Archive for Technology

Rickrolling the Caliphate

What a great title for…something.

Based on a true story:

Anonymous hacked several ISIS Twitter accounts as part of its campaign, infiltrating the group’s #SupportISIS propaganda campaign by posting links disguised as Islamist – but which really link to UK singer Rick Astley’s “Never Gonna Give You Up” video from 1987.

The trick, known colloquially as a “Rickroll,” reignited Astley’s career in the late 2000s, after the prank became an internet staple.

Anonymous announced Wednesday that “Rickrolls” would be a strategic part of its campaign against ISIS, hoping users looking for jihadist material give up amidst a deluge of 1980s music videos.

I’ve been skeptical, but history shows there’s a role for satiric songs—Spike Jones’s “Der Fuehrer’s Face”, for example. But Spike Jones didn’t defeat Hitler. Millions of pounds of munitions, hundreds of thousands of grunts, a couple generals, and at least one gay computer scientist defeated Hitler.

Only the computers are the same (and perhaps a homosexual or two).

But if you’re going to tweak the Caliphate with 80s music videos, may I suggest one that will better ensnare jihadists than Rick-[bleepin’]-Astley?

By name and by sexiness (believe it or not), 1980s Paula Abdul will do more to trouble the terrorist mind than Wonder Bread Rick.

(Just don’t tell the jihadis that she’s Jewish!)


And I Was Skeptical

I’m a believer now!

[UPDATE: Wish I’d said this: “These are not the 72 virgins they were expecting.”]

The hacker collective Anonymous claims it has already taken down 5,500 Twitter accounts in its cyber war against the militant group Islamic State (IS).

Anonymous released a video on Sunday saying they would “launch the most important operation ever carried out” against IS in retaliation for Friday’s terrorist attacks in Paris, which killed at least 129 people and injured hundreds.

Following the deadly attacks on the satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo earlier this year, Anonymous launched a campaign dubbed #OpISIS to expose and destroy websites, social media accounts, and e-mail addresses of those it considered as affiliated with the terror group. Since then, it has claimed credit for shutting down several websites, and exposing e-mails, private networks, Internet addresses, and more than 9,000 Twitter accounts allegedly being used by Islamic State (ISIS) activists.

I’m still plenty skeptical—Anon failed the first time—but others have kept the faith:

Will the new intensified campaign by Anonymous really have any impact at all on IS?

“Cyberattacks can have a tremendous impact,” cyberwarfare expert David Gewirtz told CBS News. “Of course, they can’t be used to arrest people or take terrorists off the field, but they can certainly be used to compromise structural components of terrorist operations. More to the point, they can go after both the money that terrorists have and their funding sources. Damaging the money flow can certainly have an impact on the terrorists’ operations.”

The Caliphate has Seventh Century mores—the Koran—and a 20th Century income—oil. I’m not convinced cybersleuths with dopey masks really scare them.


Need to Feed 9.5 Billion? Ask Me How!

We shared with you the fainting spell of an op ed piece by the Bowdoin professor whose panic over overpopulation had her urging less merging, if you get my meaning.

Here’s another approach:

One can’t help but wonder how we’ll come up with enough food for all.

These worries are not new. The world’s population grew from 1.5 billion in 1900 to 2.5 billion in 1950. Then, too, many feared that agricultural output couldn’t keep up. As late as the 1960s, people warned of a ticking “population bomb.” Yet, the “Green Revolution” in agriculture delivered new techniques and scientific approaches to growing food. In the last 40 years, we were able to double agricultural output without taking much new land into production.

We at Cargill believe the world can do that again. But it won’t just happen by itself. Just as we did in the second half of the 20th century, we have to keep innovating and using science and technology to get the most out of every acre. We have to build the infrastructure in the developing world to make that happen.

This is so-called “sponsored content” at the Washington Post. No talk of employing China’s coercive population controls on a global scale. Just rolling up the sleeves and getting on with it.

I say this as someone who buys organic food from time to time, but if your choice is between GMO food and no food at all, which would you choose? If you’re person number 9,499,999,999, you get the kale you get.

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Al Lo Dovar, Africa

Don’t mention it:

An Israeli space company, Spacecom, is developing its newest satellite for Facebook and French satellite provider Eutelsat, in a venture intended to supply free Internet to millions of people in sub-Saharan Africa.

