Pro-Gun Russian Bots Flood Twitter After Parkland Shooting

Each new breaking news situation is an opportunity for trolls to grab attention, provoke emotions, and spread propaganda. The Russian government knows this. Fake-news manufacturing teenagers in Macedonia know this. Twitter bot creators know this. And thanks to data-gathering operations from groups like the Alliance for Securing Democracy and RoBhat Labs, the world knows this.

In the wake of Wednesday’s Parkland, Florida school shooting, which resulted in 17 deaths, troll and bot-tracking sites reported an immediate uptick in related tweets from political propaganda bots and Russia-linked Twitter accounts. Hamilton 68, a website created by Alliance for Securing Democracy, tracks Twitter activity from accounts it has identified as linked to Russian influence campaigns. As of morning, shooting-related terms dominated the site’s trending hashtags and topics, including Parkland, guncontrolnow, Florida, guncontrol, and read more

Inside the Mind of Amanda Feilding, Countess of Psychedelic Science

Amanda Feilding, Countess of Wemyss and March, also known as Lady Neidpath, sits cross-legged on a bench on a tiny island at the center of an artificial pond in her English country estate, a 15-minute drive outside of Oxford. At her feet is a tiny pure-white cloud of a dog, which traipses around chewing on the grass, only occasionally coughing it up.

Feilding is 75 years old. She wears a black skirt and knee-high boots and grips a tan shawl around her shoulders, on account of this being a gray November morning. From her ears hang jewelry that looks like green rock candy. Her light brown hair is frizzy but not altogether unkempt.

In the distance, peeking over a towering hedge, is her castle, built in the 1520s. “In the ’60s we called it Brainblood Hall,” she says in a posh accent that periodically turns sing-songy and high, à la Julia Child. “We always saw it as the masthead from where this change would happen.”

Feilding now lives in the castle in the English countryside where she was raised.

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Facebook Notification Spam Has Crossed the Line

Facebook has always nudged truant users back to its platform though emails and notifications. But recently, those prods have evolved beyond comments related to activity on your own profile. Now Facebook will nag you when an acquaintance comments on someone else’s photo, or when a distant family member updates their status. The spamming has even extended to those who sign up for two-factor authentication—which is a great way to turn people off to that extra layer of security.

“The part of it that bugs me is that two-factor authentication is something [Facebook] should be encouraging people to use, but instead the way this is working here is that they’re driving people away from two-factor and making people less secure,” says Matt Green, a professor at the Johns Hopkins University Information Security Institute, who has done contracted security work for Facebook in the past. “It’s abusive, people’s attention is deliberately tweaked by what looks like a two-factor authentication read more

Don’t Cliff Jump Like a Dummy—Use Physics

I like to spend time outside when possible. On a recent adventure I took a couple of the kids to check out some trails near my mother’s house. This particular place was pretty nice. It had a lake with some cliffs you could walk along. Note: Do not jump off the cliffs into the water—there is a $500 fine for that (at least that’s what the sign said).

As we were standing near the edge of one of these cliffs, my daughter said that it wouldn’t be too bad to jump off—it’s not that high. I was pretty sure it was higher than she thought it is. But I don’t have to just guess; we can measure the height with just a rock, my phone, and physics.

Here’s what you do. Take your phone and get ready to record some video. Now drop the rock from rest so that it falls into the water. If you have to toss the rock, that’s fine, as long as you only throw it horizontally. Don’t throw it up or down—this will give an inaccurate measurement for read more

Airbus’ Vahana Makes Its First Flight—And Now Must Defeat Bureaucracy

At 8:52 on the morning of January 31, eight buzzing rotors lifted a black bubble of an aircraft off the ground for the first time. About 20 feet from nose to tail and the same from wingtip to wingtip, Vahana spent 53 seconds aloft, under its own power and autonomous control. It reached a height of 16 feet, looming over the runway at Oregon’s Pendleton UAS Test Range like a gigantisized quadcopter drone.

The flight may not sound like much, but the team from Airbus’ Silicon Valley outpost, A^3, and aerospace experts say such flights of experimental aircraft mark the start of a fundamental change in the way we get around.

“The revolution of aviation we see today is comparable to the jet age,” says Jim Gregory, director of the Aerospace Research Center at The Ohio State University.

Alpha One, as this prototype is dubbed, is a full-scale demonstrator of a single-person, vertical take-off and landing aircraft. The idea behind this thing and its read more

How You Could Road Race—and Win—From Your Living Room

Dave McGillivray is an improbable advocate of virtual exercise. The race director of the Boston Marathon for 30 years, McGillivray estimates he’s logged more than 150,000 miles in his lifetime, the overwhelming majority of them outside, and a formidable number of those in Forrest-Gumpian feats of endurance. In 1978, he ran from Medford, Oregon to Medford, Massachusetts—a distance of 3,452 miles—for charity. In 2004, he did it again. And just this month, at the age of 63, he conquered the World Marathon Challenge by completing seven marathons on seven continents in seven days.

“It was a little bit of an insane thing to do,” McGillivray says, “but I was able to get through it OK.”

You might be surprised to learn that a man willing to commit to intercontinental travel in pursuit of multiple marathons also sits on the advisory board of a company that wants to make it possible for athletes to experience and even compete in races around the world—all from the comfort of their home treadmills.

That company is Outside Interactive, the Massachusetts-based developer of an app called Virtual Runner. And no, this is not the cheesy, lo-fi run simulator you’ve seen on the ellipticals at your gym. OI’s program synchronizes high-quality steadicam footage of more than 60 scenic running routes and race courses from around the world with the speed and angle of a runner’s treadmill. Users can run up and down Cadillac Mountain in Acadia National Park; chug up Heartbreak Hill on the Boston Marathon’s 20th mile; skirt the coast of read more

China Wants to Make a Mark in Space—But It’ll Need a Little Help

In a China Global Television Network video from 2003, taikonaut Yang Liwei leans back in his orbital capsule, the overstuffed stripes of his spacesuit legs filling the frame. His helmet shield is up, so the viewer can gaze into his eyes as he speaks: “Greetings to people around the world!” His eyes move leftward, out of the frame. “Greetings to my colleagues in space!” he says.

Liwei was China’s first astronaut, reaching orbit decades after US and Soviet space-farers. Not that it’s a competition. (Space is for peace and cooperation … right?) Nevertheless, when it comes to space exploration, China has mostly medaled bronze. Third country to achieve independent human spaceflight. Third to send women to space using homemade technology. Third to staff a crewed space station. Third to slide a probe in for a soft landing on the moon.

China has so far stuck to replicating the successes of other nations’ space programs. But the country has big ambitions. In 2016, read more

Facebook Funded Most of the Experts Who Vetted Messenger Kids

In December, when Facebook launched Messenger Kids, an app for preteens and children as young as 6, the company stressed that it had worked closely with leading experts in order to safeguard younger users. What Facebook didn’t say is that many of those experts had received funding from Facebook.

Equally notable are the experts Facebook did not consult. Although Facebook says it spent 18 months developing the app, Common Sense Media and Campaign for a Commercial Free Childhood, two large nonprofits in the field, say they weren’t informed about it until weeks or days before the app’s debut. “They had reached out to me personally Friday before it launched, when obviously it was a fait accompli,” says Josh Golin, executive director of Campaign for a Commercial Free Childhood. Facebook, he says, is “trying to represent that they have so much more support for this than they actually do.” read more