The spy who came in from the code

surveillance, intelligence, security, journalism, crypto, activism

For correspondents who report from conflict zones or on underground activism in repressive regimes, the risks are extremely high. Recently, two excellent investigative series—by The Wall Street Journal and Bloomberg News—and the release of a large trove of surveillance industry documents by Wikileaks dubbed “The Spy files,” provided a glimpse of just how sophisticated off-the-shelf monitoring technologies have become. Western companies have sold mass Web and e-mail surveillance technology to Libya and Syria, for instance, and in Egypt, activists found specialized software that allowed the government to listen in to Skype conversations. In Bahrain, meanwhile, technology sold by Nokia Siemens allowed the government to monitor cell-phone conversations and text messages.

The Net vs. The Power of Narratives

Vatican, church, france, gutenberg, death penalty, 1535, copyfight, printing press, control, europe

In this, the Church saw themselves as the good guys and wanted to set the record straight, to prevent the spread of disinformation. They had learned that they were the carriers of truth and could not unlearn having this position. Thus, the penalties for using the printing press gradually increased all over Europe, until it hit the death penalty: France, January 13, 1535.–120429/

Google Engineer Told Others of Data Collection

technocracy, communication, corporatism, privacy, google

Google’s harvesting of e-mails, passwords and other sensitive personal information from unsuspecting households in the United States and around the world was neither a mistake nor the work of a rogue engineer, as the company long maintained, but a program that supervisors knew about, according to new details from the full text of a regulatory report. The report, prepared by the Federal Communications Commission after a 17-month investigation of Google’s Street View project, was released, heavily redacted, two weeks ago. Although it found that Google had not violated any laws, the agency said Google had obstructed the inquiry and fined the company $25,000. On Saturday, Google released a version of the report with only employees’ names redacted.

Giorgio Vasari in 1550 noted with chagrin that the new generations of Italian painters and sculptors seemed to be very different…

“Giorgio Vasari in 1550 noted with chagrin that the new generations of Italian painters and sculptors seemed to be very different from their predecessors of the early Renaissance. They tended to be savage and mad, wrote the good Vasari, whereas their elders and betters had been tame and sensible. Perhaps Vasari was reacting to the artists who had embraced the ideology of Mannerism, the style ushered in by Michelangelo near the end of his long career, which relied on interesting distortions of figures and on grand gestures. This style would have been considered ugly a hundred years earlier, and the painters who used it would have been shunned. But a few centuries later, at the height of the Romantic period, an artist who was not more than a little savage and mad would not have been taken very seriously, because these qualities were de rigueur for creative souls.”

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi inCreativity

E.O. Wilson on the origins of the arts

language, writing, literature, E.O. Wilson, evolution, nature, humanities, music, art, science

RICH AND SEEMINGLY BOUNDLESS as the creative arts seem to be, each is filtered through the narrow biological channels of human cognition. Our sensory world, what we can learn unaided about reality external to our bodies, is pitifully small. Our vision is limited to a tiny segment of the electromagnetic spectrum, where wave frequencies in their fullness range from gamma radiation at the upper end, downward to the ultralow frequency used in some specialized forms of communication. We see only a tiny bit in the middle of the whole, which we refer to as the “visual spectrum.” Our optical apparatus divides this accessible piece into the fuzzy divisions we call colors. Just beyond blue in frequency is ultraviolet, which insects can see but we cannot. Of the sound frequencies all around us we hear only a few. Bats orient with the echoes of ultrasound, at a frequency too high for our ears, and elephants communicate with grumbling at frequencies too low.

Descriptive Camera

crowdsourcing, interface, observation, metadata, printer, mechanical turk, description, camera, matt richardson, camera, description, metadata, text, photography

The Descriptive Camera works a lot like a regular camera—point it at subject and press the shutter button to capture the scene. However, instead of producing an image, this prototype outputs a text description of the scene. Modern digital cameras capture gobs of parsable metadata about photos such as the camera’s settings, the location of the photo, the date, and time, but they don’t output any information about the content of the photo. The Descriptive Camera only outputs the metadata about the content.

