Gamer Geek News


News for nerds, stuff that matters

'Mushrooms on Mars is a Hoax. Stop Believing Hacks'

Several science web sites are strongly disputing a China-based journal's claim that time-lapse photos of Mars show growing mushrooms. TNW Neural headlined their story "Mushrooms on Mars is a hoax — stop believing hack 'scientists'" If you believe those images demonstrate fungus growing on Mars, I'm about to blow your frickin' mind. Check out this pic. You see that? To heck with fungus, that's an entire highway growing out of the sand in front of a moving bus. You can clearly see that the Earth's sandy crust is being broken apart as the expanding highway organism grows beneath it. Or, if you're the "Occam's Razor" type: the wind is just blowing sand around. I've never been to Mars, but I'm led to believe there are rocks, dust, and wind. Do we really need to go any further in debunking this nonsense? They also link to Retraction Watch's page about the story's lead author, Rhawn Gabriel Joseph. IFL Science picks up the story: Nicknamed the Space Tiger King — due to the photographs posted on his frankly ridiculous personal website — Joseph has spent decades erroneously claiming that life has already been discovered on other planets. Back in the 1970s, he began alleging that NASA's Viking lander had found biological matter, despite the agency stating the exact opposite of this. After setting up his own journal in an attempt to air his unscientific assertions, he later filed a lawsuit against NASA in order to force them to investigate a structure which he claimed resembled a "putative biological organism", but which later turned out to be a rock. CNET adds: "Claiming that mushrooms are sprouting all over Mars is an extraordinary claim that requires better evidence than an analysis of photographic morphology by a known crank who has claimed, on the basis of the same kind of analysis, that he has seen fields of skulls on Mars," says Paul Myers, a developmental biologist at the University of Minnesota, Morris, who has followed Joseph's work in the past... After being alerted to the new paper on Wednesday, I sent emails to the associate editors-in-chief of Advances in Microbiology, asking for clarification around the peer review process. They have not responded to requests for comment. I also emailed members of the editorial board listed on SCIRP's website, including Jian Li, a microbiologist at Monash University in Australia. He says he has not been on the journal's editorial board "for at least five to six years" and has not handled any of the papers in the journal. The "mushrooms" theory was also dismissed by several actual scientists, reports Futurism: "The conditions on Mars are so extreme that you're not going to see fungi or any kind of life growing at that sort of speed under conditions like coldness and low air pressure," Jonathan Clarke, president of Mars Society Australia, told the South China Morning Post. "Life can barely survive, let alone thrive." Clarke also took issue with the paper claiming that mushrooms were actually growing on Mars. "It's just like if you go to a beach and there are shells," he told the newspaper. "If the wind blows, the sand moves and exposes more shells. But we won't say the shells are growing there, it's just that they become visible..." "We have more than photos, records, instruments that tell us what these materials are made of," David Flannery, lecturer at the Queensland University of Technology who is a member of NASA's Mars 2020 mission science team, told SCMP. "And we have models for the features we see around us.... Robots are sending back huge amounts of data," he added. "We have plenty of information but it's just that no one is interpreting the features that we see as something like fungi. There's zero evidence for that." "This paper, which is really not credible, will be ignored by the scientific community," Flannery said.

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Posted on 9 May 2021 | 3:34 pm

