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  • New Study Says Governments Should Ditch Reliance On Biofuels

    HughPickens.com writes The NYT reports on a new study from a prominent environmental think tank that concludes turning plant matter into liquid fuel or electricity is so inefficient that the approach is unlikely ever to supply a substantial fraction of global energy demand. They add that continuing to pursue this strategy is likely to use up vast tracts of fertile land that could be devoted to helping feed the world's growing population. "I would say that many of the claims for biofuels have been dramatically exaggerated," says Andrew Steer, president of the World Resources Institute, a global research organization based in Washington that is publishing the report. "There are other, more effective routes to get to a low-carbon world." The report follows several years of rising concern among scientists about biofuel policies in the United States and Europe, and is the strongest call yet by the World Resources Institute, known for nonpartisan analysis of environmental issues, to urge governments to reconsider those policies.

    Timothy D. Searchinger says recent science has challenged some of the assumptions underpinning many of the pro-biofuel policies that have often failed to consider the opportunity cost of using land to produce plants for biofuel. According to Searchinger, if forests or grasses were grown instead of biofuels, that would pull carbon dioxide out of the air, storing it in tree trunks and soils and offsetting emissions more effectively than biofuels would do. What is more, as costs for wind and solar power have plummeted over the past decade, and the new report points out that for a given amount of land, solar panels are at least 50 times more efficient than biofuels at capturing the energy of sunlight in a useful form. "It's true that our first-generation biofuels have not lived up to their promise," says Jason Hill said. "We've found they do not offer the environmental benefits they were purported to have, and they have a substantial negative impact on the food system."

    191 comments | yesterday

  • Davos 2015: Less Innovation, More Regulation, More Unrest. Run Away!

    Freshly Exhumed writes: Growing income inequality was one of the top four issues at the 2015 World Economic Forum meeting in Davos, Switzerland, ranking alongside European adoption of quantitative easing and geopolitical concerns. Felix Salmon, senior editor at Fusion, said there was a consensus that global inequality is getting worse, fueling overriding pessimism at the gathering. The result, he said, could be that the next big revolution will be in regulation rather than innovation. With growing inequality and the civil unrest from Ferguson and the Occupy protests fresh in people's mind, the world's super rich are already preparing for the consequences. At a packed session, former hedge fund director Robert Johnson revealed that worried hedge fund managers were already planning their escapes. "I know hedge fund managers all over the world who are buying airstrips and farms in places like New Zealand because they think they need a getaway," he said. Looking at studies like NASA's HANDY and by KPMG, the UK Government Office of Science, and others, Dr Nafeez Ahmed, executive director of the Institute for Policy Research & Development, warns that the convergence of food, water and energy crises could create a "perfect storm" within about fifteen years.

    338 comments | 4 days ago

  • Scientists Determine New Way To Untangle Proteins By Unboiling an Egg

    An anonymous reader sends word of this biotech breakthrough. "Univ. of California, Irvine (UC Irvine) and Australian chemists have figured out how to unboil egg whites—an innovation that could dramatically reduce costs for cancer treatments, food production and other segments of the $160 billion global biotechnology industry, according to findings published in ChemBioChem. 'Yes, we have invented a way to unboil a hen egg,' said Gregory Weiss, UCI professor of chemistry and molecular biology & biochemistry. 'In our paper, we describe a device for pulling apart tangled proteins and allowing them to refold. We start with egg whites boiled for 20 min at 90 C and return a key protein in the egg to working order.'"

    155 comments | 4 days ago

  • Americans Support Mandatory Labeling of Food That Contains DNA

    HughPickens.com writes Jennifer Abel writes at the LA Times that according to a recent survey (PDF), over 80% of Americans says they support "mandatory labels on foods containing DNA," roughly the same number that support the mandatory labeling of GMO foods "produced with genetic engineering." Ilya Somin, writing about the survey at the Washington Post, suggested that a mandatory label for foods containing DNA might sound like this: "WARNING: This product contains deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA). The Surgeon General has determined that DNA is linked to a variety of diseases in both animals and humans. In some configurations, it is a risk factor for cancer and heart disease. Pregnant women are at very high risk of passing on DNA to their children."

    The report echoes a well-known joke/prank wherein people discuss the dangers of the chemical "dihydrogen monoxide" also known as hydrogen oxide and hydrogen hydroxide. Search online for information about dihydrogen monoxide, and you'll find a long list of scary-sounding and absolutely true warnings about it: the nuclear power industry uses enormous quantities of it every year. Dihydrogen monoxide is used in the production of many highly toxic pesticides, and chemical weapons banned by the Geneva Conventions. Dihydrogen monoxide is found in all tumors removed from cancer patients, and is guaranteed fatal to humans in large quantities and even small quantities can kill you, if it enters your respiratory system. In 2006, in Louisville, Kentucky, David Karem, executive director of the Waterfront Development Corporation, a public body that operates Waterfront Park, wished to deter bathers from using a large public fountain. "Counting on a lack of understanding about water's chemical makeup," he arranged for signs reading: "DANGER! – WATER CONTAINS HIGH LEVELS OF HYDROGEN – KEEP OUT" to be posted on the fountain at public expense.

    351 comments | about a week ago

  • FDA Approves Implantable Vagus Nerve Disruptor For Weight Loss

    The L.A. Times reports that for the first time since 2007, the FDA has approved a weight loss device (as opposed to a weight-loss drug), an implantable device called the Maestro Rechargeable System. Using electrical leads implanted just above the stomach and a regulator carried under the skin near the ribcage, the device suppresses signals carried by the vagus nerve. ... The device adopts a variant of a "neuromodulation" technique long used in the treatment of epilepsy: by applying intermittent bursts of electrical current to the vagus nerve, it disrupts the signals that prompt the stomach to relax, expand and prepare for an influx of food. ... The FDA approved the use of the device in adult patients with a body mass index, or BMI, between 35 and 45, who have at least one other obesity-related condition, such as type 2 diabetes.

    168 comments | about two weeks ago

  • Google To Test Build-It-Yourself Ara Smartphones In Puerto Rico

    An anonymous reader writes Google is holding its second Project Ara developer's conference today in Mountain View and is in the process of giving a roadmap on how and when it might get its modular smartphones out into the market. Probably the most notable bit of news we've learned so far is that Google plans to have a market pilot ready to go in the second half of this year. Unfortunately, if you want to give it a shot, you'll need to live in Puerto Rico — the pilot will roll out in that territory in partnership with carriers OpenMobile and Claro. When Project Ara hits Puerto Rico, users should be able to customize their devices using the Ara Marketplace and Ara Configurator apps. Google's ATAP group will also roll out some "food-truck" style stores for consumers to actually check these devices out before they try them out. Google also says that it'll have some 20 to 30 Ara modules available by launch across 10 different categories.

    61 comments | about two weeks ago

  • Dish Introduces $20-a-Month Streaming-TV Service

    wyattstorch516 writes "Dish Networks has unveiled Sling TV, its streaming service for customers who don't want to subscribe to Cable or Satellite. From the article: "For $20 a month — yes, twenty dollars — you get access to a lineup of cable networks that includes TNT, TBS, CNN, Food Network, HGTV, Cartoon Network, Adult Swim, the Disney Channel, ESPN, and ESPN2. ESPN is obviously a huge get for Dish and could earn Sling TV plenty of customers all on its own. ESPN just ended another year as TV's leading cable network, and now you won't need a traditional cable package to watch it. For sports fanatics, that could prove enticing. But Dish has hinted that there may be limits on watching ESPN on mobile thanks to red tape from existing deals between the network and Verizon."

    196 comments | about three weeks ago

  • Museum's Adults-Only Nights Show That Alcohol and Science Are a Good Mix

    BarbaraHudson writes Museums and science centers are finding that science nights with bar service are quite popular with the public. "Organizer Merissa Scarlett said almost every science center across Canada opts for adults-only nights, where visitors can explore exhibits with an alcoholic drink in hand. It's also a trend taking off in many museums, including the Canadian Museum of Nature in Ottawa, where nights dubbed Nature Nocturne transform the building into a multi-stage bar and club."

    131 comments | about a month ago

  • 5,200 Days Aboard ISS, and the Surprising Reason the Mission Is Still Worthwhile

    HughPickens.com writes Spaceflight has faded from American consciousness even as our performance in space has reached a new level of accomplishment. In the past decade, America has become a truly, permanently spacefaring nation. All day, every day, half a dozen men and women, including two Americans, are living and working in orbit, and have been since November 2000. Charles Fishman has a long, detailed article about life aboard the ISS in The Atlantic that is well worth the read; you are sure to learn something you didn't already know about earth's permanent outpost in space. Some excerpts:

    "Life in space is so complicated that a lot of logistics have to be off-loaded to the ground if astronauts are to actually do anything substantive. Just building the schedule for the astronauts in orbit on the U.S. side of the station requires a full-time team of 50 staffers.

    Almost anyone you talk with about the value of the Space Station eventually starts talking about Mars. When they do, it's clear that we don't yet have a very grown-up space program. The folks we send to space still don't have any real autonomy, because no one was imagining having to "practice" autonomy when the station was designed and built. On a trip to Mars, the distances are so great that a single voice or email exchange would involve a 30-minute round-trip. That one change, among the thousand others that going to Mars would require, would alter the whole dynamic of life in space. The astronauts would have to handle things themselves.

    That could be the real value of the Space Station—to shift NASA's human exploration program from entirely Earth-controlled to more astronaut-directed, more autonomous. This is not a high priority now; it would be inconvenient, inefficient. But the station's value could be magnified greatly were NASA to develop a real ethic, and a real plan, for letting the people on the mission assume more responsibility for shaping and controlling it. If we have any greater ambitions for human exploration in space, that's as important as the technical challenges. Problems of fitness and food supply are solvable. The real question is what autonomy for space travelers would look like—and how Houston can best support it. Autonomy will not only shape the psychology and planning of the mission; it will shape the design of the spacecraft itself."

    219 comments | about a month ago

  • Scientists Say the Future Looks Bleak For Our Bones

    HughPickens.com writes Nicholas St. Fluer reports at The Atlantic that according to researchers, our convenient, sedentary way of life is making our bones weak foretelling a future with increasing fractures, breaks, and osteoporosis. For thousands of years, hunter-gatherers trekked on strenuous ventures for food with dense skeletons supporting their movements and a new study pinpoints the origin of weaker bones at the beginning of the Holocene epoch roughly 12,000 years ago, when humans began adopting agriculture. "Modern human skeletons have shifted quite recently towards lighter—more fragile, if you like—bodies. It started when we adopted agriculture. Our diets changed. Our levels of activity changed," says Habiba Chirchir. A second study attributes joint bone weakness to different levels of physical activity in ancient human societies, also related to hunting versus farming.

    The team scanned circular cross-sections of seven bones in the upper and lower limb joints in chimpanzees, Bornean orangutans and baboons. They also scanned the same bones in modern and early modern humans as well as Neanderthals, Paranthropus robustus, Australopithecus africanus and other Australopithecines. They then measured the amount of white bone in the scans against the total area to find the trabecular bone density. Crunching the numbers confirmed their visual suspicions. Modern humans had 50 to 75 percent less dense trabecular bone than chimpanzees, and some hominins had bones that were twice as dense compared to those in modern humans. Both studies have implications for modern human health and the importance of physical activity to bone strength. "The lightly-built skeleton of modern humans has a direct and important impact on bone strength and stiffness," says Tim Ryan. That's because lightness can translate to weakness—more broken bones and a higher incidence of osteoporosis and age-related bone loss. The researchers warn that with the deskbound lives that many people lead today, our bones may have become even more brittle than ever before. "We are not challenging our bones with enough loading," says Colin Shaw, "predisposing us to have weaker bones so that, as we age, situations arise where bones are breaking when, previously, they would not have."

    115 comments | about a month ago

  • Problem Solver Beer Tells How Much To Drink To Boost Your Creativity

    mrspoonsi writes When you've been stuck on a problem or that creative spark just won't come, the chances are you've turned to a cup of coffee to get things moving. A quick java infusion can certainly help, but studies also suggest that alcohol can also have a positive impact on your creative cognition. University of Illinois Professor Jennifer Wiley determined that a person's "creative peak" comes when their blood alcohol level reaches 0.075, lowering their ability to overthink during a task. Medical Daily reports that marketing agency CP+B Copenhagen and Danish brewery Rocket Brewing wanted to help drinkers reach their imaginative prime, so they decided to create their own beer to do just that. The result is The Problem Solver. It's a 7.1 percent craft IPA that its makers say offers a "refined bitterness with a refreshing finish." To ensure you reach the optimum creative level, the bottle includes a scale, which determines how much of the beer you need to drink based on your body weight. The agency does offer a word of warning though: "Enjoying the right amount will enhance your creative thinking. Drinking more will probably do exactly the opposite."

