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Last Three Years the Quietest For Tornadoes Ever
Posted by News Fetcher on December 14 '14 at 09:00 AM
By timothy from Slashdot's always-calm-before-a-storm department:
schwit1 writes The uncertainty of science: 2014 caps the quietest three year period for tornadoes on record, and scientists really don't understand why. "Harold Brooks, a meteorologist with the National Severe Storms Laboratory in Norman, Okla., said there's no consistent reason for the three-year lull — the calmest stretch since a similar quiet period in the late 1980s — because weather patterns have varied significantly from year to year. While 2012 tornado activity was likely suppressed by the warm, dry conditions in the spring, 2013 was on the cool side for much of the prime storm season before cranking up briefly in late May, especially in Oklahoma, SPC meteorologist Greg Carbin said. Then, activity quickly quieted for the summer of 2013."

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Vinyl Record Pressing Plants Struggle To Keep Up With Demand
Posted by News Fetcher on December 14 '14 at 07:45 AM
By timothy from Slashdot's excuse-for-owning-a-linn-sondek department:
An anonymous reader writes The WSJ reports that the revival of vinyl records, a several-year trend that many figured was a passing fad, has accelerated during 2014 with an astounding 49 percent sales increase over 2013 (line chart here). Some listeners think that vinyl reproduces sound better than digital, and some youngsters like the social experience of gathering around a turntable. The records are pressed at a handful of decades-old, labor-intensive factories that can't keep up with the demand; but since the increased sales still represent only about 2 percent of US music sales, there hasn't been a rush of capital investment to open new plants. Raw vinyl must now be imported to America from countries such as Thailand, since the last US supplier closed shop years ago. Meanwhile, an industry pro offers his take on the endless debate of audio differences between analog records and digital formats; it turns out there were reasons for limiting playing time on each side back in the day, apart from bands not having enough decent material.

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Google Suggests Separating Students With 'Some CS Knowledge' From Novices
Posted by News Fetcher on December 14 '14 at 07:00 AM
By timothy from Slashdot's go-to-the-head-of-the-other-class department:
theodp writes To address the challenge of rapidly increasing CS enrollments and increasing diversity, reports the Computing Education Blog, Google in November put out an RFP to universities for its invite-only 3X in 3 Years: CS Capacity Award program, which aims "to support faculty in finding innovative ways to address the capacity problem in their CS courses." In the linked-to RFP document, Google suggests that "students that have some CS background" should not be allowed to attend in-person intro CS courses where they "may be more likely to create a non-welcoming environment," and recommends that they instead be relegated to online courses. According to a recent NSF press release, this recommendation would largely exclude Asian and White boys from classrooms, which seems to be consistent with a Google-CodeCademy award program that offers $1,000 bonuses to teachers who get 10 or more high school kids to take a JavaScript course, but only counts students from "groups traditionally underrepresented in computer science (girls, or boys who identify as African American, Latino, American Indian or Alaska Native)." The project suggested in the Google RFP — which could be worth $1.5 million over 3 years to a large CS department — seems to embrace-and-extend a practice implemented at Harvey Mudd College years ago under President Maria Klawe, which divided the intro CS offering into separate sections based upon prior programming experience to — as the NY Times put it — reduce the intimidation factor of young men, already seasoned programmers, who dominated the class. Google Director of Education and University Relations Maggie Johnson, whose name appears on the CS Capacity RFP, is also on the Board of Code.org (where Klawe is coincidentally an Advisory Board member), the K-12 learn-to-code nonprofit that has received $3+ million from Google and many millions more from other tech giants and their execs. Earlier this week, Code.org received the blessing of the White House and NSF to train 25,000 teachers to teach CS, stirring unease among some educators concerned about the growing influence of corporations in public schools.

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Judge Rules Drug Maker Cannot Halt Sales of Alzheimer's Medicine
Posted by News Fetcher on December 14 '14 at 05:45 AM
By timothy from Slashdot's you-didn't-build-that department:
HughPickens.com writes Andrew Pollack reports at the NYT that a federal judge has blocked an attempt by the drug company Actavis to halt sales of an older form of its Alzheimer's disease drug Namenda in favor of a newer version with a longer patent life after New York's attorney general filed an antitrust lawsuit accusing the drug company of forcing patients to switch to the newer version of the widely used medicine to hinder competition from generic manufacturers. "Today's decision prevents Actavis from pursuing its scheme to block competition and maintain its high drug prices," says Eric Schneiderman, the New York attorney general. "Our lawsuit against Actavis sends a clear message: Drug companies cannot illegally prioritize profits over patients."

