Month: February, 2018

Ice Chunks Are Fascinating To Look At, But Can Cause Serious Flooding

Mohawk River ice jam: Giant chunks of ice washed up on the shore of the Mohawk River.

The weather has been all over the spectrum in the last few weeks.

Record-breaking frigid temperatures and wind chills kicked off 2018, followed by temperatures into the 50s and 60s last week.

Temperatures plummeted to start off this week, and central Pennsylvania woke up Wednesday to a few inches of fresh snowfall.




A gradual warmup is expected into this weekend, with highs in the 50s predicted. The upcoming warmup has meteorologists keeping an eye on what the warmer weather could mean for ice jams in rivers and streams.

It’s something we’re going to have to keep an eye on,” said Craig Evanego, a meteorologist with National Weather Service.

Evanego explained the warmer temperatures could enable ice jams to break free and move down rivers and streams.

He added that some areas in the northern part of the state are already experiencing ice jam issues on localized streams thanks to elevated water levels.

Frozen river ice: Frozen river ice melts in layers as chunks wash up on shore.

With the gradual warmup, we’ll see if things will begin to thaw and move down the (Susquehanna) river,” Evanego said.

Senior meteorologist Alex Sosnowski with AccuWeather said that thanks to the persistent cold, pretty thick layers of ice have been able to form.

Along with fluctuating temperatures, Sosnowski said river levels are a little higher, adding that another rain event is expected from Monday to Wednesday next week.

Mohawk River ice jam: Jams can cause floods, which threaten buildings near the banks.

Sosnowski explained a major risk with ice jams is that when they break free, they send a surge of water down the river, which can cause flooding in unprotected areas.

Sosnowski expected that levee systems should be able to protect against any flooding caused by ice packs, and said unprotected areas are at the most risk for flooding.

Sosnowski encouraged those who want to go out and observe ice packs to do so carefully, as they can break away and begin drifting downstream at any time.

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Pass it on: Popular Science

NASA Rovers Set New Record For Longest Mission On Mars

NASA’s long-lived twin Mars rovers Spirit and Opportunity have set a new endurance record on Mars, with Opportunity hot on the heels of its sister robot for the title of longest-running mission on the Martian surface.

Opportunity today matched the Mars mission lifespan of NASA’s iconic Viking 1 lander, which spent six years and 116 days (for a total of 2,245 days) working on the red planet in the mid 1970s and early 80s.

If Opportunity survives three weeks longer than its older robotic twin Spirit, which has been silent for weeks but may actually be hibernating, the rover will take the all-time record for the longest mission on Mars.

The two solar-powered rovers recently experienced their fourth Martian winter solstice – the day with the least amount of sunlight at their respective spots on Mars – last May 12, 2010.

Opportunity and Spirit were initially slated for only 90-day missions to explore the geology and chemistry of their respective landing sites.




But they blew past those deadlines and have continued their missions for far longer than NASA engineers ever thought possible.

In January of 2010, they each celebrated their sixth anniversary on Mars. That means right now both rovers are in the midst of their seventh Earth year exploring the red planet.

Spirit touched down on the surface of Mars in January 2004, ahead of Opportunity, but fell silent on March 22, when it skipped a planned communications session with controllers on Earth.

The beleaguered Spirit rover has been out of communication for weeks after entering a low-power hibernation mode once winter sat in and temperatures dropped along with the sun dipping in the sky, leaving Spirit with insufficient power to properly function.

The rover may wake up with the arrival of the Martian spring, and if so, will keep its hold on the record for the longest mission.

Spirit landed on Mars on Jan. 3, 2004 while Opportunity touched down on Jan. 25 (Eastern Time) of that year. So Opportunity would have to survive at least 22 days longer than its twin to take the Martian mission title.

But, because Spirit is out of contact, mission managers may not know for several weeks whether or not it has survived and was still in operation on its record-setting day.

Opportunity, which is doing fine, is expected to breeze past Viking 1’s 2,245-day record today with no problems. The rover also hit another milestone in March, passing the 20-kilometer (12.43-mile) mark.

While Opportunity could swipe the Mars surface mission record from Spirit, it has a long way to go to take the title for longest mission in the Martian neighborhood.

