Facebook launches the new version of the Atlas advertising platform

Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg

Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg

Facebook yesterday officially unveiled the new version of Atlas, the advertising platform that, according to the information provided, was completely renovated to meet the challenges of today’s marketing. The goal is to reach people on various devices and bridge the gap between online impression and offline purchases.

Atlas Solutions is a company that belonged to Microsoft and was purchased in February 2013 for around $100 million, becoming a subsidiary of Facebook. The social network founded and led by Mark Zuckerberg (photo ©Guillaume Paumier) explained the operation with the fact that today online marketing is much more complex than just a few years ago and Atlas Solutions is a leader in the management of marketing campaigns and their measure for marketers and agencies.

The point is that Facebook wants to offer its advertisers the ability to manage their advertising campaigns targeting them, connecting to the users’ interests. In the past, targeted advertising typically relied on cookies for tracking but this method is less and less complete and accurate. The problem is especially in mobile devices, used by a bigger and bigger share of users to surf Facebook and other sites.

The new Atlas should offer advertising connected to the tracking of user activity, especially on Facebook. Quite simply, if you Like a page, in the past you already might’ve happened to see advertising related to products of that type. In the future, this concept will be even more extensive, not only on Facebook.

Instagram, bought by Facebook in April 2012, is now included among the sites that will use the new Atlas platform. Other partners have already signed agreements and surely more will come. Facebook’s goal is to challenge Google, the leader in online advertising.

In all of this the issue of privacy can’t be ignored. Facebook stated that users will always remain anonymous in the statistics provided to advertisers. Can we trust it? The lack of transparency often shown in the past by the social network, leading to controversy, urges caution. Meanwhile, let’s be aware of the fact that what we do on the Internet in general is anything but private.

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Diamond Dogs by Alastair Reynolds

Book containing Diamond Dogs and Turquoise Days by Alastair Reynolds

Book containing Diamond Dogs and Turquoise Days by Alastair Reynolds

The novella “Diamond Dogs” by Alastair Reynolds was published for the first time in 2001.

In Chasm City, Richard Swift is contacted by his old friend Childe Roland, who was given up for dead for over a century and a half. He hasn’t even have time to recover from the surprise that Roland proposes him to be part of a group that wants to explore an artificial alien structure, the Blood Spire a mysterious tower found on a distant planet.

Richard meets the other members of the group, among which is his ex-wife Celestine. However, he he doesn’t remember her because he had the memories of the period of their marriage blocked. They travel to the planet where the structure is located and around it there are the remains of other explorers. The Spire contains a series of rooms and in each there is a test that requires an answer to enter the next room. A wrong answer will cause a violent reaction from the structure.

“Diamond Dogs” is part of Alastair Reynolds’ “Revelation Space” fictional universe but is a standalone story and doesn’t need to have read other stories in this series. It’s set at the end of Chasm City’s golden age and contains references to the Sylveste family, the protagonist of the novel “Revelation Space“.

This novella is full of references to books, music and movies. The title is an album by David Bowie. The character of Childe Roland is a reference to Robert Browning’s poem “Childe Roland to the Dark Tower came” that also inspired Stephen King. The character’s obsession is about the Blood Spire instead of the Dark Tower.

The theme of “Diamond Dogs” is a classic not only of science fiction. Alastair Reynolds includes tributes to works in which the protagonists must pass various dangerous tests: the novel “Rogue Moon” by Algis Budrys and the movies “Cube” and “Raiders of the Lost Ark”.

In this case, the tests happen in a labyrinth that is a structure built by aliens for mysterious reasons and Roland Childe assembles a group of people to be able to pass all tests. The story is told in first person from the point of view of Richard Swift, an old friend of Roland who can never resist his challenges and get convinced to be part of this new adventure.

The other members of the team are well developed thanks to Richard Swift’s descriptions as well as the tale of their attempt to penetrate into the depths of the Blood Spire. This alien structure should be included among the protagonists as well: its big reactions are the consequences of the wrong answers to the test but there are others that are more subtle and raise the suspecion that in some ways it may even be alive.

