• Someone made a map of every Internet-connected cable under water

    This globe was created by Tyler Morgan-Wall using GeoJSON, an open source format for visualizing geographic features, using data from the Submarine Cable Map.

    A little more helpful context, courtesy of Vice:

    According to TeleGeography, there are 426 active submarine cables in the world. The cables are mostly the diameter of a garden hose and filled with filaments the width of a human hair.

    The cables lie on the ocean floor and are believed to span more than 807,000 miles. Some are very short, linking islands across a few miles like the one that runs between Ireland and the United Kingdom. Others, like one of the cables connecting Asia to the United States, are more than 10,000 miles long.

    Some people believe that sharks are eating the underwater Internet, though that's probably less of an issue than all the man-made problems we bring upon ourselves. Beavers are definitely chowing down on submerged fiber optic though.

  • How a math trick helped one band made 500% more in streaming music royalties

    Pitchfork recently reported a game-changing accounting revolution in the music industry:

    Under SoundCloud's "fan-powered" royalty model, unveiled in March, a listener's subscription or advertising revenue goes directly to the artists to whom they listen in a given period of time; that's instead of the "pro-rata" model typically used by Spotify and other streaming services where money is pooled and divvied up to rights holders based on their market share.

    Put another way: you pay $10 a month for Spotify. Under a "user-centric" or "fan-powered" accounting system, your $10 would get divvied up between all the things you actually listen to. Let's say you really, really love my band, and one month you use Spotify to exclusively listen to the Roland High Life (which would be pretty cool of you). We would get your full $10. If you listened to some other stuff, too, those artists would get a proportional cut of that money, and we'd make a little less. That sounds fair, right?

    Under the "pro-rata" system used by most music streaming platforms, however, your $10 goes into a large pot. And even though you, personally, listened to our new single 100 times this month, everyone else listened to Taylor Swift's new version of "Wildest Dreams" (and nothing else) 15 million times. In this accounting system, we would get paid 0.000006667% of the total money in the pool for that month relative to our proportion of all streaming activity. Taylor Swift would get the rest.

    Working-class musicians have been advocating for this kind "user-centric" approach to accounting for a long time, as studies have shown it to be more equitable to than the "pro-rata" system, which tends to only benefit artists who already massively successful.

    Case-in-point: when SoundCloud made this switch with royalty payments, the trip-hop group Portishead ended up making 500 percent more money for the same number of plays.

    I know what you're thinking: what the ever-loving fuck?!

    As Dada Drummer explains, the pro-rata accounting system actually rewards the use of bots:

    If you google "Buy Spotify plays," you'll find any number of offers that are variations of this one:

    "Starting at 1,000 plays for $4 and going up to 500,000 plays for $745, you can take a pick according to your budget and needs."

    I have no idea which if any of these offers are real and which are scams, but the going rate does seem logical, at least as a come-on. At the lower end, you lose money ($4 for 1,000 streams on Spotify will earn back about $3 in royalties). And at the higher end, you double your money ($745 for 500,000 streams will earn back about $1500). Does it really work? I'm not going to spend any cash to find out.

    But let's say it does – and some variation of click farms is what Van Vugt successfully uses to boost his playlists of rain to rival even Spotify's most popular ones like Rap Caviar. Wouldn't that explain the difference between what Portishead's song earned from user-centric accounting, which registered actual listeners to the track, vs pro-rata, which credited the band with a proportional share of all streams, including any fraudulent ones?

    Dada Drummer also points out, that curiously, when pressed on the possibility of enacting user-centric accounting, Spotify says:

    A shift to user-centric payments would not benefit artists as much as many may have originally hoped… the change would result in 'at most a few euros per year on average' for artists outside the top 10,000.

    Curiously, artists outside the top 10,000 are explicitly left out consideration here. Convenient, that! And that's because — as WIRED recently explained — the three major music labels essentially share monopoly power over the whole damn industry, and this payment system works for them:

    Three major record labels produce two-thirds of all music consumed in America. They are the most powerful buyer of music and talent, and they use that power to prioritize a handful of mega-stars and pop hits. They pitch music into massive radio conglomerates and streaming platforms that control how music is consumed, and they collect an ever-growing share of industry revenue.

    […]

    As streaming rose to prominence, so too did the outsize corporate power that has come to control nearly all music distribution and revenue. Spotify and Google's YouTube account for three-quarters of all streams globally. Along with streaming services of tech monopolists Apple and Amazon, four companies have a near-total stranglehold on the market. "The level of control in those few large companies is very dangerous," says Louis Posen, head of legendary punk label Hopeless Records. To him it's no different than elsewhere in an increasingly monopolized economy, and no different than a century ago, when monopolies in railroads, oil, steel, and other essential goods controlled American commerce. "When just a few companies control the power, bad things happen."

    If we can't enforce anti-trust for the music industry, then at least the Union of Musicians and Allied Workers has a streaming committee dedicated to trying to bring more equity to royalty payments, through methods like user-centric accounting. Because it makes a huge difference.

