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The Art of Technology
Updated: 2 hours 15 min ago

Faculty may prefer female applicants for STEM professorships

5 hours 19 sec ago

A new study published in PNAS by a Cornell-based research team examined the gender bias in faculty hiring for STEM fields, and discovered a surprising preference for female faculty members among both genders in certain STEM fields. The researchers found that, when presented with applications for an assistant professorship, both male and female faculty overwhelmingly preferred female applicants over male applicants with identical qualifications and family situations. These findings are striking in their contradiction to the large body of existing literature on gender bias in STEM fields, and should be approached with caution; in examination of this paper, some concerns arise regarding study design, and the causal pathways suggested in the authors’ conclusions.

To conduct this study, researchers surveyed a total of 873 tenure-track faculty members from 371 colleges and universities. Surveys were distributed via e-mail, with a response rate of approximately 34 percent. Participants were current faculty members in the fields of biology, engineering, economics, and psychology.

Participants were asked to make selections between identically qualified male and female applicants with matching lifestyles. Six lifestyles conditions were studied: being single without children, married without children, married with children and a stay-at-home spouse, married with children and spouse working outside the home, married with children and the spouse working inside the home, and divorced with children. The children in each situation were described as two preschoolers.

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Report: Unclassified e-mails from Obama to staff read by Russian hackers

6 hours 5 min ago

On Saturday the New York Times reported that “senior American officials briefed on the investigation” confirmed a hack of the White House’s unclassified network last year. The breach "was far more intrusive and worrisome than has been publicly acknowledged,” officials said, telling the Times that the perpetrators were likely Russians with ties to the government, if not with direct backing from Russia.

The White House’s classified network, on which message traffic from President Obama’s Blackberry is kept, was not breached, but e-mails he sent to the unclassified network from that device (as well as e-mails sent from that network to him) were obtained.

The Times noted that many senior staffers have two computers in their offices: "one operating on a highly secure classified network and another connected to the outside world for unclassified communications.” The most highly secure material shared between "the White House, the State Department, the Pentagon, and intelligence communities" is kept on a system called Joint Worldwide Intelligence Communications System (JWICS), which was not breached. JWICS also gives access to the front-end for XKeyscore, a system that collects, manages, and processes the massive amounts of data collected by the NSA.

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A gentle nudge with a nuke: deflecting Earth-bound asteroids

6 hours 33 min ago

In 2013, a small asteroid exploded in the atmosphere over Chelyabinsk, Russia. The sonic boom from the event sent more than a thousand people to the hospital, mostly from flying glass from shattered windows. The Chelyabinsk meteor was a relatively small chunk of space rock—asteroid researchers think it was probably about 20 meters (66 feet) across—but exploding over a city made it a noteworthy event. It's probable many similar asteroids hit Earth on a regular basis, but most don't happen to fly over metropolitan areas; they fall into the ocean or over lightly populated regions.

However, Earth has played target in the cosmic darts tournament before. Meteor Crater in Arizona, the Tunguska impact in Siberia in 1908, and most famously the Chicxulub asteroid in Mexico (which played a part in the extinction of the dinosaurs) are just three of many known examples. That's why many people are looking at viable options for planetary defense: destroying or turning asteroids aside before they can hit Earth. And planetary defense is one reason the United States' National Nuclear Safety Administration (NNSA) has given for not destroying some of its surplus nuclear warheads.

It's easy to be cynical about American nuclear weapons policy, especially now that we're decades since the end of the Cold War. Debates over nuclear winter, mutually assured destruction, and the like feel very distant. So reports that the US wasn't following the stated schedule for decommissioning nukes in the name of planetary defense triggered skeptical radar, not least since The Atlantic, The Wall Street Journal, and other sources made it sound like the plan was to blow asteroids to smithereens.

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Sorry grandma! That $42 million slot machine jackpot was a computer glitch

8 hours 15 sec ago

"The reels have rolled your way! Bonus Award - $41797550.16."

