Techdirt has an interesting followup on the arrest and indictment of Silk Road founder Ross Ulbricht, in connection to which the FBI seized 26,000 or so Bitcoins. From the Techdirt piece: "However, in the criminal complaint against Ulbricht, it suggested that his commissions were in the range of $80 million -- or about 600,000 Bitcoins. You might notice the disconnect between the 26,000 Bitcoins seized and the supposed 600,000 Ulbright made. It now comes out that those 26,000 Bitcoins aren't even Ulbricht's. Instead, they're actually from Silk Road's users. In other words, these were Bitcoins stored with user accounts on Silk Road. Ulbricht's actual wallet is separate from that, and was apparently encrypted, so it would appear that the FBI does not have them, nor does it have any way of getting at them just yet. And given that some courts have argued you can't be forced to give up your encryption, as it's a 5th Amendment violation, those Bitcoins could remain hidden -- though, I could see the court ordering him to pay the dollar equivalent in restitution (though still not sure that would force him to decrypt the Bitcoins)." The article also notes that the FBI's own Bitcoin wallet has been identified, leading to some snarky micropayment messages headed their direction.
BrokenHalo writes with a story at New Scientist outlining one approach to reclaiming your online privacy: a software gatekeeper (described in detail in a paper from last year) from two MIT developers. "Developers Sandy Pentland and Yves-Alexandre de Montjoye claim OpenPDS (PDF) disrupts what NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden called the 'architecture of oppression,' by letting users see and control any third-party requests for their information – whether that's from the NSA or Google. Among other things, the Personal Data Store includes a mechanism for fine-grained management of permissions for sharing of data. Personally, I'm not convinced that what the NSA demands outright to be shared is as relevant as what they surreptitiously take without asking."
rueger writes "The author of the very excellent Social Fixer browser plug-in is bowing to legal threats from Facebook and removing the core functionality that made his tool so great. I like Social Fixer a lot. It makes Facebook at least three or four times more usable. The author, Matt Kruse, says 'Any threat of legal action is a big deal. I am a one-man operation. If I were sued for whatever reason, I would find it very difficult to defend myself, even if it was without merit. I would be risking my personal life to maintain a tabbed news feed for users. As much as I'd like to be your Robin Hood, I just can't do that to my family.' Bizarrely, when he asked Facebook why they don't also threaten Ad-Block, the Facebook rep claimed to have never heard of it." Kruse has some surprisingly nice things to say about his interaction with Facebook, too. Reader Daniel Dvorkin points out this commentary at BuzzFeed which points out Twitter's similar policies.
New submitter Eunuchswear writes "Congress has passed laws forbidding NASA from allowing Chinese nationals on its premises, so NASA was forced to reject applications from Chinese scientists to attend the upcoming meeting on the Kepler space telescope next month. This ban extends even to Chinese scientists and students working in the USA, angering many American scientists. Geoff Marcy, known for his work on exoplanets, is reported to be boycotting the conference. 'In good conscience, I cannot attend a meeting that discriminates in this way. The meeting is about planets located trillions of miles away, with no national security implications.' he said in an email to the conference organisers."
MojoKid writes "Among the various SNAFUs and PR misfires related to the Xbox One release earlier this year, one item that had people upset was that Kinect would be used for advertising--or worse, that the Xbox One Kinect was actually designed with advertising in mind. The source was a UI designer who was expounding the capabilities of the Kinect and how it could be used to deliver interactive ads and used for native advertising. However, Microsoft Director of Product Planning Albert Penello threw cold water on much of it. 'First--nobody is working on that,' he said. 'We have a lot more interesting and pressing things to dedicate time towards.' He also stated that if Microsoft were to engage in something along those lines, users would definitely have control over it, meaning that Kinect would not be spying on you; you would have to engage with Kinect for anything to happen."
schwit1 writes with this selection from a story at USA Today: "MasterCard is joining the FIDO Alliance, signaling that the payment network is getting interested in using fingerprints and other biometric data to identify people for online payments. MasterCard will be the first major payment network to join FIDO. The Alliance is developing an open industry standard for biometric data such as fingerprints to be used for identification online. The goal is to replace clunky passwords and take friction out of logging on and purchasing using mobile devices. FIDO is trying to standardize lots of different ways of identifying people online, not just through biometric methods."
