Technology

RSS FeedSubscribe to Technology feed Technology
science-technology

URL: https://www.voanews.com/archive/science-technology/latest/594/621.html

Updated: 1 hour 36 min ago

With ‘Watch,’ Facebook Takes Big Step Toward TV

Facebook on Wednesday made its biggest move to date to compete in the television market by expanding its video offerings with programming ranging from professional women’s basketball to a safari show and a parenting program. The redesigned product, called “Watch,” will be available initially to a limited group in the United States on Facebook’s mobile app, website and television apps, the company said. The world’s largest social network added a video tab last year, and it has been dropping hints for months that it wanted to become a source of original and well-produced videos, rather than just shows made by users. Reuters reported in May that Facebook had signed deals with millennial-focused news and entertainment creators Vox Media, BuzzFeed, ATTN, Group Nine Media and others to produce shows, both scripted and unscripted. Daniel Danker, Facebook’s product director, said in a statement Wednesday: “We’ve learned that people like the serendipity of discovering videos in News Feed, but they also want a dedicated place they can go to watch videos.” Facebook said the shows would include videos of the Women’s National Basketball Association, a parenting show from Time Inc and a safari show from National Geographic. Facebook is broadcasting some Major League Baseball games and that would continue, the company said. Eventually, the platform would be open to any show creator as a place to distribute video, the company said. The company, based in Menlo Park, California, faces a crowded market with not only traditional television networks but newer producers such as Netflix and Alphabet’s YouTube as well as Twitter and Snap.

Spray Can Stunt Prompts Twitter to Act on Hateful Tweets

An artist tired of seeing hateful tweets ignored by Twitter has managed to get the social network to remove or hide some of them — by spray-painting the offending posts in front of the company's German headquarters. Shahak Shapira said he reported some 300 tweets containing possible illegal content to Twitter over a period of about six months but the social networking site ignored him. This occurred at a time when Twitter was arguing against tough new legislation in Germany, insisting it was already taking sufficient measures against hate speech. Shapira said he painted almost 30 of the offending tweets on the street in front of Twitter's Hamburg offices Friday because "flagging things clearly wasn't enough.'' "I had to spray it on the ground,'' he told The Associated Press in a telephone interview Wednesday. The Israeli-born artist said he never got any kind of direct response from Twitter, either before or after the stunt. But a video of it received over 100,000 views in 48 hours and clearly got the company's attention. By Wednesday, Twitter had deleted three tweets, suspended four accounts and withheld another seven accounts in Germany. Fifteen other tweets, including some containing anti-Semitic, anti-Muslim and anti-black comments, were still online. Shapira said he doesn't advocate mass censorship, but wants Twitter to take the issue of online abuse seriously. A study commissioned by the German government found that Twitter lagged behind other social networks such as Facebook and YouTube in responding to complaints about hate speech. "It would be nice if Twitter had reacted,'' said Shapira, whose previous work includes questioning the way young people confront the Holocaust. "What I want is that these flagged posts are reviewed the way Facebook does. What Facebook does isn't perfect, but at least they are making an effort.'' Under pressure after Germany passed a law last month that could see social networks fined up to 50 million euros ($58.6 million) if they fail to swiftly remove illegal content, Facebook announced plans this week for a second office in Germany to review posts for illegal content. Free speech advocates have criticized the law, saying social networks may err on the side of censorship to avoid hefty fines. Twitter refused to publicly comment on the stunt after first being contacted by the AP about it on Monday. Instead, the company cited its guidelines which include a ban on promoting "violence against or directly attack or threaten other people on the basis of race, ethnicity, national origin, sexual orientation, gender, gender identity.'' Among the spray-painted tweets that remain online is one directed at Shapira from a user who references the artist's Jewish identity and expresses hope that he should bump into a group of criminals on a dark evening.

Author of Google Diversity Memo Files Labor Complaint After Firing

A former Google software engineer, who wrote an internal memo criticizing the company’s diversity policies, has filed a labor complaint, saying he was wrongfully fired. In a statement emailed to news agencies, James Damore said he filed the complaint with the National Labor Relations Board prior to his termination and that, “It’s illegal to retaliate against the NLRB charge.” Damore said he was subjected to “coercive statements” while working at Google. According to the Associated Press, a Google spokesperson said the company could not have retaliated against Damore because it was not aware of the complaint until hearing about it in the news media after he was dismissed. Damore caused an uproar after the website Gizmodo published a leaked copy of the memo he wrote, encouraging Google to "treat people as individuals, not as just another member of their group," and questioning the effectiveness of diversity programs at the company. Sundar Pichai, Google's chief executive officer, criticized Damore's memo in an email for "advancing harmful gender stereotypes in our workplace." In the 10-page internal memo, titled "Google's Ideological Echo Chamber," Damore asserted that fewer women are employed in the technology field because they "prefer jobs in social and artistic areas," while men are more inclined to become computer programmers — a fact he said was due to "biological causes." Danielle Brown, Google's new vice president for diversity, integrity and governance, said the memo “advanced incorrect assumptions about gender” and promotes a viewpoint not encouraged by the company. “Part of building an open, inclusive environment means fostering a culture in which those with alternative views, including different political views, feel safe sharing their opinions,” she said. “But that discourse needs to work alongside the principles of equal employment found in our Code of Conduct, policies, and anti-discrimination laws.” The controversy comes as Silicon Valley faces accusations of sexism and discrimination. Google is in the midst of a Department of Labor investigation over allegations women there are paid less than men.

Fired Google Memo Writer Draws Scorn, Cheers and a Job Offer

The male Google engineer fired for circulating a memo decrying the company's diversity hiring program became the center of a heated debate on sexism, drawing scorn, cheers and even a job offer on Tuesday from WikiLeaks publisher Julian Assange. James Damore, 28, confirmed his dismissal from Alphabet Inc's Google on Monday, after he wrote a 10-page memo that the company was hostile to conservative viewpoints shaped by a flawed left-wing ideology. The manifesto was quickly embraced by some, particularly on the political right, branding him a brave truth-teller. Others found his views, which argued that men in general may be biologically more suited to coding jobs than women, offensive. Assange, who is praised in some circles for exposing government secrets and castigated by others as an underminer of some nations' security, offered Damore a job. "Censorship is for losers," Assange wrote on Twitter. "Women & men deserve respect. That includes not firing them for politely expressing ideas but rather arguing back." Legal and employment experts noted, however, that companies have broad latitude to restrict the speech of employees. Some argued that Damore's views left Google little to no choice but to terminate his employment, since he had effectively created a hostile work environment for women. Damore said in an email on Monday that he was exploring a possible legal challenge to his dismissal. His title at Google was software engineer and he had worked at the company since December 2013, according to a profile on LinkedIn. The LinkedIn page also says Damore received a Ph.D. in systems biology from Harvard University in 2013. Harvard said on Tuesday he completed a master's degree in the subject, not a Ph.D. He could not immediately be reached on Tuesday. Gender equality in Silicon Valley The world's tech capital, Silicon Valley has long been criticized for not doing enough to encourage gender equality. Most headlines have centered on powerful female executives hitting the glass ceiling or on sexual harassment lawsuits. Many women in the industry say that less visible day-to-day bias often impedes their careers. Industry experts note that in the early days of tech, it was mostly women who held the then-unglamorous jobs of coding. But as the value of top-notch programming became clear, it became a mostly male domain and the vast majority of programmers in the tech industry are now men. Google's response controversial Some argued that although they may not agree with Damore, the company had gone too far in firing him. "Dear @Google, Stop teaching my girl that her path to financial freedom lies not in coding but in complaining to HR. Thx in advance, A dad," Eric Weinstein, managing director at California investment firm Thiel Capital, wrote on Twitter. Bernice Ledbetter, who teaches leadership to business students at Pepperdine University, praised Google for taking decisive action. She said it would be a different matter if Damore were writing on a personal blog rather than in a memo. "He's walking dangerously between who he is personally and who he is professionally," Ledbetter said in an interview. Others raised concerns that Damore would discriminate against his female colleagues in peer review. Damore wrote in an email to Reuters on Monday that he was fired for "perpetuating gender stereotypes." His memo had said that he sought the opposite. "I'm also not saying that we should restrict people to certain gender roles," Damore wrote in his memo. "I'm advocating for quite the opposite: treat people as individuals, not as just another member of their group (tribalism)." His arguments were praised by those who view so-called "political correctness" as a left-wing device to suppress conservative speech. John Hawkins, the owner of the Right Wing News website, summed up his take in a Twitter post: "James Damore: Writes memo respectfully saying Google suppresses conservative views. Google: You're fired for having conservative views." Damore and Kaepernick Others compared Damore with Colin Kaepernick, the NFL quarterback who last year chose not to stand for the U.S. national anthem before games, in protest over police violence. None of the NFL's 32 teams were willing to sign Kaepernick during the recent off-season. "Kaepernick and Damore should've been aware that expressing controversial opinions at work has consequences," Twitter user Greg Lekich wrote from his account, @Xeynon. Damore said he would fight the dismissal, noting that he had filed a complaint with the U.S. National Labor Relations Board before the firing. Google, owner of the world's most used search engine, is based in Mountain View, California. The company said it could not talk about individual employee cases.

