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Crypto Wars 2.0: New privacy battle looms after moves by Apple, Google


A new battle is brewing over privacy for mobile devices, after moves by Google and Apple to toughen the encryption of their mobile devices sparked complaints from law enforcement
A new battle is brewing over privacy for mobile devices, after moves by Google and Apple to toughen the encryption of their mobile devices sparked complaints from law enforcement.

The issue is part of a long-running debate over whether tech gadgets should have privacy-protecting encryption which makes it difficult for law enforcement to access in time-sensitive investigations.

FBI director James Comey reignited the issue last week, criticizing Apple and Google for new measures that keep smartphones locked down - without even the company holding the keys to unlock the data.

"What concerns me about this is companies marketing something expressly to allow people to place themselves beyond the law," the FBI chief said, warning that law enforcement may be denied timely access, even with a warrant, in cases ranging from child kidnapping to terrorism.

Former FBI criminal division chief Ronald Hosko made a similar point in an opinion piece in the Washington Post, citing a case in which the agency used smartphone data to solve a brutal kidnapping just in time to save the life of the victim.

"Most investigations don't rely solely on information from one source, even a smartphone," he said. "But without each and every important piece of the investigative puzzle, criminals and those who plan acts destructive to our national security may walk free."
Galaxy

Swift mission observes 'superflare' from a mini star

stellar flare
© Credit: NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center/S. Wiessinger
DG CVn, a binary consisting of two red dwarf stars shown here in an artist's rendering, unleashed a series of powerful flares seen by NASA's Swift. At its peak, the initial flare was brighter in X-rays than the combined light from both stars at all wavelengths under typical conditions.
On April 23, NASA's Swift satellite detected the strongest, hottest, and longest-lasting sequence of stellar flares ever seen from a nearby red dwarf star. The initial blast from this record-setting series of explosions was as much as 10,000 times more powerful than the largest solar flare ever recorded.

"We used to think major flaring episodes from red dwarfs lasted no more than a day, but Swift detected at least seven powerful eruptions over a period of about two weeks," said Stephen Drake, an astrophysicist at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, who gave a presentation on the "superflare" at the August meeting of the American Astronomical Society's High Energy Astrophysics Division. "This was a very complex event."

At its peak, the flare reached temperatures of 360 million degrees Fahrenheit (200 million Celsius), more than 12 times hotter than the center of the sun.

The "superflare" came from one of the stars in a close binary system known as DG Canum Venaticorum, or DG CVn for short, located about 60 light-years away. Both stars are dim red dwarfs with masses and sizes about one-third of our sun's. They orbit each other at about three times Earth's average distance from the sun, which is too close for Swift to determine which star erupted.
Comet 2

Follow-up of splitting event in Comet C/2011 J2

Comet C/2011 J2
© Remanzacco Observatory
CBET 3979, issued on 2014 September 19, announced that observations of comet C/2011 J2 (LINEAR) (by F. Manzini, V. Oldani, A. Dan and R. Behrend) on Aug. 27.95, 28.85, and 30.91 UT led to the detection of a second, fainter, nuclear condensation (from now on Component B) located 0".8 east and 7".5 north of the main, brighter nuclear condensation (component A).

For more info about comet C/2011 J2 please see our May 2011 post on this blog by clicking here.

Whilst working on a long term morphology study on comet C/2012 K1 with N. Samarasinha and B. Mueller using the 2-meter Liverpool Telescope, we were alerted of the fragmentation event in comet C/2011 J2 and so diverted the telescope to this comet for a few days.
Light Saber

Smart cities should be sharing and cooperative rather than solely technology focused

City Development
When mayors and developers focus on technology rather than people, smart quickly becomes stupid

These days every city claims to be a "smart" city, or is becoming one, with heavy investments in modern information and computing technology to attract businesses and make the city competitive.

But when mayors and developers focus on technology rather than people, smart quickly becomes stupid, threatening to exacerbate inequality and undermine the social cooperation essential to successful cities. After researching leading cities around the world, we've concluded that truly smart cities will be those that deploy modern technology in building a new urban commons to support communal sharing.

Comment: If our society was not ruled by a group of psychopaths, the natural creative and cooperative abilities of humans would be able to progress to the point where cities could develop in ways that would facilitate society's general health and well-being. Until the problem of psychopathy is understood by more people and steps are taken to counteract their influence, things will continue to deteriorate, and nature will take balancing steps.

Bulb

Five ways the superintelligence revolution could happen

cognitive brain
© io9.com
The Cognitive Brain
Biological brains are unlikely to be the final stage of intelligence. Machines already have superhuman strength, speed and stamina - and one day they will have superhuman intelligence. The only reasons this may not occur is if we develop some other dangerous technology first that destroys us, or otherwise fall victim to some existential risk.

