Wednesday, September 2, 2015

NASA Teams Up With Hoverboard Company to Build a Magnetic "Tractor Beam"

NASA Teams Up With Hoverboard Company to Build a Magnetic "Tractor Beam"

By Maddie Stone Filed to: ARX PAX   9/02/15 8:00am

When Arx Pax unveiled its “hoverboard” last year, we had a hunch that this was but the first demonstration of the company’s new magnetic field technology. Why was Arx Pax really messing around with magnets? For one, to build a tractor beam.

That’s right: Today, Arx Pax is announcing a new partnership with NASA, which wants to use hover engine technology to capture and manipulate micro-satellites. In other words, NASA and Arx Pax are going to try to create a magnetic tractor beam. A small one.

“NASA realized that this is a fundamental tool,” Arx Pax founder and CFO Greg Henderson told Gizmodo over the phone. “What we’re providing NASA is a way of manipulating objects in space without touching them.”

But let’s back up a quick sec. For those who don’t remember, Arx Pax made its debut with the unveiling of the Hendo Hoverboard in 2014. That device—yes, it can indeed hover off the ground—was the first application of the company’s patent-pending Magnetic Field Architecture (MFA) technology.

The principle behind the board is simple: A ‘hover engine’ generates swirls of electricity in a conductive surface to produce a concentrated magnetic field. That magnetic field induces an opposing field in a conductive material below—and voila, liftoff. (It’s really not that easy, companies have been trying and failing to do this for years.)

The Hendo Hoverboard was on some levels a success, but it was no Back to the Future. The thing only worked on a special metallic surface, it made loud, screechy noises, and its battery life was pretty bad. But it was clear that the device was really just a proof-of-concept, and that Arx Pax had bigger plans in mind for MFA—for instance, levitating houses to protect them from earthquake damage, or using magnetic fields to attract satellites to one another.

NASA Teams Up With Hoverboard Company to Build a Magnetic "Tractor Beam"

A CubeSat built at NASA’s Ames Research Center. Image Credit: NASA Ames

In a statement issued today, Arx Pax says it’ll be working with NASA “to design a device with the ability to attract one object to another from a distance.” At this stage, the focus will be on linking up CubeSats — those lightweight, 10 by 10 cm satellites that NASA and other researchers are using to monitor the Earth, and that we may eventually deploy to explore distant worlds.

“CubeSats are in close proximity already,” Henderson says. “We’re trying to figure out how do you link them together, connect them, and move them around relative to one another.”

Whether we’re studying our planet’s climate or exploring the surface of an asteroid, there are obvious benefits to a coordinated team of satellites. But we shouldn’t get too excited just yet, because details of the project are very sparse—we don’t, for instance, know how Arx Pax and NASA are hoping to power said “tractor beam,” or what sorts of ranges we might be able to achieve. Still, it seems like a worthy project, and hey, if we ever hope to build epic, tractor-beam wielding, galaxy-trotting spaceships, we’ve gotta start somewhere.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Wikipedia rocked by 'rogue editors' blackmail scam targeting small businesses and celebrities

Wikipedia rocked by 'rogue editors' blackmail scam targeting small businesses and celebrities

Exclusive: Company takes action against 'co-ordinated group' of fraudsters

By JAMIE MERRILL & JONATHAN OWEN   Wednesday 02 September 2015
Hundreds of small British businesses and minor celebrities have been targeted by a sophisticated blackmail scam orchestrated by “rogue editors” at Wikipedia, The Independent can reveal.

The victims, who range from a wedding photographer in Dorset to a high-end jewellery shop in Shoreditch, east London, faced demands for hundreds of pounds to “protect” or update Wikipedia pages about their businesses. A former Britain’s Got Talent contestant was among dozens of individuals targeted.

Wikipedia has taken action against what it described as the “co-ordinated group” of fraudsters by blocking 381 accounts. An investigation had found that the accounts were controlled by Wikipedia users offering to change articles about companies and private individuals in exchange for payment.

In some cases, the requests for money amounted to blackmail, Wikipedia told The Independent.

