China

China, Unhampered by Rules, Races Ahead in Gene-Editing Trials (wsj.com) 49

U.S. scientists helped devise the Crispr biotechnology tool. First to test it in humans are Chinese doctors (Editor's note: the link may be paywalled; alternative link). WSJ reports: In a hospital west of Shanghai, Wu Shixiu since March has been trying to treat cancer patients using a promising new gene-editing tool. U.S. scientists helped devise the tool, known as Crispr-Cas9, which has captured global attention since a 2012 report said it can be used to edit DNA. Doctors haven't been allowed to use it in human trials in America. That isn't the case for Dr. Wu and others in China. In a quirk of the globalized technology arena, Dr. Wu can forge ahead with the tool because he faces few regulatory hurdles to testing it on humans. [...] There is little doubt China was first out of the block testing Crispr on humans. Nine trials in China are listed in a U.S. National Library of Medicine database. The Wall Street Journal found at least two other hospital trials, including one beginning in 2015 -- a year earlier than previously reported. Journal reporting found at least 86 Chinese patients have had their genes edited.
Google

Google's $20 Million Race To the Moon Will End With No Winner -- and Google is OK With That (cnbc.com) 70

Michael Sheetz, reporting for CNBC: More than ten years after it was announced -- and extended over and over -- the Google-sponsored race to win $20 million by landing on the moon will end with no winners. The four teams racing to win the Google Lunar Xprize, which requires a company to land a spacecraft on the moon by March 31, are either short of money or unable to launch this year, three people familiar with the matter told CNBC. Meanwhile, Google -- which extended the deadline from 2012 to 2014 and then eventually to 2018 -- is not willing to push out the date further. "Google does not have plans at this time to extend the deadline again, however we are so thrilled with the progress made by these teams over the last ten years," a Google spokesperson said in a statement to CNBC. The commercial space industry has written off the Lunar Xprize as improbable, and not worth pursuing, according to sources.
Science

Will We One Day Use Tractor Beams In Manufacturing? (cnet.com) 51

An anonymous reader quotes CNET: Engineers from the University of Bristol have been able to trap (essentially levitate) objects using an acoustic tractor beam that is larger than the wavelengths of sound used by the device... [A]pplications could include touchless control of drug capsules or micro-surgical implements inside the human body using sonic tractor beams. It could also become possible to move and manipulate fragile items in a whole new way. "I'm particularly excited by the idea of contactless production lines where delicate objects are assembled without touching them," said Bristol's Bruce Drinkwater, who oversaw the work.
Futurism.com adds that other researchers are also working on tractor beams in manufacturing, including one at the University of Glasgow. "The group demonstrated the process by assembling a pattern of solder beads using an optoelectronic trap, taking the liquid away, then applying heat to fuse the beads together and forge electrical connections," they report, adding "It should be possible to manipulate as many as 10,000 beads at the same time."
AI

Can Machine Learning Guess True Emotions From Facial Microexpressions? (cmu.edu) 55

jbmartin6 writes: Microexpressions are fast, involuntary facial expressions which other people may not consciously recognize, but arise from our real emotions instead of the face we wish to present to the world. Carnegie Mellon University released an interesting blog entry about new approaches to using computers to recognize these microexpressions with a focus on the security and military applications. If you haven't taped over the cameras on your devices, it might be time to start thinking about it. Just imagine how advertisers would (mis)use this sort of technology.
"Our approach uses machine learning features that treat the whole face as a canvas," writes the lead researcher, adding "One challenge we faced for this project was finding a dataset with accurately labeled data to establish ground truth.

"Few existing databases capture subjects' suppressed reactions...."
Math

Has the Decades-Old Floating Point Error Problem Been Solved? (insidehpc.com) 161

overheardinpdx quotes HPCwire: Wednesday a company called Bounded Floating Point announced a "breakthrough patent in processor design, which allows representation of real numbers accurate to the last digit for the first time in computer history. This bounded floating point system is a game changer for the computing industry, particularly for computationally intensive functions such as weather prediction, GPS, and autonomous vehicles," said the inventor, Alan Jorgensen, PhD. "By using this system, it is possible to guarantee that the display of floating point values is accurate to plus or minus one in the last digit..."

The innovative bounded floating point system computes two limits (or bounds) that contain the represented real number. These bounds are carried through successive calculations. When the calculated result is no longer sufficiently accurate the result is so marked, as are all further calculations made using that value. It is fail-safe and performs in real time.

Jorgensen is described as a cyber bounty hunter and part time instructor at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas teaching computer science to non-computer science students. In November he received US Patent number 9,817,662 -- "Apparatus for calculating and retaining a bound on error during floating point operations and methods thereof." But in a followup, HPCwire reports: After this article was published, a number of readers raised concerns about the originality of Jorgensen's techniques, noting the existence of prior art going back years. Specifically, there is precedent in John Gustafson's work on unums and interval arithmetic both at Sun and in his 2015 book, The End of Error, which was published 19 months before Jorgensen's patent application was filed. We regret the omission of this information from the original article.
Space

Rocket Lab Successfully Reaches Orbit and Deploys Its First Satellites (geekwire.com) 62

Long-time Slashdot reader ClarkMills writes: Rocket Lab has successfully launched its second Electron rocket from New Zealand's Mahia Peninsula, with the rocket reaching orbit for the first time... This follows the company's first launch last May, in which the rocket got to space but did not make it to orbit after range safety officials had to kill the flight.
Just 60 seconds before lift-off yesterday, a "rogue ship" entered their launch-range area, prompting them to postpone the launch until today. GeekWire reports: This mission was nicknamed "Still Testing," but unlike the first mission, the objective was not merely to test Rocket Lab's hardware. The rocket had the additional task of putting three nanosatellites in orbit: an Earth-imaging Dove satellite for Planet, and two Lemur-2 satellites that the Spire space venture would use for tracking ships and monitoring weather... The price tag for a mission is as low as $5 million, thanks to streamlined hardware production techniques. The Electron makes use of carbon composite materials for its rocket core, and 3-D printing techniques for its Rutherford rocket engines.
90 minutes ago Spire tweeted that they'd experienced a "good clean deployment" of their satellites, adding that they were already receiving images and calling it "a huge win" for commercial space, small satellites, the Electron rocket, and New Zealand.

UPDATE: Long-time Slashdot reader Hairy1 shares Rocket Lab's video of their launch.
Space

Flat Earther Plans New Rocket Launch, Predicts Super Bowl-Sized Ratings (phillyvoice.com) 212

Self-taught rocket scientist/daredevil "Mad" Mike Hughes will finally launch his homemade rocket in two weeks -- despite "anonymous online haters questioning his every move." An anonymous reader quotes PhillyVoice: He's found some private land in the "ghost town" of Amboy, California -- complete with a brand-spanking-new road that'll enable him to get his motor home and rocket gear to the site... "It'll be a vertical launch, me strapped into the rocket with 6,000 pounds of thrust, going up about three-eighths of a mile," he said, noting it's a prologue to a major launch this Fourth of July weekend. "It's the ultimate Wile E. Coyote move."

As with the scrubbed mission, this is in part an event which he hopes will get people to investigate the ideology which holds the earth is flat -- despite quite a bit of evidence to the contrary. He said it would've happened back in November if international publicity hadn't prompted government bureaucrats to "cover their asses" by pointing out that his launch site crept 150 feet into federal land. "I could've been arrested so at that point, I just went home and got back to work," he said... "But guess what? It's about to happen again... I should get more viewers than the Super Bowl," said Hughes, adding the launch will be aired on Noize TV [a video-on-demand service].

Noize TV has already posted video of a new interview with Hughes, touting his upcoming launch at 3 p.m. on Saturday, February 3, the day before the Super Bowl (which Hughes calls "nothing but bullshit.")

Hughes says he's also filing to run for Governor of California.
Science

We All Nearly Missed the Largest Underwater Volcano Eruption Ever Recorded (sciencealert.com) 38

schwit1 quotes ScienceAlert: She was flying home from a holiday in Samoa when she saw it through the airplane window: a "peculiar large mass" floating on the ocean, hundreds of kilometres off the north coast of New Zealand. The Kiwi passenger emailed photos of the strange ocean slick to scientists, who realised what it was -- a raft of floating rock spewed from an underwater volcano, produced in the largest eruption of its kind ever recorded.

"We knew it was a large-scale eruption, approximately equivalent to the biggest eruption we've seen on land in the 20th Century," says volcanologist Rebecca Carey from the University of Tasmania, who's co-led the first close-up investigation of the historic 2012 eruption. The incident, produced by a submarine volcano called the Havre Seamount, initially went unnoticed by scientists, but the floating rock platform it generated was harder to miss. Back in 2012, the raft -- composed of pumice rock -- covered some 400 square kilometres (154 square miles) of the south-west Pacific Ocean, but months later satellites recorded it dispersing over an area twice the size of New Zealand itself... for a sense of scale, think roughly 1.5 times larger than the 1980 eruption of Mount St. Helens -- or 10 times the size of the 2010 Eyjafjallajokull eruption in Iceland.

