GeekSpeak for 2014-04-19

Falling Rock Arrested for Fake Iapetus Tweets

The mountain range that fell from space, earth-like planet discovered, open source seeds, stem cells help the blind, and other Geek news, with Miles, Ben and Bonnie. This show is dedicated to the memory of Finn, a good dog.

Successful SpaceX Launch

The Falcon 9 lifted off on time at 19:25 UTC, and the launch went perfectly. Just under 11 minutes later the Dragon capsule was deployed into orbit. The solar arrays were deployed, and all looks good. Congrats to SpaceX!

Follow-Up: Yup. It Was a Rock

For those of you taking notes at home, over the past few days I wrote a couple of pieces about a viral video that purported to show a meteoroid (the solid part of space debris that gets hot and creates a meteor when it rams through our atmosphere) zipping past a skydiver. At first I was open to the idea, if skeptical, but upon further reading and examination I became more convinced it was just a rock that fell out of the skydiver’s parachute.

Unfortunately, that turns out to be the case. It really was just a rock.

Twitter parody account holder sought in police raid

Illinois police seized computers and mobile phones while raiding a house whose owner was suspected of parodying the town mayor on Twitter.

In all, five people following the Tuesday evening raid were taken to the Peoria Police Department station for questioning, local media report.

one step closer to a cure for blindness

It works for London’s night-blind mice, anyway — Researchers from University College London and Moorfields Eye Hospital in the UK teamed up to grow a synthetic retina from embryonic stem cells, extract immature photoreceptor cells from it, and successfully transplant them into the peepers of at least 3 blind mice. What about mature photoreceptor cells? What about extracting color-receptor cells for the color blind? WHAT ABOUT PEOPLE?!?? Science counsels patience, my child. They’ll get to it.

What Happens When You Throw a Peep Out an Airlock?

Peeps, the wildly popular sugary marshmallow treats, have little nutritional value and take up a lot of space for their mass, so I wouldn’t imagine they’d be a staple food for astronauts. But if some future space voyage stocked them for the astronauts, instead of eating them it might be a lot more fun to throw them out the airlock.

Paint on a Plane

Here’s another forum link. http://www.airliners.net/aviation-forums/general_aviation/read.main/1191618/4/

Expensive Undigestible Sugar

A couple of weeks ago we talked about how, in most cases, life uses exclusively the left-handed enantiomers of amino acids to make proteins. This homochirality is also see in the sugars we talked about last week, but in this case, mostly D-sugars are utilized in biological systems.

What isn’t amazing is that it happens to be L- for amino acids and D- for carbohydrates; the fact that they’re different is no big deal. Evolution just wants the parts to fit together, so if an enzyme evolved to use D-sugars, it’s not a surprise that the D-sugar would be favored in the pathway then now on.

Special Ed. Student Records Audio Proof of Bullying, Threatened With Charges of Felony Wiretapping

A South Fayette High School sophomore claims to have been bullied all year at his new school located in McDonald, Pennsylvania. In February, the student made an audio recording of one bullying incident during his special education math class. Instead of questioning the students whose voices were recorded, school administrators threatened to charge him with felony wiretapping before eventually agreeing to reduce the charge to disorderly conduct.

Good things happen in schools, too

Teacher shows students how to properly apologize, consideration and good will spreads beyond classroom. It’s a life hack!

The Open Source Seed Initiative

Today, only three companies (Monsanto, DuPont, Syngenta) account for about half of all commercial seed sales. Increasingly, patenting is used to enhance the power and control of these and similar companies over the seeds that feed the world.

Inspired by the free and open source software movement that has provided alternatives to proprietary software, OSSI was created to free the seed – that is, to make sure that the genes in at least some seed can never be locked away from use by intellectual property rights.

To that end, OSSI has developed an Open Source Seed Pledge that commits anyone receiving OSSI seed to keep that seed – and any derivatives bred from that seed – freely available for use by others. Explains OSSI member and Wild Garden Seed breeder Frank Morton, “That’s free as in speech, free as in liberated, not free as in beer!”

How Burrowing Owls Lead To Vomiting Anarchists (Or SF’s Housing Crisis Explained)

The Santa Clara Valley was some of the most valuable agricultural land in the entire world, but it was paved over to create today’s Silicon Valley. This was simply the result of bad planning and layers of leadership failure — nobody thinks farms literally needed to be destroyed to create the technology industry’s success.

Today, the tech industry is apparently on track to destroy one of the world’s most valuable cultural treasures, San Francisco, by pushing out the diverse people who have helped create it. At least that’s the story you’ve read in hundreds of articles lately.

Earth-Size Planet Found in Its Star’s Habitable Zone

Kepler-186f is one of the big success stories. It’s part of a mini-solar system, a five-planet system orbiting a red dwarf: a smaller, cooler star than the Sun. The other four planets (Kepler-186b-e) are all very roughly Earth-size, but orbit far closer to the star, ranging from 5.1 million kilometers (3.2 million miles) to 16.5 million kilometers (10 million miles)—for comparison, Mercury orbits the Sun at a distance of about 50 million kilometers (31 million miles), so this really is a solar system shrunk down. But even though the star is cooler than the Sun, these planets are close enough to it to be pretty hot; even the farthest of the four previously known would be hot enough to boil water on its surface (assuming it has a surface).

186f is different, though: It orbits farther out, about 53 million kilometers (33 million miles) from the star, where temperatures are more clement. Making some basic assumptions, it lies near the outside edge of the star’s “habitable zone,” where liquid water can easily exist on the surface of a planet. We know of several dozen planets like that in the galaxy so far, but what makes 186f special is its size: it’s only about 1.1 times the size of Earth! Together, these make it potentially the most Earth-like planet we’ve yet found.

TrueCrypt audit finds “no evidence of backdoors” or malicious code

iSEC, the company contracted to review the bootloader and Windows kernel driver for any backdoor or related security issue, concluded (PDF) that TrueCrypt has: “no evidence of backdoors or otherwise intentionally malicious code in the assessed areas.”
While the team did find some minor vulnerabilities in the code itself, iSEC labeled them as appearing to be “unintentional, introduced as the result of bugs rather than malice.”