Welcome to Sott.net
Mon, 26 Jun 2017
The World for People who Think

Science & Technology


Delta and JetBlue will test replacing boarding passes with facial and fingerprint recognition technology

© Patrick T. Fallon/Bloomberg
JetBlue Airways Corp. and Delta Air Lines Inc. will test facial- and fingerprint-recognition technology at two U.S. airports to replace boarding passes, building on industry efforts to increase security and ease passage through airports.

The JetBlue program will start next month on flights from Boston to Aruba's Queen Beatrix International Airport, the airline said in a statement Wednesday. It will match passenger photos to their passport or visa photos. Delta has been trying fingerprint identification in Washington that may eventually replace boarding passes.

The testing highlights efforts by carriers to speed customers through congested airports while increasing security. Europe's KLM airline in February began using face-scanning technology for boarding at Amsterdam's Schiphol Airport. Delta this month said it would attempt a self-serve process for checking bags at one airport using facial recognition.

"We hope to learn how we can further reduce friction points in the airport experience, with the boarding process being one of the hardest to solve," Joanna Geraghty, JetBlue's executive vice president for customer experience, said in the statement.

Fireball 2

Asteroid strike may have 'tipped axis' of Saturn's moon Enceladus

© saturn.jpl.nasa.gov
Saturn's moon Enceladus may have been tipped after being struck by an asteroid at some point in the distant past, according to research from NASA's Cassini mission.

The team found that the moon appeared to have unsettled from its original axis by around 55 degrees - more than halfway toward rolling completely onto its side.

"We found a chain of low areas, or basins, that trace a belt across the moon's surface that we believe are the fossil remnants of an earlier, previous equator and poles," said Radwan Tajeddine, a Cassini imaging team associate.


The cognitive differences between males and females

When Nirao Shah decided in 1998 to study sex-based differences in the brain using up-to-the-minute molecular tools, he didn't have a ton of competition. But he did have a good reason.

"I wanted to find and explore neural circuits that regulate specific behaviors," says Shah, then a newly minted Caltech PhD who was beginning a postdoctoral fellowship at Columbia. So, he zeroed in on sex-associated behavioral differences in mating, parenting and aggression.

"These behaviors are essential for survival and propagation," says Shah, MD, PhD, now a Stanford professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences and of neurobiology. "They're innate rather than learned — at least in animals — so the circuitry involved ought to be developmentally hard-wired into the brain. These circuits should differ depending on which sex you're looking at."

His plan was to learn what he could about the activity of genes tied to behaviors that differ between the sexes, then use that knowledge to help identify the neuronal circuits — clusters of nerve cells in close communication with one another — underlying those behaviors.

At the time, this was not a universally popular idea. The neuroscience community had largely considered any observed sex-associated differences in cognition and behavior in humans to be due to the effects of cultural influences. Animal researchers, for their part, seldom even bothered to use female rodents in their experiments, figuring that the cyclical variations in their reproductive hormones would introduce confounding variability into the search for fundamental neurological insights.

But over the past 15 years or so, there's been a sea change as new technologies have generated a growing pile of evidence that there are inherent differences in how men's and women's brains are wired and how they work.

Not how well they work, mind you. Our differences don't mean one sex or the other is better or smarter or more deserving. Some researchers have grappled with charges of "neuro­sexism": falling prey to stereotypes or being too quick to interpret human sex differences as biological rather than cultural. They counter, however, that data from animal research, cross-​cultural surveys, natural experiments and brain-imaging studies demonstrate real, if not always earthshaking, brain differences, and that these differences may contribute to differences in behavior and cognition.


NASA to release artificial clouds in the sky above Maryland coast

© Wikimedia Commons
NASA will begin testing a new system on Tuesday that entails the release of artificial clouds, along with a sounding rocket launch. The luminescent clouds will be released into the environment above the Mid-Atlantic coast in hopes of learning more about the ionosphere.

The test is scheduled to begin at 4:25 a.m. and last until 4:42 a.m. A sounding rocket will be launched from the Wallops Flight Facility on Virginia's eastern shore.

