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Independent news, views, opinions and reviews on the latest gadgets, games, science, technology and research from Apple and more. It’s about the technologies that change the way we live, work, love and behave.

An incredible photo of a single atom visible to the naked eye wins science prize

single atom photo

Wonder no more what an atom looks like. David Nadlinger, a physicist at Oxford University, has taken a photo of an atom suspended in an electric field. The incredible thing is that this atom is visible to the naked eye. Well, we can the light emitted from it.

The image, “Single Atom in an Ion Trap”, won Nadlinger top prize in UK’s Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) science photo and imaging contest.

If we zoom in, you can see the atom – it’s the small dot in the centre of the photo.

 

 

The EPSRC reports:

‘Single Atom in an Ion Trap’, by David Nadlinger, from the University of Oxford, shows the atom held by the fields emanating from the metal electrodes surrounding it. The distance between the small needle tips is about two millimetres.

When illuminated by a laser of the right blue-violet colour the atom absorbs and re-emits light particles sufficiently quickly for an ordinary camera to capture it in a long exposure photograph. The winning picture was taken through a window of the ultra-high vacuum chamber that houses the ion trap.

Laser-cooled atomic ions provide a pristine platform for exploring and harnessing the unique properties of quantum physics. They can serve as extremely accurate clocks and sensors or, as explored by the UK Networked Quantum Information Technologies Hub, as building blocks for future quantum computers, which could tackle problems that stymie even today’s largest supercomputers.

“The idea of being able to see a single atom with the naked eye had struck me as a wonderfully direct and visceral bridge between the minuscule quantum world and our macroscopic reality,” says Nadlinger. “A back-of-the-envelope calculation showed the numbers to be on my side, and when I set off to the lab with camera and tripods one quiet Sunday afternoon, I was rewarded with this particular picture of a small, pale blue dot.”

Spotter: PetaPixel

Posted: 16th, February 2018 | In: News, Strange But True, Technology | Comment | Comments RSS feed:RSS 2.0


Woman takes first breath after double lung transplant (video)

Doctors often misdiagnose conditions. Jennifer Jones had been told over and over that her suffering was down to allergies and asthma. But, as ABC 6 News reports, after Jennifer gave birth, medical realised she had had Cystic Fibrosis for years. Something had to be done.

“Last year in October she went in and it was getting so bad they put her on oxygen full time,” said Jennifer’s fiancé, Rob Ronnenberg.Jennifer was put on a transplant list for new lungs in June, which is when things really got bad. In mid-October Jennifer’s lung function was a little over 10%.

But good news was headed their way.

“The nurse comes in the room and says hey you’re going to get a phone call and then the phone rang and we’re like okay, that’s never happened so what’s going on? Well, all of a sudden she goes are you for real, are you serious? Is this really happening? And that was it that was the call,” Rob said.

Jennifer was given a double lung transplant. Now watch as he takes her first breath:

 

Spotter: Twisted Sifter

Posted: 14th, February 2018 | In: Strange But True, Technology | Comment (1) | Comments RSS feed:RSS 2.0


Why car insurance is so expensive for the unemployed

The Times has news on car insurance, a tax that can be prohibitively expensive. Well, yes, of course it is – that’s one of the points of it, no, to link risk to wealth? James Daley asks:

The industry’s defence will always be that their prices are based purely on the data. While it may be true that customers who describe themselves as unemployed have more car accidents than people who describe themselves as homemakers, is it really fair to differentiate between those groups?

Yes.

Posted: 6th, February 2018 | In: Broadsheets, News, Technology | Comment | Comments RSS feed:RSS 2.0


Parents arrested for their children’s ‘citizen porn’

Is it right that the wrongs of the child are visited on the parent? The police think it is. If you pay for your child’s phone – getting a contract when under 18 is impossible so many parents do – the cops reckon you’re responsible for how that phone’s used. If it’s been used for sexting, say, then police can raid the family home, seize computers and phones, and nick mum and dad for being perverts and paedos.

Distributing indecent images of a child is a crime. There will be times when the victim is real and abuse is all too clear. But should your teenage son showing his mates a snapshot of his girlfriend’s naked breasts – the photo she chose to send him – involve the police and indelible criminal records for all involved, including her? Isn’t that an hysterical overreaction to an act of hormone-fed stupidity? Anyone who thinks they can control a nude or racy selfie once its been published on the web is a fool and should be aware that humiliation looms. But being young and stupid isn’t a crime, at least it shouldn’t be.

And maybe the kids sext because the adults do? Can we talk about why people sext? Columnists on bottom-shelf newspapers champion “citizen porn“; naked photos of the great and good stored on ‘clouds’ are leaked; academics like Jenna Wortham decided to explore “the way that our phones … foster intimate interactions that feel so personal and deep, despite being relayed through a machine.” As Andrew Sullivan noted: “Humans are sexual beings, and given a new obsessive-compulsive toy to play with, the Internet, their first instinct was to see how they could use it to get off.”

But the good news is that wherever parents are failing, the trusty cops are on hand to take over. Says Detective Superintendent Susie Harper, head of Kent’s public protection safeguarding unit:

“If a child’s mobile phone contract is in his or her parent’s name, then the parent can be liable for what the phone is used for, and any indecent material that is saved or sent from it. That could mean police turning up at the family home with a search warrant, property being seized, potential arrests and innocent people being suspected of serious offences.”

