Put Away Your Tinfoil Hat: Security in Context

security, privacy, contextula security, tactical tech

Over the course of the last three years leading panels and strategy sessions at the Allied Media Conference, and informed by the work of the Tactical Tech Collective—we’ve learned that conversations about safety and security are most successful when they are grounded in discussion about what we envision, know, and practice. The following set of questions offer a starting point for grassroots organizers interested in applying a contextual security framework to their organizing.


German villagers build own broadband network

BBNG, network, internet, infrastructure

For now, however, it is only the village of Löwenstedt that has succeeded in mobilising the solidarity of its inhabitants to build a high-speed Internet network. Other villages have been slower and found it more difficult to follow Löwenstedt’s lead. “At least 68 percent of households in a village have to promise to subscribe to the fibre-optic network before we start work,” said BBNG chief Ute Gabriel-Boucsein.


A letter from the Social Search frontier: Good news, Bad news

social search, search, small world, mobilisation, recruiting, crowdsourcing, greifing, sabotage, net

Our empirical and theoretical findings have cautionary implications for the future of social search, and crowdsourcing in general. Social search is surprisingly efficient, cheap, easy to implement, and multi-functional across aplications. But there are also surprises in the amount of evildoing that the social searchers will stumble upon while recruiting.


“You don’t get there by acculturating. Don’t become a well-rounded person. Well rounded people are smooth and dull. Become a…

“You don’t get there by acculturating. Don’t become a well-rounded person. Well rounded people are smooth and dull. Become a thoroughly spiky person. Grow spikes from every angle. Stick in their throats like a pufferfish. If you want to woo the muse of the odd, don’t read Shakespeare. Read Webster’s revenge plays. Don’t read Homer and Aristotle. Read Herodotus where he’s off talking about Egyptian women having public sex with goats. If you want to read about myth don’t read Joseph Campbell, read about convulsive religion, read about voodoo and the Millerites and the Munster Anabaptists. There are hundreds of years of extremities, there are vast legacies of mutants. There have always been geeks. There will always be geeks. Become the apotheosis of geek. Learn who your spiritual ancestors were. You didn’t come here from nowhere. There are reasons why you’re here. Learn those reasons. Learn about the stuff that was buried because it was too experimental or embarrassing or inexplicable or uncomfortable or dangerous.”

Bruce Sterling

Credit ratings agencies just realized that climate change is a threat to the world economy

climate change, insurance, market forces, capital, credit, S&P, SEP

Over the past week or so, one of the most prominent credit agencies, Standard & Poor’s, has, in a series of reports, attempted to quantify the financial impact of climate change. The company looked at the impact of changing weather patterns on various industries, including utilities and insurance.


My No-Soap, No-Shampoo, Bacteria-Rich Hygiene Experiment

bacteria, health, hygiene, microbiome, biome

In the last few years, the microbiome (sometimes referred to as “the second genome”) has become a focus for the health conscious and for scientists alike. Studies like the Human Microbiome Project, a national enterprise to sequence bacterial DNA taken from 242 healthy Americans, have tagged 19 of our phyla (groupings of bacteria), each with thousands of distinct species. As Michael Pollan wrote in this magazine last year: “As a civilization, we’ve just spent the better part of a century doing our unwitting best to wreck the human-associated microbiota… . Whether any cures emerge from the exploration of the second genome, the implications of what has already been learned — for our sense of self, for our definition of health and for our attitude toward bacteria in general — are difficult to overstate.”


The Dystopia Tracker

Welcome to the Dystopia Tracker. Our goal is to document, with your help, all the predictions in literature, film or games that have been made for the future and what has become reality already. You can browse predictions by topic or search for a specific title. We also invite you to contribute your own content. Add predictions that are missing, add realisations for predictions that have become reality in some way, or help translating existing content.

