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Going to DEFCON? EFF's got your back


The Electronic Frontier Foundation always has a huge presence at Las Vegas's DEFCON, but this year, we're hosting our first-ever badge-hack contest!

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Sequel to my "General Purpose Computation" talk coming up in Vegas, San Francisco


I've written a sequel to my talk The Coming War on General Purpose Computing, called "The Coming Civil War Over General-Purpose Computing," which I'll be delivering twice this summer: first on July 28 at DEFCON in Las Vegas, and then on July 31 in San Francisco at a Long Now Foundation SALT talk, jointly presented by the Electronic Frontier Foundation. As far as I know, both talks will be online, along with slides (a rarity for me -- I normally hate doing slides, but I had a good time with it this time around).

Secret history of the near-construction of a lifesized Starship Enterprise in downtown Las Vegas


Gary Goddard tells the story of the near-construction of a life-sized Starship Enterprise replica in downtown Las Vegas. Goddard successfully bid to build the attraction as part of the 1992 competition to revitalized Vegas's sagging downtown and bring back tourist traffic that had been sucked away by the strip, but the project was scuttled at the last minute when Stanley Jaffe, then CEO of Paramount, got cold feet. The Enterprise was scrapped and replaced by the "Fremont Street Experience," which stands there today.

The “big idea” was building the ship itself at full-scale. That was the main attraction. That being said, we also knew we would have to have some kind of “show” on board. So, conceptually, it was to be a “tour” of the ship, with all of the key rooms, chambers, decks, and corridors that we knew from the movie. There was to be the dining area for the ship’s crew (where you could dine in Star Fleet comfort), and other special features. There were also one or two interesting ride elements that we were considering including a high-speed travelator that would whisk you from deck to deck. But we were really just getting into the show aspects when everything came to a head. During this time, as we were working out the conceptual design and plan, a licensing contract was negotiated for Paramount Studios with the terms and conditions, including a substantial rights payment up front, and on-going revenue participation, all subject to the approval of the Studio Chairman, which “would not be a problem” if the project was approved. As you can see, from the designs we’ve shown here, we got pretty far down the road, with drawings, renderings, engineering studies, construction cost estimates – about $150,000,000 (in 1992 dollars) — we were ready to go. I had Greg Pro working on it, I had Dan Gozee (long time Disney Imagineering illustrator) on it, and we were really into the whole idea. Everyone was excited. This was going to be a world-class iconic project that would become an international sensation from the moment it was announced...

So with everyone in the room, I take Mr. Jaffe through the project. With the art, the plans, the overall concept. After my spirited “pitch” everyone was beaming – everyone except Mr. Jaffe. Mr. Jaffe thanked us for the effort, and he congratulated us on creating a bold concept and presentation, and then went into a speech that went something like this:

“You know, this is a major project. You’re going to put a full-scale ENTERPRISE up in the heart of Las Vegas. And on one hand that sounds exciting. But on another hand, it might not be a great idea for us – for Paramount.” Everyone in the room was stunned, most of all, me, because I could see where this was going. “In the movie business, when we produce a big movie and it’s a flop – we take some bad press for a few weeks or a few months, but then it goes away. The next movie comes out and everyone forgets. But THIS – this is different. If this doesn’t work – if this is not a success – it’s there, forever….” I remember thinking to myself “oh my god, this guy does NOT get it….” And he said “I don’t want to be the guy that approved this and then it’s a flop and sitting out there in Vegas forever.”

NOW IT CAN BE TOLD: THE “STAR TREK” ATTRACTION THAT ALMOST CAME TO LIFE in 1992. (via /.)

Tim Powers's Last Call: a mind-altering journey into superstition, Vegas style

I just got through re-reading Tim Power's World Fantasy Award-winning 1996 novel Last Call, which is truly one of the triumphs of modern fantasy literature. Powers, one of Philip K Dick's three proteges (the others are James Blaylock and KW Jeter), is a tremendous writer, and his whole catalog deserves your attention, but even against the field of standout Powers novels, Last Call stands out further.

Last Call's premise, at its core, is that Bugsy Siegel built Las Vegas in order to become a living avatar of the Fisher King, but that he was prevented by doing this when a French mystic named Georges Leon assassinated him, stole his head from the morgue, tossed it into Lake Mead, and set about turning his sons into mindless soldiers in his mystic army by conducting dark rituals involving a handpainted Tarot deck that could drive you mad.

One of Leon's sons survives, though he loses his eye to his father's violence, and his dying mother smuggles him away from his father and tosses him, blindly, over the transom of a passing yacht on a trailer. He is found by a professional gambler, Ozzie Crane, who raises Scott as his foster son, and later adopts another girl, Diana, and raises her as his foster sister. From Ozzie, Scott learns of the gambler's mysticisms and superstitions: fold out your hand when the smoke gathers in the middle of the table or the drinks in the glass start to sit off-level, lest you buy or sell more than what's in the pot. Twenty years later, Scott -- now a professional gambler -- ignores Ozzie's pleas to stay clear of a game played on a houseboat on Lake Mead ("You want to play on tame water? Are you crazy?") and finds himself playing a queer sort of poker with 13 players and a deck of Tarot cards, playing (he later learns) against his own biological father, who has taken over the body of the game's host, and who is using the game to steal the bodies of more people so that he can attain true immortality.

This is a book that swirls with mysticism and resonances: everyday superstition, Sumerian and Egyptian religious doctrine, the Tarot and Carl Jung's archetypes, and the Arthurian mythos. Powers is clearly in some way the spiritual son of Philip K Dick (he certainly tells some pretty awesomely hilarious and terrifying stories about being Dick's confidante, driver, helper, and rescuer) and he's got Dick's knack for imagining catastrophically superstitious worlds where you're never sure who is the madman and who is the sage. He's also got Dick's flair for the bizarre, the sense that he's tapped into something very deep in the lived human experience of weird. But Powers is an infinitely better writer than Dick ever was: better at plot, characters and dialog.

Last Call is the first of three loosely joined books, the next two being Expiration Date and Earthquake Weather, and all three are brilliant in their own way, but Last Call remains my favorite. I caught up with it again via the audiobook, which is available as a DRM-free audio CD read by Bronson Pinchot (who is a surprisingly good and subtle audiobook voice-actor).

Last Call

Control-freaky dress code at a boutique


From a recent trip to Vegas, a clandestine photo of a directive to employees at a boutique in Caesar's Palace from a crazy, crazy control freak.
As this is Fall...no more flip flops. You cannot wear Sindys, Cintias or Ladys by themselves.This should be a no-brainer. Dark denim jeans. No Exceptions. We work for a high-end fashion company.

Your hair should be styled. You must wear makeup to work. You need to have a manicure and a pedicure. No broken nails and toenails unpolished. Do not come to work looking unkempt.

Especially piquant is the ritual of requiring each employee to sign, like a perp signing a confession that's been beaten out of him.