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►  Hackers Take Over ‘God’ Shkreli’s Twitter

America’s most hated pharmaceutical exec had America’s most hacked Twitter account on Sunday. “I am now a god,“ read one of the less vulgar posts from whomever took control of Martin Shkreli’s account. Other posts promised to “donate hundreds of thousands to charities before I go to prison” and to give away his $2 million Wu-Tang Clan album (“RT for a chance to win”), reports Mashable. The day before the account was hacked, the real Shkreli tweeted that the fraud allegations against him are “baseless and without merit,“ reports Reuters. He on Monday tweeted that the account is back in his hands.

Shkreli—who stepped down as CEO of Turing Pharmaceuticals after his arrest last week—tells the Wall Street Journal that his email and cellphone accounts were also hacked on Sunday. He declined to discuss details of the fraud allegations during the Journal interview and said he became a target because he had been “teasing people over the Internet.“ “What do you do when you have the attention of millions of people? It seemed to me like it would be fun to experiment with,“ he said, describing his arrest as a “real injustice.“ A detail from the Journal: He sat for the interview wearing the “same” gray hoodie he was photographed in after his arrest.

►  In 10 Minutes, SpaceX Made History

SpaceX dusted off its Falcon rocket Monday night, launching it toward orbit for the first time since an accident over the summer. That first part was successful; the second part was, in the words of Elon Musk, “a revolutionary moment”: The New York Times reports as the “second stage of the rocket,“ which was carrying 11 satellites, kept heading toward orbit, the “engines of the booster stage reignited to turn it around.“ Ten minutes after liftoff, the 15-story leftover booster landed back in Cape Canaveral, Fla., vertically. It’s the first time that’s been achieved with an unmanned rocket. What else you need to know about the historic moment:

  • The tweets: “Welcome back, baby!“ Musk tweeted following touchdown. (Musk’s first reaction, however, was to assume the rocket had exploded. The AP reports he ran outside and thought the sonic boom he heard spelled doom. Upon reentering Launch Control video showed him it was standing.) Rival Jeff Bezos offered this: “Congrats @SpaceX on landing Falcon’s suborbital booster stage. Welcome to the club!“
  • About that tweet: The Atlantic points out that it “gleefully [ignores] the orbital-suborbital difference.“ Last month, Bezos’ Blue Origin space firm launched its own reusable rocket into space (to a suborbital height of about 62 miles), which Musk noted was very different from launching something into orbit.
  • The icing on the record-setting cake: Musk pointed out that this wasn’t just a successful test run, but rather a purposeful mission, reports the AP. “We achieved recovery of the rocket in a mission that actually deployed 11 [data-relay] satellites” for New Jersey-based Orbcomm.
  • A remarkable photo, video from SpaceX: A long-exposure photo that captures launch, re-entry, and landing; this video shows the astounding landing.
  • Why this matters beyond the history books: “The most elusive initials in the business of space flight are SSTO—or single stage to orbit—the business of flying a reusable spacecraft that takes off in one piece, goes to space in one piece and lands in one piece,“ writes Jeffrey Kluger for Time. That is, he notes, how every airplane has ever worked. As for achieving this in space, what SpaceX did is “not the whole SSTO loaf, but an important half.“

In Science and Technology….

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►  Android Pay

Google said Tuesday that it will start offering Android Pay in Australia in the first half of next year. Google Inc. says it’s working with leading financial institutions with the goal of making it available to MasterCard and Visa card holders. Apple Pay launched in Australia last month, but only for American Express customers.

Android Pay is Google’s answer to Apple Pay, which requires an Apple device. Both let you make purchases by tapping the phone next to a store’s payment machine — as long as it’s a newer machine with wireless capabilities known as NFC.

Samsung has its own payment service, Samsung Pay, on its main Android phones. It goes further than Android and Apple Pay in working with many machines that lack NFC. That’s because it has a backup mechanism to replicate old-school card swipes.

On Tuesday, Samsung announced support for 19 additional banks, including PNC Bank and KeyBank.

Even as phone makers push their mobile-payment services, financial institutions and retailers such as Wal-Mart have been working on their own services.

►  OneDrive storage

After a backlash, Microsoft is reversing part of its plan to tighten free storage offered through its OneDrive online storage service.

Last month, Microsoft said it will cut its free option to 5 gigabytes next year, down from 15 gigabytes now. Microsoft says the new allotment is enough for about 6,600 Office documents or 1,600 photos.

