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Space X’s Interne Satellites Launching This Week

February 20, 2018 by  
Filed under Around The Net

Twice in recent days, SpaceX has delayed the launch of a rocket carrying prototype satellites for its planned broadband internet service.

The Falcon 9 is now set to blast off Wednesday, just a few weeks after SpaceX launched its huge Falcon Heavy rocket for the first time.

More than three years ago we learned Elon Musk and his rocket company were working on developing satellites to provide low-cost internet access around the world. Correspondence between the company and the Federal Communications Commission revealed that the first pair of demonstration satellites for the company’s Starlink service will finally be launched into orbit.

The main payload for the launch from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California will be the Spanish government’s Paz satellite, designed to capture imagery of the Earth down to the single-meter scale. But there had been unconfirmed reports for several weeks now from space industry sources like NASASpaceFlight.com that a secondary passenger on the flight would be the Starlink demonstration setup.

SpaceX itself has been relatively mum about the debut of its Starlink satellites, and about the entire program itself. However, a letter from SpaceX to the Federal Communications Commission, posted to the FCC website Monday, makes it pretty clear what will be aboard the Falcon 9 when it launches.

The letter refers to two satellites, called Microsat-2a and Microsat-2b, that will be launched as a secondary payload on the Paz mission. The FCC granted SpaceX a license in November to launch this pair of satellites as part of a test mission.

Facebook To Implement New ID Measures For Election Ad Buyers

February 20, 2018 by  
Filed under Around The Net

Facebook Inc will begin relying on postcards sent by U.S. mail later this year to verify the identities and location of people who want to purchase U.S. election-related advertising on its site, a senior company executive said on Saturday.

The postcard verification is Facebook’s latest effort to respond to criticism from lawmakers, security experts, and election integrity watchdog groups that it and other social media companies failed to detect and later responded slowly to Russia’s use of their platforms to spread divisive political content, including disinformation, during the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

Facebook revealed the plans a day after U.S. Special Counsel Robert Mueller unsealed an indictment accusing 13 Russians and three Russian companies of conducting a criminal and espionage conspiracy using social media to interfere in the election by boosting Republican Donald Trump and denigrating Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton.

The process of using postcards containing a specific code will be required for advertising that mentions a specific candidate running for a federal office, Katie Harbath, Facebook’s global director of policy programs, said. The requirement will not apply to issue-based political ads, she said.

“If you run an ad mentioning a candidate, we are going to mail you a postcard and you will have to use that code to prove you are in the United States,” Harbath said at a weekend conference of the National Association of Secretaries of State, where executives from Twitter Inc and Alphabet Inc’s Google also spoke.

“It won’t solve everything,” Harbath said in a brief interview with Reuters following her remarks.

But sending codes through old-fashioned mail was the most effective method the tech company could come up with to prevent Russians and other bad actors from purchasing ads while posing as someone else, Harbath said.

Foreign nationals are prohibited under U.S. law from contributing or donating money or anything else of value or making any expenditure in connection with any federal, state or local election in the United States.

The indictment released on Friday laid out in specific detail how prosecutors believe Russians adopted false online personas to push divisive political content, including ads. The Russians also allegedly posed as Americans to stage political rallies in the United States and persuade real Americans to engage in pro-Trump activities.

Harbath did not say when Facebook would begin relying on postcard codes, but said they would be in use before this year’s mid-term congressional elections in November.

A Facebook spokesman declined to provide further details on the plan, but referred to a company blog post from last October announcing plans to roll out more robust identification verification measures for political advertisers.

That blog post did not specify what the verification process would entail.

Does Skype Need To Be Rewritten

February 20, 2018 by  
Filed under Around The Net

Skype has a significant security flaw that Microsoft can’t fix without a major code rewrite.

The flaw is in Skype’s updater process can allow an attacker to gain system-level privileges to a vulnerable computer. If exploited, can escalate a local unprivileged user to the full “system” level rights — granting them access to every corner of the operating system.

Security researcher Stefan Kanthak found that the Skype update installer could be exploited with a DLL hijacking technique, which allows an attacker to trick an application into drawing malicious code instead of the correct library. An attacker can download a malicious DLL into a user-accessible temporary folder and rename it to an existing DLL that can be modified by an unprivileged user, like UXTheme.dll. The bug works because the malicious DLL is found first when the app searches for the DLL it needs.

