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Saturday, October 27, 2012

Article: Two Possible Paths into the Future of Wearable Computing: Part 2 – AR | Valve

[An important analysis of how personal tech is likely to evolve over the next five years or so. -egg]

Two Possible Paths into the Future of Wearable Computing: Part 2 – AR | Valve

(via Instapaper)

Good interview with Obama

Obama and the Road Ahead: The Rolling Stone Interview | Politics News | Rolling Stone

(via Instapaper)

Aviation vulnerability: Scan boarding passes to discover if you're in for deep screening; print new barcodes if you don't like what you find

Aviation vulnerability: Scan boarding passes to discover if you're in for deep screening; print new barcodes if you don't like what you find:
Want to know if you're in for a date with Doctor Jellyfinger the next time you go to the airport? Just print out your boarding-card and scan in the barcode: it encodes whether you're getting the "full security screening" or just the normal humiliation. Information about this vulnerability spread after a John Butler blog-post documented it. Not only can you discover if you're headed for the full monte, but you can also change your screening status by re-encoding the barcode with a different search-depth attached to your reservation.

I have X’d out any information that you could use to change my reservation. But it’s all there, PNR, seat assignment, flight number, name, ect. But what is interesting is the bolded three on the end. This is the TSA Pre-Check information. The number means the number of beeps. 1 beep no Pre-Check, 3 beeps yes Pre-Check. On this trip as you can see I am eligible for Pre-Check. Also this information is not encrypted in any way.

What terrorists or really anyone can do is use a website to decode the barcode and get the flight information, put it into a text file, change the 1 to a 3, then use another website to re-encode it into a barcode. Finally, using a commercial photo-editing program or any program that can edit graphics replace the barcode in their boarding pass with the new one they created. Even more scary is that people can do this to change names. So if they have a fake ID they can use this method to make a valid boarding pass that matches their fake ID. The really scary part is this will get past both the TSA document checker, because the scanners the TSA use are just barcode decoders, they don’t check against the real time information. So the TSA document checker will not pick up on the alterations. This means, as long as they sub in 3 they can always use the Pre-Check line.

October 19, 2012 Security Flaws in the TSA Pre-Check System and the Boarding Pass Check System.

(via /.)

Friday, October 26, 2012

The infrastructure of longevity — a systems-level perspective of living to 100

[I thought this was pretty thoughtful. Good reminder that I could use richer daily community in my life. -egg]
The infrastructure of longevity — a systems-level perspective of living to 100:
I really enjoyed reading a recent story in The New York Times Magazine about attempts to understand extreme longevity — the weird tendency for certain populations to have larger-than-average numbers of people who live well into their 90s, if not 100s.

Written by Dan Buettner, the piece focuses on the Greek island of Ikaria, and, in many ways, it's a lot like a lot of the other stories I've read on this subject. From a scientific perspective, we don't really understand why some people live longer than others. And we definitely don't understand why some populations have more people who live longer. There are lots of theories. Conveniently, they tend to coincide with our own biases about what we currently think is most wrong with our own society. So articles about extremely long-lived populations tend to offer a lot of inspiring stories, some funny quotes from really old people, and not a lot in the way of answers.

Buettner's story has all those elements, but it also proposes some ideas that were, for me, really thought provoking. After spending much of the article discussing the Ikarian's diet (it's low in meat and sugar, high in antioxidants, and includes lots of locally produced food and wine) and their laid-back, low-stress way of life, Buettner doesn't suggest that we'll all live to be 100 if we just, individually, try to live exactly like the Ikarians do. In fact, he points out that other communities of long-lived individuals actually live differently — Californian Seventh-Day Adventists, for instance, eat no meat at all and don't drink, and they live with the normal stresses of everyday American life.

What these groups do have in common, though, is a strong social infrastructure that ties people to each other emotionally and connects individual choices to a bigger community lifestyle.

It's hard to follow any diet when you're trying to do it on your own, in a culture that doesn't necessarily encourage you. It's hard to sleep in until 11:00 am every day (as the Ikarians do) when the social infrastructure of your community would actively punish such behavior. What's more, a common thread running through all these communities is an emphasis on the life-long pursuit of things that give your life meaning. There's not a cutoff point when you're expected to sit back, relax, and do nothing until you die.

