Why Asia is the frontier of mobile security

Security professionals can safeguard their enterprise by studying advanced hacking techniques from China, India and Korea

Security professionals know that hackers are an invisible army with infinite patience, and a bottomless bag of tricks. Against these odds businesses are at a disadvantage, because the only surefire way to know you’re vulnerable to hackers is after an attack has occurred. By then it’s too late to plug any holes that lead to a breach.

So how can you keep your apps safe, and stay ahead of the curve? Look to Asia, particularly China and Korea.

Why Asia?

Asia is Ground Zero for mobile app hackers who target video game developers. And while Asian mobile developers seem like an isolated target, the implications are much larger than one market, or one specific form of mobile technology. Mobile hacks–often originating in China and India–quickly become a global contagion with the potential to unleash untold havoc for companies of any size.

Asia is the world’s largest Internet market, with the highest number of smartphone users. Asian consumers are avid gamers and fast adopters of mobile trends, such as mobile commerce, and in-game/in-app purchases. And as early technology adopters, Asia’s developers are the first to experience new threats to their mobile apps.

App piracy

App piracy is a costly problem for Asian app developers.

Asian consumers have a long-standing relationship with pirated content, such a movies, and premium merchandise. Culturally it is common to see knockoff designer items and pirated games/movies on the streets, and it is accepted as a part of life. The in-app sale of premium items is a business model first pioneered in Asia as a response to rampant piracy of video games.

Today app piracy serves as a way for unscrupulous developers to dramatically reduce production cycles. With access to a rival’s source code, a copycat app version is released with identical functionality, allowing the thieves to shift development funds to marketing and new user acquisition. Hard-working developers unwittingly provide a generous subsidy to their competition when they fail to lock down or obfuscate their code. In this new world, the copycat can sometimes be more popular than the original.

Advanced evasion techniques with high sophistication

The piracy problem has many faces, and aids, in advanced evasion techniques favored by hackers.

The duplication of certificates and security credentials from compromised apps often become components of new attacks against enterprise targets. With these bogus credentials hackers can deploy malicious code in an otherwise secure environment, because it appears to be coming from a trusted source.

Today’s most advanced hackers function like startups, with a chain of command and compensation structure like any legit technology firm.But the businesslike nature of their illegal enterprises does not mirror the companies they target.

Hackers are opportunists. Hackers spend weeks or months looking for one hole to exploit. Once they have breached a company’s defenses they may wait months more before selecting the right moment to launch a crippling offensive.

Transoceanic mutation

The Asian mobile security market has unique characteristics, but it is dangerous for IT professionals to treat threats as a purely local phenomenon. In a connected world, cybergangs in China, India, Pakistan and Eastern Europe are not limited by geography.

The attack patterns that originate in Asia inevitably become standard tactics used against European and American enterprise targets. Asian cybercriminals who bring battle-tested techniques to new shores, are better able to avoid detection, and more resilient to inoculation attempts, like antibiotic-resistant bacteria that cause deadly outbreaks.

Protecting your apps

The threat posed by hackers is very real; just ask Sony, Tesco, Macy’s or Nieman Marcus, retailers who suffered costly and serious brand damage after hackers gained access to millions of customer records and credit cards.

An ounce of prevention saves a pound of cure. There are no bulletproof security solutions to stop all attacks, however, there are simple and often-overlooked steps you can implement today, such as binary-level obfuscation, source code obfuscation, key encryption (private/public) and secure communications between client/server (HTTPS, not HTTP)

Think like a hacker to stop hackers

Identify weak links in your security environment by proactively educating yourself about emerging threats.

Asia is at the forefront of hacking techniques, therefore paying close attention to the latest security research will give you a leg up on hackers, before you become front page news.

The best hackers will always find a way to make mischief. Because they are opportunists first and foremost, the more difficult you make their job, the more likely they are to target someone else.

India’s Monsanto clash is bad news for innovators 

What’s happened to Monsanto could happen to any foreign company and any innovator. Once that realization sinks in, India will pay the heavier price.

Last week, Monsanto’s relationship with the Indian government hit a new low when the company announced it wouldn’t be introducing a newer and more effective GM cotton strain into India. Photo: Reuters

Last week, Monsanto’s relationship with the Indian government hit a new low when the company announced it wouldn’t be introducing a newer and more effective GM cotton strain into India. Photo: Reuters

Monsanto’s many battles with the Indian government have typically been cast as clashes between poor Indian farmers and a giant multinational that’s overcharging for its genetically modified seeds. And certainly, the US agriculture giant isn’t the most sympathetic of companies. Its seeds are indeed expensive and, in the case of cotton, no longer deliver the returns promised as resistance builds up.

