Earth

Scientists Accidentally Create Mutant Enzyme That Eats Plastic Bottles (theguardian.com) 218

Scientists have created a mutant enzyme that breaks down plastic drinks bottles -- by accident. The breakthrough could help solve the global plastic pollution crisis by enabling for the first time the full recycling of bottles. From a report: The new research was spurred by the discovery in 2016 of the first bacterium that had naturally evolved to eat plastic, at a waste dump in Japan. Scientists have now revealed the detailed structure of the crucial enzyme produced by the bug. The international team then tweaked the enzyme to see how it had evolved, but tests showed they had inadvertently made the molecule even better at breaking down the PET (polyethylene terephthalate) plastic used for soft drink bottles. "What actually turned out was we improved the enzyme, which was a bit of a shock," said Prof John McGeehan, at the University of Portsmouth, UK, who led the research. "It's great and a real finding." The mutant enzyme takes a few days to start breaking down the plastic -- far faster than the centuries it takes in the oceans. But the researchers are optimistic this can be speeded up even further and become a viable large-scale process.
Japan

Japan Team Maps 'Semi-Infinite' Trove of Rare Earth Elements (japantimes.co.jp) 162

schwit1 quotes a report from The Japan Times: Japanese researchers have mapped vast reserves of rare earth elements in deep-sea mud, enough to feed global demand on a "semi-infinite basis," according to a new study. The deposit, found within Japan's exclusive economic zone waters, contains more than 16 million tons of the elements needed to build high-tech products ranging from mobile phones to electric vehicles, according to the study, released Tuesday in the journal Scientific Reports. The team, comprised of several universities, businesses and government institutions, surveyed the western Pacific Ocean near Minamitori Island. In a sample area of the mineral-rich region, the team's survey estimated 1.2 million tons of "rare earth oxide" is deposited there, said the study, conducted jointly by Waseda University's Yutaro Takaya and the University of Tokyo's Yasuhiro Kato, among others. The finding extrapolates that a 2,500-sq. km region off the southern Japanese island should contain 16 million tons of the valuable elements, and "has the potential to supply these metals on a semi-infinite basis to the world," the study said.
Bitcoin

Japan Could Have More Than 3 Million Cryptocurrency Traders (coindesk.com) 35

According to Japan's Financial Services Agency (FSA), the country has at least 3.5 million individuals that are trading with cryptocurrencies as actual assets. "Among them, crypto investors in their 20s, 30s and 40s make up a major share, accounting for 28, 34, and 22 percent, respectively, of the total crypto trader population in Japan," reports CoinDesk. From the report: Announced at the first meeting of a cryptocurrency exchange study group established by the FSA in early March, the data release marks the latest effort by the financial watchdog in bringing greater transparency to the industry following a recent hack of one of the domestic exchange Coincheck. According to the FSA, the study and disclosure of the domestic trading statistics is a first step towards a more comprehensive examination over institutional issues in the cryptocurrency trading space in Japan. In comparison, the financial regulator also disclosed in the latest report that the number of traders investing in cryptocurrency margins and futures is about 142,842 as of the end of March. What's perhaps notable is the major contrast in the growth of yearly trading volume drawn to these two different types of investments. According to the FSA's data, for example, yearly trading volume of the actual bitcoin cryptocurrency has grown from $22 million as of Mar. 31 in 2014 to $97 billion in 2017. Yet at the same time, trading on margins, credit and futures of bitcoin as an underlying asset has surged from only $2 million in 2014 to a whopping $543 billion just in 2017 alone, the agency said.
Anime

Animation Legend Isao Takahata, Co-founder of Studio Ghibli, Dies at 82 (nbcnews.com) 27

Isao Takahata, co-founder of the prestigious Japanese animator Studio Ghibli, which stuck to a hand-drawn "manga" look in the face of digital filmmaking, has died. He was 82. From a report: Takahata started Ghibli with Oscar-winning animator Hayao Miyazaki in 1985, hoping to create Japan's Disney. He directed "Grave of the Fireflies," a tragic tale about wartime childhood, and produced some of the studio's films, including Miyazaki's 1984 "Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind," which tells the horror of environmental disaster through a story about a princess. Takahata died Thursday of lung cancer at a Tokyo hospital, the studio said in a statement Friday.

