The Kepler telescope has found 685 systems with 1705 exoplanets, and you can watch them whirr around together in this mesmerizing animation by astrocubs.
The fact that the worlds and systems we've observed are so different from our own is a limitation of our observations, not of the universe.
The orbits are shown to scale, but the planets are much larger than the orbits would suggest. Otherwise you wouldn't be able to see them. The planets are not to scale with one another, either. Also, the orbits wouldn't be perfectly circular, though I guess the animator might have made the simulation adhere to the laws of planetary motion an all the observed worlds have roughly-circular orbits. Of course the solar systems aren't this close tog—look, sshhhh, just watch it, it's pretty.
Please join Tom the Dancing Bug's subscription club, the INNER HIVE, for early access to comics, and more.
Last chance to get both EMU Club Adventures books, signed, sketched and delivered in time for the holidays here.
Important reminder, happy mutants! The Elf on the Shelf, the cherubic, round-eyed toy with a faux-traditional backstory, is yet another manifestation of the surveillance state. It watches you 24/7, then reports your behavior to an old white man with unaccountable authority who judges you and manipulates you with largesse or neglect.
Laura Pinto, a technology professor:
The gaze of the elf on the child’s real world (as opposed to play world) resonates with the purpose of the panopticon, based on Jeremy Bentham’s 18th century design for a model prison… What is troubling is what The Elf on the Shelf represents and normalizes: anecdotal evidence reveals that children perform an identity that is not only for caretakers, but for an external authority (The Elf on the Shelf), similar to the dynamic between citizen and authority in the context of the surveillance state. Further to this, The Elf on the Shelf website offers teacher resources, integrating into both home and school not only the brand but also tacit acceptance of being monitored and always being on one’s best behaviour--without question.
By inviting The Elf on the Shelf simultaneously into their play-world and real lives, children are taught to accept or even seek out external observation of their actions outside of their caregivers and familial structures. Broadly speaking, The Elf on the Shelf serves functions that are aligned to the official functions of the panopticon. In doing so, it contributes to the shaping of children as governable subjects.
The Washington Post asked her if she's serious. Yes and no, obviously:
“I don’t think the elf is a conspiracy and I realize we’re talking about a toy,” Pinto told The Post. “It sounds humorous, but we argue that if a kid is okay with this bureaucratic elf spying on them in their home, it normalizes the idea of surveillance and in the future restrictions on our privacy might be more easily accepted.”
The nastiest thing about the "Elf on the Shelf" is not that it elaborates the old "Santa's watching you" thing… … but the life-ovewhelming specificity with which it does it. The Elf on the Shelf's mythos controls the parameters of play, puts the observation of play expressly beyond the child's control, and defines who gets to touch what during play and who knows about it. It a very creepy toy.
(Whether it's worse than toys that let parents secretly spy on children old enough to have a sense of privacy, or internet-connected ones that send recorded media over the internet, is another matter)
prisoninmate writes: Google announces that its Google Chrome web browser will no longer be available for 32-bit hardware platforms. Additionally, Google Chrome will no longer be supported on the Ubuntu 12.04 LTS (Precise Pangolin) and Debian GNU/Linux 7 (Wheezy) operating systems. Users are urged to update to the Ubuntu 14.04 LTS (Trusty Tahr) release and Debian GNU/Linux 8 (Jessie) respectively. Google will continue to support the 32-bit build configurations for those who want to build the open-source Chromium web browser on various Linux kernel-based operating systems. Reader SmartAboutThings writes, on a similar note, that: Microsoft is tolling the death knell for Internet Explorer with an announcement that it will end support for all older versions next year. Microsoft says that all versions older than the latest one will no longer be supported starting Jan. 12, 2016. After this date, Microsoft will no longer provide security updates or technical support for older Internet Explorer versions. Furthermore, Internet Explorer 11 will be the last version of Internet Explorer as Microsoft shifts its focus on its next web browser, Microsoft Edge.
Read more of this story at Slashdot.
Let it never be said I don’t put my money where my mouth is. The full recommended gear list is here.
Another year is coming to a rapid close (where did it go?) and we find ourselves at the end of one of the best years in some time for both the photographer and the equipment collector. We’ve seen some genuinely innovative technology, some yawns, some WTFs, and some boundary pushing to find that last 0.01%. What follows is both my year in review and a wishlist in case you don’t know how to spend your year end bonuses…
Note: some of you may have seen a different post go up this morning. I apologise – that’s meant to be for another day, and once again the WordPress scheduler has messed up after my computer changed timezones…
It’s probably easiest to split this up by category.
Trend of the year – Drones, 4K, VR, Surround 3D video
There’s no question more and more content is being recorded and pushed with the intention of capturing attention through immersion. The challenge is the output medium isn’t quite there yet: we can record more than we can adequately show or recreate. My guess is that this stuff won’t become really mainstream until we have an easy way for everybody to consume the content – that includes hardware, software and easily available bandwidth. Can photographers still survive shooting only stills? I think so, but it’s going to be an increasingly niche and market. I do have one big fear though: accidents arising from inexperienced drone operators. One death and it’s going to be legislated up the wazoo. Sadly, it’s probably only a matter of time.
