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AtheistTV Goes Live TODAY!

AtheistTVAmerican Atheists and the Roku – that little box that lets you watch TV through the internet – have forged an unholy alliance to bring us the AtheistTV network! The best part is that you don’t need a Roku to watch it. You can also get AtheistTV through their live stream starting at 7:00 PM tonight. I’m assuming they mean EST (I didn’t see it specified on their site either way).

Here’s what it says about programming for AtheistTV:

We have partnered with content creators in the atheist community to bring engaging and entertaining content to AtheistTV. We are working with experienced producers to develop new, original programming that will launch soon.
If you are interested in developing content or submitting existing content to AtheistTV, please contact us.
Current content partners include: the Richard Dawkins Foundation, the Atheist Community of Austin, American Atheists, The Friendly Atheist, and Keith Lowell Jensen.

I would suggest that anyone with a classy YouTube channel about atheism, skepticism, science, or anything else atheists care about contact AtheistTV about starting  a show for the network. Like most fledgling Cable channels, I’m sure they are hungry for new content.

Good luck to AtheistTV. Please don’t suck. :) I hope people will check it out and give Roku a reason to keep it around.

EDIT: For those of you with a Roku, here is a direct link to add the channel.

EDIT2: A message from Dave Muscato, PR Director for American Atheists; “You don’t need a Roku to watch Atheist TV! You can watch online at http://www.atheists.tv as well!”

The MISkeptics Get Together: Will we be the Borg?

Author Jonathan Stars

Jonathan Stars is a writer, database consultant, musician, comedian, and songwriter. He has written over 100 articles on computers, music, and software. His latest novel is the techno-thriller “N-hanced.”

This month we are talking about the future of technology. Our featured speaker will be Jonathan Stars.

In this talk Jonathan will tell us about the promise and peril of our coming relationship with computers.  According to inventor and futurist, Ray Kurzweil (among others), in the next few years our lives will be dramatically changed by advances in robotics, genetics and nanotechnology.  Kurzweil predicts a technological singularity that will arrive around 2045, where people will need to have their intellects mechanically enhanced in order to keep up with the accelerating changes.

You may be surprised to find the future is closer than you think.

Jonathan Stars is a writer, database consultant, musician, comedian, and songwriter. He has written over 100 articles on computers, music, and software.  His latest novel is the techno-thriller “N-hanced.” (Learn more at www.N-hanced.com).

Come and join us for lively discussion, drinks, dinner and debate! This is a good event for Skeptics of Michigan to come together and discuss local, national, worldwide items affecting skeptics. All are welcome to listen and participate.

We are meeting at 4:00 PM on Saturday, June 14th in Plymouth, Michigan. Details are in the RSVP Links.

You can RSVP via our Meetup Page, Our Facebook Page, or our Google Plus Page.

Please be sure to RSVP so I know how many are coming.

MISkeptics is accepting donations! You can contribute to our future endeavors by following this link, or in person at any Get Together. You can donate with your credit card or drop money into the donation jar.

I look forward to seeing you there!

The Sad State of NASA’s Information and Cyber Security

 NASA Office of the Inspector General Badge

NASA Office of the Inspector General Agent's Badge

Testimony before the U.S. House of Representatives Subcommittee on Investigations and OversightHouse Committee on Science, Space, and Technology by Paul K. Martin, Inspector General for NASA revealed the ongoing issues with NASA’s Security efforts. He highlighted five issues of main concern:

• Lack of full awareness of Agency-wide IT security posture;
• Shortcomings in implementing a continuous monitoring approach to IT security;
• Slow pace of encryption for NASA laptop computers and other mobile devices;
• Ability to combat sophisticated cyber attacks; and
• Transition to cloud computing.

 NASA’s Office of Inspector General reported 5,408 computer security incidents for 2010 and 2011, an average of 7.4 a day. These are the intrusions that made it in, and either implanted malware or extracted data. They range from script kiddies testing if they can do it to foreign entities attempting to steal sensitive data. Continue reading

Free Energy!

Okay, not quite. But certainly free-er in the sense that it could let you make do with other’s energy scraps. What the heck am I talking about? (Don’t worry, sometimes I wonder too.) The point of this particular rambling is a new device that captures ambient electromagnetic energy to power small electronic devices. Some folks have recently found a way to tap into the energy transmitted by power sources like radio and television transmitters, cell phone networks, and satellite communication systems. This energy has become more and more pervasive as our devices have proliferated, and it now looks like we may be able to use the spill-over from all of this broadcast energy to power our device’s microprocessors and communications chips.

