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Arts Culture STEM Competition Tuesday 16th April 2024 Industry Opinion Local Nations

The Unstoppable Pirate eBook Haven with 600,000 Student Admirers Worldwide

Z-Library, a notorious pirate eBook repository, claims that over 600,000 students and scholars worldwide use the platform to access millions of books for free. The site, which faced legal action in the United States resulting in the arrest of two alleged operators, continues to operate through the dark web despite the seizure of over 200 domain names connected to the platform by U.S. law enforcement. The recent removal of additional domains did not disrupt Z-Library's services.

The site is known for its commitment to providing free access to books, including educational materials and textbooks, making it a popular resource for students globally. The platform's user database statistics, although based on email addresses linked to educational institutions, likely underestimate the actual number of users, as individuals may use personal email addresses for registration.

China leads the world in Z-Library users, followed by India and Indonesia. Notably, the United States is excluded from the analysis due to the criminal prosecution of two alleged operators. Despite its population, Australia ranks high in Z-Library usage, surpassing countries like Brazil and Vietnam. Monash University in Australia stands out for having the most public booklists created by users.

Trinity College Dublin in Ireland, while second in creating booklists, also appears in the top 5 universities that donated to Z-Library. The data highlight the global reach and diverse user base of Z-Library, demonstrating its value as a resource for students worldwide.

Users' comments express gratitude for saving money on books, including textbooks. Despite public appreciation, Z-Library remains susceptible to legal challenges and ongoing crackdowns by U.S. authorities. However, the platform's operators seem determined to persist in providing free access to books.

Over Half of World's Largest Lakes Losing Water

A groundbreaking study published in Science reveals that over 50% of the world's largest lakes are losing water due to a combination of climate change and unsustainable human consumption. This trend poses significant challenges to global water resources and ecosystems.

Researchers, led by Fangfang Yao, a climate fellow at the University of Virginia, analyzed satellite observations spanning decades to gain insights into lake water storage variability. Motivated by environmental crises, including the drying of the Aral Sea, an international team of scientists from various institutions developed a novel technique to measure changes in water levels across nearly 2,000 of the largest lakes and reservoirs, which account for 95% of the world's total lake water storage.

Freshwater lakes and reservoirs store 87% of the planet's water, making them vital for both human and Earth ecosystems. However, long-term trends and changes in water levels have remained largely unknown until now.

The study's results are striking: 53% of lakes worldwide experienced a decline in water storage, equivalent to the combined volume of 17 Lake Meads, the largest reservoir in the United States. Climate change and human water consumption were identified as the primary drivers behind the decline, affecting around 100 large lakes globally. Surprisingly, previously unknown factors such as the desiccation of Lake Good-e-Zareh in Afghanistan and Lake Mar Chiquita in Argentina also contribute to water losses. Notably, both dry and wet regions are witnessing a reduction in lake volume, highlighting more widespread drying trends than previously understood.

Large reservoirs faced significant challenges as well, with nearly two-thirds experiencing notable water losses. Sedimentation emerged as the leading cause of storage decline, surpassing the effects of droughts and heavy rainfall, especially in long-established reservoirs filled before 1992.

However, the study does offer some hope. Around 24% of lakes experienced significant increases in water storage, particularly in less populated areas like the inner Tibetan Plateau and the Northern Great Plains of North America. Regions with newly constructed reservoirs, such as the Yangtze, Mekong, and Nile river basins, also saw growing lake volumes.

The implications for sustainable water resource management are substantial, as a quarter of the world's population, roughly 2 billion people, resides in the basin of a drying lake. Urgent action is necessary to incorporate the impacts of human consumption, climate change, and sedimentation into effective water resource management strategies.

Ben Livneh, a co-author of the study and associate professor of engineering at CU Boulder, emphasizes the need to adapt and explore new policies to mitigate large-scale declines in lake water storage. Encouragingly, successful conservation efforts in Lake Sevan, Armenia, have led to increased water storage due to strict enforcement of conservation laws on water withdrawal.

As shrinking lakes become a global reality, it is imperative to protect these invaluable resources. Understanding the causes and effects of declining water storage will enable us to implement sustainable solutions and safeguard our precious lakes for future generations.

