New app helps you identify IoT devices around you, tells you what data they collect

Researchers at Carnegie Mellon have come up with this new IoT Assistant app (available for both iOS and Android) that will supposedly inform you about what Internet-connected smart devices are around you at any point in time, and what kind of information they might be collecting.

“Because of new laws like the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA), people need to be informed about what data is collected about them and they need to be given some choices over these processes,” says Professor Norman Sadeh, a CyLab faculty member in Carnegie Mellon’s Institute for Software Research and the principal investigator on the project. “We have built an infrastructure that enables owners of IoT technologies to comply with these laws, and an app that takes advantage of this infrastructure to empower people to find out about and control data collected by these technologies.”

I've downloaded the app myself, and I plan on adding my own smart home devices to their database, just to see what I can find. I don't know how well it will actually work, but I'm certainly intrigued by the idea.

New infrastructure will enhance privacy in today’s Internet of Things [Daniel Tkacik / CyLab, the Carnegie Mellon University Security and Privacy Institute] Read the rest

One of the jurors who convicted Whitey Bulger started up a strange pen pal friendship with him

I was on Cape Cod this past weekend — specifically, the town of Eastham, which is way up by the wrist and fairly desolate in winter. What I didn't know at the time was that Janet Uhlar, one of the juror's from Whitey Bulger's trial, was right around the corner from me the whole time. Along with the collection of handwritten letters she'd received from him between 2014 and his totally suspicious prison death in 2018.

NBC News just published a piece about Uhlar and her relationship with Bulger, and how she came to regret her decision to convict him on racketeering charges and 11 counts of murder.

Uhlar started writing Bulger, she said, because she was troubled by the fact that much of the evidence against him came through testimony by former criminal associates who were also killers and had received reduced sentences in exchange for testifying against their former partner in crime.

"When I left the trial, I had more questions," she said.

After Bulger started returning her letters, Uhlar noticed he often dated them with the time he had started writing in his tight cursive style. "He always seemed to be writing at 1, 2 or 3 in the morning, and when I asked him why, he said it was because of the hallucinations," Uhlar said.

Uhlar knew, of course, about Whitey's reputation as a notoriously brutal mobster. And she knew that the FBI had enabled his behavior. Her uncertainty and regret had nothing to do with whether Bulger had actually killed people, either — that's a universally accepted fact at this point. Read the rest

Federal court rules that Scott Pruitt’s sham EPA can’t ban scientists from its scientific advisory board

Back in 2017, the new EPA Director Scott Pruitt -- a fantastically pampered shill for corporations whose income is proportional to the noxious effluvia they eject into our air, soil, and water -- passed a policy barring scientists from participating on the EPA’s Scientific Advisory Board if they had ever received a grant from the EPA.

This sneaky-clever move was clearly designed to create the illusion that it was “draining the swamp” by preventing any potential conflicts of interest between scientists and money. Except that most academic scientists rely on EPA (and other) grants. Which limited the pot of scientific advisors on the scientific advisory board to scientists who worked for corporations. Who … somehow … didn’t have any conflicts of interest between their money and their science?

It was, as the NRDC put it, a “pernicious scheme to stack the deck in favor of big polluters by trying to shut out the voices of scientists—all to pump more pollution into our lives.” They added:

Pruitt claimed that his 2017 directive reduced bias on the EPA’s nearly two dozen advisory panels, which offer scientific expertise that then guide policy decisions on environmental pollutants, such as industrial chemicals or airborne particles from power plants. But unsurprisingly, Pruitt’s rule was not extended to scientists and consultants with ties to chemical or fossil fuel companies, allowing the agency to soon fill some open seats with industry insiders who disputed the known harm of pollutants, like ozone and PFOA.

Fortunately, Judge Denise Cote of the U.S. Read the rest

Russian soldier proposes with 16 tanks in the shape of a heart on Valentine's Day

Alexandra Kopytova accepted the proposal at the barrel of a gun. Or 16 guns, technically, which were attached to a fleet of T-72B3 Soviet Battle Tanks that her now-fiance, Lieutenant Denis Kazantsev, brought in as part of an elaborate military maneuvering drill to ask his beloved's hand in marriage. From RT (because of course it's from RT):

Though Valentine’s Day is not really a Russian tradition, the spirit of the day was not lost on Kazantsev’s commanders, who gave the go-ahead for the mission at the Alabino testing grounds, southwest of Moscow. On Thursday morning, 16 tanks rolled onto the range for a maneuvering drill in which they formed two columns and lined up in a heart formation.

