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Përditësimi: 9 orë 16 min më parë

Linux Milestone: EdX's Free 'Intro to Linux' Course Surpasses One Million Enrollments

10 orë 53 min më parë
The Linux Foundation has announced that its free Introduction to Linux training course on edX has surpassed one million enrollments. The course helps students develop a good working knowledge of Linux using both the graphical interface and command line across the major Linux distribution families. No prior knowledge or experience is required, making the course a popular first step for individuals interested in pursuing a career in IT. Introduction to Linux has helped countless individuals launch their IT careers. Jules Bashizi Irenge for example, completed the course then proceeded to intermediate Essentials of System Administration training and received a Linux Foundation Certified SysAdmin (LFCS) certification, and now is a PhD candidate who has contributed over 200 patches to the Linux kernel. Fabian Pichardo also followed the introductory course with Essentials of System Administration and LFCS, and now is employed full time as a software developer. "To have introduced over a million individuals to Linux is a tremendous milestone," said Linux Foundation Executive Director Jim Zemlin. "One of our primary goals is to bring more talent into the open source community, and offering free, high quality training that is accessible to anyone who wants it is essential to achieving that goal...." The Linux Foundation has been an incredible partner of edX for the past six years, bringing dozens of courses in high-tech and in-demand fields to our platform of 34 million learners," said Anant Agarwal, edX Founder and CEO. "Introduction to Linux, their very first offering, has been a true blockbuster - it's one of our top 10 most popular courses of all time. We're thrilled to congratulate Linux Foundation on reaching 1 million enrollments and look forward to bringing accessible high-tech education to countless more learners, together." Introduction to Linux remains open for new enrollments. There is no cost to complete the course, and verified certificates of completion are available for $99. The Linux Foundation offers two dozen free training courses on open source projects including Linux, Kubernetes, Hyperledger, and more in partnership with edX.

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Astronomers Discover Possible 60s-Era Moon Rocket Booster Heading Back To Earth

13 orë 53 min më parë
An anonymous reader quotes Teslarati: On August 19th this year, astronomers using the Panoramic Survey Telescope and Rapid Response System observatory in Hawaii spotted an object destined to enter Earth orbit this fall. Designated as object 2020 SO, the item is now believed to be a rocket booster from NASA's Surveyor 2 mission which crash landed on the Moon in 1966 during the Apollo-era of the Cold War's space race. "I suspect this newly discovered object 2020 SO to be an old rocket booster because it is following an orbit about the Sun that is extremely similar to Earth's, nearly circular, in the same plane, and only slightly farther away the Sun at its farthest point," Dr. Paul Chodas, the director of NASA's Center for Near Earth Object Studies, explained in comments to CNN. "That's precisely the kind of orbit that a rocket stage separated from a lunar mission would follow, once it passes by the Moon and escapes into orbit about the Sun. It's unlikely that an asteroid could have evolved into an orbit like this, but not impossible," he said. This specific type of event has only happened once before, namely in 2002 with a Saturn V upper stage from Apollo 12, according to Dr. Chodas.

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Lenovo Begins Selling 30 Linux ThinkPads and ThinkStation PCs

16 orë 53 min më parë
"More top-tier computer OEMs are now offering a broad assortment of Linux desktops," reports ZDNet. "In the latest move, Lenovo, currently the top PC vendor in the world according to Gartner, will roll Ubuntu Linux 20.04 LTS out across 30 of Lenovo's ThinkPads and ThinkStations..." While Lenovo started certifying most of its laptop and PC line on the top Linux distributions since June 2020, this is a much bigger step. Now, instead of simply acknowledging its equipment will be guaranteed to run Linux, Lenovo's selling Ubuntu Linux-powered hardware to ordinary Joe and Jane users. Previously, you could only buy most of these machines if you were a business and had specified you wanted Ubuntu on a customized bid. Now, nearly 30 Ubuntu-loaded devices will now be available for purchase via Lenovo.com. These include 13 ThinkStation and ThinkPad P Series Workstations and an additional 14 ThinkPad T, X, X1, and L series laptops, all with the 20.04 LTS version of Ubuntu... No one's predicting a "Year of the Linux desktop." Companies such as Dell and Lenovo aren't predicting such a game-changing event, but they're selling largely to enterprise companies, which have seen the virtues of using high-end Linux desktops for powerful, forward-looking technologies such as AI, ML, containers, and cloud-native computing. "Our announcement of device certification in June was a step in the right direction to enable customers to more easily install Linux on their own," explains Lenovo's vice president of PCSD software and cloud — but now they're going even further. "Our goal is to remove the complexity and provide the Linux community with the premium experience that our customers know us for. This is why we have taken this next step to offer Linux-ready devices right out of the box."

