My latest Guardian column, "Automated calls, fraud and the banks: a mismatch made in hell," reacts to the news that UK banks are using robo-call machines to check in with customers on possibly fraudulent transactions, and going about it in the worst way possible:
The banks, bless them, are only trying to prevent fraud, but this is a pretty silly way of going about it. For starters, there's the business of calling up people and asking them to give you all the information necessary to prove that they are indeed a bank customer – all the information that a fraudster needs to impersonate that person at the bank, in other words. The banks have spent decades systematically conditioning us to give our personal information to fraudsters, which is a strange way to prevent fraud.
But at least this silliness had one saving grace: a fraudster can only make so many calls per day, and so the scope of losses from such a programme of bad security education is limited by the human frailties of con-artists.
Enter the robo-caller. The banks are now outsourcing their fraud prevention to computers that can make dozens of calls all at once, around the clock, fishing (or phishing) for someone who just happened to have made an unusual purchase and is thus willing to spill all his details down the phone to get it approved. Note that most of the categories of purchase that trigger false positives from fraud detection systems are also the sort of thing that customers are anxious to see go off without a hitch. The unusual and the urgent often travel together.
Nakoula Basseley Nakoula escorted by LA County Sherriff's deputies from his home in Cerritos, CA. Photo: AP/CBS2-KCAL9, LA.
A federal judge today determined that California resident Nakoula Basseley Nakoula (aka Sam Bacile), one of the men behind a crappy, anti-Islamic YouTube video linked to violent protests in the Middle East and the death of a US ambassador, "is a flight risk" and must be jailed. Snip from AP:
Citing a lengthy pattern of deception, U.S. Central District Chief Magistrate Judge Suzanne Segal said Nakoula Basseley Nakoula should be held after officials said he violated his probation from a 2010 check fraud conviction.
‘‘The court has a lack of trust in this defendant at this time,’’ Segal said.
Nakoula had eight probation violations, including lying to his probation officers and using aliases, and he might face new charges that carry a maximum two-year prison term, authorities said.
After his 2010 conviction, Nakoula was sentenced to 21 months in prison and was barred from using computers or the Internet for five years without approval from his probation officer.
From the YouTube description of this purported "helmetcam" video from a soldier in Kunar Province, Afghanistan: no shots penetrated his body armor, and he made it home with no permanent injuries.
I got a hit a total of 4 times. My helmet cam died and i made it down the mountain on my own. I was also hit in the side of my helmet and my eye pro was shot off of my face. We were doing overwatch on the village to recon and gather intel. I was point heading down the face of the hill with the LT. when we got hit. the rest of the squad was pinned down by machine gun fire. I didn't start the video until a few mins into the firefight for obvious reasons. I came out into the open to draw fire so my squad could get to safety. A round struck the tube by my hand of the 203 grenade launcher which knocked it out of my hands. When I picked the rifle back up it was still functional but the grenade launcher tube had a nice sized 7.62 cal bullet hole in it and was rendered useless.
We've seen some stupid copyright laws in the past fifteen years, but Panama's new law -- which has passed the legislature and merely awaits executive approval. Under Bill 510, the Panamanian copyright office has the power to pursue file-sharers directly, fining each one $100,000 ($200,000 on second offense) and keeping the money for itself, paying bonuses to apparats in the copyright office from the pot. Artists and copyright proprietors get none of that money, but they can also sue file-sharers if they want. Naturally, this bill was passed without public scrutiny, expert input, hearings, or public debate. As Technollama writes:
This is what I think will happen if the law passes as it stands. The DGDA will immediately try to monitor all torrent use in Panama, be it legitimate or not, and all people identified with IP addresses will be summoned and summarily fined. After all, the institution and its employees will have a direct financial incentive to assume guilt. Then those same people will be sent again and again, as there will be clear incentive to fine re-offenders.
This is a toxic piece of legislation any way you look at it, and we urge the Panamanian Congress to modify Chapter I of Title XII, or to remove it altogether.
Ralph Oman, the former bureaucrat who served as Register of Copyrights to the US Copyright Office, has filed an amicus brief in the lawsuit against Aereo, a company that makes server racks with thousands of tiny aerials that are used to capture over-the-air broadcast TV and transmit it to viewers using the Internet, with each viewer getting her own antenna.
