By BeauHD from Slashdot's new-kids-on-the-block department
Paleobiologists have confirmed today that life forms existed some 3.5 billion years ago. The new study, published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, uses the latest techniques to date the most aged remains available. Quartz reports: The research, led by paleobiologist William Schopf of the University of California-Los Angeles and geoscientist John Valley of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, has been in the works for what seems a long time to most, but which the academics know is merely a blink of the eye in terms of life on Earth. The specimens in question, mostly now-extinct bacteria and microbes, were found in 1982 at the Apex Chert, a rock formation in Western Australia, in a piece of rock. In 1993, based on radiometric analyses of the rock, and the shape of fossils, Schopf dated them as biological beings that existed 3.45 billion years ago. The rock held the earliest direct evidence of life, Schopf thought, and inferred from it that creatures existed over a billion years earlier than anyone previously believed. But some scientists argued that this claim was too speculative and that the microfossils, invisible to the naked eye, were really just weirdly-shaped bits of rock, strange minerals that only seem to contain biological specimens but do not.
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By BeauHD from Slashdot's faulty-wiring department
An anonymous reader quotes a report from NPR: Older brains may forget more because they lose their rhythm at night. During deep sleep, older people have less coordination between two brain waves that are important to saving new memories, a team reports in the journal Neuron. The finding appears to answer a long-standing question about how aging can affect memory even in people who do not have Alzheimer's or some other brain disease. The study was the result of an effort to understand how the sleeping brain turns short-term memories into memories that can last a lifetime, says Matt Walker, the author of the book Why We Sleep. "What is it about sleep that seems to perform this elegant trick of cementing new facts into the neural architecture of the brain?" To find out, Walker and a team of scientists had 20 young adults learn 120 pairs of words. "Then we put electrodes on their head and we had them sleep," he says. The electrodes let researchers monitor the electrical waves produced by the brain during deep sleep. They focused on the interaction between slow waves, which occur every second or so, and faster waves called sleep spindles, which occur more than 12 times a second. The next morning the volunteers took a test to see how many word pairs they could still remember. And it turned out their performance was determined by how well their slow waves and spindles had synchronized during deep sleep. Next, the team repeated the experiment with 32 people in their 60s and 70s. Their brain waves were less synchronized during deep sleep. They also remembered fewer word pairs the next morning. And, just like with young people, performance on the memory test was determined by how well their brain waves kept the beat, says Randolph Helfrich, an author of the new study and a postdoctoral fellow at UC Berkeley. The team also found a likely reason for the lack of coordination associated with aging: atrophy of an area of the brain involved in producing deep sleep. People with more atrophy had less rhythm in the brain, Walker says.Read Replies (0)
By BeauHD from Slashdot's first-in-line department
Media software maker Plex today announced a new incubator and community resource called Plex Labs. "The idea here is to help the company's internal passion projects gain exposure, along with those from Plex community members," reports TechCrunch. "Plex Labs is also unveiling its first product: a music player called Plexamp," which is designed to replace the long-lost Winamp. From the report: The player was built by several Plex employees in their free time, and is meant for those who use Plex for music. As the company explains in its announcement, the goal was to build a small player that sits unobtrusively on the desktop and can handle any music format. The team limited itself to a single window, making Plexamp the smaller Plex player to date, in terms of pixel size. Under the hood, Plexamp uses the open source audio player Music Player Daemon (MPD), along with a combination of ES7, Electron, React, and MobX technologies. The end result is a player that runs on either macOS or Windows and works like a native app. That is, you can use media keys for skipping tracks or playing and pausing music, and receive notifications. The player can also handle any music format, and can play music offline when the Plex server runs on your laptop.
The player also supports gapless playback, soft transitions and visualizations to accompany your music. Plus, the visualizations' palette of colors is pulled from the album art, Plex notes. Additionally, Plexamp makes use of a few up-and-coming features that will be included in Plex's subscription, Plex Pass, in the future. These new features are powering functionality like loudness leveling (to normalize playback volume), smart transitions (to compute the optimal overlap times between tracks), soundprints (to represent tracks visually), waveform seeking (to present a graphical view of tracks), Library stations, and artist radio.Read Replies (0)
By BeauHD from Slashdot's watch-your-mouth department
An anonymous reader quotes a report from PBS: U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention director Dr. Brenda Fitzgerald on Sunday addressed a report that President Donald Trump's administration had banned the CDC from using seven words or phrases in next year's budget documents. The terms are "fetus," "transgender," "vulnerable," "entitlement," "diversity," "evidence-based" and "science-based," according to a story first reported on Friday in The Washington Post. But Fitzgerald said in a series of tweets on Sunday said there are "no banned words," while emphasizing the agency's commitment to data-driven science. "CDC has a long-standing history of making public health and budget decisions that are based on the best available science and data and for the benefit of all people -- and we will continue to do so," she said.
A group of the agency's policy analysts said senior officials at the CDC informed them about the banned words on Thursday, according to the Post's report. In some cases, the analysts were reportedly given replacement phrases to use instead. But in follow-up reporting, The New York Times cited "a few" CDC officials who suggested the move was not meant as an outright ban, but rather, a technique to help secure Republican approval of the 2019 budget by eliminating certain words and phrases. A spokesperson for the Department of Health and Human Services, which oversees the CDC, said the reported decree on banned words was a misrepresentation.Read Replies (0)
By BeauHD from Slashdot's you're-not-imagining-it department
Freshly Exhumed writes: Two major backbone internet service providers -- Level 3 and Cogent -- appear to be suffering from massive outages and downgraded service, according to ISP monitoring service Downdetector. Users in San Francisco, Los Angeles, Chicago, Boston, Dallas, Atlanta, New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore, and Washington, D.C. are apparently being hit the hardest. Comcast is also said to be affected to a lesser degree. "Backbone internet service providers work directly with large internet platforms like Netflix to deliver large amounts of data across networks, and also work behind the scenes of consumer-facing ISPs," reports Slate. "Since the internet is an interconnected mess of wires, disruptions with Level 3 and Cogent could impact service for Comcast and Verizon users in turn."Read Replies (0)
By BeauHD from Slashdot's crowd-control department
Tesla has issued a new policy called Supercharger Fair Use, which prohibits new commercial drivers from using the red-and-white charging ports. The reason behind this new policy is to help alleviate congestion and improve the experience for others who rely on the Supercharging services. The Verge reports: Tesla says that the stations are intended for drivers who don't have ready options for charging at home or at work, and that when they're not used for this purpose, "it negatively impacts the availability of Supercharging services for others." Thus, the new policy says that for vehicles purchased after December 15th, drivers who plan to use their vehicles as a taxi, for ridesharing, commercial delivery or transportation, governmental purposes, or other commercial ventures won't be permitted to use the free stations. The company tracks usage and driver behavior, and if they find that someone isn't complying with the policy, they might be asked to stop, and simply limit or block one's vehicle from the stations in certain instances. The policy went into effect on Friday, December 15th, 2017. A Tesla spokesperson said that the company does "encourage the use of Teslas for commercial purposes," and that they will work with drivers to find other places to charge their vehicles. The policy carve out an exception, saying that some stations might be excluded, depending on local circumstances.Read Replies (0)
By BeauHD from Slashdot's back-and-forth department
An anonymous reader quotes a report from Ars Technica: U.S. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said he will force a vote on a bill that would reinstate the Federal Communications Commission's net neutrality rules. Legislation to reverse the repeal "doesn't need the support of the majority leader," Schumer said during a press conference Friday, according to The Hill. "We can bring it to the floor and force a vote. So, there will be a vote to repeal the rule that the FCC passed." The Federal Communications Commission voted to repeal its own net neutrality rules last week, and the repeal will take effect 60 days after it is published in the Federal Register. But Congress can overturn agency actions by invoking the Congressional Review Act (CRA), as it did earlier this year in order to eliminate consumer broadband privacy protections. A successful CRA vote in this case would invalidate the FCC's net neutrality repeal and prevent the FCC from issuing a similar repeal in the future. This would force the FCC to maintain the rules and the related classification of ISPs as common carriers under Title II of the Communications Act. A CRA vote lets Congress "undo regulations with a simple majority," without the possibility of a filibuster, as a Washington Post story said in February. Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) announced a plan to file the CRA resolution last week. "It's in our power to do that and that's the beauty of the CRA rule," Schumer said. "Sometimes we don't like them, when they used it to repeal some of the pro-environmental regulations, but now we can use the CRA to our benefit, and we intend to."Read Replies (0)
By msmash from Slashdot's closer-look department
Online retail companies should ban the sale of mini mobile phones designed to be smuggled into prisons, said justice secretary David Lidington on Monday. From a report: Often marketed as "Beat the Boss phones", the tiny feature phones can be bought for around $25 to $40 online on sites including Amazon, Ebay and Gumtree. On the inside, they can change hands for up to $670. The phones, which can be as small as lipsticks, are popular with prison inmates due to their discreet size and lack of metal, which allows them to beat metal detectors. Mobile phones are banned in prisons, in part because they allow inmates to continue criminal activities while they're locked up. But around 20,000 phones and SIM cards were seized by prison guards in 2016, with mini mobiles making up around a third of these.Read Replies (0)
By msmash from Slashdot's a-step department
An anonymous reader writes: As part of the December 2017 Patch Tuesday, Microsoft has shipped an Office update that disables the DDE feature in Word applications, after several malware campaigns have abused this feature to install malware. DDE stands for Dynamic Data Exchange, and this is an Office feature that allows an Office application to load data from other Office applications. For example, a Word file can update a table by pulling data from an Excel file every time the Word file is opened. DDE is an old feature, which Microsoft has superseded via the newer Object Linking and Embedding (OLE) toolkit, but DDE is still supported by Office applications. The December Patch Tuesday disables DDE only in Word, but not Excel or Outlook. The reason is that several cybercrime and spam groups have jumped on this technique, which is much more effective at running malicious code when compared to macros or OLE objects, as it requires minimal interaction with a UI popup that many users do not associate with malware. For Outlook and Excel, Microsoft has published instructions on how users can disable DDE on their own, if they don't want this feature enabled.Read Replies (0)
By EditorDavid from Slashdot's how-we-gonna-pay department
An anonymous reader quotes Fortune:
A new study suggests that nearly a decade of housing shortages and rising rents in the U.S. may be reversing course... From 2010 to 2016, America added nearly a million renter households a year. But the census showed a decline in that growth rate in 2016, and some early 2017 data shows an actual decline in renters so far in 2017. Recent census data also shows a rise in vacancy rates.
According to Harvard's Joint Center for Housing Studies, that's because foreclosure numbers have declined and young homebuyers are re-entering the market. Home ownership in the U.S. took a big hit from the foreclosure crisis and Great Recession of 2007-2012, while the rental market struggled to meet the new demand. Other insights in the report mostly follow from that shifting reality. Rents are increasing more slowly. Fewer renter households are "cost-burdened," or paying more than 30% of their income in rent, than they were two years ago.
The report also predicts that many high-income households may continue renting rather than buying a home. But it'd be interesting to hear how that compares to Slashdot readers around the world. Are you renting or buying -- and if renting, do you feel that your rent is too high?Read Replies (0)