    SoundCloud Says Portishead Song Earned 500% More Under New Royalty Plan [Marc Hogan / Pitchfork]

    Tears in Rain: Do Androids Stream Electric Sleep? [Dada Drummer / Substack]

    Big Music Needs to Be Broken Up to Save the Industry [Ron Knox / Wired]

    Image: Public Domain via Pixabay

  • This "Weird Units Calculator" can convert watts into T-Rex bites and lightsabers

    Omni Calculator is a Polish startup that, well, makes calculators. Not necessarily the pocket kind — they offer thousands of highly specific and wildly unique online calculators. They have calculators for helpful things, like how much fertilizer you need, or how many leaves are on a tree, or how to best wrap your Christmas tree. There are also some, erm, less useful but still weirdly fascinating calculators, in case you need to disprove Flat Earth Theory or assign values to Trump's Wall. They can even help you measure your individual carbon footprint from a flight.

    To celebrate their milestone 2,000th calculator, Omni Calculator has made a new calculator that helps you convert measurements into wacky units. Finally, an easy way to answer important questions like:

    • How many llama's spits does it take to get to New York?
    • How many Harry Potter books tall are you?
    • What's the square chocolate bars measurement of your apartment?
    • How many human eyeballs do you weigh?
    • How many "Despacito" song plays does it take to bake a potato?
    • What is the air speed velocity of an unladen Michael Phelps?

    By means of a more practical demonstration: we all know that it takes 1.21 gigawatts to power a flux capacitor. But now I can tell you that 1.21 gigawatts is the equivalent of 2,420,000,000 hamsters, or 4,867,844 donkeypower, which is equal to 80,667 kangaroo punches or 43,214 lightsabers.

    It's a silly exercise, but I'm quite keen on the company's explanation for it: measurements are only as useful if you can relate them to your life.

    For most of human history, we have only been used to quite small numbers. The ten digits on our hands and feet. The couple of hundred people in a settlement, or a thousand animals on the land. When the number of things does get large, we just use words like "forest" for thousands of trees or "flock" for thousands of birds. There was no evolutionary pressure for humans to know the exact number of these large quantities of things. In fact, there are some languages that don't have a number system. Instead, they rely on a word for "a few" and a word meaning "a lot". It certainly makes accounting super simple.

    Given this background, is it any wonder that most people find it hard to grasp the enormously large and incredibly small numbers that we come across in modern life. Unless you have a good understanding of mathematics and the exponential number system, any number above a couple of thousand quickly gets meaningless.

    The way we write numbers doesn't help. The difference between 1,000,000 and 10,000,000 as written is only one zero, but in number terms the difference is nine million. Worse still, the bigger the numbers get, the larger the difference an extra zero makes.

    Try it out:

    Weird Units Converter

    Weird Units Calculator [Steve Wooding / Omni Calculator]

  • The "real-life" haunted house that inspired The Conjuring is for sale for $1.2M

    RedFin lists for sale the house that inspired The Conjuring. At $1.2m, the asking price is almost double that fetched in 2017 by the house on Ocean Avenue in Amityville, with a similar story attached to it.

    Every so often an opportunity presents itself to possess an extraordinary piece of cultural history. The true story of 'The Conjuring' started in this very house, in Harrisville, RI. The critically acclaimed original movie was based on accounts taken from inhabitants of this fourteen-room farmhouse. Rumored to be haunted by the presence of Bathsheba Sherman, who in the 1800's lived in the house, 1677 Round Top Road is one of the most well-known haunted houses in the United States. The chilling stories from this house have inspired dozens of books and movies. Many qualified paranormal researchers have been invited into the home – most famously Ed and Lorraine Warren, who founded the oldest ghost hunting team in New England, and in the 1970's were hired to rid the home of its evil. The Warrens confirmed that the events depicted in The Conjuring movies (the third just recently released) actually transpired. The current caretakers have reported countless happenings in the house, and have turned overnight guest bookings and group events on the property into a steady successful business

    It's a convenient location — just over the borders of both Massachusetts and Connecticut, making it a little over an hour to Boston and a little under 4 hours to New York City. And it comes with a collection of creepy-ass dolls!

    But things get even weirder when you scroll down and notice that the $1.2 million property was previously put up for sale in November of 2020 with an asking price of … $69K? And that the current owners — a family of aspiring paranormal investigators themselves — had only just bought the place in 2019 for a little over $400K, with the goal of turning into a tourist destination, with one-hour walking tours of the supposedly-still-haunted property as well as overnight stays (weeknights are only $125!). The last time it was sold before that was for $25,000 in March 2013, just three months before the release of the first movie in the current Conjuring franchise.

    From $25,000 to $1,200,000 in 8 years? That's not a bad investment. Though I wonder what actually happened to the property to increase its value so much (besides the inclusion of the creepy-ass dolls). A cynic might even think that the current owners only ever bought the place so they could sell the business for a quick buck! Why else would they want to leave after all the time they claim to have invested in befriending the ghosts who still there?

    Anyway the Warrens were very likely con artists, and Ed Warren was allegedly a pedophile, to the point that Lorraine Warren's licensing agreement for The Conjuring film franchise explicitly forbids the movie studios from depicting her or her late husband, "including sex with minors, child pornography, prostitution or sexual assault." Kind of a weird thing to specifically call out in a legal document, huh?

    1677 Round Top Road, Burrillville, RI 02830

  • A new scientific study tried to crack the secret of creative hot streaks

    Quantifying creativity is difficult, but that hasn't stopped people from trying. In a new paper published in Nature Communications titled "Understanding the onset of hot streaks across artistic, cultural, and scientific careers," a group of researchers compiled datasets of career outputs for 2,128 visual artists; 4,337 film directors; and 20,040 scientists, using deep learning to find patterns in the timing and success of each of their creative "hot streaks." They looked at the individuals' career trajectories as well as legacies (via IMDB ratings, paper citations, art auction prices, etc) in order to figure out when they were on fire, and why.

