Hexbyte  Tech News  Computers Here are the Russian-made Facebook ads that tried to shake American politics

Hexbyte Tech News Computers Here are the Russian-made Facebook ads that tried to shake American politics

Hexbyte Tech News Computers

Just one example of a Russian-created Facebook ad used in the run-up to the 2016 election.

House Committee on Intelligence

On Thursday morning, the House of Representatives’ Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence released a vast trove of thousands of Russian-bought Facebook and Instagram ads designed to sow doubt among the American population in the run-up to the November 2016 presidential election. The committee had promised to publish the ads late last year.

While a limited number of ads had been released previously, the new cache reveals a scale and scope previously unseen.

According to the committee, there were 3,393 advertisements purchased, which were seen by more than 11.4 million Americans. The Kremlin-backed Internet Research Agency created 470 Facebook pages, which made “80,000 pieces of organic content” seen by more than 126 million Americans.

The ads are divided up by the month and year in which they were bought. Each entry is formatted into a two-page PDF, with the first page showing the text of the ad itself (sometimes written in awkward English), various ad targeting parameters, and the “ad spend” paid in Russian rubles. The second page shows an image of the ad.

Late last year, Facebook executives offered many public apologies for their failure to recognize and stop these ads.

“We know we have a responsibility to prevent everything we can from this happening on our platforms,” COO Sheryl Sandberg told Axios in October 2017.

Rep. Adam Schiff (D-California) highlighted a few of the ads on his Twitter account.

Below is a brief gallery containing a few of the newly released ads.

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Hexbyte  Tech News  Computers Hurricane Harvey was fueled by record heat in the Gulf of Mexico

Hexbyte Tech News Computers Hurricane Harvey was fueled by record heat in the Gulf of Mexico

Hexbyte Tech News Computers

Enlarge
/ Warm sea surface temperatures on August 23, 2017, just before Hurricane Harvey.

We’ve covered several studies seeking to clarify the role of human-caused climate change in the unbelievable amounts of water Hurricane Harvey dumped on Houston last year. The general approach of these studies was to simulate today’s climate and a pre-global-warming climate, and to then compare the behavior of hurricanes around Houston.

Since most people understand that hurricanes are fueled by warm ocean water, however, perhaps it would be conceptually simpler to focus on the seawater beneath Harvey.

That has now been done by a new study led by Kevin Trenberth of the National Center for Atmospheric Research. By analyzing the heat energy present in the Gulf of Mexico—and how much was lost as Harvey spun through—researchers get a fairly direct measure of Harvey’s fuel.

As long as wind speeds at higher altitude aren’t fast enough to tear a baby cyclone apart, sea surface temperatures over 26°C can grow that baby into a tyrant. Warm, moist air over the water gets pulled into the storm’s low pressure center, where it buoyantly rises. As it begins to cool, some of the water vapor condenses—which releases a considerable amount of heat, which keeps the air rising. Just as evaporating sweat carries heat energy away from your skin, evaporating seawater carries heat energy away from the ocean and up into the engine of the hurricane.

By measuring the change in ocean heat energy as a hurricane passes, you can work out how much energy went into its engine. The difficulty is that we only have so many floats and ships out there making measurements, so you rarely have enough data to reliably calculate that fairly rapid change. In this case, the researchers compared average heat energy in the upper ocean in the Gulf of Mexico for August 1-20 (just before Harvey) with September 1-20. Satellites now measure sea surface temperatures every day, although they can’t reach below the surface to really measure total heat energy.

When Harvey entered the Gulf of Mexico, it encountered record ocean heat energy (top graph in the image below). That wasn’t just random chance—average sea surface temperatures have increased about 0.6°C since 1960 (lower graph below). Global warming obviously includes warming seawater, which means greater ocean heat energy.

Hexbyte  Tech News  Computers Ocean heat content (OHC, top) and sea surface temperatures (SST, bottom) in the Gulf of Mexico since 1960.
Enlarge
/ Ocean heat content (OHC, top) and sea surface temperatures (SST, bottom) in the Gulf of Mexico since 1960.

As Hurricane Harvey grew strong feeding on that energy, it left water about 1° to 2°C cooler in its wake (but still above the 26°C hurricane threshold). Doing the math, the researchers estimate this represents about 590 billion gigajoules of heat energy lost by the upper ocean. Want another big number you can’t really

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Hexbyte  Tech News  Computers Democrats demand answers on AT&T’s $600,000 payment to Trump’s lawyer

Hexbyte Tech News Computers Democrats demand answers on AT&T’s $600,000 payment to Trump’s lawyer

Hexbyte Tech News Computers

Enlarge
/ Michael Cohen, longtime personal lawyer and confidant for President Donald Trump, arrives at the United States District Court Southern District of New York on April 26, 2018 in New York City.

