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NASA Confirms: Its Undead Satellite is Operational

Posted: 09 Feb 2018 09:08 AM PST

NASA Confirms: Its Undead Satellite is Operational

Late last month, news broke that a satellite sleuth had spotted what appeared to be a lost NASA probe alive and sending out data. Now, NASA has officially confirmed the identity of the satellite as the IMAGE orbiter and is in the process of restoring the capability of processing the data that it is sending down. While we don't yet know whether any of its instruments are operational, one of its original team members is arguing that the hardware can still produce valuable science.

And NASA has determined that the craft's return to life is even more mysterious than we'd realized. When IMAGE originally lost contact, it was using its backup hardware after the primary set shut down. Upon its return, IMAGE is using its primary hardware again.

For those interested in all the details of the saga, NASA has put up a page where it's posting updates on its attempts to revive the satellite. In late January, the Goddard Flight Center was given time on NASA's Deep Space Network to have a listen to the craft. By the end of the month, the agency confirmed that this was indeed IMAGE and started trying to produce a software environment that could process the data it was sending.

"The types of hardware and operating systems used in the IMAGE Mission Operations Center no longer exist," NASA's Miles Hatfield wrote, "and other systems have been updated several versions beyond what they were at the time, requiring significant reverse-engineering."

Maybe NASA could make the raw feeds and existing specs available on the internet and let some of us have at it? Offer a bounty to the first folks who can demonstrate a program that can properly decode it?

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Leak of iBoot Code to GitHub Could Potentially Help iPhone Jailbreakers

Posted: 09 Feb 2018 07:35 AM PST

Leak of iBoot Code to GitHub Could Potentially Help iPhone Jailbreakers

Apple confirms code was real in DMCA filing with GitHub; code already in circulation

On the evening of February 7, Motherboard's Lorenzo Franceschi-Bicchierai reported that code from the secure boot-up portion of Apple's iOS mobile operating system—referred to as iBoot—had been posted to GitHub in what iOS internals expert Jonathan Levin described to the website as "the biggest leak in history." That may be hyperbole, and the leaked code has since been removed by GitHub after Apple sent a Digital Millennium Copyright Act takedown request. But the situation may still have implications for Apple mobile device security as it could potentially assist those trying to create exploit software to "jailbreak" or otherwise bypass Apple's security hardening of iPhone and iPad devices.

The DMCA notice required Apple to verify that the code was their property—consequently confirming that the code was genuine. While GitHub removed the code, it was up for several hours and is now circulating elsewhere on the Internet.

The iBoot code is the secure boot firmware for iOS. After the device is powered on and a low-level boot system is started from the phone's read-only memory (and checks the integrity of the iBoot code itself), iBoot performs checks to verify the integrity of iOS before launching the full operating system. It also checks for boot-level malware that may have been injected into the iOS startup configuration. This code is a particularly attractive target for would-be iOS hackers because—unlike the boot ROM and low-level boot loader—it has provisions for interaction over the phone's tethering cable.

Relatedly, back in June of last year, a portion of Microsoft's Windows 10 source code has leaked online.

The question, of course, is who had access to the source code, got a copy of it, and was able to post it online?

At this rate, it won't be long before Android source code gets out! =)

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Alarm Grows as Norovirus Outbreak Explodes at Olympics; Cases Quadruple in Days

Posted: 09 Feb 2018 06:02 AM PST

Alarm grows as norovirus outbreak explodes at Olympics; cases quadruple in days:

From Tuesday to Thursday night, cases of the highly infectious bug leapt from 32 to 128.

With the opening ceremony set for Friday, an outbreak of the highly infectious gastrointestinal bug norovirus already has a solid lead at the 2018 Olympic Winter Games in South Korea.

In just a few days, official case counts have nearly quadrupled, according to multiple reports from The New York Times. The tally was 32 just two days ago but quickly climbed to 86. Then another 42 cases were confirmed by Thursday night, bringing the total to 128 around the Olympic sites.

Officials at the games first announced the outbreak of the virus—also called the "winter vomiting bug"—on Tuesday. Security personnel were the first to test positive, and about 1,200 of the security staff were sequestered in their rooms at the time. About 1,100 people, some non-security personnel, were still in quarantine on Thursday. South Korea deployed 900 military personnel to make up for the quarantined security workers.

