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Unexpected Site Outage Today - Site Should be Okay Now

Posted: 10 Jan 2019 10:07 AM PST

[Updated to correct time of neon CPU's spiking. --martyb]

We experienced an unexpected outage of the site this morning (20190110 00:15-07:45 UTC). At shortly after midnight approximately 0415 (UTC), CPU usage on neon suddenly pegged at 400% and things went downhill from there. Am not sure at this point what happened between 0015 and 0415.

Root cause is being investigated, but for now it seems the site is back up and working. Please let us know if you have any issues.

Note: you may need to have your browser ignore its cache (e.g. refresh with Ctrl+F5) and bring down everything fresh.

FWIW, system came back up after we rebooted neon (using the Linode manager page), and then bounced varnishd on fluorine and hydrogen (/home/bob/bin/bounce on each.)

Many thanks go to SemperOSS and cosurgi for problem determination and steps to rectify and FatPhil for his cheerleading!

[Update: TMB] So, the deal was that some unknown time in the past the ndb database node on helium had gone down. This wasn't a problem since we run a clustered database but nobody noticing it was. Then last night something caused neon to lose its cheese. Since it hosts the other node of the db, we had no db for a while. Bytram(martyb) is an utter cat-ass-trophycatastrophe sysadmin and isn't as intimately familiar with our eclectic setup as I am but thankfully knew enough to get the neon db node back up and bounce apache/varnish on the web frontends, so kudos to him and all the folks who were backseat driving at the time due to lack of admin perms on their parts.

My brain's currently fried from going from asleep to OMGWTFBBQ without so much as a cup of coffee and a cigarette first, so I'm not going to dig into the root causes until it unfries itself but as a stopgap we have four more staff with shiny, new admin access that I'll be emergency bootcamping in the very near future. There's also going to be some monitoring reimplemented very soon so we notice this kind nonsense before it blows up in our faces again. I'll either update and bump this story or post a new one if we manage to figure out what the root causes were but at the moment the logs aren't being particularly helpful.

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Software Bug Turns Oft-Cited Academic Paper about Fake News into Fake News

Posted: 10 Jan 2019 09:49 AM PST

The authors of an much-ballyhooed 2017 paper about the spread of fake news on social media have retracted their article after finding that they'd botched their analysis.

The paper, "Limited individual attention and online virality of low-quality information," presented an argument for why bogus facts seem to gain so much traction on sites such as Facebook. According to the researchers — — from Shanghai Institute of Technology, Indiana University and Yahoo — the key was in the sheer volume of bad information, which swamps the brain's ability to discern the real from the merely plausible or even the downright ridiculous, competing with limited attention spans and time.

But as the retraction notice, dated January 7, 2019, indicates, the study had major flaws. It turns out that fake news does not spread as wildfire-y as the real McCoy:

The authors wish to retract this Letter as follow-up work has highlighted that two errors were committed in the analyses used to produce Figs 4d and 5.

In Fig. 4d, a software bug led to an incorrect value of the discriminative power represented by the blue bar. The correct value is τ = 0.17, as opposed to the value τ = 0.15 reported in the Letter.


Thus, the original conclusion, that the model predicts that low-quality information is just as likely to go viral as high-quality information, is not supported.

So, while it may indeed be "true" that a lie is halfway around the world before the truth gets its pants on, we still don't know why.


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DuckDuckGo Now Fingerprinting Visitors

Posted: 10 Jan 2019 08:12 AM PST

Submitted via IRC for Bytram

Is this for real? DuckDuckGo has grown in popularity primarily on its claim: We don't track you. Is this no longer true?

DuckDuckGo now fingerprinting visitors

DuckDuckGo is using the Canvas DOMRect API on their search engine. Canvas is used to make unique geometry measurements on target browsers, and DOMRect API uses rectangles. This can be verified with the CanvasBlocker Firefox add-on by Korbinian Kapsner. DDG has recently been redirecting some website navigations to cute pictures with remarks about their privacy promises. The organization is now seeking to expand their Internet presence. DDG are without question data brokers, and commercial websites that make promises like DDG does will not survive for long if they actually keep them.

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Engineers Create an Inhalable Form of Messenger RNA

Posted: 10 Jan 2019 06:30 AM PST

Submitted via IRC for takyon

Engineers create an inhalable form of messenger RNA

Messenger RNA, which can induce cells to produce therapeutic proteins, holds great promise for treating a variety of diseases. The biggest obstacle to this approach so far has been finding safe and efficient ways to deliver mRNA molecules to the target cells.

In an advance that could lead to new treatments for lung disease, MIT researchers have now designed an inhalable form of mRNA. This aerosol could be administered directly to the lungs to help treat diseases such as cystic fibrosis, the researchers say.

[...] The researchers showed that they could induce lung cells in mice to produce a target protein — in this case, a bioluminescent protein. If the same success rate can be achieved with therapeutic proteins, that could be high enough to treat many lung diseases, the researchers say.

[...] The particles the team created consist of spheres, approximately 150 nanometers in diameter, with a tangled mixture of the polymer and mRNA molecules that encode luciferase, a bioluminescent protein. The researchers suspended these particles in droplets and delivered them to mice as an inhalable mist, using a nebulizer.

[...] The researchers found that 24 hours after the mice inhaled the mRNA, lung cells were producing the bioluminescent protein. The amount of protein gradually fell over time as the mRNA was cleared. The researchers were able to maintain steady levels of the protein by giving the mice repeated doses, which may be necessary if adapted to treat chronic lung disease.

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Repeating Signal from Deep Space Detected

Posted: 09 Jan 2019 07:31 PM PST

A team of astronomers has detected a second set of FRBs (Fast Radio Bursts) from the same location as a previous burst.

Using a new, sprawling Canadian telescope dubbed CHIME — which is the size of six hockey rinks — scientists identified the short, repeating burst in the summer of 2018 and published their results Wednesday in the journal Nature.

The source of the FRBs is estimated at 1.5 billion light years. Fast Radio Bursts have been detected ~60 times in the past, but what makes this unique is that this set of signals originates from the same place as previous signals were detected.

Considering the cosmically violent nature of some of the phenomena scientists speculate could cause FRBs, a repeating signal from the same location is of significant interest.

"There is a lot of speculation in the astrophysical transient community about the origin of these events and a number of theories have been put forward to explain how they are formed," Kate Maguire, a researcher at the Astrophysics Research Center at Queen's University Belfast who had no involvement in the study, said over email.

A leading theory, however, is that the leftover cores of exploded massive stars, known as neutron stars, may be releasing the short, powerful signals, said Maguire.


[...] these repeating radio waves show signs of "scattering" — which suggests that the waves traveled through a turbulent patch of space filled with interstellar gases. That means the signals likely came from a place where there's a denser clump of stuff, like the remnants of an exploded star (called a supernova), University of Toronto astronomer and study coauthor Cherry Ng said in a statement.

Of course, this being SoylentNews, I really don't have to say this, but,

"I can understand the public's imagination would go that way [aliens], but there are a lot of simpler explanations than extraterrestrial intelligence," said Tendulkar.

In that vein, it is possible that the FRB frequency distribution will suspiciously match that of skateboard wheels going up and down a half pipe.

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IBM Announces its First Commercially Available Quantum Computer

Posted: 09 Jan 2019 05:54 PM PST

IBM unveils its first commercial quantum computer

At CES, IBM today announced its first commercial quantum computer for use outside of the lab. The 20-qubit system combines into a single package the quantum and classical computing parts it takes to use a machine like this for research and business applications. That package, the IBM Q system, is still huge, of course, but it includes everything a company would need to get started with its quantum computing experiments, including all the machinery necessary to cool the quantum computing hardware.

While IBM describes it as the first fully integrated universal quantum computing system designed for scientific and commercial use, it's worth stressing that a 20-qubit machine is nowhere near powerful enough for most of the commercial applications that people envision for a quantum computer with more qubits — and qubits that are useful for more than 100 microseconds. It's no surprise then, that IBM stresses that this is a first attempt and that the systems are "designed to one day tackle problems that are currently seen as too complex and exponential in nature for classical systems to handle." Right now, we're not quite there yet, but the company also notes that these systems are upgradable (and easy to maintain).

Quantum computers are real things, right?

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CES Announces $10 Million Diversity Fund, Revokes Award From Female-Founded Sex Tech Company

Posted: 09 Jan 2019 04:13 PM PST

CTA Announces $10 Million Fund Commitment to Women, Diverse Founders and Diverse Leadership Teams

The Consumer Technology Association (CTA) announced today at CES® – the world's largest and most influential tech event – that CTA will invest $10 million in venture firms and funds focused on women, people of color and other underrepresented startups and entrepreneurs.

"To continue to evolve and grow, the tech industry needs more equal access to venture funding," said Gary Shapiro, president and CEO, CTA. "Various research reports indicate diverse teams make better decisions and achieve greater profits. At CTA, this is one more tool we are deploying to help promote diversity in the technology industry."

