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Daniel K. Henry

Daniel K. Henry

In the next several months, phone-based augmented reality is going to become quite a bit more visible for consumers as tech titans like Apple and Google launch new AR platforms. But startups won’t let the big public companies have all the fun.

Blippar has been in the augmented reality field since before Google Glass. “When we just started probably one out of a thousand people knew what augmented reality was,” CTO Omar Tayeb told TechCrunch. At this point, Blippar’s visual recognition tech can identify 5 million entities, including a database of 370,000 public figures.

Today, the company is launching “Halos,” a social feature built on facial recognition tech that will be rolling out in beta to all users on iOS and Android. The feature allows users the ability to scan their face into the app and customize various bubbles around their noggin with some snippets that characterize their current mood, including through some animated emoji, photos, a recent Tweet, a YouTube video or a Spotify song.

It’s all about capturing where you are at the moment based on your “facial profile,” which you calibrate in-app through a process that isn’t much more difficult than registering your fingerprint on your phone.

The “Halos” feature is, in itself, a pretty interesting one, but relies intensely on friends using the app together, something that may be a struggle for Blippar’s central app, which reportedly doesn’t make up a significant percentage of the company’s 65 million registered users. In April, Business Insider reported the central Blippar app had around 500,000 monthly active users.

It may not be there yet, but Blippar wants their app to eventually become a sort of augmented reality browser, putting an image recognition engine in consumers’ pockets that lets them identify and grab context at a moment’s notice.

The company tells TechCrunch that its mobile app is largely just a tool to “showcase” their technologies for other companies interested in adopting their “visual search engine” APIs, which, in the case of facial recognition, may attract clients interested in designing identity verification systems.

The company says it won’t be giving advertisers access to user “facial profiles” for personally targeting ads due to the obvious user privacy implications. Users can designate whether their profile is visible to the public or not.

Nothing quite says creepy like facial recognition, but the technology may grow deeply important in the coming months if rumors of facial unlock on the next iPhone come true, as will other augmented reality features as consumer perception grows due to platforms like ARKit.

“Halos” launches on iOS and Android today in the Blippar app.

 Source: This article was published techcrunch By Lucas Matney
Wednesday, 28 June 2017 05:46

Baidu Has a Story for Debt Investors

Baidu Inc.'s equity investors have been mighty patient in awaiting a turnaround at the Chinese search engine. Debt holders not so much.

That makes now a particularly unfortunate time to tap credit markets, as Baidu is doing this week, but a good chance for bond investors to reassess how they view its prospects.

With quite a few peaks and troughs along the way, Baidu's shares have eked out a 14 percent return over the past year. That's probably more than the company deserved given three declines in net income out of four quarters.

Search for Return
A 14 percent gain in Baidu's shares contrasts with a string of net income drops, and 
Alibaba's continued rise
Source: Bloomberg

Its debt, on the other hand, has continued to suffer. While Baidu's 10-year bonds due June 2025 have moved sideways over the past 12 months, more telling is the spread against peer Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. For a long time, notes of Baidu and Alibaba tracked each other, but that's changed sharply.

Baidu and Alibaba debt moved largely in lockstep until earlier this quarter when they started to decouple
Source: Bloomberg

From trading 8.5 basis points below Alibaba's debt due 2024, Baidu's bonds were at 30.2 basis points above on Tuesday. And it's not just Alibaba: A similar spread can be seen against fellow BAT trio member Tencent Holdings Ltd. 


The gap was already starting to widen by the time Moody's Investors Service and Fitch Ratings put Baidu's debt on negative watch in May. Both cited concerns over Baidu's fully owned Financial Services Group, which has joined the fray in operating wealth-management and micro-lending businesses. In an interview almost two years ago, president Zhang Ya-qin told me that Baidu has an advantage because it collates reams of user data to map creditworthiness. A similar story is being told by Alibaba and other competitors.

But big data can't hide the fact that Baidu's secured borrowing tripled in the past year, pushing short-term liabilities up 46 percent. That's because, as the company stated, "the transactions of Baidu Wealth Management do not constitute a sale of the underlying securities for accounting purposes. We account for these transactions as secured borrowings."alert.png



There is an offset to this in trading securities under short-term investments, but the fact that 12 percent of total assets, as Moody's calculates, sit in Baidu's new financial services business has raised concern at the ratings company. And presumably among debt traders, too.

Yet if we're generous to Baidu and view worries about the financial services business as noise, the company's core business of search and future prospects in artificial intelligence make it possible to be a little more positive.

Bloomberg's credit risk model puts Baidu at IG6, in the middle of the investment grade category. By adjusting parameters in that model -- which include debt, interest expenses, adjusted cash flow from operations, and share price -- we see that Baidu's default risk is currently quite robust.

It's important to note that China's declining currency has had an outsized impact on Baidu's cashflow, given that the company generates revenue in yuan and services most of its debt in dollars. In yuan terms, cashflow from operations looks more solid while revenue has stabilized.

Forex Risk
forex risk
A decline in the yuan has impacted Baidu's cashflow
Source: Bloomberg
As Baidu's bankers hit the phones to sell this new debt offering, it's likely they will paint a picture of the coming boom in AI and driverless cars, tell investors that last year's advertising woes are behind it, and explain that 2017 is a transformational year for the company.

So far, shareholders have believed the story. The pricing of these new notes will tell us if debt investors do, too.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of Bloomberg LP and its owners.

To contact the author of this story:
Tim Culpan in Taipei at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

To contact the editor responsible for this story:
Matthew Brooker at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Source: This article was published bloomberg.com By Tim Culpan

LinkedIn's Advanced Search holds the keys to the kingdom when it comes to finding your ideal clients and customers on the platform. Here's how it works.

What if you take the power of Google Search with the real-time communication abilities of Facebook and make it work specifically for professionals?

That's exactly what it's like to leverage LinkedIn's extraordinary internal search engine, which indexes data points on its 500 million users.

Far too few of the platform's users understand the hidden treasure of LinkedIn's Advanced Search features, which allow you to instantly create a targeted list of your ideal B2B prospects with a few clicks.

I'm going to explore a few of them with the rest of this post.

3 Steps to Finding Sales Leads on LinkedIn

If you follow the simple steps I've outlined below, you'll walk away with a fast, easy, and efficient way to generate more sales leads than you know what to do with on the world's largest platform for professionals.

As someone who has spent the past five years showing others how to generate new business with LinkedIn, I still meet people each day who had no idea what's possible on the platform.

If you're in that camp, prepare to have your eyes opened -- wide!

Step 1 -- Do an Advanced Search on LinkedIn

Start by typing in the job title of your ideal prospect. It might be "business coach" or "chiropractor" ... even if your ideal prospect could be anyone, begin by niching down to a target audience where you've had experience or success.

On LinkedIn, the #1 rule of sales and marketing is this -- the riches are in the niches!

Once you've chosen a job title and gotten your initial search results, choose "People," and use the filters on the right side of the page to narrow this list even further.

TIP: If you filter this list down to 2nd-level connections, you can send that group of potential customers invitations to connect.

LinkedIn Advance Search

Step 2 -- Create Customized Connections

Here's where you get strategic. Based on your search filters, you can drill down to where someone lives, went to school, their industry, and so on. You take that information and personalize your invitations and messages accordingly.

For example, say you search for "marketing directors" and filter by 2nd-level connections located in Chicago. Here's a script you could use to connect with those marketing directors:

Hey [insert name] -- I see you live in the Windy City! It's my favorite town; I actually lived there for 10 years. I'm a copywriter here in the Twin Cities now and I am just looking to connect with marketers like yourself here on LinkedIn!

You think the Cubbies have a team this year -- or are you a Sox fan like my husband?


The trick is to not only personalize, but to also find a way to ask about where they live, or about the weather in their city as part of your invite. This begins an easy dialog that has nothing to do with work, breaking the ice and getting the relationship off on the right foot.

Step 3 -- Reach Out and Scale Up

Use these scripts as a quick and easy way to personalize a batch of invites based off your search filters, with a quick copy and paste.

(Note: You can also use third-party automation tools like LinMailPro to save yourself an immense amount of time!)

To send a personalized note with each connection request, you have to click "Add a Note." You can do this one at a time for each person on your list, and within a few minutes you can send out 5-10 personalized invites to people based on those search filters.

Always, always, always do one-on-one personalized marketing when you're connecting with new leads.

I can't say this enough: Personalization is key to success for lead generation on LinkedIn!

The Keys to the Kingdom

LinkedIn's internal search engine is immensely powerful, and yet many members still don't realize it or don't use it this way. As a result, you can get ahead of your competition and add a huge funnel of prospects.

What's more, with LinkedIn's new messaging features, you can instantly launch into a real-time chat with your new connections as good as any face-to-face coffee meet-up!

These conversations on LinkedIn can give you the opportunity to -- at the right time -- ask to share a relevant blog post you've done, or some other way to bring value to the relationship as you build toward a transaction.

If you're not using LinkedIn's Advanced Search like this already, take the steps I've outlined above and get going!

Source: This article was published inc.com By John Nemo

1. Check Your Sources

The Skill: Evaluating information found in your sources on the basis of accuracy, validity, appropriateness for needs, importance, and social and cultural context

The Challenge: While most kids know not to believe everything they read online, the majority also don’t take the time to fully evaluate their sources, according to the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. The same study showed that, on average, kids as young as 11 rate themselves as quite proficient Internet users, which may inflate their confidence.

The Solution: As a class, discuss the benchmarks for evaluating a website: currency (Is the information up to date?), security (Does the site ask for too much personal information or prompt virus warnings?), scope (Is the information in-depth?), and authority (Does the information come from a trusted expert?). Challenge partners to find one site that meets these benchmarks and one site that fails to do so. During research projects, encourage students to check the benchmarks off a list for each of the sources they use.

2. Ask Good Questions

The Skills: Developing and refining search queries to get better research results

The Challenge: Students will enter a search term, say, “Abraham Lincoln,” and comb through pages of results that aren’t related to their research (think Lincoln beards, Lincoln Logs), rather than narrowing their original query (“Lincoln assassination”).

The Solution: Give small groups three search terms each, ranging from the general to the specific (e.g., “national parks,” “Yellowstone,” and “Yellowstone founding date”). Ask the groups to record how many results are returned for each term. Discuss how specificity can narrow their search to the results they need. Next, challenge groups to come up with three alternate search terms for the most specific item on their lists. (For the Yellowstone example, alternate terms might include “When was Yellowstone founded?” “history of Yellowstone” and “Who founded Yellowstone?”) Compare the results and discuss how changing a few words can generate different information.

3. Go Beyond the Surface

The Skill: Displaying persistence by continuing to pursue information to gain a broad perspective

The Challenge: Studies have shown that when using a search engine, kids often stop at the first search result, which they deem the most trustworthy.

The Solution: Invite students to create fact trees about whatever they are researching. The starting question is the root of the tree — for example, “How many planets are in the Milky Way?” Then, on branches coming out from the tree, students write facts or pieces of information that answer the question (“Scientists don’t know the exact number,” “There could be billions”). The catch is that each fact must come from a separate, documented source. Encourage students to find at least 10 sources of information to complete their fact trees.

4. Be Patient

The Skill: Displaying emotional resilience by persisting in information searching despite challenges

The Challenge: Today’s students are used to information on demand. So when they can’t find the answers to their questions after they’ve spent a few minutes poking around online, they may grow frustrated and throw in the towel.

The Solution: Challenge teams to come up with a well-researched answer to a question that isn’t “Google-able.” Opinion questions about popular culture work well for this activity. For example, “Who’s the best actor ever to have played James Bond?” “Which band is better: the Jonas Brothers or Justin Bieber?” Encourage teams to use a wide variety of sources in answering their questions, including what others have said, box office receipts, and awards. Determine a winner based on which team presents the most convincing case.