Accessory of the year – Sugru
Sugru is a bit of a wildcard. Those of you who’ve been paying attention to the reviews or seen my cameras in person will have noticed them sporting black silicone rubber putty in places; this is Sugru. It’s a permanent mouldable silicone adhesive that also happens to be the ultimate tool for fixing the ergonomic shortcomings of any camera. I’ve applied it to the grips of my E-M5II, A7RII (see above image) and for making focusing tabs on my Otii; they are now amongst the most comfortable cameras I’ve used. I’ve even managed to make a Quattro grip ergonomic and a perfect seal on my earbuds for traveling. I’m sure you can probably think of other applications – I just wish I’d had this stuff when I was using an L-bracket as a handgrip for the Hasselblad/CFV. Highly, highly recommended.
Honorable mention: The Metabones smart adaptors represent a bit more of a subtle shift. We are coming closer and closer to the dissolution of the camera ‘system’ as we know it: previously, we almost had to buy everything from the same manufacturer. Not so: the proliferation and increasing sophistication of adaptors means cross-brand solutions are mostly workable. It’s clunky, but only going to get better. Realistically, it means having the best tool for the job is no longer as expensive as it used to be – and beyond that, we have greater ability to achieve consistency across a wider range of shooting conditions (by using the same lenses). This is of course something the cinema industry has been aiming to for as long as we can remember – fast cuts have to match seamlessly between different lenses and cameras – but is relatively new for stills. I suspect the only reason we’re even seeing this happening at all is the increasingly rapid stills-video convergence.
Bag of the year – F-Stop Kenti
This is a very personal and contentious category, because it depends on one’s own personal physique as much as the hardware you carry. I got one of these early in the year, and whilst it isn’t a new bag per se, I’ve been consistently impressed by both how much stuff it can carry, and how well the harnesses distribute the weight. It’s relatively easy to work out of, and you never seem to run out of pockets. The only thing I don’t like about it is actually the waist straps – in an urban environment they’re a bit of a flappy pain, and putting them around the front lands up interfering with side pocket access. But for extensive walking, they’re quite useful for spreading the load. Never has it been so easy to carry far too much…
‘Innovation’ of the year – Olympus E-M1 firmware 4.0, Sony A7RII firmware 2.0
I struggled for quite a while to find something that would fit the bill for innovation. Fixing something that shouldn’t have been broken to begin with hardly counts, but at least it shows two things: firstly, manufacturers are finally listening and secondly, if you improve functionality even later in the camera’s life, you’ll potentially open up the way for a second wave of adopters for whom the camera didn’t work the first time around. Hopefully we’ll also see some genuinely useful features get added like Olympus’ focus bracketing. Come to think of it, there’s no reason why we can’t have a choice between Olympus-style shift or Pentax-style RGB stacking out of the A7RII, either…
Lens of the year (low end, below $500) – Nikon 55-200/4-5.6 VR II
I was thinking of picking the Tamron 16-300 f3.5-6.3 Di II VC PZD Macro since never have there been so many acronyms and boxes ticked by one lens…if you really want one that does it all, here’s your choice. Just make sure you have the body to match: somewhere around the lower end of 12-16MP is probably about right. The Nikon 55-200II, on the other hand, is a serious lens. It matches the resolving power of the D5500. It’s small, light and compact. It isn’t expensive on its own, but really good value when bundled with another body or purchased second hand (I paid ~$120 for mine, in like new condition; you can find new bulk/separated-from-kit copies for about $140 on Amazon).
Lens of the year (midrange, $500 to $1500) – An indecisive four-way tie between the Sigma Art 20/1.4, Zeiss 2.8/21 Loxia, Zeiss Milvus 1.4/85 and Zeiss Batis 1.8/85 Sonnar
I was impressed by all four of these lenses for different reasons. The Sigma because it really pushes what’s possible in lens design; it isn’t apochromatic like the Otii, but it’s darned close and wider and faster than anything else to date. Resolving power on 42MP sensors is impressive even wide open – it’s simply an impressive feat of optical engineering, and smaller than the Otus 28 to boot; inclusion of AF at one fifth of the price is takes it into mind boggling. Similarly, the Zeiss 2.8/21 Loxia really shows the direction in which I think lens design should go: trading off a bit more aperture still for smaller, extremely high quality, well-corrected optical designs. Being mostly electronic and in a short-flange mount is unfortunate, but it’s a really impressive lens without reservation. In fact, I think it’s a toss up between the Sigma and Loxia for the title of best 20/21mm. Lastly, the Batis is a sort of Goldilocks: it has the smooth rendition of a Sonnar, but can be bitingly sharp when it needs to be; it has AF and a stabiliser for pre-mark II bodies. Interestingly, two of the lenses here are E-mount only.
The 85 Milvus is worth a mention in more detail for very specific reasons. It isn’t an impressive feat of optical engineering, it isn’t that cheap or small or light, but it does have a rather special rendering, I think. The 85 Milvus uses almost the same optical formula as the incredible 85 Otus but minus one aspherical element and internal focusing. This change lowers chromatic aberration performance somewhat (there are traces of longitudinal CA) and overall microcontrast/resolving power as a result – but we also gain a smoother overall rendition, and there is no texture to bokeh of point sources (caused by moulded aspherical elements). This may well be the best all-round 85mm: fast, a third of the cost of the Otus 85, better rendering of OOF areas wide open (and slightly lower micro contrast being more flattering for portraiture) as well as almost matching its performance stopped down. I wanted to add the Nikon AFS 300/4 PF VR to the list – but I really can’t, as it doesn’t do what it claims on the box: VR doesn’t play nice with all D810s (resulting in inconsistent production of double images), even after firmware upgrades. A shame, because without VR this thing looks stellar – and is very small to boot.