Opportunity has been steadily roving toward a huge Mars crater called Endeavour since mid-2008, when it finished its last crater pit stop Victoria Crater.

Photos from the rover show the rim of Endeavour in the distance with vast plains of Martian sand etched with ripple-like dunes.

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What Is The Best Way To Preserve Flowers & Why?

If you want to make keepsakes of flowers from a special occasion, such as a wedding or anniversary, you can preserve them for years with products found in home and garden stores.

These preservation methods are also ideal for flowers you pick from your garden. You can display your preserved plants alone or include them in decorative craft projects.

Best Preparation Methods

It’s best to collect plants when they are completely dry. Dry specimens are easier to handle than wet plants. Use pruning shears or a sharp knife to cut flowers.

Remove the leaves from stems and place the flowers in plastic bags in a dark or shaded area until you are ready to begin the preservation process.




If your preserved flowers will be part of a wired arrangement, insert the wires into the stems before preserving, using needle-nose pliers.

Only preserve the best looking flowers, because drying highlights imperfections.

The most common methods for drying plants include hanging, microwave drying, putting them in an airtight container with silica gel or placing them in sand.

Pressing

The easiest way to dry and preserve flowers is to press them. You may have learned this method as a child in elementary school, yet it is simple and effective.

The thinner a plant is, the easier it is to press. Lay flowers — flat so they do not overlap — between newspaper or another type of unglazed paper.

You can add layers of flowers in between sheets of paper. Place the layers under a heavy object to keep them flat or a in a press that you can purchase from a craft store.

Let the flowers dry out for as long as you want. You can preserve flowers for years with this method. After you remove the flowers for display, keep them out of direct sunlight so they do not fade.

Spraying the flowers with hairspray or clear floral spray will strengthen them.

Glycerin

Preserving flowers with glycerin requires more work than pressing, but plants preserved this way have a more natural appearance than those that are pressed.

For most plants you can use 1 part glycerin to 2 parts water. For very thin or fine foliage, use 1 part glycerin and 3 parts water. Glycerin replaces the water in plants.

Depending on the size and type of plant, you may need to soak flowers for two to three weeks or more.

The water in the mixture should be warm, and it helps to crush the lower parts of stems to help absorption.

Shellac

Shellac is best for plants with berries or seeds in pods. The shellac solution keeps the berries and seeds from falling off stems or opening.

You can purchase shellac at a hardware store. Mix 2 parts denatured ethyl alcohol with 1 part shellac. Dip, spray or brush the solution onto plants in a well-ventilated area.

You can also use the solution to preserve cattails and ornamental gourds.

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Neanderthals Used Fire To Create Wooden Tools For Hunting And Foraging 170,000 Years Ago

Neanderthals in southern Tuscany used fire to manufacture wooden tools used for foraging and hunting around 171,000 years ago, experts have found.

Experts used radiometric dating, which measures the decay of radioactive particles, to establish the age of a trove of wooden implements and bones they uncovered.

The finds furnish some of the earliest evidence of wood processing and fire use by Neanderthals.

The find was made by a team of researchers, including the Ministry of Heritage and Cultural Activities in Florence.

In 2012, excavations for building thermal baths at Poggetti Vecchi, nestled at the foot of a hill in Grosseto in southern Tuscany, turned up the collection of ancient artefacts.




This included wooden sticks and the fossilised bones of a straight-tusked elephant, Palaeoloxodon antiquus. Most of the wooden implements were hewn from boxwood branches and likely used as digging sticks.

Such digging sticks have been known to be used for gathering plants and hunting small game.

The ends of the metre long (40 inch) sticks were fashioned into blunt points and had rounded handles useful for foraging.

Cut marks and striations, a series of linear marks, on the sticks bear witness to the manufacturing process.

Signs of superficial charring and microanalysis of blackened surfaces suggest the use of fire, in addition to stone tools, to scrape and shape the sticks.

Boxwood is among the hardiest and heaviest of European timbers. It choice as a preferred material suggests the technical mastery of toolmaking by early Neanderthals.

The find also provides some of the earliest evidence for the use of fire for fabricating wooden tools.

Writing in the report, its authors said: ‘Wood is a widely available and versatile material, which has admittedly played a fundamental role in all human history.

Wood, however, is most vulnerable to decomposition. Hence, its use is very rarely documented during prehistory.

The present study yields new insights into the cognitive abilities of the early Neanderthals in wooden tool production and pyrotechnology.

The early Neanderthals from the late Middle Pleistocene site of Poggetti Vecchi were able to choose the appropriate timber and to process it with fire to produce tools. 

“The artefacts recall the so-called “digging sticks,” multipurpose tools used by all hunter-gatherer societies.”

The full findings were published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

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Pass it on: New Scientist

The World’s Orangutan Population Has Been Cut In Half In 16 Years

Orangutans—the only great ape species in Asia—are one of our closest relatives in the animal kingdom.

They share 97% of our DNA, are born with sharp intellectual abilities to reason and think, and develop unique cultures—including distinct table manners—across different populations.

Among some clusters in Borneo they use leaves like napkins to wipe their chins. Among other clusters in Sumatra, they use leaves as seat cushions in spiny trees.

They are also a critically endangered species.




A new study published today in Current Biology found that human activity is speeding their path to extinction.

The population of Bornean orangutans halved in the 16 years from 1999 to 2015 because of logging, oil palm, mining, paper, and associated deforestation, as well as hunting.

The World Wildlife Fund estimates that a little over 100,000 of them still remain. For Sumatran orangutans, that number is less than 15,000.

Voigt and Serge Wich from Liverpool John Moores University, along with an international team of collaborators from 38 institutions, compiled field surveys conducted from 1999 to 2015 to estimate the Bornean orangutans’ population changes over time.

They observed 36,555 orangutan nests on the island, from which they extrapolated the overall size of the population and estimated a loss of 148,500 orangutans over the 16-year period.

By comparing population losses with maps of estimated land-cover change, the researchers also found strong evidence that habitat loss was the leading factor of sharp population decline.

Based on projected habitat loss in the future, they predict over 45,000 more orangutans will disappear in the next 35 years.

The only way to save orangutans from extinction, the researchers concluded, is to develop effective partnerships with logging companies and other industries, and to educate the public about the species’ ecological importance.

In addition to protection of forests, we need to focus on addressing the underlying causes of orangutan killing,” said Wich.

The latter requires public awareness and education, more effective law enforcement, and also more studies as to why people kill orangutans in the first place.”

Both Indonesia and Malaysia are developing long-term orangutan conservation plans.

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Pass it on: New Scientist

Here’s How Much Chocolate Can Kill You

From the dawn of humanity we’ve been figuring out how to avoid poisons that can make short work of our internal organs, such as mercury and polonium, can wipe out 50 million people with just 1 vaporized gram.

But we’re not so good at knowing at what point some harmless substances can become deadly.

For example, if you had six cups of coffee an hour over a 12-hour period, uh oh, you’re dead, because 70 cups contain enough caffeine to give just about anyone cardiac arrest, says the latest episode of AsapSCIENCE.




We all know alcohol is a poison in its own right, but did you know that 13 consecutive shots could easily kill you?

That’s because alcohol is a depressant, and enough of it will start to shut down the basic functions that keep you alive, like your breathing and heart rate.

Even something as innocuous as water can kill you, but you’re gonna have to try really hard, because you need about 6 liters of the stuff to cause your brain cells to swell so much you’ll get headaches, seizures, and yep, even death, in extreme cases.

On the other hand, if you forego liquids and just load up on too much salt, you’ll end up shrinking your cells down and suffering from a condition known as hypernatremia.

Forty-eight teaspoons of your favorite seasoning at once is enough to trigger this reaction, also leading to seizures, coma, or even death,” says AsapSCIENCE.

If, like some, you’re weird enough to swallow cherry seeds rather than spitting them out (because come on, that’s even more gross), keep doing what you’re doing – just don’t accidentally bite down on one.

Doing so with one or two pits will release enough cyanide to kill you in a particularly horrible way: your cells won’t be able to process oxygen, so you’ll basically choke to death internally.

So long, and thanks for not leaving your disgusting cherry pits around, I guess.

Unfortunately, what we consume isn’t the only thing that can kill us if we don’t get the dosage right – being too tall is also a dangerous fate, as AsapSCIENCE explains.

