The V&A Digital Design Weekend


The LDF Digital Design Weekend is a weekend of events celebrating collaborations in digital art, design and science, coinciding with the London Design Festival at the V&A. As part of this year’s programme, ICN Gallery and the Japan Foundation will present Magnetic Field Record by designer Kouichi Okamoto, a suspended device recording and visualising the earth’s magnetic and gravitational forces into drawings.

A unique collaboration between the world’s leading museum of art and design and London’s foremost contemporary design festival and now in it’s fourth year, the Digital Design Weekend explores and promotes contemporary digital art and design and presents cutting edge work and research projects, giving audiences the opportunity to meet the artists, designers and researchers and find out more about processes while engaging in dialogue, debate and the creation of culture.

The Digital Design Weekend transforms the V&A into one big workshop; studios and galleries become makerspaces, tinkerspaces or labs, where visitors come together with artists and designers to discuss and think about objects, making and working collaboratively.


This year participants and audiences can explore digital value, cultural value and ‘making’ value, so we are inviting everyone to join in a weekend of collaborating, networking, sharing knowledge, tools, practice and of course playing! Encouraging experimentation they want to get people involved with design and making through provocative and surprising displays and workshops.

The programme includes many exciting projects such as Heidi Hinder’s Money No Object, which explores a new significance for material and physical currencies in an increasingly immaterial digital world, one where smart payment transactions are imperceptible, but human emotions, creativity and culture retain a value that money can’t buy. Or, Knyttan, sharing tools for pioneering the democratisation of manufacturing, the Restart Project helping people understand the impact of electronic waste and how to negate it and Flora Bowden and Dan Lockton’s Drawing Energy & Powerchord that explores energy use and everyday life, investigating and communicating data in meaningful ways.

London Design Festival is coming back to the V&A soon and with the annual Digital Design Weekend, The museum will be filled with activities for the curious, designers, students, hackers, makers and families and it is also a chance to see LDF’s installations before the end of the festival.

Over nine days in September, the London Design Festival features hundreds of events which take place across London, showcasing the city’s pivotal role in global design. The London Design Festival 2014 will take place from 13-21 September. The centerpeices of the Festival are commissions, the Landmark Projects. For these Landmark Projects the Festival commissioned some of the world’s greatest architects and designers to create pieces of work in London’s best-loved public spaces.


Candela by designer Felix de Pass, ceramicist Ian McIntyre, graphic designer Michael MontgomeryInstallation Brompton Design District 10am – 5.45pm


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The Guggenheim: Action Plan on The Northern Edge of Europe


From the smallest seaside town to the greatest European capital the story is the same: bring in a starchitect, build a gallery. If we build it they will come. Image: The history of Finland extracted from the Guggenheim Helsinki Museum Competition Brief

From the moment Frank Gehry’s Guggenheim Museum was unveiled along the banks of the Nervión river in 1997, the term “Bilbao Effect” emerged as a battle cry from civic leaders, architects and city planners intent on revitalizing dilapidated city centers and elevating their status in a competitive global market. Funny how artists who would never admit to entering a chain fast food restaurant are queing in places like New York in order to be shown in a regional chain museum.

In fact, there was reason for elated optimism, as market research showed Gehry’s new building bringing an extra 3 million visitors to the city each year, with additional tax revenue and corporate sponsorship invading the flourishing post-industrial region. However, the success of the project would not rely on a single object, but on an inspiring urban strategy that cleared the city’s waterfront of old shipbuilding industries and introduced accessible green space that was capable of hosting popular city activities and attractions throughout the year.

The city, eager for a museum to compliment the region,  gave the Guggenheim foundation complete control of the project throughout the process. The result was an efficient, yet impressive construction. Nevertheless, it was obvious to the media and aspiring cities that the “Icon” resulted in the sudden fortune of Bilbao, elevating an emerging cultural industry in architecture that relies on the shock of iconographic structures for supremacy in a global market.


Guggenheim Helsinki site context map (image via Guggenheim Helsinki proposal)

Helsinki has long been a target for the foundation, but their proposals have brought opposition from many Finns. Their last proposal focused on a site in the Katajanokka district of the city, but was voted down by city councillors. The Swedish People’s Party and National Coalition supported the idea, but Green and Leftist representatives were opposed. National Coalition mayor Jussi Pajunen has been a strong supporter of the Guggenheim project.

Finland is already an extremely creative country for its size , and certainly doesn’t need a load of international art investor super-rich fotzen winding everyone up and edging out the local art scene with hyped up squashy buildings and Damian-Hirst-mäßig nonsense. If I were running Helsinki, I would replace this whole project with ‘the world institute of Heavy Metal’. That would probably also attract a tremendous amount of tourists, and also ones who are not total tubes. Fantastic country. Wahey!

However, after several visits to Finland over the summer, the foundation is now ready to try again. As the official Guggenheim Helsinki design competition drew to a close this week, a rival contest was announced: Next Helsinki, backed by the New York architecture and urban policy think tank Terreform, Finnish nonprofit arts organization Checkpoint Helsinki, and the Gulf Labor offshoot Gulf Ultra Luxury Faction (GULF) along with Occupy Museums.

The foundation’s website states:

“Helsinki is one of the world’s great cities – a beautiful and cultivated place, dancing by the water. But it is a city – like all others – with real needs.  For housing that is abundant and affordable. For an on-going retrofit for sustainability that is such an urgent part of the future of all the world’s cities. For rational transportation. For inventive platforms for experiencing and producing art. And for public spaces and a public culture that can generate decent livelihoods and be accountable to communities.”

The counter-competition is seeking submissions in any media across a wide range of disciplines and approaches. For jury chair Michael Sorkin of Terreform, this ethos encompasses “any representational conceit that [entrants] think is transparent to their intentions … inventive reflections on the future of Helsinki on any scale.”

It seems that the Guggenheim Foundation wanted Helsinki to produce an innovative and educative arts laboratory, a new kind of museum concept for the future, whereas Helsinki most of all wanted a landmark attraction with a lot of eye-candy for wealthy tourists. The latter would naturally have required some really iconic architecture, and names like Frank Gehry and Zaha Hadid were already circulated in people’s wildest dreams. New York University sociologist Andrew Ross, an organizer with GULF, explained to Hyperallergic that the Next Helsinki contest is intentionally structured to reject the “traditional” confines of an architectural competition.

“We tried to get a spectrum of voices — pure architects, scholarly urbanists, arts practitioners, people who do urban consulting — not a typical jury,” Ross said.

The competition represents a joining of forces between urban policy thinkers suspicious of neoliberal cultural development models, groups opposed to the Guggenheim’s Abu Dhabi outpost, and a long-standing local opposition in Helsinki seeking an institution more in line with the domestic art scene.


But the tide has turned regarding these projects. They are becoming ever more frequently seen as impositions, and the rhetoric of regeneration that accompanies them. According to a New York Times article about the Finnish opposition to the Guggenheim proposal earlier this summer, a majority of Helsinki residents objected to the plans in 2012 newspaper polls. But the need for counter-gestures remains exigent, according to Ross. “Advocates of Guggenheim are ascendant in Finnish politics, which is becoming more neoliberal,” he said.

The idea of a subversive competition is partially borrowed from GULF, which in March published a spoof website,, mimicking the format of the official Guggenheim website and seeking plans for a “Sustainable Design Competition” to replace the institution’s soon-to-be-constructed Frank Gehry-designed Abu Dhabi franchise.

The Guggenheim debate demonstrates how the cultural landscape in Finland has changed. Since the 1960s arts and culture have been the protege of the political left, whereas conservatives have favoured more material things like highways, shopping centres – and, of course, lower taxes. But today art is seen as a creative industry and a good investment. Hence, it was the conservatives who backed Guggenheim, and the left and the greens who smashed it. According to the Guggenheim action plan, the museum would have brought Helsinki so many visitors and so much tax money that it would have more than covered its costs. Some high flyers even saw Helsinki as a northern Bilbao, drawing arts crowds from all over Europe, Russia and even Asia.What was funny about the whole Guggenheim debate in Finland was the meagre amount of space given to discussion about the actual art which would have been presented in the supposed museum (or gallery). Maybe the question was never about the art itself, maybe the debate was properly political and for once those usually suppressed political divisions surfaced.