But the infection has now spread beyond the security staff to Olympics Organizing Committee staff, venue personnel, and even cafeteria workers.

[...] No athletes are known to have been infected.

Norovirus is a particularly tenacious and pernicious bug. It's generally spread by the fecal-oral route—which can be direct or via food, beverages, surfaces, or air. Viruses can linger on contaminated surfaces for up to two weeks and survive heating, cooling, and some disinfectants. They can also be easily aerosolized, such as by a toilet flush. As few as just 18 of the wee germs can ignite a gut infection, which sheds billions of viral copies in feces and vomit. Infected people tend to be sick for one to three days with diarrhea, vomiting, and abdominal cramps. Viral shedding can continue after symptoms clear.

As someone who has experienced this, I can only hope they track down and eradicate it quickly. Being at the toilet all day and needing to continually decide if one should face it or sit on it is no fun at all. So far, no athletes have come down with it, and I hope it stays that way. I can only imagine the heartache of spending years training for this once-in-a-lifetime event... and being sidelined by a bug.

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Guest column: Control - alt right - delete

Posted: 09 Feb 2018 04:31 AM PST

Small town Republican thoughts on refuting the alt-right. In The Republican Journal:

I want to make one thing very clear: The Waldo County Republican Committee absolutely, unequivocally condemns Nazi and KKK ideologies and actions, as well as any other kind of bigotry, and we encourage all of our voters and the community at large to do the same.

For fellow Republicans out there, worry not, we don't like Antifa's ideology and actions either, but we need to clean our own house; we need to worry about our own responsibilities.

Such honesty, and clarity of thought!

The most dangerous part of politics today is identity politics, trolling, pathos and a severe lack of critical thinking. You cannot defeat the insidious hatred of bigoted politics with more hate. By doing so, you morph the conversation away from policy and ideology to silly label syntax, eventually devolving completely into back and forth verbal gymnastics. Make no mistake, these trolls are ready for you as you stoop to their level, and they beat you up with mountains of experience.

So what do we do? Very simple. Stay neighborly by controlling your reaction. Seek out those with whom you disagree, try to understand them first, and politely offer your counter argument.

And it looks like the Republicans in Maine, if not in Illinois, are rejecting the alt-right.

The way to defeat Mr. Kawczynski is not by attacking him, but by attacking his ideas. Here are some flaws in his thinking: His immigration ideas are antithetical to the Maine Republican party platform, a section of which states, "We support the assimilation of legal immigrants into Maine society."

Kawczynski's ideas stand in contrast to Maine history and culture; in fact, it is white folks with racist ideologies who pose the greatest threat to Maine's foundation, not other races of people.

Another brilliant tidbit:

Ultimately, all you have to do is walk outside with your eyes open in this state to see that Kawczynski's fearmongering about "white genocide" is completely laughable.

Entire guest column is well worth a read.

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US Busts $530 Million Infraud Cybercrime Ring

Posted: 09 Feb 2018 02:54 AM PST

The US just took down one of the larger online crime organizations in recent memory -- certainly one of the largest prosecuted by the feds. Department of Justice officials have filed charges against 36 people allegedly involved with Infraud Organization (no really, that's the name), a global cybercrime ring with roots in the US as well as numerous other countries. Combined, the group is believed to have trafficked in stolen financial data (including up to 4 million cards), identities and contraband worth over $530 million in losses. And that's what they actually managed to accomplish. Reportedly, they hoped to inflict a total of $2.2 billion in damage.

Source: Engadget

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Deep Sea Creature Lays Eggs Near Hydrothermal Vents

Posted: 09 Feb 2018 01:17 AM PST

Skates have been observed laying their eggs in lukewarm water near hydrothermal vents:

A team of scientists from the University of Rhode Island and the Charles Darwin Research Station exploring the seafloor northwest of the Galapagos Islands in 2015 made an unexpected discovery. Large numbers of egg cases of a deep-sea skate – relatives of sharks and rays – were observed adjacent to the hot water emitted from hydrothermal vents, which the scientists said the skates use to accelerate the development of the embryos.

It is the first time such behavior has been recorded in marine animals. The discovery is published this week in the journal Scientific Reports.

