the alcohol-attributable fraction of cirrhosis of 0.3 percent.

Dividend Stock Yields 9%, Record Earnings Again, More Due In 2017, Goes Ex-Dividend This Week

22 Apr 2017, 1:01 pm

Bank Of America Shareholders Will Soon Pay The Price For Warren Buffett's Stamp Of Approval

22 Apr 2017, 5:52 am

What Does Apple Want With Satellites?

22 Apr 2017, 4:25 am

Study of bacteria's DNA fingerprint suggests it could be spreading via food distribution

22 Apr 2017, 1:08 am
Foods should be investigated as a potential source of spread of Clostridium difficile, according to research.

Two-dimensional melting of hard spheres experimentally unravelled after 60 years

22 Apr 2017, 1:08 am
Experimental evidence of melting in two-dimensional substances has finally been gained by researchers. Findings from the study could be used to support technological improvements to thin film materials such as graphene.

When liver immune cells turn bad

22 Apr 2017, 1:08 am
A high-fat diet and obesity turn 'hero' virus-fighting liver immune cells 'rogue,' leading to insulin resistance, a condition that often results in type 2 diabetes, according to research.

Wonder material? Novel nanotube structure strengthens thin films for flexible electronics

22 Apr 2017, 1:08 am
Reflecting the structure of composites found in nature and the ancient world, researchers have synthesized thin carbon nanotube (CNT) textiles that exhibit both high electrical conductivity and a level of toughness that is about fifty times higher than copper films, currently used in electronics.

Forces that threaten sensitive coastlines

22 Apr 2017, 1:08 am
Wind-driven expansion of marsh ponds on the Mississippi River Delta is a significant factor in the loss of crucial land in the Delta region, according to new research. The study found that 17 percent of land loss in the area resulted from pond expansion, much of it caused by waves that eroded away the edges of the pond.

Data analysis finds lower risk of infection with LASIK than with contacts over time

22 Apr 2017, 1:08 am
A meta-data analysis comparing the incidence of microbial keratitis, an infection of the cornea caused by bacteria or a virus, for contact lens wearers versus post-LASIK (laser-assisted in situ keratomileusis) patients indicates that over time the infection rate for the contact lens wearers was higher than for those who had LASIK to correct their vision.

The Bear Is On The Prowl

21 Apr 2017, 9:52 pm

Promising mouse model for a devastating genetic deficiency

21 Apr 2017, 7:02 pm
A potential mouse model for the genetic disorder known as an NGLY1 deficiency has been developed by scientists. Their new study describes how a second knockout produces mice that survive after birth and have symptoms that are analogous to humans with NGLY1-deficiency.

Fish oil component helps damaged brain, retina cells survive, shows research

21 Apr 2017, 7:02 pm
NDP1, a signaling molecule made from DHA, can trigger the production of a protective protein against toxic free radicals and injury in the brain and retina, research shows for the first time.

Makeover for mobile phones

21 Apr 2017, 6:20 pm

AFTER years of hot air and hyperbole, the fifth generation (5G) of mobile-phone technology has entered its final phase of testing, in preparation for its debut around the world. The Third Generation Partnership Project (3GPP), an industry group for mobile phones, has still to sign off on a 5G reference design that satisfies all its members. But that has not stopped manufacturers from introducing 5G chip-sets and modems for wireless carriers to test. The hope is to get 5G mobile networks up and running in time, at least, for the winter Olympics in South Korea in February 2018. Japan has its own plans for the technology when it hosts the summer Olympics in July 2020. Expect wireless carriers to start rolling out their 5G networks in earnest shortly thereafter.

The race to launch 5G is reminiscent of the rush to do likewise with Wi-Fi in the 1990s, when equipment makers hurried out interim gear both in order to influence emerging standards (and thus lock in their own particular patents) and to get a foot in the door ready for when the technology took off. Which it duly did. Many believe 5G could be an even bigger change. Hype aside, the technology is more than just a faster,...Continue reading

New discovery could aid in detecting nuclear threats

21 Apr 2017, 4:33 pm
A new way to detect nuclear materials has been developed by researchers. Made of graphene and carbon nanotubes, the researchers' detector far outpaces any existing one in its ultrasensitivity to charged particles, minuscule size, low-power requirements, and low cost.

New digital map shows changing racial diversity of America

21 Apr 2017, 4:33 pm
A geography professor built the most detailed map of racial diversity yet to study the way America's neighborhoods are changing.

Report recommends ways to improve response to toxic inhalation disasters

21 Apr 2017, 4:32 pm
Better medical responses to the accidental or intentional release of inhaled toxic chemicals are being developed, but the field faces considerable challenges, according to a new report by an international panel of experts.

Making bins more convenient boosts recycling and composting rates

21 Apr 2017, 4:32 pm
Want to recycle or compost more? Try moving the bins closer, new research suggests. The study shows that placing bins 1.5 meters away from suite doors drastically boosts recycling and composting rates by 141 per cent. The findings highlight how small changes in convenience can have a big impact on performance.

