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Clara Johnson

Clara Johnson

Tuesday, 16 May 2017 00:03

How to escape the online spies

Nobody likes being spied on. When you’re innocently browsing the web, it’s deeply unpleasant to think that faceless technology corporations are monitoring and recording your every move.

While such data collection is legal, that doesn’t mean it’s all right. There are plenty of things you might prefer to keep to yourself, such as your income, your sexuality, your political views or your membership of the Yoko Ono fanclub. For an indication of what can be inferred from your online habits, take a look at the Apply Magic Sauce tool produced by Cambridge Psychometrics Centre, which produces a profile of your personality based on Facebook and Twitter data.

And while you might console yourself with the knowledge that all of this information is mostly used for targeting ads, that might not be the case for much longer. The internet giants are building up ever more detailed user profiles – and finding new ways to exploit that information. In the Observer, Carole Cadwalladr’s ongoing investigation has highlighted how analytic techniques were used in the recent EU referendum to target and craft messages to groups of persuadable voters based on psychological insights gleaned from online data.

Even if you are relaxed about analytics companies gaming the political process, you may be more bothered about the effect on your wallet: researchers at the Polytechnic University of Catalonia have already found evidence that some online retailers use profiling to discriminate against certain customers. If you’re identified as a high-value shopper, you’re likely to be steered towards more expensive products, or even charged more than other visitors for the same item.

And that’s just the start of it. Experts warn that, in the future, your online activity could be taken into consideration when you apply for a loan – or for a job. That’s troubling, not least because profiling involves a large element of assumption and inference. Something as innocent as searching for a medical condition – even out of mere curiosity – could cause your insurance premiums to rocket, and you’ll never know why.

Even if you’ve nothing to hide, therefore, it may be wise to minimise your exposure to online tracking. Here’s how some of the biggest names on the web spy on you – and how to protect your privacy.

Amazon

An Amazon Echo voice assistant

Pressing the mute button on top of Amazon’s Echo voice assistant will temporarily stop it from recording audio. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs for the Guardian

Amazon has a disconcerting habit of following you around the web. Spend a few minutes browsing its catalogue for a new crepe pan, and you might find that the next site you visit is mysteriously festooned with ads for cookware.

Thankfully, Amazon gives you an easy way to opt out of being tracked in this way. Simply click on “Your Account” from the Amazon homepage, then scroll down to “Advertising Preferences”: here you’ll see the option to disable personalised ads. Note that since this feature relies on cookies, it will only take effect in the browser you’re currently using.

Under “Advertising Preferences”, you’ll also see the option to view and manage your browsing history; from here you can disable tracking altogether, or remove individual items from your Amazon history. That could be useful if you’re shopping for a gift, or if you’ve been browsing unfashionable items you’d rather not be reminded of.

What about Amazon’s voice assistant devices? If you’ve got an Amazon Echo in your home, you might be concerned about it listening in on private conversations. Rest assured, the Echo doesn’t record anything it hears until you address it with the appropriate “wake word” (normally “Alexa”). Whatever you say next is relayed to Amazon, where it’s processed and stored, but you can wipe this data at any time – you’ll find the option to do so in Amazon’s “Manage Your Content and Devices” settings.

To ensure that Alexa can’t be woken up even by accident, you can also press the mute button on the top of the Echo to temporarily disable the microphone; just press it again to turn it back on. It’s worth noting, however, that the Echo’s software updates automatically, so its behaviour could change at any time. We’ll be keeping a sharp eye out for any updates that could compromise your privacy.

Apple

Teenager using a Macbook laptop

The macOS operating system passes your search terms on to Apple. Photograph: Graeme Robertson for the Guardian

iPhones and iPads collect a lot of data about you, and it’s accessible not just to Apple but to third-party apps too. The “Privacy” section in the iOS Settings app gives you an overview of what’s being collected, and lets you disable various data-sharing features.

One particular thing to note is that if you’re carrying an iPhone around in your pocket, it will be constantly keeping track of your location, and potentially sharing it. You can easily tell it not to, though: in the Settings app, tap on “Privacy” > “Location Services” and select which apps should have access to your GPS data. You can also disable system services such as “Frequent Locations”, or disable location services altogether – though this means that apps like Apple Maps won’t work.

It’s a similar situation for Mac users. The macOS system uses network connections to work out where in the world your computer is located, and this information can be shared with applications and websites. You can manage this from “System Preferences” > “Security & Privacy”.

Another privacy concern for macOS users is the fact that every time you search for something in Spotlight, your search terms are passed on to Apple, so the company’s servers can provide suggested links to online sources. You can disable this feature by opening “System Preferences” > “Spotlight” and unticking the box for “Spotlight Suggestions”.

Finally, keep an eye on your webcam, as malware can allow hackers to literally spy on you via your Mac’s built-in camera. If the light comes on unexpectedly, that means someone’s watching you; for complete peace of mind, you can always cover the camera with opaque tape. Consider also going to “System Preferences” > “Sound” and disabling the internal microphone, to ensure no one’s eavesdropping on your conversations.

Facebook

Facebook screens

Facebook: you might decide the safest option is not to have an account. Photograph: Carl Court/Getty Images

You’ve probably handed plenty of personal information to Facebook yourself – but the social network also tracks your visits to other websites to build up a scarily detailed profile of your lifestyle and interests. This information is mostly used for targeting ads, but it could be turned to other purposes in the future.