quantr draws your attention to a Bloomberg report that Microsoft has reached out to HTC to see if the company would be interested in adding Windows as a second OS to its Android handsets. From the Bloomberg story: "Its willingness to add Windows as a second operating system underscores the lengths to which Microsoft will go to get manufacturers to carry its software. HTC, the first company to make both Windows and Android phones, hasn’t unveiled a new Windows-based handset since June and has no current plans to release any more, said one person. Microsoft, with 3.7 percent of the market, is finding it necessary to make concessions after agreeing to acquire Nokia Oyj’s handset unit, which competes with other smartphone makers. [Microsoft operating systems head Terry] Myerson was planning to visit Asia this month and meet with senior executives at Taoyuan, Taiwan-based HTC to discuss his proposal, one of the people said."
badger.foo writes "Against ridiculous odds and even after gaining some media focus, the botnet dubbed The Hail Mary Cloud apparently succeeded in staying under the radar and kept compromising Linux machines for several years. This article sums up the known facts about the botnet and suggests some practical measures to keep your servers safe."
An anonymous reader writes "My wireless router just died. I have an old netbook lying around that has a wired network interface and a wireless one. The wireless card is supported in master mode by Linux, FreeBSD, and OpenBSD. What does Slashdot recommend I use to turn it into a router/wireless access point? DD-WRT? pfSense? Smoothwall? Fedora/Ubuntu/OpenBSD with a manual configuration? I'm not afraid of getting my hands dirty and I know what I'm doing, but I want as close to zero maintenance as possible."
sciencehabit writes "Smart, successful, and well-connected: a good description of Albert Einstein and his brain. The father of relativity theory didn't live to see modern brain imaging techniques, but after his death his brain was sliced into sections and photographed. Now, scientists have used those cross-sectional photos to reveal a larger-than-average corpus callosum — the bundle of nerve fibers connecting the brain's two hemispheres. The thickness of Einstein's corpus callosum was greater than the average, and more nerve fibers connected key regions such as the two sides of the prefrontal cortex, which are responsible for complex thought and decision-making. Combined with previous evidence that parts of the physicist's brain were unusually large and intricately folded, the researchers suggest that this feature helps account for his extraordinary gifts." Abstract (full article is paywalled) at the journal Brain.
theodp writes "In July, MIT drew criticism after issuing a report clearing itself in the suicide of Aaron Swartz. So, one wonders what Swartz supporters will make of The Lessons of Aaron Swartz, an MIT Technology Review op-edish piece penned by MIT EE/CS prof Hal Abelson, who chaired the review panel. Calling Swartz 'dangerously naïve about the reality of exercising that power [of technology], to the extent that he destroyed himself' (others say prosecutorial overreach destroyed him), Abelson questions 'whether the people who mentored Swartz and helped him achieve such brilliance and power had a responsibility to cultivate not only his technical excellence and his passion as an advocate but also, as my grandmother would have called it, seykhel-a wonderful Yiddish word that means a combination of intelligence and common sense.'"
Reader dryriver recommends a BBC report on the immense scale of the web-monitoring system in place in China. An excerpt: "More than two million people in China are employed by the government to monitor web activity, state media say, providing a rare glimpse into how the state tries to control the internet. The Beijing News says the monitors, described as internet 'opinion analysts,' are on state and commercial payrolls. China's hundreds of millions of web users increasingly use microblogs to criticise the state or vent anger. Recent research suggested Chinese censors actively target social media. The report by the Beijing News said that these monitors were not required to delete postings. They are "strictly to gather and analyse public opinions on microblog sites and compile reports for decision-makers", it said. It also added details about how some of these monitors work. Tang Xiaotao has been working as a monitor for less than six months, the report says, without revealing where he works. 'He sits in front of a PC every day, and opening up an application, he types in key words which are specified by clients. He then monitors negative opinions related to the clients, and gathers (them) and compiles reports and sends them to the clients,' it says. The reports says the software used in the office is even more advanced and supported by thousands of servers. It also monitors websites outside China."