Manos Tentzeris, a professor at Georgia Tech, is leading the research and says, “There is a large amount of electromagnetic energy all around us, but nobody has been able to tap into it. We are using an ultra-wideband antenna that lets us exploit a variety of signals in different frequency ranges, giving us greatly increased power-gathering capability.”

And the coolness doesn’t stop there… Tentzeris and his fellow researches are using inkjet printers to combine sensors, antennas, etc. on paper or flexible polymers. The devices can capture energy, convert it from AC to DC, then store it in capacitors and batteries. They can so far take advantage of frequencies from FM radio to radar (100 MHz to 15 GHz or higher.) Once I can start printing this kind of thing, the price of the ink I keep having to put in my printer might start to seem worth it.

A presentation on this technology was given on July 6th, at the IEEE Antennas and Propagation Symposium in Spokane, Washington.

This was actually a fun few weeks in science… in other news, it turns out that Polar Bears are Irish.

Taking Social Networking Into the “Real” World…

At the recent IEEE International Conference on Distributed Computing Systems (ICDCS)  in Minneapolis, Dong Xuan (associate professor of computer science and engineering at Ohio State University) introduced a smartphone App called eShadow that uses nearby wireless networks and smartphones’ wireless communications to tell users that a friend who also uses the software is nearby,  and even gives directions to that friend’s location. At first blush this seems a natural extension of social trends like foursquare and Yelp, which utilize the geolocation of an individual to interact with others online. Social networking is about interacting, so meeting in the “real world” would seem an obvious next step.

Actually, before I thought about that, I had to force myself to get past the similarity of Xuan’s name to Don Juan, and how a character like Juan could really benefit from an App that helped him pick up women. Is it just me, or does it seem that quite often the name given of a scientist in a study being covered in the news contains an irony fitting to that particular study? If it’s a study on mating habits of Chimps, the lead scientist’s name will be Ben Dover or something like that. I haven’t done a formal study on this, but one should be done. The coincidence seems unlikely. Anyway, back to the actual topic…

The researchers working on eShadow stated that their biggest challenge had to do with efficient use of the wireless signals. They had to develop algorithms that let the phones send and receive signals quickly to keep from clogging up the network. When tested on the Ohio State campus, eShadow took an average of 25 seconds to connect two users who were 20 to 50 yards apart, and 35 seconds for seven users.

Apparently Xuan suggested a military application for the software, allowing soldiers to locate each other on the battlefield. I’m a bit skeptical about the usefulness there, as it would also allow the enemy to easily lead soldiers into traps with a bit of hacking.

Despite my normal skeptical eye through which I peek at most new products (software included) I think that Xuan and his team are on to something with eShadow. As someone who’s developed websites professional for a bunch of years now, I’ve done a lot of following of online technology as it develops, and a lot of speculation on where it’s likely to lead to. What I’ve seen is that the success of a device/application is almost always directly connected to the ease of the interface. It doesn’t end up mattering if there’s a point to doing something – as long as you can make it easy to do, people will do it. (Twitter comes to mind.) A good example is the success of devices like the iPhone with touchscreens, over the old BlackBerry and Newton. The iPhone improved on the miniscule buttons that hamfisted guys like me couldn’t manage. But many of the tasks are the same, while admittedly a bit more developed.

What eShadow is hinting at is the world where we can automate a good deal of our societal interactions. We’ve seen this in science fiction for some time. There’s already been a progression from desktop to laptop to handheld, and the next logical steps are visual and then actual brain interfaces. (And people are definitely already working on that.)

My hope is that by the time software like eShadow is ubiquitous, that someone takes into consideration the role that chance plays in social interactions. Software can easily match up likes and dislikes, sorting us like a bunch of library index cards, but with us humans it’s not always the best way to find others that we hit it off with. It could be that your next best friend or partner for life is someone who has opposite viewpoints and tastes, or even somewhere in the spectrum between same and opposite. Once we have algorithms that can make sense of us on that level, things will really begin to change in interesting ways.

If you’d like to learn more:

E-Shadow: Lubricating Social Interaction using Mobile Phones
http://www.cse.ohio-state.edu/~xuan/papers/2011_icdcs_tzlbx.pdf

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