Hexbyte  Tech News  Wired Should You Wear White or Black on Hot Days? Here’s the Data

Hexbyte Tech News Wired Should You Wear White or Black on Hot Days? Here’s the Data

Hexbyte Tech News Wired

Hexbyte  Tech News  Wired

Richard Baker/Getty Images

Should you wear white or black during the summer? Or that other burning fashion question: Is it OK to wear white after Labor Day? Oh wait, that question really isn’t important. Let’s get back to the summer question.

There are two answers to the black vs. white clothing question.

1. Wear White. A white object is white because it reflects white light, and white light is a combination of all the visible colors. This means that a white shirt (or pants) will reflect most of the light and not get hot. Simple, right?

2. Wear Black. But wait! What about the bedouin in the desert regions of North Africa? They often wear black clothing, and it’s super hot there. It seems they wouldn’t wear black unless there was an advantage. Maybe the black clothing prevents body heat from reflecting back on the human—thus keeping the body cooler than a white outfit.

OK. Let’s be clear. This black vs. white clothing isn’t exactly a settled issue. People actually study this stuff—here is an article from Nature published in 1980: “Why do Bedouins wear black robes in hot deserts?”. There are clearly several situations to consider with the Bedouin clothing. But what about more common outfits, like a T-shirt? Should you wear a black or white T-shirt on a warm summer day?

The first thing to consider: Does a black shirt get hotter than a white one? I can explore this question with an infrared camera. You see, everything gives off light (electromagnetic radiation). Some super-hot things (like a lightbulb filament or a stove burner) are hot enough that this emitted EM radiation is in the visible spectrum, and we can see it. For most other objects, the emitted light has a wavelength that puts it outside the visible range. Most of this light falls in the infrared region.

Using a special camera, a sensor detects the infrared radiation and uses this to determine the object’s temperature (for the most part).

So let’s do it. Here are some shirts hanging out in the sunlight.

Rhett Allain

Now for an infrared image. Note: this is a false-color image. Since we can’t actually see infrared light, different colors in this image correspond to different wavelengths in the IR region.

Rhett Allain

From this image I can get the temperature of the shirts. OK, technically there is a small problem measuring the temperature, but I will address that shortly. The black T-shirt on the right measured 131.0 Fahrenheit and the white one on the left was 111.8. Yes, it’s clear the black shirt was hotter. Other than that, there were no real surprises.

But come on. You already knew this. In fact, you can even do your own experiment. Grab some paper—a white piece and a black piece. Place them outside in the same sunlight. You only have to wait a few minutes before picking them up to realize that the black paper is hotter.

Now for the second question. Does a white T-shirt reflect thermal radiation from your body back to your body to warm you up? The answer is yes. Perhaps the question should be: Does white reflect MORE thermal radiation than black clothing (I’m equating thermal radiation and infrared light—same thing). Is a white shirt “infrared white”? Does it reflect more infrared radiation than a black shirt?

How about another test. To measure the infrared reflectivity (not a real term) of different shirts, I set up the following experiment. There is a hot (but not too hot) iron that you can use to make your clothes wrinkle-free. This is my infrared source. I placed it around a corner so my infrared camera couldn’t see it. Then I put different objects in front of the camera to see how they reflected this infrared light.

Let’s start with something fun. Here is a tile board. It’s the same stuff those whiteboards in classrooms are made of. What happens when infrared light hits it? This happens.

Rhett Allain

This is a composite image (in case you couldn’t tell). The infrared camera I am using (the FLIR One) has both a visible light camera along with an IR camera. I cut out a part of the visible image and placed it on the IR image to make it more obvious what you are looking at. The important part is the bright spot in the middle of the board. That is a reflection from the iron. Oh, you want to see the iron too? Here you go.

Rhett Allain

Notice the reflection on the floor? That’s because my smooth kitchen floor reflects infrared light, and you can see an image with the camera. Yes, that’s awesome.

What about a white T-shirt?

Rhett Allain

No spot. It doesn’t reflect much infrared. What about a black shirt? It pretty much looks the same in infrared.

Rhett Allain

So, although the two T-shirts look different to human eyes (in the visible light range), they are pretty much the same in infrared. That pretty much answers the second question about clothing. Does white reflect back more infrared radiation on your body? Nope. Just because it’s white doesn’t make it “infrared reflective.”

Do you know what is very infrared reflective? Space blankets—those shiny mylar blankets that you can use in an emergency. You know what else makes a difference? Water. Here, check this out. This is an image of a T-shirt with some water on it next to a piece of mylar.

Rhett Allain

That darker stuff on the shirt is just a tiny bit of water. As the water makes a phase transition from a liquid to a gas, it takes energy. This energy comes from the rest of the liquid water, causing a drop in temperature. This is exactly why humans sweat—we cool off through the evaporation process. Also, check out the mylar on the right. It looks different because it’s reflecting both the visible light and the infrared radiation. That makes it rather difficult to measure the temperature with an infrared camera, because you are seeing reflected light rather than emitted light.

Now is the time to discuss this emission vs. reflection problem. In the world of infrared cameras, different materials can have a different emissivity. The emissivity of an object can have a value between 0 and 1. If an object is only radiating infrared light and not reflecting it at all, that would be an emissivity of 1. Something that only reflects infrared light would have an emissivity of zero.

