I learned about a phone service called Twilio from reading this Lifehacker article. The article is mainly about how to set up a phone number that makes calls "disappear into the ether, never reaching me, never bouncing back, but disappearing like a stone tossed into the fog." I'm not sure why just making up a random number wouldn't be the easiest thing to do if that's your goal, but Twilio sounds useful if you need a way to receive voicemail from certain people without having to hear your regular phone ring. One cool thing about Twilio is the way you can create a computer-voice announcement just by writing the words you want it to say:
But here’s the fun part. When you click on your phone number’s settings on the Twilio dashboard, you can tell the service what it should do when somebody calls or texts the number. By default, it reads a little message (saying that you haven’t set up the number, or something). So I copied that message, and altered it so it sounded like a full voicemail box. Here’s my script:
You have reached. 5 5 5. 5 5 5. 1 2 1 2. Please leave a message after the tone. This mailbox is full.
Image: By takayuki/Shutterstock
On September 12th, GM's director of global digital transformation Saejin Park gave a presentation to the Association of National Advertisers in which he described how the company had secretly gathered data on the radio-listening habits of 90,000 GM owners in LA and Chicago for three months in 2017, tracking what stations they listened to and for how long, and where they were at the time; this data was covertly exfiltrated from the cars by means of their built-in wifi.
A new generation of commercial trackers from companies like Adjust, AppsFlyer, MoEngage, Localytics, and CleverTap allow app makers like Bloomberg, T-Mobile US, Spotify Technology, and Yelp to covertly track when you've uninstalled apps: the trackers send periodic "silent notifications" to the apps you've installed, and if the apps are still installed, they ping the trackers' servers. If they don't hear back from you, they assume you've uninstalled the apps.
Richard Stallman's new GNU Kind Communications Guidelines are a brief set of guidelines for being "kind" in your interactions in free software communities, with the explicit goals of ensuring participation from "anyone who wishes to advance the development of the GNU system, regardless of gender, race, religion, cultural background, and any other demographic characteristics, as well as personal political views."
In 1969, Capitol Records released this incredible double LP set (and double 8-track tape) from Vincent Price titled "Witchcraft-Magic: An Adventure in Demonology." Hear the whole thing above. The nearly two hours of spoken word includes sections on the history and culture of "witchcraft" and helpful guides such as "How To Invoke Spirits, Demons, Unseen Forces" and "How To Make A Pact With The Devil." I certainly wouldn't vouch for the factual accuracy or research rigor of the material, but hearing horror icon Price's silky narration about such topics as necromancy and the "Witches Sabbat" is a joy.
Megyn Kelly is stumped as to why wearing blackface makeup for Halloween is offensive. "When I was a kid, it was ok," she said on NBC News this morning.
Sitting with Kelly, Jenna Bush Hager, NBC correspondent Jacob Soboroff and Melissa Rivers tried to explain. “If you think it’s offensive, it probably is,” Rivers said. But it was a real head-scratcher for Kelly, who just couldn't understand why you can't wear blackface if you can run around with an axe on Halloween.
Getting all your data to flow through the Tor network can be tricky -- the desktop Tor Browser only tunnels your web-traffic through the privacy-protecting service, and the mobile apps can be tricky and uncertain.
Tokyo-based art collective Chim↑Pom has opened a two-week pop-up restaurant that serves up the last meals once requested by real death row inmates.
For example, before being executed by firing squad in 1977, Utah double murderer Gary Mark Gilmore ate a burger, a hard-boiled egg, and mashed potatoes, and drank three shots of whiskey. Here is Chim↑Pom's version of Gilmore's pre-execution eats:
The Ningen ("Human") Restaurant is located in Kabukicho, Tokyo's red-light district, and is open until October 28 (2 PM to 9 PM).
(Spoon & Tamago)
Microplastics -- the tiny pieces of plastic debris littering our planet -- has been found in human poop, surprising nobody. The pilot study included 8 people from seven countries in Europe plus Japan. While the study was obviously very small, the researchers did discover waste plastic such as that from food wrappers and synthetic clothing in feces from all the participants. According to lead researcher Dr. Philipp Schwabl of the University of Vienna, the study was too small to draw any huge conclusions but it does confirm what sadly was inevitable. From Laura Parker's feature in National Geographic:
“I’d say microplastics in poop are not surprising,” says Chelsea Rochman, an ecologist at the University of Toronto, who studies the effects of microplastics on fish. “For me, it shows we are eating our waste—mismanagement has come back to us on our dinner plates. And yes, we need to study how it may affect humans.”
Every year, an average of eight million tons of plastic waste, most of it single-use varieties, flows into the world’s oceans from coastal regions. There, sunlight and wave action break these waterborne plastics down into bits the size of grains of rice. Fibers from synthetic clothes such as polyester and acrylic make their way into freshwater systems via washing machines. You can see this in action with a fleece jacket; just scratching the arm of the jacket can shed invisible fibers. As a result, tiny plastic fragments and fibers have now spread all over the planet. They're in deep sea trenches and in the air we breathe.
Marine life—from the smallest plankton to the largest whales—eat these plastics, including those tiny enough to be considered microplastics. And encounters with plastics often prove fatal. So far, much of the research into the consequences of this spread has focused on birds and other animals. Microplastics have been found in more than 114 aquatic species, and studies have shown the potential damage to reproductive systems and the liver.
(Scwabl) says he hopes his findings will hasten research into the effects of microplastics on human health.
“Based on the research, it was highly likely that microplastics would be present in humans,” he says. “But nobody ever investigated if microplastics also reach the human gut. Now this discussion can be taken up in humans.”
image from: "What are microplastics?" (NOAA)
America has some of the weakest anti-pregnancy-discrimination rules in the world (the federal statute says that companies only have to give pregnant people lighter duties if they make similar accommodations for those "similar in their ability or inability to work); and this has produced an epidemic of workplace miscarriages among women who have frequently begged their supervisors for lighter duties, even presenting doctor's written notes with their pleas.
If you're a citizen of South Korea, you're expected to obey the laws of that country even when you aren't in the country. That means any South Korean citizen who smokes perfectly legal pot in Canada could return home and receive a five year prison sentence.
From Korea Times:
Yoon Se-jin, head of the Narcotics Crime Investigation Division at Gyeonggi Nambu Provincial Police Agency, warned earlier this week that smoking pot is treated as a serious offense here and Korean smokers, subject to the laws of their country, could face up to five years in prison.
"Weed smokers will be punished according to the Korean law, even if they did so in countries where smoking marijuana is legal. There won't be an exception," he said.
On Monday 12 members of Nevada Republican candidate for Governor Adam Laxalt's family published an op-ed denouncing his credentials, his record, and his connection to Nevada.
Via the Reno Gazette:
...All of these shortcomings come down to a lack of real, authentic connection to our state, and a failure to understand what is important to real Nevadans. We are a state driven by a modern economy and a diverse population, and we take deep pride in our rich, complicated history. Nevadans value their independence and their ability to share in the beauties of our wild state, while still respecting each other’s autonomy. If Adam is elected governor, these values will be put in danger. Public lands will become less accessible for hunters and fishers and backpackers. Adam’s positions on health care and reproductive rights would limit how Nevadans care for their bodies, or be free from government interference in relationships as sacred and personal as marriage. Adam wants to repeal hundreds of millions of dollars of education funding, even though he knows full well that Nevada is ranked 49th in the nation for pre-K-12 education.
If he responds to this column at all, it will probably be to say that he hardly knows the people writing this column. And in many ways that would be true. We never had a chance to get to know him, really — he spent his life in Washington, D.C., while we lived in Northern Nevada and grew up in public schools and on public lands. He moved to Nevada in 2013 so that he could lean on the reputation of a family that he hardly knew while tapping into support by donors who had no interest in our state or its people.
It’s worth saying that this column isn’t about politics. We would be proud to have a Laxalt running for office on Nov. 6, regardless of whether they were Republican or Democrat or independent, so long as we believed that they would be good for Nevada. We’re writing because we care about Nevada and because we know the truth about this candidate. We think that you should, too.
I posted some pre-release interviews with Peter Bebergal about his latest book, Strange Frequencies: The Extraordinary Story of the Technological Quest for the Supernatural. The book examines the frequent use of science and technology in pursuit of the otherworldly.
In Strange Frequencies, Peter gets up close and hands on with such tinfoil fun stuff as ghost boxes, spirit radios, EVP recordings, spirit photography, brain toys, and more. In the following excerpt, reprinted from Strange Frequencies and used with permission from TarcherPerigree/Penguin, Random House, Peter delves into the history of the "ghost box" and sets out to try and build one of his own.
Fear and Soldering
In 1995, the October issue of Popular Electronics offered the article “Ghost Voices: Exploring the Mysteries of Electronic Voice Phenomena (EVP),” and laid out a few methods for modifying radios to be able to answer whether “the dead are trying to break through the veil between the worlds.” Various techniques are presented: a simple tape recorder with a microphone in a quiet room might record answers to questions that can be heard on playback (tried it, no luck); a circuit to build a small radio much like the Tesla radio I built; tuning a radio between stations and recording the static; and a white noise generator schematic to use instead of a radio to be sure stray transmissions are not being picked up. The tone of the piece is playful but not skeptical. The author takes no position, but Popular Electronics was written for the amateur hobbyist, and if any audience would be interested in such an article, it would certainly be this magazine’s readers.
After the article was published, the magazine was overwhelmed with letters, and in the 1996 February edition, the editors published a number of examples. They range from rational insight (“The ‘voices of the dead’ theme is simply an example of the phenomenon known to engineers as audio rectification”), outrage (“This is indeed a low point for the . . . magazine”), and cautious belief (“I think that the EVP is something that can’t be explained away”). But the letter from C.W. from Lee’s Summit, Missouri, is the most revealing. The writer concurs that electronic hobbyists are “different from others because . . . we are curious about physical phenomena. We seek to know more and more about the physical nature of our universe. The article provides us with a means to delve into another aspect of our universe, namely the spiritual.” Rather than amaze the editors with their experiments, the letter instead issues a stern warning. “Do not communicate with the dead,” C.W. writes, “for it is written in Deuteronomy 18:10–12: ‘There shall not be found among you anyone that . . . useth divination, or an observer of times, or an enchanter, or a witch, or a charmer, or a consulter of familiar spirits, or a wizard, or a necromancer.” It’s no surprise that a letter to the editor in an electronics hobby magazine would illuminate the tension at the heart of both the occult and the inventive spirit.
The occult, understood to be a set of spiritual and magical practices that are often at odds with normative religious customs, rarely aligns with the mainstream American ideal of the individual as a frontiersman, exploring the limits of what is possible in an effort to build and expand outward into the antipodes. Technology is also often at odds with religious values as well because similarly it places too much power in the hands of the human being, leaving little room for God. But, unlike the occult, technological innovation more readily can be understood as being a gift from God, a measure of salvation and the perfection of the soul. When we combine technology with the spiritual even when outside of accepted religious practice, the edges begin to blur. It becomes a realm not accepted by either religious traditionalist or scientists. The hobbyist, with a DIY engine in their heart, has always propelled these kinds of activities forward.
Frank Sumption, a ham radio enthusiast, was one of the many readers of the Popular Electronics article, and had always harbored an interest in the paranormal. He tried some of the experiments, and according to his friend Tim Woolworth—-author of the blog ITC Voices—-Frank wasn’t impressed with the results. But in 2000, Frank tried again, this time going outside of the projects offered in the magazine. Spirits, according to EVP experimenters, cannot communicate in a vacuum. Bound, in some uncategorical way, by the laws of physics, spirits require a carrier of some kind to transmit their voices into our world. When a digital FM radio is set to scan, it “locks” as soon as it receives a strong frequency. Frank discovered that by modifying a radio so that it never locks on a station, the resulting effect is a constant stream of noise, bits of music, voices, and static. This raw material, Sumption claimed, could be used by spirits to form words. “It’s been my experience that if one supplies something that the spirits/ entities can use to make voices out of,” he wrote, “‘they’ will speak.” The hacked radios came to be affectionately known within the EVP community as “Frank Boxes.”
Sumption’s experiments would take a strange turn. First, he became increasingly irritated by the people claiming to be ghost hunters. He started to assert that the voices he was receiving might be alien in nature. In an e‑mail correspondence with the writer Karen Stollznow, Sumption explained that the entities he spoke with believed that he was a missing intergalactic royal lady who they called the “purple princess.” His boxes also became more sophisticated, and he eventually created a version with a small CRT screen in an attempt to pick up images of the entities he was in communication with.
Sumption’s original ghost box has since been modified by others using the most recent electronic hobbyist technologies, such as microcontrollers—-small programmable devices that allow simple circuits to be easily hacked together and improved upon without having to change the primary circuit. Computer programming has essentially altered the basic design of the spirit radio in such a way that a once purely analog device—-little more than a coil picking up stray frequencies (and possibly a disembodied soul)— has become a digital node in the vast, and seemingly infinite, cyberspace. Software code is shared; EVP samples are uploaded to YouTube. The devices themselves are hooked up to personal computers, creating a virtual web of receivers drawing down these noises. My experiences with computer- based applications led me to become distrustful of methods whose designs are hidden. But it was not only that these digital ghost boxes could be fraudulent; they don’t allow for the inventive experimental character of something like Frank Sumption’s boxes. The supernatural imagination demands a special kind of activation, one that often requires breaking radios and making them do something they weren’t intended to do but are more than capable of doing.
