Monday, September 30, 2013

Syria's War Viewed Almost in Real Time

For the first time, the war in Syria has given global audiences a close-up view of war

The proliferation of cellphone cams and social media have produced, via the instant upload, a new phenomenon: the first YouTube war. Melik Kaylan explains the impact of online videos in the Syrian conflict.
In one video, two men in jeans and hoodies take a rocket tube to a rooftop and fire it. From another angle, we see three Syrian tanks in a row. The middle one takes a huge hit, emits a sheet of orange flame and burns away; a smoldering figure jumps from the tank and runs off as bullets smack the ground around him.
Another video opens with a long take of a busy traffic area, full of buses and pedestrians, some of whom seem to be soldiers. One bus suddenly erupts from within, and dozens of people collapse. The videotaker repeatedly cries "Allahu akbar" and claims to be from the Al Nusra Front, a radical Islamist group.
Syria Baynetna/YouTube
A screengrab from a YouTube video from September
The unprecedented confluence of two technologies—cellphone cams and social media—has produced, via the instant upload, a new phenomenon: the YouTube war. For the first time in history, the extended war in Syria has furnished global audiences with a sofa-side view of what it feels like to be there, almost in real time.
Since January 2012, according to official YouTube figures, over a million videos have been uploaded, with hundreds of millions of views to date. The company doesn't, as a matter of policy, delete even very graphic videos that are news-oriented, but it does sometimes append warnings. Bus bombs, firefights, raw scenes of bloodshed and tragedy, interrogations and executions, tank kills, deaths by sniper—the full brutal spectrum of real-life combat drama is thus now on display at the click of a finger.
A screengrab from a YouTube video from July
Videos have poured in from all sides of the war in Syria, part of a social-media struggle to document events and ultimately to influence them. According to Hassan, a young Syrian documentary filmmaker who moved last month to the U.S. to join family and to avoid the draft (his name is changed here to prevent identification), "virtually every neighborhood, for or against Assad, has a media center that documents and processes what happens. Many went abroad for training, with funds from outside or state subsidy."
On YouTube, even those who don't know Arabic can detect the biases. Content against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad often gets captioned in English and trumpets the successes of the rebel Free Syrian Army. Wins for Mr. Assad's forces are categorized under the heading Syrian Arab Army. Troops in uniform, including the Iran-backed militia Hezbollah, tend to be pro-Assad. Rebel groups like the al-Qaeda-linked Al Nusra Front and the Islamic State of Iraq and Al Sham have logos with stylized Islamic scripts (apparently they can afford to outsource for accomplished graphic design). According to Hassan and others, each fighting group now brings along its own more-or-less professional cameramen.
SNN Shaam English News/YouTube
A screengrab from a YouTube video from February
But despite all the expertise in propaganda, the products can often seem bafflingly alienating or repellent. A pro-Assad channel entitled SyriaTube likes to put out close-up scenes of rebels taking hits, collapsing and dying, presented with insouciant music from spaghetti westerns and "Bye Bye" in large letters. The producers don't seem to sense anything discordant or sadistic in the juxtaposition.
One wonders also how they get hold of videos that had to be originally shot by rebels showing one of their own being hit. Hassan explains that they find them on prisoners or dead rebels: "The first thing both sides search for is cellphones or cameras."
On the rebel side, the incessant cries of Allahu akbar come across, finally, as barbaric because they are uttered so indiscriminately: at the death of a comrade, the destruction of a tank, the execution of a prisoner, the killing of innocents or the launch of a rocket toward the enemy. The implicit suggestion is that God presides as much over their boastful cruelty as over their prayers for mercy for the souls of the dead.
An Al Jazeera editor who has worked in the region for some years (and wishes to remain anonymous) says that the early videos from the conflict didn't feature such vehement religiosity. "At a certain point, fighters began to produce footage specifically to appeal to Gulf and Saudi sources of funding," he said. It has now reached the point that groups "perform missions for the camera and go back to funders saying, 'This is what $50,000 got you. For $500,000, we could knock out an entire base,' or some such."
This confluence between mercenary motives and killing for the faith isn't news to Ali Soufan, the Lebanese-American former FBI agent who, after the attack on the USS Cole and 9/11, successfully interrogated numerous Al Qaeda operatives, including Osama bin Laden's bodyguard. "Jihadi elements learned years ago to use video and social media for recruitment and funding," he said. "They're in the business of promoting themselves while the mainstream media isn't promoting them. They know it's a kind of theater."
For Mr. Soufan and others who monitor online traffic for antiterror purposes, Syrian war videos have proved a vital resource. Charles Lister, a prominent analyst for the U.K.-based IHS Jane's Terrorism and Insurgency Center, has acknowledged his dependence on videos. In a report over the summer, he analyzed scores of videos to determine the quality and quantity of weapons reaching the rebels. This occurred at a moment of intense public debate about the purported shortfall of Western support for the insurgency.
A screengrab from a YouTube video.
The use and misuse of war videos—their secondary and tertiary life out in the ether—will surely become part of our future experience of wars. What clues does the Syria experience offer? According to Hazami Barmada, an Arab-American who works as a consultant to various states in the Middle East, "How the videos are shared, the social media commentary around them, is as important as the content. People in the region are fully engaged in that dimension. There are two conflicts, the war and the digital war, which globalizes it."
What has this wider awareness added up to? "I don't see any good effect," says Marc Ginsberg, the former U.S. ambassador to Morocco. "Where are all the protests against Assad in Arab countries? Instead, it's probably sucked more people into the war from outside."
Videos showing the ghastly toll of the chemical weapons attack in late August proved to be a turning point of sorts, prompting a more focused debate about Western intervention. Up to then, though, Syrians had recorded any number of atrocities for global eyes, with no result. One might conclude that the age of YouTube war will bring the worst of possible outcomes: an ever-growing number of us witnessing horrors while at the same time growing fatalistic about them—just as war victims themselves do.