All parents are suspects. Careful where you leave those car keys, mum, because if junior nicks them and goes joyriding, it’s your fault. Lock ’em away. Lock all your valuables away, too, plus any pharmaceuticals, knives and balaclavas. If the fruit of your loins commits a crime using something your bought, on your head be it. It’s not his fault. It’s yours.

Says Harper:

“I’m not raising awareness to scaremonger.”

But:

“I also think it’s important for parents to be aware about the ways their children might be vulnerable to these things and what they can do about it.”

What can they do about it, then, other than buying their own children a phone with their own money? Well, the cops want “all parents and carers to speak to their children about the possible consequences of taking and sharing nude images of themselves or other young people”. Not a bad idea. But it’s not a police matter.

The message is clear: if you’ve got dirty photos on your phone – maybe a nude selfie you sent a loving boyfriend or girlfriend – your parents’ livelihoods and liberty are imperilled. If there’s something nasty in your inbox, don’t tell anyone, lest your parents be branded criminals. And above all know this: sex is first and foremost a potentially criminal act beloved by degenerates; sex has nothing to do with intimacy, self-awareness, desire and love; the youth invented voyeurism; and you should trust no-one except the State.

Spotter Telegraph

 

Posted: 31st, January 2018 | In: News, Technology | Comment | Comments RSS feed:RSS 2.0


I was angry and miserable before Facebook

 

Like you, I was angry, unreasonable and irritated by everything before Facebook. But some people think Facebook has affected them badly and it is responsible for them feeling bad. All those photos of other people’s children running in circles, drawing with crayons and doing other amazing things, and adults telling us about their gym trips and how much they love someone they live with is causing us to be deeply depressed.

In the “secret history of Facebook depression”, Dr Kate Raynes-Goldie notes:

In everyday life, we tend to have different sides of ourselves that come out in different contexts. For example, the way you are at work is probably different from the way you might be at a bar or at a church or temple.

Sociologist Erving Goffman used concepts of theatre to explain these different aspects of our identities, for example, front stage and back stage.

But on Facebook, all these stages or contexts were mashed together. The result was what internet researchers called context collapse. People were even getting fired when one aspect of their lives was discovered by another (i.e. their boss!).

In 2008, I found myself speaking with the big boss himself, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg. I was in the second year of my Ph.D. research on Facebook at Curtin University. And I had questions.

Why did Facebook make everyone be the same for all of their contacts? Was Facebook going to add features that would make managing this easier?

To my surprise, Zuckerberg told me that he had designed the site to be that way on purpose. And, he added, it was “lying” to behave differently in different social situations.

Up until this point, I had assumed Facebook’s socially awkward design was unintentional. It was simply the result of computer nerds designing for the rest of humanity, without realising it was not how people actually want to interact.

The realisation that Facebook’s context collapse was intentional not only changed the whole direction of my research but provides the key to understanding why Facebook may not be so great for your mental health.

Via, Boing Boing, which headlines the story: “Social scientists have warned Zuck all along that the Facebook theory of interaction would make people angry and miserable.” You left out “more” before miserable.

Posted: 26th, January 2018 | In: Technology | Comment | Comments RSS feed:RSS 2.0


How to drive out of a tight parking space

To Brazil, where a police drive will not show us how to leave a tight parking space – and make a fast getaway:

Posted: 14th, January 2018 | In: Technology | Comment | Comments RSS feed:RSS 2.0


Peter Thiel bids to spike Gawker for good

Having almost buried Gawker media, Paypal tycoon Peter Thiel, is making moves to buy Gawker.con, the media company’s eponymous gossip and news site that’s been inactive for over a year. Why does he want it? The New York Times thinks it’s “to finish an independent journalism outfit that angered him in 2007 when it reported, without his permission, that he is gay, a fact widely known at the time in Silicon Valley.” Will he get it? “There are going to be multiple factors to consider, which will not be solely economic,” says Will Holden, the administrator of Gawker’s bankruptcy plan. Things like keeping the site alive, the archive online and it’s tone of irreverence intact?

In which case it’s worth looking at how Gawker came unstuck. Gawker went under in 2016. The law agreed with Hulk Hogan that his privacy had been invaded when Gawker published a grainy sex tape of the former wrestler giving it the Full Nelson. A Florida jury awarded damages of $140m to Hogan after a two-week trial. And, as the NYT says:

It also emerged that Mr. Thiel had spent about $10 million in secretly backing the lawsuit, a move that many Gawker employees interpreted as an attempt at revenge. Mr. Thiel told The New York Times: “It’s less about revenge and more about specific deterrence. I saw Gawker pioneer a unique and incredibly damaging way of getting attention by bullying people even when there was no connection with the public interest.”

Are the super-rich the best judges of what’s in the public interest?

Business Insider has more on the offering:

Gawker, which has been inactive for more than a year, is conducting an auction of its remaining assets, including its domain names and nearly 200,000 archived articles. Most of its assets, including its sister pages Deadspin, a sports site, and Jezebel, a feminist blog, were bought in 2016 for $135 million by media company Univision Holdings Inc.

Thiel has not said why he wants Gawker, though the potential acquisition would let him take down stories regarding his personal life that are still available on the website, and remove the scope for further litigation between him and Gawker…

Some former Gawker staffers have tried to buy the site. On Kickstarter, they appealed for funds:

Gawker isn’t gone, it’s up for auction. The person who drove the site into bankruptcy wants to buy it.
We’re a group of former Gawker Media employees across editorial, tech, and business, and we want to put in our own bid to buy it back. We believe the site can thrive in an entirely membership funded model…

If we don’t raise enough money to buy the site, we will preserve the archive and launch a new publication under a different name. We’re bringing this back whether we have the Gawker URL or not. So if you miss Gawker like we do and feel like supporting our mission, become a member, tell your friends, share this project, and send us your tips. We have work to do.

The bid failed. Reports are the appeal raised $90,000, which though not too shabby is the kind of cash a billionaire has down the back of his manicurist’s sofa.

Posted: 13th, January 2018 | In: News, Technology | Comment | Comments RSS feed:RSS 2.0


Data shocker: Westminster workers less likely to watch porn than the rest of us

In 2010, Online MBA produced a porn infographic. It claimed to know that 70% of men visited porn sites in a given month. Dan Savage, a Seattle-based sex columnist, had a word on the demographics of porn watchers. “All men look at porn, ” he stated. “The handful of men who claim they don’t look at porn are liars or castrates.”

Only men like to look?

Seth Stephens-Davidowitz claims women are fans of online porn, too:

Speaking to Vox in an interview about how Google data proves that most Americans lie about their sexual preferences, the researcher and author of “Everybody Lies” asserts… “Porn featuring violence against women is also extremely popular among women…It is far more popular among women than men. I hate saying that because misogynists seem to love this fact,” he added. “Fantasy life isn’t always politically correct.”

In 2014, the US Public Religion Research Institute, said 29 percent of Americans think watching porn is morally acceptable. That’s a lot of people feeling guilty about watching other people having sex.

Which brings us to news that the burghers of Westminster are not like the rest of us:

Staff working in Parliament tried to access online pornography once every nine minutes in the last couple of months, despite a crackdown on inappropriate sexual behaviour, new figures show.

More than 24,000 attempts were made to get onto adult websites from inside the Parliamentary estate – around 160 requests per day – although most were blocked.

Users on the Parliamentary network, including MPs, peers, staff and contractors, used their devices to try and connect to banned content almost 25,000 times in just four months.

Is that a lot?

At the end of January 2015, the headcount of the number of people employed by the House of Commons was 2,040

Add on 650 MPs, 800 Lords, their staff and media workers, and you can add another, say, 2000 people to the Westminster head count. Given the figures supplied for the popularity of porn, Westminster looks relatively clean.

Here’s the date from the MBA company:

 

porn statistics watching

 

Posted: 8th, January 2018 | In: News, Politicians, Technology | Comment | Comments RSS feed:RSS 2.0


How to be a Social Justice Warrior by JP Sears

By JP Sears

Posted: 4th, January 2018 | In: Key Posts, Strange But True, Technology | Comment | Comments RSS feed:RSS 2.0


Banning traffic apps is a wholly stupid idea

Given that the purpose of traffic apps is to help motorists avoid congestion, you’d suppose everyone would love them. Roads are a finite and scarce public resource. To maximise their value, they should be used. If one road has too much traffic, directing vehicles to underused roads makes sense. But some people don’t get it. They want the apps banned.

Caroline Russell, Transport Spokesman for the Green Party and member of the London Assembly, has been pricked into action by people who don’t like drivers using roads by their homes. And they’re blaming apps. “We have a huge congestion problem, and apps which provide a cut through, simply move that problem into areas where people are living,” says Russell.

But they don’t. The apps present a solution to the problem. And there being cars where people live is pretty much the point of the things – cars are very good at getting you home.

She continues: “It might be good for a few drivers, but it is much less healthy for the residents in those streets. A lot of these streets have so much parking you can’t even get two cars down, so you get jams, and a build up of pollution.”

So drivers can use the apps and, er, change direction to find an alternative route.

She continues: “Mini-Holland schemes have completely transformed neighbourhoods. Cars can no longer get in anymore. Those areas which were bumper to bumper now feel upbeat and positive. People now enjoy walking or riding their bike, so not only has it cut pollution but it’s a nudge in the right direction towards a healthier lifestyle.”

(Mini-Hollands are when roads are blocked to all vehicles except cyclists and motorists who live on them. The scheme is being implemented in three London boroughs.)

Meanwhile, people living nearby already busy roads get to see the value of their property fall as these new ‘gated communities’ are protected from outsiders and ‘other drivers’.

Why not do something more imaginative than banning things that keep traffic moving, like building more roads?