He was fully aware of how the floating sumie-brush sketches of faint pastel in his works stood as a stylistic challenge to Hollywood's computer-graphics cartoons. In a 2015 interview with The Associated Press, Takahata talked about how Edo-era woodblock-print artists like Hokusai had the understanding of Western-style perspective and the use of light, but they purposely chose to depict reality with lines, and in a flat way, with minimal shading.
"Pom Poko", a movie released in 1994, is often considered the best work of Takahata. The New York Times described it as, "a comic allegory about battling packs of tanuki (Japanese raccoon dogs) joining forces to fight human real estate developers. It's earthy and rollicking in a way that his co-founder's films aren't." In an interview with Wired in 2015, when Takahata was asked what he felt about people regarding him as the heart of Studio Ghibli. "Now you've both finished your final films, what are your feelings on Ghibli's legacy and reputation?, the interviewer asked. Takahata said, "I'm not sure I can respond in any meaningful way. What Hayao Miyazaki has built up is the greatest contribution. The existence of that thick trunk has allowed leaves to unfurl and flowers to bloom to become the fruitful tree that is Studio Ghibli."

Further reading: Isao Takahata's stark world of reality (The Japan Times).
Transportation

Nvidia Suspends Self-Driving Car Tests in Wake of Uber Crash (theverge.com) 113

Nvidia said on Tuesday it will suspend its autonomous vehicle testing on public roads in the aftermath of Uber's fatal crash in Arizona. Uber is a customer of Nvidia's, using the chipmaker's computing platform in its fleet of self-driving cars. From a report: Nvidia had been testing its self-driving cars in New Jersey, California, Japan, and Germany. The company is hosting its annual GPU Technology Conference in San Jose this week, where it is expected to make several announcements regarding its automotive products. "Ultimately AVs will be far safer than human drivers, so this important work needs to continue," a Nvidia spokesperson said in an email. "We are temporarily suspending the testing of our self-driving cars on public roads to learn from the Uber incident. Our global fleet of manually driven data collection vehicles continue to operate."
Technology

Report Says Radioactive Monitors Failed at Nuclear Plant (apnews.com) 83

A new report says mistakes and mismanagement are to blame for the exposure of workers to radioactive particles at the Hanford Nuclear Reservation in Washington state. From the report: Contractor CH2M Hill Plateau Remediation on Thursday released its evaluation of what went wrong in December during demolition of the nuclear reservation's highly contaminated Plutonium Finishing Plant. The Tri-City Herald reports the study said primary radioactive air monitors used at a highly hazardous Hanford project failed to detect contamination. Then, when the spread of contamination was detected, the report said steps taken to contain it didn't fully work.

At least 11 Hanford workers checked since mid-December inhaled or ingested small amounts of radioactive particles. Private and government vehicles were contaminated with radioactive particles. The sprawling site in southeastern Washington contains more than 50 million gallons of radioactive and toxic wastes in underground storage tanks. It's owned by the U.S. Department of Energy, which hires private contractors to manage the cleanup work. Hanford was established during World War II and made the plutonium for the atomic bomb dropped on Nagasaki, Japan. The 560-square mile site also made most of the plutonium for the nation's nuclear arsenal during the Cold War.

Iphone

Israel-Based Vendor Cellebrite Can Unlock Every iPhone, including the Current-Gen iPhone X, That's On the Market: Forbes (forbes.com) 146

Cellebrite, an Israel-based company, knows of ways to unlock every iPhone that's on the market, right up to the iPhone X, Forbes reported on Monday, citing sources. From the report: Cellebrite, a Petah Tikva, Israel-based vendor that's become the U.S. government's company of choice when it comes to unlocking mobile devices, is this month telling customers its engineers currently have the ability to get around the security of devices running iOS 11 . That includes the iPhone X, a model that Forbes has learned was successfully raided for data by the Department for Homeland Security back in November 2017, most likely with Cellebrite technology.