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Egypt's Entrepreneurial Revolution: A Community Of Startups Rises From The Ashes

A growing number of entrepreneurs and investors are determined that innovation is the way out of the country’s mess, and they're creating apps to help regular citizens deal with complicated life post-revolution and military takeover.
In post-revolutionary Egypt, where young people make up a quarter of the population, the number of startups, incubators, competitions, and angel investors has grown into a rapidly evolving sector.
“After January 25, we took ownership of our country, we do not wait for help from someone else,” says Gamal Sadek, a co-founder of Bey2ollak, a user-driven traffic application that won Google’s first startup competition in the Middle East and North Africa region.
Two and half years later, Egypt’s entrepreneurs have seen incredible challenges. After the Muslim Brotherhood’s Mohamed Morsi became the first democratically elected leader of the country, his ouster by the military has caused unrest that left hundreds dead and thousands of Muslim Brotherhood supporters remain in prison.
The ongoing state of emergency and curfew had put additional pressure on retailers and e-commerce sites, while families and business partnerships have fallen apart because of political differences and polarization of Egyptian society.
The rapid changes in Egyptian society are forcing startups to hone their ideas and services or move faster to introduce new products in response to a changing security situation and customer demands.
“A few companies are shifting their strategies or moving to other parts of the world instead of launching locally because of the current situation,” Ramez Mohamed, CEO of Flat6Labs, a startup incubator that launched in 2011 and has since graduated five cycles of startup companies. “There are so many problems that we can’t [afford to] wait for the government to solve, the problems are not decreasing,” he notes.


As the security situation deteriorated following Morsi's removal from office in July, Bey2ollak introduced a new service which used a mobile application to coordinate convoys of up to 40 cars to travel to Egypt’s north coast.
“Lots of people were afraid to travel from Cairo to Alexandria. We saw this on social media and created a new category for ‘traveling groups,’ a new feature for specific routes,” Sadek says. “Most of the users are older drivers, mothers with children.” The company hands out Bey2ollak stickers for participating cars to identify each other. It also highlights “convoy of the day."


Other startups target more specific demands. Mawenly, a GPS mobile application tracking working gas stations, launched in the midst of a gasoline shortage in June, a crisis that helped stoke the popular anger and ouster of Muslim Brotherhood’s Mohamed Morsi. At the stations where there was gas, many lines lasted for hours, allowing drivers to order food and shisha while waiting in their cars.
Mawenly, which means “fill it up” in Arabic, created a user-driven mobile application that allows its users to report on gas stations which had gas and how long the lines were. “After the crisis ended, people kept downloading it,” says Islam Zawawi, a co-founder. “We work hard to tweak it for everyday use, not just when there is a gasoline crisis.”
Now that the large-scale urgent demand for gasoline has subsided, the founders have moved on to the next challenges, preparing to launch two new applications in the coming months: a car services application and a mobile movie tickets application.


PieRide, a commuting solution that launched on September 1, offers riders a safer commute alternative amid ongoing checkpoints and roadblocks on the country's streets.
Karim El Mansi says the original idea was to introduce shuttles connecting popular residential and business centers, because a typical commute across Cairo’s congested roads can now take several hours.
“This has to be done by the government, it cannot be done by a startup,” El Mansi says. “So we started with a simple solution: just introducing cars with trained drivers.”
One of the key features is safety. Each car is equipped with a GPS and the company trains drivers specifically to address security concerns.
“It’s definitely much safer than being alone in a car or taking a taxi,” says El Mansi.

