NASA Confirms: ‘StarTrek’ EM-Drive Propulsion System “Appears to Work –To Mars in 70 Days”

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After months of heated debate and leaked documents, NASA’s long-awaited EM Drive paper has finally been peer-reviewed and published. And it shows that the ‘impossible’ propulsion system appears to work. Tests carried out by both NASA and independent researchers confirmed that the drive was able to produce thrust in a vacuum that would allow us to reach the moon in just four hours, Mars in 70 days, and Pluto in just 18 months.

Read here.

The EM Drive, or Electromagnetic Drive, is a propulsion system first proposed by British inventor Roger Shawyer back in 1999 based on the theory of special relativity, electricity converted into microwaves and fired within a truncated cone-shaped closed metal cavity causes the microwave particles to exert more force on the flat surface at the large end of the cone (there is less combined particle momentum at the narrow end due to a reduction in group particle velocity), generating thrust.

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In order to minimise the internal Doppler shift (the change in frequency or wavelength of a wave for an observer moving relative to its source), circular polarisation and a phase-locked loop control the microwave input to the thruster, which maximises thrust as it accelerates.

Critics say that according to the Newton’s law of conservation of momentum, EM Drive theory cannot work as in order for a thruster to gain momentum in one direction, a propellant must be expelled in the opposite direction, while the EmDrive is a closed system.

Shawyer claims that following fundamental physics involving the theory of special relativity, the EmDrive does in fact preserve the law of conservation of momentum and energy. Instead of using heavy, inefficient rocket fuel, it bounces microwaves back and forth inside a cone-shaped metal cavity to generate thrust that it could power NASA to Mars in just 70 days.

The NASA release is similar to the paper that was leaked online earlier this month and, most notably, shows that the drive does indeed produce 1.2 millinewtons per kilowatt of thrust in a vacuum:

To put that into perspective, the super-powerful Hall thruster, a type of ion thruster in which the propellant is accelerated by an electric field, generates force of 60 millinewtons per kilowatt, an order of magnitude more than the EM Drive. But the Hall thruster requires propellants, and that extra weight could offset the higher thrust, the team concludes. The Hall-effect thrusters trap electrons in a magnetic field and then use the electrons to ionize propellant, efficiently accelerate the ions to produce thrust, and neutralize the ions in the plume.

Light sails on the other hand, which are currently the most popular form of zero-propellant propulsion, only generate force up to 6.67 micronewtons per kilowatt – two orders of magnitude less than NASA’s EM Drive, says the paper.

But the Eagleworks team stress that they were trying to prove whether or not the drive really works, rather than optimiizing performance in the tests, which means the EM Drive could get a lot more efficient with future testing.

The team also offers a hypothesis about how the drive actually works without contradicting the laws of physics: “[The] supporting physics model used to derive a force based on operating conditions in the test article can be categorised as a nonlocal hidden-variable theory, or pilot-wave theory for short.”

Pilot-wave theory is a controversial interpretation of quantum mechanics that differs from th e Copenhagen interpretation of quantum mechanics that states that particles do not have defined locations until they are observed, suggesting that particles do have precise positions at all times, but in order for this to be the case, the world must also be strange in other ways – which is why many physicists have dismissed the idea.

The NASA team suggests pilot-wave theory can help explain how the EM Drive produces thrust without appearing to propel anything in the other direction: “If a medium is capable of supporting acoustic oscillations, this means that the internal constituents were capable of interacting and exchanging momentum,” the team writes.

“If the vacuum is indeed mutable and degradable as was explored, then it might be possible to do/extract work on/from the vacuum, and thereby be possible to push off of the quantum vacuum and preserve the laws of conservation of energy and conservation of momentum.”

Beyond the true-believers of the NASA team, the world’s scientific community is hugely skeptical: a Motherboard article on the EM Drive, for example, was deleted by the moderators of the popular subreddit r/Physics because they “consider the EM Drive to be unscientific.”