The T-shirts (both the black and the white) have an emissivity very close to 1—they don’t really reflect much infrared radiation. But the mylar has an emissivity close to zero.

That pretty much answers the question. In most cases white clothes look just like black clothes in the infrared spectrum. They both reflect about the same amount of thermal radiation. That means you are going to be better off with white clothes, since they don’t absorb as much visible light. But wait! Could there be a special case in which black is better?

Let’s get back to the bedouin black clothing. What is going on here? Well, there is more to heating and cooling than just the color of the clothes. What about evaporation? What about wind? One possible reason for the black clothes is a type of chimney effect. The idea is that the black clothes heat up the space between the cloth and the human to promote an upward air current (like a chimney). This air current adds to the cooling of the human. But maybe you see the problem. You have to have an air space between the fabric and the skin. I don’t know about you, but my shirts aren’t that loose. I suspect that there are only a few people that wear clothes in the bedouin fashion—but for those people, you might want to stick to black.

But wait! There’s more! There are so many variables in this black vs. white clothing question that this could be a great starting point for a science-fair experiment (you know … for kids). I’ll be honest, I’m not too keen on science fairs in general, but if you are going to do a project, this seems like a great thing to study. Here are some ideas to get you started.

  • Data collection: If you want to get an infrared camera (they are very useful), you can collect some great data. If you don’t have an IR camera, you could still collect meaningful data using some small temperature sensors.
  • Do different types of clothing material reflect infrared light differently? What about those “breathable” shirts? What about other stuff, like silk?
  • Get a bunch of people and measure their body temperatures with loose vs. tight clothing.
  • What about the wind? Does the color of clothing matter if there is a slight breeze?
  • What about the humidity in the air? What impact does it have on clothes of different colors?

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Hexbyte  Tech News  Wired What Is Blockchain? The Complete WIRED Guide

Hexbyte Tech News Wired What Is Blockchain? The Complete WIRED Guide

Hexbyte Tech News Wired

Depending on who you ask, blockchains are either the most important technological innovation since the internet or a solution looking for a problem.

The original blockchain is the decentralized ledger behind the digital currency bitcoin. The ledger consists of linked batches of transactions known as blocks (hence the term blockchain), and an identical copy is stored on each of the roughly 60,000 computers that make up the bitcoin network. Each change to the ledger is cryptographically signed to prove that the person transferring virtual coins is the actual owner of those coins. But no one can spend their coins twice, because once a transaction is recorded in the ledger, every node in the network will know about it.

Who paved the way for blockchains?

DigiCash (1989)

DigiCash was founded by David Chaum to create a digital-currency system that enabled users to make untraceable, anonymous transactions. It was perhaps too early for its time. It went bankrupt in 1998, just as ecommerce was finally taking off.

E-Gold (1996)

E-gold was a digital currency backed by real gold. The company was plagued by legal troubles, and its founder Douglas Jackson eventually pled guilty to operating an illegal money-transfer service and conspiracy to commit money laundering.

B-Money and Bit-Gold (1998)

Cryptographers Wei Dai (B-money) and Nick Szabo (Bit-gold) each proposed separate but similar decentralized currency systems with a limited supply of digital money issued to people who devoted computing resources.

Ripple Pay (2004)

Now a cryptocurrency, Ripple started out as a system for exchanging digital IOUs between trusted parties.

Reusable Proofs of Work (RPOW) (2004)

RPOW was a prototype of a system for issuing tokens that could be traded with others in exchange for computing intensive work. It was inspired in part by Bit-gold and created by bitcoin’s second user, Hal Finney.

The idea is to both keep track of how each unit of the virtual currency is spent and prevent unauthorized changes to the ledger. The upshot: No bitcoin user has to trust anyone else, because no one can cheat the system.

Other digital currencies have imitated this basic idea, often trying to solve perceived problems with bitcoin by building new cryptocurrencies on new blockchains. But advocates have seized on the idea of a decentralized, cryptographically secure database for uses beyond currency. Its biggest boosters believe blockchains can not only replace central banks but usher in a new era of online services that would be impossible to censor. These new-age apps, advocates say, would be more answerable to users and outside the control of internet giants like Google and Facebook.

Unless, of course, Facebook runs away with the idea itself. In June, Facebook announced Libra, a new blockchain that will support a digital currency. Unlike the thousands of anybodys who run Bitcoin nodes, it will be controlled by an association comprised of just 100 companies and NGOs. Libra is certainly a challenge to central banks, not least because it’s a privately controlled monetary system that will span the globe. But replacing government with corporations is not exactly the revolution that enthusiasts imagined blockchain would bring. So far, the crypto community is divided on whether Libra is a good thing. Some see Facebook’s effort as a corruption of a technology designed to ensure that you don’t need to trust your fellow users—or any central authority. Others are celebrating it as the moment that blockchain goes mainstream.

Other so-called “private” blockchains, like Libra, are growing in popularity. Big financial services companies, including JP Morgan and the Depository Trust & Clearing Corporation, are experimenting with blockchains and blockchain-like technologies to improve the efficiency of trading stocks and other assets. Traders buy and sell stocks rapidly using current technology, of course, but the behind-the-scenes process of transferring ownership of those assets can take days. Some technologists believe blockchains could help with that.