The case involves a practice called product hopping where brand name manufacturers make a slight alteration to their prescription drug (PDF) and engage in marketing efforts to shift consumers from the old version to the new to insulate the drug company from generic competition for several years. For its part Actavis argued that an injunction would be "unprecedented and extraordinary" and would cause the company "great financial harm, including unnecessary manufacturing and marketing costs." Namenda has been a big seller. In the last fiscal year, the drug generated $1.5 billion in sales. The drug costs about $300 a month.


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Facebook Drops Bing Search Results
Posted by News Fetcher on December 14 '14 at 04:30 AM
By timothy from Slashdot's capability-vs-provider department:
New submitter mrflash818 writes Facebook has dumped search results from Microsoft's Bing after the social networking giant earlier this week launched its own tool for finding comments and other information. According to Reuters, Facebook confirmed the move Friday. TechCrunch, drawing on the same Reuters story as VentureBeat, says "The report says that Facebook’s new search tool will give users the ability to filter through old comments and other information from friends. Facebook has been building out its search products for a long time, using Bing as an extra layer to provide results beyond the Interest Graph in an effort to avoid letting rival Google into the system."

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Proposed Theme Park Would Put BBC Shows On Display
Posted by News Fetcher on December 14 '14 at 04:00 AM
By timothy from Slashdot's holy-grail-and-life-of-brian-sections-would-suffice department:
According to the Guardian, a "developing deal" for a theme park located in Kent could transform various BBC shows into Disney-style in-person experiences. Says the article: BBC Worldwide, the commercial arm of the BBC, has struck a deal with a Kuwait-backed property developer to allow a range of its programmes and characters to be “brought to life” at a new £2bn theme park and holiday resort to be built by the Thames estuary in north Kent, in partnership with Paramount Pictures.

London Resort Company Holdings has signed a development agreement with BBC Worldwide to feature the corporation’s intellectual property at the London Paramount Entertainment Resort, which promises to “combine the glamour of Hollywood with the best of British culture."


Shows named include Top Gear, Sherlock, and Dr. Who; I think I'd rather visit a theme park that was entirely based on Monty Python's Flying Circus, but a Top Gear racetrack or simulator would be fun.

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OpenMotics Offers Open Source (and Open Hardware) Home Automation
Posted by News Fetcher on December 13 '14 at 10:30 PM
By timothy from Slashdot's here-are-your-diagrams department:
Home automation is a recurring topic around here; we've had stories about X-10-based home-brewed systems, a protocol designed for automation, and more than a few Ask Slashdots. Now, an anonymous reader writes OpenMotics is an open source home automation hardware and software system that offers features like switching lights and outputs, multi-zone heating and cooling, power measurements, and automated actions. The system encompasses both open source software and hardware. For interoperability with other systems, the OpenMotics Gateway provides an API through which various actions can be executed. The project was open sourced 2 years ago and was started about 10 years. The choice to open source the project was very conscious: we want to offer a system where users are in full control over their home automation system.

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The Shale Boom Won't Stop Climate Change; It Could Make It Worse
Posted by News Fetcher on December 13 '14 at 07:30 PM
By timothy from Slashdot's goes-one-narrative department:
Lasrick writes Energy expert H-Holger Rogner walks through the realities of the shale-gas boom, the 'game-changer' that has brought about a drop in energy prices and greatly reduced carbon emissions. But despite the positive impact on carbon emissions, Rogner points out that the cheap gas brought about by fracking shale may already be affecting investments into renewable energy, nuclear energy, and energy efficiency by offering more attractive investment opportunities: 'At today's prices of $4 to $5 per million British thermal units, gas-fired electricity holds a definite competitive advantage over new nuclear construction and unsubsidized renewables.' But natural gas is still a fossil fuel that emits carbon dioxide. 'A much higher share of natural gas in the energy mix would eventually raise emissions again, especially if gas not only displaces coal but also non-fossil energy sources. Moreover, methane, the chief component of natural gas, is itself a heat-trapping greenhouse gas with 25 times the warming effect of carbon dioxide. If total methane leakage—from drilling through end use—is greater than about 4 percent, that could negate any climate benefits of switching from coal and oil to gas.' Terrific information.

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Blade Runner 2 Script Done, Harrison Ford Says "the Best Ever"
Posted by News Fetcher on December 13 '14 at 05:00 PM
By timothy from Slashdot's you're-in-a-desert-walking-along-in-the-sand department:
BarbaraHudson (3785311) writes "It's been more than 30 years, but finally the script for Blade Runner 2 is done. Original interview with Ridley Scott on MTV. Links for those who don't want to watch the interview. If you're worried that the upcoming Blade Runner sequel won't measure up to the 1982 sci-fi cult classic, rest assured. Harrison Ford apparently thinks the script is "the best thing (he's) ever read." Although Scott is debating whether or not he'll direct the sequel, it looks like Ford will most certainly be reprising his role as Rick Deckard."

