First ever photograph of light as particle and a wave

Light as particle and wave
Click to enlargeEnergy-space photography of light confined on a nanowire

Light behaves both as a particle and as a wave. Since the days of Einstein, scientists have been trying to directly observe both of these aspects of light at the same time. Now, scientists at EPFL have succeeded in capturing the first-ever snapshot of this dual behavior.

Quantum mechanics tells us that light can behave simultaneously as a particle or a wave. However, there has never been an experiment able to capture both natures of light at the same time; the closest we have come is seeing either wave or particle, but always at different times. Taking a radically different experimental approach, EPFL scientists have now been able to take the first ever snapshot of light behaving both as a wave and as a particle. The breakthrough work is published in Nature Communications.

When UV light hits a metal surface, it causes an emission of electrons. Albert Einstein explained this “photoelectric” effect by proposing that light — thought to only be a wave — is also a stream of particles. Even though a variety of experiments have successfully observed both the particle- and wave-like behaviors of light, they have never been able to observe both at the same time.

RTFA for details of the experiment. Even if I understand quantum-nothing – though SmartAlix explains it to me at least once every year – I really love the photograph. :)

Apple offers great security with Apple Pay — banks aren’t doing as well

too big, too stupid

Apple Pay has proven to be a venue of convenience for criminals focusing on identity fraud, a new report suggests, with many fraudsters taking advantage of lax customer verification controls put in place by Apple’s partner banks to make brick-and-mortar purchases using stolen credit cards via the growing mobile payment service.

Apple Pay itself has not been exploited, according to The Guardian, with issues instead arising at the issuing banks. The problem centers around the processes those banks use to verify customers’ identity when adding a card to Apple Pay.

When adding a card, banks can reportedly choose to accept it immediately — using a so-called “green path” — or require additional verification, via a “yellow path.” Apple provides the banks with contextual information, such as the name of the device Apple Pay is being configured on, the device’s current location, and data about the length of iTunes transaction history, during setup to help identify cases where more stringent checks are required.

The yellow path processes have apparently been found lacking in some cases, with unnamed partner banks asking only for relatively easily-obtainable information, such as the last four digits of the customer’s social security number. Once approved, criminals can then use Apple Pay to purchase products at retail, later selling them for cash — with Apple retail stores apparently a particularly attractive target…

As part of their Apple Pay agreements, issuing banks agreed to accept liability for fraud through the platform. Thus far, that amount is thought to have risen into the millions of U.S. dollars, and banks are working on fixes.

You might think that banks – especially the big banks first on board with Apple Pay – might have something as basic as authentication of their own customers down pat. You’d be wrong.

Obviously, Apple figured banks might drop the ball. That’s why issuing banks have to accept the liability for fraud.

Meanwhile, Apple Pay works so well that crooks love it. Guaranteed to be another whine from the NSA and FBI next time they hand out press releases begging Congress to make Apple weaken security.

130 years of facial hair trends, in one chart

An interesting article comes with the research – done in 1976.

Which I find especially interesting because I’ve had a beard fulltime since 1979. Had the occasional beard before then – but, that was the start of this critter been here on my face ever since.

School administrators wouldn’t let me have a photo in my high school graduation yearbook unless I cut my sideburns. I guess I’ve always had a tendency to hair – though that finally is diminishing with age. Get my annual haircut, this week, in fact.

Oh, 1979. I was on a peak-bagging walk through the High Peaks region of New York State – in November. I was damned if I was going to shave using water from creeks a half-degree above solid. And any backpacker, mountain walker, worth their salt knows you don’t waste fuel on silly things like heating water for shaving.

Once I returned to what passed for civilization it dawned on me I not only liked the look of a full beard – I could sleep an extra five minutes before getting up to go to work if I didn’t shave.

Close enough for folk music.

Nixon set the policy: OK for Israel to have nuclear weapons but not Iran


Nice to see continuity in American foreign policy, eh?

Iranian officials sometimes respond to accusations that Tehran is seeking a nuclear weapons capability by replying that, not only do they not want a bomb, they’d actually like to see a nuclear-weapons-free Middle East. Yes, this is surely in part a deflection, meant to shift attention away from concerns about Iran’s nuclear activities by not-so-subtly nodding to the one country in the region that does have nuclear weapons: Israel.

But could Iran have a point? Is there something hypocritical about the world tolerating Israel’s nuclear arsenal, which the country does not officially acknowledge but has been publicly known for decades, and yet punishing Iran with severe economic sanctions just for its suspected steps toward a weapons program? Even Saudi Arabia, which sees Iran as its implacable enemy and made its accommodations with Israel long ago, often joins Tehran’s calls for a “nuclear-free region.” And anyone not closely versed in Middle East issues might naturally wonder why the United States would accept Israeli warheads but not an Iranian program…

The single greatest factor explaining how Israel got the world to accept its nuclear program may be timing. The first nuclear weapon was detonated in 1945, by the United States. In 1970, most of the world agreed to the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, which forbids any new countries from developing nuclear weapons. In that 25-year window, every major world power developed a nuclear weapon: the Soviet Union, United Kingdom, France and China. They were joined by exactly one other country: Israel.

