• Federal judge blocks enforcement of Texas abortion ban

    A District Court judge in Texas yesterday issued an injunction barring enforcement of Texas's abortion ban, describing it as plainly unconstitutional and designed to avoid judicial scrutiny.

    "In a 113-page opinion, Pitman took Texas to task over the law, saying Republican lawmakers had 'contrived an unprecedented and transparent statutory scheme' by leaving enforcement solely in the hands of private citizens, who are entitled to collect $10,000 in damages if they bring successful lawsuits against abortion providers who violate the restrictions."

    Now it heads up to higher courts. The consensus seems to be that the U.S. Supreme Court could explicitly rule on Roe v. Wade through other challenges to it on the docket because this case is really about Texas's private enforcement trick for passing otherwise unconstitutional laws. But like the court itself, coverage is now so angry and partisan that it's hard to know what to believe.

  • Wood keycaps

    When I posted about a wooden keyboard, reader Glaurung rightly complained that "If I am going to pay over $150 for a keyboard, I see absolutely no sane reason why it should use crappy laptop switches instead of durable mechanical switches". I am happy to report that you may now pay $150 for wooden keycaps that attach to durable mechanical switches!

    The caps are offered in rosewood, beech and walnut and in in 61, 87 and 108-key sets. Naturally, you can also buy corresponding wooden cases for popular bezel-less keebs like the Anne Pro or get it all pre-assembled.

  • Zodiac Killer identified as Gary Poste

    Zodiac, the late-'60s serial killer whose undistinguished death toll was made legendary by his keen fashion sense and talent for writing challenging puzzles, was a man named Gary Poste—at least according to a team of cold-case researchers.

    The Case Breakers is now saying it has identified the Zodiac Killer as Gary Francis Poste, who passed away in 2018. The team's years of digging uncovered new forensic evidence and photos from Poste's darkroom. One image features scars on the forehead of Poste that match scars on a sketch of the Zodiac, the team said. 

    Other clues include deciphering letters sent by the Zodiac that revealed him as the killer, said Jen Bucholtz, a former Army counterintelligence agent who works on cold cases. In one note, the letters of Poste's full name were removed to reveal an alternate message, she told Fox News. 

    It's very much in the "a series of coincidences" line, and Poste himself emerges as a vague and unremarkable crook defined in the article by people who barely knew him, but definitely think he's the killer now these guys say he is.

  • Andrew Yang leaves Democratic Party to form his own

    Entrepreneur Andrew Yang's outsider primary run and signature support for a universal basic income made him a star for some Democratic voters, but his prospects in the party have dimmed in the year since. So exit Yang, and enter his new Forward Party: "Not Left, not Right, but Forward"

    The two parties are trapped in a war that they both win, while the rest of us lose. Come join the Forward Party and help us build a better system – one that puts humanity first and focuses on solutions rather than politics.

    As with Yang the man, some good ideas — ranked-choice voting, UBI, bureaucricide — carried along by rainbows and unicorns. Big technocratic ideas are great if you're a liberal voter sick of hearing about other people's problems. But it can only work so long as it can avoid staking positions on subjects people really care about, and as soon as it's forced to (or avoids doing so under pressure) the illusion evaporates.

  • Instagram "actively promotes" accounts encouraging teen eating disorders

    Instagram has acknowledged to CNN that it promoted accounts glorifying extreme dieting and eating disorders, the channel reports, and admitted that it should not have done so.

    The extreme dieting accounts were promoted to an Instagram account set up by Sen. Richard Blumenthal's staff. The Connecticut Senator's team registered an account as a 13-year-old girl and proceeded to follow some dieting and pro-eating disorder accounts (the latter of which are supposed to be banned by Instagram). Soon, Instagram's algorithm began almost exclusively recommending the young teenage account should follow more and more extreme dieting accounts, the Senator told CNN.

    Blumenthal's office shared with CNN a list of accounts Instagram's algorithm had recommended. After CNN sent a sample from this list of five accounts to Instagram for comment, the company removed them, saying all of them broke its policies against encouraging eating disorders.

    Speaking to CNN Monday, Blumenthal said: "This experience shows very graphically how [Facebook's] claims to protect children or take down accounts that may be dangerous to them are absolute hogwash."

    The same Senator who asked the dumb question about "Finsta" accounts now delivers a perfectly-executed sting operation on Instagram's misleading claims about its engagement machine. It will not be as widely reported, I fear.

  • "Unbreakable" glass developed, say researchers

    McGill University researchers say they've developed an "unbreakable" glass inspired by the inner layer of mollusk shells. As resilent as plastic yet as hard as nacre, it could "improve cell phone screens in the future, among other applications."

    The scientists took the architecture of nacre and replicated it with layers of glass flakes and acrylic, yielding an exceptionally strong yet opaque material that can be produced easily and inexpensively. They then went a step further to make the composite optically transparent. "By tuning the refractive index of the acrylic, we made it seamlessly blend with the glass to make a truly transparent composite," says lead author Ali Amini, a Postdoctoral Researcher at McGill. As next steps, they plan to improve it by incorporating smart technology allowing the glass to change its properties, such as colour, mechanics, and conductivity.

  • Capybaras occupy Buenos Aires suburb; no demands yet issued

    KHOU 11 reports that an army of capybaras has overrun Tigre, a suburb of Buenos Aires, and begun breeding there.

    COUNTLESS CAPYBARAS: People living in this community in Argentina have a lot of furry, four-legged neighbors. Local media reports hundreds of capybaras have overrun a suburb in Tigre, and the population has been increasing over the years.

    They're adorable, peaceful and mow the lawns for free. What's not to love about our new rodent masters?

  • House of the Dragon hopes to make Game of Thrones great again

    Fire & Blood, G.R.R. Martin's prequel novel about the dragon-riding Targaryens, was described by The Times as "interminable, self-indulgent crap" — the perfect lore-bound expository raw material for House of the Dragon, HBO's forthcoming effort to revive a franchise left stone cold dead by the last season of Game of Thrones.

    It looks great, though, with an excellent cast of thesps such as Emma D'Arcy and Matt Smith, who appears to have thoroughly stripmined the cinematic potential of Michael Moorcock antihero Elric of Melniboné. The 10-episode show will debut in 2022.

  • A bat detector made with a Raspberry Pi

    If you've run out of bat detectors but the bat detector store has already closed for the day, fret not! Here is kryptonaut's report about constructing a bat detector with a Raspberry Pi and other inexpensive components. The code isn't made available, but if you have some experience coding bare-metal on the Pi it shouldn't drive you too batty figuring it out. Click through for a recording made with the device.

    It's basically a kind of granulator which slows down incoming audio by up to 4 octaves, but works in approximately real-time by overlapping the slowed down sounds as necessary. I originally designed it for listening to slowed down birdsong, but the mics I used are responsive up to 100KHz so it's turned out to be a rather effective bat detector – it's very cool to hear them chirping as they fly overhead at dusk.

  • These new USB logos are supposed to "reduce confusion". They're more confusing than ever

    USB Type C fixed the hole but, sadly, not the cables, which all look much the same but might be useless for any given purpose, or indeed the features offered by the holes. Does this USB C hole have DisplayPort Alternate Mode? Does this cable support a 5K image at 60hz? Good luck figuring it out. Now the USB Implementers Forum has announced a set of logos to make it "less confusing".

    What a mess. They use the same type style on different versions of the logo to refer to completely different things, bandwidth and power delivery. Design elements and text are jammed crudely into spaces left around the cluttered, amateurish "Certified USB" logo, at whatever size fits. They don't even consistenly use ™ or ® on it. And they still don't answer the questions people actually have about capabilities, instead forcing us to infer them through specifications.

    This looks like a perfect example both of engineer syndrome—experts in a narrow technical discipline thinking they are experts in everything (e.g. communication design)—and the law of triviality, where extraneous specifications and requirements (e.g. trademark adherence) subvert effectiveness.

  • Pandora Papers: report details finances of tax-evading, wealth-hoarding world leaders

    An investigation into the finances of current and former world leaders and their associates reveals the unsurprising yet shocking scale of wealth they hoard. Though many of the records detail shell companies, foundations and trusts used as vehicles to conceal ownership of investments, houses, yachts, jets and other luxuries—or simply to evade paying taxes—other documents are tied to financial crimes such as money laundering.

    The more than 330 current and former politicians identified as beneficiaries of the secret accounts include Jordan's King Abdullah II, former U.K. Prime Minister Tony Blair, Czech Republic Prime Minister Andrej Babis, Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta, Ecuador's President Guillermo Lasso, and associates of both Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan and Russian President Vladimir Putin.

    … Blair, U.K prime minister from 1997 to 2007, became the owner of an $8.8 million Victorian building in 2017 by buying a British Virgin Islands company that held the property, and the building now hosts the law firm of his wife, Cherie Blair, according to the the investigation. The two bought the company from the family of Bahrain's industry and tourism minister, Zayed bin Rashid al-Zayani. Buying the company shares instead of the London building saved the Blairs more than $400,000 in property taxes, the investigation found.

    The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists report is based largely on leaks from 14 offshore financial services companies and the consortium has shared the raw material with media worldwide.

  • Wendy's worker arrested after diners claim he pulled gun on them

    The customer is rarely right, and the work of a night-shift fast food server surely brings one into contact with the wrongest customers of them all. That said, pulling a gun is a bit much, and likely to get one arrested.

    Arrest documents said one of the victims was in an argument with the manager when Johnson Jr. walked to the back of the restaurant and came back with the bag. She said he pulled the gun out of the bag and threatened to shoot her.

    The man was booked on charges of carrying a firearm, assault and marijuana possession.

  • Facebook whistleblower says it fed Capitol riot and deliberately magnifies hate and misinformation for profit

    Frances Haugen, a former manager at Facebook, appeared on 60 Minutes to blow the whistle on the extent and intentionality of the company's malign and amoral practices: "Facebook, over and over again, has shown it chooses profit over safety."

    She said Facebook prematurely turned off safeguards designed to thwart misinformation and rabble rousing after Joe Biden defeated Donald Trump last year, alleging that contributed to the deadly Jan. 6 invasion of the U.S. Capitol.

    Post-election, the company dissolved a unit on civic integrity where she had been working, which Haugen said was the moment she realized "I don't trust that they're willing to actually invest what needs to be invested to keep Facebook from being dangerous."

    At issue are algorithms that govern what shows up on users' news feeds, and how they favor hateful content. Haugen said a 2018 change to the content flow contributed to more divisiveness and ill will in a network ostensibly created to bring people closer together.

    Haugen will testify before congress this week. Her appearances have the company rattled enough that it tried to pre-empt the 60 Minutes report with a memo written by top Facebook executive Nick Clegg.

    Of course, everyone has a rogue uncle or an old school classmate who holds strong or extreme views we disagree with – that's life – and the change meant you are more likely to come across their posts too. Even so, we've developed industry-leading tools to remove hateful content and reduce the distribution of problematic content. As a result, the prevalence of hate speech on our platform is now down to about 0.05%.

  • Ozy Media soap opera ends in its demise

    Ozy Media, exposed years ago for faking its traffic and exposed last week for trying to rope Goldman Sachs into a $40m investment by posing its own co-founder as a YouTube executive on a conference call, is no more.

    The abrupt collapse riveted media observers not because Ozy had a large number of loyal readers — that, in the end, was the problem — but because many had wondered how the company had managed to survive. The answer had to do with a charismatic and relentless founder, a great story and a slick brand that was perfectly tuned to appeal to noted Silicon Valley investors and powerful advertising executives.

    The compant abruptly shut down late Friday, a traditional not-so-weird trick to limit the scope for hostile reportage, but the New York Times' Ben Smith is out for blood. This morning he compares the other Ozy co-founder, Carlos Watson, to Theranos' Elizabeth Holmes, currently on trial on fraud charges.

    Want to know how a bunch of seemingly sophisticated people fell for a company that every social media intern in America had questions about? A pitch deck Ozy circulated to potential investors last fall included a graphic featuring the smiling faces of a few high-profile backers: the billionaire philanthropist Laurene Powell Jobs; Marc Lasry, a hedge fund manager and a co-owner of the Milwaukee Bucks basketball team; and Mathias Döpfner, the chief executive of the German publishing giant Axel Springer. Wouldn't you want to join that club?

    "I met a traveler from an ancient blog," etc.

  • Anti-masker desperate for attention gets none

    In this video, an anti-mask personality records himself wandering around ranting at people wearing covid masks, yelling insults at them and also at nothing in particular. He is fastidiously ignored by everyone, however, despite his efforts, creating an impression of a world now as accustomed to people like him as it is to the ongoing viral pandemic. He is given such disinterest that one may suspect the video was in fact recorded in total silence and the vocal track overlaid in post-production. There aren't even any remixes that I can find, despite the tantalizingly rythmic shrieking of the slur "libtard!" and the drumbreak-inviting sarcastic hissing of "ooooh, Covid!" every time he sees a mask sign on a shop door. It's as if he wasn't there at all. [via r/PublicFreakout]

  • Belligerent Philly cop filmed harassing man and spewing racist remarks: "shut your mouth, boy"

    The bizarre and belligerent behavior of a Philadelphia police officer is raising eyebrows after he was filmed harassing a local man, then shouting "Worldstar!" and violently arresting him.

    The takedown takes place 6 minutes into the above video, capping his terrifying night-time encounter with a strangely euphoric, nervous, ranting officer identified as "Hoover" by his badge. Officer Hoover never stops directing insults and threatening questions at the man, identified as "Gabriel" in the YouTube upload, who was not a suspect in any crime.

    Gabriel claims he began filming after he left a relative's house in the Poplar neighborhood and noticed he was being followed on foot.

    As soon as the posted recording begins, the officer approaches and attempts to take a "selfie" with his "homie", who declines. The video shows the officer, identified as Hoover, become increasingly bullying and abusive as Gabriel fails to react negatively to this and further harassment. From the outset of the recording, Hoover directs racial language such as "homie" and "boy" at Gabriel.

    Hoover accuses Gabriel of approaching him in obvious contradiction of what the video recording shows. More alarmingly, Hoover repeatedly moves to stand and stop in front of Gabriel, as if trying to trigger physical contact, forcing Gabriel to move toward and around him to continue his journey. He constantly flashes Gabriel in the face with his light, holding it within inches of his eyes and pushing it against his camera. When Gabriel asks Hoover to call a "white shirt"—a reference to the uniforms of higher-ranking officers—Hoover construes it as a racial reference and begins ranting about it, slurring his words and escalating his aggressive behavior.

    Gabriel ultimately tires of Hoover's abuse, begins calling him "dummy", and attempts to return to his family member's house. Hoover turns to pursue him and ultimately rushes to place himself in Gabriel's path, shouts "Worldstar!" — a reference to a meme in which people yell that site's name to the camera before jumping into a filmed streetfight — then arrests him.

    Gabriel was charged with disorderly conduct, according to LackLuster, the YouTube copwatcher who posted the video online.