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Kawa 2.0 Supports Scheme R7RS
Posted by News Fetcher on December 13 '14 at 03:30 PM
By timothy from Slashdot's multi-lingual department:
First time accepted submitter Per Bothner (19354) writes "Kawa is a general-purpose Scheme-based programming language that runs on the Java platform. It combines the strengths of dynamic scripting languages (less boiler-plate, fast and easy start-up, a REPL, no required compilation step) with the strengths of traditional compiled languages (fast execution, static error detection, modularity, zero-overhead Java platform integration).

Version 2.0 was just released with many new features. Most notably is (almost) complete support for the latest Scheme specification, R7RS, which was ratified in late 2013.
This LWN article contains a brief introduction to Kawa and why it is worth a look."


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California's Hydrogen Highway Adds Another Station
Posted by News Fetcher on December 13 '14 at 02:30 PM
By timothy from Slashdot's chicken-meet-egg department:
plover writes Scientific American notes that a new hydrogen refueling station has been added in Sacramento, bringing the state's total to ten. This was timed to coincide with Toyota's Japan release of their first commercially available fuel cell vehicle, the Mirai. Toyota is scheduled to start selling cars in Northern California next year. I

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Canada Waives Own Rules, Helps Microsoft Avoid US Visa Problems
Posted by News Fetcher on December 13 '14 at 01:30 PM
By timothy from Slashdot's alle-menschen-sind-auslaender-fast-ueberall department:
Freshly Exhumed writes Citizenship and Immigration Canada has granted an unprecedented exemption to Microsoft that will allow the company to bring in an unspecified number of temporary foreign workers as trainees without first looking for Canadians to fill the jobs. No other company in any other field has been granted such an exemption, and it does not fall within any of the other categories where exemptions are normally given, according to a source familiar with process, effectively creating a new category: the Microsoft Exemption. Microsoft Canada did not immediately respond to questions about the deal, but in an interview earlier this year with Bloomberg Businessweek, Karen Jones, Microsoft's deputy general counsel, said the deal will allow Microsoft to bypass stricter U.S. rules on visas for foreign workers. The entire issue of temporary foreign workers has been as blisteringly hot a topic across Canada as it has been in the USA.

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No More Foamy Beer, Thanks To Magnets
Posted by News Fetcher on December 13 '14 at 12:30 PM
By timothy from Slashdot's is-there-anything-they-can't-do? department:
sciencehabit writes Few sights at a bar are more deflating than a bottle of beer overflowing with foam. This overfoaming, called gushing, arises when fungi infect the barley grains in beer's malt base. The microorganisms latch onto barley with surface proteins called hydrophobins. During the brewing process, these hydrophobins can attract carbon dioxide molecules produced by the mashed barley as it ferments, making the beer far too bubbly. Brewers try to tamp down the gushing by adding hops extract, an antifoaming agent that binds to the proteins first. Now, food scientists in Belgium have hit upon a technological solution: magnets. When the team applied a magnetic field to a malt infused with hops extract, the magnets dispersed the antifoaming agent into tinier particles. Those smaller particles were much more effective at binding to more hydrophobins, blocking carbon dioxide and decreasing gushing. During tests in a real brewery, the magnets decreased excess foaming so effectively that brewers needed much lower amounts of hops extract—a potential cost-saving measure. Future studies could explore whether magnetic fields alone could reduce foaming on an industrial scale, the team says.

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Ask Slashdot: Best Software To Revive PocketPCs With Windows Mobile 5-6?
Posted by News Fetcher on December 13 '14 at 12:00 PM
By timothy from Slashdot's don't-knock-interesting-hobbies department:
An anonymous reader writes I recently got my hands on some amazing (at their time) pieces of technology, PocketPCs from the 2005-2007 era. All run with Windows Mobile 5 or 6, have storage SD cards (up to 4GB), 300 to 600 MHz ARM CPUs and 64-124MB of RAM/ROM. GPS chip is Sirf STAR III. I want to know what software you would install on them. Maybe a good Linux with GUI - if anyone can point on how to make it work. Creating some apps myself would be nice, but dunno where to start for WM5. One of my ideas was to use them as daily organizer / shopping list / memory games for people that don't own smartphones. So if anyone remembers such apps, I'd appreciate a reference. Tips or ideas for memory training or smart games are also highly welcomed. The power within these toys is simply unused and it's a shame!

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Former iTunes Engineer Tells Court He Worked To Block Competitors
Posted by News Fetcher on December 13 '14 at 11:00 AM
By timothy from Slashdot's our-way-or-the-error-message-way department:
loftarasa (1066016) writes Yesterday, former engineer Rob Schultz unwillingly testified in court against Apple that he worked on project 'Candy' which 'intended to block 100% of non-iTunes clients' from 2006 to 2007. In his opinion, the work of his team contributed to create 'market dominance' for the iPod. Apple argues, and Schultz agrees, that its intentions were to improve iTunes, not curb competition.