New Study Again Finds Mediterranean Diet Lowers Symptoms of Brain Aging

CNN reports that a new study has again found that Mediterranean diets can lower your risk of dementia "by interfering with the buildup of two proteins, amyloid and tau, into the plaques and tangles that are hallmarks of Alzheimer's disease." "The mountain of evidence continues to build that you are what you eat when it comes to brain health," said Dr. Richard Isaacson, who directs the Alzheimer's Prevention Clinic at Weill Cornell Medicine and New York-Presbyterian Hospital... "For every point of higher compliance with the diet, people had one extra year less of brain aging. That is striking," Isaacson added. "Most people are unaware that it's possible to take control of your brain health, yet this study shows us just that...." What is the Mediterranean diet...? The true diet is simple, plant-based cooking, with the majority of each meal focused on fruits and vegetables, whole grains, beans and seeds, with a few nuts and a heavy emphasis on extra-virgin olive oil. Fats other than olive oil, such as butter, are consumed rarely, if at all. And say goodbye to refined sugar or flour. Meat can make a rare appearance, but usually only to flavor a dish. Instead, meals may include eggs, dairy and poultry, but in much smaller portions than in the traditional Western diet. However, fish, which are full of brain-boosting omega-3's, are a staple. The study, published Wednesday in Neurology, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology, examined 343 people at high risk of developing Alzheimer's and compared them to 169 cognitively normal subjects... After adjusting for factors like age, sex and education, the study found that people who did not follow the diet closely had more signs of amyloid and tau buildup in their spinal fluid than those who did adhere to the diet... "These results add to the body of evidence that show what you eat may influence your memory skills later on," said study author Tommaso Ballarini, a postdoctoral fellow at the German Center for Neurodegenerative Diseases in Bonn, Germany, in a statement... This isn't the first research to find a link between brain health and the Mediterranean diet or one of its plant-based cousins. A study of nearly 6,000 healthy older Americans with an average age of 68 found those who followed the Mediterranean or the similar MIND diet lowered their risk of dementia by a third. After reviewing the new study, Isaacson told CNN that "The strongest factor to really move the needle was regular fish consumption."

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Posted on 9 May 2021 | 2:34 pm

Capitol Rioters Identified Using Facial Recognition Software, Cellphone Records - and Social Media Posts

NBC News reports more than 440 Americans have now been charged with storming the U.S. Capitol building on January 6th, with charges now filed against people from 44 of America's 50 states. They describe it as "one of the largest criminal investigations in American history." The largest number come from Texas, Pennsylvania, and Florida, in that order. Men outnumber women among those arrested by 7 to 1, with an average age of 39, according to figures compiled by the Program on Extremism at George Washington University in Washington, D.C. A total of 44 are military veterans. Hundreds of arrests happened because rioters later bragged online: In nearly 90 percent of the cases, charges have been based at least in part on a person's own social media accounts. A New York man, Robert Chapman, bragged on the dating app Bumble that he'd been in the Capitol during the riot. The person he was seeking to date responded, "We are not a match," and notified the FBI. In fact, the investigative agency has now received "hundreds of thousands" of tips from the public, and has even posted photos of people who participated in the riots online asking for the public's help to identify them. But NBC also reports that technology is being used to identify participants: "Investigators have also used facial recognition software, comparing images from surveillance cameras and an outpouring of social media and news agency videos against photo databases of the FBI and at least one other federal agency, Customs and Border Protection, according to court documents." Investigators "have also subpoenaed records from companies providing cellphone service, allowing agents to tell whether a specific person's phone was inside the Capitol during the siege."

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Posted on 9 May 2021 | 10:34 am

China's Out-of-Control Rocket Plunges Out of Orbit, Crashes Into Ocean

An out-of-control Chinese rocket plunged out of orbit and reentered Earth's atmosphere in the Indian Ocean (just west of the Maldives), reports CNN, citing China's space agency: Most of the rocket was "destroyed" on reentry to the atmosphere, the space agency said. The rocket, which is about 108 feet tall and weighs nearly 40,000 pounds, had launched a piece of a new Chinese space station into orbit on April 29. After its fuel was spent, the rocket had been left to hurtle through space uncontrolled until Earth's gravity dragged it back to the ground. Generally, the international space community tries to avoid such scenarios. Most rockets used to lift satellites and other objects into space conduct more controlled reentries that aim for the ocean, or they're left in so-called "graveyard" orbits that keep them in space for decades or centuries. But the Long March rocket is designed in a way that "leaves these big stages in low orbit," said Jonathan McDowell, an astrophysicist at the Astrophysics Center at Harvard University. In this case, it was impossible to be certain exactly when or where the booster would land. The European Space Agency had predicted a "risk zone" that encompassed "any portion of Earth's surface between about 41.5N and 41.5S latitude" — which included virtually all of the Americas south of New York, all of Africa and Australia, parts of Asia south of Japan and Europe's Spain, Portugal, Italy and Greece. The threat to populated areas of land was not negligible, but fortunately the vast majority of Earth's surface area is consumed by oceans... The rocket is one of the largest objects in recent memory to strike the Earth after falling out of orbit, following a 2018 incident in which a piece of a Chinese space lab broke up over the Pacific Ocean and the 2020 reentry of an 18-metric-ton Long March 5B rocket [also launched by China].

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Posted on 9 May 2021 | 6:34 am

Elon Musk Begins Hosting 'Saturday Night Live' - As the World Watches

This afternoon Elon Musk tweeted a special URL allowing viewers outside the U.S. to simultaenously livestream his 90-minute appearance on Saturday Night Live for the first time in more than 100 countries, starting at 11:30 p.m. EST. The A.V. Club had a sardonic reaction to the livestreaming on YouTube: Good news for anyone looking at tonight's upcoming broadcast of Saturday Night Live — in which labor-busting vaccine skeptic Elon Musk will be given a platform to broadcast his techno-dystopian brain contents to the world — and thought, "Wow, there's not enough Google involved here." Well, not anymore. Musk has already appeared in a two promos for the show. (Though CNN quips that the tonight's live show means NBC is "relying on Musk to filter his thoughts in real time, despite little evidence, historically, of him holding back on just about anything he wants to say — even when under scrutiny by federal regulators.") And the rest of the world is getting ready too. While Tesla brought the Cybertruck prototype to its New York City store, Lucid Air made plans to broadcast an ad for its coming 500-mile-range electric car that will compete with cars from Musk's Tesla. Meanwhile, Bleeping Computer reports that Twitter scammers have been hacking into verified Twitter accounts and changing the profiles to impersonate SNL's, then replying to Musk's tweets with URL's lead to cryptocurrency giveaway scams. "We have determined that the scammers have made at least $97,054.62 over the past two days. The Ethereum giveaway scams also earned them $13,758." And the Dogecoin scammers netted at least $42,456. And this week also Slate noted a spike in the price of Dogecoin. The joke cryptocurrency based on a shiba inu meme is up — uh, let me check — about 20 percent since this time Tuesday, has just about doubled in price since April 27, and as of this moment is up about 26,000 percent for the year (lol). It's trading around 64 cents as I type this... [I]t's probably not worth overthinking this. We're living in the stonks era. Elon is going on a sketch comedy show and is hinting that he might bring up a dumb digital token that everyone finds inherently funny. Now CNBC is hauling on experts to illuminate what the hell is going on, and members of the financial media are having to write earnest explainers about why you should invest in the dog money with caution, as if a single sane person would think otherwise. What makes the whole rally uniquely amusing, compared with, say, the rise of Bitcoin, is that it's a willfully dumb affront not just to traditional finance, but also to the broader crypto community — which has, shall we say, mixed feelings about Dogecoin, mostly because they think it makes their project, which they tend to treat with self-righteous seriousness, look very silly... Dogecoin is the, well, underdog of the crypto world, the currency that was looked down upon by much of the Bitcoin- and Ethereum-boosting elite. Except now it has an $82 billion market cap. The dogecoiners — basically the sweet, dumb, bong-ripping frat of the crypto world — find all this hilarious. So what will happen tonight? Ultimately castmember Michael Che, who co-hosts the show's parody newscast segment Weekend Update, joked that while some of the show's performers objected to Musk's appearance, he saw the selection of Musk as both "polarizing" and "exciting." "You know, what's funny is that I would say I know about 20 to 25% of the white people that get to host the show anyway. So Elon, I was like, 'Oh, I know who he is at least.'" Share your own reactions in the comments.

