Paul L.

Paul L.

Group of 11 British MPs flew to Washington at a cost of £30,000 to taxpayers. But why?

The usual practice at the start of a select committee hearing is for the chair to thank the witnesses for having made the effort to come. At the digital, culture, media and sports committee’s latest hearing on “fake news,” it was the other way round. For the first time in parliamentary history, an entire committee had upped sticks and decamped to the US.

Quite why they had chosen to do so was not altogether clear. As far as anyone was aware, GoogleYouTube, and Facebook all had senior executives working in the UK who were just as qualified to give evidence as their US counterparts. But on the off chance that the committee was hell-bent on hearing from the Americans, you’d have thought it was a great deal cheaper and much less of an organizational nightmare to fly them to the UK. After all, some of them were halfway to London having already flown 3,000 miles from Silicon Valley to join the committee in Washington.

Some might call it a nice winter break at an estimated cost of £30,000 to the British taxpayer. The 11 MPs preferred to call it thoroughness and, to mark the occasion, they had had special lapel badges made for themselves. Every trip abroad deserves a souvenir. And after a day or so to acclimatize and recover from jet lag – the committee flew out to the US on Tuesday – everyone was gathered in an echoey white hall at George Washington University for a 9 am the start.

First in the firing line were Richard Gingras, a dead ringer for Donald Sutherland as well as being vice-president of news at Google, and Juniper Downs, the global head of public policy at YouTube. Both were at pains to say how pleased they were to be there, how much they admired the work of the committee and how much they hated the fake news. Just in case anyone had not been paying attention to this, they repeated how much they hated the fake news.

The committee chair, Damian Collins, is a much shrewder operator than he sometimes appears and probed them rather more forensically than they expected on just how much they put the profit principle above such dreary considerations as monitoring fake news and making sure people weren’t using their platforms to influence election outcomes. “We’ve got 10,000 raiders to make sure people don’t misuse the Google search engines,” Gingras insisted. In which case, Collins observed, why was it that when you typed in Jew, the auto-complete function more often than not took you to an antisemitic website? Gingras shrugged. No one was perfect.

“It’s mission critical for us,” said Downs, when asked what Google-owned YouTube did to ensure the veracity and provenance of the news videos posted on its site. “We spend tens of millions of dollars on security.” She was then asked how much YouTube made in total. Downs bounced up and down in her chair nervously. “I don’t know,” she squeaked. Collins filled her in: $10bn. So YouTubewas spending 0.1% of its earnings on security. Downs shrugged. Sounded plenty to her.

Things didn’t improve when Facebook’s Monika Bickert, its head of global policy management, and Simon Milner, its policy director for the UK, Middle East, and Africa, got their turn in front of the committee. Milner’s appearance was especially baffling as he is a Brit through and through and could far more easily have been questioned in London.

Like Google and YouTube before them, the Facebook execs were mortified that anyone might have been using their websites for anything other than the greater glory of self-improvement. In fact, they were so appalled that they were now voluntarily implementing security measures that the regulators had recently imposed on them.

None of it was terribly enlightening. Just about the only thing we did learn was new media execs talk the same bullshit the world over. And 11 MPs probably didn’t need to travel 3,000 miles to discover that.

Source: This article was published By John Crace

If you were online in the mid 90’s, there is no doubt that you had a veritable cornucopia of search engines to choose from. In my teens it all started with America Online and the audibly cringing dial-up modem.

Soon after AOL, emerged Yahoo!, as well as, many other search engines whose main goal was to provide quick answers to your questions in the form of written info, music downloads, or pictures. Soon we had a dozen widely used search engines at our disposal with seemingly identical results.

So, what did happen to all the other search engines and where have they gone?

1. Lycos Dogpile: Attack of the clones

dogpilereal-696x536 Paul L. - AOFIRS

Back in the 20th century, Lycos & Dogpile were the search engines you went to when the top ones didn’t return any results for your obscure searches. Dogpile was a whimsical place to find happy artwork as you found what you were looking for when others couldn’t. Lycos was one of the first, being formed in 1994, thanks to a venture capital of over $2 million; they helped start a useful service still used today.

2. Ask Jeeves: No, “Ask” someone else

askjeeves Paul L. - AOFIRS

Founded in 1996 in Berkeley, CA, Ask Jeeves was a search engine with a hook. People seemed to love the idea of not only putting in a search topic, but actually asking a wise butler their question and having it answered in various ways. There was no doubt that the two creators, Garrett Gruener and David Warthen, were eccentric geniuses with a sense of humor.

Unfortunately, everyone has to grow up and in 2005 they phased out Jeeves and we were left with Five years later they deleted any cleverness that was left and now all we have is a single search bar; no weather, no date, and no how do ya do?

3. Excite: From modesty to cluster

excite-696x481 Paul L. - AOFIRS

Excite launched in 1995 thanks to several Stanford graduates and an $80,000 grant from International Data Group. Excite started out small with a humble little search engine that went public with two million shares in 1997. Intuit, the creators of TurboTax and Quicken, bought 19% of the company making everyone think this was the site to watch.

However, by the 21st century, Excite began their slow decline into mediocrity after a merger with @Home Networks which spawned [email protected] Over the next couple of years they lost more and more users and focused on charity in a failed attempt to appeal to the masses.

Today, Excite looks less like a search engine and more like if Yellowbook, Craigslist, and Yahoo! had a baby; just a cluster of too much information on one page.

 4. AltaVista: Bowing to the master

altavista-696x348 Paul L. - AOFIRS

Created in Palo Alta, CA, AltaVista was ahead of the curve when it arrived in the Christmas season of 1995. They used a multi-threaded crawler called “Scooter” that could cover many more webpages than previously conceived and had advanced back-end search capabilities.

In one short year, AltaVista became the top search engine and provided search results for Yahoo!, but sadly that’s where their success ended. Two years later, the developers of AltaVista was sold to Compaq who redesigned it as a web portal in an attempt to compete with the rising Yahoo!

It was then sold to Overture Services who was eventually purchased by Yahoo! Today, if you type in you are taken to the Yahoo! Search page.

Source: This article was published By John Pond 

Over the past couple of years, Google and Yahoo have played a pivotal role in the digital world. Not only are they the top, most used search engines with the highest market penetration, they also play a major role in the computer software industry.

Even though Google has created a strong brand name, Yahoo is not far behind. In fact, in certain aspects, Yahoo outweighs Google. The rivalry of these two search engines has continued to evolve at a rapid pace.

Users always prefer one search engine over the other, but what actually makes the said engine better or worse is often not understood and considered by them. Here are some ways how you can compare the performance and value of these two search engines.

The most valuable thing a search engine can offer is generating the most relevant search results for their users. Not to generalize, but users all over the world prefer a search engine which is able to deliver the most fulfilling and satisfying results for their search queries. While it is slightly difficult to measure relevancy as it depends upon user to user experience, an experiment showed that Yahoo generates more relevant results with a slightly higher relevancy degree of 4.8 compared to Google’s 4.6. On the other hand Google provides much more concise results. It offers a preview of information on the right column of the search engine result page which users find extremely beneficial.

Google algorithm is known to be much better than of any other search engine. This is because it favors quality content over well-established links and pages unlike Yahoo which still prefers old and well established websites. Not only is Google good for users as it provides them with reliable and relevant results, it is also preferred by new bloggers and site owners because it gives them opportunity to build valuable links.

The ease of access and usage is another factor to determine which search engine is the best. Google provides the feature Google Instant which allows for much quicker and faster results without the user having to press enter. However, while Google offers its users such quick results, Yahoo’s homepage holds more attraction for its users. With a wide array of interactive features like news, sports, finance, weather and much more on their page; some users find it easy to access their required information and connect with the world.

Both Google and Yahoo offer different benefits. They both have different ranking systems and algorithms. However, this does not mean that one is better than the other. While most of the young people do prefer Google today, people who are older than 45 still seem to stick to Yahoo. You need to make a choice based on whichever search engine serves your purpose and goals the best.

However, when it comes to SEO, it is important that you concentrate on all search engines and not just one.

Source: This article was published By Michael Wight

I’ve heard about DuckDuckGo a few times over the years, mostly as a name uttered in hushed whispers behind closed doors – “You don’t have to use Google. There is another way.”

As far as I knew, it was a small, scrappy start-up that had nevertheless managed to make its mark in the world of search, dominated as it is by the vast and all-knowing Google.

Frustration with Google might be at a high at the moment with tax-dodging, increasing dominance of search (and now the mobile web) and removing ads on the right hand side at the expense of organic search results.

Therefore I was intrigued by the comments from DuckDuckGo fans on Jason Tabeling’s article on whether you should be paying more attention to DuckDuckGo, urging people to switch to DuckDuckGo and discover the ‘real internet’. How would searches from such a small engine stack up against Google’s, in everyday situations? Would using DuckDuckGo be an exercise in frustration, or a revelation?

I decided to test the waters, using it as my ‘go-to’ search engine every day for a week.

Privacy and customisability

The first thing I did was to install the app on my phone. DuckDuckGo has native apps for both iOS and Android, and compared to most apps which oblige you to sign away your first-born child before installing, its requirements are refreshingly simple.

A screenshot from the DuckDuckGo app installation on Android, which reads, "DuckDuckGo Search and Stories needs access to Photos/Media/Files". There are no other installation requirements.

Of course, this is DuckDuckGo’s main ethos: it “doesn’t track you”, as the desktop version of the search engine likes to remind you, and protecting your privacy is front and centre of its concerns. The mobile app has a straightforward and flexible set of privacy settings, including an option to enable Tor (this requires installing a proxy app like Orbot).

Compare this with Google’s rather lacklustre ‘Accounts & privacy’ settings:

A screenshot comparing the DuckDuckGo mobile app

The desktop version also boasts a range of privacy options, including the option to prevent sharing your search with sites you click on (a shame for anyone who tracks analytics, but great for privacy-focused users) and the ability to save your settings anonymously to the cloud.

DuckDuckGo lets you customise it in a whole variety of other ways, including changing the theme and modifying different parts of the appearance, which I had fun playing around with. You can even opt to turn off ads, and DDG helps you to make up for this by giving you ways you can spread the word instead.

I couldn’t help thinking that Google tries to customise your experience of using its search engine by gathering vast amounts of data and trying to intuit what you want, whereas DuckDuckGo simply lets you choose. 

Fun with features

So now that I was all set up, how did it deliver with search? The first test came when I wanted to look up more information about a story a friend had mentioned on Facebook, about a baby dolphin dying after it was pulled from the ocean and passed around for selfies.

I couldn’t quite believe it was true, but a quick Duck (DuckDuckGo’s equivalent of the verb ‘Google’, though I’m not sure whether this one is going to catch on) confirmed that it was:

A screenshot from DuckDuckGo search results on desktop for the term "baby dolphin selfies". The screenshot shows a carousel of recent news stories with headlines telling the story of a baby dolphin who died after being pulled from the ocean and passed around by tourists to take selfies. The search results below show more similar news stories from different sites.

DuckDuckGo aims to win users over by being helpful without being intrusive. So it won’t amass vast stores of data in order to be unerringly, creepily accurate in predicting what you’re after, but it will, say, present you with a carousel of recent news stories on the topic you just searched.

One such useful feature is Instant Answers, which highlights information designed to give you a quick answer to your search query at the top of the page, similar to Google’s Knowledge Graph or Bing’s Snapshot Search and Autocomplete.

It’s a great idea in theory but falls down a little in its coverage of topics. A search for “Who is Thomas Jefferson”, for example, summons a little Wikipedia bio and a huge range of ‘related topics’ at the side, ranging from “burials at Monticello” to “American deists”; whereas a search for “what is a leap year” just returns a regular results page.

A screenshot of the DuckDuckGo instant answers result for "Who is Thomas Jefferson?" In a grey box at the top is a photograph of the man accompanied by a biography from Wikipedia. Below are search results (including an ad for a book about Thomas Jefferson on Amazon) while to the right is a long list of Related Topics.

DuckDuckGo is an open source project, so Instant Answers, like many of its features, is community contributed: if you spot an area that doesn’t have an Instant Answer associated with it, you can get involved and add it yourself.

This has its advantages and disadvantages; on one hand, it gives users a practical way to improve the search engine in ways that are relevant to them. On the other, it requires Instant Answers to be added and refined one by one, which takes time and can be frustrating for users who just want to access the information they need in that moment, with the minimum of effort.

I didn’t get to truly put many of DuckDuckGo’s features through their paces with just a week of using the search engine, but it gave me a sense of how most of them could be used.

I enjoyed the way that search results scroll vertically into infinity instead of requiring you to click onto the next page to see more. It feels effortless and gives the impression of diving deeper into a topic, instead of the stigma which tends to surround ‘the second page of results’ on Google.

Then there are ‘!bangs’, a much-touted DuckDuckGo feature, which mystified me when I first saw the little exclamation point next to the search box in DuckDuckGo’s mobile app.

A screenshot of DuckDuckGo

By typing an exclamation mark and a keyword – usually the website name – followed by your search term, you can search directly within a site from DuckDuckGo. So searching for “!ebay teapot” will take you straight to the search results for “teapot” on eBay.

It’s a neat little time-saver which has benefits for DuckDuckGo as well, as it collects a commission from eBay and Amazon for anything that you purchase from those sites after visiting them through DuckDuckGo.

!bangs work with many more websites than just those two, of course; the list of !bangs is currently over 7,800 sites long, and you can add any site that isn’t already covered by filling in a form. It’s unclear how long these take to process, though – after discovering that Search Engine Watch wasn’t on the list, I submitted it as a !bang, but at the time of writing it isn’t yet up and running.

A screenshot of a filled-in form to submit a new DuckDuckGo !bang for Search Engine Watch, in the Tech category under Blogs. (There really werenWhere DuckDuckGo falls down

When it comes to search engines that aren’t Google, I definitely consider DuckDuckGo to be ahead of the flock. With its unwavering emphasis on privacy, fine-tuned customisation and strong community, it has something genuinely different to offer users instead of just playing catch-up to Google with its features.

But it’s still a search engine that isn’t Google, and in spite of DuckDuckGo’s best efforts to offer a “smarter search”, it’s not able to match Google for sheer accuracy and intuition. A number of times as I researched articles throughout the week, I resorted to Googling something rather than waste any more time trying different keywords on DuckDuckGo.

A photo of a cuddly toy yellow duck which has fallen over onto its sideWhere DuckDuckGo falls down

Part of the problem is likely to be that as a lifelong Google user (except for a brief fling with Ask Jeeves in the very early days), I’ve moulded my search habits to fit with what I know works on Google, and I expect Google’s uncanny levels of accuracy in return.

The best example of this came up while I was researching a piece on what to consider before jumping on a new social media bandwagon for ClickZ. I couldn’t remember what the account verification icons on Vine, the equivalent of Twitter’s ‘blue tick’, were called. So I searched for “Vine green tick” on DuckDuckGo.

After several frustrated attempts and pages of nonsense results about grape vine pests and the comicbook superhero ‘The Tick’, I searched Google for “Vine green tick”. It immediately returned this as the top result:

A screenshot of Google search results for "vine green tick", showing the autocomplete results "how to get Vine verified", "Vine verified hack", "Vine verification code" and "Vine verified emoji". The image results show a number of pictures of vine leaves and one of Vine video screenshots. Below, the top search result reads "Vine quietly adds verified badges for high-profile users".Google: you have to admit, it gets results.

Whether Google used its semantic search techniques to know that I had been spending a lot of time on social networks and reading articles about social media to give the correct context to my search, or whether it was able to use its vast stores of data on what previous users had searched to intuit the right result, it was able to find in one search what DuckDuckGo couldn’t manage in four or five.

The question is, am I indignant enough about Google’s knowledge of my browsing habits (and everyone else’s that feed its all-knowing algorithms) to trade the convenience of instantly finding what I’m after for that extra measure of privacy online?

My assessment of DuckDuckGo after spending a week in the pond is that it’s a search engine for the long term. To get the most out of using it, you have to make a conscious change in your online habits, rather than just expecting to switch one search engine for another and get the same results.

Many of its features require you to actively contribute to the search engine to help make it better; you have to put in what you expect to get out. And you have to sacrifice some of what Google has trained you to expect from a search engine in order to ease yourself out of the filter bubble.

A photograph of a poster (said to be from one of the Google cafeterias) reading "GOOGLE IS WATCHING YOU" with "Google" being the Google logo. The logo also has two eyes in the Os.Does this bother you enough to change your search engine?
Photo by Patrick Barry, some rights reserved.

A lot of people are already bothered enough by what Google (and other huge, omnipresent online entities) has been doing to make the switch. As for me, while I’m not sure whether I’m ready to make the break with Google just yet, I’m listening.