5. Respect Ownership

The Skill: Respecting intellectual property rights of creators and producers

The Challenge: Increasingly, young people don’t see piracy as stealing. One survey found that 86 percent of teens felt music piracy was “morally acceptable.”

The Solution: Make it personal. Invite students to write about what it would feel like to get a record deal, star in a movie, or have a book published. As a class, discuss the emotions involved. Then introduce the idea of piracy. Ask, “How would you feel if someone downloaded your music, movie, or book without paying for it?” You might also talk about how it would feel to not get paid for other types of work, such as working in an office or a school. How is piracy similar? How is it different?

6. Use Your Networks

The Skill: Using social networks and information tools to gather and share information

The Challenge: Some kids don’t understand the line between sharing information and plagiarizing it. A survey by plagiarism-prevention firm Turnitin found that the most widely used sources for cribbed material are sites like Facebook, Wikipedia, and Ask.com.

The Solution: Talk to kids about when you might use social sites for research. Provide a list of topics and have partners decide whether it would be a good idea to use these tools. Suggested topics: your family’s countries of origin, the life of Alexander the Great, and the events of September 11, 2001. What could members of your network contribute to each of these discussions? How wouldn’t they be helpful? How would you include information that friends and family share in your work?

Also explain that Wikipedia must be evaluated like any other website. In particular, students should focus on the sources cited in a Wikipedia article and ensure these sources are legitimate. You might have small groups analyze all of the sources for one Wikipedia article for currency, authority, scope, and security. Emphasize that it’s usually better to go back to the original source than to quote directly from Wikipedia.


  • Multitasking Takes a Toll
    According to research at the University of Michigan, homework can take between 25 to 400 percent longer when teens are taking breaks to check e-mail and download music. They lose time not only to the interruptions but also because they must reorient themselves when they return to the material.
  • Sleep Is Getting Short Shrift
    Earlier this year, the National Sleep Foundation released a survey showing that the average teen sleeps just seven and a half hours a night, two hours less than what’s recommended for healthy brain development. The culprits? Televisions, laptops, and cell phones in students’ bedrooms.
  • Inhibition Losing Ground
    Psychologists call the result of online anonymity “the disinhibition effect” because people of all ages share more than they would in real life. While this effect can lead to bullying, the good news is that there is also “benign disinhibition” — such as gay teens finding online support.

Source: This article was published scholastic.com By Hannah Trierweiler Hudson

Facebook now lets you search for images by typing in the actual content within them, much like Google Photos.

The technology – called Lumos – was first used to improve Facebook’s accessibility for visually-impaired users, allowing images to be described by their content. But the technology has other uses, such as making it easier to find photos of places or objects. E.g. looking up all the photos of pugs you’ve taken over the years.


Facebook analyzed billions of photos using deep-learning techniques, using a variety of signals in order to rank results.

Object recognition allows it to search for things like scenes, animals, places, attractions and clothes. Searching for a “black shirt photo” will pull up images where people are wearing a black shirt, even if there’s no text or tag in a photo indicating the presence of a black shirt. Searching for “photos of chihuahuas” brought up, well, a bunch of chihuahua photos (although ironically, not of my own two).

Furthermore, Facebook is working on understanding what people are actually doing in the images. It gives the example of searching for “people walking,” “people dancing,” “people riding horses,” “people playing instruments,” and more.

Of course, Facebook isn’t the only one to implement computer vision. We’ve seen it in the aforementioned Google Photos, while resources like like Cloudsight are to make computer vision tools accessible to more people.

The company says it’s looking to bring its AI recognition to video in the future, but that’s likely a ways off. For now, Facebook tells me image recognition should be available to all users in the US (no word on other regions for now), so go ahead and look for all the cute animal photos you want.