The answers to the test, which are mathematical, are generally determined by Celestine, who has augmented her skills thanks to the Pattern Jugglers, aliens who live in the seas of various planets. The tension increases during the course of the story because the tests become more and more complex and the errors cause more and more violent reactions.

The members of Roland Childe’s team are forced to accept solutions that get more and more extreme in order to survive within the Blood Spire. Roland Childe, who already knew what to expect, secured the services of Dr. Trintignant, notorious for having conducted hideous cybernetic experiments on humans and himself now more machine than man.

In the end, the most important part of “Diamond Dogs” is in the reactions of the various characters to the challenge of the Blood Spire’s tests and the constant danger that it represents. They have their personal reasons for being there and they affect the way they deal with the situations that arise during the expedition in the structure. For some of them, the obsession is such as to encourage them to go ahead anyway, for others the price to pay can become too high.

There are other mysteries, information not revealed by Roland Childe and what Richard Swift discovers is disturbing. In the background, the Revelation Space fictional universe, in particular Yellowstone. Interstellar trips last many years and in the meantime in the system the team left from a lot of things can happen.

In my opinion, “Rogue Moon” remains the best for the characters development and the tension in the story. I think “Diamond Dogs” is still good from these points of view. It’s a novella as defined today but it’s not much shorter than Algis Budrys’ novel. I recommend it especially to those who enjoyed the Revelation Space fictional universe and those who like this kind of stories.

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The GOCE satellite shows the gravity dip in Antarctica due to the ice melting

Areas in West Antarctica where the force of gravity dips following ice melt (Image DGFI/Planetary Visions)

Areas in West Antarctica where the force of gravity dips following ice melt (Image DGFI/Planetary Visions)

The mission of ESA’s GOCE (Gravity Field and Steady-State Ocean Circulation Explorer) satellite ended last year but as always in these cases the data it gathered keep on being analyzed. In this case, the very accurate measurements of gravity variations on the surface of the Earth have also allowed to analyze the melting of ice in Antarctica in recent years.

The GOCE satellite was launched on March 17, 2009 with the aim to create the most accurate gravitational map of the Earth by measuring the variations in the gravitational field of the planet on its entire surface. GOCE fell down into the atmosphere on November 11, 2013 after the depletion of its fuel, almost a year after completing its original mission.

Three years ago, ESA’s scientists had created a geoid, a map of the Earth’s gravity, that was very accurate. Subsequently, the map was improved thanks to the further data but from the beginning one of the purposes of the mission was also to estimate the thickness of the polar ice caps.

Recently, the measurements taken by GOCE between November 2009 and June 2012 were analyzed by scientists rom the German Geodetic Research Institute, Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands, the Jet Propulsion Lab in USA and the Technical University of Munich in Germany. The results were even more precise than expected.

To make an exhaustive analysis, the data collected by GOCE were put together with those obtained from another satellite, GRACE (Gravity Recovery And Climate Experiment), a joint mission of NASA and the German Aerospace Center. GRACE was launched on March 17, 2002 with similar aims as GOCE although coarser precision.

GRACE and GOCE’s measurements show a decrease in the force of gravity in various areas of Antarctica over the years following the melting of the ice. The analyzes of the data allowed to understand the effects of this phenomenon in the various areas of Antarctica. A comprehensive analysis is also possible using the data provided by the satellite CryoSat-2, which is specifically intended to keep under observation the polar ice caps.

This analysis of data collected by GOCE and the inclusion of data collected by GRACE are an innovative way to analyze the changes taking place in Antarctica. It allows to study this phenomenon in more detail, thus getting more information on the evolution of the climate.

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The MAVEN and Mangalyaan space probes have sent their first images from Mars

Image of the Mars atmosphere taken by MAVEN's IUVS instrument (Image Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics, University of Colorado; NASA)

Image of the Mars atmosphere taken by MAVEN’s IUVS instrument (Image Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics, University of Colorado; NASA)

During the last week, two spacecraft successfully entered the planet Mars orbit, the American MAVEN and the Indian MOM, informally known as Mangalyaan. Both NASA and ISRO, the Indian Space Agency which is now starting being well known in the world, immediately started test operations of their probes, which sent the first images of the red planet.

