Month: December, 2017

Bitcoin: A World-Changer Or Just Another Bubble?

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Everywhere you look, Bitcoin is in the news.

But for a lot of people, it’s still a total mystery. Let’s take a look and talk about what it is and where it’s going.

BTW, if you want to send me some Bitcoin (some people have asked), here’s my BTC wallet: 15iFWPADUJtQBzKUWjK8qWK757oDPPkx9M

Family Cannot Feel Pain Due To Rare Genetic Mutation

Members of an Italian family with an unusually low sensitivity to pain have had their DNA analyzed to locate the genetic basis of their condition.

The scientists who conducted the study hope understanding the condition, which six members of the Marsili family have, will help develop more effective painkillers.

Affected family members can suffer burns and broken bones while feeling virtually no pain, meaning they often do not notice injuries.

The results of the study were published in the journal Brain.

The grandmother, she came off an escalator and broke her ankle,” said Dr James Cox, a geneticist at University College London and one of the co-authors of the study documenting the discovery.

She went to the doctor, who took her X-ray and said ‘well actually you’ve broken your ankle before.”

The research team identified that the Marsilis do possess the nerves in their bodies that should allow them to feel pain, which suggested their condition was genetic.

We have spent several years trying to identify the gene that is the cause of this,” said Dr Cox.

Using DNA from blood samples, Dr Cox and his colleagues found a mutation in a gene called ZFHX2.

When the researchers removed the same gene in mice, they found the mice were resilient to pain, just like the Marsilis.

Providing mice with the same mutated gene version the family members have also reduced pain sensitivity.

While the gene mutation is very rare, the researchers say understanding it has wider implications.

By identifying this mutation and clarifying that it contributes to the family’s pain insensitivity, we have opened up a whole new route to drug discovery for pain relief,” said co-author Professor Anna Maria Aloisi of the University of Siena, a member of the team that first came across the Marsilis’ condition.

Specifically, Dr Cox and his colleagues hope their work will help develop treatments that can be used by people living with chronic pain.

We hope that our findings and the subsequent research projects will help find better treatments for the millions of people worldwide who experience chronic pain and don’t get relief from existing drugs,” said the study’s first author, Dr Abdella Habib of Qatar University.

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Pass it on: New Scientist

Jeremy Hunt Launches Opt-Out Organ Donation Plans In England

The health secretary, Jeremy Hunt, is to launch plans for an opt-out system of organ donation, asking people to overcome their “fatal reluctance” to discuss the issue with family and friends.

Under the plans, everybody in England would be presumed to be happy to donate their organs on their death, unless they have signed up to a register stating that they do not want that to happen.

In practice, however, it is unlikely that organs would be taken against the wishes of the family.

The government’s ambition to change the NHS organ donation programme was announced by Theresa May in her Conservative party conference speech in October.

Last year, she said, “500 people died because a suitable organ was not available. And there are 6,500 on the transplant list today.”

NHS Blood and Transplant’s figures show that 1,100 families in the UK decided not to allow organ donation because they were unsure, or did not know whether their relatives would have wanted to donate an organ or not.

The consultation will ask three questions: how much say should families have in their deceased relative’s decision to donate their organs?

When would exemptions to “opt-out” be needed, and what safeguards will be necessary? How might a new system affect certain groups depending on age, disability, race or faith?

There are particular shortages of organs for people from ethnic minority backgrounds. Only about 6% of donors are black or Asian, although those groups make up about 10% of the population.

Orin Lewis, chief executive of the Afro-Caribbean Leukaemia Trust and co-chair of the National BAME Transplant Alliance, said: “As a parent of a young man who sadly passed away from multiple organ failure, I gladly welcome the prime minister’s decision to instigate a much-needed public consultation on the relative positive and negative merits of England having an opt-out donation policy.

There is still debate over how well an opt-out system works. Spain is often hailed as a success story and has a good supply of organs.

However, the opt-out was introduced at the same time as big investments in the transplant programme, and in particular the appointment of transplant coordinators who instigate conversations with the family of a dying patient.

