The Citizen's Guide to the Future
Posted Wednesday, May 22, 2013, at 11:01 AM
Pizza made the old-fashioned way
Photo by LOUAI BESHARA/AFP/Getty Images
There’s a lot of talk these days about making a manned run at Mars (and the gerbils who are helping us get there). But even if we learn to survive 30 years in a space ship, what will we eat along the way? The answer, of course, is pizza—long lasting, self-assembling, 3-D printed pizza.
And if it’s not ready in 30 minutes or less, well, you’ll just wait, won’t you? Because in space, no one can hear you whine.
NASA has awarded a $125,000 grant to Systems & Materials Research Corp. to develop the 3-D printed pies. “Long distance space travel requires 15-plus years of shelf life,” Anjan Contractor told Quartz. “The way we are working on it is, all the carbs, proteins and macro and micro nutrients are in powder form. We take moisture out, and in that form it will last maybe 30 years.”
Obviously, pizza makes a good candidate for 3-D printing because it’s nothing if not a layered mess of calories. The proposed printer will be able to assemble different food items from cartridges of basic ingredient powders. With pizza, imagine a slurry of compounds whisked together to make dough, which is then printed onto a hot plate to cook. Next would come a layer of sauce that combines tomato concentrate, oil, and water. The Quartz piece by Christopher Mims makes no mention of cheese. Instead, he says the “pizza” is topped with some ominous concoction known only as the “protein layer.”
Unfortunately—or fortunately, depending on your perspective—3-D printed food may one day be the norm here on Earth. As the world’s population rises and we struggle to feed the billions, Contractor and his team believe their work could conserve valuable resources. Hypothetically, 3-D printed food could also be tailored to the nutritional needs of each individual—like a pregnant woman or an elderly man. And an organization in the Netherlands is already imagining ways to 3-D print food using more sustainable sources such as algae, beet leaves, and insects.
Only one thing is certain: If the project remains open-source as Contractor intends, someone will perfect bacon cartridges long before the food apocalypse. Which means that while everyone is fighting over 3-D printing technology that can build a gun, what we should be worried about is the 3-D printing technology that can build this.
Posted Tuesday, May 21, 2013, at 5:02 PM
Photo by MARTIN BERNETTI/AFP/GettyImages
A “thank you” might be in order if you find a massive leak of a company’s sensitive customer records on the Internet and raise alarm so the problem can be fixed. But that’s not how it always goes down, as a team of investigative reporters for the Scripps News Service recently found out the hard way.
In a recent report, the Scripps journalists say they found through a basic Google search a gaping security hole exposing more than 170,000 records related to customers of and applicants for Lifeline, the federal program for low-income Americans that offers a discounted phone service. The information, involving people from at least 26 states, included Social Security numbers, scans of passports, driver’s licences, parole letters, food-stamp cards, tax records, home addresses, and financial accounts. Scripps reports that the records were “widely available online this spring after being collected for two phone carriers participating in the program: Oklahoma City-based TerraCom Inc. and its affiliate, YourTel America Inc.” A Scripps reporter first uncovered the records while searching for PDF files attached to the TerraCom website.
The data leak appears to have put hundreds of Lifeline customers at serious risk of identity theft and may constitute a violation of privacy and data protection laws. (Indiana’s attorney general is already reportedly probing the breach, and the FCC has commented that a single privacy violation could cost a company as much as $1.5 million.) Scripps says it notified the companies of the security hole and “within hours, [the records] no longer were publicly accessible.” But instead of thanking the journalists for flagging up the issue, Jonathan Lee, legal counsel for TerraCom and YourTel, sent an angry and threatening letter to Scripps, referring to “Scripps hackers” and accusing the reporters of “numerous violations of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act.” In one bizarre passage, Lee even claims that it is Scripps, not the companies responsible for the data leak in the first place, that should expect to pay any fines:
Because the Scripps Hackers have put the Companies in the position of having to incur the costs of potentially complying with more than 20 state data breach notification laws, the Companies are likely to look to Scripps to reimburse them for those costs.
