Fare thee well, ThinkGeek

It's the end of a geeky era: After 19 glorious years of flogging movie, comic book and gaming-related swag, ThinkGeek is shuttering its website next month.

From The Verge:

ThinkGeek will officially close down its website and will migrate its operations over to its parent company GameStop’s website instead. In the meantime, the store is holding a 50 percent off “moving sale.”

By way of explanation, a GameStop spokesperson would only provide the following business-speak: The company is “engaging in a strategic business transformation initiative to build the GameStop of the future,” and that as part of that effort “we have made the decision to reorganize our ThinkGeek business by streamlining the operations of our ThinkGeek.com ecommerce platform and transitioning it within our GameStop.com omnichannel platform.”

Apparently, renewing that domain name every year was way outside of GameStop's budget. I suppose that being able to buy the same kit online will do, but it just won't be the same. Back in the day, I bought a number of handheld console emulators from ThinkGeek. It always felt like I was getting away with something special. I can't imagine having that same customer experience by shopping through a corporate behemoth like GameStop.

On the bright side of things, for the time being, over 40 of ThinkGeek's brick-and-mortar shops will remain open across the United States. I mean, you can't shop there at 3am in your underwear like you could with their website, but it's something, I suppose.

Image via Wikipedia Commons & Amazon Read the rest

U.S. Government security keys vulnerable to hackers, for the dumbest imaginable reason

Physical security keys, like those sold by Yubico, Thetis and Kensington, are a great way to lock down your digital lives. They also tend to be wicked fast compared to the wait you have to put on while you're waiting for a 2FA password to arrive via SMS or typing in a verification code from an app like Google Authenticator.

Unless of course said security key is deeply, deeply borked.

From Engadget:

Yubico is recalling a line of security keys used by the U.S. government due to a firmware flaw. The company issued a security advisory today that warned of an issue in YubiKey FIPS Series devices with firmware versions 4.4.2 and 4.4.4 that reduced the randomness of the cryptographic keys it generates. The security keys are used by thousands of federal employees on a daily basis, letting them securely log-on to their devices by issuing one-time passwords.

The problem in question occurs after the security key powers up. According to Yubico, a bug keeps "some predictable content" inside the device's data buffer that could impact the randomness of the keys generated. Security keys with ECDSA signatures are in particular danger. A total of 80 of the 256 bits generated by the key remain static, meaning an attacker who gains access to several signatures could recreate the private key.

If someone reading this can school me on why anyone working at Yubico would think that keeping 'predictable content' on a device meant to secure highly-sensitive governmental systems and information, I'd appreciate it. Read the rest

Beyond Meat added to Tim Hortons' menu

Eating the stuff that cows eat instead of eating cows is so hot right now! It's fine by me: last summer, I had the opportunity to nosh an Impossible Burger while I was in Boston. It was absolutely delicious (although I did have bacon with it, so there's that) and, as it's better for me and better for the planet, I'm all in on the idea. Protein-rich plant-based faux-meat is the way of the future, friendos. As it slowly gains popularity in restaurants and homes across America, it's also making a dent up north.

From The CBC:

Tim Hortons announced Wednesday that starting immediately, the chain's 4,000 locations across Canada are offering breakfast sandwiches made with Beyond Meat patties, a plant-based meat alternative whose popularity seems to be soaring.

The chain will offer three varieties of the Beyond Meat patty, including in an English muffin with egg and cheese, in a tortilla wrap with egg, cheese and other ingredients, or in a 100 per cent vegan form on a baked biscuit with lettuce and tomato.

For anyone that's every had to suffer through a Tim Horton's breakfast sandwich over the past few years, this could be great news: anything would be better than the taste sensation of an over-spiced sausage patties on a dryer-than-a-popcorn-fart biscuit that the chain has been churning out of late. Timmy's won't be the first chain in Canada to get in on the Beyond Meat action. A&W--which in Canada is superior in almost every way to the American chain of the same name--has been offering Beyond Meat burgers, for some time now. Read the rest

Kitty can't cope with a card trick

If that cat ever figures out how this is done, it's gonna gut that guy in his sleep. Read the rest

UK government is using child spies

The United Kingdom's security minister, Ben Wallace, really gets Lord Varys from Game of Thrones, you know? The Spider had it going on, man. He was hip and, also, with it. That imaginary man who had his love pump lopped off knew from HUMINT, apparently.

