That tractor ain’t pulling a cargo trailer — it’s a huge hard drive!

snowmobileta

❝ Yes, today’s speediest internet connections make it faster to download movies than to go to the store and buy them. But downloading or uploading truly large amounts of data can still take days, months, or even years — think a film studio’s entire video archives or the satellite imagery collections of government agencies. That lag is a problem for Amazon, which wants companies to store their information in its lucrative cloud. But it’s also a natural one for Amazon — a logistics company at heart — to solve. So this week the company announced one of its strangest ideas yet: a tractor trailer that will transport your data to Amazon’s own data centers…

Amazon announced the new service, confusingly named Snowmobile, at its Re:Invent conference in Las Vegas this week. It’s designed to shuttle as many as 100 petabytes – around 100,000 terabytes – per truck. That’s enough storage to hold five copies of the Internet Archive (a comprehensive backup of the web both present and past), which contains “only” about 18.5 petabytes of unique data.

Amazon has long let businesses ship hard disks full of data to Amazon for uploading into the retail giant’s cloud. But copying 100 petabytes to individual hard drives isn’t practical. Snowmobile acts like a giant hard drive that comes to you…

❝ “On the security side, Snowmobile incorporates multiple layers of logical and physical protection, including chain-of-custody tracking and video surveillance,” Amazon cloud evangelist Jeff Barr wrote in a blog post announcing the service. In other words, Amazon is keeping a close eye on your data while it’s on the road. Each truck is weather-proofed and tamper-resistant and all data is encrypted, Barr says.

❝ …Amazon seems to believe that some companies will need multiple Snowmobiles. The site advertises itself as capable of handling data at the exabytes scale — or by Amazon’s new measurement, ten truckloads.

Cripes. Folks in logistics, nowadays, are solving problems that were’t even a figment of someone’s imagination just a decade ago.

Megaphone Translator lets you holler in different languages

❝ Japan’s obsession with keeping order + tech prowess has reached its natural conclusion with an intelligent megaphone that can issue commands in Chinese, English and Korean.

❝ Panasonic Corp. recently unveiled the device — essentially a smartphone paired with a handheld loudspeaker — betting that police, event organizers and transport staff seeking to control crowds will be eager to get their hands on something that lets them bark orders to a large [and diverse] group of people at once.

Sooner or later, this will show up in the hands of American coppers with their favorite selection of dissident citizens and ethnicities pre-programmed.

Coppers are cheerfully expanding their drone fleets

❝ Speaking at the Drone World Expo…a panel of four law enforcement officers resoundingly approved their use and likely near-term expansion of drones, or unmanned aerial vehicles.

“I really feel that small UAVs are a cost-effective way of enhancing public safety,” Cmdr. Tom Madigan, of the Alameda County Sheriff’s Office, told an assembled group of mostly fellow deputies and officers. “I hope in the near future we will be able to deploy these out of a patrol car or a fire truck.”

As one of the largest law enforcement agencies in Northern California, with a fleet of six drones that are often loaned out and used on behalf of other public safety agencies from Monterey County to the Oregon border, the ACSO has been busy.

❝ “As of last week, we have deployed 70 real world missions in the last year,” he said. “We have quickly become one of the most active UAV units in the nation, and we’re easily the biggest.”…

❝ For his part, Alan Frazier, a deputy sheriff at the Grand Forks County department, said that with 32 sworn officers serving a largely rural county, having inexpensive drones was a godsend, given that “in our wildest dreams we will never be able to have [conventional] air support.” (His department, in a county with a population of about 66,000, now has a fleet of five drones.)

❝ The Peace Garden State has become one of the nation’s hubs for the drone industry, with a federally approved drone testing facility, a military drone base, and an active drone studies program at the University of North Dakota. There is even a regular university committee that meets to discuss drone privacy issues.

So, now you have to decide if the cute little buzzer watching over your peaceful demonstration for voting rights or maybe clean water belongs to the local coppers, a newspaper, or some creepy basement-dweller trying for YouTube stardom.

We’ve have plenty of the last for years. Decide how you want to deal with record-keeping of your life from 30 feet overhead. Maybe try to sort out what should be legal, ethical.

American students unable to differentiate between fake news and real

❝ Stanford researchers assessed students from middle school to college and found they struggled to distinguish ads from articles, neutral sources from biased ones and fake accounts from real ones.

❝ If the children are the future, the future might be very ill-informed.

That’s one implication of a new study from Stanford researchers that evaluated students’ ability to assess information sources and described the results as “dismaying,” “bleak” and “a threat to democracy.”…

❝ Middle school, high school and college students in 12 states were asked to evaluate the information presented in tweets, comments and articles. More than 7,800 student responses were collected.

In exercise after exercise, the researchers were “shocked” — their word, not ours — by how many students failed to effectively evaluate the credibility of that information.

The students displayed a “stunning and dismaying consistency” in their responses, the researchers wrote, getting duped again and again. They weren’t looking for high-level analysis of data but just a “reasonable bar” of, for instance, telling fake accounts from real ones, activist groups from neutral sources and ads from articles.

More than 80 percent of middle schoolers believed that ‘sponsored content’ was a real news story…

RTFA and spoil your weekend. Or not. Maybe you’re not surprised. The details are kind of overwhelming.

Ready for silicon-carbon lifeforms?


Click to enlargeLei Chen, Yan Liang

❝ A new study is the first to show that living organisms can be persuaded to make silicon-carbon bonds–something only chemists had done before. Scientists at Caltech “bred” a bacterial protein to make the man-made bonds–a finding that has applications in several industries.

❝ Molecules with silicon-carbon, or organosilicon, compounds are found in pharmaceuticals as well as in many other products, including agricultural chemicals, paints, semiconductors, and computer and TV screens. Currently, these products are made synthetically, since the silicon-carbon bonds are not found in nature.

