Stanford researchers develop new way to measure crop yields from space

in environment on (#TYJ2)
story imageA Stanford-led team has used satellites to measure a special light emitted by plants to estimate crop yields with more accuracy than ever before. This advance will help scientists study how crops respond to climate change.

As Earth’s population grows toward a projected 9 billion by 2050 and climate change puts growing pressure on the world’s agriculture, researchers are turning to technology to help safeguard the global food supply.
A research team, led by Kaiyu Guan, a postdoctoral fellow in Earth system science at Stanford’s School of Earth, Energy, & Environmental Sciences, has developed a method to estimate crop yields using satellites that can measure solar-induced fluorescence, a light emitted by growing plants. The team published its results in the journal Global Change Biology.

MIT team invents efficient shockwave-based process for desalination of water.

in science on (#TXK9)
As the availability of clean, potable water becomes an increasingly urgent issue in many parts of the world, researchers are searching for new ways to treat salty, brackish or contaminated water to make it usable. Now a team at MIT has come up with an innovative approach that, unlike most traditional desalination systems, does not separate ions or water molecules with filters, which can become clogged, or boiling, which consumes great amounts of energy.

Instead, the system uses an electrically driven shockwave within a stream of flowing water, which pushes salty water to one side of the flow and fresh water to the other, allowing easy separation of the two streams.

According to the researchers, this approach is a fundamentally new and different separation system. Unlike most other approaches to desalination or water purification, this one performs a “membraneless separation” of ions and particles.

Membranes in traditional desalination systems, such as those that use reverse osmosis or electrodialysis, are “selective barriers”.

They allow molecules of water to pass through, but block the larger sodium and chlorine atoms of salt. Compared to conventional electrodialysis, “This process looks similar, but it’s fundamentally different,”

TensorFlow - A New Machine Learning System Released as Open-Source Software by Google

in google on (#TPX5)
story imageOn Monday, Google announced the release, as an opensource project (Apache License), of TensorFlow.

According to Google, TensorFlow is their next-gen machine learning system, fixing the shortcomings of DistBelief, the AI system behind several of Google tools such as speech recognition on Android (think "OK Google"), description-based image search in Google Photos or even automatic email reply suggestions.

From the official announcement:
TensorFlow has extensive built-in support for deep learning, but is far more general than that -- any computation that you can express as a computational flow graph, you can compute with TensorFlow (see some examples). Any gradient-based machine learning algorithm will benefit from TensorFlow’s auto-differentiation and suite of first-rate optimizers. And it’s easy to express your new ideas in TensorFlow via the flexible Python interface.
note: "Deep Learning" is what used to be called "Artificial Neural Networks", but on steroids.

More technical explanations are available in their whitepaper and code is on GitHub.

Verizon exploring $10 billion sale of enterprise assets

in internet on (#TNCR)
Verizon Communications Inc is exploring a sale of its enterprise assets which could be worth as much as $10 billion. The sale would include the business formerly known as MCI (acquired in 2006), which provides landline and Internet services for large business customers, as well as Terremark (acquired in 2011), its data center unit. The assets have estimated annual earnings of around $2 billion. The businesses have struggled to keep up with advances in cloud computing, and face fierce price competition from players such as Google and Amazon. Verizon is still considering how some of these asset sales could best be structured and no deal is imminent.

Wireline provider CenturyLink Inc was in talks with Verizon earlier this year to buy some of the assets but could not agree on terms. In a strategy shift, CenturyLink announced this week it would instead explore options for its data centers, including possibly selling them. The enterprise telecommunications industry has had to adapt in recent years to corporate customers seeking more sophisticated and cheaper offerings to manage their data. AT&T Inc has been exploring a sale of its data center assets for some time, while Windstream Holdings Inc sold its data center business for $575 million to TierPoint last month.

Verizon Chief Financial Officer Fran Shammo said, during the company's third-quarter earnings call on Oct. 20, that it continues "to work through secular and economic challenges" with its global enterprise division, which posted a 4.9 percent decline in revenue in the quarter ended Sept. 30. Verizon has been looking to sell other non-core assets as well. In February, it announced the sale of residential landline assets in California, Texas and Florida to Frontier Communications for $10.54 billion, and unloaded its tower portfolio for more than $5 billion.

Tor Says Feds Paid Carnegie Mellon $1M to Help Unmask Users

Anonymous Coward
in security on (#TDNC)
"Apparently these researchers were paid by the FBI to attack hidden services users in a broad sweep, and then sift through their data to find people whom they could accuse of crimes," Dingledine writes. "Such action is a violation of our trust and basic guidelines for ethical research. We strongly support independent research on our software and network, but this attack crosses the crucial line between research and endangering innocent users."

FCC can't force Websites to honor 'Do Not Track'

in legal on (#TDN4)
story image"Websites will not be forced to honor consumers' "Do Not Track" requests as the Federal Communications Commission today dismissed a petition that would have imposed new requirements on companies like Google and Facebook.

