GeekSpeak for 2013-06-01

Wireless Martian Water Installs Rootkit

Mars has water, geeks fear bad passwords, Mechanical Turk, and much more in this week’s episode of GeekSpeak.

Mars pebbles prove water history

Scientists now have definitive proof that many of the landscapes seen on Mars were indeed cut by flowing water.

The valleys, channels and deltas viewed from orbit have long been thought to be the work of water erosion, but it is Nasa’s latest rover, Curiosity, that has provided the “ground truth”.

Researchers report its observations of rounded pebbles on the floor of the Red Planet’s 150km-wide Gale Crater.

Mars Robot Attacks Rock - Twitter

We covered this topic on the 8/25 show in 2012

German Academics Set World Record In Wireless Data Transmission

Radio links capable of transferring 40 Gbps could revolutionise rural broadband deployment.

Wi-Fi chip pushes 1.7Gbps over four streams using 802.11ac standard

Quantenna today announced an 802.11ac Wi-Fi chipset that pushes 1.7Gbps of data over four wireless streams.

Bonnie Yard sale

Imaging Breakthrough: See Atomic Bonds Before and After Molecular Reaction

A ringed, carbon-containing molecule, shown both before and after it has rearranged itself, with the two most common reaction products included. The scale bars measure 3 angstroms, or three ten-billionths of a meter, across. Image and Caption: Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and University of California at Berkeley.

Make it legal for us to deploy rootkits, spyware, ransomware and trojans to attack pirates!

The hilariously named “Commission on the Theft of American Intellectual Property” has finally released its report, an 84-page tome that’s pretty bonkers. But amidst all that crazy, there’s a bit that stands out as particularly insane: a proposal to legalize the use of malware in order to punish people believed to be copying illegally. The report proposes that software would be loaded on computers that would somehow figure out if you were a pirate, and if you were, it would lock your computer up and take all your files hostage until you call the police and confess your crime. This is the mechanism that crooks use when they deploy ransomware.

GeekBit: Imaging Breakthrough: See Atomic Bonds Before and After Molecular Reaction

Ben: Ubuntu Bug One Closed

Mark Shuttleworth of Ubuntu fame has closed the primal bug on Launchpad, standing since 2004 and titled “Microsoft has a majority market share,” due to the “changing realities” of tablets, smartphones, and wearable computing.

GeekBit - Flight Maps

Michael Markieta’s images depicting flight paths across the planet attracted huge interest from our readers. What do the maps reveal? We asked five experts to give their interpretation.

Good Cell Phone Services suggestions from listeners

Metric Tricks

Joshua Hi, guys.
Another great discussion! Metric touchstones, huh?
I get to work in a great human psychology lab (my fourth grade classroom), seeing what will stick and what won’t. Here’s what I’m using now:
mm = thickness of a dime
cm = dimension of one of our fingernails (they’re different sizes, so we have to measure for ourselves)
meter = about the long dimension of a guitar
km = a distance from our classroom that we know well. I looked it up on google.

Ben: TESS Observatory

NASA is preparing the TESS observatory (Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite) to follow-up on the successes of the planet-hunting Kepler observatory by identifying nearby exoplanets that pass in front of, or “transit,” their stars. A small sample of these worlds will be singled out for further scrutiny if they lie within the habitable zone of the parent star. The habitable zone is the distance from a star where temperatures on a world may allow liquid water to exist on the planetary surface.

Kepler showed us an incredible diversity among planetary systems, and that small planets like Earth greatly outnumber bloated Jupiter-class worlds. But the Kepler planets are typically over 1,000 light-years away, so understanding the environments of these worlds is technologically out of the question — at least for the foreseeable future.

Telecom companies threaten to sue reporters for uncovering privacy breach with Google

After being made aware of a large and potentially costly privacy breach exposing more than 170,000 records containing Social Security numbers and financial information, the two companies responsible for the blunder are threatening legal action against the journalists that uncovered it. The companies’ lawyers claim that by using “automated means” like the Wget command-line utility to download the records instead of an ordinary web browser, the “hackers” have violated federal cybersecurity law and should expect to be held liable for any financial damages that result.

Unprecedented e-mail privacy bill sent to Texas governor’s desk

Assuming that Texas Governor Rick Perry does not veto it, the Lone Star State appears set to enact the nation’s strongest e-mail privacy bill. The proposed legislation requires state law enforcement agencies to get a warrant for all e-mails regardless of the age of the e-mail.

Mechanical Turk: old & new

Amazon’s Mechanical Turk is a “web service [which] allows humans to help the machines of today perform tasks for which they are not suited.” (says Wikipedia)

Users can request tasks for a fee, and do-ers from around the world bid on projects.

The service is based on an 18th century ersetz automaton devised by Kempelen, which claimed to be a mechanical Turkish chess player at a table, but was really a dude hunkered down underneath operating the mechanism. He was apparently a very good chess player.

Ergo the service’s motto, “artificial artificial intelligence.”

What would YOU have the Mechanical Turk do?

Bonnie heard about Mechanical Turk from the fine folks at UBEW. We had them on as guests on the Feb 9th episode, 2013

Asteroid 1998 QE2 Has a Moon!

The asteroid pair is currently on a relatively near pass of Earth, sailing by us at a closest approach of just under 6 million kilometers (3.6 million miles) later Friday. Asteroids that get this close are of particular interest to astronomers, because that means we can use radio telescopes to bounce radar off them, which can lead to a better determination of their size, shape, speed, and position.

Using the Goldstone telescope in California, astronomers were surprised to find that 1998 QE2 is actually a binary asteroid, a big rock being orbited by smaller one.

Reset Your Password

The Security Team and Infrastructure Team has discovered unauthorized access to account information on and

TSA Eliminates All Invasive, 'Gumby' X-Ray Machines

In a letter released Thursday, TSA administrator John Pistole told the House Homeland Security committee that as of May 16, all US airports scanners equipped with the ability to produce the penetrating images will now only show a generic outline of a passenger to the operator. A colored box pops up if the full-body scanner detects a potentially forbidden item.

The TSA beat their deadline by two weeks for modifying the scanners. The technology was originally mandated to be removed by June 2012 under the Federal Aviation Administration’s Modernization and Reform Act of 2012, but the deadline was extended to May 31, 2013.