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Archive for October, 2011|Monthly archive page

Brain scanner ‘reads’ people’s dreams – accurately enough to see what they are dreaming about

In Big Brother, Tech on October 31, 2011 at 5:52 am

By Rob Waugh

Most of us remember only a tiny fraction of our dreams – but that could soon change.

Scientists predict that we could soon use computers to ‘see’ what we have dreamed about – and perhaps even record dreams to watch the next day.

Psychiatrists at the Max Planck Institute in Munich, Germany think have already demonstrated that brain scanners can see into the dreams of ‘lucid dreamers’ – people who can control their dreams.

It means that recent breakthroughs in ‘reading’ the thoughts of waking subjects using brain monitors could apply to dreamers too.

The Planck institute scientists proved that scans of ‘lucid dreamers’ dreams looked the same as scans of their brain when they do the same thing while conscious.

The research, published in Current Biology, could be used with recently demonstrated ‘reconstruction’ technology to create moving images of people’s dreams.

The lucid dreamers agreed to move their eyes and hands from side to side to show the researchers the moments they ‘controlled’ their dreams to dream about clutching a hand.

The scientists monitored the dreamers with both magnetic resonance imaging and near-infrared spectroscopy to see

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Fukushima disaster released twice as much radiation as initially estimated

In World News on October 31, 2011 at 5:45 am

By Danielle Demetriou

A worldwide network of sensors found that levels of radioactive caesium 137 released from the damaged nuclear plant were significantly higher than anticipated, according to the Norwegian Institute for Air Research study.

The Japanese government estimated that 15,000 terabecquerels of caesium were released after the plant was damaged, while the new study put the figure at 36,000 terabecquerels – 40 per cent of the total released from Chernobyl.

Andreas Stohl, author of the preliminary study, focused on the emission of caesium 137, a slow decaying element which can last for 30 years in the environment and release cancer-causing radiation.

The discrepancy in Fukushima levels was attributed to the possibility that data recordings in Japan at the time would not have taken into account the emissions which were blown directly out to sea.

Around 20 per cent of the caesium settled on land in Japan, while the remainder is believed to have fallen into the Pacific Ocean, with around two per cent ending up on land outside the country.

Japan’s Nuclear Industrial Safe Agency, the body overseeing radioation levels, said it was unable to comment as it had not reviewed…

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French warships hit Somalia coastline

In Europe News, World News on October 31, 2011 at 5:44 am

By Press TV

The missiles are reported to have struck the town of Kuda and the port of Kismayo, a Press TV correspondent reported on Thursday.

Witnesses said that four cruise missiles hit near Kismayo while another six missiles struck Kuda.

There has been no immediate report on the number of casualties.

Kenyan officials confirmed the French navy’s role in Somalia. However, Paris denied having deployed any warships in the area.

The French navy is said to be assisting Kenyan forces which crossed into Somali borders more than a week ago in hunt for al-Shabab fighters.

Kenyan troops have launched an air and ground offensive against Somali’s al-Shabab fighters, accusing the group of kidnapping foreigners on its soil.

Somalia has not had a functioning government since 1991 when warlords overthrew former dictator Mohamed Siad Barre.

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IBM simulates 4.5 percent of the human brain, and all of the cat brain

In Tech, World News on October 29, 2011 at 3:03 am

By Mark Fischetti

Supercomputers can store more information than the human brain and can calculate a single equation faster, but even the biggest, fastest supercomputers in the world cannot match the overall processing power of the brain. And they are nowhere near as compact or energy efficient.

Nevertheless, IBM is trying to simulate the human brain with its own cutting-edge supercomputer, called Blue Gene. For the simulation, it used 147,456 processors working in parallel with one another. IBM researchers say each processor is roughly equivalent to the one found in a personal computer, with one gigabyte of working memory.

So configured, Blue Gene simulated 4.5 percent of the brain’s neurons and the connections among them called synapses—that’s about one billion neurons and 10 trillion synapses. In total, the brain has roughly 20 billion neurons and 200 trillion synapses.

IBM describes the work in an intriguing paper (pdf) that compares various animal simulations done by its cognitive computing research group in Almaden, Calif. The group has managed to completely simulate the brain of a mouse (512 processors), rat (2,048) and cat (24,576). To rival the cortex inside your head, IBM predicts it will need to hook up 880,000 processors, which it hopes to achieve by 2019.

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Europe begs China: Desperate Euro chiefs look East to fund huge bailout gamble

In Europe News, World News on October 29, 2011 at 3:01 am

By James Chapman

Europe is holding out the begging bowl to China in an effort to keep the rescue package for the single currency alive.

In a clear sign of how the balance of world power has tipped towards the East, EU leaders hope China can be persuaded to hand over huge sums to help bail out the eurozone.

In a further embarrassment, it emerged that the one trillion euro bailout fund announced in the early hours of yesterday does not really exist.

The pot contains only a quarter of that amount, and the rest of the money likely to be ‘leveraged’ – using the existing 250billon euros as security to borrow the rest.

Markets initially reacted with relief after all-night talks on the debt crisis engulfing the eurozone ended with agreement on a three-part package of measures after weeks of bickering.

EU leaders said they would boost an existing euro bailout fund to at least £880million (a trillion euros), recapitalise dangerously exposed European banks and write off half of Greece’s towering debts.

But in the cold light of day, it became clear that there were almost no details on how the bailout mechanism, supposed to act as a guarantor for debt-stricken countries in danger of defaulting on what they owe, might operate.

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Climate change scientist faces lie detector test

In World News on October 29, 2011 at 3:00 am

By Michael McCarthy

It’s the next step in “Polarbeargate” – one of two scientists whose report on dead polar bears in the Arctic helped make the animal a potent symbol of climate change has been asked to take a lie detector test as part of an investigation by US agents.

The 2006 report from American wildlife researchers Jeffrey Gleason and Charles Monnett told of dead bears floating in the Arctic Ocean in 2004, apparently drowned, and focused attention on the vulnerability of the animals to the melting of the Arctic ice, which they need for hunting. Widespread references were made to the dead bears and they figured in the film An Inconvenient Truth, made by Al Gore to highlight the risks of global warming.

But earlier this year, allegations were made within the US Department of the Interior that acts of scientific misconduct might have been committed in relation to the report, and the Department’s Office of Inspector General (OIG) began an inquiry.

Mr Monnett, who works for the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement, a Department of the Interior agency, became the focus of the inquiry and was interviewed several times by OIG agents; in July he was suspended.

The OIG said the suspensions followed concerns about a research contract he had been involved in awarding, and not his polar bear article. But some pressure groups alleged…

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California veto allows warrantless cellphone searches

In Americas, Big Brother, Tech on October 13, 2011 at 10:08 pm

By David Kravets

California Gov. Jerry Brown is vetoing legislation requiring police to obtain a court warrant to search the mobile phones of suspects at the time of any arrest.

The Sunday veto means that when police arrest anybody in the Golden State, they may search that person’s mobile phone — which in the digital age likely means the contents of persons’ e-mail, call records, text messages, photos, banking activity, cloud-storage services, and even where the phone has traveled.

Police across the country are given wide latitude to search persons incident to an arrest based on the premise of officer safety. Now the nation’s states are beginning to grapple with the warrantless searches of mobile phones done at the time of an arrest.

Brown’s veto message abdicated responsibility for protecting the rights of Californians and ignored calls from civil liberties groups and this publication to sign the bill — saying only that the issue is too complicated for him to make a decision about. He cites a recent California Supreme Court decision upholding the warrantless searches of people incident to an arrest. In his brief message, he also doesn’t say whether it’s a good idea or not.

Instead, he says the state Supreme Court’s decision is good enough, a decision the U.S. Supreme Court let stand last week.

“The courts are better suited to resolve the complex and case-specific issues relating to constitutional search-and-seizure protections,” the governor wrote.

Because of that January ruling from the state’s high court, the California Legislature passed legislation to undo it — meaning Brown is taking the side of the Supreme Court’s seven justices instead of the state Legislature. The Assembly approved the bill 70-0 and the state Senate, 32-4.

The bill’s sponsor, Sen. Mark Leno (D-San Francisco), was flummoxed by…

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Alleged Iran plot is more ‘caper novel’ than spy novel

In Americas, World News on October 13, 2011 at 9:55 pm

By 

Here’s another way to look at what U.S. law enforcement officials say was a plot by two Iranians — with assistance from “factions” of Iran’s government — to kill the Saudi ambassador to the U.S.:

Yesterday, we posted about how “brazen and bizarre” the alleged scheme appears.