The project is part of Facebook’s non-for-profit initiative of providing affordable or free Internet to countries with limited or no access to what founder, Mark Zuckerberg describes as “the knowledge economy.”

Omri Arnon, Vice President of Business Development and Strategy at AMOS-Spacecom, explained that Israel’s interest in the initiative was not merely related to economics. In fact, the decision had much to do with the vast opportunity which can be afforded to the millions of new recipients who will, in the near future, be able to explore much of the world that has thus far been closed to them.

“Connecting people that have no connectivity to the Internet is one of the fundamental challenges of our time. When people have access to the internet, they can connect with their friends, family and communities,” Arnon said.

Moreover, the satellite will enable residents of sub-Saharan Africa to reap the economic and political benefits that will inevitably be generated with access to the Internet. Indeed, Arnon stated that the Internet service would enable “access to sources of information to help find jobs, start businesses, access healthcare, education and financial services, become part of the national and global economy, and have more influence on their societies.”

Facebook’s choice of Israel as the satellite developer will come as no surprise to some, with Israel already having proved that the geographical size of a country need not reflect the innovative capacity of its inhabitants.

In 2015, Israel was ranked fifth place on the Bloomberg Innovation Index which tracks the highest levels of the world’s research and development. This marked a huge climb from 30th place last year, setting Israel ahead of the UK, France and the US.

What’s that you say, Gaza? “The geographical size of a country need not reflect the innovative capacity of its inhabitants” applies to you, too?

Yes, you’ve got quite the space program too. As Tom Lehrer wrote:

“Once the rockets are up, who cares where they come down
That’s not my department,” says Wernher von Braun

PS: I suppose this would also qualify as one of our frequent Apartheid State Updates. Please consider it so.


Cool Ocean-Current-Powered Water Filter, Hannah

Want to bring it to the White House?

Nah, forget it.

Hannah Herbst wants to bring renewable energy to the developing world.

The 15-year-old from Boca Raton, Florida, won this year’s Discovery Education 3M Young Scientist Challenge for designing a probe to generate power and fresh water for developing countries by harvesting it from ocean currents.

She was awarded $25,000 and the title of “America’s Top Young Scientist” at a competition at the 3M Innovation Center in St. Paul, Minnesota.

Herbst told Business Insider she was inspired by her 9-year-old pen pal in Ethiopia who has limited access to electricity. “I cant even imagine a day without electricity,” said Herbst.

Herbst’s energy probe is made of recycled materials and costs just $12.

It consists of a 3D-printed propeller, connected by a pulley inside a plastic PVC pipe to a hydroelectric generator, which converts the mechanical movement of ocean currents to usable electricity. She tested her device in the Boca Raton Intracoastal Waterway, where the current coming in from the Altantic Ocean produces a large amount of untapped energy.

Using her device, she was able to power a set of LED lights.

She calculated that if her design were scaled up, she could generate enough electricity to charge three car batteries at once in less than an hour. That’s enough energy to power saltwater desalinization pumps to provide a source of fresh water for developing countries. It could also power blood centrifuges for medical use, or coastal beacons for ship navigation.

That’s very nice, dear. But why can’t you be more like that nice boy, Ahmed?

It’s a pity when a smart, pretty girl, inspired by an African pen pal, invents something costing only $12 worth of recyclables that might improve the lives of millions of people, yet barely merits a mention in the press.

And a con-boy who stuffs the guts of an old Radio Shack clock into a briefcase and calls it an invention is feted as the next Thomas Alva Edison. Enjoy Qatar, Ahmed. I’ll take one Hannah Herbst over a thousand of you.

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Get Off a My Cloud

We already knew Russia had a go at Hillary’s email.

Turns out, there was a long line forming to the right (no cuts, China!)

Computer hackers in China, South Korea and Germany tried to attack Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton’s private email server after she left the U.S. State Department in February 2013, the Associated Press reported on Thursday.

“It was not immediately clear whether the attempted intrusions into Clinton’s server were serious espionage threats or the sort of nuisance attacks that hit computer servers the world over,” the AP said, citing a congressional document.

The report said the attempted hacks appeared to have been thwarted by threat-monitoring product, although that was not installed for a period of three months, creating a window of possible exposure.