Facebook is quite open about the information it collects. When you see an ad on your timeline, you can always click the drop-down menu at its top right and select “Why am I seeing this?” to discover why Facebook chose to show you an ad for a smartphone, rather than one for scented soap. For a fuller explanation of what Facebook knows about you, go to the “Settings” page and click “Adverts” to inspect your advertising profile. If there are any mistakes here, or advertisers you don’t want to hear from, they can be removed or blocked with a click.

The creepy part is that, by default, Facebook’s targeted ads don’t appear only in Facebook itself. Facebook uses cookies to follow your profile on to other websites and, like Amazon, ensure that you see the ads it wants you to. You can disable this behaviour from the advert preferences page: under “Advert settings” you’ll see a rather awkwardly phrased setting for “Ads on apps and websites off of the Facebook Companies”. Set this to “No” and you should regain a degree of online anonymity.

Of course, this doesn’t mean that Facebook isn’t still profiling you: there’s sadly no easy way to stop it collecting information. Your best bet is to turn to the measures described in “The internet”, below, such as enabling “Do Not Track” in your browser, specifically opting out or installing an anti-tracking browser extension. Or, of course, you may decide it’s safest just to delete your Facebook account.

Google

Google’s My Activity page

Google’s My Activity page allows you to view your entire browsing history. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs for the Guardian

Most of us use Google services every day, and as a result the web giant knows a huge amount about our movements and interests. You can find out everything it’s learned about you at myaccount.google.com. Your data is all set out in an impressively forthright way; the only problem is, there’s so much information to work through that it can be bewildering to navigate.

One section that’s worth your attention is “Manage your Google activity”. Here you’ll find Google’s activity controls, which let you disable various types of data collection. For example, you can tell Google not to log your Chrome browsing history and activity, to stop tracking your location and to desist from keeping records of any voice commands you might issue. Turning these features off can make Google services less smart, but you might consider that a price worth paying.

For a closer look at the information Google’s been collecting on you lately, click on “My activity”. This brings up a timeline showing all of your searches, webpage visits, Android app activity and so forth. Seeing your digital life laid bare like this can be pretty unnerving: if there’s something you’d prefer Google to forget, simply click on the menu icon to its right and delete.

If you want to thoroughly inspect everything Google knows about you, you can even download a comprehensive archive of personal information by clicking on “Control your content” > “Download your data”. Be warned, though, this archive can be huge: the default settings include all the emails in your Gmail account, and any videos you may have uploaded to YouTube.

If you want to limit the information you share with Google in the future, the easiest way is simply to use it less. For example, try the privacy-focused search engine at duckduckgo.com, and use an alternative browser such as Firefox.

Microsoft

Windows 10’s “telemetry” features automatically capture all sorts of information about what you’re doing on your PC, and send it back to Microsoft. The company insists that this information is only used to improve Windows, but it can still feel like a violation.

The recent “Creators Update” to Windows 10 prompts you to review your privacy settings as part of the update process, but you can check and change your settings at any time: simply open the Windows 10 Settings app and click on “Privacy”. You’ll find no fewer than 18 pages of configuration options, covering everything from personalised advertising to location services.

There are a few settings you might particularly want to check. One feature of Windows 10 that may be cause for concern is the way it tracks everything you type – yes, everything – and shares it with Microsoft. This is supposed to help the operating system learn the way you work, but if the idea makes you shudder, you can disable it under “Speech, inking and typing”.

Under “Feedback & diagnostics”, meanwhile, you can choose how much diagnostic information gets periodically sent back to Microsoft. A full report includes details of which applications you’ve been using and which websites you’ve been visiting, so you might prefer to switch to the more limited basic setting. You can also manage the information that Microsoft already knows about you by visiting the Privacy Dashboard at account.microsoft.com/privacy.

While not strictly a privacy issue, another controversial aspect of Windows 10 is the inclusion of ads in the user interface. To remove unwanted ads from the Start menu, go to “Settings” > “Personalisation” > “Start” and disable “Occasionally show suggestions in Start”. To stop Microsoft advertising its OneDrive cloud storage service, open File Explorer, then select “View” > “Options” > “Change folder and search options”, click on the “View” tab, and untick “Show sync provider notifications”.

The internet

Google Chrome settings

Google Chrome, like most major browsers, has options to disable tracking. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs for the Guardian

All right, it’s an exaggeration to say that the internet as a whole is spying on you. But there are a hell of a lot of companies out there keeping tabs on your online activity. The motivation normally comes down to filthy lucre – tracking your interests helps them push relevant ads your way, and to be fair you might prefer those to irrelevant ones.

If you’d rather not be tracked, one step you can immediately take is to enable the “do not track” feature in your browser. Yes, it’s that simple: every major web browser has the capability to tell websites that you don’t want to be followed – you can find more details at donottrack.us. The only problem with this system is that compliance is completely optional, so websites that want to follow you still can.

Another thing you can do is visit youradchoices.com, a site that checks your browser for “tracking cookies” from more than 100 companies. You can disable individual cookies, or turn off all behavioural advertising with a single click. After this, you’ll still see ads, but they won’t be customised to your interests any more.

A more drastic solution is to configure your browser to reject third-party cookies – that is, cookies that connect to a site other than the one you’re currently browsing. However, this can cause problems if, for example, a site uses embedded content from elsewhere on the web. A safer option is to use a tool such as Ghostery ; this free browser extension can block tracking cookies from more than 4,500 companies, while letting you selectively enable cross-site content. It’s a pain that this should be necessary, but if you don’t want your personal information to be shared around online, it’s a precaution worth taking.

Source: This article was published on theguardian.com by By Darien Graham-Smith

Despite the reach of the Internet and its growing complexity, no physical map of the Internet had been produced, until now. The outcome highlights the Internet-dependent nature of our world.

To understand the depth of the project it is important to appreciate what the Internet is. The Internet should not be thought of as synonymous with World Wide Web. The Internet is a physical entity, a massive network of networks made up of cables, servers and computers. The networking infrastructure connects millions of computers together globally. This creates a network in which any computer can communicate with any other computer.

The end-product is an Internet Atlas, which is the first detailed map of the Internet's structure worldwide. The map resembles, at first glance, a conventional map of a geographical territory; however the series of lines represent crucial pieces of the physical infrastructure of the Internet rather than geographical features or political boundaries. For most people these interactions are out-of-sight yet they are critical items of physical infrastructure ad without them the Internet as we understand it would not exist.

The map has been developed by a team put together by Professor Paul Barford and Ramakrishnan Durairajan. The scale of the project reveals the complexity of the connected world, showing aspects like submarine cables buried beneath the ocean floor, which are necessary to allow continents to communicate with each other. On land, the map reveals how buildings packed with servers engage in communications traffic exchange with different service providers, across Internet exchange points.

To construct the map millions of data items were inputted. One complexity was the lack of data about where most of the Internet is. While the researchers received some information from Internet providers they had to resort to cumulating local permits in various countries for works like laying cables.

There’s a point to it which goes beyond a mere intellectual exercise. The Internet remains under threat from low-grade hackers to major terrorist groups. Beyond this the Internet is under threat from natural forces, such as freak weather or extreme weather, as with hurricanes. Add to this other accidental events such as problems with rail tracks; this matters because considerable stretches of cabling runs under the rail network in many countries, including the U.S.

The map has recently been presented to the RSA Conference in San Francisco, which is a major cyber security conference. Commenting on this, Ramakrishnan Durairajan explains: "The question of 'how does mapping contribute to security?' is one of our fundamental concerns” By taking the map to the conference, the issue of Internet security received wider appreciation and coverage. These issues are global and require world governments to work together since Internet security is something of shared risk. In all likelihood to damage to one area impacts upon more than one entity, be that a networking hub or even multiple countries.

With the static map of the Internet produced, the researchers want to turn it into something interactive, to show how the Internet is functioning and evolving in real-time.

Source: This article was published on digitaljournal.com

Wednesday, 03 May 2017 01:37

Spider bites tourist below the belt

A Canadian tourist in New Zealand suffered a swollen penis and chest pain after he went for a nude swim and nap and was apparently bitten by a katipo spider.

The 22-year-old "woke to find his penis swollen and painful with a red mark on the shaft suggestive of a bite. He rapidly developed generalized muscle pains, fever, headache, photophobia [light sensitivity] and vomiting," Dr. Nigel Harrison of Whangarei Hospital in Northland, New Zealand, and his colleagues reported in Friday's online issue of the New Zealand Medical Journal.

The man developed chest pain the next morning, the New Zealand Herald reported.

Doctors assumed he had been bitten by a katipo spider, which they said are thought to be one of the most poisonous native creatures in New Zealand.

He was treated with antivenom and rapidly improved, though heart problems persisted.

"He was discharged after a total of 16 days in hospital. On review he was generally well," the journal said.

This article was published on cbc.ca

LOS GATOS, Cali. — As Netflix continues to produce billions of dollars’ worth of original content, it’s easy to forget that the company’s business model is firmly rooted in the delivery of digital content, served with as little friction as possible.

For Los Gatos, California-based Netflix Inc., frequent improvements to how all of its content is delivered — both original and licensed — is not just for subscriber convenience or benefit.

Retaining the company’s 94 million paid subscribers is crucial, but growth is the name of the game and — when reading between the lines of its latest technology improvements — the company has its sights set on emerging markets.

Netflix uploads multiple versions of shows or movies to its cloud servers, encoded in different file sizes. When a subscriber starts watching content, Netflix will know which file to serve, based on the device being used.

A big screen TV on fast home internet service will be served a higher bitrate — the number of bits transmitted per second — more information makes the picture quality better, while someone watching on a cellphone will get a lower bitrate to reduce the amount of bandwidth being used.

Netflix has been trying to refine the way they encode their videos to push significantly better quality video at a lower bitrate, so as more people move to mobile devices, the video they consume won’t take up as much of their bandwidth limits.

But, more importantly, it also means the company can grow its subscriber base in emerging markets where smartphones and data plans are more common than home Internet service. 

“I’m originally from the Philippines, where the main access to the Internet is actually people’s cell phones,” Anne Aaron, Netflix’s director of video algorithms, told a small group of journalists at the company’s headquarters. 

“Every bit counts. So the role of my team is to make sure every bit actually adds to the video quality of what people watch, and our main goal is to have a great viewing experience where you enjoy the TV show or movie at any bit rate.”

Part of the way this is achieved is through efficiency. Netflix’s encoding process was once done on a per-title basis, meaning its algorithms would look at scenes with the most action and use that as a basis for how much to compress the quality of the video.

But Aaron’s team has moved the encoder algorithms to a “per chunk” basis, which would look at one-to-three minute segments at a time, which means they can compress higher quality into smaller bitrate because action moments often aren’t as frequent and the threshold is lower. 

“But why stop there? Let’s go even further and optimize per shot of the video,” Aaron said, adding that Netflix has brought in experts from around the world, including two professors that specialize in encoding, to help make their algorithms even more efficient. 

So now video looks equally as good at half the bitrate — and in some cases, it’s even lower. That drives down the bandwidth costs for subscribers, and potential new users in emerging markets are more likely to be attracted to video that looks good on any device, even at slower speeds.

Chris Ratcliffe/Bloomberg

“Every bit counts”

Language accuracy

Quality video that doesn’t take up a lot of bandwidth is half the battle. Netflix is also innovating when it comes to localization — the subtitles and dubbing done in other languages.

“In 2012, we launched Lilyhammer… in seven languages and 96 language assets,” said Denny Sheehan, Netflix’s director of content localization and quality control. “Cut to (this year) where we’ve launched Iron Fist in 20 languages and we have 572 language assets. And by language assets, I mean subtitles, audio dubs and audio description.” 

For Netflix and Sheehan’s team, the way to nail localization is by focusing on context. In some cases, the company bypasses local companies that offer people for hire and hires translators directly, in case there are questions on things like cultural jokes, voice inflection and other contextual elements that might be missed in a straight translation.

Netflix also uses style guides and glossaries of terminologies or key phrases to make sure there is consistency across shows or movies as well as in the marketing materials and elsewhere in the company. All departments can access an internal Wiki with the up to date style guide.

“To achieve the highest quality we also have to have really high bar for quality control, and so for our originals this is a very through and rigorous approach,” said Sheehan.

“Every subtitle event is gone through by the same quality control evaluator that has done every episode of every season of a series, so the person working on House of Cards season five for Japanese also worked on season one and that way we know that nothing is going to be lost season-to-season.”

To expand into more languages and markets with a high level of accuracy, Netflix launched its own translator program in March called Hermes. Anyone can register and choose a language they speak, then take a quick test.

Those who score in the highest percentiles will be contacted by Netflix and interviewed to become a paid translator. If eventually accepted, they’ll get a unique ID in the system and their history (including accuracy) can be seen both by Netflix or exported to show other companies if someone is looking for a full-time position in the field. 

“Everybody in the process (including quality control) is measured,” said Chris Fetner, Netflix’s director of media engineering partnerships. “If we start to see a trend where we feel like that person is not performing we’ll either coach them up to a new level, up to the level that we expect or we’ll discontinue using them.”

With Netflix’s eyes on new markets to keep its subscriber base growing, these kinds of technological innovations and focus on localization will already be in place during expansion to help bring new countries on board.

“Even if you think about India and places in Latin American, there are places that either the fixed line bandwidth is quite constrained,” said Ken Florance, Netflix’s vice president of content delivery.

“In Africa, India, parts of Asia, parts of Latin America where there wasn’t this huge build out of fixed lines to people’s homes, in a lot of cases some cellular networks are substituting for the last mile. So any of the benefits from a 200 kilobits stream looking great on a cell network in New York City will also be seen and look fantastic on an old copper DSL in Bogota (Colombia).”

Author: Josh McConnell
Source: business.financialpost.com

The International Space Station (ISS) is usually a pretty clean place. But where there are people, there are microorganisms.

And when you're trapped in a giant hunk of metal some 400 kilometres (250 miles) above the surface of Earth, you really want to know what that furry white stuff is growing in the corner.

Right now, the only way to test contaminants of the space station is to collect samples and send them down to the planet.

"We have had contamination in parts of the station where fungi was seen growing or biomaterial has been pulled out of a clogged waterline, but we have no idea what it is until the sample gets back down to the lab," says NASA microbiologist Sarah Wallace.

Normally it's not such a big deal for astronauts, who have a ready supply of disinfectants on hand, but we'd want to be able to do those tests right there in space, especially once future missions move beyond the safe cocoon of Earth's relative proximity.

"As we move beyond low-Earth orbit where the ability for resupply is less frequent, knowing what to disinfect or not becomes very important," says Wallace.

That's why NASA has been working on a new project, Genes in Space-3. Its goal is to establish a user-friendly system for astronauts to sequence DNA of various microorganisms aboard the ISS.

"The Genes in Space-3 experiments demonstrate ways in which portable, real-time DNA sequencing can be used to assay microbial ecology, diagnose infectious diseases and monitor crew health aboard the ISS," explains the project website.

Just last year, molecular biologist and astronaut Kate Rubins was the first person to ever sequence DNA in space. She used a small device called MinION, which relies on nanopore technology to analyse DNA and RNA in real time.

Devices such as MinION are routinely used in the field to track the spread of diseases like Ebola and Zika, or studying environmental samples in places like Antarctica. 

But before Rubins successfully used MinION on the ISS, nobody was sure if it would work in microgravity. For the test, investigators sent up ready-made samples of mouse, viral, and bacterial DNA, and then compared Rubins's results against tests done on the same samples back on Earth.

If we're ever going to evade superbugs and detect aliens, what we really want is the ability to identify unknown organisms right there in space. And to do that, we need technology to prepare those samples.

Fortunately, NASA also has a device called miniPCR. It was designed by 17-year-old student Anna-Sophia Boguraev for the inaugural Genes in Space competition.

Boguraev's invention is a handy, ISS-friendly version of a device needed to perform polymerase chain reaction (PCR) on a DNA sample so that it can be analysed.

anna sophia dna day

By joining the two technologies, NASA now has a workable solution to prepare, sequence, and identify microorganisms from start to finish right there on the space station.

"What the coupling of these different devices is doing is allowing us to take the lab to the samples, instead of us having to bring the samples to the lab," says NASA biochemist Aaron Burton.

This is good news for all future astronauts, as it will be extremely useful if there's ever something weird growing on the walls of the space station.

"Onboard sequencing makes it possible for the crew to know what is in their environment at any time," Wallace, who is the project's chief investigator, said last year. "That allows us on the ground to take appropriate action – do we need to clean this up right away, or will taking antibiotics help or not?"

Besides, ISS is basically a giant space laboratory, and adding these molecular biology tools to its arsenal will help with many other experiments aboard. And it's possible that one day we'll be taking these tools to Mars and beyond.

Who knows if we'll be sequencing alien life any time soon (come on, Enceladus), but at least when we stumble across it, we'll come prepared.

Author: SIGNE DEAN
Source: sciencealert.com

The average person spends nearly two hours every day on social media.1

Think about it, what will we achieve when we spend these two hours on something else? Let’s say, study a new language? Or pick up a skill?

Below are 10 best websites other than social media that can make you smarter and largely improve your life.

1. Unplug The TV

Each time you visit this site, it generates a new video for you to watch and become smarter. Try to watch the whole video even if the topic doesn’t seem to be interesting to you. By learning more about unfamiliar topics you’re enlarging your comfort zone and widening your perspective.

2. Skillshare

The classes are taught by expert practitioners. No more theories. No more empty promises. The skills they teach are really applicable and useful.

As a non-profit making organization, it offers a wide range of tuition-free courses from associate degrees to graduate degrees.

4. High Brow

Once you subscribe to it, it will send you 5-minute long courses on various subjects to your inbox every day. Easy to digest and interesting.

5. Investopedia

 

Investment and finance seem to be really difficult topics? Even if we like it or not, finance does affect our every aspect of life. Learn more about it from the team of data scientists and financial experts on the site.

6. Brain pump

This site covers interesting and less-known knowledge that you would seldom see on social media. Not all of them would be practical for your life but for sure it will make you become more creative and a funnier person

The slower you read, the less insights you gain, and the slower you’ll grow than others. Catch up with this tool that helps you digest everything faster. Just paste the text you’d like to read, then it’ll guide you to read faster and gradually yet effectively improve your overall reading speed.

8. Coursera

 

It offers lots of free courses which have great reputation. Its specializations are data science, machine learning, etc.

9. Hemingway Editor

Everybody writes, even if you’re not a writer. This site is like your free tutor who would point out which parts of your sentenced can be tuned to instantly improve the whole piece after you paste the text on it. Some common advice it gives is to avoid passive voice and lengthy sentences.

10. edX

 

This site features a number of courses from various universities from around the world. As of December 2016, it already got 10 million students taking more than 1,270 courses online.

This article was published on lifehack.org by 

President Trump has said he wants NASA to refocus its energies beyond our home planet. But even planetary scientists have expressed concerns about scaling back Mission to Planet Earth.

Since the earliest days of space travel, NASA has looked in two directions: out to space and back toward Earth.To a public that only knows NASA as the agency that put men on the moon and rovers on Mars, it may come as a surprise to realize how big a role Earth observations have played in NASA programming, and how much that research has informed the exploration of moons and planets in our solar system and beyond.That connection came into sharp focus on Thursday, when NASA announced the discovery of molecular hydrogen in a plume on Saturn’s moon Enceladus – a discovery that would not have been possible without a robust understanding of environmental systems on Earth.

Nearly all planetary science and exoplanet research has its roots in Earth science, and much of that research has been gleaned from NASA’s Earth science mission, says Marcia McNutt, a geoscientist who has headed the United States Geological Survey, the research journal Science, and the National Academy of Science.“Had the agency not been studying Earth as a planet,” she adds, “we would not have gained the proper knowledge and perspective for seeking out the signatures potentially conducive to life on other celestial bodies.”That connection between Earth science and planetary science has many scientists and NASA fans concerned, as President Trump prepares to shift some of the agency’s focus on Earth back toward space.

Planetary science vs. Earth science

Mr. Trump’s proposed budget includes increased funding for astronaut spacecraft and planetary exploration, but makes explicit cuts as well, eliminating four climate-related satellite missions – a proposal that has sparked much criticism from environmental communities. The budget blueprint also includes increased funding for research into the asteroids, moons, and other planets of our solar system, but even planetary scientists are wary of scaling back Earth monitoring.“Planetary science benefits from this budget – if it stands – but I don't see anybody celebrating,” says Hap McSween, an emeritus professor at the University of Tennessee-Knoxville who has studied meteorites for almost 40 years.He and his colleagues heard about the blueprint at the March Lunar and Planetary Science Conference in Texas.

“It was really strange,” Professor McSween says. “Even though this was the place where planetary people come, and you'd think they'd be most focused on 'What does NASA's funding portend for planetary explanation?’ … so many of the questions and comments were, ‘We are distressed [by] the de-emphasis of Earth-based science in NASA,’ ” he recalls.NASA’s Mission to Planet Earth, originally dubbed the Earth Observing System, was initially conceived during the Reagan administration as a component of the International Space Station, but it expanded into a network of free-flying Earth-observing satellites under former President George H. W. Bush that received ongoing funding from Presidents Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama.How did NASA evolve from sending humans into orbit to researching the Earth?

It started with the first astronauts, says Ghassem Asrar, whose 20-year career at NASA included serving as deputy administrator for the Science Directorate. “Every time the astronauts went to orbit, they said, ‘It's amazing when we look back!’ ”They shared their unique view of our planet through their photographs. The now iconic Earthrise and Blue Marble images, taken in 1968 and 1972, seized popular attention just as the environmental movement was taking root.“Americans suddenly realized that their actions did impact the health of Earth and that changes are happening on a planetary scale,” says Dr. McNutt.

NASA gathers the data that countless other government and private organizations rely on, she says, calling the space agency “a creator of scientific information.”No obvious successor is poised to take over that “creator” role if NASA's Earth observations are curtailed, says McNutt. Most military data is classified, private organizations rarely release data for free, and while many other nations have space programs, “not all foreign nations agree that data collected with public funds belongs in the public domain, as we do in the United States,” she explains.

Keeping the lights on

While the administration's proposed budget takes a bite out of several climate change observing satellites, it does leave most of the Earth science program intact. Unlike the proposed budgets for the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Energy, which included cuts of 31 percent and 20 percent respectively, NASA's funding was reduced by only 0.8 percent in the budget “blueprint” released on March 17. (The final budget will be drafted and approved by Congress later this year.)

In addition to the mission cuts, the proposed budget eliminates the $115 million Office of Education, which provides resources for K-12 teachers and students and also funds scholarships for undergraduate and graduate students. In addition, every mission includes funds for researchers and their student assistants, so mission cancellations can end grad students' careers abruptly.The renewed emphasis on Europa is a mixed blessing, says Darby Dyar, an astronomy professor at Mount Holyoke College in Massachusetts. “Outer solar system missions have very long time frames. I worry that the pipeline of people who work on missions is going to become pretty leaky as the big missions get farther apart and fewer.”Stability can be in short supply at NASA, as priorities shift and funding follows. Professor Dyar still remembers the upheaval caused by the transition away from lunar research in the early 1980s.

“Many planetary scientists had coasted along from the remnants of the Apollo program funding, and public interest and pride in lunar exploration,” she recalls. “With Reagan's election, the pendulum looked like it was swinging away from the moon and toward Mars and Venus.”In some ways, Trump's proposed cancellation of Earth-observing missions is simply another swing of that pendulum. When he signed the NASA authorization bill, one week after releasing the budget blueprint, Trump emphasized an ongoing commitment to astronauts and space science research.His proposed budget leaves in place the vast majority of the Earth-observing satellites, which have borne inestimable rewards for Americans and the rest of humanity, says Asrar, who enjoys quoting the 1958 National Aeronautics and Space Act that created NASA for “the benefit of all mankind.”

“Going back to the spirit of the Space Act, if we had not included Earth exploration in NASA's mission since inception, would we have today's weather prediction capabilities? Would we have today's space-based telecommunication technologies? Would we have space-based navigation systems today? Probably not,” he says. “But all of those are exactly in the spirit of the Space Act, of serving not only our nation but the entire globe.”

This article was published on csmonitor.com by 

With the iPhone 6s set to debut at a media event on September 9, many of us are on tenterhooks wondering how Apple will improve upon its previous smartphone models. Both the iPhone 6 and its bigger, more expensive partner product, the iPhone 6 Plus, offered stunning advancements, but failed to land five stars in our reviews — though they both came very close, with 4.5 stars each. Hey, nobody's perfect.

But this isn't about perfection, at least, not when it comes to the average businessperson's needs. And it is in that realm where the iPhone has consistently failed to solve a number of shortcomings. It's not just their hefty pricetags that keeps the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus from dominating the business world. These devices present certain persistent shortcomings. Issues around durability, call functionality, and app multitasking are just a few that Apple needs to address — and has a chance to with the iPhone 6s.

Personally, I still use an iPhone 5s and while it is technically my "business phone," since it is my only phone, I'm not using it in the way a variety of professionals may be. Beyond texting, Google Maps, and zombie games — my iPhone needs are minimal. So I consulted executives who rely on their phone for an array of business needs. What would they like to see improved upon with the iPhone 6s and how?

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1. Durability

All smartphones have an air of fragileness to them, which is why sturdy cases are so important, but the thinner and lighter the iPhones get, the more delicate they become. Beth Bridges, VP of Digital Identity at J.I.T Outsource, says that her clients are shying away from new Apple products because of this durability issue.

"We have repeat customers who try to be careful, but have broken their iPhone glass over and over," Bridges says. "As we see Apple's competitors produce products that are more durable and user friendly, I think it's time Apple follow suit with an option that encompasses all their great technology with the durability needed in day-to-day business life."

