Saturday, 28 November 2015

Is Grey Thursday the Next Black Friday in US? Did UK Shoppers Pick Internet over High Street?

Since Black Friday is a US invention, and the UK has just adopted it the last 5 years, they will be just a step behind. According to analysts the United Kingdom sold over £1bn in a single day for the first time ever.

Image by Zvi Roger [CC BY 3.0] via Wikimedia Commons

The chaos of Black Friday in the UK of last year was avoided for the most part this year, and places like Debeham's on Oxford Street had an orderly opening at 8:00 am. Retailers are expecting to make £3bn for the entire week ending with Cyber Monday, the 30th of November.

What may have surprised some businesses is the huge amount of sales online; it appears shoppers may prefer the internet over High Street for serious spending. And the 2 busiest online shopping days, the first 2 Mondays in December are still to come!

Over in the US of A, according to CBS News, Black Friday may have passed its prime and there is a new champion in town: Grey Thursday or Thanksgiving Day, an American holiday, itself.

Years past, Thanksgiving has always been a holiday to eat, relax and enjoy family and most businesses, except the bare essentials were closed. Now, retailers are opening up in the afternoons for some serious holiday sales extending way into the night. Times have changed.

Extending the once 3-day shopping week-end with Black Friday as the star, has now been extending on both ends. Thanksgiving starts the craziness off with a bang and Cyber Monday gives it the big closing. Couple those extended shopping days with the popularity of internet shopping and the whole scenario is different now.

Customer Growth Partners, a Retail Consultant firm, is studying customer traffic around the entire United States this year to analyze new patterns. New York was not as busy in the stores as expected, in Chicago the crowds were thinner on Friday but heavy Thanksgiving evening and many shoppers interviewed said some of the same things: online shopping was where they preferred to shop, but going out to the stores on Black Friday was a "fun tradition".

Shopping at Macy's in New York and its annual Thanksgiving Day Parade are part of American tradition, that even the new wave of online shopping won't ever be able to eclipse entirely. However, according to the Guardian there were over 1 million visits online to over 4,500 sites so far creating $1bn in revenue in the US which is up by 22% over last year.

20% of all Holiday shopping takes place on the 4-day, now extended to 5-day week-end from Thanksgiving to Cyber Monday. And the last 2 months of the year, November and December can make up as much as 20 to 40% of a business' entire yearly sales. The increase in the US this year however good at 3.7% will not surpass 2014 however, because wages are stagnant and there is still sluggish job growth.

by Sally Bartlett

Wednesday, 30 September 2015

Optyczne iluzje w podobny sposób dezorientują małpy i ludzi

Obie czarne koła są tej samej wielkości Iluzja sprawia, jednak że te po prawej wydaje się być większe tylko dlatego, że okrąg je otaczający ma mniejszą średnicę.

Nowe badania przeprowadzone przez badaczy z Uniwersytetu Stanowego w Georgii, pokazują że małpy postrzegają iluzje optyczne w taki sam sposób, co ludzi czy inne naczelne.

Wyniki badań wykazują, że małpy i ludzie postrzegają i dają się zwodzić w podobny sposób, co wskazuje na podobieństwa systemów percepcyjnych obydwu gatunków.

W przypadku ludzi, iluzja optyczna powstaje, gdy mózg błędnie odczytuje informacje przez otoczenie obiektu bądź sposób jego w jaki jest on przedstawiony.

W swym studium, badacze przeprowadzili kila testów na rezusach, kapucynkach i dorosłych ludziach przy użyciu iluzji Delboeufa. Iluzja Delboeufa jest optyczną iluzją, w której mózg identyfikuje koło otoczone większym okręgiem, jako mniejsze od koła jednakowej wielkości, które otoczone jest przez mniejszy okrąg.

Badacze przeprowadzili dwa komputerowe testy z małpami i ludźmi. Ludzie otrzymali do dyspozycji komputer personalny, myszkę komputerową oraz monitor na czas trwania testu. Małpy zostały odpowiednio przygotowane do podjęcia testu z użyciem komputera. Były one badane przy użyciu komputera personalnego, kolorowego monitora, dżojstika i dyspensera do karmy.

W pierwszym eksperymencie, ludzie i małpy otrzymały zadanie polegające na wskazaniu większego spośród dwóch kół. Koła były okazjonalnie otaczane okręgami Delboeufa. W tym eksperymencie iluzja Delboeufa wpływała na ludzi, ale zdawała się nie mieć żadnego wpływu na małpy.

Badacze przeprowadzili drugi test komputerowy, w którym zarówno ludzie, jak i małpy mieli za zadanie sklasyfikować koło jako małe bądź duże. Koło czasem było otaczane okręgami różnej średnicy. Zaobserwowano, że zarówno rezusy, kapucynki jak i ludzie dali się zwieść iluzji Delboeufa w podobny sposób, oceniając wielkość koła na podstawie średnicy otaczającego go okręgu.

„Te, jak i inne rezultaty badań wykazują, że systemy percepcyjne ludzi i małp są do siebie podobne.“ twierdzi Audrey Parrish, absolwent Stanowego Uniwersytetu w Georgii, czołowy badacz.

