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Chelsey Coombs doesn’t understand her cats. Her 18-month-old male tuxedo cat, Creature, “follows you into the bathroom—you can take a bath or a shower and he just sits there and watches,” she says. He jumps around a lot, meowing insistently whenever a door is closed. While Creature is too invasive, her year-old female tortoiseshell cat, Aurelia, is much more timid: “She rarely ventures outside my room,” Coombs says, “She will try to go up to people but when they try to touch her she runs away.” Sometimes Aurelia drags her owner’s clothes into her litter box or food bowl, much to Coombs’ chagrin.
Many cat owners have similar stories of bizarre feline behavior. So it’s only natural that frustrated cat enthusiasts might try to create a high-tech solution to better understand their pets.
In 2003, Japanese toy company Takara Tomy released a handheld gadget called the Meowlingual Cat Translation Device. Equipped with a microphone, the device can purportedly interpret over 200 words from “cat chat” to Japanese, and glean 21 distinct emotions from a cat’s movements and behavior. More recently, several smartphone apps have popped up, claiming to help pet owners better understand their cats’ feelings by translating their hisses and meows.
Cat researchers are skeptical that these techy translators work as their manufacturers claim. The key to understanding our feline companions, they say, lies in a better comprehension of their personality traits that make them the temperamental creatures we know and love.
“I don’t think anyone fully understands cats, but everyone seems to be fascinated by what they are doing,” says Kurt Kotrschal, the head of the Konrad Lorenz Research Center, which focuses on animal behavioral research, at the University of Vienna in Austria.
The Meowlingual Cat Translation Device. Credit: Japan Trend Shop
Most people would say that dogs are easier to understand than cats (although Takara Tomy also sells the Bowlingual translator). This is because, inherently, dogs and cats socialize differently, Kotrschal says. Dogs are descended from wolves, which conform to each other in packs, cooperatively hunting and raising their young. So when he lives with a person, a dog’s first inclination is to conform his behavior to his owner. “Cats not are less socially intelligent, but their social lives seem to be more varied,” Kotrschal says. Cats are equally happy living in packs or a more solitary existence, so whether or not they conform to their owner’s behavior comes down to how much they like their owners.
Because cats tend to be more individualistic and don’t aim to please, researchers have been stymied for decades as they tried to do various laboratory tests with the persnickety kitties. “If you try to do standardized cognition tests, [cats] do not want to participate, they refuse to conform,” Kotrschal says. Even with studies of domestic cats in their homes, the researchers had no guarantee that the test subject would even “feel” like hanging out, while their canine counterparts can be reliably commanded to sit and stay. But fascination with cats has grown over the past 25 years, and more researchers have devoted their energy to unraveling the mysterious felines, according to Dennis Turner, the director of the Institute for Applied Ethology and Animal Psychology in Hirzel, Switzerland. Now, researchers understand more about cats’ behavior—and their relationship to people—than they do even about dogs, he says.
Cats have their own way of expressing themselves, and learning to read their cues takes time. “The way cats communicate their emotions, often with movements of the ears and tail, is pretty universal—you can generalize from one cat to the next,” Kotrschal says. Cats also make about 10 different vocalizations, Turner agrees, but we still don’t understand them perfectly; many of the sounds are unique to each individual cat, and researchers don’t understand even what a purr means.
Aurelia. Courtesy Chelsey Coombs.
Because not all cat sounds are universal, cat lovers should be wary of any device that claims to translate them, Kotrschal says. “If it’s basic vocalizations, it could be kind of okay, but sometimes cat behavior is not so easy to predict,” he adds. But a gadget that translates very basic cat vocalizations to human speech might actually work.
Turner isn’t convinced. “I don’t think something like this would ever work,” he says, unless some very qualified cat researchers helped develop the device. Cats are very expressive creatures, he says, and if owners spend enough time with them and learn their unique vocalizations and body language, they should be able to understand their pets without a gadget.“I don’t think anyone fully understands cats, but everyone seems to be fascinated by what they are doing.”