The next step for the EM Drive is for it to be tested in space, which is scheduled to happen in the coming months, with plans to launch the first EM Drive having been made back in September.

The Daily Galaxy via sciencealert.com, ibtimes.co.uk, and motherboard.com

 

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The 25 Best Inventions of 2016

http://www.msn.com/en-us/lifestyle/smart-living/the-25-best-inventions-of-2016/

 

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(Newsweek) The Robot Economy:

http://rapidgator.net/file/08ef7bfd50c493c99ec3798724d98c74/Newsweek_USA_-_December_9_2016.pdf.html

 

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Shenzhen: The Silicon Valley of Hardware (Full Documentary) | Future Cities | WIRED

 

 

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Joe Hamilton, left, and A. V. Ramayya, who found the new element Tennessine, autographing a periodic table of the elements for a co-worker at Vanderbilt University in June. Credit Mark Humphrey/Associated Press

It’s official. Chemistry’s highest gatekeepers have accepted the newly proposed names for elements 113, 115, 117 and 118.

Please welcome to the periodic table: Nihonium, Moscovium, Tennessine and Oganesson.

Scientists first synthesized the new elements between 2002 and 2010, but it wasn’t until December of 2015 that the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry officially recognized the discoveries. Then in June of this year the scientists who discovered the super-heavy, highly-reactive elements sent Iupac their suggested names.

After a five-month waiting period when members of the public could ask questions about the new elements, the foursome were approved on Wednesday, formally filling their boxes in chemistry’s most fundamental table.

Here are the four elements and where their names come from:

• Japanese researchers proposed Nihonium, symbol Nh, for element 113 after the Japanese word Nihon, which means Japan.

• A team consisting of scientists from Russia and the United States named element 115, symbol Mc, after Moscow, and element 117, symbol Ts, after Tennessee.

• Element 118 was named Oganesson, symbol Og, for Yuri Oganessian, a prolific element hunter, by the Russian team that discovered it.

With their confirmation, we bid adieu to the periodic table’s seventh row placeholders. Good bye ununtrium. Adios ununpentium. Sayonara ununseptium. Arrivederci ununoctium. We can also put to rest suggestions like Lemmium, Octarine and Trumpium.

Correction: December 1, 2016
An earlier version of this article misstated the symbol for Moscovium. It is Mc, not Ms.
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 So what is the difference between all these message apps?

https://allo.google.com/

Introducing Google Allo, a smart messaging app that helps you say more and do more. Express yourself better with stickers, doodles, and HUGE emojis & text. Allo also brings you the Google Assistant, preview edition.

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 A Tablespoon Of Olive Oil Dropped Into A Lake Can Calm Half An Acre Of (Small) Waves
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Top 10 Uses for Linux (Even If Your Main PC Runs Windows)

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Even if you’re a Windows (or Mac) user, knowing how to use Linux is a valuable skill, and it can run a bunch of awesome things in your home—even if it isn’t your main desktop OS. Here are 10 ways you can use Linux even if you’re not ready to go full Ubuntu.

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Getting Started with Linux: The Complete Guide
If you’ve been meaning to try out Linux but felt too overwhelmed, we’ve got all the info… Read more

10. Troubleshoot Other Computers
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You don’t even need to install Linux on a box to make it useful—all you need is a solid live CD. Just boot from the CD and you can grab any files from the hard drive, even if the computer won’t boot or you’ve forgotten your password. Linux can even help if you accidentally formatted your entire drive. Of course, not all system rescue discs are Linux—and there are a lot of good ones out there—but a bit of basic Linux knowledge can turn you into a troubleshooting expert.

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How to Break Into a Windows PC (and Prevent It from Happening to You)
If you’re trying to break into a Windows computer—whether you’ve forgotten your password… Read more

9. Make a Chromebook More Useful
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You’d be surprised how much you can get done in Chrome OS. There are a lot of great Chrome apps out there for editing audio, video, images, coding, and more—but sometimes you just need a more powerful desktop app you’re familiar with. Luckily, you can install Linux alongside Chrome OS really easily, and get access to a traditional desktop with a bunch of apps. It won’t get you Photoshop or something of that caliber, but if all you need is a bit of a safety net, it’s perfect.