„Postrzegają i dają się zwodzić pewnym typom stymulacji wizualnej w podobny sposób.“ dodaje.

Parrish mówi, iż odkrycie to nie oznacza w cale, że małpy i małpy naczale postrzegają świat w ten sam sposób. Sugeruje ono jedynie, że małpy mogą być idealnym modelem do badań nad ludzką percepcją.

Badania zostały sfinansowane przez Poczet Duanea M. Rumbaugha (Duane M. Rumbaugh Fellowship) i Nacjonalny Instytut Zdrowia.

Wyniki badań zostały opublikowane w Czasopiśmie Psychologii Eksperymentalnej pod tytułem Animal Learning and Cognition (ang. Nauka i poznawanie zwierząt).

Autor: Devender Kundaliya - 2015-09-29
Tlumaczenie: Marcin Gierasimiuk - 2015-09-30

NASA Rozwiązuje Tajemnicę Marsa, odnajdując ślady płynącej, słonej wody na czerwone planecie

Podczas konferencji w swojej siedzibie w Waszyngtonie, NASA nareszcie oświadczyło, że odkryto ślady płynącej wody na Marsie.

NASA stwierdziło, że nowe znalezisko zwiększyło szanse znalezienia śladów życia na Marsie.

Agencja kosmiczna potwierdziła, że nietypowe ciemne linie na Marsie wskazują na obecność płynącej wody na planecie. Te dziwaczne ślady zostały po raz pierwszy zaobserwowane przez naukowców z NASA na fotografii zrobionej przez Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (amerykańską sondę kosmiczną) w 2011 roku. Satelita Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter orbituje wokół czerwonej planety od 2006 roku.

Według NASA, woda znaleziona na Marsie jest słona, nasycona różnymi solami, takimi jak nadchlorany. Kiedy woda spływa po zboczach gór i kraterów, zostawia ona za sobą wąskie smugi o szerokości nieprzekraczającej 5 metrów. Smugi te nazywane okresowo powracającymi liniami na zboczach (RSL od ang. recurring slope lineae), ciemnieją na kamienistych zboczach od późnej wiosny do wczesnej jesieni w różnych miejscach planety.
Lujendra Ojha z Instytutu Technologii w Georgii powiedział: „Gdy ludzie mówią o wodzie na Marsie, zwykle mają na myśli pozostałości po wodzie (ancient water) lub wodę zamarzniętą.”

"Teraz, wiemy że to nie wszystko. To pierwsze zaobserwowane zjawisko niezaprzeczalnie potwierdzające naszą hipotezę, o tym że to woda formuje RSL."

Głównym autorem raportu jest Ojha. To on jako pierwszy zauważył na zdjęciach satelitarnych, że smugi na skalistych zboczach ciemnieją.

Nowe odkrycie wskazuje również na to, że pod lodową skorupą planety może znajdować się ocean.

NASA mówi, że kolejnym krokiem byłoby odnalezienie źródła wody i przeanalizowanie jej próbek by potwierdzić istnienie organicznego życia na Marsie.

Czołowy naukowiec NASA, John Grunsfeld powiedział: "Naszym celem na Marsie było "podążanie za wodą", w naszym zadaniu poszukiwania życia we wszechświecie. Teraz mamy przekonujące dowody, które potwierdzają to, co podejrzewaliśmy od dawna."

"To znaczące odkrycie, które potwierdza, że woda, choć słona, płynie na powierzchni Marsa". Profesor geologii planetarnej Uniwersytetu w Arzonie, Alfred McEwen, uważa że odkrycie życia pod powierzchnią Marsa jest wysoce prawdopodobne, z racji tego, że w przeszłości spadały na nią meteoryty pochodzenia ziemskiego, a na powierzchni Marsa, jak się okazuje, również występuje woda. McEwen wierzy w to, że mikroby mogły przetrwać podróż z Ziemi na Marsa i mogą być teraz odnalezione na powierzchni czerwonej planety.

Odkrycia z tych badań zostały opublikowane w gazecie naukowej journal Nature Geoscience

Autor: Devender Kundaliya - 2015-09-29
Tlumaczenie: Marcin Gierasimiuk - 2015-09-30

Monday, 17 August 2015

Researchers Demonstrate It is Possible to Preserve Digital Data in DNA Strands

A latest research conducted by a team of scientists from Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH) has revealed that DNA could be used to store digital information for thousands of years, and this technique of digital data storage is more efficient than saving information on hard drives.

Image by すじにくシチュ
[CC0, GFDL, CC BY-SA 3.0]
via Wikimedia Commons
Scientists from ETH conducted a test which demonstrated error-free data download from DNA after a period of (equivalent of) 2,000 years. According to scientists, the next challenge now would be to find a technique for searching information stored in strands of DNA.

"If you go back to medieval times in Europe, we had monks writing in books to transmit information for the future, and some of those books still exist. Now, we save information on hard drives, which wear out in a few decades." said Dr Robert Grass, lead researcher from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH). According to Dr Grass, the "language" of DNA is quite similar to the binary language which is used in computers.