The Israeli nuclear program was driven in many ways by the obsessive fear that gripped the nation’s founding prime minister, David Ben-Gurion. After the 1948 Arab-Israeli war, in which the new country fought off Egyptian and Jordanian armies, Ben-Gurion concluded that Israel could survive only if it had a massive military deterrent — nuclear weapons…

But Israel of the 1950s was a poor country. And it was not, as it is today, a close political and military ally of the United States. Israel had to find a way to keep up with the much wealthier and more advanced world powers dominating the nuclear race. How it went about doing this goes a long way to explaining both why the United States initially opposed Israel’s nuclear program and how the world came around to accepting Israeli warheads…

…First, in 1968, Israel secretly developed a nuclear weapon. Second, and perhaps more important, was a White House meeting in September 1969 between President Nixon and Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir. What happened during that meeting is secret. But the Nixon’s administration’s meticulous records show that Secretary of State Henry Kissinger said to Nixon, in a later conversation about the Meir meeting, “during your private discussions with Golda Meir you emphasized that our primary concern was that Israel make no visible introduction of nuclear weapons or undertake a nuclear test program.”

That meeting between Nixon and Meir set what has been Israel’s unofficial policy ever since: one in which the country does nothing to publicly acknowledge or demonstrate its nuclear weapons program, and in exchange the United States would accept it. The Nixon administration had concluded that, while it didn’t like the Israeli weapons program, it also wasn’t prepared to stop it…

“Essentially the bargain has been that Israel keeps its nuclear deterrent deep in the basement and Washington keeps its critique locked in the closet,” Robert Satloff, executive director of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy explained.

What do Americans do about a bankrupt policy put in place by one of the most corrupt presidents in American history? Not a damned thing.

Point out we are the world’s only military superpower, known for arrogance and hypocrisy – I think the average American would try to deflect the criticism by coming up with rationales to excuse our hypocrisy, redefine it as expediency, something done to “protect” our nation.

It ain’t a new ploy. Everyone from dictators to democrats employs the strategy. The only thing that counts is that ordinary citizens accept every lie and don’t seek to change anything.

The only difference in political parties, who sits in the White House, is the quality of the lies. Either flavor still accepts the Nixonian policy.

Electricity markets are rigged — consumers robbed!

For decades Wall Street financial engineers, teaming up with electric power producers, have gamed wholesale electricity auctions to earn bigger profits than either a regulated utility or a competitive market would yield. This month they made a major advance in their campaign to get rich by subtly draining your wallet. Yet every major news organization ignored this.

This latest development took place in New England, which already has America’s most expensive electricity. February’s electricity auction saw the annual cost to customers rise to $4 billion, up from about $3 billion in last year’s auction and less than $2 billion in the 2013 auction. That $4 billion figure would have been much higher but for a rule capping prices.

By the way, that $4 billion is not for the electricity, which costs extra. The $4 billion price tag is for capacity payments made to owners just for promising to run their power plants in 2018 and ’19.

If that sounds bizarre, it’s because it is. It is comparable to government taxing us to pay auto dealers to keep enough cars and trucks on their lots to satisfy expected future demand.

Half the states also have auctions that set the price of electricity for periods ranging from a year down to a few minutes. The other half still rely on traditional rate regulation, which has its own problems.

If there is abundant capacity to produce power at peak periods, such as hot summer afternoons, then prices will not rise much, if at all. But if there is barely enough power to meet demand, then prices rise significantly. And if capacity is just 1 percent less than demand, the wholesale price soars.

In these auctions every producer gets the top price even if most bid far less. These are known as clearing price auctions, in which the highest bidder sets the price for all suppliers…

Robert McCullough, an Oregon utility economist known for busting industry myths, says gaming of electricity markets is easy and lucrative, as long as regulators look the other way.

“With perfect competition, you always bid your marginal cost — as the economist Alfred Marshall was pointing more than a hundred years ago,” McCullough said. “However, when your market share is sufficiently high that you have the potential to set the market price, it is in your interest to raise your price above marginal cost, even though you will lose some of your market share” because one or more of your fleet of power plants will produce no electricity and thus not collect any money.

“This gets even better when you can buy someone else’s plant and shut it down,” McCullough added, because the reduced capacity means higher prices. Combined with the savings from not operating the shuttered plant, the result is much bigger profits.