A few hours after its arrival, the MAVEN probe’s Ultraviolet Imaging Spectrograph (IUVS) instrument obtained false-color images. The composition created shows Mars from an altitude of 36,500 km (almost 22,700 miles) in three different ultraviolet wavelengths bands.

In blue you can see the ultraviolet light from the Sun spread by atomic hydrogen gas in an extended cloud that reaches thousands of kilometers above Mars surface. In green you can see a different ultraviolet wavelength that is mostly sunlight reflected by atomic oxygen, showing a smaller cloud composed of oxygen. In red you can see the ultraviolet light reflected from the surface of the planet: the brightest part on the bottom right is light reflected from the polar ice or clouds.

The oxygen in the gaseous state is held near the surface by Mars gravity while the hydrogen, which is lighter, is present at higher altitudes and also extends beyond the limits of the image. The two gases are produced from water and carbon dioxide that are broken in these two elements.

About a day after it arrived in Mars orbit, MOM sent a picture taken with its Mars Colour Camera (MCC) instrument, a camera that takes pictures in the visual spectrum. It was taken from an altitude of about 7,300 km (about 4,300 miles) with a spatial resolution of 376 meters.

Subsequently, MOM has already taken more, better, pictures but its MCC isn’t meant to win photo contests but to provide a context for the other instruments of the probe. At ISRO mission control center it’s essential to have these images to understand the real size and other characteristics of what they will see through other instruments.

This is just the beginning of the MAVEN and MOM missions so both spacecraft will send more pictures that will be spectacular and at the same time interesting from the scientific point of view. Also for the activities of other space probes and the rovers, the next months on Mars will be really intense!

Image of Mars surface taken by the Mangalyaan, aka MOM, space probe (Image courtesy ISRO. All rights reserved)

Image of Mars surface taken by the Mangalyaan, aka MOM, space probe (Image courtesy ISRO. All rights reserved)

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The arrival of three new astronauts on the International Space Station completes the Expedition 41 crew

Barry Wilmore, Alexander Samokutyaev and Yelena Serova during a press conference before the launch (Photo NASA/Aubrey Gemignani)

Barry Wilmore, Alexander Samokutyaev and Yelena Serova during a press conference before the launch (Photo NASA/Aubrey Gemignani)

A few hours ago the Soyuz TMA-14M spacecraft blasted off from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan and after less than six hours reached the International Space Station carrying three new crew members. The Soyuz has used the fast path now normally used. There was a problem with the spacecraft’s solar panels, that didn’t deploy correctly when it reached orbit, but it was solved after docking with the Station so there will be no repercussions.

The three new crew members of the International Space Station, who complete the Expedition 41 crew, are:

Aleksandr Mikhailovich Samokutyayev. Born on March 13, 1970 in Penza, in the then USSR, now Russia, he graduated from the Gagarin Air Force Academy and since 2000 served at the Gagarin Cosmonauts Training Center. After being assigned to the backup crew of Expedition 25 in 2008 and as backup commander of the Soyuz TMA-18 spacecraft in 2010, he completed his first mission to the International Space Station in 2011, initially as part of Expedition 27 and then Expedition 28. During that mission, he performed a spacewalk. He’s married and has one daughter.

Yelena Olegovna Serova. Born on April 22, 1976 in Primorsky Krai, in the then USSR, now Russia, she earned a degree in engineering at the Aerospace Faculty of the Moscow Aviation Institute in 2001 and in economy at the Moscow State Academy of Instrument Engineering in 2003. After working as an engineer at RSC Energia and the Mission Control Center in Moscow, in 2006 she was selected as a cosmonaut. This is her first space mission and she’s the first woman cosmonaut on the International Space Station. She’s married to cosmonaut Mark Serov and they have a daughter.

Barry Eugene “Butch” Wilmore. Born on December 29, 1962 in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, USA, he earned e bachelor and a master in electrical engineering at Tennessee Technological University and a master in aviation systems from the University of Tennessee. He joined the U.S. Navy and graduated from the United States Naval Test Pilot School (USNTPS). As a pilot, he accumulated more than 6,200 flight hours in various aircraft. In 2000 he was selected by NASA as a pilot. He worked on various propulsion systems, including those of the Space Shuttle, and various support teams for other astronauts. He was part of the crew of the Space Shuttle Atlantis in the STS-129 mission in 2009, which also docked with the International Space Station. He’s married and has two daughters.

