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Google lost an estimated $6.6 billion to ad blockers last year

in google on (#D2QM)
The rise of ad blocking is becoming a serious problem for digital media companies. And for Google, it's turning into a multi-billion dollar issue. PageFair, a company that works with publishers to measure the cost of ad blocking and to help them display less intrusive advertising that can be whitelisted by the ad blockers, estimates that Google lost out on $6.6 billion in global revenue to ad blockers last year. To put that into context, that's 10% of the total revenue Google reported in 2014.

Adblock Plus, one of the most popular ad blockers, does give internet companies the chance for their ads to be whitelisted if they meet an "acceptable ads" policy — which includes what they deem as non-intrusive ads like sponsored search links. But bigger digital advertising companies like Google (as well as Microsoft, Amazon, and Taboola) are made to pay Adblock Plus huge fees — up to 30% of the additional ad revenues they would have made were the ads unblocked, according to The Financial Times. Google has managed to claw back around $3.5 billion by getting on ad blockers' whitelists, but Google is rumored to be paying $25 million to Adblock Plus alone just to do so.

But Google is not necessarily critical of ad blockers, in spite of the threat they pose to its revenue. Earlier this month Google CEO Larry Page was questioned by shareholder at the company's AGM as to whether he was worried about the rise of ad blockers. He responded that the best response to ad blockers from the industry will be to create better ads.

HDCP 2.2 content protection for 4K video will frustrate consumers

in hardware on (#CVKX)
While HDCP 2.2 was developed to defeat media pirates, it has far more potential to thwart ordinary folks who just want to enjoy a movie in the privacy of their home. With current versions of HDCP rendered ineffective and all manner of 4K content on the horizon, Hollywood decided it needed stronger security. Cryptanalysts demonstrated HDCP to be breakable three years before the FCC approved it as a "Digital Output Protection Technology" in 2004. By 2010, a master key that effectively neutralized HDCP v1 was leaked. Versions 2.0 and 2.1 were summarily cracked as well. The main difference with 2.2 is the encryption systems used in the handshake are more complex than in prior versions. HDCP 2.2 is not backward compatible with the previous versions of HDCP that are currently used by most of the HD devices in all our homes. Having a non-HDCP 2.2 sound bar or AV receiver in your home theater system will be enough to terminate the handshake.

If you jumped on the Ultra HD bandwagon when 4K TVs and media devices first hit stores in 2013, don’t assume your purchases support HDCP 2.2 and will work with future 4K devices and content—most of those early models don’t and won’t. If you’ve haven’t dipped a toe into the 4K pool yet, we stand by our advice to wait it out until content producers and providers crank out enough 4K content to make the necessary hardware-upgrade expense worth it. That may take years.

SpaceX Falcon rocket explodes after launch

in space on (#CQR4)
story imageSpaceX's perfect launch record came to an end, today, as an unmanned cargo ship destined for the International Space Station exploded minutes after launching from the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on Sunday morning. The 208-foot-tall (63-meter) rocket was the company's 19th Falcon 9 launch since its 2010 debut, including six previous cargo runs for NASA under a 15-flight contract worth more than $2 billion.

The spacecraft carried 2,477kg of food, clothing, equipment and science experiments for the station. The gear included the first of two docking systems for space taxis under development by SpaceX and Boeing to park at the station. NASA hopes to turn over crew transportation to the US companies before the end of 2017, breaking Russia's monopoly. The crew on the International Space Station has about four months of food and supplies on board, so the accident does not pose an immediate problem for them. However, NASA's second cargo transporter, run by Orbital ATK , remains grounded following a launch accident in October. In April, a Russian Progress cargo ship also failed to reach the station.

Half of the world's biggest aquifers are being depleted

in environment on (#CJ8E)
story imageIn two new studies, a team of researchers led by hydrologists from the University of California, Irvine assessed the depletion of groundwater on a global scale using readings from NASA's GRACE satellites. The satellites monitor changes in Earth's gravity and act as a "scale in the sky," measuring shifts in the total amounts of water, both above and below ground. They concluded that likely much less water remains in aquifers than previously estimated. Groundwater is the primary source of water for about 2 billion people.

Over half of the world's biggest aquifers are being depleted. They are past sustainability tipping points, and a third of those big aquifers — 13 of those — are seriously distressed. The most severe situations seen in dry areas where little or no water is seeping into the ground to offset the amounts pumped out. The researchers found the Arabian Aquifer System, which supplies water to more than 60 million people, to be the most overstressed in the world, followed by the Indus Basin aquifer of northwestern India and Pakistan, and the Murzuk-Djado Basin in northern Africa, the Canning Basin in Australia and the aquifer system of the North China Plain. The aquifer beneath California's Central Valley was labeled as highly stressed. The Ogallala Aquifer didn't show up as being in decline, overall, even though portions of it likely have only a few decades of water left.

These problems can be addressed with proper management strategies, including replenishing aquifers when possible, recycling wastewater and adopting water-saving irrigation techniques.

Secret Service agent pleads guilty to Silk Road bitcoin theft

in legal on (#CEK0)
Shaun W. Bridges, a computer crime expert and a former Secret Service special agent who helped bring down Silk Road founder Ross Ulbricht, will plead guilty to wire fraud and money laundering for skimming hundreds of thousands of dollars in bitcoin and routing the money to his own accounts, according to federal court documents.

Using information he got from his interrogation of a Silk Road customer service representative who had administrator access, Bridges accessed Silk Road's systems in January 2013, reset several passwords and transferred about 20,000 bitcoin from the accounts, according to the complaint. He then converted the bitcoin into cash through a Japan-based bitcoin exchange and from there sent the money to the shell company's investment accounts, investigators said. Based on conversion rates at the time various transactions were made, federal prosecutors put the value of Bridges' loot at $820,000.

A second investigator, Carl Force, the Drug Enforcement Administration's lead undercover agent in the Silk Road case, faces a hearing in August for allegedly stealing bitcoin from Silk Road — and for allegedly blackmailing Ulbricht while at the same time selling him information about the investigation.

Going deeper into neural networks

in google on (#CB4F)
story imageArtificial neural networks have spurred remarkable recent progress in image classification and speech recognition. But even though these are very useful tools based on well-known mathematical methods, we actually understand surprisingly little of why certain models work and others don’t. How do you check that the network has correctly learned the right features? One way to visualize what goes on is to turn the network upside down. Neural networks that were trained to discriminate between different kinds of images have quite a bit of the information needed to generate images too. It can help to visualize the network’s representation. in some cases, this reveals that the neural net isn’t quite looking for the thing we thought it was.

If we choose higher-level layers, complex features or even whole objects tend to emerge. We call this technique “Inceptionism”. If a cloud looks a little bit like a bird, the network will make it look more like a bird. After several passes, a highly detailed bird appears, seemingly out of nowhere. Of course, we can do more than cloud watching with this technique. For example, horizon lines tend to get filled with towers and pagodas. Rocks and trees turn into buildings. Birds and insects appear in images of leaves. We can even start this process from a random-noise image, so that the result becomes purely the result of the neural network. These computer 'dreams' generated are a fascinating insight into the mind of a machine.

Forty US states expect water shortages in the next decade

in environment on (#C373)
The past three years have been the driest in California history dating to the 1849 Gold Rush. Low snow-pack, combined with 2014 being the hottest year in history in the state, exacerbated the situation. With all the attention focused on California's water woes, an observer might conclude that the Golden State's drought is the exception. It isn't. Forty states expect to see water shortages in at least some areas in the next decade. In a 2013 survey by the Government Accountability Office (GAO), state water managers from around the country said they expect freshwater shortages to continue into the next decade, even under "average" conditions.

