Light Friday: How to Stop NSA from Spying on You

June 14, 2013

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Big Brother may be watching you, me, and just about everybody, but is there a way to escape this digital Panopticon?

Following National Security Agency (NSA) whistleblower/leaker Edward Snowden’s revelations in the Guardian and Washington Post that the spy agency vacuums up telecommunications data from Verizon, Google, Skype, and many other Internet and telecommunications companies within the U.S., many are wondering how to protect their data from prying government eyes and ears.

However, phone taps and email records are not the only way one can track your information online. A study at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology showed that combining just four cell phone calls from data can distinguish any one caller from another, New Scientist reports. Further, German Malte Spitz obtained his own call records and, cross-referencing them with public data on social networks, was able to create a fairly accurate map of his whereabouts for a six month period.

So, how can we keep our secret information, well, secret?

New Scientist lists several apps that can encrypt your communications and send them over wireless networks, but these encryptions are not foolproof. Further, you can use the WebRTC (Web Real-Time Communication) standard over the Tor network, which cut information into batches and send them over a widespread network of servers.

Additionally, volunteers are working together on Project Meshnet to create a “second internet” that is free from government and large corporate presence.

However, the only real way to keep your digital information out of the government’s hands? Don’t create any.

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Robot Subs to Search for Alien Life

If there’s life in the universe, it will likely be under water.

To sustain life anywhere in the universe, scientists agree that one of the critical building blocks is H2O. Without this simple molecule the entire evolution of our planet may have never occurred.

It stands to reason that if we’re looking for life on other planets we should look in places that have water in abundance. Trouble is, most planets and moons in our solar system are bone dry. However, there are a few candidates that are home to liquid water. Most prominent among them is Jupiter’s icy moon, Europa.

Under the kilometers-thick ice crust of Europa lies a vast ocean of liquid water. The European Space Agency (ESA) believes that sometime around 2030 they’ll be sending missions to the Jovian that may carry robotic submarines capable of exploring the icy deeps.

While no missions details have yet been released, that hasn’t stopped Jonas Jonsson, a researcher at Sweden’s Upsalla University’s Angstrom Space Technology Centre, from designing mini subs that might one day find themselves submersed in an alien sea. Named Deeper Access, Deeper Understanding, or DADU for short, the Swedish submersible is just a tad larger than two soda cans stacked end to end. To maneuver and propel the sub, eight small thrusters are mounted on the rear of the craft.

Outside of DADU’s fairly simply arrangement of mechanical components lies a suite of sonar, laser, and temperature sensors that will help the craft collectinformation about Europa’s seas.  Additionally, the sub will be equipped with a high-res video camera allowing it to look deep into the moon’s dark ocean. While these stock, passive apparatus will likely deliver incredible data, the most intriguing instrument on the sub may be a proposed sampling and filtration device for collecting and studying micro-organisms that could be living on Europa.

To communicate all of this information back to scientists on Earth (or maybe even Mars by that time) the sub will be tethered to the surface via a fiber optic cable.

Between now and 2030 DADU’s designers have imagined a few real world tests that could help refine the subs mechanical and navigation systems. “"A mission to explore Lake Vostok in Antarctica… would of course be the 'Holy Grail' mission, and a real proof of concept for a future mission to explore… Europa” Said Jonsson.

This article was originally published on Engineering.com and is reprinted in its entirety with permission. For more stories like this please visit Engineering.com.
Cheetahs Thrive on Tight Turns

A tight turning radius is a highly desirable trait in a sports car. But did you know it’s also key to the success of cheetahs in the wild?

Cheetahs are natural sprinters capable of short bursts of up to 60 mph. Alan M. Wilson, a professor at the Royal Veterinary College at the University of London, recently published a paper noting that the animal’s ability to maneuver, including slowing down and making sudden turns, is what gives it the biggest edge over its prey.

“Cheetahs don’t actually go very fast when they’re hunting,” Wilson told The New York Times. “The hunt is much more about maneuvering, about acceleration, about ducking and diving to capture the prey.”

Wilson and his team used tracking collars with solar-charged accelerometers, gyroscopes, and GPS technology to monitor the movements of five cheetahs in the Okavango Delta region of Botswana in southern Africa over the course of six to nine months. The team observed 367 hunting runs, and found that while the animals did hit speeds of up to 58 mph, the average speed was 33 mph.

Their agility is aided by sharp claws that give them exceptional grip on the terrain. And, it turns out, cheetahs also have a great braking system, which lets them decelerate as much as 9 mph in a single stride. These two traits lead to the ability to make incredibly tight turns, which in turn help cheetahs outmaneuver their prey.

Acting Savvy Saves You Money

Doing your consumer research before making a purchase truly pays off, but your gender plays a major factor in how much you have to pay up. Researchers teamed with AutoMD.com to find out what auto shops would quote to callers who knew their stuff, and those who didn’t. The findings, published on Kellogg Insight show major disparities between offers made to women and men.

In the experiment, subjects called numerous auto repair shops and, reading from a script, created three scenarios. While one round of callers said they had done their research and had an accurate market price for the repair ($365), another group said that they had a value far too high in mind ($510). The final group of callers said that they had no idea how much the repair price should cost.

The results showed that those who quoted the prices too high were ripped off, while the groups who named an accurate price and those who had no idea pretty much fared the same offer. Yet the tables turned when the experiment came down to men versus women callers: Females fared much worse when they said they had "no idea" what the repair would cost, yet they were able to negotiate a price better than men (35 percent versus 25 percent of the time, respectively).

Florian Zettelmeyer, one of the researchers, says the findings indicate that a woman who admits she doesn’t know her stuff is taken literally, while a man who claims the same may be viewed as having a hidden agenda… “Maybe you’re being really strategic,” he notes. Yet women who break free from stereotypes and speak up to haggle a price may take businesses by surprise so much that they will get a lower offer. Simply put: know your stuff, ask for a discount, and don’t ever guess a price.

 

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