by Mike Masnick
Mon, Mar 10th 2014 3:03am
from the i-need-a-coffee dept
The item that got the most attention this week was the news that Keurig plans to include what is essentially DRM in their upcoming line of "2.0" brewers. After the firestorm that post ignited, Keurig raced to put out a weak response discussing all the wonderful reasons that this technology is necessary. Arsik Vek won most insightful comment of the week for catching one of the many flaws in their message:
"It’s critical for performance and safety reasons that our new system includes this technology."
So, are they admitting that current Keurig coffee machines are both improperly performing and dangerous? I mean, they lack this feature, right?
When Australian broadcasters complained that Netflix hadn't blocked VPN users, thus giving all those Australian viewers choice and freedom, DB won second place for insightful with an excellent comparison, and exposure of the underlying hypocrisy:
I see this as the same situation as importing low-cost textbooks licensed for foreign markets.
Large companies want the benefits of an open world economy, moving production freely to optimize costs. But they don't want their customers to have the have same freedom to buy where the prices are lower, or the selection is better.
In this case the media companies want to buy their content on the worldwide market, while restricting their customers from doing the same. They want the government to effectively grant them a distribution monopoly.
For editor's choice on the insightful side, we'll start with one more comment on that post, in which edpo underlined just how dumb it is to hate and fear VPNs:
Anyone attempting to criticize VPN's in this day and age is clueless. I am on a VPN all day, for my privacy *and* because that is how my business is set up to work. I can be anywhere in the world and be sitting at my desk, working as I normally do and being productive. My personal interests (privacy and productivity) trump what some technophobe entertainment-industry lawyer thinks I should be doing to maximize his employer's revenue. It's absurd. If I were advocating for changes in *his* industry to help maximize my income at the expense of his employer's interests, the absurdity would be even more obvious.
Next, we've got a response to the post about Homeland Security detaining US citizen Christine Von Der Haar and quizzing her about her sex life and relationship with Greek national Dimitris Papatheodoropoulos. The incident, and the explanation, gave silverscarcat an idea for a new rule for the government:
Any time a government agency says "national security", an immediate investigation by reporters and non-government officials is to be launched to see why it's considered that.
Over on the funny side, we start out by returning to the Keurig post, where sorrykb won first place by making the connection to an incredibly appropriate quote from Douglas Adams:
"When the 'Drink' button is pressed it makes an instant but highly detailed examination of the subject's taste buds, a spectroscopic analysis of the subject's metabolism, and then sends tiny experimental signals down the neural pathways to the taste centres of the subject's brain to see what is likely to be well received. However, no-one knows quite why it does this because it then invariably delivers a cupful of liquid that is almost, but not quite, entirely unlike tea."
For second place, we head back to the homeland security detainment post, where Michael offered a theory about the government's motives:
They were doing this for the children!
Just think, if these two were married and hyphenated their names, their children would have to learn to spell Von Der Haar-Papatheodoropoulos and forever be unable to fill out government forms because there are not nearly enough boxes for all of those letters.
For editor's choice on the funny side, we start out on the post about the UK's porn filter architect being arrested on child porn charges. Quinn Wilde offered a funny and informative reply, putting this latest embarrassment in the context of the David Cameron government:
We need a Minister for Hypocrisy
For those who need a recap on David Cameron's government:
His Chief Secretary to the Treasury had to resign after fiddling his expenses.
His Director of Communications had to resigned after being implicated in the phone hacking scandal.
His Secretary of State for Defence had to resign after giving his close friend unauthorised access to the Ministry of Defence.
His Immigration Minister had to resign after it emerged his cleaner did not have permission to work in the UK.
And now the architect of the UK porn filter has had to resign having been arrested on suspicion of possession of child pornography.
If only Cameron had a Minister for Hypocrisy this could be the most successful government of all time. Although, given form, he'd probably have to resign after being discovered telling the unequivocal truth about everything and, you know, holding himself to his own standards.
And finally, we've got a short and sweet anonymous comment, pointing out that the accusation that the CIA has been spying on the Senate Intelligence Committee has (unsatisfactorily) answered an old question:
I guess now we know who's watching the watchers.