According to schedule, the new crew members will return to Earth in March 2015. On the International Space Station, they’ll carry out routine maintenance, a series of scientific experiments and manage the arrival and departure of various spacecraft.

The Soyuz TMA-14M spacecraft blasting off (Photo NASA/Joel Kowsky)

The Soyuz TMA-14M spacecraft blasting off (Photo NASA/Joel Kowsky)

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Darwin’s Children by Greg Bear

Darwin's Children by Greg Bear

Darwin’s Children by Greg Bear

The novel “Darwin’s Children” by Greg Bear was published for the first time in 2003. It’s the sequel to “Darwin’s Radio“.

Mitch Rafelson and his wife Kaye Lang live underground with their daughter Stella Nova to prevent her from being interned in a special school opened fro the children born after the activation of a endovirus which led to an evolutionary leap. Very few cases of diseases transmitted from the children to the common homo sapiens caused a psychosis, skillfully exploited by many governments to establish a police state.

In the USA, democracy no longer exists and Washington is a land of tough power struggles also affected by occasional terrorist attacks. With a forceful action, it’s decided to capture Stella Nova and frame Mitch to put him in jail. Kaye can only resume her biological research to show that the new children are the future of humanity hoping that she could one day reunite with her husband and daughter.

“Darwin’s Children” picks up the story started in “Darwin’s Radio” a few years later. In many ways, the structure is the same as the first novel, which focuses mainly on Kaye Lang and Mitch Rafelson with the addition of their daughter Stella Nova. Greg Bear further expands the topic of biological networks, giving continuity to the story from a scientific point of view. For these reasons, you have better read the first novel first in order to fully understand the development of the characters in a story that has been going on for many years and contains a lot of scientific information.

Greg Bear focuses on what happens in the USA a few years after the birth of the new children. Things are getting worse and worse in a country where the majority of the population agrees to be substantially deprived of their freedom in exchange for an alleged protection from the potential dangers of infection caused by those children.

In fact, there are very few cases of people who contracted the virus from the children but they’re enough to create paranoia and fear, fed by those who want to exploit the situation to strengthen their power. The situation shows parallels with the real USA post-September 11 and arrives to a potential future in which the American democracy doesn’t really exist anymore.

The humanity shown in “Darwin’s Children” is often cowardly, unable to accept the new children so much as to accept a police state in order to keep them segregated. Faced with such a situation, the minority who’d like the children to be accepted is powerless.

Greg Bear puts together a story in which the scientific component is crucial with political and social elements. Kaye Lang and Mitch Rafelson are further developed, in this case especially in their family dimension, along with their daughter Stella Nova. In this second novel, there are many other characters but the three protagonists are definitely the best developed ones.

These characters live many dramatic moments that lead them to have emotions even extreme. Stella Nova’s story allows Greg Bear to see the new children’s point of view, especially when they reach adolescence, to better understand the characteristics of this new human species. This is in my opinion the best part of the novel.

The main problem of “Darwin’s Children” in my opinion is that Greg Bear tries to expand too much the biological networks theme. In “Darwin’s Radio” the scientific speculation was complex but ended up focusing on the biological mechanisms connected to evolution. Instead, in the second novel the author not only expands this theme but also includes a different type of biological network in subplots that sometimes seem to go nowhere.

I think that especially Kaye Lang’s personal story ends up becoming a burden rather than an enrichment for the novel. Her experience of a different kind of biological network becomes almost mystical even though she’s a scientist so she tries to analyze it in a rational manner. Unfortunately, in a long novel that due to its characteristics tends to have a slow pace, this part seemed to me really not very useful.

For these reasons, “Darwin’s Children” is a quite controversial novel and it doesn’t help that its tones are mostly dark. In my opinion, its merits outweigh its flaws so it’s till overall a good novel even if not among the best by Greg Bear. If you liked “Darwin’s Radio” I think it’s worth reading this sequel as well.

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