I do think that DuckDuckGo is the only search engine offering something substantially different enough to challenge Google. It’s not backed by a huge corporation, but it doesn’t need to be. Actually, that would defeat the object of it.

Unlike most major search engines whose main offering is, let’s face it, ‘basically Google but slightly worse’, DuckDuckGo offers users genuine privacy, control, customisation, a certain amount of hipster street cred and an opportunity for endless duck puns.

And if you’re still not convinced, take a look at our mega list of alternative search engines to find your favourite.

Source: This article was published searchenginewatch By Rebecca Sentance

Our solar system is pretty sweet. It supports life on Earth and is relatively safe — at least, it is for now. These little tweaks would utterly doom life on Earth.

If Jupiter wasn't there

if-jupiter-wasnt-there-1494620142 Paul L. - AOFIRS

Jupiter isn't just a cool planet with tons of moons around it. Astronomers theorize that our big gassy neighbor is protecting Earth from all the rocks and ice balls floating around in space. If Jupiter disappeared for some reason, whether by natural effects (planets don't last forever) or from something catastrophic like a rogue planet collision, it would doom all life on Earth.

To see why, imagine that Jupiter is a big space vacuum cleaner. Its large gravitational field sucks in a ton of dangerous debris coming from the belts of comets surrounding our solar system, keeping them from going into the inner system. Jupiter is big enough to keep the inner solar system clear of catastrophically big space rocks, like Shoemaker-Levy 9, which was so big it tore a hole in Jupiter's atmosphere.

Although Jupiter does fling many more small pieces of debris at Earth, it deflects or absorbs a lot of the bigger asteroids and comets. Without Jupiter, Earth would be bombarded by much larger asteroids and comets. Even one asteroid impact on Earth could absolutely wreck life. Imagine that happening over and over and over again. Even a mining crew led by Bruce Willis wouldn't be able to save us.

If the Moon exploded

if-the-moon-explodes-1494620142 Paul L. - AOFIRS

What if the Moon got hit by a rogue planet traveling through our solar system or got nuked during a future space war? All those chunks of the Moon would enter orbit. They wouldn't just stay in one place, though, creating a beautiful ring around the Earth like Saturn. The debris would kill us.

Science fiction writer Neal Stephenson explored the idea in his book Seveneves, but a Berkeley scientist ran a simulation to figure out exactly what would happen in the real world. He concluded that the Moon pieces would start colliding with each other almost instantly, smashing themselves into smaller and smaller pieces. This is a runaway reaction called the Kessler syndrome, where pieces of space debris smash themselves into a whole cloud of deadly pieces zipping around the Earth, like we saw in the movie Gravity.

Earth would be surrounded by moon chunks before long, and it would be impossible to travel safely in space without getting smashed to pieces by the deadly rocks. And we'd definitely want to leave the planet. Eventually the Earth would pull all the debris inward, blowing the hell out of the surface and ending all present life in a blaze of fire. Little did we know, our beautiful moon is just a time bomb waiting to annihilate us all.

If the Earth stopped spinning

if-the-earth-stops-spinning-1494620301 Paul L. - AOFIRS

If the Earth stopped spinning, it wouldn't just make days and nights really weird. Actually, we probably wouldn't be around long enough to complain about a messed-up schedule. Before that even happened, we would die by a menagerie of horrifying things.

Let's look at what the oceans would do. Right now, the oceans are in their place due to the centrifugal force caused by our angular momentum and our planet's gravity. Without the spinning, the oceans would migrate to where gravity pulls them: the poles. Just try to picture the oceans themselves moving out to the poles, washing over all the existing land. It would be a flood worse than the Noah story. The equatorial regions of the planet would get uncovered, but everybody else would drown long before they got to use them. (Sorry, all of Canada.)

Not only that, but our atmosphere would keep moving just as it was, at least for a little while. Because most of us wouldn't survive the 1,000 mph supersonic winds that would rip apart life on Earth as the whole atmosphere kept on going, with the air eventually settling down a little more densely at the poles than at the equator. Oh, and the Moon would probably crash into the Earth after all that. No matter how we cut it, if the Earth stops spinning, we're screwed.

If the Sun had a major solar storm

The Sun has storms just like Earth … well maybe not exactly like Earth's. Solar storms aren't clouds and rain, they're eruptions of radiation, plasma, and high-speed particles. A big enough one would absolutely annihilate modern life on Earth.

Pretty much everything we rely on in modern society is dependent on electronics, and our tech would take the biggest beating. If the storm was caused by a coronal mass ejection (basically a big chunk of the Sun's outer plasma layers getting blown off and colliding with Earth), the power grid would overload and fail. No more electricity. The storm would also cause an electromagnetic pulse that would fry out electronics, mostly our satellites.

What's really scary about solar storms is that they aren't uncommon, and they have messed up society before. In 1859 a massive solar storm hit Earth, frying telegraph lines and creating such strong auroras that some people could read newsprint by aurora light. Since things weren't super technological back then, it didn't take long to rebuild. If a similar event happened today, one big problem would be the destruction of our satellites. Try to imagine modern life without satellites. We could launch more eventually, but we'd need to rebuild our electric grid first. Maybe we'd be better off preparing by watching Mad Max: Fury Road.

If a supernova star exploded too close to us

if-a-supernova-star-exploded-too-close-to-us-1494620142 Paul L. - AOFIRS
Not all stars go supernova. Our sun, for example, isn't big enough to go supernova. But many other stars in the galaxy are big enough, and supernovas close enough to Earth would cause huge problems.

The biggest danger of a supernova isn't the explosion; it's the radiation that comes from the supernova. When stars explode, they shoot out lots of gamma rays, a highly energetic form of radiation found at the extreme end of the electromagnetic spectrum. If a big burst of gamma rays slammed into Earth, the rays would strip away the ozone layer that protects us from solar radiation. So the gamma ray burst wouldn't kill us instantly, but without the ozone layer we'd be fried by radiation from the Sun, causing a mass extinction all over the planet. It's a stellar one-two punch.

Should we be worried about a supernova? Maybe. The closest known star that could blow up with enough energy isn't close enough to cause problem: it's 150 light-years away. However, a Type 1 supernova, which happens when a white dwarf star blows up, could sneak up on us because white dwarfs are hard to detect. There could be some sitting really close to our solar system that haven't been identified. It's unlikely, but not impossible. There could be a star waiting to destroy life on Earth nearby … a Death Star, if you will.

If the Sun was 4 billion years older

if-the-sun-was-4-billion-years-older-1494620142 Paul L. - AOFIRS
The Sun isn't going to last forever. If it was just four billion years older, it would utterly doom life on Earth. Right now the Sun is in its main sequence (the prime of its life), burning hydrogen fuel like a champ and keeping life stable on Earth.

In four billion years, the Sun will start its death spiral, turning into a massive star as it burns through the heavier elements trying to keep up at least some energy. When this happens, the Sun will expand to a gigantic size. Mercury and Venus will definitely get swallowed up, and Earth probably will as well. Can't sugarcoat that one.

Even if the Sun doesn't swallow us up, a giant sun will certainly make life on Earth impossible. Our planet would be roasted by having the solar surface so much closer to us. If somehow we adapted to being so close to a red giant, we would still have to deal with the Sun expelling most of its mass and then turning into a comparatively cold dwarf star. Adapting to the heat would only set the stage for us to freeze to death. Cozy.

If there were no gas giants

if-there-were-no-gas-giants-1494620142 Paul L. - AOFIRS
The gas giants aren't just really pretty planets — they actually made life happen on Earth. To understand why, we've got to rewind billions of years to the late heavy bombardment. This was a period in Earth's history when it was absolutely pulverized by asteroids. The general assumption was that getting smashed by space rocks sterilized the Earth's surface and made life impossible for billions of years.

And that's a reasonable conclusion, but recent studies actually have shown that those asteroids might have created the perfect conditions for subterranean microbes on Earth to survive for millions of years and eventually start life on our planet. Turns out the late heavy bombardment gave Earth a chance for life. And how do the gas giants play into this? During the early universe the orbits of the planets weren't locked in yet, and Neptune "wandered" around the solar system toward gravitational sweet spots. As the gas giants migrated, they disturbed all the leftover material from the birth of the solar system that was just floating around in the solar suburbs. The gas giants sent all that garbage toward the Sun and the inner planets, seeding Earth with microbes. Without those gas giants, Earth life might never exist. One thing led to another, and now we have cat video festivals. Rock on, Earth.

If a rogue planet wandered into our solar system

if-a-rogue-planet-wanders-into-our-solar-system-1494620142 Paul L. - AOFIRS
Getty Images

It sounds like something straight out of Star Trek, but there are rogue planets out there, beholden to no star. And there are a lot of them. In fact, there might be more rogue planets than orbiting planets like ours. These planets just wander around the galaxy. There are so many of them floating around that one might be close by completely unbeknownst to us.

So what would happen if one entered our solar system and got all up in our business? Literally nothing good. Sure, it would look really pretty, like in the movie Melancholia, but we would soon curse this rogue intruder. If it came close to Earth at all, the wanderer would disturb our orbit, sending us into a more elliptical orbit. While that doesn't sound scary, it would really screw up the seasons, creating absurdly hot summers and long, deadly cold winters. Our modern society might be able to adapt, but it's unlikely, especially since all the plant life we rely on would die. And if Game of Thrones is any indication, the political ramifications alone would be really, really awful.

Space is ridiculously big, so the chance of a rogue planet coming close enough to mess up our orbit is closer to not-technically-impossible than anything else. Obnoxiously minuscule possibility here. But hey, this is a thought experiment. Loosen up, buddy!

If we got another moon

if-we-got-another-moon-1494620142 Paul L. - AOFIRS
Our moon is pretty unique in the solar system, partly because of how big it is in comparison to Earth and partly because it's a singleton. All the other planets that have moons have a whole bunch of them, but for some reason the Earth only got one. It's probably a good thing, since another moon would wreck us.

Let's pretend the Earth captured a Moon-sized rogue planet that was wandering through our solar system. Life as we know it would get really messed up. Tides would no longer be small adjustments: they'd be thousands of feet different, meaning the end of our current coastal cities. Our night skies would mostly get brighter, but the two-moon system would also force us to totally rethink our (Moon-based) calendar system.

Now, these considerations are assuming that we survive the second moon showing up in the first place. The gravitational effects on the Earth as the new moon started to orbit would probably wipe out most life on Earth. Giant tsunamis, tectonic upheavals, and volcanoes would ravage the surface. Anybody who survived the onslaught would find that there were very few places to live on Earth anymore. But at least the night skies would look cool until the two moons inevitably crashed into each other and bombarded Earth with deadly garbage, likely vaporizing all life. But that's just the price we pay for beautiful skies.

Source: This article was published By Zachery Brasier

Weeks after Netflix was held to ransom by hackers over the unreleased season five of Orange Is The New Black, cyber thieves have struck again, this time targeting film giant Disney. Speaking to ABC employees at a town-hall meeting on 15 May in New York, CEO Bob Iger announced that hackers had infiltrated the company's system, stolen an unreleased film and were holding it ransom.

While Iger did not reveal which film was at risk, Deadline reports it was the Johnny Depp-led Pirates Of The Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales.

The studio has yet to confirm whether it is in fact the fifth installment of the Pirates franchise that is being held. Another possible victim could be Cars 3, which has a release date of 16 June, reports said.

Disney won't pay ransom

Disney staff members were informed that the hackers demanded "an enormous amount of money" via bitcoin, Deadline reports. If the money is not transferred, Disney risks the film being leaked ahead of its 26 May release date. However, the entertainment company is yet to confirm the ransom amount, and it is not clear when the deadline for the ransom payment is.

e5ba2dbf6fb4c50eb9ad21aea2176e58 Paul L. - AOFIRS

The hackers have allegedly threatened to publish the first five minutes of the film and continue leaking the whole movie in 20-minute clips if their ransom demands are not met. However, Iger reportedly stated that he would not bend to the blackmailers by paying them off.

"Anything that has a value will always be a potential victim of theft, either digital or physical," Mark James, ESET security specialist told IBTimes UK. "If someone has it and someone wants it then in theory there's a market for it."

"Disney has refused to pay the ransom and rightly so, James added. "Paying the ransom or indeed any ransom is generally frowned upon for many reasons. Funding other criminal activity, rewarding the bad guys or funding future attacks are all good reasons to not pay as chances are it's going to get released anyway."

Will hackers leak the movie?

This movie hack comes on the heels of a large content theft by the proliferate hacker group The Dark Overlord (TDO), which included the fifth season of Netflix's Orange Is The New Black, set to be released on 9 June. The perpetrators released the first episode of the season and threatened to leak the rest if they were not paid. TDO also claimed to have content from FOX, IFC, National Geographic and ABC, and warned the networks to expect an email "demanding a modest sum of internet money".

It remains unknown if TDO is also behind the Disney hack. The group had previously threatened to leak further content soon and the modus operandi of the Disney hackers appears to be similar. The Disney hackers could follow TDO's play book and leak the movie or opt to sell it on the dark web.

Thefts like these put the film industry in a difficult position. They could pay to protect their intellectual property, and ensure fans pay to watch it in the cinema instead of for free at home. But doing so could show vulnerability and a willingness to comply, making them an easy target for hackers to strike again.

The FBI denied having advised Hollywood studios to pay ransom demands, according to The Hollywood Reporter. However, security experts chose to differ. "If your system is wiped and you didn't pay, then there's no way to recover it and you basically shut down your entire business, so the FBI will say it's easier to pay it than it is to try to fight to get it back," Hemanshu Nigam, a former federal prosecutor of online crime in LA and one-time chief security officer for News Corp said. "And if one company pays the ransom, the entire hacking community knows about it."

Disney is not the first Hollywood studio to be hacked. In 2014, Sony was attacked by a cybercriminal group suspected to be linked to North Korea. The hacker group, dubbed Lazarus, has also been associated with the recent global ransomware strikes. However, it is uncertain if the Disney hack has any connection to the WannaCry ransomware attacks.

Source: This article was published By Lara Rebello

While 2016 saw its share of chaos, it also produced some outstanding brain science and psych research. This list isn’t meant to be exhaustive (and it's not in any particular order), but is rather a curation of great studies covered here at Neuropsyched. It's also a preview of things to come in the new year for several topics—depression, sleep, pot, stress and memory among them.

Marijuana Compounds Show Promise Against Alzheimer’s   

Researchers at the Salk Institute discovered in 2016 that the main psychoactive compound in marijuana—tetrahydrocannabinol (THC)—and a few other active compounds remove amyloid beta proteins from lab-grown neurons. Amyloid is the toxic protein known to accumulate in the brains of Alzheimer's patients. The compounds also significantly reduced cellular inflammation in the brain, an underlying factor in the disease's progression. While preliminary, the research is an example of what may be gained by studying potential effects of marijuana compounds, and why it's vital we keep the research door open. Definitely more to come on this in 2017.

Your Brain’s Capacity Is 10 Times Greater Than Anyone Realized

We credit our brains with a lot of storage capacity and processing power, but research from 2016 hinted that we’ve been nowhere close to estimating their actual capacity. The study showed that the human brain has at least as much capacity as the entire World Wide Web (that's about ten times as much as previously thought), and it could turn out to be more. It’s all about the amazing computing power packed into synapses, the juncture points between neurons, which change in size and shape with more frequency and variation than anyone realized before now, and it’s that uncanny flexibility that holds the key to our vast neural resources. Quoting study co-senior author Terry Sejnowski, “This is a real bombshell in the field of neuroscience.”

Painkillers May Make Chronic Pain Worse

In the unintended consequences category, a study showed that just five days of morphine treatment in rats caused chronic pain that continued for several months by triggering the release of pain signals from cells in the brain and spinal cord. If the findings hold true in humans, they’d help explain the vicious cycle of prescription opioid use. The drugs numb pain at the surface level, but below the surface they may be drawing out how long a patient experiences pain, thereby extending how long the drugs are taken. Since opioid addiction can begin after a relatively short period of time, it’s easy to see how this effect could be contributing to the epidemic of painkiller addiction that's been building for the last 15 years.

Why Sugar Dependency Is Such A Hard Habit To Break

Research in 2016 deconstructed how habits rewire the brain, with one in particular showing that neural “stop” and “go” signals are reversed by habitual exposure to sugar. Not unlike drug addiction, sugar dependency changes how the brain controls electrical signals linked to either pursuing a reward or putting the brakes on the pursuit. The implication is that sugar cravings aren’t just a matter of appetite, but the result of brain changes brought about by habitual exposure to a potently addictive chemical. This is yet more evidence that we’ve been underestimating the effects of sugar for too long. (Another study from the year showed how fructose damages genes underlying memory.)

