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Fri, 28 Jan 2022
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Science & Technology

Car Black

Bill would give US government 'kill switch' in all new cars

LA traffic
© RB/Bauer-Griffin via Getty Images
A piece of legislation that was quietly included in the infrastructure bill signed by Biden would give the U.S. government access to a 'kill switch' linked to law enforcement in all new vehicles from 2026.

Under a section in the bill that talks about 'impaired driving technology', the new system would "passively monitor the performance of a motor vehicle to accurately identify whether that driver may be impaired."

If a blood alcohol level above the limit is detected, the system would "prevent or limit motor vehicle operation."

Comment: Sure, hackers are an issue, but so is the idea that government agencies including the police would have remote access to your car. Do we really want the police to have that level of control over your movements?


Earth's interior is cooling faster than expected

Researchers at ETH Zurich have demonstrated in the lab how well a mineral common at the boundary between the Earth's core and mantle conducts heat. This leads them to suspect that the Earth's heat may dissipate sooner than previously thought.
Earth's Interior
The evolution of our Earth is the story of its cooling: 4.5 billion years ago, extreme temperatures prevailed on the surface of the young Earth, and it was covered by a deep ocean of magma. Over millions of years, the planet's surface cooled to form a brittle crust. However, the enormous thermal energy emanating from the Earth's interior set dynamic processes in motion, such as mantle convection, plate tectonics and volcanism.

Still unanswered, though, are the questions of how fast the Earth cooled and how long it might take for this ongoing cooling to bring the aforementioned heat-​driven processes to a halt.

One possible answer may lie in the thermal conductivity of the minerals that form the boundary between the Earth's core and mantle.


Intelligent design at work? Plant biologist finds "mutation is very non-random"

Arabidopsis thaliana
© Marie-Lan Nguyen / Wikimedia Commons / CC-BY 2.5.
Arabidopsis thaliana, the thale cress, mouse-ear cress or arabidopsis, is a small flowering plant native to Eurasia and Africa
Many people I know in the ID community are strongly interested in rethinking mutation, understanding it as a designed or regulated process. They will be encouraged by a new open-access paper in Nature, concerning the characteristics of mutations in a widely studied plant species. See, "Mutation bias reflects natural selection in Arabidopsis thaliana."

For considering the implications of the paper, an easy place to start is a Science Daily news story, "Study challenges evolutionary theory that DNA mutations are random." Paragraphs such as this make me smile, on this cold January afternoon in Chicago (my emphasis):
"We always thought of mutation as basically random across the genome," said Grey Monroe, an assistant professor in the UC Davis Department of Plant Sciences who is lead author on the paper. "It turns out that mutation is very non-random and it's non-random in a way that benefits the plant. It's a totally new way of thinking about mutation."

Comment: Its small size, quick growth and relatively simple genome makes Arabidopsis one of the most powerful tools available to plant scientists. It is the plant research world's equivalent of the mouse.


1,000-light-year wide bubble surrounding Earth is source of all nearby, young stars

Illustration bubble
© unknown
Artist's illustration of the Local Bubble with star formation occurring on the bubble's surface.
The Earth sits in a 1,000-light-year-wide void surrounded by thousands of young stars — but how did those stars form?

In a paper appearing Wednesday in Nature, astronomers at the Center for Astrophysics | Harvard & Smithsonian (CfA) and the Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI) reconstruct the evolutionary history of our galactic neighborhood, showing how a chain of events beginning 14 million years ago led to the creation of a vast bubble that's responsible for the formation of all nearby, young stars.

"This is really an origin story; for the first time we can explain how all nearby star formation began," says astronomer and data visualization expert Catherine Zucker who completed the work during a fellowship at the CfA.


FedEx requests FAA permission to add anti-missile laser system to cargo planes

radar images
© Unknown
FedEx is looking to add laser technology to some cargo planes that would counter incoming heat-seeking missiles.

The company asked for permission from the Federal Aviation Administration to equip some of its cargo planes with a missile defense system that would "emit infrared laser energy" outside of the aircraft as a "countermeasure against heat-seeking missiles," according to a public notice filed with the Federal Register. The filing states:
"In recent years, in several incidents abroad, civilian aircraft were fired upon by man-portable air defense systems (MANPADS). This has led several companies to design and adapt systems like a laser-based missile-defense system for installation on civilian aircraft."
One of FedEx's competitors, DHL, was the victim of such an incident in 2003 when one of its cargo jets was hit by a missile after taking off in Baghdad. The crew was unharmed, according to CNN.
Soldier with manpad
© USAF/TSgt Maylll
Soldier with manpad

Comment: One such system, attached to the underside of the plane, uses lasers to confuse heat-seeking missiles:
airplane countermeasure device
© Elbit Systems
Infrared countermeasure device fitted to the underside of commercial aircraft is an option.
Infrared countermeasure device fitted to the underside of commercial aircraft is an option. Most airliner shootdowns are caused by man-portable air defence systems (MANPADS). According to the US Transportation Safety Administration, 40 civilian aircraft have been struck by MANPADS missiles since 1975, causing about 28 crashes and more than 800 deaths.
See also:


Your gut senses the difference between real sugar and artificial sweetener

Sugar preference isn't just a matter of taste - it's deeper than that

A section of mouse intestines
© Borhoquez Lab, Duke
A section of mouse intestines shows in green the relatively scarce neuropod cells in the epithelium that are responsible for communicating conditions inside the gut to the nervous system outside.
DURHAM, N.C. - Your taste buds may or may not be able to tell real sugar from a sugar substitute like Splenda, but there are cells in your intestines that can and do distinguish between the two sweet solutions. And they can communicate the difference to your brain in milliseconds.