If offered a cat communication device guaranteed to work, Coombs would want to decipher the motivations behind her cats’ quirky behaviors. But Turner says that owners themselves may be unwittingly encouraging their cats’ idiosyncratic behaviors that they find most beguiling. “If the cat jumps on the toilet, the owner might actually scream for fear [the cat] might jump in,” Turner says. “But if the cat is seeking additional attention, that might be a reward—they got it, in a way.”
But for now, researchers and cat owners alike face similar issues as they try to wrangle their reluctant felines. “They’re very stubborn and hard to understand,” Coombs says. Nonetheless, if she were given a way to verbally communicate with her cats, “I think I would tell them that I really love them.”
You're reading If Cats Could Speak Human, What Would They Say?
From Sylvester in Looney Tunes to Mr. Mistoffelees in the 1980s musical, some of the most famous (albeit fictional) cats share a distinctively sharp appearance thanks to their black and white tuxedo-style coats. Cats with skin and fur marked by white patches in this way are known as bicolor or piebald. Piebaldism is also common in a range of domestic and farm animals including dogs, cows and pigs, deer, horses, and appears more rarely in humans. It is caused by a mutation in a gene called KIT.
Our team of researchers from the universities of Bath, Edinburgh and Oxford have been working to unlock the mystery of how these animals get their distinctive patterns. We have discovered that the way these striking pigment patterns form is far more random than originally thought. Our findings have implications for the study of a wide range of serious embryonic disorders in humans, including diseases affecting hearing, vision, digestion, and the heart.
Piebaldism usually manifests as white areas of fur, hair or skin due to the absence of pigment-producing cells in those regions. These areas usually arise on the front of an animal, commonly on the belly and the forehead. Piebald patterns are among the most striking animal coat patterns in nature.
Although the effects of piebaldism are relatively mild, it is one of a range of more serious defects called neurocristopathies. These result from defects in the development of tissues and can manifest as heart problems, deafness, digestive problems and even cancer. The diseases are all linked by their reliance on a family of embryonic cells called neural crest cells. By understanding piebaldism better, we can improve our understanding of these related and more serious diseases.
Animals acquire piebald pigmentation patterns on their skin when they are still developing embryos. Piebaldism arises when the precursors of pigment-producing cells spread incorrectly through the embryo. In normal development, pigment cells start near the back of the embryo and spread through its developing skin to the belly. As the cells spread they also multiply, creating more cells, some of which are left behind to ensure all the skin is pigmented.
With piebaldism, however, the darkly coloured pigment cells don’t make it as far as the belly in time to pigment the hair and skin. This results in distinctive white patches of fur and skin, usually around the belly of the animal, the furthest point from where they started. It has long been thought that pigment cells migrate directly from the back to the front and that the lack of pigmentation at the front is due to pigment cells not moving fast enough.
However, our findings, published in Nature Communications, paint a different picture. We found that, if anything, cells in piebald animals migrate faster than in normal animals, but that they don’t divide as often. This means that there simply aren’t enough cells to pigment all the areas of the developing embryo.
Cells starting near the back of the embryo migrate around to the front. Richard Mort
Chimaeric animals develop from a fusion of two early-stage embryos. If the original embryos would have been differently coloured (for example, black and white), the chimaeric animal often has striped or patchy coat patterns, a mix of the two colours. Previously, the predominant theory was that each stripe was created by a small number of initiator cells that spread from back to front.
Our study used a combination of biological experimentation and complex mathematical modelling to demonstrate that pigment cells migrate randomly. Rather than moving in a specific direction like the sprinters in a 100-metre race, the cells move with little or no persistence, like drunks staggering out of the local bar at closing time. The striped patterns seen in some chimaeric mice may simply be the result of several groups of cells of the same colour coming together by chance.
Using our mathematical model, we can explore and evaluate a huge range of possible alternative biological hypotheses for pattern formation. This gives us a deeper understanding that would be impossible with experiments alone. It also means we could reduce the number of animals used in experiments in this important research area.
Excitingly, there is now the potential to use the same mathematical model to investigate other cell types during early development. This creates a new opportunity to learn more about medical conditions linked to early cell positioning, including those that give rise to certain types of cancers of the nervous system and other debilitating diseases such as Waardenburg syndrome, Hirschsprung disease and Ondine’s curse, a respiratory disorder that is fatal if left untreated.
This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.