    Here's what they learned:

    We find that across all three domains, individuals tend to explore diverse styles or topics before their hot streak, but become notably more focused after the hot streak begins. Crucially, hot streaks appear to be associated with neither exploration nor exploitation behavior in isolation, but a particular sequence of exploration followed by exploitation, where the transition from exploration to exploitation closely traces the onset of a hot streak. Overall, these results may have implications for identifying and nurturing talents across a wide range of creative domains.

    This tracks anecdotally with something I was recently thinking about. John Darnielle from the Mountain Goats recently announced a new novel, which comes on the heels of a remarkably prolific pandemic period that saw the release of three new Mountain Goats albums. I forget where I saw Darnielle remark on this, but he essentially said that the band had already been scheduled to record 2 albums back-to-back in early March 2020. They did Getting Into Knives over one week in Memphis, then drove to Muscle Shoals to cut Dark In Here the following week. During that time of deep artistic immersion, Darnielle had also been reading Pierre Chuvin's book A Chronicle of the Last Pagans. By the time he got home from Alabama, and the initial COVID lockdown period began, he was already riding high on that creative momentum — so he cranked out another album, Songs for Pierre Chuvin, which was written and recorded over the course of just 10 days.

    In the language of this paper, this was a "a particular sequence of exploration" that was swiftly followed by "exploitation behavior." Or, put another way: creativity can snowball, if you let it. I've always found that momentum — the immersion of deep exploration followed immediately by exploitation —to be crucial in my own work. But I've been hesitant to recommend that binge-and-purge method for everyone, assuming it was a slightly-unstable ADHD thing. Perhaps there's something to it after all (if you have the space or can make the space in your life).

    Understanding the onset of hot streaks across artistic, cultural, and scientific careers [Lu Liu, Nima Dehmamy, Jillian Chown, C. Lee Giles & Dashun Wang / Nature Communications]

    Image: Public Domain via PixaBay

  • This delightful fan-made Dune role-playing game is only one page

    Sasha Sienna of MacGuffin & Co. made this wonderfully cheeky one-page DUNE role-playing game, which they describe as "The 'extremely official' 'game' for 'people' who have definitely 'read and understood' the book(s?)."

    It is simple, comprehensive, and hilariously accurate.

    The slightly-more designed version of the game (with typos corrected) expands it to a whopping two pages, but is otherwise identical:

    There's also an accessible / screen-friendly text-only version that expands the same rules to … 4 pages. Very complex, yet still accessible!

    MacGuffin & Co makes all kinds of fun one-page RPGs; you can access them all via Patreon. Or, if you're interested in a more complicated Dune RPG — which is kinda weird, to be honest, but hey, you do you — there's one from Modiphius Entertainment called Adventures in the Imperium that has an 82-page rulebook and uses a D20 system. And don't forget that Dune Collectible Card Game either!

    Planet Dune: The "extremely official" "game" for "people" who have definitely "read and understood" the book(s?) [Sasha Sienna / MacGuffin & Co.]

  • Scientists found geological evidence of the Biblical destruction of Sodom

    In a new scientific paper published in Nature titled, "A Tunguska sized airburst destroyed Tall el-Hammam a Middle Bronze Age city in the Jordan Valley near the Dead Sea," a group of two dozen scientists present the results of 15 years of research into the lost Middle Eastern city of Tall el-Hammam, presenting evidence that it was in fact destroyed by an asteroid some 3600 years ago or so:

    The proposed airburst was larger than the 1908 explosion over Tunguska, Russia, where a ~ 50-m-wide bolide detonated with ~ 1000× more energy than the Hiroshima atomic bomb. A city-wide ~ 1.5-m-thick carbon-and-ash-rich destruction layer contains peak concentrations of shocked quartz (~ 5–10 GPa); melted pottery and mudbricks; diamond-like carbon; soot; Fe- and Si-rich spherules; CaCO3 spherules from melted plaster; and melted platinum, iridium, nickel, gold, silver, zircon, chromite, and quartz. Heating experiments indicate temperatures exceeded 2000 °C. 

    […]

     An airburst-related influx of salt (~ 4 wt.%) produced hypersalinity, inhibited agriculture, and caused a ~ 300–600-year-long abandonment of ~ 120 regional settlements within a > 25-km radius. Tall el-Hammam may be the second oldest city/town destroyed by a cosmic airburst/impact, after Abu Hureyra, Syria, and possibly the earliest site with an oral tradition that was written down (Genesis). 

    First, those are some impressive feats of calculation to figure out all that stuff from the 4,000-year-old ruins of what used to be a city in the desert. Good on them (this Online Impact Calculator apparently helped). If you don't want to read the scientific paper (which is very Scientific Paper), they break down their discovery process with some much-more accessible language in The Conversation. It's actually pretty fascinating — how each new archaeological find lead to more questions, and how so many disciplines came together to figure out that, holy shit, it must have been a slightly smaller version of the asteroid that killed the dinosaurs, and here's how it burned all this stuff and affected these minerals and this geography and caused all this domino chain of other issues in the area.

    But what does any of this have to do with sodomy?