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Posted on 9 May 2021 | 3:29 am

Does XKCD's Cartoon Show How Scientific Publishing Is a Joke?

"An XKCD comic — and its many remixes — perfectly captures the absurdity of academic research," writes the Atlantic (in an article shared by Slashdot reader shanen). It argues that the cartoon "captured the attention of scientists — and inspired many to create versions specific to their own disciplines. Together, these became a global, interdisciplinary conversation about the nature of modern research practices." It depicts a taxonomy of the 12 "Types of Scientific Paper," presented in a grid. "The immune system is at it again," one paper's title reads. "My colleague is wrong and I can finally prove it," declares another. The gag reveals how research literature, when stripped of its jargon, is just as susceptible to repetition, triviality, pandering, and pettiness as other forms of communication. The cartoon's childlike simplicity, though, seemed to offer cover for scientists to critique and celebrate their work at the same time... You couldn't keep the biologists away from the fun ("New microscope!! Yours is now obsolete"), and — in their usual fashion — the science journalists soon followed ("Readers love animals"). A doctoral student cobbled together a website to help users generate their own versions. We reached Peak Meme with the creation of a meta-meme outlining a taxonomy of academic-paper memes. At that point, the writer and internet activist Cory Doctorow lauded the collective project of producing these jokes as "an act of wry, insightful auto-ethnography — self-criticism wrapped in humor that tells a story." Put another way: The joke was on target. "The meme hits the right nerve," says Vinay Prasad, an associate epidemiology professor and a prominent critic of medical research. "Many papers serve no purpose, advance no agenda, may not be correct, make no sense, and are poorly read. But they are required for promotion." The scholarly literature in many fields is riddled with extraneous work; indeed, I've always been intrigued by the idea that this sorry outcome was more or less inevitable, given the incentives at play. Take a bunch of clever, ambitious people and tell them to get as many papers published as possible while still technically passing muster through peer review ... and what do you think is going to happen? Of course the system gets gamed: The results from one experiment get sliced up into a dozen papers, statistics are massaged to produce more interesting results, and conclusions become exaggerated. The most prolific authors have found a way to publish more than one scientific paper a week. Those who can't keep up might hire a paper mill to do (or fake) the work on their behalf. The article argues the Covid-19 pandemic induced medical journals to forego papers about large-scale clinical trials while "rapidly accepting reports that described just a handful of patients. More than a few CVs were beefed up along the way." But pandemic publishing has only served to exacerbate some well-established bad habits, Michael Johansen, a family-medicine physician and researcher who has criticized many studies as being of minimal value, told me. "COVID publications appear to be representative of the literature at large: a few really important papers and a whole bunch of stuff that isn't or shouldn't be read." Unfortunately, the Atlantic adds, "none of the scientists I talked with could think of a realistic solution."

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Posted on 9 May 2021 | 1:34 am

Emails, Text Messages Can Be Retrieved From Smartphones Synced to Vehicles

Slashdot reader ytene writes: As reported by The Intercept, U.S. Customs and Border Protection have just spent $456,063 for a package of technology specifically designed to access smartphone data via a motor vehicle. From the article: "...part of the draw of vacuuming data out of cars is that so many drivers are oblivious to the fact that their cars are generating so much data in the first place, often including extremely sensitive information inadvertently synced from smartphones." This data can include "Recent destinations, favorite locations, call logs, contact lists, SMS messages, emails, pictures, videos, social media feeds, and the navigation history of everywhere the vehicle has been, when and where a vehicle's lights are turned on, and which doors are opened and closed at specific locations" as well as "gear shifts, odometer reads, ignition cycles, speed logs, and more. This car-based surveillance, in other words, goes many miles beyond the car itself." Perhaps the most remarkable claim, however, was, "We had a Ford Explorer we pulled the system out, and we recovered 70 phones that had been connected to it. All of their call logs, their contacts and their SMS." Mohammad Tajsar, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), is quoted as saying, "Whenever we have surveillance technology that's deeply invasive, we are disturbed," he said. "When it's in the hands of an agency that's consistently refused any kind of attempt at basic accountability, reform, or oversight, then it's Defcon 1."