"A little after the discovery of the double helix architecture of DNA, people figured out that the coding language of nature is very similar to the binary language we use in computers." Dr Grass added. Data in binary language is stored in the form of zeros and one, while DNA code sequences use four chemical nucleotides - A, C, T and G. Dr Grass suggests a major advantage with DNA is that it can store much more information compared to a hard drive and is much more durable.

A paperback book size external hard drive can store five terabytes (TB) of data and might last for 50 years. However, according to scientific estimates, every cell in human body stores about 750 megabytes of genetic information, which means, theoretically, just one gram of DNA could store over 300,000 TB of data, and be sequenced even after thousands of years, if well preserved.

The team of researchers, in their experiments, encoded DNA with 83 kilobytes of text, which included a copy of Archimedes' work as well as the 1921 Swiss Federal Charter. The encoded DNA was then kept in silica spheres. Scientists heated the DNA to nearly 160 degrees Fahrenheit (71 degree Celsius) for about a week, which was equivalent of keeping the material for 2,000 years at 50 degree Fahrenheit (10 degree Celsius). When researchers decoded the DNA, it was found completely error-free.

Scientists are now trying to work out technique to label information on DNA strands and make them searchable. "In DNA storage, you have a drop of liquid containing floating molecules encoded with information."  said Dr Grass. "Right now, we can read everything that's in that drop. But I can't point to a specific place within the drop and read only one file."

Dr Grass also reveals that DNA storage presently is a very costly affair and storing just a few megabytes of information in DNA would cost thousands of dollars. In other words, it'll take many more years before consumers have an option to buy a DNA-based hard drive for storing their personal data.

The results of the DNA study will be presented at the 250th National Meeting & Exposition of the American Chemical Society (ACS). A press event is being organized on Monday, Aug. 17, at 2:30 p.m. Eastern time in the Boston Convention & Exhibition Center.

Author: Devender Kundaliya

Monday, 25 May 2015

Samsung Galaxy S6 in the UK - Price, Specs and Best Offers - Everything You Want to Know

The launch of Samsung Galaxy S6 was an important event for South Korean smartphone manufacturer Samsung in recent times. Samsung Galaxy S6 was officially unveiled at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona on March 1, 2015, along with Galaxy S6 Edge, and during that event, Samsung claimed that its new handsets are going to "set a new standard for smartphones".

Image: (c) Samsung

Samsung Galaxy S6 was released in the UK and 19 other countries on April 10, 2015. For Samsung, designing the Galaxy S6 meant going back again to the drawing board, taking drastic steps to rework the phone, and load it with a wealth of new, attractive features to make it one of the most advanced and sophisticated handset for users.

After opening of pre-orders last month, Samsung revealed that it had received 20 million pre-orders for its Galaxy S6 and S6 Edge handsets, and the demand had exceeded its own expectations. Here we present a cohesive list for UK-based customers, providing all the details they need to know about Galaxy S6 specifications, new features, pricing, availability, and best offers for the handset in the UK.

Samsung Galaxy S6: Handset Design and Display

The design of Samsung Galaxy S6 is a major improvement over past Galaxy smartphones that had polycarbonate frames. The new Galaxy S6 features a redesigned metallic chassis, with Gorilla Glass protecting the phone both front and back. It weighs just 138 gram and is 6.8 mm thick (143.4 x 70.5 x 6.8 mm). The phone sports a 5.1 inch Quad HD Super AMOLED display with 2560 x 1440 pixel resolution and 577 ppi. The Galaxy S6 screen displays 70 percent more pixels compared to Galaxy S5, as per claims from Samsung.

Samsung Galaxy S6: Processor, RAM, and Storage

Samsung Galaxy S6 is powered by the 64-bit Exynos 7 Octa 7420 system-on-chip (2.5GHz quad + 2.1GHz quad). The 14-nm 64-bit chip is claimed to be 30% more power efficient. The two quad-core sets focus on efficiency and the performance. The phone features 3 GB of LPDDR4 RAM, and comes in 32-, 64- and 128 GB in-built storage capacities, implementing Universal Flash Storage 2.0 standards. It has custom eMMC rather than SSD storage technology, which Samsung claims improves write speeds and performance.

Samsung Galaxy S6: Cameras

Samsung has loaded Galaxy S6 with 16 MP rear camera which got some important improvements, including real-time HDR, smart optical image stabilization, a F-1.9 wide-angle lens, and an IR sensor which is able to automatically adjust white balance. The F-1.9 wide-angle lens lets in more light to enhance low light performance. The rear camera is always in "on" mode in the background and ready to capture shots the moment you need it. The 5 mega-pixel front camera also boasts real-time HDR.

Samsung Galaxy S6: Battery and Charging

Samsung Galaxy S6 comes with wireless charging built-in feature, supporting both WPC and PMA, and a non-removable 2550 mAh battery. Use of fast battery charging technology means a 10-minute charging can provide enough power for about four hours of use.