Source: This article was published thenextweb.com By NAPIER LOPEZ

NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden warned that use of cloud services from AmazonGoogle, and Microsoft may be convenient, but comes at a high price in terms of lack of visibility and control over what those cloud providers are doing on the back end.

People should not use technology mindlessly, Snowden noted. For-profit infrastructure like Amazon (AMZN, +0.25%)Web Services or Google (GOOG, +0.20%)Cloud Platform is fine, except those companies tell customers little about what's happening inside those data centers. Amazon, for example, won't even let customers tour its data centers.

"You're giving them your data and giving up control," he told attendees of the OpenStack Summit 2017 in Boston on Tuesday via a satellite link, ostensibly from Russia where he is in exile.

Public clouds like AWS are increasingly used by businesses that don't want to build more of their own data centers, saving on upfront costs and headaches.

Cloud vendors typically say they cannot see or access encrypted user data. But the fact remains that public cloud is all about customers running their operations on hardware and software managed by another company, and that gives Snowden pause.

This was a receptive audience for his message. OpenStack is a set of freely available software that companies can use to build, manage, and control their own cloud infrastructure. And open-source proponents would say this, unlike the use of AWS or Google Cloud or Microsoft (MSFT, +0.49%) Azure allows companies to manage their own destiny.

The use of open-source technologies may be a better option for users than investing in technology they "don't own, don't influence, don't control, or even shape," Snowden said.

Companies can use OpenStack, which can be downloaded for free, or offered with paid support from Rackspace, Canonical, SUSE, and Red Hat (RHAT), to build their own computing infrastructure which, admittedly, requires a lot of technology expertise which tends to be expensive.

Complicating matters on the public cloud side, is that the same big providers—Amazon, Google, and Microsoft—that run all that industrial infrastructure, are also amassing vast quantities of data about consumers via devices like Amazon Echo, Google Home, and the upcoming Microsoft Invoke. Every time you order a Domino's pizza, or an Uber car, or conduct a banking transaction using Echo, your data is being collected and used in theory, to provide you with better services.

But, even though that data is anonymized, and users can delete things they don't want aggregated, the whole notion of a device listening in to you at home makes many people uncomfortable. One technologist with a financial institution that uses AWS, but who is not authorized to speak about it publicly, said he personally would never have an Amazon Echo or Google Home because he doesn't want those companies collecting his personal data.

The problem for many users is, or should be, trust, said Snowden.

Get Data Sheet, Fortune’s technology newsletter.

"If you run on Google's or Amazon's technology, how do you know when it starts spying on you?" Snowden told the audience. "You have no awareness because it happens at a hidden layer of the software."

For the record, these companies have said they are careful in how they collect, use, and protect customer data. The problem is whether you believe that.

View image on Twitter

And just as business users have very little visibility into what goes on in a public cloud, there is a similar issue of what's happening in our own personal devices, including smartphones.

"When you put your phone on airplane mode or turn off location services, how do you know those things are really off?" Snowden asked. Toward that end, he said the Freedom Of Press Foundation is working on a design that will let phone users know definitively if their phones are sending data about their whereabouts.

Forrester Research (FORR, +0.89%) senior analyst Paul Miller said people should heed Snowden's words. It can be fine to trust computing and data to a third-party, but you need to do so with your eyes open, he said.

Source: This article was published fortune.com By Barb Darrow

The first step in keeping your smartphone running like new is to keep the software up-to-date. | Apple.com

When you buy a new smartphone, it often runs quickly for a few months, and then seems to slow down inexplicably. But it turns out that it’s pretty easy for you to keep your smartphone — either an iPhone or an Android phone — running like new. Read on for seven easy ways to speed up your phone and keep everything running smoothly.

1. Keep your software updated

The latest version of your phone’s operating system, whether iOS or Android, often contains updates and bug fixes to make your phone run more smoothly and more quickly. On an Android smartphone or an iPhone, you can check for updates via the Settings app. While you’re at it, also make sure that you’re keeping up with updates for the apps installed on your phone. When you’re running the latest version of all of the software, things are more likely to keep running smoothly and quickly.

2. Uninstall apps that you don’t need anymore

man holding smartphone and smiling
To get the most out of your smartphone, uninstall the apps you don’t need anymore. | iStock.com

Almost everyone has installed some apps that have outlived their utility — maybe an app for that airline you flew only once, the camera app that you never could get the hang of, or a game that just wasn’t as entertaining as you’d anticipated. It’s fine to change your mind about an app, but make sure that you uninstall the ones you don’t need. Unnecessary apps use up storage, and even system resources if they’re occasionally running tasks in the background, so periodically evaluate the apps you have on your device and get rid of the ones that aren’t useful to you anymore. For apps that come preloaded on your Android phone and can’t be deleted, disable them to keep them from using resources.

3. Cut down on background tasks

man checking his phone in bed
Reduce the number of background tasks running on your phone to help everything run more smoothly. | iStock.com

In both iOS and Android, you can take a few steps to make sure the apps you decide to keep aren’t negatively impacting the performance of your phone. On Android, consider reducing the frequency with which apps like your favorite mail app, or social media apps like Facebook, connect to your account and load new updates. In iOS, be mindful of which apps have Background App Refresh enabled, and consider reducing that number to decrease the resources being used in the background. Additionally, turn off Bluetooth and Wi-Fi when you’re not using them.

4. Clean up your home screen

an android phone with google in the background
Clean up your smartphone’s home screen to keep it running like new. | Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Android’s many home screen options — and widget support — make it easy to have everything you need within easy reach. But if you get carried away, a cluttered home screen can impact how quickly your phone runs. Get rid of unnecessary icons (a task you likely completed if you got rid of apps you don’t use anymore) and only keep the widgets that are really useful for you. The same goes for iOS: Clean up that home screen and don’t keep widgets that will eat up lots of unnecessary resources if you don’t ever actually look at them.

5. Reduce animations

The new iPhone SE seen at Apple's headquarters
Reduce the animations used by your operating system and apps. | Josh Edelson/AFP/Getty Images

If your phone is slow to move from one task to another, consider turning off some of the animations that appear throughout the operating system. On Android, you’ll need to enable developer options via the Settings app, and then reduce or turn off some of the animations. If you’re using a live wallpaper, consider replacing it with a static image. On iOS, forgo the live wallpaper for a static image, and turn off parallax and app zooms by opening the Settings app and navigating to the Accessibility section.

6. Clean out some storage

man on his phone
A sure way to keep your smartphone running like new is to clean out the device’s storage. | iStock.com

If you uninstalled some unneeded apps but still are short on storage, delete downloaded files that are just sitting around, or back up and remove the years’ worth of photos you’ve accumulated on your phone. (Sync them with your computer, or use your favorite cloud service’s app to back them up and then erase them from your phone.) Get rid of old message threads that hog storage. And on Android, make sure to clear the app cache occasionally to get rid of the data that apps save to streamline their operations, or on iOS, clear the history in apps like Safari.

7. Reset your phone

women in an apple store looking at the phones
Resetting your phone can help it perform the way you want it to. | Josep Lago/AFP/Getty Images

When your phone is running slowly, it sometimes works to clean up unused apps or simply restart it. But other times, you try everything else and your smartphone still isn’t performing the way you want it to. In that case, you can take a more extreme step and complete a factory reset, which can often solve random issues with apps and eradicate problems that elude diagnosis. Just remember that before you reset your phone, you need to back up all of the important data and media.

Source: This article was published cheatsheet.com By Jess Bolluyt

An infrared image of 47 Tucanae, a dense globular cluster of stars located roughly 16,000 light years from Earth. A new study has predicted that a black hole lies at its center. (2MASS / T. Jarrett)

A new method could help scientists peer inside universe’s densest star clusters to find undiscovered black holes

Approximately 16,000 light years from Earth lies a spherical glob of millions of stars dating back to the early years of the universe. This dense cluster, called 47 Tucanae, has a radius of about 200 light years and is one of the brightest clusters in our night sky. Inside 47 Tucanae, intense gravitational forces have sorted stars over time, pushing less dense stars to the outside and creating a very dense inner core that resists outside scrutiny.