[...] In total, 157 mobile-phone-sized egg cases were observed, which DNA analysis revealed to be from the Pacific white skate (Bathyraja spinosissima). About 58 percent of the egg cases were found within 20 meters of a black smoker, the hottest kind of hydrothermal vent, and 89 percent of the egg cases were laid in water that was hotter than the background temperature of 2.76 degrees Centigrade.

"The eggs weren't right next to the active vents, because the water can get so hot – hundreds of degrees – that it would kill them," Phillips said. "We found most of them in the lukewarm water not far from the vents and near some extinct vents.

"The kicker is that we showed our data to a bunch of shark experts, and they had seen anecdotal evidence of shark and ray egg cases near hydrothermal vents, but they never had the data to put the story together," he added.

Also at CBC.

Deep-sea hydrothermal vents as natural egg-case incubators at the Galapagos Rift (open, DOI: 10.1038/s41598-018-20046-4) (DX)

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As Cryptominers Eye Quebec, Forest Companies See Opportunity

Posted: 08 Feb 2018 11:43 PM PST

Reuters reports: https://www.reuters.com/article/us-crypto-canada-mining/as-cryptominers-eye-quebec-forest-companies-see-opportunity-idUSKBN1FR2PM

At least two Canadian forestry companies are reviewing offers by cryptocurrency miners who want to lease excess mill space in Quebec, a province where electricity prices are among the lowest in North America.

Resolute Forest Products and Fortress Global Enterprises said they have received interest from Canadian and foreign cryptominers, although both cautioned their talks are preliminary.

"They want space and cheap power," Chad Wasilenkoff, chief executive of British Columbia-based Fortress Global, said. U.S. miners are interested in space at the company's Quebec dissolving pulp mill, he added.

[...] Miners are looking at the pulp and paper industry because their facilities are already equipped to meet the needs of the energy-sapping cryptomining industry.

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Super Wood Could Replace Steel

Posted: 08 Feb 2018 10:10 PM PST

Engineers at the University of Maryland, College Park (UMD) have found a way to make wood more than 10 times times stronger and tougher than before, creating a natural substance that is stronger than many titanium alloys.

"This new way to treat wood makes it 12 times stronger than natural wood and 10 times tougher," said Liangbing Hu of UMD's A. James Clark School of Engineering and the leader of the team that did the research, to be published on February 8, 2018 in the journal Nature. "This could be a competitor to steel or even titanium alloys, it is so strong and durable. It's also comparable to carbon fiber, but much less expensive." Hu is an associate professor of materials science and engineering and a member of the Maryland Energy Innovation Institute.

The process seems to hinge on fine-tuning the amount of lignin present in the wood.

An abstract is available but the full article is paywalled; Journal Reference:

Jianwei Song, Chaoji Chen, Shuze Zhu, Mingwei Zhu, Jiaqi Dai, Upamanyu Ray, Yiju Li, Yudi Kuang, Yongfeng Li, Nelson Quispe, Yonggang Yao, Amy Gong, Ulrich H. Leiste, Hugh A. Bruck, J. Y. Zhu, Azhar Vellore, Heng Li, Marilyn L. Minus, Zheng Jia, Ashlie Martini, Teng Li, Liangbing Hu. Processing bulk natural wood into a high-performance structural material. Nature, 2018; 554 (7691): 224 DOI: 10.1038/nature25476

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India Fines Google $21.17 Million for Abusing Dominant Position

Posted: 08 Feb 2018 08:37 PM PST

So it appears, "India's antitrust watchdog on Thursday imposed a 1.36 billion rupees ($21.17 million) fine on Google for "search bias" and abuse of its dominant position, in the latest regulatory setback for the world's most popular internet search engine."


In India, the Commission found, that Google through its search design had placed its commercial flight search function at a prominent position on the search results page to the disadvantage of businesses trying to gain market access.

The penalty... translates to 5 per cent of the company's average total revenue generated from India operations.

Some details of the "search bias" at https://www.gadgetsnow.com/tech-news/competition-commission-of-india-fines-google-for-rs-135-86-crores-for-search-bias/articleshow/62839148.cms

More coverage:

Who trusts Google (an advertisement company) to give the correct, on-time flight details anyway?

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Malaria Parasites Killed Quickly by Blue Dye

Posted: 08 Feb 2018 07:05 PM PST

According to the World Health Organization, malaria is responsible for approximately 445,000 deaths every year. That number may be due to drop, however, as scientists have found that a human-safe blue dye kills parasites in patients' bloodstreams within two days – that's faster than has ever been possible before.
That's where the methylene blue dye comes in.

In field tests conducted in Mali, it was added to artemisinin-based medication, and was found to eradicate all gametocytes in patients' bloodstreams within as little as 48 hours. The dye is typically used in laboratories to distinguish dead cells from living cells, and was reportedly well-tolerated by the test subjects. It does, however, have one interesting side effect.

According to the lead scientist it turns your urine blue, which is reason enough for anybody to take it, really.

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Brain Implant Improves Memory in Epilepsy Patients

Posted: 08 Feb 2018 05:33 PM PST

An experimental and invasive brain implant tested in people with epilepsy has been found to boost memory:

Scientists have developed a brain implant that noticeably boosted memory in its first serious test run, perhaps offering a promising new strategy to treat dementia, traumatic brain injuries and other conditions that damage memory.

The device works like a pacemaker, sending electrical pulses to aid the brain when it is struggling to store new information, but remaining quiet when it senses that the brain is functioning well.

In the test, reported Tuesday in the journal Nature Communications [open, DOI: 10.1038/s41467-017-02753-0] [DX], the device improved word recall by 15 percent — roughly the amount that Alzheimer's disease steals over two and half years.

There's also an AI/machine learning angle.

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Police in China are Using Facial Recognition Glasses to Scan Travelers

Posted: 08 Feb 2018 04:03 PM PST

Police in China are now sporting glasses equipped with facial recognition devices and they're using them to scan train riders and plane passengers for individuals who may be trying to avoid law enforcement or are using fake IDs. So far, police have caught seven people connected to major criminal cases and 26 who were using false IDs while traveling, according to People's Daily.

The Wall Street Journal reports that Beijing-based LLVision Technology Co. developed the devices. The company produces wearable video cameras as well and while it sells those to anyone, it's vetting buyers for its facial recognition devices. And, for now, it isn't selling them to consumers. LLVision says that in tests, the system was able to pick out individuals from a database of 10,000 people and it could do so in 100 milliseconds. However, CEO Wu Fei told the Wall Street Journal that in the real world, accuracy would probably drop due to "environmental noise." Additionally, aside from being portable, another difference between these devices and typical facial recognition systems is that the database used for comparing images is contained in a hand-held device rather than the cloud.

Source: Engadget

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Data From Wearables Helped Teach an AI to Spot Signs of Diabetes

Posted: 08 Feb 2018 02:28 PM PST

In a new study conducted with the UCSF [University of California, San Francisco] Department of Medicine, a neural network developed by a startup called Cardiogram was able to detect diabetes with nearly 85 percent accuracy, just by looking at people's heart beats over time. And the kicker? As always, the study didn't require any fancy medical hardware — just Apple Watches, Fitbits, Android Wear devices, and other wearables with heart rate sensors.

"It's the hardest thing I've ever worked on, but the most rewarding," Cardiogram co-founder Brandon Ballinger told Engadget. (Coming from someone who helped overhaul Healthcare.gov, that's saying something.)

Cardiogram has conducted similar studies in the past, like when it trained that neural network — DeepHeart — to search for telltale signs of strokes in a pool of roughly 6,000 users. This undertaking required even more work. For the new study, which also attempted to spot high cholesterol, sleep apnea and hypertension in that sea of heartbeats, the startup worked with a larger pool of 14,011 users. All told, Cardiogram wound up with 57,675 person-weeks of heart rate information, most of which was used to hone DeepHeart's sense of what is and isn't a normal heartbeat pattern.

[...] To be clear, though, DeepHeart wasn't designed to diagnose diabetes. As sophisticated as the algorithm is, the link between the diabetes and its effects on your heart rate is a subtle one, and making crystal clear determinations using consumer-grade heart sensors isn't possible yet. Instead, Ballinger says the goal is to help screen for diabetes in people who otherwise had no idea they were at risk for it. The potential impact is huge, too: the CDC reports that more than 100 million adults in the United States live with either diabetes or prediabetes. And out of the people who have diabetes, roughly 25 percent of them don't even know about it.

