Sugar Polluted Scientific Research

October 19, 2016

If your diet includes too much sugar, it is a good idea to cut back on the amount you consume.  If also turns out if you have too much sugar in your research, the sugar industry will bribe you to hide the facts.  Stat News reports that even objective academic research is not immune from corporate bribes in the article, “Sugar Industry Secretly Paid For Favorable Harvard Research.”

In the 1960s, Harvard nutritionists published two reviews in medical journals that downplayed the role sugar played in coronary heart disease.  The sugar industry paid Harvard to report favorable results in scientific studies.  Dr. Cristin Kearns published a paper in JAMA Internal Medicine about her research into the Harvard sugar conspiracy.

Through her research, she discovered that Harvard nutrionists Dr. Fredrick Stare and Mark Hegsted worked with the Sugar Research Foundation to write a literature review that countered early research that linked sucrose to coronary heart disease.  This research would later help the sugar industry increase its market share by convincing Americans to eat a low-fat diet.

Dr. Walter Willett, who knew Hegsted and now runs the nutrition department at Harvard’s public health school, defended him as a principled scientist…‘However, by taking industry funding for the review, and having regular communications during the review with the sugar industry,’ Willett acknowledged, it ‘put him [Hegsted] in a position where his conclusions could be questioned. It is also possible that these relationships could induce some subtle bias, even if unconscious,’ he added.

In other words, corporate funded research can skew scientific data so that it favors their bottom dollar.  This fiasco happened in the 1960s, have things gotten worse or better?  With the big competition for funding and space in scientific journals, the answer appears to be yes.

Whitney Grace, October 19, 2016
Sponsored by, publisher of the CyberOSINT monograph

Malware with Community on the Dark Web

October 14, 2016

While Mac malware is perhaps less common than attacks designed for PC, it is not entirely absent. The Register covers this in a recent article, EasyDoc malware adds Tor backdoor to Macs for botnet control. The malware is disguised as a software application called EasyDoc Converter which is supposed to be a file converter but does not actually perform that function. Instead, it allows hackers to control the hacked mac via Tor. The details of the software are explained as follows,

The malware, dubbed Backdoor.MAC.Eleanor, sets up a hidden Tor service and PHP-capable web server on the infected computer, generating a .onion domain that the attacker can use to connect to the Mac and control it. Once installed, the malware grants full access to the file system and can run scripts given to it by its masters. Eleanor’s controllers also uses the open-source tool wacaw to take control of the infected computer’s camera. That would allow them to not only spy on the victim but also take photographs of them, opening up the possibility of blackmail.

A Computer World article on EasyDoc expands on an additional aspect of this enabled by the Dark Web. Namely, there is a Pastebin agent which takes the infected system’s .onion URL, encrypts it with an RSA public key and posts it on Pastebin where attackers can find it and use it. This certainly seems to point to the strengthening of hacking culture and community, as counterintuitive of a form of community, it may be to those on the outside.

Megan Feil, October 14, 2016
Sponsored by, publisher of the CyberOSINT monograph


National Geographic Quad View

October 13, 2016

Google Maps and other map tools each have their unique features, but some are better than others at helping you find your way.  However, most of these online map tools have the same basic function and information.  While they can help you if you are lost, they are not that useful for topographyNational Geographic comes to our rescue with free topographic PDFs.  Check them out at PDF Quads.

Here are the details straight from the famous nature magazine:

National Geographic has built an easy to use web interface that allows anyone to quickly find any quad in the country for downloading and printing. Each quad has been pre-processed to print on a standard home, letter size printer. These are the same quads that were printed by USGS for decades on giant bus-sized pressed but are now available in multi-page PDFs that can be printed just about anywhere. They are pre-packaged using the standard 7.5 minute, 1:24,000 base but with some twists.

How can there be twists in a topographic map?  They are not really that surprising, just explanations about how the images are printed out.  Page one is an overview map that, pages two through five are standard topographic maps sized to print on regular paper, and hill shading is added to provide the maps with more detail.

Everyone does not use topography maps, but a precise tool is invaluable to those who do.

Whitney Grace, October 13, 2016
Sponsored by, publisher of the CyberOSINT monograph

Labor Shortage of Cyber Security Professionals

October 13, 2016

It’s no surprise that hackers may be any age, but that teenagers could cause 60 million pounds worth of damage to a corporation is newsworthy, regardless of age. The Telegraph published an article, From GCHQ to Google: the battle to outpace hackers in the cyber race, reporting on this. A 15-year-old boy hacked the TalkTalk computer network stole personal data, including financial information, of 157,000 customers. This comes at a time when the UK government announced plans to invest £1.9 billion in cyber security over the next five years. We also learned,

No amount of money will help overcome one of the greatest difficulties in the security industry though: the lack of skilled people. By 2019 there will be a global shortfall of 1.5 million security professionals, according to ISC Squared, a security certification and industry education body. And the numbers could in fact be significantly higher, given that there are already more than 1 million cybersecurity positions unfilled worldwide, according to a 2015 Cisco report. Heading up the government’s move to train more cyber defenders is spook agency GCHQ, which sponsors academic bursaries, runs summer camps and training days, holds competitions and has created a cyber excellence accreditation for top universities and masters programmes. The intention is to spot talent in children and nurture them through their education, with the end goal being a career in the industry.

The problem of for any rocketing industry ready to blast off always seems to boil down to people. We have seen it with big data in all of it’s forms from electronic medical records to business analytics to cyber security. It seems industry is most fertile when people and technology work best stride-by-stride.

Megan Feil, October 13, 2016
Sponsored by, publisher of the CyberOSINT monograph

Explain Cloud Analytics Like I Am Five

October 10, 2016

One of Reddit’s popular subreddits is “explain to me like I’m five,” where redditors post questions they have about science, math, computing, engineering, politics, and other topics.  Outside of reading textbooks or questioning experts in person, this subreddit allows intellectual discussion on a global basis…as long as the comments remain mature.  “Explain to me like I’m five” is like the favorite For Dummies book series.

While Internet forums and Reddit itself have made the series semi-obsolete, For Dummies books are still a reliable reference tool when you don’t want to search and scroll on the Internet.  As companies move towards cloud-based systems, you can be sure there will be a slew of cloud computing For Dummies books.

Open Source Magazine shares that “Analytics For Dummies” is available for a free download!

Cloud analytics is dramatically altering business intelligence. Some businesses will capitalize on these promising new technologies and gain key insights that’ll help them gain competitive advantage. And others won’t.  Whether you’re a business leader, an IT manager, or an analyst, we want to help you and the people you need to influence with a free copy of “Cloud Analytics for Dummies,” the essential guide to this explosive new space for business intelligence.

For Dummies books usually retail around twenty dollars, so this offers the chance for a free, updated manual on the growing cloud analytics field and you can save a few dollars.

Whitney Grace, October 10, 2016
Sponsored by, publisher of the CyberOSINT monograph

Image-Based Search Technology Gains Steam

October 10, 2016

If you need to do a bit of smartphone photos clean-up, now is a good time. More websites are integrating photo-based search technologies according to Pinterest Will Let You Snap Photos To Find Real-Life Products Online. This piece from Forbes explains camera search will be available in the coming months and will allow users to snap a photo of, for example, a purse they see someone else carrying down the street, and find similar products on Pinterest. They’re calling these products “buyable pins”. According to the article,

Users make 130 million visual searches on Pinterest per month and about 2 billion total searches. Now, more than 10 million products can be purchased without leaving Pinterest from more than 20,000 retailers, up from 2 million products when “buyable pins” launched about a year ago. When a user sees a product on Pinterest, they are two times more likely to buy it in-store. And if a merchant promotes the pin, users are five times more likely to buy the item in person, the company said.  In testing “buyable pins,” Pinterest said a third of purchases made on the web were first discovered on mobile. More than 80% of users access Pinterest on mobile devices.

Some applications for this search technology, may not be well-poised to monetize this, but according to a survey cited in the article 55 percent of respondents already consider Pinterest as e-commerce. Currently, the platform sees itself as a “bridge between inspiration and making it part of your real life.” This is essentially the role of any brick-and-mortar shop amenable to window-shopping. So, while it may work, we certainly can’t say the strategy is new.

Megan Feil, October 10, 2016
Sponsored by, publisher of the CyberOSINT monograph

Business Intelligence Take on the Direction of Media

October 7, 2016

The article on Business Insider titled The Top 7 Predictions For the Future of Media offers a long gaze into the crystal ball. With significant research over the past six years including interviews with key industry players, the article posits that the future is clear for those willing to sit through the IGNITION Conference presentation put together by BI’s co-founder and CEO Henry Blodget. The article sums up the current state of uncertainty in media,

Users are moving away from desktop and toward mobile. Social media referrals are overtaking search. Consumers are cutting their cords and saying goodbye to traditional pay-TV. Messaging apps are threatening email. And smart devices are starting to connect everything around us. These changes in trends can disrupt our businesses, our portfolios, and even our lives. But they don’t have to…Those who are well informed and well prepared don’t see innovation as a threat; they see it as an opportunity.

The article overviews some of the major takeaways from the presentation such as: Newspapers will soon be joined by TV networks in their frustrating battle for relevance. The article also mentions that the much-discussed ad blocking crisis will “resolve itself,” with the caustic note that we should all be “careful what [we] wish for.” Not much interest in finding information however. The full report is available through BI for free after signing up.

Chelsea Kerwin, October 7, 2016
Sponsored by, publisher of the CyberOSINT monograph

Search: The Dead Cat Bounces

October 6, 2016

I read two articles about the future of search. The first was a series of remarks in a podcast by Christopher Issac Stone, aka Biz. In a nutshell, one finds information by asking people.

The other write up was “If I Ran Google (Why the Future of Search Will Diverge from Its Present and Past.” The author of this article is a “multi time bestselling author.” The “A” was capitalized.

The two views of the future of search underscores the perception that keyword search is dead. Text is uninteresting. Search systems are bouncing like a dead cat; that is, typing words in a search box and looking for germane information is not where the world of users wants to go. Hence, search is going to change.

image Image result for pottery tablets with inspirational messages

Left clay tablet from the 4th millennium BCE. Right. clay tablets from 2016. Not much change it seems.

Here’s a statement which hits at the future of search. The quote comes from the multi time bestselling “Author”:

A lot of younger people don’t use Google as much as we might expect. They find things on YouTube (an Alphabet company), Snapchat, Facebook, Instagram or the like.

I agree. Pizza, cat videos, and even information about the future of search by many people will be sought and found using something other than the digital equivalent of a library card catalog. Thump. That’s the sound of the dead cat bouncing or hitting the pavement.

The thump means Google, the game changer, is going to have the game changed for itself.

The future is actionable intelligence. Ask a question and get an answer. Then order a pizza or watch a living cat video. Dead cats are not interesting.

Several thoughts:

First, there are numerous ways to look for information needed to answer a question. There are search boxes when one presumably is working on a research paper or maybe an article destined for publication. That is the old fashioned work which requires attention, note taking, and thinking about a topic and how to answer questions for which there is no single journal article or reliable data set. This type of research will not appeal to some people.

Second, there is the convenience of asking others for information. This is a useful type of information collection. Sometimes it works, and other times it forces the questioner to drag himself or herself back to the old fashioned method described in item one above.

Third, there is smart software which looks at behaviors and makes a best guess about what the person needs to know. When I drive to the airport, I want my GPS to show me which parking garage has an open space. No typing and no talking, please. Just the map with the answer.

In each of these broad categories of access — typing keywords, asking via text or voice, or smart software making best guesses — useful information can be located.

Most of the folks with whom I interact are not happy with search, a broad term used to describe a remarkable range of information access systems.

The problem with the future is that it is not going to bounce like the dead cat of the present.

If I have learned one thing in my years in the information access sector it is:

Information access methods do not die. Options become available.

Regardless of the future, some reading is necessary. Some talking to humans is necessary. Some smart software inputs are necessary.

Heck, here in Harrod’s Creek, people still use clay tablets to communicate. The message about the future is that “good enough” information access is more important than old fashioned checkpoints like precision, recall, provenance, and understanding.

Stephen E Arnold, October 6, 2016

MIT Embraces Google DeepMinds Intuitive Technology Focus

October 6, 2016

The article on MIT Technology Review titled How Google Plans to Solve Artificial Intelligence conveys the exciting world of Google DeepMind’s Labyrinth. Labyrinth is a 3D environment forged on an open-source platform where DeepMind is challeneged by tasks such as, say, finishing a maze. As DeepMind progresses, the challenges become increasingly complicated. The article says,

What passes for smart software today is specialized to a particular task—say, recognizing faces. Hassabis wants to create what he calls general artificial intelligence—something that, like a human, can learn to take on just about any task. He envisions it doing things as diverse as advancing medicine by formulating and testing scientific theories, and bounding around in agile robot bodies…The success of DeepMind’s reinforcement learning has surprised many machine-learning researchers.

Of the endless applications possible for intuitive technology, the article focuses on the medical, understanding text, and robotics. When questioned about the ethical implications of the latter, Demis Hassabis, the head of Google’s DeepMind team, gave the equivalent of a shrug, and said that those sorts of questions were premature. In spite of this, MIT’s Technology Review seems pretty pumped about Google, which makes us wonder whether IBM Watson has been abandoned. Our question for Watson is, what is the deal with MIT?

Chelsea Kerwin, October 6, 2016
Sponsored by, publisher of the CyberOSINT monograph

Is the Cloud Really Raining Dollar Signs?

October 5, 2016

Cloud computing offers people the ability to access their files from any place in the world as long as they have a good Internet connection and a cloud account.  Many companies are transferring their mainframes to the cloud, so their employees can work remotely.  Individuals love having their files, especially photos and music, on the cloud for instantaneous access.  It is a fast growing IT business and Forbes reports that “Gartner Predicts $111B In IT Spend Will Shift To Cloud This Year Growing To Be $216B By 2020.”

Within the next five years it is predicted more companies will shift their inner workings to the cloud, which will indirectly and directly affect more than one trillion projected to be spent in IT.  Application software spending is expected to shift 37% towards more cloud usage and business process outsourcing is expected to grow 43%, all by 2020.

Why wait for 2020 to see the final results, however?  2016 already has seen a lot of cloud growth and even more is expected before the year ends:

$42B in Business Process Outsourcing IT spend, or 35% of the total market, is forecast to shift to the cloud this year. 25% of the application software spending is predicted to shift to the cloud this year, or $36B.

Gartner is a respected research firm and these numbers are predicting hefty growth (here is the source).  The cloud shift will surely affect more than one trillion.  The bigger question is will cloud security improve enough by 2020 that more companies will shift in that direction?

Whitney Grace, October 5, 2016
Sponsored by, publisher of the CyberOSINT monograph


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