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Posted on 8 May 2021 | 10:34 pm

Astronomers Search For Answers To Origins of Interstellar Visitors Like 'Oumuamua

"Getting to another extrasolar planet is never going to happen in my lifetime, or that of Western civilisation," says Alan Jackson, an astronomer and planetary scientist at Arizona State University. "But we can have nature deliver pieces of them to us that we can actually see up close." Slashdot reader boudie2 shares this article from BBC Future, which notes that astronomers spent decades looking for objects from outside our solar system — until two arrived at once. "'Oumuamua has not yet been definitively classified as a comet or an asteroid — it might be something else entirely," the article points out. For one thing, 'Oumuamua didn't have a comet-like tail: Two things in particular fixated scientists. The first was its mysterious acceleration away from the Sun, which was hard to reconcile with many ideas about what it might have been made of. The second was its peculiar shape — by some estimates, it was 10 times as long as it was wide. Before 'Oumuamua, the most elongated known space objects were three times longer than they were wide... [F]inally, earlier this year Jackson and his colleague Steven Desch came up with an explanation that seems to explain 'Oumuamua's quirky features, without the need for any alien technology... "We just realised that nitrogen ice could supply exactly the amount of push it needs — and it's observed on Pluto," he says. To corroborate the idea, they calculated how shiny the surface of 'Oumuamua was and compared it to the reflectivity of nitrogen ice — and found that the two were more or less exact matches. The team concluded that the object was likely to be a chunk of nitrogen ice, which was chipped off the surface of a Pluto-like exoplanet around a young star. Based on the evolution of our own solar system, which started out with thousands of similar planets in the icy neighbourhood of the Kuiper belt, they suggested that the fragment may have broken off around half a billion years ago... Though the object would have finally reached the very outermost edge of the Solar System many years ago, it would have taken a long time to travel to the balmy, central region where it was first discovered — and been gradually worn down into a pancake as it approached. This explains its unusual shape and its acceleration in one go, because the evaporating nitrogen would have left an invisible tail that propelled it forwards. "Our atmosphere is mostly nitrogen and you can see though it," says Jackson. "Nitrogen gas is difficult to detect." Again, not everyone is happy with this suggestion. Luckily, the second interstellar object, 2I/Borisov "has turned out to be emphatically less difficult to decipher than its cosmic companion. It's been recognised as the first interstellar comet ever found."

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Posted on 8 May 2021 | 9:38 pm

Deepfake Satellite Imagery Poses a Not-so-Distant Threat

Long-time Slashdot reader AmiMoJo quotes the Verge's warning about "deepfake geography: AI-generated images of cityscapes and countryside." Specifically, geographers are concerned about the spread of fake, AI-generated satellite imagery. Such pictures could mislead in a variety of ways. They could be used to create hoaxes about wildfires or floods, or to discredit stories based on real satellite imagery... Deepfake geography might even be a national security issue, as geopolitical adversaries use fake satellite imagery to mislead foes... The first step to tackling these issues is to make people aware there's a problem in the first place, says Bo Zhao, an assistant professor of geography at the University of Washington. Zhao and his colleagues recently published a paper on the subject of "deep fake geography," which includes their own experiments generating and detecting this imagery... As part of their study, Zhao and his colleagues created software to generate deepfake satellite images, using the same basic AI method (a technique known as generative adversarial networks, or GANs) used in well-known programs like They then created detection software that was able to spot the fakes based on characteristics like texture, contrast, and color. But as experts have warned for years regarding deepfakes of people, any detection tool needs constant updates to keep up with improvements in deepfake generation.