The latest confrontation, however, reflects other fights—between domestic companies and foreign ones, as well as between users and creators of intellectual-property. And India is backing the wrong side.

Last week, Monsanto’s relationship with the Indian government hit a new low when the company announced it wouldn’t be introducing a newer and more effective GM cotton strain into India. This followed upon a March threat in which the company said it would ‘re-evaluate’ its business in India because “arbitrary and innovation-stifling government interventions make it impossible to recoup research and development investments.”

The government, which has been working hard to promote local substitutes for Monsanto’s GM cotton, has made a show of not being intimidated. Earlier in the year, India’s junior agriculture minister said, “We’re not scared if Monsanto leaves the country.” Activists—including those associated with India’s right-wing ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)—cheered the comments.

Unfortunately, in its campaign to lessen farmers’ reliance on Monsanto seeds, the government has chosen to use the bluntest of instruments: bullying and expropriation. For example, it’s decided to cap the royalty payments that Indian seed companies pay Monsanto for the use of its technology. “Trait value” payments from Monsanto’s 48 licensees in India are set to come down by 74% as a result.

Worse, in order to give itself the power to impose the cap, the government declared cotton seeds an “essential commodity.” This brought into force the draconian provisions of a socialist-era price control law, including the power to arrest company executives for “hoarding.” Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government has consistently sought to extend the law in question—the Essential Commodities Act—and to make it ever more stringent; an executive charged with a crime under the Act would no longer qualify automatically for bail, for example. In doing so, Modi has been following the recommendations of a committee of state chief ministers he himself headed in 2010, when he ran the cotton-growing state of Gujarat.

Worst of all, the government recently announced a new licensing framework that essentially ensures license fees for GM technology will decline by 10% every year, and allows the government to decide at any point that domestic seed companies no longer need to pay the intellectual property owner anything. The shift was first announced in May, but was temporarily suspended “for consultation.” With Modi due to travel to the US in June, and the government may have wanted to forestall an embarrassing intellectual-property dispute.

None of this is likely to improve the lives of Indian farmers. Although Monsanto’s license fees have been slashed drastically, the seeds they buy aren’t noticeably cheaper. Instead the policy benefits India’s politically powerful domestic seed companies, who are sick of paying Monsanto for its technology. Some of them, like the Blackstone Group-backed Nuziveedu Seeds, have actually been taken to court by Monsanto for refusing to pay license fees. It’s this long-running dispute that the government is trying to influence in favour of domestic firms.

The dangers of the government’s strategy are obvious. For one, its actions run the risk of reversing India’s revolution in cotton production, which by some estimates has earned the country $55 billion in terms of trade and allowed its farmers to be paid for an additional 140 million bales of cotton.

Even more worryingly, a precedent has been set that threatens all biotechnology companies and other innovators. This goes beyond the “compulsory licensing” provisions that developing countries can use to expropriate intellectual property rights during an emergency. The Indian government appears intent on taking technology from a foreign company and passing it on to domestic firms, whether that company likes it or not. India’s even violated one of the central provisions of its own proposed framework on intellectual property by denying the rights-holder an appeal.

Few tears will be shed if Monsanto makes good on its years of threats and leaves India. But that would be the wrong reaction. What’s happened to Monsanto could happen to any foreign company and any innovator. Once that realization sinks in, India will pay the heavier price.

A coffee shortage is looming – and scientists have figured out how soon it could be extinct.

Coffee is more than just the crucial beverage that makes it easier to face the workday. It provides comfort, culture, and is an essential source of the caffeine that Harvard neuroscientist Charles Czeisler says makes modern life possible.

But the global coffee supply is currently at risk, with shortages already starting to affect the world.

A full half of the world’s area that’s deemed suitable for growing coffee will be lost by 2050 if climate change remains unchecked, according to a new report from The Climate Institute of Australia.

By 2080, the report estimates that wild coffee (which helps us find genetic varietals that might be more resistant to climate stress) will go extinct.