Not long after the sweet taste receptor was identified in the mouths of mice 20 years ago, scientists attempted to knock those taste buds out. But they were surprised to find that mice could still somehow discern and prefer natural sugar to artificial sweetener, even without a sense of taste.

The answer to this riddle lies much further down in the digestive tract, at the upper end of the gut just after the stomach, according to research led by Diego Bohórquez, an associate professor of medicine and neurobiology in the Duke University School of Medicine.

In a paper appearing Jan. 13 in Nature Neuroscience, "we've identified the cells that make us eat sugar, and they are in the gut," Bohórquez said. Infusing sugar directly into the lower intestine or colon does not have the same effect. The sensing cells are in the upper reaches of the gut, he said.

Having discovered a gut cell called the neuropod cell, Bohórquez with his research team has been pursuing this cell's critical role as a connection between what's inside the gut and its influence in the brain. The gut, he argues, talks directly to the brain, changing our eating behavior. And in the long run, these findings may lead to entirely new ways to treat diseases.

Bizarro Earth

Word goes woke: Microsoft introduces politically correct feature that suggests alternatives for 'offensive' phrases like 'mankind'

© Mike Segar/Reuters
Microsoft has included a new function in the latest version of its Word software that acts as a checker for inclusivity and offers PC alternatives to phrases which could upset others.

Traditionally, Microsoft Word has offered tools to its 250million users such as checking software for spelling, punctuation and grammar.

But now, the tech giant has added an additional feature which reads through a user's work and examines whether the language used may offend an individual.

The Sun reports it does this by highlighting phrases focusing on gender, age, sexual orientation, ethnicity of 'socioeconomic status'.

Comment: Twitter user Kaya Masters makes an excellent point:


Teenage hacker takes control of more than 20 Teslas through a flaw in third-party software

tesla electric car
© Reuters / Sarah Meysonnier
Tesla on the road
A 19-year-old hacker claims to have taken over more than 20 Tesla vehicles in 10 countries through a software vulnerability.

David Colombo, who is based in Germany, shared the feat on Twitter saying the fault does not fall on the Elon Musk-founded company, but on owners of the Teslas.

The flaw is said to have been found in third-party software that allowed Colombo to unlock doors and windows, start the cars without keys and disable security systems.

He also tweeted the vulnerability lets him use the internal Tesla cameras to spy on the driver.


Study of hydras indicates there was sleep before there were brains

hydra organism freshwater
© Proyecto Agua/Flickr
Hydra is a genus of small, fresh-water organisms of the phylum Cnidaria and class Hydrozoa.
Studies of sleep are usually neurological. But some of nature's simplest animals suggest that sleep evolved for metabolic reasons, long before brains even existed.

The hydra is a simple creature. Less than half an inch long, its tubular body has a foot at one end and a mouth at the other. The foot clings to a surface underwater — a plant or a rock, perhaps — and the mouth, ringed with tentacles, ensnares passing water fleas. It does not have a brain, or even much of a nervous system.

And yet, new research shows, it sleeps. Studies by a team in South Korea and Japan showed that the hydra periodically drops into a rest state that meets the essential criteria for sleep.

On the face of it, that might seem improbable. For more than a century, researchers who study sleep have looked for its purpose and structure in the brain. They have explored sleep's connections to memory and learning. They have numbered the neural circuits that push us down into oblivious slumber and pull us back out of it. They have recorded the telltale changes in brain waves that mark our passage through different stages of sleep and tried to understand what drives them. Mountains of research and people's daily experience attest to human sleep's connection to the brain.

Eye 1

Sheldrake vindicated. The Morphogenic Field is real and scientists show how to use it to understand nature

Shell Spiral
© Unknown
In a new study, Chris Jeynes and Michael Parker pose the question: How does nature produce such stunning symmetry and order in many systems observed across enormous scales? Under the microscope, a snowflake shows intricate patterning and remarkable symmetry, and in a telescope the same is observed for spiral galaxies up to half a million light years across.

Both of these systems are made of innumerable subunits (be they water molecules or stars and planets) which should behave completely oblivious to the overall configuration of the conglomerate. That is to say, the behavior of these systems at the scales that matter — the fundamental units of which they are composed — should be completely random aside from some formative causation arising from intermolecular or inter-gravitational interactions, which are not long-range.