Lastly, I realize I’m late to the party but wanted to add two honourable mentions: firstly, the Nikon AFS 200-500/5.6 E VR for bringing that kind of quality/reach combination at a crazy price – in my part of the world, it’s cheaper than a 70-200/4 VR, to put things in perspective. Yet it doesn’t feel as though optics or build or any other aspect of the lens have been compromised in the process. It elicits great want, but I personally do not have a need – so I refrained. The second honourable mention is for the older 2013 Sigma 18-35/1.8 Art – I used one for the first time a couple of weeks ago and was blown away by the performance, which appears to exceed even the Nikon 1.8G primes. It also covers FF from 28mm up, 1.2x from 20mm up, and square at most focal lengths. A bargain at $800…
Lens of the year (high end, over $1500) – Zeiss 1.4/28 Otus APO-Distagon
Those who have read my review of this lens will know that I have bittersweet feelings about it. On one hand, it is an engineering tour de force: there has never been a wide angle like it, much less one that tops out at f1.4 and has a very high degree of apochromatic correction to boot. But focusing it on any DSLR is like playing roulette; the optical finders and focusing screens are simply inadequately precise, and on top of that, the focus transition isn’t that distinct simply because it’s a wide angle. On a mirrorless body, the ergonomics are a disaster: you’ve got 1.5kg hanging off an adaptor with all the weight way out the front. And don’t forget those 95mm front filters. But then you look at the images and all the trouble seems worth it again. In many ways, this is very much the Otus line in a nutshell: they are the ultimate lenses for now and the only series whose resolving power wide open matches all current sensors. But the tradeoff is one of unavoidable physics: size, weight and cost. I am fortunate enough to own all three, but I will never carry them at the same time. If you must have the best – this (and a sherpa) is your only choice.
An honorable mention goes to the Nikon AFS 24-70/2.8 E VR: performance is truly impressive across the entire range and a clear notch above the old lens; VR is tenacious and seemingly immobile once locked on. However, the price and size are both eye-watering. If you are a PJ or event shooter, this will buy you another usable stop or two – and for that alone it might be worthwhile. Personally, I’ll stick to my 24-120/4 VR – I mostly work stopped down and find the extra reach more useful.
Camera of the year (below $2000) – The Nikon D5500
The first camera is going to be a bit of a surprise to regular readers; paired with the ubiquitous AFS 35/1.8 DX G, we have an answer to the light/fun/responsive 50mm-e question. Paired with good glass – with which it balances surprisingly well, thanks to the great grip design – image quality is very, very impressive: it’s like a D810 but with 33% less pixels. It’s responsive, lighter, and the battery lasts about five times longer than the A7RII. I use it in three ways: as a light, always-present telephoto option with the 55-200 mentioned above, solo with the 18-35/1.8, or paired with the Q and 24-120 VR for effectively 28-180mm-e coverage.
Ergonomics are really excellent, even for large hands. The screen rotates in both axes and AF is pretty darn fast. And you can use the touch screen like a trackpad to move the AF point with your eye to the finder – one of the more genuinely useful implementations (please Leica, can we have this for the Q?) that’s not even in the top of the line pro models. On top of that, whilst the body is expensive – approaching a used D7200 – there are frequently official factory refurbs that sell for $100 less than the body only price – but include the kit lens, too. It’s amazing just how good the low-end cameras have gotten. There is one gotcha with the D5500, though: there’s no AF fine tune function, and the AF system back focuses massively under tungsten light (despite being retuned by Nikon several times, and being spot on from about 3500K upwards).
An honourable mention goes to the 2013 Ricoh GR Digital (V): this may be an odd choice considering it is a 2013 camera, but the 2015 mark II model added nothing useful and compounded insult by increasing the price. The positive consequence is the old one became even cheaper, but no less capable. Still the best compact you can buy – remember, a Leica Q won’t fit in your pocket. (Actually, it might after removing that much cash from it.)
Camera of the year (high end, above $2000) – Leica Q Typ 116, with the Sony A7RII as runner up
Anybody who has shot with the Q 116 will know why it justifies its place in this list. It is probably the first of the new generation of all-electronic (finder, AF, mirrorless, touch screen etc.) cameras that has the immediacy, responsiveness and haptics of the best of any camera. It is a transparent camera in the best way possible, and has very, very well thought out ergonomics that never seem to get in the way. I have never at any point wished for an optical finder with this camera. Sure, there are optical compromises with the lens (some focus shift, field curvature, distortion, heavy software correction) to achieve size and cost objectives, but it matches pretty well to the 24MP sensor. I would have liked the sensor from the D810 or A7RII, but then it would become a precision ‘slow tool’ instead of a do-anything documentary camera with an incredibly wide shooting envelope. I’ve used it for everything from reportage in environmentally very unpleasant situations to handheld longish exposure nightscapes to family images at home, and it’s performed flawlessly. Unconsciously, it has turned out to be the camera I reach for when I need to grab a shot or carry only one camera – I have over 10,000 frames on my counter and never used the burst mode other than during early review testing. For the first time in years, Leica has succeeded in producing what feels like a true digital successor to the film M gestalt. Yes, it’s horribly expensive, but it has no competition.