David Giles, Scripps’ deputy general counsel, responded to the accusation that the reporters “hacked” the information by calling on the companies to stop the “name calling and the legal posturing” and instead address the “apparent careless security practices” raised by the story. “Regardless of the flowery moniker you have used to characterize the bureau's newsgathering activities, the bureau's reporters have not violated the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act or any other law or regulation,” Giles wrote in a letter sent to TerraCom and YourTel’s lawyers earlier this month.
The Scripps case bears some resemblance to a separate similar incident involving Andrew “weev” Auernheimer, who was sentenced in March to 41 months in prison after he found a security flaw in AT&T’s public website and used it to harvest the email addresses of over 114,000 iPad users. Auernheimer passed the data to Gawker, and he was subsequently prosecuted under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act. The feds accused Auernheimer of exploiting the security hole for personal gain to promote his security company. But Auernheimer’s supporters argue that his conviction illustrates the need to reform the “vague language, broad sweep, and heavy penalties” of the CFAA, which was also used in the controversial prosecution of Internet freedom activist Aaron Swartz, who committed suicide in January.
In an emailed statement Tuesday afternoon, Dale Schmick, CEO of TerraCom and YourTel, said the companies were in “ongoing discussions” with federal and state regulators and law enforcement regarding the incident. Schmick claimed that only a portion of the records—involving 270 Lifeline applicants—had been available through Internet searches and alleged that the Scripps reporters used “sophisticated computer techniques” to download some of the information.
Giles, Scripps’ deputy counsel, said in a letter that the search revealing the security hole “required no special skill and in no way ‘hacked’ or illegally accessed any server or database operated by TerraCom or any other company.”
Posted Tuesday, May 21, 2013, at 4:34 PM
Watson in the limelight, circa 2011.
Photo by Ben Hider/Getty Images
Just two years removed from the fame and glory of defeating Ken Jennings on "Jeopardy!," the world’s smartest computer finds itself looking for work as a call-center agent.
IBM announced today that it has trained its Watson artificial-intelligence software to answer customers’ questions and offer advice about a given company’s products and services. In a brochure touting the new Watson Engagement Advisor service, IBM writes:
IBM Watson represents a bold new step into a new era of computing and has the potential to transform the way people and companies interact over the lifetime of their relationships. The unique combination of natural language processing, hypothesis generation & evaluation, and machine learning of IBM Watson is being applied to customer engagement.
For example, IBM added, a bank could use Watson to help customers decide what type of account to open based on their financial situation and needs. Forbes reports that ANZ Bank and Nielsen have already signed on as clients.
For Watson, the move to customer service comes on the heels of a highly publicized stint in the health care industry. The artificial-intelligence engine will continue to work in that field as well, IBM execs told the New York Times, but the customer-service business is more of a “high-volume play.”
Keep your head up, Watson. I myself spent a summer working as a tech-support agent when I was 17, and while I can’t say it was the most fulfilling job, it paid the bills. If your experience is anything like mine, you’ll come out of it a much stronger wastepaper-basketball player than you are today.
Posted Tuesday, May 21, 2013, at 1:00 PM
Marissa Mayer has no plans to crack down on Tumblr's NSFW content.
Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images
Gloria Steinem is going to be disappointed.
At a press event in New York on Monday, Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer shrugged off suggestions that her company might want to restrict pornography on the blogging platform, which it just bought for $1.1 billion. “It’s just the nature of user-generated content,” she said. “On Tumblr, there’s actually less of that than on almost any of its peers. That said, we do think it’s really important to have good community tools like ‘Not Safe for Work’ that Tumblr already has in place, so people who are looking for that content can find it, but users who aren’t looking for that content don’t just stumble into it.” (Tumblr asks that when users upload adult content, they tag it “NSFW” so people can filter it out if they choose.)
The remarks echoed what she said in a conference call with investors earlier in the day, in response to a question about how Yahoo would deal with Tumblr content that might not be “brand-safe”—i.e., that advertisers wouldn’t want to be associated with. Mayer replied that her plan was to “let Tumblr be Tumblr.” Without referring to porn directly, she added: “I think the richness and breadth of content available on Tumblr—even though it may not be as brand-safe as what’s on our site—is what’s really exciting and allows us to reach even more users.” The solution for advertisers: “good tools for targeting” to ensure that ads don’t appear alongside the wrong type of content.
One thing Mayer didn’t address: the potential legal issues that arise when people distribute adult content without maintaining the detailed records required by federal law. Noting that Tumblr’s “porn rebloggers” often use stolen or unsourced material, Fast Company speculates that Yahoo’s lawyers may eventually persuade the company to take a more aggressive stance to curb its liability. Until then, as founder David Karp said, Tumblr is “not turning purple”—and it’s staying blue.
Posted Tuesday, May 21, 2013, at 10:01 AM
Photo by Dawson via Wikimedia Commons.
Somber words out of Russia this week: "Unfortunately, because of equipment failure, we lost all the gerbils."
The Bion-M1 biosatellite that returned to earth Sunday also carried various microorganisms, plants, crayfish, snails, geckos, and mice in an attempt to better understand the effects of microgravity on life in space. (Some news organizations are reporting the geckos as “newts,” which is not inconsequential. Newts are amphibians, not lizards, and they typically require a good deal of moisture, which might make them less likely candidates for space travel.) Happily, the geckos returned alive and slurping, though more than half of the mice gave their lives in the name of science—read: died—throughout the course of the month-long orbit. This was the longest animals-in-space study of its kind.
And it raises the question: If humans now serve six-month stints on the International Space Station, why are we still flinging little fur balls into space?
For one, Commander Chris Hadfield wouldn’t let us dissect him upon return. (Sure, the guy’s a science communication rock star, but what has he done for humanity lately?) Obviously, we can study the medical monitoring and anecdotal evidence of astronauts on the ISS, but that’s hardly the same as picking through the connective tissue of the recently space-traveled.
And pick we shall. NASA is cooperating with the Russian Institute of Biomedical Problems, and our researchers have dibs on some rodent parts. Projects are planned to study inner ear balance mechanisms, spinal columns, reproductive health, and numerous other topics that aim to analyze entire biological systems. (Germany also sent some tilapia. And France chipped in 15 of the 45 mice—which is sort of like bringing hummus to a tailgate party.)
The other big reason we’re still sending critters into space is that science has come a long way since the days of Muttnik. This might not be the first time gerbils have floated through the heavens, but new technology enables us to learn more from them each time they go.
“We can do a much more detailed molecular analysis than was available back then,” Jamie (David) Fitzgerald, an Oregon Health and Science University researcher and project collaborator, told me in an email. “Also, we can detect more subtle biological alterations due to lack of gravity—ones that may become larger issues with longer duration spaceflight such as to Mars.” Fitzgerald will be studying the rodents’ cartilage for deterioration due to reduced biomechanical loading.
There you have it—Mars: the Red Whale of Modern Space Exploration. Perhaps one day a human will stand on the Martian surface and glance back through the vast celestial graveyard of beasts that made it all possible. And those eight Mongolian gerbils shall not have died in vain.
Posted Monday, May 20, 2013, at 4:16 PM
Photo courtesy Mehman Huseynov
Earlier this year, the Harlem Shake, a video Internet meme, became a viral online sensation. For most, the Harlem Shake phenomenon was a quick laugh that rapidly grew stale. But in Azerbaijan, at least one activist may be reaping the consequences for years to come.
On May 17, Azerbaijani youth activist Ilkin Rustemzade was arrested on charges of hooliganism for his alleged involvement in a Harlem Shake video filmed in the country’s capital city, Baku. The video, which was uploaded to YouTube more than two months before his arrest, is completely apolitical, and Rustemzade does not even appear on-screen. The government claims that he helped film it, though his lawyer denies he was involved at all.
Others who have made Harlem Shake videos in Baku—including members of a pro-government youth movement—have not been punished. The real reason Rustemzade has been targeted is because of his online activism and his criticism of the government as part of the Free Youth Organization. Rustemzade has already been sentenced to two months of pre-trial detention, and he faces up to five years in jail if convicted of the hooliganism charges.
