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  • 9 May 2024 10:04 AM | Anonymous

    DNA can be created in a laboratory environment. In fact, there is a business in creating and selling artificially-created DNA. Of course, there are also security concerns. If this technology falls into the wrong hands, all sorts of bad things could happen.

    One company is now offering a service to double-check synthesized DNA. SecureDNA is a new company based in Switzerland that offers a "free, cryptographically secure, and verifiably up-to-date system to screen all DNA synthesis for potential hazards."

    Here is some information about the services that SecureDNA offers as copied from the company's web site:

    "We offer fast, free synthesis screening you can trust.

    "SecureDNA was designed to screen all oligo and gene synthesis orders against an up-to-date list of known and emerging hazards, including pre-generated functional variants.

    "Universal - fast, free, and available to all. Non-profit and free to use, thanks to several generous donations and our efficient exact-match algorithm.

    "The SecureDNA team is composed of academic life scientists and cryptographers, policy analysts, information security specialists, and software engineers from many nations. They came together in 2019 to build a system capable of secure and universal DNA synthesis screening that would be suitable for stepwise or complete implementation by industry stakeholders.

    "We are grateful for support from the Open Philanthropy Project to team members at MIT, Aarhus University, and Northeastern University, and to an anonymous Chinese philanthropist for a donation to team members at Tsinghua University and Shanghai Jiao Tong University.

    "We expect new U.S. regulation to mandate rigorous DNA synthesis screening, alongside potential regulation elsewhere.

    "An engineered pandemic could be far worse than COVID-19. Rigorous screening protects humanity against this risk.

    "The SecureDNA system uses a novel exact-match search algorithm that finds matches to hazards and functional equivalents. It does this by generating the set of all hazard subsequences of a predefined length, choosing some to defend quasi-randomly, then using algorithms to generate millions of functionally equivalent subsequences of each. These are subjected to reverse screening by comparing them to existing sequence databases in order to remove any that match known non-hazardous entries.

    "The reverse screening step virtually eliminates false positives, the inclusion of quasi-random functional variants prevents adversaries from redesigning or mutating the hazard to evade screening, and searching for 30 base pair subsequences makes it very difficult to assemble hazards from oligonucleotides that are too small to be screened using other methods.

    "Because exact-match screening is computationally efficient, we can apply oblivious multi-party cryptography to protect the confidentiality of both orders and the hazard database. Using this scheme, each possible subsequence of an order to be screened is turned into a unique cryptographic hash, and each such hash is then looked up in the database of hazards.

    "This hash requires multiple separate machines to compute, meaning that even an attacker who could eavesdrop on network traffic or compromise a subset of computers in the screening system could not learn the plaintext of a customer order, and not even SecureDNA itself ever receives the customer’s DNA sequences—they remain safely on-premises at a provider or within the hardware of a benchtop synthesizer.

    "Screening for hazardous DNA sequences is provided as a free service by the SecureDNA Foundation, an independent nonprofit foundation in the sense of Article 80 et seqq. Swiss Civil Code with legal seat in Zug, Switzerland. The purpose of the Foundation is to develop, maintain, administrate, distribute, and encourage the universal adoption of software for screening nucleic acid sequences. The Foundation may support any action intended to prevent nucleic acids from being used to cause harm."

    "COVID-19 took over 20 million lives. That's over 10x more than if a nuclear warhead detonated in a major city. And future pandemics could be far worse.

    "Custom DNA is essential to biotechnology - and a healthy, sustainable future. But in the wrong hands, it could do great harm. Only authorized researchers should be able to obtain DNA permitting them to assemble pandemic-capable agents.

    "SecureDNA is a free, non-profit screening platform designed to safeguard DNA synthesis everywhere."

    You can learn a lot more on the SecureDNA web site at: https://securedna.org.


  • 9 May 2024 8:18 AM | Anonymous

    Librarians' nationwide struggle against excessive e-book prices has had little success. Even after short legislative successes, publishers' tight renewal and loan rules keep e-book prices high, limiting libraries' selection of popular titles and frustrating customers. According to Axios, publishers often mandate libraries renew e-book licenses every two years or after 26 lending, which they find unreasonably costly. This limits the quantity of e-books they can lend out, especially bestsellers, which angers and confuses customers. The leading OverDrive-run Libby and hoopla applications, which let readers borrow innumerable e-books and audiobooks for free, are popular. Some libraries believe OverDrive and hoopla contracts are too expensive, so they're deleting the apps, especially hoopla.

    You can read more in an article published in the Axios web site at: https://www.axios.com/2024/05/06/library-librarians-e-books-license-policies.