Finding Genetic Links To Happiness And Depression

One of the largest studies to date seeking genetic links to mood found convincing evidence that how we psychologically experience the world has roots in the genome. More than 190 researchers in 17 countries analyzed genomic data from nearly 300,000 people. The results zeroed in on a handful of genetic variants linked to subjective well-being—the thoughts and feelings we have about the quality of our lives, which psychologists define as a central component of happiness. Other variants were found with links to depression and neuroticism. The next big questions include how these variants interact with our environments, and if depression can be genetically revealed before developing into a full-blown disorder.

First Step Toward A Preventative Alzheimer's Pill

Research in 2016 opened the door to an eventual preventative medication against Alzheimer's, and potentially also other neuro-degenerative diseases like Parkinson's. Scientists from the Baylor College of Medicine, Texas Children’s Hospital and Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine targeted ways of reducing the amount of toxic proteins that accumulate over years in the brains of those who subsequently develop these diseases, specifically the tau protein that's been strongly linked to the development of Alzheimer's. The research is a shift in focus, as most Alzheimer’s studies have concentrated on the later stages of the disease. But in the last several years mounting evidence has pointed to Alzheimer’s developing over the course of decades, which opens the possibility of slowing its progression before irreversible damage is done to a patient’s brain later in life. This study marks a definitive step forward in the treatment of a disease that affects one in every nine people over the age of 65.

How Sleep Apnea Changes The Brain

While it’s difficult to choose a single sleep research study from the year, one in particular stands out to me because it uncovered more precisely the effects of sleep apnea on the brain. Apnea is a growing concern for several reasons, its link to stroke, depression and traffic accidents among them. This study showed how restless nights of interrupted breathing trigger a chemical rollercoaster in the brain by throwing off the neurotransmitters GABA and glutamate. The results, common to apnea sufferers, include a heightened response to stress, lack of concentration and feeling like emotions are teetering on the proverbial cliff. More to come on this as sleep research continues its ascent.

Walking Is Deceptively Simple Brain Medicine

In the practical science category, research reinforced the importance of simply taking a walk for a positive brain boost. Among a stack of studies supporting the argument, one from 2016 focused on how walking improves mood even when we’re not expecting any effect. Researchers conducted three experiments on hundreds of people to find out if they’d experience a positive mood boost while walking, without knowing that walking could be the reason. They found that just 12 minutes of walking resulted in an increase in joviality, vigor, attentiveness and self-confidence versus the same time spent sitting. The importance here is to underscore a basic point: some of the best brain tools available to us don’t require money, special training or seeing a doctor. They just require moving.

Facebook's Effect On How The Brain Manages Relationships

Much of the psych research about Facebook has focused on whether it’s a mood enhancer or depression trigger, and you can find studies from 2016 supporting both arguments. The study I’m more interested in asked whether Facebook is changing how we manage relationships. Theoretically, a social media tool that allows us to expand our reach to thousands of people could enable us to turn a corner, cognitively speaking, and go beyond the constraints that have kept human social groups relatively small for centuries. Or not. Maybe a few decades from now we’ll have a different answer, but for the moment it seems that despite big social media numbers, our brains are still calibrated to handle right around 150 overall relationships, and a much smaller number of close relationships. Dunbar's Number holds.

Old-Time Memory Hacks Are Still The Best

Finally, in the rage-against-the-digital-machine category, I really liked a study from 2016 showing why “reminders through association” (or “cue-based reminders”) work so well. It’s all about simple time and place proximity, according to the researchers, and none of the memory hacks require a computer of any sort to work. Crumpled paper, paperclips and well-placed envelopes do the trick darn near flawlessly. As our lives become more complex and stressful, practical science like this becomes more essential.

Source: This article was By David DiSalvo

Listen to computer virus pioneer John McAfee speak on the potential lack of security that comes from cameras and microphones on cell phones. USA TODAY

DENVER — Computer security pioneer John McAfee pulls out his cell phone to stare at a notification on the screen.

“It says something changed in my account, please press next,” McAfee says. “I have the best (security) habits in the world and I cannot keep my phone secure.”

McAfee, whose name became synonymous with antivirus protection, says he’s no longer as worried about computer security. Now, he says, the danger comes from the camera and microphones we carry everywhere in our pockets, attached to our smartphones. It’s a “trivial” matter, he says, for a hacker to remotely and secretly turn on a phone’s sensors.

Think about that the next time you’re having a supposedly private conversation in your office, your phone sitting on the desk, he says. McAfee says he’s accustomed to the idea that potentially hundreds of people are listening to every conversation he has, and that his emails are widely snooped upon.

McAfee on Monday confirmed he will become the CEO of a small tech company called MGT Capital Investments, which will be rebranded with his name and offer an anti-spyware product for mobile devices.

He received a rock star’s welcome while speaking Wednesday afternoon to a computer-security conference, where he said his remarks aimed to shock governments and institutions into action about the risks posed by hackers.

McAfee for years has been something of a cult figure in the tech world — he fled his home in Belize in 2012 after he was sought for questioning as a "person of interest" in the murder of a neighbor. He then landed in Portland, Ore., before he settled in central Tennessee, where he was once convinced assassins from Central America were tracking him. He’s now also running for president as a Libertarian.

McAfee confirms he'll head cybersecurity company

Wednesday, he pointed out that foreign hackers have repeatedly attacked American infrastructure, including power grids, and said neither the government nor big business seems to truly appreciate how quickly society would collapse if large portions of the country lost power for even a few days. He also mused that only those who can protect their identities and security will thrive in the future.

“We are teetering on an edge, not just as companies, not just as individuals, but as a nation and even as a world. We depend so much on our information science,” he says. “Believe me, this will be the new paradigm… and until you are touched, you do not understand the fullness of the risk.”