That cut will still apply to new customers, but existing customers can keep the 15 gigabytes, plus any bonuses they had earned through promotions. But they must claim them by the end of January at

Microsoft Corp. still plans to eliminate unlimited storage for subscribers of its Office 365 service, which starts at $7 a month. Subscribers will now be limited to 1 terabyte, or 1,000 gigabytes, of storage. The company said a “small number of users” had abused the unlimited option by backing up numerous personal computers and storing entire movie collections.

►  Blacksmith Takes On 9/11 Truthers in YouTube Video

A Georgia metal worker has set out to disprove the belief that jet fuel doesn’t burn hot enough to melt steel beams—like those in the World Trade Center towers—a major contention of conspiracy theorists who insist that 9/11 was an inside job. “I am so sick and tired of this argument,“ Trenton Tye says in his YouTube video. First, Tye demonstrates the strength of a half-inch thick structural steel beam by using it to lift an anvil. Then he takes another piece of steel he says has been heated to 1,800 degrees and shows how it has become bendable, like “a freaking noodle.“ In closing, Tye declares: “Your argument is invalid. Get over it. Find a job.“

While it does show that steel beams don’t need to melt to lose their integrity, Tye’s demonstration—“more party trick than perfect simulation”—does a have a few flaws, Popular Mechanics points out:

  • The steel beam he used is heated to 1,800 degrees, 300 degrees hotter than jet fuel burns.
  • Tye doesn’t say for how long the beam was heated.
  • He doesn’t provide evidence of his forge’s temperature.

Those flaws, the Daily Dot notes, have already been seized upon by so-called 9/11 truthers in comments on the video, which has been viewed more than 6.5 million times, seeking to debunk Tye’s debunking. But “hey, at least he tried,“ concludes the post.

►  Yep, the Rumors Are True: Hitler Only Had One Testicle

Good news for the many on the planet weirdly fascinated by rumors about Adolf Hitler’s genitals: It has long been suggested that Hitler only had one testicle—there’s even a British schoolyard song that mocks him for it—and that it was a shrapnel casualty in World War I’s Battle of the Somme. But now medical documents that surfaced in 2010 but have only recently been officially analyzed suggest that at least when he was imprisoned in 1923 after a failed coup he had what’s called “right-side cryptorchidism,“ meaning that testicle never descended into the scrotum, as is typical in childhood, reports the Guardian.

“The experienced medical officer immediately recognized the condition,“ German historian Peter Fleischmann, who analyzed the documents, told German tabloid Bild, via the Huffington Post. His right testicle was “probably stunted,“ though Hitler’s childhood doctor apparently told American interrogators in 1943 that his genitals were “completely normal,“ and a Polish priest and amateur historian once said a German army medic who treated Hitler mentioned the shrapnel injury. Whether the testicle in question eventually descended and was later injured or never in fact descended at all, it does in fact appear to be true that Hitler “has only got one ball,“ as the song goes.

Tech Dystopia

Ever since Elon Musk started making his comments about the risks posed by artificial intelligence, we’ve been deluged with stories about the “existential threat” posed to humanity by AI run amok. It’s gotten to the point where artificial intelligence is viewed as the Doomsday Machine that will result in the downfall of humanity.

And it’s not just AI – just about any new innovation is ripe for the tech dystopia treatment. Particle physicists gave us a scare for a while when they searched for the so-called “God Particle” – people thought we were going to blow up the earth. Robots and drones also make for compelling tech dystopia story lines – it’s far easier to imagine what might go wrong rather than what might go right.

And now there’s a new tech scare: CRISPR, the hot new gene-editing technology. Last week, in answering a question on Quora, legendary Silicon Valley venture capitalist Vinod Khosla said that CRISPR has the potential to be a “scarier” technology than AI: “I can think of more scary technologies [than AI] that we’re using today – CRISPR being one in biology – which has equally scary potential.”

Cue the scary background music.

Of course, the tech panic pieces about CRISPR are not entirely misplaced — there are obviously concerns. Hacking the human gene code could be truly and deeply hazardous. The fact that Chinese researchers are seriously thinking about cloning humans or editing the genes of new babies should give everyone pause for thought.

Since most of us don’t have PhDs in machine learning or molecular biology, though, it’s easy to get lost in the science and assume that things are further along then they are. Robots can barely get out of their own way, let alone mount a robot uprising. The smartest machines can barely figure out how to play a decent game of Tetris.

Even Khosla admits that AI is “probably more manageable than [Elon Musk] might intimate.” “We don’t know if we could get there in 20, 30, or 50 years, but it’s unlikely to be in 5,” he said on Quora.

So what’s behind all these stories about existential threats to humanity, then?

The not-so-obvious answer is that it has less to do with technology, and more to do with what makes us human. You can call it the real innovator’s dilemma – the desire to go farther vs. the fear of going too far. That’s essentially the story line of any Hollywood dystopian plot – scientists go too far, the technology gets out of control, and the end of the world is suddenly nigh.

And this tech dystopia vs. tech utopia debate is not something that started in a place such as Silicon Valley – it’s something that’s been going on since the days of the ancient Greeks. Consider the classic Greek myth involving Icarus — the young lad who dared to fly too close to the sun on wings made of feathers and wax.

The ancient Greeks understood something that people today don’t — that we as a society need to have these sorts of myths to keep us from going too far, from attempting too much, too soon. These myths are not meant to stop technological progress – they are meant as a way to inspire debate about the perils of human hubris, as well as the philosophical, moral and ethical concerns surrounding human progress.

The modern myth makers are the moviemakers of Hollywood, who are only too ready to develop story lines about the “scariest” technologies of Silicon Valley. You can think of today’s tech dystopian films featuring AI or biotechnology run amok as the modern equivalent of the Greek myths.

Joseph Campbell famously analyzed all the elements of classic mythology and came up with the conclusion that every culture, every society, comes up with the same basic narratives for their myths. That’s why so many of Hollywood’s blockbuster films appear to be so similar – they are just modern iterations of timeless tales. The only thing that changes is the technology. Not convinced? Watch Joseph Campbell break down “Star Wars” from the perspective of mythology:

Think of all the common elements of a tech dystopia story in the media — there’s an evil genius (the younger the better); scientists doing secretive stuff in labs that sounds incomprehensible to the layperson; references back to awful periods in human history (think Nazi Germany); and, of course, the possibility for destroying the earth. More importantly, the time horizon for things going wrong is usually just far enough away that it’s plausible and just close enough that it seems scary.

The New Yorker, for example, recently ran back-to-back stories on “The Gene Hackers” (about CRISPR) and then on “The Doomsday Invention” (about AI). The article on CRISPR even included the requisite reference back to Hitler Germany and the dangers of eugenics.

However, there are plenty of technologies “scarier” than AI or CRISPR.

Nuclear weapons would surely rank right up there as a potential way for humanity to destroy itself, especially if nukes get into the wrong hands. There is probably a lot more room for disaster than if AI or CRISPR gets into the wrong hands.

Looking for another “scary” technology – how about carbon fuel technology? We’re literally warming the surface of the planet to a point where global climate change may lead to extinction of life forms on the planet Earth, including, yes, humans.

Yes, a dystopian future is possible, but so is a utopian future. Most likely, the answer is somewhere in the middle, the way it’s been for millennia. Ever since mankind started to innovate, there have been both good and bad possible outcomes anytime we try to fly too close to the sun.

~~  Dominic Basulto ~~

In Science and Technology….

The Free Press WV

►  5 Most Incredible Recent Discoveries

A surprise finding about cancers of all types and a study of the Putin stroll make the list:

  • Almost All Cancer Cases Are Our Fault: A Stony Brook University study shows that up to 90% of cancers are caused by external factors such as smoking, drinking, sun exposure, and air pollution, and are thus more preventable than previously thought. The findings turn a recent “bad luck” hypothesis on its head.
  • Magic Mushroom Ingredient Did Months of Good: Those with a cancer diagnosis or battling depression or anxiety might consider munching on magic mushrooms. Johns Hopkins scientists say a single dose of psilocybin, the hallucinogenic ingredient in mushrooms, appears to have a protective effect that lasts for an astonishing six months. Most of those who got the highest dosage found it remarkable in another way.
  • Physicists May Have Spotted Another New Particle: First, scientists experimenting with CERN’s Large Hadron Collider discovered the Higgs boson. Next came the possible discovery of pentaquarks. Now scientists may have detected a new, unknown particle. if confirmed, it’s a “total game changer.“
  • To Spot a Liar, Look for These 6 Clues: Most of us reveal ourselves through the tiniest physical and verbal clues, and new lie-detecting software developed at the University of Michigan analyzes words and gestures to determine with 75% accuracy whether someone is lying. One piece of advice: Practice keeping your hands at your sides while fibbing.
  • Why Putin Walks That Weird Walk: The peculiar gait of the Russian leader (left arm swinging naturally, right arm stiff at his side) used to be attributed to some kind of childhood illness or stroke. But a group of Dutch neuroscientists recently studied a slew of YouTube videos and found a) he’s not the only high-ranking Russian who walks like that, and b) it might trace back to the KGB.

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