EVP hobbyists are particularly fond of RadioShack digital radios for their ease of opening and rewiring, but they are unfortunately no longer produced. Trying to procure one was daunting. I scoured Goodwill and other local thrift shops but was unable to find one that was included on various EVP “hackable” lists. A search on eBay returned only a few hits, most of which were upward of a hundred dollars. One that had been “prehacked” started at $225. Most listings don’t promise that the buyer will actually hear spirits, but a recent listing confided that “At the cemetery or at my house it was getting great replies,” and linked to a website with video evidence of the radio in use. I was intent on building one myself, and so I patiently checked eBay listings until I finally procured a RadioShack model 12‑589 “Extreme-Range AM/FM Weather Radio” in working condition. Its only flaw was a broken antenna, which was easily replaced. There was something satisfying about it being a RadioShack radio. The company once had a reputation for being hobbyist friendly, and I myself have a long history with them. My first electronics kit was their “150 in 1 Project Kit,” and the first thing I ever soldered was a small multitester from their line of kits known as ArcherKit. I also worked for RadioShack in my early twenties when the stores were still the go‑to shop for electronic tinkerers. I had grown up in and around RadioShacks, and there would be nothing more natural than taking a screwdriver to the case screws of one of their radios, opening it up, and mucking around with the circuit. I was in unfamiliar territory making a ghost box, but with an intimately familiar map.
Read the rest in Strange Frequencies: The Extraordinary Story of the Technological Quest for the Supernatural, out today.
Fold N Fly is a visual database of paper airplane designs, sortable by aerodynamic properties (distance, airtime, etc), and difficulty of folding. Some pretty exotic designs, too! (Thanks, Fipi Lele!)
Police arrested Bruce Michael Alexander for groping a sleeping woman seated in front of him on a Southwest flight from Texas to New Mexico. In the police car, Alexander reportedly told police that "the president of the United States says it’s OK to grab women by their private parts." From USA Today:
The woman said she felt Alexander's hand move from behind her and grab her right breast. She said she fell asleep about 20 minutes into the flight and not long after, she felt him touch her but assumed it was an accident, according to court documents.
About 30 minutes later, she said she felt Alexander's hand grab the back of her arm and grope around her ribs and then her breast.
The woman then stood up and told Alexander she did not understand how he could think that was OK and he needed to stop.
I remember when I was a young kid, I sat in a movie theater watching That's Entertainment with my friend and her family. Bored, I fiddled with my candy, and after unwrapping one too many pieces, my irritated friend's mom snatched it all away from me. Silence was restored. But with adults who don't know each other, restoring silence in a theater can take an ugly turn.
Such as it did last week, when a man trying to enjoy the symphony in Malmo, Sweden couldn't take the sounds of his neighbor's scrunching gum bag any longer.
The man grabbed the stranger's bag of gum and threw it to the ground. The gum owner sat quietly for awhile, but suddenly had a burst of anger and, after whispering something to the person she was with, began to hit the man in the face multiple times, knocking his glasses right off his face. Then the woman's friend joined in, throwing punches at the man.
According to The Washington Post:
“It was very unpleasant actually. I’ve never seen anything like it,” said Olof Jonsson, who was sitting in the row behind the brawling patrons. He described the salvo from the woman and her ally as a “violent attack.” At one point, as the tension seemed to ease, the woman’s companion walked toward the younger man as if to converse with him, but then punched him in the stomach.
Other patrons intervened, establishing a cease-fire.
Since then, the concert hall published an etiquette list for people planning to go the theater, which includes resisting the urge to bring snacks when going to a symphony. From the Washington Post: "While it is 'wonderful to sit at a hockey or football match and drink a beer or coffee and eat little snacks,' it cautioned, this behavior doesn’t suit 'a concert hall with world-class acoustics.'"
Image: Donostia Kultura/Flickr
Patagonia founder Yvon Chouinard has called on the outdoor industry to join him in backing politicians who believe in preserving public lands; his company has now backed Montana Democratic Senate incumbent Jon Tester (facing a Trumpian challenge from Republican Matt Rosendale, who espouses the cultlike belief that the Constitution bans the federal government from owning land, a belief that was spread by Cliven Bundy and a group of racist Mormon extremists) and Nevada Democratic Congressional incumbent Jacky Rosen with a 97 percent approval rating from the League of Conservation Voters.
While watching this 46-minute compilation video by YouTuber Rhodri Marsden, try to count how many times Bob Ross "beats the devil out" of his paintbrush. I lost count of the "whackings" five minutes in. Also, take note of the guest painters cleaning their brushes on Ross' show, Joy of Painting.
NASA’s Cryospheric Sciences Program released this astonishing aerial photo of a rectangular iceberg in Antarctica. Located on the Larsen C ice shelf, the curious iceberg is likely one mile or so across. From the BBC News:
Such objects are not unknown, however, and even have a name - tabular icebergs.
These are flat and long and form by splitting away from the edges of ice shelves.
Kelly Brunt, a glaciologist with Nasa and the University of Maryland, said the process of formation was a bit like a fingernail growing too long and cracking off at the end.
They were often geometrically-shaped as a result, she said.
"What makes this one a bit unusual is that it looks almost like a square," she added.
Can't help but love GearHumans' astronaut suit hoodie ($45.99). The image is a 3D-photo print of the spacesuit that Neil Armstrong wore in 1969 during his Apollo 11 moon mission. It ships with his last name on it unless you specify otherwise.