Blockchains also have potential applications in the seemingly boring world of corporate compliance. After all, storing records in an immutable ledger is a pretty good way to assure auditors that those records haven’t been tampered with. This might be good for more than just catching embezzlers or tax cheats. Walmart, for example, is using an IBM-developed blockchain to track its supply chain, which could help it trace the source of food contaminants. Many other experiments have emerged: Voting on the blockchain. Land records. Used cars. Real estate. Streaming content. Hence the phrase “xxx on the blockchain” as a catch-all for the enduring hype cycle. The question is, if one organization (say, Walmart) has control of the data, did it really need blockchain at all?

It’s too early to say which experiments will stick. But the idea of creating tamper-proof databases has captured the attention of everyone from anarchist techies to staid bankers.

The First Blockchain

The original bitcoin software was released to the public in January 2009. It was open source software, meaning anyone could examine the code and reuse it. And many have. At first, blockchain enthusiasts sought to simply improve on bitcoin. Litecoin, another virtual currency based on the bitcoin software, seeks to offer faster transactions.

One of the first projects to repurpose the bitcoin code to use it for more than currency was Namecoin, a system for registering “.bit” domain names. The traditional domain-name management system—the one that helps your computer find our website when you type wired.com—depends on a central database, essentially an address book for the internet. Internet-freedom activists have long worried that this traditional approach makes censorship too easy, because governments can seize a domain name by forcing the company responsible for registering it to change the central database. The US government has done this several times to shut sites accused of violating gambling or intellectual-property laws.

Namecoin tries to solve this problem by storing .bit domain registrations in a blockchain, which theoretically makes it impossible for anyone without the encryption key to change the registration information. To seize a .bit domain name, a government would have to find the person responsible for the site and force them to hand over the key.

What’s an “ICO”?

Ethereum and other blockchain-based projects have raised funds through a controversial practice called an “initial coin offering,” or ICO: The creators of new digital currencies sell a certain amount of the currency, usually before they’ve finished the software and technology that underpins it. The idea is that investors can get in early while giving developers the funds to finish the tech. The catch is that these offerings have traditionally operated outside the regulatory framework meant to protect investors. Since the first tidal wave of ICOs in 2017, the SEC has said that virtually all violated securities law. Newer companies are increasingly looking for regulatory loopholes: a more common practice these days to raise money the traditional way (through VCs) and “airdrop” coins to users for free.

In 2013, a startup called Ethereum published a paper outlining an idea that promised to make it easier for coders to create their own blockchain-based software without having to start from scratch, without relying on the original bitcoin software. In 2015 the company released its platform for building “smart contracts,” software applications that can enforce an agreement without human intervention. For example, you could create a smart contract to bet on tomorrow’s weather. You and your gambling partner would upload the contract to the Ethereum network and then send a little digital currency, which the software would essentially hold in escrow. The next day, the software would check the weather and then send the winner their earnings. A number of “prediction markets” have been built on the platform, enabling people to bet on more interesting outcomes, such as which political party will win an election.

So long as the software is written correctly, there’s no need to trust anyone in these transactions. But that turns out to be a big catch. In 2016, a hacker made off with about $50 million worth of Ethereum’s custom currency intended for a democratized investment scheme where investors would pool their money and vote on how to invest it. A coding error allowed a still unknown person to make off with the virtual cash. Lesson: It’s hard to remove humans from transactions, with or without a blockchain.

Blockchains had other limitations, too. The security protocols that allow people to trust blockchain systems without a central overseer are notoriously slow (not to mention energy-intensive). Ethereum gave developers the tools to write applications, but the tech couldn’t yet handle the fancy graphics of your new decentralized computer game or the volume of users needed to make your open social network useful. Dozens of competitors have since hatched out of academic labs and start-ups, each purporting to have a novel technical solutions. Ethereum is working on scaling up its technology too. But so far, no clear winner has broken through.

That sluggishness also gave an opening to corporate blockchains. Even as cryptography geeks plotted to use blockchains to topple, or at least bypass, big business, the big guys began their own experiments with blockchains. Many corporate experiments involve “private” blockchains that run on servers within a single company and selected partners. In contrast, anyone can run bitcoin or Ethereum software on their computer and view all of the transactions recorded on the networks’ respective blockchains. But big companies prefer to keep their data in the hands of a few employees, partners, and regulators. Private blockchains are also substantially faster because they don’t require the intensive security protocols used by Bitcoin and Ethereum. Tech firms like IBM and Intel offer private blockchains to companies interested in things like supply chain tracking.

Recently, there’s also been renewed interest in using private blockchains to fulfill its initial use case: buying things. While the dream of using Bitcoin as a medium of exchange has largely died out, due to high transaction costs and extreme volatility, some have been interested in using private blockchains to support “stablecoins”—cryptocurrencies pegged to real-world assets. JP Morgan recently announced Quorum, its private blockchain, would start supporting such a coin. And then, in June, Facebook announced Libra.

The Future of Blockchain

Despite the blockchain hype—and many experiments—there’s still no “killer app” for the technology beyond speculation and (maybe) payments. Blockchain proponents admit that it could take a while for the technology to catch on. After all, the internet’s foundational technologies were created in the 1960s, but it took decades for the internet to become ubiquitous.

