- Researchers Discover Colistin-Heteroresistant Germs In the US
- MIT Plans To Build Nuclear Fusion Plant By 2033
- Lenovo Lays Off a Chunk of Its Motorola Smartphone Team
- California Bullet Train Costs Soar To $77.3 Billion, Will Take 5 Years Longer To Complete
- Cable Industry Finally Fights Cord Cutting With Fewer Ads
- 'Flippy,' the Fast Food Robot, Turned Off For Being Too Slow
- Apple Files Patent For a Crumb-Resistant MacBook Keyboard
- Android Beats iOS In Smartphone Loyalty, Study Finds
- YouTube Is Full of Easy-To-Find Neo-Nazi Propaganda
- FCC's Ajit Pai is Surrounded By a 'Set of People With a Very Traditional Mindset', Says Sir Tim Berners-Lee
- China's Alibaba is Investing Huge Sums in AI Research and Resources -- and It Is Building Tools To Challenge Google and Amazon
- In a Remarkable Turn of Events, Hackers -- Not Users -- Lost Money in Attempted Cryptocurrency Exchange Heist
- Pockets of Water May Lay Deep Below Earth's Surface
- Documents Prove Local Cops Have Bought Cheap iPhone Cracking Tech
- Downloads of Popular Apps Were Silently Swapped For Spyware in Turkey: Citizen Lab
- Sea Level Rise in the SF Bay Area Just Got a Lot More Dire
- Windows 10's Next Update Will Be Called 'Spring Creators Update'
- Slashdot Asks: What Are Some Apps and Online Services You Use To Discover, Track and Evaluate Movies, TV Shows, Music and Books?
- Half of Ransomware Victims Didn't Recover Their Data After Paying the Ransom
- Twitter Exploring Letting Everyone Get a Blue Tick For Verification, CEO Jack Dorsey Says
- Researchers Provide Likely Explanation For the 'Sonic Weapon' Used At the US Embassy In Cuba
- The Hitchhikers Guide To the Galaxy Returns With the Original Cast
- Fake News Spreads Faster Than True News On Twitter -- Thanks To People, Not Bots
Researchers Discover Colistin-Heteroresistant Germs In the US
An anonymous reader quotes a report from Ars Technica:
For the first time, researchers have discovered strains of a deadly, multidrug-resistant bacterium that uses a cryptic method to also evade colistin, an antibiotic used as a last-resort treatment. That's according to a study of U.S. patients published this week by Emory University researchers in the open-access microbiology journal mBio. The wily and dangerous bacteria involved are carbapenem-resistant Klebsiella pneumoniae or CRKP, which are already known to resist almost all antibiotics available, including other last-line antibiotics called carbapenems. The germs tend to lurk in clinical settings and can invade the urinary tract, bloodstream, and soft tissues. They're members of a notorious family of multidrug-resistant pathogens, called carbapenem-resistant Enterobacteriaceae (CRE), which collectively have mortality rates as high as 50 percent and have spread rapidly around the globe in recent years. A 2013 report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimated that there were more than 9,300 CRE infections in the U.S. each year, leading to 600 deaths. Both the CDC and the World Health Organization have listed CRE as one of the critical drug-resistant threats to public health, in need of "urgent and aggressive action."
In the new study, the Emory researchers discovered two strains of CRKP -- isolated from the urine of patients in Atlanta, Georgia -- that can also resist colistin. But they do so in a poorly understood, surreptitious way. At first, they appear vulnerable to the potent antibiotic in standard clinical tests, but with more advanced testing and exposure to the drug, they reveal that they can indeed survive it. In mice, the strains caused infections that couldn't be cured by colistin and the mice died of the infections. Mice infected with typical CRKP were all saved with colistin. So far, there's no evidence of CRKP infections surprisingly turning up resistant to colistin during treatment in patients. But the authors, led by microbiologist David Weiss, say that may be because the evidence is difficult to gather, and the data so far is cause for concern. The researchers concluded that the findings "serve to sound the alarm about a worrisome and under-appreciated phenomenon in CRKP infections and highlight the need for more sensitive and accurate diagnostics."
