Decades of Research: the Story of How mRNA Vaccines Were Developed
Long-time Slashdot reader
fahrbot-bot wanted to share this New York Times article which makes the point that "The stunning Covid vaccines manufactured by Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna
drew upon long-buried discoveries made in the hopes of ending past epidemics..."
They remain a marvel: Even as the Omicron variant fuels a new wave of the pandemic, the vaccines have proved remarkably resilient at defending against severe illness and death. And the manufacturers, Pfizer, BioNTech and Moderna, say that mRNA technology will allow them to adapt the vaccines quickly, to fend off whatever dangerous new version of the virus that evolution brings next.
Skeptics have seized on the rapid development of the vaccines — among the most impressive feats of medical science in the modern era — to undermine the public's trust in them. But the breakthroughs behind the vaccines unfolded over decades, little by little, as scientists across the world pursued research in disparate areas, never imagining their work would one day come together to tame the pandemic of the century. The pharmaceutical companies harnessed these findings and engineered a consistent product that could be made at scale, partly with the help of Operation Warp Speed, the Trump administration's multibillion-dollar program to hasten the development and manufacture of vaccines, drugs and diagnostic tests to fight the new virus.
For years, though, the scientists who made the vaccines possible scrounged for money and battled public indifference. Their experiments often failed. When the work got too crushing, some of them left it behind. And yet on this unpredictable, zigzagging path, the science slowly built upon itself, squeezing knowledge from failure.
The vaccines were possible only because of efforts in three areas. The first began more than 60 years ago with the discovery of mRNA, the genetic molecule that helps cells make proteins. A few decades later, two scientists in Pennsylvania decided to pursue what seemed like a pipe dream: using the molecule to command cells to make tiny pieces of viruses that would strengthen the immune system. The second effort took place in the private sector, as biotechnology companies in Canada in the budding field of gene therapy — the modification or repair of genes to treat diseases — searched for a way to protect fragile genetic molecules so they could be safely delivered to human cells. The third crucial line of inquiry began in the 1990s, when the U.S. government embarked on a multibillion-dollar quest to find a vaccine to prevent AIDS. That effort funded a group of scientists who tried to target the all-important "spikes" on H.I.V. viruses that allow them to invade cells. The work has not resulted in a successful H.I.V. vaccine. But some of these researchers, including Dr. Graham, veered from the mission and eventually unlocked secrets that allowed the spikes on coronaviruses to be mapped instead.
In early 2020, these different strands of research came together. The spike of the Covid virus was encoded in mRNA molecules. Those molecules were wrapped in a protective layer of fat and poured into small glass vials. When the shots went in arms less than a year later, recipients' cells responded by producing proteins that resembled the spikes — and that trained the body to attack the coronavirus.
The extraordinary tale proved the promise of basic scientific research: that once in a great while, old discoveries can be plucked from obscurity to make history.
Do CS Teachers Need To Know CS?
"I'll say it over and over until I retire —
CS teachers really do need to know CS," says Mike Zamansky, a coordinator of CS teacher certifications. He was criticizing groups that instead provide teachers with scripted content and short-form "training".
Long-term Slashdot reader
theodp summarizes the issue:
A problem with out-of-the-box scripted solutions, Zamansky explains, is that "teachers are less and less expected as much to know their subjects, their students, and how to teach but rather to follow the script. This approach might get those students past the standardized exam but in the long run it's not giving students what they need nor deserve.
"I've seen this every year in my undergraduate CS classes. Since APCS Principles was launched many of my students have come in having taken the classes and 'passed' the exam. Truth be told, the majority of them come in basically knowing nothing. This wouldn't be a problem if they didn't come in thinking they knew quite a bit. [...] School supervisors don't know any better so they see that they can check off the computer science box. Many teachers probably don't know better because their short term training is focusing on how easy CS is and how you don't have to learn anything to teach it rather than the truth — it's just like anything else, it takes time and effort to really master."
Law Enforcement Agencies Recruit Rare People Who are 'Super-Recognizers' of Faces
An anonymous reader shared
this report on "Super-Recognizers" from a series of articles in the
Guardian called "Meet the Superhumans."
As a child, Yenny Seo often surprised her mother by pointing out a stranger in the grocery store, remarking it was the same person they passed on the street a few weeks earlier. Likewise, when they watched a movie together, Seo would often recognise "extras" who'd appeared fleetingly in other films... A cohort of just 1-2% of the population are "super-recognisers" — people who can memorise and recall unfamiliar faces, even after the briefest glimpse.
The underlying cause is still not entirely clear — it's a new field, with only around 20 scientific papers studying super-recognisers. However, it is suspected genetics plays a role because identical twins show similar performance, and it has been shown that cortical thickness — the amount of neurons — in the part of the brain that supports face recognition is a predictor of superior ability. Because it's such a rare phenomenon, in 2017 Dr. David White, now a lead investigator at the Face Research Lab at the University of New South Wales (UNSW) and his colleagues designed a publicly available online screening tool to try to unearth the world's best super-recognisers. Seo, then in her mid-twenties, gave it a go — and her score was so high, White invited her to come to Sydney for more testing.
With more than 100,000 people now tested, Seo still ranks in the top 50....
Over the past decade, security and law enforcement agencies around the world have started recruiting people with superior facial recognition capabilities. London's metropolitan police has a special team who examine CCTV footage from crime scenes — they were used in the investigation into the poisoning of a former Russian spy with the nerve agent Novichok in Salisbury — and several years ago Queensland police started identifying super-recognisers in its ranks. A proliferation of private agencies has also sprung up, offering the services of super-recognisers.
Seo has no interest....
Pine64's 'PineNote' E-Ink Tablet Now Available for $399 for Developers
PineNote is a tablet with a 10.1 inch grayscale E Ink display and pen support,"
"It's designed to be a hackable, Linux-friendly device and it's one of the latest products from the makers of the PinePhone and PineBook line of devices."
First introduced last summer, the PineNote began shipping to developers in limited quantities in December. Now it's available for anyone to purchase for $399 — no invitation required. But it's probably only a good idea to buy one if you're a developer or very early adopter because there's very little software available for the PineNote so far. At this point, Pine64 is shipping the PineNote without an operating system installed. It will have only a bootloader, allowing developers and enthusiasts to load their own software... [D]evelopers have already made some progress in getting builds Alpine and Debian Linux to run on the E Ink slate, and according to Pine64, there are ports for NixOS and other operating systems on the way.
There's already a partially working display driver, but it's still a work in progress. The goal is to allow developers to port mainline Linux operating systems and applications to play well with a monochrome display with a slow refresh rate. Developers have also figured out how to enable support PineNote's touchscreen, audio playback, and USB port, making it possible to use USB keyboards, storage devices, and other peripherals.
Pine64's Newest Linux Smartphone 'PinePhone Pro Explorer Edition' Now Available for Pre-Order
"Linux fans rejoice!"
writes Hot Hardware. " Pine64's newest smartphone is officially
available for pre-order."
PinePhone Pro Explorer Edition pre-orders opened up Tuesday. Devices that are pre-ordered before January 18th will be shipped from Pine64's Hong Kong warehouse by January 24th and should arrive by early February.... According to Pine64, the PinePhone Pro Explorer Edition is the "fastest mainline Linux smartphone on the market." It uses a Rockchip RK3399S SoC that is composed of two ARM A72 cores (1.5GHz) and four A53 efficiency cores (1.5GHz)....
Consumers will also likely be pleased with the price of the device. The PinePhone Pro Explorer Edition currently rings in at $399 USD. The production run is purportedly "large" and interested consumers should therefore be able to easily purchase the device at this price.
While the PinePhone Pro has better hardware than the original PinePhone, Pine64 plans to continue selling both phones indefinitely. The first-gen phone will continue to sell for $150 to $200, offering an entry-level option for folks that want to experiment with mobile Linux, while the higher-priced PinePhone Pro should offer a hardware experience closer to what folks would expect from a modern mid-range phone....
In addition to the PinePhone Keyboard, the recently launched PinePhone wireless charging case, fingerprint reader case, and LoRa cases should all work with either phone.
