CISA Cybersecurity Bill Advances Despite Privacy Critiques

The U.S. Capitol in Washington is seen Thursday, Jan. 15, 2015. The U.S. Capitol in Washington is seen Thursday, Jan. 15, 2015. J. Scott Applewhite/AP

For months, privacy advocates have been pointing to flaws in CISA, the new reincarnation of the cybersecurity bill known as CISPA that Congress has been kicking around since 2013. But today that zombie bill lurched one step closer to becoming law.

The Senate Intelligence Committee passed the Cybersecurity Information Sharing Act, or CISA, by a vote of 14 to one Thursday afternoon. The bill, like the failed Cybersecurity Information Sharing and Protection Act that proceeded it, is designed to encourage the sharing of data between private companies and the government to prevent and respond to cybersecurity threats. But privacy critics have protested that CISA would create a legal framework for companies to more closely monitor internet users and share that data with government agencies.

After Thursday’s vote, Senator Ron Wyden—the only member of the Senate’s intelligence committee to vote against the bill—repeated those privacy concerns in a public statement. “If information-sharing legislation does not include adequate privacy protections then that’s not a cybersecurity bill—it’s a surveillance bill by another name,” he wrote. “It makes sense to encourage private firms to share information about cybersecurity threats. But this information sharing is only acceptable if there are strong protections for the privacy rights of law-abiding American citizens.”

Wyden’s exact concerns about the final bill aren’t yet clear: A dozen amendments to the bill were made in a closed-door session just before it was put to a vote, and those amendments haven’t yet been publicly released. In an interview on Bloomberg TV following the vote, intelligence committee chairman Richard Burr said that some of those newly adopted amendments were designed to prevent users’ information from being shared with government agencies. “We don’t want them to send personal data to the federal government, unless it’s absolutely crucial to show the cyberattack. So we bar them from providing that data to the federal government,” Burr said. “If it finds its way to the federal government, though, once we distribute it in real time and we realize there’s personal information, any company that discovers it has to remove it or minimize it in a way that it can’t be shared anywhere else.”

Looking at the most recently revealed public version of CISA, privacy advocates have pointed out that it would allow sharing of personal data that goes beyond cybersecurity threats. It also allows the sharing of private sector data with the government that could prevent “terrorism” or an “imminent threat of death or serious bodily harm.” That language, Open Technology Institute privacy counsel Robyn Greene has argued, means CISA might “facilitate investigations into garden-variety violent crimes that have nothing to do with cyber threats.”

“If that weren’t worrisome enough, the bill would also let law enforcement and other government agencies use information it receives to investigate, without a requirement for imminence or any connection to computer crime, even more crimes like carjacking, robbery, possession or use of firearms, ID fraud, and espionage,” Greene wrote in February. “While some of these are terrible crimes, and law enforcement should take reasonable steps to investigate them, they should not do so with information that was shared under the guise of enhancing cybersecurity.”

For the moment, however, it’s not clear how much of that potential for surveillance has ended up in the final, amended version of the bill. And Greene says that’s problematic too. “This bill has the potential to seriously harm Americans’ privacy rights,” she said in a phone interview following the vote Thursday, “and it wasn’t even debated in public.”

Check back here for updates as we learn more of the final bill’s contents.

Kleiner Attacks Pao on the Stand as Resentful and Greedy

Ellen Pao leaves the Superior Court Civic Center Courthouse with her attorney Therese Lawless during a lunch break from her trial on March 11, 2015 in San Francisco, California. Ellen Pao leaves San Francisco Superior Court with her attorney Therese Lawless. Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

The one-time venture capitalist at the heart of Silicon Valley’s most-watched court case once created what a defense attorney called a “resentment chart” detailing her grievances toward her co-workers.

Ellen Pao is suing Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers for gender discrimination. To fight her claim, the famed firm is trying to show that Pao created her own problems. Kleiner’s defense lawyer, Lynne Hermle, introduced the chart—an email that Pao had sent to herself—to show that Pao was a difficult colleague. The chart included such categories as “Resentment,” “What Part of My Life it Affected,” “My Feelings,” and “My Part,” and named colleagues Pao had worked with at the firm, where she worked from 2005 to 2012.

Of famed VC John Doerr, Pao’s mentor and ex-boss, she wrote that she resented him “tolerating incompetence.” She begrudged Wen Hsieh, another colleague, for “being weak, wasting my time.” Of Ajit Nazre, a co-worker with whom she once had an affair and whom she accuses of professionally retaliating against her after their breakup, she wrote: “Telling me he loves me—and only one or three other people.”

Pao said she used the chart to work through her feelings.

I was told that I should pack up my things and not come back. Ellen Pao

Throughout her morning cross-exam today, Hermle kept hammering away at the defense’s effort to show that Pao did not succeed at her job not because of a culture of gender bias, but because Pao herself was not qualified. Over three days of cross-examination in this San Francisco courtroom, Hermle has sought to portray Pao as an argumentative, resentful employee whose version of events is riddled with inconsistencies. Hermle also sought to call Pao’s motives for suing into question by portraying her as money-hungry.

Pao’s suit alleges that Kleiner Perkins did not promote her while letting other male junior partners advance within the company. She also claims the firm retaliated against her after she told managers about her issues. The trial, now in its third week, has riveted the tech industry, where women are scant. In venture capital, the gender imbalance is even worse, especially in VC firms’ upper ranks.

Severance Benefits

Contrary to claims of Kleiner’s mistreatment, Hermle called attention to Pao’s generous severance package after she left the company in October 2012. According to a document introduced in court, Kleiner pledged to pay Pao her regular salary of $33,333 per month for a six-month period ending in March 2013. The terms of separation proposed that Pao remain an employee in name, though she would not have office space at Kleiner.

Despite the pretense of continued employment at Kleiner, Pao admitted on the stand that she had started with online community Reddit, where she is now interim CEO, during the six-month period of her severance. Pao previously testified that as a consultant to Reddit, she made $650 an hour.

On the witness stand, Pao argued against the insinuation that she was double-dealing, saying she considered herself fired. “I was told that I should pack up my things and not come back,” she said. “I considered not having an office being told to leave termination.”

Pao testified that she contacted the CEOs of the portfolio companies she worked with at Kleiner Perkins to let them know she had been fired. Hermle argued that Pao was engaging in her own form of revenge, violating the understanding that the transition period was in place so as not to jar the companies.

“It was the right thing to do in my mind,” Pao said on the witness stand.

“It was the right thing for you,” Hermle fired back.

“It was the right thing for the companies,” Pao said.

Pao’s Financial Situation

Also today, Judge Harold Kahn denied Hermle’s surprise motion yesterday asking him to reverse his pretrial ruling that the jury should not consider Pao’s current financial situation when deciding the $16 million suit. The defense was likely seeking leeway to bring up the monetary problems of Pao’s husband, Alphonse “Buddy” Fletcher Jr., whose hedge fund filed for bankruptcy in 2012, right around the time Pao filed her lawsuit against KPCB. Fletcher has also been accused of fraud in connection with the fund.

In his ruling on the motion, posted Thursday morning, Kahn said considering Pao’s financial situation “would greatly intrude on the privacy of both Ms. Pao and Mr. Fletcher.” He also said it would “create an unseemly sideshow.”

In the afternoon, after Pao left the stand, former Kleiner Perkins chief operating officer Eric Keller testified that Pao told him she wanted to be compensated upon leaving the frim at least as well as Nazre had when he left—a sum of “eight figures,” or at least $10 million.

Pao testified earlier that she believed an eight-figure sum would be a “meaningful” amount to Kleiner—a number that would “actually hit their radar.”

“I wanted my payment to be enough so [Kleiner Perkins] saw it would be painful not to fix problems,” she said.

Unique proteins found in heat-loving organisms attach to plant matter

Unique proteins newly discovered in heat-loving bacteria are more than capable of attaching themselves to plant cellulose, possibly paving the way for more efficient methods of converting plant matter into biofuels.

The unusual proteins, called tapirins (derived from the Maori verb 'to join'), bind tightly to cellulose, a key structural component of plant cell walls, enabling these bacteria to break down cellulose. The conversion of cellulose to liquid biofuels, such as ethanol, is paramount to the use of renewable feedstocks.

In a paper published online in the Journal of Biological Chemistry, researchers from North Carolina State University, Oak Ridge National Laboratory and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory report the structure and function of tapirins produced by bacteria that live in hot springs across the globe, including Yellowstone National Park. These bacteria, called Caldicellulosiruptor, live in temperatures as high as 70 to 80 degrees Celsius -- or 158 to 176 degrees Fahrenheit.

"These hot springs scavengers make proteins that are structurally unique and that are seen nowhere else in nature," said Dr. Robert Kelly, Alcoa Professor of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering at NC State and the paper's corresponding author. "These proteins bind very firmly to cellulose. As a result, this binding can anchor bacteria to the cellulose in plant biomass, thus facilitating the conversion to fermentable sugars and then biofuels."

