The Journal Science is reporting on a study of anonymized data sets by a team from MIT, Arhus (Denmark) and Rutgers Universities detailing just how easy it is to "de-anonymize" data given just a few data points.
From the study's abstract (full article paywalled):
Large-scale data sets of human behavior have the potential to fundamentally transform the way we fight diseases, design cities, or perform research. Metadata, however, contain sensitive information. Understanding the privacy of these data sets is key to their broad use and, ultimately, their impact. We study 3 months of credit card records for 1.1 million people and show that four spatio-temporal points are enough to uniquely re-identify 90% of individuals. We show that knowing the price of a transaction increases the risk of re-identification by 22%, on average. Finally, we show that even data sets that provide coarse information at any or all of the dimensions provide little anonymity and that women are more re-identifiable than men in credit card metadata.
How concerned are you about maintaining your privacy? What steps do you take to keep your activities and expenditures private?
What steps (if any) should governments take to help you secure your data and privacy?
Stanford anthropologist Tanya Luhrmann found that voice-hearing experiences of people with serious psychotic disorders are shaped by local culture – in the United States, the voices are harsh and threatening; in Africa and India, they are more benign and playful. This may have clinical implications for how to treat people with schizophrenia, she suggests.
For the research, Luhrmann and her colleagues interviewed 60 adults diagnosed with schizophrenia – 20 each in San Mateo, California; Accra, Ghana; and Chennai, India. Overall, there were 31 women and 29 men with an average age of 34. They were asked how many voices they heard, how often, what they thought caused the auditory hallucinations, and what their voices were like.
The Americans experienced voices as bombardment and as symptoms of a brain disease caused by genes or trauma.
One participant described the voices as "like torturing people, to take their eye out with a fork, or cut someone's head and drink their blood, really nasty stuff." Other Americans (five of them) even spoke of their voices as a call to battle or war – "'the warfare of everyone just yelling.'"
Moreover, the Americans mostly did not report that they knew who spoke to them and they seemed to have less personal relationships with their voices, according to Luhrmann.
Among the Indians in Chennai, more than half (11) heard voices of kin or family members commanding them to do tasks. "They talk as if elder people advising younger people," one subject said. That contrasts to the Americans, only two of whom heard family members. Also, the Indians heard fewer threatening voices than the Americans – several heard the voices as playful, as manifesting spirits or magic, and even as entertaining. Finally, not as many of them described the voices in terms of a medical or psychiatric problem, as all of the Americans did.
In Accra, Ghana, where the culture accepts that disembodied spirits can talk, few subjects described voices in brain disease terms. When people talked about their voices, 10 of them called the experience predominantly positive; 16 of them reported hearing God audibly. "'Mostly, the voices are good,'" one participant remarked.
I think this may be related to how we deal (or don't deal) with mental healthcare in this country. There's such a stigma attached that people with mental health issues start to think the worst of themselves and it creates a feedback loop of destructive thoughts. Whereas in Africa and India where it's not such a big deal, people don't get worked up about it and just take it for what it is. Just my theory anyway.
Media and social media followers are invited to watch as NASA tests the largest, most powerful booster ever built March 11 at ATK Aerospace System's test facility in Promontory, Utah. The booster will power NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS), which will be used to help send humans to deep space destinations including an asteroid and Mars.
The two-minute, full-duration static test is a significant milestone in the development of the SLS and comes after years of development to qualify the booster design performance at the highest end of the booster’s accepted temperature range. Once this test and a second, low-temperature test planned for early 2016, are complete, the hardware will be ready to help send the rocket, with NASA’s Orion spacecraft atop it, on its first flight test.
NASA has further details on this test in a press release as well as on the SLS itself.
The quintessential feature of a black hole is its "point of no return," or what is more technically called its event horizon. When anything—a star, a particle, or wayward human—crosses this horizon, the black hole's massive gravity pulls it in with such force that it is impossible to escape. At least, this is what happens in traditional black hole models based on general relativity. In general, the existence of the event horizon is responsible for most of the strange phenomena associated with black holes.
In a new paper, physicists Ahmed Farag Ali, Mir Faizal, and Barun Majunder have shown that, according to a new generalization of Einstein's theory of gravity called "gravity's rainbow," it is not possible to define the position of the event horizon with arbitrary precision. If the event horizon can't be defined, then the black hole itself effectively does not exist.
"In gravity's rainbow, space does not exist below a certain minimum length, and time does not exist below a certain minimum time interval," Ali, a physicist at the Zewail City of Science and Technology and Benha University, both in Egypt, told Phys.org. "So, all objects existing in space and occurring at a time do not exist below that length and time interval [which are associated with the Planck scale]. As the event horizon is a place in space which exists at a point in time, it also does not exist below that scale."
Charles Townes, often cited as the inventor of the laser (though it took multiple decades to settle patent claims with Gordon Gould), passed away on January 27 at the age of 99. He shared the 1964 Nobel Prize for Physics with Nicolay Basov and Aleksandr Prokhorov for the development of the maser.
The Associated Press and ABC report on a new poll by the Pew Research Center.
