Thursday, December 29, 2016

The Nib: Jack Chick Goes to Heaven

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Jack Chick Goes to Heaven
by The Nib. Posted October 27th, 2016

The Christian cartoonist who tried to save us all from the fires of hell died Sunday. Here's our send off in the style of his famous comic tracts.

Although the news is from October, I just heard about it now. I would never wish death on someone, but I'm very glad Jack Chick will never write another of his hate-tracts. All throughout college, various Christian fundamentalists would distribute "Chick Tracts" across campus. These comics accuse everybody and everything of being in league with Satan. They attack Jews, Muslims, Catholics, pagans, video games, rock music, role-playing games, pop culture, politicians (of all parties) and even other evangelical Christian groups. Anyone not 100% into his insane paranoid theology is declared evil and must be harassed ('scuze me, "witnessed") into submission - all for his own good, of course.

As someone who was frequently harassed by missionaries, who were using these comics as "proof" of their moral obligation to be offensive, I'm glad he's gone. Hopefully the rest of his organization will also go away.

The send-off by The Nib is a good parody of these comics and is an appropriate memorial.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Nerdist: All of ROGUE ONE’s Many STAR WARS Easter Eggs

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All of ROGUE ONE’s Many STAR WARS Easter Eggs
Posted by Joan Ford on December 19, 2016

Warning: The following contains a few significant spoilers for Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

Despite being billed as a "standalone" Star Wars story Rogue One turned out to be anything but. The movie had so many connections to the originals, the prequels, and even the cartoons, that viewers might feel the need to crack open a Wookieepedia to fully understand everything that’s going on. Luckily we’ve done a lot of the homework for you, and have taken it upon ourselves to break down some of Rogue One's best Easter eggs right here.

A great summary of references to other Star Wars productions, but please don't read the whole article or watch its accompanying video until after you've seen the movie, since it is packed full of spoilers.

And for those of you unfamiliar with the reference, Wookiepedia is a real web site dedicated to archiving all that can be known about the Star Wars universe.

Monday, December 19, 2016

New York Times: The Great A.I. Awakening

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The Great A.I. Awakening
By Gideon Lewis-Kraus.

How Google used artificial intelligence to transform Google Translate, one of its more popular services — and how machine learning is poised to reinvent computing itself.

A great article about Google's recent AI research and how it is now driving their Translate service.

Wednesday, December 07, 2016

Washington Post: Mobsters ran a fake U.S. Embassy in Ghana for 10 years, flying the flag and issuing visas for $6,000

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Mobsters ran a fake U.S. Embassy in Ghana for 10 years, flying the flag and issuing visas for $6,000
By Katie Mettler December 5

For a decade, an American flag flew outside a battered pink building in Ghana’s capital city, welcoming out-of-town visitors who, once inside, found a photo of President Obama hanging on the wall. Signs confirmed to travelers — who had been bused in from the most remote parts of West Africa — that they had arrived at the U.S. Embassy in Accra.

The "consular officers" working there were not Americans, but they spoke English and Dutch and issued official-looking visas and identification papers. They charged their customers $6,000.

Incredible. Both for the sheer audacity of Turkish mobsters to run a fake embassy, and for the fact that they were able to operate for 10 years without the US government finding out.

How many people actually came in to the US with these fake visas and passports? The article doesn't say, but one can assume that it was a high percentage because even the most incompetent immigration system would start to get a hint if they were rejecting hundreds of fake visas all coming from Ghana.

More disturbing is that this gang was apparently issuing legitimate, but fraudulently-obtained, US visas. Sounds like some people in the real US embassy were in on the scam.

Read the whole article from The Washington Post and the original article from Ghana Business News for more details.

Monday, November 21, 2016

Lest we forget what the election was really about

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I've referred to this speech in casual conversation many times in the past and most of my Leftie friends have insisted that no such thing was ever said. I assume they'll assume that this video is also a forgery, but for everybody else, here is Jim Moran, former Congresscritter from Northern Virginia, speaking in 2008. In this clip, he summarizes the American Left more succinctly than I've heard any pundit ever do:

Now, in the last seven years we have had the highest corporate profit ever in American history. Highest corporate profit. We've had the highest productivity. The American worker has produced more per person than at any time. But it hasn't been shared and that's the problem. Because we have been guided by a Republican administration who believes in the simplistic notion that people who have wealth are entitled to keep it, and they have an antipathy towards the means of redistributing wealth. And they may be able to sustain that for a while, but it doesn't work in the long run.

And that's ultimately what the entire divide in this country is about. The Left (all of the Democrat leadership, along with many Republicans, and an unknown percentage of ordinary Americans) believe that if you work and slave at a job for 50 years in order to make yourself wealthy, you have no right to keep it, but the government has a mandate to confiscate everything you've earned and give it to other people who (as determined by the government) deserve it more.

We may disagree about how much charity wealthy people and corporations give, and we may disagree about how much we think they should give and to whom they should give it, but that's nothing compared to the Left's belief that these people should not even be allowed to decide, or even to voice an opinion on the subject.

This is flat-out communism. Marx, Lenin, Stalin and Mao couldn't have said it any clearer. This is what Obama and Hillary are all about. This is what Bernie Sanders is about. This is what Nancy Pelosi, Chuck Schumer, and all the rest of the DNC leadership is about.

Everything else you may hear is a distraction calculated to prevent you from thinking about this one simple fact: The Left doesn't believe you have a right to keep any of your property. Period.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

TouchBar NyanCat!

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Nyan Cat on Your TouchBar Is the Easiest Way to Justify Buying a New MacBook Pro
Andrew Liszewski 11/07/16 8:43am

Apple packed its latest event with countless examples of why the new TouchBar feature on its updated MacBook Pro will make your life inconceivably better. But the company should have just started and finished with this Nyan Cat animation that flies across the new touch-sensitive display strip.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

MOMA acquires original set of emoji

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Emojis are now being displayed in the Museum of Modern Art, this is how it all began in 1999
, by Milen Y

The first emoji was created in 1998 or 1999 by Japanese designer Shigetaka Kurita, who was at the time working on a mobile internet platform, called i-mode, at Japanese carrier NTT. Kurita was inspired by the way weather forecasts and street signs used simple, but universally recognizable, symbols to convey meaning, and decided to adopt this approach for his project. The first set of emoji was comprised of just 176 pictograms, each with resolution of 12 x 12 pixels, and was aimed to differentiate i-mode's messaging features from other such services.

A fascinating bit of history. Many different news outlets have written different stories about this event, each telling something else interesting about the history of emoji:


Wednesday, October 26, 2016

MacRumors: Microsoft Announces Surface Book i7, Desktop PC 'Surface Studio,' and Windows 10 Creators Update

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Microsoft Announces Surface Book i7, Desktop PC 'Surface Studio,' and Windows 10 Creators Update
Wednesday October 26, 2016 9:48 am PDT by Mitchel Broussard

At its media event today in New York City, Microsoft announced a new update coming to Windows 10 devices that's focused on creativity and productivity tools, as well as two major new pieces of hardware: the Surface Book i7 and Surface Studio. The Surface Book is the second generation of last year's original model, while the Surface Studio is the company's all new, all-in-one desktop PC that's aimed at the high-end, enterprise market with a starting price of $2,999.

Nice systems. (And unlike Samsung's latest offerings, these are distinct Microsoft designs and are not knock-offs of what other companies are shipping.)

I especially like their large Surface Studio. The idea of being able to quickly fold a desktop-style workstation into a flat drafting-board-like surface for pen-based interaction is great. I've seen concepts like this, but I think this is the first time the concept will ship in an commercial product. And I love the concept of the Surface Dial - hopefully we'll see some great apps that can take advantage of this device.

AppleInsider: Samsung's cylindrical ArtPC Pulse computer apes design of Apple's Mac Pro

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Samsung's cylindrical ArtPC Pulse computer apes design of Apple's Mac Pro
By Mike Wuerthele Monday, October 10, 2016, 03:25 pm PT (06:25 pm ET)

Samsung, in conjunction with Harman Kardon, has quietly revealed the new cylindrical consumer-grade ArtPC Pulse line powered by the sixth generation Skylake processor, which has already begun to draw many comparisons to Apple's 2013 Mac Pro design.
A configuration with a dual-core 2.7 GHz Kaby Lake i5 processor, 256GB of NVMe storage, 8GB of RAM is up for pre-order at Amazon for $1199.99.

Gee, can't Samsung sell anything that's not a copy of some other company's product? Nobody in the world was shipping or even talking about a small-black-cylinder form factor before Apple released the 2013 Mac Pro and now Samsung ships one. And don't get me started on their iPhone clones. Don't they have any product designers capable of original thought?