Artist Targets Twitter With Offline Hate Tweets

A German-Israeli artist who accuses Twitter of failing to delete hate speech tweets has taken matters into his own hands - by stenciling the offending messages on the road in front of the company's Hamburg headquarters. A post on video-sharing site YouTube showed Shahak Shapira and fellow activists stencilling tweets saying "Germany needs a final solution to Islam" and "Let's gas the Jews" - clear references to the Nazi regime's World War II genocide of Europe's Jews.   Shapira said he had reported some 300 incidents of hate speech on Twitter but had received just nine responses from the company. "If Twitter forces me to see these things, then they should have to see it as well," he said in the video, posted on Monday, describing the comments as violations of the social network's community guidelines. Hate speech is especially sensitive in Germany, whose history has been shaped by the struggle to atone for the crimes of the Nazis. A spokesman for Twitter told Reuters the company would not comment on the specifics of individual accounts for reasons of privacy, but said it strictly enforced its rules and had stepped up its policing of abuse on its network. Twitter is now taking action on 10 times as many abusive accounts now compared to the same time last year, he added. Shapira said Facebook had been more vigorous than Twitter in replying to his requests, removing 80 percent of some 150 hate speech comments he had reported. On the handful of occasions when Twitter removed offensive tweets, Shapira said he never received a report of their having done so. "I selected some of the tweets they didn't delete, and then came to Hamburg to put them in front of Twitter's office," he said. "Tomorrow they will have to see the Tweets they were so happy to ignore."

Google Engineer Fired Over Memo Casting Doubt on Need for Gender Diversity

U.S. technology giant Google has fired a male engineer who wrote a memo questioning the need for gender diversity programs in the industry. In a 3,000 page internal memo titled “Google's Ideological Echo Chamber,” James Damore asserted that so few women were employed in the technology field because they “prefer jobs in social and artistic areas,” while men are more inclined to become computer programmers — a fact he said was due to “biological causes.” The memo created a firestorm after it was leaked on social media, reviving the debate over the lack of racial and gender diversity in the tech world.  Google is under investigation by the U.S. Labor Department over whether it pays women less than men, while claims of sexual harassment at the ride-sharing firm Uber Technologies has triggered a change in management.   Sundar Pichai, Google's chief executive officer, blasted Damore's memo in an email for “advancing harmful gender stereotypes in our workplace.”   Damore revealed he had been dismissed in an email sent to various news outlets.  He says he has filed a complaint with the federal National Labor Relations Board accusing Google of trying to shame him into silence.  

Pentagon: Military Can Destroy Drones Over Domestic US Bases

The Pentagon has given more than 130 U.S. military bases across the United States the green light to shoot down private and commercial drones that could endanger aviation safety or pose other threats. The number of uncrewed aircraft in U.S. skies has zoomed in recent years and continues to increase rapidly - along with concern among U.S. and private-sector officials that dangerous or even hostile drones could get too close to places like military bases, airports and sports stadiums. While the specific actions that the U.S. military can take against drones are classified, they include destroying or seizing private and commercial drones that pose a threat, Pentagon spokesman Navy Captain Jeff Davis told reporters on Monday. The classified guidelines were distributed early last month. The Pentagon sent out unclassified guidance on how to communicate the policy to communities on Friday. "The increase of commercial and private drones in the United States has raised our concerns with regards to the safety and security of our installations, aviation safety and the safety of people," Davis said. In April, flights of nearly all drones over 133 U.S. military facilities were banned due to security concerns. Drones have become popular as toys and with hobbyists, and have commercial uses such as aerial photography. Amazon.com and Alphabet's Google unit have been exploring the use of drones to deliver goods ordered online. The FAA estimated the commercial drone fleet would grow from 42,000 at the end of 2016 to about 442,000 aircraft by 2021. The FAA said there could be as many as 1.6 million commercial drones in use by 2021.