Samsung Galaxy S6: Connectivity and Other Features

Connectivity options in Galaxy S6 include WiFi: 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac (2.4/5GHz), Wi-Fi Direct, 4G LTE (Cat 6), HT80 MIMO(2x2) 620 Mbps, Mobile hotspot, A2DP, Dual-band, Bluetooth v4.1, LE, USB 2.0, apt-X, NFC, ANT+, and an IR blaster. Samsung The single power speaker in Samsung Galaxy S6 is about 1.5 times louder than the S5 speaker. The phone is not equipped with microSD support, and is not waterproof. It however features accelerometer, gyroscope, fingerprint, light sensors, compass and barometer.

Samsung Galaxy S6: Software

Samsung Galaxy S6 runs on latest Android 5.0.2 Lollipop mobile OS with Touchwiz software suite. According to Samsung, the TouchWiz has been made more streamlined with a fresh design and lesser number of bundled applications. Many Microsoft apps come bundled with the S6, including OneNote and OneDrive.

Samsung Galaxy S6: New Features

The company has added many key features in Galaxy S6, including Samsung Pay and "Pro" camera application. Samsung Pay is a mobile payments service based on Magnetic Secure Transmission (MST) and NFC technology. With MST technique, card data is sent to the pay terminal's swipe slot using an electromagnetic field. The terminal registers the data in the same way as with a normally swiped card. A payments needs to be authenticated using a fingerprint scan. Samsung has finalized deals with many payment services including Mastercard, and these services are supporting Samsung Pay.

Samsung Galaxy S6 for Business Users

For business users in the UK, Samsung Galaxy S6 is a nice option in terms of security as use of Samsung Knox security technology offers real-time shield from malicious attacks. Knox works perfectly with most enterprise mobility management services.

Samsung Galaxy S6 Price: How much will it cost in the UK?

Samsung launched Galaxy S6 smartphone in the UK on 10 April through Vodafone, Three, Carphone Warehouse, O2 and EE networks. The 32 GB Galaxy S6 version comes with a price tag of £599 sim-free in the UK, while the 64 GB S6 is available at £760. Earlier the smartphone was available for the UK customers in Black Sapphire, White Pearl, and Gold Platinum variants, but Samsung has now confirmed that Galaxy S6 is being shipped to the UK consumers in Blue Topaz as well.

Samsung Galaxy S6 Best Deals from EE

EE network in the UK is offering Galaxy S6 with 32 GB and 64 GB storage, and in black, white and gold color options. The 'recommended tariff' from EE, with unlimited calls, unlimited texts and 4 GB data, lets you have a 32 GB Galaxy S6 for just £49.99 on a £43.49 monthly tariff. The cheapest offer, with 500 minutes, unlimited texts and 500 MB data, is £32 a month but with an upfront cost of £200. The 64 GB model is available at upfront cost of £49.99 and £53.49 per month tariff with unlimited texts and calls and 10 GB data.

Samsung Galaxy S6 Best Deals from O2

O2 network in the UK is offering Samsung Galaxy S6 on Refresh plan and a range of contracts including the £38-per-month for the 32GB variant with £99 up front payment, unlimited minutes, texts and 2 GB data. Another option is £48-per-month tariff for 32 GB variant with no upfront payment, and 5 GB of data on O2's 4G network. Opting for £13-per-month tariff plan means you'll have to shell out a £649 upfront and you get 500 MB of data.

Samsung Galaxy S6 Best Deals from Vodafone

Vodafone in the UK is trying to attract potential Galaxy S6 buyers with its monthly plans. If you want to trade your old Galaxy smartphone, Vodafone offers you a £43.50-a-month tariff with no upfront payment and with unlimited calls and texts and 7 GB data. For those you are not trading an old Galaxy phone, then monthly tariff increases to £48.50. The lowest monthly tariff of £26.50 gives you 100 minutes, unlimited text and 100 MB 3G data and upfront cost of £199.

Samsung Galaxy S6 Best Deals from Carphone Warehouse

Carphone Warehouse's iD network in the UK is offering Take Away tariff for Galaxy S6, with £39 upfront cost, and £35.50 per month tariff, along with 5,000 texts, 600 minutes, 1 GB 4G data, and free international roaming in 22 countries.

Author: Devender Kundaliya

Wednesday, 13 May 2015

Future Cities will Probably Have More Robot Dogs than Real Dogs

Pets make an important part of human life. Domestication on earth started about 20,000–32,000 years ago with dogs, and today, the word "pet" covers species ranging from birds and mammals to fish, some "exotic" reptiles and even insects. In Western society, a major portion of people keep a pet to serve either as a status symbol or to compensate for lack of social relationships.

Image by mckdnk [CC BY-SA 4.0] from Wikimedia Commons

At present, about 30% households in the US own a cat and about 37% have a dog. An overlap between the two means nearly 50% of households in the US own at least one pet. Pets ownership is also popular in Europe, and is on the rise in Asian countries as well.

Despite this ancient human-animal companionship, the technological advancement in the past two decades and fast pace of urbanization has posed a big question ahead of researchers – how will technology and urbanization impact human–animal relationships in future.

Jean-Loup Rault, an Australian researcher, recently published his study in journal Frontiers in Veterinary Science, where he discusses the future interaction of humans with robotic, real and virtual pets. Based on the observations and findings of his study, Rault suggests that in super-dense cities of the future, robotic pets will probably replace the real pets because it will be difficult for future cities to provide enough living space for 9.5 billion people and their pets.