There have been rumors that the iPhone 6s will use the same 7000 series aluminum that the Apple Watch sports, which is about 6o% tougher than aluminum.

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2. FaceTime for videoconferencing

FaceTime has become an invaluable tool for iPhone users, but unlike Skype it only works in a one-on-one capacity. For businesspersons who need to videoconference with multiple users, this isn't very helpful.

"FaceTime could be extended to become the default business conference call and unified communications platform for mobile," says Bill Rice, CEO of Web Design and digital marketing firm Kaleidico. "Think GotoMeeting for mobile. [Apple] simply needs to open the endpoints to make it a universal communication tool, extend it to offer mobile screen sharing, and make it the default meeting location when scheduling a conference call line."

This is the kind of change that wouldn't come with the new phone model, per se, but with the next iOS update, which is also premiering on the 9th. Our sneak peak shows some positive changes to FaceTime, but not in terms of adding more users.

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3. Enforced security

The iPhone has shined as one of the most secure types of smartphones, but it too has its security loopholes, a fact that would put anyone on edge, especially businesspersons whose phone contains sensitive documents. Apple hasn't been slacking on making the needed upgrades, among them the addition of the fingerprint unlocking screen. But the there needs to be more technology in this department.

"Apple is recognizing that providing businesses with the ability to put sensitive data behind advanced biometrics within an app, or apps, helps strengthenemployee access control," says Jason Peck, VP of Marketing at Canvas, a cloud-based software service. "Additional security features include always-on VPN options, and Apple's App Transport Security (ATS) feature in iOS 9 that requires data be transmitted through a secure https encryption setting."

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4. Calendar clean-up

Apple has indicated some improvements to its Calendar app are on the way, which will be greatly appreciated by businesspersons who rely on the app to schedule appointments, especially those who've traditionally relied on the Google Calendar app. For instance, with iOS 9, when you start adding users to an email message or a calendar invitation, iOS 9 will suggest users you usually include with them, like work colleagues. It can also suggest recipients when you implement familiar subject lines or event titles. But there could be more enhancements.

"Setting an appointment or heaven help you a conference call takes about a
million steps and clicks," says Rice. "This needs to be streamlined. In addition, I need
to more efficiently monitor and manage my weekly agenda. Apple should be
taking cues from the latest Google Calendar App update and Timepage App,
which I have used in place of [Apple's] default calendar."

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5. Enable multiple SIM Cards

Usually one SIM card is enough for iPhone users, but some people prefer more than one for various reasons. Sometimes this is because they want to enforce the boundary between work life and home life, without having to manage two separate phones.

You can buy a dual SIM device to enable multiple SIM card usage, but Bianca Y. Lee, founder and chief strategist at White Rose Marketing Solutions would prefer that the iPhone enabled this functionality without having to add on accessories. "I travel quite a bit for business," says Lee, founder and chief strategist at White Rose Marketing Solutions. "Phone carriers sometimes have relationships with local carriers in other countries, but most times I have to swap SIMs. Which means I am not able to use my US number or pick up voicemail when in a local country. Giving me the option of having multiple SIMs in my phone would be more ideal than forcing me to swap SIMs."

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6. A more intuitive keyboard

iOS 9 promises new keyboard shortcuts, but what many users want is a new keyboard altogether.

Miné Salkin, a multimedia journalist and digital producer identifies as "a firm defender of iPhone culture," but dreads typing on an iPhone, because the keyboard because it is so prone to spelling mistakes in e-mails, and calls for longer time typing. "This has surely impacted business for me, and productivity in general by nearly being handicapped by the lack of efficiency," Salkin says. "Despite all the third party downloads (and even Ryan Seacrest's ridiculous BlackBerry iPhone keyboard), I've not come across anything better than Android's keyboard. Is it really so difficult for Apple to include numbers at the top as a default? The [next] iPhone will hopefully offer up an improved typing experience, perhaps something using force touch, to improve it as a business tool."

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7. Email functionality

When it comes to its email functions, Apple has really got to do better. This is make-or-break for some business people, especially those who are shooting emails back and forth all day while on the go.

"With Apple's iPhone, emails are blindly categorized into groups that are assumed to be correlated," says Andrew Royce Bauer, CEO of Royce, a luxury goods and jewelry brand. "However, this results in important emails at my company being lost amongst groupings that are not supposed to be together. Apple definitely needs to improve its email compatibility with the time constraints of business executives. We are looking for quicker access to emails, simpler organization, and quicker response times in email searches."

On top of that, as Aubriana Alvarez Lopez, lead strategist at Digital Element, points out, currently iPhone users cannot send attachments of documents via Apple mail —only links, photos, and videos.

"The exception is going into iCloud, [and] finding the document and sending from there, but who sends or replies to an email that way?" asks Lopez. "This makes for a poor user experience and is not the most professional option."

Source: techradar.com

NEW YORK -- For the first time since 2012, NASA has released a global map of Earth at night -- and the results are breathtaking.

NASA has examined the different ways that light is radiated, scattered and reflected by land, atmospheric and ocean surfaces, it said in a statement. The principal challenge in nighttime satellite imaging is accounting for the phases of the moon, which constantly varies the amount of light shining on Earth.

NASA has dubbed the new image “Black Marble” -- a play off the original “Blue Marble” of Earth taken by the Apollo 17 crew on December 7, 1972.

Mike Massimino, a former astronaut, spoke to CBS News to explain the beautiful views.

“You’re able to get with new technology these great images. You’re able to see where people are living and these pockets around the planet where people exist.”

He pointed out that people in Australia are living along the coast. You can see certain countries that aren’t as affluent as America and are a little bit darker.

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By studying Earth at night, researchers can investigate how cities expand, monitor light intensity to estimate energy use and economic activity, and aid in disaster response.
NASA GODDARD SPACE FLIGHT CENTER

He says that America is lit up like a Christmas tree along the East and West coasts.

“Space at night becomes this magical wonderland,” Massimino said.

And we agree that these views are truly out of this world.

To see more imagery and learn more about the process, watch this video produced by NASA.

Lights of Human Activity Shine in NASA's Image of Earth at Night by NASA Goddard on YouTube

Armed with more accurate nighttime environmental products, the NASA team is automating the processing so that the public will be able to view nighttime imagery within hours of acquisition.

As a result, this has the potential to aid short-term weather forecasting and disaster response.“We can monitor cyclical changes driven by reoccurring human activities such as holiday lighting and seasonal migrations. We can also monitor gradual changes driven by urbanization, out-migration, economic changes, and electrification. The fact that we can track all these different aspects at the heart of what defines a city is simply mind-boggling,” said Dr. Miguel Román of NASA Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland.His team’s goal is to make these night images updated on a daily basis.In addition, NASA says daily nighttime imagery could be used to help monitor unregulated or unreported fishing. It could also contribute to efforts to track sea ice movements and concentrations. Researchers in Puerto Rico intend to use the dataset to reduce light pollution and help protect tropical forests and coastal areas that support fragile ecosystems. His team’s goal is to make these night images updated on a daily basis.
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North and South America as seen from space. America’s bustling cities shine brightly while a black void across the top of South America marks the location of the Amazon rainforest.
NASA GODDARD SPACE FLIGHT CENTER

A team at the United Nations has already used night lights data to monitor the effects of war on electric power and the movement of displaced populations in war-torn Syria.

Source : cbsnews.com

Wednesday, 12 April 2017 15:16

5 Hidden Features Of Google Chrome

Google Chrome is a neat little browser that is packed with many useful applications to improve browsing experience or test out some applications without having to install a full program. However, Chrome also has some interesting and helpful features that users are not usually aware of.

Tech Times already taught readers how to steer clear of fake information and avoid confusion using the Fake News Alert application in Nov. 2016. Now we are back to show readers some noteworthy features that Google Chrome users may fund useful.

Google Chrome is a neat little browser that is packed with many useful applications to improve browsing experience or test out some applications without having to install a full program. However, Chrome also has some interesting and helpful features that users are not usually aware of.

Tech Times already taught readers how to steer clear of fake information and avoid confusion using the Fake News Alert application in Nov. 2016. Now we are back to show readers some noteworthy features that Google Chrome users may fund useful.

YouTube user ThioJoe uploaded a video on Dec. 22 which showed 11 hidden Chrome features but Tech Times will only feature five features in his list which we think really falls under "hidden" and readers would want to know about. The first three features are actually useful while the last two are more for your downtime.

Mute Tab

Browsing for information in the internet usually means users need to open up several tabs. However, some websites are programmed to automatically play videos and advertisements in certain sections of the page and this sometimes rattles users who are unprepared for the barrage of noise from such sites.

It is a good thing that, like Mozilla Firefox, Google Chrome now allows users to mute an entire tab instead of having to look for which tab is making the noise and which part of the website the video is playing. The only problem is, users will have to manually enable this setting and it is not in an obvious place (like the settings page).

What a user has to do to enable the Mute Tab function is to open Google Chrome and type in Chrome://Flags in the address bar. This will open up a list of hidden settings and all you have to do next is to find and enable the "Tab audio muting UI control" setting and you're done.

Once this is enabled, Chrome will show an audio/speaker symbol on the tab which is playing an audio and clicking the symbol would automatically mute the entire tab.

Play and Broadcast Any Media File

Google Chrome can be used as a playback device for any media file and all a user has to do is to drag a file to an empty Chrome tab. The added bonus is that, if you use the "Cast" feature in the browser the user can actually broadcast the media playing on their browser to their Chromcast enabled televisions.

Find Android Smartphones

Like Apple's "Find my iPhone," Google Chrome also offers the same feature for Android phone users. If you find yourself at a loss on where you could have possible left your Android device, all you have to do is type in "Find My Phone" in the browser's address bar and it will open up a page giving users an idea of how and where to find their phone. Of course, you will probably have to log-in to make full use of the features.

Chrome Experiments

Google actually hosts a website containing experimental applications developers are working and users can take a look at the unfinished products. Just type in www.chromeexperiments.com in the address bar and check out some demos.

T-Rex Game

Chrome users usually see a T-Rex whenever they lose their internet connection but not all users know that it is also a game they can play to pass the time.

Still, you don't have to wait to lose your connection to play it. Just type in chrome://network-error/-106 in the address bar and get ready to hit the space bar to make the running T-Rex jump over cacti.

If you want to know more, watch the video below.

Source : techtimes.com

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