| Wednesday May 25th 2016



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Feynman: A comic biography of an iconoclastic physicist

Jim Ottaviani and Leland Myrick’s Feynman is an affectionate and inspiring comic biography of the legendary iconoclastic physicist Richard Feynman. I’ve reviewed Ottaviani before (I really liked T-Minus, a history of the Apollo program, as well as his Dignifying Science: Stories About Women Scientists) and I expected great things from Feynman. I wasn’t disappointed.

Feynman OttavianiFeynman is primarily concerned with its subject’s life, his personal relationships, his career triumphs, his mistakes and misgivings. From his work on the Trinity project to the Feynman lectures to his Nobel for his theory of Quantum Electrodynamics, Feynman paints a picture of a caring, driven, intelligent, wildly creative scientist who didn’t always think through his actions and sometimes made himself pretty miserable as a result. But the Feynman in this book is resilient and upbeat, and figures out how to bounce back from the worst of life.

Feynman’s technical achievements are mighty, but very few people understand them (Feynman claimed that he didn’t understand them). But the way he conducted his life was often an inspiration. The authors even manage to wring sweetness from his tragic romance with his first wife, Arline, who contracted terminal tuberculosis before they married, meaning that their marriage was conducted without any intimate physical contact lest he catch her sickness, but for all that, they clearly loved each other enormously and made one another’s life better.

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Security researchers trace RSA hack and SecureID breach to lame Excel spreadsheet phishing

RSA Phishing Excel

F-Secure found the file that was used to hack RSA and compromise the SecureID system. Kim Zetter of Wired News has more here.

This week Finnish security company F-Secure discovered that the file had been under their noses all along. Someone — the company assumes it was an employee of RSA or its parent firm, EMC — had uploaded the malware to an online virus scanning site back on March 19, a little over two weeks after RSA is believed to have been breached on March 3. The online scanner, VirusTotal, shares malware samples it receives with security vendors and malware researchers.RSA had already revealed that it had been breached after attackers sent two different targeted phishing e-mails to four workers at its parent company EMC. The e-mails contained a malicious attachment that was identified in the subject line as “2011 Recruitment plan.xls.”

None of the recipients were people who would normally be considered high-profile or high-value targets, such as an executive or an IT administrator with special network privileges. But that didn’t matter. When one of the four recipients clicked on the attachment, the attachment used a zero-day exploit targeting a vulnerability in Adobe Flash to drop another malicious file — a backdoor — onto the recipient’s desktop computer. This gave the attackers a foothold to burrow farther into the network and gain the access they needed.

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Xbox hack allows unsigned code

Xbox 360 cracked

You may now run unsigned code on any xbox. Discovered by GliGli, the exploit requires a chip, but works on any 360: “it sends little pulses to the processor in order to destabilize the console and make it believe a modified CB is correctly hashed and signed. This operation doesn’t succeed every time, but it is repeated till it works.”

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Every time an Anonymous protester dons a Guy Fawkes mask, Time Warner goes “ka-ching”


Time Warner, gigantic media conglomerate and parent of Warner Brothers, owns the rights to the Guy Fawkes mask design from the 2006 Warner Brothers film “V for Vendetta.” So, every time you purchase one of those masks, they are paid a licensing fee. Nick Bilton in the New York Times has more.

Ron Paul: Americans will riot when their entitlements run out.

How Freedom Dies: Internet Poker

How Freedom Dies

Robert Arthur is the author of an unusual and fascinating book called You Will Die: The Burden of Modern Taboos. He also has a blog called Narco Polo that he posts to very infrequently. His single panel comics are like a Ripley’s Believe it or Not of human folly.

In 2010 in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, the same town of Hogan Jr.’s robbery, a woman was charged with stealing $68,500 from her employer “to fuel her addiction to scratch-off lottery tickets.” There was no response by Congress to outlaw state-run lotteries. Note: The amount of money online poker sites take from players (the rake) is usually around 1-5% of the money played. The amount of money state-run lotteries took from players in 2006 was 35% of the money played.Costly Hypocrisy:
America’s hypocrisy of allowing domestic online lotteries and horse betting, but not allowing foreign poker sites was found by the World Trade Organization to be in violation of its international trade agreements. Because of this the US had to settle complaints by Japan, Europe, and Canada. The settlements were not made public on the ridiculous basis of “national security interests,” but they are believed to be in the tens of billions of dollars.

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Techniques for counting cash

Ultraminimalist business card

Ultraminimalist business card

Boris Smus’ idea for a minimalist business card is brilliant—so long as you’re old enough to have your own name’s domain, but young enough have its Twitter handle!

If I actually did this, it would have to have a watermark that said “Oh my God, it even has a watermark.”

How Did Greek Yogurt Get So Popular?

ChobaniAmerican tastes are too complex to diagnose conclusively, but analysts think the ascendance of Greek yogurt is a case of conspicuous consumption (literally) led by women in the workplace. One theory holds that rich old women in affluent coastal cities are leading the trend that’s making Greek yogurt an aspirational product — So foreign! So classy! — even if the health benefits are dubious:

The rise of Greek yogurt in the U.S. reflects a larger change in the American culinary consciousness: a desire for foods that are considered purer, simpler, and more natural–in other words, not yogurts purporting to taste like key lime pie or strawberry cheesecake.

I want to suggest another idea. The opposite idea. Perhaps people are buying Greek yogurt, not despite the fact that it’s expensive compared to yogurts, but because it’s cheap compared to similarly filling foods. The taste of Greek yogurt is thick, like scooping avocado out of its skin. Sometimes I eat it for breakfast. I couldn’t eat fruit-on-the-bottom Dannon yogurt for breakfast, because that stuff can have the consistency of melted ice cream and after I eat a cup, I feel like I’ve had a big glass of water, not a snack.

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BART police officers website hacked, database released

BART website

Reports are circulating that databases containing BART police officer information from the website for The Bay Area Rapid Transit Police Officers’ Association site have been published. The bartpoa.com site is currently down. Who is responsible for the hack? Whoever ends up claiming credit, it’s complicated. What isn’t complicated: the notion that storing officers’ email passwords and home addreses in plain text on a public-facing network is dumb.

Should you use public cell-phone charging kiosks?

iPhone 4 girlBeware of Juice-Jacking, warns security researcher Brian Krebs. Those cell-phone charging kiosks in airports and other public places amount to an “unknown device that could be configured to read most of the data on your phone, and perhaps even upload malware.”

The answer, for most folks, is probably not. The few people I’ve asked while researching this story said they use these charging kiosks all the time (usually while on travel), but then said they’d think twice next time after I mentioned the possible security ramifications of doing so. Everyone I asked was a security professional.

Granted, a charging kiosk at an airport may be less suspect than, say, a slightly sketchy-looking tower of power stationed at DefCon, a massive hacker conference held each year in Las Vegas. At a conference where attendees are warned to stay off the wireless networks and avoid using the local ATMs, one might expect that security experts and enthusiasts would avoid using random power stations.

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Why poor people support tax breaks for the rich?

money heartWhy do lower middle-class and working class Americans support tax breaks for the rich? New research suggests it might not be about aspirations—i.e., “Maybe I could be rich someday.” Instead, says the Economist, people are more concerned with how social programs and wealth distribution might help people worse off than them become better off than them.

In other words: Nobody wants to be on the bottom and national economics looks a lot like a junior high locker room.

Instead of opposing redistribution because people expect to make it to the top of the economic ladder, the authors of the new paper argue that people don’t like to be at the bottom. One paradoxical consequence of this “last-place aversion” is that some poor people may be vociferously opposed to the kinds of policies that would actually raise their own income a bit but that might also push those who are poorer than them into comparable or higher positions. The authors ran a series of experiments where students were randomly allotted sums of money, separated by $1, and informed about the “income distribution” that resulted. They were then given another $2, which they could give either to the person directly above or below them in the distribution.

In keeping with the notion of “last-place aversion”, the people who were a spot away from the bottom were the most likely to give the money to the person above them: rewarding the “rich” but ensuring that someone remained poorer than themselves. Those not at risk of becoming the poorest did not seem to mind falling a notch in the distribution of income nearly as much. This idea is backed up by survey data from America collected by Pew, a polling company: those who earned just a bit more than the minimum wage were the most resistant to increasing it.

Poverty may be miserable. But being able to feel a bit better-off than someone else makes it a bit more bearable.

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“Enterprise expert finder” gplus.com mistaken for Google+, stupid user hijinks ensue


I pity the moderators at gplus.com. The site is a forum for Gerson Lehrman Group, “the premier enterprise platform for connecting to experts and their insights.” But countless Stupid Users trying to find Google+, the search giant’s new social network offering, think Gerson Lehrman’s G+ is Google+’s G+. Maybe it’s just me, but I found it hilarious.

Ready Player One: The best science fiction novel I’ve read in a decade

It seems like every decade or so a science fiction novel comes along that sends a lightning bolt through my nervous system: Philip Jose Farmer’s To Your Scattered Bodies Go (1971). William Gibson’s Neuromancer (1984). Neal Stephenson’s Snow Crash (1992). Cory Doctorow’s Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom (2003). And I recently discovered what my mind-blowing novel for the 2010s is: Ernest Cline’s Ready Player One.

Ready Player OneCline’s first novel starts out in the year 2044. The Great Recession (the same one we are in right now) is in its third decade. Unemployment is higher than ever (there’s a two-year wait for a job at fast food chain restaurants), liquid fuel is extremely scarce, the climate is in awful shape, and famine, disease, and poverty are rampant across the planet.

The story is told by Wade Watts, an 18-year-old orphan who lives with 16 other people in trailer near the top of a tall stack of trailers in a crowded, crime-ridden trailer park on the outskirts of Oklahoma City (the suburbs are deserted, because hardly anyone can afford to buy fuel to travel by car). He doesn’t remember his father, who was shot by cops who caught him looting a grocery store for food after a power outage. And his mother overdosed on adulterated drugs when he was a kid. Wade now lives with his hateful young aunt and her creepy, fresh-out-of-prison boyfriend. They allow Wade to live in the trailer only because he’s worth a weekly ration of food vouchers.

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BlackBerry Bold 9900

What can this? thing do that my Pager can’t?

UK gov asks MI5 asked to crack encrypted Blackberry messages to help police nail rioters

lost BlackberryPhone hacking, indeed. Britain’s intelligence agency has been asked by the government to decrypt mobile messages, particularly those sent via BlackBerry Messenger, to aid police in prosecuting looters.

The move represents a change as officially MI5 is tasked with ensuring the national security of the United Kingdom from terrorist threats, weapons of mass destruction, and espionage, with the police taking the lead on maintaining public order.

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Noob Saibot 64% Combo (No reset)

Noob Saibot 72% Combo

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