Friday, January 31, 2014

Who's Willing to Go to Jail for Bitcoin?


On Monday, the morning after he was arrested by IRS and DEA agents at the airport on accusations of money laundering, Bitcoin evangelist Charlie Shrem appeared in Manhattan criminal court, where a US attorney told a judge that the 24-year-old shouldn't be released on bail. And to make his case, the attorney played a YouTube video.

In a video interview posted on the site on October 18, 2012, and played on a big screen in the courtroom, Shrem told the libertarian activist Adam Kokesh that that he was prepared to leave the US if his company were "taken down," and that he and other core Bitcoiners were "ready to go to jail for Bitcoin."

Bitcoin "works the same way file sharing works," he explained. "They can shut down Napster, they can shutdown Kazaa, they can shut down Bittorrent clients, but they can never shut down file sharing." He continued:

    What the government can also do is try to arrest or take down companies that try to push Bitcoin ahead. If our company which acts as a bridge between bitcoins and dollars were taken out, Bitcoin would take a hit. We have contingency plans, I have a plane ticket ready to take me to Singapore with another corporation already set up. And you know a lot of us core Bitcoiners are ready to go to jail for Bitcoin.

"We have someone from the Department of Homeland Security trying to come to our office and speak to us," he said with a grin. "We don't wanna let 'em in."

It looked like the old days of Bitcoin: the rush of a financial frontier and the proud free-wheeling of the Silk Road—days that many proponents of Bitcoin today wish could stay buried online, as they propose new ideas for self-regulation and wash themselves of more extreme libertarian hues in a continuing reach for mainstream adoption. Happily for Bitcoin's boosters, a Google search for the term no longer starts with entries about the Silk Road. But like email records or Tor-based transactions, sometimes thought to be secret, old improprieties aren't invisible. And they're especially visible when they're part of the mainstream narrative, where Shrem was sometimes front and center, cheering the ideals of a decentralized currency model.

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The US Government Closes In On Bitcoin, And Some Bitcoiners Are Smiling

New York officials are ready to regulate Bitcoin. Barry Silbert, Founder & CEO of SecondMarket and Jeremy Liew, Partner at Lightspeed Venture Partners. Photos via Daniel Stuckey/Motherboard
US regulators pushed forward this week in their quest to control the cryptocurrency that theoretically cannot be controlled.

Superintendent of Financial Services Benjamin Lawsky​, who leads the initiative in New York, kicked off the city’s first public hearings regarding virtual currency regulation, in a two-day event that concluded on Wednesday.

The hearings, according to Lawsky, emerged after an “extensive inquiry into virtual currency” over six months that involved countless dozens of meetings with industry participants, academics, and law enforcement agents. The goal of this “fact-finding effort,” said Lawsky, is to “put forward during the course of 2014 a proposed regulatory framework for virtual currency firms operating in New York,” the “first state in the nation to do that.” It's assumed that other states will follow suit.

In other words, it’s time for Bitcoiners to follow the rules.

The open discussions of Bitcoin’s regulatory future, which were streamed online (you can watch the recordings here), represent the ongoing evolution of an underground hacker pipedream into a bonafide technological movement; one that has attracted the titans of Silicon Valley—many of whom spoke as witnesses during the hearings—like Jeremy Liew, of prominent VC firm Lightspeed Ventures, and Fred Wilson, an early investor in Twitter.

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What Does Google Want with DeepMind? Here are Three Clues (Op-Ed)

Electric brain, ai, artificial intelligence

All eyes turned to London this week, as Google announced its latest acquisition in the form of DeepMind, a company that specialises in artificial intelligence technologies. The £400m pricetag paid by Google and the reported battle with Facebook to win the company over indicate that this is a firm well worth backing.

Although solid information is thin on the ground, you can get an idea of what the purchase might be leading to, if you know where to look.

Clue 1: what does Google already know?