  • 9 May 2024 8:06 AM | Anonymous

    Every week, Sun Kai engages in a video conference with his mother. He candidly discusses his career, the challenges he encounters as a middle-aged individual, and thoughts that he refrains from sharing with his spouse. Occasionally, his mother will offer a remark, such as reminding him to look after his well-being, given he is her sole offspring. However, primarily, she predominantly engages in the act of listening. That is due to the fact that Sun's mother passed away five years ago. Furthermore, the individual with whom he is conversing is not a human being, but rather a digital clone that he has created of her - a dynamic visual representation capable of engaging in rudimentary dialogues. They have engaged in conversation for several years. Following her untimely demise in 2019, Sun sought to discover a means of perpetuating their connection. Therefore, he sought assistance from a group of professionals at Silicon Intelligence, an artificial intelligence (AI) firm located in Nanjing, China, which he helped establish in 2017. He furnished them with a photograph of her and many audio excerpts from their WeChat dialogues. Although the company primarily concentrated on audio generation, the employees dedicated four months to investigating synthetic methods and successfully created an avatar using the data provided by Sun. Subsequently, he gained the capability to visually perceive and engage in conversation with a virtual representation of his mother through a mobile application.

    "Although my mom didn't appear authentic, I still managed to hear her frequently uttered words: 'Have you consumed a meal?'" 

    Due to the early stage of development of generative AI, the clone of his mother is only capable of uttering a limited number of pre-determined phrases. However, Sun Kai asserts that this is consistent with her natural demeanor. "She would incessantly reiterate those inquiries, causing me profound emotional distress upon hearing them," he states. There is a considerable number of individuals, similar to Sun, who desire to utilize artificial intelligence (AI) in order to conserve, enliven, and engage with deceased loved ones as they grieve and seek solace. In China, the market for these technologies is thriving, with several companies already providing them and a significant number of individuals having already made payments for their use. Indeed, avatars are the most recent embodiment of a cultural practice: throughout history, Chinese individuals have consistently found comfort in seeking counsel from deceased individuals.

    Although not flawless, the technology for avatars is advancing and getting more refined, with an increasing number of tools being offered by various companies. Consequently, the cost of reviving an individual, commonly referred to as achieving "digital immortality" in the Chinese sector, has experienced a substantial decrease. Now, this technology is becoming readily available to the entire population. There is skepticism among certain individuals regarding the therapeutic value of engaging with AI duplicates of deceased individuals, and the legal and ethical consequences of this technology remain uncertain. Currently, the concept continues to evoke discomfort among a significant number of individuals. However, according to Sima Huapeng, the CEO and co-founder of Silicon Intelligence, even if only a small fraction, such as 1%, of the Chinese population is willing to embrace the concept of AI cloning of deceased individuals, it would still represent a significant market.

    You can read more in an article written by Zeyi Yang published in the technologyreview.com web site at: https://bit.ly/3JPXwAK.

  • 7 May 2024 8:27 PM | Anonymous

    Many of the articles in this newsletter refer to “the cloud.” Feedback from several newsletter readers indicates that not everyone understands what a "cloud" is in the Internet world. I thought I would publish this introduction to cloud computing and also explain how cloud computing is used to provide digital images of census records to millions of online genealogists.

    A number of companies provide cloud computing services, including Amazon Web Services (often referred to as "AWS"), Microsoft Azure, Google Cloud Platform, IBM Cloud, Rackspace, pCloud, Red Hat (later acquired by IBM), Backblaze B2 Cloud Storage, and several others. To keep things simple, I will describe Amazon simply because it is the largest cloud services provider and is the one that I use the most. However, I believe the other cloud service providers are all similar in operation. 

    Amazon Web Services and most of the other cloud providers offer a number of services, including file storage, bulk email services, or running programs in the large cloud servers. Again, I will focus on file storage services because that is both the most popular cloud-based service and also the one that genealogists use the most. If I receive enough requests, I will describe other cloud-based services in future articles.

    Amazon? I thought that was an online retailer!

    Yes, this is the same Amazon that is well known as a huge online retailer. Amazon started in business as an online bookstore but has since expanded into selling all sorts of retail products. The company had to build huge data centers in order to handle the workload of its own retail customers. In effect, Amazon first created its own “cloud” for internal company use. Any number of computers in their data centers could be brought into action to “serve” data, applications, or both to Amazon customers. Whenever there was a lot of activity, more of these “servers” could be added to accommodate the volume of applications and data being accessed, moved around, or stored. When the workload was lighter, some of those servers could be returned to their standby status until the next surge of activity or could be redirected to other uses. Systems administrators would monitor the needs and ensure the required servers were active at any given time. The customers accessing the servers never knew which computer in which data center was handling their work; they had no need to know. It was as though their activity moved from the computer in front of them, off to a cloud that would send their information to its destination via routes and patterns that nobody had to know or navigate. All this happened instantaneously and reliably, whether there were a handful of users, hundreds, or thousands.