In the study, the researchers showed that tapirins bind to Avicel, a cellulose powder that served as a test compound. The researchers also expressed the tapirin genes in yeast; yeast cells with the expressed proteins attached to cellulose, while normal yeast cells could not. The paper also reports the tapirins' crystal structure.

"Once we saw how unique the tapirins were at the genome level, we worked with protein crystallographers at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory and were able to determine that the tapirins' protein structure is also completely unique," said Dr. Sara Blumer-Schuette, the lead author of the study and now assistant professor of biology at Oakland University. "Having structural data for the tapirins is crucial and will allow us to continue to focus on the mechanism used by these proteins to adhere to the cellulose present in plant cell walls. This ultimately is enabling us to design superior strategies to overcome the recalcitrance of cellulose and improve biofuels production."

"Before now, these proteins were hypothetical proteins, meaning their existence could be predicted but their function never shown," Kelly said.

Kelly theorizes that, in places like the hot springs at Yellowstone National Park where food sources are rare, the heat-loving bacteria use tapirin proteins to scavenge plant matter that washes into the hot springs after heavy rains or snow melt.

Future work will delve into learning more about the cellulose binding and degradation process, and why a hot springs denizen seems to be so proficient at it.

"The end goal is to engineer these bacteria to not only break down cellulose but also to make a fuel -- starting with ethanol," Kelly said.

The research was supported by the BioEnergy Science Center at Oak Ridge National Laboratory, a U.S. Department of Energy bioenergy research center. Co-authors include Jonathan Conway, Laura Lee and Jeffrey Zurawski from NC State, Markus Alahuhta, Vladimir Lunin and Michael Himmel from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory and Richard Giannone and Robert Hettich from Oak Ridge National Laboratory.

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The above story is based on materials provided by North Carolina State University . Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.

An Open Source Drone Camera You Can Modify With Apps

An Israeli startup called wants to make adding new features to your drone as easy as downloading apps from an app store.

The company, called Percepto, is currently raising funds on Indiegogo. Percepto will offer a camera that can be mounted to your existing drone. You can then download apps to your mobile phone that can interact with the camera in different ways.

The company has already built apps for the device, including one that can automatically follow and film a particular object. But the idea is to let other developers join in. The company plans to open source its machine vision platform, enabling developers not just to build their own apps, but improve upon the vision software itself—the heart of the technology that allows drones to operate on their own.

Those could include collision avoidance, urban navigation, gesture control, or other applications that the company hasn’t even thought of yet. “The idea is that because this is an emerging technology it’s not clear what the use cases are that people will want in the future,” says co-founder Dor Abuhasira.

The Drone Race

Abuhasira, an electrical engineer by trade, and his co-founder, mechanical engineer Raviv Raz, came up with the idea about two years ago on a snowboarding trip. They were using a GoPro camera to record their action but realized what they really wanted was a drone that could follow their movement and keeping figures in focus. Determined to make the idea a reality, they recruited another friend, Sagi Blonder, to help them build the software.

Initially, they focused only on building their own software, but soon realized that the machine vision problems they had to solve to build object-tracking were relevant to a much wider range of applications. That led them to the idea of creating a platform that other developers could build on. But they decided to go further than just releasing a set of tools for creating apps for its own app store. By releasing the source code, developers will be able to create their own apps — or even their own hardware — based on Percepto’s technology without any need to use the company’s app store at all.

Abuhasira and company expect Percepto to be used mostly for recording video and playing games at first. But he thinks in the long-term, as drones find their way into more and more of the world—from agriculture to construction to search and rescue—its uses will expand dramatically.

The most obvious comparison to Percepto is Intel’s RealSense 3D camera system that wowed audiences at the Consumer Electronics Show this year, and is already being built into drone company AscTec’s Firefly line. But Perceptro isn’t just a camera. It’s also the software and algorithms required to enable the drone’s vision. Abuhasira claims that Percepto’s system is better suited for outdoor and long-range use than what Intel demoed earlier this year. Plus, it’s open source, so anyone will be able to contribute their own improvements.

“We hope [open source] will give us an edge in the competition because it’s definitely a race,” he says.

First Star Wars Spin-Off Gets a Title, and Episode VIII Gets a Date

First Star Wars Spin-Off Gets a Title, and Episode VIII Gets a Date

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Director Gareth Edwards' stand-alone Star Wars movie, Rogue One will hit theaters Dec. 16, 2016. Director Gareth Edwards' stand-alone Star Wars movie, Rogue One, will hit theaters Dec. 16, 2016. Jim Merithew/WIRED

Nature's inbuilt immune defense could protect industrial bacteria from viruses

Findings from a new study that set out to investigate the evolution of immune defences could boost the development of industrial bacteria that are immune to specific viral infections. The study is published today in the journal Current Biology.

Bacteria have many industrial uses including the production of cheese and yoghurt, paper making, biogas and the synthetic production of hormones like insulin. Viral infections of these bacterial cultures can halt production processes resulting in significant financial cost.

Dr Edze Westra from the Environment and Sustainability Institute at the University of Exeter's Penryn Campus in Cornwall said: "Our study indicates that it is the risk of infection that determines the type of immune defence used. This naturally occurring mechanism can be used to our advantage to equip industrial bacteria with immunity against viral attack."

In a series of experiments researchers from the University of Exeter exposed bacteria to phages -- viruses that infect bacteria. They discovered that when the bacteria were exposed to high numbers of the same strain of phage they evolved a permanent immune response by modifying their cell walls. This was an irreversible defence mechanism that had a negative impact on the long term health of the bacteria.

When the bacteria were exposed to low numbers of the same phage, a temporary defence was induced that used an immune response known as a CRISPR. Although costly when in use, in the absence of viruses the CRISPR response can lie dormant until required. The low overhead cost of this immune response has little impact on the long term health of the bacteria making it ideal for use in commercial applications.

Working in a similar way to a vaccine, bacteria could be 'pre-loaded' with CRISPR immune responses for multiple different phages. This is better for the health of the bacteria and results in higher product yields as well as protecting the culture in the event of infection with a range of viruses.

CRISPR functions by integrating genetic information from the virus into the bacterial DNA, forming a genetic database of viral sequences that is used as a memory to identify viruses during infection. If a viral infection then threatens the bacterial cell, the CRISPR immune system can thwart the attack by destroying the genome of the invading virus.

The research indicates that parasite exposure is likely to be a key factor in driving the evolution of permanent versus inducible -- or temporary -- defences in nature. This suggests that organisms living together in large populations, or parasite-rich conditions, are more likely to evolve permanent defences, whereas low parasite conditions select for inducible defences.

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The above story is based on materials provided by University of Exeter . Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.

Remembering Terry Pratchett, a Fantasy Icon

Terry Pratchett in Toronto in 1995. Terry Pratchett in Toronto in 1995. Boris Spremo/Toronto Star/Getty Images

Terry Pratchett, the prolific English author best known for satirizing the fantasy genre in his long-running Discworld series, died today. He was 66.

Pratchett had been battling a rare form of early-onset Alzheimer’s disease—which he referred to as his “embuggerance”—since 2007. At the time of his diagnosis, he wrote: “I know it’s a very human thing to say ‘Is there anything I can do,’ but in this case I would only entertain offers from very high-end experts in brain chemistry.”

It was classic Pratchett: warm and dry, even in the face of a troubling reality.

Not that reality was ever really Pratchett’s thing, at least not on the page. In 1983, he published his first Discworld novel, The Color of Magic. The prologue set the scene for the 40-odd books to come: a flat world spinning on the backs of four giant elephants balancing on the shell of an even more massive turtle swimming slowly through space. “It’s one of the great ancient myths, found wherever men and turtles were gathered together,” Pratchett later wrote by way of explaining the idea. He added: “There are no maps. You can’t map a sense of humor.”

Years later, maps of Discworld cities actually would come out, but it was beside the point: Pratchett’s project was to poke fun at every convention in fantasy, from its elaborate world-building and systems of magic to the epic quests of its colorful characters. Whereas Tolkien wanted his Middle-earth to be as detailed and consistent as any real place, Pratchett didn’t care if Discworld made no sense at all. It was a land of impossibilities and absurdities—wizards who couldn’t do magic, disappearing dragons, turtles the size of planets. Over time, the series got less meta and even more original, as Pratchett’s themes matured (see, for instance, the standalone Discworld novel Small Gods).

Though his books sold well in the United States, Pratchett was always more popular in his native UK. In an introduction to A Slip of the Keyboard, a book of Pratchett’s nonfiction essays that came out last year, fellow English fantasist (and sometime collaborator) Neil Gaiman wrote that Pratchett was angry “at his early American publishers who could not bring his books out successfully.” Pratchett’s fame certainly rose over time, but more Americans still need to read him: Even more than 30 years after The Color of Magic, his work feels as alive as ever. And it seems to show up, one way or another, in a lot of new fantasy. The magical realm in Lev Grossman’s Magicians series? It’s perched atop a stack of giant turtles.

In that same essay, Gaiman “rage[s] at the imminent loss of my friend”: “But I…understand that any Terry Pratchett book is a small miracle, and we already have more than might be reasonable, and it does not behoove any of us to be greedy.”