Friday, October 07, 2016

Backblaze: What SMART Stats Tell Us About Hard Drives

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What SMART Stats Tell Us About Hard Drives
October 6th, 2016

What if a hard drive could tell you it was going to fail before it actually did? Is that possible? Each day Backblaze records the SMART stats that are reported by the 67,814 hard drives we have spinning in our Sacramento data center. SMART stands for Self-Monitoring, Analysis and Reporting Technology and is a monitoring system included in hard drives that reports on various attributes of the state of a given drive.

While we’ve looked at SMART stats before, this time we’ll dig into the SMART stats we use in determining drive failure and we’ll also look at a few other stats we find interesting.

This is a really interesting article about some parts of SMART and how the statistics may be used to heuristically predict drive failure.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

MacRumors: Facebook Now Testing Autoplay Videos With Sound in iOS App

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Facebook Now Testing Autoplay Videos With Sound in iOS App
Tuesday August 23, 2016 6:18 AM PDT by Joe Rossignol

Starting today, Facebook will begin testing autoplay videos -- including ads -- with sound in its iOS and Android apps. Facebook told Mashable the test will be limited to Australian users and rolled out in two different ways to gauge how users react. In both versions of the test, sound will only play if the iPhone's volume is turned up, and sound can also be turned to "always off" in Facebook settings.

I've been ticked off at Facebook for quite some time now. I suspended my account briefly in 2010 and then for real in 2013. Mostly because of policies that make the site less and less interesting to users and more and more ruled by advertisers.

At this point, I really wonder why it exists or should be used by anyone. You are forced to work in a straightjacket. There's almost no opportunity for personalization anymore (aside from a banner image), they censor what you're allowed to read and write, and now they're going to be forcing auto-play videos with sound on you, despite the fact that users have overwhelmingly said they don't want this.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Time: Read Donald Trump’s Ohio Speech on Immigration and Terrorism

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Read Donald Trump’s Ohio Speech on Immigration and Terrorism
Daniel White @danielatlarge

Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump gave a new policy speech on immigration and terrorism Monday in Youngstown, Ohio.

In the fiery speech, Trump said that he would institute “extreme vetting” of visa applicants, citing domestic terrorism incidents like the shootings in San Bernardino and Orlando as examples of a failed immigration policy.

I'm no particular fan of Trump (although I think he's far better than the other choices we will have to choose from in November) but this speech is spot-on.

I've been hearing these opinions for many years from conservative national security sources (like the Secure Freedom Radio podcast) but most of the public is probably hearing about this for the first time, thanks to media outlets and politicians that prefer to pretend that (depending on the day of the week) there is no war, the enemy has no relationship to Islam, we can't possibly win, and it is morally wrong to take even the slightest steps to do something about it.

Now, if only we could get people to actually read the full text of Trump's speech instead of just repeating the media mantra of "he's a racist bigot homophobe evil rich white man so you should ignore everything he says no matter what it is."

But that's never going to happen, will it?

h/t to the Dry Bones blog for giving me the link to the full text of Trump's speech. Until now, all I heard was a few clips on the Mark Levin Show.

(Given the fact that half of Republicans and almost all Democrats hate Trump with a passion, I'm expecting more comments than usual (meaning more than zero) here. Please remember to keep your points civil and factual. Anything insulting or abusive or off-topic will not be posted.)

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Krebs On Security: Data Breach At Oracle’s MICROS Point-of-Sale Division

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Data Breach At Oracle’s MICROS Point-of-Sale Division
Brian Krebs, August 8, 2016

A Russian organized cybercrime group known for hacking into banks and retailers appears to have breached hundreds of computer systems at software giant Oracle Corp., KrebsOnSecurity has learned. More alarmingly, the attackers have compromised a customer support portal for companies using Oracle’s MICROS point-of-sale credit card payment systems.
MICROS is among the top three point-of-sale vendors globally. Oracle’s MICROS division sells point-of-sale systems used at more than 330,000 cash registers worldwide.
Oracle’s own statement seems to suggest the company is concerned that compromised credentials for customer accounts at the MICROS support portal could be used to remotely administer — and, more importantly, to upload card-stealing malware to — some customer point-of-sale systems. The term “on-premise” refers to POS devices that are physically connected to cash registers at MICROS customer stores.

