Daniel Lemire's blog

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Science and Technology links (January 5th, 2018)

  1. Regarding solar energy, Tyler Cowen writes:

There is now a doctrine of what I call solar triumphalism: the price of panels has been falling exponentially, the technology makes good practical sense, and only a few further nudges are needed for solar to become a major energy source. Unfortunately, this view seems to be wrong.

  1. Laura Deming is a venture capitalist who has a “longevity FAQ” where she summarizes what is known about human longevity.
  2. Mitch Daniels is president of Purdue University and a former governor of Indiana. He writes that Avoiding GMOs [genetically modified organisms] isn’t just anti-science: It’s immoral.
  3. For web developers, having a Computer Science degree does not improve income, or if it does, the effect is small (about $1000).
  4. Year 2017 was the best ever for airline safety.
  5. Lixisenatide, a drug developed to treat type 2 diabetes, shows neuroprotective effects in a mouse model of Alzheimer’s disease.
  6. Only 6% of Britain’s territory is built upon, and only 0.1% is densely built upon. Yet people estimate much greater fractions:

The story of Britain’s treasured green landscapes being gobbled up by greedy industrialists and developers is part of national folklore. The myth that we are “concreting over” our countryside plays to these anxieties, magnified in recent years by the social changes brought about by globalisation and new technology.

  1. The number 277232917 – 1 is prime. It takes about 30 hours to verify that it is a prime number. Prime numbers that are just off from a power of two by one are called “Mersenne primes”, and this latest prime number is the largest Mersenne prime number known to us. There are now 50 Mersenne primes. They are useful in cryptography though I am not sure this latest prime number will serve a useful purpose.
  2. A young postdoc has discovered a security flaw affecting all recent Intel x64 processors called Meltdown. The issue arises because Intel processors speculatively try to read arbitrary memory, and only later cancel the read when it finds out that the read is not allowed. It allows a program to bring any memory to the CPU cache where it can be read using some clever tricks. Given that processors cannot be changed and that most software won’t be recompiled anytime soon, this means that vendors like Apple and Microsoft have to issue fixes that will potentially slow down our computers. It seems like AMD processors are not affected. A related flaw (Spectre) is believed to theoretically affect most modern processors, including those in your mobile devices. Unlike Meltdown, Spectre is harder to exploit, but it is still being taken seriously.Simpler processors like that of the Raspberry Pi are immune to these problems. In effect, the lesson is that more complex systems are more difficult to secure.