Once installed, Skype uses its built-in updater to keep the software up to date. When that updater runs, it uses another executable file to run the update, which is vulnerable to the hijacking.

Kanthak told ZDNet that the attack could be easily weaponized and showed two command line examples, how a script or malware could remotely transfer a malicious DLL into that temporary folder.

“Windows provides multiple ways to do it,” he said. But DLL hijacking isn’t limited to Windows; he said — noting that it can apply to Macs and Linux, too.

Once “system” privileges are gained, an attacker “can do anything,” Kanthak said.

Kanthak informed Microsoft of the bug in September, but the software giant said issuing a fix would require the updater go through “a large code revision.”

The company told him that even though engineers could reproduce the issue,” a fix will land “in a newer version of the product rather than a security update.”

Microsoft said that it was better to put “all resources” on building a new client.

To cause any damage of worth, you need to be an administrator or above — like the “system” user.

Courtesy-Fud

Does Amazon Plan To Develop Chips

February 20, 2018 by  
Filed under Computing

Amazon bought a home security camera outfit,  Blink last year. Analysts wondered why, but it turns out the outfit had some rather interesting energy-efficient chips.

Amazon paid about $90 million to acquire the maker of Blink home security cameras late last year. But Amazon did not need to sell another camera, and it was interested in the company’s chip tech.

According to Reuters, the online retailer is exploring chips exclusive to Blink that could lower production costs and lengthen the battery life of other gadgets, starting with Amazon’s Cloud Cam and potentially extend to its family of Echo speakers, one of the people said.

Amazon views its in-house devices as key to deepening its relationship with shoppers. The Cloud Cam and Echo currently need a plug-in power source to operate. Blink, which says its cameras can last two years on a single pair of AA lithium batteries, could change that.

Blink’s owner was Immedia Semiconductor which was started in Massachusetts by old hands from the chip industry. Chief Executive Peter Besen and two of his co-founders came from Sand Video, which had designed chips in the early 2000s that decoded a new and improved video standard.

In 2004 they sold Sand Video to Broadcom and remained there as executives, according to an Immedia website. The group left in 2008 to create Immedia, aiming to design chips for video conferencing, and later targeting laptop makers as potential customers.

Dan Grunberg, a co-founder who left Immedia in 2016, said that plan fell through. Laptop makers were unwilling to pay $1 per chip when cheaper options were on the market. So Immedia changed to cameras.

The Blink security camera, which hit the market in 2016, did not require a power cable like many rival products, making it easier to place around users’ properties. It was cheaper, too, starting at $99. Amazon’s wired Cloud Cam launched at $119.99, while Netgear Inc’s wire-free Arlo cost more still. Netgear said last week it plans to spin off its Arlo business.

As Blink’s sales rose on Amazon’s website, the retailer noticed and realized the camera’s chip was the secret sauce.

Having a proprietary chip design will make it harder for rival retailers to copy Amazon’s devices. And now that Amazon owns its chips, it can go straight to the manufacturers, cutting out middlemen chip designers such as Ambarella which has powered GoPro Inc products. Amazon has a division called Annapurna Labs that makes an unrelated kind of chip, and it was not clear which supplier it uses for chips that primarily process video.

Courtesy-Fud

Did The Equifax Breach Impact More People Than Originally Estimated

February 20, 2018 by  
Filed under Uncategorized

The mega-hack on credit reporting outfit Equifax may have exposed more data than first believed, or, at least, more than the firm admitted at the time.

Last year, hackers were able to compromise the credit agency’s systems and gain access to the personal information of up to 145 million Americans, as well as around 15 million Brits.

They were able to steal social security numbers, driving licence numbers, addresses and dates of birth – everything required to perpetrate identity theft. But now, the Wall Street Journal reports, it is feared that the hackers plundered even more data than the company publicly admitted. 

New congressional documents show that the crooks also made off with tax identification numbers, issuance dates, email addresses and driver licence states.

Using this data, it is now easier than before for criminals to use victim’s identities to apply for credit cards and to commit other types of identity fraud, using information that the victims never even consented to share with the company.

On Friday, Democratic senator Elizabeth Warren wrote to Equifax slamming the company for providing “incomplete, confusing and contradictory statements” in the aftermath of the hack.

In a letter published on Friday, Warren briefed acting CEO Paulino do Rego on her investigation. She accused the company of failing to disclose the complete picture of the attack. 

