How governments and cyber-militias attack civil society groups, and what they can do about it

The University of Toronto's Citizen Lab (previously) is one of the world's leading research centers for cybersecurity analysis, and they are the first port of call for many civil society groups when they are targeted by governments and cyber-militias. Read the rest

This person designs alarm sounds to wake,warn, annoy, or otherwise alert you

Carryl Baldwin, a professor of cognition and applied auditory research, designs and tests sounds for "use as alarms in household, aviation, medical, and automotive settings." Atlas Obscura explores the art and science of making sounds that convey a spectrum of urgency:

One of the main considerations is the annoyance factor. To test for annoyance in the lab, says Baldwin, “we’ll construct sounds and we’ll look at all of the different acoustic parameters, so we might vary, for instance, intensity, frequency, the number of harmonics, how fast it ramps up and down, the temporal characteristics—like whether it’s going d-d-d-d-d-duh rapidly or duhhhh-duhhhhh-duhhhh.”

The faster an alarm goes, the more urgent it tends to sound. And in terms of pitch, alarms start high. Most adults can hear sounds between 20 Hz and 20,000 Hz—Baldwin uses 1,000 Hz as a base frequency, which is at the bottom of the range of human speech. Above 20,000 Hz, she says, an alarm ”starts sounding not really urgent, but like a squeak.”

Harmonics are also important. To be perceived as urgent, an alarm needs to have two or more notes rather than being a pure tone, “otherwise it can sound almost angelic and soothing,” says Baldwin. “It needs to be more complex and kind of harsh.” An example of this harshness is the alarm sound that plays on TVs across the U.S. as part of the Emergency Alert System. The discordant noise is synonymous with impending doom.

"An Alarm Designer on How to Annoy People in the Most Effective Ways" (Atlas Obscura) Read the rest

Healthcare workers prioritize helping people over information security (disaster ensues)

In Workarounds to Computer Access in Healthcare Organizations: You Want My Password or a Dead Patient?, security researchers from Penn, Dartmouth and USC conducted an excellent piece of ethnographic research on health workers, shadowing them as they moved through their work environments, blithely ignoring, circumventing and sabotaging the information security measures imposed by their IT departments, because in so doing, they were saving lives. Read the rest

Intel's "Tomorrow Project" -- public conversations about the future of technology

Forbes has a good article on Intel's "Tomorrow Project," wherein Intel Chief Futurist Brian David Johnson gets science fiction writers and technologists to produce materials about the future of technology as part of the company's future product development plans. I've contributed a short story, Knights of the Rainbow Table (about the moment when human-memorizable passwords become trivially computer-guessable), to the accompanying Tomorrow Project Anthology, which launches at NY Comic-Con today.

“It sounds science-fictiony,” he laughs. “But it’s ultimately pragmatic. Chip designs have lead times of 5-10 years, so it’s important to have an understanding of how people will want to to interact with computers. I’m literally working on chips for 2020 right now.”

I obviously couldn’t let it lie there. What do you take into account when planning the future? The answer is both intriguing and quite unlike most futurists I know. Johnson’s first stop is the social sciences. He works with Dr. Genevieve Bell, a cultural anthropologist who has been at Intel since 1998. Their teams work with ethnographers, social scientists, and others to understand the current state of the culture and try to figure out where it’s going.

The next step is then looking at the hardware. Johnson and his team work with computer scientists to look at the current state of the art in hardware, software, and algorithms, as well as the research coming up. The tech data is meshed with the social sciences data to answer a simple question: how can we apply this technology to capture people’s imaginations and make their lives better?

Read the rest