Google Exec Denounces Employee's Views on Female Workers

Silicon Valley's efforts to promote workforce diversity haven't yielded many results — unless you count a backlash at Google, where a male engineer blamed biological differences for the paucity of female programmers. His widely shared memo, titled "Google's Ideological Echo Chamber," also criticizes Google for pushing mentoring and diversity programs and for "alienating conservatives." Google's just-hired head of diversity, Danielle Brown, responded with her own memo, saying Google is "unequivocal in our belief that diversity and inclusion are critical to our success." She said change is hard and "often uncomfortable." The dueling memos come as Silicon Valley grapples with accusations of sexism and discrimination. Google is also in the midst of a Department of Labor investigation into whether it pays women less than men, while Uber's CEO recently lost his job amid accusations of widespread sexual harassment and discrimination. Leading tech companies, including Google, Facebook and Uber, have said they are trying to improve hiring and working conditions for women. But diversity numbers are barely changing . The Google employee memo, which gained attention online over the weekend, begins by saying that only honest discussion will address a lack of equity. But it also asserts that women "prefer jobs in social and artistic areas" while more men "may like coding because it requires systemizing." The memo, which was shared on the tech blog Gizmodo, attributes biological differences between men and women to the reason why "we don't have 50% representation of women in tech and leadership." The employee, whose identity hasn't been released, was described in news reports as a software engineer. While his views were broadly and publicly criticized online, they echo the 2005 statements by then-Harvard President Lawrence Summers, who said the reason there are fewer female scientists at top universities is in part due to "innate" gender differences. Brande Stellings, senior vice president of advisory services for Catalyst, a nonprofit advocacy group for women in the workplace, said the engineer's viewpoints show "how ingrained, entrenched and harmful gender-based stereotypes truly are." "It's much easier for some to point to `innate biological differences' than to confront the unconscious biases and obstacles that get in the way of a level playing field," Stellings wrote in an email. Google, like other tech companies, has far fewer women than men in technology and leadership positions. Fifty-six percent of its workers are white and 35 percent are Asian, while Hispanic and Black employees make up 4 percent and 2 percent of its workforce, respectively, according to the company's latest diversity report . Tech companies say they are trying, by reaching out to and interviewing a broader range of job candidates, by offering coding classes, internships and mentorship programs and by holding mandatory "unconscious bias" training sessions for existing employees. But, as the employee memo shows, not everyone at Google is happy with this.

Tackling Social Injustice With Video Games

At the recent Games for Change festival in New York City, the video games on display were a far cry from Mario Brothers and Call of Duty. Instead, game developers showed off titles that tackled civic and social issues. VOA reporter Tina Trinh explores.   ((mandatory CG: GamBridzy))

New Video Games Tackle Social Injustice Issues

You’re in Nepal. A 7.8 magnitude earthquake has just struck your village and you must rescue the survivors.   This is “After Days,” a video game based on the real-life Nepal earthquake that killed almost 9,000 people in 2015. Minseok Do was showing the game at the recent Games for Change festival in New York City. The games on display were a far cry from "Mario Brothers" and "Call of Duty." These developers featured titles that tackled civic and social issues. Public consciousness about civic and social issues has long been raised by the news and entertainment industries in the United States and other parts of the world, and now video game creators are making their own statements and hoping to reach the younger digital generation in the process. In “After Days,” players take on the role of Ahsha, a young Nepalese woman who attempts to rescue her neighbors in the aftermath of the massive earthquake. “Other media, such as novels and movies, require consumers to use their imagination to understand characters’ emotions,” said Do, CEO of GamBridzy. “Games have players be in characters’ shoes by letting them command and control. It is in my opinion the most powerful platform.” In the game, players carry out various missions like transporting injured victims in stretchers and coordinating with rescue teams to restore critical infrastructure. The first episode is set in Sindhupalchok, one of the hardest-hit districts of the earthquake in Nepal. “Some say it will take about 10 years to complete all the restoration, but international attention is not focused on this, and it is important that we show our interest and support,” said Do. Twenty percent of proceeds from game sales will go toward rebuilding efforts. Elin Festøy, a producer from Norway, also was in New York to promote her game. “We really wanted to create attention and awareness around children born of war ... children being born of the most hated soldiers in the world,” said Festøy. She and her team created “My Child Lebensborn,” a mobile game in which players are the caretakers of World War Two-era children from the Lebensborn project, an attempt by the Nazi regime to create an Aryan “master race.” Lebensborn involved child kidnappings as well as anonymous births by unwed mothers in and outside of Germany, with their offspring adopted by German families.  After the war, many Lebensborn children faced prejudice and discrimination, even from their own mothers. “It’s about being able to see children as children and not as symbols of [the] enemy,” said Festøy. “My Child Lebensborn” is targeted at players aged 13 and up. Recognizing that 13-year-olds might not exactly run to play the game, one of the team’s goals includes creating a bundle for schools that includes both the game and an accompanying film on the Lebensborn project.   Video games at the Games for Change festival didn’t shy away from difficult or touchy topics. Indeed, they were a vehicle for discussion and dialogue. “The problem in a lot of developing countries is that people do not talk about issues. People do not want to share their problems out of embarrassment,” said Dr. Ilmana Fasih, a director at ZMQ. The New Delhi-based consulting company developed “YourStoryTeller,” a mobile app that is less video game than a digital narrative. User-contributed stories are transformed into comic strips. Each week, a new story addresses women’s issues in India, a country where patriarchal attitudes are common. In one example, a young woman’s studies are disrupted for an arranged marriage that takes her from India to Canada, where she is physically abused by her new husband. Fasih acknowledged the stories are definitely not of the Disney fairytale variety, and they definitely have a point of view.   “Kids grow up watching those stories. We want kids to grow up watching these stories where there are struggles,” said Fasih. “A young boy is able to understand what are the struggles that his mom, his sisters go through. That is probably one of the best ways to defeat patriarchy.”    