MIT Plans To Build Nuclear Fusion Plant By 2033
Mallory Locklear reports via Engadget:
MIT announced yesterday that it and Commonwealth Fusion Systems -- an MIT spinoff -- are working on a project that aims to make harvesting energy from nuclear fusion a reality within the next 15 years. The ultimate goal is to develop a 200-megawatt power plant. MIT also announced that Italian energy firm ENI has invested $50 million towards the project, $30 million of which will be applied to research and development at MIT over the next three years. MIT and CFS plan to use newly available superconducting materials to develop large electromagnets that can produce fields four-times stronger than any being used now. The stronger magnetic fields will allow for more power to be generated resulting in, importantly, positive net energy. The method will hopefully allow for cheaper and smaller reactors. The research team aims to develop a prototype reactor within the next 10 years, followed by a 200-megawatt pilot power plant.
Lenovo Lays Off a Chunk of Its Motorola Smartphone Team
On Friday, Lenovo
confirmed layoffs for the Motorola group in Chicago, where the company designs its modular Moto Z smartphones. "In
a statement to 9to5Google, Lenovo denied that it was axing 50% of the workforce, as the site had suggested, but didn't provide any further specifics," reports Fast Company. Android Police now
reports that 190 people were laid off.
A separate report of theirs claims that the company has "completely abandoned plans to launch the successor to last year's Moto X4, the as-yet unannounced Moto X5." Furthermore, "Motorola will be narrowing its focus back to E, G, and Z phones for the time being," reports Android Police. "It's possible the Moto X name could return at some point, but that's looking unlikely in light of this news." The source also says Motorola will be largely discontinuing its efforts to develop all-new, eccentric MotoMods for its Z phone. The likelihood that MotoMods will continue to be sold after 2019 is looking very slim.
California Bullet Train Costs Soar To $77.3 Billion, Will Take 5 Years Longer To Complete
The California High-Speed Rail Authority announced today that the
cost of connecting Los Angeles to San Francisco would total $77.3 billion, an increase of $13 billion from estimates two years ago, and could potentially rise as high as $98.1 billion. They also said the earliest trains could operate on a partial system between San Jose and the farming town of Wasco would be 2029, five years later than the previous projection. Los Angeles Times reports:
The disclosures are contained in a 114-page business plan that was issued in draft form by the rail authority and will be finalized this summer in a submission to the Legislature. The rail authority has wrestled with a more than $40-billion funding gap, which would increase sharply under the new cost estimates. The biggest immediate driver of the cost increase has been in the Central Valley, where the rail authority is building 119 miles of track between Wasco and Merced. The authority disclosed in early February that the cost of that work would jump to $10.6 billion from an original estimate of about $6 billion. Roy Hill, one of the senior consultants advising the state, told the rail authority board, "The worst-case scenario has happened." In its 2014 business plan, the rail authority optimistically projected that it could begin carrying passengers in just seven years. But the warning signs of uncontrolled cost growth had already started mounting then, even though until this year the rail authority has vehemently denied that it was facing a problem. The project began having trouble buying property for the route almost immediately after it issued its first construction contract in 2013.
Cable Industry Finally Fights Cord Cutting With Fewer Ads
The cable industry is slowly realizing that more advertisements and higher prices
aren't the solution to cord cutting. Karl Bode writes via DSLReports:
AT&T and Dish have explored offering cheaper, more flexible streaming alternatives (DirecTV Now and Sling TV, respectively), both understanding that getting out ahead of the cord cutting trend is the right play, even if the net result is making less money from traditional television. And on the broadcasting front, several companies this month made it clear they'll be reducing the ad loads on their programming, since charging users a subscription fee and socking them with endless ads is becoming a dated concept in the cord cutting era. Fox, for example, told the Wall Street Journal this week that the company would be reducing TV ad time in its content to two minutes an hour by 2020. Comcast NBC Universal says it's also following suit, having cut advertising time in its own shows by 10%, and reduced the overall number of advertising during commercial breaks by 20%. Given there's 83 million households still subscribing to traditional cable TV, many cable executives are under the false impression they can keep doubling down on bad ideas without the check coming due. But the data indicates this head in the sand approach simply isn't sustainable. Pay TV providers saw a reduction of more than 500,000 traditional pay TV customers during the fourth quarter, a decline of 3.4% total pay TV customers from the year before. That 3.4% decline was up from the 2% rate during in the fourth quarter of 2016 and a 1% rate of decline one year before that.