Posted: 1st, January 2018 | In: News, Technology | Comment | Comments RSS feed:RSS 2.0


The ultimate egg braking machine

All I want for Christmas is the ‘Egg Breaker eight line RZ-8, Wybijarka ośmiorzędowa RZ-8 OVO-TECH’:

 

Posted: 23rd, December 2017 | In: Technology, The Consumer | Comment | Comments RSS feed:RSS 2.0


Walking in polluted cities London is good for you

When seeing a shocking headline, it’s useful to turn it around. The Telegraph brings news that “Pollution wipes out the benefits of walking”. Turn it about and its reads: “Walking wipes out the harm caused by pollution.” Given that it’s cheaper to walk than it is to stop polluting, the solution to better health is simple, right?

The news is rooted in a study by the Imperial College London and funded by the British Heart Foundation, which looked at a sample of the over 60s, inviting 119 people to take a single two-hour stroll through London’s Hyde Park and neighbouring Oxford Street. The park stroll was good for the lungs, opening them up and improving arterial flexibility by up to 24%. But walk down the bus car park that’s Oxford Street and the walkers saw less improvement in lung capacity and up to 4.6 per cent rise in artery flexibility.

The Telegraph is putting a spin on the news. But in the Huffington Post it gets more confusing. It says:

Volunteers who took a walk in Hyde Park experienced a decrease in the stiffness of their arteries, a benefit normally seen after exercise. In contrast, volunteers who walked on Oxford Street had a “worrying increase” in artery stiffness following exercise.

You can read the study in full here. And it suggests that the media is picking data. The walkers’ health and what medication they were on might be vital. It might even be that some drugs prove an effective barrier to the detrimental effects of pollution.

The study’s authors write:.

In healthy participants, walking in Hyde Park led to a reduction in arterial stiffness that persisted up to 26 h, a benefit that was not only lost but even reversed after walking on Oxford Street. Participants with COPD or ischaemic heart disease also exhibited a reduced pulse wave velocity after walking in Hyde Park but increased pulse wave velocity after walking on Oxford Street. All three groups showed reductions in augmentation index following Hyde Park; and this beneficial change was significantly attenuated (even reversed at a few timepoints) after the Oxford Street walk.

Imperial says CODP is “a chronic lung condition linked with smoking”. It continues:

There are some limitations to this study. Because we did not include a resting control group, it would not be possible to be certain that walking contributed to the changes in lung function or arterial stiffness.

And:

Our short-term study is unlikely to inform on the long-term benefits of exercise in relation to pollution. Moderate physical activity might protect against the adverse effects of air pollution on arterial stiffness

And then:

We have noted that adults free of chronic cardiopulmonary diseases lose the benefits of walking on pulmonary and cardiovascular function in a polluted environment. In participants with COPD and ischaemic heart disease exposed to traffic pollutants, the pulmonary benefit from walking seem to be lost too, but the improvement in arterial stiffness caused by walking is relatively well preserved in ischaemic heart disease participants, likely due to concomitant routine medication use.

So if you’ve got a sickly heart, walking in polluted environment might not do you as much good as walking in the park.

In 2016, Imperial College reported: “Walking and cycling in cities is good for health, despite worse air pollution.”

Dr Marko Tainio from the MRC Epidemiology Unit at the University of Cambridge, who led the new study, said:

“Our model indicates that in London health benefits of active travel always outweigh the risk from pollution. Even in Delhi, one of the most polluted cities in the world – with pollution levels ten times those in London – people would need to cycle over five hours per week before the pollution risks outweigh the health benefits.

“We should remember, though, that a small minority of workers in the most polluted cities, such as bike messengers, may be exposed to levels of air pollution high enough to cancel out the health benefits of physical activity.”

And:

“These findings are important as for many people, such as the elderly or those with chronic disease, very often the only exercise they can do is to walk,” said senior author Fan Chung, Professor of Respiratory Medicine and Head of Experimental Studies Medicine at National Heart & Lung Institute at Imperial College London. “Our research suggests that we might advise older adults to walk in green spaces, away from built-up areas and pollution from traffic,” he added.

It’s interesting. But to look at the study and thunder “Air pollution wipes out benefits of exercise” as the Telegraph and Indy do it misleading.

Posted: 7th, December 2017 | In: Broadsheets, News, Technology | Comment | Comments RSS feed:RSS 2.0


Daily Mail: Underage YouTube watchers are ‘looking more grown up than ever’

The Daily Mail today publishes the “Terrifying truth about what your child watches on YouTube”. There is a welter of bilge on YouTube, some of it troubling. But is the Mail best placed to criticise? The paper tells readers that YouTube hosts “sexualised child content”. Another story is headline “3-year-olds watching YouTube”. The story is that paedos are out there. And what looks innocent to kids, appeals to perverts.

So should Mail Online be accessible only to adults?

This has all appeared on the website:

* Chloe Moretz appears to have aged rather rapidly since her first turn in film Kick-Ass.With flowing blonde locks, and artfully applied make-up, she looked rather mature for her 15 years…

* She’s still only 15, but Chloë Moretz…The strawberry blonde stepped out with a male friend in a cute Fifties-style powder blue sleeveless collared shirt which she tied at her waist – revealing just a hint of her midriff.

