By msmash from Slashdot's shape-of-things-to-come department
By msmash from Slashdot's closer-look department
Erika Engelhaupt, National Geographic: A few years ago, a man began telling his family members a horrifying tale: There are bugs living inside him. [...] He shows the classic signs of what scientists call delusory parasitosis, or Ekbom syndrome, an unwavering but incorrect belief that the patient's body has been infested with something. For years, entomologists have insisted that these delusions aren't as rare as psychiatrists and the public may think. And now, a study by the Mayo Clinic suggests they're right. The first population-based study of the condition's prevalence suggests that about 27 out of a hundred thousand Americans a year have delusions of an infestation. That would mean around 89,000 people in the U.S. right now are plagued by the condition. For many sufferers of such delusions, the infestation takes the form of insects or mites, usually tiny and often described as biting or crawling on the skin. Others report feeling worms or leeches or some kind of unknown parasite. Many of the afflicted turn up, eventually, in an entomologist's office. And as the entomologists tell them, only two kinds of arthropods actually infest humans: lice and a mite that causes scabies. Both are easy to identify and cause characteristic symptoms. Bedbugs or fleas might infest a house, but they don't actually live on or inside the human body; they just feed on us and leave. Likewise, there are mites that live on our skin, especially the face, but they're a normal part of everyone's body, much like the bacteria living in our guts.Read Replies (0)
By msmash from Slashdot's After-Murakami department
Roland Kelts, writing for The Times Literary Supplement: At fifty-one, Hideo Furukawa is among the generation of Japanese writers I'll call "A. M.," for "After Murakami." Haruki Murakami is Japan's most internationally renowned living author. His work has been translated into over fifty languages, his books sell in the millions, and there is annual speculation about his winning the Nobel Prize. Over four decades, he has become one of the most famous living Japanese people on the planet. It's impossible to overestimate the depth of his influence on contemporary Japanese literature and culture, but it is possible to characterize it. The American poet Louise Gluck once said that younger writers couldn't appreciate the shadow cast over her generation by T. S. Eliot. Murakami in Japan is something like that. Yet unlike Eliot in English-speaking nations, Murakami in Japan has been a liberator, casting rays of light instead of a pall, breathing gusts of fresh air into Japan's literary landscape. Now on the verge of seventy, he generates little of Harold Bloom's "anxiety of influence" among his younger peers. For them he has opened three key doors: to licentious play with the Japanese language; to the binary worlds of life in today's Japanese culture, a hybrid of East and West; and to a mode of personal behaviour -- cool, disciplined, solitary -- in stark contrast to the cliques and clubs of Japan's past literati. Japan's current literary and cultural scene takes in "light novels," brisk narratives that lean heavily on sentimentality and romance and often feature visuals drawn from manga-style aesthetics, and dystopian post-apocalyptic stories of intimate violence, such as Natsuo Kirino's suspense thrillers, Out and Grotesque. Post-Fukushima narratives in film and fiction explore a Japan whose tightly managed surfaces disfigure the animal spirits of its citizens; and many of the strongest voices and characters in this recent trend have been female.Read Replies (0)
By msmash from Slashdot's how-about-that department
DC Comics announced earlier this week that it has partnered with Walmart to revive its DC Giant range as a 100-page anthology format comic book. Four new series revolving around Batman, Superman, the Justice League, and the Teen Titans will launch solely in the retail stores starting July 1. From a report: Starting next month, each of the new monthly series will collect stories from the past two decades of DC Comics publishing -- including stories released as recently as this year -- revolving around each book's titular characters, as well as a few side stories featuring guest characters like Harley Quinn, the Terrifics, or even the recently introduced Sideways from the Dark Matter publishing initiative. But on top of that, each series will also include new ongoing stories from top DC creatives like Tom King, Andy Kubert, and the recently-arrived Brian Michael Bendis -- setting the Giant line apart from Marvel and Archie's digest series, which exclusively feature reprinted stories.Read Replies (0)
By msmash from Slashdot's somethings-never-change department
Warner Bros is cracking down on local Harry Potter fan festivals around the country, saying it's necessary to halt unauthorized commercial activity. From a report: Fans, however, liken the move to Dementors sucking the joy out of homegrown fun, while festival directors say they'll transfigure the events into generic celebrations of magic. "It's almost as if Warner Bros. has been taken over by Voldemort, trying to use dark magic to destroy the light of a little town," said Sarah Jo Tucker, a 21-year-old junior at Chestnut Hill College, which hosts a Quidditch tournament that coincides with the annual suburban Philadelphia festival. Philip Dawson, Chestnut Hill's business district director, said Warner Bros. reached out to his group in May, letting them know new guidelines prohibit festivals' use of any names, places or objects from the series. That ruled out everything from meet-and-greet with Dumbledore and Harry to Defense Against the Dark Arts classes. Related story, from 18 years ago: Harry Potter Sites vs. Warner Brothers.Read Replies (0)
By msmash from Slashdot's closer-look department
