angry tapir writes “Most people will be familiar with some of the big names when it comes to Linux — distributions like Ubuntu, Red Hat Enterprise Linux, Debian, and Mandriva. Most of the well-known Linux distros are designed to be used as general-purpose desktop operating systems or installed on servers. But beyond these distros are hundreds of others either designed to appeal to very specific audiences or to fulfill the somewhat niche needs of some users. We rounded up some of the most interesting Linux distributions that you might not have heard of.”
kkleiner writes “Over the past few years, several research teams have developed increasingly smaller and cheaper biosensors with improved detection capabilities and faster turnaround times. Whether you are a doctor diagnosing patients in the rural areas of Africa or a Homeland Security agent working to thwart an act of bioterrorism, one of these little devices should be your sidekick.”
eldavojohn writes “Ugaritic has been deciphered by an unaided computer program that relied only on four basic assumptions present in many languages. The paper (PDF) may aid researchers in deciphering eight undecipherable languages (Ugaritic has already been deciphered and proved their system worked) as well as increase the number of languages automated translation sites offer. The researchers claim ‘orders of magnitude’ speedups in deciphering languages with their new system.”
grrlscientist writes “Common Ravens have been shown to express empathy towards a ‘friend’ or relative when they are distressed after an aggressive conflict — just like humans and chimpanzees do. But birds are very distant evolutionary relatives of Great Apes, so what does this similarity imply about the evolution of behavior?”
Source: Empathy Is For the Birds
adeelarshad82 writes “The Microsoft Kin is dead, or at least it doesn’t have a future as a standalone product. Microsoft released a statement suggesting that it’s cutting bait on the Windows Phone 7 spinoff and folding the project’s staff and technologies into the main body of Windows Phone 7. For now, it seems like Verizon Wireless will continue to sell Kin phones. But with the Kin team essentially disbanded, it’s hard to see future updates and support for the line being a priority within Microsoft.”
Source: Microsoft Kills the Kin
coondoggie writes “The Russian ring charged this week with spying on the United States faced some of the common security problems that plague many companies — misconfigured wireless networks, users writing passwords on slips of paper, and laptop help desk issues that take months to resolve.”
Is mulitcellular life like us just the new kid on the biological block, a latecomer to a world dominated by single-celled organisms like bacteria? Perhaps not—multicellular life could be half as old as the Earth itself.
A new study out today in Nature identifies fossils from Gabon in Africa that date back 2.1 billion years. The organic material is long gone, but the scientists say these are the oldest multicellular organisms ever found. That date takes them way back before the Cambrian explosion 500 million years ago that made multiple-celled life widespread on the planet.
“We have these macrofossils turning up in a world that was purely microbial,” says Stefan Bengtson, a palaeozoologist at the Swedish Museum of Natural History in Stockholm and a co-author on the report. “That’s a big deal because when you finally get big organisms, it changes the way the biosphere works, as they interact with microbes and each other” [Nature].
It’s hard to know for sure that these specimens—which don’t have a name yet and grew up to five inches across—are truly multicellular, because no organic material remains. Sometimes bacteria live in larger sheets, and those aren’t true multicellular organisms. But in this case, study author Abderrazak El Albani says, the complex structure shown by the fossil remains show signs of communication between cells.
And, he says, the timing of these fossils suggests why the organism was able to become more complex: There was suddenly lots of oxygen back then.
Just a few million years before … the newly discovered fossils appear in the fossil record, Earth experienced what’s called the Great Oxidation Event. The sudden evolution of photosynthesizing bacteria radically changed Earth’s atmosphere, kick-starting its transformation from nearly oxygen-free into today’s breathable air [Wired.com].
Importantly, even if these fossils are the oldest-known multicellular organisms, that doesn’t mean they were the ancestors of all multicellular life, Donoghue said. “Multicellularity hasn’t evolved just once; it’s evolved almost 20 times even amongst living lineages,” he said. “This is probably one of a great number of extinct lineages that experimented with [increased] organismal complexity” [The Scientist].
Image: Abderrazak El Albani and Arnaud Mazurier
GovTechGuy writes with some harsh words from Fark.com founder Drew Curti, speaking at a conference Tuesday in Washington, D.C.: “‘The “wisdom of the crowds” is the most ridiculous statement I’ve heard in my life. Crowds are dumb,’ Curtis said. ‘It takes people to move crowds in the right direction, crowds by themselves just stand around and mutter.’ Curtis pointed to his own experience moderating comments on Fark, which allows users to give their often humorous take on the news of the day. He said only one percent of Web comments have any value and called the rest ‘garbage.’ Another example Curtis pointed to is the America Speaking Out website recently launched by House Republicans to allow the public to weigh in on the issues and vote for policy positions they support. Curtis called the site an ‘absolute train wreck.’ ‘It’s an absolute disaster. It’s impossible to tell who was kidding and who wasn’t,’ Curtis said.”
Twelve million years ago, one sperm whale was king. Between 40 and 60 feet in length the beast scientists named Leviathan melvillei wasn’t any bigger than today’s sperm whales, but look at those teeth!
As described in a paper published in Nature today, Olivier Lambert discovered the whale’s fossils in a Peruvian desert. The creature’s name says it all:
[It] combines the Hebrew word ‘Livyatan’, which refers to large mythological sea monsters, with the name of American novelist Herman Melville, who penned Moby-Dick — “one of my favourite sea books”, says lead author Olivier Lambert of the National Museum of Natural History in Paris. [Nature News]
The prehistoric sperm whale may have eaten baleen whales, and its largest chompers are a foot long and some four inches wide. For all the details, check out Ed Yong’s post on Not Exactly Rocket Science.
Mark Atwood points out this critical commentary on the IEEE’s response to the outcome of In Re. Bilski, which points out the contrast between work done by IEEE luminaries like Donald Knuth and lobbying for software patents.