Montana was listed in the GAO report as the state most likely to have a statewide water shortage in the next decade. Many other western states are in a similar predicament. About 36 percent of Texas is experiencing moderate or exceptional drought, but that actually represents an improvement. In 2011, 100 percent of the state was experiencing drought. Texas lawmakers passed a referendum for $2 billion of the state's rainy day fund to be used to leverage $27 billion in bonds to implement a state water conservation plan. In Kansas, drought conditions also are a little better this year. Last year, 93 percent of Kansas was facing severe drought. The East is not immune. Delaware and North Carolina are likely to experience regional water shortages in the next decade. According to the U.S. Drought Monitor, the western part of North Carolina is already "abnormally dry."

Washington breaks ground on its first animal overpass

in environment on (#BY9D)
story imageThis week will mark a first for Washington, as the state breaks ground in construction for their inaugural animal overpass. Interstate 90 in the Northwest cuts through the forests and mountains of the region, having long proved dangerous and fatal for wildlife. Now, the Department of Transportation will begin building a 150 foot-long structure freeway overpass designed specifically for all animals to endure safe passage, set to open in 2019.

While this is the first overpass, four underpasses are already open, and cameras have documented the transit of deer, coyotes, and otters, among others. It is presumed that all animals will look to the overpass, including black bears, cougars, and elk – though perhaps not at the same time. Two more overpasses are in the plans and perhaps more if there is enough money. Such structures have proven successful elsewhere, as more than 20,000 crossings a year from 30 species has been documented in Montana. Banff National Park in Canada has an extensive working of animal crossings, as seen above.

Millions of Samsung Galaxy devices remotely exploitable

in security on (#BW4T)
Hackers can easily break into Samsung Galaxy phones and spy on the entire life of their users. A vulnerability in software on the phones lets hackers look through the phones’ camera, listen to the microphone, read incoming and outgoing texts and install apps, according to researchers. The hack works by exploiting a problem with the Samsung IME keyboard, a re-packaged version of SwiftKey that the company puts in Samsung Galaxy keyboards. That software periodically asks a server whether it needs updating — but hackers can easily get in the way of that request, pretend to be the server, and send malicious code to the phone.

Researchers have confirmed that the exploit works on versions of the Samsung Galaxy S6, the S6 Edge and Galaxy S4 Mini. But it may also be active on other Samsung Galaxy phones, since the keyboard software is installed on more devices. It doesn’t matter if users are using the keyboard or not. Samsung was notified about the vulnerability in December last year. Samsung is reported to have provided a patch to mobile network operators, who must push Android updates out themselves. There is little that owners of the phone can do beyond avoiding insecure WiFi networks. The most worrying part about this is that users can't stop their device from checking for updates. It may be time to grant superuser access to the device owner by default.

Behind the scenes at the DARPA Robotics Challenge

in science on (#BMRH)
story imageLast weekend, 24 teams from around the world converged in Pomona, California to compete for the DARPA Robotics Challenge. DARPA launched the competition in response to the 2011 Fukushima earthquake and tsunami when, if robots been among the first responder teams, human lives could have been saved. Up in the grandstand, hundreds of excited children and parents were ready for a modern-day gladiator spectacle. "Will there be killer robots?" asked one boy, who was very disappointed to find out the steel humanoids were there to help, not destroy.

After a difficult assault course, designed around a hazardous environment, which required robots to drill through a wall, release a mounted valve, climb stairs and drive an off-road utility vehicle, Team KAIST from Korea walked away with the $2 million first prize. In the end, the modification that set their DRC-Hubo apart was something that the other robots found difficult—the egress test—or getting out of the vehicle. Many of the other robots in the competition failed to dismount and had the indignity of their teams wheeling over the safety harness to tether and lift them out, losing points and time, before continuing other tasks. Team IHMC Robotics from the Florida Institute for Human & Machine Cognition came in second.

A theme emerged: robot competitions are here to stay. "We aren't in competition with each other," said Dr. Arati Prabhakar, DARPA Director. "Really we are in competition against the problems of the world." Aging populations, environmental disasters, and dwindling natural resources are serious issues. But the glory, prize money and the global glow of publicity are nice, too