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Updated: 2016-08-07

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How much time did you spend exercising last week?

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posted by janrinok on Saturday August 27, @05:58AM   Printer-friendly

Did someone say plasma airplane wings? How cool is that...

We just watched moving air being controlled by plasma, the lesser-known, fourth state of matter which also exists in the blistering core of our sun. And while such lab demonstrations are both uncanny and awe-inspiring, these so-called plasma actuators could produce far more impressive benefits in the real world, especially for the aviation and wind power industries, and maybe even the trucking business.

On airplane wings, for example, tiny plasma actuators could help planes fly more safely, more efficiently, and with greater stability and control. They can speed, slow or divert air flows in ways that can cut drag, fuel use, and CO2 emissions by as much as 25%, researchers estimate. Some experts even think that these devices might someday replace conventional flight control surfaces such as flaps and ailerons. Imagine witnessing the ghoulish purple glow of the lab demo from the window seat of a transcontinental flight.

Original Submission

posted by janrinok on Saturday August 27, @04:16AM   Printer-friendly

Software-defined networking (SDN) controllers respond to network conditions by pushing new flow rules to switches. And that, say Italian researchers, creates an unexpected security problem.

The researchers were able to persuade their SDN environment to leak information that sysadmins probably don't want out in public, including network virtualisation setups, quality of service policies, and more importantly, security tool configuration information such as "attack detection thresholds for network scanning".

Even a single switch's flow table, they write, can provide this kind of information, as well as serving as a side-channel for an attacker to exploit.

The three network boffins – Mauro Conti of the University of Padova, and Sapienza University's Fabio De Gaspari and Luigi Mancini – are particularly concerned about SDN being exploited to help an attacker build a profile of the target network, in what they call a Know Your Enemy (KYE) attack.

For example, they write, an attacker could potentially:

  • Connect to the passive listening ports most SDN switches include for remote debugging, to retrieve the flow table (they offer HP Procurve's dpctl utility as an example);
  • Infer information about the flow table from jitter (that is, round trip time (RTT) – variance);
  • Sniff control traffic, because of inadequate protection (not using TLS, or not using certificates for authentication;
  • Exploit vulnerabilities that might exist in switch operating systems, such as backdoors; or
  • Copy the flow table or memory content of the switch to an external location.

The paper points out that none of this is specific to particular devices: "the KYE attack exploits a structural vulnerability of SDN, which derives from the on-demand management of network flows, that in turn is one of the main features and strengths" of SDN.

Original Submission

posted by janrinok on Saturday August 27, @02:42AM   Printer-friendly
from the faster-clouds dept.

Princeton University researchers presented a 25-core "manycore" CPU at the Hot Chips conference:

It was a week for chip launches with the Hot Chips conference setting the stage for the unveiling of the IBM Power9 processor (report forthcoming) and a custom ARM-based 64-core CPU from Chinese firm Phytium Technology. A 25-core academic manycore processor out of Princeton University also made its debut from the Silicon Valley event.

[...] "With Piton, we really sat down and rethought computer architecture in order to build a chip specifically for data centers and the cloud," said David Wentzlaff, a Princeton assistant professor of electrical engineering and associated faculty in the Department of Computer Science in an official announcement. "The chip we've made is among the largest chips ever built in academia and it shows how servers could run far more efficiently and cheaply."

Piton is based on the SPARC V9 64-bit ISA and supports Debian Linux. After being designed in early 2015, Piton was taped-out in IBM's 32nm SOI process. The 6×6 millimeter die has more than 460 million transistors. The silicon has been tested in the lab and is working, according to the research team.

The design is open source (open, DOI: 10.1145/2954679.2872414) (DX). More information here.

Original Submission

posted by CoolHand on Saturday August 27, @01:02AM   Printer-friendly
from the in-time-for-the-weekend dept.

From Buzz's holy wine to vetting sherry, alcohol and space mix despite NASA policy.

"Half a century ago, this was an essential part of spaceman culture," said Jeffrey Kluger, senior writer at Time and author of the book that inspired Apollo 13. Presenting at the world's best alcohol event, Kluger wasn't referring to old astronaut traditions like military experience or crew cuts. "Test pilots were male, under 6-feet tall, and had to be a tough and tireless drinker."

