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Can a Set of Equations Keep U.S. Census Data Private?

Posted: 08 Jan 2019 09:11 AM PST

Submitted via IRC for takyon

Can a set of equations keep U.S. census data private?

The U.S. Census Bureau is making waves among social scientists with what it calls a "sea change" in how it plans to safeguard the confidentiality of data it releases from the decennial census.

The agency announced in September 2018 that it will apply a mathematical concept called differential privacy to its release of 2020 census data after conducting experiments that suggest current approaches can't assure confidentiality. But critics of the new policy believe the Census Bureau is moving too quickly to fix a system that isn't broken. They also fear the changes will degrade the quality of the information used by thousands of researchers, businesses, and government agencies.

The move has implications that extend far beyond the research community. Proponents of differential privacy say a fierce, ongoing legal battle over plans to add a citizenship question to the 2020 census has only underscored the need to assure people that the government will protect their privacy.

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Meta: Site Performance

Posted: 08 Jan 2019 08:32 AM PST

After a morning of slow query logging and cussing, a misplaced "GROUP BY" that was turning a 0.04 second query into one that took over fifteen seconds has been fixed. I'll leave the slow query log running overnight though just to make sure I didn't miss any less common ones. If you're still seeing any serious site slowdowns, let us know.

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Researchers Create Qubits on a Chip With Two Layers

Posted: 08 Jan 2019 07:44 AM PST

Quantum scientists demonstrate world-first 3D atomic-scale quantum chip architecture

UNSW researchers at the Centre of Excellence for Quantum Computation and Communication Technology (CQC2T) have shown for the first time that they can build atomic precision qubits in a 3D device -- another major step towards a universal quantum computer.

The team of researchers, led by 2018 Australian of the Year and Director of CQC2T Professor Michelle Simmons, have demonstrated that they can extend their atomic qubit fabrication technique to multiple layers of a silicon crystal -- achieving a critical component of the 3D chip architecture that they introduced to the world in 2015. This new research was published today in Nature Nanotechnology.

The group is the first to demonstrate the feasibility of an architecture that uses atomic-scale qubits aligned to control lines -- which are essentially very narrow wires -- inside a 3D design.

What's more, the team was able to align the different layers in their 3D device with nanometer precision -- and showed they could read out qubit states single shot, i.e. within one single measurement, with very high fidelity.

Spin read-out in atomic qubits in an all-epitaxial three-dimensional transistor (DOI: 10.1038/s41565-018-0338-1) (DX)

Related: UNSW Proposes 7nm Architecture for Quantum Computing Chips

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Gene Editing Could be Used to Create Spicy Tomatoes

Posted: 08 Jan 2019 06:07 AM PST

Gene editing could create spicy tomatoes, say researchers

Spicy tomatoes could soon be on the menu thanks to the rise of genome-editing technology, say researchers. It is not the first time experts have claimed the techniques could help to precisely and rapidly develop fruits and vegetables with unusual traits: scientists have already been looking at changing the colour of kiwi fruits and tweaking the taste of strawberries.

But researchers in Brazil and Ireland say such methods also could offer practical advantages, with spicy tomatoes offering a way of harvesting capsaicinoids, the pungent chemicals found in chilli peppers.

[...] Tomatoes and chilli peppers developed from a common ancestor but diverged about 19m years ago. "All the genes to produce capsaicinoids exist in the tomato, they are just not active," Zsögön said.

Capsaicinoids: Pungency beyond Capsicum (open, DOI: 10.1016/j.tplants.2018.11.001) (DX)

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Monogamy in Animals May Have a Telltale Signature of Gene Activity

Posted: 08 Jan 2019 04:30 AM PST

Monogamy may have a telltale signature of gene activity

In the animal world, monogamy has some clear perks. Living in pairs can give animals some stability and certainty in the constant struggle to reproduce and protect their young—which may be why it has evolved independently in various species. Now, an analysis of gene activity within the brains of frogs, rodents, fish, and birds suggests there may be a pattern common to monogamous creatures. Despite very different brain structures and evolutionary histories, these animals all seem to have developed monogamy by turning on and off some of the same sets of genes.

"It is quite surprising," says Harvard University evolutionary biologist Hopi Hoekstra, who was not involved in the new work. "It suggests that there's a sort of genomic strategy to becoming monogamous that evolution has repeatedly tapped into."

