The emoticon as we know it was invented to prevent a misunderstanding.
In 1982, a group of researchers at Carnegie Mellon University began trading quips on an online bulletin board about what might happen if their building’s elevator cable were cut, sending the elevator into free fall. The conversation soon turned to various bizarre hypotheticals: What if the falling elevator had a candle in it? Or a pigeon? Or a drop of mercury? One jokester took the thread to its absurd conclusion: “WARNING!: Because of a recent physics experiment, the leftmost elevator has been contaminated with mercury.”
Realising how easily the conversation could be misconstrued, the scientists concluded that they needed a better way to signal sarcasm to distinguish the jokes from the everything else. Someone proposed an asterisk. Someone else, an ampersand (on the grounds that “&” resembles “a jolly fat man in convulsions of laughter”). And then a computer scientist named Scott Fahlman chimed in with the compound punctuation mark that would live on in chat windows and e‑mail inboxes the Internet over: “ :-) ”
For more, visit theatlantic.com
Inside the weird, wild world of Google Bikes
Not far from Google’s headquarters in Mountain View, California, there’s a nondescript building that looks like it might be home to stealth start-up. But if you walk in the front door, you won’t find cubicles or computers. You’ll find a secret bike shop where people like Robert Jimenez and Terry Mac twist wrenches and true tires all day long, rocking out to AC/DC and Pink Floyd. Then, if you slip into the back room, you’ll see them: 1,300 green, blue, red and yellow Google Bikes, stacked Santa’s workshop-style as far the eye can see.
This building is the nervous system for a remarkable campus-wide bike-sharing program that doubles as a mirror of the search giant’s corporate culture.
On any given day, you can find about 700 of the bikes scattered like toys across Google’s Mountain View campus. All morning long, Google’s private shuttle buses drop off employees in front of clumps of bikes. The Googlers mount up and ride to work. Jimenez and Mac are part of a seven-person army that keeps them up-and-running, seven days a week.
For more, visit wired.com
What happened when one man pinged the whole internet
You probably haven’t heard of HD Moore, but up to a few weeks ago every internet device in the world, perhaps including some in your own home, was contacted roughly three times a day by a stack of computers that sit overheating his spare room. “I have a lot of cooling equipment to make sure my house doesn’t catch on fire,” says Moore, who leads research at computer security company Rapid7. In February 2012, he decided to carry out a personal census of every device on the internet as a hobby. “This is not my day job; it’s what I do for fun,” he says.
Moore has now put that fun on hold. “[It] drew quite a lot of complaints, hate mail, and calls from law enforcement,” he says. But the data collected has revealed some serious security problems, and exposed some vulnerable business and industrial systems of a kind used to control everything from traffic lights to power infrastructure.
Moore’s census involved regularly sending simple, automated messages to each one of the 3.7 billion IP addresses assigned to devices connected to the internet around the world (Google, in contrast, collects information offered publicly by websites). Many of the two terabytes (2,000 gigabytes) worth of replies Moore received from 310 million IPs indicated that they came from devices vulnerable to well-known flaws, or configured in a way that could to let anyone take control of them.
Moore published results on a particularly troubling segment of those vulnerable devices: ones that appear to be used for business and industrial systems. Over 114,000 of those control connections were logged as being on the Internet with known security flaws. Many could be accessed using default passwords and 13,000 offered direct access through a command prompt without a password at all.
For more, visit technologyreview.com
Google reports record spike in govt. requests to remove content
Governments made a record number of requests for Google to remove political content in the last half of 2012, the search giant said on Thursday.
The number of official requests for content to be removed jumped 26% in the final six months of 2012 compared to the start of the year, according to the latest Google Transparency Report. Google received 2,285 government requests to remove 24,179 pieces of content – an increase from 1,811 requests to remove 18,070 pieces of content that the company received during the first half of 2012.
Requests were made to pull videos from YouTube, delete blog posts on Google's Blogger service and to remove items from Google search, making them harder to find.