New survey: Snapchat and Instagram are most popular social media platforms among American teens

21 Apr 2017, 3:33 pm
A new nationally representative survey of American teenagers age 13-17 finds that teens have shifted their favored social media platforms and are now most likely to use Instagram and Snapchat. The study also found that while almost all teens -- 91 percent -- use the regular text messaging tool on their mobile phones, 40 percent of teens also use messaging applications like Kik, WhatsApp, or Line on a smartphone.

Atomic-level motion may drive bacteria's ability to evade immune system defenses

21 Apr 2017, 3:32 pm
A study has found evidence that extremely small changes in how atoms move in bacterial proteins can play a big role in how these microorganisms function and evolve traits, such as antibiotic resistance.

Hubble's cosmic bubbles

21 Apr 2017, 3:32 pm
Hubble has revealed a few of the tenuous threads comprising Sh2-308, a faint and wispy shell of gas located 5,200 light-years away in Canis Major.

Weight expectations: Context and distraction skew what we predict and remember

21 Apr 2017, 3:32 pm
Context can alter something as basic as our ability to estimate the weights of simple objects. As we learn to manipulate those objects, context can even tease out the interplay of two memory systems and shows how distraction can affect multitasking.

Micron Begins Its Descent

21 Apr 2017, 2:58 pm

Galaxy S8 review: Gorgeous new hardware, same Samsung gimmicks

21 Apr 2017, 2:46 pm

Ron Amadeo

The past few months have been a humbling time for Samsung. The Galaxy Note 7's explosive debut and double recall eventually led to an unprecedented cancellation of Samsung's flagship device. The recall process and resulting investigation kept the company's name in the mud for months and months. Memes were created across the Internet, property was damaged, and everyone visiting an airport was constantly reminded that Samsung produced a faulty device. To top it all off, the head of Samsung Group and several other Samsung executives were indicted on corruption allegations, with at least one person resigning as a result.

Now Samsung is ready to move on from those dark times with the launch of a new flagship, the Galaxy S8. It has a lot riding on the S8's success, and the company seems ready to rise to the occasion. The S8 is one of Samsung's strongest flagship offerings ever, with an all-new design, slim bezels, and the debut of a speedy new processor. Since this is a Samsung flagship, it will also be backed by dump trucks full of marketing dollars ensuring it will be featured in every commercial break, be on every billboard, and have prime real estate at every electronics store.

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Plant's parent genes cooperate in shaping their child

21 Apr 2017, 2:37 pm
Plant biologists discovered for the first time how factors arising from the mother and father in flowering plants cooperate to develop the shape of their child. Until now, it has been unknown whether paternal factors cooperate or conflict with each other to bring about zygote asymmetry. The outcome of this discovery is expected to shed light on the exact mechanism of plant body shape formation and possibly lead to the generation of new hybrid plants.

Nanoimprinted hyperlens array: Paving the way for practical super-resolution imaging

21 Apr 2017, 2:37 pm
Research has demonstrated a scalable and reliable fabrication process of a large scale hyperlens device based on direct pattern transfer techniques. The research team's new cost-effective fabrication method can be used to proliferate practical far-field and real-time super-resolution imaging devices that can be widely used in optics, biology, medical science, nanotechnology, and other related interdisciplinary fields.

Aspiring Retirees: Dollar-Cost Average Your Way To $1 Million

21 Apr 2017, 12:00 pm

AT&T: Major Game-Changing Development Looms

21 Apr 2017, 12:00 pm

3 Top Battle-Tested REIT Bargains

21 Apr 2017, 11:00 am

A World-Class Bank That's 56% Undervalued

21 Apr 2017, 1:08 am

AMD Investors: Beware Of The Impending Short Cover Rally

20 Apr 2017, 6:29 pm

Imitating people’s speech patterns precisely could bring trouble

20 Apr 2017, 2:49 pm

UTTER 160 or so French or English phrases into a phone app developed by CandyVoice, a new Parisian company, and the app’s software will reassemble tiny slices of those sounds to enunciate, in a plausible simulacrum of your own dulcet tones, whatever typed words it is subsequently fed. In effect, the app has cloned your voice. The result still sounds a little synthetic but CandyVoice’s boss, Jean-Luc Crébouw, reckons advances in the firm’s algorithms will render it increasingly natural. Similar software for English and four widely spoken Indian languages, developed under the name of Festvox, by Carnegie Mellon University’s Language Technologies Institute, is also available. And Baidu, a Chinese internet giant, says it has software that needs only 50 sentences to simulate a person’s voice.

Until recently, voice cloning—or voice banking, as it was then known—was a bespoke industry which served those at risk of losing the power of speech to cancer or surgery. Creating a synthetic copy of a voice was a lengthy and pricey process. It meant recording many phrases, each spoken many times, with different emotional emphases and in different contexts (statement, question,...Continue reading

Having secrets is not a problem. Thinking about them is

20 Apr 2017, 2:49 pm

KEEPING a secret is hard work, as both common sense and past studies confirm. Omitting pertinent information from a conversation, or even intentionally misleading an interlocutor, requires nimble thinking. How much of a burden, though, is merely possessing a secret, rather than trying to defend it against a nosy questioner? The catharsis that often accompanies confessing guilty secrets suggests it may be quite large. But, until now, no one has examined the matter scientifically.

In a study just published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Michael Slepian of Columbia University, in New York, attempts to correct that omission. He and his colleagues presented a set of volunteers with a list of 38 sorts of things surveys suggest people commonly keep secret about themselves. Examples included infidelity, theft, poor performance at work, sexual orientation, having undergone an abortion and drug taking. Some of Dr Slepian’s volunteers participated over the internet. Some, recruited in New York’s biggest public space, Central Park, participated face to face. All remained anonymous—and, within statistical limits, both groups responded...Continue reading

Using fluorescent bacteria to find landmines

20 Apr 2017, 2:49 pm

BATTLEFIELDS strewn with mines are one of the nastiest legacies of war. They ensure that, long after a conflict has ceased, people continue to be killed and maimed by its aftermath. In 1999, the year the Ottawa Mine Ban Treaty came into force, there were more than 9,000 such casualties, most of them civilians. Though this number had fallen below 4,000 by 2014 it is, according to the Landmine and Cluster Munition Monitor, an international research group, rising again as a consequence of conflicts in Libya, Syria, Ukraine and Yemen.

These days most mines have cases made from plastic. Only the firing mechanisms include any metal. That means mines are hard to find with metal detectors. Many ingenious ways to locate and destroy them have been developed, ranging from armour-plated machines that flail the land, via robots equipped with ground-penetrating radar, to specially trained rats that can smell the explosives a mine contains. Such methods have, though, met with mixed success—and can also be expensive. Flails, for instance, scatter shrapnel and explosive residue around a minefield, making it hard to confirm that no undetonated devices remain. Minehunting rats, meanwhile,...Continue reading

The More It Drops, The More I Buy

20 Apr 2017, 12:52 pm

Enbridge Vs. Energy Transfer Partners: A Clear Winner Materializes

20 Apr 2017, 12:00 pm

New Residential Investment: How High Can It Fly?

20 Apr 2017, 11:59 am

Crayfish may help researchers understand drunkenness

19 Apr 2017, 10:59 pm

I’m not as thunk as drinkle peep I am

HUMANS are not the only species to enjoy a snifter. Myriad experiments on other animals, from rats and monkeys to bees and fruit flies, show that they also get drunk, will seek out alcohol given the opportunity and may even develop a dependence on the stuff. But alcohol promotes conviviality as well as drunkenness, and that relationship is less well explored. In particular, there are few studies of whether the link is reciprocal—whether conviviality, or at least a sociable environment, affects susceptibility to alcohol. This question has, however, now been looked into. In a paper just published in Experimental Biology, Matthew Swierzbinski, Andrew Lazarchik and Jens Herberholz of the University of Maryland have shown that a sociable upbringing does indeed increase sensitivity to alcohol. At least, it does if you are a crayfish.

The three researchers’ purpose in studying drunken crayfish is to understand better how alcohol induces behavioural changes. Most recreational drugs, from cocaine and heroin to nicotine and caffeine, have well-understood effects on known receptor...Continue reading

Send Wi-Fi companies floor plans, receive the ultimate mesh networking test

19 Apr 2017, 11:30 am

The old showbiz adage continues to hold true (even in Wi-Fi testing): you can't please everyone. Shortly after our last round of mesh Wi-Fi testing, in which a six-pack of Plume devices surprised the field, e-mails arrived from both the Google Wifi and AmpliFi HD teams. The results weren't representative of their devices, they said, and perhaps I placed the devices badly. Both companies suggested placing an access point (AP) downstairs instead of all three APs being upstairs.

While I doubted this pretty strongly—such a setup would require a multi-hop "tree" topology, which neither device is really designed well for—I set my own ego aside. At the very least, these pleas highlighted a weakness common to any three-piece mesh kit: they're deceptively difficult to place well.

But blindly following Google's and AmpliFi's recommendations to move an access point downstairs would have weakened the devices' previous coverage pattern upstairs. That arrangement means the upstairs and downstairs access points have to cover half of the house from one location rather than each covering about a third of the house the way I'd had them arranged.

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Lawyers, malware, and money: The antivirus market’s nasty fight over Cylance

17 Apr 2017, 11:00 am

Enlarge / Is it "fresh malware"? Or is it something else repackaged? (credit: from an image by Sarah Shuda)

Last November, a systems engineer at a large company was evaluating security software products when he discovered something suspicious.

One of the vendors had provided a set of malware samples to test—48 files in an archive stored in the vendor's Box cloud storage account. The vendor providing those samples was Cylance, the information security company behind Protect, a "next generation" endpoint protection system built on machine learning. In testing, Protect identified all 48 of the samples as malicious, while competing products flagged most but not all of them. Curious, the engineer took a closer look at the files in question—and found that seven weren't malware at all.

That led the engineer to believe Cylance was using the test to close the sale by providing files that other products wouldn't detect—that is, bogus malware only Protect would catch.