Oman's brief argues that the intention of the US Congress in passing the 1976 Copyright Act was to establish a regime where anyone who's got an idea for using technology to change the way we interact with copyrighted works was to force that person to get permission from Congress before they made it into a product.
In other words, Oman believes that in America, the law says that all innovation that touches on copyright is presumptively illegal, and each idea must be individually vetted by Congress before being brought to market: "Commercial exploiters of new technologies should be required to convince Congress to sanction a new delivery system and/or exempt it from copyright liability. That is what Congress intended."
Ars Technica'sTechdirt's Mike Masnick is his usual incandescent self on the subject:
This is, to put it mildly, crazy talk. He is arguing that anything even remotely disruptive and innovative, must first go through the ridiculous process of convincing Congress that it should be allowed, rather than relying on what the law says and letting the courts sort out any issues. In other words, in cases of disruptive innovation, assume that new technologies are illegal until proven otherwise. That's a recipe for killing innovation.
Under those rules, it's unlikely that we would have radio, cable TV, VCRs, DVRs, mp3 players, YouTube and much, much more. That's not how innovation or the law works. You don't assume everything innovative is illegal just because it upsets some obsolete business models. But that appears to be how Oman thinks the world should act. Stunningly, he even seems to admit that he'd be fine with none of the above being able to come to market without Congressional approval, because he approvingly cites the dissent in the Betamax case (which made clear that the VCR was legal), which argues that the VCR should only be deemed legal with an act of Congress to modify the Copyright Act. You would think that the success of the VCR in revitalizing the movie industry would show just how ridiculous that is... but in Oman's copyright-centric world, the rules are "first, do not allow any innovation that upsets my friends."
My buddy Barry McWilliams has a kickstarter up for a fun book he wrote and illustrated called The Wrylon Robotical Illustrated Catalog of Botanical 'Bots. He gave me a sneak peek of the book and it's wonderful. He's close to being fully funded after just a few days. Go Barry!
The idea of a fleet of flower-delivering robots has been percolating in my head for a little over a year. The first ‘bot just sort of appeared in one of my sketchbooks, the way a million (mostly bad) ideas do. For whatever silly reason, this idea stuck.
I like the absurdity of it - Robots who delivers flowers. It’s both personal and impersonal (robotical?) at the same time. I like that, with an exception or two, the robots deliver only one flower at a time. What could be less cost-effective or less efficient than sending a robot around the world to deliver one, single flower? But I’d sure as hell do it to impress a girl.
This month, Los Angeles magazine tackles the imbroglio surrounding the once-heralded (and now discredited) genius in our backyard: Jonah Lehrer. In the piece, Lehrer speaks (via email) for the first time since issuing a statement about resigning from The New Yorker in July. Lehrer tells editor-at-large Amy Wallace that he is writing his own piece about “the mistake.” He also says many of the accusations against him are false.
Lehrer had a difficult summer. First the prolific author was found to have plagiarized himself in several blog posts for The New Yorker. Then Tablet magazine’s Michael C. Moynihan revealed that several Bob Dylan quotes in Lehrer’s best-selling book, Imagine: How Creativity Works, were either made up or distorted. Finally, an independent investigation commissioned by Wired magazine, one of Lehrer’s other employers, concluded that Lehrer has a history of ethical and factual transgressions.
In her piece, Wallace talks about the affair from the perspective of “those of us who pay our bills writing non-fiction” -- as Lehrer supposedly did. Analyzing the story surrounding the story, she explores what might be called the dark secret of journalism -- the temptation to cut corners when the clock is ticking and a story isn’t coming together as planned (a temptation that Lehrer clearly gave in to). As she laments, his legacy tarnishes everyone who tries to tell the truth. “Now even more readers will believe journalists really are willing—as the saying goes—to make stuff up to sell newspapers, magazines, books. Readers will distrust writers as much as our various detractors say they should. Lehrer’s sins soil not just his own reputation but those of his fellow journalists.”
Blood Brother is the story of a group of children infected with HIV and Rocky Braat, a disenchanted young American that met them while drifting through India. He wanted to save them all, but in reality he couldn’t cure even one of them. He had to stay. It’s a hard life. He faces opposition in many forms. He lives in a concrete hut. Sometimes, he is close to despair. The truth is, he needs them as much as they need him. They teach him, daily, that love is the only thing that makes life worth living.