"It is difficult to imagine how more than half of the 9.6 billion people of 2050 could still keep pets." Rault wrote in his paper in the journal Frontiers in Veterinary Science.

A number of studies in the past have revealed that many people do like interacting with their robotic pets. There are many instances where people, especially children, were found to be interacting with their virtual pets in the same way as most people interact with their live pets. When Sony closed its last repair center for Aibo robotic pets in Japan, many Aibo owners were seen holding funerals for their robotic pets after those robotic pets broke down and were unable to serve their masters further.

Rault believes that despite on-going efforts to develop green and pet-friendly cities, pets in future will be "a luxury possession for people who can afford to sustain their cost and fulfill their needs in terms of space, social, and mental needs."

So are pets a thing of the past? "Let the future tell the truth" suggests Rault quoting futuristic scientist Nikola Tesla.

Author: Devender Kundaliya

Saturday, 4 April 2015

Promoting Excessive Thinness or Anorexia in Fashion Industry Now a Crime in France

The Lower House of Parliament's Socialist Majority Party in France voted and passed legislation today aimed at excessively thin fashion models and their agents.


Image by Himhimkwan [CC BY-SA 3.0] from Wikimedia Commons

Promoting Excessive Thinness or Anorexia in Fashion Industry Now a Crime in France

by Sally Bartlett - 04/04/2015

The new law can fine or imprison both individuals and websites who are promoting, encouraging or requiring excessive thinness. This is interpreted as anyone with a body mass index (BMI) under 18 or weighing less than 121 pounds for a height of 67 inches. This will apply immediately to agencies on hiring models, with follow up checks several weeks after hiring.

Fines up to $100,000 may be imposed depending on severity of the crime and up to 1 year in prison, although smaller sentences of 6 months in jail will probably be more common as the new law is absorbed into the fashion industry. France is following the lead of a similar law in Israel passed in 2013. Italy and Spain, although against anorexia and programs promoting models to be too thin, rely more on codes of proper conduct.

French president Francois Hollande and his lawmakers are also targeting photographers who retouch photos. Any photos that are retouched now must declare full disclosure of that procedure. The new law states: "The activity of model is banned for any person whose Body Mass Index (BMI) is lower than levels proposed by health authorities and decreed by the ministers of health and labor".

In 2010, fashion model Isabelle Caro died from anorexia at age 28, but had allowed herself to be photographed for a campaign to increase awareness before her death. Do you agree with the law, or deem it discrimination?

Image by daniellehelm [CC BY 2.0] via Wikimedia Commons

Eating Disorders, Fashion, and the Right to Work
by E. Margareta Griffith - 19/03/2015

Anorexia nervosa is a terrible disease. For a mental health condition, it has a high death rate. It is difficult to manage, nearly impossible to cure completely, and even when it does not kill it damages major internal organs, bones, and quality of life. It is becoming more prevalent, and many theorize it has a social component in that it feeds on extreme, unhealthy standards of feminine beauty. Many blame the rising rate of this disease on the fashion industry and its preference for extremely thin models.

One of these is Olivier Véran, French legislator. He has proposed outlawing hiring any model with a body mass index of less than eighteen and backing up the law with serious fines and even the possibility of prison. In Italy, Spain, and Israel the government discourages hiring of thin models, although not to the extent of imposing harsh penalties on those who hire thin models. The hope is that when thin is not considered glamorous, young women will not diet themselves into a serious mental illness. It makes about as much sense as refusing to glamorize suicide by covering up incidents, but logic seldom gets in the way of politicians seeking public notice.

The law is nothing more than discrimination. Some may argue that the law seeks to restrict not human beings seeking modeling jobs, but the image of thin as glamorous. Certainly no one would mistake a seriously ill anorexic, with rough, easily bruised skin, edema, loss of muscle tone, thin and brittle hair, and sunken features with beauty. When the disease is at its most serious it is nearly impossible for a person to work. However, like anyone with a physical or mental illness, a person with anorexia has a right to compete for and do any job she can. If she is underweight, has poor eating habits, or other issues is beside the point as long as she can do the job. This applies not only for work out of the public view, but to work where other aspects of her character might allow her to be a role model for young women.
Not every thin woman has anorexia nervosa. Some people simply are thin, for no particular reason. Others may be coping with malabsorbtion diseases, cancer, or any number of other conditions. Should they also be deprived of the right to compete for modeling jobs because they don't conform to what the government sees as a healthy image? Will we soon be banning people who do not look sufficiently healthy from leading youth groups, teaching, acting, or even being seen in public for fear young girls will emulate them? This is a reductio ad absurdum, yes, but the law is in and of itself absurd.

Recently, the fashion industry has been taking small steps toward making clothes for women of all sizes and selling them through models with a wider range of body types. None of this has been achieved by banning certain body types. Whatever combination of nature, nurture, and challenges contribute to a woman's health and appearance, if she can patiently pose for the camera, project a positive image, and “sell” the clothes she's modeling, she is qualified to be a model.

