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Tue, 25 Apr 2017
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Science & Technology


Earthquake seismic data comes to life in eerie 'songs'

© National Geographic
SeismoDome shows enable people to hear the previously inaudible sounds of earthquakes deep in the Earth—and that may lead to better safety

Is it possible to "hear" an earthquake? Not the rumbling of the ground that results, but the earthquake itself. Even if you could, what's the point of listening?

About a dozen years ago, geophysicist Ben Holtzman and musician/sound designer Jason Candler set out to answer these questions, with a side goal of sharing their passion for earthquakes with the public. From the fruits of their research, the SeismoDome show was born.

Holtzman and Candler co-produce the show—with Holtzman writing scientific content, creating sounds from seismic data, and working with collaborators to produce the visual elements, while Candler handles the sound engineering and design and helps with the writing and conception of the show.


'Great Cold Spot' discovered in Jupiter's atmosphere

© Associated Press
The 'Great Dark Spot' could rival Jupiter's famed Red Spot as a distinctive feature.
A 'giant cold spot' stretching for thousands of kilometres has been discovered on the surface of Jupiter by scientists.

Researchers believe the stain is a permanent raging storm spreading up to 24,000 km across and driven by magnetic energy.

It is one of the most dramatic discoveries on Jupiter, the largest planet in the Solar System, since the its famous Great Red Spot was identified in 1830.

The team from the University of Leicester said the dark spot could shed new light on the planet's weather system.

Dr Tom Stallard, the study's lead author, said the discovery is one of the first signs of a consistent weather feature in Jupiter's atmosphere.
The Great Cold Spot is much more volatile than the slowly changing Great Red Spot, changing dramatically in shape and size over only a few days and weeks, but it has re-appeared, for as long as we have data to search for it, for over 15 years.

That suggests that it continually reforms itself, and as a result it might be as old as the aurorae that form it - perhaps many thousands of years old.
- Dr Tom Stallard


Hackers can steal PINs and passwords by tracking the motion of your phone

Hackers are able to decipher PINs and passwords just from the way we tilt our phone when we are typing in the information.

Cyber experts at Newcastle University, UK, have revealed the ease with which malicious websites, as well as installed apps, can spy on us using just the information from the motion sensors in our mobile phones.

Analysing the movement of the device as we type in information, they have shown it is possible to crack four-digit PINs with a 70% accuracy on the first guess - 100% by the fifth guess - using just the data collected via the phone's numerous internal sensors.

Despite the threat, the research shows that people are unaware of the risks and most of us have little idea what the majority of the twenty five different sensors available on current smart phones do.

And while all the major players in the industry are aware of the problem, no-one has yet been able to find a solution.

Publishing their findings today in the International Journal of Information Security, the team are now looking at the additional risks posed by personal fitness trackers which are linked up to our online profiles and can potentially be used to interpret the slightest wrist movements as well as general physical activities such as sitting, walking, running, and different forms of commute.


Banks scramble to fix old systems as COBOL language 'cowboys' ride into sunset

Banks scramble to fix old systems as IT 'cowboys' ride into sunset IBM engineers work with a System 360 mainframe computer using business programs written in an early version of the COBOL language in this undated handout photo.
Bill Hinshaw is not a typical 75-year-old. He divides his time between his family - he has 32 grandchildren and great-grandchildren - and helping U.S. companies avert crippling computer meltdowns.

Hinshaw, who got into programming in the 1960s when computers took up entire rooms and programmers used punch cards, is a member of a dwindling community of IT veterans who specialise in a vintage programming language called COBOL.

The Common Business-Oriented Language was developed nearly 60 years ago and has been gradually replaced by newer, more versatile languages such as Java, C and Python. Although few universities still offer COBOL courses, the language remains crucial to businesses and institutions around the world.

In the United States, the financial sector, major corporations and parts of the federal government still largely rely on it because it underpins powerful systems that were built in the 70s or 80s and never fully replaced.


2017's 'Pink Moon' happens tomorrow: Here's what it means

© dc2 / Global Look Press
A pink moon is heading our way Tuesday - but those expecting to see a literal pink sphere sailing above us in the sky may be disappointed.

Any full moon that occurs in April is called a 'Pink Moon' simply because of the pink flowers, such as North America's wild ground phlox, which blossom in April and are seen to symbolize new beginnings.

Comment: Lyrid meteor shower to peak April 22


Hello...Newman: Yet another sting pranks a predatory journal, Seinfeld-style

© Max Pixel
Starting to get bored of stings designed to expose the well-documented flaws in scientific publishing? Yeah, sometimes we are too. But another one just came across our desks, and we couldn't help ourselves.