Something really special to us is that this entire project was funded through donations. This means we have no debt and no one to pay back for the film, allowing any/all monetary gain from the film to be used to help support the orphanage and the children with HIV in India, as well as supporting Rocky and his efforts. The funding we raised covered the necessities of the entire production. On top of that virtually everyone up to this point has worked for free - donating their time, talents and expertise towards the project. Because of this, we're set up to donate all our profits. When this all blows over, Rocky will still be in India so we want this to somehow support him for a long time. His cost of living is low, so we can spread support out over time. We have no personal interest for financial gain in this project.
Tomorrow, police will drill through a concrete slab at a Detroit home where Jimmy Hoffa may be buried. They are responding to what they say is a "credible" tip from a man who claims he saw a burial take place at the home in 1975 around when Hoffa vanished. "We don't believe it's Jimmy Hoffa," said Police Chief Jim Berlin, quoted in the Macomb Daily. "I am very skeptical," Dan Moldea, author of "The Hoffa Wars" who also heard from the same tipster, told CNN. Once police have a core sample, it'll be tested for human remains. If the sample tests positive, they'll start digging.
We think of giraffes as long-necked creatures, but compared to ancient sauropod dinosaurs (a family that includes the brachiosaurus and apatosaurus) even the longest-necked giraffe may as well be nicknamed "Stumpy". In a paper published online at arXiv site, two paleontologists analyzed the biology of sauropods in an attempt to figure out which features allowed the dinosaurs to grow necks six times longer than giraffes.
Turns out, there are some distinct differences — especially in the anatomical architecture of the vertebra closest to both animals' skulls — that really stand out. As this helpful slide shows, a sauropod with the vertebra of a giraffe would be in very bad shape, indeed.
This paper, by the authors' own account, began life "as a late-night discussion over a couple of beers", which means it's basically the paleontology equivalent of "Who would win in a fight: Darth Vader or Superman?" Which is awesome. Better yet, the paper is quite easy to read and the information is organized in a way that will probably make more sense to you than the typical scientific research paper. So dig in! It's worth it! Here's one short excerpt taken from a part discussing some of those differences in the cervical vertebra (the aforementioned vertebra closest to the skull):
Many groups of animals seem to be constrained as to the number of cervical vertebrae they can evolve. With the exceptions of sloths and sirenians, mammals are all limited to exactly seven cervicals; azdarchids are variously reported as having seven to nine cervical vertebrae, but never more; non-avian theropods do not seem to have exceeded the 13 or perhaps 14 cervicals of Neimongosaurus, with eleven or fewer being more typical.
By contrast, sauropods repeatedly increased the number of their cervical vertebrae, attaining as many as 19 in Mamenchisaurus hochuanensis. Modern swans
have up to 25 cervical vertebrae, and as noted above the marine reptile Albertonectes had 76 cervical vertebrae. Multiplication of cervical vertebrae obviously contributes to neck elongation.
Capcom is running a "pop up human butchery and morgue" at Smithfields meat market in London to promote the new Resident Evil installment. It'll be open for two days: Sept 28 and 29.
WARNING: Gross imagery within. Click through at your peril.
Once open, Resident Evil fans and unsuspecting members of the public will be treated to a glimpse into the gory world of Wesker & Son, the fictional butcher with a penchant for human flesh.
Once at the butchery, members of the public will be invited to sample and purchase a dizzying array of edible human limbs including hands, feet and a human head, which will be available to buy directly from the shop. As well as these specially created products, gamers will be able to buy 'Peppered Human & Lemon Sausages' and 'J’avo Caught Human Thigh Steaks' along with some specially made pots of Red Herb and Green Herb. All proceeds from the sale of the meat will be donated to the Limbless Association, which provides information and support to the limb-loss community.
In addition to the pop-up human butchery and morgue, Resident Evil fans will be invited to attend two days of lectures at St. Bartholomew’s Hospital Pathology Museum, which have been designed to explore some of the themes in the game and their links to real life. Dr. Morgaine Gaye, a Food Futurologist who will discuss future trends in human food consumption as well as explore cannibalism through history, will conduct the first of these lectures on Friday, 28th September, while Prof. John Oxford, one of the world’s leading virologists will discuss viruses and examine whether the game’s infamous C-Virus could ever become a reality. Gamers and members of the public wishing to attend either of these lectures need to register: cannibalism/viruses.