No, nothing is safe in ridiculous quantities, but did you know that chocolate is bad for us in the same way that it is for dogs?

I won’t spoil how many bars you’d need to guzzle to achieve actual ‘death by chocolate’, but let’s just say you’re gonna need a whole lot of milk to help get it all down.

Oh, and enough of that will probably kill you too. Sorry.

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Pass it on: Popular Science

10 Secret Features Hidden In Your Mac

Let’s face it, you probably don’t know as much about your Mac as you should.

But there’s hope!

We’ve put together some great tips and tricks that can save you time, and at the same time allow you to do some really cool things with your Mac.




From taking advantage of your Mac’s hidden calculator, to discovering the tiny icon that’s been right in front of your face the entire time, we’ve got the most important tips and tricks covered.

1. Take a trimmed screenshot

Tired of taking screenshots that capture much more of your screen than you’d like? Hold down Command + Shift + 4, which will change your cursor into a cross hair.

After you’ve outlined what you want to be in the screenshot, press the Spacebar to capture.

2. Hide your dock in a flash

If your dock is getting in the way, pressing Command + Option + D will hide your dock.

Want it back? Just repeat.

3. Invert the colors of your screen

For users running Mac OSX Lion or earlier, you can easily invert and revert the colors of you or your friend’s Mac display by holding down Command + Option + Control + 8.

The feature is originally designed to help the visually impaired.

4. Quick tab management

If you need to get rid of too many applications running, hold command and press your tab key to cycle through the applications.

Tap “Q” to quit any of the applications, or “H” to minimize.

5. Never tab past an online form’s box again

When filling out order forms online, tabbing through the input boxes often skips dropdown menus such as the “month” or “year” selections.

To allow your computer to tab through them like any other text box, simply go to System Preferences => Keyboard, and then set “Full Keyboard Access” to “All Controls.”

6. Use Spotlight search as a calculator

By simply pressing Command + Spacebar, Apple’s Spotlight search is brought up, allowing you to easily search for documents or music.

But the real secret is that it also does basic math, so if you need some multiplication or division done, just type it in the search bar!

7. Easily group files into one folder

For those with a cluttered desktop, one little shortcut can make consolidating files into one folder a snap.

Simply highlight or click on the files that you’d like to group, right click, and select “New Folder With Selection.”

8. Experience Expose in slow motion

For those with Mac OSX version 10.6 and earlier, the easy app selection tool, Expose, can be manipulated to work in slow motion.

The secret is just to hold “Shift” while then pressing your Expose key (usually F9, F10, or F11). Use this trick for a less abrupt window-switching method.

9. Hidden icon in plain sight

Once you save a Word, Pages, PowerPoint, or (most) other documents, a little icon appears at the top of your toolbar, next to the document name.

You can treat this like a normal file icon and drag it wherever you like, which will move the file too.

10. Type an Apple icon in a flash

On any Apple computer, you can create an Apple icon by holding down Option + Shift + K.

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Blind Fish In Dark Caves Shed Light On The Evolution Of Sleep

Out of the approximately 3 billion letters of DNA that make up your genome, there are about a 100 letters that neither of your parents possess.

These are your own personal mutations. The machinery that copies DNA into new cells is very reliable, but it is not perfect. It makes errors at a rate equivalent to making a single typo for every 100 books filled with text.

The sperm and egg cells that fused to form you carried a few such mutations, and therefore so do you.

Changes to DNA are more likely to be disruptive than beneficial, simply because it is easier for changes to mess things up than to improve them.

This mutational burden is something that all life forms have to bear. In the long run, individuals that carry harmful mutations will, on average, produce fewer offspring than their peers.




Over many generations, this means that the mutation will dwindle in frequency. This is how natural selection is constantly ‘weeding out’ disruptive mutations from our genomes.

There is a flip side to this argument, and it is the story of the blind cave fish. If a mutation disrupts a gene that is not being used, natural selection will have no restoring effect.

This is why fish that adapt to a lifestyle of darkness in a cave tend to lose their eyes. There is no longer any advantage to having eyes, and so the deleterious mutations that creep in are no longer being weeded out.