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Posted on 8 May 2021 | 8:34 pm

'Ghost Gun' Loophole Leads US Justice Dept to Propose New Definition of 'Firearm'

America's Justice Department proposed a new rule Friday to update the definition of "firearm" for the first time since 1968, in an effort to close the so-called "ghost gun" loophole. UPI reports: Attorney General Merrick Garland said the modernized definition would require retailers to perform background checks on customers before selling some ready-made kits that allow people to build their own guns. Such guns are known as "ghost guns" because they don't have serial numbers and can't be traced. "Criminals and others barred from owning a gun should not be able to exploit a loophole to evade background checks and to escape detection by law enforcement," Garland said... Under the proposed rule, manufacturers must include a serial number on the firearm frame or receiver in a kit. Firearm dealers also must add serial numbers to 3D-printed guns or other un-serialized firearms they take into their inventory.

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Posted on 8 May 2021 | 7:34 pm

'Despite Chip Shortage, Chip Innovation Is Booming'

The New York Times reports on surprising silver linings of the global chip shortage: Even as a chip shortage is causing trouble for all sorts of industries, the semiconductor field is entering a surprising new era of creativity, from industry giants to innovative start-ups seeing a spike in funding from venture capitalists that traditionally avoided chip makers. Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company and Samsung Electronics, for example, have managed the increasingly difficult feat of packing more transistors on each slice of silicon. IBM on Thursday announced another leap in miniaturization, a sign of continued U.S. prowess in the technology race. Perhaps most striking, what was a trickle of new chip companies is now approaching a flood. Equity investors for years viewed semiconductor companies as too costly to set up, but in 2020 plowed more than $12 billion into 407 chip-related companies, according to CB Insights. Though a tiny fraction of all venture capital investments, that was more than double what the industry received in 2019 and eight times the total for 2016. Synopsys, the biggest supplier of software that engineers use to design chip, is tracking more than 200 start-ups designing chips for artificial intelligence, the ultrahot technology powering everything from smart speakers to self-driving cars. Cerebras, a start-up that sells massive artificial-intelligence processors that span an entire silicon wafer, for example, has attracted more than $475 million. Groq, a start-up whose chief executive previously helped design an artificial-intelligence chip for Google, has raised $367 million. "It's a bloody miracle," said Jim Keller, a veteran chip designer whose resume includes stints at Apple, Tesla and Intel and who now works at the A.I. chip start-up Tenstorrent. "Ten years ago you couldn't do a hardware start-up...." More companies are concluding that software running on standard Intel-style microprocessors is not the best solution for all problems. For that reason, companies like Cisco Systems and Hewlett Packard Enterprise have long designed specialty chips for products such as networking gear. Giants like Apple, Amazon and Google more recently have gotten into the act. Google's YouTube unit recently disclosed its first internally developed chip to speed video encoding. And Volkswagen even said last week that it would develop its own processor to manage autonomous driving.

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Posted on 8 May 2021 | 6:34 pm

