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Friday, September 7, 2012

Anthrax's Dan Spitz is now a master watchmaker

[Dude. -egg]

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Anthrax's Dan Spitz is now a master watchmaker

Hodinkee's John Reardon has a great profile on and interview with Dan Spitz, former Anthrax guitar hero who quit the music business to become a world-renowned, prize-winning watchmaker who hand-lathes his own replacement parts for antique watch restorations. Reardon quit his gig to spend more time with his family -- he has twin boys who have autism -- and to pursue his lifelong technical passions. He's hand-built his own workbench!

Funny story, actually. I was working as a watchmaker in Geneva and thinking I would never go back to music when Dave Mustaine from Megadeth called me and said "Dude, what are you doing? Stop messing with watches. You need to come back and start writing music again. You are one of the creators of our genre, thrash metal. You need to stop tinkering around with these million dollar toys and get back to music." This lecture led to the end of my solitary confinement as a watchmaker. I looked down the bench and saw another watchmaker working on a crazy watch but obviously also headbanging. I walked over to him and saw that he was blasting Slayer. He was working on a multiple fly-back, jump hour, chrono, perpetual calendar, moon phase, tourbillon and he's blasting Slayer! I looked at him and thought, "That's it, I'm done. I'm going back to music." In the end, most people in Switzerland are blasting while working on watches, anything from Barbra Streisand to Slayer.

My grandfather was a watchmaker, and I grew up playing with junk movements and parts. It's amazing to hear the story of someone so accomplished -- especially in a second career begun as an adult.

Interview: Meet Dan Spitz, Anthrax Guitarist Turned Master Watchmaker

(via Kottke)

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Article: Why I Stopped Pirating Music | Cult of Mac

[Very interesting perspective. -egg]

Why I Stopped Pirating Music | Cult of Mac

(via Instapaper)

HOWTO protect yourself from ATM skimmers

HOWTO protect yourself from ATM skimmers:

Brian Krebs, who has written many excellent investigative pieces on ATM skimmers, spent several hours watching footage seized from hidden skimmer cameras, and has concluded that covering your hand while you enter your PIN really works in many cases -- and that many people don't bother to take this elementary step.

Some readers may thinking, “Wait a minute: Isn’t it more difficult to use both hands when you’re withdrawing cash from a drive-thru ATM while seated in your car?” Maybe. You might think, then, that it would be more common to see regular walk-up ATM users observing this simple security practice. But that’s not what I found after watching 90 minutes of footage from another ATM scam that was recently shared by a law enforcement source. In this attack, the fraudster installed an all-in-one skimmer, and none of the 19 customers caught on camera before the scheme was foiled made any effort to shield the PIN pad.
Krebs goes on to note that this doesn't work in instances where the skimmer includes a compromised PIN pad, and it seems likely that if covering PINs became more routine that crooks would take up this technique more broadly. But for now, covering your PIN with your free hand is a free, effective means of protecting yourself from ATM skimmers.

A Handy Way to Foil ATM Skimmer Scams

A long stripper pole

[Nice. -egg]
A long stripper pole:
Diplo - Set It Off feat. Lazerdisk Party Sex from Pomp&Clout on Vimeo.
Illustrator Bob Staake says: "Thought you might enjoy taking at look at my son Ryan's new video for Diplo. Nice to see that all that RISD tuition I paid is helping to fund infinite stripper poles in space!"

#866; The World’s Most Secure Website

#866; The World’s Most Secure Website:
The hacker furiously pounded his keyboard, sending Cheeto crumbs jumping. ''Foiled again!'' he roared, knocking over a half-empty bottle of warm Mtn. Dew. ''I'll NEVER figure out when she runs her dishwasher!''

Check out: Bad Lip Reading

Check out: Bad Lip Reading:
Bad Lip Reading is one of my favorite YouTube channels. Here’s their take on Twilight.