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The Best Chrome Apps You’re (Probably) Not Using
The Chrome app store has seen a lot of improvements lately, but a lot of the apps that work inside… Read more

8. Host a Web Site or Webapp
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You’d be surprised how many web sites you visit every day actually run on Linux—and if you want to build a web site, you probably will too. Possibly more interesting, though, is how you can use a Linux-based web host—like Dreamhost—to host your own personal RSS reader with Tiny Tiny RSS, or your own Dropbox clone with OwnCloud. You could, of course, host these on a Linux box in your home, too. It’s a bit more complicated, but it gives you complete control over everything rather than putting your data in someone else’s hands.

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How to Make a Web Site: The Complete Beginner’s Guide
Last week we taught you how to make a web site from start to finish, including finding a reliable… Read more

7. Work with Hard Drives and Partitions
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If you dual- or triple-boot your system and ever want to move partitions around, you’ll have a much easier time with a Linux live CD and GParted. Heck, even if you don’t dual-boot, you’ll still need a bit of help from Linux if you ever migrate to a solid-state drive, or upgrade to a more spacious drive. And, if you want to securely wipe it so no one can get at your data…well, Ubuntu can do that too.

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How to Migrate to a Solid-State Drive Without Reinstalling Windows
Installing a solid-state drive is one of the best upgrades you can make to your computer, but… Read more

6. Automate Everything In Your Home

With a little Linux knowledge and a cheap computer—like the Raspberry Pi—you can create all sorts of tiny home automation gadgets. You can control your home with Siri, mount a Google Calendar tablet on your wall, set up a home surveillance system, control your blinds and air conditioner, stream music in your living room, build a digital photo frame, build a sunrise alarm clock, and…pretty much anything else you can think of. With a cheap board like the Raspberry Pi and a free OS like Linux, you’re more limited by your imagination than your wallet.

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How Can I Get Started with Home Automation?
Dear Lifehacker, I want to set up some basic home automation tasks but I’ve never done… Read more

5. Run a Home Server for Backup, Streaming, Torrenting, and More
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If you don’t want to leave your computer on 24/7 just to share files or download torrents, a tiny dedicated Linux box might be a better solution. With an old computer or a cheap new one, you can put together a home server that stores your backups, streams movies and musics, seeds torrents, or performs any number of other tasks quietly in the corner. You can put one together with Nas4Free, FreeNAS, or even Ubuntu—though our favorite solution is the Linux-based Amahi. (Yes, we know FreeNAS and NAS4Free are technically FreeBSD—but we’re going to lump them in with Linux for practical purposes.)

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Turn an Old PC Into a NAS, VPN, Media Streamer, and More with Amahi
If you have an old computer with some life left in it, or you’re building a do-it-all home… Read more

4. Create a Dedicated Media Center or Video Game Machine

If you have a computer that won’t even use the desktop—like a media center or dedicated emulation machine—why not just set it up with a Linux backend? It’s free and easy to do. XBMC works great on Linux, whether you’re running on a Raspberry Pi or just a low-powered PC, and you can turn just about any PC into an all-in-one retro video game console. The Raspberry Pi works well for older games, but you’d want something more powerful to play newer stuff. Heck, you could even use it to create a retro arcade coffee table.

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Turn a Raspberry Pi Into an XBMC Media Center in Under 30 Minutes
The best home theater PCs are small, quiet, and inexpensive—so the bite-size, $35 Raspberry Pi is… Read more

3. Brush Up on Your Hacking and Security
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Some Linux distributions, like BackTrack or Kali, are security-focused distros for testing security systems. That means you can use them to learn how to, say, hack WEP or WPA Wi-Fi passwords, which is a great way to learn a bit more about your own network security and how to protect yourself from similar attacks. Of course, we don’t recommend using these powers for evil—but knowing evil’s tricks gives you a good path to preventing them.