Google has always been active in artificial intelligence and relies on the process for many of its projects. Just consider the “driver” behind its driverless cars, the speech recognition system in Google Glass, or the way its search engine predicts what we might search for after just a couple of keystrokes. Even the page-rank algorithm that started it all falls under the banner of AI.

Acquiring a company such as DeepMind therefore seems like a natural step. The big question is whether Google is motivated by a desire to help develop technologies we already know about or whether it is moving into the development of new technologies.

Given its track record, I’m betting on the latter. Google has the money and the drive to tackle the biggest questions in science, and developing computers that think like humans has, for a long time, been one of the biggest of them all.

Clue 2: what’s in the research?

The headlines this week have described DeepMind as a “secretive start-up”, but clues about what it gets up to at its London base can be gleaned from some of the research publications produced by the company’s co-founder, Demis Hassabis.

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Disk Detective: NASA's New Crowdsourced Search for Planetary Habitats


Have you always wanted to find your own celestial body? Now's your chance: NASA Goddard announced today that it is sponsoring a new project and website, Disk Detective, which allows people to discover "embryonic planetary systems" hidden in the data generated by NASA's Wide-field infrared Survey Explorer (WISE) mission. It's a data mining and analysis effort that  anyone can get behind.

Developed alongside Zooniverse, a network of scientists, software developers, and educators, Disk Detective is as a crowdsourcing project that will make the sifting through astronomical data a bit easier. From 2010 to 2011 WISE, which is locked in Earth orbit, scanned the entire sky in infrared, measuring some 745 million objects in detail. Working on this data, NASA is in the process of looking for planets that form and grow in "dust-rich circumstellar disks," which shine brightly in infrared wavelengths.

However, other objects such as galaxies, interstellar dust clouds, and asteroids also glow in infrared. This infrared noise makes it difficult to identify planet-forming environments, which are of two kinds: Young Stellar Object disks (gaseous and less than 5 million years old), and debris disks, which are 5 million years or older and contain little to no gas. The former are found in or near young star clusters, while the latter contains "belts of rocky or icy debris that resemble the asteroid and Kuiper belts" found in our solar system.

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Overruling His Advisors, President Obama Picked a Navy Cyberwarrior to Run the NSA


Vice Admiral Michael Rogers (head of table), commander of US Fleet Cyber Command and US 10th Fleet, speaks to Information Dominance Corps in 2012. Image: Navy

Last night, President Obama officially signed off on his nomination for the next director of the NSA. Navy Vice Admiral Michael Rogers, currently the head of US Fleet Cyber Command, is by all accounts an expert in cryptography and cyberwar. But at a time when the agency is under more public scrutiny than ever, the president has chosen a 33-year Navy veteran with little experience working in the public eye.

As the top cyberwar expert in the Navy, Rogers does appear a natural fit to take over the NSA and the military's Cyber Command from outgoing chief Gen. Keith Alexander. But as the New York Times notes, Obama "rejected his own advisory panel’s recommendation that the NSA and the United States Cyber Command have separate leaders." 

By law, Cyber Command must be run by a military officer. Considering the massive blowback to the NSA in the last year, Obama's advisory panel suggested splitting the roles so that a person more versed in civil liberties issues—as well as simply dealing with the public—could chair the NSA and hopefully soothe some of the ire caused by surveillance programs revealed by Edward Snowden. 

Also of note is the pick of Richard Ledgett for deputy directory. If approved, Ledgett would be the top civilian leader in the agency. He has so far led the investigation into Snowden, and as the Guardian explains, he has previously floated the idea of amnesty for the whistleblower. 

With privacy advocates rightfully aghast at the scope of the NSA's activities and legal challenges mounting, the NSA certainly has a vested interest in turning the public tide in its favor. But with Obama largely paying lip service (or less) to the problem of surveillance overreach, Rogers—who, again, is well-qualified from a technical standpoint—will have to steer the agency through the ongoing scrutiny. While his credentials are stellar, his career has largely been outside of the public eye, and it's hard to tell how he'll approach the job, or if he'll institute the reforms Obama has suggested. Folks in Washington are still happy with the pick.

