Science & Technology


Microsoft caught up in fresh privacy storm

Microsoft on Thursday scrambled to head off a privacy storm after it was revealed that the software company had searched through the private email of a blogger it suspected of having received stolen software code.

The concession marked one of the most damaging privacy gaffes to hit a leading US technology company since revelations in 2013 that the country's National Security Agency had been spying on their users. The companies involved, including Microsoft, reacted with outrage at the secret government snooping.
Cell Phone

Indian student builds shoe that charges cell phone while walking

cell phones
© unknown
Last month we came across reports about a 15-year old boy who built a 3D printer, and now we have this: A 12th standard boy has created a shoe that can charge mobile devices as you walk. The boy concerned has been identified as Rajesh Adhikari from Nainital, and his shoe takes complete advantage of the energy generated when a person walks, in order to charge a mobile phone.

According to a report by ANI, the idea of making such as waterproof charger struck Adhikari when it snowed heavily at his home town, leading to a power blackout. He had built the device to ensure that in such times, one could charge phones at least for basic communication. But this also means users will have to walk enough to charge the device. A new good reason for exercise perhaps!

Talking about the shoe-mobile charger, Adhikari told the news agency, "When we raise our feet, the spring gets released and the dynamo starts revolving, which generates current. We can charge our mobile phones while we are walking."

Scientists use DNA samples to reconstruct faces

Sometime in the future, technicians will go over the scene of the crime. They'll uncover some DNA evidence and take it to the lab. And when the cops need to get a picture of the suspect, they won't have to ask eyewitnesses to give descriptions to a sketch artist - they'll just ask the technicians to get a mugshot from the DNA.

That, at least, is the potential of new research being published today in PLOS Genetics. In that paper, a team of scientists describe how they were able to produce crude 3D models of faces extrapolated from a person's DNA.

"We show that facial variation with regard to sex, ancestry, and genes can be systematically studied with our methods, allowing us to lay the foundation for predictive modeling of faces," the researchers wrote in their paper. "Such predictive modeling could be forensically useful; for example, DNA left at crime scenes could be tested and faces predicted in order to help to narrow the pool of potential suspects."

DNA face reconstruction
© Shriver Claes/Penn State

A top neuroscientist warns that human cyborgs are a terrible idea

© BioTeams

Researchers are always looking at ways to harness the power of the human brain, and augment our grey matter - be it mind-controlled drones, brain-machine interfaces, or using brain scans to predict future criminals. But some scientists warn we shouldn't go cyborg for at least another 100 years.

Paul Werbos, a program manager at the National Science Foundation and one of the country's leading neuroscientists, said that there could be dire consequences if we continue to experiment with the brain before we completely understand how it works.

"We're trying to reverse engineer the brain so we can understand it much better than we do," Werbos said at a panel in Washington, D.C. discussing the state of the future. "But, with the state of technology right now, in 100 years we might be able to reverse engineer [a brain] the level of a mouse."

Werbos, who clarified that he was offering up his own opinions and not those of the NSF, said we could open up a Pandora's Box of problems if we keep innovating without knowing what we're doing.

"Once upon a time, heroin was a great technological breakthrough, but it actually ushered in a new era with which we're still struggling," he said.

"There are a lot of current efforts to manipulate and control the brain without first understanding it ... those efforts, in my view, are closer to heroin. They're very dangerous."
Eye 1

Hackers develop drone that can steal the info on your phone

The next threat to your privacy could be hovering over head while you walk down the street.

Hackers have developed a drone that can steal the contents of your smartphone -- from your location data to your Amazon password -- and they've been testing it out in the skies of London. The research will be presented next week at the Black Hat Asia cybersecurity conference in Singapore.

The technology equipped on the drone, known as Snoopy, looks for mobile devices with Wi-Fi settings turned on.

Snoopy takes advantage of a feature built into all smartphones and tablets: When mobile devices try to connect to the Internet, they look for networks they've accessed in the past.

Near miss in July 2013: Chinese researchers confirm enormous solar flare could have produced a costly Carrington-class geomagnetic storm

SOlar Blast Devestating
© Reuters/NASA
Citizens of Earth had no idea how close the planet was to getting slammed with a devastating solar flare back in July 2013, but scientists claim we only missed the damaging event by nine days.

As noted by Reuters, scientists found that a series of coronal mass ejections - powerful eruptions on the sun's surface that send waves of magnetized plasma through the solar system - occurred last year sometime between July 22 and 23. The blasts traveled through Earth' orbit, but narrowly missed colliding with the planet.

According to a new report published in the Nature Communications journal on Tuesday, if the solar eruptions occurred just nine days earlier, they would have likely hit Earth and caused a great deal of damage to the planet's magnetic field. Fortunately for us, the Earth was on the other side of the sun by that point.