This is the first time I’ve seen them try to assemble a coherent narrative (of sorts) out of their re-dubs. Usually it’s silly non sequitur stuff like this hilarious Mitt Romney piece:

“I bought two zebras and tamed a parrot named Mr. Future.” I could watch this stuff all day.

Far From ‘Junk,’ DNA Dark Matter Proves Crucial to Health -

[The idea of "junk DNA" always did seem a bit implausible to me. -egg]

Obama, Seeking Re-Election, Asks for Patience -

[Nice look at Obama, four years in. -egg]

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Why SF movies make me insane

Why SF movies make me insane:
My latest Locus column is "Why Science Fiction Movies Drive Me Nuts," in which I propose that the reason the science in sf movies is so awful is that they're essentially operas about technology.

The reason that SF movies command such a titanic amount of attention and money from audiences is because they are brilliantly wrought spectacles. What they lack in depth and introspection, they make up for in polish and craftsmanship. Every costume is perfect. Not one polygon is out of place. An army of musicians, the greatest in the land, have picked up horns and stringed instruments by the orchestra-load and played precisely the right music to set the blood singing, written by genius composers and edited into the soundtrack by golden-eared engineers from the top of their trade. The product is perfectly turned out, and this perfection attracts the eye and captures the mind.

But although these spectacles look like movies, what they really are is opera – stylized, larger-than-life, highly symbolic work that is not meant to be understood literally. And it makes me nuts.

How else to explain the glaring inconsistencies that sit in the center of these movies, like turds floating in the precise center of a crystal punchbowl carved out of the largest, most perfect diamond in the whole world? I mean, look at Spider-Man again, and think for a moment about the absurdity of its set-pieces.

Cory Doctorow: Why Science Fiction Movies Drive Me Nuts

Are pesticides evil, or awesome?

Are pesticides evil, or awesome?:

Are pesticides helpful things that allow us to produce more food, and keep us safe from deadly diseases? Or are they dangerous things that kill animals and could possibly be hurting us in ways we haven't even totally figured out just yet?

Actually, they're both.

This week, scientists released a research paper looking at the health benefits (or lack thereof) of organic food—a category which largely exists as a response to pesticide use in agriculture. Meanwhile, Rachel Carson's book Silent Spring, which forced Americans to really think about the health impacts of pesticides for the first time, was published 50 years ago this month.

The juxtaposition really drove home a key point: We're still trying to figure out how to balance benefits and risks when it comes to technology. That's because there's no easy, one-size-fits-all answer. Should we use pesticides, or should we not use them? The data we look at is objective but the answer is, frankly, subjective. It also depends on a wide variety of factors: what specific pesticide are we talking about; where is it being used and how is it being applied; what have we done to educate the people who are applying it in proper, safe usage. It's complicated. And it's not just about how well the tools work. It's also about how we used them.

“It is not my contention,” Carson wrote in Silent Spring, “that chemical insecticides must never be used. I do contend that we have put poisonous and biologically potent chemicals indiscriminately into the hands of persons largely or wholly ignorant of their potentials for harm. We have subjected enormous numbers of people to contact with these poisons, without their consent and often without their knowledge.”

You can see why this isn't an easy issue. It's legitimate to be concerned about how pesticides affect biodiversity. It's also legitimate to be concerned about having access to the tools we need to protect people from malaria. At some point, you have to make a decision, but you're fooling yourself if you think that decision is clear-cut.

The situation gets doubly confusing when you start adding in the fact that we don't actually have a lot of great data on the human health impacts of pesticides. In fact, we might never have good data on that.

Xeni had a nice write up on the organic food paper earlier this week, but I'd also recommend reading the story that Emily Sohn wrote at Discovery News. The organic food study you read about this week was actually a review paper—a study of studies. Scientists looked at hundreds of research papers comparing organic and conventional food and tried to use that data to figure out what we do and don't know in the big picture. Studies like this are a lot more meaningful than single papers alone, but it also means there's a ton of stuff going on and understanding it all gets very confusing very quickly. Sohn does a really nice job of breaking down the details of the paper and she digs into the key problem: We don't have enough evidence to answer the questions that really matter.