The Israeli firm, a subsidiary of Japan's Sun Corporation, hasn't made any major public announcement about its new iOS capabilities. But Forbes was told by sources (who asked to remain anonymous as they weren't authorized to talk on the matter) that in the last few months the company has developed undisclosed techniques to get into iOS 11 and is advertising them to law enforcement and private forensics folk across the globe. Indeed, the company's literature for its Advanced Unlocking and Extraction Services offering now notes the company can break the security of "Apple iOS devices and operating systems, including iPhone, iPad, iPad mini, iPad Pro and iPod touch, running iOS 5 to iOS 11." Separately, a source in the police forensics community told Forbes he'd been told by Cellebrite it could unlock the iPhone 8. He believed the same was most probably true for the iPhone X, as security across both of Apple's newest devices worked in much the same way.

Transportation

Airbus, Delta, and Sprint Are on a Quest for In-Flight Wi-fi That Actually Works (fortune.com) 48

It's 2018, so why is it still seemingly impossible to get a decent wi-fi on an airplane? From a report: Well, a lot of reasons, it turns out. The Wall Street Journal recently enumerated them: hardware, software, government regulation, aviation regulation, and rivalries between wireless and satellite companies. Despite the obstacles, a new alliance between Airbus, Delta Air Lines, Sprint, and two U.S. satellite companies is trying to find a way to provide faster Internet and a better user experience. Japan's SoftBank, which owns 80% of Sprint, and India's Bharti Airtel are also reportedly supporting the project. The group, which calls itself Seamless Air Alliance, envisions a world where a variety of devices could easily connect to the Internet while in flight at industry-leading speeds, rivaling cable and 5G. The businesses that are either involved in or backing the alliance pack a punch: they already serve about 150 million airline passengers and 450 million mobile users around the globe.
Bitcoin

Bitcoin Exchange Accidentally Allowed Customers To Buy Coins For $0 (cnbc.com) 51

AmiMoJo writes: "A system glitch at cryptocurrency exchange site Zaif enabled users to obtain digital money for free, with one apparently "purchasing" Bitcoin valued at $20,000,000,000,000 and then attempting to cash in on it..." according to the Japanese newspaper Asahi Shimbun. "The glitch, which lasted for 18 minutes from 5:40 p.m. to 5:58 p.m. on Feb. 16, affected Zaif's price calculation system, enabling customers to buy cryptocurrencies for nothing."

CoinDesk adds that "At least one customer attempted to resell their bitcoin, but the large amount of the cryptocurrency offered soon drew attention even outside the exchange. The firm later cancelled the transactions and corrected the users' balances. However, a source suggests that the correction is still being agreed with one of the seven users who attempted to transfer the free bitcoin away from the Zaif platform."

Japan

Japanese Scientists Invent Floating 'Firefly' Light (reuters.com) 28

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Reuters: Japanese engineering researchers say they have created a tiny electronic light the size of a firefly which rides waves of ultrasound, and could eventually figure in applications ranging from moving displays to projection mapping. Named Luciola for its resemblance to the firefly, the featherweight levitating particle weighs 16.2 mg, has a diameter of 3.5 mm (0.14 inch), and emits a red glimmer that can just about illuminate text. But its minuscule size belies the power of the 285 microspeakers emitting ultrasonic waves that hold up the light, and have a frequency inaudible to the human ear, allowing Luciola to operate in apparent total silence. It took two years for Luciola to get this far, said circuit design specialist Makoto Takamiya, a member of the Kawahara Universal Information Network Project that developed the device. The developers expect Luciola to find applications in the so-called Internet of Things, in which regular objects, such as cars, or domestic appliances such as air-conditioners, are connected to networks to send and receive data. Equipped with movement or temperature sensors, Luciola could fly to such objects to deliver a message or help to make moving displays with multiple lights that can detect the presence of humans, or participate in futuristic projection mapping events.
Transportation

