Monday, September 29, 2014

How Ukrainians Survive under Russian Military Occupation

Eastern Europe is far away, and since Cold War disappeared from the monitors with the Soviet Union collapse, the other political news captured the tabloids titles. It looks like the aggressive politics of the modern Russia draws back the worried attention to this region.

While there were multiple warning signs that something is not right under “permanent” ruling of the Russian president Vladimir Putin, like spikes of homophobic propaganda, Pussy Riot conviction, stopping Russian kids’ adoption abroad, the general public was not prepared for the totally illegal aggressive campaigns against the closest neighbor – Ukraine. Using the opportunity of the temporary power vacuum, when Ukrainians were fighting with too corrupt government, Russian “silent” troops without identification captured Crimea. Then, when they realized they need a land road to Crimea, Russian troops and hired guns started their way to the Eastern Ukraine occupation, capturing part of two eastern provinces.

Ukraine is not part of NATO. Several years ago, Ukraine transferred all its nuclear weapon to Russia in exchange for written guarantees of its borders and sovereignty. Obviously, Russia never intended to keep its promises, and used the moment to grab some land with no hesitation.

In spite of the poor state of the Ukrainian army, which was totally unprepared for war with a strong experienced enemy, the military operation in the Eastern Europe was not so smooth for Moscow. More than 2,000 failed Russian soldiers and worldwide economic sanctions forced Putin to freeze its operations, trying to apply political sleazy tactics to reach its goals, while not falling into the deeper economic crisis.

And what is even more depressing, 86% of the Russian population supports the government in all its steps and rhetoric. They applaud when Russian tanks move into Russia. They agree when government claims that it is Americans who created the conflict and shut down the passenger plane from Malaysian Airlines. They offer uniform support to the government, when government officials promise to capture the neighboring countries in two weeks, and send nuclear missiles to the USA, if the “unfriendly” sanctions will not be removed. In the press, no one says “Americans” anymore, just “Pindoses”, which means something like homosexual perverts and idiots.

But, Russia is far away, and you may not care much. You may stop investing into Russian market as it goes straight South anyway. You may stop drinking Russian Vodka, and totally forget about the war. But you cannot forget, if you live there.

I would like to offer a fresh post in Washington Post, about what happens with the citizens of the occupied territories, who were not been able to flee from the region for different personal reasons.

An Orwellian nightmare for pro-Ukrainians in rebel-held east

Khutor and Nika move briskly on the sidewalk, but not fast enough to draw attention. They have tried to memorize the “wrong streets” — the ones where they know the pro-Russian rebels who seized this city now regularly stand guard in camouflage, AK-47s poised. But sometimes the two of them get it wrong. Like now.

A muscular dirty-blond bearing a studied look of intimidation and an arm patch with the banner of the so-called New Russia clutches his weapon firmly as they pass. Khutor, 42, and Nika, 33, lower their heads. They cease talking. In a place where even a trip to the supermarket has become a ritual of stress, the couple tightens their grips on their bags of groceries, as if pointing them out. See? Just ran out for some milk and bread. Thanks now. Got to go.

In this metropolis that had a prewar population of almost a million, but where the city center now feels like an Orwellian ghost town of propaganda posters and armed patrols, perhaps no one feels more alone than those who still harbor pro-Ukrainian sentiments. Since the separatists took total control here, human rights and Ukrainian activists say, an untold number of loyalists have been extorted, abducted, tortured and, allegedly, executed. Many have left in search of sanctuaries farther west. But a small number of them — like Khutor and Nika — are riding out the storm.

And they want the others — the ones who, like them, are perhaps too afraid to speak up publicly — to know they are not as alone as they might think. Three blocks later, the couple feel brave enough to take a short detour and point out a piece of Khutor’s handiwork on the wall of an old apartment building. He spray-painted it weeks ago, he said, before he was detained and tortured. It was meant to be a message to the others.

A blue-and-yellow trident. The symbol of Ukraine.

It is now hardly visible. Someone aligned with the new pro-Russian masters in Donetsk tried to blot it out with black paint. But you can still see its outline.

“They try to cover us up,” said Khutor, a nickname he assumed to hide his identity after his arrest by the Donetsk People’s Republic, the rebel outfit that now rules here. Khutor’s wife, going by the name Nika, nodded in agreement as he pointed to his heart and said, “But Ukraine is still here.”

Small acts of sedition

Until recently, Donetsk was almost impassable, rocked by constant shelling and gunfire. The fighting has subsided since Kiev and the rebels agreed to a tenuous truce that began Sept. 5, and both sides have started to pull back heavy artillery in recent days. But it is less a full cease-fire than a de-escalation, and city authorities on Wednesday reported the sounds of continued artillery volleys. Meanwhile, Kiev is suing for peace, offering a deal to the rebels that would grant them broad powers of self-rule in the occupied east and could find pro-Ukrainians here living in New Russia in all but name. Rebel leaders said Wednesday that they planned to hold elections Nov. 2 for a new legislature that would rule the region.

In the more densely populated neighborhoods ringing this city, some of the hundreds of thousands of residents who fled Donetsk are trickling back in. There are slightly more people on the streets, more lights in the windows of the drab-colored apartment blocks. But infrastructure here is heavily damaged, and most residents still have running water for only three hours a day. There are rolling blackouts. Schools remain closed. Hospitals are short-staffed. Factories are shuttered. And the center of town — dotted with patrols by the Donetsk People’s Republic, boarded-up businesses and a host of billboards espousing rebel slogans — feels eerily abandoned.

Nevertheless, a few pro-Ukrainians here are still risking their safety in little acts of sedition. Spray-painting a wall. Planting a Ukrainian flag sticker at a bus stop.

“They disappear quickly,” said Khutor, who used to work at an advertising firm that went bust with the war. “But someone might see them and realize it wasn’t there the day before. They’ll know that some of us are still here.”

Even those still loyal to Kiev in this city concede that a great number of their neighbors and (former) friends are supporting the pro-Russian uprising. Even more Donetsk residents are simply pragmatic, prepared to back the guys with the biggest guns if that means an end to the fighting.

But they have all effectively found themselves living in a police state. For pro-Ukrainians, it is one where their views can mean terrifying trips to “the basement,” the makeshift detention centers for suspected spies.

For them, this is now life behind enemy lines.

“These people have had six months to leave the city,” said Konstyantyn Savinov, head of community services for the city of Donetsk. “But some of them are still hidden. Should they still be here? It is not up to me to decide.”

‘They torture you’

“Shush,” Khutor whispers as he welcomes a foreign journalist into the office of the firm where he once worked. It closed, like so many others, because of the fighting. He and Nika moved in last month, after shelling became unbearable in the neighborhood around their apartment. But in the abandoned office space next door, a pro-Russian family is now squatting.

“No English,” he said. “They can hear.”

Inside, they have piled up vegetables, water and canned goods. They’ve turned an underground storage space into an impromptu bomb shelter. In the center of the room, they have rigged a makeshift pillar to prop up a segment of ceiling damaged by a mortar round. On a shelf, they keep a Ukrainian trident plaque and the now-folded Ukrainian flag that once was draped proudly over the balcony of their apartment. Although unrest began in earnest in March, they didn’t take it down until June, when pro-Russian separatists extended their control over the city.

The dingy office is now their sanctuary, the place where they spend the majority of their time. All but a handful of their pro-Ukrainian friends have fled Donetsk. At least one, Khutor said, saw his business seized by the separatists and had to pay a bribe before being allowed to depart with his family.

They are getting out for good reason, as Khutor can attest. Over the summer, he said, he was riding his bike near his apartment block when a DPR patrol stopped him. Its members accused him of being a spotter for the Ukrainian military, which was shelling rebel positions nearby. They put a bag over his head, he said, then pistol-whipped him before taking him to the basement of an abandoned motel.

He pauses, as tears well in between manic laughs. “They don’t just beat you,” he hissed through a tormented smile. “They torture you.”

He was held for two weeks, he said. His face was so beaten that he’s now missing teeth. He was suspended upside down by a rope, he said. After some of the other men being held apparently confessed, Khutor said, they were executed. Their bodies, he added, were put on display for other prisoners to see.

If Khutor was guilty, it was of a far lesser crime. Bullets and bombs were not his style. Instead, he had joined a friend in what he calls a “graffiti war,” in which the two of them would spray-paint buildings with pro-Ukrainian symbols. This he would not tell his captors, and ultimately he was released.

Khutor and Nika have stayed in Donetsk because of elderly parents who refuse to leave. As the city has grown more dangerous for pro-Ukrainians, Khutor has stopped spray-painting buildings. But both of them still covertly leave little calling cards — small stickers of the Ukrainian flag — where they can. They have cut off most personal contact. Instead, they communicate with like-minded people though social media. In public, they keep to themselves. No chatting with strangers. “You don’t know who they are,” Nika said.

When they do engage in niceties — say, while standing in line at one of the handful of ATMs still working in the city — they have learned to fake it.

“Most people in Donetsk will not talk about politics openly now,” Khutor said. “But if they do, you train yourself to agree. ‘Yes, of course, the Ukrainian government is fascist! Yes, of course, they must be beaten!’ You tell them what they want to hear.

“But inside, we are Ukrainians,” he said. “That will never change.”

Author: Anthony Faiola

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Was you Gmail address hacked today?

A database containing nearly 5 million Gmail user accounts and passwords was leaked on Bitcoin Security, a popular Russian website devoted to the cryptocurrency – Bitcoin Security.

It appears, however, that much of the data is old or most of the passwords don't actually match with the Gmail accounts on the list. Mashable suggested that data was likely gathered via various data breaches and includes emails and passwords for websites or third-party services rather than Gmail itself.

In a blog post, Google said that it "found that less than 2 percent of the username and password combinations might have worked, and our automated anti-hijacking systems would have blocked many of those login attempts. We've protected the affected accounts and have required those users to reset their passwords."

The hackers did not obtain the usernames and passwords via a breach of Google systems, the company said.

If you want to check if your email address is on the list, you can download and search through the file still loaded in the Russian forum:

The data in the file does not include password, but just email addressed for you to check if you are affected.

You can also check if your Gmail account was hacked through KnowEm, who has made the hacked list of emails publicly searchable. You need to enter your address and get instant not if you're on the list of possible compromised accounts.

Some experts, however, say that placing inquiry may notify the potential hackers that this email address is active. Not sure, how true that is, but I checked my non-essential Gmail addresses, and got notification that I am clean. 

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

SCiO – Handheld Molecular Food Ingredients Scanner

Smartphones give us instant answers to questions like where to have dinner, what movie to see, and how to get from point A to point B, but when it comes to learning about what we interact with on a daily basis we’re left in the dark. We designed SCiO to empower explorers everywhere with new knowledge and to encourage them to join our mission of mapping the physical world.

Dror Sharon, the CEO of Consumer Physics

SCiO is the world's first affordable molecular sensor that fits in the palm of your hand. It is a non-intrusive, no-touch optical sensor that provides a seamless user experience with the click of a button, while data is sent directly to your smartphone.

How it Works?

SCiO is based on the near-IR spectroscopy method. The physical basis for this material analysis method is that each type of molecule vibrates in its own unique way, and these vibrations interact with light to create its own unique optical signature.

SCiO includes a light source that illuminates the sample and an optical sensor called a spectrometer that collects the light reflected from the sample. The spectrometer breaks down the light to its spectrum, which includes all the information required to detect the result of this interaction between the illuminated light and the molecules in the sample.

The spectrometers which are normally used for these high-end near-IR spectroscopy applications are very big and expensive. They can be the size of a laptop and cost tens of thousands of dollars. SCiO is unique as it is based on a tiny spectrometer, designed from the ground up to be mass-produced at low cost with minimal compromise on the available application. This unique feature is achieved by several technology breakthroughs our team has made in the past few years, as we reinvented the spectrometer around low-cost optics and advanced signal processing algorithms. 

SCiO illuminates a spot of light over the sample with a diameter of about 15 mm (about half an inch) and depth of a few millimeters (~0.1”). The sensor detects the light that is reflected back from the illuminated part of the object and analyzes its chemical make-up using sophisticated cloud-based algorithms. The overall analysis is subject to the average of concentration of molecules in that region.

To deliver relevant information in real time, SCiO communicates the spectrum to your smartphone app via Bluetooth, which in turn forwards it to a cloud-based service. Advanced algorithms analyze the spectrum and within seconds deliver information regarding the analyzed sample back to the smartphone to be presented in real time to the user.

Technical Specs

What Can You Do With It Today?

Out of the box, when you get your SCiO, you’ll be able to analyze food, plants, and medications.

The process is simple: pair SCiO to your phone via Bluetooth, hold it about an inch away from an object, such as an apple, and press a button. In just a matter of seconds, SCiO supposedly analyzes the actual chemical makeup of the apple, sends the data to the cloud, and accurately identifies the fruit and provides nutritional information about it. The food app can also give information about how ripe that apple is.

Additionally, SCiO can also scan medication. During one of the live demonstrations, Consumer Physics’ co-founder Dror Sharon scanned two brands of ibuprofen, and SCiO was able to identify which pill was a generic brand. Sharon explained that SCiO won’t be marketed as a medical device at the start, but has the capability of scanning the skin and bodily fluids and could evolve into a medical device if there is enough interest from consumers.

For example, you can:

* Get nutritional facts about different kinds of food: salad dressings, sauces, fruits, cheeses, and much more.
* See how ripe an Avocado is, through the peel!
* Find out the quality of your cooking oil.
* Know the well being of your plants.
* Analyze soil or hydroponic solutions.
* Authenticate medications or supplements.
* Upload and tag the spectrum of any material on Earth to our database. Even yourself!

These are just a few of the starter applications that you can use upon receiving your SCiO. After SCiO is released new applications will be developed and released regularly.

The possibilities of SCiO applications are endless. For example in the future you can use SCiO to measure properties of cosmetics, clothes, flora, soil, jewels and precious stones, leather, rubber, oils, plastics, and even your pet!

Please Note: Out-of-the-box SCiO is NOT a medical device and should not be used to treat or prevent medical conditions such as allergies.


The SCiO developers is the Consumer Physics (Israel).

SCiO launch on Kickstarter raised almost $3M, making it the 17th most funded Kickstarter campaign ever - of over 150,000. The launch has received worldwide media coverage: CNN, TIME, BBC, NEW YORK TIMES and many others.

Video Presentation

Sources and Additional Information: