Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Scattered furloughs, with a chance of default / look away

The news across the nation is about the (psycho)drama playing out in Washington -- but here in the DC area, that's about all we hear. (Not quite true. We also hear about whether to change the name of the local NFL franchise, the Redskins.)

While Congress has us all on a suicide watch (or vice versa), here are some SF- and science-related items that may have been pushed off your screen or front page ...

Free-floating planets aren't new to SF, but now one's been spotted. See (from the Sydney Morning Herald), "Lonely planet in star turn all of its own, say astronomers."

The gaseous exoplanet, dubbed PSO J318.5-22, is 80 light years from Earth and has a mass only six times that of Jupiter. Having formed 12 million years ago, the planet is considered newborn.

To which I say, welcome to the neighborhood.

As a boy, one of my favorite books (and movies) was Twenty Thousand Leagues under the Sea (public-domain Kindle edition here). So: it's exciting to see that "Elusive Giant Squid Washes Up on Spanish Beach." And if you're unfamiliar with giant squids or 20K Leagues? Then it's time to get kraken.

(Yes, you may groan.)

Because even late-breaking events in the Edward Snowden / NSA-leaks saga are getting crowded out, you might want to see (from Live Science), "Why the Latest NSA Leak Is the Scariest of All."

"The companies that build and manage our Internet infrastructure, the companies that create and sell us our hardware and software, or the companies that host our data: We can no longer trust them," wrote American encryption expert Bruce Schneier on the website of the British newspaper The Guardian.

How could such a thing come about? Perhaps by undermining the encryption standards on which Internet infrastructure relies. From IEEE Spectrum, see, "Can You Trust NIST? Revelations that the NSA undermined the U.S. standards agency leave cryptographers feeling queasy." (NIST is the National Institute of Standards and Technology.)

Meanwhile, The Verge reports, "Bill Gates admits Control-Alt-Delete was a mistake, blames IBM."

Picked up an iPhone 5 yet? The big new feature appears to be the fingerprint scanner. Alas (from The Digital Life Age), "Hackers 'crack' Apple's fingerprint scanner," (as anyone who watches crime or spy shows on TV could have predicted).

(You see it, don't you?)
To end on an up note, I'm delighted that the Nobel Committee awarded this year's Physics prize to Peter Higgs and Fran├žois Englert for their decades-ago prediction of the Higgs boson. From Science, see "Higgs Theorists Win Physics Nobel in Overtime."

IMO it's unfortunate that Englert's colleague Robert Brout, who passed away in 2011, was ineligible. It's also unfortunate that CERN -- where the elusive particle was finally identified -- did not get recognized. This final component of the Standard Model of particle physics was detected through the community effort of thousands at CERN. (Nobel rules limit the award to three living people -- but institutions have been awarded other Nobel prizes.)

We now reluctantly return you to nail-biting Washington watch ...

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