That said, projects like Facebook’s Libra, which is supposed to launch in 2020, indicate the technology is here to stay, but perhaps not in the form its early champions imagined. Libra is designed to enable users to make payments, with a “stablecoin” that will be backed by a number of real-world assets. The idea is to initially support things like cross-border payments and in-app purchases. But it could also be the starting point for building out all sorts of blockchain-based applications. For example, Facebook says it’s interested in exploring things like digital identity tied to the Libra blockchain. At some point, you might use that identity to log in to apps, open bank accounts, apply for jobs, or prove that your emails or social-media messages are really from you.

Those services could also be built on one of the original “public” blockchains, which continue to evolve. Ethereum is currently trying to move from the slow, energy-intensive security scheme it has historically been to a sleeker approach that could make the platform more useful. Bitcoin has the Lightning Network, an experimental technology that enables cheaper payments by cutting down on some of the intensive computations. Even Facebook has promised to begin moving Libra toward a truly decentralized model within the next five years, pending technological breakthroughs.

Advocates are particularly excited about the possibility of building other financial services directly on the blockchain, an area known as “decentralized finance,” or DeFi. Smart contracts could be used to issue peer-to-peer loans, for example, without an overseeing authority, or even handle more complicated applications like insurance. Some believe blockchains can also help automate many tasks now handled by lawyers or other professionals. For example, your will might be stored in a blockchain. Or perhaps your will could be a smart contract that will automatically dole out your money to your heirs. Or maybe blockchains will replace notaries.

Bitcoin proved that it’s possible to build an online service that operates outside the control of any one company or organization. The task for blockchain advocates now is proving that that’s actually a good thing.

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This guide was last updated on July 7, 2019.

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Hexbyte  News  Computers Venezuela Forces Killed Thousands, Then Covered It Up, U.N. Says

Hexbyte News Computers Venezuela Forces Killed Thousands, Then Covered It Up, U.N. Says

Hexbyte News Computers

Image

CreditCreditYuri Cortez/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

GENEVA — Venezuelan special forces have carried out thousands of extrajudicial killings in the past 18 months and then manipulated crime scenes to make it look as if the victims had been resisting arrest, the United Nations said on Thursday in a report detailing wide-ranging government abuses targeting political opponents.

Special Action Forces described by witnesses as “death squads” killed 5,287 people in 2018 and another 1,569 by mid-May of this year, in what are officially termed by the Venezuelan government “Operations for the Liberation of the People,” United Nations investigators reported.

Laying out a detailed description of a lawless system of oppression, the report says the actual number of deaths could be much higher. It cites accounts by independent groups who report more than 9,000 killings for “resistance to authority” over the same period.

“There are reasonable grounds to believe that many of these killings constitute extrajudicial executions committed by the security forces,” the investigators said.

The report, which the United Nation human rights chief Michelle Bachelet will present to the Human Rights Council in Geneva on Friday, delivers a scathing critique of President Nicolás Maduro’s embattled government and its handling of Venezuela’s deepening political and economic crisis.

Since 2016, the report says, the government has pursued a strategy “aimed at neutralizing, repressing and criminalizing political opponents and people critical of the government.”

Venezuela’s Foreign Ministry rejected the findings on Thursday, saying the report offered a “distorted vision” that ignored most of the information presented by the government to United Nations researchers.

Image

CreditYuri Cortez/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

“The analysis is not objective, nor impartial,” the Foreign Ministry said in a statement, listing what it said were numerous errors. “The negative points are privileged in the extreme and the advances or measures adapted in the area of human rights are ignored or minimized.”

[Here’s a look at how Venezuela has deteriorated into crisis.]

The Special Action Forces, known locally by their Spanish acronym FAES, are nominally tasked with combating drug trafficking and crime, but United Nations human rights officials said they were concerned the government was using these and other security forces “as an instrument to instill fear in the population and to maintain social control.”

Families of 20 young men who were killed in the last year described a pattern of violence in which the FAES units arrived in pickup trucks without license plates, dressed in black and with their faces covered by balaclavas.

They broke into houses, seized belongings and molested women, forcing some to strip naked. Then “they would separate young men from other family members before shooting them,” the investigators reported.

In every case described to the investigators, attackers manipulated the crime scene. “They would plant arms and drugs and fire their weapons against the walls or in the air to suggest a confrontation and to show the victim had resisted authority,” the report says.

The investigators said they had also documented the execution of six young men carried out during one of the house raids, the killings done as a reprisal for their participation in anti-government demonstrations.

Five special forces members were convicted of attempted murder and other offenses in 2018, and another 388 members were under investigation for abuses, according to the report. But few victims, it says, have access to justice or any redress.

The report also describes routine abuse by security and intelligence services of people detained for political reasons. In most of the cases, men and women were subjected to one or more forms of torture, including electric shock, suffocation with plastic bags, water boarding, beating and sexual violence. Women were dragged by their hair and threatened with rape, the report says.

The detentions often had no legal basis, according to the report, which says that more than 2,000 people were arrested for political reasons in the first five months of the year and more than 720 were still detained at the end of May.

Image

CreditYuri Cortez/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Human rights activists welcomed the spotlight the report is turning onto government repression and abuses. “The government’s reaction shows it hits the right points,” said Tamara Taraciuk Broner, a senior researcher for Human Rights Watch.

