thomst writes "Kim Zetter of Wired's Threat Level reports that Kaspersky Labs discovered a Spanish-language spyware application that employs "uses techniques and code that surpass any nation-state spyware previously spotted in the wild." The malware, dubbed "The Mask" by Kaspersky's researchers, targeted targeted government agencies, diplomatic offices, embassies, companies in the oil, gas and energy industries, and research organizations and activists had been loose on the Internet since at least 2007, before it was shut down last month. It infected its targets via a malicious website that contained exploits — among which were the Adobe Flash player vulnerability CVE-2012-0773 — that affected both Windows and Linux machines. Users were directed to the site via spearphishing emails." Link to Original Source top
Supreme Court declines case on making online retailers collect sales taxes
thomst writes "Robert Barnes of the Washington Post reports that the US Supreme Court has declined to hear petitions from Amazon.com and Overstock.com requesting that a decision by the New York State Supreme Court permitting that state's 2008 law requiring sales taxes be collected on Internet sales, even if the seller has no "business presence" in New York. The New York Court of Appeals ruled that Amazon’s relationship with third-party affiliates in the state that receive commissions for sending Web traffic its way satisfied the “substantial nexus” necessary to force the company to collect taxes, and New York's Supreme Court had affirmed the ruling. The Federal high court's refusal to hear the petitions leaves the state law in effect, even though it appears to conflict with the Court's 1993 decision in Quill v. North Dakota." Link to Original Source top
Executives of health-care Web site lead contractor from troubled IT company
thomst writes "The Washington Post's Jerry Markon and Alice Crites report "The lead contractor on the dysfunctional Web site for the Affordable Care Act is filled with executives from a company that mishandled at least 20 other government IT projects, including a flawed effort to automate retirement benefits for millions of federal workers, documents and interviews show.
CGI Federal, the main Web site developer, entered the U.S. government market a decade ago when its parent company purchased American Management Systems, a Fairfax County contractor that was coming off a series of troubled projects. CGI moved into AMS’s custom-made building off Interstate 66, changed the sign outside and kept the core of employees, who now populate the upper ranks of CGI Federal." Link to Original Source top
thomst writes "Science Magazines's Tim Wogan reports that chemical engineer Zhenan Bao of Stanford University in Palo Alto, California, and her team have increased the conductivity of a self-healing polymer by incorporating nickel atoms. The polymer they have produced is sensitive to applied forces like pressure and torsion (twisting) because such forces alter the distance between the nickel atoms, changing the electrical resistance of the polymer. Their work is published online in the November 1 issue of Nature Nanotechnology (abstract here, full article paywalled). Now Bao and her team are working on making the polymer more flexible." Link to Original Source top
Judge to review whether foreman in Apple v. Samsung hid info
thomst writes "David Kravets of Wired's Threat Level blog reports that Google has clarified its change in policy on automatic takedowns of YouTube videos for copyright infringement. On Wednesday, Thabet Alfishawi, rights management product manager for YouTube, said in a blog post that Google had "improved the algorithms that identify potentially invalid claims. We stop these claims from automatically affecting user videos and place them in a queue to be manually reviewed.” In its clarification, Google now says that videos flagged by its Content ID algorithm will be placed in a queue for "content owners" to review, if they decide to do so. In other words, the "manual review" is entirely optional, and the review, if any, will be done by the "content owner", rather than by Google itself — all of which begs the classic question, "Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?"" Link to Original Source top
Google Gives Up Fair-Use Defense, Settles Book-Scanning Lawsuit With Publishers
thomst writes "Geeta Dayal of Wired's Threat Level blog posts an interesting report about bot-mediated automatic takedowns of streaming video. He mentions the interruption of Michelle Obama's speech at the DNC, and the blocking of NASA's coverage of Mars rover Curiosity's landing by a Scripps News Service bot, but the story really drills down on the abrupt disappearance of the Hugo Award's live stream of Neil Gaiman's acceptance speech for his Doctor Who script. (Apparently the trigger was a brief clip from the Doctor Who episode itself, despite the fact that it was clearly a case of fair use.) Dayal points the finger at Vobile, whose content-blocking technology was used by Ustream, which hosted the derailed coverage of the Hugos. The good news — such as it is — is that Ustream has apparently suspended their use of Vobile's software. Vobile isn't the only player in the content-cop software space, and Dayal's article includes links to Vobile, Attributor, Audible Magic, and Gracenote (but ALL the links in the article go through contextly.com, so you'll need to enable scripts from contextly to get to the actual web sites in question — boo, Wired)." Link to Original Source top
YouTube Flags Democrats' Convention Video on Copyright Grounds
thomst writes "Ryan Singel of Wired's Threat Level blog reports that the livestream of Michelle Obama's speech at the Democratic National Convention was blocked by Youtube after a bogus claim of copyright infringement was lodged — almost undoubtedly by Youtube's own copyright bot, acting pre-emptively on behalf of its big-media advertising clients." Link to Original Source top
thomst writes "What’s Wrong with American Ninja Warrior
by Thom Stark
I’ve been a fan of the program the G4 channel calls “Ninja Warrior” since I first encountered it in mid-2005. For those who are unfamiliar with the show, it’s a re-edited-for-American-TV version of a Japanese show called “Sasuke”, with often-snarky English commentary and graphics overlaid on the Japanese original. “Ninja Warrior” is a fast-paced, wildly-entertaining program in which 100 contestants of varying skill levels pit themselves against a 4-stage obstacle course that grows ever more fiendishly difficult with each passing season. There’ve been 27 such seasons to date, and the most current incarnation is has become so incredibly taxing that Batman himself would have trouble completing it.
Now G4 has teamed up with its corporate parent, NBCUniversal to bring the world’s toughest obstacle course to America, and the resulting show, “American Ninja Warrior” turns out to be distinctly inferior to its Japanese progenitor. Tonight, July 9, 2012, is the final broadcast in a series that has run for six previous weekly installments, with segments on both G4 and NBC; and I thought it was fitting that I mark the occasion with a critique of what I believe to be “American Ninja Warrior”’s fatal philosophical and production missteps, and contrast them with the original pitch-perfect product.
First, it’s important to understand that the Japanese program’s name has nothing to do with either ninjas or warriors. “Sasuke” means something like “excellence” in Japanese. It has much the same flavor as the Greek concept of arete, the pursuit of excellence as a defining life goal. G4's marketeers clearly decided that their ADHD-addled core audience of video gamers was unlikely to find a show called “Excellence” compelling enough to warrant paying attention, so they decided to jazz it up by invoking ninjas, instead. Oh, and warriors, too, to make it more appealing to the World of Warcraft fanatics. And that was fine, as far as it went, because G4 had the good sense not to mess with the program content itself (other than poorly to translate much of the Japanese-language commentary, again in an apparent attempt to inject some good ol’ American zazz).
As a side note, commentary is not the only translational sin of which G4 is guilty. The competition takes place at Midoriyama, a Japanese place name that G4 insists on referring to as “Mount Midoriyama”. The problem with that is that “yama” is a Japanese suffix meaning “mountain”. Thus, “Fujiyama” means “Mount Fuji” and “Midoriyama” means “Mount Midori” — which, in turn, means that G4's translation is not only redundant, with its repeating of the word “mountain” in both English and Japanese, it’s wildly inaccurate, because the Japanese word means “Mount Midori”.
But I digress.
“American Ninja Warrior” — the strictly-domestic production — suffers badly from human interest bloat. The Japanese program (at least as it is presented on G4) frequently features mini-portraits of the competitors, but these segments are very short — typically under 20 seconds — and they help to put a human face on the often-superhuman efforts of the program’s contenders. In “American Ninja Warrior”, the corresponding segments too often are near-epic mini-documentaries that run a minute or longer, and they seriously impair the program’s flow — especially because there are so flinkin’ many of them. The producers badly need to rein in their out-of-control bathos machinery and reduce both the number and the running time of their athlete portraiture.
But the worst mistake that the brainiacs behind “American Ninja Warrior” have made is to Americanize the competition. The most endearing philosophical quality of “Sasuke” is that the participants compete, not against each other, but individually against the course itself. There is no zero-sum in the game of Sasuke. Should more than one contestant complete the nigh-impossible series of obstacles (an outcome that has never yet occurred on “Sasuke”), both would be equally celebrated, both would be equally entitled to claim the title of “winner”, and the accomplishment of one would in no way diminish the glory of the other. To the contrary, such an event would be cause for national celebration, since winners of “Sasuke” are considered national heroes in Japan.
By contrast, not only have the American producers chosen to have the participants compete against each other in regional qualifying events for a spot in the “finals” competition in Las Vegas (not an unreasonable choice, given that they needed to whittle the field down to a managable number of contestants for the trials at the actual Mount Midori course), but they’ve made it a zero-sum game. Like the Highlander, there can be only one American Ninja Warrior — which reduces the exalted pursuit of excellence to just another athletic competition, with the top prize of half-a-million dollars going to the one contestant who not only completes the course, but does so in the fastest time. Anyone else who makes it to the top of Mount Midori is, basically, just another chump. An also-ran. A footnote.
And that’s what’s really wrong with “American Ninja Warrior”." top
Court Clears Samsung Galaxy Nexus For Sale But Patent Battle Continues
thomst writes "With just less than a week to go, it seems inevitable that the Kickstarter project for my post-nuclear-terrorism disaster novel American Sulla will fall well short of its funding goal. That's disappointing, because I thought I'd covered all the promotional bases: I created a web page that offers free, downloadable copies of a 38,000-word preview of the novel, I put the Kickstarter pitch video on Youtube, I uploaded a torrent to The Pirate Bay with the pitch video and the preview version of the novel in a variety of ebook formats, I set up a Facebook group, and, of course, I sent out an email announcing the project to all my friends and acquaintances. I even published the preview version of my novel as a $0.99 Kindle ebook on Amazon.com (where, thus far, two people have purchased copies, despite the fact that it's available directly from both my web site and The Pirate Bay for free).
So the question arises, "Can this project be rescued?" Or, to put it another way, "What have I overlooked?" Or even, "What did I do wrong — and is there any way for me to correct the error in time to save the project?"
This novel is important to me. I immodestly think it's decently well-written, and in it, I attempt to come to grips with some pretty important issues the events that followed the September 11, 2001 attack on the World Trade Center raised for me: the willingness (hell, the eagerness) of U.S. lawmakers to abdicate Constitutional protections in the name of national security, the metastatic growth of Executive Branch power, the ovine complacency of the American people, the legitimacy of resistence to these trends, and the influence of galloping conspiracy theorism, to name a few of the most prominent. At the same time, I'm doing my best to wrap my presentation of those issues in a tense, fast-paced, and (I hope) entertaining narrative.
thomst writes "Rob Coppinger of Space.com reports that UK-based private company Excalibur Almaz plans to offer commercial lunar-orbital tourist missions based on recycled Soviet-era Soyuz vehicle and Salyut space stations, using Hall Effect thrusters to power the ensemble from Earth orbit to the Moon and back. The company estimates ticket prices at $150 million per seat (with a 50% profit margin), and expects to sell about 30 of them. Excalibur Almaz has other big plans, too, including ISS crew transport, LaGrange Point scientific missions, and Lunar surface payload deliveries. It expects to launch its first tourist trip to the Moon in 2014." Link to Original Source top
Kim DotCom warrants invalid, New Zealand judge rules
thomst writes "A team led by soils scientist Dr. Marek Zbik of Queensland University of Technology has discovered that samples of Moon dust contain nanoparticles that may explain the dust's notoriously strange properties. Moon dust is famously abrasive, sticky, and subject to puzzlingly-high electrostatic charges that cause it to remain suspended above the lunar surface for long periods of time, despite the virtual absence of any atmosphere on the satellite's surface. Dr. Zbik examined a sample of the dust via synchrotron-based nano-tomography, which uses high-energy X-rays to produce 3-D images of nano-scale particles. Dr. Zbik discovered that Moon dust includes a large number of glass "vesicles" or bubbles that contain interior networks of nanoparticles. He theorizes that, when the vesicles are ruptured by micrometeorite impacts, the nanoparticles are released, producing a mixture of "regular" lunar dust and nano-dust over time. According to Dr. Zbik, it's the nano-dust component that accounts for Moon dust's unusual properties, because nano-scale particles are small enough that their behavior is partially determined by the laws of quantum physics, rather than the Newtonian physics that govern larger-scale structures. The team's article in ISRN Astronomy and Astrophysics explains the technical details of the study, and Dr. Zbik has posted a 3-D video of a fractured lunar regolith vesicle on Youtube, as well." Link to Original Source top
thomst writes "LiveScience writer Jennifer Welsh reports that a group of Norwegian researchers has discovered a single-celled organism that shares almost none of its genetic structure with any of the currently-known kingdoms (animals, plants, fungi, algae and protists) of life on Earth. Their study, first published in the January 6, 2012 in the online edition of Molecular Biology and Evolution (the abstract of revision 3 of "Collodictyon—An Ancient Lineage in the Tree of Eukaryotes" is available here, the full text is paywalled), compared the organism's genetic structure with data from hundreds of molecular biology databases around the world, and discovered only one partial match with an organism from Tibet. Welsh quotes study researcher Dag Klaveness, of the University of Oslo as saying, "We are surprised" at the uniqueness of the species, adding, "It is conceivable that only a few other species exist in this family branch of the tree of life, which has survived all the many hundreds of millions of years since the eukaryote species appeared on Earth for the first time." The researchers think the organism, called Collodictyon, could be the progenitor of both amoebas and protists (each members of a different eukaryotic kingdom), with which it shares some physical characteristics. "So far we know of no other group of organisms that descend from closer to the roots of the tree of life than this species," study researcher Kamran Shalchian-Tabrizi, also of the University of Oslo, in Norway, said in a statement." Link to Original Source top
thomst writes "Seth Borenstein of AP reports on a story in the April 13 edition of Science (abstract here, full article paywalled) about a study of baboons at Aix-Marseille University in France that demonstrates the primates are capable of distiinguishing between short, but real English words and gibberish letter combinations of similar length with an average of 75% accuracy over the course of 300,000 trials. One particularly talented subject named Dan, a 4-year-old baboon, is capable of 80% accuracy.
The study's lead scientist, Jonathan Grainger, explains that a simple change in the study's methodology — allowing the subjects to work the training machine at times of their own choosing, rather than on a schedule determined by the researchers, made all the difference. When they are shown a sequence of letters, the subjects must choose between pushing a blue "button" on a touchscreen (for a nonsense combination), or a green one (for an actual word). If they choose correctly, they get a food reward.
Borenstein writes, "The key is that these animals not only learned by trial and error which letter combinations were correct, but they also noticed which letters tend to go together to form real words, such as SH but not FX, said Grainger. So even when new words were sprung on them, they did a better job at figuring out which were real.
"Grainger said a pre-existing capacity in the brain may allow them to recognize patterns and objects, and perhaps that's how we humans also first learn to read."
Bill Hopkins, a professor of psychology at the Yerkes Primate Center in Atlanta, who wasn't part of the team conducting the baboon study, told Borenstein, "We tend to underestimate what their capacities are," noting, "Non-human primates are really specialized in the visual domain and this is an example of that."" Link to Original Source top
thomst writes "The Associated Press reports The Supreme Court on Monday threw out a lower court ruling allowing human genes to be patented, a topic of enormous interest to cancer researchers, patients and drug makers. The court overturned patents belonging to Myriad Genetics Inc. of Salt Lake City on two genes linked to increased risk of breast and ovarian cancer. The justices' decision sends the case back down to the federal appeals court in Washington that handles patent cases. The high court said it sent the case back for rehearing because of its decision in another case last week saying that the laws of nature are unpatentable. In that case, the court unanimously threw out patents on a Prometheus Laboratories, Inc., test that could help doctors set drug doses for autoimmune diseases like Crohn's disease." Link to Original Source