'Flippy,' the Fast Food Robot, Turned Off For Being Too Slow
He was supposed to revolutionize a California fast food kitchen, churning out 150 burgers per hour without requiring a paycheck or benefits. But after a single day of working as a cook at a Caliburger location in Pasadena this week, Flippy the burger-flipping robot
has stopped flipping. From a report:
In some ways, Flippy was a victim of his own success. Inundated with customers eager to see the machine in action this week, Cali Group, which runs the fast food chain, quickly realized the robot couldn't keep up with the demand. They decided instead to retrain the restaurant staff to work more efficiently alongside Flippy, according to USA Today. Temporarily decommissioned, patrons encountered a sign Thursday noting that Flippy would be "cooking soon," the paper reported. "Mostly it's the timing," Anthony Lomelino, the Chief Technology Officer for Cali Group told the paper. "When you're in the back, working with people, you talk to each other. With Flippy, you kind of need to work around his schedule. Choreographing the movements of what you do, when and how you do it."
Apple Files Patent For a Crumb-Resistant MacBook Keyboard
According to a patent application made public on Thursday, March 8, Apple could be developing a new MacBook keyboard
designed to prevent crumbs and dust from getting those super-shallow MacBook keys stuck. "Liquid ingress around the keys into the keyboard can damage electronics. Residues from such liquids may corrode or block electrical contacts, getting in the way of key movement and so on," the
patent application reads. Digital Trends reports:
The application goes on to describe how those problems might be remedied: With the careful application of gaskets, brushes, wipers, or flaps that block gaps beneath keycaps. One solution would include a membrane beneath each key, effectively insulating the interior of the keyboard from the exterior, while another describes using each keypress as a "bellows" to force contaminants out of the keyboard. "A keyboard assembly [could include] a substrate, a key cap, and a guard structure extending from the key cap that funnels contaminants away from the movement mechanism," the patent application reads.
Android Beats iOS In Smartphone Loyalty, Study Finds
Android users don't appear to be switching to the iPhone like they used to. According to a
new study from Consumer Intelligence Research Partners (CIRP), Android users
have higher loyalty than iOS users do. "The research firm found that Android brand loyalty has been remaining steadily high since early 2016, and remains at the highest levels ever seen," reports TechCrunch. From the report:
Today, Android has a 91 percent loyalty rate, compared with 86 percent for iOS, measured as the percentage of U.S. customers who stayed with their operating system when they upgraded their phone in 2017. From January 2016 through December 2017, Android loyalty ranged from 89 to 91 percent (ending at 91 percent), while iOS loyalty was several percentage points lower, ranging from 85 to 88 percent. Explains Mike Levin, partner and co-founder of CIRP, users have pretty much settled on their brand of choice at this point. "With only two mobile operating systems at this point, it appears users now pick one, learn it, invest in apps and storage, and stick with it. Now, Apple and Google need to figure out how to sell products and services to these loyal customer bases," he said. It's worth noting that Android hasn't always led in user loyalty as it does now. CIRP has been tracking these metrics for years, and things used to be the other way around.
YouTube Is Full of Easy-To-Find Neo-Nazi Propaganda
An anonymous reader quotes an exclusive report from Motherboard:
Through a software-aided investigation, Motherboard has found that while YouTube has managed to clamp down on Islamic extremists uploading propaganda, the video giant is still awash with videos supporting violent and established neo-Nazi organizations, even when, in some cases, users have reported the offending videos. Clips of neo-Nazi propaganda operations, hate-filled speeches, and extremists pushing for direct action have remained on the site for weeks, months, or years at a time. Arguably, many if not all of these videos may fall under YouTube's own policy on hate speech, which "refers to content that promotes violence against or has the primary purpose of inciting hatred against individuals or groups based on certain attributes," including race or ethnic origin, religion, and sexual orientation, according to the policy.
Motherboard built a tool to monitor YouTube and make a record of when the platform removed certain videos, and limited the clips to propaganda for established neo-Nazi and far-right terrorist organizations like Atomwaffen, rather than people in the so-called "alt-right." Most of the videos were discovered through simple YouTube searches of relevant organizations' names, or sometimes through the "recommended videos" sidebar after Motherboard had built up a browsing history of neo-Nazi material. For the sake of comparison, over a week-long period Motherboard also tracked pro-ISIS videos uploaded by the group's supporters and then distributed through a network of Telegram channels. Typically, YouTube removed these Islamic extremism videos in a matter of hours, including those that did not contain images of violence, but were instead speeches or other not directly violent content. But YouTube is playing catch up with neo-Nazi material. YouTube removed only two videos that Motherboard was monitoring: two identical clips of a speech from UK terrorist organization National Action.
