Al Jazeera: News Site Steals Code?

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A scrolling storytelling platform, Scrollytelling, is now filing DMCA against news organization Al Jazeera for allegedly stealing their code.

The fellows at Scrollytelling state that they ” exhaustively tried to resolve the situation amicably, but our friendly requests over multiple channels were ignored. The DMCA request was our last resort.”

On their website, they presented their own code and the one Al Jazeera purportedly stole (in our image, the A-J one is the one that overlays the original Scrollytelling one in Dutch newspaper Volkskrant.

Click image to expand:


PFAS Contaminated Water May Effect Many More People Than the 6 Million Reported

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According to scientists, the number of Americans drinking PFAS-contaminated water may be much higher than the 6 million figure initially reported.

A recent Harvard Harvard study found that almost across 30 states tested, 194 of 4864 water supplies contained PFASs (perfluoroalkyl substances) — a chemical that has been around for 60 years and which is used for nonstick cooking utensils, as well as food packaging and firefighting foams.

The chemicals break down slowly and remain in our environment for a long time, including in drinking water.

PFASs have been linked to cancer and other health problrms.

The water supplies in a few states accounted for most of the contaminated sources: California, New Jersey, North Carolina, Alabama, Florida, Pennsylvania, Ohio, New York, Georgia, Minnesota, Arizona, Massachusetts, and Illinois, in order of contamination levels.

“For many years, chemicals with unknown toxicities, such as PFASs, were allowed to be used and released to the environment, and we now have to face the severe consequences,” lead author Xindi Hu, a doctoral student in the Department of Environmental Health at Harvard Chan School and Environmental Science and Engineering at SEAS, said in a statement.

She said the number of water supplies contaminated with PFASs may be much higher than the 6 million initially reported, however.

“The actual number of people exposed may be even higher than our study found, because government data for levels of these compounds in drinking water are lacking for almost a third of the US population — about 100 million people,” she said.

Use of PFASs by large companies has led to many lawsuits. For example, DuPont is currently facing 3500 personal injury lawsuits for illegal dumping of PFOA byproducts (perflurooctanoic acid) into the Ohio Rive, leading to kidney and testicular cancer and other ailments, according to the plaintiffs.

“Zika Is Now Here” – Mosquitos in US Causing Infection

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“Zika is now here,” said Dr. Thomas Frieden, director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Saturday.

Although many Americans had brought back infection from abroad already — over 1,600 known cases — until several infected people were recently tested for other transmission methods, no known cases of U.S. mosquito-borne Zika had existed, although it had been known that mosquitoes in the south of the country could carry the virus.

So far four Americans have been found to have contracted the virus by mosquitoes in the Miami area.

Health officials have said they do not expect infection to be as widespread as it has been in other countries because of better sanitation, mosquito control and use of window screens.

The biggest health concerns are for pregnant women.

“If I were a pregnant woman right now, I would go on the assumption that there’s mosquito transmission all over the Miami area,” warned Dr. Peter Hotez, a tropical medicine expert at the Baylor College of Medicine in Texas.

In addition to four confirmed cases, medical authorities have said they expect there are many others already infected — and not just in Florida.

“This is not just a Florida issue. It’s a national issue – we just happen to be at the forefront,” said Governor Rick Scott.

Confirmed This Week: Earth Has a “Second Moon”

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About Earth’s New Little Moon

After putting in its time, an asteroid called “Asteroid 2016 HO3” has now been confirmed by NASA to be a permanent resident in the Earth’s gravitational field.

The asteroid was discovered earlier this year by University of Hawaii’s Institute for Astronomy, but it has been a “stable quasi-satellite” for almost 100 years.

Asteroid 2016 HO3 is between 120 and 300 feet in diameter (40-100 meters). The asteroid poses no threat of hitting the Earth, and will never come closer than 14 million kilometers (9 million miles) from our planet.

(For point of comparison, the average distance to the moon is less than 400,000 km.

Asteroid 2016 HO3 orbits the Earth somewhat similarly to our regular moon, but in an uneven pattern in which the rock drifts ahead of the Earth for a couple years as both orbit the sun, before the Earth’s gravity pulls the rock back and it falls behind the Earth for a few years. The relationship between the Earth and the asteroid has been likened to a dance.

Image: Paul Chodas, NASA and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory

Facebook Explains How It Picks What to “Trend”

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Facebook this week published a blog post in its newsroom in response to recent accusations that the social network promotes liberal news while downplaying conservative, explaining how it picks posts for its “Trending Topics” section, a decision-making process which depends on people and machines at different stages.