Just two days before his arrest in connection with the video, Rustemzade was released after serving 15 days of administrative detention. He had been arrested for gathering peacefully to commemorate victims on the anniversary of the 2009 shooting at the Azerbaijan State Oil Academy. Rustemzade also served six days of administrative detention in March for organizing a protest calling attention to the deaths of soldiers in non-combat situations.
Baku-based Human Rights Club Chairman Rasul Jafarov said in an emailed statement on May 20, “The targeting of individuals in connection with a harmless ‘Harlem Shake’ video highlights the absurdity of the current political situation in the country.”
Absurd indeed. Just last week, Azerbaijan’s parliament also passed legislation that, once signed into law by the president, would criminalize defamation online, meaning citizens could face up to three years in jail for their Internet postings.
Despite their stated commitment to Internet freedom, Azerbaijani authorities seem determined to identify and punish individuals who express critical opinions or call for protests online. More than 80 others are currently behind bars in Azerbaijan for politically motivated reasons, including seven members of the N!DA civic movement, who were active social media users. There are also increasing reports of harassment, questioning, and arrests of individuals in connection with their Facebook posts.
Local activists fear that Rustemzade will not be the only one arrested in connection with this video. As the charges against him specify “group hooliganism,” further arrests are likely. One potential target is Mehman Huseynov, a well-known photojournalist, blogger, and activist who appeared in the video.
Emin Milli, a blogger who was once imprisoned, believes that the situation will continue to worsen. Milli and his friend Adnan Hajizade, often referred to as the “donkey bloggers,” spent 17 months in jail from 2009-2010 on politically motivated hooliganism charges in connection with a satirical video they posted to YouTube, featuring a press conference with a person in a donkey suit.
“It is absolutely absurd that someone could be arrested for this video, for simply having fun. Every time I think the situation in Azerbaijan cannot become more absurd, the government proves me wrong,” Milli told me.
Posted Monday, May 20, 2013, at 3:14 PM
Photo by PAUL J. RICHARDS/AFP/Getty Images
The Associated Press phone snooping scandal is still simmering. But now, adding fuel to the fire, another egregious example of the government spying on American reporters has been disclosed.
The Washington Post reports that James Rosen, the chief Washington correspondent for Fox News, was subjected to intense government monitoring as part of an investigation into possible leaks of classified information about North Korea in 2009. The intrusion on Rosen was more severe than that of the AP reporters, whose phone call records were grabbed as part of a separate national security leaks investigation. According to court documents, two days’ worth of Rosen’s personal e-mails, documents, and attachments stored in a Gmail account were seized as were all his historic emails to a Yahoo account used by the alleged source, State Dept. security adviser Stephen Jin-Woo Kim. The feds obtained authorization to seize information showing Rosen’s communication with “any other source" related to the leak and also demanded Google turn over IP addresses and other metadata stored by the reporter’s Gmail account. In addition, investigators tracked Rosen’s movements to and from the State Department using security badge access records, and the timings of his calls with Jin-Woo Kim were traced.
The Post notes that a federal judge approved a search warrant to seize the content of Rosen’s private emails on the basis that there was “probable cause” that the journalist was a “co-conspirator.” Google was ordered not to disclose the existence of the warrant, and it is not clear whether the company lodged any legal objections. (A spokesman for Google had not responded for comment at the time of publication.) An FBI counterespionage agent in an affidavit alleged that the reporter had broken the law “at the very least, either as an aider, abettor and/or co-conspirator.” This contentious reasoning appears to be grounded in the notion that any journalist receiving and publishing classified material from a confidential source is engaging in a criminal act—even although the U.S. government has never successfully prosecuted a reporter for disseminating unlawfully leaked classified information.
The leaked material in question is believed to relate to a Fox News story authored by Rosen in 2009 concerning possible nuclear tests in North Korea in response to U.N. sanctions. A June 2009 online Fox News report that he wrote, which appears to contain the classified information at the center of the controversy, details how “U.S. intelligence officials” had issued a warning that North Korea had proposed “four planned actions” in response to a U.N. Security Council resolution condemning its nuclear and ballistic missile tests. The story cited an unnamed source commenting on the apparent leak. Notably, Rosen also added in the report that he had withheld “some details about the sources and methods by which American intelligence agencies learned of the North's plans so as to avoid compromising sensitive overseas operations,” though he disclosed that the information had been obtained by the CIA “through sources inside North Korea.”
