Cats Can Imitate Humans, Scientists Show For First Time Slashdotby BeauHD on science at January 1, 1970, 1:00 am (cached at September 26, 2020, 9:05 am)

sciencehabit writes: A number of animals, from dogs to chimpanzees, can imitate human behavior. Now scientists have shown that cats can too. Under controlled conditions, a Japanese cat named Ebisu copied the movements of her owner when she touched a cardboard box and rubbed her face against it. Researchers say it's evidence of complex cognition, because the cat must be able to "map" the human's body parts onto her own. The finding may also suggest that the ability to imitate arose earlier in mammalian evolution than previously thought. The study has been published in the journal Science.

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Comic for September 25, 2020 Dilbert Daily Strip(cached at September 26, 2020, 7:31 am)

Dilbert readers - Please visit to read this feature. Due to changes with our feeds, we are now making this RSS feed a link to
Missing golden eagle's tag 'wrapped in lead and dumped' in river BBC News | Science/Nature | UK Edition(cached at September 26, 2020, 6:00 am)

The satellite tag from a bid of prey that disappeared six years ago was found by a walker in Perthshire.
Sir David Attenborough breaks Jennifer Aniston's Instagram record BBC News | Science/Nature | UK Edition(cached at September 26, 2020, 6:00 am)

The broadcaster gains a million followers within five hours of joining the platform.
MS Treatment a Step Closer After Drug Shown To Repair Nerve Coating Slashdotby BeauHD on medicine at January 1, 1970, 1:00 am (cached at September 26, 2020, 5:35 am)

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Guardian: Doctors believe they are closer to a treatment for multiple sclerosis after discovering a drug that repairs the coatings around nerves that are damaged by the disease. A clinical trial of the cancer drug bexarotene showed that it repaired the protective myelin sheaths that MS destroys. The loss of myelin causes a range of neurological problems including balance, vision and muscle disorders, and ultimately, disability. While bexarotene cannot be used as a treatment, because the side-effects are too serious, doctors behind the trial said the results showed "remyelination" was possible in humans, suggesting other drugs or drug combinations will halt MS. "It's disappointing that this is not the drug we'll use, but it's exciting that repair is achievable and it gives us great hope for another trial we hope to start this year," said Prof Alasdair Coles, who led the research at the University of Cambridge. The drug had some serious side-effects, from thyroid disease to raised levels of fats in the blood, which can lead to dangerous inflammation of the pancreas. But brain scans revealed that neurons had regrown their myelin sheaths, a finding confirmed by tests that showed signals sent from the retina to the visual cortex at the back of the brain had quickened. "That can only be achieved through remyelination," said Coles.

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Crows Possess Higher Intelligence Long Thought a Primarily Human Attribute, New Rese Slashdotby BeauHD on science at January 1, 1970, 1:00 am (cached at September 26, 2020, 4:05 am)

Research unveiled on Thursday in Science finds that crows know what they know and can ponder the content of their own minds, a manifestation of higher intelligence and analytical thought long believed the sole province of humans and a few other higher mammals. STAT reports: "Together, the two papers show that intelligence/consciousness are grounded in connectivity and activity patterns of neurons" in the most neuron-dense part of the bird brain, called the pallium, neurobiologist Suzana Herculano-Houzel of Vanderbilt University, who wrote an analysis of the studies for Science, told STAT. "Brains can appear diverse, and at the same time share profound similarities. The extent to which similar properties present themselves might be simply a matter of scale: how many neurons are available to work." The study shows that neurons in the most complex part of the crows' brain, the pallium, "do have activity that represents not what was shown to them, but what they later report," said Herculano-Houzel. Neurons "represent what the animals next report to have seen -- whether or not that is what they were shown," she said. The neurons figure this out, so to speak, during the time lapse between when Nieder tells the birds the rule and when they peck the target to indicate their answer. "That's exactly what one would expect from neurons that participated in building the thoughts that we later report," she said, suggesting that corvids "are as cognitively capable as monkeys and even great apes." A second study, also in Science, looked in unprecedented detail at the neuroanatomy of pigeons and barn owls, finding hints to the basis of their intelligence that likely applies to corvids', too. STAT reports: Specifically, the pigeons' and owls' neurons meet at right angles, forming computational circuits organized in columns. "The avian version of this connectivity blueprint could conceivably generate computational properties reminiscent of the [mammalian] neocortex," they write. "[S]imilar microcircuits ... achieve largely identical cognitive outcomes from seemingly vastly different forebrains." That is, evolution invented connected, circuit-laden brain structure at least twice. "In theory, any brain that has a large number of neurons connected into associative circuitry ... could be expected to add flexibility and complexity to behavior," said Herculano-Houzel. "That is my favorite operational definition of intelligence: behavioral flexibility." That enables pigeons to home, count, and be as trainable as monkeys. But for sheer smarts we're still in the corvid camp.

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Facebook's Oversight Board Won't Launch In Time To Oversee the Election Slashdotby BeauHD on facebook at January 1, 1970, 1:00 am (cached at September 26, 2020, 3:35 am)

"On Friday, a coalition of academics and legal experts announced the formation of the 'Real Facebook Oversight Board,' an informal group that will publicly call out Facebook's slow action in advance of the election, including early Facebook investor Roger McNamee and Harvard professor Shoshana Zuboff," reports The Verge. The only problem is that it won't launch in time to hear cases related to the U.S. election. From the report: The group plans to hold regular "board meetings" to discuss failures of platform policy, with the first scheduled to be hosted by Kara Swisher on October 1. In a statement, Zuboff described Facebook as "a roiling cauldron of lies, violence and danger destabilizing elections and democratic governance around the world." The group also include Guardian journalist Carole Cadwalladr, known for her work on the Cambridge Analytica story. "This is an emergency response," Cadwalladr told NBC News this morning. "We know there are going to be a series of incidents leading up to the election and beyond in which Facebook is crucial." The board will hold no power and is largely meant as a symbolic gesture. Still, it has placed new pressure on Facebook's Oversight Board, which was initially scheduled for launch this summer. Oversight Board members now estimate that the project will launch in October. That will be too late to hear cases related to the US election, given the months-long process for fully adjudicating a case. "We are currently testing the newly deployed technical systems that will allow users to appeal and the Board to review cases," the Oversight Board said. "Assuming those tests go to plan, we expect to open user appeals in mid to late October. Building a process that is thorough, principled and globally effective takes time and our members have been working aggressively to launch as soon as possible."

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Amid the Pandemic's Urban Quiet, a Song That Makes Sense Slashdotby BeauHD on music at January 1, 1970, 1:00 am (cached at September 26, 2020, 3:10 am)

"Every musician knows that when the performers can hear one another, the performance is always better than otherwise," writes Slashdot reader nightcats. "This principle applies in nature as well, and has been anecdotally witnessed amid the quiet imposed by COVID-19 on cities around the world. In San Francisco, behavioral ecologist Liz Derryberry has been able to deliver a dramatic scientific demonstration of the changes to the songs of the white-crowned sparrow amid the quiet of 2020." National Geographic reports: With most San Franciscans staying at home due to the coronavirus pandemic, she decided to seize an unprecedented opportunity to study how this small, scrappy songbird responded when human noises disappeared. By recording the species' calls among the abandoned streets of the Bay Area in the following months, Derryberry and colleagues have revealed that the shutdown dramatically improved the birds' calls, both in quality and efficiency. The research, published today in Science, is among the first to scientifically evaluate the effects of the pandemic on urban wildlife. It also adds to a burgeoning field of research into how the barrage of human-made noise has disrupted nature, from ships drowning out whale songs to automobile traffic jamming bat sonar.

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[no title] Scripting News(cached at September 26, 2020, 2:33 am)

Poll: Why do Trump and the Repubs do what they do?
[no title] Scripting News(cached at September 26, 2020, 2:33 am)

Don't miss: An important new feature in BingeWorthy.
What's in Boris Johnson's climate in tray? BBC News | Science/Nature | UK Edition(cached at September 26, 2020, 2:30 am)

The PM promises he won't be caught "lagging" on green polices.
Covid-19: What do scientists think of the PM's plan? BBC News | Science/Nature | UK Edition(cached at September 26, 2020, 2:30 am)

The new coronavirus restrictions have been met with mixed reviews.
The Best Chrome Extensions To Prevent Creepy Web Tracking Slashdotby BeauHD on chrome at January 1, 1970, 1:00 am (cached at September 26, 2020, 2:05 am)