Hidden Firmware Backdoor: Gigabyte Motherboards Undermine User Trust and Security

In the world of cybersecurity, hackers are constantly coming up with new tricks to infiltrate computer systems. One such tactic involves hiding malicious programs in a computer's firmware—the deep-seated code that tells a PC how to load its operating system. It's a sneaky move that can give hackers access to a machine's inner workings. But what happens when a motherboard manufacturer installs its own hidden backdoor in the firmware, making it even easier for hackers to gain entry? That's the alarming situation that researchers at Eclypsium, a firmware-focused cybersecurity company, have uncovered in Gigabyte motherboards.

The hidden mechanism discovered by Eclypsium operates within the firmware of Gigabyte motherboards, which are widely used in gaming PCs and high-performance computers. Every time a computer with one of these motherboards restarts, code within the firmware quietly initiates an updater program that downloads and executes software. While the intention behind this mechanism is to keep the firmware updated, it is implemented in a highly insecure manner. This opens the door for potential hijacking, allowing the mechanism to be exploited for installing malware instead of the intended program. What's more, because the updater program is triggered from the computer's firmware, outside of the operating system, it becomes incredibly difficult for users to detect or remove.

Eclypsium has identified 271 models of Gigabyte motherboards that are affected by this hidden firmware mechanism. This revelation sheds light on the increasing vulnerability of firmware-based attacks, which have become a preferred method for sophisticated hackers. State-sponsored hacking groups have been known to employ firmware-based spyware tools to silently install malicious software on targeted machines. In a surprising turn of events, Eclypsium's automated detection scans flagged Gigabyte's updater mechanism for exhibiting behavior similar to these state-sponsored hacking tools. It's a disconcerting finding that raises concerns about the potential misuse of this access.

What's particularly troubling about Gigabyte's updater mechanism is that it is riddled with vulnerabilities. It downloads code without proper authentication and often over an unprotected HTTP connection, instead of the more secure HTTPS. This means that the installation source can easily be spoofed, leaving users vulnerable to man-in-the-middle attacks. Additionally, the mechanism is configured to download from a local network-attached storage device (NAS), but this creates an opening for malicious actors on the same network to silently install their own malware by spoofing the NAS location.

Eclypsium has been working closely with Gigabyte to address these issues, and the motherboard manufacturer has expressed its intention to fix the vulnerabilities. However, the complexity of firmware updates and hardware compatibility may pose challenges in effectively addressing the problem. The discovery of this hidden firmware mechanism is deeply concerning due to the large number of potentially affected devices. It erodes the trust that users have in the firmware that underlies their computers, drawing parallels to the infamous Sony rootkit scandal of the mid-2000s. While Gigabyte likely had no malicious intent behind their hidden firmware tool, the security vulnerabilities it presents undermine user confidence in the very foundation of their machines.

The Sokal Affair: A Humorous Hoax Shakes the Academia

In a remarkable display of intellectual trickery, physicist Alan Sokal pulled off an audacious hoax that left the academic world in a tizzy. The Sokal affair, or as some called it, the Sokal hoax, was an elaborate experiment designed to test the intellectual rigor of a leading cultural studies journal. With a touch of mischief and a sprinkle of nonsense, Sokal aimed to expose the intellectual laziness and ideological bias that he believed plagued certain sectors of the American academic Left.

In 1996, Sokal submitted an article titled "Transgressing the Boundaries: Towards a Transformative Hermeneutics of Quantum Gravity" to the journal Social Text. The article proposed that quantum gravity, a topic of immense scientific complexity, was nothing more than a social and linguistic construct. Sokal's intention was to investigate whether the journal would publish an article filled with gibberish as long as it flattered the editors' ideological predispositions.

To Sokal's astonishment, the article was accepted and published in the journal's spring/summer 1996 issue, which was aptly themed "Science Wars." It seemed that the editors had fallen for Sokal's intellectual prank hook, line, and sinker. However, just three weeks later, in the magazine Lingua Franca, Sokal revealed that his article was nothing but an elaborate ruse.