CES revokes award from female-founded sex tech company

Sex tech has been done at the Consumer Electronics Show. This year, however, seems to be different, with the organization behind CES, the Consumer Technology Association, revoking an innovation award from a company geared toward women's sexual health.

The CTA revoked an innovation award from Lora DiCarlo, the company behind a hands-free device that uses biomimicry and robotics to help women achieve a blended orgasm by simultaneously simulating the G-spot and the clitoris. Called Osé, formerly known as Vela, the device uses micro-robotic technology to mimic the sensation of a human mouth, tongue and fingers in order to produce a blended orgasm for women.

"Vela does not fit into any of our existing product categories and should not have been accepted for the Innovation Awards Program," CTA Senior Manager of Event Communications Sarah Brown said in a statement to TechCrunch. "CTA has communicated this position to Lora DiCarlo. We have apologized to the company for our mistake."

[...] As Lora Haddock, founder and CEO of Lora DiCarlo, notes in an open letter today, CES has recognized products like ones from B.sensory and OhMiBod, which won the Digital Health and Fitness Product category in 2016. CES also allowed a virtual reality porn company to exhibit at the show in 2017, as well as a sex toy robot for men to exhibit in 2018.

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Mexican Drug Lord "El Chapo" Was Brought Down by His "I.T. Guy"

Posted: 09 Jan 2019 02:58 PM PST

El Chapo Trial: How a Colombian I.T. Guy Helped U.S. Authorities Take Down the Kingpin

In February 2010, an undercover F.B.I. agent met in a Manhattan hotel with a Colombian info-tech expert who had been the target of a sensitive investigation. The I.T. specialist, Cristian Rodriguez, had recently developed an extraordinary product: an encrypted communications system for Joaquín Guzmán Loera, the Mexican drug lord known as El Chapo.

Posing as a Russian mobster, the undercover agent told Mr. Rodriguez he was interested in acquiring a similar system. He wanted a way — or so he said — to talk with his associates without law enforcement listening in.

So began a remarkable clandestine operation that in a little more than a year allowed the F.B.I. to crack Mr. Guzmán's covert network and ultimately capture as many as 200 digital phone calls of him chatting with his underlings, planning ton-sized drug deals and even discussing illicit payoffs to Mexican officials. The hours of Mr. Guzmán speaking openly about the innermost details of his empire not only represented the most damaging evidence introduced so far at his drug trial in New York, but were also one of the most extensive wiretaps of a criminal defendant since the Mafia boss John Gotti was secretly recorded in the Ravenite Social Club.

[...] In a daring move that placed his life in danger, the I.T. consultant eventually gave the F.B.I. his system's secret encryption keys in 2011 after he had moved the network's servers from Canada to the Netherlands during what he told the cartel's leaders was a routine upgrade.

Previously: Sean Penn Interview Reportedly Led to Capture of Mexican Drug Lord

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Jeff Bezos, Amazon CEO Worth $137 Billion, to Divorce Wife of 25 Years

Posted: 09 Jan 2019 01:22 PM PST


"Jeff Bezos and his wife MacKenzie are divorcing after 25 years of marriage, the Amazon CEO and Washington Post owner has announced, potentially leading to the costliest divorce settlement in history with $137 billion at stake."

The richest man in the world, currently worth about $137 billion, according to Bloomberg, made the divorce announcement on Wednesday on his Twitter.

[...]The split could lead [to] the costliest divorce is[sic] history, even if the couple doesn't divide the money equally. There are no reports indicating the couple has a prenuptial agreement, meaning the wealth accumulated during their marriage would have to be split evenly.

Also covered by CBC, CNN, and CNBC among other news outlets.

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Users Upset With Undeletable Apps, Samsung Nonplussed

Posted: 09 Jan 2019 10:44 AM PST

Samsung is facing a battle with end users concerning its agreements with software companies to set some preinstalled software on Samsung mobile phones to be undeletable. Users have found that applications like Facebook can't be uninstalled, which has caused some distress given the recent data breaches and lack of respect Facebook has shown towards its users in the past decade. Some users have sworn off getting another Samsung phone if apps can't be uninstalled. The argument that users can just hack the phone to get root access, and then force remove the apps does not hold with non-technical users and anyone who can't risk bricking their device. Samsung has refused to comment on this, and specifically will not provide details about agreements it has with software vendors to force their applications to always be installed on Samsung phones. By comparison, the iPhone does not ever come with pre-installed third party applications.

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