Category Archives: technology

Dubious Stem Cell Creations

We’ve no doubt that this is how Captain Trips came about…

Food and Drug Administration just put dubious stem cell clinics on notice.

The agency announced plans on Monday for new policies and enforcement efforts to stamp out what it called “unscrupulous actors” peddling unproven, potentially dangerous, and often expensive stem cell therapies—including a bizarre and troubling instance involving smallpox vaccine.

As an initial demonstration of its harder stance, the agency today posted information on two enforcement efforts. One was a warning letter to a Florida stem cell clinic that had posed as legitimate clinical research andended up blinding three patients after injecting stem cells directly into their eyeballs. The other was a concerning announcement that the agency had seized five vials of smallpox vaccine from stem cell clinics in California.

The clinics, run by StemImmune Inc., were said to be mixing the dangerous vaccine with stem cells for an unproven, unapproved, and potentially harmful cancer treatment that was injected intravenously into patients or directly into their tumors. Though the injection of stem cells alone lacks safety and efficacy data, the vaccine is known to be dangerous. The vaccine contains a live poxvirus, similar but less harmful than smallpox. When it’s injected into patients with weakened immune systems—such as many cancer patients—the vaccine can cause life-threatening side effects, such as swelling of the heart.

Dubious Stem Cell Creations

Voyager at 40

Humanity’s farthest and longest-lived spacecraft, Voyager 1 and 2, achieve 40 years of operation and exploration this August and September. Despite their vast distance, they continue to communicate with NASA daily, still probing the final frontier.

Their story has not only impacted generations of current and future scientists and engineers, but also Earth’s culture, including film, art and music. Each spacecraft carries a Golden Record of Earth sounds, pictures and messages. Since the spacecraft could last billions of years, these circular time capsules could one day be the only traces of human civilization.

“I believe that few missions can ever match the achievements of the Voyager spacecraft during their four decades of exploration,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate (SMD) at NASA Headquarters. “They have educated us to the unknown wonders of the universe and truly inspired humanity to continue to explore our solar system and beyond.”

The Voyagers have set numerous records in their unparalleled journeys. In 2012, Voyager 1, which launched on Sept. 5, 1977, became the only spacecraft to have entered interstellar space. Voyager 2, launched on Aug. 20, 1977, is the only spacecraft to have flown by all four outer planets — Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune. Their numerous planetary encounters include discovering the first active volcanoes beyond Earth, on Jupiter’s moon Io; hints of a subsurface ocean on Jupiter’s moon Europa; the most Earth-like atmosphere in the solar system, on Saturn’s moon Titan; the jumbled-up, icy moon Miranda at Uranus; and icy-cold geysers on Neptune’s moon Triton.

Though the spacecraft have left the planets far behind — and neither will come remotely close to another star for 40,000 years — the two probes still send back observations about conditions where our Sun’s influence diminishes and interstellar space begins

Voyager at 40

MP3 is Dead; Long Live MP3

If you read the news, you may think the MP3 file format was recently officially “killed” somehow, and any remaining MP3 holdouts should all move to AAC now. These are all simple rewrites of Fraunhofer IIS’ announcement that they’re terminating the MP3 patent-licensing program…

MP3 is no less alive now than it was last month or will be next year — the last known MP3 patents have simply expired…

MP3 is very old, but it’s the same age as JPEG, which has also long since been surpassed in quality by newer formats. JPEG is still ubiquitous not because Engadget forgot to declare its death, but because it’s good enough and supported everywhere, making it the most pragmatic choice most of the time.

AAC and other newer audio codecs can produce better quality than MP3, but the difference is only significant at low bitrates. At about 128 kbps or greater, the differences between MP3 and other codecs are very unlikely to be noticed, so it isn’t meaningfully better for personal music collections. For new music, get AAC if you want, but it’s not worth spending any time replacing MP3s you already have…

Until a few weeks ago, there had never been an audio format that was small enough to be practical, widely supported, and had no patent restrictions, forcing difficult choices and needless friction upon the computing world. Now, at least for audio, that friction has officially ended. There’s finally a great choice without asterisks.

MP3 is supported by everything, everywhere, and is now patent-free. There has never been another audio format as widely supported as MP3, it’s good enough for almost anything, and now, over twenty years since it took the world by storm, it’s finally free. 1

MP3 is Dead; Long Live MP3

Show 1 footnote

  1. We’re assuming her that this means the Fraunhofer codec can now be shipped with free wit all *NIX distros, which should actually improve the quality of MP3s.

Stealth Cell Tower

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Hi! Pay no attention me; I’m just an innocuous printer, minding my own business. Move along – nothin’ to see here…

Stealth Cell Tower is an antagonistic GSM base station in the form of an innocuous office printer. It brings the covert design practice of disguising cellular infrastructure as other things – like trees and lamp-posts – indoors, while mimicking technology used by police and intelligence agencies to surveil mobile phone users.

Masquerading as a regular cellular service provider, Stealth Cell Tower surreptitiously catches phones and sends them SMSs written to appear they are from someone that knows the recipient. It does this without needing to know any phone numbers.

With each response to these messages, a transcript is printed revealing the captured message sent, alongside the victim’s unique IMSI number and other identifying information. Every now and again the printer also randomly calls phones in the environment and on answering, Stevie Wonder’s 1984 classic hit I Just Called To Say I Love You is heard.