Coffee shortages that make it harder to get good coffee and that hurt the livelihoods of 25 million coffee farmers around the globe are already having an effect, and it’s not just environmental research groups that are concerned about future access to coffee. Advisors for corporate giants like Starbucks and Lavazza agree.

“We have a cloud hovering over our head. It’s dramatically serious,” Mario Cerutti, Green Coffee and Corporate Relations Partner at Lavazza,said at a hospitality conference in Italy in 2015.

“Climate change can have a significant adverse effect in the short term,” he said. “It’s no longer about the future; it’s the present.”

What’s happening to coffee?

People drink more than 2.25 billion cups of coffee each and every day. The coffee industry is a major one, producing the second most valuable export for developing countries. But the better and more commonly grown type of coffee, Coffea Arabica, can only thrive in very specific conditions. For now, that means tropical highlands around the globe, from Central America and Brazil to Indonesia, Vietnam, and East Africa, its place of origin.

coffee beans

But a warming world and extreme weather, including both heavy rains and drought, are making it harder to grow coffee in these regions, according to the report. Temperature and heavy rain have helped a fungus called Coffee Leaf Rust spread through Central America and into South America, destroying crops. Pests like the Coffee Berry Borer are spreading for the same reasons. Drought in Brazil cut coffee production by around 30% in 2014 in Minas Gerais, a major coffee region.

Even a half a degree of temperature change can make a region that used to be a coffee gold mine unsuitable. Moving production to higher altitudes is not always feasible and can be especially difficult for the small farmers that make up 80-90% of coffee growers.

By 2050, half of currently suitable land will no longer be suitable, unless the world can limit warming to the 1.5-2 degree Celsius rise that was set as a goal at the 2016 Paris Climate Agreement, and really, even 1.5 degrees is pushing it for most farmers.

It’s not a completely hopeless scenario – cutting emissions and limiting warming to 1.5 degrees would make a big difference, both for individual coffee lovers and for the 120 million people who make a living from the coffee supply chain. Buying coffee from groups that provide fair incomes to farmers can help those communities adapt.

But this is a serious situation and one worth paying attention to now, before problems get worse down the line.

As Starbucks sustainability director Jim Hanna told The Guardian in 2011 – five years ago – it’s urgent.

“If we sit by and wait until the impacts of climate change are so severe that is impacting our supply chain then that puts us at a greater risk,” he said. “From a business perspective we really need to address this now, and to look five, 10, and 20 years down the road.”

How Well Do You Know Your Brain: What Is It? 

The brain is the most complex organ in the human body. It controls everything, from the way we walk to the way we speak. Its has captivated scientists for centuries, yet we know a lot less about the brain than we do about the heart, liver, or kidneys. Research on the brain has surged greatly in recent years, allowing us to understand more about being human. Though, many people don’t know the basics about how the brain works. How well do you know your brain?

how well do you know your brain? via Giphy

What is the brain made of?

Each organ in our body is made of specialized cells that work together to make that organ work the way it does. In the brain, these cells are called nerve cells, or neurons.

Each neuron contains a bulb-like structure called the cell body. Protrusions off of the cell body are called dendrites, and these are the receivers of information from other neurons. The information from other cells travels down a long fiber called the axon, which is covered with fatty material called myelin that helps the electrical impulses travel faster. The axon ends by branching out into many nerve fibers (collectively called the axon terminal), which connect to other neurons to pass on information. But don’t be fooled- neurons don’t actually touch each other. Instead, they’re separated by a gap called the synapse. 

Information traveling through a neuron can be both electrical and chemical. Electrical impulses called action potentials travel down to the axon terminal and trigger these tiny packages called vesicles to open. These vesicles contain neurotransmitters that are released into the synapse to communicate with the next cell.

These neurotransmitters are key to everything about us. It coordinates so many things, from our happiness to the way we sleep. You may have heard of some them and their effects. For example, dopamine is known as the “pleasure neurotransmitter” because when released, it makes us feel pleasure and happiness. Many drugs actually cause the release of dopamine, which explains how people can get addicted to drugs, since we repeat behaviors that we find pleasure in. Another example is adrenaline, or the “fight or flight neurotransmitter.” In stressful situations, adrenaline increases heart rate and blood flow to allow you to physically deal with your stressor.

There you have it- the inner workings of the brain. But fear not! We’re far from over, there’s so much more to learn.

So, why is it important to know your brain?