The Dystopia Tracker

A Timeline of Webdriver Torso


A Timeline of Webdriver Torso

Webdriver Torso is a YouTube account that uploads a new video (like the one above) on to the internet every 20 seconds. And every video is more or less the same: red and blue rectangles jumping on a white screen, with a soundtrack of different test tones.

Webdriver’s YouTube channel has uploaded almost 80,000 of these videos, and no one has any real clue what they are. There are, of course, lots of theories. What follows is a timeline of the Webdriver Torso mystery.

March 7, 2013

Webdriver Torso YouTube channel is launched. There is no activity on the channel for months, until…

August 14, 2013

…the first video on Webdriver is uploaded. It is called 0.455442373793, but the video is only viewable in France, and users have to pay 2 Euro to watch it. The video is a short clip from the cartoon Aqua Teen Hunger Force.

Sept 23, 2013

Webdriver Torso starts uploading approximately 400 videos a day. Every video is an 11-second long slideshow depicting a red and a blue rectangle in random arrangements with electronic tones. At the bottom left-hand corner of the video there is a slide number from 0-9 and the text caption “aqua.flv”. (Does this have anything to do with Aqua Teen Hunger Force?)

Oct 09, 2013

Webdriver Torso uploads the only videothat is different from the others. It is called 00014, and is of the Eiffel Tower lit up at night. At the end of the video whoever is holding the camera pans down to the balcony they are standing on. The viewer can briefly see what looks like a laptop open on a browser, with something like Facebook open.

Various internet people have concluded that the video must have been shot from the balcony of a hotel. This person on Reddit thinks that the video must have been shot from the Pullman Hotel. Webdriver interacts with this video on YouTube, leaving the one line comment, “Matei is highly intelligent.” Who the hell is Matei?

Feb 7, 2014

WIREDpublishes an article about the art of finding obscure YouTube videos. In the process they find one of Webdriver’s videos and link to it on their website, and ask their readers to comment with any theories as to what it might be.

Three days later, Dan Lo Bianco comments on the WIRED website that he thinks Webdriver is “probably the modern equivalent of number stations - probably involved in cryptographic communication but no way to know for sure and bound to be surrounded in rumour and conspiracy theory.”

April 23, 2014

Brendan O’Connor writes an article for the Daily Dot about Webdriver called ‘Is this mysterious YouTube channel trying to contact aliens?’ O’Connor suggests that the videos might be generated using Selenium,a tool used “for automating Web applications for testing purposes, but it is certainly not limited to just that.” One of the tools Selenium offers is something called WebDriver. “WebDriver is a tool for writing automated tests of websites,” reads the WebDriver FAQ. “It aims to mimic the behavior of a real user, and as such interacts with the HTML of the application.”

However, Selenium denies having anything to do with Webdriver Torso, and state that it is more likely that the videos are trying to make contact with aliens.

April 25, 2014

Boing Boingcatch on to the idea that Webdriver might be a number station. Basically, a number station is a type of shortsignal radio station that broadcasts lists of numbers or incomprehensible Morse code messages. Number stations were used during the cold war to communicate secret messages between spies.

May 2, 2014

The Guardian claims to have the solution to the Webdriver mystery, reporting thatIsaul Vargas, a New York-based software tester, recognised the videos from a conference on automation that he attended 1 year earlier.  “Considering the volume of videos and the fact they use YouTube, it tells me that this is a large company testing their video encoding software and measuring how Youtube compresses the videos,” Vargas told the Guardian.

This theory is quickly shut down after Vargas tracks down the people who gave the presentation at the conference, a British company called YouView. They explain that some of the videos in their presentation were similar to Webdriver’s though not identical.

That same day, the Webdriver Torso account displays some strange behaviour, Liking one of its own videos, suggesting some type of unpredictable human control over the presumably automated uploads.

May 8, 2014

Internet activity around Webdriver Torso peaks as bloggers and Redditors compile their own theories about what it is, ranging from alien contact to machine sentience.