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Why the rich are freaking out

NEW YORK — The co-founder of one the nation’s oldest venture capital firms fears a possible genocide against the wealthy. Residents of Manhattan’s tony Upper East Side say the progressive mayor didn’t plow their streets as a form of frosty revenge. And the co-founder of Home Depot recently warned the Pope to pipe down about economic inequality.

The nation’s wealthiest, denizens of the loftiest slice of the 1 percent, appear to be having a collective meltdown.

Economists, advisers to the wealthy and the wealthy themselves describe a deep-seated anxiety that the national — and even global — mood is turning against the super-rich in ways that ultimately could prove dangerous and hard to control.

President Barack Obama and the Democrats have pivoted to income inequality ahead of the midterm elections. Pope Francis has strongly warned against the dangers of wealth concentration. And all of this follows the rise of the Occupy movement in 2011 and a bout of bank-bashing populism in the tea party.

The collective result, according to one member of the 1 percent, is a fear that the rich are in deep, deep trouble. Maybe not today but soon.

“You have a bunch of people who see conspiracies everywhere and believe that this inequality issue will quickly turn into serious class warfare,” said this person, who asked not to be identified by name so as not to anger any wealthy friends. “They don’t believe inequality is bad and believe the only way to deal with it is to allow entrepreneurs to have even fewer shackles.”

And so the rich are lashing out.

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Dear America, I Saw You Naked l Confessions of an ex-TSA agent.

On Jan. 4, 2010, when my boss saw my letter to the editor in the New York Times, we had a little chat.

It was rare for the federal security director at Chicago O’Hare to sit down with her floor-level Transportation Security Administration officers—it usually presaged a termination—and so I was nervous as I settled in across the desk from her. She was a woman in her forties with sharp blue eyes that seemed to size you up for placement in a spreadsheet. She held up a copy of the newspaper, open to the letters page. My contribution, under the headline “To Stop a Terrorist: No Lack of Ideas,” was circled in blue pen.

One week earlier, on Christmas Day 2009, a man named Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab had tried to detonate 80 grams of a highly explosive powder while on Northwest Airlines Flight 253. He had smuggled the bomb aboard the plane in a pouch sewn into his underwear. It was a masterpiece of post-9/11 tragicomedy: 

Passengers tackled and restrained Abdulmutallab for the remainder of the flight, and he succeeded in burning nothing besides his own genitals.

The TSA saw the near-miss as proof that aviation security could not be ensured without the installation of full-body scanners in every U.S. airport. But the agency’s many critics called its decision just another knee-jerk response to an attempted terrorist attack. I agreed, and wrote to the Times saying as much. My boss wasn’t happy about it.

“The problem we have here is that you identified yourself as a TSA employee,” she said.

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Canada Spies On Their Citizens Too: Electronic Spy Agency Used Airport Wi-Fi To Track Travelers

Electronic snooping was part of a trial run for U.S. NSA and other foreign services

Privacy and security experts on CSEC

A top secret document retrieved by U.S. whistleblower Edward Snowden and obtained by CBC News shows that Canada's electronic spy agency used information from the free internet service at a major Canadian airport to track the wireless devices of thousands of ordinary airline passengers for days after they left the terminal.

After reviewing the document, one of Canada's foremost authorities on cyber-security says the clandestine operation by the Communications Security Establishment Canada (CSEC) was almost certainly illegal.
Ronald Deibert told CBC News: "I can't see any circumstance in which this would not be unlawful, under current Canadian law, under our Charter, under CSEC's mandates."
The spy agency is supposed to be collecting primarily foreign intelligence by intercepting overseas phone and internet traffic, and is prohibited by law from targeting Canadians or anyone in Canada without a judicial warrant.

As CSEC chief John Forster recently stated: "I can tell you that we do not target Canadians at home or abroad in our foreign intelligence activities, nor do we target anyone in Canada.