Tales of the Cocktail 2016 continued the conference's trend of sneaking science into a series of bar industry seminars. Food scientists from Bacardi discussed internal testing on carbonation in liquor, and alcohol alchemist Camper English unveiled his tireless research on the compounds and combinations that can be lethal (or at least really, really bad) when unleashed in our cocktails. But this year's schedule also featured what seemed like a peculiarity—a panel titled "Cosmic Cocktails: The Final Frontier" that outlined the informal history of NASA and drinking.

According to Kluger, the intertwining of highballs and high altitudes was inescapable—a natural evolution of the downtime imbibing of previous military generations. For many of the US' early space pioneers, this part of training took place outside Southern California's Edwards Air Force Base at a vast and communal pub in the Mojave Desert called the Happy Bottom Riding Club (fittingly considering its clientele, the bar was created by Pancho Barnes, a pioneering female pilot who had bested Amelia Earhart's air speed record at age 29).

[...] Bars still thrive near NASA bases, Kluger pointed out, but the protocol for space travel has become more controlled. "With the nature of modern space travel, you have to trade the open environment of Earth for a sealed environment," he said. "What you eat, what you drink, and what you breathe is parceled out. There's not a lot of room for drinking alcohol."

NASA had and continues to have a "no alcohol" policy for orbit, but some booze has made it to space. Kluger cited Apollo 8 (1968) as the earliest example. While Commander Frank Borman, Command Module Pilot James Lovell, and Lunar Module Pilot William Anders became the first crew to travel beyond low Earth orbit and see the far side of the Moon, they were also astro-alcohol pioneers.

-- submitted from IRC

Original Submission

posted by CoolHand on Friday August 26, @11:14PM   Printer-friendly
from the can't-get-it-out-of-our-heads dept.

A team of scientists has demonstrated control of chemical delivery in the brain of a cockroach using electromagnetism. For effect, this was made to correspond with specific patterns of brain activity:

A man has used thought alone to control nanorobots inside a living creature for the first time. The technology released a drug inside cockroaches in response to the man's brain activity – a technique that may be useful for treating brain disorders such as schizophrenia and ADHD.

Getting drugs to where they need to be exactly when you want them is a challenge. Most drugs diffuse through the blood stream over time – and you're stuck with the side effects until the drug wears off. Now, a team at the Interdisciplinary Center, in Herzliya, and Bar Ilan University, in Ramat Gan, both in Israel, have developed a system that allows precise control over when a drug is active in the body.

The group has built nanorobots out of DNA, forming shell-like shapes that drugs can be tethered to. The bots also have a gate, which has a lock made from iron oxide nanoparticles. The lock opens when heated using electromagnetic energy, exposing the drug to the environment. Because the drug remains tethered to the DNA parcel, a body's exposure to the drug can be controlled by closing and opening the gate.

To get the DNA bots to respond to a person's thoughts, the team trained a computer algorithm to distinguish between a person's brain activity when resting and when doing mental arithmetic. The team then attached a fluorescent drug to the bots and injected them into a cockroach sat inside an electromagnetic coil. A person wearing an EEG cap that measures brain activity was then instructed either to do mental calculations, or rest. The cap was connected to the electromagnetic coil, switching it on when the man was calculating and off when he was resting. By examining when fluorescence appeared inside different cockroaches, the team confirmed that this worked.


posted by CoolHand on Friday August 26, @09:51PM   Printer-friendly
from the thought-entropy dept.

For many years now, I've been following the blog, Knowing and Doing — Reflections of an Academic and Computer Scientist by University of Iowa college professor Eugene Wallingford. I admire his efforts to understand his students' perspectives and takes pains to try and help them to grow and understand what they are doing, meanwhile providing a solid foundation for future exploration.