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BackTrack is a Security-Focused Live CD Packed With System Tools
BackTrack was the winner of our recent Hive Five for best Live CD, so we decided to take it for a… Read more

2. Revive an Old or Slow PC
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And so we come to one of the most obvious and common uses for Linux—and still one of the best. If you have a PC that’s seen better days, Windows is far from the ideal OS. install a lightweight Linux distribution on it (like Lubuntu or, if you’re a bit more savvy, Archbang) and it’ll feel like a new machine again. It may not be able to do everything your powerful Windows machine can do, but it’s better than having a non-functional computer, and works perfectly for basic tasks.

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Lubuntu Breathes New Life into Your Netbook Without Sacrificing the Flexibility of a Full-Fledged Desktop
Netbooks aren’t the fastest computers, but they can be useful—as long as they’re usable.… Read more

1. Learn More About How Computers Work
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If none of the above sound like anything you need, why not just get in the spirit of DIY and learn a little bit more about how computers work? Tons of things run Linux these days, from TVs to the Android phone in your pocket, and learning about Linux is not only a fun hobby in and of itself, but it’ll help you learn a bit more about what makes these machines tick. We recommend getting started with something like Ubuntu or Mint, then when you get a little more familiar, move onto Arch for some serious learning. There are a ton of great distros out there, and even if you’re just playing around, you may find that those skills come in pretty handy one day.

 

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Micah Lee

Apr. 27 2015, 3:36 p.m.

Time and again, people are told there is one obvious way to mitigate privacy threats of all sorts, from mass government surveillance to pervasive online tracking to cybercriminals: Encryption. As President Obama put it earlier this year, speaking in between his administration’s attacks on encryption, “There’s no scenario in which we don’t want really strong encryption.” Even after helping expose all the ways the government can get its hands on your data, NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden still maintained, “Encryption works. Properly implemented strong crypto systems are one of the few things that you can rely on.”

But how can ordinary people get started using encryption? Encryption comes in many forms and is used at many different stages in the handling of digital information (you’re using it right now, perhaps without even realizing it, because your connection to this website is encrypted). When you’re trying to protect your privacy, it’s totally unclear how, exactly, to start using encryption. One obvious place to start, where the privacy benefits are high and the technical learning curve is low, is something called full disk encryption. Full disk encryption not only provides the type of strong encryption Snowden and Obama reference, but it’s built-in to all major operating systems, it’s the only way to protect your data in case your laptop gets lost or stolen, and it takes minimal effort to get started and use.

If you want to encrypt your hard disk and have it truly help protect your data, you shouldn’t just flip it on; you should know the basics of what disk encryption protects, what it doesn’t protect, and how to avoid common mistakes that could let an attacker easily bypass your encryption.

If you’re in a hurry, go ahead and skip to the bottom, where I explain, step-by-step, how to encrypt your disk for Windows, Mac OS X, and Linux. Then, when you have time, come back and read the important caveats preceding those instructions.

How to encrypt your disk in Windows
BitLocker, which is Microsoft’s disk encryption technology, is only included in the Ultimate and Enterprise editions of Windows Vista and Windows 7, and the Enterprise and Pro editions of Windows 8 and 8.1, but not the Home editions, which is what often comes pre-installed on Windows laptops. To see if BitLocker is supported on your version of Windows, open up Windows Explorer, right-click on C drive, and see if you have a “Turn on BitLocker” option (if you see a “Manage BitLocker” option, then congratulations, your disk is already encrypted, though you may want to finish reading this section anyway).

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If BitLocker isn’t supported in your version of Windows, you can choose to upgrade to a version of Windows that is supported by buying a license (open Control Panel, System and Security, System, and click “Get more features with a new edition of Windows”). You can also choose to use different full disk encryption software, such as the open source programDiskCryptor.