Getty Images | Spencer Platt

Congressional Democrats are asking US regulators for information on whether AT&T payments to President Trump’s personal lawyer were made in order to influence the government’s review of AT&T’s merger with Time Warner Inc.

AT&T paid $600,000 to Trump lawyer Michael Cohen’s shell company, Essential Consultants, “the same vehicle he used in October 2016 to direct $130,000 to the adult-film actress known professionally as Stormy Daniels to stay silent about an alleged sexual encounter with Mr. Trump in 2006,” The Wall Street Journal wrote yesterday.

Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) and Rep. David Cicilline (D-R.I.) yesterday asked the Department of Justice’s Antitrust Division for answers.

“Although AT&T has stated that the payments were for ‘insights into understanding the new administration,’ the amount and timing of the payments suggest that they may have been part of an attempt to influence the outcome of the AT&T/Time Warner merger investigation,” Klobuchar and Cicilline wrote to Assistant Attorney General Makan Delrahim.

Cohen provided AT&T with advice about how it “should approach the administration about its $85.4 billion merger and regulatory issues before the Federal Communications Commission,” The New York Times reported, citing a person familiar with the agreement between Cohen and AT&T.

Hexbyte Tech News Computers AT&T failed to convince DOJ

Any effort by AT&T to obtain DOJ approval of its merger was a failure. The DOJ filed a lawsuit to block AT&T’s proposed acquisition of Time Warner in November 2017, though AT&T could still complete the merger if it gets a favorable court ruling.

AT&T’s payments “continued until just after the Antitrust Division sued to block the deal,” Klobuchar and Cicilline wrote.

AT&T has tried to prove that Trump influenced the DOJ’s decision to file the lawsuit, given that Trump promised to block the deal when he was campaigning for president.

AT&T has benefited from other Trump administration decisions, such as its moves to end net neutrality and broadband privacy rules.

The Democratic lawmakers asked Delrahim to “disclose

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Hexbyte  Tech News  Computers Video: How Blizzard makes Overwatch maps, and why tiny boats made Rialto more balanced

Hexbyte Tech News Computers Video: How Blizzard makes Overwatch maps, and why tiny boats made Rialto more balanced

Hexbyte Tech News Computers

Video shot and edited by CNE.
Click here for transcript.

Blizzard Entertainment just released Rialto, a new map for its hero-based first-person shooter Overwatch. Set in Venice, Italy, Rialto does a few things differently from past Overwatch maps—it has more water than any before it and uses 90° angles in tightly packed streets to create choke points in addition to narrow archways, to name a couple changes.

In this video, Overwatch Assistant Game Director Aaron Keller talks about how Blizzard approached designing the map and about the process for making Overwatch maps in general. I visited Blizzard HQ in Irvine, California, and among many other things, I asked Keller: How do you ba


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Hexbyte  Tech News  Computers Multiple studies show no improvement in distracted driving

Hexbyte Tech News Computers Multiple studies show no improvement in distracted driving

Hexbyte Tech News Computers

Arterra/UIG via Getty Images

As we’ve reported in the past, the death toll on US roads keeps increasing despite ever-safer vehicles. And people are overwhelmingly to blame; the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration calculates that 97 percent of all fatal crashes are due to human error. One factor in all this unsafe road behavior is distracted driving, and the past few weeks have seen my inbox bombarded with new studies on the topic. After a while, a deluge like that becomes hard to ignore, so I figured it was time to sit down and read through them. And the findings reveal that drivers aren’t really getting any better about focusing on the road.

The various reports use a number of different methodologies: combing through NHTSA’s Fatality Analysis Report System (FARS), data collected from smartphone apps, plus surveys of drivers and companies. So taken together, they ought to give us a decent picture of the problem. As we’ll see, however, you can infer very different things depending on how you look at the data, particularly when you try to break it down geographically. Let’s start with the analyses of NHTSA’s crash data.

Safewise looked at FARS data for 2016 (the most recent year with complete data) to investigate the prevalence of distracted driving. It found that nine percent of all road fatalities, and six percent of driver fatalities, were caused by distracted driving and that the total number of deaths had increased by 14 percent in just two years. It then broke things down by state; the deadliest place to drive appears to be Mississippi, with 23.1 deaths per year for every 100,000 people. Alabama and South Carolina also exceeded 20 deaths per 100,000 people. Meanwhile, the District of Columbia is the safest place to drive, with just four deaths per 100,000 people. For context, the national average for the country was 11.6 deaths per 100,000 people.

Hexbyte Tech News Computers Distracted driving: More than just cellphones

Looking past just fatal crashes, Safewise calculated that the average incidence of cellphone use causing distracted driving nationally is about 14 percent. It found the practice most prevalent among the youngest drivers (19 percent for 15-19 year olds), followed by those aged 20-29 (18 percent), 40-49 (17 percent), and 30-39 (16 percent). Elderly drivers are the least likely to use a cell phone while driving, with use as low as two percent for those aged 70 and above.

Erie Insurance, also using FARS data, came to the same conclusion about the overall incidence of cellphone use causing distracted driving crashes, adding the fact that 61 percent of distracted driving-related crashes were down to drivers daydreaming.

It’s difficult to imagine legislation governing daydreaming while driving. But the past 10 years have seen plenty of legislation focused on preventing cell phone use while on the road. So Safewise looked at how well the states are enforcing laws to prevent cell phone use while driving. Fifteen states and DC have laws banning all cell phone use while driving, and most of the remaining ones at least ban texting while driving. Of these states, Delaware leads the pack in actually enforcing those laws, with 13,061 citations per 100,000 licensed drivers. New York (11,996) and DC (10,952) are the next best. But as you’ll see in the infographic, many other states issue few if any tickets for breaking those laws.

Hexbyte Tech News Computers Using smartphones to study smartphone use while driving

Drivemode is an Android app designed to adhere to NHTSA safety guidelines for a driving app, with a simplified UI and hands-free talk-to-texting. It only looked at data from its 177,000 users to look at national and state-level trends for messaging while driving. Ignoring received messages, it looked at more than 6.5 million “hands-free” messages sent via the app during 2017. It found that people me

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5 things you never knew about the New Horizons mission to Pluto

5 things you never knew about the New Horizons mission to Pluto

It’s been more than 12 years since NASA’s New Horizons probe left Earth on an expedition to Pluto, which at the time was the solar system’s ninth planet, and nearly three years since we saw the first images of the “planetary wonder.”

Yet there’s a bevy of details we’re only now still learning from New Horizons, according to those leading the mission — including the fact that visiting the dwarf planet almost never happened.

In their new book “Chasing New Horizons,” mission leader Alan Stern and astrobiologist David Grinspoon divulge the most intimate accounts of the decades of planning needed for the Pluto probe.

The book recounts the mission’s emotional turbulence and seemingly endless roadblocks, such as when officials zeroed out funding for the project right when its proposal took off or when New Horizons went offline right before its flyby.

To give you a taste of their previously untold narrative–published on May 1— the PBS NewsHour compiled five aspects of New Horizons that you might not have known.

"Chasing New Horizons" was published May 1, 2018. Image provided by the National Air and Space Museum

“Chasing New Horizons” was published May 1, 2018. Image provided by the National Air and Space Museum

New Horizons spent decades in limbo

Scientists at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) proposed Pluto flybys as early as the 1960s, around the time the Voyager program came to fruition. They wanted to conduct a “Grand Tour” of the outer solar system: Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune and Pluto.

Somewhere along the way, the scientists behind the Voyager dropped Pluto to study Saturn’s moon Titan — a world with a thick atmosphere and signs of organic molecules that could indicate life — instead. A mission to Pluto idled for years afterward.

Then, in the late 1970s, planetary scientists discovered that Pluto had a moon, Charon, boosting the then-ninth planet’s importance. By 1989, Stern and a group of NASA scientists — known as the “Pluto Underground” — agreed that they should shoot for a Pluto mission. But NASA’s upper management was skeptical on how worthwhile this mission could be.

Unlike Titan or other geologically active bodies known at the time, Pluto seemed like a hunk of rock. Was it worth millions of dollars to send a probe that far into the solar system for what might be a celestial dud?

“It was disappointing to me to learn that senior scientists insisted that a mission to Pluto wasn’t justified simply for its exploration value,” Stern wrote.

Thirteen years and six failed mission concepts later, engineers and scientists started working on New Horizons. During that period, JPL and Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) battled over which probe design would lead the mission. APL’s design won, but was in a hard race against time: they had four years to construct and launch the vessel, while funding cuts and canned proposals throughout the George W. Bush and Clinton administrations kept threatening the mission.