    Well, as detailed in the Book of Genesis, Sodom and Gomorrah were two cities that were chock full of sin, which has been largely interpreted as a euphemism for homosexuality, unless it's not. Whatever the case, Old Testament God got pissed and destroyed these two "cities of the plain" as punishment for doin' butt stuff, I guess.

    These scientists weren't necessarily looking to prove or disprove a Biblical story. But they did not in their paper that, well, Tall el-Hammam was a city of a plain, and it was pretty brutally destroyed by a giant flash of fury from the Heavens, and given the time, it could have very well been the folkloric inspiration for that particular Bible story:

    There is an ongoing debate as to whether Tall el-Hammam could be the biblical city of Sodom, but this issue is beyond the scope of this investigation. Questions about the potential existence, age, and location of Sodom are not directly related to the fundamental question addressed in this investigation as to what processes produced high-temperature materials at Tall el-Hammam during the MBA. Nevertheless, we consider whether oral traditions about the destruction of this urban city by a cosmic object might be the source of the written version of Sodom in Genesis. We also consider whether the details recounted in Genesis are a reasonable match for the known details of a cosmic impact event.

    […]

    It is worth speculating that a remarkable catastrophe, such as the destruction of Tall el-Hammam by a cosmic object, may have generated an oral tradition that, after being passed down through many generations, became the source of the written story of biblical Sodom in Genesis. The description in Genesis of the destruction of an urban center in the Dead Sea area is consistent with having been an eyewitness account of a cosmic airburst, e.g., (i) stones fell from the sky; (ii) fire came down from the sky; (iii) thick smoke rose from the fires; (iv) a major city was devastated; (v) city inhabitants were killed; and (vi) area crops were destroyed. If so, the destruction of Tall el-Hammam is possibly the second oldest known incident of impact-related destruction of a human settlement, after Abu Hureyra in Syria ~12,800 years ago.

    That's a cool bit of story!…though, I'm sorry not sorry if it ruins your fantasies of a vengeful sky-father burning a bunch of people to death for doing sex. If it makes you feel better, a giant asteroid demolishing a city would almost certainly count as an "act of God" in legal terms, according to your insurance adjustor.

    A giant space rock demolished an ancient Middle Eastern city and everyone in it – possibly inspiring the Biblical story of Sodom [Christopher Moore / The Conversation]

    A Tunguska sized airburst destroyed Tall el-Hammam a Middle Bronze Age city in the Jordan Valley near the Dead Sea [Ted E. Bunch, Malcolm A. LeCompte, A. Victor Adedeji, James H. Wittke, T. David Burleigh, Robert E. Hermes, Charles Mooney, Dale Batchelor, Wendy S. Wolbach, Joel Kathan, Gunther Kletetschka, Mark C. L. Patterson, Edward C. Swindel, Timothy Witwer, George A. Howard, Siddhartha Mitra, Christopher R. Moore, Kurt Langworthy, James P. Kennett, Allen West & Phillip J. Silvia / Nature]

    Image via Public Domain

  • Sam Adams brewing the first beer made with space hops

    People have sent all kinds of living things into space in order to observe how the vacuum might affect them. But it's taken some seven decades for someone to think of bringing hops, the vine-grown flowers known for giving beer its bitterness and aroma (and oddly used for very little else). The all-civilian crew of the SpaceX Inspiration 4 decided to bring 66 pounds of hops (along with some other stuff, like a ukulele and an NFT?) on their journey, with the goal of auctioning them off to raise money for charity.

    When Sam Adams Brewery saw the news, they couldn't resist the opportunity.

    According to Business Insider, Sam Adams' head brewer reached out to the Inspiration4 to make a deal, which will have the Boston Beer Company donating $100,000 to St. Jude's Hospital. Insider estimated the value of the space hops at around $361,000, though it's not clear how much the beer itself will cost, or when it will be released (though rumors say "sometime this fall".

    Insider also noted that, while these are the first space hops, it's not the first time alcohol in general has gone galactic:

    Coors sponsored an experiment in 1994 to test fermentation in space. Japanese brewer Sapporo produced a $110 six-pack using barley seeds send up to space by Japanese and Russian researchers in 2006. Anheuser-Busch has sent several samples of barley to the International Space Station, the latest in 2019, to determine the effects of microgravity on barley seeds. 12 bottles of Bordeaux wine were also sent to space in 2019, which were expected to be valued at $1 million per bottle.

    In the meantime, the Brewery is having a contest for naming rights to the Space Hops IPA:

    Sam Adams will craft beer using hops sent into Earth's orbit on SpaceX's Inspiration4 [Francis Agustin / Business Insider]

  • Chinese-Americans are more likely to be charged with espionage, according to a new study

    The Committee of 100 has just released a comprehensive new study on racial disparities in US prosecutions under the Espionage Act, based on data from court filings featuring 276 individual defendants across 190 cases. They concluded:

    Individuals with Asian or Chinese names are punished twice as severely as defendants with more Western names in charges under the Economic Espionage Act (EEA), and 1 in 3 Asian Americans accused of espionage may have been falsely accused. Additionally, jail time for Chinese and Asian defendants is double compared to Western defendants and the Department of Justice (DOJ) is much more likely to publicize alleged "spying" by people with Asian names than alleged "spying" by people with Western names.