Lots of U.S. government agencies' websites are partly or fully shut down, many of them with messages like this one, from the front page of the National Radio Astronomy Observatory: "Effective 7 p.m. EDT, Friday, 4 October 2013, the National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO) temporarily suspended all US operations because of the US Federal government shutdown. All NRAO facilities and buildings are closed; NRAO personnel, other than a skeleton crew, are on furlough and cannot respond to emails or phone calls." Brian Doherty argues at Reason that many of these shutterings don't actually seem to make any financial sense, and that the sites are down more as a public statement than out of fiscal prudence. If you're involved with running an organizational web site (government-funded or not), do you agree?
Hugh Pickens DOT Com writes "Emily Badger writes at the Atlantic that it's not too hard to build a tornado proof home but it's pretty difficult to design one that's liveable. "If you made a perfect earthquake structure, it would be a bunker with 24-inch walls and one small steel door for you to get in," says architect Michael Willis. That structure would be based on the empirical measurements of structural engineers. "You could design it to be perfectly resistant. But it would not be a place you'd want to live." The task behind the "Designing Recovery" competition (PDF): was to design a liveable tornado proof home in a part of the country where the geology makes it impossible to build tornado cellars or basements. Q4 Architects designed a safe space within a home instead of a shelter underneath it, a kind of house inside of a house. The result is an idea that could be replicated anywhere in tornado alley: a highly indestructible 600 square-foot core of concrete masonry, hurricane shutters and tornado doors where a family could survive a tornado and live beyond it, with several more flexible (and affordable) rooms wrapped around it. "It's going to do it's best to fight the tornado," says Elizabeth George." "Part of your house might get torn away, but the most important parts of the house are safe. After the disaster, everything is not lost. You're able to keep the most valuable things, which are the people, the functions of the house, and maybe your valuables." The genius of this idea is that while it would be significantly more expensive to build out the same tornado precautions for the entire home, the CORE house is meant to be constructed for under $50,000."
RemyBR writes "Softpedia points to a Nvidia Developer Zone forum post revealing that the company has removed a specific Linux feature as of the v310 drivers due to the Windows platform. A BaseMosaic user on Ubuntu 12.04 noticed a change in the number of displays that can be used simultaneously after upgrading from the v295 drivers to v310. Another user, apparently working for Nvidia, gave a very troubling answer: 'For feature parity between Windows and Linux we set BaseMosaic to 3 screens.'"
cold fjord writes with this excerpt from the Weekly Standard: "A portion of the website of the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) was apparently hacked as long as two months ago. SAMHSA is an agency of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). HHS also runs the new Obamacare insurance marketplace, Healthcare.gov. Dozens of pages hawking retail merchandise have been uploaded to the SAMHSA site, ranging from NFL jerseys to Ugg shoes to Armani fragrances. ... Shortly after this story was posted, the site nace.samhsa.gov returned an error message saying that the site could not be found. Later, the following message appeared on the site (misspelling included): 'This site is undgoing maintenance. We are sorry for any inconvenience this has caused you.'" (Screenshots in the story; Cached example from Google.)"
An anonymous reader writes "Today, the latest victim of the U.S. government shutdown, the National Radio Astronomy Observatory shut its doors and essentially mothballed all three of its radio telescope facilities: the Very Large Array or VLA (think Jodie Foster, Contact); the Green Bank Telescope, and the Very Long Baseline Array or VLBA. While the ALMA telescope is not yet affected (mainly due to it being run by a consortium of European, Japanese, Chilean and U.S. organizations), the U.S. funds for that will soon also dry up. Not only does this furlough most of the ~550 employees, it has also thrown a monkey wrench into many long-term carefully planned observations (to the tune of wasting half a million dollars and a year's worth of work). Emily Lakdawalla of the Planetary Society also has a commentary on the closure — and a plea to 'stop the madness.'"