The importance of systems, and how they shape individual behavior, is something I spent a lot of time thinking about while writing my book on energy. For example, it's somewhat futile to tell people to make an individual choice to drive less if the infrastructure of their city is set up in such a way that living without a car means being trapped in your house. But it's not something I'd thought about in terms of longevity.

Buettner's piece seems to suggest that it's not really your specific diet that matters. By which, I mean that eating healthy is definitely important, but there might not be a single, strict, specific diet that makes some things taboo and other things mandatory and must be followed at all times.

Instead, the important thing might really be your community as a system. If your community eats well (and makes eating well easy), so will you. If your community makes physical fitness part of daily life, you're more likely to be physically fit. If your community helps you create meaning in your life, it will be easier to find it. It's not really a solid answer for "HOW TO LIVE LONGER NOW", but it is intriguing. More importantly, from my perspective, it makes living a healthy life sound, you know, pleasant ... rather than like an obnoxious, individual dogma that creates smug insiders and resentful outsiders.

Of course, all of this fits nicely with my own personal biases, so who the hell knows. ;)

We do know from reliable data that people on Ikaria are outliving those on surrounding islands (a control group, of sorts). Samos, for instance, is just eight miles away. People there with the same genetic background eat yogurt, drink wine, breathe the same air, fish from the same sea as their neighbors on Ikaria. But people on Samos tend to live no longer than average Greeks. This is what makes the Ikarian formula so tantalizing.

If you pay careful attention to the way Ikarians have lived their lives, it appears that a dozen subtly powerful, mutually enhancing and pervasive factors are at work. It’s easy to get enough rest if no one else wakes up early and the village goes dead during afternoon naptime. It helps that the cheapest, most accessible foods are also the most healthful — and that your ancestors have spent centuries developing ways to make them taste good. It’s hard to get through the day in Ikaria without walking up 20 hills. You’re not likely to ever feel the existential pain of not belonging or even the simple stress of arriving late. Your community makes sure you’ll always have something to eat, but peer pressure will get you to contribute something too. You’re going to grow a garden, because that’s what your parents did, and that’s what your neighbors are doing. You’re less likely to be a victim of crime because everyone at once is a busybody and feels as if he’s being watched. At day’s end, you’ll share a cup of the seasonal herbal tea with your neighbor because that’s what he’s serving. Several glasses of wine may follow the tea, but you’ll drink them in the company of good friends. On Sunday, you’ll attend church, and you’ll fast before Orthodox feast days. Even if you’re antisocial, you’ll never be entirely alone. Your neighbors will cajole you out of your house for the village festival to eat your portion of goat meat.

Via Tom Rafferty
Read the full story at The New York Times Magazine

Slow Loris eats rice ball

Slow Loris eats rice ball:

Link, via Joe Sabia. From the uploader's notes, it appears that her name is Kinako, she has teeth, and she was born in a pet shop in Japan.

* I think it's awful that these creatures are sold as pets, but it's nice that this owner, who may have rescued her, I don't know, is taking gentle care of her.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Article: Portrait of the Artist as a Postman: Texas Monthly October 2012

Portrait of the Artist as a Postman: Texas Monthly October 2012

(via Instapaper)

#881; In which a Standard is questioned

#881; In which a Standard is questioned:
Come ON, you don't have to tell me WHERE the Goldstone Deep Space Communications Complex is
This comic is dedicated to the engineers at JPL! Yesterday I was lucky enough to get to tag along on a tour my wife organized for her fellow crew members from the TV show Robot Chicken. Mars rover driver Scott Maxwell and his colleagues were kind enough to show us all around the facility! Check it out

Monday, October 22, 2012

Experimental short documentary on the northern lights

Experimental short documentary on the northern lights:

Jan sends us this trailer for Magnetic Reconnection, "An experimental short form documentary contrasting the northern lights with the harsh landscapes and decaying man made remnants littered in the northern Canadian town of Churchill. The film touches upon the power of nature over man and the futility of struggle against the natural processes of decay. Despite our best attempts they are a power far beyond our control or ability to quantify. Featuring a score by Jim O'Rourke (Sonic Youth, Wilco), narration by Will Oldham (Matewan, Old Joy) and likely some of the best footage of the aurora ever captured."

