Embryos Receive Parent-Specific Layers of Information

by tanuki64@pipedot.org in science on 2014-10-21 09:39 (#2THX)

story imageFollowing up on last week's article about offspring and mothers' previous sexual partners (in insects, anyway), new research now sheds some additional light on the multi-layered process of how a sperm and egg pass along information needed for successful reproduction.

As described in an article published in the journal PLOS Genetics:
Though one layer is the DNA code that is transferred, the new study identifies information not encoded by DNA, a so-called “epigenetic” layer of information that helps the cell interpret the genetic code.
In insects this additional “epigenetic” layer of information apparently can come from a previous mate. The question if such or similar mechanisms can also exist in higher organisms, e.g. also in humans, might be far fetched, but not that far, that it precludes a more thorough research. Clearly, there are still plenty of unknown factors in human and non-human reproduction: an area ripe for further research.

Saturn's tiny moon Mimas may have sub-surface liquid ocean

by evilviper@pipedot.org in space on 2014-10-21 02:39 (#2THM)

story imageMimas, one of Saturn's smaller satellites, may seem a little dull... An icy moon that’s just 246 miles wide and whose most distinctive feature is the 88-mile-wide Herschel crater – a giant Cyclops-like indentation that makes the moon resemble the planet-obliterating superweapon from "Star Wars" that's known as the Death Star. But the moon may hold a special secret of its own. A stronger than expected rotational wobble points to one of two intriguing scenarios: Mimas either has an irregularly shaped core or has an ocean buried underneath its icy surface. “Something else has to be going on inside.” The findings, described in the journal Science, shed new light on a mysterious but often-overlooked moon that could hold clues to its early formation.

Other scientists say it’s unlikely Mimas has such an interesting interior and think the wobble can be explained more simply. One problem is that Mimas’s ancient, heavily cratered surface shows no signs that water has ever touched it—unlike, say, the freshly Zamboni-ed ice skating rink of Europa. That same result could be achieved with irregular gradations in the density of rock, ice, and pore space. The detected wobble could also have been knocked into existence by something that has nothing to do with the moon’s interior: a comet impact.

Regulating the Internet "Like a Utility" Won't Yield an Open Internet

by evilviper@pipedot.org in legal on 2014-10-20 13:58 (#2TGT)

Many of the millions of comments in the net neutrality proceeding, urge the FCC to impose net neutrality rules by regulating the Internet “like a utility.” It won’t work. Simply reclassifying ISPs as (Title II) common carriers will trigger a vast flood of litigation, but bring little relief to consumers who simply want unfettered access to the Internet. We can’t find a way to write a net neutrality rule in a manageable number of words, and still leave only minimal discretion to the ISP. An ISP with a good lawyer – and they all have good lawyers – could plausibly argue that the rule allows almost any activity at all.

There is a way to solve this problem: a rule that requires the ISP to open its channels (cable or phone line or fiber) to competing ISPs. Under this approach, a consumer dissatisfied with the performance of one ISP could easily switch to another with no change to the household wiring – an impossibility in today's system. We know this approach works because it did work, very well, all through the Internet’s dial-up days. A set of FCC rules called Computer III required just the kind of shared access to those lines that we propose here. That is the only practical way to bring about net neutrality.

In the early 2000s, following the advent of broadband, the FCC made a colossal two-part error. First, it declined to apply Title II and Computer III shared access requirements to cable broadband delivery. Second, a few years later, it removed those same existing requirements from telephone company DSL broadband. The result today is Internet monopolies, or duopolies at best, in nearly every U.S. market.


Field-Coupled Magnets Could Replace Transistors In Some Computer Chips

by evilviper@pipedot.org in hardware on 2014-10-20 13:22 (#2TGR)

Electrical engineers at the Technische Universität München (TUM) have demonstrated a new kind of building block for digital integrated circuits. Their experiments show that future computer chips could be based on three-dimensional arrangements of nanometer-scale magnets instead of transistors. As the main enabling technology of the semiconductor industry – CMOS fabrication of silicon chips – approaches fundamental limits, the TUM researchers and collaborators at the University of Notre Dame are exploring “magnetic computing” as an alternative.

Think of the way ordinary bar magnets behave when you bring them near each other, with opposite poles attracting and like poles repelling each other. Now imagine bringing several bar magnets together and holding all but one in a fixed position. Their magnetic fields can be thought of as being coupled into one, and the “north-south” polarity of the magnet that is free to flip will be determined by the orientation of the majority of fixed magnets. Gates made from field-coupled nanomagnets work in an analogous way, with the reversal of polarity representing a switch between Boolean logic states, the binary digits 1 and 0.

Is it time to fork Debian?

by zafiro17@pipedot.org in linux on 2014-10-19 16:09 (#2TFM)

The grumbles over systemd and its ramifications are well known and have even been discussed on Pipedot [links below]. But it's taken on a new urgency. The members of the Debian community are set to vote on an init system, and if by any chance the "give preference to systemd" option wins, this group of angry sysadmins is organized, willing, and prepared to fork Debian. Their argument is measured and calm, but they've got their finger on the trigger. Here is just a portion of their argument.
Who are you?!
We are Veteran Unix Admins and we are concerned about what is happening to Debian GNU/Linux to the point of considering a fork of the project.

And why would you do that?
Some of us are upstream developers, some professional sysadmins: we are all concerned peers interacting with Debian and derivatives on a daily basis.We don't want to be forced to use systemd in substitution to the traditional UNIX sysvinit init, because systemd betrays the UNIX philosophy. We contemplate adopting more recent alternatives to sysvinit, but not those undermining the basic design principles of "do one thing and do it well" with a complex collection of dozens of tightly coupled binaries and opaque logs.

Are there better solutions than forking?
Yes: vote Ian Jackson's proposal to preserve freedom of choice of init systems. Then make sure sysvinit stays the default for now, systemd can be optional. Debian leaders can go on evaluating more init systems, just not impose one that ignores the needs of most of its users.

Why is this happening in your opinion?
The current leadership of the project is heavily influenced by GNOME developers and too much inclined to consider desktop needs as crucial to the project, despite the fact that the majority of Debian users are tech-savvy system administrators.

Can you articulate your critique to systemd?
To paraphrase Eric S. Raymond on the issue, we see systemd being very prone to mission creep and bloat and likely to turn into a nasty hairball over the longer term. We like controlling the startup of the system with shell scripts that are readable, because readability grants a certain level of power and consciousness for those among us who are literate, and we believe that centralizing control services, sockets, devices, mounts, etc., all within one daemon is a slap in the face of the UNIX philosophy.
Also see:
Kernel hacker's rant about systemd
Boycott Systemd movement takes shape
Uselessd, an alternative to systemd
Debian to vote on init system again

Man versus lava; Hawaii versus hurricane

by evilviper@pipedot.org in environment on 2014-10-18 14:18 (#2TF4)

story imageHawaii's Kilauea lava flow that began in June appears to have stalled, after slowing for more than a month. Coincidentally, just in time for residents of the islands to prepare to be hit by tropical storm Ana. The lava flow did relatively little damage, destroying roads but leaving threatened communities relatively unscathed. But active volcanoes are unpredictable, and the flow could resume at any time.

With that, we take a look back on ways that people have tried, and often failed, to contain or divert lava flows. From George S Patton ordering bombing runs on Hawaii's Mauna Loa in 1935, to spraying 6.8 billion liters of water on Iceland's Eldfell lava flow over a five month period, dismissively called "peeing on the lava". The US Geological Survey suggests that the Iceland (and Etna) diversion "may not have succeeded had their respective eruptions continued".

If Ana's winds increase to hurricane-force, it could become the first hurricane to make landfall on the islands in the past 22 years, illustrating Hawaii's peculiar immunity to hurricanes that scientists have been left to speculate about for decades. The island of Kauai being the notable exception.

Debian to vote on init system... again

by skarjak@pipedot.org in linux on 2014-10-17 22:21 (#2TEV)

Ian Jackson is at it again.