Consumer Watchdog had petitioned the FCC to "initiate a rule-making proceeding requiring 'edge providers' (like Google, Facebook, YouTube, Pandora, Netflix, and LinkedIn) to honor 'Do Not Track' Requests from consumers." The group's proposed rule would prevent online services from requiring consumers to consent to tracking in exchange for accessing Web services, preventing online services from sharing personal information of users with third parties when consumers send Do Not Track requests.

The group pointed out that the FCC intends to impose new privacy rules on Internet service providers under Section 222 of the Communications Act, the privacy portion of the Title II common carrier regulations that the FCC is applying to broadband providers such as Comcast and AT&T. But those rules don't apply to websites."

MIT's New System Converts 2D Video Of Soccer Games Into 3D Automatically

in games on (#TDM0)
story imageA wide spread adoption of 3D stereoscopic television is hindered by the lack of high-quality 3D content. One promising solution to address this need is to use automated 2D-to-3D conversion. However, current conversion methods produce low-quality results that exhibit artifacts that are not acceptable to many viewers. By exploiting the graphics-rendering software that powers sports video games, researchers at MIT and the Qatar Computing Research Institute (QCRI) have developed a system that automatically converts 2-D video of soccer games into 3-D. The converted video can be played back over any 3-D device — a commercial 3-D TV, or Google’s new Cardboard system, which turns smartphones into 3-D displays, or special-purpose displays such as Oculus Rift.

Stereoscopic 3D (S3D) movies are becoming popular with most of big productions being released in this format. However, in practice, most movies are shot in 2D and then they are upconverted to S3D by manually painting depth maps and rendering corresponding views. This process yields very good results but it is extremely costly and time-consuming. Stereoscopic 3D production of live events is much harder. Manual upconversion is not possible. Shooting live events, such as soccer games, directly in stereo requires placing multiple stereo rigs in the stadium. This is challenging and it is rarely being attempted. Therefore, a high-quality, automated 2D-to-3D conversion method is highly desired for live events.

What? How is a CD or a flash drive not "light" based?

in science on (#TDKZ)
story imageThe world’s first entirely light-based memory chip to store data permanently has been developed by material scientists at Oxford University. The device makes use of materials used in CDs and DVDs, and it could help dramatically improve the speed of modern computing. Today’s computers are held back by the relatively slow transmission of electronic data between the processor and the memory. There’s no point using faster processors if the limiting factor is the shuttling of information to-and-from the memory. The researchers think using light can significantly speed this up.

Read more in Nature and Youtube.

RATS: the Radio Transceiver System, an open source communication tool for the security-obsessed

Anonymous Coward
in security on (#T6HE)
The Internet... Who Needs It?

"As a growing number of web users have become more security-conscious, there's been an explosion of VPNs and encryption tools and other security services for the Internet. But what about a device that lets you bypass the Internet entirely? That's the goal of RATS,[1] the Radio Transceiver System, an open source communication tool for the security-obsessed and/or the Internet-bereft."

"The RATS is simple: it's a small antenna that connects to computers by USB and lets them send encrypted messages and file transfers directly, via radio transmission. There are two obvious advantages to this: firstly, it doesn't rely on any network being up or even the power staying on — as long as your laptop has some batteries, you can send and receive — and secondly, it's a level of security and privacy that trumps most of what you can do on-line. Apart from being entirely separated from the Internet, it employs AES-256 encryption with a randomized salt so even the same message sent repeatedly will produce completely different encrypted data every time.

The range of the RATS antenna is about a kilometer in a city, but it can also be connected to superior antennas and, in areas with no obstacles, achieve ranges above 5km. Obviously this means it isn't suited to everything, but alongside the Internet it could be extremely powerful for certain local applications in urban neighborhoods, workplaces, and other situations where we normally use the robust global Internet just to send short messages to people within walking distance. But perhaps more than anything it could be a boon for people living under governments that censor and monitor on-line communications, allowing local groups to coordinate without so much as touching the compromised networks."



The future of the Internet is very much up in the air

in internet on (#SN5K)
story imageThere are a growing number of toll roads on the information superhighway. There are now more countries with a heavily censored Internet than there are ones with a completely free Internet.

Worst among the 65 countries assessed is China, which also happens to be the country with the largest number of internet users (641 million). Thanks to a new law passed last month, Chinese internet users are now even more vulnerable to criminal charges if they are found to be spreading “rumors” or politically delicate information online.

In the United States, President Barack Obama advocated for an open internet earlier this year. But the US takes the fifth spot after Iceland, Estonia, Canada, and Germany.

As more and more countries follow China's example and clamp down online, a great ideal of the Internet seems to be on the decline, if not already lost. “The future contours of the Internet are definitely up for grabs,” says Crawford.

“Very interesting countries hang in the balance, like India, where 1.2 billion people could be online — only about a quarter of them are right now,” she says. “Cuba is just coming online, and so is much of Africa. Who are they going to follow? My hope is that they look to the United States, Australia, Canada, and the EUas a model of openness. Not just for economic purposes, but for the thriving of human beings.”