Now that Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta has warned of a possible Cyber-Pearl Harbor, it’s time to change your passwords. And guess what: a more secure password is actually easier to remember, if you follow a very simple rule.

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Is your broccoli still organic if it’s harvested by droids? Plus “microRNA” in food can affect your genes, and glow-in-the-dark bacteria are the new invisible ink.

“Wired reports on Harvest Automation, a Massachusetts company developing small robots that can perform basic agricultural labor. The ones currently being tested in greenhouses and plant nurseries are ‘knee-high, wheeled machines.’ ‘Each robot has a gripper for grasping pots, a deck for carrying pots, and an array of sensors to keep track of where it is and what’s around it. Teams of robots zip around nursery fields, single-mindedly spacing and grouping plants. Key to making the robots flexible and cost-effective is designing them to work only with information provided by their sensors. They don’t construct a global map of their environment, and they don’t use GPS. The robots have sensors that detect boundary markers, a laser range finder to detect objects in front of them, and a gyroscope for navigating by dead reckoning. The robots determine how far they’ve traveled by keeping track of wheel rotations.’”

http://hardware.slashdot.org/story/11/11/13/0410217/startup-testing-mobile-farmbots

You are what you eat–and your genes have to sit up and take notice when you do.

“Tiny bits of genetic material, called microRNAs, can make their way from the food you eat into your blood stream, and change how your genes are expressed, according to a new study. A team of Chinese scientists found tiny bits of white rice microRNA floating around in people’s blood after a meal. When they looked at what was happening on a cellular level, they found that the microRNAs were changing gene expression, decreasing levels of a receptor that filters out LDL (bad) cholesterol. When the scientists gave mice both rice and a chemical to block the microRNAs, their levels of that receptor returned to normal—showing that the microRNAs weren’t just swimming through the blood stream, but acting on genes in the animals’ cells.” http://science.slashdot.org/story/11/09/21/2251238/What-You-Eat-Affects-Your-Genes

Move over e-ink–now there’s b-ink.

“Researchers have invented a new form of secret messaging using bacteria that make glowing proteins only under certain conditions. In addition to being useful to spies, the new technique could also allow companies to encode secret identifiers into crops, seeds, or other living commodities.”
http://science.slashdot.org/story/11/09/28/2010234/Encoding-Messages-In-Bacteria

What could possibly go wrong?

Scientists Sequence Genome of Ancient Plague Bacterium

Researchers who have reconstructed the full genome of the ancient plague microbe now hope to bring it back to life to study what made it so deadly.

http://feeds.nytimes.com/click.phdo?i=132e74ce0ce1c1c50deab89c314939ca

Recent research reveals that the bacteria that help us digest food also influence what’s on our minds. The discovery that these microbial partners are our collaborators in cogitation as well as digestion unfortunately coincides with a separate study suggesting antibiotics can kill off gut bacteria permanently.

The good news:

“Hundreds of species of bacteria call the human gut their home. This gut ‘microbiome’ influences our physiology and health in ways that scientists are only beginning to understand. Now, a new study suggests that gut bacteria can even mess with the mind, altering brain chemistry and changing mood and behavior (abstract).”

http://science.slashdot.org/story/11/08/29/2026226/Gut-Bacteria-Exert-Mind-Control

The bad news:

Helpful bacteria in our intestines take a pounding during an antibiotics treatment, but normally recover. Or so we thought. A new study suggests the drugs may permanently alter collections of healthy microbes in pregnant women and young children — for worse.

http://feeds.wired.com/~r/wired/index/~3/KSqAxKXEVQg/

Reversing a trend to give corporations all the rights of humans, the US Supreme Court decided AT&T isn’t eligible for “personal privacy” when it comes to the release of embarrassing information submitted to the government. Meanwhile, Bolivia’s new law could give ecosystems the right to sue polluters.

http://feeds.wired.com/~r/wired/index/~3/0tNjh7HCWgo/ via Byline

Bolivia’s Law of Mother Earth is set to pass, and on Wednesday the United Nations will discuss a proposed treaty based on the Universal Declaration of the Rights of Mother Earth. Both mandate legal recognition of ecosystems’ right to exist.