That's all for this week, folks!
by Leigh Beadon
Sat, Mar 8th 2014 12:00pm
from the you-done-changed-the-game dept
Kickstarter has launched a lot of brand new games, both video- and otherwise, but it's also home to plenty of people working on ways to enhance and alter existing games, and those people are the stars of this week's Awesome Stuff.
Bridging The Game Gap: Japanese For Gamers
For certain game genres and amongst large portions of the gaming community, Japan is where it's at. Between JRPGs and visual novels, Japan has been pumping out critically acclaimed and hugely popular games whose titles are often barely even heard in the English speaking world, leaving the avid gamers who know about them to campaign for translations and English releases — or to pirate and turn to the fan translation community. This project offers a new alternative for true fans who want to learn something while they're at it: an extensive free video course in speaking Japanese, aimed at gamers with a focus on the language as it is used in video games.
Swirling Lightshow In The Corner Pocket: OpenPool
At this point, pool is timeless — but that doesn't mean it can't be gussied up with some cool technology. OpenPool is a projection mapping system that uses an Xbox Kinect to project a moving, interactive, responsive image onto a pool table. Not only is it a really impressive visual effect, it opens up all kinds of possibilities for new dynamic twists on the game. The coolest part? It's a DIY kit. Combine their software and ceiling mount with your own Kinect, projector and computer, and build an OpenPool system yourself.
Edward Snowden, Jack Of Spades: WIRETAP Cards
I know, I know — I featured a deck of cards two weeks ago too. I wasn't going to include another, but the WIRETAP deck is far too fitting to ignore. It's a full set of original hand-drawn playing cards with suit pips that look at you. The court cards are modelled after important players from the NSA saga and the broader world of privacy and government spying — including Edward Snowden, Jack of Spades.
Fri, Mar 7th 2014 7:39pm
from the compare-and-contrast dept
Republished from ProPublica under a Creative Commons license.
The East German secret police, known as the Stasi, were an infamously intrusive secret police force. They amassed dossiers on about one quarter of the population of the country during the Communist regime.
But their spycraft — while incredibly invasive — was also technologically primitive by today's standards. While researching my book Dragnet Nation, I obtained the above hand drawn social network graph and other files from the Stasi Archive in Berlin, where German citizens can see files kept about them and media can access some files, with the names of the people who were monitored removed.
The graphic shows forty-six connections, linking a target to various people (an "aunt," "Operational Case Jentzsch," presumably Bernd Jentzsch, an East German poet who defected to the West in 1976), places ("church"), and meetings ("by post, by phone, meeting in Hungary").
Gary Bruce, an associate professor of history at the University of Waterloo and the author of "The Firm: The Inside Story of the Stasi," helped me decode the graphic and other files. I was surprised at how crude the surveillance was. "Their main surveillance technology was mail, telephone, and informants," Bruce said.
Another file revealed a low-level surveillance operation called an IM-vorgang aimed at recruiting an unnamed target to become an informant. (The names of the targets were redacted; the names of the Stasi agents and informants were not.) In this case, the Stasi watched a rather boring high school student who lived with his mother and sister in a run-of-the-mill apartment. The Stasi obtained a report on him from the principal of his school and from a club where he was a member. But they didn't have much on him — I've seen Facebook profiles with far more information.
A third file documented a surveillance operation known as an OPK, for Operative Personenkontrolle, of a man who was writing oppositional poetry. The Stasi deployed three informants against him but did not steam open his mail or listen to his phone calls. The regime collapsed before the Stasi could do anything further.
I also obtained a file that contained an "observation report," in which Stasi agents recorded the movements of a forty-year-old man for two days — September 28 and 29, 1979. They watched him as he dropped off his laundry, loaded up his car with rolls of wallpaper, and drove a child in a car "obeying the speed limit," stopping for gas and delivering the wallpaper to an apartment building. The Stasi continued to follow the car as a woman drove the child back to Berlin.
The Stasi agent appears to have started following the target at 4:15 p.m. on a Friday evening. At 9:38 p.m., the target went into his apartment and turned out the lights. The agent stayed all night and handed over surveillance to another agent at 7:00 a.m. Saturday morning. That agent appears to have followed the target until 10:00 p.m. From today's perspective, this seems like a lot of work for very little information.