Scientists believe the blast would have equaled the might of the most powerful magnetic storm ever recorded: the Carrington event of 1859, which took down telegraph services around the world.

Sea anemones are half-plant, half-animal, gene study finds

Sea Anemone
© Copyright Nature, 2005
The sea anemone is a genetic oddball, with some traits similar to plants and others more closely resembling higher animals.
The sea anemone is an oddball: half-plant and half-animal, at least when it comes to its genetic code, new research suggests.

The sea creature's genes look more like those of animals, but the regulatory code that determines whether those genes are expressed resembles that in plants, according to a study published Tuesday (March 18) in the journal Genome Research.

What's more, the complicated network of gene interactions found in the simple sea anemone resembles that found in widely divergent, more complex animals.

"Since the sea anemone shows a complex landscape of gene regulatory elements similar to the fruit fly or other model animals, we believe that this principle of complex gene regulation was already present in the common ancestor of human, fly and sea anemone some 600 million years ago," Michaela Schwaiger, a researcher at the University of Vienna, said in a statement.
Cell Phone

Sick? There will soon be an app for that

bacteria detection
© unknown
Left: Pathogens and silver particles, blocking holes to detect the presence of bacteria. Right: A close-up of blocked holes
Research conducted by scientists at the University of Houston brings your phone one step closer to telling you when you're sick. Jiming Bao, an assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering, and Richard Willson, a professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering, together developed a gold-lined glass slide with holes that will be blocked in the presence of bacteria. The concept is still being developed, but Willson claims a final product that attaches to your phone could cost only $20.

That price is bold, especially for a technique so involved beneath the surface. The process centers around a glass slide covered in light-sensitive material, and evaporated gold with tiny holes that allow light to pass through them. Disease antibodies are placed into the holes of the slide, sticking to the glass. If a biological sample contains that disease, those molecules will bond with the antibodies in the holes. This isn't enough to completely cover the holes, so another layer of antibodies is placed on top, along with enzymes that evoke silver production. After a short period of time, the slide can be rinsed again and the silver produced will be enough to block light from coming through the holes.

Comment: Are we so dense that we need a phone to tell us when we're sick?

Alarm Clock

Scientists find mechanism to reset body clock

Body Clock
© Huffingtonpost
Researchers from The University of Manchester have discovered a new mechanism that governs how body clocks react to changes in the environment. And the discovery, which is being published in Current Biology, could provide a solution for alleviating the detrimental effects of chronic shift work and jet-lag.

The team's findings reveal that the enzyme casein kinase 1epsilon (CK1epsilon) controls how easily the body's clockwork can be adjusted or reset by environmental cues such as light and temperature.

Internal biological timers (circadian clocks) are found in almost every species on the planet. In mammals including humans, circadian clocks are found in most cells and tissues of the body, and orchestrate daily rhythms in our physiology, including our sleep/wake patterns and metabolism.

Dr David Bechtold, who led The University of Manchester's research team, said: "At the heart of these clocks are a complex set of molecules whose interaction provides robust and precise 24 hour timing. Importantly, our clocks are kept in synchrony with the environment by being responsive to light and dark information."

This work, funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council, was undertaken by a team from The University of Manchester in collaboration with scientists from Pfizer led by Dr Travis Wager.
Arrow Up

Risk of a monster quake and tsunami off California's North Coast is greater than researchers once thought

© Matthew Crawford/For The Times
A man rides his bicycle in 2004 in Crescent City, where a 1964 earthquake spawned a deadly tsunami.
If a 9.0 earthquake were to strike along California's sparsely populated North Coast, it would have a catastrophic ripple effect.

A giant tsunami created by the quake would wash away coastal towns, destroy U.S. 101 and cause $70 billion in damage over a large swath of the Pacific coast. More than 100 bridges would be lost, power lines toppled and coastal towns isolated. Residents would have as few as 15 minutes notice to flee to higher ground, and as many as 10,000 would perish.

Scientists last year published this grim scenario for a massive rupture along the Cascadia fault system, which runs 700 miles off shore from Northern California to Vancouver Island.

The Cascadia subduction zone is less known than the San Andreas fault, which scientists have long predicted will produce The Big One. But in recent years, scientists have come to believe that the Cascadia is far more dangerous than originally believed and have been giving the system more attention.

The Cascadia begins at a geologically treacherous area where three tectonic plates are pushing against each other. The intersection has produced the two largest earthquakes in California in the last decade - Sunday's 6.8 temblor off Eureka and a 7.2 quake off Crescent City in 2005. The area has produced six quakes of magnitude 7.0 or greater in the last 100 years, the California Geological Survey said.