The kind of diabetic pre-screening DeepHeart makes possible will eventually wind up in Cardiogram's app, though Ballinger wouldn't confirm when that would actually happen. As valuable as this potential tool is, though, the company hasn't ruled out the possibility of eventually offering full-blown diagnoses too.

"If the Apple Watch Series 5 winds up having a glucose sensor or a blood pressure sensor, we could actually do it," Ballinger said.

Source: Engadget

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Elon Musk Expects to Do Coast-to-Coast Autonomous Tesla Drive in 3 to 6 Months

Posted: 08 Feb 2018 12:55 PM PST

Tesla had aimed to do a cross-country U.S. drive in one of its vehicles using fully autonomous driving capabilities by the end of last year. Obviously it didn't make that goal, or you'd have heard about it. Instead, Tesla CEO Elon Musk now says he anticipates being able to make the trip within three months, or six months at the long end.

Specifically, Musk said on an earnings call in response to a question about the autonomous drive that they'd "probably" be able to "do a coast-to-coast drive in three months, six months at the outside." When asked whether this feature would then be immediately available to customers, he did say that it "will be a feature that's available to customers," without commenting directly on timing of availability.

Musk admitted that he'd "missed the mark on that front," regarding the original autonomous drive demonstration, but he qualified that Tesla "could've done the coast-to-coast drive [last year] but that the company "would've had to do too much custom code, effectively gaming it." It would've resulted in a feature that others could have used in their vehicles as well, but only for that exact cross-country route.

Source: TechCrunch

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Solar-Powered Device Cleans Up Air Pollution While Creating Hydrogen Fuel

Posted: 08 Feb 2018 11:22 AM PST

AlterNet reports

[...] researchers linked air pollution to 6.5 million premature deaths in 2015, [...] so scientists around the world are seeking ways to thwart this ongoing problem.

One such solution, publicized last year by a pair of Belgian universities, has the potential to destroy pollutants before they enter the environment, with an added bonus: clean energy production.

The prototype device, designed by the University of Antwerp and KU Leuven[1], is only a few centimeters in size, but with further development, it could one day fight some of the most dangerous man-made pollutants on an industrial scale while producing [a clean fuel].

[...] The Belgian research teams created a small device with two [chambers] separated by a membrane. Air is purified on one side, and the degradation of pollutants produces hydrogen gas, which is stored on the other side.

The technology is based on the use of specific nanomaterials in a process called photocatalysis, [Professor Sammy] Verbruggen told AlterNet by phone. "[The process] uses a semiconductor that is irradiated by light energy to generate free charge carriers. These charge carriers, in turn, produce reactive oxygen species that can attack fouling components."

Specifically, the device can eliminate any organic compound--which includes pesticides like DDT, as well as industrial pollutants such as dioxins and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs). Many of these organic pollutants are particularly concerning because they "bio-magnify throughout the food chain and bio-accumulate in organisms", according to the World Health Organization.

As pollutants are broken down, "protons are extracted from the molecules and migrate to another compartment of the device, where they are reduced to hydrogen gas", Verbruggen explained. Cell devices like this are most commonly used to extract hydrogen from water, but it turns out the process is even more efficient with polluted air--which is a huge revelation. "It's actually easier to perform these reactions with fouled components rather than pure water."

[...] Rather than vacuum pollution from dirty city air, the device is better suited to capture waste gases before they ever enter the environment. When mounted at a manufacturing facility, for example, the device could passively capture and eliminate volatile organic compounds that would otherwise be emitted or flared off--while producing hydrogen gas that can be converted into electricity onsite via a fuel cell.

[...] Verbruggen told us, "We are now working on several prototypes that are more easily manufactured with cheaper materials, and we're also investigating some alternative materials that can interact better with sunlight. As soon as we have a suitable combination of both, then we can start thinking about the next step, which is upscaling to larger dimensions."

The device only needs light to function, but it will need to absorb light energy far more efficiently to be viable on a larger scale.

[1] Katholieke Universiteit Lueven

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