Bruce Alberts, former president, National Academy of Sciences
Paul Curtis, New Tech Network
Linda Darling-Hammond, education professor, Stanford University
Larry Rosenstock, CEO, High Tech High
Grant Wiggins, Authentic Education
George Wood, Coalition of Essential Schools
Organizations and Resources that Support and Promote Comprehensive Assessment
Bruce Alberts is Professor Emeritus in the Department of Biochemistry and Biophysics at the University of California, San Francisco, and former president of the National Academy of Sciences (NAS). During his twelve-year tenure at NAS, he played a key part in developing the National Science Education standards that are now used in schools across the country.
What steps would you propose at the state and national level to better understand the strengths and weaknesses of the standardized tests currently administered to K-12 students throughout the country?
“Right now we have examples, I think, of some tests that do the right thing. I would think that the state of Maryland’s assessment — which is basically problem oriented, performance oriented, and graded by teachers in schools — is driving the right kind of teaching, and is having a good effect on learning. But, the sad part of all this, is that we haven’t put enough resources into what I would call scientific research on education to find out whether the Maryland test is really working.”
“We’re doing all of these experiments, and, in principle, we could create a continuously improving system by studying the experiments. But if we’re doing experiments and nobody’s evaluating, and everybody’s claiming success, and every state thinks they have a good system, then of course, we’re never going to get anywhere with education in United States.”
Read the full chúng tôi interview with Bruce Alberts.
Paul Curtis is director of school quality for New Tech Network, a national organization that works with communities to develop innovative public high schools. The New Tech model emphasizes project-based learning, a school culture that empowers students and teachers, and the integration of technology into the classroom. During his teaching career, Curtis helped to define the curriculum model and assessment practices at the flagship New Tech High, in Napa, California.
How does the New Tech approach differ from more traditional assessment?
“Traditional assessment tends to oversimplify the data. If a student turns in a major research paper a few days late, it gets graded down — 10 points a day or whatever the penalty may be. Let’s say it’s a B+ paper but, because he turned it in late, the student receives a C-. When you put C- into the grade book, you’ve lost all meaningful data about the student’s skills or abilities. The grade doesn’t tell you if the essay was poorly written, had poor content, or was just late. In the same way, overall course grades don’t tell us enough about the skills and abilities of a student. They don’t show us how we can intervene and help that student.”
“At New Tech, we give an assignment multiple grades, all scored separately in our grade book using rubric-based assessments. A teacher might assess the understanding of content, how well the assignment was written, the critical thinking that was involved, and also the student’s work ethic. Rather than seeing grade-book categories such as tests, homework, and papers, students see categories such as oral communication, work ethic, written communication, collaboration, critical thinking. When you look at students’ grades, you can quickly tell if they’re working hard (by the work-ethic grades), or if they’re struggling with content and need resources or differentiation.”
“I like to share a story about a student who was leading a campus tour. An adult visitor asked why she had volunteered to conduct the tour. She said, “My oral presentation scores are low, and I know I need to practice. This is a good opportunity for me to practice speaking in front of people.” There’s a metacognitive awareness that these skills are important, across classes and for life. Rather than avoiding the things they’re not good at, students tend to seek out opportunities to improve those skills.”
How does this approach change conversations with parents?
“When we sit down with parents and students, we can look at grades together and get an assessment of the relative strengths and weaknesses of a student. This changes the entire dialogue. It’s a richer conversation. Once we recognize students’ weak areas, we can work together to improve them.”
What helps teachers get comfortable using this approach to assessment?
“Our approach involves massive, holistic systems change. It’s not a piecemeal approach. It’s not just changing how we give grades. It’s also project-based learning, technology integration, longer class periods — everything. We’ve changed the rules. If we’re going to assess teamwork and critical thinking, we need to give students opportunities to develop these skills. Teachers have to create assessment systems that define what these skills mean and then provide regular opportunities for students to demonstrate them. It’s a matter of getting everyone comfortable in this new system.”
What does formative assessment look like in this model?
“During a project, you’ll see students doing different things. Some will be working with their team. One might be doing research individually. A small group might be working with the teacher on a mini-lesson. A typical class might start with a quiz, a quick journal write, or some other way for the teacher to check in on where kids are. Students who need help on the content or skill that was just assessed will then work with the teacher on a mini-lesson or workshop. Some teachers leave space on the whiteboard for students to request a workshop on something they’re struggling with. It might be related to content, or it might have to do with how to work better with their team members. We want kids to find their own path to knowledge, one of which is through the teacher.”