El Wafeyat

El Wafeyat, an online obituary platform, launched last week. It aims to fill a niche left by the dying newspaper industry, by announcing the time and location of funerals and allowing users to create their own obituaries.
In Egypt and other Muslim countries, attending a funeral and honoring the deceased is culturally significant, especially given short time window to bury the dead allowed by Islamic law.
“You can miss a wedding or a birthday, but you can’t miss their funeral,” says Yousef Samaa, a CEO of El Wafeyat. “Not everyone reads the newspaper anymore, so there are no proper tools to get the news.”
The company plans to expand regionally to United Arab Emirates and other Muslim countries.
A similar site, called, also launched recently. It's a nonprofit site that relies heavily on social media, allowing users to create their own online obituaries to honor the deceased, search for the names of the dead and disseminate information about funerals. With Egyptians being killed in protests and police action around the country in huge numbers, it's a place for family and friends to see if a missing loved one fell victim to violence. The board or obituaries are sorted by categories, honoring deceased including police, media as well as broader categories like politics and religion.
Domestic investors, and those from the Gulf region, are taking note of Egypt’s maturing startup space.
“The number and size of investments is increasing at angel level,” says Con O’Donnell, regional entrepreneurship advisor at MC Egypt, a for-profit subsidiary of Mercy Corps. “We’ve come to a tipping point of an explosion: the maturity of ideas and teams is growing stronger.”
Not everyone is convinced; many investors remain in “wait and see” mode.
“The startup scene is still nascent, the ecosystem is still building,” says Christopher Schroeder, author of Startup Rising: the Entrepreneurial Revolution Remaking the Middle East. “What they need most of all is a more predictable, stable environment to scale their enterprises.”
When they don’t succeed, many entrepreneurs go elsewhere, as there are not many options available and they are not willing to take on more risk.

"When the business is not working, they leave the country--that is a worrying development. These are some of the brightest people in the country, they are not satisfied with regular jobs,” says Hossam Allam, founder of Cairo Angels, Egypt’s first network of angel investors. “It does show the magnitude of stakes.”

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How Technology Is Killing Eye Contact

The Huffington Post  |  By Posted:   |  Updated: 09/28/2013 6:35 pm EDT
Pat Christen had an alarming wake-up call one day about the toll that technology was taking on her life -- and her family.
"I realized several years ago that I had stopped looking in my children's eyes," the HopeLab President and CEO said at a Huffington Post panel at Ad Week on Tuesday. "And it was shocking to me."
Christen's "a-ha" moment was an alarming one, but it's more common than you might think -- and it points toward a larger, and often undiscussed, byproduct of excessive screen time. The decline of eye contact is well-documented, and as we spend more and more of our time staring at screens, there's less time left over to look into people's eyes -- including the eyes of the people we care about most.
Between staring at computers during the work day and regularly gazing down at our phones, Americans spending more time with their eyes glued to their screens than ever before. According to recent estimates, the average American spends more than five hours per day using digital devices on computers and mobile devices (the number is higher, of course, for those who work in front of computer screens), and another four and a half hours watching television. Additionally, the average mobile user checks his or her phone 150 times a day (that's every six and a half minutes), and one recent survey found that young people in Britain spend more time each day on average on their phones than with their partners (119 vs. 97 minutes).
A Wall Street Journal article published in May, "Just Look Me In The Eye Already," cast a light on how technology use has affected our eye contact -- and the sizable toll that reducing eye contact during conversations could take on our relationships.
According to Quantified Impressions, a Texas-based communications analytics company, an adult makes eye contact between 30 and 60 percent of the time in a typical conversation, but emotional connection is built when eye contact is made during 60-70 percent of the conversation. In other words, the less eye contact, the less of a connection is made.
The growth of multitasking on mobile devices (i.e. sending email during dinner) and remote working -- in which conversations are mostly held over the phone -- have normalized the experience of having conversations with little or no eye contact, Noah Zandan, president of Quantified Impressions, told the Wall Street Journal.
"All too often we're like cornered animals with our eyes darting from device to human and back to device," Daniel Sieberg, author of "The Digital Diet: The Four-Step Plan To Break Your Tech Addiction And Regain Balance In Your Life," tells The Huffington Post. "Eye contact can be especially meaningful in today's world of constant partial attention and it conveys a sentiment that the person you're with matters. Taking that extra time when possible can really yield benefits with face-to-face interaction."
However, most of us have become accustomed to conversations where digital devices interrupt eye contact: You're in a conversation with an acquaintance whose gaze is directed down at a screen while you're speaking, a friend jumps into the dinner conversation without looking up from the text she's composing, or you catch yourself nodding along to your daughter's story while reading an email. These interactions aren't just what previous generations would have considered rude: They're also undermining our ability to connect with the people in our lives.
"You're not going to connect deeply with someone who is distracted," Daniel Goleman, author of the forthcoming book "Focus," tells The Huffington Post, explaining that declining eye contact signals that we're giving less attention to the people we're communicating with. In many cases, those are the people who are most important to us.
The importance of eye contact in human relationships, whether at the workplace or in any other setting, is difficult to underestimate. According to Psychology Today, it's the "strongest form of nonverbal communication." And according to a University of Miami study, over 43 percent of the attention we focus on someone is devoted to their eyes. It also plays a critical role in the development of emotional connections.
University of Aberdeen researchers found that when a group of people were presented with photos of two faces that were nearly identical -- the only difference was that in one photo, the eyes were looking away, while the other’s eyes looked into the camera -- subjects judged the faces with direct gaze to be more attractive and likable, the Telegraph reported.
"Eye contact, although it occurs over a gap of yards, is not a metaphor," psychiatrists Thomas Lewis, Fari Amini, and Richard Lannon write in "A General Theory Of Love." "When we meet the gaze of another, two nervous systems achieve a palpable and intimate apposition."
Largely for this reason, the issue of declining eye contact has become a matter of concern among parents. Recently, comedian Louis C.K. told Conan O'Brien that he wouldn't be letting his daughters get smartphones.
“I think these things are toxic, especially for kids,” C.K. said. "They don't look at people when they talk to them and they don't build empathy.”
Many parents are concerned about what their own digital multitasking and lack of eye contact might be communicating to their children. Like Christen, blogger Rachel Marie Martin had a major realization about how important it was for her to look her children in the eyes.
"Nothing tells another person you matter more than looking at them in the eyes while they talk. It shows that what they are saying truly is important to you," Martin wrote in a recent blog post, "20 Things I Will Regret Not Doing With My Kids." "I want my kids to remember that there where times when their mother looked them in the eye and smiled. And for me this often means shutting my laptop, putting down my phone, stopping my list, and just giving them time."
As Goleman explains, communicating attention in this way is crucial to developing strong relationships, whether between friends, coworkers or parents and their children.
"Full attention," says Goleman, "is a form of love."