Only 17 studies compared groups of people eating different diets, and most showed no difference on measures like sperm motility, levels of fatty acids in breast milk or antioxidant levels in blood.

“We evaluated just under 6,000 potentially relevant articles…and identified 17 studies that looked at people eating diets that were organic or conventional,” said Dena Bravata, a general internist and health researcher at Stanford University and Castlight Health in San Francisco. “Here’s this gigantic industry and there have been 17 studies. To highlight the paucity of evidence that really directly answers the question we had, I think that’s interesting.”

Together, the results are too inconclusive and disparate to draw any major conclusions, said Betsy Wattenberg, a toxicologist at the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities.

In order to really know anything about food-related risks that people tend to care most about, such as cancer or reproductive and developmental health issues, we would need carefully controlled studies that last for years or even decades.

Those kinds of studies don’t exist, and they are likely impossible to do.

Read Emily Sohn's full article on the organic food study

Read a retrospective on Rachel Carson's work written by William Souder at Slate

Image: A soldier sprays a mixture of DDT and kerosene in an Italian home. Spraying like this helped to drastically reduce malaria in Italy. Otis Historical Archives National Museum of Health and Medicine.

Your cellphone is a tracking device that lets you make calls

Your cellphone is a tracking device that lets you make calls:
Just in case you had any doubts about how much of a security risk your mobile phone presents, have a read of Jacob Appelbaum's interview with N+. Jake's with both the Tor and Wikileaks projects, and has been detained and scrutinized to a fare-thee-well.

Appelbaum: Cell phones are tracking devices that make phone calls. It’s sad, but it’s true. Which means software solutions don’t always matter. You can have a secure set of tools on your phone, but it doesn’t change the fact that your phone tracks everywhere you go. And the police can potentially push updates onto your phone that backdoor it and allow it to be turned into a microphone remotely, and do other stuff like that. The police can identify everybody at a protest by bringing in a device called an IMSI catcher. It’s a fake cell phone tower that can be built for 1500 bucks. And once nearby, everybody’s cell phones will automatically jump onto the tower, and if the phone’s unique identifier is exposed, all the police have to do is go to the phone company and ask for their information.

Resnick: So phones are tracking devices. They can also be used for surreptitious recording. Would taking the battery out disable this capability?

Appelbaum: Maybe. But iPhones, for instance, don’t have a removable battery; they power off via the power button. So if I wrote a backdoor for the iPhone, it would play an animation that looked just like a black screen. And then when you pressed the button to turn it back on it would pretend to boot. Just play two videos.

Resnick: And how easy is it to create something like to that?

Appelbaum: There are weaponized toolkits sold by companies like FinFisher that enable breaking into BlackBerries, Android phones, iPhones, Symbian devices and other platforms. And with a single click, say, the police can own a person, and take over her phone.

You may be saying here, "Huh, I'm sure glad that I'm not doing anything that would get me targeted by US spooks!" Think again. First, there's the possibility that you'll be incorrectly identified as a bad guy, like Maher Arar< who got a multi-year dose of Syrian torture when the security apparatus experienced a really bad case of mistaken identity.

But second, remember that whatever governments can do with technology, organized criminals can do too (this is doubly true of back-doors that governments mandate in telecoms equipment and software to make spying easier -- they can be used by anyone, not just "good guys").

And finally, remember that whatever the leet haxxors of the mafia are doing today on the cutting edge will be reduced to a short script that can be run by fatfingered noobie script kids tomorrow, in automated attacks that are indiscriminately ranged against tens of millions of devices in the hopes of finding a few that are vulnerable.

Or as Jake says:

The first response people have is, whatever, I’m not important. And the second is, they’re not watching me, and even if they were, there’s nothing they could find because I’m not doing anything illegal. But the thing is, taking precautions with your communications is like safe sex in that you have a responsibility to other people to be safe—your transgressions can fuck other people over. The reality is that when you find out it will be too late. It’s not about doing a perfect job, it’s about recognizing you have a responsibility to do that job at all, and doing the best job you can manage, without it breaking down your ability to communicate, without it ruining your day, and understanding that sometimes it’s not safe to undertake an action, even if other times you would. That’s the education component.

