Communications

About a Quarter of US Adults Say They Are 'Almost Constantly' Online (pewresearch.org) 56

As smartphones and other mobile devices have become more widespread, 26 percent of American adults now report that they go online "almost constantly," up from 21 percent in 2015, according to a Pew Research Center survey conducted in January 2018. From the study: Overall, 77 percent of Americans go online on a daily basis. That figure includes the 26 percent who go online almost constantly, as well as 43 percent who say they go online several times a day and 8 percent who go online about once a day. Some 11 percent go online several times a week or less often, while 11 percent of adults say they do not use the internet at all.
Earth

Once Written Off for Dead, the Aral Sea Is Now Full of Life (nationalgeographic.com) 50

Years ago, the Aral Sea was the world's fourth-largest freshwater lake with an area of some 26,000 square miles. But in the 1950s, it became the victim of the Soviet Union's agricultural policies. Water from its two river sources -- the Amu Darya and Syr Darya -- was intentionally diverted for cotton cultivation. The Aral Sea began to disappear and nearly completely vanished. But things have changed for good. From a report: This rapid collapse over less than three decades -- which environmental scientists say is one of the planet's worst ecological disasters -- is marked today by the sea's reduced size. Its total area of water, straddling Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, is now a tenth of its original size. What's left has broken into two distinct bodies: the North and South Aral Seas. In Uzbekistan, the entire eastern basin of the South Aral Sea is completely desiccated, leaving merely a single strip of water in the west.

But Kazakhstan's North Aral Sea has seen a happier outcome, thanks to a nearly $86 million project financed in large part by the World Bank. Along with repairs to existing dikes around the basin to prevent spillage, an eight-mile dam was constructed just south of the Syr Darya River. Completed in the summer of 2005, this dam, named Kokaral, surpassed all expectations. It led to an 11-foot increase in water levels after just seven months -- a goal that scientists initially expected would take three years. This turnaround in the North Aral Sea's fate has meant that the fish stocks have returned to its waters, injecting new life into the local communities. Just as government policies had doomed the Aral Sea, careful planning and research helped revive at least part of it.

Security

Firefox Master Password System Has Been Poorly Secured for the Past 9 Years, Researcher Says (bleepingcomputer.com) 74

Catalin Cimpanu, writing for BleepingComputer: For at past nine years, Mozilla has been using an insufficiently strong encryption mechanism for the "master password" feature. Both Firefox and Thunderbird allow users to set up a "master password" through their settings panel. This master password plays the role of an encryption key that is used to encrypt each password string the user saves in his browser or email client. Experts have lauded the feature because up until that point browsers would store passwords locally in cleartext, leaving them vulnerable to malware or attackers with physical access to a victim's computer. But Wladimir Palant, the author of the AdBlock Plus extension, says the encryption scheme used by the master password feature is weak and can be easily brute-forced. "I looked into the source code," Palant says, "I eventually found the sftkdb_passwordToKey() function that converts a [website] password into an encryption key by means of applying SHA-1 hashing to a string consisting of a random salt and your actual master password."
Youtube

YouTube Kids Has Videos on How Reptilians Rule the World, Moon Landing Was Fake (gizmodo.com) 258

An anonymous reader shares a report: YouTube Kids, the supposedly child-friendly version of YouTube that's been shown to often play host to troves of slop content and disturbing videos, apparently was showing videos from British conspiracy theorist David Icke, a guy who believes reptilian aliens secretly control the world and are responsible for the Holocaust. According to a Saturday report in Business Insider, searching for the term "UFO" on YouTube kids turned up a video purporting "to show a UFO shooting at a chemtrail." The suggested followups for that video featured a number of Icke's clips, including a nearly five-hour lecture on how aliens built the pyramids and secretly run the planet through a ruling class extraterrestrial-human hybrids. The video also delves into a number of other conspiracy theories, including claims Freemasons indulge in human sacrifice and President John F. Kennedy was assassinated by his own government.

According to Business Insider, "Two other conspiracy theory videos by Icke appeared in the related videos, meaning it was easy for children to quickly go from watching relatively innocent videos about toys to conspiracy content." Searching for the term "moon landing" also resulted in a number of conspiratorial videos emerging, including one making the claim that CERN's Large Hadron Collider had opened a portal to another world that an unfortunate employee then vanished in.

The Internet

Say Goodbye To the Information Age: It's All About Reputation Now (aeon.co) 193

An anonymous reader shares an essay on Aeon magazine by Gloria Origgi, an Italian philosopher and a tenured senior researcher at CNRS : We are experiencing a fundamental paradigm shift in our relationship to knowledge. From the 'information age', we are moving towards the 'reputation age', in which information will have value only if it is already filtered, evaluated and commented upon by others. Seen in this light, reputation has become a central pillar of collective intelligence today. It is the gatekeeper to knowledge, and the keys to the gate are held by others. The way in which the authority of knowledge is now constructed makes us reliant on what are the inevitably biased judgments of other people, most of whom we do not know.

[...] The paradigm shift from the age of information to the age of reputation must be taken into account when we try to defend ourselves from 'fake news' and other misinformation and disinformation techniques that are proliferating through contemporary societies. What a mature citizen of the digital age should be competent at is not spotting and confirming the veracity of the news. Rather, she should be competent at reconstructing the reputational path of the piece of information in question, evaluating the intentions of those who circulated it, and figuring out the agendas of those authorities that leant it credibility.

Education

Ghana's Windows Blackboard Teacher And His Students Have a Rewarding Outcome (qz.com) 82

Quartz: A lot has changed in the life of Richard Appiah Akoto in the fortnight since he posted photos of himself on Facebook drawing a Microsoft Word processing window on a blackboard with multi-colored chalk, to teach his students about computers -- which the school did not have. The photos went viral on social media and media stories like Quartz's went all around the world. Akoto, 33, is the information and communication technology (ICT) teacher at Betenase M/A Junior High School in the town of Sekyedomase, about two and half hours drive north of Ghana's second city, Kumasi. The school had no computers even though since 2011, 14 and 15-year-olds in Ghana are expected to write and pass a national exam (without which students cannot progress to high school) with ICT being one of the subjects.

The story of the school and Twitter pressure from prominent players in the African tech space drew a promise from Microsoft to "equip [Akoto] with a device from one of our partners, and access to our MCE program & free professional development resources on." To fulfill this promise, the technology giant flew Akoto to Singapore this week where he is participating in the annual Microsoft Education Exchange.

Wikipedia

Why Do People Go To Wikipedia? A Survey Suggests It's Their Desire To Go Down that Random Rabbit Hole (niemanlab.org) 43

What's motivated people to visit the Wikipedia pages they're reading? Wikipedia recently tried to answer that question at scale by asking a sample of Wikipedia readers last June, "Why are you reading this article today?" It seems a lot of people go to Wikipedia for earnest, serious, information-seeking reasons. From a report: The study collected 215,000 responses from visitors to Wikipedia pages across 14 languages (Arabic, Bengali, Chinese, Dutch, English, German, Hebrew, Hindi, Hungarian, Japanese, Romanian, Russian, Spanish, and Ukrainian). The survey offered readers choices from seven types of motivations for why they were reading the Wikipedia page they were reading (e.g., "I have a work or school-related assignment, I need to make a personal decision based on this topic, I want to know more about a current event"). Thirty-five percent of Wikipedia users sampled across the 14 languages in this study said they were on the site to find a specific fact. Thirty-three percent said they were looking for an overview of a topic, while 32 percent said they wanted to get information on a topic in-depth.

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