But assuming that scientific and technological progress continues, human-level machine intelligence is very likely to be developed. And shortly thereafter, superintelligence.

Predicting how long it will take to develop such intelligent machines is difficult. Contrary to what some reviewers of my book seem to believe, I don't have any strong opinion about that matter. (It is as though the only two possible views somebody might hold about the future of artificial intelligence are "machines are stupid and will never live up to the hype!" and "machines are much further advanced than you imagined and true AI is just around the corner!").

A survey of leading researchers in AI suggests that there is a 50% probability that human-level machine intelligence will have been attained by 2050 (defined here as "one that can carry out most human professions at least as well as a typical human"). This doesn't seem entirely crazy. But one should place a lot of uncertainty on both sides of this: it could happen much sooner or very much later.

Exactly how we will get there is also still shrouded in mystery. There are several paths of development that should get there eventually, but we don't know which of them will get there first.

Comment: What is the ultimate reason to have superintelligent machines? To monitor and constrain the evil tendencies of humans? Counterbalance emotion-driven thinking? To figure out the secrets of the universe prematurely to our ability to understand them? Just because we can? Humans are essentially machines, given our intrinsic COG-nitive functioning and behaviors. Few of us have mastered the controls. Even fewer have gone beyond. We are already a "programmed species" receiving input from propaganda, cointelpro, marketing messages, fear mongering, historical rewrites, manipulation of belief systems - individually and as a population. Question is how much more mechanistic will we become all on our own? With military and governmental mind programs, alteration and subjugation of learned topics, mass hysteria induced by false flag operations, social programming - and the list goes on - how much of the original human prototype is left untampered? Is this intelligent progress? In a world of burgeoning population, it might seem to a neocon that a reduction to a few million humans and a few million superintelligent machines would be the ultimate advantage, by-in-large relegating the future of humankind to a death spiral as supermachines self-adapt and the era of man is self-phased out.

P.S.: And then there is the theory that the material world didn't create consciousness but consciousness created the material world. Perhaps there already is a supermind watching us attempt to play with blocks and recreate the wheel.

Sun

Older energy companies fear solar power's breakneck growth

© Steve & Michelle Gerdes/Flickr
Workers with solar city install rooftop panels in California.
If you ask the people who run America's electric utilities what keeps them up at night, a surprising number will say solar power. Specifically, rooftop solar.

That seems bizarre at first. Solar power provides just 0.4 percent of electricity in the United States - a minuscule amount. Why would anyone care?

But utilities see things differently. As solar technology gets dramatically cheaper, tens of thousands of Americans are putting photovoltaic panels up on their roofs, generating their own power. At the same time, 43 states and Washington DC have "net metering" laws that allow solar-powered households to sell their excess electricity back to the grid at retail prices.

That's a genuine problem for utilities. All these solar households are now buying less and less electricity, but the utilities still have to manage the costs of connecting them to the grid. Indeed, a new study from Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory argues that, without policy changes, this trend could soon put utilities in dire financial straits. If rooftop solar were to grab 10 percent of the market over the next decade, utility earnings could decline as much as 41 percent.

To avoid that fate, many utilities are now pushing for reforms that would at least slow the breakneck growth of rooftop solar - say, by scaling back those "net metering" laws. And that's opened up a war with many fronts. There are solar advocates who'd prefer not to see any changes. There are conservative groups like the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) pushing to pare back solar subsidies. And there are even Tea Party groups now defending solar. Meanwhile, state regulators are struggling to find compromises that would both allow solar to expand but also ensure that there's enough money to maintain the existing grid.

Battles over solar are now raging in more than a dozen states - from Arizona to Utah to Wisconsin to Georgia. (They're also flaring up abroad, in countries like Germany and Australia). And the debate raises some legitimately hard questions about how best to deal with a new energy technology. Here's a broad overview:
Info

Mysterious feature observed on Saturn's moon Titan

Titan's Mystery Feature
© NASA/JPL-Caltech/ASI/Cornell
These three images, created from Cassini Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) data, show the appearance and evolution of a mysterious feature in Ligeia Mare, one of the largest hydrocarbon seas on Saturn's moon Titan.
NASA's Cassini spacecraft is monitoring the evolution of a mysterious feature in a large hydrocarbon sea on Saturn's moon Titan. The feature covers an area of about 100 square miles (260 square kilometers) in Ligeia Mare, one of the largest seas on Titan. It has now been observed twice by Cassini's radar experiment, but its appearance changed between the two apparitions.