    Eventually, Amazon's senior management realized that the company had developed facilities and expertise that corporate customers and individuals could also use. A few years ago Amazon capitalized on this idea by creating a new division called Amazon Web Services. The company expanded its data centers and started offering services to corporations and even to private individuals around the world. In effect, Amazon Web Services is in the “rent a server” and “rent some disk space” business. Computing power and storage space is available for both short-term and long-term rentals.

    Amazon now has several data centers in many different locations, including Northern California, Northern Virginia, Oregon, Ohio, Ireland, Tokyo, Sao Paulo (Brazil), and Singapore, Argentina, Australia, Belgium, Bulgaria, Finland, and numerous other locations. The list is expanding as Amazon continues building even more data centers.  You can even view a PowerPoint slide presentation that describes the data centers in detail, created by Amazon Engineer James Hamilton at http://mvdirona.com/jrh/TalksAndPapers/JamesHamilton_AmazonOpenHouse20110607.pdf. That slide show is several years old but the information within it appears to still be correct except that today there are more of these AWS data centers than ever before. 

    Handling the storage and transfer of all that customer data requires Amazon to keep that data safe, as well as to allow users to access it on demand. This is more complex than simply keeping multiple copies in multiple locations; it also entails the maintenance of processes and applications around the world, a function commonly called “redundancy.” Redundancy is achieved as data at any one data center is copied to other data centers in other locations. In case of a major disaster (fire, flood, hurricane, tornado, earthquake, network outages, etc.), any Amazon data center that goes offline quickly has its workload assumed by other Amazon data centers in other parts of the world. In most cases, such outages are invisible to users. 

    Nothing is ever 100% perfect, but Amazon's uptime (availability) has always been better than 99.999999999% of the time, even when entire data centers have been shut down. One example is the Tokyo data center, when a magnitude 9 earthquake hit Japan on April 11, 2011. The Tokyo data center was new at the time and only partially in use. It was knocked out of operation within seconds when the earthquake occurred. However, all data, programs, and web services being supplied by the Tokyo data center were moved to data centers in other parts of the world within minutes. In most cases, end users did not encounter any outages or inconveniences. Most end users remained unaware of any problem in one Amazon data center.

    Anyone can use the servers in Amazon's data centers and pay only for the amount of disk storage, high-speed connections, and processing power consumed. Amazon's customers include large corporations, small businesses, government agencies, and private individuals. In fact, even you can use Amazon's Web services. All you need is a credit card and a few minutes of time to create an account. I have an account and make backups several times a day from my laptop and desktop computers to Amazon's S3 service, as do hundreds of thousands of other computer users all over the world. All data is protected off-site and is available to the person who uploaded it wherever the person might be, at home, at work, or while traveling. You could do the same, should you wish to do so. 

    In many cases, using Amazon's hardware, data centers, and support personnel is more cost-effective than buying one's own hardware and hiring people. The cost savings can be especially important when the need for such services exists for only a few days or weeks. It also works well when a person or a company has modest needs: if you need to store a limited amount of data or need only a single or a few web servers, you probably will find cloud computing to be much cheaper than purchasing one's own servers and building a data center. 

    Amazon also provides very high security for all the data it stores. In fact, most security experts consider data stored on Amazon's cloud servers to be more secure than storing the same data in home computers, where data is vulnerable to attacks from the Internet as well as to visitors.

    Amazon Web Services can be used for almost any Internet-based purpose: web servers, mail servers, disk storage space, backup of data and processes, running almost any sort of application, or even for displaying images of a census. Many well-known services use Amazon's cloud-based services, including Netflix (with thousands of movies stored in Amazon's disk space and available for downloads). See https://aws.amazon.com/solutions/case-studies/netflix/ for more information). Several genealogy societies, including the New England Historic Genealogical Society, use Amazon's web servers and disk storage instead of buying and staffing their own servers and data centers. The financial savings often are significant.

    Do you have one of Amazon’s Echo devices? If so, every time you start by saying, “Alexa…,” you are communication with Amazon Web Services (AWS)! All the computing and ll the data resides within Amazon Web Services. The device in your home or automobile simply serves as a remote terminal that is connected to Amazon Web Services.

    Amazon Web Services (usually called AWS) actually is a collection of several related Internet services. The better-known services include those described below:

    Elastic Cloud Compute (EC2)

    EC2, in its simplest form, is a collection of virtual machines. Instead of running computers in a company's own data center or at an individual's home, the computers are physically located in Amazon's data centers with constant backups being made to servers in other data centers. Each Amazon server can run Linux or Windows, and servers can be linked together. In fact, additional servers can be brought online and made operational within minutes, if needed. When the need goes away, the extra servers can be taken offline, disk drives erased, and the no-longer-needed servers then become available to other Amazon customers.

    Control of the applications, the adding of servers, the reduction in servers, and other system administration tasks can all be controlled by systems administrators of Amazon customers who may be located thousands of miles from the data centers. Physical access to the computers being used is not required. In fact, Amazon's servers typically run in huge rooms with the lights turned off to save electricity.

    In most cases, Amazon employees are not involved in installing or running the application activities; the customers' systems administrators perform administrative chores from their own offices, from their own homes, or even while riding a commuter train. The physical location of people and the physical location of servers both are irrelevant in cloud computing. 

    Elastic Cloud Compute simply means that any application can be “stretched” – like an elastic band – to run on more than one server, even on thousands of servers, as needed. 

    To be sure, adding web servers is not an instantaneous process. Data and programs do have to be copied to the new servers. However, the time required is measured in minutes, not in days or months as would happen with the old-fashioned method of ordering new servers from a manufacturer, waiting for delivery, and then mounting those servers into racks in a privately-owned data center. Using cloud computing, any company can add thousands of web servers within minutes to handle the load.

    This is the elastic in Elastic Cloud Compute: systems administrators can “stretch” computing power to fit the need. As the load decreases in the future, servers can be removed from the application,  thereby “shrinking” the required hardware. Servers are available with different levels of storage and computing power. To measure customers' usage, Amazon refers to each virtual server as an “instance.” Each Micro instance, for example, only comes with 613 megabytes of RAM memory, while Extra Large instances can go up to 15 gigabytes. There are also other configurations for various processing needs.

    Finally, Elastic Cloud Compute (EC2) instances can be deployed across multiple geographic locations of Amazon's data centers. Deploying multiple servers in different locations around the world increases redundancy and reduces latency (the delay before the screen changes after you click the mouse).

    Elastic Load Balance (ELB)

    Load balancing is simply a fancy term meaning to “share the load equally.” If you have 1,000 servers running one application, the systems need to have the load distributed equally amongst all those servers. After all, it wouldn't be productive to have 500 idle servers plus 500 overloaded servers!

    All the larger data centers practice load balancing. Amazon uses its own load balancing, called ELB, to balance the load amongst all its servers being used together on one application, even if those servers are in different data centers around the world. Here again, the elasticity of the operation simply means that administrators can stretch or shrink the workload to keep the distribution in balance.

    Elastic Block Storage (EBS) and Simple Storage Service (S3)

    Block storage is essentially the same thing as disk storage. Amazon uses two versions: Elastic Block Storage (EBS) for operating systems and for storing applications and Simple Storage Service (S3) for storing data. In both cases, you can think of block storage as the equivalent of a hard drive in your computer. It operates in much the same manner.

    Files uploaded to S3 are referred to as objects, which are then stored in buckets. S3 storage is scalable, which means that the only limit on storage is the amount of money you have to pay for it. Amazon has petabytes available (one petabyte is equal to 1,000,000,000 megabytes). S3 storage is automatically backed up within seconds to other data centers in other locations.

    I use Amazon's Simple Storage Service (S3) for making backups of my computers' hard drives. So do millions of other Amazon customers. The 1940 census images also is stored as S3 objects, as is information from Netflix, Dropbox, and other applications. If you have the proper passwords and access, you can retrieve files from S3 storage at any time and at any location. 

    So how can you use Amazon Web Services (AWS)?

    It is easy to sign up for disk storage space on AWS. In fact, AWS even offers free accounts for one year with a limited amount of storage space. Start at https://portal.aws.amazon.com/billing/signup#/start. The free “starter package” can be expanded to a paid service at any time without interruption to data already residing on AWS.

    Another feature that I like is that you only pay for the disk space you use with Amazon’s AWS. Many other disk storage services require you to purchase “blocks of storage space in advance of using it. For instance, if you wish to safely store 627 gigabytes of files, many services will require you to first purchase 1,000 gigabytes (one terabyte) in advance in order to have sufficient space.  Amazon’s AWS is different: if you store 627 gigabytes of files, you only pay for 627 gigabytes of file space. No more.

