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Bruce Schneier on the coming IoT security dumpster-fire

Bruce Schneier warns us that the Internet of Things security dumpster-fire isn't just bad laptop security for thermostats: rather, that "software control" (of an ever-widening pool of technologies); interconnections; and autonomy (systems designed to act without human intervention, often responding faster than humans possibly could) creates an urgency over security questions that presents an urgent threat the like of which we've never seen. (more…)

When science intersected with the counterculture, things got wonderfully weird

In the late 1960s and 1970s, the mind-expanding modus operandi of the counterculture spread into the realm of science, and shit got wonderfully weird. Neurophysiologist John Lilly tried to talk with dolphins. Physicist Peter Phillips launched a parapsychology lab at Washington University. Princeton physicist Gerard O'Neill became an evangelist for space colonies. Groovy Science: Knowledge, Innovation, and American Counterculture is a new book of essays about this heady time! The book was co-edited by MIT's David Kaiser, who wrote the fantastic 2011 book How the Hippies Saved Physics, and UC Santa Barbara historian W. Patrick McCray. I can't wait to read it!

From an MIT News interview with Kaiser:

We want to address a common stereotype that dates from the time period itself, which is that the American youth movement, the hippies or counterculture, was reacting strongly against science and technology, or even the entire Western intellectual tradition of reason, as a symbol of all that should be overturned. In fact, many of them were enamored of science and technology, some of them were working scientists, and some were patrons of science. This picture of fear and revulsion is wrong.

We also see things that have a surprisingly psychedelic past. This includes certain strains of sustainability, design, and manufacture, notions of socially responsible engineering, and artisanal food. This stuff didn’t start from scratch in 1968 and didn’t end on a dime in 1982...

These folks were rejecting not science itself but what many had come to consider a depersonalized, militarized approach to the control of nature. Yet even the most colorful examples of groovy science had specific debts to the High Cold War, the first quarter-century after World War II, the era of “Big Science.” John Lilly was famous for woolly-sounding experiments on interspecies communication [with dolphins] and sensory deprivation and LSD. It’s easy to see why that fits in a book called “Groovy Science,” but Lilly was coming directly out of military-industrial research, from Korean War-era worries about brainwashing and the Soviet Menace. The chapter on the surfboard revolution takes us far away from Dr. Strangelove — we’re not talking about nuclear strategy or bombers — but this happened in Southern California for a reason, because there were a lot of people in defense and aerospace with experience in materials science, which shaped even a leisure/counterculture activity such as surfing.

Groovy Science: Knowledge, Innovation, and American Counterculture (Amazon)

Our public health data is being ingested into Silicon Valley's gaping, proprietary maw

In a lead editorial in the current Nature, John Wilbanks (formerly head of Science Commons, now "Chief Commons Officer" for Sage Bionetworks) and Eric Topol (professor of genomics at the Scripps Institute) decry the mass privatization of health data by tech startups, who're using a combination of side-deals with health authorities/insurers and technological lockups to amass huge databases of vital health information that is not copyrighted or copyrightable, but is nevertheless walled off from open research, investigation and replication. (more…)

Escape from the Aliens in Outer Space

Osprey Publishing, the UK-based military history publisher beloved by wargamers and toy soldier nerds for their amazing Men at Arms series (which lovingly detail the uniforms and accoutrements of war), has been expanding into gaming in a big way recently. They've been responsible for the increasingly popular skirmish-level dungeon-delving miniatures game, Frostgrave, the hugely popular Bolt Action (which they distribute through a publishing partnership with Warlord Games), and a growing number of excellent miniature rules sets covering everything from historicals to fantasy, sci-fi, and horror.

Another notable thing they've been doing is re-vamping existing games that had a lot of promise but had some rules problems, or component issues, or some other crippling flaw that limited their appeal. They've been re-doing these games in gorgeous new editions. One such game is Odin's Ravens, which I previously reviewed here. They also recently released a lovely, revamped edition of the very trippy The Ravens of Thri Sahashri, a Japanese cooperative card game where players enter the mind of a character and try and repair her memories and guide her to safety before she goes insane with ravens eating her mind. Another notable example of this revitalizing of a promising title is their recent "Ultimate Edition" of Escape from the Aliens in Outer Space.

[caption id="attachment_473200" align="alignnone" width="2016"] The lovely and unusual components and packaging of Escape from the Aliens in Outer Space.[/caption]

Escape from the Aliens in Outer Space is a card-based hidden movement, hidden identity game of deception and bluffing. This "Ultimate Edition" is a significant upgrade to the original which launched in 2010. To keep track of your movement in the game and to try and work out where other players might be within the corridors of your badly damaged space station, you make notations on a map of the ship. The original version had paper pads of the ship maps and came with marking pencils. The Osprey edition upgrades this with 8 handsome wire-bound erasable map booklets (with 8 different ship maps to choose from) and 8 dry-erase markers. There are also 90 evocatively-illustrated cards which depict the players, escape pod cards, dangerous sector cards (which alert players to what's going on in the station as you explore it), and item cards which give human players various tools and game conditions that they can utilize.

The premise of Escape from the Aliens in Outer Space is simple. An alien virus aboard an orbiting research station is turning medical test subjects and the crew into human-devouring monsters. At the beginning of the game, a blind draw determines who among the players are humans and who are aliens. As the human players try to move as silently as possibly through the power-dark and damaged space station, the alien players try to sniff them out on the map, attack, and kill them. Each human player is trying to make it to escape hatches indicated on the maps. If they can make it to a pod (and the pod is still functional), they get to leave the ship and are safe. The goal of the alien players is to kill all humans. When a human dies, it is sent to the alien spawning sector depicted on the map and plays through as an alien. When an alien dies, that player is out of the game. Every human that escapes is declared a winner. The alien(s) win if they eliminate all of the humans on-board the ship.

[caption id="attachment_472854" align="alignnone" width="2607"] My son, Blake Maloof, playing Escape with me and his GF. [/caption]

Game play is very simple, with each player taking turns moving in secret, recording where they are in their private map booklet (and taking notes on where others might be). Different sector spaces require the arriving player to announce different things to the other players, draw cards that dictate what they have to do there, or (for human players), potentially pick up items that can used to try and fight or defend against the aliens. There is also bluffing involved here. When aliens land in a sector where where they think a human is hiding, they announce an attack, and if they are correct, the human is defeated. Other lurking aliens caught in an attack are also killed.

Escape from the Aliens in Outer Space is obviously trying to evoke that creepy adrenaline rush from the film Aliens, of being plunged into the darkness of a tight space knowing that terrifying monsters are methodically hunting you down to try and eat your face off. Cleverly, all of the artwork on the box, on the cards, looks like frozen frames of the gristly action, as perhaps seen through the stroboscopic lights of an emergency warning system or the muzzle flash of an assault rifle. I really like what they were going for here. I love the box design, the use of the dry-erase map pads, and the card illustrations. And I like the way they tried to engineer a mechanic that would generate feelings of fear and claustrophobia. They obviously designed the art to further convey these emotions. I've heard this game has generated intense reactions in some players, but not for me. I enjoy the game and am recommending it, but I just wish it had felt more engaging to me, produced more tension in me and my game mates. The white map boards feel a little too minimal and stark and the game production overall could have benefited from more immersion in the game's alien horror theme. Besides the cards, the rest of the components are minimal in design. It almost feels like the cards and the rest of the components come from two different games.

I'm fascinated by "gimmick games" and I would count Escape from the Aliens in Outer Space as such a game. I can't say that they succeeded for me in the obvious design goal of creating a game that really makes you sweat. But it still is an entertaining game with lovely artwork, high production values, and a fun and unique hidden movement mechanic. It takes about 30 minutes to play, so it's a fun lunch break game or something fun and different to pull out as an appetizer at your next gaming group.

Cozy $150 micro-camping trailer pulled by bike has kitchen, bed, bookshelves

Paul Elkins built a bike-towed micro-camper for $150 and has made the plans available.

From YouTube:

Paul Elkins fell for micro-camping in 2002 when he toured the country in his cabover “stealth camper”. Sure he could make something more affordable, this year he began building a nomadic micro-shelter based on the Airstream design.

Using 4 recycled fluted-plastic campaign signs from a recent election, a $20 secondhand bike, 6 pine boards ($1 at Home Depot), screws, Duct tape and zip ties, he built his latest micro mobile shelter for only $150.

Calling it a “micro Airstream bike camper”, it’s a 60-pound “home away from home”, complete with butane stove, bread-pan sink, counter, food storage shelving, clothes-storage bins, LED lighting, bed, windows, pee jug, bubble insulation, stereo with MP3 player, and a skylight made out of a 1 gallon plastic tub.

How facial recognition works (and how to hack your own in Python)

You could not ask for a clearer, easier-to-read, more informative guide to facial recognition and machine learning thank Adam Geitgey's article, which is the latest in a series of equally clear explainers on machine learning, aimed at non-technical people -- and if you are a programmer, he's got links to Python sample source and projects you can use to develop your own versions. (more…)

Iraq bans fake bomb detectors

James McCormick, a British fraudster, got rich and got jailed selling fake bomb detectors to police in Iraq. But the devices—dowsing rods in a plastic handle, often sold as golf ball 'finders'—were so popular that even after he was collared, cops remained convinced (by inclination or graft) that they worked. After a series of horrific bombings, the government's stepped in to get rid of the useless gadgets.

It took a massive suicide bombing that killed almost 300 people in Baghdad on July 3 — the deadliest single attack in the capital in 13 years of war — for Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi to finally ban their use.

The reason it took so long is likely the widespread corruption in the government. Iraqis mocked the device from the start, joking that too much aftershave could set off the antenna.

Now there are accusations that plans to start using newly imported explosives-detecting scanners were intentionally held up as part of the political wrangling over which faction — the military or the police — will control security in Baghdad.

Watch Iggy Pop and Tom Waits acting weird, as directed by Jim Jarmusch

In Jim Jarmusch's original short film "Coffee and Cigarettes: Somewhere in California" (1993), Iggy Pop and Tom Waits celebrate quitting smoking by having a cigarette, enjoy some awkward chit chat, and confess their love for IHOP coffee. Here's Jim Jarmusch talking about shooting the scene:

Tom was exhausted. We had just shot a video the day before for "I Don't Wanna Grow Up" and he had been doing a lot of press. He was kind of in a surly mood as he is sometimes, but he's also very warm. He came in late that morning - I had given him the script the night before - and I was with Iggy. Tom threw the script down on the table and said, "Well, you know, you said this was going to be funny, Jim. Maybe you better just circle the jokes 'cause I don't see them". He looked at poor Iggy and said, "What do you think Iggy?" Iggy said, "I think I'm gonna go get some coffee and let you guys talk." So I calmed Tom down. I knew it was just early in the morning and Tom was in a bad mood. His attitude changed completely, but I wanted him to keep some of that paranoid surliness in the script. We worked with that and kept it in his character. If he had been in a really good mood, I don't think the film would have been as funny."

Storytellers are more attractive, are happier and more satisfied with life

The Wall Street Journal reports that storytellers—people with a natural inclination to craft concise yet compelling narratives without rambling—were found to be hot by science. Feels good to be a writa.

The results were the same across all three studies: Women rated men who were good storytellers as more attractive and desirable as potential long-term partners. Psychologists believe this is because the man is showing that he knows how to connect, to share emotions and, possibly, to be vulnerable. He also is indicating that he is interesting and articulate and can gain resources and provide support.

“Storytelling is linked to the ability to be a good provider,” because a man is explaining what he can offer, says Melanie Green, an associate professor in the department of communication at the University at Buffalo and a researcher on the study. The men didn’t care whether the women were good storytellers, the research showed.

There is also a "how to" guide for nascent storytellers: master the technical basics, set aside time to practice, build a repertoire of basics, develop a relationship to tense, and get emotional.

Spotted via the sneering Gilfoyles of Hacker News, who seem fabulously angry about this for some reason.

You've met the man designed to survive a car crash, now meet the Natural Born Smoker

Pesco posted about "Graham," a man remade to survive car accidents, replete with blemmye-like head and disgusting air-sacs rippling around his ribs. A device to remind us of the fragility of our feeble human bodies, it reminded me of the Natural Born Smoker, a similar effort in the 1980s.

Like Graham, he's grossly adapted to resist physical damage. But instead of the trauma associated with high-speed road accidents, NBS is all about dealing with smoke. Above is the classic; here's the lesser-spotted sequel to Barry Myers' Blade Runner-esque public information film:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0tDdk8u_BV0

Ah, good old British childrens' TV!

Surprise revival in UK printed book sales, with ebooks dipping

Ink on paper is a better product, at least for now, and it's showing at British tills. Sky UK's Lucy Cotter reports the first better year for print since 2007, and the worst one for ebooks since 2011.

Last year saw the first rise in sales since 2007, while digital book sales dropped for the first time since 2011.

Betsy Tobin, who runs the independent bookshop Ink@84 in Highbury, London, offers her customers a personalised service.

The bookshop offers coffee and alcohol and runs events and special author evenings.

Diversifying is part of her success but she says her customers also like buying in person rather than online.

They take pleasure from handling and owning books, she said.

I wonder if this has something to do with how well-run major UK bookstore chains are (small stores in high-traffic areas) compared to American ones (strip-mall big boxes, full of trashy ancillary merch and empty of foot traffic.) The literary retail culture there makes people want to drop in and fuss around with books, while the one here just means no-one is ever in a bookstore in the first place, so they just order stuff on Kindle.

Raspberry Pi revolutionized arcade game emulation, here's how to get started

Jeff Atwood (coincidentally the cocaine-dusted, AK-toting godfather of our comment system) writes at length about the absolutely fabulous things that the tiny, supremely adaptable ">Raspberry Pi computers have done for the emulation scene. His posting doubles as a useful how-to for those unfamiliar with the drill.

1. The ascendance of Raspberry Pi has single-handedly revolutionized the emulation scene.
2. Chinese all-in-one JAMMA cards are available everywhere for about $90.
3. Cheap, quality arcade size IPS LCDs of 18-23".

This is most definitely the funnest and cheapest way to get into arcade emulation when you want to step beyond apps. If you're not into messing around with linux and configuration files and whatnot, an Intel Compute Stick (which comes with Windows) is a more expensive but easier path than a Pi. But you'll still have to deal with the hardware.

Claim of "dramatic deterioration" in UK economy since Brexit vote

According to one financial services company, Brexit bites—and it hasn't even been officially announced yet. According to Markit (good enough for fussy Tory broadsheet The Telegraph), economic shit's back to 2009 levels already, yo.

Speaking about the data, Markit's chief economist, Chris Williamson, said (emphasis ours):

"July saw a dramatic deterioration in the economy, with business activity slumping at the fastest rate since the height of the global financial crisis in early-2009.

"The downturn, whether manifesting itself in order book cancellations, a lack of new orders or the postponement or halting of projects, was most commonly attributed in one way or another to 'Brexit.'"

Verizon to buy Yahoo for $5bn

Twenty-one years ago, Yahoo became the soul of the nascent web. Now it's telco food, to be eaten by Verizon for $5bn.

Verizon is also the proud owner of AOL, snagged last year for $4.4bn. At their height, the two lynchpins of the 90s' WWW were worth about $350 billion—at least to those unlucky enough to buy tech shares in 2000.

Verizon plans to unite the two companies to create a Facebook-killer made of nostalgia and its own users' personal information—and the zoo of startups and internet publishers the two companies gobbled up in their dying years.

The US telecoms giant is expected to merge Yahoo with AOL, to create a digital group capable of taking on the likes of Google and Facebook.

Verizon bought AOL - another faded internet star -in a $4.4bn deal last year, which gave it ownership of the Huffington Post, Techcrunch, Engadget and other news sites.

Shortly afterwards, Verizon announced it would start combining data about its mobile network subscribers - which is tied to their handsets - with the tracking information already gathered by AOL's sites.

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