The mission’s success, however, hinged on the approval of one person who was neither a major nor a general. With her eyes covered, 19-year-old Alexandra was led into the middle of the formation by Denis, 23. When she opened her eyes, she saw Kazantsev kneeling with a bouquet of red roses.

"I postponed the proposal for about one month to organise all this so it would be unforgettable, once in a lifetime," Kazantsev told the Daily Mail. "It was not easy but with time my commanders agreed to let me do this."

This awkwardly-sweet-in-a-distinctly-Russian-way fairytale gets even weirder when you realize that Koptyova and Kazantsev were … actually already married. He had previously proposed on New Year's Eve 2017, at a time when they were living in separate cities, and got to enjoy a whole two weeks of marriage in St. Read the rest

What it's like inside the CIA during Donald Trump's "Deep State" purge

One of the strangest contradictory sensations of the Trump era is the man's relationship towards and with the various U.S. intelligence agencies. In many cases, Trump's broad criticisms about the unaccountable and seemingly limitless scope of intelligence gathering are valid. Or would be, anyway, if the man actually cared about those issues for any reason beyond his larger tantrum over the way those agencies have undermined his ego. Or if he wasn't simultaneously trying to use that same wide jurisdiction to target his own political enemies.

In other words, Trump's not necessarily wrong about the potential abuses of secret and/or warrantless surveillance (or "wiretapping" as he puts it). But he's only mad about those things because they can be used to threaten him and his friends, instead of reinforcing his hunches. Otherwise, illegal spying and invasions of privacy are totally fine with him—as long as they target the right people.

There are moments, then, where it becomes a case of "My enemy's enemy is my friend" — except that "friend" is also an enemy of sorts, which further complicates the whole mess. Case in point: this recent Just Security post by Douglas London, a former CIA operative. In it, London talks about the way that the CIA's priorities have been forced to shift from general intelligence gathering to just kind of soothing Trump's ego, and retroactively justifying all of the man's random baseless instincts:

The revealing and most disconcerting aspect of this episode was not that Pompeo presumed the worst from his workforce before getting the full story, nor his vicious dressing down of a dedicated senior official and decorated officer.

Read the rest

After Brexit, Britain may finally lose its Marbles — specifically the ones they stole from Greece

In the early 1800s, agents working for Thomas Bruce of Scotland, the 7th Earl of Elgin, conveniently “removed” about half of the remaining marble statues from the Parthenon, as well as a few other Greek sculptures, and brought them back to Britain in the name of art history cultural preservation colonialism. Bruce claimed to have permission from the Ottoman Empire to borrow these artifacts, but others have insisted that this is total bullshit. This has — understandably! — resulted in some strained tensions between the British Empire and the modern Greek government (post-Ottoman Empire) that’s gone on for about two centuries.

Now that Britain has left the European Union, Greece has renewed their effort to reclaim the Elgin/Parthenon Marbles. From The Times:

A draft negotiating mandate circulated among European governments in Brussels today hardened EU demands in key traditional trade areas, particularly fishing, but also included the unexpected “return and restitution” line.

“The parties should address issues relating to the return or restitution of unlawfully removed cultural objects to their country of origin,” said a newly drafted text that will be signed off by EU governments next week.

The Greek government has said that Brexit will shift the political balance within the EU to force Britain to return the fifth century BC marbles.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the British government is thus far refusing to cooperate. They seem to be under the impression that the marbles were legally acquired. I suppose this makes sense, on the grounds that the British government makes the laws by which the country abides, and thus, according to their own laws, they have acted in accordance with the law (that they made) in their decision to steal cultural artifacts from half the god damn world in the name of Imperialism. Read the rest

What would beer be like if it was brewed on a generation ship?

Humans have been fermenting grain-flavored liquids into some simulacrum of beer for more than 10,000 years. And so it stands to reason that, over the next 10,000 years, we'll continue finding ways to combine water and yeast with some kind of sweetener and a floral bittering agent, whether out of some adherence to tradition, or just to take the edge off of after a long day of galactic work.

Over at Tor.com, novelist Arkady Martine, author of the celebrated space-opera A Memory Called Empire, decided to take the thought of space beer and follow it all the way to its logical potential ends. How, exactly, would one be able to brew beer in the confines of a spaceship, using only the basic knowledge that we currently possess around the science of agriculture and fermentation?