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Report: U.S. Anti-Trust Regulators Will Accuse Google of Crushing Competition to Maintain Monopoly

18 orë 46 min më parë
The U.S. government has readied an antitrust lawsuit against Google's search engine, accusing the company of "crushing competition to protect and extend monopoly," according to news reports: The move comes after a 14-month long investigation, where the U.S. Department of Justice probed whether Google distorts search results to favour its own products and shuts off access to competitors, sources told Bloomberg. This is significant as Google enjoys a major 90 percent control of the U.S. online search segment and generates an enviable $100 billion revenue. Rivals have long complained of abuse of power to "snuff out the competition".... Sources told Bloomberg action is expected within the next week or two, after the State attorneys general and Justice Department lawyers complete final preparations for the case this week in Washington. Officials met with Google reps the previous week to discuss accusations of search bias against competitors and providing of Google and other partners as default to users... "It's impossible for small search engine competitors to compete with Google's deep pockets and outbid it for valuable placements like Apple's browser," Gabriel Weinberg, CEO of DuckDuckGo, said in his complaint to the Department of Justice. In a recent statement, a spokesperson for DuckDuckGo said the company is pleased that the DoJ "is going to finally address the elephant in the room: Google's obvious, overwhelming, and anti-competitive dominance in search," adding that "a world without search defaults" would benefit consumers. Google's search engine "decides the fates of thousands of businesses online," notes Bloomberg, "and has funded Google's expansion into email, online video, smartphone software, maps, cloud computing, autonomous vehicles and other forms of digital ads."

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Researchers Finally Create Metal Wires Made from Carbon

19 orë 52 min më parë
University of California at Berkeley has made a big announcement: Transistors based on carbon rather than silicon could potentially boost computers' speed and cut their power consumption more than a thousandfold — think of a mobile phone that holds its charge for months — but the set of tools needed to build working carbon circuits has remained incomplete until now. A team of chemists and physicists at the University of California, Berkeley, has finally created the last tool in the toolbox, a metallic wire made entirely of carbon, setting the stage for a ramp-up in research to build carbon-based transistors and, ultimately, computers. "Staying within the same material, within the realm of carbon-based materials, is what brings this technology together now," said Felix Fischer, UC Berkeley professor of chemistry, noting that the ability to make all circuit elements from the same material makes fabrication easier. "That has been one of the key things that has been missing in the big picture of an all-carbon-based integrated circuit architecture." Heat was used to induce the molecules to join together, in a process Fischer compares to an atomic-scale set of Legos. "They are all precisely engineered so that there is only one way they can fit together. It's as if you take a bag of Legos, and you shake it, and out comes a fully assembled car. That is the magic of controlling the self-assembly with chemistry..." "I believe this technology will revolutionize how we build integrated circuits in the future..." Fischer said.

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Teenager on TiKTok Resurrects an Essential Question: What is Math?

Dje, 27/09/2020 - 11:35md
Long-time Slashdot reader fahrbot-bot shares a story that all started with a high school student's innocuous question on TikTok, leading academic mathematicians and philosophers to weigh in on "a very ancient and unresolved debate in the philosophy of science," reports Smithsonian magazine. "What, exactly, is math?" Is it invented, or discovered? And are the things that mathematicians work with — numbers, algebraic equations, geometry, theorems and so on — real? Some scholars feel very strongly that mathematical truths are "out there," waiting to be discovered — a position known as Platonism.... Many mathematicians seem to support this view. The things they've discovered over the centuries — that there is no highest prime number; that the square root of two is an irrational number; that the number pi, when expressed as a decimal, goes on forever — seem to be eternal truths, independent of the minds that found them.... Other scholars — especially those working in other branches of science — view Platonism with skepticism. Scientists tend to be empiricists; they imagine the universe to be made up of things we can touch and taste and so on; things we can learn about through observation and experiment. The idea of something existing "outside of space and time" makes empiricists nervous: It sounds embarrassingly like the way religious believers talk about God, and God was banished from respectable scientific discourse a long time ago. Platonism, as mathematician Brian Davies has put it, "has more in common with mystical religions than it does with modern science." The fear is that if mathematicians give Plato an inch, he'll take a mile. If the truth of mathematical statements can be confirmed just by thinking about them, then why not ethical problems, or even religious questions? Why bother with empiricism at all...? Platonism has various alternatives. One popular view is that mathematics is merely a set of rules, built up from a set of initial assumptions — what mathematicians call axioms... But this view has its own problems. If mathematics is just something we dream up from within our own heads, why should it "fit" so well with what we observe in nature...? Theoretical physicist Eugene Wigner highlighted this issue in a famous 1960 essay titled, "The Unreasonable Effectiveness of Mathematics in the Natural Sciences." Wigner concluded that the usefulness of mathematics in tackling problems in physics "is a wonderful gift which we neither understand nor deserve."

