I’ve been meaning to write about our government’s approach to civil liberties, but I wouldn’t be able to write anything as good as this essay from Maciej Ceglowski:
The term ‘terrorism’ is a magic word, unlocking government powers we normally associate with wartime. The current and previous Administration have, at various times, asserted the right of the government to conduct invasive and open-ended surveillance on people it suspects of terrorism, detain suspects in terrorism cases indefinitely without trial, ‘render’ them to countries for interrogation and torture, kill people it considers terrorists, including American citizens, with giant flying robots, or keep such people alive against their own will.
This is total power over human life. The authorities assure us that numerous checks exist to prevent abuses of this power, but of course the checks are also classified. The government is promising that the secret police won’t put innocent people in the secret prisons because the secret courts would never allow it.
The Obama administration has done some good things: stimulated the economy; repealed Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell; started us on the road to socialized health care. But these are just niceties compared to the freedom of speech, the freedom of the press, due process, habeas corpus, the protection against unreasonable search and seizure, the right to expose government wrongdoing without having to fear bodily harm. At this lowest level of Maslow’s hierarchy of government functions, Obama has badly let us down.
In the New Yorker, Sasha Weiss writes about Lindsay Mills, the girlfriend of PRISM leaker Edward Snowden. It turns out that until recently Mills had a personal website on which she talked about her life and posted photos of herself. It’s an interesting contrast: Snowden ended his career and risked his life to bring public awareness to the government’s collection of personal data, and here’s his girlfriend being something of an exhibitionist. Weiss writes:
The seeming gap between their temperaments mirrors the general disconnect between the anger over the N.S.A.’s surveillance and the atmosphere of exhibitionism that prevails on the Internet. We already exist in a society where much of what we do is recorded—it’s just that people often record themselves.
This is a pretty facile argument, and Weiss herself points out why:
There’s a difference, of course, between voluntarily posting a photo of yourself doing a complicated yoga pose on a chair and involuntarily committing your e-mails to a massive government server. But the fact that we are increasingly prepared to fling out details of our lives begs the question of what, exactly, we fear when we rage about a loss of privacy. Most of us react with horror to the idea that our online messages are in the hands of the government—in the sense of being collected in a massive stream of data and analyzed for suspicious patterns—but have no problem posting a photo of our kids, our wedding, or our lunch on Facebook or Instagram.
This is still very disingenuous.
I don’t know what’s braver/crazier: leaking a bunch of Top Secret NSA documents, or subsequently fleeing to a city under the control of the Chinese government.
John Watson in The Age:
Now the United Nations Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation has drawn on 80 scientists from 18 countries to produce a draft report that concludes: “Radiation exposure following the nuclear accident at Fukushima–Daiichi did not cause any immediate health effects. It is unlikely to be able to attribute any health effects in the future among the general public and the vast majority of workers.”
The committee has had two years to build a fuller picture of radiation dosages (measured as mSv) and impacts. It finds most Japanese in the first and second years were exposed to lower doses from the accident than from natural background radiation’s 2–3 mSv a year.
This “perfect storm” hit a nuclear plant built to a 50-year-old design and no one died. Japan moved a few metres east during a three-minute quake and the local coastline subsided half a metre, but the 11 reactors operating in four nuclear power plants in the region all shut down automatically. None suffered significant damage.
Nuclear power is much, much safer than people think. There are of course risks for the first responders, but in that sense nuclear power plants are no different from coal power plants or any number of other industrial setups that society has deemed acceptable risks. (Nuclear power is also far more sustainable than coal power and, watt for watt, emits 100 times less radiation into the environment than coal.)
(Via Thomas Tuegel.)
Austin Carr in Fast Company:
“It was like, ‘Holy crap!’ Nobody had ever done this before […]. It was just mind-blowing at the idea stage. […] Every day I see a lot of concepts—sketches on paper, written words about products—and my job is to turn those products into reality,” he says. “But in all my years as a product developer, I’ve never seen a concept like this. The product didn’t even exist yet, and already people knew this idea was going to be huge.”
What revolutionary new product is he referring to? The iPhone? The toaster oven? The automobile? Nope: it’s Taco Bell’s Doritos Locos Taco.
Snark aside, the taco took a lot more development and engineering effort than I would have guessed. (Mainly because I wouldn’t have guessed there was such a thing as “taco engineering” at all.)
(Via Paul Kafasis.)
Todd Wallack in the Boston Globe:
Records show that Berlowitz, who has led the academy for 17 years, has exaggerated her own academic achievement as part of efforts to win hundreds of thousands of dollars in government funding.
In at least two applications for federal grants over the past decade, Berlowitz said she received a doctorate in English from New York University in 1969, a degree NYU said she never earned.
The American Academy of Arts and Sciences is not a university, so it may or may not have a zero-tolerance policy for this kind of fraud. I think it would significantly damage their credibility, though, if they continue to employ someone who lied about earning a doctorate. (From the article, it sounds like she makes the AAAS a miserable place to work anyway.)
(Via Kieran Healy.)
A bit flip is that unimaginably-rare event when a passing cosmic ray interacts with a computer’s memory and changes a single 1 to a 0 (or vice versa). Jaeson Schultz of Cisco presents (in a PDF) research showing that bit flips are actually common enough that they can be detected by cleverly-set-up honeypot web servers.
The idea is that certain pairs of ASCII characters are only one bit different from each other—for example, ‘n’ (010 1110) and ‘.’ (110 1110). If a bit is flipped in memory that’s being used to store a URL, the user would (through no fault of their own) be taken to the wrong site. For example,
windowsupdate.com could become
wi.dowsupdate.com. Aside from the security implications, I just think it’s fascinating that these events are common enough that the researchers were able to detect dozens of them.
In Wired, Angela Watercutter makes the case that the same qualities that led J.J. Abrams to make a Star Trek movie that not everyone liked are going to be assets for the Star Wars movie he’s making next.
Alex Vadukul for the New York Times:
In the event that the police did arrive, several exit routes were planned. This was life inside the Night Heron, a decidedly illegal nightclub run by a group of adventure-minded artists in a water tower atop a vacant building in Chelsea for eight weekends in March, April and May.
When I win the lottery I’m going to build and then abandon a water tower in Alfred, just to see what the art students do with it.
Don’t miss the accompanying slideshow.
This essay contains spoilers and unbridled nerdery.
Let me begin by saying that I thought Star Trek Into Darkness was enjoyable as all hell. I first saw it with my friend Alex, and as the movie went on we must have exchanged half a dozen looks of “holy shit, that was awesome!” It was the most exciting Star Trek movie by far, even more so than its predecessor, the first of the Abrams reboot. The action was almost nonstop, Benedict Cumberbatch was a great villain, and there were even a bunch of references in there to try to please the hardcore Trek fans.
You know what would have made them even happier, though? An honest-to-God Star Trek movie.
After almost four decades of gorging on punk fashion, music, art, and attitude, we still grant it permanent “outsider” status. Its tired tropes and worn-out clichés are still celebrated as edgy and anti-authoritarian, above reproach and beyond criticism. Punk-rock culture is the ultimate slow-acting venom, dulling our expectations by narrowing the aperture of “cool” and neutering our taste by sneering at new flavors until every expression of actual individualism is corralled and expunged in favor of group-think conformity.
Punk-founded doubt and fear has directly spawned the cowardly culture of modern irony. Fear of being called out or targeted for enjoying art that doesn’t meet the stringent criteria of punkness—a criteria too ineffable to codify, but pernicious and deadly to underestimate—has given us no outlet for the vagaries of our taste but to claim that we enjoy the things we love only out of mocking disdain for the awfulness we pre-emptively ascribe to them.
In the New York Times, Christy Wampole has some practical advice for living without irony, even though that might mean making yourself emotionally vulnerable:
What would it take to overcome the cultural pull of irony? Moving away from the ironic involves saying what you mean, meaning what you say and considering seriousness and forthrightness as expressive possibilities, despite the inherent risks. It means undertaking the cultivation of sincerity, humility and self-effacement, and demoting the frivolous and the kitschy on our collective scale of values. It might also consist of an honest self-inventory.
There are plenty of reasons why people my age might prefer the ironic to the heartfelt—the first one that comes to mind is a lack of faith in institutions like the government and the media. But irony is not a solution to the problem.
My friend and former roommate Tom posted a vlog today asking why video games are often not considered art, despite games’ frequent inclusion of visual and audio elements which would in any other context be labeled as “art” without a second thought. I’m not much of a gamer, but I can think of two reasons why people are reluctant to call video games art.
The best-known symbol of the Olympic movement is the set of five interlocking rings—blue, yellow, black, green, and red—on a white field. These six colors have the property that at least one of them is present on the flag of each nation. But is there a smaller set of colors that has the same property? It turns out that this question is a direct application of the “hitting set problem” in graph theory. I’ll explain what that problem is and then show how we can use some math and some Clojure to answer our question.
Audio encoding formats have been given some extra press in the Mac community recently. One of the most significant features of iTunes Match, announced at WWDC 2011, is that users will have access to 256-kbps AAC versions of the songs in their libraries, even if the original files were encoded at a lower bit rate or in a different format. Later, on 5by5, John Siracusa winkingly suggested that an e-mail from him to Steve Jobs was the impetus for Apple’s introduction of their Apple Lossless codec, and Marco Arment mentioned his own foray into lossless codec design.
Welcome to my new site! In this inaugural article, I’m going to describe how I set up the Jekyll static site generator on Mac OS X and how I configured Amazon S3 to host the website. Specifically, I’ll cover the following topics:
- Installing RVM and Ruby on Mac OS X (and configuring RVM for
- Installing Jekyll on Mac OS X
- Configuring Amazon S3 to serve a website
- Using jekyll-s3 to link Jekyll to Amazon S3
- Creating a DNS record to point a domain name to an Amazon S3 site