Rick Zeman writes: According to the New York Times, "In its early conception, Bitcoin was to exist beyond the control of any single government or country. It would be based everywhere and nowhere."
Yet despite the talk of a borderless currency, a handful of Chinese companies have effectively assumed majority control of the Bitcoin network. They have done so through canny investments and vast farms of computer servers dispersed around the country and that "...there are fears that China’s government could decide, at some point, to pressure miners in the country to use their influence to alter the rules of the Bitcoin network. The government’s intervention in 2013 suggests that Bitcoin is not too small to escape notice."
Rick Zeman writes: Since the beginnings of the public Internet on Usenet, and now following on comments boards worldwide, lives the troll, the online creature dedicated to stirring up trouble with their versions of online flaming, fact-twisting, and overall being a menace to online society. Russia, by paying state-sponsored trolls has elevated the troll to the level of professional propagandists spewing the party line. In neighboring Finland, a country again precariously balanced between Europe and the Russian bear, Finnish journalist Jessikka Aro's investigations have opened a new front in the (dis)information war where "“There are so many layers of fakery you get lost,” said Ms. Aro, who was awarded the Finnish Grand Prize for Journalism in March." All because " A member of the European Union with an 830-mile-long border with Russia, Finland has stayed outside the United States-led military alliance but, unnerved by Russian military actions in Ukraine and its saber-rattling in the Baltic Sea, has expanded cooperation with NATO and debated whether to apply for full membership." The Times article explores many of the actions that the Russian propagandists use to keep Finland out of NATO, and some of the more indefensible ones directed personally at Aro. As she says, "“They get inside your head, and you start thinking: If I do this, what will the trolls do next?” she said."
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.