The FBI announced in 2010 that it had indicted Jin-Woo Kim in relation to a leak of information from “an intelligence report classified Top Secret/Sensitive Compartmented Information to a reporter for a national news organization who was not entitled to receive it.” Jin-Woo Kim, according to the FBI, was working as an employee of a federal contractor—the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory—and was on detail to the State Department at the time of the alleged disclosure. Rosen is not named in any of the court documents, but according to the Post “his identity was confirmed by several officials, and he is the author of the article at the center of the investigation.”
The surveillance of Rosen will raise yet more questions about the extreme tactics adopted by the Justice Department’s multiple aggressive leak investigations. Last week, amid a storm of controversy following the revelation the feds had grabbed AP reporters’ phone records as part of a leak probe, Attorney General Eric Holder said he was “not sure” how many similar cases of snooping on reporters he had authorized. A number of top American journalists have commented in recent days on how draconian leak prosecutions and the practice of spying on reporters is damaging legitimate journalism, causing a chilling effect that prevents sources and whistleblowers from ever coming forward.
Posted Monday, May 20, 2013, at 2:51 PM
Seamless and GrubHub are combining to create a seamless grub hub.
Image courtesy of GrubHub
One was based in New York and offered online ordering from more than 12,000 restaurants. The other was headquartered in Chicago and offered online ordering from more than 20,000 restaurants.* Other than that, the chief difference between the two—as far as I can tell—was their names. Also, one made fun of a Gawker writer’s dead cat.
Together they will form a seamless grub hub serving more than 500 U.S. cities. The financial terms of the agreement were not disclosed, and apparently the new company has not yet settled on a name. It is fair to assume, however, that LessGrub is out of the running, because that is the opposite of what it will offer.
The deal is subject to regulatory approval and may draw a little scrutiny since the combined company will tower over competitors such as Delivery.com, ChowNow, Munchery, and eat24. No, I did not just make up all of those names. I looked them up on TechCrunch, where Rip Empson has a thorough analysis of the deal for anyone hungry to read more words about it.
I for one welcome the merger, since I am quite sure that I have given my name, email, and credit card number to either Seamless or GrubHub at some point but frankly have no idea which one it was.
Correction, May 20, 2013: This blog post originally transposed the number of restaurants for which GrubHub and Seamless offer online ordering. GrubHub offers it for more than 20,000 restaurants, Seamless for more than 12,000.
Posted Monday, May 20, 2013, at 8:00 AM
A pioneer of the form.
With Robinson Meyer’s massive Twitter rant about "the death of tech blogging," this feels obvious but worth saying: Declaring things dead—long a popular way for writers to draw attention to themselves—is totally, inescapably dead.
Friedrich Nietzsche established the “declaring things dead” form, when—after trying about 400 other aphorisms in The Gay Science—he struck gold with “God is dead” in 1882. Fifty percent hyperbole, 50 percent trolling. Well played, Nietzsche.
Moving forward a century, Francis Fukuyama declared history dead in 1992. Since 2006, Slate has declared email, the independent bookstore, the American pun, and instant gratification dead. The publication for which Meyer regularly writes, The Atlantic, has killed off television, monogamy, and the shopping mall just in the past few months.
Last month, the Washington Post’s Carlos Lozada catalogued the long list of things that book titles have declared “the end of,” including sex, power, money, and, yes, men. Even things that are clearly alive are now labeled dead. Hey, PC sales are down—that kinda sorta qualifies as “dead.” And hey, some tech blogs now blog about things other than gadgets! R.I.P. tech blogs.
The headline of that Post story: “The end of everything.” If everything is dead, then nothing is. So now, on May 20, 2013, we must solemnly declare that the “death of” genre has expired. It was 131.
“Declaring things dead” will be mourned by all of those desperate writers and editors who shoveled it into headlines, both online and in print. It will be survived by thousands of journalistic clichés, including “Is X Over?” and “Could This Be the End of ____?”
