Happy Public Domain Day 2020! [Published articles]

Jennifer Jenkins from the Duke Center for the Public Domain writes, "January 1, 2020 is Public Domain Day! Works published in 1924 are entering the US public domain. They include George Gershwin’s 'Rhapsody in Blue' and 'Fascinating Rhythm,' silent films by Buster Keaton and Harold Lloyd, and Thomas Mann’s 'The Magic Mountain,' E. M. Forster’s 'A Passage to India,' and A. A. Milne’s 'When We Were Very Young.' These works were supposed to go into the public domain in 2000, after being copyrighted for 75 years. But before this could happen, Congress hit a 20-year pause button and extended their copyright term to 95 years. See what will (finally) be open to all!"

Works from 1924 are finally entering the public domain, after a 95-year copyright term. However, under the laws that were in effect until 1978, thousands of works from 1963 would be entering the public domain this year. They range from the books The Fire Next Time and Where the Wild Things Are, to the film The Birds and the albums and The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan, and much more. Have a look at some of the others. In fact, since copyright used to come in renewable terms of 28 years, and 85% of authors did not renew, 85% of the works from 1991 might be entering the public domain! Imagine what the great libraries of the world—or just internet hobbyists—could do: digitizing those holdings, making them available for education and research, for pleasure and for creative reuse.

Public Domain Day 2020 [Center for the Study of the Public Domain/Duke University School of Law]

(Thanks, Jennifer! Read the rest

What was the most important lesson/theme associated with each doctor? [Published articles]

I was talking with my father about how the Twelfth Doctor's main theme is sort of how it's important to be yourself, as long as you're always kind. It got me thinking about how each doctor sort of has a theme associated with them. What do you guys think?

Like another example is that The 9th Doctor is kind of about forgiveness in the end, forgiving yourself and others who might have done you wrong in the past.

submitted by /u/Conkster to r/gallifrey
[link] [comments]

What's Left for Private Messaging? [video] [Published articles]

[Twitter Thread] Sonos's “recycle mode” intentionally bricks devices so they can't be reused | @atomicthumbs via Twitter [Published articles]

submitted by /u/kv_87 to r/DailyTechNewsShow

Sonos states on their website that "sustainability is non-negotiable," and that they design products to minimize impact, but I work at an e-waste recycler and have demonstrable proof this is false.

Sonos's "recycle mode" intentionally bricks good devices so they can't be reused. pic.twitter.com/VJDNhYOxRy

— ralph waldo cybersyn (@atomicthumbs) December 27, 2019

[link] [comments]

Debian Project Votes 'Systemd But We Support Exploring Alternatives' [Published articles]

DevNull127 writes: The Debian Project has announced the results of its vote on how much to support non-systemd init systems. The eight options voted on included "Focus on systemd" and "Support for multiple init systems is required" (as well as milder choices like "Support for multiple init systems is Important" and "Support non-systemd systems, without blocking progress.") The winning option? "Systemd but we support exploring alternatives." Here's the position for the Debian project described by that option: The Debian project recognizes that systemd service units are the preferred configuration for describing how to start a daemon/service. However, Debian remains an environment where developers and users can explore and develop alternate init systems and alternatives to systemd features. Those interested in exploring such alternatives need to provide the necessary development and packaging resources to do that work. Technologies such as elogind that facilitate exploring alternatives while running software that depends on some systemd interfaces remain important to Debian. It is important that the project support the efforts of developers working on such technologies where there is overlap between these technologies and the rest of the project, for example by reviewing patches and participating in discussions in a timely manner. Packages should include service units or init scripts to start daemons and services. Packages may use any systemd facility at the package maintainer's discretion, provided that this is consistent with other Policy requirements and the normal expectation that packages shouldn't depend on experimental or unsupported (in Debian) features of other packages. Packages may include support for alternate init systems besides systemd and may include alternatives for any systemd-specific interfaces they use. Maintainers use their normal procedures for deciding which patches to include. Debian is committed to working with derivatives that make different choices about init systems. As with all our interactions with downstreams, the relevant maintainers will work with the downstreams to figure out which changes it makes sense to fold into Debian and which changes remain purely in the derivative.

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One of the world's largest private equity firms just bought one of the world's largest library ebook companies [Published articles]

KKR is one of the largest private equity funds in the world. Overdrive is one of the largest e-lending suppliers to the world's libraries, supplying 43,000 libraries in 75 countries.

Now, KKR owns Overdrive, having purchased it for an undisclosed sum. Private equity firms' business model is to buy profitable, productive companies, load them up with debt (paying themselves out of the money that was borrowed), cut costs by slashing wages and degrading the quality of their products and services, then allowing the company to go bust, stiffing the creditors, workers, and suppliers (that is, libraries, publishers and writers).

Gary Price notes, "Worth noting. In 2018, KKR acquired RBMedia/RBDigital and Audiobooks.com providers of audiobooks and other materials to libraries and consumers."

Report: Global Investment Firm KKR to Acquire Overdrive For an Undisclosed Amount [Gary Price/Infodocket] Read the rest

YouTube's burnout generation [Published articles]

Jacques Slade is a 43-year-old father of two who lives an hour north of LA. He has worked in real estate, taught at a charter school and written music; he also spent nine years at Washington Mutual bank before its collapse. But it was his YouTube cha...

Show HN: Eschersket.ch – a symmetry drawing app to design custom wrapping paper [Published articles]

What slang can us older relatives use tonight to embarrass the teenagers while opening presents? [Published articles]

The Man Who Made Wolfenstein [Published articles]

theodp writes: Over at Polygon, games journalist Colin Campbell remembers the late Silas Warner in The Man Who Made Wolfenstein. Before Doom, there was Warner's Castle Wolfenstein (1981) and Beyond Castle Wolfenstein (1984), which counted id Software's legendary John Carmack and John Romero as fans. After completing his degree in Physics at Indiana University, Warner found work at IU installing a new system called PLATO, which he used to fork John Daleske's Empire (1973), which is sometimes credited as being the first multiplayer shooting game. Ultima creator Richard Garriott called Warner's Escape (1978) a major inspiration that "changed my life." Warner's Robotwar (manual, pdf) also did double-duty as a stealth learn-to-program tutorial. Sadly, Warner was plagued with bad health and passed away at age 54 without receiving the proper credit or rewards he was due.

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Chimpanzees seen clapping, tapping and swaying along to piano rhythms, spontaneously without training or reward, in a new study in PNAS, suggesting that the urge to dance has a prehuman origin, reaching at least as far back as the primate from which humans and chimps descended around 6m years ago. [Published articles]

Randy Suess, Computer Bulletin Board Inventor, Dies at 74 [Published articles]

Randy Suess, a computer hobbyist who helped build the first online bulletin board, anticipating the rise of the internet, messaging apps and social media, died on Dec. 10 in Chicago. He was 74. From a report: His death, at a hospital, was confirmed by his daughter Karrie. In late January 1978, Mr. Suess (rhymes with "loose") was part of an early home computer club called the Chicago Area Computer Hobbyists' Exchange, or CACHE. He and another club member, an IBM engineer named Ward Christensen, had been discussing an idea for a new kind of computer messaging system, but hadn't had the time to explore it. Then a blizzard hit the Great Lakes region, covering Chicago in more than 40 inches of snow. As the city shut down, Mr. Christensen phoned Mr. Suess to say that they finally had enough time to build their new system. Mr. Christensen suggested that they get help from the other members of the club, but, as he recalled in an interview, Mr. Suess told him that that would be a mistake because others would just slow the project down.

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'My Business Card Runs Linux' [Published articles]

Computer engineer George Hilliard says he has built an electronic business card running Linux. From his blog post: It is a complete, minimal ARM computer running my customized Linux firmware built with Buildroot. It has a USB port in the corner. If you plug it into a computer, it boots in about 6 seconds and shows up over USB as a flash drive and a virtual serial port that you can use to log into the card's shell. The flash drive has a README file, a copy of my resume, and some of my photography. The shell has several games and Unix classics such as fortune and rogue, a small 2048, and a small MicroPython interpreter. All this is accomplished on a very small 8MB flash chip. The bootloader fits in 256KB, the kernel is 1.6MB, and the whole root filesystem is 2.4MB. So, there's plenty of space for the virtual flash drive. It also includes a writable home directory, on the off chance that anyone creates something they want to keep. This is also saved on the flash chip, which is properly wear leveled with UBI. The whole thing costs under $3. It's cheap enough to give away. If you get one from me, I'm probably trying to impress you. In a detailed write-up, Hilliard goes on to explain how he came up with the design and assembled all the components. Naturally, there were some problems that arose during the construction that he had to troubleshoot: "first, the USB port wasn't long enough to reliably make contact in many USB ports. Less critically, the flash footprint was wrong, which I worked around by bending the leads under the part by hand..." Impressively, the total cost of the card (not including his time) was $2.88 -- "cheap enough that I don't feel bad giving it away, as designed!"

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“I, Cthulhu, or, What’s A Tentacle-Faced Thing Like Me Doing In A Sunken City Like This (Latitude 47° 9′ S, Longitude 126° 43′ W)?” [Published articles]

Please enjoy what has become a quiet holiday tradition in the Tor.com offices: the reading of Neil Gaiman’s original story: “I, Cthulhu, or, What’s A Tentacle-Faced Thing Like Me Doing In A Sunken City Like This (Latitude 47° 9’ S, Longitude 126° 43’ W)?”

Merry Christmas!



Cthulhu, they call me. Great Cthulhu.

Nobody can pronounce it right.

Are you writing this down? Every word? Good. Where shall I start—mm?

Very well, then. The beginning. Write this down, Whateley.

I was spawned uncounted aeons ago, in the dark mists of Khhaa’yngnaiih (no, of course I don’t know how to spell it. Write it as it sounds), of nameless nightmare parents, under a gibbous moon. It wasn’t the moon of this planet, of course, it was a real moon. On some nights it filled over half the sky and as it rose you could watch the crimson blood drip and trickle down its bloated face, staining it red, until at its height it bathed the swamps and towers in a gory dead red light.

Those were the days.

Or rather the nights, on the whole. Our place had a sun of sorts, but it was old, even back then. I remember that on the night it finally exploded we all slithered down to the beach to watch. But I get ahead of myself.

I never knew my parents.

My father was consumed by my mother as soon as he had fertilized her and she, in her turn, was eaten by myself at my birth. That is my first memory, as it happens. Squirming my way out of my mother, the gamy taste of her still in my tentacles.

Don’t look so shocked, Whateley. I find you humans just as revolting.

Which reminds me, did they remember to feed the shoggoth? I thought I heard it gibbering.

I spent my first few thousand years in those swamps. I did not look like this, of course, for I was the colour of a young trout and about four of your feet long. I spent most of my time creeping up on things and eating them and in my turn avoiding being crept up on and eaten.

So passed my youth.

And then one day—I believe it was a Tuesday—I discovered that there was more to life than food. (Sex? Of course not. I will not reach that stage until after my next estivation; your piddly little planet will long be cold by then). It was that Tuesday that my Uncle Hastur slithered down to my part of the swamp with his jaws fused.

It meant that he did not intend to dine that visit, and that we could talk.

Now that is a stupid question, even for you Whateley. I don’t use either of my mouths in communicating with you, do I? Very well then. One more question like that and I’ll find someone else to relate my memoirs to. And you will be feeding the shoggoth.

We are going out, said Hastur to me. Would you like to accompany us?

We? I asked him. Who’s we?

Myself, he said, Azathoth, Yog-Sothoth, Nyarlathotep, Tsathogghua , Ia ! Shub Niggurath, young Yuggoth and a few others. You know, he said, the boys. (I am freely translating for you here, Whateley, you understand. Most of them were a-, bi-, or trisexual, and old Ia! Shub Niggurath has at least a thousand young, or so it says. That branch of the family was always given to exaggeration). We are going out, he concluded, and we were wondering if you fancied some fun.

I did not answer him at once. To tell the truth I wasn’t all that fond of my cousins, and due to some particularly eldritch distortion of the planes I’ve always had a great deal of trouble seeing them clearly. They tend to get fuzzy around the edges, and some of them—Sabaoth is a case in point—have a great many edges.

But I was young, I craved excitement. “There has to be more to life than this!”, I would cry, as the delightfully foetid charnel smells of the swamp miasmatised around me, and overhead the ngau-ngau and zitadors whooped and skrarked. I said yes, as you have probably guessed, and I oozed after Hastur until we reached the meeting place.

As I remember we spent the next moon discussing where we were going. Azathoth had his hearts set on distant Shaggai, and Nyarlathotep had a thing about the Unspeakable Place (I can’t for the life of me think why. The last time I was there everything was shut). It was all the same to me, Whateley. Anywhere wet and somehow, subtly wrong and I feel at home. But Yog-Sothoth had the last word, as he always does, and we came to this plane.

You’ve met Yog-Sothoth, have you not, my little two-legged beastie?

I thought as much.

He opened the way for us to come here.

To be honest, I didn’t think much of it. Still don’t. If I’d known the trouble we were going to have I doubt I’d have bothered. But I was younger then.

As I remember our first stop was dim Carcosa. Scared the shit out of me, that place. These days I can look at your kind without a shudder, but all those people, without a scale or pseudopod between them, gave me the quivers.

The King in Yellow was the first I ever got on with.

The tatterdemallion king. You don’t know of him? Necronomicon page seven hundred and four (of the complete edition) hints at his existence, and I think that idiot Prinn mentions him in De Vermis Mysteriis. And then there’s Chambers, of course.

Lovely fellow, once I got used to him.

He was the one who first gave me the idea.

What the unspeakable hells is there to do in this dreary dimension? I asked him.

He laughed. When I first came here, he said, a mere colour out of space, I asked myself the same question. Then I discovered the fun one can get in conquering these odd worlds, subjugating the inhabitants, getting them to fear and worship you. It’s a real laugh.

Of course, the Old Ones don’t like it.

The old ones? I asked.

No, he said, Old Ones. It’s capitalized. Funny chaps. Like great starfish-headed barrels, with filmy great wings that they fly through space with.

Fly through space? Fly? I was shocked. I didn’t think anybody flew these days. Why bother when one can sluggle, eh? I could see why they called them the old ones. Pardon, Old Ones.

What do these Old Ones do? I asked the King.

(I’ll tell you all about sluggling later, Whateley. Pointless, though. You lack wnaisngh’ang. Although perhaps badminton equipment would do almost as well). (Where was I? Oh yes).

What do these Old Ones do, I asked the King.

Nothing much, he explained. They just don’t like anybody else doing it.

I undulated, writhing my tentacles as if to say “I have met such beings in my time,” but fear the message was lost on the King.

Do you know of any places ripe for conquering? I asked him.

He waved a hand vaguely in the direction of a small and dreary patch of stars. There’s one over there that you might like, he told me. It’s called Earth. Bit off the beaten track, but lots of room to move.

Silly bugger.

That’s all for now, Whateley.

Tell someone to feed the shoggoth on your way out.



Is it time already, Whateley?

Don’t be silly. I know that I sent for you. My memory is as good as it ever was.

Ph’nglui mglw’nafh Cthulhu R’lyeh wgah’nagl fthagn.

You know what that means, don’t you?

In his house at R’lyeh dead Cthulhu waits dreaming.

A justified exaggeration, that; I haven’t been feeling too well recently.

It was a joke, one-head, a joke. Are you writing all this down? Good. Keep writing. I know where we got up to yesterday.



That’s an example of the way that languages change, the meanings of words. Fuzziness. I can’t stand it. Once on a time R’lyeh was the Earth, or at least the part of it that I ran, the wet bits at the start. Now it’s just my little house here, latitude 47° 9’ south, longitude 126° 43’ west.

Or the Old Ones. They call us the Old Ones now. Or the Great Old Ones, as if there were no difference between us and the barrel boys.


So I came to Earth, and in those days it was a lot wetter than it is today. A wonderful place it was, the seas as rich as soup and I got on wonderfully with the people. Dagon and the boys (I use the word literally this time). We all lived in the water in those far-off times, and before you could say Cthulhu fthagn I had them building and slaving and cooking. And being cooked, of course.

Which reminds me, there was something I meant to tell you. A true story.

There was a ship, a-sailing on the seas. On a Pacific cruise. And on this ship was a magician, a conjurer, whose function was to entertain the passengers. And there was this parrot on the ship.

Every time the magician did a trick the parrot would ruin it. How? He’d tell them how it was done, that’s how. “He put it up his sleeve,” the parrot would squawk. Or “he’s stacked the deck” or “it’s got a false bottom.”

The magician didn’t like it.

Finally the time came for him to do his biggest trick.

He announced it.

He rolled up his sleeves.

He waved his arms.

At that moment the ship bucked and smashed over to one side.

Sunken R’lyeh had risen beneath them. Hordes of my servants, loathsome fish-men, swarmed over the sides, seized the passengers and crew and dragged them beneath the waves.

R’lyeh sank below the waters once more, awaiting that time when dread Cthulhu shall rise and reign once more.

Alone, above the foul waters, the magician—overlooked by my little batrachian boobies, for which they paid heavily—floated, clinging to a spar, all alone. And then, far above him he noticed a small green shape. It came lower, finally perching on a lump of nearby driftwood, and he saw it was the parrot.

The parrot cocked its head to one side and squinted up at the magician.

“Alright,” it says, “I give up. How did you do it?”

Of course it’s a true story, Whateley.

Would black Cthulhu, who slimed out of the dark stars when your most eldritch nightmares were suckling at their mothers’ pseudomammaria, who waits for the time that the stars come right to come forth from his tomb-palace, revive the faithful and resume his rule, who waits to teach anew the high and luscious pleasures of death and revelry, would he lie to you?

Sure I would.

Shut up Whateley, I’m talking. I don’t care where you heard it before.

We had fun in those days, carnage and destruction, sacrifice and damnation, ichor and slime and ooze, and foul and nameless games. Food and fun. It was one long party, and everybody loved it except those who found themselves impaled on wooden stakes between a chunk of cheese and pineapple.

Oh, there were giants on the earth in those days.

It couldn’t last for ever.

Down from the skies they came, with filmy wings and rules and regulations and routines and Dho-Hna knows how many forms to be filled out in quintuplicate. Banal little bureaucruds, the lot of them. You could see it just looking at them: Five-pointed heads—every one you looked at had five points, arms whatever, on their heads (which I might add were always in the same place). None of them had the imagination to grow three arms or six, or one hundred and two. Five, every time.

No offence meant.

We didn’t get on.

They didn’t like my party.

They rapped on the walls (metaphorically). We paid no attention. Then they got mean. Argued. Bitched. Fought.

Okay, we said, you want the sea, you can have the sea. Lock, stock, and starfish-headed barrel. We moved onto the land—it was pretty swampy back then—and we built Gargantuan monolithic structures that dwarfed the mountains.

You know what killed off the dinosaurs, Whateley? We did. In one barbecue.

But those pointy-headed killjoys couldn’t leave well enough alone. They tried to move the planet nearer the sun—or was it further away? I never actually asked them. Next thing I knew we were under the sea again.

You had to laugh.

The city of the Old Ones got it in the neck. They hated the dry and the cold, as did their creatures. All of a sudden they were in the Antarctic, dry as a bone and cold as the lost plains of thrice-accursed Leng.

Here endeth the lesson for today, Whateley.

And will you please get somebody to feed that blasted shoggoth?



(Professors Armitage and Wilmarth are both convinced that not less than three pages are missing from the manuscript at this point, citing the text and length. I concur.)

The stars changed, Whateley.

Imagine your body cut away from your head, leaving you a lump of flesh on a chill marble slab, blinking and choking. That was what it was like. The party was over.

It killed us.

So we wait here below.

Dreadful, eh?

Not at all. I don’t give a nameless dread. I can wait.

I sit here, dead and dreaming, watching the ant-empires of man rise and fall, tower and crumble.

One day—perhaps it will come tomorrow, perhaps in more tomorrows than your feeble mind can encompass—the stars will be rightly conjoined in the heavens, and the time of destruction shall be upon us: I shall rise from the deep and I shall have dominion over the world once more.

Riot and revel, blood-food and foulness, eternal twilight and nightmare and the screams of the dead and the not-dead and the chant of the faithful.

And after?

I shall leave this plane, when this world is a cold cinder orbitting a lightless sun. I shall return to my own place, where the blood drips nightly down the face of a moon that bulges like the eye of a drowned sailor, and I shall estivate.

Then I shall mate, and in the end I shall feel a stirring within me, and I shall feel my little one eating its way out into the light.


Are you writing this all down, Whateley?


Well, that’s all. The end. Narrative concluded.

Guess what we’re going to do now? That’s right.

We’re going to feed the shoggoth.


Copyright © 1986 by Neil Gaiman
Illustration by Brian Elig.
More free Neil Gaiman stuff on his own site.

Bash QDB - 966225 [Published articles]

<Roosevelt> !choose do work, play games
<RoBoBo> Choice: do work
<Roosevelt> bah
<Roosevelt> !choose listen to a stupid bot, don't listen to a stupid bot
<RoBoBo> Choice: listen to a stupid bot
<Roosevelt> :(

A programming language based on the one-liners of Arnold Schwarzenegger [Published articles]

Why the Second-Hand eBook Market May Never Take Off [Published articles]

Europe's highest court on Thursday ruled that the exhaustion of copyright does not apply to e-books. "The court says that offering 'second-hand' e-books for sale qualifies as an unauthorized 'communication to the public' under the 2001 InfoSec Directive," reports World IP Review. Not only could this ruling have implications for the book industry, but for the digital film, gaming and music sectors too. From a report: The case involves a Dutch startup called Tom Kabinet, which has since 2014 been trying to make second-hand ebooks a thing. At first, it simply tried to run a second-hand ebook market, but publishers took it to court and won a ruling saying Tom Kabinet had to make sure it wasn't selling pirated copies of ebooks. So the firm rethought its strategy and morphed into a kind of book club. Now even that model has been ruled illegal. Tom Kabinet's users "donate" the download links for the ebooks they have bought from standard retailers like Kobo and ebooks.com, in exchange for credits that can be used to buy other ebooks from Tom Kabinet. (Obviously this doesn't work with ebooks from Amazon, which does not use download links in its system.) The idea is that using the original links ensures the ebooks have been legitimately bought in the first place, and that the same copy isn't being placed on the platform multiple times. The Dutch publishing industry was still not impressed, and asked a district court in The Hague for an injunction against Tom Kabinet's activities. The district court asked the Court of Justice of the European Union for its opinion, which arrived Thursday. The EU court essentially said Tom Kabinet was breaking European copyright law. Tom Kabinet's defense was that the so-called "rule of exhaustion" should apply when it comes to second-hand ebooks, as it does with paper books -- in other words, after the ebook has been sold the first time, the publisher no longer has a right to control how it is traded. (This is known as the "first sale doctrine" in the U.S.) The exhaustion principle is part of European copyright law, but the Court of Justice said the lawmakers had only intended it to apply to physical books. The court said the rule would be unfair in the ebook world, because "digital copies of ebooks do not deteriorate with use and are, therefore, perfect substitutes for new copies on any second-hand market."

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Judge Rules Edward Snowden Can't Profit From His Book [Published articles]

A federal judge in Virginia ruled Tuesday that whistleblower Edward Snowden will not be allowed to profit from sales of his memoir Permanent Record. The reason? He didn't receive approval from the CIA and NSA. Gizmodo reports: Permanent Record, which was released in September, tells the story of Snowden's decision to become a whistleblower and expose the ways that the U.S. government was spying on Americans in the late 2000s and early 2010s. Snowden fled the U.S. in 2013 after several new stories were written based on documents he leaked and now lives in Moscow, Russia. Snowden didn't seek approval from the national security agencies where he had signed secrecy agreements before publication, and while the government didn't move to stop the book from being published, it does want any money he makes from the endeavor. Snowden's U.S.-based publishers, MacMillan and Holtzbrinck, are also named in the lawsuit. "Snowden's publication of Permanent Record without prior submission for prepublication review breached the CIA and NSA Secrecy agreement and the attendant fiduciary duties set forth in those agreements," federal judge Liam O'Grady wrote in his 14-page decision. "According to government filings, Snowden signed three Secrecy Agreements with the CIA in November of 2005, August of 2006, and April of 2009. He also signed three NSA Secrecy Agreements in July of 2005, May of 2009, and March of 2013. All of those agreements were unambiguous, according to the judge, and required Snowden to get a prepublication review before the book came out. "During each of [Snowden's public talks via video link at a TED conference and various universities], Snowden caused to be displayed and discussed, among other things, at least one slide which was marked classified at the Top Secret level, and other intelligence-related activities of the CIA and NSA," the judge wrote. "He never submitted any materials or slides to the CIA or NSA for prepublication review, and never received written authority to make his public remarks or publish his slides." It's unclear if Snowden will appeal the ruling.

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Pythonic News – HN Clone [Published articles]

EFF to ICANN: Stop .ORG Domain Registry Sale To Private Equity Firm [Published articles]

Over 500 Organizations Agree: Nonprofit Censorship and Domain Name Suspension Are Real Threats

San Francisco—The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) today said a private equity firm newly created by domain name industry insiders should be stopped from acquiring the .ORG domain registry, which provides a home on the Internet to thousands of public interest nonprofits organizations.

EFF joins groups ranging from the Girl Scouts and the League of Women Voters, to Farm Aid and Meals On Wheels, and other organizations working in the public interest around the world in the arts, culture, the environment, race, and poverty, in opposing the sale.

EFF this week called on the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) to halt a transaction that puts nonprofit organizations at risk of censorship and financial exploitation. EFF also provided to ICANN a petition signed by over 500 nonprofit groups from around the world, plus thousands of Internet users, all voicing opposition to the $1.1 billion sale.

In a sneaky attempt to wrest control over the lucrative .ORG registry, Ethos Capital, a new private equity firm that lists two employees on its website and has no track record in public interest work, announced it would acquire Public Interest Registry (PIR). PIR is itself a nonprofit that, as a subsidiary of the nonprofit Internet Society, has for the past 17 years overseen the registry used by millions of organizations large and small.

“We are concerned that PIR may wield the threat of domain suspension to influence the political, social, religious, journalistic, or personal expression of .ORG registrants and their users at the request of corporations or governments,” EFF said in the letter. EFF’s letter joins one filed late last week by the Packet Clearing House, which actually services .ORG, pointing out the risk that the new owner will try to save money by degrading service.

The sale to Ethos Capital follows ICANN’s decision to remove price caps on registration fees for .ORG names, allowing PIR to raise prices at will on its captive customer base of nonprofits. And ICANN also gave PIR explicit permission to create new “protections for the rights of third parties”—often used as a justification and legal cover for censorship—without community input or accountability. Ethos Capital registered for business one day after ICANN was scheduled to announce it would be removing price caps, according to reports.

“The sale magnifies concerns that PIR has incentive to use its power to censor nonprofits whose work runs counter to the interests of powerful corporate or governmental interests,” said EFF Senior Staff Attorney Mitch Stoltz. “PIR is a subsidiary of the Internet Society, a nonprofit that oversees the Internet’s basic technical standards and has operated the .ORG registry to provide a home for nonprofits everywhere. With this transaction, the Internet Society is treating the registry like an asset, a building or a piece of land that can be sold, and operated as a private, for profit entity.”

Ethos Capital’s founder was previously a partner at another private equity firm that invested in domain registries and acquired registry operator Donuts. In 2016, Donuts entered a private agreement with the Motion Picture Association of America to suspend domains based on accusations of copyright infringement from major movie studios, with no court order or right of appeal. Little is known about Ethos’s plans and goals for PIR.

“Ethos is paying over $1 billion for PIR, which earned $101 million in income last year. You don’t invest that kind of money without plans to boost profits,” said EFF Staff Attorney Cara Gagliano. “Nonprofits will be squeezed for those profits, and Ethos may seek profitable arrangements with other businesses whose interests conflict with the nonprofit community or threaten to degrade the service. We need to stop this sale and find an acquirer whose interests are aligned with the nonprofit world so that won’t happen.”

For EFF’s letter:

Senior Staff Attorney
Staff Attorney

McKinsey is lying about its role in building ICE's gulags, and paying to own the top search result for "McKinsey ICE" [Published articles]

Propublica's meticulously researched and reported story about McKinsey's roles in designing ICE's detention centers, advising ICE to skimp on supervision, food and medical care, is as unimpeachable as all of Propublica's work.

Nevertheless, McKinsey released an 800-word statement falsely claiming that Propublica had "mislead readers" with an article that "ignores many of the factual points that we presented." The rebuttal contains many verifiable falsehoods (for example, it repeatedly accuses Propublica of publishing things it did not publish), and several misleading claims.

McKinsey is paying to make this article the top Google result for "McKinsey ICE," ensuring that its misleading and false spin is above the factual reporting on its conduct.

Propublica has published a detailed, point-by-point rebuttal to McKinsey's spin.


“We did not recommend a reduction in the quality of food or healthcare for detainees.”


ProPublica did not report that McKinsey recommended a reduction in the quality of food and medical care. The article reported that McKinsey recommended reducing the amount of money spent on food and medical care. (As noted, the text of the story used the phrase “proposed cuts in spending on food for migrants, as well as on medical care.”)

McKinsey did not dispute that prior to publication and does not dispute it now. Neither did Cox, the ICE spokesman.

McKinsey Called Our Story About Its ICE Contract False. It’s Not. [Ian McDougall/Propublica] Read the rest

3D printed "model kits" as Christmas cards [Published articles]

McChristian says, "Rather than send/give out Holiday Cards this year, I decided to make punch and assemble Holiday 'kits.' The sleigh and reindeer were models found on Thingiverse, and I designed/printed the evergreen tree and the label." Read the rest

This Year's Flu Season Is Off to a Weird (and Early) Start [Published articles]

According to the CDC's latest influenza update, both the timing and the strain are highly unusual. 

Tony Brooker, Pioneer of Computer Programming, Dies At 94 [Published articles]

Cade Metz from The New York Times pays tribute to Tony Brooker, the mathematician and computer scientist who designed the programming language for the world's first commercial computer. Brooker died on Nov. 20 at the age of 94. From the report: Mr. Brooker had been immersed in early computer research at the University of Cambridge when one day, on his way home from a mountain-climbing trip in North Wales, he stopped at the University of Manchester to tour its computer lab, which was among the first of its kind. Dropping in unannounced, he introduced himself to Alan Turing, a founding father of the computer age, who at the time was the lab's deputy director. When Mr. Brooker described his own research at the University of Cambridge, he later recalled, Mr. Turing said, "Well, we can always employ someone like you." Soon they were colleagues. Mr. Brooker joined the Manchester lab in October 1951, just after it installed a new machine called the Ferranti Mark 1. His job, he told the British Library in an interview in 2010, was to make the Mark 1 "usable." Mr. Turing had written a user's manual, but it was far from intuitive. To program the machine, engineers had to write in binary code -- patterns made up of 0s and 1s -- and they had to write them backward, from right to left, because this was the way the hardware read them. It was "extremely neat and very clever but pretty meaningless and very unfriendly," Mr. Brooker said. In the months that followed, Mr. Brooker wrote a language he called Autocode, based on ordinary numbers and letters. It allowed anyone to program the machine -- not just the limited group of trained engineers who understood the hardware. This marked the beginning of what were later called "high-level" programming languages -- languages that provide increasingly simple and intuitive ways of giving commands to computers, from the IBM mainframes of the 1960s to the PCs of the 1980s to the iPhones of today.

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Allow the Witcher Himself to Read You The Witcher [Published articles]

It’s become increasingly clear that Netflix cast one of (if not the) biggest Witcher fanboys on earth as Geralt of Rivia. Henry Cavill has not shied away from letting his nerd flag fly, gushing about both the books and the games in nigh every interview. And now, he wants to share the love for the uninitiated. With just one week left until all 8 episodes come out, Netflix has released a new video of the Witcher himself reading from The Witcher books.

The tome Cavill selected is The Last Wish, the very first Witcher book by Andrzej Sapkowski. It’s a short-story collection that takes place before the novels that make up the main Witcher saga, introducing us to Geralt, Jaskier (Dandelion in the English translation), Renfri, Yennefer, and some reimagined fairytale denizens. It also happens to be one of Cavill’s favorite books of the series, the other being Lady of the Lake. In an interview with Polish news site wyborcza.pl, translated by the Redanian Intelligence, the actor said the book “hooked me, broke my heart, put it together, and then broke it again.”

Which is how you know you’re in good hands! So sit back, relax, pour out a glass of whiskey, and let Geralt of Rivia tell you a story.

The Witcher arrives on Netflix December 20.

Abbott Labs kills free tool that lets you own the blood-sugar data from your glucose monitor, saying it violates copyright law [Published articles]

Abbott Labs makes a continuous glucose monitor -- used by people with diabetes to monitor their blood-sugar levels -- called (ironically, as you'll see below) the Freestyle Libre.

Diabettech is a hub for helping people with diabetes manage their health, including by building "artificial pancreases," through which a glucose monitor is connected to an insulin pump, with software in between that measures out small insulin doses that respond in real time (or even predictively) to changes in blood sugar. These can be significantly better than manual interventions for managing blood-sugar for people with diabetes, and can avert life-endangering, life-shortening, and/or quality-of-life reducing blood-sugar spikes and troughs.

The admin of Diabettech posted technical instructions and code for extracting your blood-sugar data from the Librelink so that you could use a different "listener" app with your data, or even connect it to an insulin pump to create an artificial pancreas loop. In particular, it allowed the free/open Xdrip diabetes-management tool to access Freestyle Libre data.

In response, Abbott Labs used US copyright law to have the project deleted from Github, censoring Diabettech's code and instructions. In its takedown notice, Abbot's lawfirm Kirkland & Ellis LLP (a huge corporate firm) advances several alarming arguments about projects like this.

First, they say that creating a tool that interoperates with the Freestyle Libre's data is a copyright infringement, because the new code is a derivative work of Abbott's existing product. But code that can operate on another program's data is not a derivative work of the first program -- just because Apple's Pages can read Word docs, it doesn't mean that Pages is a derivative of MS Office. In addition, as Diabettech points out, EU copyright law explicitly contains an exemption for reverse engineering in order to create interoperability between medical devices (EU Software Directive, Article 6).

More disturbing is Kirkland/Abbott's claim that the project violates Section 1201 of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, which prohibits bypassing "access controls" for copyrighted works. Factual data (like your blood sugar levels) are not copyrightable -- and if they were, you would hold that copyright. It's your blood. What's more, DMCA 1201 also contains an interoperability exemption.

Finally the whole thing is obviously fair use: it's a highly transformative work for an obviously socially beneficial purpose.

Glucose monitors and insulin pumps are, effectively, prostheses: artificial organs that are basically parts of your body. Abbott's position is that they own part of your body and you can only use it in ways that don't upset their shareholders. This is an outrageous position. I mean, forget all the bullshit about whether your blood is copyrighted and if so, by whom -- they're saying that your organs are copyrighted works whose usage is subject to the whims of a white-shoe law firm that is prepared to delete your code and send you a bowel-looseningly terrifying legal threat any time you dare to assert your bodily autonomy.

Speaking in my capacity as a professional dystopian cyberpunk writer, I'm here to tell you that that shit is a warning, not a suggestion.

The Infringing Software violates Abbott’s exclusive right to prepare derivative works of the LibreLink program under United States federal law. 17 U.S.C. § 106(2); Dun & Bradstreet Software Servs. v. Grace Consulting, Inc., 307 F.3d 197, 208 (3rd Cir. 2002) (holding that alteration of a copy of the plaintiff’s software constituted copyright infringement); Micro Star v. Formgen Inc., 154 F.3d 1107, 1112 (9th Cir. 1998) (same); Midway Manufacturing Co. v. Artic International, Inc., 704 F.2d 1009, 1013 (7th Cir. 1983) (affirming the enjoinment of a defendant that created a modified version of a program); Take-Two Interactive Software, Inc. v. Zipperer, No. 18 Civ. 2608, 2018 WL 4347796, at *14, 19 (S.D.N.Y. Aug. 16, 2018) (enjoining distribution of modification). Moreover, the Infringing Software is provided with instructions on how to circumvent the technological protection measures that control access to Abbott’s LibreLink program in violation of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. 17 U.S.C. § 1201(a)(1)(A). Thus, the Infringing Program’s creator is secondarily liable for these further acts of circumvention. See In re Dealer Mgmt. Sys. Antitrust Litig., No. 18 Civ. 864, 2019 WL 4166864, at *14 (N.D. Ill. Sept. 3, 2019) (recognizing secondary liability for violations of 17 U.S.C. § 1201(a)(1)(A)). The Infringing Software also violates GitHub’s Terms of Service, which state that users “must not violate any applicable laws, including copyright” and that users must “not under any circumstances upload, post, host, or transmit any content that . . . infringes on any proprietary right of any party, including patent, trademark, trade secret, copyright, right of publicity, or other rights.”

Patching LibreLink for Libre2 – clearing the FUD [Diabettech]

Libre2-patched-App [user987654321resu/Github]

2019-11-08-abbott.md [Kirkland & Ellis LLP/Github]

(Thumbnail: Abbott Labs)

The 4 Ways That Emperor Palpatine Engineered His Return in Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker [Published articles]

Ever since the first trailer for Star Wars Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker premiered, and fans heard that horrific, familiar cackle, we’ve known—The Emperor…Sheev Palpatine himself…was somehow back.

Ugh, that guy. How? How is this possible? According to J.J. Abrams, this was always part of the framework for the third Star Wars trilogy, so it’s not like they made a late game change. Which means that there’s a plan. Which means that The Emperor planned out how to circumvent his own overthrow, and even planned on how to cheat his own death.

And we’ve seen it happen in four different ways already.


The Contingency and The Rise of the First Order

Screenshot: Lucasfilm

This may come as a shock, but the building blocks of the First Order were already in place before the Empire’s fall. See, fans sometimes make the mistake of assuming that Palpatine trusted Darth Vader and put all his galactic dominion eggs in the Chosen Skywalker basket. But the Emperor was—is—a shrewd and calculating guy. Anakin Skywalker was a piece in a toolkit, a great big hammer among scalpels and pliers and live wires and daggers. He had several apprentices before Anakin, after all, and abandoned them each the instant it suited him. It’s a Sith Lord’s prerogative.

But that wasn’t all. Because Palpatine wasn’t just one hungry guy out for as much power as he could summon in life. The Emperor rigged his mighty Empire to collapse if he should die. He refused to share his throne with a successor because the Empire was never about leaving behind a legacy—it was about him having control of the galaxy.

In Chuck Wendig’s Aftermath trilogy, we find that Palpatine recruited and trained an orphan boy from Jakku (yes, the same planet that Rey is from) named Gallius Rax, who was responsible for implementing this destructive plan on his death. Rax was to draw the New Republic and Imperial remnants into a giant battle that would kill off all but those essential to the rebirth of the Empire. Gallius Rax was the Emperor’s Contingency, and fashioned himself the title of Counselor, a mysterious but powerful position. He worked behind the scenes, manipulating the leftover military powers to initiate the Battle of Jakku. These events lead to the withdrawal of surviving Imperial forces to the far edges of the galaxy and the implementation of the child recruitment program for the First Order’s forces (this initiative was spearheaded by General Hux’s father).

This leads to an important shift in our understanding of the First Order. Namely, they’re not an offshoot of the Empire that rose up to take its place—they are literally Empire 2.0, designed by the Emperor himself. But to what end? In order to figure that out, we need to look at other schemes that Palpatine worked through in the past….


The Control of Force-Sensitives

Screenshot: Lucasfilm

Even with the Jedi Order eradicated, there would always be Force-sensitive beings in the galaxy. Emperor Palpatine knew this, and had his own plans for that tricky situation. During the Clone Wars, Palpatine (as Darth Sidious) attempted to kidnap Force-sensitive children that were meant to be recruited into the Jedi Order. He claims his intention is to create his own army of Sith spies that can take on the Jedi, but Anakin Skywalker, Obi-Wan Kenobi, and Mace Windu put a stop to the plan.

By Star Wars: Rebels, Palpatine has a group of dark side operatives known as the Inquisitorius. All of them were former Jedi and Jedi trainees, trained by Vader in the ways of the dark side. They went by code names, numbers attached to “Brother” or “Sister”. Their purpose was to find any Jedi who had escaped the Purge and kill them, but they also hunted down Force-sensitive infants. What became of those children? It’s probable that Palpatine intended on making these younglings the next generation of Inquisitors, but the group couldn’t sustain itself once the Rebellion picked up speed and the Empire had more pressing concerns.

The real question is, did the Empire dump those children once the Inquisitorius disbanded, or perhaps after the Empire fell? Or were they kept in reserve, indoctrinated into those Knights of Ren that we keep hearing about? It would make sense for the group to stop identifying as Sith agents; Palpatine always seemed intent on ignoring the Sith “Rule of Two”, equipped with multiple apprentices and operatives slinking around in the background from the very beginning. In essence, Palpatine has been working from the start to control the Force itself by controlling who uses it, making certain that those with abilities are loyal to him and only him.



Screenshot: Lucasfilm

So… why this obsession with cloning, then?

Fans of the old Legends canon know that there have always been plots connecting Palpatine to cloning—starting with Timothy Zahn’s Heir to the Empire Trilogy, which saw both the Emperor and Luke “Luuke” Skywalker cloned. But Palpatine’s canon involvement with cloning begins (as far as we know) with the clone army that the Kaminoans create for the Republic, mysteriously ordered by the dead Jedi Master Sifo-Dyas. Finally explained in the Clone Wars series, the vague plot from Attack of the Clones comes clear: Darth Sidious and Count Dooku are the ones responsible for the creation of the army, a handy resource that the Republic is rushed into using to battle the Separatists (who are also being managed by Dooku and thus, Sidious). Still, there are many ways to fight a war… why clones?

We have to assume that Palpatine’s interest in cloning is personal. If he expected he might die, and planned to destroy the Empire and then rebuild it, then it’s very likely that Sheev Palpatine always planned to clone himself. But he wouldn’t want to do it too far ahead of time—having a few Palpatines wandering around could only lead to trouble. There have been rumors swirling since The Force Awakens that Supreme Leader Snoke was some kind of failed Emperor clone, or perhaps a deliberately half-done one. He has a lot of similarities, but lacks a certain gravitas. Whether or not this is true remains to be seen, but there’s an even more recent possibility that might have something to do with all this:

Baby Yoda.

If you’ve been watching The Mandalorian, you’ve likely fallen under the spell of the tiny Yodaling that we’ve all come to love. Cuteness aside, we know there is more to this story than there seems. Dr. Pershing, who is tasked with examining the kid by his Imperial boss, has an emblem on his uniform worn by the clones on Kamino, which could mean that he works/worked for them at some point. It also means that Baby Yoda could be a clone. Of the Yoda. But why would the Empire want to clone the longest-standing Master on the Jedi Council? The Imperials aren’t keen on keeping the kid alive, so having a dark side-trained Yoda probably isn’t the gambit here.

I’ve got one much-maligned word for you: Midi-chlorians.

Give me a second to explain! Look, cloning is a weird and wooly discipline—even in space. While the body should come out relatively the same, the personality? Ideals? The nurture parts that nature can’t control? Cloning can’t pin that stuff down. It can’t make an exact replica or a photocopy. There are bound to be some things that don’t translate over in the cloning process, even with Kaminoan accelerated education programs.

What if Force powers are one of those things?

What if Palpatine wanted to clone Yoda—the most powerful Jedi of an age—to see if his midi-chlordan count would translate in that process? Because if Palpatine is planning to clone himself, that’s a piece of information he desperately needs. An Emperor clone with no connection to the Force will not be able to crush the galaxy in his lightning-shrouded fist. Cloning a Force-strong being as an experiment could easily be the first thing that Darth Sidious asked the Kaminoans to do for him, ahead of the order for the clone army. A test run, if you will.

No guarantees on that theory, certainly. But it would be a fascinating twist for the story to take if Palpatine does turn out to have cloned himself in Episode IX.


The Manipulation of Life, Death, and Time

Screenshot: Lucasfilm

And yet, there’s more to unearth here. Because even these schemes are too basic for the greatest threat to the known galaxy. Sheev Palpatine doesn’t just want an Empire at his disposal and the galactic citizenry crushed beneath his boot heel—he wants control over life, death, and time itself.

And he might already have these things in the bag. After all, if he is cloning himself, that makes him pretty hard to kill—so that’s death down. As far as life, Palpatine’s little speech to Anakin Skywalker about Darth Plagueis the Wise seems to cover that bit. He claims to have learned everything from the old man, including the ability to use the midi-chlorians to create life. Because of this, it has long been suspected that either Plagueis or Palpatine himself is responsible for the birth of Anakin Skywalker.

Notably, this scene between Anakin and Palpatine is director J.J. Abrams’s favorite segment in the prequels (no surprise, it’s a great scene). He’s also insisted that Episode IX still has more to say on Rey’s parentage, even though Kylo Ren told her that her parents were no one in The Last Jedi.

But hey, maybe Kylo was telling the truth. Maybe Rey’s parents were no one… the same way Anakin Skywalker’s parents were no one. After Vader didn’t work out, it’s entirely possible that Palpatine wanted another go at making the perfect lackey. The perfect hammer for the toolkit. Maybe Rey is another convergence of midi-chlorian energy?

And as for mastery over time itself… Palpatine’s been working on that one for ages. In Star Wars: Rebels, Ezra Bridger enters the Jedi Temple on Lothal using a different method than the front door—he accesses a special entrance, as communicated to him by ancient beings known as the Ones. Via this entrance, Ezra finds a sort of pocket dimension that exists outside time and space. From there, Ezra sees portals to different points in the space-time continuum. In essence, this realm makes it easy for a person to bend time to their will and use it however they see fit.

The Emperor was also looking for this place.

Unfortunately, Ezra’s entrance into the realm made it possible for the Emperor to find it. While Ezra (and Ahsoka Tano) managed to escape, it’s unclear if the Emperor was expelled from that plane altogether, or if he’d be able to find his way back. Either way, this plot twist makes it even more obvious as to what Palpatine has been working toward all this time: He wants control over the building blocks of the universe. He wants absolute power absolutely. And he’s uncomfortably close to getting what he wants.

Which means that the Resistance is in far more trouble than it realizes.

Emily Asher-Perrin knew that pocket dimension was gonna cause trouble. You can bug him on Twitter, and read more of her work here and elsewhere.

‘Plundervolt’ attack breaches chip security with a shock to the system [Published articles]

Today’s devices have been secured against innumerable software attacks, but a new exploit called Plundervolt uses distinctly physical means to compromise a chip’s security. By fiddling with the actual amount of electricity being fed to the chip, an attacker can trick it into giving up its innermost secrets.

It should be noted at the outset that while this is not a flaw on the scale of Meltdown or Spectre, it is a powerful and unique one and may lead to changes in how chips are designed.

There are two important things to know in order to understand how Plundervolt works.

The first is simply that chips these days have very precise and complex rules as to how much power they draw at any given time. They don’t just run at full power 24/7; that would drain your battery and produce a lot of heat. So part of designing an efficient chip is making sure that for a given task, the processor is given exactly the amount of power it needs — no more, no less.

The second is that Intel’s chips, like many others now, have what’s called a secure enclave, a special quarantined area of the chip where important things like cryptographic processes take place. The enclave (here called SGX) is inaccessible to normal processes, so even if the computer is thoroughly hacked, the attacker can’t access the data inside.

Kernel panic! What are Meltdown and Spectre, the bugs affecting nearly every computer and device?

The creators of Plundervolt were intrigued by recent work by curious security researchers who had, through reverse engineering, discovered the hidden channels by which Intel chips manage their own power.

Hidden, but not inaccessible, it turns out. If you have control over the operating system, which many attacks exist to provide, you can get at these “Model-Specific Registers,” which control chip voltage, and can tweak them to your heart’s content.

Modern processors are so carefully tuned, however, that such a tweak will generally just cause the chip to malfunction. The trick is to tweak it just enough to cause the exact kind of malfunction you expect. And because the entire process takes place within the chip itself, protections against outside influence are ineffective.

The Plundervolt attack does just this, using the hidden registers to very slightly change the voltage going to the chip at the exact moment that the secure enclave is executing an important task. By doing so they can induce predictable faults inside SGX, and by means of these carefully controlled failures cause it and related processes to expose privileged information. It can even be performed remotely, though of course full access to the OS is a prerequisite.

In a way it’s a very primitive attack, essentially giving the chip a whack at the right time to make it spit out something good, like it’s a gumball machine. But of course it’s actually quite sophisticated, as the whack is an electrical manipulation on the scale of millivolts, which needs to be applied at exactly the right microsecond.

The researchers explain that this can be mitigated by Intel, but only through updates at the BIOS and microcode level — the kind of thing that many users will never bother to go through with. Fortunately for important systems there will be a way to verify that the exploit has been patched when establishing a trusted connection with another device.

Intel, for its part, downplayed the seriousness of the attack. “We are aware of publications by various academic researchers that have come up with some interesting names for this class of issues, including ‘VoltJockey’ and ‘Plundervolt,’ it wrote in a blog post acknowledging the existence of the exploit. “We are not aware of any of these issues being used in the wild, but as always, we recommend installing security updates as soon as possible.”

Plundervolt is one of a variety of attacks that have emerged recently taking advantage of the ways that computing hardware has evolved over the last few years. Increased efficiency usually means increased complexity, which means increased surface area for non-traditional attacks like this.

The researchers who discovered and documented Plundervolt hail from the U.K.’s University of Birmingham, Graz University of Technology in Austria, and KU Leuven in Belgium. They are presenting their paper at IEEE S&P 2020.

Docker-slim: Minify your Docker container image without changing anything [Published articles]

Decorating a tree in 10 seconds. [Published articles]

Open-Source Security Nonprofit Tries Raising Money With 'Hacker-Themed' T-Shirts [Published articles]

The nonprofit Open Source Technology Improvement Fund connects open-source security projects with funding and logistical support. (Launched in 2015, the Illinois-based group includes on its advisory council representatives from DuckDuckGo and the OpenVPN Project.) To raise more money, they're now planning to offer "hacker-themed swag" and apparel created with a state-of-the art direct-to-garment printer -- and they're using Kickstarter to help pay for that printer: With the equipment fully paid for, we will add a crucial revenue stream to our project so that we can get more of our crucial work funded. OSTIF is kicking-in half of the funding for the new equipment from our own donated funds from previous projects, and we are raising the other half through this KickStarter. We have carefully selected commercial-grade equipment, high quality materials, and gathered volunteers to work on the production of the shirts and wallets. Pledges of $15 or more will be rewarded with an RFID-blocking wallet that blocks "drive-by" readers from scanning cards in your pocket, engraved with the message of your choice. And donors pledging $18 or more get to choose from their "excellent gallery" of t-shirts. Dozens of artists have contributed more than 40 specially-commissioned "hacker-themed" designs, including "Resist Surveillance" and "Linux is Communism" (riffing on a 2000 remark by Microsoft's CEO Steve Ballmer). There's also shirts commemorating Edward Snowden (including one with an actual NSA document leaked by Edward Snowden) as well as a mock concert t-shirt for the "world tour" of the EternalBlue exploit listing locations struck after it was weaponized by the NSA. One t-shirt even riffs on the new millennial catchphrase "OK boomer" -- replacing it with the phrase "OK Facebook" using fake Cyrillic text. And one t-shirt design shows an actual critical flaw found by the OSTIF while reviewing OpenVPN 2.4.0. So far they have 11 backers, earning $790 of their $45,000 goal.

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When galaxies collide... Simulation pauses to show real images from Hubble... [Published articles]

Real X-Wings took flight at Disney’s new Star Wars ride grand opening thanks to Boeing [Published articles]

Boeing might be taking the last crucial steps to prepare for its first crewed Starliner capsule spaceflight, but it’s also busy turning sci-fi into reality right here on Earth – by helping Disney build X-Wing large-scale starfighters to celebrate the opening of the ‘Rise of the Resistance’ ride at Disney World in Florida.

Earlier this week when the ride opened during an evening ceremony, X-Wings “roughly the size of a family van” flew over the event, as described by The Drive, which first identified earlier spy shots of the vehicles as potentially being based on Boeing’s aerial cargo drone. Boeing has since confirmed its involvement, but they aren’t providing more info than that the X-Wings were indeed their aircraft.

In the clip below, you can see the X-Wings ascend vertically into the night sky, then hover and rotate before heading out. Don’t go squinting to see if you can spot Poe Dameron at the controls, however – these are unpiloted drones based mostly likely on the Cargo Air Vehicle design Boeing has recently shown off, which sports six rotors (you can see them in close-ups of the X-Wing included in the gallery at the end of this post).

Astute observers and Star Wars fans will note that the X-Wings feature the split-engine design introduced in the T-70 variant that are flown by the Resistance in the current trilogy, as opposed to the full cylinder engine design on the T-65 from the original trilogy. That makes perfect sense, since the Rise of the Resistance ride takes place during an encounter between the Resistance and the First Order during the current trilogy timeline.

As for Boeing’s CAV, it recently completed a three-minute test flight during which it demonstrated forward movement, after flying outdoors during a hover test for the first time earlier this year. The cargo drone is designed for industrial applications, and can carry up to 500 lbs of cargo, but it’s still in the testing phase, which makes this Star Wars demonstration even more interesting.

[gallery ids="1921346,1921347,1921348,1921349"]

Early Humans Domesticated Themselves, New Genetic Evidence Suggests [Published articles]

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Science Magazine: A new study -- citing genetic evidence from a disorder that in some ways mirrors elements of domestication -- suggests modern humans domesticated themselves after they split from their extinct relatives, Neanderthals and Denisovans, approximately 600,000 years ago. Domestication encompasses a whole suite of genetic changes that arise as a species is bred to be friendlier and less aggressive. In dogs and domesticated foxes, for example, many changes are physical: smaller teeth and skulls, floppy ears, and shorter, curlier tails. Those physical changes have all been linked to the fact that domesticated animals have fewer of a certain type of stem cell, called neural crest stem cells. Giuseppe Testa, a molecular biologist at University of Milan in Italy, and colleagues knew that one gene, BAZ1B, plays an important role in orchestrating the movements of neural crest cells. Most people have two copies of this gene. Curiously, one copy of BAZ1B, along with a handful of others, is missing in people with Williams-Beuren syndrome, a disorder linked to cognitive impairments, smaller skulls, elfinlike facial features, and extreme friendliness. To learn whether BAZ1B plays a role in those facial features, Testa and colleagues cultured 11 neural crest stem cell lines: four from people with Williams-Beuren syndrome, three from people with a different but related disorder in which they have duplicates instead of deletions of the disorder's key genes, and four from people without either disorder. Next, they used a variety of techniques to tweak BAZ1B's activity up or down in each of the stem cell lines. That tweaking, they learned, affected hundreds of other genes known to be involved in facial and cranial development. Overall, they found that a tamped-down BAZ1B gene led to the distinct facial features of people with Williams-Beuren syndrome, establishing the gene as an important driver of facial appearance. "When the researchers looked at those hundreds of BAZ1B-sensitive genes in modern humans, two Neanderthals, and one Denisovan, they found that in the modern humans, those genes had accumulated loads of regulatory mutations of their own," the report says. "This suggests natural selection was shaping them. And because many of these same genes have also been under selection in other domesticated animals, modern humans, too, underwent a recent process of domestication." The findings have been reported in the journal Science Advances.

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RIP D.C. Fontana, the Legendary Writer Who Helped Star Trek Soar [Published articles]

We credit much of the success of Star Trek to the vision of Gene Roddenberry, crafting a hopeful future for the heroes of his TV series to boldly go about in. But so much of what we love about the original Trek, its heart and its cleverness, is down to the work of writer and script editor D.C. Fontana, who has passed…


How a Patent on Sorting Photos Got Used to Sue a Free Software Group [Published articles]

Taking and sharing pictures with wireless devices has become a common practice. It’s hardly a recent development: the distinction between computers and cameras has shrunk, especially since 2007 when smartphone cameras became standard. Even though devices that can take and share photos wirelessly have become ubiquitous over a period spanning more than a decade, the Patent Office granted a patent on an “image-capturing device” in 2018.

A patent on something so commonplace might be comical, but unfortunately, U.S. Patent No. 9,936,086 is already doing damage to software innovation. It’s creating litigation costs for real developers. The creator of this patent is Rothschild Patent Imaging LLC, or RPI, a company linked to a network of notorious patent trolls connected to inventor Leigh Rothschild. We've written about two of them before: Rothschild Connected Devices Innovations, and Rothschild Broadcast Distribution Systems. Now, RPI has used the ’086 patent to sue the Gnome Foundation, a non-profit that makes free software.

The patent claims a generic “image-capturing mobile device” with equally generic components: a “wireless receiver,” “wireless transmitter,” and “a processor operably connected to the wireless receiver and the wireless transmitter.”  That processor is configured i: to (1) receive multiple photographic images, (2) filter those images using criteria “based on a topic, theme or individual shown in the respective photographic image,” and (3) transmit the filtered photographic images to another wireless device. In other words: the patent claims a smartphone that can receive images that a user can filter by content before sending to others.

According to Rothschild’s complaint, all it takes to infringe its patent is to provide a product that “offers a number of ways to wirelessly share photos online such as through social media.” How in the world could a patent on something so basic and established qualify as inventive in 2018?

At least part of the answer is that the Patent Office simply failed to apply the Supreme Court’s Alice decision. The Alice decision makes clear that using generic computers to automate established human tasks cannot qualify as an “invention” worthy of patent protection. Applying Alice, the Federal Circuit has specifically rejected a patent on the “abstract idea of classifying and storing digital images in an organized manner” in TLI Communications

Inexplicably, there’s no sign the Patent Office gave either decision any consideration before granting this application. Alice was decided in 2014; TLI in 2016. Rothschild filed the application that became the ‘086 patent in June 2017. Before being granted, the application received only one non-final rejection from an examiner at the Patent Office. That examiner did not raise any concerns about the application’s eligibility for patent protection, let alone any concerns specifically stemming from Alice or TLI.

The examiner only compared the application to one earlier reference—a published patent application from 2005. Rothschild claimed that system was irrelevant, because the filter was based on the image’s quality; in Rothschild’s “invention,” the filter was based on “subject identification” criteria, such as the topic, theme, or individual in the photo.

Rothschild didn’t describe how the patent performed the filtering step, or explain why filtering on these criteria would be a technical invention. Nor did the Patent Office ask. But under Alice, it should have. After all, humans have been organizing photos based on topic, theme, and individuals depicted for as long as humans have been organizing photos.

Because the Patent Office failed to apply Alice and granted the ’086 patent, the question of its eligibility may finally get the attention it needs in court. The Gnome Foundation has filed a motion to dismiss the case, pointing out that the patent’s lack of eligibility. We hope the district court will apply Alice and TLI to this patent. But a non-profit that exists to create and spread free software never should have had to spend its limited time and resources on this patent litigation in the first place.

The Oligarch Game: use coin-tosses to demonstrate "winner take all" and its power to warp perceptions [Published articles]

Internet Archive founder Brewster Kahle created The Game of Oligarchy, which "shows that the 'free market' leads inexorably to one person getting all the money and everyone else going broke. And fast."

The game's rules are simple: everyone is assigned $100 in play money to begin with; they take it in turns to pick a player to have a coin-toss against, with the winner taking 50% of the lesser of pots of the pair (if both have $100, the winner takes $50 from the loser).

Very quickly, the winners of the initial coin tosses wipe out the remaining players, and then each other, producing an outcome with a single winner with all the money. What's more interesting than the ability of small amounts of random chance to produce oligarchic outcomes is the psychological effect of playing the game: over the duration of the very short games, the winners arrive at a "feeling of righteous empowerment based on being successful" and players experience class divisions.

Kahle based his game on an article in Scientific American: "Is Inequality Inevitable? Wealth naturally trickles up in free-market economies, model suggests. Neal Krawetz has implemented the game so it can run automatically in browsers.

What is amazing is that even through each toss is “fair” in that it is a 50-50 chance to win a straight amount of money, the results shows one player wins all the money, and really quickly.

Two nephews and their partners, Mary and I played 4 rounds in about an hour and we discovered social classes (we called the broke ones “organ sellers”), feeling of righteous empowerment based on being successful (even though it was completely random), but also that “free market” ended with all-but-one-of-us in a bad situation really quickly.

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Remembering The Home Computer Christmas Wars of 1983 [Published articles]

"1983 had seen an explosion of home computer models of varying capabilities and at various price-points," remembers the vintage computing site Paleotronic, looking back at the historic tech battle between Commodore, Texas Instruments, and eventually Coleco. Slashdot reader beaverdownunder shares the site's fond remembrance of the days when "The question on everyone's minds was not who was going to win, but who would survive." Commodore's Jack Tramiel saw an emerging market for low-cost home computers, releasing the VIC-20 in 1980. At a US$299 price point sales were initially modest, but rival Texas Instruments, making a play for the bottom of the market, would heavily discount its TI99/4A, and start a price war with Commodore that culminated with both computers selling as low as $US99. Only one company was going to walk away... [W]hile TI spokesperson Bill Cosby joked about how easy it was to sell a computer when you gave people US$100 to buy one, Jack Tramiel wasn't going to take this lying down, and he dropped the price of the VIC-20 to US$200 in order to match TI. However, unlike TI, who was selling the 4A at a loss in order to gain market share, Commodore wasn't losing any money at all, since it owned MOS Technology, the maker of many of the chips inside of the VIC-20, and as a result got all of those components at cost. Meanwhile TI was paying full price and haemorrhaging cash on every model sold. You would think TI might have realised they were playing a fool's game and back off but instead after Tramiel dropped the wholesale price of the VIC-20 to US$130 they went all-in, dropping the 4A's retail price to $150. Commodore went to $100, and TI matched it, with many retailers selling both machines for $99. Inside TI, Cosby's joke stopped being funny, and many wondered whether management had dug them into a hole they could never climb out of... After all the dust had settled, the only real winner was Commodore. It fended off all of its competitors and cemented the Commodore 64 as the low-budget 8-bit computer everyone wanted their parents to buy.

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Now even the FBI is warning about your smart TV’s security [Published articles]

If you just bought a smart TV on Black Friday or plan to buy one for Cyber Monday tomorrow, the FBI wants you to know a few things.

Smart TVs are like regular television sets but with an internet connection. With the advent and growth of Netflix, Hulu and other streaming services, most saw internet-connected televisions as a cord-cutter’s dream. But like anything that connects to the internet, it opens up smart TVs to security vulnerabilities and hackers. Not only that, many smart TVs come with a camera and a microphone. But as is the case with most other internet-connected devices, manufacturers often don’t put security as a priority.

That’s the key takeaway from the FBI’s Portland field office, which just ahead of some of the biggest shopping days of the year posted a warning on its website about the risks that smart TVs pose.

“Beyond the risk that your TV manufacturer and app developers may be listening and watching you, that television can also be a gateway for hackers to come into your home. A bad cyber actor may not be able to access your locked-down computer directly, but it is possible that your unsecured TV can give him or her an easy way in the backdoor through your router,” wrote the FBI.

The FBI warned that hackers can take control of your unsecured smart TV and in worst cases, take control of the camera and microphone to watch and listen in.

Active attacks and exploits against smart TVs are rare, but not unheard of. Because every smart TV comes with their manufacturer’s own software and are at the mercy of their often unreliable and irregular security patching schedule, some devices are more vulnerable than others. Earlier this year, hackers showed it was possible to hijack Google’s Chromecast streaming stick and broadcast random videos to thousands of victims.

In fact, some of the biggest exploits targeting smart TVs in recent years were developed by the Central Intelligence Agency, but were stolen. The files were later published online by WikiLeaks.

But as much as the FBI’s warning is responding to genuine fears, arguably one of the bigger issues that should cause as much if not greater concerns are how much tracking data is collected on smart TV owners.

The Washington Post earlier this year found that some of the most popular smart TV makers — including Samsung and LG — collect tons of information about what users are watching in order to help advertisers better target ads against their viewers and to suggest what to watch next, for example. The TV tracking problem became so problematic a few years ago that smart TV maker Vizio had to pay $2.2 million in fines after it was caught secretly collecting customer viewing data. Earlier this year, a separate class action suit related to the tracking again Vizio was allowed to go ahead.

The FBI recommends placing black tape over an unused smart TV camera, keeping your smart TV up-to-date with the latest patches and fixes, and to read the privacy policy to better understand what your smart TV is capable of.

As convenient as it might be, the most secure smart TV might be one that isn’t connected to the internet at all.

Millions of SMS messages exposed in database security lapse

Michelle Yeoh Wanted to Do Section 31 Before Star Trek: Discovery Even Aired [Published articles]

In the flurry of Star Trek news over the past few months, the upcoming Section 31 spinoff starring Michelle Yeoh has been somewhat lost in the shuffle. In a recent interview, some of the lead Trek people talked a bit about how things have been going on that front and shed some light on the show’s development.


Public Libraries Drop Overdue Book Fines To Alleviate Inequity [Published articles]

The San Diego Public Library system just wiped out overdue fines for 130,000 people. It's part of a growing trend, reports NPR: The changes were enacted after a city study revealed that nearly half of the library's patrons whose accounts were blocked as a result of late fees lived in two of the city's poorest neighborhoods. "I never realized it impacted them to that extent," said Misty Jones, the city's library director. For decades, libraries have relied on fines to discourage patrons from returning books late. But a growing number of some of the country's biggest public library systems are ditching overdue fees after finding that the penalties drive away the people who stand to benefit the most from free library resources. From San Diego to Chicago to Boston, public libraries that have analyzed the effects of late fees on their cardholders have found that they disproportionately deter low-income residents and children. Acknowledging these consequences, the American Library Association passed a resolution in January in which it recognizes fines as "a form of social inequity" and calls on libraries nationwide to find a way to eliminate their fines.... Lifting fines has had a surprising dual effect: More patrons are returning to the library, with their late materials in hand. Chicago saw a 240% increase in return of materials within three weeks of implementing its fine-free policy last month. The library system also had 400 more card renewals compared with that time last year. "It became clear to us that there were families that couldn't afford to pay the fines and therefore couldn't return the materials, so then we just lost them as patrons altogether," said Andrea Telli, the city's library commissioner. "We wanted our materials back, and more importantly, we wanted our patrons back..." in San Diego, officials calculated that it actually would be saving money if its librarians stopped tracking down patrons to recover books. The city had spent nearly $1 million to collect $675,000 in library fees each year.

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Del Rey Reveals Cover to Timothy Zahn’s Next Star Wars Novel, Thrawn Ascendancy: Chaos Rising [Published articles]

Del Rey has unveiled the cover, title, and release date for Timothy Zahn’s next Star Wars novel, Thrawn Ascendancy: Chaos Rising, the first installment of a new trilogy about his infamous villain.

The publisher announced the trilogy at this year’s New York Comic Con, and that the first installment would drop in May 2020. In a tweet, Del Rey revealed that the book would take place in the Unknown Regions, and confirmed that the story would be set prior to “Thrawn’s ‘exile’ to the Empire.”

A long time ago, beyond a galaxy far, far away….

Beginning in May 2020, an all new trilogy by Timothy Zahn journeys beyond the edge of the map into the Unknown Regions. #ThrawnAscendancy Book I: Chaos Rising#Thrawnsgiving #HappyThrawnsgiving

(cover by Sarofsky design) pic.twitter.com/cxbiFJCF00

— Star Wars Books (@DelReyStarWars) November 26, 2019


Zahn initially introduced the character in 1991’s Heir to the Empire, the first major Star Wars tie-in novel. Thrawn proved to be a fan favorite over the course of that trilogy (which included Dark Force Rising and The Last Command), and he later loomed large in another pair of novels, Specter of the Past and Vision of the Future. When Disney purchased Lucasfilm in 2012, it rendered the Expanded Universe tie-in stories non-canon, to pave the way for the sequel film trilogy. Thrawn, and other fan-favorite characters were wiped from the universe.

But in 2016, Clone Wars creator Dave Filoni announced that Thrawn would be brought back into the canon in Star Wars Rebels, and that Zahn would be writing a book to tie in with the series, Thrawn. That novel proved to be a long-awaited origin story for how the character joined the Empire and rose up through the ranks. The character remained in Rebels to the end, and Zahn penned two additional stories, Thrawn Alliances, and Thrawn: Treason, which followed the character’s adventures.

The timing of this new trilogy shows that it’s an origin story to that origin story, tracking Thrawn’s early days within the Unknown Regions and within the ranks of The Chiss Ascendancy.

The book will hit stores on May 5th, 2020.

Nomogram [Published articles]

Across America, DMVs make millions selling your license data to private eyes -- and randos [Published articles]

It's not just Florida: Motherboard sent public records requests to DMVs across America and found that they were routinely selling off access to drivers' license databases to some of the sweatiest, sketchiest companies and individuals, on the cheap, and doing so much of it that they're making millions (California's DMV makes $50m/year selling off driver's license data).

Among the most prolific buyers of DMV data are private investigators, whose access to the data is federally blessed under the 1994 Driver's Privacy Protection Act (DPPA), passed to limit PIs' access to DMV data (a PI used DMV data to tell a actress's stalker where to find her, and he went on to murder her) but which also created a framework under which the data can be sold.

Credit bureaux are also prolific customers for DMVs. Some states have deals with hundreds of third parties who get to plunder DMV databases -- Wisconsin has deals with three thousand, one hundred entities.

Some states allow bail-bondsmen, skip tracers, and other lightly licensed (or unlicensed) investigators to buy their way into DMV records. The public records obtained by Motherboard showed that DMVs use these sales as a way to generate operating revenue for themselves, and only lightly investigate abuses of the data.

Asked if the sale of this data was essential to the DMV, Marty Greenstein, public information officer at the California DMV, wrote that its sale furthers objectives related to highway and public safety, "including availability of insurance, risk assessment, vehicle safety recalls, traffic studies, emissions research, background checks, and for pre- and existing employment purposes."

"The DMV takes its obligation to protect personal information very seriously. Information is only released pursuant to legislative direction, and the DMV continues to review its release practices to ensure information is only released to authorized persons/entities and only for authorized purposes. The DMV also audits requesters to ensure proper audit logs are maintained and that employees are trained in the protection of DMV information and anyone having access to this information sign a security document," Greenstein wrote.

The California DMV Is Making $50M a Year Selling Drivers’ Personal Information [Joseph Cox/Motherboard]

(Image: Chris Harrison, CC BY-SA, modified)

The Archimedes palimpsest [Published articles]

The ‘Archimedes palimpsest’ is the most famous manuscript of any ancient pagan text. I’d better explain its title first:

  • A palimpsest is a parchment manuscript that has been recycled and had a second layer of text written on it. The word literally means ‘re-polished’, that is, a parchment that had the original text washed or scraped off. Scholarly publications sometimes use the term rescriptus (‘rewritten’).
  • Archimedes of Syracuse (287-212 BCE) is the most renowned of all ancient mathematicians. He wrote important books on topics like conic sections, the uses of infinitesimals and infinity, combinatorics, mechanical principles, and buoyancy.
Not much of Archimedes’ writings survives, even though he was a revered authority. So the Archimedes palimpsest is a big deal.
Monastery of Mar Saba, West Bank, where the palimpsest was housed in the 1600s. (Source: Jean and Nathalie, cropped; CC BY 2.0)
The manuscript, once catalogued as Metochion of the Holy Sepulchre MS 355, Constantinople, contains
  • Archimedes’ Method, which survives nowhere else;
  • the only Greek copies of On floating bodies and the Stomachion, both of which survived elsewhere in Arabic translations (a fragmentary translation in the case of the Stomachion);
  • other works by Archimedes known from other copies (Planes in equilibrium, Spirals, On the sphere and cylinder, Measurement of the circle);
  • two speeches by the Athenian orator Hypereides, which survive nowhere else (Against Diondas, Against Timandros);
  • an ancient commentary on Aristotle’s Categories.
So far the story is all true. Now we’re going to look at three widespread misconceptions about the manuscript.
  1. The belief that the palimpsest is a potent example of how religion corrupts science: that a 13th century scribe destroyed Archimedes’ text to make a prayer book, and that this is characteristic of the opposition between religious belief and the scientific method.
  2. The belief that the texts in the palimpsest went unread between 1229, when the prayerbook was completed, and 1998, when it was sold at auction.
  3. The belief that modern technology, such as X-ray fluorescence imaging and ultraviolet imaging conducted from 1999 to 2008, bears the sole credit for rescuing the texts in the palimpsest.
OK, there are elements of truth to each of these. But they wildly misrepresent the reality.

It’s true that a 13th century scribe erased Archimedes’ and Hypereides’ text to create a prayerbook. It’s true that modern technology saved texts that would otherwise have been lost.

But it’s false to imagine that this represents a conflict between religion and science. (Who do you think copied out the Archimedes in the first place? Elves?) It’s at most half true to imagine that modern technology was undoing damage wrought by a monk. It’s false that Archimedes’ Method went unread until 1998, and it’s false that the Method was saved by modern imaging techniques.

The illicit antiquities trade

This isn’t a story of the scientific method triumphing over religious ignorance. The bigger story is about the trade in stolen antiquities.
The Archimedes palimpsest. Where is it now? Officially, no one knows.
Over the last few years there’s been heavy attention to the fact that sales of ancient -- and mediaeval -- manuscripts often take place without any attention to provenance or legal ownership. This has been in the news just recently thanks to a fiasco surrounding an early papyrus of the New Testament gospel of Mark, owned by the Egypt Exploration Society. In 2013 the papyrologist Dirk Obbink secretly tried to sell it and three other New Testament papyri, without the EES’s knowledge or consent, to an American company, Hobby Lobby. Hobby Lobby is a prominent supporter of Christian evangelicalism, and has a reputation for rapaciously acquiring ancient Christian manuscripts without the slightest concern for where they came from. It has since turned out that Obbink ‘sold’ eleven other EES-owned papyri to them in 2010 -- and possibly to other buyers too.

At the time, Obbink was the general editor of the EES’s Oxyrhynchus papyri collection. He held that position until the EES got wind of his activities.
In August 2016 the EES did not re-appoint Professor Obbink ... primarily because of unsatisfactory discharge of his editorial duties, but also because of concerns, which he did not allay, about his alleged involvement in the marketing of ancient texts, especially the Sappho text.
-- EES press release, 14 Oct. 2019
As it happens, the Mark papyrus and ‘the Sappho text’ mentioned here are both very relevant to the case of the Archimedes palimpsest.

In 2014 Obbink published some new fragments of Sappho. Obbink has been nearly as secretive about where they came from as he was about the New Testament papyri. His initial publication stated only that the Sappho was ‘now in a private collection, London’, without a word about where it came from or how it was found.

He has since stated that the Sappho was bequeathed to the University of Mississippi (sometime around 1960, apparently) then sold at auction by Christie’s in 2011. Rather conspicuously, the Sappho also has a past with Hobby Lobby: see research by Brent Nongbri (Dec. 2018, Apr. 2019).

Where is the Sappho papyrus now? Only Obbink knows.

(Well, officially. Most likely it’s in the hands of Mahmoud Elder, a collector who once ran an antiquities trading company with Obbink, and who has also sold papyri to Hobby Lobby.)

What has that got to do with Archimedes? Well, several experts have pointed out recently that classicists have been eager to leap on the text of newly found manuscripts, while ignoring the secretiveness -- and often illegality -- surrounding the physical objects.
... the BMCR review of the 2016 edited volume devoted to the newest Sappho poems omitted any discussion whatsoever of questions of provenance, save a brief comment that the editorial board felt “obliged” to insert as a header. The “recovery” of even the slightest scrap — let alone a trove including a nearly complete, previously unknown poem — is, so the reasoning seems to go, to be celebrated no matter the means by which it is achieved.

The scope of Obbink’s alleged activities on the antiquities market would seem to put the lie to this reasoning.
-- Sampson and Uhlig, Eidolon, 6 Nov. 2019

I would personally avoid publication if documents are lacking, but anyone who decides otherwise must be very clear about why, though documents are missing, they think the papyrus was legally acquired. ...

In other words, dear Classicists, especially those among you who have commented and written pages and pages on the new Sappho poems, we have completely lost track of the only extant copy of the verses in question, verses otherwise unknown and unattested. Leaving aside the problems connected to the very unclear provenance of this “elderly” gentleman’s fragment, to me this seems a remarkable illustration of the unfair conditions of access that come with private collections.
-- Mazza, Eidolon, 8 Nov. 2019
Exactly the same reservations apply to the Archimedes palimpsest. Like the Sappho papyrus, no one knows where it is -- except for the people who published it. And, again like the Sappho, its location is only a secret officially. Everyone knows the Archimedes palimpsest is at Jeff Bezos’ house.

But in the case of the Archimedes, we can say with 100% certainty that it is stolen property.

When Anne Guersan sold the Archimedes palimpsest to Jeff Bezos, all attention was focused on the price, the text, and the conservation efforts. Some people did pay attention to where the physical object came from and where it was going -- but these things weren’t part of the popular story.

The false narrative

Read up on the palimpsest, and you will mostly find praise of the conservators, imaging specialists, and philologists who have studied the manuscript since 1998. I don’t exactly want to condemn their work: they aren’t the ones who stole it. And we have seen real discoveries about Archimedes and Hypereides. Would I have acted differently, in their shoes? I don’t know.

But, as with the Sappho, the scholars have been careful to avoid looking a gift horse in the mouth. They are effusive in their praise of ‘Mr. B.’ In public discussions they tend to avoid drawing too much attention to the palimpsest’s history between 1908 and 1998. A 2007 popular book on the palimpsest lays so much emphasis on the auction -- ‘a huge day for the history of science’ -- that if you stopped reading before chapter 7, you might well come away thinking the palimpsest was completely unknown beforehand.
A team of scientists used a special x-ray imaging technique, called x-ray fluorescence (XRF) imaging, to finally unlock these scientific secrets, hidden from view since antiquity on a goatskin parchment manuscript.
-- California Council on Science and Technology, July 2006

(The project leader) assembled a team of some of the world’s best imaging experts to recover as much as possible of Archimedes' text from the Palimpsest that no eyes had seen in modern times.
-- Scientific American, Sep. 2011
Well, the 1998 auction was a huge day, but not for science. It was a terrific day for trading in stolen antiquities. The huge day for science was 91 years earlier, in 1907, when the Method was published by Johan Ludvig Heiberg, a Danish expert on Archimedes. The popular story keeps so quiet about this that the authors of the above snippets simply never knew it.
Archimedes’ Method, published by Heiberg in 1907. Here’s a translation-cum-paraphrase from 1912.
The popular story also tends to create an imaginary timeline --
  1. the text was written by Archimedes,
  2. then a monk damaged it, illustrating the perniciousness of Christianity,
  3. then it was rescued by 21st century secular technology.
If you listen to this TED talk, given by the project leader in May 2012, you may notice how he directs his audience’s attention. He spends nearly a minute describing how a monk tore apart seven unique texts and erased them (1:05-1:58). Then he spends 9 seconds on the damage done by 20th century looters and forgers (2:28-2:36) -- without ever mentioning that they were looters. He even says (2:40),
It’s the sort of book that you (would have) thought would be in an institution. But it’s not in an institution: it was bought by a private owner in 1998 ...
Well, it was in an institution, actually. And it was kept in pretty good condition, all things considered. Until it was stolen from that institution sometime around 1920.

So, here are a few counterpoints to the beliefs I outlined above.
  • The palimpsest didn’t go unread between 1229 and 1998. Johan Heiberg published the Method all the way back in 1907. Heiberg’s equipment was a magnifying glass and a camera. A German translation appeared the same year, an English translation-cum-paraphrase in 1912, then another critical edition in 1913.
  • Between 1999 and 2011 a barrage of careful and high-tech conservation efforts were aimed at the palimpsest. These efforts certainly revealed more of the text than Heiberg had been able to read, especially the diagrams. But, contrary to what is claimed in a 2007 popular book about the palimpsest, the important parts of the Method were known since Heiberg.
  • Conservation efforts weren’t primarily aimed at fixing damage inflicted by a Christian monk. Yes, the manuscript was damaged by the 13th century monk. Some of the text was illegible to Heiberg, and Heiberg didn’t even try to transcribe the Hypereides speeches. But the main focus of the conservation efforts were to rescue the book from damage done by thieves, forgers, and illicit collectors in the 1900s, after it was stolen.
The discovery of the Archimedes palimpsest in 1907: front page coverage. (New York Times, 16 July 1907, page 1)
You have to treat this story pretty selectively to make it a story of religion versus science. Yes, the 13th century scribe made Archimedes’ text harder to read. But it was Christian monks that made the Archimedes manuscript in the first place. And the damage done in the palimpsesting process pales in comparison with the reckless treatment of the manuscript over the last hundred years --
  • Some damage was probably done when the palimpsest was stolen after the end of World War I.
  • Much worse damage was inflicted by Salomon Guerson, Marie-Louis Sirieix, and Anne Guersan, who had the palimpsest at various points in the 1900s:
    • Guerson removed seven leaves, got a forger to erase the text and paint fake illuminations on four of them, and reinserted those four leaves (the other three leaves are lost).
    • Sirieix and possibly Guersan kept the palimpsest in a damp cellar where it grew mouldy.
    • One of them, or maybe all of them, put rusty objects and Blu-tack inside the palimpsest’s pages, and tried to ‘fix’ the book with layers of PVA glue.

The real history of the palimpsest

The most thorough history is one written by John Lowden (2011). Most of the following is a condensed, streamlined version of his report.
Note. I do have reservations about some aspects of Lowden’s account. As a team-member in the 2000s research project, Lowden has a vested interest in casting the current ownership of the palimpsest as legitimate. He suggests the mould on the manuscript may not be Sirieix’s fault; his closing paragraph tries to give the impression that the 13th century scribe is equally as culpable as the 20th century looters and forgers; he casts Jeff Bezos’ purchase of the stolen book as something ‘that can be unequivocally praised’; he says Bezos himself has ‘heroic generosity’. (Try telling that to Amazon employees.) It’s very tendentious. Still, his investigations into the history of the forged illuminations, and his interview of Elie Behar, make his account indispensable.
The Archimedes manuscript was made by Christian monks in the 10th century. In the 13th century a scribe recycled the manuscript into a prayerbook -- making it a palimpsest -- and completed his work in 1229. During the 1600s the palimpsest was housed in the Mar Saba monastery, in what is now the West Bank, about 9 km south-east of Jerusalem.

In the early 1800s the Patriarchate of Jerusalem took over the monastery’s collection. They relocated a number of books to Constantinople (as it then was), to a sort of embassy monastery that they had there, the Metochion of the Holy Sepulchre.

In the 1840s the biblical scholar Constantin Tischendorf visited the monastery, and secretly cut out one leaf and stole it. He knew it was a mathematical text, but he probably didn’t know it was Archimedes. He bequeathed the page to Cambridge University Library, and the stolen item is still there, catalogued as MS Add. 1879.23.

In 1899 Athanasios Papadopoulos-Kerameus catalogued the Metochion’s holdings, and published a description of the manuscript, including an insert that showed that it had come from Mar Saba. He also transcribed a passage of the palimpsest.
The Metochion as it appears today. (Balat, Istanbul)
Heiberg realised that Papadopoulos-Kerameus’ transcription was Archimedes, and travelled to Constantinople in 1906 and 1908. He studied the manuscript as carefully as he could, took photographs, and published the Method and the Stomachion in 1907. Between 1910 and 1915 he published a complete new edition of Archimedes’ works.

It was probably in the hubbub following World War I that the palimpsest was stolen from the Metochion. The people who worked on the palimpsest between 1998 and 2011 insist the palimpsest was bought, not stolen, and they point to one other manuscript being bought from the Metochion in the 1920s. They have a vested interest in that belief. If the palimpsest is stolen property, that would compromise every aspect of their work.

Even if it was bought, we know that Patriarch Damianos of Jerusalem wrote to the Metochion in 1923 with strict instructions not to sell any manuscripts. Whether it changed hands for money, or it was seized by a French soldier in the occupation force, it went without the knowledge or consent of its actual owner.

If money did change hands, the situation is identical to that of the Oxyrhynchus papyri that Dirk Obbink sold to Hobby Lobby. Just like the papyri, the palimpsest is stolen property.

After this point, there are two versions of what happened.

Story number 1 is the story given by Anne Guersan, the seller of the palimpsest in 1998. Her father Marie-Louis Sirieix (1884-1956) was a French soldier who served in Greece in World War I, and acquired the palimpsest in the early 1920s. This is the story she gave to a New York court when the Patriarchate of Jerusalem sued to prevent the sale in 1999, but with no evidence of how Sirieix acquired it.

Story number 2 is that Sirieix didn’t get the palimpsest until 1942. Prior to that it was held by Salomon Guerson (1872-1970), a carpet dealer who moved his business from Istanbul to Paris in the 1920s, and who is known to have been trying to sell mediaeval manuscripts to various museums and libraries between 1926 and 1934. In 1942 Guerson fled Paris to escape the Nazis, and at that point he sold the palimpsest to Sirieix, who was in the Resistance. This is the version given by Guerson’s grandsons, Elie Behar and Salomon Guerson, according to H. Brandt Corstius, who phoned Guerson in 2007, and John Lowden, who was in contact with Behar in 2010. After the war Salomon’s and Sirieix’s children, Robert and Anne, married in 1946. (The variation Guerson-Guersan comes from transliteration differences when the family moved from Istanbul to Paris.)

In addition, we know that in 1932 Guerson showed one folio of the palimpsest to the curator of the Huntington Library in Los Angeles -- probably Reginald Haselden -- who identified it as Heiberg’s Archimedes text. Subsequently Guerson offered it to collections in Paris, Oxford, and Chicago. These details come from a letter that Guerson wrote to Harold Willoughby at Chicago University in 1934, naming the price as $6000.

Guerson’s 1934 letter is pretty much a guarantee that story number 2 is the true one. Anne Guersan’s testimony at the 1999 trial was false.

Between 1938 and 1942 Guerson arranged to have illuminations forged and painted over some pages. Lowden documents Guerson’s track record of faking illuminations into manuscripts that passed through his hands. We know this happened after 1938 because the paint contains phthalocyanine green, a synthetic pigment, and that’s the year that it became commercially available. It’s likely that three further leaves, which vanished from the manuscript between 1908 and 1998, were also taken out to have illuminations forged on them, and never reattached.

According to Anne Guersan’s testimony -- though based on what we’ve seen, we should doubt every word of it -- Sirieix passed the palimpsest on to Anne in 1947. The information about what the palimpsest actually was didn’t make it as far as her: she claims that she began asking people for advice about the manuscript in the 1960s, following Sirieix’s death in 1956. She had it identified -- so she says -- by Abraham Wasserstein, a specialist in ancient science who during the 1960s was at Leicester University and the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, and Père Joseph Paramelle, a hellenist-byzantinist at the CNRS in Paris.
Note. A 1976 review written by Wasserstein discusses the palimpsest without giving a particular impression that he was aware of its whereabouts.
In the early 1970s the Guersan family started trying to sell the palimpsest. This may have been prompted by Salomon Guerson’s death in 1970; alternatively it might be that she was feeling pressure in the wake of the 1970 UNESCO agreement on the trade of cultural property. She got expressions of interest from various American universities -- Yale, Texas, and Pittsburgh -- but none of them was rich enough for her taste.

Finally in the 1990s she tried Christie’s in New York. And there she struck gold.

Just one snag: it was stolen property, and everyone knew it. Christie’s informed the Greek government of the situation in August 1998, two months before the auction. In September they listed the sale publicly. The Patriarchate of Jerusalem, to which the Metochion belonged, notified Christie’s a week before the auction that they believed the manuscript was theirs.

But the palimpsest was already in the US. In 1999 a New York court ruled that the sale was legal. There’s zero chance of the decision being overturned.

Given that the Patriarchate responded to news of the auction so quickly, it may sound crazy that the court ruled that they had delayed unreasonably. It was the right call, actually. The court pointed out
... if the Patriarchate was able to retain counsel with impressive speed to bring this action the night before the Christie’s auction, it could have retained counsel to search for the Palimpsest, or at least make some inquiries, at some point during the previous seventy years.
-- Greek Orthodox Patriarchate v. Christie’s, Inc. 1999, at *31
For further legal discussion see Reyhan 2001: 999-1002; Carver 2005; Ray 2015. Carver thinks the Patriarchate would have had a stronger case with different arguments -- but she also concludes that the case probably can’t be relitigated.

So the judgement is final. It may even be just: the Patriarchate admitted at the trial that they hadn’t taken much interest in the fate of the Metochion’s manuscripts before 1998. And it’s not clear that the palimpsest’s condition would be improved by going back to Jerusalem.

Still, the fact remains that the stolen palimpsest stays in Jeff Bezos’ keeping. Bezos has allowed detailed publications and open access information about the palimpsest. But an important cultural object is lost forever -- not only to the Patriarchate, but to the whole world.

More importantly, Bezos has set a potent example. The enormous amount of money he has spent on buying and conserving it is a huge encouragement to the trade in stolen antiquities. The incident certainly didn’t discourage Christie’s from auctioning the Sappho papyrus in 2011. It isn’t going to put them off other similar deals in future.


Older IT Workers Left Out Despite Tech Talent Shortage [Published articles]

Git-subtrac: all your Git submodules in one place [Published articles]

An Alarming Discovery In an Astronaut's Bloodstream [Published articles]

Thelasko shared this article from the Atlantic about a surprising medical observation on the International Space Station: An astronaut was carrying out an ultrasound on their own body as part of a new study, guided in real time by a specialist on the ground. A similar test before the astronaut launched to space had come back normal. But now the scan showed a clump of blood... Before the astronauts launched, researchers measured blood flow in their jugular vein in seated, supine, and tilted positions. The readings looked normal. The researchers had the astronauts repeat the ultrasounds during their missions on the ISS. Scans showed that blood flow in the vein stalled in five of the 11 astronauts. "Sometimes it was sloshing back and forth a bit, but there was no net-forward movement," Marshall-Goebel says. Seeing stagnant blood flow in this kind of vein is rare, she says; the condition usually occurs in the legs, such as when people sit still for hours on a plane... All the astronauts were considered to be in good health before they launched. And when they came home, the conditions vanished in nearly all of them. When the researchers analyzed the data, they found that a second astronaut may have developed a blood clot no one had seen while they were in orbit. But no one experienced any health troubles. "None of the crew members actually had any negative clinical outcomes," Marshall-Goebel says. An associate professor of space medicine at the International Space University in France tells the Atlantic that the findings were compelling. "I think we need to understand this before we embark on long-duration missions where the astronaut would be so far away that we wouldn't be able to help them in the case of a medical emergency."

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Donotpay adds tool to automatically analyze lengthy, terrible terms of service [Published articles]

Do Not Pay, the "robot lawyer" that can help you do everything from beat a traffic ticket to getting access to services for poor and homeless people, has rolled out a new service: "Do Not Sign," a tool to analyze terms of service agreements.

While its true that these services are virtually always terrible, they're not all the same. Do Not Sign will flag things like obscure clauses that let you opt out of data collection and binding arbitration.

Do Not Sign also flags the everyday terrors of these "agreements," such as the right to change them later without notice, the right to stop providing a service without notice, and the fact that you assume all risk when using a service.

Do Not Sign uses machine learning to flag "warnings" and "loopholes" in these "agreements."

“I got into this gym membership with this US company called Planet Fitness, and I didn’t realize when I was signing up that it’s basically impossible to cancel,” Browder told The Verge in an interview. “I think it just goes to show that even someone like me wouldn’t read the fine print. I don’t think regular people know what they’re agreeing to.” In the case of Planet Fitness, Browder says he eventually found a clause buried in its terms of service that allowed him to cancel the contract if he moved out of the area. In the end, he canceled his membership by telling the gym he’d moved to the UK.

This is what Do Not Sign means by “loopholes.” I found one such example when I fed the system Apple’s terms of service: it informed me that I can request my personal data from the company and ask Apple to delete it. This is a fairly standard feature of modern contracts, thanks to the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) legislation, but it’s something that the average consumer might not know about. Do Not Sign also highlights when users can opt out of arbitration clauses, a feature in contracts that stops customers from being able to sue a company or join a class action suit against it.

This "robot lawyer" can take the mystery out of license agreements [Jon Porter/The Verge]

Max Headroom broadcast signal intrusion [Published articles]

Without right to repair, the military can't fix its own battlefield equipment [Published articles]

Captain Elle Ekman is a US Marine Corps logistics officer; in a New York Times op-ed, she describes how the onerous conditions imposed by manufacturers on the US armed forces mean that overseas troops are not permitted to fix their own mission-critical gear, leaving them stranded and disadvantaged.

Instead of fixing their equipment as armies have done since the time of the Caesars, US armed forces personnel ship their faulty gear back to the USA for warranty repair, waiting months to get it back into service. She describes maintenance bays full of broken equipment and idle 3D printers, water-jets cutters, and lathes that were once used to effect field repairs. Now, the gear just waits to be shipped stateside.

She traces this to monopoly power among manufacturers, which has allowed them to erode the historic right to repair, and to impose onerous conditions on their customers -- even the Department of Defense.

Last year, a coalition of large manufacturers led by Apple killed 20 different state level right-to-repair bills. Apple and ag companies like John Deere are currently lobbying the federal government hard to head off any federal right-to-repair bill, promising that allowing independent repair would open up a floodgate of counterfeits, unsafe equipment, and cybersecurity problems.

With every engine sent back, Marines lost the opportunity to practice the skills they might need one day on the battlefield, where contractor support is inordinately expensive, unreliable or nonexistent.

I also recalled how Marines have the ability to manufacture parts using water-jets, lathes and milling machines (as well as newer 3-D printers), but that these tools often sit idle in maintenance bays alongside broken-down military equipment. Although parts from the manufacturer aren’t available to repair the equipment, we aren’t allowed to make the parts ourselves “due to specifications.”

How pervasive is this issue for the most powerful military in the world? And what does it mean for a military that is expected to operate in the most austere and hostile environments to not possess the experience, training or tools to fix its own very technical equipment?

Here’s One Reason the U.S. Military Can’t Fix Its Own Equipment [Elle Ekman/New York Times]

Lack of Right to Repair Limits Ability of US Military to Maintain its Own Equipment [Jerri-Lynn Scofield/Naked Capitalism]

Human patient put in suspended animation for the first time [Published articles]

Scientists (and sci-fi fans) have been talking about suspended animation for years. The idea that the functions of the human body can somehow be put on "pause" while life-saving medical procedures are performed (or a person is sent into space, a la A...

Justice Department To Abolish Movie Distribution Rules Dating To 1949 [Published articles]

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The New York Times: The Justice Department said on Monday that it planned to overturn antitrust-related movie distribution rules from the early days of Hollywood (Warning: source may be paywalled; alternative source), citing an entertainment landscape that has been radically reshaped by technology. "We cannot pretend that the business of film distribution and exhibition remains the same," Makan Delrahim, the antitrust chief at the Justice Department, said at an American Bar Association conference in Washington. "Changes over the course of more than half a century also have made it unlikely that the remaining defendants can reinstate their cartel." The film distribution rules, known as the Paramount consent decrees, were enacted in 1949, a year after the United States Supreme Court ruled that Hollywood's eight largest studios could not own theaters, and thus control the film business. The regulations made it illegal for studios to unreasonably limit the number of theaters in one geographical area that could play a movie. They also banned "block booking," a bundling practice where studios forced theaters to play their bad movies along with their good ones or not play any. But that was when "metropolitan areas generally had a single movie theater with one screen that showed a single movie at a time," Mr. Delrahim said. "Today, not only do our metropolitan areas have many multiplex cinemas showing films from different distributors, but much of our movie-watching is not in theaters at all." In essence, he was saying that the regulations are obsolete because of technological advancements, most recently streaming. The National Association of Theater Owners said that abolishing the consent decrees could result in a return to block booking, which many smaller theater owners could not survive. "If distributors can engage in block booking, exhibitors may be forced to pack their screens with global tentpoles at the expense of targeted programming," the association said in its submitted comments, referring to blockbuster films that now dominate the box office. "Consumers will face increasingly limited choices at the box office, and, without the possibility of a theatrical run, many films will no longer be made, limiting the availability of choices through home entertainment platforms as well."

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Could Antimatter Be the Portal Into the Dark Universe? [Published articles]

A new paper asks: What if antimatter is the portal into the dark universe?


TPM-FAIL Vulnerabilities Impact TPM Chips In Desktops, Laptops, Servers [Published articles]

An anonymous reader writes: A team of academics has disclosed today two vulnerabilities known collectively as TPM-FAIL that could allow an attacker to retrieve cryptographic keys stored inside TPMs. The first vulnerability is CVE-2019-11090 and impacts Intel's Platform Trust Technology (PTT). Intel PTT is Intel's fTPM software-based TPM solution and is widely used on servers, desktops, and laptops, being supported on all Intel CPUs released since 2013, starting with the Haswell generation. The second is CVE-2019-16863 and impacts the ST33 TPM chip made by STMicroelectronics. This chip is incredibly popular and is used on a wide array of devices ranging from networking equipment to cloud servers, being one of the few chips that received a CommonCriteria (CC) EAL 4+ classification — which implies it comes with built-in protection against side-channel attacks like the ones discovered by the research team. Unlike most TPM attacks, these ones were deemed practical. A local adversary can recover the ECDSA key from Intel fTPM in 4-20 minutes depending on the access level. We even show that these attacks can be performed remotely on fast networks, by recovering the authentication key of a virtual private network (VPN) server in 5 hours.

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This software can clone a person's voice by listening to a 5-second sample [Published articles]

Here are audio samples from a neural network based system that can analyze a 5-second recording of someone's voice, then have that same voice say anything you want it to say.

Someone made a version of the software that you can download from Github.

alt.interoperability.adversarial [Published articles]

Today, we are told that the bigness of Big Tech giants was inevitable: the result of "network effects." For example, once everyone you want to talk to is on Facebook, you can't be convinced to use another, superior service, because all the people you'd use that service to talk to are still on Facebook. And of course, those people also can't leave Facebook, because you're still there.

But network effects were once a double-edge sword, one that could be wielded both by yesterday's Goliaths and today's Davids. Once, network effects made companies vulnerable, just as much as they protected them.

The early, pre-graphic days of the Internet were dominated by Usenet, a decentralized, topic-based discussion-board system that ran on UUCP -- AT&T's Unix-to-Unix Copy utility -- that allowed administrators of corporate servers to arrange for their computers to dial into other organizations' computers and exchange stored messages with them, and to pass on messages that were destined for more distant systems. Though UUCP was originally designed for person-to-person messaging and limited file transfers, the administrators of the world's largest computer systems wanted a more freewheeling, sociable system, and so Usenet was born.

Usenet systems dialed each other up to exchange messages, using slow modems and commercial phone lines. Even with the clever distribution system built into Usenet (which allowed for one node to receive long-distance messages for its closest neighbors and then pass the messages on at local calling rates), and even with careful call scheduling to chase the lowest long-distance rates in the dead of night, Usenet was still responsible for racking up some prodigious phone bills for the corporations who were (mostly unwittingly) hosting it.

The very largest Usenet nodes were hosted by companies so big that their Usenet-related long distance charges were lost in the dictionary-sized bills the company generated every month (some key nodes were operated by network administrators who worked for phone companies where long-distance calls were free).

The administrators of these key nodes semi-jokingly called themselves "the backbone cabal" and they saw themselves as having a kind of civic duty to Usenet, part of which was ensuring that their bosses never got wind of it and (especially) that Usenet never created the kind of scandal that would lead to public outcry that would threaten the project.

Which is why the backbone cabal was adamant that certain discussion forums be suppressed. Thanks to a convention proposed by EFF co-founder John Gilmore, there was a formal process for creating a Usenet newsgroup, requiring that a certain number of positive votes be cast for the group's creation by Usenet's users, and that this positive force not be checked by too many negative votes. Though this compromise stacked the deck against controversy by allowing a critical mass of objectors to block even very popular proposals, some proposed controversial newsgroups made it through the vote.

When that happened, the backbone cabal response was to "protect Usenet from its own users," by refusing to carry these controversial newsgroups on their long-haul lines, meaning that all the local systems (who depended on on the backbone to serve up UUCP feeds without long-distance fees) would not be able to see them. It was a kind of network administrator's veto.

Usenet users chafed at the veto. Some of the "controversial" subjects the cabal blocked (like recreational drugs) were perfectly legitimate subjects of inquiry; in other cases (rec.gourmand -- a proposal for a group about cooking inside the "recreation" category, rather than the "talk" category), the cabal's decision was hard to see as anything but capricious and arbitrary.

In response, John Gilmore, Gordon Moffett and Brian Reid created a new top-level category in the Usenet hierarchy: alt., and in 1987, the first alt. newsgroup was formed: alt.gourmand.

The backbone did not carry the alt. hierarchy, but that wasn't the end of things. Gilmore was willing to subsidize the distribution of the alt. hierarchy, and he let it be known that he would pay the long distance charges to have his UUCP server dial up to distant systems and give them an alt. feed. Because UUCP allowed for the consolidation of feeds from multiple sources, Usenet users could get their regular Usenet feeds from the backbone cabal, and their alt. feeds from Gilmore; as time went by and new services like Telenet provided new ways of bridging systems that were cheaper than long-distance modem calls, and as the modems themselves got faster, and an Internet protocol for Usenet messages called NNTP was created and the alt. hierarchy became the most popular part of Usenet.

The crisis that the backbone cabal had feared never materialized. The alt. hierarchy's freewheeling rules -- that let anyone add any newsgroup without permission from third parties -- came to dominate the Internet, from the Web (anyone can add a website) to its many services (anyone can add a hashtag or create a social media group).