In a blog post, Google said: "As we've gathered and released more data over time, it's become increasingly clear that the scope of government attempts to censor content on Google services has grown.
For more, visit guardian.co.uk
Diamond shows promise for quantum internet
Today's internet runs on linked silicon chips, but a future quantum version might be built from diamond crystals. Physicists report in Nature that they have entangled information kept in pieces of diamond 3 meters apart, so that measuring the state of one quantum bit (qubit) instantly fixes the state of the other - a step necessary for exchanging quantum information over large distances.
Entanglement, which Albert Einstein called 'spooky action at a distance', is one of the weird phenomena that make quantum devices promising. A quantum internet would use entangled photons travelling down fiber-optic cables to in turn entangle qubits, with the aim of one day providing super-secure communications, or delivering software and data to future quantum computers.
The qubits themselves are analogous to the bits used in conventional computers, but can exist in a superposition of states, being both '0' and '1' at the same time (another aspect of quantum weirdness). Linked qubits could in theory zip through calculations that, on a classical computer, would take longer than the age of the Universe. Entangling them over a distance might allow unbreakable communication: for example, if the sender and the receiver of a message possess two sets of qubits that together provide an encryption key.
For more, visit scientificamerican.com
LED streetlamp aims to improve public’s view of stars
Researchers believe they have come up with a new type of LED-powered streetlamp that could radically reduce light pollution.
Current designs "leak" large amounts of light in unwanted directions, obscuring views of the stars, wasting energy and making it harder for drivers to see.
The team, based in Mexico and Japan, said they believed their solution was the "best ever reported".
However, they have yet to turn their theory into a working prototype.
The study - carried out by scientists in Mexico and Taiwan - appears in the open-access journal Optics Express.
According to the researchers, conventional street lamps - which use high-pressure sodium or mercury vapour - scatter up to 20% of their energy horizontally or vertically because it is difficult to control their beams.
It is easier to direct light from LEDs because it is being emitted from a smaller area.
So, while manufacturers controlled the direction of the light rays from older lamps using a reflector typically made out of polished aluminium, they can now take advantage of lenses to be more precise.
For more, visit bbc.co.uk
NYT releases its headline-reading Google Glass app
Google’s ambitious Glass display is still a way off from its public release, but it looks like those newly-minted Glass Explorers now have something else to do besides taking first-person photos. The New York Times just pulled back the curtain on its own Glass-friendly app, which makes it the first installable third-party app available for the ambitious headset (Path was technically the first third-party app, but it’s preloaded on early versions of the device).
It’s no surprise to see the Grey Lady embrace Glass so enthusiastically — Google developer advocate Timothy Jordan first showed off an early version of the New York Times Glass app at SXSW 2013 in Austin, which pipes new news and headlines to the head-mounted display at regular intervals. Navigating through that stream of news seemed easy enough: a quick tilt of the head would allow the user to sift through photos and full articles, as well.
For more, visit techcrunch.com
Facebook buys mobile app platform Parse
Parse, a cloud services company that provides developers tools to use a unified back-end for their apps, announced that Facebook acquired it today. Facebook confirmed the purchase on its own blog. TechCrunch has information that the deal was for $85 million in a part-stock/part-cash transaction.
The utilities in Parse’s toolbox will allow mobile apps like games integrate with Facebook more directly. As an example, a developer could create an app once that with Parse that would work on an iPhone, and Android device, or Windows Phone, and also work the exact same way as a Facebook app.
This, in a way, gives Facebook its own mobile app framework but doesn’t necessarily put it into direct competition with established app players. In other words, “Facebook apps” can work on any mobile device or in any browser without having to compete with the established platforms like iTunes or Google Play or without having to support its own operating system.
By allowing apps on its own site to work with apps on mobile devices it ties users into itself on a level it hasn’t been able to before, and that’s a bigger deal for Facebook than it would appear to be at a first glance. It now has an entirely new way to help developers with discovery and monetisation of their apps, which means a new money stream for Facebook.
For more, visit forbes.com
Compiled by Vasudevan Mukunth