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An anonymous reader writes "Facebook on Friday released its Android launcher called Home. The company also updated its Facebook app, adding in new permissions to allow it to collect data about the apps you are running. Facebook has set up Home to interface with the main Facebook app on Android to do all the work. In fact, the main Facebook app features all the required permissions letting the Home app meekly state: 'THIS APPLICATION REQUIRES NO SPECIAL PERMISSIONS TO RUN.' As such, it’s the Facebook app that’s doing all the information collecting. It’s unclear, however, if it will do so even if Facebook Home is not installed. Facebook may simply be declaring all the permissions the Home launcher requires, meaning the app only starts collecting data if Home asks it to."

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Betony Vernon Unicorn Butt Plug – $3,475

Now, I could begin this section with a Harry Potter-inspired joke along the lines of, “I knew that Ron Weasley was a little too distressed when the Whomping Willow broke his Unicorn-hair-core wand during his second year at Hogwarts,” but that would be incredibly distasteful. It would also be irrelevant since, despite the name, “this beautifully crafted butt plug is made out of silver and horses [sic] mane.” I mean, seriously? Horse mane? What happened to truth in advertising! Betony Vernon has clearly lost his way.

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2011 was a year of global tumult, marked by widespread social and political uprisings, economic crises, and a great deal more. We saw the fall of multiple dictators, welcomed a new country (South Sudan), witnessed our planet's population grow to 7 billion, and watched in horror as Japan was struck by a devastating earthquake, a tsunami, and a nuclear disaster. From the Arab Spring to Los Indignados to Occupy Wall Street, citizens around the world took to the streets in massive numbers, protesting against governments and financial institutions, risking arrest, injury, and in some cases their lives. Collected here is Part 3 of a three-part photo summary of the last year, covering 2011's last months. Be sure to also see Part 1, and Part 2, totaling 120 images in all. [40 photos]

Occupy Wall Street protesters march and hold signs in New York City on September 17, 2011. Frustrated protesters had been speaking out against corporate greed and social inequality on and near Wall Street for the previous two weeks, further sparking a protest movement that spread across the world. Original here. (CC BY SA Carwil Bjork-James)

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Each month in the Big Picture, we post a collection of photographs from Afghanistan.  They feature American forces and those of other countries, and they show us daily life among the Afghan people.  In June, President Obama declared that the United States had largely achieved its goals in Afghanistan, which set in motion an aggressive timetable for the withdrawal of American troops. However, the fighting has spiked in some regions of the country. On Aug. 6, the United States suffered its deadliest day in the nearly decade-long war when insurgents shot down a Chinook transport helicopter, killing 30 Americans and eight Afghans.  According to the United Nations, 360 Afghan civilians were killed in June alone.  The surges of violence reflect how deeply entrenched the insurgency remains even far from its strongholds. The war continues.  -- Paula Nelson (42 photos total)
Villager Juma Khan meets with the provincial district governor and fellow villagers at a shura, or consultation, on July 23 at the US Marine Patrol Base Salaam Bazaar in Helmand province, Afghanistan. As mentors with the international coalition attempt to phase out their involvement and put Afghan institutions in the lead, the Taliban continue to gain strength in many of Helmand's northern communities, where legitimate Afghan governance is more of a plan than a reality. (David Goldman/Associated Press)

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In 2005, a team of researchers at the Brain and Mind Institute of the École Polytechnique in Lausanne, Switzerland set out to do some truly wonderful things. Led by neuroscientist Henry Markram, the team, known as the Blue Brain Project, spent two years tearing down rat brains to the molecular level and using what they learned to reverse-engineer a highly detailed, functioning computer model of a rat's cortical column—a basic building block of brain structure.

You know that brains start with neurons, cells that can transmit electrochemical signals. A single neuron is like one person, standing around by themselves and playing an instrument. A cortical column is like an orchestra, with thousands of neurons communicating and working together to accomplish a single task. There are 10,000 neurons in a single rat cortical column. Ten thousand neurons, an amazing amount of complexity—just to do something simple, like twitch a single whisker. To make a whole functional rat brain, you need 100,000 cortical columns. The larger, more complex human brain is even more astounding, with some 100,000 neurons to a single cortical column and perhaps as many as 2 million columns.

Recreating that on a computer requires a frightening amount of processing capability. Each neuron, alone, needs the equivalent of a standard laptop. The computer that the Swiss team used to model a single rat cortical column is a massive beast, one of the fastest supercomputers in the world. But it's still not enough to do what Markram and his team want to accomplish next. Their new goal: Model the form and function of the entire human brain, cortical column-by-cortical column—a task that's likely to take more than a decade.

The Blue Brain Project is currently in the running for a European Commission research grant that would bring in 100 million euros a year for 10 years. The final decision won't happen until next Spring, but if Blue Brain gets the nod, it'll become the Human Brain Project—and could be a major step toward creating a man-built mind. (Or death by Skynet, depending on whether you're a glass-is-half-empty kind of person.)

On May 9, Rueters photographer Denis Bailbouse went inside the Blue Brain Project and took some beautiful photos of the people and computers that could shape the future of the human race. Take a look, be awed. (All image captions written by Reuters, not me.)

Top image: Pipettes are placed near a rat brain sample for an experiment in a lab of the Blue Brain Project at the Brain Mind Institute of the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (EPFL) in Ecublens, near Lausanne May 9, 2011. If selected from amongst six other candidates by the Future and Emerging Technologies (FET) Flagship Program launched by the European Commission, the Blue Brain Project will upgrade to become the Human Brain Project and will receive funding up to 100 million euros a year for 10 years. The final decision will take place in April 2012. The goal of the Blue Brain Project is to reconstruct the brain piece by piece and build a virtual brain in a supercomputer. (REUTERS/Denis Balibouse)

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Cables are pictured on the Internet server at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (EPFL) in Ecublens, near Lausanne May 9, 2011. (REUTERS/Denis Balibouse)

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Lab assistant prepares pipettes for an experiment in a lab of the Blue Brain Project at the Brain Mind Institute of the EPFL in Ecublens. (REUTERS/Denis Balibouse)

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Shi works on the 3D modelling of a neuron in a lab of the Blue Brain Project at the Brain Mind Institute of the EPFL in Ecublens (REUTERS/Denis Balibouse)

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Lab assistant Delattre prepares for an experiment in a lab of the Blue Brain Project at the Brain Mind Institute of the EPFL in Ecublens. (REUTERS/Denis Balibouse)

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Professor Henry Markram head of the Blue Brain Project poses in a lab of the Brain Mind Institute at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (EPFL) in Ecublens (REUTERS/Denis Balibouse)

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A rat brain sample is placed into liquid for an experiment in a lab of the Blue Brain Project .
(REUTERS/Denis Balibouse)

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A technician poses near a Blue Gene/P deep computer of the Blue Brain Project at the Brain Mind Institute.

(REUTERS/Denis Balibouse)

For more on the Blue Brain Project, check out these stories:

Henry Markram's detailed and fascinating description of the project, written for Nature Reviews Neuroscience in 2006, before the team had finished modeling the rat cortical column.

Jonah Lehrer's story for Seed Magazine, written in 2008, that tells the story of the project, and how it met its first modeling goal.

• The well-written Blue Brain Project website itself.

• Henry Markram's 2009 TEDTalk

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