The story of the alt. hierarchy is an important lesson about the nearly forgotten art of "adversarial interoperability," in which new services can be plugged into existing ones, without permission or cooperation from the operators of the dominant service.

Today, we're told that Facebook will dominate forever because everyone you want to talk to is already there. But that was true of the backbone cabal's alt.-free version of Usenet, which controlled approximately one hundred percent of the socializing on the nascent Internet. Luckily, the alt. hierarchy was created before Facebook distorted the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act to try to criminalize terms of service violations. Usenet had no terms of service and no contracts. There were only community standards and mores, endlessly discussed. It was created in an era when software patents were rare and narrow, before the US Patent and Trademark Office started allowing patents on anything so long as you put "with a computer" in the application – a few years later, and Usenet creators might have tried to use Duke University and UNC’s patent portfolio to try to shut down anyone who plugged something as weird, dangerous and amazing as alt. into the Usenet (wags insisted that alt. didn't stand for "alternative," but rather, "Anarchists, Lunatics, and Terrorists"). As alt. grew, its spread demanded that Usenet's software be re-implemented for non-Unix computers, which was possible because software interfaces were not understood to be copyrightable – but today, Oracle is seeking to have the courts seal off that escape hatch for adversarial interoperability.

Deprived of these shields against adversarial interoperability, Usenet's network effects were used against it. Despite being dominated by the backbone cabal, Usenet had everything the alt. hierarchy needed to thrive: the world's total population of people interested in using the Internet to socialize; that meant that the creators of alt. could invite all Usenet users and to expand their reading beyond the groups that met with the cabal's approval without having to get the cabal's permission. Thanks to the underlying design of Usenet, the new alt. groups and the incumbent Usenet newsgroups could be seamlessly merged into a system that acted like a single service for its users.

If adversarial interoperability still enjoyed its alt.-era legal respectability, then Facebook alternatives like Diaspora could use their users' logins and passwords to fetch the Facebook messages the service had queued up for them and allow those users to reply to them from Diaspora, without being spied on by Facebook. Mastodon users could read and post to Twitter without touching Twitter's servers. Hundreds or thousands of services could spring up that allowed users different options to block harassment and bubble up interesting contributions from other users -- both those on the incumbent social media services, and the users of these new upstarts. It's true that unlike Usenet, Facebook and Twitter have taken steps to block this kind of federation, so perhaps the experience won't be as seamless as it was for alt. users mixing their feeds in with the backbone's feeds, but the main hurdle – moving to a new service without having to convince everyone to come with you – could be vanquished.

In the absence of adversarial interoperability, we're left trying to solve the impossible collective action problem of getting everyone to switch at once, or to maintain many different accounts that reach many different groups of potential users.

Regulators are increasingly bullish on interoperability and have made noises about creating standards that let one service plug into another one. But as important as these standards are, they should be the floor on interoperability, not the ceiling. Standards created with input from the tech giants will always have limits designed to protect them from being disrupted out of existence, the way they disrupted the market leaders when they were pipsqueak upstarts.

Restoring adversarial interoperability will allow future companies, co-operatives and tinkerers to go beyond the comfort zones of the winners of the previous rounds of the game -- so that it ceases to be a winner-take-all affair, and instead becomes the kind of dynamic place where a backbone cabal can have total control one year, and be sidelined the next.

(Crossposted from EFF Deeplinks)

Messaging app Wire confirms $8.2M raise, responds to privacy concerns after moving holding company to the US [Published articles]

Big changes are afoot for Wire, an enterprise-focused end-to-end encrypted messaging app and service that advertises itself as “the most secure collaboration platform”. In February, Wire quietly raised $8.2 million from Morpheus Ventures and others, we’ve confirmed — the first funding amount it has ever disclosed — and alongside that external financing, it moved its holding company in the same month to the US from Luxembourg, a switch that Wire’s CEO Morten Brogger described in an interview as “simple and pragmatic.”

He also said that Wire is planning to introduce a freemium tier to its existing consumer service — which itself has half a million users — while working on a larger round of funding to fuel more growth of its enterprise business — a key reason for moving to the US, he added: There is more money to be raised there.

“We knew we needed this funding and additional to support continued growth. We made the decision that at some point in time it will be easier to get funding in North America, where there’s six times the amount of venture capital,” he said.

While Wire has moved its holding company to the US, it is keeping the rest of its operations as is. Customers are licensed and serviced from Wire Switzerland; the software development team is in Berlin, Germany; and hosting remains in Europe.

The news of Wire’s US move and the basics of its February funding — sans value, date or backers — came out this week via a blog post that raises questions about whether a company that trades on the idea of data privacy should itself be more transparent about its activities.

Specifically, the changes to Wire’s financing and legal structure were only communicated to users when news started to leak out, which brings up questions not just about transparency, but about the state of Wire’s privacy policy, given the company’s holding company now being on US soil.

So turns out @wire changed ownership, didn't really notify anyone as per their own privacy policy, and worst of all it's to a US entity. It's been proven time after time we shouldn't place our data (or trust) into US entities. I used wire because it was different. Cc @Snowden https://t.co/i2cwAhMaTQ

— Peter Sunde Kolmisoppi (@brokep) November 12, 2019

It was an issue picked up and amplified by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden. Via Twitter, he described the move to the US as “not appropriate for a company claiming to provide a secure messenger — claims a large number of human rights defenders relied on.”

If you're a tech journalist, you should be digging into the story behind what's going on behind the curtain here. This is not appropriate for a company claiming to provide a secure messenger — claims a large number of human rights defenders relied on — and we need facts. https://t.co/iV4tRZwgDR

— Edward Snowden (@Snowden) November 12, 2019

“There was no change in control and [the move was] very tactical [because of fundraising],” Brogger said about the company’s decision not to communicate the move, adding that the company had never talked about funding in the past, either. “Our evaluation was that this was not necessary. Was it right or wrong? I don’t know.”

The other key question is whether Wire’s shift to the US puts users’ data at risk — a question that Brogger claims is straightforward to answer: “We are in Switzerland, which has the best privacy laws in the world” — it’s subject to Europe’s General Data Protection Regulation framework (GDPR) on top of its own local laws — “and Wire now belongs to a new group holding, but there no change in control.”

In its blog post published in the wake of blowback from privacy advocates, Wire also claims it “stands by its mission to best protect communication data with state-of-the-art technology and practice” — listing several items in its defence:

  • All source code has been and will be available for inspection on GitHub (github.com/wireapp).
  • All communication through Wire is secured with end-to-end encryption — messages, conference calls, files. The decryption keys are only stored on user devices, not on our servers. It also gives companies the option to deploy their own instances of Wire in their own data centers.
  • Wire has started working on a federated protocol to connect on-premise installations and make messaging and collaboration more ubiquitous.
  • Wire believes that data protection is best achieved through state-of-the-art encryption and continues to innovate in that space with Messaging Layer Security (MLS).

But where data privacy and US law are concerned, it’s complicated. Snowden famously leaked scores of classified documents disclosing the extent of US government mass surveillance programs in 2013, including how data-harvesting was embedded in US-based messaging and technology platforms.

Six years on, the political and legal ramifications of that disclosure are still playing out — with a key judgement pending from Europe’s top court which could yet unseat the current data transfer arrangement between the EU and the US.

Privacy versus security

Wire launched at a time when interest in messaging apps was at a high watermark. The company made its debut in the middle of February 2014, and it was only one week later that Facebook acquired WhatsApp for the princely sum of $19 billion.

We described Wire’s primary selling point at the time as a “reimagining of how a communications tool like Skype should operate had it been built today” rather than in in 2003. That meant encryption and privacy protection, but also better audio tools and file compression and more.

It was a pitch that seemed especially compelling considering the background of the company. Skype co-founder Janus Friis and funds connected to him were the startup’s first backers (and they remain the largest shareholders);Wire was co-founded in by Skype alums Jonathan Christensen and Alan Duric (former no longer with the company, latter is its CTO); and even new investor Morpheus has Skype roots.

Skype Co-Founder Backs Wire, A New Communications App Launching Today On iOS, Android And Mac

Yet even with that Skype pedigree, the strategy faced a big challenge.

“The consumer messaging market is lost to the Facebooks of the world, which dominate it,” Brogger said today. “However, we made a clear insight, which is the core strength of Wire: security and privacy.”

That, combined with trend around the consumerization of IT that’s brought new tools to business users, is what led Wire to the enterprise market in 2017 — a shift that’s seen it pick up a number of big names among its 700 enterprise customers, including Fortum, Aon, EY and SoftBank Robotics.

But fast forward to today, and it seems that even as security and privacy are two sides of the same coin, it may not be so simple when deciding what to optimise in terms of features and future development, which is part of the question now and what critics are concerned with.

“Wire was always for profit and planned to follow the typical venture backed route of raising rounds to accelerate growth,” one source familiar with the company told us. “However, it took time to find its niche (B2B, enterprise secure comms).

“It needed money to keep the operations going and growing. [But] the new CEO, who joined late 2017, didn’t really care about the free users, and the way I read it now, the transformation is complete: ‘If Wire works for you, fine, but we don’t really care about what you think about our ownership or funding structure as our corporate clients care about security, not about privacy.'”

And that is the message you get from Brogger, too, who describes individual consumers as “not part of our strategy”, but also not entirely removed from it, either, as the focus shifts to enterprises and their security needs.

Brogger said there are still half a million individuals on the platform, and they will come up with ways to continue to serve them under the same privacy policies and with the same kind of service as the enterprise users. “We want to give them all the same features with no limits,” he added. “We are looking to switch it into a freemium model.”

On the other side, “We are having a lot of inbound requests on how Wire can replace Skype for Business,” he said. “We are the only one who can do that with our level of security. It’s become a very interesting journey and we are super excited.”

Part of the company’s push into enterprise has also seen it make a number of hires. This has included bringing in two former Huddle C-suite execs, Brogger as CEO and Rasmus Holst as chief revenue officer — a bench that Wire expanded this week with three new hires from three other B2B businesses: a VP of EMEA sales from New Relic, a VP of finance from Contentful; and a VP of Americas sales from Xeebi.

Such growth comes with a price-tag attached to it, clearly. Which is why Wire is opening itself to more funding and more exposure in the US, but also more scrutiny and questions from those who counted on its services before the change.

Brogger said inbound interest has been strong and he expects the startup’s next round to close in the next two to three months.

Pedro Pascal Awkwardly Said the Mandalorian's Real Name in an Interview [Published articles]

The Disney+ show is called The Mandalorian. The toys call him “The Mandalorian.” And in the first episode, he’s referred to mostly as “Mandalorian.” Suffice to say, it seemed pretty clear the identity of the main character on the new live-action Star Wars TV show was being kept a secret. Or, was it?


How to survive solitary confinement [Published articles]

I highly recommend McKinley Valentine's email newsletter, The Whippet. In each issue she presents interesting ideas, art, videos, and articles.

Here's an item from the latest issue (#85):

How to survive solitary confinement

I like to read things like this, keep it in my pocket, so I worry less about what if it happens.

The recommendation is more or less -- you'll go crazy anyway, so go crazy with intention, to protect your brain.

The human brain does very badly in social isolation - we're not built for it, and people start hallucinating and dissociating very quickly when it's complete. It's actual torture, but people don't expect it to be because it sounds so low-key.

So the people in this article - both people who've survived solitary, and psychologists - suggest using a lot of visualisation. Imagine yourself in a much bigger space than you are, get to know it. Have a "workspace" where you train, maybe practice a sport in your mind. Every day, regularly, like you were outside and had a proper life. Imagine meeting a friend and having conversations with them.

Part of what makes you go crazy in isolation is the lack of external cues and structures, so it has to be structured visualisations, not just panicked uncontrolled daydreaming.

From someone who survived 7 years in almost total solitary confinement (again, this is torture, it is amazing he came out of it relatively okay):

"He he used to kill time for hours working out detailed visualizations of himself in a vivid alternate reality, where he could inhabit open spaces and converse with people.

“I might imagine myself at a park and come upon a person sitting on a bench,” he says. “I would ask if she or he minded if I sat down. I’d say something like, ‘Great weather today.’ The other person would respond something like, ‘It is indeed. I hope it continues until the [football game].’ ‘I know what you mean. In another couple of weeks it’s going to be cold as a witch’s tit in Wisconsin.’ As we conversed, I would watch joggers, bicyclists, and skateboarders pass by. The conversation might go on for half an hour or so. When I opened my eyes and stood, I would feel refreshed and even invigorated.”

There you go, now you're prepared.

Image: By Fairv8 - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, Link

Are We Living In a Blade Runner World? [Published articles]

Now that we have arrived in Blade Runner's November 2019 "future," the BBC asks what the 37-year-old film got right. Slashdot reader dryriver shares the report: [B]eyond particular components, Blade Runner arguably gets something much more fundamental right, which is the world's socio-political outlook in 2019 -- and that isn't particularly welcome, according to Michi Trota, who is a media critic and the non-fiction editor of the science-fiction periodical, Uncanny Magazine. "It's disappointing, to say the least, that what Blade Runner "predicted" accurately is a dystopian landscape shaped by corporate influence and interests, mass industrialization's detrimental effect on the environment, the police state, and the whims of the rich and powerful resulting in chaos and violence, suffered by the socially marginalized." [...] As for the devastating effects of pollution and climate change evident in Blade Runner, as well as its 2017 sequel Blade Runner 2049, "the environmental collapse the film so vividly depicts is not too far off from where we are today," says science-fiction writer and software developer Matthew Kressel, pointing to the infamous 2013 picture of the Beijing smog that looks like a cut frame from the film. "And we're currently undergoing the greatest mass extinction since the dinosaurs died out 65 million years ago. In addition, the film's depiction of haves and have-nots, those who are able to live comfortable lives, while the rest live in squalor, is remarkably parallel to the immense disparity in wealth between the world's richest and poorest today. In that sense, the film is quite accurate." [...] And it can also provide a warning for us to mend our ways. Nobody, surely, would want to live in the November 2019 depicted by Blade Runner, would they? Don't be too sure, says Kressel. "In a way, Blade Runner can be thought of as the ultimate cautionary tale," he says. "Has there ever been a vision so totally bleak, one that shows how environmental degradation, dehumanization and personal estrangement are so harmful to the future of the world? "And yet, if anything, Blade Runner just shows the failure of the premise that cautionary tales actually work. Instead, we have fetishized Blade Runner's dystopian vision. Look at most art depicting the future across literature, film, visual art, and in almost all of them you will find echoes of Blade Runner's bleak dystopia. "Blade Runner made dystopias 'cool,' and so here we are, careening toward environmental collapse one burned hectare of rainforest at a time. If anything, I think we should be looking at why we failed to heed its warning."

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