A comprehensive blog post by an Italian blogger claims (and provides a good amount of evidence) that the Google office in Zurich is responsible for the video uploads, and that they are a part of an ongoing project looking into 3D video uploads on YouTube.

After posting this expose, his blog gets peak traffic from Switzerland. Google Zurich and YouTube refuse to comment.

May 15, 2014

When “Webdriver Torso” is typed into the search bar in YouTube, the screen is transformed into red and blue rectangles. (I tried it, and it still works). The Italian blogger takes this for corroborating evidence that his theory is true.

Although, a more likely explanation is thatthis redesign of the YouTube layout to imitate the Webdriver Torso aesthetic just signifies that Google are aware of the now popular channel and the theories surrounding it.

Brief Analysis

Ockham’s Razor is a philosophical tool that says, “the most likely explanation is probably true.” If I were to use Ockham’s Razor on Webdriver, I would probably conclude that Google (or some other big tech company) are using YouTube to test some new way of automating uploads/experimenting with data management.

But this is a deferral of the more mysterious question: What is the intention of the people who are uploading these videos? Why are they doing it? To what end?

Webdriver instinctively looks freaky, maybe sinister. But if Google is behind it, it suddenly becomes normal, easier to swallow, even though we still don’t understand what the technology is or what it’s trying to do. Postulating Google as the answer for a mysterious digital phenomenon ties up all the loose ends without actually tying up any of them.

If we don’t know why Google are making these videos, and they haven’t admitted it, then why shouldn’t I still believe that they are made by aliens?

My answer is aliens. I want it to be aliens. Or sentient computers. 


Overwhelmed | Brigid Schulte

overwhelmed, book, doing nothing, time pressure, time, work, play, leisure

Overwhelmed is a book about time pressure and modern life. It is a deeply reported and researched, honest and often hilarious journey from feeling that, as one character in the book said, time is like a “rabid lunatic” running naked and screaming as your life flies past you, to understanding the historical and cultural roots of the overwhelm, how worrying about all there is to do and the pressure of feeling like we’re never have enough time to do it all, or do it well, is “contaminating” our experience of time, how time pressure and stress is resculpting our brains and shaping our workplaces, our relationships and squeezing the space that the Greeks said was the point of living a Good Life: that elusive moment of peace called leisure.


Why Are We So Busy?

overload, productivity, work, economics, keynes, life, busyness, doing nothing, capital

According to Keynes, the nineteenth century had unleashed such a torrent of technological innovation—“electricity, petrol, steel, rubber, cotton, the chemical industries, automatic machinery and the methods of mass production”—that further growth was inevitable. The size of the global economy, he forecast, would increase sevenfold in the following century, and this, in concert with ever greater “technical improvements,” would usher in the fifteen-hour week. To Keynes, the coming age of abundance, while welcome, would pose a new and in some ways even bigger challenge. With so little need for labor, people would have to figure out what to do with themselves: “For the first time since his creation man will be faced with his real, his permanent problem—how to use his freedom from pressing economic cares, how to occupy the leisure, which science and compound interest will have won.” The example offered by the idle rich was, he observed, “very depressing”


Everything Is Broken

security, computers, rant, 0days, NSA, facebook, google, culture, everything is broken, human rights

Facebook and Google seem very powerful, but they live about a week from total ruin all the time. They know the cost of leaving social networks individually is high, but en masse, becomes next to nothing. Windows could be replaced with something better written. The US government would fall to a general revolt in a matter of days. It wouldn’t take a total defection or a general revolt to change everything, because corporations and governments would rather bend to demands than die. These entities do everything they can get away with — but we’ve forgotten that we’re the ones that are letting them get away with things.