I found this recent (August 7th) entry, Some Advice for How To Think, and Some Personal Memories, to be especially interesting (emphasis from original):

I've been reading a bunch of the essays on David Chapman's Meaningness website lately, after seeing a link to one on Twitter. (Thanks, @kaledic.) This morning I read How To Think Real Good, about one of Chapman's abandoned projects: a book of advice for how to think and solve problems. He may never write this book as he once imagined it, but I'm glad he wrote this essay about the idea.

[...] Artificial intelligence has always played a useful role as a reality check on ideas about mind, knowledge, reasoning, and thought. More generally, anyone who writes computer programs knows this, too. You can make ambiguous claims with English sentences, but to write a program you really have to have a precise idea. When you don't have a precise idea, your program itself is a precise formulation of something. Figuring out what that is can be a way of figuring out what you were really thing about in the first place.

This is one of the most important lessons college students learn from their intro CS courses. It's an experience that can benefit all students, not just CS majors.

Chapman also includes a few heuristics for approaching the problem of thinking, basically ways to put yourself in a position to become a better thinker. Two of my favorites are:

Try to figure out how people smarter than you think.

Find a teacher who is willing to go meta and explain how a field works, instead of lecturing you on its subject matter.

This really is good advice. Subject matter is much easier to come by than deep understanding of how the discipline work, especially in these days of the web.

[...] Chapman's project is thinking about thinking, a step up the ladder of abstraction from "simply" thinking. An AI program must reason; an AI researcher must reason about how to reason.

This is the great siren of artificial intelligence, the source of its power and also its weaknesses: Anything you can do, I can do meta.


posted by CoolHand on Friday August 26, @08:09PM   Printer-friendly
from the wet-em-down dept.

Lonnie Johnson was brought up in Mobile, Alabama in the 1960s, when black children were not expected to go far, but such was his talent for engineering that he worked for Nasa, and helped test the first stealth bomber. But as he explains here, the invention that made his fortune was a water pistol - the extremely powerful Super Soaker.

Original Submission

posted by martyb on Friday August 26, @06:37PM   Printer-friendly
from the beware-Roy-Rogers'-horse? dept.

Recent reporting and discussions here about "trolls" and the "culture of hate" (both con and pro) have repeatedly broached the topic of what appropriate limits to free expression might be.

Dean of Students John Ellison at the University of Chicago has taken a stand on the issue in a letter welcoming new students. He writes:

Once here you will discover that one of the University of Chicago's defining characteristics is our commitment to freedom of inquiry and expression. [...] Members of our community are encouraged to speak, write, listen, challenge, and learn, without fear of censorship. Civility and mutual respect are vital to all of us, and freedom of expression does not mean the freedom to harass or threaten others. You will find that we expect members of our community to be engaged in rigorous debate, discussion, and even disagreement. At times this may challenge you and even cause discomfort.

Our commitment to academic freedom means that we do not support so called 'trigger warnings,' we do not cancel invited speakers because their topics might prove controversial, and we do not condone the creation of intellectual 'safe spaces' where individuals can retreat from ideas and perspectives at odds with their own.

While some have voiced support for Ellison's commitment to free expression (with Robby Soave at Reason encouraging readers to give the dean "a round of applause"), others are concerned about the implications of his message. L.V. Anderson at Slate agrees with much of the letter's content promoting "civility and mutual respect," but finds the last paragraph quoted above to be "weird" and unsettling:

By deriding "safe spaces" and "trigger warnings" before students arrive on campus, the University of Chicago is inadvertently sending a message that certain students—the ones who have never been traumatized, and the ones who have historically felt welcome on college campuses (i.e., white men)—are more welcome than others, and that students who feel marginalized are unlikely to have their claims taken seriously. Adults who decry "the coddling of the American mind" will likely celebrate U. Chicago's preemptive strike against political correctness, but students who have experienced violence, LGBTQ students, and students of color likely will not.

Original Submission

posted by martyb on Friday August 26, @05:05PM   Printer-friendly
from the I-want-what's-mine dept.