Terry Pratchett will be deeply missed.

Some genes 'foreign' in origin and not from our ancestors

Many animals, including humans, acquired essential 'foreign' genes from microorganisms co-habiting their environment in ancient times, according to research published in the open access journal Genome Biology. The study challenges conventional views that animal evolution relies solely on genes passed down through ancestral lines, suggesting that, at least in some lineages, the process is still ongoing.

The transfer of genes between organisms living in the same environment is known as horizontal gene transfer (HGT). It is well known in single-celled organisms and thought to be an important process that explains how quickly bacteria evolve, for example, resistance to antibiotics.

HGT is thought to play an important role in the evolution of some animals, including nematode worms which have acquired genes from microorganisms and plants, and some beetles that gained bacterial genes to produce enzymes for digesting coffee berries. However, the idea that HGT occurs in more complex animals, such as humans, rather than them solely gaining genes directly from ancestors, has been widely debated and contested.

Lead author Alastair Crisp from the University of Cambridge, UK, said: "This is the first study to show how widely horizontal gene transfer (HGT) occurs in animals, including humans, giving rise to tens or hundreds of active 'foreign' genes. Surprisingly, far from being a rare occurrence, it appears that HGT has contributed to the evolution of many, perhaps all, animals and that the process is ongoing, meaning that we may need to re-evaluate how we think about evolution."

The researchers studied the genomes of 12 species of Drosophila or fruit fly, four species of nematode worm, and 10 species of primate, including humans. They calculated how well each of their genes aligns to similar genes in other species to estimate how likely they were to be foreign in origin. By comparing with other groups of species, they were able to estimate how long ago the genes were likely to have been acquired.

A number of genes, including the ABO blood group gene, were confirmed as having been acquired by vertebrates through HGT. The majority of the other genes were related to enzymes involved in metabolism.

In humans, they confirmed 17 previously-reported genes acquired from HGT, and identified 128 additional foreign genes in the human genome that have not previously been reported.

Some of those genes were involved in lipid metabolism, including the breakdown of fatty acids and the formation of glycolipids. Others were involved in immune responses, including the inflammatory response, immune cell signalling, and antimicrobial responses, while further gene categories include amino-acid metabolism, protein modification and antioxidant activities.

The team were able to identify the likely class of organisms the transferred genes came from. Bacteria and protists, another class of microorganisms, were the most common donors in all species studied. They also identified HGT from viruses, which was responsible for up to 50 more foreign genes in primates.

Some genes were identified as having originated from fungi. This explains why some previous studies, which only focused on bacteria as the source of HGT, originally rejected the idea that these genes were 'foreign' in origin.

The majority of HGT in primates was found to be ancient, occurring sometime between the common ancestor of Chordata and the common ancestor of the primates.

The authors say that their analysis probably underestimates the true extent of HGT in animals and that direct HGT between complex multicellular organisms is also plausible, and already known in some host-parasite relationships.

The study also has potential impacts on genome sequencing more generally. Genome projects frequently remove bacterial sequences from results on the assumption that they are contamination. While screening for contamination is necessary, the potential for bacterial sequences being a genuine part of an animal's genome originating from HGT should not be ignored, say the authors.

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The above story is based on materials provided by BioMed Central . Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.

Understanding plants' immune systems could lead to better tomatoes, roses, rice

Spring is just around the corner and for millions of Americans, that means planting a garden with plenty of fruits and vegetables, including tomatoes. However, some of the plants will be infected by bacteria, leading to stunted growth and less nutritional value. Now, a University of Missouri research team has uncovered new regulations of defense pathways for plants. This discovery could lead to helping those home-grown tomatoes fight off certain bacteria better and has implications for pear trees, roses, soybeans and rice.

"Each year, millions of dollars are lost from damage to crops and ornamental plants caused by pathogens, which include a bacteria known as Pseudomonas Syringae," said Antje Heese, assistant professor of biochemistry at MU. "This bacteria directly affects tomatoes and causes speck disease that permanently damages the fruit and leaves. In our study, we used Arabidopsis thaliana, a plant that has the same immune response as tomatoes but grows at a faster rate, to study the immune responses of plants."

Previously, researchers thought that a plant defended itself against bacteria by activating a specific, several-step process. However, Heese's team found that if the plant is exposed to bacteria, it actually activates its immune system using three separate mechanisms.

Heese and her research team, including MU graduate student John M. Smith, confirmed that each mechanism responding to the infection is doing so independently of the other two mechanisms, and that each of these mechanisms must have the right amount of specific proteins, called immune receptors, in the right place to respond appropriately. Having the right combination provides the plant with an effective and efficient immune response. This discovery could allow future scientists to create new strategies to help plants fight disease and lead to better crops.

"Like any living organism, plants have limited resources and they have to use those resources effectively," Heese said. "If the plant makes too much of the proteins responsible for these mechanisms, they will suffer in other areas, such as creating quality fruit. This same discovery can be applied to many crops, including rice and soybeans, and ornamental plants, including roses, pear and apple trees. The information discovered in this study gives scientists something new to study in plants, with the eventual goal of better crops and ornamental plants."

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The above story is based on materials provided by University of Missouri-Columbia . Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.

A Simple iPad Add-On That Helps You Draw Flawlessly

The simple but brilliant iPad accessory known as Osmo, which takes real-world objects and movements and transforms them into onscreen gameplay, has a new trick up its sleeve. Its new “Masterpiece” app deploys the same clever attachment to help even the most art-challenged feel like a regular Raphael.

Masterpiece uses the Osmo’s clip-on mirror and an iPad’s front-facing camera to help you draw almost anything. The only extras you need to provide are a blank piece of paper, some pens or pencils, and a modicum of coordination.

The process is as simple as the proposition. Start by taking a photo or searching for an image within the app, which sources from Google Safe Search. You’re not limited to one or the other; you can select several images to include in one composition, so that you can pair a photo you’ve taken of a baked potato with a lion you found via the app’s integrated search function. For kids who just want a futuristic spin on an old standby, there are also canned “coloring book” projects within the app.

Once you select an image source and place a piece of paper in front of the iPad, the tablet’s screen shows a detailed outline of your subject and a live-video view of the surface in front of it. You can “trace” a subject by watching the screen while you draw on the paper, which takes a few seconds to get used to but generally works like a charm.

There are a few levels of detail you can toggle on and off for your tracing. You can start with a line-art mode, then adjust a slider to bring up different levels of shading to add depth, and then view the source image as a guide for coloring it in.

The result feels like a hybrid of tracing paper and the Matrix. With no sign of having received any assistance at all, you’ve produced a flawless still life of pretty much anything you can dream up.

In an interview, Osmo co-founder and CEO Pramod Sharma told WIRED that the app was originally conceived as an “endless coloring book,” and additional features tossed in and honed from there. Along with the drawing and coloring options, there’s an opportunity for kids to practice their cursive on a digital version of that dotted-line paper from elementary school.

According to Sharma, the drawing feature is the first Osmo experience that isn’t exclusively geared toward kids—and unlike the other Osmo games, you can enjoy it just as much solo. Children will still be a primary target, but it might also some adults the courage to start drawing again.

“Once you become an adult, one of the biggest fears is public speaking, and the second is probably drawing,” says Sharma. “Even the best drawers say they’re scared… Part of it is, in the beginning you want to draw basic stuff, but as you grow up you want to draw more complex things, and it’s hard to get the proportions and the angles right. [Masterpiece] is not about teaching to draw, it’s more about building confidence.”

The drawing you can produce is quite impressive—the fact that there aren’t any printed guidelines on the page make it look like everything is a freehand sketch, even though it was digitally “traced”—but the art itself comes with a bonus that may be even more impressive. While you draw, the app captures a video of your hand sketching out the picture, speeds it up like a time-lapse video, and lets you share it immediately via email.

“What we’ve seen with this video is that people love watching it, because it’s how this art became real,” says Sharma. “It’s going to capture anything you make as a piece of art. My daughter every day makes a lot of art—craft or drawings—and that’s hard to archive.”

According to Sharma and Osmo CTO and co-founder Jerome Scholler, beta testers for the app have already found alternative uses for Masterpiece. By placing an iPad with the Osmo attachment on the edge of a table pointing down to the floor, you can scale an onscreen image (and its guidelines) to a huge poster-size drawing.

One tester even used Osmo and the new app to decorate a cake.

“You need to put the iPad slightly higher,” said Scholler while propping it up on a thick book. “Basically, you want the surface of the cake to be as far away as the surface of the table (normally is). And then you just trace the lines.”

If you already own an Osmo, the free Masterpiece app is a must-download. Sharma and Scholler also say the 17-person Osmo team has additional apps in the pipeline, and that they’ve also been working with schools to get feedback on existing apps and ideas for future Osmo experiences.

Masterpiece launches today as a free iOS download in the App Store; the Osmo unit itself costs $79.99, which includes a variety of games.

Twitter Finally Banned Revenge Porn. Now How to Enforce It?

