By BeauHD from Slashdot's behind-the-scenes department
Yesterday, Bloomberg reported that the U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission sent subpoenas last week to virtual-currency venue Bitfinex and Tether, a company that issues a widely traded coin and claims it's pegged to the dollar. Wired's Sandra Upson explains why Tether's collapse would be bad for the entire cryptocurrency market: Unlike bitcoin and its many siblings, tether is what is called a stablecoin, an entity designed to not fluctuate in value. With most cryptocurrencies prone to wild swings, tether offers people who dabble in the market the option of buying a currency that its backers say is pegged to the U.S. dollar. The root of the controversy is whether the company behind it, also called Tether, is telling the truth when it claims that every unit in circulation is matched by a U.S. dollar it holds in reserve. If the company has a dollar for every tether, that means in theory any holder can sell tethers back to the company for an equal number of dollars at any time. This belief keeps the value of a tether pegged to a dollar.
If tethers are not backed by a matching number of dollars, then Tether can print an arbitrary amount of money. (Other cryptocurrencies, by contrast, create new tokens according to strictly prescribed, predictable rules.) Other problems ensue, including suspicions that Tether is timing the release of new tethers to coincide with drops in the price of bitcoin and then using those tethers to scoop up bitcoins. Some observers fear that these purchases are artificially inflating the price of bitcoin. If traders lose faith in tether, they could end up triggering the crypto version of a bank run. Tether helps stabilize cryptocurrency exchanges in various ways, so its collapse could also cause some exchanges to topple, wiping out billions of dollars of investments overnight and potentially undoing much of the public's growing interest in new technologies like bitcoin.Read Replies (0)
By BeauHD from Slashdot's clean-as-a-whistle department
schwit1 shares a report from Popular Mechanics: Mazda is staking much of its future on the continued existence of the internal-combustion engine, with clever tech like spark-controlled compression ignition set to debut in Mazda's next-generation production-car engine, Skyactiv-X. But the automaker is already thinking even further into the internal-combustion future. Automotive News reports that Mazda is working on a new gas engine, Skyactiv-3, which the automaker says will be as clean as an electric vehicle. Speaking at a tech forum in Tokyo, Mazda powertrain chief Mitsuo Hitomi said that the main goal with Skyactiv-3 is to increase the engine's thermal efficiency to roughly 56 percent. If achieved, that would make the Skyactiv engine the first internal-combustion piston engine to turn the majority of its fuel's energy into power, rather than waste due to friction or heat loss. To date, the most thermally efficient automotive internal combustion engine belongs to Mercedes-AMG's Formula 1 team, with an efficiency of 50 percent; AMG hopes the F1-derived engine in the Project One street-legal supercar will achieve 41-percent thermal efficiency, which would make it the most thermally efficient production-car engine in history. Automotive News says Mazda's 56-percent goal would represent a 27-percent improvement over current Mazda engines. Hitomi didn't provide a timeline for when Skyactiv-3 would reach production, nor did he specify how Mazda hopes to achieve such an improvement. Mazda's claim, that Skyactiv-3 would be cleaner to run than an all-electric vehicle, is a bold one, and requires some unpacking. Mazda bases the assertion on its estimates of "well-to-wheel" emissions, tallying the pollution generated by both fossil fuel production and utility electricity generation to compare Skyactiv-3 and EV emissions. Such analysis reflects the reality that, currently, much electricity is generated through fossil fuels. In regions where electricity comes from wind, solar, or hydroelectric, the EV would clearly win the argument, but that's not the case for many customers today. If Mazda can make a mass-production internal-combustion engine that achieves more than 50 percent thermal efficiency, it will be an incredible feat -- and would likely help guarantee the piston engine's continued survival.Read Replies (0)
By BeauHD from Slashdot's spirit-in-the-sky department
Stephanie Pappas reports via Live Science how you can watch Wednesday's "Super Blue Blood Moon" eclipse: The eclipse will occur in the wee hours of the morning on Wednesday, Jan. 31, when the full moon will pass through the Earth's shadow. Viewers on Earth will see the face of the moon turn a murky red. On the West Coast, totality (the full shading of the moon) will occur at 4:51 a.m. PST until 6:08 a.m. PST. Before that, the moon will enter the outer portion of the Earth's shadow, or penumbra, at 2:51 a.m. PST. The real show will become visible starting at 3:48 a.m. PST, when the moon will be entering the umbra, or central portion of Earth's shadow, and a dark shadow will move over the face of the moon. The moon will leave the umbra at 7:11 a.m. PST. East Coasters can catch the partial lunar eclipse before dawn, but they will miss totality because the moon will have set below the horizon by 7:06 a.m. EST. To see the shadow of the Earth become visible on the moon's face, look up at 6:31 a.m. EST; by 6:48 a.m. EST, the moon will be entering the umbra, or central portion of the shadow, which should make the color change more apparent.
For viewers in the Central and Mountain time zones, the moon will set either during the total eclipse or while the satellite is exiting the Earth's shadow. The moon enters the dark umbra at about 5:48 a.m. CST and will hit totality slightly before moonset, at 6:51 a.m. CST. The umbra will appear at 4:48 a.m. MST, and the moon will enter totality at 5:51 a.m. MST. Viewers in the Mountain time zone will also get the chance to see the middle of totality, when the moon is up to 100,000 times fainter than usual, at 6:29 a.m. The eclipse will end slightly before moonset, at 7:07 a.m. MST. Viewers in Alaska and Hawaii will get a full dose of totality, too, but they'll have to be very early birds or night owls. Totality begins at 3:51 a.m. AKST and ends at 5:05 a.m. AKST. Totality hits at 2:51 a.m. HST and will be over by 4:05 a.m. HST.Read Replies (0)
By BeauHD from Slashdot's pocket-sized department
An anonymous reader quotes a report from Ars Technica: A few years back, a company called Oxford Nanopore announced it was developing a radically different way of sequencing DNA. Its approach involved taking single strands of the double helix and stuffing them through a protein pore. With a small bit of current flowing across the pore, the four bases of DNA each created a distinct (if tiny) change in the voltage as it passed through. These could be used to read the DNA one base at a time as it wiggled through the pore. After several years of slow progress, Oxford Nanopore announced that its sequencing hardware would be as distinctive as its wetware: a USB device that could fit comfortably in a person's hand. As the first devices went out to users, it became clear that the device had some pros and cons. On the plus side, the device was quick and could be used without requiring a large facility to support it. It could also read very long stretches of DNA at once. But the downside was significant: it made lots of mistakes.
With a few years of experience, people are now starting to learn to make the most of the devices, as demonstrated by a new paper in which researchers use it to help sequence a human genome. By using the machine's long reads -- in one case, nearly 900,000 bases from one DNA molecule -- the authors were able to get data out of areas of the human genome that resisted characterization before. And they were able to distinguish between the two sets of chromosomes (one from mom, one from dad) and locate areas of epigenetic control in many areas of the genome. In light of all the distinct information it can provide, the machine's error rate is seeming like less of a problem.Read Replies (0)
By BeauHD from Slashdot's industry-shocking department
Today, Amazon, along with Berkshire Hathaway and JPMorgan, announced a plan to launch an independent company that will offer healthcare services to the companies' employees at a lower cost. The venture, which will be managed by executives from the firms, will be run more like a non-profit, than a for-profit entity. Even though the plans are vague, the news caused the market value of 10 large, listed health insurance and pharmacy stocks to drop by a combined $30 billion in the first two hours of trading. Quartz reports: "The healthcare system is complex, and we enter into this challenge open-eyed about the degree of difficulty," said Amazon's Jeff Bezos in a statement. "Hard as it might be, reducing healthcare's burden on the economy while improving outcomes for employees and their families would be worth the effort. Success is going to require talented experts, a beginner's mind, and a long-term orientation." Warren Buffett, the CEO of Berkshire Hathaway, likened America's mushrooming healthcare costs to "a hungry tapeworm on the American economy." How the venture will provide less pricy healthcare to the 1.2 million employees of the participating companies isn't yet clear. The new company will leverage "technology solutions" that provide "simplified, high-quality and transparent healthcare at a reasonable cost." Not much else, including the name of the company, is known.Read Replies (0)
By BeauHD from Slashdot's cease-and-desist department
Today, Google announced that it removed more than 700,000 apps that violated Google Play's policies, or 70 percent more apps than the year before. "Google does not share total Google Play app numbers anymore, so we have to rely on third-party estimates to put this 70 percent figure into perspective," reports VentureBeat. "Statista pegs the total number of apps on Google Play at 2.6 million in December 2016 and 3.5 million in December 2017, a 35 percent growth. How many of those were bad apps, however, is anyone's guess." From the report: All we know is that the number of bad apps removed grew faster than the total number of apps in the store, which makes sense if you take into account the next statistic Google revealed today: 99 percent of apps with abusive content were identified and rejected before anyone could install them in 2017. This was possible, Google says, thanks to its implementation of machine learning models and techniques to detect abusive app content and behaviors such as impersonation, inappropriate content, or malware. The company claims that the odds of getting malware is 10x lower via Google Play than if you install apps from outside sources.Read Replies (0)
By BeauHD from Slashdot's new-policies department
Facebbook has a new advertising policy pertaining to cryptocurrency, binary options and initial coin offerings. The policy specifically prohibits ads that promote those types of products and services "that are frequently associated with misleading or deceptive practices," Facebook Product Management Director Rob Leathern wrote in a blog post today. TechCrunch reports: Cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin, Litecoin and Ethereum, and initial coin offerings have all hit the mainstream, which has promptly resulted in a number of scams. While Facebook says it wants people "to continue to discover and learn" about those products and services, "there are many companies who are advertising binary options, ICOs and cryptocurrencies that are not currently operating in good faith," Leathern wrote. Leathern recognizes that the policy is quite broad, but he says that's intentional. The plan is to continue working to better detect deceptive and misleading ads that pertain to cryptocurrencies, ICOs and binary options. Over time, Facebook says it will revisit the policy and its enforcement mechanisms as its signals improve. In the meantime, Facebook is encouraging people to report content that violates this policy.Read Replies (0)
By msmash from Slashdot's stranger-things department
An anonymous reader shares a report: Naked mole rats are adorably ugly creatures that challenge what we think we know about aging. Naked mole rats can live to be 30 years old. Further, female mole rats show no signs of menopause, and remain highly fertile even into their final years of life. Neurogenesis in naked mole rats continues over two decades, and their hearts and bones don't seem to change significantly over time. They rarely get cancer. Hell, they can even live up to 18 minutes utterly deprived of oxygen. [...] At Google's biotech company, Calico, in San Francisco, California, biologist Rochelle Buffenstein is looking to the naked survivors to unlock their secrets of aging. Buffenstein says naked mole rats violate to the Gompertz-Makeham law, and she has over 3,000 data points to back her conclusion. After reaching adulthood six months into their lives, a naked mole rat's mortality risk remained the same for the rest of its days her analysis revealed. Rather than grow exponentially, a naked mole rat's risk of death on any given day, no matter their point in life, hovered around 1 in 10,000. Surprisingly, their mortality risk even fell a little when they grew very old. In this sense, Buffenstein writes, naked mole rats have established themselves as "a non-aging mammal. This life-history trend is unprecedented for mammals," Buffenstein and colleagues wrote in a study published recently in the journal eLife.Read Replies (0)