Though interplanetary space exploration of Pluto stalled for a generation, Stern never let his dream of exploring Pluto die.

“The biggest quality that it took from all of us in the so-called Pluto Underground was determination,” Stern told the NewsHour. “There were many defeats along the way” that required a lot of labor and persistence, he added.

New Horizons is tiny and made of borrowed parts

Unlike most other early interplanetary missions, such as Pioneer, Mariner and Voyager, New Horizons launched solo. Limited federal funding and short time constraints meant scaling back the mission, so Stern’s team decided to send a single probe to Pluto. This plan was risky, so it had to be perfect.

In the end, New Horizons was built to be tiny by space exploration standards, weighing about as much as a piano. To accomplish so many science experiments on such a small spacecraft, APL engineers joined forces with the Southwest Research Institute (SwRI). They borrowed science instrument designs from other missions, such as the command system on MESSENGER at APL and the Alice ultraviolet spectrometer used for the Rosetta mission at SwRI.

This saved them time, money and resources so the team could put more focus on the new technologies needed for such a long mission. For instance, New Horizons can brag about its telecommunications system, which is one of the longest-range systems using NASA’s Deep Space Network to make long-distance calls back to Earth.

This system allowed the probe and ground-based crews to send streams of data back and forth at a relatively fast speed; each dispatch took nine hours to transmit. By mission’s end, the information collected during the Pluto flyby required more than a year of constant to communication to download to Earth.

New Horizons in the clean room prior to launch in 2006. Photo provided by NASA

New Horizons in the clean room prior to launch in 2006. Photo provided by NASA

New Horizons skated through a Kuiper minefield

Pluto dwells in the Kuiper Belt, an outer region of the solar system filled with comets, asteroids and small bodies of rock. New Horizons had to avoid hitting these object as it zoomed through the belt at a speed of 10 miles per second. Colliding with something as small as a grain of rice could destroy the probe.

Unsure of what loomed in the darkness surrounding the dwarf planet, Stern wondered: What if Pluto “is really a black widow?”

To protect against the worst case scenario, Stern’s team had to create a “fail-safe” data transfer system, so New Horizons could send them data well before it reached Pluto, or encountered dangerous objects. This transmission would happen far enough from Pluto “that there was no significant possibility of lethal impact” that would hurt the probe, Grinspoon wrote.

So far, New Horizons has continued to avoid all of the chaos en route to the solar system’s Kuiper Belt to investigate a celestial object called Ultima Thule (pronounced “ultima thoo-lee”).

Precision is everything

Navigating through this death trap wasn’t the only challenge. On July 14, 2015, after traveling for nine and a half years, New Horizons had no more than nine minutes to get the best, most centered photos of Pluto. On Earth terms, that’s like a flight traveling from Los Angeles to New York and landing within four milliseconds of its scheduled time.

On top of that, the probe had to get close enough to Pluto (within 7,800 miles) and be no more than 60 miles off course. “This was the equivalent of hitting a golf ball from L.A. to New York and landing it in a target the size of a soup can!” Stern and Grinspoon wrote.

Yes, there was a New Horizons’ wake-up song

Scientists woke up New Horizons on December 6, 2014, after a monthslong stint of hibernation, to prepare for the flyby. NASA has a long-standing tradition of playing a “wake-up song” when a mission reaches a new milestone. (Back in 1965, for instance, astronauts on Gemini 6 woke up to “Hello, Dolly!”)

For New Horizons, Stern chose the Star Trek: Enterprise theme “Faith of the Heart.” It was a perfect song for the arduous journey the New Horizons team endured, Stern and Grinspoon said, especially these lines: “It’s been a long road, getting from there to here. It’s been a long time, but my time is finally near … I can reach any star. I´ve got faith. I´ve got faith of the heart.”

Clyde Tombaugh's ashes were affixed to the New Horizons probe. In 1930, he discovered Pluto. Now he has visited it. Photo provided by Alan Stern

Clyde Tombaugh’s ashes were affixed to the New Horizons probe. In 1930, he discovered Pluto. Now he has visited it. Photo provided by Alan Stern

This song wasn’t the only piece of sentiment accompanying the mission. New Horizons carried nine mementos, including the ashes of Clyde Tombaugh, who discovered Pluto in 1930, and a U.S. stamp from 1991 stating “Pluto: Not Yet Explored.” Each of these keepsakes symbolized the decades spent reaching for the little planet.