"In fact, it's prohibited by law. Protecting the privacy of Canadians is our most important principle."

But security experts who have been apprised of the document point out the airline passengers in a Canadian airport were clearly in Canada.

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Thursday, January 30, 2014

Anthony Peake | A Life of Philip K. Dick - The Man Who Remembered the Future

This is Segment 1 of 2. Segment 1 is being provided as a courtesy of VERITAS Radio. To listen to Segment 2 of this exclusive interview, subscribe at to watch the rest.

Veritas is censorship-and commercial-free and survives on your voluntary subscriptions. Thank you for supporting our work. ~Mel Fabregas  

S y n o p s i s 

Philip K. Dick was a hugely influential writer who drew upon his own life to address the nature of drug abuse, paranoia, schizophrenia, and transcendental experiences of all kinds. He was a prolific author and many of his books were turned into popular films such as Blade Runner, A Scanner Darkly, Total Recall, and Minority Report. This book has been written with the cooperation of several close acquaintances and looks to examine his work as well as the socio-political-cultural environment in which he lived. It will be of great interest to any fan of Philip K. Dick or science fiction in general, as well as anyone who grew up the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s. Peake attempts to place Dick's extraordinary experiences known as 2-3-74 in a broader picture. He will also present fascinating evidence that Dick may have been, as he termed the state in many of his novels and short stories, a "precog" - a person that can see the future.

B i o 

Anthony Peake is a writer who deals with borderline areas of human consciousness. He graduated from the University of Warwick and the London School of Economics. His first book, Is There Life After Death? was published in 2006 and since then he has gone on to develop his own ideas together with exploring the latest areas of research in his field. His fourth book, Making Sense of Near-Death Experiences, is a collaborative effort with some of the world’s leading authorities on the near death phenomenon. He was very honoured to be asked to be one of the editors as well as contributing a chapter. His seventh book, A Life of Philip K Dick The Man Who Remembered the Future, is a departure from his previous works in that it is a mixture of biography, literary criticism and psychological/neurological analysis. His eighth book, provisionally entitled Personal Immortality? The Persistence of Consciousness Beyond the Brain, is a joint project with Professor Ervin Laszlo. This will be published in 2014.Click the relevant button for a summary of each of Anthony’s books.

Icelandic Drilling Project Opens Door to Volcano-Powered Electricity

The project unexpectedly struck a pocket of magma and decided not to plug the hole with concrete.

Can enormous heat deep in the earth be harnessed to provide energy for us on the surface? A promising report from a geothermal borehole project that accidentally struck magma – the same fiery, molten rock that spews from volcanoes – suggests it could.

The Icelandic Deep Drilling Project, IDDP, has been drilling shafts up to 5km deep in an attempt to harness the heat in the volcanic bedrock far below the surface of Iceland.

But in 2009 their borehole at Krafla, northeast Iceland, reached only 2,100m deep before unexpectedly striking a pocket of magma intruding into the Earth’s upper crust from below, at searing temperatures of 900-1000°C.

This borehole, IDDP-1, was the first in a series of wells drilled by the IDDP in Iceland looking for usable geothermal resources. The special report in this month’s Geothermics journal details the engineering feats and scientific results that came from the decision not to the plug the hole with concrete, as in a previous case in Hawaii in 2007, but instead attempt to harness the incredible geothermal heat.

Wilfred Elders, professor emeritus of geology at the University of California, Riverside, co-authored three of the research papers in the Geothermics special issue with Icelandic colleagues.

“Drilling into magma is a very rare occurrence, and this is only the second known instance anywhere in the world,“ Elders said. The IDDP and Iceland’s National Power Company, which operates the Krafla geothermal power plant nearby, decided to make a substantial investment to investigate the hole further.

This meant cementing a steel casing into the well, leaving a perforated section at the bottom closest to the magma. Heat was allowed to slowly build in the borehole, and eventually superheated steam flowed up through the well for the next two years.