Experimental delayed-choice entanglement swapping

retrocausality, time-like, quantum, physics, entanglement, arxiv

Using four photons, we can actively delay the choice of measurement-implemented via a high-speed tunable bipartite state analyzer and a quantum random number generator-on two of the photons into the time-like future of the registration of the other two photons. This effectively projects the two already registered photons onto one definite of two mutually exclusive quantum states in which either the photons are entangled (quantum correlations) or separable (classical correlations). This can also be viewed as “quantum steering into the past”.

Academic publishing doesn’t add up

open access, OA, academia, academic publishing, openaccess, publishing

In a memorable blogpost, Gowers announced that henceforth he would not be submitting articles to Elsevier’s journals and that he would also be refusing to peer-review articles for them. His post struck a nerve, attracting thousands of readers and commenters and stimulating one of them to set up a campaigning website, The Cost of Knowledge, which enables academics to register their objections to Elsevier. To date, more than 9,000 have done so. This is the beginning of something new. The worm has finally begun to turn. The Wellcome Trust and other funding bodies are beginning to demand that research funded by them must be published outside paywalls. Some things are simply too outrageous to be tolerated. The academic publishing racket is one. And when it’s finally eliminated, Professor Gowers should get not just a knighthood, but the Order of Merit.

Stop Calling it Curation

knowledge, discovery, creation, attribution, matt langer, tumblr, sharing, curation

But we should not delude ourselves for a moment into bestowing any special significance on this, because when we do this thing that so many of us like to call “curation” we’re not providing any sort of ontology or semantic continuity beyond that of our own whimsy or taste or desire. “Interesting things” or “smart things” are not rubrics that make the collection and dissemination of data that happens on the internet anything closer to a curatorial act; these categories are ultimately still reducible to “things I find appealing,” and regardless of how special one might feel about the highly cultivated state of his or her tastes there is no threshold of how many other people are eager to be on the receiving end of whatever it is we’re sharing that somehow magically transforms this act into curation—that is, at least, unless we’re also comfortable with arguing that “curation” is the act in which Buzzfeed is engaged.

Green Sea Slug Is Part Animal, Part Plant

symbiosis, plants, animals, hybrid, photosynthesis, evolution, biology, science

Shaped like a leaf itself, the slug Elysia chlorotica already has a reputation for kidnapping the photosynthesizing organelles and some genes from algae. Now it turns out that the slug has acquired enough stolen goods to make an entire plant chemical-making pathway work inside an animal body, says Sidney K. Pierce of the University of South Florida in Tampa.

The Man With the Google Glasses

anthropology, individualism, society, surveillance, tyranny, atomised society, AR, google glasses, g

Seeing the world through the eyes of the Man in the Google Glasses, though, suggests a more political reason for pessimism. In his classic 1953 work, “The Quest for Community,” the sociologist Robert Nisbet argued that in eras of intense individualism and weak communal ties, the human need for belonging tends to empower central governments as never before. An atomized, rootless population is more likely to embrace authoritarian ideologies, and more likely to seek the protection of an omnicompetent state.

If organisms were flawless, I might perhaps have some sympathy for intelligent design. Study of living creatures, however,…

“If organisms were flawless, I might perhaps have some sympathy for intelligent design. Study of living creatures, however, reveals so many blunders that Darwin’s theory comes out as the clear winner: only the blind operation of evolution can explain these stupid quirks. A parallel argument can be used in psychology. Two competing explanations are always available for the way our behavior fits with our environment. The fit may arise from the effects of evolution on our genetic makeup, or it may come from learning. When behavior seems perfectly adapted, like reading in proficient adults, it is hard to separate nature from nurture. Here too, departures from perfection are particularly interesting. When a child makes a systematic mistake, or on the contrary, displays a competence that goes beyond what he may have learned, we have clear proof that he is relying on tinkered mental mechanisms inherited through evolution.”

Dehaene, Stanislas.Reading in the Brain: The Science and Evolution of a Human Invention. New York: Viking, 2009. (viacarvalhais)