Saturday, 21 March 2015

Fake Suicide Post on Facebook Lands a US Man in Mental Asylum

Shane Tusch, an electrician from San Mateo, California was arrested by police for posting a fake suicide post on Facebook. Tusch was later sent to a psychiatric center for about three days.

Image (c) Facebook

According to 48-year-old Shane Tusch, the main intent of his fake suicide post on Facebook was to test company's new suicide prevention program.

Last month, Facebook launched a new suicide prevention tool to support users who are at high risk of committing suicide. This tool allows users flag suicidal posts on Facebook with a single click. The tool gives options of sending a message to person in trouble, contact some Facebook friend for support, or connect the person in distress with a trained counselor. Facebook claims that such suicidal posts are reviewed by its team, which then sends the original poster links to some helpful resources to prevent him from committing suicide. Facebook had also revealed that, before launching this new tool, it consulted many mental health facilities and organizations providing support to people struggling with suicidal thoughts.

According to Techworm, Tusch in his Facebook post of 26th February 2015 expressed his frustrations and stress due to changes made by his Bank of America in home loan terms. He threatened to take his life by hanging himself from the Golden Gate Bridge.

"So I have decided to take my life in some very public way that will hopefully get people talking about the crimes these banks have payed off are governments and left their wives and kids in the streets. I think hanging myself from the Golden Gate Bridge with a big sign that says bank america killed me and left my wife and kids without a father or a home!" Tusch's post read.

Soon Facebook locked his account and one unknown person who noticed this post alerted San Mateo police, who then arrested Tusch. He was taken in police custody and was inquired about his Facebook post. Tusch told police that he was not planning to commit suicide and was just expressing his frustration and disappointment regarding the First Amendment announced by Bank of America. Police later sent him to a mental asylum where he was kept for about 72 hours.

"Facebook needs to leave suicide prevention to family and friends." Tusch wrote on his Facebook page. "There are no checks and balances! I was only proving a point that Facebook should not be involved in this..."

According to Mr Tusch, this fresh experience shows the dangers of Facebook's approach on suicide prevention as the person who alerted police about his "suicidal" post was a "stranger".

Jamie Court, President of Consumer Watchdog - a US lobby group - has requested Mark Zuckerberg to "suspend the suicide prevention program until it is fully protective of the rights of all individuals and contains safeguards against abuse".

According to Jamie Court, who agrees with the point raised by Mr Tusch, Facebook "facilitated this man's loss of freedom for 70 hours and other innocent victims will be caught in Facebook's web" if the social network doesn't improve its suicide prevention program's procedures.

Facebook has not yet commented on this incident.

Author: Devender Kundaliya

Friday, 6 February 2015

MP Report Says PricewaterhouseCoopers Promotes Tax Avoidance "On Industrial Scale" but Still within the Limits of the Law

In a Public Accounts Committee (PAC) report by MP's the accountancy firm, PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC), has been accused of providing information for companies to avoid UK corporation tax on an "industrial scale".

Image by dalbera (PriceWaterHouseCoopers Building, Oslo) [CC BY 2.0] via Wikimedia Commons

The chairwoman of the PAC, Margaret Hodge said, "We believe that PricewaterhouseCooper's activities represent nothing short of the promotion of tax avoidance on an industrial scale". Contrary to its denials, the tax arrangements PricewaterhouseCooper promotes, based on artificially diverting profits to Luxembourg through intra-company loans, bear all the characteristics of a mass-marketed tax avoidance scheme.

The investigation was launched by MPs after hundreds of documents were leaked last year and found their way to the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) which consists of more than 20 world wide news outlets. The documents leaked contained tax agreements and other sensitive papers revealing that Luxembourg were "rubber stamping" tax avoidance.

An investigation by the Guardian in November of 2014 revealed that more than 300 companies were using Luxembourg as a tax haven. These companies include: Pepsi, Ikea, Accenture, Burberry, Procter and Gamble, Heinz, JP Morgan and FedEx. The tax arrangements were complex but were not deemed to be illegal within the UK and other parts of the world.

In a statement, PwC said, "We stand by the evidence we gave the Public Accounts Committee and disagree with its conclusions about the work we do. We agree the tax system is too complex, as governments compete for investment and tax revenues. We take our responsibility to build trust in the tax system seriously and will continue to support reform".

In the PAC report, Shire Pharmaceuticals was described as one such company that diverted profits to Luxembourg. Shire Pharmaceuticals is based in Basingstoke, UK. The report revealed that Shire Pharmaceuticals only paid 0.0156 percent of its profits to local UK tax authorities, where the main corporation tax rate in the UK is 21 percent.

The MPs' report says, "Shire has arranged its affairs so that interest payments on intra-company loans reduce significantly its overall tax liabilities… The 'substance' of Shire's business in Luxembourg, used to justify these arrangements, consists of two people".

MPs of the PAC report also accused PwC of misleading the committee during an earlier hearing in 2013.

Ms Hodge said, "We consider that the evidence that PwC provided in January 2013 was misleading, in particular its assertions that 'we are not in the business of selling schemes', and 'we do not mass-market tax products, we do not produce tax products, we do not promote tax products'".