As you can see, the brain is as complex as defining the word “the”. Scientists have been pouring themselves over understanding the brain, only to make discoveries that just barely scratch the surface. Understanding how the brain works helps us understand the things that make us human. Why do we feel a certain way when we’re in love? Why do some people have a harder time with depression than others? What causes happiness, pleasure, stress, and anxiety? Advancements in neuroscience bring us closer to these answers everyday.

Aren’t there different parts of the brain?

Yes! The idea that different areas of the brain have specific functions was gained in the late nineteenth century. Scientists were actually able to figure out what these functions were when they studied patients who had deficits. By the time that the twentieth century came around, they had detailed maps and functional descriptions of the brain’s areas.

It would take forever to go through all the areas of the brain and its functions, so let’s talk about the basics. Your brain is divided into 4 lobes that controls things like your thinking, movement, and your senses. Other structures below the cerebrum are responsible for life functions, such as breathing, heart rate, motor coordination and balance.

The Frontal Lobe

The frontal lobe is the frontmost part of your brain- hence the name! The frontal lobe actually has many functions, and damage to this area is known to cause some pretty diverse effects. The most famous story about damage to this area belongs to Phineas Gage, who’s damage to this lobe caused his personality to change. Besides personality, some of its functions include emotional control, concentration, planning, and problem solving. Towards the back of the lobe is the motor cortex, which controls the movement of everything in your body.

The Parietal Lobe

Located at the top of the head behind the frontal lobe, the parietal lobe deals with mainly sensory information. The somatosensory cortex, located towards the front of the lobe, is responsible for the perception of touch, pressure, and taste. The body’s sensory areas are actually organized along the cortex in a map called a homunculus, where different areas have different representations. For example, you have more sensation on your lips than your elbow because your lips have more representation in the cortex. The other parts of the lobe take in all the sensory information and integrate it to help us understand the world around us.

The Temporal Lobe

Located on the sides of the brain (behind the temples), this lobe is responsible forrecognizing faces, monitoring emotions, and long-term memory. It’s biggest job is to make sense of all the auditory information that comes our way. More specifically, its important for the comprehension of meaningful speech. In fact, when damage to this area occurs, a person would have trouble understanding what is being said to them, or being able to speak properly.

The Occipital Lobe

Has your mother ever told you she had “eyes” in the back of her head? Well, she wasn’t completely lying. Located in the back, the occipital lobe integrates all the visual information coming in from the eyes. From the visual cortex, the information goes to different association areas that processes it. For example, when reading this article, the visual information is being sent to areas specialized for reading comprehension. Damage to this area can cause visual impairments, where you can’t process the visual informationcoming in from your eyes.

The Cerebellum

The cerebellum (Latin for “little brain”) is located on the brainstem where the spinal cord meets the brain. It takes in all the sensory information from other parts of the brain and uses it to coordinate our balance and movements. It also helps with motor learning, where its responsible for fine-tuning motor movements to make them smoother and more accurate. For example, if you were to learn how to hit a baseball, the cerebellum would act to find the best way to make your movements as smooth and coordinated as possible.

3D Printing May Have Helped Solve A 3-Million-Year-Old Death.

By studying 3D-prints and X-Rays of human ancestor Lucy’s bones, scientists determined her likely cause off death.

Animal sculptor Emmanuel Janssens Casteels works on a Lucy replica

It’s one of the oldest, coldest cases in forensic science. Lucy, an early hominid who lived 3.2 million years ago, mysteriously died in her prime and remained buried in a shallow Ethiopian stream until researchers discovered her well-preserved remains in the year 1974. Was she attacked by wild beasts? Did she succumb to an ancient disease? Was she murdered by a fellow Australopithecus?

Now, a new study in the journal Nature suggests that Lucy took a 50-foot plunge to her death, likely after slipping off a tree branch while climbing or sleeping. The findings are based on a forensic and medical analysis of detailed X-Ray scans and 3D-printed replicas of Lucy’s broken bones, now available online for researchers around the world to study from the comfort of their labs.

“It’s rarely the case that the skeleton actually preserves evidence of how an individual died,” coauthor John W. Kappelman of the University of Texas at Austin told CNN. “What we’re proposing here is the first hypothesis that’s out there, and we’ve had her for 42 years now, about how she died.”

“I am not aware that anyone else has ever [done that].”