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Amazon's Data-Request Portal for Police is Visible on the Web

Dje, 27/09/2020 - 10:34md
"Anyone can access portions of a web portal used by law enforcement to request customer data from Amazon," reports TechCrunch, "even though the portal is supposed to require a verified email address and password..." Only time sensitive emergency requests can be submitted without an account, but this requires the user to "declare and acknowledge" that they are an authorized law enforcement officer before they can submit a request. The portal does not display customer data or allow access to existing law enforcement requests. But parts of the website still load without needing to log in, including its dashboard and the "standard" request form used by law enforcement to request customer data... Assuming this was a bug, we sent Amazon several emails prior to publication but did not hear back... Motherboard reported a similar issue earlier this month that allowed anyone with an email address to access law enforcement portals set up by Facebook and WhatsApp.

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Eric S. Raymond: Is Microsoft Switching To a Linux Kernel That Emulates Windows?

Dje, 27/09/2020 - 9:33md
Most of Microsoft's money now comes from its cloud service Azure, points out open-source advocate Eric S. Raymond. Now he posits a future where Windows development will "inevitably" become a drag on Microsoft's business: So, you're a Microsoft corporate strategist. What's the profit-maximizing path forward given all these factors? It's this: Microsoft Windows becomes a Proton-like emulation layer over a Linux kernel, with the layer getting thinner over time as more of the support lands in the mainline kernel sources. The economic motive is that Microsoft sheds an ever-larger fraction of its development costs as less and less has to be done in-house. If you think this is fantasy, think again. The best evidence that it's already the plan is that Microsoft has already ported Edge to run under Linux. There is only one way that makes any sense, and that is as a trial run for freeing the rest of the Windows utility suite from depending on any emulation layer. So, the end state this all points at is: New Windows is mostly a Linux kernel, there's an old-Windows emulation over it, but Edge and the rest of the Windows user-land utilities don't use the emulation. The emulation layer is there for games and other legacy third-party software. Economic pressure will be on Microsoft to deprecate the emulation layer... Every increment of Windows/Linux convergence helps with that — reduces administration and the expected volume of support traffic. Eventually, Microsoft announces upcoming end-of-life on the Windows emulation. The OS itself , and its userland tools, has for some time already been Linux underneath a carefully preserved old-Windows UI. Third-party software providers stop shipping Windows binaries in favor of ELF binaries with a pure Linux API... ...and Linux finally wins the desktop wars, not by displacing Windows but by co-opting it. Perhaps this is always how it had to be.

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Singapore Becomes First Country To Use Facial Verification For a National ID Service

Dje, 27/09/2020 - 8:34md
"Singapore will be the first country in the world to use facial verification in its national identity scheme," reports the BBC: The biometric check will give Singaporeans secure access to both private and government services. The government's technology agency says it will be "fundamental" to the country's digital economy. It has been trialled with a bank and is now being rolled out nationwide. It not only identifies a person but ensures they are genuinely present. "You have to make sure that the person is genuinely present when they authenticate, that you're not looking at a photograph or a video or a replayed recording or a deepfake," said Andrew Bud, founder and chief executive of iProov, the UK company that is providing the technology... "Face recognition has all sorts of social implications. Face verification is extremely benign," said Mr Bud. Privacy advocates, however, contend that consent is a low threshold when dealing with sensitive biometric data. "Consent does not work when there is an imbalance of power between controllers and data subjects, such as the one observed in citizen-state relationships," said Ioannis Kouvakas, legal officer with London-based Privacy International.... GovTech Singapore thinks the technology will be good for businesses, because they can use it without having to build the infrastructure themselves. Additionally, Kwok Quek Sin, senior director of national digital identity at GovTech Singapore, said it is better for privacy because companies won't need to collect any biometric data. In fact, they would only see a score indicating how close the scan is to the image the government has on file. In 1993 William Gibson called Singapore "Disneyland with the death penalty... a relentlessly G-rated experience, micromanaged by a state that has the look and feel of a very large corporation. If IBM had ever bothered to actually possess a physical country, that country might have had a lot in common with Singapore."