* “Classy Chloe: Teen actress Moretz, 14, looks all grown up…

*“Rather risqué for a 14-year-old? Kick Ass star Chloe Moretz sports a sheer blouse and short leather skirt at film premiere…But it seems her rising Hollywood star might have caused 14-year-old Chloe Moretz to grow up a little too fast.The young actress stepped out on the red carpet at the Toronto Film Festival last night wearing a rather risqué outfit…”

Remember when Suri Cruise was big news:

 

 

Heidi Klum’s daughter was spotted. She was eight years old, when the Mail reported on the pre-pubescent “leggy beauty“:

Model in the making: Klum’s daughter Leni has model stems like her mommy

And:

 

 

Ban this sick filth!

Posted: 29th, November 2017 | In: News, Tabloids, Technology | Comment | Comments RSS feed:RSS 2.0


Toy Freaks and other creepy ways to exploit children and get rich on YouTube

Ever see Toy Freaks? It was the 68th most popular channel on YouTube. It ‘was’ because it’s gone, banned for flouting YouTube’s “community guidelines”. Google, YouTube’s owners, were super cautious not to act too rashly, allowing Toy Freaks to post more than 500 videos over six years and garner over 7 billions views. Social Blade estimates the channel earned up to £8.7 million a year for the creators and just over £7m for Google.

As advertisers baulked at having their brands associated with Toy Freaks and other weird and often frighteningly unsettling YouTube channels, Google pulled the plug. Community guildines are nothing compared to the bottom line.

 

Toy Freaks with advert

Dropbox was not pleased to have its brand endorse the Toy Freaks video

 

What you missed was single dad Greg Chism, 46, aka “Freak Daddy”, filming his two daughters – named Annabelle and Victoria; age nine and seven, respectively – being freaked out by his antics. They are filmed “wearing baby clothes, sucking dummies and being terrified by live snakes”. One commentator saw “videos of the children vomiting and in pain”.

It turns out that you can’t dictate you audience, and if you publish videos of children in the bath screaming their heads off as dad tosses in a toy toad and claims it to be real, a few nasties arrive to take a long look. Below a film of the daughters playing in a swimming pool, a viewer wrote:

“Victoria, Annabelle, I’ve been wanting to call you for years and I want to call you today how do I call you what’s your number anyways please.”

Mr Chism, 46, offers:

“I am a single father of two daughters and solely focused on providing for their future. I am blessed that our family has been able to take such a remarkable journey in life while entertaining millions on YouTube.”

He’s swallowed the marketing guff. But he’s right: millions did watch; not all them children and bots. He continues:

“Unfortunately, allegations such as these are truly dangerous and reckless and sadly demonstrate the point that in today’s irresponsible internet culture, the truth is often rendered irrelevant.”

Carolyne Keenan, a child psychologist, adds:

“The Toy Freaks content contains footage of activities that a lot of children would not be allowed to do. One of the videos shows a child smashing a bowl of cereal off the table, encouraged by a much older man, a dad figure, to kill a fly for example.

“Videos like this allow children to explore a world that in real life would feel scary, dangerous or get them into trouble.”

It’s fantasy, right, but featuring actual children, which is peculiar. But is the broader issue here less the alleged exploitation of minors than fears of humanity being in thrall of technological advance? What is “irresponsible internet culture”? Printing, comic books, radio and TV were all met with a large doses of fear. But it’s not the kids freaking out; they’re alright. It’s the adults affecting young people’s lives with their own prejudices, perversions and anxieties.

Posted: 18th, November 2017 | In: News, Technology | Comment | Comments RSS feed:RSS 2.0


Uber’s flying cars attract thousands of unemployed pilots

uber flying cars

 

In today’s episode of ‘Hey dude, where’s my flying car?’ Uber is promoting its flying taxis. The Evening Standard says Uber has “revealed” it’s plans for flying cabs, in much the same way, I suppose, Facebook boss Mark Zuckenberg revealed his plans to end all disease, an entrepreneur revealed his intention of using lightning to power the planet and a second grader revealed their plans for sweets that are good for you.

We read:

The minicab firm released new video footage on Wednesday as it announced it would be bringing testing of the airborne cars to Los Angeles by 2020.

And just as soon as the flying cars have been made, we’ll all be riding in one. But they’re not really cars. They’re aircraft. Uber’s head of product Jeff Holden says the company has signed a Space Act Agreement with NASA to create a brand-new air traffic control system to manage these low-flying, possibly autonomous aircraft.

Cynics might say that having stuffed up on the ground – most notably in London where Uber was deemed “not fit and proper” to hold a private hire licence – Uber is off into the firmament where no-one can hear their passengers scream. And But it is a nice idea. And just as soon as Uber drivers have retrained as pilot, paying for the course from their own pockets, natch., it’ll be up and running.

Posted: 8th, November 2017 | In: News, Technology | Comment | Comments RSS feed:RSS 2.0


Graphene rods to harness lightning

Life mirrors Back to The Future in the Times, where Sandy Chen has a dream. First you build a massive graphene lightning rod that reaches miles into the skies. Then you harness nature’s explosion.

Nothing all that new in the idea. And why it’s in the paper is unclear. The story reads a little like an advert for Chen’s company – and likening him to Elon Musk, the PayPal billionaire who has a dream for electric transport, is ambitious. But that’s not to say lightning power is uninteresting:

Of course, harnessing the power of an H-bomb is easier said than done, and scientists have been scratching their heads for decades over the conundrum of capturing and storing the five billion joules of energy that a bolt can transmit to Earth in a matter of microseconds. Chen admits that “it is really farfetched, but if we can develop it, that would just be pretty cool”.