Among the more insidious gifts that video games have bestowed on modern culture is the loot box. The New Yorker: A loot box is like an in-game lottery ticket: for a small fee, involving real money, a player can purchase an assortment of items that promise to enhance the game experience. Loot boxes are an appealing source of income for game developers, and they've been integral to the rise of smartphone "freemium" games, which are free to download but can't be fully enjoyed unless the player pays for in-app boosts. For pretty much everyone else, loot boxes are a scourge. Players hate that they have to pay extra just to be competitive. Parents hate discovering, too late, that several hundred dollars in Clash Royale arena packs have been charged to their credit card. And, increasingly, government regulators are thinking that loot boxes look too much like gambling -- gambling aimed at kids, no less. Belgium and the Netherlands have banned in-game loot boxes as a form of gambling, and Minnesota recently introduced a bill that would ban the sale of games containing loot boxes to people under the age of eighteen. The concern isn't merely prudish. In a finding that will surprise virtually no one, psychologists in New Zealand have discovered that loot boxes do indeed bear troubling similarities to gambling. The researchers, led by Aaron Drummond, of Massey University, looked at twenty-two console games released between 2016 and 2017, from Overwatch and FIFA 18 to Madden N.F.L. 18 and Star Wars Battlefront II. They noted how closely the loot-box system of each game aligned with five standard psychological criteria for gambling, including whether the loot box must be bought with real money, whether it has tangible value in the game or can be cashed out, and whether its contents are randomly determined.Read Replies (0)
By msmash from Slashdot's closer-look department
A rising number of journals that claim to review submissions do not bother to do so. Not coincidentally, this seems to be leading some academics to inflate their publication lists with papers that might not pass such scrutiny. The Economist: Experts debate how many journals falsely claim to engage in peer review. Cabells, an analytics firm in Texas, has compiled a blacklist of those which it believes are guilty. According to Kathleen Berryman, who is in charge of this list, the firm employs 65 criteria to determine whether a journal should go on it -- though she is reluctant to go into details. Cabells' list now totals around 8,700 journals, up from a bit over 4,000 a year ago. Another list, which grew to around 12,000 journals, was compiled until recently by Jeffrey Beall, a librarian at the University of Colorado. Using Mr Beall's list, Bo-Christer Bjork, an information scientist at the Hanken School of Economics, in Helsinki, estimates that the number of articles published in questionable journals has ballooned from about 53,000 a year in 2010 to more than 400,000 today. He estimates that 6% of academic papers by researchers in America appear in such journals.Read Replies (0)
By EditorDavid from Slashdot's back-to-the-browser department
Another high-profile endorsement for Firefox -- this time from the lead consumer technology writer for The New York Times. (Alternate link here).
The web has reached a new low. It has become an annoying, often toxic and occasionally unsafe place to hang out. More important, it has become an unfair trade: You give up your privacy online, and what you get in return are somewhat convenient services and hyper-targeted ads. That's why it may be time to try a different browser.
Remember Firefox...? About two years ago, six Mozilla employees were huddled around a bonfire one night in Santa Cruz, Calif., when they began discussing the state of web browsers. Eventually, they concluded there was a "crisis of confidence" in the web. "If they don't trust the web, they won't use the web," Mark Mayo, Mozilla's chief product officer, said in an interview.... After testing Firefox for the last three months, I found it to be on a par with Chrome in most categories. In the end, Firefox's thoughtful privacy features persuaded me to make the switch and make it my primary browser.
The Times cites privacy features like Firefox's "Facebook Container," which prevents Facebook from tracking you after you've left their site.
While both Chrome and Firefox have tough security (including sandboxing), Cooper Quintin, a security researcher for the Electronic Frontier Foundation, tells the Times that Google "is fundamentally an advertising company, so it's unlikely that they will ever have a business interest in making Chrome more privacy friendly."Read Replies (0)
By EditorDavid from Slashdot's free-as-in-labor department
"Open source maintainers are exhausted and rarely paid," writes TechCrunch's editorial manager. "A new generation wants to change the economics."
An anonymous reader quotes their report:
Tidelift is designed to offer assurances "around areas like security, licensing, and maintenance of software," CEO Donald Fischer explained... In addition, Tidelift handles the mundane tasks of setting up open source for commercialization such as handling licensing issues... Open Collective wants to open source the monetization of open source itself. Open Collective is a non-profit platform that provides tools to "collectives" to receive money while also offering mechanisms to allow the members of those collectives to spend their money in a democratic and transparent way.
TechCrunch warns that "It's not just that people are free riding, it's often that they don't even realize it. Software engineers can easily forget just how much craftsmanship has gone into the open source code that powers the most basic of applications...
< article continued at Slashdot's free-as-in-labor department
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By EditorDavid from Slashdot's meet-the-midi-chlorians department
In an interview with James Cameron, George Lucas reveals what he'd planed for the final three Star Wars films:
"[The next three 'Star Wars' films] were going to get into a microbiotic world," he told Cameron. "There's this world of creatures that operate differently than we do. I call them the Whills. And the Whills are the ones who actually control the universe. They feed off the Force...." In terms of his storytelling, Lucas regarded individuals as "vehicles for the Whills to travel around in... And the conduit is the midi-chlorians. The midi-chlorians are the ones that communicate with the Whills. The Whills, in a general sense, they are the Force."