When an underwater robot first sent back detailed maps, one volcanologist remembers that "I thought the vehicle's sonar was acting up... We saw all these bumps on the seafloor... It turned out that each bump was a giant block of pumice, some of them the size of a van."
Medicine

New Antifungal Provides Hope in the Fight Against Superbugs (sciencedaily.com) 33

dryriver shares news about the ongoing war against drug-resistant fungus. ScienceDaily reports: Microscopic yeast have been wreaking havoc in hospitals around the world -- creeping into catheters, ventilator tubes, and IV lines -- and causing deadly invasive infection. C. auris is particularly problematic because it loves hospitals, has developed resistance to a wide range of antifungals, and once it infects a patient doctors have limited treatment options.

But in a recent Antimicrobial Agents and Chemotherapy study, researchers confirmed a new drug compound kills drug-resistant C. auris, both in the laboratory and in a mouse model that mimics human infection. The drug works through a novel mechanism. Unlike other antifungals that poke holes in yeast cell membranes or inhibit sterol synthesis, the new drug blocks how necessary proteins attach to the yeast cell wall. This means C. auris yeast can't grow properly and have a harder time forming drug-resistant communities that are a stubborn source of hospital outbreaks... The drug is first in a new class of antifungals, which could help stave off drug resistance.

Government

What a Government Shutdown Will Mean For NASA and SpaceX (theverge.com) 190

Ars Technica reports of how the government shutdown affects federal agencies like NASA, as well as commercial companies like SpaceX: So far, NASA has been keeping quiet about this particular shutdown and has been directing all questions to the White House Office of Management and Budget, which did not respond to a request for comment. But NASA's acting administrator, Robert Lightfoot, told employees in an email obtained by The Verge to be on alert for directions over the next couple of days. "If there is a lapse in funding for the federal government Friday night, report to work the same way you normally would until further notice, and you will receive guidance on how best to closeout your activities on Monday," he wrote in the email. The most recent guidance from NASA, released in 2017, indicates that all nonessential employees should stay home during a shutdown, while a small contingent of staff continue to work on "excepted" projects. The heads of each NASA center decide which employees need to stay, but they're typically the people who operate important or hazardous programs, including employees working on upcoming launches or those who operate satellites and the International Space Station.

NASA's next big mission is the launch of its exoplanet-hunting satellite, TESS, which is going up on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from Florida in March. So it shouldn't be affected by a shutdown (unless it takes a while to find a resolution). However, it's possible that preparations on another big spacecraft, the James Webb Space Telescope, may come to a halt, according to Nature. The space telescope is currently at NASA's Johnson Space Center for testing, but NASA's guidelines say that only spacecraft preparations that are "necessary to prevent harm to life or property" should continue during a shutdown. More immediately, an Atlas V rocket from the United Launch Alliance is launching a missile-detecting satellite tonight out of the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida, while SpaceX is slated to launch a communications satellite on January 30th. The timing of both launches may mean they avoid the shutdown. But if they did occur during the shutdown, it's unclear if they would suffer delays.

Medicine

A Cheap and Easy Blood Test Could Catch Cancer Early (technologyreview.com) 55

A simple-to-take test that tells if you have a tumor lurking, and even where it is in your body, is a lot closer to reality -- and may cost only $500. From a report: The new test, developed at Johns Hopkins University, looks for signs of eight common types of cancer. It requires only a blood sample and may prove inexpensive enough for doctors to give during a routine physical. "The idea is this test would make its way into the public and we could set up screening centers," says Nickolas Papadopoulos, one of the Johns Hopkins researchers behind the test. "That's why it has to be cheap and noninvasive." Although the test isn't commercially available yet, it will be used to screen 50,000 retirement-age women with no history of cancer as part of a $50 million, five-year study with the Geisinger Health System in Pennsylvania, a spokesperson with the insurer said. The test, detailed today in the journal Science, could be a major advance for "liquid biopsy" technology, which aims to detect cancer in the blood before a person feels sick or notices a lump. That's useful because early-stage cancer that hasn't spread can often be cured.
Technology