So security culture stuff sounds crazy, but the technological capabilities of the police, especially with these toolkits for sale, is vast. And to thwart that by taking all the phones at a party and putting them in a bag and putting them in the freezer and turning on music in the other room—true, someone in the meeting might be a snitch, but at least there’s no audio recording of you.

Leave Your Cellphone at Home

(via /.)

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Jobs reincarnated

Jobs reincarnated: The late Apple co-founder and CEO Steve Jobs has been reincarnated as a handsome warrior-philosopher in a mystical palace floating over Cupertino, a state of affairs that the Wall Street Journal reports is "impossible to corroborate".

Why oversimplified science news headlines may not be healthier for you

Why oversimplified science news headlines may not be healthier for you:

Here's why I wish SEO didn't factor into science news: the hunger for traffic encourages headline writers to tart up the findings of studies beyond recognition, and away from more boring truths. Case in point, this NPR item, forwarded to me by more than one friend: "Why Organic Food May Not Be Healthier For You."
This headline is amplified by secondary and tertiary outlets, Facebooked and tweeted, each time diluting the actual science in the story to concentrations so weak, they might as well be labeled homeopathic tincture of news.
But let's dig further. The study it references, published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, examined a number of existing studies and comes to a more nuanced conclusion than the viral headline suggests. Quote:

The published literature lacks strong evidence that organic foods are significantly more nutritious than conventional foods. Consumption of organic foods may reduce exposure to pesticide residues and antibiotic-resistant bacteria.

Oh, and,

Studies were heterogeneous and limited in number, and publication bias may be present.

So the meta-study of all these studies concludes that existing science shows consumption of organic produce is associated with lower levels of pesticide exposure. And, that there is no conclusive evidence from existing studies that, say, an organic apple will always be higher in nutrients than an apple grown with man-made chemical pesticides and the like.

Well, fine. I buy organic when possible not because I presume the organic apple has more vitamins, but because we don't really know how chemical pesticide residues affect our bodies over longer periods of time (not to mention intergenerational DNA, or the bodies of farm workers, or our environment). It makes sense to me that the less of those chemicals we use and consume, the better.

I believe this in part because I do not have faith that the industry producing those chemicals has my best interest at heart, and in part because I don't really know that our federal standards for food pesticides are as safe as they should be.
I grew up playing in crop fields sprayed with all kinds of chemicals, many of which are now banned. What is considered safe in one era (hello, cigarettes!) may be found unsafe the next.
But tedious common sense like that doesn't tend to generate clicks any more than my crazy new diet secret: consume fewer calories, and burn more through exercise.

My conclusion? For optimum health, eat lots of fresh fruits and vegetables, and read the actual studies behind the news headlines your mom emails you.

* Yes, "organic" is a widely abused term, and not all chemical-pesticide-free farming is Certified Organic, and with food, things are always complicated. For the purposes of this blog post, we're talking about food grown without the use of man-made chemicals for growth stimulation, pest control, and the like.

(Image: pesticide free, a Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial No-Derivative-Works (2.0) image from hciere's photostream)

The [perhaps. -egg] best cat video on the Internet

The best cat video on the Internet:

That is a high claim, I know. But over Labor Day weekend, a combination of dedicated curation and popular vote resulted in Henri 2, Paw de Deux being named the best Internet cat video.

The Internet Cat Film Festival, sponsored by Minneapolis' Walker Museum of Art, drew a live audience of more than 10,000 people last Thursday night. Videos were curated from a massive collection submitted online, and were grouped into thematic categories— foreign films, for instance, or comedies. Henri 2 took home the Golden Kitty, a People's Choice award.

Bonus: If arguing about the merits of Henri 2 weren't enough of a gift to your procrastination tendencies, you can also check out a full list of all the films screened at the festival, including links.