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Airbus Attacked By French Lawmaker For Talking To SpaceX
Posted by News Fetcher on December 13 '14 at 10:00 AM
By timothy from Slashdot's eat-local department:
schwit1 (797399) writes A French lawmaker lashed out at Airbus for daring to consider SpaceX as a possible launch option for a European communications satellite. "The senator, Alain Gournac, who is a veteran member of the French Parliamentary Space Group, said he had written French Economy and Industry Minister Emmanuel Macron to protest Airbus' negotiations with Hawthorne, California-based Space Exploration Technologies Corp. for a late 2016 launch instead of contracting for a launch on a European Ariane 5 rocket. "The negotiations are all the more unacceptable given that, at the insistence of France, Europe has decided to adopt a policy of 'European preference' for its government launches," Gournac said. "This is called playing against your team, and it smacks of a provocation. It's an incredible situation that might lead customers to think we no longer have faith in Ariane 5 — and tomorrow, Ariane 6."

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Seagate Bulks Up With New 8 Terabyte 'Archive' Hard Drive
Posted by News Fetcher on December 13 '14 at 09:00 AM
By timothy from Slashdot's thought-you'd-like-to-see-my-vacation-slides department:
MojoKid writes Seagate's just-announced a new 'Archive' HDD series, one that offers densities of 5TB, 6TB, and 8TB. That's right, 8 Terabytes of storage on a single drive and for only $260 at that. Back in 2007, Seagate was one of the first to release a hard drive based on perpendicular magnetic recording, a technology that was required to help us break past the roadblock of achieving more than 250GB per platter. Since then, PMR has evolved to allow the release of drives as large as 10TB, but to go beyond that, something new was needed. That "something new" is shingled magnetic recording. As its name suggests, SMR aligns drive tracks in a singled pattern, much like shingles on a roof. With this design, Seagate is able to cram much more storage into the same physical area. It should be noted that Seagate isn't the first out the door with an 8TB model, however, as HGST released one earlier this year. In lieu of a design like SMR, HGST decided to go the helium route, allowing it to pack more platters into a drive.

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Cardboard Hits Half a Million Mark, Gets an SDK
Posted by News Fetcher on December 13 '14 at 08:15 AM
By timothy from Slashdot's or-you-can-make-it-yourself department:
PC Magazine reports (citing a blog post from project manager Andrew Nartker) that Google's Cardboard -- first introduced to some laughter -- is growing up, with a small but growing collection of compatible apps and a recently announced SDK. And while Cardboard itself is pretty low-tech (cardboard, rubber band, a magnet) and consequently cheap, the resulting VR experience is pretty good, which explains why more than 500,000 of them have now shipped.

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Peru Indignant After Greenpeace Damages Ancient Nazca Site
Posted by News Fetcher on December 13 '14 at 06:45 AM
By timothy from Slashdot's vanity-project department:
HughPickens.com writes The NYT reports that Peruvian authorities say Greenpeace activists have damaged the fragile, and restricted, landscape near the Nazca lines, ancient man-made designs etched in the Peruvian desert when they placed a large sign that promoted renewable energy near a set of lines that form the shape of a giant hummingbird. The sign was meant to draw the attention of world leaders, reporters and others who were in Lima, the Peruvian capital, for a United Nations summit meeting aimed at reaching an agreement to address climate change. Greenpeace issued a statement apologizing for the stunt at the archaeological site and its international executive director, Kumi Naidoo, flew to Lima to apologize for scarring one of Peru's most treasured national symbols. "We are not ready to accept apologies from anybody," says Luis Jaime Castillo, the vice minister for cultural heritage. "Let them apologize after they repair the damage."

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Google Earth API Will Be Retired On December 12, 2015
Posted by News Fetcher on December 13 '14 at 05:45 AM
By timothy from Slashdot's so-be-on-that-bus-to-mars department:
An anonymous reader writes Google [on Friday] announced it plans to retire the Google Earth API on December 12, 2015. The reason is simple: Both Chrome and Firefox are removing support for Netscape Plugin Application Programming Interface (NPAPI) plugins due to security reasons, so the API's death was inevitable. The timing makes sense. Last month, Google updated its plan for killing off NPAPI support in Chrome, saying that it would block all plugins by default in January and drop support completely in September. The company also revealed that the Google Earth plugin had dropped in usage from 9.1 percent of Chrome users in October 2013 to 0.1 percent in October 2014. Add dwindling cross-platform support (particularly on mobile devices), and we're frankly surprised the announcement didn't come sooner.

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