Over fifteen years have passed since Bilbao grabbed headlines from all over the world. In those years, the population of urban centers around the world began to exceed those of rural areas and the tourism industry was surging with no sign of abating, leading to an assortment of cities to invest heavily in their cultural infrastructure during the economic ‘boom years’. This initiative was spearheaded by substantial performing-arts complexes (theaters, concert halls and opera houses) and lead to a total metamorphic shift in the live-art industry with efforts to combat inclusion, globalization and a dwindling audience. Now, architects were forced to balance between civic responsibility and a new form of city-branding, with politicians overwhelmingly focused on the latter. After the global financial meltdown in 2008, many of these major cultural projects (some still in construction) – combined with government mismanagement and poor attendance – resulted in intense public scrutiny and questioned the foundation of this surging iconography in architecture. This study will focus on the characteristics and campaigns for new performance architecture in a post-Bilbao environment, with an emphasis on geographically-condensed regions in Europe that traditionally have had regionalist building attitudes.


Submissions are due in March 2015, and the group intends to raise funds for a prize. Also planned are workshops or public fora after the competition closes, to be held both in New York and Helsinki.


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The Post-Digital Scholar


The Post-Digital Scholar Conference

Publishing between Open Access, Piracy and Public Spheres

12.11. – 14.11.2014 | Lüneburg, Germany

New media is dead! Long live new media! For three days, publishers, researchers, programmers, designers, artists, and entrepreneurs will discuss how research and publishing in the humanities have changed over the past decade. The conference will explore new tools for gathering knowledge, examine platforms for multimedia publishing, or collaborative writing experiments.

Participants will focus on the interplay between pixels and print, and discuss open and closed modes of knowledge, in order to seek out what this elusive thing could be: post-digital knowledge.

Please register here, participation is free of charge. This website will keep you updated and you can download the conference poster here.

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Future Lab: An Applied Experiment in Digital Scholarship


Edward L. Ayers, works with the Digital Scholarship Lab at the University of Richmond, where he is President and Professor of History. In his essay ‘Does Digital Scholarship Have A Future‘ Ayers questions why the technological revolution has changed academic life yet the articles and books that scholars produce and the institutions themselves remains surprisingly unaltered. 

What will the future be like? Right now, the technologies that we use to understand the world are in the process of a major transformation. Almost every field of knowledge is generating vast quantities of data, requiring unprecedented computing power and intelligent algorithms to interpret. The head-spinning pace of technological and social change brought about by the internet have made us all accustomed to the transformations and innovations that would have amazed us ten years ago. Now they are merely passing news, as transient as a tweet, video, or Facebook post. Journalism has been profoundly altered—and we have grown used to the new forms. With the immense promise comes great challenges — the foremost being how to sift through the deluge of data to garner meaningful insights and translate them into practical innovations. Working out how to advance into personalized medicine from the human genome project, or create massive simulations of the cosmos from satellite and telescope data will occupy many.

Even educational institutions, traditionally skeptical of externally generated change, have become indifferent to the web-induced changes. Everyone takes e-mail, digital library resources, and is electronic connection to professional organizations for granted. “Professors fire up Firefox or Skype or Google Earth in class without thinking about using technology.” These are revolutions in higher education that have come quickly. Yet the foundation of academic life—the scholarship on which everything else is built—remains surprisingly unaltered. The nineteenth century model of Universities built on Enlightenment thinking still produces articles and books that scholars produce today bear little mark of the digital age in which they are created. Researchers use electronic tools as a matter of routine in their professional lives but not to transform the substance or form of scholarship.

According to Ayers, not many scholars worry about this situation. He states: “A recent random sample by Ithaka S+R finds that two-thirds of faculty—across the sciences, social sciences, and humanities judge that new digital methods are not valuable or important for their research. The study notes that even though digital practices may influence these scholars work in a variety of ways,” few scholars see “the value of integrating digital practices into their work as a deliberate activity.” So for many scholars using digital methods would simply not be “worth the time”; about one-third of the respondents said they do not know “how to effectively integrate digital research activities and methodologies” into their work and have no desire to learn.