Avivah Litan, a fraud analyst at Gartner Inc., says ... "I’d say there’s a big chance that the hackers in this case found a way to get remote access" to MICROS customers' on-premises point-of-sale devices.

This is really ugly. If criminals have managed to use the manufacturer's maintenance access to remotely install card-skimming software into point of sale terminals worldwide, then nothing is safe.

All the more reason to use a merchant's chip reader or Apple Pay wherever possible. These technologies work with device-specific account numbers, one-time pads and encryption to make it difficult (if not impossible) for a captured transaction to be used to create a fake card or initiate new transactions. (I am aware that there are many more virtual-card technologies in use but I don't know enough about them to have an opinion about their security.)

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

NASA: The Moon crossing the face of the Earth

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From a Million Miles Away, NASA Camera Shows Moon Crossing Face of Earth
August 5, 2015

A NASA camera aboard the Deep Space Climate Observatory (DSCOVR) satellite captured a unique view of the moon as it moved in front of the sunlit side of Earth last month. The series of test images shows the fully illuminated “dark side” of the moon that is never visible from Earth.

The images were captured by NASA’s Earth Polychromatic Imaging Camera (EPIC), a four megapixel CCD camera and telescope on the DSCOVR satellite orbiting 1 million miles from Earth. From its position between the sun and Earth, DSCOVR conducts its primary mission of real-time solar wind monitoring for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

Read the whole article for more details and an animated image of the Moon making transit across the Earth's face.

h/t to John Kovalic's Twitter Feed for a funny tweet that made me look up this awesome image.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Retro Tech: The Wire Recorder

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Before tape recorders were invented, there were wire recorders. This is a fascinating video that shows one in action.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Entropic Time, by A Capella Science

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This is a really cool science song and an even more cool video. I don't want to think about how much work it must've been to make it (but I will soon find out, because they have a "making of" companion video, which I've embedded below the music video.)

And, the making-of video:

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Ars Technica: Digging into the dev documentation for APFS, Apple’s new file system

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Digging into the dev documentation for APFS, Apple’s new file system
Copy-on-write metadata, native encryption, instant cloning, snapshots, and more.
by Lee Hutchinson - Jun 13, 2016 4:35pm EDT

Though the feature wasn’t mentioned in Apple’s WWDC 2016 keynote, I’m most excited about the introduction of the Apple File System, or APFS. The preliminary version of the developer documentation is online now, and it looks like the new file system introduces a whole boat-load of solid features—including a few out of the ZFS playbook.

APFS looks to be a major update over Apple’s old and creaky HFS+ file system, which has been around in one form or another for decades. It has been the subject of expansions and additions over the years, but HFS+ never approached the extensibility and flexibility of current next-generation file systems. Rather than continuing to bolt stuff onto the old code, we now (finally!) get a new file system that has some truly compelling features.

It'll probably be a while before this becomes mainstream, but what I've read so far looks really attractive. Especially support for snapshots, which is something I've been wanting ever since I discovered them as a part of Network Appliance's file server software almost 20 years ago. I assume Apple took so long to develop the tech because they were waiting for NetApp's patents to expire, or some other non-technical reason.

Once this ships (and has gone through the usual rounds of bug-fixing to fix the inevitable problems in something this big), it will be a truly compelling reason to upgrade to the latest version of Mac OS X ('scuze me, macOS.) Which is great, considering that the last few OS updates seem to be mostly cosmetic and app changes - things that really shouldn't need a whole-OS update.

Friday, April 22, 2016

AP: Trump team tells GOP he has been 'projecting an image'

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Trump team tells GOP he has been 'projecting an image'

HOLLYWOOD, Fla. (AP) — Donald Trump's chief lieutenants told skeptical Republican leaders Thursday that the GOP front-runner has been "projecting an image" so far in the 2016 primary season and "the part that he's been playing is now evolving" in a way that will improve his standing among general election voters.
Trump's newly hired senior aide, Paul Manafort, made the case to Republican National Committee members that Trump has two personalities: one in private and one onstage.

"When he's out on the stage, when he's talking about the kinds of things he's talking about on the stump, he's projecting an image that's for that purpose," Manafort said in a private briefing.