It’s hot:

In the UK we experience relatively few thunderstorms each year: in England thunder occurs on average 11 days per year, with even fewer in Scotland and Wales. Even during a thunderstorm it’s incredibly difficult to predict when and where lightning will strike.

Assuming that you are lucky and get a lightning bolt to hit your conductor, there would be major difficulties in storing the energy and then converting it to alternating current so it can run your appliances. In addition, any solution to these problems would need to be able to withstand the enormous surges in energy generated by each strike.

Finally, much of the lightning bolt’s energy goes into heating the surrounding air to temperatures greater than the surface of the Sun. So even if you managed to overcome the problems of collecting, storing and converting the energy from the lightning to make it useful, you would still only be harnessing a small proportion of the lightning bolt’s power.

Good idea.

 

Posted: 1st, November 2017 | In: Broadsheets, Technology | Comment | Comments RSS feed:RSS 2.0


New 3D Zebra Crossing has drivers in Iceland on high alert

Ísafjörður, Iceland, crossingzebra

 

Mind the gap when crossing the road in Ísafjörður, Iceland, where the usual zebra-crossing has been given a third dimension by street painting company Vegi GÍH and the city’s environmental commissioner Ralf Trylla. The idea is to promote art and make drivers pay more attention when approach the crossing.

 

Ísafjörður, Iceland, crossingzebra

 

Given the sensational scenery in Iceland, the zebra might be necessary in keeping drivers’ eyes on the road.

 

Spotter: Iceland Magazine,  Swissmiss

Posted: 26th, October 2017 | In: Politicians, Strange But True, Technology | Comment | Comments RSS feed:RSS 2.0


A flame-activated edition of Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451

 

The Anne Petronille Nypels Lab at Holland’s Van Eyck Academie showcases the work of French graphic design collective Super Terrain. They’ve created a version of Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 in heat sensitive ink. At room temperature the book’s text is secreted under a layer of black substance. Heat it up and the words are revealed.

 

Ray Bradbury’s classic Fahrenheit 451

 

Spotter: Open Culture, Flashbak

 

Posted: 22nd, October 2017 | In: Books, Technology, The Consumer | Comment | Comments RSS feed:RSS 2.0


Organic farming wastes resources and what about the animals?

We should all care where meat comes from. Poor animal welfare shames us all. Writing in the Guardian, George Monbiot has an idea:

One study in Britain suggests that, if we stopped using animal products, everyone in Britain could be fed on just 3m of our 18.5m hectares of current farmland (or on 7m hectares if all our farming were organic).

Organic is wasteful, then, right? And if we stop using animal product, where does the fertiliser for organic come from?

The study Monbiot cites is in the Land Magazine. You can read it there, and then know that according to the Soil Association, “Organic means…no manufactured herbicides or artificial fertilisers.”

Poo it is, then. We need farm animals. But we can all agree they must be well treated. Anything less is a curse on our age.

 

Posted: 21st, October 2017 | In: News, Technology, The Consumer | Comment | Comments RSS feed:RSS 2.0


Anyone with a 3D printer can make your keys from a photo

3d key

 

In the file marked ‘What could go wrong?’ we slide Dave Pedu’s Openscad model capabale of producing a Kwitset key from a photo. All you need is a 3D printer and your house-key can be duplicated.

Rather than simply duplicating an existing key, [Dave] created a parametric key blank in OpenSCAD; he just enters his pin settings and the model generator creates the print file. He printed ABS on a glass plate with a schmeer of acetone on it, and .15mm layer heights. Another reason [Dave] chose Kwikset is that the one he had was super old and super loose — he theorizes that a newer, tighter lock might simply break the key.

So, a reminder: Don’t post a picture of your keys on the socials since at this point it’s certainly possible to script the entire process from selecting a picture to pulling the key off the print bed.

Expect criminals to be nicking 3D printers some day soon…

Posted: 15th, October 2017 | In: Technology | Comment | Comments RSS feed:RSS 2.0


Inside China’s censorship factories

censorship china

 

To the Wisdom Mountain Twin Towers in China’s Tianjin city, where the bright young things are cleansing the internet of words and images the State would rather you did not see. The Chinese government often outsource censorship to British students private companies, like Toutiao, which raised $2B in capital markets. These companies are recruiting prim minds to uphold moral values and restrict your view of the world and the people around you.

And you won’t hear the West complain, not as long as the Chinese keep paying for our acquiescence. In August, under pressure of an academic boycott, Cambridge University Press reinstated over 300 articles it removed from its prestigious China Quarterly journal at the behest of the Chinese authorities. The Chinese State wants facts erased the world over:

Zhang Lijun, chairman of the online news and video portal V1 Group, said that between 20 and 30 per cent of his company’s labour costs went on content auditors – a necessary business expenditure.

“Without doubt you need to maintain close ties with the ruling party,” Zhang said. “Party building, setting up party units properly, these can ensure your news goes out smoothly and keeps your business operations safe.”

The Beijing-based censor said Toutiao used artificial intelligence systems to censor content, though these don’t always understand the tone of posts.