And yet, the Stasi files are an important reminder of what a repressive regime can do with so little information. You can view the complete files at ProPublica.
by Karl Bode
Fri, Mar 7th 2014 6:36pm
from the just-a-wafer-thin-mint-sir dept
While many chefs seem to simply think that foodies and patrons photographing their food is a sign of respect or just begrudgingly tolerate it, others seem to have succumbed to copyright maximalism disease, whereby one believes that you're allowed to "own" things you're clearly not entitled to. Despite the idea being rather groundless, it appears that it has recently caught on among a smattering of chefs overseas:
"Gilles Goujon, from the three-starred L'Auberge du vieux puits in the south of France, has stated in an interview with news website France TV that foodtography is not only poor etiquette but he believes that when his dishes appear online, it takes away "a little bit of my intellectual property". Another chef in La Madelaine-sous-Montreuil has also included a "no camera" policy on his menus for this reason."While kicking people out of your restaurant is certainly your prerogative (and there certainly are people who are so in love with their smartphone that dining with them is annoying), why would you want to punish paying customers for appreciating your work? The end result would likely hurt your brand long before it managed to protect any personal acumen in your stated craft. Other chefs lament that not only are you stealing their IP, you're doing a really crap job of it because you're probably a bad photographer:
"US chef RJ Cooper, from Rogue 24 in Washington DC, has made similar claims...: "They publish food photos without your consent, which is taking intellectual property away from the restaurant. And also, generally, the photographs are terrible. "If you're publishing something in a public forum without written consent, that's problematic."That seems about as logical to me as the superstition that taking photographs of an individual leeches away a tiny part of their soul. Just because I take a photo of your meal, does that mean I'm somehow magically also stealing what is probably a complicated recipe? So what you're saying essentially is you "own" the IP of laying several strips of beef just so and dribbling the entire concoction with sauce in a particular way? It's quite a bit of nonsense, and fortunately for patrons, no lawyer appears to have been interested in testing this theory, even if it's starting to seem like only a matter of time before one does.
by Karl Bode
Fri, Mar 7th 2014 5:32pm
from the welcome-to-the-not-quite-Internet dept
Now, news has emerged that Facebook is spending $60 million to acquire drone-manufacturer Titan Aerospace. The idea is that Facebook could use these drones to provide fly-over connectivity for lower income nations. While it makes for good headlines whether that ever actually happens is pretty dubious, given there's a long history of mixed results when it comes to providing broadband by aircraft, whether that's via hot air balloon, Santa sleigh or drone. Really, when it's all said and done, it's an effort to grab a larger chunk of potential ad eyeballs under the pageantry of purported altruism.
Here in the States, we haven't experimented with the idea of free gateway access yet much, though companies like T-Mobile prepaid brand GoSmart have hinted at the idea. Speaking at the Mobile World Congress trade show this week in Barcelona, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg stated that he'd really like to see his expanded free ambitions take off further in additional countries:
"Zuckerberg said that Internet.org, which Facebook and other partners announced last year, is designed to create a reliable program to help "on-ramp" those customers to the Internet by offering a free tier of service, much like 911 on the wired telephone network. "We want to create a similar kind of dial tone to the Internet," Zuckerberg said...Facebook's work with wireless carrier Globe in the Philippines has doubled the number of people there accessing the Internet. He said in that program Globe is making access to Facebook free and then charging for access to other sites. In a separate effort in Paraguay, where Facebook is working with operator Tigo, the number of people using data has jumped 50 percent, and the number of people using it daily jumped 70 percent, by offering free access to Facebook."Usually, these statements are followed by citing a lot of studies about how improved Internet penetration helps developing nations (studies focused on actual Internet access, not Zuckerberg's definition of it). Critics contest these users aren't really being connected to the actual Internet and all that entails. They're being connected to bizarre new walled-garden universes where privacy doesn't exist, connectivity is fractured, and they themselves are the product. Is this helpful if you step back and take a longer view? Folks like Susan Crawford don't seem to think so:
"For poorer people, Internet access will equal Facebook. That's not the Internet—that’s being fodder for someone else’s ad-targeting business," she says. "That’s entrenching and amplifying existing inequalities and contributing to poverty of imagination—a crucial limitation on human life."I honestly find myself quite torn between thinking that any connectivity is better than none (it depends entirely on the implementation of the effort), and the idea that we're establishing a painfully-low baseline of expectation in developing countries in terms of what the Internet is supposed to be. How different is what Facebook is doing from AT&T's sponsored data idea when you strip away a few layers, and if people are introduced to the Internet as a fractured, distorted walled garden at their first encounter with it, what does it evolve into for them down the road?