Conserved transcriptomic profiles underpin monogamy across vertebrates (DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1813775116) (DX)

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Sierra Nevada Corporation's Dream Chaser Spacecraft Could Spell Trouble for Northrop Grumman

Posted: 08 Jan 2019 02:53 AM PST

Soon, three companies will be able to perform resupply missions for the International Space Station, and that may be one too many:

How Sierra Nevada's "Dream Chaser" Could Become a Nightmare for Northrop Grumman

[Sierra Nevada Corporation (SNC)] intends to perform its obligations under [Commercial Resupply Services (CRS-2)] using its new "Dream Chaser" spaceplane, a privately developed space shuttle (but only one-quarter the size of the Space Shuttle) that will launch into orbit atop a rocket, make its delivery, then land back on Earth under its own power like an airplane.

[...] Dream Chaser is designed to be reusable, with a service life of 15 missions. In this regard, the SNC is similar to SpaceX, which sends cargo to ISS aboard reusable Dragon space capsules launched into orbit by also-reusable Falcon rockets. Utilizing reusable spacecraft, both SNC and SpaceX should be able to save considerably on the cost of their missions, because they will not need to build new spacecraft for each supply run. In contrast, Northrop Grumman performs its ISS resupply missions using disposable Cygnus cargo capsules carried by expendable Antares rockets -- likely a more expensive proposition.

[...] Currently, plans are for SNC to purchase Atlas V rockets from United Launch Alliance for this purpose. But in 2016, SNC's then-VP of Space Systems John Olson let on that SNC was designing the spaceplane to be "agnostic" as to which launcher it uses to get into orbit. So in theory, at least, SNC could use a SpaceX Falcon rocket to carry Dream Chaser instead. Because SpaceX's Falcons are cheaper than the expendable rockets used by other space launch companies, this would probably result in a lower launch cost for SNC (and the cost could be even cheaper if SNC uses reusable Falcons).

Granted, this would necessitate giving money to a competitor. However, seeing as Sierra Nevada is going to have to buy its launch vehicles from somebody, it might as well buy them from the cheapest provider. And if it does so, this will almost certainly mean that not only SpaceX, but SNC, too, can bid below what Northrop Grumman must charge to perform CRS-2 supply missions for NASA -- giving SNC a leg up in future competitions to resupply ISS.

Related: United Nations to Launch a Space Mission
NASA to Continue Funding Private Spaceflight, Considers Sixth Hubble Upgrade Mission

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Nvidia Announces RTX 2060 GPU

Posted: 08 Jan 2019 01:16 AM PST

The NVIDIA GeForce RTX 2060 6GB Founders Edition Review: Not Quite Mainstream

In the closing months of 2018, NVIDIA finally released the long-awaited successor to the Pascal-based GeForce GTX 10 series: the GeForce RTX 20 series of video cards. Built on their new Turing architecture, these GPUs were the biggest update to NVIDIA's GPU architecture in at least half a decade, leaving almost no part of NVIDIA's architecture untouched.

So far we've looked at the GeForce RTX 2080 Ti, RTX 2080, and RTX 2070 – and along with the highlights of Turing, we've seen that the GeForce RTX 20 series is designed on a hardware and software level to enable realtime raytracing and other new specialized features for games. While the RTX 2070 is traditionally the value-oriented enthusiast offering, NVIDIA's higher price tags this time around meant that even this part was $500 and not especially value-oriented. Instead, it would seem that the role of the enthusiast value offering is going to fall to the next member in line of the GeForce RTX 20 family. And that part is coming next week.

Launching next Tuesday, January 15th is the 4th member of the GeForce RTX family: the GeForce RTX 2060 (6GB). Based on a cut-down version of the same TU106 GPU that's in the RTX 2070, this new part shaves off some of RTX 2070's performance, but also a good deal of its price tag in the process

Previously: Nvidia Announces RTX 2080 Ti, 2080, and 2070 GPUs, Claims 25x Increase in Ray-Tracing Performance

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Fast-Moving Spacecraft Could be Sent to Study a Kuiper Belt Object

Posted: 07 Jan 2019 11:39 PM PST

A mission to send a spacecraft covering a distance of 20 astronomical units[*] per year could be used to explore interesting targets in the Kuiper belt:

The proposed interstellar probe itself is a suggestion that's been kicking around for a while now. The idea is that the team could use existing and near-term technology, and rely on speed boosted by a sequence of gravity assists, to send a spacecraft racing across the solar system faster than any vessel to date.

[...] Once instruments are set, it's a matter of picking a dream destination — or several. [Kathleen Mandt, a planetary scientist at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory,] and other team members have studied how potential targets will align, assuming the probe could launch by 2030 as desired. That means looking at a whole host of Kuiper Belt objects found beyond Neptune's orbit.

