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Russia Assembles Engineering Group for Lunar Activities and the Deep Space Gateway

Posted: 09 Jan 2018 09:14 AM PST

Deep Space Gateway (DSG) is a planned space station in lunar orbit. The U.S. and Russia signed an agreement last year to work on the station's development. Now Russia has created an engineering department inside the RKK Energia space corporation in order to plan the nation's lunar exploration, including a possible manned landing:

Officially, Moscow has been on a path to put a human on the Moon since 2013, when President Putin approved a general direction for human space flight in the coming decade. The program had been stalling for several years due to falling prices for oil, the main source of revenue for the Russian budget. Last year, however, the Russian lunar exploration effort was given a new impetus when the Kremlin made a strategic decision to cooperate with NASA on the construction of a habitable outpost in the orbit around the Moon, known as Deep Space Gateway, DSG.

Although the US saw the primary goal of the DSG as a springboard for missions to Mars, NASA's international partners, including Russia, have been pushing the idea of exploring the Moon first. On the Russian side, RKK Energia led key engineering studies into the design of the DSG and participated in negotiations with NASA on sharing responsibilities for the project.

To coordinate various technical aspects of lunar exploration, the head of RKK Energia Vladimir Solntsev signed an order late last year to form Center No. 23Ts, which would report directly to him. According to a document seen by Ars Technica, the group will be responsible for developing long-term plans for human missions to the vicinity of the Moon and to its surface, as well as for implementing proposals for international cooperation in lunar missions. This is a clear signal that NASA might soon have a new liaison in Russia for all things related to the DSG. The same group will also take care of all the relevant domestic interactions between RKK Energia and its subcontractors.

Unlike the ISS, the DSG should not require any orbital boost burns and could reach any altitude above the Moon using ion thrusters.

Here are two op-eds from last year about the Deep Space Gateway:

Terry Virts: The Deep Space Gateway would shackle human exploration, not enable it

John Thornton: The Deep Space Gateway as a cislunar port

Related articles:

Previously: NASA Eyeing Mini Space Station in Lunar Orbit as Stepping Stone to Mars
Lockheed Martin Repurposing Shuttle Cargo Module to Use for Lunar Orbiting Base
Bigelow and ULA to Put Inflatable Module in Orbit Around the Moon by 2022
President Trump Signs Space Policy Directive 1

Related: Space Habitats Beyond LEO: A Short Step Towards the Stars
Should We Skip Mars for Now and Go to the Moon Again?
Japan Planning to Put a Man on the Moon Around 2030
Space Race: 6 Manned Moon Missions With the Best Chances of Success
ESA Expert Envisions "Moon Village" by 2030-2050
Bigelow Expandable Activity Module to Continue Stay at the International Space Station
Enter the Moon Cave
India and Japan to Collaborate on Lunar Lander and Sample Return Mission


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History of the Age of Empires Series

Posted: 09 Jan 2018 07:48 AM PST

Over the last 20 years, these epoch-spanning games have starred more than 50 historical civilizations, sales have surpassed more than 20 million units, and a core fanbase of hundreds of thousands has put hours upon hours into playing one series entry or another on a weekly basis. Age of Empires is one of the most influential strategy games of all time. And far from fading into obscurity, as history is wont to do, Empires is now squarely back in the (games-playing) public consciousness.

[...] I spoke to several of the two dozen or so people who worked on the original Age of Empires about how it was made. I asked them to reflect on the series' triumphs, successes, failures, and legacy. This is a compressed retelling of their many stories, focusing on the early days—the building of the foundations that are so central to both the Age story and each of the Age games—but spanning the full breadth of the series' life

https://arstechnica.com/gaming/2018/01/the-age-of-age-of-empires-as-told-by-the-devs-who-built-it/

Long read.


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Rumors Swirl Around the Fate of the Secret "Zuma" Satellite Launched by SpaceX

Posted: 09 Jan 2018 07:15 AM PST

A classified satellite launched by SpaceX on Sunday may be experiencing a classified failure:

Later on Monday afternoon another space reporter, Peter B. de Selding, reported on Twitter that he too had been hearing about problems with the satellite. "Zuma satellite from @northropgrumman may be dead in orbit after separation from @SpaceX Falcon 9, sources say," de Selding tweeted. "Info blackout renders any conclusion - launcher issue? Satellite-only issue? — impossible to draw."

