Amazon: 'Unlikely' string of events led to Echo recording a family's private chat & sending to some random guy

Amazon has now publicly responded to today's bombshell news that an Alexa/Echo personal digital assistive device recorded and then leaked a Portland family's private conversation to a third party acquaintance in Seattle. An "unlikely" string of events led to the freak occurrence, says Amazon. OK. Sure. Read the rest

"World's Largest Orgy" no longer hosted at Las Vegas Embassy Suites, but it's still on, now with more science

Menage Life's world's biggest orgy on June 2 will move from an Embassy Suites hotel in Las Vegas to the Erotic Heritage Museum. Menage Life said the change is due to “increased interest in the event." Embassy Suites management told the Las Vegas Weekly that "while Sin City 8 room guests are welcome to stay there, the previously scheduled events outside of the orgy—including the seminars and parties—are no longer permitted at the hotel." No matter who made the decision to relocate the orgy and other events, Menage Life says that the new location for the sex party makes it possible to do some science among the carnal chaos! From the Las Vegas Weekly:

According to today's news release, Erotic Heritage Museum Executive Director Dr. Victoria Hartmann will conduct a qualitative research project during the orgy to help fill holes in the study of the evolution of group sex. And a museum documenting the history of sex is a natural to exhibit a history-making sex event—provided, of course, the participants bring their own sex toys and leave the ancient Chinese ones in their glass case.

“We are excited to be working with the Erotic Heritage Museum on this historic opportunity!” Menage Life founder Sante Suffoletta said in a statement. “We are both aligned in our view that consenting adults should be able to fully express their sexuality without fear or shame."

Read the rest

Riunite advertising was something out of another universe

Riunite. On ice. Who were they trying to sell this wine? These ads had me cracking up as a child. Were yodelers, robots, and folks with made-up but pretty racist accents really lacking the right choice in pink wine?

Wine on ice is a thing I rarely see, but when I do the people drinking it are generally on an airplane and headed to a good time. The 1980s jingle is the one that seems to come to mind with my contemporaries.

Evidently the Box Wine Revolution did not kill Riunite. They have a website and show some fairly recent awards from San Diego! San Diego is a city revered for their ComicCon, large warships, and proximity to Tijuana, Mexico! So, lets drink up! Read the rest

Get the awesome Babylon 5 encyclopedia print edition before it sells out

Last year, the team behind B5 Books put together a The Babylon 5 Encyclopedia a thoroughly researched, lovingly crafted set of volumes on the universe of the 90's Sci-Fi series Babylon 5.

I was lucky enough to pick up a copy of this edition when it came out, and have referred to it repeatedly when rewatching the series recently. It's an amazing one-of-a-kind resource for fans of the show.

WHAT ARE THE SPECS OF THE 2-VOLUME HARDCOVER COLOR EDITION? Trim Size: 8 x 10 inches. These books weigh about 3.5 pounds each (1.58kg), and this was the best size to keep the weight evenly distributed for extended reading. 832 pages total Hand-signed by J. Michael Straczynski Premium 90gsm paper All pages full, four-color printing Custom Slipcase with foil stamping Two Ribbon Bookmarks: one purple, one green. The advantage of two is that you can mark were you left off reading and you can mark the last entry you cross-referenced. Even better, couples can each have their own color.

Less than 100 copies are remaining, however, and the B5 Books team is letting the resource go out of print to focus on B5s 25th anniversary. If you're a B5 fan, this is your last chance to own the definitive resource on all things Babylonian.

Also, Amazon has Announced that the entire series will be available to stream come June 1st, so if you haven't delved into the story of our last, best hope for peace, now's the time! Read the rest

Uber driver with two passengers in car gets arrested for attempted rape and aggravated burglary

While an Uber driver was shuttling two passengers in Georgia last Sunday, he was arrested for attempted rape, sexual battery, and aggravated burglary. Looks like Uber did a real good job in vetting the man before taking him on as a driver.

According to Gizmodo:

It’s unclear how [Kevin] Jerome was able to drive for Uber. The platform claims to perform a background check on all its drivers, and notes on its website that “convictions for felonies, violent crimes, sexual offenses, and registered sex offender status, among other types of criminal records,” disqualify individuals from becoming a driver. An Uber spokesperson told Gizmodo that the company is investigating the incident.

Uber announced a new policy in April to re-run background checks for drivers on an annual basis. Prior to that change, it may have been possible for a driver whose record was clean when signing up for the platform to have been charged with a disqualifying crime without Uber’s knowledge and remain a driver. In Jerome’s case, his charges appear to have been issued in 2016, though it’s unclear when he applied to join Uber.

Image: Mark Warner/Flickr Read the rest

Do drones need sweaters? Plus: drone dating

Over at Make, Gareth Branwyn reported on his personal highlight of Maker Faire Bay Area last weekend -- a presentation by artist Danielle Baskin, who made sweaters for drones and then sent the drones on real Tinder dates. I saw the presentation too and was literally laughing for much of her talk.

Drone sweaters started out as a joke. As Danielle says, it’s so easy, if you have a fun, goofy idea, to quickly create a professional-looking website, put it up, and see where it takes you. She did that with Drone Sweaters and this joke started getting serious attention, and even interest from drone owners looking to buy sweaters. So, Danielle opened up shop for real. You can get a fashionable Danielle Baskin sweater for your drone for $89.

Danielle’s next foray into fun drone foolishness was creating Tinder dating profiles for her drone. Again, she didn’t know what to expect, but she started getting matches. Within a few weeks, the drone had gotten 200 Tinder matches. And the matches started flirting(?) with her drone. Some suitors wanted to go on actual dates, so Danielle set up a viewing blind so she could see the drone (without the date seeing her). A baby monitor, hidden beneath the drone, inside the sweater (see, that sweater is handy), allowed Danielle to hear the date and respond. She even sent out at FAQ before the dates informing the drone’s suitors of proper drone dating etiquette. At least one drone dater asked for a second date.

Read the rest

Here are the Dungeon and Dragons stat sheets for famous cartoon characters

In the early 1990s Dragon magazine published AD&D stats for various cartoon characters. Bugs Bunny is a 15th-level illusionist with a chaotic good alignment. Popeye is Lawful Neutral and he is either a 9th-level fighter or an 18-level fighter. Rocky and Bullwinkle are an inseparable pair of fighters, with Rocky providing the brains and Bullwinkle providing the brawn. Read the rest

Bill Gates suggests these five books for summer reading

For your summer reading pleasure, Bill Gates recommends:

• “Leonardo da Vinci” by Walter Isaacson

• “Everything Happens for a Reason and Other Lies I’ve Loved” by Kate Bowler

• “Lincoln in the Bardo” by George Saunders

• “Origin Story: A Big History of Everything” by David Christian

• “Factfulness” by Hans Rosling with Ola Rosling and Anna Rosling Ronnlund

Read the rest

Amazon home assistant recorded and sent private conversation to third party, says Portland woman

Why do people have these infernal contraptions in their homes?

Every room in her family home was wired with the Amazon devices to control her home's heat, lights and security system.

But Danielle said two weeks ago their love for Alexa changed with an alarming phone call. "The person on the other line said, 'unplug your Alexa devices right now,'" she said. "'You're being hacked.'"

That person was one of her husband's employees, calling from Seattle.

"We unplugged all of them and he proceeded to tell us that he had received audio files of recordings from inside our house," she said. "At first, my husband was, like, 'no you didn't!' And the (recipient of the message) said 'You sat there talking about hardwood floors.' And we said, 'oh gosh, you really did hear us.'"

Amazon support reportedly admitted that it happened, but could or would not tell her how. "Hacked" seems like hyperbole to me, but the way voice assistants are designed means--much like Facebook--that it's intentionally easy to get it watching you but hard to know what it's up to.

"Dark patterns" are those where a user interface is explicitly designed to fool the user into doing something they don't want. There should be a word for when poor UI design allows reasonable user behavior to result in nasty outcomes that the designer should have anticipated. Voice assistants that don't look for obvious signs they're not actually being talked to, for example. Or whatever awful arse made it so CTRL-Q and CTRL-W were right next to each other. Read the rest

Alexa listened to a couple's conversation and sent it to the husband's employee without permission

A couple in Portland is accusing Alexa of doing exactly what many people have feared she might do. They say she listened in on a conversation and sent it to a random contact of theirs – one of her husband's employees.