Maybe that’s how she fell to her death. For this new study, researchers scanned Lucy’s skeleton in a High-Resolution X-ray Computed Tomography Facility and printed the results using a 3D printer, so that they could study the fossils without having to travel to Lucy’s permanent home in Ethiopia. “We scanned nonstop, 24/7, for 10 days,” Kappelman told The Washington Post. “We were exhausted. I was happy to see her come, but I was happy to see her go.”

Scanning and 3D-printing is gaining traction worldwide as a tool for paleontologists and archaeologists who can use the tech to study, manipulate, and even damage faux samples without worrying about destroying priceless artifacts. “Sometimes the originals are in another museum [and] display of the specimens can make further scientific study difficult,” Kenneth Lacovara of Drexel University told The Verge in 2012, when the practice was first gaining traction. “Science has always been open source…[3D-printing is a] “platform for global collaboration among paleontologists.”

After analyzing the X-Rays and faux fossils, Kappelman noticed that Lucy’s clean fractures and slivers of damaged bone fragments looked a lot like the sort of injuries orthopedic surgeons see after patients have fallen from great heights. Of particular interest are Lucy’s arm fractures, which look very much like what happens when falling humans instinctively put out their arms to break a nasty fall. To check his work, Kappelman consulted with nine orthopedic surgeons who agreed with his analysis. Kappelman suspects that Lucy’s upright posture may have worked against her.

“The point we argue is that it may well be the evolution of these traits for bipedalism [walking upright] that compromised her ability to climb as safely and efficiently in the trees,” Kappelman told CNN. “That may have meant that her species was more subject to a higher frequency of falls.”

Kappelman’s ancient coroner’s report tells a sobering story about Lucy’s final moments. She was likely conscious when she fell 50 feet — as evidenced by the fact that she tried to break her fall — and upon impact with what may have been the rocky bed of a shallow stream, her neck twisted to the side as her ankles, knees, hip, and shoulder shattered. Fortunately, Kappelman suspects that Lucy died relatively quickly. “Lucy probably bled out pretty fast after falling,” he told Science News.

News of Lucy’s tragic demise, however, has been met with some skepticism from the anthropology community. Paleoanthropologist Tim White of the University of California, Berkeley told Science News that the Kappelman’s study is, “a classic example of paleoanthropological storytelling being used as clickbait for a commercial journal eager for media coverage” — a fairly strong indictment. In his rebuttal, White refers to reams of prior research that suggest Lucy’s bone fractures occurred after her death. In fact, White points out, broken bones much like Lucy’s can be found in ancient samples of gazelles, hippos, and rhinos — none of which typically climb (or fall from) trees.

The good news is that the Ethiopian government has released the 3D files of Lucy’s bone scans so that scientists around the world can print their own Lucy replicas to help solve the mystery behind her untimely death once and for all. As for Kappelman, the results speak for themselves. “It’s like putting yourself there at someone’s death and being able to picture that, almost as if understanding that drops us into a time machine and we fly back through 3 million years so we’re there observing how this little individual died,” he told CNN.

“It was in understanding her death that she became alive for me.”

Contacts May One Day Be Used to Deliver Glaucoma Medication.

A special type of contact lens has been designed to gradually deliver medication to the eye, researchers report.

This kind of contact lens could help people who have a hard time using eye drops to treat conditions such as glaucoma, the study authors explained.

The new study showed that the drug-dispensing lenses were able to effectively lower the eye pressure in monkeys with glaucoma at least as much as the standard eye drops used to treat the disease.

“This promising delivery system removes the burden of administration from the patient and ensures consistent delivery of medication to the eye, eliminating the ongoing concern of patient compliance with dosing,” study co-author Dr. Janet Serle said in a news release from the Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary. Serle is a glaucoma specialist at Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York City.

Glaucoma is a group of diseases where increased pressure in the eye damages the optic nerve, according to the U.S. National Eye Institute. It’s the number one cause of irreversible blindness around the world. There is no cure for this disease, but treatment can reduce pressure in the eye and help prevent vision loss.

Right now, glaucoma medications only come in eye drops. Patients who have trouble with eye drops may not use their medication as directed by their doctor, the researchers pointed out.

“If we can address the problem of [people not using their eye drops as directed], we may help patients adhere to the therapy necessary to maintain vision in diseases like glaucoma, saving millions from preventable blindness,” said study first author Dr. Joseph Ciolino. He’s an ophthalmologist at Massachusetts Eye and Ear and an assistant professor of ophthalmology at Harvard Medical School in Boston.