Today on Morning Edition, spy novelist and Washington Postforeign policy columnist David Ignatius said the whole thing reads more like an Elmore Leonard “caper novel” than a cloak-and-dagger “spy novel.”

“That’s not to say it didn’t happen,” Ignatius added. But the tale of a Iranian-born U.S. citizen living in Texas reaching out to a man he thought was with a Mexican drug cartel (who turned out to be a paid informant for the Drug Enforcement Administration) and trying to arrange the bombing of the ambassador, is “extremely unusual and sloppy … tradecraft” and isn’t how Iran’s spy agencies usually work.

His comments echo those of former White House counterterrorism adviser Richard Clarke, who said on All Things Considered earlier this week that the “really strange plot” isn’t the way Iran’s “very professional” spies normally go about their business.

Also on Morning Edition, Karim Sadjadpour, an expert on Iran and the Middle East with the Carnegie Endowment said there are other oddities about the scheme.

When Iran has been involved in assassinations in recent years, he said, they’ve happened in “places where they know they can get away with it,” including Europe and South America. And the plots have never involved “working with a non-Muslim proxy,” such as a killer from a Mexican…

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Homeland Security moves forward with ‘pre-crime’ detection

In Americas, Big Brother on October 13, 2011 at 5:05 pm

By Declan McCullagh

An internal U.S. Department of Homeland Security document indicates that a controversial program designed to predict whether a person will commit a crime is already being tested on some members of the public voluntarily, CNET has learned.

If this sounds a bit like the Tom Cruise movie called “Minority Report,” or the CBS drama “Person of Interest,” it is. But where “Minority Report” author Philip K. Dick enlisted psychics to predict crimes, DHS is betting on algorithms: it’s building a “prototype screening facility” that it hopes will use factors such as ethnicity, gender, breathing, and heart rate to “detect cues indicative of mal-intent.”

The latest developments, which reveal efforts to “collect, process, or retain information on” members of “the public,” came to light through an internal DHS document obtained under open-government laws by the Electronic Privacy Information Center. DHS calls its “pre-crime” system Future Attribute Screening Technology, or FAST.

“If it were deployed against the public, it would be very problematic,” says Ginger McCall, open government counsel at EPIC, a nonprofit group in Washington, D.C.

It’s unclear why the June 2010 DHS document (PDF) specified that information is currently collected or retained on members of “the public” as part of FAST, and a department representative declined to answer questions that CNET posed two days ago.

Elsewhere in the document, FAST program manager Robert Middleton Jr. refers to a “limited” initial trial using DHS employees as test subjects. Middleton says that FAST “sensors will non-intrusively collect video images, audio recordings, and psychophysiological measurements from the employees,” with a subgroup of employees singled out, with their…

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Chaos Computer Club: German gov’t software can spy on citizens

In Big Brother, Europe News, Tech on October 11, 2011 at 1:53 pm

By Bob Sullivan

A well-regarded Germany-based hacker group claims a German government-created Trojan horseprogram is capable of secretly spying on Web users without their consent.

The group says on its website that it obtained and analyzed a piece of software that is supposed to be a “lawful interception” program designed to listen in on Internet-based phone calls as part of a legal wiretap, but its capabilities go far beyond legal bounds.

The program is capable of logging keystrokes, activating Webcams, monitoring Web users’ activities and sending mountains of data to government officials, the club said.

To cover its tracks, the data is routed through rented servers located in the United States, the club alleges.

“To avoid revealing the location of the command and control server, all data is redirected through a rented dedicated server in a data center in the USA,” the Club said on its website.

The German government has yet to comment on the findings, but already, antivirus companies are reacting to them. Security firm F-Secure will detect and disable the alleged government monitoring software if found on clients’ computers, it announced on Saturday.

“Yes, it is possible the Trojan found by CCC is written by the German government. We just can’t confirm that,” said Mikko Hypponen, F-Secure’s chief technology officer, via Twitter.

The program, labeled a “backdoor” because it can open a computer to surreptitious access, targets certain applications for keylogging, including Firefox, Skype, MSN Messenger, ICQ and others, according to…

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