The issue of taxation is a complex plethora of red tape and legal maneuvering. Companies that can afford for advice from PwC can legally minimise their tax bills while smaller SMB's and start-ups may have to bear the the full brunt of the UK's complex tax system.

Many organisations and individuals have called for the tax system to be simplified and reforms need to be made, but this is easier said than done.

In an effort to combat tax avoidance, the UK government will be introducing the diverted profits tax in 2015. The new tax will raise the corporation tax rate to 25 percent and is aimed at large multinationals that engage in aggressive tax planning schemes.

Author: Vin Coh

Tuesday, 20 January 2015

Accord with Technology Companies Essential to Combat Terrorism, Says Ex-UK Spy Chief

Cooperation between tech firms and intelligence agencies on data sharing is highly required to prevent terrorist attacks, believes Sir John Sawers, former chief of MI6, UK intelligence agency. Sawers retired from Secret Intelligence Service November last year and was speaking during a public function on Tuesday.

Image by Cristiano Betta [CC BY 2.0] via Wikimedia Commons
According to Sawers, there is lack of trust between tech firms and government agencies, and there is need to restore this trust to fight against terrorism.

Currently, Britain has raised security threat level to second highest, which means that there is high possibility of a terrorist attack in Britain.

During his speech, Sawers cited recent terrorist attacks in France, Yemen and other countries.

17 people were killed in Paris earlier this month by Islamist terrorists. Two terrorists attacked Charlie Hebdo office in Paris on 7th January and killed 12 people, including three police officers. Terrorists killed five other people in two separate shooting incidents that followed Charlie Hebdo attack in France.

Sawers said there is need for new legislation to neutralize fighters who are returning from ISIS-occupied regions and are posing a threat to public security in Britain.

General elections in Britain are due in May this year, and national security will be of much political significance during these elections. Prime Minister David Cameron is advocating new legislation that will give better access to data generated in technology firms. Many people in UK are opposing such legislation advocated by Cameron.

Sawers said that attacks on UK are “inevitable” if intelligence agencies are denied to spy on technology firms and internet data of general public. He held that it would be like inviting problems if tech firms are allowed to build up areas that cannot be monitored by intelligence agencies.

Sawers also talked about Edward Snowden and blamed him for breakdown in trust between intelligence agencies and tech firms. He said that Snowden did not correctly informed general public about the abilities and works of intelligence agencies. He said that the unofficial co-operation between tech firms and intelligence agencies was badly affected by Snowden’ revelations, and there is need to restore that co-operation again.

The function in which Sawers presented his thoughts was organized to launch a study conducted by the firm Edelman on public faith in government institutions and intelligence agencies.

The study revealed that general public has greater faith in intelligence agencies compared to other government institutions. About 72 per cent of the participants admitted that they trust MI5, while 64 per cent declared they trust MI5. Only 43 per cent of the participants showed their faith in other government agencies.

Author: Devender Kundaliya

Monday, 19 January 2015

Hackers attack Twitter: Announce World War III

On Friday, hackers attacked Twitter accounts of two media groups to announce the beginning of Third World War. A fake message posted by hackers on Twitter stated that the US and Chinese Navy were attacking warships of each other in the South China Sea. The media groups whose Twitter accounts were hacked include News Corp-owned New York Post and the United Press International (UPI).


Image by Eric Fischer [CC BY 2.0] via Wikimedia Commons
The spokesperson for the New York Post said in her message said that she confirmed the hacking incident. She also said that this hacking incident is being thoroughly investigated to identify the group behind these attacks.

One bogus message posted from UPI account showed Pope Francis declaring the beginning of WWIII.

Another tweet about the war said that Chinese warships and the US aircraft carrier, USS George Washington, were combating each other in the South China Sea. This tweet was posted from a New York Post Twitter account.

WWIII was not the only topic to be discussed in fake tweets. A message on New York Post’s Twitter feed was regarding the interest rate policy of the Federal Reserve. It said that according to the Bank of America CEO, Federal Reserve’s decisions will have no effect on savings accounts.

Washington-based UPI also confirmed the hacking incident. A company spokesperson said that there were six bogus tweets posted within a period of a few minutes. UPI also confirmed the incident of its website hacking in which the fake news about Federal Reserve was posted. The access to the website was denied by the technical staff once the matter was reported.

Most likely, a malware program was used for signing into the Twitter accounts. All the fake tweets were removed quickly.

This Twitter hacking incident is latest in the series of cyber attacks on media, corporate, and government networks. In the past few months, many media houses, including BBC, have reported hacking of their Twitter feeds. A few days back, Pentagon reported hacking of its Central Command Twitter feed by a Jihadi group. Last year, Sony Pictures Entertainment and JPMorgan Chase reported hacking of their networks and stealing of their confidential data by hackers.

In 2013, hackers took over the Twitter account of Associated Press (AP) and posted a false story about a bombing in the White House. This incident badly affected the US stock market where stocks of many companies slipped heavily. After this incident, Twitter strengthened security of its networks by implementing a new authentication protocol for its users.

According to a senior Pentagon officer, there is no hostile situation developing between China and the US in South China Sea. The US Navy has also confirmed that its aircraft carrier, mentioned in fake tweets, is currently in port.