Update: SpaceX said the Falcon 9 rocket performed nominally, but unnamed sources reportedly told the Wall Street Journal that the payload did not separate from the Falcon 9 second stage and that both fell into the ocean:

An expensive, highly classified U.S. spy satellite is presumed to be a total loss after it failed to reach orbit atop a Space Exploration Technologies Corp. rocket on Sunday, according to industry and government officials. Lawmakers and congressional staffers from the Senate and the House have been briefed about the botched mission, some of the officials said. The secret payload—code-named Zuma and launched from Florida on board a Falcon 9 rocket—is believed to have plummeted back into the atmosphere, they said, because it didn't separate as planned from the upper part of the rocket.

The WSJ report has been disputed. Space-Track has catalogued the Zuma payload as USA 280, international designation 2018-001A, catalog number 43098, but that doesn't necessarily mean Zuma survived. CelesTrak lists the status as operational (search 43098 in NORAD Catalog Number field).

If the mission did fail, SpaceX could also blame Northrup Grumman for using their own payload adapter.

Also at CBS News, SpaceFlight Insider, Bloomberg, Popular Mechanics, CNBC, and USA Today.


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John Young, a Pioneer Who Flew Four Different Spacecraft, Died This Past Friday at the Age of 87

Posted: 09 Jan 2018 05:41 AM PST

John Young was an astronaut's astronaut—quiet, reticent, and utterly reliable in space. During his long and incomparable career as an astronaut, he flew three different vehicles into space: the Gemini capsule, the Apollo capsule, and the space shuttle. He died Friday night, at the age of 87, from complications of pneumonia.

With a tenure that spanned 42 years, Young had the longest career of any astronaut. He piloted the first fight of a Gemini spacecraft, alongside commander Gus Grissom, commanded another Gemini mission, then flew two Apollo missions to the Moon, and finally commanded the first and ninth flights of the space shuttle. During Apollo 16, he spent 71 hours on the surface of the Moon, and also flew the lunar module. With his passing, just five living human beings have walked on the Moon: Buzz Aldrin, 87; Alan Bean, 85; Dave Scott, 85; Charlie Duke, 82; and Harrison Schmitt, 82.

Further ReadingThe Greatest Leap, Part 3: The triumph and near-tragedy of the first Moon landing

After earning a degree in aeronautical engineering from the Georgia Institute of Technology in 1952, Young joined the US Navy. He was not eligible for the initial Mercury class of astronauts in 1959, but he was a member of the next nine selected in 1962, a legendary class that included Neil Armstrong, Jim Lovell, and others who flew many of the Gemini and Apollo missions.

Source: https://arstechnica.com/science/2018/01/john-young-a-pioneer-who-flew-three-different-spacecraft-has-died/

Obligatory xkcd.


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Hybrid Octocopter at CES

Posted: 09 Jan 2018 04:08 AM PST

Humans Can Fly in This Drone-Like Electric Hybrid 'Octocopter'

The company that partnered with UPS to create a package-delivering drone is ready to fly its new passenger aerial vehicle.

The SureFly, a two-seater electric hybrid helicopter (or "octocopter," because of its eight propellers), has received approval from the FAA to take a test flight at CES in Las Vegas on Jan. 8.

Designed by Ohio-based commercial transportation solutions company Workhorse Group, the SureFly is designed to be safer, easier to fly and more affordable than a typical chopper. SureFly pilots can drive the aircraft in a similar manner to a drone -- via joystick instead of steering wheel -- and carry up to 400 pounds for up to 70 miles at a time. The aircraft is also compact: It's smaller than a pickup truck, plus its arms and propellers fold to simplify transportation and storage.


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Barnes & Noble Reports Holiday Revenues Down

Posted: 09 Jan 2018 02:35 AM PST

Barnes & Noble reported their sales from the 2017 holiday quarter, and the news is not good.

B&N today reported holiday sales for the nine-week holiday period ending December 30, 2017. Total sales for the holiday period were $953 million, declining 6.4% as compared to the prior year. Comparable store sales also declined 6.4% for the holiday period, while online sales declined 4.5%.

Entering December, the Company was encouraged by the comparable store sales improvements throughout the second quarter and into November. However, sales trends softened in December, primarily due to lower traffic.