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One-upping the NES Classic Edition with the Raspberry Pi 3 and RetroPie

16 Apr 2017, 2:46 pm

Andrew Cunningham

Last November, Nintendo surprised everyone by going back to its roots and releasing the NES Classic. The delightful emulator/nostalgia-fest sparked unanticipated demand, including near-instant supply issues and 200-percent-plus markups in secondary markets. So in December of 2016, we decided to build our own version instead. Since Nintendo bizarrely announced that it won't be making any more of the hard-to-find mini consoles this week, we're re-running this piece to help those of you with a DIY streak once again build your own. Hardware recommendations have been updated to reflect current availability and pricing for April 2017.

Against my better judgment, I’ve tried a couple of times to snag one of those adorable little $60 mini NES Classic Editions—once when Amazon put some of its limited stock online and crashed its own site, and once when Walmart was shipping out small quantities every day a couple of weeks ago. In both cases, I failed.

But the dumb itch of nostalgia can’t always be scratched by logical thoughts like “do you really need to pay money for Super Mario Bros. 3 again,” and “Castlevania II: Simon’s Quest is probably the weakest of the three NES Castlevania games.” Since it’s not entirely clear if or when those little mini NESes will become readily available, I decided to funnel that small wad of expendable cash and the desire for some nostalgia-fueled gaming into a DIY project.

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Forgotten audio formats: The flexi disc

15 Apr 2017, 1:00 pm

Enlarge (credit: Michael Holley)

The flexi disc has, for a physically flimsy format, an incredibly diverse background, and its story incorporates everyone from the Beatles, David Bowie, and ABBA, to Alice Cooper and heavy metal. In terms of retail it cropped up with National Geographic, in a million-dollar McDonalds campaign, and on the covers of numerous teenybopper magazines. It ended up pressed into illegal black-market X-rays in the Soviet Union, and even helped the noted liar Richard "Tricky Dicky" Nixon become US president in 1968

Flexi discs (not "flexidiscs") sold in their tens of millions during the 60s, 70s, 80s, and the early 1990s—before virtually disappearing from the face of the earth for a decade and a half. But, as befits a product based on a continuous spiral scratch, that was not quite the end...

Other "musical postcards"—crude grooves pressed into card—had been around and selling fitfully since way back in 1950. And some vinyl flexi discs did appear in Britain in the latter half of the 1950s, although most of these were of very poor quality, technically speaking. The refined flexi disc was developed, patented, and introduced by the American company Eva-Tone Incorporated a few years later, in 1962, and was at first called "the Eva-tone Soundsheet." This new kid on the block had several advantages over its "parents": the singing postcard and the original spiral-stylus-groove product we know as the vinyl record.

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The best of the 2017 New York International Auto Show

14 Apr 2017, 11:00 am

Jonathan Gitlin

NEW YORK—It seems like barely any time has passed since our last major auto show, but the world's auto makers are back in Manhattan this week for the 2017 New York International Auto Show. You'll be able to read (and watch) our take on many of the new vehicles on display in the coming days, but what follows are our picks for the best new models you'll be able to see at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center, starting today when the auto show opens to the public.

Outstanding in the Automotive Technology field: Cadillac Supercruise

Since this is a technology site, we'll kick things off with the best new automotive technology of this year's NYIAS. That honor belongs to Cadillac, which is joining the semi-autonomous driving fray with its new "level 2" system, called Supercruise. We have driven some pretty good semi-autonomous systems recently: Audi, Volvo, and Tesla all spring immediately to mind. These use a combination of adaptive cruise control and lane keeping assists to keep your car on track on the highway, backing up the human driver to counteract fatigue and provide a little digital helping hand on long drives. Supercruise combines those two driver assists with a few extra neat features that mark the next step on the road to fully self-driving vehicles.

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A 3D-printed key that can’t be copied

12 Apr 2017, 2:51 pm

Hidden depths

KEYS have been around for a long time. The earliest, made from wood, date back 4,000 years, to the ancient Egyptians. The Romans improved them a bit by making them from metal. But there, more or less, they have stayed. Electronic card-keys aside, a key is still, basically, a piece of metal sporting a series of grooves, teeth and indentations which, when inserted into a keyway, line up to move pins and levers to lock or unlock a mechanism.

Such keys are made with conventional manufacturing techniques, such as cutting and stamping. But now there is a new way, in the form of 3D printing, to craft metal objects. And keys are about to succumb to it, to the great benefit of keyholders.

A 3D printer works by melting together layers of material that are added successively to the object being created. It can thus make something from the inside out, as it were, by printing intricate internal features and then covering them with a solid layer. Features shielded from view are extremely difficult to copy, let alone reproduce using normal machine tools. What better way to reinvent the key, reckoned Alejandro Ojeda, a mechanical engineer who...Continue reading

The mesopelagic: Cinderella of the oceans

12 Apr 2017, 2:51 pm

FEW have heard of the mesopelagic. It is a layer of the ocean, a few hundred metres below the surface, where little light penetrates, so algae do not live. But it is home to animals in abundance. There are bristlemouths: finger-sized fish with gaping maws that sport arrays of needle-like teeth. They number in the quadrillions, and may be the most numerous vertebrates on Earth. There are appendicularians: free-swimming relatives of sea-squirts a few millimetres across. They build gelatinous houses several times their body-size, to filter food from the water. There are dragonfish (pictured). They have luminescent spotlamps which project beams of red light that they can see, but their prey cannot. There are even squid and swordfish—creatures at least familiar from the fishmonger’s slab.