Twitter has declined commenting on this incident. It said the company cannot discuss individual accounts due to security reasons.

Author: Devender Kundaliya

Tuesday, 6 January 2015

Bitcoin: The worst investment of 2014? Can it improve in 2015?

At the end of 2013 many investors and currency speculators had high hopes for the cryptocurrency Bitcoin. Some people predicted that one Bitcoin could be worth as much as US$10,000 during 2014. Others were slightly more conservative putting the value of one Bitcoin to be between US$2,000 - US$5,000. On the other hand Bitcoin sceptics forecasted that one Bitcoin could be worth as low as US$10. So, what happened to the promised currency in 2014?

Image by Donaldsonbbb [CC BY-SA 4.0] from Wikimedia Commons

Well, at the beginning of 2014, Bitcoin peaked at a value of US$1,130, depending which exchange you used, and, well that was it. From that point onwards it began a steady downward slide where it finished the year at about US$315, making Bitcoin the worst currency investment of 2014. The second worst currency investment in 2014 was the Ukrainian hryvnia and they had to battle a nuclear superpower. That nuclear superpower, Russia, saw its own currency, the rouble, made it into the top three worst currency investments of 2014.

So what went wrong? How could Bitcoin merchants get it so wrong? Could anything have been done to stop the Bitcoin slippery slope? And what's in store for Bitcoin in 2015?

The 2014 year did not begin well for Bitcoin. In February, Mt. Gox, one of the largest Bitcoin exchanges based in Tokyo, suspended trading, closed its internet exchange services and eventually filed for bankruptcy protection. At the time, Mt. Gox handled about 70% of all Bitcoin transactions.

By the end of February, the CEO of Mt. Gox, Mark Karpeles had resigned when a leaked internal memo indicated that 744,408 bitcoins were stolen and not detected for a number of years.

In April, Mt. Gox began liquidation proceedings amidst allegations that approximately 850,000 bitcoins were unaccounted for. At that time this was valued at more than US$450 million. Since then 200,000 bitcoins had been recovered. Conspiracy theories were abound as to what happened to the missing Bitcoins and suspicions of fraud, theft and mismanagement began to surface as headlines on the Internet.

Customers of Mt. Gox started legal proceedings and by March, Mt. Gox had filed for bankruptcy protection in the U.S. And in April the company was liquidated. The Mt. Gox incident raised serious security concerns about Bitcoin and the whole virtual currency market which in turn began to drive down the value of the virtual currency.

On top of all this is the fact that Bitcoin seems to be the currency of choice by people soliciting illegal activity on the so called dark web. In particular, on the black market site, the Silk Road. During the second half of 2013 a FBI operation seized more than 170,000 bitcoins from the Silk Road where it was alleged that 144,000 of the coins had belonged to the Silk Road's creator, Ross Ulbricht. At the time this was valued at more than US$28 million.

In November of 2014 the FBI closed down the Silk Road 2 and a number of other dark sites selling drugs illegally, including Cloud9, Hydra and Cannabis Road. It is not clear whether these sites used bitcoins but it would be most likely. This adds to the impression that bitcoins tend to be used by the underworld and those that deal in the anonymous dark web.

By the end of 2014, Charlie Shrem, the former CEO of BitInstant and a board member of the Bitcoin Foundation, pleaded guilty to aiding and abetting the operation of an unlicensed money transmitting business. Which is the legal way of saying, money laundering. He was sentenced to two years prison and forfeited US$950,000 to the U.S. government.

Security lapses, allegations of fraud, scandals involving money laundering and a dive in confidence have all added to bring down consumer confidence in the virtual currency market. No one could have predicted all this at the beginning of 2014.

Even so, could anything have been done to stop the falling value of Bitcoin?

For a start Bitcoin is not backed or owned by any nation or financial institutions. Towards the end of 2014, Russia's rouble began sliding on the backs of falling oil prices and the Russians took an unprecedented step in raising interest rates to try and stop the slide. This didn't work but at least they tried. The price of bitcoins are determined by the various privately owned exchanges. Therefore if the value of bitcoins begin to fall, no government will be able to come to its rescue.

During the financial collapse of 2008 - 2010 many banks and financial institutions received bailouts from their respective governments but if Bitcoin fails who is going to bail them out or even help them? The answer is: No one.

Bitcoin is a totally unregulated and anonymous currency. It's very good for people anticipating a global monetary melt down or for countries suffering very high inflation. It is a disruptive technology and can change the financial sector. However it has to be more widely accepted and integrated into mainstream payment systems before it can have a real impact.

The outlook for Bitcoin in 2015 does not appear promising. It is currently hovering about US$270 and went as low as US$250. This might be a good opportunity for long term speculators to invest in Bitcoin but rather bad for people depending on Bitcoin as a source of income.

With little or no regulation it will take some time before Bitcoin becomes widely accepted. The Bitcoin revolution probably needs to be revised or happen in increments rather than a Big Bang. People still prefer something tangible in their hands, something that they can put into their pockets. And businesses tend to prefer regulatory clarification rather than uncertainties and until governments begin to support Bitcoin it remains on the fringe of the currency market.

Author: Vin Coh