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Gamers pictured alongside their avatars

The Faces of WoW site allows World of Warcraft players to upload photos of themselves, sometimes accompanied by photos of their in-game avatars. It's hard to say what's more interesting -- the people who look just like their avatars, or the ones who look totally different. Link (via Wonderland)

Ten thousand superballs rolling down a San Francisco hill-street

These photos document the release of 10,000 small superballs at the San Francisco hilltop corner of Filbert and Leavenworth. Wow. Pic 1, Pic 2 (Thanks, Umgrue!)

Michael Lynn's controversial Cisco security presentation

Here's a PDF that purports to be Michael Lynn's presentation on Cisco's critical vulnerabilities ("The Holy Grail: Cisco IOS Shellcode And Exploitation Techniques"), delivered at last week's Black Hat conference. Lynn's employer, ISS, wouldn't let him deliver the talk (they'd been leant on by Cisco), so Lynn quit his job, walked onstage and delivered it anyway. (See yesterday's post and Scheneier's take for more). 1.9MB PDF Link (Thanks, Richard!)

Update: Seb sez, "Cisco, Michael Lynn and ISS have all come to an 'arrangement'. It would seem all material pertaining to the flaw, the exploit and the talk are to be handed over to Cisco, who will presumably lock it all up and throw away the key. All videos of the presentation are to be handed over as well, and Lynn has been forbidden from talking at Black Hat or Defcon."

Michael Lynn, a former ISS researcher, and the Black Hat organisers agreed to a permanent injunction barring them from further discussing the presentation Lynn gave on Wednesday. The presentation showed how attackers could take over Cisco routers, a problem that Lynn said could bring the Internet to its knees.

The injunction also requires Lynn to return any materials and disassembled code related to Cisco, according to a copy of the injunction, which was filed in US District Court for the District of Northern California. The injunction was agreed on by attorneys for Lynn, Black Hat, ISS and Cisco.

Lynn is also forbidden to make any further presentations at the Black Hat event, which ended on Thursday, or the following Defcon event. Additionally, Lynn and Black Hat have agreed never to disseminate a video made of Lynn's presentation and to deliver to Cisco any video recording made of Lynn."

Update 2: Randi, a reader who claims to be an ex-coworker of Lynn's, and the girlfriend of Lynn's roommate, says, "A settlement with Cisco has been reached, but ISS is still pursuing criminal charges. The press doesn’t appear to know yet that the FBI is performing an investigation now, starting with seizing equipment from Michael and his roommates. On a happy note, Mike has received quite a few job offers, including from some places you wouldn't expect."

Update 3 Courtesy of James, Wired News's coverage of the FBI's investigation of Michael Lynn

Machinima film-festival announced

The 2005 Machinima Film Festival has been announced for November 12, 2005, in NYC:
The Academy of Machinima Arts & Sciences (AMAS), an organization that provides advocacy, education and community for Machinima (filmmaking using real-time 3D game technology/virtual reality), today announced the 2005 Machinima Film Festival and the call for entries for the 2005 Machinima Awards (the Mackies). Sponsored by NVIDIA and the Independent Film Channel (IFC), the third annual festival will be held Saturday, November 12th 2005, at the Museum of the Moving Image in New York.

The one-day event will include screenings of Machinima films, workshops hosted by Machinima filmmakers, special presentations, talks with award-winning independent filmmakers and seminars about Machinima production techniques. The event will culminate in an awards ceremony where some of the best Machinima filmmakers will be recognized for their creative artistry in this new and powerful entertainment medium that's set to revolutionize the worlds of filmmaking and animation.

Link (via Wonderland)

Canada bans copying CDs to iPods

Michael Geist sez, "The Canadian Supreme Court today declined to hear a case involving the private copying levy and its application to the Apple iPod. While some are celebrating, the decision effectively renders copying CDs onto an iPod unlawful in Canada. I've posted an additional perspective that challenges the recording industry's decision to welcome the decision. I argue that it signifies an escalation of its war against its own artists."
But opposing the artists on private copying takes this strategy to new heights. CRIA today claimed that artists will make up private copying levy losses through the marketplace. The truth is that artists and rights holders lost $4 million today, the amount collected from the iPod and digital audio recorders during a fairly brief period. Longer term, they lost tens of millions of dollars of potential compensation. These are not the nickels and dimes that CRIA derides. If anything, for Canadian artists the levy represents a potentially important revenue stream that will not be easily recouped.

Today's decision also likely means the end of a private copying levy that CRIA spent 15 years fighting to get. The system is clearly broken and policy makers will either drop it completely (perhaps supplemented by a fair use doctrine that will permit copying such as store bought CDs to personal iPods) or expand the levy so that it resembles a European approach that extends to both audio and video, while providing even greater compensation.

Link (Thanks, Michael!)

Rule breaking cow

Picture 17 Alan Clifford says: "It's just a cow tethered and grazing under a no tethering and grazing sign. It amused me."

Gallery of bizarre public signs

Picture 16 Swanksigns collects public safety and information signs from around the world. This one is creepy. It shows what can happen to you if you get into an elevator with a trash can and neglect to pull the can all the way into the elevator car. Ouch! Most of the signs on the site are not as nightmarish -- they're funny and/or perplexing.

Roadside Taiwan

 P Taiwan Dan Bloom sends this photograph of a bus stop in Taiwan shaped like a giant watermelon.

UPDATE: Dan Bllom says: "A Taiwanese surfer in Taipei with keen eyesight noticed that the bench in front of the bus stop has some words written in Japanese and concluded that the bus stop could not be in Taiwan and that item submitter 'Dan Bloom' (who now has egg on his face, among other things!) made an innocent but big mistake by wrongly telling that the watermelon bus stop was in Taiwan.'

No taking pix of San Fran building from the sidewalk?

Frequent Boing Boing contributor Thomas Hawk sez, "Shooting the One Bush building (at the intersection where Bush meets Market St. in San Francisco) a building security guard told me he was going to have me arrested and literally followed me around the building trying to put his hand in front of my camera from the public sidewalk.

"I've been hassled and harassed many time in the past for shooting photographs in privately owned public spaces (Starbucks, PF Chaings, Toys 'R Us, the new burger spot on Sacramento St. at Drumm, Tosca, Grand Central Terminal in New York, etc.) but yesterday was the first time I've actually been harassed on a public street over photography." Link (Thanks, Thomas!)

Update: Mat sez, " Everyone in San Francisco needs to go get a picture of this building. To encourage that, I'll give one person a $10 iTMS gift certificate for snapping a picture of One Bush. Take a picture sometime in the next week. Post it online (and link to it in my comments so I'll see it). I'll choose a winner at random."

Update 2 Erik sez, "I'm organizing a get-together this Saturday to walk through downtown S.F. taking pictures of buildings and whatever else strikes our fancy, starting at noon at 1 Bush St. Fun, artistic, and full of Free Speech goodness."

Microsoft "Genuine Advantage" cracked in 24h: window.g_sDisableWGACheck='all'

AV sez, "This week, Microsoft started requiring users to verifiy their serial number before using Windows Update. This effort to force users to either buy XP or tell them where you got the illegal copy is called 'Genuine Advantage.' It was cracked within 24 hours."
Before pressing 'Custom' or 'Express' buttons paste this text to the address bar and press enter:


It turns off the trigger for the key check.

Link (Thanks, AV!)

Hollywood Plots End of Film Reels

I filed this story for Wired News about an announcement from Hollywood's six major studios that they have agreed on technical specs for digital distribution and display of movies. Digital Cinema Initiatives, the group founded in 2002 to bring studios, theater owners and tech manufacturers together in planning an industrywide shift to digital cinema, released version 1.0 of its requirements and specifications yesterday.

Here's the doc -- PDF Link. out of all 175 pages, nearly half are devoted to antipiracy measures.

AES 128-bit encryption of each digital movie file is part of the security prescription, as are DRM provisions. During the spec unveiling at the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences in Beverly Hills, panelists representing studios, theater owners, and cinematographers sat onstage, flanked by giant gold Oscars statues. Some described the shift to digital as the "biggest technology upgrade in Hollywood since talkies."

Walt Disney Company SVP of Media Technology Bob Lambert characterized the antipiracy approach for d-cinema as "military- or defense-grade," even stricter than protections designed to keep consumer DVDs off filesharing networks. "Because this is a plan for securing a B2B system," said Lambert, "The cost can be higher and the measures stronger."

I asked a few tech experts outside of Hollywood for their take:

Security provisions in the DCI spec deal mostly with what happens in theaters, and detail an open security architecture that allows a variety of tech vendors to compete and hone their technologies over time. The system proposed by DCI relies on digital rights management, watermarking, content encryption and key management. Digital movie files are to be encrypted for transport and receipt by theaters, which then would use decryption keys to unlock the content. The system is also designed to generate a data forensics bread-crumb trail, with the intent of tracing piracy incidents after the fact back to the theaters in which they occurred.

Outside Hollywood, analysts' opinions on the feasibility of the DCI security specs were mixed. "The devil is in the details," said security analyst Bruce Schneier, "and this document doesn't contain the details."

"Tracking it to the theater won't help, because attackers with camcorders could just make their visits to theaters random," said security analyst Jacob Appelbaum of LogicLibrary. "It means that the camcorders just have to fit into the crowd, and then the theaters have a reason not to adopt this. It's already against the law."

Studio representatives acknowledge that the DCI security specifications do nothing to prevent in-theater copying of movies, which remains a top piracy method. "These technical solutions won't solve internal theft by camcorders," said John Fithian, president of the National Association of Theatre Owners. "But we're working on human-resources solutions and incentives to help address that part of the problem."

Others cited the difficulties involved in the plan's "forensic watermarking" provisions. "There's no such thing as a watermark that is both invisible and hard to remove, because by definition, a watermark that adds no perceptible information to a signal leaves no perceptible change behind after it is removed," said Cory Doctorow, European-outreach coordinator for the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

Link to Wired News story.

Kiwi hotel made of plane, hill and train

This awesome New Zealand hotel built out of a hillside, and a defunct train and plane has three sleeping options:

"Sleeping inside a 1950's Bristol Freighter Plane refurbished into 2 beautiful motel rooms.

"Sleeping inside a 1950's Rail Carriage 3 room motel unit, which sleeps six.

"Sleeping like a Hobbit--underground with a circular window." Link (Thanks, Mark!)

Update: Jon sez: "This reminded me of a relic of the Iran-contra affair that was converted into a restaurant/bar in Quepos, Costa Rica." How cool -- I used to live pretty close to Quepos in a squatter/refugee village on the Nicaraguan border and the locals had lots of stories about disused Contra airstrips in the bush.

Homeland Security's covert surveillance truck

This is a photo tour through a Department of Homeland Security covert surveillance truck. Site includes links to details of many other DHS vehicles. Link (Thanks, Bill!)

Cory's Worldcon schedule

Next week, Glasgow will host the Interaction, the 63rd World Science Fiction Convention. I'll be attending and doing a number of program items, including some stufff on Creative Commons and a reading from my new novel-in-progress. Here's an overview of my program items:

Friday August 5:
10:00am You've Plugged _What_ into It? Hardware Hacking is an increasingly popular pastime. Also the advent of computer control has revolutionised many hobbies, e.g. amateur astrophotography. (with Martin Hoare amd Jordin Kare)