“Hillary exposed” is not an appetizing image. But it sounds like everyone’s seen everything:

A Connecticut company, which backed up Hillary Clinton‘s emails at the request of a Colorado firm, apparently surprised her aides by storing the emails on a “cloud” storage system designed to optimize data recovery.

The firm, Datto Inc., said Wednesday that it turned over the contents of its storage to the FBI on Tuesday.

Datto, based in Norwalk, Conn., became the second data storage firm to become entangled in the inquiry into Clinton’s unusual email arrangement, which has sparked a furor that has dogged her campaign. In August, Clinton and Colorado-based Platte River Networks, which had managed her primary server since June 2013, agreed to surrender it for examination by the FBI.

Datto and Platte River seemed at odds, however, over how Clinton’s emails wound up on Datto’s cloud storage, which may have resulted from a misunderstanding.

Platte River spokesman Andy Boian said the firm bought a device from Datto that constantly snaps images of a server’s contents and connected it to the Clinton server at a New Jersey data storage facility. Platte River never asked Datto to beam the images to an off-site cloud storage node and never was billed for that service, he said. Company officials were bewildered when they learned of the cloud storage, he said.

“We said, ‘You have a cloud? You were told not to have a cloud.’ We never received an invoice for any cloud for the Clintons.’”

What a hoot! “We didn’t say ‘cloud’, we asked you to turn down the music because it’s too loud!” I used to have a category Amateur Hour, but I didn’t use it often enough. I miss it dearly here.

PS: I hope Hillary didn’t smudge any fingerprints when she wiped her server, I mean, with a cloth.



How many characters do I get? 140?


The names of every black employee at Twitter could fit into a few tweets.

The tech company has only 49 black employees in an American workforce of 2,910, according to the company’s latest Equal Employment Opportunity report.

Across the board, its employment of most minorities deserves a “#dismal” hashtag — whites and Asians comprise 93.8% of Twitter’s workforce, with all other ethnicities represented by only a few dozen employees, if that.

This comes afer the company’s vice president of diversity and inclusion declared in a blog post last summer Twitter is “making diversity an important business issue for ourselves.”

Ironically, black users dominate the medium itself — 27% of black adults use Twitter, compared to 21% of white adults, according to the Pew Research Center. In 2015 especially, Twitter has proven an essential tool for the “Black Lives Matter” movement and the promotion of causes and demonstrations tied to it.

The company’s whitewashed employment stats have already drawn outrage from one black leader.

“I am very disappointed,” the Rev. Jesse Jackson told the Guardian Wednesday.

“Black people are greater users of the product and capable of doing the jobs, but there has not been an adequate commitment to hire, train and maintain (them).”

He added: “They hire people they know, they trust and like. We’re not in that the circle.”

OMG!!! Are you saying, Jesse, that Twitter folk don’t “trust” or even “like” black people?


Anyway, you’re not alone in being alone:

Twitter’s stats also shows a striking gender imbalance, with men making up 70% of its workforce.

There is a higher percentage of black Republican candidates for president than black employees at Twitter. And a higher percentage of women at


PS: Alas, Aggie and I are as white as Rachel Dolezal, lol, but we do have self-identified blacks and Native Americans among our readers.


Gaza Man

I confess that when I saw the term Gaza Man, I thought it referred to an evolutionary throwback, a subhuman species that lived in caves, walked semi-upright and ate leaves and dirt.

And I was right!

A new action game available on Google Play called “Gaza Man” allows players to take the role of Gaza gunmen shooting at Israeli soldiers with an assault rifle and RPGs.

The opening sequence to the game, produced by Bridgeview for Trading – a company that produces no results on Google search – shows Israeli soldiers arresting a young child, shooting his soccer ball and harassing a woman.

The creators of the game, according to its description on Google Play, “aim to stimulate the spirit of resistance against injustice in the young generation, and consider Gaza Man to be its first effort towards attaining this goal.”

‘Gaza Man’ is described in Google Play as: “more than just a game! It elevates the morale and the fighting spirit of its users. What the user experiences in the game can be translated from the virtual world of the game into the reality of his life in the Occupied Territories. This way, it helps to keep his will to achieve liberation alive, and helps to instil a deep dedication to the struggle against the occupier.”

Even ISIS has reportedly tried its hand at instilling its values into youth through a violent video game last September.

I don’t know the relationship between Google Play and Google, but this is why I use Bing whenever I can.