In other words, Mr. Trump stands for nothing and believes in nothing. Or if he does stand for something, he has not let anyone of us know what it is. He and the guy running his campaign have stated what the rest of us have suspected all along - he's putting on a show in order to trick people into voting for him. If you haven't figured it out from the fact that he tells each audience what they want to hear even when he contradicts himself to do so, then this should prove it.

Is he going to build a wall on the Mexican border like he loudly promised? Maybe not. Lower taxes? Raise taxes? Subsidies for corn farmers? Who knows. But when his top people are now on record as saying that everything he says is just role playing and doesn't mean a thing, I think this is something we should all believe.

Monday, February 29, 2016

Sultan Knish: The First Year Of President Bernie Sanders

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The First Year Of President Bernie Sanders
by Daniel Greenfield, Febuary 18, 2016

On January 20, 2017, President Bernie Sanders was sworn into office. The elderly Vermont politician, who had always made waves, refused to use a bible, instead taking his oath on a smudged copy of his own economic five-year plan. He also unilaterally modified the presidential oath from "preserve, protect and defend" to "enhance, enrich and humanize the Constitution of the United States".

The unlikely candidacy of Bernie Sanders had shocked and divided a party and then a nation.

President Sanders won the Democratic Party nomination by going far to the left and then, defying conventional wisdom, he moved even further to the left in the general election. Unable to retain the minority portion of the Obama coalition, many of whose leaders had been allied with Hillary Clinton and were still bitter over her loss and did little to help him, his victory relied heavily on youth voter turnout.

Yeah, this sounds a lot like how it might actually happen. Don't forget to read the rest of the story.

Monday, February 08, 2016

AppleInsider: Software bug shuts down Nest thermostats, turns off heating for unlucky customers

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Software bug shuts down Nest thermostats, turns off heating for unlucky customers
By Sam Oliver
Thursday, January 14, 2016, 06:19 am PT (09:19 am ET)

A buggy software update has caused many users of Nest's smart thermostat to wake up in the cold in recent days, as the devices have been found to quickly drain their batteries and shut down, leaving heating and cooling systems offline.
For users, fixing the problem — Nest says 99.5 percent of its customers are back online — means rebooting their now-dead thermostat, which is easier said than done. Nest's support site details a nine-step process that requires removing the device from the wall, connecting it to auxiliary power, and performing a series of incantations.

Ow. That's embarrassing.

A better question is: "Why does Nest require a battery to operate?" Every furnace and A/C system I've seen provides DC voltage to power thermostats. Why can't the Nest thermostat run off of that and only use the battery to maintain configuration during a power outage (or even better, use flash memory for storing configuration)?

Friday, January 22, 2016

Propaganda Games: Sesame Credit - The True Danger of Gamification

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China has gamified being an obedient citizen with the creation of Sesame Credit. The game links to your social network and gives you a score for doing things that the government approves of, but it also reduces that score for doing things the government disapproves of. Even your friends' scores affect your own, and being friends with people who have a low score will drag your score down as well. This insidious system applies social pressure on people to ostracize their friends with lower scores, either forcing those friends to change their ways or effectively quarantining their rebellious ideas. While many sci-fi visions of a dystopian future have centered around a bleak government that controls through fear, Sesame Credit shows us that a government can use gamification and positive reinforcement to be just as controlling. And it's real. While currently the system is opt-in, the government plans to make it mandatory in 2020. Once mandatory, it may give rewards for good scores or penalties for bad ones. And in the meantime, making it opt-in has already set the tone for the game: people participate willingly, so they find it fun, and they set a very high standard for what the "average" score should be. Already people have begun sharing their scores on social media.

Scary scary stuff. Anyone still think China is somehow going to become a free country just because they sell us lots of manufactured goods?

Friday, January 15, 2016

YouTube: CD Shattering captured at 170,000 frames per second

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Gav and Dan present the SLOWEST EVER episode of the slow mo guys by spinning a disc at 23,000RPM and filming it shatter at a whopping 170,000 frames per second.

We all know that a CD (and just about anything else) will shatter if you spin it fast enough. This video uses an ultra high-speed camera to capture the shatter. It looks amazing.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

RIP David Bowie

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As I'm sure everybody here is aware, David Bowie passed away this weekend from cancer. He was a great musician and will be greatly missed.

I think I'm going to have to watch Labyrinth tonight.

And thank you, Berkeley Breathed for drawing a great and humorous Bloom County memorial: