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JPL Background Check Case Reaches Supreme Court
Posted by News Fetcher on March 12 '10 at 09:15 PM
By timothy from Slashdot's faster-boys-if-you-want-your-pay deptartment:
Dthief writes "A long-running legal battle between the United States government and a group of 29 scientists and engineers of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California, has now reached the US Supreme Court." At issue: mandatory background checks for scientists and engineers working at JPL, which they allege includes snooping into their sexual orientation, as well as their mental and physical health.

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School Putting Autistic Children in Fenced Enclosure
Posted by News Fetcher on March 12 '10 at 07:15 PM
By samzenpus from Slashdot's 24-posts-and-96-pieces-of-wire deptartment:
In an attempt to deal with autistic children who "have no sense of boundaries and do not respond to staff asking them to stop," a Sydney primary school has created pens which hold the disabled children during play time. As you might expect, parents have expressed outrage that their kids are forced to stand inside a fenced enclosure that has one tree, a bench and a dirt floor. The Department of Education said in a statement: "The school is located on a busy road. Without this area, the students may leave the school grounds and could potentially be injured. Some of these children have no sense of boundaries and do not respond to staff asking them to stop. Once the school is satisfied a student will listen to directions from staff members and is also aware of playground boundaries, the child can use the playground."

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Digg Says Yes To NoSQL Cassandra DB, Bye To MySQL
Posted by News Fetcher on March 12 '10 at 07:00 PM
By timothy from Slashdot's can-you-trust-a-db-by-that-name? deptartment:
donadony writes "After twitter, now it's Digg who's decided to replace MySQL and most of their infrastructure components and move away from LAMP to another architecture called NoSQL that is based in Casandra, an open source project that develops a highly scalable second-generation distributed database. Cassandra was open sourced by Facebook in 2008 and is licensed under the Apache License. The reason for this move, as explained by Digg, is the increasing difficulty of building a high-performance, write-intensive application on a data set that is growing quickly, with no end in sight. This growth has forced them into horizontal and vertical partitioning strategies that have eliminated most of the value of a relational database, while still incurring all the overhead."

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Hunting Disease Origins By Whole-Genome Sequencing
Posted by News Fetcher on March 12 '10 at 04:15 PM
By timothy from Slashdot's motivation-defined deptartment:
ChocSnorfler writes "James Lupski, a physician-scientist who suffers from a neurological disorder called Charcot-Marie-Tooth, has been searching for the genetic cause of his disease for more than 25 years. Late last year, he finally found it — by sequencing his entire genome. While a number of human genome sequences have been published to date, Lupski's research is the first to show how whole-genome sequencing can be used to identify the genetic cause of an individual's disease."

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Nearby Star Forecast To Skirt Solar System
Posted by News Fetcher on March 12 '10 at 04:00 PM
By Soulskill from Slashdot's we're-doomed deptartment:
PipianJ writes "A recent preprint posted on arXiv by Vadim Bobylev presents some startling new numbers about a future close pass of one of our stellar neighbors. Based on studies of the Hipparcos catalog, Bobylev suggests that the nearby orange dwarf Gliese 710 has an 86% chance of skirting the outer bounds of the Solar System and the hypothesized Oort Cloud in the next 1.5 million years. As the Oort Cloud is thought to be the source of many long-period comets, the gravitational effects of Gliese's passing could send a shower of comets into the inner Solar System, threatening Earth. This news about Gliese 710 isn't exactly new, but it's one of the first times the probability of this near-miss has been quantified."

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Texas Approves Conservative Curriculum
Posted by News Fetcher on March 12 '10 at 03:30 PM
By Soulskill from Slashdot's great-school-board-or-greatest-school-board deptartment:
Macharius writes "Today, the Texas Board of Education approved 11-4 a social studies curriculum that will put a conservative stamp on history and economics textbooks, stressing the role of Christianity in American history and presenting Republican political philosophies in a more positive light. The article goes on to mention that Texas's textbook approvals carry less influence than they used to due to digital localization technology, but is that even measurable given how many millions of these textbooks will still be used across the country?"

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Court Rules Against Vaccine-Autism Claims Again
Posted by News Fetcher on March 12 '10 at 03:00 PM
By Soulskill from Slashdot's but-were-any-court-members-in-playboy deptartment:
barnyjr writes "According to a story from Reuters, 'Vaccines that contain a mercury-based preservative called thimerosal cannot cause autism on their own, a special US court ruled on Friday, dealing one more blow to parents seeking to blame vaccines for their children's illness. The special US Court of Federal Claims ruled that vaccines could not have caused the autism of an Oregon boy, William Mead, ending his family's quest for reimbursement. ... While the state court determined the autism was vaccine-related, [Special Master George] Hastings said overwhelming medical evidence showed otherwise. The theory presented by the Meads and experts who testified on their behalf "was biologically implausible and scientifically unsupported," Hasting wrote.'"

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Scientists Need Volunteers To Look At the Sun
Posted by News Fetcher on March 12 '10 at 02:15 PM
By Soulskill from Slashdot's ow-that-hurts-it's-a-trap deptartment:
Hugh Pickens writes "BBC reports that Royal Observatory's 'Solar Stormwatch' needs volunteers to help scientists spot Sun storms — known as coronal mass ejections — before they cause damage on Earth. 'When you look up at the Sun obviously it's too bright to look at properly,' says Dr. Marek Kukula of the Royal Observatory, but 'with special instruments and telescopes you can see there's all sorts of stuff going on.' NASA already monitors the Sun using two 'STEREO' spacecraft that produce 3D images of earth's nearest star, which can show the trajectory of these explosions. However, the sheer amount of data means NASA's scientists are unable to analyze the data as closely as they need — which is where the world's internet population comes in. After a brief tutorial, users get access to the actual 3-D images taken by the STEREO spacecraft. If a user believes they have spotted the beginnings of a solar storm, they can bring it to the attention of scientists. 'Every little bit counts,' says Kukula. 'I've spoken to the scientists involved and they all agree that even if you log-on and just do it for a few hours, get bored and never touch it again it's all really useful — and helps them to do their work.'"

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Here Come the Linux iPad Clones
Posted by News Fetcher on March 12 '10 at 01:45 PM
By Soulskill from Slashdot's send-in-the-clones deptartment:
CWmike writes "You can now pre-order an Apple iPad; but do you really want to, asks Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols. 'I mean, I get why you'd want an iPad. I'd like one too,' he writes. 'But,' he says, 'when I consider that there are soon going to be literally dozens of cheaper, Linux-powered iPad devices on the market, I find it a lot easier to resist putting $499 on my credit card. On top of that, Apple will be including DRM on some eBooks and other iPad content. I really, really hate DRM. All that said, I agree the iPad is really cool. I predict with absolute faith that the iPad and its clones are going to kill off single purpose devices like dedicated eReaders such as Amazon's Kindle and GPS devices within the next three years. How can it not work out this way? For the same price as a high-end dedicated device you can get a tablet that will do everything they can do and far more. But, and this is the important bit, you don't have to buy an Apple iPad to get all of the iPad's goodies. ARM, a mobile microprocessor power, is predicting that we'll see no less than 50 ARM-processor-powered iPad clones by year's end. And, what will they be running? These ARM-powered entertainment tablets will all be running Linux.'"

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DR Congo Ring May Be Giant Impact Crater
Posted by News Fetcher on March 12 '10 at 01:15 PM
By Soulskill from Slashdot's leaving-a-mark deptartment:
Phrogman writes "The BBC is reporting that deforestation has 'revealed what could be a giant impact crater in Central Africa, scientists say. The 36-46km-wide feature, identified in DR Congo, may be one of the largest such structures discovered in the last decade.' If you search Google Maps for 'Omeonga Democratic Republic of the Congo,' you will be right in the middle of the suspected crater."

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NY To Replace IT Vendors With State Workers
Posted by News Fetcher on March 12 '10 at 01:00 PM
By Soulskill from Slashdot's this-can-only-end-well deptartment:
dcblogs writes "New York state plans to replace as many as 500 IT contract workers with a new type of temporary state worker. The state estimates it can save $25,000 annually for each contracting position that is in-sourced. This is the result of a new law creating 'term appointments,' which strip away some hiring and firing rules that apply to permanent state workers. These term appointment workers are employed 'at will.' Term appointments can be up to five years and workers get state benefits. Proponents of this change said a state IT worker might earn an average of $55 an hour, including benefits, while the state pays its contractors an average of $128 an hour for workers in similar jobs."

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Netflix Prize Sequel Cancelled Over Privacy Concerns
Posted by News Fetcher on March 12 '10 at 12:15 PM
By Soulskill from Slashdot's beware-the-evil-agorithims deptartment:
An anonymous reader writes "Netflix just announced that they have cancelled the sequel to the Netflix Prize, which was promised last year. Netflix made the choice after they were sued over privacy concerns. The prize involves releasing large amounts of data about users' movie preferences, which raised concerns from the Federal Trade Commission and a lawsuit from KamberLaw LLC. Netflix's Neil Hunt said, 'We have reached an understanding with the FTC and have settled the lawsuit with plaintiffs. The resolution to both matters involves certain parameters for how we use Netflix data in any future research programs.'"

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China Warns Google To Obey Or Leave
Posted by News Fetcher on March 12 '10 at 11:15 AM
By Soulskill from Slashdot's who-wears-the-pants-in-this-family deptartment:
suraj.sun writes with this snippet from an Associated Press report: "China's top Internet regulator insisted Friday that Google must obey its laws or 'pay the consequences,' giving no sign of a possible compromise in their dispute over censorship and hacking. 'If you want to do something that disobeys Chinese law and regulations, you are unfriendly, you are irresponsible and you will have to pay the consequences,' Li Yizhong, the minister of Industry and Information Technology, said on the sidelines of China's annual legislature. ... 'Whether they leave or not is up to them,' Li said. 'But if they leave, China's Internet market is still going to develop.' ... Li insisted the government needs to censor Internet content to protect the rights of the country and its people. 'If there is information that harms stability or the people, of course we will have to block it,' he said."

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Security Industry Faces Attacks It Can't Stop
Posted by News Fetcher on March 12 '10 at 10:45 AM
By kdawson from Slashdot's crying-out-for-paradigm-shift deptartment:
itwbennett writes "The takedown of the Mariposa botnet and so-called advanced persistent threat attacks, such as the one that compromised Google systems in early December, were hot topics at the RSA conference last week. What both Mariposa and the Google attacks illustrate, and what went largely unsaid at RSA, was that the security industry has failed to protect paying customers from some of today's most pernicious threats, writes Robert McMillan. Traditional security products are simply not much help, said Alex Stamos, a partner with Isec Partners, one of the companies investigating the APT attacks. 'All of the victims we've worked with had perfectly installed antivirus,' he said. 'They all had intrusion detection systems and several had Web proxies scan content.'"

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University of Wyoming Studies Video Games
Posted by News Fetcher on March 12 '10 at 10:15 AM
By kdawson from Slashdot's decontextualizing-fun deptartment:
krou writes "The Christian Science Monitor has an interesting story about how the University of Wyoming's English Department is helping fund a collective called the Learning Games Initiative to study video games. Jason Thompson, an assistant professor at UW who is part of the group, explains that 'it's a group of people [who] do research on games, do development on games, and keep an archive of games printed matter such as manuals, ... systems, all of it. We really look at games as cultural artifacts; things that reveal theology, things that reveal power. Things that should be studied in the academy.' The English Department has been very open-minded with the project, because they understand that gaming can educate people, and that 'we can expand our notion of what text and study is; the idea that it might be fun doesn't necessarily preclude its study.' Thompson believes that it's important for academia to study gaming, because games could be used in the future as a type of textbook: 'if games can teach, then as teachers shouldn't we understand what kind of teaching's going on?'"

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IBM Stops Disclosing US Headcount Data
Posted by News Fetcher on March 12 '10 at 09:15 AM
By kdawson from Slashdot's but-everybody's-doing-it deptartment:
theodp writes "ComputerWorld reports that IBM has stopped providing breakouts on US employees, closing a door to data that provided insights into the bellwether company's employment shift. In its latest Annual Report, Big Blue only provides its global headcount, and an IBM spokesman confirmed that disclosure of US headcount is a thing of the past. The Rochester Institute of Technology's Ron Hira called the US workforce data critical for policymakers trying to understand the dynamics of offshoring. 'By hiding its offshoring, IBM is doing a disservice to America — through omission the company is providing misleading labor market signals and information to policy makers,' Hira said. Ironically, CEO Sam Palmisano's Letter to Shareholders, which accompanied the Annual Report, touts how IBM's Analytics and 'Smarter Planet' efforts are empowering US government decision-makers. Nondisclosure domestically and abroad seems to be the new rule of thumb for Big Tech, sparking calls for government intervention." IBM laid off about 10,000 US workers last year, and 2,900 so far this year, according to the Alliance@IBM, a labor union.

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MIT Scientists Make a Polyethylene Heatsink
Posted by News Fetcher on March 12 '10 at 08:30 AM
By kdawson from Slashdot's just-one-word-young-man deptartment:
arcticstoat calls our attention to MIT research that has produced a version of polyethylene that can conduct heat away from computer chips. Polyethylene is the most widely used plastic. It's not clear how practical this research is for industrial-scale use, involving as it does an atomic-force microscope. The work is detailed in a paper published in Nature Nanotechnology this month. "The new process causes the polymer to conduct heat very efficiently in just one direction, unlike metals, which conduct equally well in all directions. ... The key to the transformation was getting all the polymer molecules to line up the same way, rather than forming a chaotic tangled mass, as they normally do. The team did that by slowly drawing a polyethylene fiber out of a solution, using the finely controllable cantilever of an atomic-force microscope, which they also used to measure the properties of the resulting fiber. This fiber was about 300 times more thermally conductive than normal polyethylene along the direction of the individual fibers, says the team’s leader..."

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On Social Networks, You Are Who You Know
Posted by News Fetcher on March 12 '10 at 07:45 AM
By kdawson from Slashdot's spy-with-a-little-help-from-my-friends deptartment:
santosh maharshi writes "On social networks like Facebook, even if you have kept your profile very private, people can just look at your friends list and infer lots of vital information about you. Most of the social networks like Facebook and LinkedIn allow people to see your picture and your friends list as part of the open access for visitors (the article says that only 5% of Facebook users have bothered to hide their friends list). In a study titled You Are Who You Know: Inferring User Profiles in Online Social Networks (PDF), conducted by Alan Mislove of Northeastern University and his colleagues at the Max Planck Institute for Software Systems, an algorithm was tested that can accurately infer the personal attributes of Facebook users simply by looking at their friend lists. 'At Rice [University], the algorithm accurately predicted the correct dormitory, graduation year, and area of study for the many of the students. In fact, among these undergraduates, researchers found that “with as little as 20 percent of the users providing attributes we can often infer the attributes for the remaining users with over 80 percent accuracy."'"

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Hollow Spy Coins
Posted by News Fetcher on March 12 '10 at 07:00 AM
By kdawson from Slashdot's pocket-changer deptartment:
Bruce Schneier's blog links to a few sources for hollow spy coins, one being BoingBoing's Bazaar — where a nickel that can hold a microSD card costs $27. Another is Slashdot's sister company ThinkGeek, where you can get hollow quarters and half-dollars in the low 20s. As if corporate and government security geeks didn't have enough to worry about.

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FCC Asks You To Test Your Broadband Speeds
Posted by News Fetcher on March 12 '10 at 06:15 AM
By kdawson from Slashdot's your-mileage-will-vary deptartment:
AnotherUsername writes "The Federal Communications Commission is asking the nation's broadband and smartphone users to use its broadband testing tools to help the feds and consumers know what speeds are actually available, not just promised by the nation's telecoms. At http://www.broadband.gov/, users enter their address and test their broadband download speed, upload speed, latency, and jitter using one of two tests (users can choose to test with the other after one test is complete). The FCC is requiring the street address, as it 'may use this data to analyze broadband quality and availability on a geographic basis' (they promise not to release location data except in the aggregate). The agency is also asking those who live in a broadband 'dead zone' to fill out a report online, call, fax, email, or even send a letter. The announcement comes just six days before the FCC presents the first ever national broadband plan to Congress. Java is necessary to run the test." Lauren Weinstein points out some of the limitations in the FCC's testing methodology.

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