McAfee founded McAfee Associates in 1987, and Intel bought it for $7.7 billion in 2010. He used to own a yoga retreat in central Colorado.

Source : This article was published By Trevor Hughes

Alphabet Inc. has just announced that it has released a separate mobile index for search engines which will process search queries from mobile platforms only and become the primary index. This is a bold move for the parent company of Google as it looks to promote mobile first. In making the mobile index the primary one, anyone on a mobile device will get the best, up-to-date information, whereas desktop users could experience a slight delay in comparison.

Previously, Google’s search engine rankings were based on the PageRank’s index, which searches for relevant links to pages on the web, but is largely fragmented due to multiple apps. Google’s CEO, Sundar Pichai commented that mobile “now underlies everything that we do today, from Search and Youtube to Android and advertising.”

It’s a move that has been coming for a while as Google among many other companies of today recognize that mobile first is the key to more revenue. More people can be reached through mobile devices than ever before. Advertising can now be personalized to an individual, and people simply can not function without these devices, so it makes sense for Google to push on in this area.

Mobile has become something that is a part of many people’s everyday lives, and mobile search will be the primary driver for Google’s revenue moving forward. It has been a significant driver in the last couple of quarters for Google’s profits and is showing no signs of slowing down; that’s for sure. We have become a society that is constantly moving, so we need technology that can keep up, and putting mobile first is definitely a way to make that happen.

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We use social media to stay in touch without the burden of having to send huge number of individual messages.

The average Brit spends one hour and 41 minutes a day browsing social media, which is about a third of all the time that we spend online.

If it is an addiction, it’s an efficient one – social media lets us communicate on the go. And thanks to BT’s role in doubling UK broadband speeds over the past three years, social media is a quick and convenient form of communication, too.

Each year, the average person sends more than 6,000 WhatsApp messages and nearly 11,200 picture messages. Evidently, we love to communicate using social media and through our phones, so it’s important we take care and stay safe online.

If it is an addiction, it’s an efficient one – social media lets us communicate on the go

Parents, grandparents, guardians – if you’re worried about the impact of social media on your children, then use BT Parental Controls to make sure you control what type of sites they can access. The controls can be customised for different users and different times of day, with filters available for all manner of websites, from dating to fashion to media streaming.

Here are some guidelines for negotiating social media without compromising your security or online identity:

Be selective when saying yes to friend requests. Unless you recognise the name, there is no reason why you should say yes. Writer Chloe says: “I always get people trying to add me to ask about tips to get into my industry. I made a clear line that Facebook is for friends, and Twitter for work.”

Be conscious of known Wi-Fi networks and don’t automatically connect to them. Darran Rolls, CTO, SailPoint, says: “Bad guys now put out their own public Wi-Fi hotspots specifically to catch the unaware.” Luckily, BT has more than five million free Wi-Fi hotspots across the country in which you can trust.

It sounds obvious, but manage your privacy settings. Did you know, for example, that Instagram owns all rights to photos posted on the social media network? Be careful and only share what you’re happy for other people to see. The best advice is to only share information with friends – make sure your privacy settings are ticked to share with friends and family only, otherwise anyone could view your pictures.

Social media page
Be selective: only share what you're happy for others to see CREDIT: GETTY

Identity theft isn’t unheard of so don’t let yourself be taken advantage of. There have been well-documented cases – like the story of Leah Palmer – where whole social media profiles have been lifted and lives lived through the lens of somebody else’s existence.

You can make it a lot more difficult for potential hackers by setting your profile to private and changing your password every few months.

If you’re worried your details might have been leaked in a hack, Matt Powell, editor at Broadband Genie, suggests regularly checking to see if your information is listed.

It’s also important to bear in mind that some people make their career from hacking, so stay alert. “Cybercriminals have something we don’t have – they have time. They will spend hours trawling social media sites to find out personal information and use this to send you a very believable email citing information – perhaps about your children or a recent purchase – trying to encourage you to click on a hostile link. Think very carefully about emails which just don’t look or feel ‘right’ – question everything,” says Andy Taylor, lead assessor at APMG.

In a similar vein, keep certain personal information off social media, such as your address, pet’s name, family names, and exact date of birth. Stephen Trenery, digital marketing manager at Majenta Solutions, explains: “This kind of information can be used as security questions to get access to your other accounts, emails and your bank accounts.”

Never share payment information. The main social media sites – Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and Snapchat – are free, and will never ask for your personal payment information. The only social media account that costs money is LinkedIn Premium, and this is a legitimate enterprise.

Make sure your privacy settings are ticked to share with friends and family only, otherwise anyone could view your pictures

Take care of what you photograph. You may never decide to post your full address or credit card details as your social media status, but did you know that the pictures you’re sharing could lead to your identity being stolen? Post a picture of your boarding pass on the way to skiing holiday, and a fraudster could type in your surname and flight number to find out personal details. It’s better to be safe than sorry.

Be careful when clicking on links. Even if they’re links shared by friends, you never know for sure what will pop up on the other side. The worst culprits are clickbait links – the ones that suggest weight loss tips and the like – and any link purporting to want to give you free money.

Brian Kinch, senior partner and fraud expert at FICO, says: “If [a link] appears, it may have come from a legitimate source. Reach out to the sender directly through a different, trusted channel to see if they have indeed sent it. You wouldn’t open a mystery package through the post with ‘OPEN ME’ emblazoned all over it – be as cautious online.”

Check your financial statements really carefully. “Bank statements should be checked regularly and any anomalies should be investigated and raised with the bank as soon as possible. As with all sensitive information, invoices and bank statements should not be left lying around,” advises Vocalink, a secure payment agency for businesses.

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