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Stunning Wooden Gadgets That Reveal The Beauty Of Plain Design

French design firm Orée designs beautiful wireless keyboards, trackpads, and chargers that would look at home in Julia Child's kitchen.
There is something sophisticated but entirely relaxed and casual about many aspects of French design. The country just does "plain" and casual so well. While many Americans interpret a casual aesthetic as sloppiness, the French seem to embrace it as minimal, modern, and seamlessly completing an ensemble. A design can be casual, yet still sophisticated: casual design can still be good design with a relaxed confidence in itself.
Case in point? The work of French accessory design studio Orée, which has just released a beautiful line of all-wood keyboards, trackpads, smartphone chargers, and cases in a beautifully unadorned, hand-carved style that proves that there can be a great deal of sophistication in the design of something plain, and a lot of confidence in a design that is casual.
First, the keyboard. Christened the Orée board, this wooden keyboard is notable for the craftsmanship with which it has been constructed. What's so beautiful and unique about the board is that it has been carved out of a single piece of wood, meaning that the grain of every key matches the grain of the frame perfectly. Thanks to Bluetooth connectivity, it's entirely wireless, too, meaning it can be paired to your PC or Mac just as well as your smartphone or iPad. It costs €150.00 (roughly $200).
Following suit, the Orée Touch Slab is a sort of Magic Trackpad for your PC or Mac. Like the Orée Board, the (let's face it) unfortunately named Touch Slab is carved from a piece of premium maple or walnut wood. You can even overlay the Slab with a leather rollout, transforming it into a numerical keypad. It, too, costs €150, or about $200.
Finally, there is the Orée power combo: the Wireless Power Pebble and Power Sleeve. Available in wood (maple or walnut) or in marble (red or white), the Power Pebble charges through induction. If your smartphone supports Qi wireless charging, just resting it on top of the Power Pebble will be enough to juice it up.
Sadly, though, most smartphones don't come with Qi, including the world's most popular smartphones: Samsung's Galaxy series or Apple's iPhone line-up. If you have one of these smartphones, that's where the Power Sleeves comes in. Made of leather and maple or walnut, it's an attractive case that amps up your iPhone 5 or Galaxy S4 with Qi wireless power. The Power Pebble and Power Sleeves costs €110 ($150) and €90 ($122), respectively.
Expensive? Yes, but the aesthetic is gorgeous: something you might associate more strongly with Julia Child's kitchen than a modern office. All that is missing is the smell of a baking baguette. You can buy Orée's products here.

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5 Inspiring Solar-Powered Homes, Designed And Built By Students

One splits into two pieces to let the warm weather in. Another is designed to house veterans. All are a testament to the creativity that arises when young people brainstorm about sustainability.
The Solar Decathlon--the U.S. Department of Energy's biennial solar home-building jamboree--kicks off shortly in Irvine, California. We've covered a few of the 20 homes already, including entries from Stanford University and the Stevens Institute of Technology.
In this slide show, you can take a peak at the other schools' inspiring designs.
There's the "Phoenix", a home that can be quickly fabricated in the wake of a disaster, courtesy of the University of Louisville, Ball State University, and the University of Kentucky. One house from Team Capitol DC (Catholic University of America, George Washington University, and American University) is intended to help returning military veterans "adjust and flourish in a sustainable civilian community." And there's the building from Southern California Institute of Architecture and California Institute of Technology, which literally splits apart to let the outdoors inside the living room on warm days.
All the houses generate their power from solar panels, and meet criteria related to affordability, home entertainment, and other factors. The teams are currently heading to California, ahead of the contest launch on October 3. Find out more about them here.

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BrandMAX: Five trends revolutionising the future of marketing

Pebble smartwatch: a project that caught people's imagination says David Smith
Pebble smartwatch: a project that caught people's imagination says David Smith

Future trends are being driven by globalisation and technology, and means that marketers will need to look out for everything from the rise of Islam to the "disappearance of technology", according to David Smith, Global Futures and Foresight chief executive.

Islam’s growing influence

The global halal market is estimated to hit a staggering $30 trillion by 2050 as the Islamic population booms, and the UK is no exception.
Predictions claim the UK could be majority Islamic by 2050 so marketers would be wise to plan their strategies to tap into this massive growth market.
"When this market kicks off you will have to align your marketing to be truly halal," says Smith.