John McCool is neither a researcher nor a urologist. When received an unsolicited invitation to submit a paper to an open-access urology journal, however, he just couldn't resist: He is the owner of a freelance scientific editing company, and has long been concerned about so-called predatory journals, which often publish sub-par papers as long as authors pay. And he loves the TV show "Seinfeld."



Computational model of the brain shows what triggers Tourette 'tics'

© Image credit: Beste Ozcan
The new model shows that Tourette 'tics' are triggered by the interplay between key brain areas.
Tourette syndrome is a neurological disease in which patients make a series of repetitive, involuntary movements and sounds that are commonly referred to as 'tics'. A new study uses a computational model to simulate the neurological basis for the illness, which could help researchers to design new therapies in the future.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report that in the United States, 1 in 360 children aged between 6 and 17 years receive a Tourette syndrome diagnosis. However, the CDC also suggest that the numbers may be higher than this, as the disease often goes undiagnosed.

The tics that accompany the disease vary in complexity. Some of them can be fairly simple - such as blinking, for instance - while others may involve touching objects, repeating the same words, or making obscene gestures.

Some of the motor tics that occur in the disease - such as sniffing, blinking, grimacing, or shrugging - were, until now, thought to occur in a single area of the brain called the basal ganglia.

Light Saber

The US military cozies up to laser weapons

© AFP Photo/John F. Williams
The Navy has since 2014 been testing a 30-kilowatt laser on one of its warships, the USS Ponce.
A sci-fi staple for decades, laser weapons are finally becoming reality in the US military, albeit with capabilities a little less dramatic than at the movies.

Lightsabers -- the favored weapon of the Jedi in "Star Wars" films -- will remain in the fictional realm for now, but after decades of development, laser weapons are now here and are being deployed on military vehicles and planes.

Boeing, Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, Raytheon -- all the big defense players -- are developing prototypes for the Pentagon.

The Navy has since 2014 been testing a 30-kilowatt laser on one of its warships, the USS Ponce.

Lockheed Martin has just announced a 60-kilowatt laser weapon that soon will be installed on an Army truck for operational testing against mortars and small drones.

The weapon can take out a drone from a distance of about 500 yards (meters) by keeping its beam locked onto the target for a few seconds, Jim Murdoch, an international business development director at Lockheed, told reporters this week.

But unlike in the movies, the laser beam is invisible to the naked eye.

Comment: See also:


Temple Grandin on the kinds of minds science desperately needs

Renowned animal scientist and autism advocate talks about "turning on young students" to science - and not just the obvious candidates

© Photo by Alison Bert
Dr. Temple Grandin, Professor of Animal Sciences at Colorado State University, poses in her livestock handling system after teaching a class at the university.
On the opening day of her livestock handling class at Colorado State University, Prof. Temple Grandin opens the gates of the steel maze that would guide the cattle, in single file, to a squeeze chute for examination. Used by livestock facilities around the world, her system is designed to keep the animals calm and prevent accidents.

As the students gather around, Dr. Grandin asks her first question:

"Who here has never touched a cow?"



Tiny little bee brains: How do they do so much?

© USGS Bee Inventory and Monitoring Lab
Bombus affinis, the rusty patched bumblebee, is shown here.
Recently, researchers at Queen Mary University of London trained a group of buff-tailed bumblebees (Bombus terrestris) to get little balls into goals — in a soccer-like game — in exchange for sweet treats.

It's not the first time bees have flexed their mental muscle in the lab. In addition to learning games, bees can also recognize human faces in photographs, count to four, and solve computer science's famous "traveling salesman" problem.

"All too often, people will assume that because a bee's brain is little, which it undoubtedly is — it's no larger than perhaps a pinhead — that it might, therefore, be simple or not complex," says Lars Chittka, a professor of sensory and behavioral ecology at Queen Mary University of London, and one of the soccer study's co-authors. (He also co-authored the "traveling salesman" study.)

But he explains that while bees pack just a million neurons into their tiny brains, each one may be as complex in structure as a fully grown oak tree. What's more, bee neurons are extraordinarily networked:
"A single one of these nerve cells might make contact with perhaps 10,000 or 100,000 other cells in that same brain."
"So, it's a long way from being a simple brain, but perhaps it's simpler than obviously a human brain with its 85 billion neurons," he says. "And so, therefore, we're hoping that we can use bees as a shortcut to understand integrative brain function and multitasking."