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Thu, 20 Sep 2018
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Science & Technology


NSA broke encryption on numerous 'high potential' VPN's, including Al Jazeera, Iraqi military and airlines

NSA spying, NSA breaks encryption
The National Security Agency successfully broke the encryption on a number of "high potential" virtual private networks, including those of media organization Al Jazeera, the Iraqi military and internet service organizations, and a number of airline reservation systems, according to a March 2006 NSA document.

A virtual private network, or VPN, uses an encrypted connection to enable users to go over the internet and connect to a private network, such as a corporate intranet. This allows an organization's staff to access internal services like file-sharing servers or private wikis without having to physically be in the office.

The NSA's ability to crack into sensitive VPNs belonging to large organizations, all the way back in 2006, raises broader questions about the security of such networks. Many consumers pay for access to VPNs in order to mask the origin of their internet traffic from the sites they visit, hide their surfing habits from their internet service providers, and to protect against eavesdroppers on public Wi-Fi networks.

Comment: Snake-oil alert: Encryption doesn't prevent mass-snooping


Phytoplankton bloom: Lava that destroys on land spurs new life at sea

© University of Hawaii
Satellite image of Hawaii Island indicating phytoplankton blooms
The Big Island's lava-spewing volcano has torched neighborhoods, choked vegetation and desiccated a lake. But in the open ocean, scientists are finding surprising new evidence that Kilauea's apocalyptic ooze is breathing new life into the sea.

Phytoplankton blooming off the coast of Puna has grown so dense since the onset of the Lower East Rift Zone eruption that it can be seen from outer space. Discovered by satellite, this floating algae plume is born of the swift rivers of mineral-rich lava draining into the ocean since May.

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The Truth Perspective: Are Cells the Intelligent Designers? Why Creationists and Darwinists Are Both Wrong

dna machine
Random mutations. Natural selection. Time. According to the neo-Darwinian conception of evolution, this is all it takes. But there's a problem. In fact, there are several. No one has been able to demonstrate this model in the lab. Random mutations are either neutral or fatal to the organisms in which they occur. But natural selection only works on traits that are already there. So how to the new traits get there? How does genetic mutation actually occur? As shown in lab experiments, it is anything but random, and it is not a long, gradual process, either.

Perry Marshall's excellent book Evolution 2.0 points out the problems with neo-Darwinism and offers a theory for how evolution actually works in real-time. Fundamental to understanding evolution is the fact that DNA is a code. The genome is a language, and evolution requires an understanding of that language. Randomness destroys information. It doesn't create it.

Today on the Truth Perspective we discuss Marshall's book, as well as findings from Douglas Axe, summarized in his book Undeniable. Both ask the question of questions: what is the source of the code of life? What is the source of the information stored in DNA? Materialists claim it was all an accident. Creationists say God put it there. But both sides of the debate could learn a thing or two from each other. The answer is probably not so simple.

Running Time: 01:30:06

Download: OGG, MP3

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Russian Flag

Russia against a blanket ban on AI weapons, supports international political declaration

Russian Tu-22M3M bomber AI elements
© Maxim Bogodvid/Sputnik
Russian Tu-22M3M bomber aircraft with elements of artificial intelligence.
Russia opposes a complete ban on weapons using artificial intelligence (AI) because such systems do not exist, but will sign an declaration on the issue if it does not contradict its interests, according to a newspaper report.

The business-oriented Russian paper Kommersant Daily reported on Thursday that its journalists had learned that Moscow was ready to support the proposal to start developing a political declaration regulating the development and use of weapons equipped with AI.

The proposal, backed by France, Germany and several other nations, will be discussed at the forthcoming meeting of the 2018 Group of Governmental Experts on Lethal Autonomous Weapons Systems (LAWS) in Geneva, Switzerland. The future declaration is expected to declare the importance of maintaining human control over autonomous weapons systems.

Microscope 2

Does the disappearance of the Y-Chromosome's mean male extinction?

dna chromosome
Recently, media has reported about Czech scientists surveying the degradation of the Y-chromosome. Some experts believe it may completely disappear.

Vladimir Trifonov, PhD, Biology, Head of the comparative genomics laboratory at the Institute of Molecular and Cell Biology of the Siberian Branch of the Russian Academy of Sciences, told Sputnik about the chromosome's extinction, and whether men should be worried.

Sputnik: What is the Y-chromosome's function?

Vladimir Trifonov: Here we are talking about the Y-chromosome of mammals as it occurs in a large number of animals. Its main function is sex determination, because the presence of this chromosome influences the development of male gender characteristics. In addition, the Y-chromosome most often carries genes important for spermatogenesis, as well as carrying color genes for some other animal species, such as guppies.

Sputnik: What could be the reason for the Y-chromosome's degradation?

Vladimir Trifonov: The Y-chromosome is inevitably degrading because it exchanges little information with the X-chromosome. Usually, other chromosomes in our genome exchange parts with their homologues, thus stopping their degradation. The Y-chromosome doesn't replace its parts with the X-chromosome - that's its evolutionary feature. Once that exchange, which takes place in the process of meiosis, stops, these chromosomes will inevitably degenerate. Therefore, this absolutely regular model of evolution of elements is not recombined. Once they stop recombining, they start degenerating. However, the comparison of the human Y-chromosome with that of a chimpanzee has shown that the rate of this degeneration slows down over time. The initial degeneration process was rather fast, but it has now slowed down and the Y-chromosome is not expected to vanish for hundreds of millions of years.

Comment: It's becoming abundantly clear that DNA is much more complex than previously thought:

Evil Rays

Small bits of RNA can trigger pain and itchiness

itchy scratch
© Andrey_Popov/Shutterstock
BRINGING THE PAIN (AND ITCH) Small RNAs can be a major inconvenience, inducing nerve pain and itchiness, two studies show.
Some snippets of RNA can be a real pain.

A microRNA called miR-30c-5p contributes to nerve pain in rats and people, a new study finds. A different microRNA, miR-711, interacts with a well-known itch-inducing protein to cause itching, a second study concludes. Together, the research highlights the important role that the small pieces of genetic material can play in nerve cell function, and may help researchers understand the causes of chronic nerve pain and itch.

MicroRNAs help regulate gene activity and protein production. The small molecules play a big role in controlling cancer (SN: 8/28/10, p. 18) and other aspects of health and disease (SN: 2/20/16, p. 18). Usually, microRNAs work by pairing up with bigger pieces of RNA called messenger RNAs, or mRNA. Messenger RNAs contain copies of genetic instructions that are read by cellular machinery to build proteins. When microRNAs glom onto the messengers, the mRNA can be degraded or the microRNAs can prevent the protein-building machinery from reading the instructions. Either way, the result is typically to dial down production of certain proteins.

In the case of nerve pain, miR-30c-5p limits production of an important protein called TGF-beta that's involved in controlling pain, María Hurlé, a pharmacologist at the University of Cantabria in Santander, Spain, and colleagues report August 8 in Science Translational Medicine. The researchers discovered the link in experiments with mice, rats and people.

Comment: More on RNA:


Russia looks toward innovation, may develop reusable rockets

Russian rocket
© Vladimir Fedorenko / Sputnik
Full-scale model of Baikal reusable first stage booster.
Russia may develop reusable first stages for its rockets, which would likely land horizontally rather than in the style of SpaceX's Falcons, Roscosmos chief Dmitry Rogozin has said. He also had words for SpaceX boss Elon Musk.

The new heavy Soyuz-5 rocket, currently developed by Russia, must become more powerful yet remain cheaper than the products supplied by the competitors, the recently-elected head of the Russian space corporation told TASS in an extensive interview on Thursday.

While Moscow is looking into adding reusable elements to the Soyuz-5 to further lower launch costs, reusability is not a universal solution to achieve this goal, Rogozin believes. Musk's SpaceX, which is currently the only company to have launched reusable rockets commercially, manages to cut the costs by other means, the Russian space boss pointed out.


Study shows that robots have the power to brainwash children and alter their behavior for the worse

Robots and Children
© Aly Song/Reuters
Robot pressure could soon replace peer pressure as a chief concern amongst parents with new research finding that children can be significantly influenced by machines, even when the droids are obviously wrong.

The study asked children aged between seven and nine to look at a screen showing four lines and identify which two match in length. When they carried out the simple task alone the kids got the answers right almost every time. However, when they did it alongside a robot their accuracy dropped by 12 percent and almost all of their wrong answers were found to match those of the robot.

Writing in Science Robotics, the University of Plymouth researchers behind the study said the findings raise concerns around the potential for robots to have a negative influence on vulnerable children.

Comment: More on the dangerous slippery slope of rapidly growing robotic technology:


Mathematics everywhere: Researchers solve age-old spaghetti mystery

spaghetti pasta
© Creative Commons
If you happen to have a box of spaghetti in your pantry, try this experiment: Pull out a single spaghetti stick and hold it at both ends. Now bend it until it breaks. How many fragments did you make? If the answer is three or more, pull out another stick and try again. Can you break the noodle in two? If not, you're in very good company.

The spaghetti challenge has flummoxed even the likes of famed physicist Richard Feynman '39, who once spent a good portion of an evening breaking pasta and looking for a theoretical explanation for why the sticks refused to snap in two.

Feynman's kitchen experiment remained unresolved until 2005, when physicists from France pieced together a theory to describe the forces at work when spaghetti - and any long, thin rod - is bent. They found that when a stick is bent evenly from both ends, it will break near the center, where it is most curved. This initial break triggers a "snap-back" effect and a bending wave, or vibration, that further fractures the stick. Their theory, which won the 2006 Ig Nobel Prize, seemed to solve Feynman's puzzle. But a question remained: Could spaghetti ever be coerced to break in two?


Earth's oldest rocks likely to have been created by meteorite bombardment

oldest rock canada
© Pedroalexandrade/Wikimedia
An example of rock from the Acasta River region of the NWT.
Scientists have found that 4.02 billion year old silica-rich felsic rocks from the Acasta River, Canada-the oldest rock formation known on Earth-probably formed at high temperatures and at a surprisingly shallow depth of the planet's nascent crust. The high temperatures needed to melt the shallow crust were likely caused by a meteorite bombardment around half a billion years after the planet formed. This melted the iron-rich crust and formed the granites we see today. These results are presented for the first time at the Goldschmidt conference in Boston tomorrow (14 August), following publication in the peer-reviewed journal Nature Geoscience.

The felsic rocks (rocks rich in silica/quartz) found at the Acasta River in Canada, are the Earth's oldest rocks, although there are older mineral crystals. Scientists have long known that the Acasta rocks are different to the majority of felsic rocks we see today, such as the granites widely used as a building or decorative material. Now a group of scientists from Australia and China have modelled the formation of the oldest Acasta felsic rocks and found that they could only have been formed at low pressures and very high temperatures.