The revelation sparked a firestorm of controversy, raising questions about the scholarly merit of commentary on scientific matters by those in the humanities, the influence of postmodern philosophy on social disciplines, and academic ethics. Some wondered whether Sokal had crossed a line by deceiving the editors and readers of Social Text, while others questioned whether the journal had adhered to proper scientific ethics.

Sokal's prank also led to further exploration of the broader issues at hand. In 2008, he published a book titled "Beyond the Hoax," delving into the history of the affair and its enduring implications. The hoax served as a wake-up call, reminding academia of the importance of intellectual rigor, critical thinking, and responsible scholarship.

Despite the serious debates it ignited, the Sokal affair provided a dose of humor to the often dry world of scholarly discourse. Sokal himself humorously remarked that those who believed the laws of physics were merely social conventions were welcome to test their validity by defying them from the windows of his twenty-first-floor apartment.

In the end, the Sokal affair highlighted the need for thoughtful examination of ideas, rigorous scholarly inquiry, and a healthy dose of skepticism. It served as a reminder that while the pursuit of knowledge is noble, sloppy thinking and intellectual shortcuts have no place in the hallowed halls of academia.

Dark Web and Generative AI: Unveiling the Intriguing Connection

In the realm of artificial intelligence (AI), the Dark Web has emerged as an unlikely yet captivating source for training generative AI models. While conventional generative AI is trained on the visible, relatively safe surface-level web, the Dark Web provides a treasure trove of malicious and disturbing content. This unexplored territory has sparked debates about the potential benefits and risks associated with developing generative AI based on the underbelly of the internet.

The Dark Web, a hidden part of the internet that standard search engines don't index, harbors a range of unsavory activities. It attracts cybercriminals, conspiracy theorists, and those seeking anonymity or restricted content. By specifically training generative AI on Dark Web data, researchers aim to tap into the unique language and specialized patterns of this secretive domain.

Proponents argue that Dark Web-trained generative AI could serve as a valuable tool to identify and track evildoers. Its ability to comprehend specialized languages and detect endangering trends could aid in cybersecurity and provide legal evidence for criminal prosecutions. Moreover, some believe that exploring the Dark Web's emergent behaviors through generative AI research could yield valuable insights.

However, ethical concerns loom large. Critics argue that delving into the Dark Web for generative AI training poses significant risks. They fear that it could inadvertently strengthen the capabilities of malicious actors and potentially undermine human rights. The potential misuse of Dark Web-trained generative AI is a worrisome aspect that demands careful consideration.

It is important to note that both conventional and Dark Web-trained generative AI models are susceptible to errors, biases, and falsehoods. While Dark Web-based generative AI may uncover hidden patterns and insights, it also runs the risk of perpetuating and amplifying malicious content. The challenges and potential pitfalls associated with interpreting and utilizing generative AI outputs from the Dark Web are similar to those of conventional AI.

Despite the risks, researchers have already embraced the concept of Dark Web-trained generative AI. Various projects, often referred to as "DarkGPT," have emerged, although caution must be exercised to avoid scams or malware posing as legitimate Dark Web-based generative AI applications.

One notable research example is DarkBERT, a language model trained on the Dark Web specifically designed for cybersecurity tasks. Researchers have found it to be more effective in handling Dark Web-specific text compared to models trained on conventional web data. DarkBERT showcases the potential of Dark Web-based generative AI, particularly in domains like cybersecurity.

The debate surrounding Dark Web-based generative AI is still in its early stages. The intersection of AI ethics and AI law is critical to navigate the development and deployment of AI systems responsibly. Striking the right balance between leveraging the potential benefits of Dark Web-trained generative AI while mitigating the associated risks remains a paramount challenge.

As AI continues to evolve, the question of whether we should expose AI systems to the Dark Web's depths requires careful consideration. The potential insights gained from the Dark Web could help society identify and combat evildoing. Alternatively, it could expose AI systems to an abyss that might shape their behavior and decision-making in unexpected and potentially detrimental ways.

Ultimately, the development and deployment of generative AI, whether based on the conventional web or the Dark Web, necessitates a comprehensive understanding of its capabilities, limitations, and ethical implications. As we embark on this technological journey, let us tread cautiously, guided by wisdom and a clear understanding of the potential consequences.

Lord of the Rings Box Set

J.R.R. Tolkien

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The Iliad & the Odyssey


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Sony Unveils Project Q: A New PlayStation Handheld for Streaming

In the midst of a whirlwind of game trailers and exciting announcements, Sony took a brief moment during its recent PlayStation Showcase livestream to reveal two new hardware products that left gamers buzzing with anticipation.

The standout announcement was undoubtedly Project Q, although the final name for this highly-anticipated device is still pending. Confirming long-standing rumors, Sony unveiled a new PlayStation handheld that promises to revolutionize gaming on the go.

Unlike its predecessors, Project Q will primarily focus on streaming capabilities. Sony plans to offer users the ability to stream any non-VR game from a local PlayStation 5 console using Remote Play over Wi-Fi. However, it's important to note that the handheld won't be capable of playing games on its own. Its true power lies in its streaming functionality.

Sony is no stranger to Remote Play, as the company has been offering this feature on other devices for some time now. By syncing a DualSense controller with their macOS, Windows, iOS, or Android device, players can already stream their favorite games over Wi-Fi or the Internet. However, streaming games over the Internet can come with latency challenges that impact the overall gaming experience.

As for the specifics of Project Q, the handheld boasts an impressive 8-inch HD screen, providing gamers with a vibrant and immersive display. In addition, it will feature ""all the buttons and features of the DualSense wireless controller,"" ensuring that players have a familiar and comfortable gaming experience in their hands.

In addition to Project Q, Sony also revealed plans to launch Bluetooth earbuds that resemble the popular AirPods. What sets these earbuds apart is their ability to simultaneously connect to a PlayStation console, a mobile device, as well as PCs. This versatility allows gamers to seamlessly switch between different platforms without the hassle of constantly pairing and unpairing their audio devices.

While Sony has not yet announced release dates or pricing for these new products, it's clear that these announcements serve as a statement of intent from the PlayStation brand. Gamers can look forward to a future where gaming becomes even more accessible, whether it's through the convenience of streaming on a handheld or the flexibility of audio connectivity.

Doctors Use Brainwaves to Objectively Measure Chronic Pain

Neurologists have made significant progress in utilizing deep brain stimulation to measure and predict chronic pain intensity. Published in Nature Neuroscience, the study identified distinct brainwave patterns that objectively differentiate chronic pain from acute pain.

Chronic pain poses a challenge for doctors due to its subjective nature, but by analyzing brain signals, neurologists successfully predicted pain levels. The research aims to develop personalized brain stimulation therapy, offering relief to the 51.6 million Americans suffering from chronic pain.

Statistics from JAMA Network Open reveal that chronic pain rates rival those of prevalent health conditions such as diabetes, depression, and high blood pressure. Understanding how the brain processes acute and chronic pain is crucial for improving treatment outcomes.

The study involved four individuals with uncontrollable long-term pain, including stroke survivors and a phantom limb syndrome patient. Deep brain stimulation, typically used for neurological conditions, was employed for chronic pain for the first time. Electrodes were implanted in pain-associated areas of the brain—the anterior cingulate cortex and the orbitofrontal cortex.

Participants reported pain severity and quality over three to six months and triggered the electrode implants to record brain activity. Using these recordings and survey responses, a computer generated pain severity scores, with the orbitofrontal cortex playing a significant role in developing personalized neural signatures.

Differences between chronic and acute pain emerged, with changes in the orbitofrontal cortex strongly associated with chronic pain and the anterior cingulate cortex more related to acute pain. This highlights that chronic pain involves distinct brain circuits, going beyond being a prolonged version of acute pain.

Understanding these neurological distinctions offers hope for developing targeted brain stimulation therapies for severe discomfort, particularly in cases resulting from strokes and traumatic brain injuries.

While the study's results are fascinating, caution is advised due to the small sample size. Researchers plan to expand the study in phase two with more patients to validate the approach further. Surgical brain implants come with inherent risks, necessitating careful consideration. However, a future vision includes small wearable devices that can track brainwaves, revolutionizing pain management.