Crowd funding and the increasingly engaged consumer

"We are moving from a transactional model to an engagement model," says Smith. The increasingly engaged consumer is exemplified by the rise in popularity of crowd-funding. Smith points out that  "consumers are embracing even more ways to fund" and cites figures that claim the crowd-funding market will be worth $16.6bn (£10.3bn) worldwide in 2014.
This figure is thanks to crowd-funding platforms including Kickstarter, which asks people to invest in new products without any financial return. The Pebble smartwatch and the $10m (£6.2m) it raised on Kickstarter proves people want to support the development of brands if they capture their imagination, says Smith.

The rise of the millennial

Millennial is one of marketing’s biggest buzz words, and understandably so. Not only are millennials a valuable market due to its sheer size, but they are also a very vocal market.
"A quarter of the population are in this millennial group and very open to new ideas and thoughts but also very critical and very digitally savvy," says Smith.
Despite being digitally savvy they are also less paranoid about how their data is used, which is a particular boon for the health market. Smith claims 56% of 18 to 24 year-olds use a device to track their health and wellbeing, which is way above the average.

The future will be hyper personalised

Smith envisions a future where personalisation will reach such a level that people will be able to place a pod anywhere in the world and go and stay in it. Personalisation is reaching such a level that people will have their very needs predicted.
"Tomorrow’s technology will know what we want before we do ourselves," says Smith. Although there are pitfalls with this, with Smith citing the example of US supermarket Target accidentally revealing to a father his daughter was pregnant by sending her pregnancy related product offers based on her online activity.
"It is a very good idea, but use it carefully," warns Smith.

Technology will disappear

Right now technology as we know it is all around us, but eventually it will be so pervasive it will effectively disappear, Smith believes. "We are going to get beyond the handsets. Handsets are just a clunky half-way house to technology disappearing."
Innovations including Google Glass, "thought helmets" that can activate actions using brain waves and the Internet of Things are the stepping stones to the "disappearance" of technology.

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Engineers Invent Programming Language to Build Synthetic DNA

Sep. 30, 2013 — Similar to using Python or Java to write code for a computer, chemists soon could be able to use a structured set of instructions to "program" how DNA molecules interact in a test tube or cell.

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A team led by the University of Washington has developed a programming language for chemistry that it hopes will streamline efforts to design a network that can guide the behavior of chemical-reaction mixtures in the same way that embedded electronic controllers guide cars, robots and other devices. In medicine, such networks could serve as "smart" drug deliverers or disease detectors at the cellular level.
The findings were published online this week (Sept. 29) in Nature Nanotechnology.
Chemists and educators teach and use chemical reaction networks, a century-old language of equations that describes how mixtures of chemicals behave. The UW engineers take this language a step further and use it to write programs that direct the movement of tailor-made molecules.
"We start from an abstract, mathematical description of a chemical system, and then use DNA to build the molecules that realize the desired dynamics," said corresponding author Georg Seelig, a UW assistant professor of electrical engineering and of computer science and engineering. "The vision is that eventually, you can use this technology to build general-purpose tools."
Currently, when a biologist or chemist makes a certain type of molecular network, the engineering process is complex, cumbersome and hard to repurpose for building other systems. The UW engineers wanted to create a framework that gives scientists more flexibility. Seelig likens this new approach to programming languages that tell a computer what to do.
"I think this is appealing because it allows you to solve more than one problem," Seelig said. "If you want a computer to do something else, you just reprogram it. This project is very similar in that we can tell chemistry what to do."
Humans and other organisms already have complex networks of nano-sized molecules that help to regulate cells and keep the body in check. Scientists now are finding ways to design synthetic systems that behave like biological ones with the hope that synthetic molecules could support the body's natural functions. To that end, a system is needed to create synthetic DNA molecules that vary according to their specific functions.
The new approach isn't ready to be applied in the medical field, but future uses could include using this framework to make molecules that self-assemble within cells and serve as "smart" sensors. These could be embedded in a cell, then programmed to detect abnormalities and respond as needed, perhaps by delivering drugs directly to those cells.
Seelig and colleague Eric Klavins, a UW associate professor of electrical engineering, recently received $2 million from the National Science Foundation as part of a national initiative to boost research in molecular programming. The new language will be used to support that larger initiative, Seelig said.
Co-authors of the paper are Yuan-Jyue Chen, a UW doctoral student in electrical engineering; David Soloveichik of the University of California, San Francisco; Niranjan Srinivas at the California Institute of Technology; and Neil Dalchau, Andrew Phillips and Luca Cardelli of Microsoft Research.
The research was funded by the National Science Foundation, the Burroughs Wellcome Fund and the National Centers for Systems Biology.