The US Senator has also lashed out at the company in a series of tweets. In one, she said: “In October, when I asked the CEO about the precise extent of the breach, he couldn’t give me a straight answer. So for five months, I investigated it myself.”

Another read:  “My investigation revealed the depth of the breach and cover-up at Equifax. And since I published the report, Equifax has confirmed it is even worse than they told us.”

Responding to the reports, a spokesperson for the firm branded the claims as “extremely misleading”. But they admitted that more data had been leaked than the company had initially let on. 

It is not the first time that Equifax has been accused of failing to tell the whole truth about the data breach. It initially claimed that only around 400,000 British people’s details were compromised and that very little personal information had been lost. It later had to up that number to more than 15 million.

Courtesy-TheInq

WhatsApp Moving Forward With ‘Full Feature’ Money Transfer Service

February 19, 2018 by  
Filed under Around The Net

WhatsApp plans to roll out a “full feature” inter-bank money transfer service in India, its biggest market, after a test involving a million users, National Payments Corp of India said.

Friday’s statement marks the de facto official launch of WhatsApp’s new service as NPCI is the body set up by the central bank and lenders to oversee payment services.

WhatsApp launched a limited service in India, where it has more than 200 million users, last week. This uses customers’ phone numbers linked to bank accounts to facilitate payments and marks the first global foray into money transfers by the Facebook-owned firm.

Four banks will join United Payments Interface (UPI) – which powers the payments service – for WhatsApp, NPCI said. At present, India’s third-biggest lender ICICI Bank processes the fund transfers on WhatsApp, the application shows.

WhatsApp’s popularity in India is likely to pose a threat to established players, but it is entering a competitive market after Alphabet Inc’s Google launched a payments app last year to compete with local players.

The country’s cashless economy got a boost after Prime Minister Narendra Modi banned old high-value currency notes in late 2016, leading to a surge in online payment providers such as homegrown player Paytm, the biggest in India.

Paytm, which is backed by Alibaba and SoftBank expressed concerns about the security of WhatsApp’s new payments service in a statement released on Friday.

GameStop Fires A C-Suite Executive

February 19, 2018 by  
Filed under Gaming

GameStop COO Tony Bartel and EVP Michael Hogan have been let go by the games retail giant.

The news follows the imminent departure of former GameStop CEO Paul Raines, who is stepping down due to a recurring brain tumor, and the appointment of new CEO Mike Mauler – who has been part of the GameStop business for 16 years.

Bartel is one of GameStop’s longest-serving employees, having worked in various senior roles, including president between 2010 and 2015, and COO ever since.

Hogan has been with the firm for 10 years, and was EVP of the firm’s strategic business and brand development. He’s been responsible for the firm’s marketing strategy, pre-owned business and online presence.

Both were terminated without cause, which means they will receive full payments and benefits as stipulated in their contracts.

No replacements have been named.

Courtesy-GI.biz

Is A.I. Ready For The Big Time

February 19, 2018 by  
Filed under Computing

AI is set to be a massive disappointment for those who think it is going to take over the world.

While there have been remarkable advances in AI, after decades of frustration there are too many things that people can do quickly that smart machines cannot.

For example, natural language is beyond deep learning, sure AI machine translators are great tools, but they are leagues behind a competent human translator and will remain that way for decades. AI can’t handle new situations.

Senior partner at Flagship Pioneering, a firm in Boston that creates, builds, and funds companies that solve problems in health, food, and sustainability Jason Pontin has written in Wired that AI is good at a few things but terrible at others.

“Deep learning’s advances are the product of pattern recognition: neural networks memorise classes of things and more-or-less reliably know when they encounter them again. But almost all the interesting problems in cognition aren’t classification problems at all.”

Google researcher François Chollet said that people naively believe that if you take deep learning and scale it 100 times more layers, and add 1000 times more data, a neural net will be able to do anything a human being can do… But that’s just not true.

Gary Marcus, a professor of cognitive psychology at NYU and briefly director of Uber’s AI lab, recently published a trilogy of essays blasting deep learning.

He said that deep learning was not “a universal solvent, but one tool among many”. And without new approaches, Marcus worries that AI is rushing toward a wall, beyond which lie all the problems that pattern recognition cannot solve.

Deep learning is greedy, brittle, opaque, and shallow. The systems are greedy because they demand broad sets of training data. Brittle because when a neural net is given a “transfer test”—confronted with scenarios that differ from the examples used in training—it cannot contextualise the situation and frequently breaks.

Unlike traditional programs with their formal, debuggable code, the parameters of neural networks can only be interpreted using their weights within mathematical geography. Consequently, they are black boxes, whose outputs cannot be explained, raising doubts about their reliability and biases. Finally, they are shallow because they are programmed with little innate knowledge and possess no common sense about the world or human psychology.

Pedro Domingos, a professor of computer science at the University of Washington said that a self-driving car could drive millions of miles, but it will eventually encounter something new for which it has no experience. Of course a driver in Rome or Sofia encounters these random events every ten minutes so we suspect the AI driving unit would explode.

The theory is that humans might have a better learning algorithm in our heads than anything we’ve come up with for machines.

Courtesy-Fud

Does S.E.T.I. Need A Name Change

February 19, 2018 by  
Filed under Around The Net

Astrophysicist Jill Tarter is one of the world’s best-known leaders in the search for extraterrestrial intelligence, or SETI. For 35 years, she served as the director of the Center for SETI Research (part of the SETI institute) and was also the project scientist for NASA’s SETI program, before its cancellation in 1993. 

Despite her longtime association with that four-letter acronym, Tarter says it’s time for “SETI” to be rebranded. 

At a recent meeting of the National Academy of Sciences’ Committee on Astrobiology Science Strategy for the Search for Life in the Universe, held here at the University of California, Irvine, Tarter explained that the phrase “search for extraterrestrial intelligence” generates an incorrect perception of what scientists in this field are actually doing. A more appropriate title for the field, she said, would be “the search for technosignatures,” or signs of technology created by intelligent alien civilizations. [13 Ways to Hunt Intelligent Aliens]

“We need to be very careful about our language,” Tarter said during a presentation at the committee meeting on Jan. 18. “SETI is not the search for extraterrestrial intelligence. We can’t define intelligence, and we sure as hell don’t know how to detect it remotely. [SETI] … is searching for evidence of someone else’s technology. We use technology as a proxy for intelligence.

“[The acronym] ‘SETI’ has been problematic in history, and we should just drop [it] and just continue to talk about a search for technosignatures,” she said. 

What constitutes a “technosignature”? Tarter reviewed some of the possibilities that she and other SETI scientists have proposed. 

“We have a pragmatic definition for technology, which is the ability to deliberately modify an environment in ways that can be sensed over interstellar or interplanetary distances, including the unintended consequences of that modification,” Tarter said. “Life does this, but it doesn’t do it deliberately.”

One technosignature that scientists have been actively seeking for decades is communication signals. These could include signals used by members of an alien civilization to communicate with each other or attempts to communicate with other civilizations. The SETI Institute continues to search for alien communications in radio waves, using the Allen Telescope Array. (Tarter was the inspiration for the main character in Carl Sagan’s novel “Contact,” which was adapted into a movie; in that story, aliens make contact with Earth via radio waves.) But recent SETI efforts have expanded to look for other mediums of alien communication, and SETI scientists have theorized that an interstellar civilization might use laser light to communicate.

Science-fiction writer Arthur C. Clarke wrote that “any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic,” which would mean that alien technology could be as mysterious and unexplainable to humans as technologies that appear in science-fiction TV shows and movies. That opens up a dauntingly large range of possibilities for what technosignatures might look like. What if an alien civilization were communicating via a mechanism that Earth-based scientists haven’t discovered yet? Would humans immediately recognize these “magical” technosignatures, or would we not see them as unnatural? 

Tarter said she prefers to focus on a slight alteration of Clarke’s prediction written by the futurist Karl Schroeder: “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from nature.” 

“[The system] will be so efficient that there will be no wastage, and [it] will appear to be natural,” Tarter said. If this prediction is correct, it might also be impossible for humans to identify technosignatures from very advanced civilizations. But Tarter uses it as a jumping-off point to brainstorm how scientists might identify technologies that have not yet reached that level of sophistication.  

In the field of exoplanet science, new techniques and new instruments are increasing scientists’ ability to study exoplanets and gather information about their atmospheres and surface conditions. The central focus in that field is to find habitable planets, or planets with “unintelligent” life-forms (like plants). Tarter said those tools could also provide the opportunity to look for signs of technology that artificially alters a planet’s climate or conditions.  