How does assessment help students manage their own learning?
Read an chúng tôi article about assessment at New Tech High School: “Accurate Assessment: Grades That Mean Something”.
“In the United States, now we’re talking a lot about international competition, internationally benchmarked standards and so on. So, I’ve looked at a lot of high-achieving countries around the world to see what they do to create a strong teaching and learning system. It became very clear to me right away that the issue is not just the standards that are written on paper. It’s the entire system that is created in high-achieving countries like Finland and Singapore, Australia, Canada, Hong Kong and others, that is very different from what we have in the United States.”
“What you see in high achieving countries is typically a very lean set of standards. In Finland or Japan, for example, all of the math standards can fit in about ten pages from K-12. They are very clear about what needs to be taught and when and how it builds over time. But they’re not overly prescriptive. They have school-based assessments as well as external assessments that are brought together in the accountability system that include things like research and inquiry, scientific investigations, extensive writing. Most of these countries do not use multiple choice testing to any great degree. Some don’t use it at all. Kids are always having to write, analyze, explain their views, produce data, analyze data on a regular basis — both in the classroom and on the assessments.”
“By comparison, in the United States, we do have standards and many states have created good standards. Many states, however, have not attached curriculum to the standards. So, they’ve gone straight to tests. In some states, the standards are sort of a mile wide and an inch deep. There are 300 things to cover in each grade level, not a small number of things to do well and deeply. And the content coverage of large numbers of objectives superficially means that we end up re-teaching the same thing over and over again, year after year because we didn’t stop and do it well and deeply at a moment in time. So, our kids study fractions in third grade and then again in fourth grade and fifth grade. Many of them don’t get it.”
“Whereas, if we spent, as many countries do, a quarter of a year on a single topic, working on it deeply, you could then understand it deeply enough to move forward. I think this accounts, in part, for the low achievement that we see in this country relative to other countries.”
“I think if we don’t make all of the changes that are necessary to create a forward looking teaching and learning system, we’re going to find that we continue to fall further and further behind other countries — in the international assessments, but also in the world, around education and eventually the economy itself.”
Watch the full chúng tôi interview with Linda Darling-Hammond.
“Legislative bodies feel that they need to have transparency for how their public dollars are being spent. That’s to be expected. Unfortunately, standardized tests only cost one dollar a copy to grade, so they rely, not surprisingly, on the least expensive and least sophisticated method of getting transparency. We get transparency by having students get up and present their work repeatedly and formally with live audiences. We get transparency by having glass all over the place, so you can see what everyone’s doing, and having three thousand people come in every year to visit. The problem with standardized tests is that there’s an over-reliance on them. There’s an assumption. I think the medical community understands that the more times you take the patient’s temperature — they don’t get better by more frequent temperature takings. My remedy to the fallacy of standardized tests is a very simple one (that probably won’t happen). Give Congress the ninth grade Stanford 9, and make the results public, and the discourse on standardized testing will change in a day.”
“There are many benefits to having kids present their work publicly. A principal one is that a child learns from experience, and they are no longer shy about doing it. I tell our visitors who come here, ‘Stop any child that you want, grade six through twelve, at random, and ask them what they’re working on and watch what happens. They’ll look you in the eye and they’ll talk to you about what they’re working on.’ It’s another way of getting at the transparency of recognizing whether they’re doing work that’s worth doing, and whether they’re learning things that are worth learning. If we are watching these presentations of learning and we see a really good one, and then we see a not so good one, then we all — new teachers, new students, and the rest of us — say, ‘That was a really good one. That one wasn’t so good. Next cycle, mine’s going to be more like that one and less like that one.’ It’s not about judging, looking backwards. It’s about correcting forward, and having built a mechanism into a school where you have a cycle of improvement, so the quality of work can become of better and more lasting value than yesterday.”
Watch the full chúng tôi interview with Larry Rosenstock.
Grant Wiggins is a nationally recognized assessment expert who has been working in assessment reform for more than twenty-five years. He is president of the educational consulting firm Authentic Education, and with Jay McTighe, co-author of Understanding by Design, an award-winning framework for curriculum design used around the world.
What distinctions do you make between “testing” and “assessment”?
“Our line of argument is that testing is a small part of assessment. It needs to be part of the picture. Many people who are anti-testing end up sounding anti-evaluation and anti-measurement. A good test has a role to play. The language that we like to use is, it’s an audit. It’s a snapshot. You don’t run your business for the audit. You want more than a snapshot, you want a whole family album. But the audit and the snapshot have a place in the larger picture.”
“What can the test do that more complex, performance-based, project-based things can’t do? Look for discrete knowledge and skill for the individual student. Many projects, because they’re so collaborative, end up making you wonder, well, what about the individual student? What does the individual student know?”
“For instance, in some state-based, performance-based assessment, they always had a parallel paper-and-pencil test for the individual student so that you had enough data on the individual. A different way to say it — and this is what scientists and researchers say — is triangulate the information. Match the quiz against the project, against the PowerPoint® presentation. Now what’s the whole picture say? So, what we would say is “testing” is one piece of a portfolio.”
Why is it important that teachers consider assessment before they begin planning lessons or projects?
“One of the challenges in teaching is designing, and to be a good designer you have to think about what you’re trying to accomplish and craft a combination of the content and the instructional methods, but also the assessment. And one of the things that we’ve done over the past years in working with teachers is share with them how important it is to say, “What are you going to assess? What’s evidence of the goals that you have in mind?” Otherwise your teaching can end up being hit-or-miss.”
“We call it backward design. Instead of jumping to the activities — ‘”Oh, I could have kids do this, oh, that’d be cool” — you say, “Well, wait a minute.” Before you decide exactly what you’re going to do with them, if you achieve your objective, what does it look like? What’s the evidence that they got it? What’s the evidence that they can now do it, whatever the “it” is? So you have to think about how it’s going to end up, what it’s going to look like. And then that ripples back into your design, what activities will get you there. What teaching moves will get you there?”
Read the full chúng tôi interview with Grant Wiggins.
George Wood has had a distinguished 30-year career in public education, serving as teacher, principal, school board member, and education professor. He is currently principal of Federal Hocking High School in Stewart, Ohio. He is also president of the executive board of the Coalition of Essential Schools and executive director of the Forum for Education and Democracy. Wood is the author of Time to Learn and Schools That Work: America’s Most Innovative Public Education Programs.
Why do schools need better ways of assessing student learning?
“As an educator, parent, and community member, I’ve always been interested in what people can do. Unfortunately, much of school is about what people claim they can do as measured by paper-and-pencil tests. We are misled in terms of our understanding about what people learn because we use the wrong measures.”
“For example, I like to fly-fish. I’ve worked hard to get relatively proficient, but I’m still learning. If you asked me how to make a Parachute Adams #18 dry fly, I could describe all the steps and fill in the right bubbles on a test. But my Parachute Adams would not look the way it should. And if you asked me to take what I know and go catch a fish, I probably couldn’t do it. I have a long ways to go before anyone would consider me an expert.”
“In education, our most important task is to prepare young people to be engaged and active democratic citizens. I will wager that most students in this country can tell you something about the Bill of Rights. But try asking them, “So how could you exercise your First Amendment right of freedom of speech?” Most will have no idea. In the end, it’s about what you can do — not what you can spout off. That’s why we have to get at different ways of assessing what kids know.”
What does authentic assessment look like in practice?
“At the end of each semester, our teachers engage students in extensive, half-day performances of what they have learned. In physical education, for example, our students spend the first part of the period using a website to determine their metabolic levels and basic data. Then they select a candy bar from their teacher’s desk. Now, here’s the kicker: The teacher asks them to design and then perform a 60-minute exercise program, based on what they have learned that semester, that will work off the candy bar’s calories.”
“Students should be able to demonstrate their knowledge through application. That’s the ticket.”
What about assessment that happens in less formal ways?
“Assessment is not just about what students have learned. It’s also about them understanding their own limitations and recognizing what else they need to learn. That’s how musicians, artists, and actors get better at their craft. Their work is critiqued, and then they understand what they need to work on to improve. Assessment helps us learn more.”
What can school leaders do to encourage a more comprehensive approach to assessment?
“We have to rethink the overall organization of school. How can we give teachers more planning time, more opportunities to collaborate? How can we build professional-development opportunities and expertise within the school staff? At our school, we have ongoing conversations about exit skills, student portfolios, schedules. Last year, we changed our end-of-semester exams so that they last for half a day. Now, teachers have enough time to do high-quality performance assessments. And these assessments count — big time.”
“Visiting schools that work this way is crucial; you just have to go see it. Then, you have to plan backwards to figure out the steps needed to make it happen at your school.”
Organizations and Resources that Support and Promote Comprehensive Assessment
A set of footprints buried in the dunes of New Mexico’s White Sands National Park has landed in the middle of an ongoing reevaluation of the human history of the Americas.
The prints were left over thousands of years by humans who walked among giant sloths, camels, and mammoths on the grassy shores of a lake 23,000 years ago, as determined by radiocarbon dating of grass seeds found around the footprints.
That’s in stark contrast to the conventional hypothesis in archaeology, which holds that the first Americans crossed over between 16,000 and 12,000 years ago, when the glaciers still covered North America, and Siberia and interior Alaska were part of the same grassy subcontinent called Beringia.
But the footprints aren’t the first find to contradict that hypothesis. In 2023, a team found what they believe to be 30,000-year-old stone tools in a cave in central Mexico, followed shortly by another find in Mexico that may be more than 20,000 years old. They haven’t reshaped consensus within the field, because of questions over either the artifacts themselves or the dating used on the site.
Yet even archaeologists who aren’t convinced of older habitation agree that these footprints could cause them to rethink their views. “White Sands is clearly different as there are no artifacts to debate,” says Jesse Tune, an archaeologist at Fort Lewis College. “It’s hard to imagine more conclusive evidence for human activity than the literal [footprint] of someone standing on the shoreline of a lake ~23,000 years ago.”
It’s hard to find an archaeological site that isn’t up for some interpretation. “If folks are walking on that lake bed for 2,000 years, there should also be a bunch of archaeological sites associated with them that are nearby,” says Jessi Halligan, an archaeologist who studies the early habitation of the Americas at Florida State University. “Hopefully a few were preserved and are dateable to tell us more. Having some kids and teenagers trekking around in the mud is exciting, but as archaeologists, we always want to know more of the story.”
The excavation site where the footprints were found. National Park Service, USGS and Bournemouth University
If the footprints do tip the scales towards an older migration, that could lead to a wider reevaluation of other pre-glacial artifacts. And that wouldn’t be the first time in recent decades that the archaeological consensus around the settling of the Americas has changed. Until the 2000s, there was still open debate over whether a group known as the Clovis people were the first inhabitants of the Americas. More recent genetic and archaeological evidence, however, has made it clear that other peoples had arrived earlier.
[Related: Early humans hooked up with other species a whole bunch]
“There are many sites that have really good dating and really good reports that are much older,” says Paulette Steeves, an archaeologist at Algoma University who studies Indigenous history, and author of The Indigenous Paleolithic of the Western Hemisphere. She’s compiled hundreds of finds that she finds credible that date back before 16,000 years.
Other archaeologists argue that these older sites contain less clear-cut evidence than the newer ones, making them less compelling against a widely held theory.
Once a hypothesis is established, it takes an extra lift to overturn it. “Archaeology is a careful balance of skepticism and open-mindedness, and I’m cautious to get too excited about the White Sands prints until we have more information,” says Tune.
Tune’s previous research on other possible pre-glacial sites, which might overturn the conventional hypothesis, has turned up blank: in 2023, he investigated three older sites and found that in each case, what had appeared to be stone or bone tools were either formed naturally, or couldn’t be definitively connected to the ancient layers.
But Steeves approaches the existing ancient sites differently. There’s a long history of what she describes as “violent criticism against archaeologists discussing older sites.” Steeves is Cree-Metis, and says that tendency is rooted in archaeology’s use as a tool to discount Indigenous claims to North America.
To her, the existing finds tell a consistent story of human habitation in the Americas that goes back hundreds of thousands of years. “There’s a word in the Cree language that means ‘when the glaciers went home,’ or ‘when the ice went home,’” she says. “People have those words in their Indigenous language because they were here before, right?”
She argues those non-physical pieces of evidence are important for contextualizing older archaeological sites. “Good science looks at every form of evidence available to highlight what you’re looking to discuss.”
“I always like to remind people to think critically,” says Steeves. “[Human] history has changed so much over the last 100 years, everywhere in the world. We’re always doing more excavations, we’re always finding out more.”
There’s a cartoon that made the rounds in the Linux community a few years back that I often think of at this time of year.
It’s a joke, of course, made funny by the fact there may just be the tiniest hint of truth underlying it, at least among some people. The reason I think of it at year’s end, though, is that mainstream adoption of Linux is generally considered a goal by many in the free software community, and it’s an oft-cited hope for every new year.
There are, of course, numerous critics who say it will never happen, at least on the desktop. I disagree. Either way, however, it’s fun to think it through, in both a serious and a not-so-serious way: What if everyone ran Linux?
1. Malware Would Take a Hit
Certainly the biggest effect of widespread Linux adoption would be that today’s Windows-dominated monoculture would disappear, replaced instead by a diversity of Linux distributions.
That, in turn, would make life very difficult for malware creators. Sure, they may begin focusing their efforts on Linux rather than Windows, but instead of having one, huge, slow-moving easy target, it would be a matter of trying to kill 100 birds with one stone.
In Linux, the way permissions are assigned also means that the potential damage an individual piece of malware could achieve is much more limited. Would malware creation still be as profitable? I’m not so sure.
Yes, it’s still a good idea to use antivirus software when you’re running Linux, and the increased focus on Linux may make that more necessary.
That would be even more true, of course, because of the openness of Linux’s code, which enables users to identify and fix vulnerabilities themselves, as they arise. No more waiting for security bulletins or fixes in a “Patch Tuesday” event far down the road.
3. Less Unplanned Downtime
Between the malware problems and other built-in weaknesses, Windows tends to be associated with a lot of unplanned downtime.
4. Worldwide Savings
As companies and individuals the world over stop having to pay exorbitant licensing fees and other software costs, they’d find themselves with surplus cash on their hands as well.
Imagine what could be achieved with the hundreds of dollars per desktop that would be saved as a result–not to mention all the many thousands more from not having to keep up with the hardware upgrade treadmill Windows requires.
Finally, if everyone were using Linux, the software would just keep getting better, as even more people around the world would be motivated and able to suggest and contribute improvements.
Rather than companies like Microsoft or Apple trying to guess what users want and then delivering it down the road with varying degrees of success, users themselves would have a hand in shaping the software they use and making it what they want.
I certainly don’t mean to suggest that Linux is perfect; no operating system is. But given the many tolls Windows takes on its users, the world would clearly be a very different place without it. If everyone used Linux instead, there are many ways in which it would be a better place.
Emails are a popular way to keep in touch with people, be it friends, family, or co-workers, but often companies that you deal business with will send you the occasional promotional email if you signed up for subscriptions.
In this piece, we’ll go over some of the things you can look for to tell if the emails you’re getting are legitimate, or if they’re a con artist trying to scam you of your personal information.What is phishing, and why is it a thing?
Low-life people do this for all kinds of malicious intents and purposes; one of the most common is identity theft. You can, however, protect yourself from these kinds of emails; the best way to go about that is to know how to spot a phishing email, and know what you should do when you come about one.Signs that an email you received is a phishing email
In a detailed support document, Apple explains some of the most common characteristics of a phishing email. We’ll go over them with you below and try to explain them to the best of our abilities.
1. The email headers have incorrect information in them
For example, if you receive an email from “Walmart” about your most recent purchase, and the final received line says something like “Recevied from chúng tôi (123.456.789.120)” then it’s probably a fraud because “machax” has nothing to do with Walmart, and the IP address probably doesn’t match that of Walmart’s web servers either.
2. Links in the email take you somewhere other than where it should
Another sure sign that you’ve been phished is when an email you’re sent has links in it that claim to take you to a certain website, but take you to another one instead. You can hover your mouse over a link in an email, and OS X will automatically display the URL that the link will want to take you to.
3. Websites you visit from the email are fake
You have to be careful in many of the instances where you see a link in an email, because some hackers will throw together a really good mock-up of a legitimate website that can be very convincing when you load it up. Many of the websites are designed the same and have the same logos all over them, but there’s one pretty good way you can tell if the site is legitimate or not.
The latest versions of many web browsers, such as Safari, Firefox, and Chrome will do a check to ensure the website is legitimate. If it passes the Extended Validation (EV) check, which is a check to ensure the website is legitimate, then the company name in the URL bar will be shown in green color instead of black.
If you visit a website you usually see a green company name in the URL bar, but if you see it black instead, you might consider backing out before you enter any valuable or personally identifiable information, such as credit card numbers, because the website might just be waiting for you to submit that information to a hacker for malicious use.
4. The email refers to you generically, instead of by name
Since most high-end companies that you subscribe for emails with will have your name on record, legitimate emails will typically call you by your name. A phishing email often refers to the recipient with a generic name that could fit the picture in many cases, no matter what your name is.
For example, if the beginning of an email from Walmart says, “Hi Anthony,” then you’d have less to be wary off than an email from Walmart that begins with, “Dear valued customer” because it shows that the email came from a source that knows who you are rather than a source that doesn’t and is just trying to refer to you as something universal so it fits the thousands of other people who are receiving the same phishing email.
5. The email came to an email that you didn’t give the company
If you subscribe to a company with one email (email A) and you end up receiving an email from that company in another one of your email inboxes (email B), then you have a strong reason to be wary of the email.
Since you didn’t give the company email B, how could they have possibly known they were sending the email to you? Better yet, how did they get that email in the first place? Since you subscribed with email A, you should have received the email in the inbox of email A.
If you can’t explain why an email arrived in the wrong email inbox, you should steer clear of it. Emails should only arrive in the inbox of the correct email address when you subscribe for emails. Any emails that end up in the inboxes of your other accounts are probably fake and may be trying to lure you into a trap.Protecting yourself from emails you think are phishing
If you receive emails like any of the above, then you probably have a strong case to believe the emails are trying to lure you into providing personal information. If you receive a phishing email, here are some safe practices for you to keep in mind.
1. Compare information of the new email with past emails
If you have received legitimate emails from a company before, such as Walmart, you should compare the contact details of that email to another email claiming to be from that same company.
For example, if I received an email from Walmart before, and the new email claims to be from Walmart too, I can compare the email addresses to see if the sender is coming from a Walmart address or not.
Although email address spoofing is possible, this is a good first place to check, because some morons will send emails from their personal email or a completely unrelated email instead of taking the time to properly spoof their email addresses.
If you receive an email claiming to be from Walmart, and it’s an @Gmail account, then you obviously know something’s up. Also pay attention to the language in the email, such as the way the email refers to you.
2. Don’t provide personal information
Unless you’ve confirmed with the company that the email was legitimate, you should never provide any personal information to an email that you believe is a phishing email.
This includes personal information like:
Your credit card details
Your social security number
Your maiden name
And so forth…
Typically, legitimate emails will never ask for your personal information. They’ll just link you to a site where you have to log in with that site’s username and password, and will give you information from there, but if an email asks you for your login information for a service, which is unlikely from business-dealing companies, you should not provide it in the chance that the email could be trying to steal an account of yours.
3. Don’t download or open attachments
If you suspect an email is a phishing email, don’t download or open attachments that may be connected to the email. Some of the attachments may contain malware, which may try to spy on your key presses or steal passwords and other valuable information as you enter them.
Most automated emails from legitimate companies rarely ever include attachments, and will be fully-coded in HTML instead so you don’t have to open any attachments.How to report a suspected phishing email to Apple
Of course, reporting an email is no guarantee that the messages will stop, and reporting legitimate emails won’t help the cause, so you should only ever report obvious phishing emails and ones that you truly believe are doing nothing but trying to steal your personal information or cause harm to your computer.Conclusion
Don’t be a victim of a phishing email. Although many phishing emails are completely obvious to some, they may not be so obvious to your mother, or grandmother, or someone else who isn’t as technology-literate as you are. Spread the word and keep the emailing system safe for everyone!
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