Cell Phone

Most smartphone apps share your data with 3rd party services

Our mobile phones can reveal a lot about ourselves: where we live and work; who our family, friends and acquaintances are; how (and even what) we communicate with them; and our personal habits. With all the information stored on them, it isn't surprising that mobile device users take steps to protect their privacy, like using PINs or passcodes to unlock their phones.

The research that we and our colleagues are doing identifies and explores a significant threat that most people miss: More than 70 percent of smartphone apps are reporting personal data to third-party tracking companies like Google Analytics, the Facebook Graph API or Crashlytics.

When people install a new Android or iOS app, it asks the user's permission before accessing personal information. Generally speaking, this is positive. And some of the information these apps are collecting are necessary for them to work properly: A map app wouldn't be nearly as useful if it couldn't use GPS data to get a location.

But once an app has permission to collect that information, it can share your data with anyone the app's developer wants to - letting third-party companies track where you are, how fast you're moving and what you're doing.

Comment: Open Source Mozilla Firefox Now 'Tracking the Trackers'


Unexpected complications: CRISPR gene editing can introduce hundreds of unintended mutations into the genome

© Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 4.0
CRISPR-associated protein Cas9 (white) from Staphylococcus aureus based on Protein Database ID 5AXW. Credit: Thomas Splettstoesser
As CRISPR-Cas9 starts to move into clinical trials, a new study published in Nature Methods has found that the gene-editing technology can introduce hundreds of unintended mutations into the genome.

"We feel it's critical that the scientific community consider the potential hazards of all off-target mutations caused by CRISPR, including single nucleotide mutations and mutations in non-coding regions of the genome," says co-author Stephen Tsang, MD, PhD, the Laszlo T. Bito Associate Professor of Ophthalmology and associate professor of pathology and cell biology at Columbia University Medical Center and in Columbia's Institute of Genomic Medicine and the Institute of Human Nutrition.

CRISPR-Cas9 editing technology—by virtue of its speed and unprecedented precision—has been a boon for scientists trying to understand the role of genes in disease. The technique has also raised hope for more powerful gene therapies that can delete or repair flawed genes, not just add new genes.

The first clinical trial to deploy CRISPR is now underway in China, and a U.S. trial is slated to start next year. But even though CRISPR can precisely target specific stretches of DNA, it sometimes hits other parts of the genome. Most studies that search for these off-target mutations use computer algorithms to identify areas most likely to be affected and then examine those areas for deletions and insertions.

Comment: God's red pencil? CRISPR and the myths of precise genome editing
The concept of the precise editing of a genome leading to a precise biological outcome depends heavily on the conception that genes give rise to simple outputs. This is the genetic paradigm taught in schools. It is also the paradigm presented to the public and that even plays a large role in the thinking of molecular genetic researchers.

However, a defined, discrete or simple pathway from gene to trait probably never exists. Most gene function is mediated murkily through highly complex biochemical and other networks that depend on many conditional factors, such as the presence of other genes and their variants, on the environment, on the age of the organism, on chance, and so forth. Geneticists and molecular biologists, however, since the time of Gregor Mendel, have striven to find or create artificial experimental systems in which environmental or any other sources of variation are minimised so as not to distract from the more "important" business of genetic discovery.

But by discarding organisms or traits that do not follow their expectations, geneticists and molecular biologists have built themselves a circular argument in favour of a naive deterministic account of gene function. Their paradigm habitually downplays the enormous complexities by which information passes (in both directions) between organisms and their genomes. It has created an immense and mostly unexamined bias in the default public understanding of genes and DNA.

Why is this discussion of precision important? Because for the last seventy years all chemical and biological technologies, from genetic engineering to pesticides, have been built on a myth of precision and specificity. They have all been adopted under the pretense that they would function without side effects or unexpected complications. Yet the extraordinary disasters and repercussions of DDT, leaded paint, agent orange, atrazine, C8, asbestos, chlordane, PCBs, and so on, when all is said and done, have been stories of the steady unraveling of a founding myth of precision and specificity.

Ice Cube

Methane leaks may lead to cooling instead of warming: Scientists find a 'totally unexpected' source of climate cooling

© Unknown
Methane escaping margin seeps appeared to stimulate marine phytoplankton, which may have increased their intake of carbon dioxide.
Arctic waters absorbed vast amounts of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, creating a cooling effect that's 230 times greater than the warming from methane emitted from underwater seeps, according to a new study.

