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Science

Making Buildings, Cars and Planes From Materials Based on Plant Fibres (economist.com) 50

Materials-science researchers are finding that plant fibres can add durability and strength to substances already used in the construction of buildings and in goods that range from toys and furniture to cars and aircraft. From a report: A big bonus is that, because plants lock up carbon in their structure, using their fibres to make things should mean less carbon dioxide is emitted. The production of concrete alone represents some 5% of man-made global CO{-2} emissions, and making 1kg of plastic from oil produces 6kg of the greenhouse gas. Start with the carrots. These are being investigated by Mohamed Saafi at Lancaster University, in England. Dr Saafi and his colleagues do not use whole carrots, but rather what they call "nanoplatelets" that have been extracted from carrots discarded by supermarkets or as waste from food-processing factories. Sugar-beet peelings are also a useful source of nanoplatelets.

The researchers are working with CelluComp, a British firm that produces such platelets for industrial applications, including as an additive that helps toughen the surface of paint as it dries. Each platelet is only a few millionths of a metre across. It consists of a sheet of stiff cellulose fibres. Although the fibres are minute, they are strong. By combining platelets with other materials a powerful composite can be produced. Dr Saafi is mixing the platelets into cement, which is made by burning limestone and clay together at high temperature. To turn cement into concrete it is mixed with aggregates such as sand, stones and crushed rocks, which act as reinforcement, and with water, which reacts with the chemicals in the cement to form a substance called calcium silicate hydrate. This starts off as a thick gel, but then hardens into a solid matrix that binds the aggregates together.

Space

Did Octopuses Come From Outer Space? 256

A scientific paper, originally published in March, from peer-reviewed journal Progress in Biophysics and Molecular Biology has found its way in this week's news-cycle. The paper, which is co-written by 33 authors including molecular immunologist Edward Steele and astrobiologist Chandra Wickramasinghe, suggests that octopuses could be aliens, adding legitimacy to a belief, which otherwise has been debunked several times in the recent years.

An excerpt from the paper, which makes the bold claim: The genetic divergence of Octopus from its ancestral coleoid sub-class is very great ... Its large brain and sophisticated nervous system, camera-like eyes, flexible bodies, instantaneous camouflage via the ability to switch color and shape are just a few of the striking features that appear suddenly on the evolutionary scene. [...] It is plausible then to suggest they [octopuses] seem to be borrowed from a far distant 'future' in terms of terrestrial evolution, or more realistically from the cosmos at large."Ephrat Livni of Quartz questions the basis of the finding: To make matters even more strange, the paper posits that octopuses could have arrived on Earth in "an already coherent group of functioning genes within (say) cryopreserved and matrix protected fertilized octopus eggs." And these eggs might have "arrived in icy bolides several hundred million years ago." The authors admit, though, that "such an extraterrestrial origin...of course, runs counter to the prevailing dominant paradigm." Indeed, few in the scientific community would agree that octopuses come from outer space. But the paper is not just about the provenance of cephalopods. Its proposal that octopuses could be extraterrestrials is just a small part of a much more extensive discussion of a theory called "panspermia," which has its roots in the ideas of ancient Greece. Newsweek spoke with Avi Loeb, the Frank B. Baird Jr. Professor of Science at Harvard University, who told the publication that the paper has raised "an interesting but controversial possibility." However, he added, that it offers no "indisputable proof" that the Cambrian explosion is the result of panspermia.

Further reading: Cosmos magazine has outlined some flaws in the assumptions that the authors made in the paper. It has also looked into the background of some of the authors. The magazine also points out that though the paper has made bold claims, it has yet to find support or corroboration from the scientific community. News outlet Live Science has also questioned the findings.
AI

Hilarious (and Terrifying?) Ways Algorithms Have Outsmarted Their Creators (popularmechanics.com) 75

"Robot brains will challenge the fundamental assumptions of how we humans do things," argues Popular Mechanics, noting that age-old truism "that computers will always do literally, exactly what you tell them to." A paper recently published to ArXiv highlights just a handful of incredible and slightly terrifying ways that algorithms think... An AI project which pit programs against each other in games of five-in-a-row Tic-Tac-Toe on an infinitely expansive board surfaced the extremely successful method of requesting moves involving extremely long memory addresses which would crash the opponent's computer and award a win by default...

These amusing stories also reflect the potential for evolutionary algorithms or neural networks to stumble upon solutions to problems that are outside-the-box in dangerous ways. They're a funnier version of the classic AI nightmare where computers tasked with creating peace on Earth decide the most efficient solution is to exterminate the human race. The solution, the paper suggests, is not fear but careful experimentation.