Objective measures for pain assessment and treatment hold immense potential, as they address the subjectivity and unequal treatment of pain. This study's pursuit of such measures has the power to transform the field of pain management.

From Helicopters to Clones: The Quest for Perfect Seeds Takes Off

In a whimsical twist to the world of agriculture, scientists have taken to the skies in their trusty helicopters, embarking on an unconventional mission to produce high-yielding, resilient rice varieties. RiceTec, a renowned plant breeding company, has employed these nimble aircraft to blow pollen from one row of plants to another in the rice fields of Texas and Arkansas. It may sound like a scene from an action movie, but this costly and intricate process holds the promise of creating seeds that sprout into robust plants with unrivaled vigor. Welcome to the captivating realm of hybrid rice.

The magic behind hybrid vigor, the phenomenon responsible for the superior performance of hybrids, lies in the art of crossing two strains of inbred parents. While the exact reasons for their superiority remain a mystery, scientists believe that the genes from one parent outshine the weak, recessive genes from the other. This ingenious breeding technique has revolutionized crop yields, propelling the likes of maize and sorghum to new heights with a boost of up to 50%. Unfortunately, the creation of hybrid seeds is no walk in the park. It's a laborious and expensive process, limited to certain species.

Let's zoom in on rice, where the adventure begins with the development of plants that cannot self-pollinate. That's when the helicopters swoop in, playing their pivotal role in sweeping pollen from a second strain and ensuring a successful cross-pollination. But hold your applause, for this meticulous method must be repeated tirelessly for each new batch of seeds to preserve the desired traits. José Ré, the vice president of research at RiceTec, openly admits that it's far from a flawless system. So, here comes the million-dollar question: Is there a simpler, more efficient way to produce these coveted hybrid seeds?

Enter the world of apomixis, a wondrous natural process that allows certain plant species to reproduce clonally without the need for pollination. In 2019, an international team of scientists achieved an extraordinary feat by engineering a line of rice plants capable of clonal reproduction—a groundbreaking success story in the realm of crops. The thrill of discovery has since electrified the research landscape, with scientists worldwide striving to develop apomictic varieties of crops like sorghum, tomatoes, and alfalfa.

While the technology remains a work in progress, seed companies are watching these advancements like hawks. The potential revolution in hybrid seed production offered by apomictic reproduction could simplify the process, speed up the release of new varieties, and bring down costs. And let's not forget the potential impact on smallholder farmers in developing countries who struggle to access commercial hybrid seeds. Imagine their joy in saving seeds from their previous year's crop, empowering them with newfound self-sufficiency.

The journey to engineered apomixis has been an arduous one, with scientists unraveling the intricate genetic mechanisms governing this clonal reproduction and embryo development. Recent breakthroughs, such as identifying the BABY BOOM gene and introducing MiMe mutations, have propelled us closer to the dream of clonal seed production.

Yet, challenges still stand in our way. The technology requires further refinement to ensure flawless clonal seed production and to enhance the adaptability of hybrid varieties to different environmental conditions. Field trials are needed to gauge the performance of apomictic crops and their resilience in the face of challenges like drought.

As we progress through this captivating journey, we hold onto the hope that synthetic apomixis will one day grace the fields of farmers worldwide. The potential benefits are tantalizing, from increased agricultural efficiency to improved food security. Until that day dawns, the helicopters will keep soaring through the skies, playing their crucial role in the relentless quest for perfect seeds.

Similarities Between Jupiter and Earth Lightning Revealed

In 1979, Voyager 1 captured the first images of lightning on Jupiter, revealing not only a storm but also unique radio wave signals. Recent observations by NASA's Juno spacecraft have challenged previous notions about Jupiter's lightning. Initially, researchers found a discrepancy in the radio frequency range between Jupiter and Earth. However, Juno's closer proximity during its flybys and its ability to detect a broader spectrum of frequencies have unveiled unexpected similarities between Jupiter's lightning and Earth's.

Previous recordings, known as whistlers due to their distinctive sound, fell in the kilohertz range, unlike Earth's lightning, which occurs in the mega or gigahertz range. Scientists speculated on various reasons for this difference, including atmospheric variations and fundamental distinctions in lightning formation. The Microwave Radiometer Instrument on Juno, collecting data during its flybys, recorded 377 lightning discharges in the megahertz and gigahertz range, challenging previous assumptions.