The crackdown represents the culmination of a two-month investigation, dubbed “Orangemoody” after the first questionable account was identified earlier this year. It is suspected that many of the suspect accounts were “sock puppets” – meaning they were controlled by the same person. The true identity of the scammers – or scammer – is still unknown.

The scam worked by targeting firms struggling to get pages about their businesses on Wikipedia. They were often told their articles had been rejected due to concerns of excessive promotional content – although in some cases the scammers themselves may have been the ones causing the articles to be removed.

According to a Wikipedia insider, at this stage the scammers would demand a payment of up to several hundred pounds to successfully “re-post or re-surface” the article, and in some cases demanded an on-going monthly payment to “protect” the articles. The fraudster  usually claimed to be a Wikipedia editor or administrator.

Wikipedia, which has grown to nearly five million English articles since 2001, uses a team of more than 250,000 people to protect the authenticity of its content. However the scam has underlined the weakness in the website’s reliance on volunteers to create and edit its online content, leaving it vulnerable to abuse.

Once the money was paid the article was then “reviewed” by another Wikipedia user – in fact another of the scammers’ “sock puppet” accounts – and moved to the “article space” section of Wikipedia, meaning it is ready for publication.

The scam has resulted in Wikipedia blocking an additional 210 articles, many concerning UK businesses or notable people, on the basis that they “were generally promotional in nature, and often included biased or skewed information, unattributed material, and potential copyright violations.”

But Wikipedia has called on its users to “be kind to the article subjects”, describing them as the “victims in this situation”.

One of the firms targeted was British holiday company Quality Villas, in Berkhamsted, Hertfordshire. General manager Dan Thompson explained how they were duped. He had tried to set up a page about the company earlier this year, and a few days later was contacted by someone he believed to be from or on behalf of Wikipedia.

The individual told Mr Thompson that his attempt to post about his company had been “declined because of lack of notability and the content up there did not meet Wiki requirements”. But the individual added: “I will rewrite the content to make it Wiki acceptable using reliable references available and I will use my privileges to publish it.”

Mr Thompson said: “The latter part, ‘my privileges’, led me to believe I was dealing with someone at Wikipedia. I was grateful at the time that they would rewrite the text to conform to standards and thanked them for doing it. Shortly afterwards, a modified version was posted online. “The ‘editor’ presented me with a charge of $400 [£260] for the work. I duly paid this, then the posting online was deleted again. Maybe I was na├»ve, but I suspect I am not alone.”

Another small business targeted was the Little Citizens Boutique, an online toy shop based in Holywood, Northern Ireland.

Online toy shop Little Citizens Boutique Online toy shop Little Citizens Boutique
Alicia Peyrano, the website’s founder, said: “My background is in journalism so I tried to write my own entry earlier this year – and it got rejected. Then I was contacted by someone saying she had experience writing in the Wikipedia style, and that she charged $150. She said she was a published author with Wikipedia. I said OK and so she got it published and then asked me for the money.”

Ms Peyrano added: “She must have been impersonating an actual Wikipedia author. I was suspicious about the whole thing. It’s an online scam, and we nearly fell for it – luckily we didn’t pay.”

It is not just companies who have been targeted. Amanda Foster, a stunt double from Chelmsford, Essex, said: “I started a Wiki page over a year ago and tried to get it online but without the knowledge of how to add some of the content needed.” She was then approached with an offer of help. “I was contacted by a lady via my Facebook page, claiming she worked for Wikipedia and that she would do the necessary corrections.” Last week she paid £29 to have a photograph put online. “I will now contest these payments as it is clear I have been taken advantage of. I feel like I’ve been totally robbed. I’m really annoyed by this, I really am.”

Paul Manners, who appeared on Britain’s Got Talent earlier this year, was also targeted. He said: “It’s quite sad that there are a lot of nasty people in this world and I hope that Wikipedia see sense and resolve it.”