And soon there will be nets. Having pillaged shallower waters, the world’s fishing powers are looking to the mesopelagic as a new frontier. The UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation reported in 2002 that the fish-meal and fish-oil industries would need to exploit this part of the ocean in order to feed fish farms. In the past nine months Norway has issued 46 new licences for vessels to fish...Continue reading

Penicillin changes the behaviour of young mice

12 Apr 2017, 2:51 pm

THE symbiosis between human beings and the bacteria dwelling in their guts is a delicate thing. When it works well, both sides benefit. The bugs get a comfy home. The hosts get help with their digestion, making more food available than otherwise would be. If relations are upset, though, bad consequences may flow. Both obesity and malnutrition can be exacerbated by the wrong gut bacteria. Illnesses such as asthma and eczema are linked to a lack of certain bugs from an infant’s intestines. And there is evidence, from experiments on mice, that an absence of gut flora affects the development of the brain. Such absence weakens the blood-brain barrier, which normally helps to keep foreign material out of that organ. It also seems to make animals less sociable than would otherwise be expected.

The experiments which show these brain and behavioural changes have, though, either been done on mice raised in sterile conditions or on ones that have had their alimentary bacterial ecosystems “nuked” with antibiotics in high dose—far higher, pro rata, than would be administered to a human for medical reasons. The next stage is to test whether anything similar happens to mice fed...Continue reading

The quickest way to break the ice is by submarine

12 Apr 2017, 2:51 pm

ARCTIC sea-ice is melting. For many that is a source of alarm. But for others, the ice is still not melting fast enough. They would like to give it a helping hand. Clear lanes through the Arctic ocean would permit commercial and naval shipping to travel quickly between the Atlantic and the Pacific. These lanes might also assist the search for oil and gas.

The Russian authorities seem particularly keen on the idea. Last year they launched Arktika, the first of three giant, new nuclear-powered icebreakers intended to help open such routes. But some people think this approach—bludgeoning through the ice with what is, in essence, an armour-plated knife—is old-fashioned. They believe the job could be done faster and more elegantly using a piece of physics called flexural gravity-wave resonance. If they are right, the icebreakers of tomorrow might be submarines.

Resonance icebreaking was discovered in 1974 by Canada’s coast guard, when it began using icebreaking hovercraft able to operate in waters too shallow for conventional icebreakers. At low speeds, these craft work much as icebreaking ships do, by forcing sections of pack-ice in front of...Continue reading

The world’s two most powerful telescopes are glorious—and vulnerable

12 Apr 2017, 12:00 pm

Enlarge / Keck 1 and Keck 2, near the summit of Mauna Kea. (credit: Eric Berger)

NEAR THE SUMMIT OF MAUNA KEA, Hawaii—Bill Healy stares into the primary mirror of the largest telescope in the world, and, for a second, he pauses. Even now, after nearly two decades of looking after this titanic instrument on top of a mountain, the immensity of the mirror still arrests him. “It sure is a hell of a view,” Healy marvels. “A hell of a view.”

It is. We’ve just ascended the tallest mountain in the Hawaiian islands, Mauna Kea, to see the pair of 10-meter Keck Telescopes, the largest and most powerful optical telescopes in the world. Hawaii lies 4,000km away from the closest continent, North America, making this the most remote archipelago on Earth. With clear skies, therefore, Mauna Kea has arguably the best “seeing” of any telescope site in the world.

The combination of big mirrors and dark skies has proven nothing short of revelatory. Since the first of the two Keck telescopes began observing the heavens in 1993, astronomers have used the instruments to discover dark energy, find outer Solar System objects that led to Pluto’s demotion, and more. On a given night, an astronomer might point a telescope toward volcano eruptions on the Jovian moon Io or study faint galaxies at the edge of the visible universe.

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How shoelaces come undone

12 Apr 2017, 8:42 am

ENGINEERING brings great benefit to humanity, from aircraft to bicycles and from bridges to computer chips. It has, though, had difficulty creating a shoelace that does not accidentally come loose. At least in part, this is because no one has truly understood why shoelaces come undone in the first place. But that crucial gap in human knowledge has just been plugged. As they report in the Proceedings of the Royal Society, Christopher Daily-Diamond, Christine Gregg and Oliver O’Reilly, a group of engineers at the University of California, Berkeley, have now worked out the mechanics of shoelace-bow disintegration.

A shoelace bow is a type of slip knot that has, at its core, a reef knot. Like conventional reef knots, bows can be mistied as “granny” knots, which come undone more easily than a true reef does. But even a shoelace bow with a true reef at its core will fail eventually, and have to be retied.

