Tuesday, 25 June

11:00 EDT

Hackers Steal Data From Telcos in Espionage Campaign [Slashdot]

Hackers broke into the systems of more than a dozen global telecom firms and stole huge amounts of data in a seven-year spying campaign, researchers from a cyber security company said, identifying links to previous Chinese cyber-espionage activities. From a report: Investigators at U.S.-Israeli cyber firm Cybereason said on Tuesday the attackers compromised companies in more than 30 countries and aimed to gather information on individuals in government, law-enforcement and politics. The hackers also used tools linked to other attacks attributed to Beijing by the United States and its Western allies, said Lior Div, chief executive of Cybereason. "For this level of sophistication it's not a criminal group. It is a government that has capabilities that can do this kind of attack," he told Reuters. Div later presented a step-by-step breakdown of the breach at a cybersecurity conference in Tel Aviv in the same session that the heads of U.S. and British cyber intelligence units and the head of Israel's Mossad spy agency spoke.

Read more of this story at Slashdot.

New York City's Public Libraries to End Film Streaming Through Kanopy [Slashdot]

Public library cardholders in New York City will no longer have access to tens of thousands of movies through Kanopy as of July 1, when the New York, Brooklyn and Queens public libraries end their partnerships with the streaming service because of the cost, the libraries said Monday. From a report: The San Francisco-based platform, which notified library cardholders by email on Monday, offers well-known feature films, like "Lady Bird" and "Moonlight," as well as classic movies, documentaries and foreign-language films not always available on other services. In a statement, the New York Public Library said, "We believe the cost of Kanopy makes it unsustainable," adding that it would use its resources to purchase "more in-demand collections such as books and e-books." The Brooklyn and Queens libraries also cited what they said were Kanopy's rising costs in dropping the service. About 25,000 people with New York Public Library cards -- about 1 percent of the library's 2 million cardholders -- used the service in the past year. The New York library -- with branches in Manhattan, the Bronx and Staten Island -- and the Brooklyn Public Library first offered Kanopy in August 2017, and the Queens Library followed several months later.

Read more of this story at Slashdot.

First Public Working Draft: CSS Animation Worklet API [W3C News]

The CSS Working Group has published a First Public Working Draft of CSS Animation Worklet API. The Animation Worklet API provides a method to create scripted animations that control a set of animation effects. The API is designed to make it possible for user agents to run such animations in their own dedicated thread to provide a degree of performance isolation from main thread.

Analog computers could bring massive efficiency gains to machine learning [Boing Boing]

In The Next Generation of Deep Learning Hardware: Analog Computing *Sci-Hub mirror), a trio of IBM researchers discuss how new materials could allow them to build analog computers that vastly improved the energy/computing efficiency in training machine-learning networks.

Training models is incredibly energy-intensive, with a single model imposing the same carbon footprint as the manufacture and lifetime use of five automobiles.

The idea is to perform matrix multiplications by layering "physical array with the same number of rows and columns as the abstract mathematical object" atop each other such that "the intersection of each row and column there will be an element with conductance G that represents the strength of connection between that row and column (i.e.,the weight)."

Though these would be less efficient for general-purpose computing tasks, they would act as powerful hardware accelerators for one of the most compute-intensive parts of the machine learning process.

Electrochemical devices are a newcomer in the field of contenders for an analog array element for deep learning.The device idea, however, has been around for a long time and is related to the basic principle of a battery [52]. Compared to the previously discussed switches, which only required two terminals, this switch required three terminals. The device structure, shown in Fig. 11, is as tack of an insulator that forms the channel between two contacts source and drain, an electrolyte, and a top electrode (reference electrode). Proper bias between the reference electrode and the channel contacts will drive a chemical reaction at the host/electrolyte interface in which positive ions in the electrolyte react with the host, effectively doping the host material. Charge neutrality requires the free carriers to enter the channel through the channel contacts. If the connection between the reference electrode and the channel contacts is terminated after the write step the channel will maintain its state of increased conductivity. The read process is simply the current flow between the two channel contacts, source and drain, with the reference electrode floating. It has been shown [53]that almost symmetric switching can be achieved if the reference electrode is controlled with a current source.Regarding the switching requirements, the group obtained similar criteria [54] that are shown above. Voltage control of the reference electrode leads to strongly asymmetric behavior due to the buildup of an open circuit voltage (VCO) that can depend on the charge state of the host.If the reference electrode voltage compensates for VCO, almost symmetric switching can be achieved as well. Fora voltage controlled analog array for deep learning, this device is not suited since every cell would require an individual compensation depending on its conductivity. Possible solutions are low VCO material stacks.

The Next Generation of Deep Learning Hardware: Analog Computing [Wilfried Haensch, Tayfun Gokmen, Ruchir Puri/Proceedings of the IEEE] (Sci-Hub mirror)

(via Four Short Links)

"Massive scale" intrusion into mobile carriers' networks exposed customers' location, call data for years [Boing Boing]

The security firm Cybereason says that it has identified a likely state-sponsored attack on ten global mobile phone networks that they have attributed to "the Chinese-affiliated threat actor APT10," which has been "underway for years."

According to Cybereason, the attackers had the run of the carriers' network and used it to exfiltrate mountains of data ("hundreds of gigabytes") on at least 20 individuals, including who they called, where they went, and which devices they used. The attacks are believed to have started before 2017.

Cybereason declined to name the affected networks or the attackers' targets but confirmed that they were not based in North America.

Carriers retain call records for many purposes, including billing and billing disputes. Some carriers in lax regulatory environments collect and retain extra data to use in marketing or to sell to marketing brokers, while others operate in high regulatory environments where law enforcement demands that they collect and retain extra data for use in domestic surveillance.

Any data that is collected is liable to leak. Any data that is retained is certain to leak.

Last year, we identified a threat actor that has been operating in telecommunications provider environments for at least two years. We performed a post-incident review of the attacks and were able to identify changes in the attack patterns along with new activity every quarter.

The threat actor mainly sought to obtain CDR data (call logs, cell tower locations, etc.) belonging to specific individuals from various countries. This type of targeted cyber espionage is usually the work of nation state threat actors.

We’ve concluded with a high level of certainty that the threat actor is affiliated with China and is likely state sponsored. The tools and techniques used throughout these attacks are consistent with several Chinese threat actors, specifically with APT10, a threat actor believed to operate on behalf of the Chinese Ministry of State Security (MSS).

The attack began with a web shell running on a vulnerable, publicly-facing server, from which the attackers gathered information about the network and propagated across the network. The threat actor attempted to compromise critical assets, such as database servers, billing servers, and the active directory. As malicious activity was detected and remediated against, the threat actor stopped the attack.

The second wave of the attack hit several months later with similar infiltration attempts, along with a modified version of the web shell and reconnaissance activities. A game of cat and mouse between the threat actor and the defenders began, as they ceased and resumed their attack 2 more times in the span of a 4 month period.

Operation Soft Cell: A Worldwide Campaign Against Telecommunications Providers [Mor Levi, Assaf Dahan, and Amit Serper/Cybereason]

Hackers are stealing years of call records from hacked cell networks [Zack Whittaker/Techcrunch]

Cop starts yelling "Gun!" during a car stop, until he realizes he's being filmed [Boing Boing]

Sometimes with a cellphone video you'll see cops behave bizarrely, abruptly shouting things like "stop resisting!" or "gun!" when it's obvious the suspect is not resisting and is either unarmed or not reaching for a weapon. The point of it is to establish, on less revealing recording devices such as bodycams and dashcams, that the officer has a reasonable fear for their lives. That fear is held to justify anything bad that might then happen to the suspect, even if it turns out to be mistaken. And so the weird yelling about guns and impossible movements becomes a ritual to that end.

Which is to say, if a cop starts shouting "gun!" during an interaction with you, that cop intends to kill you.

And if the cop is poking his gun at you sideways like a cartoon gangster? You better get lucky fast.

Morris, Minnesota is Number One! [Pharyngula]

In shortest commutes, that is.

Add it all up and the best place for commuters in Minnesota is Morris, where the overwhelming majority of those going to work spend 10 minutes or less on the roads, according UnitedStatesZipCodes.org which used data from the U.S. Census Bureau to determine the cities with the best and worst commutes in all 50 states.

The farming community in western Minnesota came in at No. 1 on the list of shortest one-way commute times followed by International Falls, where the average commute time is 11.7 minutes. Coming in third was Marshall at 12.4 minutes, with Wheaton at 12.8 minutes and Duluth at 13.3 minutes rounding out the top five.

I might skew the data a bit. I’d have to amble slowly, sniff the flowers, and catch a few spiders for it to take ten minutes to cross the street to the university. Some of our faculty live “way out” on the opposite side of town, about as far as you can get and still claim residence in Morris, and they walk or bicycle in about that amount of time to get to work.

I moved here from the Philadelphia suburbs where my commute to work was about an hour and a half each way. That move was about the most pleasant shock I could imagine.

Bye-bye, dino soft tissue [Pharyngula]

A lot of e-ink has been spilled over the claim, primarily by Schweitzer, that intact, ancient soft tissue can be found inside fossilized dinosaur bones. She made some interesting observations of mysterious stuff extracted from fossils, but what it is and whether it’s actually preserved dinosaur tissue has been contentious. It’s baffled me, that’s for sure, since it didn’t jibe with my understanding of chemistry, and I couldn’t imagine some SF stasis field operating inside old bones. Here’s an excellent summary of the problem.

Reports of dinosaur protein and complex organic structure preservation are problematic for several reasons. Firstly, it remains unclear how such organics would be preserved for tens of millions of years. If endogenous, putative dinosaur soft tissues should contain diagenetically unstable proteins and phospholipids, vulnerable to hydrolysis, although the released fatty acid moieties from phospholipids could be stabilized through in situ polymerization into kerogen-like aliphatic structures. At 25°C and neutral pH, peptide bond half-lives from uncatalyzed hydrolysis are too short to allow for Mesozoic peptide preservation, although hydrolysis rates can be decreased through terminal modifications and steric effects on internal bonds. Estimates based on experimental gelatinization suggest that, even when frozen (0°C), relatively intact collagen has an upper age limit of only 2,700,000 years. Secondly, the instances of dinosaur peptide preservation reported are older than the oldest uncontested protein preservation reported by at least an order of magnitude. The oldest non-controversial peptides include partially intact peptides from 3.4 Ma in exceptionally cold environments, as well as short peptides bound to eggshell calcite crystals from 3.8 Ma stabilized via unique molecular preservation mechanisms. The youngest non-avian dinosaur bones are 66 million years old; on both theoretical and empirical grounds, it seems exceptional that original proteins could persist for so long.

Yeah, what he said. Complex molecules like proteins and nucleotides are going to degrade slowly over time, so what’s preventing breakdown in these fossils? Idea like polymerization or chemical modification into more stable molecules have been floating around, but it’s hard to get around the empirical fact that even a molecule as stable as collagen is going to fall apart, eventually.

These authors do an exhaustive analysis of the organic compounds found in ancient fossil bones, and most persuasively, do positive controls with recent bones and bones that are fossilized, but younger, and what they find is that the original organic material degrades steadily and somewhat predictably, and that dinosaur bones are destitute of original dinosaur soft tissue. They can find collagen in, for instance, shark teeth from the Pleistocene-Holocene, but it’s undetectable in older specimens.

So how to explain the spongy soft stuff found by some investigators inside dinosaur bones? Previous investigators failed to take into account the ubiquity of microbes.

Previous studies have often reported purported endogenous ‘soft tissues’ within fossil dinosaur bone. However, these studies often do not fully address fossil bones being open systems that are biologically active. This can be seen in field observations, in Dinosaur Provincial Park and elsewhere, where fossil bone is frequently colonized by lichen on the surface or overgrown and penetrated by plant roots in the subsurface. This forces researchers to consider that subsurface biota (e.g. plant roots, fungi, animals, protists, and bacteria) could contaminate bone. Given that fungi can produce collagen, the need to rule out exogenous sources of organics in fossil bone is made all the greater. Even deeply buried bone has the potential to be biologically active, given the high concentration of microorganisms in continental subsurface sedimentary rock. The analyses presented here are consistent with the idea that far from being biologically ‘dead’, fossil bone supports a diverse, active, and specialized microbial community. Given this, it is necessary to rule out the hypothesis of subsurface contamination before concluding that fossils preserve geochemically unstable endogenous organics, like proteins.

I find the idea that bacteria and fungi can successfully infiltrate rocks and bones far more likely than that bone chemistry can somehow suspend the laws of thermodynamics for a hundred million years. I’m going to tentatively accept the explanation of recent bacterial contamination for the soft tissue in fossil bone controversy.

The study of fossil organics must consider potential microbial presence throughout a specimen’s taphonomic history, from early to late. Microbial communities interact with fossils immediately following death and after burial, but prior to diagenesis. Microbes are known to utilize bone and tooth proteins and fossil evidence of early fungal colonization has even been detected. More recent microbial colonization of fossil bone will occur as it nears the surface during uplift and erosion in the late stages of the taphonomic process. Furthermore, given that microbes can inhabit the crust kilometres below the surface, it might be predicted that bone remains a biologically active habitat even when buried hundreds of meters deep for millions of years. The extensive potential for microbial contamination and metabolic consumption makes verifying claims of Mesozoic bone protein extremely challenging.

Remember, dino fans, “life will find a way”. Bacteria are amazing.

Also, it seems to me that Schweitzer et al. have discovered an interesting and possibly important phenomenon, but it needs to be studied from the perspective of microbiology, not paleontology.

Saitta ET, Liang R, Lau MC, Brown CM, Longrich NR, Kaye TG, Novak BJ, Salzberg SL, Norell MA, Abbott GD, Dickinson MR, Vinther J, Bull ID, Brooker RA, Martin P, Donohoe P, Knowles TD, Penkman KE, Onstott T (2019) Cretaceous dinosaur bone contains recent organic material and provides an environment conducive to microbial communities. Elife. 2019 Jun 18;8. pii: e46205. doi: 10.7554/eLife.46205.

Tired, not wired [Pharyngula]

Wired, the magazine, has a promotional spot for their Team of Experts. I hate it.

Bill Nye, James Cameron, Ken Jeong, Neil DeGrasse Tyson, former NASA astronaut Scott Kelly and neuroscientist Anil Seth answer the most interesting science questions from Twitter.

Let me count the ways this is bad.

  1. It’s all men. Did you notice? Let’s foster the impression that cool science nerds are only boys.
  2. These are all men who are comfortable with pontificating on science — that seems to be the primary criterion for their selection. James Cameron, for instance, is not good at engaging with an audience of learners. Bill Nye’s answer to a stupid question isn’t at all insightful, and is somewhat wrong, because he’s not an evolutionary biologist.>
  3. The format is stupid: those are not “the most interesting science questions from Twitter”.
    In fact, I’d say that if you’re going to Twitter for science questions, you’re already fucked. If we evolved from monkeys, why are there still monkeys? Just shoot me now.
  4. What’s with the sciencey toys scattered on the desk? They don’t use them. They’re only there because someone thought a scientist’s desk would be covered with toys. Nope. My desk is covered with books and papers and computer cables. So many cables…
  5. Getting bad questions from Twitter means you’re going to get short, glib answers. It’s blipvert science. They’ve taken a complex process and boiled it down to a game of snappy answers to stupid questions.
  6. The worst thing to me — that women are ignored would be the worst, except that it’s a blessing to women that they aren’t associated with this crap — is that this is exactly the attitude that wrecks TV, YouTube, and other media as tools for education. It encourages the idea that the purpose of learning about science is to enable you to crush fools with your witty erudition. The people who rise to the top are those best able to punch down, which turns the whole thing into an aggressive hierarchy. That’s not science, although it may reflect the ugly side of the social institution of science.

You know what might make for a good science show? Go to scientists, and ask them what difficult questions are bugging them. Then have them explain the background to the question, what’s been done so far, and speculate about what the answer might be, and how they’d know it if they saw it and how it would affect their perspective on the field. Unfortunately, that’s hard and wouldn’t give you snappy blipverts that make people feel smarter than the rubes. It would require a goddamn conversation.

But this Wired thing? It’s a vision of science as an authoritarian cult as imagined by a libertarian who learned his science on Reddit.

Apple’s Xbox and PS4 controller support turns an iPad into a portable game console [The Verge - All Posts]

Apple is bringing Xbox and PlayStation 4 controller support to the iPhone, iPad, and Apple TV this fall. It’s a big change from the select MFi Bluetooth controllers that were supported before, and it means you can now easily connect any PS4 or Xbox One controller to your device to play games on the go.

I’ve been trying out an Xbox One S controller (with Bluetooth support) on my iPad Pro running the new public beta, and I’m convinced this is a big step toward using an iPad as a portable game console.

While all PS4 DualShock 4 controllers support Bluetooth and will work fully, over on the Xbox side, you’ll need to make sure your controller supports Bluetooth. If it has a headphone jack at the bottom, then you’re good to go.


Continue reading…

The real reasons why the US refuses to go metric [The Verge - All Posts]

In 1975, the United States passed the Metric Conversion Act. The legislation was meant to slowly transition its units of measurement from feet and pounds to meters and kilograms, bringing the US up to speed with the rest of the world. There was only one issue: the law was completely voluntary. Of course, that meant it pretty much never took off.

The pesky little clause that derailed metrication in the United States.

Over 40 years later, the US lives in a metric gray area. Sure, it has a few laws requiring that consumer goods list both metric and US customary measures, but it still remains isolated in its US customary measures bubble. So what would it take for that bubble to burst?

In the latest Verge Science video,...

Continue reading…

This camera app uses AI to erase people from your photographs [The Verge - All Posts]

<em>Street photography, without the people. </em>

Bye Bye Camera is an iOS app built for the “post-human world,” says Damjanski, a mononymous artist based in New York City who helped create the software. Why post-human? Because it uses AI to remove people from images and paint over their absence.

“One joke we always make about it is: ‘finally, you can take a selfie without yourself,’” Damjanski tells The Verge.

The app costs $2.99 from the App Store, and, fair warning here, it’s not very good — or at least, it’s not flawless. The app is slow and removes people with a great deal of mess, leaving behind a smear of pixels like an AI hit man sending a message. If you’re looking to edit out political opponents from your Instagram, you’d be better off using Photoshop. But if you want to mess...

Continue reading…

FedEx sues US government over export rules after Huawei shipping problems [The Verge - All Posts]

Delivery company FedEx has sued the US Department of Commerce for requiring it to enforce export bans with extra screening efforts. In a statement, FedEx complained of an unfair and “impossible burden” of liability. “FedEx is a transportation company, not a law enforcement agency,” it says. The suit comes a few days after FedEx mistakenly refused to ship a Huawei phone because of potential legal issues.

FedEx’s complaint says the current Export Administration Regulations violate FedEx’s Fifth Amendment rights. “The language of the EAR imposes a constitutionally unsupportable choice for FedEx,” it says, claiming that FedEx has to either risk legal penalties or refuse to ship any package that seems even slightly risky.

Continue reading…

Yakuza spinoff Judgment might be the best detective game I’ve ever played [The Verge - All Posts]

Detective games are a great concept in theory. Imagine experiencing a Sherlock Holmes story, except you’re the one making all of the clever deductions. The problem, of course, is that you’re not Sherlock Holmes. So, in many games, the story’s momentum can come to a screeching halt because you missed an ever-important clue or misheard a witness statement. Judgment, an investigative spinoff of the long-running Yakuza series, gets around this by offering just enough detective work to feel satisfying, while relegating the big, profound revelations for cutscenes and in-game dialogue. It’s sort of like watching a particularly tense crime drama, but one where you get to help out along the way. The result might just be the best detective game...

Continue reading…

Jabra Elite 85h review: like the rest, but not the best [The Verge - All Posts]

Jabra’s head is in the right place, but a few flaws keep it from greatness

Continue reading…

10:00 EDT

FedEx Sues US Government Over 'Impossible' Task of Policing Exports To China [Slashdot]

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Reuters: U.S. parcel delivery firm FedEx Corp on Monday sued the U.S. government, saying it should not be held liable if it inadvertently shipped products that violated a Trump administration ban on exports to some Chinese companies. In court filings in the District of Columbia, FedEx said it should not be expected to enforce the export ban, and could not reasonably be held liable for shipping products that it did not know about. Export restriction rules "essentially deputize FedEx to police the contents of the millions of packages it ships daily even though doing so is a virtually impossible task, logistically, economically, and in many cases, legally," it said in a filing.

Read more of this story at Slashdot.

Independent evaluation of "aggression detection" microphones used in schools and hospitals finds them to be worse than useless [Boing Boing]

One of the griftiest corners of late-stage capitalism is the "public safety" industry, in which military contractors realize they can expand their market by peddling overpriced garbage to schools, cities, public transit systems, hospitals, etc -- which is how the "aggression detection" industry emerged, selling microphones whose "machine learning" backends are supposed to be able to detect "aggressive voices" (as well as gunshots) and alert cops or security guards.

Propublica and Wired teamed up to independently evaluate the industry-leading "aggression detectors" from Sound Intelligence and Louroe Electronics, and they're basically terrible. The "gunshot detectors" go off when kids slam their locker doors, the voice detection system trips when kids cough or sing "Happy Birthday" -- but don't go off when someone screams as loud as they can, or talks in a low, menacing voice. You can trip them by playing recordings of Gilbert Gottfried, but not "an agitated man who was screaming and pounding on a desk."

These $1,000 mics are marketed to school as tools to prevent school shootings, but there's no evidence that school shooters shout or scream prior to opening fire (whereupon the situation is easy to detect without special apparatus) -- and the mics do nothing to pick up "cold anger."

Meanwhile, every $1,000 a school spends on spy-mics is $1,000 they can't spend on counsellors, special services, classroom teachers, or other interventions.

The vendors insist that their mics are not privacy invasive because they only analyze the sounds they pick up, rather than trying to analyze speech -- but school administrators can access recording made by the mics and listen in on their students.

To test the algorithm, ProPublica purchased a microphone from Louroe Electronics and licensed the aggression detection software. We rewired the device so we could measure its output while testing pre-recorded audio clips. We then recorded high school students and examined which types of sounds set off the detector.

We found that higher-pitched, rough and strained vocalizations tended to trigger the algorithm. For example, it frequently triggered for sounds like laughing, coughing, cheering and loud discussions. While female high school students tended to trigger false positives when singing, laughing and speaking, their high-pitched shrieking often failed to do so.

Aggression Detectors: The Unproven, Invasive Surveillance Technology Schools Are Using to Monitor Students [Jack Gillum and Jeff Kao/Propublica and Wired]

(Image: Adrienne Grunwald)

Microsoft employees want to starve its PAC, which keeps giving money to homophobic, racist, climate-denying Republicans [Boing Boing]

Microsoft's stated values are "diversity, inclusion, and growth mindset," but the six of the top ten politicians funded by MSPAC -- which derives funding from voluntary contributions from 4,000 of Microsoft's 140,000 employees -- are far-right Republican extremists, including Mitch McConnell, who reliably vote for homophobic, climate-denying and racist policies.

In response, a movement among Microsoft employees is calling for a boycott of MSPAC contributions, despite a promise by the MSPAC managers that they will create "advisory councils" to help inform its purchase decisions.

Some anonymous Microsoft employees who spoke to Dave Gershgorn at Onezero expressed bafflement that the PAC could give money to Biblical literalists, witch-burners, Handmaid's Tale LARPers and other stalwarts of the Republican apparatus, but it's actually pretty easy to understand: oligarchs are at a disadvantage in democracies, because, by definition, the one percent cannot win an election by force of numbers.

Oligarchs do their best to solve this problem through gerrymandering and voter suppression, but the core of their strategy is getting turkey to vote for Christmas. By promising to enact policies of racist, homophobic and misogynist cruelty while handing trillions to the super-rich, oligarchs can turn out bigots and sociopaths (along with temporarily embarrassed millionaires) on election day.