Wired speculates that this could help deter ecological disasters.

http://feeds.wired.com/~r/wired/index/~3/QBuZq21YP1w/ via Byline

Hundreds of lawsuits have flowed from the Deepwater Horizon catastrophe, filed by citizens, states and the federal government. And someday, perhaps, the Gulf of Mexico’s ecosystems will also file suit.

While it’s surprising to hear this Supreme Court rule against corporations, maybe it’s just part of a conclusion by society in general that “privacy is so twentieth century.”

http://yro.slashdot.org/story/11/03/02/159242/Supreme-Court-Rules-On-Corporate-Privacy?from=rss via Byline

“The Supreme Court unanimously decided (PDF) Monday that AT&T can’t keep embarrassing corporate information that it submits to the government out of public view; “personal privacy” rights do not apply to corporations. “We trust that AT&T will not take it personally” concluded the ruling.”

As much as I like crazy game reinterpretations, I find this one disturbing. It makes me wonder if all those times sitting in traffic in midtown Manhattan I was actually under the control of aliens playing a game of Find the Parking Place.

http://science.slashdot.org/story/11/01/15/149225/Play-emPacmanem-emPinballem-and-emPongem-With-a-Paramecium?from=rss via Byline An anonymous reader writes “Science is rarely ever this cool! ‘Physicist Ingmar Riedel-Kruse and his team from Stanford University have done just that by creating versions of classic games that you can navigate by physically controlling living organisms. A game called PAC-mecium is Pacman with a twist: players use a console to change the polarity of an electrical field in a fluid chamber filled with paramecia, which makes the organisms move in different directions. A camera sends real-time images to a computer, where they are superimposed onto a game board (see video above). By looking at the screen, a player can guide the paramecia to eat virtual yeast cells and make them avoid Pacman-like fish. A microprocessor tracks the movement of the organisms to keep score.’ Also available are versions of Pinball, Pong, and soccer.”

Just when you thought slime molds, which alternate between individual and collective organisms, couldn’t get any weirder.

If amoebas can grow their own food, you have even less of an excuse for not doing so yourself. And no, Farmville doesn’t count.

Slime Molds Are Earth’s Smallest, Oldest Farmers http://feeds.wired.com/~r/wired/index/~3/7UzmakhSZzY/ via Byline Colonies of a bizarre microbial goo have been found practicing agriculture at a scale tinier than any seen before….

When food is short, hundreds of thousands of amoebas come together, fusing into a single entity. It may crawl off as a slug in search of richer pastures, then form a stalk topped by a “fruiting body” that bursts to disperse a few lucky amoebas-turned-spores. Or it may form the stalk right away, without crawling.

It’s been thought that slime molds simply scavenge, eating bacteria they like and oozing out the rest. In laboratories, researchers “cure” slime molds of their bacteria by allowing them to purge themselves on Petri dishes. But Brock, who studies how slime-mold cells communicate and self-organize, kept finding bacteria in the fruiting bodies of some slime molds and not others….

They found that some strains didn’t gorge themselves and “lick the plate clean” of bacteria, but instead saved some inside of the colony. They were farmers, and fared better in some soils than their nonfarming counterparts.

From the original article:

“The behavior falls short of the kind of ‘farming’ that more advanced animals do; ants, for example, nurture a single fungus species that no longer exists in the wild. But the idea that an amoeba that spends much of its life as a single-celled organism could hold short of consuming a food supply before decamping is an astonishing one. More than just a snack for the journey of dispersal, the idea is that the bacteria that travel with the spores can ‘seed’ a new bacterial colony, and thus a food source in case the new locale should be lacking in bacteria.”

Feel guilty about stuffing all that giftwrapping in the trash? Stuff it in the garden instead, thanks to these examples of growable packaging.

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Move over, silicon—E. coli’s gunning for your job. Researchers prove that bacteria can store data and solve sodoku. Oh, it can repair highways too.

That’s all well and good, but what if you catch a cold, er, an app, from your PC? “Sorry I couldn’t come earlier, but my gut was up all night rendering a big animated movie…”

http://science.slashdot.org/story/10/11/25/1824252/Hong-Kong-Team-Stores-90GB-of-Data-In-1g-of-Bacteria

“A research team out of the Chinese University of Hong Kong has found a way to do data encryption and storage with bacteria. The project is called ‘Bioencryption,’ and their presentation (as a PDF file) is here.”