    You can learn more about AWS’ pricing at https://aws.amazon.com/pricing/ and especially with the AWS Pricing Calculator at https://calculator.aws/#/

    The major downside of using Amazon Web Services is that Amazon only provides the disk space. You will need to obtain additional software to install in your computer to send and retrieve files stored in AWS. In most cases, Amazon doesn’t provide that software. Luckily, many third-party products work work with AWS and prices for these products vary from free to products designed for corporate use that can be very expensive. Most of the products used by individuals have very modest pricing.

    Backup products to be installed in your computer that will communicate with Amazon Web Services include Arq for Windows and Macintosh (my favorite); CloudBerry Backup for AWS for Windows, macOS and Linux; Druva CloudRanger; Duplicati for Windows, Linux, and Macintosh (free but a bit complicated); CyberDuck for Windows and Macintosh, MountainDuck for Windows and Macintosh, Transmit, Forklift2, and many others. Perform a search for any of those products on your favorite search engine to learn more.

    One product serves special mention:  MountainDuck for Windows and Macintosh is a $39 US product that configures Amazon AWS as a remote disk drive in Windows Explorer or Macintosh Finder. You then can use Amazon AWS as a multi-petabyte disk drive connected to your computer. (1 petabyte is one quadrillion bytes.) That should be sufficient for most home users! Again, with Amazon AWS you only pay for the actual amount of disk space you are using. 

    I use MountainDuck on my Macintosh and Windows computers and never worry about running out of disk space! You can learn more at: https://mountainduck.io/.

    Summation

    The various pieces of Amazon Web Services and other cloud computing providers all work together in harmony to provide “computing services on demand.” Whether computer power and storage is needed for a few hours or for a few years, cloud computing services are always available for the work. Pricing is based upon usage: the company or the individual pays only for the amount of computing power and storage space used. In many ways, this is the same operating philosophy as that of your local electric company. Indeed, cloud computing also is sometimes referred to as “utility grade” computing: available whenever you need it and billed only as you actually use it. Unlike your own data center, cloud computing customers never pay for idle servers or for purchasing hardware to pay for future growth.

    If you want to back up a few files, or if you wish to serve census images to millions of genealogists, cloud computing may be the best solution.

    All of this is a rather simplified explanation of cloud computing. Actually, there are more pieces and more buzzwords involved, such as DynamoDB, Route53, Elastic Beanstalk, and other features that would take much longer to detail here. I will suggest those details will only interest systems administrators. I believe I have covered the basics that will be relevant to most end users.

  • 7 May 2024 7:37 PM | Anonymous

    The following is from an article by the Honorable David Seymour, published in the beehive.govt.nz , the official website of the New Zealand Government:

    A new online data dashboard released today as part of the Government’s school attendance action plan makes more timely daily attendance data available to the public and parents, says Associate Education Minister David Seymour.

    The interactive dashboard will be updated once a week to show a national average of how many students are at school on any given day. Visitors can filter the total number of students by region or day to understand shifts in attendance over time.

    “Solving our attendance crisis starts with accepting that there is a nationwide problem,” says Mr Seymour. “More than 330,000 students were not regularly attending school in term 4, 2023, and in recent years the level of absence each term – be it chronic or at any other level – has been higher than before the pandemic.

    “To address the issue we need data, there is a serious need for more accurate, complete, and timely information.

    “High-quality attendance data will help students, parents, and school communities identify absence, talk about the importance of school attendance, and measure positive change over time.

    “The Government has set a target of ensuring 80 per cent of students are present for more than 90 per cent of the term by 2030. To achieve this, I’m saying to schools that they need to aspire to reach an average daily attendance rate above 94 per cent.

    “Ultimately, it’s up to parents to decide what’s appropriate for their child, but I ask parents to consider whether days off for certain reasons are in the best interest of your child. For example, if we look at the data from last term, attendance often reduces on a Friday.

    Cabinet has also agreed to make it mandatory for schools to provide attendance data to the Ministry of Education daily from Term 1 2025, which will be published daily on the website.

    “This is just one way we’re getting a better understanding of the drivers of non-attendance through data. The more we define the problems the more effectively interventions can be targeted.

    “We all need to get behind schools so they can keep a strong focus on teaching and help as many students as possible to become regular attenders.

    “If the truancy crisis isn’t addressed there will be an 80-year long shadow of people who missed out on education when they were young, are less able to work, less able to participate in society, more likely to be on benefits. That's how serious this is.”