That's what the Miss Kitty penny slot machine told 87-year-old Illinois grandmother Pauline McKee who was in Iowa during a family reunion in 2011. McKee and daughter thought they hit the big time—a $41.8 million payday. The two quickly demanded the mega payout from the Isle Hotel Casino in Waterloo.

But the casino refused to pay, concluding it was a computer glitch and that a sign on the game says "MALFUNCTION VOIDS ALL PAYS AND PLAYS." She sued, and took her case all the way to the Iowa Supreme Court. The state's high court sided with the casino Friday, ruling that the woman's heart-pounding payout was worth just $1.85.

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How gaming can improve our cognitive abilities

9 hours 45 sec ago

Adam Gazzaley is building a repertoire of games that could one day help us reduce or even reverse the impact on our cognitive faculties of disorders such as Alzheimer's, or deficits caused by brain trauma. At his neuroscience lab within the University of California San Francisco and his gaming company Akili, Gazzaley is attempting to discover whether "we can use this approach to really make a difference."

"Humans have been consumed with high-level performance throughout history," Gazzaley told the audience at WIRED Health 2015. We have, however, historically proven far better at applying a proven structure to achieving this when physical fitness is involved, not mental. "What can we do to improve cognition, emotional regulation and all these other processing areas? In this regard we are tragically lacking," he said. "Traditional education has been about transferring educational content, not optimising these fundamental underlying information processing systems. And with people with deficits, we see these same problems."

Gazzaley emphasised that although he is not against using medication for these types of deficits, 50 years of drug research later "and not one case has resulted in a high-level success story." On top of this, high drug doses needed to target the underlying neural network inevitably have side effects, and treatment is not personalized—doses are often based on anecdotal evidence provided by the patient. It's clear we need to look elsewhere for answers, at least until drug research finds a better solution or a complementary one.

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64-year-old engineer sues Google for age discrimination

4/25/2015 1:00pm

A Florida man named Robert Heath has filed an age-discrimination lawsuit against Google in federal court, seeking to form a class action of workers who allege they were denied a chance to work at the search giant because of their age.

Heath was rejected by Google in 2011, despite the fact that he had "highly-pertinent qualifications and experience," with a Google recruiter calling him a "great candidate," according to the complaint (PDF). At the time, Heath was 60 years old.

The lawsuit claims that the median age of Google employees is 29 years old, well below the median age of all US workers, which US Department of Labor reports as 42.4 years. The median ages for US workers in computer-related fields are similar: for "computer and mathematical occupations" the median age is 41.1 years, for "computer programmers" it's 42.8 years, and for software developers the median is 40.6 years.

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CIA couldn’t fully use NSA spy program as most analysts didn’t know about it

4/25/2015 12:20pm

A newly-released document from the Central Intelligence Agency’s (CIA) own internal watchdog found that the government’s controversial warrantless surveillance and bulk data collection program was so secretive that the agency was unable to make “full use” of its capabilities even several years after the September 11 attacks. Initially, only top-level CIA officials were cleared on its use, rather than rank-and-file "CIA analysts and targeting officers.”

The document, a June 2009 report from the CIA Inspector General (IG) was released as part of a trove of 747 pages entitled the “Report on the President’s Surveillance Program” and was published on Friday by The New York Times as the result of victory in a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit filed against the Department of Justice.

The CIA IG report, like the others, is redacted in many places, but provides some new material as to the specific history, play-by-play and internal evaluations of the program. In 2009, the government had previously published a far shorter unclassified version.

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Man lands drone carrying radioactive sand on Japanese prime minister’s office

4/25/2015 11:37am
jose rodriquez

A 40-year-old Japanese man admitted he landed an unmanned drone in central Tokyo carrying radioactive sand atop Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's office to protest nuclear power, police said Saturday.

The drone, which had a sign on it saying it was radioactive, was carrying a camera and plastic container with sand contaminated with radioactive cesium, Japanese media said. The police said the radiation was low and did not pose a threat. The stunt initially brought fears of a terrorist attack.

Yasuo Yamamoto, who is unemployed, faces a maximum three years in prison if convicted on charges of obstruction of official business. Local media reported that the police said the landing was a protest against nuclear power.

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Feds: 6 died as a result of overdosing from Silk Road-purchased drugs

4/25/2015 10:45am

The head attorney for Silk Road founder and convicted felon Ross Ulbricht has asked the judge that his upcoming sentencing hearing be postponed, according to a Friday court filing.

Why does this lawyer, Joshua Dratel, want the date to be pushed back? Because, he argues, the defense needs adequate time to review the government’s latest revelation that six people died as a result of overdosing on drugs they purchased on Silk Road.

What's more, the government intends to present two of the parents of the deceased who will testify at the sentencing hearing, currently scheduled for May 15 in New York federal court. The alleged evidence of overdoses suggests the government is seeking perhaps the fullest possible sentence—life in prison—for Ulbricht.

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From Victor Borge to Jon Stewart: Ars staffers pick their YouTube favorites

4/25/2015 10:30am
Video: Ars Staffers create video testimonials about their favorite YouTube clips. (video link)

It's hard to believe that not very long ago, we lived in a world without YouTube.

Prior to April 23, 2005, when the first video ever was uploaded to YouTube, passing around videos was pretty difficult. I was in college then, and we simply passed videos around by USB stick or found them on P2P networks. The formats were never straightforward, and sometimes you had to download plugins or other weird apps to get the videos to play.

As of 2015, YouTube says it has more than 1 billion users, and 300 hours of video are uploaded to YouTube every minute.

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The world’s most advanced prosthetic is changing lives

4/25/2015 9:30am

In 2006 Nigel Ackland lost his right arm in an industrial accident. Six months of pain, surgery and infections followed before he told doctors to amputate his arm below the elbow. Now, Ackland wears one of the world's most advanced prosthetics.

"My life changed forever," Ackland says. He was the first person in the world to be fitted with RSL Steeper's bebionic3. Ackland describes himself as being "unfortunate to wear an extraordinary piece of technology" and is now one of around 250 people worldwide wearing the cutting-edge prosthetic.

Ackland has come a long way—a year before the bebionic3 was fitted he talked to his psychiatrist about committing suicide. Years of uncomfortable, poor-quality prosthetics offered by the NHS, including a crude hook, had seen him suffer infections, pain and have the embarrassment of his arm falling off in public. Ackland struggled to wipe his own backside and was plagued by nightmares.

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Researchers map the connection between mantle and Yellowstone caldera

4/25/2015 9:00am

In broad outlines, the geological activity that produced Yellowstone is well understood. The North American plate is drifting westward over a hotspot in the mantle, a hotspot that has littered the landscape to the west with volcanic features. Since landing under Yellowstone, it's set off some truly cataclysmic eruptions, one of which is thought to have expelled 2,500 cubic kilometers of material.

Understanding the current state of the plumbing beneath Yellowstone could be key to determining the risk of another event of this magnitude (even a smaller one would be rather significant). And here's where we've got a bit of a gap in our knowledge. While we have good imaging of the mantle plume itself and the area immediately under the caldera, it's not been clear what's between the two. In this week's edition of Science that gap has been closed.

Scientists already knew something was up at the intervening depths. There's a volume of partly molten material between the depths of five and 16km, one that may occupy up to 10,000km3. But Yellowstone emits an estimated 45,000 tons of carbon dioxide daily, and it's impossible to get that much gas out of that volume of molten rock. And the plume of hot mantle material is far too deep at 60km.

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Killing Floor 2 EULA threatens to revoke licenses for trolls

4/24/2015 3:25pm

In the never-ending battle between online gaming's trolls and the moderators that try to make servers harassment-free, the developers at Tripwire Interactive are threatening to bring out a rarely used weapon. According to the game's EULA, when players are found cheating, griefing, or "cyber bullying," Tripwire "will revoke your CD key and ban you from the KF2 servers and tell your mom!"