Posted Friday, May 17, 2013, at 2:21 PM
The European Parliament in Strasbourg, France.
Photo by FREDERICK FLORIN/AFP/Getty Images
From real-time snooping on Gmail to grabbing reporters’ phone records, the U.S. government’s surveillance powers are a hot topic at home. But the issue is also making waves in Europe. There, fears over U.S. spy agencies’ ability to “browse the cloud” have helped spur proposals for sweeping new data protections that could eventually be in force across all 27 EU member states.
The European Parliament is currently working on two new draft laws that would reform regulations governing how personal data are processed in the E.U. One updates data privacy legislation from 1995, and is aimed in part at keeping pace with changes in data processing brought about in recent years by the Internet.The other is a directive that addresses how data can be processed in cross-border police investigations.
As I reported back in January, a report warned EU parliamentarians that a 2008 amendment to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act had authorized “purely political surveillance on foreigners' data” if the data are stored using U.S. cloud services like those provided by Google, Microsoft, and Facebook. The report was co-authored by Microsoft’s former chief privacy adviser, Caspar Bowden, who said that the FISA amendment had enabled “continuous mass-surveillance of ordinary lawful democratic political activities,” effectively authorizing the U.S. government to monitor European journalists, activists, and politicians who are engaged in any issue in which the United States has a stake.
Since Bowden’s report, several amendments to the data protection reform bill have been put forward, and they appear to be directly aimed at addressing potential U.S. snooping. One, proposed by Dutch member of European Parliament Sophia in 't Veld, would prohibit the transfer of personal data to cloud services under the jurisdiction of a “third country” (such as the United States) unless various criteria are met. These include obtaining the consent of the citizen and ensuring that he or she is notified of the “possibility of the personal data being subject to intelligence gathering or surveillance by third-country authorities.” A similar amendment put forward by Greek MEP Dimitrios Droutsa would also require that citizens are notified if their data are to be transferred to a third country’s jurisdiction. And another, proposed by Spanish MEP Carmen Romero López, would encourage whistleblowers to expose “unlawful processing of personal data” in cases involving third countries, offering safeguards against “laws prohibiting the uncovering of such unlawful processing”—which could include state secrecy laws designed to prevent disclosure of surveillance tactics.
At a seminar Wednesday in Brussels, Belgium, in 't Veld blasted the European Commission, the European Parliament’s executive body, for being “extremely passive” in challenging U.S. authorities over FISA spying.* “We all know that our closest friend and ally across the Atlantic has a specific interest in collecting personal data mainly for all sorts of law enforcement and security purposes,” in 't Veld said, adding that she believed FISA allowed American spy agencies to "browse the cloud," and “give themselves access to all data including our data.” She said that the European Parliament needs to “sort out differences with our transatlantic partner about getting access to data.”
Bowden, the co-author of the January report, told me in a phone interview Thursday that he was concerned the data protection reforms may still contain loopholes, even with the proposed amendments. “The regulatory language only refers to 'requests' by foreign governments for data, and nowhere and never to automated and continuous mass-surveillance through a fibre-optic tap,” he said, referring to the kind of real-time monitoring the U.S. National Security Agency was alleged to have conducted in the aftermath of 9/11. The former Microsoft privacy chief criticized data protection authorities for what he said was a reluctance to get involved with anything labeled “national security.” They “seem oblivious to the fact that it should be part of their job to protect European citizens from political spying conducted under a foreign government's national security laws," Bowden said.
So far there have been nearly 4,000 amendments added to the proposed data protection reform, which is the highest number of amendments ever made to a single legislative file in the European Parliament. The text still has to be agreed with the member states, but lawmakers aim to reach an agreement before the end of 2013. The process has been the subject of much controversy, with some MEPs allegedly copy-pasting U.S. lobbyists’ proposed amendments verbatim. The lobbyists were accused in February of orchestrating a “massive campaign” to “water down the EU privacy regulation.”
*Correction, May 17, 2013: This article originally misstated the location of the seminar in which in 't Veld criticized the European Commission. It was in Brussels, Belgium, not Strasbourg, France.