    The dashboard can be accessed here from 1pm: https://www.educationcounts.govt.nz/statistics/daily-attendance.

  • 7 May 2024 10:29 AM | Anonymous

    Here is an article that is not about any of the "normal" topics of this newsletter: genealogy, history, current affairs, DNA, and related topics. However,  it describes a service that I use daily and am very satisfied with it, so I decided to share it here. I am not paid by anyone for publishing this article; I am simply a very satisfied Proton Mail customer.

    For years, I have been concerned with online privacy. I now use a very worthwhile tool in that battle. 

    You should definitely check out Proton Mail if you've been looking for a better choice to free email services like Gmail. There is no cost for the service, and it gives you some of the most private email you can find. On top of that, it works with other Proton services, like its VPN, password manager, and even a calendar tool that focuses on privacy.

    On the other hand, I think Proton really shines with its monthly plan. Proton Unlimited costs $13 a month ($10 a month if bought yearly), but the free version of its services already has a lot of features that might make the price worth it. But Proton Unlimited's extra features are well worth the money if you care about keeping your data safe online. You can also subscribe to just some of Proton's services if you don't think the whole deal is right for you.

    What does Proton give you for free?

    When you sign up for Proton's services, the most important features are already included. These include end-to-end privacy, encrypted contact information, and multiple calendars. You'll also get 5GB of free storage on Proton Drive. It's encrypted from end to end, so it's safer than Google Drive. There are also VPN features, but they only work on one device (in the free version). You can connect to VPN sites in five countries that are moderately fast. Along with that, Proton has its own free password generator called Proton Pass. Before you even pay a dime, there are so many great things about Proton that you might not even want to subscribe. But you should.

    Proton VPN is available on all your devices, including Windows, Macs, Chromebooks, Linux, smartphones, and even routers.

    So many ways to keep your email private

    The fact that Proton Mail can handle three custom email addresses is one of my favorite things about Proton Unlimited: You can now change your email address to any other address you like, whether it's a custom site for your business or just a name that sounds better than @protonmail.com. In your Proton account, you can also use up to 15 different email names. This way, you can have separate accounts for things like shopping, social media, and more. You don't have to sign up for and manage different Proton accounts. This is a convenient way to break up your email alerts. You can also send as many messages as you want and make as many groups, labels, and custom filters as you want. The free version of Proton Mail has some limits in these areas.

    It also lets you give out fake email addresses that all point back to your real address. This tool is called "hide-my-email aliases” (details are available at https://proton.me/support/aliases-mail) and it's included with Proton Unlimited. No one will have to know your real address that way. Apple has something similar, but you can only use it if you sign up on an Apple device. A lot more people can use Proton's product because it works on Windows PCs, Macs, iPhones, and Android phones.

    When you sign up for Proton Unlimited, you'll be able to view 25 separate calendars instead of three. You can also share your calendar with other people. The basic Unlimited plan for Proton Drive comes with 500GB of storage. However, the biggest improvement is the larger Proton VPN (more on that later).

    Another great thing about Proton Mail is that your emails are end-to-end encrypted, which means that no one can read them, not even the employees at Proton. This is especially helpful if you give and receive private information.

    You can also just sign up for Proton Mail Plus if you don't need all the benefits that Proton Unlimited has to offer. Every month, this service costs $4.99 and gives you 15GB of space, 10 unique email addresses, and help for one unique email domain. Also, you can have as many files, labels, and filters as you want. However, you won't get the extra features that come with Proton VPN, which is fine for some.

    If you have Unlimited, Proton's VPN is better.

    Proton Unlimited gives you full access to all of Proton's fastest VPN sites in over 90 countries. Proton VPN is one of the best free VPNs you can find. You can also use P2P and BitTorrent, protect yourself with NetShield, use Tor over VPN, get better VPN speeds, set your own DNS if you want to, and connect to LANs.

    When you share files or download them using P2P or BitTorrent, protection helps hide your IP address. Also, NetShield blocks ads and annoying trackers that keep an eye on your browsing past. Access to Tor over VPN also makes web reading even safer, because the Tor browser's features and Proton VPN's network routing work together so well. When you want to really step it up, the private DNS feature lets you protect yourself even more from bad people by giving you your own online connection method.

    Because every site you view is trying to keep track of you in some way, it's important to use a VPN. The free Proton VPN is good, but the paid Proton Unlimited VPN blocks ads and tracks even better without slowing down your home internet too much. I've used other VPNs before, but Proton's speeds were always faster, even on the free version.