From The Telegraph:

Ben Wallace says there is “increasing scope” to recruit “juvenile” undercover agents because of the growing numbers of children involved in serious crime both as perpetrators and victims.

Records show the children - most aged 17 - have already been used as “covert human intelligence sources” (CHIS) by police in the past three years to provide information on murder, gang violence, drug dealing and the use of weapons.

The evidence emerged in a legal challenge in the High Court by campaign group Just for Kids Law who maintain there are a lack of safeguards to protect the children from potential physical and emotional harm. They claim the failings are a breach of the children's human rights.

Little Birds! Wallace's bullshit is currently before the courts in England as the Home Office is pushing to raise the current amount of time that folks under the age of 18 can work as an undercover informant from one month to four.

With no guaranteed protections against the type of psychological or physical trauma that they could potentially endure, even if they're not caught snooping, I can't think of anything less scrupulous than to enlist a child to keep tabs the sort of individuals that governments at the local or state level count among their enemies. Read the rest

Arts&Crafts: bypass a fingerprint scanner with glue and tinfoil

I recently wrote about how much I enjoyed testing the OnePlus 7 Pro. One of the nicer things about it was the fact that its in-display fingerprint reader, unlike the one in the last-gen OnePlus handset, works in a timely manner. Too bad that, no matter how quickly it can read a fingerprint, it still isn't smart enough to stand up to a bit of arts and crafts from a determined security hacker.

Now, before anyone goes and loses their minds over this hack, it's important to note that in order for it to work, a digital interloper would need to get hold of the fingerprint belonging to the handset's owner in order to copy it. The best way to secure your phone against a hack like this, or being forced to unlock your smartphone for the authorities is to lock it down with an alphanumeric code.

While using biometrics to unlock your hardware might be convenient, when push comes to shove, it won't keep your digital life secure from professional snoops for long. Read the rest

Witcher III: The Wild Hunt is coming to Nintendo Switch

When Witcher III: The Wild Hunt was released a few years ago, everyone lost their minds over how great it was. Because my aging 2015 MacBook Pro lacked the guts to even consider running it, I never had the opportunity to take the game for a spin. It looks like the Nintendo Switch--the best port machine ever created--will finally give me a chance to step into Geralt of Rivia's shoes.

From Nintendo:

The Complete Edition contains every piece of downloadable content released for the game, including two massive story expansions: Hearts of Stone & Blood and Wine. It's the perfect opportunity to enter this world for the first time or relive the adventure — on the go! Coming to Nintendo Switch in 2019.

The lack of a firm date for the game's release sucks, but it's not surprising. I suspect it'll be pushed out once the port is damn well good and ready. Being as I've gone this long without playing the game, I suspect I'll survive a little while longer without it.

Image via Flickr, courtesy of BagoGames Read the rest

Tuesday Tunes: The Urban Voodoo Machine - High Jeopardy Thing

Are your gambles paying off of late? Maybe it's time to double down on something wonderful, friends. The worst that can happen is that you'll die knowing that you tried for something better... or that you live a long life with your failure. In either event, you did your best.

Image via Sin Bozurt via The Urban Voodoo Machine Read the rest

Turkish Intelligence developed a smartphone apps that lets its citizens rat each other out

The Kurdistan Workers’ Party (also known as the PKK,) has been taking pot shots at the Turkish government, in the name of Kurdish independence, since 1984. In 2013, Turkey's ruling high rollers, the Justice and Development (light on the former and regularly delivering on the latter) Party, managed to agree upon a delicate ceasefire, which lasted for around two years. Since the ceasefire's collapse in 2015, the Turkish government has been hot and horny over the thought of putting the PKK into the ground, permanently. Easier said than done, my son: PKK have proven resilient both in open combat and in less dynamic environments. It's hard to find their people, especially since much of the PKK's membership consists of supporters who provide financial and political support far from Turkey's borders. As a result, Turkey sent their intelligence operatives out across Europe, looking for ways to reign the PKK in. They started off in countries like Iran, Russia and China. But, it was soon found that the German state of Baden-Württemberg was where the out-of-nation action was hottest and heaviest. There's close to three million Turks living in Germany. 15% of that total can be found in Baden-Württemberg. There's no way that the Turkish intelligence community could possibly deploy enough assets to keep abreast of what all those former Turkish citizens were getting up to.

So, they did what the rest of the industrialized world has been doing: they developed a smartphone app that would allow the ex-pats to police themselves.

From IntelNews:

Turkey’s spy agency has developed a smart phone application to enable pro-government Turks living in Germany inform on their compatriots who speak out against the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP).

Read the rest

This new clip from American Gods Season 2 is worrisome

The first season of American Gods was great. Ian McShane! Ricky Whittle! Gillian Anderson! Orlando Jones as Mr. Nancy? Perfection.

And then, after the season wrapped up, shit went down. Show runners left. So did Gillian Anderson. Chaos ensued. The production finally managed to get their act together and BOOM, the trailer for Season 2 was released, promising us more dark whimsy than we deserve.

This new scene released by Amazon, however... isn't great. Maybe it's the fact that we're seeing it out of context. It's a wee bit of story in the middle of a much greater epic. But it feels a little bit off: there's no tension here. The level of creepy that Crispin Glover usually delivers isn't there. It's a quick clip, but damn, does it drag. If Amazon and Starz were looking to whip up excitement in the show's fan base, this seems like a really strange clip to release into the wild.

I'm hoping I'm wrong. I hope that, knowing all the behind-the-scenes drama, I'm reading into trouble that isn't there. But man, I'm kinda worried about the quality of Season 2 now. Read the rest

Japan opens its doors wide to immigration

As populism and a tilt to the political right has prompted many nations to question once welcoming immigration and refugee policies and embrace xenophobia, a nation with a centuries long reputation for insularity has decided to move in the other direction. With its rapidly aging population and an underwhelming birthrate, Japan is opening its doors to large-scale immigration.

From The New York Times:

Under a bill approved by Parliament’s upper house in the early-morning hours, more than a quarter-million visas of five-year duration will be granted to unskilled guest laborers for the first time, starting in 2019.

Under the new measure, between 260,000 and 345,000 five-year visas will be made available for workers in 14 sectors suffering severe labor shortages, including caregiving, construction, agriculture and shipbuilding.

The measure also creates a separate visa category for high-skilled workers, who will be allowed to stay for unlimited periods and enjoy greater benefits, including permission to bring their families to Japan.

As The New York Times points out, over the next 25 years, Japan's population is set to shrink by 16 million people, or 13 percent. During the same period, the number of old folks in Japan will increase to make up 1/3 of the population. This leaves an incredible vacuum of caregivers, laborers and other positions that must be filled.

Not everyone is thrilled with the country's fresh, welcoming approach to immigration. But their feelings on the matter are moot: unless the Japanese start having a shitload of babies, which they're not, the nation will be in a serious bind when the bulk of their current population becomes too old to be able to keep the nation's infrastructure and businesses humming along efficiently. Read the rest

Florida driver caught by cops for using James Bond-style license plate

A driver from Orange County Florida was dinged by the cops for using a very slick-looking device to obscure his license plate while using a toll road. It would have been the perfect crime, except for one thing: when the driver worked his license plate magic, he failed to notice that there was a police car rolling right up on his back bumper. Read the rest

United Nations: too many women are being killed by their loved ones at home

Despite gains over the past century in the area of equal rights, equal pay and, in some regions, not having some assclown with a penis dictate what they do with their bodies, women, on the whole, still hold the short end of a very shitty stick. While men might feel safest and most comfortable inside the walls of their home, a new report from The United Nations has reiterated what far too many woman already know: the place that women call home is more dangerous than anywhere else they might roam.

From The New York Times:

About one in five homicides is carried out by an intimate partner or family member, and women and girls make up the vast majority of those deaths, the report concluded after analyzing the available data.

Of the approximately 87,000 women who were victims of intentional homicide last year around the world, about 34 percent were murdered by an intimate partner and 24 percent by a relative.