The Company's book business declined 4.5%, outperforming the overall comparable store sales performance. Declines in the gift, music and DVD categories accounted for nearly half of the comparable store sales decrease. The Company said it remains focused on executing its strategic turnaround plan, which includes an aggressive expense management program.

The keywords are "aggressive expense management program," which translates to "lowering" the cost of employees, and closing and downsizing stores.

Previously: Barnes & Noble Pivots to Books


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GoPro Cuts 20% of its Workforce as It Exits the Drone Business

Posted: 09 Jan 2018 01:02 AM PST

Action camera make GoPro has not benefited from entering the drone business. In fact, the company is reeling from it:

GoPro hoped its Karma drone would drive growth. Instead, the action camera maker confirmed it's ending Karma production and will cut nearly 300 jobs, or more than 20% of its global workforce.

The company may also be putting itself up for sale: According to CNBC, the company has hired JP Morgan Chase to seek a potential sale. "If there are opportunities for us to unite with a bigger parent company to scale GoPro even bigger, that is something that we would look at," GoPro CEO Nick Woodman told CNBC earlier Monday.

Karma had a disastrous launch in 2016. Only a few weeks after its release, GoPro issued a mass recall of 2,500 units because faulty engineering caused the drones to lose power mid-flight and drop out of the sky.

The drone remained the second most popular of its price class after the recall, GoPro said, but an "extremely competitive aerial market," as well as a "hostile regulatory environment" in Europe and the US made the product's future "untenable."

Also at The Mercury News and Ars Technica.

Related: Ask Soylent: Best Long Range, Camera Drone for under $1K?


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Academic Censorship on Trial in Wisconsin

Posted: 08 Jan 2018 11:27 PM PST

It looks like anybody can be against academic censorship, as this opinion piece in the Washington Post shows:

Wisconsin's Supreme Court can soon right a flagrant wrong stemming from events set in motion in 2014 at Milwaukee's Marquette University by Cheryl Abbate. Although just a graduate student, she already had a precocious aptitude for academic nastiness.

On Oct. 28, in an undergraduate course she was teaching on ethics, when the subject of same-sex marriage arose, there was no debate, because, a student said, Abbate insisted that there could be no defensible opposition to this. (Marquette is a Jesuit school.) After class, the student told her that he opposed same-sex marriage and her discouraging of debate about it. She replied (he recorded their interaction) that "there are some opinions that are not appropriate that are harmful [...]

[...] McAdams, a tenured professor then in his 41st year at Marquette and a conservative who blogs about the school's news, emailed Abbate seeking her version of the episode. Without responding to him, she immediately forwarded his email to some professors. She has called McAdams "the ringleader" of "extreme white [sic] wing, hateful people," a "moron," "a flaming bigot, sexist and homophobic idiot" and a "creepy homophobic person with bad argumentation skills."

Because there is almost no Wisconsin case law concerning academic freedom that could have guided the circuit court, McAdams is asking the state supreme court to bypass the appeals court and perform its function as the state's "law-developing court." He is also asking the court to be cognizant of the cultural context: Nationwide, colleges and universities "are under pressure" — all of it from within the institutions — "to enact or implement speech codes or otherwise restrict speech in various ways."

[Post-publishing edit: An A/C below helpfully provides the following far more neutral reportage by Inside higher Ed titled Ethics Lesson which explains the situation with more light and less head. Thanks A/C - Ed. (FP)]


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When The Cash Register Doesn't Take Cash

Posted: 08 Jan 2018 09:43 PM PST

Bluestone, which now has 20 stores in the U.S., went cashless last October.

A big reason: Nearly 90 percent of customers [...] never paid in cash.

Another reason: The lines move faster when employees don't have to make change.

"We see a lot of guests that pay for a meal with a credit card, but will always leave a cash tip. And I think people like doing that. People like palming a bartender a $20 or palming their server a $10. Palming the bus boy a couple bucks," said Fileccia.

There are also people, he said, who want to keep their meal off the books — if they're having an affair, for example.