Walking involves two mechanical processes, both of which might be expected to exert forces on a shoelace bow. One is the forward and back movement of the leg. The other is the impact of the shoe itself hitting the ground. Preliminary experiments carried out by Mr Daily-Diamond, Ms Gregg and Dr O’Reilly showed that neither of these alone is enough to persuade a bow to unravel. Both are needed. So they had to devise experiments...Continue reading

How Amazon Go (probably) makes “just walk out” groceries a reality

10 Apr 2017, 11:30 am

Enlarge / "Let's go shopping!" "No, let's Amazon Go shopping." "Dave, I hate your puns." (credit: Sam Machkovech)

These days, most announcements by tech companies are pretty meh. Details either leak months ahead of time or reveal themselves to be pretty unimpressive. But lately, we've had some real surprises. Months ahead of releasing the Switch this spring, Nintendo decided the future of consoles was its past with the NES Classic. (any pixel power watchers be damned). And when Google's AI-powered AlphaGo defeated Lee Se-dol in a best-of-five Go competition, that victory ran counter to experts who believed such results were at least a decade away.

Amazon's December 2016 announcement of Amazon Go—a retail store where you could simply walk in, grab items, and walk out—was another shocker in that AlphaGo vein. Grab-and-go has been the "future of retail" and “just a few years away” for a while. I worked in robotics research for over a decade at Caltech, Stanford, and Berkeley, and now I run a startup making outdoor home security cameras. Computer vision has made up a lot of my work in recent years. Yet just a few months before the Amazon announcement, I confidently told someone that it would take a few more years to get a grab-and-go retail experience to consumers. And I wasn’t alone in thinking this way; Planet Money had an entire episode on self-checkout just two months earlier.

So when Amazon went and surprised us all by going and building the thing, the first question was obvious: how will it work? The launch video drops buzz words like computer vision, deep learning, and sensor fusion. But what did all that mean, and how would you actually put these things together?

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A 1986 bulletin board system has brought the old Web back to life in 2017

8 Apr 2017, 2:00 pm

Enlarge (credit: Chris Wilkinson)

Limited to an anachronistic 1200 bits per second, it took several moments for the green-phosphor ASCII art to scroll from the bottom to the top of the screen. A login prompt and a blinking cursor invited me to continue deeper:

Enter GUEST for a quick look around.)
Enter your ID#, HANDLE, NEW or ‘?’:_

What would David Lightman think? I found myself at the guarded gates of an online community that had been disconnected for decades. This was mid-2016, but for all intents and purposes, it might as well have been 1986.

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Review: Apple’s $329 iPad is for people who have never upgraded their tablet

6 Apr 2017, 4:00 pm

Andrew Cunningham

Apple isn’t shy about admitting it: the biggest feature of its newest iPad is the price. At $329, it’s $70 cheaper than the iPad Air 2 used to be, $270 cheaper than the smaller iPad Pro costs now, and $170 cheaper than the initial starting price of the iPad back in 2010. It’s a big shift, especially after a year-and-a-half where larger and more expensive iPads were Apple’s main focus.

That’s apparently where the users are. Apple told us that the iPad Air 2 was its most popular iPad, and it had been since its introduction in October of 2014. It was the most popular with enterprises, the most popular with small businesses, the most popular in schools, and the most popular with people who were new to the iPad altogether (more than half of all iPad Air 2 buyers were picking up their first iPad). And even after the introduction of the iPad Mini in 2012 and the big iPad Pro in 2015, the 9.7-inch screen size has remained the most popular of the three.

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Computer security is broken from top to bottom

5 Apr 2017, 9:18 pm

OVER a couple of days in February, hundreds of thousands of point-of-sale printers in restaurants around the world began behaving strangely. Some churned out bizarre pictures of computers and giant robots signed, “with love from the hacker God himself”. Some informed their owners that, “YOUR PRINTER HAS BEEN PWND’D”. Some told them, “For the love of God, please close this port”. When the hacker God gave an interview to Motherboard, a technology website, he claimed to be a British secondary-school pupil by the name of “Stackoverflowin”. Annoyed by the parlous state of computer security, he had, he claimed, decided to perform a public service by demonstrating just how easy it was to seize control.

Not all hackers are so public-spirited, and 2016 was a bonanza for those who are not. In February of that year cyber-crooks stole $81m directly from the central bank of Bangladesh—and would have got away with more were it not for a crucial typo. In August America’s National Security Agency (NSA) saw its own hacking tools leaked all over the internet by a group calling themselves the Shadow Brokers. (The CIA suffered a similar indignity this March.) In October a piece...Continue reading

The route to high-speed quantum computing is paved with error

3 Apr 2017, 12:00 pm

Enlarge / Unfortunately, determining quantum computing speed is not as easy as deciding on the track like ol' Robert Kerr did for Canada at the 1908 British Amateur Athletic Association (AAA) Championships. (credit: Topical Press Agency/Getty Images)

When it comes to quantum computing, mostly I get excited about experimental results rather than ideas for new hardware. New devices—or new ways to implement old devices—may end up being useful, but we won't know for sure when the results are in. If we are to grade existing ideas by their usefulness, then adiabatic quantum computing has to be right up there, since you can use it to perform some computations now. And at this point, adiabatic quantum computing has the best chance of getting the number of qubits up.