Last night, Twitter made the non-consensual sharing of “intimate photos and videos” (read: revenge porn) a violation of its user rules. It’s a change as necessary as it was overdue, and it signals serious intent to rid the platform of trolls and other bad actors. What’s less clear? Whether Twitter has the means to turn that intent into reality.

Set aside for a moment the confounding fact that until just a few hours ago posting nude pictures of another unwilling human was kosher in the Twitterverse. Progress is progress, even if it comes slowly. The new Twitter rules are plainly stated, unambiguous, and are designed to help a lot of vulnerable people:

Private information: You may not publish or post other people’s private and confidential information, such as credit card numbers, street address or Social Security/National Identity numbers, without their express authorization and permission. You may not post intimate photos or videos that were taken or distributed without the subject’s consent.

Emphasis added. This is a good thing! At the very least it should act as a deterrent to the everyday deviants, the scorned exes and the dumb teens.

What it doesn’t do, though, is address the root problem behind what can make Twitter feel less like a 21st century salon than a digital mud pit. Moreover, a rule like this isn’t worth much unless you’re prepared to enforce it. Plus, the new rules also still put the burden of reporting on the victim, which has to change if it’s going to do any meaningful good.

The Rule of Law

How will Twitter administer these new rules? It has several policies in place. As it outlined in response to a series of questions from Buzzfeed, the platform has a team working day and night to address complaints from its users, and violators will have their accounts suspended.

That’s a good start. In practice, though, it’s likely to be lumbering at best, and at worst largely ineffective. To get an offending picture taken down, the victim has to first know that it exists, then ask Twitter to remove it, and finally wait an unspecified and agonizing amount of time for a ruling. In the meantime, a determined troll can have set up a few dozen more accounts, each ready to post the same photo, triggering the entire process again. This is like trying to stamp out an entire ant colony by stepping on one mound.

If it seems far-fetched that someone would go through all that trouble to cause another human embarrassment and pain, very recent history has demonstrated otherwise. During the peak of the Gamergate movement, female game developers—and many, many others—found themselves the victims of a barrage of Twitter harassment, some of which included the outing of “private and confidential information” that Twitter had already banned. As soon as one vindictive account was shuttered, another sprung up in its place.

So even with these new rules, finding relief when you know you’re a target will be difficult. And if your nudes are being distributed on Twitter without your knowledge, it would seem to be impossible, since takedown requests need to come directly from the aggrieved party.

What does that mean in practice? Look at Reddit, which two weeks ago announced similar anti-revenge porn policies that went into effect this past Tuesday. So far it’s done nothing to alter the practices of forums like CandidFashionPolice, a thinly veiled creepshot emporium. These aren’t strictly nudes, but they are clearly sexualized, and definitionally nonconsensual. In most cases we can assume that the photographed women will never know those pictures exist, and so will never be able to ask for their removal.

What Else Could Twitter Do?

Outlawing revenge porn is an important, necessary first step to making Twitter a more secure environment. The company has also made a concerted effort to streamline the process of reporting harassment and abuse over the last few months, and promises even further action going forward. It’s clearly making an effort.

But these security measures as currently implemented are entirely reactive; it puts the onus on the victim to make it right.

If Twitter really wanted to beat back the trolls, it has more aggressive options available to it. Limit the number of accounts that can be associated with the same IP address. Collaborate with law enforcement. There are a few reports that the company is already taking some of these more stern measures, requiring new users signing up through the indentity-masking Tor browser to provide a phone number for verification. While Twitter deflected those reports, a report from TechCrunch appears to confirm its legitimacy.

When we asked Twitter if this policy update came with any new enforcement methods, it referred us to the same FAQ that outlined the existing process.

But here’s the point: Ultimately, eradicating this type of abuse might be impossible without fundamentally altering Twitter itself. The service’s commitment to the anonymity and privacy of its users causes plenty of harassment headaches, yes. Yet that is also what makes Twitter a valuable tool for political movements like the Arab Spring. It’s a situation without a clean answer: The same policies that ensure the safety of some users leave others exposed.

If nothing else, Twitter’s policy update shows that it actively wants to engage with these complications rather than just let them play out. There likely isn’t a single solution that helps everyone in the exact way that they need. There’s no privacy panacea. The work to ensure people’s safety is nowhere near done. There is, though, a little bit more hope for victims of online abuse today than there was yesterday. It’s not enough, but it’s a start.

How GitHub Conquered Google, Microsoft, and Everyone Else

Chris DiBona was worried everything would end up in one place.

This was a decade ago, before the idea of open source software flipped the tech world upside-down. The open source Linux operating system was already running an enormous number of machines on Wall Street and beyond, proving you can generate big value—and big money—by freely sharing software code with the world at large. But the open source community was still relatively small. When coders started new open source projects, they typically did so on a rather geeky and sometimes unreliable internet site called SourceForge.

Chris DiBona. Chris DiBona. Google

DiBona, the long-haired open source guru inside Google, was worried that all of the world’s open source software would end up in that one basket. “There was only one, and that was SourceForge,” he says.

So, like many other companies, Google created its own site where people could host open source projects. It was called Google Code. The company had built its online empire on top of Linux and other open source software, and in providing an alternative to SourceForce, it was trying to ensure open source would continue to evolve, trying to spread this religion across the net.

But then GitHub came along and spread it faster.

Today, Google announced that after ten years, it’s shutting down Google Code. The decision wasn’t hard to predict. Over the past three years or so, the company has moved about a thousand projects off of the site. But its official demise is worth noting. Google Code is dying because most of the open source world—a vast swath of the tech world in general—now houses its code on GitHub, a site bootstrapped by a quirky San Francisco startup of the same name. All but a few of those thousand projects are now on GitHub.

Some argue that Google had other, more selfish reasons for creating Google Code: It wanted control, or it was working to get as much digital data onto its machines as it could (as the company is wont to do). But ultimately, GitHub was more valuable than any of that. GitHub democratized software development in a more complete way than SourceForge or Google Code or any other service that came before. And that’s the most valuable currency in the world of software development.

GitHub: Catnip for Coders

After just seven years on the net, GitHub now boasts almost 9 million registered users. Each month, about 20 million others visit without registering. According to web traffic monitor Alexa, GitHub is now among the top 100 most popular sites on earth.

Github offices Github offices Ariel Zambelich/WIRED

Its popularity is remarkable for a site that’s typically used by software coders, not people looking for celebrity news, cat videos, or social chatter. “If you look at the top 100 sites,” says Brian Doll, GitHub’s vice president of strategy, “you’ve got a handful of social sites, thirty flavors of Google with national footprints, a lot of media outlets—and GitHub.”

The irony of GitHub’s success, however, is the open source world has returned to a central repository for all its free code. But this time, DiBona—like most other coders—is rather pleased that everything is in one place. Having one central location allows people to collaborate more easily on, well, almost anything. And because of the unique way GitHub is designed, the eggs-in-the-same-basket issue isn’t as pressing as it was with SourceForge. “GitHub matters a lot, but it’s not like you’re stuck there,” DiBona says.

While keeping all code in one place, you see, GitHub also keeps it in every place. The paradox shows the beauty of open source software—and why it’s so important to the future of technology.

Git Ready

How to explain this paradox? It’s all about Git, the “version control” software on which GitHub is based. Linus Torvalds, the creator of Linux, created Git in 2005 as a better way to build Linux. Git made it easy for many people to work on the same Linux code at the same time—without stepping on each other’s toes.

In short, Git let anyone readily download a copy of the Linux source code to their own machine, make changes, and then, whenever they felt like it, upload those changes back to the central Linux repository. And it did this in a way that everyone’s changes would merge seamlessly together. “This is the genius of Git,” DiBona says. “And GitHub’s genius is that they understood it.”

GitHub created a site where any other software project could operate much like the Linux project—a site the average coder could easily grasp. “GitHub is just really smooth,” says Rob “CmdrTaco” Malda, who lived through the open source revolution as the editor-in-chief of the tech site Slashdot. “It’s a sexy, modern interface.”

Now, pretty much everyone hosts their open source projects on GitHub, including Google, Facebook, Twitter, and even Microsoft—once the bete noire of open source software. In recent months, as Microsoft open sourced some of its most important code, it used GitHub rather than its own open source site, CodePlex.

S. “Soma” Somasegar—the 25-year Microsoft veteran who oversees the company’s vast collection of tools for software developers—says CodePlex will continue to operate, as will other repositories like Sourceforge and BitBucket. “We want to make sure it continues being there, as a choice,” he tells WIRED. But he sees GitHub as the only place for a project like Microsoft .NET. “We want to meet developers where they are,” he says. “The open source community, for the most part, is on GitHub.”

Private Meets Public

And yet, thanks to what DiBona calls the “genius of Git,” the community also operates off of GitHub. Thanks to Git, coders can not only move code onto their own machines as they work on particular projects, but can easily “fork” code as well, creating new and separate projects. They can keep some code private while publicly exposing the rest on GitHub. Or have nothing private at all.

Github offices Github offices Ariel Zambelich/WIRED

Git and GitHub, you see, aren’t just for open source software. They’re also for private code. You can easily move code from private to public and back again. You can do your own thing, but also draw on the power the collective. That’s genius of open source.

Google does all this. Go, the company’s new-age programming language, is housed on GitHub, and it’s entirely public. A project called Kartes sits in a private GitHub repo, but then it feeds a public project called Kubernetes. The Chrome browser sits on a private Git service inside Google.

At Microsoft, the system works much the same. Internally, the company uses Git via tools like Visual Studio and Team Foundation Server. But it also shares code publicly on GitHub. And in offering tools like Visual Studio and Team Foundation Server to the world at large, Microsoft is among those pushing Git into a world of other businesses. Somasegar estimates that about 20 percent of Microsoft’s customers now use Git in some way.

Developers Are People

What’s more, the community of software developers is no longer small. These are the people who now run the world—quite literally. Of GitHub’s ranking in the top 100, Doll says, “What that tells me is that software is becoming as important as the written word.”

The community of developers has become so large that GitHub is now struggling to offer tools that can accommodate activity on its largest projects, says Google engineer Igor Minar, who helps oversee the open source Angular project, which is hosted on GitHub and involves tens of thousands of coders.

Developers are everywhere. So many of them are on GitHub. And on GitHub, they’re contributing to tens of millions of open source projects. Minar describes the site as a kind of bazaar that offers just about any piece of code you might want—and so much of it free. “If you need something, you just go to GitHub,” he says. “You will find it there.” In short, open source has arrived. And, ultimately, that means we can build and shape and improve our world far more quickly than before.

Alibaba Said to Be Investing $200 Million in Snapchat

Snapchat’s star continues to rise, and now, Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba is hoping to hitch a ride.

According to anonymous sources cited by Bloomberg, Alibaba is in the process of investing $200 million in the messaging service, at a $15 billion valuation. Snapchat declined to comment for this story, but Bloomberg reports that investment would be independent of the $500 million that Snapchat was reportedly seeking to raise last month, which would have valued the company as high as $19 billion, nearly twice the valuation it received just last year.

In other words, Snapchat is friggin’ rolling in it, creeping up behind companies like Uber, with its $40 billion valuation, and the Chinese smartphone maker Xiaomi, which is currently valued at $45 billion. Investors are drawn to Snapchat because of its existing traction among young mobile users, but also because of the ephemeral messaging app’s potential to become a gargantuan new media company, a promise on which the startup has recently begun to deliver.

In January, Snapchat launched Discover, which allows media companies from CNN to ESPN to post bite-sized bits of content in the app. And this week, Digiday reported that Snapchat is even working on deals with the NCAA and Turner to broadcast live sports within the app. As WIRED’s Marcus Wohlsen recently wrote, investors and advertisers alike see Snapchat as a way to capture “the eyeballs of the future, a market that over the past decade has made billions look like a bargain.”

Alibaba has ambitions far beyond China and the e-commerce market itself. Linking itself to Snapchat will help Alibaba gain a foothold in a growing American market and put it on more equal footing with its Chinese rival Tencent, which previously invested in Snapchat. As one analyst told Bloomberg, “Alibaba has major plans to access overseas markets. They also have intentions to move into social networks.”

Still, in considering this report, it’s important to remember that last year the two companies were reportedly involved in similar talks, which then fell apart. But considering the recent buying and investing spree Alibaba has been on, it seems now may be the time.

Scientists transfer pathogen-sensing ‘ANTENNA’ gene to wheat

A team of scientists from the John Innes Centre (JIC), the National Institute of Agricultural Botany (NIAB) and The Sainsbury Laboratory (TSL) have successfully transferred a receptor that recognises bacteria from the model plant Arabidopsis thaliana -- a dicot, to wheat -- a monocot. They showed that the receptor can trigger a defensive response and confers increased resistance to bacterial disease. The research findings demonstrate that the signalling pathways or circuitry downstream of the receptor are conserved between evolutionary distant monocots and dicots.

Drs Henk-jan Schoonbeek and Christopher Ridout, the lead and corresponding authors of a paper published in The New Phytologist today, first developed diagnostic tools which tests wheat for responses to pathogen-associated molecular patterns (PAMPs). These PAMPs are often essential parts of fungi or bacteria -- they would find it difficult to mutate or lose them without affecting their fitness or survival. Pattern recognition receptors recognise and confer a response to such PAMPs and could contribute to durable resistance. The authors have demonstrated that wheat has the circuitry to respond to these pathogens but not all the antennae required to perceive pathogens most effectively.

The JIC scientists worked with TSL and the crop transformation team at NIAB to transfer a receptor gene, EFR, conferring recognition of the widespread bacterial protein EF-Tu, from Arabidopsis to wheat, and used their diagnostic tools to show that the receptor was functional. EFR works like a new antenna that activates defence elements already present and makes the wheat plants more resistant to bacteria. Since EF-Tu is essential, the authors predict this type of resistance should be durable. EFR was first identified by Professor Cyril Zipfel, Head of TSL, and co-author of the paper. Prof Zipfel pioneered inter-species transfer of PRRs, and recently reported a converse transfer of a monocot PRR to dicot plants, further illustrating the ancient evolutionary conservation of immune signalling between these plant classes.

Bacterial wheat diseases are widespread in Asia and Africa,* and present in the USA. The diagnostic tool can be used immediately to help breeders screen seed varieties for PAMP recognition, and therefore resistance to multiple bacterial pathogens.

Chris Ridout said: "Our work demonstrates the importance of developing this type of resistance in wheat. As the wheat genome is sequenced further and we continue our analysis of receptor genes in dicots, we hope to identify more genes that can be used to develop durable resistance, not only to bacterial diseases, but to the most important fungal pathogens of wheat such as yellow rust, Septoria and powdery mildew."

* The Bacterial Disease of Wheat -- Concepts and methods of disease management, CIMMYT, 1997; P25 & 26.

Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by John Innes Centre . Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.

Powers Turns a Great Comic Into a Lackluster TV Show

These days, it feels you can’t throw a Tesseract without hitting a superhero television show. But Powers, the latest entry in the capes-and-tights genre, isn’t on network TV or cable or even Netflix; it’s the first original show for Sony’s PlayStation Network. It is a big leap forward into original programming for the burgeoning network—and, sadly, also a big misstep.

Based on the much-loved indie comic book series by Brian Michael Bendis and artist Michael Avon Oeming, Powers is primarily the story of Christian Walker (Sharlto Copley), a square-jawed detective beating the streets in a city where the skies are filled with demigods. But there’s also more to Detective Walker than meets the eye; as we soon learn, he doesn’t just police superheroes—he used to be one. Before a tragic and somewhat vague accident claimed his power, he was a nigh-invincible hero named Diamond. It’s a tragic backstory that places him at the fulcrum of the two worlds, allowing him to explore the dark side of both the streets and skies with equal ease.

But while Powers’ comic book precursor was boundary-pushing, its TV counterpart has softened its edges and failed to keep pace with the scores of superhero shows that have come since its debut. Time has not necessarily been kind to Powers—and it shows.

When the comic book series first hit the stands in 2000, its savvy, street-level take on superhero tropes felt like a revelation. It offered not only a fresh, mature-readers-wanted twist on the spandex genre but also a delicious satire of celebrity culture, imagining a world where the heroes flying through the sky suffered all the accompanying drug addictions, pettiness, and sexual misconduct that so often accompany fame. Long before Gotham—and its comic book predecessor, Gotham CentralPowers took the primary-colored world of superheroes and brought it down to earth with a noir police procedural whose clever, rapid-fire dialogue could give Joss Whedon a run for his money.

In the decade since its comic shop debut, however, these sorts of riffs have become de rigeur even in the mainstream comics they originally chopped and screwed—including the comics that Bendis himself went on to write, as he rose from indie darling to a key architect of the modern Marvel Comics superhero universe.

The rise of social media has turned modern-day celebrity culture into what already feels like a super-charged version of its former self, and Powers struggles to catch up to the bleeding edge of celebrity BS, mustering little more than Inside Edition ripoffs and superhero news apps.

Worse, the sharp, rapid-fire dialogue and crackling odd-couple chemistry that still make the Powers comics feel special are almost entirely absent in the pilot (watch it above in full), whittled down to gentle edges that feel indistinguishable from any other superhero show.

Part of the appeal of the square-jawed, brooding Detective Walker was the sense that a fallen demigod always lurked beyond the badge, as though the clothes of his human life were always a little bit too small. Perhaps the worst indictment of Copley as Walker is that he fits into the shoes of his beat cop persona so seamlessly, feeling every bit like Just Another Guy with little gravitas that isn’t generated by his omnipresent aviator shades.

PowersComic Marvel/Icon

By far the most interesting thing about the show is the way it differs from the comics, especially around its female characters. Although Walker’s first partner, Deena Pilgrim, is a wiry white woman with a blond pixie cut, the Deena we meet on the small screen is black, played by Susan Heyward of The Following fame. Although Walker ends up paired with a black, female partner later in the comic book series, the character we see on the screen isn’t an amalgam of the two, but rather the product of race-blind casting.