From the Article:
Scientists are far less worried about genetically modified food, pesticide use, and nuclear power than is the general public, according to matching polls of both the general public and the country's largest general science organization. Scientists were more certain that global warming is caused by man, evolution is real, overpopulation is a danger and mandatory vaccination against childhood diseases is needed.
These tend to all be topics of interest here on Soylent. Also interesting is that the opinions of the scientists don't appear to follow policital lines.
The gaps didn't correlate to any liberal-conservative split; the scientists at times take more traditionally conservative views and at times more liberal.
Technology companies that want to sell equipment to Chinese banks will have to submit to extensive audits, turn over source code, and build “back doors” into their hardware and software, according to a copy of the rules obtained by foreign companies already doing billions of dollar worth of business in the country. The new rules were laid out in a 22-page document from Beijing, and are presumably being put in place so that the Chinese government can peek into computer banking systems.
Details about the new regulations, which were reported in The New York Times today ( http://www.nytimes.com/2015/01/29/technology/in-china-new-cybersecurity-rules-perturb-western-tech-companies.html?_r=1 ), are a cause for concern, particularly to Western technology companies.
In 2015, the China tech market is expected to account for 43 percent of tech-sector growth worldwide ( http://bits.blogs.nytimes.com/2014/12/02/in-2015-technology-shifts-accelerate-and-china-rules-idc-predicts/ ). With these new regulations, foreign companies and business groups worry that authorities may be trying to push them out of the fast-growing market. According to the Times, the groups—which include the US Chamber of Commerce—sent a letter Wednesday to a top-level Communist Party committee, criticizing the new policies that they say essentially amount to protectionism.
The CBC has an article about a Danish student who has responded to the theft of her nude photos in a very interesting way, by releasing images of her own.
Danish student Emma Holten felt violated when a hacker raided her email and posted her private nude photos for thousands to see online.
In a surprising twist, however, she took a step which she said was empowering—though it may sound counterproductive at first blush.
"I took new photos of myself topless in everyday situations," she told CBC Radio's The Current, explaining the images were "un-sexualized," as a way to "challenge the way with which we see the female body, and accentuate the difference between consent and non-consent."
Holten wrote an accompanying essay, titled Consent, in which she argued that nudity was not the major issue.
Part of the thrill, she learned, was with the "sexualization of non-consent," in which online tormentors and attempted blackmailers "enjoyed that I was in pain and that it was humiliating for me."
"I don't see a problem with being naked on the internet, that's not where the problem lies," Holten explained. "The problem lies with the fact that my consent has been violated."
The Guardian has a video of her explaining her project [NSFW]
You can read her essay here [NSFW]
Meanwhile in Canada, the Conservative government of Steven Harper is about to introduce new "anti-terrorism" measures on Friday. CBC reports
The expected new powers would allow CSIS (Canadian Security and Intelligence Service) agents to obtain court orders to:
- cancel plane or other travel reservations made by Canadians suspected of wanting to join the Islamic State or other extremists groups overseas;
- block any financial transactions linked to suspected terrorist activity;
- intercept shipments of Canadian-made equipment or material to Canadian individuals or groups that could be used in an attack;
- switch, or make suspect equipment being shipped unusable as part of an on-going investigation.
Under existing law, CSIS must rely on the RCMP (Canadian federal police force) to do these things, and government officials say that can lead to costly delays and, in some cases, an inability to act because the RCMP requires a higher standard of proof to arrest or detain suspects.
This seems to imply that if you affiliate yourself with the wrong people, via "online chatter", or curious download on Youtube, you will become suspect for CSIS and they will be able to disrupt your life, in secret.
"The goal is for CSIS to move from an intelligence-gathering service to an agency that will have the power to disrupt or diminish potential terrorist threats under appropriate judicial oversight,'' a source told CBC News.
Even more importantly, this increased spy agency powers is just one of the changes. Other changes include removal of privacy protections for much data currently governed by the Privacy Act. This will allow private information submitted to different agencies of the government to be legally compiled into a dossier on everyone.
Expanding the mandate given CSIS is just one of many changes expected in the massive bill, which will have five distinct sections, to be tabled in the Commons on Friday. Prime Minister Stephen Harper will hold a news conference to discuss the measures later in the day.
Full details are not known until the Bill is tabled on Friday. Needless to say, since Conservatives have a majority, this Bill is very likely to become law. For the sake of our children, of course.
A new National Cancer Institute (NCI) study reveals that drinking four or more cups of joe a day might reduce the risk of melanoma, the most deadly form of skin cancer.
The fifth most common form of cancer in the U.S., melanoma is diagnosed in some 77,000 people annually, killing 9,500 of them.
And while limiting exposure to the sun is the number one way to decrease your risk, the compounds in coffee have been shown to reduce skin cancer risk in recent lab studies.
Researchers examined more than 447,000 people, ages 50 to 71, who were cancer-free at the start of the ten-year report. By the end, roughly 2,900 developed malignant melanomas. The most hardcore coffee drinkers—people who down four cups a day—saw their risk for melanoma drop by 20%.
While researchers insist the NCI study is not conclusive, coffee has also been linked to a reduced risk of diabetes, depression and Parkinson’s disease.
NGC 7714 is a spiral galaxy at 100 million light-years from Earth — a relatively close neighbour in cosmic terms.
The galaxy has witnessed some violent and dramatic events in its recent past. Tell-tale signs of this brutality can be seen in NGC 7714's strangely shaped arms, and in the smoky golden haze that stretches out from the galactic centre.
So what caused this disfigurement? The culprit is a smaller companion named NGC 7715, which lies just out of the frame of this image — but is visible in the wider-field DSS image. The two galaxies  drifted too close together between 100 and 200 million years ago, and began to drag at and disrupt one another’s structure and shape.
Get yer white-hot Hubble images here.
James B. Stewart writes in the NYT that in 1998 Bill Gates said in an interview that he “couldn’t imagine a situation in which Apple would ever be bigger and more profitable than Microsoft" but less than two decades later, Apple, with a market capitalization more than double Microsoft’s, has won. The most successful companies need a vision, and both Apple and Microsoft have one. But according to Stewart, Apple’s vision was more radical and, as it turns out, more farsighted. Where Microsoft foresaw a computer on every person’s desk, Apple went a big step further: Its vision was a computer in every pocket. “Apple has been very visionary in creating and expanding significant new consumer electronics categories,” says Toni Sacconaghi. “Unique, disruptive innovation is really hard to do. Doing it multiple times, as Apple has, is extremely difficult."
According to Jobs' biographer Walter Isaacson, Microsoft seemed to have the better business for a long time. “But in the end, it didn’t create products of ethereal beauty. Steve believed you had to control every brush stroke from beginning to end. Not because he was a control freak, but because he had a passion for perfection.” Can Apple continue to live by Jobs’s disruptive creed now that the company is as successful as Microsoft once was? According to Robert Cihra it was one thing for Apple to cannibalize its iPod or Mac businesses, but quite another to risk its iPhone juggernaut. “The question investors have is, what’s the next iPhone? There’s no obvious answer. It’s almost impossible to think of anything that will create a $140 billion business out of nothing.”
Google's biggest competitor in the smartphone arena isn't Apple's iOS, which commands less than 15% of the global market. Google's certified OHA version of Android still leads with 65%, but Open Source versions of Android are at 20% and growing faster than any other mobile OS.
Now, according the The Wall Street Journal, Microsoft is joining other parties to invest around $70 million in the celebrated Open Source Android vendor Cyanogen. Kirt McMaster, Cyanogen’s chief executive said in an interview last week “We’re going to take Android away from Google”, and it appears that Microsoft is determined to help with the separation.
Why Microsoft would choose to invest in Android is unclear, but they have little to lose in the mobile phone market, with WP8.1 less than 2% of the market and falling last year.
Ars Technica also has coverage.
The twin brothers Pedro and Margarito Flores, bosses of the Chicago operation of Mexico's notorious, $2 billion Sinaloa drug cartel, were sentenced to serve 14-year sentences by a US District Court judge on Tuesday, under tight security. The judge noted that he would have given them both life sentences had it not been for their secret cooperation with the US Drug Enforcement Agency, which led to the indictments of cartel leader Joaquín "El Chapo" Guzmán and numerous others. The brothers were apprehended by Federal agents in Chicago in 2008, but agreed to become Federal informants in exchange for reduced sentences. They wore wires as they flew to Mexico for secret meetings with Guzmán's lieutenants, and took occasional phone calls in Chicago from Guzmán himself, which were recorded by Federal agents.
As recently as 2013, Sinaloa is reported (by Bloomberg, as referenced by BusinessInsider) to have been supplying 80 percent of the cocaine, heroin, marijuana, and methamphetamine on the streets of Chicago, by the DEA's reckoning. And Chicago and Los Angeles were the two principal distribution hubs of the Sinaloa cartel in North America (map sketch here from BusinessInsider); Chicago supplied wholesalers in New York City, Washington DC, and other major cities in the eastern half of the US.
Guzmán was indicted by the US in 2009, but remained a fugitive until his arrest in Mexico in 2014. So far, Mexico has resisted requests for extradition to the US, preferring that Guzmán face justice in his home country.
El Reg published a most interesting article on how a customer retention specialist at Comcast is alleged to have changed the first name of a subscriber to "Asshole" because his wife stuck to her guns in canceling a TV package:
The story goes that Mrs Brown tried to have a TV package dropped from their cable broadband service to save some money each month.
She called the telco's customer call center, knowing she would have to pay US$60 (£40, AU$76) to do so, and was bounced to a specialist rep whose job is to talk people out of canceling or dropping packages. Brown stuck to her guns, and refused to change her mind.
Not long after, the couple received a bill to "Asshole Brown" at their home address.
Mrs Brown told Elliott she had phoned Comcast execs and visited its nearest store to complain, and to have the name change reversed – but apparently to no avail.
"I was never rude. I am shocked. This is unacceptable,” Mrs Brown told Elliott. "I am requesting everything back I paid Comcast for doing this to me."
She added that she believed the "retention specialist" she spoke to changed her partner's name on the account.
This story would be funny if it weren't for an image of the bill in the article that apparently verifies that aspect of this story.
Also covered at Ars Technica.