The First Hack

Around the world today, hackers are working hard to find vulnerabilities in the information technology systems our lives rely on.  They hack these systems by intercepting supposedly secure communication, altering messages, and using that information for personal gain.  There are white hat hackers, hacking for good and working for places like Apple and the Pentagon to find weaknesses in their technology and fix it.  There are black hat hackers, hacking for bad and doing things like accessing email accounts or stealing credit card information.  Some hackers just do it because they can and have no real agenda.  But try to imagine for a second who the first hacker was, the first ever person to intercept a secure message and change it or alter it.  Are you a picturing a Soviet KGB agent figuring out a way to read communiqués from the Kennedy white house during the Cuban Missile Crisis?  Maybe you have in mind a teenager in their parents’ garage figuring out a way into the Department of Defense’s “secure” network in the mid-1980s?

What if I told you that the first hacker was a stage magician?

What if I told you this magician did it to call someone a “diddler of the public”?

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Pokemon GO-bal Positioning System

Earlier this July, my childhood dream finally came true.  Over the series’ 20 year history, I’ve played more than 30 Pokemon video games, and with each new release I’ve wanted to become a gym leader and to catch ‘em all – a feat I accomplished, once, back in the first game.   Now, as a 28-year old working on a Ph.D., I can finally achieve my dream with the help of Niantic’s latest augmented reality game, Pokemon GO.

 IMG_2016-07-10-13445138 I can find a Pidgey (the Pigeon Pokemon) on a city sidewalk thanks to GPS telling Pokemon GO where I am.  Finding a Goldeen (the Goldfish Pokemon) on the same city street would not make sense.

In Pokemon GO, as I wander around my city, my phone periodically vibrates indicating that I’ve found a Pokemon.  I quickly look at my phone and tap on the Pokemon to enter a battle with it.  The game knows where I am thanks to GPS, the Global Positioning System, and uses that information to show me location-appropriate Pokemon, such as Water-type Pokemon close to rivers and Fire-type Pokemon in deserts.

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Trash to Gas: A Solution to Half Our Problems?

In Robert Zemeckis' "Back to the Future," Doc can toss garbage straight into the engine to power his car.

In Robert Zemeckis’ “Back to the Future,” Doc can toss garbage straight into the engine to power his car.

“New innovation from scientists,” read the subject line from my Mom’s email. Attached was a link to a Youtube clip of a male scientist balling plastic bags, sealing them in a steel vessel, and pushing a button. After a couple of hours, the eager scientist cracked open the vessel, and poured out a dark, ominous looking fluid. “People don’t know that garbage can be made into gasoline” the scientist beamed. Apparently after some refining, this scientist had converted plastic bags into gasoline.

My response was immediate: “Don’t go investing your money just yet. Plastic bags are a by-product of gasoline production. It would take a lot of energy to turn plastic bags back into gasoline, probably more energy than you would make.” I had put the thought out of my head, until one day when I was breezing through a fashion magazine (yes, some scientists read those too) and there was a short article about another woman who was also claiming she could turn plastic bags into gasoline. The idea was obviously gaining momentum. Could my opinion on trash-to-gas be jaded?
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The Science of Disappearing

Ever since ancient Greece, man has been enticed with the idea of being invisible. Our stories offer different paths to achieve this invisibility – for example, Plato’s shepherd became the King of Lydia with the help of a ring which makes the wearer invisible, and H.G. Wells’ The Invisible man becomes so by drinking a formula he invents.

The popularity of Harry Potter, however, has caused this power to take the form of a cloak in our imaginations. How simple it would be to cover ourselves with a piece of cloth that makes us invisible! Every time you are put in the spotlight against your wishes, made to answer an awkward question or want to be undisturbed, you just slip a cloak over yourself and you’re invisible!

Now our governments are apparently willing to spend money on making this crazy dream come true. Different research groups around the world have come up with different ideas to make this a reality. Though they are all in incipient stages, there seems to be a lot of potential in these ideas. Now we look at a few of these brilliantly crazy ideas. Continue reading