Rick Zeman writes: The Washington Post has an lengthy article on Linus Torvalds and his thoughts on linux security. From the article: "...while Linux is fast, flexible and free, a growing chorus of critics warn that it has security weaknesses that could be fixed but haven’t been. Worse, as Internet security has surged as a subject of international concern, Torvalds has engaged in an occasionally profane standoff with experts on the subject. One group he has dismissed as “masturbating monkeys.” In blasting the security features produced by another group, he said in a public post, “Please just kill yourself now. The world would be a better place.” There are legitimate philosophical differences amid the harsh words. Linux has thrived in part because of Torvalds’s relentless focus on performance and reliability, both of which could suffer if more security features were added." Of course, contradictory points of view are presented, too. “While I don’t think that the Linux kernel has a terrible track record, it’s certainly much worse than a lot of people would like it to be,” said Matthew Garrett, principal security engineer for CoreOS, a San Francisco company that produces an operating system based on Linux. At a time when research into protecting software has grown increasingly sophisticated, Garrett said, “very little of that research has been incorporated into Linux.”
Rick Zeman writes: On this 4th of July, the day that Americans flock to their grills and smokers, Wired has a fascinating article on a computerized smoker designed by Harvard engineering students. They say, "In prototype form, the smoker looks like a combination of a giant pepper mill, a tandoori oven, and V.I.N.CENT from The Black Hole. It weighs 300 pounds. It has a refueling chute built into the side of it. And it uses a proportional-integral-derivative controller, a Raspberry Pi, and fans to regulate its own temperature, automatically producing an ideal slow-and-low burn."
After cooking >200 lbs of brisket fine-tuning the design, the students concluded, "“Old-school pitmasters are like, ‘I cook mine in a garbage can,’ and there’s a point of pride in that,” Parker says. “A lot of the cutting edge is when you take an art form and drag it back onto scientific turf and turn it into an algorithm. I don’t think we’ve diluted the artistic component with this."
Rick Zeman writes: John F. Nash Jr., who revolutionized the mathematical field of game theory, was endowed with a mind that was highly original and deeply troubled. But it became known to most people by its Hollywood description. His mind was beautiful.
Rick Zeman writes: Amazon, perhaps historically only second to NewEgg in the IT nerdling's online shopping heart, not only has treated their warehouse workers to appalling working condtions, but they're also making them sign a non-compete agreement for the privilege. Excerpt from the agreement: During employment and for 18 months after the Separation Date, Employee will not, directly or indirectly, whether on Employee’s own behalf or on behalf of any other entity (for example, as an employee, agent, partner, or consultant), engage in or support the development, manufacture, marketing, or sale of any product or service that competes or is intended to compete with any product or service sold, offered, or otherwise provided by Amazon (or intended to be sold, offered, or otherwise provided by Amazon in the future)....
One of those firms created a private intelligence network known as Black Asphalt Electronic Networking & Notification System that enabled police nationwide to share detailed reports about American motorists — criminals and the innocent alike — including their Social Security numbers, addresses and identifying tattoos, as well as hunches about which drivers to stop.
Many of the reports have been funneled to federal agencies and fusion centers as part of the government’s burgeoning law enforcement intelligence systems — despite warnings from state and federal authorities that the information could violate privacy and constitutional protections."
Rick Zeman writes: The Center for Public Integrity has a comprehensive article showing how Big Telecom (aka, AT&T, Comcast, Charter, Time Warner) use lobbyists, paid-for politicians, and lawsuits (both actual and the threat thereof) in their efforts to kill municipal broadband. From the article: "The companies have also used traditional campaign tactics such as newspaper ads, push polls, direct mail and door-to-door canvassing to block municipal networks. And they’ve tried to undermine the appetite for municipal broadband by paying for research from think tanks and front groups to portray the networks as unreliable and costly. " Unfortunately, those think tanks and front groups are also paid for by the companies.
From the article: The way this would work is one customer may set the car (which he paid for) to jealously value his life over all others; another user may prefer that the car values all lives the same and minimizes harm overall; yet another may want to minimize legal liability and costs for herself; and other settings are possible. Philosophically, this opens up an interesting debate about the oft-clashing ideas of morality vs. liability.