But why they didn’t call it Grand Theft Ottoman I’ll never know.


Saying Less in More Words

I may not be the heppest cat in the bunch, but I’m not completely clueless. (Am not!)

But WTF is she saying?

KORI SCHULMAN, WH OFFICE OF ONLINE ENGAGEMENT: You could consume the speech in real time on, with enhanced graphics and polls and tailored information to your particular city or town and really get a personalized and unique experience. On top of that, everything was shareable so as people were engaging in the speech, they could share videos, photos, favorite lines across their social channels, not to mention the fact that you could watch live gifs of the speech if you were on tumblr.

Gifs and tumblr? What editor missed those typos?

Whatever, I’m glad everything was “shareable”. Even if so few actually took part in the “giffing” and “tumbling”:

Television viewership for President Obama’s State of the Union address Tuesday night fell to a 15-year low, according to numbers from Nielsen.

The 1-hour, 15-minute speech drew an average of 31.7 million viewers on broadcast and cable networks, the audience tracking firm said.

The combined figure is down about 5% from last year’s State of the Union address, which clocked in at 33.3 million viewers.

This year’s count, which does not include people who streamed the event online, was the lowest since President Clinton’s final State of the Union in 2000. That speech pulled in just under 31.5 million viewers.

Nielsen’s combined tally included networks ABC, CBS, NBC, Fox, Al Jazeera America, Azteca, CNN, Fox Business Network, Fox News Channel, Galavision, MSNBC, MundoFox and Univision.

Fox News Channel topped cable news ratings for the speech with about 3.5 million viewers.

Yet again, Fox News represents, while the rest of the racist media disses The Nation’s First African American President (TNFAAP).

But maybe all you young kids were streaming gifs on tumblr. Or tumbling streams on gifter. I would have preferred either to the live TV presentation. At least on the computer I can have Mature Madames open in another window. Who needs gifs when you can watch gilfs?


It’s There if You Want to Find It

And you’re telling me Lois Lerner’s emails are lost forever? What do you think I am, an a**hole?


Sitting incongruously among the hangars and laboratories of NASA’s Ames Research Center in Silicon Valley is the squat facade of an old McDonald’s. You won’t get a burger there, though — its cash registers and soft-serve machines have given way to old tape drives and modern computers run by a rogue team of hacker engineers who’ve rechristened the place McMoon’s. These self-described techno-archaeologists have been on a mission to recover and digitize forgotten photos taken in the ’60s by a quintet of scuttled lunar satellites.

The Lunar Orbiter Image Recovery Project (LOIRP) has since 2007 brought some 2,000 pictures back from 1,500 analog data tapes. They contain the first high-resolution photographs ever taken from behind the lunar horizon, including the first photo of an earthrise (first slide above). Thanks to the technical savvy and DIY engineering of the team at LOIRP, it’s being seen at a higher resolution than was ever previously possible.

“We’re reaching back to a capability that existed but couldn’t be touched back when it was created,” says Keith Cowing, co-lead and founding member at LOIRP. “It’s like having a DVD in 1966, you can’t play it. We had resolution of the Earth of about a kilometer [per pixel]. This is an image taken a quarter of a f***king million miles away in 1966. The Beatles were warming up to play Shea Stadium at the moment it was being taken.”

In 1966 Lois Lerner would have been joining the local chapter of SDS, I believe.


When the Going Gets Tough…

The tough get coding:

Though rockets are flying around Israeli skies, 20 Jewish students from top universities and corporations around the world have traveled to Israel for a 10-week internship at large tech companies like Checkpoint, Google and PayPal, as well as at start-ups –and they’re getting involved in the tech side of the conflict.

While they may have signed up for the internships to advance their careers, participants in the Israel Tech Challenge have been making their own small contribution to the war effort.

The group of 20 came to Israel on July 14, a week into the Israeli air campaign in Gaza that opened Operation Defensive Edge, joining another group of 16 that arrived in June. Both the newcomers and the “veterans” have taken things in stride, said Toledano. “They didn’t overreact to the situation, and they’ve shown a good ability to cope with the situation. They didn’t panic when sirens went off in Tel Aviv, where most of them are working, and their motivation has not decreased.”

If anything, it’s increased, said Toledano, “Many of the participants had ideas about developing security related apps in the hackathon, and some have done so in the context of the theme of the event, which to develop apps and services to enhance safe living in urban areas.”