Why Airports Rename Runways When the Magnetic Poles Move (wired.com) 192

An anonymous reader shares a report: For decades, pilots heading into or out of Wichita Eisenhower National Airport in southeast Kansas have had three runways to choose from: 1L/19R, 1R/19L, and 14/32. Now, at the orders of the FAA, the airport will spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to give itself a makeover. Workers will repaint those huge numbers at the ends of each runway and replace copious signage. Pilots and air traffic controllers will study new reference manuals and approach plates, all updated to reflect an airport whose three runways have been renamed. World, meet 2L/20R, 2R/20L, and 15/33 -- which happen to be the same runways that have been welcoming planes since 1954.

This is not a "What's in a name?" situation. The runways may be the same sweet-smelling stretches of tarmac they've always been, but the world around them has changed. Well, the magnetic fields around the world have changed. The planet's magnetic poles -- the points that compasses recognize as north and south -- are always wandering about. That's a problem, because most runways are named for their magnetic headings. Take Wichita's 14/32. First off, because planes can land or take off from either direction, you can think of it as two runways: 14 and 32. (Pro tip: Pilots say "one-four" and "three-two," not 14 and 32.) If you're looking at a compass, one end is about 140 degrees off of north, counting clockwise. For simplicity's sake, the headings are rounded to the nearest five, and dropped to two digits. So if you're looking down at Wichita Eisenhower, runway 14/32 is the one running from the northwest to the southeast.

Printer

You Could Soon Be Manufacturing Your Own Drugs -- Thanks To 3D Printing (sciencemag.org) 97

sciencehabit shares a report from Science Magazine: Forget those long lines at the pharmacy: Someday soon, you might be making your own medicines at home. That's because researchers have tailored a 3D printer to synthesize pharmaceuticals and other chemicals from simple, widely available starting compounds fed into a series of water bottle -- size reactors. The work, they say, could digitize chemistry, allowing users to synthesize almost any compound anywhere in the world.

In today's issue of Science, Leroy Cronin, a chemist at the University of Glasgow in the United Kingdom, and his colleagues report printing a series of interconnected reaction vessels that carry out four different chemical reactions involving 12 separate steps, from filtering to evaporating different solutions. By adding different reagents and solvents at the right times and in a precise order, they were able to convert simple, widely available starting compounds into a muscle relaxant called baclofen. And by designing reactionware to carry out different chemical reactions with different reagents, they produced other medicines, including an anticonvulsant and a drug to fight ulcers and acid reflux. So why not just buy a reactionware kit and scrap the printing? "This approach will allow the on-demand production of chemicals and drugs that are in short supply, hard to make at big facilities, and allow customization to tailor them to the application," Cronin says.

Power

US Tests Nuclear Power System To Sustain Astronauts On Mars (reuters.com) 195

Initial tests in Nevada on a compact nuclear power system designed to sustain a long-duration NASA human mission on the inhospitable surface on Mars have been successful and a full-power run is scheduled for March, officials said on Thursday. Reuters reports: National Aeronautics and Space Administration and U.S. Department of Energy officials, at a Las Vegas news conference, detailed the development of the nuclear fission system under NASA's Kilopower project. Months-long testing began in November at the energy department's Nevada National Security Site, with an eye toward providing energy for future astronaut and robotic missions in space and on the surface of Mars, the moon or other solar system destinations. A key hurdle for any long-term colony on the surface of a planet or moon, as opposed to NASA's six short lunar surface visits from 1969 to 1972, is possessing a power source strong enough to sustain a base but small and light enough to allow for transport through space. NASA's prototype power system uses a uranium-235 reactor core roughly the size of a paper towel roll. The technology could power habitats and life-support systems, enable astronauts to mine resources, recharge rovers and run processing equipment to transform resources such as ice on the planet into oxygen, water and fuel. It could also potentially augment electrically powered spacecraft propulsion systems on missions to the outer planets.
Communications