Hong Kong 'Smart' Ring Aims to Help Visually Impaired

A voice in your ear at the touch of a hand? The Orii ring allows people to take phone calls, handle text messages and interact with a phone's digital assistant, all by transferring sound to a user's ear through bone conduction. The ring, designed by Hong Kong-based start-up Origami Labs, was inspired by Peter Wong, the visually impaired father of the firm's co-founder Kevin Wong. "As a visual-impaired person, I rely on the software on the smartphone to read the icons, the texts to me," said Peter Wong, who is a technical adviser for the ring. A key feature ensures that only the user can hear the information conveyed by the ring. "Can you imagine it reading out your password? That's inconvenient and inappropriate," Peter Wong said. What began as a Kickstarter project has become the latest example of wearable, screen-free technology. "We want to keep our heads up, we want to be able to stay more in the moment," said Kevin Wong, 29, who set up Origami Labs in November 2015 with three friends from university. The tech wearable market grew 51 percent in Asia last year, according to consumer research firm GfK. The overall industry is expected to be worth $34 billion globally by 2020, research provider CCS Insight has said. The Orii ring is expected to reach the commercial market by February.

LED Smart Shoes Turn Feet into Glowing Displays

There are smart phones, smart light bulbs, and now smart shoes. A Japanese engineer has created LED footwear that become glowing computer displays. And even though there are other shoes on the market that glow, these shoes step it up a notch, as we hear from VOA's Deborah Block.

Kenyan Elections Observation Group Deploys Technology to Help Monitor Polls

Kenya’s Elections Observation Group (ELOG) plans to deploy about 5,000 observers to monitor Tuesday's vote. ELOG also will use Parallel Vote Tabulation (PVT) to monitor the presidential election. The Elections Observations Group, (ELOG) which is made up of civil society and faith-based organizations, met Saturday in Kenya’s capital, Nairobi, and said it will deploy about 5,700 election observers. Of those, approximately 1,700 observers also will monitor the elections using Parallel Vote Tabulation (PVT).   Simon Wanjiru, the PVT Manager at ELOG, says the group is non-partisan, so its election observers will give independent and authentic results. ELOG began monitoring elections in Kenya in 2010. ​Wanjiru adds that the system will be used as a monitoring mechanism to flag irregularities.   “We want to increase the confidence of the public in the elections and also we want to remove any uncertainties on the people, and they need to believe that now the systems have been done right and we will be able to show if they have been done correctly by the commission,” he said.   ELOG officials say PVT works in five steps. In the first stage, observers go to polling stations and verify whether they have network coverage. Once this is verified the second step entails the observer filling out a simulation form and sending it to the data center. This ensures the observer understands the process of reporting via text message or SMS. The third step involves the message check, where the data base receives the texts and checks for any errors in answering. The fourth step involves the data reporters contacting observers who have not yet reported, and troubleshoots. The fifth and final step includes a data-quality check where errors and inconsistencies are flagged by the database automatically.   Wanjiru says the monitoring group will abide by constitutional mechanisms in a scenario where results are withheld.   “It’s only the IEBC, [Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission], which is mandated to release the results, but for ELOG we only do the verification so we cannot verify before they have released," he said. "Remember the constitution says the IEBC has to release the results in seven days. In case it goes beyond seven days, we don’t just say we are going to release but we will compel, we have a court. And we can use the other CSOs [Civil Society Organizations], who can now help beef up and compel the IEBC to have the results out then we can verify.” Joyce Majiwa, of the Institute for Education in Democracy, (IED) spoke to VOA on the sidelines of the press conference. According to Majiwa the IED seeks to nurture democracy and good governance in Kenya and Africa. She further notes that the key areas in Tuesday’s polls include electoral rules violations, among others. Majiwa adds that the monitoring will improve systems for future elections.   “We will make recommendations for future preparedness, we can make recommendations if there are violent areas especially women and girls. We can make recommendations for prosecution. We will have to follow up whether prosecutions are happening, and we will make recommendations to political parties as well.” In 2013, ELOG monitored the elections in Kenya and projected President Uhuru Kenyatta’s victory at 49.7 percent, while the official figures from IEBC stood at 50.07 percent. Kenya is scheduled to vote August 8.      

Cyber Concerns Prompt Army to Stop Using Chinese-made Drones

The U.S. Army has ordered its members to stop using drones made by Chinese manufacturer SZ DJI Technology Co Ltd because of “cyber vulnerabilities” in the products. An Aug. 2 Army memo posted online and verified by Reuters applies to all DJI drones and systems that use DJI components or software. It requires service members to “cease all use, uninstall all DJI applications, remove all batteries/storage media and secure equipment for follow-on direction.” The memo says DJI drones are the most widely used by the Army among off-the-shelf equipment of that type. DJI said in a statement that it was “surprised and disappointed” at the Army’s “unprompted restriction on DJI drones as we were not consulted during their decision.” The privately held company said it would contact the Army to determine what it means by “cyber vulnerabilities” and was willing to work with the Pentagon to address concerns. Analysts at Goldman Sachs and Oppenheimer estimated in 2016 that DJI had about 70 percent share of the global commercial and consumer drone market. Goldman analysts estimated the market, including military, to be worth more than $100 billion over the next five years. The Army was considering issuing a statement about the policy, said Army spokesman Dov Schwartz. The move appears to follow studies conducted by the Army Research Laboratory and the Navy that said there were risks and vulnerabilities in DJI products. The memo cites a classified Army Research Laboratory report and a Navy memo, both from May as references for the order to cease use of DJI drones and related equipment.

Google Street View Cars Map Methane Leaks

Finding underground gas leaks is now as easy as finding a McDonalds, thanks to a combination of Google Street View cars, mobile methane detectors, some major computing power and a lot of ingenuity. When a city’s underground gas lines leak, they waste fuel and release invisible plumes of methane, a potent greenhouse gas.  To find and measure leaks, Colorado State University biologist Joe von Fischer decided to create "methane maps," to make it easier for utilities to identify the biggest leaks, and repair them. “That’s where you get the greatest bang for the buck," he pointed out, "the greatest pollution reductions per repair.”   Knowing that Google Maps start with Google Street View cars recording everything they drive by, along with their GPS locations, von Fischer’s team thought they would just add methane detectors to a Street View car. It turned out, it was not that simple. "Squirrelly objects" The world’s best methane detectors are accurate in an area the size of a teacup, but methane leaks can be wider than a street. Also, no one had ever measured the size of a methane leak from a moving car. "If you’ve ever seen a plume of smoke, it’s sort of a lumpy, irregular object," von Fischer said. "Methane plumes as they come out of the ground are the same, they’re lumpy squirrelly objects.” The team had to develop a way to capture data about those plumes, one that would be accurate in the real world. They set up a test site in an abandoned airfield near campus, and brought in what looked like a large scuba tank filled with methane and some air hoses. Then they released carefully measured methane through the hose as von Fischer drove a specially equipped SUV past it, again and again. They compared readings from the methane detectors in the SUV to readings from the tank. “We spend a lot of time driving through the plumes to sort of calibrate the way that those cars see methane plumes that form as methane’s being emitted from the ground,” von Fischer explained.   With that understanding, the methane detectors hit the road.   Turning data into maps But the results created pages of data, "more than 30 million points,” said CSU computer scientist Johnson Kathkikiaran. He knew that all those data points alone would never help people find the biggest leaks on any map.  So he and his advisor, Sanmi Peracara, turned the data into pictures using tools from Google.   Their visual summaries made it easy for utility experts to analyze the methane maps, but von Fischer wanted anyone to be able to identify the worst leaks. His teammates at the Environmental Defense Fund met that challenge by incorporating the data into their online maps. Yellow dots indicate a small methane leak. Orange is a medium-size one.  Red means a big leak - as much pollution as one car driving 14,000 kilometers in a single day. Von Fischer says that if a city focuses on these biggest leaks, repairing just 8 percent of them can reduce methane pollution by a third. “That becomes a win-win type scenario," he said, "because we’re not asking polluters to fix everything, but we’re looking for a reduction in overall emissions, and I think we can achieve that in a more cost effective way.” After analyzing a methane map for the state of New Jersey, for example, the utility PSE&G has prioritized fixing its leakiest pipes there first, to speed the reduction of their overall pollution.   “To me that was a real victory, to be able to help the utility find which parts were leakiest, and to make a cost effective reduction in their overall emissions," von Fishcher said.   Von Fischer envisions even more innovation ahead for mapping many kinds of pollution… to clean the air and save energy.

WannaCry Hero Arrested in US After Hacking Conference

U.S. security agents have arrested the British hacker known for discovering a "kill switch" that nullified a widespread ransomware attack earlier this year. Marcus Hutchins, a 23-year-old malware researcher who uses the name Malware Tech, was detained by the FBI on Wednesday at the Las Vegas airport, where he was preparing to return to Britain after attending two hacking conferences in the city. Court documents unsealed on Thursday indicated Hutchins was arrested on hacking charges unrelated to the ransomware attack known as WannaCry. Reuters news agency reports Hutchins is accused of advertising, distributing and profiting from malware code known as Kronos that stole online banking credentials and credit card data between July 2014 and July 2015. Hutchins has not made a public statement, but his mother told London's Telegraph newspaper that she expected to be "rather busy tonight," trying to find out where her son is being held. Hutchins became an overnight hero in May after disabling the WannaCry worm, which infiltrated software in hundreds of thousands of computers in hospitals, schools, factories and shops in more than 150 countries. Parts of Britain's National Health Service were infected, as well as the FedEx delivery company, German rail Deutsche Bahn and Spain's Telefonica. The attack first became evident May 12, 2017, and continued over the weekend. By May 15, Hutchins had discovered a so-called "kill switch" that disabled the worm. The malware operators demanded the owners of the computers pay a fee of $300 to $600 to regain control of their computers.

Facebook to Step Up Fact-Checking in Fight Against Fake News

Facebook is to send more potential hoax articles to third-party fact checkers and show their findings below the original post, the world's largest online social network said on Thursday as it tries to fight so-called fake news. The company said in a statement on its website it will start using updated machine learning to detect possible hoaxes and send them to fact checkers, potentially showing fact-checking results under the original article. Facebook has been criticized as being one of the main distribution points for so-called fake news, which many think influenced the 2016 U.S. presidential election. The issue has also become a big political topic in Europe, with French voters deluged with false stories ahead of the presidential election in May and Germany backing a plan to fine social media networks if they fail to remove hateful postings promptly, ahead of elections there in September. On Thursday Facebook said in a separate statement in German that a test of the new fact-checking feature was being launched in the United States, France, the Netherlands and Germany. "In addition to seeing which stories are disputed by third-party fact checkers, people want more context to make informed decisions about what they read and share," said Sara Su, Facebook news feed product manager, in a blog. She added that Facebook would keep testing its "related article" feature and work on other changes to its news feed to cut down on false news.

HBO: Email System Likely Not Affected in Monday Hack Attack

In an email to HBO staff Wednesday, CEO Richard Plepler said the company's email system likely was not affected in Monday's hacking of the cable network. "We do not believe that our email system as a whole has been compromised," Plepler wrote, warning his staff to be wary of media speculation about the breach. A script outline for the next episode of Game of Thrones, along with episodes of Ballers, Barry and Room 104, were published online Monday. A company called IP Echelon reportedly submitted a request to Google on behalf of HBO to take down the leaked material. HBO has not publicly commented on specifically what material has been hacked, but the request claimed that "thousands of Home Box Office [HBO] internal company documents" had been leaked in addition to the video content. According to Variety, the initial leak was much larger than first reported, and personal information about one senior HBO executive, as well as access information to dozens of online accounts, have been published since Monday. The hackers, who claimed to have accessed 1.5 terabytes of information, said more is coming. If the claim is true, it would make this hack even larger than the crippling cyberattack on Sony in 2014, which the FBI has blamed on the North Korean government. North Korea denied the allegation.

3D View of Cells Could Mean New Ways to Fight Disease

What turns a cell into a brain cell, or a muscle cell, or a cancer cell for that matter? It is all about the DNA, and what genetic markers get turned on and off. Scientists at the Salk Institute have created a 3D map of a cell that is giving them a unique view of how DNA works inside individual cells. Kevin Enochs reports.

In Hotels, China Filling Gaps in ‘Great Firewall’

In China, the plush international hotel lobby has been one of the few places to find gaps in the “Great Firewall,” a sophisticated system that denies online users access to blocked content such as foreign news portals and social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter. Now that small crack in the system may be closing, too, as Beijing tightens control over what it sees as its domestic cyberspace, mimicking real-world border controls and subject to the same laws as sovereign states. Regulators have warned firms providing internet networks for hotels to stop offering, or helping to install, virtual private networks (VPNs) into hotel systems, tools that allow users to evade, at least partially, China’s internet censors. “We received notices recently from relevant (government) departments, so we don’t make recommendations anymore,” said a marketing manager at Chinese hotel network provider AMTT Digital, who is not named because he is not authorized to talk to the media. He added this was linked to increased government scrutiny over the use of unauthorized VPNs. Tunnel closing for some VPNs create a tunnel through the Great Firewall allowing users to access blocked content outside China’s borders. Companies in China routinely use VPNs for their businesses, which Beijing has said are not currently under threat. A notice from the Waldorf Astoria in Beijing, circulated online, said the hotel had stopped offering VPN services. A Waldorf official declined to comment, but several staff said the hotel no longer offered VPN services. “(VPNs) don’t accord with Chinese law,” one staffer told Reuters. “So we don’t have this anymore.” Network provider: hotels decide A leading internet network provider to hotels in China, AMTT Digital says it works with more than 30 global hotel chains including Marriott, InterContinental, Shangri-La , Wyndham, Starwood and Hilton. Previously, the firm, which is backed by several funds including ones with government ties, would recommend “certified,” or government approved, VPNs, the manager said, which would then be incorporated into hotels’ internal networks. “We would make recommendations of certified VPN providers and then incorporate them into the gateway so it runs smoothly,” he said. “But it is up to the hotel to decide if they want it.” Dozens of VPNs closed China’s Ministry of Information Industry and Technology (MIIT), which oversees regulation of VPNs, did not respond to requests for comment. As it clamps down further on access to outlawed online content, Beijing has recently closed dozens of China-based VPNs, overseas providers have seen rolling attacks on their services, the WhatsApp encrypted messaging app was disrupted, and telecoms firms have been enlisted to extend China’s domestic internet control. U.S. tech giant Apple Inc pulled dozens of VPN apps from its App Store in China at the weekend, drawing criticism from app providers who said it was bowing to pressure from Beijing’s cyber regulators. “We’re in the middle of the storm right now with the government fiercely cracking down on VPNs,” said Lin Wei, a Beijing-based network security expert at Qihoo 360 Technology Co. “It’s really hard for ordinary people to find anywhere they can get on sites like Google.” No Twitter, Facebook, YouTube The “neutered” hotel VPNs, which staff and analysts said were often installed with tacit approval from authorities, already underline sensitivities of even ceding small amounts of control. President Xi Jinping has overseen a marked sharpening of China’s cyberspace controls, including tough new data surveillance and censorship rules. This push is now ramping up ahead of an expected consolidation of power at the Communist Party Congress this autumn. Guests at the InterContinental hotel on the east side of Beijing can search on Alphabet Inc’s Google search engine or check their email on Gmail, a business need for many travelers, but both otherwise widely blocked in China. But they can’t access Facebook, Twitter or YouTube, which are banned by the government. China also routinely blocks sensitive content online such as searches for the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests or, more recently, coverage of imprisoned Nobel laureate Liu Xiaobo, who died of cancer last month. These topics are searchable, though, in China using a VPN connection. Some hotels haven't blocked sites Technical staff at five other hotels in Beijing, including Crowne Plaza, Hilton and Shangri-La, said guests could still access some blocked websites, though others were often still off-limits. Officials at the hotels declined to comment. Other hotels Reuters spoke to said they did not offer VPN services because it did not accord with government rules. “It’s a compromise the hotels are making,” said Lin, the network security expert. VPNs were not technically illegal, but were in a “grey area” and “for well-known reasons” authorities were cracking down on them. Staff and guests at a number of hotels said some kind of VPN service was still on offer, either built into the hotel’s Wi-Fi network or on demand to guests who needed access. Reuters visited the InterContinental and Crowne Plaza in Beijing, both owned by InterContinental Hotels Group, where Google and Gmail were unblocked. A worker at the Hilton Beijing hotel said the same sites should be accessible. Officials at IHG and Hilton did not respond to requests for comment. Some hotels went further. A technician at the Pangu 7 Star Hotel in Beijing, owned by exiled tycoon Guo Wengui, said resident guests could get full internet access, including sites like Facebook and Twitter, through its VPN-enabled “Pangu global” Wi-Fi network. “We have a special VPN to cross the Great Firewall,” the worker told Reuters. “But it’s a little bit slow.” Reuters couldn’t reach Pangu officials for comment.

Pages