BitLocker is designed to be used with a Trusted Platform Module (TPM), a tamper-resistent chip that is built into new PCs that can store your disk encryption key. Because BitLocker keys are stored in the TPM, by default it doesn’t require users to enter a passphrase when booting up. If your computer doesn’t have a TPM (BitLocker will tell you as soon as you try enabling it), it’s possible to use BitLocker without a TPM and to use a passphrase or USB stick instead.

If you only rely on your TPM to protect your encryption key, your disk will get automatically unlocked just by powering on the computer. This means an attacker who steals your computer while it’s fully powered off can simply power it on in order to do a DMA or cold boot attack to extract the key. If you want your disk encryption to be much more secure, in addition to using your TPM you should also set a PIN to unlock your disk or require inserting a USB stick on boot. This is more complicated, but worth it for the extra security.

Whenever you’re ready, try enabling BitLocker on your hard disk by right-clicking on C drive and choosing the “Turn on BitLocker” option. First you’ll be prompted to make a backup of your recovery key, which can be used to unlock your disk in case you ever get locked out.

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I recommend that you don’t save a copy of your recovery key to your Microsoft account. If you do, Microsoft—and by extension anyone Microsoft is compelled to share data with, such as law enforcement or intelligence agencies, or anyone that hacks into Microsoft’s servers and can steal their data—will have the ability to unlock your encrypted disk. Instead, you should save your recovery key to a file on another drive or print it. The recovery key can unlock your disk, so it’s important that it doesn’t fall into the wrong hands.

Follow the rest of the simple instructions and reboot your computer. When it boots up again, your disk will begin encrypting. You can continue to work on your computer while it’s encrypting in the background.

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Once your disk is done encrypting, the next step is to set a PIN. This requires tweaking some internal Windows settings, but it shouldn’t be too hard if you follow the instructions to the dot.

Click Start and type “gpedit.msc” and press enter to open the Local Group Policy Editor. In the pane to the left, navigate to Local Computer Policy > Computer Configuration > Administrative Templates > Windows Components > BitLocker Drive Encryption > Operating System Drives.

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In the pane to the right, double-click on “Require additional authentication at startup.” Change it from “Not Configured” to “Enabled”, and click OK. You can close the Local Group Policy Editor.

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Now open Windows Explorer, right-click on drive C, and click “Manage BitLocker”.

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In the BitLocker Drive Encryption page, click “Change how drive is unlocked at startup”. Now you can choose to either require a PIN while starting up, or requiring that you insert a USB flash drive. Both work well, but I suggest you use a PIN because it’s something that you memorize. So if you get detained while crossing a border, for example, you can choose not to type your PIN to unlock your drive, however you can’t help it if border agents confiscate your USB flash drive and use that to boot your computer.

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If you choose to require a PIN, it must be between 4 and 20 numbers long. The longer you make it the more secure it is, but make sure you choose one that you can memorize. It’s best if you pick this PIN entirely at random rather than basing it on something in your life, so avoid easily guessable PINs like birthdates of loved ones or phone numbers. Whatever you choose make sure you don’t forget it, because otherwise you’ll be locked out of your computer. After entering your PIN twice, click Set PIN.

Now reboot your computer. Before Windows starts booting this time, you should be promped to type your PIN.

Finally, open User Accounts to see all of the users on your computer, confirm that they all have passwords set and change them to be stronger if necessary. Disable the guest account if it’s enabled.

How to encrypt your disk in Mac OS X
FileVault, Apple’s disk encryption technology for Macs, is simple to enable. Open System Preferences, click on the Security & Privacy icon, and switch to the FileVault tab. If you see a button that says “Turn Off FileVault…”, then congratulations, your disk is already encrypted. Otherwise, click the lock icon in the bottom left so you can make changes, and click “Turn On FileVault…”.

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Next you will be asked if you want to store a copy of your disk encryption recovery key in your iCloud account.