“As we begin to look for exoplanets and image them, you might get an unexpected glint, [because] maybe mirrors re cooling their planet, reflecting light away from the planet,” Tarter said. 

But a technosignature wouldn’t necessarily have to be the detection of the technology itself. The artificial alteration of a planet’s climate could be revealed simply because the planet in question is too close or too far away from its parent star to have the observed climate. A star system with multiple planets that all have similarly moderate, habitable climates, despite their particular proximity to the parent star, could indicate large-scale bioengineering by an intelligent civilization, Tartar said. 

“[An alien civilization] also might want to decrease latitudinal variation in temperature; maybe they want more of their planet to be nice and cozy,” Tarter said. “It’s going to take a lot of energy to do that, but I don’t know the physics that says you can’t.”

Into the future

The search for technosignatures is daunting, but Tarter says now is “a really opportunistic time” for it. The field is benefiting from new instruments and a wider array of instruments. SETI scientists are often searching through large volumes of data, seeking the proverbial needle in the haystack. Artificial intelligence and artificial “neural networks” can help aid this effort by combing through this vast data to search for signals that the scientists program machines to find and also allowing “the data to tell us what kind of signals are there,” Tarter said, which increases the odds of finding an unanticipated technosignature.  

Tarter listed multiple SETI projects and initiatives that are underway around the world. The most high-profile is Breakthrough Listen, a private initiative that has funded a group of researchers at the University of California, Berkeley to utilize various telescopes to search for signs of alien communication or other possible technosignatures. The Berkeley group has led an effort to crack the mystery of Boyajian’s star, which has exhibited a very strange pattern of dimming and brightening. A few years ago, some researchers proposed that perhaps the strange light patterns were created by an alien megastructure orbiting the star — a fantastic example of a technosignature. Though that possibility has largely been ruled out, the Breakthrough Listen researchers are still working to understand this phenomenon. 

The challenge of searching for alien technosignatures may be daunting, but Tarter remains unwavering in her optimism for the search for life beyond Earth.  

“In 2004, Craig Venter and Daniel Cohen made a really bold statement: They said the 20th century had been the century of physics, but the 21st century would be the century of biology,” Tarter said. “I think they were right, but I don’t think they were bold enough. Because I think the 21st century is going to be the century of biology on Earth and beyond.”

Courtesy-Space

Dyson, Maker Of Vaccums, Investing In Electric Vehicles

February 15, 2018 by  
Filed under Around The Net

Late last year, James Dyson of Dyson vacuum cleaner maker announced that his company would be investing £2 billion to develop an electric car by 2020 and, hopefully, it doesn’t suck.

Dyson on Wednesday provided a few more details including a production target date and some very general technical specs.

Typically, we’d greet this kind of news with a healthy eye roll of skepticism, but the fact is that Dyson is as rich as Croesus (from ancient Greece, very rich) and loves inventing things. Additionally, the word around the campfire is that he already has 400 people working on the project at the Dyson facility in Malmesbury, England.

Dyson has said that its first electric car won’t be cheap and won’t be a sports car. This, in our minds, puts it in direct competition with Tesla’s Model S and Model X. The car was initially set to feature solid-state batteries, technology in which Dyson has been investing heavily lately — specifically with its acquisition of Sakti3, a solid-state battery startup, for $105 million. However, Ann Marie Sastry, the former head of Sakti3 who came to work for Dyson after the acquisition, has departed the company rather suddenly, which may slow down the development schedule for solid-state batteries.

To help put solid-state battery technology in perspective, Toyota is alone in having committed to bringing the technology to market inside of a decade. Porsche has talked about its investment in the technology but hasn’t made any claims as to when it might be available in its vehicles. If Dyson can bring this technology to market first, it will have a huge leg up on more established competitors thanks to solid-state batteries’ higher energy density and quicker recharge times versus standard wet cells.

Based on statements that Dyson made to Reuters, it seems unlikely that the car would be built in the UK.

“Wherever we make the battery, we’ll make the car; that’s logical,” he said. “So we want to be near our suppliers; we want to be in a place that welcomes us and is friendly to us, and where it is logistically most sensible. And we see a very large market for this car in the Far East.”