But the most dramatic character shift surely belongs to Retro Girl. In the comics, we never actually meet the red-caped heroine. Because she’s dead. (Think of her as the Laura Palmer of the comic series, a magnetic, much-loved teenage girl whose death hangs over the first story arc like a beatific specter.) In the television series, however, Retro Girl is not only very much alive, she’s evolved from a teen into a 40-something woman, played by Michelle Forbes, the superb actress best known for playing Ensign Ro on Star Trek: The Next Generation and Commander Cain in the reimagined Battlestar Galactica.

In her hands, Retro Girl promises to be a powerful presence rather than a negative space—not to mention the rare instance of a mature female hero—and perhaps the one light that cuts through the pervasive feeling that you’ve seen all of this before, and better.

Retro Girl’s appearance in the land of the living also teases the sort of narrative deviation that we’ve seen on comic book adaptations like AMC’s The Walking Dead, where startling shifts from the established story can add unexpected layers to familiar characters that surprise and please even devoted fans.

At first glance, however, Powers suffers not only from a failure to translate its best qualities to the small screen but also a failure to innovate on them, especially as the ever-widening world of superhero television has flourished by doing exactly that. It’s not as comfortably familiar as the slow-burning Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., not as entertaining as The Flash, and not as progressive as the whip-smart Agent Carter. So what is it? Um, dunno.

If Powers aims to escape the long shadow created by the successors to its own source material, it had best start solving that mystery. Fast.

Food in Fukushima is Safe, but Fear Remains

A prospective buyer inspects the quality of fresh tuna before the first auction of the year at Tsukiji fish market in Tokyo, Jan. 5, 2015. A prospective buyer inspects the quality of fresh tuna before the first auction of the year at Tsukiji fish market in Tokyo, Jan. 5, 2015. Eugene Hoshiko/AP

Sae Ochi should know better, and she knows she should know better. As the director of internal medicine at Soma Central Hospital, just 30 miles from the Fukushima-Daiichi nuclear power plant that melted down after a tsunami in 2011, part of her job is to monitor local radiation exposure levels. She has screened thousands of people, and only a few showed levels high enough for her most sensitive instruments to detect. She eats locally grown food sold at the supermarket and even the occasional wild berry, which probably does contain a bit of radiation. “When I go hiking, I will eat a berry or two, because it’s only a tiny amount and it looks so delicious,” Ochi says. But then she adds a caveat: “That’s because I have no children.” If Ochi were a parent, she says, she wouldn’t do it—even though she knows local radiation levels are negligible. “All mothers,” she says, “try to take zero risks.”

Researchers have accumulated and analyzed reams of data about food from Fukushima and the Pacific Ocean. A protective system stopped even potentially contaminated food from getting to the public. Extensive decontamination, monitoring, and regulations have made food from around Fukushima perfectly safe. Yet fear persists.

Between 2011 and 2014, an ambitious government program checked the radiation levels of nearly every kind of food produced in Fukushima. The program sampled milk at dairy centers once every two weeks, and tested fruits, vegetables, and tea leaves at their farms of origin, three days before they were scheduled to ship. In total, the program took nearly 900,000 samples. “When I saw this number, I was stunned,” says Georg Steinhauser, a chemist at Colorado State University. “This hasn’t been done in the history of mankind.” Steinhauser was the first researcher to dive into the mounds of data to try to figure out how radiation levels changed over time. His team focused on one leading indicator: cesium 137, one of the longest-lived radioactive byproducts of a meltdown. They dug into nearly 140,000 samples from the first year of the monitoring program.

For the vast majority of the samples, radiation levels were below Japan’s limits, the strictest in the world. The government’s standards limited radiation levels in food to just one-sixth the levels permissible in food imported to Europe, for example—and to just 1/100,000 the levels produced by naturally occurring radioactive isotopes in a human being. Steinhauser’s team found that just a year after the Fukushima meltdown, radiation in only 3.3 percent of the food exceeded Japan’s limits. The numbers rose to 4.0 percent in the second year, but eventually dropped to 0.6 percent by the end of August 2014. The food, it appears, is getting safer over time. Virtually no item above Japan’s limit—no piece of fruit, meat, or anything else—got into any supermarket.

After the Fukushima meltdown, government teams stripped the outer bark off of trees in the area, and removed the top several inches of soil. That kind of decontamination is specifically aimed at cesium, which falls out of the air like dust. “It’s transported by wind and clouds,” says Kathy Higley, a radioecologist at Oregon State University who studies decontamination. “Then it washes out, or it contacts and sticks to surfaces.” If it falls on plants that animals then eat, the animals get contaminated, too. But it turns out that cesium actually has a tough time getting into plants. They absorb it because chemically cesium looks a lot like the essential nutrient potassium, but Fukushima soil is already potassium-rich—and fertilized with even more. So the crops tended to take up the nutrient instead of the radioactive imposter. And cesium-137 tended to stick to the clay in the soil, too.

Of course, that’s just food produced in Fukushima. Some radiation did get into the ocean, and researchers detected radiation in fish along the coasts of Oregon and Washington—but in negligible amounts. “The fact that you can see it doesn’t mean that it’s a hazard,” says Delvan Neville, a graduate student at Oregon State University who studies radiation levels in albacore tuna. The enormous size of the Pacific dilutes radioactive isotopes until they’re harmless. In fact, only one percent of the radioactivity in the ocean comes from Fukushima, Steinhauser says. The rest? Cold War-era nuclear weapons tests. “Fukushima has not made a big impact on overall radioactivity, believe it or not,” he says.

The problem is, a lot of people still don’t believe it. “People are really afraid that the Pacific is so contaminated that you can’t eat any fish anymore,” Steinhauser says. “It’s not true, and I find it very difficult. This is one of the biggest challenges in my work.”

Even the converted feel torn. Ochi, for example, knows it’s important to dispel irrational fears, yet she sympathizes with the fearful. “Maybe there is nothing that is perfectly correct or perfectly wrong,” she says. “The most important thing is not to blame people who make a different decision.” But when those decisions are clearly wrong, such as extreme cases in which mothers feed their children McDonald’s because they think it’s safer, her rational side emerges. “Some people try too hard to avoid radiation, and bring in other health risks,” she says. It’s a tug-of-war between fear and science, a conflict that remains a challenge in Fukushima.

Hacked Fridges Aren’t the Internet of Things’ Biggest Worry

As we start to connect more and more of the things in our lives to the web—from our cars to our to thermostats to our barbecue grills—it’s hard not to worry about those things being hacked. No one wants their toaster to become a spambot, after all.

But Ken Westin, a security analyst at the software company TripWire says it’s not the things in the Internet of Things that we should worry about. It’s those cloud servers with vast databases of personal information gathered from all those connected devices. “It’s kind of sexy to talk about hacking a refrigerator, or about how our watches are going to be hacked,” he says. “But if you look at hacking, it’s a business. There needs to be an return on investment.”

Ken Westin. Ken Westin. courtesy Ken Westin

And in the business of hacking, it’s not the device that’s valuable. It’s the data they generate. Not that individual devices aren’t a problem. They’re notoriously hard to secure, and can be trivially easy to compromise because so many people fail to change the default user names and passwords. But they don’t tend to contain a ton of data—at least not compared to the servers with which they communicate.

The biggest return on a cybercriminal’s investment, then, isn’t in hacking some rando’s toaster, it’s in grabbing data from thousands of users at a time by hacking servers. Consider the seemingly never ending string of high profile hacks, from Home Depot to Target to, of course, Sony. Each of these incidents spilled user names, credit card details, or other information onto the web. And that’s just the beginning.

Your Data Self-Portrait

We’re putting ever greater amounts of data into the cloud. Nest knows which rooms in your house you spend the time in, and when. Smart appliances transmit our voice commands to their manufacturers. Car insurance companies deploy tracking devices to gauge driver safety. Fitness trackers know our heart rates and how many steps we take each day. The photos we upload to Instagram may include geographic coordinates. In addition to the information we deliberately post to Twitter and Facebook, social networks could log other information, such as how often we log in and what times we generally post.

Individually, it might not seem like much of this data would be problematic if it were leaked. But as it starts to be combined in new ways, this data in wrong hands could come back to haunt us, perhaps even years later.

“As we interact with our devices there’s this trail of digital exhaust that we leave behind,” he says. “Once you combine this data and create very rich profiles of people, I worry that it’s going to be the death of privacy.”

And those profiles become even richer when our homes themselves are conveying intimate, constant data about our minute-to-minute actions in our own homes.

Follow the Data Trail

Westin knows how damning these data trails can be. He used to use them to put people in jail back when he ran GadgetTrak, a company that helped victims recover stolen devices like digital cameras, laptops, and smart phones. The key was following all the different digital bread crumbs users leave behind without even realizing it. “One piece of data is great, it gets us in the ballpark,” he says. “But there’s always additional information from every interaction we make.”

For example, he was once able to trace a stolen USB device to a college computer lab. That wasn’t enough to find the culprit, but the school required a student ID card to enter the lab, and kept logs of who had used it. With that data, along and surveillance footage from the college’s security footage, Westin and company were able to pinpoint the thief.