“We are training the AI. They are not as smart. Hopefully they will learn to handle all this eventually.” For now, though, real humans are still in demand.

An advertisement Toutiao posted on Tianjin Foreign Studies University’s career page for students this month sought 100 fresh graduates to work in “content audit”, earning between 4,000-6,000 yuan ($611-$917) per month.

Spotter: SCMP

Posted: 13th, October 2017 | In: News, Technology | Comment | Comments RSS feed:RSS 2.0


If you can pay the fee Facebook will hook you up with ‘Jew haters’

Thanks to ProPublicawe know that you can book adverts on Facebook that target anti-Semites. Most Facebook user of would ignore these ads, of course. Active Nazis are thin on the ground. And as the Jewish joke goes, “If anyone was going to hate us, thank God it’s the Arabs.” But Jew hating is increasingly popular. I am amazed and disappointed that here isn’t more outrage about rising anti-Semitism.

Propublica, whose stated mission is “to expose abuses of power and betrayals of the public trust by government, business, and other institutions, using the moral force of investigative journalism to spur reform through the sustained spotlighting of wrongdoing” has Facebook in its crosshairs.

ProPublica says:

Want to market Nazi memorabilia, or recruit marchers for a far-right rally? Facebook’s self-service ad-buying platform had the right audience for you. Until this week, when we asked Facebook about it, the world’s largest social network enabled advertisers to direct their pitches to the news feeds of almost 2,300 people who expressed interest in the topics of “Jew hater,” “How to burn jews,” or, “History of ‘why jews ruin the world.’”

All this stuff exists offline. And thanks to the internet, readers and collectors of such racist nonsense can be monitored – all 2,300 of them in the gigantic Facebook ecosystem. I’d argue that if Facebook – owned by a Jew – can take their money, then good for them. Free speech and free thought are cornerstones of democracy. If people want to talk about hating Jews and conspiracy theories, let them.

So ProPublica paid £30 for “promoted posts” targeted at those Jew-hating Facebookers.

In all likelihood, the ad categories that we spotted were automatically generated… Facebook’s algorithm automatically transforms people’s declared interests into advertising categories.

Which begs the question: who programmed the computer?

Rob Leathern, product management director at Facebook, has issued the following statement:

We don’t allow hate speech on Facebook. Our community standards strictly prohibit attacking people based on their protected characteristics, including religion, and we prohibit advertisers from discriminating against people based on religion and other attributes. However, there are times where content is surfaced on our platform that violates our standards. In this case, we’ve removed the associated targeting fields in question. We know we have more work to do, so we’re also building new guardrails in our product and review processes to prevent other issues like this from happening in the future.”

Of course, hate speech is free speech. That doesn’t mean you should set out to assault and intimidate people. It means you are free to say what you want and for it to be freely debated in public. Calling something hateful is too-often used to shut down free expression. So what did Facebook do wrong?

Ira Glasser, a former executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union, now president of the board of directors of the Drug Policy Alliance, nails it:

How is ‘hate speech’ defined, and who decides which speech comes within the definition? Mostly, it’s not us. In the 1990s in America, black students favoured ‘hate speech’ bans because they thought it would ban racists from speaking on campuses. But the deciders were white. If the codes the black students wanted had been in force in the 1960s, their most frequent victim would have been Malcolm X. In England, Jewish students supported a ban on racist speech. Later, Zionist speakers were banned on the grounds that Zionism is a form of racism. Speech bans are like poison gas: seems like a good idea when you have your target in sight — but the wind shifts, and blows it back on us.

You want to have official endoresment of what can be said? Surely not.

As for Facebook, well, it’s not a public service. It’s a profit-making company not a moralising force for spiritual salvation.

Posted: 15th, September 2017 | In: Key Posts, News, Technology | Comment | Comments RSS feed:RSS 2.0


9/11 from Space

On September 11, 2001, astronaut Frank Culbertson saw the destruction of New York City's Twin Towers from the International Space Station. He wrote: "It's horrible to see smoke pouring from wounds in your own country from such a fantastic vantage point. The dichotomy of being on a spacecraft dedicated to improving life on the earth and watching life being destroyed by such willful, terrible acts is jolting to the psyche, no matter who you are."

 

On September 11, 2001, astronaut Frank Culbertson saw the destruction of New York City’s Twin Towers from the International Space Station. He wrote: “It’s horrible to see smoke pouring from wounds in your own country from such a fantastic vantage point. The dichotomy of being on a spacecraft dedicated to improving life on the earth and watching life being destroyed by such wilful, terrible acts is jolting to the psyche, no matter who you are.”

 

Posted: 11th, September 2017 | In: Strange But True, Technology | Comment | Comments RSS feed:RSS 2.0


Uganda vows to attack gays with a ‘homos’-sniffing machine

The Ugandan government is on the look out for homosexuals. Helping it to detect “homos and porn actors, especially those misusing applications like Whatsapp with sex acts” is a gadget imported from South Korea – that’s the country exporting porno fridges.

The machine was ordered last year. It’s just been delivered, reportedly. But who ordered it? And does it work?

In 2016, Uganda’s Red Pepper newspaper spoke with Father Simon Lokodo, the country’s Minister of Ethics and Integrity. Red Pepper is the Ugandan tabloid that in 2014 named the country’s “200 top homosexuals”, a day after President Yoweri Museveni signed into law a bill toughening penalties for gays: a fine of UGX 10 million ($3000) or up to 10 years in jail, or both.

 

 

The paper has an enthusiastic interest in gay sex.

 

 

uganda gay bum driller red pepper

 

The story began with a photo of the gay-hunting politician underscored with the caption, “Homos Want To Rape Me – Fr. Lokodo.” Readers were told:

The amiable man of God, who quit priesthood after being appointed minister in 2011, told Red Pepper in an exclusive interview that ever since he waged a war on homosexuality, shameless homos have decided to fight back by insulting him with gay sex advances. Lokodo’s most recent brush with the bum-drillers happened last week when — together with police — he stormed and foiled a gay pride parade that was being planned at Kabalagala in Kampala city.

 

 

Thoughts soon turn to the gay-detecting machine. Lokodo explained his “war” on homosexual love:

“We are going to attack and attack. I have fresh tactics. One of them is a censor gadget or machine. We are going to procure this machine and it will detect homos and porn actors especially those misusing applications like WhatsApp with sex acts. The South Koreans are programming it. And very soon we will ship it into the country and all the evil will be busted.

How the machine works, we don’t know. Perhaps the machine works a bit like the mysterious E-meter, the Scientology device, which, according to that group “does nothing. It is an electronic instrument that measures mental state and change of state in individuals and assists the precision and speed of auditing.” But does nothing.

TechZim has a theory about the G-meter.

The machine will detect pornographic pictures, videos or graphics taken or saved on phones, computers or cameras…. How does the pornography detection machine work though? This machine is not the first attempt at detecting porn on devices. There are several products already available, the Paraben Porn Detection Stick being an example. The Stick uses advanced image analysing algorithms to identify facial features, flesh tones and body parts that are potentially pornographic among other things.

The Stick actually works to a certain extent. It errs on the side of over-zealousness as it flags normal photos as pornographic more frequently than the opposite. The Stick however only scans for images and not videos which are harder to scan. Uganda’s machine does both, which it should at $88,000 because the Paraben Porn Detection Stick costs around $129.

Worryingly, the machine can also tap Virtual private networks (VPNS).

An interesting tidbit about the machine’s technology is that it can trace traffic from VPNs and proxy networks such as Tor. With such leads, they can they block the nodes routing traffic from the VPNs in question.

This means that we are unlikely to see a repeat of what happened during the social media blackout that was instituted in February during election time, when VPN clients were downloaded 1.5 million times to bypass restrictions.

Here’s the anti-porn committee being sworn in:

Worrying stuff.

Posted: 9th, September 2017 | In: Key Posts, News, Politicians, Technology | Comment | Comments RSS feed:RSS 2.0


Tim Cook and Apple beat the principal-agent problem

Apple shares are soaring. The iPhone remains the best and most desirable phone on the market. And with success comes money.

Tim Cook, the chief executive of Apple, has collected $89.6m as part of a 10-year deal that he signed as an incentive to keep the iPhone maker at the forefront of the technology industry after he took over the reins in 2011 from company co-founder Steve Jobs.

Nice one:

The stock package awarded to Cook in 2011 was originally valued at $376m, but is now worth much more because Apple shares have increased by six-fold since he signed the deal.

Apple Insider has more:

If Apple’s performance fell in the middle third of the S&P 500, Cook’s RSU award would have been reduced by half. Cook would have collected nothing if Apple stock finished in the bottom-third.

Apple and Cook are bound.

The principal–agent problem, in political science and economics, (also known as agency dilemma or the agency problem) occurs when one person or entity (the “agent”) is able to make decisions on behalf of, or that impact, another person or entity: the “principal”. This dilemma exists in circumstances where agents are motivated to act in their own best interests, which are contrary to those of their principals, and is an example of moral hazard.

Meanwhile, over at the Guardian, which repeats the story of Cook’s earnings from a newswire feed without mention of the penalties Cook faced for missing targets:

The Guardian has confirmed losses of £69m for the last financial year but said it was making significant progress in its membership scheme, with more than 50,000 people paying to sign up.

At least the newspaper now is trying to produce a viable business, asking readers to donate (no, not to pay, as the Times does):

The new editor of The Guardian is to be paid tens of thousands less than her male predecessor, according to figures published by the newspaper group.

Katharine Viner received a salary of £340,000 for 2014-15, putting her basic earnings well behind the £395,000 handed to Alan Rusbridger, whom she replaced last month as editor-in-chief of the paper.

Taking into account Mr Rusbridger’s other payouts from the group, where he was editor for two decades, the former newspaper boss took home £492,000 over the past year, £152,000 more than his successor.

And for his last seasons in charge:

The revelation of the pay gap came as Guardian News and Media, the publisher of The Guardian and The Observer, reported an underlying loss of £19.1 million for its latest financial year, a slight improvement on the £19.4 million it lost the previous year.

Performance-related pay can be perilous.

Posted: 30th, August 2017 | In: Broadsheets, Money, Technology | Comment | Comments RSS feed:RSS 2.0