The mysterious feature, which appears bright in radar images against the dark background of the liquid sea, was first spotted during Cassini's July 2013 Titan flyby. Previous observations showed no sign of bright features in that part of Ligeia Mare. Scientists were perplexed to find the feature had vanished when they looked again, over several months, with low-resolution radar and Cassini's infrared imager. This led some team members to suggest it might have been a transient feature. But during Cassini's flyby on August 21, 2014, the feature was again visible, and its appearance had changed during the 11 months since it was last seen.
Galaxy

Significant fraction of water on Earth predate the sun and the solar system - study

© Bill Saxton, NSF/AUI/NRAO
An illustration of the history of origins of water in our solar system. A new study finds it started in the molecular cloud (prior to the Sun's formation), traveled through the stages of star formation, until it wound up in the solar system.
Some of the water molecules in your drinking glass were created more than 4.5 billion years ago, according to new research.

That makes them older than the Earth, older than the solar system - even older than the sun itself.

In a study published Thursday in Science, researchers say the distinct chemical signature of the water on Earth and throughout the solar system could occur only if some of that water formed before the swirling disk of dust and gas gave birth to the planets, moons, comets and asteroids.

This primordial water makes up 30% to 50% of the water on Earth, the researchers estimate.

This finding suggests that water, a key ingredient of life, may be common in young planetary systems across the universe, Cleeves and her colleagues say.

Scientists are still not entirely sure how water arrived on Earth. The part of the protoplanetary disk in which our planet formed was too hot for liquid or ice water to exist, and so the planet was born dry. Most experts believe the Earth's water came from ice in comets and asteroids that formed in a cooler environment, and later collided with our planet.

But this theory leads to more questions. Among them: Where did the water preserved in the comets and asteroids come from?

To find out, scientists turned to chemistry. Here on Earth, about one in every 3,000 molecules of water is made with a deuterium atom instead of a hydrogen atom.
Telescope

Simulations reveal an unusual death for ancient stars

© Ken Chen, UCSC
This image is a slice through the interior of a supermassive star of 55,500 solar masses along the axis of symmetry. It shows the inner helium core in which nuclear burning is converting helium to oxygen, powering various fluid instabilities (swirling lines). This "snapshot" from a CASTRO simulation shows one moment a day after the onset of the explosion, when the radius of the outer circle would be slightly larger than that of the orbit of the Earth around the sun. Visualizations were done in VisIT.
Certain primordial stars -- those between 55,000 and 56,000 times the mass of our Sun, or solar masses -- may have died unusually. In death, these objects -- among the Universe's first-generation of stars -- would have exploded as supernovae and burned completely, leaving no remnant black hole behind.

Astrophysicists at the University of California, Santa Cruz (UCSC) and the University of Minnesota came to this conclusion after running a number of supercomputer simulations at the Department of Energy's (DOE's) National Energy Research Scientific Computing Center (NERSC) and Minnesota Supercomputing Institute at the University of Minnesota. They relied extensively on CASTRO, a compressible astrophysics code developed at DOE's Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory's (Berkeley Lab's) Computational Research Division (CRD). Their findings were recently published in Astrophysical Journal (ApJ).

First-generation stars are especially interesting because they produced the first heavy elements, or chemical elements other than hydrogen and helium. In death, they sent their chemical creations into outer space, paving the way for subsequent generations of stars, solar systems and galaxies. With a greater understanding of how these first stars died, scientists hope to glean some insights about how the Universe, as we know it today, came to be.

"We found that there is a narrow window where supermassive stars could explode completely instead of becoming a supermassive black hole -- no one has ever found this mechanism before," says Ke-Jung Chen, a postdoctoral researcher at UCSC and lead author of the ApJ paper. "Without NERSC resources, it would have taken us a lot longer to reach this result. From a user perspective, the facility is run very efficiently and it is an extremely convenient place to do science."
Comet

PanSTARRS K1, the comet that keeps going and going and going

Comet C/2012 K1 PanSTARRS
© Rolando Ligustri
Comet C/2012 K1 PanSTARRS photographed on September 26, 2014. Two tails are seen – a dust tail points off to the left and the gas or ion tail to the right.
Thank you K1 PanSTARRS for hanging in there! Some comets crumble and fade away. Others linger a few months and move on. But after looping across the night sky for more than a year, this one is nowhere near quitting. Matter of fact, the best is yet to come.

This new visitor from the Oort Cloud making its first passage through the inner solar system, C/2012 K1 was discovered in May 2012 by the Pan-STARRS 1 survey telescope atop Mt. Haleakala in Hawaii at magnitude 19.7. Faint! On its the inbound journey from the Oort Cloud, C/2012 K1 approached with an orbit estimated in the millions of years. Perturbed by its interactions with the planets, its new orbit has been reduced to a mere ~400,000 years. That makes the many observing opportunities PanSTARRS K1 has provided that much more appreciated. No one alive now will ever see the comet again once this performance is over.
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