The paper (available as a free download) contains 27 anecdotes, which its authors describe as a "crowd-sourced product of researchers in the fields of artificial life and evolutionary computation. Popular Science adds that "the most amusing examples are clearly ones where algorithms abused bugs in their simulations -- essentially glitches in the Matrix that gave them superpowers."
Transportation

Bay Area Cities Consider Rideshare Tax On Uber, Lyft (arstechnica.com) 92

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Ars Technica: A local city council member is beginning to float the idea of taxing ridehailing companies like Uber and Lyft as a possible way to raise millions of dollars and help pay for local public transportation and infrastructure improvements. If the effort is successful, Oakland could become the first city in California -- Uber and Lyft's home state -- to impose such a tax. However, it's not clear whether Oakland or any other city in the Golden State has the authority to do so under current state rules. Councilwoman Rebecca Kaplan told the East Bay Express that she wants the city council to put forward a ballot measure that would tax such rides. A similar proposal in nearby San Francisco, projecting a fee of $0.20 to $1 per ride, would allow the city to collect an estimated $12.5 to $62.5 million annually. However, an October 2017 city analysis noted that San Francisco "cannot initiate locally without state authorizing legislation" and that the fee "may disproportionately impact lower-income households."
The Matrix

Nokia's Banana Phone From The Matrix is Back (theverge.com) 93

The Verge: Back in 1999, Keanu Reeves was famous for playing Neo in The Matrix, and not for looking sad on a bench. Nokia was also the "world's leading mobile phone supplier" back then, and it used this popularity to feature its Nokia 8110 "banana phone" in The Matrix film. At the time everyone who considered themselves cool (definitely me) wanted a Nokia phone just like Neo's, but most of us had to settle for the Nokia 7110 with its spring-loaded slider. Now HMD, makers of Nokia-branded phones, is bringing the Nokia 8110 back to life as a retro classic . Just like the Nokia 3310 that was a surprise hit at Mobile World Congress last year, the 8110 plays on the same level of nostalgia. The slightly curved handset has a slider that lets you answer and end calls, and HMD is creating traditional black and banana yellow versions. The Nokia 8110 runs on the Smart Feature OS, so this is a basic featurephone and you're not going to get access to the Android apps found on other Nokia Android smartphones. The Nokia 8110 will be available in May for just 79 euros ($97).
GNOME

Should Apps Replace Title Bars with Header Bars? (gnome.org) 362

Gnome contributor Tobias Bernard is on a crusade against title bars -- "the largely empty bars at the top of some application windows [that] contain only the window title and a close button." Instead he wants to see header bars -- "a newer, more flexible pattern that allows putting window controls and other UI elements in the same bar." Tobias Bernard writes: Header bars are client-side decorations (CSD), which means they are drawn by the app rather than the display server. This allows for better integration between application and window chrome. All GNOME apps (except for Terminal) have moved to header bars over the past few years, and so have many third-party apps. However, there are still a few holdouts.
He's announcing the CSD Initiative, "an effort to get apps (both GNOME and third-party) to drop title bars and adopt GNOME-style client-side decorations... The only way to solve this problem long-term is to patch applications upstream to not use title bars. So this is what we'll have to do."
  • Talk to the maintainers and convince them that this is a good idea
  • Do the design work of adapting the layout and make mockups
  • Figure out what is required at a technical level
  • Actually implement the new layout and get it merged

Implementation is already in progress for Firefox, though it has not yet been started for other high-priority apps like LibreOffice, GNOME Terminal, and Skype. "If you want to help with any of the above tasks," writes Tobias, "come talk to us on #gnome-design on IRC/Matrix."


Portables

Crowdfunded 'PowerWatch' Runs on Body Heat, Never Needs Charging (engadget.com) 81

Engadget reports on a new watch that suggests the possibility of a future without chargers: This thermal-powered wearable doesn't need one -- it gets energy by converting your body heat into electricity. It's been a year since I saw an early prototype of the PowerWatch -- a smart(ish) watch that tracks basic fitness metrics. Now, the self-proclaimed energy-harvesting company is finally ready to ship PowerWatches to the early adopters who backed its Indiegogo campaign...

Because its functions are pretty basic and its LCD screen is relatively low-powered, it doesn't take too much electricity to keep the watch running... The PowerWatch can not only tell the time, set alarms and timers but also track your activity and sleep... Matrix co-founder Douglas Tham said the PowerWatch will keep running for up to 12 months if you don't wear it, and a PowerSave mode kicks in to conserve energy by killing non-timekeeping functions.