But qubits aren't everything—you also need speed. So how, exactly, do you compare speeds between quantum computers? If you begin looking into this issue, you'll quickly learn it's far more complicated than anyone really wanted it to be. Even when you can compare speeds today, you also want to be able to estimate how much better you could do with an improved version of the same hardware. This, it seems, often proves even more difficult.

It's fast, honest

Unlike classical computing, speed itself is not so easy to define for a quantum computer. If we just take something like D-Wave's quantum annealer as an example, it has no system clock, and it doesn't use gates that perform specific operations. Instead, the whole computer goes through a continuous evolution from the state in which it was initialized to the state that, hopefully, contains the solution. The time that takes is called the annealing time.

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The decade-long, $6M effort to put a 74-year-old WWII boat back to water

1 Apr 2017, 11:15 am

This is relevant, promise.


NEW ORLEANS—Among the reasons Seinfeld continues to resonate nearly 20 years later, the show seemingly had a joke for every situation. And when it comes to Tom Czekanski, director of collections and exhibits at The National World War II Museum, that joke comes from an episode titled "The Andrea Doria." Oddball neighbor Kramer has a lingering cough, but rather than visit the doctor, he has a better idea—a veterinarian.

"I'll take a vet over an MD any day," Kramer tells George. "They gotta be able to cure a lizard, a chicken, a pig, a frog all on the same day."

Within his unique professional world, Czekanski is the vet. His role at the WWII museum involves acquisitions and restoration no matter what vehicle in the cornucopia of war land, air, and sea craft happens to be on the day's agenda. Whether putting an engine in a Sherman Tank from Chicago (via Chile), buying a C-47 Plane off eBay, or confirming free shipping for a Stuart Tank bought online, Czekanski serves as the point person.

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Beyond Zelda: The first month of Switch games acts as a promising crystal ball

30 Mar 2017, 1:06 pm

Enlarge / So many Switch games to play that Zelda: Breath of the Wild has been relegated to the bottom of my bin. (Insane, I know.)

We've had a lota lot, lotlot—to say about the new Nintendo Switch game system this past month. But if you are keeping score, you may notice that we haven't reviewed many games for the home-portable hybrid console.

That's no small gap in coverage, because as we've reported, the portable touchscreen device currently can't do most of the things you would expect from a modern portable touchscreen device. It has no Web browser; no streaming-media apps; no messaging service; and no cute, Nintendo-styled systems like Miiverse or Streetpass. Until Nintendo issues a substantial patch, the Switch is games or bust.

Video host: Mark Walton (video link)

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The life-saving treatment that’s being thrown in the trash

28 Mar 2017, 12:45 pm

Enlarge / A little needlework and blood has never looked better. (credit: © MaricorMaricar @ Handsome Frank)

Transplanted umbilical cord blood can be used to treat or cure more than 80 conditions, from leukemia to sickle-cell disease. For Mosaic, Bryn Nelson follows the story of one man, Chris. After being diagnosed with leukemia in his early 40s, his best chance of survival comes in the form of blood from three babies he’ll never meet, nor even know the names of. This article was first published by Wellcome on Mosaic and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.

A few hours before beginning chemotherapy, a man named Chris faces his cellphone camera with a mischievous smile and describes a perfectly absurd milestone at 1:37pm on a Wednesday. “There is no more beautiful moment in a man’s life…” he says with puckish glee. Because how can you not laugh when you’ve been invited to bank your sperm in advance of being “Godzilla-ed” with chemotherapy and radiation, all just four days after being diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia at the age of 43 and given a 5 to 15 percent chance of survival?

Oh, and the fertility clinic forgot to send someone over with a specimen kit, and they’re closing in little more than 20 minutes, so you have to fire up your iPad for some quick visual stimulation to help you fill a sterile tube. Just try to ignore the legal consent paperwork all around you and the catheter that’s been surgically inserted into your jugular vein.

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Roam free: A history of open-world gaming

25 Mar 2017, 2:00 pm

Open-world video games bear the impossible promise—offering compelling, enjoyable open-endedness and freedom within the constraints of what is, by necessity of the medium, an extremely limited set of possible actions. These games provide a list of (predominantly violent) verbs that's minuscule in comparison to the options you would face in identical real-life situations. Yet, we can't get enough of them.

In spite of their many obvious failings or limitations, we've been losing ourselves within open worlds for some 30-odd years. Today, nearly every big release is set in an open world. We delight in their unspoken possibility and shrug at their quirks.

Those quirks, by the way, are not merely a consequence of current technology. The oddities of modern open-world games have origins in the games that came before. We're not talking about just the earlier Grand Theft Autos—even the first GTA built on the foundations set by more than a decade of prior open-world games.

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Is the dark really making me sad?

22 Mar 2017, 11:30 am

Enlarge / If it's dark outside seemingly all the time, you must find ways to cope. (credit: Sara Andreasson)

How do Scandinavians deal with long, dark winters? For Mosaic, Linda Geddes explores what this might teach us about the relationship between our moods and sunlight. The story is republished here under a Creative Commons license.