The woman, whose name is Danielle but whose last name hasn't been disclosed, says that two weeks ago she got a call from her husband's employee, who said, "Unplug your Alexa devices right now. You're being hacked."

According to KIRO-7 in Seattle:

"We unplugged all of them and he proceeded to tell us that he had received audio files of recordings from inside our house," she said. "At first, my husband was, like, 'no you didn't!' And the (recipient of the message) said 'You sat there talking about hardwood floors.' And we said, 'oh gosh, you really did hear us.'"

Danielle listened to the conversation when it was sent back to her, and she couldn't believe someone 176 miles away heard it too.

"I felt invaded," she said. "A total privacy invasion. Immediately I said, 'I'm never plugging that device in again, because I can't trust it.'"

Danielle says an Amazon engineer investigated.

"They said 'our engineers went through your logs, and they saw exactly what you told us, they saw exactly what you said happened, and we're sorry.' He apologized like 15 times in a matter of 30 minutes and he said we really appreciate you bringing this to our attention, this is something we need to fix!"

When KIRO-7 questioned Amazon, they responded with this: “Amazon takes privacy very seriously. Read the rest

Listen to Weezer cover Toto (but not the song you think)

For six months, a Weezer fan named Mary (@weezerafrica) has been rallying support for her request that Weezer cover Toto's "Africa." It started as a joke but now is now very, very serious. (Kinda. Not really.) Anyway, Weezer finally responded by covering Toto's... "Rosaanna."

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Barbie ride-on toy car modded with real engine goes 70 mph

Edwin Olding hacked together a Barbie Power Wheels Ford Mustang chassis with an old go-kart frame and a customized Honda dirt bike engine. This hot pink whip now races at 70 mph. From The Drive:

Olding told The Drive, "I wanted to find the cutest Barbie Power Wheels car online and turn it into a drift kart."

With the miniature Mustang's tiny electric motor and plastic tires, that would not be an easy task. Instead of trying to boost the Power Wheels' weak performance, Olding decided to chop out everything that wasn't the car's outer shell and drop that onto a pre-built go-kart found on Craigslist. That, however, presented its own problems. The kart's frame couldn't fit into the Mustang's 36-inch wheelbase, so it had to be cut down and welded back together.

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At the Golden-Calf Slaughterhouse: an interview with Johannes Grenzfurthner

A sprawling interview with artist and filmmaker Johannes Grenzfurthner on his latest movie Glossary of Broken Dreams.

Comcast's $1.2b/year modem-rental scam picks your pocket, then exposes you to hackers, stalkers and identity thieves

For most of a century, AT&T ripped off its customers by requiring them to rent their phones, meaning that over the life of your phone subscription, you would buy your phone thousands of times over. Read the rest

How to make a Battlezone type movie using Adobe After Effects

I taught myself After Effects a couple of years ago so I could make this Blockchain explainer video. From the perspective of my limited skillset, I was blown away by what filmmaker Stu Maschwitz was able to do entirely within After Effects: a short film called Tank, that pays homage to the classic Atari arcade game from 1980, Battlezone. Above, the film. Below, how he made it.

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Check out Disney's robot acrobat

This is "Stickman," a robot acrobat that Disney Research scientists presented at this week's IEEE International Conference on Robotics and Automation. From the abstract of their technical paper:

Human performers have developed impressive acrobatic techniques over thousands of years of practicing the gymnastic arts. At the same time, robots have started to become more mobile and autonomous and can begin to imitate these stunts in dramatic and informative ways. We present a simple two degree of freedom robot that uses a gravity-driven pendulum launch and produces a variety of somersaulting stunts. The robot uses an IMU and a laser range-finder to estimate its state mid-flight and actuates to change its motion both on and off the pendulum.

"Stickman: Towards a Human Scale Acrobatic Robot" Read the rest

Thoughtful, devastating critique of Jordan Peterson's "12 Rules for Life"

Jordan Peterson is really easy to make fun of -- what with the mystical nonsense and the pseudoscientific evolutionary biology -- but there are millions of (largely white, largely young, largely male) readers who've found his "12 Rules for Life" to be a balm for their souls and a rallying cry for a movement that has legitimized the most murderous strains of toxic masculinity. Read the rest

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