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Thu, 25 Aug 2016
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Cell Phone

Iris scanning makes its way to the smartphone

© Chris Ratcliff/Bloomberg
The ability to unlock electronic devices using eye-recognition technology, a feature that has been mostly confined to government agencies, is starting to reach the consumer market. On Tuesday Samsung unveiled the latest example: Its new smartphone, which scans users' irises so they can unlock it with a glance.

"It's a logical next step beyond fingerprint scanning," said Geoff Blaber of CCS Insight, a market analysis firm. And Samsung's move to include iris scanning in its upcoming Galaxy Note7 phone could open the door to put the biometric security technology in the hands of more people.

Samsung introduced the Samsung Galaxy Note7, its latest large screen phone, on Tuesday. It will go on sale in the U.S. on Aug. 19, with advance orders starting Wednesday. The 5.7-inch, high-definition screen phone-tablet, or phablet, is Samsung's latest competitor to similarly sized iPhones from chief rival Apple, which broke ground with fingerprint sensors in 2013 with the introduction of iTouch ID.

During a recent demonstration in San Francisco for The Chronicle, Samsung executive Justin Denison held the phone about arms length at eye level and unlocked it almost instantly.

The phone's owner can also use the fingerprint scanner or a PIN code. The biometric technology will work with Samsung's mobile security platform, called Knox, that allows the owner to create a special folder for work documents or apps that a child or spouse can't access. "If you share the phone with a child or friend, you don't want them to get into everything," Denison said.

Comment: New Windows 10 comes complete with iris scans, facial recognition and fingerprint scanners


Princeton study reveals new breed of sophisticated online snooping

Stop "clearing your cookies."

The classic advice for the privacy-minded to protect themselves from internet trackers and targeted ads on websites doesn't work very well against the newest breed of sophisticated snoopers who are spying on you using everything from your iPhone's battery status level to the kinds of fonts installed on your browser, Princeton researchers say in a massive new analysis of 1 million web sites, the largest of its kind.

The "trackers" find out what kind of person you are, and then serve you targeted ads. If you visit those sites, data about you is gathered up and resold to other marketers. You read the news for free (sometimes) and someone gets paid to write it, and funny cat picture sites get their server costs covered.

But the trackers are also used to build profiles of consumers over which they have no control.

"Several features of the web...are being used or abused, depending on how one looks at it, by these tracking companies and various entities in the ad tech ecosystem," said study co-author Arvind Narayanan, an associate professor of computer science at Princeton. "They're being used in sneaky ways to track where users are going across the web."

The Princeton researchers scoured the internet's top sites and found signs of aggressive tracking. Two of the top sites each had over 81,000 trackers on them. Most of the tracking, however, was consolidated among a few giants. Google, Facebook, and Twitter were the only third-party trackers present on more than 10 percent of the sites.

Comment: See also:


Science behind the awe-inspiring microburst over Phoenix, Arizona

© Chopperguy Photographer Jerry Ferguson and Pilot Andrew Park
Spectacular and dangerous weather phenomenon, known as a microburst, spotted over Phoenix, Arizona, Monday, July 18
The North American summer monsoon is in full swing this month of July and proof of how active it has been in the past few days is a series of extreme weather events that have taken place in Arizona. Dust storms and heavy downpours accompanied by hail, very strong winds and lightning have slammed into Phoenix and Tucson affecting many residents across the region.

Monday, while covering the effects of these spectacular monsoon related thunderstorms for a local Phoenix television network, helicopter pilot Jerry Ferguson captured an instant of extreme atmospheric action in which a massive microburst was affecting the metro area.

Majestic from the distance, but very intense and damaging on the ground, this spectacle of nature seemed to last forever as described by local residents.

Comment: For related articles, see also:


The NIH plans to lift the ban on chimera research using human stem cells

© AP
A single cell is removed from a human embryo to be used in generating embryonic stem cells for scientific research.
The National Institutes of Health is planning to lift a moratorium on funding for research studying the effects of injecting animal embryos with human stem cells.

The agency last year issued a moratorium for such funding while it studied the issue further. But NPR is reporting the NIH plans to lift that reprieve and allow scientists to conduct so-called "Chimera" experiments under strict and closely monitored parameters.

"They want to take human stem cells and put them inside these animal embryos, in the hopes that the human stem cells, which can become any kind of cell or tissue in the body, will become integrated into the embryos and then develop into animals that have partially or even fully human parts in their bodies," said NPR health correspondent Rob Stein on Thursday.

Scientists say the experiment could lead to major medical breakthroughs that could save countless human lives, such as the ability to grow human organs that could be used to save the lives of patients in need of transplants.

Comment: More useless chimera research that led to zero health breakthroughs: For more on the pseudo scientific quackery of animal medical research in general listen to this episode of the Health and Wellness Show: The Health & Wellness Show: The Quackery and Cruelty of Animal Medical Research

Control Panel

Hacking your brain: Experts warn of growing threat from monitoring and controlling neural signals

Cyberthieves might be mining personal information from your brainwaves this very moment. Experts at the University of Washington reveal hackers are inserting images into dodgy apps and recording our brain's unintentional reaction using brain-computer interfaces
Cyberthieves might be mining personal information from your brainwaves at this very moment.

And although this may sound like a plot from a science fiction film, it is a growing concern among researchers who have demanded officials implement a privacy and security framework to block hackers from reading our neural signals.

Brain-computer Interfaces (BCIs) are widely used in the medical field and other industries, including marketing, gaming and entertainment. Although this technology was initially created to improve and enhance the quality of human lives, in the wrong hands it will wreak havoc on them.

Researchers at the University of Washington say that time is running out and officials need to employ a privacy and security framework to stop those who would use our own brains against us, reports Motherboard.