Good news! There is not an unavoidable bacon shortage looming in our future. Bad news! What was actually being predicted was really an increase in meat prices across the board. Droughts have completely decimated this year's corn crop, and as corn is the stuff we usually feed our meat, it's going to cost more to raise a pig (or a cow, or a chicken) next year. Key takeaways: There will still be meat, it's just going to be more spendy next year, and also don't trust the British when they offer you "bacon" because they actually mean Canadian bacon, which is different (and inferior).
According to a survey of 200,000 Americans, Miller High Life is the most bi-partisan of beers. Republicans favor Samuel Adams and, apparently, there are a lot of Democrats drinking Heineken. (Although one might argue that these results are heavily skewed, as the survey did not include either microbrews or microparties. God only knows what the Libertarians are drinking.) There's a chart. Yay, charts!(Via Kevin Zelnio)
EDIT: This post originally went up with the wrong images. Sorry about that.
This is not a photograph.
But it's still amazing.
An important thing to remember about science is that some of the stuff we talk about in the general public as "fact" — like, say, black holes — haven't actually been seen by anybody. Instead, black holes exist on paper, as part of theoretical astrophysics. They also exist in indirect evidence — we can look for things in the universe that should exist in a certain way, in a certain place, if our theoretical astrophysics is correct. So far, that lines up, too.
And then there's this thing. Like I say, it's not a photo. It's more like a model. Telescopes — the kind we point at deep space — don't collect images, they collect information. This is a digital rendering made based on information collected when researchers pointed four different telescopes at a galaxy called (poetically) galaxy M87. What you're looking at is a series of simulations, over time, showing massive ribbons of gas undulating and spinning around the something at the galaxy's center. If the theoretical astrophysics is right, this is the closest we've ever gotten to seeing a black hole.
Good news for everyone who loves watching hit movies get mercilessly mocked! The RiffTrax crew -- Michael J. Nelson, Kevin Murphy, and Bill Corbett -- have emerged from their secret bunker in Panem's Capitol to proudly present their commentary for the teenager-murdering blockbuster The Hunger Games! The MP3 track just became available today and is compatible with pretty much anything you can throw at it, including the Zune. So, in case you needed an excuse to buy the movie, here is a pretty darn good one!
Clay Shirky's TED talk, "How the Internet will (one day) transform government," is a smart, fast, funny look at how the Internet lowers the cost of doing things together. Given that the core task of government and industry is the coordination of collective effort, this lowering cost means big changes.
The open-source world has learned to deal with a flood of new, oftentimes divergent, ideas using hosting services like GitHub -- so why can’t governments? In this rousing talk Clay Shirky shows how democracies can take a lesson from the Internet, to be not just transparent but also to draw on the knowledge of all their citizens.
Clay Shirky argues that the history of the modern world could be rendered as the history of ways of arguing, where changes in media change what sort of arguments are possible -- with deep social and political implications.
Gorgeous black and white photos from 1954 and 1962 of vinyl records being made, including scans of an album jacket with a description of the process. "How records are made" (Voices of East Anglia, via @chris_carter_)
AirPano created a breathtaking 360° interactive panorama of Egypt's Great Pyramids of Giza. The video above shows how AirPano collected the images that went into the panorama. How did they do it? As Greg from Daily Grail explains, "Just like the aliens that built the Giza pyramids, they used UFOs (or possibly remote-controlled drone-copters) to fly a panoramic camera up to certain points above the plateau in order to get the best possible view of these jaw-dropping structures." When I visited the pyramids as a 13-year-old, I was struck by how close the pyramids are to bustling Cairo. I imagined a long camel trek into the desert (hey, I was 13!) when it was really just a 15 minute taxi ride. Great Pyramids of Giza in Egypt • 360° Aerial Panorama
Bradford Evans at Splitsider has delved into the aborted attempt at an American Idol-style competition show in which the ultimate prize was becoming an actual featured player on Saturday Night Live. It was 2005, and it almost happened, but it didn't because for just one important moment, an angel appeared on Lorne Michaels' shoulder and said, "Don't do this." And Lorne listened. That angel got its wings that day, and they were the fanciest, fastest, and strongest wings that ever carried a celestial being. (via Splitsider)
There were a slew of amazing entries in our Treasure Island Music Festival ticket contest! We asked you to post a Haiku about your favorite band performing at this year's festival, October 13-14, in the San Francisco Bay Area. The amazing line-up includes The XX, M83, Grimes, Best Coast, Ty Segall, SBTRKT, Youth Lagoon, The Presets, and more than a dozen more eclectic artists. The finalists below each receive a Boing Boing t-shirt! The winner, to be announced tomorrow (Friday), will score a pair of VIP 2-Day Tickets, a $479 value, courtesy of our pals at co-promoters Noise Pop. Here are the three finalist Haikus:
How to describe Grimes:
Canadian Space Mermaid,
A Cyborg Banshee!