Books

Ask Slashdot: What Is Your Favorite William Gibson Novel? 298

dryriver writes: When I first read William Gibson's Neuromancer and then his other novels as a young man back in the 1990s, I was blown away by Gibson's work. Everything was so fresh and out of the ordinary in his books. The writing style. The technologies. The characters and character names. The plotlines. The locations. The future world he imagined. The Matrix. It was unlike anything I had read before. A window into the far future of humanity. I had great hopes over the years that some visionary film director would take a crack at creating film versions of Neuromancer, Count Zero and Mona Lisa Overdrive . But that never happened. All sorts of big budget science fiction was produced for TV and the big screen since Neuromancer that never got anywhere near the brilliance of Gibson's future world. Gibson's world largely stayed on the printed page, and today very few people talk about Neuromancer, even though the world we live in, at times, appears headed in the exact direction Gibson described in his Sprawl trilogy. Why does hardly anybody talk about William Gibson anymore? His books describe a future that is much more technologically advanced than where we are in 2017, so it isn't like his future vision has become "badly dated." To get the conversation going, we rephrased dryriver's question... What is your favorite William Gibson novel?
Biotech

New Battery Technology Draws Energy Directly From The Human Body (bleepingcomputer.com) 98

An anonymous reader quotes BleepingComputer: A team of eleven scientists from UCLA and the University of Connecticut has created a new energy-storing device that can draw electrical power from the human body. What researchers created is a biological supercapacitor, a protein-based battery-like device that extracts energy from the human body and then releases it inside an electrical circuit â" the implantable medical device. According to a research paper published earlier this month, the supercapacitor is made up by a device called a "harvester" that operates by using the body's heat and movements to extract electrical charges from ions found in human body fluids, such as blood, serum, or urine.

As electrodes, the harvester uses a carbon nanomaterial called graphene, layered with modified human proteins. The electrodes collect energy from the human body, relay it to the harvester, which then stores it for later use. Because graphene sheets can be drawn in sheets as thin as a few atoms, this allows for the creation of utra-thin supercapacitors that could be used as alternatives to classic batteries. For example, the bio-friendly supercapacitors researchers created are thinner than a human hair, and are also flexible, moving and twisting with the human body.

Data Storage

New 'Spray-On' Memory Could Turn Everyday Items Into Digital Storage Devices (duke.edu) 38

Researchers at Duke University have developed "spray-on" digital memory using only an aerosol jet printer and nanoparticle inks. An anonymous reader quotes Duke Today: The device, which is analogous to a 4-bit flash drive, is the first fully-printed digital memory that would be suitable for practical use in simple electronics such as environmental sensors or RFID tags. And because it is jet-printed at relatively low temperatures, it could be used to build programmable electronic devices on bendable materials like paper, plastic or fabric...

The new material, made of silica-coated copper nanowires encased in a polymer matrix, encodes information not in states of charge but instead in states of resistance. By applying a small voltage, it can be switched between a state of high resistance, which stops electric current, and a state of low resistance, which allows current to flow. And, unlike silicon, the nanowires and the polymer can be dissolved in methanol, creating a liquid that can be sprayed through the nozzle of a printer.

Amazingly, its write speed is three microseconds, "rivaling the speed of flash drives." The information can be re-written many times, and the stored data can last for up to 10 years.
Movies

'The Matrix' Reboot: It's Finally Happened. Hollywood Has Run Out of All the Ideas (qz.com) 542

An anonymous reader shares a Quartz report: In our hearts, we all knew this day would come. Warner Bros. is planning a reboot of The Matrix just 18 years after the iconic sci-fi action film dazzled audiences around the world, according to the Hollywood Reporter. The Matrix films were lauded for their creativity, special effects, and distinct cyberpunk and manga influences. In total, the trilogy grossed over $1.6 billion worldwide. The Matrix will join other famous film properties -- Star Wars, Godzilla, Planet of the Apes, and Terminator among them -- receiving a recent franchise reboot or "reimagining." Others include RoboCop, Star Trek, Ghostbusters, and Jurassic Park. Meanwhile, reboots of Indiana Jones, Predator, Jumanji, and every superhero movie that's ever existed, are scheduled to hit theaters soon. And TV, for its part, is a dystopian wasteland of bland prequels to famous action movies. Hollywood relying on tentpole franchises, instead of taking risks on original ideas, is not new or surprising. But many believed that certain properties like The Matrix were off limits -- at least so soon after originally being made. It's clear now, though, that the major film studios can't afford to wait. They have no other ideas. This puts the studios in a precarious situation, because the once tried-and-true strategy of inundating cinemas with popular franchise extensions no longer looks as foolproof as it used to.
HP