The findings are a complete reversal of what scientists previously believed — that methane seeps in the Arctic Ocean were contributing to global warming.

"If what we observed near Svalbard occurs more broadly at similar locations around the world, it could mean that methane seeps have a net cooling effect on climate, not a warming effect as we previously thought," John Pohlman, a U.S. Geological Survey biochemist and lead author of the study, said in a statement Monday.

If the results hold, Pohlman's study could have big implications for how scientists calculate the global carbon "budget" and for future projections of global warming.

"This is ... totally unexpected," Brett Thornton, a Swedish geochemist who was not involved in the study, told Science Magazine.

A group of U.S., German and Norwegian scientists measured methane and carbon dioxide concentrations off Svalbard's coast. They found 2,000 times more carbon dioxide was taken out of the atmosphere than methane escaping from underwater vents.

Comment: Nature is much more complicated than Antropogenic Global Warming scientist would have us believe and thus the models from which predictions are made are far from reality.

To understand more about some of these many feedback loops read this book by Sott editors and researchers, Pierre Lescaudron and Laura Knight-Jadczyk: Earth Changes and the Human-Cosmic Connection


New impact flash seen on Jupiter

© Sauveur Pedranghelu with processing by Marc Delcroix
On May 26 during the early evening local time, Sauveur Pedranghelu recorded the flash of meteoroid impact in Jupiter's north polar region at the CMII longitude of 160°. It's the 6th recorded impact observed at the planet.
Jupiter just got beaned for the 5th time! On the evening of May 26, between 19:24.6 UT and 19:26.2 UT, Sauveur Pedranghelu, a French amateur from Corsica, detected a impact flash live on video in Jupiter's north polar region.

The flash was very brief, lasting only about 0.7 second, and displayed two brightness peaks. A bright dot — about the size of Europa when seen in transit — marked the site of impact at latitude ~51°North and central meridian longitudes CMI = 74°; CMII = 159° and CMIII = 292°. The position is a little east of Oval BA, a.k.a. Red Spot Jr., located on the same face of the planet in the opposite hemisphere.

Marc Delcroix, who coordinates a worldwide group of Jupiter observers, posted an e-mail about the the discovery to various groups. Within a day of the news, a second video by Thomas Riessler of Dettenhausen, Germany showed an identical pinpoint flash between 19:24.6 UT and 19:25.0 UT confirming Pedranghelu's observation. The estimated duration of the fireball from that video was ~0.87 seconds.

Jupiter watchers are excitedly training telescopes and cameras on the giant planet in hopes of seeing if the meteoroid explosion left any traces similar to the dark spots in similar impacts of the past or possibly a bright spot when photographed through narrowband methane filters. Early observations haven't turned up a trace ... yet. On May 28 from the Philippines, planetary imager Christopher Go couldn't detect anything certain at the site, writing on his website:
"There is no brightening of the impact region in methane band and nor is there any noticeable impact remnant."


Bitcoin and other blockchain technology 'is where the internet was in 1992' - Dutch CEO

© CC0 / Namecoin / Cryptocurrency Art Gallery
The boom in cryptocurrencies could end with a bust, but blockchain technology is here to stay, DutchChain CEO Rutger van Zuidam told Radio Sputnik.

Cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin have the potential to revolutionize society in the same way the internet has, Rutger van Zuidam, CEO of DutchChain and organizer of the Dutch Blockchain Hackathon, told Radio Sputnik.


A key feature of the human brain has just been found in monkeys

© shtterstock
We humans think we're so special. To determine what sets us apart from the rest of the animal world, scientists investigate features that might be uniquely human, such as self-awareness or language.

But every now and then, a new finding throws the narrative, leaving us to wonder what those truly unique human traits really are. In a new study, neuroscientists have knocked down another assumption by discovering a network in the monkey brain that's exclusively devoted to analysing social interactions.

Most primates, including humans, are highly social animals, and are able to effortlessly analyse social interactions. But we don't know much about the neural networks that allow monkeys to do this kind of sophisticated processing.

Scientists from the Rockefeller University in New York used an fMRI (functional magnetic resonance imaging) scanner to look at four rhesus macaque brains while they were watching different videos.