derekmead writes "Despite being used for drugs and beef jerky, Bitcoin is finding legitimate purposes. Bitcoin's decentralized convenience means international efficiency, in areas where local restrictions on money transfers to foreign companies make legal businesses cumbersome. 'I've been able to have cash in my bank account in a matter of hours using Bitcoin, rather than three days with traditional banking,' one British businessman in China told Reuters. In embattled Europe, Bitcoin offers some a viable alternative against central banks, said a Greek owner of an island bar and restaurant who accepts payment in Bitcoin. 'I don't put money in the banks. I trust the euro as a note, but I don't trust banks. I don't want them making money out of my earnings.' Indeed, Europe's financial woes are caused an unprecedented surge of interest in the alternative currency, as the continent loses economic credibility with each new bailout, according to a report by the Financial Post."
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Glyn Moody writes "We hear a lot about politicians and countries rejecting ACTA, but not so much from the treaty's supporters. Here's a new site, called 'ACTA Facts,' which invites Europeans to 'get the facts' on how wonderful ACTA really is. Judging by its content, this one will be about as successful as Microsoft's 'Get the Facts' campaign a few years ago, which tried to dissuade people from using GNU/Linux. For example, a new report linked to by the site claims that ACTA could 'boost European output by a total of €50 billion, and create as many as 960,000 new jobs.' Unfortunately, that's based on numerous flawed assumptions, including the idea that countries like China and India are going to rush to join ACTA, when the treaty is actually designed as a weapon against them, as they have already noticed."
ananyo writes "Hungary's Medical Research Council (ETT), which advises the government on health policy, has asked public prosecutors to investigate a genetic-diagnostic company that certified that a member of parliament did not have Roma or Jewish heritage. The MP in question is a member of the far-right Jobbik party, which won 17% of the votes in the general election of April 2010. He apparently requested the certificate from the firm Nagy Gén Diagnostic and Research. The company produced the document in September 2010, a few weeks before local elections. Nagy Gén scanned 18 positions in the MP's genome for variants that it says are characteristic of Roma and Jewish ethnic groups; its report concludes that Roma and Jewish ancestry can be ruled out." Adds ananyo: "The test is of-course nonsense, and notions of 'racial purity' have long been discredited." Just when you think the world is too modern for such things, modernity gets hijacked by flim-flam.
Hugh Pickens writes "Garance Franke-Ruta writes about a new study of racially charged search terms on Google that aims to predict the effects of the Bradley effect, a theory proposed to explain observed discrepancies between voter opinion polls and election outcomes in some U.S. elections where a white candidate and a non-white candidate run against each other. 'How much we are under-representing people who are intolerant and therefore unlikely to vote for Obama is an open question,' says Andrew Kohut, the president of Pew Research Center. 'I suspect not a great deal, but maybe some. And "maybe some" could be crucial in a tight election.' The study found that the percentage of an area's total Google searches from 2004-2007 that included the racially charged search for the word 'n****r' is a is a large and robust negative predictor of Obama's vote share. 'A one standard deviation increase in an area's racially charged search is associated with a 1.5 percentage point decrease in Obama's vote share, controlling for John Kerry's vote share,' writes Stephens-Davidowitz in the study. The results imply that, relative to the most racially tolerant areas in the United States, prejudice cost Obama between 3.1 percentage points and 5.0 percentage points (PDF) of the national popular vote in the 2008 election. This implies racial animus gave Obama's opponent roughly the equivalent of a home-state advantage, country-wide."
New submitter nagalman writes "There is a very powerful video out that takes the audio of words from Neil deGrasse Tyson, receiver of the NASA Distinguished Public Service Medal, and meshes it with powerful images of the history and successful outcomes of NASA. Through Penny4NASA, Dr. Tyson is pressing for the budget of NASA to be doubled from 0.5% to 1% of the federal budget in order to spur vision, interest, dreams, public excitement, and innovation into science and engineering. With Kansas stating that 'evolution could not rule out a supernatural or theistic source, that evolution itself was not fact but only a theory and one in crisis, and that Intelligent Design must be considered a viable alternative to evolution,' and North Carolina's legislature circulating a bill telling people to ignore climate science, maybe it's time we start listening to experts who have a proven record of success, rather than ideology that has only been 'proven' in the mind of elected politicians."
ideonexus writes "Years ago Nate Silver of FiveThirtyEight.com, a blog seeking to educate the public about elections forecasting, established his model as one of the most accurate in existence, rising from a fairly unknown statistician working in baseball to one of the most respected names in election forecasting. In this article he describes all the factors that go into his predictions. A fascinating overview of the process of modeling a chaotic system."
ananyo writes with a story about more concrete plans for a reduced or nuclear-free energy future for Japan. From the article: "It's official: nuclear power will have a much smaller role in Japan's energy future than was once thought. Since the meltdowns and gas explosions at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power station in March 2011, all of Japan's remaining reactors have been shut down for inspections and maintenance. The government offered a glimpse of their future, and that of the country's nuclear power in general, when it published an outline of four ways to satisfy Japan's future energy demands. One scenario recommends using a market mechanism to determine the nuclear contribution. Under the other three, nuclear power would supply at most one-quarter of Japan's energy by 2030 — and in one case, none at all. The scenarios come from a 25-person advisory committee to the industry ministry. The sharp reductions in the nuclear power part of the country's energy mix mean that Japan will struggle to reach the 31% reduction in carbon dioxide emissions that it had planned by 2030 (PDF)."
MarkWhittington writes "NASA and Congress have reached a deal on how to proceed with the commercial crew program that provides government subsidies to pay for the development of private spacecraft. NASA will select two competitors from the current four — SpaceX, Boeing, Blue Origin and Sierra Nevada. A third competitor will be picked for partial funding as a fallback in case both of the main competing companies run into difficulties developing a spacecraft on time and on budget."
cheezitmike writes "In a two-part series, the American Academy for the Advancement of Science examines two hot-button topics that create clashes in the classroom between science teachers and conservative-leaning students, parents, school boards, and state legislatures. Part 1 looks at the struggle of teachers to cover evolution in the face of religious push-back from students and legislatures. Part 2 deals with teaching climate change, and how teachers increasingly have to deal with political pressure from those who insist that there must be two sides to the discussion."
davidwr writes "What are a reasonable temporary-worker or immigration-visa rules to apply to workers whose skills would quickly net them a 'top 20th percentile wages' job (about $100,000) in the American workplace, if they were allowed to work in the country? Should the visa length be time-limited? Should it provide for a path to permanent residency? Should the number be limited, and if so, how should we decide what the limit should be? The people affected are already likely eligible for special work-permit programs, but these programs may have quotas, time limits, prior-job-offer-requirements, and other restrictions. I'm asking what Slashdotters think the limits and restrictions, if any, should be. (Let's assume any policy to keep out criminals and spies remains as-is.)"
TaeKwonDood writes "We've all seen the stories about how 'dismal' science education in America is. It turns out that it's kind of a straw man. America has long led the world in science but the 'average' score for Americans on standardized tests has never been good. Instead, every 2 years American kids get better but we keep being told things are terrible. Here is why."
knorthern knight writes "When 2 light civilian planes collide in U.S. airspace in Virginia, the usual response includes calling in the FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) and NTSB (National Transportation Safety Board) to investigate and make recommendations based on their results. But what do you do when the crash involves two planes piloted by a crash investigator with the FAA and the chief medical officer with the NTSB? In order to avoid conflict of interest by American investigators working for these agencies, the investigation has been turned over to to the Transportation Safety Board of Canada as a neutral 3rd party."
An anonymous reader links this article describing a newly installed set of rules affecting the already put-upon Internet users of China, specifically affecting users of social network Sina Weibo: "Sina Weibo users each will now receive 80 points to begin with, and this can be boosted to a full 100 points by those who provide their official government-issued identification numbers (like Social Security numbers in the U.S.) and link to a cellphone account. Spreading falsehoods will lead to deductions in points, among other penalties. Spreading an untruth to 100 other users will result in a deduction of two points. Spreading it to 100-1,000 other users will result in a deduction of five points, as well as a week's suspension of the account. Spreading it to more than 1,000 other users will result in a deduction of 10 points, as well as a 15-day suspension of the account." The article explains (in truth, not very helpfully) the extent to which users' freedom to talk freely will be curtailed; the long list of what not to do "includes using 'nonconforming' or false images to mislead," "exaggerating events," "presenting already [resolved] events as ongoing," "efforts to incite ethnic tensions and violence and hurt ethnic unity" and "efforts to spread cultist or superstitious thinking; spreading rumors to disrupt social harmony." (And of course the catch-all: "other activities stipulated by authorities.")
Hugh Pickens writes "Megan Garber writes that wireless routers have become the lawn signs of the digital age, particularly in large apartment buildings, where almost every unit has a unique Wi-Fi network that will be detected in turn by all the other unique Wi-Fi networks. SSIDs can be a cheeky, geeky way to broadcast messages to your immediate neighbors. Most of us keep it simple with '275_Elm_Street,' 'Apt23,' or 'my_network,' but some get more creative with names like: 'Apt112IHaveYourMail,' 'PrettyFlyForAWiFi,' or 'WeCanHearYouHavingSex' — a great way to freak out your annoying neighbors without hiding in their bushes or peeping in their windows late at night. Now the team at OpenSignalMaps, which maintains a database of geolocated Wi-Fi access points, analyzed the data they've collected about wireless routers to see whether Wi-Fi names are 'being used to fly political colors' and have found, globally, 1,140 results for 'Obama' and an additional six for 'Romney' — an indication not necessarily of Romney's popularity relative to the president's, but of the attention that four years as president can confer. 'There's something uniquely contemporary and incredibly old-school about that kind of broadcasting: It's messaging meant only for your immediate neighbors,' writes Garber. 'The politicized network names are like lawn signs for people who don't have lawns.'"
DillyTonto writes "U.S. officials have acknowledged playing a role in the development and deployment of Stuxnet, Duqu and other cyberweapons against Iran. The acknowledgement makes cyberattacks more legitimate as a tool of not-quite-lethal international diplomacy. It also legitimizes them as more-combative tools for political conflict over social issues, in the same way Tasers gave police less-than-lethal alternatives to shooting suspects and gave those who abuse their power something other than a club to hit a suspect with. Political parties and single-issue political organizations already use 'opposition research' to name-and-shame their opponents with real or exaggerated revelations from a checkered past, jerrymander districts to ensure their candidates a victory and vote-suppression or get-out-the-vote efforts to skew vote tallies. Imagine what they'll do with custom malware, the ability to DDOS an opponent's web site or redirect donations from an opponent's site to their own. Cyberweapons may give nations a way to attack enemies without killing anyone. They'll definitely give domestic political groups a whole new world of dirty tricks to play."