But Ms. Taraciuk expressed disappointment that the report stops short of urging the United Nations to set up a commission of inquiry. It calls instead for the government to set up an independent investigation, with some unspecified international participation.

“You cannot ask Venezuelan courts, which have no independence, to investigate the executive,” she said.

The report comes two weeks after Ms. Bachelet visited Venezuela. Its hard-hitting tone was especially eye-opening, given her political background. In her second term as Chile’s left-leaning president from 2014 to 2018, she was among the few South American leaders who refused to openly criticize Mr. Maduro’s growing authoritarianism.

The Venezuelan government had tried to use Ms. Bachelet’s visit to bolster Mr. Maduro’s international legitimacy. More than 50 nations, including the United States, have stopped recognizing him as Venezuela’s legitimate leader, calling his re-election last year fraudulent.

Ms. Bachelet’s team was given unusual access inside Venezuela, unlike that given to her predecessor or to other United Nations agencies. Mr. Maduro heavily publicized his meeting with Ms. Bachelet and promised to consider allowing her to open a full-time office in the country. The government also agreed to allow two United Nations human rights staff members to work in the country and said it would give them full access to detention centers.

But any hopes that her visit paved the way for a government change of course on human rights were quickly dampened by the news days later of the death in custody of a Navy captain, Rafael Acosta, who was detained the day Ms. Bachelet’s visit ended. His lawyer said he had been in good health at the time of his arrest, but he died in a military hospital a week later showing visible signs beatings.

Ms. Bachelet expressed her shock at Captain Acosta’s death and called for an investigation, but human rights groups said it showed the limited outcome from her visit.

“This case shows that the government of Venezuela is not taking her seriously,” Ms. Taraciuk said.

Anatoly Kurmanaev contributed reporting from Caracas, Venezuela.

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Hexbyte  News  Computers Ants give away the secrets of human brain processes – Lundbeckfonden

Hexbyte News Computers Ants give away the secrets of human brain processes – Lundbeckfonden

Hexbyte News Computers

Through their work on the brains of ants, a team of researchers at the University of Copenhagen has identified fundamental DNA networks which, with all likelihood, control brain activity. The discovery was recently published in the scientific journal Nature Ecology and Evolution. The method can be used to explore correlations between general brain functions and social behaviour.

Which genes need to be switched on and off to keep the human brain going – and which proteins are involved in the process? This is both the key question and one of the great enigmas facing brain research.

And, according to Guojie Zhang, Professor and Lundbeck Foundation Fellow at the Centre for Social Evolution at the University of Copenhagen (UCPH), studying this issue poses both technical and ethical challenges:

“You can’t just insert measuring apparatus into a human brain. So, when we researchers want to try to understand the fundamental DNA-controlled processes and networks responsible for human brain activity, we mostly have to work with other organisms. We have to find organisms which are both eligible for the studies from an ethical point of view and suitable based on a technical, biological assessment.”

Ants are highly useful for this purpose. This is proven by an article recently published in the scientific journal Nature Ecology and Evolution by Guojie Zhang, Rasmus Stenbak Larsen, Bitao Qiu and Head of the Centre for Social Evolution Professor Jacobus Boomsma.

The article was written in collaboration between the UCPH team and colleagues from research centres in China and Taiwan, and one of its main points is to show that it is actually possible, by studying ants, to identify the fundamental DNA networks that control brain activity.

This paves the way for the use of ants as model animals in trials to improve our understanding of the way in which similar functions are regulated in a human brain. And this is the research for which Guojie Zhang, who headed the studies on which the Nature Ecology and Evolution article is based, received a five-year grant when the Lundbeck Foundation made him a Fellow in 2015.

Common social features


But why choose to work with ants as model organisms if you ultimately want to try to identify DNA networks behind fundamental human brain functions?

The answer is a combination of several factors. For instance, both ants and human beings establish and live in sophisticated social structures – and this results in a number of common social features. In principle, it must be assumed that this makes the demands biology imposes on the respective brain functions more comparable.

That said, according to Professor Jacobus Boomsma, who has researched social insects since the 1970s, it is also important to emphasise that, in more general terms, we cannot make direct comparisons between the human brain and an ant’s brain:

“Of course, there are huge differences between the brain of a mammal such as a human being and that of an insect such as an ant – and the social stereotypes we see in ants, in the form of queens and workers, are extreme. But with respect to a number of fundamental brain processes, there are genes we have in common with ants – and they with us. It is these genes, and the networks to which they belong, we’re trying to understand.”

Removing the ant’s brain


A powerful microscope is essential if you want to work with the brains of ants, as they do at the Centre for Social Evolution at the University of Copenhagen, because an ant’s brain measures only 0.5 millimetres and it must be removed in one piece.

“We cut open the skull with a razor blade and then lift out the brain using tiny tweezers. There’s no room for a shaky hand,” says Lisa Brandenborg. Lisa is a Masters student in biology and is helping Guojie Zhang with this part of the research project.

By the time Lisa Brandenborg takes out her razor blade, the ant is well and truly dead – killed swiftly and observing all the rules, using liquid nitrogen at -196oC. The exposed brain of the ant, which to the naked eye looks like an insignificant dot, almost like a pin head, is then subjected to a wide range of extremely complex DNA analyses.

These analyses are conducted in China, at the Beijing Genomics Institute (BGI) in Shenzen. They register how certain networks of genes in the ant’s brain are switched on and off, and which proteins are produced.

And Professors Zhang and Boomsma explain that another reason why ants are so good as model organisms for this branch of brain research is their organisation of division of labour.

Ants make use of many different types of social model when procuring food or defending the nest, but the great majority of the world’s approximately 15,000 species of ant have a queen and a large number of workers – different castes, each with their own specific duties throughout their lives.

If we compare the queen’s personal DNA with the DNA of her sister ants from the worker caste, there will be a high level of convergence. The same will be the case if we compare the DNA of two sisters of our own species – homo sapiens, human beings. But, according to Professor Guojie Zhang, special conditions apply to the ants:

“The queen is many times larger than her sister worker, and they’re unnaturally different in general. If two human sisters were this different, one would be three metres tall, weigh 500 kilograms and be a pure zombie breeding machine; the other would only be one metre tall and weigh 14 kilograms, all of her sexual organs would be switched off and, in reality, she would merely be a socially programmed robot, taking care of household duties.”

Since, for the most part, the queen ant and her sister worker have the same DNA, the explanation for this huge divergence in their development must be connected to the way in which these genes are switched on and off – as their brains regulate growth. “And if we can begin to understand this, we’ll be able to see the contours of some of the fundamental brain networks at the heart of expression of complex behaviour patterns,” says Bitao Qiu, PhD student at the Centre for Social Evolution and first author of the scientific article.

“The on-off patterns we see in ants with regard to genes are actually the result of the effects of interaction between heredity and environment. And, since the evolutionary history of the ant is extremely long – all 15,000 species are descendants of a single ant which existed around 130 million years ago – we can say with confidence that we’re dealing with something very original. It’s fascinating.”

Five species in the laboratory


In recent years, various research teams around the world have studied DNA networks in the ant brain. However, the study led by Guojie Zhang is the first to explore these networks in several ant species simultaneously.

The advantage of this approach is that if we find the same DNA networks and on-off characteristics in several ant species, we can see that it is something fundamental – something that applies to all ant species.

“We studied five different species of ant, including the black garden ant, which is the ant most of us are familiar with. And, although there are around 15,000 ant species worldwide, we can say that we’ve found DNA networks which are seemingly at work in all ant brains. This is what we prove in the scientific article – and we do it using a range of sophisticated, statistical tools to analyse extremely large volumes of data,” Professor Guojie Zhang explains.

The researchers at the Centre for Social Evolution took 30 workers and 30 queens from each of the five species – 300 ants in all. All were killed and had their brain removed. The brains of each worker and each queen were then examined.

Professor Jacobus Boomsma explains that including even more ant species will enable them to refine this type of study over time – and, by studying certain factors in ants and other social insects, it should be possible to gain a better understanding of how DNA networks and environmental factors work together in connection with brain-related social conditions.

“These days, neuroscientists are increasingly focusing on the genetic factors underlying mental disorders, but it’s a difficult field to get into – precisely because, in addition to the genetic factors, there are many environmental effects at play. In this context, research will also be able to benefit from social insects other than ants, such as honey bees,” says Guojie Zhang, and he mentions a scientific report published by American researchers in 2017.

The report describes an experiment in which scientists deactivated – or knocked out – a gene in worker bees. This particular gene is associated with level of social function in bees, and when the gene was not active, the worker bees showed signs of social withdrawal and impaired performance. This is also a characteristic of many psychological disorders in humans.

Professor Jacobus Boomsma believes that the scientific understanding of social behaviour will be enhanced by a research field currently in rapid development:

“It concerns gut bacteria which, in many species, have proven to be able to communicate with the brain. And we can use ants as experimental model systems to investigate this further. They’ll be brilliantly suited to this, as they were in the current study.”

We can use studies of this kind to gain an understanding of which brain genes play key roles when social organisms regulate their behavioural patterns in active cooperation with both external and internal environmental effects – and to try to understand the ‘conversations’ between a brain and ‘its’ gut bacteria.

Hexbyte News Computers Ancient ant research

The Chinese wanted to keep their citrus fruit safe – so they teamed up with ants.

Chinese botanist Ji Han is the brains behind one of international ant research’s truly spectacular articles. The article can be found in Nan Fang Cao Mu Zhang (Plants and Trees in the Southern Regions), which was published by Ji Han in AD 304.

In his article about the Asian weaver ant (Oecophylla smaragdina), Ji Han describes how fruit growers in what was then the Jiao-zhi Province discovered a way to protect their citrus trees from insect pests. They placed colonies of weaver ants in the treetops and the ants then killed and sucked the nourishment from the various pests which had colonised the trees.

Later sources reveal that the Chinese fruit growers eventually refined their method of insect control by laying long bamboo canes between the tops of the fruit trees. This created a kind of walkway, enabling the weaver ants to travel freely throughout the plantation and establish new nests in all of the trees.

But are weaver ants effective when it comes to killing insect pests?

Current studies indicate that they are highly effective – and, once they have done their job, the Asian weaver ants can be ‘harvested’ and provide human beings with a valuable source of protein. Weaver ants, which are considered a delicacy in Thai cuisine, actually contain as much protein as pork.

When Ji Han wrote about Oecophylla smaragdina in AD 304, he also noted that fruit growers in Chinese provinces which had not adopted this method of insect control regularly faced “insect pest attacks so massive that not a single piece of fruit could be harvested in perfect condition”.