Noon: Clones, Children or Countless Lives If everyone lives forever, or is endlessly reincarnated, where do we put them? And can anyone reproduce in any other way? (with Simon Bradshaw, Anne K. Gay, Richard Morgan and Eric M. Van)

5:00pm: Is Genius Gendered? One lone genius and an attractive assistant (fill in the genders) save the world. Our panel gives media and literary SF examples, and discuss how changing the gender might change other things. (with Sean McMullen and Connie Willis)

Saturday, August 6:
2:30pm: Signing at the Borderlands Books table

6:00pm: Fannish Currency: Whuffie, Egoboo and Chocolate (Fandom has for a long time had a potlatch economy, where you give things away in the expectation of egoboo, or fannish kudos. How does this translate to the Internet Age?) (with Christina Lake, Mike Scott and Suzanne Tompkins)

Sunday, August 7:
10:00am AI: the Aliens We Make? Aliens and AI are both Other, but where one comes from Out There, the other lives Down Here. Are they really the same thing -- and either way, what difference does it make? (with David Gerrold, Ian McDonald, Charles Stross and Tricia Sullivan)

Noon: Creative Commons 101. A Primer for the Interested

2:00pm Reading

Monday, August 8:
10:00am: Standing up for our (Copy)rights Contrasting views on the benefits and hazards authors see in sharing (or having their work shared) online. (with Andrew Adams, David Cake and Christopher Priest)

Hope to see you there! Link

Costikyan's jeremiad against the video game industry

VIrtuoso game designer Greg Costikyan (Paranoia, Toon, VIllains and Vigilantes, many others) has posted a PowerPoint deck from a presentation ("Death to the Games Industry! Long Live Games!") he gave to an indie games conference in Melbourne, Australia. It's an excellent, inflammatory jeremiad against the status quo in the video game industry, where spending is going up, profits are doing down, and diversity is withering on the vine. Link

Economics of used books

Here's a fantastic NYT article on the economics of the used book market. Many writers' orgs are freaked out because Amazon features used and new books alongside of one another, worried that used books will displace new book sales (there's also a lot of hoo-ha about review copies, publishers' rejects, and copies stolen from the printers, but even added up these account for an insignificant proportion of all but the smallest, most specialized book-runs). But economists understand that a market for used goods fuels a market for new goods -- would you pay nearly so much for your next car if you knew you couldn't sell it as used when you wanted to buy your next one? (this is one of the hidden, but gigantic downsides of DRM -- by prohibiting the market for used iTunes and other virtual goods, the sellers devalue their own products).
According to the researchers' calculations, Amazon earns, on average, $5.29 for a new book and about $2.94 on a used book. If each used sale displaced one new sale, this would be a less profitable proposition for Amazon.

But Mr. Bezos is not foolish. Used books, the economists found, are not strong substitutes for new books. An increase of 10 percent in new book prices would raise used sales by less than 1 percent. In economics jargon, the cross-price elasticity of demand is small.

One plausible explanation of this finding is that there are two distinct types of buyers: some purchase only new books, while others are quite happy to buy used books. As a result, the used market does not have a big impact in terms of lost sales in the new market.

Moreover, the presence of lower-priced books on the Amazon Web site, Mr. Bezos has noted, may lead customers to "visit our site more frequently, which in turn leads to higher sales of new books." The data appear to support Mr. Bezos on this point.

Link (via O'Reilly Radar)

Rap translation of Chaucer's Canterbury Tales

Barney sez, "A rap artist has translated some of the best known works of poet Geoffrey Chaucer into hip-hop to make them appeal to schoolchildren."
And up they stirte, al dronken in this rage,
And forth they goon towardes that village
Of which the taverner hadde spoke biforn.
And many a grisly ooth thanne han they sworn,

Rap Version:
When he'd said his piece
The rest agreed, and the three friends hit the streets
And went to seek their destiny and provoke a confrontation,
In a drunken rage hoping Death would come and face them.
Their intoxication made them sure of their purpose

Link (Thanks, Barney!)