Stealth Cell Tower

A Quantum Leap for ENIGMA

As much as I love the following –and I love it A LOT– after decades of research and millions in technological investments, we’ve still not improved on the absolute secrecy of a one-time pad. Amazing…

Researchers at the University of Rochester have moved beyond the theoretical in demonstrating that an unbreakable encrypted message can be sent with a key that’s far shorter than the message—the first time that has ever been done

Until now, unbreakable encrypted messages were transmitted via a system envisioned by American mathematician Claude Shannon, considered the “father of information theory.” Shannon combined his knowledge of algebra and electrical circuitry to come up with a binary system of transmitting messages that are secure, under three conditions: the key is random, used only once, and is at least as long as the message itself.

The findings by Daniel Lum, a graduate student in physics, and John Howell, a professor of physics, have been published in the journal Physical Review A.

“Daniel’s research amounts to an important step forward, not just for encryption, but for the field of data locking,” said Howell.

Quantum data locking is a method of encryption advanced by Seth Lloyd, a professor of quantum information at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, that uses photons—the smallest particles associated with light—to carry a message. Quantum data locking was thought to have limitations for securely encrypting messages, but Lloyd figured out how to make additional assumptions—namely those involving the boundary between light and matter—to make it a more secure method of sending data. While a binary system allows for only an on or off position with each bit of information, photon waves can be altered in many more ways: the angle of tilt can be changed, the wavelength can be made longer or shorter, and the size of the amplitude can be modified. Since a photon has more variables—and there are fundamental uncertainties when it comes to quantum measurements—the quantum key for encrypting and deciphering a message can be shorter that the message itself.

Lloyd’s system remained theoretical until this year, when Lum and his team developed a device—a quantum enigma machine—that would put the theory into practice.

A Quantum Leap for ENIGMA

FCC: No Means No

As Hurricane Patricia barrelled down on Mexico last October, forecasters at the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) grabbed as many ­satellite images as they could to track its progress. But at least one crucial shot failed to download. A 22 October image from the ­Geostationary Operational Environ­mental Satellite (GOES) system showed a black swathe — no data — across most of the Pacific Ocean.

“You couldn’t even see the hurricane,” says Al Wissman, chief of data management and continuity operations for NOAA’s satellite and information service in Silver Spring, Maryland. “That’s how devastated the imagery was.”

The culprit was radio interference from mobile-phone companies. And the problem may soon get worse. The US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is considering whether to allow a commercial mobile-phone company to share a crucial, additional set of frequencies that NOAA uses for time-critical weather transmissions.

If the application is granted, Ligado ­Networks of Reston, Virginia, will begin transmitting at frequencies between 1,675 and 1,680 megahertz. That overlaps with the ­communications range of NOAA’s next generation of GOES satellites, starting with the game-changing GOES-R probe that is set to launch in November. The satellite will transmit in three times the number of channels as do current satellites, providing images with four times the current resolution, and it will scan for weather events five times faster.

Last month, emergency managers, pilots, private weather forecasters and other groups flooded the FCC with letters arguing against the change. Researchers will discuss the ­proposal at a meeting of the American ­Meteorological Society (AMS) in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, on 21 July.

On a list of stupid ideas, say 1 through 10, where number 1 would be to elect a Trump-George Bush ticket this November, and number 10 would be telling your significant other that yes, s/he does look fat in those pants/Speedos/Pokemon furry outfit, this idea is probably a 5, maybe even a 4.

I mean, read the whole item: telecom signals have already interfered with critical weather information. Why in the world would we make it easier for these jackanapes to fuck over a perfectly good and extremely valuable system?

Let the fuckers buy their own bandwith or develop the technology to work around the issues – leave weather info alone.

FCC: No Means No

PowerPoint

Hello, everyone. My presentation today is about the harm that PowerPoint presentations are doing to the way we think and speak. To illustrate the danger, this warning is in the form of a PowerPoint presentation.

Next slide, please.

For nearly two millennia, from Isocrates and Cicero to the 19th century, the art of rhetoric was at the center of the Western tradition of liberal education. The liberally educated citizen was taught to reason logically and to express thoughts in a way calculated to inform and, when necessary, to motivate an audience.

Next slide, please.

Robert Gaskins and Dennis Austin, who developed a program originally called Presenter for the software company Forethought, Inc., did not realize, when Microsoft purchased the rights to PowerPoint in 1987, that they were inadvertently bringing about the collapse of Western civilization.

Next slide, please…

PowerPoint

Homo Sapiens 2.0

After 4 billion years of evolution by one set of rules, our species is about to begin evolving by another.

Overlapping and mutually reinforcing revolutions in genetics, information technology, artificial intelligence, big data analytics, and other fields are providing the tools that will make it possible to genetically alter our future offspring should we choose to do so. For some very good reasons, we will.

Nearly everybody wants to have cancers cured and terrible diseases eliminated. Most of us want to live longer, healthier and more robust lives. Genetic technologies will make that possible. But the very tools we will use to achieve these goals will also open the door to the selection for and ultimately manipulation of non-disease-related genetic traits — and with them a new set of evolutionary possibilities.

As the genetic revolution plays out, it will raise fundamental questions about what it means to be human, unleash deep divisions within and between groups, and could even lead to destabilizing international conflict.

And the revolution has already begun.

Today’s genetic moment is not the stuff of science fiction. It’s not Jules Verne’s fanciful 1865 prediction of a moon landing a century before it occurred. It’s more equivalent to President Kennedy’s 1962 announcement that America would send men to the moon within a decade. All of the science was in place when Kennedy gave his Houston speech. The realization was inevitable; only the timing was at issue. Neil Armstrong climbed down the Apollo 11 ladder seven years later.

We have all the tools we need to alter the genetic makeup of our species. The science is here. The realization is inevitable. Timing is the only variable.

Homo Sapiens 2.0