Why People Dislike Really Smart Leaders (scientificamerican.com) 667

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Scientific American: Intelligence makes for better leaders -- from undergraduates to executives to presidents -- according to multiple studies. It certainly makes sense that handling a market shift or legislative logjam requires cognitive oomph. But new research on leadership suggests that, at a certain point, having a higher IQ stops helping and starts hurting. The researchers looked at 379 male and female business leaders in 30 countries, across fields that included banking, retail and technology. The managers took IQ tests (an imperfect but robust predictor of performance in many areas), and each was rated on leadership style and effectiveness by an average of eight co-workers. IQ positively correlated with ratings of leader effectiveness, strategy formation, vision and several other characteristics -- up to a point. The ratings peaked at an IQ of around 120, which is higher than roughly 80 percent of office workers. Beyond that, the ratings declined. The researchers suggest the "ideal" IQ could be higher or lower in various fields, depending on whether technical versus social skills are more valued in a given work culture. The study's lead author, John Antonakis, a psychologist at the University of Lausanne in Switzerland, suggests leaders should use their intelligence to generate creative metaphors that will persuade and inspire others -- the way former U.S. President Barack Obama did. "I think the only way a smart person can signal their intelligence appropriately and still connect with the people," Antonakis says, "is to speak in charismatic ways."
Communications

Ask Slashdot: How Would You Explain Einstein's Theories To a Nine-Year-Old? 291

SiggyRadiation writes: A few days ago, my 9-year-old son asked me why Albert Einstein was so famous. I decided not just to start with the famous formula E=mc^2, because that just seemed to be the easy way out. So I tried to explain what mass and energy are. Then I asked him to try to explain gravity to me. The earth pulls at you because it has a lot of mass. But how can the earth influence your body, pull your feet to the ground, without actually touching you? Why is it that one thing (the earth) can influence something else (you) without actually being connected? Isn't that weird? Einstein figured out how energy, mass and gravity work and are related to each other. This is where our conversation ended.

Afterwards I thought: this might be a nice question to ask on Slashdot; how would I continue this discussion to explain it to him further? Of course, with the goal of further feeding his interest in physics.
Science

Global Warming Predictions May Now Be a Lot Less Uncertain (wired.com) 348

An anonymous reader shares a report: Humanity must not pass a rise of 2 degrees Celsius in global temperature from pre-industrial levels, so says the Paris climate agreement. Cross that line and the global effects of climate change start looking less like a grave situation and more like a catastrophe. The frustrating bit about studying climate change is the inherent uncertainty of it all. Predicting where it's going is a matter of mashing up thousands of variables in massive, confounding systems. But today in the journal Nature, researchers claim they've reduced the uncertainty in a key metric of climate change by 60 percent, narrowing a range of potential warming from 3C to 1.2C. And that could have implications for how the international community arrives at climate goals like it did in Paris. The metric is called equilibrium climate sensitivity, but don't let the name scare you.
NASA

2017 Among Warmest Years On Record (npr.org) 186

2017 was among the warmest years on record, according to new data released by NASA and the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration. From a report: The planet's global surface temperature last year was second warmest since 1880, NASA says. NOAA calls it the third warmest year on record, due to slight variation in the ways that they analyze temperatures. Both put 2017 behind 2016's record temperatures. And "both analyses show that the five warmest years on record have all taken place since 2010," NASA said in a press release. The trend is seen most dramatically in the Arctic, NASA says, as sea ice continues to melt.
Science

No More Pancake Syrup? Climate Change Could Bring an End To Sugar Maples (sciencemag.org) 361

An anonymous reader shares a research report: Savor that sticky, slightly nutty sweetness drenching your Sunday morning pancakes now. The trees that make maple syrup will struggle to survive climate change, a new study reveals. Researchers had thought that pollution from cars, factories, and agriculture might buffer sugar maples against an increasingly warm and dry climate by supplying soils with fertilizing nitrogen. But the new analysis, which examined 20 years of tree and soil data in four Michigan locations, finds that extra boost of nitrogen won't be enough. Instead, the researchers report today in Ecology, a lack of water will stunt the trees' growth.
United States

US Doctors Plan To Treat Cancer Patients Using CRISPR (technologyreview.com) 52

An anonymous reader shares a report: The first human test in the U.S. involving the gene-editing tool CRISPR could begin at any time and will employ the DNA cutting technique in a bid to battle deadly cancers. Doctors at the University of Pennsylvania say they will use CRISPR to modify human immune cells so that they become expert cancer killers, according to plans posted this week to a directory of ongoing clinical trials. The study will enroll up to 18 patients fighting three different types of cancer -- multiple myeloma, sarcoma, and melanoma -- in what could become the first medical use of CRISPR outside China, where similar studies have been under way. An advisory group to the National Institutes of Health initially gave a green light to the Penn researchers in June 2016, but until now it was not known whether the trial would proceed.

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