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America's IRS Wants Cryptocurrency Exchanges Declared on Tax Forms

Dje, 27/09/2020 - 7:34md
America's dreaded tax-collecting agency is sending "a strong warning to millions of crypto holders who aren't complying with the law that they must file required forms," reports the Wall Street Journal. The front page of this year's tax forms — just below "Name" and "Address" — will ask filers to declare whether they've received or exchanged any virtual currencies. The Journal calls it "setting a trap for cryptocurrency tax cheats." "This placement is unprecedented and will make it easier for the IRS to win cases against taxpayers who check 'No' when they should check 'Yes, '" says Ed Zollars, a CPA with Kaplan Financial Education who updates tax professionals on legal developments... The change to the crypto question and other recent actions show the IRS is taking cryptocurrencies seriously as a threat to the tax system, whether the noncompliance is by enthusiasts who owe little or by sophisticated international criminals. In two recent nontax criminal cases — one involving theft by North Korea and the other involving the sale of child pornography by a Dutch national — the IRS has provided key assistance because of its growing expertise in cryptocurrencies.... For their part, many crypto users are angry with the IRS's guidance, which treats bitcoin, ether and their kin as property rather than currency. So if a crypto holder uses it to buy something or exchanges one cryptocurrency for another, there's usually a capital gain or loss to report on the tax return. "Buying a sandwich with cryptocurrency shouldn't be a taxable event," says Sean Cover, a New York City cryptocurrency holder who works in finance for a nonprofit group. He says that in 2017 he had more than 500 transactions on several platforms, and it took him 10 hours to prepare his crypto tax forms even though he paid for special software. Like some members of Congress, Mr. Cover supports a $200 threshold before crypto transactions would need to be reported. The IRS says it's up to Congress to change the law.... Meanwhile, the IRS is forging ahead with other crypto compliance measures. Earlier this month, it offered rewards up to $625,000 to code-breakers who can crack so-called privacy coins like Monero that attract illicit activity because they claim to be untraceable... The IRS is also sending a new round of letters to crypto holders who may not have complied with the tax rules, expanding on last year's mailing of about 10,000 letters. Tax specialists say the recipients are often customers of Coinbase, which was ordered by a federal court to turn over information on some accounts to the IRS.

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Elon Musk, Others, Criticize Microsoft's Exclusive License for OpenAI's GPT-3

Dje, 27/09/2020 - 6:34md
"It looks like Elon Musk is increasingly unhappy with OpenAI, the AI research firm he helped found five years ago," reports Business Insider: Microsoft announced on Tuesday that it was exclusively licensing GPT-3, a natural language AI-powered tool made by OpenAI. The announcement was met with some dismay on Twitter from users who had thought OpenAI's mission statement was to make technologies like GPT-3 widely available. Elon Musk, who cofounded the company in 2015 as a non-profit AI research body, was among those who criticized the deal. "This does seem like the opposite of open. OpenAI is essentially captured by Microsoft," he said... Exactly how much exclusivity this license gives Microsoft is also unclear. In his blog post, Microsoft CTO Kevin Scott said OpenAI will continue to offer access to GPT-3 via its API. OpenAI reiterated this in its own blog post, saying "the deal has no impact on continued access to the GPT-3 model through OpenAI's API, and existing and future users of it will continue building applications with our API as usual." A Microsoft spokesperson told The Verge the deal gives Microsoft exclusive access to GPT-3's underlying code. GeekWire rounded up reactions from other AI pundits, noting that MIT's Technology Review complained OpenAI was "supposed to benefit humanity," and now "it's simply benefiting one of the richest companies in the world." And Oren Etzioni, CEO of the Allen Institute for Artificial Intelligence, said "OpenAI should be renamed ClosedAI — for all intents and purposes they are a for-profit company. But he added that GPT-3 "has remarkable capabilities and will lead to numerous applications and an even more vigorous mine-is-bigger-than-yours model arms race. I can't wait to see how Google and Amazon respond, and don't forget China."