FCC's Ajit Pai is Surrounded By a 'Set of People With a Very Traditional Mindset', Says Sir Tim Berners-Lee
Next Monday the web celebrates its 29th birthday. Ahead of it, Sir Tim Berners-Lee spoke with BBC on a wide-range of topics. An excerpt:
In Barcelona last week at the Mobile World Congress I heard FCC boss Ajit Pai mount a robust defence of the move, pointing out that the internet had grown and thrived perfectly well in the years before 2015, when the net neutrality provision came in. "He said the same thing to me," Sir Tim tells us, revealing that he had recently been to lunch with Mr Pai. He had told the FCC boss that advances in computer processing power had made it easier for internet service providers to discriminate against certain web users for commercial or political reasons, perhaps slowing down traffic to one political party's website or making it harder for a rival company to process payments. But he failed to change Ajit Pai's mind. "He's surrounded by a set of people with a very traditional mindset, which has been driven by the PR machine of the telco industry, who believe it is their duty in Washington to oppose any regulation, whatever it is." Sir Tim, however, is refusing to concede defeat in this battle. "We stopped SOPA and PIPA," he says, referring to two US anti-piracy measures which campaigners opposed on the grounds they impinged on internet freedoms.
China's Alibaba is Investing Huge Sums in AI Research and Resources -- and It Is Building Tools To Challenge Google and Amazon
Alibaba is already using AI and machine learning to optimize its supply chain, personalize recommendations, and build products like Tmall Genie, a home device similar to the Amazon Echo. China's two other tech supergiants, Tencent and Baidu, are likewise pouring money into AI research. The government plans to build an AI industry worth around $150 billion by 2030 and has called on the country's researchers to dominate the field by then.
But Alibaba's ambition is to be the leader in providing cloud-based AI. From a report:
Like cloud storage (think Dropbox) or cloud computing (Amazon Web Services), cloud AI will make powerful resources cheaply and readily available to anyone with a computer and an internet connection, enabling new kinds of businesses to grow. The real race in AI between China and the US, then, will be one between the two countries' big cloud companies, which will vie to be the provider of choice for companies and cities that want to make use of AI. And if Alibaba is anything to go by, China's tech giants are ready to compete with Google, Amazon, IBM, and Microsoft to serve up AI on tap. Which company dominates this industry will have a huge say in how AI evolves and how it is used.
[...] There have been other glimpses of Alibaba's progress in AI lately. Last month a research team at the company released an AI program capable of reading a piece of text, and answering simple questions about that text, more accurately than anything ever built before. The text was in English, not Chinese, because the program was trained on the Stanford Question Answering Dataset (SQuAD), a benchmark used to test computerized question-and-answer systems. [...] One advantage China's tech companies have over their Western counterparts is the government's commitment to AI. Smart cities that use the kind of technology found in Shanghai's metro kiosks are likely to be in the country's future. One of Alibaba's cloud AI tools is a suite called City Brain, designed for tasks like managing traffic data and analyzing footage from city video cameras.
In a Remarkable Turn of Events, Hackers -- Not Users -- Lost Money in Attempted Cryptocurrency Exchange Heist
The hackers who attempted to hack Binance, one of the largest cryptocurrency exchanges on the Internet,
have ended up losing money in a remarkable turn of events. It all began on Thursday, when thousands of user accounts started selling their Bitcoin and buying an altcoin named Viacoin (VIA). The incident, BleepingComputer reports, looked like a hack, and users reacted accordingly. But this wasn't a hack, or at least not your ordinary hack. The report adds:
According to an incident report published by the Binance team, in preparation for yesterday's attack, the hackers ran a two-month phishing scheme to collect Binance user account credentials. Hackers used a homograph attack by registering a domain identical to binance.com, but spelled with Latin-lookalike Unicode characters. More particularly, hackers registered the [redacted].com domain -- notice the tiny dots under the "i" and "a" characters.
