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Who should know what's happening in your computer? Who should control it?

My latest Locus column is "What’s Inside the Box," a discussion of whether owners, users or third parties should be able to know and/or control what their computers are doing:

The answer to this that most of the experts I speak to come up with is this:

The owner (or user) of a device should be able to know (or control) which software is running on her devices.

This is really four answers, and I’ll go over them in turn, using three different scenarios: a computer in an Internet cafe, a car, and a cochlear implant. That is, a computer you sit in front of, a computer you put your body into, and a computer you put in your body.

Cory Doctorow: What’s Inside the Box

Philip K. Dick: 30 years gone, and a PKD festival!

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Total Dick-Head's David Gill reminds us that 30 years ago today, science fiction author Philip K. Dick "disconnected." Public Radio International's "To The Best Of Our Knowledge" has posted a great selection of interviews about the man whose entire life and work questioned the nature of reality. Hear from Gill along with Umberto Rossi, Anne Dick, and Jonathan Lethem. To The Best of Our Knowledge: Philip K. Dick

In other PKD news, the 2012 Philip K. Dick Festival is scheduled for September 22-23 in San Francisco!

Betty Crockers through the ages


For all of us who swooned with Bloom County's Milo Bloom as he crushed on Betty Crocker, here's a nice retrospective of the Betties of times gone by.

Betty Crocker Thru' The Ages, Stories Behind 10 Famous Food Logos

Dick Clark's rock house for sale

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Fred Flintstone, er, Dick Clark rather, is selling this Malibu home for $3.5 million. More details at the realtor's page -- top left listing. (via LA Times)

Wool 1-5 Omnibus: gripping Kindle read

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I'm not always the biggest fan of Amazon's recommendations, buying books and toys for my daughter frequently leaves me with a screen of Dora the Explorer and Strawberry Shortcake titles. I was skeptical when I bought Wool by Hugh Howey but figured .99 was a small risk.

This story is terrific. I was completely immersed, watching Howey slowly paint a picture of a society gone wrong through the eyes and discovery of some truly compelling characters. I really don't want to give so much away as each short novella adds more clarity and resolution to the questions of "What the heck is going on here?" and "How did this get so screwed up?" It is compelling in its anthropological analysis of human development and became harder and harder to put down as the you learned, along with the characters, how and why their society performs as it does.

You can buy the Kindle eBook of Howey's first installment via the link above or buy the entire collection of 5 stories (the later ones are much longer than the first) here: Wool 1-5 Omnibus by Hugh Howey

Alan Bishop (Sun City Girls, Sublime Frequencies) interviewed about outernational music

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In 1983, Alan Bishop of avant-garde freak rock band Sun City Girls was traveling through Morocco when he became obsessed with all of the unusual and "exotic" sounds coming from his transistor radio. He recorded hours of broadcasts and later collaged them into "Radio Morocco," a very strange and compelling CD that was the birth of Bishop's Sublime Frequencies record label. Since then, he's released dozens of recordings and videos of psych rock, traditional folk, ritual, and combinations of those from Indonesia, China, Thailand, Myanmar, Syria, and dozens of other locales. The trailer above is from a film by Bishop and Mark Gergis titled "Sumatran Folk Cinema." I recently raved about the label's new collection of Erkin Koray's pioneering Turkish rock from the 1970s. Another great point-of-entry into Sublime Frequencies is the just-reissued Princess Nicotine: Folk and Pop Sounds of Myanmar (Burma) Vol 1, first released in 1994. The Sublime Frequencies releases are available in the US via Forced Exposure. On a recent episode of the fantastic Expanding Mind podcast, BB pal Erik Davis and Maja D'Aoust spoke with Bishop about extreme travel, otherness, and the "archaeology of global sounds."

Expanding Mind: Alan Bishop

"Cameo Demons: Hanging with the Sun City Girls" (2004) by Erik Davis

Android lets apps secretly access and transmit your photos

Writing in the NYT's BITS section, Brian X. Chen and Nick Bilton describe a disturbing design-flaw in Android: apps can access and copy your private photos, without you ever having to grant them permission to do so. Google says this is a legacy of the earlier-model phones that used removable SD cards, but it remains present in current versions. To prove the vulnerability's existence, a company called Loupe made an Android app that, once installed, grabbed your most recent photo and posted it to Imgur, a public photo-sharing site. The app presented itself as a timer, and users who installed it were not prompted to grant access to their files or images. A Google spokesperson quoted in the story describes the problem, suggests that the company would be amenable to fixing it, but does not promise to do so.

