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  • Black Swan Author: Genetically Modified Organisms Risk Global Ruin

    KentuckyFC writes It's 20 years since the FDA approved the Flavr Savr tomato for human consumption, the first genetically engineered food to gain this status. Today, roughly 85 per cent of corn and 90 per cent of soybeans produced in the US are genetically modified. So it's easy to imagine that the scientific debate over the safety of genetically modified organisms has been largely settled. Not for Nassim Nicholas Taleb, author of The Black Swan and several academic colleagues who say that the risks have been vastly underestimated. They say that genetically modified organisms threaten harm on a global scale, both to ecosystems and to human health. That's different from many conventional risks that threaten harm on a local scale, like nuclear energy for example. They argue that this global threat means that the precautionary principle ought to be applied to severely limit the way genetically modified organisms can be used.

    403 comments | 3 days ago

  • Automation Coming To Restaurants, But Not Because of Minimum Wage Hikes

    dcblogs writes: McDonald's this week told financial analysts of its plans to install self-ordering kiosks and mobile ordering at its restaurants. This news prompted the Wall Street Journal to editorialize, in " Minimum Wage Backfire," that while it may be true for McDonald's to say that its tech plans will improve customer experience, the move is also "a convenient way...to justify a reduction in the chain's global workforce." Minimum wage increase advocates, the Journal argued, are speeding along an automation backlash. But banks have long relied on ATMs, and grocery stores, including Walmart, have deployed self-service checkouts. In contrast, McDonald's hasn't changed its basic system of taking orders since its founding in the 1950s, said Darren Tristano, executive vice president of Technomic, a research group focused on the restaurant industry. While mobile, kiosks and table ordering systems may help reduce labor costs, the automated self-serve technology is seen as an essential. It will take the stress out of ordering (lines) at fast food restaurants, and the wait for checks at more casual restaurants. It also helps with upselling and membership to loyalty programs. People who can order a drink refill off a tablet, instead of waving down waitstaff, may be more inclined to do so. Moreover, analysts say younger customers want self-service options.

    714 comments | about a week ago

  • DHS Investigates 24 Potentially Lethal IoT Medical Devices

    An anonymous reader writes: In the wake of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration's recent recommendations to strengthen security on net-connected medical devices, the Department of Homeland Security is launching an investigation into 24 cases of potential cybersecurity vulnerabilities in hospital equipment and personal medical devices. Independent security researcher Billy Rios submitted proof-of-concept evidence to the FDA indicating that it would be possible for a hacker to force infusion pumps to fatally overdose a patient. Though the complete range of devices under investigation has not been disclosed, it is reported that one of them is an "implantable heart device." William Maisel, chief scientist at the FDA's Center for Devices and Radiological Health, said, "The conventional wisdom in the past was that products only had to be protected from unintentional threats. Now they also have to be protected from intentional threats too."

    79 comments | about two weeks ago

  • NASA's HI-SEAS Project Results Suggests a Women-Only Mars Crew

    globaljustin writes "Alan Drysdale, a systems analyst in advanced life support and a contractor with NASA concluded, "Small women haven't been demonstrated to be appreciably dumber than big women or big men, so there's no reason to choose larger people for a flight crew when it's brain power you want," says Drysdale. "The logical thing to do is to fly small women." Kate Greene, who wrote the linked article, took part in the first HI-SEAS experiment in Martian-style living, and has some compelling reasons for an all-women crew, energy efficiency chief among them: Week in and week out, the three female crew members expended less than half the calories of the three male crew members. Less than half! We were all exercising roughly the same amount—at least 45 minutes a day for five consecutive days a week—but our metabolic furnaces were calibrated in radically different ways. During one week, the most metabolically active male burned an average of 3,450 calories per day, while the least metabolically active female expended 1,475 calories per day. It was rare for a woman on crew to burn 2,000 calories in a day and common for male crew members to exceed 3,000. ... The calorie requirements of an astronaut matter significantly when planning a mission. The more food a person needs to maintain her weight on a long space journey, the more food should launch with her. The more food launched, the heavier the payload. The heavier the payload, the more fuel required to blast it into orbit and beyond. The more fuel required, the heavier the rocket becomes, which it in turn requires more fuel to launch.

    399 comments | about two weeks ago

  • An Algorithm to End the Lines for Ice at Burning Man

    Any gathering of 65,000 people in the desert is going to require some major infrastructure to maintain health and sanity. At Burning Man, some of that infrastructure is devoted to a supply chain for ice. Writes Bennett Haselton, The lines for ice bags at Burning Man could be cut from an hour long at peak times, to about five minutes, by making one small... Well, read the description below of how they do things now, and see if the same suggested change occurs to you. I'm curious whether it's the kind of idea that is more obvious to students of computer science who think algorithmically, or if it's something that could occur to anyone. Read on for the rest; Bennett's idea for better triage may bring to mind a lot of other queuing situations and ways that time spent waiting in line could be more efficiently employed.

    341 comments | about two weeks ago

  • Soda Pop Damages Your Cells' Telomeres

    BarbaraHudson writes Those free soft drinks at your last start-up may come with a huge hidden price tag. The Toronto Sun reports that researchers at the University of California — San Francisco found study participants who drank pop daily had shorter telomeres — the protective units of DNA that cap the ends of chromosomes in cells — in white blood cells. Short telomeres have been associated with chronic aging diseases such as heart disease, diabetes and some forms of cancer. The researchers calculated daily consumption of a 20-ounce pop is associated with 4.6 years of additional biological aging. The effect on telomere length is comparable to that of smoking, they said. "This finding held regardless of age, race, income and education level," researcher Elissa Epel said in a press release.

    422 comments | about two weeks ago

  • Researchers Scrambling To Build Ebola-Fighting Robots

    Lucas123 (935744) writes U.S. robotics researchers from around the country are collaborating on a project to build autonomous vehicles that could deliver food and medicine, and telepresence robots that could safely decontaminate equipment and help bury the victims of Ebola. Organizers of Safety Robotics for Ebola Workers are planning a workshop on Nov. 7. that will be co-hosted by the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, Texas A&M, Worcester Polytechnic Institute and the University of California, Berkeley. "We are trying to identify the technologies that can help human workers minimize their contact with Ebola. Whatever technology we deploy, there will be a human in the loop. We are not trying to replace human caregivers. We are trying to minimize contact," said Taskin Padir, an assistant professor of robotics engineering at Worcester Polytechnic Institute.

    87 comments | about two weeks ago

  • Battery Breakthrough: Researchers Claim 70% Charge In 2 Minutes, 20-Year Life

    New submitter chaosdivine69 writes: According to Scientists at Nanyang Technology University (NTU), they have developed ultra-fast charging batteries that can be recharged up to 70 per cent in only two minutes and have a 20-year lifespan (10,000 charges). The impact of this is potentially a game changer for a lot of industries reliant on lithium ion batteries. In the car industry, for example, consumers would save on costs for battery replacement and manufacturers would save on material construction (the researchers are using a nanotube structure of Titanium dioxide, which is an abundant, cheap, and safe material found in soil). Titanium dioxide is commonly used as a food additive or in sunscreen lotions to absorb harmful ultraviolet rays. It is believed that charging an electric car can be done in as little as 5 minutes, making it comparable to filling up a tank of gasoline.

    395 comments | about two weeks ago

  • Pentagon Unveils Plan For Military's Response To Climate Change

    An anonymous reader writes Rising sea levels and other effects of climate change will create major problems for America's military, including more and worse natural disasters and food and water shortages that could fuel disputes around the world, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said Monday. From the article: "The Pentagon's 2014 Climate Change Adaptation Roadmap (PDF) describes how global warming will bring new demands on the military. Among the report's conclusions: Coastal military installations that are vulnerable to flooding will need to be altered; humanitarian assistance missions will be more frequent in the face of more intense natural disasters; weapons and other critical military equipment will need to work under more severe weather conditions. 'This road map shows how we are identifying — with tangible and specific metrics, and using the best available science — the effects of climate change on the department's missions and responsibilities,' Hagel said. 'Drawing on these assessments, we will integrate climate change considerations into our planning, operations, and training.'"

    228 comments | about two weeks ago

  • Proposed Hab Module For Asteroid Redirect Mission Could Support a Lunar Return

    MarkWhittington writes Space News reported on Wednesday that NASA is mulling a hab module as part of the Asteroid Redirect Mission. The inclusion of the hab module would extend the mission from 28 days to as long as 60 days. The module would provide enough consumables such as food, water, and oxygen and other support to sustain the crew of astronauts for weeks while examining a small asteroid in orbit around the moon. The module might also support a return to the lunar surface, given certain modifications.

    55 comments | about three weeks ago

  • Diners Tend To Eat More If Their Companions Are Overweight

    BarbaraHudson writes: A University of Illinois study (abstract) that shows that people tend to eat more in the presence of an overweight person. From the article: "The test involved a sample of 82 college coeds who were observed helping themselves to a simple pasta and salad meal. Each of the coeds were themselves of normal weight. The students first required to watch what they believed was a fat woman serving herself some of the food. The fat woman was actually an actress wearing a fat suit.