Phishing attacks started in early January, but the Binance team says it detected evidence that operations ramped up around February 22, when the campaign reached its peak. Binance tracked down this phishing campaign because the phishing pages would immediately redirect phished users to the real Binance login page. This left a forensic trail in referral logs that Binance developers detected. After getting access to several accounts, instead of using the login credentials to empty out wallets, hackers created "trading API keys" for each account. With the API keys in hand, hackers sprung their main attack yesterday. Crooks used the API keys to automate transactions that sold Bitcoin held in compromised Binance accounts and automatically bought Viacoin from 31 other Binance accounts that hackers created beforehand, and where they deposited Viacoin, ready to be bought. But hackers didn't know one thing -- Binance's secret weapon -- an internal risk management system that detected the abnormal amount of Bitcoin-Viacoin sale orders within the span of two minutes and blocked all transactions on the platform. Hackers tried to cash out the 31 Binance accounts, but by that point, Binance had blocked all withdrawals.
Pockets of Water May Lay Deep Below Earth's Surface
Small pockets of water exist deep beneath Earth's surface, according to an analysis of diamonds belched from hundreds of kilometers within our planet. The work, which also identifies a weird form of crystallized water known as ice VII, suggests that material may circulate more freely at some depths within Earth than previously thought. Geophysical models of that flow, which ultimately influences the frequency of earthquakes driven by the scraping of tectonic plates at Earth's surface, may need to be substantially tweaked, scientists say. Such models also help scientists estimate the long-term rates of heat flow through Earth's surface and into space.
Documents Prove Local Cops Have Bought Cheap iPhone Cracking Tech
GrayShift is a new company that promises to unlock even iPhones running the latest version of iOS for a relatively cheap price. From a report:
In a sign of how hacking technology often trickles down from more well-funded federal agencies to local bodies, at least one regional police department has already signed up for GrayShift's services, according to documents and emails obtained by Motherboard. As Forbes reported on Monday, GrayShift is an American company which appears to be run by an ex-Apple security engineer and others who have long held contracts with intelligence agencies. In its marketing materials, GrayShift offers a tool called GrayKey, an offline version of which costs $30,000 and comes with an unlimited number of uses. For $15,000, customers can instead buy the online version, which grants 300 iPhones unlocks.
This is what the Indiana State Police bought, judging by a purchase order obtained by Motherboard. The document, dated February 21, is for one GrayKey unit costing $500, and a "GrayKey annual license -- online -- 300 uses," for $14,500. The order, and an accompanying request for quotation, indicate the unlocking service was intended for Indiana State Police's cybercrime department. A quotation document emblazoned with GrayShift's logo shows the company gave Indiana State Police a $500 dollar discount for their first year of the service. Importantly, according to the marketing material cited by Forbes, GrayKey can unlock iPhones running modern versions of Apple's mobile operating system, such as iOS 10 and 11, as well as the most up to date Apple hardware, like the iPhone 8 and X.
Downloads of Popular Apps Were Silently Swapped For Spyware in Turkey: Citizen Lab
Matthew Braga, reporting for CBC:
Since last fall, Turkish internet users attempting to download one of a handful of popular apps may have been the unwitting targets of a wide-reaching computer surveillance campaign. And in Egypt, users across the country have, seemingly at random, had their browsing activity mysteriously redirected to online money-making schemes. Internet filtering equipment sold by technology company Sandvine -- founded in Waterloo, Ont. -- is believed to have played a significant part in both.
That's according to new research from the University of Toronto's Citizen Lab, which has examined misuse of similar equipment from other companies in the past. The researchers say it's likely that Sandvine devices are not only being used to block the websites of news, political and human rights organizations, but are also surreptitiously redirecting users toward spyware and unwanted ads. Using network-filtering devices to sneak spyware onto targets' computers "has long been the stuff of legends" according to the report -- a practice previously documented in leaked NSA documents and spyware company brochures, the researchers say, but never before publicly observed. Citizen Lab notes that targeted users in Turkey and Syria who attempted to download Windows applications from official vendor websites including Avast Antivirus, CCleaner, Opera, and 7-Zip were silently redirected to malicious versions by way of injected HTTP redirects. It adds:
This redirection was possible because official websites for these programs, even though they might have supported HTTPS, directed users to non-HTTPS downloads by default. Additionally, targeted users in Turkey and Syria who downloaded a wide range of applications from CBS Interactive's Download.com (a platform featured by CNET to download software) were instead redirected to versions containing spyware. Download.com does not appear to support HTTPS despite purporting to offer "secure download" links.