Ingredients necessary for beer: water, yeast, and a starch that the yeast can work upon.

Ingredients you want if you’d like your beer to taste vaguely like the beer we know: malted barley, hops.

Let’s start with yeast. The usual yeast is a brewer’s yeast, most often Saccharomyces cerevisiae, which happens—helpfully—to be the same species as the yeast that makes bread rise. Yeasts are little live creatures—single-celled microorganisms that love to eat sugars and transform them into carbon dioxide and alcohol. They need to be kept alive. A generation ship would have had to bring a yeast colony, perhaps in the form of a sourdough starter, and feed it regularly with starches and sugars, in order to be able to have a steady supply of small organisms to brew beer with.

Read the rest

The singer of a KISS cover band caught on fire in the middle of a show and kept playing

That's not actually Paul Stanley; it's Bobby Jensen playing the part of the Starchild in the Minneapolis-based classic rock tribute band Hairball in concert. But either way, it's still pretty badass (at least until you remember the tragic Great White fire of 2003, and start to wonder why the hell there weren't more contingencies in place to prevent this kind of accident).

After the incident, Jensen, who also performs in an Alice Cooper tribute act, spoke to Ultimate Classic Rock and said, "I live an Evil Knievel kind of life, so if I'm on fire a little bit, I don't care, that's just part of the fun. I knew I was on fire right away, and that wasn't a wig, that's my hair. It was really nice and foofy before the show, now I have a much better Alice Cooper cut."

(This insanely metal moment actually happened over Valentine's Day weekend in 2019, but the band returned to Sioux City again this year, making the video spread like fire all over again.) Read the rest

Both-side-ism comes for the FBI's abortion task force with exaggerated claims of "pro-choice violence"

I have a lot of issues with the American obsession around political binaries. But it's hard to deny that it's an overwhelming force that maintains a maddening influence on our country. Both-side-isms are built on the assumption that the "political center" is the exact middle between two equal but opposite poles. Given the choice between killing 100 people, or killing none, this kind of radical centrist confidently strides forward with their "logical" assertion that killing 50 people is the only possible solution that would allow us to maintain what they see as the equilibrium of the status quo.

The latest example of this comes from an FBI briefing in front of the House Judiciary Committee in early February. The bureau has been working to fine-tune its language in order to better address the (very real!) threat of domestic terrorism, which has often gone overlooked in the past. As part of these linguistic changes, the FBI has broken down domestic terrorism into four broad categories, including "abortion violent extremism," which FBI Director Christopher Wray described as "people on either side of that issue who commit violence on behalf of different views on that topic."

Rep. Karen Bass of California rightly pointed out to Wray that there is no evidence of violence on "both sides" of the abortion issue. But Wray insisted that the threats must be balanced on both sides. Later, when pressed by the Daily Beast, the FBI could only cite a single instance of "pro-choice extremism," which involved a man who threatened anti-abortion activists online. Read the rest

A Civil War reenactor tried to frame Antifa by fabricating threats against his own Civil War reenactments

Remember back in 2017, when the entire Right Wing Propaganda Machine suddenly decided that Antifa — literally just some loose affiliations of scrappy anarchists in black bloc attire — were the single greatest threat that humanity had ever faced? (And were also somehow being funded by Hillary Clinton and the DNC and George Soros even though they're anarchists and not liberals?)

One such event, which threw the National Review into a tizzy, involved the Cedar Creek Battlefield Foundation, which had to cancel its annual re-enactment of the Battle of Cedar Creek for fear of violent attacks by "lib-terrorists" in balaclavas who are somehow also snowflakes. The group received a letter, in an envelope marked with a red-and-black flag, saying:

You need to cancel your coming up celebration of the Civil War on October 13, 14, 15, 2017…Many of us have dogs, so will bring dog feces to throw on people! We will also throw cups of human urine! We might resort to actually firing guns into the camps and at the re-enactors! We will put poison in the water, we will use noise to disrupt the battles and sleep! These events must stop! Our local organizer tells us he is ready to go! You have been warned, now if it is not called off, we will destroy you! You have less than 1 month to issue a cancellation notice, do it asap!