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I recommend that you don’t allow your iCloud account to unlock your disk. If you do, Apple — and by extension anyone Apple is compelled to share data with, such as law enforcement or intelligence agencies, or anyone that hacks into Apple’s servers and can steal their data — will have the ability to unlock your encrypted disk. If you do store your recovery key in your iCloud account, Apple encrypts it using your answers to a series of secret questions as an encryption key itself, offering little real security.

Instead, choose “Create a recovery key and do not use my iCloud account” and click Continue. The next window will show you your recovery key, which is twenty-four random letters and numbers. You can write this down if you wish. The recovery key can unlock your disk, so it’s important that it doesn’t fall into the wrong hands.

Once you click Continue you will be prompted to reboot your computer. After rebooting, FileVault will begin encrypting your hard disk. You can continue to work on your computer while it’s encrypting in the background.

With FileVault, Mac OS X user passwords double as passphrases to unlock your encrypted disk. If you want your passphrase to survive guessing attempts by even the most well-funded spy agencies in the world, you should follow the instructions here to generate a high-entropy passphrase to use to login to your Mac.

Go back to System Preferences and this time click on the Users & Groups icon. From there you should disable the guest account, remove any users that you don’t use, and update any weak passwords to be strong passphrases.

How to encrypt your disk in Linux
Unlike in Windows and Mac OS X, you can only encrypt your disk when you first install Linux. If you already have Linux installed without disk encryption, you’re going to need to backup your data and reinstall Linux. While there’s a huge variety of Linux distributions, I’m going to use Ubuntu as an example, but setting up disk encryption in all major distributions is similar.

Start by booting to your Ubuntu DVD or USB stick and follow the simple instructions to install Ubuntu. When you get to the “Installation type” page, check the box “Encrypt the new Ubuntu installation for security,” and then click Install Now.

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On the next page, “Choose a security key,” you must type your encryption passphrase. You’ll have to type this each time you power on your computer to unlock your encrypted disk. If you want your passphrase to survive guessing attempts by even the most well-funded spy agencies in the world, you should follow the instructions here.

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Then click Install Now, and follow the rest of the instructions until you get to the “Who are you?” page. Make sure to choose a strong password—if someone steals your laptop while it’s suspended, this password is all that comes between the attacker and your data. And make sure that “Require my password to log in” is checked, and that “Log in automatically” is not checked. There is no reason to check “Encrypt my home folder” here, because you’re already encrypting your entire disk.

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And that’s it.

Correction: This post originally gave an incorrect date for when the TrueCrypt project was shut down. April 27 12:35 pm ET.

Correction: This post originally said that USB ports have direct memory access (DMA), but this isn’t true. FireWire, ExpressCard, Thunderbolt, PCI, and PCI Express all have DMA. April 29 6:17 pm ET.

Correction: This post originally said that BitLocker was included in Windows Vista and Windows 7 Pro editions, but it is only included in Ultimate and Enterprise editions for those versions of Windows. May 1 6:00 pm ET.
https://theintercept.com/2015/04/27/encrypting-laptop-like-mean/

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YouTube launches its own streaming TV service

At an event in Los Angeles this afternoon, YouTube announced its own streaming TV service. The offering will mix live-streams of broadcast and cable television programming with the wealth of online video found on YouTube. It’s the latest in a surge of over-the-top (OTT) services trying to woo consumers who never bought into traditional cable television.

For $35 a month, subscribers get all four major networks – ABC, CBS, FOX, and NBC – and around 30 of the biggest cable channels.

The last few years have seen a major shift in the advertising industry, with billions of dollars that once flowed into television commercials being shifted to the world of online video. YouTube has been among the biggest winners of this transformation, which is being driven in part by viewers who increasingly opt away from broadcast television networks and expensive cable packages. About 40 percent of millennial households rely on just an internet connection for entertainment.

