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Most Expensive Year on Record for US Natural Disasters

Posted: 10 Jan 2018 10:04 AM PST

Most expensive year on record for US natural disasters

2017 will be remembered as a year of extremes for the U.S. as floods, tornadoes, hurricanes, drought, fires and freezes claimed hundreds of lives and visited economic hardship upon the nation. Recovery from the ravages of three major Atlantic hurricanes making landfall in the U.S. and an extreme and ongoing wildfire season in the West is expected to continue well into the new year.

The US experienced a record year of losses from fires, hurricanes and other weather related disasters in 2017, according to the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (Noaa). Total losses amounted to $306bn the agency said, over $90bn more than the previous record set in 2005.

Last year saw 16 separate events with losses exceeding $1bn, including Hurricanes Harvey and Irma. Noaa confirmed that 2017 was the third warmest year on record for the US.

Hurricane Harvey produced major flooding as a result of a storm surge and extreme rain. Nearly 800,000 people needed help. Researchers have already shown that climate change increased the likelihood of the observed rainfall by a factor of at least 3.5. Noaa says the total costs of the Harvey event were $125bn, which is second only to Hurricane Katrina in terms of costs over the 38 years the record has been maintained. Hurricane Irma was a Category 5 storm for the longest period on record. Rain gauges in Nederland, Texas, recorded 1,539mm, the largest ever recorded for a single event in the mainland US. Hurricanes Irma and Maria cost $50bn and $90bn respectively.

Most expensive year on record for US natural disasters

[Also Covered By]: U.S. Spent a Record $306 Billion on Natural Disasters in 2017

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A Simple Sticker Tricked Neural Networks Into Classifying Anything as a Toaster

Posted: 10 Jan 2018 08:34 AM PST

Image recognition technology may be sophisticated, but it is also easily duped. Researchers have fooled algorithms into confusing two skiers for a dog, a baseball for espresso, and a turtle for a rifle. But a new method of deceiving the machines is simple and far-reaching, involving just a humble sticker.

Google researchers developed a psychedelic sticker that, when placed in an unrelated image, tricks deep learning systems into classifying the image as a toaster. According to a recently submitted research paper about the attack, this adversarial patch is "scene-independent," meaning someone could deploy it "without prior knowledge of the lighting conditions, camera angle, type of classifier being attacked, or even the other items within the scene." It's also easily accessible, given it can be shared and printed from the internet.

Original Submission

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OpenSSH SFTP Chroot Code Execution

Posted: 10 Jan 2018 07:01 AM PST

The SFTP component in OpenSSH provides a chroot-feature for hardening. It is stated in the documentation that the chroot directory must not be writable by the user account, though specific files and subdirectories within it are allowed. Some people were questioning the read-only restriction. halfdog documents some analysis which is the result of discussions on openssh-dev mailing list. Here are some arguments about why these restrictions still makes sense in 2018.

Original Submission

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Microsoft Meltdown and Spectre Patches Bricked Some AMD PCs

Posted: 10 Jan 2018 05:28 AM PST

Microsoft's 'Meltdown' updates are reportedly bricking AMD PCs

Following reports of unbootable machines, Microsoft has halted updates of its Meltdown and Spectre security patches for AMD computers, according to a support note spotted by the Verge. It made the move after numerous complaints from users who installed the patch and then couldn't get past the Windows 10 splash screen. "To prevent AMD customers from getting into an unbootable state, Microsoft will temporarily pause sending the following Windows operating system updates to devices with impacted AMD processors," it wrote.

[...] "After investigating, Microsoft has determined that some AMD chipsets do not conform to the documentation previously provided to Microsoft to develop the Windows operating system mitigations to protect against the chipset vulnerabilities known as Spectre and Meltdown," the company said.

Original Submission

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UK Gov Admits Smut Age Checks Could Harm Small ISPs And Encourage Risky Online Behaviour

Posted: 10 Jan 2018 03:55 AM PST

Arthur T Knackerbracket has found the following story:

Enforcing age verification checks for online porn sites could be detrimental to smaller ISPs and significantly increase online fraud, the government has admitted.

The measures, which are due to come into force in May, will require UK residents to prove they are 18 or over in order to get access to porn sites.

[...] And the one for age verification (PDF) – slipped out over the Christmas break – is a doozy, reeling off a list covering concerns about privacy, online fraud and reputational damage to the government.

The document also set out the costs of the new measures, which includes a cost to the public purse of between £1m and £7.9m for the creation of the regulator.

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More on Seagate's Plans to Double HDD Speeds With Multi-Actuator Technology

Posted: 10 Jan 2018 02:22 AM PST

The Register asked Seagate's Director of Technology Strategy and Product Planning Jason Feist about the company's plans to use multi-actuator technology in upcoming hard disk drives. Seagate insists that the technology can double input/output operations per second (rather than increasing it by, for example, 1.8x), and says that customers have validated the concept:

Howard Marks, founder and chief scientist at Deep Storage Net said: "We've had drives with 2 positioners before (IBM 3380 - one set of heads were dedicated to inner tracks, the other to outer tracks). That was back in the day of linear voice coils so they came from opposite sides of the 14-inch platters."

He identifies a software issue with Seagate's multi-actuator single pivot design: "Most storage software including logical volume managers and file systems, are built with the knowledge that a disk drive can only have it's heads in one place at a time and their queuing logic may mismatch with the multipositioner logic." This means: "It may not double throughput for large I/Os."

It could get close though, as "I understand that Seagate is going to make these look like 2 logical drives via a driver. That should solve #1 above and let systems get 1.8-1.9X IOPS."

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FBI Director Calls Encryption a "Major Public Safety Issue"

Posted: 10 Jan 2018 12:49 AM PST

The Washington Post has a story which says:

FBI Director Christopher A. Wray on Tuesday renewed a call for tech companies to help law enforcement officials gain access to encrypted smartphones, describing it as a "major public safety issue."

Wray said the bureau was unable to gain access to the content of 7,775 devices in fiscal 2017 — more than half of all the smartphones it tried to crack in that time period — despite having a warrant from a judge.

"Being unable to access nearly 7,800 devices in a single year is a major public safety issue," he said, taking up a theme that was a signature issue of his predecessor, James B. Comey.

Wray was then quoted as saying:

"We're not interested in the millions of devices of everyday citizens," he said in New York at Fordham University's International Conference on Cyber Security. "We're interested in those devices that have been used to plan or execute terrorist or criminal activities."

He then went on to promote the long-disparaged idea of key escrow:

As an example of a possible compromise, Wray cited a case from New York several years ago. Four major banks, he said, were using a chat messaging platform called Symphony, which was marketed as offering "guaranteed data deletion." State financial regulators became concerned that the chat platform would hamper investigations of Wall Street.

"In response," Wray said, "the four banks reached an agreement with the regulators to ensure responsible use" of Symphony. They agreed to keep a copy of their communications sent through the app for seven years and to store duplicate copies of their encryption keys with independent custodians not controlled by the banks, he said.

To me this is more of the utter nonsense the government has spouted. When will they understand that key escrow only works when one trusts the government and the keeper of the keys?

Read more of this story at SoylentNews.

Discovering The Structure Of RNA

Posted: 09 Jan 2018 11:16 PM PST

Arthur T Knackerbracket has found the following story:

It is the less known member of the nucleic acid family, superseded in popularity by its cousin DNA. And yet RNA, or ribonucleic acid, plays an essential role in many biological processes: not only as messenger molecule with the task of transmitting genetic information from the nucleus to the cytoplasm for protein production, but also as protagonist of different and significantly important cellular mechanisms.

In many of these, its structure plays a crucial role. Structure is different and characteristic for each RNA depending on the sequence of specific units, known as nucleotides, which compose it like the links of a chain.

