Science & Technology
Map


Laptop

NSA labels all German Tor users as 'extremists'

© www.torproject.org
The NSA has been revealed to mark and consider potential "extremists" all users of the internet anonymizer service Tor. Among those are hundreds of thousands of privacy concerned people like journalists, lawyers and rights activists.

Searching for encryption software like the Linux-based operating system Tails also places you on the NSA grid, as Lena Kampf, Jacob Appelbaum and John Goetz revealed on the German site Tagesschau. The report is based on analysis of the source code of the software used by NSA's electronic surveillance program XKeyscore.

Tor is a system of servers, which routes user requests through a layer of secured connections to make it impossible to identify a user's IP from the addresses of the websites he/she visits. The network of some 5,000 is operated by enthusiasts and used by hundreds of thousands of privacy-concerned people worldwide. Some of them live in countries with oppressive regimes, which punish citizens for visiting websites they deem inappropriate.
Bulb

Hacker-proof Russian tablet disconnects communication modules and sensors on demand

russian hack proof tablet
© RIA Novosti / Sergey Mamontov
A prototype of a Russian tablet, built using the Android-derived operating system RoMOS for the Russian Defense Ministry, which is apparently one featuring a physical disconnection of communication modules described by the OS developer TsNII EISU.
A clever hacker can turn a modern mobile device into a spy, surveilling its owner. But there is a straightforward response to it. A new Russian tablet thwarts hackers by physically disconnecting communication modules and sensors on demand.

The blunt-but-effective approach may sound like overkill, but the developer, a Russian research institute specializing in creating communication systems and providing IT security solutions for the military hopes their potential clients would appreciate it.

The device, dubbed 'Rupad' by some media, is meant for the Russian armed forces, law enforcement agencies and secret services. The 'kill communications' button it features affects GPS, 3G, WiFi and Bluetooth modules, as well as its two cameras, microphone and even speaker, Deputy director for development at TsNII EISU, Dmitry Petrov, told RIA Novosti.
Galaxy

'I'm not real' - "Neutron Star" refutes its own existence

A team of scientists studying the x-ray emissions of a so-called neutron star tell us that the existing theoretical models cannot explain what they are seeing. Astronomers say that neutron stars are very small yet massively dense objects that spin at incredibly fast speeds with rotation periods no more than hundreds of seconds and sometimes faster than a dentist drill. However, according to new research, a so-called neutron star has been observed with a rotation period of 5.4 hours, an anomalously slow speed. The neutron star is also unusual in that it is paired to form a binary with a red giant and the magnetic field of the neutron star is incredibly strong. No one has ever seen a neutron star, and they are an inferred entity. Wal Thornhill weighs in with his thoughts regarding the Electric Universe model.

Info

Israeli's chemical scanner could change shopping

SCiO
© GizMag
The SCiO Pocket Molecular Sensor.
Tel Aviv - An Israeli inventor has created a scanner that he says could change the way we shop and take care of ourselves - by reading the chemical makeup of foods, drugs and other items we use.

The tiny gadget is still limited to a few key applications. But creator Dror Sharon envisions a machine that will compile a massive collection of data that will allow users to analyze the physical matter that exists around them.

"We wanted to find applications where people have the most visceral connection to the world," said Sharon, CEO and co-founder of Consumer Physics.

His gadget, called the SCiO, is an infrared spectrometer the size of a thumb drive. It is being marketed for three applications - food, pharmaceuticals and horticulture, or the health of plants. Simply by pointing and clicking a miniature digital wand, users can see how many calories are in a piece of cheese or determine when a tomato will reach peak ripeness.

Its name evokes the Latin verb "to know."

These features may seem more fun than life-changing at this point. But ultimately, advocates say, the SCiO could have life-saving uses, such as identifying contaminated foods or determining whether a drug is counterfeit.
Eye 1

Human stem cells lead to corneal regrowth, improved vision in mice

Eye
© Piotr Krzeslak/Thinkstock.com
In an exciting new study, researchers have discovered a way to collect cells for the regeneration of corneal tissue - the clear membrane covering the pupil that directs light into the back of the eye.

The research team from Boston reported that purified human stem cells were used to improve long-term vision in mice. Currently, the team is waiting for FDA-approval to begin patient clinical trials.

This collaborative research effort was led by Natasha Frank, MD, and Markus Frank, MD, using work done at Massachusetts Eye and Ear/Schepens Eye Research Institute, Boston Children's Hospital, Brigham and Women's Hospital, and the US Department of Veterans Affairs Boston Healthcare System.

In some people blood vessels grow onto the cornea, vision clouding known as corneal blindness results. This condition is caused when limbus stem cells, located behind the cornea, are destroyed by injury, infection or autoimmune disease. Outcomes are inconsistent, but limbal stem cell transplants from an uninjured eye or deceased organ donor have had promising results.

"Previously published work on limbal epithelial cell grafts showed that when more than three percent of transplanted cells were stem cells, transplants were successful - less than three percent and the transplants were not," said HSCI Affiliated Faculty member Natasha Frank.

"The question in the field then was whether we could enrich the limbal stem cells. But until this study there was no specific marker that could isolate these cells," added Frank.
Info

How evolving traits helped humans survive unstable world

Fossil Skulls
© Chip Clark, Smithsonian Human Origins Program (left three); Guram Bumbiashvili, Ge orgian National Museum (right)
Three early human species likely co-existed at the dawn of humanity between 2.1 million and 1.8 million years ago, including the 1470 group (likely Homo rudolfensis) and the 1813 group, likely Homo habilis, (left and second from left, respectively). The other fossils represent Homo erectus, which evolved by 1.8 million to 1.9 million years ago.
Three different human species may have walked the Earth at the dawn of the human lineage, dividing up their environment in slightly different ways, and the ancestors of modern humans may have survived because oftraits such as large brains that helped them adapt to unstable, shifting landscapes, researchers say.