    Numbers-wise, convictions were brought on 89% of the defendants with Western names, but only for 74% of the defendants with Asian names (demographic and citizenship data is not included in the court filings that the study was based on, so the researchers had to use names as a guide, Googling identities to clear up any questions on ethnicity or race).

    These numbers show a larger number of false accusations against people of Asian heritage, suggesting some racist motivations. Worse, these charges have dramatically increased over the past decade:

    Prior to 2009, two-thirds of the defendants charged under the EEA were people with Western names, while 16% were people with Chinese names. However, since 2009, the majority of people charged with EEA offenses have been people of Chinese descent.

    Even more interesting (read: frustrating) is that nearly half of the people charged under the Economic Espionage Act since 1996 were accused of stealing for the benefit of the Chinese government. By contrast, about 42% were charged with stealing for the benefit of American businesses or persons, while the remaining 12% of alleged thefts benefitted other countries such as Australia and Russia.

    Zheng Yu Huang, President of the Committee of 100, said in a press release:

    We must recognize the racial stereotyping that the Chinese and Asian American communities have had to deal with for over two centuries, starting with the 'Yellow Peril' of the 19th century to the 'perpetual foreigner' stereotype that still exists today. This research is critical to understanding the racial discrimination and implicit bias that are the byproducts of a rush to ensure national security, which is making America a less attractive place for immigrants of all backgrounds. America is a place of law and justice, where our diversity is our strength.

    Racial Disparities in Economic Espionage Act Prosecutions: A Window into the New Red Scare [Committee of 100]

    The US is unfairly targeting Chinese scientists over industrial spying, says report [Eileen Guo / MIT Technology Review]

    Image: Public Domain via Pixabay

  • New statue of anonymous Bitcoin founder unveiled in Hungary for some reason

    Satoshi Nakamoto is known as the man behind Bitcoin. Or at least, that's the name on the original white paper credited with devising the cryptocurrency. The name itself is believed to be a pseudonym, unless it's not; there are several different theories about their true identity.

    But that didn't stop a statue of the mysterious figure from being erected in Graphisoft Park in the Hungarian capital of Budapest. From RFI:

    The bronze bust is of a hooded figure, in an allusion to the fact that the true identity of Nakamoto — a pseudonym — is unknown. 

    The sculpture, erected in a business park alongside a statue of Apple founder Steve Jobs and an installation by Hungarian inventor Erno Rubik, was the brainchild of entrepreneur and bitcoin journalist, Andras Gyorfi.

    It was financed by four Hungarian cryptocurrency organisations.

    According to the sculptors, the statue was specifically designed with a mirror-like face "so anyone can recognize themselves when looking at the face," as a metaphor for both Nakamoto's mystery, and the whole idea of decentralization that exists at the heart of the cryptocurrency.

    It's unclear what impact this statue might have on the value of Bitcoin, which is down 14% this month and up 300+% this year.

    Bitcoin inventor statue unveiled in Budapest

  • Man who confessed to murder on TV found guilty of murder

    Robert Durst, the obscenely wealth real estate scion and subject of the 2015 HBO documentary miniseries The Jinx, was convicted of murder earlier this month.

    The verdict, which came after about seven and a half hours of deliberations, was the latest act in a case that spanned almost four decades. It began in the wealthy precincts of New York with the mysterious disappearance of Mr. Durst's first wife, Kathie, in 1982 and concluded with his conviction for the killing two decades ago of Susan Berman, a friend who prosecutors said helped him cover up his wife's disappearance and death.

    […]

    The jury also found that special circumstances had been proven in connection to the death of Ms. Berman, determining that Mr. Durst had been "lying in wait" for her and that he had been "killing a witness" because he feared she would reveal what she knew about the disappearance of his wife.

    If you're not familiar with the story of Robert Durst, that excerpt will give a slight idea of what happened here. The son of a powerful New York City real estate mogul, Durst was conveniently adjacent to several disappearances and brutal murders over the course of several decades — including one where he impressively did admit on the stand to decapitating someone and hiding their body but was still rich enough to convince the jury that he was innocent. In 2015, Durst agreed to sit down with filmmaker Andrew Jarecki, who was working on a documentary for HBO about Mr. Durst's life and the string of tragedies that conveniently seemed to follow him. At one point, Durst went to the bathroom with his lav mic still attached to his shirt. The camera was still rolling, capturing the audio as Durst muttered to himself, "You're caught! …. What the hell did I do? Killed them all, of course." Oops.

    Robert Durst Found Guilty of Murder After Decades of Suspicion [Charles V. Bagli / The New York Times]

    Full disclosure: I also write for Wirecutter, which is part of the New York Times Company, which also publishes The New York Times.

  • New DOOM mod sends you to the UK to battle Demon Margaret Thatcher from Hell

    THE DEAD SPEAK!

    The world has heard a mysterious broadcast, a threat of revenge in the sinister voice of the late BARONESS MARGARET THATCHER

    Faced with the return of one of humanity's greatest threats, you have no choice but to head to THE TENTH CIRCLE OF HELL

    🇬🇧 THE UNITED KINGDOM OF 🇬🇧
    GREAT BRITAIN AND NORTHERN IRELAND

    And investigate the underworld fortress known only as… THATCHER'S TECHBASE

    Thatcher's Techbase is a free DOOM mod created by Jim Purvis and available via GitHub; in lieu of payment, they recommend you donate to organizations such as Hillsborough Justice CampaignStonewall, or the Coal Industry Social Welfare Organisation. As Purvis told NME in a recent interview:

    I'm from a town called Coatbridge – just outside Glasgow – that was badly affected by Thatcher's infamous policies on heavy industry and social housing in the 1980s," explains Purvis. "I was born the year Thatcher left office, but her presence was felt throughout my childhood and even into my twenties and thirties. Almost everyone I know was affected by the decisions of the Thatcher government in some way or another, and we're still seeing her ghost all over the place in our current socio-political situation. She was a satanic figure in Scottish culture well before I turned her into a cybernetic demon.