HP Is Advertising Its Real, Modern Printers on This Fake, Awkward '80s Computer Show (adweek.com) 86

T.L. Stanley, writing for AdWeek: It's a fine line between effective '80s homage and clumsy retro spoof, with the latter usually involving a lot of overplayed visual gags like brick-sized cell phones and VHS tapes. Cue pointing and laughing. This new HP video, dubbed "Computer Show," hits the sweet spot perfectly with its recreation of a Reagan-era public access show about technology, but with a fish-out-of-water spin. The host is stuck in time -- stilted stage manner, goofy haircut and all -- but his guests are current-day tech pioneers. Awkward hilarity ensues. The short film, made by Giant Spoon and Sandwich Video for HP, sets up a print-off between HP's PageWide super-fast model and a dot matrix supplied by an employee of the neighborhood "Kwikopy."
Movies

More Code In Movies: Nmap Meets Snowden (nmap.org) 73

After Saturday's story about the code samples in the new movie Arrival, an anonymous reader reminded us of this classic essay at Nmap.org: For reasons unknown, Hollywood has decided that Nmap is the tool to show whenever hacking scenes are needed... While Nmap had been used in some previous obscure movies, it was The Matrix Reloaded which really turned Nmap into a movie star!
Nmap.org has a tradition -- the first person to notify them when new Nmap appears in a new movie wins a signed copy of Nmap Network Scanning "or a T-shirt of your choice from the Zero Day Clothing Nmap Store." (The site adds that "movie script writers, artists, and digital asset managers are also welcome to email Fyodor for advice.") And Nmap.org just added another film, Oliver Stone's new movie about Edward Snowden. In one early scene, Snowden is given a network security challenge at a CIA training class which is expected to take 5 to 8 hours. But with the help Nmap and a custom Nmap NSE script named ptest.nse, Snowden stuns the professor by completing everything in 38 minutes!
According to the site, even the movie's trailer features Nmap. Anybody else have their own favorite stories about code in the movies?
United States

Bank of America Analysts Say There's A 50% Chance We Live In The Matrix (independent.co.uk) 284

Bank of America analysts have suggested that there is a 20 to 50 percent chance that the world around us is a "Matrix-style virtual reality." The report stated, "It is conceivable that with advancements in artificial intelligence, virtual reality, and computing power, members of future civilizations could have decided to run a simulation of their ancestors." The idea is certainly nothing new, as many influential visionaries have come to similar theories. What some may find most unusual about the report is who issued it. According to Business Insider, Merrill Lynch, Bank of America's wealth management company, sent out a briefing to investors outlining their Matrix theory. In response, Slashdot reader marmot7 writes: Personally, I'd like to see all that brain power go toward a better and more stable banking system, not toward the promoting the nihilistic and self-indulgent idea that this might be the Matrix. Don't worry that banks behave in ways that create instability, it's not real. Just relax and enjoy the ones and zeroes. I have no doubt there are good, well meaning people there. I just don't really need my bank weighing in on the mystery of reality any more than I need them to come up with a unified theory of physics at long last. Well, unless it's in their spare time then by all means.
Movies

George Takei Opposes Gay Sulu In 'Star Trek Beyond' (hollywoodreporter.com) 354

HughPickens.com writes: Seth Abramovitch reports in the Hollywood Reporter that actor and LGBT activist George Takei says Paramount's plans to have Sulu's character in the upcoming 'Star Trek Beyond' the first LGBTQ lead character in Star Trek history is out of step with what creator Gene Roddenberry would have wanted. [Roddenberry] "was a strong supporter of LGBT equality," says Takei, now 79. "But he said he has been pushing the envelope and walking a very tight rope -- and if he pushed too hard, the show would not be on the air." Takei says he'd much prefer that Sulu stay straight. "I'm delighted that there's a gay character," says Takei. "Unfortunately, it's a twisting of Gene's creation, to which he put in so much thought. I think it's really unfortunate." The timeline logic of the new revelation is enough to befuddle even the most diehard of Trek enthusiasts, as the rebooted trilogy takes place before the action of the original series. In other words, assuming canon orthodoxy, this storyline suggest Sulu would have had to have first been gay and married, only to then go into the closet years later. Simon Pegg, who has co-written the latest Star Trek movie, as well as starring as Scotty, has responded to criticism by the actor George Takei at the film-makers' decision to make the character he used to play openly gay. "He's right, it is unfortunate, it's unfortunate that the screen version of the most inclusive, tolerant universe in science fiction hasn't featured an LGBT character until now. We could have introduced a new gay character, but he or she would have been primarily defined by their sexuality, seen as the 'gay character,' rather than simply for who they are, and isn't that tokenism?" says Pegg. "Our Trek is an alternate timeline with alternate details. Whatever magic ingredient determines our sexuality was different for Sulu in our timeline. I like this idea because it suggests that in a hypothetical multiverse, across an infinite matrix of alternate realities, we are all LGBT somewhere."
Businesses