    After observing the "corpulent" woman serve herself, the students were allowed to come forward and serve themselves pasta and salad. On average, the coeds each served themselves more pasta than the "fat" woman had selected while taking less salad than she did. When the same study was performed with the actress appearing sans the fat suit, researchers observed that students ended up eating more salad than pasta. The conclusion was simple: people may consume more unhealthy food and eat less healthy food when in the presence of an overweight person." As anyone on a diet will tell you, a waist is a terrible thing to mind. Weight control is a lot more complex than the article makes it seem, though some will welcome the opportunity to blame someone else.

    126 comments | about a month ago

  • Is an Octopus Too Smart For Us To Eat?

    An anonymous reader writes: The New Yorker is running a piece on the ethical dilemma we face when considering octopus intelligence alongside our willingness to eat them. "Octopus intelligence is well documented: they have been known to open jars, guard their unhatched eggs for months or even years, and demonstrate personalities. Most famously, they can blast a cloud of ink to throw off predators, but even more impressive is the masterfully complex camouflage employed by several members of Cephalopoda (a class that also includes squid and cuttlefish)." While humans eat animals ranging widely in mental faculties, the octopus remains one of the smartest ones we do consume. And unlike pigs, for example, their population is not dependent on humanity to survive. As our scientific understanding of intelligence grows, these ethical debates will only come into sharper focus. Where do we draw the line?

    481 comments | about a month ago

  • FDA Issues Guidance On Cybersecurity of Medical Devices

    chicksdaddy writes "The Security Ledger reports that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has issued final guidance on Wednesday that calls on medical device manufacturers to consider cyber security risks as part of the design and development of devices. The document, "Content of Premarket Submissions for Management of Cybersecurity in Medical Devices," asks device makers seeking FDA approval of medical devices to disclose any "risks identified and controls in place to mitigate those risks" in medical devices. The guidance also recommends that manufacturers submit documentation of plans for patching and updating the operating systems and medical software that devices run. While the guidance does not have the force of a mandate, it does put medical device makers on notice that FDA approval of their device will hinge on a consideration of cyber risks alongside other kinds of issues that may affect the functioning of the device. Among other things, medical device makers are asked to avoid worst-practices like 'hardcoded' passwords and use strong (multi-factor) authentication to restrict access to devices. Device makers are also urged to restrict software and firmware updates to authenticated (signed) code and to secure inbound and outbound communications and data transfers.

    26 comments | about a month ago

  • Robotic Taster Will Judge 'Real Thai Food'

    HughPickens.com (3830033) writes The NYT reports that Thailand's former prime minister, Yingluck Shinawatra repeatedly encountered a distressing problem while traveling the world: bad Thai food. Too often, she found, the meals she sampled at Thai restaurants abroad were unworthy of the name, too bland to be called genuine Thai cooking. The problem bothered her enough to raise it at a cabinet meeting. Even though her political party has since been thrown out of office, in a May military coup, the Thai government is unveiling its project to standardize the art of Thai food using a robot. The government-financed Thai Delicious Committee, which oversaw the development of the machine, describes it as "an intelligent robot that measures smell and taste in food ingredients through sensor technology in order to measure taste like a food critic." Thailand's National Innovation Agency has spent about $100,000 to develop the e-delicious machine. The e-delicious machine has 10 sensors that measure smell and taste, generating a unique fingerprint (signature) for each sample of food that passes its digital maw. Generally with electronic tasting, there are electronic sensors that work just like the taste buds on your tongue, measuring the quantity of various taste-giving compounds, acidity, etc. While these electronic sensors can't actually tell you how something tastes — that's a very subjective, human thing — they are very good at comparing two foods scientifically. Meanwhile at a tiny food stall along one of Bangkok's traffic-clogged boulevards, Thaweekiat Nimmalairatana, questioned the necessity of a robatic taster. "I use my tongue to test if it's delicious or not," said Nimmalairatana. "I think the government should consider using a human to gauge authenticity."

    103 comments | about a month ago

  • At CIA Starbucks, Even the Baristas Are Covert

    An anonymous reader writes with this interesting story about what it's like to work at “Store Number 1,” the CIA's Starbucks. The new supervisor thought his idea was innocent enough. He wanted the baristas to write the names of customers on their cups to speed up lines and ease confusion, just like other Starbucks do around the world. But these aren't just any customers. They are regulars at the CIA Starbucks. "They could use the alias 'Polly-O string cheese' for all I care," said a food services supervisor at the Central Intelligence Agency, asking that his identity remain unpublished for security reasons. "But giving any name at all was making people — you know, the undercover agents — feel very uncomfortable. It just didn't work for this location."

    242 comments | about a month ago

  • Mystery Gamer Makes Millions Moving Markets In Japan

    HughPickens.com writes Jason Clenfield writes in Businessweek that tax returns show that a former video game champion and pachinko gambler who goes by the name CIS traded 1.7 trillion yen ($15 Billion) worth of Japanese equities in 2013 — about half of 1 percent of the value of all the share transactions done by individuals on the Tokyo Stock Exchange. The 35-year-old day trader whose name means death in classical Japanese says he made 6 billion yen ($54 Million), after taxes, betting on Japanese stocks last year. The nickname is a holdover from his gaming days, when he used to crush foes in virtual wrestling rings and online fantasy worlds.

    "Games taught me to think fast and stay calm." CIS says he barely got his degree in mechanical engineering, having devoted most of college to the fantasy role-playing game Ultima Online. Holed up in his bedroom, he spent days on end roaming the game's virtual universe, stockpiling weapons, treasure and food. He calls this an early exercise in building and protecting assets. Wicked keyboard skills were a must. He memorized more than 100 key-stroke shortcuts — control-A to guzzle a healing potion or shift-S to draw a sword, for example — and he could dance between them without taking his eyes off the screen. "Some people can do it, some can't," he says with a shrug. But the game taught a bigger lesson: when to cut and run. "I was a pretty confident player, but just like in the real world, the more opponents you have, the worse your chances are," he says. "You lose nothing by running." That's how he now plays the stock market. CIS says he bets wrong four out of 10 times. The trick is to sell the losers fast while letting the winners ride. "Self-control is so important. You have to conserve your assets. That's what insulates you from the downturns and gives you the ammunition to make money."

    113 comments | about a month ago

  • Irish Girls Win Google Science Fair With Astonishing Crop Yield Breakthrough

    An anonymous reader writes Irish teenagers Ciara Judge, Émer Hickey and Sophie Healy-Thow, all 16, have won the Google Science Fair 2014. Their project, Combating the Global Food Crisis, aims to provide a solution to low crop yields by pairing a nitrogen-fixing bacteria that naturally occurs in the soil with cereal crops it does not normally associate with, such as barley and oats. The results were incredible: the girls found their test crops germinated in half the time and had a drymass yield up to 74 percent greater than usual.

    308 comments | about a month ago

  • Seattle Passes Laws To Keep Residents From Wasting Food

    schwit1 writes The new rules would allow garbage collectors to inspect trash cans and ticket offending parties if food and compostable material makes up 10 percent or more of the trash. The fines will begin at $1 for residents and $50 for businesses and apartment buildings. "SPU doesn’t expect to collect many fines, says Tim Croll, the agency’s solid-waste director. The city outlawed recyclable items from the trash nine years ago, but SPU has collected less than $2,000 in fines since then, Croll says. 'The point isn’t to raise revenue,' he said. 'We care more about reminding people to separate their materials.'"

    385 comments | about a month ago

  • Fukushima Radiation Still Poisoning Insects

    sciencehabit writes: Eating food contaminated with radioactive particles may be more perilous than previously thought — at least for insects. Butterfly larvae fed even slightly tainted leaves collected near the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station were more likely to suffer physical abnormalities and low survival rates than those fed uncontaminated foliage, a new study finds. The research suggests that the environment in the Fukushima region, particularly in areas off-limits to humans because of safety concerns, will remain dangerous for wildlife for some time. In other lingering radiation news, reader Rambo Tribble writes: Forest detritus, contaminated in the aftermath of the 1986 Chernobyl disaster (abstract), is decaying at a much slower rate than normal, building up and creating a significant fire risk. This, in turn, is creating a real potential for the residual radioactive material to be distributed, through smoke, over a broad area of Europe and Russia. Looking at different possible fire intensities, researchers speculate, "20 to 240 people would likely develop cancer, of which 10 to 170 cases may be fatal." These figures are similar to those hypothesized for Fukushima.

    119 comments | about a month ago

  • Small Restaurant Out-Maneuvers Yelp In Reviews War

    An anonymous reader writes Yelp has, for the past year or so, garnered a reputation for extorting businesses into paying for advertising on their site. Allegations include incessant calls for advertising contracts, automatic listing of a business, and suppressing good reviews should a business decide to opt out of paying Yelp for listing them. One small Italian trattoria, however, may have succeeded in flipping Yelp's legally sanctioned business practices in its favor. The owners of Botto Bistro in Redmond, CA, initially agreed to pay for advertising on Yelp one year ago apparently because they were tired of getting calls from Yelp's sales team. But even after buying advertising, the owners claim that they kept receiving calls. So they started a campaign to get as many one-star reviews as they could, even offering 25% discounts to customers. As of this writing they have 866, and a casual perusal of them reveals enthusiastic tongue-in-cheek support for the restaurant. One-star reviews, once Yelp's best scare tactic, is now this particular business's badge of quality. And they didn't even have to pay Yelp for it.

    249 comments | about a month ago

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