Now Westin worries that the same techniques that he used to catch criminals could also be used by criminals to spy on, well, just about anyone.

Only What’s Needed

It’s hard to say exactly how our data might be misused in the future, and it will likely vary from person to person. Westin says the worst case scenario might be espionage: countries hacking Internet of Things servers to get dirt on political officials. But for most of us, the risks will likely be the possibility of mildly to severely embarrassing information finding its way into the wrong hands.

Today hackers often sell databases full of stolen credit card numbers, social security numbers and passwords. In the future, these databases could include even more personal information gathered from sensors and connected devices. A stalker, or someone with a grudge against you, could go to these marketplaces, find your personal info, and buy it. Or the hackers could try to sell your data back to you for a fee.

Westin says the most important thing that companies can do to help protect their customers is to stop gathering data that isn’t necessary for the operation of the service. Beyond that, they can encrypt the data they do collect — preferably in ways that only the customers themselves can decrypt. New laws regulating what information can be collected, and how it can be stored, may also help.

What We Can Do

Individuals, meanwhile, should think about what types of data they’re producing, and where that data is ending up, and when possible, choose products and services that don’t collect information or that have clear policies and guidelines on how that information is stored and protected. This could be tough, however, with so many makers of connected devices eager to suck up valuable data on their customers.

Despite his concerns, Westin is actually pretty optimistic about the future. Yes, there’s been a rash of bad news for privacy in recent years, ranging form the Snowden revelations to Lenovo shipping adware by default on its laptops. But those incidents are bringing more awareness to the issues.

“We’re becoming more privacy conscious,” he says. “That’s the silver lining. It’s all moving in the right direction.”

The Juggernaut: A Giant Growler That’s Also a Tiny Keg

The DrinkTanks 128 oz Juggernaut features a new, patent-pending Kegulator cap. The DrinkTanks 128 oz Juggernaut features a new, patent-pending Kegulator cap. DrinkTanks

DrinkTanks calls its new one-gallon pressurized receptacle a growler. And while the Juggernaut is technically just that—you can fill it with beer and stash it in the fridge, or carry it on the go—it’s more useful to think of the 128-ounce behemoth as your own personal, portable keg.

While most growlers feature a standard screw-on cap, the Juggernaut employs a “Kegulator” topper, comprising a regulator, integrated CO2, a tap system, a purge valve, and a pressure gauge. In other words, it’s got all the makings of a proper keg in miniature form, so you can keep your beer fresh until you’re ready to pour.

The Kegulator cap makes life easier for growler guzzlers, but it’s an even handier tool for homebrewers who prefer to work with small, one-gallon batches.

Most traditional kegging systems are designed for batches that are 5 gallons and up, and while you can find alternatives on the smaller side (typically 2.5-3 gallons), they’re expensive, take up valuable fridge space, and present headspace problems for your brew if you neglect to properly purge the excess oxygen in the keg.

The Juggernaut, however, is a bit better fit for one-gallon wonders. It’s self-contained, much more fridge-friendly, and it makes force carbonation a snap: just turn the valve to achieve the desired psi (0-40) and leave the Juggernaut to it. Crucially, this also saves you the fuss of having to wash, sanitize, prime, pour, and cap 8-12 bottles just to carbonate and preserve your brew. It all happens inside the Juggernaut.

The entire system—growler, Kegulator, and all—costs $119. That’s not a bad price for a self-contained small batch kegging system, and its parts are easily swapped or replaced, so if something breaks you likely won’t be out the expense of a whole new Juggernaut unless you’re looking to double your fun.

Take the Juggernaut with you when you camping, hiking, or picnicking. Just swap the Kegulator cap for the standard transport cap. Take the Juggernaut with you when you camping, hiking, or picnicking. Just swap the Kegulator cap for the standard transport cap. DrinkTanks

Because no one likes a warm beer, the Juggernaut is also double-wall vacuum insulated. That means cold beverages will remain cold in—sans refrigeration—for up to 24 hours, and hot beverages stay hot up to 12 hours, making it a useful camping buddy. It’s also dishwasher safe, so when you get back, toss it in with the flatware and take a nap.

DrinkTanks first cropped up in 2013, when it brought us a 64 oz “classic” growler—a smaller version of the Juggernaut, sporting a less sophisticated Keg Cap—with the help of a crowdfunding campaign. It’s using Kickstarter again to launch Juggernaut.

A company called GrowlerWerks wrapped a wildly successful Kickstarter campaign in December for its uKeg—a similar 128 oz growler with a regulator, pressure gauge, and tap—but Juggernaut offers a few additional features at a slightly lower price.

The uKeg is $10 more and unlike its DrinkTanks counterpart, its external regulator and tap components can’t be removed for cleaning, sanitizing, or hauling. The Juggernaut also has a standard cap that can be swapped with the Kegulator cap for rough-and-tumble transport.

Standalone topper options like GrowlTap are also on the market if you like the idea of having beer on tap from your growler, but prefer using your own growlers or think that an entire kegging system is overkill.

If nothing else, innovations like the Juggernaut are a welcome reminder that there’s just no excuse anymore for drinking flat beer. And cheers to that.

Here’s How the US Should Fight ISIS With Social Media

Men paint over a graffiti of Ian ISIS flag on the wall in Surakarta, Indonesia, August 5, 2014 . Men paint over a graffiti of an ISIS flag on the wall in Surakarta, Indonesia, August 5, 2014. Agoes Rudianto/Barcroft Media /Landov

The Islamic State wants to rule the world. It murders enemies—sometimes in mass, sometimes individually, always brutally. It enslaves and abuses women. It jails everyday joes for smoking, drinking, trading, or speaking their minds. It is a brutal, dead-end regime cloaked in a perverted medieval understanding of one of the world’s great religious faiths.

But one of the scariest things, Westerners seem to agree, is that ISIS is really good at Twitter.

Adam Weinstein


Adam Weinstein runs the Fortress America blog at Gawker dot com. A former social media editor and military public affairs consultant in Iraq, he wrote his master’s thesis on winning hearts and minds in the war on terror. It was completely wrong.

The U.S. diplomatic corps is fully engaged in a battle to beat ISIS in the electronic talkosphere. But what does that mean, exactly?

So far, the government’s social media campaign against ISIS has been, like most governmental campaigns, long on bureaucracy and short on details. The State Department’s chief of “public diplomacy,” former Time managing editor Rick Stengel, oversees a Center for Strategic Counterterrorism Communications, whose portfolio includes social media culture-jamming. Its tasks include “creating communities of interest, supporting positive voices, narrowing the space violent extremists have to work in, repeatedly and aggressively presenting the reality of what is going on on the ground,” according to former CSCC head Alberto Fernandez.

How that happens is fairly opaque. Part of that is because of government inside baseball–intrigues on who should run the State Department’s anti-ISIS team, and how tightly it should coordinate with other agencies. But there are deeper structural problems with the whole endeavor, too. My experience in wartime military social media is: There are a multitude of ways to screw it up, and not many ways to get a positive result.

With that in mind, here are a few strategies the U.S. can use to combat ISIS. Like any strategy in counterinsurgency, none is a panacea, but all have advantages worth considering. Some of these the government is already doing, though I have some notes for how to improve their reach. Others are my own humble suggestions. Take ‘em or leave ‘em.

Play Some Mood Music

The first and most obvious strategy is to use social media the way a government agency or corporation uses any other PR tool: To tell a coherent story about yourself and your competitors. This the government is attempting to do.

“More important than ideologies and ideas are how those elements are packaged, delivered and digested for wider audiences,” Fernandez says. “More than fully formed ideologies, we are all prodded and driven by narratives – by stories, images, slogans, memes, and stereotypes.”

This means performing some typical Twitter feats—fact-checking and #realkeeping when dullards spout detestable dumbness. Beyond that, it also means humanizing Americans and their allies, as well as the victims of ISIS aggression. “Given some of the language you sometimes hear from lone wolf attacks in the West or al-Qaeda propaganda videos,” Fernandez says, “you would be shocked to know that 85 percent of their victims are Muslims and that that percentage has risen even higher in the past few years.”

One achievable goal, then, is “to reclaim the stories and lives of these forgotten victims” and articulate the damage ISIS actually does, including to its own adherents. It also means retweeting emotionally resonant messages like this:

How much does this approach accomplish? Very little among jihadis, who will easily counter that Western policies are just as responsible for death and mayhem. And it does nothing to dispel overly simplistic accounts of the ISIS-U.S. struggle as a “clash of civilizations.” But it has fewer drawbacks than more targeted, aggressive strategies–unless, of course, it deteriorates into bombastic propaganda and scaremongering stereotypes.

Target Specific Users With Smarm

One way the State Department uses its mood music is to blast it out at individuals who toe the jihadi line. Its “Think Again, Turn Away” program aims to deter them from joining the global jihad by pointing out its costs and the hypocrisy of its leaders.