Sea Level Rise in the SF Bay Area Just Got a Lot More Dire
An anonymous reader writes:
San Francisco Bay Area residents have long been aware of the threat that sea level rise poses to their coastal existence -- but things suddenly look a lot more serious. A new study examines the simultaneous phenomena of rising sea levels and subsiding coastal land, and as Wired reports, the situation is pretty dire. Models that factor in just sea level rise predict that at least 20 square miles could be underwater by 2100. Once you add in subsiding land, that jumps to nearly 50 square miles, and could get as bad as 165 square miles. Or, put another way, by the end of the century, half of the runways and taxiways at San Francisco Airport could be submerged.
The study found that most of the Bay's coastline is sinking at a rate of less than 2 millimeters a year -- and while that may not sound like a lot, the millimeters can add up fast. "You talk to someone about, 'Oh the land is going down a millimeter a year,' and that can be kind of unimpressive," says William Hammond, a researcher at the University of Nevada Reno who studies subsidence (but was not involved in this particular project). "But we know as scientists that these motions, especially if they come from plate tectonics, that they are relentless and they will never stop, at least as long as we're alive on this planet."
Windows 10's Next Update Will Be Called 'Spring Creators Update'
The Verge reports:
Microsoft is planning to reuse its "Creators Update" naming for a third Windows 10 update. The software giant has strangely not yet officially named its next Windows 10 update, due next month, but it has been testing a future update that appears to reveal the spring update name. "Windows 10 Spring Creators Update" has been spotted in the latest test builds of the Redstone 5 update expected to be released later this fall. Microsoft first launched Windows 10 Creators Update last spring, followed by the Windows 10 Fall Creators Update in the fall. The new Windows 10 Spring Creators Update naming was originally spotted in Microsoft blog posts last year, but this is the first time it has appeared in the operating system itself.
Slashdot Asks: What Are Some Apps and Online Services You Use To Discover, Track and Evaluate Movies, TV Shows, Music and Books?
Earlier this week, news blog
Engadget had a post in which the author outlined
some of the apps that could help people keep track of TV shows, books, and music habits. A reader, who submitted the story, said the list was quite underwhelming. Curious to hear how Slashdot readers tackle these things.
Half of Ransomware Victims Didn't Recover Their Data After Paying the Ransom
An anonymous reader shares a report:
A massive survey of nearly 1,200 IT security practitioners and decision makers across 17 countries reveals that half the people who fell victim to ransomware infections last year were able to recover their files after paying the ransom demand. The survey, carried out by research and marketing firm CyberEdge Group, reveals that paying the ransom demand, even if for desperate reasons, does not guarantee that victims will regain access to their files. Timely backups are still the most efficient defense against possible ransomware infections, as it allows easy recovery. The survey reveals that 55% of all responders suffered a ransomware infection in 2017, compared to the previous year's study, when 61% experienced similar incidents. Of all the victims who suffered ransomware infections, CyberEdge discovered that 61.3% opted not to pay the ransom at all. Some lost files for good (8%), while the rest (53.3%) managed to recover files, either from backups or by using ransomware decrypter applications. Of the 38.7% who opted to pay the ransom, a little less than half (19.1%) recovered their files using the tools provided by the ransomware authors.
Twitter Exploring Letting Everyone Get a Blue Tick For Verification, CEO Jack Dorsey Says
An anonymous reader shares a report:
Twitter could one day allow everyone to be verified by one of the company's signature blue ticks, according to CEO Jack Dorsey. In a livestream on Periscope, Dorsey said Thursday that opening verification to more people could help to make sure people on the platform are who they say they are. "The intention is to open verification for everyone, and to do it in a way that is scalable where we (Twitter) are not in the way. And people can verify more facts about themselves and we don't have to be the judge or imply any bias on our part," Dorsey said. Twitter introduced the blue checkmark in 2009. It was initially available to public figures such as celebrities, but has since expanded to others like journalists and bloggers. Users need to apply for the blue tick, explaining why they need one.