"Until recently aurora footage was captured on 35mm film at an ISO value of 800 with up to 30 second exposure times,” said Armstrong. “The resulting images often appeared to have very little definition or semblance of what the phenomenon appears to the naked eye and had the appearance of blobs of plasma with small changes. Over the past 10 years advances in digital sensing technology has led to more accurate representations, what you’ll see if you look on YouTube, with 15 second exposures, even 10 second exposure times. While they make for compelling and pretty pictures, these clips are frequently set against with moonlit nights with loads of light pollution suffering from the plasmic blob look because of the long exposure times.

Magnetic Reconnection | NEWS

(Thanks, Jan!)

Sets for a Film I’ll Never Make: The Unbelievably Intricate Cardboard Sculptures of Daniel Agdag

Sets for a Film I’ll Never Make: The Unbelievably Intricate Cardboard Sculptures of Daniel Agdag:
Sets for a Film Ill Never Make: The Unbelievably Intricate Cardboard Sculptures of Daniel Agdag sculpture paper cardboard
Sets for a Film Ill Never Make: The Unbelievably Intricate Cardboard Sculptures of Daniel Agdag sculpture paper cardboard
Sets for a Film Ill Never Make: The Unbelievably Intricate Cardboard Sculptures of Daniel Agdag sculpture paper cardboard
Sets for a Film Ill Never Make: The Unbelievably Intricate Cardboard Sculptures of Daniel Agdag sculpture paper cardboard
Sets for a Film Ill Never Make: The Unbelievably Intricate Cardboard Sculptures of Daniel Agdag sculpture paper cardboard
Sets for a Film Ill Never Make: The Unbelievably Intricate Cardboard Sculptures of Daniel Agdag sculpture paper cardboard
Sets for a Film Ill Never Make: The Unbelievably Intricate Cardboard Sculptures of Daniel Agdag sculpture paper cardboard
Sets for a Film Ill Never Make: The Unbelievably Intricate Cardboard Sculptures of Daniel Agdag sculpture paper cardboard
If you ask Melbourne-based artist Daniel Agdag what he does, he’ll tell you that he makes things out of cardboard. However this statement hardly captures the absurd complexity and detail of his boxboard and PVA glue sculptures that push the limits of the medium. Agdag is an award-winning creator of stop-motion films and this new series of work, Sets for a Film I’ll Never Make, feature a number of his structural experiments which he refers to simply as “sketching with cardboard”. Miraculously, each work is created without detailed plans or drawings and are almost wholly improvised as he works. You can see these latest sculptures at Off the Kerb Gallery starting October 26, 2012 in Melbourne’s inner north suburb of Collingwood.

Kindle user claims Amazon deleted whole library without explanation

Kindle user claims Amazon deleted whole library without explanation:
According to Martin Bekkelund, a Norwegian Amazon customer identified only as Linn had her Kindle access revoked without warning or explanation. Her account was closed, and her Kindle was remotely wiped. Bekkelund has posted a string of emails that he says were sent to Linn by the company. They are a sort of Kafkaesque dumbshow of bureaucratic non-answering, culminating in the customer service version of "Die in a fire," to whit, "We wish you luck in locating a retailer better able to meet your needs and will not be able to offer any additional insight or action on these matters," a comment signed by "Michael Murphy, Executive Customer Relations,"

As previously advised, your account has been closed, as it has come to our attention that this account is related to a previously blocked account. While we are unable to provide detailed information on how we link related accounts, please know that we have reviewed your account on the basis of the information provided and regret to inform you that it will not be reopened.

Please understand that the closure of an account is a permanent action. Any subsequent accounts that are opened will be closed as well. Thank you for your understanding with our decision.

I appreciate this is not the outcome you hoped for and apologise for any disappointment this may cause.

Back in 2009, when Amazon settled the lawsuit over its remote deletion of Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four (you really can't make this stuff up), it promised that it would not perform any further deletions unless ordered to do so by a court. I repeatedly asked Amazon whether DRM-free ebooks, or files that users load onto their Kindles themselves, could be remotely deleted. I never received a response of any kind.