Ashkan Soltani, a researcher specializing in privacy and security, said Google’s explanation of its approach would be “surprising to most users, since they’d likely be unaware of this arbitrary difference in the phone’s storage system.” Mr. Soltani said that to users, Google’s permissions system was ”akin to buying a car that only had locks on the doors but not the trunk.”

I think that this highlights a larger problem with networked cameras and sensors in general. The last decade of digital sensors -- scanners, cameras, GPSes -- has accustomed us to thinking of these devices as "air-gapped," separated from the Internet, and not capable of interacting with the rest of the world without physical human intervention.

But increasingly these things are networked -- we carry around location-sensitive, accelerometer-equipped A/V recording devices at all times (our phones). Adding network capability to these things means that design flaws, vulnerabilities and malicious code can all conspire to expose us to unprecedented privacy invasions. Unless you're in the habit of not undressing, going to the toilet, having arguments or intimate moments, and other private activities in the presence of your phone, you're at risk of all that leaking online.

It seems to me that neither the devices' designers nor their owners have gotten to grips with this yet. The default should be that our sensors don't broadcast their readings without human intervention. The idea that apps should come with take-it-or-leave-it permissions "requests" for access to your camera, mic, and other sensors is broken. It's your device and your private life. You should be able to control -- at a fine-grained level -- the extent to which apps are allowed to read, store and transmit facts about your life using your sensors.

Et Tu, Google? Android Apps Can Also Secretly Copy Photos

Video of lizard leaps

This fantastic video reveals how Agama lizards use their tails to balance as they leap through the air. The footage, combined with analysis of a "robot lizard" made from an R/C car outfitted with a mechanical tail and gyroscope, helped UC Berkeley scientists understand the physics of how the reptile controls its movement mid-jump. Their work supports a long-held theory that velociraptors used their tails as "dynamic stabilizers" when launching into an attack. Apparently, Jurassic Park had it right. "Measuring the leap of a lizard"

UPDATE: Tom Libby, the lead researcher on this project, points us to his lab's press Web site, a Nature video, and an IEEE Spectrum article with much more information on the robot.

Proposed US law bans protesting near anyone who rates a Secret Service detail

HR437, "the Federal Restricted Buildings and Grounds Improvement Act of 2011" makes it illegal to protest in the vicinity of anyone who rates a Secret Service detail (even if you aren't aware of the person's presence), thus sparing politicians and VIPs the ugly and unseemly spectacle of having to confront voters who disagree with their policies. Only three Congressmen voted against it.

On top of that, the punishment can be pretty severe. You can get up to a year in jail for being found guilty of these things, and that jumps up to 10 years if you are carrying a "deadly or dangerous weapon."

As Amash notes, there are legitimate safety concerns to be aware of, and there are issues with doing something that significantly impedes government regulations. But it's really not difficult to see how this bill could very, very easily be stretched to be used against those doing standard protesting against significant political figures.

Chipping Away At The First Amendment: New 'Trespassing' Bill Could Be Used To Criminalize Legitimate Protests

Time moves on: Kodak to end slide film production

Yesterday Kodak announced that it will no longer produce any slide film. Having ended production of the legendary Kodachrome in June 2009, they will now cease production of their 2 remaining products Ektachrome and Elite Chrome. Kodak's lovely Ektar line, as well as Portra (sadly, I don't take people pictures) will continue.

Slowly but surely, time marches on.

PetaPixel: Kodak Kills Off its Color Reversal Films

Danger: massive falling pinecones

 News Image 3864472-4X3-340X255 Mayor Diane Blackwood of Warragul, east of Melbourne, Australia, has issued a warning about massive pine cones falling from a tree in the town center: "They are the size of a watermelon, falling literally out of the sky from potentially 20 metres high. So you wouldn't want to be under one, I tell you."
"Warning over watermelon-sized pine cones" (ABC.net.au, via Fortean Times)

Marketing marriage of the month: The Lorax and HP

Teaming up with The Lorax and HP isn't just a chance to help clear the Earth of environmentally voluminous trees: print your sustainability stories with the latest PhotoSmart, where each color comes in its own plastic ink cartridge to save cash! [Hp MagCloud via Matt Haughey]

Standalone scanners "uniformly disappointing", says Consumer Reports

After testing 4 popular models of standalone photo scanner, Consumer Reports determined that they all "pretty much stink." If you want a decent scan, stick with the old flatbed. Rob

Antique photo of flying child

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Tiny Baby Sloth gets the Onesie Treatment (VIDEO)

(Video Link) In which a baby sloth is shaved and swaddled. 

Key quotes:

Sloth milk is hard to come by.

There's an art to swaddling slippery sloths.