    73 comments | about a month ago

  • How a Massachusetts Man Invented the Global Ice Market

    An anonymous reader writes with the story of Frederic Tudor, the man responsible for the modern food industry. "A guy from Boston walks into a bar and offers to sell the owner a chunk of ice. To modern ears, that sounds like the opening line of a joke. But 200 years ago, it would have sounded like science fiction—especially if it was summer, when no one in the bar had seen frozen water in months. In fact, it's history. The ice guy was sent by a 20-something by the name of Frederic Tudor, born in 1783 and known by the mid-19th century as the "Ice King of the World." What he had done was figure out a way to harvest ice from local ponds, and keep it frozen long enough to ship halfway around the world.

    Today, the New England ice trade, which Tudor started in Boston's backyard in 1806, sounds cartoonishly old-fashioned. The work of ice-harvesting, which involved cutting massive chunks out of frozen bodies of water, packing them in sawdust for storage and transport, and selling them near and far, seems as archaic as the job of town crier. But scholars in recent years have suggested that we're missing something. In fact, they say, the ice trade was a catalyst for a transformation in daily life so powerful that the mark it left can still be seen on our cultural habits even today. Tudor's big idea ended up altering the course of history, making it possible not only to serve barflies cool mint juleps in the dead of summer, but to dramatically extend the shelf life and reach of food. Suddenly people could eat perishable fruits, vegetables, and meat produced far from their homes. Ice built a new kind of infrastructure that would ultimately become the cold, shiny basis for the entire modern food industry."

    83 comments | about a month ago

  • How Identifiable Are You On the Web?

    An anonymous reader writes How identifiable are you on the web? This updated browser fingerprinting tool implements the current state of the art in browser fingerprinting techniques(including canvas fingerprinting) to show you how unique your browser is on the web. Good food for thought when three-letter agencies talk about "mere metadata."

    160 comments | about a month and a half ago

  • No More Foamy Beer, Thanks To Magnets

    sciencehabit writes Few sights at a bar are more deflating than a bottle of beer overflowing with foam. This overfoaming, called gushing, arises when fungi infect the barley grains in beer's malt base. The microorganisms latch onto barley with surface proteins called hydrophobins. During the brewing process, these hydrophobins can attract carbon dioxide molecules produced by the mashed barley as it ferments, making the beer far too bubbly. Brewers try to tamp down the gushing by adding hops extract, an antifoaming agent that binds to the proteins first. Now, food scientists in Belgium have hit upon a technological solution: magnets. When the team applied a magnetic field to a malt infused with hops extract, the magnets dispersed the antifoaming agent into tinier particles. Those smaller particles were much more effective at binding to more hydrophobins, blocking carbon dioxide and decreasing gushing. During tests in a real brewery, the magnets decreased excess foaming so effectively that brewers needed much lower amounts of hops extract—a potential cost-saving measure. Future studies could explore whether magnetic fields alone could reduce foaming on an industrial scale, the team says.

    130 comments | about a month and a half ago

  • In North Korea, Hackers Are a Handpicked, Pampered Elite

    HughPickens.com writes: Ju-Min Park and James Pearson report at Reuters that despite its poverty and isolation, North Korea has poured resources into a sophisticated cyber-warfare cell called Bureau 121, staffed by some of the most talented, and rewarded, people in North Korea, handpicked and trained from as young as 17. "They are handpicked," says Kim Heung-kwang, a former computer science professor in North Korea who defected to the South in 2004. "It is a great honor for them. It is a white-collar job there and people have fantasies about it." The hackers in Bureau 121 were among the 100 students who graduate from the University of Automation each year after five years of study. Over 2,500 apply for places at the university, which has a campus in Pyongyang, behind barbed wire.

    According to Jang Se-yul, who studied with them at North Korea's military college for computer science, the Bureau 121 unit comprises about 1,800 cyber-warriors, and is considered the elite of the military. As well as having salaries far above the country's average, they are often gifted with good food, luxuries and even apartments. According to John Griasafi, this kind of treatment could be expected for those working in the elite Bureau. "You'd have to be pretty special and well trusted to even be allowed on email in North Korea so I have no doubt that they are treated well too." Pyongyang has active cyber-warfare capabilities, military and software security experts have said. In 2013, tens of thousands of computers were made to malfunction, disrupting work at banks and television broadcasters in South Korea. "In North Korea, it's called the Secret War," says Jang.

