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The war of the Mirai and XiongMai

Saturday, 22 October, 2016 0 Comments

It sounds like something from Star Trek: The war of the Mirai and the XiongMai. But it’s neither Hollywood nor science fiction. It’s real. Yesterday, users of Twitter, Amazon, Tumblr, Reddit, Spotify and Netflix experienced problems because Dyn, an internet infrastructure company that provides critical services to these sites, sustained a massive, malicious attack. Spearheading it was Mirai, malware that had hijacked digital video recorders and cameras made by XiongMai Technologies, a Chinese hi-tech company. Mirai trawls the web for cheap devices protected by just their factory-default usernames and passwords and then conscripts them for attacks that launch wave upon wave of junk traffic at targets until they can no longer serve legitimate users.

Only a week ago, US-CERT, which is part of the Department of Homeland Security, issued a warning titled “Heightened DDoS Threat Posed by Mirai and Other Botnets.” It pointed the finger at the vulnerability of the Internet of Things (IoT), “an emerging network of devices (e.g., printers, routers, video cameras, smart TVs) that connect to one another via the Internet, often automatically sending and receiving data.” According to US-CERT, “IoT devices have been used to create large-scale botnets — networks of devices infected with self-propagating malware — that can execute crippling distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks. IoT devices are particularly susceptible to malware, so protecting these devices and connected hardware is critical to protect systems and networks.”

The solution? Security expert Brian Krebs is calling for a major, global effort to recall and remove vulnerable systems from the internet. “In my humble opinion, this global cleanup effort should be funded mainly by the companies that are dumping these cheap, poorly-secured hardware devices onto the market in an apparent bid to own the market. Well, they should be made to own the cleanup efforts as well.”

Malware  code

10 Years in 10 Seconds

Friday, 21 October, 2016 0 Comments

When Apple celebrated its 40th anniversary earlier this year, it made a commemorative video titled 40 Years in 40 Seconds. So, will it release a 10-second video next year to mark the 10th anniversary of the launching of the iPhone? Steve Jobs unveiled the magical device to the public on 9 January 2007 at the Macworld convention in San Francisco, and the first generation arrived in the shops on 29 June. Ten years later, it remains the best mobile phone on the market.

One school of thought believes Apple will ignore the anniversary completely and focus on the future, while another thinks that it will names next year’s version the “iPhone 10” and turn the anniversary into a major branding event. The feeling here is that the occasion will be marked in a special way on 9 January.

“Every once in a while, a revolutionary product comes along that changes everything. And Apple has been — well, first of all, one’s very fortunate if you get to work on just one of these in your career.
Apple’s been very fortunate. It’s been able to introduce a few of these into the world.
In 1984, we introduced the Macintosh. It didn’t just change Apple, it changed the whole computer industry.
In 2001, we introduced the first iPod, and… it didn’t just – it didn’t just change the way we all listen to music, it changed the entire music industry.
Well, today, we’re introducing three revolutionary products of this class.

The first one: is a widescreen iPod with touch controls.
The second: is a revolutionary mobile phone.
And the third is a breakthrough Internet communications device.

So, three things: a widescreen iPod with touch controls; a revolutionary mobile phone; and a breakthrough Internet communications device.

An iPod, a phone, and an Internet communicator. An iPod, a phone … are you getting it?
These are not three separate devices, this is one device, and we are calling it iPhone.
Today, today Apple is going to reinvent the phone, and here it is.”

Excerpt: Transcript — Steven Jobs, iPhone Keynote, 9 January 2007

On Translation

Thursday, 20 October, 2016 0 Comments

The poet Anthony Hecht died on this day in 2004. His work was filled with a passionate desire to confront the horrors of 20th century history, especially the Second World War, in which he fought. On 23 April 1945, Hecht’s division helped liberate the Bavarian concentration camp at Flossenbürg. Years later, he said of this experience, “The place, the suffering, the prisoners’ accounts were beyond comprehension. For years after I would wake shrieking.”

In an interview with the Paris Review, Hecht was asked what he did after his discharge from the US Army. His answer:

“I was consistently drunk for well over two weeks. My parents were particularly forbearing and indulgent about this. They kept me in full supply of booze. I think I drank day and night, and I fell asleep most nights on the floor of their New York apartment. The drink must have served as a sort of narcotic for everything unmentionable that had happened or that I saw during those years.”

Hecht was a great admirer of Robert Fitzgerald, the American translator whose renderings of the Greek classics became standard works for a generation of scholars and students. On Translation was dedicated to Fitzgerald.

On Translation

Robert, how pleasantly tempting to surmise,
As Auden half suspected,
That heaven and the benign Italian skies
Are intimately connected;

And once there we shall truly be translated
In grand operatic style
And bella figura flourish, who are fated
To tarry here the while.

Amid hill towns and places where dwell
The blessed of heaven’s see,
They shall address you as Signor Freeztjell
Me, Signor Hecate.

Anthony Hecht (1923 – 2004)

Is there an app for this?

Wednesday, 19 October, 2016 0 Comments

The director of Never Happened, Mark Slutsky, says: “Never Happened is set in a world much like our own, just a little different. A world in which we can manipulate our thoughts, our lives, just a little more than we already can. The technology in the film is fictional, but in many ways, I think we have always applied the same principles to the way we view our lives, the way we selectively tell ourselves our own stories.”

Modding the Samsung Galaxy Note 7

Tuesday, 18 October, 2016 0 Comments

modding: “The act of changing a game to make it another, or add features previously unavailable, old, or previously non-existent. It is commonly done in PC games.” Source: Urban Dictionary

In an example of the kind of publicity that money simply cannot buy, this hilarious Grand Theft Auto V mod turns the notorious Samsung Galaxy Note 7 into a deadly weapon. It’s “da bomb,” as users of ancient slang might say.

Extra: Here is an audio clip of a Lufthansa pilot on a flight to Munich asking passengers not to use any “Galaxy S7 mobile phones.” The worry for Samsung now is that the contagion will spread across its range. The worry for road warriors is that all mobile devices powered by lithium-ion batteries might be banned from in-flight usage. Some travellers, though, would not be unhappy with such an outcome.


Monday, 17 October, 2016 0 Comments

On Thursday, President Barack Obama will host the Frontiers Conference in Pittsburgh to imagine the USA and the world in 50 years and beyond. Artificial Intelligence (AI) will play a growing role in this world and the White House has released a pre-conference report on considerations for AI called “Preparing for the Future of Artificial Intelligence” (PDF 1.1MB). The report looks at the state of AI, its existing and potential uses — data science, machine learning, automation, robotics — and the questions that it raises for society and policy. Snippet:

“Fairness, Safety, and Governance: As AI technologies gain broader deployment, technical experts and policy analysts have raised concerns about unintended consequences. The use of AI to make consequential decisions about people, often replacing decisions made by human actors and institutions, leads to concerns about how to ensure justice, fairness, and accountability—the same concerns voiced previously in the ‘Big Data’ context. The use of AI to control physical-world equipment leads to concerns about safety, especially as systems are exposed to the full complexity of the human environment.”


Sunday, 16 October, 2016 0 Comments

“An axe or a hammer is a passive extension of a hand, but a drone forms a distributed intelligence along with its operator, and is closer to a dog or horse than a device.” So says Bryan Johnson, founder and CEO of Kernel, which aims to develop biomedically engineered devices linked our central nervous system to restore and enhance human cognitive, motor and sensory abilities. In a word: neuroprosthetics.

“The combination of human and artificial intelligence will define humanity’s future” declares Johnson an article for TechCrunch that examines the interplay of artificial intelligence (AI) and human intelligence (HI). He argues that humanity has arrived at the border of intelligence enhancement, “which could be the most consequential technological development of our time, and in history.” Once we head into new country, the result could be people who need never need worry about forgetfulness again, or suffer the degradations of ALS, Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s and Huntington’s diseases. Johnson is very much on the side of the Valley evangelists, but he feels obliged to add what has become the mandatory cautionary note:

“It is certainly true that with every new technology we create, new risks emerge that need thoughtful consideration and wise action. Medical advances that saved lives also made germ warfare possible; chemical engineering led to fertilizers and increased food production but also to chemical warfare. Nuclear fission created a new source of energy but also led to nuclear bombs.”

Despite mankind’s inherent wickedness, Bryan Johnson does not fear the future and warns against using “a fear-based narrative” as the main structure for discussing HI+AI. This would limit the imagination and curiosity that are at the core of being human.

“The basis of optimism is sheer terror,” said Oscar Wilde, who was born on this day in 1864 at 21 Westland Row in Dublin.

Enough whiskey for a Mississippi River of pain

Saturday, 15 October, 2016 0 Comments

“Ya got cigarettes?” she asks.
“Yes,” I say,
“I got cigarettes.”
“Matches?” she asks.
“Enough to burn Rome.”
“Enough whiskey for a Mississippi River of pain.”
“You drunk?”
“Not yet.”

Charles Bukowski (1920 — 1994)

Galty whiskey

Bob Dylan: The Swedish connection

Friday, 14 October, 2016 0 Comments

Yesterday, Sara Danius, Permanent Secretary of the Swedish Academy, shook up the world of highbrow literature by announcing the awarding of the 2016 Nobel Prize in Literature to Bob Dylan. She seemed pleased with the outcome and there’s another Swede who’s happy with the news: Fredrik Wikingsson. Two years ago, Dylan performed a private four-song set for the Swedish journalist at the Academy of Music in Philadelphia, prior to his show later that night at the venue. Wikingsson is a dedicated fan and has written at length about his personal experience with Dylan’s music.

Among the songs Bob Dylan performed for Fredrik Wikingsson were Fats Domino’s Blueberry Hill, Chuck Willis’ It’s Too Late (She’s Gone) and Buddy Holly’s Heartbeat.

When Bob Dylan dreamed of St. Augustine

Thursday, 13 October, 2016 0 Comments

On 16 June 2011, Bob Dylan began a European tour in Cork, the southern capital of Ireland. The set opened with Gonna Change My Way Of Thinking and closed with Forever Young, but what made the evening particularly interesting was a song not heard all that often: I Dreamed I Saw St. Augustine, from the 1967 album John Wesley Harding. Oddly enough, the last time he had played it before that was in Dublin, in 2005.

“I dreamed I saw St. Augustine
Alive as you or me
Tearing through these quarters
In the utmost misery
With a blanket underneath his arm
And a coat of solid gold
Searching for the very souls
Whom already have been sold.”

In the song, Dylan is addressed in his dreams by St. Augustine of Hippo, the bishop-philosopher who held the episcopal seat in Hippo Regius, a Roman port in northern Africa. He died in 430 A.D. when the city was overrun by Vandals. Dylanologist Tim Riley wrote that Bob uses St. Augustine’s “symbolic stature to signify anyone who has been put to death by a mob,” and his vision of the saint reveals “how it feels to be the target of mob psychology, and how confusing it is to identify with the throng’s impulses to smother what it loves too much or destroy what it can’t understand”. The opening lyrics and melody are based on the old union song I Dreamed I Saw Joe Hill Last Night.

Danny MacAskill’s Wee Day Out

Thursday, 13 October, 2016 0 Comments

The Scottish bike artist Danny MacAskill from Dunvegan on the Isle of Skye leaves no trick unturned when he takes a two-wheeler trip around Edinburgh.

The background song is National Express by Neil Hannon and The Divine Comedy from their 1998 album Fin de Siècle. National Express is based on Hannon’s observations of life as seen from the window of a British National Express bus. Critics have accused him of sneering at the English working classes in the song:

“On the National Express there’s a jolly hostess
Selling crisps and tea
She’ll provide you with drinks and theatrical winks
For a sky-high fee
Mini-skirts were in style when she danced down the aisle
Back in ’63 (yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah)
But it’s hard to get by when your arse is the size
Of a small country
And everybody sings ‘ba ba ba da’
We’re going where the air is free
Tomorrow belongs to me.”