In 2011 an investigation by The Independent revealed that the PR firm Bell Pottinger had a team which “sorts” negative Wikipedia coverage of its clients, prompting Wikipedia’s co-founder Jimmy Wales to attack the “ethical blindness” of lobbying firms. In 2013 the website faced criticism after it took the unprecedented action of blocking accounts of some 250 paid lobbyists and “sock puppets”.

A Wikipedia spokesman said: “Neutrality is key to ensuring Wikipedia’s quality. Although it does not happen often, undisclosed paid advocacy editing may represent a serious conflict of interest and could compromise the quality of content on Wikipedia.”

It is not explicitly forbidden for people to update Wikipedia pages about themselves, their organisations or companies who pay them – especially if this is to correct inaccurate information. But the site has ethical guidelines designed to discourage abuse.

Worldwide victims

From singer-songwriters to stunt doubles, hi-tech companies to toy shops, the elaborate con has targeted individuals and companies around the globe.

In Britain, the victims range from Tiffany Wright, the romance expert and glossy magazine journalist for Grazia and Cosmo, to singer Paul Manners, a former Britain’s Got Talent contestant. Several wedding photography companies are also on the  list of pages deleted by Wikipedia – alongside the WaterWorld Waterpark in Ayia Napa, Cyprus.

Many of those affected run small businesses, such as Rachel Entwistle, a jewellery designer from London. A spokesman for the jeweller described the scam as “really disconcerting” and “a whole world I’ve never heard of”.

Other British businesses caught out range from Primo Vape, which sells liquids for e-cigarettes, to the VeggieMatchMakers website. But large companies have been targeted too.

A spokesman for Creme Global, a software company based in Dublin, said: “A person claiming to be a legitimate Wikipedia member contacted us about writing a Wikipedia page for the company. As far as I can see, many companies were affected and we are as eager as anyone else to get to the bottom of this.”

Microsoft is installing the Windows 10 privacy problems on Windows 7 and 8

Microsoft is installing the Windows 10 privacy problems on Windows 7 and 8
September 1, 2015
By Justin Ferris

The new Windows 10, like any new version of Windows, has stirred up its fair share of controversy. It's fast, secure, has a promising new default browser, brought back the Start Menu and overall manages to create a nice blend of the best features of Windows 7 and 8.

Unfortunately, it also brought with it a loss of control over updates and quite a few privacy concerns. From the personal assistant Cortana learning everything about your life to phoning home even when it shouldn't, Microsoft's default settings leave something to be desired. That's why some people are sticking with earlier versions of Windows for now, but that might not help as much as they think.

A few of the latest updates in Windows 7 and 8 include some of Windows 10's tracking features. These are listed as "Diagnostic and Telemetry" tracking, which let Microsoft know what goes wrong with your system or other points of data Microsoft can use to improve Windows in the future.

Most of this information doesn't really endanger your privacy, and Microsoft already has customer experience and troubleshooting tracking built into Windows 7 and 8. Of course, it generally asks before sending information to Microsoft, unlike the new updates.

Still, one of the new updates does tell Microsoft what kind of programs are triggering the User Account Controls (that message that a program needs administrator permission to install, run or change settings). That can give Microsoft an idea of what kind of programs you run.

The updates in question are KB3068708, KB3022345, KB3075249 and KB3080149. To see if they are installed, go to Control Panel>>System and Security. Then under "Windows Update," click the "View installed updates" link.

Scroll down to the "Microsoft Windows" section. If they're installed, they'll be in the August batch of updates. Once you find them, you can remove them without a problem.

If you don't see them, or only see one, the rest are listed as Optional and Recommended updates and your computer might not install those automatically. If not, then you don't have to worry about them.

Of course, there's nothing to say Microsoft won't start slipping more tracking features into future updates. If it does, we'll let you know so you can take steps to protect your privacy.

50 is the new 42: technology is making brains of middle-aged younger

50 is the new 42: technology is making brains of middle-aged younger

The increasing mental demands of technology is making older people sharper than previous generations, scientists have shown

Sarah Knapton By Sarah Knapton, Science Editor 8:00PM BST 31 Aug 2015

50 is the new 42, scientists have concluded, after discovering that the brains of middle-aged people are getting sharper and younger to keep up with the demands of modern technology.

People over age 50 are scoring increasingly better on tests of cognitive function and researchers believe it is because of the increased mental stimulation of computers and mobile phones.

Although experts have previously worried that technology was causing people to stop thinking, in fact, it appears that the mental skills needed to operate increasingly complex gadgets are making people smarter.

The average person now needs to remember 10 passwords a day to access work computers, open email, use internet banking, pay online bills or log on to social networks.

Once inside programmes, they are often confronted with a vast array of commands and options, leading to increased decision making.

A population study of English over 50s found that the test scores of people today were the same or better than those of people up to eight years younger, who were tested six years ago.

Researchers at the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysisat in Austria, also looked at population surveys in Germany in 2006 and then again in 2012, which measured brain processing speed, physical fitness and mental health.

Cognition normally begins to decline with age, and is one key characteristic that demographers use to understand how different population groups age more successfully than others.

But although physical and mental health declined over the six year period, the academics found that cognitive test stores increased significantly.

“We think that these divergent results can be explained by changing lifestyles,” says IIASA World Population Program researcher Dr Nadia Steiber.

“Life has become cognitively more demanding, with increasing use of communication and information technology also by older people, and people working longer in intellectually demanding jobs. At the same time, we are seeing a decline in physical activity and rising levels of obesity.”

Valeria Bordone a researcher at IIASA who carried out the English studies added: “On average, test scores of people aged 50 plus today correspond to test scores from people four to eight years younger and tested six years earlier.”

The studies both provide confirmation of the “Flynn effect” — a trend in rising performance in standard IQ tests from generation to generation.

But the academics say that changes in education levels in the population can explain part, but not all of the effect.

Miss Bordone added, “We show for the first time that although compositional changes of the older population in terms of education partly explain the Flynn effect, the increasing use of modern technology such as computers and mobile phones in the first decade of the 2000's also contributes considerably to its explanation.”

Last year a study by the University of Aberdeen and NHS Grampian found that children who grew up during the Second World War became far more intelligent than those who were born just 15 years before because they ate healthier diets.

Researchers think that cutting rich, sugary and fatty foods out of the diets of growing children had a hugely beneficial impact on their growing brains.

Consequently, children born in 1936 grew up to have IQ scores on average 16.5 points ahead of those born in 1921.

A recent study found that some 72 per cent of over-55s are familiar with basic internet terminology such as "Wifi", "router", "cursor" and "bandwidth", compared to only 61 per cent of 16 to 24-year-olds.

The research was published in the journals PLOS One and Intelligence.

Robot Revolution: 40% Fear Wipeout of Humanity By Machines

Robot Revolution: 40% Fear Wipeout By Machines

Robots will be "as important as the rise of homo sapiens", but can humans share the planet with super-intelligent machines?

By Tom Cheshire, Technology Correspondent

Almost half of Britons fear that robots could one day wipe out humanity, according to an exclusive Sky News survey.

And more than six out of 10 people in the UK think the Government should protect jobs from being taken by robots, our survey suggests.

The results reveal the anxieties felt by ordinary people about the coming robot revolution.

The technology is advancing fast, while the debate over how it will affect all our lives has been loud and inconclusive.

Many have predicted unemployment due to increased automation. Others argue that new categories of jobs will be created.

Prominent figures including Professor Stephen Hawking and Bill Gates have also warned about the threat that "super-intelligent" computers could pose to humanity.

Others, such as Google's director of engineering, Ray Kurzweil, believe that this so-called singularity could lead to undreamt-of benefits for society.

Professor Nick Bostrom, director of the Future of Humanity Institute at Oxford University, told Sky News that it would be "tragic" if super-intelligence were not developed.

"It is the keyhole we need to travel through in order to realise our ultimate potential," he said.

But Prof Bostrom also urged caution.

He said: "If we one day develop machines that are superior to us in terms of general intelligence, then this machine super-intelligence might be in a very strong position to shape the future according to its preferences.

"And hopefully those preferences will be aligned with ours and it will be a great win.