Juno's unique vantage point allowed researchers to observe Jupiter's lightning in unprecedented detail, dispelling the notion that Jupiter's lightning was fundamentally different from Earth's. Moreover, Juno's close encounters provided insights into the rate of lightning strikes on Jupiter, revealing a peak rate of four strikes per second, comparable to Earth's rates.

Notably, the location of Jupiter's lightning presents a significant divergence from Earth. While Earth's lightning predominantly occurs near the equator, Jupiter's lightning is concentrated near its poles. This contrast stems from Jupiter's distance from the sun, receiving the majority of its heat internally, leading to distinct atmospheric dynamics that create storms and lightning near the poles.

Although researchers are uncertain about the reasons for more lightning in Jupiter's northern hemisphere, ongoing observations by Juno may provide additional insights. NASA recently extended Juno's mission, ensuring more data on Jupiter's atmospheric phenomena until 2021. The spacecraft's continued exploration promises to unravel further mysteries surrounding Jupiter's lightning and enhance our understanding of the gas giant's complex atmosphere.

Gary Bowser, Member of Nintendo Hacking Group, Completes 40-Month Prison Sentence

Gary Bowser, a member of the infamous Team Xecuter Switch modding group, is set to return to his home country of Canada. However, he won't be able to escape the massive $14.5 million repayment he owes to Nintendo, which will surely haunt him for the rest of his days.

Bowser, a figure seemingly plucked from the pages of nominative determinism, has often been labeled a "hacker," but his main role within Team Xecuter was more of a sales and promotion guy. The group, known as TX, specialized in developing and selling jailbreaking devices, with a history that can be traced back to the original Xbox. While these devices allowed for legitimate purposes like homebrew and Linux, they also made it a breeze to load pirated ROMs onto gaming systems. Unlike other groups, Team Xecuter was open about the piracy aspect of their endeavors and even profited from it.

In October 2020, Bowser's arrest, along with other TX members, sent shockwaves through the console hacking community. The Department of Justice orchestrated the arrest and extradition of Gary "GaryOPA" Bowser in the Dominican Republic, Max "MaxiMiLiEN" Louarn in France (later found in Tanzania but not yet extradited), and pursued Yuanning "100+1" Chen in Shenzen, China. It was the brazen nature of their commercial piracy that seemingly pushed Nintendo and the DOJ into action.

Bowser, after pleading guilty to criminal charges, received a sentence of 40 months in prison and was ordered to pay restitution of $4.5 million in February 2022. Prior to that, he had already agreed to pay Nintendo $10 million in a separate civil suit. Bowser admitted in his guilty plea that despite the "tens of millions of dollars" in sales, he personally only made an estimated $320,000 over seven years. He also acknowledged that Team Xecuter's devices were primarily intended for pirated ROM play. Originally, the DOJ sought a 60-month sentence, relying on Nintendo's claims of market losses due to piracy.

After spending 16 months in pretrial custody and factoring in good behavior, Bowser has been moved from federal prison to the Northwest Detention Center in Washington, awaiting his transfer to Canada. The news of his impending release was first revealed by Bowser himself during an appearance on the NickMoses 05 Gaming Podcast, as reported by TorrentFreak.

During his time behind bars, Nintendo has been garnishing Bowser's federal wages through the DOJ. He disclosed to Nick Moses that he has paid $175 since his detention. Bowser further explained that Nintendo will claim 25 to 30 percent of his gross monthly income, and he has a grace period of up to six months before he must start making payments.

Before his involvement in Team Xecuter, Bowser worked as an accountant and had his own repair businesses and consulting work. In his podcast discussion with Moses, he brainstormed potential future job prospects, including vacation rental development. However, given his age, early 50s, and the fact that he is now a convicted felon, it seems highly unlikely that Bowser will amass over $18.1 million CAD necessary to fulfill his US settlements, especially when considering the median salary in Toronto, where he is expected to reside with family, was $85,500 CAD in 2020.

The Art of War

Sun Tzu

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Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI

David Grann

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