Well – not on Earth. As far as we know.

❝ The new study demonstrates that biology can instead be used to manufacture these bonds in ways that are more environmentally friendly and potentially much less expensive…

The study is also the first to show that nature can adapt to incorporate silicon into carbon-based molecules, the building blocks of life. Scientists have long wondered if life on Earth could have evolved to be based on silicon instead of carbon…Carbon and silicon are chemically very similar. They both can form bonds to four atoms simultaneously, making them well suited to form the long chains of molecules found in life, such as proteins and DNA…

❝ In the new study, the goal was not just to improve an enzyme’s biological function but to actually persuade it to do something that it had not done before…

After only three rounds, they had created an enzyme that can selectively make silicon-carbon bonds 15 times more efficiently than the best catalyst invented by chemists. Furthermore, the enzyme is highly selective, which means that it makes fewer unwanted byproducts that have to be chemically separated out.

Evolution is an opportunist process. To me, it seems logical that elements with solid mutating capabilities are as likely to evolve into life forms as readily as carbon given a realistic setting.

20 percent of the world’s vacuum cleaners are now robots

❝ Robot vacuums may have once seemed an eccentricity, but they now represent a non-trivial portion of the overall vacuum market – 20 percent worldwide, according to iRobot CEO and co-founder Colin Angle…And Roomba makes up 70 percent of that market, giving iRobot a commanding lead in the space.

Exactly how many robots does that translate to? Over 14 million Roombas sold to date, Angle said, which is a steady business for a consumer product that starts at a price point that tends to be a bit higher than your average human-powered home cleaning hardware.

❝ iRobot’s lead in the market should be easily defensible, Angle says, because the company has a long lead in terms of working on the problem, and because it’s focused on consumer home cleaning products exclusively. iRobot’s become even more focused of late, since the company recently divested itself of its defense and security robotics division and is now focused entirely on the home consumer space.

How long will we continue with individual operating systems for each home electronic assistant – as artificial intelligence becomes more commanding. A deliberate choice, that word. Seems easier to have a centralized house intelligence to run home-based devices. Encrypted and secure from both private and government hackers, of course.

Four students solve Facebook’s fake-news problem in 36 hours

❝ Facebook is facing increasing criticism over its role in the 2016 US presidential election because it allowed propaganda lies disguised as news stories to spread on the social-media site unchecked…

❝ Business Insider’s Alyson Shontell called Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s reaction to this criticism “tone-deaf.” His public stance is that fake news is such a small percentage of the stuff shared on Facebook that it couldn’t have had an impact. This even while Facebook has officially vowed to do better and insisted that ferreting out the real news from the lies is a difficult technical problem.

❝ Just how hard of a problem is it for an algorithm to determine real news from lies?

Not that hard.

During a hackathon at Princeton University, four college students created one in the form of a Chrome browser extension in just 36 hours. They named their project “FiB: Stop living a lie.”

❝ The students are Nabanita De, a second-year master’s student in computer science student at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst; Anant Goel, a freshman at Purdue University; Mark Craft, a sophomore at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign; and Qinglin Chen, a sophomore also at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

❝ Their News Feed authenticity checker…classifies every post, be it pictures, adult content pictures, fake links, malware links, fake news links as verified or non-verified using artificial intelligence…

The browser plug-in then adds a little tag in the corner that says whether the story is verified.

Game, set and match. Facebook is one of the sponsors of that hackathon. Better take a closer look at the coders, Zuck.

Polling expert makes good on promise to eat bug

❝ A Princeton University polling expert who said he would eat a bug if Donald Trump got more than 240 electoral votes has followed through on his promise.

Sam Wang, of the Princeton Election Consortium, made good on his Twitter word on CNN Saturday.

He ate from a can of gourmet-style crickets and added in some honey.

He said John the Baptist ate locusts and honey in the wilderness, and he considers himself to be in the wilderness as well.

❝ Wang says on the consortium’s website that polls failed, but that his analysis “amplified” that failure. He apologized for “underestimating the possibility” of Trump winning.

Wang is a data scientist and neuroscientist at Princeton.

Biblical rationales are always good for bets. Folks may not know that many researchers consider “manna from heaven” to be nothing more than tree lice. Mmm. Crunchy.

A tiny USB drive will soon tell you if you have HIV — and how much

usb-hiv-test

❝ Rapid, at-home HIV tests aren’t new: OraQuick, which was released with much fanfare in 2012, provides reasonably accurate results using an oral swab in just 20 minutes. That product allows those who might not otherwise get tested for HIV — because of stigma or lack of access to treatment — to have a better chance of detecting the disease early and getting to a doctor.

But a new at-home device promises to do one better: Using a drop of blood, the USB stick test can actually detect the amount of virus present in a patient’s bloodstream in just half an hour. While OraQuick helps individuals figure out their HIV status so that they can seek medical treatment, the new device described this week in Scientific Reports could show a patient how well their ongoing medical treatment is working — and how transmissible their HIV might be…

❝ Why is that important? The more HIV virus present in a patient’s blood, the more taxed their immune response. A patient with a higher viral load will have fewer of the white blood cells that protect them from other infections. If HIV is allowed to run rampant in the bloodstream, patients can develop AIDS. But if anti-retroviral medication is used to lower the viral count — these days, often to zero — a patient can live normally, in good health and with a typical lifespan…

❝ More research is needed to confirm the accuracy of the device, and making it widely available across HIV-ravaged regions would be no small task. But the idea that monitoring HIV status could soon be as simple as checking blood sugar levels is certainly appealing, and provides hope that researchers may one day be able to all but eradicate the virus.

Bravo! Hopefully, to be manufactured and distributed by a firm with as much heart as profit motive.