Elders said that the success of the drilling was “amazing, to say the least”, adding: “This could lead to a revolution in the energy efficiency of high-temperature geothermal projects in the future.”

The well funnelled superheated, high-pressure steam for months at temperatures of over 450°C – a world record. In comparison, geothermal resources in the UK rarely reach higher than around 60-80°C.

The magma-heated steam was measured to be capable of generating 36MW of electrical power. While relatively modest compared to a typical 660MW coal-fired power station, this is considerably more than the 1-3MW of an average wind turbine, and more than half of the Krafla plant’s current 60MW output.

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Flying Snake Morphs into UFO Shape to Glide

A flying snake flattens out into a weird flying-saucer shape in order to get some extra airtime, new research suggests.

The findings, published today (Jan. 29) in The Journal of Experimental Biology, show that the Southeast Asian snake's flattened, UFO-like cross-section gives it the right aerodynamic properties for gliding.

"The shape is unusual," said study co-author Jake Socha, a biomechanics researcher at Virginia Tech. "You never find this kind of shape in any other animal flyer; you don't find it in engineered flyers. We didn't know if that was a good shape to have." [See Images of the Flying Snake
Gliding animals

The weird flying snake, Chrysopelea paradisi, curls its tail around a tree branch more than 50 feet (15 meters) above the ground before launching upward, curling its body and gliding to the next tree limb.

While birds, and even humans using glider wings, are much better at their airborne maneuvers, the snake's performance compares favorably to that of other gliding animals, such as flying squirrels, lizards and even ants, Socha said.

Researchers already knew that the snakes curved around, splayed out their ribs to flatten their bodies and undulated as they were airborne — but they didn't know why.

"It looks like it's swimming in the air," Socha told LiveScience.

No snake-shaped planes

To answer one part of the puzzle, the team created physical models of the cross-section and tested them in a water tunnel, which, if set up properly, can have the same flow characteristics as air, Socha said.

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What's the Universe Made Of? Math, Says Scientist

MIT cosmologist Max Tegmark believes the universe is a mathematical structure.

Scientists have long used mathematics to describe the physical properties of the universe. But what if the universe itself is math? That's what cosmologist Max Tegmark believes.

In Tegmark's view, everything in the universe — humans included — is part of a mathematical structure. All matter is made up of particles, which have properties such as charge and spin, but these properties are purely mathematical, he says. And space itself has properties such as dimensions, but is still ultimately a mathematical structure.

"If you accept the idea that both space itself, and all the stuff in space, have no properties at all except mathematical properties," then the idea that everything is mathematical "starts to sound a little bit less insane," Tegmark said in a talk given Jan. 15 here at The Bell House. The talk was based on his book "Our Mathematical Universe: My Quest for the Ultimate Nature of Reality" (Knopf, 2014).

"If my idea is wrong, physics is ultimately doomed," Tegmark said. But if the universe really is mathematics, he added, "There's nothing we can't, in principle, understand." [7 Surprising Things About the Universe]

Nature is full of math

The idea follows the observation that nature is full of patterns, such as the Fibonacci sequence, a series of numbers in which each number is the sum of the previous two numbers. The flowering of an artichoke follows this sequence, for example, with the distance between each petal and the next matching the ratio of the numbers in the sequence.

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The Legal Fight Against Warrantless Surveillance Is Gaining Steam


Director of National Intelligence James Clapper speaks at the CIA in 2011, as President Obama looks on. 

At the urging of members of Congress, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper has agreed to reveal, within 30 days, whether or not US intelligence agencies have targeted American citizens. Meanwhile, a Colorado man facing terrorism charges has directly challenged the constitutionality of the NSA's surveillance activities. Combined, both moves are inviting even more scrutiny to the US intelligence community's controversial interpretations of surveillance laws that made programs like PRISM legal in the first place.