I make no secret of my mixed feelings towards the A7RII. It nearly didn’t make the list, but the firmware update brought it back into contention because at least image quality is now a notch higher. It is the haptic opposite of the Q: an electronic gadget, not a camera. You have to think like a computer or software engineer to make sense of the menus and operate it fluidly. I still do not find it enjoyable to shoot, there are a lot of compromises in just about every aspect of operation (and let’s not talk about file compression), but I do also acknowledge that it does bring a remarkable amount of technology to the table in a way that also expands the shooting envelope – and enough so that I bought one and am still using it, more than I expected to. All things considered, you can still get a better image out of the A7RII than anything else under most conditions, and it’s actually easier to use as a tripod-based body than a D810 or 5DSR because the whole thing is optimised for live view to begin with. This does not mean it has the highest image quality at the price point or sensor size full stop – but it comes close, and stays at that level for a much wider shooting envelope that the competition.
The caveat is you have to be willing to live with the slowness, battery life and demandingness on lenses – basically, it shoots like a very small medium format body. Have expectations as such, and you’ll be fine. Sony’s willingness to cave and provide 14 bit raw at least shows they are listening to customers, and is encouraging for the longevity of the system (even if separating the sensor division and the confusion over the A mount/ DSLR future sends decidedly mixed signals about commitment to the camera business as a whole). Image quality is noticeably better after the update, though operation is even slower. Now all they need to do is follow through with the other haptic aspects of the camera – and up write speed – and the competition can pack up and go home.
Some of you may be wondering why the Leica SL did not make the list – the answer is once again close, but no cigar. There are things it does better than almost any other camera – responsiveness, AF speed, some UI elements – but also things that should really have been caught in firmware (lack of fast exposure compensation, for one). And the size of the whole thing really negates the mirrorless advantage and introduces new ergonomic challenges; you can’t use image quality as an argument either because the sensor is only 24MP (likely to avoid cannibalising S sales, and putting even more demands on the optics). At the prices Leica are asking – there’s really no excuses.
2015 has yielded an embarrassment of riches for the photographer – it has been some time since any of us have had a technical excuse for missing an image, but even more so now. A lot of the trends we’ve expected in the last few years have come to pass – mobiles effectively killing compacts, resolution trends continuing, video convergence etc. – but there have been a few surprises, too. Mainly, the silence of the incumbents towards the mirrorless challenge – it has been looming for years, yet all we get are 240MP prototypes. Surely as much as you are trapped into your current system, and you’re going to have user and R&D write-offs – it must be better to endure them now and cannibalise your own system in the switch than leave it to the competition? Worse still for them, I think one of the major future trends is going to be one of ‘system universality’, or ‘lens invariance’ – no longer will users pick systems based on staying within that system, but we will assemble a collection of lenses that work, and then change bodies independently of that. I may run a Sony body for some things, a Leica Q for others, and a Nikon for still others. But if you’re not in the lens game, or your lenses don’t offer something unique, you’d better watch out for Zeiss, Sigma and the rest. There is no economic or weight attraction in having one in each focal length for every system. I am fairly sure I am not alone in thinking I wouldn’t mind spending say $3-4,000 on a lens, but that lens has to have a wide shooting envelope and effectively be the last lens I ever buy in that focal length. Perhaps 2016 will be a year of optics…MT
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Images and content copyright Ming Thein | mingthein.com 2012 onwards. All rights reserved
For nigh on a week, the internet hollered at Reader's Digest to remove malware from its website, to no apparent response.
The attack consists of a malicious script injected within compromised WordPress sites that launches another URL whose final purpose is to load the Angler exploit kit. Site owners that have been affected should keep in mind that those injected scripts/URLs will vary over time, although they are all using the same pattern (see IOCs below for some examples).
The website of popular magazine Reader’s Digest is one of the victims of this campaign and people who have visited the portal recently should make sure they have not been infected. The payload we observed at the time of capture was Bedep which loaded Necurs a backdoor Trojan, but that of course can change from day to day.
Dan Goodin got exasperated: Hey Reader’s Digest: Your site has been attacking visitors for days.
Reader's Digest has been infected since last week with code originating with Angler, an off-the-shelf hack-by-numbers exploit kit that saves professional criminals the hassle of developing their own attack scripts, researchers from antivirus provider Malwarebytes told Ars. People who visit the site with outdated versions of Adobe Flash, Internet Explorer, and other browsing software are silently infected with malware that gains control over their computers. Malwarebytes researchers said they sent Reader's Digest operators e-mails and social media alerts last week warning the site was infected but never got a response. The researchers estimate that thousands of other sites have been similarly attacked in recent weeks and that the number continues to grow.
If you would like an ill-informed passive-aggressive quip, go to 2. If you would like earnest outrage, go to 3. If you would like to hear the voice of reason that really isn't, go to 4.
What give$, Readers Digest?
They're probably being paid to do it, isn't that disgusting?
The Micro Drone 2.0+ is truly in a league of its own, offering a new perspective on aerial photography, and a world of technological capabilities that make flying ridiculously fun. Simply throw it in the air at any angle and its self-correcting algorithm will stabilize for smooth sailing in no time. You’ll stay entertained with flips, rolls, 720p HD videography, and much more.
On the Monday before Thanksgiving NASA made what it deemed a momentous announcement: the space agency had awarded $1.16 billion to Aerojet Rocketdyne for rocket engines that would power its “Journey to Mars.” By contrast, a few hours earlier, the private space company Blue Origin secretly launched a rocket into space and safely landed it. The contrast between the deal struck in corridors of Washington D.C. and what had happened in the desert of West Texas could not have been more stark.
The engines that will power NASA’s new rocket, the Space Launch System, were first developed in 1970. These RS-25 engines that gave the space shuttle its thrust were engineering marvels; with some refurbishment NASA could use them over and over again. But now NASA is funding a contract to restart production of those old engines because they would no longer be reused. Like the rest of the massive SLS rocket, its engines will be used once and then burn up in the atmosphere.
In contrast to the billions of dollars NASA spends on legacy hardware, Blue Origin has received about $25 million from the agency during its 15-year existence. That’s less than the cost of a single RS-25 engine. With the launch of its New Shepard vehicle, Blue Origin has gone not only for reusable engines but a reusable booster and a reusable spacecraft. Why? Because this approach is much, much cheaper than throwing flight-quality hardware away after every launch.
For the first time since 2013, the US Environmental Protection Agency has issued renewable fuel standards for the nation, upping the amount of ethanol in our gasoline supply. In 2016, renewable fuels—mostly corn ethanol—must make up 10.10 percent of the national fuel supply, or 18.1 billion gallons. The EPA also issued final renewable fuel standard for 2014 and 2015, showing that next year's target is a slight increase over the past two years. In 2014—the last year that the Energy Information Administration has calculated total US gasoline consumption (136.8 billion gallons), the total percentage of renewable fuels was 9.2 percent, or 16.3 billion gallons.
Almost all of this ethanol will make its way into our cars in the form of E10 gasoline, which is a blend of 10 percent ethanol and 90 percent gasoline. E10 is widespread throughout the US, and mandated in a number of states (mainly throughout the midwest). The ethanol acts as an oxygenator and anti-knocking agent for the fuel, replacing the groundwater pollutant MTBE (which itself replaced tetraethyl lead). E10 is slightly less energy dense than "regular" gasoline and so cars' fuel economy will be three to four percent lower when using the fuel. This is offset by slight decreases in CO emissions (as well as the intended reduction in greenhouse gases).
In 2016 the overall percentage of renewable fuels will be just over 10 percent, leading to criticism from the oil industry warning about damage to our cars' engines and fuel systems. At higher concentrations, ethanol-gasoline blends can be corrosive to some metals and materials used for hoses, gaskets, and seals; generally blends above E10 (E15 and E85) should only be used by "flex-fuel" vehicles that have been designed to tolerate the increased ethanol levels. Neither have much popularity in the US though, being confined mainly to corn-producing states in the midwest.
An anonymous reader writes: Enlightenment DR 0.20 has been released. The most significant change is full Wayland support where E20 can act as its own Wayland compositor and the whole shebang. Enlightenment 0.20 also has better FreeBSD support, introduces Geolocation support, new screen management, and other changes.
Read more of this story at Slashdot.
An anonymous reader writes: From January 2016, Adobe Flash will be renamed to 'Adobe Animate CC', killing one of the most unfortunate names in web security as the company pushes the product further and further to HTML5 output. Adobe's release about the update, which will form part of the annual Creative Cloud upgrade, states that a third of all material output from the program is now HTML5. The transitional HTML5 Adobe animation program Edge Animate will be replaced by the renamed Flash product.
Read more of this story at Slashdot.
An anonymous reader writes with this lead from Help Net Security's story on a topic we've touched on here many times: the broad powers arrogated by the Federal government in the form of National Security Letters: On Monday, after winning an eleven-year legal battle, Nicholas Merrill can finally tell the public how the FBI has secretly construed its authority to issue National Security Letters (NSLs) to permit collection of vast amounts of private information on US citizens without a search warrant or any showing of probable cause. The PATRIOT Act vastly expanded the domestic reach of the NSL program, which allows the FBI to compel disclosure of information from online companies and forbid recipients from disclosing they have received an NSL. The FBI has refused to detail publicly the kinds of private data it believes it can obtain with an NSL. A key sentence from the same story: "Merrill is now able to reveal that the FBI believes it can force online companies to turn over the following information simply by sending an NSL demanding it: an individual’s complete web browsing history; the IP addresses of everyone a person has corresponded with; and records of all online purchases." Reader Advocatus Diaboli adds this, from The Intercept: One of the most striking revelations, Merrill said during a press teleconference, was that the FBI was requesting detailed cell site location information — cellphone tracking records — under the heading of "radius log" information. Traditionally, radius log refers to a user's attempts to connect to a server or a DSL line — a sort of anachronism given the progress of technology. "The notion that the government can collect cellphone location information — to turn your cellphone into a tracking device, just by signing a letter — is extremely troubling," Merrill said.
Read more of this story at Slashdot.
The extraordinary life of George Edwin Taylor and what it can tell us about politics in America — then and now.
Hot or cold, in a soda, hot toddy or beer — people are finding all sorts of ways to imbibe cascara. It's a caffeinated, tea-like drink with a fruity flavor made from dried coffee cherries.
Radiohead frontman Thom Yorke fired his latest broadside at one of the biggest digital media titans in an interview with Italian newspaper La Repubblica, saying that YouTube and Google have "seized control" of art in a maneuver right out of the WWII playbook. Yorke pontificated about his personal use of an ad blocker, YouTube's profit margins, and the pressures being levied on artists today:
A friend of mine told me about this app to skip commercials on YouTube... They put advertising before any content, making a lot of money and yet, artists are not paid or are paid small sums, and apparently this is fine for them...
I don't have the solution to these problems. I only know that they're making money with the work of loads of artists...
If you missed out on all of the Black Friday and Cyber Monday sales, you still have a chance to get a PlayStation 4 for a good deal. Sony has announced that two PS4 bundles — one packed with Star Wars Battlefront, the other with Uncharted: The Nathan Drake Collection — will be $299.99 starting December 6th, saving you $50 off the regular price. Each bundle includes the standard black, 500GB version of the console (no Darth Vader-edition PS4s here). The deals last until December 19th — perfect for last-minute Christmas shoppers.
We’re living in a golden age of media. There are more distribution channels for books, music, TV series, and films than at any time in history, and more new media coming out on those channels than ever before. It's only natural that the more we become used to rapid access, freedom of choice, and not being buried in obsolescing objects, our relationship with books, DVDs, and CDs becomes increasingly dependent on streaming service subscriptions and e-readers.
On a recent Sunday afternoon, you may have noticed Cleatus — Fox's robotic NFL mascot — wearing a new set of protective armor. This costume wasn't promoting a nonprofit initiative meant to distract from professional football's abundance of PR debacles, nor was it celebrating Thanksgiving or Christmas. It was an ad for a video game: Fallout 4.
As your pupils dilated and the molten cheese dribbled from your pizza roll, you likely found yourself in one of two camps: the camp that recognizes the Fallout brand and feels the sudden, stinging pang to buy this video game; or the camp more or less unfamiliar with the brand, but probably hears it referenced in sentences like, "You know, I haven't seen my girlfriend since she bought Fallout 4,"...
All Hail Lumio!
If you want a stylish lamp that turns on in a cool way, that you can carry around in your backpack and disguises itself as a book when not in use, then look no further.
You’ll fall in love with Lumio at first sight and the fact that it shines for 8 hours a charge, is a dream come true for nighttime readers like me.
There are so many words to describe this masterpiece of invention –
What do you think of the word inspiring?
How about the word versatile?
Does the word surprising float your boat?
All those words and more are appropriate for this little beauty and here’s a special little trick I just discovered. There are powerful, hidden magnets in the Lumio that allow me to hang it on metal objects.
When not in use, it looks just like an every-day book that’s been super-glued to my desk - nothing strange at all right? What I’ve found is that when people come into my office, it’s inevitable that they’ll ask about it.
What I like to do is not say a thing.
Instead I slowly open the book, which turns on the light.
The backside of the book also has a magnet that holds it in place. And by the time it’s open, my guests are asking where they can get one for themselves and I can’t say I blame them. It’s just awesome and the creator, Max Gunawan, deserves 2 corner offices because of it.
As I first explored my Lumio, I marveled at the wonderful detail designed into every touch point. Even the packaging is fantastic!
The box that holds it all together has a special compartment for a leather strap and an external magnet system that’s handy for hanging the Lumio from wires and hooks.
The pages are made of pleated Tyvek which is a very strong plastic that’s thin but difficult to tear. Tyvek was first discovered in 1955 by the DuPont company and was made popular in the 70’s by the band Devo.
Their outfits were made of the same stuff and though they were pretty cool, the Lumio sports the Tyvek way better. Those Devo guys never glowed or pleated.
I may be a bit biased because I’ve spent far less time with Devo than I have with my Lumio.
In fact, I’ve spent way too much time walking around my office just looking for a spot to hang her up.
I often find myself setting up compositions when everyone goes home to their families. Even when the lights go out, you can find me fiddling with lady Lumio.
I have to admit though - I have a problem.
I am consumed.
But just look at her! She’s so flexible!
She even wraps around metallic corners for God’s sake! It’s no wonder I’m so in love with this product.
Not to change the subject-
Did you know that people used to be afraid of being buried alive because it was common to be falsely pronounced dead? It became customary to bury people with a string in their hand that was tied to a topside bell – just in case. There were many patents created for “devices indicating life in buried persons” and I’d like to show you the prettiest one I’ve ever seen.
A real dandy huh?! So elegant and yet so simple.
After looking through many of these patents, I now know what I’d like to be buried with, and no, it’s not a bell or other noise making device. I’d like to be buried with my Lumio. It might be nice to do some of that night reading I droned on about earlier.
But then if you were to go through that trouble, you’d have to also make sure I had a book or two. I mean, what good is an awesome light source in a dang coffin if you have nothing to read.
On second thought, just make sure I’m not buried alive ok?
Thousands of National Security Letters are sent annually, don't need a judge's signoff, and it's illegal to tell anyone you got one. What do they demand? Web browsing history, the IP addresses of everyone corresponded with, all online purchases, and more.
Ars Technica's David Kravets reports that the details of the secret letters have emerged thanks to court moves from an ISP reluctant to secretly surveil its users for the FBI.
"The FBI has interpreted its NSL authority to encompass the websites we read, the Web searches we conduct, the people we contact, and the places we go. This kind of data reveals the most intimate details of our lives, including our political activities, religious affiliations, private relationships, and even our private thoughts and beliefs," said Nicholas Merrill, who was president of Calyx Internet Access in New York when he received the NSL targeting one of his customers in 2004.
The FBI subsequently dropped demands for the information on one of Merrill's customers, but he fought the gag order in what turned out to be an 11-year legal odyssey just to expose what the FBI was seeking. He declined to reveal the FBI's target.
Molly Crabapple (you may recall her 15 rules for creative success in the Internet age) is publishing her long-awaited memoir, Drawing Blood, a singular and illustrated account of an artist's awakening and hunger for engagement, from the New York nightlife underground through the streets of Occupy to Guantanamo Bay, and an array of emerging global conflict zones. Whether she's recounting her time as a teenager living in the Shakespeare and Company bookstore in Paris, or, as now, helping everyday Syrians tell their stories, Crabapple's unflinching gaze uncovers a sketch of life that is luminous, complex and inspired and sets her work apart. Creative friends also figuring out how to make it in 21st Century culture, such as Kim Boekbinder, with whom Crabapple collaborated on I Have Your Heart, loom large in the book. (more…)
There are a lot of options for creating charts and graphs, but D3 and D3plus stand out for being particularly web-friendly. They can be integrated as part of a responsive design (with scaling options to fit on different resolution screens) or linked to a live data feed to allow for instant updating of the display without redoing the code. For a digital humanities or other project of digital scholarship, this can be very useful.
