Weekly Tech Roundup #3

This week NASA, MIT and…d’oh! COVID-19, again!


Sandboxie’s Source Code has been released

Sophos, the company that acquired the Sandboxie sandboxing software and technology from Invincea in 2017, has released the source code of the application to the public.

Sandboxie, which was created by Ronan Tzur, was first released as a tool to sandbox Microsoft’s Internet Explorer back in 2004. The program’s functionality was expanded over the years so that Windows users could use it to sandbox all Windows applications.

Sophos turned Sandboxie into a freeware application in 2019 and promised that it would release the source code of the application later. The time has come and Sandboxie’s code is now available for download. Interested users may download it from the official website here.

gHacks Tech News

GitHub sharply slashes plan pricing, offers core features for free to all

Software hosting and version-control platform GitHub has made some sweeping changes to its plans and offerings, extending free service to far more teams and users than before while slashing prices for access to some key features by half.

Arguably the most important change is that unlimited repositories and collaborators are now offered as part of the free tier, even if the project is private. Previously, GitHub offered unlimited repositories for free only to public projects or with a small number of users, which precluded use of the free tier by several different types of teams, organizations, and companies. Now the key differences between the free tier and the lowest-cost paid tier are the latter’s addition of code owners and required reviewers—admittedly still critical for many organizations. (It also expands the available storage and number of actions per month.)

Further, that entry-level paid tier now costs just $4 per user per month instead of $9 previously. GitHub still offers a more expensive tier ($21) with SAML sign-on and greatly expanded storage and actions, as well as the specialized GitHub One service with prices privately and individually negotiated by account managers with high-value customers.

ArsTechnica

NASA is ready to send a helicopter to Mars

NASA’s Perseverance rover and Mars 2020 mission are rapidly taking shape as we speed toward the expected launch window which begins in mid-July. The robot is the most advanced piece of technology NASA has ever sent to the Red Planet, and it’s packed with instruments that will teach scientists all kinds of interesting things about our dusty neighbor.

Now, with around 14 weeks until the beginning of the launch window, NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory has reached a critical step in the final assembly of the rover by installing the Mars Helicopter. Yes, you read that correctly.

BGR

An MIT Lab Is Building Devices to Hack Your Dreams

For the third of our lives that we spend in slumber, our minds take up residence in the unknown regions of the subconscious. We dream, though we don’t fully know why. And while these nightly mashups of images and storylines have captured the imagination for generations, modern science largely believes that dreams have no effect on daily life.

At MIT’s Dream Lab, however, a small team of researchers thinks otherwise and is creating technologies capable of mining the subconscious to prove the value of dreams.

“Dreaming is really just thinking at night,” says Adam Horowtiz, a PhD student at MIT Media Lab’s Fluid Interfaces Group and a Dream Lab researcher. “When you go inside, you come out different in the morning. But we have not been asking questions about the experience of that transformation of information or the thoughts that guide it.”

OneZero

A bizarre new coronavirus symptom has been discovered

Since the very earliest days of the novel coronavirus pandemic doctors have been searching for a way to differentiate a case of COVID-19 from other, similar respiratory illnesses. Coronavirus patients cough, have fevers, and experience fatigue, but the same is true for those with the seasonal flu, common cold, and even severe allergies. Finding unique symptoms has proven difficult.

Testing is obviously the best way to determine who does or doesn’t have a coronavirus infection, but health experts in Spain think they may have stumbled upon another early warning sign, and it’s one that isn’t typical of other respiratory ailments. The researchers have found that some COVID-19 patients have small lesions on their feet that are easily visible.

BGR

Coronavirus Lockdowns Have Reduced Air Pollution by 30 Percent in the Northeast

You can add the Northeast to the growing list of regions seeing improved air quality amid the ongoing pandemic. We’ve seen these big drops in air pollution in China and Italy. And preliminary data from other parts of the world show similar trends, though it will take time to analyze it.

But NASA has now released official data on what’s going on in the Northeast, which includes cities that have suffered historically from some of the worst traffic congestion in the U.S. The region is also home to New York, which is the current epicenter of the U.S. coronavirus outbreak, and a number of other states that issued strict shelter-in-place orders.

Gizmodo

Applications of Blockchain to Programming Language Theory

Let’s talk about Blockchain. Goal is to use this forum topic to highlight its usefulness to programming language theory and practice. If you’re familiar with existing research efforts, please share them here. In addition, feel free to generate ideas for how Blockchain could improve languages and developer productivity.

As one tasty example: Blockchain helps to formalize thinking about mutual knowledge and common knowledge, and potentially think about sharing intergalactic computing power through vast distributed computing fabrics. If we can design contracts in such a way that maximizes the usage of mutual knowledge while minimizing common knowledge to situations where you have to “prove your collateral”, third-party transactions could eliminate a lot of back office burden. But, there might be benefits in other areas of computer science from such research, as well.

Lambda the Ultimate

John Conway, inventor of the Game of Life, has died of COVID-19

COVID-19 has claimed the life of Princeton mathematician John Conway. He was 82 years old.

The British-born Conway spent the early part of his career at Cambridge before moving to Princeton University in the 1980s. He made contributions in various areas of mathematics but is best known for his invention of Conway’s Game of Life, a cellular automaton in which simple rules give rise to surprisingly complex behaviors. It was made famous by a 1970 Scientific American article and has had a lively community around it ever since then. (Don’t confuse it with Milton Bradley’s board game of the same name.)

ArsTechnica

So What Is Protein Folding, Anyway?

The current COVID-19 pandemic is rife with problems that hackers have attacked with gusto. From 3D printed face shields and homebrew face masks to replacements for full-fledged mechanical ventilators, the outpouring of ideas has been inspirational and heartwarming. At the same time there have been many efforts in a different area: research aimed at fighting the virus itself.

Getting to the root of the problem seems to have the most potential for ending this pandemic and getting ahead of future ones, and that’s the “know your enemy” problem that the distributed computing effort known as [email protected] aims to address. Millions of people have signed up to donate cycles from spare PCs and GPUs, and in the process have created the largest supercomputer in history.

But what exactly are all these exaFLOPS being used for? Why is protein folding something to direct so much computational might toward? What’s the biochemistry behind this, and why do proteins need to fold in the first place? Here’s a brief look at protein folding: what it is, how it happens, and why it’s important.

Hackaday

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