Sony May Launch an AI-powered Taxi Hailing System (engadget.com) 32

Sony definitely isn't the first name you think of when you're looking for a ride, but that might change soon in its native Japan. From a report: Nikkei has learned that the tech heavyweight is leading an alliance of taxi companies (Checker Cab, Daiwa Motor Transportation, Green Cab, Hinomaru Kotsu and Kokusai Motorcars) in the creation of an AI-powered hailing platform. The algorithmic system would dispatch taxis more effectively by studying a host of conditions like traffic, weather and events. It might send a horde of drivers near the end of a concert, for instance.
Japan

Tokyo To Build 350m Tower Made of Wood (theguardian.com) 108

A skyscraper set to be built in Tokyo will become the world's tallest to be made of wood. From a report: The Japanese wood products company Sumitomo Forestry Co is proposing to build a 350 metre (1,148ft), 70-floor tower to commemorate its 350th anniversary in 2041. Japan's government has long advertised the advantages of wooden buildings, and in 2010 passed a law requiring it be used for all public buildings of three stories or fewer. Sumitomo Forestry said the new building, known as the W350 Project, was an example of "urban development that is kind for humans," with more high-rise architecture made of wood and covered with greenery "making over cities as forests." The new building will be predominantly wooden, with just 10% steel. Its internal framework of columns, beams and braces -- made of a hybrid of the two materials -- will take account of Japan's high rate of seismic activity. The Tokyo-based architecture firm Nikken Sekkei contributed to the design.
AI

New AI Model Fills in Blank Spots in Photos (nikkei.com) 52

A new technology uses artificial intelligence to generate synthetic images that can pass as real. From a report, shared by a reader (the link may be paywalled): The technology was developed by a team led by Hiroshi Ishikawa, a professor at Japan's Waseda University. It uses convolutional neural networks, a type of deep learning, to predict missing parts of images. The technology could be used in photo-editing apps. It can also be used to generate 3-D images from real 2-D images. The team at first prepared some 8 million images of real landscapes, human faces and other subjects. Using special software, the team generated numerous versions for each image, randomly adding artificial blanks of various shapes, sizes and positions. With all the data, the model took three months to learn how to predict the blanks so that it could fill them in and make the resultant images look identical to the originals. The model's learning algorithm first predicts and fills in blanks. It then evaluates how consistent the added part is with its surroundings.
Communications

119,000 Passports, Photo IDs of FedEx Customers Found On Unsecured Amazon Server (gizmodo.com) 34

FedEx left scanned passports, drivers licenses, and other documentation belonging to thousands of its customers exposed on a publicly accessible Amazon S3 server, reports Gizmodo. "The scanned IDs originated from countries all over the world, including the United States, Mexico, Canada, Australia, Saudi Arabia, Japan, China, and several European countries. The IDs were attached to forms that included several pieces of personal information, including names, home addresses, phone numbers, and zip codes." From the report: The server, discovered by researchers at the Kromtech Security Center, was secured as of Tuesday. According to Kromtech, the server belonged to Bongo International LLC, a company that aided customers in performing shipping calculations and currency conversations, among other services. Bongo was purchased by FedEx in 2014 and renamed FedEx Cross-Border International a little over a year later. The service was discontinued in April 2017. According to Kromtech, more than 119,000 scanned documents were discovered on the server. As the documents were dated within the 2009-2012 range, its unclear if FedEx was aware of the server's existence when it purchased Bongo in 2014, the company said.
Businesses

Countries that Are Most Highly Invested in Automation (ifr.org) 57

A report by the International Federation of Robotics looks at the countries that are most highly invested in manufacturing automation. The countries with the ten highest densities of robots are, in order: South Korea (631 per 10,000 workers), Singapore (488), Germany (309), Japan (303), Sweden (223), Denmark (211), United States (189), Italy (185), Belgium (184), and Taiwan (177). Overall, the automation of production is accelerating around the world: 74 robot units per 10,000 employees (up from 66 in 2015) is the new average of global robot density in the manufacturing industries.
ISS