    The mod started as a joke during lockdown, when Purvis saw a tweet from someone saying that if they died and went to Hell, they'd spent eternity scouring the depths for Thatcher.

  • Project Veritas scammed out of $165,000 by a phishing email

    Project Veritas, the conservative media group known for staging "sting operations" with hidden cameras where they trick people into saying things out of context that "confirm" right-wing conspiracy theories, announced last week that they got duped by what was essentially a sting operation. Shortly after the company's offices were flooded by Hurricane Ida, the company received an email that appeared to be from their attorneys following up on an invoice — but it turned out to be a phishing scam.

    We received an invoice for $165,000 from a few of our attorneys and we intended to pay that invoice so we set up wire transfers for payment. Within an hour the lawyers reached out to us asking us to pay the invoice via a new account they had set up. […]

    [The scammers] actually impersonated the actual name of our lawyer, changing a few letters in the email address, replying in real-time to an email chain with our actual attorneys. It appears the fraudsters were watching, waiting for an invoice to be sent to us and then pounced, impersonating them, replying to a real email as the lawyer's name the moment the invoice came.

    According to the FBI, this kind of Business Email Compromise affected nearly 20,000 businesses in 2020, resulting in more than $1.8 billion in stolen funds.

    As far as I'm aware, however, this is the first time that hackers posing as someone else have scammed money out of a company whose entire function is to pose as someone else in order to scam money out of donors.

    Right-wing sting artist James O'Keefe says hackers scammed his Project Veritas out of $165,000 [Mikael Thalen / The Daily Dot]

    Image: Judith E. Bell / Flickr (CC-BY-SA 2.0)

    Full disclosure: Project Veritas has targeted friends of mine and ruined their lives with selectively-edited footage.

  • Someone in Russia tried to steal a bunch of cryogenically-frozen human brains

    Futurism has the most reliable reporting on the strange case of Valeria Udalova, co-founder and CEO of KrioRus, a Russian cryogenics company that specializes in freezing the cadavers and brains of the wealthy and deceased.

    Udalova … allegedly attempted to abscond with several frozen bodies after a disagreement between her and founder Danila Medvedev, Rubase reports.

    According to British tabloid The Times, Udalova is Medvedev's ex-wife.

    It's an unfortunate situation, considering the contraband in question. The company reportedly holds 81 frozen remains of human "cryopatients" and 47 animals. And roughly 500 people have signed contracts with them to be frozen when they die — in hopes, of course, that future medical science will be able to resuscitate them.

    From the sound of it, Udalova was trying to break off into our own separate cryogenics company, and was trying to take a couple of corpses with her. Maybe? It's unclear. I still have a lot of questions. Fortunately, Udalova uploaded a 15-minute video to YouTube in hopes of explaining the situation. Unfortunately, I don't speak Russian, and the Google Translation of the auto-generated captions is … difficult to parse.

    Woman Accused of Stealing Cryogenically Preserved Human Bodies [Victor Tangermann / Futurism]

    The founders of "KrioRus" did not share the business: trucks with frozen "cryopatients" were intercepted by the police [Rusbase via Google Translate]

  • Watch a real-life sonic tractor beam in action

    I don't know which cluster of words sounds more awesomely on its own — "sonic tractor beam" or "acoustic levitation." Either way, as you can see in the video above, engineers have made some pretty impressive advances in the manipulation of sound waves in order to manipulate other objects in space! There's still ways to go to make it practical, but it's nice to see people start to realize that potential.

    Related, I recently read every single comic book appearance of Sean Cassidy aka Banshee, the infamously Stage Oirish X-Man with super-powered vocal cords (I swear, there's a reason TBA). In his early appearances, he uses his "sonic scream" to help himself fly, and to occasional blast villains like a sonar gun. But … that's about all he ever does with his ability for about three decades. In X-Men #119 (March 1979), he does use his powers to make a sonic wall that stops a giant manmade wave from destroying Japan. That was kinda cool. But it also injures his vocal cords, destroying any possibility of seeing any cool soundwave-based power manipulations in action in the near future. He does start to expand the use of his powers a bit in the 90s, including using them (with the help of Emma Frost) to manipulate people mentally and emotionally. But I was constantly disappointed by the fact that no one ever thought to have him use his powers for things like telekinesis — which, as we can see above, is totally possible (though he might need some help from his daughter, who is also called Banshee).

    We've mastered acoustic levitation – and it is surprisingly useful [Michael Allen / NewScientist]

  • Only one country is anywhere near meeting its Paris Climate Accord goals

    The day after I turned 30, my job put me on a plane to France to report on the historic 2015 Paris Climate Accords as part of a partnership with the United Nations. It was a momentous occasion, that felt like a pretty big accomplishment! Maybe I was succeeding at being an adult after all!

    Then my Lyft driver totaled the car on the way to the airport — about a half-mile from my home, in fact. Fortunately, I still made my flight in time, although it was a little depressing when I saw the Sikh man behind me in line at TSA get flagged for a "random screening" despite that I, freshly-30-year-old-white guy, was clearly shaking and sweating with a suspiciously fast heart-rate having just gotten into a fucking car accident.

    Perhaps I should have seen this all as an omen to things to come.

    Though the Accords marked the first time the entire world came together to agree on something — a not-insubstantial moment in history! — the actual details of said-agreement were, erm, lackluster to say the least. After 2 weeks spent debating whether to aim to limit global warming to 1.5°C or 2°C — a half-degree difference that could literally be the difference between life and death in some place — the leaders of the 195 member states of the United Nations ultimately agreed that they would "aim to reach global peaking of greenhouse gas emissions as soon as possible." And each of them offered a non-legally-binding goal that they would "aim" to reach "as soon as possible." That's like a dinner party where everyone agrees that they will, potentially, pay their share when the bill comes. As I wrote at the time:

    Imagine those 195 nations involved in the agreement are 195 friends who all went out for dinner one night.

    Now imagine the nightmare of trying to split the bill 195 ways. The Democratic Republic of the Congo doesn't want to go in on the $300 bottle of wine that the United States bought for the table. And the Marshall Islands had two more pieces of calamari than Brazil did, so Brazil wants them to pay the difference. Then, of course, there's Monaco, who only got a salad and yes OK paid for exactly what they ate plus a stingy tip, but they didn't factor in the tax and everyone else wants them to split the cost of the appetizers, too. And we haven't even gotten started on entrees yet!

    Let's just say there was a lot of compromise involved. But hey, at least everyone had a good time, right?

    Six years later, it turns out, everyone underpaid on their bill — except for Gambia, a West African country with a population that's less than half of the population of the greater metro area where I live. As CNN reports:

    The watchdog Climate Action Tracker (CAT) analyzed the policies of 36 countries, as well as the 27-nation European Union, and found that all major economies were off track to contain global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. The countries together make up 80% of the world's emissions. 

    The analysis also included some low-emissions countries, and found that the Gambia was the only nation among all 37 to be "1.5 compatible." As the study only included a few smaller emitters, it's possible there are other developing countries in the world on track as well.

    (On that last point, it's worth noting that Nicaragua did not participate in the Paris Agreement … because it didn't go far enough, and they were handling their own climate resiliency solutions.)

    As per the 2015 agreement, all of the member-nations were supposed to submit updated climate goals this year. So basically, everyone had written, "Yeah I'll definitely get a B grade or better in the future!" But now they have a consequence-free opportunity to say, "Well that's okay, I'll get a B next time!…Maybe!"

    This, to me, was the most frustrating part about Trump's insistence on leaving the Paris Climate Accord. While the move was played by him and his supporters as some major victory, it didn't actually accomplish anything, because the Accords were neither binding, nor ambitious enough to make a difference in the first place. Meanwhile, we all still live on this damn dying planet together. 194 countries came together and said they would maybe sort-of try to kill the planet a little less, and then the Trump Administration said, "WHOA! That is a huge and unfair commitment that is sapping us of resources!"

    Anyway, how 'bout that IPCC report?

    Not a single G20 country is in line with the Paris Agreement on climate, analysis shows [Ivana Kottasová / CNN]

    Image: Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons

  • "Black Me Out" review — a powerful journey through punk rock and gender dysphoria

    Black Me Out is a new Audible original from the company's "Words + Music" series, written and narrated by Laura Jane Grace, the singer of Against Me! and the author of the provocative music memoir Tranny. And it's fantastic. It's the musical memoir I've been waiting for for years — even though I kind-of already heard it.

    Back in 2016, I had the privilege of seeing Against Me! frontwoman Laura Jane Grace on a solo tour in Cambridge, Massachusetts. This was, if I recall correctly, about 9 months before she published her memoir, Tranny. I'd seen Against Me! before, of course, and I'd also seen Grace playing solo. But this was something different — an intimate storytelling night, with stripped versions of songs from throughout Grace's career, with interludes of her reading from the diary she's kept throughout her time with the band.

    Against Me! had started as a folk-punk project, with Grace on guitar and a friend on a bucket, and quickly blew up, thanks to her caustic and poetic lyricism. The band was heralded as some great torchbearer for anarchy and DIY — which was a lot of pressure, and set them up for even more criticism. They were accused of selling out as soon as they expanded to a full band lineup; then again when they signed with an independent record; and when they signed with another independent record label; which of course got worse when they actually signed to a major label, charting on the Billboard Top 100.

    That story alone is enough to make for an interesting memoir. But it was much more interesting — and much more humanizing — by the fact that Grace had publicly come out as trans in the pages of Rolling Stone in 2012. While maybe not a household name, she was one of the first already-established public figures to do so. And that context was a central part of the story she told on stage that night. Grace candidly revealed the depths of her struggle with gender dysphoria in those historic diary entries, shedding new light on songs that fans had thought they were familiar with. The stresses of rock stardom — and of those "sell out" accusations — only compounded her struggles with mental health over the years. In some ways, she acknowledged, she was over-compensating, hoping that she could eradicate her thoughts of womanhood by becoming a fabulous male rockstar — which of course, only made things worse.