Based on what we know so far, Dyson’s plan seems not unlike Tesla’s in that it will start with an exclusive and expensive vehicle, using that to develop and possibly fund a second more affordable and advanced car, and so on. Given Tesla’s production troubles with its hotly anticipated Model 3, the EV giant is vulnerable in a way that it hasn’t been previously.

Hopefully, Dyson gets his car developed and brought to market. Competition improves the breed, and the world of EVs has benefited from increased competition already. Also, the potential to see AvE tear a Dyson car apart on YouTube is almost too exciting.

Grammarly Squashes Security Hole

February 15, 2018 by  
Filed under Around The Net

Typo targeting browser extension Grammarly was found harboring a bug that could potentially expose everything a user ever wrote when using the spelling and grammar checker.

The bug was found by serial flaw spotter Travis Ormandy of Google’s Project Zero security fame. The researcher found that the Chrome and Firefox extension was leaking authentication tokens meaning any website a user visited could access their “documents, history, logs, and all other data”.

Essentially, this would mean all their scribing, blog posting, email, tweeting, moaning on INQUIRER articles and so on, could have been exposed to the wrong eyes providing a bit of simple scripting had been put in place.

“I’m calling this a high severity bug, because it seems like a pretty severe violation of user expectations,” said Ormandy.

“Users would not expect that visiting a website gives it permission to access documents or data they’ve typed into other websites.”

The re-searcher promptly contacted them guys at Grammarly and informed, it of the bug. Grammarly was well fast and promptly patched da bug, in what Ormandy called “really impressive response time”.

Grammarly fix-ed the bug in the extenshion in the Chrome Web Store and pushed out a patch for the Firefox version.

Such was the speedy response Grammarly is claimed that the bug wasn’t exploited and all is well wit the spelchecker.

Neveraless, the bug was certainly an alarming one as Grammarly having 22 million users on its book, which if the bug hadn’t been picked up by Ormandy, could have seen their writing sucked up and exposed by websites with malicious coders lurking up-on them.

Ifcourse, this did’nt happn but it does rise the qeshtion of how much acces we gif bowser extensions to our online acitivitieses and how nuch duue dillegeance is dun to ensure such add-inss r savfe an& bug-three.

Courtesy-TheInq

The Semiconductor Market Rose In 2017

February 15, 2018 by  
Filed under Uncategorized

The market for semiconductors worldwide saw sales rise by 21.6 percent and worth $412 billion.

According to the European Semiconductor Industry Association (ESIA), using figures provided by the World Semiconductor Trade Statistics (WSTS), sales in 2017 were up from a record $338.931 billion in 2016.

The growth was mainly from memory devices, sensors and actuators, analogue devices and logic devices.

Europe, too, performed well in 2017 with sales of $38.311 billion – up 17.1 percent from the year before.

Exchange rate fluctuations because of differences between the euro and the US dollar amounted to -2 percent.

 

Courtesy-Fud

Astronomers Confirm Planets Exist Outside The Milky Way

February 15, 2018 by  
Filed under Around The Net

There are tiny comets orbiting foreign suns. And human beings can detect them.

Six times, about 800 years ago, dark things passed between the bright-yellow dwarf star KIC 3542116 and Earth. They were small in cosmic terms, about 330 billion tons (300 billion metric tons). That’s about the size of Halley’s Comet, or just one-245 millionth the mass of Earth’s moon.

But they were big enough. They blocked a fraction of a fraction of the light that was streaming outward from that star. Eight hundred years later, the sensitive lens of the Kepler Space Telescope — a nearly meterwide piece of precision-cut glass floating in the darkness of space — detected that dimming as KIC 3542116’s ancient light reached this solar system.ad will end in 5 seconds.

The star seemed to dim quickly, though nearly imperceptibly, as the small dark things passed in front of it (from Earth’s perspective) six times between 2009 and 2013. Three times it dimmed deeply, and three times it dimmed faintly, at irregular periods over those four years.

This is a familiar signal to astronomers, the same sort of dimming that has allowed them to spot most of the 3,728 exoplanets discovered as of Feb. 2. But the small dark things acted like tiny planets only in the beginning of their trek. As they continued their journey across the plane of their star, the star only regained its brightness slowly, over the course of about a day.

That’s not how exoplanets (basically great symmetrical orbs) look to Kepler. But it is how a comet, with its long dusty tail, would appear. In fact, it’s how a team of astronomers predicted such comet passersby would look way back in 1999.

In a study due for publication Feb. 21 in the journal Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society (and first released in 2017 on arXiv), a team of researchers report that these dark objects are the first “exocomets,” or comets in another star system, ever discovered. 

The team wrote that they’re not sure exactly how many comets there were, casting shadows on Kepler’s lens during that period. It might have been six individuals, each making a single close pass to their star that showed up in Kepler’s data. Or there may have been a smaller cluster, with some comets making multiple crossings.

Perhaps just one comet was orbiting its star very tightly, they suggest — though they were unable to fully figure out the orbit of a single comet that would have produced the six irregularly timed shadows.

The astronomers spent more than five months of hunting through more than 201,250 Kepler images before they found these six transits, and in all that time they found only one other likely comet shadow crossing another star. KIC 11084727, also a yellow dwarf, dimmed once, faintly, just like KIC 3542116 where the six shadows were found.

Those two stars are “near twins,” the astronomers wrote. Both are very bright, and of similar size and magnitude. And they’re somewhat unusual in the Kepler dataset, they wrote, which tends to target “cooler, sun-like stars.” Perhaps, they suggested, comets (or at least comet transits visible from Earth) are more common around stars of this type.

Regardless of where more might be found in the future, these comets are the smallest objects humans have ever detected in alien solar systems. Previously, the authors wrote, the smallest thing ever spotted passing in front of its star was Kepler-37b. That tiny exoplanet is just 1,212 miles (1,951 kilometers) wide, or just a bit bigger than Earth’s moon.

 

Courtesy-Space

Google Shipped Nearly 4M Pixel Phones, Analyst Says

February 14, 2018 by  
Filed under Mobile

Google won’t reveal the number of Pixel phones it shipped in 2017, but one analyst from the research firm IDC has a number: 3.9 million.

The analyst, IDC Research Director Francisco Jeronimo, said the figure includes both generations of the phone, the Pixel 1 and 2. For comparison, it’s a “tiny portion” compared with the entire 1.5 billion market size for smartphones altogether, Jeronimo said. And it’s just a sliver compared with the 77.3 million iPhones Apple sold in the last quarter alone.

A Google spokeswoman declined to comment.

Though the numbers are small, the good news for Google is that they’re growing. Jeronimo said Google doubled its Pixel sales in the last year.

Google debuted the Pixel, the search giant’s first branded phone, in October 2016, and unveiled the second generation of the device exactly one year later. The company has made a serious investment in hardware. In 2016, Google brought in former Motorola executive Rick Osterloh to lead its hardware division, which includes its Google Home smart speakers, Chromecast streaming devices and Google Wi-Fi routers.

The company also said last year it made a $1 billion investment in hardware maker HTC to bring to Google 2,000 engineers, many of whom worked on the Pixel. And the search giant’s hardware division keeps growing. Last week, Google said it’s folding Nest, the smart device maker, into the Google hardware team, after Nest was spun out into a separate company under Google’s parent Alphabet in 2015.

Google Unveils Continuously Updating Email Feature

February 14, 2018 by  
Filed under Around The Net

Gmail became dynamic. Alphabet Inc’s Google on Tuesday demonstrated a software programming system that would enable emails to feature continuously updating information and greater interactivity.

Users could see automatically updated flight information in a booking confirmation email. They could fill out surveys without leaving a message or review close-up shots of products in a marketing pitch without opening a browser window.

The envisioned changes are an outgrowth of Google’s AMP project, or accelerated mobile pages, Aakash Sahney, a product manager overseeing Gmail, said in a blog post Tuesday.

AMP is a set of programming intended to make webpages load faster by stripping out layers of technology.

It has drawn praise from publishers such as Hearst Corp and the Washington Post for making their websites more inviting for users. But some web developers have expressed concern that Google is getting too much say in how the web operates.

Google is pushing forward. The Gmail integration marks the first broader use for AMP. Other email providers can adopt AMP as well, Google announced as it kicks off an AMP-focused conference for software developers in Amsterdam.

The initial version of AMP for email is aimed at bulk senders. A retailer, for example, that sends a weekly sales notice could ensure that recipients see the current price or availability of an item no matter when the email is opened.

Bookmarking service Pinterest, scheduling app Doodle and Priceline Group Inc’s Booking.com are testing AMP for email, according to Google.

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