    Proton Pass adds more vaults and built-in two-factor authentication.

    Proton Pass lets you store passwords in two vaults, create 10 email aliases, and share your account with up to two other people without Proton Unlimited. But if you pay for Proton Unlimited, you can have up to 50 different passwords, as many hide-my-email aliases as you want, two-factor authentication (2FA) built in, and share with up to ten other people. You can subscribe to Pass Plus for $4.99 a month (or $1.99 a month if you pay for it all at once) if you only want to use Proton Pass.

    New updates, such as tracking the Dark Web

    The most recent update to Proton Unlimited adds real-time tracking of the Dark Web. If any of your personal information shows up on the shadier parts of the internet, you will be notified. A lot of banks offer these types of services, but keeping it somewhere you check every day, like your email, is the best way to make sure you're always on top of your security.

    Once more, you don't have to pay Proton to get something out of this: You can use Proton Mail for free, and it has a lot of features. It also doesn't hide any important privacy settings behind a paywall, so you can use it to protect your privacy without spending any money. If you want even more privacy protection and more tools to keep your digital life in order, though, Proton Unlimited is the way to go.

    To read more about Proton Mail and all of Proton’s other privacy-oriented services (many of which are FREE of charge), look at: https://proton.me/.


  • 7 May 2024 10:18 AM | Anonymous

    An artificial intelligence (AI)-powered search engine has been launched that makes combing through decades of parliamentary records more fruitful for the public, and which could raise understanding of how issues evolve in Singapore’s top law-making body.

    Called Pair Search, the website search.pair.gov.sg is powered by a large language model (LLM) – the same technology behind ChatGPT – and also lets users sift through case judgments from the High Court and Court of Appeal.

    Early results from test users of the prototype search engine have been encouraging, said Open Government Products (OGP) senior software engineer Oh Chin Yang.

    You can read more in an article written by Goh Yan Han and published at: https://tinyurl.com/2p89wms.

  • 7 May 2024 8:14 AM | Anonymous

    Alzheimer’s disease may be inherited more often than previously known, according to a new study that paints a clearer picture of a gene long known to be linked to the common form of dementia.

    The authors of the study, published Monday in the journal Nature Medicine, say that this might even be considered a distinct, inherited form of the disease and that different approaches to testing and treatment may be needed.

    Among people diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, researchers recognize familial forms of the disease and sporadic cases. Most cases are thought to be sporadic, which develop later in life. Familial forms, caused by mutations in any of three genes, tend to strike earlier and are known to be rare, accounting for about 2% of all Alzheimer’s diagnoses, or about 1 in 50 cases.

    Under the new paradigm, 1 in 6 cases of Alzheimer’s would be considered to be inherited, or familial.

    This shifting appreciation of inherited risk, researchers say, is due to a better understanding of the role of a fourth gene that carries the blueprints to make a lipid-carrying protein called apolipoprotein E, known as APOE. APOE ferries cholesterol throughout the body and brain and is thought to play a role in depositing or sweeping away sticky beta amyloid plaques, which are one hallmark of Alzheimer’s.

    You can learn a lot more in an article by Brenda Goodman published in the CNN web site at: https://www.cnn.com/2024/05/06/health/alzheimers-apoe4-gene-risk/index.html.

  • 6 May 2024 6:36 PM | Anonymous

    “Beer is living proof that God loves us and wants to see us happy.” – Benjamin Franklin

    “Wine is necessary for life.” – Thomas Jefferson

    “My manner of living is plain…a glass of wine and a bit of mutton.” – George Washington

    According to many historians, the American Revolution was built on a foundation of booze. Our ancestors imbibed frequently, often every day. It is estimated that there were more taverns per capita than any other business in colonial America. In fact, the Colonial Williamsburg web site says:

    Colonial Americans, at least many of them, believed alcohol could cure the sick, strengthen the weak, enliven the aged, and generally make the world a better place. They tippled, toasted, sipped, slurped, quaffed, and guzzled from dawn to dark.

    Many started the day with a pick-me-up and ended it with a put-me-down. Between those liquid milestones, they also might enjoy a midmorning whistle wetter, a luncheon libation, an afternoon accompaniment, and a supper snort. If circumstances allowed, they could ease the day with several rounds at a tavern.

    Alcohol lubricated such social events as christenings, weddings, funerals, trials, and election-day gatherings, where aspiring candidates tempted voters with free drinks. Craftsmen drank at work, as did hired hands in the fields, shoppers in stores, sailors at sea, and soldiers in camp. Then, as now, college students enjoyed malted beverages, which explains why Harvard had its own brewery. In 1639, when the school did not supply sufficient beer, President Nathaniel Eaton lost his job.

    You can read the rest of the Colonial Williamsburg auricle at: https://research.colonialwilliamsburg.org/Foundation/journal/Holiday07/drink.cfm

    In colonial times, Americans probably drank more alcohol that in any other era, certainly more than the national average today. In colonial America it is estimated that the average American drank eight ounces of alcohol a day. Americans drank beer and cider with breakfast; rum and wine with dinner; claret, ratafias (a fortified wine or a fruit-based beverage), creams, punches, and other concoctions in the evening.

    The first settlers brought with them the English tradition of beer drinking. Even during the famous 1620 voyage of Pilgrims on board the Mayflower, beer saved the voyage. The water aboard ship reportedly become brackish and potentially deadly while the beer on board remained drinkable. The latter part of the voyage kept sailors and passengers alike happy with a good supply of beer. We tend to think of the Pilgrims as sober-faced, upright people who avoided fun at all times, but they obviously packed a lot of beer on board before embarking on a lengthy trip aboard the very crowded 110-foot Mayflower.

    The Pilgrims were planning to go to Virginia but ended up in Massachusetts, landing on a cold, snowy, wind-blown coast on December 19, 1620. The change in plans apparently was caused by the lack of water and the dwindling supply of beer on board the ship. Captain Christopher Jones recognized the need to preserve the dwindling stocks for his sailors on the return journey (which would be far too dangerous to undertake until the following spring), and so the passengers were encouraged to land near the top of Cape Cod. Jones knew that the fresh water found in Massachusetts would be insufficient for the return voyage. First, the water might go bad on the return voyage; secondly, he and his sailors were not accustomed to drinking water. 

    These instructions to keep beer on board the Mayflower for the return trip did not go down well with the Pilgrims. William Bradford complained that he and his companions "were hastened ashore and made to drink water, that the seamen might have the more beer." Pilgrim William Wood complained that he did not dare drink the water in the wilderness, preferring beer. He wrote his opinion of fresh water: "I dare not prefere it before good beere." (See Wellsprings: A Natural History of Bottled Spring Waters by Frank Chapelle). 

    The Pilgrims in Massachusetts were not the first Europeans in North America to enjoy alcohol. The Dutch also had a functioning brewery in what is now Lower Manhattan by 1613, beating the Mayflower immigrants, who would not have anything resembling a formal brewhouse until at least 1621. Even before that, the Roanoke colony tried brewing with corn as early as 1584 (obviously before going missing).

    A quick Google search finds that our founding fathers were heavily involved with alcohol, sometimes as brewers and distillers, sometimes as importers and smugglers, and almost always as consumers:

    George Washington owned a whiskey distillery: http://www.mountvernon.org/the-estate-gardens/distillery/

    Thomas Jefferson imported thousands of bottles of wine: https://www.monticello.org/site/research-and-collections/wine 

    John Hancock smuggled hundreds of barrels of strong Portuguese Madeira into the colonies—an act that would cause his ship to be seized and lead to a riot and the burning of a British customs boat on Boston Common: http://www.john-hancock-heritage.com/the-liberty-affair/

    While I cannot verify the authenticity of this quote, one claimed common saying from the 1700s says, “If I take a settler after my coffee, a cooler at nine, a bracer at ten, a whetter at eleven, and two or three stiffeners during the forenoon, who has right to complain?”

    Please pass that bottle, will you?


  • 6 May 2024 12:08 PM | Anonymous

    As a parent, finding books for your children to read either on their own or with you can be an expensive undertaking. In addition to the price of books (for all ages) going up year after year, it can also be an increasingly difficult proposition to find a place to put them all. That's why it's good news for parents everywhere that Google is just giving away digital kids' books.

    Wait, how many books?

    Google dropped the news today that it had made over 300 non-fiction children's books available on its Google Play Books platform. What's even more of a pleasant surprise is that all of these titles will have the option to read and listen at the same time. Reading a book while listening to it is a tried and tested method of assisting children with their reading comprehension and decoding skills.

    In addition to this massive book drop, Google also announced that it had put thousands of audiobook previews on its YouTube channel. Although these previews were already available on the Android and iOS mobile apps, I have a feeling that more people are browsing YouTube than are browsing Google Play Books. It's also worth noting that when it comes to audio books, the narration is just as important as the plot, so having a preview is a vital part of making an informed purchase.

    You can read a lot more about all this at: https://bit.ly/3UNWxHu.

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