Hacker attacks silence Twitter, slow Facebook

By Alexei Oreskovic-Thu Aug 6, 2009 6:23pm EDT-Reuters.com

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - Twitter and Facebook said they suffered service problems from hacker attacks on Thursday, raising speculation of a coordinated campaign against the world's most popular online social networks.

Twitter, the popular micro-blogging service, was knocked down by a malicious attack that prevented people from accessing its website for several hours on Thursday.

Facebook members saw delays logging in and posting to their online profiles, which the social networking site said was related to an "apparent distributed denial of service attack."

Facebook was working with Twitter and Internet search company Google Inc to investigate further, said a person familiar with Facebook but who was not authorized to speak to the press.

Speculation swirled on the Internet that other social networking sites had also come under attack, after relatively lesser-known site LiveJournal said it too had been targeted by hackers on Thursday. But those rumors could not be confirmed.

The incidents follow a wave of similar cyber attacks in July that disrupted access to several high-profile U.S. and South Korean websites, including the White House site. South Korea's spy agency said at the time that North Korea might have been behind the attacks.

Twitter co-founder Biz Stone said on Twitter's blog that the site was the victim of a denial-of-service attack, a technique in which hackers overwhelm a website's servers with communications requests.

"We are defending against this attack now and will continue to update our status blog as we continue to defend and later investigate," Stone wrote.

A separate Twitter status Web page said later on Thursday that the site was back up, but that Twitter was continuing to recover from the attack.

Google said in an emailed statement that it was in contact with some non-Google sites that were impacted by Thursday's attacks to help investigate.

"Google systems prevented substantive impact to our services," the statement said.


Motives for denial-of-service attacks range from political to rabble-rousing to extortion, with criminal groups increasingly threatening to hobble popular websites that don't pay demanded fees, according to security experts.

Twitter's newfound fame makes it an easy target for hackers, said Steve Gibson, the president of Internet security research firm Gibson Research Corp.

Twitter, which lets users publish short, 140-character messages to groups of online "followers," is one of the fastest-growing Internet companies. Continued...

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Stephen Wolfram Reveals Radical New Formula for Web Search

The home page is nearly blank. At the center, just below a colorful logo, you’ll find an empty data field. Type in a phrase, hit Return, and knowledge appears.

No, it’s not Google. It’s Wolfram|Alpha, named after its creator, Stephen Wolfram, a 49-year-old former particle physics prodigy who became bewitched by the potential of computers. He invented a powerful computational software program (Mathematica), built a company around it (Wolfram Research), and wrote a massive book (A New Kind of Science) that claims to redefine the universe itself in terms of computation.

So when Wolfram asked me, “Do you want a sneak preview of my most ambitious and complex project yet?” he had me at “Do.”

The product of four years of development, Alpha is an engine for answers. Its ambition is to delve into “all the knowledge in the world,” Wolfram says, to find and calculate information. Though Alpha’s interface evokes Google ― whose co-founder Sergey Brin once spent a summer interning for Wolfram ― it’s more like the anti-Google.

Type in a query for a statistic, a profile of a country or company, the average airspeed of a sparrow ― and instead of a series of results that may or may not provide the answer you’re looking for, you get a mini dossier on the subject compiled in real time that, ideally, nails the exact thing you want to know. It’s like having a squad of Cambridge mathematicians and CIA analysts inside your browser.

Type in “Pluto” and Alpha calculates the dwarf planet’s distance from Earth at that very instant. Bang out a series of letters like “ACTCGTC” and Alpha recognizes it as genetic code and tells you what strand of DNA that particular gene lives on and what we know about it. Wolfram has licensed ― or created ― a whole library of databases and massaged them so the information is pliable. (To date, they include Wikipedia, the US Census, and “about nine-tenths of what you’d see on the main shelves of a reference library,” he says.) Combined with the near-­magical abilities of Mathematica, Alpha is a powerful computational engine that can effortlessly answer queries that no one has asked of a search engine before.

Consider a question like “How many Nobel Prize winners were born under a full moon?” Google would find the answer only if someone had previously gone through the whole list, matched the birthplace of each laureate with a table of lunar phases, and posted the results. Wolfram says his engine would have no problem doing this on the fly. “Alpha makes it easy for the typical person to answer anything quantitatively,” he asserts.

Wolfram needs some prodding before he talks about the business model. “Plan A is to get this out,” he says. “Maybe it will be a giant piece of philanthropy.” On the other hand, he adds, “we’re happy to license this.” He thinks Alpha would be welcome inside applications, on mobile devices, and in a generalized search engine. Wolfram has already shown Alpha to former intern Brin and thinks that it could make sense to have the engine running behind the scenes in Google searches.

Another possible source of revenue: licensing data­bases. In corralling information for Alpha, Wolfram has frequently been disappointed in the quality of the source material, and he plans to create hundreds of new databases in areas ranging from nutrition to tidal tables.

All of this is only stage one of the project, says Wolfram, who proceeds to get to the “crazy stuff.” Uh, like what? “We’ll actually be able to simulate in real time based on descriptions. The next question is, can we invent things on the fly, create things that have never been created before, in real time?”

This venture is so edgy that even the hyperbolically confident Wolfram is hedging a bit. “There are many things that could go horribly wrong,” he says. Indeed, weeks before its planned launch, the product is still rough, lacking both integrated natural language processing and sufficient data to deliver the Information Singularity that Wolfram envisions. But once Alpha tells you how many Nobel Prize winners were born under a full moon, you’ll know that we’ve moved one step up the evolutionary ladder of knowledge.

Photo: Physicist Stephen Wolfram poses in his home office. Associated Press/Michael Dwyer

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Wolfram Alpha is making kids dumber?

While that statement is a bit premature, I guarantee you will hear a chorus of teachers belching that from their 1970’s era podiums in the coming months. One of the coolest features of Wolfram|Alpha, being able to do annoying calculus problems at the drop of a hat, is going to mean cheating galore. This point occurred to me immediately upon using W|A, and I tweeted that its usefulness would be much greater for high school students, but this was just brought to my attention again by an article in the Washington Examiner. Computational physics teacher John Dell makes the following point:

“It no longer makes a lot of sense to spend lots of time teaching students to perform calculations that machines can do better.”

If you ask me, it never has made much sense. Physics tests where I couldn’t use my graphing calculator were the dumbest things to me. I imagine very few physicists these days do any serious calculations without the aid of a computer. Why spend three hours chugging through something that a computer can give an answer to in 3 seconds. It’s just dumb.

On the other hand, learning calculus is more than just coming up with an answer. It’s easy to do simple calculus, any kid with pre-algebra knowledge can do it as long as they know what variables, fractions, and exponents are. But that will only get you so far.

At the very simplest level, you might say the point of learning something is being able to apply it to a future problem. Calculus does you no good if you never learn what sort of problems you can apply it to. Stuff that you learn that has no application is trivia, and while that may be useful for winning Jeopardy, it’s not much help in real life outside of cocktail parties. Most kids feel that the math they learn after ‘rithmetic is trivia.

What if instead of a class of children who give up learning higher math because of brain bending pages of complex equations, you had a class of children who grew up knowing how to ask the right questions of software to solve real world problems? I think we need to step back and ask ourselves if what we’re teaching children we’re teaching them just because it’s somebody’s notion of “what kids ought to know” or if it is applicable to real problems. Teaching trivia has a non-trivial effect.

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13 Hot Women Vampires

Selene in Underworld (2003) and Underworld: Evolution (2006)

The British beauty sported a smoking-hot bodysuit to play vampire warrior Selene. As an added bonus, she ended up marrying the film's director, Len Wiseman.

Jessica on True Blood (2008-present)
She cries blood and is horribly embarrassed by her new fangs, but tender sweet young thing Jessica — all naïveté, strawberry blonde hair, and wide eyes — blends ingénue and vamp into one killer combo.

Victoria in Twilight (2008)
Maybe revenge is a dish best served hot. Victoria may be plotting against Bella and Edward (Edward killed her partner in vamp crime), but Lefevre makes villainhood seem pretty darn appealing. Too bad she's been replaced by Bryce Dallas Howard for the third Twi-flick, Eclipse.

Danica Talos in Blade: Trinity (2004)
Posey made a rare departure from indie dramas to play Danica Talos, a vampire who helped free an imprisoned Dracula, in the third Blade film. As always, Posey looked pretty fierce and fashionable, even when undead.

Solina in Dracula 2000 (2000)

Just one of a trio of sex-starved vampirettes, Solina busted open Van Helsing's vault, hijacked a plane, and got speared against a wall. We mostly remember how hot she looked with fangs.

Darla on Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1997-2003) and Angel (1999-2004)

Angel's sire had an appetite for carnage and sex, and could rock a corset, a schoolgirl uniform, a slinky red dress, or [SPOILER ALERT] maternity wear. A man could do worse

Santanico Pandemonium in From Dusk Till
Dawn (1996)
The best part of this Quentin Tarantino-Robert Rodriquez tag-team? Hayek slinking on stage with a boa constrictor wrapped around her bikini'd body, which is the perfect set-up for the ''Holy crap, this is a VAMPIRE movie'' moment.

Star in The Lost Boys (1987)

Sexy, stylized, and (half) undead, Star was sexy enough to make a guy go head-to-head with a vampire biker gang to win her cold heart.

Akasha in Queen of the Damned (2002)

Released just six months after the R&B singer and actress died at age 22, this Anne Rice adaptation featured Aaliyah as the stunningly beautiful vampire queen Akasha.

Drusilla on Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1997-2003) and Angel (1999-2004)
Because some men, other than Spike and Angelus, like the crazy chicks. Whether behaving like a wispy little girl or a coldhearted killer (she used her fingernail!), Landau's Dru was always hypnotic.

Countess in Once Bitten (1985)

The only thing this 400-year-old vampire liked more than a plunging neckline is a virgin, whose blood she must drink to keep her eternal beauty. Enter Jim Carrey's Mark Kendall. ''I haven't had anything this pure since the Vienna Boys Choir hit town.''

Sonja in Underworld: Rise of the Lycans (2009)

Fans might have been skeptical that Mitra could sub in for Kate Beckinsale as the Underworld films' leading badass lady-vamp, but she held her own, particularly with some rather convincing swordplay. In the rain.

Esme in Twilight (2008)

We have a soft spot for hot moms, and Esme Cullen is way at the top of the list — sure, she's physically frozen in the body of a 26-year-old, which helps, but she's also devoted and thoughtful, and Reaser's easy warmth comes through despite the ostensible icy pallor.
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