A proposal has been submitted in the Debian vote mailing list to ensure that the next version of Debian, Jessie, will not require any specific init system. This comes after the Debian technical committee (TC) already decided in February to adopt systemd as the default init system for Jessie. The TC had left the door open for a general resolution to decide whether other init systems would be supported in Jessie. At this time, it appears that enough support has been garnered for the proposal to ensure that there will be a vote on this issue. From the text of the proposal:
This GR seeks to preserve the freedom of our users now to select an init system of their choice, and the project's freedom to select a different init system in the future. It will avoid Debian becoming accidentally locked in to a particular init system (for example, because so much unrelated software has ended up depending on a particular init system that the burden of effort required to change init system becomes too great). A number of init systems exist, and it is clear that there is not yet broad consensus as to what the best init system might look like.
When the TC debated the issue, keeping SysVinit was an unpopular opinion. The two real contenders were systemd and upstart, and there seemed to be a general agreement that the init system must change. Is this vote an attempt to delay the inevitable? Let's remember that the reason the TC had to vote on this issue is that the developers wanted to be set on which init system to support. Could this resolution end with Debian "supporting" other init systems as second-class citizen, with many developers choosing not to bother supporting anything that's not systemd?

Tetrachromatic Humans See 100 Times More Colors

by evilviper@pipedot.org in science on 2014-10-17 13:28 (#2TEH)

story imageThe same genetic mutation that makes people color-blind, can allow a small portion of women to perceive 100 times as many shades of colors as the rest of us, up to a potential 99 million. The mutations, when found on both X-chromosomes, can cause development of a 4th cone cell in a photosensitive layer in the back of the eye that responds to specific wavelengths of light. This increased visual acuity has been found most substantial in mid to long-wavelength, or “reddish”, spectral components.

Lots of animals are tetrachromats, including birds, fish, amphibians, reptiles and insects, but only a handful of human tetrachromats have been identified since 2012. This increased visual ability does come with a disadvantage of offspring having a high likelihood of color-blindness. Continued research may help scientists find a way to improve the vision of the (much larger) portion of the population that suffers from color-blindness.

More information on scientific studies of human tetrachromacy can be found here.

Google possibly investigating high-speed wireless alternatives to fiber

by evilviper@pipedot.org in google on 2014-10-17 00:46 (#2TEA)

On Monday, Google sought permission from the Federal Communications Commission to conduct tests of “proprietary wireless applications” in a section of the electromagnetic spectrum that experts say could serve as a perfect replacement for fiber. Google declined to comment on its application for experimental radio service licenses for the 5.8 GHz, 24 GHz, 72 GHz and 82 GHz bands. In correspondence with the FCC, Google went so far as to request confidential treatment.

This is spurring speculation that Google may be looking to wireless alternatives for gigabit speed internet access in future Google Fiber cities. This could allow them to run fiber to the block, and use wireless distribution for the last-mile. Potentially, a cheaper alternative to costly fiber roll-outs to individual homes.

High frequency spectrum is “not an unreasonable way to think about replacing fiber to the home,” McFarland said. “However you’d need a clear line of sight. You could have something on a telephone pole on the street, and you could point it at an antenna on top of your house. As long as you had no obstructions, you could get multiple gigabits per second.”

USAF's Secret Robot Space Plane Returns To Earth

by evilviper@pipedot.org in space on 2014-10-16 18:33 (#2TE0)

Completing its third voyage into space (22 months since it left in December 2012), the X-37B is a known space plane with a secret purpose. The U.S. Air Force’s fact sheet lists the official purpose of the craft as “reusable spacecraft technologies for America's future in space and operating experiments which can be returned to, and examined, on Earth.” Speculation abounds that there’s an intelligence purpose to the missions, but the secrecy around the program means whatever the X-37B does besides test orbital re-entry will remain secret for some time.

Built by Boeing's secretive Phantom Works in Huntington Beach, Calif., the Air Force X-37B spacecraft is rumored to be everything from a space bomber to a satellite-killer or a test-bed for advanced spy satellite sensors. But as the news media fails to contain their excitement at the opportunity to wildly speculate, experts have debunked the rumors repeatedly, over the years.

"To the extent that it does have a purpose, I think its purpose is to keep the Chinese guessing as to what the purpose is," said John Pike, director of GlobalSecurity.org, a leading source of defense, space and intelligence information. "Over time, most of the money got spent just to keep the program going."