Lucas is confident that had he kept his company, the Whills-focused films "would have been done. Of course, a lot of the fans would have hated it, just like they did 'Phantom Menace' and everything, but at least the whole story from beginning to end would be told."
Lucas acknowledges in the interview that "Everybody hated it in 'Phantom Menace' [when] we started talking about midi-chlorians," prompting one Ars Technica editor to add "Because it was a really dumb idea." He speculates that if the final three Star Wars movies followed Lucas's original plan, "Imagine, if you can, our heroes shrinking down like the Fantastic Voyage to go meet some midi-chlorians."
Knowing Lucas's plans for the franchise "should make every Star Wars fan send a note of gratitude to whoever at Disney decided to buy the franchise and take it away and out from under Lucas' control."Read Replies (0)
By EditorDavid from Slashdot's Nathan-vs-NASA department
An anonymous reader quotes Qz:
NASA is not going to be able to find all the asteroids big enough to cause serious devastation on Earth by 2020 -- or even 2033. Also: For a hypothetical attempt to send a spacecraft to divert an seriously dangerous incoming asteroid, we'll need a ten year heads-up to build it and get it to the asteroid.
The good news? They're working on it. "If a real threat does arise, we are prepared to pull together the information about what options might work and provide that information to decision-makers," Lindley Johnson, NASA's Planetary Defense Officer, told reporters.
But NASA's methodology is now being criticized by former Microsoft CTO Nathan Myhrvold -- in the peer-reviewed journal Icarus. An anonymous reader quotes Scientific American:
Since 2016, Nathan Myhrvold has argued that there are fatal flaws in the data from NASA's NEOWISE mission to hunt space rocks... NASA is working to develop a follow-up space telescope that would use the same scientific approach to fulfill a mandate from the US Congress to discover nearly all of the space rocks that could pose a threat to Earth.
After 18 months of peer review, and plenty of acrimony on both sides, Myhrvold's latest critique appeared on 22 May on the website of the journal Icarus. Among other things, he argues that NEOWISE estimates of asteroid diameters should not be trusted -- a crucial challenge, because the size of an asteroid determines how much damage it would cause if it hit Earth. "These observations are the best we're going to have for a very long time," says Myhrvold. "And they weren't really analysed very well at all."
NASA hasn't responded in detail to Myhrvold's criticism, though a June 14th statement said their team "stands by its data and scientific findings," noting that they'd also been published in several peer-reviewed journals.Read Replies (0)
By EditorDavid from Slashdot's zero-cool department
America's Department of Defense "has quietly empowered the United States Cyber Command to take a far more aggressive approach to defending the nation against cyberattacks, a shift in strategy that could increase the risk of conflict with the foreign states that sponsor malicious hacking groups," reports the New York Times. Long-time Slashdot reader TheSauce shares their report:
In the spring, as the Pentagon elevated the command's status, it opened the door to nearly daily raids on foreign networks, seeking to disable cyberweapons before they can be unleashed, according to strategy documents and military and intelligence officials... The new strategy envisions constant, disruptive "short of war" activities in foreign computer networks... "Continuous engagement imposes tactical friction and strategic costs on our adversaries, compelling them to shift resources to defense and reduce attacks"...
The risks of escalation -- of U.S. action in foreign networks leading to retaliatory strikes against U.S. banks, dams, financial markets or communications networks -- are considerable, according to current and former officials... The chief risk is that the internet becomes a battleground of all-against-all, as nations not only place "implants" in the networks of their adversaries -- something the United States, China, Russia, Iran and North Korea have done with varying levels of sophistication -- but also begin to engage in daily attack and counterattack.
An article shared by schwit1 notes that officials in the Obama administration "were also worried that a vigorous cyber response...could escalate into a full scale cyber war."
Yet the Times reports that this new policy reflects "a widespread view that the United States has mounted an inadequate defense against the rising number of attacks aimed at America."Read Replies (0)
By EditorDavid from Slashdot's bleep-bleep-bloop-play-ball department
Long-time Slashdot reader Esther Schindler writes: Everyone who watches sports spends some amount of time yelling at the umpire or sports referee. For the past few years we've also been shouting, "Replace that ump with a robot!"
But is it technically feasible? Is the current level of AI and robotics tech up to the job? This article starts with the assumption that someone seriously wants to create a robot umpire or sports referee and then evaluates whether it possible to build an accurate and trustworthy augmented reality solution today.
The article points out that professional tennis matches already apply AI to high-definition video feeds from up to six different cameras to dispense binding judgments on whether a ball was in or out. At the same time, not every officiating decision in every sport is so easily automated, since AI "can't yet handle calls that hinge on judgment of players' intent."
But there's a larger question: do we really want to remove those human watchers from our sports? "Sports is a human activity," argues a professor of social sciences at Cardiff University in Wales, suggesting that human officials continue a cultural tradition which reminds us of who we are. "Humans are imperfect; that's OK."
What do Slashdot's readers think? Should professional sports switch to robot referees?Read Replies (0)