The oligarch project is supposed to draw votes from the religious maniac/white supremacist base, but only field candidates from the finance wing of the party, who will dog-whistle their bigotry, rather than shouting it from the hills (shouting gets you kicked out of the nice restaurants). But every election, the base vomits up a candidate who isn't afraid to shout the party's truth rather than whispering it: Roy Moore, Michelle Bachmann, Herman Cain, Rick Santorum...

The finance wing of the party sabotages that candidate, rallying around a "sane" candidate who looks and talks like them and has the common sense to confine their bigotry to private events. It's worked pretty well since the Reagan years...until it didn't.

But Trump didn't change the Republican party, he just exposed it as a fusion of people who will cut taxes on the rich and gut protections for old people, young people, brown people, disabled people, people with uteruses, the environment, workplaces, water, air, and animals (oligarchs and their bootlickers); and people who think the Earth is 5,000 years old, that Jesus is coming soon, that guns are the key to democracies, and that the civil war was about states' rights (useful idiots).

That's why all those companies that sponsor your Pride march also give massive amounts of money to politicians who reliably vote against marriage equality and legal protection for queer people: not because the companies endorse those policies, but because they understand that those policies are the price of admission for a world where they retain the right to maim their workers, poison the air and water, and dodge their taxes. The price of a "business friendly" Congress is being ruled by politicians who think calling concentration camps "concentration camps" is worse than building and operating concentration camps.

MSPAC did indeed donate $10,000 to the Republican Senate Majority Leader for his upcoming reelection bid. Since 1998, Microsoft workers have given a total of $39,000 to McConnell through the PAC, according to federal lobbying records analyzed by OneZero. This isn’t a huge amount compared to some of McConnell’s other fundraising efforts. The Kentucky senator received more than $225,000 from the Blackstone Group, a private equity firm, in the last five years alone, and more than $26 million in total.

McConnell is also far from the top recipient of MSPAC funds. MSPAC has given Washington Congressman Adam Smith, a Democrat, $105,000 since 1998 — an average of more than $5,000 a year. While McConnell is the Senate’s top Republican, Smith is chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, where last year he appointed Microsoft technical fellow Eric Horvitz to serve on the National Security Commission on Artificial Intelligence. (Horvitz has never donated to the PAC, according to 20 years of FEC data.)

The political contributions of MSPAC have typically been a fairly even 50/50 split along Democratic and Republican party lines, according to OpenSecrets, a website built by the Center for Responsive Politics to track political lobbying. The one exception is the 2016 election cycle, when the MSPAC gave nearly $625,000 to Republican congressional candidates, almost twice as much as it did to Democrats, according to OpenSecrets.

A Group of Microsoft Employees Is Fighting the Company’s Political Action Committee [Dave Gershgorn/Onezero]

(via /.)

It's time for a less compromising queer activism—and media [Boing Boing]

After yesterday's news about young Americans' acceptance of queer folk falling sharply, I wanted to take aim at the passivity of mainstream LGBTQ advocacy in the age of Trump. At groups who compromise with uncompromising enemies. At activists who have nothing to say when yarns are spun about the personal costs of queerness. At corporate donors' vision of heteronormatively gay-married surburban debt sponges and police-infested Pride marches. The price is right, at least for fundraisers, but the costs are becoming clear.

At The Outline, Katelyn Burns explores one specific consequence of trying to wait it out: mainstream media constantly writes about LGBTQ stuff with the presumed conservative reaction in mind, giving little corresponding consideration to their queer subjects' experience. The lack of dedicated LGBTQ media is a disaster, she writes.

What’s most frightening to me as a trans reporter is that these unprecedented attacks on trans and LGBTQ rights is coming in the middle of the complete devastation in LGBTQ media. Into, an LGBTQ-focused news site owned by Grindr, shut down in January following its report detailing anti-marriage equality comments made by its own owner late last year. The LGBTQ desks at BuzzFeed, the Huffington Post have been decimated. Even ThinkProgressZack Ford, one of the most reliable reporters on the queer news beat and who has a long track record of breaking anti-trans news, was reassigned by his employer to cover Trump in general (though ThinkProgress is maintaining its LGBT coverage with nonbinary writer Casey Quinlan). Allen also recently parted ways with her full-time employer, The Daily Beast. I can count on one hand the number of openly transgender reporters covering the administration for national-level publications — several of whom, myself included, have recently parted ways with full-time jobs on the beat.

In a recent New York Times story, for example, the reporter sourced a quote to the founder of a policy think tank that plainly doesn't exist beyond a corporate registration you can do online for a modest fee. Yet The Times insists that this registration not only justifies the use of this source to propound on trans issues, but makes it unnecessary to mention what they really are: a random crank on Twitter. Burns makes the case that the reason such shabby reporting happens in the first place, then never gets corrected or even acknowledged, is because the smiley rainbows-and-unicorns world of LGBTQ fundraising all but forbids the aggressive public activism required to hold editors' feet to the fire.

Actress Gay Gibson met a mysterious death on an ocean liner in 1947 [Boing Boing]

In 1947 actress Gay Gibson disappeared from her cabin on an ocean liner off the coast of West Africa. The deck steward, James Camb, admitted to pushing her body out a porthole, but insisted she had died of natural causes and not in a sexual assault. In this week's episode of the Futility Closet podcast we'll review the curious case of the porthole murder, which is still raising doubts today.

We'll also explore another fraudulent utopia and puzzle over a pedestrian's victory.

Show notes

Please support us on Patreon!

09:00 EDT

Guidemaster: The best dash cams worthy of a permanent place in your car [Ars Technica]

Garmin Dash Cam Mini.

Enlarge / Garmin Dash Cam Mini. (credit: Valentina Palladino)

Update: Our original Dash Cam Guidemaster was published in March 2018, but we recently tested out some of the newest options and updated our picks—just in time for 2019 summer road trips.

If you've ever been in a fender-bender or a serious car accident, you can appreciate the importance of a dash cam. These tiny car cameras stick to your windshield and silently record driving footage, capturing all the strange, mundane, and perilous things going on in front of your car. In addition to peace of mind during daily commutes, they can provide information footage to law enforcement, insurance companies, and other parties in accident situations, monitor your car when you're not around, and sometimes capture fun videos of you and your friends on a road trip.

But with the numerous big and small companies making dash cameras now, wading through the sea of devices before you choose one to buy is a formidable task. Ars reviewed the newest dash cams and revisited our testing of existing devices to pick the best dash cams available now.

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Please Remember the "Concentration Camp" Victims [Boing Boing]

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Valve killing Steam Support for some Ubuntu users [Boing Boing]

A few years ago the announcement that Steam would begin supporting Linux was a big deal: it meant that anyone who preferred to rock an open-source operating system over Mac OS or Windows 10 would have instant buy-it-and-play-it access to a large catalog of game titles that would have otherwise taken a whole lot of tweaking to get up and running or wouldn't have worked for them at all. For some, at least, the party may be coming to an end.

From Engadget:

If you're a Linux gamer who prefers Ubuntu, you might want to look for another distribution in the near future. Valve is dropping official support for Ubuntu in Steam as of the operating system's upcoming 19.10 release, which will cut 32-bit x86 components. The Steam crew aims to "minimize breakage" for existing Ubuntu users, according to Valve's Pierre-Loup Griffais, but it'll shift its attention to another distribution in the future.

So, in short: no 32-bit support means no Steam support. Given that the many of the games available on Steam can only be had by buying a license, this news sucks in so many ways. That said, as noted by Engadget, at some point in the future, it could be possible to switch to a different distribution that'll allow you to undertake some, glitch-free fragging. However, for the time being, Canonical and Valve haven't made any announcements of which distribution will best serve gamers, moving forward. When that announcement will come down the pike is anyone's guess.

Image via Wikipedia

"Toy Story" sneakers: One foot gets Woody, the other Buzz [Boing Boing]

Woody and Buzz's friendship catchphrase -- "The important thing is that we stick together!" -- becomes quite literal in these new mismatched "Toy Story 4" sneakers. You get one shoe fashioned after Sheriff Woody and the other after Buzz Lightyear.

Reebok collaborated with Pixar and BAIT on this limited-edition Instapump Fury model in anticipation of the film's release. No word on when they drop or their cost.


This AR gift set has the right stuff for any NASA fan [Boing Boing]

So you've visited the Kennedy Space Center every year. You've watched "The Right Stuff" for the 95th time. There must be something to do while you're waiting to join Space Force for the next manned mission to Mars or the moon.

Here's a combo that should raise a salute from any fan of space or the American space program: The NASA AR Notebook & NASA Space Mug Bundle.

The notebook is a handy enough gift on its own, hardbound and emblazoned with the ever-popular NASA "worm" logo. But the mug is a real testament to the technology that drove us to the stars: Simply install a companion Augmented Reality app on your smartphone and point it at the bottom of the cup. Instantly, that mug becomes a space capsule, a tunnel you can peer through for an interactive astronaut's eye view of the planet Earth.

Right now, you can pick up the NASA AR Notebook & NASA Space Mug Bundle for $54.99, an 8% discount off the original price of $59.98.

Book Freak #10: How to Overcome Anxiety [Cool Tools]

Book Freak is one of four newsletters from Cool Tools Lab (our other three are the Cool Tools Newsletter, Recomendo, and What’s in my bag?).

In each weekly issue of Book Freak, we offer three short pieces of advice from books. Here’s the advice from our latest issue, from books about overcoming anxiety.

Use the Good Parts of Bad Experiences
“Without experiencing disappointment, you’d never learn patience. Without the hurt and frustration you receive from others, you’d never learn kindness and compassion. Without exposure to new information, you’d never learn anything new. Without fear, you’d never learn courage and how to be kind to yourself. Even getting sick once in a while has an important purpose—strengthening your immune system and helping you to appreciate good health.”
― John P. Forsyth, The Mindfulness and Acceptance Workbook for Anxiety: A Guide to Breaking Free from Anxiety, Phobias, and Worry Using Acceptance and Commitment Therapy

Don’t Ignore the Present
“I learned that anxiety is ‘excitement about the future.’ The problem is that the future never comes, and it is almost always worse in my head than it is in reality. Today I would worry about what might happen tomorrow; then tomorrow would come, and I would be focused on the day after that, and so on. So you’re never in control. This is a great way to make yourself miserable. By focusing and spinning out on what might or might not happen tomorrow and what I had done yesterday, I was missing out on the fun and enjoyment of what was happening today. By always focusing on the future and the past, I generated my own chronic stress, and I was always missing out on the happiness of today.”
― Robert H. Lustig, The Hacking of the American Mind

Focus on Your Power
“Fear begets fear. Power begets power. I willed myself to beget power. And it wasn’t long before I actually wasn’t afraid.”
― Cheryl Strayed, Wild

Nylon Oil Filter Wrench [Cool Tools]

This is the only oil filter wrench ($10) anybody will ever need. I’ve used one similar to the one available at Amazon since a mechanic friend suggested it to me over 20 years ago. There’s no adjustment necessary. It doesn’t slip. The tighter you turn it with a ratchet, the tighter it grips. And you don’t need to keep several sizes of socket around, unlike the previously reviewed Oil Filter Sockets. Best of all, it’s cheap and it will last practically forever.

-- Michael Farris

[This is a Cool Tools Favorite from 2011]

Nylon Flotool Oil Filter Wrench ($10)

Available from Amazon

Analysis: The Politics Of National Humiliation In The Trump-Xi Meeting [News : NPR]

President Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping shake hands during a business leaders event in Beijing on Nov. 9, 2017. The two leaders are expected to discuss trade at this week

Under the Communist Party's ideological reeducation of China's population, humiliation by foreign powers forms an emotional underpinning of the country's national identity.

(Image credit: Nicolas Asfouri/AFP/Getty Images)

How To Start A Revolution [News : NPR]

Hong Kong anti-extradition law protest on June 16, 2019.

Revolutions don't just happen. A data-driven approach to studying activism suggests two characteristics can vastly increase chances of success.

(Image credit: Studio Incendo)

Here’s how mouse support could change the way you use your iPad [The Verge - All Posts]

When Apple announced iPadOS earlier this month, no-one from the company made mention of a major new feature: mouse support. Apple no doubt has good reasons for wanting to keep people focused on the touch interface, but the ability to use a mouse has the potential to completely change how people get things done on the iPad Pro. Here’s how it works, and here’s how to get started.

First of all, you’ll need to be running the iPadOS 13 public beta, which is now available for anyone to install. (This also technically works on iOS 13, in case you really want to use a mouse on your iPhone.) The usual caveats about beta software apply: it’s super buggy right now, so don’t try this out on a primary machine unless you have a good reason to, and...

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The Lightyear One is a prototype ‘solar car’ with 450 miles of range [The Verge - All Posts]

Lightyear has unveiled the first prototype of the Lightyear One, an electric vehicle covered in solar panels that it plans to start delivering to consumers in 2021. The car company was founded in 2016 by ex-members of Solar Team Eindhoven, a team of engineering students who won the solar-powered World Solar Challenge race in 2013, 2015, and 2017.

While the team claims that the car will get 450 miles (725 km) of range from its built-in battery, the real draw is the car’s five square meters of solar panels, which cover its roof and hood and can charge the car’s battery with up to 12 km of range an hour. Lightyear claims these solar cells are 20 percent more efficient than traditional models, and they’re encased in safety glass to protect...

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Harry Potter: Wizards Unite is missing the Pokémon Go magic [The Verge - All Posts]

Three years after Pokémon Go took the world by storm, Niantic is back to try to recapture that lightning in a bottle with Harry Potter: Wizards Unite. Like its predecessor, Wizards Unite is a location-based AR game, and this time the developer is merging the formula with one of the only cultural forces bigger than the popular video game series: Harry Potter.

Unfortunately, after playing Wizards Unite for a few days, it’s clear that Niantic and Warner Bros. haven’t managed to build on the foundation that Pokémon Go laid in 2016. It’s more like a fresh coat of Harry Potter paint on top. Simply put: there’s just no magic left in the AR collectible formula.

Open up Wizards...

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AI can help fight climate change — here’s eight ways how [The Verge - All Posts]

<em>Steam and exhaust rise from a chemical factory and coking plant in Germany. </em>

The AI renaissance of recent years has led many to ask how this technology can help with one of the greatest threats facing humanity: climate change. A new research paper authored by some of the field’s best-known thinkers aims to answer this question, giving a number of examples of how machine learning could help prevent human destruction.

The suggested use-cases are varied, ranging from using AI and satellite imagery to better monitor deforestation, to developing new materials that can replace steel and cement (the production of which accounts for nine percent of global green house gas emissions).

But despite this variety, the paper (which we spotted via M...

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US cities are joining forces to figure out what the hell to do with all these scooters [The Verge - All Posts]

Scooter sharing caught cities flat-footed. This is not in dispute. But now cities are pushing back and trying to get organized, banding together to form a new coalition to figure out what the hell to do with all these electric doohickeys littered across their streets.

The Open Mobility Foundation, which is what the coalition is called, already has a long list of goals: improving safety; making sure dockless vehicles are equitably distributed across cities; ensuring scooters aren’t blocking the sidewalks or generally effecting the quality of life in cities; analyzing terabytes of data produced by scooters; and guaranteeing the privacy of scooter riders is protected. That last one is going to be a bit sticky, given the agency spearheading...

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08:00 EDT

Cult of the Dead Cow: the untold story of the hacktivist group that presaged everything great and terrible about the internet [Boing Boing]

Back in 1984, a lonely, weird kid calling himself Grandmaster Ratte' formed a hacker group in Lubbock, Texas. called the Cult of the Dead Cow, a name inspired by a nearby slaughterhouse. In the decades to come, cDc would become one of the dominant forces on the BBS scene and then the internet -- endlessly inventive, funny and prankish, savvy and clever, and sometimes reckless and foolish -- like punk-rock on a floppy disk.

Joe Menn (previously) is a veteran tech reporter whom I've known since the Napster wars, and he has always had a knack for digging into the human backstories behind his stories -- without falling into the trap of ignoring the big picture in favor of cheap and sentimental biography. His new book, Cult of the Dead Cow: How the Original Hacking Supergroup Might Just Save the World, is his best reporting so far -- a beautifully researched, engrossingly told story about how cDc and its members and offshoot groups invented much of what has become normal in the modern practice of tech and security, from coordinated disclosure policies, to hacker cons that welcome in the press and even feds, to hacker spaces, to proof-of-concept-based security disclosures, to less savory practices, like promulgating fake news and allowing toxic cultural pockets to fester where misogyny, abuse and racism all fester.

I read the book with great interest, not least because I was present or nearby when many of the events described in the book took place, and many of the principal characters are old, present or former friends of mine, including a few very dear friends indeed. From that insider vantagepoint, I can affirm that Menn's treatment of the subjects -- from the outlandish, outrageous and always outsized -- is faithful and evenhanded.

The cDc was vital to the formation of so many offshoots -- from l0pht Heavy Industries to the University of Toronto's Citizen Lab and beyond -- that parts of Menn's book read like Genesis, with one begat after another. Setting these up turns out to be vital to the wider tale of the book, though, as Menn traces the cDc members' journeys through teenaged nihilism to a rough-and-ready code of ethics, to a turning point where some of the members become deeply involved in human rights struggles while others go to work for the US military/intelligence machine on both defensive and offense capability development, while others go into industry, sometimes going to work for the security industry and others signing up to develop the cyber-weapons wielded against advocates for human rights.

Tracing how the cDc grappled with the wider geopolitics, ethics and commercial world of computer security turns out to be a perfect microcosm for reviewing the wider shifts in tech, business and policy, which are all, in some very real sense, cDc's legacy (famously, Menn's book outed Beto O'Rourke as cDc member "Psychedelic Warlord").

Telling a story as intensely technological as the cDc's is a serious challenge: so much of what they achieved and fought over turns on important and subtle questions of technology that it would be easy to make this either eye-glazingly techie or so superficial as to be meaningless. Instead, Menn zeroes in on a perfect spot between the personalities and the tools, and in so doing, answers some important questions about how we arrived at the place we're at today, where information security is at the heart of questions of national security, human rights, free speech, and the survival of our democracies and our species itself.