My guess is that Amazon has the capability to wipe any file from any Kindle, and likely also has the ability to read any file on any Kindle. I'd further speculate that the policy violation that Linn stands accused of is using a friend's UK address to buy Amazon UK English Kindle books from Norway. This is a symptom of Amazon's -- and every single other ebook retailer's -- hopelessness at managing "open territory" for ebooks.

"Open territory" is a publishing term describing places where no publisher holds exclusive retail rights. In English-language book-contracts, it's almost always the case that countries where English isn't the native or official language are "open territory," meaning that if a writer sells her English language rights in Canada and the US to Macmillan, and her UK/Australia/NZ/South African rights to Penguin, both Penguin and Macmillan are legally allowed to sell competing English print and electronic editions in Norway, Rwanda, India, China, and Russia.

However, the universal approach taken by ebook retailers to "open territory" is to pretend that it doesn't exist. If no publisher is registered as the exclusive provider of an edition in a given country, the ebook retailers just refuse to sell to people in those countries. I've spoken to e-rights people in the major publishing houses, and they hate this, because a) it just drives piracy; and b) it represents lost sales. But there's no shifting the etailers, apparently.

If my conjecture about Linn's offense is correct, then she has not violated copyright, nor has she done anything that would upset a publisher. She's merely violated the thousands of words of impossible fine-print that comes with your Kindle, Nook, Kobo, and iPad, as have all of us. This fine print will always have a clause that says you are a mere tenant farmer of your books, and not their owner, and your right to carry around your "purchases" (which are really conditional licenses, despite misleading buttons labelled with words like "Buy this with one click" -- I suppose "Conditionally license this with one click" is deemed too cumbersome for a button) can be revoked without notice or explanation (or, notably, refund) at any time.

It's likely that the EU's open market directives prohibit any kind of discrimination of sales based on national borders within the EU (though Norway isn't technically in the EU). However, the EUCD's strict prohibition on DRM circumvention (which Norway both voluntarily adopted and exceeded) means that purchasers of ebooks and ereaders can't take any steps to enforce their legal rights, nor can any business or nonprofit assist them in these matters.

I was a bookseller for many years. I have no idea whether everything that my customers did with their books was legal. It's likely that some of them photocopied their books and passed them around. Embarrassingly enough, I once sold a small stack of rather excellent novels to a guy who bought them with a counterfeit bill. Despite all this, I -- as a bookseller -- was never, ever expected to repossess those books. I was not expected to police my customers' use of those books. I did not have -- nor did I want -- the facility to know what else my customers shelved on their bookshelves next to the books I sold them.

Reading without surveillance, publishing without after-the-fact censorship, owning books without having to account for your ongoing use of them: these are rights that are older than copyright. They predate publishing. They are fundamentals that every bookseller, every publisher, every distributor, ever reader, should desire. They are foundational to a free press and to a free society. If you sell an ebook reader is designed to allow Kafkaesque repossessions, you are a fool if you expect anything but Kafkaesque repossessions in their future. We've been fighting over book-bans since the time of Martin Luther and before. There is no excuse for being surprised when your attractive nuisance attracts nuisances.

It's true that the ability to revoke files over the air is a boon to people whose devices are stolen or lost. Much of that benefit can be realized by designing devices that encrypt their storage (to a user password) by default (though we know about the weaknesses of passwords, of course). It's also conceivable to have an over-the-air deletion system that requires a sign-in from the device owner/user at a Web-browser, and that isn't available to the manufacturer alone. Both of these are more cumbersome than simply reporting your device stolen and knowing that the next time it's connected to the Internet, it will delete itself.

But as we learned when Mat Honan's phone, laptop, and backups were remotely wiped by a hacker, having a manufacturer-controlled remote wipe facility means that your data is only as safe as the most careless front-line telephone-bank service rep at the manufacturer, which is to say, not very.

If it's a choice between paving the way for tyranny and risking the loss of your digital life at the press of a button by some deceived customer service rep, and having to remember a password, I think the password is the way to go. The former works better, but the latter fails better.

Outlawed by Amazon DRM

Outlawed by Amazon DRM (Google cache)

(Thanks to Eirik and all the others who sent this in)

(Image: DRM PNG 1 900, a Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike (2.0) image from listentomyvoice's photostream)

#417 Manhattan Project

#417 Manhattan Project: