Top military court overturns Coast Guard rape conviction

In a ruling that could change how the U.S. military approaches sexual-assault prosecutions, the top military court threw out a 2012 rape conviction of a Coast Guard enlisted man because the five members of the seven-member jury that convicted him were women, and four of the five held jobs as advocates for victims of sexual assault. In its 5-0 ruling, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces slammed the jury selection as unfair “gender-based court stacking” and said that the prosecution was a “stain on the military justice system.”


“The error in this case is both so obvious and so egregious that it adversely affected not only Appellant’s right to a fair trial by an impartial panel, but also the essential fairness and integrity of the military justice system,” said Judge Margaret Ryan in a statement.

In 2012, a court had convicted Coast Guard Boatswain’s Mate 2nd Class John Riesbeck of rape, two charges of making false statements, and one charge of communicating indecent language. The jury sentenced him to a three-month incarceration, reduced rank, and dishonorable discharge.

The military has been under pressure to crack down on sexual assault and harassment, Ryan and colleagues noted, while concluding that the prosecutors in this case had overreached and selected a jury that would guarantee a conviction. The judges said that the evidence against the defendant was “weak” and that a more gender-proportionate jury would never have delivered a guilty verdict.

A hearing officer had recommended dismissing the charges at the time, but the admiral overseeing the case overruled him, according to the judges. The judges also said that the defense attorneys had complained about the jury selection but that the trial judge “failed to conduct even a rudimentary investigation” into the validity of their complaints.


Naked mole rats do not age like other mammals, study reports

While past research has shown that naked mole rats have a wide range of unique traits — including a total immunity to cancer — a group of scientists at Google’s anti-ageing company Calico discovered that they also do not conventionally age, according to a new study published in the journal eLife.

Typically, a mammals’ death risk follows the Gompertz-Makeham law of mortality, a mathematical equation that describes how mortality rate increases alongside age. In this way, every non-mole rat mammal on Earth has a higher chance of dying as they age. In humans, death risk doubles every year after turning 30. With naked mole rats, there is no increase at all.

“To me this is the most exciting data I’ve ever gotten,” said study co-author Rochelle Buffenstein, a researcher at Calico, according to Science. “It goes against everything we know in terms of mammalian biology.”

In the recent study, researchers analyzed the records of 3,299 naked mole rats and found that their mortality risk stayed at one in 10,000 for their entire lives. The rodents live about six years, but some can go on past 30 in the right conditions. It did not matter how long they lived, their death risk always remained constant. 

Further study of naked mole rats could change the way scientists understand the concept of aging. While researchers are not sure why naked mole rats do not age, they believe it could be linked to certain stable proteins, or to low oxidation levels.

“Our research demonstrates that naked mole rats do not age in the same manner as other mammals, and in fact show little to no signs of ageing, and their risk of death does not increase even at 25 times past their time to reproductive maturity,” added Buffenstein, according to Science Alert“These findings reinforce our belief that naked mole rats are exceptional animals to study to further our understanding of the biological mechanisms of longevity.”

The team plans to expand their study of the rodents to see if they can pin down exactly how they put off conventional aging.


Songwriters win a pay hike from music-sharing services

Music-streaming services will have to pay more money to the artists whose songs they distribute, following a ruling Saturday by the Copyright Royalty Board that mandates that songwriters will get at least a 15.1% share of music-streaming revenues, up from the previous 10.5%. It is the largest rate increase in the board’s history, according to the National Music Publishers’ Association (NMPA).

The royalty board also lifted a cap on “total content costs,” which are payments to music labels; and removed caps and limitations on songwriters’ compensation rates. In addition, if the total content cost is higher than the songwriter’s compensation, the songwriter will get a higher compensation rate based on the total content cost.

“It’s a good day for songwriters,” said David Israelite, NMPA president. “This is the first time the court has litigated the contribution of songwriters to these digital platforms.”

Music-streaming services, such as Spotify and YouTube, are now the largest source of music-industry sales in the United States and are gaining market dominance worldwide, with a 60% growth in global sales in 2016. But songwriters have long complained that these services offer them too little compensation for their music.

The royalty board’s decision will likely mean that consumers who download music will have to pay more for their music. It received applause from songwriters, however, who had first pushed unsuccessfully to get paid every time a consumer streams one of their songs. Israelite said that last week’s court victory more than makes up for this loss.


The issue first reached the royalty board when the Nashville Songwriters Association (NSAI) and the NMPA squared off in court against Google, Amazon, Apple, Pandora, and Spotify. The trial ran from March-June 2017.


Elon Musk makes fast fortune selling flamethrowers

Innovator-entrepreneur Elon Musk raked in $3.5 million in several hours selling flamethrowers produced by his tunneling company Boring. Musk had pledged that he would start selling flamethrowers if Boring sold 50,000 baseball caps, and the company’s baseball caps sold out, prompting Musk to announce the flamethrower sale Sunday on his social-media channels.

“Guarantee to liven up any party,” he tweeted. Then he posted a video to Instagram of himself running toward the camera with a lit flamethrower in hand.
“I want to be clear that a flamethrower is a super terrible idea. Definitely don’t buy one. Unless you like fun!” he said in the video.

Musk’s company had 20,000 flamethrowers in stock and started selling them for $500 apiece. Within hours, customers had placed orders for 7,000 of them, adding up to around $3.5 million in profit.

Fire extinguishers are “sold separately (for exorbitant amounts of money),” Boring said. Musk followed with a tweet in which he said that the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms states that “any flamethrower with a flame shorter than 10 feet is a-okay,” adding that “our design is max fun for least danger. I’d be way more scared of a steak knife.”

Musk runs several companies, including the electric-car company Tesla and commercial space-flight corporation SpaceX. He launched Boring a year ago with a long-range mission to connect cities via underground tunnels that will transport cars and people along high-speed “skates.”

The company is currently planning a tunnel that will run parallel to Los Angeles’ high-traffic I-405 highway. Musk said he came up with the idea for Boring while stuck in traffic.


Ancient ‘crayon’ may have been used to color hides

An ancient human artifact discovered near Lake Flixton in Great Britain could be the world’s oldest crayon, according to recent research published in the Journal of Archaeological Science.

The 10,000-year-old relic is made from ocher, a natural clay-earth pigment used by hunter-gatherers for tens of thousands of years. The substance had a wide range of properties, from insect repellent to sunscreen, and also has antibacterial qualities that prevent collagen from breaking down.

The crayon measures 22 millimeters long and 7 millimeters wide. It has a sharpened end in the same vein as modern pencils or crayons, which suggests it could have been a drawing or coloring tool.

“One of the latest objects we have found looks exactly like a crayon; the tip is faceted and has gone from a rounded end to a really sharpened end, suggesting it has been used,” said lead author Andy Needham, a researcher from the University of York’s Department of Archaeology, in a statement.

In addition to the crayon, the team found a pebble-like artifact — also created from ocher — across the lake. Unlike the crayon, it has a heavily striated surface that may have been scraped to produce a pigment powder.

“The deep grooves lacking any apparent artistic design on the pebble suggests it was used to harvest red pigment powder,” the researchers wrote in their study, according to Tech Times. “The sharp edges with striations in multiple directions might indicate the elongate shaped piece was used as a drawing and coloring tool, perhaps in a similar way to a contemporary pencil or crayon.”

While researchers believe the two objects had distinctly different uses, their markings and shapes suggest they were both used in art. They believe human ancestors used the crayon to give their animal skins or artwork a reddish color, but it could have helped create decorative pieces as well.

These findings are important because they help shed light on how our ancestors from the region operated and give insight into the Mesolithic period.

Business TECH TECH_Technology

Apple halves iPhone X production target for early 2018

Apple has notified suppliers that it plans to halve its iPhone X production target for the first three months of 2018.

Initially, the company planned to produce 40 million units of the iPhone X during the first quarter of this year. However, the new announcement shows they have cut that figure down to 20 million, CNET reports.

This new statement comes just a week after an analyst stated that Apple plans to kill off the iPhone X when the second-generation model goes out to market later this year. The X is the company’s most expensive phone of all time. Instead of lowering the price — which would sabotage the sales of future models — the tech giant believes it is better to move away from the model altogether.

While experts are not sure, there is a chance that this cutback on phones is linked to poor iPhone sales over the holiday period. The X was the only version of the iPhone to get new features like a facial recognition system last year. However, the large price and new control scheme may have repelled customers more than attracted them.

Sales questions will likely be answered later this week when the company reveals its fiscal first-quarter earnings results. Such data will give a glimpse into just how well the phones sold and how popular they really were.

In addition to complications with sales, another reason Apple could be moving away from the iPhone X is that they may release three iPhones later this year. One will be a 6.1-inch iPhone with an LCD display, while the other two will be a 5.8-inch and a 6.5-inch model with an OLED display. They will all come with a TrueDepth camera and facial recognition system.

Despite the drop for the iPhone X, Apple’s target for the iPhone 8, iPhone 8 Plus and iPhone 7 remains at 30 million units for this year’s first quarter. That is consistent with the first predictions released last November.


ATMs are susceptible to hacking

Cyber-criminals have been infiltrating cash machines and programming them to spit out volumes of cash in a hacking scheme called “jackpotting,” according to Diebold Nixdorf and NCR, two of the world’s largest ATM manufacturers. The companies told Reuters on Saturday that they had sent alerts to clients Friday following a string of jackpotting attacks at several U.S. ATMs.
NCR said that none of the hacks had targeted its ATMs but that the whole industry needs to be aware of the threat. And while jackpotting has taken place in other parts of the world over the last several years, these latest jackpotting incidents are the first to hit U.S. bank systems, NCR said in its alert.
“This should be treated by all ATM deployers as a call to action to take appropriate steps to protect their ATMs against these forms of attack,” NCR’s alert said.

Diebold Nixdorf’s alert described the steps that jackpotting schemes typically take, starting with gaining physical access to the machine, replacing the hard drive, and then resetting the device via internal controls. It said that law enforcement had warned the company that hackers were targeting one of its older ATM models, known as Opteva, which went out of production a few years ago.
The security news website Krebs separately issued an alert on jackpotting Saturday and said that the U.S. Secret Service had sent a confidential warning of ATM hacks to banks across the country. According to Krebs, the memo said that hackers target drive-through ATMs and the stand-alone ATMs found in pharmacies, retail stores, and other locations, and that the attacks first occurred in Mexico before emerging in the United States.
Cash machines in Thailand, Taiwan, and more than a dozen European nations suffered remote cyber-attacks in 2016, according to Russian cybersecurity firm Group IB.


More than 50,000 Americans will die of flu this season

Influenza infections are breaking records this winter, according to experts who said that it is the worst disease outbreak to hit U.S. communities since the swine flu epidemic of 2009. Estimates suggest that more than 50,000 Americans will have died of flu before the season is over.

Fatalities spiked last week, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which reported that seven children have died of flu in the past few days and that 37 children total have died since the latest flu outbreaks began.

Researchers said that children are particularly susceptible to flu and that rapid child-to-child transmissions of the bug happen when kids return to school and come into contact with large numbers of other kids in the classroom or on the playground. The CDC expects the children’s death count to double before flu season ends.

“This rapid increase in cases that we have been seeing is after the winter holidays,” said Dan Jernigan, director of the influenza division at the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases. “It looks like a big part of the later January activity is flu transmission from kids returning to school.”

But older adults are at risk, too. Adults over 65 account for the largest percentage of flu hospitalizations, and middle-aged adults between 50 and 65 are the second highest, according to the CDC.

Flu outbreaks strike many parts of the United States in the winter months at varying times and with varying degrees of intensity, but CDC researchers said that this year’s flu is unusual in that it seems to be hitting all parts of the country at once. They also warn that whereas most flu outbreaks are brief, this one is still going strong in most of the country and is even worsening in some places.





IKEA founder Ingvar Kamprad passes away

IKEA founder, Ingvar Kamprad has passed away at the age of 91. According to Reuters, the Swedish billionaire’s legacy is turning a business he launched as a teenager into one of the world’s best known furniture brands in the world.

The company issued a statement about the founder’s passing. “One of the greatest entrepreneurs of the 20th century, Ingvar Kamprad, has peacefully passed away, at his home in Smaland, Sweden, on the 27th of January.”

Kamprad started the business in 1943, at the age of 17, but the big break came in 1956 when the company began to produce flat-pack furniture. By watching an employee take the legs off a table to fit into their car, he realized that there was a way that it could be developed to save money on transport, storage and space. The costs of assembly would also be eliminated by allowing consumers to build their own furniture. Research would later determine there was an “IKEA effect”, whereby customers derived more satisfaction and valued self-made products.

Kamprad was born on March 30, 1926, in southern Sweden. His foray into business began at the early age of five, when he started selling matches to neighbors and eventually diversified his inventory to include seeds, Christmas tree decorations and pens.

The company further stated that Kamprad did not have an operational role within IKEA, since 1988. However he continued to contribute to the business in the role of senior advisor and shared his knowledge and energy.

“We are deeply saddened by Ingvar’s passing. We will remember his dedication and commitment to always side with the many people. To never give up, always try to become better and lead by example”, said Torbjörn Lööf CEO and President of Inter IKEA Group.

Today, IKEA has about 400 stores and approximately 1 billion people visited them last year.



Irish have more Viking blood than initially thought, says DNA study

Vikings who invaded Ireland in the Middle Ages left major and lasting impacts on Irish population genetics, according to a study by researchers at Trinity College Dublin. The researchers compared 1,000 Irish genomes with 6,000 genomes of people in Great Britain and mainland Europe and found multiple identical genetic clusters among both groups.

“We can’t say for certain exactly how much Viking is in modern Irish people, but we can say that it was found among people from all different parts of the island, signifying a compelling connection among the population as a whole,” said Russell McLaughlin, study author and assistant genetics professor at Trinity College Dublin, in an interview with the Times, a British newspaper.

The Vikings raided large areas of Ireland starting in the 8th century and established permanent settlements in present-day Dublin, Waterford, Limerick, and other sites along the Irish coast. The Royal College of Surgeons and the Genealogical Society of Ireland in Dublin undertook their own study of Irish genetics several weeks ago and found first-ever genetic evidence of the Viking presence within 10 genetic clusters across the country. McLaughlin and colleagues’ study, which was published this past week in PLoS One, followed up and found 23 new clusters that also bore evidence of Viking genes.

The findings might not just be of interest to historians and family-tree researchers—medical research could also learn from them, suggested Trinity College Dublin geneticist Ross Byrne. Byrne said that researchers can start to look for genetically inherited traits or illnesses that might be linked to these genetic clusters and determine which populations or communities are more likely to suffer from them.