For those who have watched the inception of digital innovation, this is disconcerting. In the early years of the internet it was entirely, untested and unrestrained. The digital appeared to be a place where scholars might foster exciting collaborations, building both a new infrastructure and content. Despite the restrictions of slow modems, weak processors, and limited servers, the web’s saw enthusiastic efforts to build new scholarly tools, including the Perseus Project in the Classics, the Rossetti Archive and the Walt Whitman Archive in literature, and the Valley of the Shadow in history.


Ayers goes on to say “The concept of digital scholarship has emerged to describe this activity. Although the phrase sometimes refers to issues surrounding copyright and open access and sometimes to scholarship analyzing the online world, digital scholarship—emanating, perhaps, from digital humanities—most frequently describes discipline-based scholarship produced with digital tools and presented in digital form. The University of Richmond’s Digital Scholarship Lab was established in 2007, and new centers have emerged at Rice, Brown, Emory, Miami, Ohio State, and Case Western Universities, the Universities of Utah, Oregon, Kansas, and California at Irvine, Haverford College, Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis, and other colleges and universities. The tag has been used also for recent conferences and initiatives at Harvard, Yale, Cornell, Duke, and Macalester, as well as in the United Kingdom.”

Though the phrase digital scholarship reflects impressive interdisciplinary ambition and coherence, two crucial elements remain in short supply in this emerging field. First, the number of scholars willing to commit themselves and their careers to digital scholarship has not kept pace with institutional opportunities. Second, today few scholars are trying, as they did earlier in the web’s history, to re-imagine the form as well as the substance of scholarship. In some ways, scholarly innovation has been domesticated, with the very ubiquity of the web bringing a lowered sense of excitement, possibility, and urgency. These two deficiencies form a reinforcing cycle: the diminished sense of possibility weakens the incentive for scholars to take risks, and the unwillingness to take risks limits the impact and excitement generated by boldly innovative projects.

According to Ayers.the Digital Scholarship Lab at the University of Richmond is attempting to build one model of what this new scholarship might look like. The lab combines various elements of proven strategies while also breaking new ground. With the support of the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the historians Robert K. Nelson and Scott Nesbit and their colleagues are creating a digital atlas of American history. The first initiation of the atlas, Visualizing Emancipation, will be followed by an amplified, annotated, and animated digital edition of The Atlas of the Historical Geography of the United States, first published in 1932. Over the next three years, chapters of original and dynamic maps and interpretations will focus on key aspects of the American experience since the nation’s founding. The digital atlas will allow scholars to see patterns we have never been able to envision before while at the same time it will make available to teachers of all levels visualizations of crucial processes in American history.

The Valley of the Shadow was a digital history project hosted by the University of Virginia detailing the experiences of Confederate soldiers from Augusta County, Virginia and Union soldiers from Franklin County, Pennsylvania. William G. Thomas III and Edward L. Ayers, the creators of the project, called it “an applied experiment in digital scholarship.” Edward L. Ayers, one of the creators of the project in 1993, now works with the Digital Scholarship Lab at the University of Richmond, where he is President and Professor of History. You can read the full essay by Edward L. Ayers,  ‘Does Digital Scholarship Have A Future’ by going to:

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The Selfie as an Art Form

davinciselfieSelf-portraiture has been a staple of artistic practice for centuries. In recent times the selfie has ushering in a new era of popular and widespread photographic self-representation. 

How do you manage to keep a 400-year-old Leonardo Da Vinci self-portrait from disintegrating? It would seem the drawing, Portrait of a Man in Red Chalk, which resides in a vault in the Royal Library of Turin, may not be long for this world. The artwork has been exposed to humidity over the centuries and scientists are struggling to keep the work from disappearing, especially since the chalk drawing is thought to be the master’s only extant portrayal of himself.

The Leonardo da Vinci’s masterpiece, drawn in the early 1500s and thought to be a self-portrait, is in extremely poor condition and continues to deteriorate each day. Scientists believe that the red chalk lines are gradually vanishing, fading into the paper, which has yellowed with age thanks to light, heat, moisture, metallic and acidic impurities, and pollutant gases. “This phenomenon is known as ‘yellowing,’ which causes severe damage and negatively affects the aesthetic enjoyment of ancient artworks on paper,” Joanna Lojewska, of Jagiellonian University in Krakow, Poland, said in a press release. However the scientists have developed a new approach to identify the culprit of the yellowing without interfering with the original drawing and the knowledge gleaned could be used to preserve and save the precious self- portrait.

