Iris Van Herpen: Biopiracy

Please remember to leave air-holes when shipping your Electric Barbarella.

The official video is better shot, but shows more of the clothes and less of the, uh, wall art.

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3D Self-Portrait

Josh Harker:

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Stingray

Law Enforcement Agencies All Over California Have Been Secretly Using Stingray Devices

More documents have been uncovered (via FOI requests) that show local law enforcement agencies in California have been operating cell phone tower spoofers (stingray devices) in complete secrecy and wholly unregulated.

Some of these agencies have had these devices for several years now. Documents obtained from the Oakland Police Dept. show the agency has had stingrays in use since at least 2007, citing 21 "stingray arrests" during that year. This is hardly a surprising development as the city has been pushing for a total surveillance network for years now, something that (until very recently) seemed to be more slowed by contractor ineptitude than growing public outrage.

The device manufacturer's (Harris) troubling non-disclosure agreement (which has been used to keep evidence of stingray usage out of court cases as well as has been deployed as an excuse for not securing warrants) rears its misshapen head again, mentioned both in one obtained document as well as by a spokesperson reached for comment. One document states:

"The Harris (REDACTED) equipment is proprietary and used for surveillance missions," the agreement reads. "Its capabilities can only be discussed with sworn law enforcement officers, the military or federal government. This equipment's capabilities are not for public knowledge and are protected under non-disclosure agreements as well as Title 18 USC 2512."

The Sacramento County Sheriff's Dept. had this to (not) say when asked about its stingray usage:

"While I am not familiar with what San Jose has said, my understanding is that the acquisition or use of this technology comes with a strict non-disclosure requirement," said Undersheriff James Lewis in an emailed statement. "Therefore it would be inappropriate for us to comment about any agency that may be using the technology."
Law enforcement agencies are conveniently choosing to believe a manufacturer's non-disclosure agreement trumps public interest or even their own protection of citizens' Fourth Amendment rights.

Metadata = Surveillance

An easy thought experiment demonstrates this. Imagine that you hired a private detective to eavesdrop on a subject. That detective would plant a bug in that subject's home, office, and car. He would eavesdrop on his computer. He would listen in on that subject's conversations, both face to face and remotely, and you would get a report on what was said in those conversations. (This is what President Obama repeatedly reassures us isn't happening with our phone calls. But am I the only one who finds it suspicious that he always uses very specific words? "The NSA is not listening in on your phone calls." This leaves open the possibility that the NSA is recording, transcribing, and analyzing your phone calls -- and very occasionally reading them. This is far more likely to be true, and something a pedantically minded president could claim he wasn't lying about.)

Now imagine that you asked that same private detective to put a subject under constant surveillance. You would get a different report, one that included things like where he went, what he did, who he spoke to -- and for how long -- who he wrote to, what he read, and what he purchased. This is all metadata, data we know the NSA is collecting. So when the president says that it's only metadata, what you should really hear is that we're all under constant and ubiquitous surveillance.

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"They want to lock everyone into everything, just like everyone else."

Worse:

Maybe the reason Prime economics have become tricky is because Amazon bundled in a video service nobody wants since 2011, leveraging one business' extreme success to juice the numbers of one that's faring poorly against its competitors. Netflix charges $95.88 per year for a similar service. How much of Prime's price hike was really to help pay for the video service that's just a tax on Prime members who have never used it and don't want it?

This isn't just an Amazon problem. In the last few years, Google, Apple, Amazon, Facebook, and Twitter have all made huge attempts to move into major parts of each others' businesses, usually at the detriment of their customers or users.

Google, the geek world's undeserved, unquestioned darling for well over a decade, has made all of its core products worse by forcefully shoving Google+ into them. They're leveraging extreme success from some businesses (search, email, maps) to juice the numbers of one that's faring poorly against its competitors (Google+). Sound familiar?

Apple's Maps is still worse and has fewer features than Google Maps, which was previously integrated better into the iPhone and didn't enable as much Google tracking creepiness. Not anymore. (Although I think the fault of this is shared between Apple and Google.) Many of Apple's other applications and services have suffered as well as they've spread themselves too thinly and competed on more fronts.

The battle between Twitter and Facebook has made both products worse and caused weird restrictions to users on both sides, such as the walls both companies have installed between Twitter and Instagram. Twitter is now ultra-paranoid, defensive, aggressive, and full of annoying ads. Facebook's core product is a mess as it continually tries (and fails) to capture the usage and style of Twitter, while annoying people more and more to keep its ads effective. (At least Facebook is consistent: they've always been getting worse.)

Amazon making its retail business worse to prop up another part of its ecosystem shouldn't be a surprise to anyone. Amazon doesn't want you to be only a retail customer anymore, and they'll keep making it harder to be.

They want to lock everyone into everything. Just like everyone else. And we're all worse off for it.

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"A hate flower that blooms all year". Also, Space Egyptians.

James Mickens: To Wash It All Away:

A modern Web page is a catastrophe. It's like a scene from one of those apocalyptic medieval paintings that depicts what would happen if Galactus arrived: people are tumbling into fiery crevasses and lamenting various lamentable things and hanging from playground equipment that would not pass OSHA safety checks. This kind of stuff is exactly what you'll see if you look at the HTML, CSS, and JavaScript in a modern Web page. Of course, no human can truly "look" at this content, because a Web page is now like V'Ger from the first "Star Trek" movie, a piece of technology that we once understood but can no longer fathom, a thrashing leviathan of code and markup written by people so untrustworthy that they're not even third parties, they're fifth parties who weren't even INVITED to the party, but who showed up anyways because the hippies got it right and free love or whatever. [...]

Describing why the Web is horrible is like describing why it's horrible to drown in an ocean composed of pufferfish that are pregnant with tiny Freddy Kruegers -- each detail is horrendous in isolation, but the aggregate sum is delightfully arranged into a hate flower that blooms all year. [...]

So, yes, it would be great if fixing your browser involved actions that were not semantically equivalent to voodoo. But, on the bright side, things could always be worse. For example, it would definitely be horrible if your browser's scripting language combined the prototype-based inheritance of Self, a quasi-functional aspect borrowed from LISP, a structured syntax adapted from C, and an aggressively asynchronous I/O model that requires elaborate callback chains that span multiple generations of hard-working Americans. OH NO I'VE JUST DESCRIBED JAVASCRIPT. What an unpleasant turn of events! People were begging for a combination of Self, LISP, and C in the same way that the denizens of Middle Earth were begging Saruman to breed Orcs and men to make Uruk-hai.

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