Facts: Colonies of ants


Ants live in complex societies – in colonies. The individual ants communicate with the help of chemical substances which are used to create a colony odour.

The colony odour is due to hydrocarbon molecules located on the exterior of the insect, and each colony has its own specific odour. If an ant strays into another colony, which has different colony odour, it will smell wrong – and will be killed.

This colony odour can be compared with a bar code. Within one ant species there will be a number of similarities between the bar codes of the individual colonies, but each colony will have its own specific code. And the differences between the bar codes of different species of ant will be much more pronounced.

For further details please contact:

Jacobus Boomsma, tel. +45 3532 1340

Guojie Zhang, tel. +45 9185 5431

Henrik Larsen, science journalist at the Lundbeck Foundation, tel. +45 2118 6377 or hl@lundbeckfonden.com

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Hexbyte – Tech News – Ars Technica | Microsoft releases Windows 1.11 throwback app as a Stranger Things tie-in

Hexbyte – Tech News – Ars Technica | Microsoft releases Windows 1.11 throwback app as a Stranger Things tie-in

Hexbyte – Tech News – Ars Technica |

Flay your mind —

Mystery solved: Microsoft’s classic software tease is all about the Netflix show.


Hexbyte - Tech News - Ars Technica | Eleven and the gang face down weird dangers yet again in the third season trailer.

Enlarge / Eleven and the gang face down weird dangers yet again in the third season trailer.

If you were one of the many people confused and curious about Microsoft’s apparent time-traveling social media blitz last week, wonder no more. As several astute fans guessed, the retro throwback was part of a collaboration with Netflix in support of Stranger Things, which just released its third season. The show is set in the year 1985, the same year that Microsoft released Windows 1.0.

The partnership has three elements. The first follows up on the many tweets from Microsoft’s social media crew that the original iteration of the Windows software would be launching. Microsoft has launched a PC app called Windows 1.11, which uses some of the original programs to give a rough overview of some of the new season’s plot points. Uncover clues in Paint, play an ASCII dungeon crawler, and watch clips from the show very roughly as they might have looked on a computer of that era.

  • The original Microsoft Windows 1.0 gets a new look in the app.

  • Windows sure has come a long way.

  • Another day, another world to save.

  • This definitely isn’t the Paint from our childhoods.

  • An ASCII adventure

  • Go Steve, go!

  • Steve and Dustin, looking heavily pixelated.

In addition to the app, Microsoft is taking its Netflix tie-in off the screen. The company is hosting a series of STEM-focused summer workshops at several of its Microsoft Store locations beginning July 20. There are two options for the Camp Know Where sessions. Rule the Arcade will teach game design and coding,

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Hexbyte – Tech News – Ars Technica | Russian spy sub crew prevented nuclear accident at cost of their lives

Hexbyte – Tech News – Ars Technica | Russian spy sub crew prevented nuclear accident at cost of their lives

Hexbyte – Tech News – Ars Technica |

The Losharik Disaster —

Submarine was on “combat training mission” with civilian expert aboard for equipment test.


Hexbyte - Tech News - Ars Technica | A man in uniform squats by a freshly dug grave.

Enlarge / ST. PETERSBURG, RUSSIA – JULY 6, 2019: A Russian Navy officer by a grave during a funeral of the 14 Russian Navy officers killed by the July 1 fire on a deep-water research submersible in the Barents Sea, at the Serafimovskoye cemetery.

On July 1, 14 Russian sailors—most of them senior officers with ranks equivalent to captain, commander, or lieutenant commander in the US Navy—died in an accident aboard a small nuclear-powered submarine designed for operations near or on the sea floor. The submarine Losharik (named after a Russian children’s book character who is a horse made of juggling balls) was operating in the Barents Sea when the accident took place.

According to a Russian Navy statement published by TASS, the 14 “died in Russian territorial waters as a result of inhaling combustion products aboard a research submersible vehicle designated for studying the seafloor and the bottom of the World Ocean in the interests of the Russian Navy after a fire broke out during bathymetric measurements.” The officers died while combating the fire.

In a statement delivered on July 3 from the Russian North Fleet’s base in Severomorsk, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said that three crew members and a civilian aboard the sub survived the disaster. The crew members who died, he said, “acted heroically in the critical situation. They evacuated a civilian expert from the compartment that was engulfed by fire and shut the door to prevent the fire from spreading further and fought for the ship’s survival until the end.”

The Kremlin has released a transcript of a meeting between Shoigu and Russian President Vladimir Putin. In it, Shoigu said that “we can repair the submersible quickly,” thanks to actions by the crew to seal off the nuclear propulsion systems of the sub from the fire. “The crew has taken the necessary measures to save the unit, which is in working order.” In other words, the actions of the officers who died fighting a fire from within a sealed compartment prevented an undersea nuclear disaster in the Arctic.

The accident is a public reminder of Russia’s very secretive operations in the Arctic, which Putin’s government has aggressively moved to protect militarily and exploit economically as the Arctic ice has retreated. Losharik has played a role in Russia’s efforts to counter US submarines’ covert incursions into their northern back yards. The vessel has put down sensors to detect subs—among other things.

Hexbyte – Tech News – Ars Technica | Deep and dark

Enlarge / A cross-section of the Losharik, from H.I. Sutton’s Covert Shores.

While the US Navy’s “special purpose” submarine USS Jimmy Carter uses remotely operated vehicles to perform tasks at great depths, the Losharik is the product of a Soviet design effort focused on putting skilled people very close to the work. Officially designated as a “deep-diving nuclear-powered station,” (атомная глубоководная станция), the AS-12 Losharik is not under command of the Russian Navy—it belongs to the Russian Main Directorate of Deep-Sea Research (GUGI), which is in turn a branch of Russia’s Main Intelligence Directorate (GRU). It deploys from a “mothership” (a converted “Delta III” class ballistic missile submarine) and can perform “deep-sea research” missions on the sea floor—such as

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Hexbyte – News – Science/Nature | The Times view on boogying birds: Dancing Chick-to-Chick – The Times

Hexbyte – News – Science/Nature | The Times view on boogying birds: Dancing Chick-to-Chick – The Times

Hexbyte – News – Science/Nature |

 The Times

Cockatoos just wanna have fun. Dad-dancers can learn from them

We members of the human race pride ourselves, often wrongly, on a unique talent to dance to music. It’s something we can do that chimpanzees and other bright animals cannot. Dogs, for example, make bad dancers, presumably because they have two left feet.

Now the cockatoo has shown us up not just because of its longevity (usually more than 60 years without once going to the gym) but also because of an extraordinary ability to synchronise its movements to a musical beat. A study in the latest issue of Current Biology suggests that a cockatoo named Snowball, filmed and analysed in a series of experiments, was able to perform unprompted 14 dance moves in an accurate response to the music.

This could be a sign…

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Hexbyte – Science and Tech Google starts open beta program for Messages app – Android Police

Hexbyte – Science and Tech Google starts open beta program for Messages app – Android Police

Hexbyte – Science and Tech

Fans of testing out buggy or unstable versions of Google apps, which would be most of our readers here at Android Police, will be excited to hear that Google is rolling out a testing program for the Messages app (née Android Messages). As with other beta testing programs, all you need to do is opt in, and you’ll be among those who get to check out new features and bugs early.

Hexbyte - Science and Tech

To join, you’ll need to navigate to this page and click the big obvious blue button to become a tester. History being any indicator, versions of apps distributed by Google in the testing program can have pretty major bugs, so don’t opt in if the reliability of the Messages app is a firm requirement.

Hexbyte - Science and Tech

Android Police’s Toolbox for Google Play Store extension makes opting in or out of testing programs easier if you need it.

Should you decide to leave the program, you can opt out later by visiting that same link again. You can also see beta program availability/the link to leave directly on the Play Store via Android Police’s own Toolbox for Google Play Store Chrome extension, also available for Firefox.

The formal announcement of the new open beta testing program comes via a post by a Google employee to the Messages help community, together with a formal request that participants not “publicize or share the features you’re testing until they’re publicly available” — like anyone is going to adhere to that. A help page regarding the program with details for opting in, out, and how to send feedback regarding the app was also created.

A the time of writing, the open beta program doesn’t seem to be distributing a new version of the app just yet on any of the devices I’ve checked, but that could change.

Hexbyte - Science and Tech Messages

Hexbyte - Science and Tech Messages

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Hexbyte – Science and Tech Someone Found Footage Of Sunsoft’s “The Terminator” NES Game – Bleeding Cool News

Hexbyte – Science and Tech Someone Found Footage Of Sunsoft’s “The Terminator” NES Game – Bleeding Cool News

Hexbyte – Science and Tech


Posted by Gavin Sheehan
July 8, 2019 Comment

One of the best video games we never got (or was it) was a Nintendo Entertainment System version of The Terminator by Sunsoft. When you talk about an NES version of The Terminator, most think of the 1992 game developed by Radical Entertainment and published by Mindscape and Bethesda Softworks. And the general consensus is that it sucks. But originally, there was one in development by Sunsoft in 1989. The reason people have been talking about this one for ages is that this was at the time Sunsoft was developing some pretty awesome games for the console. I mean, all you really need to know is the 1989 console version of Batman to know what kind of quality we were going to get.

Hexbyte - Science and Tech Someone Found Footage Of Sunsoft's
credit//Orion Pictures

Sadly, the license expired in the middle of development, and only a handful of people have ever seen the game, let alone played it. This all changed when someone found a video of the game this week! Gaming Alexandria, who has a couple old-school videos up on their channel, loaded up a video of the game being promoted during WCES (Winter Consumer Electronics Show) from their Las Vegas event in 1989. Just one look at that animated tanker explosion and you know this game was going to be on a very different level compared to others. Now, here’s hoping someone involved with The Terminator can find us a ROM somewhere. Even if it’s just one level, that would be an experience to play through just once.

About Gavin Sheehan

Gavin has been a lifelong geek who can chat with you about comics, television, video games, and even pro wrestling. He can also teach you how to play Star Trek chess, be your Mercy on Overwatch, recommend random cool music, and goes rogue in D&D. He also enjoys standup comedy, Let’s Play videos and trying new games, along with hundreds of other geeky things that can’t be covered in a single paragraph. Follow @TheGavinSheehan on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Vero, for random pictures and musings.

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(Last Updated July 8, 2019 5:57 pm )

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