Facebook’s VP of Global Operations Justin Osofsky wrote the blog post Thursday in which he explained that in Facebook’s ambition to connect people around major news events and let them together discuss ideas freely, the Trending Topics team reviews themes identified as potentially trending by the website’s algorithms, which measure Facebook user engagement. They confirm the topic is current news, find corroborating news stories, apply a label to the topic, and check if the story is getting attention from a lot of news outlets nationally and/or globally.

Osofsky further explained that because Facebook’s programs deliver posts based on what a user has demonstrated interest in, users will see different Trending Topics.

Once a user clicks to see more about a Trending Topic, however, they are seeing an organization of posts within that topic which are arranged algorithmically — the ones at the top are those that have seem to have the most social engagement because the most people have liked, shared or commented on them.

Justin Osofsky
Justin Osofsky

As far as measures Facebook takes to prevent the type of political bias that was part of the recent accusations, Osofsky wrote that it “does not allow or advise our reviewers to discriminate against sources of any political origin, period,” and that, of course, the algorithm that “surfaces” potentially trending topics has no such bias.

Facebook’s review guidelines include not permitting “the suppression of political perspectives” or “the prioritization of one ideological viewpoint over another,” and that the company regularly reviews the work of the review team members.

In a specific response to the recent allegations, Osofsky wrote, “We take these reports very seriously, and will continue to investigate the allegations. We have found no evidence to date that Trending Topics was successfully manipulated, but will continue the review of all our practices.”

BattleBots Returns to TV

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ABC’s reality robot battle show BattleBots, which first hit the air in 2000, will be returning to “BattleBox” it out again.

The seventh season premiere will be aired by ABC in a 8/7 Central Time slot, starting June 23.

The robot makers have already entered their bots in a pre-season competition to decide which bots would make it into the BattleBots season 2 series.

From the early matches, many of the old robot weapons will be seen again this summer, such as rotating saws, swinging hammers, and flame throwers. However, the new robot weapons have also been described as “explosive” by commenters present at the event.

An important consideration is that the robot targets of these weapons are metal and electronics based — other robots — rather than the targets of many other weapons being developed — people.

The robot battles are not just matters of which robot has the best weapons, according to robot builders. Tactics and strategy are also important in winning a match. The battles are round-robins, so robots must be able to continue battling in future rounds to win the prize.

For the upcoming season, BattleBot matches will again be 2-minutes long, followed by a review of the match with commentary by the judges, who determine the winner.

Scientists Successful In Growing “Mini-Stomachs” That Produce Insulin When Transplanted

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A team of researchers has succeeded in creating mini insulin-producing organs that can be implanted into a diabetic animal to maintain glucose levels, progress towards what they consider the future of regenerative medicine.

The cells the researchers found are best at producing insulin when reprogrammed are pylotic cells — cells from the lower region of the stomach, called the “pylorus region.”

They think that these cells work best because they are naturally very similar to the pancreatic beta cells that normally carry out this function. What they do better than other cells is respond to high glucose levels by producing insulin to normalize blood sugar levels.

Engineered gastic mini organ – the green represents insulin cells and the blue gastric stem/progenitor cells

What the researchers first did with their mouse test subjects and what they think could be done for people are two different things.

With mice, the researchers initially reprogrammed cells in their stomachs with conversion genes to become beta cells, and then they destroyed the mice’s pancreatic beta cells, forcing their bodies to rely solely on the artificially created ones. While control mice died within eight weeks, mice possessing the reprogrammed cells lived as long as they were tracked (up to six months).

The researchers also found that pyloric cells had the advantage of naturally renewing themselves — when the researchers destroyed the cells they had created, new ones grew and produced insulin.

Engineered stomach

This transgenic experiment would not be used as treatment for diabetes in people, however. Instead, the researchers set about to try something new: they grew tiny stomachs to produce insulin.

They took pyloric tissue out of mice, reprogrammed it to express beta-cell functions, grew the cells in the form of a tiny ball of insulin-producing “stomach,” and put the ball back into the mice. When they destroyed these mice’s pancreatic cells, the engineered organ implants compensated, maintaining normal levels of glucose in five of 22 test animals.

Senior author Dr. Qiao Zhou of the Harvard University Department of Stem Cell and Regenerative Biology explained how they will bridge the gap from the current study to an application for people.

“We are working on two approaches to move this forward toward therapeutics,” Zhou told The Speaker. “One approach is to create engineered human stomach mini-organs from human iPS cells (induced pluripotent stem cells made from the fibroblasts of individual patients) that can produce insulin in culture, followed by transplantation. The other approach is to culture human stomach stem cells from patient biopsy samples, reprogram them into beta-cells in culture, and then transplant them back to the same person. We are making progress on both fronts.”

He also noted the promise offered by engineered therapeutic organs in general.