There are an incredible number of examples of cool visualizations built using D3 available on Github, which really shows the flexibility of the library. While some of those are much more complicated than what D3plus easily supports, there’s a lot of potential in the more limited vocabulary it enables.
Have you tried D3 or D3plus? Share your resources in the comments!
When you’re drowning in debt, managing your personal finances probably seems downright impossible. You read all these headlines about investing and financial independence and you just want to give up, because you’re so far from that. But don’t be discouraged—it takes time to get your money in order.
Anyone who’s been camping in wet weather knows how unpleasant it can be to wake up in a puddle. This DIY semi-bivy provides a completely waterproof layer between you and the ground.
After using them for a while, playing cards can get a bit sticky. Instead of dealing with the frustration or just tossing them, clean those cards up with a bit of cornstarch.
Workouts that include dedicated chest routines will improve your upper body strength, posture, and confidence. Unfortunately, many ladies discount these chest-acular benefits from fear based on misguided notions. Here’s what you need to know about chest exercises and how they actually affect your—ahem—ta-tas.
HughPickens.com writes: Located between Hawaii and Australia, the Marshall Islands are made up of 29 atolls and five islands with a population of about 70,000, all of whom live about six feet above sea level. Now Story Hinkley writes in the Christian Science Monitor that another 10,000 Marshallese have moved to Springdale, Arkansas because of climate change. Because this Pacific island nation is so small, the Marshallese population in Arkansas attribute their Springdale settlement to one man, John Moody, who moved to the US in 1979 after the first wave of flooding. Moody's family eventually moved to Springdale to live with him and work for Tyson and other poultry companies based in Arkansas, eventually causing a steady flow of extended friends and family migrating to Springdale. "Probably in 10 to 20 years from now, we're all going to move," says Roselinta Keimbar adding that she likes Arkansas because it is far away from the ocean, meaning it is safe. For more than three decades, Marshallese have moved in the thousands to the landlocked Ozark Mountains for better education, jobs and health care, thanks to an agreement that lets them live and work in the US.. This historical connection makes it an obvious destination for those facing a new threat: global warming. Marshallese Foreign Minister Tony de Brum says even a small rise in global temperatures would spell the demise of his country. While many world leaders in Paris want to curb emissions enough to cap Earth's warming at 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit (2 degrees Celsius), de Brum is pushing for a target that's 25 percent lower. "The thought of evacuation is repulsive to us," says de Brum. "We think that the more reasonable thing to do is to seek to end this madness, this climate madness, where people think that smaller, vulnerable countries are expendable and therefore they can continue to do business as usual." Meanwhile residents jokingly call their new home "Springdale Atoll," and there's even a Marshallese consulate in Springdale, the only one on the mainland US. "Its not our fault that the tide is getting higher," says Carlon Zedkaia,. "Just somebody else in this world that wants to get rich."
Read more of this story at Slashdot.
Is it more accurate to say that male and female brains are generally the same or categorically different? This question has been somewhat of a controversy, both scientifically and culturally. A new extensive comparison of male and female brains with fMRI scans hopes to provide a definitive answer.
First for some background, we need to address the basic question of how we even approach or address the issue of categorization. Nature is fuzzy and complex, but humans tend to prefer neat and tidy categories to simplify the task of keeping track of everything, and even to help our understanding. There is therefore frequently a conflict between our desires and reality when it comes to creating categories.
The Pluto controversy is a good example of this, one which was surprisingly heated despite the fact that there are no real social or political issues at stake. There is no objective and definitive line between planets as solar system objects and other planet-like objects. Astronomers had to come up with some rules, rules that are unambiguous to apply. Ideally, such rules of categorization will reflect some underlying phenomenon, in this case, for example, how planets form.
Categorizing life on Earth has been very challenging, and our systems have changed over time as our understanding of biology has changed. The latest system, call cladistics, classifies creatures entirely based on their evolutionary relationships. Some biologist disagree that this is the best system, arguing that morphological similarity should count also. Birds, for example, cladistically may just be one small subgroup of dinosaurs, but some would argue they are different enough to warrant their our category.
When we get to categories that have huge social and political implications, fighting over categories spreads beyond the scientific journals and meetings. The three that most readily come to mind are sex, gender, and race. I often find that such questions are approach is black and white terms – does race exist, for example. I don’t think, however, that phrasing the question that way is helpful.
The problem with trying to argue that men and women are the same, or that race is just a social construct with no biological reality, is that such absolute positions are difficult to rectify with our common experience. This can lead to rejection by some of the underlying point because it sounds like political correctness rather than a scientific conclusion.
A better approach is to ask several more specific questions. The first is, are there objective categorical differences between two or among three or more alleged groups? A categorical difference is a characteristic that is present in all of one group and none of the other, without any overlap. You can also ask, how frequent are exceptions to apparent categorical differences.
For other traits you can ask if there is a statistical difference, is there any overlap, and how likely are members of various alleged groups to have specific traits. This is where everything gets fuzzy, and it essentially becomes impossible to answer the category question with absolutes.
For example, we can look at biological sex in general. Human mostly are sexually dimorphic, with two distinct categorical sets of genitalia. The genitalia take one of two developmental pathways, with no overlap. There are a minority of people, however, with ambiguous genitalia, usually associated with known hormonal, genetic, or developmental anomalies. Genitalia are not a continuum – there are two distinct groups with some exceptions in the middle.
If we look at a trait like height, however, we see a different picture. Men on average are taller than women, but there are tall women and short men. There is tremendous overlap along a continuum. This is not a categorical difference but a statistical difference.
Another way to look at the difference between categorical and relative difference is to ask this question: If you know someone is male, can you predict their genitalia? Can you predict their height? The answer to the former question is mostly yes, and to the latter mostly no.
The question the researchers of the current study were asking is this – are male and female brains categorically different like genitalia, or perhaps only statistically different like height, or perhaps not different at all?
They looked at four data sets of MRI scans and fMRI scans of brains, including over 1,400 samples. They looked at specific anatomical structures in the brain in which size was measured, and at connections or pathways in the brain for robustness. Lead author Daphne Joel is quoted as saying:
“We show there are differences, but brains do not come in male and female forms. The differences you see are differences between averages. Each one of us is a unique mosaic.”
They found that the differences were statistical, and not categorical. If you look at any one region or pathway in the brain, there were statistical differences between male and female. However, there was a tremendous amount of overlap. Further, as with height, knowing a person’s sex does not allow you to predict any one trait.
Further, individuals rarely had all male or all female traits. Across the four data sets they found that 0-8% had traits consistently of one sex, while 23-53% had a combination of male-end and female-end traits. Individuals are mosaics, with only statistical differences between males and females.
This does not mean that males and females are the same, or that there are no differences. It does mean that individuals are individuals. People are not mentally defined by their sex.
The paper did not address the issue of whether the statistical difference seen were due to inherent or cultural differences. I suspect the answer is both, for various traits. It seems, for example, that testosterone makes males more aggressive. However, a preference for the color pink appears to be a minor and entirely cultural difference.
What are we to make of the results of this study? To summarize my own approach, I think it is counter productive and not scientifically accurate to deny that there are real differences between identifiable categories of people.
At the same time it is important to recognize when those difference are only statistical with large overlap. What this means is that in such cases it is not scientifically justifiable to treat individuals as members of a group. Membership in a group does not predict what traits the individual will have. It is therefore best to treat people as individuals.
From an ethical point of view this also works. The basic principle of respect for everyone’s individual dignity demands that people be generally treated as individuals. It just so happens that science supports that position also.
I think the medical profession has struck an appropriate balance. For categorical difference, like male-female biological difference, we have no problem treating people generally as members of a category. There is an entire medical specialty dedicated to female medicine (OBGyn). This is not an ethical or scientific problem.
Otherwise we treat people as individuals, but we may use statistical information to inform our decisions. This is because medicine is the practice of taking statistical group data and then applying it to individuals, knowing that group data does not always predict individual response and we have to individualize treatment as we go.
Genetic heritage, for example, is used to predict the probability of certain diseases or even the response to certain treatments. We don’t ignore race or sex in medicine, because these categories have a statistical reality that informs our very important practical decisions. But we recognize that these categories don’t always predict individual traits. Patients – and all people – still need to be treated like individuals.
So much snow. So much grading. I need to dig myself out from under both today, so I’m not going to be posting much, even though there’s a few things I’m itching to write about. So, instead, I leave you with some dance moves.
An anonymous reader writes: Joel Hodgson has announced that actor and comedian Patton Oswalt will join the MST3K cast as "TV's Son of TV's Frank". "I first became aware of Patton around fourteen years ago, when he was doing commentary for the MTV Awards — live in the room during the event!" Hodgson wrote on the Kickstarter page. "I realized right away he was a kindred spirit, and damn funny too," Hodgson added. "Since then, obviously, he's bloomed into this amazing comedy/Internet dynamo. I've seen a lot of stand-ups over the years, but Patton really is one of the best ever. And just as important, he's a very fun, articulate and witty soul — just the kind of person who we've always tried to bring onboard for MST3K." Comedian Jonah Ray and actor Felicia Day are also on board for the potentially record breaking relaunch.
Read more of this story at Slashdot.
In a press conference in Paris, Obama said that climate change is probably the hardest kind of problem for politicians to solve, yet despite the hurdles, he's optimistic.
Arne Duncan catches up with one of the young students he mentored more than 25 years ago — a young woman who, he says, "inspires him."
Mayor Rahm Emanuel has been under criticism for his handling of police misconduct, especially in the wake of the shooting death of a black teenager.
Amazon's Black Friday sales have a not-so-surprising winner: Amazon. Of course, a retailer is always going to benefit from a holiday devoted to shopping, but in this case, the tech giant is also celebrating the success of its own products. The company says that the top-selling device on Black Friday across the whole site was the Fire tablet (although this presumably includes different models), followed in second place by the Fire TV streaming stick. Surprisingly, though, Amazon's Echo smart speaker was also a hit, becoming the best-selling product over $100 on the whole site on Black Friday. That's remarkable considering what a wide range of deals were available and the novelty of the Echo.
Amazon's 7-inch Fire Tablet was selling for...
What do you think of when you hear the letters I B M. Maybe you think Big Blue, the arch nemesis of Steve Jobs at the dawn of the PC revolution. Or maybe you think pads, as in ThinkPads, before the company sold its hardware business to Lenovo. That was all a long time ago for a company that Reuters recently described as “largely a computer services supplier.”
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