But the new phone has a faster processor, more memory and storage, higher-resolution cameras, a higher-speed USB-C port and support for WiFi 5 and Bluetooth 4.1. And those features should make it a little more viable as a replacement for an iPhone or Android device... if you're comfortable running work-in-progress software.
They also add that "Thanks to the recent launch of
the $50 PinePhone Keyboard, you can also think of the PinePhone Pro as a $400 phone that can be used as a $449 mini-laptop...."
the Pine64 site's January update also points out that "Pico 8 Raspberry Pi port works on the PinePhone," adding "yes, it does run DOOM."
Angry Gamers Have Scared Some Game Companies Away From NFTs
"In recent months, at least half a dozen game studios have revealed plans to add NFTs to their games or said they were considering doing so," reports the New York Times.
Then they were
confronted by gamers like 18-year-old Christian Lantz, who for years has played GSC Game World's first-person shooter game S.T.A.L.K.E.R.
Mr. Lantz was incensed. He joined thousands of fans on Twitter and Reddit who raged against NFTs in S.T.A.L.K.E.R.'s sequel. The game maker, they said, was simply looking to squeeze more money out of its players. The backlash was so intense that GSC quickly reversed itself and abandoned its NFT plan.
"The studio was abusing its popularity," Mr. Lantz, who lives in Ontario, said. "It's so obviously being done for profit instead of just creating a beautiful game...."
[C]lashes over crypto have increasingly erupted between users and major game studios like Ubisoft, Square Enix and Zynga. In many of the encounters, the gamers have prevailed — at least for now.... Players said they see the moves as a blatant cash grab. "I just hate that they keep finding ways to nickel-and-dime us in whatever way they can," said Matt Kee, 22, a gamer who took to Twitter in anger this month after Square Enix, which produces one of his favorite games, Kingdom Hearts, said it was pushing into NFTs. "I don't see anywhere mentioning how that benefits the gamer, how that improves gameplay. It's always about, 'How can I make money off this?'"
Much of their resentment is rooted in the encroachment of micro transactions in video games. Over the years, game makers have found more ways to profit from users by making them pay to upgrade characters or enhance their level of play inside the games. Even if people had already paid $60 or more for a game upfront, they were asked to fork over more money for digital items like clothing or weapons for characters.... Merritt K, a game streamer and editor at Fanbyte, a games industry site, said gamers' antagonism toward the companies has built up over the last decade partly because of the growing number of micro transactions. So when game makers introduced NFTs as an additional element to buy and sell, she said, players were "primed to call this stuff out. We've been here before."
That has led to bursts of gamer outrage, which have rattled the game companies. In December, Sega Sammy, the maker of the Sonic the Hedgehog game, expressed reservations about its NFT and crypto plans after "negative reactions" from users. Ubisoft, which makes titles like Assassin's Creed, said that it had misjudged how unhappy its customers would be after announcing an NFT program last month. A YouTube video about the move was disliked by more than 90 percent of viewers. "Maybe we under-evaluated how strong the backlash could have been," said Nicolas Pouard, a Ubisoft vice president who heads the French company's new blockchain initiative.
Game companies said their NFT plans were not motivated by profit. Instead, they said, NFTs give fans something fun to collect and a new way for them to make money by selling the assets. "It really is all about community," said Matt Wolf, an executive at the mobile game maker Zynga, who is leading a foray into blockchain games. "We believe in giving people the opportunity to play to earn."
The article also rounds up examples of game companies it says have "come out against crypto."
- "Phil Spencer, the head of Microsoft's Xbox, told Axios in November that some games centered on earning money through NFTs appeared 'exploitative' and he would avoid putting them in the Xbox store."
- "Valve, which owns the online game store Steam, also updated its rules last fall to prohibit blockchain games that allow cryptocurrencies or NFTs to be exchanged...."
- "Tim Sweeney, the chief executive of Epic Games, the maker of the game Fortnite, said his company would steer clear of NFTs in its own games because the industry is riddled with 'an intractable mix of scams.' (Epic will still allow developers to sell blockchain games in its online store.)"
- The blowback has affected more than just game studios. Discord, the messaging platform popular with gamers, backtracked in November after users threatened to cancel their paid subscriptions over a crypto initiative."
Host of Youtube-dl Web Site Sued by Major Record Labels
"As part of their growing battle against popular open source software tool youtube-dl, three major music labels are now
suing Uberspace, the company that currently hosts the official youtube-dl homepage," reports
According to plaintiffs Sony, Universal and Warner, youtube-dl circumvents YouTube's "rolling cipher" technology, something a German court found to be illegal in 2017.... While the RIAA's effort to take down youtube-dl from GitHub grabbed all the headlines, moves had already been underway weeks before that in Germany. Law firm Rasch works with several major music industry players and it was on their behalf that cease-and-desist orders were sent to local hosting service Uberspace. The RIAA complained that the company was hosting the official youtube-dl website although the tool itself was hosted elsewhere.
"The software itself wasn't hosted on our systems anyway so, to be honest, I felt it to be quite ridiculous to involve us in this issue anyway — a lawyer specializing in IT laws should know better," Jonas Pasche from Uberspace said at the time.
In emailed correspondence today Uberspace informed TorrentFreak that, following the cease-and-desist in October 2020, three major music labels are now suing the company in Germany... According to the labels, youtube-dl poses a risk to their business and enables users to download their artists' copyrighted works by circumventing YouTube's technical measures. As a result, Uberspace should not be playing a part in the tool's operations by hosting its website if it does not wish to find itself liable too....
The alleged illegality of youtube-dl is indeed controversial. While YouTube's terms of service generally disallow downloading, in Germany there is the right to make a private copy, with local rights group GEMA collecting fees to compensate for just that. Equally, when users upload content to YouTube under a Creative Commons license, for example, they agree to others in the community making use of that content. "Even if YouTube doesn't provide video download functionality right out of the box, the videos are not provided with copy protection," says former EU MP Julia Reda from the Society for Freedom Rights (GFF) to NetzPolitik. "Not only does YouTube pay license fees for music, we all pay fees for the right to private copying in the form of the device fee, which is levied with every purchase of smartphones or storage media," says Reda.
"Despite this double payment, Sony, Universal and Warner Music want to prevent us from exercising our right to private copying by saving YouTube videos locally on the hard drive."
The World Was Cooler In 2021 Than 2020. That's Not Good News.
2021 was actually cooler than 2020, points out
Wired science journalist Matt Simon. So is that good news?
One reason for cooler temperatures in 2021 was likely La Niña, a band of cold water in the Pacific. It's the product of strong trade winds that scour the ocean, pushing the top layer of water toward Asia, causing deeper, colder waters to rush to the surface to fill the void. This in turn influences the atmosphere, for instance changing the jet stream above the United States and leading to more hurricanes in the Atlantic. The sea itself cools things off by absorbing heat from the atmosphere.
The Covid-19 pandemic may have had an additional influence, but not in the way you might think. As the world locked down in 2020, fewer emissions went into the sky, including aerosols that typically reflect some of the sun's energy back into space. "If you take them away, you make the air cleaner, then that's a slight warming impact on the climate," said Gavin Schmidt, director of NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies, during a Thursday press conference announcing the findings. But as economic activity ramped back up in 2021, so did aerosol pollution, contributing again to that cooling effect. The 2021 temperature drop "may be possibly due to a resumption of activity that produces aerosols in the atmosphere," Schmidt said...
Today's findings are all the more alarming precisely because 2021 managed to overcome these cooling effects and still tally the sixth-highest temperature. And while global temperatures were cooler in 2021 than the year before, last year 1.8 billion people lived in places that experienced their hottest temperatures ever recorded, according to a report released today by Berkeley Earth. This includes Asian countries like China and North and South Korea, African nations like Nigeria and Liberia, and in the Middle East places like Saudi Arabia and Qatar. "We talk a lot about global average temperatures, but no one lives in the global average," says Zeke Hausfather, a research scientist at Berkeley Earth. "In fact most of the globe, two-thirds of it, is ocean, and no one lives in the ocean — or very few people at least. And land areas, on average, are warming much faster than the rest of the world...."
Last summer in western Canada and the US Pacific Northwest, absurd temperatures of over 120 degrees Fahrenheit killed hundreds of people. According to Hausfather, the heat wave in Portland, Oregon, would have been effectively impossible without climate change, something like a once-every-150,000-year event.
It's a fascinating article, that looks at trouble spots like Antarctica's sea level-threatening "
Doomsday Glacier" and a warming Gulf of Mexico, mapping the intensity of 2021's temperature anomalies along with trend graphs for both global temperatures and land-vs-ocean averages. It touches on how climate change is impacting weather — everything from
wildfires and locusts — as Bridget Seegers, an oceanographer at NASA, points out that "Extremes are getting worse. People are losing their homes and their lives and air quality, because the wildfires are bad."
But Seegers somehow arrives at a positive thought. "There's just a lot going on, and I want people to also feel empowered that we understand the problem. It's just this other issue of deciding to take collective action....
"There's a lot of reasons for optimism. We're in charge. This would be a lot worse if we're like, 'Oh, it's warming because we're heading toward the sun, and we can't stop it.'"
(Thanks to Slashdot reader Sanja Pantic for sharing the article!)
Are We Getting Closer to the Year of the Linux Desktop?
Earlier this year TechRepublic argued that while 2021 wasn't the year of the Linux desktop, "there was no denying the continued dominance of Linux in the enterprise space and the very slow (and subtle) growth of Linux on the desktop. And in just about every space (minus the smartphone arena),
Linux made some serious gains."
So would 2022 be the year of the Linux desktop? "Probably not."
But developer Tim Wells
honestly believes we're getting closer:
The idea of the year of the Linux desktop is that there would come a year that the free and open source operating system would reach a stage that the average user could install and use it on their pc without running into problems. Linus Sebastian from Linus Tech Tips recently did an experiment where he installed Linux on his home PC for one month to see if he could use it not only for everyday tasks, but for gaming and also streaming. Ultimately he concluded (in a video just released) that this year will not be the year of the Linux desktop and that while doing everyday stuff was reasonably okay, the state of gaming on Linux (despite Valves lofty goals) is to put it simply, a shit-show. (That's my word, not his)... The experiment done by Linus seems to show that while some games do indeed run well using [Valve's Windows compatibility layer] Proton, there are just as many that run with issues. Some of those issues can be game breaking. Such as the game running, but its multiplayer functionality not working at all. Some games just plain don't work at all due to dependencies on services such as Easy Anti Cheat...
In his video Linus mentions that the main problem preventing the "year of the Linux desktop" is the fragmentation. By fragmentation, he means the range of available distributions and the fact that each distribution has (potentially) different versions of libraries and drivers and software that makes the behind the scenes operate.... Flatpak and Snap as well as AppImage are making progress towards fixing this fragmentation issue, but those are not yet perfect either. Flatpak works by ensuring that the expected versions of libraries required for that software are installed along side it and independent of the existing library the distro may provide...
Valve have said that the Steamdeck will also use an immutable core operating system for the same reasons.
So while Linus is sure that 2022 isn't yet the year of the Linux desktop and that fragmentation is the biggest problem. I think maybe, just maybe, we're closer to solving those problems and closer perhaps to the year of the Linux desktop that some might realise.
GitHub Restores Account of Developer Who Intentionally Corrupted His Libraries
What happened after a developer
intentionally corrupted two of their libraries which collectively had more than 20 million weekly downloads and thousands of dependent projects?
"This Week in Programming" column reports:
In response to the corrupted libraries, Microsoft quickly suspended his GitHub access and reverted the projects on npm.... While this might seem like an open and shut case to some — the developer committed malicious code and GitHub and npm did what it had to do to protect its users — a debate broke out around a developer's rights to do what they wish with their code, no matter how many projects and dependencies it may have.
"GitHub suspending someone's account for modifying their own code in a project they own however they want spooks me a lot more than NPM reverting a package," [tweeted one company's Director of Engineering & Technology]. "I kind of love what Marak did to make a point and protest to be honest."
An article on iProgrammer further outlines the dilemma present in what might otherwise seem like a clear-cut case.... "Yes, it is open source in that you can fork it and can contribute to it but does this mean that GitHub is justified in denying you the right to change or even destroy your own code?"
As of last night, however, it would appear that the entire affair is merely one for intellectual debate, as GitHub has indeed lived up to what some might view as its end of the bargain: the developer's account is active, he has been allowed to remove his faker.js library on GitHub (depended upon as it might be), and has since offered an update that he does "not have Donkey Brains".
To Study Navigation, Researchers Taught Six Goldfish How to Drive
Long-time Slashdot reader
cusco shares a fish story from the
Apparently Israeli researchers
created a robotic car and taught six fish to navigate it on land...
First, the team, led by Prof Ronen Segev, created a watery tank on wheels that moved in response to the movements and orientation of the fish. Then they set about teaching the goldfish (Carassius auratus) how to drive it — much like humans learn to ride a bike or drive a car.
The fish first had to connect their own swimming movements to the movements of the vehicle so they could navigate it. Then they were given a destination: a pink target board in a foreign room that elicited a food reward when the vehicle touched it. A computerised camera system attached to this "fish operated vehicle" recorded and translated the fish's swimming directions.
After several days of training, the fish successfully navigated the vehicle to the target from different starting positions in the room — even if they faced obstacles like false targets or hitting a wall.
$1.7 Billion in Student Loan Debt Cancelled for 66,000 Borrowers
For years, the student loan servicing company Navient allegedly encouraged student loan borrowers to enter costly long-term forbearance programs that pushed them further into debt, as well as take on private loans they couldn't pay back, according to lawsuits filed by several states, and joined by 39 attorneys general.
Those claims were resolved through a settlement announced Thursday (January 13) affecting some 400,000 borrowers. Navient says it will cancel $1.7 billion in private student loan debt for 66,000 borrowers, as well as pay an additional $95 million in restitution to 350,000 people with federal loans. The former deal mostly focuses on students who took out loans to attend for-profit colleges between 2002 and 2014....
While Thursday's settlement is significant for private student loan borrowers in debt, it extends to just a fraction of the estimated 12 million student loan borrowers Navient has served since 2014. Borrowers eligible for debt cancellation include those who took out private subprime student loans between 2002 and 2014 through the company's predecessor, Sallie Mae.
Borrowers who were behind on payments for seven consecutive months prior to June 30, 2021 qualify to have their loans canceled, but those who are current on their loans do not.
Navient "expressly denies violating any law", according to
a statement from the company, in which their chief legal officer insists "these matters" were "based on unfounded claims," but that settling them for $1.85 billion "allows us to avoid the additional burden, expense, time and distraction to prevail in court."
But Mike Pierce, executive director of the Student Borrower Protection Center, tells
Quartz that "This is a really big day for people with student debt."
"Borrowers that are still struggling more than a decade later with loans, with the worst terms, after going to the worst schools, are finally debt free."
After Gates Allegations, Microsoft Opens a Review of Its Sexual Harassment Policies
Microsoft announced a review of its sexual harassment and gender discrimination policies "after shareholders raised alarms about how Microsoft and Bill Gates, one of its founders, had treated employees, especially women,"
reports the New York Times:
Shareholders passed a resolution during the company's 2021 annual meeting to review the policies Microsoft has in place for its employees to protect them against abuse and unwanted sexual advances. The resolution passed with support from almost 78 percent of Microsoft's shareholders. It was the only of five proposals on ethical issues put forth by shareholders to succeed. Others, like a call for a report on race- and gender-based pay gaps at the company and a pledge to prohibit sales of facial recognition to government entities, failed.
"Microsoft is under intense public scrutiny due to numerous claims of sexual harassment and an alleged failure to address them adequately and transparently," the text of the resolution said. "Reports of Bill Gates's inappropriate relationships and sexual advances toward Microsoft employees have only exacerbated concerns, putting in question the culture set by top leadership and the board's role holding those culpable accountable."
Mr. Gates solicited at least two employees while he was running Microsoft, according to reports in The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal. In one incident, in 2007, Mr. Gates sat through a presentation by a Microsoft employee, then immediately emailed her to ask for a date. Microsoft leaders later warned Mr. Gates not to do things like that. In 2019, Microsoft's board received a letter from an engineer claiming to have had a sexual relationship with Mr. Gates in 2000. A spokeswoman for Mr. Gates confirmed that the two had had an affair that "ended amicably."
More on the story from CNBC...
Giant Lasers Simulate Exoplanet Cores, Prove They're More Likely to Have Life
vikingo9 writes, "By smashing a piece of iron to insanely high pressures, using a
laser the size of a football stadium, a team of scientists led by Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory have
discovered that exoplanets 4-6 times larger than Earth have an increase chance of harboring biological life."
The thinking goes that a molten core "
is probably required for life to develop on a planet,"
Popular Science points out — and this experiment suggests that molten cores of larger rocky exoplanets "should stay hot longer than those within small worlds."
"We're finding so many planets, and [one of] the big questions people have are: are these planets potentially habitable?" says Rick Kraus, a physicist at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory who led the study... Kraus and his team wanted to find other ways to discern whether a planet is habitable. They explored a planet's ability to form a magnetosphere — a magnetic field that protects it from solar radiation, like the one around Earth does for us — as a window into habitability, Kraus says. Life as we know it wouldn't be possible without the Earth's magnetic field.
Magnetic fields are a result of molten planetary cores. Earth has a core composed mostly of iron, split into a solid inner core and a liquid outer core. Earth's magnetic field is caused by the convection of the liquid iron, meaning how it swirls: The cooler, denser liquid areas sink to the bottom, while the hotter ones rise like wax in a lava lamp. Studying an exoplanet's core in a laboratory is difficult because there are few ways to recreate such intense pressures and temperatures.
This is the first experiment to use iron under pressures that exceed those in Earth's core, Kraus says...
The team estimates that it will take a total of 6 billion years for Earth's core to solidify, whereas cores in large exoplanets of similar composition to Earth should take up to 30 percent longer.
Of course, the article ends with a few caveats:
One issue with extrapolating these results to exoplanets is that those super-Earths can contain elements other than iron in their core, which would change their melting temperature by an unknown amount, Driscoll says. It will also be hard to predict how exoplanets cool because the mantle, the layer of hot rock surrounding the core, plays a huge role in how quickly the core can cool. And those exoplanet mantles could be made of "pretty much anything," he says.
California Judge Rules Google's Confidentiality Agreements Break the State's Labor Laws
"A California judge ruled this week that the confidentiality agreements Google requires its employees to sign
are too broad and break the state's labor laws," reports the Washington Post, calling it "a decision that could make it easier for workers at famously secret Big Tech firms to speak openly about their companies."
A Google employee identified as John Doe argued that the broad nondisclosure agreement the company asked him to sign barred him from speaking about his job to other potential employers, amounting to a non-compete clause, which are illegal in California. In a Thursday ruling in California Superior Court, a judge agreed with the employee, while declining to make a judgment on other allegations that Google's agreements blocked whistleblowing and sharing information about wages with other workers.
The ruling marks the latest victory for labor advocates who have sought to force Big Tech companies to relax the stringent confidentiality policies that compel employees to stay quiet about every aspect of their jobs, even after they quit....
The decision isn't final and could still be appealed by Google.... If Google doesn't appeal, or loses the appeal, it could have a real impact on how much power companies hold over employees, said Ramsey Hanafi, a partner with QH Law in San Francisco. "It would mean most of these Big Tech companies would have to rewrite their agreements," Hanafi said. "They all have this broad language that employees can't say anything about anything about their old companies...."
In its opinion, the California Courts of Appeal affirmed the importance of the state's labor laws that go further than federal laws in protecting employees' rights to free speech. Those laws give workers in California the right to "speak as they choose about their work lives," the court wrote. "In sum, these statutes establish as a minimum employment standard an employee anti-gag rule...."
The lawsuit was originally filed in 2016, the article points out, and has been responsible for exposing several internal Google documents (including one detailing a program where employees
can report suspected leakers of Google information).