"Studying globular clusters is notoriously challenging," says Bülent Kiziltan, an astrophysicist at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. There are so many stars packed next to each other, he says, that capturing radiation from the center of one is next to impossible. So while scientists have long suspected that 47 Tucanae might contain a black hole at its center, as many other globular clusters appear to, they haven’t been able to prove it.

Now, in a study published yesterday in the journal Nature, Kiziltan and his colleagues have helped peer into the heart of 47 Tucanae to find the first of a new class of medium-sized black holes.

Despite their name, black holes aren’t actually that black, Kiziltan says. As they tear apart stars unlucky enough to wander into their pull, he says, they form a disk of bright, hot gases around them known as an accretion disk. Black holes don’t let any visible light escape, but they usually emit X-rays as they consume these gases. However, 47 Tucanae is so dense that it has no gases left at its center for the black hole to consume.

Kiziltan used his expertise in another quirky type of space object—pulsars—to try a new way of detecting these elusive kinds of black holes.

Pulsars "provide us with a platform that we can use to study very minute changes in the environment," Kiziltan says. These stars, which emit "pulses" of radiation at very regular intervals, can be used as reference points to map out cosmic formations, including globular clusters; Kiziltan likens them to "cosmic atomic clocks."  

With two dozen pulsars on the edges of 47 Tucanae as guides, Kiziltan and his team were able to build simulations of how the globular cluster evolved over time, and particularly how the denser and less dense stars sorted themselves into their present-day positions.

These simulations were massive undertakings, Kiziltan says, requiring roughly six to nine months to complete even on extremely powerful computers. Which is why he wasn’t thrilled, he says, when reviewers at Nature asked for further simulations that ended up taking another year to complete.

But that effort was worth it, Kiziltan says, because it led to something unprecedented: the first discovery of a black hole inside a globular cluster. After running hundreds of simulations, he says, the only possible scenario that could lead to the development of today's 47 Tucanae featured a black hole at the global cluster's dense, gas-less center. This previously unconsidered environment for a black hole opens up new places to look for them, Kiziltan says.

"One can only imagine what is lurking in the centers of other global clusters," Kiziltan says.

What is also exciting, Kiziltan notes, is the size of the black hole his simulations predicted. So far, scientists have mostly found small black holes (those roughly the size of the stars that collapsed to form them) and supermassive black holes (those thousands of times larger than our Sun). Intermediate-sized black holes have mostly eluded scientists—though not for lack of trying.

The black hole predicted at the center of 47 Tucanae falls within this rare middle ground, Kiziltan says. Further study of this potential black hole could provide new insights on how and why these largely unknown type of black holes form.

Perhaps even more important than the discoveries themselves is how Kiziltan and his team arrived at them. Kiziltan and his collaborators drew on a mathematical theory developed in the 1950s by two American cryptographers to help chart the probable distributions of stars in 47 Tucanae. "They developed this mathematical method to piece together incomplete information to see the bigger picture," Kiziltan says.

Kiziltan is working to refine their new approach and use this new method to look at other populations of stars for previously unseen black holes. Powerful new scientific computers and other instruments that will go online in the coming years will help with this quest, he says.

"We've done many things for the first time in this work," Kiziltan says. At the same time, “there are still so many things that need to be done.”

Source: This article was published on smithsonianmag.com By Ben Panko

A distant star has begun exhibiting the same strange behavior that led astronomers to suggest an “alien megastructure” is orbiting it.

Tabby’s Star first attracted the world’s attention last year when stargazers suggested the distinctive “blinking” of its light was caused by a gigantic spaceship passing in front of it.

Now the star is blinking again and astronomers have trained their telescopes on it in the hope of finally cracking the mystery.

It’s also been suggested the behavior could be caused by comets passing in front of the star, which has the scientific name KIC 8462852 and is about 1,300 light-years from Earth.

Jason Wright, the man who first suggested Tabby’s Star was home to an alien megastructure, sent out a tweet calling on fellow astronomers to point their telescopes at the star.


“As far as I can tell, every telescope that can look at it right now is looking at it right now,” Matt Muterspaugh, a professor at Tennessee State University, told The Verge.

It’s been suggested Tabby’s Star could be home to a Dyson sphere.

These theoretical “megastructures” were dreamed up in the 1960s, when Freeman Dyson and Nikolai Kardashev suggested an advanced civilization would inevitably seek to build a huge structure around a star to harvest its massive power.

“Aliens should always be the very last hypothesis you consider,” Wright told The Atlantic after the discovery was first announced.

“But this looked like something you would expect an alien civilization to build.”

Last week, an astronomer suggested huge extraterrestrial constructions could be relatively easy to spot, so long as we look in the right place using the correct tools.

Zaza Osmanov from the Free University of Tbilisi, Georgia, suggested these gigantic solar power plants might be relatively easy to spot using current technology.

Source: This article was published nypost.com By Jasper Hamill

Saturday, 20 May 2017 05:29

The strange history of ransomware

WannaCry, the latest extortionate malware to seize hard drives from Beijing to Boise, may seem like the product of the Mr. Robot writer’s room. But as viruses go, ransomware is actually an antique.

The first ransomware virus was unleashed in 1989 — pre-dating the Internet and email as we know it — and distributed on floppy disk by the post office.

The culprit? Joseph L. Popp, an American evolutionary biologist with a Ph.D. from Harvard. The 20,000 disks Popp sent out to health researchers around the world that year masqueraded as a survey designed to test one’s risk of contracting AIDS. But after a fixed number of reboots, the virus locked the computer. Users were instructed to turn on their printers, from which a ransom note soon emerged, demanding a $189 “licensing fee” in exchange for a decryption key.

Victims were instructed to send the ransom to a P.O. box in Panama — the 20th century equivalent to Bitcoin.

Popp’s virus terrified the medical establishment — there were newspaper reports of laboratories destroying 10 years of research upon learning their drives had been infected — however the virus turned out to be crude and ineffective. Free decryption software was quickly made available to the victims. 

When the FBI finally tracked down Popp at his parent’s home in Ohio, it was clear that he was no mafia don. His behavior was so eccentric (while waiting to stand trial, he took to putting curlers in his beard “to ward off the threat of radiation”) that he was ultimately judged unfit to stand trial. Popp wasn’t motivated by money, but rather anger at the World Health Organization for a variety of reasons (some say the WHO had snubbed him for a job, others say he was a critic of their AIDS education policies). And while Popp was truly unique as cyber-villians go, it turns out that most early virus makers weren’t in for the money either.  

Last year, Finnish computer security guru Mikko Hyppönen created the Malware Museum, an online kunstkammer for vintage viruses.

Shortly after the museum launched, Hyppönen explained, “How the profile of the average cybercriminal has evolved. We’ve seen huge technical changes in the types of attacks we see and the malware we analyze, but we’ve seen even larger changes in who we’re fighting," he continued. "Basically, all the samples we have in Malware Museum were written by teenage boys and their motive was fun. They did not get money. They did not get famous. They just did it because they could. The hobbyists were actually competing with one another to see whose virus spreads worldwide fastest, and who makes the biggest headlines. Some were destructive, but they were destructive for no reason at all.”

It was only within the past 15 years, according to Hyppönen, that the hobbyist hackers were replaced by criminals seeking to weaponize viruses like ransomware. Today ransomware is nearly a billion-dollar-a-year business.

After being set free, Popp resumed his colorful career and established a butterfly conservancy in upstate New York, which exists to this day. But viruses like WannaCry are surely his most important legacy.

Source: This article was published msn.com By Alina Simone

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