How effective are these tweets and videos? Good damn question. “If you’re talking about would-be extremists reading a tweet and turning away from violence as a result, it’s hard to tell how much that is happening,” CSCC official Will McCants told Mother Jones early last year, before leaving for the Brookings Institution. “So if you measure success that way, it’s hard to know.”

One recent study says such campaigns are dismissed as disingenuous “spin” by target audiences and “generate more negativity” toward the U.S. and its social media operators. And when a campaign goes bad, brother, it goes comically bad. The State Department became the butt of multiple jokes in 2013 after releasing a bizarre YouTube video spoofing Al Qaeda leader Ayman Al-Zawahiri. As the Daily Dot observed: “Dying is easy. Comedy is hard.”

There’s another dilemma that complicates this sort of campaign: If you’re trying to sincerely engage young Muslim populations to dissuade them from supporting ISIS, your conversation needs to meet them on their level to be credible, and that kind of a conversation would likely outrage conservative-leaning US citizens—creeping sharia and all that. To be able to articulate how murder and torture are un-Islamic, you have to be conversant in Islamic jurisprudence and cultures, and to also exercise a degree of empathy with your subject. Doing that without pandering, or appearing to pander, to terror is a tall order in the American political atmosphere.

For example, Fernandez’ successor to run the CSCC is a Muslim American who was immediately accused by right-wing loons of being too cozy with the dreaded Muslim Brotherhood. Great point, Breitbart! Perhaps you’d prefer if U.S. digital outreach to the Muslim world was run by your crazy uncle with the Benghazi theories and a sticker affixed to his Dodge pickup window of Calvin pissing on Bin Laden and Obama.

Of course, that’s not how this sort of information operation works. This is classic counter-intelligence stuff here. Exactly what is needed is someone who can communicate comfortably with would-be extremists with cultural sensitivity and knowledge. You don’t win hearts and minds by telling your subject he’s wrong and immoral. You get build trust through credibility.

Turn the Trolling Up to 11

In for a penny, in for a pound. Take it for granted that they’re wrong, and everyone knows it. Then annoy the hell out of them with withering wit for being wrong.

One classic example of the hard troll is hashtag hijacking, as when an Al Qaeda Twitter account used a specific hashtag in 2013 to solicit ideas for new terror attacks… and ended up with a lot of facetious responses. (In that case, it wasn’t the U.S. government that ruined that hashtag campaign–it was regular twitter users. But the government could easily follow that lead.)

In another good case, opponents of ISIS in their Syrian stronghold, Raqqa, taunted trash-talking foreign jihadis for shopping instead of, you know, doing jihad:

This kind of trolling is psychically satisfying, and it rallies your own supporters, and who knows? Maybe it annoys jihadis to the point of backing off. Anyone who’s ever been trolled knows how hard it is to use Twitter for about 36 hours afterward.

At its best, trolling could theoretically accomplish something more. Movements with high ambitions lose momentum when those ambitions go unfulfilled. As Graeme Wood recently argued in The Atlantic, the Islamic State has mighty ambitions that require it not just to hold territory, but to expand its reach. Which means that pointing out its recent entrenchment and other failures might actually raise some tough questions in jihadis’ minds: Come on, al-Baghdadi, when’s it gonna be our time? It potentially sows doubts in ISIS sympathizers’ minds that ISIS really has the divine mandate it claims.

Court Some Proxies to Do Your Work for You

Probably the most effective and most troubling government strategy is to get NGOs, grassroots groups, and individual influencers to do your messaging for you.

This can work for obvious reasons: Bad guys and their sympathizers don’t care what the US government wants them to do, but they can be influenced by peers or cultural in-groups. “People who are attracted to [jihadism] don’t go to the government for their guidance on what to do,” Nicholas Rasmussen, the director of the National Counterterrorism Center, told the Senate Intelligence Committee in early February.

There are plenty of passionate social media users who bravely resist ISIS’s brand of governance and religion. Those embarrassing tweets above from the streets of Raqqa? They’re from activists from “Raqqa Is Being Slaughtered Silently,” a group of anti-ISIS, anti-Assad locals operating in the city to undermine terrorists’ hold on the place.

For his part, Stengel, the undersecretary of state, is ready to leverage them. He thinks efforts like that have literally stopped some young people from joining ISIS. “They’re reading the messages, they’re hearing the messages—not just from us but from the hundreds of Islamic clerics who have said that this is a perversion of Islam, from the hundreds of Islamic scholars who have said the same thing,” he told CNN–though he didn’t cite any specific evidence.

It’s unclear to what extent the US is currently coordinating or running efforts by NGOs, clerics, and everyday individuals, but doing so carries huge risks for everyone involved. It co-opts the messengers, potentially endangers them, and gives audiences more reason to suspect the anti-ISIS messages they receive are nothing more than clunky propaganda.

Gather Intelligence

Most good social media editors know their job isn’t just to push out content; it’s also to see what’s going on “out there.” When you’re tracking jihadis and their fans on teh internetz, that task becomes all-important—listening and watching are probably more critical skills than talking back.

“If every single ISIS supporter disappeared from Twitter tomorrow, it would represent a staggering loss of intelligence—assuming that intelligence is in fact being mined effectively by someone somewhere,” terrorism experts J.M. Berger and Jonathon Morgan wrote in a new Brookings report published this month.

Berger and Morgon estimate there are some 50,000 ISIS members or sympathizers on Twitter, many of them still pushing out geotagged photos and texts–even though the jihadi group has ordered its members to be smarter than that. And some agencies and contractors are already hoovering up this data for analysis and recommendations.

Interestingly, “the most valuable intelligence tends to emanate from the least obvious vectors, such as accounts with very small numbers of followers,” the authors write. “The most active and visible accounts contain more noise, and their content is more carefully stage-managed by ISIS and its adherents.”

Get jihadi Recruiters’ and Rabblerousers’ Accounts Suspended

“ISIS supporters themselves… characterized the effects of the suspensions as ‘devastating’ in strategy documents, and repeatedly emphasized the importance of creating new accounts,” Berger and Morgon write, adding that hashtag mentions of the group have dwindled from 40,000 a day in September 2014 to 5,000 last month–a result of efforts by Twitter staff in San Francisco to disrupt the group’s communications.

This is alarming to many free-speech activists, who fear a government-corporate alliance of speech police could have a broader chilling effect on unpopular sentiments. It’s true: the ground for an overreaction and an excessively censorious culture is fertile. But it’s not an either-or proposition, Berger says, insisting that “we can enforce some controls over terrorism online without knocking everyone off.” He adds that there’s little truth to claims that suspending some “terrorist accounts” loses analysts valuable intelligence. But it sure cuts down on horrible execution videos.

Ultimately: Do as Little as Possible

This is arguably my most radical suggestion for how the US can combat ISIS online: it should do nothing. Or at least, not much, beyond intelligence-gathering and occasionally lobbying social media companies to suspend especially odious mujahids.


Doing nothing in particular has multiple advantages. First, it plays to a government agency’s strengths. But most importantly, it doesn’t inflate the enemy’s importance.

Most of the U.S. government’s engagement with jihadis violates a key social media rule for influential users: Punch up, not down. Getting into a Twitter fight, for example, with an egg-avatar knucklehead who has three followers mostly just gives him a bigger platform than he could ever have alone–and makes him look to others as if he’s worth your time.

This principle is clearer when you consider how we in the media have covered ISIS’ social media chops, expanding the group’s clout by lavishing attention on it. Many a trend story was written over an idle, probably meaningless threat promulgated by some three-follower stand-in for ISIS on Twitter. “Most mainstream media reaches a far larger audience than any IS social media account,” Berger wrote last year in a broadly shared admonition to journalists covering ISIS’s social media. “Consider whether you are taking a nobody and making him or her a somebody.”

He cites the lesson of Inspire, the laughably stupid English-language Al Qaeda magazine that began catching major headlines as soon as it was published, with features like “Build a Bomb in the Kitchen of Your Mom” and an article on turning your pickup truck into a sword-twirling tractor of death to plow crowds with.

It might have fizzled, if everyone had ignored it. Instead, the media had a freakout, wringing its hands over impossible scenarios dreamed up by chickenhawking islamists. “Inspire would never have reached so many people as it did if not for the constant and overwhelming inflation of its value in the Western media, an inflation that was often based on inaccurate information,” Berger says. “And Inspire lapped up that coverage like a thirsty kitten.”

Likewise with ISIS, whose prominence–and whose alleged social media prowess–have been fueled by the ceaseless media attention, a feedback loop that expands the Islamic State’s “brand” and reach.

Most of this plays right into ISIS’ hands. It doesn’t mind government accounts tweeting out stories about its brutality; it counts on it. “In fact, the Islamic State’s media strategy, through its online social media posts and publications, highlights the group’s intention to scare all its enemies,” writes Al-Monitor’s Ali Hashem. He’s totally right: Some enemies will be scared into submission, and some–like the U.S.–will be scared into overreacting, online and on the ground. Sometimes, the best strategic advice is the counsel of the frustrated tic-tac-toe-playing computer in War Games: The only winning move is not to play.