If families refuse, their wishes are always respected.

Wales launched an opt-out system in December 2015 and the following June it was announced that it had already been a success.

Half the 60 organs transplanted in the six months came from people whose consent had been presumed.

But a recent year-on-year comparison showed little difference, with 101 donors under the old system and 104 under presumed consent.

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Is Hand Sanitizer Killing You?

Parents have made an enemy of bacteria for years. They’ve sanitized tabletops, disinfected playthings and wiped down grocery store carts to keep their children safe from unseen germs.

That instinct is a natural one, experts say, but emerging research about the body’s bacteria, fungi and other cells that cover our skin, gastrointestinal tract and other areas suggests that we may be taking hygiene vigilance a little too far.

That, in the long run, weakens our immune systems.

Scientists are only beginning to understand the millions of microbes that make up the human microbiome, said UC Davis microbiologist Jonathan Eisen, but researchers are finding that antibiotics.

Household disinfectants and other sanitizing products are also killing the “good bacteria” that help our bodies fend off disease.

Many believe that the shortage of certain microbes explains recent spikes in childhood allergies and asthma.

People in developing countries, who grow up in less sterile environments, eat mostly non-processed foods and spend more time around people and animals, have more varieties of microbes in their gastrointestinal tracts than people in the United States, recent studies show.

At the same time, food allergy rates are lower in Africa and South America than in North America, Western Europe and Australia, according to the World Allergy Organization.

The findings play into the “hygiene hypothesis,” or the idea that childhood infections acquired through unhygienic contact bolster the immune system against disease later in life.

Of course, too many germs can also carry risks for children, said Dr. Ralph Morris, a Minnesota physician.

So what is the microbiome anyway?

The microbiome is made up of trillions of bacterial cells that we pick up from the world. They’re mostly concentrated in the gastrointestinal tract, but they also live in the lungs, mouth and other parts of the body.

Microbes assist in food digestion and trigger the immune system to fight illness. Some microbes appear to contribute to weight gain and others cause inflammation.

A difference in microbial makeup can predispose people to certain diseases or change the way they react to drug therapies.


How is it formed?

Germ exposure starts in utero and keeps forming through adulthood, making the first few months and years of a child’s life a crucial time for building a healthy microbiome.

Many experts, including Roseville allergist and immunologist Dr. Travis Miller, believe the ways babies are delivered help determine their future health.

Babies born vaginally take in healthy microbes from the birth canal, organisms that babies delivered by cesarean section don’t pick up, Miller said.

That may place C-section babies at a disadvantage from the get-go, he said.

How dirty is dangerous?

Land Park mother Amanda Bauer said she tries to be careful about keeping her two young daughters clean.

She doesn’t carry hand sanitizer around with her, she said, but always makes sure her 7- and 9-year-olds wash their hands after going to the grocery store.

Around the house, she cleans off door handles, remote controls and other heavily touched items with Lysol wipes, especially when someone is sick.

Recent science supports Bauer’s beliefs.

A study from Swedish researchers found that children whose families washed dishes by hand had significantly lower rates of eczema and slightly lower rates of allergies than children whose families used a dishwasher.

Other studies have shown children who live with dogs and cats tend to be healthier because the pets pass on their own beneficial microbes.

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Pass it on: Popular Science

Google’s AI Found An Overlooked Exoplanet

NASA has discovered an eighth planet around a distant star, which means we’re no longer the largest solar system we know of.

The discovery was made thanks to some artificial intelligence help from Google, which found the planet by scouring previously overlooked “weak” signals in data captured by the Kepler Space Telescope.

The newly found planet is located in the solar system around Kepler-90, a star about 2,500 light-years away from Earth that was previously discovered in 2014.

The Kepler Space Telescope has been searching the galactic sky for exoplanets, or planets outside our own Solar System, since it launched in 2009.

In order to sift through all the data that it’s captured since that launch, scientists usually look at the strongest signals first.

And that process has worked well enough so far. NASA has confirmed 2,525 exoplanets in that time, a number that has changed our understanding of how common it is to find planets around the stars that make up our galaxy.

Recently, though, artificial intelligence has become a more prominent tool in astronomy.

Scientists, including ones who work on the Kepler data, have increasingly turned to machine learning to help sort through typically lower-priority data to see what they might have missed.

In the process, they found an overlooked planet that’s now named Kepler-90i.

But while we now know that Kepler-90 has the same number of orbiting planets as our Sun, the solar system is a poor candidate in the search for extraterrestrial life or at least, life as we know it.

Kepler-90 is about 20 percent bigger and 5 percent warmer than our Sun. And its eight planets dance around the star in much closer orbits than the ones in our own Solar System.

In fact, their orbits are so comparatively small that seven of Kepler-90’s eight planets would fit in between the Earth and the Sun.

The discovery of Kepler-90i, came after NASA let Google train its machine learning algorithms on 15,000 signals from potential planets in the Kepler database.

The scientists then took the trained system and set it to work on data from 670 stars that were already known to have multiple planets, as they considered those to be the most likely hiding places.

The newly discovered planet in Kepler-90, along with one other found in the Kepler-80 solar system announced today, are the first NASA was able to confirm from these new results from Google’s AI.

The inclusion of machine learning in this process shouldn’t scare humans whose livelihood revolves around discovering and studying exoplanets, according to Chris Shallue, a senior Google AI software engineer who worked on the project.

What we’ve developed here is a tool to help astronomers have more impact,” Shallue said on a conference call about the news.

It’s a way to increase the productivity of astronomers. It certainly won’t replace them at all.

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These Weird Red Arcs On Saturn’s Moon Tethys Can’t Be Explained

An icy moon of Saturn has mysterious red arcs of material crisscrossing its surface — and no one knows exactly how they got there.

The Cassini spacecraft caught these graffiti-like features on camera as it imaged the northern side of the Tethys, which is one of Saturn’s larger moons.

While the arcs faintly show up in 2004 pictures, the latest images, from April, are the first to really show their colors by incorporating the right viewing conditions and wavelengths invisible to the human eye.

This is partly because Saturn and its moons’ northern hemispheres are currently in summer, providing better illumination of this region.

The features were a surprise to scientists because red tints are rare in the solar system.

Until now, astronomers have spotted a few small, reddish craters on Saturn’s icy moon Dione, and identified many rouge zones on the icy surface of Jupiter’s Europa.

Scientists don’t exactly know how these features occurred. Perhaps they are ice with chemical impurities, leftovers from gas released from the moon or artifacts from features that were smaller than the resolution of the image.

The red arcs must be geologically young, because they cut across older features like impact craters, but we don’t know their age in years.” Paul Helfenstein, a Cassini imaging scientist at Cornell University who helped plan the observations, said in a statement.

If the stain is only a thin, colored veneer on the icy soil, exposure to the space environment at Tethys’ surface might erase them on relatively short time scales.

Icy moons lke Tethys are considered a key area of interest in our solar system because they could host microbial life if enough chemical energy and warmth is available in the oceans below the ice.

In recent years, plumes of gas have been repeatedly observed at Enceladus, another of Saturn’s moons, and in 2013 the Hubble Space Telescope spotted a single, large-plume event at Europa.

Cassini will do follow-up observations of Tethys at a higher resolution later this year. The mission is in the final two years of work before the spacecraft runs low on fuel in September 2017.

When that happens, it will plunge into Saturn’s atmosphere to protect the icy moons from possible contamination.

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Pass it on: New Scientist

Giant Penguins, As Tall As People, Lived In New Zealand Millions Of Years Ago

Scientists have discovered the fossil remains of an ancient giant penguin with a body length of about 5.8 feet that roamed the waters off New Zealand soon after the dinosaurs’ demise.

Kumimanu biceae, newly described in the journal Nature Communications, is one of the oldest penguin species found yet – and it adds a surprising twist to what researchers thought they knew about penguin evolution.

The K. biceae bones were discovered on a beach in New Zealand many years ago, embedded in rock.

So obscured that at first the scientists thought they had belonged to a turtle, said lead author Gerald Mayr, an ornithologist at Senckenberg Research Institute and Natural History Museum Frankfurt in Germany.

They painstakingly cleared rock away from the bones, revealing that the fossil was actually of an enormous penguin — roughly 1½ times the size of the emperor penguin, the largest living species today.

At about 223 pounds and 5 feet, 9 inches in body length, K. biceae was the size of a human man.

I was amazed at how big it actually was,” said Mayr, whose co-authors in New Zealand brought him in to examine the fossil.

K. biceae was dated to 55.5 million to 59.5 million years ago, which puts it in the Paleocene epoch. Back then it was so warm that even Antarctica hosted subtropical waters

In New Zealand, the birds probably dined on fish as they do today, but may have speared them with long beaks.

The strangest thing about these penguins was not just their size, although that is pretty exceptional. What caught researchers’ eye was how old they were — how early they appeared in the penguin family tree.

There have been plenty of other oversized penguins in the fossil record, but those species came tens of millions of years later.

Leading many researchers to figure that it probably took time for penguins to evolve into megafaunal species.

The partly prepared skeleton of the giant penguin. The rectangles emphasize the humerus and a bone from the shoulder girdle, which are shown separated from the original bone cluster (G. Mayr/Senckenberg Research Institute)

This new fossil shows that penguins had grown to enormous proportions very quickly after the dinosaurs were killed off around 66 million years ago.

On top of that, K. biceae seems to have more primitive features than those later large penguins, and it appears to have developed into a large species independently of the others.

That time frame – penguins’ ancestors losing flight and gaining the ability to swim, and then getting very, very big, all in about 5 million years – seems really, really fast, the scientists said.

It could potentially mean that the flying ancestors of penguins coexisted with dinosaurs for a good long while before the asteroid wiped them out, though that’s just a hypothesis for now, Mayr said.

Aside from the speed with which it seems to have happened, this super-sizing is to be expected, the ornithologist said.

After all, once you don’t have to spend the energy to get airborne, you don’t have to watch your weight as closely.

And there are certain advantages to going up a few sizes: you can muscle out the competition for food or territory, and you might be much harder for predators to kill.

So what happened to these feathered heavyweights?

That disappearance may have something to do with the rise of marine mammals such as seals and toothed whales, Mayr said.

As they began to flourish in the fossil record, those big-boned ocean birds started fading out.

It’s unclear whether there’s a causal relationship there, and if so, what one would be, Mayr said. Perhaps marine mammals competed with large penguins for food, or for breeding grounds.

Perhaps they actually hunted the jumbo penguins.

For now, this is just one specimen. Scientists hope to find more of them, especially with their skulls and beaks intact.

There were also plenty of smaller penguins that appear to have coexisted with this giant penguin, and it’s unclear exactly what the relationships were between those species.

We hope there will be future finds,” Mayr said. “There are many questions.”

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Pass it on: Popular Science

Is It Too Late To Invest In Bitcoin In 2017?

For non-financey types, the concept of Bitcoin can be daunting. Just when we were wrapping our heads around variable interest rates and term deposits, they go and create a whole new digital currency.

But with or without our approval, Bitcoin has become a thing, and for those who jumped on it early, a very profitable one.

To give you an idea of how far it’s come, in 2010 the bitcoin price was about 1.5 US cents.

Let’s all spare a moment for the guy who bought $25 worth, threw away his hard drive and then realised as of this month he essentially threw out $7.6 million. Ouch.

What is Bitcoin?

First of all, let’s start with the basics.

As defined by CoinDesk, “Bitcoin is a form of digital currency, created and held electronically.”

No one controls it. Bitcoins aren’t printed, like dollars or euros, they’re produced by people, and increasingly businesses, running computers all around the world, using software that solves mathematical problems.”

Bitcoin is traded digitally, but that’s not what’s new or exciting about it. Where it stands apart is due to the fact it’s decentralised, meaning it isn’t controlled by any one institution.

Instead, it relies on a peer-to-peer structure, by a community of people that anyone can join.

These peoples are called ‘miners‘ and they use computing power to verify bitcoin transactions. As an incentive, every time they verify a block of transactions, they get bitcoin as well.

Who invented it?

Bitcoin was invented by Satoshi Nakamoto in 2008, but it didn’t go online until 2009. Also, because it’s the internet and anything can happen, Nakamoto’s actual identity has never been able to be confirmed.

Interestingly, Australian Craig Wright has claimed he is the true Bitcoin founder, though he has failed to provide sufficient proof.

Can Bitcoin make me money?

Ah. The million dollar question.

As we’ve covered before, if you bought some bitcoin when it first started and was trading at a measly couple of cents, you probably would be sitting on a yacht right now being fanned with a palm frond and not reading this article.

But millionaire status doesn’t only happen for those who invested at the very beginning. One Idaho teenager invested $1000 in Bitcoin just three years ago and now has over a million dollars.

But what about investing now?

Controlled supply

It’s important to note there is a limit for how many bitcoins can be created, with a maximum amount of 21 million.

However even with this cap, there won’t ever be the full amount in circulation, as some unlucky people have lost their keys along the way.

According to Quora, “As of June 1st, 2017 there were 16,366,275 BTC out of a total 21,000,000 BTC in theoretical supply, which has yet to be mined“.

So, just as there is only so much gold to be mined in the world, there is only so much bitcoin, too. And the important thing to note is there’s still some left.

Buying Bitcoin now is not too late,” CEO of digital currency management company Bron.Tech, Emma Poposka told HuffPost Australia.

If we see full adoption in the future, or mainstream adoption, the price still has to go up in value because we have a limited supply.

If you’re thinking, ‘But can’t they just make more bitcoin?’ that’s the beauty of the currency not being controlled by a single institution.

In order to change the protocol surrounding Bitcoin, every miner needs to vote on the decision.

Now, don’t forget miners are paid in bitcoin for their services, so why would they vote to decrease the value of their own assets?

Other digital currency

With all the hype surrounding Bitcoin, it’s easy to forget it’s not even the only digital currency out there. The reason it’s the most famous is because it’s the first of its kind, but it’s not alone.

Bitcoin is not the only currency today which is valuable to — I wouldn’t say invest, I don’t like the term — but to buy or hold,” Poposka said. “There are other currencies as well.”

So according to your idealistic views of the world or what you personally think is right, you can buy or hold or trade [whichever currency] you think is [promising].”

So now we have Bitcoin, and the biggest rival of Bitcoin is ethereum.”

My company as a company has a native currency The Bron, which is another currency people can buy, hold and trade.”

It’s backed by an asset which we think in the digital world is valuable, which is data.”

“Bitcoin is the most popular because it’s the oldest.”

In conclusion

Digital currency may not be mainstream just yet, but there’s plenty of arguments to say it’s not going anywhere soon. Should you invest in Bitcoin before it maxes out at 21 million?

Maybe. Both Lim and Poposka think there is potentially money still to be made.

But should you take out a second mortgage? Perhaps not.

What I tell to my friends and myself and my colleagues is yes, people should start experimenting and buying small amounts of Bitcoin. You don’t even need to buy an entire bitcoin — you can buy part of one for $10,” Poposka said.

It’s an interesting technology and I think it’s worthwhile to buy small amounts you can play with and learn from”

“But I would never recommending seriously investing in something you don’t understand — and that applies to everything, real estate or stocks or Bitcoin.”

I’d be more inclined to pay $50 for small portfolio of cryptocurrency and play with it. If everything fails you will lose $50 and that’s nothing.”

Then if you learn enough and get excited by the technology, you can decide whether to buy more.

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Pass it on: Popular Science

The Remarkable Island Born From An Underwater Volcanic Eruption


Nearly three years ago, an island sprung into existence in the South Pacific Kingdom of Tonga, nestling between two older islands in the archipelago.

The new island formed after the eruption of a submarine volcano in the region, which flung ash 30,000 feet into the sky, before it eventually settled in January 2015.

While scientists first estimated that the island with a 400-foot (120-meter) summit would last just a few months, new calculations suggest it could remain in its new place for as much as 30 years.

The island has come to be known as Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai.

It became visible to satellites in 2015, and is the first of its kind to emerge and survive in the modern satellite era, according to NASA.

A stunning time-lapse released by the space agency this week reveals how its shape has changed since it first emerged, using 33 months of high-resolution satellite data.

Over the last 150 years, there have been three of these ‘surtseyan’ volcanic island formations, with the Tongan being the most recent.

It sits on the north rim of a caldera atop an underwater volcano, which is nearly 4,600 feet (1,400 meters) higher than the surrounding sea floor, the researchers say.

Volcanic islands are some of the simplest landforms to make“, said Jim Garvin, chief scientist of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland.

Our interest is to calculate how much the 3D landscape changes over time, particularly its volume, which has only been measured a few times at other such islands.

It’s the first step to understand erosion rates and processes and to decipher why it has persisted longer than most people expected.

Experts were able to track the formation of the new Tongan island since its beginning, using high-resolution satellite observations.

The scientists first began watching the island after the initial eruption died down, using images from NASA’s Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) instruments to make a 3D map of its topography.

According to the team, there are two potential scenarios that could play out. The island could experience accelerated erosion by wave abrasion, they say.

This would destabilize the tuff cone in roughly six to seven years, leaving behind a land-bridge between the two neighbouring islands.

Or, erosion could occur at a slower rate, which would leave it intact for 25-30 years.

According to the researchers, the new Tongan island may be experiencing similar interactions as seen at Surtsey, where warmed seawater and ash chemically altered the rock to create a tougher material.

And, a similar process could help explain some of the volcanic features on Mars.

Everything we learn about what we see on Mars is based on the experience of interpreting Earth phenomena,” Garvin said.

We think there were eruptions on Mars at a time when there were areas of persistent surface water.

We may be able to use this new Tongan island and its evolution as a way of testing whether any of those represented an oceanic environment or ephemeral lake environment.

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Pass it on: Popular Science

The Kiwi Bots Trundles Along Campus Streets And Deliver Food To Students

A Kiwibot delivers food around the UC Berkeley campus via Kiwi, a new on-demand delivery service.

UC Berkeley has a new on-demand delivery service. Unlike any of its predecessors however, this one relies on robots.

Kiwi uses a fleet of 20 terrier-sized wheeled robots to pick up and deliver food and personal-care items within a roughly one square mile area centered around campus.

The vehicles operate between Shattuck and Piedmont avenues and between Hearst Avenue and Dwight Way.

If you want to start a robot company, use a campus,” said founder and CEO Felipe Chávez, “and if you want to use a campus, use UC Berkeley.

The city and the campus were a natural fit for Kiwi.

At the most basic level, the infrastructure paved streets, well-maintained sidewalks, functioning traffic signals, crosswalks and a generally law-abiding citizenry allows for robots to operate smoothly.

In addition, UC Berkeley has a high concentration of residents pressed both for time and space to prepare meals at home.

Finally, there’s Berkeley’s abundance of local dining options and a generally favorable attitude towards innovation.

Though Chávez started Kiwi in his native city of Bogotá, Colombia in 2015, using people as couriers, he switched to robots when he brought Kiwi north to Cal in January of 2017 as part of UC Berkeley’s LAUNCH program, an incubator for promising startups.

The bot roamed free-range on the plaza as Chávez sat on a bench for our interview.

He looked ahead, unconcerned as the robot made several turns around the fountain, then headed off under an alley of trees, almost out to Sather Gate before turning back and circling the plaza again.

The Kiwibot’s motions appear self-directed but it uses the same technology as Roomba, the robot vacuum cleaner.

It recognizes boundaries and avoids obstacles by using lidar sensors and has a smartphone mounted to its hood.

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Pass it on: New Scientist