Cult of the Dead Cow: How the Original Hacking Supergroup Might Just Save the World [Joseph Menn/Publicaffairs]

07:00 EDT

Apple's Seattle Workforce Will Quintuple By 2024 [Slashdot]

Apple is planning on bringing 2,000 jobs to Seattle by 2024 -- twice the number it initially planned. Engadget reports: The new roles would focus on software and hardware and effectively multiply Apple's existing workforce by five. Currently, there are roughly 500 Apple employees in Seattle, focused mainly in its retail stores and machine learning hub. The expansion would also give Apple a significant presence in Washington State, right alongside competitors Amazon and Microsoft. In order to accommodate the new workforce, Apple is leasing two 12-story buildings in Seattle's South Lake Union neighborhood. The building's location will be at 333 Dexter, only one block west of Amazon's main campus. Apple and Amazon will be far from the only tech players in the neighborhood; both Google and Facebook have plans to expand in the vicinity.

Read more of this story at Slashdot.

Redemption After #MeToo? [News : NPR]

Tell us about trying to rebound after an allegation of sexual harassment or misconduct.

A growing number of high-profile men brought down by the #MeToo movement are now attempting to make a comeback, stirring debate on second chances for those who have lost their jobs.

(Image credit: Katherine Du/NPR)

'A Lot Of Gray Area': A Legal Expert Explains 'How To Read The Constitution' [News : NPR]

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer holds up the U.S. Constitution at a talk in 2016.

Inspired by the challenges to the current presidential administration, law professor Kim Wehle has written a guide to the founding document — and its susceptibility to interpretation.

(Image credit: Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images)

7 Policy Questions Ahead Of The 1st Democratic Presidential Debates [News : NPR]

Sens. Cory Booker and Kirsten Gillibrand are among the presidential candidates to back Sen. Bernie Sanders

It's not just "Medicare-for-all" or the Green New Deal that will spark differences among candidates. Trade marks a big divide wedged by the Trump agenda. And what would each tackle first as president?

(Image credit: Bill Clark/CQ-Roll Call/Getty Images)

A social network banned support for Trump. Will others follow? [The Verge - All Posts]

An activist with a “pink pussy hat” participates in front of the Brandenburg Gate in a demonstration for women’s rights on January 21st in Berlin, Germany.

Two quick self-promotional items: I went on CNN’s “Reliable Sources” on Sunday with one of my sources for last week’s piece on Facebook moderators, and I encourage you to check it out. I’ll also be doing a Reddit Ask Me Anything on Tuesday at 9A PT / 12P ET; I’ll tweet the link when it’s available from my Twitter account.

Last week, freshman Missouri Sen. Josh Hawley — who is actively cultivating a reputation for being a hard-ass when it comes to regulating tech companies — unveiled a deeply misguided idea for promoting free speech on large tech platforms. Makena Kelly reported the details for The Verge:

Under Hawley’s “Ending Support for Internet Censorship Act,” companies could be stripped of that immunity if they exhibit political...

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Hackers steal call records from cell providers in ‘massive-scale’ espionage [The Verge - All Posts]

Hackers have stolen call records from over 10 cell providers worldwide as part of a “massive-scale” espionage attempt against at least 20 individuals, TechCrunch reports. The attack has been dubbed “Operation Softcell” by Cybereason, the security research firm that discovered it. It’s sophisticated enough that the firm believes there’s a “very high probability” it’s state-backed.

The target of the attacks are “call detail records,” which contain detailed metadata on every call made from an individual’s phone, including times, dates, and the cell-based location of the device. The content of calls are not held in these records, but the metadata alone is hugely valuable. If a carrier doesn’t realize that its network has been infiltrated,...

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05:00 EDT

On-Assignment photoessay: gentle curvature [Ming Thein | Photographer]

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On some assignments you sacrifice your favourite camera strap, pray to the weather gods to grant you favour and be prepared to shoot everything in a half-hour mad rush around blue hour if it all goes to hell. This was one of those: a last minute call from a long-standing client with barely a 2.5 day deadline to deliver completed, retouched images. Normally I don’t (well, can’t) accept assignments on such short notice, but I happened to have a free day and the subject was quite interesting. The only problem: weather up to that point had been really terrible; one camera strap later and I think we lucked out. All shooting was complete within a 12 hour window – including the night images (done late the previous evening) and aerials (the morning of). Light was good, winds were calm and a couple of aerial stitches were achievable – thankfully, as there was no physical vantage point for the angles the client wanted, and limited aerial vantage due to surrounding buildings and construction cranes. The building itself is quite unusually shaped – there are no real external straight edges which gives it a very strange feeling at ground/podium level, as well as a means to defeat site setback regulations at street level to maximise internal floor space. Not all of it was completed in time, so there was no chance to photograph inside the rooftop glass-roofed area, which judging from the drone – had pretty extraordinary shadows from the window frames and columns. As an aside, I personally found the results much more interesting in monochrome as they brought out key features and played real volumes nicely against projected shadows, but unfortunately those weren’t part of the client brief – perhaps for a future photoessay, though… MT

This series was shot with a Nikon D850, Z7 and DJI Mavic Pro 2 and processed with Photoshop Workflow III.

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Visit the Teaching Store to up your photographic game – including workshop videos, and the individual Email School of Photography. You can also support the site by purchasing from B&H and Amazon – thanks!

We are also on Facebook and there is a curated reader Flickr pool.

Images and content copyright Ming Thein | mingthein.com 2012 onwards unless otherwise stated. All rights reserved

SpaceX catches rocket nosecone for the first time with giant net-wielding boat [The Verge - All Posts]

<em>One half of the Falcon Heavy’s nosecone, or fairing, in Ms. Tree’s net</em>

After launching its powerful Falcon Heavy rocket this evening, SpaceX caught part of the vehicle’s nosecone when it fell back to Earth — the first time the company has ever pulled off such a feat. The structure broke away from the rocket in space and parachuted back to the surface, where it then landed on a SpaceX boat outfitted with a giant net.

The successful stunt comes after a year and a half of trying and failing to catch a nosecone after launch. But now that one has been recovered, it’s possible that SpaceX may use the structure again on an upcoming flight instead of building a new one from scratch.

The rocket’s nosecone, or fairing, is the bulbous structure that encases the payload during launch. It protects the onboard...

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