“This study also raises the possibility that we may have an option for glaucoma that’s more effective than what we have today,” Ciolino said.

For the study, researchers tested the effectiveness of medicated contacts in four monkeys with glaucoma. The drug-administering contact lenses have a medicated polymer film that slowly delivered the glaucoma medication, latanoprost, to the monkeys’ eyes.

The study found the contacts with lower doses of latanoprost reduced eye pressure as much as the eye drop version of the medication. And lenses that dispensed higher doses of the drug resulted in greater reduction of eye pressure than the eye drops.

Dr. Daniel Kohane, the study’s senior author, said that “instead of taking a contact lens and allowing it to absorb a drug and release it quickly, our lens uses a polymer film to house the drug, and the film has a large ratio of surface area to volume, allowing the drug to release more slowly.” Kohane is director of the Laboratory for Biomaterials and Drug Delivery at Boston Children’s Hospital.

The drug in the medicated contacts is stored in the lenses’ outer edges, leaving the center of the lens clear. As a result, the drug in the contacts doesn’t impair vision, hydration or breathability. The contacts could be customized for each patient with a prescription to correct vision or not, the study authors said.

The researchers had previously shown in a 2014 study that the lens is capable of delivering medication continuously for one month.

More research is needed to confirm the new findings, particularly because animal research often doesn’t produce similar results in humans. The study authors plan to test the safety and effectiveness of the drug-dispensing contacts on people.

How do landslides work? 

landslide head
In 2011, a landslide in Rio de Janeiro swept through several small settlements, killing a thousand people or more. This event shocked the world, as Brazilwas thought of as an up-and-coming country, and casualty numbers like that generally come out of less developed nations.

Landslides certainly aren’t the sexiest disasters around, but their sheer destructive power means that everyone needs to watch out for them. They don’t split open city streets or spew molten rock into the air, but they are nonetheless some of the planet’s most dangerous events. Even leaving aside the thousands who die in these disasters every year, the monetary damage from landslides in the US exceeds all other disaster effects combined! Large landslides can erase small towns entirely, or dam rivers and do even more damage indirectly. Why are they so powerful? And how do they work?

In their essence, landslides are just what they sound like: a top layer of rock and soil separates from the bedrock beneath, sliding, rolling, and bouncing its way down a hill very rapidly. This is distinct from more gradual movements of earth, which can sometimes take years and more closely resemble glacial movement. Note that while a landslide can act like an avalanche, picking up mass as it does, it can also slide over the top of lower earth and maintain more of its original speed. Landslides are the “slip” of one homogenous layer of earth over another; rocks rolling down a hill doesn’t count, but rocks rolling down a hill could very easily cause a landslide.

The "slip plane" changes based on the composition and history of a slope.

The “slip plane” changes based on the composition and history of a slope.

Speaking of causes, landslides often don’t get a particularly satisfying one. Some are set off by earthquakes or volcanic eruptions, but many happen due to the simple, slow accumulation of weight on a slope over time. However, plant life has need of soil, and like all living things plants don’t want to see their valuable resources slip away beneath them. Root systems are a great stabilizing force, and forests can literally hold whole mountainsides together when they would otherwise break apart. Plants also soak up moisture from the ground, which stops the soil from becoming soupy and sliding away.

Such “flow” landslides are often traced directly to deforestation, either natural or human-driven. Before this was understood, many deaths were caused by (seemingly) conscientious logging companies which had no idea of the dangers they were creating. Rain is another prime candidate to cause a landslide, loosening up the soil and potentially causing a mudslide.

As mentioned, landslides can be either shallow of deeply seated as determined by their point of slippage. Deep slides can start as deep as ten meters underground, slipping at that depth and carrying away all the earth above. Think about the sheer destructive power of such a thing, the magnitude of energy bearing down on you as a wall of soil ten meters high come barreling down the side of a mountain.

Not all landslides are violent town-destroyers. This "slumping" landslide merely robs this guy of most of the worth of his home.

Not all landslides are violent town-destroyers. This “slumping” landslide merely robs this guy of most of the worth of his home.