In a Senate hearing yesterday, Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), who has criticized the NSA's activities from the very beginning of the PRISM scandal, pressed Clapper, CIA Director John Brennan, and FBI chief James Comey for more transparency regarding their legal basis for their domestic surveillance activities. According to the Verge, Brennan agreed to answer whether or not the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, which has generally been used to prosecute hackers, applies to his agency. Comey agreed to explain what burden of proof FBI agents require before using cell tower location data to track suspects.

Reining in surveillance activities will require a legal fight, and credit to Wyden and the other critical members of Congress at the hearing,for those three commitments all promise to shed important light on what rationale critics need to push back against. 

Comey laying out the FBI's legal basis for location tracking will be particularly interesting. Since at least the mid-1990s, the FBI has been able to pull cell location data using so-called 'Stingray' technology, which the bureau has argued does not require a warrant. While individual states have banned such warrantless tracking, the FBI has dragged its heels in revealing details about its program, all while continually eroding privacy protections.

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What Are Nightmares Made Of?


Pretty much exactly what you’d expect.

Few studies have delved into the dark details and emotions associated with nightmares, and even fewer have used dream logs as a basis for analysis.

As researchers at the University of Montreal note in a new study forthcoming in Sleep, daily logs are the so-called “gold standard” for this type of research because other evaluations, like interviews and questionnaires, can “yield inaccurate dream reports due to the fragile nature of dreams’ long-term recall as well as memory and saliency biases.”

When scientists ask a subject to recount the details of a nightmare, they’re more inclined to draw from the extreme fringes than the standard fare. “This may explain why themes of falling and of being chased are among the most frequently reported themes in studies based on questionnaire or interview data while appearing much less frequently in prospective logs,” the researchers write.

In this particular study, the psychologists asked 572 participants to record their dreams for two to five weeks. They were also asked to reflect on their emotions at the time of recording. After an analysis of “9,796 dream reports,” they whittled down the results to “253 nightmares and 431 bad dreams reported by 331 participants.” The researchers defined nightmares as dreams unpleasant enough to pull the participants out of sleep. Bad dreams were terrible, but did not cause the subjects to stir.
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Archaeologists Unearth What May Be Oldest Roman Temple

Excavation at the Sant'Omobono site in central Rome has provided evidence of early Romans' efforts to transform the landscape of their city.

Archaeologists excavating a site in central Rome say they've uncovered what may be oldest known temple from Roman antiquity.

Along the way, they've also discovered how much the early Romans intervened to shape their urban environment.

And the dig has been particularly challenging because the temple lies below the water table.

The Sant'Omobono excavation team dug a 15-foot reinforced hole below the water line.

At the foot Capitoline Hill in the center of Rome, stands the Medieval Sant'Omobono church.

Today, the Tiber River is about a hundred yards away. But when the city was being created, around the 7th century B.C., it flowed close to where the church now stands, where a bend in the river provided a natural harbor for merchant ships.

"And here they decide to create a temple," says Nic Terrenato, who teaches classical archaeology at the University of Michigan and is co-director of the .

"At this point Rome is trading already as far afield as Cyprus, Lebanon, Egypt," he says. "So they build this temple, which is going to be one of the first things the traders see when they pull into the harbor of Rome."

The temple – the foundations of which are below the water line — was probably dedicated to the goddess Fortuna. The archaeological team discovered large quantities of votive offerings such as miniature versions of drinking vessels, left not by locals but by foreign traders.

In antiquity, Terrenato says, temples built on harbors had the function of fostering mutual trust between locals and traders.

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Wednesday, January 29, 2014

27 Dimensions! Physicists See Photons in New Light

Scientists find a way to directly measure quantum states, such as momentum, of photons.

Scientists find a way to directly measure quantum states, such as momentum, of photons.  

Quantum computers and communications promise more powerful machines and unbreakable codes. But to make them work, it's necessary to measure the quantum state of particles such as photons or atoms. Quantum states are numbers that describe particle characteristics such as momentum or energy.

But measuring quantum states is difficult and time-consuming, because the very act of doing so changes them, and because the mathematics can be complex. Now, an international team says they found a more efficient way to do it, which could make it simpler to build quantum-mechanical technologies.

In a study detailed in the Jan. 20 issue of the journal Nature Communications, researchers from the University of Rochester and the University of Glasgow took a direct measurement of a photon's 27-dimensional quantum state. These dimensions are mathematical, not dimensions in space, and each one is a number that stores information. To understand a 27-dimensional quantum state, think about a line described in two dimensions. A line would have a direction in the X and Y coordinates — 3 inches left and 4 inches up, for instance. The quantum state has 27 such coordinates. [Quantum Physics: The Coolest Little Particles in Nature]

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300,000-Year-Old Caveman 'Campfire' Found in Israel

Qesem cave being excavated 

An arrow points to the Qesem Cave hearth, where hominins may have tended to fires as early as 300,000 years ago.

A newly discovered hearth full of ash and charred bone in a cave in modern-day Israel hints that early humans sat around fires as early as 300,000 years ago — before Homo sapiens arose in Africa.

In and around the hearth, archaeologists say they also found bits of stone tools that were likely used for butchering and cutting animals.

The finds could shed light on a turning point in the development of culture "in which humans first began to regularly use fire both for cooking meat and as a focal point — a sort of campfire — for social gatherings," said archaeologist Ruth Shahack-Gross of the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel. [10 Things that Make Humans Special]

"They also tell us something about the impressive levels of social and cognitive development of humans living some 300,000 years ago," Shahack-Gross added in a statement.

The centrally located fire pit is about 6.5 feet (2 meters) in diameter at its widest point, and its ash layers suggest the hearth was used repeatedly over time, according to the study, which was detailed in the Journal of Archaeological Science on Jan. 25. Shahack-Gross and colleagues think these features indicate the hearth may have been used by large groups of cave dwellers. What's more, its position implies some planning went into deciding where to put the fire pit, suggesting whoever built it must have had a certain level of intelligence.

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Ruins of Bustling Port Unearthed at Egypt's Giza Pyramids

Archaeologists working at the Giza Pyramids have made several new discoveries that shed light on life at the time the pyramids were built. Among the discoveries is a basin that may have been part of a thriving harbor and a "silo building complex," where researchers have found numerous bones from the forelimbs of cattle, offerings in ancient Egypt, suggesting royal cult priests perhaps venerating the pharaoh Khafre occupied the complex.

The remains of a bustling port and barracks for sailors or military troops have been discovered near the Giza Pyramids. They were in use while the pyramids were being built about 4,500 years ago.

The archaeologists have been excavating a city near the Giza Pyramids that dates mainly to the reign of the pharaoh Menkaure, who built the last pyramid at Giza. Also near the pyramids they have been  excavating a town, located close to a monument dedicated to Queen Khentkawes, possibly a daughter of Menkaure. The barracks are located at the city, while a newly discovered basin, that may be part of a harbor, is located by the Khentkawes town.

Several discoveries at the city and Khentkawes town suggest Giza was a thriving port, said archaeologist Mark Lehner, the director of Ancient Egypt Research Associates. For instance, Lehner's team discovered a basin beside the Khentkawes town just 1 kilometer (0.62 miles) from the nearest Nile River channel. [See Photos of Amazing Discoveries at Giza's Pyramids

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NASA Wants the Private Sector to Make Lunar Landers

Astronaut Dale A. Gardner holds a sign referring to recovered satellites. Photo: NASA

Lunar exploration enthusiasts were dealt a blow yesterday, with the news that China's Yutu rover—the first mobile vehicle to reach the Moon in almost four decades—is probably dead. But buck up, moonies, because all hope is not lost. In 2014, NASA has already outsourced space shuttles and astronaut training to private companies, not to mention the agency has enjoyed huge returns by handing over its ISS cargo runs to SpaceX and Orbital Sciences.

It should come as no surprise, then, that NASA has decided to open lunar surface exploration to the commercial market. The new initiative is called Lunar CATALYST, which stands for CArgo Transportation And Landing bY Soft Touchdown (a somewhat forced acronym, but the effort is appreciated). It was announced on January 16, but the details weren't hammered out until a teleconference held yesterday.