The inhabitants of Rjukan in southern Norway have a complex relationship with the Sun. “More than other places I’ve lived, they like to talk about the Sun: when it’s coming back, if it’s a long time since they’ve seen the Sun,” says artist Martin Andersen. “They’re a little obsessed with it.” Possibly, he speculates, it’s because for approximately half the year, you can see the sunlight shining high up on the north wall of the valley: “It is very close, but you can’t touch it,” he says. As autumn wears on, the light moves higher up the wall each day, like a calendar marking off the dates to the winter solstice. And then as January, February, and March progress, the sunlight slowly starts to inch its way back down again.

Rjukan was built between 1905 and 1916, after an entrepreneur called Sam Eyde bought the local waterfall (known as the smoking waterfall) and constructed a hydroelectric power plant there. Factories producing artificial fertiliser followed. But the managers of these worried that their staff weren’t getting enough Sun—and eventually they constructed a cable car in order to give them access to it.

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Early review: Mass Effect: Andromeda is Dragon Age: Inquisition in space

20 Mar 2017, 7:01 am

Enlarge / "We set sail on this new sea because there is new knowledge to be gained, and new rights to be won, and new aliens to be banged." (credit: Electronic Arts / Bioware)

Quick summary: If you’ve ever said “You know what would be awesome? If they took Dragon Age: Inquisition and reskinned it into a Mass Effect game,” then boy are you going to love Mass Effect: Andromeda.

I got the press review code for Andromeda on a Saturday, and the game unlocked that evening.

“Perfect,” I thought. “This will give me at least six days to play. Plenty of time to beat the game, write the review, and have it edited and scheduled to run when the embargo lifts!”

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When beauty is in the eye of the (robo)beholder

19 Mar 2017, 1:00 pm

Enlarge (credit: Beauty.AI)

For over a year, I worked as a beauty editor, writing and researching about the products, trends, and people that make us want to look a certain way. And as research for many of the stories I wrote, I consulted with dermatologists, plastic surgeons, makeup artists, aestheticians, and more trying to answer a simple question—how can I make myself more conventionally attractive?

“Beauty is confidence,” they’d always say, prefacing the real answer. Inevitably, these experts would eventually tell me that you feel more confident, and thus more beautiful, when you look blemish- and wrinkle-free. (Pending on the product they were promoting, this could also incorporate being tanner, or more contoured, or thinner, or paler, or less made up, or curvier, etc.) Regardless of respondents’ different aesthetic tastes, everyone seemed to agree—younger is more beautiful. Beauty was about anti-aging.

Naturally, the problem here is the premise. What is beauty beyond someone else defining it? For as long as humanity’s obsession with the term has existed, we’ve equally known about its subjective nature. After all, “beauty is in the eye of the beholder” is merely a cliché that posits that exact subjectivity of attractiveness.

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Intel still beats Ryzen at games, but how much does it matter?

17 Mar 2017, 11:00 am

Enlarge / What's all this gaming blather about Ryzen? Let us explain. (credit: Mark Walton)

The response to AMD's Ryzen processors with their new Zen core has been more than a little uneven. Eight cores and 16 threads for under $500 means that they're unambiguously strong across a wide range of workloads; compute-bound tasks like compiling software and compressing video cry out for cores, and AMD's pricing makes Ryzen very compelling indeed.

But gaming performance has caused more dissatisfaction. AMD promised a substantial improvement in instructions per cycle (IPC), and the general expectation was that Ryzen would be within striking distance of Intel's Broadwell core. Although Broadwell is now several years old—it first hit the market way back in September 2014—the comparison was relevant. Intel's high-core-count processors—both the High End Desktop parts, with six, eight, or 10 cores, and the various Xeon processors for multisocket servers—are all still using Broadwell cores.

Realistically, nobody should have expected Ryzen to be king of the hill when it comes to gaming. We know that Broadwell isn't, after all; Intel's Skylake and Kaby Lake parts both beat Broadwell in a wide range of games. This is the case even though Skylake and Kaby Lake are limited to four cores and eight threads; for many or most games, high IPC and high clock speeds are the key to top performance, and that's precisely what Kaby Lake delivers.

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Steve Jobs’ liver—and the quest for a better organ algorithm

15 Mar 2017, 11:00 am

Enlarge / As Stephen Merritt once sang, "I think I need a new heart." (credit: Getty Images)

In 2009, Steve Jobs received a liver transplant—not in northern California where he lived, but across the country in Memphis, Tennessee. Given the general complications of both travel and a transplant, Jobs’ decision may seem like an odd choice. But it was a strategic move that almost certainly got him a liver much more quickly than if Jobs had just waited for a liver to become available in California. Eight years later, the Apple founder’s procedure continues to highlight the state of transplants in the US: when it comes to organs, we have a big math problem.

Today, there’s a much greater need than there are organs to go around. It’s a problem currently being tackled in part by mathematicians and developers, who are crafting clever algorithms that aim to make organ allocation as fair as possible. But it’s complicated math that’s done against a backdrop of sticky ethical issues, and the debates surrounding it are heated and contentious.

The problem(s)

Before we can understand how researchers are using math to take on the bigger issues plaguing organ allocation, we have to understand what those issues are and where current strategies—mathematical or otherwise—have failed.

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