'There's actually very little time,' electrical engineer Howard Chizeck told Victoria Turk with Motherboard over Skype.

'If we don't address this quickly, it'll be too late.'


DARPA researching camera technology that can see around walls in 4 years

© Michaela Rehle / Reuters
If you're sick of having to move around corners to see what's behind them, you may have been born at the right time. DARPA, the US military's advanced research arm, says it will have developed a camera capable of seeing around corners in as little as four years.

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) is providing a $4.4 million grant to the Morgridge Institute for Research, an organization affiliated with the University of Madison-Wisconsin, to develop "non-line-of-sight imaging" camera technology, which can allow users to see around corners of solid objects.

The technology was first demonstrated by Massachusetts Institute of Technology researcher Andreas Velten in 2012. It works by sending a pulse of laser light into a room, causing the beam to hit a ceiling or wall, scattering and bouncing off surfaces and objects. Some of the scattered information makes it back to the sensor, allowing for a computer to construct an accurate picture of what the room looks like.

Comet 2

Brightest Kreutz sungrazer disintegrated by the sun

The sun is about to swallow a comet. The doomed sungrazer appeared earlier today in images from the Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO):
"This is one of the brightest Kreutz sungrazers we've seen over the past 21 yrs," says Karl Battams of the Naval Research Lab in Washington DC. "Awesome! "

Kreutz sungrazers are fragments from the breakup of a single giant comet many centuries ago. They get their name from 19th century German astronomer Heinrich Kreutz, who studied them in detail. Kreutz fragments pass by the sun and disintegrate almost every day. Most, measuring less than a few meters across, are too small to see, but occasionally a bigger fragment like this one attracts attention.

The comet is vaporizing furiously and is not expected to survive much longer. Monitor the SOHO realtime images page for developments. Updates are also available on Karl Battam's excellent Twitter feed.


Chelyabinsk meteor: A wake-up call for humanity

© Neuromainker via YouTube/Screenshot by Irene Klotz for Discovery News
This is the trail of Chelyabinsk asteroid which exploded about 14 miles above ground with a force nearly 30 times more powerful than the Hiroshima atomic bomb in 2013.
A small asteroid broke up over the city of Chelyabinsk, Russia, on Feb. 15, 2013. The shock wave it generated shattered glass and injured about 1,200 people. Some scientists think the meteor may have briefly outshone the sun. The blast was stronger than a nuclear explosion, triggering detections from monitoring stations as far away as Antarctica.

The incident was another reminder to space agencies about the importance of monitoring small bodies in space that could pose a threat to Earth. The same day Chelyabinsk happened, the U.S. House of Representative's Science, Space, and Technology Committee said it would hold a hearing to discuss asteroid threats to Earth, and how to mitigate them on top of NASA's currentefforts.

Coincidentally, the explosion came on the same day that an asteroid was flying by Earth. Called 2012 DA14, it passed within 17,200 miles (27,000 kilometers) of Earth. NASA quickly pointed out the asteroid was travelling in the opposite direction to the small body that exploded over Chelyabinsk.

Comment: Indeed, something wicked this way comes. For further reading on the problem humanity is now facing see:

Celestial Intentions: Comets and the Horns of Moses


1987 Supernova used to understand stellar evolution

© CAASTRO / Mats Björklund (Magipics)
Artist’s impression of the supernova flare seen in the Large Magellanic Cloud on February 23rd, 1987.
Thirty years ago, a star that went by the designation of SN 1987A collapsed spectacularly, creating a supernova that was visible from Earth. This was the largest supernova to be visible to the naked eye since Kepler's Supernova in 1604. Today, this supernova remnant (which is located approximately 168,000 light-years away) is being used by astronomers in the Australian Outback to help refine our understanding of stellar explosions.

Led by a student from the University of Sydney, this international research team is observing the remnant at the lowest-ever radio frequencies. Previously, astronomers knew much about the star's immediate past by studying the effect the star's collapse had on the neighboring Large Magellanic Cloud. But by detecting the star's faintest hisses of radio static, the team was able to observe a great deal more of its history.

The team's findings, which were published yesterday in the journal Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, detail how the astronomers were able to look millions of years farther back in time. Prior to this, astronomers could only observe a tiny fraction of the star's life cycle before it exploded - 20,000 years (or 0.1%) of its multi-million year life span.

As such, they were only able to see the star when it was in its final, blue supergiant phase. But with the help of the Murchison Widefield Array (MWA) - a low-frequency radio telescope located at the Murchison Radio-astronomy Observatory (MRO) in the West Australian desert - the radio astronomers were able to see all the way back to when the star was still in its long-lasting red supergiant phase.


Microbial communities: Another reason green spaces are important for human health

New research finds that airborne bacterial communities differ from one urban park to the next but those of parking lots are alike—and differ from those of parks in subtle but potentially important ways.

At a glance, such findings seem intuitive. Parks often have different vegetation in them, and asphalt-covered parking lots are much the same—barren asphalt bombarded by solar radiation as well as heavy metals and fuel from motor vehicles.

The importance, according to University of Oregon researchers, is that this pilot study describes not only the differences in microbial communities but also how far from a park the influence may extend.

Recent studies suggest that the composition of the bacterial communities may be important to human health—and not in the ways you think, says Gwynne Mhuireach, a doctoral student in landscape architecture who led the new study that is online ahead of print in the journal Science of the Total Environment. There is a reason, she says, to believe that healthy air depends not just on the absence of bad things like pollutants, but the presence of good things such as bacteria with which humans have co-evolved.

"We're starting to build larger and more complex cities," Mhuireach said. "I am interested in ways to help maintain people's health and happiness as we do so. Some studies say that as we are building these denser cities we are losing green space. I am looking for mechanisms that explain why vegetation helps people and how we can design for it."