Rick Zeman writes: Alan Turing has been belatedly pardoned by the Queen of England 60+ years after his suicide after being chemically castrated for his homosexuality. The British prime minister, David Cameron, said in a statement: “He...left a remarkable national legacy through his substantial scientific achievements, often being referred to as the ‘father of modern computing.’ ”
Rick Zeman writes: Those of us of, uh, a certain age, recall The Oregon Trail with fondness as that pioneering educational game had the audacity to make learning fun! In the Mental Floss' history they look at the history behind the game, even going back to its initial text-based offering, showing how some programming magic pulled a generation of kids together.
Rick Zeman writes: Hot on the heels of an attorney suing Apple for a dollar because he couldn't be bothered to know if his device was High Definition-capable or not, comes the amusing tale of another attorney suing Apple because they didn't protect him from his porn addiction. The semi-literate 50 page complaint alleges that Apple is culpable "...for making devices that can display porn" and, containing one of the most amazing sentences to ever appear on the Internet claims that Apple is guilty of: "UNFAIR COMPETITION AND INTERFERENCE OF THE MARITAL CONTRACT: The Plaintiff became totally out of synch in his romantic relationship with his wife, which was a consequence of his use of his Apple product. The Plaintiff began desiring, younger more beautiful girls featured in porn videos than his wife, who was no longer 21. His failed marriage caused the Plaintiff to experience emotional distress to the point of hospitalization. The Plaintiff could no longer tell the difference between internet pornography and tangible intercourse due to the content he accessed through the Apple products, which failed to provide him with warnings of the dangers of online pornography whatsoever.
Rick Zeman writes: While the NSA's privacy violations are in the news, the New York Times reports on a lower tech version of the same concept performed by the US Postal Service. From the article: "Mr. Pickering was targeted by a longtime surveillance system called mail covers, but that is only a forerunner of a vastly more expansive effort, the Mail Isolation Control and Tracking program, in which Postal Service computers photograph the exterior of every piece of paper mail that is processed in the United States — about 160 billion pieces last year. It is not known how long the government saves the images." and "For mail cover requests, law enforcement agencies simply submit a letter to the Postal Service, which can grant or deny a request without judicial review. Law enforcement officials say the Postal Service rarely denies a request. In other government surveillance program, such as wiretaps, a federal judge must sign off on the requests." In other words, the USPS is capturing the metadata off of every piece of mail mailed in the US...but with even less oversight than the FISA courts provide over the NSA.
Rick Zeman writes: "Confidentiality is critical to national security." So wrote the Justice Department in concealing the NSA's role in two wiretap cases. However, now that the NSA is under the gun, it's apparently not, according to New York attorney Joshua Dratel: “National security is about keeping illegal conduct concealed from the American public until you’re forced to justify it because someone ratted you out" as the first he heard of the NSA's role in his client's case was "....when [FBI deputy director Sean] Joyce disclosed it on CSPAN to argue for the effectiveness of the NSA’s spying. Dratel challenged the legality of the spying in 2011, and asked a federal judge to order the government to produce the wiretap application the FBI gave the secretive Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to justify the surveillance. “Disclosure of the FISA applications to defense counsel – who possess the requisite security clearance – is also necessary to an accurate determination of the legality of the FISA surveillance, as otherwise the defense will be completely in the dark with respect to the basis for the FISA surveillance,” wrote Dratel.
The government fought the request in a remarkable 60-page reply, some of it redacted as classified in the public docket. The Justice Department argued that the defendants had no right to see any of the filings from the secret court, and instead the judge could review the filings alone in chambers. “Confidentiality is critical to national security,” the government wrote.
Rick Zeman writes: Showing once again that once a privacy door is opened every law enforcement agency will run through it, The Washington Post details how state drivers license photo databases are being mined by various LEOs in their states--and out. From the article: "[L]aw enforcement use of such facial searches is blurring the traditional boundaries between criminal and non-criminal databases, putting images of people never arrested in what amount to perpetual digital lineups. The most advanced systems allow police to run searches from laptop computers in their patrol cars and offer access to the FBI and other federal authorities.
Such open access has caused a backlash in some of the few states where there has been a public debate. As the databases grow larger and increasingly connected across jurisdictional boundaries, critics warn that authorities are developing what amounts to a national identification system — based on the distinct geography of each human face."