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What does Ritalin do to kids? Why don't we ask the kids?

I know. It's a crazy idea. The ADHD Voices report isn't peer reviewed research (and it's presented in way that you might find to be refreshingly readable, or a jumbly mess that's hard to follow in spots, depending), but it points us toward some ideas that really should be followed up on. Couple things that stood out to me: First, most of the kids surveyed didn't feel like Ritalin changed who they were, or made them mindless robots, or even really "cured" them on its own — rather it helped to create a situation where they could more easily take control of their own behavior and make different choices if they wanted to (which is, frankly, consistent with my own anecdata). Second, I was really troubled by how few of the kids seemed to be active participants in their own treatment. A startling number didn't understand what ADHD really was and some didn't even know that they'd been diagnosed with it. (Via Emily Willingham)

The binary stars of Alpha Centauri, as seen from Saturn

Earlier this week, we learned that there is (most likely) at least one planet orbiting the star Alpha Centauri B. If you want to get really in-depth on this discovery, how it was made, and what it means, you should be reading Paul Gilster's Centauri Dreams blog.

I wanted to highlight this image, specifically, in order to quote some particularly evocative writing that Gilster posted yesterday. Cue the stirring music:

When planet-hunter Greg Laughlin (UC-Santa Cruz) took his turn at the recent press conference announcing the Alpha Centauri B findings, he used the occasion to make a unique visual comparison. One image showed the planet Saturn over the limb of the Moon. Think of this as the Galilean baseline, for when Galileo went to work on the heavens with his first telescope, the Moon was visually close at hand and Saturn a mysterious, blurry object with apparent side-lobes.

Laughlin contrasted that with [this image], showing the Alpha Centauri stars as viewed from Saturn, a spectacular vista including the planet and the tantalizing stellar neighbors beyond. Four hundred years after Galileo, we thus define what we can do — a probe of Saturn — and we have the image of a much more distant destination we’d like to know a lot more about. The findings of the Geneva team take us a giant step in that direction, revealing a small world of roughly Earth mass in a tight three-day orbit around a star a little smaller and a little more orange than the Sun. What comes next is truly interesting, both for what is implied and for what we are capable of doing.

Read the rest of this post, which explains what happens next with the research and why astronomers will be focusing their planet-hunting efforts on Alpha Centauri B.

The crowd psychology of Grand Central Station

New York's Grand Central Terminal, as it currently stands today, was built between 1903 and 1913. But it is the third Grand Central. Two earlier buildings — one called Grand Central Depot, and the other known as Grand Central Station (which remains the colloquial name for the Terminal) — existed on pretty much the exact same spot. But neither lasted nearly as long. The Depot opened in 1871, and was drastically reconstructed in 1899. The new building, the Station, only stood for three years before it began to come down in sections, eventually replaced by the current building.

That's a lot of structural shuffling, and at the Anthropology in Practice blog, Krystal D'Costa explains some of the history behind it. Turns out, the rapid reconfiguration of Grand Central had a lot to do with crowd control — figuring out how to use architecture to make the unruly masses a little more ruly. One early account that D'Costa quotes describes regular mad scrambles to board the train — intimidating altercations that could leave less-aggressive passengers stranded on the platform as their train left them behind.

The problem it seemed was that the interior of the depot did nothing to manage the Crowd—which could resume the same patterns of movement as they did on the street—and believe me, it was just as unruly out there. In the depot, where passengers were confronted with the unbridled power of locomotives, it was necessary to impose some sort of structure to the meeting: the Crowd had to be domesticated.

... A deadly collision in 1902 preceded public demand for an even safer, more accessible terminal. Warren and Wetmore won the bid for reconstruction, and the plan they produced included galleries, which added yet another transition area but, more importantly, rendered the Crowd into a spectacle. This design, which is the one visitors experience today, preserves the Crowd in a central area, providing raised balconies from which there are plenty of opportunities to people-watch. Being placed on display is not lost on the subconscious of the Crowd: what appears to be hustle and bustle are manifestations of many synchronizations happening at once. So what appears to be chaos to the casual observer is actually a play directed by design that makes the Crowd a key feature of the space even as it is minimized by the architectural elements that Grand Central Terminal is known for: the grand ceiling, the large windows, and the deep main concourse. These items add perspective to the Crowd and diminish its psychological power as an uncontrollable mass.

Read the rest of the story at Anthropology in Practice

Image: Grand Central Terminal, a Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike (2.0) image from maha-online's photostream

Nine books I think you should read (plus a couple more that I need to read, myself)

The New York Times Magazine's 6th Floor Blog interviewed me about the books I'm reading now (including a climate scientist's account of dealing with evidence and uncertainty in the treatment of cancer), the science books I love (where you'll learn why it's impossible to remove the risk from risky technologies), and the books I generally recommend to everybody (try my favorite boozy novel of jazz-age New York). Overall, it's definitely a list I think the Happy Mutants will dig. Maggie

Kill robocalls, get paid

If you hate robocalls and love money, the FTC wants to hear from you. They're offering a $50K bounty for practical robocall-killing technology. Details at robocall.challenge.gov. Cory

Pharisee quits

Conservative thinker Dinesh D'Souza split his time between haranguing the president over "traditional values", getting engaged to a 29-year-old woman who is not his wife, and being president of an evangelical college. Alas, the college gig didn't work out. Rob

A cordial invitation

Mark at WFMU Radiovision Festival 2012, Saturday in NYC

If you are going to be in New York this weekend, I'll be giving the keynote talk at 10 am on Saturday at the WFMU Radiovision 2012 Conference. I'm going to be talking about maker culture, Boing Boing, MAKE magazine, and the future of DIY. I'm really looking forward to meeting the other attendees!

WFMU presents a full day of presentations and panel discussions about radio's future as it takes on new forms in the digital age. Featuring Boing Boing's Mark Frauenfelder, Radio ARTE's Silvain Gire, Roman Mars, The Swedish Pirate Party, Pejk Malinovski, Francesca Panetta, Tim Pool, Maria Popova, Glynn Washington and many more.
Admission prices: $80 General Admission and a discounted rate of $40 for artists, students. Both include lunch.

Full listing and schedule here

Cory in Edmonton tomorrow morning

Hey, Edmonton! A reminder: I'll be at the free PAGES library conference tomorrow morning at the Stanley Milner Library. My keynote is at 9:15 AM, followed by a Q&A at 1130h and a signing at 1, before I head out to Vancouver for the Vancouver Writers Festival where I'll be doing two ticketed events; one with William Gibson and the other with Margaret Atwood and Pasha Malla. There's more stuff in Vancouver to follow, then Victoria, Seattle, Toronto and Boston (here's the full schedule). I hope you'll make it -- tell your friends! Cory

Researcher claims feasibility of writing lethal wireless pacemaker viruses


In a presentation at the BreakPoint security conference in Melbourne, IOActive researcher Barnaby Jack described an attack on pacemakers that could, he says, deliver lethal shocks to their owners. Jack claims that an unspecified pacemaker vendor's devices have a secret wireless back-door that can be activated by knowledgeable attackers from up to 30 feet away, and that this facility can be used to kill the victim right away, or to reprogram pacemakers to broadcast malicious firmware updates as their owners move around, which cause them to also spread the firmware, until they fail at a later time. Darren Pauli from Secure Business Intelligence quotes Jack as saying,

“The worst case scenario that I can think of, which is 100 percent possible with these devices, would be to load a compromised firmware update onto a programmer and … the compromised programmer would then infect the next pacemaker or ICD and then each would subsequently infect all others in range,” Jack said.

He was developing a graphical adminstration platform dubbed “Electric Feel” which could scan for medical devices in range and with no more than a right-click, could enable shocking of the device, and reading and writing firmware and patient data.

“With a max voltage of 830 volts, it's not hard to see why this is a fairly deadly feature. Not only could you induce cardiac arrest, but you could continually recharge the device and deliver shocks on loop," he said.

Manufacturers of implanted devices have been resistant to calls to publish their sourcecode and to allow device owners to inspect and modify that code, citing security concerns should latent vulnerabilities be exposed, and put implantees at risk. But as Jack's presentation demonstrates, vulnerabilities can be discovered without publication -- and if they are discovered and not disclosed, they may never be patched (or may not be patched until coming to light in some kind of horrific attack). In other words, secrecy helps bad guys, but keeps good guys and innocent bystanders in the dark.

Hacked terminals capable of causing pacemaker deaths (Thanks, Jon!)

(Image: Atlas Pacemaker, a Creative Commons Attribution (2.0) image from travisgoodspeed's photostream)

99 useful hints and tips for everyday life


Most of the clever tips on this page will eventually come in handy for me. I tried the toilet roll iPhone speaker trick and it works!




Paranormal Activity 4 has been infiltrating all of your social media with secret plot things

Dread Central has been doing a little bit of investigating into the viral campaign being run by Paranormal Activity 4. Accounts on Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube apparently belong to a man named Jacob Degloshi from Henderson, Nevada. But appearing in one picture he's shared on Twitter is a young blonde woman named Alex, who happens to be a character (not an actress) in the newest installment of the found-footage franchise. And, Dread Central points out, the pool and the house in one of the videos should look very familiar... I like this expansion on the viral, Blair Witch approach to movie promotion, even though the whole "fact or fiction" element is clearly absent. But similar to The Walking Dead's web videos that go into stories about people who aren't the main characters, this is a cool way to build the mystery. (via Dread Central) Jamie

Music and the Psychedelic Mind (documentary video)

"Music and the Psychedelic Mind" is a 20-minute documentary that explores the relationship between music and psychedelic drugs. It includes an interview with Charles Grob, M.D., professor of psychiatry and pediatrics at the Harbor UCLA School of Medicine, about his study using psilocybin and music to treat advanced cancer patients who had "overwhelming anxiety."

Music and the Psychedelic Mind, directed by Cousins

PENDING LARRY QUOTE

Google posted (apparently bad) quarterly earnings with the SEC early, and the stock fell about 9 percent before it halted trading. [Buzzfeed] Rob

Dutch government gives itself the right to break into your computer and destroy it

Ot from Bits of Freedom sez, "On 15 October, the Dutch ministry of Justice and Security proposed powers for the police to break into computers, install spyware, search computers and destroy data. These powers would extend to computers located outside the Netherlands. Dutch digital rights movement Bits of Freedom warns for the unacceptable risks to cybersecurity and calls on other countries to strongly oppose the proposal."

Three new powers: spy, search and destroy

The proposal (Dutch, PDF) would grant powers to the Dutch police to break into computers, including mobile phones, via the internet in order to:

  • * install spyware, allowing the police to overtake the computer;
  • * search data on the computer, including data on computers located in other countries; and
  • * destroy data on the computer, including data on computers located in other countries.

If the location of the computer cannot be determined, for example in the case of Tor-hidden services, the police is not required to submit a request for legal assistance to another country before breaking in. Under the current text, it is uncertain whether a legal assistance request is required, or merely warranted, if the location of the computer is known. The exercise of these powers requires a warrant from a Dutch court.

Dutch proposal to search and destroy foreign computers (Thanks, Ot!)