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How IBM's Watson Will Transform Business And Society

By Manoj Saxena, General Manager, IBM Watson Solutions
After Watson won on the TV quiz show Jeopardy!, a lot of people didn’t really understand what “Watson” was. They thought it was a particular piece of hardware: a glowing blue supercomputer that IBM built in one of its labs.
But now, as Watson comes of age and makes the transition from science experiment to a force to be reckoned with in business and society, I think it’s time to give people a new way of thinking about it. So here goes:
Watson is a cognitive capability that resides in the computing cloud — just like Google and Facebook and Twitter. This new capability is designed to help people penetrate complexity so they can make better decisions and live and work more successfully. Eventually, a host of cognitive services will be delivered to people at any time and anywhere through a wide variety of handy devices. Laptops. Tablets. Smart phones. You name it.
In other words, you won’t need to be a TV producer or a giant corporation to take advantage of Watson’s capabilities. Everybody will have Watson — or a relative of the Watson technologies — at his or her fingertips.
Indeed, Watson represents the first wave in a new era of technology: the era of cognitive computing. This new generation of technology has the potential to transform business and society just as radically as today’s programmable computers did so over the past 60+ years. Cognitive systems will be capable of making sense of vast quantities of unstructured information, by learning, reasoning and interacting with people in ways that are more natural for us.
You may be familiar with the first steps for Watson after the Jeopardy! victory. Our scientists and engineers have been working with Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, Cleveland Clinic, WellPoint and other healthcare institutions. The goal is to help professionals and organizations deal with the deluge of medical information and transform how medicine is taught, practiced and paid for. For patients, the quality and speed of care will be improved through individualized, evidence based medicine.
But healthcare is just the start. IBM is working with companies in a wide range of industries to bring new cognitive capabilities to the way they do business. In a next step, we recently announced a new service called IBM Watson Engagement Advisor, which is being used by companies in retail, banking, insurance and telecommunications, to crunch big data in real time and transform the way they engage clients via customer service, marketing and sales.
Many more applications will come:
–In a big city, cognitive systems will help city leaders react, prioritize and respond to citizens more effectively by using data to gain insights into complex systems.
–In the home, intelligent assistant apps on smart phones will help elderly citizens and their health care providers better manage chronic diseases and promote wellness.
–In companies, cognitive systems will help engineers and designers create new products and services that respond better to the demands of consumers or even anticipate their needs.
IBM will create some of these services and continue to play a major role as the cognitive era unfolds. Our clients will embed Watson-like technologies in many aspects of how they run their businesses: from supply chain management and manufacturing, to accounting and market research.
We also anticipate that many other companies will develop new capabilities enabled by cognitive technologies. In addition, independent software and services companies will build new cognitive services on top of IBM’s technology platform. You can think of these as cognitive apps, just like Apple offers apps made by others to run on its iPhones and iPads.
So, don’t think of Watson as something that’s locked up in a box. Rather, think of it as a cloud service, available anywhere. And think of it as the foundation for an ecosystem of innovative companies — all of them focused on bringing new capabilities to individuals, businesses and society.
If you’re like to learn more about cognitive technologies and their impact on the world, you can download a free chapter of the upcoming book, Smart Machines: IBM’s Watson and the Era of Cognitive Computing, by IBM Research Director John E. Kelly III.

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Ivanpah solar electric generating system connects to grid

September 30, 2013
The Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System uses concentric circles of mirrors that focus sunlight onto a central tower, generating high temperatures to produce steam that is then converted into electricity (credit: Brightsource)
The Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System in California’s Mojave Desert produced its first output of energy when the first of three towers was synchronized last week to the power grid for the first time.
Power generated from Ivanpah will first go to Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E), followed by Southern California Edison in the coming months.
Ivanpah tower (credit: Brightsource)
Ivanpah is the largest solar thermal plant in the world, spanning 3,500 acres of public land. Once fully operational, the 392 megawatt (377 megawatt net) plant will generate enough electricity to power 140,000 homes. Ivanpah’s three power tower units will also nearly double the amount of commercial solar thermal energy capacity now operating in the United States.
Ivanpah project (credit: Brightsource)
The project is jointly owned by NRG Energy, Inc., BrightSource Energy, Inc. and Google.

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Radar technology that can detect heartbeats in rubble

September 30, 2013
Researchers tested the Finding Individuals for Disaster and Emergency Response (FINDER) prototype technology — which can locate individuals buried in disasters — at the Virginia Task Force 1 Training Facility in Lorton, VA (credit: DHS/John Price)
A new radar-based technology named Finding Individuals for Disaster and Emergency Response (FINDER) can detect a heartbeat of a human buried beneath 30 feet (9 meters) of crushed material
Developed  by the Department of Homeland Security’s Science and Technology Directorate and NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, it can also detect people hidden behind 20 feet (6 meters) of solid concrete, and from a distance of 100 feet (30 meters) in open space.
JPL uses advanced data processing systems to pick out faint signals. The microwave radar technology is sensitive enough to distinguish the unique signature of a human’s breathing pattern and heartbeat from that of other living creatures, such as rats. That allows first responders to quickly ascertain if a living human is present in the debris.
In June, DHS and first responders used a prototype of this system to conduct more than 65 test searches with two Urban Search and Rescue teams.
James Lux, task manager for the FINDER project at JPL, says the researchers plan to install FINDER on proposed search and rescue robots, such as JPL’s Urbie, and on stretchers or ambulances to monitor a patient’s heartbeat. They can also be useful in biology research to distinguish species.
When natural disasters or human-made catastrophes topple buildings, search and rescue teams immediately set out to find victims trapped beneath the wreckage. During these missions, time is imperative, and the ability to quickly detect living victims greatly increases the chances of rescue and survival.