Among those apps is Notifi, developed by Futter and several colleagues during the Challenge’s June hackathon. Notifi checks your location and checks Twitter for messages on developing situations in your area. “The premise is that when there is a security incident — a protest, robbery, fire, etc. — people are going to tweet about it in real time,” said Futter. “Over 60% of tweets include geolocation information. We coordinate that information with sentiment analysis to determine how serious a situation is, and send appropriate warnings out to users. The app would work very well in Israel, or anywhere else.”

When it’s finished, that is. Futter and his team developed an alpha version of the app for the hackathon, but with their internship duties (Futter is working at Checkpoint) they haven’t had time to follow up. “I really hope we can find the time to finish it,” Futter said. “There’s a lot of unrest in Israel and the Jewish world in general, with anti-Semitic riots going on throughout Europe. A tool like this could help make life safer for large numbers of people.”

We’ve noted that when bad things happen to Jews, the bad things spread to everyone else (Islamic terrorism being a prime example). But when Jews do good things (this pogrom app being one minor example), the world entire benefits.


The Filthy Rich

God bless ’em:

Judging by the Forbes 400 list, the richest people in America have been getting richer very quickly. In 1982, the first year of the list, there were only 13 billionaires on it. A net worth of $75 million was enough to earn a spot. The 2013 list has nothing but billionaires, with $1.3 billion as the cutoff. Sixty-one American billionaires aren’t rich enough to make the list.

Many regard this as a serious problem, seeing the development of a plutocracy dominating the American economy through the sheer power of its wealth. The French economist Thomas Piketty, in his new book “Capital in the 21st Century,” calls for an 80% tax on incomes over $250,000 and a 2% annual tax on net worth in order to prevent an excessive concentration of wealth.

That is a monumentally bad idea.

The great growth of fortunes in recent decades is not a sinister development. Instead it is simply the inevitable result of an extraordinary technological innovation, the microprocessor, which Intel brought to market in 1971. Seven of the 10 largest fortunes in America today were built on this technology, as have been countless smaller ones. These new fortunes unavoidably result in wealth being more concentrated at the top.

But no one is poorer because Bill Gates, Larry Ellison, et al., are so much richer.

The last line bears repeating:

But no one is poorer because Bill Gates, Larry Ellison, et al., are so much richer.

The author reminds us that previous technological leaps forward—the clipper ship, the steam engine, the railroad, oil and steel—have produced their own stinkin’ rich. We lambasted them too (Robber Barons), but, monopolies aside, who was harmed by those achievements? Doesn’t the history of capitalism, warts and all, declare it the the winner and still champion of all economic systems? A show of hands, please: how many would wish no ships, trains, steam, oil, or steel because some Rockefeller or Carnegie got rich off them? Go back to the horse and buggy if you wish, but it is human nature to try to improve the buggy or breed a better horse, and to get rich doing so.

Just as the railroad, the most important secondary technology of the steam engine, produced many new fortunes, the Internet is producing enormous numbers of them, from the likes of Amazon, Facebook and Twitter. When Twitter went public last November, it created about 1,600 newly minted millionaires.

Any attempt to tax away new fortunes in the name of preventing inequality is certain to have adverse effects on further technology creation and niche exploitation by entrepreneurs—and harm job creation as a result. The reason is one of the laws of economics: Potential reward must equal the risk or the risk won’t be taken.

And the risks in any new technology are very real in the highly competitive game that is capitalism. In 1903, 57 automobile companies opened for business in this country, hoping to exploit the new technology. Only the Ford Motor Co.survived the Darwinian struggle to succeed. As Henry Ford’s fortune grew to dazzling levels, some might have decried it, but they also should have rejoiced as he made the automobile affordable for everyman.

And the fact that Henry Ford was a vile antisemite is beside the point!

Everyone benefits when someone gets unimaginably rich, and not just from their inventions or innovations. The names Ford, Rockefeller, and Carnegie—and Gates, Ellison, and Zuckerberg—are now associated as much with philanthropy as they are with capitalism.

But that’s my point: there is no difference. Even more than the church (an example of concentrated wealth that makes capitalism look like Leon Trotsky), capitalism is philanthropy. Regulate it, sure, but to eliminate it negates human nature and will lead to famines and wars like you’ve never seen.


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