Think of it as the ‘use it or lose it’ school of evolution.

A world without light is quite an alien place. There are many examples of fish that live in completely dark caves.

Remarkably, if you compare these fish to their relatives that live in rivers or in the ocean, you find that the cavefish often undergo a similar set of changes. Their eyes do not fully develop, rendering them essentially blind.

They lose pigmentation in their skin, and their jaws and teeth tend to develop in particular ways.

This is an example of what is known as convergent evolution, where different organisms faced with similar ecological challenges also stumble upon similar evolutionary solutions.

The changes mentioned above are all about appearance, but what about changes in behavior? In particular, when animals sleep, they generally line up with the day and night cycle.

In the absence of any daylight, how do their sleep patterns evolve?

A recent paper by Erik Duboué and colleagues addressed this question by comparing 4 groups of fish of the same species Astyanax mexicanus.

Three of the populations (the Pachón, Tinaja, and Molino) were blind cavefish that inhabited different dark caves, whereas the fourth was a surface-dwelling fish.

The authors defined sleep for their fish to be a period of a minute or more when the fish were not moving. They checked that this definition met the usual criteria.

Sleeping fish were harder to wake up, and fish that were deprived of sleep compensated by sleeping more over the next 12 hours (these are both situations that any college student is familiar with).

The researchers also tracked the speeds of all the fish, and found that, while they were awake, the cavefish moved faster or just as fast as the surface fish.

This means that it’s not that the cavefish are constantly sleep deprived and in a lethargic, sleepy state. They are just as wakeful as the surface fish (if not more so), and genuinely need less sleep.

These three cavefish populations all evolved independently, and yet they have converged on remarkably similar sleep patterns.

To study the genetics of this phenomenon, the researchers cross-bred the surface fish with the cavefish. The cave dwellers and surface fish all belong to the same species, which means that they can have viable offspring.

They found that the mixed offspring (Pachón x surface and Tinaja x surface) had a reduced need for sleep that was indistinguishable from that of their cave-dwelling parent.

Thus sleep reduction is clearly a genetic trait, and it is a dominant trait (Dominant traits are present in the offspring if they are inherited from just one parent. A recessive trait, on the other hand, will only be present if it is inherited from both parents.)

Unlocking the secrets of sleep is inherently cool science, and it also has the potential to help people suffering from sleep disorders.

Who knows, it may even lead to the superpower of doing away with sleep altogether.

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Pass it on: Popular Science

The Myths Of Robots: They Are Strong, Smart And Evil

Some of today’s top techies and scientists are very publicly expressing their concerns over apocalyptic scenarios that are likely to arise as a result of machines with motives.

Among the fearful are intellectual heavyweights like Stephen Hawking, Elon Musk, and Bill Gates, who all believe that advances in the field of machine learning will soon yield self-aware A.I.s that seek to destroy us.

Or perhaps just apathetically dispose of us, much like scum getting obliterated by a windshield wiper.

In fact, Dr. Hawking told the BBC, “The development of full artificial intelligence could spell the end of the human race.”




Indeed, there is little doubt that future A.I. will be capable of doing significant damage.

For example, it is conceivable that robots could be programmed to function as tremendously dangerous autonomous weapons unlike any seen before.

Additionally, it is easy to imagine an unconstrained software application that spreads throughout the Internet, severely mucking up our most efficient and relied upon medium for global exchange.

But these scenarios are categorically different from ones in which machines decide to turn on us, defeat us, make us their slaves, or exterminate us.

In this regard, we are unquestionably safe. On a sadder note, we are just as unlikely to someday have robots that decide to befriend us or show us love without being specifically prompted by instructions to do so.

This is because such intentional behavior from an A.I. would undoubtedly require a mind, as intentionality can only arise when something possesses its own beliefs, desires, and motivations.

The type of A.I. that includes these features is known amongst the scientific community as “Strong Artificial Intelligence”. Strong A.I., by definition, should possess the full range of human cognitive abilities.

This includes self-awareness, sentience, and consciousness, as these are all features of human cognition.

On the other hand, “Weak Artificial Intelligence” refers to non-sentient A.I. The Weak A.I. Hypothesis states that our robots—which run on digital computer programs—can have no conscious states, no mind, no subjective awareness, and no agency.

Such A.I. cannot experience the world qualitatively, and although they may exhibit seemingly intelligent behavior, it is forever limited by the lack of a mind.

A failure to recognize the importance of this strong/weak distinction could be contributing to Hawking and Musk’s existential worries, both of whom believe that we are already well on a path toward developing Strong A.I.

To them it is not a matter of “if”, but “when”.

But the fact of the matter is that all current A.I. is fundamentally Weak A.I., and this is reflected by today’s computers’ total absence of any intentional behavior whatsoever.

Although there are some very complex and relatively convincing robots out there that appear to be alive, upon closer examination they all reveal themselves to be as motiveless as the common pocket calculator.

This is because brains and computers work very differently. Both compute, but only one understands—and there are some very compelling reasons to believe that this is not going to change.

It appears that there is a more technical obstacle that stands in the way of Strong A.I. ever becoming a reality.

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How HTTPS Website Security Is Making the Internet Safer From Hackers

You may have noticed in your travels around the internet that your browser’s address bar occasionally turns green and displays a padlock—that’s HTTPS, or a secure version of the Hypertext Transfer Protocol, swinging into action.

This little green padlock is becoming vitally important as more and more of your online security is eroded.

Just because your ISP can now see what sites you browse on doesn’t mean they have to know all the content your consuming.

Below is the rundown on HTTPS, so you can better understand this first, and easiest line of defense against potential snoopers and hackers.

HTTP or the Hypertext Transfer Protocol is the universally-agreed-upon coding structure that the web is built on.




Hypertext is the basic idea of having plain text with embedded links you can click on; the Transfer Protocol is a standard way of communicating it.

When you see HTTP in your browser you know you’re connecting to a standard, run-of-the-mill website, as opposed to a different kind of connection, like FTP (File Transfer Protocol), which is often used by file storage databases.

The protocol before a web address tells your browser what to expect and how to display the information it finds. So what about the extra S in HTTPS?

The S is simple. It means Secure.

It originally stood for Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) which is now part of a broader security protocol called Transport Layer Security (TLS).

TLS is part of the two layers that make up HTTPS, the other being traditional HTTP.

TLS works to verify that the website you’ve loaded up is actually the website you wanted to load up—that the Facebook page you see before you really is Facebook and not a site pretending to be Facebook.

On top of that, TLS encrypt all of the data you’re transmitting (like apps such as Signal or WhatsApp do).

Anyone who happens across the traffic coming to or from your computer when it’s connected to an HTTPS site can’t make sense of it—they can’t read it or alter its contents.

So if someone wants to catch the username and password you just sent to Google, or wants to throw up a webpage that looks like Instagram but isn’t, or wants to jump in on your email conversations and change what’s being said, HTTPS helps to stop them.

It’s obvious why login details, credit card information, and the like is better encrypted rather than sent in plain text—it makes it much harder to steal.

In 2017, if you come across a shopping or banking site, or any webpage that asks you to log in, it should have HTTPS enabled; if not, take your business elsewhere.

Check the details of the app listing and contact the developer directly if you’re worried about whether your connection to the web really is secure inside a mobile app.

So if HTTPS is so great, why not use it for everything? That’s definitely a plan.

There is now a big push to get HTTPS used as standard, but because it previously required extra processing power and bandwidth, it hasn’t always made sense for pages where you’re not entering or accessing any sensitive information.

The latest HTTPS iterations remove most of these drawbacks, so we should see it deployed more widely in the future—although converting old, large sites can take a lot of time.

If you want to stay as secure as possible, the HTTPS Everywhere extension for Chrome and Firefox makes sure you’re always connected to the HTTPS version of a site, where one has been made available, and fixes a few security bugs in the HTTPS approach at the same time.

It’s well worth installing and using, particularly on public Wi-Fi, where unwelcome eavesdroppers are more likely to be trying to listen in.

HTTPS isn’t 100 percent unbeatable—no security measure is—but it makes it much more difficult for hackers to spy on and manipulate sensitive data as it travels between your computer and the web at large, as well as adding an extra check to verify the identity of the sites you visit.

It’s a vital part of staying safe on the web.

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Pass it on: Popular Science