A research team at SISSA, led by Professor Giovanni Bussi, has developed a computerised simulation model which can effectively predict the three-dimensional conformation of the RNA filament starting from a sequence of nucleotides. The lead author of the study, just published in the journal Nucleic Acids Research, is SISSA researcher Simón Poblete. The work promises to have a significant impact in the research and application field.

Original Submission

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Shakedown In Oklahoma: To Cut The Number Of Bigger Earthquakes, Inject Less Saltwater

Posted: 09 Jan 2018 09:43 PM PST

Arthur T Knackerbracket has found the following story:

In Oklahoma, reducing the amount of saltwater (highly brackish water produced during oil and gas recovery) pumped into the ground seems to be decreasing the number of small fluid-triggered earthquakes. But a new study shows why it wasn't enough to ease bigger earthquakes. The study, led by Ryan M. Pollyea of Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, Virginia, was published online ahead of print in Geology this week.

Starting around 2009, saltwater disposal (SWD) volume began increasing dramatically as unconventional oil and gas production increased rapidly throughout Oklahoma. As a result, the number of magnitude 3-plus earthquakes rattling the state has jumped from about one per year before 2011 to more than 900 in 2015. "Fluids are basically lubricating existing faults," Pollyea explains. Oklahoma is now the most seismically active state in the lower 48 United States.

Previous studies linked Oklahoma SWD wells and seismic activity in time. Instead, Pollyea and colleagues studied that correlation in space, analyzing earthquake epicenters and SWD well locations. The team focused on the Arbuckle Group, a porous geologic formation in north-central Oklahoma used extensively for saltwater disposal. The earthquakes originate in the basement rock directly below the Arbuckle, at a depth of 4 to 8 kilometers.

The correlation was clear: "When we plotted the average annual well locations and earthquake epicenters, they moved together in space," says Pollyea. The researchers also found that SWD volume and earthquake occurrence are spatially correlated up to 125 km. That's the distance within which there seems to be a connection between injection volume, fluid movement, and earthquake occurrence.

Original Submission

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Extremely Rare Snowfall Blankets The Sand Dunes Of The Sahara

Posted: 09 Jan 2018 08:10 PM PST

Submitted via IRC for cmn32480

The Sahara Desert is famously hot, dry, generally inhospitable and covered in sand as far as the eye can see. It's a little bit more diverse than that in reality, however, with lush green segments dotted along the Nile Valley and scattered in the margins surrounding an extremely arid heart – and, yes, precipitation does fall across the region several times per year.

Snowfall on the sand dunes of the Sahara, however, is a little unexpected.

Source: http://www.iflscience.com/environment/extremely-rare-snowfall-blankets-sand-dunes-sahara/

Original Submission

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Multi-Star Wavefront Control Using Deformable Mirrors Could Improve Exoplanet Imaging

Posted: 09 Jan 2018 06:37 PM PST

To improve the ability of telescopes to directly image exoplanets, rather than blocking light using a coronagraph, deformable mirrors could be used to bounce photons from different light sources into different sensors. The "multi-star wavefront control" method could help account for multiple light sources, which is useful for binary stars and other multiple star systems which are common in our galaxy:

Technology in development could capture images from an Earth-size planet in the nearby Alpha Centauri system in the 2020s, new research suggests. The new technique, presented Dec. 15 at the American Geophysical Union's annual meeting in New Orleans, could also help researchers see exoplanets in other systems with more than one star.

[...] Although scientists could conceivably use more than one coronagraph to block out the light from all the stars in a multiple system, tiny imperfections within the components of a telescope would inevitably cause light to leak through a coronagraph, Belikov said. "This light is only a small fraction of the original star's light but can still overwhelm planets, which are much fainter still," he told Space.com.Belikov and his colleagues have developed a way to get around that issue and image exoplanets in multiple-star systems.

[...] The new method the researchers have devised, known as the multi-star wavefront control, relies on deformable mirrors within telescopes that are used to bounce light from stars and planets onto sensors. These mirrors can alter the shape of their surfaces to correct for imperfections within the optical components of telescopes.