Yes, these are the same schmucks who bankroll Republican agitprop about how free market capitalism guarantees our freedom. They leave out the part about buying politicians, buying off regulators with better-paying jobs as a reward when they’re through pimping the biz.

Then you get to double dippers like North Carolina’s governor Pat McCrory. He had a whole career working for Duke Energy. Left to become the gpvernor and, no doubt, will return to being officially on the payroll, once again, after he’s through directing that state’s legislative mediocrity into further kissing corporate butt.

Are diabetics dumb enough to share pen devices and [sometimes] needles

The FDA is adding a warning label on diabetes pen devices, making clear that the pens are intended for single patient use only and shouldn’t be shared, even if the needle is changed.

In an announcement on their website last week, the agency said they are trying to reduce the risk of serious infections from the sharing of multidose pens. They will require that pens and packaging with multiple doses of insulin or other injectable diabetes medicines carry a warning label stating “For single patient use only.”

The FDA will also add warnings in the prescribing information and to the patient Medication Guides, Patient Package Inserts, and Instructions for Use. There are several different brands of the pens on the market, including exenatide (Byetta), liraglutide (Victoza), pramlintide acetate (Symlin), insulin detemir (Levemir), and insulin glargine (Lantus).

Pen cartridges usually contain enough insulin for several doses. After a patient uses the pen, blood might be on the pen even when the needle is changed, said the FDA.

The FDA saw signs as early as 2008, when the Institute of Safe Medication Practices brought up the issue, that bloodborne pathogens could be shared with pens designed for one patient only. In 2009, a U.S. Army facility announced that more than 2,000 patients were infected with a pathogen when pens were shared, leading to the FDA issuing an alert.

And in 2013, the Veterans Health Administration notified 716 patients that they might have been exposed because the devices were shared…

C’mon, folks. A little sensible hygiene goes a long way. Injectable medication has always carried the risk of bloodborne infection when devices are shared. Not rocket science.

Tim Cook won’t back down — opposes terrorism, selling data, and snooping

image
During an unannounced visit to Apple’s Covent Garden store

Following comments regarding Apple Watch specifications and an upcoming Apple Store revamp, Cook spoke with the Telegraph in an extensive interview covering data privacy, government snooping, terrorism and more.

The Apple chief is cognizant of the amount of customer information being “trafficked around” by corporations, governments and other organizations, saying data sharing is a practice that goes against Apple’s core philosophies. He said consumers, however, “don’t fully understand what is going on” at present, but “one day they will, and will be very offended.”

“None of us should accept that the government or a company or anybody should have access to all of our private information,” Cook said. “This is a basic human right. We all have a right to privacy. We shouldn’t give it up. We shouldn’t give in to scare-mongering or to people who fundamentally don’t understand the details…”

The publication also asked about implications of terrorism, especially government surveillance operations created with the intent of aiding law enforcement agencies. Cook took a hard-nosed stance on the topic, saying the issue is a non-starter in his book because terrorists use proprietary encryption tools not under the control of U.S. or UK governments.

“Terrorists will encrypt. They know what to do,” Cook said. “If we don’t encrypt, the people we affect [by cracking down on privacy] are the good people. They are the 99.999 percent of people who are good.” He added, “You don’t want to eliminate everyone’s privacy. If you do, you not only don’t solve the terrorist issue but you also take away something that is a human right. The consequences of doing that are very significant…”

The executive reiterated Apple’s mantra of making products, not marketing consumers as products. Every device and service that comes out of Cupertino is designed to store only a minimal amount of customer information, Cook said.

Finally, Cook talked about privacy as it applies to Apple Pay, the fledgling payments service Apple rolled out in October. Unlike other payments processors, Apple designed Apple Pay to reveal little to no information to outside parties, including itself.

“If you use your phone to buy something on Apple Pay, we don’t want to know what you bought, how much you paid for it and where you bought it. That is between you, your bank and the merchant,” Cook said. “Could we make money from knowing about this? Of course. Do you want us to do that that? No. Would it be in our value system to do that? No. We’ve designed [Apple Pay] to be private and for it to be secure.”

I love the privacy of Apple Pay. I haven’t stopped smiling since the first time a checkout clerk exclaimed…”It doesn’t even tell me your name!”

This is excerpted from a long interview in the TELEGRAPH – worth reading.

Will we find life — “not as we know it” — on Saturn’s moon Titan


Click to enlargeAzotosome, the theorized cell membrane on Titan

Liquid water is a requirement for life on Earth. But in other, much colder worlds, life might exist beyond the bounds of water-based chemistry.

Taking a simultaneously imaginative and rigidly scientific view, Cornell chemical engineers and astronomers offer a template for life that could thrive in a harsh, cold world – specifically Titan, the giant moon of Saturn. A planetary body awash with seas not of water, but of liquid methane, Titan could harbor methane-based, oxygen-free cells that metabolize, reproduce and do everything life on Earth does.