Wired has highlighted several browser extensions that "are a simple first step in improving your online privacy." Other steps to take include adding a privacy-first browser and VPN to further mask your web activity. An anonymous reader shares the report: Privacy Badger is one of the best options for blocking online tracking in your current browser. For a start, it's created by the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a US-based non-profit digital rights group that's been fighting online privacy battles since 1990. It's also free. Privacy Badger tracks all the elements of web pages you visit -- including plugins and ads placed by external companies. If it sees these appearing across multiple sites you visit then the extension tells your browser not to load any more of that content. DuckDuckGo is best-known for its anonymous search engine that doesn't collect people's data. DuckDuckGo also makes an extension for Chrome. The Privacy Essentials extension blocks hidden third-party trackers, showing you which advertising networks are following you around the web over time. The tool also highlights how websites collect data through a partnership with Terms of Service Didn't Read and includes scores for sites' privacy policies. It also adds its non-tracking search to Chrome. The Ghostery browser extension blocks trackers and shows lists of which ones are blocked for each site (including those that are slow to load), allows trusted and restricted sites to be set up and also lets people you block ads. The main Ghostery extension is free but there's also a paid for $49 per month subscription that provides detailed breakdowns of all trackers and can be used for analysis or research. There are Ghostery extensions for Chrome, Firefox, Microsoft Edge and Opera. Unlike other tools here, Adblock Plus is primarily marketed as an ad blocking tool -- the others don't necessarily block ads by default but aim to be privacy tools that may limit the most intrusive types of ads. Using an ad blocker comes with a different set of ethical considerations to tools that are designed to stop overly intrusive web tracking; ad blockers will block a much wider set of items on a webpage and this can include ads that don't follow people around the web. Adblock Plus is signed up to the Acceptable Ads project that shows non-intrusive ads by default (although this can be turned off). On a privacy front Adblock Plus's free extensions block third party trackers and allow for social media sharing buttons that send information back to their owners to be disabled.

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Apple Backs Down on Taking 30% Cut of Paid Online Events on Facebook Slashdotby msmash on business at January 1, 1970, 1:00 am (cached at September 26, 2020, 1:35 am)

Facebook has temporarily shamed Apple out of taking a 30 percent cut of paid online events organized by small businesses and hosted on Facebook -- things like cooking classes, workout sessions, and happy hours. Demand for these kinds of online events has soared during the COVID-19 pandemic. From a report: Apple says that it has a longstanding policy that digital products must be purchased using Apple's in-app payments system -- and hence pay Apple's 30 percent tax. In contrast, companies selling physical goods and services are not only allowed but required to use other payment methods (options here include Apple Pay, which doesn't take such a big cut). For example, an in-person cooking class is not a digital product, so a business selling cooking class tickets via an iPhone app wouldn't have to give Apple a 30 percent cut. But if the same business offers a virtual cooking class, Apple considers that to be a digital product and demands a 30 percent cut -- at least if the customer pays for the class using an iOS device. Last month, Facebook announced it would start offering a new feature for small businesses to host paid online events. Facebook has waived any fees for the first year, allowing small businesses to pocket 100 percent of the revenue. But Apple refused to budge on its 30 percent take.

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Hydrogen-Powered Passenger Plane Completes Maiden Flight In 'World First' Slashdotby BeauHD on transportation at January 1, 1970, 1:00 am (cached at September 26, 2020, 1:05 am)

ZeroAvia's hydrogen fuel-cell plane that's capable of carrying six passengers completed its maiden flight this week. The aircraft has been retrofitted with a device that combines hydrogen and oxygen to produce electricity. CNBC reports: ZeroAvia has said the trip, described as a "hydrogen fuel cell powered flight of a commercial-grade aircraft," is a "world first." Other examples of hydrogen-fuel cell planes that can host passengers do exist, however. Back in 2016, the HY4 aircraft, which is able to carry four people, undertook its first official journey when it flew from Stuttgart Airport in Germany. The HY4 was developed by researchers at the German Aerospace Center alongside "industry and research partners." Thursday's ZeroAvia flight was carried out at the company's research and development site at Cranfield Airport, in England -- 50 miles north of London. The airport is owned by Cranfield University. "While some experimental aircraft have flown using hydrogen fuel cells as a power source, the size of this commercially available aircraft shows that paying passengers could be boarding a truly zero-emission flight very soon," Val Miftakhov, the CEO of ZeroAvia, said in a statement. The next step of the HyFlyer project will see ZeroAvia work toward carrying out a flight of between 250 and 300 nautical miles from the Orkney Islands, an archipelago located in waters off the north coast of mainland Scotland. The plane on this flight will use hydrogen-fuel cells. It's hoped this trip will happen before the end of 2020.

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