Curating the Internet: Science and technology micro-summaries for October 25, 2019

in rsslog •  18 days ago 

Los Alamos wins 2018-2019 flu forecasting challenge; A description of the quantum measurement problem; The difficulty of identifying a trustworthy VPN; Balancing brain waves strengthen and weaken memories during sleep; and an interview with a grey-market email-bombing expert


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Links and micro-summaries from my 1000+ daily headlines. I filter them so you don't have to.


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  1. Los Alamos AI Model Wins Flu Forecasting Challenge - The FluSight Challenge presents scientific institutions with the challenge to be the best at predicting the spread of the flu. During the 2018-2019 flu season, 24 teams participated, with each team submitting 38 weekly forecasts. The winner was the Dante model, from the Los Alamos team, led by Dave Osthus. Dante is a multi-scale model, combining national, regional, and state-level data. It also averages tends accross geographies, and uses individual state data to improve forecasts in other states. For the upcoming season, Osthus plans to submit Dante+, which will also integrate "Interenet nowcasting", by mapping Google's flu-related search terms onto official flu activity data. Osthus notes that predicting the flu is, in some ways, similar to predicting the weather, but in other ways it's very different because it depends on hard-to-predict human behavioral factors "such as travel, hand-washing, riding public transportation, interacting with the healthcare system, among other things."

  2. What is the quantum measurement problem? - This youtube video and accompanying transcript explains a concept called the, "the quantum measurement problem". In short, the problem she describes seems to be a sort of a problem with circular logic. Fundamental quantum objects are often referred to as "particles", but that's not quite accurate. Instead, they are described by wave-functions, and aren't - strictly - either waves or particles. In order for a particle to emerge, it must be observed by an observer or a detector. However, these observers and detectors also emerge out of wave-functions, which means that the theory must explain how those wave-functions collapsed into particles and aggregations of particles in an infinite recursion.

    Here is the video. Click through for the transcript.


  • NordVPN Breached - Commenting on Ars Technica, Bruce Schneier notes that Panama based NordVPN was breached 19 months ago, and that details about what was taken are sparse. Schneier goes on to note that the problem of recommending a trustworthy VPN is hard, and asks readers to comment about what VPNs they use, and how they know the VPNs that they use are trustworthy. The comments contain a number of VPN recommendations, but not much objective reason to trust them. One commenter notes that the ability to audit should be more important than blind trust. On a related note, I recently came across Open Internet Access, which claims to provide free, open source, and unlogged VPN and proxy services. I don't know much about it, but it looks interesting.

  • Dueling Brain Waves Anchor or Erase Learning During Sleep - According to new research in the journal, Cell, there are two different types of brain waves that act upon our memories while we sleep. The tudy's senior author, Karunesh Ganguly says that the research fills a gap in our knowledge by explaining how sleep can be important for both remembering and forgetting. Until now, there have been two competing theories. One said that when we sleep, the brain fires neurons to replay things that happened during the day, selectively strengthening memories through repetition. A second theory, described as synaptic downscaling, suggested that the brain actively clears itself of some memories that it doesn't want to retain. Past research focused on slow oscillations, and sleep spindles. In contrast, slow waves include slow oscillations and Delta Waves, but Delta Waves have been largely ignored by prior research that focused exclusively on the slow oscillation component of the waves. In this research, lead author Jaekyung Kim and colleague, Tanuj Gulati alternately suppressed slow oscillations and delta waves to see how it effected a rat's memory of a task on which it had been trained. As expected, suppressing slow oscillations caused the rat to perform worse, but the authors were surprised that suppressing delta waves actually improved the rat's ability to perform the task. The researchers report, therefore, that slow oscillations and delta waves naturally balance each other in order to optimize the memory, but things like brain trauma and sleep deprivation can disturb the balance. Interestingly, increases in delta waves have also been linked to Alzheimer's disease. In advanced stages of the disease, delta waves are even observed while the patient is awake.

  • Interview with an email bombing expert - As part of a project to research aspects of cybercrime, @kirkins interviews an expert in email bombing. According to the post, email bombing is commonly used in combination with another attack, called "credential stuffing." In short, the attacker obtains a users credentials and uses them to gain access to some product or service, and at the same time the attacker floods the target wtih e-mails in order to prevent the credential stuffing attack from being noticed. The email bombing expert goes by the name, Placing and says she is earning more than $2,000 per month by providing Cobain, a grey-market platform as a service (PAAS) alternative to the most popular email bombing service, Flood CRM. In the interview, Placing describes herself as a mixed-race highschooler who has been coding for about three years.


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