• Microsoft will exclusively license GPT-3 language model

    "Today, I'm very excited to announce that Microsoft is teaming up with OpenAI to exclusively license GPT-3," Kevin Scott, Microsoft's Executive Vice President and chief technology officer, wrote on the Microsoft blog. Pretty soon, Microsoft Word documents will write themselves, and AI bots will read them on our behalf, giving us more time to improve our Animal Crossing islands.

    The scope of commercial and creative potential that can be unlocked through the GPT-3 model is profound, with genuinely novel capabilities – most of which we haven't even imagined yet. Directly aiding human creativity and ingenuity in areas like writing and composition, describing and summarizing large blocks of long-form data (including code), converting natural language to another language – the possibilities are limited only by the ideas and scenarios that we bring to the table.

    While we'll be hard at work utilizing the capabilities of GPT-3 in our own products, services and experiences to benefit our customers, we'll also continue to work with OpenAI to keep looking forward: leveraging and democratizing the power of their cutting-edge AI research as they continue on their mission to build safe artificial general intelligence. That future will be what we make of it – and I believe that we're on the right track.

  • Green car coated in black thermochromic paint that turns clear with hot water

    The guys at DipYourCar did a fun experiment where they put five coats of black-to-clear thermochromic paint on a lime green car, then tossed hot water on the hood. Worked better than they expected, as they had never tried it before! They missed a chance to sit naked on the hood, though.

    Before you run out and do this with your car, know that the thermochromic effect diminishes over time as the paint is exposed to sun and heat.

    Image: YouTube / DipYourCar

  • Your terrifying reading for today: Wargame designer outlines 4 post-election civil war scenarios

    I'm a wargame designer. I co-developed the first reboot of Axis & Allies and its D-Day edition, made a mythological Risk game called Risk Godstorm, and burned down both the Roman Empire in Gloria Mundi and medieval France in Veritas. I write about game theory learned from simulating war outcomes. Like many people, I'm stuck on this as the likely outcome of our situation:

    We're facing a civil war.

    Up until yesterday, I wasn't thinking a civil war was probable. But then Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg died. With her likely went the last chance the 2020 election will end peacefully.

    An overreaction? Maybe. We'll see. In the meantime, it's definitely a good idea to be thinking about, debating, and preparing for different scenarios that many come to pass.

    Read the full piece here.

    And here's Fareed Zakaria outlining the likely election night nightmare that could trigger such a scenario (where Trump wins on Nov 3, a so-called "Red Mirage," then the mail-in votes are counted, and Biden wins, in a "Blue Shift").

  • Facebook removes 155 Chinese accounts actively interfering in U.S. politics

    • Chinese accounts posted material supporting U.S. President Donald Trump, and pro-Left material

    Facebook has removed a number of Chinese accounts on the platform that are oddly active in Philippines and U.S. politics, reports Joe Menn at Reuters today.

    Facebook says it suspended 155 accounts on its main platform along with six Instagram accounts.


    The most widely followed accounts and pages were in the Philippines, where they shared content supporting China's actions in the contested South China Sea and national leader Rodrigo Duterte.

    The U.S. accounts had fewer followers and posted content fueling both sides of the American election that will be held on Nov. 3 rather than exclusively supporting one side, the company said.

    Facebook cybersecurity policy chief Nathaniel Gleicher said that the takedown was the company's first of Chinese-based accounts on foreign-interference grounds with any engagement in U.S. politics. But he said the American accounts and groups seemed aimed mainly at building an audience.

    "The volume of content is so low, it's very hard to assess what their goal is," Gleicher said.

    More at Reuters. And follow Joseph Menn on Twitter.

  • Putin offers UN staff free coronavirus vaccines, from Russia with love

    Uh, thanks?

    Russian president Vladimir Putin offered to provide United Nations staff with the Sputnik-V vaccine in a speech Tuesday to this year's General Assembly, which marks the U.N.'s 75th birthday.

    From AP:

    "Any one of us could face this dangerous virus. The virus has not spared the staff of the United Nations, its headquarters and regional entities," Putin said in a prerecorded speech from Moscow. The coronavirus pandemic means this year's General Assembly is a work-from-home production, for the first time in its history.

    "Russia is ready to offer U.N. workers the necessary, qualified help, and in particular we propose to supply our vaccine for free to employees of the organization and its subsidiaries who volunteer for vaccination," said Putin, who announced the vaccine to broad fanfare last month and said his own daughter is among those who have taken it.

