February 2, 2016
[war] How Rogue Techies Armed the Predator, Almost Stopped 9/11, and Accidentally Invented Remote War
… a look at how the the Predator Drone was created …
The team found what they were looking for during one of the Predator’s very first split operations missions in early September 2000. Swanson was circling over Tarnak Farms, a walled compound near the Kandahar airport where bin Laden—or UBL as the team called him, referring to the alternative spelling, Usama—was thought to be living. Jeff Guay, an Air Force master sergeant on the team, was controlling the drone’s camera. Sure enough, a man in white, surrounded by an entourage, soon emerged on their screens.
“When UBL walked out of that one building,” Swanson says, “the way he appeared much taller than everybody, the people were deferential around him, the way he was dressed, Jeff and I just looked at each other and it’s like, ‘Yeah, that’s got to be him.’” Swanson assumed a cruise missile would be dispatched in the direction of bin Laden while the Predator loitered overhead to make sure he stayed put. The team had been instructed to continue circling for as long as necessary, even if that meant running out of fuel and crashing.
But for reasons obscure to the team, no strike was ordered. With Swanson gripping his joystick, unable to do anything but stare, America’s final chance to kill Bin Laden before September 11 slipped away.
February 1, 2016
[conspiracy] What Kind of Person Calls a Mass Shooting a Hoax?
… an appalling story about how parents of children murdered in a mass shootings get harassed by mass-shooting conspiracy truthers … ‘The conspiracy movement’s personal attacks show no sign of abating. Early this November, a 32-year-old man was arrested for accosting the sisters of Vicki Soto, a slain teacher, at a Newtown charity event; he wanted to ask them whether a family photo of theirs had been photoshopped. For the hoaxers, no private moment has been sacred. At one point, they vigorously picked over the details of Noah’s funeral. Prior to the ceremony, the family opened Noah’s casket for a private viewing, which was reported in the news. It’s not an unusual custom for Jewish families, but hoaxers alleged it was against the laws of the religion, which somehow helped substantiate their claim that Noah wasn’t real.’
January 29, 2016
[toys] Stormtroopers – the world’s biggest army?
… a BBC reporter attempts to find out how many Star Wars Action Figures have been sold since 1977 … ‘My first significant breakthrough came from an unlikely source – the Leicestershire County Council Museum Service. The original Star Wars toys were produced under license in the UK by a company called Palitoy. They had a factory in Coalville in Leicestershire, and the museum inherited some of its paper. An internal company newsletter from 1985 revealed it had sold 25 million action figures in the UK alone – more than one toy for every child in the country at the time.’
January 28, 2016
[conspiracy] Secret success: equations give calculations for keeping conspiracies quiet
… The mathematics of conspiracies … ‘Through his equations, Grimes calculated that hoax moon landings (410,000 people) would have been revealed in three years eight months, climate change fraud (405,000 people) in three years and nine months, a coverup of unsafe vaccinations (22,000) in three years and two months and a suppressed cancer cure (714,000 people) in three years and three months. “My results suggest that any conspiracy with over a few hundred people rapidly collapses, and big science conspiracies would not be sustainable,” he said. Grimes also looked at the maximum number of people who could take part in a conspiracy in order to maintain it. For a plot to last five years, the maximum was 2,521. For a scheme to remain under wraps for more than a decade, fewer than 1,000 people can be involved.’
January 27, 2016
[howto] YouTube Loop
… useful guide to looping YouTube videos.
January 26, 2016
[funny] Literally Just 21 Mr Burns Quotes On Pictures Of Donald Trump
… ‘Family, religion, friendship. These are the three demons you must slay if you wish to succeed in business.’
January 25, 2016
[fb] Why Facebook Won, and Other Hard Truths
… some interesting thoughts on Facebook’s success against the Open Web … ‘People read the web now at the level they read email — they look at a lot of stuff. And what they want (and what many people continue to shame them for) is a standard interface that allows them to do that without feeling stressed. You want to win against Facebook? Let go of the idea of people reading your stuff on your site, and develop or support interfaces that put your readers in control of how they view the web instead of giving the control to the people with the servers. Support people looking into federated recommendation systems. Make friends with the idea of full copies of your stuff flowing across the web instead of links.’
January 22, 2016
[sweets] Sugarless Gummy Bears Are Not Safe for Humans
… how to disrupt your bowels with a few mouthfuls of Gummy Bears … ‘The beginning of the end. The bears opened my lower pod bay door and a gummy hell sprang forth. I made it to the toilet, just barely. My watery shit looked like a blend of bile and egg flower soup.’
January 21, 2016
[life] Don’t freak out, but scientists think octopuses ‘might be aliens’ after DNA study
… LOVECRAFT WAS RIGHT!! … ‘Octopus DNA is highly rearranged – like cards shuffled and reshuffled in a pack – containing numerous so-called “jumping genes” that can leap around the genome. “The octopus appears to be utterly different from all other animals, even other molluscs, with its eight prehensile arms, its large brain and its clever problem-solving abilities,” said US researcher Dr Clifton Ragsdale, from the University of Chicago. ‘
January 20, 2016
[fb] How to block the companies tracking you on Facebook
… useful step-by-step guide to improving your privacy with Facebook
January 19, 2016
[headlines] Evening Standard Billboard Flashback: January 2006 …
January 18, 2016
[magic] Seems Legit: We Talked to a Witch Who Casts Viruses Out of Computers With Magic
… ‘There’s all different kinds of energies, including entities that may or may not be noticeable to human beings. You might want to call them ghosts or angels or spirits or demons. Think of demons as entities—they eat, they absorb energy, and they want to be fed. Computers are a vast store of electromagnetic energy, as well as messages. Sometimes when a demon is in a computer system, it’s just like a roach in a kitchen. It just eats and stays out of the way. But some demons are working for someone’s who’s trying to hurt you, and those are the really hard ones.’
January 15, 2016
[fail] The 100 Most Important Fails Of All Time
… go and look at this epic collection of Fails.
January 13, 2016
[tech] Why Activists Wanted to Destroy Early GPS Satellites
… fascinating story about an axe attack on an unlaunched GPS satellite in the 1990s and the motivations behind it … ‘GPS’ major media debut took place on the battlefield during the 1991 Gulf War, where GPS-guided cruise missiles took out Iraqi infrastructure and soldiers carried commercial GPS receivers (the system was still incomplete in 1991, and as a result all GPS operations during the Gulf War had to be coordinated within specific time windows to be sure there were enough satellites overhead). When explaining the Gulf War’s influence on the Brigade, Lumsdaine noted that “most of the civilian casualties of Operation Desert Storm came after the war because the infrastructure was targeted; the water, the electric lines, the generating stations. GPS was critical for taking out the electric grid of Iraq… with the electricity came repercussions with water filtration plans and so forth.” Crippling infrastructure is a long-term attack strategy, and GPS let the military enact it with ruthless precision.’
January 12, 2016
[facts] The Best Facts I Learned from Books in 2015
… ‘Speaking of preachers, the word “poltergeist” was coined by Martin Luther. (From Philip Ball’s “Invisible: The Dangerous Allure of the Unseen.”) Thirteen years after he posted his famous ninety-five theses on the doors of a church in Wittenberg, Martin Luther wrote a pamphlet listing a hundred and fourteen grievances against the Catholic Church. The fifth item—following close on the heels of indulgences—was just one word long: “poltergeists.” (He objected to the way the Church used ghost stories to frighten congregants into holding multiple masses for the dead, supposedly to quiet their souls.)’
January 11, 2016
[hertzog] Lo And Behold, Reveries Of The Connected World Trailer
… a new documenatary about the Internet from Werner Hertzog …
January 8, 2016
[fb] An Inside Look at a Facebook Data Center
…. ‘Maybe this is why some of the moments where conversation switched from the technical operations to Facebook-speak felt so awkward, but unintentionally so, like when Facebook’s algorithm decides to fill your Year in Review with pictures of an ex-boyfriend. It’s a brand that becomes harder and harder to empathize with the more it insists on trying to be empathetic, maybe because it’s not clear if there’s a distinction between an empathy engine and a branding engine or maybe because I am generationally disinclined to trust anything that’s too big to fail.’
January 7, 2016
[truecrime] Serial thrillers: why true crime is popular culture’s most wanted
… a look at the rise of True Crime … ‘Even now, true crime magazines tend to be displayed by newsagents closer to porn titles than the Economist. In publishing, a market leader is John Blake Books – a firm whose lists are unlikely to come under scrutiny by judges of the Man Booker prize. Currently touted Blake titles include Doctors Who Kill and The Yorkshire Ripper: The Secret Murders. But an almost universal fascination with the extremities of human behaviour means the loftier parts of the arts also push through the police tape at crime scenes. In the 1930s, the New Yorker, the most literarily pristine of American magazines, began to profile killers of the sort that obsessed pulpier rivals. Next month marks the 50th anniversary of Truman Capote’s book In Cold Blood, which investigated, in a manner that has clearly influenced Serial, a mass killing in Kansas.’
January 6, 2016
[mh370] MH370 Was Crippled by Sudden Electrical Failure
… another theory on missing Flight MH370…
In a Daily Beast special report, I examined a scenario in which a fire in the forward cargo hold of the 777, originating in a consignment of lithium-ion batteries that were being shipped on the airplane, could have breached a wall and reached the Main Equipment Center, seriously degrading the airplane’s avionics and leading to the incapacitation of the crew and passengers.
However, the avionics for the Satellite Data Unit, sending the pings, was located not in the Main Equipment Center but well clear of it, in the roof of the cabin behind the wings, because that is where the antenna to access the satellite is best positioned.
The picture in the Australian report of an airplane stricken by a sudden and extensive loss of electrical power, while in no way definitive, is entirely consistent with this scenario.
Indeed, the report gives dramatic new clarity to the “zombie flight” version of events in which the airplane, by then fatally crippled, makes one final change of course and then flies into the vast emptiness of the southern Indian Ocean without any sign of human direction or control.
January 5, 2016
[books] William Gibson on the Individual: ‘We do tend to have this unexamined assumption that the individual is a huge fucking deal. Because it feels to use that we are. Because our neurological equipment seems to demonstrate to each of us that we are quite obviously the exact center of the universe. Just as we are all, subjectively, politically quite sensibly centrist. The key to racism is that racists literally don’t know they are. They think it’s a specious category invented to shame them for simply being sensible.’
January 4, 2016
[comics] Steve Bell’s top five cartoons of the year
… ‘Show the Queen your Tonsils! Traitor!!’
January 1, 2016
December 31, 2015
[life] Why A Double Funeral On Your Birthday Is The Best Party You’ll Ever Have
… powerful piece of writing from Hayley Campbell after the death of her grandparents five days apart …
This is how you derail a therapy session: In the middle of a carpeted room with calming pot plants stooped weakly in softly lit corners, you tell a 65-year-old qualified mental health practitioner, beneath her framed medical degrees and her various accomplishments, that she doesn’t understand the American film director Michael Mann, who is not Michael Bay.
There’s a thing that happens in Michael Mann movies where too much stuff gets on top of a person and that person just burns their life to the ground and moves on. It happened in Thief — James Caan drops his bulletproof vest on the street and walks off. It happened in Heat — de Niro leaves his girlfriend in the car and disappears in the crowd. They shed the material, the personal, the emotional, their car, their girl, and they walk away.
I explained that Michael Mann film colours are a whole palette on their own, that they’re blue and orange and saturated but washed out at the same time, and that it’s weird how the colours are so strong because Michael Mann films are about men who feel nothing. The men in Michael Mann movies are obsessive and dead inside; saturated and washed-out at the same time. They don’t even feel the emotion of vomit. As a mode of dealing with a white noise of emotion in your own personal world, a Michael Mann movie is like taking an emotional sleeping pill.
December 30, 2015
[life] 33 Horrific Middle-Class Problems From 2015
… ‘Dropped my phone in a bowl of quinoa and it’s all stuck in the charging hole, day off 2 a good start’
December 29, 2015
[blogs] The Comment Value Hierarchy
… the hieracrchy of web comment posts – from on-topic to offensive. ‘Unwelcome – Snarky comment taking a dig at the blogger rather than the post’
December 28, 2015
[people] Donald Trump Really Doesn’t Want Me to Tell You This, but…
Mark Bowden remembers a weekend with Donald Trump …
He was like one of those characters in an 18th-century comedy meant to embody a particular flavor of human folly. Trump struck me as adolescent, hilariously ostentatious, arbitrary, unkind, profane, dishonest, loudly opinionated, and consistently wrong. He remains the most vain man I have ever met. And he was trying to make a good impression. Who could have predicted that those very traits, now on prominent daily display, would turn him into the leading G.O.P. candidate for president of the United States?
His latest outrageous edict on banning all Muslims from entering the country comes as no surprise to me based on the man I met nearly 20 years ago. He has no coherent political philosophy, so comparisons with Fascist leaders miss the mark. He just reacts. Trump lives in a fantasy of perfection, with himself as its animating force.
December 27, 2015
[uk] 14 Weird British Laws, Factchecked
… ‘It is illegal to handle salmon in suspicious circumstances. True. This is illegal under the Salmon Act of 1986, apparently. Alas, the Law Commission did not elaborate on what counts as a suspicious way to handle salmon.’
December 26, 2015
[comics] Raymond Briggs: ‘Don’t call me the king of Christmas. I don’t like children, I try to avoid them’
… cartoonist Raymond Briggs on Christmas… Indeed, Briggs argues, far from being an advocate for Christmas, he hates the event. “I don’t like the Christmas thing at all. It’s so full of anxiety – have I got enough stuff? Where am I going to go? What should I get for presents? I just give cheques these days because I can’t buy things for teenagers. It’s a bit impersonal but what can you do?” Briggs has watched the new Fungus on a friend’s laptop – “I’m too old and too tired to trek up to first nights [screening], much as I would have liked to go” – and says it “seemed perfectly OK; they always do these things very well”. This is high praise considering he still finds the adaptation of The Snowman “corny” despite conceding that “film-making is a very different form from books and you have to make something commercially viable so putting Father Christmas in as [producer] John Coates suggested was right, even though I hated it at the time.” There’s a rather gloomy pause before he adds Eeyorishly: “Of course, he’s dead now, like everybody else.”
December 25, 2015
[comics] “Never Kill A Santa Claus” By Nick Cardy
[via Forbidden Planet’s Blog
December 24, 2015
[xmas] All You Need To Know About Brussels Sprouts
… ‘34% of family arguments start by someone being honest about their hatred of sprouts.’