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Ancient Maya traded dogs for use in religious ceremonies, new study shows

Ars Technica - March 19, 2018 - 9:45pm

Enlarge (credit: PNAS)

Studies of the bones of dogs, large cats, turkeys, and other animals found in the Maya city of Ceibal show that, as early as 400 BCE, the Mayan elite were importing dogs from distant corners of Guatemala and raising large cats like jaguars in captivity, probably all for use in elaborate rituals at the pyramids in the center of the city.

“Animal trade helped sustain many large civilizations, such as the Romans in Europe, the Inca Empire in South America, the Mesopotamians in the Middle East, and the ancient Chinese dynasties,” said archaeologist Ashley Sharpe of the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, who led the study. But at Ceibal, the imported animals seem to have served purely ceremonial or political purposes, which may have played an important role in the growth of the powerful Maya state.

Captive jaguar

The work is based on discoveries at a pyramid near the ceremonial center of Ceibal, an important Maya city in what is now Guatemala (the city is also known as Seibal and El Ceibal). Archaeologists found the jawbone of a large cat—probably a jaguar—mixed in with ancient construction fill. A jawbone doesn’t sound like much, but it’s enough to let archaeologists reconstruct what the animal ate and where it came from. The ratio of stable carbon isotopes stored in the bone, for example, can tell researchers whether the animal or its prey ate a lot of grain or foraged on more woody plants in the forests around Ceibal, while nitrogen isotope ratios reveal the amount of protein in the animal’s diet.

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Uber's Self-Driving Car Just Killed Somebody in Arizona. Now What?

Wired - March 19, 2018 - 9:24pm
The first deadly crash raises questions about how quickly autonomous driving technology is progressing—and who's in charge of keeping everybody safe.

President Trump bans the use of Venezuelan cryptocurrencies - CNET - News - March 19, 2018 - 9:20pm
Americans won't be able to buy or trade the oil-backed digital currency called the Petro.

Uber halts self-driving car tests after death

BBC Technology News - March 19, 2018 - 9:18pm
A pedestrian was killed after being hit by a self-driving Uber car in Arizona.

Although they can’t tell us about it, infants can reason

Ars Technica - March 19, 2018 - 9:17pm

Enlarge / Kids can tell when something’s not right. (credit: dadblunders / Flickr)

By providing a way to symbolize and communicate our thoughts, does language enable us to reason? Or are inference, deduction, and other forms of logical reasoning independent of our ability to put words to them? It’s hard to figure out whether babies can think, given that they can’t tell us, which makes separating language from reasoning even harder.

Ernő Téglás, at the Babylab in Budapest, researches “how infants acquire the conceptual sophistication necessary for abstract combinatorial thought involved in everyday reasoning.” His team has just published a paper describing the precursors of logical reasoning in pre-verbal infants. One group of infants was aged 12 months and the other was 19 months old; babies at these ages are just at the cusp of language learning and speech development, but they definitely precede the development of extensive language.

Wrong expectations

Like 20-something adults given the same tests, these babies expressed distress when their deductions did not hold true. Distress came in the form of staring at the inconsistent outcomes, which is how baby cognition is often measured.

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Uber self-driving car hits and kills pedestrian [Updated]

Ars Technica - March 19, 2018 - 9:15pm

Enlarge (credit: Dllu)

An Uber self-driving car in Tempe, Arizona has struck and killed a pedestrian, according to local TV news station KNXV. Local authorities have identified the victim as 49-year-old Elaine Herzberg.

According to the Tempe Police, "occurred overnight on Mill Ave. just south of Curry Rd." Herzberg was pushing her bicycle across the street when the Uber vehicle, which was traveling northbound, hit her.

"She was transported to a local area hospital where she passed away from her injuries," the police said in a statement.

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Bitcoin's blockchain: Potentially a hazardous waste dump of child abuse, malware, etc

The Register - March 19, 2018 - 9:11pm
Boffins warn of legal risks from arbitrary data distribution

Bitcoin's blockchain can be loaded with sensitive, unlawful or malicious data, raising potential legal problems in most of the world, according to boffins based in Germany.…

For Facebook, political pressure mounts on Mark Zuckerberg - CNET - News - March 19, 2018 - 9:10pm
The Cambridge Analytica scandal involving the misused data of 50 million people has led to increased calls for Facebook’s CEO to testify before Congress.

Ataribox now Atari VCS, preorders start in April - CNET - News - March 19, 2018 - 9:02pm
At GDC 2018 his week, Atari will display its long-awaited and freshly branded retro console.

Cambridge Analytica Execs Caught Discussing Extortion and Fake News

Wired - March 19, 2018 - 8:57pm
In undercover videos filmed by Britain’s Channel 4 news, Cambridge Analytica executives appear to offer up various unsavory tactics to influence campaigns.

Ars answers a federal judge’s questions about climate change

Ars Technica - March 19, 2018 - 8:50pm

Enlarge (credit: Aurich Lawson / Getty Images)

Climate science has kind of had its day in court before. In 2007, for example, the Supreme Court ruled that CO2 fits the definition of a pollutant under the Clean Air Act—a decision that forces the US EPA to draw up regulations to tackle climate change, regardless of political winds. But on Tuesday, climate science will literally have its day in court, as a federal judge receives a five-hour tutorial he requested on the subject.

The case pits San Francisco and Oakland against BP, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, Exxon Mobil, and Royal Dutch Shell. The cities are alleging that major oil companies sold fossil fuels while knowing their use would change the climate—and, critically, publicly campaigning to convince the public they would not change the climate. As San Francisco and Oakland incur significant costs building infrastructure to protect their cities from sea-level rise, they want oil companies to chip in for the bill.

The case, which would obviously set a huge precedent if the cities won, already seems to have gone further than past attempts. Other judges have booted suits on the grounds that emissions should be regulated by the EPA and therefore the issue can’t be decided in a courtroom. But the specifics of the California case—going after sellers of fossil fuels rather than local users of fossil fuels—convinced Judge William Alsup that it can go forward.

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HTC Vive Gets $100 Price Cut, Vive Pro Launches For $799

Wired - March 19, 2018 - 8:48pm
The HTC Vive VR system is finally getting affordable as the new Vive Pro goes up for preorder.

Samsung's Galaxy S9 Plus costs more to make than Note 8 - CNET - News - March 19, 2018 - 8:41pm
A report from Tech Insights pegs the cost to build Samsung's newest smartphone at $10 more than last year's Note -- even though the Note is pricier for consumers to purchase.

God of War gives Kratos his greatest challenge yet - CNET - News - March 19, 2018 - 8:36pm
The new PlayStation 4 game made me initially skeptical, but after previewing it I'm ready to board the hype train.

Fatal Uber crash in Arizona is autonomy's Apollo 1 moment - Roadshow - News - March 19, 2018 - 8:30pm
Commentary: Whether we'll get to the moon or not depends on how this is handled.

35 weird objects seen on Mars, explained - CNET - News - March 19, 2018 - 8:28pm
From a cannonball to a jelly doughnut and dragon scales, entertaining images from Mars amuse scientists and excite conspiracy theorists and alien fans.

Ajit Pai celebrates after court strikes down Obama-era robocall rule

Ars Technica - March 19, 2018 - 8:22pm

Enlarge (credit: Getty Images | Peter Dazeley)

Federal judges have struck down an anti-robocall rule, saying that the Federal Communications Commission improperly treated every American who owns a smartphone as a potential robocaller.

The FCC won't be appealing the court decision, as Chairman Ajit Pai opposed the rule changes when they were implemented by the commission's then-Democratic majority in 2015. Pai issued a statement praising the judges for the decision Friday, calling the now-vacated rule "yet another example of the prior FCC’s disregard for the law and regulatory overreach."

The FCC's 2015 decision said that a device meets the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA) definition of an "autodialer" if it can be modified to make robocalls, even if the smartphone user hasn't actually downloaded an autodialing app.

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