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Thailand Launches Its First Legal Action Against Facebook and Twitter

Dje, 27/09/2020 - 5:34md
Reuters reports: Thailand launched legal action on Thursday against tech giants Facebook and Twitter for ignoring requests to take down content, in its first such move against major internet firms... "Unless the companies send their representatives to negotiate, police can bring criminal cases against them," the Ministry of Digital Economy and Society, Puttipong Punnakanta, told reporters. "But if they do, and acknowledge the wrongdoing, we can settle on fines...." The complaints were against the U.S. parent companies and not their Thai subsidiaries, Puttipong said. Cybercrime police at a news conference said they would need to look at existing laws to determine whether they had jurisdiction to take up cases against firms based outside of Thailand. Emilie Pradichit, executive director of Manushya Foundation, a digital freedom advocate, said the complaints were "a tactic to scare these companies...." Thailand has a tough lese majeste law prohibiting insulting the monarchy and a Computer Crime Act that outlaws information that is false or affects national security has also been used to prosecute criticism of the royal family.

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'Google App Engine' Abused to Create Unlimited Phishing Pages

Dje, 27/09/2020 - 4:34md
Google's cloud-based service platform for developing and hosting web apps "can be abused to deliver phishing and malware while remaining undetected by leading enterprise security products," reports Bleeping Computer, citing a startling discovery by security researcher Marcel Afrahim: A Google App Engine subdomain does not only represent an app, it represents an app's version, the service name, project ID, and region ID fields. But the most important point to note here is, if any of those fields are incorrect, Google App Engine won't show a 404 Not Found page, but instead show the app's "default" page (a concept referred to as soft routing)... Essentially, this means there are a lot of permutations of subdomains to get to the attacker's malicious app. As long as every subdomain has a valid "project_ID" field, invalid variations of other fields can be used at the attacker's discretion to generate a long list of subdomains, which all lead to the same app... The fact that a single malicious app is now represented by multiple permutations of its subdomains makes it hard for sysadmins and security professionals to block malicious activity. But further, to a technologically unsavvy user, all of these subdomains would appear to be a "secure site." After all, the appspot.com domain and all its subdomains come with the seal of "Google Trust Services" in their SSL certificates. Even further, most enterprise security solutions such as Symantec WebPulse web filter automatically allow traffic to trusted category sites. And Google's appspot.com domain, due to its reputation and legitimate corporate use cases, earns an "Office/Business Applications" tag, skipping the scrutiny of web proxies.

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'Why Modeling the Spread of COVID-19 Is So Damn Hard'

Dje, 27/09/2020 - 3:34md
Slashdot reader the_newsbeagle writes: At the beginning of the pandemic, modelers pulled out everything they had to predict the spread of the virus. This article explains the three main types of models used: 1) compartmental models that sort people into categories of exposure and recovery, 2) data-driven models that often use neural networks to make predictions, and 3) agent-based models that are something like a Sim Pandemic. "Researchers say they've learned a lot of lessons modeling this pandemic, lessons that will carry over to the next..." the article points out: Finally, researchers emphasize the need for agility. Jarad Niemi, an associate professor of statistics at Iowa State University who helps run the forecast hub used by the CDC, says software packages have made it easier to build models quickly, and the code-sharing site GitHub lets people share and compare their models. COVID-19 is giving modelers a chance to try out all their newest tools, says biologist Lauren Ancel Meyers, the head of the COVID-19 Modeling Consortium at the University of Texas at Austin. "The pace of innovation, the pace of development, is unlike ever before," she says. "There are new statistical methods, new kinds of data, new model structures." "If we want to beat this virus," says Mikhail Prokopenko, a computer scientist at the University of Sydney, "we have to be as adaptive as it is."