the youth lagoon song
used in that skype commercial
saved me in prison
Love the Double X
He says, staring at her shirt.
Man, she hates liars.
Luaka Bop, the world music record label started by David Byrne, is celebrating the 70th birthday of Brazilian musician Tim Maia, who died in 1998. Above is a stream of his upcoming album, Nobody Can Live Forever: The Existential Soul of Tim Maia.
Had he not died of a heart attack onstage in 1998, Maia would turn 70 tomorrow, September 28. Luaka Bop is celebrating with a worldwide birthday celebration spanning four continents over 24 hours, featuring tribute shows, DJ sets and live performances, and more.
Rolling Stone recently called his music a "soul grenade." In an early review SPIN noted that Maia is sometimes called "the Brazilian Sly Stone" adding that "actually undersells his uniqueness."
Yesterday, Ashland, Kentucky police had to call in firefighters with an aerial truck to pull a juvenile trapped for nine hours in the exhaust duct of El Rancho Grande restaurant. He apparently slid down the vent at 2am the night before and encountered a "T" at the bottom that was too small for his body. He is suspected of attempted burglary. According to the Daily Independent who spoke to the fire chief, the young man was "was respectful and cooperated fully with his rescuers and thanked them after he was freed." (Thanks, Jan Smith!)
Watchismo exclusively offers the new Tendence Skeleton Watches with fully exposed, fully mechanical 'skeletonized' automatic movements. Seen both from the top of the dial—and the see-through crystal of the caseback—the rotor revolves and generates power the old-fashioned way: with cogs, gears and hairsprings. A blend of form and function, the Tendence collection is a highly-evolved concept, with extreme dimensions and numbers carved to stand high above a concave dial,itself cut from stainless steel, polycarbonate or titanium.
Monday Night Debacle-ball apparently was the last straw: Late last night, the NFL and the union representing the striking referees finally came to a tentative agreement, and the professional referees will be back on the field tonight. But since The Daily Show with Jon Stewart is taped earlier in the day, they were still making jokes about the scabs -- and brought in some of their own. The only hitch? The replacement correspondents were more talented than the regulars. And one of them was Shakespearean theater actor and former Captain of the USS Enterprise, Sir Patrick Stewart. Just don't tell Sir Patrick how much the correspondents are paid. (via The Daily Show)
I am walking down a tunnel. No, it's the stairwell, the former stairwell. Its skeleton juts with unjoined charcoal ribs. I usually stay upstairs in the place where we used to lie next to each other and breathe.
Something important drew me down here. I remembered that sometime a message had come from Mark Frauenfelder, from Boing Boing. He wanted me to write about a graphic novel. The details elude me, the memory floats like a tiny grey cloud on the parched desert of my mind. I need a deluge. I have learned, though, to subsist on dew. There is no way to check email any more.
I push a pile of blackened books around with my burnt Docs, afraid to reach in with my hands. I don't remember when the fire happened. Maybe it is still happening.
The scorched tomes stir: Joel Peter Witkin's collection of Victorian death portraits, the title dissolved into the plasticky gloss of the book's cover. Marianne Wiggins' John Dollar, its spine worn off years ago. Jane Austen. Richard Kadrey. Colette. James Joyce. Edward Eager. Rumi. Susan Cooper. Lidia Yuknavitch. George Saunders.
George Saunders! I laugh, picturing the goats in Pastoralia and to laugh is such a good thing, I fish out the book with my hand. The book doesn't burn me. It simply disintegrates.