circletimessquare writes: Dread Pirate Roberts, who ran Silk Road, was identified as Ross Ulbricht by one agent googling, off work hours, in just two weekends in 2013. Many agents had been working on the case for a year or more, and since agent Gary Alford was new to the case, not FBI, and not technologically sophisticated, no one took him seriously for months. He escalated the discovery and became such a pest about it, one agent told him to drop it.
"In these technical investigations, people think they are too good to do the stupid old-school stuff. But I'm like, 'Well, that stuff still works.'" Mr. Alford’s preferred tool was Google. He used the advanced search option to look for material posted within specific date ranges. That brought him, during the last weekend of May 2013, to a chat room posting made just before Silk Road had gone online, in early 2011, by someone with the screen name "altoid." "Has anyone seen Silk Road yet?" altoid asked. "It’s kind of like an anonymous Amazon.com." The early date of the posting suggested that altoid might have inside knowledge about Silk Road. During the first weekend of June 2013, Mr. Alford went through everything altoid had written, the online equivalent of sifting through trash cans near the scene of a crime. Mr. Alford eventually turned up a message that altoid had apparently deleted — but that had been preserved in the response of another user. In that post, altoid asked for some programming help and gave his email address: firstname.lastname@example.org.
circletimessquare writes: New details have emerged about the 2004 conflict between George W. Bush and his Attorney General, John Ashcroft, who was hospitalized when he forcefully disagreed with the president's authorization of the NSA's sweeping new collection powers after 9/11. The New York Times has discovered that the conflict was about a retroactive alteration of the President's wording on the legal theory by which the NSA is allowed to siphon up metadata on all Americans, not just certain targets or classes of targets, such as suspected terrorists. 'Mr. Bush, for the first time, explicitly said that his authorizations were “displacing” specific federal statutes, including the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act and criminal wiretapping laws... the president had “made an interpretation of law concerning his authorities” and that the Justice Department could not act in contradiction of Mr. Bush’s determinations.' The president faced a severe backlash from the Justice Department, including a threat of mass resignation.
circletimessquare writes: Plenty of regulations are bad (some because big business corrupts them, aka regulatory capture) but the simple truth is modern society cannot function without effective government regulation. It keeps are food safe, our rivers clean, and our economy healthy. Passing away at age 101 Friday was a woman who personified this lesson. In 1960 the F.D.A. (which some prominent politicians today want to weaken, because it interferes with their donor's profits) tasked her with evaluating a drug used in Europe for treating morning sickness. She noticed something troubling, and asked the manufacturer William S. Merrell Co. for more data. "Thus began a fateful test of wills. Merrell responded. Dr. Kelsey wanted more. Merrell complained to Dr. Kelsey’s bosses, calling her a petty bureaucrat. She persisted. On it went. But by late 1961, the terrible evidence was pouring in. The drug — better known by its generic name, thalidomide — was causing thousands of babies in Europe, Britain, Canada and the Middle East to be born with flipperlike arms and legs and other defects." Without Dr. Kelsey's scientific and regulatory persistence in the face of mindless greed, thousands of Americans would have suffered a horrible fate.
circletimessquare writes: Dr. Mehmet Oz serves as vice chairman of Columbia University Medical Center's department of surgery. He is a respected cardiothoracic surgeon but his television show has been accused of pushing snake oil. Now other doctors at Columbia University want Dr. Oz kicked off the medical school faculty. Dr. Oz has responded on his Facebook account: 'I bring the public information that will help them on their path to be their best selves. We provide multiple points of view, including mine which is offered without conflict of interest. That doesn't sit well with certain agendas which distort the facts. For example, I do not claim that GMO foods are dangerous, but believe that they should be labeled like they are in most countries around the world.' In their letter, the doctors accuse Dr. Oz of quackery: 'Dr. Oz has repeatedly shown disdain for science and for evidence-based medicine, as well as baseless and relentless opposition to the genetic engineering of food crops. Worst of all, he has manifested an egregious lack of integrity by promoting quack treatments and cures in the interest of personal financial gain.'
circletimessquare writes: The New York Times has a piece summarizing some recent research and recent discussion about the quality, or lack thereof, of online comments. 'In a 2013 study, she [Dominique Brossard, a professor of life sciences communication at the University of Wisconsin-Madison who has studied commenting] and her team found that impolite comments on an article about nanotechnology could make readers see the technology as more risky than they had before. “Rude comments tend to polarize readers,” she said. And “even people that said that they don’t read comments could be affected” — even if we don’t pay close attention to comments, we may catch a word here or there, and we can “use these as filters to actually make sense of the story. We use mental shortcuts to make sense of complicated issues,” she explained, “and those comments can give you those shortcuts, unfortunately.”'
circletimessquare writes: "If ineffective security theater at airports bothers you, then do not read about the 82 year old anti-nuclear activist nun who last month successfully committed the worst security breach ever at the most sensitive nuclear weaponization facility in the USA. 'With flashlights and bolt cutters, the three pacifists defied barbed wire as well as armed guards, video cameras and motion sensors at the Oak Ridge nuclear reservation in Tennessee early on July 28, a Saturday. They splashed blood on the Highly Enriched Uranium Materials Facility — a new windowless, half-billion-dollar plant encircled by enormous guard towers — and hung banners outside its walls.' This is not the kind of security lapse you ever want to hear about no matter what you think of the nun's beliefs."
circletimessquare writes: "While the world waits for a smartphone wallet, that idea might have already been made quaint by the company called Square that bought us the little Credit Card swiper that attaches to your iPhone audio jack: pay by just announcing your voice. 'You walk into a shop or cafe. The cashier knows that you’re on the premises, because your name and thumbnail photo appear on his iPad screen. He rings up your items by tapping them on the iPad. And now the magic moment: To pay, you just say your name. The cashier compares your actual face with the photo on the iPad’s screen, taps O.K., and the transaction is complete. No cash, no cards, no signatures — you don’t even have to take the phone out of your pocket.' A number of hacks seem apparent. David Pogue's New York Times article also summarizes nicely the state of play in novel electronic payment methods."
circletimessquare writes: "While most of the world was discovering the Internet in the early 1990s, France was discovering it in the early 1980s. It was a commercial failure outside France due to an inflexible business strategy, but within France, the Minitel was a cultural touchstone. 'Most of the services no longer exist, but among the last functioning Minitel programs are the “messageries roses,” the “pink message services” that were the world’s first adult chat rooms. They were once advertised on billboards, condemned by conservative politicians and mentioned in pop songs, including Michel Polnareff’s plaintive 1989 ballad “Goodbye Marylou.” “When the screen lights up, I type on my keyboard all the voiceless words we say to one another with our fingers,” Mr. Polnareff sang, years before most anyone but the French was having cybersex.'"
circletimessquare writes: "Everyone in the modern world has thrown away at least one thing that was perfectly good except for an easily fixed defect, because it's just easier to buy a new one. In the Netherlands, in the name of social cohesion, and with government and private foundation grants, there is a trend called the Repair Cafe (Dutch). People bring in broken items: a skirt with a hole in it, an iron that no longer steams, and they fix each other's stuff and meet their neighbors. Now that's an idea worth keeping."
circletimessquare writes: "In the New York Times Sunday Book Review section is one of those truth-is-stranger-than-fiction stories. This one is about Hedy Lamarr, the Hollywood star, and George Anthiel, the avant garde composer. A new book out by Richard Rhodes, “Hedy’s Folly,” details how this odd friendship produced an even odder product: sophisticated military munition designs during World War II, including an early original implementation of spread spectrum radio for torpedo guidance.
'Hedy’s folly may have been in assuming men in government might overcome their prejudice that a beautiful woman could not have brains and imagination. But she lived to see similar versions of her invention be put into common practice, and in 1997, Hedy Lamarr, at the age of 82, and George Antheil (posthumously) were honored with the Pioneer Award by the Electronic Frontier Foundation.'"
circletimessquare writes: "A programmer of an Internet cache analysis tool found an error in his own tool, and alerted prosecutors in the Casey Anthony case. His tool inaccurately reported that Casey Anthony had searched for "chloroform" from her computer 84 times. Worried that a woman's life was at stake, he told the prosecution in the case that she had in fact only searched for chloroform once, and it led to a visit to only one site: sci-spot.com, which only talked about historical use of chloroform in the 1800s. The software developer was ignored by the prosecution, and the 84 visits number was cited throughout the failed prosecution of Casey Anthony."
circletimessquare writes: "Understanding radiation exposure is extremely complicated: how long were you exposed? How close? What type of radiation? What types of isotopes? Etc. While it is impossible to condense all issues into one chart, xkcd helps to frame the issue of radiation doses in terms of scale, in terms of sieverts, one of many metrics one needs to understand when it comes to radiation exposure."
circletimessquare writes: "Walter Murch, one of the most technically knowledgeable film editors and sound designers in the film industry today, argues, via Rogert Ebert's journal in the Chicago Sun-Times, that 3D cinema can't work, ever. Not just today's technology, but even theoretically. Nothing but true holographic images will do. The crux of his argument is simple: 600 million years of evolution has designed eyes that focus and converge in parallel, at the same distance. Look far away at a mountain, and your eyes focus and converge far away, at the same distance. Look closely at a book, and your eyes focus and converge close, at the same distance. But the problem is that 3D cinema technology asks our eyes to converge at one distance, and focus at another, in order for the illusion to work, and this becomes very taxing, if not downright debilitating, and even, for the eyes of the very young, potentially developmentally dangerous. Other problems (but these may be fixable) include the dimness of the image, and the fact that the image tends to "gather in," even on Imax screens, ruining the immersive experience."
circletimessquare writes: "An FBI investigation into an iPad security leak, as previously discussed on Slashdot, has resulted in the arrest of Daniel Spitler, 26, of San Francisco, and Andrew Auernheimer, 25, of Fayetteville, Ark. Last year, Goatse Security, represented by Mr. Auernheimer with the online moniker "Weev," gained prominence when it used the way AT&T tied email addresses to 3G Internet access to obtain a list of 114,000 email accounts, and released the list to Gawker Media. Since many of these email accounts were.mil or tied to prominent users in Washington D.C., the FBI got involved.