Take, for example, Quaoar, a Kuiper Belt object that's about half as wide as Pluto. Scientists have spotted the signature of methane on this object's surface, which could mean it still clings to a thin atmosphere. But scientists aren't sure how much Quaoar resembles its larger, more famous cousin.

And Quaoar is just one potential large target. "I would love to do a flyby of Eris, because it's similar in size to Pluto but farther out in the solar system," Mandt said. In particular, she would want to pursue planetology, investigating how Eris matches or differs from Pluto. She'd want to be able to answer questions like whether Eris has an atmosphere and what volatile elements are still at its surface, if any, she said.

Other possible destinations from this class of objects include Makemake, which has its own moon and is outshined in the Kuiper Belt only by Pluto, and Haumea, a football-shaped dwarf planet. For all of these worlds, a zippy flyby could tell scientists about the object's surface composition and geology, as well as whether the surfaces hides oceans.

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Amazon Overtakes Microsoft and Apple in Market Value

Posted: 07 Jan 2019 10:02 PM PST

Amazon is now the USA's most valuable publicly-traded company by market value:

Amazon's ended trading Monday with a market value of about $797 billion, compared with Microsoft's $783 billion. Apple, which had been part of a close three-way race for the seat, is now down to about $702 billion in market value after plunging last week on the news of its weak iPhone sales. Google parent company Alphabet has surpassed Apple with a market value of about $748 billion.

Previously: Microsoft Overtakes Amazon as Second Most Valuable U.S. Company

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Largest Semi-Annual Speed-Gaming Marathon -- Awesome Games Done Quick -- is Running Now

Posted: 07 Jan 2019 08:25 PM PST

(This is semi-advertising, but is definitely interesting to many "nerds," and one of those "why did nobody tell me these things" when I first heard about it. Who says advertising is bad?)

The "Awesome Games Done Quick" (AGDQ) marathon began on Sunday (1/6). This week-long 24/7 stream showcases people finishing games as quickly as possible, as in finishing the game Portal in about 10 minutes.

It is a semi-annual gaming event run for charity, which along with its partner "Summer Games Done Quick," (SGDQ) raises millions of dollars of donations for two charities. The charity for AGDQ is the Prevent Cancer Foundation. However, the actual event itself is free to watch online; no donation needed.

You can find more information on their website: https://gamesdonequick.com/

And/or join them on their Twitch stream.

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SAE CyberAuto Challenge

Posted: 07 Jan 2019 06:48 PM PST

This coming summer the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) is running their 8th annual security workshop — details at https://www.sae.org/attend/cyberauto

The SAE CyberAuto™ Challenge brings together students and engineers from different backgrounds, industries, and organizations to collaboratively seek new information on automotive cybersecurity. No matter your perspective of participation at CyberAuto Challenge, your experience will benefit you now and in the future:

  • High school and college students work with in-service vehicles and their production code, software stacks, and internal electronics
  • Automotive engineers learn new ways to think about vehicle security and safety
  • Government officials gain new perspectives about vehicle security and safety while engaging one-on-one with the next generation of cyber professionals
  • Researchers developing emerging techniques to find real solutions to cybersecurity challenges and engage the next generation cyber-auto engineers.

This AC has no idea if you can really teach security, but at least someone is trying. It's also possible that SAE is training the other side? The page has a glowing testimonial that ends:

To sum it all up: thank you. That five days of the CyberAuto Challenge changed my life."

–Vanya Gorbachev, 2018 CyberAuto Challenge participant

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Engineers Can Now Reverse-Engineer 3D Models

Posted: 07 Jan 2019 05:11 PM PST

Submitted via IRC for SoyCow1984

Engineers can now reverse-engineer 3D models

A system that uses a technique called constructive solid geometry (CSG) is allowing MIT researchers to deconstruct objects and turn them into 3D models, thereby allowing them to reverse-engineer complex things.

The system appeared in a paper entitled "InverseCSG: Automatic Conversion of 3D Models to CSG Trees" by Tao Du, Jeevana Priya Inala, Yewen Pu, Andrew Spielberg, Adriana Schulz, Daniela Rus, Armando Solar-Lezama, and Wojciech Matusik.

