Cosmic webs, spamming fridges and the ez-stem cell procedure

Posted on February 4, 2014


This past week or so has been a time of happenings at WeLove Digital. Work has begun on an interactive media design module at the University of Northumbria, a new short doc was accepted by BBC Fresh and I went to see the incredible Light Surgeons perform as part of the Real Time Visuals conference. On top of that there has been news. News of cosmic webs, spamming fridges and a gamer rebellion. Stay alert.

The cyan of this deep image shows the 2-million-light-year-long nebula of diffuse hydrogen gas that traces the filament of the cosmic web. Credit: S. Cantalupo

The cyan of this deep image shows the 2-million-light-year-long nebula of diffuse hydrogen gas that traces the filament of the cosmic web. Credit: S. Cantalupo

Cosmic happenings
Hot from the Hawaiian islands came news that scientists manning the 10 metre Keck telescope had picked out traces of the dark matter cosmic web that our observable universe is embedded in. Astronomers from the University of California, Santa Cruz and the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy in Heidelberg observed filaments of dark matter in a massive gas cloud, two million light years across, illuminated by light from a quasar.

Dark matter is invisible but its gravitational effects can be seen on stars and galaxies, which act as nodes in a cosmic web. Scientists previously used computer simulations to show that long filaments filled with hydrogen gas left over from the start of the universe actually connect distant galaxies. The massive gas nebula is so large and light from the quasar so bright that it showed up these filaments for the first time.

Astro map
Meanwhile a team of researchers working at the snappily titled Baryon Oscillation Spectroscopic Survey (BOSS for short) has determined the distances to galaxies more than six billion light years away to within one per cent accuracy. BOSS scientists mapped around 1.2 million galaxies and found their locations corresponded to a cosmological constant proposed by Einstein, supporting the idea that dark energy – an unseen, undetected force – has remained constant since the start of the universe.

Scientists still do not know what dark energy is but can measure its properties. Importantly the measurements taken by the BOSS team show that the universe may be ‘flat’, but not literally. It means that it corresponds to principles of Euclidean geometry. “One of the reasons we care is that a flat universe has implications for whether the universe is infinite,” Schlegel said. “That means — while we can’t say with certainty that it will never come to an end — it’s likely the universe extends forever in space and will go on forever in time. Our results are consistent with an infinite universe.” Fuller explanation here.

Overriding a guided missile using javascript from the WordPress admin directory in the TV series Strike Back

Overriding a guided missile using javascript from the WordPress admin directory in the TV series Strike Back

Movie hackers
When it comes to advanced computing the movies make it all look so plausible. Code streams down the screen in an ultra-complex script that the pretend computer experts either recognise instantly or take a best guess on its function. But thanks to the enterprising souls at the Moviecode Tumblr the scripts are revealed as source code from standard blogging platforms, website HTML and PHP or even just random keyboard ramblings dressed up as high level programming.

Fridge of doom
Security-as-a-service providers Proofpoint claimed to have uncovered domestic internet of things devices used as Spam distributors. More than 750,000 phishing and Spam emails had been launched from ‘thingbots’ including connected fridges, multimedia centres and TVs, it said. Cue headline news about fridges containing Spam.

Examining the claim a little more closely was security firm Symantec. Blame bot-net infected Windows PCs not fridges, it said, adding that it had “traced the spam to multiple Windows computers, some of which were verified to be infected with W32.Waledac (Kelihos). We have not seen this spam originate from any non-Windows computer systems and do not see any unaccounted volume of spam that may originate from other sources.”

Shame. End of story, yes? Not quite. What it does highlight is the importance of security in IOT devices. At CES 2014 there were internet connected socks, bras, toothbrushes, light bulbs and toilets. Smart device makers either do not realise they need to add protection or try to bolt it on at the end. While that is not the cause of Spam torrents now it may be in future. Symantec identified a Linux virus (called Darlloz) that does infect Linux IOT devices like cameras and routers.

MIT’s Technology Review concluded: “Even if something like a smart stereo or coffee maker has been hacked into, it can be trickier to tell than with a laptop or a smartphone. These devices often have no visual display, and if they’re participating in an attack similar to the one Proofpoint observed, they might not show any signs of trouble.”

Urthecast ultra-HD camera set-up

Urthecast ultra-HD camera set-up

Earth in high-def
Astronauts aboard the International Space Station (ISS) have installed an ultra-HD camera to provide glorious colour video of the Earth. Pictures from the Urthecast camera will stream to the website as the ISS circles the globe 16 times a day from sunrise to sunset. Urthecast hopes that its near real-time broadcast will help foster a community to aid in humanitarian aid, scientific research, education and environmental monitoring.

Mildly winning cells
Biologists and medics are excited about a rapid technique to create stem cells discovered at the Riken Lab in Kobe, Japan. By suspending animal cells in a mildly acidic solution a research team showed that they could be turned into stem cells, useful as they can differentiate into other types of cells that may be used in tissue regeneration and possibly organ regrowth.

If the principle is proved using human cells it could quickly overtake the procedure to create induced pluripotent stem cells. IPS cells use genetic material in their transformation that may not be safe to use in human patients. Researcher Haruko Obokato calls her updated procedure “stimulus-triggered acquisition of pluripotency” and the resulting cells Stap cells. Harvard Medical School’s Charles Vacanti commented: “The generation of these cells is essentially Mother Nature’s way of responding to injury.”

Candy Jam

Candy jam
Independent games developers have rebelled against British gaming house King after it trademarked the word ‘candy’ in Europe and has filed a claim in the US. Devs were informed by Apple about King’s trademark and told to remove the word candy from their games’ titles. King’s Candy Crush Saga is a popular mobile game but the company’s trademarking of a common word is unethical and has been labelled “ridiculous”. King has also pursued trademark for the word ‘saga’.

Action from smaller independent games developers came in the form of the Candy Jam website, where programmers are encouraged to develop games involving candies. More than 100 games have already launched in protest with titles including Candy Crap Saga, ThisGameIsNotAboutCandy and Don’t Let The Candies Crush You.