“The regenerative medicine field has been moving towards a very exciting future of making and engineering entire organs with a complex assembly of different cell types. It is still early but with enormous potential. These organs could replace or supplement the normal function of organs in our body that are failing due to disease or aging. Genetic and bioengineering could be further applied to endow the organs with new function. I believe this is very much the future of regenerative medicine.”

The researchers said they were excited about their success. Replacing insulin-producing pancreatic cells is something science has been trying to do for decades.

“The most surprising part of the study for me is that there are cells residing in your stomach that share surprising features with pancreatic beta-cells,” said Dr. Zhou. “They do not naturally make insulin, but I believe therapeutic methods can be found to “tickle” them to do so. If successfully, it will provide an new approach to treat diabetes.”

Images: The report
Report: Ariyachet et al.: “Reprogrammed stomach tissue as a renewable source of functional beta-cells for blood glucose regulation,” published in Cell.
Link to report

Inflatable Space Module Set For ISS Mission

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Bigelow Aerospace’s inflatable BEAM module — a new lightweight activity module, part of Bigelow’s continued endeavors toward putting into use a wide range of portable expandable habitation spaces, including the living-and-working-space BA-330 (pictured above) — has been scheduled for a March NASA mission to the space station.

The Bigelow Expandable Activity Module will be sent to the space station in the SpaceX Dragon capsule, and will be berthed to the space station’s Tranquility node. It will then be pressurized and expand to its full size with air stored in the compressed module.

BEAM will then be monitored through a test period of two years. Astronauts will periodically enter the module to inspect it and gather performance data.

After the test period, BEAM will be jettisoned and will re-enter Earth’s atmosphere, burning up.

BEAM and SpaceX Dragon Capsule show scaled to human figure (Image: Bigelow Aerospace)

Bigelow Aerospace is working with NASA to produce expandable systems, including habitational systems, and has already completed two succeful missions with its Genesis pathfinder I and II spacecraft — missions noted for their relatively low-cost.

The low cost comes from the low weight of the Bigelow constructions — one-tenth the weight of some similar modules. Improvements in craft weights have come in large part from advances in lightweight, strong materials such as Kevlar.

The BEAM module walls are made of many layers of Vectran, a material similar to Kevlar but made of spun liquid crystal fibers, and fire-resistant Nomex.

Space modules
Space modules linked in Bigelow development lab (Photo: Bill-Ingalls/NASA)

The Nevada-based company is working towards a standalone space habitat in addition to its current module projects. A large expandable module is already being developed by Bigelow — three times the size of any individual module on the ISS, the BA330 is designed for a maximum crew size of six in its 330-meter square environment. The BA330 is designed to be used in conjunction with other modules to build larger module complexes in space.

By Andy Stern

Some images of future BEAM modules

Cancer In China Kills 2.8 Million Per Year, Study Finds

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In China last year, approximately 2.8 million people died of cancer, and 4.3 million new cases of cancer were diagnosed, according to a new study by researchers at the National Cancer Center in Beijing.

The new figures are based on newly available information: several population registries have been made available through China’s National Central Cancer Registry.

Seventy-two such cancer registries were analyzed in the new report. The data represented 6.5 perent of the Chinese population between 2009 and 2011.

The figures showed that every day in China almost 12,000 new cases of invasive cancer are diagnosed.

Approximately 7,500 Chinese die of cancer per day within the country. Lung cancer is the most common type of cancer leading to death. Among men, lung, stomach, esophagus, liver and colorectal cancer accounted for most cancers. Among women, breast, lung, bronchus, stomach, colorectal and esophagus accounted for most cases.

The researchers found the leading contributor to cancer deaths that could be avoided is chronic infection. This resulted in 30 percent of cancer deaths, notably from stomach, liver and cervical cancer. Tobacco smoking — which is currently on the rise in the country — accounted for approximately 25 percent of cancer deaths.

The report also cited China’s notorious air pollution — outdoor and indoor through coal heating and cooking — as well as pollution-contaminated soil and drinking water — as contributing causes of China’s ill health.

By Ray Korshunova

Octopuses Turn Black, Posture Aggressively To Intimidate Each Other

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A recent study of octopuses off the coast of Australia has discovered that — despite usually being considered a solitary animal — octopuses have a social life, and part of that social life involves physical displays of toughness.

When octopuses meet each other in agonistic interactions, they exhibit certain types of behavior, researchers at the Alaska Pacific University found.

“We found that octopuses are using body patterns and postures to signal to each other during disputes,” said David Scheel of Alaska Pacific University.

“The postures and patterns can be quite flashy, such as standing very tall, raising the body mantle high above the eyes, and turning very dark.”

The impetus for the research came from a member of an online cephalopod community noting something he’d seen octopuses doing that he thought was interesting. The researchers took it from there, watching 186 interactions between Octopus tetricus — a species that lives in Jervis Bay, Australia — which furnished them with 500 interactions.

The agonistic behavior was what they noticed primarily.

When both octopuses turned black, it was more likely they would engage in physical violence to settle the question of dominance, but when one turned black and the other was a pale color, the pale colored octopus more often retreated while the black octopus held the field.

“Dark color appears to be associated with aggression, while paler colors accompany retreat,” said Scheel.

Next for the researchers is further investigation of octopus interactions — specifically, they want to investigate suspicions that social interactions among the species occur when food is abundant and hiding places scarce. They also want to understand the consequences of these types of social interactions in the context of octopus populations.

The report, “Signal Use by Octopuses in Agonistic Interactions,” was completed by Drs. David Scheel, Peter Godfrey-Smith and Matthew Lawrence, and was published in the journal Current Biology.

By Andy Stern

America Has The Right Type Of Mosquito For The Zika Virus – Yale Epidemiologist

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The Zika virus, which has caused a surge in infant birth defects in Latin America and the Caribbean in recent years, and which has now spread to the U.S., is carried by a type of mosquito common in the Southern states, according to Dr. Albert Icksang Ko, an epidemiologist at Yale.

“The mosquito vector for Zika is genus Aedes mosquitos, of which Aedes aegypti as well as Aedes albopictus is found to infest regions of North America, such as Mexico and southern U.S,” Ko, Professor of Epidemiology and Medicine at Yale, told The Speaker.

Ko, whose work focuses on the health problems which have emerged as a consequence of rapid urbanization and social inequity, commented on the possible future of the virus:

“This is a potentially serious public health threat since it can be transmitted rapidly to regions where the mosquito vector is in sufficient abundance and because of the risk it poses to causing birth defects in newborns whose mothers were infected during pregnancy.”

zika virus
Dr. Albert Icksang Ko

The as-yet untreatable virus has been found in a half-dozen cases in the U.S. over the past two weeks. In all cases the mother had recently travelled to a Latin American or Caribbean country.

A U.S. travel warning is currently in effect advising pregnant women to avoid travel from 22 countries in which the Zika virus is common.

Ko told us that human biological responses to the virus — such as immunity in already-affected areas — are not yet understood.  “We presume that after an immunocompetent individual is infected with zika virus they will develop lifelong immunity shortly after infection as with other flavirus infectionsm but we don’t have direct evidence at this point.”

The Zika virus has been known since 1947 when it was identified in Uganda. The virus was initially found in a rhesus monkey during yellow fever research. Seven years later, in 1954, the virus was discovered in a human in Nigeria. Cases were rare until 2007 when larger outbreaks began in several Pacific Island nations.

CDC map of affected areas

Venus Flytraps: Scientists Discover How They Work

Venus Flytraps
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An accumulation of action potentials is behind Venus Flytraps’ “decision” to keep closed and start producing digestive enzymes once their trap sensors are triggered, scientists at Universität Würzburg have found.

“The carnivorous plant Dionaea muscipula, also known as Venus flytrap, can count how often it has been touched by an insect visiting its capture organ in order to trap and consume the animal prey,” said Rainer Hedrich of Universität Würzburg in Germany.

The researchers wanted to understand how Venus Fly traps decide to close and how they decide they have something to digest. After all, the researchers noted, closing their traps around an object and filling with digestive enzymes is biologically costly, and sometimes their sensors are triggered by stimuli that are not prey at all — “false alarms.”

The researchers sought to test this by implanting artificial sensors in a Venus Flytrap. The sensors are thin spikes that stick out of the inside of the plant’s interior walls. They then flicked the sensors to cause the plant to close. When the scientists continually flicked the sensors, the plant became excited and began to produce the acidic digestive bath that fills their closed lobes.

By means of accumulated action potentials, the plant understands that what it has caught is in fact a struggling insect. It also understands the size of the insect by the number of the sensors it triggers.

Fruit fly

“The number of action potentials informs [the plant] about the size and nutrient content of the struggling prey,” Hedrich said. “This allows the Venus flytrap to balance the cost and benefit of hunting.”

To eat, the scientists concluded, a Venus Flytrap requires at least five contacts with its sensors. The second trigger closes the plant, the third and further triggers activate touch hormones and begin the production of digestive enzymes, and the fifth begins the uptake of nutrients.

The report, “The Venus Flytrap Dionaea muscipula Counts Prey-Induced Action Potentials to Induce Sodium Uptake,” was completed by Böhm and Scherzer et al, and was published in the journal Current Biology.

By Andy Stern