Moreover, the defining features of the human lineage may not have evolved together gradually at once, but piecemeal in stages over millions of years, scientists added.

Modern humans, Homo sapiens, are the only living members of the human lineage, the genus Homo, which is thought to have arisen in Africa more than 2 million years ago. Many now-extinct human species were thought to once roam the planet, such as Homo erectus, the first to regularly keep the tools it made.

Many traits unique to the human lineage were long thought to have originated between 2.4 million and 1.8 million years ago in Africa. These include a large brain and body, long legs, reduced differences between the sexes, increased meat-eating, prolonged maturation periods, increased social cooperation and tool making.

However, recent fossil evidence suggests these traits did not arise together as a single package. Instead, key human features evolved piecemeal at separate times, with some emerging substantially earlier and some later than previously thought.

For instance, recent findings suggest long legs, a feature once considered unique to humans, developed in earlier ancestors, the genus Australopithecus, between 3 million and 4 million years ago, and stone tools about 2.6 million years old may predate the origin of Homo.
Telescope

Standard model for planetary system formation in trouble?

proto-planetary disk
© NASA
Artist's concept of a protoplanetary disk
Not so long ago - as recently as the mid-1990s, in fact - there was a theory so beautiful that astronomers thought it simply had to be true.

They gave it a rather pedestrian name: the core-accretion theory. But its beauty lay in how it used just a few basic principles of physics and chemistry to account for every major feature of our Solar System. It explained why all the planets orbit the Sun in the same direction; why their orbits are almost perfectly circular and lie in or near the plane of the star's equator; why the four inner planets (Mercury, Venus, Earth and Mars) are comparatively small, dense bodies made mostly of rock and iron; and why the four outer planets (Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune) are enormous, gaseous globes made mostly of hydrogen and helium. And because the same principles of physics and astronomy must apply throughout the Universe, it predicted that any system of 'exoplanets' around another star would look pretty much the same.

But in the mid-1990s, astronomers actually started finding those exoplanets - and they looked nothing like those in our Solar System. Gas giants the size of Jupiter whipped around their stars in tiny orbits, where core accretion said gas giants were impossible. Other exoplanets traced out wildly elliptical orbits. Some looped around their stars' poles. Planetary systems, it seemed, could take any shape that did not violate the laws of physics.
Bullseye

Hackers attack US and European energy firms with Stuxnet-like viruses

computer output
© Reuters / Kacper Pempel
Hackers are targeting energy companies in the US and Europe in an apparent case of industrial espionage, according to several security companies, which say the perpetrators seem to be based in Eastern Europe.

The group of hackers, known as 'Energetic Bear' or 'Dragonfly', are attacking hundreds of Western oil and gas companies, as well as energy investment firms, and infecting them with malware capable of disrupting power supplies.

Additional targets have included energy grid operators, major electricity generation firms, petroleum pipeline operators, and industrial energy equipment providers. The majority of the victims were located in the United States, Spain, France, Italy, Germany, Turkey, and Poland, according to a Symantec report released on Monday.
Meteor

Mysterious 'bullet' asteroid may shed light on explosion of life on Earth

© Image from wikipedia.org
Researchers have discovered a fossilized space rock that stands out against anything seen before. It may advance the understanding of the asteroid clash that triggered off the diversity boom of life on early Earth.

Most of the meteorites that have fallen to Earth and were found during a 20-year study originate from a huge asteroid that collided with a smaller one - or even a comet - millions of years ago. But before the latest finding by Swedish scientists nothing was known about the mysterious "bullet" asteroid.

A study by a team of international researchers, prepared for print in the August edition of Earth and Planetary Science Letters journal, tells the story of the exploration of a meteorite found in Thorsberg limestone quarry, west of Stockholm, in southern Sweden.

While previous finds have become "quite boring,"according to Birger Schmitz, lead author of the study, who has led the chondrite cataloging, the most recent discovery is "a very, very strange and unusual find."
Info

Tibetans thrive at high altitudes thanks to Neanderthal cousin

Blood Sample Collection
© Beijing Genomics Institute (BGI-Shenzhen)
A researcher collects a blood sample from an ethnic Tibetan man participating in a DNA study looking into mutations that allow Tibetans to live at high altitudes.
Genetic mutations from an extinct human lineage help Tibetans and Sherpas live at high altitudes, researchers say.

The new findings add to growing evidence that interbreeding with other human lineages provided genetic variations that helped modern humans adapt as they spread across the world.

As modern humans migrated out of Africa, they had to adapt to many new environments. One noteworthy adaptation was of Tibetans adjusting to the thin air of the Tibetan plateau, which at about 2.5 miles (4 kilometers) in altitude has oxygen levels just 60 percent that of air at sea level. For instance, when at high altitudes, women who come from low altitudes usually have problems with childbirth, such as preeclampsia, which is potentially dangerous high blood pressure during pregnancy.

"Tibetans have a really good example of a human adaptation to a new environment," said study co-author Rasmus Nielsen, a population and evolutionary geneticist at the University of California, Berkeley.

Recent studies revealed how Tibetans adapted to high altitudes - a pattern of mutations in the gene EPAS1, which influences levels of hemoglobin, the protein in blood that carries oxygen around the body. Although most people experience a rise in hemoglobin levels at high altitudes, Tibetans only increase their hemoglobin levels a limited amount - too much hemoglobin in the blood can lead to a greater risk of heart disease.

To learn more about human evolution, Nielsen and his colleagues investigated how Tibetans might have developed their adaptation. Frustratingly, the research team's computer models could not at first explain how Tibetans evolved their pattern of EPAS1 mutations as quickly as they apparently did.
Top