Ransomware Cyberattack Forces Major US Pipeline Company to Halt Operations

"Colonial Pipeline, which accounts for 45% of the East Coast's fuel, said it has shut down its operations due to a cyberattack," reports ZDNet. "The attack highlights how ransomware and other cyberattacks are increasingly a threat to real-world infrastructure. "The company delivers refined petroleum products such as gasoline, diesel, jet fuel, home heating oil, and fuel for the U.S. Military." UPDATE: Saturday the company confirmed that the attack involved ransomware. The Associated Press reports: Colonial Pipeline said the attack took place Friday and also affected some of its information technology systems. The Alpharetta, Georgia-based company said it hired an outside cybersecurity firm to investigate the nature and scope of the attack and has also contacted law enforcement and federal agencies. "Colonial Pipeline is taking steps to understand and resolve this issue," the company said in a late Friday statement. "At this time, our primary focus is the safe and efficient restoration of our service and our efforts to return to normal operation. This process is already underway, and we are working diligently to address this matter and to minimize disruption to our customers and those who rely on Colonial Pipeline." Oil analyst Andy Lipow said the impact of the attack on fuel supplies and prices depends on how long the pipeline is down. An outage of one or two days would be minimal, he said, but an outage of five or six days could causes shortages and price hikes, particularly in an area stretching from central Alabama to the Washington, D.C., area. Lipow said a key concern about a lengthy delay would be the supply of jet fuel needed to keep major airports operating, like those in Atlanta and Charlotte, North Carolina. The precise nature of the attack was unclear, including who launched it and what the motives were... Mike Chapple, teaching professor of IT, analytics and operations at the University of Notre Dame's Mendoza College of Business and a former computer scientist with the National Security Agency, said systems that control pipelines should not be connected to the internet and vulnerable to cyber intrusions. "The attacks were extremely sophisticated and they were able to defeat some pretty sophisticated security controls, or the right degree of security controls weren't in place," Chapple said... The article also points out the U.S. government says it's "undertaking a new effort to help electric utilities, water districts and other critical industries protect against potentially damaging ensure that control systems serving 50,000 or more Americans have the core technology to detect and block malicious cyber activity. The White House has announced a 100-day initiative aimed at protecting the country's electricity system from cyberattacks by encouraging owners and operators of power plants and electric utilities to improve their capabilities for identifying cyber threats to their networks. It includes concrete milestones for them to put technologies into use so they can spot and respond to intrusions in real time. The Justice Department has also announced a new task force dedicated to countering ransomware attacks...

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Posted on 8 May 2021 | 5:34 pm

New Studies Show Covid-19 Vaccines' Effectiveness Against Variants

CNN recently reported on "a batch" of new studies published Wednesday — with one quantifying how much immunity improves after the second dose, and others showing how well coronavirus vaccines work against new variants of the virus: The first nationwide study of coronavirus vaccination, done in Israel, showed Pfizer/BioNtech's vaccine works far better after two doses. Two shots of the vaccine provided greater than 95% protection from infection, severe illness and death, Dr. Eric Haas of the Israel Ministry of Health and colleagues reported in the Lancet medical journal. "Two doses of BNT162b2 are highly effective across all age groups in preventing symptomatic and asymptomatic SARS-CoV-2 infections and COVID-19-related hospitalizations, severe disease, and death, including those caused by the B.1.1.7 SARS-CoV-2 variant," they wrote. The B.1.1.7 variant, first seen in Britain, has spread widely and is now the most common new variant seen in the US. It was also common in Israel when the study was done... "By 14 days after vaccination, protections conferred by a second dose [of the Pfizer vaccine] increased to 96.5% protection against infection, 98% against hospitalization, and 98.1% against death," the team wrote. But people who got only one dose of the vaccine were far less protected. One dose alone gave just 57.7% protection against infection, 75.7% against hospitalization, and 77% against death.... Separately, a team in the Gulf state of Qatar looked at the efficacy of Pfizer's vaccine in the population there when B.1.351 and B.1.1.7 were both circulating. They found reassuring results. "The estimated effectiveness of the vaccine against any documented infection with the B.1.1.7 variant was 89.5% at 14 or more days after the second dose. The effectiveness against any documented infection with the B.1.351 variant was 75%," the researchers wrote in a letter to the New England Journal of Medicine... Vaccine maker Moderna reported Wednesday that a booster shot delivering a half-dose of its current vaccine revs up the immune response against both B.1.351 and P.1. And a booster dose formulated specifically to match B.1.351 was even more effective, Moderna said in a statement... In another study, vaccine maker Novavax confirmed earlier findings that showed its vaccine protects against B.1.351.