Their theorized cell membrane, composed of small organic nitrogen compounds and capable of functioning in liquid methane temperatures of 292 degrees below zero, is published in Science Advances…The work is led by chemical molecular dynamics expert Paulette Clancy…with first author James Stevenson, a graduate student in chemical engineering. The paper’s co-author is Jonathan Lunine…the College of Arts and Sciences’ Department of Astronomy…

On Earth, life is based on the phospholipid bilayer membrane, the strong, permeable, water-based vesicle that houses the organic matter of every cell. A vesicle made from such a membrane is called a liposome. Thus, many astronomers seek extraterrestrial life in what’s called the circumstellar habitable zone, the narrow band around the sun in which liquid water can exist. But what if cells weren’t based on water, but on methane, which has a much lower freezing point?

The engineers named their theorized cell membrane an “azotosome,” “azote” being the French word for nitrogen. “Liposome” comes from the Greek “lipos” and “soma” to mean “lipid body;” by analogy, “azotosome” means “nitrogen body.”

The azotosome is made from nitrogen, carbon and hydrogen molecules known to exist in the cryogenic seas of Titan, but shows the same stability and flexibility that Earth’s analogous liposome does. This came as a surprise to chemists like Clancy and Stevenson, who had never thought about the mechanics of cell stability before; they usually study semiconductors, not cells.

The engineers employed a molecular dynamics method that screened for candidate compounds from methane for self-assembly into membrane-like structures. The most promising compound they found is an acrylonitrile azotosome, which showed good stability, a strong barrier to decomposition, and a flexibility similar to that of phospholipid membranes on Earth. Acrylonitrile – a colorless, poisonous, liquid organic compound used in the manufacture of acrylic fibers, resins and thermoplastics – is present in Titan’s atmosphere.

Excited by the initial proof of concept, Clancy said the next step is to try and demonstrate how these cells would behave in the methane environment – what might be the analogue to reproduction and metabolism in oxygen-free, methane-based cells.

In part, Stevenson said he was inspired by science fiction writer Isaac Asimov, who wrote about the concept of non-water-based life in his 1962 essay, “Not as We Know It.” I think we can conclude as Asimov would – intelligence formed of life “not as we know it” – but with science grounded in material reality, will develop an understanding of science identical in premises as any of our own species’ physical scientists. Leading or trailing one another the results must be the same since material reality remains the same.

Perceptions can vary widely. An intelligent lifeform evolved through differing chemistry wouldn’t be likely to have the same senses or senses arrayed in the same hierarchy. The possibilities are intriguing.

Truly, a worthwhile adventure. I wish them well.

Biobattery plant turns a wide range of biomass into energy, consumables

Researchers at the Fraunhofer Institute for Environmental, Energy and Safety Technology have developed a “biobattery” in the form of a highly efficient biogas plant that can turn raw materials like straw, scrap wood and sludge into a variety of useful energy sources including electricity, purified gas and engine oil. The new plant design, currently being put to the test in a prototype plant in Germany, is said to be highly modular and economically viable even at the small scale.

The production of biogas  –  gas created by the breakdown of organic matter, by fermentation or through the action of anaerobic bacteria  –  is an interesting complement to other sources of renewable energy since it can not only generate electricity at little cost to the environment, but also create biofuel, fertilizer and engine oil. One issue, however, is that these plants only accept few organic substances as raw materials.

A new biogas plant developed at the Fraunhofer Institute could solve this problem by taking a number of materials that would normally have to be disposed of at great cost – like industrial biomass waste, sewage sludge, straw, scrap wood or manure – and process them with high efficiency into a more useful output, all through a highly modular, flexible design…

The end products can be used in various ways: the oil can be turned into fuel for ships or airplanes; the gases are used to produce electricity in a combined heat and power plant; and the biochar can be used as fertilizer.

Besides the flexibility that comes from accepting multiple raw materials and producing multiple outputs, another crucial advantage to the biobattery is that, according to the scientists’ financial analysis, even a small-scale plant requiring a small investment would be financially profitable. Because of the built-in modularity, the plant could then be gradually upgraded to process more materials with higher efficiency.

In their own way, the Fraunhoher Institute is as interesting a source for advancing life on this wee planet as the Max Planck Institute. Though not as dedicated to basic research as the latter, Fraunhofer turns out more practical science and engineering than most of their peers in the Western world.

This is one more example. RTFA for another few paragraphs of detail. Living as we do on a planet dominated by a species whose progress in economics and commerce is generally accompanied by an inordinate amount of waste – and wastefulness – Fraunhofer’s efforts are more than welcome.