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Silicon Valley Tech Workers Angered By Proposal to Make Some Mandatory Telecommuting Permanent

Dje, 27/09/2020 - 12:34md
"The Metropolitan Transportation Commission, a regional government agency in the San Francisco Bay Area, voted Wednesday to move forward with a proposal to require people at large, office-based companies to work from home three days a week as a way to slash greenhouse gas emissions from car commutes," reports NBC News: It's a radical suggestion that likely would have been a non-starter before Covid-19 shuttered many offices in March, but now that corporate employees have gotten a taste of not commuting, transportation planners think the idea has wider appeal. "There is an opportunity to do things that could not have been done in the past," said Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf, a member of the transportation commission who supports the proposal. She said she felt "very strongly" that a telecommuting mandate ought to be a part of the region's future... Some of the nation's largest companies are headquartered in the Bay Area, including not only tech giants Apple, Facebook, Google, Intel and Netflix, but Chevron, Levi Strauss and Wells Fargo... The idea of a mandate was a surprise to residents, many of whom first learned of the idea this week from social media and then flooded an online meeting of the transportation agency Wednesday to try, unsuccessfully, to talk commissioners out of the idea. "We do not want to continue this as a lifestyle," Steven Buss, a Google software engineer who lives in San Francisco, told the commission. "We are all sacrificing now to reduce the spread of the virus, but no one is enjoying working from home," he said. "It's probably fine if you own a big house out in the suburbs and you're nearing retirement, but for young workers like me who live in crowded conditions, working from home is terrible." Many callers pointed out that the situation exacerbates inequality because only some types of work can be done from home. Others worried about the ripple effects on lunch spots, transit agencies and other businesses and organizations that rely on revenue from office workers. Still other residents said that if car emissions are the problem, the commission should focus on cars, not all commutes... Dustin Moskovitz, a cofounder of Facebook who usually keeps a low public profile, mocked the idea as an indictment of the Bay Area's general failure to plan for growth. "We tried nothing, and we're all out of ideas," Moskovitz, now CEO of software company Asana, tweeted Tuesday. The mandate would apply to "large, office-based employers" and require them to have at least 60 percent of their employees telecommute on any given workday. They could meet the requirement through flexible schedules, compressed work weeks or other alternatives.

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Cats Can Imitate Humans, Scientists Show For First Time

Sht, 26/09/2020 - 9:00pd
sciencehabit writes: A number of animals, from dogs to chimpanzees, can imitate human behavior. Now scientists have shown that cats can too. Under controlled conditions, a Japanese cat named Ebisu copied the movements of her owner when she touched a cardboard box and rubbed her face against it. Researchers say it's evidence of complex cognition, because the cat must be able to "map" the human's body parts onto her own. The finding may also suggest that the ability to imitate arose earlier in mammalian evolution than previously thought. The study has been published in the journal Science.

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MS Treatment a Step Closer After Drug Shown To Repair Nerve Coating

Sht, 26/09/2020 - 5:30pd
An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Guardian: Doctors believe they are closer to a treatment for multiple sclerosis after discovering a drug that repairs the coatings around nerves that are damaged by the disease. A clinical trial of the cancer drug bexarotene showed that it repaired the protective myelin sheaths that MS destroys. The loss of myelin causes a range of neurological problems including balance, vision and muscle disorders, and ultimately, disability. While bexarotene cannot be used as a treatment, because the side-effects are too serious, doctors behind the trial said the results showed "remyelination" was possible in humans, suggesting other drugs or drug combinations will halt MS. "It's disappointing that this is not the drug we'll use, but it's exciting that repair is achievable and it gives us great hope for another trial we hope to start this year," said Prof Alasdair Coles, who led the research at the University of Cambridge. The drug had some serious side-effects, from thyroid disease to raised levels of fats in the blood, which can lead to dangerous inflammation of the pancreas. But brain scans revealed that neurons had regrown their myelin sheaths, a finding confirmed by tests that showed signals sent from the retina to the visual cortex at the back of the brain had quickened. "That can only be achieved through remyelination," said Coles.