TomEstesSelfieThis digital self portrait by artist Tom Estes  on display at The Selfie Show: An Art Exhibition of Self-Portraits at The Museum of New Art, Detroit from September 21, 2014. 

Although self-portraits have been made by artists since the earliest times, it is not until the Early Renaissance in the mid-15th century that artists can be frequently identified depicting themselves as either the main subject, or as important characters in their work. With better and cheaper mirrors, and the advent of the panel portrait, many painters, sculptors and print makers tried some form of self-portraiture. Da Vinci is widely considered to be one of the greatest painters of all time and perhaps the most diversely talented person ever to have lived. Leonardo has often been described a man of “unquenchable curiosity” and “feverishly inventive imagination”. According to art historian Helen Gardner, the scope and depth of his interests were without precedent and “his mind and personality seem to us superhuman, the man himself mysterious and remote”. Da Vinci was also know for his technological ingenuity and and the empirical methods he employed that were unusual for his time. Marco Rosci states that while there is much speculation about Leonardo, his vision of the world is essentially logical rather than mysterious. His genius, perhaps more than that of any other figure, epitomized the Renaissance humanist ideal. So it is no surprise that people are concerned about conserving his portrait.

Images of artists at work are encountered in Ancient Egyptian painting, and sculpture and also on Ancient Greek vases. One of first self-portraits was made by the Pharaoh Akhenaten’s chief sculptor Bak in 1365 BC. Plutarch mentions that the Ancient Greek sculptor Phidias had included a likeness of himself in a number of characters in the “Battle of the Amazons” on the Parthenon, and there are classical references to painted self-portraits, none of which have survived. Portraits and self-portraits have a longer continuous history in Asian art than in Europe. Many in the scholar gentleman tradition are quite small, depicting the artist in a large landscape, illustrating a poem in calligraphy on his experience of the scene. Another tradition, associated with Zen Buddhism, produced lively semi-caricatured self-portraits, whilst others remain closer to the conventions of the formal portrait.

Many painters are said to have included depictions of specific individuals, including themselves, in painting figures in religious or other types of composition. Such paintings were not intended publicly to depict the actual persons as themselves, but the facts would have been known at the time to artist and patron, creating a talking point as well as a public test of the artist’s skill. In the earliest surviving examples of medieval and renaissance self-portraiture, historical or mythical scenes (from the Bible orclassical literature) were depicted using a number of actual persons as models, often including the artist, giving the work a multiple function as portraiture, self-portraiture and history/myth painting. In these works, the artist usually appears as a face in the crowd or group, often towards the edges or corner of the work and behind the main participants. Rubens’s The Four Philosophers (1611-12) is a good example. This culminated in the 17th century with the work of Jan de Bray. Many artistic media have been used; apart from paintings, drawings and prints have been especially important.

Buzz_Aldrin_EVA_SelfieBuzz Aldrin took the first selfie in space in 1966 

In the famous Arnolfini Portrait (1434), Jan van Eyck is probably one of two figures glimpsed in a mirror – a susprisingly modern conceit. The Van Eyck painting may have inspired Diego Velázquez to depict himself in full view as the painter creating Las Meninas(1656), as the Van Eyck hung in the palace in Madrid where he worked. This was another modern flourish, given that he appears as the painter (previously unseen in official royal portraiture) and standing close to the King’s family group who were the supposed main subjects of the painting.

Selfies are popular among both genders. Women artists are notable producers of self-portraits; almost all significant women painters have left an example, from Caterina van Hemessen to the prolificElisabeth Vigée-Lebrun, and Frida Kahlo, as well as Alice Neel, Paula Modersohn-Becker and Jenny Saville who painted themselves in the nude. Vigée-Lebrun painted a total of 37 self-portraits, many of which were copies of earlier ones, painted for sale. Until the 20th century women were usually unable to train in drawing the nude, which made it difficult for them to paint large figure compositions, and portraiture was a common specialism. Until the 19th century, they usually showed themselves in the act of painting, or at least holding a brush and palette. More often than with men, the viewer wonders if the clothes worn were those they normally painted in.

However there is already a long tradition of the photographic ‘selfie’. One method involves setting the camera or capture device upon a tripod, or surface. One might then set the camera’s timer, or use a remote controlled shutter release. Finally, setting up the camera, entering the scene and having an assistant release the shutter (i.e., if the presence of a cable release is unwanted in the photo) can arguably be regarded as a photographic self-portrait. Today most selfies are taken with a camera held at arm’s length or pointed at a mirror, rather than by using a self-timer. And selfies are often shared on social networking services such as Facebook, Google+, Instagram, Snapchat, Tumblr and Twitter. The media tends to highlight online social practices of creating a ‘selfie’ as being the result of narcissistic behaviors, simply because Internet and mobile phones are communication tools open to everyone.

Self-portrait_as_the_Allegory_of_Painting_by_Artemisia_GentileschiArtemisia Gentileschi, Self-Portrait as the Allegory of Painting, from the 1630s is in the British Royal Collection. Note the pulled-up sleeve on the arm holding the brush.

However selfies have also been taken beyond Earth and by non-human entities. There is an image by NASA’s Curiosity rover aptured by a camera of itself on Mars. In 2011 a crested black macaque stole a wildlife photographer’s camera, and when the camera was later recovered it was found to contain hundreds of “selfies”, including one of a grinning female macaque. This incident set off an unusual debate about copyright.

Oliver Laurent, Associate editor of British Journal of Photography and editor of recently-launched FLTR states: “Unfortunately, the selfie continues to be the target of derision, despite its popularity across all generations of cell phone users. It’s bogged down in this narcissist argument.  It’s often confused with profile pictures and with some self-representation practices that we can see on Facebook.”  However things look like they might be set to change. MONA in Detroit is launching he Selfie Show: An Art Exhibition of Self-Portraits while Apptitude Media, publishers of the British Journal of Photography(BJP) announced the launch of a digital magazine focused solely on mobile photography.The magazine itself is initially being sold as an iPhone-only app. Right now, the technologies that we use to understand the world are in the process of a major transformation. Almost every field of knowledge is generating vast quantities of data, requiring unprecedented computing power and intelligent algorithms to interpret. The head-spinning pace of technological and social change brought about by the internet have made us all accustomed to the transformations and innovations that would have amazed us ten years ago. Now they are merely passing news, as transient as a tweet, video, or Facebook post.The reality of our personal identity is not only fluid but also self-assigned. As individuals in the Digital Age, we have more control of the construction of our own identity than ever.

The Selfie Show – Museum of New Art – Detroit 

Curated by Jef Borgeau 

Opening reception Sunday, September 21, 2014 from 3pm to 7pm.

Museum of New Art | Armada 15655 33 Mile Road, Armada, MI 48005!tom-estes—london./zoom/c1ouh/image1xye




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Looking Into The Heart of The Sun: The Borexino experiment


To peer into the heart of the sun, a 13.7-meter-wide stainless steel shell lined with over 2,200 light-gathering sensors hides deep under a mountain in central Italy. Known as the Borexino experiment, it watches for flashes of light from neutrinos, ghostly subatomic particles shot out of the sun’s core. Precision measurement of the Beryllium solar neutrino flux and its day/night asymmetry, and independent validation of the LMA-MSW oscillation solution using Borexino-only data. (Courtesy: Borexino Collaboration)

Everytime there is a solar eclipse you will find astronomers warning you to never look directly at the Sun. However Borexino is a particle physics experiment to study low energy (sub-MeV) solar neutrinos. The name Borexino is the Italian diminutive of BOREX (Boron solar neutrino experiment). The experiment is located at the Laboratori Nazionali del Gran Sasso near the town of L’Aquila, Italy, and is supported by an international collaboration with researchers from Italy, the United States, Germany, France, Poland and Russia. The experiment is funded by multiple national agencies including the INFN (National Institute for Nuclear Physics) and the NSF (National Science Foundation). Over 2,200 light-sensitive detectors line the inside of a nearly 14-meter-wide Borexino experiment.