    That 2016 performance was one of the best theatrical pieces I've ever seen in my life, even if that's not how it was intended or designed. I even brought a friend along, who was not at all familiar with Grace's music or story, and only knew her vaguely as a trans icon; he, too, was moved to tears by the sadness and euphoria of her performance that night. There's plenty of darkness, but there's also an incredible amount of hope by the end.

    Black Me Out is essentially an audiobook version of that show I saw 5 years ago. Grace tells her life story from army brat, to high school dropout in Naples, Florida, to getting arrested on tour, and finally exploring her gender identity. The "chapters," as it were, are each interspersed by a new acoustic-ish rendition of songs from throughout her career. Even if you don't particularly care for Against Me!, it makes for a compelling storytelling device, as she reveals the ways that she hinted at her trans-ness throughout her career, and the ways she tried to hide it. She talks about songwriting as an art, and a craft — and the act of creation helped her learn how to finally be true to herself. (My wife, as a theatre artist, was gripped by it all, even though she only knows of Laura Jane because I talk about her; my wife also admittedly did not understand the depths of "sell out!" accusations from the punk community.)

    Black Me Out is only about 2 hours long, and you can listen to it for free if you're an Audible Plus member. I highly recommend it. Also there's a delightful story about Springsteen coming to a show to congratulate Grace on coming out, and her absolutely panicking about it. That alone is worth the price of admission.

    Image: Alex Guibord / Flickr (CC-BY-SA 2.0)

  • The weird new conspiracy theory that the Internet has been dead for 5 years

    Thanks to a recent installation of The Atlantic's ongoing series about conspiracy thinking in America, I just learned that the Internet is dead. And that everyone on the Internet — including, presumably, myself — is in fact a highly advanced artificial intelligence, and that all of us AIs think we are successful duping all of the other highly advanced AIs on the internet by producing content that mimics human behavior, all for the sake of some government PsyOp, I guess?

    As the article explains:

    In January, I stumbled across a new thread there titled "Dead Internet Theory: Most of the Internet is Fake," shared by a user named IlluminatiPirate. Over the next few months, this would become the ur-text for those interested in the theory. 

    […]

    Peppered with casually offensive language, the post suggests that the internet died in 2016 or early 2017, and that now it is "empty and devoid of people," as well as "entirely sterile." Much of the "supposedly human-produced content" you see online was actually created using AI, IlluminatiPirate claims, and was propagated by bots, possibly aided by a group of "influencers" on the payroll of various corporations that are in cahoots with the government. The conspiring group's intention is, of course, to control our thoughts and get us to purchase stuff.

    "I think it's entirely obvious what I'm subtly suggesting here given this setup," the post continues. "The U.S. government is engaging in an artificial intelligence powered gaslighting of the entire world population."

    On one hand: yes, this is very clearly bullshit (I swear, I'm real). On the other, it's so absurdly bullshit that it makes me nostalgic for a time when conspiracy theories just seemed like impossibly ridiculous things that a few fringe communities believed in, which couldn't possibly be real or escape into the real world and actually cause demonstrable harm to living, breathing societies of people. Remember that?

    There's another hand at play here, too — the idea that this massive false-flag internet gaslighting PsyOp was specifically designed to sell shit. Because the heart of that actually isn't so far off from the truth. But it's a gaslighting government PsyOp; it's just capitalism driven to an even greater hunger by snake oil salesmen who promised some great psychological return from Big Data algorithms. You don't have to look any further for some secret Illuminati or other man behind a curtain pulling levers. That's all pretty out in the open.

    Maybe You Missed It, but the Internet 'Died' Five Years Ago [Kaitlyn Tiffany / The Atlantic]

    Image: Gwydion M. Williams / Flickr (CC-BY-SA 2.0)

  • Covid cancelled last year's World Black Pudding Throwing Championship, but now it's back

    The town of Ramsbottom in Manchester has hosted the World Championships for Black Pudding Throwing since 1984 — but the tradition itself supposedly dates back to the War of the Roses. As the Lancashire Telegraph explained in 2018:

    Black pudding throwing is said to date back to the War of the Roses, where legend has it that during the final battle in Stubbins, the troops ran out of ammunition and resorted to throwing food at each other.

    Black pudding was thrown by the Lancashire troops, while Yorkshire pudding were thrown by their counterparts.

    Sadly, the 2020 competition was cancelled like everything else that is good and pudding-y thanks to COVID-19. But the festivities made a grand return on September 12, 2021, where Andrew Ferrier of Wolverhampton reclaimed the Black Pudding Throwing crown he had previously won in 2018.

    How, exactly, does one compete in (and subsequently win) a Black Pudding Throwing Contest? According to Visit Manchester:

    In this annual competition the ancient grudge between Yorkshire and Lancashire is played out again – this time by hurling Black Puddings at a pile of Yorkshire Puddings on a 20-foot high plinth. Competitors have three turns in an attempt to knock down as many Yorkshire Puddings as possible (they are arranged in a pile of a dozen) and must throw underarm from a purpose built stand called the oche .

    Truly, a remarkable feat of athleticism that pays great tribute to such an important historical conflict.

    World black pudding throwing championships back in Ramsbottom [Bury Times]

    World Black Pudding Throwing Championships crowns two-time winner [Ashley Pemberton and Thomas Molloy / Manchester Evening News]

    How I nearly became world champion at the Black Pudding Throwing Championships [Dean Kirby / I News]