Front-line programmers default to insecure practices unless they are instructed to do otherwise

It's always sort of baffling when security breaches reveal that a company has stored millions of users' passwords in unencrypted form, or put their data on an insecure cloud drive, or transmitted it between the users' devices and the company's servers without encryption, or left an API wide open, or some other elementary error: how does anyone in this day and age deploy something so insecure? Read the rest

Believing in "meritocracy" makes you act like a dick

The term "meritocracy" was popularized in the UK sociologist Michael Young's 1958 novel, "The Rise of the Meritocracy," in which aristocrats insist that they are the natural rulers of their society based on "objective" measures of worth ("merit" + "aristocracy" = "meritocracy") that are obviously tilted to favor them, a fact that they are conveniently blind to. Read the rest

Acoustic meta-material: a shape that reflects sound but passes light and air

A Boston University team have developed an acoustic, 3D-printed metamaterial whose topology is such that it reflects 94% of human-audible sound; the researchers' demonstration involves inserting a ring of this stuff in a PVC pipe and blasting a speaker down one end: light and air emerges from the other end, but sound does not. Read the rest

A critical flaw in Switzerland's e-voting system is a microcosm of everything wrong with e-voting, security practice, and auditing firms

Switzerland is about to have a national election with electronic voting, overseen by Swiss Post; e-voting is a terrible idea and the general consensus among security experts who don't work for e-voting vendors is that it shouldn't be attempted, but if you put out an RFP for magic beans, someone will always show up to sell you magic beans, whether or not magic beans exist. Read the rest

A machine-learning system that guesses whether text was produced by machine-learning systems

Gltr is an MIT-IBM Watson Lab/Harvard NLP joint project that analyzes texts and predicts whether that text was generated by a machine-learning model. Read the rest

Towards a general theory of "adversarial examples," the bizarre, hallucinatory motes in machine learning's all-seeing eye

For several years, I've been covering the bizarre phenomenon of "adversarial examples (AKA "adversarial preturbations"), these being often tiny changes to data than can cause machine-learning classifiers to totally misfire: imperceptible squeaks that make speech-to-text systems hallucinate phantom voices; or tiny shifts to a 3D image of a helicopter that makes image-classifiers hallucinate a rifle Read the rest

Massive study finds strong correlation between "early affluence" and "faster cognitive drop" in old age

A paper published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science reports on new analysis of the Survey of Health, Aging, and Retirement in Europe (SHARE), which tracks outcomes for 24,066 people aged 50-96 with a good balance of genders (56% female), and reports a strong correlation between "early affluence" and "faster cognitive drop" in "verbal fluency" (measured with an animal naming challenge). SHARE is the largest study of its kind, with more than double the subjects of similar projects. Read the rest

German neofascists used Qanon to expand their reach

Germany's Alternative For Germany (AfD) party (previously) are an insurgent neofascist movement with ties to senior mainstream politicians and the country's super-wealthy would-be oligarchs; the party put on a hard push in the the 2018 Bavarian elections and their meme warfare was full of familiar voter-suppression tactics, from garden-variety disinformation to exhortations to stay home on election day. Read the rest

Scientists finally explain why microwaved grapes emit glorious bursts of plasma

The mystery of the glorious fireball emitted by microwaved grapes (featured in my novel Little Brother) has been resolved, thanks to a paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in which Trent University researchers Hamza Khattak and Aaron Slepkov explain how they destroyed a dozen microwaves before figuring out that the grapes were just the right size and had enough humidity to set up standing waves that amplify the microwaves -- and anything roughly grape-sized will do the same. Read the rest

Study suggests that Flat Eartherism spread via Youtube

The rise in a belief that the Earth is flat is bizarre and somewhat frightening, a repudiation of one of the most basic elements of scientific consensus. Texas Tech University psych researcher Asheley R. Landrum attended a 2017 flat earth convention and interviewed 30 attendees to trace the origins of their belief in a flat earth, finding that Youtube videos were key to their journey into conspiracy theories; her findings were bolstered by a survey of more than 500 participants. Read the rest

Despite public pledges, leading scientific journals still allow statistical misconduct and refuse to correct it

A leading form of statistical malpractice in scientific studies is to retroactively comb through the data for "interesting" patterns; while such patterns may provide useful leads for future investigations, simply cherry-picking data that looks significant out of a study that has otherwise failed to prove out the researcher's initial hypothesis can generate false -- but plausible-seeming -- conclusions. Read the rest

Even without explicit collusion, pricing algorithms converge on price-fixing strategies

Literally the only kind of monopolistic behavior that the US government is willing to prosecute is price fixing, and that's why it's so important to read Artificial intelligence, algorithmic pricing, and collusion, a paper by four Italian economists from the University of Bologna who document how price-fixing is an emergent property of pricing algorithms -- the systems online merchants use to price-match with their competitors. Read the rest

Most adults are incapable of understanding most online terms of service

A new paper by a business professor and a contract law professor evaluated the terms and conditions of 500 leading websites and found that the 99% of them required at least 14 years of education to truly comprehend, far more than the majority of US adults have attained. Read the rest

Study shows that countries that permit Facebook's beloved "zero rating" programs end up with more expensive wireless data

Facebook loves "zero rating," when an internet provider takes bribes from online services to exempt them from data charges on their networks: Facebook says that having a roster of (Facebook-approved) services that are free-to-use benefits the poorest people in a country (and the fact that this also makes "Facebook" synonymous with "internet" for whole nations is merely incidental). Read the rest

Juul's strategy for success: target children, steadily ramp up nicotine levels

Juul -- infused with billions by the company that owns Marlboro -- attained its $12.8B valuation by growing faster than any other vaping company, thanks in large part to the children who bought its products, reversing decades of progress in getting teens off nicotine products while simultaneously monopolizing the market for vaping products Read the rest

Archaeological evidence for the Iron Age practice of embalming your enemies' severed heads with resin and displaying them

Ancient Roman texts and sculptures describe a Celtic practice of severing your defeated enemies' heads, embalming them with resin and plant oils, and displaying them as war trophies: now, archaeologists have unearthed evidence of the practice at Le Cailar, the 2,500 year old walled city near the Rhone. Read the rest

Conducting "evil" computer research, in the name of good

The next CHI (computer-human interaction) conference is being held on May 5 in Glasgow, and will include a workshop called CHI4Evil, "Creative Speculation on the Negative Effects of HCI Research," in which scholars, researchers and practitioners are invited to "anticipate and reflect on the potential downsides of our technology design, research, and implementation" through design fiction, speculative design, and other tools. Read the rest

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