Parental threats aside, banning problematic players is one of the most common punishments for bad behavior in online games. But Tripwire's threat extends past the online portion to a full revocation of the license for the game, single-player included. "Your license will automatically terminate, without notice, and you will have no right to play KF2 or any KF2 Mods against other players or make any other use of KF2," the EULA warns. "End of story."

Technically, the legalese in many EULAs include similar language giving the publisher the right to revoke access to a purchased license for many different reasons. Valve can ban entire Steam accounts that violate its subscriber agreement, and WoW players have lost access to their accounts after using bots. Federal courts have upheld these kinds of EULA provisions in the past, too, affirming that you merely own a revocable "license" for many games you "own."

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Apple Watch 101: Unpacking, pairing, and poking

4/24/2015 2:30pm

The Apple Watch Sport comes in a long rectangular case. From what we've seen, watches with loop bands are shipping in square boxes, and Apple Watch Editions come in fancy leather charging cases.

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Our Apple Watch arrived this morning.

However you feel about smart watches as a concept or the Apple Watch in particular, the fact of the matter is that this wearable already has momentum behind it by virtue of being a brand-new product from the world's biggest consumer electronics company. Developers are already here, although many of them are still trying to figure out how an Apple Watch app should look and work. An order placed today won't make it to your doorstep until four-to-six weeks from now. None of this guarantees long-term success, but it does mean that Apple's Watch is a product to... watch.

This is our first experience with the Apple Watch outside of controlled demos at Apple events and some limited hands-on time during Apple Store try-on sessions, so for your reference we've documented the process of extricating the watch from its multilayered packaging and pairing it to a phone. More detailed impressions will follow in the coming days—we'll be wearing the watch around for several days to get an idea of where it fits into our digital life and, more important, what it actually changes for people who buy it.

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A mega-Comcast could have squashed online competition, government says

4/24/2015 1:54pm

After Comcast terminated its deal to buy Time Warner Cable today, government officials explained why they worked behind the scenes to kill the merger.

Though they never publicly stated their intentions after the deal was dead, both the Department of Justice and the Federal Communications Commission had made it clear to Comcast that they were unlikely to let the merger proceed. They listened to merger opponents who described numerous problems, but one concern stood out above all others: that Comcast, already the biggest cable company in the nation, could use its increased size to stifle the competition that online video streaming services pose to cable TV.

FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler said, "The proposed merger would have posed an unacceptable risk to competition and innovation especially given the growing importance of high-speed broadband to online video and innovative new services." The DOJ said it "informed the companies that it had significant concerns that the merger would make Comcast an unavoidable gatekeeper for Internet-based services that rely on a broadband connection to reach consumers."

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TV maker Vizio may finally get paid after beating 17th patent troll

4/24/2015 1:30pm

Lawsuits brought by "patent trolls," companies that have no product but file barrages of patent lawsuits, have become commonplace across the tech sector. For the few companies that choose to fight these cases until the end, it's an expensive endeavor, since defending a patent suit can cost anywhere from $1 million to several times that amount.

Television maker Vizio is one of the companies that fights back. It's beaten no less than 16 "non-practicing entities," and last week, the company released a statement showcasing its list of patent troll cases that ended in a key statistic: "$0 to plaintiff." The list includes the usual bizarrely named shells, like "E-Contact Techs" and "Man Machine Interface," as well as well-known patent holding companies like Walker Digital and Intellectual Ventures (whose patents were used by Pragmatus Telecom, one of the shells Vizio sent packing.)

Now, the company is trying to collect fees from one of its opponents, a company called Oplus Technologies. For the first time, it stands a real chance, in a case where it spent more than $1 million to win. Two recent Supreme Court decisions make it easier for victorious defendants to collect fees in patent cases. The TV maker is up against a storied patent plaintiffs' firm, Chicago-based Niro, Haller & Niro, that has fought for Oplus tooth and nail.

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Critical HTTPS bug may open 25,000 iOS apps to eavesdropping attacks

4/24/2015 1:00pm

At least 25,000 iOS apps available in Apple's App Store contain a critical vulnerability that may completely cripple HTTPS protections designed to prevent man-in-the-middle attacks that steal or modify sensitive data, security researchers warned.

As was the case with a separate HTTPS vulnerability reported earlier this week that affected 1,500 iOS apps, the bug resides in AFNetworking, an open-source code library that allows developers to drop networking capabilities into their iOS and OS X apps. Any app that uses a version of AFNetworking prior to the just-released 2.5.3 may expose data that's trivial for hackers to monitor or modify, even when it's protected by the secure sockets layer (SSL) protocol. The vulnerability can be exploited by using any valid SSL certificate for any domain name, as long as the digital credential was issued by a browser-trusted certificate authority (CA).

"The result is an attacker with any valid certificate can eavesdrop on or modify an SSL session initiated by an app with this flawed library," Nate Lawson, the founder of security analytics startup SourceDNA, told Ars. "The flaw is that the domain name is not checked in the cert, even though the cert is checked to be sure it was issued by a valid CA. For example, I can pretend to be '' just by presenting a valid cert for ''"

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DOD’s new Internet strategy boosts role in defending “US interests”

4/24/2015 12:48pm

In a speech at Stanford University on April 23, recently confirmed US Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter announced the release of a new Department of Defense strategy for defending the United States in "cyberspace." He also called on the technology industry to work more closely with the DOD to help make the Internet safer and defend against future cyber-threats. And in an effort to capture some of the culture of Silicon Valley within DOD, he announced the creation of a new organization within the military: Defense Innovation Unit X.

In case you were wondering, the "X" stands for "experimental."

Carter said that Defense Innovation Unit X would be located in Silicon Valley to act as "a local interface node" between DOD and the technology industry. "This first-of-its-kind unit will be staffed by an elite team of active-duty and civilian personnel, plus key people from the Reserves, where some of our best technical talent resides," he said. "They will strengthen existing relationships and build new ones [and] help scout for breakthrough and emerging technologies." The unit could also act as a conduit for information to startups trying to win DOD contracts.

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Former CIA head’s no-jail sentence for leaking called “gross hypocrisy”

4/24/2015 12:32pm

Yesterday, former CIA Director David Petraeus was handed two years of probation and a $100,000 fine after agreeing to a plea deal that ends in no jail time for leaking classified information to Paula Broadwell, his biographer and lover.

"I now look forward to moving on with the next phase of my life and continuing to serve our great nation as a private citizen," Petraeus said outside the federal courthouse in Charlotte, North Carolina on Thursday.

Lower-level government leakers have not, however, been as likely to walk out of a courthouse applauding the US as Petraeus did. Trevor Timm, executive director of the Freedom of the Press Foundation, called the Petraeus plea deal a "gross hypocrisy."

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The downside of “Drill, baby, drill!”—degraded North American ecosystems

4/24/2015 12:12pm

The number of oil and gas wells drilled within central Canada and central USA has continued to rise, with an average of 50,000 new wells per year since 2000. These wells bring economic benefits and expectations of at least a temporary energy security. However, the benefits also come with a downside: the potential loss or degradation of local ecosystems.

Recently, a team of scientists explored this threat, providing the first empirical analysis of the consequences of drilling on our ecosystem. In their new study, high resolution satellite data of vegetation dynamics was combined with industry data and publicly available historical records of oil and gas well locations. The research team also evaluated patterns of land-use change and water use.

The team first investigated changes in the amount of carbon fixed by plants and then accumulated in biomass. Changes in this process were examined because carbon fixation and accumulation are fundamental to the life cycle on Earth.

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