After seven years of searching, Borexino scientists report in the Aug. 28 Nature that the detector has for the first time caught a glimpse of the neutrinos cast out of the sun’s main nuclear reaction.The sun supports itself by transforming hydrogen into helium. Neutrinos are one by-product of this alchemy. These particles have so little mass, they barely exist at all; roughly 10 billion trillion pass through the Earth every second without touching a single atom.

To spot such elusive prey, Borexino’s sensors surround a vat filled with 300 tons of a liquid hydrocarbon.  Occasionally, a neutrino slams into an electron within the liquid and generates a flash of light. By recording the rate of detections and how much energy is in each burst, researchers can identify the source of the neutrinos. Borexino has detected solar neutrinos before, but these are the first from the simple fusion of two protons that leads to 99 percent of the sun’s energy. By watching neutrinos arrive from the sun, researchers can test ideas about what powers both our star and billions of others.


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Hack My Ride: How Easy It Is To Cyber Hack Your Car?


If you think your car is safe once you’ve zapped it with your key fob, then think again. Thieves have developed a sophisticated technique that allows them to drive off with some of the most expensive – and apparently most secure – vehicles available. They are using a hi-tech device which can be bought easily online, to get into the car, without the need to even smash a window.  However some now claim that hacking technology is now being used to commit virtually untraceable murders including manipulating the brakes of moving cars that have in-built computer systems.

Automobile enthusiasts are pointing to an unusual spike in the number of BMW thefts in the U.K. this year. Expensive cars being stolen isn’t anything to write home about, but the reason for this new trend definitly is: the cars in question are keyless. Multiple BMW models are being swiped without activating car alarms or immobilizers because the thieves are hacking their way into the vehicles.

On-board diagnostics (OBD) security bypass kits, replete with reprogramming modules and blank keys, are reportedly enabling low-intelligence thieves to steal high-end cars such as BMWs in a matter of seconds or minutes. A research by the team from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology targeted the weakness in car security; the smart key fobs common on luxury vehicles and spreading to mainstream models that allow a driver to unlock doors and start a vehicle without touching the fob. In their paper (PDF link) the researchers have said the best way to fix the security hole would be smarter software that attempts to verify how close the key fob is to the vehicle. Otherwise, the only secure solution would be the same one that’s been in use for decades: an old-fashioned metal key.

Using radio signals, the fob and vehicle send encrypted signals to each other over short distances, and while other researchers had suggested the fobs could be vulnerable, no one had put the idea to a test. Using ten different borrowed models from eight manufacturers (without the automakers’ input), the Swiss team was able to unlock and start all of their test vehicles, showing that hacking the smart fobs is “feasible and practical.” Their system simply used two antennas; one carried by the hacker trying to get in and start the vehicle, the other in the vicinity of the fob, to amplify the signals between the transmitters and break in.

But wait, there’s more. Short of allowing your ride to be stolen, security researchers at the University of Michigan and the University of Washington have shown that OBD shortcomings allow these other automotive WiFi shenanigans:

  • Locking and unlocking doors
  • Honking the horn
  • Wireless attack through tire pressure sensors
  • Trojan delivered via music CD

This stuff isn’t new. The CD Trojan piece goes back to 2011.What’s new is how erudite hacker knowledge of OBD’s limitations has been commoditized and marketed in these easy-to-use, cheap kits.

To use the tool, car thieves first need to intercept the transmission between a valid key fob and a car before they can then reprogram the blank key, which they can then use to start or open the car via the OBD network. According to The Register, a $30 bypass tools is being shipped from China and Eastern Europe in kit form to unskilled criminals.

On the car forum 1Addicts, a one-time poster by the name of “stolen1m” uploaded a video showing how his BMW was stolen in under three minutes. He suspects the thieves used devices that plug into the car’s On-Board Diagnostic (ODB) port to program a new keyfob.


In this particular video, there are a few security flaws that the hackers are exploiting simultaneously: there is no sensor that is triggered when the thieves initially break the window, the internal ultrasonic sensor system has a “blind spot” just in front of the OBD port, the OBD port is constantly powered (even when the car is off), and last but not least, it does not require a password. All of this means the thieves can gain complete access to the car without even entering it. If the video is an accurate depiction, even the village idiot could be behind the wheel of a fine ride with a $30 investment and a few minutes.