Striking Bolivian miners have reportedly tortured and killed the deputy interior minister, Rodolfo Illanes, who was sent to speak to protesters:

Bolivian Deputy Interior Minister Rodolfo Illanes was beaten to death after he was kidnapped by striking mineworkers on Thursday, the government said, and up to 100 people have been arrested as authorities vowed to punish those responsible. "At this present time, all the indications are that our deputy minister Rodolfo Illanes has been brutally and cowardly murdered," Minister of Government Carlos Romero said in broadcast comments.

He said Illanes had gone to talk to protesters earlier on Thursday in Panduro, around 160 km (100 miles) from the capital, La Paz, but was intercepted and kidnapped by striking miners. The government was trying to recover his body, Romero said, in a case that has shocked Bolivians. Defence Minister Reymi Ferreira broke down on television as he described how Illanes, appointed to his post in March, had apparently been "beaten and tortured to death".

[...] Protests by miners in Bolivia demanding changes to laws turned violent this week after a highway was blockaded. Two workers were killed on Wednesday after shots were fired by police. The government said 17 police officers had been wounded. The National Federation of Mining Cooperatives of Bolivia, once strong allies of leftist President Evo Morales, began what they said would be an indefinite protest after negotiations over mining legislation failed. Protesters have been demanding more mining concessions with less stringent environmental rules, the right to work for private companies, and greater union representation.

Also at NPR, WSJ, and BBC (and in Spanish).

Original Submission

posted by martyb on Friday August 26, @03:29PM   Printer-friendly
from the Snowden's-Shadow dept.

Cisco is releasing patches for an exploit disclosed by an entity calling itself the Shadow Brokers:

Cisco Systems has started releasing security patches for a critical flaw in Adaptive Security Appliance (ASA) firewalls targeted by an exploit linked to the U.S. National Security Agency. The exploit, dubbed ExtraBacon, is one of the tools used by a group that the security industry calls the Equation, believed to be a cyberespionage team tied to the NSA.

ExtraBacon was released earlier this month together with other exploits by one or more individuals who use the name Shadow Brokers. The files were provided as a sample of a larger Equation group toolset the Shadow Brokers outfit has put up for auction.

[...] There is a second Equation exploit in the Shadow Brokers leak that targets ASA software. It is called EpicBanana and exploits a vulnerability that Cisco claims was patched back in 2011 in version 8.4(3). Nevertheless, the company published a new advisory for the flaw in order to increase its visibility. A third exploit, BenignCertain, affects legacy Cisco PIX firewalls that are no longer supported. Cisco investigated the exploit and said only versions 6.x and earlier of the PIX software are affected. Users who still have such devices on their networks should make sure they're running software versions 7.0 and later, which are not affected.

There is speculation that the hacks are actually leaks from a "second (third?) Snowden". A linguistic analysis of the "broken English" used by the Shadow Brokers determined that the text was written by someone pretending to not know English.

"The Shadow Brokers" Claim to Have Hacked NSA
NSA 'Shadow Brokers' Hack Shows SpyWar With Kremlin is Turning Hot

Original Submission

posted by martyb on Friday August 26, @01:51PM   Printer-friendly
from the who-wrote-the-suicide-note? dept.

A Vice Chairman at a large South Korean conglomerate ("chaebol") has died in an apparent suicide:

A senior executive of South Korea's Lotte Group has died, an official at the country's fifth-largest family-run conglomerate told Reuters on Friday, amid a sweeping criminal probe into the business. The official, who declined to be named as he was not authorized to speak publicly on the matter, said a police investigation into the death of Lee In-won, a Lotte Group Vice Chairman, was underway. He did not elaborate. Yonhap News Agency [...] [adds] that a suicide note was found in the executive's car.

Also at Bloomberg. So what's happening over at Lotte? Alleged tax evasion:

Prosecutors raided additional offices of Lotte Group's policy headquarters Thursday [August 4th] in order to gain evidence regarding alleged tax evasion by group founder Shin Kyuk-ho, officials said Friday. Shin is now suspected of evading roughly 600 billion won ($540 million) of gift taxes while transferring assets to his common-law wife Seo Mi-kyung and their daughter Shin Yoo-mi.


posted by martyb on Friday August 26, @12:16PM   Printer-friendly
from the Boaty-McBoatInYourFace dept.