No, businesses are not required to accept cash: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Legal_tender


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Chemists Outline How the Citric Acid Cycle Could Have Developed Before Life on Earth

Posted: 08 Jan 2018 07:56 PM PST

Chemists have found a series of chemical reactions that could have led to the first life on Earth:

Chemists at The Scripps Research Institute (TSRI) have developed a fascinating new theory for how life on Earth may have begun. Their experiments, described today in the journal Nature Communications, demonstrate that key chemical reactions that support life today could have been carried out with ingredients likely present on the planet four billion years ago.

[...] For the new study, Krishnamurthy and his coauthors, who are all members of the National Science Foundation/National Aeronautics and Space Administration Center for Chemical Evolution, focused on a series of chemical reactions that make up what researchers refer to as the citric acid cycle.

[...] Leaders of the new study started with the chemical reactions first. They wrote the recipe and then determined which molecules present on early Earth could have worked as ingredients. The new study outlines how two non-biological cycles—called the HKG cycle and the malonate cycle—could have come together to kick-start a crude version of the citric acid cycle. The two cycles use reactions that perform the same fundamental chemistry of a-ketoacids and b-ketoacids as in the citric acid cycle. These shared reactions include aldol additions, which bring new source molecules into the cycles, as well as beta and oxidative decarboxylations, which release the molecules as carbon dioxide (CO2).

As they ran these reactions, the researchers found they could produce amino acids in addition to CO2, which are also the end products of the citric acid cycle. The researchers think that as biological molecules like enzymes became available, they could have led to the replacement of non-biological molecules in these fundamental reactions to make them more elaborate and efficient.

Citric acid cycle.

Linked cycles of oxidative decarboxylation of glyoxylate as protometabolic analogs of the citric acid cycle (open, DOI: 10.1038/s41467-017-02591-0) (DX)

Previously: Diamidophosphate (DAP): "Missing Link" for Abiogenesis? (also by The Scripps Research Institute)

Related: Did Life on Earth Start Due to Meteorites Splashing Into Warm Little Ponds?
Life's First Molecule Was Protein, Not RNA, New Model Suggests
Analysis of Microfossils Finds that Microbial Life Existed at Least 3.5 Billion Years Ago


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Ancient DNA Reveals a Completely Unknown Population of Native Americans

Posted: 08 Jan 2018 06:11 PM PST

In the local people's tongue, her name means 'sunrise girl-child', and even though she only lived for six fleeting weeks, she's already told scientists more than we ever knew about the very first Native Americans.

Sunrise girl-child ("Xach'itee'aanenh T'eede Gaay") lived some 11,500 years ago in what is now called Alaska, and her ancient DNA reveals not only the origins of Native American society, but reminds the world of a whole population of people forgotten by history millennia ago.

"We didn't know this population existed," says anthropologist Ben Potter from the University of Alaska Fairbanks.

"It would be difficult to overstate the importance of this newly revealed people to our understanding of how ancient populations came to inhabit the Americas."

[...] "[This is] the first direct evidence of the initial founding Native American population," Potter says. "It is markedly more complex than we thought."

Source: http://www.sciencealert.com/dna-11-000-years-ago-reveals-origins-native-americans-ancient-beringians

J. Víctor Moreno-Mayar, et. al. Terminal Pleistocene Alaskan genome reveals first founding population of Native Americans. Nature, doi:10.1038/nature25173


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Your Smartphone is Making You Stupid, Antisocial and Unhealthy

Posted: 08 Jan 2018 04:44 PM PST

Your smartphone is making you stupid, antisocial and unhealthy

A decade ago, smart devices promised to change the way we think and interact, and they have – but not by making us smarter. Eric Andrew-Gee explores the growing body of scientific evidence that digital distraction is damaging our minds.

[...] The evidence for this goes beyond the carping of Luddites. It's there, cold and hard, in a growing body of research by psychiatrists, neuroscientists, marketers and public health experts. What these people say – and what their research shows – is that smartphones are causing real damage to our minds and relationships, measurable in seconds shaved off the average attention span, reduced brain power, declines in work-life balance and hours less of family time.

They have impaired our ability to remember. They make it more difficult to daydream and think creatively. They make us more vulnerable to anxiety. They make parents ignore their children. And they are addictive, if not in the contested clinical sense then for all intents and purposes.

[...] Smartphones are "literally using the power of billion-dollar computers to figure out what to feed you," Mr. Harris said. That's why you can't look away.

Source: https://www.theglobeandmail.com/technology/your-smartphone-is-making-you-stupid/article37511900/

I am left wondering. Is it the devices? Certain apps? Or ourselves?

Ed's (FP) Note: I seem to remember BBC's More or Less radio program (available online still, I'm sure) addressing the "attention span" claim, and debunking it, mostly by virtue of it being a bit too intangible to measure. However, even if it is only confirmation bias, there's a good chance we've noticed some of the traits mentioned in the article in others, perhaps in ourselves too.


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Evidence That Alzheimer's Protein Spreads Like an Infection

Posted: 08 Jan 2018 01:37 PM PST

Alzheimer's protein may spread like an infection, human brain scans suggest

For the first time, scientists have produced evidence in living humans that the protein tau, which mars the brain in Alzheimer's disease, spreads from neuron to neuron. Although such movement wasn't directly observed, the finding may illuminate how neurodegeneration occurs in the devastating illness, and it could provide new ideas for stemming the brain damage that robs so many of memory and cognition.

[...] Researchers at the University of Cambridge in the United Kingdom combined two brain imaging techniques, functional magnetic resonance imaging and positron emission tomography (PET) scanning, in 17 Alzheimer's patients to map both the buildup of tau and their brains' functional connectivity—that is, how spatially separated brain regions communicate with each other. Strikingly, they found the largest concentrations of the damaging tau protein in brain regions heavily wired to others, suggesting that tau may spread in a way analogous to influenza during an epidemic, when people with the most social contacts will be at greatest risk of catching the disease.

The research team says this pattern, described yesterday in Brain [open, DOI: 10.1093/brain/awx347] [DX], supports something known as the "transneuronal spread" hypothesis for Alzheimer's disease, which had previously been demonstrated in mice but not people. "We come down quite strongly in favor of the idea that tau is starting in one place and moving across neurons and synapses to other places," says clinical neurologist Thomas Cope, one of the study's authors. "That has never before been shown in humans. That's very exciting." Because the researchers looked at Alzheimer's patients with a range of disease severity, they were also able to demonstrate that, when tau accumulation was higher, brain regions were on the whole less connected. The strength of connections also decreased, and connections were increasingly random.


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Don't Pirate or We'll Mess With Your Nest, Warns East Coast ISP

Posted: 08 Jan 2018 12:04 PM PST

Internet slowdowns at home aren't just annoying anymore. They can be hazardous to your health or dangerous if you're in an area that freezes.

Internet service provider Armstrong Zoom has roughly a million subscribers in the Northeastern part of the U.S. and is keen to punish those it believes are using file-sharing services.

The ISP's response to allegedly naughty customers is bandwidth throttling -- which is when an ISP intentionally slows down your internet service based on what you're doing online. In this case, when said ISP believes you're doing something illegal.

As part of its throttling routine, Armstrong Zoom's warning letter openly threatens its suspected file-sharing customers about its ability to use or control their webcams and connected thermostats.

The East Coast company stated: "Please be advised that this may affect other services which you may have connected to your internet service, such as the ability to control your thermostat remotely or video monitoring services."

Source: https://www.engadget.com/2018/01/05/pirates-risk-being-left-in-the-cold/


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New US Customs Guidelines Limit Copying Files and Searching Cloud Data

Posted: 08 Jan 2018 10:40 AM PST

The US Customs and Border Protection agency has updated its guidelines for electronic border searches, clarifying what remain broad and potentially invasive procedures. The directive was published today [ January 5, 2018], and it adds new detail to border search rules that were last officially updated in 2009.

Officers can still request that people unlock electronic devices for inspection when they're entering the US, and they can still look through any files or apps on those devices. But consistent with a statement from acting commissioner Kevin McAleenan last summer, they're explicitly banned from accessing cloud data — per these guidelines, that means anything that can't be accessed while the phone's data connection is disabled.

The guidelines also draw a distinction between "basic" and "advanced" searches. If officers connect to the phone (through a wired or wireless connection) and copy or analyze anything on it using external devices, that's an advanced search, and it can only be carried out with reasonable suspicion of illegal activity or a national security concern. A supervisor can approve the search, and "many factors" might create reasonable suspicion, including a terrorist watchlist flag or "other articulable factors."

Source: https://www.theverge.com/2018/1/5/16855804/customs-border-protection-electronic-device-border-search-update-statistics


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