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).
Zuckerberg and Pichai Allegedly Signed Off On Illegal Facebook-Google Ad Deal
BuzzFeed News reports:
Google CEO Sundar Pichai and Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg personally signed off on a secret advertising deal that allegedly gave Facebook special privileges on Google's ad platform, according to newly unredacted court documents filed on Friday.
The allegation is from a complaint first filed in December 2020 by Texas and several other states against Google for engaging in "false, deceptive, or misleading acts" while operating its buy-and-sell auction system for digital ads. In the complaint, state attorneys general claim Google illegally teamed up with Facebook, its fiercest competitor in the digital advertising market, for a 2018 deal Google dubbed "Jedi Blue" in a reference to Star Wars. Prior to the alleged deal, Facebook appeared to threaten Google's dominance in the market by backing an ad-buying technique called "header bidding." "Google understood the severity of the threat to its position if Facebook were to enter the market and support header bidding," the complaint reads. "To diffuse this threat, Google made overtures to Facebook."
In the end, Facebook backed off after Google agreed to give the social network "information, speed, and other advantages" in auctions run by Google, the complaint says.
The newly unredacted version of the complaint shows that the deal was allegedly struck at the highest levels of the companies, a noteworthy level of cooperation from two of the most powerful companies in the world.
Despite Cannabinoids Study, 'Odds Aren't Fantastic' It Will Ever Treat Covid
While a recent study found that cannabinoids
protected cells in a petri dish from SARS-CoV-2 infection, "working in a petri dish is a relatively low bar for a drug to clear,"
Slate points out.
"The conventional wisdom in pharmaceutical sciences holds that,
of every 10,000 drugs that shows potential effectiveness, only one will make it to market."
Dish experiments need to be followed up with animal studies, and then comes the rigorous gauntlet of human trials. And between cells and humans, there's a lot that can go wrong. In a dish, scientists can deliver a drug precisely to where it is needed, but it's difficult to know ahead of time how drugs will move through a body and whether they will reach their intended targets, such as the lungs and the upper respiratory tract. At this stage, it's impossible to know how CBDA and CBGA will fare, but the odds aren't fantastic.
Other drugs that showed similar early promise for treating COVID have since failed spectacularly, harming users and sowing political discord in the process. Ivermectin, azithromycin, and hydroxychloroquine all fought coronavirus infection in cells, but we now know that they do nothing to prevent or treat COVID in humans.
But at least cannabinoids are largely safe; humans have been guinea pigs in their Phase 1 trial for millennia.
Another important caveat: even the researcher's study was only proposing cannabinoids "
as a complement to vaccines."
New Study of 1980s Mars Meteorite Debunks Proof of Ancient Life On Planet
An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Guardian:
A four billion-year-old meteorite from Mars that caused a splash here on Earth decades ago contains no evidence of ancient, primitive Martian life after all, scientists have said. In 1996, a NASA-led team announced that organic compounds in the rock appeared to have been left by living creatures. Other scientists were skeptical and researchers chipped away at that premise over the decades, most recently by a team led by the Carnegie Institution for Science's Andrew Steele. Tiny samples from the meteorite show the carbon-rich compounds are actually the result of water -- most likely salty or briny water -- flowing over the rock for a prolonged period, Steele said. The findings appear in the Science journal.
During Mars' wet and early past, at least two impacts occurred near the rock, heating the planet's surrounding surface, before a third impact bounced it off the red planet and into space millions of years ago. The 4lb (2kg) rock was found in Antarctica in 1984. Groundwater moving through the cracks in the rock, while it was still on Mars, formed the tiny globs of carbon that are present, according to the researchers. The same thing can happen on Earth and could help explain the presence of methane in Mars' atmosphere, they said. But two scientists who took part in the original study took issue with these latest findings, calling them "disappointing." In a shared email, they said they stand by their 1996 observations. "While the data presented incrementally adds to our knowledge of (the meteorite), the interpretation is hardly novel, nor is it supported by the research," wrote Kathie Thomas-Keprta and Simon Clemett, astromaterial researchers at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston. "Unsupported speculation does nothing to resolve the conundrum surrounding the origin of organic matter" in the meteorite, they added.
Nvidia's AI-Powered Scaling Makes Old Games Look Better Without a Huge Performance Hit
latest game-ready driver includes a tool that
could let you improve the image quality of games that your graphics card can easily run, alongside optimizations for the new God of War PC port. The Verge reports:
The tech is called Deep Learning Dynamic Super Resolution, or DLDSR, and Nvidia says you can use it to make "most games" look sharper by running them at a higher resolution than your monitor natively supports. DLDSR builds on Nvidia's Dynamic Super Resolution tech, which has been around for years. Essentially, regular old DSR renders a game at a higher resolution than your monitor can handle and then downscales it to your monitor's native resolution. This leads to an image with better sharpness but usually comes with a dip in performance (you are asking your GPU to do more work, after all). So, for instance, if you had a graphics card capable of running a game at 4K but only had a 1440p monitor, you could use DSR to get a boost in clarity.
DLDSR takes the same concept and incorporates AI that can also work to enhance the image. According to Nvidia, this means you can upscale less (and therefore lose less performance) while still getting similar image quality improvements. In real numbers, Nvidia claims you'll get image quality similar to running at four times the resolution using DSR with only 2.25 times the resolution with DLDSR. Nvidia gives an example using 2017's Prey: Digital Deluxe running on a 1080p monitor: 4x DSR runs at 108 FPS, while 2.25x DLDSR is getting 143 FPS, only two frames per second slower than running at native 1080p.
Space Anemia Is Tied To Being In the Void and Can Stick Around Awhile
fahrbot-bot shares a report from Ars Technica:
Space isn't easy on humans. Some aspects are avoidable -- the vacuum, of course, and the cold, as well as some of the radiation. Astronauts can also lose bone density, thanks to a lack of gravity. NASA has even created a fun acronym for the issues: RIDGE, which stands for space radiation, isolation and confinement, distance from Earth, gravity fields, and hostile and closed environments. New research adds to the worries by describing how being in space destroys your blood. Or rather, something about space -- and we don't know what just yet -- causes the human body to perform hemolysis at a higher rate than back on Earth.
This phenomenon, called space anemia, has been well-studied. It's part of a suite of problems that astronauts face when they come back to terra firma, which is how Guy Trudel -- one of the paper's authors and a specialist in physical medicine and rehabilitation at The Ottawa Hospital -- got involved. "[W]hen the astronauts return from space, they are very much like the patients we admit in rehab," he told Ars. Space anemia had been viewed as an adaptation to shifting fluids in the astronauts' upper bodies when they first arrive in space. They rapidly lose 10 percent of the liquid in their blood vessels, and it was expected that their bodies destroyed a matching 10 percent of red blood cells to get things back into balance. People also suspected that things went back to normal after 10 days. Trudel and his team found, however, that the hemolysis was a primary response to being in space. "Our results were a bit of a surprise," he said. [...]
Trudel's team isn't sure exactly why being in space would cause the human body to destroy blood cells at this faster rate. There are some potential culprits, however. Hemolysis can happen in four different parts of the body: the bone marrow (where red blood cells are made), the blood vessels, the liver, or the spleen. From this list, Trudel suspects that the bone marrow or the spleen are the most likely problem areas, and his team has plans to investigate the issue further in the future. "What causes the anemia is the hemolysis, but what causes the hemolysis is the next step," he said. It's also uncertain how long a person in space can continue to destroy 54 percent more red blood cells than their Earth-bound kin. "We don't have data beyond six months. There's a knowledge gap for longer missions, for one-year missions, or missions to the Moon or Mars or other bodies," he said.