Then, during the actual event, an unexploded pipebomb was found on the premises — further proof of the Intolerant Left and their evil agenda. Read the rest

Celebrate Valentine's Day with this playlist of love songs that other songwriters wish they wrote

Just in time for Valentine's Day, NPR's All Songs Considered spoke with a bunch of celebrated songwriters such as Phoebe Bridgers and M. Ward and asked them about the love songs that they wish they'd written — the masterful melodies and heartfelt turns of phrase that other poets envy and only dream to one day emulate.

It's also just a really great playlist of songs. And now it has me thinking of which song I would choose myself.

Since both "First Day of My Life" and "Love Song" were already chosen for this list, I think I'd have to go with "The Way I Feel Inside" by the Zombies or "She Is Beautiful" by Andrew WK.

What would you pick?

The Love Song I Wish I'd Written [Bob Boilen and Robin Hilton / NPR] Read the rest

Man who helped cause 2008 financial crash suddenly very concerned about the economy

Lloyd Blankfein might sound like the name of a fictional banker villain, but he is in fact the real-life Senior Chairman  of Goldman Sachs. Prior to his current position, he served as chairman and chief executive of the infamous banking giant beginning in 2006 — just before that pesky financial crisis from which the world is still recovering.

To his credit, Blankfein did apologize for his company's role as a liquidity provider for subprime mortgages. Specifically, he said, "We participated in things that were clearly wrong and have reason to regret. We apologize." That was in 2009 — the absolute pits of the economy — and around the same time he was named "Person of the Year" by the Financial Times. Within months, he was touting his duties of "doing God's work" while the rest of us were still scrounging for employment or to recover the last few scraps of money we had foolishly invested on the advice of people on Blankfein.

Anyway, he's really concerned that Bernie Sanders will "ruin" "our" economy, should he be elected as President of the United States in the upcoming election.

Presumably, Blankfein was not referring to our economy — as in the economy that affects normal human beings such as you or I, which he has previously participated in ruining — but rather, his economy, that is, the pleasures enjoyed by him and his ilk of obscenely wealthy, out-of-touch, and utterly untouchable oligarchs. Read the rest

Move over, Florida Man, and make room for feral Florida monkeys with herpes

Back in 1938, a local Florida cruise operator called Colonel Tooey — "Colonel" was in fact his first name, according to the New York Times — let loose about a dozen rhesus macaque monkeys onto a man-made island inside Silver Springs State Park. According to National Geographic, Colonel had big plans to build a Tarzan-themed attraction there.

But naturally, the monkeys escaped, and over the years, multiplied. The International Primate Protection League tried to keep their eye on them, and they (apparently) became a bit of a tourist attraction. Eventually, wildlife officials tried to tame the population, approving the removal of more than 1,000 of these feral macaques. As of 2018, a study in the Journal of Wildlife Management estimated that there were still around 300 of them now roving around the strip malls of suburban Florida. And some of them have migrated more than 100 miles away, as far as Jacksonville.

And about 30 percent of the remaining feral rhesus macaques also have Herpes-B, also known as "monkey herpes."

Monkey herpes is rare in humans, with only about 50 known cases (none of which were actually contracted from monkeys). But it can kill a person in just six weeks.

More and more of these rhesus macaques have been found roaming around residential neighbors in Florida. While they tend to be pretty skittish, they can also get aggressive around humans; they've even been known to organize mass raids of deer feeders in Florida. So local authorities are raising red flags, in hopes of preventing the inevitable Florida-Man-Gets-Bitten-By-Feral-Herpes-Monkey headlines. Read the rest

Anyone can sign up for this "Password-of-the-Day" list that gives you free random login credentials

Password Of The Day describes itself as a sort-of "Internet Treasure Hunt." Sign up for their list with your phone number, and they'll send you one text message every day with a random username and password. The login credentials themselves are (supposedly) real; they just won't tell you where that particular combination will work. The discovery part is up to you. But if you're lucky, you might land access to a free account on Spotify, or Steam, or Pornhub, or Headspace, or any other sites. Even if it is technically someone else's account. As they explain in an FAQ on the site:

Every day we are releasing one valid username+password combo to a mystery account. It could be Disney+, Creative Cloud, a bank account with $1000 in it - every day is different. So we give you the login info, but it’s up to you to discover what the account is; it’s like having a key, but not knowing what door it opens. Scour the internet, try your login on all the services you can think of. If you successfully log in, the account is yours!

It's not clear where they're getting this data from, or who's paying for it. But if you want to take the gamble — hey, go for it.

