Scott Kelly, Who Spent a Year in Space, Shares Tips on Isolation

Scott Kelly, writing for The New York Times: Being stuck at home can be challenging. When I lived on the International Space Station for nearly a year, it wasn’t easy. When I went to sleep, I was at work. When I woke up, I was still at work. Flying in space is probably the only job you absolutely cannot quit. But I learned some things during my time up there that I’d like to share — because they are about to come in handy again, as we all confine ourselves at home to help stop the spread of the coronavirus. Here are a few tips on living in isolation, from someone who has been there.

Follow a schedule: On the space station, my time was scheduled tightly, from the moment I woke up to when I went to sleep. Sometimes this involved a spacewalk that could last up to eight hours; other times, it involved a five-minute task, like checking on the experimental flowers I was growing in space. You will find maintaining a plan will help you and your family adjust to a different work and home life environment. When I returned to Earth, I missed the structure it provided and found it hard to live without.

But pace yourself: When you are living and working in the same place for days on end, work can have a way of taking over everything if you let it. Living in space, I deliberately paced myself because I knew I was in it for the long haul — just like we all are today. Take time for fun activities: I met up with crewmates for movie nights, complete with snacks, and binge-watched all of “Game of Thrones” — twice.

Read more of this story at Slashdot.

Source: Slashdot

Court Finds Algorithm Bias Studies Don’t Violate US Anti-Hacking Law

“A federal court in D.C. has ruled in a lawsuit against Attorney General William Barr that studies aimed at detecting discrimination in online algorithms don’t violate the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act,” reports Engadget:
The government argued that the Act made it illegal to violate a site’s terms of service through some investigative methods (such as submitting false info for research), but Judge John Bates determined that the terms only raised the possibility of civil liability, not criminal cases.

Bates observed that many sites’ terms of service (which are frequently buried, cryptic or both) didn’t provide a good-enough notice to make people criminally liable, and that it’s problematic for private sites to define criminal liability. The judge also found that the government was using an overly broad interpretation when it’s supposed to use a narrow view whenever there’s ambiguity.
“Researchers who test online platforms for discriminatory and rights-violating data practices perform a public service,” wrote the staff attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union (which filed the suit “on behalf of academic researchers, computer scientists, and journalists who wish to investigate companies’ online practices.”) “They should not fear federal prosecution for conducting the 21st-century equivalent of anti-discrimination audit testing.”
Their announcement notes it’s the kind of testing used by journalists “who exposed that advertisers were using Facebook’s ad-targeting algorithm to exclude users from receiving job, housing, or credit ads based on race, gender, age, or other classes protected from discrimination in federal and state civil rights laws.”

Read more of this story at Slashdot.

Source: Slashdot

What Happens When Epidemiologists are Undermined By Politics?

Earlier this month Slashdot covered the Imperial College in London forecast of “what happens if the U.S. does absolutely nothing to combat COVID-19,” which predicted 2.2 million deaths just in the U.S. and another 510,000 in Great Britain. The paper was co-written by Neil Ferguson, one of the world’s leading epidemiologists, and “launched leaders in both countries into action,” according to the Washington Post.
Earlier this month Ferguson posted on Twitter that Microsoft and GitHub are working to “document, refactor and extend” the thousands of lines of C code written over 13 years ago to run pandemic simulations, “to allow others to use [it] without the multiple days training it would currently require (and which we don’t have time to give).”
But the Washington Post’s national health correspondent and senior political reporter look at a new twist this week:
In recent days, a growing contingent of Trump supporters have pushed the narrative that health experts are part of a deep-state plot to hurt Trump’s reelection efforts by damaging the economy and keeping the United States shut down as long as possible. Trump himself pushed this idea in the early days of the outbreak… After Ferguson gave new testimony to British officials Wednesday…Fox News host Laura Ingraham wrongly stated that in his testimony Ferguson’s projection had been “corrected.” The chyron on her show Thursday night stated, “Faulty models may be skewing COVID-19 data….”
But in fact, Ferguson had not revised his projections in his testimony, which he made clear in interviews and Twitter. His earlier study had made clear the estimate of 500,000 deaths in Britain and 2.2 million in the United States projected what could happen if both took absolutely no action against the coronavirus. The new estimate of 20,000 deaths in Britain was a projected result now that Britain had implemented strict restrictions, which this week came to include a full lockdown…
[O]ne factor many modelers failed to predict was how politicized their work would become in the era of President Trump, and how that in turn could affect their models.

Read more of this story at Slashdot.

Source: Slashdot

Ask Slashdot: Should the Internet Be A Public Utility?

The pandemic has “proven conclusively that the internet should be a public utility,” argues Quartz. “It’s a basic necessity in the 21st century, like running water, gas, and electricity. Indeed, the United Nations in 2016 declared that internet access is a human right.”
Sure, you could theoretically survive without it, just as you might light your home with candles or warm it by fire. Just as you could arguably trek to the closest freshwater source and walk back with buckets of the life-sustaining stuff. But in wealthy societies, like the U.S., those are absurd notions. Living under such conditions is virtually impossible and endangers everyone… [T]hough we have a whole lot of social woes to contend with right now — pressing medical and economic needs — it’s not too soon to recognize that internet service providers’ profits are not the top priority and that lack of access exacerbates existing class divides….
Increasingly, towns, cities, and states are taking a close look at Chattanooga, Tennessee, which built its own high-speed fiber-optic internet network in 2009. A 2018 Consumer Reports survey found the city’s broadband was rated best in the US. There are already more than 500 communities nationwide operating public networks or leveraging their massive contracts with broadband providers to ensure free wiring of schools, libraries, and other publicly-accessible wifi hotspots. This patchwork approach to public access is taking hold across the U.S. and there is a growing understanding that internet access is a social issue that has to be addressed by governments, not private companies operating with profit as their sole motivator.
Perhaps after the pandemic panic gives way to a new state of normalcy, the people will demand inexpensive and reliable high-quality broadband, and maybe private internet service providers will have to sing a different tune.
An anonymous reader asked how exactly this could be accomplished, and long-time Slashdot reader Futurepower(R) suggested towns and cities should own the fiber lines, and then rent it out “to as many Internet-providing companies as are interested.”
But the original submission also asks, “If you aren’t convinced yet, why not?” So share your own opinions in the comments.

Should the internet be a public utility?

Read more of this story at Slashdot.

Source: Slashdot

Was Magellan’s Voyage Riskier Than Sending Humans to Mars?

A Portuguese historian argues that Magellan’s famous trip around the world in 1522 was much harder than sending humans to Mars:
Tens of guys died making this crossing; of 250 crew, only 18 returned, Henrique Leitao, a historian at the University of Lisbon, told me… [O]nce NASA or other space agencies or private entities actually launch humans on a six month trajectory to the Red planet, they will likely have mitigated the lion’s share of risks to the crew. In contrast, Magellan’s crew realized that at least a third of them would likely never survive their journey, says Leitao…
Is there a comparison between the Age of Discovery and drivers for the exploration and commercialization of space? One could argue that minerals on asteroids could be seen as the present-day equivalent of the Age of Discovery’s highly-prized Asian spices. And that actually getting these 16th century spices back to Europe was arguably just as arduous and seemingly difficult as any initiative to return exotic materials from a near-Earth asteroid… Risk is inherent in any off-world human voyage. But when it comes to safety, today’s technology and current knowledge of in situ conditions on Mars itself will arguably give future explorers an inherent edge over Magellan’s generation.

The article also summarizes Leitao observation that one of the crew members who died on the trip was Magellan. “For 40 days Magellan walked around The Philippines; gets involved in a completely absurd fight with locals on a beach and is killed.”

Read more of this story at Slashdot.

Source: Slashdot

America’s FDA Eases Restrictions on Mask-Sterilizing Technology Amid Coronavirus Shortages

USA Today reports:
Ohio Governor Mike DeWine Sunday afternoon said federal officials have promised to ease restrictions on a technology to clean and reuse the masks deemed the safest for healthcare workers and first responders in the coronavirus outbreak….

Officials are scrambling for the N95 masks and other protective equipment for health care workers as the number of COVID-19 cases is expected to spike over the coming months. On Saturday, DeWine publicly pleaded with the FDA to approve an emergency-use permit for [Columbus-based research firm] Battelle’s technology amid a shortage of personal protective equipment, including masks…. The U.S. death total has doubled in two days, climbing above 2,300 Sunday. Dr. Anthony Fauci, who has been a leading voice in the effort to curb the outbreak, said 100,000 to 200,000 Americans could die before the crisis is over.

DeWine said those numbers make it urgent for the FDA to clean as many masks as it can… The Battelle process uses “vapor phase hydrogen peroxide” to sanitize the N95 masks, allowing them to be reused up to 20 times, the company said in a statement. Each of the company’s Critical Care Decontamination Systems can sterilize 80,000 masks per day, Battelle said… DeWine on Sunday said the FDA authorized Battelle to sterilize just 10,000 surgical masks a day. “They’re only approved a fraction of what we can do,” DeWine said during the press conference.
But DeWine said in his afternoon press conference that an FDA commissioner told him “this would be cleared up today.”

Read more of this story at Slashdot.

Source: Slashdot

Black Hole Photo May Also Have Captured Light From Around the Universe

“When you point a telescope at a black hole, it turns out you don’t just see the swirling sizzling doughnut of doom formed by matter falling in,” reports the New York Times. “You can also see the whole universe.”

Light from an infinite array of distant stars and galaxies can wrap around the black hole like ribbons around a maypole, again and again before coming back to your eye, or your telescope. “The image of a black hole actually contains a nested series of rings,” said Michael Johnson of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, not unlike the rings that form around your bathtub drain.

Dr. Johnson was lead author of a study, describing the proposed method that would allow our telescopes to pry more secrets from the maw of any black hole, that was published in the March 18 edition of the journal Science Advances. He and other authors of the paper are also members of the team operating the Event Horizon Telescope, a globe-girding network of radio telescopes that made that first image of a black hole. Their telescope saw these rings, but it didn’t have enough resolution to distinguish them, so they were blurred into a single feature…. Andrew Strominger, a Harvard theorist and co-author of the paper, said, “Understanding the intricate details of this historic experimental observation has forced theorists like myself to think about black holes in a new way…”

As Peter Galison of Harvard, another E.H.T. collaborator said, “As we peer into these rings, we are looking at light from all over the visible universe, we are seeing farther and farther into the past, a movie, so to speak, of the history of the visible universe.”

Read more of this story at Slashdot.

Source: Slashdot

Could Robots Help Us Fight Infectious Diseases?

In the journal Science Robotics, an international group of robotic experts wrote an editorial arguing COVID-19 “may drive further research in robotics to address risks of infectious diseases,” and urging more funding.
The Washington Post reports:

Robots already have been enlisted in the fight against the virus. In Hong Kong, a fleet of miniature robots disinfects the city’s subways; in China, an entire field hospital was staffed by robots designed to relieve overworked health-care workers. In the United States, robots played a role in the country’s first known case of covid-19. One outfitted with a stethoscope and a microphone was used with a 35-year-old man in Everett, Washington, who was confined to an isolated unit after showing symptoms of the coronavirus. He later made a full recovery. “Already, we have seen robots being deployed for disinfection, delivering medications and food, measuring vital signs, and assisting border controls,” the researchers write.
They identify plenty of other ways to use robots in the pandemic response. Robots could assist with testing and screening; already, researchers have created a device that can identify a suitable vein and perform a blood draw. Or they could take over hospital disinfection entirely, providing continuous sterilization of high-touch areas with UV light.
The researchers hope covid-19 will catalyze robotics research for the sake of public health.

Read more of this story at Slashdot.

Source: Slashdot

Ambitious Project Seeks to Re-Create Every Structure on Earth in Minecraft

An anonymous reader quotes Rock, Paper, Shotgun:
For as long as there’s been Minecraft, there’s been people who want to re-create the world in Minecraft. For one modder, though, it’s not enough to have a to-scale replica of our pale blue dot recreated in Mojang’s block-builder. A new project named Build The Earth is looking for talented builders with too much time on their hands, bringing them together to fully recreate every last man-made structure on Earth in Minecraft.

YouTuber PippinFTS unveiled the project in a YouTube video earlier this week. It’s awfully dramatic, but give the guy a break — he’s only trying to go and build a planet.

PippenFTS’ project is building from Terra 1 to 1, a project headed up by modders orangeadam3 and shejan0. Using a few extra mods to get around the game’s strict world limitations, Terra 1 to 1 uses public terrain datasets, street maps and forest databases to accurately map the earth’s terrain, roads and woodland areas in Minecraft… [H]e wants to build a community that can collectively recreate thousands of years of human history by filling out every single man-made structure on Earth. His “Build The Earth” project hopes to crowdsource player-recreated cities, towns, stadiums, bridges and otherwise. PippenFTS himself will contribute with his own hometown.

“Regardless,” he writes, wistful in his obligation, “I will build Seattle. Super excited.”
The project already has a Patreon account — plus 5,500 members in its subreddit.

Read more of this story at Slashdot.

Source: Slashdot

After 5 Years of Construction, ‘Space Fence’ Finally Declared Operational

An anonymous reader quotes Space News:
The space surveillance radar site known as the Space Fence is ready for use after five years in construction, the U.S. Space Force announced March 27. The $1.5 billion Space Fence — located on Kwajalein Island in the Republic of the Marshall Islands — is a ground-based radar system that tracks satellites and space debris primarily in low Earth orbit…

The Space Fence can track tiny objects as small as a marble. It also provides a search capability for objects at higher orbits. Data from the Space Fence will feed into the military’s Space Surveillance Network. The Space Surveillance Network tracks about 26,000 objects. The addition of the Space Fence will increase the catalog size significantly over time, the Space Force said in a news release… “Space Fence is revolutionizing the way we view space by providing timely, precise orbital data on objects that threaten both manned and unmanned military and commercial space assets,” said Chief of Space Operations Gen. John Raymond.

Read more of this story at Slashdot.

Source: Slashdot