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Posted on 8 May 2021 | 4:34 pm

New Audio From Mars Captures Sounds of Ingenuity Helicopter's Flight

"A ghostly hum has been echoing across the plains of Mars' Jezero Crater," reports Business Insider. Slashdot reader quonset writes: NASA has released a short video of Ingenuity's fourth flight on Mars. However, a bountiful side effect is they were able to hear the hum of its rotors. Perseverance's microphone was turned on during the flight, and despite Ingenuity being over 260 feet away, it was able to capture both sight and sound of the historic event. While the majority of sound is Martian wind rustling against the microphone, NASA enhanced the sound to make the rotor sounds more audible. They are most apparent when Ingenuity returns to its takeoff spot and the rotor hum dies down when the blades come to a halt. "We had carried out tests and simulations that told us the microphone would barely pick up the sounds of the helicopter, as the Mars atmosphere damps the sound propagation strongly," said NASA's science lead for the Perseverance rover's microphone. "We have been lucky to register the helicopter at such a distance. This recording will be a gold mine for our understanding of the Martian atmosphere."

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Posted on 8 May 2021 | 3:34 pm

Facebook Criticized For 'Arbitrary' Suspension of Trump -- by Its Own Oversight Board

"It never occurred to me that a Facebook-appointed panel could avoid a clear decision about Donald Trump's heinous online behavior," writes a New York Times technology reporter. "But that is what it's done..." They call the board's decision "kind of perfect, actually, since it forces everyone's hand — from the Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg to our limp legislators in Congress..." The editor of the conservative National Review adds: If Facebook had set out to demonstrate that it has awesome power over speech in the United States, including speech at the core of the nation's political debate, and is wielding that power arbitrarily, indeed has no idea what its own rules truly are or should be, it wouldn't have handled the question any differently... The oversight board underlines the astonishing fact that in reaching its most momentous free-speech decision ever in this country, in determining whether a former president of the United States can use its platform or not, Facebook made it up on the fly. "In applying this penalty," the board writes of the suspension, "Facebook did not follow a clear, published procedure." This is like the U.S. Supreme Court handing down decisions in the absence of a written Constitution, or a home-plate umpire calling balls and strikes without an agreed-upon strike zone... John Samples, a member of the Oversight Board, has even said explicitly that their decision was not about former president Trump — but about Facebook itself. The Washington Post reports: Samples said the board found that Facebook enforced a rule that didn't exist at the time. Trump was suspended indefinitely, rather than permanently or for a specific period of time, as defined by the company's own rules. "In a sense we were being tough with them," Samples said. Other members said the board's call should reassure anyone concerned that Facebook wields too much control over online speech. "Anyone who's concerned about Mark Zuckerberg's power and his company's power over our speech online should actually praise this decision," Julie Owono, executive director of Internet Sans Frontières, said at a virtual event hosted by the Stanford Cyber Policy Center. "The board refused to support an arbitrary suspension..." The flurry of media appearances marked a critical moment in the board's existence, as it tries to prove its legitimacy, define its powers and establish its relationship with Facebook. NPR notes that former Danish Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt, a board co-chair, even called Facebook "a bit lazy" for failing to set a specific penalty in the first place... "What we are telling Facebook is that they can't invent penalties as they go along. They have to stick to their own rules," Thorning-Schmidt said in an interview with Axios. The board's criticism didn't stop at Facebook's imposing what it called a "vague, standardless penalty." It slammed the company for trying to outsource its final verdict on Trump. "Facebook has a responsibility to its users and to its community and to the broader public to make its own decisions," Jamal Greene, another board co-chair and constitutional law professor at Columbia, said Thursday during an Aspen Institute event. "The board's job is to make sure that Facebook is doing its job," he said. Tensions between the board's view of the scope of its role and Facebook's were also evident in the board's revelation that the company wouldn't answer seven of the 46 questions it asked about the Trump case. The questions Facebook refused to answer included how its own design and algorithms might have amplified the reach of Trump's posts and contributed to the Capitol assault. "The ones that the company refused to answer to are precisely related to what happened before Jan. 6," Julie Owono, an oversight board member and executive director of the digital rights group Internet Sans Frontières, said at the Aspen Institute event. "Our decision says that you cannot make such an important decision, such a serious decision for freedom of expression, freedom of speech, without the adequate context."

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Posted on 8 May 2021 | 2:34 pm