MSCHF, the company behind the list, is a pseudo-internet-performance-art-collective founded by ex-Buzzfeed employees that specializes in viral pranks. Sometimes these function as promotional material for other companies; sometimes they just exist, and maybe go viral, or don't. Read the rest

Doomsday Preppers are now selling timeshares, too

 

NPR has a bizarrely fascinating new piece about Drew Miller, the owner and founder of Fortitude Ranch, which is essentially a timeshare opportunity for Doomsday Preppers. Unlike the Survival Condos that start at $1.5 million, Fortitude Ranch "seeks to capture a solidly middle-class market." The annual membership fee is $1,000, which gives you access to 10 days at any of their locations.

Right now, there's only one Fortitude Ranch in West Virginia. But the company is already building another one in Colorado, and ultimately plans for a nationwide network of 12 locations, which will each have different recreational offerings, and be conveniently placed so there's always one location within a day's drive.

It's not luxurious; spartan may be a more accurate term. Yet, the properties are in secluded, wild and scenic places that Miller hopes will make the fee worth it for the right customers.

[…]

If the structures of society crumble, Miller envisions each Fortitude Ranch location as a protected community of about 50 people, up to a maximum of 500. Initially, there will be supplies and food on-site to last a full year. However, once members fall into a routine of gardening, hunting and fishing in the adjacent national forest, Miller said, it should be sustainable in the long term.

I'm not exactly sure how large each of these properties is going to be, but 50 to 500 is a very wide range of people, which would require very different accommodations in an apocalyptic scenario.  Read the rest

The Trump administration is blowing up a religious burial site to make room for their stupid wall

From CBS News:

A national monument in Arizona, home to rare species and sacred Native American burial sites, is being blown up this week as part of construction for President Trump's border wall, Customs and Border Protection confirmed to CBS News. "Controlled blasting" inside Arizona's Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument began this week without consultation from the Native American nation whose ancestral land it affects, according to the congressman whose district includes the reservation.

"There has been no consultation with the nation," said Congressman Raúl Grijalva of Arizona, who is the chair of the House Committee on Natural Resources and whose district contains the reservation and shares 400 miles of border with Mexico. "This administration is basically trampling on the tribe's history — and to put it poignantly, it's ancestry."

Unfortunately, the burial grounds are not technically part of the land that the US government had designated as property of the Tohono O'odham Nation. They are adjacent to the reservation; but under US law, that puts them onto public property.

The glaringly obvious issue here is the complete and utter disrespect for the religion and culture of non-white, non-Christian people — in this case, people with roots in this country that far pre-date any white or Christian roots here. In fact, shortly before construction began, archaeologists artifacts and bone fragments at the site that were 10,000 years point.

But then, at this point, I'm honestly not sure if there would be any backlash if the Trump administration blew up a white Evangelical cemetery, or if they'd all cheer him on in the name of White American Jesus. Read the rest

Someone blew the whistle on Hookers for Jesus

The Department of Justice gives out grants to groups to help fight human trafficking. That's good!

But this year, the DOJ decided to ignore the expected recipients, who both received high marks from grant application reviewers, and gave around $500,000 each to the Lincoln Tubman Foundation, a new organization founded by the daughter of a prominent Trump-supporting South Carolina Republican, and the Nevada-based Hookers for Jesus.

Here's what Reuters, who broke the story, had to say about Hookers for Jesus:

Hookers for Jesus, which received $530,190 over three years, is run by a born-again Christian trafficking survivor who has lobbied against decriminalizing prostitution, a policy position aligning with many in the Republican Party.

Hookers for Jesus operates a safe house for female adult trafficking victims that, in 2010 and in 2018, maintained a policy of requiring guests to participate in religious activities, internal program manuals obtained by Reuters through public records requests show.

The safe house’s manuals had rules that included a ban on reading “secular magazines with articles, pictures, etc. that portray worldly views/advice on living, sex, clothing, makeup tips.” Other rules limited everything from who victims could call to banning them from bringing their purses with them on weekly shopping trips. Rule-breakers could be penalized by being assigned chores such as washing windows.

There are major issues here. First, that the policies around this particular grant forbid the government from funding any activity that is explicitly religious — that whole separation-of-church-and-state thing. Second, that the organizations that have received the grant in the past, and expected to receive it once again, were both involved in activities that were decidedly opposed to the Trump agenda. Read the rest

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