“Problem Solving Bacteria Crack Sudoku”

http://science.slashdot.org/story/10/11/17/2229223/Problem-Solving-Bacteria-Crack-Sudoku

“A strain of Escherichia coli bacteria can now solve the logic puzzles – with some help from a group of students at the University of Tokyo, Japan, reports New Scientist. The team begin with 16 types of E. coli, each colony assigned a distinct genetic identity depending on which square it occupied within a four-by-four sudoku grid.The bacteria can also express one of four colours to represent the numerical value of their square. As with any sudoku puzzle, a small number of the grid squares are given a value from the beginning by encouraging the bacteria in these squares to differentiate and take on one of the four colours.The Tokyo team’s sudoku-solving bacteria competed in the International Genetically Engineered Machine competition at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology last week.”

“Bacteria Used To Fix Cracked Concrete”

http://science.slashdot.org/story/10/11/17/182244/Bacteria-Used-To-Fix-Cracked-Concrete “Researchers at the U.K’s University of Newcastle have created a new type of bacteria that generates glue to hold together cracks in concrete structures – that means everything from concrete sidewalks to buildings that have been damaged by earthquakes. When the cells have been germinated, they burrow deep into the concrete until they reach the bottom. At this point, the concrete repair process is activated, and the cells split into three types that produce calcium carbonate crystals, act as reinforcing fibers, and produce glue which acts as a binding agent to fill concrete gaps.”

Six-year-olds can be sued, lawyers pirate each other, Apple’s App Store won’t accept GPL’d software, and yet another jury awarded the RIAA huge damages against filesharer Jammie Thomas. But at least the US government no longer thinks genes should be patented.

http://news.slashdot.org/story/10/10/30/1435222/New-York-Judge-Rules-6-Year-Old-Can-Be-Sued

“A girl can be sued over accusations she ran over an elderly woman with her training bicycle when she was 4 years old, a New York Supreme Court justice has ruled. The ruling by King’s County Supreme Court Justice Paul Wooten stems from an incident in April 2009 when Juliet Breitman and Jacob Kohn, both aged four, struck an 87-year-old pedestrian, Claire Menagh, with their training bikes. Menagh underwent surgery for a fractured hip and died three months later. In a ruling made public late Thursday, the judge dismissed arguments by Breitman’s lawyer that the case should be dismissed because of her young age. He ruled that she is old enough to be sued and the case can proceed.”

Meanwhile, the App Store restrictions irk makers of popular video player VLC:

http://apple.slashdot.org/story/10/10/31/1351243/VLC-Developer-Takes-a-Stand-Against-DRM-Enforcement

“The GPL gives Apple permission to distribute this software through the App Store. All they would have to do is follow the license’s conditions to help keep the software free. Instead, Apple has decided that they prefer to impose Digital Restrictions Management (DRM) and proprietary legal terms on all programs in the App Store, and they’d rather kick out GPLed software than change their own rules.”

And those anti-piracy lawyers turn out to be pirating each other. http://entertainment.slashdot.org/story/10/10/03/2135202/Anti-Piracy-Lawyers-Caught-Pirating-Each-Other

“We would like to think that the lawyers that are prosecuting alleged copyright infringers are practicing what they preach, but it looks like one of the most high profile firms involved in such cases are just as guilty of stealing others’ work as those who are downloading illegal media.” The Obama administration makes a 180 on patenting genes.

http://science.slashdot.org/story/10/10/30/1140235/US-Says-Genes-Should-Not-Be-Patentable

Geoffrey.landis writes “A friend-of-the-court brief filed by the US Department of Justice says that genes should not be patentable. ‘We acknowledge that this conclusion is contrary to the longstanding practice of the Patent and Trademark Office, as well as the practice of the National Institutes of Health and other government agencies that have in the past sought and obtained patents for isolated genomic DNA,’ they wrote (PDF). The argument that genes in themselves (as opposed to, say, tests made from genetic information, or drugs that act on proteins made by genes) should be patentable is that ‘genes isolated from the body are chemicals that are different from those found in the body’ and therefore are eligible for patents. This argument is, of course, completely silly, and apparently the US government may now actually realize that.”