CNN reports that a U.S. Navy patrol craft fired warning shots at an Iranian vessel:

A US Navy patrol craft fired three warning shots at an Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps boat Wednesday after US officials said it had harassed that patrol craft, CNN has learned. Another US patrol craft and a Kuwaiti Navy ship were also harassed in the incident, which took place in the northern end of the Persian Gulf.

At one point, the Iranian boat came within 200 yards of one of the US Navy boats. When it failed to leave the area after the Navy had fired flares and had a radio conversation with the Iranian crew, the US officials said, the USS Squall fired three warning shots. Following standard maritime procedures, the Navy fired the three shots into the water to ensure the Iranians understood they needed to leave the immediate area.

Also at Reuters.

The incident occurred a day after four Iranian vessels made a "high speed intercept" of a U.S. warship.

Original Submission

posted by martyb on Friday August 26, @10:42AM   Printer-friendly
from the galactic-fail dept.

The Washington Post reports about research on a galaxy called Dragonfly 44 which is believed to contain about the same mass as the Milky Way but is only 1% as bright. The low ratio of luminosity to mass is characteristic of ultra diffuse galaxies (UDGs). The galaxy is believed to lie 101 megaparsecs (329 million light years) away. The researchers offer explanations for the dimness of UDGs:

[...] it may be that UDGs are "failed" galaxies that were prevented from building a normal stellar population, because of extreme feedback from supernovae and young stars (Agertz & Kravtsov 2015; Calura et al. 2015), gas stripping (Fujita 2004; Yozin & Bekki 2015), AGN feedback (Reines et al. 2013), or other effects.

"AGN" is short for active galactic nucleus — where matter falls into a supermassive black hole. The citation is to "Dwarf Galaxies with Optical Signatures of Active Massive Black Holes" (open, DOI: 10.1088/0004-637X/775/2/116) (DX).

Previously: Huge Population of "Ultra-Dark Galaxies" Discovered

Original Submission

posted by martyb on Friday August 26, @09:08AM   Printer-friendly
from the Out,-damned-spot! dept.

Donald "D.A." Henderson, a physician, educator, and epidemiologist who led the World Health Organization's campaign to eradicate smallpox, died at 87 years of age on Aug. 19, 2016.

Smallpox was responsible for an estimated 300–500 million deaths during the 20th century. As recently as 1967, the World Health Organization (WHO) estimated that 15 million people contracted the disease and that two million died in that year.

After vaccination campaigns throughout the 19th and 20th centuries, the WHO certified the global eradication of smallpox in 1979. Smallpox is one of two infectious diseases to have been eradicated, the other being rinderpest, which was declared eradicated in 2011.

Key to the eradication effort, given an insufficient supply of vaccine to inoculate everyone, was "surveillance-containment":

This technique entailed rapid reporting of cases from all health units and prompt vaccination of household members and close contacts of confirmed cases.

2014 Interview: or use YouTube.

Original Submission

posted by janrinok on Friday August 26, @07:34AM   Printer-friendly
from the checks-and-balances dept.

Twitter users aren't the only ones checking the microblogging service for important updates. Android malware is starting to do so, too.

One maker of Android malware is using Twitter to communicate with infected smartphones, according to security firm ESET.

The company discovered the feature in a malicious app called Android/Twitoor. It runs as a backdoor virus that can secretly install other malware on a phone.

Typically, the makers of Android malware control their infected smartphones from servers. Commands sent from those servers can create a botnet of compromised phones and tell the malware on all the phones what to do.

The makers of Android/Twitoor decided to use Twitter instead of servers to communicate with the infected phones. The malware routinely checks certain Twitter accounts and reads the encrypted posts to get its operating commands.

Lukas Stefanko, an ESET researcher, said in a Wednesday blog post that this was an innovative approach.  It removes the need to maintain a command and control server, and the communications with the Twitter accounts can be hard to discover.

"It's extremely easy for the crooks to re-direct communications to another freshly created account," he said.

[...] So far, Android/Twitoor has been found downloading versions of mobile banking malware to users' phones.

Original Submission

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