[...] A major advantage of this new system "is that it is compatible with many already-designed instruments," Belikov said. "A deformable mirror is all that's needed, which is almost always present with modern coronagraphs." Ideally, "we hope to infuse our technology into future space telescopes to enable them to target Alpha Centauri and other binaries," Belikov said. "These range from small telescopes like ACESat or Project Blue that can be launched in the early 2020s, WFIRST in the mid-2020s, and LUVOIR or HabEx in the 2030s. There are also telescopes on the ground that can use this technology."

Also at ExtremeTech.

Original Submission

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Go Retro in Order to Build a Spectre and Meltdown-Proof x86 Desktop

Posted: 09 Jan 2018 05:04 PM PST

Submitted via IRC for TheMightyBuzzard

[Yeo Kheng Meng] had a question: what is the oldest x86 processor that is still supported by a modern Linux kernel? Furthermore, is it actually possible to use modern software with this processor? It's a question that surely involves experimentation, staring into the bluescreen abyss of BIOS configurations, and compiling your own kernel. Considering Linux dropped support for the 386 in 2012, the obvious answer is a 486. This supposition was tested, and the results are fantastic. You can, indeed, install a modern Linux on an ancient desktop.

Source: https://hackaday.com/2018/01/07/go-retro-to-build-a-spectre-and-meltdown-proof-x86-desktop/

Original Submission

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Koch-Backed Groups Urge Congress to Pass "Right to Try" Legislation

Posted: 09 Jan 2018 03:31 PM PST

Groups funded by Charles and David Koch have launched ad campaigns aimed at urging Congress to pass legislation that would make it easier for terminally ill patients to try experimental treatments. The bill passed the Senate unanimously, but FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb told the House in October (archive) that the FDA already approves 99% of requests for expanded access/compassionate use, and that the primary roadblock is not the FDA, but drug supply constraints. He said that pharmaceutical companies do not continuously manufacture a drug undergoing clinical trials, but instead produce "discontinuous batches":

Several deep-pocketed political advocacy groups founded by Charles and David Koch are ramping up their advocacy before Congress on a niche issue: access to experimental drugs.

On Monday, several Koch-backed groups, including Freedom Partners and Americans for Prosperity, launched an ad campaign urging Congress to pass so-called "right-to-try" legislation, which aims to help terminally ill patients access experimental treatments that haven't yet been approved by the Food and Drug Administration. The Senate unanimously passed a right-to-try bill from Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) last August, but it has since stalled in the House. Supporters, including lawmakers on Capitol Hill and other off-the-Hill advocates, are focusing their efforts this month on the Energy and Commerce Committee, which would likely have to clear the legislation before the full House could vote on it.

The new ad campaign — also sponsored by Generation Opportunity and The LIBRE Initiative — directly addresses Congress, saying at the end of one commercial, "Congress, give patients a chance. Pass right to try." In addition to a series of digital ads focused on D.C. and key congressional districts, the campaign will include lobbying efforts by the groups, according to a press release. In a letter sent Monday to Committee Chairman Greg Walden (R-Ore.), executives wrote, "We strongly urge your committee to act expeditiously to approve Right to Try legislation and send the bill to the House Floor for a full vote."

Johnson told STAT he's doing everything he can this month to get the legislation passed, and suggested the vice president might become even more engaged. Vice President Mike Pence has supported right-to-try efforts since he signed a similar law as governor of Indiana.

S.204 - Trickett Wendler, Frank Mongiello, Jordan McLinn, and Matthew Bellina Right to Try Act of 2017

Related: What a Gottlieb-Led FDA Might Mean for the Pharmaceutical Industry
FDA Nominee is a Proponent of "Adaptive Trials"
Texas Sanctions FDA-Unapproved Stem Cell Therapies
University Could Lose Millions From "Unethical" Research Backed by Peter Thiel
"Black Hole" of Accountability for Drug Trials Flouting FDA Oversight?
Drug Approvals Sped Up in 2017

Original Submission

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Individual Personal Details From "Aadhaar", India's Billion-Person Identity Database, for $8

Posted: 09 Jan 2018 01:58 PM PST

The Aadhaar biometric database covering over 99% of the adult population in India has been compromised and its contents are now for sale. Full personal details on around 1 billion adult citizens of India, including several biometrics, are available for $8.

takyon: $8 per individual.

Original Submission

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Pfizer Halts Research Into Alzheimer's and Parkinson's; Axovant Sciences Abandons Intepirdine

Posted: 09 Jan 2018 12:25 PM PST

Pfizer has announced that it will halt efforts to find new treatments for Alzheimer's and Parkinson's diseases. Meanwhile, Axovant Sciences will halt its studies of intepirdine after it failed to show any improvement for dementia and Alzheimer's patients. The company's stock price has declined around 90% in 3 months:

Pfizer has announced plans to end its research efforts to discover new drugs for Alzheimer's and Parkinson's diseases. The pharmaceutical giant explained its decision, which will entail roughly 300 layoffs, as a move to better position itself "to bring new therapies to patients who need them."

"As a result of a recent comprehensive review, we have made the decision to end our neuroscience discovery and early development efforts and re-allocate [spending] to those areas where we have strong scientific leadership and that will allow us to provide the greatest impact for patients," Pfizer said in a statement emailed to NPR.

[...] Despite heavily funding research efforts into potential treatments in the past, Pfizer has faced high-profile disappointment in recent years, as Reuters notes: "In 2012, Pfizer and partner Johnson & Johnson (JNJ.N) called off additional work on the drug bapineuzumab after it failed to help patients with mild to moderate Alzheimer's in its second round of clinical trials."

Another potential treatment for neurodegenerative disorders — this one developed by Axovant, another pharmaceutical company — also found itself recently abandoned. The company dropped its experimental drug intepirdine after it failed to improve motor function in patients with a certain form of dementia — just three months after it also failed to show positive effects in Alzheimer's patients.

Looks like GlaxoSmithKline got a good deal when they sold the rights to intepirdine to Axovant Sciences in 2014.

Also at Bloomberg.

Related: Can we Turn Back the Clock on Alzheimer's?
Possible Cure for Alzheimer's to be Tested Within the Next Three Years
Mefenamic Acid Might Cure Alzheimers - Generic Cost in US is Crazy
New Alzheimer's Treatment Fully Restores Memory Function in Mice
Power Outage in the Brain may be Source of Alzheimer's
Another Failed Alzheimer's Disease Therapy
The FDA Saved Taxpayers from Paying Billions for Ineffective Alzheimer's Therapy
Alzheimer's Disease: A "Whole Body" Problem?
Bill Gates Commits $100 Million to Alzheimer's Research
Evidence That Alzheimer's Protein Spreads Like an Infection

Original Submission

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Key CRISPR Gene Editing Methods Might Not Work for Most Humans

Posted: 09 Jan 2018 10:46 AM PST

At first glance, CRISPR gene editing looks like the solution to all the world's ills: it could treat or even cure diseases, improve birth rates and otherwise fix genetic conditions that previously seemed permanent. You might want to keep your expectations low, though. Scientists have published preliminary findings indicating that two variants of CRISPR Cas9 (the most common gene editing technique) might not work for most humans. In a study, between 65 percent and 79 percent of subjects had antibodies that would fight Cas9 proteins.

The potential reaction isn't shocking. Both Cas9 variants are based on common bacteria, S. aureus and S. pyrogenes, that tend to infect humans. However, that could also produce reactions that would be... unpleasant. At the least, they could "hinder the safe and effective use" of CRISPR to treat disease. And in the worst cases, they could result in "significant toxicity" for patients.

It's important to stress that the research hasn't been peer-reviewed yet. Geneticists might not need to go back to the drawing board just yet.

Source: https://www.engadget.com/2018/01/07/crispr-gene-editing-methods-might-not-work-for-most-humans/

Original Submission

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