by Joyce Hung
Fri, Mar 7th 2014 5:00pm
from the urls-we-dig-up dept
- People may be shocked to learn that MSG, the infamous food additive that's supposedly responsible for "Chinese Restaurant Syndrome," is the essence of umami, the now trendy "savory" taste. The flavor-enhancing additive MSG, or monosodium glutamate, resulted from an attempt to mass produce the key chemical compound responsible for that delicious meaty flavor in foods. In case you're wondering how much glutamate might be found in an original Umami Burger from Adam Fleischman's chain of umami restaurants, the answer is almost 2.2 grams. [url]
- Why do people torture themselves by eating tongue-scorching chili peppers? Probably because the capsaicin in the peppers triggers the release of endorphins, which not only help to relieve the burning pain, but also give people a natural high. Check out this video about the chemistry of Sriracha sauce, which also includes an interesting bit on how the Scoville scale was established to measure how spicy a pepper is. [url]
- Here's a blast from the past: an article about the chemistry of flavor as it was understood in the 1960s. This was a time when the now widely used Gas Chromatography-Mass Spectrometry (GC-MS) technique was heralded as a "major breakthrough in instrumental analysis in aroma chemistry." The article also includes photos of old school chemical analysis equipment, as well as ads from that era for chemicals and equipment, from Morton Purex Salt to stainless steel tanks. [url]
by Mike Masnick
Fri, Mar 7th 2014 4:35pm
from the wave-that-magic-wand dept
Unfortunately, it looks like this is something of a trend, with law enforcement types suddenly deciding on their own what websites need to be shut down absent any sort of judicial due process. These efforts probably make copyright maximalists happy, but they fly in the face of pretty much all of copyright law. They're almost entirely based on confusing law enforcement types into believing that copyright is just like "property" and thus that it can treat sites that are somehow connected to possible infringement the same as entities that traffic in stolen merchandise. There are, of course, worlds of difference between the two, but copyright maximalists play on the ignorance of law enforcement officials in these settings, playing up the misleading analogy, leading to vast censorship and a near total lack of due process.
by Karl Bode
Fri, Mar 7th 2014 3:33pm
from the BS-can-only-take-you-so-far dept
And they didn't just lie -- AT&T was loud about it. Via lobbyist, consultant, think tanker, and anyone else on the payroll, AT&T lied using every manner of lobbying trick in the book, from paying an army of third party groups to parrot merger support, to running an onslaught of constant full page advertisements repeating the same, easily-disproven lies ad nauseam. At the end of 2011, Cecilia Kang at the Washington Post penned what was essentially an obituary for the AT&T T-Mobile deal, with an overlooked paragraph that explained precisely why the deal became too much for regulators to swallow:
"The letters from third-party groups raised eyebrows at government agencies and on the Hill, where people began wondering why groups with no obvious ties to broadband were writing in. News reports emerged showing that many of the groups had financial ties to AT&T. Then there were the ads that staff members at the FCC said they couldn't avoid when they opened a newspaper, fired up their iPads or watched TV — all touting the merger's ability to put thousands of Americans to work. But who had ever heard of a big company merger creating rather than destroying jobs?"The Post noted that instead of all this noise and fury helping to get approval, it actually caused regulators to take a closer look at claims where otherwise they wouldn't have. The sheer volume of nonsense coming from AT&T actually worked to amplify media and political pressure where it might not have existed otherwise. The end result was regulators actually doing their jobs and digging into the promises more deeply, only to find AT&T's arguments lacking:
"AT&T's blitzkrieg of ads, which claimed that the promised expansion of broadband would create 100,000 jobs, wasn't helping either. A deal's impact on jobs is not typically part of an evaluation by antitrust officials, but this time regulators thought AT&T's campaign had forced them to take a closer look. They found holes. For one, the company refused to divulge how many jobs it would eliminate in the merger."Enter Comcast, who is busy trying to get regulators to approve their $45 billion acquisition of Time Warner Cable. Renata Hesse, who was the lead FCC antitrust official during the AT&T T-Mobile deal, will be overseeing the Comcast review at the DOJ. While Comcast is using many of the very same strategies AT&T employed (like paying minority groups to parrot merger support, and throwing money at everyone and everything) they seem to have learned a few lessons from the AT&T T-Mobile deal, and have dialed back the volume on their nonsense just enough so that it vaguely-resembles subtlety:
"Industry lobbyists familiar with both deals say they observe Comcast approaching this merger in a much quieter, more subtle way than AT&T did. Many of Comcas's lobbyists are staying silent about the deal altogether, and not just around reporters. Even at social gatherings and business functions where it might seem obvious to mention the deal to lawmakers or administration officials as a way of smoothing the way forward, Comcast's lobbyists have, in many instances, made nary a peep about it, according to sources. "The way Comcast is approaching this is very interesting,” said a veteran telecom lobbyist. "Everybody's writing the easy story about how many lobbyists Comcast has, but the way they're lobbying this, they're being very inside baseball, very surgical."That's not to say Comcast isn't paying a ton of other people to make stupid, loud arguments for them, but they're pretty clearly trying to tone down the rhetoric the public sees as having come from Comcast itself. Comcast's steering clear of unsubstantiated job claims, and seems intent on keeping any promises they do make vague (like arguing the deal is simply "pro consumer"). Will a tiny bit of subtlety let Comcast fly under the regulatory M&A skepticism meter? Maybe. Comcast has proven pretty good at getting regulators to push for meaningless merger conditions (though AT&T was pretty good at that too). I'm going to bet you see deal approval; not because the deal is necessarily good, but primarily because AT&T taught Comcast an important lesson on the limits of bullshit.
by Karl Bode
Fri, Mar 7th 2014 2:37pm
from the spy-versus-spy dept
Many of the advice columns released via Snowden's document dump deal with perfectly ordinary office politics, like complaints about stealing sodas out of refrigerators, stinky co-workers, or bosses who can't be bothered to respond to e-mails. But Maass points out that one of the more entertaining columns involves complaints by an NSA worker who is concerned about their boss spying on them. In a column signed "Silence in SID," an employee writes in:
"Here's the scenario: when the boss sees co-workers having a quiet conversation, he wants to know what is being said (it's mostly work related). He has his designated “snitches” and expects them to keep him apprised of all the office gossip – even calling them at home and expecting a run-down! This puts the “designees” in a really awkward position; plus, we're all afraid any offhand comment or anything said in confidence might be either repeated or misrepresented."The tension created by having an overly nosy boss has resulted, the employee claims, in workplace efficiency problems and a growing lack of trust in the establishment:
"We used to be able to joke around a little or talk about our favorite “Idol” contestant to break the tension, but now we're getting more and more skittish about even the most mundane general conversations (“Did you have a good weekend?”). This was once a very open, cooperative group who worked well together. Now we're more suspicious of each other and teamwork is becoming harder. Do you think this was the goal?Zelda is quite-amusingly shocked by the boss's behavior inside of an agency of spies:
"Wow, that takes “intelligence collection” in a whole new – and inappropriate – direction. …. We work in an Agency of secrets, but this kind of secrecy begets more secrecy and it becomes a downward spiral that destroys teamwork. What if you put an end to all the secrecy by bringing it out in the open?"So spying over-broadly on people you don't think should be spied upon destroys teamwork, fosters distrust and erodes overall efficiency, huh? Gosh, what if you took that concept and applied it to an entire planet? As Maass notes, at no point while giving advice on spying inside the NSA does Zelda seem to have awareness of the possible lessons that could be applied to spying going on outside the NSA (at least that we get to see):
"Her response to “Silenced in SID” does not acknowledge the irony – or hypocrisy – of an employee at a spy agency complaining about being spied on. But Zelda directly addresses the long-lasting effects of inappropriate surveillance. “Trust is hard to rebuild once it has been broken,” she observes. “Your work center may take time to heal after this deplorable practice is discontinued."So remember, dear readers: inappropriate surveillance erodes trust, destroys teamwork, damages the overall community, and creates a general downward spiral that's bad for everybody involved. Unless we're doing it to the general public, in which case -- who cares? Now get back to work!