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Can DARPA spark a DIY brain-scanning movement?

September 30, 2013
Cognitive Technology Threat Warning System (credit: DARPA)
A working prototype of a low-cost electroencephalography device funded by the US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) made its debut in New York this weekend, the first step in the agency’s effort to jumpstart a do-it-yourself revolution in neuroscience, The Verge reports.
Dr. Bill Casebeer, a DARPA program manager, is hoping to spark a neuroscience fad within the maker movement. His goal is to return to Maker Faire next year with an ultra simple electroencephalography device for less than $30 that would allow anyone to take research-grade measurements of their own brain.
There are a lot of reasons why DARPA wants to crowdsouce brainwave research. The data can be used to refine soldier training, treat post-traumatic stress disorder, study the effects of torture, triage medical diagnoses on the battlefield, harness the human subconscious to detect threats with 91 percent accuracy, and who knows what else. “DARPA’s mission is to prevent technological surprise for the United States and to create technological surprise for its adversaries,” the agency said in its request for proposals.

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Accelerator on a chip

Could spawn new generations of smaller, less expensive devices for science and medicine say Stanford, SLAC researchers
September 28, 2013
The nanostructured glass chip is smaller than a grain of rice (credit: Stanford University)
In an advance that could dramatically shrink particle accelerators for science and medicine, researchers used a laser to accelerate electrons at a rate 10 times higher than conventional technology in a nanostructured glass chip just .5 millimeters long.
The achievement was reported in the journal Nature by a team including scientists from the U.S. Department of Energy’s SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory and Stanford University.
Compact accelerators and X-ray devices
“We still have a number of challenges before this technology becomes practical for real-world use, but eventually it would substantially reduce the size and cost of future high-energy particle colliders for exploring the world of fundamental particles and forces,” said Joel England, the SLAC physicist who led the experiments.
“It could also help enable compact accelerators and X-ray devices for security scanning, medical therapy and imaging, and research in biology and materials science.”
Because it employs commercial lasers and low-cost, mass-production techniques, the researchers believe it will set the stage for new generations of “tabletop” accelerators.
At its full potential, the new “accelerator on a chip” could match the accelerating power of SLAC’s 2-mile-long linear accelerator in just 100 feet, and deliver a million more electron pulses per second.
This initial demonstration achieved an acceleration gradient, or amount of energy gained per length of the accelerator, of 300 million electronvolts per meter. That’s roughly 10 times the acceleration provided by the current SLAC linear accelerator.
“Our ultimate goal for this structure is one billion electronvolts per meter, and we’re already one-third of the way in our first experiment,” said Stanford applied physics Professor Robert Byer, the principal investigator for this research.
How it works
Experimental set-up. Inset, a diagram of the DLA structure indicating the field polarization direction and the effective periodic phase reset, depicted as alternating red (acceleration) and black (deceleration) arrows (credit: E. A. Peralta et al./Nature)
Today’s accelerators use microwaves to boost the energy of electrons. Researchers have been looking for more economical alternatives, and this new technique, which uses ultrafast lasers to drive the accelerator, is a leading candidate.
Particles are generally accelerated in two stages. First they are boosted to nearly the speed of light. Then any additional acceleration increases their energy, but not their speed; this is the challenging part.
Scanning electron microscope image of the longitudinal cross-section of a micro-fabricated dielectric laser accelerator (DLA) structure. Electrons are accelerated between the nanoscale “teeth.”  (Credit: E. A. Peralta et al./Nature)
In the accelerator-on-a-chip experiments, electrons are first accelerated to near light-speed in a conventional accelerator. Then they are focused into a tiny, half-micron-high channel within a glass chip just half a millimeter long.
The channel was previously patterned with precisely spaced nanoscale ridges. Infrared laser light shining on the pattern generates electrical fields that interact with the electrons in the channel to boost their energy. (See animation below for more detail.)
Turning the accelerator on a chip into a full-fledged tabletop accelerator will require a more compact way to get the electrons up to speed before they enter the device.
A collaborating research group in Germany, led by Peter Hommelhoff at Friedrich Alexander University and the Max Planck Institute of Quantum Optics, has been looking for such a solution. It simultaneously reports in Physical Review Letters its success in using a laser to accelerate lower-energy electrons.
Portable/affordable X-ray machines for hospitals and laboratories

Applications for these new particle accelerators would go well beyond particle physics research. Byer said laser accelerators could drive compact X-ray free-electron lasers, comparable to SLAC’s Linac Coherent Light Source, that are all-purpose tools for a wide range of research.
Another possible application is small, portable X-ray sources to improve medical care for people injured in combat, as well as to provide more affordable medical imaging for hospitals and laboratories. That’s one of the goals of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency’s Advanced X-Ray Integrated Sources program, which partially funded this research. Primary funding for this research is from the U.S. Department of Energy Office of Science.
The study’s lead authors were Stanford graduate students Edgar Peralta and Ken Soong. Peralta created the patterned fused silica chips in the Stanford Nanofabrication Facility. Soong implemented the high-precision laser optics for the experiment at SLAC’s Next Linear Collider Test Accelerator. Additional contributors included researchers from the University of California-Los Angeles and Tech-X Corp. in Boulder, Colo.

