Month: May, 2018

Here’s What You Need to Know Before You Buy A DNA Testing Kit

It’s amazing how much information there is hiding in one tiny globule of spit.

In 2003, scientists announced that they had, after more than a decade, completed sequencing the human genome.

In 2018, you can spit in a test tube and, for the same price as a pair of Apple Air Pods, find out a host of fascinating information about your ancestry and health.

But there are things you should know before you spit: Namely that you’re you’re handing over access to extremely sensitive information about things including your health, personality, and family history.

It’s all there in the fine print if you bother to read it: Testing companies can claim rights to your genetic information, allow third parties to access it, and simply by virtue of possessing it make your DNA vulnerable to hackers.

This isn’t because DNA testing companies like AncestryDNA or 23andMe are doing anything especially fishy. Sharing sensitive personal information is inherently risky.

And the truth is, we likely don’t even fully understand what some of those risks are. It’s possible you could one day face employment or insurance discrimination, or even social stigma, based on your genes.

We’re guessing you might not have thought about all this before you became one of the millions of people curious to find out what their DNA might say about them.

And, as I explored in a recent feature, the accuracy of the information you get back from these companies is dubious. So we’ll leave you with one important piece of advice: Think before you spit!

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Pass it on: Popular Science

Oldest known case of dandruff found in 125m-year-old dinosaur

A fossil of a microraptor found in Liaoning province, China. The crow-sized dinosaur lived about 125m years ago.

The oldest known case of dandruff has been identified in a small feathered dinosaur that roamed the Earth about 125m years ago.

Paleontologists found tiny flakes of fossilised skin on a crow-sized microraptor, a meat-eating dinosaur that had wings on all four of its limbs.

Tests on two other feathered dinosaurs, namely beipiaosaurus and sinornithosaurus, and a primitive bird known as confuciusornis, also revealed pieces of fossilised dandruff on the animals’ bodies.

The prehistoric skin flakes are the only evidence scientists have of how dinosaurs shed their skin.

The material shows that rather than losing their outer layer in one piece, or in large sheets, as is common with modern reptiles, the feathered dinosaurs adapted to shed their skin in tiny flakes.

Images of the dandruff taken with a powerful electron microscope show that the material is extremely well-preserved and is almost identical to that found on modern birds.

Like human dandruff, the skin flakes are made of tough cells called corneocytes that are full of the protein keratin.

The work, published in Nature Communications, suggests that dinosaurs who sported feathers evolved skin to cope with their plumage as far back as the middle Jurassic.

Even though they are in the early stages of feather evolution, they have already adapted their skin to this more modern structure,” McNamara said.

Prehistoric dandruff found on the skin of a microraptor dinosaur. Photograph: Maria McNamara at University College Cork

The fossilised remains of all of the animals studied were recovered from rock formations in north-eastern China. At 2m long, beipiaosaurus and sinornithosaurus grew to more than twice the size of microraptor.

Modern birds have very fatty corneocytes that are loosely packed with keratin, a feature which helps the birds lose heat from the exertion of flying.

McNamara found that the dinosaur dandruff cells lacked such fat, suggesting that the animals did not get as warm as modern birds, perhaps because they could not fly far, or failed to get airborne at all.

Many dinosaurs that sported feathers were not competent fliers. Instead, their plumage served other purposes: to keep them warm, provide camouflage, and perhaps attract members of the opposite sex with multicoloured displays.

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Watch The Rocket Launch This Camera Died To Capture

A different, less fiery angle of the rocket launch.

On May 22, NASA photographer Bill Ingalls set up his Canon camera to capture footage of the launch of a SpaceX Falcon 9.

He got the shot, sort of, but not before that very launch ignited a small brush fire that did the poor camera in for good.

Although this martyr of rocket photography has closed its shutter for the very last time, we’re all fortunate enough to be able to see the footage it died to bring us.

As Ingalls mentioned in a NASA feature on the melted camera, this particular setup was actually outside the safety perimeter for the Falcon launch. At a quarter mile away, it was actually the furthest of all six Ingalls had set up.

The flames creeping closer to the camera.

That distance did nothing to save it when a brush fire started in the vicinity, melting the camera’s body but leaving its memory card intact so we could see its last gaze.

The camera is set to be put on display in NASA’s Washington DC headquarters. A fitting resting place for a true hero.

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Facebook Researchers Used AI To Create A Universal Music Translator

Is Facebook pumping up the volume on what AI can mean to the future of music? You can decide after having a look at what Facebook AI Research scientists have been up to.

A number of sites including The Next Web have reported that they unveiled a neural network capable of translating music from one style, genre, and set of instruments to another.

You can check out their paper, “A Universal Music Translation Network” by authors Noam Mor, Lior Wolf, Adam Polyak, Yaniv Taigman, Facebook AI Research.

A video showing the authors’ supplementary audio samples lets you hear what they did with samples ranging from symphony, string quartet, to sounds of Africa, Elvis and Rihanna samples and even human whistling.

In one example, they said they converted the audio of a Mozart symphony performed by an orchestra to an audio in the style of a pianist playing Beethoven.

Basically, a neural network has been put to work to change the style of music. Listening to samples, one wonders what the AI process is like in figuring out how to carry the music from one work to another?

Does it involve matched pitch? Memorizing musical notes? Greene said no, their approach is an “unsupervised learning method” using “high-level semantics interpretation.

Greene added that you could say “it plays be ear.” The method is unsupervised, in that it does not rely on supervision in the form of matched samples between domains or musical transcriptions, said the team.

Greene also translated, explaining that this was “a complex method of auto-encoding that allows the network to process audio from inputs it’s never been trained on.

In a bigger picture, one can mark the AI attempt to translate styles and instruments as another sure sign of an intersection being crossed between AI and music that can change our pejorative view of “machine” music as inferior and canned.

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What Was the First Internet Meme?

Today’s internet is a churning sea of funny images, remixes of those images, parodies of those remixes of those images, and cat videos.

But before there was the Y U NO Guy or the Ermagerd girl, there was an animation that would come to change the internet forever. It was called Baby Cha-Cha-Cha, also known as The Dancing Baby.

Hooked on a Feeling

In 1996, Autodesk animator Michael Girard and his colleague Robert Lurye wanted to show that you could program and direct the same movement with different characters using computers.

They designed an animation of a baby doing a series of complicated cha-cha dance moves. Autodesk soon sent the animation around to other development and animation companies, presumably to show off.

When it got to LucasArts, developer Ron Lussier made a few changes to the original file and turned it into an animated GIF, which he sent to a few coworkers…who sent it to friends, who sent it to friends, and on and on.

That GIF soon took the pop culture world by storm, showing up in advertisements, on merchandise, and on TV shows, including a few infamous episodes of “Ally McBeal“.

Creepy Is As Creepy Does

When it comes to internet memes, the evolution is key: it can’t just be popular; it has to change. Variations on The Dancing Baby have appeared on “The Simpsons“, danced to “Gangnam Style“, and an endless array of products.

Girard told Great Big Story that he thinks the animation’s popularity comes down to its creepy factor. It resides in the uncanny valley, that perceptual spot where it almost looks human, but not quite.

It’s the kind of nightmarish, dead-eyed thing you’d drop-kick if you saw it in real life.

So how does the internet’s original Dr. Frankenstein feel about his creation today? Girard was asked if he regretted making The Dancing Baby. His answer? “Yes. 100 percent.”

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3 Self-Destructing Messaging Apps Adults Need to Know

Let’s face the facts: most kids don’t spend a whole lot of time on Facebook and Twitter anymore. We know this because people don’t want their information shared with the entire world.

Self-destructing messaging apps with end-to-end encryption are taking over; these are apps that automatically destruct messages when the receiver reads them and/or sets a limit for how long the receiver can see a message before it gets deleted.

Both kids and young adults use them to prevent certain people (i.e. parents, and future employers, etc.) from seeing things in their chat histories.

These apps are dangerous in their own ways. Some of them aren’t as private as they say they are, while others might be too powerful for their own good.

We chose the 6 that give you the most variety in their usage and the ones we can all learn from the most.

So without any further ado, here are 6 self-destructing messaging apps your kid might have on their phone.

1. Snapchat

We’ve all heard of Snapchat. (It is the ultimate self-destructing messaging app.)

Snapchat is one of the most popular social media platforms in the world and is by far the most well-known self-destructing messaging app out there.

It’s so well-liked within the younger generations that, in 2016, Snapchat surpassed Facebook’s number of video views per day (10 billion vs. 8 billion).

It attained its popularity once people learned they had the option to share videos and photos in a ‘safe’ online environment with all kinds of lenses and face effects. You can set timers for these photos and videos to self-destruct once the person received it.

This allows teens and young adults to share goofy or embarrassing photos without the risk of them going public.

2. Telegram

In a nutshell, Telegram is WhatsApp with the ability to self-destruct messages.

There are a number of cool features you can use in the app. Its features includes a Secret chats section. This part of the app includes a self-destruct timer, which basically gives recipients a limited amount of time to read the message.

To use the timer, click the three-dotted button in a secret chat and tap ‘Set self-destruct timer.’ All the message you send afterwards will be received and self-destructed in that amount of time once the recipient opens the message.

3. Wickr

Wickr is a private messenger worth discussing… for good reason.

In one of their YouTube videos, they mention how end-to-end encryption is important, but it doesn’t tell the full story.

The real challenge is to distribute the user’s encryption key securely; an encryption key is what turns the data in your text message into an unreadable text, making it impossible for the human brain to understand.

Wickr has not one, not two, but five different encryption keys for every message you send.

It goes above and beyond limits by not only encrypting the message, but by adding more layers so that the sender knows that the recipient is the only person to decrypt the message.

In cryptography, this is called perfect forward secrecy. No one will be able to surveil the messages you send: not the FBI, not the NSA, not even Wickr themselves!

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Like Sci-Fi And NPR? Try These Podcasts

Sci-fi podcasts tend to be modest affairs, and are usually hosted by enthusiastic amateurs or up-and-coming writers.

But in recent years radio professionals have been creating shows with much higher production values. One of those shows is Flash Forward, hosted by science journalist Rose Eveleth.

Sci-fi is so powerful in getting us to imagine things, and imagine futures,” Eveleth says in Episode 272 of the Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy podcast. “It puts you into these worlds and makes you think, ‘What would I do in that situation?’”

Another highly-produced show is Imaginary Worlds, created by Eric Molinsky, whose long career in public radio includes work for Morning Edition and All Things Considered.

He was drawn to podcasting in part because of the freedom to go deep on his favorite geeky topics.

That was the first thing I remember noticing with Roman Mars and 99% Invisible, which was one of the first big podcasts, was that it sounded like public radio, but he could make it as long as he wanted, which was so liberating for a public radio producer,” Molinsky says.

Sci-fi fans are also being treated to professionally-produced audio dramas like Steal the Stars, Limetown, and The Message.

But is all this content going to draw listeners away from the fans-and-writers talk shows that have traditionally dominated sci-fi podcasting?

But Rose Eveleth feels that many people—particularly those who work in radio—tend to overestimate the importance of high production values.

Listen to the complete interview with Rose Eveleth and Eric Molinsky in Episode 272 of Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy (above). And check out some highlights from the discussion below.

Eric Molinsky on public radio:

“The people listening to the show very often would not be very well versed in [science fiction], and I felt like I often had to keep justifying why we were talking about this on public radio. And I always found with other public radio shows, or like NPR, when they would cover this stuff, they absolutely had to mention how much money these movies were making, or how many viewers this TV show had, just to justify why they were talking about it, and I remember that frustrated me a lot. … I also felt like public radio rarely talked about the issues within science fiction and fantasy, and the really interesting, in-depth conversations that the fans were having about this kind of stuff.”

Rose Eveleth on interviewing scientists:

“There are some scientists who don’t want to do future stuff, which I totally understand. Some of them have had their work misrepresented in the past. … As a scientist it’s always really risky when you start talking about hypotheticals, because your job is not to talk about hypotheticals, your job is to talk about what you know and what you can test and what you can measure, and so I do try to be very careful and very clear, and try to separate the scientists from the zany, future-y stuff as much as possible. Because it’s a lose-lose situation if I make them look like they’re predicting something that they’re not, and then they get mad and then other scientists don’t want to talk to me, so I’m pretty careful about that stuff.”

Rose Eveleth on her episode “The Carbon Gene”:

“I did this episode, and it went out, and I got a text message a couple days later that said, ‘Hey, they just talked about you on the Rush Limbaugh show.’ Apparently Rush Limbaugh thought that I was literally proposing this. He saw the headline, and went on this whole rant about how liberals are trying to genetically engineer our babies to combat climate change. It was this whole thing, and he went on this whole rant about it on his show, and I was like, ‘Oh wow, this is really bad.’ And it was actually really interesting, because I was waiting to be inundated with Rush Limbaugh listeners—to my email, or to Twitter or whatever—and I got nothing. Not a single person got in touch with me.”

Eric Molinsky on his episode “When Cthulhu Calls”:

“I did an episode with Here Be Monsters, we did a collaboration, which was set in the world of H.P. Lovecraft. It was basically a fake episode, which starts out realistic—in fact, we did interview, I think, some kind of scientist, but eventually it got so ludicrous that I was interviewing H.P. Lovecraft’s brain in a jar, and it was making anti-Semitic comments toward me. And I could not have been more clear in the beginning that ‘This is going to start out real, but it is a radio drama.’ In the description on social media, in the description on your phone, it says ‘This is a radio drama.’ And I could not believe how many people wrote me and said, ‘I completely forgot. It was so believable that I forgot, and I’m really angry at you for misleading me.’”

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Side Effects of Eating Too Many Tums

Tums is the brand name for the generic, over-the-counter supplement calcium carbonate.

This antacid treatment is indicated to alleviate symptoms associated with heartburn such as upset stomach or burning chest pain, and it may also serve as a calcium supplement.

Consuming too many Tums may result in a calcium carbonate overdose and may cause unpleasant side effects. Contact your doctor immediately if you develop any of the symptoms associated with a Tums overdose.

Proper Dosage

If you’re an adult and suffer from heartburn or stomach upset, you may take one to four Tums tablets every hour as necessary; however, do not consume more than 16 Tums tablets in a 24-hour period or you may be at risk of a calcium carbonate overdose.

Alternatively, if you choose to use Tums as a calcium supplement, do not take more than 12 Tums over the span of one day to limit your risk of developing overdose symptoms.

Upset Stomach

Eating too many Tums may irritate your digestive tract and may cause side effects of nausea and vomiting. Stomach discomfort may also contribute to a temporary loss of appetite.

If you experience persistent vomiting or severe nausea, seek additional care from your physician.

Constipation or Diarrhea

Constipation is a potential side effect associated with taking too much calcium carbonate. Difficult or infrequent bowel movements may be accompanied by abdominal pain, cramping or bloating.

Alternatively, intestinal irritation caused by too many Tums may lead to diarrhea. If either of these side effects recur or do not subside, contact your doctor.

Severe or chronic constipation or diarrhea may result in serious medical complications including stool impaction and dehydration.

Mood or Mental Changes

High levels of calcium carbonate in your body may affect the way the nerves in your brain transmit signals.

Consequently, you may experience unusual mood or mental changes, such as confusion, delirium, depression or coma as side effects of a Tums overdose, the University of Maryland Medical Center warns.

These side effects require immediate attention from a medical professional.

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My Tesla Model 3 Test Drive w/Ben Sullins of Teslanomics

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Earlier this month, I travelled to Palm Springs for a YouTube event and hooked up with Ben Sullins from Teslanomics, who brought his Model 3 (which he named Tes), and I finally got a chance to drive it.

How Birds Survived The Dinosaur Apocalypse

When nearly every dinosaur went extinct 66 million years ago, the only ones that survived were those that had shrunk—that is, the birds.

Today, there are 10,000 species of these feathered fliers, making them the most diverse of all the four-limbed animals.

A new study reveals why this lineage has been so successful: Birds started downsizing well before the rest of the dinosaurs disappeared.

This is a very impressive piece of work and by far the most comprehensive analysis of dinosaur body size that has been conducted,” says Stephen Brusatte, a paleontologist at the University of Edinburgh in the United Kingdom, who was not involved in the research.

The study shows that birds didn’t just become small suddenly, but were the end product of a long-term trend of body size decline that took many tens of millions of years.

Dinosaurs were small in the beginning. About 230 million years ago, most weighed between 10 and 35 kilograms and were as big as a medium-sized dog.

But many species soon soared to tractor-trailer proportions, reaching 10,000 kilograms within 30 million years.

Later on, dinosaurs like the mighty Argentinosaurus, which stretched some 35 meters from nose to tail, weighed in at a staggering 90,000 kilograms.

Although many dinosaurs were getting bigger and bulkier over millions of years, one group seems to have hedged its bets on body size: the maniraptorans, feathered dinos that include Velociraptor of Jurassic Park fame and that eventually gave rise to the birds.

To pin down how dinosaur size changed over time, a team led by Roger Benson, a paleontologist at the University of Oxford in the United Kingdom, estimated the body size of 426 different species, using the thickness of their fossilized hind leg bones as a proxy for their overall weight.

The team found that although all dinosaur groups rapidly changed size at the beginning of dinosaur evolution—primarily by getting bigger—that trend slowed down fairly quickly in almost all groups.

For the most part, the dinos that got big stayed that way.

The exception was the maniraptorans, which continued to evolve bigger and smaller species as they expanded into an ever wider variety of ecological niches over a period of 170 million years.

When an asteroid hit Earth 66 million years ago, only those feathered maniraptorans that had downsized to about 1 kilogram or so—the birds—were able to survive, probably because their small size allowed them to adapt more easily to changing conditions, the team concludes online today in PLOS Biology.

The researchers argue that being small made it easier for maniraptorans to adapt to a wider variety of habitats, whereas the rest of the dinosaurs, encumbered by their huge bodies and enormous food requirements, simply didn’t make it.

This size reduction was essential for the evolution of flight, says Luis Chiappe, a paleontologist at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County in California, who was not involved in the study.

Flight is easier for smaller animals” because it is “a lot less energetically demanding,” he says.

And during all those millions of years when maniraptorans were changing body size more quickly than other dinos, Chiappe says, “they were experimenting with various degrees of birdness.

The really interesting story,” Brusatte adds, “isn’t so much to do with how some dinosaurs got so huge, but rather how birds and their close relatives got so small.

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