    He described Tuesday's offer as a response to popular demand: "Some colleagues from the U.N. have asked about this, and we will not remain indifferent to them."

    U.N. staff didn't immediately speak out on whether they'd take him up on the offer. At the U.N.'s medical agency in Geneva, the World Health Organization, spokeswoman Dr. Margaret Harris declined to comment.

    More at AP.

  • Was Portland a Russian op organized on Facebook? Sure looks that way.

    Who organized that recent rally in Portland, Oregon that turned deadly? A new Washington Post investigation suggests the demonstration at which a man was shot dead was some sort of Russian influence operation organized on Facebook.

    The face of the operation was one Alex Kuzmenko from Idaho.

    "Alek Kyzik," as he identified himself on social media, and members of his family in Idaho, are U.S. immigrants from Belarus and Ukraine.

    "When approached at a church in Meridian [Idaho] run by a relative, Alex Kuzmenko said his political activities were personal, insisting, 'I'm not a public figure," reports the Washington Post. A little late for that, my dude.


    Kyzik was not well known in Republican activist circles. In fact, Kyzik was not even his real name, according to a review of business and academic records, as well as interviews with family members.

    He is Alex Kuzmenko, a 33-year-old architect who lives in a second-story apartment in Meridian, a bedroom community outside the majority-Democratic city of Boise. His YouTube channel featured luxury car reviews before shifting to pro-Trump memes and videos several months ago. He and members of his family — immigrants from Belarus and Ukraine ­— had almost no political profile before organizing one of the most consequential pro-Trump demonstrations of the summer.

    The shooting of Aaron "Jay" Danielson, 39, a supporter of the far-right group Patriot Prayer and a participant in the cruise rally, became a bloody bookend to an anguished summer in Portland and other communities. The alleged assailant, a self-described adherent of antifascism, or antifa, was later killed in an encounter with police.

    Read more at the Washington Post: "Luxury cars, MAGA flags and Facebook invites: How an unknown Idaho family organized the Portland rally that turned deadly"

  • What's it really like to negotiate with ransomware gangs?

    The latest issue of The Red Tape Chronicles has a great discussion about ransomware gangs. Half of U.S. corporations have reported being attacked by ransomware gangs last year, and while it's technically illegal for U.S. firms to pay ransomware, a lot of them do anyway.

    Ransomware attackers may portray the entire ransomware payment process as more akin to an ordinary business transaction than an international extortion scheme. In fact, some recent ransomware attackers purportedly even offer a victim company a discount if the victim company transmits the infection to other companies, just like referral programs of Uber or Lyft.

    However, while a ransomware payment process may seem straightforward and rudimentary, the reality is far more complicated and rife with challenges. No ransomware payment process can guarantee that the ransomware attacker will provide a decryption key. The ransomware scheme may be nothing more than a social engineering ruse, more like an old fashioned Nigerian Internet scam than a malware infection – and the payment could end up being all for naught.

    Indeed, ransomware attackers may no longer have the encryption key or may just opt to take a ransom payment, infect a company's system, and flee the crime scene entirely. Not only is the system of paying in untraceable Bitcoin risky, but the transaction in its entirety is so risky, it hardly seems palatable. Nonetheless, the number of victim companies that pay ransomware demands continues to grow at an alarming rate.

    For now, it seems that paying ransomware, while obviously risky and empowering/encouraging ransomware attackers, can perhaps be comported so as not to break any laws (like anti-terrorism laws, FCPA, conspiracy, and others) – and even if payment is arguably unlawful, seems unlikely to be prosecuted. Thus, the decision whether to pay or ignore a ransomware demand seems less of a legal, and more of a practical, determination — almost like a cost-benefit analysis.

    The arguments for rendering a ransomware payment include:

    • Payment is the least costly option;
    • Payment is in the best interest of stakeholders (e.g. a hospital patient in desperate need of an immediate operation whose records are locked up);
    • Payment can avoid being fined for losing important data;
    • Payment means not losing highly confidential information; and
    • Payment may mean not going public with the data breach.

    The arguments against rendering a ransomware payment include:

    • Payment does not guarantee that the right encryption keys with the proper decryption algorithms will be provided;
    • Payment further funds additional criminal pursuits of the attacker, enabling a cycle of ransomware crime;
    • Payment can do damage to a corporate brand;
    • Payment may not stop the ransomware attacker from returning;
    • If victims stopped making ransomware payments, the ransomware revenue stream would stop and ransomware attackers would have to move on to perpetrating another scheme; and
    • Using Bitcoin to pay a ransomware attacker can put organizations at risk. Most victims must buy Bitcoin on entirely unregulated and free-wheeling exchanges that can also be hacked, leaving buyers' bank account information stored on these exchanges vulnerable.

    When confronted with a ransomware attack, the options all seem bleak. Pay the hackers – and the victim may not only prompt future attacks, but there is also no guarantee that the hackers will restore a victim's dataset. Ignore the hackers – and the victim may incur significant financial damage or even find themselves out of business. The only guarantees during a ransomware attack are the fear, uncertainty, and dread inevitably experienced by the victim.

  • Dog trapped in 30-foot hole lured out with beef jerky (he's safe now!)

    There's a 7-mile (11-kilometer) trail in North Carolina named "Sinkhole Trail" for a large sinkhole situated along a ridge there. A group of mountain bikers on that trail recently noticed a dog trapped 30 feet (9 meters) down in that sinkhole. The bikers cleverly used some beef jerky and some straps to lift the trapped dog to safety.

    More information about the incident, and the dog — who's up for adoption — at Burke County NC Search And Rescue's Facebook page.

    Burke County Search And Rescue

    "The dog was not injured, but was starving and dehydrated, according to the rescuers," reports AP:

    The group was riding the Sinkhole Trail at Pisgah National Forest, about 50 miles (80 kilometers) south of Asheville, on Sunday when they encountered the dog, who had apparently been stuck in the hole for several days, according to Burke County Search And Rescue.

    The bikers called for help and led rescuers more than a mile to the stranded animal, where they rappelled into the sinkhole, enticed the starving dog with some beef jerky and raised him to safety using a harness, the rescue squad said.

    (…) He was taken to Burke County Animal Services for an examination and named "Sinker." Officials said he did not have a collar or a microchip, and if owners are not found, he could be placed up for adoption.

    More at the Associated Press.

  • Yandex to buy Tinkoff for $5.5 billion from Russian bank TCS Group

    The Russian bank TCS Group Holding is talks with Russian internet group Yandex about selling the TCS-owned online bank Tinkoff to Yandex for USD $5.48 billion, the companies said on Tuesday.

    Tinkoff is the world's largest bank that is fully online, with more than 10 million customers across Russia, reports Reuters:

    The idea was first publicly floated last year when Oleg Tinkov, founder of Russia's TCS group, suggested here to Yandex's chief executive that they combine his bank with Yandex, known as Russia's answer to Google.

    "The parties have come to an agreement in principle on a transaction that would consist of cash and share consideration worth approximately $5.48 billion or $27.64 per Tinkoff share," Yandex said.

    The price represents an 8% premium to Tinkoff's GDR price as of Sept. 21. One half of the deal is expected to be paid in cash and another half with Yandex shares, a banking source and a source familiar with the matter, told Reuters.

    Read more at Reuters: Russia's Yandex in talks to buy online bank Tinkoff for $5.5 billion

  • Pentagon used taxpayer money meant for masks and swabs to make jet engine parts and body armor

    Don't worry — defense contractors are faring well during the coronavirus. The Washington Post reports the Pentagon diverted $1 billion in taxpayer funds intended for pandemic-related medical equipped to defense contractors to "make things such as jet engine parts, body armor, and dress uniforms."

    Among the awards: $183 million to firms including Rolls-Royce and ArcelorMittal to maintain the shipbuilding industry; tens of millions of dollars for satellite, drone, and space surveillance technology; $80 million to a Kansas aircraft parts business suffering from the Boeing 737 Max grounding and the global slowdown in air travel; and $2 million for a domestic manufacturer of Army dress uniform fabric.

    The "suffering" Kansas aircraft parts business is Spirit AeroSystems. The CEO Thomas C. Gentile III was profiled last year in Money, Inc.

    Mr. Gentile is handsomely rewarded for his hard work and dedication to Spirit Aerosystems. There is nothing that is easy about the rigors of being in charge of leading the company, and full responsibility for its success rests upon his shoulders. Spirit rewards his efforts with a salary that is $1,241,233, with a bonus for his excellent performance of an additional $1,546,576. He also receives stock and other types of compensation which for the 2018 fiscal year amounted to $9.9 million.

  • Jackie Ormes was the first black woman cartoonist to be published in a newspaper

    Shondaland looks at the life of Jackie Ormes, a recent inductee into the  Will Eisner Comics Hall of Fame.

    When the 14-year-old African American boy Emmett Till was lynched in 1955, one cartoonist responded in a single-panel comic. It showed one black girl telling another: "I don't want to seem touchy on the subject… but that new little white tea-kettle just whistled at me!"

    It may not seem radical today, but penning such a political cartoon was a bold and brave statement for its time — especially for the artist who was behind it. This cartoon was drawn by Jackie Ormes, the first syndicated African American woman cartoonist to be published in a newspaper. She was known for working between the 1930s and the 1950s for black newspapers like The Pittsburgh Courier and The Chicago Defender (Barbara Brandon-Croft was the first African American woman cartoonist published in the mainstream American press). Ormes was ahead of her time, as she regularly responded to issues that concerned the black community through her art. Despite all her efforts, though, she has only recently garnered some noteworthy accolades.

    [via Adafruit]

  • Make a physical mute button for Zoom meetings

    Elliot made this nifty hardware button to mute and unmute yourself during Zoom calls. He has full instructions for making on on Instructables:

    Press the button to toggle your mute, or hold the button down to leave the meeting (or end it if you are the host).

    One great thing about this is that it works even if your Zoom window isn't active… if it's buried under a bunch of spreadsheets and browser windows – no problem – it brings the window to the front and flips your zoom off or on. Quickly un-muting is key to maintaining the impression that you've been paying attention the whole time!

    Even better, this all works while you are sharing your screen, so you don't have to do battle with those pesky on-screen controls.

    Check the last step for a two-button version that also will toggle your video on and off.

  • FogBlock solves the glasses-mask problem with a single spray

    Glasses can be difficult at any time, but with a mask on, it seems like you can't go more than a few seconds without an errant exhale blowing up into your face, fogging your glasses entirely. The only upside is the tiny bit of sweet revenge against everyone who called you four-eyes when they try to mask up with sunglasses on.

    Whether you wear glasses, sunglasses, or even a face shield, there are ways to help yourself stay out of the fog, including a healthy shot of FogBlock Anti-Fog Solution for PPE Masks and Glasses.

    FogBlock makes it easy to wear both glasses and a mask together. It's a streak-free, non-toxic solution that you only need to spray onto your lenses just once a day. Let 'em dry for about five minutes and from there on out, you should be in the clear, literally.

    Whether you're out in public all day or only venture outside sporadically, this easy solution to an annoying problem keeps your vision on point at all times. 

    While FogBlock has some obvious applications during our current times, it works to help clear up just about any instances of fogged up accessories. From eyeglasses and sunglasses to safety, ski, and swim goggles to even paintball and snorkel masks, FogBlock is willing and able to help you see in all of those situations.

    A single travel-size bottle is good for about 120 sprays, so that supply should keep you seeing clearly for months. 

    Retailing for $14, you can save a buck off the price of FogBlock Anti-Fog Solution with this offer, cutting your cost to only $12.99.

  • Vitamins that my dogs love

    On my vet's recommendation, I give my dogs these Zesty Paws multivitamins.

    Much like engine oil threads, the internet is full of discussions about what to and not to feed your pets. I have adopted the simple policy of doing what my veterinarian tells me. Zesty Paws is also a well-reviewed brand and my parents have been giving the dog they refer to as 'your brother' ZP salmon oil chews for ages.

    I have a growing Golden Retriever puppy and 7.5-year-old Cavalier King Charles. Even tho they both have pretty different nutritional needs, they both get this vitamin.

    I totally understand that their dog food should be balanced and have everything they need. However, the puppy is growing so fast and huge and a Cavalier's heart is always dear. I am glad to spend a bit extra and give them these vitamins.

    The dogs love these chews and beg every AM until they've gotten them.

    I totally get that we American folks have an irrational love of vitamin supplements.

    Zesty Paws Multivitamin Treats for Dogs – Glucosamine Chondroitin for Joint Support + Digestive Enzymes & Probiotics – Grain Free Dog Vitamin for Skin & Coat + Immune Health via Amazon