BMW has acknowledged that there is a problem, but is downplaying this particular issue by saying the whole industry struggles with thievery. This is unfortunate given that the evidence seems to point towards BMWs being specifically targeted. Whether that’s because they are luxury cars or because they have a security loophole doesn’t matter: the point is BMW needs to do something about it.

“The battle against increasingly sophisticated thieves is a constant challenge for all car makers. Desirable, premium-branded cars, like BMW and its competitors, have always been targeted,” a BMW spokesperson told Jalopnik. “BMW has been at the forefront of vehicle security for many years and is constantly pushing the boundaries of the latest defence systems. We work closely with the authorities and with other manufacturers to achieve this. We are aware of recent claims that criminal gangs are targeting premium vehicles from a variety of manufacturers. This is an area under investigation. We have a constant dialogue with police forces to understand any patterns which may emerge. This data is used to enhance our defence systems accordingly. Currently BMW Group products meet or exceed all global legislative criteria concerning vehicle security.”

Three other YouTube videos also posted in the aforementioned forum:

This is a serious problem. New cars, especially high-end ones, no longer require a physical key to be inserted into the ignition. The previous system evolved into being much more secure because it was two-tiered: metal keys that also have a chip. This new system means stealing cars (mainly BMWs so far) is extremely easy for the sophisticated criminal. 

It looks like it’s not just BMWs, mind you. Police are also seeing other fancy cars whisked away by criminals believed to be using the kits, with the deprived owners still having the keys in their possession. A post on the car enthusiast site Pistonheads suggests that devices similar to those used to steal BMWs are also available for Opel, Renault, Mercedes, Volkswagen, Toyota and Porsche Cayennes.

Should you shake down your car manufacturer to get better defenses? Unfortunately, it probably won’t do you much good if you do, between the need for mechanics to have some type of tool to get into your car and competition laws requiring open standards. However if you want to protect yourself from this hack, look into how you can disable the OBD port on your BMW by disconnecting the corresponding wires. If you or your dealer needs it, you can always reenable it. Alternatively, you can try to further secure the port in your own custom way.


However, things get even frightening. There have been claims that intelligence services and terrorists around the world are using hacking technology to commit virtually untraceable murders including manipulating the brakes of moving cars that have in-built computer systems. Two security experts named Charlie Miller & Chris Valasek, conducted a demonstration, showing off a way that computer hackers can control a full sized automobile, but using nothing more than a typical laptop computer. While car-hacking may not be the most obvious form of cyber crime, the mysterious circumstances that surrounded the automobile accident that killed US journalist Michael Hastings in June last year have led some to believe that he was a victim of car-hacking.

 At the Def Con hacking conference in Las Vegas, Valasek and Miller described ways that cyberhackers can launch even dangerous attacks. The two have built a device with about US$150 (RM460) in electronics parts, though the real “secret sauce” is a set of computer algorithms that listen to traffic in a car’s network to understand how things are supposed to work. When an attack occurs, the device identifies traffic anomalies and blocks rogue activity, Valasek said.

The duo’s accomplishment, which was funded by a Pentagon research facility called Darpa, was intended strictly to raise awareness of the computer systems that are now dominating the automobile industry. Ultimately, they created a program that would allow them to tap into a car’s “electronic control unit” (ECU), via the on-board diagnostic port of the vehicle. (This is the same port where mechanics can determine where a specific problem is in the car when it’s taken in for repair work, and is also the same port that is used by a popular car insurance company to monitor your driving habits.) Typically, the ECU in a car can control everything from the acceleration and brake pedals, the steering wheel, the horn, any of the digital displays on the car’s dashboard, pretty much anything that has some form of computer control. When talking about the research, Charlie Miller had this to say on the topic:

“At the moment there are people who are in the know, there are nay-sayers who don’t believe it’s important, and there are others saying it’s common knowledge but right now there’s not much data out there. We would love for everyone to start having a discussion about this, and for manufacturers to listen and improve the security of cars.”

The two well-known computer experts decided to pursue the project because they wanted to help automakers identify ways to defend against security vulnerabilities in their products. “I really don’t care if you hack my browser and steal my credit card,” Valasek said. “But crashing a car is life or death. It’s dramatic. We wanted to be part of the solution.”





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