Connected TV viewing grew by 65 percent last year, according to a study from Pivotal Research. And for some prime-time television programming, between 30 and 40 percent of the total views are now coming from connected TVs. Advertisers are eager to get into OTT, because it promises the quality and engagement of television with the enhanced targeting of digital.

YouTube revealed yesterday that users now watch a billion hours of video on its platform each day, quickly closing in on the volume of television consumed by all Americans each day. If YouTube’s new service can make its videos front and center on the biggest screen in the house, it can start to command a higher price for its ads. In exchange, YouTube’s new partners from the world of traditional TV partners can make use of its machine learning technology to improve recommendations and get users hooked on new shows.

http://www.theverge.com/2017/2/28/1…g-tv-service-announced-hd-live-cable-channels

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Feb. 22, 2017
RELEASE 17-015

NASA Telescope Reveals Largest Batch of Earth-Size, Habitable-Zone Planets Around Single Star

This illustration shows the possible surface of TRAPPIST-1f, one of the newly discovered planets in the TRAPPIST-1 system.
This illustration shows the possible surface of TRAPPIST-1f, one of the newly discovered planets in the TRAPPIST-1 system. Scientists using the Spitzer Space Telescope and ground-based telescopes have discovered that there are seven Earth-size planets in the system.
Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech

NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope has revealed the first known system of seven Earth-size planets around a single star. Three of these planets are firmly located in the habitable zone, the area around the parent star where a rocky planet is most likely to have liquid water.

The discovery sets a new record for greatest number of habitable-zone planets found around a single star outside our solar system. All of these seven planets could have liquid water – key to life as we know it – under the right atmospheric conditions, but the chances are highest with the three in the habitable zone.

“This discovery could be a significant piece in the puzzle of finding habitable environments, places that are conducive to life,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator of the agency’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington. “Answering the question ‘are we alone’ is a top science priority and finding so many planets like these for the first time in the habitable zone is a remarkable step forward toward that goal.”

Seven Earth-sized planets have been observed by NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope around a tiny, nearby, ultra-cool dwarf star called TRAPPIST-1. Three of these planets are firmly in the habitable zone.
Credits: NASA
The TRAPPIST-1 star, an ultra-cool dwarf, has seven Earth-size planets orbiting it.
The TRAPPIST-1 star, an ultra-cool dwarf, has seven Earth-size planets orbiting it. This artist’s concept appeared on the cover of the journal Nature on Feb. 23, 2017.
Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech

At about 40 light-years (235 trillion miles) from Earth, the system of planets is relatively close to us, in the constellation Aquarius. Because they are located outside of our solar system, these planets are scientifically known as exoplanets.

This exoplanet system is called TRAPPIST-1, named for The Transiting Planets and Planetesimals Small Telescope (TRAPPIST) in Chile. In May 2016, researchers using TRAPPIST announced they had discovered three planets in the system. Assisted by several ground-based telescopes, including the European Southern Observatory’s Very Large Telescope, Spitzer confirmed the existence of two of these planets and discovered five additional ones, increasing the number of known planets in the system to seven.

The new results were published Wednesday in the journal Nature, and announced at a news briefing at NASA Headquarters in Washington.

Using Spitzer data, the team precisely measured the sizes of the seven planets and developed first estimates of the masses of six of them, allowing their density to be estimated.

Based on their densities, all of the TRAPPIST-1 planets are likely to be rocky. Further observations will not only help determine whether they are rich in water, but also possibly reveal whether any could have liquid water on their surfaces. The mass of the seventh and farthest exoplanet has not yet been estimated – scientists believe it could be an icy, “snowball-like” world, but further observations are needed.

“The seven wonders of TRAPPIST-1 are the first Earth-size planets that have been found orbiting this kind of star,” said Michael Gillon, lead author of the paper and the principal investigator of the TRAPPIST exoplanet survey at the University of Liege, Belgium. “It is also the best target yet for studying the atmospheres of potentially habitable, Earth-size worlds.”