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Crows Possess Higher Intelligence Long Thought a Primarily Human Attribute, New Research Shows

Sht, 26/09/2020 - 4:02pd
Research unveiled on Thursday in Science finds that crows know what they know and can ponder the content of their own minds, a manifestation of higher intelligence and analytical thought long believed the sole province of humans and a few other higher mammals. STAT reports: "Together, the two papers show that intelligence/consciousness are grounded in connectivity and activity patterns of neurons" in the most neuron-dense part of the bird brain, called the pallium, neurobiologist Suzana Herculano-Houzel of Vanderbilt University, who wrote an analysis of the studies for Science, told STAT. "Brains can appear diverse, and at the same time share profound similarities. The extent to which similar properties present themselves might be simply a matter of scale: how many neurons are available to work." The study shows that neurons in the most complex part of the crows' brain, the pallium, "do have activity that represents not what was shown to them, but what they later report," said Herculano-Houzel. Neurons "represent what the animals next report to have seen -- whether or not that is what they were shown," she said. The neurons figure this out, so to speak, during the time lapse between when Nieder tells the birds the rule and when they peck the target to indicate their answer. "That's exactly what one would expect from neurons that participated in building the thoughts that we later report," she said, suggesting that corvids "are as cognitively capable as monkeys and even great apes." A second study, also in Science, looked in unprecedented detail at the neuroanatomy of pigeons and barn owls, finding hints to the basis of their intelligence that likely applies to corvids', too. STAT reports: Specifically, the pigeons' and owls' neurons meet at right angles, forming computational circuits organized in columns. "The avian version of this connectivity blueprint could conceivably generate computational properties reminiscent of the [mammalian] neocortex," they write. "[S]imilar microcircuits ... achieve largely identical cognitive outcomes from seemingly vastly different forebrains." That is, evolution invented connected, circuit-laden brain structure at least twice. "In theory, any brain that has a large number of neurons connected into associative circuitry ... could be expected to add flexibility and complexity to behavior," said Herculano-Houzel. "That is my favorite operational definition of intelligence: behavioral flexibility." That enables pigeons to home, count, and be as trainable as monkeys. But for sheer smarts we're still in the corvid camp.

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Facebook's Oversight Board Won't Launch In Time To Oversee the Election

Sht, 26/09/2020 - 3:25pd
"On Friday, a coalition of academics and legal experts announced the formation of the 'Real Facebook Oversight Board,' an informal group that will publicly call out Facebook's slow action in advance of the election, including early Facebook investor Roger McNamee and Harvard professor Shoshana Zuboff," reports The Verge. The only problem is that it won't launch in time to hear cases related to the U.S. election. From the report: The group plans to hold regular "board meetings" to discuss failures of platform policy, with the first scheduled to be hosted by Kara Swisher on October 1. In a statement, Zuboff described Facebook as "a roiling cauldron of lies, violence and danger destabilizing elections and democratic governance around the world." The group also include Guardian journalist Carole Cadwalladr, known for her work on the Cambridge Analytica story. "This is an emergency response," Cadwalladr told NBC News this morning. "We know there are going to be a series of incidents leading up to the election and beyond in which Facebook is crucial." The board will hold no power and is largely meant as a symbolic gesture. Still, it has placed new pressure on Facebook's Oversight Board, which was initially scheduled for launch this summer. Oversight Board members now estimate that the project will launch in October. That will be too late to hear cases related to the US election, given the months-long process for fully adjudicating a case. "We are currently testing the newly deployed technical systems that will allow users to appeal and the Board to review cases," the Oversight Board said. "Assuming those tests go to plan, we expect to open user appeals in mid to late October. Building a process that is thorough, principled and globally effective takes time and our members have been working aggressively to launch as soon as possible."

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Amid the Pandemic's Urban Quiet, a Song That Makes Sense

Sht, 26/09/2020 - 2:45pd
"Every musician knows that when the performers can hear one another, the performance is always better than otherwise," writes Slashdot reader nightcats. "This principle applies in nature as well, and has been anecdotally witnessed amid the quiet imposed by COVID-19 on cities around the world. In San Francisco, behavioral ecologist Liz Derryberry has been able to deliver a dramatic scientific demonstration of the changes to the songs of the white-crowned sparrow amid the quiet of 2020." National Geographic reports: With most San Franciscans staying at home due to the coronavirus pandemic, she decided to seize an unprecedented opportunity to study how this small, scrappy songbird responded when human noises disappeared. By recording the species' calls among the abandoned streets of the Bay Area in the following months, Derryberry and colleagues have revealed that the shutdown dramatically improved the birds' calls, both in quality and efficiency. The research, published today in Science, is among the first to scientifically evaluate the effects of the pandemic on urban wildlife. It also adds to a burgeoning field of research into how the barrage of human-made noise has disrupted nature, from ships drowning out whale songs to automobile traffic jamming bat sonar.

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