Ask Slashdot: How Can You Manage Developers Distributed Across Multiple Projects? 112

An anonymous Slashdot reader asks whether it's possible to manage a "distributed" team of software developers in different locations who are all assigned to different projects, each with their own independent project managers: All embedded software engineers from multiple offices in different countries are now being reorganized into this new distributed team [with] better control of its own development practices, processes and tools, since everyone is working in embedded software...

While there's extensive material throughout the Internet on best practices for managing distributed teams, it seems to either take an agile perspective, the project manager's perspective or be otherwise based on the assumption that everyone in the team are working in the same project. In my case, I'd be managing a distributed team of developers all assigned to different projects. How can I build cohesion, alignment and trust for my team of embedded software developers in this new three-dimensional distributed matrix organization?

Anyone have any relevant experiences to share with distributed teams or "matrix" organizations? Leave your answers in the comments. How can you manage developers who are all distributed across multiple projects?
China

Huawei Prepares For Robot Overlords and Communication With the Dead (bloomberg.com) 114

An anonymous reader shares a report on Bloomberg: Chinese technology giant Huawei is preparing for a world where people live forever, dead relatives linger on in computers and robots try to kill humans. Kevin Ho, president of its handset product line said his company used science fiction movies like "The Matrix" to envision future trends and new business ideas. "Hunger, poverty, disease or even death may not be a problem by 2035, or 25 years from now," he said. "In the future you may be able to purchase computing capacity to serve as a surrogate, to pass the baton from the physical world to the digital world." He described a future where children could use apps like WeChat (Editor's note: WeChat is a popular instant messaging app in China and other Asian markets) to interact with dead grandparents, thanks to the ability to download human consciousness into computers.For those unaware, Huawei is a major Chinese conglomerate. The company, known for its network equipment, last year got some spotlight for its Nexus 6P smartphone.
Social Networks

Stephen Fry Urges Young To Flee 'Dystopian' Social Networks 270

An anonymous reader writes: English writer, presenter and activist Stephen Fry has urged his fans to abandon social networks, comparing such platforms to 'dystopian' forms of government seen in 1970s sci-fi films such as Logan's Run and Soylent Green. In a 2,600-word essay, the comedian, who had over four million Twitter followers prior to deleting his account in February, also compared the 'surveilled conformity' of social media to the unreal state of society depicted in The Matrix. "Who most wants you to stay on the grid? The advertisers. Your boss. Human Resources. The advertisers. Your parents (irony of ironies -- once they distrusted it, now they need to tag you electronically, share your Facebook photos and message you to death). The advertisers. The government. Your local authority. Your school. Advertisers," he writes. "Well, if you're young and have an ounce of pride, doesn't that list say it all?"
Security

Cloud Security Startup ProtectWise Creates Network DVR To Analyze Threats (hothardware.com) 41

MojoKid writes: A Denver-based security startup called ProtectWise has a rather interesting twist on a security as a service platform that also incorporates an innovative threat detection and management user interface. The ProtectWise security platform runs on a cloud-based infrastructure that currently utilizes Amazon AWS for storage and processing. ProtectWise is an all software solution comprised of a "Cloud Network DVR" platform made-up of virtual cameras in the cloud that record all traffic on the network. The sensors (12MB install package) record all network traffic wherever they're installed and stream it up to the ProtectWise platform where it is securely stored and the threat analysis is performed. The sensors can be configured with profiles to capture just light metadata like netflow or headers (source, destination etc.) all the way to the full payload. You can then playback the traffic from the ProtectWise cloud analytics platform, going months back if needed, and analyze the data for threats. You can go back in time and see if, where and how you've been compromised retrospectively. There's also a ProtectWise HUD that visualizes and renders network threat location and progression, allowing you to make better use of all the data recorded. It has a 'KillBox' that visually shows attack event progression across the network area. The only question has to do with compliance for financial applications since it is cloud-based. Currently, ProtectWise has 100 or so deployments of its product in the market with customers like Netflix, Hulu, Expedia, Pandora and Universal Music.

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