This artist's concept shows what each of the TRAPPIST-1 planets may look like.
This artist’s concept shows what each of the TRAPPIST-1 planets may look like, based on available data about their sizes, masses and orbital distances.
Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech

In contrast to our sun, the TRAPPIST-1 star – classified as an ultra-cool dwarf – is so cool that liquid water could survive on planets orbiting very close to it, closer than is possible on planets in our solar system. All seven of the TRAPPIST-1 planetary orbits are closer to their host star than Mercury is to our sun. The planets also are very close to each other. If a person was standing on one of the planet’s surface, they could gaze up and potentially see geological features or clouds of neighboring worlds, which would sometimes appear larger than the moon in Earth’s sky.

The planets may also be tidally locked to their star, which means the same side of the planet is always facing the star, therefore each side is either perpetual day or night. This could mean they have weather patterns totally unlike those on Earth, such as strong winds blowing from the day side to the night side, and extreme temperature changes.

Spitzer, an infrared telescope that trails Earth as it orbits the sun, was well-suited for studying TRAPPIST-1 because the star glows brightest in infrared light, whose wavelengths are longer than the eye can see. In the fall of 2016, Spitzer observed TRAPPIST-1 nearly continuously for 500 hours. Spitzer is uniquely positioned in its orbit to observe enough crossing – transits – of the planets in front of the host star to reveal the complex architecture of the system. Engineers optimized Spitzer’s ability to observe transiting planets during Spitzer’s “warm mission,” which began after the spacecraft’s coolant ran out as planned after the first five years of operations.

“This is the most exciting result I have seen in the 14 years of Spitzer operations,” said Sean Carey, manager of NASA’s Spitzer Science Center at Caltech/IPAC in Pasadena, California. “Spitzer will follow up in the fall to further refine our understanding of these planets so that the James Webb Space Telescope can follow up. More observations of the system are sure to reveal more secrets.”

Following up on the Spitzer discovery, NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope has initiated the screening of four of the planets, including the three inside the habitable zone. These observations aim at assessing the presence of puffy, hydrogen-dominated atmospheres, typical for gaseous worlds like Neptune, around these planets.

This 360-degree panorama depicts the surface of a newly detected planet, TRAPPIST 1-d, part of a seven planet system some 40 light years away. Explore this artist’s rendering of an alien world by moving the view using your mouse or your mobile device.
Credits: NASA

In May 2016, the Hubble team observed the two innermost planets, and found no evidence for such puffy atmospheres. This strengthened the case that the planets closest to the star are rocky in nature.

“The TRAPPIST-1 system provides one of the best opportunities in the next decade to study the atmospheres around Earth-size planets,” said Nikole Lewis, co-leader of the Hubble study and astronomer at the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, Maryland. NASA’s planet-hunting Kepler space telescope also is studying the TRAPPIST-1 system, making measurements of the star’s minuscule changes in brightness due to transiting planets. Operating as the K2 mission, the spacecraft’s observations will allow astronomers to refine the properties of the known planets, as well as search for additional planets in the system. The K2 observations conclude in early March and will be made available on the public archive.

This poster imagines what a trip to TRAPPIST-1e might be like.
This poster imagines what a trip to TRAPPIST-1e might be like.
Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Spitzer, Hubble, and Kepler will help astronomers plan for follow-up studies using NASA’s upcoming James Webb Space Telescope, launching in 2018. With much greater sensitivity, Webb will be able to detect the chemical fingerprints of water, methane, oxygen, ozone, and other components of a planet’s atmosphere. Webb also will analyze planets’ temperatures and surface pressures – key factors in assessing their habitability.

NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California, manages the Spitzer Space Telescope mission for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate. Science operations are conducted at the Spitzer Science Center, at Caltech, in Pasadena, California. Spacecraft operations are based at Lockheed Martin Space Systems Company, Littleton, Colorado. Data are archived at the Infrared Science Archive housed at Caltech/IPAC. Caltech manages JPL for NASA.

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