The Trump Administration is Moving To Privatize the International Space Station: Report (techcrunch.com) 236

The Trump administration is planning to privatize the international space station instead of simply decommissioning the orbiting international experiment in 2024, The Washington Post reports. From a report: According to a document obtained by the Post, the current administration is mulling handing the International Space Station off to private industry instead of de-orbiting it as NASA "will expand international and commercial partnerships over the next seven years in order to ensure continued human access to and presence in low Earth orbit." The Post also reported that the administration was looking to request $150 million in fiscal year 2019 "to enable the development and maturation of commercial entities and capabilities which will ensure that commercial successors to the ISS -- potentially including elements of the ISS -- are operational when they are needed." The U.S. government has already spent roughly $100 billion to build and operate the space station as part of an international coalition that also includes the European Space Agency, the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, and the Russian Space Agency.
Google

YouTube Suspends Ads on Logan Paul's Channels After 'Recent Pattern' of Behavior in Videos (techcrunch.com) 162

More problems and controversy for Logan Paul, the YouTube star who caused a strong public backlash when he posted a video of a suicide victim in Japan. From a report: Google's video platform today announced that it would be pulling advertising temporarily from his video channel in response to a "recent pattern of behavior" from him. This is in addition to Paul's suspensions from YouTube's Preferred Ad program and its Originals series, both of which have been in place since January; and comes days after YouTube's CEO promised stronger enforcement of YouTube's policies using a mix of technology and 10,000 human curators.
Science

The Mutant All-Female Crayfish, Which Reproduces by Cloning Itself, Is Filling Europe at Alarming Speed (atlasobscura.com) 279

The marbled crayfish looks much like any other freshwater crustacean. It has two claws, ten legs, and an attractive blue-brown marbled shell. Yet this six-inch creature, found in streams and lakes around the world, is far more sinister than you might expect. From a report: Its new scientific name gives a few clues: Procambarus virginalis. Every marbled crayfish, known as a marmorkreb in German, is female -- and they reproduce by cloning themselves. Frank Lyko, a biologist at the German Cancer Research Center, first heard about the marbled crayfish from a hobbyist aquarium owner, who picked up some "Texas crayfish" at a pet shop in 1995. They were strikingly large, and they laid enormous batches of eggs -- hundreds, in a single go. Soon, the New York Times reports, the hobbyist was beset with so many crayfish he was giving them away to his friends. And soon after that, marmorkrebs were showing up in pet stores upon Europe.

There was something very strange about these crayfish. They were all female, and they all laid hundreds of eggs without mating. These eggs, in turn, hatched into hundreds more females -- with each one growing up fully able to reproduce by herself. In 2003, scientists sequenced their DNA and confirmed what many owners already believed to be the case: Each baby crayfish was a clone of its mother, and they were filling Europe's fishtanks at alarming speed. Just 25 years ago, the marbled crayfish did not exist at all. Now, they can be found in the wild by the millions in Germany, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Croatia, the Ukraine, Japan, and Madagascar.

Japan

Japan Wants To Increase Acceptance of Technology That Could Help Fill the Gap in the Nursing Workforce (theguardian.com) 57

With Japan's ageing society facing a predicted shortfall of 370,000 caregivers by 2025, the government wants to increase community acceptance of technology that could help fill the gap in the nursing workforce. From a report: Developers have focused their efforts on producing simple robotic devices that help frail residents get out of their bed and into a wheelchair, or that can ease senior citizens into bathtubs. But the government sees a wider range of potential applications and recently revised its list of priorities to include robots that can predict when patients might need to use the toilet. Dr Hirohisa Hirukawa, director of robot innovation research at Japan's National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology, said the aims included easing the burden on nursing staff and boosting the autonomy of people still living at home. "Robotics cannot solve all of these issues; however, robotics will be able to make a contribution to some of these difficulties," he said. Hirukawa said lifting robotics had so far been deployed in only about 8% of nursing homes in Japan, partly because of the cost and partly because of the "the mindset by the people on the frontline of caregiving that after all it must be human beings who provide this kind of care."

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