For centuries, the Chinese have been treating disease as an imbalance in the body. The latest research into body-as-ecosystem reminds us that if bacteria outnumber native cells in the human body by 10 to 1, we’d better figure out how to get along with all those neighbors living under our skin.

http://science.slashdot.org/story/10/10/19/0126252/The-Effect-of-Internal-Bacteria-On-the-Human-Body?from=rss

meckdevil writes with this excerpt from the Miller-McCune magazine: “In a series of recent findings, researchers describe bacteria that communicate in sophisticated ways, take concerted action, influence human physiology, alter human thinking, bioengineer the environment and control their own evolution. … The abilities of bacteria are interesting to understand in their own right, and knowing how bacteria function in the biosphere may lead to new sources of energy or ways to degrade toxic chemicals, for example. But emerging evidence on the role of bacteria in human physiology brings the wonder and promise — and the hazards of misunderstanding them — up close and personal. … Because in a very real sense, bacteria are us. Recent research has shown that gut microbes control or influence nutrient supply to the human host, the development of mature intestinal cells and blood vessels, the stimulation and maturation of the immune system, and blood levels of lipids such as cholesterol. They are, therefore, intimately involved in the bodily functions that tend to be out of kilter in modern society: metabolism, cardiovascular processes and defense against disease. Many researchers are coming to view such diseases as manifestations of imbalance in the ecology of the microbes inhabiting the human body. If further evidence bears this out, medicine is about to undergo a profound paradigm shift, and medical treatment could regularly involve kindness to microbes.”

Meanwhile scientists are beginning to look at bacteria as the appropriate model for complex human behavior rather than the artificial intelligence algorithms of game theory. Perhaps Jeremy Rifkin was right: the 20th century may have culminated in the computer, but the 21st century will focus on cytoplasm over silicon.

http://science.slashdot.org/story/10/10/12/1759234/Gambling-On-Bacteria

An anonymous reader writes “When it comes to gambling, many people rely on game theory, a branch of applied mathematics that attempts to measure the choices of others to inform their own decisions. It’s used in economics, politics, medicine — and, of course, Las Vegas. But recent findings from a Tel Aviv University researcher suggest that we may put ourselves on the winning side if we look to bacteria instead. According to Prof. Eshel Ben-Jacob of Tel Aviv University’s School of Physics and Astronomy, current game theory can’t account for bacteria’s natural decision-making abilities — it’s just too simplistic. Understanding bacteria’s reactions to stressful and hazardous conditions may improve decision-making processes in any human arena from everyday life to political elections.”

The new rules for technology that every kid should learn. They’re surprisingly cautionary (“Every new technology will bite back”), coming from former Wired editor Kevin Kelly. Could he be returning to his Whole Earth Catalog roots? (via Bill Kuykendall)

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At least according to Bruce Sterling (and Radical Simplicity author Jim Merkal, among others). Sterling was among many commenters to note how Kelly Sutton’s choice to do more with less was not some freakish counterculture choice but an increasingly desirable mainstream lifestyle.

http://www.wired.com/beyond_the_beyond/2010/08/cult-of-less/ via Byline *I enjoy watching people freak out over the cognitive dissonance provoked by this guy’s contemporary lifestyle.

*Just for the record, this is the avant-garde. Corny notions of dollar-savings and/or materialist minimalism have never worked and are never going to work against consumerism. However in short order, there will be big favela-chic smart-mobs of real-life people living like he does.

*Why? Because he’s enjoying it.

http://boingboing.net/2010/08/17/the-nitty-gritty-of.html

Meanwhile the US Centers for Disease Control all but declared car overuse a disease.

http://feeds.wired.com/~r/wired/index/~3/N-CBiwnxFm8/ via Byline The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is on a mission to promote walking, cycling and mass transit in an effort to build healthier communities….

The agency, which promotes and protects public health and safety, is pushing active transportation systems in a big way, and it’s fitting in light of the undeniable fact that the United States is getting ever fatter. The number of states with an obesity rate of 30 percent or more tripled, to nine, between 2007 and 2009.

Active transportation systems promote pedestrian mobility, bicycle usage, connectivity to mass transit and so-called complete streets that make room for all modes of transport. The CDC outlines the ambitious goals in its Transportation Recommendations. The focus is on developing more efficient transportation systems while improving Americans’ quality of life and health.

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