"It will be something as important as the rise of homo sapiens.

"If and when this happens, it is so important that it is worth trying to start to work on the problem even decades in advance."

Andrew McAfee, a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, told Sky News that the robot revolution "is happening right now".

"It's making us a great deal better off, a great deal wealthier," he said.

"The challenge is that there is no law saying that as that pie grows, it's going to be divided up in a fair way. We're seeing some of that with the growth of inequality.

"We need to make smart choices with policy, with education and a lot of areas to make sure we continue to divide up this growing pie in a way that makes sense for people.

"These large technology transitions always require smart societal and smart policy changes, they don't just happen on their own and magically make everything okay."

:: Sky Data interviewed a nationally representative sample of 1,711 Sky customers online 21-24 August 2015. Data weighted to the profile of the population.

Russia’s Fist Just Clenched Around the Internet a Little Tighter

Russia’s Fist Just Clenched Around the Internet a Little Tighter

A new Russian law imposes restrictions on foreign Internet firms. It’s a feeling locals already know all too well.

By Olivia Solon August 31, 2015 — 2:00 PM PDT

Global Internet firms operating in Russia wake up on Tuesday to a new era in Kremlin regulation.

A law now forces tech firms with Russian customers to operate local servers to handle Russian personal data. It’s the latest in a string of about 20 laws tightening government control of the Internet, all put into place since President Vladimir Putin’s re-election in 2012.

Taken at face value the new program is aimed at protecting the privacy of Russian citizens. It’s not a uniquely Russian idea, and is something Brazil and Germany are also exploring in the post-Snowden era. Yet human rights activists fear the regulation will be misused, allowing officials to spy on citizens and suppress political activists. It comes into force days after Wikipedia was briefly blacklisted because of an article about cannabis.

“The regime is already ramping up censorship and surveillance and using it to target opposition activists, so the requiring of companies to host data on servers in the country makes it easier for the government to access that data,” says Laura Reed, a research analyst from Freedom House.

In theory Russia’s intelligence services need a court order to access any data, but observers say they are rarely turned down.

All eyes are now on Facebook, Google and Twitter, which have been meeting with the Kremlin in private to make sense of the law. At this stage it’s not clear whether they will agree to comply. Facebook simply says it won’t comment on speculation, and that “we regularly meet with government officials and have nothing more to share at this time.”

Russian investigative journalist and author Andrei Soldatov thinks the lack of transparency is concerning. “If global companies agree to talk in secret, the Russian authorities will think they are ready to cooperate in more sensitive areas,” he says.

After the Protests

The Internet clampdown started after riots in Moscow following Putin’s 2012 re-election. The mass protests prompted the Kremlin to wake up to the power of social media.

A series of quickly drafted laws are now enforced by Internet regulator Roskomnadzor, which has the power to block websites without court rulings - sometimes because of a single article containing banned content. That can include anything considered to harm children, linked to extremism, or that incites illegal gatherings.

Russia’s relations with the West have deteriorated since 2012, and the situation is now being exacerbated by a weak ruble and trade sanctions imposed since Moscow’s annexation of Crimea. Businesses face a bureaucratic overload, foreign companies are leaving Russia (Google moved an engineering office to Poland and Microsoft closed its Moscow Office), talent is fleeing. Russia’s once-flourishing Internet sector is now stagnating.

Wikipedia’s run-in with the regulator made it just the latest popular Internet service to be blocked within Russia:

Software repository GitHub was blocked over a suicide reference, Social network Reddit was banned because of a single post about magic mushrooms, Internet archive The Wayback Machine was blacked out over a post deemed extremist by regulators, Satirical wiki site Lurkmore (1.2 million visitors per month) was closed because of “extremist” content

The editor of news site was dismissed for publishing an “extremist” interview with a Ukrainian nationalist in March 2014.

Critics – and those affected – say the regulations encourage self-censorship, often prompted by fear of fines or jail time. Roskomnadzor did not respond to several requests for comments on the issue.

Lurkmore founder Dmitry Homak fled Russia and now lives in Israel. “You can’t assure any investor that your site won’t be blocked, or that you won’t be labeled as a traitor or criminal,” he says.

“I’m just trying to recover. Everything I did for 15 years was stomped, crashed and burned.”

Galia Timchenko, the sacked news editor, moved to Latvia to set up a new Russian news site, Meduza, which she says would be “much harder” to operate in Russia. “The situation is getting worse and worse by the day,” she says.

Even Pavel Durov, the founder of Vkontakte, Russia’s most successful social network, quit after a lengthy dispute over Ukraine with the company’s new Putin-friendly owners.

Yandex Defiant

Only the biggest players such as Yandex – Russia’s equivalent to Google – have been able to resist the administrative pressures.

Despite evidence that the Kremlin tried to manipulate Yandex.News, the search giant’s news aggregator, critics say it hasn’t really mastered the art. “They don’t know how to control Yandex, because they don’t understand how it works,” says blogger Anton Nossik, who founded and

The next legal milestone will be the introduction of a “right to be forgotten” law on Jan. 1, 2016. This will hold search engines such as Yandex and Google liable for linking to information that individuals want to be deleted, with a possible fine of up to 3 million rubles ($45,000). Unlike the EU version of the law, the Russian model lets public figures ask for links to be removed from search results if they can show the information is inaccurate or outdated.

“If the law works, every policeman who got drunk and ran over a baby can try to sue Yandex,” says Nossik. He believes all Internet businesses will end up answering to “Putin’s cronies” or going out of business.

“Many of us tried to bring international culture to the post-Soviet media,” says Dmitry Homak, of Lurkmore. “We succeeded at first, but then everything turned sour.”

China stockmarket: Journalists, traders, officials rounded up in wake of 'panic and disorder'

China stockmarket: Journalists, traders, officials rounded up in wake of 'panic and disorder'

August 31, 2015

Chinese state media has announced a slew of confessions following investigations into recent stock market gyrations

One of those confessions came from a detained reporter who admitted to spreading false information that caused "panic and disorder".

An official from China's securities regulator had confessed to insider trading while four senior executives from China's largest brokerage, CITIC Securities, had also confessed to insider dealing, the official Xinhua news agency reported.

China is trying to boost its stock markets, which have plunged 40 per cent since mid-June on concerns over the country's slowing economy and an unexpected devaluation of the yuan currency in mid-August.

Among a number of measures, authorities have cracked down on the fabrication of trading information, alleged malicious short selling and other strategies seen as hampering a recovery.

'Subjective guesses'

Xinhua said Wang Xiaolu, a reporter at the respected Caijing business magazine, had confessed to writing about the Chinese stock market "based on hearsay and his own subjective guesses" that "inflicted huge losses on the country and investors".

Xinhua did not say if Wang wrote more than one story or detail what he reported.

Caijing could not be reached for comment. In a statement last Wednesday, a day after Xinhua said Wang was being held, Caijing said it had not been given a reason for his detention, adding it would support his actions within the normal course of reporting. It was unclear if Wang had a lawyer.

Chinese state media often publish confessions of those detained in high-profile cases before they are tried in court, a practice that rule of law advocates say violates the rights of the accused to due process.

Insider trading allegation

Xinhua also said Liu Shufan, an official with the China Securities Regulatory Commission (CSRC), had confessed to insider trading, forging official seals and using his position to boost a listed company's share price in return for several million yuan worth of bribes. It was unclear if Liu had been detained or had a lawyer.

The CSRC could not be reached for comment.

Xinhua added that Xu Gang, Liu Wei, Fang Qingli and Chen Rongjie, whom it described as senior executives at CITIC Securities, had confessed to insider trading, although it gave few details.

A CITIC Securities spokesman declined to comment. On Sunday, the brokerage said several senior managers had been asked to assist with a public security investigation and that the company was actively cooperating with the request.

It was unclear if the four were being detained or had legal representation.

Eight CITIC employees were being investigated for suspected illegal securities trading, Xinhua has previously said.

It has not said if that investigation is linked to the one involving the CSRC official.