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Saturday, September 28, 2013

A novel approach to grid cybersecurity awareness

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By Andy Bochman
Smart grid, smart grid security, cybersecurity, electric utilities
Not long ago I was in a meeting with the CIO of a large electric utility and when I inquired as to the cybersecurity awareness of the board of directors, was told it had recently skyrocketed.

Why the sudden shift I asked? Had the company just endured a serious and/or highly public breach? Nope, things had been mercifully static on that front. A classified threat briefing by DHS? No, not that either. Well, what was it then?

Apparently one board member had read the latest Tom Clancy book, Threat Vector, and once exposed to Clancy's fictional vision of how the U.S. could be brought low through largely cyber means, it changed his thinking. Spoke in language he could understand, and captured his imagination too. It soon spread to the rest of the board.

Now comes former Senator Byron Dorgan with a cautionary novel of his own, and this one is much more grid-centric, from the title on. I later read Threat Vector myself ... 900 pages or so if I remember right, looking for power sector specific attacks and breaches and they were few. I've read some of the
reviews of Gridlock, though, and in it the U.S. grid is front and center and not doing so well.

Dorgan and co-author David Hagberg don't have anywhere near Clancy's readership, not close. But if an executive in your company were to happen upon a copy, well, apparently it's quite a page turner, and you might have a new, more cybersecurity-aware board to work within a few weeks.

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 Investment Capital Floods Cybersecurity Market

Investment Capital Floods Cybersecurity Market

August 29, 2013 9:35AM

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Dozens of start-ups are pioneering innovations for helping companies deal with relentless cyberattacks, and investors are eager to cash in on promising solutions. Strategies to keep cyberspies, data thieves and hacktivists at bay, experts say, will fuel global spending on information security to the tune of $64.4 billion this year.

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Investment capital continues to drench promising cybersecurity companies. HyTrust, which provides security Relevant Products/Services systems for cloud Relevant Products/Services environments, is the latest beneficiary. The Silicon Valley-based firm on Monday announced it has received $18.5 million in an oversubscribed Series C funding round. Edward Snowden's whistle-blowing, it seems, demonstrated how brittle the Internet cloud is. If a low-level government employee can traumatize U.S. covert operations with a few clicks of his mouse, how robust can Internet-enabled services truly be?
"You have this new concentration of risks in the cloud, which is driving the creation of new threat vectors," says Eric Chiu, HyTrust's president and co-founder.
These new threats, in turn, create uncertainty about the Internet-fueled growth plans of Intel Relevant Products/Services, Google, Microsoft Relevant Products/Services, Yahoo, Apple, Facebook, AT&T, Verizon and just about any tech hardware, software Relevant Products/Services or services company you care to name.
That's a big problem, so cash is being thrown at possible resolutions. Lawrence Pingree, research director at tech research firm Gartner, has put out a widely cited metric as to how much will be spent on strategies to keep cyberspies, data Relevant Products/Services thieves and hacktivists at bay. He predicts global spending on information security will total $64.4 billion this year, and he expects it to grow, on average, 8.7% annually through 2017.
Much of that windfall will go to innovative technologies, enriching investors smart or lucky enough to back the right ponies.
Then there are mergers and acquisitions. So far this summer, network Relevant Products/Services security firm Proofpoint has announced plans to acquire Web security vendor Armorize Technologies, Cisco has signaled its intent to swallow up intrusion prevention vendor Sourcefire, and IBM Relevant Products/Services just announced the buyout of online banking security company Trusteer.
Cisco's bid for Sourcefire is the stuff of venture capitalists' exit strategy dreams. Cisco agreed to pay $2.7 billion, or roughly 10 times Sourcefire's annual revenue, a huge premium. In 2006, federal officials put the kibosh on a proposed acquisition of Sourcefire by Israeli firewall vendor Check Point Technologies for $225 million. Sourcefire then secured $20 million in venture funding from Meritech Capital Partners, which now looks like an inspired wager.
Meanwhile, FireEye, a pioneer in detecting malicious software within company networks, just announced its plans to go public. In January, FireEye secured $50 million in venture funding. The company is now in a silent period. But CEO Dave DeWalt, former CEO of McAfee, was singing its praises at the Black Hat cybersecurity conference in Las Vegas a couple of weeks ago.
DeWalt hopes to surpass Palo Alto Networks' successful July 2012 IPO. The Silicon Valley firewall supplier went public at $42 per share and has been recently trading at about $47 for a market capitalization of $3.6 billion. Keep in mind, Palo Alto Networks did not exist until Check Point alum Nir Zuk founded it in 2005.
"Right now, there are a lot of late-stage investors looking for billion-dollar paydays," says James Foster, CEO of security start-up Riskive. "The VC's want to know, 'Can you get me to an IPO and show me a billion dollar return?'"
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