Because of the extreme danger they pose, landslides have been the subject of significant research. Particularly, there’s an effort to try to predict landslides by correlating their frequency and power with different features of the places in which they occurred. In modern times, satellite surveys help to create world maps of the areas of greatest danger, and help predict landslides with a fair amount of accuracy. Combined with a much better understanding of what human actions contribute to landslides, we ought to be able to avoid the large-scale slides quite effectively. And large scale they can certainly be. The destructive power of a landslide can greatly outweigh that of an avalanche, as landslides are composed of soil, rock, and water.

So, why do people still die in landslides? Well, partly because it’s simply impossible to predict them 100% of the time. More to the point, landslide casualties happen disproportionately in poor countries where funding and technological power aren’t necessarily ready to meet the threat. These are also countries that have little ability to enforce regulations governing forestry and other industries — or they may have no such regulations at all. Remember that while logging or earthquakes or excessive rainfall can cause a landslide, often the only thing responsible is gravity and time.

Theorists solve a long-standing fundamental problem on atoms.

Trying to understand a system of atoms is like herding gnats — the individual atoms are never at rest and are constantly moving and interacting. When it comes to trying to model the properties and behavior of these kinds of systems, scientists use two fundamentally different pictures of reality, one of which is called ‘statistical’ and the other ‘dynamical.’
Trying to understand a system of atoms is like herding gnats – the individual atoms are never at rest and are constantly moving and interacting. When it comes to trying to model the properties and behavior of these kinds of systems, scientists use two fundamentally different pictures of reality, one of which is called “statistical” and the other “dynamical.” The two approaches have at times been at odds, but scientists from Argonne recently announced a way to reconcile the two pictures.

Trying to understand a system of atoms is like herding gnats — the individual atoms are never at rest and are constantly moving and interacting. When it comes to trying to model the properties and behavior of these kinds of systems, scientists use two fundamentally different pictures of reality, one of which is called “statistical” and the other “dynamical.”

The two approaches have at times been at odds, but scientists from the U.S. Department of Energy’s Argonne National Laboratory announced a way to reconcile the two pictures.

In the statistical approach, which scientists call statistical mechanics, a given system realizes all of its possible states, which means that the atoms explore every possible location and velocity for a given value of either energy or temperature. In statistical mechanics, scientists are not concerned with the order in which the states happen and are not concerned with how long they take to occur. Time is not a player.

In contrast, the dynamical approach provides a detailed account of how and to what degree these states are explored over time. In dynamics, a system may not experience all of the states that are in principle available to it, because the energy may not be high enough to surmount the energy barriers or because of the time window being too short. “When a system cannot ‘see’ states beyond an energy barrier in dynamics, it’s like a hiker being unable to see the next valley behind a mountain range,” said Argonne theorist Julius Jellinek.

When choosing one approach over the other, scientists are forced to take a conceptual fork in the road, because the two approaches do not always agree. Under certain conditions — for example, at sufficiently high energies and long time scales — the statistical and the dynamical portraits of the physical world do in fact sync up. However, in many other cases statistical mechanics and dynamics yield pictures that differ markedly.

“When the two approaches disagree, the correct choice is dynamics because the states actually experienced by a system may depend on the energy, the initial state and on the window of time for observation or measurement,” Jellinek said. However, not having the statistical picture is “kind of a loss,” he added, because of the power of its tools and concepts to analyze and characterize the properties and behavior of systems.

The fundamental characteristic that lies at the foundation of all statistical mechanics is the “density of states,” which is the total number of states a system can assume at a given energy. Knowledge of the density of states allows researchers to establish additional physical properties such as entropy, free energy and others, which form the powerful arsenal of statistical mechanical analysis and characterization tools. The accuracy of all these, however, hinges on the accuracy of the density of states.

The problem is that when it comes to the vibrational motion of systems, scientists had an exact solution for the density of states for only two idealized cases, which are sets of so-called harmonic or Morse oscillators. Though real systems are neither of the two, the ubiquitous practice was to use the harmonic approximation, which hinges on the assumption that real systems behave not too differently from harmonic ones.

This assumption is not bad at low energies, but it becomes inadequate as the energy is increased. Considerable effort has been invested over the last eight decades into attempts to provide a solution for systems that do not behave harmonically, Jellinek said, and until now, the result has been a multitude of approximate solutions, which are all limited to only weak departures from harmonicity or suffer from other limitations. A general and exact solution for vibrational density of states for systems with any degree of anharmonicity remained an unsolved problem.

In a major recent development, Jellinek, in collaboration with Darya Aleinikava, then an Argonne postdoc and now an assistant professor at Benedictine University, provided the missing solution. The methodology they formulated furnishes a general and exact solution for any system at any energy.

“This long-standing fundamental problem is finally solved,” said Jellinek. “The solution will benefit many areas of physics, chemistry, materials science, nanoscience and biology.”

The solution provided solves yet another problem — it reconciles the statistical and dynamical pictures of the world for even those conditions in which they previously may have disagreed. Since the solution is based on following the actual dynamics of a system at relevant energies and time scales, the resulting densities of states are fully dynamically informed and may be sensitive to time. As such, these densities of states lay the foundation for formulation of new statistical mechanical frameworks that incorporate time and reflect the actual dynamical behavior of systems.

“This leads to a profound change in our view of the relationship between statistical mechanics and dynamics,” said Jellinek. “It brings statistical mechanics into harmony with the dynamics irrespective of how specific or peculiar the dynamical behavior of a system may be.”

Being lazy is a sign of high intelligence, study show.

A new study shows people who are lazy are actually smarter.

That’s because lazy people have more time to think.

People who fill their day with a lot of physical activity are described as “non-thinkers.”

By staying busy, they are trying to escape their thoughts.

People with higher IQs are not easily bored. As a result, they spend more time with their thoughts, according to the study.

Researchers found that “lazy” people were able to mentally entertain themselves.

So sleep in tomorrow. You deserve it, genius

Edible batteries offer power without toxic metal.

Melanin-based batteries could lead to safer ingestible medical devices

Christopher Bettinger edible battery - main

Christopher Bettinger puts his edible battery to the test

Batteries made from non-toxic melanin pigments have been developed by researchers at Carnegie Mellon University(CMU), with the hope that they can be used to power ingestible medical devices in a safer and more sustainable way. The research, led by Christopher Bettinger, who directs a polymeric biomaterials laboratory at CMU, was presented at the American Chemical Society’s meeting in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

Beyond protecting skin from damage by UV light, melanins are also responsible for scavenging free radicals. They are also found in the mid-brain of humans, where they grab onto, or chelate, toxic metals.

‘We thought, if they have this kind of electron exchange capability and this kind of cation chelation capability, then that really is what a battery material is in its essence,’ Bettinger said at a press conference. ‘We have really leveraged those existing properties in a different context and made this new invention.’

The team found that melanin batteries could power a 5mW device for up to 18 hours using 600mg of melanin as the cathode. Bettinger said that they can provide up to 10mW, which should be enough to run any existing medical device. ‘Most other kinds of energy harvesting techniques or glucose oxidase fuel cells are going to be microwatts of power, so we are three orders of magnitude higher than those kinds of energy sources,’ he said.

The fact that melanin-based batteries don’t last long – only about 10 to 20 hours – doesn’t appear to be a problem. The lifetime of an ingestible device is roughly the same, as food will pass through the digestive tract in about 10 to 20 hours.

Edible battery

Edible battery

Melanins can be found in human skin, hair and eyes, but Bettinger’s lab sources them from the ink sacks of cuttlefish. ‘We are not going to … have cuttlefish farms anytime soon, and so in place of that we have a synthetic method that we can use to build up these materials to have actually even better performance than natural melanins, but in a cost-effective, scalable, sustainable way,’ Bettinger tells Chemistry World.

Normally, off-the-shelf batteries are used to power ingestible devices, but they are composed of toxic materials that can pose a risk to patients. Bettinger emphasises that his melanin-based batteries have significant advantages over existing ones because the potentially harmful components of the battery have been replaced with benign materials.

The next step for the CMU team to bring its technology to market is to identify industry partners. The first obvious candidates are pharmaceutical companies interested in delivering high value small molecules. One example could be a ‘smart pill’ that can be taken every day to, for example, deliver a certain drug to a specific location in the GI tract to maximise absorption of that small molecule.

‘Those are logical next steps, and we are definitely looking for partnerships to advance this technology in that context,’ Bettinger said. However, there are scaling issues that need to be overcome. Going from the current lab scale to a fully functioning device will require some work.

‘There are a lot of questions about transport of ions in these melanins that we have to ask and answer along the way,’ Bettinger acknowledged. ‘It is really about scaling this … to something that is larger and potentially useful for powering a device,’ he added. ‘We think we can do this.’