    102 comments | about 2 months ago

  • The Ancestor of Humans Was an "Artist" 500,000 Years Ago

    brindafella writes Our ancient ancestor, Homo erectus, around 500,000 years ago, has been shown to make doodles or patterns. So, it seems that we Homo sapiens have come from a thoughtful lineage. The zig-zag markings cut into the covering of a fossil freshwater shell were from a deposit in the main bone layer of Trinil (Java, Indonesia), the place where Homo erectus was discovered by Eugène Dubois in 1891, says Dr Stephen Munro, a palaeoanthropologist with the Australian National University. The team's testing shows the erectus doodling was from 0.54 million years to a minimum of 0.43 million years ago. This pushes back the thoughtful making of marks by hundreds of thousands of years. The thoughtful gathering of shellfish and their nutrients also points to possible explanations for the evolving of bigger brains.

    59 comments | about 2 months ago

  • Pizza Hut Tests New "Subconscious Menu" That Reads Your Mind

    HughPickens.com writes Allison Griswold reports at Slate that Pizza Hut wants to help you order your food subconsciously with a new product that is being tested at 300 locations across the UK that uses eye-tracking technology to allow diners to order within seconds using only their eyes. The digital menu shows diners a canvas of 20 toppings and builds their pizza based on which toppings they look at longest. To try again, a diner can glance at a "restart" button. "Finally the indecisive orderer and the prolonged menu peruser can cut time and always get it right," a Pizza Hut spokesperson said in a statement, "so that the focus of dining can be on the most important part — the enjoyment of eating!" According to news release from Tobii Technology, the Subconscious Menu can determine which ingredients your mind and eyes have been looking at longest in exactly 2.5 seconds. The menu then uses a powerful mathematical algorithm to identify, from 4896 possible ingredient combinations, the customer's perfect pizza. "Tests on the Subconscious Menu have been incredibly positive with 98% of people, recommended a pizza with ingredients they love."

    186 comments | about 2 months ago

  • Interviews: The Hampton Creek Team Answers Your Questions

    A few days ago you had a chance to ask the people at Hampton Creek about about their products and the science of food. Below you'll find the answers to your questions from a number of Hampton Creek employees.

    47 comments | about 2 months ago

  • Interviews: Ask the Hampton Creek Team About the Science and Future of Food

    samzenpus writes Hampton Creek is a food technology company that makes food healthier by utilizing a specially made egg substitute in food products. The company was selected by Bill Gates to be featured on his website in a story called, The Future of Food, and has raised $30 million in funding. Hampton Creek's latest product is called, Just Cookies, which is an eggless chocolate chip cookie dough, but it is their eggless mayo that has been in the news lately. Unilever, which manufactures Hellmann's and Best Foods mayonnaise, is suing Hampton Creek claiming that the name Just Mayo is misleading to consumers. Named one of Entrepreneur Magazine's 100 Brilliant Companies and one of CNBC's Top 50 Disruptors, Hampton Creek has picked up some impressive talent including the former lead data scientist at Google Maps, Dan Zigmond. With Thanksgiving just around the corner, Dan and the Hampton Creek team have agreed to answer any questions you may have. As usual, ask as many as you'd like, but please, one per post.

    145 comments | about 2 months ago

  • How the World's Agricultural Boom Has Changed CO2 Cycles

    An anonymous reader writes Every year levels of carbon dioxide drop in the summer as plants "inhale," and climb again as they exhale after the growing season in the Northern Hemisphere. However, the last 50 years has seen the size of this swing has increase by as much as 50%, for reasons that aren't fully understood. A team of researchers may have the answer. They have shown that agricultural production, corn in particular, may generate up to 25% of the increase in this seasonal carbon cycle. "This study shows the power of modeling and data mining in addressing potential sources contributing to seasonal changes in carbon dioxide" program director for the National Science Foundation's Macro Systems Biology Program, who supported the research, Liz Blood says. "It points to the role of basic research in finding answers to complex problems."

    186 comments | about 2 months ago

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