The Department of Defense Architecture Framework (DoDAF), Version 2.0 is the overarching, comprehensive framework and conceptual…

DoDAF, abstraction, diagram, process, DoD, architecture

The Department of Defense Architecture Framework (DoDAF), Version 2.0 is the overarching, comprehensive framework and conceptual model enabling the development of architectures…

“Take some time with that graphic. After a while you realize that this image could be used anywhere in any paper or presentation and make perfect sense. This is a graphic that defines a way of describing anything that has ever existed and everything that has ever happened, in any situation. The United States Military is operating at a conceptual level beyond every other school of thought except perhaps academic philosophy, because it has a much larger budget.”

(via https://medium.com/message/1ba60bdc32e7 )

Cryptoforestry: Food pairing as gastronomy with a telescope

food, food pairing, flavour-pairing, cuisine, data, ingredients, recipes, culture

The theory of food pairing inspires little faith but when moving away from culinary applications perhaps it can be used to differentiate cuisines and cooking styles. How Chinese is Jamie Oliver? How similar are Mexican and Indian cuisines? How do French and Indian cooking differ? How unique is Rene Redzepi? The aim is to find a way to reveal the inner structure and logic of a cuisine, if such a thing exists, by comparing the way a cuisine or a cook combines ingredients with other cuisines and cooks.


Brief History of the Internet

history, internet history, ARPA, RAND, Nuclear war, rumor, media history

It was from the RAND study that the false rumor started claiming that the ARPANET was somehow related to building a network resistant to nuclear war. This was never true of the ARPANET, only the unrelated RAND study on secure voice considered nuclear war. However, the later work on Internetting did emphasize robustness and survivability, including the capability to withstand losses of large portions of the underlying networks.


The Open Journal

peer review, OA, open access, science, publishing, academic publishing

For scholarly publishing, the secret sauce - the essential thing - is a mechanism for review. Even open archives like arXiv.org have review in the sense of only letting people who are endorsed by an existing community post, but here we’ll assume that we’re doing something more like traditional academic publishing - reviewing something called a paper (it could actually be code, or a figure, or a paragraph but let’s stick to papers as that’s easier to think about). Peer review at present is something that belongs to a journal; it’s a set of rules and procedures, written and enforced by an editorial board and supported by a lot of email and some fairly wonky software.


Genre Evolution Project

research, systems, genre, complexity, literature, evolution, sci-fi, science fiction

Biologists study how organisms evolve and adapt to their environments. In the Genre Evolution Project, we approach literature in a similar way. We study literature as a living thing, able to adapt to society’s desires and able to influence those desires. Currently, we are tracking the evolution of pulp science fiction short stories published between 1926 and 1999. Just as a biologist might ask the question, “How does a preference for mating with red-eyed males effect eye color distribution in seven generations of fruit flies?” the GEP might ask, “How does the increasing representation of women as authors of science fiction affect the treatment of medicine in the 1960s and beyond?”


Lucid Dreaming Can Be Induced By Zapping Brains With Gamma Waves

dreams, technology, lucid dreaming, neuroscience

By administering mild electric currents to the brain, neuroscientists from Frankfurt University have successfully induced self-awareness in sleeping volunteers. Amazingly, the technique could be used to help people take better control of their dreams. But it’s also a discovery that’s offering critical insights into the very nature of consciousness itself. Gamma waves have been linked to consciousness before — a process called gamma coherence — but this is the first time scientists have used it to coax self-awareness during the dream cycle.


CliFi < Digitalmethods

climate change, cli-fi, near future, fiction, reading, literature, distant reading

This project explores cli-fi—fiction about climate change—in order to understand and categorize fictional scenarios about the future, and the role of human actors in those scenarios. This project uses digital methods to gather data from Amazon and Google Books, in conjuction with manual classification, in order to understand the current zeitgeist of climate change in fiction. Mainstream discourse suggests that the cli-fi genre aims to humanize the apocalyptic scenarios associated with climate change, and make relatable their potential outcomes:


The intriguing question is whether different sleep cultures encourage different patterns of spiritual and supernatural…

“The intriguing question is whether different sleep cultures encourage different patterns of spiritual and supernatural experience. That half-aware, drowsy state is a time when dreams commingle with awareness. People are more likely to have experiences of the impossible then.”

FascinatingNew York Times op-ed by anthropologist T.M. Luhrmann. Also see howthe science of “sleep paralysis” might explain supernatural experiences. (viaexplore-blog)

Is it too much to hope that a system of education may some day be devised, which shall give results, in terms of human…

“Is it too much to hope that a system of education may some day be devised, which shall give results, in terms of human development, commensurate with the time, money, energy and devotion expended? In such a system of education it may be that mescaline or some other chemical substance may play a part by making it possible for young people to “taste and see” what they have learned about at second hand…in the writings of the religious, or the works of poets, painters and musicians.”

Aldous Huxley (Horowitz& Palmer, 1999)

The Paradox of Art as Work

art, creativity, work, capitalism, production, culture, artists, doing nothing

In the popular imagination, artists tend to exist either at the pinnacle of fame and luxury or in the depths of penury and obscurity — rarely in the middle, where most of the rest of us toil and dream. They are subject to admiration, envy, resentment and contempt, but it is odd how seldom their efforts are understood as work. Yes, it’s taken for granted that creating is hard, but also that it’s somehow fundamentally unserious. Schoolchildren may be encouraged (at least rhetorically) to pursue their passions and cultivate their talents, but as they grow up, they are warned away from artistic careers. This attitude, always an annoyance, is becoming a danger to the health of creativity itself. It may seem strange to say so, since we live at a time of cultural abundance and flowering amateurism, when the tools of creativity seem to be available to anyone with a laptop. But the elevation of the amateur over the professional trivializes artistic accomplishment and helps to undermine the alre


Dark Google

google, politics, privacy, Shoshanna Zuboff, FAZ, absolutism, digital autocracy

If there is a single word to describe Google, it is „absolute.” The Britannica defines absolutism as a system in which „the ruling power is not subject to regularized challenge or check by any other agency.” In ordinary affairs, absolutism is a moral attitude in which values and principles are regarded as unchallengeable and universal. There is no relativism, context-dependence, or openness to change.


How To Generate Quantum Random Numbers With A Smartphone Camera

arxiv, quantum, randomness, DIY, photon, camera as random number generator

Bruno Sanguinetti and pals at the University of Geneva in Switzerland have worked out how to generate random numbers on an ordinary smartphone using genuine quantum processes. And they say their new technique can produce random numbers at the rate of 1 megabit per second, more than enough for most security applications.


Three Body and Chinese Science Fiction

china, science fiction, sci-fi, qing, 20th century, literature, tor

Chinese science fiction was born at the turn of the 20th century, when the Qing Dynasty was teetering on the edge of ruin. At the time, Chinese intellectuals were entranced by and curious about Western science and technology, and thought of such knowledge as the only hope for saving the nation from poverty, weakness, and general backwardness. Many works popularizing and speculating about science were published, including works of science fiction. One of the leaders of the failed Hundred Days’ Reform (June 11-September 21, 1898), the renowned scholar Liang Qichao, wrote a science fiction story called “A Chronicle of the Future of New China.” In it, he imagined a Shanghai World’s Fair—a vision that would not become true until 2010.


Photo Real: On Photoshop, Feminism, and Truth

Molly Crabapple, feminism, photoshop, truth, beauty, drones, cctv, image, artifice, photography, man

Photos are lies because art is a lie. Art is artifice. Art makes things as they are not—occasionally in the service of greater truths […] To get a “true” photo, you need to remove artifice. This means removing art. Art’s opposite is bulk surveillance. Drones, CCTV, ultra-fast-ultra-high-res DSLR, our fingers stroking our iPhones or tapping at Google Glass. Omnipresent cameras suction up reality without curation. We’re at the finest time in history to see stars, or anyone, photographed looking like hell.