Researchers Provide Likely Explanation For the 'Sonic Weapon' Used At the US Embassy In Cuba
An anonymous reader quotes a report from IEEE Spectrum:
Last August, reports emerged that U.S. and Canadian diplomats in Cuba had suffered a host of mysterious ailments. Speculation soon arose that a high-frequency sonic weapon was to blame. Acoustics experts, however, were quick to point out the unlikeliness of such an attack. Among other things, ultrasonic frequencies -- from 20 to 200 kilohertz -- don't propagate well in air and don't cause the ear pain, headache, dizziness, and other symptoms reported in Cuba. Also, some victims recalled hearing high-pitched sounds, whereas ultrasound is inaudible to humans. The mystery deepened in October, when the Associated Press (AP) released a 6-second audio clip, reportedly a recording of what U.S. embassy staff heard. The chirping tones, centered around 7 kHz, were indeed audible, but they didn't suggest any kind of weapon. Looking at a spectral plot of the clip on YouTube, Kevin Fu, a computer scientist at the University of Michigan, noted some unusual ripples. He thought he might know what they meant.
Fu's lab specializes in analyzing the cybersecurity of devices connected to the Internet of Things, such as sensors, pacemakers, RFIDs, and autonomous vehicles. To Fu, the ripples in the spectral readout suggested some kind of interference. He discussed the AP clip with his frequent collaborator, Wenyuan Xu, a professor at Zhejiang University, in Hangzhou, China, and her Ph.D. student Chen Yan. Yan and Xu started with a fast Fourier transform of the AP audio, which revealed the signal's exact frequencies and amplitudes. Then, through a series of simulations, Yan showed that an effect known as intermodulation distortion could have produced the AP sound. Intermodulation distortion occurs when two signals having different frequencies combine to produce synthetic signals at the difference, sum, or multiples of the original frequencies. Having reverse engineered the AP audio, Fu, Xu, and Yan then considered what combination of things might have caused the sound at the U.S. embassy in Cuba. "If ultrasound is to blame, then a likely cause was two ultrasonic signals that accidentally interfered with each other, creating an audible side effect," Fu says. "Maybe there was also an ultrasonic jammer in the room and an ultrasonic transmitter," he suggests. "Each device might have been placed there by a different party, completely unaware of the other."
The Hitchhikers Guide To the Galaxy Returns With the Original Cast
Jonathan M. Gitlin reports via Ars Technica:
The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy deserves a special place in the geek pantheon. It's the story of hapless BBC radio editor Arthur Dent, his best friend Ford Prefect, and the adventures that result when Prefect saves Dent when the Earth is unexpectedly destroyed to make way for a galactic bypass. Written by the late, great Douglas Adams, THGTTG first appeared as a radio series in the UK back in 1978. On Thursday -- exactly 40 years to the day from that first broadcast -- it made its return home with the start of Hexagonal Phase, a radio dramatization of the sixth and final book of an increasingly misnamed trilogy.
Although Adams died suddenly and unexpectedly in 2001, the universe he gave birth to lived on. Beginning in 2004, the original radio cast was reunited to dramatize the third, fourth, and fifth books. In 2005, a film adaptation was released, and then in 2009 came a final novel in the "trilogy," And Another Thing..., written by the novelist Eoin Colfer. It's this story that the BBC is now dramatizing, again using many of the original cast, along with newcomers like Jim Broadbent, Lenny Henry, and Stephen Hawking. Yes, that Stephen Hawking.
Fake News Spreads Faster Than True News On Twitter -- Thanks To People, Not Bots
A new study shows that people are the prime culprits when it comes to the propagation of misinformation through social networks. Tweets containing falsehoods
reach 1,500 people on Twitter six times faster than truthful tweets, the research reveals. Science Magazine reports:
The lead author -- Soroush Vosoughi, a data scientist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge -- and his colleagues collected 12 years of data from Twitter, starting from the social media platform's inception in 2006. Then they pulled out tweets related to news that had been investigated by six independent fact-checking organizations -- websites like PolitiFact, Snopes, and FactCheck.org. They ended up with a data set of 126,000 news items that were shared 4.5 million times by 3 million people, which they then used to compare the spread of news that had been verified as true with the spread of stories shown to be false. They found that whereas the truth rarely reached more than 1000 Twitter users, the most pernicious false news stories routinely reached well over 10,000 people. False news propagated faster and wider for all forms of news -- but the problem was particularly evident for political news, the team reports today in Science. At first the researchers thought that bots might be responsible, so they used sophisticated bot-detection technology to remove social media shares generated by bots. But the results didn't change: False news still spread at roughly the same rate and to the same number of people. By default, that meant that human beings were responsible for the virality of false news.