"At a high level, the problem is reverse engineering a triangle mesh into a simple tree. Ideally, if you want to customize an object, it would be best to have access to the original shapes — what their dimensions are and how they're combined. But once you combine everything into a triangle mesh, you have nothing but a list of triangles to work with, and that information is lost," said Tao Du to 3DPrintingIndustry. "Once we recover the metadata, it's easier for other people to modify designs."

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Google Assistant Could be on a Billion Devices Soon, and Target Feature Phones for the Next Billion

Posted: 07 Jan 2019 03:01 PM PST

Google Assistant will soon be on a billion devices, and feature phones are next

As CES kicks off, Google has a massive presence: monorails, a booth that's three times larger than last year, and likely a giant pile of news to announce. But ahead of all the actual product news, the company wants to beat its chest a little by announcing some numbers. By the end of the month, it expects that Google Assistant will be on 1 billion devices — up from 500 million this past May.

That's 900 million more than the number Amazon just gave us for Alexa. But just like Amazon, Google's number comes with caveats. In an interview with The Verge, Manuel Bronstein, the company's vice president of Google Assistant, copped to it. "The largest footprint right now is on phones. On Android devices, we have a very very large footprint," he says. He characterizes the ratio of phones as "the vast majority" of that billion number, but he won't specify it more than that. Though he does argue that smart speakers and other connected home devices comprise a notable and growing portion.

[...] For Google, the next billion devices will come in emerging markets, specifically on feature phones.

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AMD Launches Second-Generation Ryzen Mobile Processors

Posted: 07 Jan 2019 01:24 PM PST

AMD has launched the second generation of Ryzen Mobile processors, based on the "12nm" node. These mostly represent an incremental upgrade over the previous generation:

These parts are upgraded versions of the first generation of Ryzen Mobile parts, the Ryzen 3 2300U and the Ryzen 5 2500U (codename: Raven Ridge), which found their way into a number of premium designs. These new second generation parts will take advantage of the upgraded microarchitecture going from Zen to Zen+, as well as the additional frequency headroom and lower power offered by GlobalFoundries' 12nm process. The new processors will also expand the range of power envelopes that Ryzen Mobile is available under, from the top of the stack 35W Ryzen 7 3750H processor down to the 15W Athlon 300W for entry-level devices.

AMD's reasoning for expanding its offerings, the company says, is in part due to the shape of the notebook market. Based on data from analysts at IDC, the notebook market sells around 87-90 million units per year, but the sales distribution between the various market segments has changed from 2017 to 2018: there are fewer 'mainstream' products, more Chromebooks, more premium devices, and more gaming devices. By increasing the number of processors on offer, as well as the power/performance at both the high-end and the budget and value segments, AMD hopes to address most of the possible market in order to get a bigger slice of the pie. Usually the discussion here is about TAM, or 'Total Addressable Market', measured in billions of dollars – the more market you can address, the higher the TAM.

AMD is also announcing two Excavator-based APUs, with 6 W TDPs, for fanless devices such as Chromebooks:

One part of the market that AMD hasn't played in yet is the Chromebook market. The processors that typically go into Chromebooks are lower grade Celerons and Pentiums, which AMD doesn't particularly compete against. In 2019, AMD is going to pursue this market, with they feel is 'an underserved but growing market'. AMD quoted that the Chromebook market is currently growing with an 8% CAGR (compound annual growth rate) with increasing average selling prices, so now is the right time to enter for them. To this end, AMD is launching two Excavator-based A-Series processors with a 6W TDP.

While, the next iteration of Ryzen Mobile will be on the "7nm" node, AMD is expected to announce "7nm" Ryzen desktop CPUs this week. Thus, Ryzen Mobile APUs may be lagging a full year (and a half-node) behind AMD's desktop Ryzen CPUs.

See also: HP and Acer unveil world's first Chromebooks with AMD processors

Previously: AMD Launches First Two Ryzen Mobile APUs With Vega Graphics

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Tales of an Aging Gamer: Why Don’t I Pick up a Controller as Often as I Used to?

Posted: 07 Jan 2019 11:43 AM PST


Gaming was like breathing. It was the biggest part of my life as a teenager, one of my priorities as a college student, and eventually one of my most expensive "hobbies" as a young professional.

Then all of a sudden, after thousands of hours spent playing across genres and platforms, boredom hit me hard for the very first time in my early thirties. Some of my favorite games soon gave me the impression of being terribly long. I couldn't help but notice all the repeating tropes and similarities in game design between franchises.

I figured it was just a matter of time before I found the right game to stimulate my interest again, but time continued to go by and nothing changed.

Is it that games have failed to innovate, or that real life is ultimately more engaging?

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