The rate of women killed by a partner or relative was highest in countries in Africa, followed by the Americas. The lowest rate was in Europe.

The New York Times points out that the U.N.'s report comes with a few caveats. First, it's worth mentioning that the vast majority of those murdered every year are men. But they're far less likely to be killed by an intimate partner or family member than a woman is. Second, women are just as capable of killing a family member or intimate partner as men are. Read the rest

Video: Red Rose Tattoo offers to cover up racist ink at no charge in a stand against hate

Billy Joe White, the owner of Red Rose Tattoo in Zanesville, Ohio is taking a stand against hate.

Red Rose Tattoos has an open door policy to anyone who chose to adorn their flesh with swastikas, white power symbols and other racist bullshit: visit the shop and you'll receive a beautiful piece of body art to cover up your hateful ink, for no charge. It's a small, important gesture that can change the lives of formerly hateful folks in a powerful way. Read the rest

In the future we might paint our homes with dead Christmas trees

Lots of folks celebrate Christmas by stashing their presents under the same reusable plastic and aluminum wire Christmas tree every winter: it's a thoughtful, cost-efficient way to cut down on the amount of post holiday garbage that winds up in wood chippers or the local dump every year.

However, a lot of people still like to kick it old school with a cut-from-its-roots-and-left-to-slowly-die-in-a-pot-of-water conifer. They smell and look amazing...for a while. Once the presents have been unwrapped and the tree begins to brown, out the door it goes. Upwards of 30 million Americans wind up tossing out these Yuletide corpses every year. Happily, it looks like a scientist has sorted out a the means for making better use of these discarded trees once folks are finished getting their holly-jolly on with them.

The process involves breaking down a chemical called lignocellulose in needles of dead pine trees into a useful substance that could be used to make paint or artificial sweeteners and other wicked useful products.

From Futurism:

Lignocellulose is ugly. No, really. Its chemical structure makes it difficult to use for biomass energy, and it serves little industrial purpose. Sheffield PhD student Cynthia Kartey’s work has focused on examining ways to make use of this material, and now she may be on to something.

Using heat and glycerol, Kartey was able to break down the pine needles into two components, one of which was made mostly of materials like glucose, acetic acid and phenol. All three have uses in other industries — glucose is used to make food sweeteners, phenol is used in products like mouthwash, and acetic acid for making adhesives, vinegar, and even paint.

Read the rest

The Chinese government is putting tracking chips into school uniforms to watch every move kids make

Just when you thought that the Chinese government's extensive surveillance of the country's citizens couldn't get any creepier or more intrusive, Xi Jingping slyly raises an eyebrow and asks the west to hold his Tsingtao:

From The Epoch Times:

In China’s latest quest to build an all-seeing surveillance state, schools have become part of the state’s monitoring apparatus.

Students at more than 10 schools in Guizhou Province, one of China’s poorest provinces, and the neighboring Guangxi region are now required to wear “intelligent uniforms,” which are embedded with electronic chips that track their movements.

The uniforms allow school officials, teachers, and parents to keep track of the exact times that students leave or enter the school, Lin Zongwu, principal of the No. 11 School of Renhuai in Guizhou Province, told the state-run newspaper Global Times on Dec. 20.

If students skip school without permission, an alarm will be triggered.

If students try to game the system by swapping uniforms, an alarm also will sound, as facial-recognition equipment stationed at the school entrance can match a student’s face with the chip embedded in the uniform.

Each of the "intelligent uniforms" contain two tracking chips which, according to the company that makes them, can withstand temperatures of up to 150 degrees Celsius and at least 500 runs through a washing machine -- so much for accidentally destroying the hardware. In addition to keeping track of the whereabouts of the kids that wear them for every moment of their school day, the uniforms' chip set can also tell when a child is nodding off during the school day and be used to make cashless purchases of school lunches and other educational necessities. Read the rest

Weekend Tunes: DeVotchKa – Straight Shot

DeVotchKa's latest album, This Night Falls Forever, has been on near constant rotation in our home since I picked it up a few weeks ago. As usual, the band's music is heartrendingly beautiful. Straight Shot is the first track on the album and the one that, for me at least, has been the band's biggest ear worm this time around. Read the rest

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