“The intent of this initiative is to stimulate and help commercialization,” said Jason Crusan, director of NASA's Advanced Exploration Systems, during the call with prospective bidders.

The “soft touchdown” part of the program stands out as particularly exciting. Exploration of the Moon has been limited to orbiters and hard landings (read: crashes) since the Soviet probe Luna 24 touched down in 1976. Since that year, several rovers and probes have successfully soft-landed on Mars, and the Huygens probe even made it to Titan. Think of that: before China landed its first payload on the Moon in December 2013, space agencies worldwide had soft landed on Saturn's moon more recently than on our own. It's way past time lunar exploration was kicked up a notch.

An artist's depiction of Huygens' soft landing, on a moon way more distant than our own. Photo: NASA

Like NASA's other calls for commercial help, the objective of the Lunar CATALYST program is to take some of the financial and administrative burdens of spaceflight off of the budget-strapped agency, while also empowering the private sector to participate in off-Earth exploration. 

NASA is specifically calling for lunar lander models capable of delivering small (30-100 kg) and medium (250-500 kg) payloads. They must be compatible with commercial US launch facilities.

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'Smart' Holograms Are the Cheap Health Monitors of the Future

Basically anytime someone does something new with a hologram it grabs headlines, especially straight-out-of-sci-fi stuff like this new Star Wars-inspired phone that shows a holographic image of the person at the other end, or the prime minister of Turkey delivering a political speech as a hologram yesterday. That's a lot of fun and all, but one place where holographic research is making a practical impact, life-saving even, is the health care industry.

Scientists keep discovering new medical uses for the fantastical phenomenon. The latest comes from the University of Cambridge where researchers created a "smart" hologram that can help you monitor your health.

The portable holographic sensors can detect disease, drugs, hormones, etc. in your blood, breath, saliva, or tears, and change color when they sense something. Then you snap a picture of the colorful hologram with your smartphone to reference it against a color chart for the results. 

At this point, only certain medical professionals are using the smart holograms, but eventually researchers expect it could be mass marketed—the app will surely follow.

The holographic biosensors are made with hydrogel, a material similar to what contact lenses are made out of, infused with silver nanoparticles that with a laser pulse form a 3D holographic shape. When the sensor comes across an "indicator"—say, fluctuation of glucose level or hormone imbalance—the hyrdrogel grows or shrinks, which moves the layers of nanoparticles, which changes the color of the hologram. Boom.


Making holographic biosensors with nanoparticles and lasers, via Advanced Optical Materials

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The Internet Is the Greatest Legal Facilitator of Inequality in Human History


In the 1990s, the venture capitalist John Doerr famously predicted that the Internet would lead to the “the largest legal creation of wealth in the history of the planet.” Indeed, the Internet has created a tremendous amount of personal wealth. Just look at the rash of Internet billionaires and millionaires, the investors both small and large that have made fortunes investing in Internet stocks, and the list of multibillion-dollar Internet companies—Google, Facebook, LinkedIn, and Amazon. Add to the list the recent Twitter stock offering, which created a reported 1,600 millionaires.

Then there’s the superstar effect. The Internet multiplies the earning power of the very best high-frequency traders, currency speculators, and entertainers, who reap billions while the merely good are left to slog it out.

But will the Internet also create the greatest economic inequality the global economy has ever known? And will poorly designed government policies aimed at ameliorating the problem of inequality end up empowering the Internet-driven redistribution process?

As the Internet goes about its work making the economy more efficient, it is reducing the need for travel agents, post office employees, and dozens of other jobs in corporate America. The increased interconnectivity created by the Internet forces many middle and lower class workers to compete for jobs with low-paid workers in developing countries. Even skilled technical workers are finding that their jobs can be outsourced to trained engineers and technicians in India and Eastern Europe.

That’s the old news.

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